Friday, December 31, 2010
Let me get this all right out in the open so there is no confusion later on. I hate everything having to do with the celebration of the new year. It turns my stomach. It makes my skin crawl. If you see me on the street, just know that I was perfectly happy with this year, and I don't see why we have to go ahead and change it -- let's keep it going.
Over the last century or so we've invented things like the airplane, i-Pod and Viagra. And no one could come up with another set of months? Like Frickuary or Redecember. Think about it. If 2010 goes for say another twelve or twenty-four months, is anyone really going to get hurt? No way. In fact, I'm pretty sure that having a birthday only once every 36 months will keep us from aging. If it's good enough for the leap year people, then it's good enough for me.
In a nutshell, I'll do anything to avoid having to celebrate a new year. There are certain things that lie at the core of my hatred. For those who like lists, here's a list of things I hate about New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and everything that comes along with it.
If you're still a newspaper reader, regardless of where you live, two articles will uncannily pop up on the front page either December 31st or January 1st. The first is the "Year In Review" article. Oh, I love picking up that newspaper to find out all the things I already know. It's called a "news"paper for a reason. And people wonder why daily circulation is on the decline. The second is the "Predictions" article. Now most of the time, this article will be infused with some base attempt at humor. You know, things that will never happen but seem cute and funny to the author. Things like: "February 2011: President Obama challenges Glen Beck to charity pick-up basketball game to help fund social security." Wow. Doesn't my time mean anything to newspaper editors?
You know, I think it's wonderful when people really try to improve themselves. Unfortunately, New Year's resolutions are a mockery to all other resolutions.
The best New Year's resolutions are the ones that require the person to stop doing something. Like "I'm going to stop smoking" or "I'm going to stop swearing" or "I'm going to stop having sex with my cousin." Usually these people do not get willpower in their Christmas stockings, so most of these types of resolutions are broken January 2nd.
Then there are those that choose to become physically fit during the new year. They're going to eat right, join a health club and start working out. Now this is the resolution that affects me the most. If you've ever been in a health club or rec center in early January, you'll know that there are a boatload of people who choose this resolution. I applaud their effort, but they clog up the treadmills and other machines to the point of workout gridlock. I've learned to stay away during these times. The good news is that by January 12th or so, things are back to normal. What someone should come up with is a temporary health club to cater to these short-term Jack Lalannes -- just like the Halloween and Christmas shops that pop up for a month right before the holiday in empty retail spaces across town.
Auld Lang Syne
Whenever I hear this song, I wonder if anyone really knows what they're singing. Like Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" or Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven", you can't possibly like this song for anything other than the melody. "Should old acquaintance be forgot and old lang syne" and "If there's a bussel in your hedgerow" have a lot more in common than one might think. On the Song Relavancy Scale, "Auld Lang Syne" comes in at a minus six. By the way, "Happy Birthday" is a perfect ten. I'll bet if you played the song backwards it would make a whole hell of a lot more sense. It would probably say something like, "Happy New Year you old bastard. I thought you'd never figure this out. Now take this record and smash it to bits with a sledgehammer."
I gotta tell you, those are the drunkest looking sober people I've ever seen. You couldn't get me to stand in that mass of humanity for ten hours to watch Liberace's left nut descend from the sky if naked women popped out of the thing and started giving free lap dances.
Once again, tradition wins out over innovation. With all the great creative minds in this country, we ought to be able to come up with something a little more inspiring to ring in the new year. Well, maybe we have in Port Clinton, Ohio. It's the Great Walleye Drop. Check it out at http://www.walleyemadness.com/. Though it still involves dropping things, it's a step in the right direction.
The only thing I can say about Dick Clark is...Why??? Why do you torture us??? And, just so I'm not labled as someone who makes fun of stroke victims, this is a question I asked before his attack.
Though I try to be sensitive to his challenges, it hasn't stopped me playing a drinking game during the last three "Rockin' New Year's Eve" shows. It's easy to play. Every time you understand a word that Dick says, you drink. And you'd be right if you guessed I've been sober the last three New Year's Eves. But then, why would I waste a hangover on such a despicable holiday?
Well, that's my list of things I hate about celebrating the new year. Please be safe if you feel differently than me and must go out and celebrate -- dead people can't read my blog.
Happy New Year. Bah humbug.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Frankly, I'm at a crossroads. I could get back on a diet and excercise program and lose most of my excess baggage in about ten weeks. I know how to do it and I've done it before. Or, I could tack on another hundred and start calling the producers of Biggest Loser for an audition. If you're gonna be morbidly obese, you may as well get your mug on national television, right?
So last Friday night was my once-a-week visit to the town rec center and "Treadmill Row." For those unfamiliar with how a health club/rec center operates, Treadmill Row is a group of no less than ten treadmills set side-by-side facing several televisions that hang from the ceiling. It's a modern day version of the carrot and the stick. Navigating Treadmill Row can be unnerving. Fortunately, I have a set of rules I follow religiously before and during my time on the machines.
Rule number one is: Find a buffer. I try to ensure that there's at least one open treadmill on each side of me as I begin my conveyor belt-aided walk/run, mostly so that no one can view my machine's digital readout to see either how fast I'm going or how many calories I've burned. That information should be on a need to know basis. Like when using a urinal at a ballgame, head and eyes must be pointed straight ahead. There's only one reason anyone should be looking at someone else while they're taking a leak and that definitely doesn't apply to me. That's also the reason you won't find me tapping my feet under the bathroom stall when I'm going number two. Homie don't play that. Got it? Good. Though I take precautions to keep workout evesdroppers away, invariably someone will get daring and step inside my force field of solitude to claim a machine next to me. Occasionally, I'll get lucky and the buffer will remain intact for the duration of my workout, but mostly i'm disappointed.
