My Father, the Blind Squirrel

November 5th, 2012 / #bliss, #family, #sports

I think I met God today.

God is an older gentleman who’s hard of hearing and has a knee brace. And yes, he was on a golf course.

Dad and I don’t golf much. But it’s a thing that’s become more and more commonplace in our lives, either as a result of my maturing or as a result of his growing acceptance that with or without him there, the restaurant can survive an afternoon in early winter. Regardless, I really like golf with Dad.

We go to a little course in Clearwater; always have. It’s changed ownership a few times over the years, but the trademark course annoyances haven’t changed. For as long as I can remember, there’s always been the long par 4 second hole with the pond on the left that beckons for your company. There’s been the hole with the punk tree right before the trap to the right of the green. And there’s been the short, deceptive par 3 that only remains in my memory because it’s the first one with an Igloo cooler of water on particularly steamy summer days. Save a line of trees here and a filled sand trap there, this has always been our little course.

We played our little course today, on November 4, 2012. Not a particularly noteworthy date for me, but it was for Dad. November 4 was his mother’s birthday, and she would have been 80 today had she not passed four months ago. Dad hadn’t mentioned that until after the round, but it seems at least tangentially relevant to this story.

After playing eleven holes of par-for-Peterson golf, Dad and I were feeling surprisingly optimistic: the weather was unseasonably nice, we were armed with fresh Diet Cokes from the bar, and we were on pace to make it home in time for football. We noticed that, after starting out from the clubhouse after nine holes, an older gentleman was on pace to drive us off the course. So, like any decent group of massively mediocre golfers, we decided to let him play through.

We finished the hole and pulled aside, waiting for him to catch up. Dad and I got involved in some conversation or other, and didn’t notice the old man’s flop shot sink into the hole from the fairway.

When he saw the man marching up to the hole without a club in hand, Dad was impressed. I was jealous.

“That’s a neat way to golf,” Dad yelled to the man.

The man didn’t hear him. It could have been because of the sounds of helicopter blades clipping the wind in the small airpark next to the course, but the man still couldn’t hear after the sounds of the chopper began to taper off. Finally, he heard.

“That’s a neat way to golf,” Dad repeated a third time. “Without a putter!”

The man smirked. I thought he was being smug. But it turns out he was just as humbled by physics.

“You know,” he said. “Every now and then a blind squirrel finds a nut.”

We let him play through, and he was on the green in one stroke. I’d like to think he two-putted after that, but I know he was probably cutting through our little course like butter. Still, it’s a nice thought.

It came Dad’s turn to tee off on the hole he’d played hundreds of times before. The same hole he played when he’d pay me a nickel for every intact tee I could find in tee boxes, and a dime for every ball I could fish out of ponds and from the other side of the chain link fence along the second and third fairways.

He hauled off and split the fairway in two. Bounced once, rolled up the green, and plummeted into a hole that seemed so impossible 112 yards ago. I did all the requisite millennial customs: took a cell phone video of him discovering the ball, snapped the proudest photo I’ve ever taken, and posted to every social networking website I’m a member of. By the time I was done, the old man from the previous hole was nowhere to be seen.

We finished the round, complete with a predictable I-can’t-believe-what-I-just-saw inability to concentrate. Then, we went home, where Mom was waiting with a beer on ice for Ace Peterson. It was a day that played out like a child’s storybook, absolutely devoid of any conflict or difficulty. It was a perfect day that unfolded like it would if you were imagining it in a daydream while waiting to tee off.

I’m probably making too much out of this. Aces happen every day in golf courses around the world, and old dudes in knee braces can get a lucky bounce from time to time.

But, if there is a God, I think I know where he spends his Sunday afternoons. Not a bad gig.

God Save the Queen’s Face

June 5th, 2012 / #observations, #politics

It occurred to me recently that America’s a funny place. I mean, most places are funny places in the sense that they’re full of funny people who do funny things for funny reasons, but America is funny in an Itchy and Scratchy type of way instead of a Monty Python type of way.

Take the recent hoopla over the Queen Mum’s diamond jubilee: an entire nation – with the notable and slightly bitter exception of Prince Charles, perhaps – looking on to collectively celebrate sixty years under one monarch.

