Food for Thought

I read an article online about the 20 worst foods for you, and I saw (unsurprisingly) that I eat or drink most of things on the list, including diet drinks — both sodas and energy drinks.

One of the things about the list that I found most interesting, however, was that alcohol is no longer bad for me. I would have thought (for instance) that drinking a gallon of, say, Everclear would be worse for me than two 2-liter Diet Pepsis; apparently not, though.

I know that hardly a week goes by in this city that someone doesn’t have one Fresca too many and wrap their car around a telephone pole.

High fructose corn syrup and sugar apparently have lost whatever harmful effects they had, too. As it happens, I like to minimize my sugar intake for mood-related reasons; conditions like that and diabetes apparently aren’t real things now, either, according to health food “experts”.

If you have lived as long as I have, it appears the cycle works as follows:

  1. “Experts” complain about the baneful effects of some food.
  2. “Companies” produce food made with some other substance, instead.
  3. People flock to use this new food, having been convinced by the “Experts” that what they were eating in prior times was the most poisonous substance known to humankind.
  4. “Experts” change their mind, and decide the new thing is the worst thing ever. This becomes the new step A), and the process repeats to infinity.

The city I live in is home (or the original home) to a number of famous or semi-famous name brand foods; the people who I know from these companies are interested in providing foods

  • that people like;
  • that people can afford; and
  • that are reasonably nutritious.

From a mass production standpoint, however, these three things tend to pull in different directions.

  1. There’s quite a bit of food out there that is delicious, nutritious, and unaffordable.
  2. There’s a considerable amount of food out there that is affordable, tastes good, and is not that nutritious.
  3. There’s also affordable food that is good for you, but that few people find enjoyable. Like beets.

Parents tend to feed their kids food from each of the last two categories: vegetables and other things kids may not like the taste of, along with just enough of what they enjoy to balance out nutritional goals and having some enjoyment at mealtimes. That is what real parents do (and have done) everyday, in the real world.

Nutritional experts, however, like to encourage people to use category 1, or sometimes, an even less popular category 4, where the food is unaffordable, nutritious, and tastes horrible.

Every so often, nutritional “experts” try their new to them (old to us) theories out on school districts. They find, to their surprise, that kids will go hungry for a meal rather than eat food they don’t like. These experiments typically end when they realize the food is ending up in garbage cans.

Go figure.


Like most other things in life, balance turns out to be key in making choices that are both wise and sustainable. I am saying this as a person who has lived an unbalanced life along any number of dimensions. Which sucks, by the way.

I put the “20 Worst Foods” article aside, wondering: will wars soon be fought where opposing sides drop aspartame on each other?

Revenge is supposed to be sweet, after all.

Three Threes, and A Paradox

The more we have of any thing, the more devalued that thing becomes.

With abundance, comes scorn. This is a paradox.

The age we live in makes more “good” things possible than ever before. The largely unforeseen consequence of this has been a greatly heightened degree of anxiety. We have more choices than we are capable of making.

We all have economic limits, of course. But if you have an Internet connection — and if you are reading this, I can assume you do — you have more music, art, poetry, literature, news, and history available to you than did the most learned or affluent person of prior times.

As supply has become more plentiful, choice has become more difficult — even overwhelming, at times. Online, people nudge, wink, grab, and even scream for our attention.

As it is, two ultimate boundary conditions seem to dominate many of our discretionary choices:

  1. That a thing be completely new: a new movie, new book, new music. It did not exist before now, so it is a completely new choice.
  2. That a person be dead. When an artist, musician, actor, producer, or writer dies, it creates a new boundary: no new works by that artist or producer will ever be seen again. (With the exception of artists like Tupac who had a large unreleased library that almost no one was aware of.)

The first one above has been part of popular culture for as long as anyone can remember, but as to the second one: how many of you, within the last few years, have found yourself listening to musicians you hadn’t listened to in years, simply because they died? It’s not to say you didn’t enjoy or even love them all along, but limitations in supply, of whatever kind, make choice more appealing.


To add to our general level of anxiety, much of what we read that claims to be factual is not. This has been much discussed with news, but shows up in more homely places; for instance, the ubiquitous prevalence of quotes with false attributions. I come back to this example often, because few things seem more utterly depraved and pernicious than dressing up “inspiration” in falsehood.

For example: Albert Einstein did not say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I am willing to bet most of you reading this think he did, because the false attribution has been requoted (according to Google) a hundred and fifty gajillion times. Modern times have made reinforced falsehood something of a popular art form.


