Thursday, December 10, 2009

What I've Learned

So I've been a father for over a full year now and I've been thinking about what I've learned as a parent in that time. So here are a few random thoughts.

Nursery rhymes are a lot like action movies, about 95% of them suck horribly (like movies with Bruce Willis or Sly Stallone), but the 5% that are awesome (like the Bourne movies) you absolutely cherish that they exist.

Becoming a parent does not fundamentally "change" a person. I've heard so many people say this over the years and I found it to be a crock of shit. Breeding did not change my outlook on the world. This view that so many people have goes on the assumption that they wouldn't have become that person without having a kid and that is a specious one. I'm still the leftist, freethinking Humanist that I've always been and I'm sure my crazy brother would have still become an intolerable, right-wing, born-again, Jesus freak fundamentalist whether he had kids or not. Maybe it would have happened later, but I'm sure he'd still be that big of an asshole.

A new parent gets lots of unsolicited advice from "experienced" parents and almost all of it is completely worthless. Just because someone knows how to raise their kids does not mean they know how to raise my kid. Something to be sure to remind myself when I'm the older parent.

Most baby-care books are also full of shit and a complete waste of time. I have an especially strong hatred for the "What to Expect..." line of books. Sweeping generalizations (e.g., pacifiers are evil) not backed up by any real scientific study or any scholarship whatsoever. Basically some hippy mom thinking she knows how to teach everyone else to be a parent. Not worth the paper it's printed on, and to so many people it is their baby bible.

The stuff I worried about being hard before she was born (like changing diapers or bathing) turned out to be a piece of cake, and the things I didn't even think about (like nail clipping or planning meals once the nursing/formula/baby food days are over) turned out to be the real challenging things.

Going to the bathroom while holding a baby is a lot easier than one would think. Showering, not so much.

They say that having a kid will make you appreciate your own parents. This isn't really true if you were raised by a shitty parent. In fact, I think having a kid has made me realize even more how awful my mother was at raising kids. No matter how frazzled I've gotten, how frustrated or even angry, I have still been able to resist shaking or hitting my daughter. I step back, breathe, and remember she's just doing what kids do. My mother's inability to do the same as I was growing up, instead choosing to use the yardstick, broom, fly-swatter or bare hands to knock me silly looks even more insane to me with my new view.

Even though it is 2009, I've found that in many places a stay-at-home dad is still viewed with a fairly large amount of suspicion or weird curiosity. I'm treated great in many other situations, but I have to seek out the right groups.

I find that even though I have one now, I still don't generally like kids. Especially large groups of them. Play dates and birthday parties are going to be torture when my daughter is older, but I will have to endure for her sake. But when we start hosting sleepovers I'm going to make sure Mom gets put in charge.

I also don't really like hanging out with most other parents. I'd much rather hang out with friends of mine who have also become parents, and that was working out great in New York since my best friend became a dad the same time as me. But now that we're in Chicago none of my friends here have kids, at least yet. It's hard to know if a person was cool or not before they had kids if you don't meet them until they've already had them.

I will do anything, no matter how stupid I look, and in public, to make my kid laugh.

I think referring to raising children as the most important thing a person can do is utter nonsense. Hey, it might turn out to be the most important thing I will ever do (but I hope not). But, was raising children the most important thing Martin Luther Kink, Jr. ever did? Jonas Salk? I don't think so. There are many things a person can do in the world that are more important than raising your own kids.

You cannot describe your love for your kid to someone ho doesn't have one. You just can't. So I don't even try.

Having a kid has not made me want to have more, as so many people told me would happen. (Seems that people say the same thing about having kids that they say about tattoos, once you have one you want more). I'm loving every minute of every new experience I'm going through with my daughter, but I have no need to repeat it. Once is totally enough.

The baby supply business is such a racket it's ridiculous. There is so much shit they convince new, unwitting parents that they need to have when they really don't. The "safety" stuff is a really big one, preying on parents' fears. I'm convinced that baby monitors just cause parents to lose sleep and have never saved a kid's life. Now they even have these sensors that go under the baby's mattress and an alarm goes off if the they stop moving for several seconds. An extremely expensive way to get sleep deprivation.

If I hugged my daughter as I hard as I feel like I want to sometimes, it would kill her and her guts would be all over the floor. Maybe that's as close as I can come to explaining the level of love thing.

I can have my kid dressed in twelve layers on a moderately cold day and there will still be an old lady who tells I don't have her dressed warm enough.

I wish it wasn't against the law to punch old ladies in the face.

My kid is the cutest kid on the planet. If you think differently you are obviously a dumbass.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs... In Harlem

I was back in New York City a couple of weeks ago to be a contestant on a game show (I can't say how I did until after the episode airs in December) just one month after I moved away. After I did the taping I took the opportunity to go visit my best friends Joe and Megan along with their cute-as-a-button son Spencer who is the same age as, and betrothed to, my daughter.

After hanging at their place for a little bit, Joe and I went around the corner to a club called Shrine to have a beer. A great neighborhood joint in Harlem on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd by 134th St, Shrine has music just about every night and has a wide variety, though the focus seems to be on jazz, reggae, funk and soul. It is Harlem after all.

Joe and I were sitting there drinking our beers while a guy with a guitar was doing his sound check. I was immediately drawn in by the chords he was playing for his sound check and figured he might be playing something I would like. And boy did he!

As soon as he started his set I was hooked. Right away I could hear the influences of Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie, Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg, but without being derivative. He certainly had his own style of guitar playing and singing.

Unfortunately there were few people outside Joe and me who seemed to really get how great this guy was. Most others in the bar were eating and gave only polite applause, at best. He was opening for a jazz band, so it wasn't really his crowd. And Joe and I were only there because of my last-minute call earlier that week to be on the game show.

At some point during his set he played a cover of Billy Bragg's Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards that was just fantastic. When he was done I went up to tell him how much I liked his set and his Billy Bragg cover. He came over to have a beer with us.

So this guy's name is Al Baker and he's from Manchester, UK. He was catching a flight to St. Louis the next morning because he had a gig at a college there, which is basically how he got himself over to the States and then he booked himself a bunch of other shows to do while he was over here. He had such a great attitude about it, saying he knew at a lot of the gigs he got he would be background music and maybe a couple of people would get into it (and on this night it was Joe and me).

We hung out with Al for a while longer on Joe's stoop before I went back to the hotel and Al went to catch his bus out to the Newark airport. We spent the night chatting about Billy Bragg and sketch comedy, among other things. Al and Joe also geeked out for a bit on comic books. I gushed a few more times over how much I liked Al's music (I had a few beers) and he slapped a couple of CD's on me. One was his album that came out about three years ago and the other was his newest collection of demos.

We said goodbye to Joe and then Al and I caught the subway to 42nd St, where I pointed Al in the direction of the Port Authority bus terminal and I went to crash at the hotel. Al was going to be playing a couple of shows in Chicago a few nights later and I told him I would try to make it to at least one of them.

I caught the train to Chicago the next morning. I started listening to Al's album shortly after the Pennsylvanian pulled out of Penn Station. About half way through the first track, a song called This Machine that expands on the motto written on Woody Guthrie's guitar, I had a gasping moment.

There are moments when I'm listening to a live show or an album when I have a gasping moment. It will be something so brilliant and beautiful that I literally gasp. I love a lot of different musicians, but these moments only happen for a few. I gasped the first time I ever saw Robyn Hitchcock play, the first time I listened to Billy Bragg as well as the the first time I ever saw Wilco and almost every time I see Jeff Tweedy play a solo show.

I think it is the realization that I'm not just seeing a great musician, of which there are many that I love, but listening to someone who has been touched with a gift that I can't even comprehend.

I listened to Al's CD pretty much anytime I wasn't chatting with someone on the trains (I was pretty much socializing between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh) during my trip home. I must have listened to it six or seven times. I couldn't believe I was listening to something made by a guy when he was 20.

I saw him again a few nights later at a club in Chicago. It was another gasping moment, watching him play an amazing set, again for a crowd of people mostly eating and talking before the main acts came on.

Al played a few of the songs I told him were my favorites from the disc, including All The News That's Fit To Sing, a tribute to Phil Ochs that takes its title from Ochs' first album and plays on lyrics from Billy Bragg's own Phil Ochs tribute song a generation earlier. It is a lovely tribute to a great singer-songwriter by a guy born about a decade after Ochs died, and he takes a little dig at Bob Dylan in the process.