I don’t claim to know anything about British politics beyond Ed Milliband’s dweebish caricature in the press and that some dude exists named Nick Clegg. And this critique certainly isn’t meant to offend Her Majesty. But to an American, the entire idea of a Diamond Jubilee is a pretty silly concept.

Setting aside for the moment the adorable name – a jubilee! – this entire affair smacks of a family gathering for Grandma’s birthday, only on a much larger scale. Some siblings adore her, some abhor her, and all are just sort of… waiting. “Congratulations for living another year! You’ve made it now! You’re sure you’ve got your will signed?”

Which brings me to America and how it’s funny in a much less charming way.

While Britain swirled with the excitement of a jubilee this week, we Yanks latched on to a story (or series of stories, rather) about zombies. Of course, I (and apparently most other news outlets) adopted the colloquial “zombie” term because it’s easy, vivid, and fun. What we were actually tracking was a homicide where the killer was a weird guy on weird drugs.

After considering the memery of cannibalism Stateside and the Buckingham blowout, I tried to think – really, think – of someone the entire country could rally around in the way that Britain’s rallied around the Queen this week.

It almost certainly couldn’t be a politician. I say this partly because of the way the media frames politics as a bitter, partisan, zero-sum game, but also partly because of the growing multitude of communication channels that exist among the electorate. People are encouraged to project their views in ways that were never available before, and we all know what opinions are like.

So, as sad as it is, we’d probably have to rely on some celebrity if we want to stand united behind someone. But it’s got to be the right celebrity.

Could you imagine the fallout from Tim Tebow Day? As much as I’d love to celebrate that holiday by circumcising poor Asian children and shouting 58 Hail Urbans, a vast majority of the country wouldn’t see things my way.

Perhaps you’d prefer Kim Kardashian’s Rhinestone Jubilee?

Under the First Base Bleachers

January 24th, 2012 / #baseball, #bliss, #work

One of my favorite things to do was play baseball with the kids.

When I was a mascot for the local team, I got to do a lot of that. Many of the players on the field were playing for their lives: if you’re not a top prospect in the trenches of A+ minor league baseball, sometimes only a hair of ability and a pinch of luck are all you’ll have to cling onto as you play your fading youth away in front of an equally fading group of local septuagenarians. Every evening around 7:00, they emerge from their cozy bungalows on the edge of Florida’s Suncoast to soak in one of the last small town traditions that can still bring half of America to the edge of their metallic bleacher seats.

While those players hit and caught and threw and tagged and ran and won and lost and lived and died, I had my own past time underneath the first base seats. A stick ball game with kids, usually in elementary school and especially competitive in middle school.

Before my nightly ill-fated race from first to third after the bottom of the second, I stepped up to home plate: a point where three cracks met in the cement on the empty concourse floor. I pretended I was a right handed Carlos Pena, aligning the middle of my strike zone with three subtle whiffs of my plastic bat. Strike one.

I always swung at the first pitch. I was a notoriously easy out.

Ball one.

Strike two, looking.

I make a faux argument with the oldest boy there, the de facto umpire among the bunch. Chest bumping might ensue, but this ritual is less formal than the event taking place on the field 50 feet away. Anyway, they don’t have the gall to eject me. I practically own the place.

I dig into the cement below me. That’s it, I think: “I haven’t got time for this. Plus, you are just a bunch of kids.”

With my four fingers of blue fur, I grip the yellow bat that somehow slipped past the elderly security guard at the front gate, and I point it skyward. I have a similar diet to that of the Babe, and he could pull it off. So why not me?

The all-time pitcher winds up, apparently oblivious to the fact that there is no solid wall behind me. If his pitch makes it past my mighty bat, it winds up in the grass lot to the west of the ballpark. He doesn’t care.

The pitch comes. It is damned hard to see through my black mesh mask. The ball’s even harder to see a second after my bat swings through the encroaching bogey and sends it careening off of the underside of the first base bleachers.

I take two victory laps: one around the closed concessions stand that witnessed the mascot miracle, and one from first to third in my obligatory losing bid in the race between the second and third innings.

