Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009--Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Ass on the Way Out...

Without a doubt, this has been an incredibly topsy-turvy year. I can't think of a recent year where I've experienced such a litany of emotions. Did you ever see "The Poseidon Adventure?" Not the crappy one with Kurt Russell but the old version with Leslie Nielsen and Gene Hackman? Remember where all the revelers are gathered in the dining room and the countdown to the New Year ends with a giant tsunami hitting the ship? Next thing ya know everything's upside down and almost everyone dies.

That's kind of like 2009 for me. The only thing that would have made it a little worse is if I would have seen Shelley Winters in her granny panties. Poor Jack Albertson...

Back in January I had a kick-ass job, making good money and driving a comfortably-used Chevy Malibu with about 220,000 miles on it. The car was like me; ridden hard, lots of mileage yet still reliable.

In late February it finally gave up the four-cylinder ghost. I donated it to Our Lady of the Wayside, got a nice little tax write-off and shopped for a new vehicle.

Within a week of my car dying, I had a new Chevy HHR and a girlfriend. The running joke between me and my buddy Tom was that if he told me on February 20th that within a month of that day I would have a new car and a girlfriend I would have told him he was crazy. Or drunk on fermented baby formula.

So, things took a radical change and my Becky-mance consumed me for the better part of this year. My car, that I purchased with about 22,000 miles on it, now has about 55,000...

My dearest friend, whose loss I am still mourning, has played heavily on my heart. I get the urge to call her to say hello, and then realize that she's gone...I will never forget her laugh or smile.

But, I've learned a lot this year. Is it possible to be taught something at my age?

Absolutely.

You just have to know how to look at it. Perspective brings understanding.

I will forever miss Roxanne. But her death has shown me how precious life is...and how to revel in the present.

Becky taught me to live for today as well. I've never met someone where the present had such a presence in their mind. She had little use for yesterday, a tenuous grasp on tomorrow but a firm understanding of the here and now. That's a gift. And I'm glad I was able to see that.

Sometimes, but very rarely in life, we're able to pull meaning out of the events that swirl around us. I mean like "Wonder Years"-style epiphanies. Every week that kid learned something new and, frankly, it got annoying. The cat would crap in his litter box and Kevin Arnold would find the meaning of life.

It doesn't happen that way in the real world. Does it?

But this year I think I found something important; it doesn't make the last twelve months any less painful. But at least I've found something tangible to pull away from 2009.

And I'm a better person because of it.

Now, I'm gonna keep my eyes squarely focused on the road ahead. But every so often I'll take a quick peek in the rear-view mirror.

Don't want any tsunamis to take me out while I'm prepping for the countdown...

Happy New Year.





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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The God Blog

Boy, I got a lot of grief over my God posting from last week. I guess there's a few sacred cows that people just don't want to discuss.

At least not openly.

I suppose it's okay to whisper in like company what your beliefs are but it becomes kind of dangerous to spray paint in da-glo letters your take on God and religion on the Internet.

I've always been suspect of behavior that requires cloistered talk. Or banter among mixed company that starts something like, "You know I'm not racist, but..."

Then followed by a zinger that would make the Imperial Wizard of the KKK blush.

Many of the comments that I got regarding the God blog were about one simple, yet powerful, thing: Fear.

People said that I had Old Testament-size balls to say what I did. Most of them agreed with what I had to say but said they would never put it out there, ya know, in writing.

I don't think it's a whole courage-of-your-convictions thing. It's more primal than that...and what has been drilled into our heads since birth.

They're afraid..

Just in case they may be wrong and there is a Heaven, St. Pete, Pearly Gates, blah, blah, blah, they're afraid of pissing off his Holiness and end up getting sodomized for eternity by some goat demon.

Fear.

It's what guides most of our lives. Fox News has had the "Terror Level" elevated to yellow or chartreuse or some other nonsense since 2001. Keep us in fear.

Helmets. Knee pads. Elbow pads. Jesus, just walk to the mailbox already, will ya?

West Nile. H1N1. Ebola. Yeah, there's disease out there and some of us may get it. But then again, most of us won't.

Toys from China. Lead paint recalls.

Muslims. Bad guys who blow things up. Wow.

Do you remember Timothy McVeigh? White dude from Buffalo? Blond hair? He blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Should we be afraid of all thirty-something white dudes from Buffalo? Or worse yet, all blond haired skinny guys?

Why should we do the same for folks of Middle Eastern descent?

Fear. Because we're terrified of what we don't understand.

Like people speaking their minds. I actually had a roommate in college (COLLEGE!) who would take about three or four steps away from me and look up into the "sky" when I would make a disparaging remark about religion. He was actually scared that a lightning bolt would smite me down...

Of course, lightning was more of Zeus' thing; not Jehovah's. If God took any action against me a swarm of locusts would have devoured Northwestern Ohio.

Ya know, maybe I'm wrong. But I find it odd that learned people, doctors, a lawyer, and other professionals, would give me hell over my understanding of religion. They're educated, placed squarely in the secular world yet still have those holdover fears from their childhood. The bogeyman, ghosts, vengeful God. I'm amazed that, as we grow up, we can shed the monsters under the bed or in the closet but have such a difficult time letting go of the wrath of Jehovah.

Brian, feel free to speak your mind, but be careful dude, you're gonna go to Hell if the right people get wind of this...

Once again, have at it. I don't think less of anyone because of their beliefs. If it brings you comfort then religion is doing what it should: giving you hope and faith that life is good. That's what Jesus was all about, right?

And if I'm wrong I'll suffer the slings and arrows.


But not lightning bolts.










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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Say It, Don't Slay It...

I am utterly fascinated by communication. So much, in fact, that I switched majors in college from education to communications. I love the way in which humans are able to interrelate based on a series of grunts, howls, and whistles that have somehow amalgamated into a spoken language.

Think about this, in a short span of less than 50,000 years we've progressed from cave-dwelling, guttural half-apes into a species capable of space travel, nano-technology and microwavable popcorn.

And much of that progress has been made in the last five thousand years. Or five hundred years.

In 1903 the Wrights made their few-hundred foot journey on a wooden and canvas "airplane." Sixty-six years later we put a man on the fucking moon.

Wow.

We owe it all to language.

When the first few grunts took on meaning in our not too-distant past our future as a species was irrevocably changed. When cro-magnon blurted out a "uh-oh" it probably meant "Woolly Mammoth" or "fire" and that led to a greater understanding of the world around us.

Kind of like babies. My son's first word was "candy." He knew if he could bleat out those two syllables the chances of him getting some sugary goodness were a lot better than if he just grunted and pointed at the bag of skittles.

Which leads me to my point...

I just read an article that said a whopping 93% of all of our communication, our basic understanding of each other, is non-verbal.

93%!!

That means that, it's not what you say, but literally, how you say it. A rolling of the eyes can take a heartfelt message and inject a note of sarcasm that can only be understood when seen by the other person.

"I love you" takes on a whole new meaning when the person who says it is doing the whole closed hand "jerk off" thing in the air, doesn't it?

Or a bemused smile shines across someone's face when they say they're really gonna miss you while you're gone.

When the message doesn't match the messenger's body language confusion sets in.

Where does texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging fit into all of this? A good portion of our communication today exists in the electronic world. I've heard friends ask me, when they get a fairly cryptic text message, "What do they mean by that???"

When any non-verbal cues are stripped away from a message it becomes very difficult to understand what the other person is really trying to tell us.

And in our hurried, fast-paced lives we abbreviate as much as possible.

IDK

LOL

OMG

LMAO

I get it, but when do we stop? Are we on the path to regression? Are we becoming who we were before we tamed fire?

Soon, will we be communicating like our distant cousins? Or like babies who want a piece of candy?

I can see it now. In our rush to keep it simple and fast we will all just point and neigh at our friends, family and customers. Maybe the non-verbal cues will fill in some of the blanks.

If not, OMG, we're SOL.





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Monday, December 28, 2009

Old Ang Zine

What's a new year good for anyway?

To see poor Dick Clark butcher the English language with his lop-sided face? He reminds me of that scene in "The Elephant Man" where John Merrick exclaims to the crowd that he isn't an animal, but a human being.

I cringe every time I see that old fart talk...I feel sorry for him but think, Jesus, it's time to retire Methuselah; this Dorian Gray doppelganger was on TV when I was still swimming around inside my dad's nutsack.

I've still gotta get to Times Square to see the ball drop. Ahh...the wonder of a million people inhabiting a space with very few porta-potties, sub-freezing temps and the unique melting pot that is New York City. Smells like Heaven to me.

We all make resolutions with the best intentions and by January 15th have broken every one of them. Right? Tell me that you haven't and I'll say that you're full of shit along with the sauerkraut and kielbasa that your superstitious German friends stuff down your gullet to ring in the next 365 days.

Which, of course, is why you made the "Lose weight" resolution to begin with...

Your damn friends and their wayward influences.

Resolutions? None for me...

I've realized that, yeah, I'm old. I don't think I have the capacity to change. Maybe I can tweak a few things but I am who I am. Brian. And if you don't like that there's nothing I can do to change your mind.

And ya know what? I don't want to...I'm not perfect but I've done well so far. I'm not rich but I'm comfortable.

