Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Life's Pretty Good, Y'Know?

After a full day of eating on Thanksgiving, I lay in my bed, staring at my ceiling, having just fought through another tryptophanic nightmare in which the Pope burst into my room in a pillar of fire, forbidding me to ever brush my teeth again (not made up).
But really, apart from these gravy-induced visions, the day had been a good one. I had the opportunity to see lots of relatives and inform them that, no, I was not yet married. I tore through pies like clay pigeons, in a heated house, on a leather couch, and in front of a hi-definition football game.
Well, I was feeling mightily blessed, to say the least, and I remembered the list I had made a few months ago of things that bothered me. And yea, verily, I began to feel like a huge weenie.
Thus motivated by my burden of guilt, I got out of bed and forcibly wrote down a few things that I had to admit made my life a contented one, or at least a humorous one when rewound and played back on the great DVR of life.
However, what started out as a rememdy for a weighted conscience soon blossomed and blistered into a ravenous outpouring of ink as my writing hand was inundated with blessings that, I was painfully realizing, I did not show enough appreciation for. The logjam behind my ball-point didn't clear up till three in the morning, at which point my face was maybe a full inch from the surface of my desk. I threw myself back into bed and woke to edit what my pen had vomited during the night.
Well, I can't very well list everything I wrote down, partly for brevity's sake but also for fear of incrimination. I'd like to share this second list of some things that maybe make your life a little more liveable everyday. Some are small, some are grand, some are possibly the product of yam-based hallucinations. Enjoy.

I love......
1. A thick, new pair of socks.
2. When I order fast food, and Jimmy the fry cook accidentally puts an extra taco in my bag, and he "can't really, like, take it back, so just take it, dude. No charge." That's some gooood taco.
3. Bill Murray movies.
4. Cleaning out the dark recesses of my closet as an adult and finding toys that were the stinkin' coolest (e.g. Legos, Variations on the Ninja Turtle Theme, etc.) and sitting on my bed and playing with them for a half hour.
5. Going on a blind date, expecting to be paired up with Barath-Og the Dragon Woman, but actually meeting a really nice girl who ends up becoming a good friend.
6. But also, I have to love blind dates that are about as smooth as being dragged across the Bonneville Salt Flats behind a truck, because they make good stories later on and I'm sure help me more fully appreciate the one with whom I finish the race.
7. Friends who can laugh at the little things you do but never dislike you for them.
8. Extreme conservatives and liberals, because they give me someone to make fun of and make me feel reasonably normal.
9. Old paperback books that can be re-read countless times.
10. Compliments on things I do terribly (like when people say, "Great job on your solo in class today! That Debussy piece was perfect for your voice." And I say, "Oh, shucks..Thank you!" But really, I'm thinking, "That was an affront to the entire Romantic period of music, and I could possibly be executed for it in a number of European countries." Those compliments are almost as good and sustaining as the extra taco.)
11. The Muppets. You laugh, but I don't want to live in a world without them.
12. Also, Barney the Dinosaur (I recently came out as a closeted Barney-phile. It was hard at first, but I would never go back. I love him, and I'm pretty sure he loves me).
13. Leftovers that taste better the 2ND day.
14. Calling little kids the wrong name on purpose and watching their horrified, scrunch-faced indignation as they give you a look that says you're dumber than mud. ("My name is not Fred! It's Sara! I'm a girl!" "Whoa, whoa, Fred, no need to yell!" "IT'S NOOOOTTTT FFRRREEEEDDDDDDDD!!!!!" "What, Fred? I couldn't make that out.")
15. Otter pops. Particularly the red ones.
16. Writing something completely self-serving and giggling at it, knowing full well that it only amuses me, and then showing it to no one.
17. The infinite possibilities of the light bulb joke. One hundred years from now, in a Harvard English building, there will be a class entitled "21st Century Poetry: Free-Verse, Haiku, and Light Bulb Jokes."
18. Also, limericks. Try having a limerick-writing contest with someone. It's fun and educational.
19. Mormons who find it humorous to be made fun of, instead of just being offended by everything.
20. Nice old people who still remember common courtesies, like how to speak on the phone in a polite manner.
21. When little kids swear but don't know what they're saying. You try not to laugh. One of my fondest memories is walking up to my dad in zealous enthusiasm and bleating out the new word the neighbor kids taught me that day, waiting for his approval and watching him try really really hard not to laugh while he informed me that, though it rhymed with truck, it has nothing to do with one.
22. Any fourth quarter of a Utah Jazz game in which they can maintain a lead of ten points WITHOUT BLOWING IT AND GIVING ME ULCERS YOU STUPID PUNKS I KNOW PEOPLE IN COMAS WHO FIGHT HARDER FOR REBOUNDS!
23. Hymns performed as written.
24. Tater tots.
25. Finding a forgotten candy bar in my desk at work. Just try not to be happy when that happens. "Oh, man....A candy bar. That's horrible!"
22. Doing things like numbering lists incorrectly and watching peoples' faces scrunch up when they read it. Or singing a quarter-step flat in a chord, then looking around, practicing my anal-that's-the-wrong-pitch face while trying to catch the imaginary culprit and berate them with my raised eyebrows.
27. Foreign professional athletes who learned all of their English from other American professional athletes. ("Ya, we just is going to need give our A-game over 100% and you know, yeah. And crash de boards more so coach is happy man.")
28. Finding a shirt that's already ironed when you're in a hurry to get out the door.
29. Watching two dogs bark at each other through a fence.
30. Jigsaw puzzles. It's an acquired taste.
31. Also, maps. I could stare at a map for days. Africa, rural Iowa, inner-city Stockholm. Anything.
32. Reading a classic work and figuring out that, hey, this is one of those books that is not only famous, but actually enjoyable! How did that sneak past my professor?
33. GOOD cartoons, like the Ninja Turtles or Animaniacs. None of this Shiat-su, Princess Warrior of the Dead And Also Small Cute Pink Things garbage that kids watch these days.
34. Old, retired athletes who look up from their stock portfolios and real estate holdings and chuckle as today's Initialed Nicknames bear their bling across the gap of a mediocre, unremarkable career rife with dunks and missed free throws.
35. Badly-written sitcoms that are PG-rated on the worst day and about as deep as a cup of pudding. These beautiful shows can spend a half hour over the deep emotional complexities of Davey borrowing Bobby's sweater withough asking, and I love it.
36. Pudding cups.
37. 3 on 3 basketball games with a bunch of old, chubby guys with bad knees and white legs who like to stop and walk to the drinking fountain a lot. Also, they never get into fights over who exudes more testosterone, and they NEVER call each other for fouls.
38. Sight-reading a really difficult piece of music.
39. Christmas decorations I made in elementary school that Mom still puts out.
40. The smell of frying bacon.
41. People who can sit down and have a long conversation and don't see it as a waste of time. And by people, I mean girls. (That's right. I said it.)
42. People who not only say they aren't racists, but are, in fact, not racist.
43. When I fall asleep watching a movie and my cat briefly wakes me up by curling up on my chest and going to sleep.
44. Good-looking girls who say hi to me before I say hi to them. And also think nothing of it, knowing full well I have no shot. Like throwing bread to a duck, I know it's not that nutritious, but I'm pedaling my guts out for it every time.
45. When I get home and my dog is blissfully happy to see me and shoves her face between my calves and wags her tail and whines contentedly.
46. This may bug you, but I love Love LOVE it when the Sacrament meeting hymns are so slow that you can take a breath between every note.
47. People who understand when I'm making a joke.
48. People who do not understand when I'm making a joke, which is sometimes just as fun. For me.
49. Accidentally falling asleep on soft fuzzy carpet as the sun hits me through a window, then waking up and realizing it was only ten minutes, but I feel like I could run a marathon.
50. Huge Goliath-Burgers with everything on them that are so bad for me they verbally insult me as I'm eating them.
51. Running into an ex and seeing them with someone who's even goofier-looking than me. With less hair. Sadistic pleasure, I know, but a pleasure nonetheless.
52. Groucho Marx quotes. ("Time wounds all heels.")
And finally...
53. I don't know what to put here, but I'm leaving it open. I quite literally left hundreds of other things off this list, but I would greatly appreciate your contributions. So, contribute! Let me hear about the things you love. I might not agree, which probably makes you wrong, but you'll get at least a B for effort.

