Monday, August 19, 2019

Octomom update & other distractions

Because this story is ostensibly about distractions and I wouldn’t want your mind to wander, I’ll start with the headline tease that likely snagged your attention in the first place.

Octomom is alive and well in Laguna Niguel, California, striving to finish her autobiography, recovering from a booze and pill addiction and doing what the NYTimes says is a bang-up job of raising her 14 children. Headline: “The Octomom proves us all wrong: The Happy Household of a former Tabloid Curiosity.

And — good news, fellas! — the gal’s still single!

I know all this and more because Val and I over one vacation breakfast in Chincoteague, Virginia, explained to the kids the who, what, where, why and how of Nadya Suleman, 44, the woman who in 2010 gave birth to 8 children because, I guess, there’s something about having six kids that leaves one unfulfilled.

Did I mention she’s still single?

How the conversation led to Octomom, I cannot recall.

A widely-debunked myth claims we use just 10 percent of our brains. Nonsense, say top neurologists. All of our brains are active nearly all of the time.

They say this like it’s meant to reassure we’re deserving of being the planet’s dominant life form and thus get a pass for indifferently extinguishing all the others.

Me, I have more respect for the brain power of the common canine.

Even a stupid dog is the more efficient thinker.

A dog’s thoughts can be roughly dropped into four categories: eat, play, sleep and  screw. Romantics might be tempted to lump play and screw into the same category. But I’ve seen horny dogs in action and unless you consider a quick butt sniff romance, I’ll contend there’s a difference between play (chasing a tennis ball) and screwing (google it).

Imagine how much happier and more productive we’d all be if we thought with the discipline of dogs.

Alas, it’s not to be. 

See, I use 100 percent of my brain, but it’s devoted to learning and retaining things like the marital status of Octomom.

In the hour I’ve spent composing this blog — talk about your pointless distractions — this is a partial list of the distractions that have rolled like vapid tumbleweeds across the wasteland of my mind.

Baseball, lunch, Jeff Probst, golf, bourbon, firewood, sex, Elizabeth Banks, sex, the new Springsteen movie, mosquitos, Stones on tour, pizza, book sales, my in-grown toenail and is it time to water Buck’s plants up here on the 3rd floor (no, but I did it anyway).

You know something a dog never thinks about? Jay Thomas. He played Eddie LeBec on “Cheers.” He died two years ago Saturday at the age of 69.

I’ve been thinking about him ever since a friend sent me a link to a commercial that showed George Washington driving a car. As I know what a black hole of distraction YouTube can be, I pondered if I had time to watch the 30-second clip.

I did.

Then I figured since I had time for that I had the 4:45 it’d take to watch Thomas tell David Letterman the uproarious story of the day he met the Lone Ranger. It’s absolutely hilarious. Letterman says it’s the funniest story he’s ever heard. Check it out.

I now watch it whenever I find myself getting depressed by distracting news about climate change, gun violence or polls that hint Trump will win again.

I’m using 100 percent of my brain but, unlike the dog, about 97 percent of it is pointless BS. I worry I’m changing my cranial composition from gray matter to fecal.

It’s a pity the Nazis so thoroughly polluted the term, because I could really use a leisurely stretch in a concentration camp. 

Really, there ought to be a camp where adults could go to learn how to concentrate.

The blog result would be fewer stupid distractions: more coherence, less Jay Thomas.

We’d pick a topic and wring everything we could out of it, which in the case of Octomom we can only hope wouldn’t result in more children.

The last thing I’d recommend for an aspiring writer like Suleman is more runny-nosed distractions running through your home.

Especially if you’re prone to having them all running through your head.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Lovin' beach vacation; hatin' sunscreen

It took a 55-foot keelboat and two 35-foot supply boats for the 27-man Lewis and Clark expedition to in 1804 traverse the continent.

I figure if the attempt were made today they’d need a third boat just for sun screen. 

After an otherwise splendid week on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, I can report that a day at the beach is no longer a day at the beach.

It all starts with the messy, time-consuming and distasteful task of applying sun screen. Dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 30 with some saying as high as 50.

Given doomsday climate change predictions, I imagine in five years it’ll be SPF 5000, but that’ll be moot because by then our idea of an adventure vacation will be anything outside and above ground.

The sun, our most necessary element in sustaining human life, is also becoming the element most likely to wipe it out.

It’s good for us; it’s bad for us.

So more and more a day at the beach is like unprotected sex with an old hooker. 

