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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Memento Demento

I'm entering this phrase into the lexicon of ridiculous medical conditions. Kind of like Vibrata Nervousa, which is the act of continually checking your mobile phone because you feel the sensation of it buzzing in manner mode against your leg only to find it still. In short, Memento Demento is the compulsion to buy or acquire something from a trip. It could be a ticket stub from that Styx reunion concert. You know the one you went to last summer wearing the "Kilroy was here" t-shirt that was two sizes two small making you look more like a sausage than a middle aged, middle management, left over from the early 80's father of three who still thinks that Erin Gray's Colonel Wilma Dearing was the pinnacle of hotness. It could be a box of God awful Salt Water Taffy from Ocean City, Maryland, that your aunt Twyla buys you every year when she goes on her late May sojourn. This condition is not a new one. I mean I'm not breaking any new ground here. I don't expect to be published in the JAMA anytime soon. After all, buying dumb souvenirs has been around for centuries. When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson took a little break from their diplomatic mission to Europe, they traveled to the birthplace of William Shakespeare and carved little slivers from a wooden chair that supposedly belonged to the late Bard. Granted, these founding Fathers didn't pay a cent for their items but regardless of the item or its price, it's a sickness nonetheless. I am comfortably ashamed to admit that I have indulged in this act on numerous occasions with results that defy logic.

On a trip to Virginia Beach at the ripe old age of 12 I felt that I just had to have a souvenir from my trip. It was such an overwhelming compulsion that I did not give any thought to my selection and only formulated an argument that no matter what I bought, it would be a reminder of my trip to the beach in 1987. So, on a day trip into the heart of tourist trap heaven I was given ten minutes to buy something. I frantically searched as if I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. With my allotment of $10.00 I was feeling the pressure. I couldn't get something extravagant but I couldn't get something small and put the rest on a gift certificate. Damn you Wheel of Fortune. I will be forever haunted by the sweeping camera movements over merchandise that I would never take freely let alone spending my winnings on, although that Cigar Store Indian would have found a great place next to my old style gumball machine. Where was I? Oh yes, I was on the quest for the perfect embodiment of a trip to the beach. With sweating palms I flipped through the racks of printed t-shirts, "FBI: Female Body Inspector," ugh that was so 1985. Wait, what was this? What is this pastel shirt that harkened to a highly rated television show cleverly marketed with anthropomorphic rodents sporting sunglasses and sockless loafers. Why, it's beautiful. It's shiny. It's just under $10.00. I must have it. So, I grabbed my purchase and handed it to my mother who held my money.

"Are you sure you want this?" She asked.

"Yes." I quickly answered frothing at the mouth.

"Positive, because you can't return it and we're not buying anything else?" She again, cautioned.

"Good God, woman, don't taunt me further. Buy it already. I can't wait to slip into its silk screened, poly-cotton, decadence."

"Ok." She submitted.

I had it. I obtained my souvenir. I was cool. I... I.... Why the hell did I just buy a Miami Mice shirt?!?!?

This is similar to, but the not the same as the shirt I bought.
The original picture I had here disappeared and I cannot find another copy of it.

Why didn't anyone stop me? Why was there no intervention? Damnit, my $10.00 was wasted! I might of well just threw it all down on double zero in a roulette spin. I was crushed. I wore that shirt maybe once. I didn't dare wear it to school. Lord, if someone had seen me in that shirt it would have been the worst wedgie and swirlie combination of my life. It would have been the beat down of adolescent history. After a trip to Promises and a few sessions with a counselor I felt that I was in control. This was not something that you could cure and you just had to take it day by day.

I was doing well for about two years when my family went to Cedar Point for a vacation in the summer of 1989. It was the end of the 80's and there was a transition into airbrushed shirts. It was all the rage at the County Fair. After all, if you didn't have a license plate with a sunset, silhouetted palm tree and the name of you and your sweetie encased in a heart showcased on the front of your IROC with feathered roach clips hanging from the rearview mirror then you were behind the times. Everywhere you went down the midway, a different artist had set up a shop with his collection. "Hey, look at the Bart Simpson stuck in the ass cheeks of that fat girl with the witty saying of 'Crack Kills!' Oh, would Nancy Regan approve or what?" On the last day of our trip around the park I found myself jonesing for a souvenir. I had to be strong. My sponsor had told me that it was okay to buy a souvenir. The trick was doing it with some clarity. You can't go in half cocked and expect to be all right. You need to relax and find your center. So, I did just that. I took a seat next to a calming fountain in the midway and began to chant the mantra I had learned from my support group.

Give me the serenity
to change the things I can
and to accept the things I can't
and the wisdom to know the difference in souvenirs.
Trendy Fads are always bad
Salted Confections are never a selection
A globe that snows always blows
and a shirt within reach with the name of the beach
is always lame to wear in that city when there.
Once finished I felt as if I was ready to purchase a suitable souvenir. Being a little older, I was in more control of my expenses and didn't have to go through the whole rigor moral of asking 'Mommy' for some cash. I calmly walked up to a vendor and said, "Good day, my good shop keep. I require a remembrance of your retreat here. What is the going rate for your work with hand painted garments?" Noting that the shirt was only $15.00 I felt as if I was getting a break. He had a portfolio of his work in a three ring binder and perused his portraits. He then asked for my selection. Suddenly, I froze. What did I want again? With the mental block of Ralphie Parker trying to remember to ask Santa for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle I found myself drooling. Dear God, what did I come here for? Who are you people? Where am I? This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! Getting perturbed the artist began making a sighing sound that mimicked his airbrush. Quickly, I managed to rattle off some instructions. He gave me some quizzical look and said pick it up in an hour.

As I walked around the park for the next hour I thought of all the cool conversations I would have while wearing this shirt. "Why Yes, it is an airbrushed shirt. You are jealous, aren't you? I can see it in your eyes as they continually focus on the hypnotic nature of my cool-ass airbrushed shirt." I envisioned myself at beach parties with the cool cheerleaders showing off my shirt. It was a simple design. It was clean. I was so cool that everyone would want a shirt just like this.

I came back around to pick up the shirt and pulled it slowly out of the brown paper wrapping as if it were a Playboy with Erin Gray on the cover in her Buck Roger's skin tight jump suit brandishing her Lazer Tag styled fire arm and flight helmet slyly placed in front of her naughty bits.! What did I do? Desperately, I searched my brain for the exact instructions I gave to the artist. A tiny voice played inside my head. "I want my name in chrome." MY NAME IN CHROME?!?! Dear Zeus, what was I thinking? It's not like it means anything, either. It's just my name in bubble type font across a white shirt. I mean, it left a lot of negative space for additional artwork like "Is a bad Mutha F@#ker" to added later, but when in the hell would this ever be cool. Suddenly, my life flashed before my eyes. I was back on that beach talking with Susie Pompoms. "In fact, it's so cool, everyone will want one with my name instead of their own." Then, I heard the sound of shrieking laughter as the entire student body gathers around me to point and laugh. I tripped through more of my life. I'm now 30 and still living in my parents' house wearing this shirt. I go out to the store and people think I must have some mental disability. "Look, the poor thing has to have his name on his shirt so he remembers it." I might have well just had the guy airbrush the words, "If found, please return to..." and my home address. Better still, I could have him airbrush a giant sticker around my name with the words, "Hello, my name is..."

I was crushed. I had gone and done it again. I tried to recall what had gotten me so flustered and formed those words in my mouth, "My name in chrome," but there was no thought. It was all a blur. It's not like I could ever wear this shirt out. It was a high end recreation of my junior high gym outfit. That must have been it. I was probably so psychological damaged from this class that I kept those words deeply rooted in my psyche. On the first day of gym class we were required to bring a white shirt into the teacher's office. He sat there in his navel high pants and short sleeve colored shirt with a Sharpie marker waiting for the next victim. The smell of the Sharpie flooded your senses as he called you in, his voice playing in slow motion as he waved you into the room. Your head pounded from that marker smell. He would pull your shirt tight against your body and began spelling your name across it. God forbid you had a letter I in your name because he would stamp the dot with the force of a pitcher in the Major Leagues. In fact when it became my turn, he had pulled the shirt so taught that he missed the material all together and dotted my clavicle. It was the kind of pain that you didn't feel at first but came on seconds later nearly dropping you to your knees. Have someone take their index finger and push into your ribs as they meet your spine. Then, wait a second. It just keeps radiating out into your body. Somehow I must have repressed that memory and two years later it was unlocked while standing in front of a guy at a booth in Ohio holding a Paasche F#1 single action external mix airbrush.

