Saturday, December 15, 2012

Circling The Drain

The unthinkable doesn't exist. Planes fly into buildings. A first grade class gets mowed down. Two kids hurl rocks at a cat giving birth, killing her and her kittens. Going to see "The Dark Night Rises" at a midnight screening gets you dead. Christmas shopping at the mall is interrupted by a hail of bullets. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility anymore. The bar keeps getting raised (or lowered). It won't stop. Sure, there may be a pause in the madness, but something new is coming.

When that happens we'll wring our hands. Bow our heads. Offer up our thoughts and prayers. Our gestures are meant to make us feel better, but in the end they mean nothing. Madness can't be stopped. Good may dominate the ground game, but Evil hits the big plays.

With the Connecticut school shooting still fresh in our minds next week, news shows will be filled with experts telling you what to tell your kids ("Please don't kill me when you grow up" would be a good start). Churches will be filled with flock looking for someone or something to believe in. We'll see funerals of the victims, cameras thoughtlessly showing us close-ups of grieving families. We'll hear from the shooter's family and friends, and no doubt they'll tell us that they had no red flags to indicate any such act was coming. It's all so damn predictable.

Two weeks from now you'll have forgotten all about it. That's ok. You offered up your thoughts and prayers

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Weird And Loving It

My, that last post was a cheery one, wasn't it? He's still fine by the way.

I consider myself normal, but real life disagrees. In today's world, to think I represent someone considered normal is the very height of delusion. Examples

1) A Good Marriage

Back when I was in grade school, it was a shocker to know a kid whose parents had divorced. Now you're much more likely to find a kid who doesn't have the same last name as his dad. KEY: I waited. Sure, I had a couple of long relationships, but deep down I knew they weren't meant for the alter. Within the first couple of dates, I knew I had the right one. She's gone (at work, not dead) now and I miss her. That's odd these days for a pair that's been together 12 years

2) Childless and happy about it

I can understand why people don't want kids (most popular reason: "Who's going to take care of us when we get old?"Nice), yet those that have kids can't understand why I don't. My wife has it worse. Her female co-workers are aghast that she doesn't want to grow a life form in her uterus, one once going as far as writing "bitch" by her name in her old company's directory. Tonight when she gets home, we're going to watch a little TV, maybe read, maybe sex it up. Good luck with that, non-childless couple. KEY: The whole child thing came up on the first date with my wife. There was no doubt she didn't want kids and took every precaution to keep it from happening. It was spelled out early and often

3) Liquid

I think I'm using that right. Simply put, we're not in debt. We bought a little house with a good down payment, getting everything we needed and nothing we didn't. We bought it as a place to live, not as an investment. The money we saved not overbuying on the house goes into investments that allow my money to work so I eventually won't have to. We don't have jet-skis in the garage or a closet full of clothes with tags on them. I haven't had a car payment in 10 years. My credit card bill is paid in full every month. All this doesn't seem hard to me. For why it's been so easy, perhaps it leads back to Point #2. KEY: My parents never met a coupon they didn't like. You can read all the self help books you want, but the base that's laid under your parents roof between years 1 and 18 is what matters most. Again, this just seems simple.

4) Dog

Like pizza. even the worst type of dog is still pretty good. I can't imagine having a better friend than I've had these past 10 years. The only good thing about when Maverick passes is that soon afterward, it's going to be one stray's lucky day.

That is, if he's cool with coming into what these days appears to be anything but a normal existence.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Good Day. An Uncertain Tomorrow

A Galapagos land turtle can live over 200 years. With a dog you're lucky to get 10. If my wife and I are extraordinarily lucky, our dog will see his 10th birthday on December 30. Since his diagnosis of bone cancer more than 8 months ago, we've gone through several "final" things with him. We've wished for him to be here for Halloween and my wife's birthday and he was. Now it's about making it to Christmas, my birthday, and his birthday. One last victory lap. All seems well right now. He still gets around ok, taking his nightly walk to the mailbox or to the affectionately titled "Pee Corner", where all the bushes are.  Because he's down to three legs now (a "tripawd") he can't make it very far before stopping to get some rest. Imagine if you had to go everywhere by hopping on one leg. Maverick's at 75 percent leg capacity and still gets more exercise than most of the supposedly healthy humans I know.

