The Death of the American Educational System

If I ask you to recite the alphabet, what pops into your head? I’m willing to wager that it’s a catchy little jingle you learned when you were a toddler. All twenty-six letters of the English alphabet wrapped up in order inside a simple song. You and I learned the components of written language through music.

Music is only one of many programs now being removed at alarming rates from the American educational system. Funding is being pulled from the public-school system. As a result, schools are having to eliminate “non-essential” programs. These programs are deemed to either have served their purposes and are now obsolete, or to be unnecessary as a whole.

Some of the prominent programs on the chopping block are as follows:

–Gifted and talented initiatives

–Anti-bullying activities

–Mental health services

–International education and language studies

–Civics and arts programs

–Sports and Physical Education

Gifted and talented initiatives—Ending these programs is right up there with giving every child a trophy. Gifted and talented initiatives were originally designed to not only allow children to take pride in excelling in a subject, but to provide them with material in those classes that was more advanced. You know, furthering their education as opposed to having them stay stagnant by being taught material they already comprehended. The problem is that not everyone could take part in “gifted” or “advanced” classes. It hurt other children’s feelings. Now, instead of children having to work harder and better themselves to make it into these programs, most schools have eliminated them so more advanced students can hold themselves back to appease everyone else. This sadistic bondage of intellect would make Christian Gray proud.

Anti-bullying activities—I grew up in a time where bullying was just part of going to school. Of course, bullying was very different back then. No, I wasn’t the little asshole. I was the chubby kid who got fat-paddled in the locker room. I was the social moron who wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. So, during school hours, I needed only maneuver myself near a teacher. Bullying done. After school, I simply had to make it to the safety of my home. Door closed. Bullying done. But bullying is on a different level these days. No place is safe. Technology such as texting, instant messaging, and social media have made it an all new ballgame. Children now no longer have to worry about seven hours of the day. They can be abused all day and night through technology. Ridding schools of these programs is the equivalent of putting the elastic band of Awkward Kid’s underwear directly into the hands of Mr. or Ms. Mommy and Daddy Issues.

Mental Health Services—To combat the destruction of self-esteem done by bullying, or the issues at home that create the bully, children need only to speak to a mental health professional. Naturally, the next step would be to eliminate mental health services from public schools. If we’re okay with stepping aside from addressing bullying, let’s make it completely hopeless and offer no aid to those also struggling with academic stress or abusive parents. Schools shouldn’t have to focus on making children whole and mentally-healthy people. What does that have to do with standardized test scores? If you can’t pick up on the sarcasm dripping from these words, you did not belong in advanced or gifted classes.

International education and language studies—The land of the melting pot has come a long way. Even though the United States was built on the combination of many cultures and nationalities, we have decided that learning about them and their languages is pointless. As of 2015, there were 41 million native Spanish-speakers living in the U.S. Add to that number an additional 11.6 million native Spanish speakers who are bilingual. Within a fifteen-minute drive from my home, I have access to restaurants in all directions. Those restaurants include Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese sushi, Italian, and Irish menus, among others. America itself was “discovered” by immigrants. And yet the educational system is eliminating programs that allow our children to live in today’s world in intellectual understanding with the other cultures upon which the nation itself was founded, and cultures that are included in our everyday existence. Lack of knowledge results in fear. Fear results in people electing into office inarticulate and illiterate douchebags who want to build walls.

Civics and arts programs—And this chills me to the bone. These are the very programs that cultivate free-thought. Civics education centers around teaching students how to be active participants in understanding and maneuvering a democracy. In short, how to be citizens. Arts programs such as music, art, and creative writing push students to see, hear, and experience the world differently and offer unique points of view. Ironically, it is a piece of creative writing, 1984 by George Orwell, that exemplifies exactly what happens when free-thought is eliminated from education. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you pick it up and look to the future the American Educational System is creating.

Sports and physical education—Growing up, I wasn’t the most athletic young man out there. I was overweight and not particularly coordinated. My dad insisted I play sports anyway. He put me in basketball. I was an excellent pick man. I was hard to get around, I guess. And standing still seemed alright by me. The coach always seemed thrilled to put me in the last thirty seconds of the game because he was obligated to do so. I tried soccer. Considering the amount of running involved, I was not a starter. I played baseball. I found out I had a hell of an arm and could fire the ball in from the outfield without my cut-off man. I enjoyed that. My coach had the brilliant idea to try me out as a pitcher due to my power. Apparently, throwing long distances accurately is very different from throwing short distances. Control was not my strength. It wasn’t until I almost murdered a batter that my pitching career ended. Regardless, playing sports taught me sportsmanship and team work. P.E. eventually found me in weight-lifting classes. It was there that I discovered an appreciation for physical exertion and where I lost the fat and replaced it with muscle. I became a healthier version of myself. In a world of technology that results in children sitting all day, sports and physical education promote movement and health. Yet these programs are being eliminated and we have the audacity to ask how we’ve become one of the most overweight and unhealthy countries in the world.

Luckily, science is still a subject touched on in standardized testing, which is what the United States government has decided represents a well-rounded education. In that interest, I’ll recite some science. Virginia Penhune at Concordia University did a study that showed music education, primarily musical instrument training, affects brain structure and motor abilities. Children who are taught to play musical instruments show a significantly increased connection between the left and right hemispheres of their brains. These physiological effects last into adulthood and improve their ability to listen and communicate. Other studies show that learning a second language influences thought, consciousness, and memory. Team-building exercises from sports and physical education result in better concentration. A protein is, in fact, released during exercise that transforms the brain for better functionality. A school in Naperville, IL tried an experimental mile-long run at the beginning of every school day. Those students’ test scores not only out-performed the neighboring districts, but entire countries. Claiming that these programs are unnecessary for the education of students is utterly ridiculous.

