Wet Feet

July 25, 2019

Photo Credit: A Photographer

It seems like I never spot an MG Midget (no disrespect to any people of small stature) on the road these days. You know, the tiny open-top convertible from Britain that looked like something a James Bond want-to-be would drive if he couldn’t afford an Aston Martin. When I was a kid I saw them quite often. They were usually a deep maroon, hunter green, sky blue or vivid orange color, and the top was always off.

They weren’t usually in great condition. In fact, my recollection is that many of them needed some work. Most had plenty of dents and scratches, with rust creeping through in the usual places. But it didn’t matter. To me, they were unique and cool. The guys driving them always wore sunglasses and smoked cigarettes. They’re probably French dudes who date models, I’d think.

I knew a guy who drove one. Well, I didn’t really know him — he was the father of a “friend” of mine. I use the term friend loosely, because he was a kid from church, so I kind of had to be nice to him. You know, trying to be Christianly, and all. Regardless, this guy’s dad had a motorcycle, too, doubling-down on the coolness factor in my young eyes. Coming from a family that only drove reliable and economical Japanese sedans, owning a roadster AND a motorcycle seemed like the pinnacle of rebellious bad-assery.

The problem was that that my friend’s old man wore eyeglasses instead of sunglasses, he didn’t smoke, and if he spoke French he never showed it off or bragged about it — something I, as a seventh-grader taking a French class, assumed anyone with the ability would most certainly flaunt. Plus, he was a portly fellow who commonly wore sweaters — really the epitome of uncool in the mind of a middle school kid — thus putting a deep door ding in my theory about MG drivers.

My first car was a 1982 Volkswagen Jetta. Despite being European and a little unique, it completely lacked any female (let alone model) attracting coolness. In retrospect, it was really awful in most regards, but it served its purpose, which was simply to to get me around. Regardless, I loved it. No matter how bad it might have been, I think everyone has some odd fondness for their first car.

Yes, my Jetta certainly had a few problems. The major issue, at least in my teenage mind, was that the stereo totally sucked. All of my friends had awesome stereos that caused permanent hearing loss. If I was expecting a friend to pick me up, I didn’t have to watch, I simply listened. But mine just crackled, gurgled, and spat. It had a cassette player, but it ate tapes better than it played them. It was a total bummer during an era when guitar solos needed to be cranked up.

There were some minor issues as well. For example, the driver’s window wouldn’t roll up or stay up. I had to use both hands to grab about a 1/4″ sliver of exposed glass, pull up carefully as far as I could, put my forearms on the window to hold it, then use my fingers and palms to simultaneously push outward and upward until the window was all the way up. I had some duct tape around the top of the door/window frame (on the inside, of course, to avoid looking trashy), and at this point would press the tape firmly against the window to hold it in place. I’d have to replace the tape every couple of weeks when it would lose its tackiness and the window would start dropping down on its own as I drove. Not a big deal.

The second minor issue was that the car didn’t hold oil. Literally. My oil light was constantly on. I put a quart in every other morning — enough that you could see a tiny drop on the dipstick if the lighting was perfect. This routine went on for about a year. I thought I was being frugal by living with this problem, rather than getting it fixed. However one day I did some math, and accepted the fact that I had spent far too much on oil, so I finally took it to a mechanic. I distinctly remember him looking at me like I was the dumbest kid ever. “I’m surprised the EPA isn’t after you,” he scoffed, pointing a greasy fingernail at the bottom of my hoisted car. It was caked with oil that had been seeping from a myriad of places. I did (and still do) feel truly guilty about being a rolling oil spill. But, as a grown man looking back, I’m mostly just amazed by the German engineering that allowed a car to run for so long with no oil.

The final minor issue worth noting was that there were some holes in the floorboard by the back seat. As a result, when it was raining and I drove through a deep puddle, water would rush in, filling up small indentions that were meant for the rear passengers’ feet. I could never pinpoint where the water was entering, and it was strange how it came in so quickly and easily, yet it took so long to drain out.

Sometimes, on really stormy days, it would fill these feet areas completely. Then, when driving down hill, the water would crest and come rushing into the front of the car. I would go up a hill and it would slosh into the back again. This could go on all day. There was sometimes enough water that it would cause my shoes to become saturated, eventually leading to wet socks and wet feet. Looking back, I realize this was pretty gross, but I always thought my shoes would have been even wetter (and probably muddy) if I had been walking through the rain on these days. And driving was better than walking.

(Side Note: In the winter, the water would often freeze, leaving blocks of ice that could last for weeks or even months.)

