05 December 2010

Book Review: Ball Four

As most of you probably know already, I'm an avid reader (and if you didn't already know that, now you do). While I can read just about anything (except for those stupid romance novels with half-naked dudes on the cover), my favorite books to read revolve around sports, especially baseball (big surprise, I know). I figured that, since I read a lot of books anyway, why not do a series of book reviews so you, my dear readers, can find out about books that you may not have read?

As to what kind of review(s) you can expect, I will say that if you're looking for a New York Times type review, then go buy a copy of the New York Times. I'm not going to review the book as if I'm a critic, but rather as someone who just enjoys reading. Also, I'm not going to come up with a bunch of one-liners that you see on the first few pages of books, because frankly I think those are mostly stupid and don't provide much information on the book itself. These reviews are going to be based on what I as a reader thought of the books being reviewed, and will provide my opinion on whether or not you should bother putting the books on your reading list (if you have a reading list).

Anyway, I figured I'd kick-off this series (forgive the sports pun) with a book that I just finished reading recently: Jim Bouton's Ball Four.

For those of you who don't know who Jim Bouton is, allow me to give a brief biography. Jim Bouton is a former Major League pitcher who pitched for the New York Yankees, Seattle Pilots*, and Houston Astros from 1962-1970, and for the Atlanta Braves in 1978. He wrote Ball Four as a daily journal during the 1969 season, when he played with the Pilots until he was traded to the Astros on August 26.

* - Now known as the Milwaukee Brewers, the Pilots were only in Seattle for one season (1969). They were forced to relocate due to bankruptcy in 1970.

And now, on to the review.

Ball Four is very in-depth, especially when talking about the daily life of a baseball player. Bouton not only provides details about the life inside the clubhouse, but he gives names as well. He talks about players' use of drugs (notably "greenies", another word for amphetamines), drinking, womanizing (Especially the practice of "shooting beaver". One of my favorite terms in the entire book, it's used to describe the act of looking up a woman's skirt by any means necessary.), and the poor treatment the players were given by upper management in terms of salaries and bonuses.*

* - This was during a time when baseball players made peanuts compared to the outrageous salaries they make today, and owners did everything within their power to avoid paying players high amounts of money.

One of the things that I like about Ball Four is the honesty. Bouton gives us real feelings, both good and bad, and doesn't feed us with a bunch of unnecessary bull shit and false praise. He tells us that baseball players did drugs, drank too much, stayed out too late, chased women, and enjoyed the lifestyle. He calls out managers and pitching coaches for their unusual decisions during games, and is man enough to admit when he didn't play well himself.

Even though I loved the honesty of the book, a lot of people -- especially those in baseball -- didn't like the book at all. In fact, then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to get Bouton to sign a document claiming that the information in the book was false, but Bouton declined. It is reported that the majority of players named in the book never forgave Bouton for airing their dirty laundry, and the Yankees, even though they never officially excommunicated Bouton, refused to invite him to their annual "Old-Timers Day" because of the tell-all book.*

* - One of the players who refused to forgive Bouton was Mickey Mantle, whom Bouton had established a close friendship with while playing for the Yankees. After the book was published, Mantle refused to speak to Bouton because of the negative publicity the book gave to him in regards to his drinking and womanizing. It is reported that their friendship was reconciled in 1994 after Bouton sent Mantle a sympathy card following his son's death from cancer. According to Wikipedia, the Yankees have also forgiven Bouton, and since 1998 he has been a participant in Old-Timers Day festivities.

If you like baseball, you should definitely read this book. In fact, you should read this book even if you don't like baseball, because it's just that damn entertaining. You feel the same feelings that Bouton feels in the book, from the highs of pitching well and winning to the lows of being sent down to AAA and traded away to Houston. You experience the juvenile humor of the players pulling pranks on each other, and the feeling of what it means to be a teammate.

Ball Four has been republished three times since it was written. (The latest in 2000, 30 years after the original publishing date.) Bouton adds an updated appendix to each edition, and the copy that I read (the Twentieth Anniversary Edition) has two appendices titled Ball Five and Ball Six, which discuss the players discussed in the book and their lives in the 10 and 20 years since the book was published. According to sources regarding the latest publication, Bouton explains the reconciled friendship with Mantle and the Yankees organization.

A few of my favorite passages from the book:
Right now, the fact is that I love the game, love to play it, I mean. Actually, with the thousands of games I've seen, baseball bores me. I have no trouble falling asleep in the bullpen, and I don't think I'd ever pay my way into a ballpark to watch a game. But there's a lot to being in the game...

A lot of it is foolishness too, grown men being serious about a boy's game. There's pettiness in baseball, and meanness and stupidity beyond belief, and everything else bad that you'll find outside of baseball. I haven't enjoyed every single minute of it and when I've refused to conform to some of the Neanderthal aspects of baseball thinking I've been an outcast. Yet there's been a tremendous lot of good in it for me and I wouldn't trade my years in it for anything I can think of.
* * *
Baseball players will take anything. If you had a pill that would guarantee a pitcher 20 wins but might take five years off his life, he'd take it.
* * *
I've had a lot of conversations with my arm. I ask it what the hell I ever did to it. I ask why won't it do for me what it used to do in the old days. I whisper lovingly to it. Remember '64? Remember '63? Wasn't it fun? Things could be like that again. Just one more time, one more season. It never listens.
* * *
Then there's the tale Jim Gosger told about hiding in the closet to shoot a little beaver while his roommate made out on the bed with some local talent. Nothing sneaky about it, the roommate even provided the towel for Gosger to bite on in case he was moved to laughter. At the height of the activity on the bed, local talent, moaning, says, "Oh darling, I've never done it that way before." Whereupon Gosger sticks his head out, drawls "Yeah, surrre," and retreats into the closet.
* * *
Coming out to the bullpen just before the game began, in front of thousands of empty seats, I took off my hat, made a deep bow and generally behaved as though I was being acclaimed by millions. Then I looked up and all I could see was San Diego uniforms. "What are you guys doing in our bullpen?" I said. Of course I had it all wrong. I was in their bullpen, act and all.
* * *
You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

If you would like to purchase Ball Four, you should be able to find it in your local bookstore, or you can order it online. It's still widely published, so it shouldn't be too difficult to locate. I strongly recommend it for reading, as it is one of the better baseball books I've ever read.

