Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Unintentional Exercise Routine

A few weeks ago I had my annual checkup with my cardiologist. I like my cardiologist, largely because he seems like the “Joe Cool” of doctors. He is well-tanned and well-coifed, and his gleaming white teeth can surely be used to guide home ships astray in a nighttime storm. He exudes confidence and is never at a loss for words.

At one point during my exam he asked, “Are you exercising?”

I quickly thought about how to answer this before saying, “Unintentionally, yes.”

This response ever so briefly knocked my perfect doctor off his stride. He looked at me with one eyebrow raised.


“Well, I have a six-year-old and three-year-old son at home and spend most of my time when I’m not at work trying to keep up with them.”

“Ah, I see. Say no more,” he said, smiling his blinding smile and getting on with the exam.

While my response to my doctor may have been delivered in my usual smartass fashion, it was nothing but the truth. The fact of the matter is that I have gotten more exercise in the past six years of my life than I have in the previous 37. Not that that’s saying much, because physical fitness has never really been my thing. The closest I ever got to a regular exercise routine was when I was in a Thursday night bowling league for three months in my senior year of college. Of course whatever little exercise I got from that was likely cancelled out by the free-flowing beer that accompanied this activity.

But when I had kids (although I guess technically it was my wife who had them—I shouldn’t take credit for the “having” part) daily workouts suddenly became routine. It began with weightlifting. I found myself lifting up a seven pound weight 40 to 50 times per day. Sometimes the weight would be carried over my shoulder to get it to go back to sleep; sometimes it would be repeatedly lifted high in the air to get it to smile; and sometimes it would be lifted onto a changing table where the weight would try to pee in my face, which led to some aerobic exercise while I dodged the oncoming stream. In no time at all the weight increased to eight pounds, then nine, then ten. In a couple of months’ time I noticed that my previously scrawny biceps were now thick and hard, and I could suddenly open pickle jars without my wife’s help.

After a few months of weightlifting, the speed and agility conditioning began to kick in. Once your kid starts crawling you have to be lightning quick, because within seconds of putting them down on the floor they can be on top of the entertainment center with a snow globe sticking out of their mouth. You’re sprinting, you’re diving, you’re doing moves that would make a seasoned ninja jealous. And of course, once they start walking it only increases your need to perform Matrix-like maneuvers to keep your kids out of harm’s way.

Eventually your exercise to avert danger is supplanted by more conventional exercise—running, playing catch, making believe you’re Magneto while Wolverine beats you about the face and neck with a throw pillow. It’s all fabulous fun, but it’s all very exhausting.

So when my wife and I decided to get our six-year-old a bicycle and our three-year-old a tricycle for Christmas, I mistakenly thought that this would give me a bit of a break from the exercise routine. I figured while they were riding their Radio Flyer’s I’d be lying back reading Archie Comics and sipping a chocolate malted.

Of course, I hadn’t thought this through. You can’t just hand your Kindergartner a bike and your pre-schooler a trike and let them ride off into the sunset. You have to follow them around the block to make sure they’re safe. And wouldn’t it be my luck that within a scant 24 hours my six-year-old had become so confident on the bike that he was tooling around at a clip fast enough to qualify him for the Tour de France, forcing me to sprint after him with every ounce of speed my legs could muster?

So my unintentional exercise routine continues. I see a soccer team in my future…and karate lessons…and a basketball hoop in the driveway. I just can’t wait until they’re old enough to join a bowling league, because I could really use the beer.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I May Be Out of Touch, But I Still Have a Top Ten List

Yesterday a friend of mine posted a list of his top ten favorite albums of 2012. (It can be found here, if you would like to peruse it: I looked at the list and it was just a little bit like reading a foreign language. I knew none of the albums and only heard of five of the artists. Then I thought about what my top ten albums of 2012 might be and I realized that I could only name two albums that came out this year, which would make my top ten list very short. Somewhere along the line I became really, really out of touch.

But just because I only got two new albums this year doesn’t mean 2012 was devoid of music for me. So, since I’m eight albums short of a top ten albums list, I will instead offer this list of my Top 10 Music-Related Moments of 2012. (And I’ll go backwards for dramatic effect.)

10- Red Hot Chili Peppers Concert – My wife gave me one of the best birthday presents I ever received when she handed me a ticket to see the Chili Peppers, a band I’ve always wanted to see but just never got around to. The show was great, but it did raise two important questions: 1) Why does Anthony Kiedis bother putting on a shirt when you know it’s coming off anyway? 2) Since when did Will Ferrell get a gig as a drummer?

9- Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen – This is one of the two albums I got this year. I love the first track, “We Take Care of Our Own,” and I really like the last track, “We Are Alive,” but I’m not quite sure what to make of everything that happens in the middle. It seems to depend on the day that I listen to it and/or what I had for dinner that night. Weird.

8- My son the Rush fan – (I posted this on Facebook, so my apologies to those who have already read this.) In school last week, my son’s Kindergarten teacher said to the class, "After recess we are going to see a band." This prompted my son to yell out, "I hope it's Rush!" She said, "No, it's just the school band." He’s definitely learning more at home than at school.

