2017 Anti-Resolutions

  1. I will not rush to get my anti-resolutions out on time, because anti-resolutions, like a fine wine, take time.
  2. I will not share posts on Facebook which inform others that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or others are giving away millions of dollars, Xboxes and emus. Those emus are mine!
  3. I will not start rumors about a mysterious, dark horse candidate named Bud Wiser preparing to run for President in 2020, even though his campaign would surely prove intoxicating to the American people.
  4. I will not make fun of politicians who talk about The Cyber and know nothing about The Cyber except that The Cyber is really important because they clearly must know something I don’t know since they have decided to turn The Cyber into a noun when the rest of us think of it as an adjective.
  5. I will not make funny red hats paraphrasing or parodying political propaganda, no matter how great I might make them (again).
  6. I will not try to get French fries recognized as their own, nutritionally-important food group.
  7. I will not blame Apple products for all of the world’s problems when it is abundantly clear that Google is to blame for many of them.
  8. I will not claim that stories about the lack of commercial success of my unauthorized autobiography are just another example fake news trying to undermine me.
  9. I will not allow my cat to continue making wardrobe decisions for my son.
  10. I will not rest until President Trump identifies me as overrated on Twitter.

Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on December 30, 2016, in which we are asked to creatively list ten things we will not do in the coming year.

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Mourning’s Light

Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on January 4, 2013, in which we are asked to write about an unnaturally foggy bay.

For most people, silence is empty. I, however, have found silence to be full of stories – more stories, in fact, than the noise surrounding it. To me, the breaks in the noise of life provided a soundless symphony, spinning tales of joy and agony, elation and misery. But lately the silence has become a deafening roar threatening to overwhelm me as I sit here alone, with you by my side.

“Remember the day we got married?” you whisper, breaking the silence for the first time in hours. You speak so quietly I can barely make out the words over the other sounds in the room. It is as if you are speaking from oceans away. You look up over the edge of the newspaper you’ve been pretending to read all day. “I wish we still felt… like we did that day.”

The doctor bursts into the room as she and countless others of her kind have done innumerable times before, thwarting my attempt to respond. She smiles as she forces a bucketful of pills—my main source of calories for the day—into me. I know she is trying to help me, yet I stare at her blankly, wishing my silence could make her understand that I’d trade all the pain killers, anti-inflammatories, steroids and stool softeners in the world for a chance to actually live the life these pills are supposedly extending for me, instead of watching each day slip away through a foggy, chemical haze.

“Remember when we had dreams?” you say after she leaves. “Imagine the stories we could tell if we’d followed even a few of them. Well… it doesn’t matter anymore…”

“It does matter!” I want to scream, but your gaze has drifted so far off you wouldn’t hear me anyway. So I remain silent. We seem to communicate better if I stay quiet.

But the truth is I do remember. I remember our unfulfilled dreams of seeing the world as well as the dreams we did realize before I fell ill: a happy, healthy family, playing catch with the kids, building tree houses, singing songs on the front porch and eating ice cream on days so hot we were really sipping a chocolaty-milk soup.

I remember because—despite what your silence says— I’m not dead yet.

Here in the nursing home, surrounded by swarms of doctors with their fistfuls of pills, I float from one appointment to the next and tolerate wave after wave of tests. Through these long months you have been my lifeboat, my beacon in the night. But you don’t tell me about life outside these walls anymore, presumably so I won’t miss it. You don’t mention the news or politics or—anything. You just sit here quietly. The story your silence tells is of a world grown distant and cold, a world no longer within my reach.

Still, I try to stay connected. I know who won the election. I know my beloved New York Mets will find new ways to snatch defeat from victory again this year. I know the kitchen staff are serving me decaf coffee even though they say it is regular. I know they still haven’t found enough programming to fill the 313 channels on my television.

And I know that none of this matters.

At the end of the day, all I really want is to know your thoughts and feelings. I want to know how you are doing. But your silent stare out the darkening window tells me that even these things are unimportant. All that matters is that the hours have grown short on me.

