Saturday, November 30, 2013

Packer Pathos

Friday November 29th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   The Green Bay Packers are having one of their worst seasons in recent memory, and I find it to be a fascinating case study in human behavior whether someone is a football fan or not. They are completely unraveling as the season goes on, and have slid from heroes to bums in a few weeks.

   It all started when their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a fractured clavicle on November 4th in a game against the archrival Chicago Bears. It didn’t appear to be that violent of a hit, and fans weren’t in a panic assuming the usually durable Rodgers would bounce right back.

   Then in the next game against the Philadelphia Eagles on November 10th, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace went down in the first quarter with a groin injury. Again, it didn’t look to be that bad but he too was out of commission. That brought in Scott Tolzien, a third stringer that played in college at Wisconsin so a lot of Packer fans were familiar with him. He performed admirably.

   Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to win either of the two games he started, and the spoiled fans of the Packers who have been one of the elite teams in the NFL since the early ‘90s were starting to grumble from within. An entire generation of fans has grown up assuming the Pack would win.

   Last week they blew a golden opportunity to beat their most bitter rival of the last twenty years the Minnesota Vikings. They are having a horrific year themselves, but no Packer fan alive feels the slightest bit of sympathy for them. They’ve also had a great run, and when I was a kid they’d traditionally thump the Pack twice a year. Any day the Packers beat the Viqueens is a great day.

   Too bad it wasn’t this particular day, as the best they could muster was a tie. They had a shot to win it in overtime, but they weren’t able to pound it into the end zone from a few yards out to get the win. Fans had grown accustomed to them being automatic in those situations in recent years.

   Well, this isn’t recent years, and hope is fading like the paint job on a Yugo. Yesterday was the biggest all out ass kicking they’ve gotten in decades, and it looked like they’ve completely given up in every aspect of their game. The offense, defense and special teams played like Girl Scouts.

   I have been a loyal (read: stupid) Packer fan my entire life and I have to say I am not pleased to see how this year has unfolded, but on a personal level I can totally relate. I wish I couldn’t, but I absolutely do. It’s very similar to my life, and I find it fascinating to watch how it’s playing out.

   Unforeseen circumstances have been the cause of the downfall, mostly devastating injuries that have wiped out their best players. It has been uncanny how many important players were lost this year, but that’s the luck of the draw. It wasn’t planned on, but now they have to suck it up and try to salvage the season with what they have left. It’s not pleasant, but nobody has a choice. It’s life in the NFL, and life in general. The fans are growing restless, and the coaches are on the hot seat.

   Three years ago the same coaches won the Super Bowl and were considered geniuses. That’s a long time ago in football, and now they’re bums. I find this interesting, and it’s a character test to make due every week with depleted resources. This is exactly how my life has been since I was a kid, so I’m finding an even deeper kinship with the team this year. They’re living my existence.

It's been a rough year for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, but at least they're getting paid. We fans are getting screwed for free.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Gratitude Rules

Thursday November 28th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

   I tend to be a complainer. A bitcher. A whiner. A pisser. A moaner. Call it whatever you’d like, it can be a formula that goes over like gangbusters with a comedy audience. I can get in a groove and roll with the best of them, and when it happens there are few comedians who can touch me.

   It can be a lot of fun to point out what’s not going right on any given topic, and it’s therapeutic as well. The best thing of all is that the supply of things to snivel about never gets low. There are always new targets to attack, and that means I’ll always have something to transform into jokes.

   This is all convenient in a comedy context, but in real life gratitude is the magic elixir. I’m off stage a lot more than I’m on, and there’s much more time to think. There’s a mindset that sets in both with those that complain and those that are grateful, and I’m tiptoeing on that very fine line.  

   Unfortunately, I can’t go on stage as a comedian and brag about how fabulous my life is. Who would want to hear that? If Mr. Lucky always scored with hot babes and knew how to choose the sleeper stocks that would pay off huge returns, what would be funny about that? I’d be obsolete.

   On the other hand, if I was a motivational speaker and only talked about how everything in my life was in flames and miserable, how could I get a message of hope across? I have to keep all of my thoughts in their proper order, and know where I am at any given time. Life can be complex.

   Today is Thanksgiving and I wasn’t booked anywhere, so gratitude was the main course on my personal menu. It wasn’t a day to think funny, and that’s fine by me. I spend plenty of time every other day looking for faults to turn into comedy, and I’ll do it again soon. Today was for thanks.

   I had so many invites to join people for dinner I lost count. That alone is extremely comforting, knowing I have so many people that cared enough to extend an invitation. I have to believe they meant it, or they wouldn’t have made a point to ask. It’s not like I was hinting that I had no place to go, or showing up at people’s houses out of the blue. These people made a point to invite me.