Lying has always been an art form, of course. Early novels in the English language gained much of their cachet at the time from being thought of as true stories.

Fiction is that form lying where the listener, reader or viewer, to use the popular phrase, “willingly suspends disbelief” in order to enter into the drama of the story. A good rule of thumb, then, when reading any story, is not to suspend disbelief when it either (a) doesn’t openly claim to be fiction, or (b) has been written by someone you feel is trustworthy on other grounds.

Much of marketing, then, (in its broad sense) consists of trying to create grounds for belief in one set of people, or to destroy any grounds for belief in opposing parties, brands, or ideologies. This is done using all of the psychological techniques available: good-looking people, artists or athletes we admire for what they can do, humor, or our desire for acceptance, or sex, and so on; or, by portraying opposing parties, views, products, and services through opposite means, as ugly, evil, humorless, socially unacceptable, or undesirable.


If limitations in supply make a commodity more valuable, my poetry must be nigh on worthless. I’ve posted 1,714 poems this year (as of this writing), which is an average of 6 poems per day.

I am not going to reread them all this moment, but hopefully there are no misattributed quotes in there.

However, as to the lying part, I freely confess that much of what I write is pretty heavy fictionalized.

Which is not lie, and you can quote me on it.

Recumbent Truth

When people are limited to clear and cautious truth, they often have very little to say. I know, because in much of my professional life I am limited in that way.

Here is a typical exchange from my work:

Me: “… we’ve seen incidence rates going down now for the last four years.”

Them: “Why is that?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Them: “What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?”

Me: “We’ve been able to eliminate some theories as to why this is happening, but we do not as yet know the underlying cause.”

Them: “Well, then, what good are you?”

Me: “I don’t know that, either.”


We human beings love cause-and-effect relationships; in fact, we often see them when they aren’t there, like some sort of ex-lover we mistakenly think we see pass in the streets. To some people, this might seem depressing; I find it hilarious, for whatever reason. In fact, I like to find faux cause-and-effect relationships wherever possible.

Her: Did you notice the neighbor’s recycling bin was in the street?

Me: Yes. I think maybe they’re protesting.

Her: Protesting what?

Me: The plight of recycling bins, abandoned to the streets, far too young.

Her: You are weird.

I get interesting reactions whenever I post any (other) of my wife and my bizarre, stream-of-consciousness sort of conversations. Reading back through them, we often are playing with whole concept of “causation”, which is slippery at best, and widely misused. Deliberate misuse seems a logical next step.

And I’m all about logical next steps.


In a former career, I worked for the United States federal government. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence, but I found myself one day, at work, standing with some coworkers and trying to see if we could come up with better euphemisms for “lying” than those we were currently hearing from various people higher up in the governmental structure. Here are a few stray bits of that conversation that I still remember:

  1. “It’s not lying. We’re creating ‘new truth’ where there was no truth before.”
  2. “Don’t think of it as lying… think of it as recumbent truth… just, you know, having a lie-down.”
  3. “Nothing that beautiful could possibly be a lie.”
  4. “This is war. Truth is a peacetime luxury.”

The first one of the above list was mine, and was based on something I heard an acquaintance of mine tell his girlfriend when she caught him cheating on her. He actually said, “I wasn’t lying, it’s just, there was some new truth out there I hadn’t gotten around to sharing yet.” She (thankfully for her) left him shortly thereafter, “shortly” here meaning about 1/2 second later.

I always loved the second one listed; the woman who said it was originally from Norwich, England, and she was employed as a writer. The word “recumbent” isn’t one you hear in this United States very often.

The third one was a guy who had formerly worked in the oil business, so I assume he had some experience with dissimulation, either as a purveyor or observer.

The last one, reminiscent of the quote “truth is the first casualty of war” was the one I found most disturbing, at the time, because I’m pretty sure the young man who advanced it, meant it.

It’s hard to achieve anything without honesty, because problematic situations can’t be bettered if we won’t see them for what they are.


While we’re on the subject of honesty, I want to talk for a moment about platonic male-female friendships. Here is what I’ve learned, from real-life experience: these can be easily maintained, as long as both parties want to, and are impossible to sustainably maintain otherwise.

Where honesty comes into play, however, is in realizing that what we “want” is often a set of conflicting wants, some one of which is “winning” at the time we are asked: some combination of circumstance, opportunity, and (often) alcohol may change what we want.

