Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pope: Dogs can go straight to hell!

Maybe you saw this article a few days ago where the Pope said that our doggies will make it to heaven.

Well, turns out that isn't quite the case. According to an update, the Pope really didn't say it all all. And based on the facts of this new article, plus what I make up in my head, it appears to suggest the Pope may have said something analogous to another Pope, perhaps condemning our furry friends to eternal damnation.

I base my conclusion from today's standards of investigative journalism and a closer reading of the original article in the New York Times which contained this gem:

During a weekly general audience at the Vatican last month, the pope, speaking of the afterlife, appeared to suggest that animals could go to heaven, asserting, “Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.”

Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, analyzing the pope’s remarks, concluded he believed animals have a place in the afterlife. It drew an analogy to comforting words that Pope Paul VI was said to have once told a distraught boy whose dog had died: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”


Dolly the Dog: Heaven on Earth!
Thanks, Corriere della Sera, for setting a new standard in journalism. And thanks, New York Times, for just passing on whatever you feel like!

The point is not to debate whether dogs will or won't find their way to heaven. The point is that the standards of journalistic integrity, and getting the story right, no longer seem to apply. The New York Times misquotes the Pope? That seems like a big deal. Or used to be it would have been. I'm guessing no one really cares that much about the error. I'm not sure if that is a reflection of the decline of the mainstream media or the Pope. But that's another essay.

Today the news is all about getting 'clicks' and eyeballs to generate ad revenue. Perhaps more-so that in the past. I'll spare you, dear reader, another analysis of the Rolling Stone gang rape story except to say, holy shit what a colossal mess that created.

It used to be you could discern the reputable newspapers, like the New York Times, from the sensationalist. And the evening news on television, the news you could trust, was a loss-leader to get us to tune into a particular network so we'd watch whatever entertainment came next. But that was back when we didn't have a gagillion channels, networks, etc., we didn't have a 24x7 news cycle with hours to fill, and when we had to actually get up out of our chairs to change the channel. Not anymore.

The so-called mainstream media no longer exists. It's dead, or on life support at best, as local and national news programs have gutted their investigative journalism efforts to save money. Now we get all our news from Facebook, and Buzzfeed, and Reddit, and from our friends' text messages, and from celebrity tweets. Our 'news' is passed to us from agenda setting right and left wing 'pseudo-news' blogs, and the like, with little regard for accuracy.

If you hadn't realized it yet, I'm telling you now: We just can't believe everything we see here in the Matrix. Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones and Santa will leave you a personal fact checker in your stocking. Otherwise the truth will be only what you hope it to be.

Meanwhile, it's buyer beware, friends.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Today is my favorite day of the year! The once-each-year gift of a full 25-hour day!  Such a glorious human contrivance and such fortunate ones are we - the receivers of that precious extra hour of sleep, or church, or hanging out with family, or reading the Sunday newspaper.

Now, join with me everyone:

Take in a nice full breath through the nose. Hold it for a moment. Exhale slowly through your mouth.

Ahhh.

Doesn’t that feel good? And doesn’t it feel good to know you could take the extra time for a meditative breathing pause and still be ahead for the day by over 59 minutes?

Photo Credit: Oatsy40 using Creative Commons License
Fall Back Day should be a national holiday. We should honor Benjamin Franklin, the alleged creator of Daylight Savings time. And he needs a day anyway. A key Founding Father, yet not a President, he gets the short-shrift on President’s Day. We should honor this great man. Maybe have a parade. One that lasts about 15 minutes because I want to use some of my extra time to sleep in a bit and the rest to catch-up on chores.

I read once an idea about Daylight Savings Time, and I can’t recall the source, but with modern technology and computers we could set our clocks ahead, every day, 10-minutes for the week, then reclaim it on Sunday. Think of it. Each day I’m sure we could easily come up with 10-minutes we just piss away. FaceBook, BuzzFeed, reading people’s blogs, whatever. Idle time. Instead of that, we simply allow the computers and the Internet to adjust our clocks and phones and DVR machines ahead 10 minutes each day, Monday through Saturday, for six days. Then on Sunday, every Sunday, after we’ve accumulated 60 minutes, we could Fall Back one hour! ONE HOUR! Amazing! And we’ll never miss those 10 little minutes each day during the week. Who needs it on a Monday anyway? Monday is bad enough already; it should definitely be 10 minutes shorter.

You may now be asking: "So, when can we create this magical utopian world of 25-hour Sundays?" I say: "Why wait?"

Lets get the smart people at the U.S. Naval Observatory, the head keepers of time in the land, to work in partnership with Google, probably Disney, and the Koch Brothers, who really run the country, to develop a plan for this. The 2016 general elections are just two years away. That’s plenty of time to work out the details and for at least one of the parties to adopt the plan in its party platform.

And that will be the party that gets my vote!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The only thing we have to fear

Each day I get the “Men’s Health Daily Dose” conveniently delivered right into my email in-box suggesting I should “Steal These Secrets to Be a Master of Any Grill,” or promising I can “Crush Belly Fat with Just Two Exercise,” or that I can “Discover the Greatest Sex Positions for Every Penis Size.”

Yeah, I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “but John you all ready have discovered the secrets of being a master-griller.”

Thanks. It’s true.

And, well, in all modestly, I must say I really don’t need to discover the greatest sex positions for every penis size.

I really just need to discover the greatest sex position for one penis size.

Anyway, some years ago, I don’t even remember, I must have bought a book that would “Shred My Abs in 28 days,” or something like that, got on the Men’s Health email list, and never bothered to unsubscribe. About 50% of the time I delete the Daily Dose. 40% of the time I sort of skim the article. The remaining 10% I might actually read. Today’s I read. The headline: “Is It Safe to Eat Tuna Fish Every Day?

I like tuna. I used to eat lots of tuna. Maybe 3-4 cans per week. It’s inexpensive and a great source of protein. The dudes in the gym can tell you how great a source of protein it is. Lately I have been eating less as I have been eating less meat in general. But there was something about the headline that caught my attention, so I read it.

The article was about tuna and mercury. All seafood contains some mercury but tuna, a top-feeding predator, contains more than others. The article offers a formula based on body weight, type of tuna, and how much you can eat based on either the EPA or CDC recommended limits.

That’s right. There are two different limits. And get this: For the EPA it's .7 micrograms per kilogram of body weight and for the CDC it's 2.1 micrograms per kilogram.

CDC’s limit is 3 times as much as the EPA’s. 3 times! That’s quite a disparity. It would be kind of like the FDA saying, “we think the average American should consume a 2000-calorie per day diet.” And USDA saying, “Meh. We think 6000-calories per day is just fine. Plus it’s good for our farmers!”

By itself, this “big-federal-government’s-right-hand-not-knowing-what-its-left-is-doing” sort of thing would be worthy of a blog-length rant. And yet this is not what I want to share. What I want to share is the sadness I experienced as I read through the article.

