Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to Make the World Better: A Simple Plan by Dan

Sallie and I were checking out at Target a few nights ago and we couldn't find the bar code on the kitty litter. We finally found it near the bottom of the bucket on the backside. I had to lift and spin it so the cashier could scan it. Sal said, "It's obvious the person that designed this has never worked a register. Put that crap on the lid and make it easy for all of us."

Empathy, or the lack thereof, often causes grief among people. I don't think people are inherently bad, I just think the lack of experience in the other person's shoes can blind you to the stress and BS they have to deal with.

It's what I like to refer to as the programmer's dilemma. Often, a new piece of software will get pushed to our machines at work and it technically works, but not well. The programmer, who is a level 4 person, will mark the project as a success because it does work even if the usability is busted.

The level 1 person, help desk, starts getting an influx of calls for this product. Users are not happy and they are yelling at the help desk analyst as if it's their fault. The level 1 reports it to the level 2 escalation person, who then reports it to the level 3 manager.

When the manager brings this concern to the programmer, they show the manager how it works, even if it's not the easiest way to operate that software. Because it works, the programmer can't understand what the issue is.

Now if we were to take that same programmer and put them on the phones for a few days, they would quickly understand how their decision effects hundreds of other people. Maybe then, the next time some software rolled out, things would be better.

This same principle can be applied to people that yell at their server in a restaurant for food they didn't prepare, cashiers that don't control prices, and police officers that didn't write the laws. If everyone had to spend even one day in the other position, the way people are treated would be drastically different.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Four Types of Childhood Friends

I feel like childhood friends can be categorized in one of four categories.

The Best Friends: These might not actually be your "best friend" but they are the ones you will continue to hang out with throughout life. Even if it's just meeting up once a year for a beer or an email.

These are the friends that hundreds of sitcoms and movies have been written about. Inevitably at some point, you have that, "We've grown apart" fight and then later in the film, when the protagonist is in trouble, his old best friend shows up to save the day. They smile at each other, say some great one liner, and then shake hands. Beers for everyone.

The Extra: When you were children, you probably hung out with this person a few times. Maybe they were on your baseball team. Heck, maybe you even spent the night at their house and had rad Nintendo 64 parties. But, you stopped hanging out. Now they are relegated to background players in some foggy memories you have.

The Eddie Haskell: This was a nickname my dad gave to one of my friends in particular. They are the type that always come over saying, "Hello Mr. Father, Hello Mrs. Mother. My you are looking good today."

Parents always think they are up to no good because their politeness is unsettling. Usually they are completely harmless. Unfortunately, all parents' eyes are on them while the last type of childhood friend runs free.

The Psychopath: A book I just finished reading made me think of this person.

This person is usually that person that you say their first and last name when telling stories about them. Their name is usually five or more syllables long and even if the person you are telling the story to doesn't know the Psychopath, they immediately know they are the psychopath by the name alone.

For me, this person was Johnny Condominium. (That's not his real name, just an approximation. I don't need this psychopath Googling his name and then coming for me.)

I always think of one story to sum this person up.

It was the summer around sixth grade. Johnny, my Eddie Haskell friend, and I were in Eddie's backyard shooting BB Guns. We were doing normal boy stuff. Filling soda cans with water and shooting them. Shooting army guys. Cursing like sailors.

Johnny sees some birds on the power lines and immediately goes to a prone position and crawls through the grass. Eddie and I stare at him in silence and disbelief. I can't speak for Eddie, but my stomach was sick just thinking about what we do if he hit a bird. There's no way a BB would kill it. It would probably injure it enough for us to have to put it out of it's misery.

Eddie tried calling out to Johnny to find out what he was doing, but he put a little extra umph in his question. I think he secretly was hoping the birds would scare away.

Johnny looked back and gave the international symbol for "shut the hell up." He took careful aim and fired a couple BBs. Luckily Johnny missed the birds. (Thank you for that terrible side shot the BB gun had) When he started pumping the gun back up so he could shoot some more, the birds flipped out and left.

When my family moved away from Bellefountaine Neighbors I lost touch with Johnny. Every now and then he would pop up in a story. They usually started with, "I ran into Johnny's mom at the grocery store..."

The last I heard about him was a vague story about how he sort of choked a girl at his bus stop in high-school and was sent to a boarding school.

If I had to guess, Johnny is probably wearing some poor victim's skin as a house robe while listening to Huey Lewis and the News records.

Monday, December 16, 2013


America is a fat country. Hundreds of scientists, nutritionists, politicians, and parents have opinions on why this is, how we can fix it, etc. It's not as simple as eating more natural food or working out. It's a host of things.

  • Two person working households: Sometime between 1940 and 1965, American's used to be able to live a comfortable suburban life on one income. Inflation, the economy tanking in the 70's, the globalization of manufacturing, among other things, brought females into the workforce.

    This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's no one to cook good meals anymore, or do the chores during the day, or run errands. If I didn't work from home, Sallie and I would most likely eat out three times a week, because there just wouldn't be time to do anything else. It's no wonder a vast amount of the population wants to sit in front of a TV staring into space. We are essentially doing 3 people's work per household.
  • Eating out used to be an event: When I was a kid, you didn't usually just pick McDonald's up and bring it home. It used to be an event. It only happened every now and then and when it did, you sat down in those greasy plastic seats, ate your Happy Meal, and then played on the Playland. Most McDonald's don't even have Playlands anymore.
  • Portions and Price: One thing I noticed in Britain was they preferred smaller meals in which you could choose a few different things to combine for a meal. People say it's more expensive in Britain, but without paying a tip, it was essentially the same price, unless you try to build an American sized meal.  I didn't work out in England. In fact, I was still on crutches. I drank a lot of beer and hung out. Somehow, came back 3 lbs lighter.

    Here, we have Hardees bragging about their 4 lb Man Burgers that are served with six inches of french fries and washed down with a 32 oz soda. Here, you can buy 2400 calories worth of Krispy Kreme donuts for about $7.50.

    And from working in restaurants, often people just eat stuff on their plate because it was there. I'm talking 1250 calorie meals. And, those same people would usually order an appetizer and throw that food away.

  • We are scooter fat: I remember watching wrestling as a kid and thinking some wrestlers were fat. You either had your Hulk Hogan's with all the muscles or your Hacksaw Jim Duggan's, who had a pot belly.

    Even with his pot belly, you looked at that guy and knew he could still swing a hammer. That's a dude that could still run 100 yards and play a game of pickup football.

    Now, people are soft fat and have to rely on scooters to get around. It's like we gave up on the simplest way to burn calories, walking, and are just like, "Whatever man, I'm American."

  • Processed and unbalanced: GMO's have people up in arms. We don't know truly the health risks involved with playing god with our seeds and probably won't know for some time.

    Processed foods and chemicals are another issue. We know it's not good. When you grab one of those little cupcakes, and the first ingredients are high fructose corn syrup or red 5, we've got a problem. How is the body supposed to process that? It's not as if food was healthy 50 years ago. I have a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 60's and most the recipes contain entire sticks of butter or lard.
  • GTFO of the House: Picnics, swim pools, pick up games in the park... we used to be outside. Now we sit in an office all day and on the couch all night.

    Need proof? The rise of gyms and personal trainers. Didn't need as many gyms when you were getting functional exercise. How many of you have back and neck problems now? Bet you sit hunched over a desk most days and have a little extra weight on the front end.
  • Education: Health class is taught by disgruntled, underpaid and under-appreciated gym teachers, often caught in the middle of a political debate as to whether or not teach real sex education or which constantly changing food pyramid is the correct one.

    If it weren't for Sallie's insatiable love of health and nutrition, I would have never started paying attention to what I eat. I would also be 32 lbs heavier and feeling like hell. 
The most often thing asked when someone comes to our house and looks through our pantry is, "Do you have any snacks?" 

What they really are asking is, "Where are the pretzels, Cheetos, Cream Pies, and M&Ms?" When Sal and I answer, "we have carrot sticks" or "there are plain tortillas and salsa" you would swear we just told someone their entire life was a pointless ruse. 

Many Americans have this entitlement that we can eat and drink just straight crap, pay almost nothing for it, and then sit on the couch watching sitcoms. We are Americans, not gods. Our bodies have already started breaking down. 

For a country that often sees itself as the greatest country in the world, this super hero to everyone else, we're rewriting Superman to have a 46 waist. Soon, our greatest asset is going to be the gorgeous breasts our men sport and the way our women's cottage cheese butts glisten in the California sun. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Checking Out of the Conversation

Sal and I have realized lately that we only have a certain amount of tolerance for each other talking about our non-shared hobbies. Sal talks about running or I start talking about the newest beer I want to try, and it's over.