I’ve seen the results of poor academic communication and lack of free-thought first hand. I attended an online university a few years ago to obtain my degree in Criminal Justice. The courses required students to answer posted questions that pertained to the reading, and then to respond to one another’s answers to promote class discussion. What I found is that most individuals were unable to transfer coherent thoughts into written words. And many of the responses were merely regurgitated and inaccurate information. There was hardly any free-thought or critical thinking. One question posed to the class asked, “With the wide use of text messaging and instant messaging, are we losing the ability to write properly in an academic setting?” One woman’s response discredited the idea because, “When we’re talking through text message or instant messaging, we’re usually talking to friends or family. In an academic setting, we’re talking to teachers or other students. We change how we write.” Ignore the fact that her response didn’t answer the question at all (and the rest of her paragraph-long response was her repeating this in various ways). The biggest issue with her response was that absolutely nothing was capitalized, including her use of the pronoun, “I.” It was made only slightly more difficult to read due to there being three punctuation marks total between twelve sentences. Although I did enjoy her use of emojis in her academic answer.

In another instance, I was fortunate enough to read the back and forth correspondence of two young African American women when asked, “In today’s society, do you feel Affirmative Action works? If so, do you feel it works as it was originally intended?” This question was posed in a class titled Cultural Diversity. These two Black Women (that’s a minority within a minority, in case you’re not paying attention) claimed that Affirmative Action does not work, nor does it work as intended because these “Chinese people keep coming over here with absolutely nothing and within two weeks have mansions, nice cars, businesses, and millions of dollars…all given to them by the U.S. government while nobody else gets any money.” If this response had been given by only one woman, I could have chalked it up to simply an ignorant racist oblivious of the world around her. I could have ignored the fact that her answer didn’t touch on the subject of Affirmative Action at all. However, Black Lady #2 was on the same page and their conversation that followed was one of the most broken, unintelligible, and bigoted interactions I’ve ever witnessed. And I bartended for years in a hotel bar filled with old, White contractors.

So, why are the programs that could counter these things being eliminated from public schools? Most public-school funding is attached to how well schools perform on standardized tests. Free-thought and critical-thinking have no place in memorization. Teachers now are even encouraged to educate students on how to bullshit their way through multiple-choice questions. If there are four options and one of those is “all of the above,” that is often the correct choice. Otherwise, choices “B” and “C” are more often correct.

Is this the fault of the schools? No. They rely on money from the government to maintain programs. When money is cut, programs must go. And so go the “unnecessaries.” On the up side, the United States government has been using money that could be allocated to public schools for some extremely interesting studies just within the last couple years. Examples are as follows:

–$65, 473 to find out what bugs do near lightbulbs

–Around $150,000 to understand why politics cause stress

–$283, 500 watching Gnatcatchers (funded by the Department of Defense to watch a group of birds)

–$300,000 to found out if boys or girls play more with Barbie dolls

–$1.5M to study fish on treadmills (yes, you read that correctly)

–$3M to discover that the Jaws theme song causes negative feelings toward sharks

–$3.4M to study hamsters fighting in cages

–$5M to discover that college fraternities and sororities promote alcohol consumption

–$3.1 billion for vacation pay to government employees on administrative leave for misconduct (this figure is only for the year 2015)

Need I say more?

Advertisements

I Have Witnessed Purgatory, And It Is Speaking With Customer Service

I was extremely proud of myself. I put in a lot of research on this week’s piece concerning the American Education system. The goal was to put the finishing touches on that piece today and publish it. However, when I got off work and tried to text my daughter’s mother about our plans for the day, my texts wouldn’t go through. When I tried calling, my calls wouldn’t go through. Instead, I received an automated voice informing me that my phone had been deactivated.

I don’t want to out any phone providers, so suffice it to say that my phone provider company rhymes with Straighttalk. Yes, I’m that guy who prefers a flat monthly rate in lieu of taking a chance on hidden fees just to be able have a good phone and a little self-respect. My plan is all-inclusive. It’s cheap. It has a solid connection. I have never regretted it for a moment. And then I got the random deactivation message.

Ten days ago, I renewed my plan. The service worked. Nothing more was needed from me. So, to avoid adding “hoarder” to my list of undesirable qualities, I waited three days and then threw away the card with the PIN number and the receipt for purchasing that card. Did you just smirk sadly and shake your head at that last sentence? Yep. I’m an idiot. Naturally, because I threw the evidence away a week ago, the phone provider suddenly decided that they hate me.

This should have been a simple process. I’d call the company and explain the situation. Nope. My phone had been deactivated and wasn’t able to make phone calls to the number provided if I found any issues with my phone or service. Fine. I’d find the nearest wi-fi and use the internet to contact them in an online chat. Enter Isodora. Isodora needed only my phone number to “fix my issue,” which she would be “happy to do.” Of course, my phone number didn’t locate my account because the phone number had been deactivated. Could I please provide her with one of the unlabeled five sets of numbers inside the back of my phone? Certainly. We figured it out. After twenty minutes on hold while Isodora sent the same message of “one moment please” over and over again every few moments, she had a brilliant idea. I should simply tell her what the PIN number was for the card I purchased. Nope. Then I should just locate my receipt. Sure. And that is how I found myself digging through my garbage. I found junk mail. I found old napkins. Those, of course, were all buried under the pieces of raw fat I had cut from the chicken breasts I cooked for dinner a few days ago. I found the chicken with my bare hands only seconds before I found it with my nose. Still no receipt. Still no real fury from me. And then Isodora messaged me while my hands were covered in unspeakable things to inform me that if I didn’t respond to her within the next two minutes, she would have to end our interaction. Isodora did not like being on hold apparently. I told her I had no PIN number or receipt. She told me she couldn’t help me, but that I could simply go buy another phone card. I told her I had just dug through garbage. She said she was “sorry to hear that.” I told her I wanted to speak to her supervisor or someone who could actually help me. She told me that I could only speak to a supervisor over the phone, which I could not use because it had been deactivated. She was also “sorry to hear that.” But could she do anything else to assist me? “Yes. You can go f**k yourself.” Her previously-scripted responses did not seem to have anything for that. Our conversation ended. Am I proud? No. Did I feel a little better? No. But if I found out that I made her day worse, I would be sorry to hear that and offer to assist her in any other way.

