Jun 292012

So as my wife likes to say, it’s great to have a freshly minted 13-year-old in the house because now we have a being in our midst That. Knows. Everything! Who’s luckier than us, you know, other than Colorado Springs homeowners?

Anyway, despite what my son likes to think, I believe there’s a thing or two that he just might *not* know yet. To help, here are

Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Became a Teenager

1. Very few people are good at keeping secrets – I always come back to something I heard at the Spy Museum in Washington: “We’ll never know who the world’s greatest spy is because they’ll never spill any secrets.” As someone who has earned the nickname “The Vault,” I have learned the hard way that the majority of people out there are incapable of keeping secrets. Not that they don’t want to—I’m just saying it’s human nature to share stories and secrets, and they can’t help themselves.

And if you think other 13-year-olds can keep secrets, well, trust me, they absolutely cannot. For example, you may want to believe that when you tell your friend Milo what classmate you have a crush on in 8th grade, he’ll never tell anyone, yet when he writes “Ray loves [Name of girl who sits behind you]” on the brown paper cover of your math book and Mr. Betzig walks by and sees it and shouts, “RAY LOVES WHO?!!!” and the whole world hears it and the Earth doesn’t instantly swallow you up no matter how badly you wish it would, you learn that … well, the best way to keep a secret is to keep it to yourself.

You will also probably always take the dust jackets off your books for the next 33 years or so.

2. People don’t really change; situations thankfully do – I know this might be a pessimistic world view, but as much as you want to believe it, very few people are capable of true change—in other words, those kids who seem like the popular kids but are jerks to you in middle school and, say, make fun of your large nose in 3rd period English class, will pretty much be jerks who make fun of other people’s noses when they grow up, too.

The good news is that middle (and high) school isn’t forever, and when you get to college and the world beyond your educational enslavement, you have more freedom to choose who you hang out with as well as the opportunity to make new (real) friends who generally don’t care about the size of your nose because they’re not clueless inbred jerks who probably sniff their sister’s underwear when no one is looking.

Chances are that most of those panty-sniffing losers’ best days will have been in high school, and when you’re reaching your stride in Life, they’ll be thrice-divorced and looking how to make the payments on their van down by the river.

3. Do it the right way – Right now, it might seem like taking short cuts or cheating are the easiest ways to succeed, but trust me, the only person you’re cheating is yourself. Not to go all “After School Special,” but putting in the effort and time to actually learn things and do assignments correctly will only benefit you in the long run. (Really. No jokes here. … move along.)

4. “Friends come and go, but family is forever” – My grandmother actually told me this when I was about 13 and wanted to go somewhere with my friends rather than hang with them, and I laughed at her. Turns out she was right, sort of. I mean, yes, there will be relatives who turn out to be douches and you never want to see again, and you will also certainly have very good friends who you will probably know for the majority of your life, but in general, your family will be around you from cradle to grave, like it or not. That means figuring out how to deal with them, how to love them and even how to survive them in some cases—I always think about how as kids my sisters used to kick the crap out of each other and now that they don’t share the same room any more, they’re besties. I’m not saying that always happens, just that if you work at it a bit, it can, which means you have someone to torture for decades.

5. Love at 13 isn’t forever – You know that brand-new $50 video game that you *have* to have? Yeah, in two weeks, it’ll be on the shelf with the other 23 you *had* to have. Ditto that person you meet in middle (or high) school that you don’t think you can possibly live without. Sure, they may seem like the most amazing thing in the world right now, but life isn’t lived in middle or high school, and when you get beyond that, relationships (and situations—see No. 2) change, as will your tastes. Crushes will come and go, and you owe it to yourself to keep an open mind and heart until you reach an age (probably over 20) where you are capable of finding “true” love … although chances are you’ll still have to kiss a few frogs until you find the right person …

And even then, you might kiss a few more because when you ask them out the first time (after they’ve been flirting with you for a week), they’ll tell you that they’re suddenly dating someone else. Then you’ll have to wait a few months before they lose that loser and realize that you’re the right person for them, too! (No really, this can happen. Ask anyone *cough cough* your mother *cough*)


Jun 272012

A little fiction?

I should’ve known that my commute home was going too fast—I got to the exit for the connector in what seemed like record time, only to find a parking lot spilling back out onto the interstate. Rather than force my way in among the other lemmings, I went past to the next exit, which although meant it would take more time for me to get home, would also take me past the house in which we lived during my high school and college years.

It’s more than a quarter century later, and yet I still expect to see a familiar face or two as I turn down my old street. But there’s no one I know here any more; most of the houses look different, and all the landscaping is completely changed—the place looks more overgrown, maybe because all those young maples that we used to play around have grown larger and become mature specimens. Maybe the maples would think the same thing about me, you know, if they recognized me …

The only thing that seems right is the gentle curve of the street as I approach old number 14. I’ve driven past more than once over the years, and have noticed the changes—the stockade fence, the colors (it was a dreadful 1970s sort of Chinese restaurant gold with red trim for about a decade), the loss of the above-ground pool and most of those hedges that my dad used as an excuse to spend a Saturday with an electric trimmer and a six pack of Michelob (or two) …

The back porch is still standing, with new screens that reflect the late afternoon sun. That porch … a lot of good times on that porch. Barbecues, family reunions, birthday parties, post-softball get togethers, just hanging with friends knocking down beers …


I slow the car down and put the windows down, all the way. A warm summer breeze rolls in and my mind drifts back to another warm summer night …

“Did she see you leave?” I whisper as she slides the door shut and she steps onto the porch. It’s dark, but my eyes have gotten used to it, and in the moonlight, I can see she’s wearing an oversized sleeping t-shirt and not much else.

“No,” she whispers, rubbing her bare arms. “Pretty sure she’s out cold.”

“Come here,” I whisper, nervously sliding over on the old couch.

She crosses over the porch and sits next to me. Close. I turn to her and our knees touch, and although we’ve touched each other over the years—playing football in the yard, goofing around in the pool, hanging out in the basement—this time, it’s different. Way different. She’s not a scrawny, goofy, brace-face kid any more, and neither am I. We’re both old enough to realize that there’s now more between us.