We try listening as intently as possible, but after a few minutes, our eyes glaze over, we start thinking about what we'll eat for dinner or how it would be great to have a glass of wine tonight, and don't comprehend what the other person is saying. (This is partly why we have a shared Google calendar now)

We hear noise and see their mouth moving, but nothing stays in the brain. Then, as if the brain realizes, "Oh crap, we were supposed to be doing something else." You snap back into the conversation just in time to hear, "...and that is how he saved the planet."

This American Life did a show on "The Seven Things You're Not Supposed to Talk About" according to one of the producer's mothers. Essentially, she says these are the 7 things no one really cares about, but people feel the need to talk about. It got me thinking about what those 7 things for me are and then I realized how often those things fill my life.

  1. The traffic you were in. Besides knowing you were late because of traffic, there is no way anyone else can sympathize with the jackass in the blue truck that almost hit you off or how after an hour you got to the front of the traffic and there didn't seem to be a reason for it. Unless I was in the passenger seat, I'm not going to be able to feel the rage you did. 
  2. Vacation pictures. I always feel like a jerk for this one, but it sort of goes along with the thing above. As much as I want to go to Paris, I want to see maybe your top 10 pictures or that funny thing you saw, but I mostly want to know about the food, drinks, and people. Tell me about the experience. I have no feeling one way or the other at your picture holding your loved one under the Eiffel Tower.

    Side note: For some reason though, I used to love watching slide shows of vacations my grandparents took with all the kids.

  3. Remembering that TV show we just watched together. Yes, that one joke John Stewart told was hilarious, but let's give it like a few hours of cooling off time before we try to bring it back into the conversation. 
  4. Diets. I want to hear about this once, only because I'm interested in silently judging your progress over the next few months. However, I don't need you to bring up how the red meat or pasta I occasionally eat is the reason why I sort of feel tired today. The reason I sort of feel tired, is because of...
  5. Sleep. You slept terrible, I slept terrible. Let's leave it at that. Don't need to hear about every toss and turn you had last night. I'll try not to waste your time with the same. 
  6. Dreams. This one does have caveats. Like, if its actually a really interesting or crazy dream, specifically if it involves me, let's hear it. If you had a dream that all of your teeth fell out... well, I just don't know what to do with that. It's not that it's not interesting, I just literally have no response to that.

    Side note 2: Last night I had a dream that my dad brought me and my brothers back to our old neighborhood in North County to rob houses because, "No one will suspect us." And then later on, my college buddy Sean and I opened a baseball card shop. Unless you are my dad, my brothers, or Sean, you don't really care do you?
  7. Money. I'm severely guilty of talking about money too often.  I'm aware and am trying to stop. But if you have too little money, I can't help you out. If you have too much money, that's great, but I can't just go to the mall and drop a few hundred on a sweater. 
I'm guilty of talking about all of these things at one point or another. And I mentioned, there are always really interesting exceptions to these rules. 

And... just because you know this about me now, don't think it means I hate you if you start talking about it. Just know that there's a chance I might only remember about 40% of the conversation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I have a hard time sleeping. I'm constantly tossing and turning. My back will hurt sometimes. The littlest noise wakes me up. I have to go to the bathroom like 50 times a night. And if a fan is blowing across my bald head, forget it, I can't get comfortable.

Luckily, there's Ambien...

Just kidding. I hate that stuff. Only took it twice when I was injured. Felt like I was having out of body experiences.

The only thing that truly helps me sleep is affectionately called "gray blanket."

Back in 2004, I lived with two roommates who loved the cold. Now, most of you know that I LOVE the cold. But these guys LOOOOOVVEEEDD the cold. And in order to save a few dollars in the winter, they refused to turn our heat up over 55. I even caught them at times with the heat off and their windows open.

That's great and all, except I had a handicap bedroom that faced the front of the apartment. Which means, huge window taking up most of the wall my bed was on.

So I didn't get much sleep for a while that winter. I was sleeping in my blue jeans, hat on, jacket on, four or five covers on top of me. It was miserable.

My parents visited some time in early December and flipped out at the conditions. Next time I came home, there was gray blanket waiting for me.

Gray blanket is nothing special. It's a gray, mostly polyester blanket from Kohl s. But it's so warm and soft and it's mine.

It's the only blanket not shared between Sal and I when we sleep. Gray blanket is wrapped around me as if a blizzard is going to come through and bury us, and I want to be discovered 500 years from now, perfectly preserved, in gray blanket.

I didn't realize how much I actually need gray blanket until last night.

I hadn't slept a great night of sleep since last Wednesday. It was bad enough to where I had to slap myself awake on the drive back from Madison. I slept hard Monday night, but woke up feeling like I had a "no sleep" hangover.

So I was worked up about getting proper sleep last night. I stayed away from all screens for 90 minutes before bed. I read. I took a bath. (Yes I did, with bubbles) I was ready to pass out early.

But when I tried to go to bed 30 minutes early, I found no rest. I tossed, turned, was cold, then hot, could hear cats snoring, car alarms going off, I could see a little street light poking through the curtain. Basically, I was so worked up about getting good sleep, that I got no sleep.

But then, I reached over and grabbed a newly cleaned gray blanket. I tucked it under the comforter, and within 10 minutes, I got the best sleep in a week.

So yes, I am essentially Linus. And gray blanket is starting to fall apart. And I'm going to be sad when it does.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Max Headroom Incident

There are more times than I can count where some article catches my eye on the internet and it leads me down this path of blogs and terrible Angel Fire sites until I finally am too tired to read on and instead of counting sheep, I'm counting conspiracy theories once my head hits the pillow.

One such incident is the Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion.

On November 22, 1987, during the WGN Chicago nightly news, a pirate broke into the TV signal and took over the airways.

It was a person wearing a Max Headroom (A CGI, comedic British A.I. character that was popular in the 80's. He sold Coke Max.) mask, dancing around, to a loud buzzing noise.

When the broadcast ended, a confused sportscaster merely commented, "Well, if you're wondering what happened, so am I."

Then, later that night, during a Dr. Who rerun, the masked man appeared. This time, he disguised his voice creepily, uttered some non-sense about a cartoon, made fun of the owners of the TV channel, and had his bare butt spanked on air.

It's one of those unsettling times where this structured set of rules that we think we have complete control over is shown to have incredible vulnerabilities that someone at home can break.

When you boil this down to it's simplest terms, we know that this is just a person in their garage (And from their humor, probably someone young) just poking fun at the FCC and the TV station.

It's like John Draper (not from Mad Men) that figured out how to make free long distance phone calls using a toy whistle.

Or Adian Lamo, who would break into the systems of large corporate and then tell them about the vulnerabilities.

It shows that humans want to feel safe by setting rules. But as long as their are rules, someone is going to try to break them, just to see if they can. And when that happens, our stomachs sink, and we feel uneasy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Like This

Social media drives me nuts a lot of times.

I hate that people give live play-by-plays of sports or TV shows on Twitter and Facebook.

I don't like the pictures with walls of text that boil down a complicated issue into three lines.

I don't like when I get tagged in posts on Facebook that I don't care about and then deal with the notifications all day.

I hate that people can't just eat their meal and have to take pictures of it.

I've long shed MySpace, Linked In, and Four Square. I've refused to join Instagram or Snapchat. Just enough people! ENOUGH!

But, the one thing that social media does do well, is give little positive boosts to people. Every time you get a like on Facebook or Instagram, or someone favorites your Tweet, you get cheered in Untapped, or get a +1 on Google Plus, you get a little boost in your day. It's small, but it's there. 

So that is my half-hearted attempt to bring a little optimism to the cesspool that is half full known as Social Media.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chill Out Man

I went to the gym this morning. It wasn't a good session. My arms were tired, my legs felt like weights, my eyes just wanted to close to sleep. I ended up giving up about 20 minutes before I should have, but it was just one of those mornings where you aren't feeling it.

On my way home, there were two cars that were trying to race down Chippewa. Both drivers looked really stressed out like they were late to somewhere.

I was driving 38 when the speed limit is 30. These two drivers would jump in front of me, only to get stuck behind the car I was stuck behind. Then they would jump to the other lane, make it a car length ahead, and get stuck behind that lane of traffic. Essentially, we were stuck at all the same lights all the way down Chippewa, but I was having an infinitely more casual drive.

It's a weird emotional state we put ourselves in. When we're running late, somehow being really stressed out, driving dangerously, and trying to speed makes us feel like we're making some progress, when in fact, we're getting there as fast as we probably would otherwise.

After the Chippewa International Speedway, I turned onto Morganford and immediately had to slam the breaks. Some very large woman started crossing the street in traffic, about 100 feet past where you turn. So all of these cars making the turn, unable to see this lady, were having to slam on the breaks not to kill her. And she just slowly made her way across the street as more and more cars entered the bedlam. I'm not sure how no one hit each other.