I'm not handsome but not ugly.

I'm not Einstein but I'm not stupid.

I'm not fat but...well, I could lose a few pounds.

Can't we all?

Anyway, I've realized that I'm comfortable in my own skin. If I've come to any kind of conclusion over the years it's that, ultimately, none of this matters anyway. You gotta be who you are.

Ask my friend, who is gay, and after several decades of suppressing it finally admitted it to himself a few years ago. Guess what? He's much happier and better-adjusted now...

I suppose, as a single guy in my forties, that if I truly wanted to get married I would have found someone a long time ago. Marriage was on the table this year, and frankly, it scared the hell out of me. I liked the idea but my keen sense of freedom overshadowed what I thought may be a good way to spend the next thirty or forty years. I guess I'm not against the idea, it would just take a little more convincing that I want to give up my space.

I like leaving the toilet seat up.

I thought if I didn't want to marry her I would lose her. Well, I changed to accept what I thought she wanted and I lost her anyway.

Hmmm.

I wasn't being true to myself.

I guess any manifesto has to have a coda. Well, mine's this:

I like me. And if you don't, whomever you are, then go away. I want positive people, places and things in my life.

Maybe that's my New Year's Revolution...if you don't add something to the greatness that is ME, then fuck off...I don't need the hassle.

And take your sauerkraut and kielbasa.

I always hated that stuff.






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Monday, December 21, 2009

"Love People, Not Things. Use Things, Not People."

Ya know that bit at the end of "A Christmas Carol" when Scrooge has an epiphany about the meaning of Christmas, and even more so, about the direction his miserable, old-fart life took? Three ghosts spirit him on a peyote-soaked journey through his life, showing him the mistakes he's made and that his ultimate fate is horrible, beyond imagination:

Forgotten, abhorred, and despised as a nobody and a vile old man.

He wakes up, attitude thoroughly adjusted, throws open the window and scares the hell out of some little kid by asking him what day it is.

The kid quixotically responds, "Why it's Christmas morning!" and probably thinks WTF? This crazy old man doesn't know what day it is? What an idiot.

Scrooge then lives out his days, making Christmas merry by giving away all of his hard-earned money and dancing in the streets. If he lived today his nephew would have him declared mentally incompetent, gotten power-of-attorney and institutionalized the old man.

It's a great story; Dickens wrote it very quickly one year back in the 1830s to bring awareness to the plight of London's homeless population. I'm not too sure how the Ghosts of Christmas illuminated the homeless problem, but I guess it worked, there's been about nineteen movies made and a cool classics illustrated comic book or two.

We're facing many of the same issues today: joblessness, foreclosure, shrinking savings accounts and other financial maladies are making many of us look at life a little differently. I love reflecting during the holidays; it gives me pause and puts the past year into perspective.

My dad died when I was seventeen years old. A few days before his death he sat up in his hospital bed and doled out some advice with labored breath. Looking back at it, the whole affair was very dramatic and would have played well in some weepy movie. Here's the father, aging lion, trying to dispense some wisdom to the young cub who would soon be the Alpha, all with an epic John Williams score playing softly in the background.

He told me that when I turned eighteen my life would start to fly by. He told me I shouldn't let it get the best of me and really enjoy it. I think he was regretful because he had so many things he wanted to accomplish and, ultimately, knew he'd never fulfill them.

He left us a few days later...and, although sometimes I've ignored his words, I've never forgotten them.

I see so much activity around me.

People buzzing through life at a furious pace.

Parents running their kids around to soccer, basketball, cheerleading, cub scouts, swimming lessons, piano lessons, horseback riding, Latin, Spanish, and French classes...

...that they lose sight of each other. And what's important. In the pursuit of some greater knowledge they tend to forget the greatest truth of all.

Why do you think I like photography so much? I've sold a total of three pictures in five-plus years of "making" images. If that was my profession I'da starved a long time ago.

I've been lambasted for not entering contests, taking more classes, and not pursuing a career in photography.

I do it for the sheer enjoyment...and taking time to STOP, smell the proverbial roses, and take in the world around me. It's not the image I'm trying to make, but the moment that I'm trying to capture. I want to sit back, stare at the image and remember how I felt at that moment in time. It's a reminder of how peaceful I was, or that I shared something unforgettable with my son. Or girlfriend. Or family.

Photography truly is capturing a moment, suspending it in time. Making an intangible tangible...

Porn stars...what do they do for relaxation? I'm pretty sure it's not fuckin'. If I did photography full time I'll bet I'd feel the same way.

My dad still resides in me. His words echo every time I step outside, camera in hand, cold, cold air in my lungs and against my cheek, and shoot something that I perceive as magic.

I know I can't really explain this to you...but I think you get what I'm trying to say.

Just as I can't get across the sights, sounds, and tastes of a tropical hurricane. I didn't take one picture of my time spent in Hawai'i. Not one. Especially after Hurricane Iniki...how can you understand what rotting eucalyptus smells like? Or the unfathomable smell of a large, dead whale rotting on the beach in the September sun? You can't...unless you experienced it for yourself. And, in some crazy way, I want you to.

I want my son to know that kind of deprivation, sadness, and loneliness that a big disaster heaps upon you. It makes you appreciate the little things that we all take for granted.

Running water, electricity, family.

Like my dad said, life will fly by and before you know it you're him, sitting in a hospital wondering if your bare toes may ever feel the crisp, warm sensation of grass between them again. Or fresh air in your lungs. Or the hugs and warmth of your family.

And, just like Scrooge, I revel in that. And live it every day. Sometimes, like Ferris Bueller, you need to take a day off and enjoy the world around you.

Cuz in a hundred years it's not gonna matter anyway.

So drink absinthe, blow off work once in awhile, sleep in a hammock, and just do it.

Don't wait for your Ghosts of Christmases Past to wake you up from that nautical slumber, because before you know it you'll be telling your own children that life slips by way too fast.

And they should enjoy it as much as possible.

With no regrets.

Unlike, maybe, you.





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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.

I saw the Green Fairy in downtown Cleveland last night.

Wow.

And I am still here to tell the tale.

I feel like an Army Ranger that made it out of advanced training, was tossed into the thick of battle and lived to fight another day.

I drank absinthe last night.

Ya know, the shit that was illegal in this country for about seven hundred years? Even Navajo Medicine Men wouldn't touch it. Mayan shamans said, "No thanks, I don't think that stuff's very humane," as they cut out people's hearts.

Just kidding about the whole Indian thing. But I'm fairly certain that's what they would have said. And they had peyote.

It's squarely European and was responsible for a lot of Victorian shenanigans. I think Van Gogh got pretty-well soused on it before he cut off his ear. Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, and a host of other bad boys loved to imbibe this green shit.

Its manufacture was pretty much banned worldwide around the turn of the 20th century. Then, a few years ago, I heard it was being brewed again. I think by a bunch of Stygian witches over a cauldron in a cave somewhere in Southern France.

I feel like a part of an elite group. Ya know, like the first time you go skydiving and get your picture taken with the instructor safely back on terra firma wearing a goofy look sporting the thumbs-up sign.

Foolishly leaving Mother Earth and purposely jumping from an airplane allows you to brag to your friends about the experience.

Yeah, I'm that guy. Except there was no parachute...

I pulled up a bar stool and took a quick look at the menu. Being the cautious, conservative guy that I am I looked over the drink list carefully. I perused the menu looking for Ketel One and was astonished to see, in big-bold-black-and-white the Green Fairy...at the top of the page.

I was torn...Ketel One or a possible hallucinogenic, impotence-causing elixir?

I thought and thought for a seeming eternity.

The conversation with the bartender went something like this:

Me: Can I have a menu, please?

Barmaid: Here ya go.

Me: Oh my God! You guys have absinthe????!!!!

BM: Yes we do.

Me: Shit, I'm in! Two please?

They're still debating the effects of absinthe. Mind-altering? Hallucinogenic? Addictive?...I don't know about that. It was pretty goddamned strong; one more of those and I think I would have wanted my mommy.

I woke up this morning with a headache and a severe case of cottonmouth. I think it was my body's way of saying fuck you, stupid.

So, I guess I can scratch off another bucket list item.

"Drinking absinthe" was on the list alright, somewhere between sticking my head in a hungry alligator's mouth with a t-bone necklace wrapped around my neck and wearing a "Born in the USA" t-shirt in downtown Baghdad.

Carpe Diem.




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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And Another Thing...

A friend called me "Godless" the other day. I know it was meant as an insult but I thanked him for the compliment. Come to think of it, I've always had a hard time with any kind of "-ism."

Ya know-

Catholicism.

Hinduism.

Judaism.

Nationalism.

Capitalism.

Socialism.

Botulism.

They're all kind of one and the same to me.

Poison.

I've seen too many people destroyed by the noble efforts of those around them that toss around their beliefs in the name of a greater "good."

I think George Carlin said it best in one of his rants. He was describing cultures and how they justified killing others in the name of religion.

"Do you believe in God?" says one man to another.

"No," the second man replies.

Boom. Dead.

Or, better yet:

"Do you believe in God?"

"Yes."

Do you believe in MY god?"

"No."

