Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Eight Desert Island Songs

Recently, a friend of mine posted the following question in an online rock music forum that we participate in: What are your eight Desert Island songs? Of course we’ve heard this question—and a variety of variants of this question—many times before. In this hypothetical scenario, we somehow end up on a deserted island and the mysterious all-powerful entity that placed us there allows us to choose eight, and only eight, songs to listen to over and over again. It’s unclear how we’re listening to these songs—mp3 player, CD, mixed tape, Victrola—but, the point is we can hear nothing else but these songs for the rest of eternity, so we better make some wise choices.

As a point of interest, my friend posted this question because he came across an article in which Bruce Springsteen was posed this query. Bruce’s choices were: Elvis Presley – “Hound Dog;” The Beatles – “I Want to Hold Your Hand;” The Rolling Stones – “It’s All Over Now;” Van Morrison – “Madame George;” Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On;” James Brown – “Out of Sight;” The Four Tops – “Baby I Need Your Loving;” and Bob Dylan – “Like a Rolling Stone.” A respectable list, to say the least.

Clearly, the song choices of Springsteen, one of the most successful solo artists in the history of rock, will be of more interest to most than that of Schwartzberg, whose musical career consisted of four months of piano lessons as a child followed by an occasional drunken karaoke session in his 20s. But alas, seeing as how I write this blog, I’m going to share Schwartzberg’s list of eight desert island songs anyway, and nobody—not even The Boss, can stop me.

Be aware that the list below is in no special order, other than the order in which I happened to think of the songs. So, without further ado, here are the eight songs I would listen to over and over again throughout eternity, and the rationale behind each.

“Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen
No, it’s not just because this list was inspired by Springsteen’s list that I picked this song. It’s because he’s far and away my favorite solo artist and this song introduced me to him. And every time I hear this song, I drop everything and give it my full attention. There is an urgency about this song—a driving force that sucks me in and gets my heart pounding and my temperature rising. I know this song has gotten endless airplay, but to me it can never be overplayed. It is passionate, alive and immediate. When I’m on my desert island and I need a sure shot of pure adrenaline, this will be my go to song.

“Roundabout” – Yes
This is the song I’ve cited as my favorite song for close to 30 years, now, and with good reason, I believe. This is 8 minutes and 29 seconds of the greatest, mind-bogglingly complex musicianship you will ever hear on a rock song. Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Bill Bruford on drums, and Jon Anderson on vocals are unparalleled in their craft and each blows my mind at different points in the song. Actually, in some cases they blow my mind at the same point in the song. You know how they say if pregnant women play classical music while their baby is in the womb it will increase their baby’s intelligence? My theory is that if a pregnant woman ever decided to put “Roundabout” on constant rotation for the entire duration of her pregnancy, the being that she would birth would end up making Stephen Hawking look like Pauly Shore. And on a desert island, I would need all the intelligence I could muster.

“Subdivisions” – Rush
Just as Springsteen is far and away my favorite solo artist, Rush is far and away my favorite band, and “Subdivisions” is the song that introduced me to them. While the song is great musically and lyrically (it’s about being a loner in a suburban world of conformity) it is actually not my favorite Rush song. But, because this song turned me on to the band that would go on to make up such a core part of my psyche from age 16 onward, its significance cannot be denied. Being without this song would be like being without a limb, and if I were on a desert island, I would definitely need all my limbs intact.

“Birdhouse in Your Soul” – They Might Be Giants
If you are living by yourself on a deserted island, I would imagine despair might be a pretty major issue, so it occurred to me that I would need at least one song guaranteed to lift my spirits, and this was the obvious choice for me. To my mind, there is no band more fun than They Might Be Giants and no song of theirs more joyous than “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” The lyrics are somewhere between whimsical and nonsensical (“Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch/Who watches over you/Make a little birdhouse in your soul”) and its matched with music that is peppy and uplifting. Ever since I discovered this song in the early 1990s it has been my go to song when I needed cheering up. Indeed, it’s like musical Prozac and on my desert island I would take a daily dose.

“Hello” – Lionel Richie
Okay, stop snickering. The truth is, I was a huge Lionel Richie fan in junior high school when he was at the peak of his popularity. And when this song was released in early 1984, as ninth grade was coming to an end, I had a massive crush on a girl named Elizabeth. I played this song endlessly as I pined after this girl and the song has come to represent yearning for something that cannot be obtained. Of course, nothing ever happened between Elizabeth and I, and once 10th grade started she was long forgotten when a new crush surfaced. But the song “Hello” is part of the fiber of my being and I would play it on my desert island when wistfulness and longing were the order of the day.