And so, I borrowed my daughter’s phone to call a supervisor. Enter Pita. Pita and I had a much longer interaction than Isodora and myself. Unfortunately, this was because Pita heard my original issue, took my information, and put me on hold for twenty-two minutes and thirty-four seconds before disconnecting the line with nothing else said. Maybe she and Isodora chatted. The next phone call found me talking to a man whose name I could neither pronounce nor spell here. He seemed genuinely concerned and was very polite in his efforts to fix my issue. He at least took the time to come back on the line occasionally during the thirty-eight minutes he kept me on hold before yet another gentleman picked up the line, thanked me for holding, and then asked how he could be of assistance. Gentleman #2 also possessed a name I couldn’t pronounce, but that foreign bastard got my phone turned back on after only a twenty-minute hold. Thank you, Hindi Man #2! Would I like to take a short survey about the quality of my experience? No, Hindi Man #2. That is that last thing your company wants me to do. And I want nothing more to do with any phones right now.

I shouldn’t complain. I appreciate that the “customer service representatives” at least used their given names as opposed to butchered versions of “Steve” or “Sally.” Plus, blind rage does wonders for increasing heart rate. Cardio comes in all forms. And if nothing else makes me feel better, I can sleep at night with a smile knowing that Isodora will never go to Heaven.

Rhyme And Reason

What do you want to do?

That simple question has so many connotations.

It’s asked when making plans with a significant other: “We don’t have the kids tonight. What do you want to do?

While sitting with your high school guidance counselor asking about your future when discussing future colleges: “What do you want to do?

Naked and open with a lover: “What do you want to do?

Depending upon the situation in which the question is asked, it can invite thoughtfulness, stress, happiness, ambivalence, or arousal.

I was recently asked a version of this question at a party. A successful businessman and I were chatting. He told me that he had been hearing good things about my blog from mutual friends. Fellow bloggers know what an incredible feeling that is. I was absolutely thrilled. He asked a few questions about the blog such as, “What is it about?” It’s difficult to describe to casual inquirers. I usually just respond with something akin to “observational pieces.” They nod knowingly as though I answered the question. And I’ve allowed them to walk away if they choose unless they’re genuinely interested in reading it and follow up with more questions. The businessman asked me if I enjoyed it. I told him that, although it was hard work sometimes, I loved every minute of it. So then came the question. “What do you want to do?” I explained that writing was my passion and I want to do something with it. His response: “Okay. What do you want to do that will actually make you money?

The question, asked in this context, with a slight smirk on the gentleman’s face, did not invite happiness. Stress was in there somewhere, mostly brought on by defensive anger. This guy hasn’t even read my blog. He has no idea what kind of writer I am. Because I’m an adult, I kept my mouth shut. I answered with something extremely clever like, “Ha. Yeah…well.” I walked away. That interaction bothered me for the next couple days. Then I remembered a conversation I’d had with a coworker the night before the party. And I felt pity for the businessman and his lack of insight.

A coworker and I were finishing up our shifts. He told me that he was tired of working construction on the side. He was tired of building things so others could make money. He wanted to be the one making the money, having others work for him. My father is a contractor. He used to own his own business building custom decks. He didn’t bring in a lot of money doing it because he wanted to be hands-on in the imagination, design, and construction of his vision, working mostly alone. He was far from rich, but he took immense pride in what he did. My father is a creator.

And there it was for me. Remembering that conversation made me feel proud. There are those who desire money and power, and then there are those who create. The two sides rarely come together in the same person. Those who prefer money and power do not understand the motivations of those who create, and vice versa. The businessman is a partner in businesses. He has money and is amazing at seeing which businesses will be profitable for him. He is a partner in restaurants. But those restaurants would not exist if it weren’t for the brilliant chef who created the recipes in his own home. The same man who envisioned the food and atmosphere…and brought them to life through creation. Does that chef rely on the money from the businessman as well? Of course. Both sides are necessary to thrive when considering a business built on something unique.

I like my place in the cosmos. This laptop on which I type this minute. The fan blowing on me. The light bulb burning in my room. The clothes on my back. The clock ticking away on the wall. Every one of these was imagined, written down, and brought to creation. Without we creators, money men and women would have nothing from which to profit. And here’s the real beauty. Without profit, those money men and women consider themselves failures. Yet a homeless artist can still design exquisite artwork on a sidewalk or wall for the public to appreciate. We creators can work our trades anywhere because the only requirement necessary is passion.

I live in a two-bedroom apartment. I work in a high-stress environment for unpredictable amounts of money. I still wear shirts that I’ve owned for ten years. I haven’t been on a vacation for over eleven years. I will likely never have a summer house. I stress over utility bills and rent. I avoid buying name brand products. Would it be nice to upgrade from all of this? Would it be nice to have disposable income? You’re damn right.

The answer is simple. Find a career that gives me a lot of money in exchange for working hours that take me away from my writing and my daughter. Set passion and inspiration aside to earn a living instead of living a life. For me, that’s how a soul dies.

Will my writing ever earn me enough money to live without financial worry? The odds say it’s impractical to assume that. Is my writing the type of creation that brings electricity into a dark, cold room? No. Does my writing allow someone to fly across country in a matter of hours? No. Can my writing shock a physically dead heart back to life? No. But just maybe my writing can guide one person out of his or her own dark, cold place. Maybe my writing will bring together two people on opposite sides of the nation. Maybe it can spark the smallest amount of hope in someone’s broken heart. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t focus on absolutes. I prefer to envelop myself in what-ifs. I create.

(It) Feels So Good

When was the last time you felt angry? Sad? Hurt? Embarrassed? These images and emotions are easy to conjure. With very little effort, we can bring them back in our minds. Like cacti, they require minimal nourishment and still thrive. Also like cacti, they can be dangerous when handled. These feelings pierce us and cause us pain.

Now ask yourself another question: When was the last time you felt true joy?

On my way to work the other day, I pulled up to a stop light. The woman in the car next to me didn’t immediately register my presence. She was switching through the radio stations and, for just a moment as I pulled up and glanced over, I saw her face light up and her mouth drop open in unbridled happiness. I have no idea what she had stumbled upon. A favorite song maybe. A stand-up comic on a comedy station perhaps. Hearing her name being said in a news story possibly. Regardless of the cause, it was a second of pure joy. It emitted out of her like a lighthouse beacon. That light shone right into my own car. It actually made me feel better. And then it was gone just as quickly. Her eyes snapped slightly to her right and “reality” set in. She was not alone. Her face deadened and she started bobbing her head with only a hint of a smirk set on her lips. Nope. Flag on the play. Ten yards for exhibiting joy. No public displays of true happiness allowed.

