Friday, December 12, 2014

The Ballad of Trip Fallwell.

Catching the bus at Third and Pike has always been interesting. I mean, pretty much any place where untreated mental illness meets drugs and alcohol is going to provide some gloomy theater to a guy waiting for his ride to the suburbs every weeknight. But the past couple of nights have been a bit—interestinger. 

Two straight nights, someone has fallen to the ground directly in front of me. 

Wednesday, when a woman toppled into the street while stepping off the curb, two other bystanders and I converged on her. Reaching her last, I immediately became odd man out as each of the tripper’s arms had already been claimed in this odd game of musical limbs. Unsure what to do and already invested in the scene, I sheepishly patted her on the shoulder and retreated to the shadows.

Then on Thursday, while staring glazy-eyed into the murky twilight, I heard the icky sound of cloth-wrapped meat spanking concrete. If I had to onomatopoeviate the sound, it was something like, “thwarckshhhlip.” It was a woman again, and this time I made it to her first. “Need a hand?” I asked. She looked shaken and embarrassed as I helped her off the sidewalk, hobbling away and rubbing her shoulder.

So yeah, two falls in two days, which made me realize that people, even able-bodied adults, wipe out a lot. I know I do, and since I’m kind of a freak of nature athletically, the rest of you must have serious challenges staying vertical. 

Kidding, of course. How often have I hit the pavement? Put it this way: I’ve left more skin on the streets than a blind skateboarder with dandruff. And it doesn’t bode well for my golden years. Sprinkled in with all the head smackings and toe jammings are several more alarming occurrences each year where my feet have rescinded their citizenship.

So, in keeping with the holiday spirit, I’ve worked up a little ditty to summarize my travails. It’s sung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, and we’ll just start at the end and work backwards.

During five decades of clumsy,
I’ve wiped out constantly,

Twelve feet from a treehouse,
Eleven people saw me,
Ten times at Target,
Nine stairs down in jammies,
Eight achy ankles, 
Seven feet off a truck ramp,
Six puzzling grass stains,

Fiiiiiive pulled hamstriiiiings.

Four times last month,
Three people gasped,
Two friends laughed hard,

And that time last month when I skinned both my knees.

While we’re on the subject, here’s to a speedy recovery for my papa. He tweaked a couple ribs, so he’s gonna wear sweats on the sideline this weekend and hopefully be ready for the Cardinals game.

Please, have a safe holiday season.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Teaching Our Children the Merits of Inactivism.

Hi! Good to see you again. 

Back in November, I posted the following to the Reflections of a Shallow Pond Facebook page:

To my faithful readers, each of whom I love unconditionally,

You may or may not have noticed that I've been posting to the blog a little less lately. Due to my chronic OCD, I've been devoting most of my blog prep time to writing a kids' book.

It's going well, and I think a few thousand more words should round out the first draft, at which time I'll start posting again. It'll be a happy day to emerge from the other side of this meaty juggernaut.

Feel free to peruse the archives if you're looking for a treasure trove of outdated punchlines.

Thanks for reading.

Pretty much instantaneously, I started regretting that bloated little press release. 

If I had wanted to be honest with myself and everyone else, I would have said, “Due to my chronic OCD, I’m unable to focus on anything but working on the first draft of my middle grade novel. Also, I can’t think of anything to write about anyway, and there’s quite a bit of football that needs watching.”

Ahh, I feel better already. Oh,one last thing—did I say something about a “meaty juggernaut”? Yeah, I don’t think so. Trinity by Leon Uris is a meaty juggernaut. Chris Christie is a meaty juggernaut. 

Right now, I’d describe the book as more of a “cheesy Duggar plot.” In real-life terms, it’s currently about the length a routine colon cleanse—you’d be closing the cover around the time you’re closing the lid. Ideally, however, I'd like it to span the course of an intense but survivable bird flu.

Anyway, moving on. Wow, November wasn’t exactly a harmonious month, was it? The Ferguson decision, coupled with an increasingly violent attitude toward Black Friday, coagulated into the perfect Nor’ Easter of social unrest this past month. 

For the first time here in Seattle, protesters stormed two downtown Malls, freaking out pretty much everyone but the guy in the Brookstone store who’d been waiting a half hour to try the new Infiniti IT 8500 Massage Chair and by god, wasn’t lettin’ a mob of tree huggers stand between him and his flamin' sciatica. 