Sunday, September 21, 2008



If there was one quotation that would describe my philosophy on life, it would definitely have to be this quote (given from an anonymous quote donor): “Never teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
Basically, this quote suggests that no matter how hard or how much you argue a point, and no matter how right you are (which in my case, is every single time ever that I ever said something ever), you aren’t going to make a stubborn person change their opinion, just because you think that they should. All the arguing in the world isn’t going to change a single thing, except to spread hostility, and also open new positions in the field of law.
For instance, if the Pope and the Dalai Lama were to get into a heated debate over which religion was really the right one, the Pope wouldn’t suddenly change his whole perspective on life, just because the Dalai Lama kept up a relentless and heated discussion or said something really profound (“By heavens, you are right! What have I been doing with my life?”).
Think back to your childhood. Was there ever an instance in which you suddenly changed from “Nuh uh!’ – “Uh huh!” – “Nuh uh!” – “Uh huh!” – “Nuh uh!” – “Uh huh!” – to a less heated debate of “Nuh uh!” – “Oh, you know what? You’re probably right. Batman IS probably the superior of Spiderman. I really should take the time to expose myself to a wider array of opinions and information on the subject before attempting to disagree with you.”
The only thing that a head-bashing kind of argument between two stubborn people is going to accomplish is to busy the emergency room. Because of this inevitability, I always try to abide by this easy principle: agree to disagree. Just because people have opinions that are completely different from mine, I feel no compulsion to browbeat them until they fully revise to suit my needs, even if they are wrong. Which they probably are. Spiderman would wail on that rich boy Bruce Wayne.
So, in conclusion, pigs who can’t sing and just don’t really want to learn how don’t necessarily need to be made to sing, no matter how much musical vocalizing would benefit them. Even tone-deaf pigs make useful contributions to society. That’s where we get bacon.



I had a perfectly happy childhood, nearly without complaint. I owned almost every single G.I. Joe, tried every brand of breakfast cereal (even the boxed kind!), and generally enjoyed all times as a young one. However, there is one enormous, gaping void in my soul that no little boy should have to suffer with, even worse than the one created by, say, sharing a room for the first sixteen years of my life with my younger brother. It is my lack of a nickname.
That’s right. I have no nickname. I am without my happy, boyhood moniker. No Buddy, Sport, Red, Knuckles, etc. I even have a great name for nicknames: Wood. The possibilities were endless, albeit problematic and, on occasion, slightly dirty. Yet sadly, no one has ever deemed me worthy of a lasting handle, nothing that identifies me as special or unique.
Now, I’m not talking about those slapdash, precipitate little nicknames where parents find it really cute to transform a Bartholomew James Smith into a “B.J.” This is a product of an unoriginal society. Back in the good old days, kids got their respective titles from accomplishment (“Hey, there goes Rubber-Shorts, from scout camp!”), physical anomalies (“No, I don’t want to pick Duck-Face! You pick Duck-Face.”), or those lucky guys who were blessed with last names that were already really messed up, usually of German ancestry (“Kuchenschlager, my man! Yo!”).
Among my friends growing up was one Brent Gubler (sounds like Goobler), who was fortunate enough to be born into a family with the best surname on human record. His name was so rife with possibility that I frequently forgot he had a first name, and was only reminded of his Brent-ness on double dates when girls were present. “Is Brent going to be driving tonight?” “Uh, I thought Goobs was going to drive, but he can if he wants. I didn’t know another guy was coming. Is he your brother, or something?” To me, he was, and is eternally, just Goob, or Goobs, or Gubler, or Goobie.
Some parents worry that giving their child a nickname might actually be damaging to his psyche. If a kid is given an embarrassing nickname like Tubby, self-esteem can be lowered and the child could be permanently scarred. Fortunately, most parents seem to be more sensitive and careful than that.
However, it can be said that “Tubby” is always going to get invited to the party, whereas “Steve” might not. And who doesn’t want to be friends with someone like “Bobo,” or “Billy the Human Sponge,” or “Communist Dave.”
One of the greatest evils of our time is the trend for sports players nick-naming themselves. Gone are the days of sportscaster-dubbed Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Ted “the Splendid Splinter” Williams, Babe “Herman” Ruth, Barney “The Rampaging Penguin” Fleckenstein. We now are privileged to listen to Tracy “T-Mac” Mac Grady, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal, Roger “Roger” Federer, and other intellectual and creative players describe themselves with highly imaginative epithets. Kids see these guys, and they stop thinking up original names for each other, like “Stinky” and “Sasquatch,” and they start calling each other “O-Dogg” (which brings up the issue of malformed English skills, but that is another tirade for another day).
All I really want to say is that it is important for the spread of democracy and lasting drug prevention and wage increases and the cure for acne and everything else that is good and holy that we preserve the practice of the nickname! One of these days, you’re going to be sitting at home, and there will be a session of the Supreme Court running on the television, and you’ll say “Hey! It’s Chief Justice Bob “The Woodchuck” Mortenson! I went to junior high with him!” And your heart will fill with familiarity and pride.
Finally, to all those out there with a nickname, enjoy it wholeheartedly. Anyone willing to donate an old, used nickname can send them to Mike “Babyeater” Tyson, who would like to make an exchange.


Society’s Major Missing Virtue

“The late Lord Longford once burst into a London bookshop to scold the staff for not featuring his latest book more prominently in the store window. The book’s title? Humility.”
Humility is a core virtue of society that seems, sadly, lacking in today’s ambitious lifestyles. Humility is a vital trait to develop, and yet many look down on humility as a demonstration of weakness, as a lack of courage. Pride and ambition are glorified and admired, and success is coveted. Even according to Webster, to be “humbled” is to be “lower(ed) in condition or rank”, and humility itself is described as “having or showing a consciousness of one’s shortcomings."
Humility, however, is not a weakness. It is not a shortcoming. Humility is an asset, and the mark of a good person. Though tragically skipped over in society, humility is the foundation of good character. As Sir Thomas More, the British author and philosopher, eloquently stated:
“Humility, that low, sweet root,
From which all heavenly virtues shoot.”
The problem of pride is one that has been dealt with since the dawn of time. Ancient Greek mythological heroes like Odysseus and Achilles battled their “hubris,” that excessive, arrogant pride that often leads to the downfall of the hero. Examples of this pride, forever humility’s arch-nemesis, abound in both old literature and new celebrity.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the title character is consumed with thoughts of taking the kingdom of Scotland for himself from the aging King Duncan. Prodded on by both his nagging wife and his feelings of pride and inferiority, Macbeth kills the king. From that point on, his life is a tragic downward spiral, with more evil deeds generating from the original one. If Macbeth had simply bided his time and been content with his own stewardship, he would have enjoyed a happy, long life, though possibly a life without such high attainments in power. A lack of needed humility caused the downfall of Macbeth, and several others of Shakespeare’s tragic characters, like Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.
In a more modern anecdote, a “British newspaper once sent a questionnaire to several of the nation’s preeminent writers – including Jeanette Winterson (a famous writer during this time period). Among the questions was: “Whom do you consider to be the greatest living English prose stylist?” Winterson’s answer? Jeanette Winterson.”
In these modern days, there are “big” men like Donald Trump (1946-present), the American real estate developer and casino magnate. Trump is exceedingly wealthy and successful, but his ego far exceeds its limits. Among many things, Trump has owned the land the Empire State Building sits on, refers to himself as “The Trump” or “The Donald,” asked Larry King in a live interview if he could “sit back a little…because your breath is very bad,” has tried to trademark the phrase “You’re fired” (a phrase popularized by Trump’s self-aggrandizing hit television program “The Apprentice”), and once in the second grade, he punched his music teacher. “…I didn’t think he knew much about music,” said Trump. “I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear that early on I had a tendency to stand up.” Was it a tendency to stand up, or was it a tendency to push others down?
Donald came by it honestly, though. Donald’s father, Fred Trump, himself a construction magnate, taught little Donald the art of pride. “One day a cement contractor presented Fred Trump with a bill for $900,000 for work on one of his construction projects. Trump cut a $1,000,000 check – just for the pleasure of spending such a sum – and hand-delivered it to the delighted contractor.” Throwing around $100,000, just because one has the ability, hardly means that one should.
“I like thinking big,” Donald Trump once declared. “If you’re going to be thinking anything, you might as well think big.” Trump was certainly thinking big (if he was thinking at all) at the unveiling of the Trump Tower in 1979, Trump’s monument to himself, which at the time was in fact the world’s tallest reinforced concrete structure, unrivaled in its glory. “There has never been anything like this built,” he declared, “in four hundred years.” Is Trump’s personal Tower of Babel warranted because of his success?
Besides Trump, there are many others in society who find it very important that they appear important. There have been men like Winston Churchill, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who achieved truly remarkable heights in their lives and yet were constantly brought down by their own pride and huge egos. Had these men but kept themselves in check, history might view them in a less jaded light.
Religion has usually been the main source of keeping the pride of man in check, and regardless of religious opinion, humility is quality that all should strive to learn. The Bible is rife with passages on the importance of humility, many of them stemming from the mouth of the great teacher, Jesus Christ.
“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt.23:12) says Christ, in his famous Sermon on the Mount. “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matt.20:27), Christ goes on, showing that the best leader is chiefly concerned for his servants, not himself. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”(Matt.5:5). This last scripture might conjure up a mental image of the meek of the world finally rising up in open rebellion and taking back what they deserve, but the intended meaning is more likely descriptive the meek people of the world already having what they need, and not vaunting it.
The Book of Job, held by many scholars to be a great work of literature, depicts the tale of a once successful landowner with fields, flocks, servants, and wealth beyond imagination. Through a series of horrid trials, Job loses all of his worldly possessions, most of his family, and his own good health. His friends come to him, confusedly inquiring why he doesn’t just curse God for his ruined state. Job refuses to shift the blame from himself, and sees his struggles as just another inconvenience. He continues to praise God and thank Him, despite the fact that his life is ruined. In reward of Job’s humility and continued allegiance, God allows Job to once again have his fields and flock, his family, his servants, and his wealth. Job doesn’t use this as an opportunity to boast, however, and he persists in his praise of the Lord. Though a possibly austere example for a non-believer, the story of Job is effective in demonstrating how hard humility can be sometimes.
In a more modern example of a Christian leader emphasizing the importance of humility, Ralph W. Sockman, formerly senior pastor of Christ Church (United Methodist) of New York City, said that “True humility is intelligent self-respect which keeps us from thinking too highly (or too meanly) of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be.”
And Christians by no means have the humility market cornered. Meekness is admired in most cultures. Mohandas K. Gandhi, the great leader of men and devout Hindu, said “I claim to be a simple individual, liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and retrace my steps.” Swami Sivananda, the Hindu founder of the Divine Life Society, stated eloquently that “humility is not cowardice. Meekness is not weakness. Humility and meekness are indeed spiritual powers.” “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues,” says the ancient Chinese philosopher Kong Fu Zi.
Some scientists, philosophers, and even occasional politicians value humility. Simone Veil, the French philosopher and social activist, defines real genius as “nothing else but the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought.” Albert Einstein learned many lessons in humility during the course of his life, making many magnificent discoveries in his life but also going through heaps of work to get there. “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right,” said Einstein, “and a single experiment can prove me wrong.” Ted Turner, the American media mogul and philanthropist, joked “If I only had a little humility, I’d be perfect!”
Even Abe Lincoln had something to say on humility, coming from such common, poor roots. “Common-looking people are the best in the world,” he said. “That is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.” Lincoln is a great example of humility, in that he accepted his flaws, knew what they were, but did not dwell on them, and continued to work to benefit man.
On the college level, competition is rampant. It is natural to seek success and crave competition, but many see the success of others only as success above their own. The goal for many students lies only at the top of the ladder, in getting the best grade in class, in nailing that internship over 30 other applicants. There is nothing wrong with this attitude. It is acceptable to be successful.
The true test, however, is for one to get as high as possible on that ladder, and then, to not only be content with one’s allotted spot, but to help others on their ascent. Applauding others’ achievements while hiding one’s own is a great mark of character, and those who practice this lost art are truly respected by their peers. “Do you wish to be great?” asks St. Augustine, the old Christian scholar and the first archbishop of Canterbury. “Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
After hearing all of this talk on humility, what can the reader do in his/her life to secure this foundation of humility? One may allow others to win sometimes. One could serve in stealth, and then blush upon being discovered in these acts of do-goodery. One could speak better and more frequently of others than of oneself. One might be trodden upon, but could meekly accept that inconvenience as an opportunity to be someone else’s stepping-stone.
Humility is often neglected, but is still important and admirable. If in doubt, just remember the words of the great Yankee’s catcher Yogi Berra. “It ain’t the heat; it’s the humility.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008