Soon, we'll start seeing the endgame approach. The cancer has spread to his lungs. Coughing will increase, appetite will decrease. He'll yelp at the slightest touch. The nose will no longer be cold and wet, and the sparkle will be gone from his eyes. This will come sooner rather than later. It could start tomorrow. Everyday for the last nine months, that's been my thought. It could start tomorrow.

Maverick's big comfy bed is put next to ours each night. He chooses to sleep next to me as I'm closer to the doorway and the window, places where threats could occur. Ever on guard, he's what I see last at night and first in the morning. Of the numerous advantages to having a dog versus a kid, the best is that a dog never talks. I wish that could change, if only for a day. When that day comes I just want to know that we've done the right thing, that the pain has become too much, and he has another Gate to go guard for us.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Over It

I've been on the wrong side of the last two presidential elections. 2008 didn't bother me that much. I understood why people voted for Barack Obama. He had the silver-tongued skills of the slickest car salesman at a time when the country was floundering. People lap that stuff up even in the best of times, so back then as home prices were plummeting and layoffs (the polite word for "firings") were rising, it was a tonic that the majority glugged with glee. Obama being black certainly helped. It allowed guilt-ridden whites to show (to themselves ) that they weren't racist by voting the man in. I get all that. In a way, I was somewhat curious to see what would happened.

Nothing happened. Nothing's been accomplished. No. Nothing.

Yes, a sports metaphor is appropriate here. A football coach gets dumped and the replacement promises changes. Progress. Improvements. After four years the team is, at best, the same. What happens to a boss in the real world who flounders for four years? He's soon the ex-boss (NOTE: Notice I didn't say "she". Female CEOs have teflon. They'd have to be caught with a basement full of 14 year old boys, and even then, she'd probably get a Lifetime movie out of it). But this isn't the real world. This is politics. And, sorry to say, the general public is so monumentally stupid they fall for the same lines of b.s. every time.

Up against Obama was a proven business leader. His skills on the international stage were sketchy, but the Number 1 issue on the minds of the voters this election was the economy. Jobs. So naturally, the voters choose the candidate who'd never created a job before over the man who created tens of thousands. Hell, Obama even told people not to "blow a bunch of cash in Vegas" (TWICE!) and got 56 percent of the Clark County vote. How the hell did this happen?

People usually get what they deserve. Make bad decisions and you end up suffering for it. Dependent on drugs, pills, booze, gambling. Spending instead of saving. Babies out of wedlock. All of those things lead to a crappy life down the road, and there's usually no turning back from that death spiral. Unfortunately, it now seems like those that make the poor decisions have grown to such numbers that they're the ones in charge. The politicians pander to them, and it's people like me who end up having to bail them out. Based on what the last four years have wrought, I have no optimism for what the next four will bring. I hope I'm wrong. Usually I'm not.

I've never seen people so happy for a future of skyrocketing deficits, unemployment and general malaise as I did last night. Sad thing is, they don't know any better. The tired, poor, huddled masses have hit critical mass.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Let's Go Shopping (Revisited)!!

***Author's Note***

Although the following was written in 2010, it's just as pithy and appropriate for Back to School 2012 as it was way back then***

Back To School is a wonderful, magical time, which is obvious because each word in the phrase is capitalized. My memory of BTS wasn't going shopping for new supplies for the school year. No, it was my (former elementary school teacher) mom crying at the kitchen table the night before she inherited a classroom full of pre-pubescents with a snootful of who-knows-what. Magical indeed.

We didn't have school supply drives when I was a kid. You got the stuff you needed and went to class. Pretty simple, really. Ah, but in this age where anything simple has to be made unnecessarily complicated, we now have endless so-called "Stuff The Bus" drives (again, every word is capitalized to stress the importance of this monumental event). Usually pushed by media outlets, the Stuff The Bus drives are done to gather supplies for students for the upcoming school year. I saw an anchor last week saying that most families are having trouble (in these tough economic times, naturally) coming up with the money to buy even the most basic of school supplies. I audibly scoffed when I heard that, but then got to thinking that perhaps he was right. From last Sunday's paper, I picked up a flyer for Walgreens that focused on BTS supplies and started adding things up. Certainly, if "most" families can't even afford the basics, the prices for these items must be much more expensive than I remembered back in 1975.

