Thursday, January 27, 2011

Halfway Home or I’m A Man, I’m 40

                “And I’m talkin’ to myself at night because I can’t forget.” – Jack White
                The first time I heard the voice was in September.  My dog B Is Love turned 7 and my wife Charger Gal and I celebrated her birth as if she had 2 legs instead of 4 paws.  It was during this celebratory moment that the voice first started spewing in my head.  This is nothing new for me; the total tonnage of voices that converse within my mind are enough to blend into white noise most of the time.  This voice was different.  It’s simple and dangerously affecting sentence was reminiscent of a George Carlin bit that argued “Shell Shock” was a far more effective term for what war veterans go through than “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”.  I always respond to moments of discombobulation like this with humor, thus I stated to Charger Gal that within 6 months, all three of us would be halfway home and it’s all downhill from here.  Charger Gal was not amused and I can’t blame her; it wasn’t terribly funny.  This worried me more than anything.  Humor is my fastball – If that’s not working, this emperor has no clothes (Not a pleasant sight I assure you).
                A short time later, the voice returned during a conversation with my best friend Cowboy Jelly. He was freaking out one night to anyone in the vicinity of his voice (a far larger radius than the human vocal cord should be capable of covering) about turning 40.  He also freaked out about turning 30, so I wrote it off as a Meg Ryan When Harry Met Sally breakdown mixed with a Willy Loman Attention Must Be Paid Temper Tantrum and listened with half an ear while watching the Packers game.   The voice took advantage of my distracted state to reiterate its simple, piercing sentence.  Rather than attempt another joke that might fall flat, I chose instead to intently listen to Cowboy Jelly spend 20 minutes lecturing how none of today’s music has the soul of 1987. Yes, 1987 – A year whose number one song was Walk Like An Egyptian.  This was not going well.
                The next few months moved along with the voice making regular appearances, each one leaving me sadder and more disheartened than the last.  It wasn’t a constant chant, but every time it reiterated its message, it was in a moment where vulnerable was the emotional color of my rainbow.  It particularly loved making its presence felt at night, waking me from the dreams it could not infiltrate and taunting my inability to return to the peace of slumberland.  The voice was taking its toll.
This week, to celebrate my own entrance into the forties, Charger Gal threw me a party.   She is an amazing cook – better than Meryl Streep’s characters in Julia and Julia and Its Complicated combined.  This being a milestone birthday, she even outdid her usual high quality cuisine and provided a delicacy that had carnivores and vegetarians alike craving more.  The soiree was worthy of The Hangover – minus the ruffies and missing friend.  I love parties because it’s the one situation where people from all aspects of your life come together and interact in a melting pot where you serve as the binding ingredient.   I always allow myself a moment to step back and take a mental picture of the glorious sight of those whom I care so much for together as one.  Even the voice could not crack the unbridled joy of such a scene.
Then the party ended. 
Charger Gal and I prefer to clean up before bed no matter how big a post celebration mess may lay before us (Yes, we go “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” even in a semi inebriated state).  As I was separating the abundance of empty bottles and cans into their respective recycling receptacles, a cool breeze blew up through me carrying with it the voice, louder and stronger than it had ever been before. 
“You are a failure.” 
Told ya it wasn’t exactly “If you build it, he will come.”  I was tired of the months of consistent shanking upon my psyche and attempted to compose a response that would banish the voice once and for all.  What did I come up with after such a lengthy period of hearing this menacing review of the first forty years of my life?
“No I’m not.” 
I’m a regular Aaron Sorkin character when it comes to verbal combat aren’t I?  But my lack of a verbose defense stems from the truth of the matter, which is this:  I’m a good husband and a good dog owner – beyond that I can’t argue much with the voice and its destructively concise argument.  I’m not the professional writer I have yearned to be since I was a kid.  I haven’t been able to lose the excess 30 pounds that has dragged me for years despite a consistent exercise program.  I have a massive inability to just let things go when someone upsets me.   My current employer is facing a 500 million dollar budget cut and the job market could be charitably described as lacking.  I am on the whole an insecure, neurotic mess that despite sincere efforts to the contrary is halfway to life’s finish line with a distance to success meter that still reads To Far To Count.  This is what I have accomplished in 40 years of existence. 
But they say Life begins at 40 and 40 is the new 30 and whatever other verbal slight of hand they can concoct to soften the blow of becoming, without a shadow of a doubt, middle aged.  So I will rise up and I will continue to bleed, sweat, and pay the price that is necessary to bring to fruition the things that must come to pass in order for me to meet my maker and emphatically state “I got life right this time.  My ticket can be one way.”
The real work begins...
“Don’t remind me of my failures, I had not forgotten them.” – Jackson Browne