Fun for the whole family!

I think the inefficiency of proper sunscreening is what gets me most. First of all, by this time of year we have a closet full of half-used sunscreens of varying potencies. So if I’m determined to get to the prudent SPF 50, I must resort to math. 

I find one half-empty SPF 25 and two nearly done SPF 15s. That’s an excess total of SPF 60 — a waste of 10 perfectly good SPFs.

So by my way of thinking, I need to even the score by choosing to leave 10 percent of my body sunscreen free. I chose to sacrifice the thighs.

Wouldn’t you know it? That’s the same day my thighs got sunburned!

With us, sunscreen application is a family affair. We all gather on the porch and slather it on the parts of ourselves we can reach. Once that’s rubbed in, we form a little Conga line, oldest to youngest and do one another’s backs. Val then does mine.

It’s a little awkward so the only sound you hear is a reverse slurping sound a near-empty bottle makes when the contents evades the hole and you got to flip the lid and give it a shake or two.

When this is done, I head to the bedroom, close the door, pull down my swim trunks and secretly spray my testicles with shark repellent.

Don’t tell me you wouldn’t feel stupid going to all that trouble to avoid a little sunburn only to wind up standing there in the surf waving goodbye to a shark that’s swimming away with your balls in his mouth.

None of this would be worth it if the beach didn’t have the ocean and the ocean didn’t have waves.

I wonder if it has something to do with returning to our Darwinian roots, but stepping into a bracing ocean and allowing yourself to be pummeled by relentless waves is utterly euphoric.

Better still is being a dad to children, 18 and 13, who prefer having actual fun to appearing cooly aloof. Val, too.

The girls let these huge waves knock the literal snot out them.

I can’t think of any other physical activity that leads to a similar result that is so joyful.

Our little one — she’s nearly as big as me — was particularly ecstatic. I hope I never forget that look of wonder, fear and brave anticipation on her face as she felt and saw a monster wave about to crash down on her head.

Pity the youth too umbilically tethered to their devices to experience such electrifying recklessness.

Even the ominous appearance of jellyfish did not deter the fun and, in fact, led to a burst of female team building when they ganged up on me for joking the jellyfish were simply looking for compatible peanut butter fish.

We rode bikes, saw the native horses, hiked, dined, ran into some old friends and enjoyed some truly spectacular family time.

In short, we had a ball.

And thanks to my judicious use of shark repellent, the Chincoteague-area sharks did not.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Lifetime(s) ambition(s)

I think being pre-occupied with death is a not unhealthy byproduct of being occupied with life.

So many ways to die means there ought to be just one way to live and that’s exuberantly. I’ve felt that way ever since it dawned on me that I, aw shucks, wasn’t going to live forever.

It’s becoming more acute with me lately. It’s either the near daily news reminder I could get killed going to either — pick one — a store/gym/bar/school/church/movie/other or selfishly fretting about my own prospects, but I’m dwelling on my own mortality more than ever.

It’s more an awareness than a fear. But it’s only human to want to extend our portion.

I figure seven more lifetimes ought to do it.

With one additional lifetime I’d like to devote myself to earning some serious dough. I’ve never had crazy money. It’s never been a priority. But choosing to live an interesting life over a well-compensated one not only is unconventional, it is in many ways just plain stupid. I never intended it to be this way and I remain optimistic upcoming endeavors will alter the situation, but being low income (often NO income) is no way to live. I’d like to have another lifetime to see if a reasonably bright guy like myself could score some scratch if he made that tawdry goal a priority. 

I’d like a lifetime to play golf. I’ve been a pretty decent golfer twice in my life, for about a total of nine days with only five of them involving actual rounds of golf. They were really great days. I know many good golfers and they make being skillful at golf seem as satisfying as I feel after composing some wisdom worthy of being said aloud in my Yoda voice. Give me an entire lifetime to play, enjoy and get good at golf. 

What kind of human being wouldn’t want a whole lifetime to lavish on helping human beings? When a school girl asked Albert Einstein to share with her the meaning of life, the genius said in essence it was to help one another. Wouldn’t you like an entire life to spend making the world a better place? To feeding the hungry? To comforting the sick? And bringing cheer to the hopeless? I regretfully confess there’s no reason why I haven’t in Lifetime No. 1 done more of that.