Talking to Al after the set I really started to understand why he is such a good songwriter. It's because he is extremely smart and curious about the world. We were talking about music with a couple of girls ho ere also there for Al's set and one mentioned liking Cab Calloway. Al talked about how much better Paul Robeson was than Calloway, and even quoted some lines from Old Man River.

I am always amazed by how few Americans I talk to will know who Paul Robeson is, one of the most important figures in mid-twentieth century American history, and here is this 23-year-old kid from Manchester UK talking about him. And that's just one example of what I'm talking about.

Well-read, articulate, curious, outspoken, a knack for turning a phrase and great respect and knowledge of those great artists that came before him. A formula for great success as a singer-songwriter.

And I found my newest favorite artist. I'm really looking forward to following his career for years to come and seeing what great heights he climbs.

Because I happened to be in New York for a very short trip, for a game show of all things. Because Joe and I decided to go have a beer. Because Joe happens to live around the corner from a music club in Harlem. The randomness of it all makes it so much cooler that I came across this brilliant guy.

I would call it fate if I believed in such a thing.

This machine
is making folk a threat again
this machine
that I'm holding in my hands
this machine

is the best I've ever seen, because
this machine
kills silence
(kills madness)
(kills fascists)

Al's MySpace page

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Concert Life

OK, the move has happened and we are just about settled, so maybe I can get back to doing this on a little bit more of a regular basis. We'll see, I'm still responsible for taking care of a kid that is right now just about 11 months old.


I moved back to Chicago earlier this month after six years living on the East Coast, with the last three being in New York and it was really hard leaving Manhattan. We got really used to how great it is to live in The City. Great vegetarian restaurants, the best public transportation in the U.S. and a lot of really cool music venues to see some of my favorite acts who seemed to be coming through town all the time (I saw Robyn Hitchcock five times in 2008 alone). And

So being back in Chicago will take some getting used to. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of great memories living here. I saw the very last Replacements concert from the front row in Grant Park and walked away with a guitar pick. I met my wife here (well, in the 'burbs) and some of my favorite friends still live here. And of all the places I've seen live music, my favorite for a long time was The Hideout, though in NYC I really fell in love with Barbes and The Bell House, both in Brooklyn, and the Concert Hall on the Upper West Side. Of course, none of those compare to seeing a show at The Turning Point in Piermont, about an hour north of Manhattan. Seriously, if you like live music at all, do yourself a favor and see a show there before you die.

But Chicago is a really good town for live music, and I got to be reminded of that pretty quickly after I got here. I went to another of my favorite Chicago venues, Martyrs, for The Baseball Project/Minus 5/Steve Wynn show. If you haven't heard of The Baseball Project, here's a quick description: Scott McCaughey, leader of both the Young Fresh Fellows and Minus 5 and a permanent sideman of REM for more than a decade, and Steve Wynn, formerly of the Dream Syndicate, got together and wrote a bunch of songs about baseball. They were joined by Linda Pitmon, a drummer for lots of different bands, and Peter Buck from REM to record a great album.

These are some of my favorite musicians. I grew up an REM fanatic, and Scott and Peter also play in The Venus 3, Robyn Hitchcock's (my absolute favorite musician) current backing band. Scott McCaughey plays with so many of my favorite people - Wilco, REM, Decemberists, Robyn Hitchcock - and is such a great songwriter. He really should be a lot more famous than he is. There is really no more proof needed in how unjust the world is than the fact that Hannah Montana plays in packed stadiums and Scott McCaughey only gets to by hanging out with REM.

And The Baseball Project album is fantastic. Rather than write songs that just celebrate their love of the game, ala Centerfield (don't get me wrong, I LOVE that John Fogerty ditty), they made some tunes about specific players and incidents, some based on fact and others based more on folklore. There's Ted Fucking Williams, based what Teddy Ballgame supposedly used to scream out during batting practice ("I'm Ted Fucking Williams and I'm the greatest hitter in baseball!"), Gratitude, about Curt Flood, who fought on his own for players' right to free agency and who is largely forgotten by today's players who owe their million-dollar paychecks to him, Satchel Paige Said, a celebration of the man who may have been the best pitcher in the history of the game; among the songs about players from the game's history.

Two of my favorites are Steve Wynn's Harvey Haddix and Scott McCaughey's Broken Man. The first tells the story of the pitcher who may have pitched the best game in the history of Major League Baseball, 12 perfect innings, but is not in the record books because his Pirate teammates could not score and he lost the game in the 13th. The latter song is about Mark McGwire's fall from the man who helped "save baseball" after the strike to the disgraced steroid user. Scott McCaughey has an amazing talent for writing really catchy songs (listen to John Barleycorn Must Live, Town That Lost Its Groove Supply, Cigarettes, Coffee and Booze or With A Gun and you'll see what I mean) but Broken Man might be his catchiest yet. It has a hook that just pulls you in.

I walked in to Martys on the night of the show and it felt like I had been there yesterday, even though the last time I saw a show there was back in May of 2003 for a Jeff Tweedy solo gig. The place was as cool as I remembered it. It didn't seem like anything had changed, except I think there might be better beer choices now. And despite good beer on the menu most people there still seemed to be drinking Bud, Coors, PBR or some other swill. What is it with Chicagoans and their love of shitty beer?

I was at the show by myself, a common occurrence. I see a lot of shows on my own, not that many of my friends are in to the same music as me or are as interested in seeing shows as often as I like to. In the last couple of years in New York I had met some people at a couple of Robyn Hitchcock shows that became my concert-going posse. I did wish they were there, a fun group of music geeks that I really liked hitting shows with in NYC.

But no matter. I was in my element. Around my people. Indy-rock music dorks, oh how I love them so. This was the kind of crowd that, had I struck up a conversation with anyone, many of them might have been impressed with me saying, "So I saw Scott McCaughey and Ken Stringfellow opening for Robyn Hitchcock at the Backstage in Seattle back in 1994," or "I was at the Crocodile Cafe in 1995 when Peter Buck played with Kevn Kinney, that included the most amazing cover of Leaving On A Jet Plane." (I went to both shows with my favorite all-time concert-going buddy Trevor) I didn't need to have these conversations that night, it was just enough knowing I was around a crowd who might appreciate the experiences.

I was not really prepared this night on just how great this show was going to be. There was no division in the sets between each band, it was the four members of The Baseball Project playing for the whole night, doing songs from Baseball Project, Minus 5 (and one Young Fresh Fellows song), Steve Wynn's various incarnations (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, etc.) and a few covers.

They absolutely brought the house down with an incredible high energy show that went for two full sets and an encore. By the time they were done it had been almost three hours since they took the stage. I've seen Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey play dozens of times, in many different projects, but I'd never been to a Steve Wynn show before so I didn't know what to expect. Well Steve Wynn is one hell of an impressive guitar player, but Linda Pitmon really stole the show for me. She plays her drums with an incredible energy of wild abandon yet completely focused at the same time. She is the funnest drummer I've seen play since Bill Berry from REM. I was mesmerized by her stick work and her flailing hair as she banged her kit.

A truly fantastic night, maybe my favorite concert of the year so far, going neck-and-neck with Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 at the Bell House in Brooklyn. And that show had half of the same people playing.

I really enjoy two things more than anything else in the world - traveling and live music. My dream is to combine the two some day and do some rock and roll tourism. I'd love to see one of my favorite musicians in a club somewhere like London or Spain or Germany or Tokyo. The one I want to do the most is see Robyn Hitchcock do one of his benefit shows at the Three Kings pub in the Clerkenwell neighborhood in London. That's how much of a music geek I am.

Why I like to travel seems pretty obvious. Seeing different cultures, sights and people is something a lot of people like to do.

But it has always been hard to explain why I am so in love with live music to the point I'll spend my last dollar on a band instead of food.

I was thinking about this when I was leaving Martyrs that night, why I feel such pure joy at a show. It kind of finally dawned on me.

I'm not the most "in the moment" kind of person. Ask anybody who knows me. I tend to over think just about everything and always be in my head. But not at shows by bands that I really love. I am so in the moment when I'm standing there taking in the music, I just let it flow over me and suck me in its world. No thinking, just feeling. No worries, just happiness.

Is my career where I want it to be? Am I a good husband? A good father? Am I doing enough to make a difference in the world? These thoughts go away for a time and are not a part of it.

