Thursday, February 24, 2011

The "Boogie" Monster

NOTE: Not sure if this ever ran in the paper, but it was written back when I was doing a bunch of dating advice pieces (and yes, I'm aware of the irony of taking said advice from me!)

We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
'Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're no friends of mine

For those of you too young to remember, the above song is the “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats – which, cheesy as it is, is still far better than anything performed by any of today’s Girls Without Talent.  Plus it’s true…you can dance if you want to! The problem is, not all of us want to – but, as the song implies, not dancing can lead to social rejection and isolation.  So what’s a non-dancer to do? I say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em (even if you can’t feel the beat) because this disco-rimination has gone on long enough.  It’s time to get over your fears and on to the dance floor.  And don’t worry if you can’t dance, for I have learned it is far better to be a dancing weed than a pretty wallflower.

Growing up, I never wanted to dance – even today it still takes a little “encouragement” from my friends Sam Adams and Bud Weiser – but back then that wasn’t an option.  And unfortunately for me, I came from a family of dancers, meaning I spent many a wedding alone at my table watching everyone else having a good time on the dance floor. Part of me wanted to join them, but the parts I needed (feet, hips, and rhythm) just weren’t interested. And to be honest, I thought they looked rather foolish flailing about out there.  So I’d just sit around bored and embarrassed, praying no one would pressure me into dancing with them.  Which of course they would, forcing me to feign an illness or injury as an excuse for why I wasn’t dancing. I became so good at this ruse that I would actually end up feeling sick by the end of the evening.  It got to the point that I dreaded weddings and parties where I knew there’d be music and dancing.

It wasn’t until the advent of the video camera that I realized it was I who looked foolish, which is hard to believe when you consider what some regard as “dancing.”  Take my brother for instance.  He doesn’t dance so much as act out the songs being played.  It’s as if he’s signing the lyrics for the deaf. But when we watched the video of my cousin’s wedding, no one commented on his moves, or those of anyone else gyrating on the dance floor. They were too busy pointing and laughing at me, often visible in the background pleading and protesting and pulling away from anyone pressuring me to dance.  It was then that I realized it was better feeling like a fool while dancing than looking like a fool for not.

So I started dancing.  Actually, my first attempts should be called stancing, because I mostly just stood on the dance floor while others danced around me – but at least I was out there. After a while I learned to shake with more than just nerves. Twenty years later and I’m still not a good dancer, but at least I have a good time. And so can you.

Chances are you’re dating a girl who likes to dance.  They all do. It’s a gender thing.   Girls tend to be much more enthusiastic and uninhibited when it comes to dancing.  Guys, on other hand (and the two left feet), are probably a little more reserved and hesitant about it.  Girls just don’t have the same hang-ups that we do about looking silly or awkward in public.  This doesn’t make them good dancers…it just gives them the confidence not to care.

I’m guessing the only reason most guys go dancing is because that’s where their women are.  And if they don’t do it, somebody else will.  If you watch closely, you’ll see most men aren’t really even dancing, they’re actually acting as human shields, rotating around their dates to repel any unwelcome advances. 

But I’m here to help you Dance, so here are a few tips to get you started.  First, get over yourself.  All eyes will not be on you.  As far as your eyes, they should maintain contact with your partner’s as much as possible. The reason being, if her eyes are locked on yours she won’t notice any of the clumsy movements going on down below.

And with regard to said movements, keep them simple. In fact, many of your everyday motions can easily be modified into dance moves.  Do lots of landscaping?  Then imagine working with an invisible shovel or rake in your hand, add a few head bobs, alternate your “digging” from left to right, and you’re dancing! Data Entry? Work the hands and “type” to the beat. Policeman? Pretend you’re directing traffic at a four-way intersection. Basically anything from plunging toilets to changing light bulbs can look like dancing with the right attitude.

Finally, do not try to replicate or match her moves with your own –  technically you are leading, and even if your “lead” consists of nothing more than standing stiffly and bobbing side to side like a drunken boxer, she will be able to work with it and make both of you look good. 

And you’ll feel good.  Once you get over the initial fear, dancing can be quite enjoyable, so have fun with it. Just be sure to stay clear of my brother if they’re playing “Kung Fu Fighting.” 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Just Lent My Liver

I’ve been nervously toying with the idea of giving up alcohol for Lent – not that I’m religious, mind you, I just like the self-denial aspect of it – but a peek at the calendar showed a lot of family events scheduled during those 40 days, and let’s just say…on second thought, I better not say anything. Let's just say giving up booze at this particular time would be a HUGE sacrifice for someone not expecting to get into Heaven.

