Sunday, November 15, 2015

Social Media: A Place We Can Be Everywhere Yet Nowhere.

Please bear with me; I'll try to be brief in venting my spleen.

I joined Facebook around, let's see, 2008. So therefore, I've spent 46/53 of my life not engaged in social media. Not yet Twittering or Tindring or Instagrammering... just yammering.

But now, now that I've owned an iPhone for six months, I'm a crumb concerned. I used to have to crank up the old desktop jalopy for my Facebook fix. Today, I'm a thumbprint ID away from another tasty orange Instagram kibble or a juicy red Zuckerbook nugget from a Friend.

Social media has served most of us pretty well, wouldn't you say? And for people hovering within twenty years either side of my age, those who could formerly only reconnect with old friends through high school reunions and chance encounters—"where are they now?" has been been replaced by "what are they physically doing at this very moment?" And do I like it enough to "like"it?

These days, we can snap a quick shot of the Applebee's French Dip we're about to scarf down, apply a yummy filter and post it for the viewing pleasure of those whose only food choices are currently downstairs in the earthquake kit.

Or perhaps it's the one-month anniversary of our cockapoo's tummy tuck and we want him to know how proud we are that he's kept the weight off. He's a few simple key punches from being snapped, tagged and posted. Sure, he's a dog. He'll never fathom the your pride in his accomplishment, any more than he can grasp why he wears designer denim.

That doesn't mean the rest of the world can't.

There's really no debating that social media has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. It's fast, easy and effective. But for every advantage with which we've been bestowed over the past decade, certain off-color byproducts have emerged, and I feel compelled to share them with you. Please don't take these personally if these hit a little close to home. Just because I'm judging you doesn't mean I don't love you. Here are my top five worst mobile-device inspired human behaviors:

5) As I write this on my morning commuter bus, three of the five people surrounding me here in the back seat are glued to their phones. I understand that they could be reading an interesting article or even doing some sort of business... but I kind of doubt it unless they work for Candy Crush, Inc. Either way, these folks illicit feelings of dystopian human disconnection, and they tend to bug the shit out of me, especially on Mondays.

4) Unless openly challenged, my children operate in a constant, fragmented state. They're incessantly hovering between cyberspace and physical reality, similar to the Star Trek episodes where the transporter was on the fritz and the only thing able to beam onto the Enterprise are Kirk's toupee and man corset.

This applies to lots of people as well, many of whom aren't my offspring. I'll ask them a question, only to see them focused on their small screens. Inevitably, their answer begins with one word—"Ummm..."

And this bugs the shit out of me.

3) Memes are the bane of social media. I simply don't find it necessary to proclaim my feelings using online clip art and misplaced apostrophes, as in "I love my brother. Hes the only person who really get's where I'm coming from, which is our mom. Like and share if you or your brother's came from your mom."

Bugs the shit out of me.

2) Vacation pictures: Actually, I like seeing these, but I get jealous, and therefore they bug the shit out of me.

1) People who text and drive actually venture further up the aggravation scale than just bugging the shit out of me. They incite visceral emotion and fantasies of homicidal violence. Riding public transit as often as I do, I'm able to perform informal surveys while glancing down upon the gridlocked vehicles. Of the ten consecutive cars I chose to observe one morning, four contained drivers who sat gazing at their phones.

If they'd only looked up and to the side and absorbed just a smidgen of the wrath emanating from my orange pupils, I'm convinced they'd have sworn off texting and driving for as long as they lived.

Of course, how would that even be possible—they were busy looking at their freaking phones...

... which bugs the shit out of me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


We moved slowly and steadily past the Peace Arch and toward the line marking the division of the United States and Canada. Our dirty white Hyundai, only seconds prior brimming with boisterous conversation and chronic interrupting, quieted suddenly as we rolled up to the guard post.

I pulled the tiny lever and the window squeaked its tired displeasure at being summoned yet again. The guard post's window slid open.

