Fortress of Solitude-ishness

Blog picHi there.

Tomorrow I’m off on a new-ish journey. “Ish” because I’ve known about it for awhile. I’ll be working overnight at a medical/IT company here in KC. Shouldn’t have to Google very long to figure that one out.

It will, however, afford me the opportunity to have some “me” time. It’s not a luxury often afforded to the parent of two young boys, but here I am. I’m the type of person who has always needed time for myself. Just to think, to hit the reset button. My mind is always in motion, sometimes to my own detriment. I’m not always present and in the moment, but times like these help that which is usually most detrimental to me. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember, extending all the way back to childhood. Call it OCD, anxiety, whatever. I may or may not have been diagnosed, but I am what I am. I like to feel alive and connected, so I just deal with it. Take that as you will, sorry for being vague, but I never know who is reading.

With this job, I’ll have the best of both worlds. I love my family and I love being around them. Some of my best moments over the last several years have just been in this living room where I’m typing this. That said, I also get this same room to myself, which is something I need. It’s something everyone in our house needs. That isn’t lost on me. I know I’m lucky in that regard.

Even as a young 20-something, I needed the end of the day to be just me. I was never big on keeping people around. I liked unwinding playing a video game, playing my guitar, reading, watching a movie or TV show, etc. It always helped me be a more sane individual, which benefits everyone in my life. I’m sure that will continue to be the case.

Who knows, maybe this thing will get some more attention? Maybe I’ll do more than just write about me? Because really, that’s a subject that has been written about more than was ever needed. I’d like to get my thoughts about whatever out and into something constructive, rather than incoherent, too-long-yet-not-long-enough Facebook posts or Twitter rants. Because, again, there are already too many of those in the world.

A post about something you can read

I’ve never written about the following.

And I’ve written quite a bit. Maybe just a modest amount. Before and after the advent of putting things on the Internet. Personal things. Private things. I don’t know what is going to become of this, but we’ll see, I suppose. I’m not sure where to start. I guess here is as good as any.

When you’re barely 20, you don’t understand why you’re sitting in a hospital room with your dying uncle. You’re just sort of there. Even if you’re compelled and don’t understand by what. My grandmother made the trip from Rapid City to spend a night. My uncle’s mother-in-law did the same. Well, stayed in the hospital, that is. Not travel from Rapid City. Anyway, I felt like I should, too. For a kid, because that’s what I was at the time, who wasn’t compelled to do anything other than something for himself, it was a move i didn’t recognize. But there I was. Slumped in my uncomfortable, barely padded if you can call it padding, vinyl pull out hospital couch. Dozing off only to be awoken a few dozen times that night by a restless and dying man and the instruments hooked up to him.

I was the point of contact for my side of the family. At least for those who weren’t in town. I found something in that responsibility, but I also realized a great deal about my family and families in general. It’s hard to get away, I know that, and it’s difficult to reconcile. I know that fact very well. What I thought I knew and what I actually knew was a gulf so wide, I didn’t really see or understand the space until recently. I didn’t realize that, not even looming death, could change the fact that sometimes people drift apart. Sometimes you make up because you know it’s the last time, and after you’ve made that peace, there’s not much left to do.

The next several days were a blur. Watching them move him to the hospice unit and processing that, only to be there in person as he died the same day. I’d never witnessed someone dying in front of me before. At least not in any sort of personal way. I haven’t since. It was something I couldn’t unpack for years. The impact it had on me personally, on everyone in the room and everyone left behind was incalculable. My uncle wasn’t just a guy. He had family, friends and other associates and acquaintances who he profoundly impacted. For better or worse. He wasn’t a perfect person. No one is. But that’s what you come to understand, because talking about someone in the past tense forces you to realize your own life and actions are not perfect either. At least it did for me. Directly, I stopped smoking. Indirectly, I learned how to live life on my own terms. I won’t share the things he and I talked about as that is much too personal, because he was a good sounding board when my parents split up, but he helped guide a lot of my sensibilities in that way that people who knew him would understand. But both times he helped me put a new starter on my 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, he was able to impart some words of wisdom, we’ll just leave it at that. When he employed my ex-girlfriend to carry out underage alcohol stings, we had some good talks.