Here is the source of my sadness: How did we get to a point where we have come to accept our heavy-metal, neurotoxin-tainted seafood to the point where the question is: How much mercury in my tuna can I eat? Shouldn’t the question, and article headline, be something like: “What the Hell is Mercury Doing in My Tuna?

Yeah, sure, occasionally there is some article or activity to raise awareness of food safety, but its usually around an e-coli outbreak. Let’s be honest. We don’t really care about this low-level poisoning. There is mercury in our food and, well, I guess that’s just how it is these days.

But we do get upset. About some things. Very well meaning folks still get all up in arms about the “harmful affects” of vaccinations even though that science was debunked years ago. And schools are closing and hand-sanitizer sales are up as “Ebola-panic,” a virulent form of fear that seems impossible to contain, breaks out across the land. Congressmen and women are calling to ban flights into the USA from West Africa. Messages of calm and restraint are met with calls and tweets for the CDC's chief to resign! Meanwhile the number of Ebola cases in the USA remains lower than the number of deaths each year from the scourge of deep-fried turkeys.

Where are the Congressional hearings on that? How do we know there it isn’t some shady terrorist outfit that has infiltrated cable-TV cooking shows luring naïve Americans into putting their American lives at stake by deep-frying a most American food on the most American holiday? How do we know if that is not happening?

The scary truth? We don’t.

Photo by kennejima (Flickr link)
Now back to that mercuried tuna: Efforts to shut-down coal plants are seen as a “war on coal” missing the point that those coal burning plants are what are putting that mercury into the atmosphere to rain down into rivers and oceans for fish to absorb and for us to eat in our tuna. With mayo. And onion. With a slice of tomato and melted cheddar on a lightly toasted sourdough.  Mmmm.

I know we all say we just want to live happy, safe lives. At least I do. I say it. But I wonder. I wonder if the truth isn’t closer to secretly wanting to be afraid all time; being on guard against something, whatever it is, just so we can exist at a heightened state of anxiety and readiness. Maybe it gives us a sense of purpose to worry about such things just outside our actual control. Maybe it is an evolutionary adaptation that conveys a survival advantage when poisonous snakes are around and saber-toothed tigers are licking their chops waiting to eat us. Being an all-the-time, on-alert Homo Erectus probably helped.

But those days are passed. Not everything is out to get us but we haven't evolved enough to proportionally allocate our worry according to the statistical probabilities. Rather the media hype-machine pulls our fight-or-flight triggers shooting warm rushes of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol through our frightened bloodstream. We get scared, then angry. It feels good. And just think how boring it would it be, day-after-day, to listen to Fox News or MSNBC open with: “Tragedy again today as 1,579 Americans died from various forms of heart disease. Let’s go to CDC headquarters in Atlanta for this troubling development.”

Who wants to hear that every night? That's boring. I might as well just make myself a sandwich then go to bed.

Now, where did I put the can opener?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A post post-season post

It’s hard enough to wake up at 6:30 a.m. for school in this last month. This last month of daylight savings and baseball. It’s getting darker each day and though the solstice is two and a half months away, we are in the darkest of days. Our beloved home team Nationals lost 3 games to 1 against the Giants in the so-called National League Division Series. I still call it the playoffs but that doesn’t matter. All that matters now is that we lick our wounds and figure out how to move on.

For moving on, at least in this baseball post-season, we are somewhat fortunate to have a secondary home team. The Orioles, just 30 miles up the road, are the home team for many in our area. But where we live in Maryland, saddled up against the border of the nation’s capital, is solid Nationals territory. And though the O’s are as good a team as any to root for, the aging, but still reviled owner, Peter Angelos, and his all-out campaign to thwart locating a professional baseball team in Washington, D.C. will forever prevent anything more than a passing interest from this writer. It’s one thing, perhaps, to forgive. It’s another to forget.

View of Nats Park from Center Field
Our Nats were a mere 62 days old when my younger son was born. And his older brother was two months shy of three-years-old on the very first Nats opening day. Thus, unlike older kids (and adults) around here, they have no real experience of not having a home team. I grew up in South Jersey as a Phillies fan. I suffered through the mid-70’s then came of baseball age during the late 70’s and early 80’s glory years of Phillies baseball (and Philadelphia sports in general). Thus, I also don’t have the same experience many have around here of not having a baseball team. Older kids and adults who came of age after the second incarnation of the Senators fled to Texas in 1971, and before the Nats arrived in 2005, are naturally inclined to be O’s fans. And that is okay for them. All that is to say is we have not suffered that pain of that loss. The Nationals are my boy’s birth team and my adopted team. 

Two years ago we watched from the left field stands in utter dismay as our boys collapsed in what is one of the greatest implosions in sports, giving up a 6-run lead and the decisive game to the Cardinals. This year's Nats seemed stronger, firmer, more tested than the 2012 version but the outcome was about the same. Our 2014 Nats held the scores tighter and were in every game. The pitching, with a few notable gaffes, was strong. Our hitting, however, with the exception of youngsters Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, never left the dugout. And rookie Manager Matt Williams is taking plenty of heat for his stubborn orthodoxy which put a little-tested rookie reliever in a most critical game and situation while more seasoned, and perhaps able, relievers watched from the bullpen.

And that is the way with a 5-game series. Enough has been written about the unfairness of it all: Playing 162 games to then have to face another good, if not excellent, team in a best of 5 hardly seems right or fair. As a result, in the postseason, every move, every pitch, and each at bat take on a magnified meaning.

The baseball gods are trickster gods. And they will turn even the slightest miscue into folly. Throwing to the wrong base on a bunt?  2 runs. A late inning walk to load the bases? Wild pitch. Can’t field a bunt at all? The baseball gods will frown on that for sure. In the regular season a deflected ball off the pitcher’s glove is little cause for concern. In the postseason it’s a death sentence. Which is why, of all the sports, the lessons of life are found most in baseball. Just like in baseball, in life, not everything is right or fair.

Baseball is a team sport comprised of individual performances. Pitcher against batter. The lone outfielder sprinting for a ball. An infielder's errant throw. The team wins or looses and can do so on the heroics or failure of one individual. There are times when a team rallies to shield the miscue and all is well, like the epic 15-inning come from behind game against the Dodgers in LA in September. We thought the baseball gods were smiling on our boys then. Now we know they had more devious plans in store.

And just like in life, in baseball there is always the possibility of redemption. Or perhaps not possibility, but hope. Redemption may not happen today. Or tomorrow. It may be next year. Hopefully. For some, redemption takes years. And patience is only rewarded after interminable waiting. Ask any pre-2004 Red Sox fan.

For us Washington Nationals fans, there is the hope of next year. Pitchers and catchers report in four and a half months.

And I like our chances.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

There goes the galaxy!

