11/30/14

Sunday Funday . . .

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend has come and (all but) gone. I hope you took time amid the binge eating, the family scuffles, the shopping chaos, and the vow to never do "this" again to just be appreciative for the people and things in your life that make it wonderful.

They are plentiful and often subtle but if you slow down for even a minute - you'll see them.

11/28/14

More Wishes and More Thanks . . .

Two years ago, I posted THIS. Earlier today my daughter and I (now on our third Thanksgiving in a row so it is officially a tradition) went to Denny's for breakfast and then went down by near the river to throw pennies in the water fountain.

Last year we just threw pennies and made wishes. I remembered Ava's decision (the year before) to not throw all of our change (read the post linked above for "why not") but she did not - in 2013 - choose to do it again. We threw all of our change and then she went back to the car to get more.

This year, to my great delight, we had a very different set of wishes and tosses. I took the coins this time. Grabbed a very specific money.

We divided the money (she took just five coins and I took five) and we walked to her favorite spot and started tossing.

Her first coin was for her (in her defense - my first coin was for ME, too).

Her second opining was for me (my second coin for her).

The third penny tossed was for her mother (I chose to spend my third cent on a different woman).

The fourth penny was for Special Lady Friend and her mother's new Gentleman Caller (which is the creepiest thing I can think to call a man - who I really, truly like - that my ex-wife seems very content with). My fourth penny was for my ex-wife and her general happiness.

The fifth and final currency cast in to the cold water by the kid was for her "entire" family. My fifth penny was for world peace. I kid. It was for porn. I kid. It was for peace in the Middle East. I kid. It was for Mario Kart for Nintendo Wii. I kid. It was for a world that stops making sequels, prequels and reboots to every crap movie ever made. I kid. It was for at least five more Fast & Furious movies. I kid. It was for porn (again). I kid.

My fifth penny was, all kidding aside, that I continue to grow and develop and that the trend I am currently on (where things are going in the right direction and things are going well and looking up and all that stuff) continues and that I can stick with my running and dieting and that - a year from now - I'm a truly more content and present than today, a year ago, and CERTAINLY two years ago.

One last thing . . . as we walked toward the car I reached back in to my office, pulled out two more pennies, and asked "What should we do with THESE?" Kiddo took the pennies, walked to the edge of the pond and simply set them down.

She didn't say a word. She didn't need to explain. I knew why.


11/27/14

Thanksgiving . . .

Do yourself a favor today . . . spend a few bucks and rent this movie on any one of the digital-delivery platforms you like and watch "Scent of a Woman". You probably didn't see it 22 years ago (or any of the 21 years since) and that is for shame. There is NO better "Thanksgiving Movie" in the history of film (to be clear - I'm not sure how many competitors are in that category).

Forget the cheesy music and the dated "tone" of the trailer. I implore you - it is a worthy two-plus-hours of your life.

A truly great film with strong characters, good lessons to be learned, and plenty of profanity (so you know I liked it). There is even an awkward family Thanksgiving dinner you can compare/contrast to your own.

You're welcome!

11/26/14

The Tale of Two Blogs . . .



I used to not like numbers (or "data" and "analytics" as they are now known). I thought there was nothing worth really considering in them. No real rhyme or reason beyond what people WANT to find in them - sort of that old argument that you can bend facts to say anything you want if you are articulate enough.

Yet I found myself the other day having a bit of a moment . . . mainly looking at my own Google, well, Analytics.

Note the above . . . the overview of my two blogs. The first "My Journey" is about my gastric bypass surgery and the loss of about 230 pounds in about two years. I posted to it for the first time on August 1, 2007. I had a one-year-and-one-week old and I had a wife I adored and who, I believe, adored me too and a life I thought I understood. In the 27 months that followed I posted nearly 600 missives about that life.

Then I started to gain weight. Truly. That is what ended the blog (on November 5, 2009). I got on the scale at the Y and was up one pound. For the first time in 27 months I was gaining weight. I knew it was about to get weird. And it did. OHHHHH how weird it got!

I started "The Crack of Sean" (maybe the name names more sense now) the same day. In the 60 months since just about everything I thought I knew has changed. Marriage, G-d (you will see, if you read, that I was just sort of an agnostic bore during the "My Journey" phase), parenting, love, work, the balance of, friendship, etc.

Curiously I was a near-daily blogger on "My Journey" by sheer default. I was very UNFAITHFUL in the first three years of "Crack of Sean" (I think there are about 30 total posts in that three year gap) and then my friend Walker asked, innocently, in November of 2012 why I don't blog more often. I've been about five posts/week (other than this last summer when I intentionally rested) ever since.

I do it now, frankly, for therapy (and I've got some great couch sessions in draft form I'll probably never hit "publish" on).

So now - here I am - seven years older and seven years wiser. 1,187 posts shared at a rate of about .44 posts/day for the entire time (that is just between one every two and three days if you're not yet on-board the Numbers-Are-Fun Train). The worst part? These posts have been viewed 93,850 times. That is 35x/day on average. That's more than one person per hour for the last seven years reading or looking at the crap that flows out of my head.

MIND BLOWING. I don't think I'm an influencer or someone of even note. I have to presume some of the people that read my blog are just waiting for the eventual and perhaps inevitable "This isn't Sean - Sean is dead from a rage-fueled aneurysm. Send donations to help his kid get through college to the address below." post.

