HighStakesBlog

November 7, 2006

I believe … vote early and vote often

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:40 am

Soooo…election day is here. Or as we Republicans like to call it, unemployment day.

I will first join the cacophony of other voices telling you to go vote. Seriously. Do it. I did. It was get Starbucks or vote. I voted. My votes should count double. Although the reality is I am secretly avoiding said coffee shop right now because someone correctly pointed out to me that I always order “girlie” drinks. Apparently adding another shot of espresso doesn’t make a raspberry vanilla latte okay for a man. Point taken. Any thoughts?

So I voted. You should too. It’s a relatively painless experience once you get past the elderly poll workers, waiting in lines in the rain, people registered to vote in Montana thinking they can vote in suburban Columbus…it’s painless. Really. And you get those cool “I Voted” stickers. It never ceases to amaze me when I walk into a business meeting and see a CEO sporting one of those things. Good for you, buddy. Good for you. Cookie?

The reality is though, that little sticker is the closest most of us will come to influencing public policy and the “rules” which govern our daily lives. I am lucky. In my career, I get to use my words and my relationships to impact the decisions being made for me. But most people remain blissfully unaware of the constraints or financial burdens being placed on them until they go to light up a cigarette and are told the bar is now smoke-free or worse yet, you pay for a lapdance and the dancer stands 5 feet from you and keeps the cowgirl costume ON. I mean really. You need to keep up with legislative actions.

I have written and re-written this paragraph about 10 times and I have decided there is NO WAY I can write this without A) Sounding like an 8th grade social studies teacher and B) a right-wing flunky. So I’m just going to try to re-create the way I typed it the FIRST time. The votes you cast today, whether you realize it or not, will have a dramatic impact on your day-to-day life for the next two-four years…your financial life, your social life, your children’s lives. And therefore, as you go to the polls today, I just URGE you this: DO NOT vote on Iraq.

I am not going to debate the merits of our actions in Iraq, the auspices under which we went into Iraq or the morality of some of the decisions made during our time in Iraq. That is another series of blogs for another time. What I am going to tell you is to not let your feelings on Iraq enter into your decisions on this election day. There are single-issue voters. I understand that. For some, it’s the issue of abortion. For some, perhaps the environment. For each and every candidate, their stance on this ONE issue is a make or break proposition for you. I understand that. But I implore you. Please do not consider Iraq a single-issue.

First of all, many of the people you will be voting for today had NOTHING to do with Iraq. Your governor, county commissioner or dog catcher may have an “R” next to their name, but they may have never uttered the acronym WMD and cannot most likely even SPELL Abu-Ghraib. Yes, I too had to look that up. They can pass the dreaded “red-light cameras”…they can raise your taxes…they can euthanize “Fluffernutter” no questions asked…but they cannot appropriate body armor for the troops or end Shiite/Sunni conflict. Do not vote against a candidate who may share your views on everything, just because you’re going to send a message to George Bush by voting for the Democrat.

If you want to send a message to George Bush, stop buying gas. Don’t buy that 15th fruitcake this Christmas. There are things you can do to send a message, but this isn’t one of them. Vote on the issues, vote on the candidate. I voted for the Ohio Democrat candidate for Governor today. I voted for a Democrat Auditor. One does a good job, the other scares me in a “Brave New World” sort of way. Not a “Brave Little Toaster” sort of way. That’s different.

But likewise, if you vote against a candidate because they walked an intoxicated cocktail waitress to their car and, depending on the account, assaulted her or allowed her to drive home drunk…or you vote against a candidate because they were involved in a scandal to ruin Workers Comp benefits in a rare coin scandal (Thank you, Tom Noe!)…or you vote against a candidate because their name just sucks…seriously, CONGRESSMAN Zach Space? I don’t think so. Any and all of that is fine.

But don’t vote on Iraq. That vote will come at the pump or in Macy’s or more likely in 2008. And I’ll be back in this space giving a legitimate reason to get you to vote against Obama. It may take me that long to find one.