I lost every single race against a child I ever ran. But no loss can erase the fun I had standing tall over Dunedin’s own field of dreams.

One of my favorite things to do was play baseball with the kids.

Thoughts from an airplane

June 12th, 2011 / #awesomeness, #observations, #random

June 8, 2011 – Somewhere over Georgia

I like flying. I don’t understand people who don’t. Of course, I don’t do it often.

I also like to eat ice cream. As with flying, I don’t eat ice cream often.

People who fly often, whether for business or pleasure, validate their detest for flight by pointing out how much they do it. But repeated actions alone aren’t enough to cause one not to like something. If I ate ice cream every day of my life, for example, I bet I’d like it. Sure I’d be fat(ter) and my lactose intolerance would make every trip to the bathroom a fecal disaster, but I never said I liked the events associated with ice cream. I said I liked eating ice cream.

I’m also not saying I like the inconveniences of air travel; I just like flying. Even though the eight year old Egyptian girl sitting behind me is kicking the back of my seat like she’s on her way to try out for the national soccer (sorry, football) team, I think it’s pretty awesome that I’m in a steel cylinder 36,000 feet above a ground I can’t even see and the thing I’m most concerned about is the juvenile ruckus happening in seat 11-D.

Some people are afraid of flying. I suppose I can get on board with that train of thought. But, like most, I’ve also fallen into complacency in this respect. We’ve come a long way in the short amount of time humans have tamed the skies. A logical man would see the great risk associated with traversing the heavens on one individual flight (and putting his life in the hands of some muffled, quick-talking voice he’s never heard before), yet we continue to blindly board. People are irrational.

For example, they will cower in the shadow of a rollercoaster – a one-way ride that’s bolted to the ground – yet they happily climb aboard a vehicle that will take them thousands of feet higher than the dreaded coaster at a speed of more than ten times what you’ll see at Disney World. Like I said: People are irrational. (But we all knew that, so maybe we aren’t as irrational as I think.)

Which brings me to my own irrational behavior. I’ve never used the lavatory on an airplane before. At first, this was because I simply didn’t have to. Now, though, it’s been such a great conversation piece when discussing travel with others that I don’t want to ruin it.

My dedication to preserving this ace in the hole is noteworthy in it’s own right: I flew back to the U.S. from a vacation in Rio de Janeiro a few months ago. I held in a turd from the skies above Panama to the first bathroom in Houston.

Smuggled the little guy in.

It’s my party, and I’ll cheer if I want to

In general, writing about politics is a bad idea.

Wait, scratch that: writing about politics in a forum where lots of other people will read it is a bad idea. So I’ll continue.

But first, a disclaimer: I hate politics. That’s a funny thing for a former political science major to say, I know, but I mean it. After spending the four most formative years of my adolescence sitting in classrooms learning about Washington’s committees, subcommittees, whips and weasels, the promised land of graduate school has offered a welcome respite from the sort of tug of war approach to political discourse that most of my classmates engaged in. It’s not that I didn’t like my classmates as humans (for the most part), but I found it pretty sad that they fell so easily into the common trap of treating politics like a baseball game: I root for my team, you root for yours, and we’ll see who can hit the ball farthest when it’s my turn to bat.

Maybe this is the cynic in me, but it seems like this rah-rah competition is not the most efficient way to govern. After all – and I know a lot of people would disagree vehemently with this assessment – most politicians are pretty similar. Sure, they might have widely different priorities in terms of particular issues. But the end of the day, most politicians are slaves to the ballot box and, above all, human.

Given my understanding of the way this country works, I do as any normal person who’s upset with the system would do: I treat politics as the biggest, most convoluted reality television show ever conceived. Catty congresswomen, old white bigwigs who can’t keep their junk in their pants, an insane billionaire looking to hijack the most powerful office in the world – America has it all.

So, you’ll forgive me if I perceive people who are staunch supporters of either side as the equivalent of Team Snookie. The way the electorate clings to one party line or the other without considering the strengths and weaknesses of other opinions seems pretty silly to me. In school, kids learn about the ever-important “marketplace of ideas.” This term no longer applies to American political discourse, however. Now, political junkies do their idea shopping at one of two strip malls on opposite sides of town. Very impractical.

