Monday, January 31, 2011

Off-line or Out of Line?

Today starts my third annual Internet Free in February project - and for all you “can’t wait to catch me cheating” people, by free, I mean no entertainment/facebooky type stuff. I will still keep up with this blog, and work-related emails, etc. but other than that, nada*

Not that it’s that big of a deal. For one thing, it’s only 28 days. And another, it’s only the Internet. It’s not like I’m going Amish for a month. But that being said, I have noticed some changes and challenges over the past few years. The first time I did it, I don’t think anyone even noticed. Of course I wasn’t a huckster back then, so there was no advance announcements or fanfare, I just quietly logged off.  Last year was a little tougher, as I had a new book to promote and a fairly new baby to show off, but somehow I managed. I did leave a “Farewell for now…” message as my status, and returned to find some naysayers and doubters commenting on my wall, as well as a few “I could never do that’s…” But this year I’ve been surprised by just how many people admitted  it would be “impossible” for them, and how doubtful they are that I can go a whole month without the social side of the internet - but come on people, I went thirty YEARS without it. And chances are, you have as well.  So it really shouldn’t be that difficult.

But frankly, it is. Now that I no longer get a newspaper delivered, and our TV is constantly tuned to The Disney Channel, I’ve come to rely on the Internet as my sole source of news, weather, and information.  And I do mean sole source. This is embarrassing, but a few months ago I checked Yahoo weather and was told it was 45 and clear skies, so I decided I could ride my bike to work. I packed all my stuff, put on my bike gear, and stepped outside…into a rainstorm!  Had I just looked out the window, I would have known, but so strong was my habit of checking on-line, I forgot there were other ways of getting information. And I’m hoping the next 28 days will help me remember some of them.

And then there’s facebook. As someone who was never fond of the phone, or even talking for that matter, facebook has allowed me to communicate in fun and friendly ways with lots of people I probably would shyly avoid in person. But thanks to the internet, I get to comment on their pictures, send snide remarks about their statuses, and wish them happy birthdays.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t improved my actual conversation skills all that much, so when we get together in real life, we just talk about everything we saw on facebook, but still, it’s a start. And maybe this month will force me to actually pick up the phone, or send a letter, or get together for a cup of coffee, and have real conversation.

Shopping is another issue, and at this moment, a gray area as far as whether it should be allowed during my hiatus. I do enjoy browsing for bargains, and now that I’m an Amazon Mom (long story), I get free shipping on pretty much everything, but I’m not sure if that qualifies as entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, one thing I won’t miss is games.  Other than a brief Bloons addiction, I’ve never gotten into the whole gaming aspect of the Internet. Probably for the same reasons I avoid cheesecake, as chances are I’d like it.  Plus I get more enjoyment out of making fun of the people who like Farmtown and World of Warcraft than I would from playing the actual games.

So, there you have it – not exactly a manifesto, but maybe enough to make you think about your own habits and see if perhaps you could use a break from them.  Just because they’re not bad habits doesn’t mean they’re good for you.

*"Mike Wood" - my author persona, will be sending out facebook reminders about upcoming book signings, and I'll be '"sharing" my blog entries to facebook, but that is it!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chinky Cat