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Morning or What Are These People Doing Up So Early?

Why does Hollywood’s big day, also known as the Academy Award nominations, occur at the crack of dawn?  Oh yeah, because 95% of Hollywood is insanely insecure, narcissistic, and must make sure everyone on the east coast is aware of their glorious triumphs before the morning shows break for the day. 
Here’s what I don’t get (among many things). This is one of the few times that east coast bias isn’t in play.  If Hollywood makes the decision that they’d like to sleep in, have a cup of energy drink, and announce the nominees at 9AM local time, you know what the networks and their east coast bias would say?  What time do we cut into programming for a special report?  Hollywood moves the needle:  Always has, and in our warped sense of what is deemed admirable, always will.  If you don’t believe me, check out the covers of the rags that pass for mainstream magazines at your local grocery store checkout line.
These nominations always go down the same way:  An older gentlemen walks out and drones on in such a way that the entire morning is threatened to be derailed before it even starts by everyone falling back to sleep out of sheer boredom (This has nothing to do with the 5:40 AM start as he would be boring any time of the day).   Then an actress is brought out, normally either a former Oscar winner or a young up and comer (Code for Hottie).  She is attired in a dress that should not be worn during AM hours unless it is in disarray from having been removed the night before.  She attempts a joke that she trips over the words of (because its 5:40 in the flippin’ morning), not that it matters because the joke itself reminds you joke writers shouldn’t be working this early either.  Finally, the proceedings begin in earnest.
During the reading of the nominees, there’s always some idiot that whoops it up when a particular film or person is nominated.  Most of these people are journalists who weren’t part of the film and are surrendering any semblance of objectivity with their incessant need to be a verbal part of the proceedings.  As for publicists who do this, one thing must be made perfectly clear:  They have not a single creative bone in their body.  Their entire purpose on Earth is to be a glorified cheerleader whose relentless repetition that their client is better than someone else’s client is all that separates them from stating over and over again “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” while drool runs freely down the side of their face.  Upon completion of the nominations, the older man wishes everyone a good morning and states that he’ll see us at the movies (Because after all, there’s nothing crossing my mind at the cusp of 6 AM other than sitting wide awake in a darkened room for 2 hours).
The rest of the day consists of reporters getting hold of the nominees and asking the same question “What were you doing when you found out about being nominated?”   Stars always try to state they were asleep.  Nice try, but you were a neurotic mess and we know it.  Know what I’d love to hear just once?  An actor proclaim “I was so nervous about this whole thing that I just started fooling around with my wife…my girlfriend…the woman next to me whose name I don’t remember…the crease between my mattress and box spring.  Any hole that was available man!”  That would be honest. 
But if you live in L.A., whether you are in that wacky business, yearn to be a part of it (raises hand), or wish to have nothing to do with it, you know that honesty is never considered the best policy.  See you at the movies!
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Curse Of Being Right or These Size 13’s Don’t Taste So Good

