Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Day Just Like Any Other

Lose weight. Eat healthier. Start exercising. Start a new career. Save money. Spend more time with family. Stop smoking. Those are the predictable New Year’s resolutions pledged on December 31st, of each and every year, by well-meaning saps. Typically, a New Year’s resolution is simply another failed attempt, by the majority of people making them, at bettering one’s self. Anyone who makes a resolution that begins with the word, “stop,” is most likely doomed from the start. The chances of stopping any behavior, whether it’s smoking, overeating, or acting like a jerk, just because it’s the first day of a new year is pretty slim. If discontinuing an undesirable action was easily attainable then I would think a person would’ve already made the transformation, from smoker to non-smoker, from fatty to a lean machine, or from acting like a scoundrel to being a kindhearted person, without needing a specific day of the year to do so.

I understand envisioning January 1st as the day for making a brand new start, or turning over a new leaf, in one’s life because that is what’s commonly associated with the holiday. I myself have fallen prey to what is expected from the gullible at this time of year. The pressure of sustaining a New Year’s pledge is almost unbearable particularly when you’ve made your intentions known to others. Sure, being accountable to other people may help in your new endeavor for a while, but there’s no way around being thought of as a failure, by those you’ve shared your resolutions with, when inevitably you break them (usually within the 1st week). That’s precisely why I keep stuff like that private: so if I happen to fail then only I will know. In addition, I pride myself on being a man of action (not talk), so I prefer to begin losing the weight, eating healthier, or increasing the amount of weight I can bench-press before anyone else in my life even knows what’s going on.

I have been guilty, time and time again, of breaking weight loss “resolutions” all year round and on my own without needing “the man” (whoever that is) telling me to try again on January 1st. Besides, I always start my diets on a Monday, regardless of the time of year, and much more often than not New Year’s Day is not ushered in on a Monday. I suspect my lovely wife has the same theory as I do concerning diets because if we’re going to have fish for dinner sometime during the week then it’s almost always served on a Monday. By the time the weekend comes we’re both up to our armpits in pizza. The sad thing is I don’t care all that much for the Italian cuisine, but I’ll eat it if it’s placed in front of me. On second thought, I should be happy I am not a fan of pizza, or chocolate for that matter, or else it would be even more difficult for me to maintain my girlish figure. Who am I kidding? I haven’t been that slim since… never.

I make no bones about the fact my weight has radically fluctuated, like a guilty man’s lie detector test results, for most of my life. I can be a man of extremes, so it’s no surprise I’m usually in either a sumo wrestler frame of mind or in full-blown supermodel mode regarding my diet or lack thereof. I’m either polishing off a dozen doughnuts within a 24-hour period or keeping my calorie intake to less than 800 a day. You won’t ever hear me blaming slow metabolism or bad genes for my times of plumpness. I simply like food, especially sweets, and I lack any reasonable self-control once I begin consuming. Starting a weight loss program on the first day of a new year is absolutely the worst time for anyone to begin such a venture. The likelihood of a person overindulging in everything the previous night is too great, and surely there are still some Christmas goodies scattered about the house to tempt even a normally disciplined individual.

However, this New Year’s I will once again attempt to give up smoking although I already know it’s a battle I cannot win. The last several years I have taken up smoking cigars on New Year’s Eve so that I actually have a legitimate resolution to make for the coming year. The only problem is I’m destined to fail since the following New Year’s Eve I’ll be lighting up again; therefore, breaking my resolution on the 364th day of the year. It is a vicious cycle but one I do enjoy. That leaves me with only one serious resolution I can make in which I know I will be very successful at keeping. I resolve to continue being the same awesome person that I am in the year 2015. Let’s raise our glasses this New Year’s eve and toast to what this special time of year is really all about. Here’s to a day just like any other.


Who Would You Wanna Be?