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October 9, 2006

I believe … funerals may be the new Starbucks

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:39 am

At what point do we become blase about death? Could it be about the same time we start using words like blase? I mean seriously. Give me a walker and point me toward the early bird specials. What am I 80?

Sadly, the father of my wife’s best friend passed away last week and we drove to her hometown outside of Pittsburgh for the calling hours and funeral this weekend. It was crushing for my wife. She has known this man since she was in elementary school and he was truly like a second father. I think he cried more at our wedding than her own father. Well, her “real” father cried too, but it was more out of disbelief that she was actually marrying me. Her second father cried out of joy.

This was a father of many. A husband. A prominent person within the little “berg” outside of the “Burgh.” God-fearing Catholic. And he was a figure to emulate for me. He had three daughters in the house. He was the lone man. This is apparently my lot in life. He taught me two things. 1) Always have “your chair.” You need something that is yours and doesn’t have make-up, barbies or estrogen on it. and 2) Develop selective hearing. I learned a lot from this man.

Can you begin to see the situation? He was a great man. Loved by many. And yet, I was appalled by what I saw at his calling hours. Sure there were a lot of people there. Packed the room. Everyone was there for a reason. Sadly, none of them seemed to be to pay their respects.

Let me run down the people that were there:

— The networkers…you could tell these people right away as they usually started the conversation with, I worked with him at _______. The conversation quickly becomes, yes, I’m at _____ now. Did I mention that I was awarded the golden mop last year for excellence in janitorial conduct? Here’s my resume if you’re ever looking.

— The flower people…these are the people that inevitably ignore EVERY indication in an obit or otherwise that IN LIEU of flowers, please send donations to XXXX. Sure there are circumstances where flowers are appropriate. But I honestly saw people walk in, look all over for their flowers, knocking women and children over in the process, check the card and the requisite orchids and leave. Never even paid their respects. But they found their flowers. The ones they weren’t supposed to send.

— The planners…these people usually had an oxygen tank or drove in on an invacare scooter. They closely scrutinized everything from the death notice, to the guest book to the coffin to the arrangement of the chairs. It’s like going to model homes for decorating advice. And somehow they thought it was perfectly acceptable.

— The horny…yes, the wedding crasher cliche is true. You could look around the room and see the guys/girls trying to “re-connect” with emotionally vulnerable people. They were the ones with arms around people’s shoulders and giving nonchalant squeezes. Is that ever NOT creepy?

and finally … the worst …

— The gossip hounds…these conversations usually began with, “You know who else he was friends with…XXXXX…whatever happened to…wasn’t his wife doinking the Dunkin Doughnuts guy?” They are there solely to find out what they’ve missed in this person’s life and the lives of his friends. These people are especially prominant in smaller towns and yet leave a bad taste in your mouth. Like RC cola. Has anyone seen that crap in a town larger than 25,000 people?

Sure, there were family. There were friends. But these people were in the MINORITY. I suppose I am lucky. I haven’t had to deal with a lot of death in my life. To me, death is mostly reserved for relatives I barely knew, my hamsters and Princess Di. So maybe everyone else is resigned to this reality. I am not. I was appalled and horrified. So let me apologize for the rest of those in attendance this past weekend. And Mr. Conwell: the world is a better place for you having lived. And my wife’s life is better for having known you. God bless. And Go Steelers.

October 5, 2006

I believe … many of you invoking God’s name are clearly not talking about “my” God

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:37 am

Okay, religion and politics…I am going to try REALLY hard to keep this short and thus focus on the first and not the second.  I do not want this blog to turn partisan…rather, I want everyone, regardless of party affiliation (yes, even you, Libertarians…but maybe not you, Ralph Nader…everyone else) to share my outrage.  That said, me trying to keep this short is probably a little like the Editors at US Weekly vowing to keep Jessica Simpson out of the next issue.  We all know that’s not going to happen.