Boom. Dead again.

I've been taunted about my beliefs. It's not popular in some circles to spout the whole You-really-believe-in-an-invisible-man-who-watches-over-you? speech. Hey, some one asks me, I tell them. They get all defensive and call me atheist, non-believer, or even worse...communist!

Really?

Communist?

What is this...1950s America? Me, Castro and Joe McCarthy all lumped together in one giant, ridiculous stew.

For the record, here's what I think...

I don't believe in Jehovah. I can't place all of my existential eggs in that basket.

Did Jesus exist? Sure. Historically speaking...

Did he rise from the dead?

No.

Did Buddha exist? Or Mohamed?

Sure. If you can believe in the existence of Jesus you have to believe that other prophets existed as well, otherwise the whole theological house of cards comes tumbling down.

I don't believe in Intelligent Design or the Easter Bunny. I think Constantine was a genius.

Read a little about him; it's amazing what he did when he ran the whole show after this little cult called "Christianity" took a foothold in the early years of the whole "A.D." period.

What is Valentine's Day? Why do we celebrate Jesus' resurrection with eggs and bunnies? Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th?

Most of our revered Christian holidays tie in with pre-Christian pagan traditions.

All thanks to an emperor who we mostly remember now as the founder of Constantinople.

Utter genius. Jump on the whole monotheistic bandwagon, convert the heathens to Christianity by using all the old ways, and surreptitiously plant some of Jesus' teachings among the ancient fertility rites of the polytheistic cults that littered Southern and Eastern Europe for thousands of years before Christ.

Bunnies equate to sex. Reproduction. Spring's rebirth. Surviving a harsh winter. Nothing to do with a guy being nailed to a cross. Does it make sense?

Boom! Next thing ya know everyone's spouting Jesus' teachings and you, the emperor, are able to hold on to your power and make all the little people happy.

I'm not trying to belittle anyone's faith. I think faith is a wonderful thing. I'm just from that group that was born with a huge BS detector and need a little more proof than simply "Because, Brian, that's why."

Do I believe in God? Or a god of some sort?

I don't know.

I think there's something out there but my brain is simply too small to understand it. I can't attach a name to something that I can't comprehend. How arrogant and foolish to slap a label on something as vast and unknowable as the cosmos. I don't think a man in white flowing robes with the power of omnipotence and omniscience is gonna micro-manage our everyday lives. Praying to God to win the lottery, or to have a better year, or to get a raise at work seems a little arrogant, doesn't it?

I respect the gods of the ancients. Before we had airplanes, indoor plumbing, electric space heaters and 24 hour news networks life was inordinately more difficult.

You can understand their need to explain the natural world around them when the greatest discovery up to that point was that meat tasted better when it was slow-roasted over an open fire. And that, maybe, a saber-tooth's pelt covering your balls kept them warmer in a dank, wet cave.

Our ancestors peered from those caves and were terrified when an eclipse darkened the afternoon sky. When a flood, although localized, destroyed their crops they knew it was a global disaster. It was...their world was about fifty square miles.

They tried to explain the unexplainable with supernatural means. An eclipse was an angry god that needed to be appeased. An insect infestation, and the loss of their crops, was due to the wrath of some other god.

He's pissed. How do we get back on his good side?

Throw someone into a volcano. Sacrifice a virgin. Repent. Down on your knees. Genuflect. Kill some Jews. Annihilate the World Trade Center. Kill the infidels. Denounce the purple Teletubby as a fag.

What?

Where does it stop?

Religion, not God, has been responsible for most of our planet's problems.

The Bible was written by men. European men whose tolerance of women, minorities and people-who-had-beliefs-different-than-theirs didn't go over too well. Why was Mary Magdalene marginalized? Why couldn't she be Jesus' most important disciple? Or better yet, his wife?

Because a cabal of men said so, that's why. When you write a book you give it to your publisher. What do they do first?

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Goodbye Mary Magdalene, you whore.

I think Jesus was a good messenger; I truly like his teachings. If he were alive today he'd be mortified at how his message has been twisted and distorted into an amalgam of pain, suffering, and misanthropy.

He said love thy neighbor, not kill him for his oil. Or his Nikes.

Yeah, God exists. Inside of you. How you interpret that is solely up to you. God? Have at it. Just keep the man-made part of it to yourself.

After all, Hitler was a religious man and look how he was able to use that to trim Europe's population.

So enjoy the holidays, enjoy your presents, and give a little thought to Constantine. Without him there'd be none of this mess. At least not on December 25th. Sheesh, most retailers should have a "Happy Constantine Day." They owe their profits more to him than any nativity scene. Which, by the way, can be purchased on Amazon. Full-size. Life-Like. Plastic. Shipped to your door at no charge.

So says an atheist.

See, I'm the kind of guy that doesn't get scared during a thunderstorm or eclipse.

Do you?






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"The head, the tail, the whole damn thing..."

Okay, so the title is a reference from "Jaws," one of the greatest popcorn movies of all time. But it kinda goes hand in hand with what I'm about to say.

Now I know I said I wasn't going to blog anymore but this morning I made an innocent comment to a Facebook status and pretty much got electronically bitch-slapped by most of my FB friends.

First of all, I am one of the most politically-incorrect people you'll ever have the displeasure of running in to at a party. Just last Friday night, at a large gathering of people at my house, the conversation got a little x-rated. Or so I was told. And apparently I was at ground zero of said conversation. Thanks Michelle. The absinthe kicked in and I don't have much of a memory after nine pee-em or so...

So I want to clarify a few points whether you want to hear them or not.

One of my friends on Facebook posed, as her status update, a simple question:

"Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?"

Almost all of the comments erred on the side of "MERRY FUCKIN' CHRISTMAS!!!"

So, just to be a shit-disturber, I said something about focusing your comments to the audience you were talking with. And then I said that you wouldn't wish the best of Christian yuletide cheer to a Hasidic Jew.

Would you?

The barrage of fuck-em-I'm-a-Christian-and-I'll-say-Merry-Christmas-to-them-whether-they-like-it-or-not responses was a little scary.

Honestly, no one cares if you're a Christian. Just as you shouldn't care if I'm a Jew. Or an atheist. Or a New kids on the Block fan. Well, maybe NKOTB...that's a little suspect.

I've been in sales for almost twenty years and I learned very early on to tailor my conversation to the group that I'm speaking. I'm not gonna sell Malcolm X's biography at a KKK Rally, right?

Or Andrew Dice Clay's Greatest Hits CD at a NOW meeting.

Why would you blatantly and arrogantly yell Merry Christmas to a Jew? Or a Muslim?

I get that you're proud of your Christian beliefs. So was Torquemada. And Hitler.

It just shows an ignorance and a lack of respect towards others. And the badge of distinction that you really have no clue how to operate with respect towards other cultures.

I get the impression that these soccer moms are the same types that after 9/11 wanted to nuke the entire Middle East because of a few lucky lobs from a small minority of Middle Easterners.

Compassion. Understanding. Humility.

These define the Season.

I'm all for screaming Merry Christmas at the top of my festive lungs. But, kind of like that stash of porn under your mattress, keep it where it belongs.

Merry Fuckin' Christmas.

So says an atheist.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day of Infamy.

When I was a kid, my mom would tell me hour upon hour of stories. These were gems from our recent past, fables from mythology, and personal stories from her youth. I imagine these narratives kick-started my fascination with history. After all, good history stems from a good story, right?

Or good storytelling.

My grandma lived about an hour away, and, being the early 1970s, our modern highways didn't yet exist. We zig-zagged from main artery to side road to the shoreway past the old Municipal Stadium and the Terminal Tower until we finally got to the East Side of Cleveland. To a five-year old that may as well been Rhode Island.

Or Hawai'i.

I distinctly remember my mom pouring out the story of Pearl Harbor and how the Japanese (who were the Japanese?) attacked us on an early December morning without warning.

In 1941 my mom was five years old. She gave me her recollections of growing up dirt poor in Collinwood. Cleveland life filtered through her pre-adolescent memory. She would tell me how my young uncle, later in the war, would goose-step through the neighborhood with a black comb stuck under his nose proclaiming "Heil Hitler!"

He saw that in a newsreel at a local theater. Back in those days, she recounted a dime would get you admission to the double feature, cartoons, newsreel, and a comedy short. Plus a giant brown bag teeming with all sorts of candy.

Anyway, the neighbors reported my four year old uncle to the government and my grandma was thoroughly checked out just in case she had any sentiment or leanings toward the Nazis or Axis powers.

In wartime, you can never be too careful...

I grew up on a steady dose of those anecdotes. And never ending stories: The Fall of Troy, the Greek Gods, Egypt, Henry VIII, the Alamo, and our Civil War.

I suppose that my love of movies, of history, and storytelling in general grew from those long drives. She peppered them with made-up voices, tiny details, and almost always a cliffhanger ending that she would pick up on the return trip home after a seemingly two-day-long visit.

I couldn't wait to leave my grandparents' house just so she would finish the story.

I desperately wanted to see two places as a young adult. After years and years of reading about the Alamo and Pearl Harbor, I felt it was my duty to visit these two shrines of American honor.