“I love you,” I say breaking the silence as you prepare to leave. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

You turn away silently and I see, for you, the mourning is already here.

My day waning, I turn off the light and rest my head on the lumpy pillow. I’ve never before been afraid of the nighttime, but the sudden darkness makes my heart race. Lately the night just seems to be a little bit darker—and a little bit quieter—for a little bit longer.

I feel cold despite the thick blankets covering me. As I drift off, I hear doctors and nurses talking frantically in the distance, but even their noise cannot keep the silence at bay. It fills me with memories of things I said when I should have been quiet. It reminds me of times I remained mute when I should have spoken. It spins tales of you and me and the days we thought would last forever.

But no matter what we do to stave it off, day eventually succumbs to night. And the night, when it comes, will be dark.

The silence tonight seems empty. I see myself alone on a raft, drifting silently through the night into a foggy bay. The air feels damp and cool against my skin, the fog so unnaturally thick I can hardly see what is ahead of me. I turn to look behind me. Only shadows and faint echoes of the distant ocean remain. Ahead of me, far across the bay, I hear a mourning dove, its cry telling me not to fear the darkness. For even after the darkest night, in the morning there will be light. And the light will be something to behold.

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My 2013 Anti-Resolutions

Written based on the Today’s Author Write Now! prompt on January 1, 2013, in which we are asked to creatively list ten things we will not do in the coming year. Of course, for obvious reasons I need to stick with a nice, round number like thirteen…

  1. I will not pay $1000 for a Twinkie, whether it is in its original packaging or not, even though I have always wanted to try Weird Al Yankovic’s vegetarian Twinkie-Weiner sandwich.
  2. I will not ask my doctor for a prescription for my daily Starbucks coffee just so that I can submit it to my insurance company for reimbursement.
  3. I will not take all the silly, little sweaters we have for the dog and put them up for sale on eBay… even though the neighborhood dogs, cats and squirrels make fun of him whenever he goes outside wearing one.
  4. I will not tell visitors to my home that the boxes, bags, candy wrappers, shoes and laundry baskets full of intermixed clean and dirty clothes are there so that the cats and the dog who thinks he’s a cat can have a cheap, no-fuss and varyingly-complicated obstacle course to play in.
  5. Likewise, I will not tell visitors to my home that the boxes, bags, candy wrappers, shoes and laundry baskets full of intermixed clean and dirty clothes are there so that my children can learn about what life in college will be like. Well, I probably won’t…
  6. I will not proclaim that I have a five point plan to solve every issue I face in 2013.
  7. I will not ask the police to protect the driving public by blocking off the streets in our neighborhood before I take the teenaged neighbor girl out for a driving lesson in my manual shift car; I may, however, wear a helmet, safety goggles and/or wrap the car in bubble wrap before we go, though…
  8. I will not be a contestant on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. I have not yet decided about the possibility of appearing on “Married to Jonas”, though.
  9. I will not be a Spice Girl.
  10. I will not be in the running to be the person Jenny McCarthy kisses for New Years 2014.
  11. I will not give up on my quest to ensure that everyone knows that the Mayans were not actually wrong.
  12. I will not include a chapter about my stint as the backup third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies in my unauthorized autobiography. I will also edit out the chapter about how I was screwed out of my gig to be Fergie in The Black-Eyed Peas.
  13. I will not spend much more time making plans to introduce as many types of insects and fruits to the little neighbor girl as I possibly can.
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The Iliad (in about a Page)

I have ranted about my hatred of summer reading programs many times in the past, specifically zeroing in on how they focus solely on “The Classics”, a term which is defined as “The Stuff Most People Would Never Read If They Had a Choice.” A friend of mine recently lamented needing to write a one-page summary of “The Iliad” and how hard it was to condense everything down to just one page. It has been a long, long time since I read The Iliad but I decided to take a stab at it.  The following is what I came up with — it fits on one letter-sized Microsoft Word page (.5 inch margins on all sides). My daughter enjoyed it and thought I should share it with the world.  Since I live only to make her happy, I’ve posted this, the first in what looks like will be a series of approximately one-page summaries of The Classics (and other things).  Enjoy!