But a recent hangover has me giving it some serious consideration. After spending all of Sunday on the couch, I’ve come to the realization that alcohol is bad for you! Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but absinthe makes the liver grow feet, which it uses to kick you in the nuts repeatedly.  No wonder Hemingway offed himself.

So I've decided I’m going to bite the bullet and do it. This won’t be my first foray into sobriety. A few years ago, when my wife got pregnant, I voluntarily gave up drinking as a sign of solidarity. Back then I didn’t consider the calendar, which was a good thing, as I would have noticed that nine months starting in the middle of the summer would take me from the height of picnic season to Oktoberfest, and straight (literally) through the holiday season. But since I loved my wife, and don’t drink alone, it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal.  And it wasn’t.

To be honest, I didn't make it through the entire nine months…but neither did she! I made it all the way to Thanksgiving, where I was enviously watching my brother open his second bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau (a holiday tradition) when my wife picked up his glass and took a sip.

“What was that?” I asked, in disbelief.
“What? It was just a sip…”
“I know, but you’re drinking…”
“No. I took a sip.”
“Yes, but technically, you’re drinking. And I said I wouldn’t drink unless you could.”
“So? So you’re drinking! That means I can too! Pass that bottle over here!”

Had this loophole not been discovered, I would have dutifully carried out my commitment through April. But once you open Pandora's Box, or bottle. it's hard to put a lid on it. Thus began a several months of me forcing my wife to sip off of things I wanted to drink. Sometimes I’d just dip my finger in a glass and touch it to her lips. So long as she imbibed first, I was in the clear.

But Lent doesn’t leave room for such loopholes. Sure, there are those who claim Sunday is a “free” day where you can take a break and partake in whatever you’re abstaining from, but who wants to drink on a Sunday? Unless…

When I was Australia, I was half a day ahead of everyone back home. So maybe if there was a way I could observe Australian Lent, then my Saturday night would be their Sunday afternoon.  Hmmm…this could work. I could stock up on Yellowtail and Foster’s, dig out my “Men at Work” CDs, and make reservations at the local “Outback” – that way I can make it to Good Friday and still have a G’day!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Trivial Matter

NOTE: The following originally appeared in the Connecticut Post a few years back when I was still writing their "Get Out" column. Every week, the editors would remind me that they just wanted me to review restaurants and hit spots, but as you'll notice, I rarely mention them!