Perhaps I should start with a little history lesson.  Apparently there is something called the Westboro Baptist Church.  I always thought Westboro Baptist Church was the fictional house of worship that allowed you to write anything you want on the church sign and e-mail it to your friends, thinking they’d laugh, but instead, they delete it away and mumble about you needing more to do.  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s a “real” Church.  It was started by a wacko named Fred Phelps.  You know, calling him a wacko, maybe an insult to wackos everywhere.  But since the other words I would like to use, I’ll stick with wacko and apologize ahead of time to Pauly Shore and Congressman Mark Foley.

According to sketchy media reports, Phelps was sitting around flogging himself one day and thought: “You know, for some reason, my Church just isn’t catching on.  I need a key message.”  Well after some soul-searching, apparently he settled on his platform of hating homosexuals.  And he started protesting funerals.  You heard me right.  The guy protests funerals.  Now, I think we’ve all pulled a Will Ferrell and tried to pick up people at funerals.  Nothing wrong with that.  But protesting funerals?  And not just funerals.  He started with funerals of AIDS victims and beaten homosexuals.  Because they hadn’t suffered enough throughout their lives.  They needed one last attempt to take their dignity.

Lately though, he has focused on military funerals.  **Warning: partisan piece of this blog beginning…** While I would LOVE to see Cindy Sheehan with a pitchfork in her eye…nothing would make me happier…at least she has the “decency” to just sit outside W’s ranch and do booksignings where nobody shows up.  Not this Phelps guy.  He actively protests military funerals.  He brings signs that say, “God loves dead soldiers.”

Say what you will about the war.  Say what you will about those in leadership who started this war.  These people still died.  And left behind wives.  And children.  And parents.  And they died, in the tradition of other members of the armed services who lost their lives protecting the very same freedom which ALLOWS these jerk-offs to protest military funerals.  Do you think there were very many “Phelps” at funerals for the Wehrmacht?  Yeah, not so much.  But to a certain extent, I will give him his right to do this.  It’s his way of speaking out against an unjust war.  As an American, I will deride him, call him names and question his sanity, but I will grant him his right to do it.  Within 300 feet.  Let’s not be ridiculous.

Proving the old adage that all the good ones are taken, Phelps is not only married, but has pro-created.  His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper (You heard me.  She’s married too).  She carries the torch now and has protested all sorts of funerals.  Homosexual funerals.  The Sago Miners funerals.  Starbucks employees funerals.   She hits them all.  In the name of God.  Not publicity.  In the name of God.  She says it’s her religion that drives her to do this and she MUST do it.  Keep that in mind.

The group’s latest escapade is what I find absolutely unconscionable.  It is impossible not to have heard about the devastating incident in Pennsylvania Amish country this past week.  I cannot even imagine the scene or the impact on this community.  And perhaps even more shocking is that they remain true to their religion and are trying to forgive this man.  I cannot even begin to fathom this depth of faith.  I’d like to think I have it inside myself.  But if I were honest, I would doubt it.  I would give in to rage and revenge.  I am simply not that strong.  The whole nation mourns the loss of these innocent children.

Well, not the whole nation.  Phelps-Roper. This “woman” went on a prominent talk show and said things like the following:

“”Those Amish people, everyone is sitting around talking about those poor little girls — blah, blah, blah — they brought the wrath upon themselves,” Phelps-Roper said, adding that the Amish “don’t serve God, they serve themselves.”

So this “church” made plans to protest the funerals of these amish young women.  In the name of their religious beliefs remember?  Well, guess what.  Apparently even God knows the value of free airtime.  Our warm and fuzzy friend Phelps-Roper announced today that they will NOT be protesting the Amish funerals.  Why?  God told them not to?  Nope.  They realized that the Amish are just as devout as they are crazy?  Nope.  They were offered an hour of radio time in exchange or them not showing up at the funerals.  You heard me right.  These, the most religious of people, the ONLY people in the world, according to them, who aren’t going to hell, gave up their religious beliefs for an hour of radio time on Mike Gallagher’s radio show.  Priceless.