7- They Might Be Giants Concert – One of my favorite bands from the early 90’s, I had somehow never managed to see them live…that is until I saw them at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe in January of this year. They were very good, but I didn’t know many of the songs since the last new album of theirs that I purchased was back in 1996. (See—out of touch.) The highlight of the show by far was when they did covers of “Crazy Train” and “Paranoid” using sock puppets. (And no, I’m not making that up.)

6- My last dental cleaning – I’m not a fan of sharp instruments moving around in my mouth accompanied by high-pitched drilling sounds. At my last dental cleaning, when the hygienist was hitting a nerve near my back molar, I put every ounce of brain power into focusing on the music they were piping into the room. All I can say is thank you REO Speedwagon for providing me with the song “Can’t Fight This Feeling” in my time of need.

5- Rush Concert – I could write a lot about this concert…oh wait—I already did. You can read my previous blog entry for details.

4- Rush elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Fourteen years after their initial eligibility, Rush finally made it to the Hall. Although I’m not actually in the band, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The day I found out I got the best night’s sleep of my life. (Don’t worry, it’s okay if you think I’m pathetic right now.)

3- Kazoos – I made the mistake of getting my kids kazoos when I went on a business trip to Nashville. They played them a lot after I first gave it to them. The most amazing sound in the world is the glorious silence after they put them down.

2- Bruce Springsteen Concert – I’ve seen him twice before and I had not originally planned to see him on this tour, but then a friend had an extra ticket and he generously offered it to me. Boy, am I glad I took him up on the offer. Bruce put on an amazing show for three solid hours and while I watched this man who is 20 years older than me run around the stage, jump into the audience and crowd-surf, I realized that if I attempted to expend that kind of energy I’d be dead inside of six minutes.

1- Clockwork Angels by Rush – You may have figured out by now that I’m a Rush fan. (If you haven’t figured that out, you may want to take some basic reading comprehension classes at your local community college.) This is their best album in a good 20 years. It has a great variety of heavy, musically complex epic songs and more straightforward ballads. It’s quite possible that even if you’re not a Rush fan, you might like this album, but of course, I can’t be objective on that score. I’m not sure what else to say about it, other than, this album makes my ears very happy.
So there you have it; my 2012 musical top ten. I'm not sure what 2013 has in store, but I can guarantee one thing...the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be very high on my list. (And no, that has nothing to do with Public Enemy.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

RUSH!!! Now with Strings!

Last night I went to US Airways Center and saw Rush for the eleventh time in my life. While it was not the best concert of theirs that I have seen—nor was it the worst—it was certainly the most unique.

For the uninitiated, Rush (pronounced like it is spelled), is a Canadian rock trio that has been churning out albums since 1974. They reached the height of their popularity in the early 1980s, with hits like “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Subdivisions.” But while many people who were only casually aware of them during the Reagan-era think they have faded into obscurity, diehard fans like me know that they never went away—they simply aged gracefully like a fine wine.

Admitting that you’re a Rush fan generally elicits one of three responses: 1) a blank stare from the 99% of people under the age of 36 who have never heard of them; 2) a roll of the eyes from the 99% of women and 92% of men over the age of 36 who immediately stereotype you as a Mountain Dew swigging, Dungeons & Dragons playing, throwback geek who was into computers 15 years before everyone else; or 3) a spontaneous and very enthusiastic air drum display from those unaccounted for above who, like you, knows that Neil Peart is the greatest drummer who ever lived, ever will live, or can ever be created by a group of the world’s top scientists working 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the next 200 years.

While we’re on the topic of Neil, I’ll make my first observation about last night’s concert. To this day I’m always amazed that with the blistering speed at which Neil plays, his hands don’t simply snap off at the wrists and continue feverishly beating upon the drums independent of his arms. I’m pretty sure this is bound to happen one day, and I hope I’m there to witness it. (I don’t think this would faze him, as nothing seems to.)

The other players in the band are Geddy Lee (singer, bassist, and keyboardist) and Alex Lifeson (guitarist, backup vocals, and comedian.) Together, Geddy, Alex, and Neil create a wall of sound at once intense and thought-provoking. They are musical masters who never cease to amaze. And last night, after having seen them on nine previous tours since 1986, they amazed yet again—this time with the inclusion of a string section!

Now in the name of full disclosure I should say that the presence of a string section came as no shock to me. In my role as diehard Rush fan I follow them on Facebook and Twitter, frequently look at their website, and read all the magazine articles about them that I can get my hands on. So I had heard long ago that there would be a string section this time around. But hearing about it and actually experiencing it are two different things. I had no idea what to expect, but in a word—Wow!

And the thing about the “Wow” is that it comes not just from the musical aspect of the string section—though the music was great. The “Wow” comes largely from the off-the-charts energy that these eight musicians brought to the stage.