Electric needles.

“I shouldn’t be out here,” she says.

“I know,” I say, sorta shrugging. “But you are.”

“If your sister ever found out, she’d probably kill me.”

“Probably. Or she might be okay with it. You know, her best friend and her brother. Yay?”

She tips her head down slightly and raises one eyebrow.

“Yeah, she’d probably kill you,” I agree.

“Still, I’m here.”

I feel like I’m in a Springsteen song, and the moonlight is truly magic. Her eyes are glittering, her toothy smile radiant, and for a flash, I realize that I’ve never been closer to a more beautiful . . . creature—she’s that extraordinary right now, like we couldn’t possibly be of the same species. Actually, this whole moment truly doesn’t seem possible after all these years. I nearly stop breathing.

“Sooo …” I venture.

” …. buttons,” she says.

It takes me a second, but then I laugh. Not too much, though. Don’t want to break the spell.

“Look,” I say, “You know.”

“Know what?” she counters, attempting to open her eyes wide and keep a straight face.

“Nice try. You know. I know you know. You wouldn’t be here now otherwise.”

“Yeahhh … that’s probably true, whatever it is you’re talking about.”

“Gonna make me work for it, huh?”

“You know I am.”

“Right. Of course. Why would—”

Suddenly, the porch is a bit brighter, and we both freeze like deer in the headlights. When my pulse comes back down to only somewhat elevated, I realize that someone has switched on a light in the house. It’s in the upstairs bathroom off of my parents’ bedroom. After a few seconds, it goes out.

“Okay, that was a little scary,” I whisper.

“So’s this,” she says, holding up her hand. Mine’s attached to it, our fingers interlocked.

“Huh. Look at that.” I give her fingers a little squeeze.

“Yeah, look at that.”

We stare at our hands for a few seconds, and then I turn to her and realize that our faces are now closer than they’ve ever been, even closer than that time a million—maybe two million—years ago when I tried to spit in her mouth back in the pool. (Long story.) Oddly enough, even though I’m looking in her eyes, I’m suddenly very conscious of her mouth. “Hey,” I whisper.

“Hey,” she whispers back.

I’m not exactly sure how we got here, all I know is that we’re here now, and it seems as though we were always destined to be here, right now. All the longer, eyes-locked glances of late, bigger grins and deeper conversations . . . .

It’s time.

I’m terrified that I may have somehow misread everything, but nonetheless, I start to lean toward her . . .

. . . and (YES!) she leans toward me.

I want to be able to describe exactly what’s going through my mind as our lips touch, how the adrenaline is crackling through my veins and my heart is about to a-splode out of my chest, but all that seems cliched and silly. I’ve kissed other girls, but this is something different. Better. Special. Amazing.

I gently put my free hand just behind her ear and under her hair, brushing her neck. I pull her closer. She reaches for my shoulder and squeezes. I don’t even know what to think any more, so I don’t.

After about five hours (okay, it might’ve been five minutes, but really, I think it was five glorious hours), we pull back for a breath.

“Wow,” I say.

“Yeah, I was thinking that, too,” she says. She smiles and squeezes my shoulder again, like she needs to convince herself that she’s awake, too.

“So now what?” she asks.

“How about this?” I say, and kiss her again, for like, another seven hours. We pull apart and even though it’s still dark, I can tell that she’s officially beaming.

“Wow,” she says. “Who knew?”

“We both do,” I say.

“Yeah, for now,” she says, glancing over my shoulder and at the slider back into the kitchen. “As much as I want to stay here, I should probably get back in the house before your sister wakes up, finds us and murders us both.”

If you knew my sister from back in the day, you understand why I quickly agree that this is probably a good idea. Still, it takes about another half hour of lingering kisses before we are able to properly separate from each other. We both stand up together, and just stare at each other, smirking like fools.

“Yeahhh …” she finally says, and then throws here arms around me and presses her entire body against me. Even after she pulls back, I can feel her warmth on my skin. “Ohhhkay,” she sigh. “We’re going to have to tell her, and soon. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to stay away from you now.”

“Right?” I say. “All she has to do is see me looking at you and she’ll know instantly.”

“Well, we’ll figure it out tomorrow,” she says, and gives me one last quick kiss. “I think we have time.”

“I hope so,” I say.

She goes back into the house, into the dark, and carefully into a misty water-colored recess of my mind. Funny how some things work out.

I turn the corner at the end of my old block and head to my real home.


Jun 242012

Okay, let’s try something a little different …

So what’s the deal with ghosts? (Hard to *not* read that in a Seinfeld voice.) Are they real? Do they exist?

As most of you know via Damned Connecticut, it’s a subject of which I have pretty good knowledge, if no personal experience. But that’s okay—as my “ghost” collaborator Steve likes to say, “Everyone has a ghost story, if not their own, then someone they know, be it a friend, family member or co-worker.”

That certainly seems to be the case, as the idea of ghosts goes all the way back to the very beginnings of human consciousness. Every race, every culture, every nation on the planet has some sort of concept of them, be it gentle souls passing over to the next plane, or tragic and confused entities trapped in a wishing well on Earth trying to find their way to whatever it is that comes “next,” or vengeful spirits hell-bent on doing harm to those left behind.

In a way, the idea that our soul somehow survives beyond the end of our physical bodies is a tantalizing one—who doesn’t want to believe that they live forever once they shuffle off this mortal coil, that they continue to exist in some other form? If we can then exist beyond the end of their bodies, it (somewhat) logically follows that there might be evidence of it, fleeting glimpses of another existence that we call ghosts.

I don’t understand why the common reaction to the idea of a ghost is fear. As far as I can tell, there’s never been any actual evidence in the history of humankind of someone actually, directly being harmed by a ghost. Now, has fear of an otherworldly entity caused injury? Yes, from serious heart attacks to inadvertent self-injury while fleeing a supposed ghost, people have been hurt. But as far as a knife-wielding specter really breaking through the spiritual plane to inflict pain or death, there’s no true documented examples. (And yes, I’m counting those stories of ghost hunters being slashed by unseen forces. I’m not saying that they haven’t sustained injuries, I just tend to think those are more physical manifestations of pyschosomatic stress, i.e. injuries—like stigmata—that spontaneously appears due to internal mental stress.)

