That’s Me in the Corner

That’s Me in the Corner

I attended my first in-person Mitzvah ever this weekend, a Bat Mitzvah. I attended at Bar Mitzvah a couple of years ago, but it was on Zoom because it was during COVID. I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to use the word “Mitzvah” alone? Is it only correct if I say it with the “bar” or the “bat” in front of it? I don’t know. Wikipedia’s definition looks like this:

bar mitzvah (masc.) or bat mitzvah (fem.) is a coming-of-age ritual in Judaism. According to Jewish law, before children reach a certain age, the parents are responsible for their child’s actions. Once Jewish children reach that age, they are said to “become” b’nai mitzvah, at which point they begin to be held accountable for their own actions. Traditionally, the father of a bar or bat mitzvah offers thanks to God that he is no longer punished for his child’s sins.

Why or how it took almost 52 years for me to attend one of these is a question in and of itself. Perhaps it should be tackled in another blog post? Does it signal a lack of culture on my part? A lack of friends, maybe? Don’t answer either one of those questions, thank you.

The service itself was really quite nice. I might even say it was uplifting. As a child, I attended a Greek Orthodox church, but those trips were very much few and far between. My immediate family was not particularly religious at all. I’d have to ask my parents, but I sense that maybe we went a few times when I was very young because my dad felt some sort of obligation or pull, as his parents were devoted. And as I got to be 7 or 8 years old and older, Sunday mornings found me at another church of sorts – a hockey rink. Our weekly games or practices were often right at the same time as church service. A kid my age did not mind that at all.

Back to the Bat Mitzvah. I must say I found myself very interested in the whole thing. The cantor, playing guitar and singing, and the Rabbi, both working together in a comfortable synagogue on this happy occasion. The focus was on the 13-year-old girl, who is a family member on my wife’s side and just a tremendously impressive person. I admired her ability to stand up in front of a fairly large group of people and recite all kinds of things, sing in Hebrew, and inject her own perspectives and thoughts into some of the Torah passages she was reading. I can’t even imagine myself at 51 being able to handle that.

But funny things happen to me when I am at a church service of any kind. I am, as mentioned above, an outside observer. Not religious. I have my issues with organized religion. But I do seem to have very specific memories of certain services I’ve gone to as a tag-along. I distinctly recall going to a church service with my then-girlfriend in 1989, when I was 18. I remember being so struck by the…collective harmony. There was a peace in being there, a calmness. That a large collection of people gathered together, unrelated, from all walks of life, could leave whatever issues they had outside the door and share some kind of oneness inside a church was something that really resonated with me. I felt the same this weekend. I’ve been to a few services in between these two, and have felt the same. I still haven’t really figured out why it strikes me so much.

While it does make me occasionally wonder if there’s a religion out there for me, it would have to be something different than mainstream, organized religion. I find myself believing more in something and becoming more open. But I don’t yet know how that is going to formulate itself. Time will tell. It’s more the community and togetherness aspect for me that I’m after, not the specific beliefs and rules.

Say it Louder

Say it Louder

I don’t consider myself to be overly dramatic, and I’m happy to say that a few people on my team at work have told me that my relatively calm demeanor is one of the things that makes being on our team enjoyable. I’m always glad to hear that. My general approach at work is “take it seriously, but try to have fun doing it.” This morning I was browsing through my daily online bookmarks and I came across this article, another hard-hitting news piece from CNN, about how sighing is good for you. The premise is that sighs historically indicate some level of stress or anxiety, it should be viewed as a form of stress relief.

I had to laugh at that a little, not because CNN is wasting yet more space on dumb articles and not because I agree or disagree with their position on sighing. I laughed because I am known around my own house as a person who adds a high degree of melodrama to the noises that I make. For example, when I sneeze, I really let it loose. And on purpose, I will make it way louder than it should be, because a) I think it’s funny and, b) I do think there’s some sort of subconscious *release* happening for me there. Like, it’s an excuse for me to not be calm for just a fleeting second, so I can continue on my path of trying to be calm and collected. The other people who live with me, however, are often startled when this happens, though I think they’ve now adjusted to it, perhaps begrudgingly.

The other noise that often raises eyebrows around the house is yawns. I do like to add a little drama to those as well by, um, a significantly enhanced and high-volume exhale. I find this to be quite funny, but again, my family finds it to be quite ridiculous.

I do think there is something to my theory, though, that these over-dramatized expressions are subconscious ways of giving my introverted self a good dose of quick yet effective scream therapy. I don’t particularly know what I am trying to get out of my system, but I know that it’s helpful somehow, if only to elicit a laugh – usually from myself, but sometimes from my family. And if I’m alone in the car and there’s a good song playing, well, all bets are off. That’s a longer and very satisfying therapy session.