If you could be any character from a Christmas movie…who would you wanna be? That’s the question I asked my wife the other day. I think that may give you a glimpse into what my lovely wife has to put up with on a daily basis. I can’t help it if that’s the way my mind works, and I make no apologies for having a curious nature PBS assuredly would be proud of. My wife has not yet gotten back to me with an answer. Either she’s still contemplating the philosophical question, or she has forgotten all about the proposed nonsense. It has been a few weeks since I asked, so I suspect it’s the latter. When I proposed the question I had no preconceived answer in mind because I had not mulled it over myself. Boy, sometimes I really give myself something important to think about.

My initial thought was Clark Griswold from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. He certainly is fond of Christmas, and all of the traditions associated with the glorious holiday, just as I am. Some people may be a bit skeptical when Clark brings home a Christmas tree that’s way too big for his house, but let me assure you it’s not so far-fetched because I’ve done exactly the same thing a time or two. He builds up the special time of year so much in his head that he’s bound to be at least a little disappointed after its all been said and done. I have been guilty of that as well. Clark also has an idiotic cousin-in-law to contend with, so I decided I should explore some other possibilities.

Ralphie Parker from A Christmas Story quickly came to mind as one of my favorite Christmas movie characters, but the more I thought about his life the less I wished to be like him. The youngster is constantly being chased by bullies, before and after school, and he is forced to suck on a bar of soap as punishment for swearing (Lifebuoy is the worst). Ralphie’s also made to wear pink bunny pajamas and anything else Aunt Clara sends his way, and let’s not forget he nearly shoots his eye out with his official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle. Next!

How about Ebenezer Scrooge, from A Christmas Carol, I wondered. Now there’s a magnificent ending to a classic Christmas tale, and the thought of living in simpler times is very appealing to me. A world without cell phones and reality television would be an absolute dream come true. Of course, Mr. Scrooge spends the better part of his life alone and wallowing in bitterness, so maybe he is not someone I would want to be. However, he is tremendously wealthy, and who wouldn’t want that, but Ebenezer doesn’t do anything with his acquired fortune, so what’s the point. Besides, the question I specifically had asked was, “If you could be any character from a Christmas movie…who would you wanna be?” I made no mention of being afforded the opportunity to change any of the chosen character’s traits, or the way in which they had lived their lives, so the search continued.

I thought about Davey Stone from the not as well-known seasonal movie, Eight Crazy Nights, but only for a second. Adam Sandler’s character is Jewish and celebrates Hanukkah instead of Christmas. I’m not even sure what Hanukkah is. In addition, Davey Stone is a cartoon character who I would assume lives in an entirely different world than what I am used to. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, or if I’d ever cross paths with other cartoon characters (like Scooby-Doo and the gang), but regardless I decided to omit all animated characters from consideration at that point. Unfortunately, that decision left The Grinch out of the running, and that’s really too bad because I’ve been told I look good in green. However, spread out over the entire length of my body might be a bit too much. I then considered Santa Claus, from either Miracle On 34th Street or The Santa Clause, but being the jolly old elf simply seems like an awful lot of work and very time consuming as well.

My mind wandered off to Peter Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s kind of funny how a movie character can appear to be so perfect at first, but after further examination we discover they are just as flawed as the rest of us, and their life is not so wonderful after all. We all probably tend to focus on Peter Bailey’s epiphany and his change of heart, in regards to taking his own life, instead of realizing he will still be working at the Building and Loan (a job he loathes), and residing in the town he has grown tired of, at the end of the day. Bedford Falls is simply too small for a man who would lasso the moon if he could. The disgruntled man yearns to travel abroad, but there is always something keeping him from leaving and pursuing his dreams. Peter Bailey still lives in a drafty old house and has too many children (if you ask me) by movie’s end. Finding a seemingly easy answer to my question had become quite the dilemma and much harder to answer than I had anticipated.

