Raise a Pint to Opportunity!

When the last chapter of a saga comes to an end, that is often the time that we talk about the whole story with the greatest passion. We celebrate an era in much the same way that we break out the albums and singles of great musicians when they die. 

Today we lost another great rock star.  Opportunity, the Mars rover.  This morning, NASA declared Opportunity’s signal from the red planet was lost for good. Yes, it was just a robot, but that little robot (that most people don’t realize is actually the size of a golf cart) did more for space exploration than most astronauts.  It, as well as its twin rover Spirit, showed us that water once existed on the now barren planet and provided us with views of Mars that fascinated a new generation of science lovers with the same level of joy as those who watched the first moon landing. While its mission taught us much, its journey has something to teach us that is just as valuable.

I’m not talking about the fact that Spirit and Opportunity made it to Mars in one piece, although it is absolutely amazing.  Even with the help of some parachutes and reverse thruster rockets, the rover essentially hurtled toward the surface of the planet at unimaginable speeds, inflated a giant buckyball shaped balloon around itself and bounced and rolled itself to a stop. (If you haven’t seen the simulated animation, you should check it out.) It’s successor, Curiosity, was afforded a much less violent style of landing 8 years later.

What I am referring to is the length of Opportunity’s life.  Much like Opportunity’s predecessors, Pathfinder and Sojourner, the little rover that could was expected to last only up to 90 days. As it turns out, expectations can be a funny thing.  Opportunity decided instead to roam the Martian countryside for 15 years. Think of how much was learned or discovered in those extra 14 years and 9 months that scientists, the rover’s designers, never expected to happen.  These are the people who knew Opportunity better than anyone and they severely underestimated it.  

Opportunity casts a big shadow

That’s what makes today so incredible.  Today was not the day that scientists lost Opportunity’s signal.  In fact, NASA had not heard from Opportunity in eight months.  Let that sink in.  Fifteen years ago, scientists expected Opportunity to fade away after 90 days. But when they lost Opportunity’s signal eight months ago, they didn’t close the book and say “that’s a wrap” or “bound to happen eventually.” No, no, no.  They came to a collective decision that it could be a hiccup, a glitch, a brief moment of interruption in Opportunity’s communication. And they held on to that possibility for over 240 days sending roughly 1000 signals including one just yesterday with the hope that Opportunity would respond back.  Two hundred and forty days is almost three times the rover’s original life expectancy. And that is the amazing part. In those 15 years of exploration, Opportunity changed the way it was viewed. It changed everyone’s expectations.  In 2004, Opportunity was expected to last 90 days.  In 2019, it was expected to defy expectations.  

When NASA scientists decided today to accept Opportunity’s fate, it was not an easy announcement. It was emotional. The rover that drove a marathon distance and once even took a selfie of itself on Mars was more than just a machine.  This was a loss and was treated as such.  NASA even has a site for fans to post virtual postcards to Mars, many now saying goodbye to “Oppy.”

Even rovers take selfies

But the mourning is already transitioning into celebration.  In remembering Opportunity’s unexpected journey, Mars exploration has been given another jolt of energy.  And let’s not forget that Curiosity is still driving the red landscape carrying the rover torch.  It may not last as long as Opportunity. After all, we can’t hold Curiosity to the same superstar expectations. But perhaps Curiosity will also refuse to limit itself to the low expectations of others. And perhaps the rest of us Earth rovers could gain a thing or two from that way of thinking, too. 

Opportunity MER 2004-2019

The Swift Brothers

My buddy, Mark, and I are back playing music again as The Swift Brothers.  Since we were half of our old band Palexia Went to England, we’re resurrecting some of Palexia’s old songs while working on new ones.  Here’s a quick glimpse of our altered cover version of the song “Pumped Up Kicks” (and half of “Wagon Wheel” thanks to a dying phone).  If you like our sound, please check out all of the media sites and like, friend, and follow us.

ReverbNation:  http://www.reverbnation.com/theswiftbrothers

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheSwiftBros

Twitter: @theswiftbros


Back on August 17, 2010, I convinced my girlfriend to come with me to a free screening of an educational film documentary called “History Presents.” After some ACTUAL movie trailers which had me worried that we were in the wrong theater, this is what she saw:

And in the spirit of Smokey and the Bandit movies, here are the outtakes:

This film took an entire summer to film and edit.  Each day I would wait until Kelsey left for work and then jump in my car for some new location.  This meant that nothing was getting done around the house which made me look like the laziest person on Earth…and I had no choice but to “admit” it.  Had this film taken any longer, Kelsey probably would have left me before she had a chance to see it.

