Third Grader . . .

From our recent trip "home" (Groton, NY) this bridge
was part of my younger brother's Eagle Scout project. 
When I was a kid there was very little I loved The and hated more than going back to school.

While I would not come to a formal diagnosis for decades after the last "first", I knew, even as a first and second grader that the day flooded my brain with anxieties and worries and yet brought me peace at the same time.

How? Well - first, the peace . . . I got to go to JC Penney and get allllll new chinos, oxfords, (penny) loafers, and socks. I would get new sweaters (it was September in Upstate - sweater weather came early) and maybe even a new blazer. The anxiety . . . wait, wait, wait, I don't WANT my schedule to be upended. I don't really feel like meeting a new group of people and having a new set of masters/mistresses. I am not sure if I'll remember my locker combination quickly enough. What if the new bread in the cafeteria doesn't smoosh just right? They started putting milk in baggies like so much Capri Sun? Get. Me. Outta. Here.

The BIGGEST years were school changes - seventh grade (middle school - junior and senior high were in the same building in our small, rural district) and Freshman year of college, sure - but FORTH grade nearly killed me. My parents, in their loathing and contempt for me and my quality of life selfishly (as I saw it then - in hind sight it was for the better of ALL of us that we moved) moved us three hours from the only home I had ever known a few weeks before.

I walked in to school that morning knowing NO ONE. I hated it. HATED it. I hated my parents. I hated my teacher (I still sorta stand by that position, even 29 years later). I hated the very notion of all the changes normally associated with first days of school multiplied by infinity as I had to learn a whole new everything.

Why am I rambling? My daughter started third grade this year. While a year younger (and a lifetime wiser) than I was the similarity is that she also started in a new school (one mile east of the old one but it might as well be three hours (for me)).

Here's the difference between her and me . . . EVERYTHING. Was she nervous? Nope. Was she angry? Not even. Did she seem freaked out or overwhelmed? Not in the least. Did she spend the entire day fighting the urge to vomit and/or pee everywhere? She assured me otherwise.

Her mother, she, and I all met up that AM for photos. The parents cried and hugged, the kid just ran inside to Latchkey and the dozens of friends she was about to make.

THIS is one of the many reasons I am glad that - while she is entirely my child and my daughter - she does not have my neurosis or my quirks or compulsions. She is a far more comfortable, confident, self assured person than I was at that age. I have to presume this will serve her well.


This Is Where I Leave You . . .

Before summer started I put together a list of movies I wanted to see this summer.

I did pretty well. "Citizen Koch" is on Netflix (eh, a little preachy). "Tammy" was wonderful (and far more nuanced than I expected it to be). I have a review of "Wish I Was Here" in the queue (it was splendid, frankly (we can argue later but ONLY if you actually saw it)). I didn't really love "A Most Wanted Man". I skipped "If I Stay" - I don't know what I was thinking. "Life Itself" is going to lead at Tallgrass this fall. That leads me to the only other movie on the list I did see . . . "This Is Where I Leave You"!

I won't write a synopsis . . . watch for yourself:

To be clear . . . this movie had a lot of (my) pressure riding on it (for me). I LOVED the book (and anything Tropper has put on paper) and I was highly dubious of Jason Bateman. Turns out my fears were for nothing. I thought the movie, written/adapted by Tropper himself (which always helps, I think, in an adaptation) and directed by Shawn Levy (who has done a handful of movies including Date Night and the Night at the Museum franchise) was just about perfect.

Jason Bateman was just varied enough from his normal character that I truly bought him as Judd Foxman/Altman (they renamed the family in the movie). Tina Fey (who I admittedly run hot/cold on as an actress) was very funny and incredibly likable as the only sister in the family. Adam Driver (who I only really know from wonderful film Frances Ha) looks like the dude you never want the girl to bring home but he nails his role as the lovable, over-coddled youngest son. Corey Stoll (who I still miss as Congressman Russo in House of Cards (you are telling me there were no cameras in that garage. . . )) is great as the dutiful son who runs the family business and is married to the former girlfriend of his brother (so much resentment, so little time and attention). Jane Fonda is the comedic matriarch to end all comedic matriarchs. Rose Byrne (who plays someone totally different in all of her roles and for that - I applaud her) was wonderful as the "strange" hometown girl.

The supporting cast was great, too. Debra Monk and Connie Britton (two of my perennial Heynows) were as lovely as ever but neither played characters that truly moved the movie forward (both have scenes and moments they steal, to be clear) and I thought the always intriguing Timothy Olyphant could have been used more (his "Horry" was used more in the book) and I was not entirely sold on Ben Schwartz as the Rabbi/Bonner (he did fine but I would have liked a bigger name there (not sure why I cared)). The other spouses (including Judd's wife Quinn) were in so little of the movie that they don't really matter and the kid with dropping his potty and trousers was wonderful.