                I possess a multitude of shortcomings:  I’m vertically challenged, I have a bit too much girth stemming from my weekend appreciation of adult beverages and carnivorous delicacies, my emotional attachment to my dog prevents my wife and I from leaving her for extended periods of time, and I have the capability of holding a grudge for more years than Joan Rivers has been on the receiving end of a plastic surgeons’ knife.  But above all else, when I believe very strongly in a point of view, I have the need to be right.
                At face value, this isn’t out of the ordinary; anyone involved in verbal disagreement seeks to be victorious in proving their point of view.  My need is different – a Michael Jordanesque compulsion.  It’s not enough to just win an argument; I must have my opponent curled up in a fetal position crying “Mommy”,  and even then I have to kick the opponent like they’re Sonny Corleone after being shot 742 times.  When engaged in oratory debate, I take in EVERYTHING: What a person says, how they say it, what words make their eyes drift off or their posture fall.  Then I proceed to engage in spoken rat-a-tat-tat Snoop Dog would state never hesitates to put a person on their back.  The tone is destructive, the words piercing.  A General Patton level of intensity overtakes me and I do not let up until victory is mine.  
                It’s not pleasant and I have tried for years to just calm the eff down, but I can’t.  It’s an uncontrollable beast inside me that stems from a multitude of places ranging from years of not being heard while growing up to the current challenges of my job and trying to prove my worth to people I’ve recently met who are established in industries I aspire to be in.  It always starts the same—an observation or a disagreement over how something should work.  I am summarily dismissed, which sets the demon within into motion.  There are times where the slight is over something of major importance; more times than not its root takes shape over something ridiculously pointless.  Yet it is in those inane moments that my compulsion unleashes its wrath the most.  I almost step aside my body to watch this angry, anguished filibuster play out.   I don’t even see the person I’m engaged in elevated discourse with half the time; I see every single person who told me I’m not smart, I’m not right.
                And that’s the thing:  I AM RIGHT (Most of the time). 
I’m right because if I I’m not certain, I’m not getting involved.  If I am certain, I’m not stopping.   I’m right because the majority of issues I get into have to do with stupid behavior.  Not ignorant, stupid.  Ignorant is not having an answer because you don’t know the subject: I am ignorant with regards to the inner workings of brain surgery because I don’t know the first thing about it. Stupid is in knowing something is wrong but replicating the action in hopes of a different result:  A person who continuously has bad results from a particular action but continues to engage in said action is stupid.
Know what that means?  I’M STUPID!
And therein lay the true conundrum:  What do you do when your actions fall into the classification of stupidity but the rationale of why you do it defines your very being?  I’m honest to a fault; sometimes one the size of San Andreas.   It’s a source of immense pride for me that there’s nothing I say behind a person’s back if I’m not prepared to say it to their face.  Thing is, for all the yearning people have for honesty in their lives, they generally react to such sentiment as if walking around a condom factory when they’re allergic to latex.  Telling someone the truth is delicate business and once the disagreement begins, I become as delicate as Rain Man having a conniption fit in the middle of an airport.  That lack of diplomacy has cost me some in life – a lot in certain cases.  But there is this core fiber to my being; something as clear and vivid as a warm sunrise after a cold spell, and all it says to me is that it may not be right how I do things but I’m also not wrong in what I do.
And that my friends, is a curse.
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Saturday, January 15, 2011

