Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding? Count me in!

Okay, time to come out of the closet.

Since relating these shallow reflections has become a far cheaper form of personal psychotherapy, here comes another bombshell at the expense of you, the unfortunate reader:

I'm into this royal wedding thing.

In fact, I love all of it; I'm wacky for the Windsors of Wales, dizzy over Queen Lizzy.

I'm Harried.

I blame my mom. She started me at an early age, watching PBS dramatic miniseries, such as The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R. Mom would recline in her Naugahyde easy chair while I stretched out on the avocado shag, the Motorola casting harmful RGB rays onto my nine-year-old, pre-pustuled face.

Together we viewed every show as Mom provided a running back story to all the Tudor tomfoolery—the intrigue, the poor personal hygiene, the divorce/beheadings and the reckless inbreeding which consolidated power into one family-ish throughout Europe.

It all came flooding back this week, as another generation of Brit royals, albeit far better looking than previous generations, prepared to litter London's streets with more horse cookies than we've seen since June of 1981. So much glitz, so much ceremony, these nuptials leave any other weddings about which I've expounded in the horse dust.

But when the rubber hits the road, how different is the story of William and Kate from any other couple who've fallen in love and decided to seal their collective futures in front of an adoring public?

Okay, it's a lot different, but play along.

May is the month when my wife and I will celebrate our twenty-second wedding anniversary. That day was fantastic, as I'm sure the young royal couple's was.

See? some common ground.

I've decided to investigate whether any further common ingredients existed between this week's supersized Royale with Cheese and the Happy Meal which took place in Enumclaw, Washington on May 27, 1989. You may be surprised:

Both brides were striking brunettes. One is now a permanent royal. The other had a royal permanent.

Each event had guests in attendance from Kent.

The grooms each enlisted their brothers' services as best men. And although I don't possess first-hand knowledge, I've heard Harry had just as much trouble finding a donkey for the bachelor party as my brother did.

William has been a prince since birth, but I've held the title of Auburn High School Grub Tolo Prince since spring of 1979. You realize that title is forever, right?

Naturally, in addition to my wedding's decided advantage in average family tooth count, many differences are also apparent:

1,600 invitees attended William and Kate's ceremony. Seventy-five showed up for ours. You know what, though? We totally could have found 1,600 people to come to our wedding, if we used that Kevin Bacon method. Plus, Costco wasn't around yet, and we weren't able to find a place to sell us that many Hot Pockets for the reception.

The royal wedding reception probably didn't have a deceptively pie-sized slab of brie, which sickened a few after confusing it for cheesecake.

Since the distance from the wedding at Westminster Abbey to the reception at Buckingham Palace is far less than twenty miles, the Prince and Princess likely didn't ask their carriage driver to pull into a Circle K for a cheap bottle of champagne for the ride.

The security bill for the British government was twenty million dollars. We had no security, unless you counted a friend of mine who lettered twice in wrestling.

I really hope these two can withstand the onslaught that lies before them. They seem like nice kids, and, considering the checkered past of royal relationships, they've got their work cut out for them.

Especially Sunday dinner at Grandma's house.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Paying the piper a $122 processing fee.

I suppose that intimidating aura has cleared a bit.

After all, it's not like in those old black and white movies, where a cowering defendant slouches, spot lit in the center of a courtroom, hovered over by a gray, scowling man who glares down with the ire of the Grim Reaper sans hood.

The vanquished convict twitches and spasms as the sadistic jurist dispatches the criminal to Sing Sing or Alcatraz or some other 1940s version of Gitmo. A faint closed-mouthed smile seeps to the surface of the judge's grizzled face.

His gavel slams the proceedings to an abrupt conclusion. Justice has again been served.

I tried to purge these exaggerated thoughts as I made my way to the Seattle Municipal Court building this morning to address a speeding ticket I'd received back in January.

I knew I wouldn't be pleading my case to a robed judge. My confessor would be a magistrate. I listened as an imaginary George Carlin contrasted those two words: Judge (elocuted in a thunderous baritone) or magistrate (in his best Sesame Street tenor).

And after wiling away too many hours of my youth-ish watching The People's Court and Judge Judy, I'd previously convinced myself that these magistrates have likely born witness to more childish behavior than the Kardashians summering on Jersey Shore. Besides, I figured, I can play fake lawyer with the best of them. I'll Just throw out some Latin terminology, like "Your honor, I hereby assert a prima facie writ of habeas corpus, and thereby petition the court to dismiss all charges leveled heretowithin."