I have always been from the “no means no” school of interpersonal relationships. To use the language of mathematics, physical relationships have an asymmetrical risk distribution, therefore the greater power should always lie with the female. Young men (and I know, I was one) often find this to be frustrating and unfair. Too bad. We have to get over it.

If boys are not taught to protect girls before sexual madness kicks in, then these same boys (as men) are unlikely to protect women, and will often abuse them. “Protecting” here means protecting them even from us – especially from us.


So, what do cautious truth-telling, bizarre husband-wife conversations, sort-of-euphemisms for lying, and male-female friendships have in common?

Hyphens.

Come To Think Of It

It’s early on a Saturday morning, and I’m out at the River Walk. After some warm months, autumn has finally arrived, and it couldn’t be more welcome. As I head down the ramp for the walk, proper, the University is behind me to my left, and the River Club and the old mills are behind and to my right. Two young women jog by (college students) looking both healthy and determined.

I decide to walk south, the longer walk from where I’m starting. As recently as five or six years ago, I would have brought rollerblades out here; nowadays, though, I just walk. I gave up skating. I think I got tired of falling.

Come to think of it, I know a few people who have given up dating by employing the same principle.

I’m always “coming to think of it” – whatever “it” might happen to be. My whole day is a series of come-to-think-of-its.

I walk a ways past a little amphitheater. My wife performed her first marriage ceremony there. The couple from that wedding are one of the few couples she ever married who are still together. That got depressing for her after a while, so, she’s given up presiding over weddings, for the most part.

A half mile or so further, a woman is stretching by the rails in front of me. I recognize her from the gym I go to in the morning. We have never spoken: I don’t like to bother people when they are working.

Or any other time, come to think of it.

She always smiles at me when we make eye contact, which we’ve just done, so I return the smile, then keep going. Within a few seconds she runs off in the other direction.

This is, in a nutshell, pretty much every relationship I have, nowadays. All the friendship I can muster crammed into three second interactions.

As I round a bend in the river, the Civic Center looms up on my left. I know I’m at about the three mile mark here. I’ve taken my boys to that place to watch wrestling, including seeing Chris Benoit wrestle there days before the murders and suicide he became infamous for. His family lived within about 90 minutes drive from here.

That was in June, ten years ago. My son was only twelve at the time.

The year before that, in 2006, a Little League team from our city, managed by my brother-in-law, won the Little League World Series, defeating a team from Japan.

For any of you who might wonder, by male standards, my brother-in-law has (officially) accomplished something.

As I walk past the Civic Center, two young men on bicycles go by. The autumn colors are really beautiful this year, albeit late.

Come to think of it, a lot of really beautiful things happen later than we thought they should or ever would. Try as we may, we can’t really imagine the future to any practicable degree.

I reach a sort of wooden covered walkway, which I like to walk on, even though I turn around to head back the other way at the end. For some reason I’ve never quite figure out, the trail looks completely different when I’m headed in the opposite direction.

Come to think of it, a lot of things look different as our destinations change.

I pass two inline skaters, three skateboarders, and a busker. I thought about busking as a career when I was younger. However, busking is a little harder to bring off effectively when you play the piano as opposed to something more portable, like, for instance, a guitar.

This particular musician is playing a saxophone.

You don’t see a lot of musicians up this early. Nocturnal habits seem to go with that profession.

Of course, he might just be practicing, and decided to do it in an environment where tips were at least possible.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad way to choose a career – figure out something you like doing, then figure out how to get paid to do it.

I run into my “friend” from the gym again. She has that kind of seemingly careless beauty that comes with people for whom healthy living is a joy. At any rate, with this particular encounter she doesn’t happen to notice me, so, by the unwritten rules of our relationship, I head by her up the ramp (shown on the picture affixed to this piece) and back to my car.

Much of our behavior is a function of various unwritten rules, of course; there is little that simultaneously fascinates and frightens us quite like the freedom to make our own choices. Rules help, because they keep choices to a manageable set of alternatives.

As I’ve written elsewhere, anxiety itself is a function of having more choice than we are constructed to handle. I have chosen not to ever speak to the woman at the gym (or anyone else at the gym, for that matter), because it eliminates a potential cause of anxiety. I can’t say anything stupid if I don’t say anything, in a nutshell.

I’m not quite sure why I am always putting things in nutshells. A lot of people are allergic.

But then, come to think of it, I suppose there is a reason why “idiomatic” and “idiotic” are so close to being the same word. As is “idiopathic”, for that matter, a word I always hear used to characterize the seizures I have, and which means “of unknown origin”.