How To Balance A Budget With No Vaseline or These Chickens Are A Roosting

                I voted for Jerry Brown.  I admit it - I walked into my polling place, held my nose as if encountering a pail full of diapers soiled by babies who’d been exposed to expired milk, and punched the circle for a man not so affectionately known around the state as Governor Moonbeam for his gaze and points of view that at times seemed to stem from a chemically altered place during his previous tenure as Governor of the state of California.    So why did I lean his way -- Because his opponent was ostracized from being CEO of Ebay for activities that would charitably be described as questionable and sounded like Marge Gunderson from Fargo.  
Needless to say, it was a lesser of two evils situation.  As someone who works for the state I was well aware of Brown’s rhetoric about slashing the state budget, but history had shown him to be a friend of education.  Sadly, nobody told me about the Real Housewives style falling out that had apparently taken place sometime between Election Day and the unveiling of the new state budget proposal.  Now not everyone felt the sting; K-12, armed with an ability to perform non-stop oral copulation on Brown in a manner normally reserved for a Best Of Spank-O-Vision 5000 DVD, has not been touched.  As for Higher Ed (Community Colleges, the University of California system, and my little corner of Shangri La, the California State University system), the damage was 1.4 Billion dollars.   Yes, B – the same numbers associated with McDonalds customers served.
CSU’s share of that monstrous sum is 500 million.  Allow me to give you some perspective on this figure (Don’t get too excited at the thought of inside info; these figures can be found in multiple newspaper websites across the state or by performing a Google alert on “California State University”.) In 2009, CSU commenced a 2 year 625 million dollar cut that resulted in belt tightening usually found in a size 32 waist stuck in size 36 jeans, 2 day a month furloughs for all employees for 1 year (Great for catching up with people, lousy for the paycheck) and layoffs that mostly affected management, though a few union employees were let go as well.  None of the belts have been loosened, nor have those positions been filled, thus they are not part of the upcoming budget that now asks for 500 million more in reductions. 
                What did I take from these numbers?  To paraphrase rapper DMX:  “Someone’s about to lose their job. Up in here, up in here!”  You would think such a bombshell would result in an all hands meeting to have a candid discussion about the unavoidable ramifications.  You would think.  It’s now been nearly a week with no mention of it in anyway.  It’s like management has taken on the role of The Ministry Of Magic and the budget is Voldemort – That which shall not be named.  It’s not just management either.  I’ve attempted to espouse my feelings to co-workers only to have them look at me like Nurse Ratched waiting to lobotomize R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cukoo’s Nest.
                Hey, I’m not looking to be the bearer of bad tidings but I also don’t look good with my head in the sand.   The evil priestess of life altering change is coming and the “I’m not noticing you” defense isn’t going to work.   Good people are going to suffer and those left behind will be forced into a work overload that will leave them worn out and with sparse time for those they love.  And who do I blame for that?  ME!  Because I voted for Governor Moonbeam, only to have him turn into The Gimp and treat me like Marcellus Wallace.
California – Penny wise, pound foolish.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Starting The Year Off Wrong or Being A Walking Nyquil Ad

                Did you know that being sick sucks?  A lot?  Especially when you have teeth rattling shivers normally reserved for a cartoon character in spite of the fact you’re wrapped up tighter than Han Solo during the Hoth sequence of Empire Strikes Back.  This non-stop fever dream leaves a person so devoid of strength and viewing the world through blurred vision they end up doing things like watching 3 Men And A Baby twice in the same day because their dog never ceases to react to the baby, thus providing the only respite from the mind numbing mix lethargic boredom.
How did I get here?  This sorry sequence of sucky sicktitude began the first day back to work after my holiday break. As silly as it sounds, I always get a bit of a kick out of getting ready for the first day of work.  It represents a fresh start, a chance to rectify past mistakes, to change people’s misconceptions about me.  Of course this heartfelt optimism goes out the door when I enter my workplace (Known hereafter as The Incubator) and within a few hours begins to feel a shiver that for once is not brought about by the overload of work or certain people I work with.  When I mention this in passing to a co-worker who I respect, she proceeds to give me the lowdown on people who are recovering from or in the midst of battling a multitude of illnesses.  Some of these people join in the conversation to provide an unnecessary overview of their ailments.  I can feel the white blood cells decreasing in me by the moment.
The next day I return to The Incubator for further frying of my immunity system but can only make it through 2/3 of the way through before throwing in the towel and heading home.  Now I start to do whatever I can to joust with the aches within.  I sit for an extended period in the confines of the steam room at my gym in the hope of sweating out the toxins, but just end up annoyed from listening to two teenagers debate who could stay in the room longer without a drink of water. (Obvious Jersey Shore fans are they.)  I come home and take a bath in water as hot as possible while listening to Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, but that only throws into my head a yearning to have a voice that sounds like it has partaken in 762,265 cigarettes.   I imbibe enough Vitamin C to ensure scurvy will never be an issue in my life, but that just leaves me with the complexion of an Ooompa-Loompa.  This is not going well.
So I gut through The Incubator on Friday and settle in for a weekend of becoming a living breathing Pig In A Blanket.  This is where having a dog is a beautiful thing as my beloved lab B Is Love alternates between laying on my knee and looking up at me with eyes that radiate “Anything I can do daddy?”  I spend 2 days sucking this in and begin to feel better…then I woke up this morning and feel as I did in the opening paragraph.   So I’ll head to bed early tonight and head back to The Incubator in the dim hope that I will finally shake this monstrosity of an ailment and get 2011 going proper.
But first, I’ll have to make room in the Pig In A Blanket – my wife Charger Gal just texted that she’s feeling achy and icky.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Let’s Get Physical Ladies or The Truth About Gym Eye Candy