Which leads me to the news du jour: the recent assassination of international terrorist and all-around bad guy, Osama bin Laden.

Like most Americans, I waited with bated breath for Barack Obama’s announcement in the late hours of May 1. And like most Americans, I was thrilled when the announcement came. But what struck me about the news was not the event itself, nor the reaction to the event, but the secondary reaction to America’s initial reaction to the event.

In the hours and days since a gaggle of George Washington University students – college kids, mind you – triumphantly gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue, it has become chic for bloggers, tweeters, and serious media people to reflect back upon that night’s scenes of euphoria with reserved derision. To cheer the murder of another human, they reason, is uncouth. Some have even suggested that when folks lit off firecrackers in front of the executive mansion, a bit of American credibility was lost in the eyes of the world.

Ah, just what Americans love: other people telling them how they should feel.

I think much of this backlash to the initial jubilation can be attributed to the Internet. Before social media, people actually had to – gasp! – talk to other people. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I find that I’m moderately reserved when talking to others: if possible, I try to avoid potentially divisive political discussions because, sadly, many people judge others for their opinions. To disagree with this generation of cable-fed political know-it-alls could be detrimental to one’s social life.

Luckily, the invention of social media has allowed us to compose updates that touch on topics we wouldn’t usually pursue in the course of an old fashioned conversation. After the initial reaction to the news died down on May 2, I was barraged with countless tweets, status updates, blog posts, editorials, and columns decrying the initial American response of elation as detrimental to the ideals of peace and harmony.

The simple fact is that as long as humans have free will, fish swim in the ocean, and there is an episode of To Catch A Predator airing on some station deep in the recesses of my 2,000 cable channels, there will not be peace in the world. And to operate under the illusion that America has a responsibility to promote such peace by not doing whatever is necessary to rid the world of crazy people like bin Laden is naive and childish.

True, some would concede: the elimination of Osama was necessary, but the American reaction to the news wasn’t proper. Instead of engaging in a solemn period of reflection, America did what it does best: it reverted into a country of screaming, passionate homers.

Of course they did! And that was probably the best thing about that entire evening. Americans rarely agree about anything. Usually, the only times Americans band together in unity is in the aftermath of great turmoil or great success. Sadly, the former seems to occur much more often than the latter.

On this night, something was different. Gone was the baseball game mentality between folks at different ends of the political spectrum. Gone were the cheers and jeers amongst the electorate of government officials. Sure, there were people in front of the White House with Bush-Cheney and Obama-Biden campaign signs that likely wouldn’t agree on much, but everyone could agree on one thing: this was great news.

I’ll admit that America’s jubilant reaction to the news might rally anti-American sentiment abroad, sure. But perhaps it was worth it. After all, what doesn’t seem to provoke those who hate America? The War on Terror hasn’t provided much good news around which most Americans could rally in a long time, but Osama bin Laden’s extermination was a welcome diversion from the silly two-sided battle Americans fight every day.

The fact of the matter is simple: this inning, everybody won. Enjoy it, because it probably won’t happen again for some time.

A completely partial review of Paul Simon’s So Beautiful or So What

April 16th, 2011 / #music, #reviews

I don’t like to write music reviews that often. This is the result of a combination of things (my delightfully outdated and unhip music interests among them), but it’s mainly because I’m no musician. There are real writers who can explore a guitar neck past the first five frets, and I try not to write about things I’m unsure of. Though I listen to a whole slew of music – ranging from delta blues to jazz to Irish folk music to mid-nineties alt college stuff – I lack the necessary background in the field that professionals have.

That disclaimer aside, I’d like to talk for a bit about Paul Simon’s new album and what it means to me. (Because, after all, that’s just what the Internet needs: another amateur’s opinion of a god.)

However, to fully grasp my relationship with So Beautiful Or So What (2011), you should understand my relationship with Simon’s prior work. The first Paul Simon album I ever listened to, like any other child of the late 1980s, was Graceland (1986). (While I’m at this point in my tale, I think it necessary to affirm the commonly-held notion that this is easily one of the greatest albums of all time. If you disagree with this scientifically proven fact, well, I have some bad news for you: you’re deaf.)