My cars today have decent stereos, the windows work, and they don’t seep oil or have large puddles of water inside of them. But their main purpose is still just to safely get me and my family from point A to point B. That’s good enough for me. Somewhere, however, in the back of my mind, where practicality is forbidden to enter, as I sit firmly entrenched in middle age, I think about it. I think about how much fun it would be to fly down the open road, sunglasses on, the wind rushing past me, in a little MG. Maybe one day.

Un jour. Oui, oui.

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Book Ideas List

October 21, 2018

I’ve been busy lately and haven’t had much time to write. Truthfully, I’ve also felt rundown and tired. I’ve lacked all confidence and motivation. Social interaction has been a struggle. I feel old. My son started high school this year! I look in the mirror and see this aging man who was once full of life. Anyway, I don’t mean to be a downer. I know I’ll bounce out of this lull, and will soon be ready to write with a renewed sense of vigor. In the meantime, and as a way to stay productive, I’ve been compiling a list of possible future book/article ideas:

Ever-Fleeting Joy

How Gaming Ruined My Son and Tore My Family Apart

99 Ways to Fail Gracefully

99 Ways to Fail Gracefully in Business

99 Ways to Fail Gracefully at Exercise (The “Fail Gracefully” motif would go on and on to maybe be a really big hit series of books. Doubtful though, if I’m being honest…)

99 Easy Ways to Make Your Teenage Son Hate You

99 Ways to Annoy Your Family and Friends

A Man’s Guide to Sleeping on the Couch

99 Ways to Avoid Confrontation

Popularity is Overrated, but how Would I Know

99 Ways to Avoid Talking to People

How to Avert Attention in Awkward Situations

Fond Memories: My Sex Life Before Having Children

Growing Up Ugly: A Memoir

99 Ways to Conceal a Receding Hairline

A Man’s Guide to Suffering

Two Decent Sex Positions for Men with Small Penises (This is more of a short story.)

The Many Benefits of the AARP

Black Actually Isn’t as Slimming as You Think

Life in the Fast Lane: A Self Help Book for Slow People

You’ll Never Really Conquer Your Fears so Just Accept It

Sports You’ll Never be Great At (This is just a basic sports reference book.)

Everyone Dies and it Could Happen Today

Why are Your Children so Embarrassed by You?

There’s Hair in my Ears!

It’s Okay to Weep Uncontrollably

Men Are From Mars, Women Now Find You Repulsive

99 More Easy Ways to Make Your Teenage Son Hate You

Sex and Sleep Apnea Machines

Ever-Fleeting Joy, Part II

Pollock’s Mural 

August 5, 2017


I was finally able to view a Jackson Pollock. Not just any Pollock, but arguably the greatest Pollock — Mural. Certainly the greatest in stature, at almost 9’x20′, if not the greatest artistically. And if not the “best,” it was at least a turning point when Pollock, who was commissioned by wealthy socialite Peggy Guggenheim to fill a wall in her townhouse, began painting large-scale works. 

Much has been written about the painting. Pollock, a relatively unknown artist at the time, was hired by Guggenheim in June of 1943. He received a $150 per month stipend (equal to about $2100 today) and was to have the work ready for a show in November of the same year. Legend has it that when November rolled around, the giant canvas remained untouched. Pollock claimed to have completed the painting during one creative outpouring sometime in late December (later testing proves the work was not entirely painted at one time, however), and said that the painting came from an inspirational vision the Wyoming native had. “(It was) a stampede…every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes. Everything is charging across that goddamn surface.” 

Standing alone on a hot summer day inside the cool halls of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO, where Mural is on loan from the University of Iowa, I was able to truly take in the artwork. While it isn’t my favorite painting, and Pollock isn’t my favorite artist, it is something to behold. I stood as far as possible and viewed the painting as a whole. I could visualize the stampede, yet was also able to let my eyes lose focus and get lost in the free-flowing, yet repetitive, form. In some way I felt as though I was being watched. It is intriguing and mysterious. 


I walked the length of the painting — back and forth — imagining how difficult it would be to keep the work consistent, yet maintain the subtle differences throughout. I stood with my face inches from the canvas, studying the lines, the splatters and perhaps unintentional drips (Mural was finished several years before Pollock started his drip paintings), the layers, the textures…and all the other tiny details hidden in the monstrous piece. 




I imagined Pollock’s studio — his apartment, which had to have a wall secretly removed in order for the canvas to fit —  and what it might have been like. The smell of paint and turpentine was undoubtedly and obnoxiously mixed with the cigarette smoke that hung in the air. Pollock’s thick, boozy breath clung to the wet paint, and his dripping sweat became forever a part of the artwork. Maybe a jazz record played in the background. Perhaps Pollock worked in silent solitude. What was going through his mind? Did he sit and eat a ham sandwich at some midway point, staring at the unfinished work and wondering what the hell to do next? Where were his first and last brush strokes? Was Pollock pleased with the completed work? 