I never really looked at things the same after. He was the first death in the family that really rocked the foundation of my idea of family. Other than my parents divorce, it was and still is the defining moment of how I perceived the idea of “family” from before and after both events. People tell you that you grow up eventually, they just don’t tell you what makes you a grown up. They can’t, because it’s different for everyone, is the cliched way to say it, I suppose.

My uncle left his wife and two daughters behind when they were young. Both of whom may or may not read this. They are both strong mothers and beautiful young women. I don’t know them well anymore, because I don’t know much of my family that well, not as well as I would like, but you just sort of know. Seeing how it impacted them in the immediate aftermath shaped some of my approach to being a parent myself. There is always enough time to be silly and to make a fool of yourself regardless of who is watching, for your kids. You never know how long you’ll have each other. Hopefully it’s a long, long time, but you don’t control that. You think you do, but you don’t. At least not in the total way we’d all like to think we can.

When you have kids of your own, worrying about your own mortality ticks up. Maybe not worrying about it as much as you are more aware of it. Time will run out. Facts are facts. Death and taxes, they say, and for good reason.

I’m not saying you have to have kids to have a worthwhile life. People who say that to people who choose to not or cannot have kids bother me. They bother me more than I can write about in here. It’s beside the point of this ramble. Be good to each other, I guess is what I’m trying to say there.

From my Uncle Matt, to my great grandparents, to my grandmother and anyone else in my family who has died who has had an impact on me, positive or negative, it’s done it’s part to put me where I am at with my own family right now. Again, for better or worse. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it, but it seems to me the unthinking and unconsidering (not a word) parent is the parent who has given up on getting better. As an individual and a member of a family responsible for shaping the lives of their children. It just seems irresponsible.

So as I try to sit here and wrap up this whiskey driven post, about my uncle, about my kids and about me, maybe it’s best I’m not trying to put a stamp on something that just sort of came out. It’s not a transcribed episode of Dr. Phil. I don’t have a point. I have thoughts. That’s good enough for me.

When It’s Not Football Season

Wayne Rooney, captain of Manchester United. Photo | ESPNFC.com

Wayne Rooney, captain of Manchester United. Photo | ESPNFC.com

The sports world in our country revolves around NFL, and, to a lesser extent, major college football. Any argument to the against the notion would be seen as simply contrary to conventional knowledge.

So, now that football is done as a few weeks ago. what are we all doing? Watching college basketball? The NBA? NASCAR? Something international? Getting ready for baseball? Whatever it is you’re choosing to do with your free time, it seems with every passing year that it is just something to do between February and September.

What happened to the equity between sports? The NHL seems like it’s a niche sport. For most, the NBA is only interesting during the playoffs and baseball can no longer seriously be considered our “National Pastime.”

Some will say it is the perfect sports product for our television consuming lives, and I would tend to agree with that argument. It’s consistently contained within three hours. The action, albeit limited in time, is above most other sports. The athleticism and ability needed to perform at a high level in the NFL is almost second to none as well. Freakish plays from the Odell Beckham Jr.’s of the world is a part of a game that keep people coming back over and over.

Will there ever be a breaking point? Will concussions, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) or domestic violence ever do the league in? Based on the television ratings and revenue from 2014, it seems unlikely the NFL bubble will pop anytime soon.

Over the last week, the NFL Scouting Combine enjoyed higher ratings than most daytime television programs. It’s not that difficult with 500 channels and Bob Barker no longer hosting the ‘Price Is Right’ anymore. For those that don’t know, the Combine features mostly college football players participating in a series of physical tests to measure their speed, agility and position proficiency which translates into their overall NFL-worthiness.

In 2014, the first round of the NFL Draft earned over 32 million viewers. Let that sink in. To compare, the popular drama on NBC ‘Parenthood’ had it’s series finale which earned around six million viewers. ‘The Bachelor’, ABC’s popular, uh, dating show earns about 6.5 million viewers a week. Some of the most popular shows on TV are a fraction of a group of NFL GM’s and other front office members playing poker and gambling on future talent.

