High five!

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A timeless art classic by Madison

 

 

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Do you know how long I’ve waited to say to my 3-year old daughter “do you want to build a snowman?!” Multiply the length of Frozen by about two thousand viewings, and you’ll have a sense.

This shit was happening today, whether she got bored and gave up after 2 minutes or not.

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She indifferently named him Frosty. But I prefer Toasty. Frosty had eyes made out of coal, Toasty has eyes made out of beer bottle caps.

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‘For two days?’ She says.

I’ll get to it, I promise.

First it needs to soak.

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Waking up to start my first day as a 40-year old, I feel good. I’d like to say I feel great, but last night I decided to stay up too late to toast the final moments of my 30’s. It seemed like some sort of profound, and necessary, gesture.

Especially after a few beers.

So I sat alone in the basement, and did a bit of critical analysis of the last decade. Some of my thoughts are captured here:

  • I’m not as fit as I’d like to be. But I’m not as unfit as I know I could be. The scale these days shows a number that seems pretty acceptable for a man my age who has no ambitions to post shirtless selfies on Facebook. I admit that getting my socks on takes longer than it used to, and longer than I feel it ought to, with a few heavy sighs along the way, but I don’t have to do that thing where you shimmy your sock on sideways with your foot resting on your knee. That’s at least something.
  • I haven’t written the next great novel, or sold a screenplay, but frankly I never aspired to. I wanted to write advertising when I grew up. And that’s what I do. Over the last few years, I’ve recognized the value of creative pursuits outside of work, too, so I am writing more and more these days for fun (like this). I even have a few hundred followers because of it. That feels pretty satisfying.
  • I thought when I got to be a father that I’d finally feel like a proper grown-up, but I don’t. I suppose I imagined that infinite parental wisdom and general world knowledge—the kind my parents seemed to have—would just be bestowed upon me one day. But I guess at 40 I finally have to accept help is not on the way. And that in truth, my parents probably had the same doubts that I do. They just figured out that it’s easy to fake out kids by just pretending you know what you’re doing. Actually, come to think of it, that strategy seems to work for most adults, too.
  • I still don’t know whether I should call myself a Democrat or a Republican. But the more I see people who rigidly call themselves either, the more content I am to be conflicted.
  • I’m not an expert at anything. Sometimes I envy my more obsessive-type friends, because I haven’t yet developed a hobby that I’m particularly passionate about. But in the last decade, I’m happy to have dabbled in a lot of things that I’ve enjoyed. At 40, I know more about photography, cooking, wine, and WWII than I did at 30. I learned to speak a little German and explored a couple martial arts. I got a guitar and a motorcycle and a tennis racket. They generally go unused, but I like knowing they’re there.
  • I don’t know yet where, or if, I’ll permanently settle down. As an adult, I’ve lived in 3 of the best big cities in the country; Philadelphia, New York City, and San Francisco. I loved things about all of them. Now I live in the NJ suburbs, and even have things that I love about that (most days). But the thought of never again knowing somewhere completely new kind of scares me. A note here. If you’ve lived in one place your whole life and you’re happy, good for you. If you’ve lived in one place your whole life and you’re not happy, move. Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds and worth the effort and expense. You’ll either find that you’ve found a better place, or you’ll realize you left the place that was right for you. Win/win.
  • I’m nearly 18 years into my professional life and I realize I’m not even half done. I worry about whether I have 25 more years of work in me. But a few months back, I started on a new career path and I’m excited to see where it will lead. Maybe 25 years will fly by. Or maybe I’ll win the lottery. I’d be happy with either of those two outcomes.
  • I’m not wealthy, and may never be, but I have everything I need. And some of those things are pretty nice. Got a pretty big TV, and a pretty fast car, and a couple “precision timepieces.” Some folks have nicer versions of these things, some don’t. I’m happy to say I don’t look at them as ‘keeping score’ anymore. It’s just stuff that I enjoy.

So that’s what I reflected on as I finished my 30s, and my beer. In the end, I asked myself: Am I celebrating, or sorrowing? The answer to that becomes critical. Because for all of us, I imagine, it could go either way at any time. We get to choose how we evaluate our lives. There are going to be things we didn’t do, or didn’t get, and plenty of things that we did. So I choose to focus on the latter, and celebrate. I’m happy with where I’m at, and who I’m with (namely my amazing wife and beautiful daughter). And I’m happy to be leaving some things that weren’t working for me behind in the last decade.

Looking forward to the next decade, I can already see things I want to do better. I hope at 50 I feel the same sense of satisfaction I do today. Something tells me I will. Because we get to change things that don’t make us happy, and pursue the things that do. Figuratively the last decade “flew by,” but in truth there were a lot of days, and a lot decisions, along the way. Ultimately I’m responsible for all of them. I’m ok with that.

