While Life Happens

I catch myself just wanting to get through each activity in order to get to the next thing I have to do.

Grocery shopping. Yard work. Projects. The name we slap onto it doesn’t really matter. There’s just this inherent feeling that there’s so much more to have to get to, and so the sooner we get done with this, we can move onto that.

I’ve recently taken to stopping for a moment just to remind myself that this is the next thing. This is everything.

Life is more so about all of the things we do in between the big things, those concerts, vacations, whatever. Turning the everyday mundane into fun is the real life hack we’re all trying to achieve. Especially since our lives consist mostly of that other we’re often trying to find ways around.

The more I try to turn mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway into something I’m doing rather than trying to get done, the less of a chore it seems. I can usually achieve that by adding in my iPhone, earbuds and Spotify with a side of singing at the top of my lungs. Even if that takes joy out of whatever my neighbors or wife may be doing at the moment.

It takes constant reminding, but my mantra is to be actively present in the moment. Otherwise, our life turns into some abbreviated CliffsNotes version of what it really should be.

Listen, I’m not saying I actively enjoy doing chores. Cleaning the house blows, any way you slice it. But it blows a little less when you take it as an opportunity to listen to your favorite album from start to finish or to let that movie you grew up loving as a kid stream in the background on Netflix so the negative connotations with cleaning get diluted by the fond memories you have of the Mark Harmon classic, Summer School.

I’ve Had a Few

“What’s your greatest fear?” she asked.

“You want the funny answer or the honest answer?” he asked.

“Come on. The honest one.”

He thought a moment.

“Regret. There’s nothing scarier out there than regret.” He lingered on the thought, his eyes transfixed on the straw wrapper he was rolling between his fingers.

“Why’s that?”

“You can harness yourself if you’re afraid of heights or bring a flashlight if you’re afraid of the dark. But there’s no outrunning regret. Maybe you can make up for the things you regret, but there’s really no cure for it. Ever. You just … live with it.”

“Wow. Never thought of it like that.”

“But I apologize,” he said. “You wanted the honest answer. Clowns. I fear clowns.”

Marcia-mallows, Marcia-mallows, Marcia-mallows!

A few years ago, I helped the Hunger Task Force collect mini marshmallows for their Thanksgiving dinner bins. Others gathered the turkey, stuffing and whatnot. I took responsibility for the mini-marshmallows for the sweet potato casserole portion. Our goal was 800 bags and we collected 1,300 bags. I was so proud of my fellow social media friends who jumped at the chance to contribute. It was a great success as we received marshmallows from numerous states outside of Wisconsin, including Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and even anonymous donors. Pretty amazing.

I’ve learned that Jan is heading up the collections for the Hunger Task Force at BVK, the PR/Social Media agency I work at. And I thought I would do my part to help Jan out, since we only have two weeks to collect.

Last time, I made the theme “Crossing the Streams to Fight Hunger” in honor of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. Because Jan is leading the cause this year, I thought it only appropriate that this year’s theme should be, “Marcia-mallows, Marcia-mallows, Marcia-mallows!

For those of you who are too young to remember, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” is a “Brady Bunch” reference. And if you’re too young to catch that reference, then get off my lawn, you damn fool kids!

So let’s help Jan finally get the best of Marcia, and let’s gather 500 bags of marshmallows to help fight hunger this Thanksgiving holiday. There are some important things to know, though.

Between now and November 12th, 2013 I will be collecting bags of mini marshmallows with the goal of collecting 500 bags to contribute to the 500 Thanksgiving dinner bins! There are numerous ways you can help get the best of marcia-mallows, marcia-mallows, marcia-mallows and feed hundreds of hungry families this holiday season.

You can reblog this message. You can retweet this message. You can post this message on Facebook. And most importantly, you can donate a bag(s) of mini marshmallows!

So how do you donate?

