Perspective from the Mini Van

I was driving the other day with my daughter in the back seat when she asked, “Papa, are we rich?

I looked around me at the cracked and worn interior of our ten-year-old rusted Mazda Protégé, glanced at the 126,000 miles on the odometer and noticed the always-on engine light. My mind wandered to our other 10-year-old mini-van, our 1,100 square foot house in need of windows, siding, and roof among other repairs and thought about the piles of debt our family had, laughed a little sarcastically, and said, “No, Olivia, we are not rich.”

Then it dawned on me and I added, “Actually, we are rich.”

“We have our own home with a roof over our heads, that we can keep 70 degrees when it’s 30 below and 68 degrees when it’s 100. We have more than a thousand square feet in there – plus the basement! We have two cars that run – with just two drivers in the house. We have a pantry, refrigerator and freezer that are bursting with food – there’s no room to put anything more! We get new clothes constantly. We have so much stuff that we get to go to the Goodwill twice a year and give a box or two away to people who are not as rich as us! We have computers, an iPad, smartphones, internet access, and cable tv.”

I was just getting started.

“We have a brand new street in front of our house, and roads to take us anywhere we want to go that are lit at night. We have free parks, schools, and libraries all around us. We have wonderful family and great friends who love us and we love back. We have amazing neighbors. We have our own business that provides six darn good jobs. We are surrounded by great little Vietnamese, Thai, East African and good old American restaurants that we have enough money to enjoy!”

“Yeah, there are a lot of people with much more than us and many with much, much more, but there are a hell of a lot more people on this planet with much, much less! We are blessed! So, hell yes, Olivia, we are rich!!

I half expected some applause to accompany my goose bumps, but when I looked in my rear-view mirror, my little girl was just gazing out the window of the van at the world passing by.

“Pretty sweet, huh?” I asked, and she turned, met my eyes in the mirror and smiled.

“Yeah.”

Joe Six Pack is Dead – in Praise of a Nine-Pack

Joe Six Pack was something other than a real man.

The kind of guy who would flinch. Step aside. Protect himself

when the damsel’s distress got ugly.

Sure, he was buzzed, but also cognizant of his own mortality and I think a drink should conjure immortality.

Save that girl.

Step in front of the bullet.

Or you’re just Joe,

just plain Joe.

And a twelve pack is a bit much, ain’t it? A six pack gets you up the chair lift,

but a twelve pack will lead you                    astray,

a ski stuckinarut,
and off the peripheral cliff,
crashing
onto the rocks
below,
the end of Joe.

Much too much.

A nine-pack would give you the gumption to get up the hill and then

drop

down

over the lip,

through the moguls and flats, over the jump into a Steamin’ Streamin’

(daffy, tip-drop, daffy, if I recall),

then back into moguls, dips, flats, and whatever the mountain had to present.

Represent, mountain, it’s our challenge now.

So let us all call unto the brewers, the big boys and the small taps. Give us a nine pack, we ask,

or give us death – or trepidation. We need neither, but the sweet spot in between, the middle, the fiddle-de-diddle.

Let us fight the tyranny of the six and the twelve together.

Plenty of Time for Kale

I bought some Pizza Rolls for a cabin outing that did not get eaten so we brought them home. Tonight the kids had already had dinner but were still hungry so I heated them up and put them on plates and gave them to them. I went upstairs for something and came down and my eight-year-old daughter was actually facing away from the television and had just one left on her plate. I sat down next to her and she was biting into a roll and said earnestly, “Oh, my god, these things are amazing.”

Look, I know, I know that from a modern michaelpollanated parent, this was sacrilegious and in fact probably evil. The end of society. Child abuse, damn it! However, I am sorry, but she’s absolutely right! And don’t think the Pizza Roll people didn’t employ the best science in the modern world to figure that out. Fuck kale. Pizza Rolls rock.

We all have to learn to eat better, or most of us, some of us already do, and really, who likes them? But the rest of us do have to eat more veggies and fruit, control our portions, exercise more and all that. But, man, Pizza Rolls? You can bring the greatest chef known to man, who nowadays probably has a show and a line of food things to sell you, and let him or her do their absolute best – give me the tastiest, most delicious, dish you can muster, and really, Pizza Rolls will kick your ass.