Note: Picture is for illustrative purposes and is sadly NOT the original

"Alright then," said the man, switching off the slide projector, which for the past couple of moments, through the whirrings of its cooling fan, had been providing the only source of noise in the packed gymnasium. "If there are no more questions, I would like to ask the fathers to make their way into the cafeteria where we have some coffee and snacks set up for..."
The men rise and scramble out of the gym, disrupting the orderly rows of folding chairs as they race towards the door, which the last father closes behind him.
            It is not until they are safely separated that the two groups  actually come together with the shared thoughts and actions  originally envisioned by the people who sponsored this program. Only their shared thoughts are not the type of father-son bonding one might expect, and are more along the lines of "Boy, am I glad that's over!" and their joint action is to breath a sigh of relief.  Not exactly what the committee had in mind when they decided to hold a "Father and Son Night."
            "Let's try this again," says the man.  "Does anyone have any questions?"   Hands shoot up.  Fingers are pointed.  Voices call out.  Kids are whispering and giggling and prodding each other with elbows to the ribs.  "Ask him about...."  "I'm not gonna ask him, you ask him."  "You're sick!" 
After a few minutes of nervous chatter, one boy stands up and asks "If you have a wet dream, what should you do with the...stuff?"  His question relieves the tension and soon all the kids are raising their hands.  "What's a BJ?"  "Why does it tickle when I climb the rope?"  “Is it really gonna grow hair?”
The kids, giddy with questions after nearly two hours of sitting next to their sweating dads listening to the speaker talk about vaginas and penises and intercourse, are more than eager to ask anything of this man...not so much for the answers but more for the thrill of saying words like "boner" and "tits" out loud in front of an adult without getting punished. 
Except for this one kid, he just doesn't quite get it.  Actually, this kid never gets it.  He is Robbie Lasher, the kid who rather than ask questions, is just shouting out words like "fart" and "shit" before quickly hiding his giggling face in his hands.  The speaker has been pretty patient with Robbie all night and has ignored his outbursts, but a rather loud "PISS!"  forces him to confront Robbie. 
"You there, do you have a question?" he asks, pointing at Robbie, who is rocking back and forth, his chin tucked in towards his chest, drooling a little as he bites his lip to keep from laughing.  "Do you have a question?" the man asks again.  Everyone is staring at Robbie, waiting to see what he will do next, knowing from past experience that something good is about to happen, which usually results in something bad for Robbie.
            Robbie looks around the room without actually focusing on anyone, apparently sizing up his audience.  He stands up, a surprising move that elicits many 'ooohs" from the crowd. 
"Yeah, I have a question." he says, "What does T.S. mean?"
"TS?" repeats the speaker, looking perplexed.  "I'm not sure I have ever came across that one before.  Where did you hear it?" 
"C'mon," says Robbie, visually pleased that he has stumped the speaker, "everyone knows what T.S. means." 
"Do you?" asks the man, looking out at the rest of the group.  "I must admit, I have never heard of it...but things change all the time." 
The kids in the group look equally confused, looking around at each other while Robbie, still standing, smugly surveys the scene. 
"Well...?" says Robbie.  The kids are whispering and conferring with each other, occasionally glancing back and forth between the speaker and Robbie so as not to miss anything. 
"Tit Sucker?" calls out one boy, causing many of the kids to start laughing, but the boy’s tone implies that he was sincerely trying to offer an answer, and the speaker looks to Robbie for verification. 
"Nope," says Robbie. 
"Well son, it appears I can't help you with your question, maybe you can..."
"It means Tough Shit," interrupts Robbie, "Tough Shit!"  The speaker removes his glasses and looks sternly at Robbie.
 "Young man," he says "I do not see how that is appropriate to this conversation.  Please take your seat and keep your comments to yourself.  If you continue to inter..." 
"Tough Shit" repeats Robbie. "Toughshitpissfartfuck!"  The entire group gasps at the mention of the f-word.  Robbie has really done it this time they think, as he is escorted from the room.

            Robbie had always been the kid who gets in trouble.  But he was of a special breed.  His behavior went beyond that of simple attention seeking.  Sure, he liked the crowd pleasers, like eating paste or intentionally clogging the toilets by flushing whole rolls of toilet paper, but he was also sneaky. He would secretly throw away the blackboard erasers, for example, or sometimes put hamster turds in the teachers coffee, but would never tell anyone.  It was not the attention he craved as much as the chaos. 
            Robbie spent a lot of time in what the kids knew only as the Remedial Room.  No one really knew what went on in there, only that every day, during Math and English, a teacher’s aide would come and take Robbie from class.  Quick peeks into the Remedial Room revealed a rather colorful, comfy looking place with lots of toys and games.  Most of the kids had a very vague notion that even though this room looked like a lot of fun, it was not somewhere they wanted to be, but even so, there was a secret awe and fascination with what went on behind that door with the construction paper covered window. 
            As the years went by, Robbie began spending more and more time in the Remedial Room, and by fifth grade he was only with his class for gym and art.  Rumors about the room began to spread.  Kids who heard their parents talking about a new movie, something about a Cuckoo's Nest, would come to school with weird stories about torturing crazy people, saying that the Remedial Room was for crazy kids.  Many of the kids started to be afraid of Robbie.  They stopped asking him to do silly things in gym class and did not encourage him to eat any more paste in art.  Robbie would still do weird things on his own, but just not as often. 
By Christmas, he seemed a lot calmer.  He looked a lot cleaner.  He even combed his hair, using this big black comb that he kept in his back pocket.  Then one day, he stayed with the class for English.  The kids thought the teachers aide must have forgot him, but the next day he was still there.
            The kids noticed many changes in Robbie.  He raised his hand in class.  He waited for his turn at recess.  He didn't try to pee on you in the bathroom.  The teachers also were happy to see the many changes in Robbie. 
One day, just before Easter, Mrs. Carr, the art teacher, announced that there was an empty bulletin board in the hallway that needed filling.  She said that she would pick the seven best drawings and hang them up for all the school to see.  She passed out paper and crayons and watched as all the kids began to draw.  While walking down the aisle she was shocked to find Robbie intently concentrating on his creation.  All of Robbie's artwork in the past involved tanks and blood, done half-heartedly in only one or two colors.  Looking over Robbie’s shoulder, she was pleased to see a very elaborate, careful drawn rendition of the school.  He had drawn happy children playing on the swings, smiling teachers watching them, a big orange sun in the sky.  The kids in the room also began to take notice...usually Robbie was the first to finish and would spend the rest of the time bothering them and trying to scribble on and mess up their pictures. 
The bell rang and Mrs. Carr collected their papers.  "I will look these over and pick out the seven best and have them hung up by lunch so you can see who won on your way to the cafeteria."  She winked at Robbie as he left the room and blushed with pride when he expertly winked back.
            After English, the children lined up for lunch.  They were all excited and eager to see who had won and the teacher had a hard time getting them to settle down.  They marched down the hallway and stopped in front of the bulletin board.  Robbie’s picture was hung right in the middle.  Robbie looked delighted, rubbing his hands together with a sense of satisfaction.  The kids turned to congratulate him and he shyly smiled and returned their praise.  Mrs. Carr peeked out her window and felt a real sense of joy in Robbie’s achievement. "This is what being teacher is all about. " she thought as she returned to her desk. 
Meanwhile, out in the hall, Robbie stood beneath his picture and smiled.  The fourth graders had just begun to exit the cafeteria and the hallway was filled with bustling children.  "Behold!" yelled Robbie, pointing to his picture, and the kids stopped in their tracks to look at it. All eyes were on Robbie as he ripped the picture off the wall.  He quickly reversed it and hung it back up.  The children all gasped as Robbie once again pointed to his picture, only now it was a crude drawing of a cartoon cat with slanty eyes and buck teeth...and a gigantic penis between its legs!
            "Behold..." says Robbie, "Chinky Cat!"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things I've Learned (Part I)