In the meantime, dear readers, I appreciate you joining me for this journey (these journeys?) and for the patience along the way. For better or worse I sense another whole pivot and version of me is brewing. Maybe this one will get its own blog. Maybe this one will just sort of flow under the flag of Crack Of . . .

Either way - I'll keep you posted at least once every 1.5ish days.

11/25/14

Ferguson . . .

Something shocking-and-yet-not-at-all-surprising happened last night in the suburbs of St. Louis, MO.

The parents of Michael Brown Jr. said this . . .

“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change… We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful.”

Let that soak in for a second. The two people MOST impacted by the police officer, Darren Wilson, shooting (that he shot him - 12 times - is FACT) the teen-aged Michael Brown asked that everyone else keep cooler heads after a grand jury found there was not enough evidence to go after office Wilson in a court of law.

Let's step away from our Law & Order education on the law and understand what a Grand Jury "does". They get ALLLLLLL the evidence. They get to examine stuff, hear testimony, ask questions (generally just for clarification), and have far, far greater access to the elements of a crime than the general public does. It is all done under relative secrecy and anonymity. This is, in fact, PART of our due process of law.

We know Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown. We know he claimed it was in self defense. We know that there were witnesses with conflicting stories. We know that there was confusion and chaos. The Grand Jury knows (or they state as much in their decision to not indict/open the door for prosecution) that there was not enough evidence or testimony to support a full-blown court case.

This outrages the "general public" in me. I want to at least know all they know. I want witnesses and public trials, and testimony and affidavits. I want deliberations and verdicts. Of course I wanted those things in the trials of OJ Simpson and George Zimmerman and I was unhappy with the outcome (I wanted appeals and another appeal, etc. in those) so let's be clear that my Law & Order law degree is not going to get me very far.

Yet all this seems empty to me. It has been nearly four long, full months of waiting. Protests. Destruction of property. Open examination of police departments and police policies. Discussions of race and race relations in the suburbs and in the dynamic of police and public. There has been enough public discourse and social media venom to shake the world.

I have gotten in no less than three spats with people I otherwise know and enjoy over this stuff. And it is always the same . . . either you're a liberal tree hugging cop hater who refuses to admit how hard it is out there protecting people (the subtle implication being to be a white cop out there protecting black precincts/beats (you all remember Carl Winslow, right? In Family Matters or Die Hard (not his character's name there - did anyone ever think "That's probably a racist cop." or "Man his job must be brutal.") OR you are a white guy who comes off as half racist blatantly saying what is just subtly mentioned above. And G-D forbid if you are a white guy who tries to empathize or understand that, as a white guy, the ONLY thing we can do is try to approximate what it must be like for either person/side of the crime and that we should want a public, in the open, court proceeding to help us understand and be sure justice is carried (as millions think it was for OJ and George Zimmerman, to clarify).

This is a silly debate. It won't end today. And I doubt the debate will end soon. I doubt it will end ever.

So here is what I did last night. I closed my Twitter account (as if the Browns were asking me, directly, to calm the f*ck down). I am going to close my mind to this one - for now.

I will continue to live my comfortable, white, middle-aged, middle-class life. I'll try to fight any pre-/ill-conceived notions I might have (about crime, law enforcement, race dynamics, ec.). I'll fight against racism, bigotry, small-mindedness, and hate at every turn. I'll raise my daughter to hopefully be even more wide-eyed, respectful, and aware of the world than I am (she'll need it, she is multi-ethnic and might eventually face slings and arrows herself). I'll try to empathize.

I'll try to appreciate that Michael Brown's shooting didn't happen to me. I am not him, Darren Wilson, or the families of either men. I'm not even technically a member of either community (St. Louis is eight hours-ish away . . . I am thankful this didn't happen here, frankly). I'm going to just be peaceful about it. I'm going to hope that some good will come out of all of this. That some good and positive change might come. The Browns believe that. I should, too.

Rest in peace, Michael Brown. May your memory be a blessing and your sacrifice for a greater good.

11/24/14

Minutes and Miles . . .

That old cliche . . . death in threes . . . totally true, I fear. In the last month I've gone from not having any even indirect contact with death to experience three deaths - one a direct loss and the other two just one "degree" away.

I'm probably "lucky". My Grandfathers died a long time ago (one before I was born, one when I was not-quite four). My grandmothers fared better (one when I was 12, the other when I was 21). We lived a hundred or so miles away from my Grandmothers. We would go visit every few months or so but it was, I fear, something where they were too far away and too abstract for me to feel like I had a true "relationship" with them. I loved them. I understood who they were. They could both cook, bake, and story tell their asses off. They were both hilarious. They were both smarter and sharper than the average bear. They were both women of a generation that didn't have the same social opportunity that my daughter has. They were miles and miles and hours and hours away.

Fast forward another 17 years and almost a month since my last Grandmother died to an urgent appeal from a friend on Saturday. Their long-ill Grandfather had taken a turn for the worst and they were not expected to make it "much longer". Could they have a ride to the hospice center?

Sure. I said. I immediately turned off my Roku, put down my iPad and ran (literally) out the door. I sped to their house. We got on the road as quickly as possible. We sped all the way to Clearwater (which is one word for NO apparent reason) despite a cell phone telling us to slow down every mile or so and a red light that I treated like the four-way-stop in Clueless and we made small talk about the weather, family, friends, and people we "hate" on social media (I've mentioned I'm emotionally stunted, right? Did you expect much more "alive inside" from my friends?).

We got 18.3 miles covered. We were just down the street and a right hand turn away from a dying Grandfather.