"Hi," I said. "Hi" is okay, right? I thought. Shit, maybe not. He might think that I, a cocky Yank who thinks the rest of the world just needs a Coke and a smile, am not showing the proper respect for a border patrolman who must remain vigilant on a daily basis. For God's sake, this guy has to be on the lookout for everything, from tookus-tucked dirty bombs to a forgotten box of aplets and cotlets. Just be cool.

"Good afternoon."

Wow. The guy was short in stature, but his bicep and forearm were the size of a mollycoddled toddler. A patch reading Canadian Border Patrol strained as if the stitching could rupture at any moment from its taut sleeve.

He leaned down and glared at me. "What brings you folks to Canada?"

Folks? Okay, I can work with "folks." It's... you know... folksy. "Umm, we're just going up for the night and coming back tomorrow," I said more timidly than I would have predicted. I feared I was looking at his mustache rather than his eyes.

"How long will you be in Canada?"

Didn't I just answer that, short strong man? "Uh, until tomorrow."

"What are your plans?"

"Um, well, we picked our daughter up from college in Bellingham and thought it would be fun to spend the night in Vancouver. You know, just kind of get away a little bit."

I followed his eyes as they left mine and scanned the disheveled back seat of our Elantra. "Passports, please." He nimbly thumbed through our documents, stacked them and held them to his chest. "When's the last time you were in Canada?"

"Oh, um, let's see, Geez, I'd say around 2005."

"Why would you suddenly decide after ten years to come to Canada for one night?" He scowled as he again surveyed our car.

Look, Officer Friendly, we didn't "suddenly" decide. This has been in the works for a month, I thought, but the last thing I wanted was to be made into a spread-eagled Hyundai hood ornament in front of my wife, daughters and the van full of cub scouts behind us. "Um, well, this was the only night that would work for all of us, so that's just kind of what we decided to do."

I glanced up in rear view mirror. Both kids' faces looked as earnest and uncomfortable as a couple of kids being read a goat book by the president.

"Will you be leaving anything in Canada?" I watched his fist tighten around our passports.

What the hell would we leave in Canada besides our money and little half-full shampoo bottles? "Nope."

He took another step out of the booth. Is "nope" a bad word up here? Maybe the "Nopes" are French British Columbian separatists or something! Shit, who knew?

His meaty arm jutted through my open window and nearly compelled me to leave something in the United States, but as I looked into the watchman's face, his features softened languidly into a half-smile.

"Enjoy your stay."

My wife had to grab the passports from my lap, but at least the tires didn't squeal.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Next Month is Thanksgiving. But for Now...

Wow, mid-October already.

It's the Ides of October, which isn't really a thing, because I think only March has Ides, right? But here's what October does have:

It's the name of U2's second album:

October was released on October 12, 1981. This shot looks like three guys from Dublin and one from Auburn on the photo bomb.

Mr. October was Reggie Jackson. He claimed he was the "straw that stirs the drink," and I loved him with the A's and hated him with the Yankees.

The "October Surprise" occurred on October 26, 1972. 12 days prior to the general election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared that peace was at hand in Vietnam. Nixon took every state but Massachusetts on November 7, and the real surprise was that the war would drag on another three years.

Rocktober: I've always liked this term, and it will forever remind me of KISW:

Holy shit! There's no apostrophe in "Seattles." I'm so ashamed of my teenage self who spent over three years with this on his bedroom window.

And lastly, in 1974 there was The Missiles of October. an ABC, I'll say Tuesday night, Movie of the Week. It starred William Devane as Jack Kennedy and a pre-Apocalypse Now Martin Sheen as Bobby, rattling the whole time in a panicked Boston accent that made you think he was far better suited for an SNL sketch.

The guy in the back looks very interested, either in our president's profound concern for the world's future, or his bottom.

October is my favorite month, period. Melancholy maples sing their golden and crimson swan songs. The mornings are bright and crisp, the sun looming lower in the sky with each shortening day.