Then, I made it about another 150 feet, and a car had pull up on a sidewalk to park for a minute. I guess to let their kids out to get to school. This SUV then tried backing out of their makeshift parking spot without looking and almost hit someone on the sidewalk.

The lady that was almost hit then slammed the palm of her hand down on the hood of the SUV and scream, "Watch the f*** where you going!" Something I think we all wish we could do at times.

Anyway, crazy way to start the day. I'm going to get a fire going tonight, drink some beer, and make sure I do the opposite of that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Volunteering to Get Grief

Sal and I volunteered to help direct traffic for the St. Louis Track Club this morning. So while most of the world was enjoying their extra hour of sleep, Sal and I were up and ready to rock.

I had a terrible night of sleep. It was one of those nights where I woke up to go to the bathroom at like 3 a.m. and when I came back to bed, my brain started saying, "Come on Dan. Get back to sleep. SLEEP NOW! You have to wake up in 3 hours. You need this sleep."

So naturally, I never really fell back asleep. I stared at Newbie, who was sprawled out as comfortably as possible between Sal and I and envied the crap out of him.

When Sal's alarm went off at 6, I rolled out of bed immediately and felt terrible. My neck was really stiff, my eyes hurt, I felt a little nauseous, and since we were running a little late, we didn't have breakfast or coffee before leaving.

But that's ok. The 38 degree foggy air woke me up almost immediately. There was a point I thought, maybe this won't be so bad.

The intersection Sal and I were in charge of was at was Grand and Union. There's an entrance to Forest Park Parkway (cars going almost highway speeds) and a bike / walking trail that went through the intersection. So it was a fairly busy place to be stationed.

View Larger Map

For the first hour, things went smoothly. We cheered on the fast runners and most of the cars wanting to come through sat patiently, or flipped a U turn to get out of there.

There was a large amount of people not paying attention to our directions and often getting stuck at the intersection for much longer because they were playing on their phones or staring off into space.

Then, a lady rolled down her window. She asked Sal if she could drive through, which she could. The roads weren't closed, we were mostly there to make sure cars didn't come flying into the park, killing the runners.

When Sal told her she could drive into the park, just be careful of the 500 or so runners, the lady flipped out. "You ruined my f***ing SUNDAY!" She flipped a U turn, almost running over Sal's feet. Sorry lady, the happiness of the several hundred runners does outweigh yours at this three hour period on this one Sunday morning. World can't revolve around you.

I can guarantee this lady was probably headed to church too. With that mouth, she could use a confession session.

Maybe 45 minutes later, there was a huge pack of runners. These three cars had been stuck at the intersection for a good 10 minutes.

Finally there's a break in the runners. I look down the bike path both ways and it looks clear. So I wave the cars on. About 30 seconds later this older guy on a really nice bike comes zooming through and yells at me, "Don't wave cars on when people are coming on the trail."

Now, there are stop signs for the bikers on the path. They aren't supposed to zoom through this intersection because cars are coming off of the road at high speeds. Had I not been directing traffic, this guy would've almost been hit by cars anyway.

Not to mention, the path he came down was winding from up a hill behind trees. I didn't see him.

ANNDDDDD.... my primary concern was the racers. I tried my best to watch for people on the path too before waving the cars on, but they were on their own as if I wasn't there.

So I yelled to him, "There's a stop sign" and before could slip in "JACKASS!" as punctuation, the biker that was going somewhere around 25 mph screams back at me again, "You NEED TO WATCH FOR BIKERS AND NOT WAVE CARS ON!"

This is why people hate bikers. They want to be able to use the road like cars, but they don't want to follow the rules of the road.

Anyway, Sal and I survived. We came home, ate some soup, and napped. After a mid-afternoon cup of coffee, I finally feel normal again.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Full Sized Memory House

Today is one of my favorite sort of days. The sun is highlighting the colors on all the trees, while the breeze plays the leaves like a harp. I pull my nostalgia close like a jacket and revel in feeling the crispness blowing across my exposed face.

More than anything, autumn pulls at my memory strings.

I have a playlist I've built specifically to fit this happy, almost tear inducing feeling I get on these days. The song above sort of fits the tone of most of playlist. It's bittersweet, terribly sad I can't relive moments of my past, but happy knowing that there will be many more memories to come.

I remember going trick-or-treating, dressed as a Wolf-man in 1991. I wore an old Universal monster mask and mittens that my mom glued fake nails and fur to. I went out with a good hockey buddy of mine, Jason, who ironically dressed as Jason from Friday the 13th and our ginger-headed buddy Nick, who went as a ninja.

We were allowed to run around the neighborhood for three hours, unsupervised, filling pillow cases with what felt like thirty pounds of candy slung over our small shoulders like Santa and his presents.

This film plays in my mind where we are laughing and I have this overwhelming feeling of happiness and never-ending energy. This memory begins after being handed a full sized bag of Skittles at this house tucked away in a court. It was the only house with a light on and we almost skipped it, but we pressed on.

And although I don't remember the person that handed the candy out to me, it was one of those virgin moments of pure happiness that caused a synapse to fire off in my brain, filed away as a permanent memory.

It's such a powerful recollection that I can still sense the smell of cooking meat as we rounded the street where the school janitor had his giant barrel grill, cooking burgers, hot dogs, and popcorn for the entire neighborhood. Everyone was happy to stand around his gruesome scene complete with cop car and fridge filled with fake body parts and blood.

It was a sense of community I don't know that I will ever reclaim.

Sal and I handed out full sized candy bars last night. It was a deliberate decision to be "that house."

I hope that the kids who came to our house last night remember the year they ran around in the pouring rain, filling their plastic grocery bags, and smearing chocolate on their princess costumes.

I hope that we will be a faceless couple who lived in an almost description-less brick house that those kids recall to their children. I hope that every time the crisp fall air blows oxygen into the embers of their memories of Halloween, that they smile.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Documentation That I Once Was a Baby

It's only natural when you finally grow up and buy a house that your parents drop off boxes of your childhood memories they've been hauling around for the better part of 20 years. They happily wave good-bye, as they drive away from your house quickly, knowing that these boxes are now your problem.

I refuse to haul around the 7-8 boxes that Sallie and I now have in our possession. I've been going through them, digitizing pictures and awards, and throwing some stuff out. My goal is to get my boxes of memories down to one box.

I found one of those baby books where your parents keep track of special occasions. The calendar came with stickers celebrating events like first Christmas. The thing that cracks me up is how mundane things have stickers in the calendar. Things like "Finds Hands (11/16/84)" and "Turns to Sound." I guess I'm not a parent, so I don't understand how these things are important or exciting.

 Anyway, here are some highlights of my first year with a commentary track.

  • Included in the calendar was a piece of paper my dad was writing his thoughts down on as I was being born. It's a really touching front and back where he ponders life, talks about how scared and excited he is, and then he ends this touching piece of history with, "Danny J. Let's you know when he poops in his drawers - he farts real loud (and it sounds awful wet!)"
  • July 26th, 1984 - 3:48 AM - Thursday - I am born after 9 hours of labor to the Raymond W. Bliss Army Community Hospital in Arizona. 6 lbs 1 oz and 20 inches tall. 
  • On the day I was born, Russia announces they are going to boycott the LA Olympics, Ronald Reagan was president, Bruce Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark is the most popular song, and break dancing is all the rage. 
  • December 25th, 1984 - I'm put in my walker after being all sorts of amped up playing with wrapping paper, immediately run off the concrete patio, flipped over, and was left on my head, feet in the air, while the parents laughed at me. 
  • September 7th, 1984 - I sleep through the night for the first time. And according to the notes, that means I slept until 4 am. 
  • October 1st, 1984 - First solid food, rice cereal. Sounds gross.
  • February 6th, 1985 - First words, "Momma." Baby Dan was a giant ball of cliche. 
  • February 25th, 1985 - "Pickup a Cheerio off his tray and put it in his mouth." Setting the bar really high early on.
  • March 12th, 1985 - "While in the bath tub, Daniel discovered his personal area." Now this is starting to sound like me. 
  • March 15th, 1985 - "Daniel tipped over in walker, head on floor, feet in the air, for the second time this month..." By my count, that's the third time I've flipped over. Maybe we needed a fence?
  • April 3rd, 1985 - "...Is falling down a lot and hitting his head." Beginning to think there was a little neglect happening.
  • April 17th, 1985 - "Went outside today and when it was time to come in, Daniel screamed. I think he'll grow up loving the outdoors." HA! Pave the world!
  • May 25th, 1985 - "Daniel went up Grandma's stairs with no one watching." Where the hell were my parents? No wonder I'm such an independent person, I basically survived on my own.
  • June 9th, 1985 - "Ate his first McDonald's hamburger." A true American accomplishment.
  • July 4th, 1985 - First Cardinal's game. $4 for tickets, Cards beat Dodgers 3-2. 
So there you have it folks, the blue print on how to grow the perfect child. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Chicago First Full Day

We woke up and went to this nice patch of land in downtown Chicago called "Bang Bang Pie Shop" and stood in line for 20 minutes staring at this rustic fence made out of old doors to order biscuits.
These weren't ordinary biscuits. These were made from scratch by hipsters biscuits, butters, and jams.
Needless to say, it was worth the wait.

