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.