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7 Thoughts Too Big to Tweet and Too Small to Blog 2.6

The way I understand how evolution works is that a particular trait is passed down from one generation to the next. My question is: how does something become a trait? Just like counting the licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, is it simply a matter of repetition? If so, I’m going to dedicate a little time each day to jumping off the couch while flapping my arms. Some day, many thousands of years from now, future generations of flying humans will thank me.

Today, I had the opportunity to try out one of the the new treadmills they’ve just installed where I work out. Along with all the basic features, it offers you the chance to run along with a synchronized movie showing a forest trail or mountain path from the jogger’s perspective. One of the pre-loaded options includes a course through the city of Munich, Germany. As I was jogging, virtually, through a park full of people, my mind began to wander. Aside from exercise, what would cause me to run down the middle of a urban street. Different scenarios started forming inside my head; and, soon, I started to get a weird feeling that I was being followed. By zombies. I cranked the treadmill up faster; but couldn’t shake the sensation that if I turned around, an undead horde would tear me to shreds. Faster and faster I ran until I was practically sprinting down the treadmill. Eventually, I started yelling at the pedestrians on the video, “Get out of the way, you fools!! Can’t you see there are zombies coming?!?” And that’s when I was asked to leave.

I had this thought about the upcoming Olympics; any American athlete who enters the arena during the opening ceremony with headphones on should immediately have their citizenship renounced. Representing your country in an event with over two thousand years of history while being cheered by thousands of fans should be enough to keep you stimulated without an individual soundtrack.

While flipping through some of the tens of channels I pay for but never watch, a program caught my eye. It was an infomercial selling copies of Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts. As I watched clips of Bob Hope, Don Rickles, and the aforementioned Dean Martin making fun of their friends, an idea struck me. Our culture is now almost completely devoid of grown-ups. People who act their age with a sense of maturity and acceptance that one isn’t seventeen forever. Even acknowledging that smoking and drinking martinis is absolutely horrible for your health, I still miss having grown-ups around. It was kind of comforting as a child to feel there was a group of people above me who knew better than to act the way I did. Now, we just have older people obsessed with acting young which, like riding a moped, always sounds cool but just ends up looking sad.

A little known bit of trivia regarding William Shakespeare: he died at the age of 52 on his birthday. When I first heard that, I wondered what his last words were. The greatest wordsmith in the English language, and we have no idea what his final utterance was? This led to a new thought: how come we don’t record the last thing a person heard? Since he died on his birthday, I bet the last thing William Shakespeare heard before keeling over was all of his friends yelling, “Surprise!”

Listening to Eminem’s latest song on the radio really made me realize that money truly can’t buy happiness. This guy has been rap’s most popular artist for going on two decades now, and he sounds angrier than ever. You’d think he could do one little ditty about flowers, sunsets or even ice cream cones. I also wonder, does he have to be in a bad mood in order to record his songs, just to “keep it real”? What if his day was going along pretty well, you know, the sun’s shining and you can hear children laughing? Would he just have to fake being mad in the studio? Does he have an employee that he pays to put him in a bad mood by stabbing his leg with a thumbtack? Then, there’s all those concerts where Eminem would have to act upset for almost two hours while performing. That would be too tiring for me.

I was talking to my son recently about genetic mutations (don’t ask). I brought up how weird it is that with all the billions of people who have been born on our planet, not one of them has ever had a mutation which caused them to stop aging. That led to the idea of what if it did happen, but the affected person was stuck being a newborn? What if, for like two thousand years, he never advanced beyond the just-born stage? Who would take care of him once the natural parents died? Would it become some sort of honor to have this perpetual newborn in your house? Maybe, the infant would be passed around amongst the relatives for one year at a time. Perhaps, this plan worked out for centuries until it got to be John’s turn. John didn’t want the stupid thing because he led a cool single life, and who wants a baby that never ages? What manner of twists and turns could a story like this take? If I was a really good writer, I bet I could write a decent book from this idea.

A Christmas Present from the Past 2.0

So there I was, a young boy of seven, weeping over a miniature set of camouflage dungarees and plastic grenades. “How could my parents be so cruel?” I thought. As things turned out, as often happened in my youth, the blame rested squarely on my underdeveloped shoulders.

Growing up in northern Michigan during the seventies, no single event heralded the beginning of the holiday season like the arrival of the JC Penney Christmas catalog. Its importance drew from the fact that my mother made most of her gift-giving selections out of it due to a general lack of retail outlets in the area. When it arrived on our doorstop, in a plain brown wrapper, I knew what it was immediately. I would clutch it to my chest, escape into my room, and pore over it like a Rabbi studying the Talmud. Countless were the happy hours spent reading and re-reading the descriptions of this year’s hottest offerings. Subtle were my efforts to inform Santa (my mom) of my desires with folded over pages and pictures repeatedly circled with markers. Unfortunately for me, my research efforts went one step too far.