I am also amused by the whole argument around the idea that despite the abundance of ghost-hunting TV shows, groups and other organizations, no actual evidence has been produced. Ghost believers will passionately tell you that there’s mountains of proof, from photos and videos to EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) and metered readings. Skeptics will counter with just as much zeal that all of that stuff can be (or is) faked and unreliable. Ghosts, at times, can be polarizing.

Quick: Who’s the most famous ghost?

The “Holy Ghost” of Christian fame? Jacob Marley, who marshals the spirits who torment Ebeneezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Patrick Swayze’s disembodied, pottery-making shade from the eponymous movie? Poor, gentle Casper, who is sentenced to an eternity seeking friendship yet only finds misunderstanding and ridicule? (Although he’s on my list, it’s not the funky spirit of 1776 …) In terms of “non-fictional” ghosts, I always think of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall; the most popular one I know of locally is The White Lady of Union Cemetery, although there are plenty of others.

That reminds me of one aspect of the whole ghost phenomena I don’t quite understand—with generally no physical evidence, and usually less than a second or so that most eyewitnesses describe during one-on-one encounters, how can anyone ever positively identify a ghost? I’m not talking about vague names like the White Lady, but when someone definitely says, “That’s the ghost of Alice Conley wandering the halls of The Yankee Pedlar Inn.” I mean, unless the ghost manifests a voice and says, “Hey everybody, it’s me, Alice,” how do you know? Wishful thinking, I suppose, more times than not.

Sometimes I wonder if there are ghosts, are they constantly around us? Do they watch us engaged in mundane tasks, eternal voyeurs longing to be among the living once again? If so, this truly bothers me—I don’t like to think that my dearly departed grandmother is watching me when I’m on the toilet; nor do I want to entertain the notion that someone like Jeffrey Dahmer is floating around in my bathroom as I take a shower.

Another thing I don’t understand about the idea of ghosts is why, if once unencumbered of a body, a spirit would choose to spend the rest of eternity hanging around one particular spot. I mean, if I was free of my body, I wouldn’t hang around some “spooky” broken-down house at the edge of town for the next few hundred years; I’d travel the entire universe, enjoying the many wonders of worlds currently unknown. Which reminds me: Do aliens have ghosts? What about supposed crashed UFOs—are there phantom grays aimlessly wandering the sands around Roswell, New Mexico, wondering what happened, or do they go back to their home planets? Talk about doubling down on your supernatural phenomena!

Also, if ghosts do exist, then they wouldn’t be “supernatural,” would they? They would be part of nature, not “above” it. Just sayin’.

Some of the more scientifically focused talk about ghosts as historical “echoes” from other times or “vibrations” of alternate dimensions that are running alongside this one. I have yet to read Mary Roach’s Spook (I know, I know!), but it doesn’t seem that accepted science is any closer to answering the question than pseudoscience is.

Ultimately, I would have to say that ghosts exist, real or not, if only because the idea of them have become so ingrained in human existence. Ghosts remind me of a mirage of water on a hot roadway or a rainbow—both are nothing more than optical illusions (light refracting off seeming invisible forces) that rely on the perspective of the viewer, but yet are certainly accepted as “genuine” phenomena even if they don’t really exist because we can “see” them in certain conditions. Could a ghost be a simple trick of the light, bouncing off of something that’s already around us? Hmm …

Maybe ghosts are something that are there just beyond our reach and understanding. Or not. Guess none of us will know for sure until we the opportunity to be one.

Jun 222012

Okay, this list was inspired by a conversation with my work wife Moosey while we were driving to get Oreo cookie blizzards from Dairy Queen and some dipstick cut us off … at that moment, I immediately wished I had #1 on this list of

Five TV Inventions That I Want in Real Life

1. The Little Rascals’ Boxing Glove Car Attachment

Click on it to see it in action—mesmerizing, isn't it?

This one would need replaceable gloves because I’m pretty sure I’d wear the leather out during my first commute to work. Seriously, how sweet would it be to have a boxing glove mounted on your car to punch out other idiot drivers as you passed them? I will dream of this tonight.

On a side note, this clip was brilliant as each “actor” stood still and took a full hit to the jaw—brilliant!

2. The Slave-inator

Although the evil genius Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz of “Phineas and Ferb” has dozens of great inventions, I’m partial to this one that simply hypnotizes everyone into doing whatever I tell them to do. Seems pretty straightforward for anyone like myself hell bent on global domination, right?

Runner up: The Poop-inator, you know, because getting pigeons to poop on people on command seems useful in a petty, juvenile way, and I am nothing if not petty and juvenile.

3. Prof. Pat Pending’s Convertacar

With my driving and road rage issues (see #1), it might be more handy to have a vehicle straight out of “The Wacky Races” that can convert to pretty much anything I need it to be—a boat, a plane, a car on stilts to get over traffic, etc. One thing I never understood though: Prof. Pending could build this amazing car and all these devices, yet he couldn’t figure out how to apply a little grease to the wheels so they wouldn’t have that annoying squeak all the time?

4. Gigantor –

Okay this one may really dating myself, but I’m thinking there may not be a downside to having my own indestructible giant flying space-age robot (complete with trippy theme music) to do my bidding. Really, what red-blooded American (or Japanese) boy wouldn’t want one?

5. Star Trek Transporter –

As I feel like I’m running around like crazy all the time between work, home and kids’ activities, how would this not be the Most. Useful. Thing. EVER? A nanosecond commute to work? Sign me up!

By the by, notice that I picked this transporter over the one in “The Fly.” I started thinking that the only down side of a transporter might be if everyone decided to show up at the same place at the same time. You know, say like everyone deciding to go to work at exactly 8:59:59—with all those particles coming into one place at one time, there seems like there’d be a decent chance that you might accidentally be fused together with a co-worker or two, which would be awkward at best and depending on the co-workers, horrible at least. Star Trek seemed to have this multiple person issue figured out, while “The Fly” … well, didn’t.

Anyway, feel free to add any I may have missed in the comments!