Okay, maybe not.

Previously deciding to plead guilty to driving thirty in a school zone (marked speed of twenty), I nevertheless opted to present some extenuating circumstances. A few that originally sounded decent, but I later overruled were:

-I've got a rare genetic disease known as Cretin's Disease.

-It made sense to get through the school zone as quickly as possible, thereby placing fewer kids in harm's way.

-This cop-in-front-of-the-school thing is the very reason I joined the Tea Party—too much government equals too many cops.

-Thirty miles an hour is slow enough for a lot of the upper grade children to outrun.

-I understand we've never met before, your honor, but have you lost weight?

-I didn't even realize I was speeding. The all-time best driving song, We Built This City, came on my minivan's radio, and when that happens, I cannot be held responsible for any and all acts of bad-assedness.

Nope, as great as those ideas are and were, none of them traveled across the magistrate's desk from my mouth to his waiting ears. In fact, the whole thing took about three minutes.

I asked the friendly, nicely dressed man to consider deferring my $189 ticket. In the City of Seattle, a judge can opt to postpone your citation for one year. If, after that time, no further moving violations are committed, the misdeed is permanently removed and the Department of Licensing is not notified.

After settling up downstairs by paying a $122 processing fee, I was out the door and down the sidewalk. What the hell sort of processing costs $122? I wondered. For that much, you could be "processed" by someone after a lap dance and an eight dollar Pepsi.

Drive carefully, now.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The old upsell: America at its best.

"Thank you for calling Domino's Pizza, where your body may still be digesting our old crust, but we give you our word that our new and improved dough will slide right on through. My name is Ashton and I'd love to sell you as many carbohydrates as possible. Ask me about our meat and cheese filled cheesy bread topped with meat and cheese, plus a five-liter Coca-Cola for the price of a four-liter Pepsi. My I please have your address, natural hair color and most recent PSA test results? Thanks. Now how may I help you?"

I actually made up the second half of that paragraph, because halfway through the spiel, I had hung up and decided to whip up some pizza toast.

Doesn't it just seem like everywhere we go, someone is trying to sell us something? And after we've purchased that something, they squeeze us to buy even more?

Remember when ads began popping up at movie theaters? I know I wasn't alone in taking offense, as the audience usually booed, and then yelled things like, "Damn it! Get this Dr. Pepper commercial off the screen. I came to see Top Gun, not this crap!"

And now, we're resigned to viewing at least half an hour of ads for Sprite Zero, now with protein, and special two-for-one deals on popcorn and unlimited drinking fountain water out in the lobby.

Okay, fine. I can deal with the movie assaults, because, really, everything looks better on the big screen, except maybe John Travolta's ever expanding nostrils. My most recent challenge concerns what's been going down on my city's streets, and probably the crowded sidewalks of most other large urban settings, as well.

After leaving work, I usually walk the five blocks to the bus stop in silent meditation. I review the day's events, sometimes laughing, occasionally shedding a tear and on one occasion, throwing up behind a dumpster. These moments are precious and valuable to my psyche, and I don't wish to be disturbed.

That's when it happens. An energetic, thin youngster in skinny jeans and an eyebrow ring approaches me from three o'clock, hand extended. "Hello, sir. My name is Wyoming and I'm wondering if I could have a moment of your time to talk about some really sick children."

I usually just mumble a "Sorry," and execute a sharp post pattern around him, like a receiver shaking a defender on the way to the end zone, or in this case, the bus stop.

"That's cool, bro." I hear his voice trailing off from behind. "Not everyone is into helping children in Canada who are starving because they were born without heads. Have a peaceful evening."

I realize these are idealistic, young people who probably think they're simultaneously making money and a difference in our world. They bear the sword of righteous relentlessness, and even the Dalai Lama, the Pope and that hugging saint from India wouldn't be immune if one of these kids spotted them as they made their way to Happy Teriyaki for lunch.

What I'm not sure they understand is the amount of competition around them; they're not working in a vacuum, here, and we old folks tire of this onslaught. I consider myself a reasonably charitable guy; but I enjoy contributing to organizations where soft selling is the modus operandi, not the Billy Mays School of Terrier Tactics.