This one time, at Battle Camp, there were these beautiful maidens. The maidens, Chryseis and Briseis, had been captured from the town of Chryse by the Greek army because that’s what armies are meant to do when they finish sacking their enemies. Chryseis of Chryse, cried out to her daddy. Her dad, Chryses, was all too familiar with his daughter’s many crises, but she had him wrapped around her finger so he knew he had to help. Seeing as he was a two-faced priest of Apollo (the god, not the lunar mission) he kindly offered a huge ransom for his daughter’s safe return while also viciously praying for Apollo to destroy the Greek army. Apollo, being a compassionate god, complied and sent a terrible plague into the camp. When Agamemnon, a more important Greek army dude than I am, learned that the plague decimating his people was due to the beautiful maiden, he reluctantly agreed to send Chryseis back to her daddy.

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No Fun! or, The Forgotten Tale of Harvey S. Whombaker

Author’s Note: 

Since my kids were first born, I’ve been telling them that one of our family’s primary rules is:  No Fun! The reason for this rule is simple:  Fun, invariably, leads to head injuries.  They are certainly allowed to have a pleasant, good experience. They are welcome to have an enjoyable time. In fact I encourage it. But they may not, under any circumstances, have fun

This has become somewhat of a running thing with my family and friends — neices and nephews know the rule and make sure to tell me what they think of it all the time.  Most recently my nephew, who is also my Godson, gave me a homemade card for Father’s Day which was entirely made up of attempts to prove, once and for all, that fun is acceptable. Well, for his fifteenth birthday this past week, I felt I needed to give him a heartfelt reply to his thoughtful Father’s Day gift.  Fifteen minutes before it was time to leave to go to his party, I came up with the idea.  And here it is in its pure, unedited form.

Eh? What’s that you say, Sonny?  You want to have fun?  Fun? Really, now…

You think fun is okay? You think fun is nothing particularly dangerous, just another run-of-the-mill three-letter-word that implies frolicking and laughs and giggles? Really? Well, my boy, you should consider rethinking your opinion about this evil, dangerous little word. Especially now that you are fifteen and are reaching an age where, soon enough, you’ll be telling stories about the good old days whilst lecturing youngsters about how things were when you were their age…

Now, recite for me the sad, sad tale of Harvey S. Whombaker.

What’s that you say? You don’t know who Harvey S. Whombaker was? Eh? Don’t you pay attention in school?

What? You do pay attention in school and they’ve never mentioned Harvey S. Whombaker? Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle… what are our tax dollars paying for if schools don’t talk about Harvey S. Whombaker and his tragic tale anymore. When I was your age, all we did was talk about Harvey S. Whombaker! Yes, it’s a terrible tale, but it’s a lesson everybody should learn by the time they reach their teens. I’ll bet they don’t talk about Harvey S. Whombaker anymore because someone decided that it was too much trauma to kids’ “delicate, fragile, little minds” to hear such tales of reality. I’ll bet someone in charge—probably the same person who decided that everyone who plays a sport deserves a trophy for “trying hard” when, back in my day, you only got a trophy for winning!— I bet that person said in their tiny, whiney voice: “Oh, no, we can’t talk about Harvey S. Whombaker anymore! It’s not a fun story and kids today need fun stories in order to keep them engaged and enthusiastic for school and life and playing their rock and roll and other children’s music on their wax cylinders and their EyePogs and their whosits and whatnots.”

Aww, look. I’m so upset about this, I just spilled my coffee!

Kids today need fun stories? Really? I’ll tell you what kids today need! They need a swift kick in the butt, that’s what they need! They don’t need trophies for finishing last! They need to be told, in no uncertain terms: “You lost! Get over it! If you want a trophy, WIN next time!” That’s what Harvey S. Whombaker would have said and that’s why it is so tragic that his tale is not being taught in our over-priced, underperforming schools.

But I digress….