Wow, sorry. I'm starting to sound like a Reagan commercial, there. But anyway, hanging out all cool and shit in October's caboose, not really talking to anyone, is that which makes October king of all months: Halloween.

Do you like it? Love it, even? I do.

Regrets? Mmm, hmm, I have a few. Remember Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who ran as a third-party candidate back in 1992 against Bill Clinton and Pappy Bush? Yeah, so I decided to be him that year for work Halloween and ended up imitating him way too much all day long. By the end of the day, many people hated me, as did I.

But really, I'm writing this to hear about you. Come on, friend, I know you've got a quirky All-Hallows story or two. It's the strangest night of the year and weird stuff happens.

What characters you've been? Just to grease the skids, here's who I've impersonated on All Saints Eve, both as a minor and an adultish:

A mouse
A devil
A skeleton
The Green Lantern
Ricky Bobby
A hippie (3 or 4 times)
A 1950s greaser
A slug
Mike Roy, Erica's boyfriend on All My Children, circa 1985.
The Hamburglar

That's enough. Seriously, please reply with pictures and anecdotes. Your anonymity will be... shall we say... concealed.

Friday, October 2, 2015

We Are the World. Okay, Not Really.

Finally, a few answers.

And big news! I'm a white guy!

I've suspected this for a long time. My lips are so thin I can curl them inward and floss my teeth with my mustache stubble. I'm working it up to a Sonicare-type pulse, but I must practice this alone.

Anyway, right, big surprise—I'm cauc-freaking-asian. Not hard to surmise, since I like Rush (the band, not the douchenozzle), and my veins still run slow and chunky with full-fat cream-of-mushroom soup from all those acres of potlucks.

And, like fifty-three-year-old guys of many cultures, I had no idea what to ask for for my birthday last summer. Socks maybe? A tasty canned ham and some Ritz Crackers? Enticing for sure, but let's put those in our back pocket for next time, because, one evening in July over drinks and Mexican food, a friend told us she'd had her DNA analyzed at For around a hundred bucks, she explained, you spit in a little test tube, mix it with a chemical, seal the tube and mail it in a prepaid package to a lab in, um, somewhere.

Our friend's genetic heritage was ninety-nine percent Scandinavian with some trace elements of African. Oh really? After hearing her describe the various regions and how each possessed unique genetic markers, I decided to request the ethnicity estimate for my birthday.

Oh, and hey, for those of you who may feel reticent, and without delving into any distasteful minutia, it was the most effortless DNA sample I've yet to commit to the bottom of a far.

Anyway, fast forward to Wednesday, when, as they say in a corporate setting, I was "pinged" with the results. My heart raced. From which primordial stew did I arise? Why do I tan but my brother looks like a blue-skinned Shumai dumpling in the August sun?

I started thinking, as currently-thriving human beings on the planet Earth, we've all got to have some fairly robust genes, wouldn't you agree? Let's face it, we can freak ourselves out considering the minuscule odds that were overcome to lead to our existence, so for God's sake, congrats to us all!

I clicked open the page that revealed my genetic makeup:

I'm 25% of Scandinavian descent—Not to brag, but if you compare my brother to me, I've got significantly more Viking in me. My eyes are blueish-grey and I've an aptitude for push-ups. He's got muddled, dilated brown eyes and a fourth nipple. He's also got these abnormally large earlobes that make him gain weight when he eats too much salt or cheese.

21% Great Britain—Makes sense. The Cliffs of Ben Dover were a convenient port for Leif Ericson  & Company to enjoy some much-anticipated bangers and mash on the way to Liverpool to pick up a crate of the new Herman's Hermits 45s.

20% Ireland—I'm not going to lie. I love being Irish. I'm so proud of my maternal grandfather, Patrick Joseph Conway, who made a life for himself and his family after leaving Westport, County Mayo, for New York in 1905.

15% Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra and France)—Okay, this made the whole thing worth it. I'm a Spaniard! Actually, if you are of Irish descent, chances are that you're also of northern Spanish origin. Throughout the middle ages, sea travel proved far more speedy than land exploration through Europe due to dense European forests.