Have you ever participated in a demonstration? Ever stood up to the man—told him you’re fed up with his bullshit—and that you’re not going anywhere until justice, and hopefully pizza, is delivered? 

I have, twice. I first dipped my toes into the muddy sand of civil disobedience in high school. Was I rebelling against the tyrannical re-institution of selective service registration? Can’t say I was. Did I march against Ronald Reagan’s covert war against Nicaragua’s Sandanistas? Um…nah.

The arena many of my classmates and I chose as our initiation into rabble rousing was just that—a basketball arena. I’ve long since forgotten what the referee did to incite such activism, but whatever it was, a few of us spontaneously decided to sit on the court after the game to challenge the loss forced upon us by a gang of zebra-striped oppressors. Unflinchingly resolved that the ref violated our basic human right to a senior year playoff win, we rattled the rafters of the Hazen High School gym with chants of,“Hell no! We won’t go!”

Classy, eh? If co-opting Vietnam anti-war slogans toward our equally righteous ends was the order of the day, then so be it. 

Seriously, though, what did we think—that the referees would sheepishly return to the court and say, “We’ve never seen a group of people sit on the floor so powerfully. Let’s go ahead and bring the teams out and add a couple more minutes to the game clock. Well played, Trojan student body.”

The principal and a couple of off-duty cops told us leave. We did, but incensed at the injustice we’d witnessed, my friends and I wouldn't forget this until well into the Dairy Queen drive-through line.

I’d like to think that my second act of public rebellion was a catalyst toward inspiring my older daughter’s future actions. On February 15, 2003, protesters in cities across America took to the streets to object to the Bush Administration’s impending invasion of Iraq. 

Nearly eight years old, my kid seemed a good age at which to impart a lesson on First Amendment rights by participating in the parade from Seattle Center to the International District.

I knew that, how ever far we walked away from the car, we’d have to hike back the same distance, and I didn’t want her forever associating social demonstration with boredom, hunger and fatigue. We managed to walk half the route before peeling off course and finding a place with chicken tenders and getting to the car in time to beat the agitator traffic. 

But how, on that crisp winter day, could I have known that a simple lesson would propel my sweet cherub toward a life of activism twelve years hence? Here’s what happened yesterday, as told by my nineteen-year-old daughter, a sophomore at Western Washington University:

I was walking on campus with a couple of friends. We were on our way to get a hot chocolate at Starbucks. We saw something happening in Red Square (the brick-floored hub of campus), like lots of people were gathering, so we decided to check it out. We walked over and saw two girls standing on the fountain, talking into bullhorns. A drum started beating, and for every beat, one of them said the name of a famous victim of police brutality.

A few minutes later, we found ourselves right in the middle of a huge crowd. The drum started beating faster…and people started lying on the wet bricks. I said to my friend, "Wow, that sucks for them. It must be freezing down there.” 

More and more people dropped to the ground, and before we knew it, we were the only ones standing. “We can’t leave now,” I said. So all three of us just laid down. At least I had my backpack on so my back didn’t get wet, but pretty soon, my butt was so cold it was numb. We laid there for almost ten minutes. Then the drum started beating again and everyone stood up. My friend had on a white sweatshirt, so, it wasn’t doing too good after that. 

But we still went to Starbucks.

Who’s a proud papa? This guy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Third Cousin, One's Removed.

Good Gobble, I love Turkey Day. 

If holidays were early 90s college basketball teams, Thanksgiving would be Michigan, and the Fab Five is turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie. And like Chris Webber, I’ll travel to have some.

It’s been a personally-revered event since my days as a lard lovin’ little chubbgoblin. The sage-speckled strata of salty goodness bewitched me at such a young age I would have surely chosen giblet gravy Pop Tarts over strawberry had they been available at the A & P. Each time I traced a turkey around my fleshy digits, I fantasized of the crayon becoming a fork, the drawing a drizzly butterball. 

Every year, my aunt held a feast. Cousins and friends and extended family crammed the house, all the delicious smells weaving with the comfortable aroma of my uncle’s pipe. I loved everyone one there.

Almost everyone, that is. I'll call him Jackie. I’m not sure if he was related to me or not—he was someone’s step-grandfather-in-law or something—all I know is that he was always there by the time we arrived. Jackie was older, his thinning hair and glasses giving his face a nondescript “old man of the 1960s” look. Every year, there he was, perched in a folding chair, leaning on his cane and clicking his dentures.