While I’m a lover of art, I’m no historian or expert. I see what I like, and what I like makes me wonder. Art makes me think in ways that I don’t normally. I believe that’s why I’m drawn to it. Mural certainly made me wonder. It made me think. It drew me in. If you get the chance, I highly recommend viewing it. 


There’s nothing that can be written about baseball that hasn’t already been said. It’s a game that grown men wearing silly outfits play until their arms are dead, their knees give out, and their eyes can no longer pick up a fastball. It’s the perfect game in many respects, the chess of sports, where strategy is critical, yet a single pawn occasionally wins a game. The best hitters fail more often than they succeed, but when they come through at the end of a game — at the end of a season — well, it can bring tears to old men’s eyes. 

They say baseball is a metaphor for life. It’s a long season full of ups and downs, triumphs and heartache. Some days are good, some are bad, and sometimes the rain ruins everything. As in life, it seems that success is usually the result of teamwork, determination, and a lot of good fortune along the way. It’s not always the most talented team that wins, and as Yogi Berra’s saying goes, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. As fans, very few of us get to regularly enjoy the post season, but each new year brings renewed hope. The last two seasons are proof that anything is possible, and also that patience truly is a virtue. 

So as we start a new season in earnest today, I sincerely wish everyone luck. I’ve experienced the thrill of sitting on the edge of my seat during an unimaginable late inning rally resulting in victory. I’ve witnessed an entire city unite with unbelievable pride during a magical season capped by a long-awaited World Series championship. Most importantly, I’ve felt the simple joy of hanging outside with my family on a warm summer night, talking about life as baseball plays on the radio. 

Maybe life is actually a metaphor for baseball? As in baseball, remember that if you stay focused and keep your eye on the ball, eventually you’ll get a hit. Sometimes just a little hit is all it takes. Hustle every chance you get, play with all your heart, and — most importantly — remember to enjoy every game. The season is long, but life is short. Play ball. 

(And GO ROYALS!) 

Random Sunday Ramble

March 11, 2017

Sorry to ramble…

I had a lot of things I wanted to get done today, but daylight savings time has ruined my schedule.

How can thirteen-year-old boys be so good at remembering to liberally douse themselves in cheap cologne, yet they can’t remember to turn off lights or flush toilets?

Why does getting good experience at anything take so damn long?

No kid of mine will be operating a vehicle if they “can’t” operate the washer and dryer.

I recently read that the brain begins deteriorating at age 27. Or was it 37? Anyway, it seemed young.

If you believe God is omniscient and everything is predestined by him, what is the point of anything? I at least wouldn’t be getting up early for church.

Why is it that the competitive neighborhood dads all seem to end up mowing at the same time on Saturday mornings?

Did you know…the average American annually consumes as many calories as 32 Kenyans?

Tacos sound good.

I like soccer, but it seems to discriminate against people in wheelchairs, which is why I think basketball is a better overall sport.

Does anyone actually say “tomahto?” If so, they’re not doing themselves any favors.

Spring break is nice for kids, but for most parents it’s simply a week when we are forced to find a sitter.

We are all capable of doing great things, but most of us decide to take a nap.

One out of every three people in the world has no access to a toilet, yet the average new American house has three toilets before finishing the bathroom in the walkout basement.

I truly believe soda is worse for you than beer, I just don’t have the data to back it up.

Life is best experienced with your TV off.

While I don’t watch much TV, I become very concerned when I can’t find the remote.

Considering thousands of people are born each day, I’ve concluded that the possibility of reincarnation seems more realistic than going to heaven.

When we were younger my wife would complain that I didn’t listen to her. Now she just tells everyone I’m deaf.

25% of people in the world live with no electricity. This makes me feel slightly guilty about having a portable phone charger that looks like the poop emoji.

With so many aging baby boomers, I predict canes will start to be en vogue again.

I’d be lying if I said speaking French didn’t make me more handsome.

Did you know…805 million people in the world go hungry every single day. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my warm car, polluting the air, as I complain about the long line in the drive-thru (tapping my steering wheel along with the radio, of course). Pathetic.

“As a matter of fact yes, (teenage) son, that gold chain does make you look like a douche.”

They say learning to play an instrument has many wonderful benefits for children, yet they never mention how much it sucks for the parents of these children learning to play instruments.