Thanks to all of the friends, family, and strangers who agreed to do this.  No thanks to the waitress at the bowling alley who had me come in to explain the entire premise of the movie before telling me that she doesn’t like being on film.

I love you, Kelsey!  Let me know when you’re ready for the sequel about having  a baby.

Cultural Phenomenon

Cultural Phenomenon.  The phrase itself seems to be an oxymoron.   How can we honestly be amazed about something we are all apparently involved in as if we have no control over our choices?  It only works when talking about the past and every once in awhile American culture takes a very quick step back and looks at what it has created.  We have defined decades in our history by trends in fashion, fads, music and politics.  As each decade has come and passed, we often think of how crazy the times were and how odd our preferences had been.  To me, that makes sense.  Every generation of adults should look back and reflect on what made it an odd generation of kids.  What were our cultural phenomenons of the past?  Maybe you were foolish enough to buy a pet rock despite the fact the planet is littered with free ones.  Perhaps your accountant coworkers laugh at photos of you with long hair singing songs about hugging trees.  Or maybe you’re a guy who spent the better part of a decade switching back and forth between wearing pastels with dock shoes and teasing your hair while borrowing your sister’s eye liner.  No matter what odd preferences we have had in the past (mine includes owning an entire outfit made of parachute material), they are the past.  It is now safe to look back and be amazed at what bizarre choices an entire culture seemed to be making only because we have rid ourselves of them.  In my opinion you should only be allowed to say, “What the hell was I thinking?” if you have stopped using the expression “totally tubular” when you get excited.

The problem with assigning decade identities is that we have now created a culture desperate to find one before its time is done.  It’s a culture suffering from only-child syndrome screaming, “Look at what I’m doing now!”  Trying to identify ourselves from the inside looking out can only lead to one of two things:  We create the most incredible time period ever or the hundreds of failed attempts at creating a cultural identity becomes the identity.

One shade of our colorful tapestry of American life that forced me to address our bumbling efforts through contradictory trends is fast food.  It is the ultimate symbol of Western culture that in recent years has never failed to cater to our ever growing demands of it.   Like a kicked puppy it has taken recent blame and abuse for growing health concerns in this country only to come back and still offer to lick our faces.  Perhaps this multi-million dollar pooch keeps crapping in our homes because we keep feeding it.

We learned in documentaries and news investigations of how serving sizes have changed (if you hadn’t already noticed for yourself).  New larges were created, old larges became mediums, mediums became smalls, and smalls became the free cups for water for customers like me who find paying for soda to be a major scam.  We’ve added more bacon, more cheese, more beef, more things that were never on a burger in the first place.  America panicked.  We were told this was too much.  We were told this could kill you.  And of course we denied it was ever our fault it got to this point.  We have even sued fast food for making us obese!  But despite the horrific thought of my children’s history teacher ever  having to discuss the implications of Mayor McCheese v. Fat Guy, fast food took the abuse and came back to lick our faces again.  Well almost everyone’s face.

Somewhere around the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s, the fast food empire picked a generation and stuck with it.  I can remember a time when there were just as many commercials for fast food toys as there were for other toys.  Fast food was a child’s domain.  As these kids got older, humongous playscapes were built for their adolescent exuberance.  Fast food became an afternoon trip. When these kids became young adults, fast food sold out the next generation of kids by making an “adult” menu.  Soon these young adults became middle aged, cholesterol fearing adults who still enjoy a good game of monopoly.  And to show that fast food was still by their side, they agreed to make every child’s nightmare come true.  Healthy alternatives became available.  People were hired to find fifty different ways to mix lettuce and vegetables.  And somehow we all agreed that nothing will compliment our kid’s cheeseburger like an orange.  Once upon a time, fast food mass marketed toys for kids, but now they’ve turned their Happy Meals into Moderately Content Meals.