Jackie would wait until we’d been there a while. As soon as my parents weren’t around, he’d look me up and down and say something about my weight. Usually it was along the lines of “Looks like you’re a little on the fat side.”

In case you didn’t already know, I had a few insecurity issues as a kid—my teeth stuck out, I had black, horn-rimmed glasses, and yes, I was a little on the fat side. Even if he hadn’t pointed it out, I already felt like a dweeb, having been forced to dress up in my church clothes just to see a bunch of people I usually saw in my Sears Toughskins. It was as if he knew I was a sitting duck for his ridicule.

My feelings weren’t hurt as Jackie lampooned my girth year after year; it pissed me off. He didn’t exactly have the body of Wink Martindale, I figured, so he should just shut the hell up. 

But a couple of years later, the ground shifted a bit. I learned some information about Jackie from an intoxicated, yet apparently well-informed, family member:

He had no penis.

I’m not making this up. It was forty-five years ago, but it may has well have happened this morning, the words are so clear in my memory. Here are some of the thoughts and feelings I recall upon hearing this game-changer:

a) Totally not surprised—His pants always rode up over his gut, making the lower half a little snug. He didn’t sport even a slight bulge, his smooth groin mirroring Homer Simpson’s. I could only imagine that, without a twig, the berries simply sank back into the peat moss.

b) Grossed out—Oh, man, that must’ve hurt! What did they do with it?

c) Vengeful—I may be fat, Jackie, but I can always lose weight. Also, I have a penis.

d) Sad—I remember thinking, how much would it suck—sorry, bad choice of words—how much would it bite—sorry, my bad again. That must have been terrible.

I can’t remember if Jackie had already passed away before I’d learned of his dismembership from Klub Kilbasa. I know I was still quite young and my parents must have been shocked to observe my learning this classified data from the drunk relative. I never brought it up, so to speak, and neither did they.

So Jackie, all this time later, I forgive you for calling me fat every year at Thanksgiving. And wherever you are, I hope they let you have as many of those things as you want.

You deserve it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Halloween Season: When Every Day is Payday.

The stuff starts showing up at the store around late September. A small display, festooned in black and orange, whispers to me as I wheel past en route to the Meow Mix. The sultry hiss of temptation beckons: 

"Dare you sample my delights yet, my weak friend? Go ahead, buy a bag. What’s not fun about fun size? Check it off the old to-do list. Yes, of course, you can put me in the basement for a few weeks and forget about me. 

"So glad you brought me home, my lover. Oopsy! You opened my bag, you silly galoot. Oh well, what harm is it to sample a savory sliver? Yes, yes, have another. And another. One more and the bag is gone, my sweet. Splendid.”

And yet again, the terrorists have won. 

It’s candy season, a time when high fructose seeps from the walls and the workplace becomes a Hershey highway. If October had a theme song, it might steal the chorus from Eighties one-hit wonder, The Church:

…I got no time,
For private consultation.
I ate forty Milky Ways tonight…

Throughout the year, a few co-workers maintain candy jars, perfect for those 2:30 drive-bys. But as All Hallows approaches, public sugar stations spring up like algae blooms in Limbaugh’s thigh meat—thirty paces to the Raisinette bowl, only seventeen to the York Peppermint Patties. Hmmm, Raisinettes would hit the spot, plus I can use the additional exercise.

Since we’re smack in the middle of the Festival of Saint Wonka, what better time to embrace our inner glucose glutton? Yes, it’s unhealthy, and sure, by 10:00 on Halloween night a lot of us can already feel the Mount Vesuvius of unicorn zits pushing through our forehead epidermis, but doggone it, I love the stuff, which is why I’d love to share with you my top five Halloween candies:

5) Payday—The only finalist lacking the cocoa bean, Payday’s savory peanuts pair effortlessly with the mysterious charms of nougat, a robust compound discovered in Roswell, New Mexico during the summer of 1947.

4) M-n-Ms—Probably the speediest sugar delivery vehicle in the Western Hemisphere, a handfull of these can paste a hundred calories to your dorsal flaps before you even get to the copy machine.

3) Butterfinger—I’ve loved these since I was knee-high to Augustus Gloop.

2) Kit Kat—Holy sweet mother of Monsanto, this time of year I eat so many Kit Kats, FEMA has to drop them from helicopters for the kids.

1) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—Although I wouldn’t consider that stuff in the middle actual peanut butter, RPCs are the undisputed king of candy. If there’s a heaven, the gate is orange with brown trim. Plus, after six or seven, they make me feel most ill of any candy, and that, my friend, is power.