I felt as though I had walked into a bathroom as a strange woman climbed out of the shower, unaware of someone else there. Her instantaneous withdrawal back into herself was like the yanking of a towel to cover her naked soul. It was surreal. And heartbreaking.

I’m left wondering at what point we stop allowing happiness to be all-consuming. Have you ever taken a two-year-old outside to blow bubbles or play in a sprinkler? Elation. Ever made a raspberry-fart on a baby’s belly? Jubilation. Look at the face of a seven-year-old on a bike, flying down the road at break-neck speeds with the wind tossing his hair. Revelry.

We are born with the capacity to experience joy in the simplest things. To be human is to be joyful. It’s only through our own shortcomings that we allow the world around us to take that away. Do bad things happen? Certainly. Is the world a stressful place? Absolutely. Does any of that matter? Only if we let it.

I’m working on opening myself to more unbridled joy. Last night, I made a taco salad that I’d anticipated for two days. I experienced what could only be described as ecstasy while eating it (the fact that I’d had a few cocktails prior should have no bearing). Saturday at work, I laughed with coworkers until I had tears in my eyes. I can’t even remember what we were laughing about, but I’m holding that feeling with me still today. While I drive to my daughter’s softball game tonight, I’m going to put the windows down and sing at the top of my lungs to whatever catches my fancy. Maybe I’ll inspire other car singers to put on their own concerts. Maybe they’ll do the same to even more. And that’s how it should be. When it comes to rapture, may it always be expansive.

Seasons

While I sit here typing this, my daughter is in her room, listening to music. Although our generations have very different ideas on what constitutes “good” music, I forgive her because I recall vividly my own parents looking at me with a somber disappointment when wandering into my room while I had my own tunes cranked. Music is music. If it moves your soul somehow, it’s doing its job. I’m left wondering if any of the songs playing in her room will make it to her own life soundtrack. If the one I’m hearing this moment makes it, my daughter must have a future in rave clubs or Hindu prayer. I’m baffled. And kind of wish I had a glow stick right now.

Having said that, I introduce you to my Life Soundtrack, Volume 2:

Track 1: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong by The Spin Doctors—Before you can drive, finding yourself in your older sibling’s car as a passenger is exciting. Factor in that sibling’s friends, and you aren’t simply riding to the store or another errand. You are taking a journey. You are peeking into the wonderful world of what will be. Taking a short trip out of town in the back of my sister’s white Ford Tempo, observing the interactions between her and her friends Chris (a drummer in a band) and Brian (the singer and a guitar player in the band…and the man who would become my brother in law many years later), I was overwhelmed. What that overwhelming sense was exactly, I couldn’t have told you at the time. As a grown man now, I realize that it was my first glimpse into the magnificence of those friendships we develop in our late teens and early twenties. Those friendships that incorporate our views on how the world affects us through the art around us. The Spin Doctors were thrown into the stereo and Chris went on a rant about how they were completely underrated when it came to their percussion. He slapped out the drum beat on the dash with reverence. Brian tossed out his own air drums while singing along in harmony with my sister. I had not known friendship of that kind yet. Nor was I sure that I would. That would come later. But for those three minutes and fifty seconds, I was involved in something special.

Track 2: Black by Pearl Jam—Most regular karaoke singers can tell you the first song they sang. Mine was included in Volume 1. Karaoke can be a blast when you’re out with friends. Drunken renditions of anything by mediocre or poor singers are the staple of karaoke. Having worked in karaoke bars for a little over a decade, I saw more than my share. I have advocated many times for the possession of special licenses being necessary to sing Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Adele, Whitney, and Journey. Many, many have tried. Most have failed. Horribly. But at least it gets the crowd smiling, even if it’s from overpowering uncomfortableness. On the other end of the spectrum are those singers who take part in competitions. I’ve competed myself. Karaoke competitions can be brutal. They are far from The Voice, but within the community of karaoke singers, there is a feeling of honor to be included on stage with other, incredible vocalists. And the Midwest is filled with those. Thus, when stepping into competition, it can be daunting. I never felt like one of the strongest singers in the group. Judges felt I was good enough to make it to the finals quite a few times, so I believe I’m decent at it. However, competing isn’t my strong suit. My stage presence is awkward, to put it very mildly. I never know where to look—At the judges? The crowd? Over their heads? The stage occasionally so I don’t fall off and die? The screen with words occasionally so I don’t forget where I was and then die? So, I cope with it by drinking a lot of the free beer in the green room prior to going on stage. Obviously, this is the best course of action. It has resulted in me usually making some inappropriate, sexually-connotated joke toward one of the male judges. Once, it resulted in me dropping to my knees for dramatic effect at the end of the song…only to realize there was another run of the chorus through which to make it…now on my knees. In short, I feel like I often fail miserably at the competitions. However, back in 2008, I performed Mustang Sally by Wilson Pickett (which involved a lot of pacing back and forth drunkenly across the stage) followed by Pearl Jam’s Black (which many people told me not to do for competition) for round two. For whatever reason, a certain calm came over me as soon as I started singing and I stopped worrying about the judges, the crowd, stage presence, and even my vocals. I just sang. I let a song that I loved take over. I sang it for me. And I won first place. I’ve performed it more times than I can count since then. But I think of that song any time I feel I don’t belong, or I’m in over my head. My own little grunge rock version of “I’ma do me.” Even typing that out made me cringe.

Track 3: Heaven by Warrant—Yes, this dates me a bit. Shut up. In fairness, this song was released when I was ten. It didn’t come into my life significantly until I was thirteen, at which point it would go on to represent the loss of childhood as I knew it. Small town life meant that all the kids in school knew one another and options for romantic relationships were limited. Add a kid being overweight and obnoxious into the equation, and you have a boy who focuses most of his attention on his step-father’s stolen Playboy magazines and practicing how to kiss on My Pet Monster. I’m not proud. But those shared affairs with that furry, plastic-nosed, stuffed son of a bitch prepared me for my shining moment with Emily Corn. Granted, Sarah Dixon was my first kiss (and resulted in a mixed tape), but with Emily, I shared the dance. You know the one. That junior high dance at a home off school grounds. Young hormones were racing. I didn’t have much of a clue as to what to do with those racing hormones, but she didn’t seem to mind the slight poking against her thigh and I certainly didn’t mind that she didn’t mind. All I knew was that I could smell her perfume and her giant hair tickled my neck. And that there was no way I was going to pull away for a second in case she came to her senses. It was with Heaven playing in the background during my most-assuredly stellar slow dance moves that I had that real kiss. Emily, if you read this, I apologize. Your lack of giant, warty nose or elongated plastic teeth probably threw me for a curve. I can only hope you were cheating on your pillow or a random poster on your bedroom wall.