American culture celebrated.  The healthy era had begun and generations to come would look back one day and thank us wondering how anyone in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s ever lived long enough to reproduce.  That is until one day apparently a hungry man was waiting impatiently in line at the drive-thru and realized that it only takes about 15 seconds to put fruit in a bowl and that he has both fruit AND a bowl at home.  An age of wisdom was on the verge of taking place.  The logic wheel was spinning and then he thought, “If I can make this in half the time and at a third of the cost…”  The 21st century enlightenment was beginning!  Angels were revealing themselves to commence singing in chorus when he continued, “If I can do this, I clearly wasn’t meant to eat it.”  Right then the hamster on logic’s wheel died and the fast food canine picked up the scent of death.

Out of nowhere, burgers were on the rise again.  Actual restaurants began competing with fast food to see who could make the most ridiculously unhealthy slab of meat and toppings.  Somehow America, including myself, kept it’s blinders on while grease made a comeback.  Blinded, that is, until I saw a commercial for something new.  Something I could no longer deny was ending an era.  A hamburger that was four stacks tall of beef, cheese, bacon,

I like to call this photo "Dignity."

I like to call this photo “Dignity.”

and good ol’ fashioned fatty mystery sauce.  This wasn’t the old way of pushing the limit by adding an extra slice of cheese here or perhaps an onion ring there.  Oh no, this was an all out, NFL tackling, cold-cocking, send-a-letter-home-to-the-limit’s-mother demolition of the limit.  Here was a burger that only snakes and the toothless could possibly eat.  I had no doubt this thing would register on my bathroom scale. Very calmly I looked at my friend Mark who was watching with me and asked, “What happened to America’s health kick?”  And just as calmly, Mark responded without looking away from the monstrosity, “I think it just got told to go f@#$ itself.”  Needless to say we immediately made plans to go buy one.



            I can’t honestly say I’m surprised to witness the slow demise of healthy living.  It is America’s phoenix.  It spontaneously burns itself out but continuously reemerges from its ashes to make a comeback at a later date.  People need a chance to forget the number of lose-weight-quick schemes that flood our late night infomercials and DVD shelves before they have the confidence to foolishly try it again as if it were their fault it didn’t work the last time.  There are health issues to consider when weighing out cures for health issues.  I don’t know if anyone else is alarmed that every weight-loss product, pill, diet, or workout video recommends that you consult with your doctor before trying, but that causes me to put a different spin on slogans like, “It’ll change your life forever!”  Maybe you have pre-existing conditions, or you’re taking other medication that will mix as well as bleach and ammonia, or maybe you’re like me and allergic to running.

Ok.  So maybe that last one hasn’t been scientifically proven, but I know that I hate it.  The funny thing is that after a decent amount of time has passed, I forget that.  And what do I do to remind myself?  I go running.  It’s not the running itself I hate.  It’s the feeling when I’m done (or collapsed) like someone just finished attaching one of those vacuum bag sealers to my mouth and sucked out whatever it is that keeps my lungs from simulating the sensation of fire.  How could this possibly be a sport let alone a leisure activity?  I’ve been to cross-country meets before and watched kids cross the finish line crying and throwing up.  I think to myself, “They’ve been training for this and they’re miserable!  How am I ever expected to enjoy this?”  While parents are cheering on their misery, I’m secretly begging them to stop doing this to themselves.

Of course people will tell you what a grand tradition running has.  We even get the word “marathon” from the location of the great Persian War battle from which Pheidippides ran 25 miles back to Athens to report the victory.  We commemorate this historic achievement by reenacting scale versions of it year after year in location after location, yet does anyone remember what happened to him when he got there?  He died!    I suppose death does in fact constitute a “life change.”

Being in my mid-thirties will eventually have something to do with my choices on fast food and exercise.   Like a Chinese calendar, I think America is heading back into the Year of the Fruit and Vegetable anyway.  But for now, the only “running” I’ll be doing is to the store for more burgers for the grill.


Sometimes the truth hurts.  Do you suppose people suffering from depression got worse the day they discovered this condition?  That’s a pretty big downer.  “I know that you’ve been really unhappy lately and clinging to the hope that someday that will change.  Yeah…bad news.  Your brain isn’t going to allow that.  However, I do have a drug that will probably make you crap your pants repeatedly, but you’ll be happy doing it.  How do you feel now ol’ Gloomy Pete?”