The string section entered for the second set, which was composed mainly of songs from Rush’s new album, “Clockwork Angels.” (In my opinion their best album in at least 20 years, in case you were wondering.) When they first appeared they were sitting, which is what I would have expected from a string section; but the second the music started they all jumped up and played their instruments standing the entire time. But they didn’t just play—they bopped, and rocked, and head-banged the whole time they were up there. When they didn’t need to play their instruments many of them were passionately thrusting their bows in the air in time with the music. Basically, they were acting like eight rabid fans that were handed violins and cellos and such and told to hang out on the stage with the band. It was an absolute blast to watch, because they were acting exactly as I would act if I were allowed up there. (Well, not exactly as I would act. They were actually playing their instruments well, whereas any effort I made to play a stringed instrument would likely come off sounding like the tortured wails of a dying yak.)

For me, the highlight of the show was the song “Headlong Flight,” from their new album, which is seven minutes of pure adrenaline surging rock. If you can listen to this song without having your pulse rate increase you are, in all likelihood, not actually human. Clearly, the players in the string section are all human, as they were going as ballistic on the stage during this song as the rest of the audience.

The show was not perfect. Yes, I’m a diehard Rush fan, but even within their canon I have likes and dislikes. Of their 165 original songs there are probably about 10 to 15 that I don’t actually like very much. Their set list happened to include five of those. (I mean, what are the odds?)  

But that’s okay. Last night was really about hearing them play a bunch of songs from their outstanding, super-stupendous new album; and about watching a rocking string section; and about waiting with bated breath for that elusive moment when Neil’s hands finally declare their total independence from his body. One day, Neil. One day.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ponyo: A Movie That Made My Neurons Ache

About two months ago I saw the Japanese anime film “My Neighbor Totoro” for the first time. Never having seen a Hayao Miyazaki directed film before, I did not know what to expect. I watched it with my two young sons and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The film was equal parts strange and charming. I was very pleased that a Netfix suggestion actually paid off. I was also quite stoked by the fact that my kids fell in love with a movie that had zero violence in it. This is no small achievement.

Excited by my discovery of Miyazaki, I put “Ponyo” in my Netflix queue. I debated clicking the dreaded “Move to position #1” button, but decided I didn’t want to leapfrog over “Magilla Gorilla: Complete Series: Disc 3” or “Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard,” so I bided my time before exerting my power on the queue. When the time was right, I made my move and “Ponyo” arrived today.

As soon as I got home from work the boys and I hunkered down in front of the television with dinner on our trays and began to watch the movie. For the next 103 minutes my jaw was literally agape. You could have thrown a ping pong ball in my mouth from a distance of 20 yards.

Whereas “Totoro” was equal parts strange and charming, “Ponyo” was equal parts perplexing and sappy. While the basic plot of a girl goldfish (Ponyo) who wants to become human was easy enough to follow, the subplot, in which Ponyo’s father is some kind of evil Aquaman and/or medieval sorcerer who wants to destroy all humans by turning the earth into one giant ocean and who may or may not be getting help with his nefarious plans from his 150-foot aquatic goddess wife, was so contrived and convoluted that I began to feel my neurons ache as they attempted to make sense of what was happening on screen.

But maybe I’m just dense. For those of you who have seen this movie, can you help me with the following questions (and if you haven’t seen the movie, I wouldn’t really call these spoilers):

1- Why are Ponyo and her several thousand goldfish siblings living in bubbles? (And are they supposed to be air bubbles or water bubbles?)

2- What exactly are the elixirs in Ponyo’s dad’s extra-special-secret lair supposed to do?

3- Why was there only one human who was freaked out by the fact that Sosuke’s goldfish had a human face and was wearing a red and white onesie?

I can go on all day with my questions about this movie, but I’ll stop here and move on to a different sticking point—the dialogue. I’m not sure if it was the delivery or the screenwriting, or a combination of the two, but for large portions of the movie I felt like I was watching a junior high school play. All the characters were so sickeningly sweet with each other (except for the psychotic Aquaman wannabe and the cranky woman in the senior center) that I wanted to pluck my own eyes out with the nearest spork.

This unique combination of an impenetrable plot and painfully trite dialogue made for one of my more unusual movie-watching experiences. And I should mention that the surreal visuals that made “Ponyo” look like a Ralph Bakshi film on Quaaludes, only added to the strangeness of the experience.

It is for all these reasons that as the credits rolled I thought to myself, “Here’s something I’ll never see again.” So you can imagine my dismay when, as soon as I turned it off, my six-year-old son said, “Let’s watch that again!”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Freezing in Phoenix: Sad but True

When I moved from Brooklyn to Phoenix a little over 17 years ago my main motivation was winter. You see, I’m not a big fan of winter—at least not the stereotypical one with the snow and the ice and the temperatures dipping so low that the snot freezes to your upper lip within seconds of leaving your apartment. I know that moving to get away from the cold is usually thought of as something done by the frail or elderly, not by a healthy young man in his mid-twenties, but the truth is, I don’t have a lot of body fat and I required so many layers of clothing to keep myself warm that I often had to walk sideways just to get through doors. Also, I never had the proper coordination to get my fingers into the right glove holes, so I was forced to wear mittens, which was embarrassing on blind dates.