On Memorial Day of 1992 I finally got to Pearl. I was on Oahu training for my job. I skipped out a few minutes early to get a cab to the visitor's center. It was almost a half hour drive and that was one expense I wasn't going to get reimbursed for. Oh well, the $32.00 each-way fare was worth it.

I got to Pearl and anxiously made my way to the Visitor Center. In the distance I could see the USS Arizona Memorial. It was large and impossibly white. It stood out against the dull grayish-blue of the harbor water.

I scanned around the harbor, closed my eyes, and imagined myself standing right here on the early morning of December 7th, 1941. The harbor was buzzing with activity; servicemen were getting ready for Sunday morning church or getting back to their ships after a long night carousing with local women.

Out of the blue, a distant buzzing of airplane engines. They sounded different; not quite right. Planes, all right, but not American bombers. By then the Mitsubishi Zeroes were making their way to Battleship Row; the torpedo bombers were heading for the big, antiquated battleships.

The bombing began.

Chaos. Plumes of burning oil sent smoke thousands of feet into the Hawai'ian sky. Men were cut down where they stood by millions of bullets fired from the Zeroes.

The USS Oklahoma rolled over, trapping hundreds of men inside. The USS Arizona was hit square in the powder magazine. She blew sky high, sending a fireball hundreds of feet into the air.

Suddenly, I was shaken from my walkabout...

I abruptly opened my eyes when I heard Japanese being spoken. Back to 1992.

Tourists. Everywhere. All speaking the tongue of the aggressors. We boarded the shuttle to the Arizona. I started to think to myself. Who the Hell are these people? Why are they here on Memorial Day? This is our day to commemorate the war dead.

Not theirs.

Then we got to the memorial spanning the Arizona. It was solemn. Quiet. No one spoke. I looked over the rail to the hulk of the battleship. Oil was seeping up, a droplet at a time.

The National Park Service rangers and veterans call them the tears of the Arizona. She weeps about a pint a day.

Just then a bugler started playing taps. Most of the tourists got a little weepy themselves.

I then looked over my left shoulder.

There were the Japanese tourists. Openly crying.

Then it struck me.

Maybe they lost someone on that day as well. Maybe their grandfather didn't come home that day either. Maybe his remains are in this harbor along with the ghosts of the Arizona.

I left that day a little confused. I had finally seen something that I had waited to see my entire life.

I just didn't expect to see what I saw.

And it changed me.





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Passion Play and the Golden Rule.




I've heard hundreds, if not thousands, of inspirational sayings over the decades. Most of them are fluff pieces; plays on words that mean nothing and leave my brain within a few seconds of entering it.

Those church signs are good examples of mindless fluff, usually relating to God or Jesus or some other supernatural force.

The best one I saw was:

"Ch__ch. What's Missing?"

"U R."

Get it?

Anyway, the only two that I really have remembered have stuck for one reason. They both had to do with the passion that the speaker presented them to me with.

My elementary school principal was a former horse jockey. He was small, maybe five foot two; diminutive in size but he said something every morning on the announcements that, after thirty-one years, has stayed with me. I'm fairly sure it's a Biblical verse, and I've seen it on church signs from Maine to Texas.

It goes, verbatim:

"Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You."

He said it with such passion. Every Day. For my six years. And, undoubtedly for many years prior to my tenure at Ely School and many years after I left.

Mr. Wainright made an impact on me. I don't remember much else about my grade school years, except I had a crush on Miss Mosso, my third grade teacher. And maybe how to swing on the bike racks like Tarzan without cracking my head on the asphalt.

Almost twenty years after leaving Ely School, my infant son, his mother and I were taking a walk with Alex's wagon on a beautiful Spring Sunday. Out of nowhere I heard my name being called. I looked up to a car with its geriatric driver.

"Good looking boy you've got there Brian," I heard from afar. It was Mr. Wainright. I was amazed he recognized me after two decades. It was a testament to his passion for his students. I smiled back and thanked him. He waved, the light turned green and off he went.

He died two months later.
I was touched by his Sunday comment; I went to the funeral and expressed to his widow what an impact his morning verse had on me.

I'll never forget that.

His passion for what he did carried his memories way past his retirement, and rightly, to the grave.

In 1992 I was living in Hawai'i, smack dab in the middle of my dream job. I graduated from college with a degree in Film Studies. I desperately wanted to break into the movie biz and become the next Spielberg, my childhood hero.

After all these years, "Jaws" still works. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is still incredible. "E.T." is his masterpiece.

And here I was, on a movie set, watching Spielberg make magic with "Jurassic Park." I was a nobody; a wide-eyed 26-year old that would have worked for free just to get a glimpse of how this hocus-pocus was put together.

So, as a production assistant, I was an indentured servant, willing to do anything to get a meager paycheck. And I did anything. And everything.

It was back-breaking twenty-hour days...
I slept about two hours a night for six weeks. My lack of sleep was checked by the abundance of passion for what I was involved with.

One day I was doing something menial, digging a ditch for the electrical cables to be hidden so the camera wouldn't see them. I remember saying "That's good enough," and getting dressed down by one of the older Grips. He told me:

"If you're gonna do a job, do it right or don't do it at all."

I felt stupid. He was right. And this guy was an old-timer. he had about forty years in the industry and had worked for DeMille, Ford, Hitchcock, and Spielberg.

I never forgot that either.

What's my point?

Passion is everything. I was told this year that I had a lot of passion. I wasn't sure if that was good or bad. I didn't know what the context was.

What is "passion?"

It's a driving force that makes you go the extra distance for something. Whether it's a relationship, a job, or a hobby it's that push that makes it special, extra ordinary.

As a photographer, it's standing, freezing, before sunrise to capture that first light over the Grand Canyon. It may be fifteen degrees and your hands are blue; but you wait, protecting your camera to make sure that it's warmer than you. And then, Pow! The sun quickly rises over the horizon and you've got the shot. Your headache, numb fingers and cold toes are worth that one moment.

It's wearing shorts in Bar Harbor, Maine. It's eighty-four degrees in port. You board a touring boat with a hundred other people, headed about twelve miles offshore to shoot Minke and Right Whales. It's Humpback season and you want to see them bubble-net. Your t-shirt and shorts aren't protection enough when the temps drop because you've entered the Labrador Current. You're freezing, but you get a great shot of a Humpback breaching.
Or standing in a blind, waiting for a bald eagle to emerge at six ay-em to get some food for the babies back in the nest. Your legs are stiff, you have to pee really bad, and you can't make a noise for fear of spooking the eagle. But, at that point, it's not even the shot. It's the chance of seeing something so graceful...so rare..and so beautiful that after the experience all you care about is what you saw. You never tell people about the sore feet or expanded bladder. Just the awe you felt as a bald eagle flew twenty feet over your head, dipping its wing as it dismisses you on her flight to find a meal for her babies...

It's all worth it.

I can't imagine going through life without passion.

It's that force that makes us better at what we do. No matter what that is...

I suppose those Church-Sign Guys have a passion for what they do. I wonder if they grab that box of black vinyl letters and tell themselves that today's sign is gonna be the best damn sign ever put up.

I bet they do. And if they don't then they're missing the point.

Aren't they?
And, let's not forget, there are no small jobs. Just small people.
Like Mr. Wainright. And look how large his impact was...



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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Journey On...

That saying about it not being the destination but the journey that's important?

I couldn't agree more.

I believe that we're all on a journey, and, unfortunately, the destination is the same for every one of us. Every human being that's ever lived has had the same destination. Right?

What makes it meaningful is the journey that we take before our ultimate station.

And, as I've learned this year, our journey is ours and only ours. No matter how many people that may come along for the ride we own the path that we take.

Nothing this year prepared me more for that statement than seeing my friend Roxanne in her "coffin." She was going to be cremated and her mother asked if I could come in and take a few pictures of her before the deed was done.

Hesitantly, I came into the funeral home, met the director, and he told me to prepare myself for what I was about to see. After flicking on the light switch, he led me into the parlor where Rox laid. As she was going to be cremated, he told me that the state required some type of coffin. So, naturally, they provided a box for her body. In this case, it was a zip-tied cardboard box. It reminded me of a hamster or gerbil funeral; her face looked stiff and unnatural, covered in a few layers of mortician's wax. The box was pedestrian and I felt a little sick to my stomach as I shot a few pictures in between choked-back tears.

As we left the room, the director turned off the lights, leaving my friend alone in the dark, and her shell-shocked man-of-honor numb at the thought of how utterly alone she was.

Her journey was near its end, and it really forced home how we each have a path.

Mine has flowed like the Great Wall of China. Ever see pictures of that thing? It meanders back and forth following the contours of the hilly Chinese terrain, dodging up and over mountains and looping into valleys.

Our paths intersect with other's paths as well, right? Sometimes we collide with those intersecting our path, and we find ourselves taking our journeys together.

That person may amble along with you for awhile, tip their hat and say goodbye, then make their way off into another direction.

Others may realize that you're a good traveling companion and stay with you for the majority of your journey.

What makes someone stick in your life? What, out of the thousands of people that we have a stab at a friendship with, makes them stick around?

I would guess that, even though our paths were circumstantially convergent, our journey is also the same.

And if it wasn't the same before our paths converged, sometimes we make it so just by bumping into that person.