Sal had to go off and do race prep, so Kevin and I sipped a few cups of coffee and found this awesome sports bar called Logan's to watch the Mizzou game from. This bar had some of the greatest paintings of Star Trek characters dressed in Star Wars gear. They also had this deliciously seductive picture.

After having a huge debate between Falafel and Reuben,  I decided on Falafel. ... but then somehow, subconsciously ordered a Reuben. It was a small surprise when marble rye housing 8 oz of meat, cheese, and sauerkraut was delivered to my seat. 

After a thrilling Mizzou win, we came home, took a nap, and prepared for part two of the day.

The breweries...

I was told we were going to the Revolution Brewery tap house. We pulled up next to this nondescript warehouse looking building. Entered a plan looking door, into a plain hallway that could be any white-tiled hospital, and turned a corner to find a large brewery.

The beers were pretty good, but I loved the revolution inspired Soviet era propaganda art style on all their swag.

After a couple pints we went to another brewpub called Half Acre and had a few more pints before finally getting some food.

Then we headed to a party that belonged in a Wes Anderson film. There were all these tattoos personalities hanging out, drinking PBR, blanketed in a soundtrack that Mark Mothersbaugh would pick out. We discussed the genius of David Lynch and Twin Peeks until around 1:30 am, when we finally went home and retired for the evening. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Burn of Technology Gone Wrong

The past 20 years have seen some of the greatest technological advances in man. We are holding phones in our hands that are as powerful as computers from 2009.

Remember video stores? Yeah, useless because everything is instant gratification over the internet.

And I can order cat food from my phone and have it here within a day.

But when technology doesn't work as you hope, it gets ugly quick.

Sallie gets incredibly frustrated. When technology doesn't work right, she gets pissed and I find myself apologizing and listing all the places where the technology could break down as if the complexity of it is an excuse.

(Secretly, when the same stuff happens and Sallie isn't around, I curse technology to hell.)

Last night was the perfect example of everything going wrong.

Last year, Sallie and I would stream Blues' games and hook her laptop up to the TV with the VGA cable. We had to get a new TV over the summer. Turns out, VGA is no longer a supported format for video input on newer TVs.

Since that was no longer an option, I bought a Chromecast which allows you to stream anything from your Chrome browser to the TV through this magical little stick.

I tested it by watching Southpark, Premier League Soccer, YouTube and Netflix. All seemed to work with little issue.

Queue the start of the Blues' season and Sallie's laptop dies. And it's not the, "Oh, we can just reload Windows and all is fine" sort of death. She was getting beeps upon start-up, which means her motherboard / processor is fried. (As a side note, anyone that wants the laptop for parts can have it.)

So we got a new laptop... that has HDMI out. So the original reason for the Chromecast is invalid. But I'll still use it because it's easier than digging out wires.

Last night, I found an HD stream of the Blues game. Turns out Chromecast can't handle streaming of that quality just yet. (It's still in it's Beta)

So out come the cords. I spend the next 35 minutes swapping out HDMI cables, downloading Windows updates, using the receiver, disconnecting the receiver, playing with Windows settings, etc, to try and get the picture to work. Finally get it to work in the second period.

Then, about 30 seconds before the game goes to a shootout, the stream starts looping to the same 30 seconds. Turns out the internet connection in the house went out.

Our router has been acting up lately and dropping internet connections. I think it's because with Scott living with us, we might have a few too many wireless devices connected to the router. (I get IP address conflict errors sometimes)

So I reboot the router and am unable to get a connection again.

So to solve this, I go back to a 100+ year old technology. I flip on the radio, just in time to hear Oshie score.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Random Odds and Ends

Things have been crazy busy the past few weeks and I've have a list of things I've wanted to write about, but just haven't had the time. So you're going to get quick little stubs of everything.

Man Dates

One thing I've never done, even with how often I write about it, and how much I know about it, (thanks videogames) is shoot a gun. Thanks to my Best Man Cory, that has changed. 

A few weeks back, Cory and I went shooting. He showed me how to use three different guns and I got to feel how different each one felt. I shot best with the Glock, but enjoyed shooting the .44.

The shooting range is a weird place. There were gangsters firing their pistols as fast as they could, constantly being yelled at by the people running the place. Red necks with high powered sniper rifles and spotters. Normal folks just wanting to fire some frustration out. Everyone comes together in this one place and act as if they've known each other for years. 

After that, we went to Hot Shots, talked hockey, shared a bucket, and then went back to his place, where things got really sexy.

Actually, it was two dudes realizing they were nearing 30 and tired. We played with his hedgehog, watched Archer, and chugged energy drinks.

After we got our second wind, we headed to a beer festival at the Family Arena. Turns out it was mostly big breweries in disguise. You would step up to have a sample, the brewery would be called something crafty like "Dick's Backyard Brews," and when I looked them up the next day, I would find out it was actually Coors. 

St. Louis Sports Night of the Year

I'm sure downtown was a wreck. Cardinals elimination playoff game and Blues vs Blackhawks nationally televised game, both in St. Louis, both starting within 8 minutes of each other.

I was tucked away in the back corner of a local bar and sticking out. I was decked out in my Blues gear in a sea of Cardinals' red, joined by Scott, Sal, and the Colombinis. 

I didn't expect to have more than one TV for the Blues game. I would've been happy with just getting that broken TV in the back corner of every bar, but with the way this bar was wired, the only TV with the Blues game was on the opposite side of where I had seats. The 7 or so Blues fans in attendance, stood right under the TV, craning our necks to see what would be one of the most exciting Blues games I've seen in a few years. Turns out, one of the most exciting baseball games was on too.

It was a great night to be from St. Louis. The bar crowd of maybe 100 people cheering, high-fiving, and generally screaming at the top of their lungs.

Seconds after Alexander Steen's game winning goal on the Blackhawks, a fantastic "Let's Go Blues" chant rang out across the crowd. It would only be 3 minutes later when Wainwright would get his final out and I thought the roof was going to come off the place.

It makes me really scared for how the mood would've been had the Cards lost. 


Thanks to SNL, I keep getting this Miley Cyrus song stuck in my head, but it's never the original song, it's the parody they did about the Republican Party. If you watch the original video, you'll realize just how well they nailed the weirdness of it.

Work Stuff

Things have been going well at work. I'm busy as can be, but I like it.

I got a small pay bump a few weeks back which is always nice.

Then there was an announcement that our manager would be changing. This would be the 4th manager I've had since I joined the team a year ago. I was getting frustrated because I'm tired of having to prove myself to new people every quarter. Well it turns out that my new manager is someone I worked with during the A.G. Edwards days. Someone that I already have a rapport with. Pretty excited about that. 

Gearing Up

Usually Sal and I prepare well for trips, but we might have packed just a little too much into this week. It's only 3 hours before we are set to hit the road to Chicago and I haven't packed or showered yet. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

That Box of Cords and Wires

Every electronic / computer nerd have these weird hoarder tendencies.

We have stacks of flattened boxes for software and hardware we bought years ago, some of which we no longer have, sitting in our basements.

We keep a huge library of instruction manuals that can be found online tucked into our overflowing CD binders with copies of Encarta '98 and a DVD manual for Windows ME.

And the biggest identifier of this nerd is the box of wires, cords, and adapters that are dragged from house to house for decades.

I'm trying to downsize the sheer amount of crap I have. I don't want to have to move all of this stuff ever again. One of the larger (and heavier) boxes I have is the box filled with cords.

This is a third of my complete box.
I'm shedding some of these cords. In the age of HDMI and USB, most of these will never be used again.