So let me get this straight.  I DON’T have to take communion every week if I write a column about it?  Those “Hail Mary’s” the guilt-ridden Catholics say over and over again?  Unnecessary as long as they fly banners over major sporting events.  Hey…Muslims…all that praying toward the Ka’ba?  Please.  Just send out a mass e-mail.

The sad thing is, as a PR hack, I don’t know whether to want to lock these freaks up or whether to use them as a case study on successful PR in my next new business discussion.

Oh and, I just got the new US Weekly.  Shocking.  Jessica Simpson’s in it.  We all knew it would happen.

September 18, 2006

I believe … these are my wishes for Sidney (and now Audrey)

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:36 am

This is my response to AGAIN being tagged.  Sheesh.  Luckily for me, my wife, my lawyer and my place of employment, this one has nothing to do with sex.  Check that, my lawyer really enjoyed the one about sex.  Those people that work by the hour…sheesh.  Lawyers are almost worse than PR people.  Almost.

So this tag is five things that I wish for.  I’m going to take a little different approach with this than my buddy Jim did.  His goal was to be as greedy as possible.  And I respect him for it.  I hope he gets what he wants.  Especially the rapid demise of the energizer bunny.  But I’m going to use this as an excuse to “pimp” a song I learned about on myspace.  I have been wanting to post these lyrics for awhile now, but haven’t found the appropriate time/reason.  Thank you Jim.

One of the serendipitous parts of myspace has been the expansion of my musical repertoire.  And by expansion, I mean creation.  Music has never been a big part of my life.  Those of you that have read this or my profile know that.  It ALMOST was a big part of my life when that hot cashier at Big Bear asked me to go to the Chicago concert with her.  I was 16, she was 20.  Match made in heaven.  Sadly, she and her boyfriend reconciled  and I got the invite yanked.  Thankfully though, my parents, thinking my desolation was due to just wanting to go see Chicago, took me instead.  And we saw the cashier there.  Good times.

But I now have branched out beyond Chicago (and the guy waving the flag at the reggae concert).  I’ll give proper credit where credit is due and thank my friend Annie for “turning me on” to this singer.  Wow…that was almost the last blog tag.  Kick save and a beauty.  The guy’s name is Marc Broussard.  He’s soulful, bluesy, slightly corny at times in his lyrics, but overall very enjoyable.  His “hidden” track on his CD Carencro is a song called Gavin’s Song.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot find the inspiration for this song, but I have posted the lyrics below.  Hopefully the reason for their pertinence to this blog tag will become readily apparent:

I wish you freedom
I wish you peace
I wish you nights of stars that beckon you to sleep
I wish you heartache that leaves you more of a man
I wish I could be there, but I can’t

I wish you places that sit so still
Where people never ever change and never ever will
I wish I could hold you and make you understand
I wish I could be there, but I cant

[chorus]
Be good for your mama
Cause she’ll need a hand to hold
Boy, she loves you
More than you’ll ever know
There are rhymes and there are reasons
And times when nothing stayed the same
But you know my love still remains

I wish you wisdom
I wish you years
I wish you armies to conquer all your fears
I wish you courage for all that life demands
I wish I could be there, but I can’t

[chorus]
Be good for your mama
Cause she’ll need a hand to hold
Boy, she loves you
More than you’ll ever know
There are rhymes and there are reasons
And times when nothing stayed the same
But you know my love still remains

I wish we were together
I wish I was home
I wish there were nights where I was never alone
I know I’ve said it but I’ll say it once again
I wish I could be there, but I can’t