Over the past forty years, I’ve learned a thing or two about LIFE. I know some of you only see the big “IF” in it, while others think it’s just a big F in LIE, but for me, and my cereal eating counterpart, when it comes to LIFE, Mikey likes it. He really likes it!

And today I would like to share with you some of the wisdom and guiding principals that have helped me make the most of life. I like to think I made them all up, came up with them on my own, but I’m sure someone somewhere has uttered similar sentiments, but so what? All I know is I’ve learned these from personal experience, and not out of a book, so in my opinion, they’re MY rules. And since I have a lot of them, I will share them over several weeks. Enjoy

Rule 1: “It’s easier to apologize than to ask permission”  - I swear I came up with this on my own way back in my early 20's (and I never heard of Grace Hopper, who it’s attributed to) but maybe I saw it on a bumper sticker or something.  Either way, it has served me well - not so much at home (since my wife knows my rule) but out in the world, it's a real timesaver. Asking, "Is it okay if I park here?" or "Do you mind if I go through your 12 items or less line with these 27 items?" invariably lead to "no" answers, so just do it, and only say you're sorry if they complain. And please note, it says “easier” not better.  Or more considerate

Rule 2: “When someone goes out of their way to tell you what they’re not saying, that’s exactly what they are saying” -  We’ve all heard it before. Someone will start a sentence with, “I’m not trying to be mean, but…” or “I’m not saying she’s lazy, but…” But that’s exactly what they are saying. They ARE trying to be mean. They DO think she's lazy. They’re just too wimpy to admit it. I find it's best to stay away from these people.

Rule 3: “When someone goes out of their way to warn you about someone else, it’s them you need to worry about” – whether it’s your first day on the job or first week in the neighborhood, someone always feels like it’s their duty to give you the rundown on who’s who and what’s what. And nine times out of ten, they’re just trying to get you on their side before the real truth comes out. Again, stay away from these people. 

Rule 4: “The size of the poop is inversely proportional to the nastiness of the smell” – This is my most recent truism. Two years of changing diapers has taught me that it’s the small ones you need to worry about. I’m sure this could be used as a metaphor for human relations as well, but I’ll leave it to you to figure that out.

Rule 5: “If you can’t leave your problems at home, stay there and keep them company” – I’ll probably take the most flak for this one, but I stand by it 100%. And if more people followed it, the world would be a happier place. Sure, there’s a time and a place to moan, groan, cry, complain, whine, and wail, but it’s not at work between the hours of 9 and 5. Or at Happy Hour either! Find a therapist. Take a sick day. Or just suck it up. To me, work is a respite from life, so I don't get why people would want to bring their life’s problems there, and vice versa. The same way I don't like to complain about work at home, I don't like complaints about home at work. "So where should I complain?" you may be asking. The short answer is, nowhere. The long answer is, nowhere that I can hear you.

That’s all for now. I can’t promise that following these rules will lead you to a better life, but they work for me. And feel free to share any of yours below. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Coworker

When you consider how much of our time is spent at work, it’s no wonder so many us end up dating our coworkers.  But is this a good idea?  Is the possibility of love worth the risk to one’s career? There are no simple solutions, as this is a very complicated issue, with lots of variables to consider, but the short answer is, “No, you should not date a coworker.”  And in case you’re wondering, the long answer is “Noooooooooo, you should not date a coworker!”

But just because you shouldn’t doesn’t mean you won’t, so here are a few rules to help those of you who just can’t help yourselves. 

Rule One: Don’t get involved with anyone above you.  Dating a supervisor or someone with a better position than you is just asking for trouble. You may think you can handle the pressure, but sooner or later, something is going to give. This also means you can not date any one below you, since they would then be breaking Rule One.

Rule Two: Remember where you are. I learned this the hard way when, as a 16-year old bagger in a grocery store, my boss sent me home after observing several hours of me flirting with the cute cashier in the “8 Items or Less” lane rather than helping any of the poor old elderly Ethels working the main lines. “This is a supermarket, not a meat market,” he said, and sent me packing. So, just like the separation between Church and State, you must maintain a separation between Work and Date.