Whether they want to believe it or not, these people are vying for our attention along with that pregnant teenager holding a cardboard sign, and that nice elderly man yelling through a bullhorn that our existence will end next Tuesday around 4:30.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a little breather, so I'm off to one of the few remaining businesses where the employees truly care about my well being.

I'm going to the bank.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I'm sorry, Mrs. Palin. You've failed your test.

Since the glow still hasn't ebbed from my daughter's cheeks since passing her driver's test on Tuesday, I've been pondering the preponderance of exams in our culture.

Tests are a huge part of life. My children test me, I test my wife, and, since she often describes me as a testee, she must apparently test me, as well.

Ever since the great George W. Bush left in his chunky wake the unfunded mandate known as "No Child Left Behind," our kids must spend hundreds of hours preparing for and taking standardized exams in order to graduate from high school.

I learned back in college that nearly every profession contains barriers to entry, to keep the riffraff out, and more importantly, to create scarcity and higher earning potential.

For example, even though I earned a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration, I still sat through a three-day CPA examination. Attorneys must complete the LSAT before acceptance to their law schools, and then pass state bar exams to practice law.

And I won't even venture to guess the amount of obstacles a human being must overcome to place the title, "MD," after his or her John or Joan Hancock.

So, here's my question: Why aren't society's decision makers, those whose yeas and nays determine our futures, required to pass even rudimentary exams to be qualified for their profession? I could just hear Donald Trump saying, "The younga, the betta," when asked to recite the minimum voting age.

How do you think our presidential candidates might fare if given the same test administered every year to thousands of hopeful new United States citizens? I'm going to go ahead and say, "Not well."

And I realize this is low-hanging fruit, but what if Sarah Palin where asked some of the typical questions given on the U.S. Naturalization Exam? Let's listen in, shall we?

Question #1: What did the Emancipation Proclamation accomplish?

Candidate Palin: Well, golly, it was one of our country's darkest hours. I'm not sure of the date, but making emancipation legal was the onramp to Hell's interstate. Thank the Lord Todd and I were able to steer Bristol clear of any services provided by Planned Parenthood, such as birth control or, God, forbid, emancipation! Now I've got one, or, depending on who you believe, two grand babies to show for it!

Answer to Question #1: The Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery and actually freed many slaves.

Question #2: Who helped the pilgrims when they first arrived on our shores?

Candidate Palin: I don't know, but it was probably the same type of administration that allows millions of gardeners, including mine, to pass over our borders illegally.

Answer to Question #2: Native Americans helped the pilgrims.

Question #3: What do the stripes on the flag mean?

Candidate Palin: Oh, gosh, I don't know, but I really wish Betsy Ross hadn't designed that gull durn thing with stripes. Any time I stand in front of it, it clashes with most Chanel prints I happen to be wearin'. 

Answer to Question #3: The stripes represent the original thirteen states.

Question #4: What are the three branches of the federal government?

Candidate Palin: Okay I've gotcha on this one! I've been studyin'. They are as follows: the judicious, the vegetative and the executory. Come on, now. Challenge me!

Answer to Question #4: The three branches of the federal government are the judiciary, legislative and executive.

Question #5: What is the name of the Presidential residence?

Candidate Palin: Umm...duh...that would be the White House. But it's not exactly very white right now, if you know what I mean (she's winking).

Answer to Question #5: The White House is the Presidential residence.

Question #6: Who would assume Presidential duties if the President and Vice President were to die?

Candidate Palin: Okay, I'm just going to throw this out there, but I think it would be our previous President, George W. Bush. Todd always keeps his old bathrobe around in case something happens to his new one, so I would think Presidents would be handled the bathrobe way. Next question!

Answer to Question #6: The Speaker of the House would assume Presidential duties.

Now that I've gone through this exercise, I truly believe it makes sense to test these polished, orange-skinned, out-of-touch trust fund kids who call themselves public servants.

Who's with me?

















Tuesday, April 19, 2011

OMG: My Daughter Has a Driver's License.

When was the last time you felt an entire gamut of emotions simultaneously?

When you were married?

When your children were born?

When ABC announced the cancellation of All My Children?

This morning, I had such feelings, as an emotional crockpot which had been simmering for sixteen years spilled its chunky contents all over my lap: My daughter passed her driving test.