Jun 212012

All right, time for a ’70s flashback!!!

That’s right boys and girls, that skinny guy on the left is Robin Williams. Long before you knew him as Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum or the voice of Genie in Aladdin, and even before he was a legitimate Oscar-worthy actor in movies like Good Morning, Vietnam, The Fisher King and Good Will Hunting (for which he actually won an Academy Award), he was a bonafide cocaine-fueled TV star!

Ohh “Mork & Mindy,” how I almost tragically blocked you from my memories. (My brain is a lot like Homer Simpson’s in that every time I push a new piece of info in—say like knowing who Carly Rae Jepsen is—something old gets pushed out.) (And now that song’s in your head, too—you’re welcome!) Thanks to The Hub, I stumbled upon this little piece of my adolescence the other night, and faster than you could say “Exidor” (yeah, that guy!) the flashback flood nearly overwhelmed me.

“Mork calling Orson … Mork calling Orson …”

Or in this case, it’s really more like “Dork calling Orson …”

Anyway, as much as a fan I was of the show, let me first say that I did *NOT* own a pair of rainbow suspenders. Not then, not now, not ever. I did, however, have a light blue shirt that said, “Nanu nanu!” in giant letters, which sort of upset me because I thought it should’ve been spelled “Nanoo nanoo!” Despite that, I proudly wore that shirt on a regular basis like any impressionable young 70s teenybopper would.

I also should admit right up front that I absolutely had a crush on “Mindy,” a.k.a. Pam Dawber. Of course, as I was writing this, I Googled her to see what she was doing now, and not only was I surprised to find out that she’s 60 (!) and still looks terrific, but she’s also been married to Mark Harmon since 1987!

Mark Harmon? Good lookin’ dude, a hit show and a 25-year marriage in Hollywood to a woman who still looks like this—

Clearly, a blood deal has been inked with Ol’ Scratch. Bastige.

Another thing I noticed while watching was Mindy’s dramatic lack of a rack, which is something that jumps out at me (so to speak) when watching other shows of the same era. Sure, everyone was thinner, but the majority of actresses on TV back then had normal-sized breasts. Actually, compared to today’s ridiculously boob-tastic TV bimbos, they all look flat now, even Farrah. (Yes, I had The Poster on my bedroom wall—I am an American, after all.) Speaking of ….

On the flip side (or should I say “nip” side?), even though they weren’t as busty as today, actresses—including my sweet Mindy—seemed to be dramatically averse to brassieres. Seriously, the ’70s were the decade of the unbridled jiggle! I still have the mental image of “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter adjusting her swimsuit on “Battle of the Network Stars” burned deep into my memory. (And I don’t know what’s sadder: That I still remember it or that someone else uploaded that clip to YouTube.) Actually, I’m pretty sure the entire concept of “BOTNS” was an excuse just to get young bouncy starlets into ridiculously thin bathing suits to get males to change the channel and rip out the dial! (It worked.)

But yeah, put on pretty much any 70s show, and it was “headlights” galore, from “One Day at a Time” to “Three’s Company” to “The Love Boat.” I’m pretty sure Flo from “Alice,” both Laverne and Shirley, and Shirley Hemphill from “What’s Happening” were the only ’70s actress who were secured above the waist, which was probably a good idea for all involved…

Just like a cold shower. Hey hey hey!

While watching, I was pleasantly surprised that aside from Mork’s suspenders and Mindy’s minis, the show actually holds up pretty decently, unlike some other shows, such as the aforementioned “Three’s Company.” Can you imagine today trying to build a show around the “taboo” premise of a single guy sharing a two-bedroom apartment with two single women? Or the whole horrifyingly offensive gay-bashing that was at the center of each episode? Mr. Roper would be intrawebz-whipped out of existence in about -.023 seconds …

It’s funny how when you watch something with fresh eyes decades later, it’s not quite as endearing or amusing. When “Welcome Back, Kotter” came on TV Land, I was excited to see it again as I was a big fan back in the day. But as I started actually watching it, I couldn’t believe how unfunny it was. I mean like not funny diarrhea club unfunny. Wow. Bad plots, bad ‘acting,’ bad pacing, bad jokes, bad directing, bad everything—except Marcia Strassman (also a member of the 70s normal-breast, anti-bra club society). It makes sense now why Travolta wanted out after one season … you know, which has worked out well for him. I think … well, until recently …

Okay, like Mork telling Orson what he learned at the end of each episode, here’s what I learned today:
– A flying egg is a horrible choice for an intergalactic craft.
– Robin Williams has always danced the line between amusing and insufferable.
– There was a time when an actress could not wear a bra on TV and it wouldn’t be the subject of every gossip show and site.
– There was a time when an actress could have her own breasts and succeed with them.
– Apparently, there wasn’t a time when I wasn’t obsessed with breasts.
– I have issues.
– I miss some parts of the ’70s—you can keep the bad hair, polyester fashion and Flo’s grits, thank you very much!

Jun 172012

So this past weekend, I attended my first bat mitzvah, which was for our very good friend Samantha.

Although I have had many Jewish friends and acquaintences, for whatever reason, I had yet to go to this kind of celebration, and I was looking forward to it, not only to help Sammy celebrate, but because I’m inherently curious, and really haven’t had much exposure to things Hebrew.

Disclaimer to all my Jewish friends: I apologize in advance for my ignorance, the inaccuracies and other unintended slights I may inadvertently make here regarding your faith. As most of you know, I’m not particularly well-versed when it comes to things religious. If I were smart, I’d stop writing now and go work on my next children’s book before I get myself in trouble, but as you already know, I’m s-m-r-t “smrt” … and we know how that goes. Besides, I’ve insulted the Jeebus folks plenty, and if anything, I’m an equal opportunity offender.

I should also acknowledge that in addition to my friends and general education, my knowledge of Judaism comes from a number of less-than-scholarly sources, such as “Seinfeld,” “The Nanny” and of course, Fiddler on the Roof—I know there’s a lot of tradition involved. Oh, and I also know that Hannukah is the festival of lights

[Note: Right now, my wife is cringing and already formulating her apologies to every Jewish person she knows—don’t worry, honey! What could possibly go wrong with me writing about sensitive and personal subjects like faiths I don’t know much about?]

