What the hell does that say?


Have you ever noticed in news reports, or in photographs of war-torn streets in the Arab Middle East, you see (every now and then) graffiti scrawled on the side of buildings in looped and curved Arabic characters? Here’s the thing – I always assume that every single scrawling like this has a foreboding message related to Allah or Jihad. Am I being prejudiced in thinking this way?

I think news organizations should make it a policy to translate such text whenever it makes its way into one of their reports (television, newspaper, or web). Maybe some of this graffiti is just graffiti.  Maybe some are messages like “Abdullah loves Aisha” or ‘Mullah Omar is a Douchebag”

Man, if that were the case, it would affirm my faith in humanity!

Newtown CT, December 14, 2012


When I heard the news out of Newtown CT yesterday, I was of course saddened. I stopped working for a while and watched the news reports, worked a little bit more before heading to Providence to watch my son play basketball.

When not directly affected by such tragedies, we absorb the news of them, we process that news (fairly quickly it seems to me), and we move forward.

Next week, for the vast majority of us, life will go on. We’ll put our little ones on the school bus or shout a goodbye to our teenagers as the fly out the door in the morning, and we will do so with only the slightest bit of hesitancy.

I suppose our capacity to push through these types of events is a survival mechanism. Natural selection has weeded out the trait of extended emotional grief. Our ancestors saddled with that trait did not survive long enough to pass it along, and I suppose that is a good thing. I only wish we could find a place somewhere between “crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our head” and “life goes on”.

This week will have a familiar sickening feel to it. We’ll watch the news coverage and walk around a bit dazed. We’ll struggle with the feelings that come with resigning ourselves to the negative in life. We’llfeel it behind our eyes, on the back of our necks and shoulders, and in the pit of our stomachs.

The end is NOT near


I had a dream where I saw a stone-faced man, steadfastly standing on a busy street corner, head and shoulders above a dreamy river of blended polyester suits, silk ties, and leather brief cases, holding above his head a cardboard sign informing the masses that “The end is NOT Near”

Some might see optimism in this dream, where the stone-faced man’s epistle serves as a sunny counterbalance to “The end is near” message that we’ve all learned to ignore because, let’s face it, that message has been proven false, time-and-time again.

But to me, the message from the stone-faced man in my dream rang true almost immediately, and not in a good way. I saw it as a reminder that the big issues that plague our planet seemingly go on forever; the fighting in the Middle East, the disparity between rich and poor, the war on drugs, the war on terror, climate change discussions – none of these things ever seem to end, making a prophet of the stone-faced man.

It leaves me hollow that our biggest problems, the ones we need to resolve in order to propel humanity forward, remain perpetually ensconced in our lives.

On the other end of rockets


I woke up at 2:30 AM to the thin blue haze of my television, news footage of multiple rockets being launched in succession from flat barren lands somewhere in Gaza.

Set against a peaceful pinkish-blue sky, the angry hiss of missile-fire – followed by a few seconds of pre-dawn serenity was eerily beautiful, as witnessed from a darkened bedroom thousands of miles away.

On the other end of the rockets, Israeli citizens huddle in bomb shelters, enveloped and cradled by rock and earth, they wait and listen to muffled explosions. Warning sirens blare in the distance, they sit in dimly-lit rooms stocked with gas masks and crackers.

In Gaza, Palestinians scramble and crawl over a pile of dusty rubble, twisted steel, and flesh, courtesy of a reflexive trigger finger and weapon system designed to target individual terrorists and minimize civilian casualties. They dig and scream, dig and scream. I begin to wonder if over time (generations actually), that the repetitive dig and scream might somehow become part of Palestinian people’s make-up, branded into their psyche, to the point where it becomes as natural an act as waving goodbye to their children as they go off to school.