She did quite well on it, scoring a ninety-six, but got docked for poor parallel parking prowess, which she and I had practiced enough yesterday to singlehandedly raise the price of crude oil. All day long, she and I engaged the following duet:  "DadareyousureI'llpass?Yes,you'reagooddriverandyou'rereadytotakethisthing."

I repeatedly reassured her that nothing cataclysmic would transpire...like when I failed my test after about thirty seconds and without making it out of the parking lot. Apparently, I had almost backed into a woman pushing a stroller and was ordered by the tester to stop immediately.

Anyone knows you don't take your baby for a walk by the DOL testing area. And to this day, I harbor a searing contempt for that faceless mother and her now-grown baby. Move on, Tim.

As with most humans, my kid's heart pumped with giddy anxiety for the three weeks which slowly elapsed between passing the written exam and anticipating the driving test. As we finally pulled into the testing area and joined the line outside the building, our apprehension was heightened by a guy who merged into the queue, his sizable pit bull straining against its leash.

Once the dude had established his place in line, he freed the dog from the restraint and allowed it to run freely through the parking lot while he talked on his cell phone. I guess you don't want to be encumbered by a dog when you're concentrating on using the "N", "B," and "MF" words as frequently as possible.

My daughter and I benefited from his chump behavior, however, since we and everyone else in line were thoroughly distracted. I couldn't help but wonder what the guy was doing with a pit bull at a place where people routinely stay through at least three different Van Halen lead vocalists, and what was he there to do? Get his official Washington State Douche Bag Identification Card?

Finally, testing time arrived and I watched as the dirty mini van signaled and turned right out of the parking lot, piloted by my baby. Here we go. I shifted my weight from one leg to the other as I stood in the chilly morning air, reminiscing about my first-born girl and all of the "firsts" to which I've had the privilege of bearing witness: her first words, her first steps, her first tooth, her first bike ride, her first dance and now, her first driver's license.

Nothing warms my heart like the look I saw on her face upon parking the car, glancing to her tester and looking back at me.

It was the Christmas morning face.

My face probably betrayed more of a graduation day look, if that makes sense.

So many emotions, such a rich life.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

That ain't right.

I can think of so many phrases, so many cliches, that cover this topic:

"This just doesn't add up." -Joe Wilcox, Algebra 4 teacher, Auburn High School, 1979.

"Something's rotten in Denmark." -anonymous Swedish tourist.

"What's up with that?" -Jerry Seinfeld, 1994.

I'm talking about things that throw us off; stuff that makes us say, "Hey, wait, that's odd and unsettling. I'm highly disturbed and confused."

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I had the privilege of spending the night at a downtown Seattle hotel, thanks to a nice person's generosity...and a Groupon. We retired to the lounge for their complimentary happy hour, featuring wine, crackers, slightly stained furniture and a nice view of the courtyard.

As we chatted and sipped our Merlot-inspired beverages, I glanced out into the urban oasis outside the window; birds fluttered amid azaleas, pine trees, rhododendrons and...artificial turf.

Yes, artificial turf, the same stuff football players play on and hawk big NFL loogies on. My brain immediately shut off all stimuli and homed in on the synthetic carpet, laid out among nature's splendor. "Why would they do that?" I queried my inner Sierra club member. "Why would they go to all this trouble to create a quiet city refuge, only to gum up the works with plastic grass? This just doesn't seem right."

And that's when my monkey brain felt the need to take inventory...again.

I quickly created yet another docket of observations which just don't seem right, things that have thrown me off enough to acquire permanent residence in my addled, gray matter hard drive. So here you go:

Little kids wearing ties: I really hate seeing this. Every time I do, I just want to walk up to him and say, "Don't you just want to take that thing off?" Then I decide that's creepy, and walk away.

Old men named Todd: Some day this will happen, but until then, I'm highly comforted by the Warrens and Merls.

Beef nuggets from Dairy Queen: They tried this briefly back in the Eighties, but I think people voted with their gag reflexes.

Really big nectarines: Or really small hamburgers.

 Graffiti I can actually read: Makes me feel like my mom was present to correct spelling and grammar.

Guys standing with only one hand on their hip: Just...I don't know.

Palm trees in Seattle: I've seen this. It's like leaving your baby outside in the snow with one sock on.

Men who part their hair behind their heads: I'm talking to you, Trump.