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to climb your way out of an addiction and I think this was my lowest point. From then on, whenever I go anywhere on vacation or for business I usually pass on the tourist trap type places. My friends all want to go shopping and I say, "You know what? I think I have to pass." To be fair to others I may linger outside the door or even go inside and just keep my hands in my pocket clutching a penny that I had flattened into an oval and stamped with the Statue of Liberty on a trip to New York. It has become like a medallion and a reminder of the last stupid thing I ever spent money on during a trip since it cost more than a penny to make. It's been quite a few years now and every so often I fall off the wagon and buy something stupid and realize later that I have tripped up but that's okay. The road to recovery isn't an easy one and I take it one vacation at a time.

Here's a list of red flag items that might point out a problem.
  • Local Post Card that you never intend to send.
  • Pet Rock painted to look like the location.
  • Hermit Crab.
  • A piece of rubble from some historic spot.
  • Florida Snowman (a jar of water with a top hat floating inside.)
  • Big Johnson shirt.
  • Paperweight in the shape of a landmark.
  • The Bible from your hotel room.
  • A stuffed animal bigger than anyone in your party, that you have to carry around all day long, and cost you more than your family's dinner at Red Lobster.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch: Head Fakes, Bucket Lists, and Being Happy

When you talk about tributes and eulogies for heroes, you think of celebrities and athletes. In the past month or so a number of great and unforgettable people have passed away, namely George Carlin and Estelle Getty. Yes, it's sad that they've passed away and regardless of how they lived their life, you still get choked up when they go. They may be in their later years and while it is inevitable, it is still a shock and a depressing moment none the same. However, in Randy Pausch's case, the last thing you would ever know, from listening to him, is that he was going to die, perhaps very soon. I mean it was obvious that the guy had months left to live after being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in 2006. There was fixed horizon but he never gave you the impression that he was morose or depressed about dying. It was that kind of personality and behavior that made you want to believe that if anyone could beat insurmountable odds, it would be him. Sadly, that fixed horizon never wavered and, after nearly two years, Randy succumbed to his condition today, July 25th, 2008.

I heard from my wife over the phone during my lunch and I've had a small knot in my throat since. Of all the people in this world who could have beaten something, it would have been him. But, I don't think that he wanted to beat it for the sake of prolonging his life. I think he would have wanted to beat just to see his kids live out their dreams as he did. Randy is and was happy with his position in life, cancer or not. He achieved what many others of us have no way of realizing. Our lives are good. We just don't know it. When you acknowledge that elephant in the room [cancer, death, etc] you get the worst possible conclusion out of the way. "I am going to die. Now what?" For Randy, acknowledging, familiarizing, and ultimately saying to his cancer "I'm going to make my dreams come true, even though you will beat Me." was liberating. Here was a guy that is going to die and he's got a smile on his face. It's not an act. It's not a strong front. It's the truth. He was dying, he knew it, and he was happy. So, Randy performed his "Last Lecture" in 2007 at CMU's campus. Here's the transcript. If life's too short for you, here's the YouTube link.

A lot of Randy's lecture had to do with his dreams and life lessons. One of his techniques was the "head fake," where he shows you one direction but goes another. Think of basketball or football. You make it seem like your heading in one place but you really head somewhere else. Teaching a sport can be a "head fake" as Randy describes in the lecture. They didn't set out to teach their children sports but indirectly, they taught them teamwork, perseverance, and other values. In essence, Randy's life is the ultimate "head fake." He shows you all about his life and how he achieved his dreams and in the end, it wasn't about him, it's a guide for us. Now, he states his lecture isn't for "us" it's for his kids. That's great, but if we can take anything from his words and dreams, so be it. We're all the better for it.

Randy's life and death got me to thinking. No, I'm not going to shed my worldly possessions and trek off to Tibet to commune with monks in a monetary. I just think that we need to stop being afraid of what's out there. "Oh, I could never get up on stage and sing karaoke in a bar. I would suck." So what? I'm not telling you quit your job and bank your hopes and dreams on American Idol. I just think that letting your hair down in a public setting where you’re not hurting anything is great, especially if it scares the Hell out of you. Saying "Life is short" is so clichéd. "Life is long." That's more accurate. Life is too long to sit around and wait for death. That's what Randy would probably think. Maybe, I don't know. I think that and I'm not dying. Then again, I'm still sitting here instead of hitting happy hour doing my best MC Hammer voice.

Life is too long to not fill up all the gaps with things that make us happy. We talk about "bucket lists" and other things we would do if we only had months to live and I say, "Why wait?" Why do I have to be dying to do the things I've always wanted to do? I know I'm going to die someday, maybe not tomorrow or in the next 25 years but there's no reason that I have to have an early expiration date to get me off my dead ass.

Since this saddening news came during my lunch hour, I haven't exactly had time to crunch some numbers and figure out what I want to do with my life, so from time to time I may pop in a quick post about how I'm achieving my life goals. But we'll start with any easy one, my job.

Like, I said, I have to be realistic, need to have a job and with today's problems, I can't just up and go to Los Angeles to be an actor. Besides, I've already done the acting thing. Let's just start small in that respect. I've gone on at length about my issues with my job and employer and companies and corporations in general. While I sit and bitch about what's wrong, I don't seem to mind collecting a paycheck from these folks. It's steady and it's there, for now. So, one of my fears is losing my job....or more in particular, this job. Whether it be my actions or the fact that we, as a company, were bought and my job could be eliminated at any time doesn't matter. In the last month, I have begun looking in other places. Normally, I would just search our internal postings, but quite frankly, I'm better off here considering those jobs might be next on the chopping block. No, I've taken that first small step towards the unknown by seeking out and applying to external positions. I believe my diverse background has afforded me a lot of different qualities that would make me a good fit anywhere I go. While I may not have the education to actually adhere to the postings, I figure, "Who gives a f---?" What's the worst that could happen? I wouldn't get the job. So? What can it hurt to polish up the resume and just get it out there among the world? Put out enough bait and eventually a fish will start to nibble.

Another fear I have is not being educated enough to get another job, so I have actively taken the first initial steps towards going back to school. After being out for a decade, I'm rusty......really rusty. But my company offers full assistance based on grade. If I get an A, I don't pay for anything other than books. That's a no brainer, I guess. Granted, I need to get some things settled around my life before I can devote attention to this but it's further along than it has ever been. I don't necessarily know that I will pursue a Master's at this point. I figure start with what I know I can accomplish until I get ingrained in the process and go from there.

While I'm greatly saddened by the death of such a likeable and prolific individual like Randy Pausch, I'm happy for him. He obviously nailed it. He did it. He got a role in the new Star Trek, he got to work as or with an Imagineer for Disney. He got to play with The Pittsburgh Steelers on their practice field. He got to a father. He got to be a teacher. He got to be an inspiration. How can you say his life was cut short? Maybe it was. Who knows what he could have accomplished if he lived? I think that's up to Randy to decide, not me or you. I think if he would have wanted to do more he would have done it in the time he had. In his own words, the bricks in the wall didn't keep him out, it kept him motivated to get inside. He had no problem with adversity when he was given an end date to his life. He had no trouble living his dreams while he was sick. Why should you when you’re healthy?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nevermind the Smell of Teen Nirvana

Apparently, Satan is checking the thermostat in hell. I just agreed with a 17 year old. In an a twist of irony I was listening to a story on NPR yesterday about Spencer Elden. For those you who do not know who that is, consider this. Over 26 million people have seen him naked. Oddly enough, it isn't illegal to own the only published picture of his au natural pose. That's because he's the baby swimming towards a dollar on the cover for Nirvana's Nevermind album. That's right you old farts, that baby is now 17 years old. Not only is it hard to believe has been 17 years since Nevermind changed the music landscape, it's funny that this story was being told on NPR instead of MTV. In fact, I hardly listen to music on the radio anymore because it all sucks, in my opinion. Instead, I opt to listen to NPR and the interview he gave yesterday produced a very good point that I just had to find agreeable. Here's the snippet.