Rule Three: Say it when you’re sober.  If you suddenly notice how attractive a coworker is during an office party or happy hour, you might want to avoid acting on this affection until you can ensure that these feelings are the result of a shot from Cupid’s arrow, and not from Jose Cuervo.  Otherwise, you may end up breaking Rule Four.

Rule Four: No “hooking up.” Too much of this causes “Snow White Syndrome” a sometimes fatal (to your career and reputation) condition associated with lines of workers marching by your cubicle whistling while they work (but what they’re really saying is “Hi ho. Hi ho. Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho!”)

Rule Five: No public displays of affection. Your relationship may be getting serious, but if you want to be taken seriously, you need to act like a professional, and professionals don’t go around making kissy faces and calling each other “Schmoopy”  So keep your hands, comments, and pet names to yourself.  And this pertains to all PDA’s, not just the “get a room” variety, for no matter how sly or subtle you think you are, people will notice. Which leads to Rule Six…

Rule Six: Don’t alienate others.  Your little world of two may seem like enough right now, but since 50% of all marriages end in divorce, the chances that your little office romance will work out are pretty slim, so you want to maintain good relations with the rest of your coworkers.  You also want to avoid being too critical of your fellow employees during “private” conversations with your partner.  Such comments may come back to haunt you if the two of you break up and your ex decides to let your coworkers know what you really think about them.

Rule Seven: Let them fight their own battles. While we all want to protect and stick up for our partners, while at work you need to back off and let them work it out.  He or she will resent your “help.”  Save your sympathy and consolation for when you get home, otherwise you’ll risk both your and your partner’s credibility. 

Rule Eight: If things are going good, transfer.  What at first seems fun and exciting will quickly turn dull and confining.  So if you want to keep the relationship going, one of you will have to go.  This doesn’t mean you have to give up your career, simply consider a lateral move or a similar position at a different location. This will give you the space you need, and something to talk about when you come home from work.

And that’s about it.   Follow these rules, and with a little work (and a lot of luck) you might be able to make your work relationship work.  But if not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And remember, there’s a thin line between flirting and harassment and it’s called the Unemployment Line.

This message brought to you by a man who met the woman who would become his wife at work - but he was never one to follow rules...even his own! Member FDIC

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Not Quite a Swan Song - More like a Loon-y Tune

Following the advice of a writer friend, I've decided to cut back on my blogging in order to focus on some "real" writing - not that this hasn't been real, or fun, just that the time spent discussing big toes and Jell-O might be better spent elsewhere. So to make some room on my schedule, I will be dropping the Saturday edition of this blog and using either Tuesday or Thursday to rerun some stuff (mostly my old newspaper columns, which should be new to most of you anyway), which leaves only one day for fresh content - but more time to work on something more substantial (note how I'm hesitant to say "next book", but that's really what it is - but that's all I'm saying for now!)

Of course,  I reserve the right to post whenever I damn well feel like it, but thought I should give you all a heads up, seeing as how supportive you've been. And for the three of you who don't yet have it, you can always pass your blog-less Saturdays reading my novel, Alchemy.

Oh, and I should point out that many of the "reruns" will deal with dating, which strangely enough, were written after I was married! Go figure. Point is, I think you'll enjoy reading them, just don't read anything into them. And for the record, I am very happily married, recent threats of going Shining on my family notwithstanding!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Out of the "Pan" and into the Fire

NOTE: Either I'm feeling nostalgic, or just frazzled from dealing with a sick kid all evening, but I've decided to run my first ever paid piece. The following appeared in the Connecticut Post back in 2005, and started my three year relationship with the paper as a columnist. I was paid $75

PS - For historical (or perhaps hysterical) purposes, I'm forcing myself not to revise or edit the original, but I sooo want to!

 “I’m growing older but not up
My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck
Let those winds of time blow over my head,
I’d rather die while I’m living then live while I’m dead!”

So go the lyrics to one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs – a song whose words I took to heart…and its message I took for granted – that I too would be able to grow old without growing up – your typical Peter Pan fantasy.  I wanted to be the guy who could play and party like it was 1999 until I was 99.  But lately it seems like the only Peter Pan I have left in me is the peanut butter I spread on my rice cakes at lunch.

So what happened to me? Besides the rice cakes that is! How did I get to be (and feel) so old?  Instead of Peter Pan, I turned into Cinderella…always heading home by midnight. It wasn’t too long ago when I didn’t even get started until well after twelve, heading out with my fellow waiters after a profitable shift at the restaurant. We would close the nearby bars, and then head back to ours for a few after-hours hours.  Many a morning I would be heading home while joggers and newspaper deliverers went about their pre-dawn professions. Now I’m coming in at a time I used to be going out…and getting up around the time I used to be coming home.  And I’m not too happy about it.

I’m sure it’s partly out of pride, my wanting to prove I can still hang with the big dogs, rather than a desire to just party all night – because I can honestly say I am no longer interested in pulling all-nighters or heading for the casinos (or Port Chester) after last call, but there are times when I would just like to be able to stay out late.  Say a band I like is playing, but they don’t come on until 10 (which means more like 11:30) it’s no longer a given that I’ll be there, even if it’s a Friday!   I’ll set out with the best intentions, but halfway through the first set I start thinking about how hard it will be to function in the morning, and by the time the band takes a break, I’m thinking how nice it would be to be in bed, and before the first encore I’m heading for the door.