Renaming geographic areas is nothing new. Especially areas developers wish to make seem more attractive to prospective homebuyers. Here in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., we have North Bethesda (formerly Rockville) and North Potomac (almost Gaithersburg). It seems to be standard operation for an area about to go from semi-rural, low-density ex-urban, to something more suburban or citi-ish. North Bethesda, for example, was mostly the space between Bethesda and Rockville along Rockville Pike. It had a private school and a failing mall. But a new music center was built, and then town houses arrived, then an upscale marketplace. You can’t sell an area to potential retailer and residential investors by calling it, you know, “that really nice place between Bethesda and Rockville.” It needs its own real name: North Bethesda!

Well, guess what? It’s happening again, just on a slightly larger scale. Welcome to Laniakea! It’s Hawaiian for “immeasurable heaven.” Sounds positively lovely, doesn’t it? When I close my eyes and slowly whisper Laniakea I imagine reclining in my lounge chair on a white sandy beach shaded by coconut palms. A young lady with a grass skirt and flowers in her hair winks at me as she hands me a cool drink with fruit and a paper umbrella (or maybe for you he’s a bronzed young-man with no shirt and white cabana pants rolled up above the ankles). I take a sip and take in a deep breath. As I exhale I say to myself, “ahh, Laniakea.”

So where is Laniakea you ask? You are in it! Yup, Laniakea is a new designation for a place that has been around for a while. Turns out our Milky Way resides in the outskirts of  a “super-cluster” of galaxies. That super-cluster astronomers now call Laniakea. According to this article:

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, lies on the far outskirts of Laniakea near the border with another supercluster of galaxies named Perseus-Pisces. "When you look at it in three dimensions, is looks like a sphere that's been badly beaten up and we are over near the edge, being pulled towards the centre," said Brent Tully, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Solar System image courtesy NASA
(NASA Identifier: C-1980-1550)
Oh boy. Here we go again. It’s been so peaceful here in our “far outskirts” part of the edge of the universe. No other life forms from other star systems really hassle us. Interstellar crime? None at all, hardly. There was that whole Roswell thing a while back, but they don’t bother us anymore. But now? Now our little out-of-the-way galaxy is part of “Laniakea” a so-called “super cluster.” It sounds peaceful but don’t be fooled. Times they are a changing and our simple Milky Way way of life is under attack! Before you know it there is going to be a lot of construction going on, probably right here in our happy little Solar System. It’ll start with something simple. Probably a model planet will go up between Earth and Mars where some sales rep tries to sucker in investors. There will be a giant sign you can see for light-years teasing, “If you live here you’d be on your home planet by now.” Once they have enough commitments and cash they’ll build out a whole new planetary subdivision. Then they’ll have to tear down some of our empty space and put in wormholes for all the new spacecraft. Ugh! The noise, and traffic, and congestion. What a mess! Who needs it?

Mark my words, some slick huckster from the inner part of the “super cluster” is going to make an offer our Solar System can’t refuse. They’re going to buy us out and put in some retro “Laniakea Super-Clustre Centre” with a Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chipotle.

I’ve seen it before. But we can stop these so-called "astronomers." There are environmental impact studies and re-zoning petitions. Call up your stellar reps and tell them to “say no” to galactic development. And with our environmental woes right here on Earth, surely we humans are an endangered species. We can throw that at them and slow this whole thing down in the courts.

Are you with me?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Confessions of a Text Addict

Hi. My name is John and I text and drive.

I should say, I’m a recovering texter-while-driving. Now, before you start looking down at me, know this: I don’t text while I am driving anymore. I’ve been texter-while-driving free since 2008. You see, back in the 2000’s (by the way, I still don’t know what to call that first decade. Is it the 2000’s? Or the 2000 and oughts? Or just the oughts?)

Anyway . . .

You see, back in the early days of this century, when I first had a cell phone (we called them "blackberries" back then), I didn’t know any better. I’d occasionally text while I was driving and I often called someone while I was driving. Without a headset. I had a longer commute back then and, well, it just made sense, you see, to take care of some business calls, check in on staff or clients.

But then we learned some things about “distracted driving.” We learned that distracted driving isn't that good for us. We learned it just like we learned about 40 years ago or so that smoking, as it turns out, really isn’t that good for us either. So now we have laws that forbid texting while driving and require hands-free devices for making cell phone calls and the like. And it’s a good thing too. According to this scary government website “distracted driving” caused over 400,000 injuries and 3000 deaths in 2012.

So, there it is: I am a recovering texter-while-driving. And now? I never touch the stuff.

Hardly at all.

Well, there was this time the other day when I was approaching a stoplight. It was nothing really. I was the only car. Or no one was in front of me at least, and I just, I don’t know, instinctively reached for my phone in the passenger seat. It wasn’t really my fault. I just don’t know what came over me. It was like I wasn’t even in control. It was like someone else had inhabited my right arm. And I just reached over and picked up my phone as I came to a stop. You got a problem with that? I just wanted to be sure someone hadn’t texted me or FB-messaged me! I didn’t want them to wait on me. Really! That's it. Is that so bad? I know what you are thinking but really, it was nothing. Just a small glance. For real! I hardly looked at all, and I was barely moving!

I was sharing this recently with my sponsor. I’ll call her “Jane from North Carolina.” She is also in texter-while-driving recovery. She understands me and helps me get out of my “shaming place."

As we talked, I started thinking about this impulse to reach for my phone. Okay, its more than an impulse. I admit it. It’s an addiction.

Except, maybe, actually, it turns out it may not be an addiction, as such, but rather a human necessity.

According to Dr. Matthew Lieberman from UCLA, in his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, recent neuroscience research shows that not only are our brains designed to form social connections, but also the pain caused by social rejection activates the same region of the brain as actual physical pain. That’s right, social pain and physical pain, as far as the brain knows, are the same. I'm greatly simplifying in the interest of brevity, but that's the gist of it.

And get this: The research also shows that over-the-counter pain medication will reduce the pain of social rejection in just the same way as it will reduce the pain of, say, a sore shoulder or back. How about that! So if you are suffering from a broken heart, don't feel bad. Or I should say, it's normal to feel bad. It's like your heart is literally broke. And I mean literally-literally, not figurative-literally!

It turns out social connections are as essential for human survival as food and water. It's true!

Let's pause for a moment and consider what we have evolved into. In the animal kingdom, “red in tooth and claw,” we are only of modest height and weight. We are not that fast or strong. We don't have sharp claws or big teeth. We can’t fly. We can swim, sort of, but not faster than other creatures that like to eat us. Face it: On our own we’re doomed. But we’re not doomed thanks to one advantage: We have this big-ass brain. It lets us work on complex tasks and, more importantly, work on them together! Only in groups can we fend off saber-toothed tigers with pointed sticks and chase buffalo off cliffs. Alone? We wouldn’t have made it out of the savannah.