Kids on leashes: Actually, you know what? This is okay.

People who wear small hats: I've never really seen this, but if I did, it would be awful.

So here's another open call to all you observant types. It doesn't take long to come up with a couple, especially after watching anything with Tom Cruise.

What throws you off?

Five Days in 1978.

It really wasn’t her problem, it was mine.

It was more about me than it was her.

If only she could look at things from my perspective, I thought; if only she could observe the facts through my eyes, just for a little while.

And that’s when I got the idea.

My sixteen-year-old daughter, by most accounts, is a typical adolescent female. She values her friends far more highly than a great parking spot; she embraces technology with a far greater aptitude than being able to program a VCR.

To wit, her modus operandi is to engage in as many forms of simultaneous technology as are possible. During her evening homework, her workstation resembles an intensive care unit: Ear buds plugged into an iPod, cell phone placed on the desk at three o’clock for easy access, the trademark blue glow of Facebook reflecting off of her freshly washed forehead.

Oh, yeah. She’s also got some school books and papers scattered about.

After wrapping up the academics and disengaging from the homework ritual, my teenager often retreats to the family room for some television/ texting time, the cell phone accompanying her like an emphysema patient’s oxygen tank.

As weeks of witnessing this behavior turned into months, my wife and I had discovered that entire evenings would pass where nary a word was spoken between either of us and our woman child. We, the adults of the house and exchequers of the home entertainment and technology accounts, resolved to make a stand.

Our daughters (the other is eleven) quickly dubbed it “Amish Hour,” an electronics-free sixty minutes every weeknight from seven to eight. Although not mandated, three of the four of us would often congregate in the living room during this period. As a bonus, our younger child would frequently linger with my wife and me, while the elder fled to Cyberland at the stroke of eight.

The family dynamic improved, but not enough to make a dent in our teen’s surly attitude of entitlement, her irritation obvious whenever confronted with an actual conversation by her sister or anyone over forty-seven.

And that’s when I took it a step farther.

I thought up the idea while in a high level of discomfort aboard the elliptical trainer. It must have been some sort of pain-induced moment of clarity, and I couldn’t wait to get home to propose it that Monday morning.

I heard the shower running as I entered the house. Perfect. For whatever reason, she was always most attentive in the shower or the car.

I opened the door to the steamy bathroom and addressed the sealed shower curtain through the haze.

“Hey, Zoe, how’s it going?”

“Hi, Dad.” She answered in monotone that would put Ringo to shame.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea, and I just wanted to see what you thought of it.”

No response.

“How would you feel about, for five days, using only the technology available to me when I was sixteen? So that would mean no cell phones, digital music, computers…that kind of thing.”

“What’s in it for me?”

I knew this was coming. Since I wanted her to enter this agreement without undue influence or duress, I felt compelled to sweeten the pot.

“Fifty bucks.”

“Do I have to do this all the time or just at home?”

“Just at home. It’s nice to for us to have access to your cell phone when you’re not here.”

“Make it sixty and you’ve got a deal.”

My wife stood in silence. I could tell she wasn’t happy about the money, but if I got the kid to buy off on this, who knew how much things could permanently improve in five days?

“Okay, sixty. And we start now. This also means no ear buds; you can use our big headphones, since we had those in 1978. Oh, and you can watch TV, but only channels 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13. And you can’t use the remote. You have to get up to change the station, like I had to.”

“Oh, come on. That’s ridiculous.”

“That really is ridiculous,” was my wife’s first comment.

“Okay, fine. You can use the remote, but if you use the phone, it has to be the one with the cord by the bathroom. No cordless.”

“Whatever.” I took that as a yes. “Dad, you should do it, too. You’re constantly on Facebook and doing your blog. You’re just as addicted as I am.”

My wife glanced over, giving me that rare “Your child is correct” look.

“Umm…okay.”

And just like that, for half the family, Amish Hour had turned into Seventies Week.

I returned home from work that first day to the din of hip hop music from the living room stereo. She sat at the kitchen table, her school books spread around her.

“Hi, Zoe. How’s the experiment going for you?”

“Good. When I got home, since I couldn’t get on the computer, I just turned on the radio and danced in front of the mirror. You know, what else was I gonna do?”

I could think of a few things, and none would be that.

“Good for you. I see you’re already doing your homework.”