They’re Soaking Up the Fauna, Doing Blotters…

They’re Soaking Up the Fauna, Doing Blotters…

  • I love all the hype around Cocaine Bear. It’s not going to slot anywhere in the pantheon of the top 10 movies ever made, but I do think it checks a post-pandemic box – a movie that is made to be consumed in a theatre with a bunch of strangers. Perhaps aside from Top Gun – Maverick, and maybe even more, this movie is made for theatres and I think we need more of those. That’s where I plan to see it. It’ll be funny, gory, campy, and super fun.
  • In the same breath as Cocaine Bear, I came across this New York Times article this morning about the growing number of animals making their way into places where there are more people and how that has increased the amount of weird food and other objects that animals are ingesting. I had to laugh at a few parts of the story where they cite a few real examples. A skunk in a panic because it couldn’t get a McFlurry cup off its head, or a bear who entered a house several times and *only* took vanilla ice cream. Raccoons, in particular, were the most amusing: dazed and zoned out on marijuana and benzos, one had a soda can stuck on its leg, and another had it’s head stuck in a container of peanut butter. Animals are funny. And dumb.
  • I listened intently to The First Person podcast on my way to and from work this week, featuring a high school senior named Logan Lane, who seems to be wise beyond her years. She recognized early in high school that, ick, smartphones, endless scrolling, and non-stop screentime made her feel like a non-functioning, brain-dead zombie of sorts. So she did something that 99.9999% of kids today would never do – she gave it up and started “The Luddite Club,” a group of kids who approach screens and phones the same way that Straight-Edge kids avoid drinking, smoking, and drugs. She spoke eloquently about how life’s beauty and the meaning of real interaction and connection with others in the group have proven far more satisfying to her. At a cost, of course. She lost some friends and was probably subject to some ridicule, but gained other meaningful connections. I’m toying with making my kids listen to it. Not because I want them to STOP all screens and join the Luddite Club, but because I’d like to see better balance, I guess.
  • I’ve already watched the Pavement appearance on Austin City Limits twice. It’s sooooo good. I sometimes really miss the anticipation of knowing a favorite band was releasing an album, that I would have to plan a trip to the record store, of getting it off the rack, buying it, getting it home and experiencing the art, reading the liner notes, experiencing the music. It was a more full-on experience than it is today. I’d love for Spotify or some other entity to somehow bring that experience back to me in some way. There must be some methods to make that happen. I don’t really even know the individual names of members in new bands anymore. I don’t like that. I used to know ALL the names of the players in the bands I like!

Bad Time

Bad Time

A few days back, The New York Times ran this piece about expiration dates on food. They tackle many different types of food and how certain ingredients really can be consumed over a long, long period. This is an interesting subject for me. I’m a person who pretty much lives and dies by the expiration date on the packaging. I’ve now read multiple articles now, including this one, that say expiration dates are misleading and only provide guidance as to when the food is optimal to eat. And some food manufacturers do put “best by” instead of “use by” and perhaps that’s the way things are going. But I’m not sure I’m ready to go beyond the dates stamped on packages. My logic is that those dates are there for a reason.

They cite a definitive list of things you never have to worry about and will pretty much last forever:

  • Vinegars
  • Honey
  • Vanilla & other extracts
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Corn Syrup
  • Molasses

I’m pretty much on board with those. I will use any of those ingredients anytime, regardless of how long it’s been in the cabinet – and I don’t think they even have dates on them. Where it starts to go south for me in the article is with other things. Eggs, in particular. Here is what the Times says about eggs:

The Julian date printed on each carton (that’s the three-digit number ranging from 001 for Jan. 1 to 365 for Dec. 31) represents the date the eggs were packed, which, in most parts of the country, can be up to 30 days after the egg was actually laid. The sell-by stamp can be another 30 days after the pack date. That’s 60 full days! But odds are good that they’ll still be palatable for several weeks longer than that.

New York Times, January 24, 2023

OK, so no. No way. There is no chance on green Earth that I am eating eggs 30 days after I purchased them. Nope. They also say that salad dressings will last up to a year, but I think that’s throwing a blanket over a LOT of different options. While a lot of dressings ARE vinegar based, which bodes well for their longevity, plenty are not. Just picture the salad dressing aisle at your supermarket. It’s like 5x larger than it used to be in the ’80s and ’90s. You can’t tell me that ALL those are lasting one year, particularly the ones with cheese in them.

Anyway, the more I read these articles, the more expiration date stubborn I think I get. If food hits an expiration date in my house, it’s generally gone the day after. First-world problem, yes. But peace of mind – also yes.