Despite the fact that mankind has come a long way in communicating, from cave drawings to multiple, complicated, spoken languages, we have never really mastered the art of saying the right thing.  You always hear statistics about how many people are born, married, or murdered every minute, but one statistic that is truly amazing is how many people put their foot in their mouth every minute and truly miss the mark on knowing the audience.

As I watched my morning news one day, a commercial popped up for people suffering from anxiety.  It showed testimonies from people with worst case scenarios.  Everything from inability to leave the house to one woman who literally claimed to come close to purposefully driving her car into a telephone pole to end it all.  The commercial was not intended for people with minor symptoms.  This was calling out to people on the brink of disaster.  It offered assistance, hope, and an end to their troubled days.  To top it all off, it even offered a discount for the program which clearly suggested that the never mentioned price was probably quite high.  This is where it would have been a great time to say “call now” and call it a day.  Instead, in a whirlwind of its final three seconds, the calming voiceover that had soothingly offered a brighter world suddenly turned into an auctioneer, rushed out that the deal was only available for the next ten seconds, threw a countdown timer on the screen, and cut to black before the timer hit eight.  Now I’ve never claimed to be a doctor, but isn’t rushing someone suffering from anxiety a bit counterproductive?  Like a Jedi sensing a disturbance in the force, I had a sickening feeling as I pictured hundreds of anxiety sufferers screaming at the top of their lungs running through the house desperately searching for a telephone while rewinding their TiVos[1] for the phone number.  Of course they discover they all forgot to charge their phones and throw them against the wall in a fit of rage while torturing themselves by rewatching the commercial again and again until they can’t bear anymore and throw the TiVo remote against the same wall which consequently pauses the commercial right on the phone number and countdown timer.  As their eyes pop out of their skull at the horrible coincidence, minor cases of turrets develop as they rock back and forth repeatedly counting down from ten but adding explosion noises where they should have been screaming zero. And as they break down in a flood of tears while pounding their fists on a floor smattered in broken electronics I realize two things: 1. Things are going to get real ugly in two minutes when they realize they’re late for work and 2. The thought of their situation has left me with anxiety and running for my phone.

Sometimes I wonder if people even try at all.  We are often told to go with our gut instinct but often there are times where our gut should have been consulting with common sense.  Advertising is the worst culprit when it comes to brainwashing our instinctive midsection.  Are advertisers really that insensitive to assume we are too incompetent to be able to see through the smoke and mirrors of their trickery?  Or are we really too incompetent?  As a man thinking of leaving his job to become a writer, the last thing I need is someone feeding me another bad idea.  Just like people with bad credit need to hear they can afford to buy something else.   “But wait!  You can! Bad credit? No credit? We’ll approve you…guaranteed!” Maybe it’s generosity during a bad economy or maybe it’s a trap to stick more people with a lifetime of interest payments.  Either way, there is no such thing as “nothing to lose” anymore.  Advertisers have found new ways to remind you of what you still have as they take that away, too.

My favorite ad is for a certain generic computer package available with all the extras like a printer and…well just the printer.  After seeing it several times (during the same time slot as the other ad I mentioned which should tell me something about the type of morning programming I’m watching), I can’t help but laugh at the testimonies given by the grateful, credit impaired. The first woman with a personality of a potato was only a minor head trauma away from calling her computer a “magic picture box.”

The second woman demonstrated everyone’s need for a computer by telling her attention needing daughter “a few more minutes” as she continued to gaze at the monitor clearly developing an internet addiction which should really improve her employment opportunities.  Sometimes I like to think about what it was this woman’s daughter needed.  Maybe she and her baby sister weresick computer sitting at the dinner table waiting for a dinner that is currently on fire in the oven.  (You would probably think she would be screaming for her mother if that were the case, but you might reconsider if you saw the acting ability of the people in this commercial.  Think of the worst elementary school play you had to sit through but take away the adorability.)   Maybe it was this girl’s birthday and she was trying to let her mother know that the clown she hired just passed out drunk on the birthday cake.  The recycled Christmas banner hanging by one corner in the background saying “Merry Birthday” thanks to a black marker might explain the daughter’s lack of shock as if this were an unappreciated but expected tradition.   Whatever this girl needed, I get the feeling that she’ll probably be packing her own lunch for school tomorrow morning before stepping over the clown and an extinguished meatloaf to catch her bus.