“Dance With You” – Live
For me, this song is the antidote to “Hello.” Instead of unrequited love, it represents pure, mutual love.  It is the theme song to the early days of my relationship with my wife and was the first dance at our wedding. Live is a band that my wife and I both loved prior to meeting, so when we started dating and found we had a mutual admiration for their music, it became “our band” together. Less than three months after we started dating, Live released the album The Distance to Here and “Dance With You” was the final track. It’s a song about how two people wrestling with inner demons find peace in their love for one another. It was, and is, our song. So, if I were alone on a desert island, I would need to have the musical representation of my wife with me, and that’s what this song is.

“Because the Night” – 10,000 Maniacs
After thinking about how my wife would be represented in my musical selections it suddenly occurred to me that I had no women’s voices in any of the songs I had picked. How horrible it would be to go through the rest of life without ever hearing a female voice ever again. And as soon as I had that thought I knew that the voice I would have to hear would be Natalie Merchant’s, as she is my favorite female vocalist by a very wide margin. At first I pondered her solo career, which has produced so many songs I love, and then I thought about her time with 10,000 Maniacs, which likewise, has dozens of great tracks. But then I remembered this song—a Bruce Springsteen cover, which the 10,000 Maniacs played on MTV Unplugged in 1993. I already liked this song, but their take on it is hauntingly beautiful and it quickly became one of my favorites. But I’m also picking this song because it is from a live album and there is applause at the beginning and end of the track, so if, while on my island, I want to feel like there are others with me, this is a great track to play.

“Help!” – The Beatles
I knew from the beginning of this exercise that one of my eight songs was going to have to be a Beatles song. There was no way I was going to commit to never hearing a Beatles song again. So when I got through my first seven and still hadn’t picked a song from the Fab Four, I refocused my energy on their catalog. I quickly realized that this task was nearly impossible. No band has more great songs than the Beatles, so how was I going to narrow it down to just one? But then, like a lightning bolt, it suddenly occurred to me what song I would have to pick. It was so obvious. Not only was it a great song, but the title was the one word phrase I would likely utter most often while trapped on a desert island—“Help!” Sometimes the answer just stares you in the face.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Everything is NOT as it Seems

November of 2016 has been nothing if not surreal. Up is down. Black is white. Night is day. Llama is dromedary. Well, maybe the last example isn’t the greatest, but you get the point. Things just don’t feel right.

It is difficult to separate lies from the truth. Everywhere you look you are presented with two different versions of reality. Sometimes you’re not sure what to believe, who to trust, or where to go for good, solid information. With so many different sources, each seemingly with its own agenda, discerning fact from fiction often feels overwhelming.

So what is one to do in this climate of perpetual deception? I believe the trick is to take baby steps. If you try to sift through every topic of importance every day, you will quickly go down a rabbit hole and run the risk of losing your mind, or at the very least, turning your ankle. Get grounded and start slow.

Indeed, I have followed my own advice and uncovered the truth behind an age-old lie. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but as I said, the trick is to start slow. It took meticulous research and hours of hands-on exploration, but in the end I feel confident with the truth I am about to reveal. And the truth is that “Everything Bagels” are nothing more than a lie. Admittedly they are a delicious lie, but they are a lie nonetheless.

When you go into a bagel shop or a store that sells lots of other stuff including bagels, you are often presented with a plethora of options. You can get a plain bagel, a sesame bagel, a poppy seed bagel, a cinnamon raisin bagel, an onion bagel, a blueberry bagel, a sunflower seed bagel, an egg bagel, a chocolate chip bagel, a garlic bagel, a whole wheat bagel, and of course, an everything bagel.

I have always taken the name “Everything Bagel” for granted because, let’s face it, they taste great. When something is amazing, you generally don’t worry yourself with what it is called. But what if what it is called is a lie? Should you stand by idly and let it go unnoticed?

A few months ago while at the grocery store I purchased a package of Everything Bagels. They were sitting next to the packages of cinnamon raisin bagels, which I also happen to enjoy. The next morning as I munched on my Everything Bagel it suddenly dawned on me that I was not tasting cinnamon or raisin. Clearly this bagel did not contain everything that might be on a bagel and yet the word “everything” was in its title. I read the ingredients.


In the list above I bolded the five ingredients that might be in its own bagel. (You’ll note that there are a lot of ingredients listed that would not constitute their own bagel. For example, I’ve never ordered a Xanthan Gum or Folic Acid bagel.) While we see bagel mainstays like garlic, onion, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and sunflower seeds, conspicuously absent from the ingredients list are cinnamon, raisin, blueberry, and chocolate chips, all of which are popular bagel ingredients. If one is being honest, an “Everything Bagel” does not contain everything.