And it’s not like I can claim (or blame) responsibility.  I know parental and fiscal responsibilities are two major reasons why people my age start acting their age, but I can’t blame my lameness on either of them.  My step-daughter spends most weekends with her father, so there is no need to rush home to pay a sitter, so as far as she goes, I can stay out as late as I want.  As for the money, while there is never a lot, there is usually enough, and I have never had a problem parting with what little I had in exchange for a good time. So there goes that excuse.

Another possibility to consider is that now that I have found the right girl (and married her) there is not much of an incentive to go out, since I am no longer looking to meet anyone.  The problem with this theory is that even when I was looking for someone, I wasn’t looking for them in bars.  Yet I still went out…a lot!

So what’s left? Health concerns? Well, thanks to some new state laws, cigarettes are no longer allowed in bars, so that excuse just went up in smoke.  And courtesy of carb conscious consumers, many of the beers on the market have the calorie equivalent of a carrot, so I can’t blame diet.  Finally, alcoholism doesn’t run in my family (it may walk, sometimes stumble…but never runs) so there goes that idea.

Which leaves me with…me! Can it be that I grew up?  Am I officially an adult? Let’s see: I got the wife, the kid, the house, the bills.  The grays, the gut, the aches, the wrinkles.  Spare batteries for the smoke detectors, power tools for fixing things (and the books to show me how), and a fireproof box for important documents.  Sounds pretty mature so far…but…I don’t have a will, or a 401k (or even a clue as to what one is) or a savings account.  I still have all of my hair (along with a few extras) and most of my stolen pint glasses and some of my Smurfs! And last time I checked, adults weren’t riding inflatable chairs down snow-covered hills or flinging cold cuts against walls to see if they stuck.  So maybe I’m somewhere in the middle – young enough to want to, but old enough to know better.

Or it could be that I’m just tired.  It’s hard to be Peter Pan when you’re all petered out.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Take this Job and Shovel It!

Above is a statue of John Henry, the “strongest man alive” who became a folk legend when he went up against the latest technology (a steam-powered hammer) in a race to see who could lay the most railroad track. It was a test of man vs machine, and John Henry won…except due to the immense effort he exerted during the challenge, he collapses and dies during the victory celebration, still with the hammer in his hand.

Now I’m no John Henry, but I do have a thing for manual labor over mechanical assistance. I prefer to rake my leaves, rather than walking around with a leaf blower. I own a push mower instead of a ride on. I bust out the post hole digger instead of the auger. When possible, I choose a broom over a vacuum, screwdriver over a drill, and bike over car. And, until yesterday, I took pride in always shoveling my own snow (as well as the fact that I would often beat my snow-blowing neighbors in the process.)

Thanks to Benedict (the lamest name for a brutal storm ever) we received about two feet of snow overnight, with drifts up to 4 feet.  Undeterred, I waited until I heard the guy next door firing up his snow blower and raced outside, shovel in hand, to defend my honor. Well, first I had to figure out how to get outside, what with four feet of snow pushing up against the door – but once out there, I was ready.

There was so much snow it required three shovelfuls per spot before I could see pavement, but I tightened the strap on my hat and dug in. It wasn’t heavy, but it was deep and I had to fling each scoop up over the five-foot high banks left from the last two storms, with the wind blowing much of my work back into my face.

Periodically checking my progress against my neighbor, who had the help of six teenagers AND his snowblower,  I wasn’t feeling too good about my chance. Fact is, I wasn’t feeling too good period. We have a rather long, double-wide driveway, and there was a LOT of snow covering it.

I decided to focus on clearing a path for my wife’s car first, that way if we had to get out we could, and if I got tired, I could finish the other half later. I soon developed a nice rhythm and things were looking good. Especially since my neighbor’s “help” – in typical teenage fashion - were assing around in the snow, busy flinging snowballs and taking bumper rides on the slowly passing cars.

As the end of the driveway drew near, I found myself eyeing the eye-high wall of snow left by the plow. Perhaps I could tunnel through it, I thought, but my pride was too great, and scoop by scoop, I took it down.

Two hours later, and one half of the driveway clear, I was ready to call it quits. I had succeeded in clearing a path, "just in case", plus I could smell the grilled cheeses my wife had made for lunch and my gloves were soaked. But, my pride kept me going. I started to dig in behind my truck when I heard the unmistakable sound of a snowblower. I looked up to find another neighbor plowing through my driveway like a hot knife through butter. I put my shovel down and raced over to politely decline his kind assistance, yelling over the noise that perhaps there might be some elderly neighbor who could use his help more than me, but he dismissed me with a wave of his gloved hand, and proceeded to clear the remaining snow in less than ten minutes (a job that would have taken me another two hours.)

To be honest, at that moment, I was happy for the help, but now, twenty-four hours later, it’s eating at me. I can no longer say “never” when it comes to snowblowers, and it was a bit emasculating brushing the snow off our cars with a broom while he was powering through it with his machine. We did “beat” my neighbor and his six kids, but I could not enjoy the victory. Even the grilled cheese tasted like defeat (but that could be because it was on whole-grain bread.)