But what is "it?" I don't know how to put it without sounding incredibly gooberistic and dweeby. At one with myself? With the universe? An out of body experience? Religious experience? See what I mean? Very stupid sounding, all of them.

I guess I'm

And it seems that on those occasions I'm OK with being just that. And that is no small thing.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Monday Hate

Time for another instalment of my Monday bitch session...

Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carry and every other one of the "vaccines cause autism" loons. Fuck these people are annoying. It actually pains me somewhat to put Jim Carry on this list. I've always respected his using his fame to speak out for freedom for Aung Sun Suu Kyi and the people of Burma. I could always overlook his rich-person new-agey mysticism because it seemed to at least make him try to do good. But apparently sticking your dick in Jenny McCarthy makes you stupid.

And what the fuck is with people listening to Jenny McCarthy? A fringe movement full of crazy people suddenly gets credibility because they are now represented by someone who used to give some guys boners about 15 years ago? What, every current media producer had a Playboy subscription in the 90s?

There has never, ever been a scientific study (and there have been tons done) that has shown a link between vaccines and autism. None. Ever. The people who are selling this idea, that the greatest gift modern medicine has ever given the human race is actually giving your children autism, are either snake-oil salesmen or amazingly paranoid fools who need psychiatric help. With McCarthy it can be hard to tell, since she seems so brain-dead. But I have to go with snake-oil salesman since she sells a lot of books promoting her nutso ideas. She now purports to have "cured" her son of autism with nutrition and vitamins. Right. I doubt her son ever had autism to begin with.

The believers in this movement are of the same anti-intellectual, anti-science and unreasonable thought as the 9/11 truth freaks, those who believe Obama was born in Kenya and the people ho believe the moon landing as faked. They need help, seriously.

And if they are parents they need to have their children taken away from them. Like now.


The media, for giving these crazy people a platform that gives them credibility.

Especially Oprah, because Dr. Phil is also her fault.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Freethinker's Letter On Religion To His Born-Again Family

Several months ago I wrote a letter to my family, attempting to clear the air and come to something of an understanding with my born-again family members, after some heated exchanges with my brother and other incidents over the years that showed a complete disregard for my right to my beliefs.

It is somewhat long, over 7 pages on Word, but I think it is a decent attempt to communicate with unreasonable and dogmatic about what I believe and don't believe.

This letter was met with either pretending that it never happened or a silence by some members of the family that includes not talking to me anymore.

I offer it up for others looking for ways to deal with religious family members.

I think it may be one of the best things I've ever written, probably because my wife acted as my editor and co-writer. Looking it over again months later I'm still very pleased with this, and the only thing I think I would have changed is my preference for what I consider myself. I should have added Freethinker to the list that included Naturalist and Humanist.

I've copied it here just as it was when I sent it.

I replaced all of the names in the letter with their relationship to me in parentheses.


Dear family,

I feel that this letter has become necessary, after recent exchanges with my brother, among others, on the topic of religion. I believe it is time to address some issues and lay down some ground rules, for everyone's sake. Though, admittedly, I am more concerned about my sake.

I have sent this letter to Mom, (brother) & (sister-in-law), (step dad) & (step dad’s current wife), and (sister) & (brother-in-law). None of this is addressed to (sister) and (brother-in-law) but they will undoubtedly hear about it anyway, so I want them to see what I write here and not hear it secondhand, with someone else's interpretation of my meaning and intent.

This is to the followers of Christ in my family.

There seems to be some misunderstanding of my belief or at the very least a major disregard of it. In (brother)'s email to me he wrote that "At some point in life, most people begin to give mature consideration to some spiritual aspect of our earthly life (i.e. “is this all there is?”), meaning that he has done this and condescendingly implying that I have not. This preaching email also came at the end of a couple of exchanges after I explicitly told him to stop sending me proselytizing messages, though admittedly I told him in a less polite way than I should have handled it.

The only evidence he has of my lack of "mature consideration" of spiritual life is that I don't believe what he believes, and I get the impression from others of you by your words and actions that you think the same thing about me. (By the way (brother), your accusation that I am angry at you and your family is way off base. I was angry with you alone; this has nothing to do with your family.)

Let me please dispel this notion, as nothing could be further from the truth. While I do not have a "faith," my absence of such does not mean I am some wandering soul walking around waiting for someone to show me the answers. I went on my spiritual journey many years ago in my twenties. I've read the bible, cover to cover. I've read and pondered lots of other things as well, including many writings that support the idea of Christianity.

In the end my answer was, "no thanks." To all of it: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Scientology, etc. Even Buddhism, which I find to be a very beautiful, wonderful and fascinating religion in so many ways. But still, no.

But my belief is not an absence of belief as many of you assume. I believe in science. I believe in logic and reason. I believe in intellectual thought. I believe in the awesome wonders of the natural world and evolution. These things give me the answers I need - how we got here, how the world and universe around me works, what place I want to make for myself in it. I feel so lucky when I think about the time I live in, when there are so many things we know about biology, astronomy, physics, etc; compared to living in a time when the only place people could look for answers was their mythology. This gave them a lot of false answers, such as the earth being the center of the universe and the sun revolving around us rather than the other way around.

As for the BIG question my brother mentioned, "Is this all there is?" Well, probably. Maybe. I don't really know, but neither do any of you. The difference is that I'm not claiming to know the answer, and I certainly don't think a single book with suspect origins has the answers.

I suppose you wonder what this makes me or what I call myself. Well, I don't really think titles are that important, though I am very fond of referring to myself as a godless liberal like my red t-shirt exclaims. I'm not real fond of the title atheist. As Julia Sweeney mentioned in her one-woman show Letting Go of God, that term suggests that theism is normal so an atheist would be askew of what is normal. And I reject that notion. I'd say naturalist fits much better. Humanist is also something (Wife) and I consider ourselves, which also makes me happy because Bill O'Reilly hates us secular humanists more than just about anybody. And if Bill-O hates me, I know I'm doing something right.

The point is that I won't be swayed by any proselytizing, no matter how in my face or how subtle you think you are about it. I rejected the idea of Jesus a long time ago, when I realized how ridiculously fantastic the Christ story was and when I found out that the very same story exists in more ancient texts from well before the time Jesus was supposed to walk the earth. The name Jesus was applied to an old, already existing story and a religion was born.

And I certainly have rejected that book that condones slavery (read the passage right after Moses comes down with the commandments from god, he then immediately lists god's rules for buying and selling slaves and selling your children) and polygamy. There are lots of other things like that, and I just don't see how you can overlook those few but critical things but accept the rest of it as the "word of god."

So no matter how much praying you do for me or preaching you do towards me, I will never, ever accept Christ or any other deity as my saviour or become a religious person. I will be a non-believer to my death. I know this for a fact.

Besides, none of you would really be happy if I did become religious because I would end up becoming a Buddhist over anything else that's out there. And I'm sure in your belief that Buddhists are also going to hell.

So I'm asking you all to stop. In fact, I'm demanding it. The not-so-subtle ways that god gets thrown into conversations about topics as ordinary as a root canal is very frustrating for those of us who wish to have our lives free of religion.

And please don't try and tell me you don't do it. I'll give some examples of what I'm talking about.

Every Christmas, (Wife) and I receive cards from more than one of you that will have a long letter that begins and ends with the extolling of "his (with a capital h)" name and the glory of celebrating the birth of Christ as the son of god, and other non-stop preaching the glory of his name and what not. Even if there is no long letter, it is not uncommon for us to receive cards throughout the year with heavy religious/Christ messages. I do wonder if you all send these kinds of cards about Christ to any Jewish friends you might have? Wouldn't that be insensitive and rude? Why isn't it for us?

Mom, while I was talking on the phone with you prior to my daughter being born you laid into a big prediction about how you know I don't believe now, but when I look into my baby's eyes I was going to know that god touched my heart. Well, you were wrong. I looked into my amazing daughter’s eyes and I thought about the wonders of biology and the natural world. But it was also a really inappropriate thing to say to me. You have been the person I've asked the most to keep your religion out of my life. Yet you continue to sprinkle it in where you can, telling me on the phone that god is watching over me, or over you when something good happens. Or saying that you are praying for me.

I suspect, (step dad) and (step dad’s current wife), that you were encouraging your fellow church members to friend me on Facebook, to get more Christian influence on me or something. And when I still lived in Chicago you would invite me to see a show at your church that would be a hard-core religious song and dance show.