Track 4: Seasons by Chris Cornell—If you haven’t seen the film Singles, do yourself a favor and find it immediately. The storyline is incredible. The actors are brilliant. It’s a fun and heartfelt watch, especially for those in their twenties who are trying to “discover” themselves. The best part about the movie, though, is the phenomenal soundtrack. It encapsulates rock music of that time, especially the Seattle Sound. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam have cameos. Throughout the film, Cornell’s Seasons plays periodically. I was in high school when it was released. I didn’t find it until a couple years later. Despite not being in my twenties yet, it spoke volumes to me. Now in my thirties, that hasn’t changed. And Cornell’s brilliant chord structure and amazing vocals still punch me in the heart every time. The song is so well-written that it doesn’t take me back to a specific time or place in my mind. It takes me inside myself. This piece itself represents those seasons of change.

Track 5: Break on Through by The Doors—The 1960s marked a change in the climate of music. Even the Beatles took a turn. In 1967, The Doors attacked the music scene. Jim Morrison saw himself as a poet and the music was background to that poetry. Being well before my time, I didn’t discover The Doors until high school, when I read that a lot of my favorite current bands at the time had been influenced by them. The first song I found was Break on Through. It embraced the angst in me and gave validity to the questions I was asking about “what it all means.” Even the keyboard had the desperate urgency I felt about things I didn’t yet fully understand. It was listening to The Doors that I experimented a lot with hallucinogens in an effort to see the world differently. Whether it worked or not is up for debate. And I’ve chosen to avoid angst as much as possible now. But the music still reminds me to never stop trying to see the world through different eyes.

Track 6: While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles—Todd Griffin was the biggest Beatles fan I’d ever met, and my best friend in high school. While I was listening to both modern and classic rock, The Beatles had just been something I’d disregarded. I knew their stuff. She Loves You and Hold Your Hand just weren’t my bag. They were a little too pop for my taste. They were cute. And they didn’t have that poetry that I wanted. And, so, while riding in Todd’s car (his car, his music, was the rule), he put a cassette in (yes, a cassette) and I found myself listening to a beautiful tune. He’d thrown in The White Album by The Beatles. While My Guitar Gently Weeps blew me away. I’d been duped into enjoying a band I told him I wouldn’t ever like. That summer was spent with us cruising around after work, jamming out to The Beatles from their album Rubber Soul up to Abbey Road. Once, while sitting at a stop light, a couple in their forties pulled up next to us and told us that we were listening to some awesome music. Then we all sang along at the top of our lungs until the light turned green. It’s not often that teenagers blasting stereos at intersections have positive interactions with adults. The Beatles made the world a better place that day.

Track 7: The theme song from Wow, Wow, Wubzy—If you’re a parent, you have at least one of these awful song types stuck in your life soundtrack. This was a cartoon my daughter watched non-stop until the Care Bears snatched her attention during age two. In case you don’t know about Wubzy, he’s yellow with a high-pitched voice and a jagged tail on which he bounces from time to time. Think of a canary-colored rectangular Tigger on crystal meth who has not had the decency to go through puberty. Then give the little bastard a catchy theme song that still sneaks into your brain after a decade. I give you Wubzy. The unfortunate thing is that this annoying song, regardless of its ability to make me consider breaking my television years ago, makes me smile when it attacks my mind like an unwanted musical ninja. It conjures up images of my daughter in her pajamas squeezing up next to me on the couch after an afternoon of chasing bubbles and riding her tricycle outside. In the realm of songs that move your soul, this one is up at the top.

Track 8: Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin—I credit my love for Zeppelin to my step-father. When I was young, my relationship with The Step-Dad was typical. He wasn’t my father. He would never be my father. I would make it very clear to him that he was not wanted. This naturally led to us not being BFFs. I thought he was an asshole. He rightfully felt I was the same. Our interactions in my early youth consisted primarily of me being a prick and him punishing me for it. Every year for my birthday, he would buy me one of those small paddles with the elastic band coming out of the middle that attached to a rubber ball. A toy that no normal human being could figure out how to work properly without some contractual aid from Satan. Within a week or two, the elastic band would break. And now he had a new paddle with which to spank me when I was yet again doing something stupid. One day, while in the middle of a spanking I’m sure I deserved much more from, the flimsy paddle broke on my ample butt cheek. Like the moron I was, I laughed. He spent the next two hours in the garage carving The Mother of All Paddles. This thing was a beast. Taped handle. Holes drilled into the center for better aerodynamics. And I’m fairly sure it was partially forged from the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor. That was our relationship. I misbehaved and said horrible things to he and my mother. He responded by swatting me on the ass with Sauron’s Wrath. We had an understanding.

In high school, my mom found my weed and hitter in my pants pocket because delinquents are idiots who forget they also expect their mothers to wash their laundry. My step-father volunteered to drive me back to my dad’s house that evening. I slumped in the car, waiting for the lecture that I was going to dismiss. Instead, he broke the silence by telling me that he used to smoke a lot of pot back in his day and he just wanted me to be very careful about the weed I got. “People put all kinds of crap in it these days. Make sure you know what you’re smoking so you don’t end up with something dangerous.” He then went on to regale me with tales of pot-smoking from his early days. We laughed. We bonded. It was on that car ride that he became a person to me. This was parenting that you won’t find in any how-to books. But for me, it was real. Not long after that, I started pouring through some of his music. One of the first songs I found was Over the Hills and Far Away. I can’t listen to a Zeppelin song without thinking about the man who provided tough love and eventual openness to a kid who went out of his way to make it hard. Thank you, Gary.

 

What songs are part of your life soundtrack? Why? I’d love to hear them.