Then the call came in. He was gone. It took us one minute and three seconds to complete the trip.

One mile, one minute and three seconds (if this is the admission of a crime and you want to prosecute, send me a ticket, Clearwater police - I'm good for it).

I was sad for my friend. Just one more heaping of bad news on top of an ice cream sundae of torment, bad news, health and relationship challenges. I was sad for my friend. And I missed my Grandparents. And I wondered how often my daughter sees her Grandparents who live eight miles from her mothers house and I lamented how little she sees my parents who live 1,323 miles from my driveway (current drive time, 20 hours, seven minutes).

I'll go to my third funeral in four weeks on Wednesday. I probably won't cry at this one either. The loss doesn't really feel like mine in any of these instances (even my friend/colleague who I adored (most of the time) and miss many times a day - her parents and daughters deserve the mourning) but I'm going to hug the crap out of my parents when they land in Wichita in six weeks and my daughter is not going to be any more than a mile away from them the whole time (her mother's house is within that distance - relax - we're not doing any kidnapping).

11/23/14

Sunday Funday . . .

Yes. This week's "funday" is a Taylor Swift song. It is not secret that I dislike Ms. Swift. I think she was too rich and famous too soon and she didn't correctly emotionally mature in the wake of her wealth. I still feel that way . . . yet I can't help but like this song.

We've all fallen for the wrong person at the wrong time and got caught up in the emotional swell . . . I can't fault her for that (I've broken 1,000,000 hearts (that is high sarcasm)).

Also - unrelated yet totally relevant (if only because my daughter geeked out . . . the male in the video is apparently, according to the tree carving, named "Sean") . . .

11/21/14

In Run Again . . .

You know how "they" say you never forget how to ride a bike? You can TOTALLY forget how to run. Something I was doing +20 miles per week just a year ago is sorta killing me now.

It is my own fault. It is NOT about time. I sleep plenty. I stream movies and TV shows. I read. I sit around and talk. I work extra hours. I have the time . . . I just sorta got lazy and then I got comfortable and then I started being lazy and comfortable and that lead to weight gain and general physical ploomphery (that is not a real word) but I'm back at. I'm hoping to get over ten miles per week in the next few weeks and be to fifteen or so by the start of the New Year (not that far away - lest you mock).

I'm only telling you this because, well, "they" also say that if you make a commitment publicly you're more likely to keep that promise.

Have good weekends, y'uns.

11/20/14

Charlie . . .

Since I brought her up and people have asked . . . let's talk about Charlie. No. She's not my dog. 

I can't own a dog. I'm not a "dog person" and my landlord is anti-pet (and Obamacare as he frequently clarifies for no apparent reason). Nope. Charlie belongs to "Special Lady Friend" (which is still the creepiest thing I can think of to describe someone I care about - if I come up with something creepier, I'll let you know).

Charlie is a two-ish-year-old brown annoyance. I'm told her and her breed (chocolate lab) will retain puppy-like traits for at least four years (which seems unduly obnoxious). Even "better"? Charlie is extra special. 
  • She has the memory of a goldfish. 
  • She has a head that is too small for her body (that is the astute finding of a woman of science). 
  • She barks at perceived enemies (like tree branches). 
  • She has anxiety disorder(s) -- PLURAL -- that force her to just randomly lick things. Like feet. And the carpet. And remote controls. And feet. And feet.
  • She is pretty sure that every spoken word is "Charlie, come here, girl. I want to love on you and have you lick me and my feet."

I talk a big, emotionally-distant game but I sorta love her (when I'm not Google-ing "life expectancy for female chocolate labs" and "places in Wichita where dogs frequently disappear") and we're figuring out how to not just survive but enjoy each other. 

Okay. I am trying to enjoy her. She has no idea who I am. 

Here is Charlie trying to figure out who I am after we went on a mile-long walk. Just the two of us, I'd like to point out. Tied together by a purple leash. 


This is Charlie with her "Shalom Bone" beside her and a chicken/sweet potato jerkey treat thingy that I bought her in an impulsive reaction to the death of a colleague (true story) in her mouth. She eats like a person who had been otherwise lost at sea might.


Anywho. There. Charlie. Now we've all been formally introduced.

11/19/14

There Is a Line That Should Not Be Crossed . . .

While you and I (presumably) slept in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, two Palestinian cousins stormed in to a synagogue (fun fact - the words synagogue and temple are essentially interchangeable . . . Reform Jews typically call the houses of worship Temples in reverence to, well, The Temple. Other forms of Judaism calls them synagogues because, well, this is what being a Jew is about - differences) in East Jerusalem - deep in the womb of Israel and killed four rabbis. They had a gun and some meat cleavers. Yes. Meat. Cleavers.

This is almost too much for my tiny, unpowerful brain to really process. Forget that I am a Jew. NOT relevant. It really is not. Let's look at this in the absurdly abstract.

Do you remember the late 1980s? If not - get out of here, kid! Okay . . . let me prompt you. Domino's Pizza (the least likely delivery choice for my pizza loving pie hole) had this mascot called the "noid". He was a BIG deal. (Comic) Books, video games, clothes, commercials, etc. The noid (which you were told to avoid) campaign was about Domino's being able to deliver great pizza, in good shape, in great time. At about the same time (it might have been the early 90s) Little Caesars (the second-least likely delivery choice for just about anyone's pie hole (but for an impulse buy the "hot and ready" is just fine)) launched its cartoon "Caesar" who would just grunt "pizza-pizza" all the time. He was fun. Probably had some offshoot products (the late-80s and early-90s were some HEADY consumer times). Okay. Got the background? Good.