Taken without the music, I think Emily Dickenson is safe.  But add the haunting acoustics and it’s an impactful accomplishment in music.  And it certainly made me wish I had some musical talent or even some vague ability to write poetry.  But boiled down at its essence, my five wishes, with a nod to Mr. Broussard, are my five wishes for my daughter, Sidney and her unborn sister:

1. I wish you self-esteem and an undeniable sense of your own immense self-worth.
2. I wish you do a better job than your dad of listening to the great “Jimmy V” from his “Don’t Ever Give Up” speech and I hope that EVERY day, you do three things: 1. You laugh.  2. You stop and think. 3. You cry.
3. I wish you find your spiritual place in this world.  Wherever that may be.   A Lutheran Church like your mom.  Deep in the Blue Ridge mountains like your dad.  Zen garden.  Wherever it is.  I wish you find it.
4. I wish you an appreciation of the diversity of this world.  Its people, its history, its food, its language, its natural beauty.  Every day truly is an adventure and I wish you revel in it, not be intimidated by it.
5. I wish you learn the unending joy and unspeakable emotions of having children.  There is nothing that approaches it in depth and strength of emotions.

Clearly, there are more than five, but that’s what I have…technically, I am supposed to “tag” five more people, but I am getting ready to board a plane and I will just have to hope that at least five of you carry this on in your own blogs.

September 13, 2006

I believe … that anyone who would use the term canine-americans is clinically insane (no offense)

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:34 am

I readily admit that I list the rock I live under as my permanent residence.  ESPECIALLY when it comes to pop culture or “News of the Weird,” I am the LAST one to know…that homeless amputee I woke up next to after a bachelor party gone horribly wrong was more dialed in.

That said, there are two “movements” that are apparently afoot…completely unbeknownst to me.  I am trying to decide which is more disturbing to lead with it and I can’t.  They both undermine the entire fabric of not only American society, but humanity itself.  One will anger animal rights activists and one will anger atheists and possibly Muslims.  The animal rights people will only throw blood on me.  The other group.  Um.  I’ll start with pissing off the animal rights people.

Let me start by saying that I own two dogs.  My entire life, I have grown up with at least one dog in the house.  I have even owned something called a Shih Tzu.  Don’t let anyone fool you.  It’s pronounced Shit-Zoo.  My point is that I love dogs.  I always have.  Nobody cries at Old Yeller more than me.  Well, maybe one of the male “professionals” on dancing with the stars.  Wow.  “Must Love Dogs.”  Check.

Dogs are to be loved, adequately fed, forced to wear ridiculous sweaters and jerseys…I cringe every time I hear one of those stories where they found 365 dogs and 942 cats in a storage shed fighting over one Snausage.  Heart-wrenching stuff.  But the bottom line: they’re still dogs.  Some people, apparently, are in denial of this fundamental fact.  I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the head of the Humane Society is calling for dogs to be re-named “Canine Americans.”

Okay.  I understand African-American.  I get Asian-American.  We’re all Americans.  But we’re PEOPLE.  We walk upright.  We have the ability to litigate ridiculous crap.  We don’t drink out of toilets.  Some men may live in the dog house.  Some women may be “dogs” (although of course I would never use such a horrible term…I’ve just heard it from other men…men who live in doghouses).  Regardless, while people may be “dogs” … dogs are NOT people.

Is it too cruel to say that people who push animal rights to this illogical extreme just WISH animals were human because they talk to, love and relate to dogs and not “real” humans?  I’m sure my buddy Freud could answer that even better than I.  Canine Americans?  That is just asinine.

Okay, on to offending the next group, but again, let me start with a disclaimer.  I am a Christian.  I grew up Methodist, married a Lutheran.  But I rarely go to Church…really only when my daughter is involved, i.e. baptism, free day care, etc.  More importantly to this conversation though, I was a history major.  I know, I know, shocking that I am actually employed.