The point of all this is, when it’s not football season, it’s still football season. While meaningful games are only played for about 20 weeks out of the year, it seems as if the NFL consumes all 52 weeks of the year. While I enjoy the NFL as much as the next sports fan, I’m still a tad uneasy about how some social issues that plague the league get glossed over somewhat. That’s not to say other sports don’t have their fair share of issues, it just seems different when you’re the sport at the top of the mountain. The NFL will probably never be perfect, nor should it be. It’s more the flaws in the way it tries to correct itself.

1994, You’re 20 Now

Liz Phair circa 1994 was my everything.

Liz Phair circa 1994 was my everything.

I’ve been thinking about this post for over a year now. In 2013, through the magic of calendars and the internet, I discovered the following year would be 2014. What is so special about this fact you may ask? Well, I’m happy you did.

1994 was a pivotal year in several ways. My first serious girlfriend. The transition from middle to high school. Most importantly for me, was music. I wasn’t the most social and willing to cultivate new friendships, so music was a constant companion. This was the year I went from whatever MTV was playing and heavy metal to music which really resonated with me.

I could write about musical movements, Lollapalooza or Kennedy when she was just a quirky MTV VJ and not a wacko right wing nut job, but I’m going to keep the focus squarely on me here.

As a 14 year old in the mid-90’s, access to good music was not easy to come by. No internet and no ride to the only true local record store in town. In the later half of the year, I would rely on my trusty subscription to Spin magazine, which in no way resembles what it eventually turned into. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

This is the year I would go from Metallica and Slayer, to Pavement and Liz Phair. From Pearl Jam to Sonic Youth. Now, I’m not saying I still don’t partake in any of the aforementioned bands. That would be at the expense of the truth in order to sound cooler than I really am. I am not cool. I never have been. And I’ve never been a person to say there isn’t room for music of all types on your shelf, or your electronic music playback device doohickey, as the kids call them.

In the first half of 1994, I was in 8th grade. The culture of my class in middle school was metal. Pantera released ‘Far Beyond Driven’ around this time, which was the absolute apex of their career. Metal, metal and after that, have some more metal. That was until a classmate of mine in Pro Time (code for homeroom) for misbehaving adolescents suggested some modern day punk/hardcore.  Enter Green Day, Fugazi and NOFX. This ultimately led to Bad Religion, Shelter (punk rock Hare Krishnas. Seriously), Pennywise and The Offspring. Basically, anything on Epitaph Records. Which in turn gave way to classic punk. The Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Descendents. But again, let’s stay focused on 1994.

Speaking of the above mentioned ‘Far Beyond Driven’, this was my first purchase from the also above mentioned local record store, Ernie November. Anyone from Sioux Falls reading this post knows what I’m referring to. It’s still in town, as far as I know, just not in the same old location, which is kinda sad. As an East Side kid, it was quite the bike ride from Hilltop across town to West 12th Street. I’d have to convince my dad (never my mother) to take me and hang out in his truck while I perused the CD and vinyl racks. Side note. You know how vinyl would periodically be on the verge of a big comeback? This was one of those times, and we still had a working turntable at the house. I still have ‘Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star’ on CD and vinyl. Don’t ask me, I was 14 and didn’t know how to manage money. Buying the same album in two different formats seemed reasonable.

At the time, Ernie November was staffed by guys much older than me who were very serious about music and played in local bands. If you went in and bought something dumb, like Candlebox (not sure if they even sold this album there, but just for the sake of this scenario), you would be laughed at as you left or get a heavy sigh and eye roll while at the counter. I can’t imagine how the cash register held up from the drawer angrily slamming. I could write more about the loud music, overbearing patchouli smell and other scandalous items, and believe me we could go into great detail on the impression this left on a 14 year old, but this is more about the music.

Grunge music. Oh, grunge music. This was the year Kurt Cobain of Nirvana killed himself. I don’t remember lighting a candle or shedding a tear for him. At this point, I was sort of over Nirvana by the time 1994 had closed out. I liked ‘Unplugged…’ and fell asleep to it quite a bit, but the whole Seattle movement had started to die down at this point. At least for me. Soundgarden released ‘Superunknown’ in the spring, and Pearl Jam released ‘Vitalogy’ later in the year, but other than that, Seattle didn’t have a ton to say. For me, this was the year the following bands came out of nowhere and onto my stereo.