Learn To Fly

I knew a man named Hugh Peck. Hugh, like so many other young men in the first half of the twentieth century, decided to enlist in the military and fight against the rising threat from the Axis Powers. Some were infantry soldiers. Some were mechanics. Some were sailors. Hugh was a pilot. According to his own joking account to me one day, he wouldn’t say he was a very good one. He was shot down more than once. I was young, but that sounded like a pretty amazing pilot to me. I remember falling off my bike and tearing up my elbow and leg one afternoon. I was terrified to go on another ride for a long time. I mean, that fall was a good couple of feet. But Hugh, who had been shot out of the sky, got right back into a plane to do it all over again…and again. That is courage beyond anything I can imagine.

He is one of millions of men and women being honored this Memorial Day. And just like them, he assuredly went by many monikers. Perhaps Huey when he was a boy. Maybe Peck by his school friends. Having personally known many military personnel, I’m sure he had some colorful nicknames that would never be uttered in church, given to him by his fellow pilots. To my mother and her siblings, he was just known as “Dad.”

Hugh Peck the WWII Pilot is not who I remember. Although the man I knew deserves to be honored along with all the other veterans who have since passed, it isn’t about his service to this country for me.

I’m thinking about the man who taught me how to put my bait on my fishing hook without it falling off when I cast it. Sitting next to him on a boat lazing by the shore, I learned that quiet reflection holds unrivaled potency. From him, I learned that the drunken ramblings of Harry Carey calling a baseball game were perfect for a nap in great company. Watching him tenaciously build his model airplanes, I witnessed the elegance of combining hard work and passion. And that the finished product can make you stare in awe when it takes flight. Hugh was a man who wrote his “girl” back home, promising her that, when he came back from the war, he was going to marry her and that they would have children. That they’d be together forever. With the exception of eight months between my grandfather’s passing and my grandmother’s, he stayed true to his word. That’s integrity.

Yes, Hugh Peck was a WWII Pilot. But that is not why I remember him. Happy Memorial Day, Grandpa.

The Greatest Man I Never Knew

Are you ready to hold your little girl?

Eight words that signaled an unprecedented shift in my life. I was no longer just some guy. I wasn’t going-to-be-a-papa. Those words meant that I had joined the league of Fathers.

I didn’t join a fraternity in college. I was never part of any clubs in high school. Being a member of a group never particularly appealed to me. However, sharing the name “Dad” with millions of other men was all right in my book. I try to steer clear of the term “daddy” due to disturbing connotations from adult films and creepy old men with money in their pockets and young models on their arms. No thank you.

The third Sunday of every June is Father’s Day. In just a few weeks, I will be celebrating my eleventh. Strangely, there isn’t much hoopla surrounding the holiday. It didn’t become a national holiday until 1972. Mother’s Day, on the other hand, has been a national holiday since 1914. This is no surprise. Mothers become just that as soon as they learn they are pregnant. We dads often (even in our own eyes) don’t become fathers until we hold our children for the first time. To put it simply, we’re behind the curve.

There has been a shift over the decades in a positive direction, I suppose. The push to celebrate Father’s Day was originally proposed by a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd who was raised, along with her five siblings, by a widowed father. She recognized back in 1909 that a father can do whatever a mother can. I’m not saying we can do it well, but we can come close, by God. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I can braid my daughter’s hair. Granted, the braid falls out in roughly thirty-eight seconds, but there is a braid there for most of a minute.

With that said, there is a disturbing trend that still exists today. Go to any public men’s restroom in a restaurant or store. Look for the baby-changing table. I promise you, if it is not a federal building that must have one by law as of October 2016, you will be hard-pressed to find one. More times than I can count, I had to change my daughter’s diaper as a baby by first wiping up the disgusting bathroom floor in the handicapped stall and then laying down a mat I had to bring with me. Whenever I would ask these businesses why they didn’t have changing stations in men’s rooms, they always responded with an off-hand comment about them not being necessary in both bathrooms. Translation: Men are not deemed caretakers.

Likewise, taking my young daughter to run errands often resulted in receiving some semblance of a question from at least a couple women: “Oh, so Dad has to babysit today, huh?” I am far from some “snowflake” who needs a “safe space” from hurtful words. But I will admit that this question always irked me. Would that question be asked to a mother? No. A mother is watching her children. Caring for them. A man is seen as babysitting his children. The same rings true for fixing a child’s hair. My mad braiding skills notwithstanding, I legitimately rocked a pony tail like no one’s business (back when my daughter didn’t insist on having her hair down in her eyes at all times—now I know how my parents felt during my Grunge stage in high school). Women would look honestly surprised and tell me that I had done a good job “learning from mom” as though I could never have figured out how to pull strands of hair through an elastic band on my own without somehow decapitating the child. Translation to both of these examples: Men are not deemed caretakers.

I used to take great offense to these things. I used to ask myself, “How, in this modern day, are fathers seen as less than nurturing?” Seen as incompetent and uninvolved with child-rearing. Why?

The answer is simple: We need to do better, gentlemen. How many children are raised wholly by single mothers? How many fathers walk out of their children’s lives? How many fathers make other plans on the days they are supposed to have custodial visitations? How many fathers insist on being at war with their exes who happen to be the mothers of their children? How many fathers can’t list their children’s favorite colors or passions? What are the names of your children’s best friends? What size shoes do your children wear? What are they learning in school? How do you lower your children’s fevers?

A brutal reality was evident to me a few months ago. My daughter’s school held its annual Father/Daughter Dance. It’s an event that allows little girls to put on beautiful dresses and corsages to be taken on a date with the first man they truly love—Dad. As I stood in the gymnasium, I observed over a dozen fathers looking at their phones instead of their daughters. A little girl’s first date. A father standing with his face cast down into the technology in his hand instead of at the young lady who only wanted Dad to “see what I can do.” All around me, I saw fathers failing without even realizing it. To be there and to be present are very different things.

I am certainly not a perfect father. I could do better. I rarely take my daughter with me to pick up prostitutes or rob banks, but I could do better. Can you?

Happy Father’s Day, fellas. Let’s earn it.

What A Girl Wants

If you have access to social media, you know that it’s a wonderful world full of opinions and memes. Granted, “you’re” is usually used incorrectly in the majority of the memes and the opinions are often regurgitated false-truths that haven’t been fact-checked. Welcome to the Internet. I allow my “grammar police” self a lot of leeway to turn away in this forum. Likewise, opinions…well we all know that old adage.