Kevin McCallister! Of course. I can’t believe it took me this long to recall the adorable little boy who gets “lost” during his Christmas vacations in the Home Alone movies. Kevin is thoughtful, intelligent, very independent (for a child), and he possesses the ingenuity similar to that of MacGyver. He sometimes gets into mischief (we all do), but overall he’s a pretty decent kid. The youngster loves all of the traditions associated with Christmas, especially decorated Christmas trees, and he thinks cold weather should be a requirement at Christmastime. The rest of his family would rather be in a tropical setting somewhere during the holidays. Whenever Kevin gets “lost” he doesn’t shirk from household responsibilities like grocery shopping or doing the laundry. He has an uncanny ability to overcome any obstacle that may get in his way. That’s precisely why the “Wet Bandits” (aka “Sticky Bandits”) are no match for the cute blond-haired, blue-eyed Kevin McCallister.

When the child is left to fend for himself he chooses to live a luxurious lifestyle. He indulges on his very own cheese pizza and a 3-scoop sundae because as he shamelessly puts it, “I’m not driving,” and Kevin has no qualms about charging everything to his father’s credit card. Priceless! He has a tendency of getting “lost” at Christmastime, but inevitably he is always found no worse for the wear. Even though sometimes the youngster is disappointed, with his large extended family, in the end he realizes he would not want to be without them. One of my mottos is, “without God and family…a person really has nothing,” so I whole-heartedly can relate to Kevin’s sentiment. If I could be any character from a Christmas movie…I would be Kevin McCallister from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Who would you wanna be?


Protesters (aka The Grinch)

What’s the deal with all of the protesters? The concept of protesting in public seems foreign to me, yet in this day and age organized demonstrations have been increasing in popularity. Sure, in the past I have protested a new experimental meal (or two) created by my lovely wife, and I certainly voiced my displeasure with some of the punishments handed down by my father while growing up. However, the thought of voicing my dissatisfaction, anger, or frustration (about anyone or anything) beyond the privacy of my own home has never even occurred to me. I simply haven’t had the inkling to take to the streets, for the rest of the world to see, on behalf of any cause.

The truth as I know it is people have the right to peacefully protest about anything in this country if they so desire. Peacefully! The problem is, more often than not, not everyone follows that simple rule, so those picketing and marching in protest usually come across to the rest of us as ignorant fools. I think they’d be much better off expending their time and energy elsewhere and in a more constructive way. Those who feel slighted or unheard could engage in a civil dialogue with the powers that be. The demonstrators should individually lobby for change at their local courthouse instead of disrupting life for everyone else.

Recently, the right to protest trumped my right to the pursuit of happiness. My mother-in-law wanted her daughter, grandson, and myself (her handsome son-in-law) to accompany her to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City once the tribute, to those who were lost during the attacks, was open to the public. She preferred not to visit “The Big Apple” on the actual anniversary of 911, so I suggested going to New York in December because talk show host, David Letterman, has said time and time again on his popular nighttime show that there’s no place like NYC at Christmastime. My family thought that was a good idea, so my wife scheduled our trip so we’d be there during the nationally televised Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.

I even prepared myself for the glorious occasion by watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on the airplane ride to New York. Kevin McCallister, the “lost” kid in the movie, adores Christmas trees almost as much as I do, so it’s not all that surprising when…SPOILER ALERT…Kevin is eventually found standing in front of New York City’s tallest lit Christmas tree which of course is located at Rockefeller Center. We intentionally were staying at a hotel only a few blocks away from the site, for convenience’ sake, but what transpired the night of the annual tree lighting ritual turned out to be anything but convenient. After venturing out towards the famous event we immediately encountered a horde of people retreating from where we were intending to go. Our carefully thought out plans, for a fun filled evening of Christmas music and festive lights, were changed in an instant.

We suddenly found ourselves trapped amongst a sea of riled protesters, police donned in riot gear, and hundreds of confused tourists (not unlike ourselves). Wooden barriers were being put into place, by the local police department, in an attempt to contain the escalating situation, and to keep protesters away from the nearby renowned tree lighting ceremony, although some of the demonstrators were leaping over them. Everywhere we went, no matter how many streets over or in what direction we trekked, we found ourselves blocked off and unable to continue our jaunt to Rockefeller Center. The new experience was chaotic, unsettling, and extremely irritating. We were able to duck into an Irish pub for dinner and drinks (I know I needed one), and adding insult to injury the establishment was showing the tree lighting event on all of their television sets.