One year, a few days before Christmas, I noticed the description of each toy also included the shipping measurements. The numbers for height, width, depth and weight were all just sitting right there. Waiting patiently until I was alone with the gifts, I broke out a measuring tape and scale and started to compare the dimensions of my presents with the toys found in the catalog. I quickly lined up “what I was getting” vs. “what I wanted” and, satisfied with the results, went to bed happy with the knowledge my investigation had offered me. However, being only the tender age of six, I was unable to keep this secret to myself. Just as a criminal will often get caught due to bragging about his exploits, I must have correctly predicted the contents of my gifts once too often during the actual opening of presents. As usual, my mother had figured out my little game and came up with an eloquent solution for next year’s yuletide.

The seasons changed in their time as they do, and soon it was winter again. The JC Penney catalog showed up on our doorstep, and I attempted to repeat the successful process from the year before. The first load of presents appeared under the tree and I pounced on them like a ravenous hyena, only to be stopped in my tracks by an unexpected twist. On each gift-tag, the name of the intended recipient had been replaced by a number. I was flummoxed. Measuring the gifts was useless now that there was no way to know if a particular one was meant for me or for one of my other four siblings. I had been outmaneuvered and had to wait like everyone else to find out what I was going to get for Christmas. And this is where the rule of unintended consequences comes in.

One of the many ways from upbringing was unique is that we opened gifts on Christmas Eve. Our elderly neighbors would join us for dinner, and the unwrapping took place that evening. This brilliant bit of planning allowed my parents the luxury of sleeping in on Christmas morning while we kids played with our new presents. This year, there would be a new step introduced into the order of events. Each of us, in turn, would pull a slip of paper with a number on it out of a hat. That number would then be checked against the master list my mother had prepared and a gift’s owner then revealed. It actually added to the excitement as each of us waited on pins and needles hoping for our name to be called. When it happened to me early in the first round, I nearly burst out of my pj’s. I ran to the tree eagerly looking for the package with the corresponding number. There it was, number twelve, and it was all mine.

It was relatively small and flat, roughly the size of a sheet of paper. Not a good sign since that often portended a piece of clothing, something no seven-year-old male wants to get from Santa. I ripped off the wrapping paper and stared at my new gift. It was an jungle-fighting accessory set for a 12″ GI Joe action figure. it had everything: the camouflage uniform, M-16 rifle, rucksack and binoculars. It was perfect. It was beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. Literally. I was crying because I didn’t own a GI Joe action figure, and thus had nothing to accessorize.

“What had I done wrong?” my seven-year-old mind demanded. Why would my parents give me a present for which I had absolutely no use? Was this some sort of practical joke? Gathering up all the self-control I could muster, I looked at my family through tear-stained eyes and did the only honorable thing I could. I threw a fit. I screamed out at the injustices of the world. “What am I supposed to do? Put them on a snowman?” I followed up with, “This is the stupidest present ever!” and the ever-eloquent, “I hate Christmas!!” With that, I threw my new gift down, sulked over next to the couch, curled up into a ball, and waited for some sympathy. Turned out I would be waiting for a long time.

As I gathered my emotions, I noticed that my parents had taken my tantrum with unusual aplomb. The gift sorting had proceeded along unhindered by my emotional meltdown. More than a bit confused, and still angry, I watched the proceedings silently. My older brother got a train set, and my younger brother got a Viewmaster slide projector. Eventually, my name was called out again; and my mom asked me if I wanted to get my gift. I immediately said, “No!,” but changed my mind once my siblings offered to do it for me. Stomping my slipper-clad feet as loudly as I could, I found my box and returned to my lonely perch. I only had to peel back a small portion of the wrapping paper to have my mood shift back into one of glad tidings. It was a brand-new GI Joe doll. Turned out that through chance, I had opened the presents out of sequence. Or maybe it wasn’t chance at all. It could have just been Santa wanting to teach me a little lesson about spending more time being grateful and less time trying to outwit my mother.

7 Thoughts Too Big to Tweet and Too Small to Blog 2.5

With the new year, I’ve been thinking of ways that I can cut down on my monthly expenses. One of the first things that came to mind was my outrageous DirecTV bill. I could completely cut service to three TV’s, drop all the pay channels on the other two, and save like fifty bucks or more a month. Then I started thinking about what I would do with all that extra money, and the answer came to me. I would restore service back to all of my TV’s. And that’s why my wife handles the money.