All of you have sent me emails with major religious messages or included religious-speak in normal emails, with tons of thanking him (with a capital h again) and praising him many times.

Why anyone thinks these tactics will work is beyond me. Would anyone be able to convince you to praise Allah if they bombarded you with Islamic propaganda?

And remember, while all of you think this is OK (preaching to me and my family, praying for us to turn your way), look what happened at (sister)'s when we were all there and I honestly answered a simple question from my niece. She noticed I wasn't praying and asked me why. I told her it was because I didn't believe in it and she followed up by asking if I didn't believe in god. Again I was honest, only answering very basically about myself and not trying to tell her I was right, only that I didn't believe in religion and that there are a lot of people who don't. Following the rules of your own religion I refused to lie to her about who I am.

Well, what happened? (Sister-in-law), (brother) and Mom all went ballistic, acting as if I had just thrown her a pack of smokes and a bottle of Scotch and said, "Have fun with those (niece)."

This blew up into a really frustrating conversation where (sister-in-law) confirmed to me that my nieces and nephew are being taught that I'm going to hell and my brother proclaiming that what he believes is "The Truth."

Well it's not The Truth. It's your truth, but it's not The Truth. It certainly is not my truth. It is not the truth to the billions of other decent people out there in the world who believe in Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or something else.

The saddest part about that whole episode, to me at least, is that (niece) now looks at me completely differently and appears almost fearful, either of me or for me. It could have been a teaching moment for a young girl to learn that there are lots of people in the world who are different from her and who believe different things. Instead, (brother) proclaimed that "we're working on him" in reference to getting me to come around to Jesus. So now my niece is uneasy around her "unsaved" uncle.

And I think reasonable people can agree that what you believe has a lot to do with when and where you were born. If we were all born in India I would be arguing with a few of the billion devout Hindus. But at least you would all be vegetarians like me.

(By the way, as an analogy, I have never preached my vegetarianism to any of you. I guarantee you that it is as important to me as your religion, but I ask only for a little accommodation when we are all together so I can have some options for food. (Brother) will refuse to accommodate me every chance he gets. When we were at Dad's a couple years ago, he insisted on going to a rib joint one night, where I had the wonderful choice of a baked potato for dinner. At (sister)'s he insisted on Chik-Fil-A. Not once has he ever given any thought to my dietary restrictions – it is always about what he wants. It's not uncommon for him to mock my vegetarian values. That's a good Christian?)

So where to go from here?

Well, it does all depend on what kind of a relationship you want with (Wife), (Daughter) and myself. If we are all going to move forward with any relationship at all, there have to be some ground rules. These will be non-negotiable, because I will no longer allow the intrusion of religion into my life, whether it is from the guy on the street trying to shove a pamphlet in my hands, the guy in Times Square trying to give me a Scientology "stress test" or my family.

First, the religious cards, letters and emails have to stop. Like the email (brother) sent out the other day about his leg, none of the religion was necessary in showing me pictures of his leg in a cast and telling the story of the accident. I am sorry about my short-tempered response to it that night, but hopefully this letter will give us a mechanism to make sure that no longer happens.

I realize that many of you are involved in churches that encourage you to be "bearing witness" or "testifying" all the time to your friends and family, so this could be a hard decision. But really, I'm never going to convert, so you wouldn't be risking losing me. I'm already lost to that world.

The same thing applies to talking on the phone. Please don't tell me that god is watching out for me or my wife or child. And don't tell me you're praying for me – that is pointless anyway.

Speaking of praying....

We need to come to an understanding about the rules of praying when we are together. I absolutely would never infringe on your right to pray, especially in your home. I have always respected that and kept quiet while you all prayed before a meal. I would ask that maybe I could be given a little warning so that I could do even better and leave the room for the praying. This actually becomes even more crucial with (Daughter) around. (Daughter) will learn about all the world’s religions, and she’ll hopefully even have the opportunity to observe different religious rituals and holidays around the world. However, she will never be taught, encouraged, or forced to pray, and I would prefer to not have her there when all the other kids are praying so that she doesn’t feel compelled to do this herself. I'm trying to keep her protected from indoctrination.

I would then also ask that in our home there be no out-loud praying. I think it is inappropriate that you do it at (sister)'s and (brother-in-law)'s without asking if it is OK, but obviously that's their call and not mine.

What about praying in public? You cannot expect to have those of us in the group who are non-believers stop what we are doing when you are praying in a public restaurant. In Waterloo back in May, we had that large table in the loud restaurant and (brother), (sister-in-law) and mom got all the kids to pray when the food started coming. We were at a very large table surrounded by tables full of talking patrons, and I was at the very end of the table. I continued to have my very pleasant conversation with (brother-in-law) while the praying was going on. I hadn't seen the guy in a while and I really like talking to (brother-in-law). Suddenly I was shushed by my mother (and my response was "don't shush me!") like I was a 14-year-old in church. I'm sorry, but you cannot expect the rest of us to stop what we are doing when you decide to pray in public.

Please stop praying for me. Stop praying for my wife. Stop praying for my daughter. Stop having your friends, congregations, pastors and whoever else pray for us. Our "souls" are none of your concern. Praying for us is insulting, rude and amazingly insensitive to our rights of religious freedom, ours being the freedom FROM religion. I know that I can't control what you are doing when I am not around. At the very least, though, stop telling me you are praying for me or us. But really, stop praying for us. I promise you it won't work.

And now there is the subject of Christmas. It is obvious that there are two different views of Christmas in America. There are those of us who celebrate it as a cultural event (which is its true origin, a winter solstice celebration that Pope Julius I stole from the Pagans and made a celebration of Jesus in the 4th century) and those of you for whom it is a solemn holy day in your faith. This is what makes you send out all those über-religious cards and letters praising Jesus.

Because we are literally celebrating two different things, a cultural event vs. a religious holiday, we shouldn't celebrate them with each other.

So I have decided that we will no longer celebrate Christmas with a good number of my side of the family. So we will no longer send or receive Christmas gifts or cards from Mom, (brother) & (sister-in-law)'s family and (step dad) & (step dad’s current wife).

We will still exchange gifts with (sister) and (brother-in-law) and their kids, because they view the holiday the same as we do (except we're not doing the Santa thing, we'll try to tell (Daughter) to keep her mouth shut about that Sis, until (nephew)'s older).

We'll also still celebrate with Dad and the religious members of (Wife)’s family since, as typical good American Catholics, they keep their religion to themselves.

I hope that this has clarified my side of things somewhat. I believe that the only way we'll be able to have a relationship going forward is by following these guidelines.

Let me be clear, though. I am not asking you, as seems to be expected of me, to deny who you are. If the topic arises, there is nothing wrong with telling (Daughter) that you are a Christian. I will not treat you with the same kind of anger I was treated with when I answered (niece)’s questions honestly. I don't want anyone to lie.

The line gets crossed when you tell her that Jesus is the son of god and died for her sins and that he loves her, or that god is everywhere, or telling her that sinners go to hell, good people go to heaven or any other such dogma. This would include giving her any gifts that promote such an agenda, from a "Jesus loves me" doll or shirt to a Veggie Tales DVD.

(Daughter) will learn what religion is, to be sure. She will learn about many of them, as we plan to take her around the world to see how others live, worship and socialize. But she will learn it in a context and a perspective of mine and (Wife)'s choosing. We will not allow her to be taught dogma.

I hope that this will help us come to an understanding. In this family we are not known for our respect of one another's differing views, it's not in our DNA. But hopefully we can at least respect each other’s space.

We will need to if we are going to have any relationship at all going forward. I think this could help reduce the amount of insults and yelling that gets tossed around during disagreements in this family, something that IS in our DNA without a doubt. I am as guilty of this as anyone and I'm trying to be a different person than that. Not having religion tossed in my face at every turn will help.

If you feel like you can't have a relationship with me based on what I laid out above, that your religion requires you to continue to try to convert me or testify to me, then that's your decision.

I will not respond with my usual ways of lashing out at your beliefs and criticizing the ridiculousness I see in them.

We just won't be able to have a relationship at all. And I certainly will not allow you to be around my daughter.

This is not meant as a threat or a punishment. It is just what would need to happen.

Hopefully I have made a sensible case for this, using the things I wholly believe in, reason and logic, and you understand where I am coming from.

