Friday, September 26, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Friday

Clay Aiken is gay. Shocking. I realize this may come as a blow to people, but seriously folks…let’s pay attention. Did you not see the bright red leather pants he performed in on Season 2? No? Ok, how about his perfectly feathered Liza Minelli lettuce? Fine, then the mascara HAD to clue you in, right?! Look, if you didn’t see this coming then you should be hit over the head with a shovel. Your gaydar is entirely broken and useless.

Why do politicians think we are stupid? Instead of talking to us, intelligently vocalizing what they are going to do for my country AND HOW, they feel the only way to win the election and push the conservative/liberal agenda is to completely demoralize and humiliate their opponents. I don’t care so much about parallels to Barack Obama and The Antichrist as I do a SPECIFIC plan to get our boys out of Iraq and a SPECIFIC plan to distance ourselves from foreign oil. I’m not terribly keen to know about Sarah Palin’s witch-hunting pastor or John McCain’s ancient body, ready to death rattle and drop dead at any given moment. I’d much prefer to hear anything remotely intelligent that DOESN’T have to do with military. McCain is really starting to irritate me now. No-showing Letterman and stalling debates are devastatingly poor choices. Put all this partisan groin-shotting aside, and let’s talk about how the lot of you are going to fix my country.

Hollywood needs to butt out of politics. Yes, I’m aware this is a free country and freedom of speech is encouraged. But as a matter of principal, Hollywood elite should stick to entertaining us and not soap-boxing their political views. Matt Damon’s interview regarding Sarah Palin’s inability to lead due to lack of experience was disgusting. To assume that someone would be a poor leader based entirely on inexperience is a terrible fallacy of thought. Look at some of our local leaders. How tragic would it have been if someone told Randy Horiuchi that he wasn’t electable because he didn’t have any experience when he first sought public office? Hey Matt Damon…where would your career be now if your script for Good Will Hunting had been turned down because of your COMPLETE lack of experience in writing and your mediocre performances in School Ties and a few Kevin Smith films? In my not-so-humble opinion, expounding on political issues as a famous Hollywood figure is a biased abuse of position. Too many uninformed idiots out there will think “hey, Matt Damon is HOT, therefore he must know what he’s talking about…Sarah Palin is a moron!” And talk about a pot calling a kettle black, (zero pun intended there) Barack Obama has been under fire from day ONE because of his lack of experience in political leadership, from conservatives and liberals alike. And this doesn’t just apply to democrats. Chuck Norris endorsed Mike Huckabee. The few that don’t think Chuck Norris is the fighting God of Beard are terrified of being roundhouse kicked to the face. He had to have pulled in many thousands of votes for Huckabee. Votes not earned because of his policy or his character, but because the Texas Ranger liked him.

Sette Bello has the best pizza in town, period. End of discussion. The Pie doesn’t even hold a candle to Sette Bello. Even though types of flat focaccia-type food items have been around for many centuries, the pizza as we know it was born in Napoli, Italy. Sette Bello is one of 15 pizza joints outside of Napoli that has been certified as “vera pizza Napoletana”, or “real Napoli pizza.” The ingredients are imported, the oven is special, the wood is authentic. I lived in Napoli for 13 months of my life, where I ate pizza at least once a week. Ladies and gents, the pizza at Sette Bello is legit. My personal favorites are the margherita and the Bianca.

Is an XBOX a learning tool or a useless time sink? The answer is yes. When Talmage was 4 years old he was beating platformers like Banjo Kazooie and Mario 64 without even being able to read. That’s something that I couldn’t do with a 200 page strategy guide. I firmly believe that gaming systems promote learning in kids. They fine tune reaction speed, decision-making, problem solving, and teamwork. They require rational and sometimes creative thought. Given the right title and the right environment, video games make kids smarter. That said, Talmage often plays for three straight hours. I’m convinced he would play all day long if given the chance. But the longer he plays, the harder it is to get him to stop. The harder it is to get him to stop, the meaner he is afterward. It’s a thin red line.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Trendsetter in Aquatic Fashion