Anyway, backing up to traditions, I know that bat (and bar) mitzvahs are important events in the Jewish faith, a rite of passage where children “graduate” and become adult members of the religion, like confirmation for Catholics. Or as I put it in a “Wizards of Waverly Place” context for my 11-year-old son as we drive to the temple, “It’s sort of like Quincenara, but for Jewish girls.” I think that’s how Moses used to describe it.

At the suggestion of my friend Jason, Samantha’s father, we arrive after the Simcha (“joyous occasion,” according to the helpful bat mitzvah booklet the uninitiated) has already started so we miss a bit of the chants and singing that open the service. Over the next 2+ hours, I will come to learn that there’s lots of singing during a bat mitzvah, and by “lots” I mean it’s like an opera and the whole thing is pretty much sung. I suddenly am thankful on behalf of all my friends and family that I never had a bar mitzvah and they were all spared hours of my horrid warbling. By the same token, I’m thinking a recording of me singing the Torah (or anything, really) might be useful in police stand-off situations.

I also have to think that a sonorous singing voice is a must for a rabbi. Otherwise … oy!

Because of a scheduling conflict, it’s only me and Kade this morning, so before going into the sanctuary, we don our official commemorative Samantha bat mitzvah yarmulkes, which are purple. I notice a lot of purple, including the ties that Jason and Sammy’s uncle are wearing—I think it’s part of the theme, but I don’t know if it’s because Sammy likes purple or it’s a tradition. Still, it’s nice that everyone is color-coordinated.

As we enter the sanctuary and respectfully take seats in the back, I get nervous like I do any time I enter a house of worship. I want to think I haven’t said too much to anger Yahweh and we’re on okay terms, but I remember the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and there’s an ark behind the altar where the Torah is kept. When they open it to take out the Torah there’s no lightning or crack of doom, so I assume it’s all good Shabbos between us.

I quickly try to get up to speed, but as you might expect, all the Hebrew writing looks like Greek to me. There are two different service/prayer books in the seats, but it takes me a few minutes to get used to the fact that because they are partially in Hebrew, they go from right to left and are for me, in effect, backward. (I wonder if dyslexics converting to Judaism have an easier time of it than most?)

Fortunately, the aforementioned guide booklet is a life-saver, and is terrific for explaining everything as we go. One thing that does catch my eye is that throughout the booklet, when referring to Yahweh, it says, “G-d” or “L-rd.” I understand that this is reverent part of Judaism and an important sign of respect, but will that really work with an omnipotent force? I mean, I have this vision of Yahweh sort of looking down, reading along: “G-d?! Is that supposed to be Gad? Gid? Who the heck is—oh! Wait just a sec ….”

Anyway, the bat mitzvah goes along well, and having been brought up and made to attend Catholic church, I’m impressed with how casual the rabbi and other adults participating in the service are. During a Catholic mass, generally no one is allowed to smile, chat or even really make eye contact; at various intervals during the bat mitzvah, official-looking worshippers are strolling the aisles, smiling, nodding, joking and conversing with fellow worshippers. I also find it interesting when it comes time to read the Torah—which is broken down into seven separate readings—Samantha sits to the side of the altar, and each person who is readying to sing a reading (think of it as being “on deck” in baseball terms), goes up, sits next to her and chats with her until its their turn. So friendly!

Finally, it’s Samantha’s turn to do the Haftarah reading, which seems to me to be the toughest part of the service where she has to sing the whole thing in Hebrew. She has a beautiful voice, which only underscores that Judaism might not be the best fit for me if I were ever to suddenly embrace an organized religion. I also can see she is very nervous—since getting up and singing in front of a large crowd seems like a nightmare to me, I’m probably more nervous for her than she actually is!

Anyway, the rest of the bat mitzvah goes well—at one point, Jason and his wife Susan read a short speech dedicated to their daughter and I officially get verklempt. (Talk amongst yourself—being passive aggressive is not really all that passive. Discuss.)

As the service winds down, I notice in the booklet it says that there is a custom that the person being bat mitzvahed (?) is “showered with sweets” “as a symbolic wish that she enjoys a sweet life.” I think is a metaphor until I see a number of people going around with baskets of candy distributing it to those in attendance. Again, I don’t really think everyone is going to throw candy … until the point when Samantha stands alone in the middle of the altar and everyone starts pelting her with candy, sort of like the audience participation in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” (No toast, though.)

To me, this is a big improvement over those stale wafers at Catholic masses, although I tend to think this sweets thing isn’t an every service happening. Still, it’s food for thought … so to speak.

The bat mitzvah draws to a close and there is much mazel tovving. Unfortunately, we can’t stay to nosh as I have to get my son to his karate test class, but we thank Jason and Susan for inviting us, and make our way over to congratulate Samantha. She’s surrounded by her friends and looking very happy and relieved to finally be “an adult.”

I’m happy for her, and for myself for the fact that I did nothing to embarrass myself in this situation. You know, until writing about it all now.

Mazel tov, my chavers!


Jun 152012

Okay, in honor of Father’s Day—another phony greeting card-store invention to guilt you into spending money to buy unnecessary crap for your dad, who really doesn’t want anything other to be generally left alone to read the paper while on the toilet, fall asleep while watching the ball game and have someone else cut the lawn (the right way, dumb ass!)—I thought it only made sense to give some love to my favorite fake dads.

For the record, I’m pretty disgusted with the general way dads are depicted on TV—the majority of them (from Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin to Tim “The Toolman” Taylor and Ray Barrone to every dad on every Disney sitcom)—are portrayed as absolute boobs. Really, flip through the channels some day and watch—almost 99 percent are some sort of helpless, clueless, bumbling idiot that no one in their right mind would’ve decided to start a family with. Okay, I get that it’s exaggerated for entertainment’s sake, but still …

Thus, all my favorite TV dads actually have brains (to some extent), have an air of authority and are guys who you’d actually want to raise kids.