If you are at all interested in why I believe what I believe, here are some suggested readings, all books I found to be more insightful than the book you live your life by:

The End of Faith by Sam Harris
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

...and my newest personal favorites are both by a fantastic author named Susan Jacoby:

The Age of American Unreason (Concerning the recent history of anti-intellectualism in America and the trend toward irrational thought.)


Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism (A wonderful book about the true story of the secular founding of this country and the great things secularism has done in our nation)

Another great thing to see is Julia Sweeney's new one-woman show, available on CD and DVD, called Letting Go of God, which is the story of her spiritual journey. It is not dissimilar to my journey to the same conclusion she comes to. Hers is funnier, though.

Thank you for taking the time to read this extremely long letter. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from and that it's not from a place of anger or hatred.


Deni, (Wife) and (Daughter)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Hate

Getting to the blog late tonight, but I'm sure I can quickly think of something that's annoying me right now. I think it is going to be a child-rearing related week. So let's get to the hate.

Here's one that's been happening a lot lately.

Mr. Mom. No, I don't mind the 80s movie with Michael Keaton. I seem to remember liking it OK, though I haven't seen it in over twenty years so it might be as bad as I discovered Pretty In Pink is on a more recent viewing. No, it is the reference to Mr. Mom that keeps coming up recently. As I've been talking about our upcoming move, mentioning that I probably won't be going back to work and will instead be home with the kid full time, so many people have said something like, "Cool, playing Mr. Mom for a while, huh?"

Ugh. People seriously, what century is this? Yes, I know that it is still way too often the mother that stays home with the kids, even in this day and age. But let's at least stop assuming that taking care of the kids is automatically the woman's job and that when the man does it he is the male mother and not just the dad staying home with the kid. No milk is coming out of these boobs no matter how hard I try, so I'm definitely not a mom.

I can't believe people don't see it as sexist as it seems to me. What you are really doing is calling my wife "Mrs. Dad" because she's got a successful career. And we all agree that that is an ass-hole thing to call a woman, right?

And the other phrase I hear really often these days....

"They grow up so fast." I'm pretty sure kids age at the same rate as the rest of us, barring them having progeria. So my daughter is not growing up so fast, she is growing just right.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Making Up With Wilco

I had been all week contemplating going on Craigslist to see if I could pick up a Wilco ticket for last night's show at the baseball park in Coney Island. I'd been digging the new album much more than the last two and it has been about four years since I last saw them. Anyone who knows me knows that they have been my favorite band for a long time and I've seen Wilco, or Jeff Tweedy solo, over 40 times. But the last show I saw, at the Agganis Arena in Boston in June 2005, was just a horrible piece of crap show. That was following a few mediocre shows toward the end of 2004 and a few months before they would put out a snooze-fest of a live album.

So I had been a little turned off by the current lineup a while back, and thus hadn't been to a show for a while.

I decided not to drop the 45 bucks on the show. But yesterday at about 4:40pm I got a phone call from my buddy Phil, who I met a few years ago at a Robyn Hitchcock show, asking me if I wanted to go to a show that night because he got a couple of free tickets. And it was Wilco. So a quick call to the wife to see if it was OK that I leave her alone with the baby for the night and I was good to go.

It felt weird to heading to my first Wilco show in a few years. They've picked up a lot of newer fans since the last time I saw them. It was like I was going to an ex-girlfriend's house for a party and she would be there with her new boyfriend who didn't know her nearly as well as I do.

My adoration of this band used to know no bounds. Their name is in the url for this blog and its name comes from a line from one of their songs. But they have been less magical for me since Tweedy kicked Jay Bennett out of the band and Leroy Bach quit. And after the last shows I saw and the last couple of albums, my expectations were somewhat low.

Well they needn't have been. Wilco was on fire last night. The band is so tight right now and they sound so damn good. Tweedy is the most relaxed and happy I've seen him on stage in a long time. They are a group of just really great musicians and the live versions of a lot of my favorite songs sound so good with this lineup. Not that they played a ton of my favorite songs, with the focus being on a lot of newer stuff. But songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot were well represented by sometimes brilliant interpretations.

Feist joined them for the first encore for You and I, hich she also sings on the new album. It was a nice moment, Tweedy and Feist both having their hair blowing in the breeze off the water in Coney Island, singing one of Tweedy's prettiest recent songs. Opening act Yo La Tengo, who we missed due to subway issues, came out and joined for a spectacular version of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" that rocked the park for twelve minutes.

Highlights for me included a version of "Can't Stand It" that really blows the album version out of the water, being one of the weakest songs on Summerteeth. Also, the version of "Jesus, etc" with Nels Cline on a lap steel guitar (I think that's what it is) that, for my money, is the best thing he does. The subtle Nels Cline for me is so much better than the show-off guitar solo Nels Cline. He is an amazing guitarist, but the whole masturbating with the guitar on stage thing is why I can't stand Led Zeppelin. So that can get a little tiring.

I was disappointed that they only played one song from Being There and none from A.M., their second and first albums, respectively. I wasn't sure we were going to even get anything from Being There, because it as pretty late in the first encore before they finally played "Misunderstood," one of the most perfectly crafted songs ever. And it was a great version, with one exception. There is a part toward the end of the song where the band plays one riff over and over while Tweedy screams "nothing" over and over. Like a lot. According to the Via Chicago message board, because one of the über-nerds always counts it, last night he screamed it 44 times.

Problem is he's been doing this for a decade, and it is really old and tired. Not that it was ever that cool to begin with, pretty boring, really. Like, drum solo boring. He really should retire it.

And on a night when they were playing right around the corner from the actual Mermaid Avenue, you would have thought there would have been a few more songs from those two albums. All we got was "California Stars" and the show-ending "Hoodoo Voodoo," which were nice, but you would have thought on such a night in the place where a lot of those lyrics were written we could have gotten a little more love for the Woody Guthrie material. It would have been a perfect setting for "Remember The Mountain Bed" at the end of the night.

But it was a great concert nonetheless. It wasn't the 1996-2002 era of Wilco that gave me so many perfect nights of music, but this is a much better band than the 2003-2007 version, even though it is the same lineup.

I was pretty jazzed and flying high after the show, somewhat similar to what I felt like when I hooked back up with my old girlfriend back in 1998, who is now the awesome wife that let me bolt out on her and the baby at the last minute to hit this show. If you had asked me just the year before if we would have ever gotten back together I would have said no way. Just like that, I really didn't think I'd ever be this geeked-out about Wilco again, even though I really hoped I could.

I don't know if Wilco and me will ever be as serious as we once were. But at least we're dating again. And that makes me happy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Return Of Monday Hate

Hello all. Well it has been a long time since my last post, a new baby can really get in the way of pointless blogging, so I'm really going to try to get back to blogging on a somewhat regular basis.

And what better way to try to get restarted than to bring back my formerly regular feature of Monday Hate? Those of you that were reading my blog before the kid as born will remember how this works, that every (hopefully) Monday I list off the things that are annoying me at that moment.

So here's what's bugging me this Monday:

Zipcar. I cannot even begin to convey how much I hate this fucking company. Yet another case of an environmentally unfriendly company calling themselves "green" to sell their products. (My favorite is British Petroleum re-branding themselves "Beyond Petroleum") I have so many supposedly liberal friends who use this service and seem to think that the only emission coming out a Zipcar is sunshine, happiness and flowers. Well, the same crap that comes out of a car you own is the same crap that comes out of a Zipcar. The air quality of our urban areas is at a crisis, not to mention the issue of global warming. And those aren't the only environmental problems with the American car culture (we will eventually pave over every single acre of this country). Yet somehow Zipcar makes a lot of people think they are doing something positive for the environment, and that is one of the ways the company sells itself. But I think it's a lie.

They claim that by car sharing, there are less cars owned by individual people, and that equals less driving. But I don't buy it. Less cars owned by a population does not mean less number of hours there are cars on the road. What Zipcar has done is make cars more available, and for a lower cost, where they wouldn't have been previously for a lot of urban dwellers. This makes people make bad choices for convenience, like run errands that could be done on public transportation.

Zipcar claims that they are lowering car ownership, but I really don't think they take in to account the number of people without cars already that are using their service who would have previously figured out a different way to do what they needed to do. The main reason I don't own a car or belong to Zipcar is because I know how easy it is to make the wrong decision with an air-pollution machine readily available.