While on a Sunday afternoon trip to the 1/2 Price Store (remember those?) with my mom in the fall, I moseyed on over to Best Buy next door. I remembered an article or review from Spin letting me know Liz Phair was the “queen of indie.” I’m not sure what that meant, but they said it was awesome, so I bought it. This was a period of time when you just had to buy a CD based on a review or hearing a couple of songs. Or one song. If the album sucked, sorry kid, you were out $15. The first track is “Chopsticks” and it is literally Liz Phair talk-singing in the way she does while the piano tune we all know is played underneath. The lyrics immediately struck me. It  was all about her meeting a random dude at a party and having sex with him. Here’s the line that really jumped at me. “He said he liked to do it backwards/I said that’s just fine with me/That way we can fuck and watch TV” Now, my mom would probably like to think I didn’t use this language or knew what Liz was talking about, but I was trading baseball cards for N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew tapes when I was 11, so, sorry ma. What was shocking for me was a woman sort of owning objectifying a man and using him for her own ends. Music had never really been about that for me. It had been a lot of male bravado up until that point. The rest of the album was like nothing I’d heard. For as grunge as grunge was, it was still produced in a very slick manner. This was not. The songs were short like punk songs, but were something entirely different.

A couple weeks later I purchased an album I had read about over and over again and finally decided to buy. ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ by Pavement is one of my all-time favorite albums to this day. It was sloppy yet effortless and masterful, and the guys who made it didn’t give a shit. But they did give a shit. Did they give a shit? Wait, I don’t give a shit if they give a shit or not. Anyway, if I ever had to write a sentence or thought about Pavement, that would probably be the best way I can describe them. These two albums really changed the way I thought about music and what music could be. They were artists who were given some time in the spotlight so the few who were paying attention could hold on to them as long as they were around or making quality music (ahem, Liz Phair). It opened the door to bands like Superchunk, Guided By Voices, Archers of Loaf, Built to Spill and on and on and on. I could literally list dozens more. I have several Spotify playlists dedicated to this personal musical review journey thing I’ve been on this year. All this made me realize that just because a band wasn’t constantly in rotation on MTV or “commercially viable,” it didn’t make them invalid from a quality perspective. It also opened my eyes to music that was already out there and had been around for awhile. With the help of friends and cool uncle, I was turned on to the likes of the Talking Heads, the Replacements, the Smiths, the Clash, Minutemen and the Velvet Underground.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to fly a snob flag here. I bought that Hootie and the Blowfish album, although I never dabbled in Phish. Proto-bro rock, I suppose you could call it. I went through a Led Zeppelin phase, a Beatles phase and so on while in high school. I bought popular grunge and alternative albums in the 90’s. I have almost every Smashing Pumpkins album from the 90’s. We all like what we like. If your thing is 80’s hair metal or gangsta rap, that’s fine. This was just my little musical journey. And this was just the year I took a hard left and went beyond Billboard and MTV.

How I Spent My Labor Day Vacation

salton seaSome days I wonder if we’ll ever get out of our own way. Think of any conflict that has been in the news within the last several weeks. When you drill down on the behaviors that caused or are causing the actions, we suffer from an acute condition of poor learned behavior. Racism justifying murder, religion justifying violence, political affiliation justifying invasion and war, etcetera, etcetera and more etcetera.

Those are the issues on the radar. Sometimes I like to pick a story that pops up now and again and really get into the meat of it. The drought in California isn’t getting a lot of airplay, but if you look for it, it’s enough to get you worried about issues that may no longer be in our control like racism, religion or politics could be.

I’m not writing much more. I’m only posting some links tonight which would normally product a long, drawn out post. I am on vacation, after all.

Vice article regarding the California drought and golfing

Myths via The Washington Post

Extreme drought spreading through the entire Southwest

Documentary on the Salton Sea trailer

 

Everyone Is Guilty

 

isreal and palPlaying the ‘Blame Game’ is a popular idiom and is well known in our culture. It’s used between branches of American government and is used on a personal level among people in our daily lives. It is also used in international affairs and conflicts. There are two major issues outside our country where this is taking place. The Malaysian Airlines flight which was shot down over Ukraine last week and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. If you’re thinking about these two subjects, then we’re on the same page. I’m here to write about the latter. I know. Hot button issue, right?