Did you know…it is legal for children to smoke cigarettes in the US? Doctors, however, discourage it.

If I knew then what I know now I know I would have at least known more then.

Call me stupid, but I feel inclined to believe in ideas backed by scientific evidence.

It’s scientifically proven that no man can look cool while drinking from a straw.

Twenty-somethings are into the whole “Netflix and chill” thing. My wife and I spend 45 minutes trying to find something to watch on Netflix, then just decide we are too tired for a movie or sex.

In a world where you can choose to be anything, many people seem to choose poorly.

My six-year-old daughter recently had some ideas about how I could comb my hair differently to look less bald. I thought this was kind of cute at first, but she followed that up by saying that I should consider wearing black because it’s slimming.

Did you know…farting helps reduce high blood pressure?

Dear Red-Blooded American Badass: Before you start cursing that guy because he’s in your country and isn’t speaking English, you might want to know that the good ol’ USA has no official language.

Do you suppose God plays tennis?

I think it’s good when people are politically correct, but I’d rather hang out with someone who is genuinely kind and also enjoys making fun of people. Including themself.

If I could do it all over again, I would be nicer.

Life is short. Let’s do some good.

“None of us wanted to be the bass player. In our minds he was the fat guy who always played in the back.” – Paul McCartney

I’m no rock star, but I’m somewhat (or more) of a rock star wannabe. Yes, it’s true that I play in a local rock band. We play pretty hard, original rock ‘n’ roll. We rehearse once a week and get to hit the stage at some very cool venues around town at least a couple times each month. We have a fairly large and loyal following, and are considered to be one of the good bands in a town that has many good (and not so good) bands. We are fast-approaching middle age (I’m already there), yet we dance around like teenagers in our skinny jeans as we loudly bang on our instruments. It’s a lot of fun, and something I also take very seriously.

Still, I’m no rock star. Rock stars tend to be divorced and estranged from their children. I’m happily married and spend a ton of time with my kids. Rock stars party all night and sleep all day. If I’m up past 10:30 on a weeknight it’s probably because I got out of bed to pee or due to realizing that I forgot to take my multi-vitamin. Rock stars drink Budweiser in the morning, then wash down various drugs with jugs of whiskey at night. I enjoy a few craft beers on occasion. Rock stars are rich and have personal trainers, personal chefs, and personal assistants. They drive fast cars and jet-set around the world. They have mansions with mirrored ceilings, six-car garages, swimming pools, and hot-tubs.

Like I said, I’m no rock star — and I actually have no desire to lead that kind of lifestyle — but I do wish I could simply master the art of the “cool vibe” that we all see in our musical idols. You know, the cocky swagger of a lead singer belting out a scream as he simultaneously catches a woman’s bra being heaved onto the stage. The effortless drum solo that includes stick twirling and tossing, plenty of cowbell, two bass drums, and the thunderous hammering of a gong. The blistering guitar solo, perfectly executed as the shirtless virtuoso squints through the smoke coming from his dangling cigarette…and then, my favorite part, the flick of the guitar pick into the crowd. A mob dives after it like a foul ball in the seventh game of a World Series. These people define cool. These are the rock stars.

But there’s a problem. You see, I’m not lead singer, a drummer, or a guitarist. I’m just, well, I’m a bass player. That’s right, the guitar’s ugly, long-necked cousin. The instrument that most people can’t even pick out in a song. The member of the band who people can’t name and never seek autographs from. The guy who is usually mistaken for a fan or, if lucky, a roadie (probably because he is carrying the rest of the bands’ gear). Once a bassist proves to security that he is part of the band, he still may not be allowed backstage. The person who wasted groupies accidentally sleep with because they thought he was the guitarist. The butt of endless jokes:

How do you get a bass player off your front porch? Pay for the pizza.

Why don’t bass players play hide and seek? Because no one will look for them.

Why do bass players have trouble opening locked doors? They can never find the right key.

How many bass players does it take to change a light bulb? Never mind, the keyboard player will just do it with his left hand.

What do you call someone who is always trying to hang out with musicians? A bass player.

And so on… But enough bad jokes, how about some boring technical stuff.

There are generally two types of bass players — those who use a pick and those who use their fingers. A pick typically creates more volume, more “attack” (an edgier, grittier sound), and sometimes makes it a little easier to play faster. Playing with your fingers creates a smoother sound, a deeper thump, and makes it easier (in my opinion) to get into the groove and really feel the music. As a result, I’ve never been one to use a pick. However, my band recently added a new tune that just sounds better with a pick. It’s been fun for me because it’s a fresh, new approach to playing. But more importantly, playing with a pick gives me a chance to do something cool.