Life in general isn't quite as "cool" as it was when he jumped naked in the pool in the early '90s, though, he says. These days, his peers are too stuck on the Internet and video games. Ironically, he yearns for the era that gave Kurt Cobain, the lead singer for Nirvana, so much angst.

These days, Elden says, his peers concentrate on"playing Rock Band on Xbox, like, that's not a real band! That's the difference between the '90s and kids nowadays; kids in the '90s would actually go out and make a [real] band.

Now before you start climbing into the bomb shelters or encasing the homestead in duct tape and plastic, take a moment and breathe. Ok, better now? I agreed with his point, but not his sentiment. I'll explain. Yes, it is very true that we live in a world where anyone can be a "rock star" just by playing a video game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero. In fact, South Park had a great commentary on the matter in the episode "Guitar Queer-o." We also live in a world where fame is just as tangible a concept for George Clooney as it is for anyone with a gimmicky YouTube clip. Again, South Park does a great job of lambasting our addiction to the craze in "Canada On Strike." Granted, it was more about the WGA strike, but the whole battle royale between Internet Memes was priceless. Elden is right. Kids today would rather sit back and virtually do all the things that kids in the 90's would have actually done. But, being a teen in the 90's was not, something I would consider, a goal to yearn for.

Let's think back to 1991. I was a junior in high school and someone in my homeroom had this CD with a naked baby on swimming towards a dollar. At this point in time, Grunge was on the verge of destroying Heavy Metal. Soon everyone was on their way to taking the flannel off their shoulders and wrapping it around their waist. By the time I had graduated and started college, music was a in sad but necessary state. Soon, came the downward spiral into the Dawson years and Wuss Rock. Boy Bands and Pop Tarts soon took over and we barely recovered. Now, at the end of the first decade of the new millennium we have tried to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. New Kids on the Block went back out on tour, The Eagles just released an album last year, and everybody and their brother has upped the sampling of old songs in order to produce a hit.

While our older brothers and sisters were classified as Generation X, we really had no generation. Although, there were attempts to reclassify Generation X as consisting of children born between 1958 to 1965 and 1975 to 1981, I refuse to lump myself into those Reality Bites, Winona and Ethan wannabes. Some will call us the MTV Generation but that's branding and I think it's wrong. You might as well call us the VHS Generation. Maybe it was this lack of placement in the Generational Dewey Decimal System that led to our identity crisis. Our parents' younger siblings kind of fell into the We Generation that lived in the 70's. The Yuppies and Brat Packers all lived out the end of the Me Generation in the 80's. In a pinch I tended to see us as the Re Generation. Why? In the 90's, after Grunge seemingly started to get stale, the state of popular culture experienced a shift. Blame Oasis, blame the post-grunge movement, whatever. America went through a rehashing of the last three decades over the last half of the 90's. With the death of Kurt Cobain, we all kind of went through this crisis of faith about our lives and our place in the world. Now, normally, I wouldn't give that much credit to Cobain. After all, his death had no effect on me and a good portion of the American people. I didn't fall into that percentage of youth that made up a majority of the buying power in the U.S. But there was a huge number of vigils over his death. The kind of thing you would expect over a major tragedy like the Virginia Tech Massacre or 9/11. I mean, really, how could you be surprised that he would commit suicide? Between his lifestyle and drug addiction this was a ticking time bomb about to explode. How could you be in shock? Were you in shock when Anna Nicole Smith died? Hell, the only thing that surprises me is that Courtney Love is still alive? I am in no means lumping Anna Nicole in with the Kurt Cobain in terms of importance and talent. I'm just saying, he was no John F. Kennedy or John Lennon for that matter. He was in the right place at the right time.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Again, I didn't conform to that group of people that made up record sales or made trends popular. I didn't belong to any group or style. I wasn't grunge or goth or emo or any of that. I was in that small minority of people who just said, "You know what? I don't care what you think is popular, I like a little bit of everything and I won't play your game." My tastes in music and movies weren't considered mainstream and I don't care how much some goth or punk looking kid says they are unique, they're probably standing right next to someone dressed just like them. Guess what, Mini Morrissey, you're just like everybody else. Stop being a wuss and just be yourself, lose the eye shadow, get over your parent issues, and get a friggin' job.

So, there we were in a world without Cobain, so what happened? We went back in time and drudged up Woodstock. Then, immediately after we shifted into the 70's with the release of Pulp Fiction, and soon, everyone was jumping on the 70's bandwagon. It was like we didn't know what to do with our lives so we clung to whatever recycled trend from the past 30 years we could find. Then with the popularity of the Internet and the ability to play digital music on computers we shifted into this 80's phase. 80's throwback sites with trivia and clips from cartoons and television shows began cropping up on the web. Entertainment Weekly provided their subscribers with a two disc set of nostalgia from the 80's. It was amid a bunch of 80's box set CDs released in the 90's. By the end of the 90's we had exhausted every decade and started looking back further. Early sprinklings of "Swing" music dotted the 90's landscape with Swing Kids and The Mask. Swingers made an underground cult splash in 1996. Then after the 80's fads died down there was the huge "Swing Revival" with the GAP ads featuring Brian Setzer Orchestra. Other bands like The Cherry Poppin' Daddies and The Squirrel Nut Zippers became well known as we crossed into the new millennium. By then, we had stretched our palettes so thin that NSYNCand Britney Spears had an easy time attracting our attention.

When Spencer Elden says that being a kid in the 90's would be better because there was an actual motivation to go out into the world and do something, he's right. To say that in the 90's there was something to actually better to do is a bit misguided. He was just a baby. I give him credit for pointing out what is wrong with his generation but I think he shouldn't look to my generation for something to model his life after. My parents may talk fondly about walking to school through three miles of snow, uphill, both ways, just to come home and work to help feed the family, but THAT WAS LIFE. In the 90's we spent our time reliving what we thought were the greatest parts of other generations' lives. Now, we just pretend to do everything and never leave the house. Perhaps Spencer's kids will just stay In Utero.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Do That Voodoo That Your Hairdo Does So Well

I am truly blessed. At 33, I still have hair. Now that may seem like a hollow victory to you, but to me it's a boon. A lot of guys my age, including some coworkers and a few former classmates have joined the bald brigade. Now, I don't mean to make light of their deficient pates. That would be a follicle faux pas. Really, they don't look that bad with the way high and tight hairline, but, quite frankly, I couldn't pull off the look. I've never had my hair short enough to check out the contours of my crown, but I assume that it is not smooth. In fact, I would be better off driving a car on the roads of Southwestern Pennsylvania with a scolding cup of hot coffee perched in between my legs sans lid than to believe that my head would be a smoother surface. So, to that I thank both my parents and whatever genes they passed on to me that has allowed me to keep this head o' hair o' mine. Looking back at my life, I've discovered that my hair has changed dramatically over the years. While I fashion myself as the kind of person who finds something that works and sticks to it, much to the boredom of the girl who does my hair, I have gone through substantial styles before settling on the one I sport now.

I wish my brother George was here.

Aww, ain't he just the cutest thing? Wow, oddly enough, I remember these pictures being taken. You can see that I had quite the coif. For some unknown reasons my parents decided to keep me with long hair off and on until the age of four. From then it was your basic boy's cut, a little shaggy around the bangs, but for the most part short enough for a kid in the late 70's/early 80's. Of course that would all change once I reached adolescence. I went through a rather strange phase where long hair was what I wanted.

Call Homeland Security, quick!