02 December 2010

All about me

A list of things you may or may not know about me.*

* - It will probably be things you don't know about me, otherwise there would be no point in sharing them with you unless I just wanted to add a post to my archives.
  1. I'm deathly afraid of heights, to the point where it takes everything within my being to climb a ladder and get stuff out of the attic in my house without freaking out.
  2. To make the heights thing even weirder: I'm not afraid to fly in an airplane.
  3. I'm also gravely afraid of hospitals. They just weird me out. The only two times I've spent more than an hour visiting someone in a hospital are when my two children were born (and I only did it then because I didn't want to face the consequences).
  4. I like ketchup, marinara sauce, and tomato soup; but I don't like uncooked tomatoes.
  5. I also don't like sour cream, but love sour cream & onion potato chips.
  6. I give the impression to some people that I'm a pompous asshole because I'm not very talkative, but in reality I'm constantly worrying that I'm not well-liked, and feel that my voice isn't worthy of being heard. I struggle with this daily.
  7. I hate talking on the phone, and will generally do anything I can to avoid it. I make an exception to this rule for a very short list of people who I can talk on the phone with for hours on end.
  8. When I was younger I had the hots for Jesse Spano from Saved By the Bell. My crush on her lasted until the caffeine pills episode, which made me afraid of her. (I'm so excited...I'm...so...scared... I'm scared too Jesse...of you.)
  9. I shave my head because I have the same hairstyle as Screech from Saved By the Bell when I let my hair grow out. (Yeah, I just made two SBTB references.)
  10. I still watch Saved By the Bell if I find it while channel surfing and there's nothing else on at the time. (That's three SBTB references, if you're scoring at home.)
  11. If I like a movie, I can practically recite it after watching it once. If I really like a movie, I watch it repeatedly just so I can recite it while watching it.
  12. My two favorite comedies to watch repeatedly: What About Bob and Happy Gilmore. My favorite non-comedy to watch repeatedly: The Shawshank Redemption.
  13. I didn't learn how to drive a manual transmission until I was 28 years old, and I only learned because my grandfather gave me his pickup truck before he died and I wanted to drive it in memory of him.
  14. I like to drink alcohol, but I've only been drunk twice in my life. I don't like to be drunk because I like being able to maintain control of my actions.
  15. My favorite mixed drink is Amaretto Sour, but my favorite spirit is rum (preferably Captain Morgan Spiced). My favorite beer is a tie between Sam Adams Boston Lager and Magic Hat #9. My favorite beer to drink in large quantities is Bud Light.
  16. Though I like to drink, I've never tried drugs, and I don't have any desire to try them.
  17. As much as I like to drink alcohol, I like to drink coffee even more. I drink at least 6 cups of coffee per day, and sometimes I drink as many as 12.
  18. I love the idea of blogging about my personal life and feelings, but I'm afraid to blog what I truly feel because I fear that anyone who reads it will think it's stupid and will make fun of it, causing me to never want to write about my personal life again.
  19. I want to write a novel, but I'm afraid to because I'm afraid that no one will want to publish it, and I'm afraid that it will be a complete and utter failure, ruining my dream of becoming an author when I grow up.
  20. I'm obsessed with collecting ink pens. I have a collection of pens that I never use, but can't throw them away because I'll just go out and buy more.
  21. I took two years of French in high school, aced the French entrance exam in college, and took one semester of French in college (because I needed an elective), and can't remember any of it, except for the easy stuff that 5th graders know (hello, counting to 10, etc.). I regret allowing this to happen, but I'm too lazy to relearn the language.
  22. I'm obsessive compulsive about 96.3275% of things I do.
  23. I've gained 60 lbs. in the 6 years I've been married. I keep telling myself (and my wife) that I'm going to go on a diet and lose weight, but I always cave and end the diet within a week because I'm too addicted to chocolate and ice cream.
  24. I have a very low tolerance for idiocy, especially in traffic. If other drivers could hear the things I say to them when they drive like morons, I probably would have been run over several times by now. Knowing this doesn't change the things I scream at other drivers when they drive like morons.
  25. I am interested in politics, but I don't like talking about it with others, because most people take political issues way too seriously. I feel the same way about religion.

Well, that's all for now. I figure it's best to stop at 25 since it's a nice number. In the future I may expand on this list, but I think this will suffice for the moment.

Feel free to comment with any thoughts on this list or to add any quirks of your own.

27 November 2010

It's hard to believe it's been so long

Wow, time certainly does fly by when you have a schedule slam-packed with stuff to do on a daily basis. It's not like I'm building a rocket or anything, my days are just filled with the mundane tasks that we all have to do whether we want to do them or not, and I've found that recently those tasks have taken away all of my spare time.

I logged in here today to see if any of my friends have written anything new, only to find that it's been almost a month since I've posted anything myself. I don't take these long breaks from writing on purpose, I swear. I just haven't thought of anything to talk about in the past month.

Of course, I really don't have anything to talk about today either. I just couldn't stand the thought of letting the entire month of November go by without posting a single blog. It's weird, I know, but I'm weird anyway.

29 October 2010

Announcer goes nuts in pressbox

The video clip below is from the Florida Atlantic/Arkansas State football game last week. In the video, you can hear the FAU radio announcer losing his marbles because a penalty flag isn't thrown when FAU's quarterback was allegedly hit in the head while sliding for a first down.* If you listen carefully, you can hear him banging on the press box glass while shouting at the officials that they should throw a flag (as if they could hear him).

To me, the best part is when he says he will "fight the entire press box" over the call. Even more interesting: Arkansas State was winning 37-16 in the 4th quarter when the play happened, so it wouldn't have made much of a difference had they thrown the flag anyway.

*- I say allegedly because I have no video evidence. The clip doesn't show the call in question.

Anyway, you can watch it below.

Props to Yahoo! Sports blogger Dr. Saturday for providing the video.

04 October 2010

Why I love baseball, and the Braves

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

~A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of the Mind

* * * *

Turner Field, Atlanta. Photo taken April 2009 while on vacation with my wife.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit down and watch a baseball game. I don't have any preference as to who is playing, just as long as the game is on and I have nothing to distract me from the perfect afternoon of enjoying the action on the diamond.

I love the strategy involved in a baseball game. I love the one-on-one matchup between pitcher and batter, the excitement of a triple or a stolen base, the sight of a good defensive play, or a nasty slider to freeze a hitter in the batter's box. I love the fact that baseball isn't timed, that it can go on for hours and no one seems to notice or care. I love the emphasis on statistics in baseball. I may not understand all of them, but I love that you can use a set of numbers to compare as many players as you want, and you can determine that player A is better than player B at any facet of the game with a mathematical formula.

I love baseball because my dad loves baseball, and because his dad loves baseball. My dad introduced me to baseball when I was a kid, just like everyone's dad did when they were children. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood revolve around watching the Atlanta Braves with my brother and my dad, and watching those games allowed me to forge a special bond with the Braves and with the game of baseball as a whole.

In 1992, when I was 12 years old, the Atlanta Braves advanced to the World Series after an amazing play at the plate when Sid Bream slid just beneath the catcher's mitt to score the winning run against the Pirates in the NLCS. The Braves lost the World Series to the Blue Jays, but I was hooked on the game, and hooked on the Braves.

I've had two sports heroes in my life*, and both of them played for the Atlanta Braves (David Justice and John Smoltz). I was also a huge fan of Andruw Jones, but by the time he came to Atlanta I was too old to consider him my "hero", but he was my favorite player until the Braves let him go after the 2007 season.

* - Originally, I had three heroes, the third being Roger Clemens. After the whole scandal involving his steroid use -- and his vehement denial of said use even when everyone knew he was guilty -- I formally "misremembered" him, bringing my total back to two. And another interesting side note: if any of you have ever wondered why my screen name is bwsmith25, allow me to explain. The bwsmith part is based on my name, and the number 25 is because of Andruw Jones, who wore #25 for the Braves. So now you know.

When I was a kid playing little league baseball, I wanted to be David Justice. I wore #23, I played outfield, and I pretended I was him in my backyard. The same could be said for John Smoltz. When I played the classic game of "throw the ball up in the air and hit it", I was John Smoltz when I threw it up in the air, and David Justice when I swung the bat, and I would play this game for hours with no interruptions and without a care in the world. It made me feel like I was part of the game, like I had a connection with the players themselves, and it fueled my childhood dreams of making the major leagues when I grew up.*

* - Unfortunately, in real life I suck at baseball. So, I had to let go of the dream and find a day job so I could actually earn a living.