No matter how many years pass, I will never be able to watch the movie The Crocodile Hunter despite being a huge fan of it’s star, Steve Irwin. His untimely death has always affected me more deeply than that of any other celebrity. It’s because he seemed like such a true-to-life personality onscreen. By that, I mean, I believe he would have done all that crazy stuff with animals whether anyone was filming him or not, unlike a lot of these clowns out there now. I would rather be trapped in the Amazon with the ghost of Steve Irwin than a live Bear Grylls.

Something I’ve noticed about all those online combat video games like Call of Duty is how you get rewarded for playing well by gaining access to better weapons. In other words, as your skills improve, the game gives out upgrades that make defeating your enemies easier. This seems contradictory to me. As you get better, shouldn’t it become harder to score? The three-point arc in the NBA is farther out than in college ball because the athletes are more highly skilled. Personally, I feel a novice player should begin each round with a gun that shoots out herds of rabid elephants while the most experienced start with one foot nailed to the floor and armed only with a bent paperclip. That seems fair to me.

Speaking of video games, many of today’s video-games allow you to customize your character. My son spends hours creating just the right combination of facial features, warpaint colors, and uniform elements to inspire fear in those he confronts online. One time, as I watched him go through this process, I thought of something. Since the game uses a first-person perspective, he never actually sees his onscreen avatar while he plays. Only the enemy does. In that case, I wouldn’t want to appear threatening, which would only encourage my opponent to shoot me. Instead, I would assume the persona of either a newborn kitten, an eleven-year-old Girl Scout or Barney the Dinosaur. Well, maybe not that last one.

I have a solution for America’s youth obesity problem. Pass a federal law that mandates all video-game players must wear a biometric sensor that detects your BMI and resting pulse rate. Your character onscreen would then reflect your real-life physical capabilities. Instead of being able to sprint for unlimited amounts of time, these screen-obsessed butterballs would start fading off after a few yards and then completely collapse by the end of a virtual block. Let some of these couch potatoes get spanked around online by members of the girls cross-country team, and see how fast they cut the junk food out of their diet.

While we’re talking childhood obesity, if you bought your son a sports-related video game without dedicating some time to play the actual sport with him, you are part of the problem.

Although I’ve been a huge Tom Cruise fan for many years, something about him has always bothered me. Namely, his weird looking pecs. Ever since the heady days of Top Gun to the gratuitous shirtless scene in Jack Reacher, I’ve always thought how they just seemed a little strange and under-developed looking. It’s almost like someone tried to cover his ribcage with two scrawny pancakes.

7 Thoughts Too Big to Tweet and Too Small to Blog 2.4

Something about television commercials really started bothering me this holiday season. To wit, I was watching a car commercial where the people drive out to their ski lodge to put up an ornament. During the ride, a grandfatherly-looking gentlemen looks out from the back seat and says, “Forty year old tradition. I hope we make it.” Then a smartly dressed man behind the wheel says, “We will.” What got under my skin as I watched was the sudden realization that none of these people are actually related. They’re all just actors who realistically probably just met that morning during the read-thru; and now, they are passing themselves off as a caring, loving family. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop.The couple kissing after he gets her the sponsor’s ring? Perfect strangers. The mom pouring the cereal for her son? Once the cameras stopped rolling, she probably never even said goodbye to him as she ran off to her afternoon pilates class. As naive as it sounds, I wish people wouldn’t fake familial relationships during the holidays just to try and sell me something.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, specifically YouTube, I was able to immediately answer a question that came up in class recently without having to do any laborious searching. It made me wonder how many engineers it took to create a world-wide information superhighway just so I could discover that yes, indeed, chickens can swim.

Here’s a factoid I just recently discovered. Not only are the seasons reversed in the southern hemisphere in terms of temperature, so are their names. For example, Australians dress up for Halloween in what to them is called springtime. This begs the question: which months do their kids go to school? Would they still go from September to May? Does Christmas come in the middle of their summer vacation? If so, do they then get a two-week break mid-winter (our summer) for no apparent reason? Is there a small town located right on the equator that has one side of the street saying its autumn and the other side thinks it’s spring? What about the Olympics? When Brazil hosts the next Summer Games in 2016, all of the signage will reflect that; but everyone who lives there will think it’s winter. That would be so confusing. Especially for an out-of-towner who goes on a huge drunken bender and then wakes up, looks at a billboard, and thinks he passed out for six months and now is in a different season.