Quick disclaimer/honorable mention: Cliff Huxtable and Andy Taylor almost made my list, except Cosby’s Cliff might as well be a unicorn: A doctor dad with FIVE reasonably intelligent and active kids yet has countless hours to hang around the house (did they have a fleet of nannies and chauffeurs we never saw who carted the kids around to their separate schools and activities?); and although Sheriff Taylor is a lot more realistic and compelling, I just never really loved the character or the show—I blame Goober.

Also just missing the list: Jay Pritchett of “Modern Family,” who I do like but sometimes I feel like he’s Al Bundy with a second chance. Go figure.

Anyway, here are:

My Favorite TV Dads

1. Howard Cunningham, “Happy Days”

Heyyyyyy, how could I not have Mr. C on the list? Hard-working, even-keeled, full of wisdom and confident enough to handle both the womanizing motorcycle thug who lived over his garage and the crazed sex kitten who shared his bed. (Please, like Mrs. C never snapped on the latex to diaper and spank Howard!) Granted, he never seemed to notice (or even miss) his oldest son Chuck, but he certainly was an emotional rock for Richie and Joanie, although I wasn’t under the impression he cared all that much for Chachi.

2. Mike Brady, “The Brady Bunch”

Long speeches, hair styles and fashion sense aside, here was another TV dad who was well grounded in reality who often made sure that he and his kids always strived to do the right thing. Here was also another guy who had to handle a sex-crazed wife (like Mike and Carol never swung with the Dittmeiers) as well as a womanizing thug who lived in his attic (Johnny Bravo? More like Johnny Horndog—heck, he even tried to bang his step mother and adopted sister!). Still, Mike was reliable, consistent and a zen presence in a toiletless house of chaos.

3. Jack Bristow, “Alias”

Who wouldn’t want “Spy Daddy” as their daddy? A hardcore, kick-ass super special agent who would do *anything* to protect his daughter, be it torturing or killing others, or using a spork to remove someone’s eyeballs. (Okay, he didn’t do the actual removing, he just talked someone else through it—close enough.) And for reasons that I will never forgive J.J. Abrams for, Jack made the ultimate sacrifice to save his daughter (and the world), although he was pretty hardcore right up until the end. (Sorry, hard to call spoilers for a show that’s been off the air for six years.)

4. Burt Hummel, “Glee”

Although I’m not the Gleek I was, it wasn’t because of anything that Burt Hummel did. An immensely likable blue-collar working stiff who never wavered in his love for his son, even after Kurt came out (still one of the better scenes in TV history—skip to 4:20 mark) and then continually acted like a little bitch. Still, he was at center of this scene, which still chokes me up and has ruined my favorite Beatles’ song forever. (Sort of.)

5. Red Forman, “That ’70s Show

My inspiration, which comes as no surprise to my wife, who has repeatedly heard me mutter, “I’m going to put my foot in your ass!” Seriously though, Red is another working class guy but has that angry edge I find myself embracing more and more as I get older—and which finds itself closer and closer to the surface when I’m dealing with my almost-teenage son, who I have referred to as a “dumb ass” on multiple occasions, like just last week when he carelessly left a bunch of papers home and I had to run from New Haven to Shelton back to New Haven in under 60 minutes, all during rush hour. Granted, Red wouldn’t have done this, but in my mind, I like to pretend I didn’t …

Anyway, enjoy the holiday—and that goes for you, Dad!


Jun 132012

Okay, this week I received my manuscript for Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Connecticut History (available for pre-order from Amazon, by the way) for what should be close to the final round of editing.

Here’s a rayality exclusive excerpt from Chapter 1, “BENEDICT ARNOLD: FROM HERO TO TRAITOR TO SCOURGE” (Not the chapter title I suggested, for the record.) I really like Arnold’s story because many people don’t realize that up until the moment he turned traitor, he was arguably the biggest hero of the American revolution, which made his treachery even more devastating.

This excerpt covers to an extent how Arnold gained that “hero” reputation.

Oh, and keep in mind this is still in the process of being edited, so it may change by the time you read it in print.

Although being recognized by many high-ranking officers for his valor and leadership, Arnold reached a breaking point when in February 1777 the Continental Congress promoted five junior officers over him. Enraged, he set out for Philadelphia to address the situation.

Being a man of action, however, Arnold couldn’t stand idly by whenever there was a scrap to be had. After learning of a British attack on Danbury while on a brief visit in New Haven, he immediately rode to the scene to lead the local forces in a counterattack that would become known as the Battle of Ridgefield. During the fight, his horse was shot out from under him and landed on his bad leg, further aggravating his old wound. While pinned under his horse, he was also nearly captured, but managed to fend off his attackers and escape. Even after having a second horse shot out from under him during the engagement, Arnold was able to lead his Connecticut countrymen in repelling the British, inflicting heavy enemy losses.

His most bitter enemies in the Continental Congress couldn’t deny his part in the victory, and begrudgingly promoted Arnold to major general, which was a step up, but not to the level that he felt was commensurate with his performance. Rather than indulge in petty behind-the-scenes politics, he believed his on-the-battlefield successes should speak for themselves. Commander-in-Chief George Washington tried to intercede on Arnold’s behalf, submitting a letter to the Continental Congress stating, “It is needless to say anything of this gentleman’s military character. It is universally known that he has always distinguished himself as a judicious, brave officer of great activity, enterprise and perseverance.” The letter was ignored.

After the failure of Washington’s recommendation, Arnold decided that he’d had enough of political games.

Timing is everything, however, and on July 11, 1777, just as Arnold was going to deliver his formal resignation, word came that Fort Ticonderoga had fallen back into British control. Again, despite the perceived insult from the Continental Congress, Arnold could not help himself when Washington offered him an opportunity to return to battle. Bad feelings were put aside (temporarily) and, still miffed, Arnold quickly made his way back to upstate New York.

Once there, Arnold found himself in the middle of another personality clash, this time between Continental Army generals Horatio Gates and Philip Schuyler. He threw his support behind Schuyler, which did not particularly endear himself to Gates and would soon cause him more angst.

Arnold’s first task was to retake nearby Fort Stanwix, for which he was given nine hundred men. The British had far superior numbers, but through a cunning ruse, Arnold made them believe that his force was the larger. Not wanting to risk a major defeat, the Redcoats quickly withdrew. Arnold took the fort with no resistance, and mission accomplished, returned to the main force.

