Thursday, November 15, 2012

"There's some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for."

I've thought long and hard about writing this. There's nothing really new for me to say, after all, and it's not like people are suddenly having little light bulbs of liberty flash on above their noggins. But then I'm reminded of one of my hardest-won lessons, especially with the door to Middle Earth re-opening next month:

The 2012 Presidential election was going to be a disappointment either way for Constitutional Libertarians (i.e., the very essence of Americanism), but I'd at least hoped for a repeal of the mandatory tax that is not a tax but is a tax. Sadly, tyranny won the day. Largely uninformed and decidedly racist, extremists put their ignorant seal of approval on the indefinite detention and torture of Americans without charges, representation or due process. They sanctioned Al Qaeda's  9-11 anniversary attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the rape and murder of ambassador Christopher Stevens, and the subsequent cover-up and diffusing of accountability. Twice. They blessed secret kill lists and the nationalization of finance and automobiles as if we were some sun-burnt banana republic on bath salts. These are but a few of the virtues my intellectually dishonest "peers" found agreeable.

I'll freely admit, I'm having a hard time relating to friends who would lock me up and throw away the key based on nothing more than whim. How is such a thing even part of one's decision process? What accord could I ever have with such a person? What is this, 1312? Some of them are atheists with a curious concentration on Christianity and I find the irony, well, ironic. Just as curiously, many are of the mind that all discourse must cease now that the quadrennial American Idol voting has ended.

If nothing else, I'm no summer soldier or sunshine patriot. That's the gist of it for me: on election night, a post-Sandy Nor'easter was adding insult to injury in my home state. If there was any other place I would've been, it was Washington's Crossing. On a night far worse, tired men with no shoes and seemingly less hope languished on the banks of the Delaware. They didn't quit, they didn't wait for a bailout - they pressed on regardless of discomfort or the odds. General Knox moved artillery through mud that would make a sow think twice, and that has always amazed me. 

Now there's talk of secession, and I couldn't be happier. What, pray tell, would be the next logical move other than this? I've said it before, and probably too much: the federal government does not dictate to you, they operate at your behest. Despite its loathsome largesse, it is not bigger or more important than YOU, the citizen.

While for the most part symbolic, the petitions speak volumes. Extremists do not have the right to denigrate, dictate, disregard the Constitution and then cry, "Can't we all just get along?" It doesn't work that way. If you walked into a KFC and ordered a Whopper, what would they tell you? If you brought 20 of your friends back and demanded 21 Whoppers, what would they tell you? Extrapolate the numbers out as far as wish, and the truth remains the same: there are core American tenets that will not be compromised by any person or party, particularly at the expense of those who hold them dear.

Let's say Merica was not a star, for the sake of debate, and let's presume yet another undiscovered country awaits in the west: Corvidia. It's a lush, green land, bountiful to the point of embarrassment. It's a clean slate, a new-new Jerusalem, a chance to loose the chains and start anew. No church or king telling you what to do or think or feel. In the words of Godfrey of Ibelin, "You are not what you were born, but what you have it in yourself to be." What might the founding principles be?

1. Corvidia shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10, If you molest, or kill a child with intent, and are found guilty in a court of law, you will be sentenced to death.

11. If death is the cessation of a life form's evolution, then life must logically be the very first stage of that evolution.

12. All law-abiding, tax paying citizens of Corvidia have the right to marry whomever they wish.   

13. Easily my favorite, it's the wild card which asserts, "OK, I know there are some cagey f@#$%^s out there who like to dabble in clever wordplay. To prevent their commendable erudition from subverting this entire endeavor, We The People put forth: The powers not delegated to Corvidia by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Alas, what next? Rep. Ron Paul bowed out not with a whisper, but with a broadside. Was there ever a finer President who never was? For hope's sake, I will not lament his unfortunate but well-earned absence. Rather, I will look to the thousands who've heeded his call and picked up the banner of Liberty. I've included the transcript below, as it should be required reading. Et in Corvidia ego:

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Really Do Hate The Decision You've Made

Hate is a strong word, isn't it? I initially cringed. I'm no ogre, no hate monger. I aim to go through life like the most unremarkable of streams: avert a stone here, a dam there, and sustain whatever I can along the way. No Mississippi or Nile, simply content to flow quietly amidst another gathering of trees until whatever sea awaits.

But the truth be told, I really do hate the decision you've made. You're not letting me flow, per se. You see, a man who campaigned on transparency and change wants to lock me away in an undisclosed location for however long he likes, without charges, representation or due process. It's called the NDAA, in the land hewn by Jefferson's quill and Hancock's defiance, no less. That you would be so ignorant and star-struck as to let him further prune the Tree of Liberty is nothing short of abhorrent. Nay, seditious.

Meanwhile, you feted him as the trigger man, but didn't say a word when the actual operators were coincidentally killed. You glom onto Big Bird and binders. You're selectively indignant over a politician's photo-op, you're beside yourselves over Michelle Obama's dress, but there's nary a peep over Dark Ages-style tyranny. To paraphrase Ridley Scott, please stop acting like such @#$% ingenues. Insa to you for conveniently looking the other way as an overlord targeted Americans via a secret kill list based entirely on whim. Are you on it? How would you even know? Oh, wait - OMFG didja see Steny Hoyer's suit?!

The aforementioned 18th century names are not  just random text to me, by the way. I wondered long and hard about the roots of my distaste. Brothers waited barefoot and bloodied at Morristown. They took King George's tea tax and threw it in the river, they tore down his statue and melted it into musket balls. Now what? I'm to attend more funerals than raisings and comment blithely? Stay mum and lay low while the land Bro. Revere dared to alert burns? No. Hell no. The Green Dragon Tavern still stands, and with it the timeless ethos of American liberty.