I’d like one lifetime to stand for something, something that matters. I’m cursed with an ability to usually see multiple sides to every argument. We Americans have spent much of the last three years vehemently arguing over fences. Now, there’s only two sides to a fence yet I see maybe six different arguments. I’d revel to have one lifetime where I was absolutely certain I knew all the facts to every argument and that those who disagree with me were not only idiots, they were evil idiots. It would be so much simpler than cerebral subtlety.

Or I’d like a lifetime that coincided with a universal mindset that it’s better to walk in another person’s shoes than to seize that same person by their throats.

I’d like a lifetime to spend in the study of faith. I’m a spiritual, at times nearly mystical, person. But I admire men and women of unshakable faith who enjoy rock-like foundations in what it all means and all that comes next. Talk of any afterlife always reminds me of the famous last words of Apple salesman (not a genius) and founder Steve Jobs who is purported to have said as he drifted into the other realm, “Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” My fear is my death bed exclamation will be, “Oh, shit! Oh, shit! Oh, shit!”

And I’d like another lifetime to live this lifetime all over again just exactly as it’s been. Nothing — nothing — has worked out the way I’d imagined it would when I was young and certain my life would result in fame, fortune and healthy longevity. But it’s all been just so interesting and happy I’d like to start it all over again just so I could experience all the very same loves and laughs once again. Thanks to those of you who’ve been a part of it.

And because that’s only six lifetimes and I said seven I’ll choose to do the last one twice!

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Jokin' 'bout the joys of jail

It would be a better story if I could honestly say I was there the night Capt. Tony told my buddies he didn’t respect any man who hadn’t spent at least one night in jail.

But that wouldn’t be the truth.

It was Spring Break back in 1985 and my buddies were in Key West while I was back home in Pittsburgh (no dough). And it would be an even better story if I could honestly say at that very moment I was in jail for doing something bone-headed like, say, being drunk and cutting the heads off of municipal parking meters. That’s how they snagged Lucas Jackson in “Cool Hand Luke,” my favorite character from my favorite movie. 

I wish I had been there and had heard the words straight from the mouth of Tony Tarracino, aka Capt. Tony, legendary owner of his namesake bar immortalized that very year by Jimmy Buffett in “Last Mango in Paris.” This was back before Buffett  became a conglomerate dabbling in restaurants, satellite radio, senior living.

Back when he still had what I guess you’d call beach cred.

The captain believed any man worth his salt had to at least once give The Man The Finger and spend at least a night in the slammer. It was a rite of passage.

It made sense to me and — boom — like that within the next year I was tossed into the Dormont Muncipal Jail for a crime I did commit (sorta).

Why I chose to follow the second-hand advice of a drunken old sea captain over the respectable multitudes urging me toward prudence and occupational responsibility is the story of my life.

But — aye, aye — the captain was correct. Doing at least one night in jail did bestow some worldliness. It gave me a great story (link below) and led to what was until recently one of my favorite bar conversation starters:

“Tell me about the night you spent in jail.”

You’ll be surprised by how many now-respectable men have had momentary bouts of lawlessness that led to a night in the Iron Bar Hotel.

The stories are often hilarious, even more so because the illegality is usually something they were once ashamed to admit.  What was once taboo has become humor.

The stories usually involve drugs, drunkeness and midnight mischief. I’m friends with a guy who stole a bulldozer and took it for a 6 mph joy ride down Main Street before realizing too late he was unskilled at knowing how to bring the machine to a complete halt. 

I know some guys who were busted breaking into a car impound lot to steal back their car and in their drunken confusion would up stealing the wrong car.

So I felt I was on stable ground Friday when I asked a buddy my light-hearted question: “Tell me about the night you spent in jail.”

“Which one? There were 528 of them.”

I’ll reveal no details that might lead any snoops to track down his identity except for this: His incarceration made national news and involved a cross-country ride in the caged back of a van driven by the man who would become famous as “Dog The Bounty Hunter,” and included two months with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski as his cell mate and that the terrorist was pretty cool.

It would be a better story if I could say my friend busted Ted for using his toothbrush, but that wouldn’t be true.

It was the most compelling (and entertaining) tale I’ve ever heard in response to my jocular question. And it was the last time I’ll ask it.

Our scars are the most interesting and revealing features of an aging man. But there are sound reasons why some men tend secrets.

Who am I to tap dance among the tombstones in search of bar giggles?

And I fear I, a mostly privileged aging white dude, might one day with buddy-buddy familiarity ask the wrong black man to regale me with some jaunty tales about his experiences with the law and he’ll want to kill me.

I’ll have it coming.

That’s the truth.

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