This need for social connection is hard-wired and I imagine, for some of us, the fear of being dis-connected gets activated, at some primal level, when we alone in a car. There must be some primitive need to frequently scan the horizon to be sure we are not alone; not separated from the tribe. Thus, when I am all-alone in my car, it is not only human for me to check my smart-phone to ensure I am still connected to my tribe. It’s a matter of survival!

It occurs to me the problem isn’t texting. Texting and all the other technologies that allow us to connect with each other are great. So what is the problem? The problem is DRIVING! We’ve created a society, and economic model to go with it, requiring a vast number of us to spend hours, each day, alone in our cars. I know, some of you may enjoy, even seek out, that precious alone time. And some of you are clever enough to develop a strategy on how to use that time for self-improvement through audio books or Great Courses or whatever. But lets be honest. Most of us, or maybe I should say, if you are like me, you’d rather be doing almost anything else than commuting.

So, everyone, I say: Put down that car and start texting! Driving? Now that's dangerous.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summer Doldrums

It is easy to loose one's faith these days, even for me, a Unitarian Universalist.

Let’s start with Ferguson, Missouri. I remember when I was in college I was walking home from a party to my apartment. I was certainly drunk. I had the remnants of a joint in my front shirt pocket. Along the way I found I hubcap lying alongside the road so I picked it up. “This will look cool in our apartment!” my 19-year-old male brain concluded. A block or two later one of Blacksburg’s finest (To Ticket and to Tow) pulled up beside me and got out.

Where was I going?
Can I see your ID?
Where’d I get the hubcap?
Wait here for a moment.

Ok, you can go, but if we get a report of a stolen hubcap, we’ll be coming to you.

Sure thing. Thanks officer.

I think I was a pretty good kid, but I made some stupid choices, or some mindless ones at least. I’m guessing a few of us have some of those in our past.

Yet I was never shot by the police for it. That’s for sure.

So now we have Ferguson and all it now stands for and means for us.

But there is more: Israel and Palestine. Again. There is a humongous volcano in Iceland clearing its throat  and then there is what ever is left of Iraq and Syria.

Out west we have droughts AND floods.

To top it all off, a FaceBook friend posts a link to a minor key version of Cindi Lauper’s 1980’s fun-pop song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”  And I love this version. I really do! But I couldn’t help but wonder why such a fluffy happy dance song from our past, re-interpreted and channeled through the ennui of ColdPlay and the fatalism of the Millennials, would seem so, so, perfect for 2014?

Arbitrary cute cat picture
Man, this decade is getting depressing. Thank the Buddha it’s August and our Congress is in recess so we don’t have to endure that, that, whatever that, thing we still call Congress is. I say that because I saw a recent report that came across my social media desk: America is no longer a Democracy or a Republic. Guess what? We are an Oligarchy! (Original study here)

When I saw that article my first thought was: Well, that’s hardly a surprise.

Then my second thought was: I wonder if anyone has “liked” the cat video I just posted?

Some days it just feels like we need a global anti-depressant. Maybe one of our friendlier Oligarchs, Elon Musk, say, could partner with Richard Branson and they could spray Zoloft into the atmosphere. Not only would we feel a little better, but also the lower-libido side affect could help with global population growth! Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the looming crises from the convergence of population growth, environmental degradation, death of honey bees, threatened water supply, increasing fuel costs, and global food production yields.

Thank the Buddha (again) for a near limitless global supply of cute and funny cat videos and ice-water bucket fail compilations. Otherwise I’d loose my mind worrying about a Nutella-less dystopic future with no Guacamole at Chipotle!

I am reading a book right now called Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. It’s not what I would call a “feel good” summer read. It’s not. In addition to the description of a lessor known near apocalyptic disaster with a Titan II missile in Arkansas in 1980, Schlosser provides a history lesson of our nuclear weapons program starting with the Manhattan Project during World War II. As I read the account I was struck with this thought: If our society was faced with the same existential threat as we were in the 1940s could we pull off the same scientific and engineering feat? In about three years we collected the best and brightest and sequestered them in the desert to create new technology with a power of unimaginable consequences. The outcome was, of course, the beginning of the nuclear age and the Cold War. I’m not say that was necessarily a good thing. What I am wondering is: What would it take for this country to really pull together and create something? Something really big? Can we even do it anymore?

Congress has its head up its ass. Our President has been rendered ineffective thanks to a relentless opposition set to undermine him at every turn. Industry is more interested in generating profit, hording cash, and avoiding taxes. Regardless of who you side with, grass roots movements, like Occupy or the Tea Party, can only really claim gains on the fringes as the Oligarchs lie in wait to squash them. Big Religion? I do like the new Pope’s style, but I can’t help but think the tide has ebbed for how much influence he has as a agent for change.

So what to do?

I could just give up. Give in to the outgoing current and just be swept away. Enjoy my glass of wine and late-night TV the next day at a reasonable hour on my DVR. That would be okay. And as I get older I can see the wisdom of disengagement. Why create additional frustration and suffering for myself trying to do something meaningful but have to also push against it all? There is enough suffering just from showing up on this planet. Why create more?

But that is a denial. It’s a denial of the inherent human spirit and what we are all, I believe, generally wanting:
To find something we can find meaning in and commit our life’s work to,
To help our fellow man and woman when they are in a jam, like this guy did, and
To love and be loved.

It’s pretty simple, really. And I need to still believe in that.

It's simple, but also not easy. I wonder what would have happen if we chose a default view of compassion and trust with each encounter rather than one of fear and cynicism? Maybe if we did that a police officer seeing a kid walking in the middle of the street could pull over and say, “Hey, there! It’s dangerous walking in the middle of the street, can you move to the sidewalk so you don’t get hit by a car?”

I know, pretty naïve of me. But I have to hang on to it just a while longer.

Only one more month ‘til Autumn and I can officially bid the summer doldrums farewell.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Addle Essence

Less than a week out from Father’s Day I have reached a new level as a dad: I used the “F-word” for the first time when scolding my boys. My usage was something like: “With all the fucking space we have in this basement, I can’t believe you two boys can’t find a place to sit without sitting on top of each other and getting into a fight!”

That was it.

They were shocked. I don’t curse around my kids. Not much, at least. Maybe once a year I let one fly, and never have I used “fuck” around the kids. On the couple times I’ve been really upset I’ve tossed a “goddammit” or two. But I honestly think I average only one or two per year. Maybe three.

It was early evening, I was tired, I was trying to get something resembling dinner started. I had an evening meeting I needed to leave for in less than an hour and what I really wanted was a nap. I really didn’t want to deal with a crying 9-year-old whose hand was bent back by a 12-year-old who had to sit in the exact same place while they watched TV.

I continued: “That’s it. TV off. Each of you to the showers!”

And literally, “to the showers.” School ended last week for us and they had spent their second day at baseball camp. And they smelled. Smelled like boys do. They needed to wash away that odor and cool off, and so did I.