So let's just presume that the Noid has beef (or a beef-like substitute) with the Pizza-Pizza Caesar. They don't agree. The don't like each other. There are different philosophies on great pizza and how it is defined. Both chains have a franchise in the same strip mall. Their phone numbers, while custom, are not that different. Their product and price point are commodity-like. It all comes down to who can grab the most business from passers-by and callers (this is pre-cell phone and Internet. People had to actually CALL a pizza place and talk to someone (it was HORRIBLE to say the least)). Then you have to retain the business.

You can get crazy. Direct mail. Fridge magnets. Trinkets. You can send people to stand at the roadside with signs and costumes. You can call back your customers and thank them, etc. The franchisees can go kuhhhhraaaayzzzzze! And pizza franchise owners do.

The traditional tactics not working? Fine. Destroy the signs of the other guy. Do door-to-door blanketing. You can flatten the tires of the delivery boy. You can cut phone lines. You can call the other place and hold their lines full so no one can get through.

And the weirdest part? It is sort of accepted. It is part of the "game". Too few suburbs. Too many pizza places. There can be only one. And ALL that would be acceptable for most people (shenanigans being what they are) but you know what would NOT stand?

If Noid walked his rabbit-eared ass in to the Little Caesars and killed people. The customers. The kid working the phones. The franchisee working the ovens. NO ONE would stand for that. NO ONE would say "Hey. People are passionate about their pizza. I get that." NO ONE would say "Long, long tensions have to boil over somewhere." And maybe they do but NOT in the kitchen. NOT where the goods are made. NOT where the secrets are kept and the business is done and the hope is leavened.

That's what happened in Israel yesterday morning. Two people violated the house of G-d (any G-d . . . if the opposite happened I am equally outraged and the killing of George Tiller in a church here in Wichita a few years ago - while both killer and victim were Christians - equally horrified me (more than "just" a murder might)).

There is just something sacred about a house of G-d. I know atheists who will openly talk sh*t about any faith or religion but if you put them in a place or worship . . . crickets. As it should be.

I'm not justifying murder. Ever. But I'm certainly, certainly, CERTAINLY not going to ever understand the idea of killing people while they are in prayer or in the peace and solitude of a sanctuary.

11/18/14

You Really ARE My Favorite . . .

When I first started my job nearly a year-and-a-half-ago there were tons of things in the desk drawers and cubbies and storage spaces of my area that my predecessor had left behind.

Most of it was junk . . . old press releases, log-ins for accounts no-longer used, directions on how to do my job effectively (I'm kidding, 10% of that document was super useful), some take out menus, some plastic silverware, three packets of soy sauce, some old industry publications, a stack of her business cards, etc. etc. etc.

There, among the stuff that I just sort of looked at then junked was a box labeled "Oriental Trading Company". Now - as racist as the name might imply I think (but have never been able to verify) that the company actually has a heart of gold and a love for all G-d's people. Why ELSE would they sell so many amazing party items at such low prices?

What was I talking about . . . oh yeah . . . the box. So I opened it - presuming it would be filled with some random crap that wasn't even from this emporium of delight.

What treat awaited me?! 24 little, tiny, two inch plastic trophies. Gold(ish) with black bases. And what else was in the box? No, not Gwenyth Paltrow's head (say it with me - in your best Brad Pitt - "What'ssssss in the boxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx?"!). A Gold-ink Sharpie (fine point, if you're keeping score at home).

So I did what any self-respecting, middle aged man would do. I started writing random crap on them and giving them away like so many undeserved prizes. What sort of honors did I pass around the office?

  • "Loser of Keys and Life Status"
  • "Dick" 
  • "Happy Maker"
  • "Debits and Credits Keeper" (They LOVE me in accounting!)
  • "Not As Hot As My Mom"
And, the one I made more than any other . . . "Sean's Favorite".

I gave those out like second chances in the NFL. If someone even so much as made eye contact with me, they were eligible for a "Sean's Favorite" trophy. A total of nine, if I am counting correctly, were given out in just three days (the fun wore off fairly quickly - for me (it was instant for everyone else)).

And yet, an un-imagined consequence of my flippant awards was that, at least for some, the words registered and had weight and meaning. I would dare say that the plastic trinkets, still smelling of marker ink (and some smeared to boot) actually meant something to some people.

So I had to sort of put this in context . . . and realize that I say "You are my favorite." about 100 times/day. To family, friends, lovers, colleagues, strangers, vendors, the guy that hands me something, the person that holds the door, the bird that poops on the car NEXT to mine, etc. I just like to tell people they are my "favorite".

And I guess that puts me in the category of "insincere" to some who are more reverent and strict with a word that I have always, since I decided every ice cream flavor was my "favorite" as a young child, sort of presumed was always subjective and contextual.

You can be my "favorite" proofreader. You can be my "favorite" QuikTrip guy. You can be my "favorite" brother (they would not even pretend to fight for the honorarium). You can be my "favorite" parent (it is my father - my mother knows this, we're all pretty open about "favorites" in our family). You can even be my "favorite" favor-doer of the moment.

It doesn't mean I don't mean it. It doesn't make the words hollow or empty. I just means that whatever you are my "favorite" of at any given moment, someone might replace you the next moment . . . in that exact category or one very close to it.