I try to keep my complaining to a minimum. It seems that with the onslaught of the blogosphere, all writers have become just a school of piranhas floating about the internet. But, one day, I was eating out, and I ordered this salad, and it was just horrid. I mean, awful. Everything that did not belong on lettuce was thrown into this recipe. It was the Elton John of salads. If the conflict in the Middle East could have been symbolized in a serving of tossed veggies, this would have been it.
Anyway, I realized, then and there, that (A) weird salads really annoy me, and (B) there are quite a few things that just bug the be-whoozits out of me. Thus, having already descended into my entirely-annoyed state, I sat down and made a list of everything that bothers me. Call me easily irritated, perpetully pestered, or what have you. I need to get this off my chest (and this will be followed up by a list of things that I really like, I promise, so that I am not a hypocritic piranha). If I leave anything off the list, it's because I wasn't particularly bothered by it at the time of this essay's conception.

1. Beauracracies.
2. People surrounding me who don't have any goals or aspirations.
3. People surrounding me who have goals or aspirations that are obviously and blatantly unrealistic, but you can't say anything to them because they'll shrivel down into a human tumbleweed and blow away with the wind.
4. Mediocrity (in the words of my father, "If you're going to suck, be the suckiest.")
5. Music Videos. I'm sorry, but I just can't see what's going on.
6. Linebackers who tackle the running back after a 3-yd. gain, then celebrate like they just cured cancer or ended the war on terror or something.
7. People who go golfing with me for their very first time, and birdie the first hole. Ooh! That makes me mad.
8. Sopranoes who think everything is funny except for that joke you just made about them.
9. The Boils of Pride (this might not make sense, but just picture someone who is covered in boils, and if anyone bumps them, it causes them excruciating pain. Some people are like this, only they aren't literally covered in boils. They're just easily offended.)
10. Bad poetry that is posing as good poetry.
11. Guns in general (unless that makes you mad at me, in which case, see number 9 again).
12. Canned fruit.
13. People who use the phrases (pardon my keyboard) "Shut up!" and "S*e*w You!" and "I'm pi**ed off!"
14. Any question thrown in my direction before I have been awake for an hour. This one makes me really grumpy just writing it....
15. Old people in my college classes that contribute too much and visibly annoy the professor.
16. Awkward jokes at the beginning of speeches. Just roll right into the meat of it, man! No one wants to hear about lawyers or BYU football or what you thought when your Bishop called you.
17. Single girls who don't want to talk to me just because they're single and don't want to give off "that vibe."
18. "That vibe."
19. The Ruination of the Sacred Hymns. They're golden the way they're written. No need to add a drum track/machine gun vibrato/oft'-arpeggio-ed piano part to them.
20. Writers who think that any good writing has to "deal with issues the people aren't ready to hear, man." If I want to hear good writing, I'm going to watch Sesame Street, thank you very much.
21. Socks that have more holes in them than a Chinese newspaper.
22. Faucets that, upon being turned on, spray past the lip of the sink and soak the entire front of your pants, thus enabling those people who struggle in developing original humor to make comments like "Hey! You wet your pants!" Yes, thank you.
23. People who struggle in developing original humor (i.e. - "You started shaving? Boy, I could just put some milk on that and let the cat lick it off!", or "I'd tell you, but I'd have to kill you.", or pretty much any quote from a Monty Python movie).
24. English/Political Science majors who think that society would greatly benefit from a study of themselves.
25. Missed free throws. Dangit, c'mon!
26. That girl in class who does all the homework and has the best grade and aces the test but couldn't tell you anything about what it means.
27. Contrived spontenaity and forced randomization.
28. Trying to spell spontenaity...naety...tanaeitey....
29. People who think that music is only good if the lyrics are good.
30. People who think that music is only good if the music is good.
31. People who think that music is only good if Neil Diamond sings it.
32. The fact that I have to number this list. I'm so obsessive sometimes.
33. People who can't hear a question asked without answering it, even if it isn't directed at them.
34. The Talented-But-Tactless.
35. Being stuck in a vehicle that only plays late-90's pop music. It's like being stranded in the desert with a bag of Tootsie Rolls.
36. That angry older guy that shows up for the pick-up basketball game and calls fouls on every drive, then gets in a fight with someone.
37. Being the only person in the room who knows who Gary Hart is.
38. Bees. They know what they did.
39. Bands like (I'm sorry!) Journey, Boston, Kansas, Styx, Rush. They're not bad, they're not great. See number 4. And, if you don't agree with me, read number 9 again.
40. Being the lone manatee in a sea of dolphins.
41. Paper-cuts.
And, finally, number 42..........I don't really know. But I'm sure I'll wake up at 3:00 A.M. this morning screaming, "AAAGGGHHH!!! I forgot to put______on the list!!! I absolutely hate that....."
Feel free to add on to this list. I would love to hear your opinions, unless I disagree with them, in which case I will haughtily glance over them and fail to reply.
Boy, do I feel better.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Luckiest

I've been reluctant to post anything on the same blog as a writer as talented as Kory, but I wanted to write down some events that happened this week and perhaps bring a smile to someone's face.

Tuesday began as any other Tuesday would, with me stumbling around in a sleepy daze as I attempted to wake and get my sorry self off to work. My stomach wasn't feeling too great, but I ignored that and went to work. When you're a college student two things matter: girls and money. You can't have one without the other.

Work progressed as well as I could have hoped. Things have been pretty busy lately due to a vacancy in our department. Busy is definitely good, because the busier I am, the more commission I make. (See above).

I finished work and took off to take care of a couple errands. I had to run up to campus to meet with an advisor, and also needed to go to Layton to pick up a tux for a very good friend's wedding.

Now would be a good time to describe my truck. I drive a big, noisy, blue 1979 Chevy Pickup. It has a shell and a carpet kit, and more personality than Lucille Ball. Decades of dents and rust make Chuck, as we affectionately call him (Chuck the Big Blue Truck, a name I gave him when I was but three), truly unique. You can hear me coming from a mile away. Chuck has been a part of our family since I was a small child, and is full of memories of camp outs and road trips to California.