As a history major, one of the first things you learn after Catherine the Great’s sexual perversions is that in Western Culture, years are delineated by “B.C.” and “A.D.”  These abbreviations, “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini,” while clearly Christian in name, have been utilized since the 8th century.  Not only are they generally “accepted” for use in western culture, but the entire world has adopted them.  BC and AD have been adopted by the UNITED NATIONS.

Sadly, though, there is apparently a movement to strike down 1,200 years of history and tell the members of the United Nations that they don’t know what’s best for their members.  This group pushes “Common Era” and “Before Common Era” or CE and BCE as the new standard.  Are you kidding me?  Do you know the only country in the world that doesn’t use BC and AD?  China.  Communist China.

What I don’t understand is why stop there?  Why just change BC and AD to BCE and CE?  The entire calendar, the entire concept that this is 2006 is based on BC and AD.  Not just what they’re called, but what they stand for.  That doesn’t change by changing the abbreviations.  If you’re concern is legitimately taking this out of the realm of religion, why be disingenuous and just go after the abbreviations?  Why not state that this is now year 455,301,202,703 based on the “scientific” date of the formation of the earth?

As an American (not a canine american I might add), I believe in freedom of religion.  I believe NOBODY should push religion on anyone else.  I differ from my Republican brethren a little on that.  But this is absolutely ridiculous.  I was okay with losing Christmas break.  I understand that to a certain extent.  Happy Holidays cards instead of Christmas cards.  Jews for Jesus?  I don’t get it, but okay.  But this?

Can it really be that in year 2006 of the common era, furry, four-legged creatures will be citizens of this great country?  And I thought a freaking Wiggles concert was bad.  Is it too late to “unconceive” my daughters?  Let the blood tossing commence.

September 11, 2006

I believe … 9/11 was a glimpse into my own mortality, not the country’s

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:31 am

I have read a lot of 9/11 blogs on here today.  Some have been heart-wrenching.  Some infuriating.  It is impossible to have not been touched by that day in some way.  Everyone has their story/stories.  We were in the process of moving from Washington, DC to Columbus.  I had arrived in August, 2001, but my wife and ours dogs arrived in our Ohio on 9/10/2001.  I drove right by that helipad at the Pentagon at exactly that time EVERY day on my way to work in Georgetown.  The thought that I could have looked up and watched that plane come in … And one of my fraternity brothers was one of the lucky ones.  He escaped the World Trade Center.

But instead of talking specifically about that day, the aftermath of that day or any of the political implications of that day, I want to discuss a theme from that day.  One thing we all came BRUTALLY face-to-face with five years ago today was our own mortality.  Like 9/11 itself, everyone has a story about realizing they are not invincible…but you could feel the entire country coming to grips with its collective mortality all at once on 9/11.

Whether it was a story of a flight attendant just doing her job or a NYFD firefighter just doing HIS job…people realized that when you walk out that door in the morning, there’s no guarantee that, for whatever reason, you will walk back through at the end of the day.  I dealt with that like everyone else, it took time to fly again, to drive without looking up at the sky involuntarily at every loud noise.  But there was a big difference between my life then and my life now.  Since then, I have become a parent.

This past week, as silly as it is, individually I re-visited this issue with a drastically different psychological result.  I have been experiencing a medical condition which was both painful and frightening when you consider the possibilities.  I have undergone every test devised by any devious inventor, including the “buried alive” machine, also known as an MRI.  Bottom line, all were negative, I’ve been told that I am perfectly healthy, if a bit rotund, and this is just one of the human body’s quirks, albeit a painful (and expensive!) one.

But it wasn’t the excruciating head pain or the highs of percosets that I will remember from this incident.  It was the connection I felt to my daughter and our unborn child and the utter paralyzation that I felt when I thought (no matter how ridiculously) that connection might be severed.

With our doctor telling us that he “thinks” #2 is a girl…I am not really thrilled about the thoughts of multiple prom dresses, three coinciding menstrual cycles and paying for two weddings.  Some people have savings accounts, I have already started the psychologist fund…is it wrong to put my daughters’  mental health in a de facto layaway plan?   Brock…focus…you had a point.