As a child of the 70’s, and an avid viewer of VH-1’s addictive “I Love the 70’s” and “…80’s” series, I can say with some authority that the 70’s were much more fun, and much less competitive, than the 80’s.  At least as far as games went.
Back in the 70’s, when my friends and I wanted to play, we could simply Sit and Spin or bounce around on our Hoppity Hops – fun pastimes with no real challenges (other than the ability to suppress ones urge to vomit.) They didn’t even come with instructions - their names told you all you needed to know. And when these store-bought toys inevitably broke, we managed to produce the same dizzying effect by rolling down hills.
Then along came the 80’s, and suddenly all the good hills had houses on them  - and the fun toys had “WARNINGS” on them - and we were left either breaking our knuckles with Kerbangers or busting our brains over Rubik’s Cube. Toys were no longer being made for fun, they had to have an educational purpose or an inherent challenge. And they were stressful! Just mention the game Perfection to someone my age and you’ll get an immediate visceral response. Others sounded more like admonishments than games: Don’t Spill the Beans, Don’t Wake Daddy, Don’t Break the Ice. And to think I used to find Chutes and Ladders too preachy.
In the 70’s I could spend a couple dollars and hours in an arcade mindlessly blasting away at Space Invaders or Asteroids, but once the 80’s brought Q-Bert and Zaxxon, their “lives” and my quarters disappeared faster than the Susan B. Anthony dollar. Talk about frustrating. I couldn’t even get my Zaxxon pilot through the first wall, never mind the first level – and cute little Q-Bert, under my control, had a suicidal tendency to leap off the pyramid. This was supposed to be fun? All I can say is Pong never left me feeling like a murderer.
But, one thing I did like about the 80’s was Trivial Pursuit. My family would spend hours playing the game (and I do mean hours, since we only knew the answer to maybe 1 out of every 10 questions.)  We’d pick teams, fight over whether the playing pieces should be called  “pie” or “cheese,” and feast on imitation crab legs (we ate our weight in that stuff back then – yuck!)
The best part about the game was that no one expected you to get the questions right, but when you did…instant hero status.  Twenty years later and I’m still reaping the rewards for knowing that “Mickey Mouse” was the codename for Operation Overlord - although I still have no clue what Operation Overlord is -  but that’s the beauty of trivia; you don’t have to be smart to sound smart, you just have to have a good memory for obscure facts.
And that memory was put to the test recently at Anna Liffey’s in New Haven, where for the past several years, the popular Irish bar has been hosting a Tuesday night trivia contest.  My friends said to get there early, and they were right, as the cozy bar was filled to capacity by quiz time. But we made the most of our early arrival by having dinner and a couple properly poured pints.
The menu offered both traditional Irish favorites (Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash) and typical pub grub (burgers, wraps, and salads.) For the calorie un-conscious, they also serve fries with cheese and gravy, deep fried sausage(!), and onion rings with French fries.
The quiz started promptly at 9:00, with teams picking their names (apparently, the raunchier the better, as most were not fit for print) and paying their ten dollar entry fee.  Answer booklets and pencils were passed out, rules were read, and the game began.
I never knew the true meaning of “serious fun” until that night –we had a good time, but the people there take their trivia very seriously. You could hear a pin drop (or, a rookie like me making poorly received jokes) during the nine rounds of questions. Unlike Trivial Pursuit, where answers can be called out with reckless abandon, the Pub Quiz requires quiet, as the answers must be discussed and written down within earshot of the other teams, who are more than willing to steal a right answer or shush a stupid comment (trust me, I know.)
The questions ranged from the incredibly easy (“What kind of animal is the Trix cereal mascot?) to the extremely difficult (“What book was President Bush reading when he first learned of the 9/11 attack?) to the should be easy but aren’t (“How many eyes does a bat have?”)
Standings were given every third round, with the top three winners sharing the prize money at the end of the night. Unfortunately, we were not among them, but the five of us did pretty well, considering it was our first time – plus, we had the best name (“Sir Kumsizion and the Four Skins”) and we knew the answers to all three of the above questions: rabbit, My Pet Goat (thanks to Ed), and two.
So if you are in pursuit of some trivia, head on over to Anna Liffey’s…just leave your imitation crab (and loud voices) at home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Heating Things Up in the Bedroom

No, this is not a post-Valentine's recap, or misguided Cosmo advice, it's a sad, but true (meaning funny for you) story about me.

Thursday evening: The sudden onset of a brutal stomach bug has me puking all night - so much so, that I not only throw up the entire contents of my stomach (and possibly a lung) but manage to throw out my back in the process.

Friday afternoon: Feeling better intestinally, but my back is so sore I can't move without much difficulty, and pain. Pop a couple Aleve and hope it goes away.

Friday night: It doesn't.

Saturday morning: Head to the store to find something stronger for my back. Come home with some ThermaCare disposable heating pads and Icy/Hot, a product I've heard about, but never used. Think Ben Gay, but with a much cooler name.

Saturday afternoon: Slap on a heating pad, which is actually pretty soothing. And its wraparound design has the added benefit of serving as a girdle, which coupled with the five pounds I "lost" puking/not eating for two days, has me looking marvelous!

Saturday evening: Get ready for bed by applying a liberal coating of Icy/Hot to my entire lower back. Let me tell you, that stuff is aptly named. Felt like ice cubes going on, then slowly warmed to a not-quite pleasant burning sensation. But it took my mind off the back pain...for about ten minutes. Lying in bed, I couldn't get comfortable. I started on my back, which I usually do, but thought, maybe since my back was sore, I should give it a rest and try sleeping on my stomach. BAD IDEA! You see, by rolling over, I inadvertently placed my most private of parts into the the Icy/Hot oil slick that transferred off of my back and onto the sheet (Yes, I sleep naked. Got a problem with that?) Anyway, the stuff must be pretty potent, for it proceeded to burn my poor penis for the next two hours.  And not in a good way.

Sunday morning: Wake up feeling tired, but my back does feel much better. I refuse to attribute it to Icy/Hot, which I throw away to "teach it a lesson" for messing with my boys. But just in case, I slap on my heated man girdle and head to church.