So I feel good.

Never really imagined the refrigerator in the garage to be any sort of metaphor, but looking inside it on this day commemorating American Independence, I find dark beers and pale ones, foreign ones and domestic ones, heavy beers and light ones. Blue collar types and fussy trendy types. A few blondes and even a ginger. All are welcome. Currently 25 different beer types (seriously, I counted), and even one bottle of Prosecco call it home.

That’s how we do the 4th. Cheers, folks. 

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Lunch-meeting salad,

You will never be wanted,

Yet always be there.

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It was ritual in my household growing up. Every Sunday started with a trip to Mass—dreaded by the children, strictly enforced by the parents. Literally, we never missed it. Even vacation was no excuse. Immediately following Mass, and completely at odds with anything we should have learned during it, was the post-Mass recap. This was our time for lively, often snippy, discussion of everything we observed during the previous hour; whose kids weren’t behaving, who didn’t show up this week, who didn’t look appropriately dressed for church, etc. 

My dad rarely participated. He just listened and refereed if things got too mean-spirited, reminding us where we’d literally just come from. It was during one of these post-Mass rituals that he shared with me an opinion that I continue to benefit from to this day. Today I’ll share it with you. I will warn you in advance, you will likely struggle to put it in practice at first. But if you really think about it you might find, like I’ve found, it can be ultimately freeing.

First, the set-up. On this particular Sunday, the topic was an event hosted the day prior by one of the congregants. We hadn’t been invited. Even though I didn’t know my family to be particularly close to these people I remember my mom being somewhat hurt by this. It was a point she made, emphatically, the whole ride to the grocery store (that was the other part of the Sunday ritual, if we’d been good in church we could often talk my mom into picking up some donuts). As usual, my dad remained silent.

When my mom and sisters were safely inside the store, my dad said “Son, I don’t get upset about not being invited to parties I don’t want to go to.” And that was it. Not much more to say about it. Not even advice, really. Just a well-considered point of view. When my mom returned to the car she was on to other things; what she’d gotten on sale, who she saw in the checkout line, and why did they put the eggs with the milk? The invitation snub was forgotten. 

But I remembered those words. Over the years, I came to realize that they were about a lot more than any party. They became an earnest reminder of how silly it is to fret over things we really don’t care about, yet how often we do it. It was a powerful lesson. Which is not to say I became instantly immune to perceived insult. Like I said, it can be a struggle. But it did help me in those times I might have felt slighted by someone to take pause and ask myself, “did I actually just get exactly what I wanted?” If yes, I’d smile and move on. Whatever their problem was was their problem.

So today, 25 years later, I’ll pass the message along to you…know when you’ve won. Consider how much energy you waste feeling hurt by people you don’t really like.

And now realize that you don’t have to.

There you have it.

You’re free!

P.S. Since I’m more cynical than my dad, I can’t help but offer an additional, more literal take on his words. Let’s stop throwing so many parties that no one wants to go to.  It seems more and more that everybody feels that they have to include everyone in every single celebration of even the most personal or minute of happenings no matter what the cost or burden to others. Elaborate, and crazed, birthday parties for one-year olds we’ve never met. Multiple engagement parties for the happy couple that include gift registries. Destination weddings. Parties to announce that it’s a boy. Or maybe it’s a girl. We won’t know until we cut the cake!!

With the requisite gift giving and/or weekend sacrificing all these things entail, it all gets to feel pretty selfish after a while. You may recall, that’s a subject I’m all too comfortable ranting about.

I’m not saying that your parties aren’t worth hosting. Or that your events aren’t worth celebrating, especially among close friends and family. I’m sure they are. I’m simply giving you permission to exclude me from most of them. I’ve learned to not get upset about that kind of thing. 

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Do you put your dirty feet up on the seats? A.S.S.

Today I’d like to talk about an important issue that affects us all. A growing epidemic that causes the needless suffering of millions of Americans every year. It’s called Acute Selfishness Syndrome.

Acute Selfishness Syndrome, or A.S.S., is a condition marked by low self-awareness, in which otherwise normal people temporarily seem to lose track of reality, and enter an alternate consciousness in which they believe they are the only people in the world. While in this state they are likely to exhibit any number of public nuisance behaviors that a person of normal sanity and awareness would consider inappropriate or obnoxious.

Acute Selfishness Syndrome Effects Sufferers (A.S.S.E.S.) come in all forms. Perhaps the most common way that people show their A.S.S. is talking loudly on cellphones in confined public spaces. In these instances, the A.S.S. individual appears to believe he or she is in a vast, windswept meadow, with no one around for as far as the eyes can see or the ears can hear. That’s why when they’re asked to lower their voice, or take their conversation elsewhere, they will often look confused; “where did YOU come from…seconds ago it was just me here.” In this state of disorientation, these individuals can become highly agitated and lash out. They may mistakenly believe they don’t have a problem. Like with someone sleepwalking, it’s best to use discretion when trying to put a stop to A.S.S.-like behaviors in others.