That's when the Milesians from Basque Country in northern Spain made a quick nautical junket up to Ireland, ensconced themselves in the recently-widowed Celtic populace...and taught them to dance like never before.

The rest (13%) is western European. I suppose that's where I get my love of a good poop joke.

Kind of crazy to think that Vikings can swoop in from the north and Milesians can invade from the south, and somehow, despite all of those non-Biblical relations, some dude in Seattle ends up being around to write about it.

Done now. Must dance.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fear and Hatred: This Year's Running Mates.

Wow, that didn't take long. Already, things are heatin' up all good and hot.

With a year still to go until the election, the mud's been flying like spittle from a stuck razorback. It won't take long for all that aerial muck to form quicksand beneath most of the field, but right now, no fewer than fifteen Repub hopefuls currently contend for the silver medal next November.

Did you watch the debates last week? I missed the JV contest, but made it home in time for the main event, the one featuring the eleven highest pollers. Entertaining theater overall, the candidates sweltered under the kliegs for three hours, with Mike Huckabee joking afterwards that he'd sweat through both his women's underwear and his wool suit.

Without delving too far into each candidate's performance, only former Hewlitt-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina bolstered her position in the pecking order by smacking down that misogynist meathead, Donald Trump. The rest of the roster just looked flustered and a little desperate,. For a moment, former Florida governor Jeb Bush even looked like he wanted to punch the Jersey Ginger. Seriously, I haven't seen Jeb that pissed since Dubya puked in his little brother's Chihuly bong.

Dr. Ben Carson also hurt himself in the debate. The soft-crooning pediatric neurologist made only a half-baked attempt at dispelling Trump's baseless assertions regarding a link between childhood immunizations and autism. Appearing tentative at the thought of attracting the Wrath of Don, Dr. Carson meekly ended his evening with, "Real leadership is what I would hopefully bring to America."

Hopefully? That's about as presidential as tweeting on the toilet.

Following the debate, Fiorina rocketed to second place at 15% support in a national CNN/ORC poll, leapfrogging Carson's 14% and creeping toward Trump's 24% rating.

Sensing an irreversible fade, the brain surgeon went all in. On Sunday's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Carson, "Should a President’s faith matter?"

"Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is," Dr. Carson replied. "If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem."

Todd followed up with: "So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?"

"No, I don’t, I do not," Carson said. "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."

As you might expect, while the good doctor's approval rating flat-lined, his donations exploded that Sunday like a moist Twinkie in a hot car, securing a cool million dollars within the first 24 hours of his assertion.

Ignoring the public backlash after catching the savory whiff of greenbacks, Carson doubled down on Monday: “I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” he said in an interview with The Hill, referencing the Islamic law derived from the Koran and traditions of Islam. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”

Granted, this man is a highly accomplished physician, but does he actually possess the acuity to know how someone feels? Well, that's definitely part of the problem, but what I'm trying to understand is this: Ben Carson is saying that those who are ruled by their religion, those who place God over all else, are ignoring the Constitution and are thus not fit to govern in America.

Alas, how can such hypocrisy spring from such a learned individual? What Carson conveniently forgets is that his main supporter base is Christian evangelicals.These and all other Americans are protected, he claims, by the First Amendment, guaranteeing the unencumbered free exercise of religion with zero governmental interference.


Throughout history, only a handful of folks have experienced the privilege of speaking with God personally. Let's see, there was Joseph Smith, but he needed quite a few props to pull it off, and Russell Wilson had that brief touch-base with the Big Guy on the sideline after the touchdown-that-wasn't last February.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. This also happened:

If you are a practicing evangelical, you believe that God reigns supreme over all worldly kings and his laws form the basis of each inalienable right we enjoy as Americans. But what if God had something additional to say—and it was to you?

You'd probably freak out quite a bit at first, but he'd patiently wait for you to calm the hell down because he's God and time's not an issue. As your knees slowly stopped knocking together, his words would boom slowly and kindly:

"I, God, hereby command you to commit an act of terrorism against the United States."