However, in the spirit of posteriors, orifices, and ownership rights, I’m going to give an opinion of my own. Straight women: Stop.

In the process of waiting on a table this week, one woman had shown up before the rest of her party. This should have been a simple process. I greet her. I take her drink order. I make the drink. I deliver the drink. Just as she ordered her beverage, though, I looked her in the face and thought, “Wow, she has beautiful eyes.” They were striking. So striking, in fact, that as soon as I got to the drink station, I realized I had no idea what she had ordered. Feeling like the idiot that I sometimes am, I laughingly told my coworkers around me about my predicament. What came next was unexpected. One coworker said, “You didn’t say that to her, did you?!” The other coworkers seemed equally concerned. As though telling a stranger that she had pretty eyes would be on the same level of asking if I could sniff her neck. I had not said anything and, after witnessing the horror on the faces of my fellow employees, decided I should probably never interact with a woman again.

I did what any server does in the forgotten-drink-order situation. I went back with a tray of the three basics: iced tea, water with lemon, and Diet Coke. I apologized for being an idiot, told her I couldn’t remember what she had ordered, and then jokingly played it off that I might or might not be drunk. I did all of this while avoiding eye contact as adamantly as one would avert the gaze of Medusa. Apparently, I don’t comprehend language when confronted with pretty eyes.

What bothered me more than looking like a fool was the reaction of my coworkers. No, I did not compliment a woman I did not know. But why would that be such a terrible thing? In my fascination, I asked coworker #1. She explained that it’s “creepy.” That the woman would already know that she had pretty eyes and didn’t “need” to hear it from me. That every “creep” out there probably compliments her all the time on those eyes. I then asked if I it was better for a guy to be an asshole and insult her. She told me no. That attractive women “just want to be left alone.” Maybe my coworkers are in the minority.

Here’s the problem: My social media feeds are filled with memes and famous quotes posted by attractive, straight women. The running theme consists of “queens” deserving to be treated as such by their “kings.” They say there are no good men out there. They complain about “f***boys” and idiots. And women are creating more and more of those “f***boys” every day.

I completely understand that hearing compliments on your attributes by slobs with neck tattoos and straight-billed caps turned sideways must get old. It must make you jaded. So focus on genuine compliments. Those delivered without the man licking his lips. Those not telling you how “fine” your ass or “tits” are. If men aren’t allowed to voice genuine compliments, they are forced to focus on apathy. Men who neither share nor care are deemed to be the very assholes women are supposedly trying to avoid. Enter the douchebags.

My friends Jordan and Rebekah are a happily married gay couple. I involved them in the Pretty Eyes debacle. They both seemed baffled. Who wouldn’t like hearing they have pretty eyes? They admitted that being a straight woman inundated with constant compliments by guys must be tough. But then they hit me with the real problem: Women know exactly what they don’t want, and no clue as to what they do want.

As a man with three sisters, and who has worked in the service industry for years, and who has social media, I have listened to countless women complain about their love lives or lack thereof. All those attributes about men that they can’t stand. Let’s break down the popular negatives:

  1. He’s an idiot
  2. He’s unemployed
  3. He’s too negative
  4. He lives with his parents
  5. He flirts with other women
  6. He’s unattractive or too short or too tall
  7. He has no sense of humor
  8. He’s too clingy
  9. He wouldn’t make a good parent
  10. He does drugs

These are all valid arguments against grown men when looking for a relationship. These items are on my own “red flag” list when considering women. But, if there is a negative list, turning it around would be a positive one, correct? Thus, you should know what you want.

  1. Intelligence
  2. Steady employment
  3. Positive outlook
  4. Supports himself
  5. Loyal
  6. Attractive
  7. Funny
  8. Confident
  9. Solid father
  10. Does not do drugs

That would seem to be a list of things straight women want from a man in a relationship. Certainly, some of the items might have stipulations. Steady employment at minimum wage makes it difficult to support oneself. Attractiveness is subject to interpretation. Confidence can spill over into outright conceit. There’s always a middle ground.

The point is that there are numerous men out there who fit these criteria. Where are they? They’re the guys to whom you bitch about other guys. So stop. Stop looking for “likes” on your female empowerment memes from women who perpetuate the cycle. Stop treating every man who wants to treat you well as though there is something wrong with him. Stop falling “more in love than you’ve ever been” every two months. Stop allowing men to ask you to “hang out” instead of taking you on a date. Stop telling men not to compliment the things about you they find captivating. Stop turning the good guys into the apathetic pricks you can’t stand.

And then start. Start realizing that having a door opened for you or a chair pulled out doesn’t mean he’s fake, but that he was raised a certain way. Start to understand that some men really are interested in how your day was. Start accepting that he might be mesmerized by your smile or your odd laugh. Start loving yourself enough to allow a good man into your life. Start being the woman who deserves better.

Secret Garden

I Was Hoping For A Pyramid.”

An epitaph inscribed on a tombstone in New York State. No name. No dates. Simply a single statement obviously decided upon by the witty individual buried in the ground beneath it.

I like this cat’s spirit. This is humor at its finest. Humor in the face of death. There are a lot of funny or biting epitaphs out there. Look them up. Some will make you smile. Some will make you cringe. This one happens to be my favorite. It is a clever acceptance of the triviality of our lives, even in how we leave them.

There is something alluring about cemeteries. They hold a certain power. As a child growing up in a small town, I spent more than a handful of nights walking the cemetery with friends. We weren’t vandalizing anything. We were there to play games like Flashlight Tag or Hide and Seek in the presence of fear and curiosity. We knew in our secret hearts that the place hinted at something we couldn’t quite grasp. For most of us, it was our first true exposure to mortality. And playing and laughing while surrounded by frightening and vague concepts gave a sense of immortality. Eventually, someone would hear a branch snap or the wind move something and the terror would kick in. Certainly, the dead were rising and taking us with them. Whoever had the misfortune of panicking first would be ridiculed by the other kids. We would team up to make more noises, hoping for a complete meltdown. What none of us ever acknowledged was that we were all just as scared as the first kid, but had each other and nervous laughter to give us courage. A million dollars says none of us would have ever stepped foot in that cemetery if we were alone.