If you fear that you may be afflicted by A.S.S., just remember this: You are not alone. A.S.S. can strike at any time and affects as many as 1 out of 5 people in any given social situation. Scientists now believe that no one is innately immune to this condition. We are all capable of becoming A.S.S.E.S. That’s why this critical point bears repeating…YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Literally. There are 6 billion people on this planet, and you are but one. Always keep that in mind, and you are already well on your way to recovery.  

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 11.24.05 AMBecause of its very nature, A.S.S. can be exceedingly difficult to recognize in one’s self. But the following quiz can aid in diagnosis:

  • Do you leave your shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot, rather than find one of the corrals to put it back? A.S.S.
  • Do you listen to your headphones so loud that everyone within 20 feet can clearly make out the songs? A.S.S.
  • Do you pee on the seat? A.S.S.
  • Do you cruise in the left lane while traffic backs up for miles behind you because eventually you might actually pass someone? A.S.S.
  • Do you slouch down low in your seat on the train or plane or movie theatre, and then jam your knees into the seat in front of you? A.S.S.
  • Do you leave your car parked at the pump after you’re done fueling, and then run inside to shop for a few minutes while others wait for gas? A.S.S.
  • Do you leave your trash and tray on the table at self-service restaurants for someone else to clean up because ‘isn’t that their job’? A.S.S.
  • Do you wait until it’s time for you to pay in the checkout line to announce that you forgot the green beans, and will “just take a sec” to go grab them? A.S.S.
  • Do you refuse to check baggage, even when it’s the size of a dishwasher? A.S.S.
  • Do you text or make any noises whatsoever in the theatre once the movie has started? A.S.S. 
  • Do you sit and read the entire paper at the crowded brunch place while others wait up to an hour for their seats? A.S.S.
  • Do you talk in the quiet car on the train? A.S.S.
  • Do you tailgate other drivers? And then flash your high beams if they’re not moving out of your way fast enough? A.S.S.
  • Do you come to dead stops in the middle of busy city sidewalks and then spin in place as you try to get your bearings? A.S.S.
  • Do you leave your weights wherever you used them, rather than return them to the rack? A.S.S.
  • Do you believe that every single phone call that you make or take is of critical importance, no matter where you happen to be at the moment? A.S.S.
  • Do you litter? A.S.S.
  • Double dip? A.S.S.
  • Do you spit your gum on the sidewalk? A.S.S.
  • Do you sometimes ‘forget’ to curb your pet? A.S.S.
  • Do you exhibit any of those bad parent behaviors that we’ve all heard about at your kids’ games? That’s A.S.S. Big time!

If you said no to all of them, congratulations. That’s the goal! You’re not showing your A.S.S. in public. If you said yes to one or more, your A.S.S. may need some work. Taking the quiz was an important first step. If you said yes to 10 or more, you may have the much more severe Chronic Selfishness Syndrome (CSS). You may not be fit for life among others. Disappear. Go somewhere isolated and don’t come back. The world will be fine without you.

Remember, though, this list is just a sampling of all the ways that we can do crappy things when we forget that there are other people besides us in the world. Managing A.S.S. is simple. It doesn’t require going out and actively trying to make the world better (though, of course, that would be nice). In fact, it requires no action on your part at all. It’s just a request that you not go out into the world and make it worse for everyone else. Raise your self awareness, think about people around you who also had a rough day, or also are trying to get somewhere, or who also have rights and feelings, or who also think their job (or their family) is important but recognize it’s not important to the other 100 people around them.

Together, we can put an end to people treating each other like A.S.S.   

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A.S.S.E.S. They’re everywhere.

If you know of anyone who exhibits A.S.S.-like symptoms, but aren’t sure how to talk to him about it, feel free to forward this on. One thing to remember is that A.S.S. is more than just dumb or irritating behavior. According to one civic-minded blogger, “It ‘s willful ignorance in the commission of public actions that negatively affect others and are entirely unnecessary. A.S.S. is insidious.”

On the way to the train station this morning, at the start of my 1.5 hour commute, I heard a radio spot promoting a trip to Limerick, Ireland. It inspired me to write a limerick of my own. Actually it’s part limerick, and part rant, so I’m calling it a “limerant”:

There once was a man from Scotch Plains,

Whose life was dictated by trains,

Surrounded by clueless, and loud cell-phone talkers,

Stinkers, and seat hogs, and back-of-seat knockers,

He dreamed he could beat them with chains.

 

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