Sunday afternoon: Wake up refreshed. Okay, so it wasn't really church I went to, but "couch" is pretty close if you squint your eyes. And while you're squinting, check out my slim sihouette! I loves my new man girdle!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Day Eddie Got Drunk

"The Day Eddie Got Drunk"

"This used to be my momma's favorite mug," Ellen said, feeling a faint smile nearly succeed in parting her lips before shaking it off like a wet dog fresh from the pond.  "I've always been afraid to take it down off the shelf out of fear of breaking it. Ed was always saying how clumsy I am.  And Momma, she never
much liked Ed, didn't try to keep it much of a secret neither.  She said we would never stay together.  Well Momma," she says, lifting her mug towards the ceiling, as if in a toast, "looks like you was right!"
Her lips tremble as her eyes fill with tears, but that earlier hint of a smile, which had been lying in wait, seizes the opportunity to make a full appearance.  She smiles for the first time in weeks as she cries for the third time that day.
"I'm sorry," she explains to the concerned looking Chinese woman sitting across from her at the kitchen table, "I was just picturing the look on Momma's face...her seeing Ed come strolling through them pearly gates!  She's musta thought they done sent her to that other place!" 
She smiles again, wiping tears from her eyes before directing them toward the woman.  "Thank you, Kim Lee," she says, gesturing with the mug.  "Thank you for everything.  The kids and I really...we really..." Ellen struggles to finish her sentence as Kim Lee nods and bows politely, unaccustomed to such praise.
Kim Lee had been sent by the church to help out around the house while Ellen struggled to cope with her loss.  She was supposed to come around once a day to help her with the kids and cooking and cleaning, but she found Ellen to be in no condition to do much of anything, so she more or less moved in and took over most of the household responsibilities.   She was more than happy to do it, for it kept her out of her own home, one she had only recently moved in to after coming to America as a modern day mail-order bride. 
Ellen wipes away her tears and grasps Kim Lee's hand.  "We really are thankful.  I know I haven't been of much use around here lately and you have been such a great help...and this tea!  Ed and I were never much for tea.  He liked his coffee, but it always made me a bit jumpy. But this tea, it's very soothing.  Where did you get it?"
Kim Lee looks a little perplexed.  "Why, it is your tea Miss.  I make you your own tea."
"This is Liptons?" Ellen asks, with a look of disbelief, before taking another sip.
"No, no.  I find tea when I clean.  I find it in nice box you have to dry it over fireplace.  I make you that tea.  Is good tea, no?  And such a pretty box..."
Ellen's face turns pale as she swallows the last sip of "tea" with an audible gulp.  The mug slips from her hand and crashes to the floor. 

And that was the day Eddie got drunk.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Fucket List

This started out as an essay, but it got pretty long pretty quick- and knowing how some people don't like to read all that much on blogs, I thought I'd present it in an easy to view video format.  Basically, it's my take on the Bucket List (not the lame ass movie, just the concept of doing things before you die.) Feel free to share this with anyone you think may be interested - maybe we can make it a "thing!" And please share your Fucket List items below...

What's in YOUR bucket?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Time Out

NOTE: This was written, but never published, back in 2006. Since it serendipitously ties in to both this weekend's SuperBowl and my Facebook Free February, I thought now might be a good time to run it. 

“Drew Brees, under pressure in his own end zone, throws the ball away – that’s got to be intentional grounding- Yup, flag on the play – and Chicago is awarded a safety, and will get the ball back – what an amazing turnaround after Reggie Bush’s electrifying 88-yard touchdown…”

I look up from the book I am reading for my psychology class to watch the replay – safeties are pretty rare in the NFL,  as are free Sunday afternoons in my world, which is why I am multi-tasking between watching the game, doing my homework, washing clothes, and cleaning the house.  It used to be I had time to just sit and watch an entire day of football, from the pre-game show to the evening recap – now I’m lucky if I can catch a quarter uninterrupted.

The dryer buzzes and I head downstairs to switch over the laundry. On the way back up I grab the broom and give the hallway a quick sweep before getting back to my book.  I have about 70 more pages to read, and an essay to write, before tomorrow night’s class.  

“Michael Lewis fields the kick, but is stripped of the ball…and the Bears recover! What a heads up play by the Bear’s Adrian Peterson. Saints coach Sean Payton has his challenge flag out and wants a review…”

I peer over my book to check out the instant replay – definitely a fumble – and after a few minutes, the refs agree.

“After further review, the ruling on the field stands – the result of the play was a Saints’ fumble with the kicking team recovering. Bears ball at the 30 yard line. New Orleans will be charged with a time out…”

I wish I had a time out…instead of feeling like I’m always out of time. It would be nice to be able to stop the clock and regroup – gather my thoughts and get ready for the next big play. But instead, every day feels like one long two-minute drill, where I’m constantly improvising and working under pressure. 