So let's shop. I'm only listing the most basic supplies for elementary school kids, so that rules out calculators and certain geometric tools which- in this atmosphere of zero tolerance- are probably considered deadly weapons punishable by a lifetime expulsion should poor Caleb or Kellan get pinched (so to speak) with one.

Pencils: 10 for $1
Pens 10 for .79
Folders .09 each. Let's buy five. .45 total
Glue .49
Crayons .39 (for a box of 12. Do you really need Burnt Sienna?)
Notebooks .50-$1.50, depending on number of pages. Let's buy two at .50 apiece
Ruler .29
Backpack $4.00 (that's the big one, but if you have a desk that can store your supplies, it  might be unnecessary. Since you probably don't know if you do before the school  year starts, pick one up

Did I miss any of the basics? I don't think so. Scissors? Yeah, right. Start your academic year in Mr. Weatherbee's office by bringing a dangerous weapon. Still, the girls might think you're a badass, so at $1, it'd be worth the risk.

Total for basic supplies? $8.31. ($9.31 with those bad-ass scissors)

Or, in other words, lunch. One lunch. Brown bag lunch for a week, and the kid is covered through most of his elementary school years. Yes, I realize that most parents have more than one kid. Tops, you're spending $30 on supplies. If you're buying Kaela and Tristin their own pen and pencil sets, just think of it as one McDouble you could've spoiled yourself with and split the items.

So, my exhaustive research reaffirms to me that Stuff The Bus is a crock. Put down the frappe and get your own damn stuff for once. Handouts now lead to dropouts later.

(Oh, I don't want teachers to feel left out. That same Walgreens flyer has a bottle of generic aspirin (500 ct) on sale for $7.99. That ought to last you until Thanksgiving)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Different Wavelengths

I don't regret choosing radio for a career. Because of the path I took, I've been able to buy a nice house, marry a shockingly normal, baggage-free wife and have several close friends. It's all someone at my age can realistically hope for. I just wished that radio liked being radio. If there's one positive to be taken from today's terrestrial radio, it's that it gives other businesses a blueprint for what not to do when competition encroaches. What radio has done is de-emphasize it's strengths to focus on tertiary aspects that it can't pull off nearly as well.

Exhibit A: As iPods rose in prominence, radio's response was to pump up the music. More commercial-free music sweeps. Don't be fooled by that. Sure the number of "stops for spots" per hours at many stations was cut from three to two. It's just that the number of spots run during each break increased. Few things are more frustrating than sitting through a lengthy commercial break only to hear a song you hate. I've always given radio first crack at my ear, but if my three primary stations don't give me something like, I'm quickly on to my own music and radio will not get me back for the rest of my trip. More music doesn't work. I know what I like. I don't have to depend on radio to play my favorite songs anymore.

Exhibit B: Radio now seems to emphasize going to the station website more than actually keeping you listening. Imagine going to a store and the clerk tells you that to get the information or product you  need, you can go to their website. Radio does this all the time. Instead of giving the listener all the information they need about an artist, concert, or contest, that listener is constantly told to go to the website for more information. Because really, what business hasn't succeeded with the motto, "Always Give Your Customer More To Do"? By the time the listener gets to their destination, the thought of going to the station website to look up "Thousand Dollar Thursdays" has long been replaced by work and/or home demands

What radio has de-emphasized is personality. Less is more, we've been told. DJ talk is a tune out. Well, so is playing a long burned-out song and a commercial featuring the local nutty car dealer. Yet radio management would never dream of changing that approach. People once listened to radio for music, but since music is more omnipresent than ever, something else has to hook them in. The radio stations that make the most money aren't the ones that play the most music, they're the ones that have the biggest personalities. It's really that simple.

Of course, if you have successful personalities they're going to want (gasp!) more money. And there's the rub. Radio is successfully killing off personality to save money and the result has been a near death knell for the entire industry. Listeners tune out the approach. Corporate tunes out the solution.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Man's Best Friend (and other Brilliant Manipulators)

If you read the previous post (not the one I deleted for fear of career implications), you know that I have a three-legged dog. He gets around OK, but obviously doesn't have the "scamper-ability" a four-legged model has. There are exceptions, of course. Garbage Day, for one. The unmistakeable squeal of the brakes of the Republic Services trash truck seems to transport Maverick back to 2003, bolting to our gate at peak speed to tell Javier and Julio that this 'hood is his. After the truck leaves (because of his presence, of course), he'll come back in with the smug satisfaction that it was his work that drove them from the block.