Uh, oh. Yeah, I had a mullet. In fact, I was dead set on having hair like Richard Marx. If I live to be a 1000 years I will never understand what I was thinking back in those days. Why I thought that it would be cool to sport the mullet isn't as ponderous as why I would pick an 80's soft rocker to model mine after. I would have loved to been able to sport a MacGyver Mullet, but all the duct tape in the world would never help me as my hair was too thick and dark to achieve his grandeur. Meanwhile, I spent way too much time in the morning working on my hair. I would wash it and then blow dry it. I had a daily ritual of blowing it back for a few minutes, then I would pull the brush forward allowing the dryer to blow it up into place. Not satisfied with the fact that it would take me as long as Tom Hanks in Castaway to grow said hair, I began to wrap the little rubber bands from my braces, that we called bicycle tires, around the ends in order to create a pony tail. It was more like a Doberman's tail. It had maybe an inch in length and looked rather ridiculous. By the time I was in my senior year of high school I scaled back the growth and kept to off my neck as much as possible, but I had moved from Richard Marx to Fred Savage in terms of poofiness.

Yeah, don't ask about the vest and the skinny tie.
Since then, I've only had one other occasion to wear my hair down to there as I did a show in 2001 that required me to have a 1950's rich boy cut. I played Ray, a golf pro and aspiring writer in Neil Simon's Proposals. Not only did I have to bring the bouffant, I had to wear this stupid outfit that showed off my pasty white legs. It was reminiscent of a Boyz II Men outfit from the Alex Vanderpool Era of "MotownPhilly" and Cooleyhighharmony. I was not thrilled. But, in true fashion, once the show was done, so was the do. I have yet to find a reason to grow my hair to that length, but I have become accustomed to having a dirty chin.

When you're this cool,
the sun shines on you 24 hours a day.

Since 2003, I've been sporting a mustache and goatee, mainly at the behest of my wife. She thinks that because I have such a boyish face it would give me some maturity. I think it's mainly because it gives me one chin and hides the other. And while I made a promise to myself to never color my hair like a lot of kids have done since I was in high school, I can see that there is some salt amongst the pepper. At first I tried to just extract the intruders from both my head and face but it has proven too painful as where one would be removed, two more would show up in its place a few days later. At 33, I feel that I'm a little young to be getting gray hair. My father has just recently begun showing more gray than he had previously, mostly do to his recovery from renal cell cancer. Both he and my grandfather had retained their dark colored hair for most of their lives. My grandfather lived to be in his 70's. While my father is 67, he just started going gray in the last 6 years. This was something I had hoped to have inherited but I guess I should be thankful I still have hair to turn gray. I've always wondered if I would color my hair had it gone gray and I don't think I will. I have no shame in having the gray and while I'm approaching middle age more in feeling than in actual years, I still have the mind of youngster, albeit not the tolerance for teenagers that I once had. Hopefully, my daughter can save me the anguish and be a little more mature in her teen years.

In any case, over the years I've gone from trying to grow my hair really long to wanting to keep it rather short in order to reduce care and maintenance. I am truly a victim of the times when it comes to the pictures with my revolving hair styles. The fact that I'm sharing them with my 2.5 readers shows my courage under dryer. Then again, it could show how vain I am about my hair and the fact that I've kept it this long. There were times I was afraid that my forehead was employing eminent domain over the rest of my scalp, seizing up property that was reserved for my hair. Thankfully, my hair line has been as sedentary as the Korean DMZ.

I had mentioned before that I bore the hell out of the girl who does my hair. When I walk in every four weeks and sit down in the chair, she always asks the same question, "What do you want to do with it?" With that question I offer the same reply, "Same as usual." I'm as routine with my haircut as I am in the person who cuts it. When I was a kid, I went to the same guy who married my mother's stylist. He was an artist from Nebraska and quite frankly, he was a better artist than barber. While I would constantly ask him to cut my hair a certain way, I always ended up with the same style. His prowess for cutting my hair showed the same amount of skill that I did in shop class. We could be tasked with making anything from a lamp to a bookshelf and I'd end up making an ashtray every time.

Once I began paying for my own haircuts I went to who I wanted to, a woman. I'm no dummy. I hear all the snide remarks about going to a stylist or a salon but I would rather have a female touching my hair than a guy. I have friends that swear by barbers, saying that you go in, and you're out in five minutes and in between there are a plethora of magazines to read ranging from Playboy to Penthouse. While, I'm not usually a reader in the salon, I do tend to scan through the local paper on occasion. From college to graduation and beyond I have gone to only a handful of people to do my hair. There was that brief stint where I went to the salon chains that promote a $10 haircut, but for that $10, I could have had a rat chew a better pattern out of my skull. While barbers and Fantasic Super Cutups Scams are cheaper, I like the quality of the work. Now, a friend of mine used to go to only the big name mall salons that charge you $100 for a style and then require you to pay an additional $50 for product to keep it looking like it does when you leave the store. I can't see being that crazy about a hair cut and frankly, I could spend that $100 on better things and just grow my hair long. Either way, I'm still going home and washing it again to get all those bristly clippings off my person that drive me nuts. No, I'm quite happy going to the local shop, paying $20, and having my girl, Lea, take care of me. She's a hell of a lot better looking than Howard McNear, if anything. Once in awhile our schedules don't mesh and I'm forced to use someone else in the shop. At this point in my life I don't have a clear grasp on what style Lea gives me and trying to explain it is about as easy as ordering a drink from Starbucks. I guess I should have her explain it to me but quite frankly, it's over my head.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

We Are Errant Knaves, All

Believe none of us.

I try to think of myself as an honest person, someone who walks on the right side of the law. A recent topic came up on a message board I frequent that caused me to re asses my virtue. The topic of the thread was "Did you ever steal?" When conjuring up my response I began to find more and more instances in my past of thievery. After compiling the list and posting it, I realized I was quite the larcener.

My pilfering began at an early age when, as a small child, I picked up and carried a Winnie the Pooh doll right out of a department store. My parents have told me that I found it on the floor, discarded by another child. I had always believed it was part of a display and that I had just felt that it needed to go home with me. I still have the stuffed animal, tattered and torn, missing an eyeball, with visual signs of previous surgeries to repair severed limbs, and have given it to my daughter as a passing of the plush.

While in high school I ran with some unsavory crowds. Some members would use their five finger discount at the local music store, sporting a baggy zip hoodie and filling the space between with CDs from the bins. Not wanting to be accountable for actual theft, I refrained from participating but knew full well the actions of my friends. No, I was not up to the big game, I worked on a smaller scale. We would go to a knock off of Chuck E. Cheese's called Sideshow Pizza for the buffet. Their proof of purchase was a colored string clamped on your wrist with a contrasting colored metal clasp. This allowed you repeat trips to the pizza buffet and drink fountains. We would chip in a couple bucks each and purchase one meal, taking turns wearing the loose fitting bracelet. When one member would come back with his plate he would remove the bracelet and pass it to the next person under the table, away from the watchful eyes of the manager. After each trip to the restaurant, our wheelman would remove the clasp from the bracelet and add them to our collection hanging from his rear view mirror. Sometimes, fortune favored the felon and a discarded bracelet from that days color scheme would be found in the parking lot saving us the five dollars outright.

By college, I was a regular Campus Clyde Barrow, setting my sights on the ridiculously overpriced student meal plan. Our plans consisted of 'blocks' equating to roughly five dollars. For a block you get infinite trips to the cafeteria food line which consisted of items found in most institutional settings, both educational and penal. After one trip, it was a crime against humanity to return for more. The other option was a newer, renovated food court which consisted of several themed areas with offerings such as pasta and pizza, a deli, fish, rotisserie, and frozen deserts. In this instance a block would get you a combo meal including a drink. I would usually get my lunch or dinner to go, opting to eat in the comfort of my dorm room instead of the general seating areas. Instead of the mandated two pieces of pizza I would get four, stuffing them into a plastic "to-go container." The heat from the pizza would then steam up the plastic, obscuring the view of the contents. When approaching the cashier, I would not say anything to give away my ruse, allowing them to make the mistake on their own. With a 90% success rate, I could get have leftovers for dinner on one trip. In my estimation, this was reconciliation for the devious methods by which the university would parlay students fear of losing unused blocks at the end of the semester. Their practices of selling cases of soda at the special price of five blocks a piece roughly came to a 500% markup of retail price. Who was stealing from who in that scenario?

Since graduation I have been low key in my larceny. I won't go into any great detail for fear of retribution but I have refused to buy music since 1999. Frankly, my worst crimes are behind me, I mainly stick to small time jobs more consistent with that of a petty nature. Maybe an extra apple of a higher price slips into my bag while going through the self checkout at the grocery store. That coupon is out of date, but you never know unless you try. Perhaps, I don't tell my server they forgot to charge me a drink and then I slip them and extra dollar for tip at my favorite restaurant.