So, clearly, the moniker “Everything Bagel” is nothing more than a blatant lie perpetrated by savvy, yet deceitful marketing types. Delicious though they may be, the “Everything Bagel” would be more aptly named the “Manythings Bagel” or, debatably, the “Mostthings Bagel.” But “Everything Bagel?” I think not.

Take a breath. Start slow. And you, too, can unearth the truth in this cockeyed world.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Man-Eating Car: News at 11

Hello, this is Rock Stone here on Channel 17, with some late-breaking news. Authorities report that there is a man-eating car on the loose this Halloween night swallowing up trick-or-treaters at an alarming rate. Repeat there is a man-eating car on the loose. Initial details of this report are sketchy, but apparently this psychotic sedan is cruising around the neighborhood luring holiday revelers with the promise of chocolate bars and gummy worms, only to gobble up its victims whole and speed off while blasting the Weird Al song, “Eat It.”

The photo on-screen was captured by a parent who was in shock as she live-tweeted her son’s demise. Her tweet, “Junior looked awesome as Frankenstein but then got eaten by a car” accompanied by the hashtag, “MoreTrickThanTreat” received over 2,000 likes at last report.

Baffled by this unusual phenomenon, local police are frantically rifling through Stephen King’s book, “Christine,” searching for answers, but at 411 pages it could be hours before any useful information is obtained. In the meantime, authorities are urging trick-or-treaters to avoid all cars sporting large, pointy teeth and lolling tongues. If you have any information about the man-eating car, or if you are the man-eating car, please call authorities right away. And now to Misty Fields for the weather…

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Doug and I

Doug and I come from very different backgrounds. I’m American and he’s Danish. I’m a white collar guy and he’s a blue collar guy. I’m a football fan and he’s a futbol fan. And clearly, as is evidenced from the accompanying photo, we have different colored skin, too. Yet the two of us are the best of friends. Why? Because we respect our differences and can always find common ground.

You may well be saying to yourself right now, “Sure, Andrew, it’s easy to get along with someone who’s made out of hard plastic and has a smile permanently etched upon their face. But what about that guy over there who keeps on spouting crazy crap about that political candidate that I find crazy? How am I supposed to get along with him?”

Great question! Politics can be very divisive and Doug and I are on different sides of the aisle, so it’s not a topic we usually discuss. Instead we talk about our families (Doug’s son is doing great in gymnastics—it’s like he could hold on to the rings forever!); movies (turns out we’re both big fans of “Ghostbusters”—the original, of course!); and travel (we both love visiting Carlsbad, California!) But if politics or religion ever comes up, we simply agree to disagree and move on to a different topic.

So before you dismiss someone out of hand just because they have a different background, or like a different sport, or have different beliefs than you, think about Doug and I and remember there is always a way to find common ground. Because when you have a happy conversation with someone instead of an angry one, everything is awesome!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Your Menu Options Have NOT Recently Changed

When you call a doctor’s office it’s usually not for a good reason. You call to schedule an appointment to have that weird growth on your foot looked at; or you call to get test results back to find out what that weird growth on your foot actually is; or you call to pay the exorbitant medical bill you received, because it turns out your insurance inexplicably doesn’t cover weird growths on the foot. So, since you go into a call to the doctor’s office already experiencing some anxiety, the last thing that you want is to be lied to by their recorded phone message—yet it happens every time.

The first thing I hear when my doctor’s phone picks up is, “If you are experiencing a life threatening emergency, please hang up and dial 911.” That’s not a lie—it’s just common sense, albeit such common sense, I would hope it never has to be acted upon in the first place. I mean, let’s say you accidentally chop your entire arm off while dicing tomatoes. This is clearly a life threatening emergency. I would assume 99.99% of the population would think, “Wow, that’s bad. I should call 911,” seeing is how that’s a relatively easy number to remember. Presumably it would be much less likely that you would think, “Wow, that’s bad. Let me look up the phone number for my doctor’s office and see if I could get an appointment sometime this week to get this looked at.”

But it is after the obligatory, but moronically obvious 911 statement that the egregious lie occurs. The next thing I hear is, “Please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed.” I am here to tell you, that is simply not true—unless you can define “recently” as sometime in the last decade.

I have been going to the same doctor’s office for about 12 years and I’m pretty dang sure the options have always been:

For hours of operation, address and fax number, please press 1.

To schedule an appointment, please press 2.

If you’re calling from a provider’s office, hospital or pharmacy, please press 3.

For billing inquiries, please press 4.

For medical records, please press 5.