After dinner and arriving back at the hotel I noticed the all too familiar scene from outside, I had barely survived, up on the hotel lobby’s jumbo television screen. It was only then when I became fully enlightened as to what actually was taking place on the city’s streets and the magnitude of the situation. A Black man, Eric Garner, had been killed by a White police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, back in July; however, the news that the jury assigned to the case had decided there was not enough evidence to indict had just been released; hence, the reason for the angry mob outside. I only mention the skin color of the victim and the New York City police officer involved because apparently the majority of the protesters think the unfortunate death of Mr. Garner was racially motivated. I do not. They are also profusely trying to connect the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown (and now others) with the Eric Garner case as if they are one in the same. They are not.

In fact, I think it’s a travesty to mention all three of the aforementioned Black men in a single breath. Each case is entirely different and should be treated as such. I was not a witness to any of the killings, mind you, nor was I privy to any additional information that may have been provided to the juries, but I would like to offer the following. Eric Garner’s life ended when Officer Pantaleo applied a chokehold while trying to restrain the large man. The use of a chokehold is a clear violation of NYPD policy, so obviously Mr. Pantaleo deserves to be punished in some capacity for the infraction. I really don’t know if Officer Pantaleo was purposely abusing his authority or not. I’m also not so certain that maybe the police department needs to revisit their current policy.

Michael Brown, on the other hand, has been portrayed by many in the Black community as a loveable guy with a promising future that was negligently cut short, but his actions on the last day of his young life would suggest otherwise. A video shows him manhandling a store clerk, while stealing from a convenience store, shortly before a police officer fatally shot him. The Trayvon Martin incident happened almost three years ago, but he hasn’t been allowed to rest in peace since his name is continually resurrected anytime a Black man is killed by a White cop. The problem with linking Trayvon Martin to the others is quite evident considering the high school student was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman (not a police officer). The shooter, George Zimmerman, isn’t even White. He’s Hispanic.

The only real correlation I see between them is that in all three occurrences the victims were resisting authority figures which ultimately enhanced the situation and led to their demise. Tragic? Yes! Is there some sort of conspiracy amongst cops going on against today’s Black man? No! Obeying the commands of law enforcers, whether one feels denigrated or not, is sound advice for everyone to follow. At least then the accused would have their day in court, and at the very least they would live to see another day. Therefore, the rash of demonstrations currently taking place around the country would not have even been a consideration, and law-abiding families could have attended a once in a lifetime Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.

Imagine the disappointment of not being able to partake in something so unique when you’re only a measly couple of blocks away. Instead of seeing a giant Christmas tree lit for the first time I saw a throng of enraged minorities and “New York’s finest” trying to keep the peace. Instead of listening to the soothing sounds of Tony Bennett I was forced to hear the chants of, “Black lives matter,” by the surge of protesters taking over the city. I concur with their sentiment that Black lives matter, but White lives matter too, as does every race on God’s green earth. As I previously stated, “people have the right to peacefully protest,” but the protesters in New York City will forever be known to me as The Grinch who stole my family’s Christmas.


NYC (2014)

The Manhattan skyline is unmistakable when heading into New York City. The Chrysler Building is easily recognizable, with its unique architectural design, and the Empire State Building is surely familiar to those who’ve seen the classic movie, King Kong. Noticeably missing from the skyline are the Twin Towers, but just as discernible is the recently constructed Freedom Tower that has replaced the former national landmark. I suppose the array of prominent buildings, both old and new, is what distinguishes “The Big Apple’s” impressive skyline from all others in the United States. The old Chrysler Building and the new Freedom Tower were born of different generations (84 years apart), yet both have a storied past although the Freedom Tower undoubtedly conveys a more significant meaning not only to the citizens of New York but to the rest of the world as well.