This was a day where almost nothing went as planned. I met with my advisor as planned, but that's where the good times ended. I forgot my wallet, and was thereby rendered a nobody by the system and was unable to buy books, register a few more credits, and several other things I needed to do. A man with no cards has no identity and no way to pay for things.

I took off in a rush for Layton. I had been in the day previously to make some last minute adjustments, so they didn't request my I.D. I grabbed my tux as quickly as possible (never trust a salesman in a lavender shirt). Yoink! I dragged my nauseous hiney out of there.

The further I drove on the way home, the sicker I got. I figured it was a race between me and my stomach. The prize: a nice bed and a glass of Alka-Seltzer.

If you've read this far, you deserve some sort of medal. Unfortunately, being a little short on medals at the moment, all you're going to get is the best part of the story.

As I was fighting back my own noxious fumes, I finally saw the last major milestone on my journey: the North Ogden Exit. I pressed down the gas, eager to win my prize. Chuck didn't respond to my coaxing. I pressed the gas down further, no response. I had just filled up. I noticed my temperature gauge was having the equivalent of a thermometer's seizure. Up. Down. Up. Down. Suddenly, my cab filled with smoke. No seeing. No breathing. Only coughing and hoping I could pull over.

I pulled over, all the while holding my breath, and dove out the passenger's side. 100 degrees. Sick stomach. I'm on the shoulder of I-15 within sight of my exit. Chuck is billowing smoke. I try to open the hood, but pull back yiping. I decide not to touch the hood for a while. Next, I call my mom, as any good son would. She agrees to come rescue me, as any mother would.

By this time, my stomach has decided to have a barmitzfa. I stand there looking stupidly at the cars passing, hoping one of them will be some good Samaritan who knows more about cars than I do. (Which isn't hard). My stomach decides to give me a little more grief, and I lean on Chuck to rest with my head down.

This is about the time the Highway Patrolman shows up. We agree that it's probably a bad idea to open the hood for fear of feeding the flames. He radios the firemen with a "Possible Number that Justin won't remember because he's too delirious." We stand and wait, and I feel like a Jack-in-the-Box that is almost ready to blow.

Fire truck arrives (followed shortly by my concerned mother), and they make the new guy (who has a sticker that says "The Boy Wonder" on his helmet) dress in full gear and open the hood. Smoke is abundant, but no flames are to be seen. The older fireman obviously has mechanical experience, and he quickly sees the problem: my heater core got a hole in it and started leaking water. No water in the radiator is apparently a bad thing.

They go and grab a water line from the truck (Cool!) and begin satisfying Chuck's thirst. This is about the time that my stomach has had enough, and I go a few steps away and unload my three previous meals onto the side of the freeway. Yes, I see carrots, and salad . . .

"Are you alright?"

"I've been better"

The kind firemen give me a bottle of water, instruct me to try and start the engine. It starts, but Chuck isn't the same. He seems sluggish. Or slothish. Slowish. He doesn't want to start, much less go anywhere. Our friendship has enough juice left for one last trip, and he makes it off the freeway. A few blocks later he gives up and won't start for anything.

Now my stomach. Let's give him a name, shall we? Gunther decides that he's not thirsty and would rather water the dead lawn at the abandoned house where Chuck broke down. Heaving on all fours is not how I had planned to spend my day. We call a tow truck, and I say goodbye to Chuck, hoping he'll be alright. My mom takes me home and I sleep for 16 hours, waking up in time to go to work and attend my friend's wedding.

This post turned out to be a lot longer than I intended, so I'll cut down the next part. The next day my dad's car broke down, and we quickly realized how much we rely on these vehicles. I spent quite a bit of time wallowing in self pity and trying to figure out how the heck I'm going to afford a car. I thought about how unlucky we were! Only one car between three drivers! How are we going to work this out? Then a man came in to work requesting that a memoriam be placed in the paper. His mother and one year old son died last year in a car accident. I get news of a person I don't even know having a swimming accident and being paralyzed from the neck down. Shattered dreams, ruined hopes. I realize: I am pretty lucky.

Friday, August 1, 2008



It’s hard being both Ambitious and Meek,
Striving for Success and Humility.
It seems of Av’rice and Pride some men reek,
But others are downtrodden too eas’ly.
What matters most? Power and Achievement?
Forcing one’s name into respected lofts?
Getting one’s way like a fair-haired infant,
Demanding Attention and bursting oft’?
Or is it better a step-stone to be,
Supporting teeming masses on the back?
Allowing others in spotlights their glee,
Like Hephaestus, hamm’ring while Zeus attacks.
Recognition is heftily prized,
But for what do I want to be recognized?



I can promise,
You’re not a wimp
If you’ve been feeling void of free time.
Completing vital tasks
Seems impossible.
Oh, the bleak irony.
There are so many
Absolutely necessary things
That are naught.
How does one so plagued
With to-do lists
Combat this age-old frustration?
I recommend a healthy dose
Of some good old
Procrastination feels right
Because it’s secretly
Suck it down like warm root beer,
Left on the picnic table
From hours past.
Watch prior anxieties
Scatter off
As leaves ‘neath a lawnmower.
Take some time to waste some time.
There’s much to gain
From losing precious hours.
Meet responsibilities,
Of course,
And do enough to see success.
At least,
Your own interpretation of success,
Which only you know.
But there’s more value
In value-less activities
Than people think.
And doesn’t it always seem
That those hurried least
Are happiest most?

Thursday, July 17, 2008



Rank and file, we all must live
As what our parents named us.
However, one wonders what it’d be like
If instead of Phil, you were called Mike,
Or, perhaps, Joe or Gus.

What’s in the name, that makes James Dean
The epitome of ‘cool’?
What if Brad Pitt had been Bernie McKay?
Would he still steal girls’ hearts away,
Or would he mop your school?

Would Michael Jordan still have soared
As Mortimer W. Bing?
I wonder if millions would have swooned
If Douglas Presley cooed and crooned.
Methinks, he’d not be “King.”

Nest time you see the Queen of England
Or Oprah, or someone of equal fame,
Think of her as Bernice Schmeldman
Or maybe she’d be Maybel Feldman.
Oh! How ‘bout Lulu Fannie O’Geldman?
See? What’s in name?.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I found myself in the middle of Pride and Prejudice, in awe at the character of Mr. Darcy. As with so many of Jane Austen’s male characters, they are at first misunderstood and slightly un-likeable, but upon further study, the reader begins to truly love them. And this made me think of something seemingly unrelated: Allen Iverson.
Yes, I mean the dread-locked, tattoo-laden, practice-skipping point guard for the Denver Nuggets, who has spent most of his career in Philadelphia. I used to hate this guy. I mean, frothing at the mouth, yelling at the t.v., venomously loathing this man. And then, I saw the game in which he returned to Philadelphia for the first time since being traded, and saw the crowd give him a five-minute ovation, and watched him cry, and heard the analysts telling stories of what this guy has done for the community there, and I was intrigued. Maybe I had misjudged him. Beneath the ink, bling, and posse, was he a worthy role model?

PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES: No One Should be Paid to be a Role Model