Then I waited for the inevitable regret to come. I had failed to live up to my own standards of a father. That is, a father who expresses his anger and frustration in a healthy way that is a roll model for my boys. I don’t believe it is right or necessary or even good to be calm, cool, and collected all the time, but I also believe it most important for kids, and boys especially, to have healthy examples of expressing anger.

So as I waited for the regret a funny thing happened: It never came. The regret never came. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of my rant directed primarily at my 12-year-old who, by the way, if he does not grow up to be a politician will surprise me greatly. He is a master of slippery debate and can poke a hole through the most solid parental logic. I learned some time ago to not engage him in debate. It’s hopeless and I’ll loose. Best is just to say what it is and move on even though he won’t give up on his end. And last night he was in rare form twisting each phrase and revealing its failures of logic all while punctuated by the high emotions of the unfair world existing in our house and that if someone could just listen to him, just once, maybe, maybe he could be spared the existential misery our family levies on him.

I recently finished a round of therapy by way of a book recommended by my friend and colleague Adrienne. A few weeks ago I had mentioned to her how, seemingly overnight, an adolescent had moved into our house. I used to have this loving, wonderful child and now I had, well, something different. I wasn’t caught by surprise exactly –  I knew it was coming – but I was surprised by how quickly it happened.

Not too long ago, at bedtime, I’d hug my future 12-year-old and he’d hug me back and I’d tell him I love him and he’d tell me he loved me back. Today I still hug him and tell him I love him, but instead of a hug back he just sort of lets his lanky arms flop out to each side of the bed. Sometimes he’ll let his arms accidently fall on my back as I lean over. I call it a hug but I suspect it’s more of a set of random muscle twitches causing his arms to fall over my back rather than on the bed. He does still, sometimes, verbally express his love for me. It isn’t quite “I love you.” It’s more like “blurgh.” Sort of a back of the throat guttural sound like something is stuck in his throat. Our cats make that sound just before they vomit up a hairball. But I know what it really means. One night, and I am not making this up, after I said to him “I love you,” he let loose a sustained muffled fart from below the bed sheets. I was too startled to do anything but laugh, which made him belly laugh. I think I replied, “I fart you too,” gave him another hug, and for good measure kissed him on the forehead. That really spoiled the moment (“Aahh, Dad!”) after which he wiped off the gross dad germs.

Of course I’d love to get a real “I love you,” but I know I won’t. Not for a while. Or at least not every night. There was a time when I stopped hugging my dad and probably didn’t tell him I loved him for 15 years. Maybe more. I actually remember the day I told my dad I didn’t want to hug him anymore. I was probably about 12 or so. And I remember it was uncomfortable but hugging him didn’t feel right either. That psychic need to separate from my parents and be my own person was its own thing and had to be obeyed. There was no way I could have articulated it that way then. All I knew was hugging my dad felt weird. In some ways I wish he and I had handled that transaction differently. Maybe my dad could have said something more than the “okay” that I remember. But he was figuring it all out for the first time too.

Which gets me back to the book “Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager” by Anthony E. Wolf Ph.D. If you have an adolescent, or one on the way, I highly recommend this book. I can’t say that I’m a better dad for reading it, but now I don’t feel quite the anxiety about how to deal with an adolescent. And apparently I feel empowered to let the “F-bomb” fly and to let it fly for effect.

Besides the cursing, here is what I took away from the book:

  • We want our kids to grow and be their own people and be successful
  • To do that, our kids must successfully separate from their parents and become independent
  • Adolescence is the time to do that
  • Each act of defiance is essentially a way for them to develop their own separate self and when we parents stymie that we stymie their development
  • Adolescence sucks for kids and their parents
  • It won’t last forever
  • The outcome is usually an amazing individual human being, warts and all

That is a gross oversimplification and there is more and some great examples that I really liked. There is also plenty on the scary shit that can happen to teenagers when they experiment with alcohol, drugs, and sex.

Ugh, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Thanks for that reminder, book.

As exasperating as my boys can be, they also amaze me. Even through the fog of hormones, my 12-year-old show flashes of the adult he’ll become. Sort of a coming attractions trailer for his adult self: Intelligent and funny, a heavy appreciation and ability for music. Outgoing, social, confident, and self-assured bordering on obnoxious and cocky. More than a bit scatter-brained and absent minded, like all good artists. Someone who can hold a fart for just the right moment.

That's something I can appreciate.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Yes, size matters!

Today is my son’s twelfth birthday. And for his birthday breakfast he asked for chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, and chocolate milk.

Awesome! Who can argue with that?

So first thing this morning I went to the grocery store to get what I needed: Chocolate chips, buttermilk, bacon. I had everything else. At the milk section there was the now normal vast selection of milk things. Gallons and half gallons and quarts of whole milk and low-fat and non-fat (formally 2% and skim). Cream and half-and-half of different sizes. Non-dairy and lactose free concoctions. And there, in the upper right hand corner, quart containers of buttermilk. Perfect! Almost. The recipe I use calls for one cup of buttermilk and I double it, so I needed a pint. And as luck would have it, right next to the quart bottles was the smaller sized pint. So I grabbed it, checked out, and got home.

And then, during the preparation, I pulled out the buttermilk, opened it, and was horrified! This bottle, masquerading as a pint bottle, was no such thing! It was a mere 14 ounces!

What the !?!

Now, two ounces may not seem like much. And in the grand scheme of the infinite universe it isn’t that much. But this morning it is much. Yes, I can easily add another 2 ounces of regular milk, which I did, to get the 16 ounces I need, but I was aiming for those perfect chocolate chip buttermilk pancakes and they require 100% buttermilk.

And then I pondered: Who decides to cut off 2 ounces from a milk container? Milk, and all its friends, come in containers in multiples of 8 ounces: 8, 16, 32, 64, 128. That is just how it is. Do half-gallon containers now have 56 ounces? Of course not! And buttermilk in particular! Sure, some may just drink buttermilk, but mostly, I have to believe, it is used in baking. Pancakes, biscuits – that sort of thing. And for baking, 14 ounce containers are simply inconvenient at best.

I looked more closely at the label. Sure enough, clearly labeled. 14 ounces (414 mL). Oh, and thanks for the metric conversion. I really appreciate that. I turned the bottle around for the serving information. And then saw this under the ironically labeled “Nutrition Facts:”

Serving Size 1 cup.
Servings Per Container About 2.

About 2! About 2?

You call that a Nutrition Fact? The serving size “fact” is that there are 1.75 servings per container. That’s the fact!

About 2 is like me saying “my undergrad grade point average was about a 3.0.”  It’s like Hank Aaron saying he hit about 800 home runs! Or it’s like Woody Allen saying, “well she was about 19.”

Sometimes there are things where “about” works. Like:

“Hey buddy, how far to the nearest liquor store.”
“Oh, about a mile.”