“Brian Urlacher tosses the ball into the stands as the final seconds tick away, and with that, the Chicago Bears are heading back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years!”

This time I put the book down and stare at the TV in amazement – not because the Bears managed to win with Rex Grossman at quarterback, which was a surprise – but from the shock over what the announcer just said about it being 21 years since their last Super Bowl appearance.  Could it really have been that long ago?

There’s no way, I think, quickly doing the math in my head. He’s got to be wrong.  It had to be more like ten - I mean, I can still remember all the words to the “Super Bowl Shuffle” for crying out loud, so it couldn’t have been that long ago.  But it turns out it was. The ‘85 Bears played 21 years ago! I was only 15. That just seems so unbelievable to me. When I look back on everything that happened during my first 21 years, from learning to walk, talk, and drive to surviving high school, basic training, and college, it truly feels like a lifetime.  But the 15 years since then feel more like 15 minutes.  What happened? How could all of that time have gone by so fast?

I try to console myself with the thought that I still have plenty of time left – literally half of my life (so long as I live to be 74) - but left to do what exactly? I’ve already found a job I like, a family I love, and hobbies I take pleasure in, so what else is there left to do? I’ve always had rather modest goals for what I wanted out of life: to love and be loved, have the health to work and play hard, and enough money to not worry about spending it.

So maybe that means I get to spend the rest of my life just relaxing and enjoying what I worked so hard to get, I decide hopefully, and return to my reading…only to find more bad news.

In an essay published in the American Psychologist, the aptly named Edwin Boring is claiming that “On the average, men make their greatest contributions to knowledge between the ages of 30-45, becoming less effective, less frequently productive, as they grow older”

Meaning, if I want to leave my mark, I had to start now, because if the next fifteen years fly by like the last, I’ll be 51 before I know it

I know the older you get, the faster time is supposed to pass, but I don’t think it has anything to do with age.  It’s technology.  We keep creating these wonderful things that make our lives simpler, safer, and more enjoyable, but the downside is they’re also making our lives feel shorter. Sure, we’re living longer, but in what seems like half the time. 

I’m sure this is nothing new – it’s probably been happening forever. I bet my parents’ lives started zipping by with advent of television and frozen dinners.  My grandparents later years cruised by courtesy of cars and telephones.  And before them it was Morse Code, Pony Express, and Roman aqueducts speeding things along for everyone.

I know for my generation it started with overnight delivery, then one hour photo, and finally instant messaging. Thanks to technology, our lives are literally flashing in front of our eyes.  It used to be that things took time.  If you wanted to communicate with a distant friend, you’d could either write a letter (and then wait a couple of weeks for a reply) or you could try calling them.  But if they weren’t home, or you got a busy signal (remember those?) you had to wait and call back.  There was no voice mail, or call waiting, or even redial – you had put your finger in the hole, turn the dial, wait for the 9 to spin all the way back…it took time. Now we have Direct Connect. 

But the problem with all these time saving devices is that they don’t really “save” time, they just make things happen faster, which supposedly allows us more free time – but free time is, well…free, and we tend to be rather wasteful with things that don’t cost anything - which is how ten minutes spent checking e-mail turns into three hours wasted playing TriPeaks Solitaire.

And with all this “instant” everything, from instant credit to instant lotteries to instant oatmeal, there’s no more waiting. Granted, at first this seems like a good thing, for who really likes to wait – but – the reason no one likes to wait is because time passes slowly while you’re doing it.  Do you see where I’m going with this? The more we wait, the slower life moves, the slower life moves, the longer we feel alive.

That doesn’t mean you should sit around waiting for watched pots to boil and or grass to grow – just that maybe once in a while it might be nice to sit down and write an actual letter for a change. Or take some time to do something that actually takes time.  Stop looking to save time, and start taking time back. And don’t be afraid to wait, because contrary to what Tom Petty says, sometimes the waiting is the best part. 

Remember waiting for summer to start, or Christmas, or a much needed vacation? The anticipation made those months, weeks, and days leading up to them seem to take forever – and then the big day finally arrives and everything’s over before it even starts. In retrospect, the best part was usually the lead-up, the expectation, the waiting…

Very few things live up to our expectations, but the longer we wait for them, the longer those hopes and dreams can stay alive.  And if good things really do come to those who wait, then what’s in store for us? I’m not advocating ditching technology – I love my I-Pod as much as the next guy – I’m just tired of looking at time and seeing me running out if it.  So start taking your time before life passes you by.  And speaking of passing, good luck next Sunday Rexie, you’re going to need it!