Much of the human condition is idiopathic, come to think of it.

A Decent Guy

I was 16. I was riding in the backseat of a friend’s car. I reached for her hand. She pulled it away.

My life changed.

Nothing had happened. Well, except this: I violently agreed with her. Why would anyone want me to touch them? Of course I had been wrong to do it, I should have known better. She reacted as all girls would, and as I knew, or should have known, she would.

I was beyond angry, but I was not angry with her. I was angry at myself. Because I had wanted something I was not built to ever get. I was filled with self loathing, because of what I was.

Girls have their own problems of course. Many of them have to face violence, violence from guys who don’t react to rejection the way I did. The psychology of male decency requires consistent application of principles, the leading one of which is this: to never attempt to take what is not yours.

Even enraged as I was, I had no thoughts of wanting to cause anyone harm. But I hated myself with an almost unbearable intensity. I was repulsive. How could I not know that?

The end result of this was a strong desire not to ever have that feeling ever again. So, I became completely unwilling to initiate any kind of physical contact or relations, even with women I was dating, or, ultimately, married to. Bluntly, the joy of acceptance (and sex) paled compared to the agony of rejection.

Another result of this, completely unforeseen, is that I have hundreds of female friends, all of whom love the fact that I never come on to them.

Because I’m such a decent guy, they think.

Date Night

Since 2001, The Beautiful One and I have had a “Date Night” every Thursday night. Although there have been occasional work-related interruptions, a little rough calculation puts us at about 800 plus date nights so far.

Since the real her spends half her day or more with one, two, or three grandchildren, she is typically ready for adult company come Thursday night, as evidenced by the text message affixed to this post.

Before I was married, I would hear people say things like “don’t stop dating after you are married,” and I was puzzled. What exactly did that mean? Was it about spending money? Dressing up? I didn’t really get it, and I’m guessing more than one guy out there has (or has had) similar thoughts. “Date Night” sounds like a gimmick.

Then I got married, a man with a son and stepson, marrying a woman with three daughters (4 of those kids in their teens at the time) and I realized within the first year how difficult it was going to be for us to really spend any time focusing on each other.

When you get no time to focus on each other, many things go unsaid, and many stories go untold, and much laughter goes unlaughed. Marriages (especially new ones with multiple teenagers) need all the laughter laughed they can get.

In addition, for at least one night a week and to the degree possible, the tasks of cooking and cleaning are nice to forego.

We’ve gone in phases over the years: restaurants (many now closed) that we favored, or long stretches of seeing movies. Thursday night is a great movie night, as it is often not terribly crowded.

It is hard these days to get the early start required for a movie, as we are usually waiting for one or more of our daughters to pick up their children. So, our tendency now is to eat out, maybe take a walk, then come back and watch an hour or so of a TV show together before getting ready for bed. Which we did last night: I came home and played with our grandson (taking over the Star Wars themed duty she mentioned earlier) until his mother and father came to get him. We then headed to a very informal local Italian restaurant (her preference last night was not to go anywhere dressy), walking around the neighborhood the restaurant is located in immediately after. We came home and watched two episodes of the old British series As Time Goes By, then each got ready for bed, where we spent the rest of the night.

Over the course of the evening, our conversation strayed all over the place.

We talked some about her work and some about mine.

We talked about two of the kids, and where they are in their lives.

We talked about a friend of mine who is having a very difficult time right now.

We talked about the grandkids, of course, and how the new baby is doing.

We talked about a guy from the local gym (a few doors down from the Italian place we ate at) who likes to walk around after working out, shirtless. I believe my wife’s exact comment about him was “Dude, grow up.” The manager of the restaurant laughed (we had been discussing it at the checkout register) and said they wanted to keep a spray bottle for him there for “glistening purposes”.

She tried to get me to interpret a dream she’d had that a prominent political figure was her stepfather. I had nothing.

I told her, later in the evening, and in reference to her text message of the afternoon, that I had never actually played “spin the bottle”. She said she got her first kiss that way, and it was apparently disgusting. I remember going to one party as a teen where the game was being played, but I wasn’t having it.

Her: Why not?

Me: I was very misunderstood as a teen.

Her: I don’t understand. How is that relevant?

Me: When you are misunderstood, you don’t dare try anything you might enjoy. That totally ruins the effect.

Her: Ah, I see. I think all teens are misunderstood.