It is almost impossible for me to fathom New York City coming together as a community and supporting one another during difficult times or when tragedy strikes. However, I witnessed precisely that from afar on Sept. 11th, 2001, and for many months thereafter, in wake of that tragic period in our country’s history. Our nation’s newspapers and television stations portrayed New York as a caring place whose residents were genuinely concerned with the well-being of their fellow man. That admirable quality seemingly has disappeared, or at the very least has been placed on hiatus, probably until another disaster arises. I know this because my family and I just got back from New York. “The City That Never Sleeps” has reverted to an “every man for himself” mentality. Apparently, everyone is very important and has somewhere they need to be, and if you’re a tourist you had better keep up with the fast paced crowds or move clear over to one side.

Shoulder bumping, hip checking, and unfriendly games of “chicken” are not an uncommon sight, and if it’s raining then you just might as well “fa-get-about-it.” The sea of umbrellas only makes the city’s sidewalks that much harder to navigate, and if you don’t lose an eye in the process then you should consider yourself lucky. I’m not so sure a New Yorker wouldn’t be willing to trample a visitor, to their fair city, if given the opportunity. I wasn’t willing to find out, so I purposely was highly aware of my surroundings at all times whilst out among them. I reckon I could give the citizens of New York City the benefit of the doubt and assume not all of them are impolite and self-absorbed. Maybe they were all simply trying to get out of the dreary weather and back to the comforts of their homes and to their awaiting families. Maybe. The only thing possibly more irritating than the rude people occupying the sidewalks was the relentless sound of blaring car horns all day and all night long. Here a beep, there a beep, everywhere a beep beep.

I’ve never seen the kind of hustle and bustle of a big city quite like what I saw on display in New York. I had a nice time in “The Big Apple” nonetheless. I certainly can’t complain about time spent with family. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum was a tasteful tribute to those who perished. The exhibit was educational but mostly sobering. Even now, 13 years later, the entire situation is still so surreal when reflecting on 9/11. The Statue of Liberty is a magnificent sight to behold. My sometimes blasé attitude towards our nation’s freedom was replaced with heartfelt gratitude while standing in her presence. The Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular was in a word…spectacular! Five days in New York City was probably the ideal amount of time because on the last day of our vacation the thought of home had never been so enticing.

When my family and I walked out of The Hotel @ Times Square, for the last time, an obvious commotion of some sort was transpiring around us. As we placed our luggage into the vehicle of a local car service, our hotel had arranged to transport us to LaGuardia Airport, the source of the ruckus became crystal clear. Our hired driver was arguing with our hotel manager. Aawkwaard! I’m not entirely sure what the heated discussion was about since I had some trouble dissecting the pair’s Jamaican accents. I understood enough though to know they were threatening physical harm upon one another. Our driver finally got into the vehicle, with his now stunned passengers aboard, but he continued bickering with our hotel manager, who would not retreat from the nearby sidewalk, for what seemed like a lifetime. I was pleasantly shocked when the uncomfortable incident did not end in fisticuffs; however, it did sound as though they scheduled a time for later in the day to finish what was started. What a fittingly perfect ending to our time spent in New York City.


Beep…Beep…Beep

The once seemingly timeless art of an “average Joe” being able to repair his own vehicle has been lost. Even those who are mechanically inclined have been stymied by the car industry’s continued rapid advancements in technology. Anyone who knows me, or who has had the honor of reading some of my prior blogs, knows I am (ahem) an enormous fan of (ahem) technology. Not! Today, there are far less components under the hood of an automobile requiring a mechanics prowess and many more needing a computer programmer’s expertise instead. This is because the majority of items, found in newer model vehicles, are run by inserted computer chips. The percentage of computer dependency, for repairing automobiles, is only going to increase with each and every year from now on. How is a “grease monkey” supposed to fix a car’s computer problems with only the tools of his trade, such as a screwdriver or a socket wrench, at his disposal?