I would put This Is Where I Leave You (as I suspected I might) up there with my favorite "Dysfunctional Family" movie of all time . . . The Family Stone.

I think anytime you can lump so many characters - cast with talented people - together and have them be so very different (and often stereotypes/cliches) and have so many choices for angst and conflict and yet lay it all over a bed of "but we are family and we love each other, dammit" - you have a chance to make something great. OR it can be horrible. Think about all those films made every year where every member of the cast is an Academy Award winner (or at least nominee) and the movie is horrible because it is just two hours of scenery chewing and establishing shots. This one stayed well on the side of great.

I would not put this movie in my all-time favorites list. It is too new to be there and I still love the book more and think there is a lot more laughter, tears, and punch in those pages. I would suggest you see it. It is smart, funny, warm, sad, and endearing - like any good, dysfunctional family film should be.


Relationship . . .

This is us on our first date. I'm kidding. My chest is way hairier than his.
A little over a year ago I introduced the faithful readership to a very special being in my life. A little ray of sunshine that gets behind the clouds and helps the clover grow. That piece of my heart is, of course, Gus.

Did you miss that announcement? Good. Because it doesn't matter that I have a guinea pig.

More over, as I have discussed many times I don't ever intend to really discuss my relationships in this forum - especially the good, positive, and healthy ones. That is not what this soap box is for (doom, gloom, and hair-brained opinions that go boom ONLY).

That being said, I should acknowledge here that I am in a relationship. With online porn. No. I'm kidding (I'm not kidding but let's pretend I am out of respect for this little lady).

That's right. I have a special lady friend (which is the relationship pet name equivalent to that lady on Law & Order SVU handing the kid a doll and asking them to tell her where the bad man touched them).

I shall say no more about it out respect for her, me, you, and all the ladies who just tore up their fantasy team line ups (they were starting me as their "next future ex-husband") in anger. Or something like that . . .


ראש השנה . . .

Happy 5775.

I'm being a good Jew and observing the New Year by shutting down my life and just reflecting and thinking and appreciating and wondering.

That means no electricity, no written word, and no combination of the two. I'll be hanging out, reading my machzor and blowing my shofar (which is not a dirty act or a euphemism, for the record) between now and sundown on Friday (which is Shabbat anyway so . . . ). Yes. I know most Reform Jews only observe the first day. I didn't go weak-sauce on my Lenten Sacrifices as a Catholic so I'm not phoning in my High Holy Days as a Jew.

Yes. I know I JUST came back to blogging. Yes. I KNOW that ALL these posts are scheduled forever in advance (including the one that will populate tomorrow). Boo-hoo!

ONE note - we have Tashlich at 5 PM CT at the Great Plains Nature Center. While Rabbi will be there and we do have some prayers it a beautiful ceremony of letting go of sins, frustrations, anger, resentments, etc. and it is not something you have to be Jewish to participate in. Just bring your own bread to toss, please.

Anywho - L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem/taihtemi ("May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.") and note that I'll be back (again) on Sunday.

Friends Reunion . . .

Are you sitting down? Seriously. Are you? Is it a comfy chair? With arms? You're sitting right. Because your mother and I have something to tell you . . . there will never be a full Friends reunion. It is not going to happen. I know, I know. Shhhhhh. Weep gently and on my shoulder. Let me comfort you with a hand on the small of your back and a long, protracted "mmmmmm" groan. Better? Okay. Let's talk about it.

Here is the thing. Friends was never actually funny. It really wasn't. It is immediate nostalgia like with The Brady Bunch or Kanye West's last few "artistic" albums where pop culture just washes over us and we go "Oh, yeah, I LOVE _____." Let's be clear - those "friends" were six beautiful, photogenic people and the fake version of 20s/30s New Yorker they brewed seemed so idyllic (and still does). It was "appointment" television for years and years as the audience numbers (myself included - two of my favorite sitcom lines of all time are Ross to Rachel - "You are over me? When were you UNDER me?" and Rachel to Ross - "It is doesn't happen to all guys. It is not okay. And it IS a big deal." (Chandler comes from behind the door) - "I KNEW it!") prove out but look at how few awards the show, its writers, and its cast were received or even nominated for. Look at how infrequently we toss back to it with current shows or even out-of-context references.