“Actually, I’m a day ahead. This is tomorrow’s homework.”

“Great.”

This seems to be working just fine, I thought. We’ve already exchanged more words than we would in two days, and I just got here. Plus, it’s not that bad for her. At least clothing isn’t part of the 1978 agreement. I could just hear myself saying, “Young lady, you are not leaving this house until you turn around and put on something far tighter than that.”

We reminisce, we discuss the future. We talk about boys and friends and boyfriends.

I think we've reconnected, if only a little. I'm hopeful that, although this moratorium expires on Saturday, she and I can find a little time between her texting and Facebooking, between driving around with her sparkly new driver’s license and pursuing her active social schedule, to chat...about anything...or nothing at all.

It's a small chunk of time we discovered in 1978.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Budget shmudget. My Quarter Pounder is getting cold.

At the risk of committing the cardinal sin of blogic redundancy, I'm beginning this piece using the same scenario as my previous entry. 

As I drove my teenager to school Friday morning, we pulled up next to a white Toyota Camry, with a dark blue hood.

"Hey, that's Eric." My daughter's eyes transformed from the usual glazy randomness to a more sharpish focus.

"Did he get into an accident?" I asked. "Looks like he had to get a new hood."

"No, he painted it blue one purpose, so he'll always be able to find it."

I had to take a moment to not blurt out the first three thoughts that sprang into my brain:

1) A blue hood would've come in really handy in finding my friend's car after seeing Kansas and Styx at the Coliseum in '79.

2) Is Eric planning on moving to Los Autos del Blanc, or "Land of White Cars," after graduation?

3) What a freakin' ridiculous thing to do.

I verbalized none of these thoughts as we continued the additional six blocks to the school, where hordes of adolescents slowly shuffled into the building. I mumbled a silent prayer of thanks to the childcare gods, grateful that the impending government shutdown would not affect school teachers and hence, unleash these idle masses of hood painters onto our daytime society.

As we all know, the Congressional pillow fight ended just before midnight, when Mom must have come into the rec room and told everyone to settle down, clean up the chip crumbs, and get into their sleeping bags.

Crisis averted. Barely.

This never had to happen. A federal budget totaling $3.7 trillion whittled itself down to an ideological urinating contest over women's health. Once again, that evil lightning rod, otherwise known as Planned Parenthood, prohibited Congress's right wing faction from exercising the will of the majority of Americans.

Or so I'd like to believe. Throughout this skirmish, I had to wonder if the majority of us really cared that much about a seemingly abstract budget debate. Public outrage wasn't all that apparent, especially compared to what might happen if the Fox Network abruptly announced, "American Idol has been cancelled for the foreseeable future, due to a Havarti dispute regarding Mr. Tyler's dressing room deli platter."

Rioting, looting and disastrous ratings.

Or what if French Fries were declared illegal due to health concerns and their sales halted throughout our nation.

Citizens would take to the streets with signs and bullhorns, screaming their discontent. They'd become a little winded, sit down and loudly voice their vapid displeasure from collapsible camping chairs. Then they'd Thank God Funyuns and pork rinds have yet to feel the scythe of government overreach.

What if our military personnel were told to keep throwing their bodies on IEDs and we'd settle up their wages in three weeks or so, while their wives, husbands and children on the home front scramble paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet?

Hang on a second. That almost did happen.

Perhaps if this fiasco had lasted much longer, more of us would have felt the impact of a government operating on fumes, but I'm not so sure.

Gotta go. The Kardashians are on.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Let's hug this out, but please don't touch me.

I drove my teenage daughter to school this morning. Rather than immediately bolting the high school campus to put some distance between me and our country's future as expeditiously as possible, however, I briefly sat at the helm of my dirty minivan and watched the children interact.

These kids are huggers. Big huggers. But not in the traditional sense. They don't engulf each other in hulking bear squeezes; in fact they don't prolong the gesture for longer than an eyelid spasm.

Adolescent female embraces more closely resemble human air hockey, where a cushion of atmospheric resistance buffers two tight American Eagle tee shirts from touching. Slight, accidental brushing of fingertips may contact an unsuspecting scapula, but such an incident is rare and highly discouraged.

I'm not going to lie...I love hugs. I love hugging and being hugged; I love wrapping my arms around my daughters after a week of trail blazing camp or a day at school. Hell, sometimes I hug my cat.