   This year’s winner was Bill Gorgo. I love hanging out with Bill for many reasons, but he’s one of the best cooks anywhere and I’ve sampled his amazing work for years. He’s Italian, and that’s the tie breaker in any close call when it comes to food. Stereotypes wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t at least a grain of truth somewhere, and from my experience Italians are the champions of chow.

   The Germans do well in the cuisine department as do Chinese and Mexicans, but Italians are in a class by themselves. Good Italian food is hard to beat, as is the company with Bill and his sister Geneva and the friends they invited. There was an Irish couple that had adopted two Guatemalan boys, and they were delightful people. They told fascinating stories of all their extensive travels.

   It was relaxing to sit and listen to everyone else, and not have to be the source of entertainment all the time. I enjoyed being the audience for once, and I kept thinking of everything I have to be thankful for starting with health. Yes I had a kidney stone this year, but it’s not hurting now and I can still walk and talk and see – even if it’s with glasses. I have a lot of great friends, and I live a life a lot of people dream about. There’s plenty to go off on tomorrow, but today gratitude rules.

Every day should be Thanksgiving to all of us.

Storage Worn

Wednesday November 27th, 2013 – Kenosha, WI

    Over the last couple of weeks, a large part of my life has been a moving experience. Literally. I’ve rented a storage unit, and for the umpteenth time in my life every worldly bauble and trinket I possess is packed away awaiting my next stop. I’ve moved so often, I qualify for gypsyhood.

   The last time I tried to count my moves, I think I got to 18. That was a few moves ago, and I’m not interested in nailing an accurate total. It’s a chore and something I’m not looking forward to, but I have no choice. It’s time to find the next adventure, and that’s what I’ve been doing of late.

   I had a nice three year run where I was staying, and I have no complaints. I didn’t have any bad blood or cross words with the woman who owns the house where I lived, and it was a great place in a super neighborhood. I had fair rent, and never once was I late paying it. It was a sweet deal.

   But as happens all the time, circumstances changed and it was time for me to move on. That’s exactly how it went the last place I stayed, which was also a three year run. It was the sister-in-law of the woman I’m moving from now, so technically I got six years of living out of one deal.

   I have always been a model tenant in that I pay my rent religiously. I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs, and I’m very much to myself. I’m usually reading or working when I happen to be home, but I’m on the road a lot more than I’m home so most of the time it’s a great deal for everybody.

   As the years pass, I’m liking the road life less and less. I’ve enjoyed these last two places very much, and it was not fun having to pack up and start over again. The time before this one was an absolute nightmare, as I was doing cruise ships at the time. The woman had to be out in 30 days because she remarried and they’d bought a different house. I had two days to move all my stuff.

   That was about as brutal as it gets. I was gone on the ships and had nobody to help me start to pack anything so I threw everything in boxes willy-nilly and jammed what I could into a storage unit. I threw away a ton of stuff, but I had no choice. I had two days and then it was back at sea.

   This time I could see it coming, so I had at least a couple of weeks to get ready. I’d been trying to get organized all year, and throwing away things I didn’t need or at least sorting it all into the same category so I could pretend I was a little bit organized. It’s hard not to accumulate clutter.

   I have the smallest size unit I could find, which is 5x5. I crammed as much as I could into that space, and still had a bit left over so I decided what I could live without and donated a few boxes of books, clothes and self help audio programs to the Salvation Army so I could fit everything in.

   At some point, I’ll go through it all and hopefully lighten the load even more. If I haven’t used it in a year – out the door it goes. That’s not always easy to do, but the more times one moves the easier it gets to toss something. Eventually, I’d like to be able to have everything fit into one car.

   The last thing I expected at this stage of the game is to have everything I own in a storage unit, but that’s where I sit. I have no idea where I’m going to live in 2014, and that’s not where I want to be. Is it time to move to another state? Who knows? A little security would calm my nerves.

My life in a nutshell.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Longest Month

Tuesday November 26th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   Here come the holidays, like it or not. I, for one, do not. What I like even less is that I have no way to avoid them every year, and every year it’s a challenge to tough it out until December 26th. It’s always one of my most favorite days of the year, but this next month getting to it will be hell.

   It’s getting to be such old news I don’t even want to write about it anymore, but I can’t help it. I’ve had a lifetime to try and find ways to “just get over it” and “move on” like all those Dr. Phil wannabes have been telling me for years and years, but it hasn’t worked. Every year it’s torture.

   The very nature of the holidays is to get together with family and create lasting memories that get passed down through generations. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are supposed to be an opportunity to bond and share and catch up with people that are supposed to be our confidants.