Something else I didn’t learn until after the age of thirty: a drinking straw gets its name because it looks like a piece of straw. I can still remember actually being startled by this realization while dining at a Red Robin restaurant in Victorville, California. The people in the next booth were equally amazed, but the waitress was surprisingly coquettish about the whole thing.

Here’s a mystery that even Sherlock Holmes can’t solve. How do all of the cables behind a television set or a home stereo get so unbelievably tangled? They weren’t like that when I plugged them all in. I know my cat can’t fit back there, so how in the world do they arrange themselves into such incredible Gordian knots? It’s probably the same gremlins who braid headphone wires in storage drawers.

Realizing you’re growing older doesn’t come up on you gradually. It hits suddenly with an incident that serves to remind you there are more yesterdays than tomorrows left on your season pass. For example, I used to run on a treadmill that faced a full-length mirror. One day, I noticed how loose the skin on my cheeks was getting. With each step, my expression was switching from happy to sad and back again. Seriously, I started to look like the two drama masks as I ran: comedy… tragedy… comedy… tragedy… I felt so aged that I went home and put on a pair of parachute pants to feel young again.

My latest killer app idea: the iBalls search engine. Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, using it is a breeze. You simply take your eyes off your screen and look around for a while. You’ll be amazed at all the things you didn’t notice before, things like the sky, your loved ones and the fact that you’re about to walk blindly into oncoming traffic.

A Christmas Present from the Past

So there I was. On my right side was a wailing five-year-old who hated Christmas. On my left side, in a red bag, sat the reason why. Between the two was a confused father wondering how such a simple event had gone so wrong.

It was the night of my then five-year-old son’s Cub Scout gift exchange, which was being held in a local elementary school’s cafeteria. Anticipation was running high for my little guy as we placed our wrapped gift on the assigned table with the others. We sat down with our troop, and he eagerly fidgeted throughout the regular meeting. In what I’m sure felt like an eternity to him, the agenda was covered and the official business adjourned. With no little fanfare, the Scout Master started calling out tables to come up and pick out a random gift. All around us, the place was filling with children ripping gleefully into wrapping paper and pulling out robots, building blocks and toy guns because nothing says, “Peace on Earth” like an authentically scaled firearm.

Finally, Daniel’s turn came. It is fair to say he scampered up to the gift table and grabbed his choice, a bright red gift bag. He then turned around, flashed me a huge grin, and started heading back towards his seat. Halfway there, his curiosity must have got the best of him; and he sneaked a peek inside. Oddly, his face quickly took on an entirely new expression that I had never seen before. He looked like he had just taken a big whiff of a ripe gym bag full of old sweat socks and rank t-shirts. Then, inexplicably, tears started to well up in his eyes. By the time he made it back to our table, his lips were in full tremble mode and rivers of moisture flowed down both sides of his nose. Not knowing what else to say, I asked him, “What did you get, pal?” He loudly replied with, “This is the worst Christmas ever!!” and fairly threw his new present at me. Sitting down heavily, he crossed his arms over his heaving chest and continued sobbing.

My first reaction was one of embarrassment because I knew whoever had gotten him this gift was somewhere in this room right now. Most likely, they had been watching with great anticipation for the reaction their kindness and generosity had elicited in the heart of a boy only to have my ungrateful brat break into tears of hysteria at the sight of it. I lamely tried to comfort my son by saying, “Come on, I’m sure it’s not that bad.” And with that, I reached down into his bag and pulled out his gift.

bell

I must admit I was a little confused at first by what I was now holding. It was a bell, a Christmas bell, wrapped in a clear plastic tube.  it stood about six inches high with a garishly painted snowman as the handle. I thought to myself, “Huh?” My previous thought changed as I scanned the area. Somewhere in this room, right now, was a person who had gone out on a quest for a toy to give a five-year-old boy and came back with this. I imagined them going up and down the aisles of the local stores looking for just the perfect gift to bring the joy of the season. They must have passed over racks of fully-articulated Spidermen, rejected all Hot Wheels had to offer, snubbed their noses at anything Star Wars related. But this. This bell. This spectacular Christmas bell was the obvious answer to any wee lad’s question of, “What do I want from Santa this year?”

Speaking of, if jolly Ol’ Saint Nick hadn’t already switched my name to the naughty list he was about to once he read my thoughts concerning the giver of this bell because now I had to deal with its effect. I desperately looked down into my son’s tiny, anguished face as I considered the proper course to take. On the one hand, I wanted my youngest to always show gratitude for a gift. He needed to learn to be thankful to anyone who takes the time to try and do something nice for him. On the other hand, I wanted to take both hands and quietly strangle whoever had brought this bell into my life. I didn’t know what to do. This type of situation was not covered in the Lamaze class my wife had forced me to take. I just needed a hint; and as I idly flipped the bell’s container in my hands, it came to me. On the bottom of the box was a sticker, and on that sticker were written the words, “This is not a toy.” That was all the justification I needed. I packed up the boy, threw the bell into the trunk and headed out to Walmart to have my son pick out a new present for himself. By golly, no stranger was ruining my offspring’s holiday.