And really, if you live in an urban area, especially Manhattan, and you can't run you normal errands like buy groceries, pick up supplies at the hardware store or bring home a set of shelves from Crate & Barrel by foot and subway with a cart, you are just being lazy. My wife and I even brought home an area rug for our living room from Macy's by way of the subway. And we live as far from the subway as you can get while living in Manhattan.

But people think they are doing something good for the environment by using Zipcar. These are probably the same people that think they are doing good by buying Poland Spring's "eco-bottle" when getting their bottled water. Dumbasses.

We all want our air quality and global warming problem fixed, but so many of us don't want to be the ones that have to give something up for it.

It's the new way to be "green" in the 21st century. Don't actually do anything positive, just make people think they are doing good. I think Zipcar's motto should be: "Alleviating liberal guilt about polluting the air since 2000."

Fresh Direct. See most of the reasons above. It's bad enough that it requires big trucks traveling long distances to get our groceries to the market, now we need them driving around the city to get them to our homes. Again, you really should be walking or taking the subway/bus to the grocery store in New York. Seeing these big Fresh Direct trucks sitting on the streets idling while the driver makes a delivery is so bothersome. Just about every grocery store in the city has delivery, except they have guys that do it on foot with carts. No carbon emissions required.

Texting and walking at the same time. I think this may actually be more annoying than people who text and drive. You think you can text and walk at the same time? Well, you're wrong. Nobody can, and yet so many people do. And they usually bump into the rest of us as they swerve down the sidewalk, block our way when we are trying to get around them in a narrow hallway and they are moving at a snail's pace or almost cause accidents by walking out in the street without looking where they are going. Seriously, stop and move to the side if you need to read or send a text.

I've got a new rule for the rest of us. When anyone texting walks by, not looking where they are going, give them a swift elbow to the face. That'll teach 'em.

Well, that felt great to get off my chest. Hopefully I'll have another instalment next week, and will be blogging more regularly again.

Remember, if it's Monday, I must be hating.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Religion Run Amuck....Again

I was reading the New York Times a couple of weeks ago and I saw this story. It is about a mock trial team from an Orthodox Jewish school in Brookline, MA who won the state championship and went to the national tournament in Atlanta. OK, so good for them.

But there was a problem, at least from their point of view. The schedule for the national tournament has the finals scheduled for a Saturday and Orthodox students won't compete (or are forbidden to do so by their parents/elders) on the Sabbath. So they did what all religious people like to do - bitch, complain and claim "religious discrimination."

And threaten to file a lawsuit.

The parents of these kids actually filed a complaint with the Department of Justice. Great lesson they are teaching their kids - if you don't like the rules, sue to get them changed to something more to your liking.

Bullshit like this is when religion really burns my hide. The great thing about this country (and I don't start a sentence that way a lot when talking about our military-industrial complex controlled nation where I reside) is that it was founded on the secular principles of the Enlightenment. Hell, we were the first secular government in recorded history. That's something to be proud of as an American. You, I and everybody else have the right to believe whatever we want, it is right there in the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is a birthright, and that includes freedom from religion.

The kids from this school and their parents have every right to be as Orthodox as they want, and I would fully defend any attack on them or discrimination against them. But the rest of the world has no responsibility to accommodate your beliefs or weird rituals.

If you want to participate in the secular society we live in, then do. If you religion is more important than that, then don't. It is not religious discrimination to not change a schedule to your liking. If you don't like the rules as they are laid out, then don't participate. Go start your own mock trial group with other Orthodox schools and play in your own sandbox. The rest of us have an absolute right to not have your religion effect our lives. It is your choice, not ours. Nobody is forcing these kids to participate in mock trial.

In the end the mock trial group, under pressure from an Orthodox member of the Georgia Bar and the Fulton County judge, caved in and altered the schedule to accommodate the religious extremists. And it is possible that at least one other school was not able to compete in all the rounds due to the schedule change (they are listed as not having ranked due to a schedule deviation, but no searching has given me a definitive answer if it was because of this) so another school may have been penalized because of someone else's religious beliefs. That's religious discrimination.

Where does it end when you go down this slippery slope? Wouldn't almost any day be out of the picture once you start accommodating the extreme elements of any religion? Muslim kids will bitch about the Friday session, Jews (as we've already seen) about Saturdays and Christians about Sundays. So that takes care of three days right there. Then your more conservative Catholics will demand no Wednesdays so they can go to mass. I'm sure there are days of the week that Scientologists will have a problem with, like if the event falls on Tom Cruise's birthday or the anniversary L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics being published. You could probably pick out any day of the year on a calendar and some religious group will have something special about it, and the more extreme elements of those religions will have some sort of rule against doing anything that day.

We see this nonsense all the time here in New York. There are many public buildings in the city that turn their elevators to "all stop" after sundown on Friday through all of Saturday. This means that if you go to the hospital on a Saturday to visit a friend, say on the 14th floor, and accidentally get on this elevator, you will stop at EVERY! FUCKING! FLOOR! even if you are on it by yourself. Its like some ass-hole teenager got on and hit all the buttons. All because of a group of religious extremists and their odd interpretation of a passage in a several-thousand-years-old piece of fiction. So a public space alters the whole way it runs because one of these morons might show up that day.

I'm sick of the wackos of this world expecting the rest of us to acquiesce to their value system and then calling us bigots for refusing. I'm sure there are several Orthodox Jews who would read this and call me an anti-Semite. Well, fuck you.

It happens so many other places too. There are high schools all over the country where the vice-principal spends so much of his time busting kids for wearing caps in school, but if it is a yarmulke or a head scarf it is allowed. Like one reason for wearing something on your head is better than another.

Somebody tries to deny you a place to live, a job, the right to marry; or commit violence against you for what you believe, I'm the guy who will scream out about the injustice of that and demand that your rights be protected. I don't care if you are a believer in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Transcendental Meditation, snake-handling or Paganism; if you set your apartment up with sheng-fui, use crystals to tell your future, seek advice from a con, I mean psychic, think astrology is true, buy into the existence of auras or any other silly mythology. Anybody wants to discriminate against you in any real way for what you believe, you'll have me in your corner.

But the secular world not working around your schedule is not discrimination. So piss off if you don't like it.

I'm a vegetarian, something that, by the way, has a lot more concrete reasons to practice than any religion. When someone invites me to dinner I always let them know my restrictions. If they can't serve anything I'll be able to eat then I don't go. I don't accept the invitation and then show up demanding that the menu be changed to accommodate my needs or I'll sue.

Nobody is trying to take your religion away from you if we don't allow you to push it on us. It does not make the rest of us "religiously insensitive" (which is a charge that's been lobbed at the mock trial people) to not bend to your extremism.

You can't push buttons or ride in vehicles on Saturdays? Then there are going to be things you are going to miss in life because you decide to believe in such silly nonsense.

What you choose to believe is just that, a choice. It is also a choice to participate in the culture of your community. If those two things clash, you have another choice to make. Having both is sometimes not possible, so get over yourself.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Still Searching For Roger

In this age of email, Google, MySpace and Facebook it seems that you can find anyone you ever knew at any point in your life. This usually means that people can find you as well, and that may or may not be a bad thing, depending on if you want to be found and who might be looking for you.

But like I said, it only "seems" like you can find anyone you want. Sometimes it just doesn't happen.

Not everyone is on a social network site. Not everyone you know has done anything that got them mentioned on the Internet or has their own blog. Some people you used to know have really common names or match the name of somebody famous that makes a Google search impossible (my old friend from high school in Illinois is named Lee Baca, the same name as the sheriff of Los Angeles, so I will never have any luck Googling him).

I've been thinking about this mostly because there is someone I've been trying to get in touch with for over the past year. My wife and I went to SE Asia in November of 2007 for about three weeks, a trip that I blogged extensively about after we got back. (Here, scroll to the bottom and hit "older post" if you are interested in reading all 29 long-winded posts. Lots of pictures.) While there we met several great people, a really sweet gay dentist from San Francisco, a German guy traveling alone and a fun fifty-ish couple from Australia. But there was one person that we really, really loved meeting during our trip.

We were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and we ate dinner at this great Indian restaurant. We ended up striking up a conversation with this really cool guy from Western Australia named Roger. The extensive post about that night is here, so I'll just do a quick rehash.