After a few solid months of high school spent with the same disc in the stereo, my parents bought(!) two more Simon discs: There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973) and Still Crazy After All These Years (1975). Like everything Simon’s ever touched, these were pure gold.

It was a strange time in terms of technology then. Peer-to-peer file protocols entered and exited the market with such frequency that I’m not sure you could accurately describe mine as the “Napster Generation”; we could easily be considered children of other since-deceased protocols like Morpheus, WinMX, or even Limewire (it wasn’t always the pedophile paradise it came to be recently, mind you). Regardless, the fact remained that I loved the music of Paul Simon and would stop at nothing (except perhaps the threat of actually having to purchase an album) to download his work. I would stay up late at night, waiting for the one guy with all the tracks from One-Trick Pony (1980) to appear online so I could download poorly encoded mp3s from him at 56 kilobytes per second. This, I thought, was some cutting-edge stuff. Damn right we sent a man to the moon.

Like a sponge with an affinity for Jews from New York City that can play the guitar, I absorbed every cut I could get my hands on. One of my favorite Paul Simon lyrics comes from Hearts and Bones (1983). It’s called “Maybe I Think Too Much” (a) and has a part that goes like so:

“I started to think too much
When I was twelve going on thirteen /
Me and the girls from St. Augustine /
Up in the mezzanine
Thinking about God, yeah”

It’s probably because I’m a sucker for crescendos, but that last part got to me. At the time, I was the standard high school student: full of angst, forlorn over some girl, and always over thinking. At the time, I fooled myself into believing that last attribute was synonymous with being pensive. I am wiser now. Regardless, the phrase “thinking about God” still jumped out at me. I’m not sure what it was, but I realize today that, to me, “thinking about God” is the rawest form of this pensive behavior.

Since then, Simon’s released two studio albums. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how I felt about Surprise (2006). Though the music wasn’t entirely Simon’s – he collaborated with another one of my favorite artists, Brian Eno – the album’s tendency to provoke thought in the listener was definitely a trait shared by much of his earlier work (especially from the 1970s-80s). I often wonder, however, if my adoration for this album was just a product of my life circumstances at the time: in summer, 2006, I graduated from a rigorous high school program, I was carting around town in a shiny new car, there was a girl who I had somehow fooled into regularly putting her tongue in my mouth, and my entire college career was ahead of me. Anything was possible.

One of the more interesting points about Surprise, however, was that my favorite lyric made a cameo. In “Everything About It Is a Love Song”:

“But if I ever get back to the twentieth century
Guess I’ll have to pay off some debts /
Open the book of my vanishing memory
With its catalog of regrets /
Stand up for the deeds I did, and those I didn’t do /
Sit down, shut up, think about God
And wait for the hour of my rescue.”

Though presented in different terms, there it was again. After the magical summer of 2006, I found myself literally sitting down, shutting up, and thinking about God (or at least about our place in the universe). Given Simon’s nebulous relationship with religion, I’m unsure whether he means to refer to a monotheistic God or something more cosmic, but the lyric continued to be thought provoking, nonetheless.

If you were to have told me in 2006 that Simon’s next studio album wouldn’t be out for another half decade, I would have told you that I didn’t care; life was perfect and there would have been no reason to think about the future like that. Since 2011 has rolled around, though, I can tell you unabashedly that I was certainly ready for this record to drop.

(Secret shame, aside from pirating Simon’s music as a acne-faced fanboy: For much of the five year interim between albums, I would regularly bemoan the fact that Paul Simon tours about as much as the post Candlestick Park Beatles. I thought it lazy of him. Now I realize his absence has been worth it. I mean, have you listened to – and I mean legitimately listened to – this record? The questions it inspires would take far more than five years to even begin to answer. As far as getting bang for his buck in these terms, Paul’s doing fine.)

Which brings us to present day. Setting aside the fact that the distribution channels have changed from my wanton youth (in a move that would have given my former self visions of flying cars in a Jetsons-like spacescape, Simon released the album a week early on npr.org), So Beautiful or So What is truly a lyrical masterpiece. I hesitate to say that the music on the album is better than (or even on par with) his past work, but the record’s real strength is in the lyrics.