When I really think about all the things I've stolen I realize that I'm probably not as evil as I make myself out to be. We all steal in one way or another. I've stolen a kiss before, and maybe a few hearts. Half of my semi funny observations are probably not my own but unconscious recollections of something I've seen or heard. In the past, I blatantly stole web page code because that's what you did in the early days of guerrilla website design. If you didn't know how to code something, you found it somewhere else and stole the source. I didn't even draw that goofy Mongo picture at the top of this blog. I found a jpeg through Google of some one's drawing of DC Comics' Solomon Grundy character and added the computer. And this blog entry's title, I stole that from Shakespeare. In fact, the sum of our individual personalities are an amalgamation of others'. A saying or action that you may do with regular frequency is probably something that you adopted from someone else. You stole their shtick. Such phrases as, "Shit the bed," "Hell's half acre," and "Huh, Hell! Pay Attention!" are all common sayings that I did not originate but use in my everyday world. While I may have been a thief of just about everything in this world I make reparations with the gift of laughter. That should be enough to balance the scales. Am I right?


I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven?

Go thy ways to a nunnery.

And don't steal anything on the way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Behind The Red Room Door

In my house there is a room of complete and utter chaos. The laws of physics do not apply. It is a room where objects disappear into another dimension, only to reappear months later. Mystical forces block memory of leaving objects here. This place, this unearthly place has no basis in reality. Its location can shift overtime, occupying different areas of a home. As for now, its blood red carpet chills the spine. The shapes and figures that adorn the walls mock you when you enter. Abandon all hope for this is the red room and it is the dumping ground for everything which has no other place.

No, this isn't the Twilight Zone and it's not Twin Peaks. This is the spare bedroom in my house. It was a kid's bedroom that had ugly red carpet and wallpaper depicting baby Disney characters in all manner of bedtime preparation. On occasion, when we can clean it up, it serves as a guest bedroom but for now, it's pretty much storage for all sorts of junk that have no place anywhere else in the house. It also serves as a closet for all my clothes and a ready room for me in the morning so I don't wake my wife. It's nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, a lot of people probably have a 'stuff' room in their house. It's the room no one ever sees. The one door that always remains closed when company comes to visit.

My parents had one. It was my brother's bedroom after he moved out. The once sparse room now contained all manner of plants and packages to be wrapped for Christmas. My wife's parents have one. It was their eldest daughter's room. At one point, it held their old Macintosh computer and two recliners. My wife's parents would watch television in that room while we occupied the downstairs. Eventually, it shifted to other rooms of the house as they found the need to have an extra bedroom available. I used to have two. No, I'm not rich, just disorganized. But with the birth of my daughter, I needed a nursery. So, I had to downsize to just one. But let's talk humble beginnings.

I didn't always have a 'stuff' room. My first apartment did not have a 'junk' room; therefore everything I had was stuff. It was the George Carlin rule. "Your stuff is shit. My shit is stuff. Get your shit out of here. I need a place for my stuff." I also did not have anything in great quantities that could be construed as miscellaneous. All my worldly possessions at that point resided in one of the many rooms in my Dad's office building. Short of holding a vintage complete with a jar containing the head of Benjamin Raspail (a.k.a. Miss Hester Moffet), there was all manner of 'stuff' housed at the office. There was the custom made headboard from my college dorm, a Domino's Pizza thermal bag, various books, and two round table tops and bar stools. There was no way I could these items in my current living space, but when I moved into a bigger townhouse, I began to accrue more stuff. Now, my spare bedroom became a stuff room. It contained all of my Christmas and Halloween decorations in the closet, my monster entertainment center that no longer fit anywhere else, a futon, the litter box for the cats, all my records (not music), and various nick knacks that no longer had a place among the regular everyday ones. During this time, I was planning a wedding and could not fathom getting a whole lot of new 'stuff' from guests since I had no place for more of my current 'stuff.'

At that point, my then fiancée decided to buy a house so that we didn't have to move so much stuff. When we moved in brought all my 'current stuff' with me as well as the 'old stuff' from the office and my wife's stuff. We stacked everything from floor to ceiling in both extra bedrooms. Each had an odd theme. We called one the 'Pooh Room' since it was painted in Pink and Yellow on opposite walls. The other was a horribly designed kids' bedroom we dubbed the 'Red Room' from the carpet and wallpaper. Both of these rooms also had to hold bedroom furniture since we brought those from our respective homes as well.

My introduction to the Red Room describes as a place where objects disappear. I simply mean that anything that can not be found was usually located in the red room. However, at one point during our engagement, my wife lost her ring. Her friend had come over to help color her hair and hoping to not get any color or chemicals on her ring she removed it and forgot where she had left it. Usually, I have an uncanny knack for locating lost items in my house as long as I know where it was seen last. I can deduce the final location based on movement and tasks completed after said item was last seen. It's the equivalent to a contact wearer dropping one of their lenses and always looking in the weirdest of places to find it, whether it be the side of the vanity countertop or the back of the underside of the faucet. Since my wife had no recollection on when or where she had seen it last I had no basis on which to mount my search. Sickened to her stomach, she agonized for days over where it could have gone. I asked her if it was possible that she threw it away. Her uncertainty gave me pause. It was late in the week, so I would have a large amount of trash to sift through in order to declare it not there. But, I did. After cleaning up, she continued to fret over the ring as we only had six months before our wedding. She was puzzled at my lack of worry. I told her that with all the things that had to be done before our wedding, I couldn't worry about this one thing. It wasn't in the garbage and you last saw it while in the house. It had to be somewhere and we would find it when we stopped looking for it. In all probability it was where I originally figured it would be, the Red Room. She did not remember leaving it there and the room was a disaster as it was. Although, I refrained from giving her more grief by stating that perhaps one of our cats had eaten it, but since I did the litters, eventually it would appear, if that were the case. My wife's continual bewilderment at my lack of fear of losing items in my house is only matched by the track record of finding said items when I quit looking for them, though not all were found in the Red Room.

Every so often, over the course of the next few months, I would take a spin around the house and check in unusual places for the ring, but never did I locate it. About a month prior to the wedding we began shuffling stuff from the 'stuff' rooms in order to have space available for out of town guests attending our wedding. While the mattress and box spring for my wife's old bedroom suit were located in the 'Pooh Room,' the frame was stacked in the 'Red Room.' Again, the nature of the 'stuff' room is that there is no logical order to what is kept there. While moving the folded up metal bed frame I heard a tinkling noise that didn't sound like it belonged. Then, there was the dull sound of a small object hitting the carpet floor. Among the blood red sea of shag pile lay a bright shiny metallic object. It was the ring. The interdimensional doorway had reopened and deposited the ring into the folded up bed frame just in time for the wedding.

This was, of course, the only explanation because there was no way my wife would have purposely put the ring in between the folds of the frame. I surprised her with the find, asking her to marry me all over again. She, at first, assumed that I had bought another ring, but that was not the case. I asked her if she remembered taking her ring off in the 'Red Room' before coloring her hair. She suddenly recalled being draped with a towel and adorned in foil and thinking that she better take off the ring. Her and her friend had been looking at her in the mirror on top of the dresser when this thought occurred. She then took the ring and placed it on the window sill of that room where it must have fallen down off the window sill and into the frame. She could neither remember taking it off or being in that room until this point. The 'Red Room' cast a spell of amnesia on her before taking the shiny jeweled object.

From then on we tried to do our best not to go into the 'Red Room' with any thing of value. In the last year we have managed to discard or organize the bulk of our 'stuff' as to alleviate the contents of our 'stuff' room. One motivational factor was the first birthday of our daughter this July. Again, an out of town friend was visiting and since the other room was now a nursery, we needed a useable bedroom. We worked long weekend hours to clear out both our primary 'stuff' room and our secondary 'stuff' room, our garage. In the case of inclement weather threatening our picnic, we would bring tables and chairs into our garage to house guests.