To quote David Lee Roth in Ice Cream Man, I'm dedicating one to the ladies.  Right about now, those of you who made a serious New Year's Resolution to get to the gym are in the midst of your first full week. This means you have discovered the joys of simultaneously cursing your maker of choice for creating the agonizing phrase "physical fitness" while praying to said maker to get you through another 20 minutes on resistance level  5.  You’ve also come to realize that the fickle finger of fate always seems to poke a spec of dirt, lint, or eyelash into your eyeball right as you reach the midpoint of said exertion, thus causing you to convulsively blink in a manner reminiscent of Elizabeth Berkley’s sex scene in Showgirls . If you have indeed reached this point, congratulations! It’s now high time to prepare you for the next task in your personal road to better health:  analyzing your male gym rats. 

Let's get Carrie Bradshaw about this shall we?  A good portion of you jumped into this odyssey of physicality because you wanted to look better in order to get laid.  The rest of you entered into this out of a medicinal need to improve your interior well being…with an ulterior motive of wanting to look better in order to get laid.  As with all situations involving intercourse without procreative intentions, the attainment of carnal pleasure via calisthenics is littered with bad decisions borne out of failing to recognize the meaning behind non speaking cues.  Allow this veteran of the gym wars to give you some simple tips to adhere to:

1.       Any man who continuously grunts in a manner reminiscent of Chewbacca begging Han Solo not to use his blaster in the trash compactor will do the exact same thing while he is atop you, pumping away like gas hurtling toward an empty tank you are no longer certain you want filled.  Believe me when I say that you do not have the mental toughness to overcome this no matter how vividly you imagine yourself in the middle of a Brad Pitt-Johnny Depp sandwich.

2.       Any man who has the upper body of Adonis attached to two toothpicks attempting to disguise themselves as legs will have a penis that makes your pocket rocket look like a Big Gulp container.  Several female friends have confided this fact to me over the years and attempts to prove me wrong will leave you as unsatisfied as half the Lost disciples after their series finale. 

3.       Any man who wears a tank top with straps that can double as dental floss has the intellectual capacity of a young Forrest Gump.  Ditto any man who wears a weight belt. You can ravage their rippling muscles all you want, but after sharing a meal you will feel like my wife Charger Gal each January after her beloved San Diego Chargers end their football season:  I wasted my energy on this????

4.       Any man who looks at himself flexing after every set he completes will never care about you, never appreciate you; it is entirely possible he will not even know your name.  The only name he will ever shout out in the heat of the moment is his own.  GOD doesn't even have a prayer of escaping his lips during climax. 

5.       Any man who over breathes in the steam room like Luka Brasi being garroted or drinks coffee during his work out is highly likely to be equipped with blood vessels so constricted there’s a fairly decent chance he will literally screw himself to death.  Unless you have a burning desire to be a black window, I’d steer clear.  (Should your sexual proclivities run dark, I suggest the asphyxiation route – same danger/pleasure combo, far less potential for body count).

6.       Any man who feels compelled to let every patron in the workout area know his feelings about the sport highlight before him will never feel for you under any circumstances what he does for Tom Brady and Brett Favre.  This is not a comment on his sexuality, but rather his inability to put things in their proper perspective.  This will never change -- not even if you are blessed with the oral copulation skills of a first ballot hall of fame pornographic actress.

         Live fast and true to these guidelines ladies and you could find yourself ending up with Mr. Right and if not…..ah screw it, just find Mr. Right Now.  It’s what everybody else does at the damn gym!

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