Me: Plus, I was worried I’d be bad at it. If you are going to suck at something, you want to keep your viewing audience to a minimum.


Much of what brings us real joy in this life is decidedly non-dramatic.

Closeness. A meal. A walk. Laughter.

Focus.

It’s not fancy, or impressive. It’s just… good.

It’s just… love.

Declarative

I’m lost in these halls. Pain makes more effective walls than steel or concrete.

Each doorway is a small politeness. We must knock before entering. Death itself serves at a shrine of manners.

I was carried in here, of course. I never walk. The world is a constant storm to brains like mine; fluorescent lights are just matches to a fuse.

The night worker looks questions at me as I wander past. I wasn’t sleeping at home, either. No, I don’t remember what happened.

I don’t see that it matters which room I return to; they are designed to be identical, as are the patients. I also can’t remember which room is mine.

Hospital rooms are never ours. We belong to them, for a time.

I find a soda machine. It takes credit cards. I have mine. I get a soda. I sit down on a sofa to drink it.

Now I’m in a bed, inside a room, a Dr. Pepper in a bottle on the table next to me; I remember thinking that it would be the most medicinal of all the soda choices, if only by name. I’m not sure how I got back to this bed.

There seems to be a considerable amount of pain in the room. I’m not entirely sure who is feeling it, however.

There is a beautiful woman sitting in a chair next to me. She looks sad.

She’s holding one of my hands.

She stands and kisses me on my forehead. You weren’t here when I got back. You can’t just leave me like that.  You can’t just disconnect yourself from your monitors.

I have been doing that most of my life, I say.

You were asleep in the break area.

And that sounds like the rest of my life.

When I wake up again, it is light outside. She is asleep in the chair. The room is cold. There is another bed in the room, but whoever the occupant was, is gone. Whoever the occupants were, I guess I should say. These beds transport many, many souls.

As do these rooms. As have these halls.

 

Papa John’s

If pizza were good deeds, I’d qualify as a saint. Virtue being what is is, however, I pretty much suck. 

But, there’s still pizza.

I’m contemplating virtue while waiting for my order. Sometimes it means doing good things, other times, not doing bad things. Or, at least not effing things up beyond all recognition.

Sigh. Maybe pizza can help…

Pepperoni – for kindness.
Sausage – for patience.
Crust – for courage.
Sauce – for wisdom.
Cheese – for humor.

Diet Pepsi – for trying again next time, maybe?

The Truth Is A Strange Concoction

The last few nights, I’ve attended dinner parties. I love dinner and I hate parties, for those keeping score at home.

These dinners have been related to work; we have a large visiting contingent this week. I have bravely (I think) attempted small talk on each occasion. Since everyone in attendance is some sort of mathematician, it has made for some rather interesting attempts at interpersonal communication.

By “interesting” here, I mean “feeble”.

Alcohol exists to help people overcome such limitations – or perhaps to overcome awareness of such limitations – and has been consumed at each of these events copiously. I don’t drink for health related reasons, so I’m sort of an outsider looking in much of the time. I do, however, enjoy seeing people enjoy themselves, and I genuinely like most of my coworkers.

Nevertheless, group dynamics overwhelm me; I prefer people one at a time. So, I go, I listen, I watch, I talk, I leave.

Oh, yes, and I eat.

The Beautiful One got home a little after I did last night, having had an exhausting day. She had brought home her dinner, which gave us 30 minutes to sit down together – a rarity these last few weeks, what with new babies in the family and all.

Her day had been rather nightmarish. Mine had been relatively benign.

We sat talking, feeling in turn some of what the day had felt like for the other, and things came into a sort of focus.

The truth is a strange concoction because reality consists of what we have all put there. My real life is better than I could have ever hoped for. Dashes of this and that from hundreds, even thousands, of people every day that make my worldscape, or yours — these are our truths, our realities.

Jobs, coworkers, friends, family, babies, dinners, photos, text messages, stories, laughter, dance moves, stairways, highways — sometimes days and nights pass in a blur, and end thoughtlessly. Other nights, thoughts weigh us down, like having eaten too many donuts.

What do you mean, you’ve never done that?

I rose early this morning, determined to become more worthy of the life I’ve been gifted. Notice I say “more worthy” not “worthy”.

I also woke up dreading another dinner party tonight.

Would any of you be willing to go and pretend to be me?

 

 

Addled

I’m kind of addled right now.

We were up late last night with the birth of our third grandchild (first granddaughter). She’s beautiful, as is her mother, as is her mother’s mother, as is her mother’s mother’s mother — all of whom were there last night.