I love watching two people or a large group hug, especially when it's a family reuniting with a camouflage-clad member returning from a hostile place.

It seems, though, that our society has developed a tiered system of pseudo-hugs, "hugs lite" if you will, where the intention is to display intimacy, but with far less physical commitment. Lets look at a few of these subsidiary embraces:

The dude hug: Guys, especially straight guys, are insecure about hugging each other. For some reason, a heartfelt, uninterrupted embrace signals testosterone deficiencies and weakness. Therefore, men will commonly begin with a handshake and utilize the shared grip as levers to pull each other inward for a quick chest bump and back slap with the two unencumbered hands. Done. Now separate to a safe, heterosexual distance and look the other way.

The side hug: Usually quite awkward, the side hug is a move which is settled upon, rather than planned, after a series of uncomfortable, jerky actions and responses. Similar to a gateway drug, a side hug is a gateway gesture of tentative intimacy until next time, when the full frontal hug may be appropriate.

The "pat pat" hug: This baby burping technique signals, similar to the dude hug, an insecurity with the coupling. Next time you hug someone you don't know very well, see if you do this.

The drunken hug: I'll tell you, if I had a nickel for every time I've done this one. Just kidding. Not really. The drunken hug is usually accompanied by the words "I love you" whispered into the huggee's ear. Hopefully, it's not someone you'll see at the office on Monday morning.

The sorority girl hug: Please see high school girl air hug above and add an air kiss and a disparaging remark after the recipient is out of ear shot.

I've probably listed enough hugging subsets to make my point. My challenge to you, the reader, and myself, is this: Hug someone you don't like very much, and really hug them hard...no pats, no air buffer. They'll be surprised, annoyed and they'll feel petty about any disagreements you've had in the past.

Mission accomplished.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Branding ourselves...without third degree burns.

Riddle me this: What is something a lot of us have recently learned to use in our favor, yet has been on the corporate landscape for generations?

What have businesses spent billions of dollars to develop and nurture, yet we spend virtually nothing?

What permeates every aspect of our lives to the point of distraction, yet we utilize our own incarnations to cast us in the most favorable light possible?

Here's a hint. This is mine:
His name is Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch—

and he...is my brand.









Here's another shot of him:












And another:

He played for the Los Angeles Rams during the 1950s, an era when football was obviously played with lots of jumping and scissor kicking. In this image, he looks a lot like my brother after he'd wrestled away my family-size box of Cheese Nips.

Crazylegs appears to be getting some serious air and sporting some serious hair. I understand now why he didn't want to be photographed with a helmet in a couple of these. His hairdo was a helmet.

Why did I pick this particular man to represent my blog's brand?  I have absolutely no idea. It might be a combination of my childhood love for the Rams and the ironically dorky pose he's making, but who knows? When I laid eyes on that first shot, my Google image search was over.

So let me return to my original point. With the advent of Facebook and other social media, we've all been given an opportunity to brand ourselves. We can post pictures, quotes, videos; anything that portrays us the way we want to be seen by people who, quite frankly, don't really know us.

When I first joined the Facebooks, I employed a straightforward branding approach, yet still with a bit of a slant. Here's my inaugural image:

It's a pretty decent shot of me—a little grainy, yet I'm smiling and it was taken during a thinner time. It says "Hi, I'm the skinny summertime Tim. This is how I want you to think of me. The fat winter Tim will be writing a blog and representing himself with a silly-looking, 1950s football player.

See what I mean?

Just as The Final Four, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, The Superbowl and Playtex Light Days Heavy Working Maximum Absorbing Aerodynamically Pretty Tampon/Pads protect their branding with a rabid vigor...so do we.

Social media has made possible what we're unable to accomplish in face-to-face interactions. We can present an edited, Photoshopped, highly calculated, best-foot-forward face, and only then can the world scrutinize us. It's comforting, yet, just as reality television is everything but reality, so are these forums.

So, to help tear down this fa├žade, I'm going to start presenting the real me—in installments. You must read every post in order to accumulate the necessary elements to assemble my complete naked body. Every wart, every mole and every stretch mark caused by bench pressing far too much weight for someone my size will be bared for all to see. I'm sacrificing a lot here—no retouching, no cropping and most importantly, no branding.

Tomorrow, my left shin.