But for other things, like buttermilk, precision and accuracy count.

Odd, in our era of abundance and super-sized portions, I have to settle for a 14-ounce pint bottle. We seem to be cutting corners all the time. Government, corporations, you name it! Maybe if we were honest about it I wouldn’t be so angry. Okay, okay, sure, no one lied to me about the 14-ounce bottle. It was on the label. But I think I’ve got generations of milk buying history on my side to say that good ol’ wholesome milk comes in 16 ounce pints, 32 ounce quarts, 64 ounce half-gallons, or 128 ounce gallons. That is just how it is. If one day I walk up to the milk aisle and ONE of the containers is 7/8 the standard size, there needs to be a big sign somewhere.

It’s no different then if you went to the gas station and the price was now $3.89 for “About” a Gallon and you actually got exactly 112 ounces of gas.

Well, that’s all for now. Back to the birthday!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Will I Get This Written Before the Deadline?

Does this happen to you: A word gets in your head and you say it over and over again until it sounds silly or like gibberish?

It happens to me sometimes. Not often but sometimes. The other day I was with some colleagues and the word “deadline” came up. As in, “our deadline forced us to make decisions on the project that we might not have otherwise.”

The word deadline began swirling around and twisting itself in my brain.

Deadline. Deadline, deadline, deadline, deadline.

I started pondering its true meaning. Deadline. Deadline. Deadline.

Deadline.

What a peculiar word, I thought, and where did it come from? We have deadlines all over the place now. Deadlines at work, deadlines at school. I have a deadline to get my rising 7th grader vaccinated so he can enter classes next fall. My wife and I have deadlines. This morning, for example, was the deadline to get the weekly trash and recycling to the curb. Or else!

My ever ebbing and flowing “to do” list has tasks waiting, anxiously, to be called up and assigned a deadline. Deadlines, I suppose, are important. If we didn’t have deadlines then stuff just wouldn’t get done.

I wondered who had deadlines in the past. Lots of things have happened in the past, so there must have been lots of deadlines. One of the more famous deadlines was John F Kennedy’s deadline that we would send a man to the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade. And we did. It was awesome. It was the 1960s.

I’m sure there are plenty of other noble, and less, deadlines through history. Maybe they were more like decrees or ultimatums, and the like, but many were probably deadlines. Like when Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. I'm sure Caesar Augustus wanted the census done by some deadline. But what about even earlier deadlines? Did Buddha have a deadline?

“I’ll sit right here under this tree for a period of time, not to exceed seven (7) years, to become enlightened.”

Or Pharoah? He had lots of slaves making lots of bricks for his pyramid. His deadline was a real deadline. He needed that pyramid done before he was dead. That was the line! (Aside: curious, Pharoah's deadline was to build a pyramid. A "lifeline," you might say, to the next world.)

Back to deadlines.

Deadline, deadline, deadline.

Dead Line.

Dead.

Line.

I decided to look-up this strange word.

From the Wikipedia:

The term deadline originated from prison camps during war, and referred to a physical line or boundary. Guards would shoot any prisoner who crossed the deadline.

Well then.

You can read the rest yourself, if you want, but the short passage goes on to describe how the term was co-opted after the U.S. Civil War to describe the importance of a due date.

I suspect early humans didn’t worry too much about deadlines, particularly the self-imposed kind modern life requires. Sure there were things that had to happen when they needed too. Killing a buffalo before it goes away so I can eat seems important and timely. Or, moving the clan to the warmer cave before the first frost appears on the leaves needs to happen when it needs to. Maybe its just my own fantasy about “simpler times long ago” when the biggest worry, after killing a buffalo and not freezing to death in the winter, was communing with the spirit world each night.

I wonder what it would be like if we just got rid of deadlines and just let stuff get done when it does. Yes, some tasks require urgency.  Medical emergencies, for example, necessitates an emergency response. And other tasks to protect or preserve life, limb, and property require swift action.

But what would happen if Apple released its next iPhone in October instead of August? Maybe I’m being a Pollyanna, but somehow I think humanity would make it through that missed deadline. As a former software engineer and IT project manager, I now tell people that if they deliver something a little late, most people will eventually forget. But if you deliver shit on time, they’ll always remember. Mr. Obama, if you are reading this, please consider this for your next website launch.

Time is a funny thing. A seemingly infinite resource doled out by some unseen supplier in precise doses; all of us receiving exactly the same amount so long as we live. It’s predictable and unchangeable, so far as we know, yet we just can never seem to get enough. We are time addicts. Sad souls selling off our parents furniture hoping to score an extra hour or two from some shady timekeeper in a back alley on the bad side of town. I have a hunch if someone were to invent a machine that would give us an extra hour we’d only crave more. We’d melt down that extra hour into a liquid and shoot it straight into our veins.

Maybe rather than more time, what we need is to admit our addiction and turn in over to a higher power. Deadlines Anonymous. I see church basements across the land packed with skittish souls with overwhelming “to do” lists and endless deadlines. Or perhaps some methadone equivalent would help. Rather than church basements we’d spend time queued up at the county clinic waiting for some watered down substitute for time.

We wouldn’t get anything more done, but we would at least sleep better.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thought I'd Share What's Going on Today

As I typed in the date into my journal just now – April 29, 2014 – I became queasy. It’s not that I was startled, of course I know what the date is, but just seeing it, I guess, makes it real. I got queasy yesterday too.
I decided to take today off from work. I’d have been less productive that usual. I’m lucky I have the flexibility to do that.

Your mom usually comes over but this year decided to stay home. The past two or three years it felt important to be around people. But this year I want solitude. I think I will take metro to one of the museums and stare at beautiful and interesting objects. I’ve thought about fasting today too. I haven’t had breakfast yet so that is still a possibility. Not sure why I thought of that but it did.

I’m glad its cold and rainy today, not warm and sunny like it was four years ago. The weather on April 29, 2010 was perfect, mid-spring, mid-Atlantic weather. It reminds me of September 11, 2001, which had perfect pre-autumn, mid-Atlantic weather.

After the boys get home we’ll let go purple helium balloons into the sky like we’ve done each year.

I haven’t cried yet but I did get a choked up yesterday driving home from work.

I think I’m going to call my brothers and sister and tell them I love them. I haven’t told them that in a while.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gun Play

Bang!

My mind told me that what sounded like a gunshot could not have been a gunshot. It was loud, that was for sure, but didn’t quite sound real. Then I recalled stories of people reporting real gunshots: “it didn’t sound real, more like a pop, pop, pop, sound.” But in the nano-second it took my brain to construct that thought the sound of kids giggling started. Someone sitting behind us must have slammed a book closed or two books together. Something like that. So we ignored it with barely a pause in our conversation.