Of course, like every other baseball fan, I have a least favorite team as well. And, I've made it no secret that I absolutely despise the New York Yankees. But, I don't think I've ever discussed why I hate them so much. Well, I have several reasons.

  1. They think they're entitled to everything because they're the Yankees.
  2. They buy their championships with their ridiculously high payroll.
  3. They beat the Braves in the 1996 World Series, when the Braves should have won.*

* - I've hated them ever since.

A lot of you are probably wondering why I'm talking about the Braves so much when I've said before that I like the Red Sox, so allow me to explain that one as well. I do like the Red Sox, but deep down in my soul, I'm a Braves fan. Being a Braves fan is something that goes back generations in my family, and it's something that I grew up with during my childhood. So while I do like the current Red Sox, I've loved the Braves since I was 11 years old, and it's not something that I can just throw away.

And to be honest, when it comes down to the real capital-T Truth of the matter, the sole reason I like the Red Sox is simply because they are the most hated rival of the Yankees, and I absolutely abhor the Yankees. I have several friends who are Red Sox fans, so it makes sense to like them since I share a common hatred of the Yankees with those friends.

To be completely honest,I jumped on the Red Sox bandwagon in 2004 when they were playing the Yankees in the ALCS, and ever since I've kept them as my 2nd favorite (or favorite AL) team and do cheer for them when they play anyone other than Atlanta.*

* - I believe it's perfectly fine to have a favorite NL team and a favorite AL team. I know a lot of people don't like to have more than one team they cheer for in any sport, but I'm not one of those people. In any case I will always cheer for the Braves over the Red Sox, but if the Red Sox are in the playoffs and the Braves aren't, I will cheer for Boston to win just as hard as I would cheer for Atlanta.

So I'm a Braves fan, and I also like the Red Sox. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

But, if you're a Braves fan, then why do you never talk about them?

(I know you're asking yourself that very question, so I might as well answer it for you.)

Primarily because I know that most people don't care about the Braves, and most people don't really know enough about them for me to take the time to discuss them on any of my blogs. I do talk about them with people I interact with in my day-to-day life (mostly my dad, though), but because the Red Sox are a hotter topic of discussion for most people, I chose to discuss them more often than I did the Braves. It might sound weird, but that's my honest reason.

And you know, I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially since I know that no one who reads my blog really cares about the Panthers, yet I talk about them anyway on my Panthers blog. And, if I can talk about the Panthers even though no one else cares beyond what I say about them, then why can't I do the same thing with the Braves?* So no one else who reads my blog likes them -- so what? I'm going to start talking about them because I like them, and hopefully you will at least appreciate the fact that I'm talking about something that's important to me, and maybe you will even gain some appreciation for the Braves, and adopt them as your playoff team (if your team didn't make the playoffs).

* - No, I'm not starting a Braves blog, though I might do that closer to the start of next season. But, for the time being I'm not going to start another blog, so don't worry.

All I know is this: I love the game of baseball, and there's nothing that Bud Selig can do to take that love away from me. He can try with his ridiculous World Baseball Classic, his "this one counts" crap that has ruined the All-Star Game, and his fake investigation of steroid use, but it doesn't matter. I love the game of baseball. It's deep within my blood, and I can't turn back now even if I wanted to.

The playoffs start this week, and if your favorite team isn't one of the 8 who were fortunate enough to play for a shot at the World Series, I invite you to join the Braves bandwagon, because they're gonna need all the help they can get. And, it's Bobby Cox's last season, so if for nothing else, hop on the bandwagon for his sake.

02 October 2010

(No) Soup for you!

I couldn't think of a post for this title other than "here's a soup recipe that I like", and I wanted to be a little more creative than that, so I decided to pay homage to one of my favorite Seinfeld characters of all time: The Soup Nazi.

I found this recipe in Food Network Magazine a couple of months ago and finally got around to making it, thanks to the nice fall weather we had today. If you're into soups, this is definitely one worth making, because it is very good, and really simple to make.*

* - If I can make it, then anyone can make it. I'm not exactly a chef like someone else I know.

This recipe makes a nice meal for two people, or you can do what I did and double it so you can put some up for later. (If you double it, make sure you have a large pot, because it makes a lot of soup.)

Anyway, here's the recipe, courtesy of Food Network:

Apple-Cheddar-Squash Soup


* 5 tbsp unsalted butter
* 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
* 2 medium apples, thinly sliced
* 1 large white potato, diced
* 1 1/2 cups chopped peeled butternut squash (fresh or frozen)
* kosher salt and ground pepper
* 1/2 tsp dried sage
* 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup apple cider
* 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
* 1 cup milk
* 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Optional Ingredients

* 2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into bite-size pieces for garnish
* grated sharp cheddar cheese for garnish
* chopped chives for garnish
* crusty bread for serving


Melt 4 tbsp butter in a large pot over medium-low heat and add the onion, apples, potato, and squash. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the onion is soft (about 8 minutes). Stir in the sage and flour. Add the cider and cook over high heat, stirring, until thickened. Add the broth and milk, cover and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the potato is soft (approximately 8-10 minutes).

If you choose to add the prosciutto* -- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and cook until crisp, turning occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

* - Bacon is a good substitute for the prosciutto, if you can't find prosciutto in your local grocery store. For most people, they're pretty much the same thing anyway.

Add the cheese to the soup and stir over medium-low heat until melted. Puree in a blender in batches until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the prosciutto, cheese, and chives, and serve with bread, if desired.

The standard recipe makes 4 servings.

30 September 2010

New directions

When I created this blog as a substitute for my old one that was destroyed by the blogger monster, I fully intended for this to be a place where I could come and express my inner-most thoughts and feelings on anything I felt like talking about. This place was supposed to be my therapy session, my one place where I could go to remind myself that it's okay to feel the way I feel, and to understand that it's okay if I'm slightly screwed up in the head -- which, the severity of this could be debated, I'm sure -- because I'm not the only person in the world who's screwed up in the head, and there are a lot of people who are screwed up a hell of a lot more than I am.*

* - If I tried, I'm sure I could name at least five people right off the top of my head.

It amazes me that when I sit down and really think about myself and this blog, I realize that I have been too lazy to do my favorite thing: write.* Why is that? Is there something wrong with me? (Don't answer that.) What could possibly make me not want to do something that I absolutely love to do? I mean, I know that lately I've had a lot going on that has prevented me from having a mindset to just sit down and write, but that mindset doesn't really apply here because this blog isn't topic specific. I don't have to write about sports, or the Panthers, or music, or movies. I don't have to write on a specific day every week, and I don't have to keep a mandated schedule that forces me to come up with something even if I'm not really in the mood to write anything.

* - Okay, it's not my FAVORITE thing to do, but it's in my top-5.

When I take away the veil and look deep into the recesses of my soul, I do see where my problem lies. I've been putting too much stress on myself to write about specific topics (i.e. - Panthers football). It's gotten to the point where talking about the Panthers is depressing me and making me hate writing, and it's not just because they suck right now -- don't get me wrong, that has something to do with it, but it's not the whole reason -- but it's more of a sense that I don't want to be restricted to just writing about one thing all the time. I like being able to freely discuss whatever is going on in my head, and I like being able to just be myself on paper. I haven't allowed myself to do that lately, and it's been slowly eating away at my soul until I finally gave up on writing altogether (as I'm sure you've noticed).