Ultimately, our destination is the same...

Yes, we are born alone, naked and cold, and we ultimately die alone.

But any meaning or fulfillment we derive from this journey is given to us by the people that trail along with us.

For a lifetime or even just a few miles of that long, long path.





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Friday, December 4, 2009

Six Degrees of Starvation.

This argument over climate change is getting pretty stupid. The doomsayers are predicting a Roland Emmerich-style end to our species. No more Arena Football, DirecTV, Danon Yogurt, or John Mayer concerts because what's left of the human race is going to be huddling in a cave somewhere around a campfire.

Not singing show tunes but trying to stop from freezing to death because the last piece of buffalo shit was tossed on the fire and their ain't no more fuel cuz all the bison froze to death.

Or were hunted to extinction after the "Big Freeze."

The other side claims that global warming is a myth. Or at the very least a natural phenomenon and not man-made. They seem to be poo-pooing the event because they say the science is bad.

But they both agree that, yes, the earth is getting warmer decade by decade. And, as they're finding, a few degrees Fahrenheit can make all the difference in the world. The very fine balance that has kept this global climate in check may shut down the ocean currents and cause everything to tilt out of whack. Kind of like that stomach-churner at Cedar Point.

They just disagree on how it's getting there.

My question is this: If we're seeing longer droughts, bigger and more devastating hurricanes, and more el nino activity, does it matter what's causing it?

Doesn't it make more sense to start doing something to curb these effects?

Now, I don't know if there was a civilization all Atlantis-style that had billions of people and was wiped from the planet so Mother Earth, Gaia, could start fresh. Let's assume that's not the case, okay?

If so, then Gaia has never had as many people trolling around on her back.

Ever.

In the history of our planet.

So doesn't it make sense that all these people are going to make an impact on our planet?

It seems prudent to me that we take steps to eliminate the waste, the carbon dioxide buildup and the wanton destruction of our resources.

If one thing's been proven throughout our recent history it's that we're a wasteful, arrogant species. And we don't like being taught lessons.

We ignore what's right in front of us, until it's too late. Katrina, anyone?

We need to come to some type of resolution before this problem stems out of control. In the next fifty years wars will be fought Mad-Max-like over water rights, land, and food. Oil's value will decrease to nothing. The starving masses will look to go where the food is; kind of like our Neanderthal ancestors migrating along with the mammoths.

So whether it's a natural cycle or a man-made phenomenon, who cares?

It's happening. As we speak. Our children are going to inherit a different world.

Let's hope that they don't have to stockpile buffalo shit as currency.




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Black and White and Blue and Red All Over...


Ya know the old joke "What's black and white and read all over?"

The answer, of course, is the newspaper.

The other night, at Tuesday's meeting of the Toxic Love Support Group, we veered into uncharted waters. Instead of bitching about our love lives, or seeming lack thereof, we got into the Holy Trinity of topics that you don't discuss with mixed company: Politics, religion, and sex.

The sex part we didn't care about. A new member, who looked like a cross between Seth Rogen and the bad guy, Kurgan, in the movie "Highlander," gave all of us a schooling on the new sexual terminology. Wow, I didn't feel old and out-of-touch with the current pop-cult trends before talking with him. Now I feel like a dinosaur in a land of lactating, hairy rodents.

"Dirty Sanchez," "Cleveland Steamer" or "Amish Wheelbarrow"? WTH? Where have I been?

Anyway, our group is comprised of a few moderates, screaming liberals, and one quiet conservative who calls himself a libertarian but, shhhh, I think he's a closet Republican.

And that's awesome. Because we all have points of view that, unlike talk radio's shock jocks, don't cram our opinions down each other's throats.

There's no disrespect or eye-rolling when someone says something that I don't necessarily agree with.

Ya know what's even cooler? I've realized that we are a lot more alike than we are different.

I'm fairly liberal, but when it comes to sex and relationships I tend to be a little more conservative. I also think trade unions are passe; they've outlived their usefulness and now reward laziness in the blue collar workplace. But, hey, that's my opinion and I'm entitled to it.

My "Libertarian" friend believes that abortion is okay and firmly supports gay rights. If he truly is Republican he'd probably be denied membership into the exclusive club; he has a brain and didn't trade it in for his party card.

Pundits and talk show hosts live and die by their ratings and book sales. Can Bill O'Reilly be that stupid? Ann Coulter be that myopic? I hope not; they seem to be pandering to an audience they know get whipped into a frenzy with talking points and catch phrases.

This country truly isn't black and white. The states aren't red and blue. We're an amalgam of both...most intelligent people can look past the platforms that each party stands for.

My sister, God bless her, supported Bush all the way. Until the heat got turned up. "Why do you say he's my friend?" she would say as I gave her shit about "her" president. She bailed on him when public opinion firmly placed George Bush about two points below Hitler.

The Republicans did a beautiful thing about twenty five years ago: They started to embrace the Religious Right, courting the vote and promising to lead them to the Promised Land after the Rapture or if a Black man was elected president.

The Southern states, historically a Democratic stronghold, starting turning Republican. Tens of thousands of poor, disenfranchised folks started voting for the party that holds poor, disenfranchised people with contempt.

It worked. However, I was in Richmond a few years ago and the Bohemian enclave that Richmond is, an oasis of liberals in a fairly conservative state, were shocked at how myopic the Old Dominion has become.

Anyway, we're not Red or Blue. We're not Black or White. Like everything else in the world there are shades of grey everywhere.

And if you can get past the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world they can be found. Just ask the right questions.

And it helps if you do it over wings and beer, cuz it makes the answers more bearable if you don't agree with the answers.

Or the thought of Ann Coulter doing an Amish Wheelbarrow.





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Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Father's Chair

It's sad when a parent has become a distant memory to you. Distant, as in twenty-six years removed. My father died when I was seventeen years old.

There were so many things I wanted to say to him.

And several things I wish I wouldn't have said. Or thought.

My dad was forty-two when I was born. He was a bachelor for most of his life, and when he married my mom he was two years younger than I am now. I was born into the life of a man approaching middle-age. However, looking at it now, my dad's middle age was closer to thirty. He died at 59 years old. Too young. And too much life left to live before leaving us.

He was set in his ways, a little selfish, and a man who never listened to anyone, even when they had his best interests in mind.

He worked hard and didn't take very good care of himself. He was old school; born in the early 1920s, served in World War Two, and drank hard when he was on the road. He had his own band and even a Saturday night radio show in the 1950s "live" from the Crystal Ballroom in Vermilion, and took most of his youth with him to the grave.

We all had childhood fascinations. Mine was movies; my dad's was music. He loved Swing Music. His idols were Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Stan Heath, and a litany of other Big Band leaders that really were the precursor to my generation's music. I knew way too much about dead band leaders for a twelve year old kid. None of my friends had ever heard of Glenn Miller let alone sampled his entire discography...

He never outgrew that music. And, honestly, I hated it growing up. Talk about a proverbial broken record...That's all my dad played when I was young. I got as sick of that as he got of me when all I talked about for two solid years was dinosaurs. In the second grade, I was just as fascinated by Allosaurus and Brontosaurus as he was "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "Moonlight Serenade."

In 1981 I had the opportunity to accompany him and two of his friends to Clarinda, Iowa, the birthplace of Glenn Miller. Now, it's not what I would call a kick ass weekend, but I really wanted to spend some time with my dad. We drove to the Southwestern corner of the state, almost on the Nebraska border. For eighteen hours I sat between two pop coolers and suitcases, with a pillow wedged behind my back. It was as if I was an astronaut and being strapped in to an Apollo capsule for takeoff; I had about eighteen inches of usable space and if we had to stop for a bathroom break I had to be crow-barred out of the back seat.

But it was fun. I saw my first tornado up close. An air raid alarm went off and about a mile and a half away was this big-ass funnel cloud.

I think I dropped my first f-bomb in front of my dad that day; he didn't care because he was thinking the same thing. It was beautiful, surreal, and a little scary. Looking back on it, that's the only really cool thing my dad and I ever shared...

Flash forward to July 31st, 1982. Our seventeen year-old dog Ginger was in bad shape. She couldn't walk, every step was misery and my mom, dad and I decided it was time to do right by her. We took her to our family vet and put her down. Ginger and I grew up together; we were the same age. I carried her lifeless body back to the car, held her on my lap for the ride home and buried her in the backyard that afternoon.

My dad cried the whole way home.

That was one of the few instances that I ever saw my dad break out of his old-school persona.

Men didn't cry. That's what his father must have taught him. My grandpa was a World War One veteran and truly old school. English stock. No feelings. Stoic.

When my dad's heart finally gave out and he died on August 1st, 1983 our family was sequestered at Elyria Memorial Hospital, waiting for the word from the doctor.

A nurse came in and simply said "He's dead." Some bedside manner. I did my best not to cry; I wanted to follow in his footsteps and honor the kind of guy my dad was.

He had been intubated the majority of the day, and after he died the tube was removed. His face was frozen in that position and, as I was walking to the bathroom, I saw them wheel his body to the morgue. No sheet covering his face, I saw his lips and jaw frozen in that awkward mask.