Of course, “our menu options have recently changed” was true at some point in time—specifically, when the message was first recorded, oh so many years ago. But at some point—three months later? six months later? a year later? two years later, for crying out loud?—the menu options had not been changed any time recently, unless of course you’re talking about a geologic timescale, in which case any time in the past 10,000 years is considered recent. But, assuming for a moment that my physician got his doctorate in medicine, not geology, this whole “our menu options have recently changed” thing is a bald-faced lie.

Presumably, the reason they have perpetuated this lie for so many years is they assume people are too lazy to wait to hear the menu options and will start randomly pressing buttons, so they are trying to trick patients into sitting through all of the choices by claiming something may be different from the last time they called. If this is, in fact, the case I think there are some more honest ways to approach this message. I would recommend any one of these options:

1- “Please listen carefully, because while our menu options have not recently changed, you may be a new patient who has never heard our menu options before, or an existing patient who is either unable or unwilling to commit our menu options to memory.”

2- “You are about to hear our menu options and we highly recommend number four, but you may want to listen to all of them, just in case that’s not your thing.”

3- “Our office staff is way too busy and important to pick up the phone when it rings, so we prefer that you sit through this recording and then press the number that corresponds to the staff member who is going to leave your call on hold for 20 minutes before answering.”

See, all of those options are much more truthful than “our menu options have recently changed.” Of course, if they insist on lying on their recording, they could at least be more inventive about it and go with:

4- “Please listen to the following menu options, because if you don’t, a laser will shoot out of your phone and set your inner ear on fire.”

Now I’m sure it’s not just my doctor’s office that is guilty of playing fast and loose with the word “recently.” It’s quite possible that your doctor’s office, or insurance broker’s office, or lawyer’s office perpetuates this same ugly lie on their phone system. So feel free to suggest to them that they use one of the alternative wording options listed above. But if it’s your geologist’s office that says their menu options have recently changed, just leave it alone—from their point of view they’re telling the truth.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Goodbye, Jack Davis

Growing up a rabid MAD magazine fan in the 1970s and 80s there were several artists whose work I revered above all others. Men like Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker, George Woodbridge, and Paul Coker were living legends in my eyes. But perhaps the most legendary to me was Jack Davis, who was equally adept at pinpoint caricatures as he was at goofy cartoons. His illustrations seemed to come alive on the page. 

And I seemed to see his work everywhere—not just in MAD. I would spot his work on the front of TV Guide and Time, and on movie posters like the one for "Animal House." Every time I saw his distinctive work on some non-MAD thing I would get excited. It was like a life bonus to see Jack’s work somewhere besides MAD.

When I went to work as an intern at MAD in the summer of 1990 I got to meet a lot of the living legends like Al Jaffee and George Woodbridge, who lived close enough to the editorial office that they would drop off their work in person. But many contributors lived too far for frequent visits and they would send their work via UPS or FedEx. Jack Davis, sadly, fell into this category, as he lived in Georgia, so as a MAD intern I had to settle for hearing his endearing southern drawl on speaker phone from time to time.

Toward the end of my internship I sold my first freelance article to MAD. It was a spoof of the television show “Unsolved Mysteries.” As excited as I was to make the sale, I was even more excited when I was told by the editors they had decided to have Jack Davis illustrate. Actually, excited doesn’t properly capture my reaction—it was more a combination of dumbstruck and delirious. That an artist I idolized from the time I was a small boy would be drawing pictures based on words that I wrote was beyond surreal. And once I saw the actual article in print with our bylines next to each other, I was giddy for a week.
From MAD #304, July 1991
Eventually I did get to meet Jack Davis, who was like a lovable grandpa with an unexpected mischievous streak. It was a little over a year after my internship. I was now working for MAD fulltime and I got to go on the biennial MAD trip. It was a cruise to Bermuda and Jack was there with his wife, Dena. I was awestruck in his presence—not only because of his incredible talent, but also because he towered over me by about a foot. Meeting him was definitely one of the highlights of my MAD career.
Jack Davis Videotaping me Taking a Picture of Him

Interestingly, I would go on to sell about 50 articles to MAD over the next decade-and-a-half, but that first one was the only one Jack illustrated. I was definitely fortunate to have had that opportunity.

When I found out today that Jack passed away at the age of 91, I was saddened, wistful, nostalgic. Jack was an amazing artist and a gracious guy. That I got to have any sort of association with him is an incredible honor. He will be missed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday Pants

I need to start off this blog entry with a disclaimer regarding the accompanying photo. I do not often take selfies of myself from the waist down. In fact, before today, I never have. I mean, how narcissistic would that be? The act of taking selfies is egomaniacal as it is, but taking selfies of random body parts brings it to a whole other level. I will admit I did once take a selfie of my hand, but that was only because I was bored and too lazy to turn my phone around toward my face. But I digress. Point is, I don’t want my audience to think I’m so self-absorbed that I’m standing around snapping pics of my limbs all day long. I only did it, because it directly pertains to the essay you are about to read, assuming you haven’t already given up on said essay. And I’d also like to apologize in advance if you find this photo too risqué—I tried to be as tasteful as possible. Now, onto my pants.