   I realize nobody has a Brady Bunch family situation, but those of us who grew up dented cans have a whole other level of dysfunction only another dented can is able to comprehend. There’s a level of psychological pain there I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and it comes back year after year.

   It has always flabbergasted me how hearing just a couple of short notes of a Christmas song on a commercial or seeing a poinsettia on a fast food bag can take me right back to that place in my head I’ve been trying to bury since I was a kid. All it takes is a tiny trigger, and I’m right there.

   I realize it’s the favorite time of year for uncountable millions – at least in North America. It is supposed to be a positive experience, and for most people I’m sure it is. Sure, everyone has some wacky relatives and maybe there are one or two isolated incidents that stand out, but for the most part over one’s lifetime I would say the majority of Americans look forward to this time of year.

   On paper, that’s exactly the way it should be. There should be a time of year when families can come together and recharge batteries. I’m all for it, and I have wished for a family that would do exactly that since my earliest memories. It never happened, and every year is the ugly reminder.

   Those who don’t understand what I’m talking about are always trying to give advice, and that’s almost as bad as the situation itself. “Come to our house” they say. “We’ll make you forget about those bad memories.” On the contrary. In fact it makes it worse. I know they mean well, but they aren’t able to comprehend how deep the pain goes. Only a dented can would be able to feel that.

   I wish everybody could have a strong family to depend on and that I didn’t have to write about this misery every year, but I know I’m not the only one so I do. It feels at least a little comforting to know I’m not totally alone, so I’m putting it out there hoping someone else might be soothed.

    One of the most haunting memories I have as a teenager was my best friend Timbo and me going to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve because neither one of us had anywhere else to go. It was a bunch of Jewish people and us. They looked at us like we were lost puppies.

   Unfortunately, we were. In theory, this should be the start of the best time of the year. In reality this is the longest month of them all. I’m going to suck it up and look forward to December 26th.

My favorite day of the year.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Money Minefield

Monday November 25th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   If there’s anyone anywhere who is doing well financially, I’d like to meet them and shake their hand. It sure isn’t anyone in my circle of friends and contacts. Times are tight, and getting tighter by the week. Now the holidays are here, and that should launch everyone into tension overload.

   I had to deal with car problems today, something I haven’t had in a while but I always know is only a dashboard light away. How many times have I had a car that ‘runs great’, but costs me the moon because something goes wrong that isn’t engine or transmission related? I’ve lost count.

   Today it was my rear suspension system. Something snapped when I went over a railroad track a while back, and it got so bad I couldn’t drive the car without getting whiplash every time I hit a pebble. I put it off as long as I could, but I had no choice. Final damage: $450. My wallet hurts.

   Every time I think I can at least stick my nose out of the water and breathe a little, some out of the blue crisis comes along and puts my head back under. This wasn’t what I pictured doing with $450 right now, but I’m sure the guy at the car place didn’t mind. He’s probably struggling too.

   There’s a quote rolling around in my head, but I have no idea who said it or where I heard it. It goes “Life can be a cruel mother – giving with one hand and taking with the other.” I don’t know who said that, but it should probably be on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. It rings truthful with me.

   It’s hard enough to deal with the expected expenses of life, but throw the surprises in there and it’s a money minefield. Nobody can predict where the mines are, and eventually we all get one or more limbs blown off. It could be worse though. At least I’m single. How do parents pull it off?

   I couldn’t imagine raising a kid right now. I have all I can do to keep my own bills paid. Where are people getting money to raise children these days – especially if they intend on sending them to college? These are not easy questions, and I have no answers. I barely found $450 for my car.

   Actually, I didn’t find it at all. I had that money all ready to go somewhere else, but that didn’t work out. It was to help pay down my credit card, and that’s another issue most people today are battling. I had my balance at zero for years, but again I stepped in the money minefield and blew my leg off. I needed a car badly, so I bought the one that just had the work done on it. It’s a trap.

   The interest is already killing me, but what can I do? Had I been able to keep driving it I would have, but it had reached the boiling point. The whole thing makes me sick, but I know I’m by far not the only one going through these situations. Like I said, everyone I know is having problems.

   One thing I’d really like to see is some financial training in schools. I for one could have used a crash course, and so could everyone else. Most parents can’t or don’t take time to talk about this with their kids because they’re out feverishly struggling to try and patch their own money holes.

   If nothing else, at least I’ll have a nice smooth riding car to sleep in if I need to. Rent is due in a few days, and I had all I could handle to scrape that up…again. One of these days I’m going to figure it out, and hopefully be able to share it with my friends. Life is too short to live like a bug.

Life is a minefield. Problems explode without warning.