I’m not saying I would have preferred to die like John Henry with a shovel in my hand, but it would have been nice to finish the job like a man, even if it meant not winning the race.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow More, Thank You

NOTE: This post was hastily written this morning after the "big" stage debut of a play I had written, directed, and starred in last night, so it may not have the polished smoothness you may be accustomed to!

I’m one of the few teachers that doesn’t love snowdays. Most see them as free days off. Time to catch up on some sleep, soaps, or housework. But for me, they’re somewhat stressful. Sure the snow looks pretty (for about an hour) and is fun to play in (for about ten minutes) but during the other 10 hours of the day, there’s nothing to do but chase after the baby and eat – food that is, not the baby!
Every storm that brings 4 to 6 inches of snow adds four to five pounds to my weight. I’ll take off my shirt and realize that the weather outside isn’t the only thing that’s frightful.
Part of the problem is my wife loves watching the cooking channels, so all day I’m bombarded with images of food. I’ll watch Bobby Flay grilling up some chipotle chicken and then go out into the kitchen and fix myself a snack, usually something involving  E-Z Cheez. I’ll come back and Paula Dean is deep frying peanut butter, which sends me off in search of another fix. Then there’s Rachel Ray, who needs 30-minutes to make her meals - but give me 30 seconds and I’ll wipe out an entire tube of Thin Mints. Giada is the only one who inspires healthy eating, as after watching her show, I always find myself craving melons.
Sadly, I’m not a chef, so there’s no replication of their recipes, meaning my mango chutney is a jar of grape jelly and a can of tuna is what passes for fresh tilapia.  But I really don’t care about flavor, it’s the calories I crave. I’ll eat handful after handful of stuff I don’t even like, complaining about how terrible it is between mouthfuls. Then I’ll look for something else to get the taste out of my mouth.
 At work, I often feel hungry, but I wisely do not keep any food in my classroom, so with no options, I can ignore the pangs until lunch. But at home on a snow day, lunch is an all day event.
I do burn off some calories shoveling snow, but then I come in and start shoveling through a carton of ice cream.  Which makes me cold, requiring something hot to eat to warm me up. Then my stomach starts to feel funky, so I look for things to settle it: crackers, pretzels, bread…lots and lots of bread.
During all this, Sarah has not gotten off the couch, and after five hours of Food Network, she’s starving and inspired to make a great meal. Pots and pans and skillets are sizzling. She’s cutting and chopping and grating. And I’m cruising by and stealing bites of her ingredients. By the time supper is ready, I’m stuffed. But she’s worked so hard to prepare a nice meal, I have to eat something. And I can’t hurt her feelings, so I make room for seconds. Later, doing the dishes, it seems silly to put three spoonfuls of mashed potatoes into a Tupperware container, so I put them into me instead.
As I write this, the weathermen are calling for another 11 to 18 inches of snow between tonight and tomorrow. Luckily the cupboards are still pretty bare from the last storm, but chances are I’ll find something to eat. Let’s just hope it’s not the baby!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Secret Life of Trees

For the past few weeks, there has been a tree in my living room. And while I've been celebrating Christmas this way my whole life, this year I was struck by how strangely normal it seemed to have a living (albeit terminal) tree set up in my house.  I know it’s a custom…but how did we become so accustomed to being around trees?  And then it came to me. 

Now, what I'm about to say may smack of tree-son, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it anyway, bad puns and all.  You see, I work with trees. And no, I’m not a lumberjack – In fact, I’m willing to bet most of you all work with trees as well. 

Look around your office, or department, building, or store. Chances are you will see a tree (and I’m not talking about the potted Yucca in the corner) I mean the Weeping Willow in the cubicle…you may know her as the whiny girl who spends half her time complaining about every change in her job and the other half crying over every problem in her life.

But that’s not all.  The workplace is a veritable meta-forest of trees. You know that obnoxious guy who wants a high-five every time someone does or says something even mildly witty or amusing? He’s a Palm tree. 

Or what about those annoyingly sincere people who insist on celebrating every birthday with cake and acknowledging every illness with get-well cards…they’re Maples (full of sap, get it?) And the people who receive the majority of those get well cards? Sycamores (because they call in “sycamore” than everyone else!)

Then there are the Quaking Aspens, those insecure people who show up trembling at your door because they can’t handle confrontation and need constant reassuring. 

 And let’s not forget the old folks, the ones who should have retired years ago, and can’t go a day without reminding everyone about how life was so much better way back when – they’re the Pines, pining away for their youth.

The bossy woman no one can stand…she’s a Beech!

The creepy guy who stares at all the women’s breasts? Chestnut. And the woman who’s breasts are worth staring at? Poplar

Batting clean-up, you have the Spruces.  They’re those “helpful” people who are constantly tidying up common areas and picking lint off your lapels. 

Finally, you have the Stumps, those people, who for the life of you, you can not figure out how the keep their jobs.  The just sit there, taking up space, doing absolutely nothing, but for whatever reasons, they are very hard to remove.