Roger was this large guy with a buzz cut on his head and a long gray beard that went down to his belly. Seriously. At the time we met him he was 56 years old, just divorced after 34 years of marriage, recently sold his organic farm that he had owned for years, a fairly recent convert to Buddhism and he was on his very first trip outside of Australia. And he's a vegan, which has a lot to do with why we met him in an Indian restaurant. We had a grand night talking to Roger for about four or five hours, a fascinating and charming man. We had such a great time talking to him that we never thought about pulling out the camera for a picture. He was on a two-and-a-half-month trip through a huge section of SE Asia, including Tibet and Nepal. A huge spiritual journey for him. And he was planning on returning in early 2008 for another six months or so, staying with a friend in Chang Mai, trekking through India and spending time in a monastery in Kathmandu.

We had given him my email address that night when we left and I heard from him shortly before Christmas. I responded to his email a couple of weeks later, waiting until I had time for a proper response. But it bounced back as not a valid email address. I'm not sure what happened, if he changed email addresses, decided to go off grid, lost his account or if something happened to him.
I have tried the email address ( many times since then with the same result. I've googled him and searched for his blog, which also seems to have disappeared. I've checked to see if he is on Facebook. Nothing.

I'm dying to reconnect with Roger, and it seems that I never will. I'd love to hear about his travels and experiences in Asia.

All this technology and you can still lose touch that easily. Sigh.

So if anyone reading this ever comes across a bearded, sixty-ish, former organic farmer, vegan Buddhist from Western Australia named Roger Williams (also why the name is hard to Google) who has lots of stories about adventures in Asia; please let him know that Deni and Lisa would love to hear from him again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Where Have All The Video Geeks Gone?

The summer I turned 17 my family moved from Georgia to the suburb of Lake Zurich, far northwest of Chicago. This means I spent my senior year in a different school than the one I went to for the rest of high school. Not that I had some sort of love of high school before that, but still, what a crappy thing to have to deal with. Being 17 sucked in so many ways without having to deal with being a new kid in school.

And Lake Zurich sucks major ass. One of those horrible, white bread, middle class, pedestrian, homogenized suburbs that make me want to puke. When we first moved there I had to count down the number of houses on the street to find ours at night because they all looked alike.

(OK, so I did meet the girl that I would eventually marry in Lake Zurich, so one good thing came out of living there.)

Senior year was a rough thing to get through, and two things saved me that year. One, I've written about before, was music. Specifically, Document by REM kept me from going crazy and I listened to it at least once a day.

The second thing was my after school job. I worked at Jed's Video, the only video store in Lake Zurich in 1987-1988.

In Lake Zurich in the 80s there were very few options for part-time jobs for teenagers. They either worked at McDonalds, Burger King, Kmart or Jewel. Maybe a couple of guys worked at the car wash. There was really only one cool job for a high schooler in town and I had it.

I loved being a video store geek. I got to watch a ton of movies for free and I got to know pretty much every film buff in town. I knew the tastes of all our regulars and had many conversations about movies with them. Customers would turn me on to movies I never knew about before and I would do the same for them. I introduced many residents of Lake Zurich to Spike Lee and the film Fandango.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't pushing She's Gotta Have It on the family who rented Top Gun or Dirty Dancing every weekend. You have to know who you're dealing with. I also remember steering customers away from things I knew they wouldn't like or would be inappropriate for their kids. One time, I remember this really well, a woman came up to the counter with the movie Watership Down. I asked her if it was for her or for a kid and she said her kid. I asked how old her kid was and she said something like six or seven. I explained to her what the movie was like and that there was a reason it was rated PG. I did tell her she should rent it and watch it because it is so damn good, but too violent for a young child, with all of the bloody bunny fights and whatnot. I like to think I saved some poor kid a really traumatic experience that night. There is a 28-year-old guy out there somewhere who is really well-adjusted and probably very successful because he didn't see cartoon bunnies getting killed in a horribly violent and bloody way when he was seven. Man, he really owes me.

Those kinds of things made video stores really cool, both for us geeks working there and for the clientele.

I was thinking about this lately because of our neighborhood video store here on the Upper East Side, York Video. A small place run by the owner and a few movie geeks, it is a lot like the store where I worked as a teenager. Except with DVDs instead of VHS and Beta tapes. (Yes, I worked there when Beta was still around. It would die soon after.)

The guys in there are typical movie geeks with varied taste, as proven by the "employee picks" section. And the owner is a great guy you can stand around the counter with and shoot the shit about movies.

Places like this are why I don't do Netflix. But Netflix probably has a lot to do with why York Video is closing.

We went in last weekend and the store was filled with people and really hectic. We couldn't figure out what was going on, there are never that many people in the store. Then we saw the sign that announced they were closing after 20 years and the entire inventory was for sale. We were so bummed. That, of course, didn't stop us from buying some cheap DVDs, taking advantage of the situation to get Iron Giant for four bucks, among others.

It felt like we were picking over a corpse.

I dread the death of the independent neighborhood video store. Where the hell are the movie geeks supposed to work? I don't think it is as fun stuffing DVDs in to envelopes over and over at Netflix is quite as cool of a job. In fact, I'm willing to bet working at Netflix is just as shitty as working at Wal-Mart.

And what about being turned on to a movie you might not have ever considered because the video store dude suggested it? And don't try to tell me that Netflix suggestions are the same thing. Internet programs that make suggestions based on past purchases or rentals are just generic, genre-based matrix programs that have no nuance whatsoever. It is why Amazon continues to suggest Radiohead albums to me even though I hate that fucking band.

And no web site will ever care about what movie you suggest to it. They're such smug ass-holes that way.

We're still lucky we live in New York right now, there are a couple more video stores we can rent from. But who knows for how long?

And will there be any cool gigs for suburban high school kids once the video and record stores are all gone? There's gotta be something better than bagging groceries or working the fryer for teenagers who are already cursed with growing up in the 'burbs.

I imagine when my kid is older and she's curious about things I did when I was younger, I'll tell her about the jobs I've had through the years.

How long will it take to explain to her what a video store was?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Cars Shmars

I will never understand people who assume that their situation in life applies top all other people. My life is not yours, we have different circumstances, stop assuming my reactions and decisions will be the same as yours just because we have a similar vague demographic.

People seem to love to tell me what I'm going to thing, feel, believe, etc; because of them having gone through a similar thing even if nothing else about their lives is like mine. This has really become a lot more prevalent since I had a kid. I don't know what it is about breeders that make them think they know everything. I've been told by a lot of parents what I was going to feel and think after my baby was born and pretty much all of it was bullshit. The best one was my own mother telling me I was going to start believing in god.

The reason I'm thinking about this is because of a conversation I had the other day with a colleague, a physician on faculty at a New York medical school.

My wife, a physician herself, is in the process of interviewing for jobs. Her stint is up at her current employer, so come this summer she has to have a new job waiting for her. It is looking very likely that we will be leaving New York, our next destination as of now unknown. The current possibilities include Chicago, Baltimore, the D.C. area and Albany. Cleveland had been in the mix as well but now seems unlikely.

I was talking to this colleague about the issues of moving to any of these places, with the big one being that I'm an anti-car person. Now, we live in New York at the moment so anyplace else in America is going to be a step down in public transportation options. But I know from experience that you can live in many cities without being a car owner, especially if you are open to bike riding.

During this conversation I mentioned my not wanting to own a car and she seemed to have the attitude that you couldn't live outside of New York City without a car. I explained that I was only worried about Albany being the choice, as that one would be the hardest. When I mentioned each other city she would basically say the same thing, "Oh you can't do (Cleveland, Washington, Chicago, Baltimore) without a car."

I explained to her that I had either investigated or spent some time in each of the places and knew what I would need to do to live without a car, explaining that I had even lived in Seattle without a car for the bulk of the 90s.

And then came the big "I know better than you bullshit answer."

"You haven't done it with a kid."

This is, of course, a person with a few years on me in being a parent. This is not the first time I've heard that same thing from a veteran parent. And yes, it is true that I haven't done a city outside of New York yet with a kid.

But here's the thing. This doctor I was talking to grew up in the New York area, went to med school here and now works here. She's never actually lived outside of this region.

And she also had something in common with every other parent who has told me I can't go without owning a car in whichever place they've named. I asked her if she has ever tried to live without a car. The answer was no, just like all the others.