The second rule is: Lie to the machine. The treadmill will always ask for your current weight, as well as the desired speed, incline and duration of your workout. I like to feel good about my time spent on these machines, so I always inflate my real-life weight when entering the information. It's amazing how many more calories a 420-pound man burns versus a man my size doing the same workout. It's all about feeling good, motivating yourself and achieving a level of satisfaction. How much more satisfied could I be after that I've burned 855 calories during a half mile speed walk. Plus, the pinheads who still feel they can sneak a peek at my digital readout think I'm really busting my nuts on this thing.
My third and final rule is: Sweat a lot. This rule is something that I naturally do well. Hereditarily speaking, I sweat like roughly chopped onions on an episode of Iron Chef. Even if it wasn't a rule, I'd be champion. No one can out-sweat me. No one.
So, those are the ground rules.
Usually I go up to work out alone. This time I would drop my son and his friend off at the basketball courts on the main floor, then run upstairs to find a machine with plenty of elbow room. The boys wanted to spend some time at the indoor pool after their hoops session, so I planned to meet up with them after my workout was complete. I'd go longer than normal -- 45 minutes. I was really going to push myself tonight. In actuality, the Heat/Knicks game was on ESPN -- Lebron's first game in Madison Square Garden since "The Decision" (not really sure why I care) and I wanted to at least see the first quarter.
Come to think of it, maybe I should add a fourth rule: Always position yourself in front of a television that is tuned to something you'll find at least mildy interesting -- and (this is very important), make sure the closed captions are on, cause there's no audio on Treadmill Row. Bad programming can make your workout feel twice as long. ESPN means no matter what is on I'm content. I've made the mistake taking a machine in front of a television tuned to an old episode of Law & Order without closed captions -- that's a 45-minute workout that felt more like my last semester of college, I thought it would never end.
Once upstairs, I locked onto the television that was showing the game. I marked my territory with a few quick stretches. No one on my right. Check. No one on my left. Double Check. Time to roll.
You'd think a person as out of shape as I am would have a difficult time on Treadmill Row. No way. I'm exceptionally nimble for my size. I walk. I run. I use the incline. In many ways I'm like a bear during hibernation -- I might not look like much, but I can haul ass if I need to.
I really felt like screwing with the machine I was on, punching up 540 pounds as my body weight before I began. Hey, it asked. After 45 minutes and about two and half miles, the display said that I had burned something like 32,ooo calories. Next time I'm going as "hollow man" -- I'll enter 22 pounds and really mess with the machine. It ought to take me about a half century to burn 32,000 calories at that weight.
Anyway, about halfway through my workout, things started to really get busy on the running track that sits adjacent to Treadmill Row. One of those "boot camps" for women was beginning its evening class. The instructor had them doing all sorts of impossible maneuvers as they circled the track. Lunges, hops and sideways skipping to name a few. Just watching it spiked my heart rate to dangerous levels. The group included a dozen or so women in varying states of fitness, only a few able to keep somewhat close to the boot camp drill seargent. Several of the ladies barely resembled the example set by their toned leader. Whatever these ladies were doing, it provided some great comic relief during breaks in the Heat/Knicks action.
So, with a tough workout complete and super-boring game on the tube, I grabbed the boys from the gym to take them down to the pool. I had them change in the men's locker room, never realizing just how scary a place it can be for ten-year-old boys. Something about taking your clothes off in front of strangers had my son slightly troubled. I urged him to just face the lockers and get into his trunks. He chose instead to jump into one of the empty lockers to change. His friend had his suit on under his sweats. Hopefully I didn't traumatize him too much. I tried to block out thoughts of him crawling into a locker to change after high school gym class or football practice in a few years. Chances are that won't go well. That' something we're going to have to work on.
Once changed, we made our way onto the pool deck. The facility has a 25-yard pool on one side and a water activity area on the other -- pirate ship, waterslide and shallow (4-foot) pool with basketball hoops at each end.
The boys went straight for the basketballs and started taking shots from inside the shallow pool. They were having fun with creative and acrobatic shots, some as they dove and spun into the water from the deck.
I pulled up a chair to watch the action as I had remained in my workout clothes, not planning to enter the water. My thirteen-year-old daughter who had just finished swim practice for the night joined me poolside. As I watched the boys play I couldn't help but feeling that something just wasn't right.
Then I realized what what caused me to feel this way. In the corner of the shallow pool the furthest from us were about fifteen men, ranging in age from mid-30s to mid-50s. With them were a group of children and teenagers, also playing nearby in the activity area, some taking shots of their own with the basketball and hoop located at the other end of the pool. I wondered who these men were. And, the bigger question, where were their wives? In the wake of 911 I had my eyes wide open to what may or may not be going down here. I couldn't get close enough to hear what they were saying to each other. I was nervous about what this was all about. I tried not to profile these men, but they were all very hairy.
Their children and my children played together in the water, unaware of my growing concern. The lifeguards seemed oblivious to these shenanigans. Part of their job as a lifeguard should be to uncover and undermine any terrorist activities going on in the pool, right? I hoped so. It's in their job title -- guarding the lives of those in and around the pool area. It's not always about saving people who are drowning. If this was a terrorist cell, as I had fantasized, something would need to be done.