We debuted the song at a gig last week, and in the days leading up to the show I was incredibly excited about the rock star opportunity that had presented itself to me: throwing my pick into the audience when the song ended. I had played the scene over many times in my head — always in slow motion. As the last note of the song rings out, I loft my pick out over the crowd, all of whom (thousands it seems like) are jumping and stretching, eyes focused and mouths open in anticipation of grasping this $0.10 piece of plastic used by a guy they’ve never heard of. I knew it would be so awesome. When the time actually came, my heart was pounding. Don’t let the pick slip out of your hand, I kept thinking. The song ended and — trying to keep from smiling so I was sure to look even extra cool — I threw the pick…

Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite right. Rather than have the pick softly soar over the outstretched, screaming fans, it instead somehow took off like one of those old round plastic discs that were shot from toy guns in the 1980s. You know, those guns that were banned in most countries due to causing so many injuries to children. Yes, the pick became a dangerous projectile and struck some poor, unsuspecting dude square in the eye.

I’m not sure he ever saw it coming, although I saw the whole thing. After impact, he briefly lowered his head, then raised it so I could see his spastically blinking, red, watering eye. I was doing a frantic, awkward “I’m so sorry” wave/gesture thingy from the stage, but I don’t think he had regained enough focus to see me. Thankfully, he seemed to recover quickly and didn’t appear to be seriously injured. A woman next to him grabbed the pick off the floor and offered it to him, but he put his hands up and looked away, adamantly shaking his head no. The woman happily smiled as she looked at her souvenir. She must have thought our guitarist threw it. I tried to find the guy after the show to apologize, but he was gone. I can only hope he didn’t rush out to seek medical attention.

Yet another epic fail for the bass player. To the fellow I hit, I offer a sincere apology. I genuinely hope your retina is still attached. I vow to continue my quest for rock star coolness, but in as safe a way as possible. I may never quite get there, but I’ll at least be very happy making music with my friends, as I fight off getting old with all my weak bass player power. Here’s to realizing we are all as cool as we want to be — and maybe, just maybe, cooler than we think. Rock on, baby!

Cheers.

 

Photo Credit: A Photographer

Dear Open Letter Writers,

I write to you today about a very serious and scary subject. Yes, it’s the “open letter” that you like to write. Disguised as a sincere letter addressed to a person or group of people, it quickly becomes little more than a mean-spirited rant and attempt for attention. You fill your so-called letters with opinions (or just downright lies), along with a couple of lame facts you find through extremely questionable sources. Your propaganda includes played-out clichés like “wake up America” or “we’re not buying what you’re selling.” You use broad generalizations, big words, and way, way, way too many adjectives. You think you’re better than the rest of us, and that you’re somehow responsible for saving humanity. You throw around words like you, us, and we, yet you don’t even know us, let alone know how we feel. You’re hateful and condescending. You’re overly dramatic. You refuse to ponder any idea that might seem slightly novel (that means new). You are intentionally hurtful, just to amuse yourself. You think you’re so clever, brilliant, and smart.

Well let me tell you something. We aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid. There is nothing clever about an open letter. They are everywhere, and have been for far too long. I bet you didn’t know that, according to Wikipedia, the open letter has been around for thousands of years? Not so brilliant now, are you smarty? Or did you know that between 50%-80% of open letters are written by people between the ages of 30-60? Abhorrent. I could obviously give you a lot more information about this, but I think even you get the point. You make me physically ill, you elitist scum.

Maybe you should consider writing in a unique style, about something interesting for a change. Oh wait, you don’t have the skills required, you pathetic beast. No, you will stick with the open letter because it’s all you can do. You’re appalling in every way — and, quite frankly, the reason America is going to hell in a hand basket.

It’s time you wake up and smell the coffee, you sadistic serpent. We won’t let your open letters continue to divide our nation. Half of us, give or take, are in total disagreement with you, but we agree with me. You’re all bark and no bite, but I’m a pit bull, baby. I won’t waste everyone’s time with a lot of words, but instead will get right to the point. When you get right to the point, it’s easier to make said point, and grab people’s attention. If you were more educated you would probably be able to grasp such a simple concept. But you probably only took a few online classes at the local community college. You’re repugnant.

I’m proposing a ban on open letters. The future of our country depends on it. Trust me when I say that I have many, many, many people backing me on this. So be ready, you odious piece of refuse. It may not happen today, this week, or this year, but your days of writing demoralizing, despicable, and disgusting open letters will be ending very, very, very soon. God bless America!

Sincerely,

The Rest of Us