I do not, repeat, DO NOT, have a special pair of pants for every day of the week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays I wear whatever pants I please. Well, that’s not entirely true, I suppose. If I wore shorts on a weekday, I’d likely have to have a visit with my HR manager. But the point is that Tuesdays is the only day of the week when I have a particular pair of pants that I always wear—my Tuesday pants.

My Tuesday pants are dark khakis. Some might describe the color as olive green or forest moss. The pants are comfortable and versatile—with the right ensemble, dare I say stylish. These are pants one might be proud to wear on any day of the week. But I wear these pants exclusively on Tuesdays.

There was a time, not too long ago—14 months ago, to be exact—when I wore any old pants on Tuesdays. Black slacks, grey suit pants, jeans of varying shades of blue, light khakis—you name it, and it was in my leg-wear arsenal.

But now on Tuesdays I exclusively wear my dark khakis. Why? What happened 14 months ago that changed my entire pants world? Something very simple…I became the Cubmaster of my son’s Cub Scout pack and pack meetings are on—you guessed it—Tuesdays. And at pack meetings you will always find me in uniform, which includes my dark khakis.

Of course, the Cub Scout leader uniform also includes a shirt, which is really the more important piece of clothing, because it has all the various badges that identify your role, trainings, and various achievements you may have earned. But I only put the shirt on right before I go to a Cub Scout activity, whereas the pants I wear all day long. (Not wearing pants all day long might also get me a visit with my HR manager.)

Now if you’re familiar with the Cub Scouts, you may know that pack meetings are only once per month, so you may wonder why I wear my dark khakis weekly. Well, in addition to pack meetings we also have committee meetings, which are on a different Tuesday every month. So that means twice per month, I need to wear the same pants. But, I also like to sometimes drop by the weekly den meetings to see how things are going, and if I do that, I like to be in uniform to set a good example for the boys. And, yup, the den meetings are also on Tuesdays.

There are Tuesdays, however, when we don’t have any Cub Scout activities. Indeed, we take a bit of a break during the summer months while folks are on vacation. And yet, every Tuesday, I still pull on my dark khakis—my Tuesday pants. Call it force of habit, or muscle memory, or OCD, but when I look in my closet on Tuesday mornings I reach for the same pants every time—if I were to attempt to put on a different pair, I’d feel incomplete.

Remember, a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. And with the right pair of pants, they can also be stylish.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Taking Tree

My sons are not the most athletic or coordinated kids in the world, but then again, neither are their parents, so genetics are not particularly in their favor in this regard. But just because my kids may lack athletic skills doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy athletic activities—it just means they’re not very good at them. Indeed, just a couple of weeks ago my boys decided they wanted to go outside and throw around their new flying ring (a Frisbee with a hole in it) in front of the house.

My nine-year-old took a stance about 15 feet away from his seven-year-old brother and got himself into position. I’m no sports physicist, but I could see from the angle he was holding his arm that things were destined to go awry. I was about to stop him, because I sensed a broken window in our future, when he hurled the ring in the air with every ounce of strength he could muster. Up, up, it went—higher than I imagined his little body could have ever tossed it—and then down, down it came—right into the branches of our tree, about 20 feet above.

We all looked at the ring, pondering how we might retrieve it, when my older son said, “I know how to get it down” and went running into the garage. Moments later he appeared with a nerf football and before I could stop him he heaved it at the ring. Well…not exactly at the ring—more like five feet higher and to the right of the ring. 

I didn’t think my son’s arm was so strong that he could throw a football that high. I was impressed, but now we had two pieces of sports equipment stuck in our tree. Again we all stared and contemplated our next move.

I should mention here that climbing the tree was not an option. While the branches were strong enough to support sports equipment, they were definitely too thin to support the weight of a person. Also, as mentioned in my opening, none of us have actual athletic skill, so if any of us attempted to climb the tree, there is a 92.3% chance we would end up at urgent care.

As we looked futilely at our trapped equipment my younger son suddenly had a eureka moment. “I know,” he shouted and off he went into the garage. Moments later he came back with a small rubber ball and took aim at the tree.

“Wait!” I yelled, but it was too late. Skyward the ball went, completely bypassing the flying ring and the football, and landing comfortably, mockingly in the upper canopy of the tree. We all gazed at our sports-fruit bearing tree in awe for a moment. Suddenly, my boys both turned and were about to run into the garage to look for other objects they could hopelessly lose, when I shouted, “Everybody stop!” They stopped.