What would you do? Would you say, "Hey...umm...listen...I'm pretty sure you're not actually my God," then immediately punch up Yelp for other religions in your zip code? Or do you obey him faithfully because his law supersedes all other and thus screw the pooch of patriotism?

Smart as he is, I think Ben Carson might want to rethink his position on the rights of American Muslims. His comments hurt everyone, not the least of which are his most fervent supporters, and the bigotry and fear he garners only energize the most ignorant and dangerous among them.

Unfortunately, money seems to talk a lot louder than God these days.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Be Cool, Fool: It's the First Day of School

It's hard not to love fall here in the PNDub—the warm, murky rains, the crisp, bright mornings—the giddy optimism that jolts my spirits on the eve of another football season...

Wow, sorry, I just got a little physically excited there. Okay, I'm good. There's still another reason why autumn is my runaway winner of Most Valuable Season:

It's back-to-school time. I miss it, do you? It's alive and well in my house, where only two family members aren't returning to the piny confines of academia this fall: me and my toothless cat, Leo. Everyone else will be either fifth-grade teaching or high-school-sophomoring or college-junioring-and-moving-into-a-house-off-campus-with-three-friends-and-a-55-inch-TV.

Remember that night before that first day of school? I do. I always slept fitfully, waking often to gaze through the darkness at my opening day outfit draped over the chair, an ensemble assembled through painstaking, patience-trying trips to Sears, Penney's, the Bon Marché. Thank you, Mom.

Every summer, I'd reassure myself that I'd look totally cool but not enough to stand out. Each first day marked the only time I'd dress up for school, but I'd also be committed to that outfit for the duration of the church and Sunday school year.

In kindergarten, a gold turtleneck was my statement piece. Just to give you an idea, here's a sketch for a turtleneck pattern from 1968.

Okay, is it just me, or is that guy trending a little closer to the camel toe than the moose knuckle? Glad the pattern wasn't for those pants.

Throughout the elementary years, my first-day clothing choices varied between the more-dressed-up...

(I'm not kidding, my fifth grade garb was freakishly close to these guys standing here with their wife.) the utilitarian. Sears Toughskins were a staple. They came in a wide array of dimensions, a major asset for the fussy, tubby shopper.

After a growth spurt during junior high, my body stretched out, allowing for more appealing choices:

I looked up to all three of these guys. The one in the hat is Mr. Penny, my P.E. teacher. In the middle is Mr. Barnes, who taught social studies and coached the map club, and then the dude on the right was Mike, who said he did security at our school but I'm pretty sure he just sat around and looked at girls. I took this picture in the lunchroom right after this kid Lonnie spilled pork gravy on Mrs. Olson. Her mouth started twitching, and I seriously thought she was going to punch him.

Oh, and here's Charlie's Angels, just because:

Have a great autumn!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

If You Like Piña Coladas...

Please understand—I understand.

Sitting through a vacation slideshow can kind of suck.

Who doesn't remember those Saturday evenings at your Great Aunt Pedreen's house, bored out of your gourd and anxious to get home in time for Mary Tyler Moore, or at the very latest The Bob Newhart Show. You've already spent four hours trying not to stare at Great Uncle Odgar's unrepaired hernia flap and you're ready to purge their chipped-beef-smelling Davenport from your teenage memory bank.

Your aunt feverishly clears the dessert dishes, boosting your spirits with her apparent desire for an accelerated end to the evening's festivities. You arise, hopeful that but one final obstacle lies ahead: the inevitable bosomy grind and slushy smooch from Pedreen's frustrated spinster sister, Latreena.

But alas, even before the kitchen sponge's snail trail can evaporate into the musty air, Uncle Od enters the room and lowers the slide projector onto the dining room table—gingerly, lest his hernia distend his tender abdomen another belt hole. At the sight you lower yourself back into your chair, pissed and discouraged that you'll be lucky to get home for the last half of Carol Burnett.