If you live in or around the Milwaukee area, you can:

  • of course, drop them off at the Hunger Task Force Monday – Friday between 8:30am and 5pm. They are located at 201 S Hawley Ct in Milwaukee (think Miller Park area). Please be sure to tell the individual at the dock that these are for the Thanksgiving Bins program so that they don’t get lost into the general donation bins and will be included in the count.
  • drop them off at my place of employment, BVK. BVK is hosting a donation box, so Monday – Friday before 5pm you can visit 250 W Coventry Ct. STE 200 in Milwaukee, WI 53217 (up the road from Bayshore Town Center, off Port Washington Rd.) where you can leave your mini marshmallows with Jan at the front desk of the 2nd floor or you can ask for me and I’ll stop over!
  • If you don’t live in the Milwaukee area but would like to help, then you can send them to my attention at BVK via the address above! This was a popular way, the last time I did this. There’s nothing more fun than opening FedEx and USPS packages of wonderfully smelling marshmallows.

The Hunger Task Force will be stopping by BVK on the afternoon of November 12th to collect the marshmallows, so please have all donations sent by then. I’m excited to help them out again this year, and hope you’ll do the same – after all, how often do you get to donate marshmallows, of all things?! Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!

Please remember that they need to be mini marshmallows and need to be white and not the multi-colored ones, since these will be used with the sweet potato casseroles in the Thanksgiving dinner.

Let’s finally stick it to Marcia, by throwing hundreds of marcia-mallows at her. It’s much safer than throwing a football at her. And we end up feeding a lot more people this way at the holidays, too!

A Mid-August Night

The day was coming to an end, but we kept on swimming. The whole summer was coming to an end, really.

The pond had crossed over from blue to a black. Our mom started a bonfire and told us not to swim out too far. We could see the embers reflect and shimmer across the calm waters in front of us. But we could no longer see through the waters.

Next week, I would be entering high school.

Come out of the water, now, my mom said.

I wasn’t ready to leave.

Where They May.

He often sat there, observing his surroundings and hoping for a catastrophic event of any proportion. Frank wasn’t a bad guy. He never did any time or anything.

But he needed some event to define his terribly banal life. Why couldn’t he ever see a car accident developing before it happened, so he could jump in front and rescue some child? Or, how come nobody ever choked on a liberal-portioned piece of steak in his presence? Frank had been itching to try out the Heimlich ever since he taught himself the maneuver from old encyclopedias the previous tenant had left behind in his storage locker. Certainly, the Heimlich hadn’t changed much since the 1964 publishing.

But nothing substantial ever presented itself to Frank.

Frank’s married friends told him to cherish this.

“You know what exciting is?” asked Mike.  “It’s waking up, finding your kid on all fours, eating out of the dog’s food bowl.”

“Mike’s right,” said another. “Excitement’s overrated. And usually expensive.”

Frank wrestled with his bag of chips. The perpetual battle between his oily fingers and the cellophane never failed to present an element of Jack In The Box surprise. Finally, the bag exploded open and salty chips covered the card table.

Frank blinked slowly and turned his attention to the kids in the crosswalk.

The Human Bumper Car

I took a vacation day from work to write, drink coffee, and eat cinnamon coffee cake. Writing – real writing, not the usual tweeting or Facebook posting – is the first thing I tend to sacrifice for all of life’s other needs. I knew I needed to take a day just for myself. To reconnect with the characters, the stories, the dialogue I had to box up and put in the attic while work proposals, strategy documents, and house chores were given priority.

I sat at the coffee shop this morning, getting fueled and trying to remember how to write for myself. It was going to take a second cup of coffee.

I was in line for a coffee refill, when a Little Old Italian Man nearly backs into me and tells me how he’s always bumping into people.

“Oh, a human bumper car?” I asked. He chuckled and says especially at the grocery store. I told him that’s why I used Peapod. Because I hate crowds. I explained the service to him. He was so excited to learn about it. He couldn’t believe there was a service that would just bring groceries to you.

“Is it expensive?” he asked.

I explained to him how I actually save money, since there’s less impulse buying that comes with being hungry and seeing an entire aisle of potato chips in front of you. This made the tiny man laugh.