However, the army gathered was now under the full command of Gates, and the assertive Arnold regularly clashed with the conservative general, a situation that came to a head at the end of October 1777 in Saratoga. During the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, Arnold had favored taking the attack to the British, under the command of General John Burgoyne, while Gates had wanted to strike a more defensive stance. During the early part of the multiday engagement, Arnold discovered that Gates was not only countermanding Arnold’s orders, but was also sending reports to the Continental Congress discrediting Arnold’s contributions. He confronted Gates through a series of angry letters, which of course, were not well received. Gates immediately relieved Arnold of his command for insubordination.

Incensed, Arnold was ready to leave Saratoga, but his fellow officers recognized that his battlefield leadership was desperately needed with “Granny” Gates in charge, and signed a petition requesting he stay. Arnold relented and remained, which would become a momentous decision.

Pride wounded and beside himself, Arnold fumed in his tent as the Battle of Bemis Heights began to unfold. Forbidden to participate, he tried to keep abreast of the fight, but watching was near maddening. Finally, unable to stand idly by any longer while the skirmish continued all around him—he could see Gates sitting in his own tent, quietly minding the action from the sidelines— Arnold burst forth from his tent, leapt on his black stallion, Warren, and thundered into the fight.

Keep in mind that Arnold’s traitorous actions were still in the future—at this point, the sight of the fiery patriot ignoring what seemed like timid orders, calling any brave men who would follow him into the fray, and then riding right into the fury of the British assault, was stirring. Sometimes being a jerk can be a benefit, and this was one of those moments. Ignoring the fact that he had no official command, the troops fell in behind the impassioned Arnold as he led a bold strike at the heart of the British lines.

It worked. Spurred on by Arnold at the head of the charge atop his faithful steed, sword aloft and bellowing orders while bullets and cannonballs whizzed past, the American forces rallied and began to turn back the Redcoats.

Victory at hand, Arnold crashed through the enemy line and personally took the fight to the British. His mount was shot out from under him, but undeterred, Arnold continued his frenzied attack. A bullet soon felled him, however, striking his troubled leg. Badly wounded yet still exhorting his men on, he finally yielded so that he could be dragged off the battlefield.

Even though Arnold had fallen, the now-inspired Americans did not, and the day’s victory was the beginning of the end for the British in upstate New York. Ten days after Arnold’s stunning act of bravery in the Battle of Saratoga, Burgoyne surrendered, a key turning point in the war—France decided to lend much-needed support to the fledgling country and its revolution against the English crown.

Because of Arnold’s undisputed courage at Saratoga, however, the Continental Congress had no choice but to award Arnold the full promotion and recognition that he had previously been seeking. If at that point he had simply gone home fully vindicated and spent the rest of the war healing from his wounds—which had essentially crippled him—he’d be remembered as one of the great heroes in American history.

Being a jerk, however, Benedict Arnold couldn’t leave well enough alone. . . .

Again, Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Connecticut History is available for pre-order from Amazon. It will be in bookstores in September. I’m sure I’ll *probably* mention this again between now and then.


Jun 112012

Okay, many of you have probably already seen this, but if not …

I actually got a bit misty the first time I saw this the other day. Like many of you, I grew up on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and consequently considered Mr. Rogers my friend—hey, he told me that he liked me just the way I was every time he saw me! So really, he’s also to blame for the way I turned out, when you think about it.

Also like many of you, I grew to appreciate Fred Rogers even more as I got older. It wasn’t until I was an adult before I learned how he pretty much saved public educational television by testifying in front of Congress and swaying the head jackass who was ready to laugh him out of the building. He was just truly a decent, caring person in a world seeming devoid of them at times. We so need more people like him and fewer like the ones we have.

It’s funny. I always heard he was a devout Christian, but the way Fred Rogers actually lived his life puts to shame those who now claim to love baby Jeebus—you know, the ones like Westboro Batpist Church and others who hate homosexuals (Hey, North Carolina and other states, where’s the legislation to ban divorce if marriage is so sacred?). Or the ones who continue to subjugate women and protect child molesters in the name of their god.

The heck with Christians—can we get more Neighbors?

Seriously, so much time and energy and money has been devoted to venerating and patterning ourselves after characters whose deeds and words are open to debate, from Jeebus to Yahweh to Mohammad to Buddha to Zeus, why can’t we get behind someone who actually walked the walk and talked the talk, often to a snappy melody. Fred Rogers personified everything good and decent in the world, and should be a role model to whom we all aspire.

Of course, we’ll have to rectify the whole “You are special” mantra that he espoused. That doesn’t exactly jibe with everything I believe, but I’m down with the general idea of treating your neighbor like you want to be treated. The wardrobe might not exactly be something I’d be on board with, either; cardigans and loafers are too d-bag hipster for me. I can also do without all the puppets—Lady Elaine sort of freaked me out, but not because she was clearly the first lesbian puppet on TV, but because I thought she went a bit too heavy on the rouge. (Ladies pinch, whores paint!)

And is it me, or does X the Owl remind anyone else of Jamie Hyneman from “Mythbusters”?

Just sayin’.

Anyway, I still want a bitchin’ toy trolley that runs throughout my house! I’m thinking from the bedroom to the kitchen would be a good route, especially for midnight snacks. The magic picture frame was pretty cool, although we now call it “the intrawebz.”

Then again, there was Mr. McFeeley … …. uh … a lot of … stuff … there … to …

… Must resist  … no “speedy delivery” jokes about his package … grrrr…. DANG!

Okay, clearly, I can’t help myself from mocking something as pure and good as Fred Rogers and the childhood utopia he created for me. Not that I actually thought I had a chance of being anything remotely decent like he was, but you know, I could try, right? Or at least *make believe* I could be.

Now that I think about it, this blog is like my own Land of Make Believe. Hmmm … and you all are my special neighbors. Oh sure, I shake my fist at the clouds and try to chase a few of you off my lawn, but maybe there is hope for me, after all.