It was a Thursday late afternoon as we rode a yellow line Metro train to Crystal City. A few months earlier Lori won a $175 gift certificate for the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton. I also had a lingering matter to attend to since Amy’s death – an old retirement account from a job she had in Florida before we even met. To close it out required a special signature guarantee. My bank happens to have a branch across from the Ritz-Carlton where I could get this done. Admittedly this was an odd juxtaposition of events, but after nearly four years I thought I’d save a trip from Maryland to Virginia and finally take care of this chore once and for all.

Bang, bang, bang.

That was definitely not a book slamming shut. Lori and I looked at each other and noticed others looking up. There was the same giggling from behind. It was inconceivable that someone had actually been shot so I turned around and saw about 5 or 6 kids, barely middle school aged, maybe younger, goofing around.

Bang, bang, bang.

One of the kids, a boy maybe 8 or 9 years old, ran up the aisle, holding straight out in front of him, a clear plastic with green neon trim cap gun. Bang. Bang. Bang. He shot at no one in particular as he ran by. Except for the playful colors, it looked like, to me at least, a large pistol. Then another boy, a little older, chased after him. Bang, bang, bang, and more laughter.

I haven’t seen a cap gun in years. I can’t remember if I had a cap gun or not, maybe a brother did, but I remember unrolling the paper strips of caps on the sidewalk and pounding them with a hammer. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! A friend of mine had a silver metal cap gun that used the plastic ring caps type of ammo. They were better and louder than the paper roll kind. As kids, we’d run around in the peach and apple orchards in south Jersey where we grew up and play all sorts of war games and such. We also played with bottle rockets, and BB guns, and set plastic model planes on fire. I remember one hot summer day when we were about 14 or 15 goofing around and pointing a cap gun at my friend’s younger brother and pulling the trigger. The tip of the barrel was maybe an inch away from his bare chest. Bang! He recoiled in pain. I first thought he was joking but then I noticed the black speckles and pinkish-red powder burn on his skin.

Our train car was now completely silent except for the ongoing play gunfire and laughter. It was early rush hour and we were headed the other direction so our metro car wasn’t full, but it was also not empty. I looked around again this time for a parent. These kids were having fun but I was not, Lori was not, and by the look of the others on the train, they were not. Someone really should tell these kids that here and now this is not the best place or time for this kind of play.

Bang, bang, bang. I looked back. Again looking for a parent and seeing none I thought maybe I should get up and say something. Sure, boys will be boys, but this is not 1970’s rural south Jersey. This was 2014 urban D.C. But I didn’t get up and say anything. And it wasn’t so much my sympathy with “boys will be boys” and that I played similar games when I was a kid. It was because these boys were African American and I am white. I could get up and gently explain that perhaps a Metro train car is not the best place to play this game. I could gently suggest that unfortunately, but perhaps, in this post Trayvon Martin world, some person with a real gun who was more nervous from their play and skin color would get involved. Or maybe, and perhaps my real fear, if I stood up, the parent who was there all along, whom I hadn’t seen, would stand up to tell me this was none of my business.

We came to a stop and the kids jumped out onto the platform. Bang, bang, bang. Bang, bang, bang. They sprayed pretend bullets at the stunned people waiting to get on our train.

I wondered how the story in the Washington Post would go if a Metro security officer shot one of these kids dead. Black kid, white officer, toy gun, shooting. No good comes of this.

They hopped back on as the doors closed and Lori decided she wanted to get off at the next stop and get on another train.  I hesitated. It sounded like a rational move. But I convinced her otherwise. We were running a bit late and I while the gunplay was nerve wracking I was also nervous I wouldn’t get to the bank in time. I also didn’t want to be one of those white men. And I’m not even sure what that means exactly: “Those White Men.” I’m not a racist, I reminded myself. At least I don’t want to be a racist. And being scared of black kids? That’s not me, right? That’s George Zimmerman and others like him. That’s really not me.

But I was scared.

The train pulled away, there was more laughing and more bang, bang, bangs.

I looked around again and caught the eye of an older black woman. We held each other’s eyes just long enough to silently share our respective fear and concern. She pursed her lips and subtly shook her head as if to communicate to me that she too thought this was wrong and that it was okay for me, a white guy, to not be happy by all this. At least that is what I wanted her to be silently communicating to me because then I would not be one of those white men. I also sensed her uneasiness with what to do. And was that a little bit of shame I detected in her for also not getting up? I’m not sure if that was her shame, or mine, on her behalf, or what. But regardless of our imagined, projected, and real emotions, instead of anyone getting up, we all just decided to do nothing. We all sat there with our individual fears and prejudices, while these boys had fun laughing and playing with their toy guns.

The kids eventually did get off the train and we did too. I got to my bank branch in time with all the paperwork I was instructed to bring only to learn that I also needed a death certificate and a recent account statement. Of course I did not have a death certificate with me, not this time since the instructions I had didn’t include that detail. And since the account was frozen nearly 4 years ago when Amy died, I had an old statement, not a recent one, that is, within 90 days.

Sure, it is my own fault for waiting this long. But the psychic energy level required for me to get through Amy’s death paperwork is quite high. And now I was going to have to make more calls to banks, get more documents and do it all over again.

I met Lori at the restaurant. She had walked straight there from Metro while I went to the bank. We ordered a bottle of champagne. Not to celebrate, but to drink.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

More On Time

Can you believe it’s already April 10th?
I know, it’s like, ‘what happened to March?’
This year is flying by. 
It’s crazy. And before you know it it’ll be summer.
Oh, please. I am not even ready for that.
Tell me about it.
Well, it’s almost 5 o'clock, I gotta run.
5 o'clock? Geezus! How’d it get to be 5 already?

***

I’ve written about Time before but it’s been a while. A long time I think.

Time has this way, you know? Time creeps up on us and without any warning. I went for a good long hike with my friend Jim this past Saturday. But my left knee, the one I had surgery on a couple years ago, is still a little stiff.  And Time is to blame for that. After nearly 48 years of Time, it's crept up on me. At least on my knee.

It’s funny how Time creeps up on us, because Time also flies. Time flies too fast and a little faster each year it turns out. We may not say exactly that “time flies” because that is a bit too cliché, but Time does get away from us. I had several things on my to do list yesterday and I just couldn’t get them all done. It was because Time just got away from me.

Now for my kids, who are 11 and 8 years old, they have all the Time in the world. They have so much Time, that they can literally waste Time. And for you literal/figurative cops out there, yes, it is literally true. They toss time around like some billionaire carelessly tossing around money on yachts and women. In fact  and I swear I am not making this up  some days they actually claim they are bored.  They will come up to me and say something like “there’s nothing To Do.”