Of course, he used to come bounding at the sound of the freezer door opening (ice cubes!) or the rustling of a box of Milk Bones. No more. While still getting somewhat excited over the prospect of a treat, he no longer does the work needed to come get it. Blame the parents. He now knows we'll bring it over to him. Maverick, in a certain way, has become not unlike many who now collect unemployment for 99 weeks. Why go and get it when it's going to be brought to you anyway? I can't rightly ask the garbage men (sorry, "sanitation engineers") to drive into my backyard so Mav can woof at them from the comfort of our living room. He has to work to get the satisfaction and, as I said before, seems to have a (three-legged) strut about him when the truck leaves his view.

I take a lot of pride in not having any debt, other than a mortgage (which isn't underwater). My spending is disciplined. I don't need to budget. I'm old enough to know what I can and can't afford. I save voraciously without denying myself the comfort of simple things that are deserved from a life well-lived. Still, all the work taken to get to this point is seeming to be increasingly worthless. Those that should be suffering for their bad or reckless behaviors are absolved. Debts are wiped away. Sentences are plea-bargained. Freeloading has become an art form.

My Gold's Gym is having a contest where the grand prize is a flat-screen TV for whomever best transforms from flabby to "fabby"(sorry). Forgetting the irony of a gym giving away a TV to the winner of a fitness contest, I'm punished in this case for being a normal body weight with decent muscle tone. I've discussed with my wife a master plan to 1) become an alcoholic, 2) hit rock bottom, 3) rehab in Malibu and 4) hit the lecture circuit for 10K a pop, all without becoming physically abusive toward her. She's surprisingly against it. Maybe I'll shoot for becomingly morbidly obese. It worked for Jared from Subway.

I'm having grilled chicken with rice for dinner tonight. Some fruit, too. Maybe I'll start that tomorrow.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Back and Blue

The Summer of 1983 was a lost one. I broke my arm on the last day of school. I had finished my exam early and was arm wrestling with another over-achiever until we were told we could leave. My humorous snapped in two. I this had happened in present day, I'm sure we could've drained the Milwaukee Public School system of any and all funds at their disposal, claiming negligence on behalf of the teacher who let boys be boys. Of course, we didn't do that. My parents said I should have known better and I was sentenced to the worst punishment a 16 year old boy could get (well, maybe not worse than the girl he has a crush on laughing in his face in front of her friends)- a summer of nothing. By the time my right arm was useful again, there was one week left until the start of my senior year. So much for big fun.

The Summer of 2012 is shaping up that way, as well. Not because of any physical maladies on my part, but because my dog is dying. He was diagnosed with bone cancer on March 11th, had his left leg amputated on March 15th, and now we just wait for the cancer to spread. X-Rays are done every two months to see if the cancer has matasisized. So far, so good. Still, it's only a matter of time before it does, and then we say goodbye. My dog is 9 years old, which is above the average life expectancy for a rottweiler. Counting the amputation, he's had three major surgeries. Really, I don't remember a good long stretch where he wasn't in a cast, in a wrap, or didn't have the "cone of shame" around his head. We've spent an estimated $15,000 on his care. I'd do it agin, without hesitation.

Any good times I've had since his diagnosis are quickly doused by me thinking about Maverick's condition. Whether it's a night out with the Fellas, a afternoon out with my gal, or even a week-long cruise up the California coast, it's impossible for me to shake what is inevitably coming.

When we first got Maverick, he separated himself from a pack of pups and walked up to my wife, wisely choosing us over a couple of families with young children. He may obey me more than her, but it's her dog. I can't communicate how sad I feel about what's happening because then she gets sad, and then I have to make her feel better. That leaves me no time for my own grief, and with no one to really talk to about it. I'm not sure talking about it would help, anyway. Writing about it here sure hasn't. But I have to purge somewhere, and I can't think of anywhere else that's appropriate

All planned trips have been tabled. It's all about staying close to home, and getting the most we can from our best friend. As I write, he's laying by my feet, playing with his bone. He has the most to be afraid of, yet is the strongest of us all