Rather than devoting one line of one track to “thinking about God,” Simon does it for an entire album (just under 40 minutes). What happens to you after you die? Is there a God? What must God think of us? What if we could rewrite our own story?

Ultimately, does it matter?

So Beautiful or So What.

And here we are, left on earth with each other (and another really, really good Paul Simon album). Sounds all right to me.

What does sadden me as he gets old, though, is the musical arrangement. Sure, working with Brian Eno he expanded his horizons, but he doesn’t have to keep expanding. I’d take another Hearts and Bones any day.

That’s all I’ll say about it, since I couldn’t say anything about it that hasn’t been said in pieces people have been paid to write. Plus, I think people are smart enough to determine the merits of an album for themselves.

I’ll end with a hypothetical: there is a man who has one superpower. He can instantly travel back in time, inform individuals about their future, and gauge their reaction with no effect on the future. What if he traveled back to 1970, after the release of Simon and Garfunkel’s last studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and had Paul spin So Beautiful or So What on his hi-fi stereo? What would a young Paul Simon think?

I honestly don’t know. All I know is: that superhero had better avoid Art Garfunkel.

Regarding Winning

March 4th, 2011 / #currentevents, #observations, #random

One of the reasons I blog is so that on the offchance a girl chooses to reproduce with me, my child will have an account of how I saw things as a semi adult. In an age when (I assume) there will be flying cars, meals in pill form, and humanoid robots that keep your house clean, I want my kid to have an idea of how we, as a society, got to that point.

So, you can stop reading now if you’re not interested. But I want to explain a phenomenon that’s happening as we speak so my child might understand what kind of wacky world I live in. Kiddo, this is for you.

There is a popular movie and television star named Charlie Sheen that recently went off the deep end (or became supremely enlightened, depending on who you ask). He is in the midst of a one man media blitz that has caused nearly every American to pause and consider the ramifications of stopping life and realizing the dream of doing drugs all day and having sex with solid 8s in a Beverly Hills mansion.

Much of the public disapproves of Charlie’s antics because he’s got a couple of kids (which, by the way, he claims are his number one priority). I don’t necessarily disapprove because I think Charlie has an end game in mind. He’s controversial, meaning someone will give him a reality TV show. (Reality TV, in case it’s gone by the time you read this, was a dark period in our nation’s history eclipsed only by the disco craze of your grandfaher’s youth. Nothing good came of it.)

So, my child, the Charlie Sheen situation is more than a lesson in celebrity craziness. It’s a prime example of how entertainment capitalism works in the year 2011: if you’re famous enough, crazy enough, and controversial enough, you will inevitably profit in the form of book deals, reality TV, and Internet fame. If I make millions of dollars by the time you pop out of your birthcave, I fully intend on pursuing the Charlie Sheen model. If that makes me a bad father, well, tell it to my harem of solid 8s.

Driving me mad

February 28th, 2011 / #cars, #observations

While driving to Clearwater, FL from Gainesville, FL on February 27, 2010, I got to thinking about the makeup of the people on the road. I got to thinking, and came up with this list of stereotypical Interstate drivers. I’m sure there are more, and if I think of them in the future, I’ll add them here.

The Scout. If you’re in a hurry, the Scout is of utmost importance. Generally, when people who are comfortable with speeding are on the Interstate, they tend to form “packs” of multiple marauders that rove the asphalt countryside, bypassing weaker commuters and leaving them in a cloud of dust. To do this, each pack tacitly designates a temporary leader to act as a wedge and forge the path between tractor-trailers, wide loads, and senior citizens who are unaware that their Buick can, in fact, hit 70 miles per hour. Of course, with great responsibility comes great risk: it is the Scout’s responsibility not only to clear the way for the pack, but also to keep a keen eye out for the fuzz. Since the Scout is usually the fastest traveler of the bunch, he runs the risk of being cited for his sacrifice. Sometimes, the system isn’t fair. (Note: On long-term voyages, the burden of being a Scout should be shared between pack members. Every 25-35 miles sounds about right.)