Here are some of the greatest hits from my collection:

  • Cable TV: About 60 feet of coaxial cable. I've not had cable TV in 6 years, yet I've hauled this ugly monstrosity to five different homes.
  • Printer: USB to fire wire. I have literally not seen anything use fire wire in 10 years.
  • ???: This thing to the right that appears to be A/V to 3.5 mm cord. That would essentially mean, plug a video (yellow) and mono-sound (white) into a headphone jack. How does that even work?
  • Speaker: I have four different gauges of speaker wire. If I were to tie all of this speaker wire together, I probably have about 200 feet. I could run a speaker from my receiver to my garage and have some slack left. 
  • Electrical: I have six of those two prong to three prong adapters for old houses that don't have grounded outlets. If I ever live in a house that outdated again, I've done things wrong. 
  • Internet: I have fifteen CAT 5 Ethernet cords varying from one foot to twelve feet in length. That doesn't include the dozen or so Ethernet cords in use around the house. 
  • Old Computer Crap: I have an IDE to SATA power cable. It's nearly impossible to find an IDE hard drive anymore. 
  • MP3: I have six Microsoft Zune cords. That's right, my Apple dislike was strong enough that my family owned four different Zunes, one of which is still in use.   
The worst part about this box is no matter what cord you actually need, you don't have that in the box. So you load up Amazon, buy the cord, and add to your collection. 

Since everything seems to be moving to universal connectors (USB, HDMI, MiniUSB) the nerd's cord box is in danger of disappearing. There are kids born now that will never know the sense of accomplishment of untangling the giant ball of hell and using twisty ties to organize them. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Government is Closed. How is Your's Doing?

I'm really bummed out about government today.

Our government, the people that we elect to run our country, are in a pissing match with each other. Yes, the free world, we the ones that supposedly police the world, the country everyone else supposedly looks up to, have shut the doors.

We probably won't notice much of a difference for at least a few days between a working government and one that is closed. We have at least 10 days before the courts start shutting down, military paychecks start arriving late, and the 24 hour news channels start running out of things to talk about again.

Hell, we're going to save quite a bit of money by not paying all those pesky 800,000 to 1 million non-essential employees (park services, NASA, Smithsonian museums, national zoos,  portions of the Food and Drug Administration, and Federal occupational safety and health inspectors) for a few days.

My problem is, all the guys that are in the midst of this stalemate, Congress and the President + cabinet, do still get paid. (Several Congressmen have used this opportunity to show how much they are like us by asking to not be paid. "See guys, I'm just like Joe Average. I'm not getting paid until we fix this either.")

The Affordable Care Act is the largest reason why our budget hasn't been passed. Several GOP congressmen at the very basic level want to de-fund Obamacare, which went into effect today, in order to pass the budget.

Why do we need something like the Affordable Care Act?

America ranks last in health rankings, but first in expense of healthcare. There are many reasons for this and really, it's too complicated to point at just a few reasons why this is, but I think this guy does a great job of explaining it while keeping the conservative vs liberal B.S. out of it.

The Affordable Care Act is not the 100% solution toward universal health care. There will be many amendments once we figure out what works and what doesn't. But this is at least getting the ball rolling. Universal health care was going to eventually come. Hell, Republican's championed it in the 90's.

The hang up seems to be whether to leave it to private companies to implement universal health care or the government. It just so happens that many American's don't trust their government and many more don't trust private companies to do what's right.

Why you ask?

  1. Politicians are mostly rich, out of touch white dudes who think the middle class make $250,000 a year and less
  2. Lobby groups fund campaigns as long as their guy supports doing things that profit them.
  3. Oh, and that whole 2008 economic crash caused by greedy and corrupt companies. 

The problem is, the ACA a bill written with a lot of legal jargon, bi-partisan misleading marketing is informing most of the populace, and no one really knows what it means. Americans are overwhelmingly uninformed and allow TV personalities like Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart to tell them what to think about it.

For instance, a survey conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of Americans didn't know about the ACA's online marketplace. This was a major pillar of the ACA. There would be an online market to compare private vs public insurance options.

Or, scarier yet, people don't even know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing. A CNBC survey showed that 46% of American's oppose Obamacare whereas 37% oppose the Affordable Care Act. ... Let that sink in. There's almost a 10% change in whether the public supports this act depending on what you call it. Just watch this video.

Conclusion? We're Screwed

As you can see by my back and forth ramblings, health care is way too complicated. No one is 100% right and no one can be trusted. We are stuck in one long terrible episode of the X-files, but the aliens are running the hell away because we look ridiculous.

Sallie and I didn't have insurance for almost 5 years and it was scary. Now that we do have insurance, I don't mind maybe giving a little more tax money so that other's can have it. Sure, some people will work the system like all those druggies that collect food stamps and welfare. Thing is, as long as there is a system, someone is going to try to exploit it. I'd rather know I'm helping that single mom with two kids rather than take a program away for everyone because there is a small population ruining it.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Lot of emotions in the past week. It all really started a few weeks ago with the roller coaster that was the trials my aunt was going through, but it's changed my perspective a bit.

I've been working non-stop overtime since April. 50 hours a week, every week. My mind just said, "Gotta pay those bills down. Gotta pay off those medical bills. Gotta pay off that car." And that's not a bad thing. I need to pay those off and the extra money has definitely helped.

But all the stuff that happened made my responsible self shut up and I welcomed the self that has been locked away for several years now. It's the self that says, "Hey man, time to chill out. Life's short, enjoy. Listen to some Bob Marley and just lay in the grass."

So, for the first time since Sal and I have been married, we're taking a week long vacation.

Yes, we've been on some short trips. We go to Columbia every year for the True / False film festival. We've been to the Smokey Mountains for a long weekend. We've been to Chicago for a few days for an awards ceremony.

But these trips are those that you take when you're a kid because you parents want to do something great for you, but because rug rats are so expensive, you're going to Branson this year and probably the Ozarks next year.

Now my responsible self didn't completely disappear. I thought, "Where could we go in an off-season for cheap?" So Sal and I will be rushing into the cold embrace of Minneapolis / St. Paul for New Year's week. We're going to see a Blues vs Wild game, hit up some really cool breweries and bars, see some waterfalls, and generally fight frost bite with determination and whiskey.

I bought the Blues tickets today. We'll be the ones setting in the back row at what appears to be a bar. Turns out hockey is a lot more popular and expensive in Minnesota. Who would've thought?

To say I'm excited is an understatement.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hakuna Matata

When I was a kitchen manager, I was the ultimate calm over the kitchen. I was one of the guys that rarely exploded when a customer sent their order of Lo Mein back, or when that mom came in with her three kids 10 minutes before close. I shined when I was alone, working a double shift, and there was a line out the door.

While my kitchen-mates would immediately start cursing and banging pans around, I would turn to them, look them in the eye, and simply say, "Hakuna Matata."

Inevitably they would ask "What the hell did you just say?"

And that was the open invitation to reach deep into my stomach and sing, "Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase..."

It had an instant calming effect on the kitchen. The sheer ridiculousness of the boss sinking into his best baritone, and singing hits from the Lion King, cooled the heat of the angry college kids.

But sometimes I forget the lesson that the Lion King taught me, and I in turn taught others.

Since July of last year, there's been this stress monster that just sort of burrows into the back of my neck and makes my chest feel heavy. It briefly leaves for periods of time and I feel great again, but even when it appears I'm having fun, my mind is racing, trying to solve all the issues Sal and I have.

It's exhausting. When you don't have a weekend to hit the reset button, like this weekend for instance, my body starts to shut down. Sal often thinks I'm in a bad mood, but really what is happening is my brain sort of goes into a hibernation mode. I just can't think of things to say and am too tired to keep up conversation.

Much of my stress is caused by things that I know will eventually be resolved: student loans, cars, surgeries, house projects, etc. But I forget to remind myself that these issues will go away in the next few years. I get caught in the now every time I see my bank statement.

I'm going to try to be better about this. Sometimes you have to just sit back and remember that problem-free philosophy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Eulogy for Aunt Lisa

My Aunt Lisa recently passed. It was completely unexpected and added tragedy to a family that is all too familiar with it.

I think she was sort of tired of being the youngest in a huge Catholic family and at some point started going by Lee instead of Lisa. There was no way that was ever going to catch on with me.

Part of the reason Aunt Lisa was so popular among her nieces and nephews was the way she was able to hang onto that childlike wonder so many of us lose to our 9 to 5 jobs.

When outside people ask me to describe Lisa, there are a few events or personality traits that run through my mind.

She was willing to watch her Ghostbusters' VHS tape with me so often as a kid, it started wearing out and no amount of tracking could fix it.

There were the countless and desperate pictures I was tagged in on Facebook, of errors her and grandma's ancient computer would throw at her in the middle of the night. All with captions of "WTH does this mean? LOL" She knew that Nephew Dan's tech service never slept.