Speaking of lifeguards. The shallow pool and activity area was being patrolled by five separate guards. Five people ready to come to the aid of anyone dumb enough to drown in four feet of water or less. How much training does one need to save someone from the onrushing cannon spray of the pirate ship? Maybe someone forgets to stand up after coming down the waterslide and landing in the treacherous wading pool, which is probably all of a foot deep. A missed shot from one of the basketball playing waders skips onto the deck, knocking some unsuspecting person off their feet and onto the pavement, unconscious. The tragic scenarios are seemingly endless.
So, like I said, there are five lifeguards patrolling a relatively low-risk section of the facility. Yet not a single guard was keeping an eye on the most dangerous area of the pool -- the hot tub. At any given time, up to ten 80-year-old men sit in a semi-circle as bubbling water simmers around them. One slip, trip or ill-timed heart attack and they sink below the water line, never to be seen again. The bubbles could hide the body underwater for weeks until some other super-old guy stubs his toe on the water-withered body as he makes his way to his spot on the ledge to chat with his contemporaries. It's a morbid thought. Maybe some day the aquatics supervisor will decide to station someone there. It could save a life. Or at least prevent a stubbed toe.
Since the people in the red bathing suits weren't getting up off their duffs, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I pretended to chase down one of the basketballs errantly heaved by my son near the group of men. I was able to get within about ten feet. It was then that I realized they were speaking to each other in a foreign language. Bingo! But where were these men from? What were they talking about? No way was was I capable of translating. If I lingered near the men, I'd run the risk of being discovered. So, I decided I'd go back to my seat and come up with an alternative plan to foil whatever plot they were hatching.
On the walk back to my chair, I heard one of the children call out.
"What is it?" Hmm. They both speak English. Broken English, but English nonetheless.
"Mother is ready. She's done with her boot camp. Can we go for ice cream now with everyone else?"
"It depends on Uncle Zoltan. It's his birthday."
See what the terrorists have done to us? I'm ready to go to def-con five because a middle-aged Ukranian was having a birthday. Good thing he didn't try lighting the candles before I could tackle him and make a citizen's arrest.
With the mystery solved, I suppose that a call to Homeland Security by the 540-pound sweaty guy won't be necessary afterall.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
They just don't make Santas like they used to.
Our local mall had an after-hours event where you could bring your pet and have its picture taken with Santa. We did this a few years back with our now deceased yellow lab and the kids. Now that we have a new puppy, it seemed like a fantastic idea to bring the kids up to the mall with the dog, see Santa and pay a ridiculous amount for a keepsake photo package.
Maybe time erased any bad experiences we had during the last go-round at Santa's pet night, but I don't recall the freak show we witnessed as we approached the line for pictures this year. There were several animals in what looked to be enclosed baby strollers, a cat with mittens and two separate couples who dressed to match their pets -- just a sampling of the strange goings-on. What really left an impression on me was the incredible number of insanely ugly people who were at this event. Not just ugly, but ugly and fat. Now I'm no Chippendale dancer and I certainly don't want to come down too hard on anyone who may or may not have a thyroid issue, but it was like someone teleported the entire holiday lunch crowd from Hometown Buffet right into the center of the mall. Usually the morbidly ugly and obese keep to themselves. When in a buffet line their focus is on the food and how to organize the contents on their plate with maximum effeciency. But as I found out on this particular evening, take away the food and give them a pet and they all of a sudden become the guy I always seem to sit next to on a four-hour plane ride -- they won't shut up.
So we were not only repulsed, but our four-month-old black labradoodle was clealy not ready for this kind of excitement. Lots of barking and shedding and tangled leashes. Our three children, each looking forward to seeing Santa but for different reasons, kept it together for the most part -- a proud, but all too rare moment for their parents. They wait was about an hour, but it felt like a weekend.
Finally, we made it to the front of the line. The rotund, middle-aged, gravelly-voiced "elf" asked us for the name of our puppy. That was it. The chain-smoking Santas helper didn't request any information about any of the three small humans we had with us -- you know, the ones who actually came to see Santa.
"Wait a second," I said. "Is Santa going to make the dog do tricks when we get up there?"
"Well, I know this is great that he's working overtime to snap a couple of Poloroids with these inbreds, but doesn't he want to know the names of our children?" I could see where this was going and something was telling me that our kids should not have even bothered coming with us. Tonight was all about the dog.
Before she could answer, my wife started in on the oversized elf. "Our kids will get to talk to Santa, right?"
Then came the wrong answer. "Well, I guess they could."
Now I've had dogs my whole life. Not one time do I remember when any of them were excited to see Santa. I'm relatively certain that an old sock with a couple of knots tied into it would stir up more emotions in my dog than this fake Kris Kringle. If Santa dissed my kids on this one we might have some problems.
I was this close to pulling the plug and walking out on the whole charade. But, for the sake of the children, I needed to be a better man that Santa.
We stepped up to the Santa throne. The dog sniffed him and sat down ready for the camera. Santa never even called her by her name. Shockingly, she didn't seem to mind.
Our kids got up nice and close, ready to spill their guts about what they wanted for Christmas and whether they've been good or bad. They waited for Santa to greet them. And...nothing.
The old coot just stared at them. I figured it was because he didn't know their names. I shot a glance back at the rude elf. But even if you don't know the kids names, there should be plenty of small talk a mall Santa can use to kill the minute or two they have with these kids. Not even a "ho, ho, ho."