The Pace Car. You may be in a rickety old Ford Escort on a two lane turnpike between Uncasville and Norwichtown, but this guy’s in the pace car on the 497th lap of the Daytona 500. He knows that the second he pulls away from the long line of angry automobiles, the race to a green-white-checkered finish will begin with a roar. Until then, though, you’re stuck behind this guy and the truck he’s trying to pass in the right lane. Unfortunately for all involved, you’ll be waiting a while – both the Pace Car and the truck it’s trying to pass are cruising along at what seems like 12 miles per hour.

The Self Righteous Trucker. Some states have laws that forbid semi trucks from entering the left lane, but these laws assume you’re driving down a highway with more than two lanes. Those unlucky souls who are given the choice between only a pair of lanes, however, are bound to meet the Self Righteous Trucker. To fully understand the Self Righteous Trucker, though, it is important to get inside his head:

“Hm, the truck ahead of me is going approximately .00000000000323 miles per hour slower than I’d like to go.”

The trucker looks to his left and sees nothing. In his rear view mirror, he sees a rapidly approaching car, traveling approximately 35 miles per hour faster than he’d like to go.

“Oh well, I can make it. They’re my roads too, damn it.”

The trucker merges left and takes the span of 4.3 miles to pass his nemesis in the right lane.

The Eagle Eye. Even though the nickname might cause you to respect the Eagle Eye, don’t fall into that trap. As the Eagle Eye drives along, he makes it a point to remain abnormally vigilant for any sign of police presence: “The flashing sign 3 miles ahead in the dead of night? I don’t want him to know I’m going 2 miles per hour over she speed limit – better slam on my brakes!”

The Weaver. In order to qualify as a Weaver, you must fulfill three requirements: (1) you must own a motorcycle; (2) you must be in a traffic jam; and (3) you must be an incredible douchebag. Weaving occurs when these aforementioned douchebags weave between lanes (emergency lane included) of stopped traffic. I understand that splitting lanes is legal in California’s stop-and-go expressway traffic, but the lion’s share of Americans, contrary to popular belief, are from places other than California. So as I, an upstanding and patriotic citizen am inconvenienced to the point that I must listen to yet another installation of NPR News in my motionless automobile, the Weaver is rewarded for his brazen behavior. I guess this falls under the category of life not being fair.

The Police Impersonator. Unlike the Weaver, the Police Impersonator is not characterized as a moron because of a conscious decision to be a moron. The Police Impersonator is a moron because of his uninformed choice of automobile. Rather than choosing a painted, newer model car, the Police Impersonator purchased an old police cruiser at auction. But despite the inexpensive price tag, he’s paying for his decision, all right: now, wherever the Police Impersonator goes, he will invariably be stuck in never ending traffic caused by the inaccurate perception of others on the road that this is a police officer. (Note that the Police Impersonator is a touchy subject – some people are required by law or employment to drive these terrible vehicles. Some folks can’t help it.)

I’m one of these types of drivers. I’ll let you guess which one.

A relic from the archives

February 24th, 2011 / #uncategorized

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents thought it completely acceptable to let me leave the house wearing this:

Taken at the Aftermath Yearbook banquet, circa 2004

Funeral for a friend

February 22nd, 2011 / #family, #friends, #funerals

My neighbor, Gary, died a few weeks ago. When last we visited Gary on this fair blog, he was a fifty-something mailman who lived with his mother and rode his Harley for an hour each week. In the time since I penned – with very questionable sentence structure, I might add – my piece, Gary retired, sold his bike, and buried his mother.

Last weekend, we buried him. Figuratively, of course, since he was cremated, but I want to tell the story of his funeral because I’d hate for my lasting memory of his life to be a vague and fading recollection tucked away in the recesses of my mind. So, here it is.

I remember the night Gary died. It was a Saturday in January. He had only been really sick for a week, and I took that at a testament to how he liked to do things: efficiently, without making a big production of things. Only a couple days before, I came home from school in the afternoon to find hundreds, if not a thousand, large black crows flying in the crisp winter air above my block. I don’t think this was necessarily an omen, but later that day the ambulance was called out to his home for what would be the second-to-last time.