How’s this: “An imagination in every brain, a friend in every neighborhood and a food-toting trolley in every house.” I think Mr. Rogers would let this dream grow in his garden.


Jun 082012

So after my trusted mechanic told me that the car I’ve been driving for most of the past decade will last to “about the end of the summer,” I’ve begun the process of shopping for a new car—well, “new” to me, anyway. I’ve only bought “new” once, and although it worked out well, I just can’t see throwing away the thousands of dollars that occur by simply driving something off a lot.

Of course, as I prepare to move on to a new car, I have been thinking about

Five of My Favorite Rides

1. 2002 Subaru Outback –

This is my current car, and to be honest, I’ve beaten the heck out of it. (Maybe you haven’t guessed, but I am *a bit* of an aggressive driver.) It has certainly handled my abuse well, never having broken down on the side of the road. (Although it hasn’t started a few times.) Living on top of a pretty steep hill, the all-wheel drive has been very welcome, and after 150,000+ hard miles—including having covered most of Connecticut—plus countless trips to soccer games and karate classes as well as having untold amounts of Goldfish and other snacks ground into its backseat, it has earned its retirement.

2. 1998 Subaru Outback – This was the car we sold about a year-and-a-half ago, and like the Subaru I have now, it served us pretty well with its all-wheel drive, although this one did break down a few times on us. Still, I’ve never driven a car that handled better in the snow, and that includes having owned a 4×4. This was the car we brought our second son home from the hospital in, and also the one he threw up in more than a few times. The “Check Engine” light was inexplicably on for the better part of 21st century, and by the end, we couldn’t open the driver’s side window. Which is more important than you think, especially at ATMs and drive-thru windows.

3. 1978 Datsun B210

Not mine, but bright yellow like the one I had—wow, the intrawebz has everything!

This is the first car that was ever “mine,” in that my parents bought it and by the time I was in high school and could drive, I “inherited” it—I had to pick up my dad from the train station every night in order to use it, but it was certainly worth it! This was the car in which I got my license when I turned 16, and it saw all sorts of high school hijinx, including multiple trips to Shea Stadium and the beach as well as the occasional jaunt to “The Spot” down by railroad tracks. [*wink wink, nudge nudge*] One time in high school, my buddy Milo and I forced ourselves to share this car with seven girls—we were packed tight, but you know, we managed.

This car was also witness to one of the more amusing auto anecdotes I can recall. One summer night, me and five of my buddies—including Senior Smoke—decided to go to the old Riverside Park in Agawam. Since we thought we couldn’t all fit in one car (we would be proven wrong later*), we took two cars—I drove the Datsun and my buddy Booth drove his old AMX Javelin, and we split with three of us in each car. After loading up with all sorts of supplies—candy, snacks and one big bottle of Coke—we headed out on the highway in a mini caravan. Senior Smoke was riding shotgun with Booth, and as they passed me and my crew in the Datsun going about 70 mph, he decided to shake up the Coke and point it out the window at my Datsun, with the intent of spraying it all over us.

Senior Smoke is a very, very smart guy, but let’s say at age 18, he hadn’t quite mastered the intricacies of aerodynamics and moving vehicles quite yet. As the agitated soda started gushing out of the bottle, the wind from the highway immediately directed it back into the Javelin and all over the place! It was complete chaos as the soda was shooting out everywhere like a Mentos had been dropped in—at one point, Senior Smoke even tried to put the spouting bottle in his mouth, but that didn’t work. They were all drenched in a matter of seconds, and it was absolutely hysterical. How I didn’t wreck my car from laughing so hard, I don’t know.

[*On the way home, Booth’s car broke down and we all piled into the Datsun. Let’s just say it wasn’t nearly as fun as having seven teenaged girls sitting on top of you.]

Sadly, this car was totaled when I got hit from behind while slowing down for an accident on the highway. Senior Smoke’s brother was with me—we were carpooling to SCSU together—and I’ll never forget the woman who had crashed into us. After we pulled over, she looked at her barely smashed-in bumper and then at my absolutely crushed trunk and said, “Gee … I guess I hit you.”

No frackwit, I put it in reverse at 40 mph on the highway and rammed you! GAAAAAAHHH!

I hated people, even back then. On the plus side, I did get to make a “Okay, the good news is that I’m not really hurt, but …” phone call to my dad. Yay for that.

4. 1981 Dodge Omni – The first car I ever bought myself—a used bargain at $1,000—and it saw a lot of action, too. It was also easy to see in action as it was lifeguard trunks orange. This car got me through most of college, and did it fairly reliably, even if it wasn’t exactly the “coolest” vehicle. Not to sound like a Bon Jovi song, but let’s just say I lost something in the backseat of this car and I never got it back.

5. 1987 Toyota 4×4 – Ahh, it’s true …

(And yes, I have this on my iTunes)

The second vehicle I ever purchased with my own money, and the only vehicle I ever bought brandy new! I had it for 17 years (almost longer than I’ve had my wife!), and if it didn’t essentially rust away from the frame, I’d still have it.

It was a great truck in a lot of ways, although it had 2-40 a/c [two windows rolled down and going 40 mph]. You also had to get out of it to lock the hubs so it would work in four-wheel drive, which sort of sucked in snow and rain. Having a truck also meant that I was always available to help other people move, which I did quite often.

As it was the first vehicle I had bought brand new, I didn’t let anyone else drive my baby for the first dozen years or so I had it. Apparently however, once I was away on vacation in Montana, my dad “borrowed” it—I had marked where I had parked it in the driveway before I left, and it clearly had been moved when I came back. Yeah, I was a bit protective. Or had issues. Or both.

The weirdest thing is that in the 17 years I had it, I never changed a flat. Not once. I had a spare under the bed, but I didn’t even knew how to lower it because I never needed it. For all I know, it was flat, too! Also weird is that despite owning it for all that time, I only have one picture of it that I know about (and can’t find right now). It was taken just before I got rid of it, and it was my two sons—then 5 and 3—playing in the cab. I always hoped it would last long enough for them to inherit it, but that just didn’t turn out that way.

Maybe my new car will have a few stories for them to inherit—wonder if Senior Smoke will be up for a trip to Riverside?