My wife initiated things while I steamed in the background. "Why don't you tell Santa what you want for Christmas?"
My four-year-old went first. There wasn't a chance in the world that Santa understood what she was saying to him, but he nodded anyway.
Then he spoke.
"What about you?" He motioned to my son who was prepared, spitting out a couple of things I didn't even know he wanted. He's been questioning the existence of Santa. Later, he would tell me that he wanted to prove Santa existed by asking for things he knew his parents wouldn't get him -- like the Airsoft gun he mentioned to Santa. I have to admit, I like the way the kid thinks.
But, back to the dude in the red suit. He actually said, "what about you?" What a tool. First of all, this guy's beard wasn't even full, and it wasn't white, it was grey. He was thin and his eyes were all bloodshot. This Santa was a sorry excuse.
Now I've never been a Santa, nor have I trained as one, yet I have a pretty good idea of what to say to a little boy ready to lay out his holiday wish list. "What about you?" is not in the arsenal. I might go with, "Well, hello there little boy, what would you like for Christmas? or "Now, why don't you tell Santa what you want this year?"
I sat back and witnessed this half-assed Santa doing his thing. You'd think that in this economy, with so many people out of job and looking for work, the number of mall Santa applicants would be through the roof (or chimney -- Christmas humor, sorry). The mall should have their pick of the litter with Santas so real looking they make the parents believe. But who knows, maybe there's a Santa union and this guy is tenured or something and the only way he will ever lose his job is if he keels over.
The more I look around and really study these guys dressing up as Santa, the more I think the ones with the fake beards are the ones who really want it -- they try harder. The fake-bearded take pride in putting on the red velvet suit and black boots. They work the crowd with bellowing "ho, ho, hos." The ones who have real beards are the ones I'm starting to question. They've gone lazy on us. But then, what should we expect? They're getting the jobs over the other guys all because they don't like to shave. There must not be any personality test given when they bring them in for interview either. I think the only test they have to pass is a simple tug on the old facial hair. If it doesn't come off, they're in. And that's not right.
When we finished with Santa, I picked up the thirty dollars worth of photos we'd purchased as a memory of the occasion. The pictured turned out nice enough, but I noticed something -- the damned dog forgot to smile. Good girl.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
This is probably a good time to tell you about one of my special hidden talents -- some might even call it a super power. Superman can fly, use x-ray vision and crush rocks with this bare hands. Spiderman can swing from tall building to tall building with web stuff he launches from his wrists. Me? Well, I can time up the drinking of a pint of beer within a few seconds of my carryout food being ready for pick-up. It's amazing really. I don't know how or why I have this ability. In fact, I haven't really been able to identify a single benefit of being able to do it. But I don't care.
Taking a final swig from the glass, my food beeper started to flash and vibrate indicating my powers were still intact. Now, normally I would leave a tip, button my coat and head for the carryout counter to grab my food. But something caught my eye as I began to leave. Her name was Dogfishhead 60 Minute IPA. Man alive, a beer I've not tried was calling out to me, in a whispery-echo, "Trrrrrrryyyyyyyyy Mmmmeeeee." Hold on baby, I'll be right there. In an odd reversal of roles, my food would now have to wait for me.
When it comes to beer, I like the good stuff, but I'm not someone who can spend fifteen minutes describing all the subtle nuances of Dogfishhead 60 Minute IPA. Beer, to me, falls within one of three categories: 1) Getting Drunk Beer (i.e Miller Lite), 2) Loosening Up Beer (i.e. Sam Adams) and 3) Comfort Beer (i.e. Christmas Ale). The Dogfishhead was somewhere between a Loosening Up Beer and a Comfort Beer -- Good, not great.
But, it was worth the additional six minutes and thirty-five seconds it took to drink. And, my food would still be warm when I got home. A win/win outcome in the world of take-out.
Back home, I needed something to drink while my wife and I ate our dinner and watched the one-hour Christmas episode of "The Office." I grabbed a Yeungling from the fridge. Yeungling is not available in Ohio. I have it in my possession because of my very awesome brother-in-law who brought two twelves when he was in town with the family for Thanksgiving. My brother-in-law lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. The beer is brewed in Pennsylvania. I live in Cleveland, an hour and fifteen minutes from the Pennsylvania border. Charlotte is eight hours from Cleveland. Yet, I need to have this beer delivered like contraband Cuban cigars. It just doesn't make sense. For those keeping score at home, Yeungling has its own super power -- its the only beer I know that fits into all three of my beer categories.
Unfortunately, I remained awake only a few minutes after consuming the Yeungling. I was out. Three beers and I'm out. Let me save you the trouble. "What a lightweight." How'd that feel? You're welcome.
I awoke the next morning feeling a bit hazy with a huge headache that got worse as the day went on. You just don't expect a hangover from three beers. I don't anyway. It's bad enough I pass out, not allowing myself to truly enjoy my near-drunken state. Now I'm being double punished with a throbbing cranium? Bullshit.
So I'm at work thinking I should have grabbed some aspirin before I left home. Stupid, stupid. It was eight-thirty and no one was in the office but me. I checked all the places that aspirin might hide. I even checked places that aspirin probably had not heard of yet, like the conference room desk and under the ping-pong table. No dice.