So it was that I moved to the appropriately named Valley of the Sun back in 1995. I traded in my mittens for sunglasses and I’ve never looked back. But a funny thing happens after years of living in a climate where the high temperatures stay well above 100­-degrees for four straight months—you actually get cold more easily. This is why I woke up shivering this past Sunday morning, staggered out of bed, and found that my thermostat said 71-degrees.  Yes, you read that correctly—it was 71-degrees in my house and I was shivering.

I reached for the controls to turn on the heat for the first time in over seven months but then I stopped myself. The idea of needing it to be warmer than 71-degrees suddenly felt preposterous. When I was living in New York I might well have been walking around in shorts in 71-degree weather. What business did I have turning on the heat when it probably made more sense to be opening up the windows?

I was eventually roused from these thoughts by an incessant knocking sound, which turned out to be coming from my knees. Although I did not want to admit it to myself, I was clearly freezing. Still, I refused to touch that thermostat. Instead, I put on a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and a pair of socks—then I wrapped myself up in the nearest blanket.

While I sat huddled on my couch I tried to direct my attention to warm thoughts. I contemplated fireplaces and hot cocoa and then…suddenly…mittens. “No way that’s happening!” I thought. Then I ran into the hallway and turned the heat on to 73.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Little Boys and the Magic of Butt Jokes

I would like to think I’m a pretty funny guy. I’ve contributed many articles to MAD Magazine, I wrote a regular humor column for the Arizona Republic for several years, and when I’m walking around in the mall people often point at me and laugh. True, in high school I lost my bid for “Class Comedian” to Vinny Conenna, but I think that’s largely because his main campaign pitch was, “Vote for me or I’ll beat you to a bloody pulp.” Nonetheless, I think that most people find me somewhat amusing. (Especially at the mall, it seems.)

Yet, despite my finely honed humor skills I have come to learn that nothing can make my 6-year­-old and 3-year-old sons laugh like the word “butt.” In fact, all I have to do is insert the word “butt” randomly into any sentence and I can guarantee uproarious laughter from my kids. If I were particularly ambitious and inserted the word twice into the same sentence, it would result in the two of them rolling around the floor laughing and clutching their sides. I would never even attempt three times in the same sentence for fear of having to take one or both of them to the hospital in respiratory distress.

Why my boys find the word “butt” so hysterically funny I can’t quite say. It’s not as though my wife and I have gone out of our way to raise them on a diet of butt jokes and Cheerios. But I have noticed that this phenomenon is not unique to them. It seems that all boys in this age range are similarly amused by the mere mention of the “B-word.”

A few months back we took my older son to his Kindergarten orientation. While the teacher spoke to the parents about what she would be teaching her students, the kids were in the play area getting to know each other. My son is a bit shy and at first he was playing by himself, but after a little while he was playing with another boy. When it was time to go, I went over to collect my son and he and the other boy were laughing and pointing at a stuffed animal while simultaneously saying, “Look at his butt!” Yes, they bonded over the word “butt.”

The incident above raises another interesting point. Perhaps the only thing funnier to a young boy than the word “butt” is the sight of a butt—on a stuffed animal, an action figure, or especially in a TV show or movie. I’ve noticed that some studios pander to this more than others. DreamWorks, in particular, is not at all shy about getting butt-laughs. In fact, I’ve never sat down and done the math on this, but I’m pretty sure at least 30% of the laughs in the “Shrek” movies come from the title character’s butt. My kids are more into the “Madagascar” movies and nothing makes them laugh harder than when King Julien—the flamboyant lemur voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen—dances around and shakes his butt at the screen. To them it’s comedy gold.

Over the past few years I have done what I can to resist resorting to butt jokes with my kids, but I think they’re slowly breaking me down. After all, you have to give the audience what they want. This morning while playing super heroes with the kids I picked up an Iron Man action figure and said, “Look, the bad guy is going to throw Iron Man into the recycle bin, but that’s the one for paper and plastic only.” No reaction. I went to Plan B. “Look, the bad guy made Iron Man fall on his butt.” Uncontrollable laughter.

Maybe I’ll send in an application to DreamWorks.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Pointlessness of Political Lawn Signs

I am very much done with this political season—have been for months now. I’m done with the divisive political Facebook posts from friends on both sides of the aisle who clearly need to toss back a glass of wine and lighten up already. I’m done with the endless barrage of political ads on television that tell you nothing about the candidate they want you to vote for, but make the candidate they don’t want you to vote for appear like a less well-adjusted version of Charles Manson. I’m done with the countless Saturday morning robo-calls from my own political party that make me want to vote for candidates from the other party out of spite. But most of all, I’m done with the political lawn signs.