I'll try to keep things brief since that memory is apparently a bit tarter than I had thought.

My family and I are back from two weeks in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Here's where the place is in the big picture:

And here's it is up close:

Located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo is situated atop the Los Amnesias Aquifer, Earth's only known natural Tequila spring.

I don't expect you to feel sorry for us, but as KISS famously said in two chords or less, it was hotter than Hell. Seriously, I'm typing this post so obnoxiously sunbaked, I look like a blackened pot roast with glistening teeth and slowly-diminishing intestinal distress.

Our fifteen-day excursion to Los Cabos was divided into two segments: the first week with friends and the second with family. Here's the initial group:

Left to right, that's me, my wife Terri, Becky, Isabella, Pete, Lauryn, Zoe and her friend David.

We've known Becky and Pete since the days of Bartles, James and Glass Tiger. As soon as the four of us were convinced that Y2K wouldn't cause locust infestations and permanent Windows-based computing:

Izzy and Lauryn came along.

The first week we stayed at a place called Villa del Palmar. If you're familiar with these timeshare facilities, you understand that upon check-in, you're assaulted by the sales department. Okay, maybe "assault" is a little tough. Let's go with "violation."

We've lodged a few times at these types of places, but never agreed to attend one of their "seminars." This time, however, lured by the ambrosia of two hundred dollars in free adult beverages, a complimentary breakfast and fifteen percent off everything merely to sit through a ninety-minute tour and sales pitch, we capitulated. After all, how bad could it be?

Bad. How can I describe this? First of all, I was super hot from the get-go, just embarrassingly sweaty. My body irrigated itself with increasing gusto as the tour droned on, ultimately settling on a sultry hundred and three Fahrenheit. We toured all sizes of units from one-bedrooms to penthouse suites overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

Finally, like a Slurpee after hot yoga, our family was ushered into an air-conditioned room, packed with people sitting at tables and drinking alcohol in all imaginable forms. We settled into our own table with our own sales woman, a spritely imp half my age who used the word "awesome" like she owned freaking stock in it. Sporadically, the hollow "bolp" of a popping cork would fill the air, announcing another condominium purchase and two tickets to paradise for a lucky, albeit debt-saddled, couple.

Two-and-a-half hours and several offers later, our blond tormentor brushed back her bob, straightened her specs and looked at us.

"Okay, I understand you don't want to pay $52,000 for a unit here. That's awesome. Just tell me what you want."

My wife is a straight shooter. I am not, and that's one of the reasons I love and admire her so much. "What we want is for your presentation to be done," she said, looking Sally Jessie Raphael, Jr. dead in the eye. "The only reason we did it is to get the stuff and we told you that from the beginning. You told us this would be ninety minutes. It's now two and a half hours."

Silence engulfed the air around our table. Finally Barbie's little sister took a deep, uncertain breath."Okay," she said. "Awesome."

Phase Two was family week and here we are. At the edge of the infinity pool are my brother-in-law Andy, my sister Ann, niece Holly, Lauryn, Zoe, Terri and me. We spent week two at Hacienda Encantada, a few more miles down the coast from Cabo.

We quickly became acquainted with Pam, the woman in the floppy hat. Prior to knowing Pam's name, we called her Hurricane Sandy, since she told us within minutes of meeting her that she'd been though Cabo's Hurricane Odile last September. She was enjoying a free stay after enduring the Baja Peninsula's most destructive tropical cyclone in recorded history.

Here's how it looked coming in:

Not sure I've ever seen a storm with actual teeth before. Holy shit.

Okay, let's not wrap things up on a bad note, because Cabo San Lucas is a fantastic place. I've never known lamb to resurface so quickly after a major natural disaster, but like a beacon in the darkness...

On another note, Zoe was so thrilled that these guys knew the whole Neil Diamond catalog.

And I finally found the time to show the amazing fit of my new Speedo. 

Trust me, okay? 

Great to be back!