I confidently walked into our garage and found a baseball—a hardball too substantial to get stuck in a tree. I swaggered back out as my boys looked on. I took aim at the flying ring, secretly thinking to myself, “there ain’t no way I’m hitting this thing,” and uncorked a fastball straight up in the air. Miraculously I knocked the ring right out. The boys cheered.

I moved over slightly and took aim at the football, a little bit more confidence flowing through my veins. I let the ball fly again and struck the football dead center, dislodging it from its arboreal embrace. The boys cheered louder.

I walked to the other side of the tree and eyed the small rubber ball, barely visible in the upper branches of our towering mesquite tree. This time my confidence waned as the ball was a good 30 feet up and fairly well camouflaged. I took a deep breath, channeled my inner Clayton Kershaw, and unleashed a furious fastball high into the air. “WHACK!” The rubber ball came tumbling down with the baseball right behind it. We all cheered as though we just won game seven of the World Series. This moment represented the pinnacle of my athletic career. And more importantly we now had all of our sports equipment back!

Ten minutes later the flying ring ended up on the uppermost portion of our roof. It remains there to this day. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

National Siblings Day

One of the many interesting nuances of social media is that every day is now proclaimed to be “National Something-or-other Day.” Every morning that I login to Twitter I find out that we’re celebrating something new—National Puppy Day, National Beer Day, National Phillips Head Screwdriver Day—basically if it’s a noun they’ve got a day for it.

I don’t think twice about most of these days (besides, who even uses Phillips head screwdrivers anymore?) but today’s day gave me pause. Today, April 10, 2016, has been proclaimed by the internet gods as National Siblings Day. That one actually makes sense. We have a day to celebrate our mothers and our fathers, so why not our siblings? I have two older brothers and by golly they deserve some appreciation.

Of course, since I’m just finding out about National Siblings Day on the actual day, it’s too late to send my brothers a gift. Had I known about this day in advance I might have gone down to my local haberdashery shop and purchased them each a…um…uh…I don’t actually know what a haberdashery shop sells—Cigars? Hats? Woolen mittens? The point is, in the absence of a physical present, I will be posting this public appreciation for all the world to see. (Or at least for the 37 people who click on my blog to see.)

My oldest brother, Steve, is eleven years my senior. He taught me many things over the years like how to throw a football, why The Planet of the Apes is the greatest movie in the history of mankind, and how to get a Yodel smashed on your back and take it like a man.

Great Steve Brotherly Moment: When I was about 14 years old, Steve took me fishing. We had never gone fishing before, but for some reason I got it in my mind that I wanted to try to catch a fish, so Steve happily took me to a lake to give it a try. I have no idea if the lake we went to was, in fact, intended for fishing, or if there was any kind of aquatic life living in this lake at all, but Steve found a lake for us and we went, brand new fishing gear in hand. We waded into the lake, cast our lines, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I don’t know if we waited for 20 minutes or two hours, but we never got even the faintest hint of a bite. At some point I started getting upset about our lack of success and Steve started to realize it was more likely for us to get hit square in the mug with a meteorite than it was for us to catch a fish. It was at this point that Steve dropped his fishing pole and started aggressively slapping the water. On the verge of tears, I looked at him and asked what he was doing. “This is how bears catch fish,” he said. My brother is a large man—about six feet tall and husky—and is not unlike a bear in his configuration, so I actually thought maybe this could work. I got out of the water, put down my gear and watched him flail around, grunting and groaning like a grizzly that rides the short bus. Of course he didn’t catch a fish, but his ridiculous display did cheer me up and took my mind off our empty bucket.

Mark, the middle brother, is seven years older than me. It is through Mark that I developed a love for The Beatles, Woody Allen movies, and the finer points of sarcasm.