It’s all too big to absorb at 230 AM, my head comfortably cushioned by 3 large pillows, my snoring yellow lab warmly wedged between my wife and I, as the thoughts of my own pending day begin to seep into my consciousness, steadfastly pushing aside and supplanting my thoughts about the other end of rockets, I reach for the remote and turn the TV off, the blue haze dissipates quickly, surrendering to the darkness I close my eyes. It is 2:36 AM.

From 169 to 168 – an Election Day casualty


Watching the election returns last Tuesday night was all about the numbers. Which candidate will get to 270 first? How does Romney’s path to the presidency change now that PA’s 20 electoral votes are in Obama’s column? Will Obama finish with 332 or 303 electoral votes?

But for me, the most surprising number was 168.  That was the number of Facebook friends I had the day after the election – one less than the day before.

In the month leading up to the election, I often logged on to Facebook to engage in spirited discourse with my Republican friends. Tuesday night, I went there to revel in the joy of victory with my Democrat friends.

On election night I watched with bemusement as Chuck Todd moved battle-ground states into the Obama column with the wave of his hand – like a mythological soothsayer.  As the night wore on and it became apparent the President would be reelected, I felt euphoric and somewhat vindicated (selfishly so). Vindicated, because I had argued with some republican friends that Obama’s vision for America was better than Romney’s, and that most Americans would see it that way.  To me it was a choice between two very different views about the role of government in America. It was about social and economic justice. And watching Karl Rove stubbornly deny the science of polling (in much the same way his party denies climate change and evolution), only to be smacked down emphatically by truth was the frosting on the cake. It was remarkable.

In the heat of an election candidates and voters can let their emotions get the best of them – taking on an aggressive tone and speaking words that normally they would not.  On election night as my son and I sat on the couch watching the returns, the network cut away to Todd Aikin’s concession speech. It was a divisive speech, ungracious, and full of the vitriol and misguided views of a typical Tea Party candidate. I immediately typed a statement on Facebook in which I referred to Mr. Aikin as the dime-sized part of the human anatomy directly south of the tailbone and north of the nape of the knees.  Without forethought or hesitation I tapped the Enter key and sent my words into the infosphere.  A few seconds later my son chided me with a “that’s not a very nice thing to say dad”, and of course he was right.

I am convinced that my actions resulted in being “unfriended” by an old high school classmate.  It had been many years since I had seen or spoken with him in person, and if not for Facebook we probably would not have kept in touch. My friend’s Facebook page was  like everyone else’s,  a reflection of his likes and dislikes, from pop culture and sports to politics and religion. He has strongly-held views about the role of government (keep your hands off my money, put my god in your classroom, and put this trans-vaginal probe in your vagina).

Politics is a blood sport, and to the victor go the spoils.  In this case those who elected Obama are the victors and the President has a sacrosanct responsibility make good on his campaign promises. At the same time, the President must be mindful of the 49 percent of American’s who voted for Mitt Romney’s vision of America. Some republicans would argue that Obama does not have a mandate. I strongly disagree. That said, the President has a difficult road ahead – pushing his vision for America while at the same time keeping the 49 percent who disagree with that vision “in the fold” of the American family. He needs to extend an olive branch to Republicans, while staying true to his principals – no easy task. Push too hard and he risks further fracturing the country, don’t push hard enough, and the same risk applies.

While the president does his part, I will do mine by reaching out to my republican friend in an effort to get back to 169.

Small town dust-up forces dad to think about dirty dancing and sexual mores


Last week the Middletown high school principal cancelled the student’s homecoming dance less than half way through the festivities.

Apparently, juniors and seniors were protesting a ban on a type of sexually suggestive dancing (known as grinding) imposed by the administration earlier in the school year.

The protest included a sit-in, as well as a profanity-laced chant directed at the principal, who took to the microphone to admonish the students and to warn them that the dance would be cancelled if they continued to protest.

Mind you, at 50, the only thing I grind are my teeth. But, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years most, you’ve probably seen examples of this type of dancing. If not, just flip your channel to MTV or an episode of Jersey Shore (or any reality TV show for that matter) and you’re bound to bump into some grinding.