So act right, be present, and hold on to those plastic trophies. They aren't a dime a dozen, but they are $8/dozen (which is cheap enough to not even slow me down). 

11/17/14

Fall/Award-Bait Movie Season . . .

This is the time of year that FILM lovers (you can keep (most) of your "movies" and "blockbusters" and "popcorn flicks" and "features") like me can usually puff out our chests, put on slouchy clothes, hit an ATM for cash for the snack stand, and carve out a few hours to just be left alone (you've all heard my rant about how movie-going is, at its core, a solitary activity, right?).

While there are less and less "original" ideas in film these days (even some of the most hyped movies of the coming awards season are adaptations and/or dramatizations of real-life events (or both)) there are lots of movies that people "in the know" are already buzzing about.

Here is the ONLY list of those movies (some already out, some still to come) that you need to pay attention to this "award-bait" movie season.

Birdman . . . 
Raymond Carvery was a wonderful writer. Michael Keaton really was a great actor. The two together deserve a comeback and some props.



St. Vincent . . . 
I love Melissa McCarthy. I really enjoy Bill Murray (but do tire of the fact that every time he steps in front of a camera there is Oscar buzz for him). I like the idea of people who are completely selfish even in relationships (in a fictional setting, to clarify).



Nightcrawler . . .
Jake Gyllenhaal is beyond creepy in this movie. The scene where he negotiates sex with Rene Russo is the most uncomfortable thing I've seen in film since Christian Bale said "Don't just stare at it, eat it." in American Psycho.



Exodus: God and Kings . . . 
I'm not always a fan of Ridley Scott or Christian Bale but I always loved the story of Moses and Egypt and the plagues and the parting sea and all these other things that no one could really explain and some just chose to believe.



Inherent Vice . . . 
Paul Thomas Anderson has never even let me down a little bit . . . Thomas Pynchon wrote a few books I tried to swallow (and succeeded, sorta - Gravity's Rainbow is smarter than I am). This book, I loved. The adaptation I presume I might love even more.



The Gambler . . . 
Jessica Lange? John Goodman? And is that OMAR (Michael Kenneth Williams)?! I am really excited to see this movie - on cast alone.



Into the Woods . . . 
I let my daughter's mother take her to most children's movies but this is one I'll fight for (or take her to see it again).



Big Eyes . . . 
Much like "Big Fish" this seems like a Tim Burton film that is just quirky enough to be "his" without being so much that it is "HIS" movie.




Also - I'm still hoping for a nod (or two) for Wish I Was Here. Gone Girl, and This Is Where I Leave You (some of my favorite movies of the year). What is my FAVORITE movie of the year? You'll have to wait until December, suckers.

11/14/14

Random Stuff That Tickles Me . . .

Because tossing leaves in the air in the light of a setting sun
makes everything better.
I have been fairly miserable the last four years.

I am not going to usurp terms like "depressed" or "sad" or whatever . . . I leave those for people who are fully formed enough to know when they feel these things but I've been far less than giddy about "stuff".

That has finally - in just the last few months - started to change. I'm not as grumpy. I'm not as short. I'm not as distant. I'm not as disinterested or listless. I haven't acted out or been impulsive (beyond toast toppings or which pair of penny loafers to throw on in the AM) in many, many months.

I feel like I finally have my life back and the dust has settled on things and I've Swiffered most of the sediment away to leave a shine and lemon smell.

It, frankly, feels great. I like being "present" and I like being comfortable and aware. The point of this post is not to look like one of those "My Life is GREAT" people (I loathe those people) but is, instead, a confession . . . of sorts. There are a handful of things, you see, that have made me smile or laugh or both or more these last few years.

No matter what is happening there are things that have always brought me "joy".

They include - in alphabetical order since they might otherwise be listed in no particular order . . .

  1. Books - I really do love to read. It gets me out of "here" for a while. I'm currently reading "Telegraph Avenue", "The Maltese Falcon" (I'm behind on the Big Read), and "The Spirituality of Welcoming"
  2. Challah - It is sweetened egg bread that has been braided. What's not to love?!
  3. Charlie - I have finally met the world's dumbest dog (an "honor" I would argue just about all dogs are in the running for) and the world's most annoying dog (an "honor" I would also argue just about all dogs are in the running for) and for some reason I'm fine with her (yes, Charlie is a she (I've never asked)) most of the time. My new favorite "thing" with her? Beggin' Party Poppers
  4. Crayons - Is it irony that Charlie ate the last box I purchased. 
  5. Debate - Arguing . . . for the sake of verbal and mental exercise, is a wonderful thing. My latest topics include "How Social Media Will Kill Us All: You Don't 'Like' a Death Notice", "Fictionalizing Abuse as a Way of Coping: J.K. Rowling and Some Dude Named Harold", and "The NFL: Why Are You People Watching and Supporting and Begging for a Super Bowl?" among others. Swing by any time if you want to talk out the above or anything else. 
  6. Fast & Furious - There is ALWAYS time for a marathon. It is soooooo good. 
  7. Jewish Culture - Come for the belief system, STAY for the Judaica. It is no coincidence that the only religion in the world with its own shelf in the cookbook section of most bookstores has a steep culture beyond food. It just goes and goes. I'm currently fixated on several mezuzah, at least eight days worth of hanukkiah (don't call them a menorah, rookie), and enough kippah to cover the entire downtown area. And that's just the beginning. The books, cookbooks, plates, candles, music, art, etc. . . . Oy vey. 
  8. Music - I love NPR, random, music and podcasting, podcasting and music. Music just a little more than the other two because I always fully control it. 
  9. Running - I got super fat and super lazy in 2014. The last few weeks have seen my body take revenge as I try to start seriously running/training for another half marathon. I still enjoy the same things about running I did before . . . being alone with my thoughts. 
  10. Tea 
  11. This Old House Magazine - It makes me want to be a better (more crafty and mechanically inclined) man. 
  12. This Website (i)
  13. This Website (ii)
  14. This Website (iii)
  15. Vocabulary - You're two minutes away from a nascent word or two.
  16. Yiddish - It is like Hebrew only way, way more fun. 

