I know, you shouldn’t look for answers to your questions on the jukebox, but there are just some lyrics that speak to me. They speak of the life I have lived, or the life I want to live, of the things in life I’m doing right, and the things I need to be reminded of. Occasionally, I’m going to share with you some of the song lyrics that hit home for me as to what life should be and the things to keep in mind as you travel around the sun:
From — Cowboy in the Jungle by Jimmy Buffett
Alone on a midnight passage,
I can count the falling stars
While the Southern Cross and the satellites
They remind me where we are
Spinning around in circles
and living it day to day
and still twenty four hours, maybe sixty good years
It’s really not that long a stay
We’ve gotta roll with the punches
Learn to play all of our hunches
Make the best of whatever comes your way
Forget that blind ambition
and learn to trust your intuition
Plowing straight ahead come what may.
I think that’s perfect to keep in mind here on my 42nd birthday as I embark now on my 43rd trip around the sun. It’s really not that long a stay after all. Gotta make the most of it.
I have heard ‘The Boss Lady” describe Mark Wahlberg as, and I quote, “Yummy”.
My female friends and family have described Charlie Hunnam as ‘Yum’.
This is me:
Not quite ‘yummy’ or ‘yum’ I would guess. More like, ‘send this back, it’s not what I ordered’ or ‘Holy shit! Boil some water and grab some salad tongs this hairy man is about to give birth to something!’
Now of course, the reason I got this way is because my definition of yummy is this:
Beer, wine, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pizza, beer, wine, cookies, beer, wine, avocado (I do eat some healthy things). Anyhow, you get the picture. So here I am on my 42 birthday looking and feeling like a piece of shit because I wasn’t always a bloated man-pig. A few years ago, I was able to shed the belly and actually, for the first time since high school, add some muscle.
That lasted for a couple of years or so until I hurt my knee. I never really got back into working out after that. That was 2011. Since then, I’ve put on all that I’d lost and more. And now it isn’t coming off as easily as it used to because now I’m 42 friggin’ years old.
I go to the health club and I see the guys who haven’t sat on their laurels with a hearty beer and can’t help but think, ‘that’s what I’m supposed to look like’. Then the thought occurred to me, ‘is this what women have been dealing with all these years? Is this how we’ve made them feel with our SI Swimsuit issues and our Playboy centerfolds and our beer commercial girls?’
Where was I? Oh yeah, is our idolatry of these unrealistic female forms creating a self-esteem issue among women in our society? Does that make them feel bad the same way Marky Mark and Jax Teller make me feel bad? Is this why the diet industry is a billion dollar cash cow (no pun intended) with most of the marketing directed toward women? Then I thought, ‘Nah, that’s ridiculous! And where exactly did I put that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue anyhow?’
In any event, it hurts. It hurts to know how much work and sacrifice it’s going to take to try to get a body like Wahlberg or Jax Teller. (Btw, why is it Jax Teller drinks beer on SOA and still looks like the above picture from Men’s Health magazine and I drink beer while watching SOA and I end up looking like Bobby Munson after they tortured him and broke his jaw?)
It hurts to think about how many Sundays I’m going to have to spend watching football without eating pizza or drinking beer. It really is painful. But there is only one thing to do about it, I guess. Well, there’re a few options actually, one is to be happy with myself, with who I am and how I look. Enjoy life and try to be healthy enough to keep enjoying life for a few more decades or I can bust my ass at the gym, eat more vegetables, say no to more wine more often, dine on lean meat, and look at myself in the mirror and say ‘work harder you dumb asshole!’.
Then there is the third option, the one I’ve been following all my adult life. It’s a combination of the two aforementioned options where I enjoy life and every once in a while look in the mirror, call myself an asshole, and go hit the gym hard for a few weeks until that feeling passes.
Now if I could only figure out which route to take. I think I’ll pour myself a cold one, and flip through a Victoria Secrets catalogue while I think it over. What harm is there in that?