You can take your fiat empire and shove it. You do not have the right to turn my key. When did I or anyone else consent to 30,000 drones over U.S. soil? You do not dictate to someone free how you'll deign to govern, they will tell you how you'll serve. I am only one free man and I can't change the world, but I can change the facts. And when I change the facts, I change points of view. When I change points of view, I can change a vote, and when I change a vote, I may change the world.

The gloves are off. Who gets backed into a corner and doesn't bare their teeth? If not for me, then for the Republic my sons should inherit.

Lest anyone think this entry an RNC talking point, rest assured their representative should be fitted for an equal amount of tar and feathers.

If the quintessential American value is "extreme", as Obama has pointed out, then so be it. I know of no gloaming between liberty and tyranny -  there is only liberty or death.

Monday, August 27, 2012

"I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac."

My sweetheart bought me a Keurig for my birthday. It's silver 'n black and looks downright menacing, so I considered naming it Lester Hayes.

Remember how low he'd crouch at the line, all covered in Stickum, bumping-and-running the NFL's best receivers into irrelevancy? The rule banning the adhesive bore his name, and he had one of the best sports nicknames ever.

The Keurig is decidely sci-fi, however. USCSS Prometheus would be most fitting, especially considering the blue Quasar Propulsion Drive (QPD, or "Cupid" as it's colloquially known in space-geek circles) it uses to brew the coffee. Heck, this system is probably what they'll be using to make their joe aboard the actual craft in 2089.

Then it hit me:

My loyal murder, I am now the proud owner of my very own Wave Motion Gun. Even their sounds are somewhat similar, along with that pregnant pause between activation and overwhelming output. I drink coffee like it's water now. Really hot, awesome water. I'm now in a constant state of caffeination. 11:42 PM? @#$% it, let's show the Gamilons we mean business.

Star Blazers was hands-down my favorite show as a kid. It wasn't just the usual pew-pew-pew trappings, it was the characters and the context of their story. Alex Wildstar's sacrifice? Captain Avatar's declining health? That was riveting stuff to an 8-year old. At the end of every episode, a warning was displayed: "Only x-amount of days left..." No other cartoon had an expiration date like that. Even if they did make it to Iscandar, there was no guarantee they'd even make it back to Earth, let alone on time.

I won't spoil the ending for you, because I'm sure you've already opened another tab and can't wait to see for yourself. All I'll say is that, 33 years later, I've finally started to understand and incorporate this ethos into my life. In enough time, everything I own will be dust. How important, then, is the material? All that will remain is the affinity and regard I've had and hopefully received. How you lived is so very much better and enduring than what you lived with, or when, or where...

As for the "who", my relationships are certainly the better for it. If you can judge a man by the company he keeps, then I'm in good stead. This year has been a whirlwind of change and growth, one of those watershed periods that blazes by only a few times in life. At the very center of it now is love, appreciation, laughter, communication and understanding (and more coffee). There may be a great woman behind every great man, but the truly Great Ones stand right by your side.

Department of Randomness: 

Why was God using the plural here? If I've posed this question before, please feel free to contact the Department of Complaints at the number provided below.

American politics is entirely retarded. I won't split hairs or apologize for using the term, for that's precisely what it's become. Imagine getting a clogged toilet, calling a plumber and then watching him stand in the bowl with the plunger. By and large, Democrats and Republicans are not problem solvers - they are the problem. Look no further than the McCain/Graham/Obama NDAA, and listen to this:

When did believing in liberty become the kooky exception in a nation whose cornerstone was precisely that? Naturally, Ron Paul maintained his integrity right to the very end by declining Romney's conditional offer to speak at the convention. Alas, it's only August and already the party line-spewing ignorati are out in full force. I'm heavily relying on ear plugs, waders and vodka until November.

I like Neil deGrasse Tyson, but I want to hear his ruminations on politics about as much as I want to hear George W. Bush talk about asternom- astronautom-- THE @#$% STARS. It's like actors singing or basketball players trying to hit a curve ball. As for his point, the Muslim world did indeed have names for the various heavenly bodies, but the religion wasn't founded until the 7th century A.D. Is he suggesting that the Greeks and Romans were entirely ignorant of astronomy? You could take it all the way back to Sumeria, I suppose, and who knows how far before that?

Department of Complaints: 973-474-9050

I felt it yesterday, that first late-August breeze that carried more autumn than summer. This time of year is always my favorite, but I've so many wonderful memories this time around. The Carnival. Watching a foal at White Oak. Actual adult time "down the shore". Hours upon countless hours simply talking. Spying the Ring Nebula from the Paul H. Robinson Observatory. Eating, imbibing and retiring like a king with his queen for a day. Infinite "Ready Spaghetti" and "Flipper McGee" child tossing at the pool. Second breakfasts and elevenses at my sweetheart's Bag End. The Mets in a dogfight for last place.

My kids started school this morning. Summer ended right then and there, for all intents and purposes, and I hummed Don Henley as we approached the front entrance. My oldest has been through this ritual four times already, so it was decidedly old hat. Approximately 20 feet from the door, however, my kindergarten-bound youngest trembled, turned grey and vomited into my hand.

It broke my heart to see my tender little tornado, my irascible, daredevilish mustang, so affected. After calming him down and his teacher assuring us we could try again tomorrow, he let me carry him to the car. I could tell he was embarrassed, perhaps worried he'd disappointed. I told him my love for him will still be strong after the boys of summer have gone, then went home and made more coffee.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"The absence of the light is a necessary part."