Then I noticed a freshly brewed pot of coffee. Someone must have come in earlier and started a batch. Either that or the same aliens that help my neighbors with their Christmas decorations had paid our office a visit. I couldn't be certain, but I decided not to try and figure it out.
Now anyone who knows me knows I am not a coffee drinker. Everyone except my mother. I'm 43 years old and she still offers me a cup whenever I visit. Every time, it's the same dramatic response, "When did you stop drinking coffee?"
"You wanna know when I stopped drinking coffee mom? Really? When I was in your womb, that's when."
As far as coffee goes, I've never been able to figure out how something that smells so good could taste so bad. Besides urine, coffee is the only beverage I know of that you need to add other ingredients to in order to make it taste better. Cream. Sugar. Honey. Barbecue sauce. Tea doesn't count -- nothing could possibly make that swill taste better.
As much as I despise coffee, it's impossible to avoid it in daily life. Every sales call I go on where the prospect can't or won't meet me at their office, is held at Starbucks. What is it about that place that's so damned fantastic? I'm intimidated by it. I can't order anything. Even if I wanted to pretend I was a coffee drinker to impress the person I'm meeting with, my body won't cooperate. I'm too nervous. I get all toungue-tied and I start to shake.
It's embarrassing really. So, I usually just grab a bottled water from the refrigerated case so as not to have any sort of interaction with the person behind the counter other than a quick exchange of currency. I know what they think too. "Poor, stupid bastard. Look at him. Can't even get up the nerve to order a cappuccino. Someone should just put him out of his misery already."
My sales calls never end up well at Starbucks. I'm sure my prospects, seeing my bottle of water say, "Look at this guy. Who the hell does he think he is? And, he wants ME to buy something from HIM? Yeah, right."
I like lots of things. There are few things I hate, but coffee and Starbucks are two of them.
So, there I was, tragically tempted to pour myself a cup. My head pounded and I needed some sort of relief. Coffee is one of those things people drink when they're fighting a hangover, right? My head wouldn't allow this debate to go on much longer.
I reached for a paper cup and poured myself some of the hot liquid. Then some sugar. And some powdered cream. Not exactly sure how you get powdered cream, but I'll trust the manufacturers know what they're doing. A quick stir with a spoon and it was ready.
Since I'm not a coffee drinker, the only reference point for what to do next was from what I see my friends and family do. I picked it up, blew at the lip of the cup to cool the now chocolate-colored mixture. Then, I sipped. Blech. For the love of god, aaaahhhh. Not enough sugar. Too much coffee. Couldn't someone have stocked the first aid kit with ibuprofen? Dammit.
Okay, another couple blows, followed by another couple sips as it cooled. Still bad, but like the survivor of a plane crash who is forced to cannibalize another passenger for nourishment, it had to be done. One last gulp and the cup was empty. I did it.
And just how did it make me feel? Well, my head was hurting about as badly as before. But now my mouth tasted like tar. Awesome. I can't imagine why someone wouldn't drink this "nectar of the gods."
It was then I decided to do this thing right. I bolted for the door. The drugstore would have what I needed and it wouldn't taste so bad -- 1500 milligrams of acetaminophen. Within twenty minutes, my headache was cured.
Afterward, I felt guilty. I had been so negative towards coffee when it was beer that was making me feel bad. I should be angry with beer. Right?
Nah. Like an abused spouse, I'll keep coming back for more. As long as it falls within one of the three categories -- and it usually does.
Now if I could only change my super power to avoiding a hangover after three beers. That's gotta be better than finishing a beer when your food is ready.
Monday, November 29, 2010
So there, you've been warned.
During the holidays I do not adorn my gutters with thousands of flashing colored lights that threaten the northeastern U.S. power grid. Nor will I place an inflatable Santa or Frosty or Snow Globe on my front lawn. No candy cane fence to guide visitors to my front walk. No wooden deer wearing red holiday scarfs. No nothing that would be confused with the festive norm most homes exhibit at this time of year.
But please don't mistake me for some sort of holiday lighting display Scrooge. I celebrate like everyone else, one glass of eggnog at a time. I'd love a grand presentation for all to see -- in fact, I'd like nothing more. The real reason I don't participate in such things is that I basically suck at putting it all together -- in other words, I'm festively challenged. It's embarrassing to admit, but I'm not man enough to hang with many of my neighbors. In the world of sports, they say: Go hard or go home. Well, I choose to go home. Actually, I choose to go inside my home when Santa's on his way. The reality is that there's only one thing worse than not putting up holiday lights and that is doing a half-assed job of putting up holiday lights. That's what scares me the most.
It doesn't take a genius to realize that outdoor holiday decorating is as testosterone-charged as any winter activity. Year after year it's an electical pissing contest to see who can put up the best show for all the neighbors to see. I applaud those who can pull it off, though I think they may have unseen help. Like the shoemaker who received assistance from a band of shoemaking elves, it's not hard to believe that some of the most elaborate displays in the neighborhood are the handiwork of otherwordly beings. If you buy the theory that aliens helped build the pyramids in Egypt, is it that big of a stretch to think they may have had their hand in the erection of your neighbor's front yard winter wonderland?
Obviously, there's some jealousy involved. Like I said, I wish I could transform my property into a miniature Oglebay every year, but that's just not practical. I noticed the other day a county courts van slowly moving down the highway with a handful of men who did someting bad and now had to pick up trash as restitution -- community service, I think they call it. Why does community service always have to be picking sandwich wrappers and cigarette butts off the city streets? Why couldn't they do something to really serve the community? Like cutting my lawn, shoveling my drive or, I don't know, maybe assisting with the installment of my most amazing holiday lighting display so my neighbors could be jealous of me for once?