I am in no way mechanically inclined although I have taken on certain endeavors here and there over the years. At times I have been somewhat successful but usually not so much. Before starting any project I’m painfully aware the chances for the job being adequately completed is a crap shoot. Even the simplest of manly tasks, like changing the oil in my car, almost assuredly ends in disaster by project’s end. Usually, I’d either accidentally strip a bolt or carelessly place my head in the oil pan full of warm oil I had just drained. Some people are just plain better at working with their hands than others. I apparently am not one of them. There came a point in my life when I realized a man must know his limitations, so now I try to avoid as many manly tasks as possible that may require even the slightest hint of mechanical skills.

I have not attempted to repair an automobile for a very long time, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset about the current “lost art” situation. However, it does bother me to see yet another job (and the livelihood of some people) put out to pasture because of today’s technology. Whether I want to repair a vehicle myself or choose to let someone else do it is now a moot point. I simply am no longer afforded the opportunity to fix it myself. Many “old school” mechanics aren’t able to fix the newer cars as well since automobile repair of the past hardly resembles automobile repair of the present. A choice has once again been taken out of our hands due to society’s never-ending quest for advanced technology. Just because something is available does not necessarily make it desirable.

I have no use for most of the electronic features that increasingly are listed as “standard” on many of today’s newer model vehicles. All I really need in my car is a cd player and I’m all set for the open road. Purportedly, in the very near future every single automobile will be equipped with blind-spot monitoring, a lane departure system, and a forward collision warning system. This is in addition to the parking sensors already so prevalent in most newer cars. Essentially, the new safety technology means that when one automobile “thinks” another automobile is getting too close for comfort then it will alert the driver of the possible danger by either flashing lights, sounding an alarm, or both. Typically, the alarm is a basic beep…beep…beep sound.

It does not matter whether an intruding vehicle is in front, in back , or on either side of a car equipped with the aforementioned technology because it will warn the driver regardless. In some instances the automobile may “decide” to take over for the driver, by braking or even turning the steering wheel, in an attempt to prevent a possible accident. I’m all for safety but this just seems like overkill to me. I would think operating a motor vehicle that has “a mind of its own,” in addition to the warning lights and the beep…beep…beep, could be more of a danger to the driver than anything else that may or may not be happening on the road. I am certain I would be annoyed sitting behind the wheel of a car equipped with this type of technology, and that would not be good for anyone.

I know how I would feel only because my mother-in-law has a Ford Escape equipped with a rear-mounted camera, and she lets my wife and I borrow it whenever we’re back in Iowa to visit family. Normally, there is an abundance of snowfall, or at least some intermittent snow flurries, during our Christmas visits. The camera’s sensors are very sensitive to any sort of motion, regardless of how significant the activity is, occurring behind the compact SUV. Therefore, many times when backing out of my mother-in-law’s garage, and out into the winter elements, we have the unfortunate pleasure of hearing beep…beep…beep. In actuality, the intended safety feature is warning us of the non-threating flurries outside. What a great system. Almost every time we leave her house the beep…beep…beep catches me off guard and sometimes even startles me a bit.

Once we’re out and about, usually making a daily run to the coffee shop or grabbing some lunch, I eventually forget about the incessant “beeps.” That is until it’s time to leave the establishment, and then I’m instantly reminded of the irritating sound as I begin backing out of the parking space. The rear-mounted camera, intended to sense trouble, alerts us again and again of the “hazardous” flurries behind the Escape. Beep…beep…beep. It seems as though the entire time we are in Iowa that is all we ever hear when putting my mother-in-law’s SUV in reverse. Since I’m easily annoyed by a few “beeps” then I can only imagine how I’m going to feel when all of the other predicted advancements in technology finally come to fruition. When even more lights are flashing, more alarms are sounding, and my automobile is trying to steer and brake for me, I’m quite certain the beep…beep…beep sounds will ultimately wear me down. I think I might have to start looking into public transportation to keep from going insane.