Truth-be-told, I am not bothered by it when I see it. I certainly don’t avert my eyes or act as if I am disgusted by it – I am old, but I’m not dead. That said, it’s funny how views on sexual expression shift to the right in matters that involve your own kids.

The story of the cancelled homecoming dance unfolded in real-time through social media, which is a good thing, because the part of the brain that enables humans to articulate verbally is slow to develop in teenage boys, of which I have two.

When I asked my older son what happened, he simply said “We rebelled”.

Here’s something I’ve learned as a father of two teenage boys – If you want any details about what is going on in the life of your teenage son, be prepared to ask more questions than a New York Times investigative journalist, and be accepting of the fact that almost all his responses will be one or two-word answers. It’s an exhausting exercise in futility, like trying to draw blood from a stone.

Over time, I received a full accounting of what happened. That which I did not learn from interrogating my sons, I gleaned from the local TV news, our town’s daily newspaper, and most interestingly, Middletown Patch – a local community web site and public forum (I am including a link to the Patch article at the end of this post – it provides an interesting and entertaining take on small-town mores and values)

But the point of this post is to peel back the layers of my reaction to my son’s response to the question “Do you grind?”

Now, if I were to describe my older son (and my younger son for that matter), I would use terms like kindhearted, intelligent, well behaved and socially modest. My wife and I have raised our sons to be respectful of his elders and mindful of the rule of law, and to not act like a jackass in public. Our boys have always held up their side of the bargain – they’ve never gotten into trouble – basically, our two boys are very good kids.

To be honest, I just could not envision my son grinding away on a dance floor – it just seemed. . . I don’t know. . . out of character. Still, I was a bit nervous to even ask the question – perhaps I was afraid of the answer.

A few days after the dance, I was sitting in my living room – my son was across the room on the couch. It was just us; my wife was in the kitchen. That’s when I decided to let the question fly:

Me: Hey, can I ask you a question?

Son: Sure

Me: Do you grind?

The words seemed to hang in the air between us.

Son: “Sometimes”.

This is where things got interesting from my perspective – because I could almost hear my brain working – it was as if my brain and myself had separated momentarily – my brain, grappling with the word “sometimes” struggling to come up with an appropriate response.

And then I heard my self say (rather sternly) “Ask yourself if you would dance that way in front of me or your mom or your girlfriend’s parents – and if the answer is no – then DON’T! ”

And that was pretty much the end of the discussion – but not the end of me thinking about it.

I wanted to understand why I said what I said – because honesty, when I replayed my own words – in my own head, they sounded like total horseshit

Here is what I think happened:

I had no mental frame of reference on which to formulate a response – meaning, my brain searched its database and came up empty :


I remember feeling agitated at his response – I think that feeling was my brain throwing up its hands in exasperation – and that’s when I spat out my horseshit response.

So, what have I learned?

I learned that my kids and your kids live in a society drenched in sexual imagery and their dancing is a reflection of that society and we would have to lock them in a closet, throw out our televisions, take away their smart phones, unplug their computers, cancel our magazine subscriptions, turn off the radio and erase what has already been burned into their memories in order to put a halt to the grinding or the urge to grind, and that our best bet is to tell our sons to respect their girlfriends and to tell our daughters to respect themselves and to not get overly concerned with how they dance and to not judge a kids character by what they might do on a dance floor, because, after all they’re kids, but at the same time tell them that people are watching and people will make judgments and that if they get carried away on a dance floor expect to be called out by a teacher or a chaperone and if that happens be thankful that someone is reigning you in a bit and letting you know it’s time to cool it.

Here is the link to Middletown Patch article:


System of a Downer


It was 9:00 PM and I needed to go for a walk. This is a relatively new thing for me. I have taken to night walking – it relaxes me – clears my head – puts my spirit at peace for 30 minutes. Sometimes I start out with my dog Walter in tow, then I swing back by the house to drop him off and continue on my own – alone with the night – and my iPod. Before heading out on this particular night I made a point of re-synching my iPod, because somehow I inherited 23 “System of a Down” songs from my son’s playlist.