I’ve started swimming in the mornings. I’d like to say I chose swimming because it is a fantastic full-body cardio workout (which it is) but the truth is that it seemed like the best way to avoid REAL exercise. It was the path of least resistance, which tends to be my MO in life. I can’t run 10 yards without shin splints, and the only reason I’d run anyhow is if it involved a ball of some sort. Maybe if a murderer was chasing me. But my heart was set on getting back in shape after spending some time with some old friends that looked bloody fantastic. I went ahead and bought a suit that would fit someone of my girth and didn’t hug my junk like the salmon-colored disaster I’d been wearing. I’d post a picture, but take my word for it…you don’t want that image in your head. No sense in showing how God short-changed one of His children.

My first morning swimming I figured I would go in at 6:00. No one would be there that early and I’d be able to have the pool all to myself. I woke up at 5:30, grabbed my gear and headed out. “An awful lot of cars here for 6 a.m.” I thought to myself as I parked the car. “Prolly playing basketball or something.” Nope…the pool was completely full of die-hards; there wasn’t a single lane out of six that wasn’t occupied, four of which had two swimmers already. Inconvenient, but I was determined to get my body back, and swimming was the answer. I took off my shirt, unveiling my rotund mass of torso with chest hair that oddly makes a perfectly shaped Austin Powers heart, slapped on my goggles and eased my way into the pool.

I took swimming lessons when I was eight years old, so naturally I knew what I was doing, but I figured I would watch some fellow aquatic pros just to make sure memory served. “Yep, stroke-head up-inhale-stroke-head down-stroke-exhale-stroke-head up-inhale-stroke-head down-stroke-exhale-stroke. Oh, I’ve got this.” I took a big breath, put my head underwater and kicked off of the wall. I stroked twice and tried to exhale, but for some reason I couldn’t force the air out. I think there is some sort of innate human instinct that when the body is underwater, and there is air in the lungs, the brain tells the body to KEEP THE FREAKING AIR IN. So when I rhythmically pulled my head up to breath, I already had two lungs completely full of air. Instead of inhaling I made a noise that had to have sounded something like a frog being squeezed by a violent patient at a mental hospital, then rhythmically put my head back down underwater. I tried to exhale again…., then panicked. When my head came back up I tried to breathe out as hard as I could then inhale…all while above water, but the inhalation part didn’t really happen until my pie hole had already hit the water, bringing in massive amounts of water into my lungs. I immediately came up out of the water, flailing around like a half-eaten Jaws victim. Both lifeguards actually awoke from their typical 6 a.m. slumber and were rushing toward me. I waved them off as if I knew what the hell I was doing. They hesitantly stopped and walked backwards toward their chairs while I hung from the pool wall for dear life. I had gone a grand total of 3 meters, or 4 freestyle strokes before I almost died in the water.

For 3 days I tried to swim conventionally. I admittedly got a little better, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. Let me be clear here…I don’t care about learning how to swim. I don’t want to be Michael Phelps. I just want to work my body without having to run or allowing other eyes to actually SEE what my body does when it isn’t motionless. It’s a terrifying sight. So I decided to go out and buy a mask and snorkel.

My mom tells a story of taking her one-and-only little brother, Trent, skiing. I don’t think he had ever been before, and my mother wasn’t really a pro either (a story for another post) so he didn’t come properly dressed or geared. I’m not sure what he was wearing, but he must have stuck out like a sore thumb because everyone else on the slope was pointing and laughing at Uncle Trent. Now, Trent was an all-star multisport athlete, tough as nails, and wasn’t used to being laughed at. In a loud voice he glared in the direction of the peanut gallery and said, “Excuse me, I didn’t know this was a blankety blankin’ fashion show.” The laughter immediately ceased as the hellfire burned in Trent’s eyes. This was the approach I took to my snorkel swimming. This isn’t a blankety blankin’ fashion show. I don’t care if I look like a frogman or a pervert in the water. I’m here for one reason only…to avoid real exercise and do me some swimmin’.