I did some reading the other day and came across this blog that really spoke to me. (Thanks, -A, I really appreciate your inspiration.) After reading it, I realized that I need to get back to where I used to be, and get off my lazy ass and write what I'm feeling without trying too hard to restrict myself to a topic, because I've learned that when I do that I end up being miserable when I can't come up with anything to fit into the guidelines that I've created for myself. I'm trying too hard to control everything, when I should just go with the flow, and it's making me miserable.

There are a lot of things in life that I have no control over, and I have to learn how to accept that. One of my biggest flaws is not being able to handle a situation if I can't do anything to change the outcome. For example, my brother has cancer, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it other than give him my support. It kills me to know that I can't take the pain and suffering away from him, and it frustrates me even more to know that I can't do ANYTHING about it.

There are only two things in this world that I can control. The first is my outlook on life, and the attitude that I choose to have each and every day when I wake up to go through my daily routine. I can also control how I will approach this blog, which will be with a free mind and spirit from this moment forward, and I will use this blog for the purpose that was intended when I created it: a place to come share what's going on in my mind, and a place to unwind and be myself with no reservations.

If I can't do that, then what's the point in writing anything at all?

29 September 2010

Please excuse the mess

Update: I think I'm finished with the redesign, so I will resume posting shortly. In the meantime, how do you like the new digs? Personally, I think the design fits perfectly with the blog title, and it doesn't look girly or gay*, so I'm happy with it (imagine that!).

* - Not that there's anything wrong with that.

* * * *

As you may have noticed, I'm redesigning the blog, so please excuse the mess. I plan to have the blog finished within the next few days, but if you know me at all, you know that it will probably take me two weeks to finish.

If you want to let me know what you think of the new look, feel free to do so.

Because I need to see how videos look on the blog, and because I honestly can't stop watching/laughing at this video, take a few seconds and check out this video of the girl from The Amazing Race getting blasted in the face by a watermelon.

If you haven't seen it yet, it's definitely worth the time.

In case you were wondering, my favorite part is the following exchange:

Blonde Girl: Are you okay?

Brunette Girl: I can't feel my face.*

* - What she really meant: What do you mean am I okay? I just got hit by a watermelon shot out of a slingshot. How the hell do you think I am? Let me hit you in the face with a watermelon and you tell me if you're okay afterwards.

09 September 2010

Three Little Words

It's amazing how some of the most important messages that can be communicated between people only require three little words to get the point across. It baffles me how the English language can be so expansive, with hundreds of thousands of words, yet all it takes is three words to make a profound statement. Sometimes those three-word phrases give joy, such as "I love you" or "It's a girl", and those three little words light up hearts brighter than the eastern sky.

But other times, the three little words bring pain, sorrow, and uncertainty.

You see, there is one particular three word phrase that no one should ever have to hear from anyone. Words that do nothing but cause hurt. Words that destroy families. Words that kill.

If I had it my way, this three word phrase would be forever banished to the depths of hell, never to return to the surface where they can inflict never-ending pain upon those who hear them.

Three little words.

I have cancer.

It's real. It's heart-wrenching. It's sobering. Those three little words remind us of our own mortality, that our absolute appointment with death is closer than we may have originally thought, and it hurts like hell. It doesn't get any easier to digest after you've heard them, either. I can bear witness to that.

The image of a phone conversation with my brother last week is still burning in my brain as if it were 5 minutes ago. No matter what I do to distract myself I am constantly reminded of that exact moment when he broke the news to me.

Last Thursday, I was sitting at work and suddenly I saw my cell phone ringing. I should have known something was wrong when I saw his number on the caller-ID, because he's not the type to just call me up to discuss the weather. He's just like me when it comes to talking on the phone (i.e. - we hate it). It's funny how brothers can be alike in so many weird ways, yet be totally different in others.

Anyway, I remembered that he previously told me he had a doctor's appointment because he had been abnormally sick for several weeks, but I never in a million years would have imagined that he would have cancer. That's just not something that goes through your head when you get a phone call from your brother. I was expecting him to tell me something about where his fiancee would be stationed after she completes her training (she's in the Air Force), but I never thought I would hear those three little words that he had to say.

Cancer? How can he have cancer?

Talk about a bombshell - I'm still not over the effects of that conversation. Ever since he told me, I've been in a daze - like I'm in the middle of a bad dream and can't wake up from it. Perhaps I haven't quite wrapped my head around it yet, or perhaps I've accepted it and moved on, without even realizing I've done so. I do have a tendency to compartmentalize everything - have I already tucked this away in the back corner of my mind as a coping mechanism, or am I still in shock and will have a total meltdown when it all sinks in?

I have no freaking clue.

The hardest part is not knowing what the future holds. There's still uncertainty in regards to treatment options, quality of life, likelihood of survival, etc., and it's destroying my soul because I can't just "know". Sometimes I wish I could look into a crystal ball and see that everything's going to be alright, but I can't. Knowing that I can't makes it hurt even more.

I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help. Feeling helpless doesn't make matters any better, because I'm the type of person who likes to solve problems. Approaching the unsolvable is something I prefer to avoid, and something that I'm not accustomed to.

What I do know is that I have a long road ahead, because not only do I have to travel down the path of the concerned relative who doesn't know what lies ahead, I also have to pick my brother up on my shoulders, and carry him through the fire.

Three little words.

Yes, I believe.

07 September 2010

Some people just don't get it

I just read this article about the church in Florida who feels that it's a good idea to burn copies of the Qur'an to mark the 9th anniversary of 9/11.

Yes, you read that right - they think that it's a good idea...

Hey, here's an even better idea: Let's totally ostracize one of the world's largest religious groups because 1% of their entire population are extremists. Throw in the fact that we're currently invading their lands to pilfer their oil (please don't tell me you think it's to "fight terror"), and you wonder why they hate Americans so much?

Now, don't get me wrong: I hate that 9/11 happened, and I take a moment out of my day every year to remember those who lost their lives, but just because the terrorists responsible for that event were Muslims doesn't mean that every Muslim is a terrorist.

In fact, burning a religious text to demonstrate a point could be considered an act of terrorism itself, if you really want to get technical about it.

Hi Kettle, I'm Pot...

So, does that mean I'm a terrorist too since I'm an American, and Americans are going to burn the Qur'an in an anti-Islam demonstration?

Absolutely not. I think it's ridiculous that they want to do this, and even more preposterous that they actually think they're doing a good thing.

I guess some people will just never learn.

13 August 2010

A very touching video

I found this on Facebook, and it was too good not to share.

Sometimes, You Tube is used for the greater good of humanity, instead of being used for a crap-load of stupid videos for our entertainment. (Of course, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with the stupid videos for entertainment, but it is nice to see a real heart-warming video every now and then.)

This video is a compilation of families being surprised by loved ones returning home from military service. Unless you have a heart of stone, you might want to have a tissue handy. And yes, I cried watching this video, and I'm man enough to admit it. (Having family in the military makes it more meaningful to me personally.)

I truly hope you enjoy watching this video as much as I did. The part that gets me the most as a dad is the part with the little girl sitting on Santa's lap, because she is about the same age as my daughter, and it hit me in a different way than most of the other scenes did.

Wow, has it really been that long?

I moved into my new house over a month ago, and I just realized today that I haven't posted anything here since the day that I moved.