I know yours is BETTER with the capital B, but Pizza Rolls are just plain amazing. And shouldn’t life be amazing – at least, occasionally?

There’s plenty of time for kale.

clueless 1

I’ve had my acoustic guitar for many years – possibly ten. My wife bought it for me for one Christmas and since I’ve been playing it constantly to the point where it really does feel like an extension of me. When I see it across the room I want to hold it and play it. I want to strum it and sing with it. I want to harmonize with it. I was staring at it just now and noticed the brand and realized that at any time over the last ten years if anyone would have asked what kind of guitar I had I would have only been able to say, “acoustic.” If they pressed for the brand I would have had no idea! I saw the name just now: “Cort.” It’s a Cort. My guitar is a Cort and as much as I’ve loved it, I could never have told anyone that that it was/is a Cort – and there’s probably another name as well – The X44 or The Chrysalis. It’s like not knowing the name of your wife. I feel terrible – because I never knew, and also because now I do.

Cort. No, just my guitar.  I’ve never been good with names.

Fire and Flintstones

I was reading something about the ineffectiveness of various youth programs around the United States and was struck by a thought that rarely enters my mind: oh, t’were it we only had more fire and brimstone! Well-meaning liberals (and some conservatives surely) put their grand efforts into turning troubled and disadvantaged kids around at every corner. And they mostly fail, but that is not for lack of effort. There is such a giant stew of reasons – ranging from rap music to broken homes to lack of jobs to under-funded schools and missing parents – that something like after-school basketball just can’t make much of a difference. The kids spend a couple of hours a week in some well-planned utopia and then the other 165 in reality. And reality sucks for most of those we are trying to help.

But back in the day, see, religion had an iron grip on many kid’s minds. Yes, they were also more likely to be from two-parent homes, the union kept dad working, there was no such thing as thrash metal and Facebook, and watching too much Flintstones was what parents feared most about the effects of the media, but it was the Sunday sermon that often prevented the slide from good boy to juvenile delinquent. The real horror of burning in hell for lifting a pack of bubble gum held some sway back in those days. And while my own opinion is that it was (and is) tall tales long ago concocted by men wanting to control other men, women and children, Jesus man, it worked!

The art of knowing you’re no artist

A good buddy of mine suggested painting lessons recently because essentially I suck at painting. I really do. I definitely suck from most people’s point of view – t’were it you saw my so-called paintings. That’s because I’ve no training at all. Nor do I with music or sculpture. All things I do a lot.

So there sort-of begins the conversation, right? I do these things without any formal training but only, and maybe selfishly, because I really, really dig doing them. I shape heads out of clay. I paint faces on whatever surface I want to – actual canvasses, basement floors, walls, beams, sheets of already printed-on paper. I grab my guitar, play chords poorly, and sing whatever the hell I’m thinking at that moment. And I have the gall to record it, douche bag that I am.

And now don’t be surprised, but none of it is winning any awards.

I know it might be pure laziness that I don’t take the time to learn how to paint an apple in the manner that the masters have. “You must paint an apple, before you can paint a tree,” I can imagine my zen-like artist teacher telling me. But I really don’t want to paint apples. I like painting silly, ever-evolving, cartoonish faces, all the time.

I bought my first 50 lb box of clay without anyone telling me even what the hell was in the box. Clay-like stuff, I figured, rightly. And since then I’ve shaped heads – lots of them. Should I have copied the great works to learn how to sculpt? Certainly, to learn how to sculpt like the masters, but I kind of just wanted to make heads and whatever heads came out of some hours of grabbing, slapping, rolling and shaping the clay, were exactly the heads I really, really wanted to make. That’s why I bought the clay.

It’s like that horrible cliché – it’s the journey and not the destination. But in this case it’s really true. The joy is in the process, the work, and the serendipitous outcome of non-talent meeting rigor. A passionate idea evoked through the foggy lens of a cipher – just some guy messing around with notes, or colors, or clay. It ain’t great, I promise you that. It may not even be art. But it’s me, really quite unfiltered by actual teaching or maybe even talent.

But it’s all good because I don’t want to be good. I just want to do it. I’ve no designs on being an artist, but I do like to make shit up.