Bookmark this post - just in case you ever see me looking dirty and smelling unlemony. I will probably appreciate the nudge back toward happy.

11/11/14

Heroes . . .

It may (to some) sound trite or cliche but Veterans Day, to me, is a really important thing that probably deserves more respect and reverence than it gets.

Let's be clear - Veterans Day, in the American-culture we all hate to love and love to hate, is as much about day's off, no mail, banks being closed, and sales and discounts galore in the marketplace as it is about honoring the men and women that have served our nation (more over our ideals (freedom, etc.)) over the years. Certainly for SOME the holiday still holds its intent but, like Christmas, Easter, July 4th, and Arbor Day - we've sorta lost our way on this occasion.

Here's the thing . . . I am fat, lazy, of poor vision, and pretty much a pacifist. The idea of being a soldier and fighting for something bigger than me, my child, or the last handful of Fritos is truly daunting. The idea of putting my life on the line (for anything other than Fritos) is nearly too much to consider.

Yet MILLIONS of people (not just here in the US but around the world for every flag of every nation) will sign up and do it. For free, for pay, for a job, for a career. Men, women, all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors. Military service may actually be the ONLY thing that every country of the world agrees on (sad, right?).

Sure, sure. There are lots of times when military action is "too soon" or "too much" or "too not advised" and - sure, sure - there are many incidents where individual (or smaller groups) of soldiers have done horrible, horrible things. I'm not defending either but find me an organization or group of people that has not made similar mistakes or acted in horrible ways.

I'm not sure exactly what we should do to honor our Veterans. Maybe just say "Thank you for your service." Perhaps buy them a nice, cold soda pop (or beverage of choice). We might offer them a meal or party. OR we could do basic things . . . give them an honest income, ensure their spouses and children are taken care of when they are off defending us and our ideals, offer support for them when they are struggling in service and after, give them training and tools to find jobs and careers after service, make sure they have a roof over their head and a meal on their plate. Never forget them. That doesn't seem so difficult, does it? And yet, here we are.

I guess we should go back to the even easier basics and say "Thank you for your service."

I very much appreciate it. Now pass me the Fritos.

11/7/14

Deli Day . . .

I love being Jewish and I love food. In a world where A + B = C that MUST mean I love Jewish food.

And. I. Do.

If I'm being honest one of my earliest memories of what it was "like" to be a Jew is a loaf of challah and some room temperature matzo ball soup that my college roommate's parents had brought from the Boston suburbs ahead of the HHDs (High Holy Days) in the fall of 1995. I was still an active Catholic but I was already struggling with that church and . . . well . . . they had really, really delicious food over "there" to distract me.

I'm being slightly flippant but there is a point . . . you TOO can get a taste of great Jewish food this weekend right here in Wichita.

My congregation is having its annual "Deli Day" at temple on Sunday, November 9th from 11 AM - 6 PM (while supplies last - full disclosure, the food was gone by about 2 PM last year) and you are cordially invited.

Imagine corned beef or brisket sandwiches, matzo ball soup bowls deep enough to drown what ails you, matzo toffee so rich it need not rise, hamantaschen so triangular and sweet you want to kiss the person next to you ... If only you knew them. I could go on ... But why?

Join us. Get $15 out of your kid's piggy bank (or borrow it from a friend) and come dine-in or carry-out. We will be serving up the goodness as early as 11 AM CT on Sunday, November 9th and we will keep dishing the Jewey goodness until the last "oy vey" is uttered (or 6 PM, whatever comes sooner).

The address for temple is 7011 E. Central, Wichita, KS (between Woodlawn and Rock on the south side of Central).

If you are hesitant about this turning in to some sort of time share/eternity pitch - take heart - unlike my roommate's parents bribing me with their delicious noshings (turn about is fair play, we took their son to Sunday Mass and Christmas Eve services) this is a completely secular event. It is all about the delicious food and sharing the culture and good times - no G-d talk.

11/6/14

Life Is Short . . .

A colleague of mine died on Tuesday night. There's no reason to sugar coat it or put beautiful, majestic language in the mix. She died. It is a horrible, senseless death but it happened.

I won't get too much in to biography (her family deserves their privacy) but I'll say this about her . . . she was a wonderfully hopeful and optimistic woman. A true searcher who believed the best stuff in the world could and would be found. A perspective truly different than mine in most scenarios.

If I'm being honest, she wasn't just a co-worker or cube neighbor. She was also a friend. 97% of our shared time was positive. We would laugh and joke. We'd complain about the things we both disliked about work or life. We'd commiserate over love and relationships. We'd banter, in good nature (typically) about religion. We'd go to half-price pizza night and just have a good time. I adored just about everything about her.