Time flies when you're having fun... (Yeah, right.)

Oh well, I can't go back in time and re-do everything so that I can post every other day and talk about all the interesting things that I've seen/heard/done since I moved, so I'll just chalk that up as lost time and move on.

Of course, I haven't really seen/heard/done anything of interest anyway, so it's not like I would have that much to talk about.

Moving sucks. Plain and simple. You take everything you own and pack it up into a million boxes, then you move it somewhere else so you can unpack those million boxes and put everything into a different place. It's not the sort of thing you want to do all the time. And, even though I'm sure you already know this: You never truly know how much crap you own until you have to move it.


The one bright side of the move is that now I get to stare at a beautiful 42" LCD television while I'm wasting my life away on the couch instead of accomplishing things that need to be accomplished. And I'm okay with that, because it's a nice friggin' tv. I've been used to watching a 27" tv in standard definition because that's all I've ever been able to afford, but when my wife and I bought our house, we came to the realization that it was time for us to treat ourselves to something nice.

Hell, we're going to be in debt for the next 30 years anyway, so what's another 600 bucks going to matter in the grand scheme of things?*

* - That's really all the convincing it took for us to buy the tv, I'm not making this up.

I guess if there were a point to this nonsense, it would be to stop worrying about the future, and just live in the present. You're not guaranteed to even be here in 30 years, so why worry about what might happen that far down the road? Live today, and buy that tv. You'll be glad you did. Especially when you see your favorite show in HD for the first time.

02 July 2010

Moving Weekend

No, I'm not switching to another blog platform, so you can put the pitchforks down.

The title of this blog is literal, as my wife and I are moving into a new house this weekend. So, until the cable company comes to our new house and installs internet service, I will be off the grid and unable to read/write/comment on anything.

Don't worry, I will return to the blogosphere once I have internet access again. In fact, I might even blog more because I won't have so much weight on my shoulders from the home buying process and will have more time to sit and think of things to write.

Unless something major happens, I should be back online in a week.

P.S. I hope you all have a happy 4th of July, and please remember to be responsible while celebrating. If you feel the need to consume alcohol (don't we all?), please designate a driver (preferably one who isn't going to be drinking), and please avoid the use of any fireworks while inebriated (trust me, it's not a good idea).

29 June 2010

Time flies when you're super busy

I know, I know -- I promised I would write more.

Before you call me out, at least allow me to explain: I've been extremely busy. The wife and I are in the process of buying a house, and with all that comes the constant conversations with mortgage brokers, home builders, inspectors, etc. and the numerous headaches that go along with the process of buying the house, waiting on a closing date (which we're still doing, by the way), and getting prepared to move all of our stuff (my least favorite part of the whole process, because you never realize how much stuff you have until you have to move it all into a new place). So, needless to say, I've barely had time to think, much less sit down and write.

But I at least wanted to take some time to write something, if for nothing else but to add to the archives to show that I didn't disappear from the face of the earth during the month of June, 2010.

Hopefully I will be completely moved in by the end of next week, so I can get back to living an abnormal life, and hopefully I can be inspired to sit down and type out some more thoughts on the abnormalities of my abnormal self.

But first, I've got some more packing to do.

02 June 2010

We the (ignorant) people...

I was surfing the web earlier today, and came across this article that proved to me our society is headed down a long and dreary road of ignorance, and after reading some of the facts about our country that the majority of citizens don't know, I am gravely concerned about the future. When important decisions will be made by the offspring of these people who are so ignorant to basic facts of American civilization, there's really no telling what kind of shape our world will end up in.

Here's the part of the article that really bothered me (emphasis mine):
A recent poll gauging U.S. knowledge of civics and Revolutionary-era history pointed up all sorts of sobering gaps. The American Revolution Center sponsored a national survey of 1,001 U.S. adults who took a multiple choice test. Before the test, 89 percent of respondents expressed confidence they could pass it; 83 percent went on to fail. Among the findings:
  • More Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the Constitution.
  • More than 50 percent of respondents attributed the quote "From each according to his ability to each according to his needs" to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or President Obama. The quote is from Karl Marx, author of "The Communist Manifesto." [This one I can somewhat forgive - the average person isn't familiar with Marx.]
  • More than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place, and half of respondents believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution.
  • With a political movement now claiming the mantle of the Revolutionary-era Tea Party [or as I call them, Tea Baggers], more than half of respondents misidentified the outcome of the 18th-century agitation as a repeal of taxes, rather than as a key mobilization of popular resistance to British colonial rule. [And I would be willing to bet that half of these misinformed people are part of the new Tea Party. Are we sure that we want these people taking over our country?]
  • A third mistakenly believed that the Bill of Rights does not guarantee a right to a trial by jury, while 40 percent mistakenly thought that it did secure the right to vote.
  • More than half misidentified the system of government established in the Constitution as a direct democracy, rather than a republic - a question that must be answered correctly by immigrants qualifying for U.S. citizenship.
Okay, I probably expect a lot more out of the average citizen than most people because I have a B.A. in History, but come on - these are things that everyone should know. The average American should know the basic principles of our history and government -- I mean for God's sake this stuff is usually taught in 5th Grade -- and it's sad that so few take the time to learn these things. I know most people don't enjoy reading the Constitution and studying the Bill of Rights, but everyone should at least know what those documents are and be able to answer basic questions about them.

If the results of the referenced survey are true, then I'm afraid of what our future holds. Parents, please take the time to educate your children on the basics of American Civics, because we can't afford to grow any more ignorant than we already are.

31 May 2010

Happy Memorial Day

I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day today, and please take a few moments and remember the real reason we celebrate this day: to memorialize the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for us to live in a country where we are free to think, free to speak, and free to live as we please.

For more information on Memorial Day, click here.

27 May 2010

Let's give this a try

Let's give this a try and see if Blogger has corrected their problems.* I don't know if they have or not, but I would like to find out. It seems that they offer more customization than WordPress does (at least the customization that I prefer), and the free customization that I am used to with Blogger is $15 per year with WordPress.

* - For those out of the loop, click here.

$15 per year?!? I'm too cheap for that! Why should I have to pay $15 per year to fix a few problems with default templates that I don't love, when I can come to Blogger and do pretty much whatever I want for free?

Well, there is the part where Blogger ate my other blog. But, I'm willing to forgive and forget, if Blogger is willing to cooperate with me and not eat this blog. I do see that they've added a pages feature - I may have to give that a try.

Hopefully this works, because I miss my friends at Blogger. (More on this later.)

* * * *

I've moved all my posts from WordPress to Blogger, and will now continue my blogging journey where it started. I just can't stop thinking about the fact that I would have to pay $15 per year just to change a few default settings on a blog template. The more I think of it, the less I like it, and the more I wanted to move back to blogger.

I know what you're thinking: "But dude, it's only $1.25 per month." Well, that's not entirely true, because I have two blogs at WordPress, so it would be $2.50 per month, and that's not even the point. The point is: I don't want to pay for something that I can get for free. Do I have the money? Of course I do, but why spend it on something as minor as a blog when I can spend it on more important things? And, why do I make such a big deal out of a few settings on a blog template? I'm glad you asked...