Granted, both rooms still house an amazing amount of 'stuff' that needs to go somewhere else. I hope that by this time next year, this 'stuff' has found a more permanent home, either in the dumpster, another room, or the 'Room of Abandonment.' That's my attic and it has a lot of 'stuff' that makes appearances throughout the year and it is a pain in the ass to get it. I need to get rid of a lot of stuff.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Priceless One

I am the master planner. I can plan for any occasion whether it be a holiday, a vacation, or a business trip. I just can't seem to follow through ahead of time and be ready when said event occurs. Take for instance last Fourth of July. My wife was 9 months pregnant and a scheduled caesarean section would bring our daughter into the world on the 5th. I've had 9 months to plan everything in order to be ready for her birth. Get the house ready, get the nursery ready, get me ready for that little one to come into our lives. So, as the master planner that I am, why do you think I was scrubbing walls and cleaning the house on the Fourth of July? Good Question. I don't know the answer. I wish I did. A lot of things got left by the way side after she was born. I never cleaned out the gutters. I didn't get finished ridding the yard of leaves. Hell, Christmas decorations started going up on the first of December and were finally done by Christmas Eve. My wife and I devoted a lot of our time to the baby and let everything else get away from us.

This year I made the decision to be ready if it killed me. We had it all planned out. It's not like it was going to sneak up on us. The 5th of July happens the same time every year. We began planning in April. We knew it was a Saturday. I made arrangements to be off most of that week so that I could finish up last minute details. With a month or so left to go we sprang into action. Each weekend was our optimal time to get things done so we had the little one shipped off to babysitters while we worked. How sad is that? After a year of being parents and we have people baby-sit for us so we can work? We don't even get to enjoy the freedom of not having to be parents for that little bit of time. I made the declaration and probably will not be able to follow through with it but I made it anyway. After this we are taking it easy. Last summer flew by as we were sequestered into the house to take care of a newborn. This year, at least the second half of the summer will be there for us to enjoy. As of the time of this blog post, we have yet to enjoy anything but a baby who can walk and be absolutely adorable. We also just stare at the pile of presents and the disastrous state of the house and wonder if we'll be ready for the holidays. It's a vicious cycle.

Back to strategy. We went to the party planning store and picked out balloons, themed cake plates, themed napkins, and overall color scheme. With three weeks left to go we made a trip to the big store that is the most evil place on Earth and got all our plastic and plates for the rest of the food and finalized our menu. The only thing that was taking forever was my grill since it was loud and clangy and the only time I had to assemble it was when the baby was sleeping and that was not the best time to be making noise. With two weeks left to go we ordered the cake and made arrangements to have tables and chairs. We didn't know the total amount of guests because the RSVP date was the 1st of July. We initially sent invitations for a total of 50 people. Yes, we are nuts. By the end of June we had 10 people for sure. My wife, fearing that we would be stuck with a lot of food told me to just start inviting people. Did I mention we are nuts. As of the 1st, we had 30 people and more to come. With one week to go before the party we began to panic. The last count was 46 people and now we were afraid that we were going to run out of food. Is a full keg too much? Should we get a full and a half just in case? When do we start setting up everything? Will this rain let up? Seriously, it rained everyday that week except for one day which I used to cut the grass.

It appeared that no matter how much we planned ahead of time a lot of things couldn't be done until the last minute. I had no real storage areas for all the tables, so they couldn't be picked up until that Friday and then had to sit in the garage up against the door. That was a real chore. We secured six 8' tables and 31 chairs. I was afraid that the chairs would be wooden and not very comfortable so I made a suggestion to people to bring some of their own. That way, I didn't have to get as many from the church. After all, I was trying to make this as simple as possible in order to maximize my time of assembly. All tables and chairs had to wait until Saturday morning because of the poor weather. Also, I borrowed a tent from my parents which required four people to assemble and they offered to show up early to help.

My father in law was so worried that if we waited until Saturday to pick up the beer that it would be nothing but foam. It needs to sit for 24 hours. I wasn't about to leave it outside in a tub of ice, only to keep icing it down or find it stolen by some lucky passerby. I couldn't keep it in any of my fridges. If I left it in a tub of ice in my garage it would have to still be moved and sloshed around. I opted for taking my chances with the foam. Balloons couldn't be picked up till the day of the party, neither could the cake. I also had to assemble the backyard on the premise that it would stop raining on Friday. Again, every huge task had to be put off until the last minute.

Saturday morning played out like this. Woke up and had breakfast. With my friend in tow, we went to the distributor and grabbed the keg. Came back and unloaded the keg in the backyard, iced down. Went to the party store to get the flowers. Went to the bakery to get the cake. Began setting up tables and chairs. Got the tent set up and began icing down water and pop (soda for you non Mid Atlantians.) By now it was 3:00 PM and time for guests to show up. I quickly changed and greeted people as they came. My wife and her mother readied all the non grilling food while I entertained and pointed people in the directions of food, drink, and card table. At 4:30 PM, I began grilling up hot dogs and kielbasa. We ate, and proceeded to sing and open presents. By 8:00 people had their fill but still held out for a mini fireworks display at dusk. After everyone left around 9:30, the cleanup began. Before my parents left, the tent was disassembled and back in the garage. My wife and her mother cleaned inside, my friend and I worked outside, and my father in law watched the baby. All 6 tables and 31 chairs were back in the garage before 11:00 PM. I had a shower, had a quick snack, and off to bed.

Come Sunday, we still had to return all the chairs and tables, which we did by 2:00 PM. We then took the remainder of the keg to a friend's house and tried to get rid of it to no avail. I came to terms with the fact that I would have to give back half a keg but didn't care. The tables were gone, my house was empty, and life could return to normal.....right? My poor friend who came in from out of town on vacation only to work his ass off for me. He may never come back.

In the end, the party was successful in that it never rained, we had tons of food, and everyone had a good time. My back will differ with this assessment as will my feet. I learned a few things along the way. Yeah, a keg will foam up for a few hours after it is put into place, but a pitcher does nicely to alleviate the problem. Our church is super nice and super accommodating, I'm glad we picked them. Who ever writes the instruction manuals for grills should be worse, tortured following instructions with as much ambiguity as the manuals they had written. I suck at horseshoes. And who needs a MasterCard commercial.
Half Barrel of beer for party - $82.00
2 layer cake with strawberry filling that serves 50 for party - $50.00
Balloons, decorations, napkins, table linens, and banners for party - $70.00
Six 8' tables and 31 chairs for party - $0.00

Seeing this face as she dives into her smash cake...
But next year, we're going to Chuck E. Cheese. I'm still tired.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Come in Pieces

With one year of fatherhood under my belt, my thoughts turn to the future. Specifically, how to stop it from happening. While I know that's impossible I do keep a thought in my head that keeps me up nights worrying. "I'm going to have to put a lot of things together over the next few years." That single idea of "some assembly required" is enough to rattle any one's cage. I don't care how skilled a craftsman you are.

I make jokes about it but the truth is I really hate putting things together. It's not that I have no skills in inserting tab A into slot B, it's just that I hate instructions. My last jigsaw puzzle contraption was a brand new grill that got tested out at my kid's first birthday. My previous one finally proved ineffective a couple of years ago and lack of money and space kept me from getting a new one. I resorted to charcoal grilling on a rinky dink grill that I can toss across the street and believe me there has been days. I'll say one thing about grilling and then back to the topic at hand. Never by cheap charcoal. If you are serious about grilling on charcoal then by quality, no fluid needed, briquettes. Also, a good rule of thumb is to have one of those chimneys around. Those are cool.

Ok, back to my cobbling prowess. Over the years of living on my own, I have had to assemble a lot of furniture. Once, I actually considered getting a job where all I would do is go to different stores and assemble display models. It was a whim when a coworker told me all about it. I could work my own hours, set my own pace, and pretty much just sit alone in a room with a bunch of pieces of veneered particle board and an allen wrench and make some magic. What is it with the allen wrench? Ready to assemble furniture relies on the hex bolt to hold everything together and now I've got fifteen allen keys sitting in my garage that I'll never use again.