Here’s a truism: There few things in life more abrasive than having System of a Down pumped into your head unexpectedly at full volume. It’s happened to me on several occasions and the experience has literally shaken my faith in humanity.

40 percent chance of rain, 95 percent chance of extinction


I was sitting on the couch – my son across the room with his smart phone in hand – head tilted downward.

Without lifting his head he flatly stated that there is a 95 percent chance that the human race will be extinct in 9000 years. I immediately thought this was an opening argument for why my wife and I should spring for his school field trip to France. But not a single syllable followed. Apparently he just wanted to share a little sunshine.

It’s a scary thing


It’s a scary thing when you realize while brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed, and approaching 50 years old, that what you do, and what you have done for 8 to 12 hours a day, for the past 27 years, you do not because you enjoy it, but because you have a deep-seeded  fear of failure and a strong desire to be liked – and it just-so-happened that you ended up as a software technical writer – and the desire to be liked and that fear of failure, rather than your love of the job, is what fuels you every day, and with watery tooth paste running down your chin, and a tired expression looking back at you from the mirror, you imagine, just for a split second, that you see your father’s face, a slight smile that is both wry and full of regret, and as this moment of clarity extends a little bit longer, you realize how much time you’ve wasted and that the time laid out before you has a thick visible horizon that is a little too close for comfort and you begin to drift, and wander, and suddenly realize the profound affect your family dynamic from childhood has had on all of the decisions that you’ve made right up to this toothpaste moment, from choosing your spouse, to taking your first technical writing job, to not taking risks, to blindly putting your nose to the grindstone for so long you may have missed a true calling and to the heart-sinking realization that so many of your decisions were totally unguided, that you made them with little forethought and as a result you became a cork in a rapidly rolling river, and now, as you approach your 50th year, you’ve been granted time to pause in front of your bathroom mirror at 11:45PM on a Sunday night, as if the river has taken sympathy on your plight and dumped you momentarily into an inlet where you can see shadowy opportunities swaying on the shore, and a murmur of a thought bubbles up from a thick murky place in your brain about how good it would feel to take control of your life while you still have the chance, before that river pulls you back into the current and you drift ever more swiftly from the shore and resign yourself to the river’s plan, which you know ends with you being dumped unceremoniously into the Ocean – which is of course  a metaphor for the end – and you start to wonder about your kids, and the role you’ve played in their family dynamic and what effect you’ve have had on their formative years, and although you know with absolute certainty that you love them more than life, you still wonder about the messages conveyed simply by you going through your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly routine and you wonder if there is anything positive, if there is a scintilla of good that might have seeped into their subconscious, and you understand that your kids are in a sense passive participants in your life,  and you begin to worry that they learn through observational osmosis and therefore are in a sense doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents, and you start to think that the best thing you can do for your kids would be to get out of that god damn river and set your own course, because by staying in that river you are basically telling your kids that life controls you rather than the other way around, and that is probably the worst thing to tell anyone,  let alone your own kids, who still have so many decisions to make and so much time ahead of them – so you start to clear 50 years of brush from your mind in hopes that you will be able to find your life’s passion, while at the same time you question the logic of  having to search for one’ passion, shouldn’t passion come from within? If you have to search for your passion, are you not saying that, at least for the moment, that you don’t have a passion, and let’s face it, all of this means starting over again and you begin to sink into your sink at the thought of that, and then you  start to rationalize by telling yourself about the importance of setting a good example and providing for your family and its approaching midnight and tomorrow is a work day and you are so far behind on your work, so you press-down and twist the top off your bottle of Ambien and fumble for one of the pills and turn off the bathroom light and walk away, your Father’s reflection remains in the mirror, all the wryness in his expression has melted away, replaced with just sorrow and regret.