I’ve been snorkeling it up now for about 4 weeks and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been close to 8 years since I’ve actually done any exercise or active sport at all. My first time in the snorkel I was only able to go one length of a 25 meter pool before I had to stop and suck air like there wasn’t enough in the room for everyone. Now I’m to a point where I go pretty hard for 30 minutes without stopping. I never weighed myself to start, but dress shirts are fitting like they never had before and my jeans are noticeably loose. And more importantly I feel really good.

When I arrived at the pool last Thursday I noticed not one, but TWO other snorkels in the water, one of which belonged to a guy that had been breathing conventionally since I started swimming. There’s something to be said for thinking outside the box. I’m a trendsetter baby. Before long there will be dozens of multi-colored tubes sticking out of the water at Gene Fullmer Fitness Center, and they will all look to me as their leader.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Two Kinds of Dumb

I love my neighborhood. It’s older and established. Before this mortgage/housing crisis hit, homes in my neighborhood never made it past one day on the market before they were snatched up. A good majority of homeowners here are original owners that built their homes in the mid 70s. There is no feeling of competition, no “keeping up with the joneses.” Our neighbors are retired, in their mid 60s, and the nicest most hard-working people alive. I feel no need to compete with people and maintain appearance or image.

We moved away from our last home due to urban sprawl and the infestation of leasing companies and rentals. It was a starter neighborhood with very small, affordable homes. It is still largely a cute neighborhood and we have several friends there.When we sold our home, a leasing company bought the place and renters drove our cute little home and yard into the ground. Even worse, driving through the neighborhood I grew up in now feels like a Mad Max movie. I half expect to see Lord Humungus leaping from the rooftops, ragamuffins in loincloths, and spiked Delorians on fire.

There is a home in my neighborhood that went neglected. The yard looked like the land that time forgot, and it’s clear that the home needed some work. A few months ago the For Sale sign went down. We were all interested to see who wanted to take on this project, and I personally hoped we might get a new young family with kids Talmage’s age. I found out on Sunday that a “church group” bought the property and will use it as a halfway house for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. There are FIVE rehabilitating Hispanic men living in that house right now.

There is a movie called “Hoosiers” which is easily one of the five best sports movies ever made. An unconventional renegade high school basketball coach (Gene Hackman) moves to a tiny farming community in Indiana to take the job as head coach. Basketball is life for these people and quiet friendly folk will turn into your worst nightmare if you mess with their team. In his first practice he kicks out the interim coach, George, and ruffles some feathers. The conversation between coach and George is arguably the best exchange in any movie, ever:

Coach: First of all, let's be real friendly here, okay? My name is Norm. Secondly, your coaching days are over.
George: Look, mister, there's... two kinds of dumb, uh... guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and, uh, guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don't matter, the second one you're kinda forced to deal with.
Coach: Translate. That some sort of threat?
George: I don't know why Cletus drug your tired old bones in here, he musta owed you somethin' fierce. Fact is, mister, you start screwin' up this team, I'll personally hide-strap your ass to a pine rail and send you up the Monon Line!
[George angrily turns and storms out of the gym]
Coach: Leave the ball, will you, George?

This example draws a few parallels to my current situation. My neighborhood is Sleepy Town, Indiana. My peace and privacy and kids’ safety is like basketball to the Hoosiers. I am George. I have been enjoying a solid, simple, quiet existence and my wife and kids are my EVERYTHING. They are the air that I breathe. If this church group, aka Coach Norman Dale, comes into my town and disturbs that safety and peace, then they’ll find their asses hide-strapped to a pine rail floating down the Jordan River.

I plan to make things excruciating for this group. Like George's take on naked men howling at the moon in the snow, I have no problem with drug and alcohol rehabilitation. I encourage it. But there is a time and a place, and the time and place is NOT in my living room, 30 seconds from my doorstep as the crow flies. There are facilities for this kind of thing and I’m relatively sure that single family residential homes are not zoned and planned for it. This is something I'm forced to deal with. I’ll be working with a few other people in the neighborhood to find out if they’re zoned, licensed, legally and legitimately able to run a rehab halfway house in my neighborhood. If they find a loophole and are somehow able to carry on, I’ll be making regular phone calls to 9-1-1:

“Yeah, I just drove past this house in my neighborhood and there are half-naked people having a cocaine fight on the front lawn.”