It is over. Mercifully. All six of those friends have moved on to other things. Courtney Cox keeps making unwatchable TV shows for cable. Joey (whatever his real name is) has aged quite nicely and still shows up every now and again. Lisa Kudrow has defined herself in other ways. Chandler is an addict (recovering - day by day). Jennifer Aniston is still somehow a lovable underdog that makes movies we really, really want to watch (I want her and Kathryn Heigl to make a movie together so we can officially declare the multiplex deceased) and the guy that played Ross still has a monkey he occasionally plays with/spanks.

We won't get a reunion because pop culture reunions are f*cking horrible. Yes. They are. I'm still waiting for a good one (okay, okay - the reunion/live finale of the second season of The Apprentice was pretty sweet (I kid, I kid)) and I think the cast of Friends (at $1MM/episode each (or $22MM/year each for seven years)) don't need the money as bad as the kids from Saved By the Bell or even the cast of Cheers.

Give it up. Move on. Stop with the Internet rumors and the clamoring. It was your pandering that allowed horrible things like Arrested Development and my beloved The Killing (and even my equally beloved Damages) to live on long, long after they should.

We have new things to love and get involved with including a neat little pilot Amazon Prime dropped a few months ago called "Really" (watch, like, appeal, and maybe it will be green lit to serial status) called "Really" (actually watch the pilots for ALL the Amazon season three offerings - I liked them all, at least a little).


Hobby Lobby Hysteria . . .

One of the benefits of taking the summer off from blogging (beyond not losing sleep over typos and grammatical errors) is that I was able to just experience some things without feeling like I needed to add my two rusty, oxidized pennies to the discussion. Another is that there were certain things that happened that I knew I would be able to use the 20-20 hindsight nature of waiting to discuss or opine on. That being said - I chose to smear Vasoline on my spectacles and to prattle on like no one was watching and I didn't need the money.

What should we discuss today? Those ass clowns at Hobby Lobby and the ass clowns that got upset over the religious values of a few dribbling its way in to the public consciousness. 

Do I agree with Hobby Lobby that they should be able to decide what medicine they do and do not cover on behalf of their employees? Nope. For the same reason that I resent that VERY FEW employers cover mental health as part of their standard insurance (and, let's be clear America there are a LOT more crazy people among us than those with fertile wombs). Do I believe that they should be forced to cover these medicines? Nope. Not so long as I need to max out my deductible to go see my counselor without, well, maxing out my deductible. Do I think this decision makes a difference. Nope. 

Now I know, I know . . . "But SEAN - this is a bunch of old, rich, white men deciding what can happen in MY body. That is not right." You're right - that position is not right.

The Hobby Lobby verdict, if you bothered to read beyond the headline, agreed that a privately-held corporation could exclude a handful (from a larger category) of medical offerings from coverage because they were thought to be used exclusively in preventing or terminating pregnancies. The pill your daughter takes for her acne vs. her sexual experimentation? Still covered. That drug that balances your midlife hormones and keeps your cycles normal? That will be a standard co-pay, Hot Flash McGee. Want to take a pill that ONLY serves to prevent or terminate pregnancy? You're S.O.L.

I know, I know. TOTALLY unfair. No. It is not. My mental health example above? Extend that on to surgeries like gastric bypass surgery or carpal tunnel procedures. Throw in smoking cessation pills, lozenges, and patches and add diabetic needs. Now pile on ad hoc screenings for breast and prostate cancer. For good measure, try to get your kid in to see an ear, nose, and throat (or ENT as the pros call 'em) specialist without the pink copy of a form filled out, in triplicate, by your PCP (or gatekeeper as the pros call 'em). What do all these things have in common? NONE OF THEM are covered by standard/basic insurance for many (30-ish percent) Americans. Yet every one of them is more dangerous to us as a collective than some unwanted pregnancies.

There was an article (the link is now broken) that was written using averages and statistics to figure out the real "impact" of the Hobby Lobby decision . . . it basically looked at how many women work at Hobby Lobby and how many are likely on the insurance the company offers and then used public health data percentages and statistics to extrapolate how common these medicines might have been and it speculated that exactly THIRTEEN women in the country (of the 165,000,000 they live among) were likely even impacted by this ruling - including four or five that likely found a dead end (no equivalent and covered medication) in this ruling. That is LESS people than have had their McDonald's drive-thru order screwed up since you started reading this (that is a real stat). More over the article suggested that MANY Hobby Lobby (no percentage was cited, to my memory) employees (men or women) agree with the company's religion-based business decisions for the company.

Still fired up?