And isn't that what the season is really all about? Good will towards men be damned. I want all men to have ill will towards me because my house looks so freakin' awesome and they can't stand my greatness.
But guess what? That ain't happening. Not this year, not next.
So for anyone not reading this but wanting to know why I'm not decorating this year, I'll just tell them, "I've decided to go green, so suck it Clark Griswold."
I call it "Last Friday." Others might know it by its common name, "Black Friday, 2010."
Six days have passed since I experienced what no man should. Six days since I lost a chunk of my soul.
My story begins like most stories, at the beginning. It was Thanksgiving Day. Our family celebrated at my parent's house. My mother decided to attempt a traditional turkey dinner.
Though I give her credit, it's been hard to wash away the memories of the last time she hosted this remembrance of that crazy feast between pilgrims and indians about four hundred years ago. As I recall, my mother decided to cook a large turkey breast in the oven. Seems harmless enough. But, when she decided to cook all of the other dinner items in the same oven, things got a little crowded, slowing the actual cooking to a crawl. The wait was painful that day. We were supposed to eat at around three. It wasn't until sometime after seven that the breast was finally finished in the microwave.
So, kudos to her for getting back on the horse. And extra-large kudos to me for allowing her a second chance. Though I'm sure she was hell-bent on redemption, something other than that actually happened.
This time my mother would not make us wait for our Thanksgiving meal. In fact, so efficient was the cooking of the turkey, she called us at home two hours before we were supposed to arrive, to tell us the little meat button thermometer thingy had popped up from the skin of the roasting poultry.
Now, when the button pops, in theory the cooking should cease. I made this point abundtantly clear while I had my mother on the phone. "Take it out of the oven NOW!" Abundant enough, don't you think?
Unfortunately, my mother ignored my command and the cooking continued. In fact, the cooking continued...until our family arrived. As we entered my parent's home, I quickly shed my jacket and shoes and made my way to the oven. But, like a paramedic arriving at the scene of a major auto accident after stopping for ice cream along the way, I was unable to help the poor, dried up bird, looking more like the winner of "Survivor Great Lakes" than a Thanksgiving meal.
"I told you to take it out! Why didn't you take it out?" I shouted.
Maybe if I was allergic to moist and tasty meat this all would be considered acceptable. But I have no such affliction.
After dinner my wife and I discussed the fact that we had yet to do any of our Christmas shopping. She had reviewed a number of "Black Friday" circulars that came inside our morning paper. A few items on our kids' wish list were available as "doorbuster" specials at places like Toys R Us, Target, Walmart and Best Buy.
Seeing that this may be our only opportunity to get such items at such a low cost, I asked my wife if she wanted to accept the challenge and be a part of the shopping mayhem early the next morning. She agreed and plans were set. To Target at 4 a.m., then Walmart at 5 a.m. Then, home by six with a trunk-full of doorbuster loot.
The next morning we woke at 3:30. Second thoughts crept into my head, but only for a moment. We were doing this -- no turning back. Turning back was for pussies. I would later find out turning back was for pussies and smart people.
There was no time to shower. We dressed, climbed into the minivan and headed to our neighborhood Target. On the way, my wife reviewed the circulars -- one last opportunity to check the game plan. All systems were go.
Then, we turned into the main parking lot.
Holy crap. Target was about ten minutes from opening. The other stores in the plaza were many hours from opening, yet we took one of the last spaces in the lot. It was cold and the walk to the storefront was long. As we approached the main entrance we noticed people were already on their way in. A line had formed. A long line. No, a really long line. We made our way to the back of the now crazy-long line that wrapped all the way to the back of the building. Forget second thoughts, doubt now reared it's ugly headed and started to laugh in my general direction.
All along the perimeter of the building were remnants of people who decided that showing up at 4 a.m. for a 4 a.m. opening just might be just a little too late. Tents, chairs and litter decorated the outside of the building. Like the Mayans, these mysterious people were now long gone -- inside and most likely buying one of the four doorbuster 82" Plasma TVs that were selling for 15 bucks a piece.
By the time we got inside, there were no carts left. My wife hijacked a cart left alone near the bras -- apparantly there were no doorbusters in female underwear.
We followed a swarm of people back to electronics. Everyone with the same agenda -- televisions, game systems, computers. About fifty feet from paydirt we hit gridlock. I told my wife to hold onto the cart in case she suddenly found herself swept into the undertow of a mad rush of cartless people. The cartless have their own rules. They sweep impatiently around those using carts, like motorcyclist on the highway, passing without any care for rules and etiquette.
The crush of people was more intense as we neared the electronics desk. This is most assuredly how a worker bee feels as he approaches the queen in the hive.
So close, yet so far.
Something came over me. I knew our cart was holding us back. In a moment of selflessness, I asked me wife to let go of the cart so that she could get closer to the electronics aisle. There, someone would be able to help her, to answer her questions and perhaps guide her to the XBox 360 our son had on his list. It was a doorbuster afterall. She let go and looked back at me, but only for a moment, then she was gone into a sea of shoppers. I prayed the gods of retail would keep her safe.