I’ve watched supporters of either side squabble back and forth and take positions of moral high ground since the conflict took a turn for the worse several weeks ago. Israeli teens are kidnapped and murdered. A Palestinian teen is captured and burned alive in retaliation.

I’m no expert on the subject, but I’ve read enough in my lifetime to know more than the average person. I’m keeping this entry at a rather high level, because I don’t want my point to get bogged down in the minutia, which is easy here.

Palestine doesn’t have the right to fire rockets into Israel indiscriminately endangering its citizens. Israel doesn’t have the right to send missile strikes into one of the most densely populated areas on the planet in retaliation. See the common theme among the two? I understand there is more nuance to this, but again, I’m keeping at a high level on purpose.

Hey, Hamas, listen. I know you know that firing crude rockets into a heavily defended country isn’t going to solve your problems. You think holding a magnifying glass up to your existing legitimate issues with Israel is going to curry sympathy on top of the death toll. Well, the way I see it, is that it is counter productive. You’re gambling with the lives of your people. To borrow another saying, the ends do not justify the means. Not even close.

Israel. I know. It’s tough being the different kid on the block. You just moved here after being gone for a very long time and no one really remembers when you were here. You’re always having to look over your shoulder because everyone in your neighborhood not only wants to kick your ass, they want to erase you. So, I get it. But the support you have among moderates around the world is going to evaporate quickly with your current course of action. Hamas and other groups are hiding rockets and arms in schools, hospitals and behind the doors of civilians? Sorry. It’s not justification for incinerating children playing on a beach. Or burying elderly Palestinians under a mountain of steaming rubble. You need to find another way.

Depending on the prism you’re looking through, there are similarities between what is happening now and how the apartheid policy of South Africa was dissolved. Many countries refusing to send flights into Israel and possible embargos levied against them may jolt the country into a reasonable solution. Divestment from some countries may not be far-fetched. It could logically also stop the nonsense perpetrated by Hamas.

No one is morally correct. No one is absolute in their justification for what they are doing. Both sides have a very bitter pill to swallow on this one. A cease fire is necessary to gain an actual solution, but is by no means the answer. We can’t continue on with this cycle.

My final point in all of this is as follows. Using your religious beliefs in this day in age is not an excusable defense or justification for a thousands of years old land dispute. I’m sorry, it’s not. I don’t care what your book says. What your god told your ancestors from over a thousand years ago (or more) does not give you the right to act like children with weapons with lethal destructive power.

It seems impossible at this point, but peace and mutual respect remains the only means of resolving this conflict. Muslims, Jews and Christians cheering one particular side on from the sidelines. Stop. Killing innocent women and children doesn’t get you into heaven, or at least it shouldn’t. Read your books carefully, and try to be civil.

Time For a Change

farmers-insurance-15-seconds-of-smart-drive-safe-large-3

When the clock strikes 4 p.m. on Friday, July 11, I will no longer be a part of the wireless industry. After T-Mobile in Lenexa, Kansas folded Sprint picked me up and helped me out with a J-O-B for two years while I wrapped up my education. I’d like to thank them for that. I’d also like to acknowledge that the position I was in to allowed me to decompress from the environment of T-Mobile. I’m not going to spend any time talking about that. Those of you who were there, you know. Those who weren’t, you probably don’t care anyway. It’s been an educational five and a half years, but I owe quite a bit to the experience. The most valuable part of this are the people I met. So if you’re reading this, kudos, you made that list.

By the time next Monday rolls around, I will be beginning a new career with Farmers Insurance and learning how to be a Property Claims Adjuster. I really think I’ll like the work. I’ve always liked solving problems and helping people. No, really, I do. I will also start to see a little ROI (financially and mentally) from finishing my degree. That’ll be nice.

It may not seem like a whole lot from the outside looking in, but I’m pretty excited. I even received a portfolio via Fed Ex with my name on it today. Neat, right? Anyway, short and sweet on this one. Just thought I’d update everyone at one time and whatnot.

I’ll still be at Arrowhead on game day, so if you’re sitting in the cheap seats with the real fans, be sure to say hello and be nice.

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