I'm down to single digit days of indigence. Since January of 2009, I've gone without many of the simple things I'd taken for granted in my past life. I learned and accomplished quite a bit along the way, thankfully, and I think I finally understand Solzhenitsyn. When you don't have anything, everything's a blessing. When you can't afford to do anything, nothing is too mundane.

I've walked in the woods nearly every day. I'm in better shape knocking on 41 then I was at 30. I've read voraciously, listened to countless lectures and researched topics that have long interested me. It was a journey inward as well, and for as odd as it seems to write, I will miss this chapter. There is dignity to be found in desolation, for sure, and I'll never forget those who offered a shoulder along the way.

That being said, in a few weeks I'm taking my sweetheart out and ordering the biggest steaks in the city. My restraint is going to give way to a bacchanalian release not seen since 49 B.C. and I won't pretend we don't deserve it. The pendulum will swing back and settle somewhere in the middle, rest assured. My pursuits may be, in no particular order, Kundalini, live music, language and travel.

Back in the moment, everything is breaking. A storm fried my modem, cable TV and bedroom flat screen. My iPod touch, which was probably the greatest thing I'd ever purchased, hasn't worked since one particularly hot afternoon at the pool. I've never broken a bone (and it will be the kiss of death to type this), but if I'm writing my next entry in a plaster cast, it will be none too surprising.  

In other news, the Earth recently deflected another solar storm. How fragile and formidable we are, how intricate our design must be. We're so biologically linked to our star that it's our body's only reliable source of Vitamin D. Our planet could not host life as we know it without the sun being precisely 93 million miles away, and the next time you feel its warmth on your face, consider it a blast from the past (literally): the light took 8 minutes and 20 seconds to get here.

Our atmosphere permits its life-giving rays, yet features a shield which limits our exposure: the magnetosphere, which is generated by the undulating liquid metal outer core of our planet. If the inner core were larger, the mantle deeper, etc., would the outer be smaller? There's only so much real estate to go around, I presume, so if the resulting field was a different size, might it permit these solar storms to harm us?

When I lived in Washington, DC, I enjoyed attending mass at St. Matthews Cathedral.  In one out-of-the-way section, there were engravings on the stone walls. Lo and behold, it was Assisi's Canticle of The Sun. I'd memorized my favorite part:

"Thank You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars, which thou have set in the heavens clear, precious and fair."

She's a little closer to home, but no less intriguing. In fact, perhaps even more so. The ancient stories are fascinating, and like the sun's effects on our planet, we'd hardly be the same without our nearest neighbor. The Earth is tilted at 23.5 degrees, which would be wildly unstable save for the steadying influence of the moon on our axis. Our tides are ruled by its call, as are the breeding, migration and hunting patterns of countless animals. That it may very well have been the Earth is unfathomable.

From a sentimental standpoint, I fondly recall sneaking a peek to the heavens while marching lockstep in San Antonio. There she was, and there she still is. No matter how far apart you are from someone you love, you're staring at the same thing. I find that equal parts obvious and consoling.

What vexes me is the cosmic chicken vs. the egg: Are we the product of this extraordinary design, or was it designed specifically with our species in mind?

I was craving chocolate one night last week, but nothing happened. The next morning I bought some brownie mix, but again nothing. The following night I got out the eggs, oil and a baking pan. Still nothing. The next night I mixed it all, but there was no change. Then I turned on the oven, thinking I'd finally solved the riddle.

You get one guess what happened next:

1. Nada.
2. The Mets fulfilled their yearly promise of dipping below .500 after the All Star break
3. There's a sixth Tolkien film in the works!
4. All of the above

Finally I put the rigamarole in, and voila! It was no Atlantic City treat, but it did the trick.

If everything below is akin to that above, then perhaps this is a decent analogy to our presence here. The complexities of the most delicate flower are the same design as the most distant galaxy. Everything is laid out before us, every last machination and possibility, but it's up to us to do the work. It's as though we've been handed the blueprints for everything we've ever needed. What a gift, eh?

As I start out on my next adventure, I can only see as far as my light will reach. I long. I don't know what's in store a year from now, or what lies around the next hour's bend. All I can do is walk onward with hope, persistence and love. They've gotten me here, to the greatest point in my life, so how could I go wrong?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"God does not build in straight lines."

I haven't the slightest clue what to write about. Liberty? The 2012 election is a choice between handcuffs and leg irons. The Mets? For the first time since donning my Biloxi blues in 1994, I haven't watched a single pitch all season. Naturally, they record their first and possibly second no-hitters (and people wonder why Amazin' fans are so sardonic?). Bilbo is a mere 6 months and 48fps away, Depeche Mode are back in the studio and my children are happily looking forward to another long summer.

Moi? I dunno. I feel a shift is already underway. As Life 2.0 slowly unfolds, I'm getting some crystal-clear transmissions from my gut/the universe (the two are becoming increasingly similar in size) on what stays and what goes.

As Dolorous Edd so rightly bemoaned, "There's nothing more sickening than a man in love." She's been the unlikeliest of blessings, however, and like finally reaching a far-off peak, she's made every last step and stumble along the way worth it. She makes me laugh. A loht. She's my gorgeous best friend. She put all her chips on me, inexplicably. When I had nothing, she saw everything. Nevermind remuneration - how does one even comprehend such a thing? My sincerest wish is that she'll allow me at least sixty years to figure it all out, together.