“Um, yeah, dispatcher there’s a bunch of drunk people on the roof of this house singing ‘That’s Amore’ in Spanish.”

“Hurry, send help quick, there’s BLOOD EVERYWHERE!”

I’ll have that For Sale sign back up in no time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Phoenix From the Ashes

Today is September 11th. I refuse to pander like so many others do on this day. We all know what happened in 2001. We all felt violated and vulnerable. Most of us were angry and demanded justice. Our nation’s finest are still overseas making sure that nothing like that happens again. One of my best friends on the planet is in Afghanistan. Memo to all militant terrorists: If you see a bearded white boy with a bright red afro and a gun, I suggest you find the nearest pile of rubble and hide. His name is Mike Jackson and he’ll go full-on Rambo apeshiz on your greasy murderous butts.

There is a mythical creature called a phoenix. Those familiar with the Harry Potter series, specifically the second book/film, will recall Dumbledore’s “pet” phoenix, Fawkes. A phoenix is a mythical bird with a tail of beautiful gold and red plumage (or purple and blue, by some sources). It has a 1,000 year life-cycle, and near the end the phoenix builds itself a nest of cinnamon twigs that it then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. (Wikipedia, 2008.)

September 11th, 2001 reduced my spirit to ashes. No one really knew what the implications of the attack could be. Were we at war? Were other areas of the country at risk? What could I do to protect my bride and myself? But on September 12th, 2001…just one day after the horrific attack on my freedom, a gorgeously perfect 7 lb. 6 oz phoenix arose from those ashes of despair and brought beauty back to the world. Talmage’s birth stood in stark contrast to the ugliness and terror we had known just hours before. My world was suddenly all innocence, pride, and hope.

I’m not blind to the ugliness still in the world. But I choose to not focus on it. Instead I allow my mind’s eye to wander back to another day. A beautiful fall day when my life would change forever. I choose to see the cherubic face and slightly alien-shaped head of my best little buddy, “The Sausage.” And I feel peace, I see hope, and I can’t help but smile.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Don't Want to Comment? No Need!

I've added a couple of test features to the blog. As I've stated before, I'm surprised to find out how many people stop by and read my stuff. I'd suspect the ratio of readers to people that actually comment on posts is right around 20:1. To accommodate the lurkers I have added the following less-involved ways to show you've been here:

Star Ratings - At the bottom of each post you can rate the article on a 1-5 star scale. I went ahead and voted for my Neil Diamond post just to see what's involved. It's very simple...no comments needed, no identification...perfect for you lurkers!

Digg - Failed miserably. Removed it from the blog :)

Feel free to start voting on posts. I have turtle-shell like skin and am almost impossible to offend. Right mom? If you have some spare time, pull up some older posts and give them some stars.

Thanks!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that like Neil Diamond, and THE CLINICALLY INSANE.

Inspiration for the title courtesy of Bob Wiley, “What About Bob.”

It is a proven scientific fact that it is unnatural to dislike certain things. Sunsets, baby laughter, chimpanzee trickery, midgets on television, the smell of freshly baked cookies, home made bread, Al Pacino films, and at the top of the list…Neil Diamond’s music. I don’t care who you are, if you don’t smile and sway to “Song Sung Blue” you have no soul. If your toe doesn’t tap to “Forever in Blue Jeans” then that foot had better be prosthetic or your heart is made of black tar and sorrow.

When I was 13 I asked for a CD player for Christmas. That would have been 1990, so CD players were still relatively new and record stores were plagued with cassette tapes. But the man in red came through and delivered a gorgeous graphite-grey CD player along with three new CDs: Neil Diamond’s 2-disc boxed greatest hits, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, and Vanilla Ice – To the Extreme. Neil Diamond was my very first CD and I still own it to this day. And Ice is still too cold. I love that album.