[I have a goal to once again participate in the Men’s Health Urbanathalon in 2015. The journey toward getting there begins now. I plan to blog about my trials and tribulations along the way. When I have that set up, I will let you know. We’ll see if I can actually stick with option two and get this out-of-shape pos working harder and moving again. Time will tell]
Always keep the Band-Aids out of sight or your household will suddenly experience an inexplicable rash of injuries, cuts, scrapes, scratches, owies, boo-boos, and general soreness – all almost imperceptible to the naked eye and all of which can only be healed and cured by placing a Band-Aid on the afflicted body part. Note: bandage should be changed every 2 to 3 minutes until you run out of Band-Aids or something fun comes along.
I took a slow drive past the old Stevenson Arms dorm today. Homecoming weekend has been fun, but it’s almost time to head back into the present time. As Tom Petty says, ‘you can look back babe, but it’s best not to stare’. So before I jump in that time machine that brought me back here, I want to reflect a little on life and the time I spent here and the dash of time between then and now.
The first feeling that struck me as I rolled past the backend of the dorm building (which by the way hasn’t changed at all from that perspective, sans the blue instead of maroon door) was what a short time in our lives it was. Though it was a constant stream of students, a teaming bubbling flow of life, it was also a constant shifting of individuals, To a casual observer looking in from outside, that river never changed, but for those of us riding that wave we saw changes.
For me, I was a part of that current for three years. And in that short amount of time, both the dorm and I changed immensely. It was not the same place I had first moved into in the fall of 1990, but I wasn’t the same person anymore either. It’s that time of life. Lots of changes, and they are big ones. In childhood, because you’re growing physically as well as mentally and emotionally, it’s easy to see and expect those big changes, but by seventeen, they kind of take you by surprise, sweep you up and carry you to a new place swiftly and not always smoothly, but almost imperceptibly. I think that’s part of why this place is so dear to me. I did so much growing and learning and becoming who I am there. That’s where my adulthood started, though ‘adult’ might not be the most accurate word I can use to describe what I’ve become, but it’s the best I’ve got right now.
The part that is so difficult to grasp and completely understand is the randomness of chance and coincidence that conspired to bring me what has essentially turned out to be, simply put, my life. I hadn’t planned on attending S.I.U., but once it was decided (three weeks before school began), the dorms were all full. There was one dorm with room. Most years, this was one of the more difficult dorms to get into, freshman/sophomore approved, but off-campus and co-ed floors. Due to a computer malfunction that year, rooms that were normally booked were available. I got in.
I knew almost nobody in Carbondale. The one or two people I did know were older and lived in apartments and townhouses off campus and I really didn’t know them that well. Again chance stepped in and the lady who ran the dorm assigned me to room with the only other seventeen-year-old male in the building. He spent all of five months as my roommate and the last twenty-one years as one of my closest friends.
That fall was the first year the University closed the campus and dorms for a week over Halloween and we were sent home. Mike was from Las Vegas, so I brought him to Chicago to stay with my family for the week. There he met his future bride and mother of his children and forged life-long friendships of his own in what I’m sure for him was a most unexpected place.
You see what I mean about the randomness of the whole thing. Fate, God, Luck, Chance, a random roll of the dice brought certain people to this one certain place in this one precise moment in time and set us on a path from which we could never again veer off. That is life, isn’t it? And because of those random chance encounters and unconscious decisions it is what I call ‘My Life’.
I think of the people I met here. Some friendships are the enduring kind, others are people I’ll probably never see again on this Earthly journey, but all of them are with me in that strange, hard-to-describe way. Avion with whom I was a student janitor for two or three months and with whom I went to the shooting range once is still vivid in my memory in a way in which I almost expect to run into him around campus one day when school resumes and neither of us will have changed. The mind plays tricks on you that way as the universe secretly steals time away from you.