From there I took my cart and turned down another less busy aisle -- baby furniture. I circled back and waited. After about ten minutes went by. I decided I needed to find my wife. I left the cart near the lightbulbs, another safe zone, and threw myself into the growing hoard in electronics. I pushed through the mass of bodies, up and down each packed aisle. Then, as I was about to give up, I saw her. I caught a break, found an opening in the throng and slid in to save her. I pulled her by the arm back through the opening before it closed on us for good.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes, I think. Are you?"
"Of course. Any luck?"
"No. We should go."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Is that okay?"
"It's fine with me. You don't need any bras, light bulbs or baby furniture, do you?"
We left the store as quickly as we came. Actually quicker because we didn't have to wait in line to get out.
Once outside my wife started to cry, to breakdown.
"What? What happened back there?" I begged.
I knew that my wife needed time to heal. I needed time to heal.
So, it's been six days. Six long, hard days.
I still feel disappointment and regret.
No disappointment bigger than not seeing two 300-pound women fighting over the last doorbuster Sing-a-ma-jig. And no regret bigger than picking up a pack of clear 60-watt lightbulbs for the ceiling fan in the master bedroom that we actually needed. Now I have to go out again for the lightbulbs. Dammit.
Next year, on Black Friday 2011, I'm sleeping in. And, if I want to see 300-pound women throwing down over some useless piece of crap, I'll watch me some Jerry Springer.
As for this year. I could blame myself, but we all know the turkey made me do it.
Friday, November 12, 2010
To me it takes all the fun out of a long car ride. I used to be able to look forward to driving past beautiful brand new housing developments perched right along the side of the interstate -- and I'd wonder if maybe the developments were colonies of deaf people who didn't care where their house stood. I've since learned that most of the people who live near the highway have at least average hearing. And, it was their choice to live so close to the hum of the highway.
It's hard to believe that a fifteen foot slab of faux bricks is really going to make any difference in the noise level. Call me crazy, but it's not like those folks woke up one morning and said, "dang, where did that busy eight-lane road come from?" I'd think that anyone who buys a home within that proximity to that much noise must on some level like it. So, why are we trying to stop them from hearing it? And with our tax dollars to boot.
I say, give 'em what they asked for. But if you must put up barriers, at least make 'em clear, so I can see who I'm pissing off.
For those who know me, it might seem hard to believe that I've never achieved complete career satisfaction. Sure I've tried. I've pretended to be interested and engaged. But the reality is I've never once taken the advice of many very super-smart, super-successful people. They tell me, "do what you love." And, I've ignored this advice like a man ignore's his wife. This has always held me back.
As a salesperson, I've spent the most valuable hours of my week doing things I don't love. Like calling people who don't want to talk to me. Or, meeting with people who don't want to meet with me. Driving to and from places that didn't even pay for the gas I was using. Wasting time. Wasting my life.
And what is it that I love to do? Eat. I absolutely love to eat. Mass consumption is my specialty.
Secondly, I love to watch people eat. Give me a "Man Versus Food" marathon on the Travel Channel and I'm one freakin' happy fat boy.
So, here's the big announcement. It's the perfect melding of my two true loves. I've decided to dedicate my life to competitive eating and will open the nation's first training center for these underappreciated and overfed athletes. Granted, this is all still in the planning stages and could fall apart if the financial backing fails to come through, or if I lose interest. Actually, the losing interest issue is the greater of the two threats. Losing interest in things is another of my downfalls. It started with the pet newt I had - that I killed - when I was ten, and I've been in my own personal battle with the disease ever since. Losing interest is hereditary. My father became a model airplane hobbyist during my youth. He successfully started to build four separate gas-powered model airplanes during that phase in his life. Not a single one ever made it to the runway. The last two (one yellow and one red) still sit in my parents' basement, caked with dust from thirty-five or so years of waiting to be completed.
But today I stand here before you to proclaim that there will be no dust on this dream.
My school will be known as "Eat U." I will provide an outlet for the large-appetited -- a much-needed platform for these gastric marvels. Our motto: "Education and Motivation without Regurgitation."
I'll need to tie in with a local caterer to provide professional training materials -- things like hot dogs, pizza, apple pie, steak, buffalo wings, meatballs and mountain oysters to name a few. With the volume of crap food we'll need for our classes, maybe I should bring the catering in-house.
Just a gut feeling, but I don't think that finding students will be a problem. However, tracking down instructors might be. I mean, how many Kobiyashis and Joey Chestnuts are there out there? I might have to revert to second tier and lesser-knowns like Eric "The Red" Denmark, Crazylegs Conti and female sensation Sonya Thomas.
To fill the gap, I'd take myself away from some of my administrative duties, suit up and teach. I myself have never been a competitive eater, though I've managed to set personal standards for pierogies (24), olives (green and black 255) and pizza (half sheet) in single sittings. Never used a clock. In that respect, I'm self-taught. But, where is it mandated that coaches ever needed to have played the game professionally? Just ask Vince Lombardi or Paul Brown in football. Or Earl Weaver and Jim Leyland in baseball. Actually, only Leyland will answer because he's the only one still able to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide. Getting your answers from the others will require a Ouji board. But I can assure you that the dead group of coaches would agree that it's not mandatory to learn the finer points of eating 100 kosher dill pickles in three minutes from someone who actually did it himself.
I really have this all figured out. It's a great idea. I'm sure it would work. Only problem is that I have no idea how to get started. And, it seems like too much trouble to figure it out. Waaaayy too much trouble.
Oh well, you know what they say. Like father, like son.
Monday, November 8, 2010
A Cleveland-based sales rep goes to visit with a prospect in downtown Dayton, Ohio and...