Or how she would bring her own food to family gatherings. And while some people couldn't understand why her Jack N the Box tasted so much better than actually grilled burgers, I used it as an opportunity. No amount of compliments I received for my cooking from others could compare to the seal of approval of Aunt Lisa not only eating my food, but then asking for the recipe. (This often also lead to pictures of me being tagged on Facebook, every time she made my Buffalo Chicken Dip or Mac and Cheese. Now that I think about it, I don't know that Lisa actually ever tagged me on a picture with me in it.)

Or how her face would turn red as she laughed at Nick and I playing Royal Rumble on the Sega Genesis. All it took was throwing Hulk Hogan into the bell and hearing it ring.

But I think the greatest definition of who Aunt Lisa was to me involved Legos. If my parent's needed a child sitter at night, it was usually my Aunt Lisa that would volunteer. (Or be volunteered)

Other sitters from around the neighborhood were happy to let me sprawl my Legos out on the floor and earn their money as I mostly took care of myself. That wasn't good enough for Aunt Lisa. She had to be involved in my adventures, and let me tell you, she was one hell of an adventuring companion.

Lego didn't always get movie licenses. In fact, that's a fairly recent phenomenon. Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" was set to come out in 1991. So, to beat them to the punch, Lego released a Robin Hood knock-off known as the Forestmen.

I got the Forestmen's Crossing for my birthday, and Lisa was excited. She had played with Lego pirates and astronauts with me before, but this was the first time Lisa saw a strong woman, equipped with a bow and arrow.

This is how my Aunt Lisa looked

No matter what fiendish enemy attempted to attack our tree fort, Lisa's Lego heroin would save the day. 

She would say "pew pew" with a smile on her face as she let loose arrows at the Lego monkey that always for some reason had pistols in its hands. 

She always fought me when I said she got shot by one of the pirates saying that her hero had dodged the bullet. 

And anytime one of my heroes was laying on the ground with a sword wound, she would swing in on a vine and save me. 

So to me, Lisa will always be one of Robin Hood's Merrymen Merry-Women. Always swinging in to save the day from the 9 - 5 tedium we all get lost in. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Love Hotels!

I don't know if everyone knows this about me, but I love staying in hotels.

Another thing people should know is that I cannot sit and be comfortable if there is clutter or "dirtiness" within eye view of where I'm trying to relax.

I think that's part of the reason why I love hotels. It's one of the few places I can just plop down on the bed, watch some trash TV, and feel relaxed immediately. The maids have already cleaned the place. It's a fresh pallet with no clutter. As long as there isn't a black light available, I'm going to be happy.

Even in my own house, when I sit down on a Friday night, preparing for a movie night and a glass of wine, and I see a stack of DVDs sitting out, or Sallie has her nail supplies on the coffee table, or I see crumbs on the floor, I have to get up and remedy that before I can fully focus on fun.

Unfortunately, as I've gotten older, the magic of playing in the hotel pool and throwing quarters at the arcade machines in the rec area has dwindled. Sal and I now find that we usually just get to use hotels to sleep in.

When I was a kid, usually the hotel room signified a vacation.

I remember running around the halls of the Holiday Inn across the street from Six Flags the year the water park opened. Ryan and I played the pinball machines, swam in the hunting lodge looking pool, ran through the halls barefoot to feel the wonderful padded carpet. I was almost as excited to be there as I was to have two days at Six Flags.

Now Sal and I are usually staying in a hotel because there's a race Sal is running in the morning. Or we are blowing through town on the way to somewhere else. Essentially, we're going to bed and leaving early. The hotel room might as well be a closet with a bed in it.

We're due for a real trip sometime soon. A trip where we don't sleep on a friends floor to save some money. I for one am excited to try to reignite the "fun" of the hotel.

Monday, September 9, 2013

That Punk Rock Energy

Sal and I scored free tickets to Lou Fest this weekend. We were only going to go on Saturday, but we said, screw it, we have tickets, let's drag ourselves to the concert Sunday too. (BTW: Incredibly tired today. Slept through my alarm and missed my last day of physical therapy.)

Lou Fest is a relatively new music festival in St. Louis. Two days, in Forest Park, always at the beginning of September when it's still usually ungodly hot out, but still a good thing for St. Louis. They usually score bands like The Killers and Wilco. (Both headliners this year)

There's a dance music sub-genre I've noticed of the past few years. It's usually women singers, in these dance bands that have really punk rock energy.

Except instead of wanting to put a brick through your local Wal Mart window, you just want to dance that aggression out.

We saw Icono Pop yesterday. It's weird for me to admit, but they were really good. I thoroughly enjoyed their set. It's not something I thought I would ever say. Even as I read over that line again, it just doesn't look right. You've probably heard this song on the radio this summer.

Sallie dragged me to see the Ting Tings a few years back. They too had a similar sound. Not only the sound, but when you go to the shows, it has a similar feel.

Although not quite as crude, these bands reminds me a lot of the Riot Girl movement of the early 90s. These dance music, British, girl bands are bastard descendants of someone like L7.

There's not really a Joe Strummer nowadays. I know my brothers would disagree and argue their punk bands are still fighting the good fight, but I don't feel I can relate to it anymore. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't feel the need to bring the fight to the man anymore. I'm just too tired. I don't have the energy to protest. At the very most, I might complain a little and write my alderman a strongly worded email.

Sometimes its just good enough to dance that anger out.

Side note: This blog post will likely put my blog at over 10,000 views. That's right mom, I'm making the big times!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Ultra Connected World

I logged into work this morning and realized just how connected we are.

I have Outlook, Microsoft Lync (instant messaging), and Lync Group Chat (preset chat rooms) that are all connected.

As soon as I logged in, my manager got an alert that I'm in available status on Lync.

My name in Outlook gets a green circle icon next to it to let everyone know that I'm now at my desk.

I show up in 12 different rooms in Lync Group Chat.

An email came into my inbox 10 minutes before I logged on. Before I even had a chance to read it, my IM pops up with, "What do you think about that?"

I read through the email and was confused about it. I told the sender that I wasn't sure this would work.

All of a sudden I get a meeting message in Outlook. I click, "Accept" and then my calendar pops up an alert that my meeting starts in 5 minutes, my Lync status changes to a red dot that says, "In a Meeting," and my Outlook populates a conflict message since I had another appointment set at the same time.

I love technology, but it's getting bad. We're in a world where your response is expected within 5 minutes, otherwise the person on the other end starts freaking out. There's too many text message histories that go something like this.

11:30 am: "Do you still want to hang out tonight?"
11:33 am: "I was thinking we could get sushi or Mexican. Either 1?"
11:34 am: "What do u think?"
11:36 am: "Or if you don't like sushi or Mexican, we can do something else"
11:39 am: "Are you mad at me?"
11:41 am: "Was it because I couldn't come out the other night?"
11:42 am: "I'm sorry, something came up. I couldn't come out."

I'm not exaggerating about this at all. These are actual text messages. It's 11:30 am. I'm working and responding to the desperate pleas of co-workers via Lync.

We all see the tables out to dinner, everyone staring at the comforting glow of their smartphones. Draining that battery to make sure they are caught up on Twitter feeds. As a society, we've forgotten how to live in a moment of silence. Those are now moments of Facebook.

I'm guilty of this too. But I'm trying to get better. I makes me sick that I have this physical uncomfortable response when I don't check my phone every 5 minutes.

I need to break this. Start small. I'm only going to check the phone ever 15 minutes. We'll see how it goes from there.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ska and Riots

I was flooded with a memory this morning when my Zune picked three Reel Big Fish songs at the gym.

On August 10th, 2005, a rare event happened in Columbia during the summer. It was rare enough that an event was happening at all since 3/4th of the population was gone on summer break, but this event was actually fantastic.

Two concerts were planned in town on the same day, and the promoters for the Blue Note decided to combine the shows. If you had a ticket to either one, you could see the super show now happening. 311, Papa Roach, Unwritten Law, and Reel Big Fish were playing a show for less than $30.

There was this small amphitheater set up behind the Mizzou basketball stadium that I had never noticed. It was probably the worst place I've ever seen a show.

Anyone that bought general admission tickets had to stand on this ridiculously steep hill while those that shelled out $80 a ticket, were able to stand in front of the stage, casually sipping beer because broke college kids couldn't afford those tickets. They had all the room in the world.

Reel Big Fish played a fantastic show, but they unfortunately had to open for everyone and only got to play about six songs.

Unwritten Law was a band that I enjoyed listening to, but wasn't the biggest fan. They recently had lost a guitar player to drugs. So one member down, they played a full set that was pretty entertaining. They won me over enough that I purchased their newest album when I got home that night.

The surprise of the night came when Papa Roach took the stage. I didn't care much for Papa Roach, but this night, they won me over.

After a couple songs, the singer started complaining about how all the best fans were standing on this hill a mile from the stage. They then played one of their hits, "Between Angels and Insects" and the singer incited a mini-riot. "Tear the mother-f-ing wall down. I want to see you beautiful people up here."