Then there are the friends who I talk to every few years or so. Thanks to Facebook we can keep up more often without too much hassle. They are those kinds of friends who, even after ten years of not being in the same room together, after about five minutes it’s as if nothing has changed… as if life hasn’t moved much. Of course it has. It’s the connection, the shared experience of that crucial time in our lives that stays cemented and allows those friendships to pick up where they left off.
And then there are the others. The ones I haven’t seen or spoken to in the better part of sixteen years or more. They are here with me. A part of who I am. I know, it sounds like I’m talking about dead people, but I’m not… at least I hope I’m not. They’re here, somewhere on the Earth following their own path, living out their personal journey one moment to the next somewhere, but I imagine this invisible tether, one we cannot feel nor see. We came from different stations into this one hub for a short time and affected each other, and then like locomotives in the night each branched off in our own direction, each on a separate journey to that final destination that lies, with any luck, in the much distant future. But that tether is there. It’s in a song, a smell, a feeling on the breeze that takes you back for just a fleeting second to that shared place and those people who made it special to you.
And so, here I sit on the edge of Thompson Woods, twenty-one years and two months after I first ventured to this place. I’m waiting for the Student Center to open so I can use the washroom and get a Starbucks for my long ride. The woods here on campus was always a place of reflection for me… a calm, serene escape from homesickness, classroom stress, worry and longing for my girlfriend hundreds of miles away. A venture off the beaten path even if just for a few minutes walking from one class to the next, taking the wooded trail through Thompson instead of across the campus was a respite, a rejuvenation of mind and spirit between lecture halls and lab hours. Much needed because, of course, not all the time I spent here was good. I know I’m looking back at it more romantically than realistically, but isn’t that what the past should be… at least sometimes?
I’m grateful to have this place to visit. I’m grateful to have had the chance to visit this place with Mike again, and with his daughter and her friends. It’s kind of like being suspended between two places in time. But the thing about this journey we’re on is: the changes keep coming. They should keep coming. I feel I have just recently awoken from a decades long sleep… a fear induced walking comatose state. I’m awake now, and for the first time in a very, very long time I feel alive, and new, and ready to tackle those things I had previously allowed fear to keep from me. No more. So many lost moments and so many lost opportunities to become the ‘me’ I always wished I were. I feel a little like Dorothy coming to the realization that I had the power to get what I’ve wanted the entire time. Maybe I had to go through it all to get to this place, but I’m glad I’m finally here. So in a way, today as I leave S.I.U. again, I do so to face an uncertain but wide-open future of possibilities, but this time I’ll do it awake. And as I do, I take with me this place, this place that has given me enduring friendships, chance encounters that touched and changed my heart, and some of the most precious memories of my life… we are all tethered together by that force of nature that by chance brought us together and gave us this invisible link that lies within us and that force that set us on our way.
I thank God for that randomness of chance. It is the unplanned and unexpected moments of my life that have changed it and shaped it the most. Go ahead, keep making your plans, just don’t fight the current.
Starbucks is open. Time to hit the open road.
Campus of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
October 16, 2011
My goal was to publish a new blog post at least once a week. I missed last week, and here I sit on Monday night with nothing written yet for this week, light on topics, and short on time. And so, I’ve decided that in such a circumstance, rather than tell you about my thoughts on the Skeleton Twins (it’s great btw), I figured I’d tackle the nature of mankind. Specifically the question of whether human beings are inherently good or evil.
I know, I know, everyone from Plato to Carrot Top has weighed in on this one, but I haven’t and really how can I leave this world one day without having shared with the eternal webosphere my thoughts on this subject.
Is man (of course meaning men, women, children, LBGT, etc, etc.) inherently good or evil. Religion tends to adopt one of three doctrines depending on the sect, that of total depravity, limited depravity, or restored doctrine of atonement. Think about that for a second. Your spiritual leaders think you are either completely and totally depraved, just kinda-sorta depraved but definitely depraved, or are born good will become depraved but will find redemption from your depravity. “You were created in God’s image, you depraved little monkey!”