Recently something changed. Not in a bad way, candidly. A colleague - who I admired for her interest in and comfort with numbers and data and analysis (something most sales and marketing people love only enough to help us be better at our jobs and that we, typically, use only to help us in doing our jobs) - had stopped really loving the numbers and the work. She had, you see, fallen in love. Not just with a man but with the idea of building a life with him and that meant leaving her job, when the time was right, to be with him.

I get that. It is something beautiful and natural.

Yet, candidly, I didn't really appreciate it in the moment. There were moments and hours and days and even weeks where I was not able to get as much done because either I was not being supported or, in rare moments, I was being distracted or our colleagues were being distracted, by her distraction.

Why am I telling you all this? No. Not to disparage a woman I cared about within a few days of her death. More over to criticize me. You see, dear reader, I'm going to carry to burden about how much I let the distraction get to me for a very, very long time.

You see the last conversation I had with this woman - who I admire (present tense) in so many ways ended with these words . . . "Get the f*ck out of my office." and they came following twenty minutes of screaming, yelling, and arguing over something so completely irrelevant and insignificant - you'd all drive to my office and wait in line, for maybe hours (there would be so many of you) to punch me in the face over. I lost my cool, she lost her cool, we lost our cool.

The pops and buzzes are irrelevant but here is the takeaway - there were three different times, during the conversation (I'll call it that to take the edge off my self-loathing) where she pointed out that I was not being fair in my insistence that our personal relationship and my professional frustrations not mingle in the argument we were having . . . and she was open and honest enough to acknowledge, several times, that her personal life had come in to her work life and that she was aware that her work, of late, was not as solid and focused as it typically was (she thought, and probably rightly so, I was making more of it than necessary).

Here's the thing . . . we had 27 more hours that we could have tried to talk again. We could have tried to cool down and focus and try it again. We could have at least said something to each other that would have maybe, just maybe, let us if not bury the hatchet - put the sheath back on it. We didn't.

We didn't speak the rest of the day Monday or at all on Tuesday. Even Tuesday evening, at a table full of colleagues who I consider friends and, with a few, good friends - we were at opposite ends and we shared nothing more than two passing instances of eye contact and a smile and laugh when someone made a joke that involved both of us.

I'll never see her again. We'll never chat again. We'll never be able address personal, professional, the blend, or something bigger or better or more important.

I should have listened to her. I had the chance 100 times in the moments we spent arguing. She was there . . . making a simple and admirable point that life is what it is - a mixture of work and personal, ups and downs, good and bad, happy and sad. It is about what we are handed and what we do with it. It is about how we treat each other and ourselves and how we do (not) allow other people to treat us.

It is about listening more than we talk and it is about (if ever a lesson could be imparted on this stubborn, dull brain of mine) not wasting 20 minutes or the 1,620 more that we had available to us - mad at someone, in silence with someone, or assuming you'll get another minute to make right what you have done wrong.

I don't beat myself up for the argument. I stand by a good chunk of what I said. I hate that it ended in such a venomous way and I hate that I was so selfish as to not bother to try to reach out - even when we did share eye contact or the quick smile and laugh - to let her know that I was (and still am) very sorry and that I appreciate so very much about her and all the ways that she was different than me.

11/4/14

Seven Years a Kansan (Confidence) . . .

Continuing my "Seven Years a Kansan" series is the thing I regret most about Kansas . . . its confidence (or lack there of).

This gripe might be seen as scandalous and somewhat dismissive so let me be proactive here . . . I'm stereotyping and clumping and least-common-denominator-ing here and I am well, well aware that this is not a uniquely Kansas phenomenon but I really, truly think that Kansas has a lack of self love.

Let me count (some of) the ways!


Let's start with how our state is seen by outsiders. If the orange line (generally flat - you try to use Microsoft Paint to make illustrative points, yo!) is how others see our great state, the blue line (so deep a cavern it falls out of the image) is how too many Kansans see our state. There are problems here. There are issues. None of them so absurd that we can't at least see ourselves and safe enough to walk on in flip flops.


That leads me to our perspective. If the handsome, blue-eyed bastard is how other states steady their gaze (straight ahead with a slight, optically impossible uptick at the horizon) than the green-eyed fella is Kansas. I know MANY Kansans who truly believe our best days are behind us. Aviation is challenged, drought conditions challenge our crops, etc. That is no reason to not know we are a great state or to believe we can not rise again. Look at Texas. They are just south of us and they truly believe they are the greatest state not only in the union but in the WORLD! We could be a little more like them (just not a ton, please).


See that glass above? Is it half full? Half empty? It doesn't matter - be thirsty, my friends. Drink life! Drain this glass. Fill again. Repeat. Stop just taking what you are given and presuming and accepting that that is all there is.


Those 15 green dots on the left are what my fellow (Upstate) New Yorkers feel they are capable of. They could be intelligence, professional achievement, kindness, lovers, Neflix binges, etc. I'm presuming 15 is as entitled as one could feel. The yellow set of just five? Yeah. That is the unconfident Kansan. As they will tell you (and with good reason) humility is important and hard work is its own reward and - frankly - if they took all 15 dots those loud, crass New Yorkers might be angry or jealous or whatever. Best that they have those dots elsewhere. Five is plenty. Pisshaw.


The one thing I like about Kansas's collective lack of confidence is what I like the call the "Warm Blanket" effect. It breaks down like this . . . if you try to push the envelope. If you get greedy, or assertive (often confused as being interchangeable) and if you, regrettably, fail you are not ostracized here like you might be elsewhere. You are forgiven and embraced. You are welcomed back to the fold. You are wrapped in the warm, fuzzy blanket. Of course you will - in time - be reminded that you should have known your place to begin with but there is mercy in beauty to be found in the interim.