“I am not a role model. I am not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.”
Charles Barkley, the famous forward for the Phoenix Suns, revolutionized the world of sports debate in the early 1900’s with this simple statement. Sports stars had long been idolized (and still are) by young people for their athletic prowess, but did they bear any kind of a responsibility, subsequently, to be upstanding and noble in their private lives?
Are professional athletes really still our heroes? These men and women have trained most of their lives to become very good at what they do, but have other aspects of their lives, such as strength of character, become just as important in earning “idol” status among today’s people? Absolutely. A professional athlete with high standards is respected far more than one without said standards. As major public figures, athletes are and should act as role models.
Admittedly, athletes have it a little rough. Some come from very humble circumstances and communities. Some come from very little education. Some come from bad families, bad neighborhoods, and bad habits. After coming from these varied environments, however, they suddenly come into fame, masses of wealth, and public attention. It would be hard for anyone to stand up to the media onslaught most modern-day athletes endure, but harder still is coping with the sudden possibilities a life of wealth and fame bring. Those who are not ready and prepared for this life often make massive mistakes.
Athletes are also exposed to the public more often than other celebrities. An actor can really only be seen as often as his movie is seen, but a quarterback is seen every consecutive Sunday for weeks in the fall. Sinead O’Connor (an Irish songwriter) is heard only as often as she is listened to, but Shaquille O’Neal (Phoenix Suns center and basketball star) is seen 82 times in the winter and spring.
Should their lives be held to such intense scrutiny? They are, technically, just athletes. They are really good at making inflatable objects go through steel circles, or throwing things farther than other people, or running faster and jumping farther and winning seemingly pointless events. At no time did they sign a lifetime contract assuring the public they would be a model citizen in everything they do. But is that really something that needs to be written down?
It is important that these men and women in our professional sports keep high standards, and especially important is the influence athletes have on children. Kids look for heroes, and they should be given something to live up to, not down to. Little boys and girls don’t follow the careers of politicians, secretly hoping that someday they can be like John Edwards. All little boys would rather grow up to play under John Chaney (former Temple University basketball coach) than work for Dick Cheney (United States Vice President), and most modern little girls would rather be like Diana Taurasi (WNBA Basketball Star) than like Nancy Pelosi (Speaker of the House).
Unfortunately, there are bad examples out there of athletes-gone-wrong. There are men like Mike Tyson, who was a world champion boxer and a world champion brawler, threatening the lives of opponents’ families, getting in fights outside of bars, and losing all of his money in frivolous spending.
Bobby Knight, the former coach of the oft-successful Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team (he is presently in a state of consulting/retirement), coached his teams to titles, but verbally and physically abused his own players and threw explosive temper tantrums, not to mention folding chairs.
There’s Pete Rose, who is inarguably one of the best baseball players ever, but who has also been accused of gambling on his own sport, preventing him from being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which he otherwise would so richly deserve.
And let’s not forget Kobe Bryant, who is admittedly a philanderer, if not a felon. He is absolutely amazing and virtually peerless on today’s basketball court, with a fade-away jumper that a high school ball player will work hours in imitating in his driveway, but his relationship with his wife is not one that should be emulated by these boys in their youthful pursuits.
In more recent news, Michael Vick, the extremely talented former quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, who was considered by many to be the “new face of the National Football league”, was caught in a dog-fighting scandal. According to multiple sources, prior to the discovery of these atrocious acts, his popularity exceeded every other player in the NFL. Statistically, more kids wore his numbers than any other active player, but now many fathers don’t want their kids wearing those jerseys. Worse yet, while awaiting trial, it was revealed that Vick had tested positive for marijuana.
Marion Jones, who holds many Olympic records for the Summer Games and lit up the 1996 Atlanta Games, recently came forward and admitted she had knowingly used steroids at the time of competition. While it can and should be admired that she came forth and admitted guilt of her own free will, the admission in no way removes the example Jones gave of steroid use, and all her wins and successes will forever be forgotten under the haze of her error.
Barry Bonds, our most recently-crowned home run king, has been involved in scandal after scandal, including allegations of steroid use and affairs with women. However, Bonds’ least redeeming quality is probably his demeanor. He refuses to share rooms with teammates, speaks to the media in as surly a manner as possible, and gives no one credit for his success but himself. He hasn’t even taken time to be in his team picture the last three years. He just left the San Francisco Giants in the off-season, and shockingly, no other team has picked him up.
O.J. Simpson, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, who is one of the best running backs of all time, was tried for a double murder, but miraculously (and suspiciously) cleared of guilt. He had been living in relative obscurity until a recent, almost comical outburst in which Simpson, armed to the teeth, attacked a man thought to have been stealing the star’s football memorabilia. He now awaits yet another trial.
Then, there are stars like Tonya Harding (the ice-skating hitman-hirer), John Daly (the drunken golfer), and Terrel Owens, Chad Johnson, and Randy Moss (all three Pro Bowl wide receivers with very wide mouths). It seems, with all these examples, that our nation is doomed to hearing story after story of successful athletes leading unsuccessful lives.
But there is hope. Most athletes aren’t nearly that despicable, most are completely normal, and some are downright admirable.
Let’s look on the local stage: the Utah Jazz (Salt Lake City’s professional basketball team) is a haven for athletes of good reputation. John Stockton, the long-time point guard who played near-perfect basketball for ages, never once needed the spotlight on the court. He has a large family and loves his wife. Jeff Hornacek (former shooting guard) is loved and admired in Utah as one of the best 3-point shooters who has ever played, but most guys admire him more because he’s a nice guy and a great father. Jaron Collins (current center) graduated from Stanford, and though he averaged less than a minute of play this post-season, he is always willing to speak with the media, no matter the outcome of a game, with a big smile on his face and an intelligent, elpquent, humble delivery. Jerry Sloan, the career coach of the Jazz, though occasionally afflicted with a severe potty-mouth, took extended time off only once, and that was for his wife’s funeral. He attributes all of his success to her, and even tried to clean up his language at her request. Greg Ostertag, the former Jazz big man, is not as admired as the previous three men for his talent and skill (and that especially includes this writer, the big klutz), but he is admired by his sister. She is currently alive because Greg gave her his kidney.
Outside of Utah, there have been and still will be real heroes in professional sports. David Robinson was a lieutenant in the Navy and has donated much of his time and money to service and charities. Lance Armstrong overcame cancer to win the Tour De France a record seven times, inspiring millions. Wyoming long shot Rulon Gardner won a gold medal in wrestling, then was caught in a violent snowstorm, losing half of his toes, but was back up and training to win again in no time.
Manute Bol and Dikembe Mutumbo are both native Africans who made it big in the NBA, and both nearly went broke giving most of their money back to their home towns in Africa, trying to improve living conditions and education. Hakeem Olajuwon, a former league MVP and also a native African, took nearly a month during the middle of every season to go through a strict religious fast. Shawn Green, a Jewish baseball player for the New York Mets, holds to his religious convictions and refuses to play on the Jewish Sabbath, waiting until after the sun has gone down Saturday night (sometimes during the middle of a game) to start playing.
Lebron James has been a good example to the millions of kids aspiring to be pro basketball players. Young and successful, James hasn’t allowed this fame to go to his head. For the most part, he stays humble, does what his coach asks of him, and is kind to teammates, the press, and the fans.
Hank Aaron has recently been re-crowned America’s “real” home run king. After playing many years without the aid of steroids, Aaron meekly held the home run record for a long time until Bond’s recent success. Aaron, however, was also a superb teammate, attributed no success to himself, quietly broke records, and these days is working to help at-risk children develop the skills needed to leave their hard lives behind.
And let’s not forget the contributions of many noble women athletes. Venus and Serena Williams are two of the world’s best tennis players, but they were raised in a horrible neighborhood in Compton, L.A. Rising to success from that low of a level has been an inspiration to lots of young American kids. Nancy Lopez was a world champion golfer until she randomly decided to quit and raise a family, and is now leading an admirable life she finds even more enjoyable. Mia Hamm, the famous American soccer star, is a great example to lots of girls of the levels of success any woman can achieve. Kristy Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan are both Olympic figure skaters of Asian descent that took the time to get solid educations.
In conclusion, it seems altogether fitting that this story of a hero named Maurice Cheeks be shared. In 2003, at a Portland Trailblazers’ game (basketball), a local girl got up to sing the Star-Spangled Banner. She was quite nervous to begin with, and singing in front of many thousands of people didn’t really help the situation much. Halfway through the song, she just stopped. Frantically, she tried to start again several times, but came up dead blank. She had forgotten the words to the national anthem, right in front of all those Trailblazers, at least those players who were on parole for the game (2003 was a hard year legally for the Portland franchise).
Unexpectedly, the Blazers’ coach, Maurice Cheeks, walked calmly over, put his arm around the girl, and started in with “and the rockets’ red glare…” The girl, mildly dazed, joined in with Cheeks and finished with him. Granted, Coach Cheeks was no amazing soloist, but to that girl, who tearfully hugged and thanked him afterward, he was a hero.
So, whether it is fair or not, those who are only trained to play sports have a civic duty to have political opinions, stay morally clean, and keep high standards. It becomes their responsibility as prolific citizens to lead lives worthy of emulation.
“I am not paid to be a role model.” Well, neither is anyone else.


I went hiking recently, and found myself reveling in the simple, quiet beauties of nature. I would love to take an hour to just sit on a rock at the top of a hill and watch and think and breathe the cool, blowing air.
I then sat back and realized that there was a time when my gratitude for the surrounding world was poorly displayed, and a combination of my youthful angst and curiosity led me to destroy much of the local plant life. I learned the hard way that, though not easily provoked, Mother Nature can choose to slap someone silly. Or at least mock them.