It arrived again long after nightfall that Saturday. I, like the nosy neighbor from Bewitched, watched as the anticlimactic drama unfolded. All in all, a small army of emergency response vehicles showed up: an ambulance, two large fire rescue trucks, a fire rescue pickup truck, and three police cruisers that stayed until after I dozed off. After all, I had church in the morning.

The service was on a Saturday a couple of weeks after he died. Given his lifetime of public service and his tendency to be an old school kind of guy, it was held at the local VFW post, only a couple of blocks from where we live.

Now, I had never been in a VFW before this. As a kid, I would always pass by the building and be amazed that a gigantic cannon could sit outside, exposed to the elements, and no one would try to fire it. It was a mythical place: I had no idea what went on inside there, but it must have been important.

The lodge is split into two main rooms: a hall where Lt. Dan can win a four corners payoff on his bingo card, and a canteen where he can invest his hard-earned winnings in the finest American beers. Late in the morning, everyone arrived and was ushered into the canteen, since student speakers of some sort were speaking to representatives from the State Department. I wish I could have listened to what they had to say.

As we stood in the corner of the smoke-filled canteen, I noticed that behind the veil of coziness, the canteen was in many ways a product of the protocol-driven forces that inhabited it. There were no barstools in this place; the bar itself sat no higher than a common desk to accommodate wheelchair-bound veterans. On the walls (and bar, and windows, and hanging from the ceiling) were signs declaring the bartender’s authority: “If the bartender asks you to leave,” one read, “you have five minutes to comply or 30 days to think about it!” Near the entrance of the canteen hung numerous postings of the rules of the house – chief among them the fact that you must be a member to purchase alcohol. The carpet was the industrial, textureless kind that you see in government buildings. The ceiling tiles were stained yellow from decades of smoking. This was the most American place in which I had ever been.

I’m not sure if it was a response to the smoky atmosphere of the canteen, but as we waited for the State Department to clear out from the bingo hall, some people migrated to the parking lot. There, Gary’s coworkers from the post office gathered, many of them wearing their USPS uniforms, as they were merely taking a break from the never ending postal delivery cycle. Gary’s biker buddies also showed en masse (they were the ones who looked like varying degrees of Santa Claus). After nearly an hour, we were corralled into the bingo hall for the service.

Now, the only funerals I had ever been to were in churches. So when I entered the hall, I was expecting to see some makeshift pew system, perhaps composed of a couple hundred chairs in rows. What I encountered was almost the polar opposite: rather than a bunch of chairs assembled facing the front of the room, there was a large, open area in the center of the room, presumably for when the VFW holds its heavily-anticipated singles dances. (I’ve always wanted to see how these events go, but since I’m not a veteran I assume they will remain a great mystery for the rest of my life. A pity.)

Around the periphery of this open space were old wooden tables, each with four plastic chairs. Beyond these tables were long banquet tables arranged against three walls of the room. This was no setup for a funeral, I thought, but who was I to complain? It’s how they did things here, after all.

As the crowd milled about, the service began when the local VFW Chaplain (who, by sheer coincidence, was a family friend) queued up a recording of Taps on the large wooden console at the front of the room. Then, Gary’s brother Steve was asked to say a few words about the man who has always cared for him and his family. There, below the large, unlit bingo board that hung on the wall behind him, Steve broke down.

One letter carrier got up to speak to the room full of grown men drinking bottles of beer and smoking their fifth cigarette. “I sure hope no one is waiting for their mail today,” he said, “because you’ll be waiting for a while. We’re all here.”

While we listened to the service, the color guard shuffled in. A geriatric militia complete with white gloves and black berets, this group of septuagenarians displayed an amazing amount of respect for a ritual they had undoubtedly practiced hundreds of times. We marched back out to the parking lot for the last part of our goodbye to Gary.

One member of the guard, rigid with respect and sincerity, presented a crisply folded American flag to Steve. Another member, after fiddling for a few seconds with a phony bugle that played the same recording of Taps we heard in the bingo hall, stood with the instrument to his lips for a half minute. Three members of the firing squad then shot forth into the suburban sunlight three shells each.

And Gary was gone.

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