Right.  Right.  Severing the connection.  Like parents everywhere I have hopes and dreams for my daughters.  And like parents everywhere, I am an INTEGRAL part of those hopes and dreams, whether they like it or not.  I have dealt with my own inevitable death.  My wife and I have discussed contigency plans.  But how do parents reconcile the fear that they will never see their children grow up?  How do you reconcile the fear that your children may live those hopes and dreams WITHOUT you, not ALONGSIDE you?

That’s what I’ve found myself thinking about as this 9/11 anniversary wanes.  Following that day, we heard over and over again that we had to laugh again or the terrorists will have won.  We had to fly again or the terrorists will have won.  We had to buy porn again or the terrorists will have won.  Okay, maybe I was telling MYSELF that one.  But there are no discernable enemies in our everyday lives.  Just death itself and regardless of laughter, air travel or pornography, death will win.

The ONLY sufficient answer I have found comfort in is cliched, over-used and perhaps poorly translated, but Carpe Diem.  That’s the only thing we do have control over.  How we live our lives and what we pack into each and every day, that’s OUR choice.   I may not to be able to hold my daughters’ hands throughout their entire lives.  But I can make memories right now.

As a result, I ignored my pain meds and painted my daughter’s “big girl room” last week.  I put together her godforesaken toddler bed.  We played Dora in the bathtub even though I couldn’t see through the pain.  On this 9/11 anniversary, I can only hope that those 3,000 souls who lost their lives and the countless thousands of military and civilians who have died honoring their memory since, put together their share of toddler beds and gave their share of baths.

I truly believe they did.  I have to.

August 31, 2006

I believe … I have found my new career (Ben Harper concert review)

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:29 am

I have found my new career.

As some of you know, my beautiful wife and I attended the Ben Harper concert here in Columbus last night.  The opening act was Bob Marley’s youngest son, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley.  He wasn’t bad…certainly had a lot of energy.  Sort of surprising considering the lethargic tendencies, bloodshot eyes and periodic White Castle runs of many of his fans.

But what fascinated me was this one gentleman on stage with Junior Gong.  This man was clearly in the band.  He was clearly a revered member of the band.  And yet, he didn’t sing.  He didn’t have an instrument (aside from the lone maraca held in one hand that NEVER moved).  No, he bounced from foot to foot waving the Jamaican flag.  That’s it.  Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes right-handed.  Sometimes left-handed.  But for the almost 1.5 hour set, that was his lone responsibility.  I couldn’t help but think back to the try-out process.  I want to be that man.

But I digress.  Ben Harper.  It came to my attention that many don’t know Ben Harper.  Sad.  A truly talented musician, songwriter and performer…can be found here. Beyond that, I believe he is married to Laura Dern.  Man was she hot at one time.  Sadly though, as my wife aptly put it, “She looks ridden hard and put away wet.”   To anyone that saw Wild at Heart, you know that’s possible.

Last night, Laura Dern’s husband (aka Ben Harper) played to a crowd who treated him like the titles of one of my favorite songs of his, “Beloved One.”  His main set switched back and forth from slower, more introspective songs (With My Own Two Hands, Take My Hand) to louder, more rock-like songs (Both Sides of the Gun)…but regardless, it truly showed the perfection with which he and his band play the guitar.  Ben is the best I’ve ever heard with a slide guitar.  Blows your mind.

His encore, as per usual, was just him, a mic and an acoustic guitar.  Brilliant.  Sadly, the effectiveness was lost on many of the 22-25 year-olds who didn’t know this is where he started and may or may not even know his fantastic debut album.

Unfortunately though, what my wife and I left with was discouragement and annoyance.  Not with Ben Harper, not with Marley, not with that darling man with the Jamaican flag…no, with Harper’s song Black Rain.