On a more positive note, just about any member of the Evergreen family are an asset to the workplace, for they are always fresh and full of life while the rest of us tend to work in cycles.  We’ll be in full-bloom for a while, then things start dropping off …but the Evergreens are always consistent and dependable. 

Also dependable are the Ash.  Strong and sturdy, they are willing to stand up and go to bat for anyone in need.  They are full of knowledge and experience and are the people you seek out when you have a problem. Unfortunately, there are usually a few people who think they are Ashes; They’re the self-appointed leaders who feel free to smugly speak their minds in condescending tones at every opportunity. The difference is, while they may have the knowledge and experience generally associated with the Ash, there is something (personality, compassion, tact, all of the above) missing, which is why we call them Ash-holes!

And that’s about it.  I think I rooted out most of the possibilities which means it is time for me to make like a tree and…get out of here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Save the Last Chance for Me

I recently admitted on facebook that I always hit the “Print Receipt” button on ATM’s and gas pumps, even though I just throw them away in the nearest trash can seconds later. It’s not that I enjoy  wasting paper, or am begging to have  my identity stolen, but I feel like telling the machine that I don’t want a receipt would be like telling the machine’s owners that I’m negligent with my accounting. I know it’s dumb, but I truly believe that if I don’t print the receipt, it would encourage “them” to steal from my account, since they figure I wouldn’t even notice the missing money anyway.
And to tell you the truth, I probably wouldn’t. There are some weeks when I’m shocked by how much money is still in my account, and others when I’m wondering where it all went.  I know the great majority of it goes to paying bills, but a lot of it just…goes.  I don’t mind spending money, but it would be nice to have some idea what I spent it on.
I know for a fact (because I just got the receipt) that I spend $50 on iTunes the other morning downloading songs for our New Year’s Eve party that I will probably never listen to again (I only play the music of people who died during the year, and let’s just say Lena Horne, Ronnie James Dio, and Jimmy Dean are not in heavy rotation on my iPod) – but if you asked me how many songs I bought, I would have guessed 15 or so. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind blowing $50 for a few hours of music that hardly anyone even paid attention to, but I do get a little concerned with how oblivious I am with how much I’m spending
Couple that with how much I’m not saving, and we have a real problem.  And I’m not talking about savings accounts or IRA’s or college funds, I mean the money I literally throw away.  I must drag $15 to the curb in recyclable bottles and cans every two weeks .  Frankly, I can’t be bothered sticking sticky cans into a machine for a handful of nickels, and I like to think that the man who always stops and sorts through my trash needs the money more than I do, but if my math is correct (which I doubt) I’ve given away over $3000, just in recyclables, in the eight years I’ve been a homeowner .  
I’m not going to start pinching pennies (I toss those suckers out anyway) but I would like to start paying a little more attention to where my money goes - and paying a little less for things I don’t need. I’m hoping that with a little self-control and awareness, I might be able to save up enough for next year's New Year’s soundtrack, because if the Mayans were right, 2012 is going to have a rather long playlist.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Turnabout is Fair Play

I'm not big on elaborate practical jokes, or the whole Punk'd phenomenon, but I am prone to the occasional prank - or what I like to call "spontaneous acts of silliness." Nothing hurtful or harmful. No pies in the face or tied together shoe laces. In fact, most people don't even realize they were pranked until days or weeks later. Leave to use the restaurant restroom, and a week later you may find the salt shaker I stuffed in your purse. Or the next time you go to have waffles, you may be surprised to find your face has been pasted over Aunt Jemima's. And whatever you do, do not leave your email/voicemail/facebook accounts open!

But being someone who likes to dish it out requires that I am also able to take it. And to that end, I truly do consider myself to be a good sport, which is why I would like to use today's blog to single out a few people who have recently retaliated in cute or clever ways. (NOTE: Since my nemesis Renee already got her own post, she’s excluded from the following list.)

First up is Jeff, an old high school friend who politely inquired about purchasing advance tickets for my upcoming play.  In his email, he asked if cash was okay, or if I preferred a check.  Being the jerk that I am, I responded with, “Cash is fine, but only if it's in the following denominations: I would like one $2 bill, two Sacagawea dollars, and a Susan B. Anthony coin placed in a Christmas card and mailed to me.” Ha, ha, right? Well, a few days later, the joke was on me when I went to my mailbox and found he had met my demands right down to the Christmas card.

Speaking of Christmas cards, after my recent tirade about them, I ended up receiving many from people who never sent cards my way before, and they all specifically referenced my blog and pretty much dared me to say something bad about them. Jeanette, a former coworker, even sent me a photo of her and her daughters breaking my “no matching outfits” rule.  All I could do was laugh and hang them up on my refrigerator.

And then there’s Amy, who never misses an opportunity to use my own words against me. After last week's blog post revealed my terrible dietary habits, she showed up on New Year’s Eve bearing gifts, including a Richard Simmons box set consisting of “Party Off The Pounds” and “Love Yourself And Win” DVDs. 