Shame on us all. Of course, that is the business of our religious leaders, isn’t it? Shame us, then show us how to overcome the shame through prayer, penance, and Bingo every Tuesday night? Anyhoo… I digress.
Philosophers have philosophized about this very question since time began. I could tell you all about Plato’s take on Ethics (I studied that for a semester in an attempt to avoid math. Instead I learned that Philosophy is simply a mathematical way of thinking about non-numeric ideas. Should’ve taken Algebra II), but I won’t. You’ll have to look it up for yourself. (No cheating)
Instead, I’m going to give you my take on the whole shebang right here. Is man inherently good? No. Is man inherently evil? No. We’re all capable of both good and evil. What man is, is inherently selfish. We are all selfish, and by necessity. It’s survival. It is us at our most basic level. Strip away all else and what have you got??? Selfish. Survival. Me making it to see another day. Goes right back to primitive man and it is ingrained in our DNA.
It is a person’s ability to control that selfishness that dictates whether the bulk of his deeds are good or evil.
Mother Theresa was selfish. Adolf Hitler was selfish. Mother Theresa was able to control the natural instinct to be selfish and, through selflessness, the bulk of her deeds were good. She is in line for Sainthood, to go down in the annals of history as one of the most giving and caring people there ever was. Adolf Hitler on the other hand, had very little control over his selfishness. As a direct result, his actions were vile and millions of people lost their lives. He was evil personified. He became one of the most reviled and despised people to ever walk the face of the Earth.
Is that because one was born evil and one good? No. They were both born with the capacity for both, not either-or, but both, and like most of us, I’m sure they, to some degree, each engaged in both. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is perfectly good, and nobody is perfectly evil. Did Mother Theresa ever lose her temper or become annoyed? The mere fact that she is human would suggest that of course she did. Did Hitler ever respond to a sneeze with a considerate gesundheit? Probably.
What made all the difference in the world between these two extreme examples was the desire and ability to control naturally inherent selfishness.
Of course, these are extreme examples. None of us are Mother Theresa, yet none of us are Hitler, though there’s seems to be no shortage of people looking to unseat him as the most evil of modern times. For most of us, we do both a little good and a little bad everyday, often without knowing it since we’re so wrapped up in our own objectives to notice the effect we have outside ourselves. Looking back on one’s life, you can see monumental moments when you know you did something, if not quiet evil, at least certainly wrong. And you can see monumental moments when you know you done good kid.
You see, we want to be able to say, “Deep down, I’m a good person, I just made a mistake.” And we like to look at the mongrels of the human race, the two-legged rats and say “They’re simply born evil.” Neither is true. We were all born selfish and we can’t just do away with selfishness completely. We need to keep a little of it to survive, but not so much that we’re blind to any moral obligation to our fellow man.
Suppress the selfishness. Look outward as well as inward. Keep your moral compass pointed to true north which is kindness and caring for others. It goes back to one religious tenant, the golden rule. “treat others as you’d like to be treated”. In other words, you’re friggin’ selfish. To be good, realize other people matter too, and feed their selfishness as you’d feed your own and in the end, you’ll come out pretty much even on the good-evil scale. Guess religion knew this, they just let something obscure this beautiful Ethic of Reciprocity with all that depravity talk. Wonder what that something was. Oh well, I can’t answer every question tonight.
With that said, I believe it is time for me to put all of this nonsense about mankind away and do something good – for me.
Am I the only one who wishes Buck Owens and 50 Cent had done a duet and called it A Buck 50?
We wake up early, before the sun, and gather our gear for the day. There’s a chill in the early summer morning. My head is foggy from too little sleep and too much beer. There is a cure though. By the time we reach the boat and the first winks of daylight are stretching up from the horizon, our fishing poles and tackle boxes neatly stored below, I’ve got a greasy breakfast in my stomach and a steaming cup of coffee in my hand. The coffee jolts me awake, flipping the switch in my brain from dim to fully lit. The fog clears and I am ready to catch some walleye.