Similarly sublime, I decided to "reboot" my eastward travels several months ago. When I was initiated, I thought things would make more sense upon being passed. When I became a Fellow Craft, I presumed all would come together upon being raised. When I became a Master Mason, I was told that the genuine secrets have been lost. It seemed logical to proceed into the York Rite, whose Holy Royal Arch had historically been considered part of the 3rd degree. In the most moving experience of my life, I was then dubbed in the Commandery and reached the capstone of my journey. Or did I? Answers still eluded me - why do we do "X", why do we say "Y"? I'd been making the fifty mile trip several times a week, but after our lodge closed, there was no better time to search for Brothers a little closer to home. I can say unequivocally that, outside of becoming a father, it's been the proudest and most transforming achievment of my life. I'm eager to jump back in and resume my travels.

From the Department of Randomness:

I like gin.

On one side of my head, there is silence, life, engines, splashing. On the other, a neverending +18Hz tone blaring like a Stuka that never quite levels out. It affects my balance, and too many times already my inability to hear has been construed as aloofness.    

Growing up in rural New Jersey, I always found the contrasts odd. One hour I would be roaming through a farmer's field at the end of the world, the next I could be in the heart of its capital. As an adult, I remember fishing in the Delaware Water Gap one morning and sitting in a doctor's office on East 67th before lunch. That's weird.There's certainly no other place quite like the Garden State and I'll always consider it home.

In my adopted state, the local bookstores are phasing out their cafés in favor of Yogurt Mountain. During my hard-won temporary poverty, a favorite (i.e., cheap) activity was spending a few dollars on a latte and reading for countless hours. It got so bad that I felt like I was essentially stealing (the books, not the latte). Why the change? I suppose yogurt and books could be a perfectly understandable combination, much like napping and tuna. 

I saw "Prometheus" last night. As Ridley Scott's films usually go, it was visually stunning, more than I could digest in one sitting and the Director's Cut will be essential. As for the ship, I thought it was the coolest craft since the Nebuchadnezzar.

One of the most noteworthy lines came from David, who incredulously asks Dr. Shaw as she requests her cross and chain, "Even after all this, you still believe?" She replies that she believes because she chooses to, and much like the protagonist aboard the Neb discovered, choice seems to be both the problem and the solution.

How does one see a benevolent God in suffering? How are death, disease and despair part of some grander design? The thought that always pops into my head is crossing a street with my kids. It's not only within my power, it's also my solemn duty to protect them. How could I let them venture into traffic without saving them? Perhaps just as disturbing, what kind of parent would I be if I justified it? "Well, this is what they chose, and their right to freely decide trumps my ability to intervene." I cannot understand that - is life sacred or is it not? Why is the passing shadow less imporant than the ground on which it's cast? That's like ordering a steak and gnawing on the table.

My sweetheart (yes, every last thing eventually does come back to her) let me borrow a wonderful book by Catherine Marshall, who touches on many of these themes. Yes, it has been flagged.

As usual, my loyal murder, I have no answers, only questions. And now yogurt. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

88 Seconds in Greensboro

Remember this great scene from "Good Will Hunting"?


As I've learned to subdue my passions (but seriously, she is beautiful and smart and funny and did I mention beautiful? She is bee-YOOT-iful!), I'll aim to keep my highs and lows tempered. Suffice it to say, falling head over heels for your best friend might be precisely what Proust had in mind:
"In his younger days, a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman makes him fall in love with her."
Note the "her", rather than the "he". For some, such a minor detail is of monumental importance. For instance, citizens in my adopted state recently voted to extend their impressive record of civil rights abominations. Disturbingly, the demographics of those hating their fellow human beings for how they were created were those who bore the last salvo. Did it take 88 seconds (to vote) in Greenboro?

For those claiming Christian justification for their loathing, Jesus never uttered a word regarding the matter. Atop a hill in Capernaum, in the streets of Jerusalem, in the deserts, on the sea - not a single word. In fact, He summed up the matter succinctly with His 11th Commandment: Love one another. Don't judge them, don't hate them, don't cast the first stone, don't cite the speck of dust in some else's eye while overlooking the plank in yours.

Secondly, the Republic may be on a ventilator, but we are a Republic just the same. What right does one citizen have to foist their dogma onto another? Also, how do institutions exempt from paying taxes have any sort of say in civil matters anyway? This is one of the reasons why our country was founded and our Constitution worded so explicitly. What's next, Sharia Law? Would every woman who voted affirmatively on May 8th be equally comfortable in a burqa?

Some day, in between repeated airings of "Carpet Shampooers", The History Channel will present a program on this issue. Just as I felt repulsed and stupefied seeing black-and-white footage of people being lynched, beaten, hosed and harried, will the next generation will look back and sadly wonder? There is no middle ground on the right side of history, that much is certain.

Regarding other apples, I've been thinking a lot about my first job lately. I started at The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in the summer of 1987. I was sixteen, the Mets were well on their way to six-peating and the world was my oyster. The company's name struck me as so grandiose; I'd imagined myself signing on to the Dutch East India Company, but instead of captaining galleons around the Cape of Good Hope, I settled for cashier.

These were the analog days, well before optical scanners and QuicKarts. I had to actually pick up the box/jar/bag up, stare at it intently, twirl the box/jar/bag around in my hands and find the price tag. Once the .00014 millimeter hidden sticker was located, I then had to manually enter it into the cash register. For produce items, we had little cheat sheets with codes. Bananas? 300. Broccoli? 231. I eventually developed mnemonic devices, such as the one with the housekeeper from "The Jeffersons". After George and Weezy called it quits, she was in a show called "227". Every time I see that blessed woman's face, I immediately think of garlic. I'm sure she'd be pleased.

I'll admit to growing lax. The Rome apples were nearly indistinguishable from the Macintosh to my untrained (read: apathetic) eye. They were both red, after all, just like the Red Delicious variety. It was only logical (i.e., perfectly lazy) for all apples to then assume this catch-all "200" code.