Great Mark Brotherly Moment: When I was a junior in high school I went to a toga party at my friend Rob’s house on a night when his parents were out of town. Rob was a year ahead of me in school and I actually didn’t know him all that well, but what 16-year-old is going to pass up the opportunity to go to a toga party? Knowing that the party was going to go on pretty late, the idea was for all of us to sleep over at his house. But my mom, whose photo was next to the word “overprotective” in the Oxford-English Dictionary, didn’t know Rob or his parents, so I told her I was sleeping over at Chris’s house. My mom knew his mom, so this seemed like a safe lie. And, since Chris lived around the corner from Rob and was at the toga party as well, I figured close enough. Mark, of course, wasn’t at this party, but he knew I was going and he knew about my lie. I told Mark everything. The party went off without a hitch (other than the odd discomfort of trying to use fitted sheets for a toga) and my cover story seemed to have worked…for about three days. Unfortunately, what I never considered was the possibility of my mom running into Chris’s mom at parent-teacher conferences and thanking her for letting me sleep over her house. Oops! When my mom came home she had a look in her eye that I assumed related to the fact that I got a 16 (yes, out of 100) on my trigonometry midterm. But no, she said she spoke to Chris’s mom and where the hell was I last Saturday night? Trapped! I desperately looked at Mark who knew my lie and immediately went about distracting my mom. I don’t remember what he said or did, what suddenly urgent matter he concocted, but somehow, inexplicably he quickly got my mom out of the room saving me from her instant wrath. This gave me enough time to come up with a more comprehensive cover story for when she came back (Chris and I went to the movies and got home after his mom had gone to bed—I left the next morning before she got up, so she never knew I was there) and manage to avoid my doom. Yep, Mark always had my back.

So on this National Siblings Day I say “Thank you!” to Steve and Mark! Although you’re both taller than me, I still love you anyway.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Should Comedy Writers Vote for Trump?

As Donald Trump’s wins continue to pile up in the Republican primaries, it has become increasingly obvious that the man, whose candidacy was initially considered to be nothing more than a ridiculous novelty, has somehow managed to amass millions of supporters. So who are these supporters? Who are the people who believe they would most benefit from the presidency of a billionaire, bully, buffoon? So far the main contingents seem to be wealthy people disinterested in kindness, poor people disinterested in facts, and Duck Dynasty fan club members.

But I would argue there is another contingent that has not expressly stated their allegiance to Trump that would benefit from his presidency more than any other group. I’m speaking, of course, of comedy writers. Trump has already given comedy writers so much. From MAD magazine to SNL, from The Onion to late night talk shows, from political cartoonists to Twitter hashtag wars—Trump has provided humorists with a never-ending source of high-quality comedy gold.

Whether it’s the natural comparisons to long dead dictators or the easy potshots about his questionable hair, Trump provides a treasure trove of material for comedians on a daily basis. And that’s just now, while he’s campaigning. Imagine what it would mean to the comedy world if Trump took his circus act to the White House.  How much material would be gained from insulting exchanges with other world leaders, bombastic State of the Union addresses, and garish White House dinners? With all the softballs Trump’s administration would lob out there, comedy monologues would practically write themselves.

On the surface it would appear that it would be in the best interest of comedy writers to support Donald Trump en masse. A Trump presidency would seem to ensure job security for those whose livelihood depends on satirizing current events.

But could there be too much of a good thing in this scenario? If a comedy writer can turn on CNN for five minutes and get 38 Trump jokes without batting an eye, would it make them complacent and lazy? And with all the attention focused on Trump’s every moronic word and action, would it distract comedians from poking fun at other topics rife for satire? Indeed, with the mass overload of Trump material, who would have time to skewer the Kardashians?

So I say to my fellow humorists, that while it may be tempting to vote for Trump, because you think it would give you stability in your work, I say this would only be a short-term gain. In the long run, the never-ending supply of easy Trump gags would make you soft, and after his administration was over you’d be reduced to writing knock-knock jokes and limericks.

A vote against Trump is a vote for your comedy future! (Besides, a new Clinton administration wouldn’t exactly make your well run dry.)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Raising an Evil Scientist

When you watch a movie featuring an evil scientist like Lex Luthor or Doctor Moreau or any one of the many James Bond villains who have created Nobel Prize-worthy devices designed to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting public, do you ever wonder about their parents? I mean, who raised these unhinged geniuses? Movies generally don’t delve into the genealogy of these characters, so the best one can do is speculate about their upbringing. I’ve always assumed evil scientists were brought up by unusually intelligent, absurdly wealthy, extremely detached parents who have a variety of offshore banking accounts and may have accidentally killed someone whilst fox hunting. I’ve never really pictured evil scientists as being brought up in an average middle class household with loving parents who are trying their best to set a good example for their offspring—that is until the last couple of years.

Now I’m not saying for sure that my six-year-old son is going to become an evil scientist. I mean, he hasn’t expressly stated that as what he wants to be when he grows up, but there are a variety of indications that if he took a career assessment test today, “Evil Scientist” would be toward the top of the list.

First off, my son has an actual super power, which in many movies—especially comic book movies—seems to be a prerequisite for evil scientists. My son’s super power is that he can read at an alarmingly fast rate. Do you remember those FedEx commercials from many years ago with the guy who spoke ridiculously fast? That’s what it sounds like when my son reads aloud. Indeed, when my wife and I went to parent-teacher conferences last month, his teacher told us that at this point in the year the goal is for first graders to read 23 words per minute and when our son was last tested he was at 187. I’m not saying this to be a braggart, but rather to point out that my son has an unusual skill that could possibly be harnessed for nefarious purposes. (Don’t ask me how.)