My first project was an entertainment center in my first apartment. I had no money but wanted to build the perfect beast to house my television, DVD player, stereo and VCR. I ended up going to a local defunct chain called Ames. They were a casualty of the Wal-Mart takeover at the turn of the century. For $99.00 it was, in my mind, a great buy. It was walnut veneer with a huge opening for all my A/V equipment. It had those magnetic glass doors so you could see all of my DVDs and games. I was quite proud when I put it together. It even had the veneered cardboard with several perforated punch out areas depending on the size of my television and cabling structure. It was a monster. Then I moved and it had to come with me. I disassembled it and put into storage. Alas, it never held a good shape after that and I decided to get a new one. I gave it to a stoner neighbor and went off to Wal-Mart for a better one.

What I found was another good deal on my previous model's bigger brother. This one was nearly floor to ceiling with flanked shelving areas and cabinets underneath. It had molding around the top and bottom that made it appear more expensive. A night with an allen wrench and I had the Mt. Everest of Entertainment Centers ready for action. Then I moved and it had to come with me. Unfortunately, this model had a little more intricate design. Perhaps someone at the Sauder/O'Sullivan/Ovation factory took some designs from M.C. Escher and Frank Lloyd Wright because this thing didn't break down into modular pieces.

Once in my new residence I found that I did not have the space to erect the monstrosity. My wife, then girlfriend, could not fathom having furniture that went beyond the slanted opening of a stairwell. Neither my entertainment center, nor my couch, sit squarely in the middle of a wall without breaching into open space. Insistent that I would not get rid of what I now called the S.S. Enterprise, I moved it to a spare bedroom and it pretty much became nick knack storage. Again, I bought a new one. In a move I can only describe as getting away from an SUV in favor of a fuel efficient vehicle, I opted to buy a more compact and lightweight model considering my pattern of moving once I bought furniture. I went with a model that had side shelves and cabinet space beneath but allowed me some room to eventually expand my television screen towards 32". Something, I hoped to do once the price of Plasmas came down. Then I moved.

At this point the exercise in taking an older entertainment center with me became futile as I was more suited for building a ship in a bottle. I was going to have to call Maury Povich to bring a crew over to my house and take out a wall in order to get the Enterprise out of the spare bedroom. Instead of scrapping it, I offered it to the movers who helped me vacate my premises on the contingency that they were responsible for it.

In the house I have now, I still have the smaller entertainment center upstairs and a newer, even smaller model downstairs in my family room. Again, the space I had did not allow me to be too elaborate. I did however take advantage of the manual's policy of calling the manufacturer instead of the store for replacement of missing or broken items. These things are so cheap that they are willing to just ship you pieces of wood and hardware at no cost because they know how badly they are constructed and packaged. In fact, my old coworker, who nearly convinced me of a career in display construction, passed a manual around to family members who in turn rounded up enough pieces to construct two new stands.

Since then I've learned a few things about ready to assemble items.
  1. The better the quality, the less there is to build.
  2. Some idiot is in charge of writing the manuals because they make no sense and the diagrams are ridiculously horrible or do not match the model you have.
  3. From now on, chose living accommodations based on current furniture ownership.
  4. Hope and pray my daughter doesn't move as much as I did.
  5. Find a purpose for three walnut shelves and a futon bolt.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Nemesis

Superman and Lex Luthor. Optimus Prime and Megatron. Han Solo and Boba Fett. The Nemesis is a literary technique to create drama and conflict in the world of the Hero. He is usually a polar opposite to the Hero, yet at one time they could have possibly been friends. At some point during their friendship an event occurred that split the two onto separate paths, pitting them against each other in a constant struggle over the balance of power between good and evil. Often, in a series of stories, say a graphic novel, the Hero and the Nemesis are forced to work together against a common foe but as soon as the status quo has returned to normal they are once again on opposite sides of the fight.

Just because comic books are ultimately aimed at kids doesn't mean they are not literature. Comic books or graphic novels are Jungian and Freudian in nature and play on the same character archetypes that are found in mythology and classical literature. Yet, art always imitates life and the Nemesis can be found in everyday life. You may have a Nemesis in your school, on the field, or in your place of work. They are usually someone in direct contrast from your own personality and you can never resolve your issues with them for as much as you are different, you are as alike as two magnets that constantly repel each other.

Growing up, I had a Nemesis through 12 years of school. He lived nearby and while I was chunky with dark hair and glasses, he was skinny and blonde. Where he was a bully and a troublemaker, I was the typical nerd and nice guy. Yet, there were times when for some unknown reason we were friendly towards each other only to turn around and find the proverbial knife in my back. He liked to kick, my Nemesis did. He was known to come to school dressed in work boots on days he intended to cause turmoil. I remember various occasions on which he and another kid, his henchman decided to ambush me at the playground in an attempt to beat me up. In true good vs.. evil fashion, the henchman bumbled his way through the process and at one point attempted to rush me only to have me move at the last moment letting him run headlong into a fire hydrant. I dodged and used my surroundings to gain the upper hand and they left unsatisfied but with the thought that this was not over.

Childhood beatings on the playground seemed scarier than they really were. A lot of it was psychological. If someone can force you to be compliant out of fear, there is never a need to back it up with force. But, if the Nemesis finds that fear is no longer a weapon they must resort to violence and that is where you must hold your ground. They always say that the only way to disarm a bully is to stand up to them. This only works if they can't win in a fight. To beat a bully you have to remove the element of intimidation. You have to show them that you aren't afraid of them and can be their equal. Without that leverage they can't enforce their will over you. Another example would be the moment I beat my Nemesis on his own level. During gym class one day we split up into teams to play a combination of football, hockey, and basketball that required you to get control of a nerf football during a tip off, take only two steps before passing or shooting and place the ball past a goalie for a goal. I was the goalie against my Nemesis' more physical role. He attempted to cherry pick me waiting by my end of the court. His team got control of the ball and launched to him thinking he could score easily on me. What he didn't realize was that I was bigger and took the opportunity to body check him out of the way before the ball got to him. Knocking him to the ground I took his physical weapon away from him. It was like Rocky making Ivan Drago bleed. "He's not a machine." From then on his attempts to physically attacked me consisted of him trying to kick me while vying for control of the ball. Something that he never could get over me. I didn't care whether he kicked, clawed, or bit. I was not letting him have the advantage. At that moment, the Nemesis was defeated and disappeared for the remaining time in high school.

After I graduated and moved onto a new environment, the concept moved with me and my Nemesis became a floor mate in my dorm at college. Again, we were polar opposites. We had different views on women and how to pick them up. I was single and made it a point to be a gentleman. He had a girlfriend back home and made it a point to turn his dorm room into a revolving door bachelor pad, hooking up with as many girls as possible while his girlfriend wait patiently back home for his faithful return.

In essence the rules about the nature of the Nemesis had changed. He was no longer a poster boy for the master race. No, this was not Draco Malfoy by any means. This was the dawn of the new pretty boy. Pre-Metro sexual man wearing Eddie Bauer and sporting perfectly gelled hair with no brains whatsoever. Most girls he picked up were ones that he sought out in his classes to 'tutor' him. That's how he sucked in one of the girls who time and time again would come back to him when he called her. She realized what he was and that he would never leave his girlfriend. She was simply a friend with benefits and he was reaping all of them. She would constantly complain about this vicious cycle but would continue to be used by him.

Now there were times that he and I got along. Other times I was completely at odds at how he operated. I began to wonder if I truly hated him or the fact that I couldn't be like him. He did have one specific trait that completely annoyed me and I find that the same trait exists in a lot of guys with the same type of personality. In fact I just noticed it while watching a reality show a few weeks back. Why is it that there is a need for a guy to hold a baseball bat when there is no need to hold a baseball bat? I mean you are in a conversation with someone in a non sports related setting and there is this guy sitting there clutching a baseball bat over his head for no reason. Is it Freudian, like owning a sports car is a sign that you are compensating for some shortcoming?

Where was I? Oh yes. This conflict of interest between me and my new Nemesis was short lived as I engaged in a relationship the next year and had no need to worry about his behavior. Sorry, but I guess I was indeed just mad because he was successful with women and I wasn't and now that was a non issue. With this issue removed from our path we never felt the need to argue or be at odds. The Nemesis was now a dormant being waiting for the next stage of my journey which took place a couple of years later.