I'd spend a lot of time wondering how they parsed through all the data, correlated the inputs to stock and eventually compensated the correct apple provider. I had visions of some poor, hard-working Cortland farmer scratching his head at the end of the week, wondering why his check was so paltry. Meanwhile, the Red Delicious big-wigs were undoubtedly living large on their burgeoning profits, which undoubtedly caught the shifty eyes of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. As with everything else in life, it is all about me, sooner or later...

To be sure, there was a rogue's gallery of interesting customers. You never forget your first, they say, and mine was the short older woman with the frizzy salt-and-pepper perm. There were the two older gentlemen, one carrying oxygen and the other looking after him with a kindness that didn't quite compute. The one whose face will be forever branded into my terrorized psyche, however, is The Gambler.

No one knew his real name, and I'd have to believe no one cared or dared to. The mere mention of the moniker was enough to send shivers down the most ardent cashier's spine, and "Lane Closed" signs would pop out en masse the minute he entered the store.

He was a mean, lumbering oaf with long, wavy white hair and a matching beard. He would glare - nay, scowl - as he waited in line, and heaven forbid you took too long with the customer in front of him. I'd be all thumbs, hyperventilating, fumbling a box of Rice-a-Roni as if it were a slimy fish. "Where the @#$% is the price tag?!", I'd wail internally as he berated me for $3.35 an hour.

I wish I'd had the stones to stand up to him, but I suppose that's all part of the journey. I marvel now at just how far I've come, and it's ironic that my first job and my last came less than a mile apart. I never imagined I'd be parenting, transponding or boycotting the Amazin's all these years later, but here I am.

Just as the antagonist teaches the young man in the song above, I, too, learned some valuable lessons along the way:

1. Never start a land war in Asia
2. The secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep

When it's all said and done. there is no Miserable Lifetime Achievement Award™, and a commitment honored isn't a license for someone to treat you poorly. True happiness is no longer some unattainable Hallmark vagary, and it's not something to be compromised for or with. It's right here, right now.

I feel the strongest, clearest and most at peace I have since faux-Kenny Rogers stalked into my checkout lane all those years ago. While part of me would like to deck the man today, I have to be honest: I'd shake his hand and say, "Thank you".

How do you like them apples?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"What is dead may never die."

I may be a fantasy noob, but HBO's "Game of Thrones" has been the greatest thing since Middle Earth. My reasons? Here's one for each of the seven kingdoms:

1. "War is easier than daughters."

My sons are fairly uncomplicated, all things considered. I keep them well fed, equal parts rested and engaged, and exceedingly loved. They're self-cleaning ovens after that. I've never had a daughter, however, and that dynamic interests me very much.

George R.R. Martin touches on it perfectly via Eddard Stark's relationship with daughters Sansa and Arya.The former is your typical bratty teen, tired of those who love her most and eager to spread her wings. Her younger sister is already a wolf of a woman and I can't help but wish for one of my own. Look how her response is met by Ned at 0:25: despite Sansa's exhortations, he looks instead to Arya. He knows his little girl already sees the forest for the trees and couldn't be more pleased:

In the next, Ned has to turn his head to hide that glorious fatherly elixir of laughter and pride. "Game of Thrones" nails this magic like nothing else, and kudos to Sean Bean for capturing such nuance:

2. The Night's Watch

In HBO's recent "God Is Bigger Than Elvis", a Benedictine nun gives the most cogent explanation of carnal restraint I've ever heard:
"Chastity doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate what God created. Chastity says, use it well.” 
Sure, some stewards, builders and rangers may slink off to Mole's Town for a little "Sally on the side", but there's something to be said for such integrity and resolve:


Jon tells Sam that he was almost with a red-headed whore named "Roz". Is this the same woman now in Littlefinger's brothel? I understand she's merely an HBO creation and not in Martin's books, but the coincidence is intriguing.


I know I'd find it an honorable life. They're the tip of Westeros' spear, regardless of the order's long neglected state. Whereas Cersei rolls her eyes at "grumpkins and snarks", I know all I'll ever need to about the Crows with this:
"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all nights to come."
 3. A Lannister always pays his debts.

Season 2's top billing:


Tyrion pisses off The Wall, sleeps in a sky cell, treats with the clansmen and becomes the Hand of The King. He invites a Lord to the his quarters to sup on summer greens with pecans and quail drowning in butter, only to force him to take the black. He made Bran a saddle. He dealt with Jon Snow in facts on their way north, while others slung platitudes. He makes it impossible for me to hate the Lannisters, which I most assuredly do. Peter Dinklage is a giant, as far as I'm concerned.

4. "Nothin' like a woman after a fight."

One can't mention the imp without his loyal Bronn never being too far away. This sellsword is one of the most understated characters so far, in my opinion. He champions Tyrion, wins his freedom, gets offered inns and whores and travels south. But is it truly loyalty?

At any given time, Bronn can slay Tyrion without a second thought. One motion, no foreboding. Dead. The Hand of The King dust, his killer fading back into the world from whence he came. If all Tyrion can pledge is the ability to pay more, who serves whom in their clever, unlikely arrangement?

5. You can never go home again.

Theon Greyjoy gets no homecoming, fondles his sister unknowingly and gets marginalized by his father. His arc this season could be summed up with, "I know you're there, Oatman."