I know of all the things I mentioned, lawn signs probably seem the most innocuous, but for some reason they bother me the most. At least the other forms of political expression I mentioned above attempt to convey some sort of information. Yes, the information is usually biased, skewed, faulty, and otherwise not very helpful, but at least some sort of message is coming across. What information does a lawn sign provide? A name. That’s pretty much it. Just a name.

I don’t mean to offend people with lawn signs, but really, what’s the point?

Now that you’ve shown me the candidate’s name what would you like me to do with that microscopic bit of information? If it’s the candidate that I like do you want me to pull over, ring your bell, and shake your hand? Congratulations, you’re just like 60,000,000 other people who are going to vote for the same dude.

What if your sign has the name of the candidate I don’t like? Are you hoping that seeing the name of the guy I’m not going to vote for as I drive past your house is going to throw me into such a blind rage that I may crash my car into a tree, slip into unconsciousness, and not be able to function until November 7th when it’s too late to vote?

Ah, I know. You think that I may be an undecided voter. You think that despite the fact that I’ve seen your candidate’s name approximately 3.8 billion times over the past year, this one instance of seeing his name will throw me over the edge and cause me to say, “Okay, this settles it. This person who I’ve never met before and I know absolutely nothing about is going to vote for Candidate X, and since they have such lovely gardenias in front of their house, I guess I’ll vote for him too.”

Not going to happen. I looked it up and found out that in the history of democratic elections not one person has ever attributed their voting choice to seeing someone’s lawn sign. But hey, don’t let that stop you from proudly displaying yours. I mean there’s a first time for everything, right? Maybe if you take extra good care of your sign, and you wax and polish it every night before you go to bed, someone driving by will be so impressed with your lawn sign that it will influence their vote. And maybe that one vote will cause there to be a majority of votes in your state for your candidate! And Maybe Your State Will Be The State That Tilts The Electoral Map To Your Candidate!! AND MAYBE YOU AND YOUR LAWN SIGN WILL BE DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR SENDING YOUR CANDIDATE TO THE WHITE HOUSE!!!

But probably not.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Annual Halloween Conundrum

With Halloween a scant three weeks away it is time to start thinking about the costume questions. There are three questions to carefully consider:

1) Should I even bother wearing a costume?

2) If I do bother wearing a costume, what kind of costume should I wear?

3) If I gave this much thought to my finances would I own a mansion and a yacht by now?

Let’s ponder these questions one at a time, shall we?

First off—should I bother wearing a costume? It’s the age old question for somebody whose age is getting a bit old. As a kid, wearing a costume on Halloween is a given. Our kids have been discussing what they will be this Halloween since November 1, 2011. They have changed their minds about eight dozen times over the past year. They will likely change their minds several more times between now and when we get to the costume store. In fact, there is a high probability that one of them will change their minds once inside the costume store. This is exactly what happened last year. My five-year-old son was three inches away from the Spiderman costume he said he wanted for the previous two days when out of the corner of his eye he saw a Wolverine costume, which cast some sort of voodoo-like spell on him and caused him to completely forget that he ever wanted a Spiderman costume in the first place.

For adults the question of costume wearing on Halloween isn’t as cut and dry. If you’re going to a Halloween party you would definitely wear a costume. If you’re taking your kids trick-o-treating you might wear a costume. And if you’re going to the doctor’s office to have them look at a questionable mole, you might not want to wear a costume. But I’m not going to a Halloween party, my wife is the one who takes the kids trick-o-treating, and I have no questions about any of my moles, so for me there is no clear cut answer. I’ll go with “yes” simply so that I can answer question number two.

Okay, so now that we know I’ll wear a costume, what should I wear? I’m not crazy about traditional Halloween costumes like ghosts, vampires, and devils. I’m not going to do the super hero thing, because I don’t want to steal my kids’ thunder.  And I refuse to wear an Obama or Romney mask because I don’t want to terrify babies and small dogs. No, I prefer more subtle costumes like a math tutor, or an account representative, or a proofreader. You know, the kind of costume that drives people crazy for hours trying to figure out what you’re supposed to be. My other option is to dress up like a Fig Newton—I really like Fig Newtons.

As for the third question, the answer is “no.” No matter how much thought I give to my finances the closest I’ll ever come to owning a mansion and a yacht is to dress up like Warren Buffett. that’s a pretty subtle costume.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Mysteries of Cellular Telephonic Devices

Last week, at the height of iPhone 5 mania, I got an iPhone 4s. It wasn’t that I was being a savvy shopper—or a cheap bastard, depending upon your perspective—but rather, I was given this phone at work when they replaced all of our Blackberries.

I’ve had my phone for five days now and I’m still not quite sure how to operate it. Basic things are going wrong. I must have done something early on to turn off the ringer and now I don’t know how to turn it back on. I read the instruction manual cover to cover, but the instruction manual seems to have been written for someone who already has a working knowledge of cellphones. That would not be me.