In short: It's the principle of the matter. Blogger offers something for free that WordPress charges $15 per year for. And, when comparing the two blog platforms, it comes down to four essential qualities:
  • Ease of Use
  • Look/Feel of Template
  • Total Cost
  • Cool Extra Stuff

When comparing the two side by side, blogger wins in three of the four categories. (I must admit, WordPress has the upper hand in cool extra stuff - like the automatically post to Twitter and Facebook feature, and the tracking that's built into the blog - but I can get by without those things. When it comes down to the real nitty-gritty, items 1-3 are the most important, and Blogger wins in those areas.)

It's not just about the $15. In fact, my wife took the time to convince me that it wasn't even that much money to spend on the blog for one year, so the amount of money really isn't the issue - it's the fact that I have to spend the money in the first place. Template customization should be a free service (I mean come on, we're only talking about a few font color settings here). And, with Blogger, template customization is free, so in the end, it's not really that hard of a decision to make.

Also, Blogger gained a lot of bonus points by adding the really cool "pages" feature, for those of you scoring at home.

* * * *

But what about the whole "Google ate my blog" issue? Well, I thought about that for a while, and came to this conclusion: I've been blogging for almost 2 years now, I've had three blogs with Blogger (I used to write about the Red Sox until I deleted the blog, and I have a blog that I use for my Panthers blog that I create charts and graphs in and store them for future use.), and I've never had a blog deleted other than the one incident that drove me away. None of my other blogs were affected, and none of the blogs of my friends were affected, so it wasn't a "Google problem" - if it were, then surely I wouldn't have been the only one in all the blogs I read to experience the problem, right? Apparently what happened was I hit a button or changed something inadvertently and didn't figure out what it was, and the end result was my blog being screwed up beyond recovery - and I didn't feel like trying to get Google to help me because it's pointless (if you've ever dealt with customer service, you know what I'm talking about).

So, I'm pretty confident that I won't have the same issue this time around. My Panthers blog is still there, and there's nothing wrong with it (yet). In fact, had I not already spent the $15 to upgrade my WordPress Panthers blog, I'd move it back to blogger too (I'm going to wait until the upgrade expires since I've already paid for it, and it's non-refundable).  So I think I'll be okay. (But, I'm keeping my WordPress blog active just in case something bad happens, because you can never be too cautious.)

* * * *

Now, to my friends. I've not been as attentive to some of my favorite blogs as I should be, and I know that this is a lame excuse, but part of the reason is because when I moved to WordPress, I stopped signing in to Blogger because I wasn't blogging there anymore, and I didn't see the updated feeds from the "blogs I follow" widget on the Blogger dashboard (WordPress doesn't have one of those, btw). I know that it's still my fault for not reading, but at least now you know part of the reason why, because for some reason I don't click on blogs if I don't see that they have a new post, even though I know that most of you write something every day. It's a flaw that I need to work on, I admit that, but now it shouldn't be a problem because being back at Blogger means I don't have an excuse any more.

* * * *

Overall, I think that I'm making the right decision, primarily because since I moved to WordPress I really haven't had the desire to blog as much because I can't get over the dislike of the blog templates. If I don't like the way my blog looks, I'm not going to have a desire to write (as was evidenced by my lack of posting over the past few months).

I know you're probably thinking: "But, your blog is so plain and simple, what's the big deal?" Well, I know it's plain - but that's the way I like it. I like the font, the font color, the link color, the design - everything about it is what I want, and WordPress can't provide it for me. All of their templates are either girly, gay, or ugly (not that there's anything wrong with that). The few that are similar to mine all have things about them that I don't like (and I'm very picky - just ask my wife), and it's enough to make me not want to use them. The template I had was the one that I hated the least of all the ones available, and there are at least three things that I don't like about it, so I think it is best for my blogging psyche to just move back to Blogger where I can change the blog as many times as I want and not have to pay a single penny for the privilege.

Anyway, I'm sure you're getting tired of this rambling mess, so I'm going to stop now. I'm glad to be back here where I belong, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with each and every one of you.

Thanks for reading.

25 May 2010

This is Water: an in-depth outlook on life

The text of this post is taken from a Wall Street Journal article on the life and death of David Foster Wallace (the author of Infinite Jest), written a week after he committed suicide. The text that I have posted is from a commencement speech Wallace made at Kenyon College in 2005. A friendly word of advice: If you take the time to read this -- don't skim over it, or you will miss the point of the article. I have also broken some of the text up to make it easier to read. (If you are not familiar with DFW's work: he can get quite wordy at times, to the point where it is difficult to follow along.)

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

If at this moment, you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.

Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude -- but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense.

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.

Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real -- you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues." This is not a matter of virtue -- it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being "well adjusted," which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphal academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default-setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what's going on right in front of me. Paying attention to what's going on inside me. As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head.

Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about "teaching you how to think" is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: "Learning how to think" really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master." This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.

That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in, day out" really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired, and you're stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home -- you haven't had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job -- and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket.

It's the end of the workday, and the traffic's very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store's hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it's pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can't just get in and quickly out: You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store's crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough checkout lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day-rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can't take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.

Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn't fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I've worked really hard all day and I'm starved and tired and I can't even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid g-d- people.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious form of my default-setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just twenty stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks, and so on and so forth...

Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do -- except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It's the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: It's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am -- it is actually I who am in his way. Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you're "supposed to" think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it's hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you're like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat-out won't want to. But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line -- maybe she's not usually like this; maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who's dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness.

Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible -- it just depends on what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important -- if you want to operate on your default-setting -- then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren't pointless and annoying. But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars -- compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship...

Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power -- you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.

But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don't dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness -- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.

19 May 2010

I really am lazy

As I sit here I realize that I haven't written anything on this blog for several weeks now, and it was a month between my last post and the post prior to it (are you confused yet?), so I need to take more time to sit down and gather my thoughts and put them here, because that's what a blog is for, right?

(Note: I looked back at my archives and realized that since March 2, I've written a grand total of four blogs, including this one - and one of those was just sharing a link I found. I really do need to get back into writing more often.)

In my defense, I have been writing, I just haven't been doing it here. I've been keeping up with news concerning the Carolina Panthers at my Panthers blog and I've been writing as a featured blogger at CSR and The Gab, so I haven't made the effort to put anything of substance together for this site, and I feel like I'm cheating myself out of the ability to just write about whatever fills my mind - kinda like what I'm doing right now, you know - talking on and on about mostly nothing but doing it anyway just to hear my own self think and talk.

Maybe I should see a professional or something, I don't know.

Anyway, I've been lazy - and I don't like being lazy, I just am. (I can't help it.) I'm sorry to those who I used to read and comment on blogs all the time, but have slacked off over the past two months (you know who you are). I don't have any fancy excuse or way to repay you for not being as attentive as I should be, but I do have an apology, and I really am sorry and promise to make more of an effort to read and comment on your blogs like I should have been doing all along.

(Totally random thought: Do people with OCD get pissed off because their disorder isn't alphabetized? I've always wondered about that.)

I'm sure that over the next few days I'll have more to share, but I just wanted to let all my loyal readers know that I'm still here, even if it hasn't seemed that way lately. I do have a few items in the ole' brain that I need to discuss, so be on the look out for that.

Or don't - since I haven't written anything in the last two months to make anyone believe I'm going to start now.

20 April 2010

The PC world strikes again

I'm sure by now that everyone is aware of the story of the teenager from Long Island who killed an Ecuadorian immigrant back in 2008 and was recently on trial for the murder. (If not, take a few minutes and read this.)