You had your opportunity.
So, I'm in Dayton last Friday trying to sell someone something they actually need (gasp!). I know, I know, it goes against everything I ever learned during my sales career. Up until now, I've only heard of prospects like this. Yet there I was, face to face with this rarest of rare beasts. I thought about how I would attack. I'd stare her down, give her my carefully crafted sales pitch, fold my arms and wait for her answer -- a resounding "yes." I expected her to unwrap a new set of Mont Blanc pens for the occasion, the kind you use when you're signing the Declaration of Independence or a pre-nup. I know they used quills when they signed the Declaration of Independence, but please just submit to my own personal vision of how the proceedings should have proceeded. It's my dream and if I say Freddie Krueger has suction cups on his fingers, then Freddie Krueger has suction cups on his fingers.
Unfortunately, before any of this could occur, my prospect, the one who needed what I was selling, cut me off at the pass.
"We've already allocated our budget for 2011, but I'd really like to hear what you have to say."
That's what she said. Dammit. So, no matter how well I attack, there's no way I'm winning the battle. No way. It's like she put up one of those invisible, impenetrable force field shield thingies that they use in Sci-Fi movies. I was cooked.
The good news is that I didn't let it faze me. I had the best pitch prepared, so I used it. It dazzled her for sure, but only in a way that caused her to say, "I like this a lot. Maybe in 2012."
Maybe in 2012? Maybe in 2012 we'll all be dead.
We wrapped up our useless conversation in about an hour and fifteen. My car would not be towed afterall, having put it in front of a meter on a side street about fifty yards from where I was meeting with the non-prospect. Before heading into the meeting, I had placed two shiny quarters into the box and received two hours of parking in downtown Dayton. You can't get that kind of value anywhere. Not Columbus. Not Cleveland. Probably not even Toledo. I was pleased.
As I packed my bags, the non-prospect asked if I needed anthing for the four-hour trip back to Cleveland. Water? Pop? Potato chips?
"Well, I have some water back in the car, so no to the first two. But, I'll take the potato chips for sure. Thanks."
She proceeded to tell me they were Dayton's finest chip, Mike-Sell's. I'm always down for a local chip. But, since I can't let go of ideas I had years earlier, I asked if she knew anyone who could get me a meeting with the Mike-Sell's people. If I could just get in to see someone and explain my idea of using discarded chips to be crushed, re-packaged and sold with dip I'd be sitting pretty. You dump the crumbs into the dip, mix it with a spoon and voila, instant snack. I do it all the time when I get to the end of a bag of chips. No waste at all.
Unfortunately, she didn't have a contact at the potato chip company. But, she asked me to wait in the lobby. She promised to be right back. About five minutes later, she brought me a half-eaten container of chip dip.
"You have to have dip to go with your chips, right?" she said.
"This is easily the strangest parting gift I've ever received from an almost customer." I didn't know what else to say. It almost made the loss of the sale bearable. "Thank you very much."
So, I said my goodbyes to the non-customer and proceeded to my car with my bag of chips and dip, about a two-minute walk across the street.
I opened the back door, slung my computer case on my daughter's car seat and started to open the bag of chips when I noticed a shit-ton of broken glass on the other side of the back seat.
I had been in a hurry to get to my meeting. I left my GPS on, still attached to the windshield. And, my iPhone was on the passenger seat in plain site. Like a display case for thieves. How stupid was I? It was a smash and grab without me in the car. They took both items and some CDs. I had a big hole in my back passenger window. I'm in a town I barely know. Fuck me.
I decided to go back to the office of the non-prospect to call the cops. I almost left my computer case in the car before I realized no matter how well I locked the doors, most thieves wouldn't have to use another brick to get in. I grabbed my bag. And the chips and dip combo. They weren't getting away with that, no sir.
My non-customer was mortified when I told her the story of my car being broken into. She gave me use of the conference room phone. I made some calls. To my wife, asking her to have my phone service shut down. To my insurance company. And, to the Dayton PD. They were busy, so they would call me back. How bout that? The loss of the GPS and cell phone were on my homeowner's insurance policy. That's a $500 deductible. Guess that's not happening. My windown had a zero deductible. Finally, something besides the free chips and dip was going right for me today. Problem was no one local could do the work on Friday night. So, I scheduled something with an auto glass company in Cleveland for Saturday afternoon.
The cops called back about a half hour later. They asked a few questions, determined I wasn't worth a face-to-face report, and suggested I go to www.cityofdayton.org to fill out my online report. What the hell? They have no problem dealing with me face-to-face when they pull me over for speeding. But they can't do it when I get robbed? And, apparantly, they didn't give a shit about the glass all over their street. Whatever.
So, with that all wrapped up, I pack up again to leave. As I exited, my non-customer was waiting outside in her non-broken-into car. "Get in. I'll take you to Walmart for some tape and plastic."
First chips and dip, now tape and plastic. I think I'm falling in love.
With tape and a plastic tarp, I began the process of covering my window for the long ride home. It seems easy. It turned out looking more like a Christmas present that my five-year-old wrapped during a night terror. I used half the roll of tape and there were still holes, but it was servicable.
I said said goodbye to my non-customer again. This time hopefully would be the last. I thanked her for sticking it out with me on a Friday night. She apologized for what had happened in her city. That seemed nice.
This drive would be long. This drive would be noisy. But two things made it all worth it. Their names were chips and dip.