The best and most intelligence-insulting sales pitch came with the last generic testimony.  This man exclaimed with a confident grin how he was now able to start his own home business now that he had his computer.  Let’s think about this little equation.  Bad credit. Struggling to buy a computer.  Possibly employment challenged.  What the hell does he plan on selling?! You thought my imagination went wild with the last woman?  Clearly, a webcam and blazing dial-up internet is the solution to all of his problems.  If you’re ever looking to see how he’s doing, go to eBay and look up “pipe cleaners shaped like animals.” I’m sure he’ll have a link if you’re interested in franchise possibilities.

In the end, who am I to complain about someone trying to make a quick buck.  After all, here I am thinking I can sell these blog entries as a book full of random thoughts someday.  But then again, clearly I’ll be selling this thing under no false pretenses considering the titles.   My titles were chosen on purpose.  They were designed to let you know that I’m a rambling fool with a slightly skewed view of what I see.  We have always been taught since we were little that you are never supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make the thing look damn interesting anyway!  In fact, title checking should be a big part of the editing process.

One of the most successful lines of self-help books is the “…for Dummies” series.  You can literally find just about any topic from computer programming to quilt making.  I own a few of them myself although I haven’t quite found a way of combining my newfound amateur skills of bartending and bathroom repair.  The title itself is half the novelty.  It adds a hint of humility and humor in your quest to become a better “you.” But calling yourself a “dummy” or “idiot” or some other knockoff  self-slandering term, isn’t really acceptable for every topic.  With the exception of maybe a book called “Reading for Dummies” (which I hope doesn’t exist), there was one that actually alarmed me when I saw it on the shelf at the bookstore…  “Homeschooling for Dummies.”  I have my issues with depriving kids of the sometimes cruel but important social experiences of school as it is, but I do have a certain amount of respect for a parent who chooses to take on the task of educating their own child.  However, as a classroom teacher, I have to continually take classes, seek out “professional development,” and pay certification fees in order to remain a qualified teacher.  I have to constantly prove myself to the state (and its treasury) that America’s future is in good hands.  What about self-appointed “home” teachers?  To be honest, I’m not really sure what hoops parents have to jump through to home-school their children, but I would think that no amount of paperwork is adequate if you had to buy this book.  I mean you must really hate the public school system and/or maintain a hefty tab with your therapist if you’re willing to take on the job yourself without a clue where to begin.  I strongly believe that oil companies are screwing us over with our ever-increasing gas prices, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to start drilling in my backyard and open a refinery in my spare bedroom.  If the term “dummy” applies to you, you’re probably not the best candidate for teacher of the year.  In fact, just give the book to your children; they’ll probably have just as much success teaching themselves.

There are a number of businesses, bands, automobiles, and other products that have gone the way of the dodo because people couldn’t get past the name.  The coffee shop where I have done a good deal of writing had a name change when it turned out it was taken as slightly derogatory in certain communities.  At least they had someone with a good business sense to advise the name change.  Other businesses? Not so lucky.

In today’s working world, working parents need daycare.  Of course, most parents would scrutinize over which one seemed the most trusting place to leave their infant loved ones.  They want a place with compassion, love, creativity, and of course….cost effectiveness.  The name can play a big part in that comfort parents seek.  So how about naming this haven of baby-sitting compassion after a beloved nursery rhyme or classic fairytale?  After all, they are a symbol of childhood innocence and family storytelling tradition.  Clearly you don’t want to name it something like “Wicked Witch’s Flying Monkey Corral” but just about anything else should be safe, right?  Not quite.  I happen to pass by one on my way to work every day named after Little Bo Peep.  On first glance, it seems perfectly harmless.  The sign even has pictures of a cute, little shepherd girl, a handful of fluffy sheep, and an array of flowers and other frilly items.  Does anyone remember that Peep had a little problem?  That’s right!  Our little beloved child labor violation lost her sheep!  Not only that, she didn’t even “know where to find them.”  The nursery rhyme isn’t so cute when it’s about your kid, now is it?

“Little Shepherd Girl Daycare lost your kids

And doesn’t know where they crawled off to

They left them alone

It’s 3pm and they’re supposed to go home

Didn’t check those credentials, Mom, did you?”