I have no memory of having done so, but I apparently wrote and posted a poem this morning. I’m pretty sure it was me though, as it concerns an event that happened to me.

I do remember going to work out this morning. I managed to get through that.

I am terrible with babies, I’m always afraid I will break them. I’m dead clumsy.

Everything in the last 20 hours feels like a dream, possibly because I’m 95% asleep.

The other 5% is just addled.

 

 

 

Tears

(Ideally you would play this music as you read the piece. – Owen)

I wanted to participate in perfection, and make multicolored tulips out of music. I was eighteen, and knew hatred, love, and despair.

The world was ugly: violent, unjust, and painful. But alone, in a spotlight on a wooden stage, these notes, this music built a beautiful world for me, a home. And beauty and sadness were that home: a lovers’ dance, in a world beyond words.

And I blinked, and thirty-seven years went by.

And when I heard the music again, this morning, tears started falling, because of who that boy was, and what he believed, and what would come of him. For in playing this music, he was trying to recreate some measure of perfection.

A thing he no longer thinks possible, most days.

Fortune’s Favor (2)

For nearly sixteen years, we have eaten at least monthly, and often weekly, at the Mandarin Cafe. It is one of only a couple of Chinese restaurants in this city that are not primarily buffet restaurants; and, while busy, it is usually pretty quiet.

We went there last New Year’s Eve, and, while my wife was chatting with the owner/operator and his wife, I spoke for a few minutes with a waitress / hostess there who painted the mural you might be able to make out in the picture above, and who I have written about elsewhere. I was paying the bill.

“Why didn’t you open your fortune cookie?” she asked, having just come from our table. She then handed it to me.

While the ancient credit card machine was processing my card, I cracked open the cookie and read:

“Water will break a stone that fire only strengthens.”

Interesting. I pocketed it.


You know, for someone who is supposed to have his life together, I sure as hell don’t.

I’ve carried my share of heartaches the last few years, but none greater than those associated with my 22-year-old son. Failed out college, fired from jobs, in and out of drug & alcohol rehab. He struggles with a number of mental health issues, and has gender dysphasia.

Halfway through 2016, he got a job at a convenience store, but was very unhappy. He lived alone in a tiny apartment we were paying for while he got on his feet. He had been unemployed, living in that same apartment, for 18 months.

I never raged or stormed at him, for I knew, or felt I knew, that I had, in some measure, done this to him. 

My heart ached, constantly. 

Around April he quit his job, saying he was going to live in Tennessee with some transgendered friends. He found work, and sounds so much happier now.

Sometimes tears see us through what anger cannot. 

For water will break a stone that fire will only strengthen.


642 Tiny Things to Write About (c) 2014 by Chronicle Books

“Write last year’s fortune cookie. It got everything right.”

Fortune’s Favor (1)

As I scrambled around yesterday morning getting ready for work, I noticed that my previous night’s fortune cookie was still unopened, so I opened it and read the following:

You will receive good news very soon.

“Well, that’s nice,” I thought. “I haven’t heard any of that in a while.”

Getting in my car a couple of minutes later, the tire light came on as I was leaving the driveway. My car barely made it to the auto / tire shop.

Leaving my car to be repaired, I managed to find someone to pick me up for work, but I was 40 minutes late for a mandatory meeting. The boss was not pleased.

I was called on to speak in the meeting about 2 hours later. I had not been listening – at all – and had to admit as much in front of everyone. The boss was slightly north of “not pleased”.

I argued with a bunch of people at work for the next few hours. That was not as much fun as it might sound like.

Late in the afternoon, I got a text from my sister saying my mom was in the hospital, having fainted from dizzy spells, and that she (my sister) was going out to see her this weekend.

That “good news” can come any time now.


642 Tiny Things to Write About (c) 2014 by Chronicle Books

“Write yesterday’s fortune cookie. It got everything wrong.”

Favorite Songs: Here’s Where the Story Ends

We took a winter trip to Washington DC in the early 90’s: my then wife, my stepson (who was 6 years old) and me. I remember sitting in a restaurant with them in Old Town when I first heard this song. I didn’t know what it was called or who did it, an experience common to people who grew up before the Internet was a thing. It was several years before I found out, and by that time, our marriage was on the rocks and the song seemed that much more apropos.