That's when I lost it. My father who, only a year and a day before, helped me bury my dog. He cried for her death and here I stood, stunned at the loss of my father, as his rigorous grin was wheeled past me at 11:00 that night.

I wish he could have met his grandchildren. I wish he could have been here to kick me in the ass when I got off-task. To give me advice about women, life, and how to cope with the little things that older people have much more experience with.

To bounce my baby son on his knee and tell him the same silly jokes that he told me.

And to drive my son just as crazy with all the Glenn Miller marathon LP sessions on his cherished turntable.





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Daddy the Terrible

I've been thinking about good and evil lately. I don't know why, maybe the holidays put these thoughts into my head. Oh, the wonderful dichotomy of it all.

The special feeling you get donating to the Salvation Army bell ringers one moment and then facing the asshole who, flipping the bird, cuts you off at the mall for a parking place that was rightfully yours.

The duality, the duality.

Which leads me to my thought for today. I moved to Hawai'i in 1992 and didn't know many people the first few weeks I lived there. The Kapa'a Library wasn't too far from my apartment so I read voraciously until I got with a good group of friends. The books took a backseat to the drinking and Hawai'ian food for the rest of my tenure there.

By the way, the best damned food in the world can be found in the 50th state. Not at some restaurant but in the kitchens of the locals. My aunties in their mumus making food for us; the mish-mash of Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and Japanese cuisine all topped off with a hint of Americana cannot be replicated anywhere outside of the islands.

Last Spring, I went to a North Olmsted Asian bistro that was serving spam musubi. My heart raced at the thought. Musubi! OMG!! Imagine the disappointment when it was brought to me and it was nothing of the sort that I voraciously ate in Hawai'i. The guy must have thought I was nuts when I dressed him down for his recipe. Imagine a white dude telling him how to make it. However, he told me that he'd never been to Hawai'i.

Hah, strike one up for the Haole bruddah...

If you are ever able to sample the food you'll understand why the library became a distant memory...

Anyway, I read several books on Simon Weisenthal in those first few weeks. A famed Nazi hunter, he survived the death camps and has spent the majority of his life trying to bring escaped, and now geriatric, Nazis to justice. Imagine sitting by the ocean, a slight breeze blowing off the Pacific, humpbacks routinely breaching 500 feet from the shore, and there I sit, reading a book about the Holocaust.

Being from Northeast Ohio, I found it fascinating that a retired Cleveland auto worker may actually be a feared Nazi Death Camp guard, "Ivan the Terrible" at Sobibor.

You remember the story, right? It inhabited most local papers here for years as the story took more bizarre turns.

It really inspires the imagination, doesn't it? A kindly-looking old man, handing out candy at Halloween, mowing this lawn every weekend, and chatting it up with the neighbors may have been an accomplice in the greatest horror of the twentieth century?

John Demjanjuk, aka "Ivan the Terrible" was ferreted out by INS officials in the early 1980s. He was taken to Israel, put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Oops. Apparently they had the wrong guy. A few witnesses might have mis-remembered the identity of this guy. The Israeli case kinda fell apart, he was released and came back to Ohio.

Well, the suspicions never really went away and after almost thirty years of wrangling he was deported last May and stripped of his U.S. citizenship.

He is now on trial in Germany on lesser charges as a conspirator in the deaths of 27,900 Jews.

Demjanjuk has maintained his innocence all along and said he isn't the monster they portray him as...

Wow. Can you imagine being his family? Is it even possible to imagine your father as a barbaric monster, randomly beating and killing innocent people?

His son-in-law has emphatically stood by his side, proclaiming that his father-in-law is innocent. Familial bonds. They run deep.

How would you react if your father was accused as an inhuman killer? Merciless? Evil? Mindless? The same man who bounced you on his knee and held your hand as he walked you to the street corner ice cream store?

But what if they're wrong? What if he is a monster?

What if the government is wrong? What if he is the victim of a mistaken identity?

And the larger question to ask after all these years: Does it really matter anymore?

Now, I understand the knee-jerk answer to that query; of course it matters is what you'll say.

But the master planners of the Final Solution have been dead and buried for decades. The foot soldiers who were carrying out orders were no different than the men we have in Iraq, doing their duty as ascribed to them by someone way behind the front lines.

I'm not picking a side; I'm just playing Devil's Advocate. The shades of gray in this morality play are as wide as the gray scale can allow.

The Germans want to prosecute someone and have a figure to pay for the crimes that all the ringmasters didn't pay for. They didn't get Mengele, Hitler took the coward's way prior to the end of the war, and the majority of the guilty were hanged in a sweeping trial in Nuremberg at war's end.

Eichman was the last Nazi to be brought to justice, and that was way before I was even born.

Our generation wants closure. I suppose we'll get it.

But imagine if he is the wrong guy. Will his death at an ancient age in a German prison give us the closure that we need?

Then again, there's the Devil's Advocate; maybe that's who Demjanjuk was all those decades ago.





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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Premature Emasculation

I think most of us look at the world fairly simply. We go through our lives with a moral compass set to Due North and, unfortunately, think other people's needle points in the same direction.

Most of them do hit the twelve o'clock position, but once in a while we see their needle spin out of control if only for a second or two.

Cleveland, like most other older cities, is a mishmash of European cultures and religions. We're the same, right? My great-great-great-grandparents probably beat up your GGGGPs on the cobblestone streets of Dublin or Berlin a few hundred years ago.

I grew up in a fairly large suburb and believed that we're all pretty much the same. My Black friends and Asian friends looked a little different, but they watched "Hoolihan and Big Chuck" on Friday nights and "Superhost" on Saturday afternoons.

Just like me.

So, my world view was based on eighteen short, formative years in Elyria, Ohio. My sense of good and evil was built on "Star Wars," a Catholic upbringing, and a healthy dose of comic books where the bad guys always got their comeuppance.

Darth Vader=Bad.

Priests=Wise and Good.

Black and White.

End of story.

But, to be honest, my Catechism priest used to give me the willies. Kind of like taking a two-year old to see Santa Claus, a red and white bulbous nightmare to any toddler...right? You're taken to a strange place, pulled from your mother's bosom and tossed into the lap of a technicolor stranger with a Unabomber beard and blood-red cheeks. And Freddy Kreuger's scary?

The priest always had a vague smell of alcohol on his breath and acted like he really knew me. Darth Vader was less terrifying to me than St. Jude's head padre.

And, no, nothing weird or inappropriate happened to me...

Anyway, we're all taught that Evil is BIG.

Hitler-type stuff. Genocide. War. Death.

Goodness is hyped as Mother Teresa. Oprah. And until recently, Tiger Woods.

I think that both of those conditions are a little less epic. Many good deeds are done without notice, and evil exists every day, albeit in smaller forms.

Rarely, maybe once or twice every hundred years, do you have Evil with a capital "E"; loonies that go on a rampage and carve out a name in the history books or an event so horrifying that statues, memorials, and museums are dedicated to their celebrity.

We see small evils performed every day. Friends that betray our trust. People that lie to benefit themselves. A significant other that whispers untruths into your ear.

The universe changes in small ways; we each do our part to make the world around us a better place to live or a nightmare for those both close to us and abjectly strange.

I see universal good and selfless acts all the time. Today? A man standing outside the Giant Eagle ringing a bell, collecting change for the Salvation Army. Freezing his ass off.

My Catholic grandmother, devout to the Church, an intangible entity, was pious to God but routinely mean and unbearable to many of her close friends and relatives.

Maybe it is black and white. Most evil in this world isn't headline-grabbing, bold font stories. It's the behind-the-scenes evil; stuff that doesn't happen in Bosnia, or Auschwitz, but right in your own backyard.

Or your bedroom, with the lights low and music softly playing in the background.

And most acts of kindness may very well be random: Helping someone cross the street, opening the door for a stranger, or providing help to someone in need.

Those never grab the headlines and are lucky to pick up two column-inches on page sixteen.

In between the classifieds and the obituaries.





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Monday, November 30, 2009

WTF? :-( OMG! :-) CUL8R...

It's amazing what's happened to the English language in the past ten years.

It's become shortened, hyphenated, and now truncated into its own semaphore language reminiscent of the Morse Code that the radio operator on the Titanic used to contact other ships after she hit the iceberg.

And we all know how well that ended.

I think it's endemic of what's happened to our society. We live in an increasingly faster, busier world. The nuclear family has been atomized (ya like that pun??)...

Mom doesn't stay at home anymore. She can't.

She's gotta work...so she can pay for daycare.

There's soccer clinics, fat camps, spring break, and the new 110" TV for the bathroom that she's gotta pay for.

Dad's working his ass off as well. He's paying for the two Escalades, the second and third mortgages, and his daily Starbucks visit, which is more than all three mortgages and the car payments combined.

Those Double-Mocha-Latte-Frappucino-Espresso-Ass-Kickers are expensive, eh?

Anyway, I was introduced to the world of texting by Becky earlier in the year and quickly got on board. I loved being able to mother-fucker some client of mine in their lobby without them knowing it. Especially if he made me sit for an hour waiting for him. It was our own secret language that gave me freedom to be a dick, but in a cool passive-aggressive way.