The lawn erupted into a mosh pit. People started tearing down the chain link fence that separated the lawn and the nice seats. It was so animalistic and therapeutic. It was one of the most memorable times I've ever had at a show.

Papa Roach left the stage and the fancy seats were now flooded with a few thousand college kids. Security gave up and everyone had a prime spot for 311.

Then, one of my friends said I should go to the bathroom and clean myself up from my post riot appearance.

I went to the bathroom but was sidetracked when I passed a guy in a sweet mohawk. I did your standard movie double take. I was standing next to Reel Big Fish. Reel Big Fish and I went way back to highschool. They headlined several Warped Tours I went to, came to town every summer with a cavalcade of my favorite punk and ska bands, and generally wrong great, uptempo music.

"You guys are Reel Big Fish."

The bassist was the first to turn and without thinking said, "What the hell happened to you?"

I chatted them up for a few minutes. They are still one of the coolest bands I've ever met. I asked them if they could sign my ticket because no one would believe my story. I pulled the ticket out and they were amazed at the pristine condition it was still in. You would've thought that someone just printed it. They spent a few more minutes calling the roadies over, showing them my ticket, amazed at how crisp it was.

They signed my ticket, and I continued on my original mission. Looking back at my in the mirror was a guy with a busted open lip, grass in his hair (I still had some then), and bloodstains all over his shirt. I had never been happier.

Friday, August 23, 2013

About Batman

I've had time to think about this. Too much. In fact I've moved onto the part where I feel guilt that I skipped a news story about chemical weapons being used in Syria to read about Ben Affleck. (Side note: Brett Hull was actually the one to break the Ben news to me. Best way to have it delivered.)

My knee jerk reaction was, "Why Ben? He's a great director, pretty good writer, but when has he pulled off great acting." 

I don't think Ben Affleck being a mediocre actor is bothering me as much as it was last night. 

He's been good (not great) in some things (Hollywoodland, Dogma, Phantoms (Da Bomb!), Good Will Hunting) and he's been bad in many things. Too many things to list here. But thanks to YouTube, I have a compilation at my hands.

If you think about it, everyone that has played Batman has been mediocre. It's up to the writers and director to make it happen. 

Michael Keaton was the only one that pulled it off, but that also is partly thanks to the amazing Gotham Tim Burton dreamed up and Jack Nicholson's Joker. 

I think the biggest issue I have with Ben Affleck is I'm not going to be able to see past Ben Affleck. I had the same issue with Cloony, even before I saw the Bat nipples or Arnold's first pun. 

With Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, and even Val Kilmer to an extent, I was able to forget who the actor was and just see Bruce Wayne/Batman. With Ben Affleck, I'm going to see the guy that blew up an asteroid and was engaged to Jennifer Lopez. 

It sucks for Ben. He truly loves comics and when you have someone like Chris Evens playing multiple heroes and he doesn't read comics, you hope for a little justice in the world. 

His best chance at making a superhero believable would've been Iron Man. He's good looking, rich, and had a drinking problem. But thanks to Robert Downy's insane performance, no one will ever be able to pull off a better Iron Man. Never. 

So I'll be in the theater, day one, to see Supes and Bats duke it out. 

I'll be there day one when this inevitably leads to Justice League. 

And if Ben makes it to his own Batman movie, I'll be there opening weekend as well. 

I sort of feel like this is going to usher in another revolving door of Batman actors like we did in the early 90's before Batman goes on another 10 year hiatus. DC has always had issues casting their superhero films. DC really should just hire Chris' to play every. They've had their best runs with Christopher Reeves, Chris Nolan, and Christian Bale. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness and Deforming the American Dream

As long as I can remember, the American Dream has been presented as this nostalgic view of the suburbs in the 50's, American made car in the driveway, with the father mowing a lawn, drinking a beer, while his 2.5 children play in their incredibly green yard. The wife, slender and always done up in makeup, comes out of the house holding a freshly baked pie, the neighbor waves, the dog barks, and everyone has a smile on their face.

When I got older I realized that this wasn't exactly the dream. The dream was not to live in poverty. Not to be in a war torn, oppressive country. The dream was having so little to worry about you actually had something called leisure time. 

This dream came about thanks to the industrial revolution. Much like the Renaissance period, everything was all of a sudden easier and plentiful. There was time to philosophize, create art, and just sit around drinking a bottle of wine with friends. 

Like the pre-Industrial Revolution, Sal and I don't have an overabundance of time or money. We both work overtime and extra jobs and have been since college. We both feel a suffocating and incredible stress at least twice a year.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. We can still basically go out and get a drink whenever we want. We're much better off than most of the world. But the sort of abundance you need to just jump on a plane and hang out in Italy for a couple weeks is only obtainable as our paychecks climb higher and our debt lower. 

I don't think my American dream is the suburbs. My American dream reads more like a checklist, some would call it a bucket list. Things to do before I die.
  • See a top level football match in Europe.
  • Eat steak tartar and drink a bottle of nice French wine in Paris
  • See the Blues win the Stanley Cup and subsequently kiss the cup.  
  • Drink a Guinness from the brewery in Dublin
  • Learn to snowboard
  • Get something published.
  • Tip someone a ton of money on Christmas Eve. - I've always wanted to do this at Denny's. Show up, eat my Grand Slam, and then leave $100. 
  • Tour Napa Valley without a plan. Just show up, drink wine, and find a place to stay each night. 
  • Have one of my beer creations commercially sold, even if just for one run. 
  • Have a hop filled tour of the Pacific Northwest. 
  • See a major Canadian team NHL game: Canadiens or Maple Leafs
I don't think my list is asking too much. Like many of my peers, the goals I want to accomplish are mostly experiences rather than "things." 

Check back in August of 2017. That's the month my student loans and car will be paid off. Sure, we'll have other debt by then, but the amount those two things tie up could send me and Sal to Europe in a nice hotel within 3 months of not having to pay them. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hacking the Excitement My Brain is Feeling

If you listen to Podcasts, watch Netflix, or browse the internet, at some point you've probably come across a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk. Essentially, the Sapling Foundation hosts these conferences where leading geniuses in their fields give lectures about some really interesting theories and ideas.

Well TED recently (as of March 1st, 2013) started a radio hour on NPR and started releasing a podcast. Sometimes the subject is on something I'm not really interested in, but this week, "The Hackers" episode had me on the edge of my seat.

The episode started with Mikko Hypponen discusses "good hackers." Ones that aren't out to create viruses and steal your iTunes account information. He ended up hunting down the guys that programmed one of the original computer viruses that was distributed on a floppy disk.

Then, the one that excited me the most, Stewart Brand essentially explains how Jurassic Park might not be that far off. Essentially, if we have enough DNA of an extinct animal, we can splice that DNA with a living creature and bring them back.

He said it is likely that a 30 year old today will see the first Saber-toothed tiger born in millions of years. (Thank you tar pits) He talked about how we could bring the Dodo bird back, woolly mammoths, extinct big cats, really the list is just about endless.

He didn't say Dinosaur, but if we found a mosquito encased in amber with enough DNA, just maybe...

Then David Keith discussed ways in which we could control weather. He even offered a last ditch effort to save us from global warming that involves fitting airplanes with sulfuric acid and spraying it into the sky.

And the last talk was Andres Lozano, who discussed the history of mapping the brain and how it is possible to install little defibrillators to fight depression, Alzheimer's, and other brain disorders.

It's crazy to think that these are real things being worked on when only twenty years ago most the country didn't have internet access, and now we're discussing the real possibility of controlling weather and hacking the brain.

We're talking about futuristic stuff here people. If you aren't excited, something is broken inside of you. Don't worry though, someone is probably working on a way to hack the excitement part of your brain to get it working again.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Love Letter to Lisa Frank and 5 Star Notebooks

As a child, the only exciting thing about school starting again was buying school supplies. This was a way to craft your identity for the year. 

Many times I would buy the blank cheap folders so I could draw anything I wanted. It usually depended on what I was into drawing that year.
  • 2nd Grade: huge battleships
  • 3rd Grade: skeletons, zombies, and skaters
  • 4th Grade: tattoo styled drawings
  • 5th Grade: horror themed drawings or 3rd grade revisited
  • 6th Grade: Southpark

Most of my peers came to school in their awesome Dallas Cowboys Starter Jackets with Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49's folders. I never cared much for football or being with the in crowd. I rocked my Lotto jacket just as hard as their Starter gear. 

The NHL was terrible with licensing at the time, so I couldn't sport a Blues folder easily. 

The girls were into Lisa Frank. I'll admit, there was a part of me that was jealous. The colors on those folders were insane.