As we drove off into the night, I was thinking that maybe this wasn’t the right thing to do. Maybe I should just stay on message about how it’s the thought that counts, and its better to give than receive. Yet, every time I did, I just got mad again about that stupid bell. I was full of indignant rage at the thoughtlessness of the gift-giver. How did they expect a five-year-old to react? Did they envision him standing at the foot of the stairs, ringing the family down on Christmas Day? Was he supposed to dress up as a Salvation Army member while accosting his stuffed animals for donations? How callous could one person be? I got Daniel something he wanted and stewed over the incident all the way home.

Fast forward ten years and my position on the bell has evolved. The next year, I started annually relating this story to my classes before Winter Break, and it never failed to get a big laugh. At family gatherings, it would come up and we would always break into hysterics over it. And, as I wrote this story, I had a sudden realization. For the life of me, I could not remember what Daniel picked out at Walmart that night as an alternate gift. In fact, I’m sure he no longer has any of the hundreds of dollars of toys Santa brought him that Christmas. There is only one present he still possesses from that magical period of his life: that bell. Every single year, it never fails to bring joy into my family’s life and those of my students. I guess it’s true one should never look a gift horse (bell) in the mouth. It may just turn out to be the one of the best gifts he’s ever received.

7 Thoughts Too Big to Tweet and Too Small to Blog 2.3

I’m sure you’ve seen this scenario a dozen times in the movies. A guy, who is supposed to be alone, ends up hiding someone in a room with him. A third character, usually a landlord or jealous girlfriend, hears them talking then pounds on the door demanding to be let in. When confronted, the guy will use the excuse of the TV being on to explain why there were two voices. Think about it. Have you ever thought that the sound coming out of your television was actually emanating from a person in another room? Me either.

How long does it take for a snowflake to fall? I’m not talking about one from a close-all-of-the-schools-in-county blizzard, just your average run of the mill snowflake. Does it take over a minute or just mere seconds? What’s the longest distance a snowflake ever flew? How long does it take for one to form? Do they slowly expand or is it an instantaneous process? Actually, I sometimes think my brain never progressed from the three-year-old ask a billion questions stage. Maybe its because my mom drank a lot of Tab when she was pregnant with me. Who knows what kinds of chemicals that stuff contained back in the sixties?

Let’s say you’re jumping out of an airplane and your parachute fails, it will still take you almost a full minute to hit the ground. Would you scream the whole way? I mean, at some point you would run out of air and have to suck more back in. Me? My plan is to do a double-gainer with a twist then smack straight into the Earth with my arms over my head in the traditional diving position. Might as well give the paramedics something to laugh about.

Something else I just don’t get is why anyone would pay into the hundreds of dollars to see a contemporary performer in concert when its common knowledge that they don’t actually sing live. The majority of the audience goes there knowing full well that they’ll only hear a pre-recorded version of their favorite songs. I guess it’s all worth it just to have the singer yell out your city’s name.

Can a dolphin breathe in through its blowhole, or just through its mouth? If I were to cover its blowhole with a piece of duct-tape, would it suffocate? Is the blowhole wired up exclusively to the lungs, or does its throat have some sort of epiglottis scenario that can switch between lungs and stomach? There is a lot of stuff I just don’t know.

Celebrating Veteran’s Day recently made me think of something. When the agitated elements of certain Middle Eastern countries take to the streets and burn our flag, where do they get the flags from? I’m pretty sure they aren’t homemade, so they must be buying them somewhere. Do they have stores where you stock up on all your anti-USA protest needs like flammable flags, picket signs written in English (for American television audiences), and masks of our President to put on dummies for hanging in effigy? They would probably have some pretty interesting television commercials, too.

A few years ago, I was attending a church class for parents of teenage confirmation candidates. I couldn’t help noticing that while the priest was speaking some of the other adults were checking texts or Facebook updates surreptitiously on their smart phones. It got me to wondering why someone would do that. See, if you truly believe in God, then don’t you think He knows what you’re doing when all of your attention is focused on your lap? And if you don’t believe in God, what are you doing at confirmation class? I can accept you being an atheist; but, if that is the case, why are you raising your child to worship a deity you don’t think exists? People really confuse me sometimes.