Soon, texting became the preferred method of communication. I started to miss the good old days. You know, where you could talk passively on the phone while doing eighty-five through a school zone, oblivious to the flashing yellow lights and crossing guards?

We need all this technology, don't we? It allows us to multi-task and get everything done during the day so we can spend more time with the family. Right? I mean, that was the goal when we walked into the Verizon store and ended up with six lines, e-mail, texting, video downloads, and unlimited access to Napster...except only on Tuesdays and every other January.

So we then give our kids cell phones so they can stay in touch with us; so we can have an idea of their whereabouts. You text your kid and ask him "Where r u?" and he texts you back...

From inside his locked bedroom.






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The Dash

"The dates of birth and death that appear on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. The life that a person lived."

Wow. I love that statement...






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If Only Roger Ebert Could Be a Life Coach.

I've got a buddy who I've been going to the movies with for years. We're those big summer tentpole kind of moviegoers. We love the franchise flix, ya know, the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" movies that are loud, action-packed and ultimately, very unfulfilling.

For more than twenty years now he drives me crazy when we leave the theater. On the ride back home or over coffee we'll ask each other what we thought of the movie.

"I think," he'll always say, "that it would have been better if they would have........."

Fill in the blank.

He will then go on and say that "Star Wars, Episode One" would have been way cooler if they would have had a WWII Sherman tank blow away a few Germans during the climactic space battle.

Or "Lawrence of Arabia" would have been more realistic if he had black hair and wore a really cool hat.

Or "Spider-Man" would have been more believable if Peter Parker lived in Moline, Illinois instead of New York City.

Which leaves me with a WTF? look on my face as he describes something so ridiculous that I can't believe that we just watched the same movie. In the same theater. At the same time.

My point is that his critiques always seem to deride the film for something that was extrinsic to the story. In other words, he hated the story not for what it was but for something he wanted it to be.


I think we do that with people or relationships as well. Movies should be judged for what you see on the screen and nothing more. Don't judge it on hidden subtexts, what the novel had and the film version doesn't, or...you get the idea.

If you want a certain film to have, say bigger explosions, or more bouncing boobs, that's not the filmmaker's problem. It's a problem relating to your expectations.

People are the same way. Aren't friendships and dating all about expectations? What you think that person may be about? Do we sometimes, unfairly, judge someone for what you think they are rather than what they truly are?

It's not fair to them, is it?

We base our judgements on people partly by what they tell us about themselves. If they say they are loyal, obedient and trustworthy don't we believe them? It's then up to them to follow through with those qualities.

If they do, great.

If they don't you either realize it and re-assess that person as a friend or blindly keep listening to them tell you how loyal they are as one arm goes around your shoulder in a loving embrace while the other hand buries the knife between your ribs.

Nonetheless, we sometimes want people to be what they aren't, can't be, or refuse to be. That's why so many marriages end in divorce. People come in with unreasonable expectations, they don't know their significant other very well, or worse yet, hope to change what they don't like.

I've heard that many times from friends.

I thought I could change him...

I figured she loved me enough to stop doing...

And on it goes.

Most of us aren't too deep; it's usually right there on the surface. Don't make it any more difficult than it is. And for God's sake, make sure you ask the right questions.

After all, when you meet a new "friend" or date someone for the first few weeks, aren't most of the questions like a job interview?

If they're not, you're doing something wrong.

It really is okay if life is like "Star Wars." Just don't expect "Citizen Kane" instead.

Or more bouncing boobs.











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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Love is a Many Splintered Thing...

I was talking to one of my young son's friends recently and it seems this little guy has his first real crush. Ya know, one of those from-afar romances that isn't really a romance? He is head-over-heels, triple-two alarm in love with this sweet young thing and she, of course, has no idea that he occupies the same space as she does.

He asked my advice, and of course being the old man who has no personal stake in the whole situation, told him to go for it.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

He really wants to know what love is, and asked me point-blank what I thought it was.

Wow.

Ask your own parents kid cuz I got no fuckin' clue.

I attempted a half-ass answer and blathered on about biology and twitterpation and god knows what else. It's a little scary and I haven't felt this much anxiety in talking with a kid since I had the "talk" with Alex a half-dozen Christmases ago regarding the truth about the fat man in the red suit.

So, two hours and a few dozen Chipotle BBQ buffalo wings later, we both had a better grasp on what love might be...

Ya ready for my take on it?

Well, here it goes anyway:

Let's go back to when we were nothing more than glorified monkeys. Little Og was bending over getting a drink at a stream, her backside exposed. Oomp was walking by, looking for something to hunt and sees her butt up in the air. Instinctively, he walks over to Og and starts to hump her. That was the first step towards something called "love."

I think, to a large degree, "love" is a biological ruse. The elation you feel when you see your girlfriend walk into a room is nothing more than nature's way of kick-starting your sex drive so we can carry on the species.

It's a simple equation: No fucking equals no human race.

But, and try to complicate matters for a fourteen year old's simple view of the world, it doesn't merely end there.

Monogamy is unnatural. The idea of spending your life with only one person and giving them all your attention goes against the laws of nature, and Vegas odds. Men are no different than lions or grizzly bears. We're meant to spread our seed far and wide, impregnating as many females as possible to ensure our own selfish bloodline, right? It's a matter of simple Darwinian science that we see everywhere else in the Animal Kingdom.

If you're willing to defy the Laws of Nature for a woman then you're already halfway there.

It seems that most of us, like Catholics or pigeons, try to mate for life. And here's where I started to make some real ground with this kid.

Love is that phenomenon that brings out the very best in our species. When we become selfless and try to defy those laws of nature we are truly human. Not a primate, an evolved monkey or even a creature of God. We are unique among primates (well, except maybe for bonobos) in that we care for our mate's continued survival and moreso, their well-being.

Let's get past the biological ruse that "love" makes us feel. The rapid heart rate, the emotional rollercoaster, and the flushing of the face are all biological triggers to get us to mate. Yet we look past that, and protect our mate's feelings as important to us as our own.

We pair off and become an active part in that person's life.

We talked more and more about how to treat a lady. Both my son and his buddy were schooled in Romance 101 that day. The basics? Holding doors open for them; buying flowers or candy is paramount when dating someone; calling just to say hello; holding them above their peer group and not being afraid to take some shit from their buddies...

After exhausting most of the afternoon, I think I learned something as well.

Love is grand.

And reinforced something in me that makes all the difference in the world: We are apes, and our DNA is almost 100% the same as a gorilla's or chimpanzee's. Yeah, many of us do bail after mating and never call that girl again, but when we do meet the right one we care about her survival more than our very own. And that's what separates us from every other animal on the planet.

That's love, and we've come a long way from Oomp's creekside humping session.

Well, at least most of us have.

We left the restaurant stuffed on wings and conversation. I smiled and did an imaginary fist pump as I felt I truly enlightened my son's friend. The wise old man giving a young cub the wisdom to tackle his high school years with confidence and understanding.

As we got into my car he pulled his door shut and said, "But Mr. Lumley, what do women really want?"



Oh, shit.







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Jagermeister Meisterjager




When Alex was born I lost whatever gene I had that allowed me to go out late, consume a shitload of alcohol, and wake up the next day in a detoxified state. I've been drinking iced tea for the better part of fourteen years. Not Long Island Iced Teas, but plain-old Lipton, homemade boring tea. With lots of sugar.


Lately though that daddy gene has become somewhat recessive and I've been finding myself making up for lost time. Kind of like Robert De Niro in that awful wake-up-and-smell-the-Oscars movie "Awakenings."


I've been burning the candle at both ends for the past few months and the results have been somewhat mixed. However, I'm leaning towards the "Fuck, Yeah!" side of it all. Now, I'd never tell my fifteen year old son that drinking is a good thing...there's a downside to the whole milieu. Ya know, DUIs, death, waking up next to a girl that you never would have if you were sober, dropping this month's car payment on a few rounds...the big dangers.


But the upside has been positive for me. I've rekindled a lot of friendships, look forward to our Tuesday night get-togethers, and have learned a whole new vocabulary. Phrases like "Red-Headed Slut," or "Washington Apples" have become a part of my vernacular. My bartender knows me by first name, my cats' names, and my dog's age and weight.


What's been the real downside? Hmmm...


I can't remember. A few too many jager bombs have dulled the senses...


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Explore. Dream. Discover.

I saw Mark Twain's final resting place a few years ago in Elmira, New York. For such a literary giant he's buried in a very unassuming grave. I expected some marble edifice the likes of Grant's tomb, the Taj Mahal, or a big Wal Mart store. But the man had a Midwestern sensibility that belied any pretension like that.

I loved Huckleberry Finn when I was a kid, but most of his stuff grew cold to me as I got older.

One of his more famous quotes that I remember was that "Golf was a nice walk, ruined."

I saw another quote on Facebook tonight that is attributed to him. I'll poach it and assume it is a Twain quote. But if it's not, who cares...I love it anyway.Check Spelling

This is for my Toxic Love Support Group posse; heed this bard's words.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
 

Sounds like a Little River Band tune, but only cooler.

Right?





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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Look closely at this picture...





What do you see? Come on, look really close...

It's right there in front of you.

Do you see it?

Of course not.