While growing up, I always felt I was a reasonably intelligent child. I read a lot of good books, watched snippets of the news in between my cartoons, and, if captive in the car with my father, even half-listened to (shudder) talk radio. Yet, for some strange reason, I was occasionally brought back down to my cave-man roots, brought down to a place where the most sublime joy was easily found. I think that most any guy, grown or not, would agree with me in saying that the predominant occupation of the mind of every prepubescent male is not in the wooing of women, nor yet in the acquisition of food, but in wondering what happens to things when you break them.
Countless were the hours I spent with my suburban rabble of friends, finding potentially punishable material, and then dastardly contriving the mixed means of their respective obliterations. Other boys seemed to dabble more in the dry-ice arts, or even in the classic skill of fireworks-tampering. I was not so brave. Upon long observations of my compadres’ singed knuckles and absent eyebrows, I had developed a reluctance to use anything of a volatile nature in my experimentations.
And yet, somehow, my equipment of destruction always seemed infantile and pathetic when compared to the awesome destructive potential I held at my seven-year old finger-tips. This was not my fault. Our house was not exactly brimming with fun power tools and such, like the houses of my friends. Their fathers all had cool jobs, like welders and carpenters and mechanics, and they all had separate garages stuffed with a wondrous variety of devastating paraphernalia. My dad was just a music teacher, whose knowledge of things mechanical sat somewhere in between the levels of “nun” and “poet”.
Most of the time, I was forced to amuse myself by walking around our backyard in a down-trodden sulk, whipping the heads off my mother’s flowers with a long, skinny stick I had picked up. Though not nearly as rewarding as the sickening WHHOMPTH! from the explosion of a pop bottle filled with the innards of emptied fire-crackers, the more subtle WHHHHHHIP! ... THLUP of my rod of power satisfied my needs.
I spent many an hour back there, beating the air and surrounding foliage like a deranged symphonic conductor, my baton of annihilation sparing no daisy. Sometimes, I could even hear the flowers petitioning for leniency, begging empathy for their already short and meaningless lives. But my stick and I radiated frostiness. There was no deliverance for the daffodils, just a geranium genocide. I had no compassion for the cowslip, no sympathy for the sunflower, and no pity for the periwinkle. And the chrysanthemums? Well…they were just doomed.
When my friend Richard turned eight, his mother invited all of the neighborhood kids over for a birthday party. At least, it was in its formation a birthday party, but it inevitably ended up becoming more akin to a death march, as were all birthday parties for small boys. His mother paraded us around to miscellaneous organized activities that were never as entertaining as just running around and hitting each other with things.
Eventually, though, our rebellious uprisings and attempts at escape were too much for her, and she spent the last half of the party shut up inside her room, muttering to herself (“No…gosh-darnit…Don’t touch…Why can’t you just hit the stupid piƱata, instead of every other boy in the room? And no peeking! ...What did I say about touching that!?...Lousy kids…”).
Richard was tall for his age, and skinnier than an Ethiopian pigeon, with almost-white hair and a tan-less complexion that would have made a polar bear look sideways. He had five brothers of indiscriminate age, all of whom looked exactly like him. Sometimes, I would be out wreaking havoc with Richard, and I would look up and realize that it was not Richard, but Mike, or Wade, or one of the others. Ultimately, this made no large difference, since their interests were all so similar (Interests: 1-Bugs, 2-Spaghettios, 3-Combining the aforementioned two interests).
Richard started opening his presents, which most likely would have consisted of eighty-four Ninja Turtles, five home-made bug collections, and dress socks. I was, at best, uninterested, and was considering going home to catch the Power Rangers (HAI-YAH!) when, out of the corner of my eye, a little flash of an impending life-alteration, in the form of a small box, wrapped in the business section, caught my youthful stare. Quickly unwrapping it, Richard ripped out its mysteriously glorious innards, bringing into the light a gorgeous, shining, crimson pocketknife. It was beautiful beyond all my imagination. I could hear Richard’s mother’s tulips screaming in hopelessness. Man, Richard had the best parents ever! And the possibilities were endless! I sat, in my own world, green with envy, plotting as to how I might come upon my own pocketknife.
I immediately began petitioning for a pocketknife of my own, much like the boy and his B.B. gun in the movie The Christmas Story. I reminded them that I would be a boy scout soon, and any boy scout lacking his trusty penknife would invariably be the societal leper. My parents seemed unsure, so I began to bombard them with a fusillade of very sensible reasons as to why I needed this knife. My baffling arguments included such possibilities as being stuck under a fallen boulder with a need to saw my own leg off, or fending off ravenous wolves that had come down from the foothills, and even a roving Biker gang that, “I swore,” Richard’s brother Mike had just seen, and so on. Naturally, they couldn’t compete with my brain-melting logic, and I began to sense their gradual acquiescence to my demands.
Finally, the day of my eight birthday arrived, and, lo and behold, there sat, shining in the sun, in all of its grandeur, a magnificent, sparkling, deep-red, multi-purpose…box.
But in that box was my pocketknife! Oh, Joy! Oh, sweet merciful heavens!
After opening and closing the blessed jack-knife in impatient glee for about the seven hundredth time, and after repeated cautions from my mother and chuckles from my father, I proceeded to run around frantically, searching out victims for my clean, menacing, cutting edge, my outlet of youthful rage. As I stepped over the threshold of my yard, I sensed thousands of daisies shuddering simultaneously.
It was just one blade, unhampered by any saws or fingernail clippers or lame corkscrews, and oh, what a blade it was! Within twenty minutes, I had whittled down every single twig and stick within a five-mile radius, and I had poked giant, glaring, jagged holes in all of our excess zucchini, and chopped through thousands of the stems of the little, inedible apples growing on the tree in our yard. I was flabbergasted at the sheer authority this keen dagger commanded in my backyard realm. A trail of flower heads adorned my wake, their bright colors petering out through their severed stems.
If only I had known then that I was about to be taught a lesson by someone who was tired of seeing her people oppressed. Mother Nature must have been infuriated, and she was about to drop the Red Sea on my pagan, barbarous little hiney.
Exhausted from my rampant destruction of the local vegetation, I dashed gleefully into my room and plopped down on the bed with my new baby. I lay there, holding it above me at a worshipful distance, and I opened it, closed it, opened it, closed it, opened it, closed it. I stopped to simply stare at my beautiful knife, rolling it over and over in my hands above my body, my palms sweaty from my invigorated afternoon.
I think that this is when Mother Nature got on the phone with her uncle, Gravity.
Abruptly, slipping from my excited, moist hands, the pocketknife dropped. It fell, faster and faster, seemingly falling through eternity. It gracefully altered its downward trajectory, rolling over just enough to ensure its killing point was at the bottom of its descent.
Through my mind coursed images of me, flailing, pinned to my bed, like a bug in Richard’s bug collection, thrashing out the last bursts of my life in useless death throes. I swore that I heard thousands of daisies outside, dancing on their little daisy crutches, laughing raucously at this turning of the tables. I closed my eyes, praying to God to stop the accidental slaughter of a foolish boy, remembering every single helpless honeysuckle I had brutally cut the life from, when…..
THUMP…CLATTER CLATTER clatter clatter!
I opened my eyes warily, expecting to be staring at a gushing fountain of blood, but was startled by the realization that…I was entirely okay. What had happened? Had God heard my doomed bleating and sent an angel to knock away the killing thrust? Had Gravity simply missed?
I looked down and realized that, yes, it had scored a direct hit right over my heart, leaving a mildly painful and moderately impressive bruise, though not big enough to my liking. And it had, in fact, hit me point down but, due to good fortune and shoddy American manufacturing, it had bounced right off my quivering self, clattering harmlessly to the floor.
I sat there a moment, staring fearfully at it, gasping for breath. I slowly rolled off the mattress, closed the demonic instrument carefully from feet away with a baseball bat and glove, kicked it under the bed, and never touched the evil thing again.
I learned an important lesson that day about my own adeptness with tools of destruction: I had none. Man’s curious fixation with taking things apart was never meant
to be my area of expertise.
And while there would always be those claiming “People kill people,” I knew in my heart that pocketknives could kill boy scouts, and I was very content to continue running safely around, flicking that dumb stick, though every time I approached my mother's flower beds, I swore I could hear the daisies tittering in protected glee.


While reading a William Blake poem about love, I was reminded of a few conversations I overheard during the build-up and after-shocks of Valentine’s Day. Some comments impressed me, and some horrified me, and some brought back life-altering experiences. A few comments brought me hope of one day having a successful relationship, while others took that hope and dragged it over the Salt Flats behind a truck.


Though lacking in flair and panache,
Sally’s beau spent the bulk of his cash
To procure, for her, flowers.
Sadly, their floral powers
Served only to give her a rash.