People I know places I go
Make me feel tongue tied
I can see how people look down
They’re on the inside

Here’s where the story ends

People I see, weary of me
Showing my good side
I can see how people look down
I’m on the outside

Here’s where the story ends
Ooh here’s where the story ends

It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore
Oh I never should have said the books that you read
Were all I loved you for
It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes me wonder why
And it’s memories of the shed that make me turn red
Surprise surprise surprise

Crazy I know, places I go
Make me feel so tired
I can see how people look down
I’m on the outside

Oh here’s where the story ends
Ooh here’s where the story ends

It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore
And who ever would’ve thought the books that you brought
Were all I loved you for
Oh the devil in me said go down to the shed
I know where I belong
But the only thing I ever really wanted to say
Was wrong, was wrong, was wrong

It’s that little souvenir of a colorful year
Which makes me smile inside
So I cynically, cynically say the world is that way
Surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise

Here’s where the story ends
Ooh here’s where the story ends

The Worrier’s Guide to Lasting Friendships

I feel like you’ve lost your confidence. At one time, you felt assured of your purpose; if not specifically, at least generally. You knew you had worth. You question that now.

It’s not surprising, given what you’ve been through, but it is heartbreaking to watch, nevertheless. You have seen so much loss that it’s hard to fathom, let alone deal with, as you must every day.

Every waking day.

I can see you fading, in your pictures. Even a year ago, when the worst of it had already happened, the fire was still there. Now, you struggle to generate that, or any, fire. But you keep trying.

If another person loving you, and believing in you completely, was enough, you would have enough. I believe in your gifts, your views, your heart, and your worth.

I believe, completely, in you.

This life is temporary, we all know. Disappointment, pain and grief frame our existence. But so do hope, joy, and love.

I hope and believe the best for you, I know that joy is still there for you, and I love you, truly.

Even though we’ve never actually met, and may not ever.


I’m attaching the video below because it’s better than 99% of the movies I’ve ever seen in my life.

Scenes from My Office

(These are snippets of actual work conversations I have participated in within the last week or so. I am always the second person speaking. – S.B.)


“… Doesn’t it bother you knowing he makes more money than you do?”
“No. It’s always a mistake in making statistical comparisons to anchor to the proximate.”
“Wow. That sentence actually just came out of your mouth.”
“I had to put it somewhere.”


“Are you coming out with the rest of us to watch the eclipse?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
“You just can’t stand doing anything that everyone else is doing, can you?”
“Well, that’s true, too, but, in this case it has to do with being a photosensitive epileptic.”
“Did you say ‘oversensitive’ epileptic?”
“No, I said ‘photosensitive’… although now that you bring it up, ‘oversensitive’ epileptic isn’t a bad description for me.”


“What are you doing for lunch?”
“I brought a lunch, and I’m planning on eating it and doing some reading.”
“That doesn’t sound very exciting.”
“Clearly, you’ve been reading the wrong books.”
“I don’t really read books.”
“Then you aren’t really a competent judge as to how exciting my lunch will be, are you?”


“Your wife is a preacher, right? A minister?”
“Yes.”
“But she used to be dancer… did I hear that right, too?”
“You did.”
“And what exact degree did she get that qualified her to do both of those things?”
“Sociology.”
“That isn’t exactly a normal career path, is it?”
“You want to ask a woman who’d marry me if she does anything normal?”
“Good point.”


“Why do you think the company stresses diversity so much?”
“Because it’s important to attract and retain the highest performing employees.”
“And you think diversity makes that happen?”
“Not with certainty. However, I’m very sure lack of diversity will prevent any possibility of it happening.”


“Did you see the report those consultants put together?”
“Yes.”
“What did you think?”
“What every competent person in the company thinks when they read such a report: (a) I can’t believe we paid for this; followed by (b) I should have been a consultant.”


“You look tired.”
“Tired? No, I am fatigued, and a little weary, and maybe kind of drained…”
“Aren’t those all synonyms?”
“Maybe. I’m too tired to look it up.”


(Working a crossword puzzle) “Other than a boomerang, what is something else that always comes back when you get rid of it?”
“My adult children?”

Cultural Echoes

Among statements that are almost always good advice, “never read the comments on a YouTube video” is right up there. Unless, of course, you are seeking confirmation as to some theory concerning the sickness our society is rife with, in which case, you certainly will find ample evidence there.

Today, though, I want to look at one particular thing, and that is the almost universal connection between nostalgia and music. Many people believe with unwavering conviction that the best music ever written was written when they were young. They also believe every piece of music written today is horrible by comparison.