Where was I?

Oh, Harvey S. Whombaker. Right. So, since you know not of the tale, nor of the origin of the National Organization Fighting Unlawful Nonsense (NOFUN), I will briefly describe the tale to you.

Harvey S. Whombaker was a mild-mannered 15 year old boy from the town of Squaresvillingtonton. He was a boy like any other—he enjoyed vegetables, rocks, trees, pulling weeds and mowing the lawns of his neighbors. And, really, what else is there for a teenaged boy to do or think about?

Well, one day, Harvey S. Whombaker was out in the field, working to cut down some invasive bindweeds that had taken root in Sally Fally’s broccoli garden in the valley. Sally Fally was the smartest, prettiest girl in all of Squaresvillingtonton and Harvey S. Whombaker was sweet on her. He didn’t realize it–though the rest of the town did–but she was kind of sweet on him, too. The fact that he didn’t realize this should not be a surprise, even to you kids of today, because, as I said, there were few things that could invade a boy’s mind when it was full of rocks (and trees and vegetables and mowing and bindweeds).

But on this fateful day, so long ago, Harvey S. Whombaker was in the field on a blazing hot afternoon, covered in dirt and mud, his arms and hands ripped apart by the bindweeds he was pulling. Some of the other boys from the neighborhood came out and they started playing fieldball (Since you don’t know the story of Harvey S. Whombaker, you certainly don’t know that fieldball is an ancient predecessor for today’s football, played with large boulders and, of course, beets.). They convinced Harvey to leave the bindweeds for later and join them.

Harvey turned out to be a natural at fieldball. He was tossing and catching the boulders, dodging and weaving past the whizzing beets, scoring goal after goal. After his thirteenth goal, he looked up and saw her – Sally Fally, standing there with the sun right behind her, making her beautiful hair shimmer and shine with a brightness he had never seen. She offered him a jug of fresh water from the well and he started walking toward her. Suddenly, a giant boulder, tossed by one of the other fieldball players who assumed Harvey was paying attention, came down from the sky – seemingly from out of nowhere – and hit Harvey square on the head.

And that, my friend, is when Harvey S. Whombaker discovered gravity.

What’s that you say?

Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity?

Yes, yes, I have heard that tale, too.  I wasn’t born yesterday after all. But, you see, Harvey S. Whombaker discovered gravity first – a full thirteen years before Sir Isaac Newton did. But nobody remembers Harvey or acknowledges his amazing accomplishment and I’ll tell you why: Harvey S. Whombaker was busy having fun for the first time in his 15 years on the planet when he discovered gravity. Sadly, the fun he was having led, as fun always does, to a head injury.

And thanks to the head injury, Harvey S. Whombaker could not remember his discovery of gravity.

So why do we remember Sir Isaac Newton? Well, I’ll tell you – he was sitting by a tree, his mind filled with pleasant, good, experiences with things such as calculus and physics, when an apple fell, seemingly out of nowhere and hit him on the head. He could have been severely injured, of course, for that was back in the day when an apple was a good, healthy product, not some expensive, disposable music thingamajig. But that’s not the point.  The point, my boy, is that since Sir Isaac Newton was not out frolicking and having fun, he sustained no injury. Instead, he picked up the apple, looked at it and said, “Groovy, man, that apple fell on my head as if it was acted upon by an unseen force. Clearly, that unseen force needed the tiny apple to come nearer to my head, which is much larger. Though I dare say that my head wanted to be near that apple as well for I can feel that it did! This unexpected and superbly enjoyable experience has taught me that an object must attract every other object in the universe with a force proportional to the product of their masses… and, also, inversely proportional to the distance between them. I shall call this unseen force ‘gravity’.”

Sir Isaac Newton wrote all of this down and the rest, as they say, is history.