He told me how in Italy, they’d go to the grocery store every day, as a way to socialize. But here, people are aggressive and not at all happy to be there. “It seems like, what is the saying, a pain in the … ass? Oh I am not good with the sayings yet! Someone told me I was the shit, and I thought that was bad. They corrected me and said that is a good thing! I’m still struggling with the sayings.”

I chuckled at the sincerity in his voice and assured him he had certainly picked it up well. I got my refill of coffee and handed the barrista my empty plate. The Little Old Italian Man told me I was very polite to be returning my empty plate to the barrista and we parted ways.

These are the experiences that make stopping or slowing down on occasion, worth while. Actually, not just worth while – a necessity. Those single serving conversations with strangers, who give you something to think about or chuckle about. Seeing things from a new perspective. We really do go through much of our daily routine in a head-down, get as much done as possible way, rather than fully taking in and getting the most out of everything that’s around us. It’s less about the experience while doing, and more about the act of checking an activity off a list.

Little Old Italian Man, you made for a memorable morning of banter.

Tales From The Crypt

Looking back to elementary school, middle school, and high school, one thing remained constant. Gym teachers were always given a crypt for an office.

I couldn’t tell if they were protecting the gym teacher from the rest of the school or the school from the gym teachers.

Their offices never had a window that let them see outside. The best they got was some glass that would peer out into the gymnasium its , covered in incandescent lighting. Other than that, it was feet upon feet of cement brick walls that made their bunker Phys. Ed. office more secure than the Oval Office.

If you got summoned into the gym teacher’s office, it was on par with Clarice Starling visiting Hannibal Lecter’s cell. A uniformed individual awaiting you on the other side of the glass. Making your palms sweat and clam up. You not wanting to get too close to their dank, crypt-like cell; just wanting to get out before you squirmed right out of your skin.

But now as an adult, I often wonder what it’s like to by a Phys. Ed. teacher. I don’t know any in “real” life. All I can do is put myself and my own neurosis into their shoes. There must be some sort of animosity bubbling just under the surface between gym teachers and the rest of the staff, even if it isn’t a conscious thing. It’s just human nature, when you’re the excluded member of a group.

And do the gym teachers worry that when they leave the gymnasium, whether the smell of sweaty pubescence and locker room still lingers on their own clothing … unbeknownst to them the way farmers no longer detect that of manure on the farm?

I rarely saw my old Phys. Ed. teachers associated outside of the gymnasium with other faculty members. Maybe the Shop teachers, but that always seemed a little forced, like the boyfriends of two best friends awkwardly conversing with one another  for the sake of their significant others, even though circumstance is all they really have in common. For gym teachers, if they want to chat with other faculty members, they really have to make a conscious effort to do so by seeking out the other wings of the school. It isn’t as easy as a math teacher who can step across the hall and pop his head in to the room and see how the other math teacher’s day is going.

I would love to spend a week in a high school, shadowing different faculty and departments each day to watch how they converse and survive, rather than the students. Not writing a story about what it’s like to be a student. Not what it’s like to be a teacher after hours, dealing with papers and budget issues, etc. But the day-to-day dynamics of teachers and the connections they have or don’t have with one another. That’s the story I don’t hear enough of, and am fascinated by.

Rooster and Hen Record Again: An Anti-Valentine Vignette

Note: over on Tumblr, “inthefade” posted this image and challenged people to write a poem, limerick, haiku, song or story to this image. But it had to be Valentine’s Day-related. And so this is what I came up with 20 minutes later.

Rooster and Hen Record Again

“I’m sorry, I keep clucking up. I promise, I’ll get it this time.”

“You said that twenty takes ago.”

“I know, I know. Just keep playing. I’ll get it this time. Promise.”

(voice over the intercom: “The Anti-Valentine: Take 21.”)

“I see you flappin’ round the coop with the chick I love and I’m like,
Cluck Youuuu. Oo, Oo, Oo.
I guess the feed in my farmhouse
wasn’t enough,
and I’m like,
Cluck You! And, cluck her too!
I said if this cock was bigger,
I’d still be with ya.
Well ain’t that some chicken shit? Some chicken shit?
And although there’s pain in my chest,
I still wish you the best with a … Cluck You!”