About a year-and-a-half ago, when I first got my Blackberry, I had similar problems. No clue how to use the thing. A few days after I got that phone I had it in my pants pocket and bent over to pick something up. This motion apparently triggered something on the phone, because I heard a beep followed by a soothing woman’s voice saying, “You may now leave your voicemail greeting.” I quickly took the phone out of my pocket and left my voicemail greeting. I was thankful for this stroke of luck because I had been trying to figure out how to do that since I had gotten the phone.

I have been trying to use this same technique to turn the ringer back on my iPhone 4s. I keep on putting the phone in my pocket, bending in unusual ways, and then calling myself from my landline to see if I reactivated the ringer. So far no luck, but at least the constant bending is making me more limber than usual.

I’m not quite sure what makes me so cellphone-challenged. I was talking to a friend of mine who is similarly challenged and he attributed it to our age. I don’t really buy that argument. At 43, there are plenty of people my age and older who handle a cellphone as efficiently and effectively as Eddie Van Halen handles a guitar. No, I think my ineptitude in this realm must come from something else.

Stupidity perhaps? Perhaps. But I’ve seen those people swerving in and out of lanes on the freeway while using one hand to text and the other to slug back their Starbucks Iced Mocha Strawberry Latte Orange Frappuccino, and I think to myself, “I’ve got to be smarter than that yutz.”

What then? The only thing I can think of is that I have some sort of genetic mutation. I know it would be odd for there to be a gene specific to cellphone usage, but the human genome is a mysterious thing. Some scientists have said that there is lots of “junk DNA” that doesn’t seem to have a specific use. Other scientists have said that there is no “junk DNA,” just DNA that we haven’t figured out what they do yet. So I’m urging geneticists to look into the possibility of a cellphone usage gene. Perhaps if they discover the gene they would be able to develop a technique to activate it for people like myself. That would probably be a lot faster than me figuring out how to activate my ringer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Flu Shot...Or Not

Yesterday I got a flu shot because I’m a responsible adult and I’m told that’s what responsible adults do. It was a benefit through my employer so there was no cost to me and it was extremely convenient since the shots were being administered at the office. And yet, as I rolled up my sleeve, the one thought that occurred to me was, “Holy crap—I am one ridiculously trusting human being.”

There I was sticking out my arm so that a woman I had never seen before and will likely never see again could plunge a 10-inch (give or take eight inches) needle into my arm. The needle presumably contained the flu vaccine, but really, how do I know? It’s not like I examined the contents under a microscope, and even if I had, it’s not like I’m a freaking virologist. For all I know I was being injected with strychnine, or kryptonite, or Country Time lemonade.

And I couldn’t help but notice that the woman wielding the needle wasn’t even dressed in one of those medical aprons or smocks to make her look more official. She was just dressed like you or me. (Not that I know what you’re wearing right now. For all I know you’re a doctor and happen to be wearing medical garb as we speak, in which case she was dressed nothing like you.) The point is, in the absence of healthcare attire, and since I didn’t ask to see her curriculum vitae prior to the procedure, I could only assume that she was qualified to insert sharp instruments deep into my anatomy. (To her credit, she was wearing latex gloves, but since I don’t know her personally, I have no way of knowing if she always wears latex gloves regardless of what she happens to be doing.)

After the assault on my arm was completed a Band-Aid was placed on the wound. (At least I was told it was a Band-Aid—for all I know it was a generic form of bandage.) I was told to drink lots of water (suspicious, isn’t it?) and I staggered back to my desk. For the rest of the day I was vigilant—taking my own pulse every five to seven minutes and continually looking at my mouth in the mirror to see if I had sprouted fangs. As it turns out, other than soreness at the spot of the injection I was seemingly fine the rest of the day.

Thirty-four hours has now passed since the injection and I have yet to display any unusual symptoms, so perhaps this particular flu shot was on the up-and-up.  I guess I got lucky this time around. But just to play it safe next time, I’m going to conduct a full background search on any personnel who come within 20 feet of the needle that goes into my arm.

Yup, I’m one ridiculously trusting human being.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Too Old to Rock 'N Roll

A long time ago (1986-1994) in a galaxy far, far away (New York) I went to a lot of concerts. In fact, I would guess during that timeframe I went to somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 concerts. (And I’m talking about blow your eardrums out arena and stadium-type concerts here, not club shows, which would probably triple that number.) These days, I’m lucky to go to one concert per year, and have even had a year here or there where I didn’t go to any. So what in the blazes happened to me? Ah, yes…age.

When you’re in your late teens and early twenties you think you’re going to get loaded and go to rock concerts for the next 50 years. You scoff at the very notion that you could ever possibly end up as devastatingly dull as your parents and their peers, whose idea of partying seems to be eating more than the number of Ritz crackers in a serving size. No, you are 100% sure during that time in your life that nothing is ever going to stop you from seeing every Rush, Jethro Tull, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and Metallica concert ever put on for the rest of your existence.