I’ve seen Neil Diamond in concert 3 times, one of which was a Christmas show. Nothing ushers in the Christmas spirit like a 60-year-old Jew in purple sequins growling out “Siiiiyalennnnt, naaaiiiggghhht…yeeeahh” with a 30 ft. Christmas tree at the center of his rotating octagonal stage flanked by the half-naked black bongo player. He is a joy to listen to and a true American icon. I even loved “The Jazz Singer.”

Last week I read the following story on Rolling Stone’s website:

====================

Neil Diamond To Refund 11,000 Tickets After Poor Ohio Performance
8/28/08, 3:13 pm EST

Following a poor performance at a concert in Columbus, Ohio, singer Neil Diamond felt it necessary to say sorry to his fans. But instead of just issuing an apology (which he did) and promising to perform better his next time through Ohio (which he said he will), Diamond will instead refund the tickets of every single person who attended the August 25th concert at the Value City Arena. To break it down numerically, that’s 11,000 tickets that the Solitary Man will refund. Diamond is in the thick of a U.S. tour, and during the last few shows, the singer had been suffering from acute laryngitis. He still made it to the Columbus stage, but fans were soon greeted onstage by a hoarse sounding singer. “Dear Fans in Columbus,” Diamond said in a statement, “I haven’t let you down before, and I won’t let you down now. Until you hear from me again remember, You are the sun. I am the moon. You are the words. I am the tune. Forgive me. I love you. Neil.”

The all-out refund shocked even the concert’s promoter, with Scott Stienecker saying “I’ve sat through Vince Neil falling-down drunk before. I’ve sat through Bob Dylan not even acknowledging that there was a crowd,” and neither of those artists refunded the fans. In an effort to avoid future refunds, and due to his ongoing throat problems, Diamond has cancelled two concerts this week.


====================

First I’ll address the unparalleled class of Neil Diamond. This is 2008. The world is ruled by idiots and customer service is dead. For him to fully refund hundreds, if not thousands of tickets, without so much as blinking speaks volumes for his character. Do you know what kind of flaming ricin-coated hoops one has to jump through to get a refund from a 2-hour long dinner service at Applebees where a cockroach crawled off your Bruschetta Burger, winked at you, and scurried off to the next table? Easily the worst chain restaurant in America, yet I’m strangely drawn to the damned place every time we eat out. It MUST be the blondie.

But more importantly, what kind of gall would one need in order to demand a refund from Neil Diamond? He is untouchable. He is the sequin-covered god of music. Being within 100 yards of him belting out “Play Me” will enrich your life forever. Your complaint is that his voice sounded “raspy?” Do you not LISTEN to Neil? He smoked six packs of cigarettes a day and drank full fifths of hard liquor. His voice has sounded raspy since 1983, and that was long before his 100th birthday when I’m fairly sure his voice took a turn for the raspier.

You are not getting THIS Neil...


You are getting THIS Neil.

His speaking voice alone sounds like sandpaper on a chalkboard. You don’t go to a Diamond show for vocal quality. Check local listings for Michael Bolton and Josh Groban elsewhere. You go to Neil to experience a man whose age has to be understated by 15 years shake his mirror-ball-booty and growl out some wistful notes that remind you that you are truly happy underneath all the stress lines, wrinkles, and tired muscles. “Cherry Baby” live transports me to a different dimension, a realm where nothing exists but warmth and joy. Raspiness of voice matters nothing to me.

Memo to the young hipster posers of the world. You are unworthy to request anything of Neil Diamond. If you don’t like what you get from a 114-year-old modern-day minstrel, then go back to your Fallout Boy and wallow in its filth. Neil Diamond is a legend. He should have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a decade ago and his not being there today is one of the real travesties of our day, next to Katrina and global warming.

Neil, you’ve got my love. I don’t care if you dress up like a clown and mime to your music onstage, you’ll have my $50 anytime you come back to Utah.

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