I read it about the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, and the comments are virtually verbatim except for the change of decade. Singers (or bands) now have no talent, back then, people had talent and could touch the heart, etc., etc.

Now, when I myself was young — my teens and twenties were the 70’s and 80’s — I was aware of this tendency among adults, particularly as I started playing the piano in public for money at a fairly young age. I concluded then that “first music” was like “first love” in its tendency to seem better than perhaps it really was, because of (1) the emotional nature of the age; and (2) lack of anything to compare it to. I would probably now add (3) the tribal nature of young people, given how school tends to add a social element to life that many people never get anywhere else. Music is one of the main elements of inclusion (or exclusion) within the tribe.

Because I had to learn a lot of old music for my work, I concluded that there had always been good (and bad) music written, and most likely, always would be. I’m about as anti-tribal as they come without being a misanthrope, nevertheless, I realized and experienced the power of music for social (and sexual) connectivity.

I also learned that every bad thing about human intolerance also gets acted out through people’s musical preferences. This is another example of how almost every good and great thing in life, in the wrong hands or used the wrong way, can be a bad or even horrible thing.

So I am not prepared to decry all music written since {fill in the blank}. I realize that people will continue to talk about how much better music was in the old days, whichever particular “old days” they happen to favor.

I also realize, as I’ve said elsewhere, that the YouTube comment section is, frequently, the modern equivalent of the public bathroom graffiti of my youth. The impulse to post anonymously offensive messages is not a new one.

It’s still kind of depressing, though.

Fat Saturday

My computer hasn’t exactly died, but it’s kind of had a stroke. Writing on a tablet is doable, but not great, because I have big, clumsy fingers. Today, so far:

At the Gym at 5 AM.
At work by 7:30 AM, stopping once per hour to post a poem.
Watched one Facebook live video, and chatted with another friend on Messenger.
Ate way too much all day.
Left work about an hour ago, now sitting in a parking lot writing, because there’s shade.

There’s a couple on a date just walked by, and they both look like models. I’m envious. I look more like a model of Jabba the Hutt. Or maybe his cousin, Pizza the Hutt.

I had toffee eclairs with lunch, a food too decadent to be mentioned in decent company. It’s possible that things like that have contributed to my weight gain. Or maybe it’s a punishment for past wrongdoings.

Another young couple headed into the restaurant in front of me. That young man looks very nervous.

Maybe he’s going to propose.

Maybe she’s going to reject him.

Maybe he’ll wistfully look over at the model couple I saw earlier and wish he looked like that.

Maybe she’ll look over at the model couple I saw earlier and wish he looked like that, too.

Or she might say yes. She looked pretty happy…

This is why I should never people watch.

Chewbacca Bread

My wife likes to randomly call things by the wrong names to get me to laugh. It frequently works.

For example, last night, we went to an Italian restaurant. After the waitress had brought ciabatta, my wife moved the plate towards me, asking “Chewbacca bread?” in a cheerful voice, causing me to practically choke on the drink I was sipping.

In everyday life, I am irritated by people using the wrong terms for things, which means, in corporate life, a stream of constant irritation. For example, people frequently conflate the terms “flesh out” (make more substantive or add details to) and “flush out” (draw something out that’s hiding so you can shoot it). I’ve heard things described as “jury-rigged” (the ethnically insensitive term “Jerry” being long out use) and an irrelevant point described as “moat”. 

There is also, of course, the world of corporate consultant-speak, a place that delights in torturing the language. I believe the practice of randomly using nouns as verbs came from there, through terms like “leverage” (which is a thing, not an act). I’ve heard the term “socialize” used a lot the last few years to mean “let more people know” as opposed to “turn over to government control”, the latter being the term’s actual meeting.

And yes, I know language is living and not static and new usages emerge. It’s misusages that aggravate me.

Unless my wife does it, in which case, it’s hysterical.

Hobbies

I needed a new hobby, so I’ve started collecting calories. 

It’s going really well; I’m way ahead of schedule. The way I see it, success comes when you have achievable objectives. 

This banana split, for instance, represents a tremendous opportunity: not only can I meet my calorie goals, I can internalize them. If you don’t actually become your hobby at some point, how dedicated were you, really?

I’ve had some interesting hobbies over the years. I have collected

  • Dust. Those were the “dating years”.
  • Witty comments it was too late to make. Pretty much high school.
  • Second-hand opinions. That hobby is very popular still.

Well, enough reminiscing, I have 2,715 calories to collect.