Then you get a job, and a wife, and a mortgage, and some kids, and suddenly your concert-going agenda is thrown completely out of whack. All that money you used to spend on concert tickets and souvenirs suddenly needs to go toward mundane things like electric bills, gas, and food. All that time you used to spend away from home now needs to be devoted to tucking kids into bed and washing orange juice stains off the walls. And all those brain cells you used to happily kill in the name of rock and roll are suddenly in high demand so you can have some inkling as to what your boss is trying to convey to you at work.

Going to a concert is never a spur of the moment thing anymore. You have to plan months in advance. You have to ask serious questions like, “Is it in our budget?” “Will we be able to get a sitter?” and “Are any of the original members of the band still alive?” These are questions I never used to bother with back in my heyday.

Sometime in 1994 I went to see the Eagles. There were eight of us including my oldest brother and his wife. They are eleven years older than me and at the time had four kids ranging in age from one to eight. I remember my amusement when, just as the encore was starting, my brother and sister-in-law said they had to leave.

“Are you kidding? This is the best part of the show,” I said, incredulous.

“Yeah, but we have to get up early tomorrow and the kids have school,” my brother replied.

As I watched them leave the arena I thought, “Ha, ha—that’ll never be me.”

Eighteen years later I finally get the irony that I had that thought on the Eagles’ “Hell Freezes Over” tour.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Want Fries With That Shirt?

Every couple of weeks I come up with an idea that I know would make me a multi-millionaire, if only I weren’t a lazy, unmotivated slacker who never actually follows up on his ingenious concepts. It happened again today. This afternoon, while running errands with my family, I came up with an idea that would revolutionize the retail business in a way not seen since George Washington Carver invented the sewing machine in 1678. (Okay, I admit it—I’m too lazy to open a history book, too.)

We were on our way to Payless Shoes when my wife asked if I had purchased lettuce for the taco salad we had planned for dinner. I freely admitted that I had not made such a purchase. Then I said these immortal words, “Too bad Payless doesn’t also sell lettuce.” And the earth trembled just a bit.

Think about it. We were clearly not the first people who ever needed both shoes and lettuce and I’m sure we won’t be the last. And no, I don’t think that every person who goes to purchase pink leather pumps is also in the market for a head of iceberg; but there must be a certain percentage of people for whom this would be a huge convenience. My Shoes and Lettuce store would tap into an unmet need that no entrepreneur has ever addressed previously.

I know what you’re thinking. Why keep the focus narrowed to lettuce? Why not make it Shoes and Produce? Great question—thanks for asking. I would answer your question with another question. Have you ever been shoe shopping and thought, “I wish this place carried okra?” I didn’t think so. My point is, if you were selling all kinds of produce in your shoe store, where would you draw the line? Would you sell avocado? Zucchini? Beets, for crying out loud? By sticking with lettuce, which is the basis of all salads—and, as such, one of the most popular forms of produce—you wouldn’t have to worry about stocking items that weren’t going to sell.

Of course, Shoes and Lettuce is only the beginning of this revolution. There is never any end to things you might need while shopping in a store that wouldn’t normally carry that item. This is why stores like Ice Cream and Batteries, Yarn and Paper Plates, Shirts and French Fries, and Cellphones and Salsa would all do tremendous business.

You’re sweating. You’re panting. You’re wondering where all these stores have been all your life. Unfortunately, as stated in the opening paragraph, I’m not motivated enough to make this life-altering idea a reality. I’m only motivated enough to blog about it, so that one of my dozen or so readers might run with this concept and forever change the consumer landscape. And if you are the lucky reader who has the gumption that I lack to follow through, I ask for no monetary compensation in return—simply a lifelong supply of sneakers and romaine.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Living in Fear of the Big Question

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a 5-year-old and 3-year-old son. (To be clear, it’s not that I have one son who is both 5-years-old and 3-years-old, which would be impossible, but rather two separate sons who are 5-years-old and 3-years-old respectively.) In any event, I have a blast with them. We play with Legos and action figures, watch cartoons, draw pictures, and generally do all the stuff you would expect to do with kids at that age.  But the thing I enjoy doing most with them is teaching them new things.

Young kids are full of wonder. They are curious about everything and aren’t shy about asking questions. And for my part, I love to explain things to them. A sampling of some of our Q&A sessions includes:

Q: Why aren’t there any dinosaurs on the earth?
A: Because they all died out millions of years ago.

Q: What’s the fastest animal?
A: Um…a cheetah, I think.

Q: What are eyeballs made out of?
A: Some sort of jelly-like substance.

Q: Why is the sky blue?
A: Because of…you know…gases…and, um…the angle of the atmosphere…and…uh…wanna watch cartoons?

Okay, so maybe I don’t have a perfect track record, but at least I’m happy to take a stab at answering whatever childlike queries come my way. That is, at least, I’m happy to right now. The problem is that I know that sometime in the next few years I’m going to have to field that one question that puts fear into the hearts of parents all over the globe.

You think it’s the obvious question, don’t you? You think the question I’m referring to is “Where do babies come from?” Close, but not quite. See, my kids have already asked this question and I gave the seemingly obvious response of, “Mommies’ tummies.” For a while, at least, this satisfies their curiosity. But at some point the follow up question is destined to dawn upon them—“How in the world do babies get into mommies’ tummies?” That’s when I will run and hide. Unfortunately, kids are great at hide and seek, so you can only use that tactic for so long.