                At least the wicked witch kept tabs on her simians.  In fact, she had them all pretty well-trained.  Then again, maybe she read “Homeschooling for Dummies.”

[1] *If you don’t own a TiVo yet, you should get one now! It ranks up there as one of the top three inventions of all time with ketchup and fire.


My Little Concrete Sparta

Now that Nemo has buried us in snow today, a request was made to read this little gem again that was originally posted on MySpace almost five years ago.  After considerable effort to find this blog entry on whatever it is MySpace is doing these days to cling to life, I give you the reposting of a story about my old house and driveway.

Every so often comes a time where the impossible becomes possible.  Maybe because the planets are aligned, maybe because a divine power has willed it, maybe just because “luck be a lady tonight.”  Since my new neighbor moved in two years ago, I couldn’t help but notice that every winter his driveway looks immaculate.  Besides the fact that the earth is slowly eating mine (while pushing my deck out oddly enough), he always keeps it clear of snow.  The entire sky could have fallen over night and before I get home from work, it doesn’t have a single flake on it.  The mystery of it all slowly drove me crazy.  Doesn’t he have a job?  How did he get it done before 3:00?  And how does it look so perfect?

I have been shoveling my driveway for three years. I’m usually motivated the first few times it snows and then stop caring but by this winter I felt I had to keep up with the Jones’. But here I am working my ass off, praying I don’t become the next guy to keel over from a heart attack from shoveling and not once have I ever caught my neighbor in the act of shoveling.  It’s almost as if his driveway was heated and the snow never had a chance.  Maybe he has some kind of forcefield.  He does have a pretty sweet garage that could probably do it by sheer will.

Regardless I persisted….until one night at close to midnight I caught him.  It was still snowing and he was out there with a shovel!!! At first I was excited to know that he does have to break a sweat and work to keep it clear.  Then I realized that if this guy is working this hard to keep his driveway clean, I don’t stand a chance of competing.  In other words, I gave up.  I spent the rest of the winter using four wheel drive to get up my driveway and occasionaly helping the mailman push his truck when it got stuck in the cul de sac.  I could never become a master of the shovel like my neighbor apparently.

Then I discovered his secret.  One day as I stayed home from work sick, he emerged from his backyard with the greatest machine I had seen in years. Before he was even visible, a spray of snow that almost reached his roof shot out as if announcing the presence of a snow god. In fewer than twenty minutes, my neighbor moved mountains with this machine. It was clear to me why I was always losing.  HE WAS CHEATING!!!


Mr. Chompers the Duel Drive, Self-Propelled, Snow Destroyer

Even though the winter was almost over and most stores had already stopped selling snow blowers, I went in search of one.  I’ll be damned if I ever have to look at his immaculate driveway again while I was stuck with a bent shovel. I found the machine that would change my view of winter. It was the last one on the floor and was proven to work since the store employees used it themselves to clear the walkway.  This was an added bonus because they cut me a deal to take it off their hands.  This was no ordinary snow blower.  This was a duel drive, self propelled, electric start SNOW DESTROYER!  Upon unveiling it to my driveway for the first time, he was dubbed “Mr. Chompers” and the snow apocalypse began.  At that moment in time I couldn’t think of a single sensation that had ever beaten the thrill of kicking Jack Frost in the junk simply by moving a two ton piece of machinary with the squeeze of two handles.

There was only one problem that remained.  Even though I now had my new weapon of mass winter destruction, my neighbor was still getting out there before me. Even if it snowed on the weekend, he was up at the crack of dawn making sure he was the envy of all men…..until today.  As if God Himself had willed it, Michigan was hit last night with six or so inches of snow in late March. That not so rare snowfall that comes after we’ve had our first taste of 58 degree spring weather.  The snowfall that pisses everyone off because Mother Nature has teased us once again.  Everyone except for me!  It was my moment to shine and mine alone.  As I woke up earlier than usual for a Saturday, I looked out at the fresh covering of snow that reached everywhere…including my neighbor’s driveway!  Without hesitation, I put on yesterday’s clothes, bundled up with boots, and grabbed the shed keys.  I was the only man out in the cul de sac this morning.  I wondered if I was breaking noise ordinances at 9:30 in the morning but I didn’t care.  Mr Chompers and I kicked some snow ass!  As I finished kicking the last of the snow off my porch, the morning snow destroying came to a perfect end as my neighbor emerged with his beast just in time for me to wave as I walked back up my clean driveway and back inside.