6. Ours is the Fury.

Stephen Dillane turned in a stupendous performance as Long Tom on HBO's "John Adams". What struck me immediately about his Stannis is his unwavering position: Whereas most others are ruled by passion, honor, greed, power, or any one of a hundred other things, his dour, spartan compass is fixed squarely on what is right. Even a seemingly harmless courtesy is struck simply because it is not true, and a title retained because it is:

He's been slighted all his life, in nearly every way imaginable. But when the time comes for him to pursue what is right, he does so with the same inflexible sense of duty. Is it any wonder, then, that men like Davos Seaworth hold him in such high esteem? He is easily one of the most complex characters so far, and one needn't look any further than his cartography lesson with Melisandre as proof. 

7. "Stupidity in a woman is unwomanly."

Frankly, I'm tired of all the fawning over Daenerys Targaryen. She's not some paragon of burgeoning womanhood, she's a weak, sycophantic waif who spread her legs. Even on her best day, she's but Cersei Lite: Half the guile, same great taste™.

When push came to shove, she harmed her own child to keep her unmerited position. When that failed, she hatched an egg. Fire may not be able to kill a dragon, but ice is another thing entirely. Frankly, it's a marvel she didn't choke on this, and I'm only hangin' on to watch her go down:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Luck Be A Lady

Let's get something clear right outta the gate:

I haven't given a @#$% about football since 1982. On that fateful day, Dwight Bleepin' Clark interfered with Everson Walls and down came every last Cowboy pennant, poster and promise. In a telling portent of my stellar judgment, I then chose to channel my allegiance to the New York Mets. But I digress, as usual.

Everyone loves the underdog. The New York Football Giants won a scant 9 games during the regular season, a figure I can only pray the 2012 iteration of my Amazin' devotion can match. Yet, here they are, world champions. The race doesn't always go to the quickest or the haughtiest, after all, but to those who stay the course. I like that, and it captures perfectly that whole "Rohan/Gondor" theme I touched on earlier.

I have to admit, though - when I'm done, I'm done. I haven't gone fishing since relocating south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2005. Not because I'm disinterested, but because I'd caught a fish. It was the Mother of All Trouts, in fact, and I found her in an otherwise nondescript stream in the Delaware Water Gap. I tied off one of those realistic silver-and-black minnow lures, cast it into the flotsam of a fall and instantly struck gold. Honestly, she hit that fast. I had that feeling of rubbing your last quarter between your thumb and forefinger, giving it to a one-armed bandit and half-walking away. You look over your shoulder, Mrs. Lot be damned, and BAM!, guess who's smiling upon you?

Nothing is ever going to top that, so I don't bother. I have the memory, and while the rainbow does indeed get larger with each recollection, the feeling remains as pure as the moment.

On the off chance you're wondering, I haven't the slightest clue what this entry is about. I have a thousand and one things swimming about the junkyard of my mind, and sometimes there's just no clear narrative.

Speaking of junkyards, one of my fondest memories of my Father was taking drives out to Cozze's and Kober's. We would traipse around for hours, and I used to watch very keenly how he'd interact in their offices. Leaning on one leg, arm on the counter, talking about mechanical things which will ever elude me. To a 9-year old boy, this was Gary Cooper sidling up to a bar. Who cared what the difference was between sarsparilla and rye, or carburetors and calipers? I learned how to carry myself, how to talk to men (and surreptitiously eye the topless girls on the old calendars nailed to the wall).

Getting back to the Giants, I've stayed my course, however stupid, humbling and gut-wrenching it's been. The closer I get to the horizon, however, the more difficult it's been to focus. I'd rather be alone than invisible, but on the other hand, I see Wile E. Coyotes who've painted tunnels on sheer rock faces flourish. Where's the justice?

Then it hits me: There is none, other than that which I choose to be. We live in a world where Americans drink donkey semen on a dare, while 1 out of every 5 fellow human beings has no access to safe drinking water. Like most else I see and hear anymore, I don't know to reconcile this with reason. All I can do is focus on my point within the circle and act with benevolence, compassion, virtue, kindness and honesty to all those who happen inside.

Curious: People often offer upon news of impending surgery, "I'll pray for God to guide the surgeon's hand." But what about today's ubiquitous robotic procedures? I don't hear anyone saying, "I'll pray for God to guide the hand of the Donkey Kong programmer who wrote the code for the cyber-scalpel dicing into you." A little consistency would be welcome.

In further evidence of the fact that I haven't the slightest clue as to what I'm writing/doing,  I'll defer to Alan Watts:
"You don't have to remember the past, in the same way you don't have to think about how to work your thyroid gland... you don't have to know how to shine the sun, you just do it, like you breathe. Doesn't it really astonish you that you are this fantastically complex thing and that you're doing all of this, and you've never had any education in how to do it? Never learned, but you're this miracle."
 In my heart of hearts, I have to believe it's true

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I took my Charlie Buckets to a chocolate waterfall last week. As luck would have it, Veruca Salt dipped her hand into the goo just prior to our arrival. My unenvious task then became explaining the dangers of pathogens. To children. Whose every last syllable and sinew contorted in angst for chocolate-covered macaroons. Serenity now!

As an employee carefully disassembled the works, I patiently explained to them that she wasn't doing something bad, she was actually doing something good. There's no "five-second rule" for hepatitis, and regardless of how contrary it may have seemed, she really did have their best interests at heart.

Surely, the easiest thing for her to do was turn her head and let the status quo continue. Thankfully, she did the right thing. What a simple, powerful lesson for everyone from 1 to 111! Can you imagine a world where more people were accountable to what was fair and just, regardless of the ripples it created? Such thinking is dangerous, after all. No, not that. This:

Wake up. I cannot stress this enough: WAKE UP!  95% of Amerikardashians are too busy tebowing to their Triple Whoppers, iDroids and Snookie to know or even care that their Republic is burning. For many, even the mere mention of this form of government elicits an eye-rolling sigh straight out of high school History class. Have they no idea how truly revolutionary it is? Rest assured, if you count yourself among them, you will get precisely the tyranny your ambivalence demands.