Now I know, I know, I know. This Supreme Court decision is a gateway to chaos. The whole world is going to Heck because of this. Yep. Like Brown vs. BOE ended school segregation, Title IX made the world equal for the genders, and the recent gay marriage decisions made the whole country same-couple nuptial crazy. Heck all court decisions are immediate and eternal. Want me to go on?

Before you accuse me of being a conservative nut job who wants to invade your womb . . . a) I am a Liberal (big L for dramatic effect). b) I am pro-choice (in many cases and contexts) c) I have zero interest in your womb. NOTHING personal. d) I do not think that one's personal religious views should govern business policies unless you are in the business of religion or your business serves a religious function (Kosher Delis, Rosary manufacturers, etc.). e) I worry more about a million other things than if my employer is going to change their insurance policies because of this verdict.

Let's all relax. Let's take a pill (for anxiety vs. blocking pregnancy). Let's all just keep things in context. The sky is not falling. The world is still spinning. And there are still thousands and thousands of couples ready to adopt that unwanted baby and hundreds of medical professionals ready to terminate the pregnancy if you prefer - some of whom can get the procedure covered even under Hobby Lobby's insurance.

Seriously, though, what is UP with the people working the McDonald's drive-thru? 


Facebook and Emotions . . .

This was a million "must see" videos of kitties ago and you have probably "liked" so many stati (yes, that is the right word) involving the death of elderly grandparents you have probably totally forgotten about it but "we" were all really, really mad at Facebook in late-June.

It seems those evil bastards (who have allowed us to all become the laziest, most insincere people in the world and have given us a free portal through which to archive our lives, manage our every relationship, make money, and even - for some - find love all for FREE) did a little experiment with us to see if they could alter our moods by changing our news feeds.

Clearly I was not part of the test group because every time I log in the Facebook I become just-short-of-homicidal (seriously, people, cut it out) and this is now . . . years after the great summer of the "I wish people would just be honest" status (aka 2009 - 2011) but what did make me chuckle was the outrage of it all.

Here is what the argument boiled down to (even those who looked at it academically) . . . "they" don't have the right to keep things from or force things upon me.

Think about that . . . people were upset they were denied the 400th selfie their middle-aged friends took of them and their daughters at the Taylor Swift concert or the most recent "clickhole" video from the fine folks at Upworthy and/or were forced to acknowledge that people and organizations in their lives are less-than 100% Upworthy.

Know what's funny? That used to be real life. That still IS real life. I ask my colleagues (rarely truly caring for an answer) how their weekends were. I love the monosyllabic answers . . . Good. Great. Eh. Sucked. I am fine with the Cliffs Notes . . . Had fun. Took the kids to see Frozen. Too short. Not great. I will sit through the more inspired longer versions . . . "We found out that the pond has a leak and the fish we stocked it with are not going to make it past dinner tomorrow night." "I had a really great first date with a woman with an eye so lazy it couldn't even stay focused on the table next to us." "My mother-in-law took a turn for the worse so we are going to move her closer to us, for now, and likely in with us by the end of the year." (all three of those are real conversations, for the record). If I missed any of those nine or ten things . . . life would go on.

I would feel weird if I insensitively asked if oh boy's mother-in-law was available for a quick date and I would miss laughing at the date absurdity (they are still dating - it is fine - and her eye is not that lazy, it blinks regularly) and I would feel weird if I didn't stop talking to the guy who went to Frozen because I didn't know I should have stopped. But life would go on.

If we put all of our eggs in this faulty, weak-handled basket called "social media" we should not be so angry if it doesn't lead us to the nirvana we seek. There is no such thing - here or there.


Be Back Soon . . .

Yes! I have broken my summer social media fast and returned to Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.  I will have a full debrief on the experience and the pros and cons soon.

I did, for those who may have noticed, some purging of all three "communities" and I feel okay about what remains (Facebook will continue to slow down, Twitter will stay at occasional bursts, Google+ will be my focus and passion because it is so peaceful and wonderful).

This here blog (my beloved soap box in the middle of an empty room) is the last thing remaining by way of my (personal) digital "efforts". I am holding off for strategic reasons (blogging takes more time and energy than all the rest).

But, for those who have asked and/or are wondering I AM coming back to blogging. Posts will resume on Monday, September 22nd and I have a renewed energy for it.

Fret not. I drafted posts all summer long on topics big (Ferguson) and small (I saw a great movie a few weeks ago), important (Israel/Palestine) and trivial (I am going to buy a kayak), funny (you be the judge) and sad (not really), smart (I am binge (re)watching The Wire) and dumb (and The League).

Long story long - we'll get caught up and I hope the wait will be worth it. As Anne Hathaway once explained . . .

Hope everyone is well.