“So, like, yesterday, I’m at work, right? And I’m just sitting there at my desk, taking calls, and then this HUGE bouquet of flowers gets delivered, I mean, at least a hundred roses, right? So I look at the card, and it says ‘To [Cindy]: Happy Valentine’s Day.’ And I’m all, ‘Oh, great, thanks, jerk.’ I mean, he didn’t even bother to write anything special on the card at all, and there were so many flowers, I couldn’t even carry them out to my car. I had to get one of my bosses to help me, and ohmygosh, it was so embarrassing, and I was so ticked off at him. Guys are such jerks.”
“I KNOW! Like, my husband comes home with a big box of chocolates and a necklace, and two tickets to see Rascal Flats, and he thinks he’s so amazing and impressive, but I know all he wanted was for me to make out with him. So I was just, like, “Thanks, hon.” And then I went back to doing my homework. Hah! When are guys going to start being original? I mean, what is this, the 1950’s? I swear, sometimes, I’m married to a caveman. How primitive can you be?”
I sat on the exercise bike, mouth like a trout’s, my legs robotically and slowly pumping, as I listened to the two women on the treadmills behind me. This was the point in my life where I realized that, when a man tries to impress a girl, it’s a bit like watching an elephant try to roll pennies into little cardboard bank tubes.
I didn’t even know what to think, how to go on. Was this the mindset of all women? Sweat poured down my brow, the brunt of it no longer stemming from physical exertion.
Was I doomed to blunder aimlessly through the Sahara of indifferent women? Would I be forever bobbing in the Sea of the Tactless, arms and legs paddling frantically, gasping for breath, and only breaking the surface long enough to suck down enough air to prolong my swimming anguish?
And what would happen when I did come to be attached to one of these women? Would I be stuck forever, rolling the Stone of Offerings up the Hill of the Unsatisfied and the Disappointed?
I have since come to the conclusion that men are not as inherently evil as generally perceived. Sure, we start the wars, pillage the villages, and corrupt the governments, but I am reasonably sure that never, not once, in the history of our, or any, modern civilization, has a man asked a woman to drive across town to get him a strawberry-kiwi Slushie from, you know, that one green convenience store, by the church-thing, and then make her take it back and get him a new one because it was too melty and it was from the wrong place anyway. It’s by the church-thing, darnit! And there’s a stoplight by one of the corners. Just go get it!
Once, when trying to impress a prospective feminine companion, I spent days preparing for a certain date. I had my clothes laid out two days before, fully meeting my ironing quota for an entire year. I showered twice every day that week, scouring every possible surface with the sharp, tangy goodness of Irish Spring.
My truck, though practical and loveable, like an old dog, was accented by a full length dent down the right side, a scar spawned from the combination of a late night, a crowded parking lot, and a bumper that (I swear) jumped a full foot out from a hunkering Volvo. I knew that no father would approve of this blemished vehicle, so I had prepared in advance to take my mother’s car, which was nearly as good as the day it was purchased, and had seen about as much action as an NFL kicker.
Options for the construction of the Supreme Date coursed through my head all week long. This diner would be a great place to eat, but the proletarian atmosphere might project a Philistine shadow on my character. This spot would be gorgeous at any time of day, but its isolated nature might lend to suggestive undertones, causing me to be blacklisted. That cologne would certainly mask any traces of immaturity, yet it could give me, as my brother put it, “old-man stink.”
I worried, fretted, fussed, re-ironed, day-dreamed, sweated, stuffed myself silly, went a day and a half without eating, shot free throws, ironed again, and found myself arriving home from school on that blissful, horrid Friday, with only four hours till launch. I showered again, scrubbing so hard I lost calluses. I then changed into my pristine, carefully selected outfit, and lay down, width-wise, across my bed, my head brushing up against the wall and the soles of my feet flat on the ground. I lay there, with my arms folded limply across my stomach, and stared at patterns in the ceiling for the full three hours, glancing at the clock every five minutes.
About an hour before my pubescent ritual was to begin, my daydreams were coming to a roaring climax. I had just single-handedly whipped every comrade of an invading Bolshevik regiment, all while holding her swooning form cradled in my left arm. After carrying her calmly away from their shattered carcasses, and following my gentle revival of her fainted figure, we gazed intently into each other’s eyes, moving heartrendingly closer and closer, until…
The phone rang.
“Hey….Yeah! I’m way excited!...No! I’m great, uh, how are….Yeah…Oh…Your friend just…No! Well, that’s too bad…Oh, uh huh…That’s awesome, you’re a great friend to go be with her after tha…Yeah, tell her I’m sorry about Brent…Hmm, I guess I see why she had to let him go like that…Ok…Have fun at the bowling alley! I’ll, uh, I’ll see you in, uh, yeah, chemistry…Monday…No, it’s okay! Really! I’ll talk to you later…Ok, bye…Bye...”
I sat there on the edge of my bed, hunched over, staring at the left toe of my shoe, the phone held limply in my upturned right hand, draped over the side of the mattress. I spent another hour in reflection, silently going over my good old mental checklist of personal character flaws and odd-looking physical features. I spent extra time checking “lack of abs” and “spontaneous wit deficiency,” just to make the process of recognizing my own gross ineptness more painful.
Two hours later, I was devouring an entire 5-Buck pizza and a quart of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby at Brent’s house, watching Bruce Willis make human wall paintings out of anybody who didn’t appreciate him, and discussing the finer attributes any quality 2-guard needed to win in the league these days. Brent didn’t look much better off than I did, but we both held it in like troopers, spackling the holes in our emotional sheetrock with plaster of Almond Joy. Neither of us mentioned our grievous wounds, and neither of us planned to.
Later on, after Bruce left us in a trail of broken glass and glory, we were surprised to find that a romantic comedy had accidentally worked its way onto the screen. “Do you want to change it?” “No…whatever…if you want to…” “Uh, it’s cool…I like anything Tom Hanks is in…” “You want some more cream soda and taquitos?”
The funniest part is, after that excruciatingly tortuous night, I kept asking girls on dates. Like a true addict, I felt that the pain never truly stacked up against the infrequent pleasures. And I’m still asking girls on dates! But that’s just how it has to be.
I’m going to keep on being a love-sick puppy.
I’m going to continue accepting “too much homework” as a worthy excuse for date-cancellations.
I’m going to persist in meeting half-smiling mothers and swollen-chested, all-knowing fathers.
I’m going to have many more awkward doorstep scenes where I grossly overestimate how much she really did enjoy the date.
I’m going to have a few where I grossly underestimate her, too.
You know what? I’ll bet even Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks don’t know what’s going on.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Elmo for President

The following excerpt was inspired from my stumbling upon Sophocles’ quote on page 28 of our course packet: “The happiest life is to be without thought.” I was instantly pulled back to a time in my life when I was most happy. I was brought careening through time, back to sit in front of the old television set, a set complete with tinfoil-wrapped antennae, to watch the goings-on of a blissful, simple little place named Sesame Street, a place where Big Bird and Grover and Bert and Ernie encountered complex life situations, usually involving a lack of knowledge of the concept of something like “8” or “Near and Far.” They would then solve these life-altering problems with a hefty draught of sincerity and, perhaps, a peppy song. I have recently became aware that many people in our country are frequently less than happy, and sarcasm and pessimism are rampant, and I’ve come to the consideration that, if everyone in this country were forced to sit down once a week and watch an episode of Sesame Street, things could at least be no worse than they are now.


The days of the Bush dynasty are nearing an end, and our nation will be left without a character in the Oval Office. We will be asked, yet again, to select another person we inherently distrust and resent ruling over us. It seems that no candidate has been truly beloved by the masses in years, and none of our present-day hopefuls are close to being truly universally admired. They are, to a man (or woman), loved by some, hated by others. Not one man (or woman) of them stands out like noble King Arthur of old, gleaming sword rightfully clasped in hand, authority unquestionable by all, and backed strongly and affirmatively by every citizen.
No, once again, our nation will pick a candidate, and then spend four years picking on that poor soul. That’s why America needs a change. And no, I’m not talking about “change,” the oft-sputtered fall-back word of our current runners. I speak of change, a change in attitude, a new leaning towards optimism, a trust and love and respect for our country’s leadership again.

The answer to our back-breaking dilemma comes in one powerful word:

That’s it. The Elmo. From Sesame Street. The only possible solution to our ailing motherland’s fatal cynicism is a giggling ball of felt, red fur, and those ever-flailing arms tipped in two little, nubbed fingers.

Now, just think about this for a second. If there is one person our there that truly dislikes Elmo, they are either a liar or the tragic victim of some Muppet-related form of abuse. Face it; there is not a single American that hates Elmo. He is the bubbling, perky glue meant to piece our nation back together.

The Republicans will try to dismiss him initially, doubtless targeting his constant reliance on the hand of another, but the GOP will ultimately be won over by his playful willingness to teach the youth of our nation the basics with little to no monetary compensation, and also his surprising aptitude for tap-dancing.

Democrats will be distressed with Elmo’s tendency to hold back hand-outs of cookies for his needy friend, Cookie Monster, who is obviously hampered by an incapacitating speech impediment and a lack of education that prevents him from working a steady job (“Me no have speech impediment!”).

Nevertheless, they will eventually be forced to jump at the chance of supporting so diverse a contender as Mr. Elmo. After all, he would be the first President who is missing ears, the first President to run as a legally handicapped “little person,” the first President of non-Caucasian (and non-human) descent to win the race, and the second candidate to be of questionable planetary origin (Richard Nixon was the first, and the jury is still out on Ross Perot).
Of course, Elmo would need to be backed by a strong cabinet, his supporting cast of other beloved figures in American society, the men and women and Muppets of our world that stand above reproach and ridicule.

At the right hand of President Elmo would stand Vice President Tom Hanks. Tom would obviously handle the incalculably stressful press issues, using his everyman demeanor and trustworthy smile to put off the queries of more disparaging pundits. An intelligent and capable man, Mr. Hanks also bears the unique honor of appearing in at least one movie that every single person out there likes. He would not only attract both the earthier Turner and Hooch crowd and the more sensitive, predominantly feminine devotee of the romantic-comedy genre, but also the sophisticated, chic Forrest Gump fans, thus locking in both the Southern and female vote, plus the always-crucial police/canine bump.

Elmo’s Secretary of State post could easily be filled by Stevie Wonder, who is quite possibly the coolest man in the world. And our nation would feel so much better with Brett Favre quarterbacking our military efforts in the execution of his Secretary of Defense role, always giving 110% percent, one conflict at a time.