Are you a soldier? Quick Draw McGraw wants to send you back to Poland Iraq. Ron Paul says we never should have been there in the first place.

Are you gay? The used car salesman and American Talibani want to forbid you from marrying the person you love, based solely upon their interpretations of a Creator. Ron Paul says, while it's not something he personally believes in, it's not the role of federal government to dictate to you. As with abortion, such matters are under the purview of individual states.

Are you a United States Congressman acting as a paid agent of a terrorist organization? Ron Paul cannot be bought by any person, party or President.

Finally, are you also a hard-working American struggling to make ends meet? Ron Paul says you're being squeezed by illegal monied interests that have bankrolled the fiat empire we were never intended to become.

Pull out a dollar bill, if you can scrape one up, and look on the back. See the capstone on the pyramid? It's unfinished. Do you know what that says to me? Among other things, the work is not complete, nor might it ever be. The hearts of men beat ever the same, and the watchers on the walls must stand fast. There's nothing new under the sun, after all, and encroachments upon liberty are just as old as the lofty notion itself.

I didn't grow up with TSA checkpoints, warrantless wiretaps and indefinite detentions, and yet these Soviet-style regressions are "just the way things are" for my children. Where were the watchers? Where are they now as The Patriot Act, SOPA and NDAA are being debated/passed into law by persons sworn to uphold the very document these ignore? How is acting as an enemy of the Republic somehow acceptable if you do so "with reservations"? I'm sure every last signer of the Declaration of Independence had similar misgivings when they endeavored to keep such tyranny off our shores.

As for the Constitution of The United States of America, it is hardly some "imperfect document". Rather, it is one of the most august achievements of mankind, ever. I'm a broken record, yes, but thousands of years from now, we will be studied just as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans are. Will we be some curious anomaly, a mere blip on the radar of civilization, or something more noble and enduring? Our Republic was the hope and dream of free-thinking men and women for thousands of years. It is a curious and fragile thing, this tree of liberty, both tender and tempestuous. It requires vigilance, virtue and, yes, sometimes even blood.

This has nothing to do with parties or personalities, it has everything to do with principles. Namely, that you - yes, YOU - were created either by a god, the earth, biology, the universe or just sheer happenstance with liberty that cannot be bought, bartered for or taken away. By anyone. Ever. 

Back at the buffet, I had a Larry David moment when a woman stopped by to inform us she was our server. But we'd already paid in advance, gotten our drinks, plates and silverware and served ourselves. What, precisely, was she serving? I waited tables for years, and you 1.) Don't tip a bus person, and 2.) Can't bullshit a bullshitter. I felt a bit like Lloyd Bentson, but smiled appreciatively. 

Whether chocolate or cherished liberty, kudos to all who keep it flowing by doing what's right and not pretending to be something they're not.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"The better part of one's life consists of his friendships."