And there it is. Somehow they all think that their parenthood experience trumps my no-car philosophy and wide-ranging experience living without one. I've never met anyone who says you can't live with a kid in (blank) city without a car who has ever even attempted it. They really underestimate my dedication to a car-free life and my extreme dweeby knowledge of how to do so.

I have lived most of my adult life without a car, which included taking up residency in Chicago, Seattle, Boston, New York and the small Illinois town of Macomb for college. I have traveled extensively around the country and almost always use public transportation in cities I visit. I even tooled all over the Atlanta metro region as a kid from the age of 12 to 16 on the Marta almost every day. And that was while living in the suburbs.

I have discovered over the year through my own travel and research that there are so many more options out there than people think. I have even started charting out a way to travel across the country by taking only local public transit, by way of light rail, subways, buses and commuter rail, that I hope to take one day and write about. I have already figured out Boston to Chicago with only a couple of small gaps.

I think I know a little bit about how to do this. Having a kid does not change this equation in such a drastic way that I'm going to give up on something I so very much believe in.

The problem with so many Americans in today's world is that we see modern conveniences as needs for survival.

I'm not saying I don't ever have to use a car. Sure I do. But the number of times this last year that I've had to rent or borrow a car can probably be counted on one hand. And I'm sure that number will rise once we leave New York. But that doesn't mean I have to surrender to the car culture that has ruined the quality of life in this country and is the reason for the lack of good public transportation in America to begin with. Even if it is Albany I'm hoping we can do something like Zip Car and not full-on ownership.

Public transportation is better in America right now than it has been in my lifetime. The more we use it, the more we'll get built for us.

I keep being told that having a kid is a reason to have a car. I couldn't disagree more, that's exactly why I'm even more dedicated to not owning one - so she doesn't get indoctrinated into car culture.

There is more to life than our personal conveniences. That's something I want to teach my daughter.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Zack And Miri Mak....ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

I'm not getting to go out to the movies a lot these days, and by not a lot I mean not at all. So anything I see is going to be on DVD.

I finally got to see the new Kevin Smith movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, this week.

After watching it, I couldn't help but wonder if Kevin Smith purposely made a movie even more fucking boring than Jersey Girl to try to make that one look better.

Holy crap was this movie boring and really unfunny. It was also proof that Jason Mewes should never play any character other than Jay. Someone also needs to tell Kevin Smith that his 37-year-old wife does not look like someone attending their 10-year high school reunion.

I just want to tell Kevin Smith that we've already got a guy that makes unfunny, boring "comedies" with simplistic, After School Special-type, gooberistic messages. We don't need another Judd Apetow, the most overrated filmmaker since Tarantino. Hell, we didn't need the first one as far as I'm concerned. Please just be Kevin Smith. The Chasing Amy, Clerks and Dogma version, not the Jersey Girl one.

It wasn't a total loss on the Kevin Smith rental front. I also picked up Sold Out - A Threevening with Kevin Smith, the latest of his live Q & A shows where he dishes on his life and his Hollywood experiences. Fun stuff as always. Though his unwavering defense of the Star Wars prequels is baffling, these shows are always a lot of fun. I laughed more in the first five minutes of that than I did the entire Zack and Miri film.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I've Seen The Future...

The downside of my being home all day with the baby is that I've been watching way too much TV. The upside for being a stay-at-home spouse in 2009 versus the 70s or 80s is that daytime TV has more options than those horrendous soap operas. So I've ended up watching a lot of House, M.D.

I only bring this up because an episode the other day made me think about something. It was one about a young fat girl who was teased by her classmates and didn't have any friends (Don't worry, the genius Dr. House cured her by the end). It got me to thinking about when my daughter gets to be a pre-teen and a teenager. See, I was a brooding, geeky, New Wave boy who got bullied on a daily basis from basically 6th grade until high school graduation. And my wife was one of the really smart people in high school (something like 2nd highest GPA in her class) so our daughter being one of the cool popular kids in school is probably not in the cards. Which I am so OK with. The cool kids suck and are usually the ones that get arrested or pregnant on prom night.

But with non-coolness also comes the potential of being bullied. And I won't be able to handle that very well, my kid going through that.

When I was being bullied in school, every adult in my life let me down. From the principals to the teachers to my parents to the bullies parents, not a single one would step up to make it stop. There is some sort of sick attitude that bullying is some sort of natural order of things in adolescence. "Kids will be kids" or some other dumbshit way of looking at it without considering the emotional toll it takes on the victims. I imagine there is a good chance that this way of looking at it is still fairly pervasive.

If my daughter is bullied in school there is no way I will let it slide. I'll go through all the proper channels, of course - principal, teachers, cops, etc. - and if no one will do anything about it I'll have to take it to the bully's parents. Now one thing I know about bullies' parents is that they almost never have any interest in ending their kids' bullying. They are either the type that openly encourage it (see Emilio Estevez's character's father in The Breakfast Club) or are at least OK with since there little brat is giving it out instead of receiving.

So basically, this means that I'll probably have to take matters into my own hands if some little prissy bitch decides to give my daughter a hard time in school.

So it is not outside the realm of possibility that I could end up as a guy in his early- to mid-fifties going to jail for beating the snot out of some 16-year-old blond bimbo cheerleader and her mother and/or father.

And I guess I'm OK with that. Really, who's going to fuck with the convict's daughter after that?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Man it has been a long time since I've written anything. Sorry about that, I've just been crazy busy lately, what with the kid and setting up my new Facebook page. Facebook is really frightening and exciting all at the same time. And overwhelming as hell when you start seeing all the friends rolling in. It really is like crack on a computer.

I also didn't get all of my holiday wish list posts done that I wanted, never getting around to letting you know what books you could buy me. I guess I'll have to let you know around my birthday (Hint - I still don't have the new Sarah Vowell)

But that's not why I'm here today. I'm here to finally write a blog in 2009.

I'm not a fan of New Year's resolutions. As silly as religion, astrology and fortune cookies if you ask me. Why do people wait until the turning of an arbitrary date on the calendar to decide to quit smoking, lose weight, watch less TV, yada, yada, yada...? Decide you want to change and fucking do it already. Thinking you'll be more successful because it is a fresh, spanking new year is just delusional.

That being said....

There are a few things I've been thinking about lately that I've been wanting to do or change. It doesn't have anything to do with the new year, but I suppose the extra feeling of resolve about them lately has a lot to do with having a daughter 2-1/2 months ago. So these are mostly things I've been wanting to do for a while but really need to get off my ass now and do them.

In no particular order.

Watch less TV. I know this is an obvious one, just about everyone I know watches too much TV. But now it is getting worse, I'm a stay-at-home-dad right now and it is hard to read a book while feeding the baby but really easy to watch the House marathons on USA.

Speaking of reading...

Read more fiction. I do love to read, I really do. But I am so drawn to nonfiction and I just don't spend enough time in the fiction section. I have so many friends that find such joy in reading the likes of John Updike. Most of my happy friends are the ones who read a lot of fiction. My last few books, on the other hand, have been the autobiography of the strange life of a man called E, Susan Jacoby's brilliant condemnation of anti intellectualism in America, Christopher Hitchen's bashing of Mother Teresa and Sam Harris' anti-religion book.

I just picked up another Susan Jacoby book, Freethinkers, and I'm forcing myself to not pick it up until I've finished reading my paperback copy of Graham Greene's The Quiet American that I bought from a guy with no hands in Vietnam over a year ago. (I'm about a quarter of the way through and I'm really enjoying it)

Learn to play guitar AND speak another language. These are my two biggest goals over the next couple of years. I really want to be able to impress upon my daughter the joy of music, communication and multiculturalism. And I don't want to be the dopey parent. I'm married to a woman who is an accomplished physician, plays the flute and speaks German. So I better step it up real quick.

I've already started on the guitar. My friend Chris, a genius guitar player, has given me a lesson and a practice instruction sheet to use. It's hard to find the time to practice. The other day I was planning to but I was taking care of the kid all day, then my wife came home and we had to go to the store. Then I had some beer I needed to drink. You can see the problem.

At some point I'm going to find a class or maybe check out that Rosetta Stone thing to start learning how to speak Italian.

I know that choosing to learn Italian when I live in America is probably about as practical as owning a bikini store in Siberia. But Spanish just seems so boring and I love Italy.

Travel more. I know, I know. What the hell right does a guy who's been lucky enough to go to Asia twice in the last year or so have to pine for more traveling? But man, there is nothing as good as traveling. And there is never enough of it.