Instead, I was a fan of the "No Rules" line of Trapper Keeper folders. You know, the ones that were deliciously 90's extreme. 

These are two I actually owned, as well as one with bears playing hockey.
I however was not a Trapper Keeper binder sort of guy. Instead, I liked the Five Star binders that had the zippers. There are three reasons I can think of for my preference:

  1. The ad campaign during Saturday morning cartoons
  2. Because they were functionally better (more pockets)
  3. There was a game in my elementary school where you would try to knock an unsuspecting kid's books and pencil box out of his hands and all over the hallway. The zipper made cleanup much easier. 

When it came to colored pencils, it was Crayola or get the F*CK out! 

Anything other than Crayola had duller colors and tips that would break every 15 minutes. 

Notebooks had to have perforated edges and be college ruled. I swear, if you hand me a piece of notebook paper that has the nasty edges from being ripped from a binder, we're no longer friends. 

And lastly, the lunchbox. Early on, I usually was rocking Ghostbusters or Ninja Turtles. Then I switched to the brown bag, but because of the game I mentioned earlier, it often ended up on the floor, bruising my banana. 

My solution was to eat a simple combination of a sandwich, fruit snack, and CapriSun. Sure the sandwich might be a soggy mess by lunch, but I could deal with that. By the end of school, I'm starving and would make up the lack of calories at dinner where I would stuff two plate fulls into my mouth.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mr. Fong

The second neighbor Sal and I met in our house was this incredibly happy Vietnamese man next door.

He was always sitting on his front porch, tallboy in hand, cigarette hanging from his mouth, smiling and waving.

He didn't speak much English. He had maybe a half dozen phrases, things like "Nice day!" Then he would get this giant grin on his face and wave. He would say this whether it was 65 degrees with a fantastic breeze or if it were 105 degrees, no cloud cover, and 90% humidity.

Every Spring, his grass would grow to several feet and then he would appear in his sweat soaked red baseball cap with a weed whacker, cutting his lawn down like an adventurer with a machete in the jungle. To celebrate his adventure, yes, he would smoke a cigarette and drink a few tallboys.

We always seemed to suffer yard work on the same schedule. Every time I was out there, sweating, regretting having a yard, he was out there picking weeds and growing exotic gourds.

Every Sunday, his family would show up with a six pack of Heineken, and he would answer the door with a smile on his face.

I always wanted to meet him. Just sit on the porch, silent, drinking a tallboy with him, taking in the day and admiring the lawns we had just cut.

But alas, life got in the way. I spent two out of the three summers in my house, locked up with a broken leg. I worked a second job sometimes on the weekends the past two summers. And sometimes I was just too tired to try and chat him up.

And every spring I thought, maybe this was the summer we shared a Budweiser.

We had not seen him or his wife much this year. His family still diligently comes over every Sunday, but a landscaping service started showing up to take care of his lawn. (As a side note, they always showed up at the worst times, like when we were BBQing, and they always seem a little drunk.) I would still look up from the mower to see if maybe his red cap would make an appearance.

When our tree debacle happened, Sal and I asked if we could repair his yard. He hobbled to the front door and looked frail. He still smiled at us and although I'm not sure he understood much of what I said, but he still said, "yes, yes, yes" and shook my hand.

We noticed that medical supply vans were showing up lately, dropping off oxygen. We haven't seen him or his wife leave the house at all. His car went up for sale. These were all signs that his health was failing.

Today, I overheard his granddaughter talking with the landscaping crew, who were trying to collect their fee.

She said that he was in hospice and that they were sending him home Monday so that he could die in his own home. He is beyond any help.

Through another neighbor I found out that his name was Mr. Fong. I expect that sometime this week, I will see an ambulance show up to collect Mr. Fong's body.

I think I'm going to feel a bit sad for the potential silent bond we could've shared. Irritated at myself for not making the simple gesture of wandering over to his porch and popping a can open with him.

I think when I see it happen, I will walk to the store, buy a couple tallboys, and sit on my front porch in honor of Mr. Fong.

I think he would've wanted it that way.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Gifts Keep Getting Smaller

Most of you probably remember Christmas and birthdays as a child.

Part of the childhood magic was in seeing the gifts before you opened them.

Having two brothers, there was almost a contest, an Olympic if you will.

There were only two medals, "biggest gift" and "most gifts." That was the way you judged if this was going to be a great holiday or a "I can't believe you ruined my life" holiday.

I remember sneaking downstairs on Christmas at 2:00 a.m. to groggily see what this year's haul looked like. My brothers, unprompted by me, used to join me near the tree only minutes later.

In one of those loud whispers, you would shake the medium sized boxes declaring it was Legos and would kick the small packages out of the way to get to that one or two large boxes in the back of the tree.

We would need Nick's skeleton arms to reach through the sharp, dried pine needles to sort of maneuver the box around so I could see the name. "Ugggh, it's Brett. Brett gets the big one. I'm going back to bed." I'd slam a shot of milk from my Superman glass and go to bed feeling like I had just gotten a pile of coal.

Birthdays were the same. I sat cross legged on the living room carpet waiting for my parents to bring the gifts out. It was as much of a full on Olympic festival as Christmas was, but it was at least an event. I would take stock within the three minutes the gifts entered the room and I started opening them and know which medal I had won.

It's hard to take stock anymore.

Before, the large boxes usually presented as a bike or the Death Star play-set. Now, you're sent emails with digital codes, unwrap gift cards, or at best you might get a tablet. (That gift size was maybe worth 5/10 points in the old Olympics.)

As a side note, remember when you could only buy gift cards at the actual place? Now I'm grocery shopping and buying a Gamestop gift card for my imaginary nephew.

Does it take a little bit of the magic out of these childhood days? There's something less majestic about a Christmas film that pans across the fake Christmas tree with 30 iPod sized boxes underneath.

Maybe this Christmas I'll wrap Sallie's gifts in much larger boxes, just to see if it feels different.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

All the Weird Things I Eat

Sal and I spent a jam packed day in the suburbs Saturday and it started by eating a Tocano's Brazilian Grill.

I've always wanted to try Brazilian food. There's something so American about getting served meat on a sword skewer.

The place is built for that point where you've had too much meat that you can't talk anymore.

Your breathing is heavy, you're somehow sweating even though the air conditioner is pointed directly at you, and the smell of beef is coming out of your pores. Breathing is even harder because you're still wearing pants, but you just don't have the energy to get them unbuttoned.

And in this cardiac crises all you want to do is tell the smiling servers that you just cannot eat another cut of pork or fried white fish. But since you can't tell them, they continue to cut meat and throw it on your plate that is covered with the juices of at least 4 animals. And because you're American and don't want to lose the respect of your fellow pain-filled diners, your shaking hand slowly brings that meat up to your lips, and somehow you choke it down.

To keep that from happening, they have this little token on your table. One side is green and one side is red. Red up means stop the meat train and green means all-aboard.

It was an experience.

Anyway, I try strange foods if given the chance. It's a great ice breaker.

I've had a bison burger on a bison conservation park in Salt Lake. (I still don't know how a park built to save bison can serve their meat, but whatever.)

I've had gator-kabobs in New Orleans, Octopus in Myrtle Beach, snoot in Alton (I still don't know what this is, I just know it comes from a pig) and now I've had chicken heart in St. Chuck.

It wasn't bad. It tasted like un-spiced chicken. It was incredibly chewy. I don't think I would eat it again, but I'm glad I knocked it off my list.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Hottest Day of the Summer without AC

Get a cat they said! You'll love it they said!

So around 3:30 pm yesterday, I noticed the AC stopped kicking on. The temperature rose quickly, as did my temper.

I had a fairly sleepless night seeing as how it was 75 degrees with 75% humidity.

I adjusted my internal thermometer when it got to 94 degrees in the house with 92% humidity. That's when things are miserable. I prayed for that 75 degrees.

The cats all spent the morning laying in the middle of the floor, panting their little cat butts off.

I wasn't much different. Sweating and panting on the leather furniture.

Side note: Leather furniture looks nice, but has no practical application in the heat.

So I had the AC guy come out. He checked a few things and went down to the furnace. As he was checking the power he said something's not right. It might be the compressor which is about $450-500.

Just then, Slider comes downstairs and rubs against the furnace. The guy looks down and notices that there's a power switch about Slider height. He flips that, and the AC comes on.

So because Slider brushed against this switch I've never noticed, I lived 20 hours in one of the worst, more miserable states I ever had.

The AC guy was at least cool enough to just charge me $69 for the maintenance fee instead of the $89 for the diagnosis fee.

All three cats are now sitting in front of AC vents. I'm laying on the floor, almost naked, just giggling with glee.