In the end, my neighbor may win the war but just like King Leonidas and his 300 men at the battle of Thermopylae, this victory is mine and shall go down in the annals of history as inspiration to all that every underdog has his day.


On that note, I’m heading out to conquer Nemo with Mr. Chompers in my new neighborhood where no one shovels anything. I’m pretty sure there might actually be a noise ordinance here but maybe everyone will forgive me if I clear off their sidewalks, too.  Enjoy the snow day, teachers!

Go to the Library…and Get Off My Lawn!

It saddens me to think that I am old enough at 35 and have seen enough changes in the world to remember when things “used to be different.”  A simpler time that allowed for more social interaction and mental effort.  A time when you had to appreciate good things when they came around because they came in limited quantities.  I can remember a time when there was such a thing as Saturday morning cartoons.  It was an event that had me dragging a blanket and pillow to the living room at six in the morning to start a six hour marathon that would kick off with a very low budget science show called KidBits and end with a solid hour and a half of Smurfs.  If you weren’t an only child, it had the potential to cause major sibling arguments over which cartoon to watch at any given time. All three of the major networks committed to the same type of programming giving us kids what seemed like an endless supply of choices.  It also provided some nice bonding moments, too, as eventually it became a traditional time for my Dad and I to sit in our underwear eating Doritos.  It was a day you looked forward to as a kid.  Sure we had after school cartoons but those were like appetizers to the Saturday morning main entrée.  Thanks to the oversaturation of cable networks, you’re lucky if you can find a small handful of cartoons on the major networks.  Most have gone back to showing the news even!  What am I going to do when I want to sit around in my underwear eating Doritos with my kids?

I can remember a time where you actually had to remember people’s phone numbers in order to call them.  Now all you need is a name and in some cases a picture to make a phone call because it’s all stored in our cell phones. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when most people lose or break their phones, they cut their losses and just make new friends.  It’s not that we’re incapable of memorizing phone numbers. One of the security questions for my online banking asks me about the phone number I remember the most from my childhood. Even though I haven’t dialed that number in over twenty years, I still remember it. I can still remember the ten digit account number to my childhood bank account but I have no clue as to what my mom’s cell phone number is because in the hundreds of times I’ve called her, I’ve never once had to look at it.  Sometimes I wonder how we lived in a world without cell phones. Today, I turn my car around if I forget it at home yet somehow we managed to settle for landlines twenty years ago.  I do remember having a portable “bag phone” which was like carrying around something the size of my laptop in and out of my car.  I suppose they were designed for businessmen since it was like plugging your office phone into your cigarette lighter.  Everyone in the family would take turns with it because we only had one and it was designated for emergency use only because it was such a pain in the ass to use.  Eventually we upgraded to our “tumor phone” which was our first wireless phone so nicknamed due to the early concerns (and possibly still ongoing for all I know) about getting brain tumors from these things.  Maybe they do cause tumors because I can’t remember the gap between the family sharing that phone to the era of our lives where we all have one and are trading them in for new ones every two years.  If that’s the case, I hope I have my doctor’s number stored in my phone because I sure as hell don’t know that one either.

I can remember when there was a need for a library and you actually had to use a card catalogue to find the book someone else already checked out.  It was where you had to go to do research for school papers hoping that the book you just spent twenty minutes finding actually has a shred of useful information.  It was where you “checked out” one of maybe 100 available movies because video rental stores were independent and few and far between. (Hey it cost a lot of money, I imagine, to stock every movie in both VHS and Beta.) It was even a place you could check out a puppet for a week.  I still remember my favorite was this giant monkey with Velcro arms and legs that wrapped around you.  That’s right!  Little kids walking around with library puppets.  Don’t knock it because I bet you can’t even think of where to go if you needed a puppet right now.

The library was the place where one learned the art of being quiet and that being an adult meant knowing how to work a microfiche machine (which for a kid who was too familiar with a Speak N’ Spell’s dialect, I thought had something to do with small fish).  And with Catholic schools’ decline in employment of once feared nuns, the library was one of the last places where a kid could go and be guaranteed to be yelled at by a bitter old woman.  Nowadays, the library is simply a place for kids to go if they need a computer to play with for a half hour.  When I had a student tell me he couldn’t go to the library to work on a paper because he was grounded, I was convinced that clearly kids don’t know what a library is for anymore or else he would have come up with a much better lie.