I can see that you are sad about the tragic tale of Harvey S. Whombaker but let me finish with this thought. All was not lost for Harvey. He kept on working in the fields, toiling away at ripping out bindweeds in Sally Fally’s broccoli fields in the valley. Sally Fally, for her part, bringing him water when it was hot out. They shared many seasons of glorious, wonderful broccoli together, but Sally’s father would not allow her to marry Harvey because, as he said, “Any boy who would choose to have  fun over pulling out bindweeds, even just once, is not worthy of my daughter’s love.”

Harvey went on to found NOFUN in hopes that future generations would learn from his mistake. I hope you will learn from him and heed this advice:

Fun is not funny.

Learn this, and remember Harvey. Before it is too late.

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Not Amused by My Muse

I want to take my muse out back and shoot the freaking beast.

Wait, wait… Let me take a step back and explain my frustration.

I have paper and pens with me nearly all the time. Why is it that the best ideas I get come at the few times where I either don’t have the paper and pen or when it is just not feasible for me to write anything down? It doesn’t matter what the idea might be. Whether it’s a song or a poem or a story or a limerick, the ideas come when I simply cannot do anything about them.

It has always been this way. When I was younger and writing a lot of the time—in other words, before I got a real job—my muse was always around, playfully throwing things my way at the most inopportune times: while standing at attention in the middle of a football field awaiting the start of a marching band competition, on stage during commencement speeches, during final exams, while writing down a customer’s order when I worked at the restaurant, during my driving test or while being put under sedation for surgery (for example). When I stopped being so receptive (due to the aforementioned “real job”), my muse turned to giving me the silent treatment much of the time and largely that has continued even now that I’m trying to write regularly again. I sit down with a blank page and wait for the wonderful flow of words to begin, but my muse remains silent and hidden. I’ve begged, pleaded, offered to buy it fancy, expensive coffees… but the only response I get is a huff and a sigh and an angry comment:

Oh, you want me to be available on your schedule? Well, that’s just not how I work, buddy!

But recently things have changed a little. I’ve once again started to hear the voices. No, not THOSE voices. THOSE voices have always been there, haunting me, taunting me, telling me to… well, ahem… I digress.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Recently my muse has begun speaking to me again. Once again, though, it is proving to be sadistic and mean. The ideas that come arrive in the middle of the priest’s homily, during my speeches and presentations at trade shows (again, for that silly “real job”) or while driving down the highway. Today there was the idea for the Great American Novel, which appeared to me in a vision while I stood in the middle of the shower at the YMCA surrounded by other men in various states of attire or cleanliness. (Shudder.) Yes, thanks, oh malicious muse. That was convenient. Of course, the idea disappeared by the time I was dressed and near a pen and paper, perhaps chased away by the brightness of the white, shiny pages, perhaps taken away by a spiteful and bitter muse.

At times I’ve been angry about the way this has worked and at other times I’m more at ease with it. At the end of the day, do I want writing to be “easy”?  Or do I want it to be work?  I kind of want it to be both, actually—good ideas that, with solid work, become great.  Looking back, the stories that have worked the best for me were the ones where I remembered the vague whispers that came my way during trips to the DMV or dentist appointments. If the idea has “stuck”, lingering in the back of my mind and remaining memorable for however long it takes me to get to the business of writing it down, that is an idea worth exploring further.  The other ideas, trudged from my own beleaguered, sieve-like brain, usually just lay splattered across the page lurking and glaring menacingly at me, snickering and howling with glee at my terrified glances.

So now I sit here, with time to write, a desire to write and the means to write. A few ideas have come to me in the form of a few tiny little nuggets… but nothing real clear has formed. When I ask my muse how to make these little gems work, the response from the evil beast is:

Hey, I’m just the idea guy. It’s up to you to make the 600 magical, talking, radioactive zebras and the 5000 hungry, lactose-intolerant lions play together nicely as they try to save the world from within a 500 square foot cage made of piano wire and duct tape.

This is followed by a few moments of diabolical laughter and then my friendly neighborhood muse is gone, waiting for the right moment to pounce on my unsuspecting psyche, most likely the next time I’m sitting in the little room at LabCorp for a blood test or when I’m called for Jury Duty.

Yeah, that sounds like as good a time as any.

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