Well, it appears that the kid has been convicted of murder, which he should have been, based on the information I've seen about the case. But there is a part of this story that really bothers me, and that is the fact that he has also been convicted of committing a hate crime because the victim was a minority.

Those of you who know me know that I don't often delve into the political realm, but I just can't pass this one up without giving some commentary on it.

First of all, why does a crime against a minority have to be classified as a hate crime? Aren't all crimes "hate crimes"? Just because it was a white person killing a hispanic person doesn't mean that it should be treated differently than if a white person killed another white person. The same problem remains: a person is dead, a family is devastated, and a life is ruined. What does race have to do with anything?

All crimes are crimes of hate. It's the very nature of crime. If you love someone, you're not going to steal from them, abuse them, or kill them. So how can a crime be classified into sub-groups dependent upon outside factors? And, I'm not even talking about race here. I'm talking about everything: race, gender, sexual orientation -- it's all the same. A person is a person, regardless of race, gender, or creed -- so why should we label any crime against humanity a hate crime when there's no such thing as a love crime?

We've become too politically correct in America. We've come to the point where no one can say anything for fear of someone being offended. "Oh, little Johnny sucks at baseball? Well, we better put him on the team anyway and tell him how much of a winner he is, because we don't want his feelings to get hurt just in case he comes to school tomorrow and shoots 5 people before killing himself." ... "What, you mean Jimmy finished last in the race? Well, don't worry Mr. and Mrs. Whinybitch -- we have a 10th place ribbon just for little Jimmy, because we're all winners here at East Thundercunt Jr. High."

It's downright disgusting that we're no longer preparing our kids for those times in the real world when we actually lose. (Because you know -- there are times when we do lose -- it happens to all of us.) And we wonder why we have so many delinquents and criminals today, because a lot of people who have done nothing but win and have had everything handed to them don't know how to handle the reality that sinks in the first time they lose, or don't get their way.

The majority of kids in our society these days are seriously messed up in the head. I just saw on the internet a few minutes ago a video of a teenager who was recovering from burns over 60% of his body because some of his classmates got pissed at him and set him on fire. Yes, that's right -- they set him on fire. And do you know why they set him on fire? Because of a video game dispute.

Whatever happened to the old school way of handling problems: going to his house, asking him to come outside, and just kicking his ass on the sidewalk? That was how we handled our business when I was growing up, why can't that still be the method of solving problems amongst teens today?

But don't worry parents: I'm sure the government will come up with a way to paint this picture in a pretty way so we don't feel like our kids are going down the wrong path. I'm sure they will also tell us that it's because we let our kids eat too many cheeseburgers or watch too many cartoons, because you know that when we were kids and did those things that we turned out to be real social deviants.

And now that I'm starting to ramble, I'm going to end this rant before it starts to make no sense at all (not that it ever made any sense in the first place).

21 March 2010

An awesome lunch

Today, the wife and I decided to enjoy a nice lunch of cube steak and gravy with mashed potatoes and baked mac & cheese. I had never made gravy from scratch before (I was always too worried that I would screw up the roux and never bothered to give it a try), but I found a recipe for chicken fried steak and gravy online and decided to finally get over myself and try to make the gravy.

This recipe came from Alton Brown of Food Network fame. I added a twist to it which I will cover later, but this is one kick-ass meal.

  • 2 pounds beef bottom round, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 whole eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 pound sliced baby bella mushrooms*

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Cut the meat with the grain into 1/2-inch thick slices. Season each piece on both sides with the salt and pepper. Place the flour into a pie pan. Place the eggs into a separate pie pan. Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour. Tenderize the meat, using a needling device, until each slice is 1/4-inch thick. Once tenderized, dredge the meat again in the flour, followed by the egg and finally in the flour again. Repeat with all the pieces of meat. Place the meat onto a plate and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking.

Place enough of the vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a 12-inch slope-sided skillet and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the meat in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes per side. Remove the steaks to a wire rack set in a half sheet pan and place into the oven. Repeat until all of the meat is browned.

Add the remaining vegetable oil, or at least 1 tablespoon, to the pan. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of the flour left over from the dredging (or use new flour if you prefer). Add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan. Whisk until the gravy comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Add the milk and thyme and whisk until the gravy coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste, with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve the gravy over the steaks.

* - To make this recipe even more kick-ass:

Saute the mushrooms prior to cooking the steaks and set aside. After the gravy thickens, put the mushrooms in the gravy and turn to low heat. Place the steaks in the gravy and cook for about 5 minutes. [But not too long, because the steaks will get too tough.]

Also, I bought cube steaks instead of bottom round because I was too lazy to go through slicing, tenderizing, and needling pieces of bottom round when it's pretty much the same thing anyway.

And for those of you who are wondering: the gravy was a success and I only had to make the roux once. In the end I learned that it's not as hard as I thought it would be, and if there is a moral to this story, it's this: Don't talk yourself out of trying something because you think you can't do it. If you do, you may cheat yourself out of a myriad of wonderful opportunities, including some delicious gravy.

02 March 2010

An interesting story of baseball and the swastika

While reading one of my favorite Red Sox blogs, I came across a story about a photo of Boston Braves shortstop Rabbit Maranville. In the photo, Maranville is wearing a cap with what appears to be a swastika sewn on the crown.

Keep in mind this was before Adolf Hitler completely ruined the image of the swastika - it has a history that goes back long before the Nazis tried to take over the world. For those interested in the history of the swastika, click here.

The blogger did some extensive research and dated the photo (it turns out the photo was taken in April 1914), along with what is believed to be the reason behind the swastika being on the cap. It's an interesting read, and if you have time or are interested in this sort of thing I suggest you take a look.

20 February 2010

What Tiger should have done...

If I were Tiger Woods and were in the self-created situation he has been in for the past 4 months, my defense would be simple.

I would blame everything on Phil Ivey.

Why? For several reasons:

1. He is a poker player, so he has the potential to be shady.
2. He's not as popular, so people wouldn't care as much.
3. He's the long lost twin of Tiger - it would work.

You think I'm kidding? Tell me they weren't separated at birth.

Tiger should have come out at his press conference (which was a complete and utter failure, in my opinion) and said: "What are you guys talking about? I haven't done anything wrong - you must have me confused with Phil Ivey."

Problem solved. Mass crisis averted. Tiger returns to glory.

Meanwhile, back at the hall of justice, everyone wonders why we're making such a big deal about a poker player's infidelity.

It's a win-win situation (unless you're Phil Ivey).

11 February 2010

Searching Tiger, Hidden History

This video was posted by a fellow You Gab Sports member today - but I couldn't resist posting it here. It's not too long so give it a look - it's pretty funny.

06 February 2010

I've found the perfect steak (and now I'm miserable)

I knew it would happen eventually: I finally found the perfect steak at a restaurant. I knew that if I went enough places and ate enough steaks I would eventually find one that was so close to perfection that nothing would ever again come close to reaching the bar that would be set by this wonderful creation.

I just never wanted it to happen.

Why? Why would I never want to find the perfect steak? It seems only logical that one would want to find perfection in something he loves. (And I do love some steak. No offense to any vegetarians or animal-rights people who may be reading this, but I love steak - it's one of the best things on earth.)

But, back to my original thought: why would I never want to find the perfect steak? I never wanted to find it because now I have peaked. I have no need to eat another steak for the rest of my life because it's all downhill from here. (It's not going to stop me, but now I will be eating them in vain because I will never get another one as good as the one I had tonight.)