But why stop there? What about David Letterman as Secretary of Agriculture (“Let’s see what happens when we drop eight tons of watermelons off the roof of my studio, eh?”)? Oprah Winfrey would obviously excel as Speaker of the House, and Bill Cosby could lovingly father our Environmental Protection Agency. And wouldn’t good old Charlie Brown be fantastic as the head of NASA (“Good grief, I lost another one…”)?

Our Senate could be crammed with the combined casts of the Care Bears and Star Wars, the House swollen with Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Kiss impersonators, and our Supreme Court would be manned by a selection of players from the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, with Karl Malone he-self at the helm of Chief Justice (this would draw any negative attention away from President Elmo’s frequent use of the third person in his speeches).

Now, realistically, this ideological concept of political movement, one I have appropriately named “Progressive Elmoism,” would require vast public support, and a willingness from the general public to not just “change,” but change, and though Elmo is merely felt and hair, the unification and values he stands for are crucial to the healing of our sickly sphere. Elmo would be loved by all, and his sheer popularity would get things moving again in the direction of an encouraging new dawn.

And come on, it’s not like we aren’t already used to having a Muppet as the Commander-in-Chief.


The Bus Stop, The Barf Seat, and My Brother

My father often says, “Never teach a pig to sing, son. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” I had always thought that this meant I shouldn’t try to teach a pig to sing. Symbolism was a concept I didn’t chance upon till later in life, though I wish had learned this life lesson earlier, and in a less abrupt way.

The fifth grade was absolutely terrible for me. Already a year of impending bodily “changes” and emotional upheavals, I was forced to go through this year in a foreign environment. My parents had decided to build a house in the suburbs of North Ogden, and we were financially obliged to leave our quaint little house in “old-people Ogden,” as we called it, to rent a house in South Ogden, while our new house neared the end of its construction. The rental home was small, cold, next to a highway, and filled with exotic spiders the size of puppies. I had been ripped from my childhood home and forced to live in this limbo-dwelling, knowing full well my time there would be short.

And, in fact, the fifth grade was the worst year of my life, not just because of our moving, but more due to the fact that, in this new society, my brothers and I had become the lepers.
I couldn’t understand it at first. I was used to being part of the herd, not one of the sick and dying, wounded beasts at its fringe. For years, I had assisted in mocking the weird kids, and now, I had joined their ranks.

It all started fairly quickly. The first few days were filled with forced introductions by parents in the neighborhood, mostly harmless and awkward. However, my younger brother, Casey Sean, had started in recent months to develop a mouth like a burning tire, spewing forth toxic smoke wherever he went. He was a good kid, but we had been raised to be fairly intelligent children, and it was important to him that everyone in our path become aware of this.

Armed with gobs of useless trivia, for instance, hundreds of Shakespearean insults, courtesy of our mother (“You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so…” – MacBeth, Act I Scene III), and dump trucks full of sports factoids from our father (he can still recite the winners and scores of every Super Bowl up to about the year 1995), we went forth to mingle and battle in the harsh, unforgiving streets with our co-children.
I was a non-confrontational child, avoiding combat wherever possible, but Casey’s frequent oral output often left me having to defend our persons from bodily injury, or at least from a stern white-washing and a wedgie.

I remember, in particular, one frozen morning at the bus stop. We were all there, a shivering flock of children, each one bundled up in layers of swishing snow clothes, waiting for the powerful heaters and warm (if not friendly) atmosphere of our daily transport.
Precisely upon our arrival, our neighbor, a scrunch-faced, sturdy, baggy-panted man-child named Ryan, the dominant male at our stop, was melting all the snow in a 10-foot radius with a fiery inundation of obscene jokes (most of which, none of us, including Ryan, understood) and curse words that poured steadily and unstoppably from his mouth (some men make swearing a true art form, but cursing from a boy never seems to sound completely natural, like watching Michael Jordan play baseball, or hearing Pavarotti sing the blues).

He soon ran out of colorful expressions, however, and his attentions were turned to making life more difficult for those around him who were already too low to fight back. “Hey, Diaper-heads,” bellowed Ryan. Fully aware of our own status, we at once acknowledged and ignored his salutation by raising our eyebrows and sinking deeper into our hoods, feigning little interest in his attentions.

“Hey, you two! You’re sitting on the barf-seat again today. If you don’t sit there, you’re dead.”
I’m thoroughly convinced, after having surveyed many thousands of former bus-riders, that every known school bus is pre-installed with a “barf-seat,” as Ryan so elegantly referred to it. This seat is always slightly off-colored, with patched leather, and is covered in faded stains torn holes, and sticky spots of an uncertain origin. Our job, as the community exiles, was to occupy that barf-seat, thus keeping other bus-patrons from having to sit there. Ours was a crucial role, much like that skinny kid who is always the last one out in a dodge-ball game (he never survives that long as a result of athletic prowess, mind you; he lives as a result of hiding behind larger players, always at the absolute furthest point from his enemies, dancing around meekly and quietly, until he is the last target left, while every usable ball sits idle on his side of the court, with him too scared to run up, grab one, and throw it back, thus prolonging the match).

It was no joy to sit on the chair of menacing blemishes, but it was by no means intolerable. The stains, though hazardous in appearance, were quite dry, and had no harmful effect on the body, or, at least, nothing of an immediate danger.

But Casey Sean couldn’t take it. His Irish blood boiled that day. “No. We’re not sitting on the barf-seat. You sit there, dummy,” murmured my brother, his eyebrows angrily furrowed in protestation beneath his Ninja Turtles took.

Ryan stared at him in that confident way, a way only the true bully can ever fully achieve, with his head cocked slightly to the right (approximately 85 degrees), and a combination of shock, aggression, and joyous anticipation crossing his face. “No, I don’t think so, doofus. You are going to sit there.” And with that, he nudged Casey full in the sternum with his iron-filled glove, his features flashing between a scowl and a leering grin every few milliseconds.

I had chosen not to react at all. If my brother wanted to fight the system, he was more than welcome to. Who knew, maybe he’d get lucky. I stood, watching innocently, as Ryan chortled with his lackeys, and my brother rubbed his scrawny chest in his bubbling, suppressed anger.

“Yeah, well, you better watch it, ‘cause Kory’ll fight you back, stupid.”

Oh, dear heavens. From this point on, I was being dragged out of Switzerland and into Bavaria, my blessed neutrality torn from me.

“Look…C’mon, Ryan, stop it. You’re going to get us all in trouble.” I had elected to take the moral high ground, subtly avoiding a fight while not necessarily conceding that I feared him. I was simply afraid of the resultant disciplinary circumstances that were always unavoidable.
Secretly, I would rather have hitch-hiked in a dress to school than face Ryan, who stood half a head shorter than me but a full thirty pounds heavier, with most of that difference resting in his forearms.

“What, are you scared to fight me?”

“No, I just think fighting is for morons. And cavemen.”

“Oh, so now you’re calling me a caveman, huh?” he asked threateningly, lifting his knuckles from the ground to point a hairy finger between my eyes.

Violence was imminent, and I had no option left to me and my bony frame but to use my superior intellect to beat him down to the uneducated, blue-collar, Philistine pulp that he was.

“Look, Ryan, you know what? You’re probably going to be working for me someday, okay? So just back off, or I might have to fire you later on, and that won’t help you much when you’re buying that truck you want, which is most likely going to end up being the most important thing you do in this life.”

Wow! What a crippling blow! A zinger! Surely, this paralytic bee-sting would burst his balloon, would silence his roar, would bring this thuggish tyrant to his knees, to the ovation of my peers.
His confused, odious stare peered into me for perhaps a full minute, and then it twisted into his more natural, pitbull-grin, and his arms shot out like pistons, knocking me a full twenty feet back through the air to land on my rear, spread-eagled, in the snow.

Thanks to my mother and her far-sighted preparation, my arctic bundling preserved my fragile frame from sustaining any actual physical damage, the majority of both impacts being absorbed by my over-large ski coat, but my dignity was unprotected. It had, in fact, been dragged into the back alley and shot in the kneecaps. I tried to play it cool, cheerfully accepting my circumstances, joking in a sickly, whispered voice, “Gee, it sure is cool down here. Comfortable and soft, too. Heh, heh.” I even attempted whistling.

“Good, moron, then don’t try to get up until the bus comes.”

And so I lay. A minute or two passed, and Casey once again shot off his mouth. He ultimately joined me in the slush, the both of us lying there, silently staring up into the cold, icy-blue sky.
The bus eventually pulled up, and we all piled on, the driver not bothering to question our sorry status. As the last two kids onto the bus, we assumed our rightful place on the barf-seat, continuing to sulk, and avoiding the gaze of the surrounding herd.

And so that year went. After the 5th grade, we moved to our new house, in a happy, delightful neighborhood, and we quickly made friends and led peaceful, normal lives. It was as if that horrid year had never really happened.

I am, however, glad for that year spent in an odd, foreign, harsh reality, the year spent on the fringe of civilization. I learned much about life, about the art of avoiding confrontation, and about knowing when you’re beaten.

But I’ve never had to sit on the barf-seat since.

- Kory