But my evil scientist suspicions are not based solely on my son’s speed reading skills. My mom read incredibly fast, too, and she wasn’t an evil scientist—she was a preschool teacher. No, beyond my son’s supernatural reading skills, are the various bizarre comments he makes that often give me pause and sometimes have me looking over my shoulder.

A couple of weeks before my son started Kindergarten, when he was a scant 5-years-old, he and I had this exchange…

Him: When I become an astronaut, should I blow up the moon so it's always day time?

Me: If you blow up the moon it wouldn't always be day time. There just wouldn't be any moon out when it's night time.

Him: Okay, then I’ll blow up the sun.

I had a bit of a chuckle about this exchange at the time, but a couple of years later, I wonder if it was my son hatching his first evil plot.

At the beginning of first grade my son asked a question out of the blue that, on the surface, seemed more inquisitive than sinister…

Him: Can germs see the smallest particles in the world?

Me: Well germs don’t have eyes, so I don’t think they can see anything. But even if they did, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to see quarks.

The question seemed relatively harmless at the time, but now I wonder what his motive was in asking in the first place. Was he developing a scheme to equip germs with microscopic devices to split atoms? Probably not, but just to be safe I decided not to buy him the Little Tikes Nuclear Fission kit for Christmas that year.

More recently my son and I had an exchange that I found particularly disturbing. About a week ago I was trying to wake my son up in the morning and he was completely zonked out—snoring heavily and not responding to my gentle shaking of his shoulder as I stood over him. After a few failed attempts, I sat down next to him on his bed. No sooner did my butt hit the mattress, then my son sat bolt upright, turned to me and said…

Him: Were you trying to collect human DNA?

Me: Um…no.

Him: Then why were you watching me sleep?

Me: Uhhhhhh. (I then nervously got up from his bed, gave him a queasy smile and backed out of the room.)

The fact that the first thought my son had upon seeing me looking at him when he awoke was that I might be trying to harvest his genetic material, tells me that seems like a reasonable possibility to him. And perhaps collecting human DNA is something that he, himself, has been contemplating. If I ever wake up to see my son standing over me in the morning I’ll be sure to check my body for small scars.

There have been other statements my son has made over the past couple of years that have given me pause, such as when he asked, “How do yams communicate with other yams?” (Is he hoping to harness an army of tubers?) Or when he confidently stated, “I fart in cursive.” (Perhaps he’s developing a second super power beyond speed reading).

My son’s cornucopia of strange statements is only one of the many clues to the unique way he sees the world. His artwork also reveals his skewed view of reality. When most first graders draw a picture of their family, you see basic smiling stick figures holding hands and/or joyfully waving. Not so much with my son’s art, which seems like some sort of twisted collaboration between Pablo Picasso and Gary Larson.

While I’m flattered that my son decided to make me the central figure in our family portrait, I’m not sure why he sees me as some sort of monstrosity with a head 75 times the size of my body and wildly hypnotic eyes. (Although it is accurate that my nose runs a lot.) Or maybe he doesn’t see me like that right now, but once he gets ahold of my DNA, that’s the direction that I’m headed.

So maybe the question I should really be concerned about isn’t “What kind of parents turn a kid into an evil scientist?” so much as, “What can an evil scientist turn his parents into?” I don’t know the answer for sure, but I’m definitely keeping a close eye on my son’s science fair project this year.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Raising the Bar For Children's Excuses

As a parent of young children I have become quite used to my kids coming out of their room every 20 minutes after they have supposedly gone to bed. The excuses they have for coming out are usually pretty standard: “I’m thirsty,” “My head hurts,” “I heard a noise,” and of course the generic “I can’t sleep.”

But tonight, not long after my six-year-old went to bed, he came out and said, “I was wearing socks but my feet weren’t cold, so I took them off and threw them and one ended up on my ceiling fan blade.”

The fact that my small son somehow managed to hurl a sock from his bed, seven feet into the air onto a ceiling fan blade was so impressive to me that I didn’t even question why he felt compelled to throw them in the first place, rather than gently placing them on the floor next to his bed.

He didn’t get into any trouble for his bizarre feat, but the truth is he has now set the bar for excuses for leaving his bedroom pretty high. After the fan blade incident I won’t be satisfied with “I’m thirsty” anymore. If my son comes out of his room again I’m hoping for something epic. Maybe something involving wire hangers, Venetian blinds and a bucket of marbles.