Enjoy your season, and keep in mind, if I see you with a kale smoothie, you’re dead to me.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Man Crush Friday!

Hows about we try something a little different today (By the way, should “hows” actually be “how’s,” as in “How is about we…”)? That makes no sense; Our language is so complex, there must be other options. Oh, got it.

Howz about we try something a little different today? No big deal, we’re just gonna apply a little Photoshop skew tool to our Friday.

As those of us who’ve been chugging Zuckerberg Cooler for the past five years are fully aware, a photo theme now exists for each day of the week. Of course Throwback Thursday is the granddaddy, a fun excuse to sift through the archives and embarrass a loved one while displaying how awesome you looked in cut-offs and hair.

It’s the only daily theme in which I participate during the week. I could do Woman Crush Wednesday, but that would get boring just alternating between Jennifer Lawrence and Susan Sarandon.

Transformation Tuesday? Nah. At my age, I’m like a Pop Tart where every advancing year is a little while longer in the toaster. And like the famous carb and jelly cardboard, I’m getting hotter inside, yet all you see is the blistering, blackening icing. 

Mmm. Pop Tarts.

It’s Monday’s Facebook strain I’d like to exploit for today’s purposes. Let’s make today “Man Crush Friday.”

I know, it doesn’t flow off the tongue like Man Crush Monday, but what else are our choices? My Friday Fabio? TGIF (That Guy I Fancy)? Hunkdaaaaaay!? 

All fairly lame. And anyway, today is not about guys we’re crushing on, dudes we admire or envy—it’s about men we actually want to crush. Like this:



I’m not sure there’s an anvil heavy enough to do anything other than bounce off Rush Limbaugh, but there are so many other candidates for this week’s man crushes. Here they are:

Republican presidential front runner Ted Cruz, who said on Thursday, “When Congress returns to session, I will be introducing a constitutional amendment to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.”

I’m afraid that ship has sailed, Teddy Bear. You’d have better luck getting the Palin family to just use their words.

Along those lines, Utah G.O.P. congressman Kraig Powell, coined a new term for gay wedlock: "I call them 'pairriages',” he said, “because they do not have the ability to produce a child.”

Neither does your mom, Kraig, so are your parents in a pairriage now? And who spells Craig with a K?

Finally this week, Oklahoma state rep and renowned Islamic scholar John Bennett, imparted a salty spray of reason on his constituency. “There is no radical Islam. There is no moderate Islam. The teachings of Mohammed’s teaching only teaches one thing—the violence, the beheadings, ISIS—that is Islam. Period.”

Good to know. And what a stunning wordsmith this man is, using the word “teach” three times in a single sentence.

I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, leaving you with the sour taste force fed by three halfwit politicians. So here are my actual man crushes as of Friday, October 10, 2014:

Percy Harvin, John Oliver, Tony Soprano, Jimmy Fallon. Oh, and the guy who landed that jet on the Hudson river a few years ago—Sully Sullivan. Still digging his action. I think I’ve been a pilot every Halloween since.

How about you? Good, bad or both—who are your man crushes?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Bad Thoughts Lead to Bad Actions.

Hey, I just got back from the grocery store. 

Let me dig deep into the bag…ah, there they are. I got fifty percent off the family-size cans of worms, so I went ahead and grabbed three. Let’s see, here’s a tin of night crawlers in gun-control sauce, which I often serve when my dad comes over. Oh, and here’s the Safeway Select Obamacare Worm Medley, also a favorite with guests…like my dad.

And ah, yes, I managed to nab the last can of these babies. They seem to be popular lately. Let’s pry back the lid and take a whiff. Mmmm…Spicy Sriracha Spankworms.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of Adrian Peterson, superstar running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Charged with felony child abuse for whipping his four-year-old son with a tree branch, Peterson has been suspended indefinitely by his team. Advertisers like Nike and Castrol have quit this guy faster than he got snatched up in this year's fantasy drafts. 

As serious as these accusations are, Peterson’s timing couldn’t have been worse. His story broke less than a week after video surfaced of the other running back on the All-Bully Team, Ray Rice, knocking his pregnant fiancĂ© senseless in an elevator. So yeah, you'll have to excuse us for being a little touchy about the delivery of domestic violence by world class athletes.