You’re Too Weird

You’re Too Weird

  • Ladies and gentlemen, your elected officials. George Santos is a fascinating story, but one that tracks just perfectly if you think about the long, downward spiral that seems to be our government. Imagine you’re a regular person interviewing for a normal office job and you just invent a whole basket full of shit about yourself and totally fake your resume in order to nail the role. And your game face is so strong and convincing that everyone falls for it and you get the gig. Now, you probably don’t know what the hell you’re doing when take a seat in the role, but who cares? Fake it ’till you make it! Now imagine it’s Congress! How can you not help but laugh at the level of insanity that is going on right now? I, for one, can’t get enough of the Santos memes that are going around on social media, because they are hilarious. All you need to do is do a hashtag search and you’re in for endless amounts of fun. The below image, though, is not a meme. It’s a real story! Santos, the people’s representative from New York, stole money from a dying dog. The truth is indeed stranger than fiction!
  • One of my favorite news sources of late is The Free Press. You have to pay for the full boat of content (and it’s worth it), but if you sign up for their emails you can get a good tasting. They recently ran a piece mentioning another total clown, FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, our latest example of what seems like an entitled 30-year-old in a 16-year-old’s body. The article isn’t about the billions (with a b) frittered away irresponsibly or the minefield that is crypto right now. It’s more about one of my favorite topics – age. Namely, how a 30-year old human man should probably be less sheepish, childish and dumb. What I find most interesting isn’t that the boomers are largely still in charge and the millenials are taking it on the chin a little and living with their parents. Oh, no. What I find most interesting is that yet again, there is not one single mention of the Gen-X’ers. It is almost like that generation is just floating out in space, or tucked away in a quiet, dark corner. Or left at home by themselves after school to…oh wait – that part is actually what we WERE. Anyway, back to Bankman-Fried. Don’t let me try to explain it, because the professional journalist will do it much better than I will:

Bankman-Fried’s fate will now be decided by the Southern District of New York, but his media charade of aw-shucks interviews and congressional testimony laced with brogrammer idioms built a public persona that we’ve largely come to accept: SBF is just a kid. Indeed, he’s so young that his law school professor parents were involved in his business and political dealings. (In this, they embody the helicopter style of child-rearing favored by nearly the entire Boomer elite.)

The reality, of course, is that SBF is a grown-ass, 30-year-old man. He is twelve years older than many of the men and women we sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Twelve years older than the adults we encourage to swallow hundreds of thousands of dollars in college debt before even declaring a major. And, if we’re serious about the math, SBF is a mere eight years away from the half-life of the average adult American man, who boasts a provisional life expectancy of only 76 years, according to the CDC. At 38, SBF would have already lived most of his life on Earth.

Katherine Boyle, The Free Press, January 17, 2023
  • Finally, it’s with great appreciation and interest that I read about John Laroquette, he of 1980s Night Court fame, who confirms that yes, he was paid in weed for his part in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We need more of this today. I want Woody Harrelson to only accept a role (as a crazed banjo-playing dean of students at an Ivy League college) if he can wheel a barrow full of weed out the door after the production is complete.

Life is Life

Life is Life

The concept of “life expectancy” would appear logical at the outset. “Hey, let’s let’s just use math to try and estimate the average lifespan of a human being.” Or a dog. Or turtle. Whatever it is. I think there’s subconscious comfort for people, perhaps, in knowing such things. And maybe it’s even good. Perhaps some people see that life expectancy number at age 50 and it just cold-cocks them. Wham! They realize they’re not where they want to be in life and then the consciousness does kick in and they make a bunch of huge positive changes for the good of themselves and others and everything is ducky and all is well. And I mean that. I’m not being sarcastic.

But the truth is there is no north star for us. I absolutely cannot live my life in such ways, looking out to some arbitrary number that some medical company or research publication published. All this life expectancy stuff might be factually accurate, but this is one of those rare times when I can’t let data drive the story (my co-workers, if they see this, are going to laugh at that statement).

I came across an article on last week about life expectancy. Here’s one of the key takeaways:

CDC data shows that the difference between life expectancy among men and women has also widened. Now, men in the United States have an average life expectancy of 73.5 while women can expect to live until age 79.3., By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech | Jan. 05, 2023

This is a decline in life expectancy, by the way, from previous data. And I am sure you know why, but in case you don’t, there’s that little COVID-19 thing that happened. So, should I plan my life now towards having 22 years left? No. I should not. And I do not. It’s not that I am confident I have more time than that left, it’s that I don’t know how much time I have left. That is how I approach it. Now, I take pretty good care of myself. I exercise a lot, I eat relatively well, and I am fairly risk averse. This gives me some confidence (my god, knock on wood) that I have a good shot at exceeding that. But I could also get hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow. Nothing is ever guaranteed.

But hark! The article is really about life expectancy by state. So in this there is good news for me:

1. Hawaii-80.7 

2. Washington-79.2 

3. Minnesota-79.1 

4. California (tie)-79 

5. Massachusetts (tie)-79 

6. New Hampshire (tie)-79 

7. Oregon (tie)-78.8 

8. Vermont (tie)-78.8, By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech | Jan. 05, 2023

I go from 73 to 79! Thank goodness I have another six years due to the state I live in. BAH. Here’s the thing – you’re healthy or you’re not. You’re lucky or you’re not. Your genetics are good or they are not. Average life expectancy is just a collection of 1’s and 0’s, a calculator-driven algorithim that means nothing. It’s what you do with every day, every moment. Everytime I play a hockey game, I am grateful for having participated, experienced, and finished another game. I’m grateful I have a job that pays the bills. I’m grateful.

I know it’s kind of passe to use this quote, but Andy Dufrene was right in Shawshank Redemption – get busy living, or get busy dying.