Because you can't see the intangible.

I see six people, two guys and four ladies. One of them lives in Virginia; one of them just moved to Michigan from North Carolina; one is former military; one has transplanted herself to our state capitol; one told me she has now changed last names for the third time in her life and one has been unemployed in this rust-belt economy for the better part of a year.

Look at their faces; smiling and enjoying some holiday cheer at a birthday party we were all invited to for a lady we barely know. For a few hours, all the family problems, job issues, and whatever common angsts we share were parked outside along with our various SUVs, mini-vans and family trucksters.

Erin, the birthday girl, summed up to me the basic kinship that Northeast Ohio people share. We're salt-of-the-earth with a BS radar the size of the Hubble Telescope and the ability to see the best in others, without too much pretension.

After a few hours, and the heaven-sent cheap beers and shots that the Elks Club provides, the group meandered to a local bar. We sat and (tried) to talk over the Peaveys that the band was using. My ears were ringing, and we joked that we're not kids anymore. One of us said that she would enjoy the music a little more if it just wasn't so damn loud.

We're getting older.

But our kinship goes back to childhood.

Now, we're just forty-somethings talking to former classmates; looking forward to tomorrow and barely discussing the halcyon days at Elyria High.

Drinking a beer and enjoying the music; one overwrought, ear-piercing decibel at a time...





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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Grateful Not-Dead

Well, another year is quickly jumping into the record books and it's been a hell of a ride. I don't think I've ever had such a crazy, topsy-turvy year like 2009. I've gotta look back and put it all into perspective.

But not today.

I think a little objectivity comes with removal. Kind of like the 1982 Oscars..."Gandhi" seemed like a good choice then, but looking back...WTF?

"E.T." should have won hands down.

And 1989? "Driving Miss Daisy?" Really? In my world it was "Field of Dreams" all the way.

Oh well.

So I'm not gonna give '09 any serious consideration until at least Arbor Day of next year.

However, I can partake of tomorrow's holiday without planting my tongue firmly in my cheek and put perspective into what I'm truly thankful for.

I have a fantastic kid. I'm truly lucky to have someone as good as him in my life. All I can say is that I'm a better person for having Alex near me; he exudes such radiance and gives me a reason to get out of bed when the chips seem to be stacked against me. I've said he's lucky to have me as his father, but it's much more of a gift to have him in my life.

I'm grateful to have air in my lungs. And more importantly being able to breathe that air under my own power.

This year has taught me that my friends are bedrock. Without them there's no context.

I love seeing bald eagles soar in free flight fifty feet over my head. At no other time do I feel as free or alive when I witness that...

What would the world be like without Bob Marley? Or Eric Clapton? I'm thankful for Ladysmith Black Mambazo. And vintage Dean Martin LPs, with or without the rest of the Rat Pack.

My dog Spencer is the best dog. Ever.

I miss Rox. Her death has made me grateful for our time together and how much I have taken the simple things for granted.

I love my i-Pod. 64 gigabytes of geek nirvana.

My car, a gray HHR "milk truck." It's not too sexy but it's taken Alex and I on two trips this year to Virginia. Our Made-in-America weekend escape pod.

And, yes, how could I talk about 2009 and not mention Becky? Even if our romance was a small blip in my life's time line I'm glad we got to experience so many new things together.

One of this year's highlights? The chance to show three boys and a bored wedding photographer a black bear sow with her tiny cub in a tree in Tennessee. I think Becky really enjoyed that moment; her eyes sure bugged out of her head...and for a brief moment I think she caught a glimpse into my world and what I see as pure, undefinable magic.

I look forward to next year. What's on the radar for '10?

Yellowstone.

Grand Tetons.

Bison up close and personal.

Hopefully a mountain lion or two.

Many, many more evenings with my friends.

And, to poach a little Shakespeare, the undiscovered country.

But for now, the cranberry sauce and turkey awaits.

And tomorrow, I'll be tryptophaning the light fantastic.




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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stop Coasting.

Ya know, for years I've been hearing that Cleveland lies on the "North Coast."

It's always on the radio, and jocks refer to the weather here on the North Coast, or the best deals to be found on the North Coast, and...well, you get the idea.

First of all, there's no coast to be found anywhere near Ohio. Miami has a coast, I guess Barbary has a coast, and Australia has lots of coastline.

We're on a lake. We have a shoreline. So does Buffalo. And Erie. And Toledo.

I guess "coast" is sexier. It makes us sound pretty cosmopolitan, like South Beach or the Mexican Riviera.

And I guess "North" is incorrect too. We're situated on the Southern shore of a large lake.

If you're gonna call us anything at least be geographically sound.

We're the "South Shore."

I know it's not as catchy but it's correct.

But I guess even North Coast is better than our old adage: "The Mistake on the Lake."

And, for what it's worth, the only way to properly use "coast" in relation to Cleveland is how the Browns and Indians handle their seasons.






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Raising the Metaphorical Roof

Had lunch with a friend the other day and he related a metaphor to me that reeked of brilliance. Like most metaphors, anecdotes, similes, parables and other literary high-mindedness the brilliance was in its absolute simplicity.

Like most of my peer group, he is in his early 40s. And like most of us, is going through a renaissance of clarity. Lately, he's realized a few things about himself and is working hard to come to terms with that "self."

Try this one on:

We're all houses.

No "like" installed in there for a simile...

We, literally, are houses.

Some of us are built better, have a stronger foundation and can weather any type of storm.

Others are a house under construction. The plumbing's been installed but the drywall is sitting in a pile against one of the interior walls, waiting to be hung. I guess that reference would be about most pre-kindergarten kids learning to tie their shoes, say their ABC's and not pee their pants because they have to go real bad and teacher won't let them...

My friend is delving deep into this whole metaphor and really taking it to its absurd, yet ridiculous, conclusion.

He recently had an epiphany about himself that rocked his metaphorical foundation; thank god the cement used in his footer was especially thick. One of those long-hidden, deeply-suppressed realizations popped to the surface over our Perkins over-priced hamburgers and cold french fries.

He found his fatal flaw, the one thing that has derailed many of his adult relationships. Quoting that old adage that "99% done is still 100% undone," he said he feels like a house without a roof.

That kind of dwelling isn't very useful, is it?

He feels the same way.

Now that he has realized what it is, he's going to work hard on getting that roof built, trusses first.

I love the fact that he has found the power to realize this; and even more so that he's taking the time to deal with this, even at our advanced age.

My roof's on pretty tight, I think. I just enjoy raising it once in awhile.

And tearing it off and re-shingling it every so often.





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Monday, November 23, 2009

The 32 Days of Christmas

I turned the radio on this morning and about pooped my dockers as I heard a non-stop barrage of Christmas music flow from my HHR's factory-installed speakers.

Although the sound quality from factory tweeters is pretty good, my ears really aren't ready for the sixteen or seventeen songs they are going to play to death 24/7 until Christmas night thirty-two nights from now.

I understand it's been a soft year for retailers and they need to have a good fourth quarter but, Jesus H., do they really need to remind us every second of the day that 'tis the season? And, come on, how many different versions of "Silent Night" and Rudolph can you hear before you want to go postal on some poor mall Santa?

And, just for the record, that fucking Chipmunks Christmas CD from the '60s makes me want to punch an old lady in the head...

I love Christmas, I really do. But I'll be boycotting 102.1 until at least December 15th, when I'm getting in the mistletoe-laden mood.

Each year I tell myself that I'm going to relish the season and enjoy the month of December.

We stopped putting up a tree a few years ago, not in solidarity with any anti-commercialism movement, but rather because my three cats think they're mountain lions and like to climb the tree and pounce on me when I unsuspectingly walk into the living room.

Have you ever walked into a room, illuminated by the soft glow of Christmas lights, and had a seventeen pound black cat leap out of nowhere? Nothing like a mild heart attack and an emergency room visit during the holidays...

And they like to eat the garland. It's fun cleaning the litter boxes and being greeted by glittery, silver-laced cat poop.

So, like hot tubs, fish tanks, and boats, we go to other people's houses to enjoy the Tannenbaum.

I want to feel the spirit of the season this year. No, not the birth of Jesus, or the rush of standing in freezing temps on Black Friday at four in the morning at Wal-Mart for a cheap widget with four hundred whiny people burping and farting the previous day's Thanksgiving turkey, but the good will that the holidays seem to inspire.

I volunteered my son and myself to work in a soup kitchen every weekend until Christmas. We're gonna give a little back, and maybe get something in return.

This year we're gonna have a Christmas party. Not a holiday party, a Festivus gathering, or a non-denominational get-together. It's gonna be an old-fashioned Christmas ho-down with Bing singing "White Christmas," mistletoe, Santa hats, jingle bells, and egg nog spiked with some Jack.

I've invited forty-six people. I live in a condo. I don't think we're breaking any fire codes. I guess we'll see when the marshal shows up and joins us for a little yuletide festivities. Kind of like "It's a Wonderful Life" when the cops tear up the arrest warrant for George Bailey and get smashed on rum punch with Clarence the Angel. I figure, if everyone shows up and brings someone I'm gonna have one hell of a festive evening.

It's enough to get the Yule Log a little stiff, ya know?




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