I had graduated and become single again in the next two years. I began working in a job where I was a sort of outsider. Not quite young enough to blend in with the younger high school and college age guys yet not old enough to relate to the older employees in terms of being disenchanted with the organization. Soon, the Nemesis awoke and took the form of the hot shot leader of the guys who had worked there for years. This time I had upset the balance of their environment. I was hired off the street as a bartender but he had worked his way up from bus boy, paying his dues. Perhaps I was a threat to him because of my status. Perhaps he was just pissed that I wouldn't play along with his crap. I was there to work. Granted, he did his fair share but I kept up with him. Again, he did not fit the previous molds of the Nemesis. He had a more 'Black Knight' but I could tell he came from a spoiled life. Yes, he worked for things and was able to make his own way but you could feel that he was used to getting what he wanted in his upbringing, not just what he needed.

We had our battles and again, I was not on the more popular side. The first conflict springs to mind. We had been working late one night when everyone was kind of sitting around the office and not getting much done. In order for us to leave a set of tasks had to be completed. Sometimes the more menial the task the less enthusiasm to get it done. This task was vacuuming a meeting room. It was considered a job to be performed by a girl and at this moment, the female employees were showing their feminist sides and refused to do the task. Not wanting to get into a pissing match I just grabbed a vacuum and went to work. When I got back I tossed the vacuum into its cubby and for some reason, the Nemesis showed himself making comments to my lack of working and I went into attack mode. He was sitting on a stoop and I walked over and told him to shut his mouth. He asked if I was threatening him and I simply yet sternly said "No. I'm just telling you that regardless of what you may think about me, I don't ever want you to hear say I don't work. " For what seemed like minutes passed as he stood up to me nose to nose. I then said that the room was swept and we could go home. The battle lines had been drawn.

From then on it became a test of wills. He was too hot headed to give up and I was too stupid and cranky to give in to his badgering. Being older gave me a sort of ambivalence to his physical advantages over me and I went toe to toe whenever he challenged my ability to keep up with him. Eventually, he left and went to work somewhere else leaving me in the position to be the leader. I was promoted and was given a certain amount of respect by some of the other employees. With the Nemesis gone, I felt a sort of relief that allowed me to concentrate on my work and not worry about resistance. Soon, the Nemesis would return and for once I was ready.

He returned shortly before the start of a new year and while at a Christmas party he felt the need to try and rattle my cage. He said out loud at our table that I must be pretty pissed that he was returning since he would be reinstated at the position he left. Without missing a beat I said, Why worry? I didn't get your job. I surpassed it." He kind of just sat there blinking repeatedly not prepared for my answer. It was a moment summed up in one phrase. Pure ownage. From then until I left that job, I never once had to worry about him being a threat. We became civil towards each other and worked together without incident.

Since then I've had no conflicts with a Nemesis. It appears that he/she is sleeping in the abyss awaiting for the next chance to arise. In all instances I proved that by taking away the one weapon the Nemesis had over me I was able to send them away and coexist peacefully in that environment. Now, that is not to say that the Nemesis is gone for good. I'm sure that one day I will move onto a new stage in life that will present an opportunity for conflict. Perhaps when my child is old enough to attend school or be involved with activities I will find the Nemesis hiding in one of their classmates' parents. The soccer field or a PTA meeting may provide recognition and start the battle all anew. What I do know is that I've learned how to deal with the Nemesis and can strategically find a method to send them away. Frankly, I'm getting too old to fight with anyone. They better just be prepared to deal with the cranky instead of the valiant. The wait is on.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Remembering Dave Laws

Sometimes, in this world, a momentous occasion is often marked with the remembrance of one which is not momentous. This is the balance between life and death. For every Winter there is a Spring. It is with recognition of this cycle that my thinking bounces between that of my daughter's impending first birthday and the anniversary of the death of a friend. My daughter was born on July 5th of last year. We called her the firecracker with the long fuse. Actually, her due date was the 7th and I can't tell you how much I was hoping that she would have been born on that day. Perhaps having a birthday of 7-7-07 would help to break any bad luck our family has had in the past, especially around holidays. But, she was breach and unfortunately, scheduled Cesarean sections are not usually performed on Saturdays in the hospital where she was born. At this point, I'm glad she is happy and healthy. That trumps perceived lucky number birth dates every time in my book.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, on July 5th, 2004, a high school friend of mine, named Dave Laws, drowned in the river that separates the East and West ends of my home town. What is ironic is that the day before I was having a 4th of July cookout with friends and families and had made mention of Dave to my father. I had not thought of Dave in a few years as we had not seen each other in almost a decade since I graduated from high school. The reason for even bringing Dave into conversation was that three days earlier, one of Dave's iconic heroes of film, Marlon Brando, had died. I said in passing to my father, "I wonder how Dave Laws is handling the death of Brando?" The next day, while wading near the shore in the river, he stepped off into a deep area and went under.

There is not much I can say about Dave's life with any great depth as I really didn't know him until I was a sophomore in high school. I wasn't struggling to blend in or find acceptance as the little fish in a big pond, but I did find myself being pulled towards a group of social misfits. We were, for all intents and purposes, those oddball A/V types who loved swords, anime, Conan (The Barbarian...not O'Brien), and explosives. We listened to Hendrix, The Doors, and Led Zeppelin. These were the times when you could exhibit these traits and not be red flagged as an individual who would walk into the school one day and start opening fire on the student body. Dave was our oldest member, being a second year senior at the time of my enrollment. While, I didn't exactly win over this new group of friends from the beginning, it was hard to deny that I got under their skin and became accepted as one of their own. Dave was first to crack and nicknamed me in our little world of stage crew elite as Gowae, The Cimmerian Dog, guardian of scrolls. I said we were oddball, did I not?

That first year of high school consisted of indoctrination into all things weird. Imagine an Almost Famous style adventure with the cast of Freaks and Geeks. Late nights at the high school building sets led to even later nights tooling around the back roads of our town in search of an empty smoking table at Eat N' Park. There sitting in the seat of power was Dave spouting philosophy on why high school is a joke all the while doing it in a Brando accent circa The Godfather. He was jaded yet continued to soldier on towards that elusive diploma. At some point during the year, Dave had surgery, and was laid up in the hospital for a few days. Extolling the virtues of Demerol he related the side effects of such a wonderful pain killer by stating that he had the most surreal of dreams that involved all of us individually driving our Broncos around the high school and rolling them down the steps. While being transported to the hospital he would hang out the window tossing sheets and all manner of hospital gowns and linens. It further cemented his nature as being truly demented yet probably one of the most honest and real people I had ever had the chance to meet. In fact, he finally caved to my charm completely and amended my name to be Gowae Nice Guy as I was still somewhat annoying but truly a good person to have around.

The fact that his passing came out of nowhere after years of being off my social radar only serves as an omen that as I get older I will begin to see or hear of people, who I considered friends in my youth, dying without my knowing. We cling to memories of our childhood as a way to remember the good times, when naiveté and lack of responsibility were two traits we held dear. We experience, we grow up, we move on, we forget, we remember, and we lament. There are some times when we have the opportunity to reach out and reconnect with those we saw as close friends as I have with the introduction to my newest vice, Facebook. The Internet has given us the ability to track down those individuals with greater ease than we ever had. Those few moments captured in thought or snapped picture serve as a placeholder in our minds of a time when we thought that friends really were forever. While we pack away photo albums or struggle to remember little details about a fun day or exciting adventure we forget to truly realize that we had the best times when we had everything to look forward to. Without warning or chance for resistance responsibility crept in and matters of money and security overtook the spaces in our minds reserved for happy thoughts of childhood. We throw away those childish things that we said we would keep forever because we just don't have the space in our homes just like our minds. Soon, Peter Pan grows up and gets a job and forgets that he was an eternal child with wonder in his eyes.

So, as I make preparations to go out and watch my daughter tear into her own birthday cake, which I'm sure will just be obliterated into a carnage of flying icing, I keep a thought reserved for the one guy I knew who would probably act just like her for a chance to be a kid once again. I remember Dave Laws (aka Evad) and I miss him. He could have been a contender. He could have been somebody. However, he did have class all of his own.

Gowae 'Nice Guy' The Cimmerian Dog.

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