Peterson contends that he is not an abuser, that he’s simply disciplining his child the same way he was taught growing up in Palestine, Texas, but that just seems to be another example of the abused becoming the abuser. I’m pretty sure we’d all agree that breaking the skin on the head of a four-year-old falls outside the definition of discipline, so let’s dial it down a couple of notches and talk about spanking.

Do you spank your kids? Did you get spanked back in the day? Every couple of months or so, someone on Facebook will post a meme that says something like, “Share this if you played outside in the dirt all day, your friends were white, and you got spanked right there in your Sears Toughskins…” or something like that. 

It’s an issue that’s so multi-layered—cultural, generational, even geographical. An ABC News poll found that among Southerners, 62 percent of parents spank their kids, compared to 41 percent for the rest of the United States. 

Pansy-ass Yanks.

As I noted in the aforementioned Facebook meme, most of my fellow Boomers got whacked as well. I usually never went more than a couple of days without a good swat. Being the little DB that I was, I exhibited at an early age an aptitude for finding psychological pressure points in my siblings and parents. I wouldn’t freaking let up on people. 

Usually, after firing ample verbal salvos over the bow, my mom or dad would stomp into the kitchen and yank open that second drawer down—the one with the longer utensils. I’d watch in fear and contempt as they rifled through spatulas and wooden spoons, their wide eyes searching for the perfect instrument of revenge on their little wise ass. 

Occasionally, my parents’ elevated adrenaline or my blocking paw might force an errant swing, which would then strike me below the buttocks and squarely on the upper leg. Remember those? They hurt so much that your mouth yawned a silent scream of anguish, saliva roping and snapping between your incisors. Only when your grey matter fully registered the pain signal, were you able to emit a scream like Roger Daltrey jamming his pinky toe into an amp.

Have I ever spanked my kids? Yep, a couple of times. But it didn’t feel right. It seemed like I was teaching my daughters that when anger gets out of control, violence is okay, so I stopped doing it. It’s a decision every parent is faced with, and let’s face it, there are times when it’s tempting as hell.

But when spanking becomes battery, is it any surprise to you that a couple of professional football players might be a little prone to this behavior? For god’s sake, anger is the straw that stirs the NFL’s Sunday morning Bloody Mary. The game is based on hammering your opponent into submission; these dudes play the game with bad thoughts.

Sad as it is, until these athletes find the tools to isolate and compartmentalize their violent impulses, no amount of punishment will stop the behavior.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Few Questions About That Terrible Day.

It was a beautiful late summer morning, a lot like today. 

Here on the west coast, it had already all gone down by the time most of us found out. The news slowly infected us, one human at a time. A nation that began the day flush with post-Cold-War hubris, slowly blanketed itself in a murk of fear and grief. It was a black cloud as undeniable as the one unleashed on the canyons of lower Manhattan when the towers finally collapsed. 

Where were you? I learned about it as I switched on the car radio after dropping off my six-year-old daughter at school. That’s ridiculous, I remember thinking. Planes don’t get hijacked anymore, not since, like, D.B. Cooper in the Seventies. Both towers collapsed? From two planes? Is this some kind of Orson Welles-type radio bullshit? 

Doesn’t seem like it. And how does a plane fly into the Pentagon? How could a lumbering jetliner strike the nerve center of our military? I must be getting bad information.

To wit, some of it was bad. Remember the rumors of mysterious packages outside Camp David, terrorist activity at the Brooklyn Bridge, our streets jammed with celebrating Arab Americans?

Who was the first person you called? Did you have a spouse at the time? Kids? Were you stuck somewhere distant, unable to find a flight or rental car to get back home?

Then there were the substantiated peripheral events. On September 18, when the first anthrax-laced envelopes arrived at the offices of media and congressional members, the scales really seemed to tip. All factors pointed to the most effectively planned and executed conspiracy against America in our history. 

What else do the terrorists have in store? How deep does this go? I can vividly recall my wife and I being about one exploded Amtrack from whisking the family away and getting all Green Acres-like as a gentleman farmer and bead maker in the Idaho panhandle. Did you have similar thoughts?

Were you glued to your TV? Were you suspicious of strangers? How did you sleep?

So much happened on that horrible day—My Pet Goat, Cheney hightailing it to his bunker—loaded-down firefighters scurrying into the inferno as soot-soaked New Yorkers ran from harm’s way.

I’d really like to hear your story. What happened with you that horrible day and how has September 11 affected your life’s trajectory these past thirteen years?

As brutal a place as the world can be, I’m glad we’re all still around to talk about it.