(voice over the intercom: “CUT! You nailed it!”)

“Speaking of nailing … whaddya say you and me …”

“I’m incubating right now.”

“You’re always incubating.”

(cut to:)


Wherefore Art Thou [ *-* ]

In what year will cassette tapes become retro and cool? I’m asking for my friend, who just happens to be a cassette.

Every weekend morning, I awake and put on a pot of coffee as I listen to old albums on vinyl. My parents and grandparents gave me much of their old vinyl collection. And I like to stop at record shops from time to time and buy $1 albums to add to it. Now that we have the option of jumping to any song on an album digitally, it’s nice to force myself to listen to an album in the exact order the band wanted me to do so. And hearing a sometimes tinny sound, with hisses and pops takes me back to a time when I used to listen to albums as a little kid on my record player. After all, isn’t the experience one of the big things that makes us like music? I was a child in the 80s, yet I listened to my parents’ 45s on my record player. Elvis. The Beatles. Electric Prunes. Bee Gees. Charley Pride. They also bought me 45s of (then) current artists, too. Michael Jackson. Foreigner. Prince. New Edition. Suddenly, my current musical proclivities make total sense. The fact that I was raised on a wide array of musical genres and time periods has directly impacted me as I still listen to every genre from every decade.

It isn’t just records, though. People still listen to CDs. Stores still have CD racks to buy the latest CD from any artist. People burn mix CDs for road trips. While everything’s moving digital, there’s still a need for albums.

But it seems like people have completely leapfrogged and forgotten about the cassette tape. I don’t even know if they sell blank cassette tapes anywhere. Boomboxes and stereos rarely have them built-in. Yet records, which were the musical medium well-before the cassette, are still a commodity. People actively collect vinyl. People like me. Yet, you rarely hear of people actively looking for a cassette of something to add to their collection.

Nostalgia fuels many of our retro trips down fad resurgence lane. So it’s only a matter of time before people want to revisit those old cassette mixes we made from the radio where you hear the DJs talking over the beginning of New Edition’s Cool It Now. I recently found a stack of mix tapes from the early 90s and plan to spend the first rainy Spring weekend playing them from start to finish. Forcing myself to go on the musical journey that 14-year-old Bruce established. Because let’s be honest, fast-forwarding and playing and fast-forwarding some more and then playing and then rewinding … that’s too much like work.

Cassettes will make a temporary retro comeback sometime over the next decade. They have to. Some band will get the idea to release some of their material on cassette-only format as a headline-grabbing gimmick and to fuel interest in something that fans will have to work at in order to be able to listen to it.

This Idea Is The G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time)

There is a breed of goat known as the Fainting Goat. When this goat gets scared or startled, its muscles tense up for ten seconds and essentially paralyzes the goat, making it fall over. It appears as though the goat is fainting.

We were on the subjects of these goats in the office, this morning. And we had an epiphany.

We should teach people how to master the art of the Fainting Goat. Just as you can be a black belt in six sigma and become a scrum master, why not a Fainting Goat certification?

Just think about it. If you’re in a client meeting, and things aren’t going well or they ask you a question you don’t want to answer, wouldn’t it be nice if you could stiffen, lock your body, and tip over? The client would be utterly confused and distracted so after 10 seconds when you come out of your stiffened state, they would have forgotten what they were even talking about. And then you’re free to shift the conversation to where you want it to go.

Oh yes, this certification could be one of the most important you ever learn and instantly be placed on ones resume alongside “Proficiency in Microsoft Word” and “Ability to multi-task.”

In our course, we will teach you how to jut your arms out like Frankenstein searching for his bride, locking those arms, as well as your legs, and then dropping sideways – still fully locked. We begin teaching you to drop first in the arms of your trusted classmates. Once you’ve mastered this, we move on to “fainting” onto a bed. Then “fainting” onto a couch. Followed by “fainting” onto a yoga mat. And finally, you’re ready to “faint” onto carpeting.

Only our most gifted students will ever master the Fainting Goat onto tile floor.

Are you that gifted student?

(this is where you’d lock up and faint)