Now that I’m a grown man (a term I use loosely), cemeteries hold a different reverence for me. I urge you to visit one sometime. I don’t mean on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day. Some random spring day in the middle of the week. A day where you might be the only one on the grounds. Take a walk. I recently visited two cemeteries in town. At the first, my grandparents are buried. But I pass both on the way to my daughter’s school. The second seems a little older and has exquisitely carved tombstones I’ve always admired. So, I figured I’d drop by. Take a walk. In both places, there is a lovely, solemn peace.

In the ground, just below my feet, were people. In those graves were individuals from every race, religion, creed, gender, political party affiliation, and social and economic background. Every one of them had a single common thread: They died. As will I. As will you. In the end, none of their differences mattered. In the end, nor will any of ours. Standing in the middle of a cemetery can provide an elegant understanding of connection. Our pasts lie around us. So do our futures. Ancestors have been there for generations. Someday (hopefully no time soon), I will join them. The same goes for my daughter’s grandchildren. The only thing that separates any of us is what we will bring to the world while we’re here, and what we will leave behind.

I still haven’t figured out what to contribute to the world while I’m here. Although, jokes involving foul language and genitalia are a strong front-runner. I like to think that distilleries making mediocre vodka are thankful for me. I do my part to keep them afloat.

Hopefully, this blog is my way of leaving something behind. In the realm of leaving a virtual footprint on the Internet, this is certainly a much better way of leaving an online trail than my other methods. When my daughter sees this someday, hopefully she’ll be proud. If she sees my other activity, hopefully she’s rich and can afford the therapy and surgical eye removal necessary. Seriously. I disgust myself sometimes.

As far as gravestones go, I ran across a couple that made me openly smile. Attached to one was a stone-carved seat, complete with a stone cowboy hat resting on the back. Family and friends can sit next to the deceased and look off to the west to watch the sun set together. Another gravestone was simply a bench with the last name across the top. It looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. I almost sat down, but the workers mowing the lawn were already glancing more frequently at the guy moving from grave to grave who seemed entirely too comfortable to be in that place. My favorite gravestone, though, was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t a grand stone carving that towered above the others. In fact, it sat lower than most. The writing on the front of the white rock was small and difficult to read. However, the rest was easily visible. The stones formed a box. In that box were colorful flowers. The tombstone was a flower bed. In a place associated with death, someone used his or her grave to promote life.

I don’t know exactly what I hope to leave behind in this world. But the answer is in that gravestone somewhere.

Forever Young

If you insist on absolute organization, or have obsessive compulsions, I suggest you skip reading this. What I’m about to say will “trigger” you, as my daughter would say.

Depending on the day, if you’re in my home and walk from the bathroom to the living room, you can gain up to fifteen minutes of your life back. This is assuming you actually have no plans involving other people who happen to wear watches that work properly. Those people would simply tell you that you’re late. Fascists. What is the secret to time travel, you ask? It’s very simple. Step 1: Purchase battery-operated clocks on sale. Step 2: Keep those same clocks well past their primes.

You see, the clock in my bathroom, despite being set to the proper time, will eventually speed up over months. When I compare it to the time on my phone, it will often be five minutes fast. On the other hand, the clock in my living room likes to slow down. After a few months, it will be up to ten minutes behind. Thus, the hallway in my home is like my very own time machine.

A rational person might conclude that the timing mechanisms within those clocks are off. They might tell me that I should invest in new ones. The truth is, my clocks just get me. When I’m getting ready for work (rushing through the process of all the hygiene matters designed to eliminate stench for the sake of the general public), there is almost always a moment in which I look at the clock in my bathroom and realize I actually have five more minutes. What an incredible sense of relief. Likewise, when winding down before bed, I can conveniently forget that the clock in the living room is ten minutes slow. It buys me just a few more moments with the characters in whatever show I’m bingeing. Hope is not an abstract concept. It is very real and exists in my hallway.

Much like my clocks, we all perceive time differently on occasion. I recently replaced the registration sticker on my license plate. For that, I got to stand in line at the DMV. For two hours I listened to two women discuss with each other the times they were “locked up” while the young child of another woman kept spinning around the posts that were guiding the line and bumping into my legs. After acquiring my sticker and stepping outside, I realized I’d only been in there for twenty minutes. If you have or have had children, you’ve been to school programs. You know the ones. You sit on hard, metal chairs or bleachers with no backs. The elementary school band begins to play their seemingly seventeen-hour set in which the wind section squeaks and the percussionists play their drums to the beat of a different song. How many times do you look at your program sheet thinking, “We’re almost halfway there,” while ignoring the children to concentrate on your ass that fell asleep two songs ago? I’ve never left a school program and told myself that it went by surprisingly fast.

Of course, time is perceived in both directions. I don’t go out with my friends often. The whole “adulting” thing gets in the way. Work, my daughter, and this blog are where I spend most of my hours. When I do go out to have a few cocktails and enjoy the company of my friends, those hours turn into minutes. (One might blame this on the alcohol consumed, but I enjoy subgrade vodka at home as well and it does not speed up time when I’m on hold with internet tech support, although it does make me giggle out loud at the Tech with the Hindi accent named “Steve.”) Timehop on Facebook is another great way for me to realize that time is a fluid thing. Six years will have passed from when I posted a picture of my daughter that I remember taking as though it were yesterday.

I recall being in my teens and thinking of my twenties as some distant event. Now, at thirty-seven, I have come to the conclusion that teenage me was a presumptuous little jerk. Time is a fickle bitch. It has taken the hair from my head and tried to move it to my ears. It kidnapped my baby with that unbelievable natural smell at the top of her head and replaced her with a training-bra-wearing young lady who rolls her eyes in embarrassment whenever I dance (In fairness, my Cabbage Patch isn’t the strongest). It assassinated my metabolism. And when I attempt to combat the lowered metabolism with a vigorous workout, Time reminds me that I am not a spry young man who need not worry about pulling muscles in his butt cheeks.

So, I keep my cheap clocks and find myself walking up and down my hallway sometimes with a drink in my hand and a smile on my face. In that hallway, Time is mine to control. My own fifteen minutes of fame. Little victories.