Dining complete. The glorious meal consumed. Wine bottle emptied. Plates cleared. A beautiful woman sitting across the table from me glowing by candlelight. The waitress brings two cups of cappuccino, each flanked by a cookie, and paper straws of raw sugar.
Rushing out of the house to get to work. Grab a cup and race off.
Working late. The moon up and most others gone for the day. Burning the midnight oil they call it. A cup of Starbucks gives me the added oomph I need to finish the job and get the hell out of there.
Christmas morning. The presents are opened and wrapping paper is scattered around the front room. Two aromas fill the air: cigarette smoke and brewing coffee. Grandma is here.
Coffee. It is my drug of choice. I need it to wake up. To feel right. For that, I’m not picky. I can slam down swill in a Styrofoam cup from a gas station or whatever K-cups are handy in the house from the Keurig (instant coffee gratification, no-fuss, no-muss, no wait, not great, but quick and good enough). I’m not looking to savor the flavor, I just wanna gulp it and get it working. Hot and black and bitter and satisfying.
But, on a Sunday morning, the skillet breakfast downed and the morning paper spread out, I care. I care what it tastes like. I have expectations. I’ll use cream and sugar, not too much, just enough. I’ll sip it from a ceramic cup. At just the right temperature, a good cup of coffee can be among the best things I will taste in my life. Better than cookies, better that steak, better than beer, better than wine. It is wonderful. It stands alone as one of the best treats we can spoil ourselves with.
Coffee runs in the family. My maternal grandmother, Grandma Sis, made arguably the best coffee in all of Chicago. Though third-generation Irish, she made her coffee in a Swedish enamel pot decorated in Berggren art. No filters in the pot, you used a strainer to catch the grounds as you poured it into your cup.
There was always a pot of coffee on her stove. When visitors would stop by, she’d either have a pot already made, or she’d put on a fresh pot for her guests. I don’t know how much coffee she drank a day, but it was a lot.
When I was a little boy, I think about three years old, but whatever age, I was too young to walk down the stairs so I had to turn around and crawl butt-first from our upstairs apartment to her first-floor apartment. When I reached her door, I stood up and knocked. “Who is it?” she called in her grandma voice, as if expecting a puppy or a fawn or a little grandson. “Me,” I called back, as if there were only one ‘me’ in the world.
“Me who?” She opened the door and feigned surprise, “Oh, Brine!” (Her thick Goose Island accent made Brian sound like Brine.) “Come in.”
She escorted me as if I were an old friend from the neighborhood to her kitchen table and offered me a seat. Just as she did when her brother Tommy would come by, or when my Mom or one of her siblings would visit, Grandma Sis pulled two coffee cups, each with a matching saucer, down from the cupboard above the kitchen sink and poured, through the strainer, two steaming cups of fresh coffee. She left a lot of room for cream and sugar in mine though, then added a splash of half-and-half and a teaspoon of sugar and had me stir it. We sat there talking and drinking coffee together and I felt special. I wasn’t some little kid sipping root beer or milk from a sippy-cup. I was her special boy having a cup of coffee and talking like I was a real person, like I mattered.
A small, shy, uncoordinated kid with thick glasses and a crossed-eye, I rarely felt special and almost never felt as if I belonged. Throughout my life, whenever I would get down about feeling like an outcast, or tread toward the depths of self-loathing, deep inside, there was always a part of me that knew that no matter what the rest of the outside world thought, or what I myself thought of me, I was special to someone, and there would always be a fresh pot of coffee on the stove and time to let me know she loved me.
Now, even though I’ll gulp down a cup of Kuerig something in the car, or Starbucks while I write, or even sip a decent cup at a diner, the best coffee I have these days I make myself from an old recipe in an enamel coffee pot, no filter, decorated with Berggren art inscribed with the Swedish saying: Kaffetåren den bästa är av alla jordiska drycke, which means ‘Coffee the best of all earthly potions is’ — Ain’t that the truth.