2012 is going to be a year for the ages. While I have made certain promises to myself, I won't bore you with them here. Rather, I'd like to share my appreciation for some of the friends I've made along the way. Whether new or old, whether we communicate daily or never at all, I'm grateful for them. In no particular order:
  • The person I've known the longest. If memory serves, we first met at Three Bridges School in 1980. We were schoolmates all the way up to high school graduation, attended the same church and stocked shelves together at the Whitehouse A&P. I love seeing good things happen to good people, and it's amazing to see someone's life story play out so positively. 
  • I never knew what plein air paintings were, but now I get to see works that at first glance appear to be photographs. His water and skies are particularly amazing, and I marvel at his good humor and ability to balance art with the obligations of family. As a harried father of two, I can barely breathe some days. He has triple or so the family, and yet somehow finds the time to create beauty.
  • Without a doubt, she is truly the greatest friend I've never met. She's been there at every twist and turn since our virtual paths crossed in Paragon City eight years ago, and it's been wonderful seeing life unfold so beautifully for her. I'll never forget her birthday, and we have similar understandings about people, friendships and baking bread. She left a toxic marriage, drove across country all by herself and started over. I know many a man without such stones.
  • The funny, irreverent, musically adept brother of a dear colleague. We met at a BBQ in 2003, and after explaining my thoughts about their progression since "Black Celebration", he appreciated why my favorite Depeche Mode album was "Violator". A cool dude to know, even if it is only online now.
  • Wife of said dear colleague (he is without a doubt one of the funniest, friendliest and most genuine people I've had the good fortune of working with these past twelve years). This is going to be a common theme here, but one of the greatest joys is watching life unfold so positively for good people. I remember when her sons were still in diapers, and now they're full-fledged young men whose parents' love and appreciation give the rest of us hope (even if they are Phillies fans). 
  • We went through basic training together in San Antonio, tech school in Biloxi and then served together in Dover. He drove a wicked 1960's red Barracuda, made fun of this song in my jalopy and had a softball batting stance like Don @#$% Mattingly.
  • We first met in NoVa. She told her friend I was easy on the eyes and quickly became my "Shog" (the etymology on this escapes me now: sweetheart > sweathog > s-hog > Shog?). I used to drive from Dover to D.C. on the weekends to see her, and recall stopping along the Blue Star Memorial Highway to pick (i.e., steal) wildflowers for her from the median.
  • From the Our Lady of Lourdes youth group to A&P to talking about life, kids, the silly, the esoteric and everything in between, she's been there. Some people in life tear your down, others build you up -- I know now which ones to let pass, and she's at the top of the list.
  • Another friend who I've yet to actually meet in person. We first started communicating online, where we'd horrendously altered my online dating profile just to see if any ladies would actually respond. We're due for a chai uptown.   
  • The smartest, coolest, smartest, funniest, smartest and most welcoming smart person I've met in this city. She and her fiancée can always be counted on for good food, better drink and even greater company, and I thank them again for having me in their Pablo Escobar-esque villa on the lake. Speaking of which, we should really meet up sometime soon. Irene?
  • I once saw a vision in D.C. after a Baryshnikov recital. I kissed her on 16th Street one night before jumping into a cab, and the whole way back to Chinatown I wanted to ask the driver to turn around. We seemed to have the most sublime run-ins, from beers at Mr. Eagan's to hearing her shout my name from a balcony in Union Station, to baldly discussing Baudrillard in a NYC diner. I can't help but wonder how/when the next one will be. 
  • The finest mothers-in-law a man could ever almost have. Nothing but love, warmth and openness, and I'm fortunate to have shared a page in life with them and their beautiful family.   
  • I didn't know her too-too well in high school, but now wish I had. She is funny, open and undoubtedly the grossest person on the Interwebz (and I have the pictures to prove it).
  • We played desktop football in Ms. Davis' 5th grade class. He stabbed me with a #2 pencil and I still have the graphite mark on my abdomen. After high school, we waited tables together, recorded parody songs ("Route 206" set to Depeche Mode's cover of "Route 66") and blared 'em en route to the Princeton Record Exchange. My other jalopy left oil stains on his father's driveway, and for that I am still sorry. He asked me to be his best man, and I was so completely nervous that I flubbed the toast.
  • One of the friendliest and funniest people I'd met in D.C. I still crack up recalling him laughing about our drunk co-worker peeing on my computer.
  • On the night of Ebbets restaurant's grand opening, people flooded in and my tables were instantly full. I'd never waited on a table in my life. I turned to the manager and asked, "What do I do?" I'll never forget the look of horror on her face. She replied quickly, "Drinks! Appetizers, soups/salads, then entrees. Then desserts. Then do it all over again!" She tried to teach me how to drive a stick-shift in her red Ford Escort at the beach. On the drive back, she got pulled over on a toll bridge for swerving in and out of the orange cones, slalom-style. 
  • One of the finest Brothers I've met, and our meeting was the first encounter I'd had with a fellow Master Mason outside of the lodge. It was an unusual professional situation with miscommunication on our end and a rapidly approaching deadline on his, but when we realized the connection, things settled in smoothly. I had the privilege of attending his lodge and was later able to help oh-so-briefly with their yearly charity event (emergency surgery for my ex-mother-in-law; thank you again for understanding, Brother).
  • One of the coolest guys I'd met in high school. I'll never forget sitting in Mr. Glennon's English class, putting cafeteria cookies atop the heater beside our desks. Fresh baked oatmeal-raisins and "A Separate Peace"! He lives in NYC now and creates amazing music, to which my kids and I sing along to in the car.
  • I sat with him in an Air Force bread truck beside a hangar, smoking cigarettes and ruminating on God. A soda deliveryman carted by with a stack of plastic bottles for a vending machine, and one fell off and rolled to our truck. After deliberating with smiles, we brought it to him instead of drinking it.
  • My classmate all throughout night school. Her drive, humor and assistance were instrumental in my finally receiving my Bachelor's. She'll always be my Warrior Princess.
  • She prank-called me one night in 1996 pretending to be the Readington Township Police. She used the word "consortium" and I bought it hook, line and sinker.
  • He's Jean-Michel Jarre, Giorgio Moroder and and Ralf Hütter all rolled into one. He was the first synthesizer fan I'd met with the same affinity for 1981, and helped provide the sountrack to a very exciting period in my life. I'll always be his biggest fan.
  •  My partner in commiserating about other people's crimes. Her outlook and insights have been a blessing, and it's been interesting to experience and exchange the parallels on our respective journeys. I still find it hard to believe that we probably sat side-by-side in school; she was pretty and popular, I was the disinterested dork in the Mets hat. Our paths crossed later professionally, albeit briefly, and I am determined to convert her to the realm of Geekdom. She's reading Tolkien and watches my Joseph Campbell clips, so it's only a matter of time. Muahahaha and what have you. 
  • My own personal Qui-Gon whose time and tutelage were integral to my procession through the Masonic degrees. It's no stretch or self-deprecation to say that I couldn't have done it without him. Too cold? He was there. Too hot? There. Spring, summer, winter, fall, rain, shine -- theretheretheretherethere and there. The only thing that leaves me more awestruck than what he taught me was his selfless devotion to it. He gained nothing, so far as I can tell, outside of helping me become a better man. I'm especially grateful.
  • Another great guy I'd met in high school. He was a long-suffering Red Sox fan, and my favorite team is well-documented. After the '86 World Series, it was a recipe for relentless ribbing. He bore it all with a smile and I was overjoyed for him in 2004 and 2007.  
  • We waited tables together at Ebbets in Whitehouse Station for years. She was one of the funniest ladies I'd ever met, and I can still hear her laugh about my mispronouncing "awry". I wrote a book back then and still need to give it to her.
  • It's not hyperbole -- this man saved my life. I kept my nose to the grindstone (i.e., head in the sand) as my tumor grew and even became visible. Surely it was nothing more than a lump that would eventually subside, right? His cajoling turned to concern, which in turn became a downright order to leave work and go directly to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. His compassion was the genesis for the entire healing process, from diagnosis to chemotherapy to remission. How can you ever sufficiently thank someone for that? I had a chance to catch up with him on a sort of homecoming recently and tried my best.