What kind of steak was it? I'm glad you asked.

It was a filet mignon (of course - what else could it be?) from Yokoso (a Japanese steakhouse). It was cooked medium rare (the only way to eat a steak, in my opinion), and it was cooked perfectly. I have never had a steak in a restaurant that was genuinely medium rare. It's always medium, or medium well - but never quite medium rare. I don't know why either, it's not like medium rare is that hard to accomplish - but for some reason restaurants can't get it right.

Anyway, back to the steak.

It melted in my mouth like butter - I didn't even have to put any effort into chewing it because it was so tender. I didn't even have to dip it in the white sauce (which is saying a lot for me because I usually eat a gallon of the stuff when I eat Japanese steakhouse food). In fact, I took home an entire plate of rice because I didn't want to ruin the enjoyment of the steak by not eating every single morsel of it, and by the time I was finished enjoying my steak, I didn't want the rice anymore.

(Oh well, I guess I know what's for lunch tomorrow.)

To anyone out there reading this who is a steak-lover like me: don't waste your time trying to find the perfect steak. You won't like yourself after you do. Sure, the few moments you spend enjoying that steak will be some of the best moments of your life, but it's all downhill after that. Take it from me - someone who understands what it's like to find the perfect steak - and know that sometimes, perfection is best left as a dream.

02 February 2010

Free Floating Hostility, Vol. 1

For those of you who are new to following my writing, you may not be aware of a post that I wrote last year (exactly one year ago today, coincidentally) that broached the subject of my burning rage for random people who are annoying and should be taken out of our society.

After some thought, I have decided that it would be a good idea to bring the rage to my new digs, so this will be the first entry of a series titled Free Floating Hostility. The title is taken from one of my favorite comedians of all time, George Carlin (RIP) who did a comedy routine several years ago where he spouted off random people and/or things that annoyed him.

Anyway, on with the hostility.

People who let their kids roam freely in public

As a father of two young children (5 year old boy and 1 year old girl), I know how important it is to keep an eye on my kids at all times, especially when in a public setting. Kids have the ability to disappear within seconds without anyone noticing them (and as a parent this scares the crap out of me), and I get especially annoyed when I see other people's rug rats roaming around with no adult supervision.

It bothers me for several reasons, some of those reasons being that I fear for the kids' safety (there are a lot of nut jobs out there who like to steal kids), but the main reason it bothers me is the kids who roam around with no supervision always seem to do so while being loud and obnoxious, and they always seem to be in my way while they're being loud and obnoxious, and it makes me want to beat the parents with a crowbar to thank them for my inconvenience (this should be legal in all states, by the way).

If you have kids, please do the world a favor and pay attention to them when you're out in public. If you don't have the mental capacity to keep up with your kids while you're in the store then please do one of two things: a) get a babysitter, or b) get a leash. I really don't care which one you do, but keep your loud and annoying kids out of my way - I have two kids of my own, I don't need to deal with yours too.

The self-checkout counters at Wal-Mart

This one really irks me. I go to Wal-Mart to shop. I don't go to Wal-Mart to shop AND to ring up and bag my items. That's why there are cashiers. They're not just there to look pretty (even though most of them FAIL at that as well), but they're supposed to ring up customers and put the purchased items in a bag and say "have a nice day and thank you for shopping with us" - they're supposed to get paid to do that all day. They're not supposed to get paid to stand at a desk and ensure that I ring up my items correctly.

And to make matters worse, the self-checkout counters never work properly (at least for me they don't, I don't think it's a coincidence - they're just out to get me for some reason). There's always a glitch, or the scale doesn't work properly, or the sensors that recognize the items being placed in the bags don't work (that one really pisses me off - I have been stared at by fellow shoppers in Wal-Mart on several occasions because of yelling "I PUT IT IN THE FREAKING BAG ALREADY!" at the computer screen).

I understand that in this economy retailers have to cut as many costs as they possibly can, but is it really necessary to take away the cashier? It seems to me that the satisfaction the customers get out of not having to ring up and bag their own shit is worth the minimum wage salary the cashiers have to be paid, because eventually people will get tired of being their own cashier and bagger and will find another place to purchase their goods.

(Oh wait, that's right - Wal-Mart has taken over the market and put all the other stores out of business with their super low prices. My bad.)

Automated messaging systems in Customer Service departments

How many times have you called to get your cable fixed or dispute erroneous charges to your phone bill only to discover that you are talking to a robotic voice that wants you to press '1' for English and say a command to better serve your needs? Why can't there just be a person on the other end of the conversation?

It's so much easier to talk to a person than it is trying to explain to a computer what you want, especially when you have to repeat yourself 5 times to get the computer to understand you (or is that just me?) - by the time you get the computer to understand what you want, you have forgotten why you called in the first place, and you end up sounding like a total dumb-ass to the technical assistant when you can't even explain that your cable is out or even remember your account number, phone number, social security number, or mother's maiden name. (Why is that the end-all security question, anyway? It's not like that information can't be easily found.)

It all goes back to the robot answering the phone. If companies would just hire people to answer the phone, a lot of problems would be avoided (imagine that). Oh, and don't hire the people in India or Bumfukistan to answer the phone. How about getting people who can speak English with proper pronunciation and diction instead of people who sound like they have a big spoon of mashed potatoes in their mouth and only know at most ten words in English? I know they're cheaper, but come on...

Also, I don't want to press '1' for English - I want English to be the only choice. If you want to live here, then learn English. If I want to move to Italy, I have to learn Italian, so shouldn't America have the same policy?

But that's a different topic for a different day.

I could sit here and rant all day, but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to set my limit to three for now. Are there any specific groups of people or things that bring out the rage in you? If so, feel free to discuss them in the comments section below.

31 January 2010

Starting Over

Update: This post was originally written at WordPress, before I decided to move back to Blogger. (Click here for an explanation on why I'm moving back to Blogger.)

Well, you all probably know by now that blogger decided to completely destroy my other blog (The Couch Potato Chronicles) out of the blue and cause utter despair for me for a few days because not only did it inconvenience me by forcing me to create a new blog, but it also took away something that I had worked so hard to build: my domain name.

I lost the domain for TCPC, and after a few nights of trying to figure out what happened, I finally decided to give up and switch to a new blog name because I wasn't getting anywhere by trying to solve the "WTF happened" riddle and it was only causing me more and more stress by constantly thinking about it.

On a side note: I would like to thank everyone who offered their assistance. It really means a lot that you all thought enough of me to help. I would have asked for help had I decided to try and recover the blog, but when I realized that every time I tried to re-create the blog the same thing was happening, I decided that it would be best to just completely scrap the TCPC idea and start a new blog.

Which brings me to my next point: you are now reading the new and improved TCPC, only it's not TCPC any more. It's called something totally different. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to introduce you to "Confessions of a Lazy Scribe", the new and improved blog by yours truly. (I know there's really no such thing as "new and improved", because if it's new it can't be improved upon and if it's improved it can't be new - but humor me please, thanks.)

What is a lazy scribe? Well, I'm glad you asked (and you know you did). A lazy scribe is exactly what I am: a writer who enjoys writing more than just about everything else in the world, but is too lazy to get up off his bum and write a book and become filthy rich from his writings.

That's me: the lazy scribe.

And these are my confessions...

Stay tuned for more in the future. You will be glad you did.