11/3/14

Seven Years a Kansan (Driving) . . .

Part one of my "Seven Years a Kansan" series is the thing I hate MOST about Kansas . . . driving.

Let me be candid - y'uns simply cannot drive. I know why . . . too many wide, flat, straight, open roads and too little traffic. Like being the only person in the hotel hot tub there is no reason not to fart.

Here, for your benefit (did I mention this series would be littered with drawings I did in Microsoft Paint?), is a handful of tips that might help you act like you've been behind a wheel before.




See that orange thing sticking out of your steering shaft (heh, "shaft")? That thing is called the blinker stick (not the official name). If you were born and raised in Kansas there is a chance you've never actually USED this stick. In reality - you should use it pretty much allllll the time. If you push up it means you intend to go right (blue arrow). Push it down to indicate a left-ward intention (purple arrow).


When should you USE your blinker, you ask? ANY TIME you intend to change the course of your car from directly straight-ward (allowing for the curvature of the road and the earth itself as the only exceptions). This includes any time you plan to go "hard" left or right (from an stop sign or to leave the road to enter a driveway, etc.) OR to switch lanes. This DOES include any time you are in a "Left Turn Only" (or "Right Turn Only") lane. Why? Because you are also horrible at lane abuse and there is no proof you won't just change your mind last second.


This thing is called a red light (street parlance). There are three colors (even though there are often several other options including turn-only directions, etc.). Green means go. Yellow means get f*cking going. Red means stop. There is a thing called a "deep yellow" or "dark yellow" (which means you will likely have a red over you by the time you enter the proverbial "box"). In those cases - treat it like a red.


To that end . . . as my child once noticed - your car red lights (brake lights) should stop glowing when the red of the traffic signal stops glowing. That doesn't mean you have to jam the accelerator and go, go, go . . . it just means you should IMMEDIATELY be ready to move. I sat for :42 seconds the other night - at a GREEN light. There were THREE cars ahead of me.

WHY did I sit? Probably cell phones. Damn you people and your phones (this is not a Kansas thing - everyone who doesn't put their phone in airplane mode while driving (you should really think about or a data-blocker to stop with any notifications other than incoming calls)). 


To that end - having your phone in your hand, fourteen inches from your ear, does NOT count as "hands free" (and it is not so subtle as to trick a cop from seeing you). It just means that you do NOT have two hands on the friggin' steering wheel. Stop it, Seriously.


The things above are lane lines. The one on the left is a "double solid". That means no one - including you trying to get the friggin' Arby's drive-thru - can cross it. The one in the middle is a solid/dotted combo (not the official name). It means that traffic from only ONE side of the lines (the dotted) can cross. Congrats, east-bound traffic, YOU can go to Arby's. If you are westbound . . . you can not cross. There is a reason they put the lines this way - to keep traffic moving and for safety. To quote Brad Pitt (sorta) in Fight Club. "You. Are. Not. Special." You can not break this one. The one on the right is the dotted line. It is morse code for "Darwinism". Good luck. Go to town.


Let's talk about "Right of Way" for a second (we'll get to your general politeness, Kansas, on another day). Let me be blunt and direct . . . that yellow car - coming out of the Arby's and/or residential street, that had the STOP sign and that is entering oncoming traffic in both directions? It has to wait. HOURS if necessary. YOU, Ms. Red Car, can NOT just stop and decide to show "much love" to the yellow car. Why? Because my orange car will crawl up your proverbial ass if you do. Keep going. 


This is NOT Frankenstein's Monster's face/head. It is the center console of your dashboard. It is where all the distracting stuff lives. Set your thermostat to "cozy" and your radio to 89.1 FM and just drive. Leave this thing alone. If you MUST mess with it . . . do it while at a red light (and while not messing with your phone (see above)). I promise you that nothing is so important in the meantime. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. 


Know what else is a distraction while driving? CHILDREN UP FRONT! If you are going to drive your 16-passenger, Lexus SUV with all-wheel-drive (while your family of three lives in a state where snow fall and inclimate conditions on the road are a factor a whopping 19 days/year) . . . keep all kids in the red spots. They are better off and you are, too. Trust me.


I see you in the next lane with your eCigarette/vapor smoker. You look silly. Just. Plain. Silly. Sure it is better than the conventional smoking (particularly you classy folks with the windows up) but you just look weird with these drug-delivery systems. There is no driving-related point to this . . . just my venting.


Vanity plates . . . for ALL that is good and holy (pun very much intended) just STOP with the vanity plates - particularly the ones dedicated to The Most High or his earthly son and/or his spiritual vessel. If I need a thesaurus and/or tongue-muscle relaxer to pronounce your plate, "He" is not any more impressed than I am. This also goes for your beloved Shockers, Jayhawks, Wild/Powercats, et al. Stop it. Put that extra $40/year to better use in some way, manner, shape, or form.


See the thing above? That is a pile-up of cars. Now you've seen one. The next time you are driving down the road and one is at the side . . . drive on. NO need to slow and/or stop. You're not going to help anyone or anything and you're really only likely to ADD to the mess/pile. 

There. Some driving lessons. Take 'em or leave 'em. Just know that you should take MOST of them, Kansas drivers. 

11/2/14

Sunday Funday . . .

You should call it an ANTI- Social Network. This is truly beautiful (and a poem I will praise).