I have no idea what the average age is for asking about the “birds and the bees.”  I was around 11-years-old when I asked. I think this may be on the late side, because I distinctly remember feeling foolish for even asking. In fact, I have a vague recollection of starting the conversation by saying, “I feel like I should know this but…” This conversation took place at a diner that I was at with my dad and 18-year-old brother. I remember my dad looking nervous and saying, “Really? You don’t know this?” In retrospect, I’m sure what he was thinking was, “Crap, I thought some kid at his school would have told him this at recess by now.” Years later I don’t remember the specific words my dad used (although I do remember him using a really bad metaphor about hammering nails) but somehow he managed to stammer out an explanation that made sense to me—with my brother snickering the entire time.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Secret to Raising a Politician

This morning, while I watched my 5-year-old and 3-year-old sons play together, I realized that they have all the makings of future politicians. They are constantly arguing, they call each other names, they change the rules in the middle of playing for their own advantage, they try to get away with stuff they know they’re not supposed to, they refuse to participate when things aren’t going their way, they scream and shout to be heard over each other, they crave being the center of attention, and whenever they’re done with something, it’s a much bigger mess than when they started. Of course, most kids in that age range do the exact same things, so perhaps it’s not so much that my kids are future politicians, as it is that politicians are simply kids who have never grown up.

Interestingly, politician is one of the very few careers in which you can act like a 3-year-old and actually get away with it. Think about your own job for a moment. How long would you remain employed if you openly belittled your coworkers, or covered up your mistakes, or simply stopped working because you didn’t like a particular project?  I know that if I did any of those things at work I’d be kicked out of my office faster than a chimp could open a banana.

And yet we accept this behavior from our politicians. Does no one else see the irony in the fact that we spend a tremendous amount of effort trying to teach our kids NOT to do the exact same things that we have come to expect from the people who run our country? Makes you wonder if the parents of politicians just didn’t even bother teaching good behavior. Perhaps politicians are simply the products of lazy parenting. Or maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t so much lazy as intentional.

I can picture it now—little Johnny rips a toy out of his sister’s hand, wings it across the room shattering it into a thousand hopeless shards, then points at his forlorn sis and shouts as loud as he can, “She did it!” The mom is about to discipline the holy terror when the dad stops her and says, “No, no. Let him be. Maybe one day he’ll be a senator!” Sure enough, 40 years later little Johnny’s taking political contributions from special interest groups and sponsoring a bill to open up a nuclear power plant next to a preschool.

As for my kids, my wife and I are at least attempting to teach them good manners, so if they wind up pursuing a career in politics it’s not our fault. I’ll blame it on their teachers.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Potential Vice President Sets Off Personal Crisis

As soon as Paul Ryan was announced as Mitt Romney’s running mate I did what 100,000,000 other Americans probably did—I rushed straight to his Wikipedia page. While the entry was of decent size, and I’m sure filled with many relevant tidbits about his life and career, I found that I could not read past the very first factoid right after his name. Paul Davis Ryan’s birthdate is January 29, 1970. This man was born the year AFTER me.

I know it’s ridiculous, but somehow I just can’t wrap my mind around the possibility of having a Vice President younger than myself. I mean, what if Romney wins the general election? And what if, a week after being sworn in he chokes on a pretzel while watching a football game like the last Republican president, and isn’t as lucky as his predecessor and ends up buying the farm? Then the baton would be passed to Paul Ryan and suddenly, instead of a Vice President younger than me, we would have a President younger than me. This just cannot be.

Why am I so hung up on this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because Paul Ryan was born the year after the first moon landing, and Woodstock, and the Miracle Mets. Or maybe it’s because he was born in the same decade that brought us disco and Space Invaders. Or maybe it’s because he’s younger than people like Adam Sandler, Pauly Shore, and J.Lo for crying out loud!

But who am I kidding? Really this is about the horrifying realization that I’m getting old and that there really can be people in positions of responsibility who are younger than myself. I remember having a similar internal freak-out the first time I went to a doctor younger than me. I was in my early 30s at the time and my new doctor assigned to me by my HMO was a young woman in her mid-to-late 20s. She was probably a year or two removed from medical school and all I was able to think throughout the entire physical exam was “are you really qualified to stick that thing where you’re sticking it?”

This boils down to ageism, I realize—the absurd notion that if I’m not qualified or experienced enough to do something, nobody younger than me can possibly be qualified or experienced enough to do it either. I know it’s not rational, but I can’t shake it. And I suspect that as the years go by it will only get worse. When I’m 60 and have a 55-year-old lawyer I’ll wonder how he possibly could have passed his bar exam already.

I know I need to get over all this, and perhaps extensive psychotherapy is in order. For now, though, there is really only one question at hand: Do we really want a Vice President born the year after the debut of Sesame Street?