Nothing To Do? I try my patient best to help them, half wondering if doing so plays right into their mockery. I do confess to pulling a similar stunt on my parents. But that was back when there really was more Time. Now, as we all know, there is less Time. It surprises me that scientists aren’t studying this phenomenon because surely there are significant impacts to our understanding of the universe. I know, from experience, that back in the 1960s and 1970s there was more Time. Now there is less Time. Yes, literally. And at some point in the future, there will be less and less Time until we completely run out of Time. Environmentalists warn us of "peak oil" but what about "peak Time?" Running out of time is far worse than running out of oil. Of course, when I die, I will have completely run out of Time. But for a few things, especially on my To Do list, I have already run out of Time or, that Time has passed.

In Genesis 1, God created everything in 6 days Time. And looking around, I can see that it was, well, kind of a rush job.  Now, I don’t want to offend anyone, and surely there is plenty of awe, wonder, and splendor, but creating Everything had to be a big job. The biggest, I would think. And just look at us humans. Clearly there must have been some corners cut to get this all wrapped up in 6 days. I wonder how it all would be if God took an extra day, or two, to really get us right. I wonder if God thinks, 'next Time I'll spend an extra day or two on those Humans.' Which would be great because then we’d all have an 8 or 9-day week. And I could really use that extra Time.

I better wrap this up. I’ve already spent too much Time on this. And I can’t believe it’s already Thursday. It’s like Wednesday just disappeared!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Editing the Story in My Head

I have this story in my head that I carry around. I use it to explain much of what has happened to me, particularly my relationships: My first, too-young, marriage and it’s too soon divorce, another relationship, then meeting Amy, who died too soon, then meeting Lori and falling in love again. The story in my head explains how the thread of unbroken events goes back to my senior year in high school. It starts with how I wound up at Virginia Tech instead of Penn State.

I wanted to go to a school with an Engineering program since I was told I was good at math and science and should be an engineer. I also wanted to go to a big school to go to football games and to party. I grew up in South Jersey, and from there, back then, the big school with engineering, football, and parties was Penn State. That is where I wanted to go. A good friend of mine, a year older, was at Penn State. I had good grades and SAT scores like my friend and knew I would get in so I planned to go to Penn State.

If you know a little about Penn State you probably know there are multiple campuses around the state. If you apply to the main campus at State College and don’t quite have what it takes, you might be accepted to one of the satellite campuses. After two years at a satellite, if your grades are good enough, you can transfer to State College. Well, that was not an option for me. I had decided that when I am accepted to the main campus in State College, there is where I’d go. The satellite campuses were not an all an option: No football, no big parties. So I applied to Penn State and Rutgers as the in-state safety. And someone mentioned Virginia Tech. Tuition was cheap and I guess it counted as a big engineering school with football and the application was easy, so I applied there too, and waited.

After a couple months, or so, the letters started to come back. Rutgers: Congratulations, you’ve been accepted! Virginia Tech: Congratulations, you’ve been accepted! Penn State: Congratulations you’ve been accepted to our Altoona campus.

Altoona?!?

Sorry, Altoona, I confess to having never visited. And don’t take it personally. I was young and naive.

When I look back on that moment, I can’t even assign a feeling. Was I sad? Angry? I felt rejected, that’s for sure. Defeated. It was quite a letdown. Like getting up the courage to finally ask out that girl and she says, well, “I’m not free that night.”

So, my Dad suggested we take a road trip to Blacksburg, VA and check it out. And we did. And it was okay. Virginia Tech was not my first choice, but they’d take me. They seemed welcoming. The campus seemed nice, though I recall it was a gray and overcast day. There is a reason, I learned, that we’d call it “Bleaksburg” in the winter. Because it can be. I didn’t fall in love with Virginia Tech that day, like some do – those who visit in the spring or fall when campus can be the most wonderful little place in Virginia, if not the east coast. But, that day, my future-college heart was still two states to the north. But what choice did I have? I didn’t want to stay in-state. For some reason I really felt I just had to get out of New Jersey. Had to. And this isn’t some New Jersey joke.  Even though some very good friends of mine were going to Rutgers, I just, somehow had decided I needed a new start. And Penn State was going to be it. Except now it wasn’t.

After the Va Tech campus tour, my dad wrote the $100 housing deposit check for my dorm room and I signed my acceptance. And that was that.

And then what happened next I remember this way: We get home and the phone rings. I pick it up and it’s the Admissions Office at Penn State. There had been an error and about 120 kids had received the wrong letter. I had been selected for the main campus at State College after all and the offer was still good. How about that! My first choice wanted me. It’s like that girl calling me back and saying “guess what? Turns out I’m actually free this Friday!”

Looking back, I would have thought I’d have been excited.  “Really? Wow! What do I do now? I had already accepted somewhere else, but just maybe . . .”

But that is not what I did. No. Without any question on my part I simply told the person on the other end of the phone call from the Admissions Office at Penn State that I had accepted an offer elsewhere. “Thanks anyway,” then I hung-up.

And that, as they say, was that. Here was this major fork in the road and that’s how I went down the one side.

As time went on, I would tell this story about how the fates, or God, or whatever, had conspired to get me to Va Tech; were I struggled to find myself, experimented with drugs, and had difficulties with relationships. I met and fell in love with the woman who would become my first wife. We moved to the Washington D.C. and three years later divorced. And then after another relationship I eventually met, fell in love and married the woman who gave me my two sons. And then 10 years later she died tragically and quickly.

That was nearly 4 years ago and I was thinking of this whole story of my life again as I was going for a run. The narrative of choices I have and those given to me and how my life is where it is right now. I am happy, again, having found new love and new inspiration in my work. And I was thinking about that fateful error in the Penn State admissions office and how the universe had aligned to set me on the trajectory I am on.

And then I stopped. Literally stopped running.

What if that wasn’t the message? Maybe the Universe hadn’t aligned. Maybe the Universe was asking me a question: Are you really sure? What if the message wasn’t that things just happen, but that we sometimes get second chances? It never occurred to me to say to the Admissions Officer, “oh, wow, this is interesting news. You were my first choice but I just accepted somewhere else, so I don’t know what to do. Can I think it over?”

Then I could have talked to my parents, asked what about the $100 deposit and so on. Who knows, maybe I still would have gone to Va Tech, but I never even had that conversation with myself or my parents. I accepted my fate as simply that. Fate. How it is.

Married, divorced, married, widowed, married: I’m a pretty good example of second (and third) chances, at least as it goes with relationships. Yet I have still being carrying around a story in my head about how things happen to me. And now the story that I have carried for nearly 30 years no longer really describes my reality like I thought it did. Maybe the fates, or God, or whatever was trying to teach me a lesson but I couldn’t even hear it back then.

Certainly, there are things that happen to us, but maybe we don’t need to always accept them as first presented. I'm 47 and it's exactly 30 years ago this winter and spring when I was learning of my college fate. And now, 30 years later, I see that maybe I could have wrestled even a little control from the Fates. So now I am thinking of how to re-write the story in my head.

My father, the writer, might say something about how “editing and re-writing” are just part of it all.

Ok then, back to re-writes.