Even my students have been getting in on the act. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I kept sarcastically reminding them how many shopping days they had left to get me a gift, while informing them that if they really wanted to impress me, they would forget the mugs, candles, and Dunkin’ Donuts cards and just give me cash.  I was joking of course, but one funny girl took me at my word and gave me a wreath made out of $10,000 in shredded U.S. currency!

And finally, we come to Tommy, the manager of my fantasy football league.  Back in August, he somewhat rudely requested that all players submit their $20 entry fee in cash (he said it was easier, but the unspoken message was he didn’t trust that our checks would clear.) So, being the jerk that I am (beginning to see a pattern here?) I diligently sent him my $20 fee…in pennies! Sure, it cost me an extra fifteen bucks to ship 2,000 pennies all the way to Georgia, but it was worth it. Problem is, I just won the league championship, which would normally be a good thing, except he and his wife have had five months to plot their revenge, so I know my “winnings” are going to be trouble. But I’m honestly looking forward to seeing that they come up with.

To me, these are the things that make life interesting. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’m guessing roughly 80% of what I say is bullshit, aimed at getting a rise out of people.  And frankly, that’s a big chunk of my time to be spending entertaining others, so I really do appreciate it when people rise to the occasion and respond in kind. It’s sort of a twisted take on the whole Pay It Forward principal, but it works for me.  

Saturday, January 1, 2011

In One Year and Out the Other

It’s that time again!  Time to undo all the damage done over the past three months, where since Halloween we’ve done nothing but overeat, overindulge, and overspend. But that’s all about to change because the New Year is here. And this year we’re going to stick to those resolutions, lose that weight, write that novel, and pay down that credit card debt.

And for about a month or two we will.  We’ll drop a few pounds, write a couple pages, and make some extra payments - but by the time we start getting used to putting the correct date on our checks, we’ll have lost our resolve.  Which makes sense since “resolve” comes from the Latin resolvere, meaning “to untie” so things were doomed to come undone from the start. Yet we continue to begin each year by making (and breaking) the same old resolutions, and I think it’s about time we stop.

Now I’m not advocating giving up, I’m just discouraging this practice of waiting for the “right time” to make a change. I’m sure there are some of you out there who decided way back in June to look for a better job, or quit smoking, or make amends with your mother, but instead of doing anything about it then, you figured it best to wait until January, you know, to get a fresh start.  But all you really did was give your problems a head start, and now you’re going to have to work twice as hard to catch up.

If what you see in the mirror on Thursday morning is unappealing, why wait until Monday to start working on it?  If you just hacked up your left lung, why finish the pack before you quit smoking? When your house is a mess, do you invite the neighbor’s incontinent dog in to make it really good and dirty before cleaning it up? Of course not, that would be making more work for your self.  Yet for some reason, we feel it best to put an end to our bad habits only after binging on them first.

So stop making resolutions and start finding solutions. I know many of you use New Years as a way to jump start your diets, so I’m willing to make a little deal.  If you agree to join me in my revolution against resolutions, I’ll let you in on one of my fool-proof diet tips ( and since I recognize the irony in pledging to not make pledges, I will consider any reading past this point as proof of your compliance.)  Great.  Good to have you aboard.  Here, as promised, is your tip (and while it may focus on dieting, it can also be applied to smoking, drinking, and so on.)

For me, the hardest part about dieting has always been will power, in that I have none. My first attempt at overcoming this was to make little penalties for myself.  One was that for every “unnecessary” calorie I ate, I would have to work it off on the stationary bike (at a rate of about 10 calories per minute). So thirty seconds spent with a pack of Twinkies meant over half an hour sweating on the bike. This worked for a while, but I soon found there were not enough hours in the day to work off all my indulgences.  Punishing myself just wasn’t working.   But punishing others might…

Which is how I decided to basically put a curse on my wife by stating aloud that if I ate any candy, chips, or snacky type things during the next three months, something bad would happen to her. Meaning every time I was tempted by a Twinkie, I had to ask myself, would the taste of the creamy filling be worth her getting creamed by a Mack truck? And the answer would always be, “Of course not.” 

Using this method, I lost almost twenty pounds.  But I also lost a lot of sleep, since every time my wife came home with a headache, I’d be thinking brain tumor, brought on by the darn granola bar I ate for lunch.  So use this method carefully.  Be sure to set a reasonable time frame – I recommend starting with a month at a time – and whatever you do, do not tie it into any weight loss goals, as time will pass, the pounds may stick around. Also, be very specific as to the foods you can not eat – and be wary of loopholes. Swearing off cookies and cake is a no brainer, but deciding if animal crackers and banana bread are okay may take some thought. A good rule of thumb is if you’re looking forward to eating it, you probably shouldn’t. Finally, I would recommend not sharing this strategy with your significant other – they won’t like it.  But they’ll love the results!

So, are you with me?  Are you willing to just say no to resolutions and yes to solutions? A wise old woman I used to work for would often ask, “Are you going to fish, or cut bait?” and at the time I had no idea what she meant.  But now I do, which is why I referred to her as the wise old woman rather than the crazy old woman, because what she was trying to teach me was that preparing to do something doesn’t mean much until you actually do it.  Some people can spend their whole lives getting ready but never get anywhere…get it?  Good. Then get going! And have a Happy New Year!