The oddest part about the old library system was the rules on late fees.  It was an inefficient system of debt collection only to be outdone by bartering with chickens.  If your book was overdue, you eventually had to start paying a daily fee.  It wasn’t anything that was going to break the bank but it did add up if you completely forgot about it.  They never tracked you down or reminded you that you had a late book.  After all, they didn’t have email so why would they spend money sending you a letter to remind you that you owe them a quarter?  The library would simply wait until you tried to check out a book again and tell you in front of everyone else in line that you are a delinquent and owe the library fifteen dollars for the book “America’s Top 100 Children Shows” which you checked out eight months ago.  At that moment, the metaphoric tumbleweed would roll across the worn out library carpet and the high noon showdown began.  The librarian was upset because you never returned her book.  You were upset because you consider it extortion to have to pay more than full price for the book AND return it.  At that point you had one of four options:

1. Pay the fee, return the book, and leave with a defeated feeling

2. Tell the librarian (who seems to have taken it personally) to go to hell, keep the book, and leave, never to return, confident she will never find you since the pre-electronic age meant a lot of grunt work to get a measly fifteen bucks

3. Return the book and come back a week later with enough time on your hands to argue with a different librarian that you paid your fee and that she should be more careful with her DOS bookkeeping skills right before you check out the same book because you never did finish reading it

4. Just fill out a new library card application with your pet’s name and start over as a fugitive with an alias.  There were no background checks back then.

The bonus to option four was that you no longer had to check out books with a ten year old library card displaying your signature from when you were 6 years old causing the librarian to wonder if there is a correlation between your horrible childlike penmanship and your apparent need to check out a giant monkey puppet. Hey! I said it was a cool puppet!

There are always going to be book carnivores out there that will use the library to go through books faster than they could ever afford to buy them but how long can public libraries continue?  In a world (and economy) where public programs and services rely on constant donation and funding, will there be a day where the internet will officially kill them all?  Libraries are really going to have to step up their game and come up with innovative reasons to lure people in.  In fact, they can’t even rely on the movie rental portion of their income seeing as many video stores are closing thanks to the growing demand for mail order movie companies, and, once again….the internet.  Even the internet itself can’t save them seeing as everywhere from coffee shops to fish markets are providing free WiFi (a.k.a. wireless internet, not a cutesy name for your wiffle ball….although maybe pickup games of wiffle ball could draw people in!) We are quickly becoming a society that makes the world come to us rather than the other way around.  Although extremely efficient, this way of life leaves us void of one important element….human contact.  Even after technology allowed us to take phones everywhere, we decided to start sending text messages instead of talking to one another.  Don’t get me wrong, I love watching technology make advances.  I’m usually the first in line to try it out, but there is something to be said about needing someone else’s help once in awhile other than tech support.

The only option is to have the two worlds meet….perhaps forcefully.  People want something new to play with so give them just that.  From now on, each library visitor should be given a GPS system that will help them track down their book.  It’s still an inefficient form of research but at least it’ll be more entertaining.  From now on, 24 hour cable networks will no longer be able to air the same show more than once a day unless aired in a different language with an interactive translation guide.  And one will only be allowed to watch any given highly addictive reality TV marathon if he has posted a five page blog of what he has done with his life that week.  From now on, the internet will be blocked after one hour until the user can upload ten pictures of himself doing various activities outside with an optional bonus half hour if the pictures include other people.

I’m sure that there will be many of you out there who will look at my great ideas as horrible limitations and controls on our freedoms.  And yes there is always the chance Big Brother will root itself into watching our every move as we slowly become giant batteries plugged into the matrix, or allow terminators to take over and incinerate us all.  But who are we kidding if we think we’re not already heading there by letting technology make us lazy and antisocial.  If I’m going down, I’m going down reenacting old A-Team episodes in Spanish with a tan….eating Doritos in my underwear with my kid.

Hangin' with my Dad back in 2007...without Doritos. I still miss him.

Hangin’ with my Dad back in 2007…without Doritos. I still miss him.