For those of you who don’t know, look up the lyrics.  It’s about Hurricane Katrina and bashing the government’s response.  Last time I checked, Harper was from California.  I know he has always been a socially conscious performer, but unlike actual ACTIVISTS like Harry Connick and to a lesser extent Marc Broussard, Harper has not (to my knowledge) lifted a finger for the displaced refugees or people of New Orleans.

I understand that artists have a responsibility to give voice and focus to what the country is feeling.  Some of my favorite songs hail from the 60s…where would American culture have been without this musical outlet?  But what gives people like Kanye West the right to say “George Bush hates black people.”  And more importantly, why do we listen and why do we care?

Is this just me?  Maybe some of you consider Black Rain a rallying cry/anthem and praise Harper for speaking out.  And stood up and urged Kanye on during his ridiculous statement.  I am interested.  Where/when do you feel artists should comment on social issues they may or may not have any actual involvement in?  And beyond that, anyone looking for a guy to wave a flag?  Lauri?  Does Brother Tucker need someone to wave Ohio’s standard?  I’m your man.

August 26, 2006

I believe … fall is vastly underrated

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:24 am

You can take your summer and shove it. Spring? There is just no manly way to carry an umbrella. It doesn’t exist. I hate spring. And winter? If before you were born, someone said, “Listen, for ¼ of your life, you will not see the sun, every morning you’ll have to scrape ice off of your car using a credit card, you’ll lose half of your wardrobe to salt stains and, oh, the best thing going is hurtling down hills in ridiculous outfits with gigantic sticks on your feet. Wouldn’t everyone north of the Mason-Dixon still be pregnant? Yeah, winter blows too.

But fall. I LOVE fall. I really shouldn’t be this excited about fall. It feels icky. But for the last several weeks I have been sitting in the air conditioning, staring outside, BEGGING for a leaf to fall off of a tree. I feel like writing a poem about fall. Sadly, I cannot write poetry if it doesnt start with “There once was a man from Nantucket” SOOO…I’ll just list the reasons I love fall.

Football in general – FINALLY there will be something to watch on the weekend other than Beverly Hills 90210 re-runs (was there something sexy about Andrea or is that just me?). Okay, realistically, the beauty of football is its not confined to the weekends anymore. Monday Night Football? Check. I love Tony Kornheiser by the way. Great columnist from the Washington Post. Should do very well. Thursday night football? Check. Even my wife will watch hoping for a glimpse of Kirk Herbstreit. I give him 10 years until he’s David Hasselhoff redux. But I digress.

High school football – Stared last weekend. We are so tremendously lucky here in Ohio to have the high school football tradition we do. Friday nights truly are magical. Dreams are made, shattered and fulfilled all under the under-powered lighting of local football fields. And those are just the kids trying to get laid under the bleachers. The football is great too. Is there a better event to go to with your family than a high school football game? If anyone says a Wiggles concert, I will shoot them.

College football – Clearly I am an Ohio State fan and bleed scarlet and gray. But the lesser known gems are the Washington and Jefferson’s and Wittenberg’s of the world. Tremendous football teams, tremendous history and tradition and a fraction of the cost. Oh and they’re on DIII college campuses. Open container laws? Grilling restrictions? We leave that to the big time schools. Of course, theres no “Girls of the NCAC” issue for Playboy. So big schools do have some perks. There are few things that create Goosebumps quicker than hearing an alma mater at a football game. I didn’t even GO to Ohio State and I almost start weeping like Dick Vermeil when I hear those chimes at Buckeye games. Carmen Ohio, oh why are you so good? With the standard caveats (spending time with my wife/daughter, blah blah…sorry honey), is there a better feeling/experience than tailgating? Standing by a Weber, in the jersey of your favorite team, a slight bite in the air, just enough to feel those needle pricks on your skin, throwing a football, talking to random people just because they happen to be parked next to you, drinking something “hoppy” out of a can, joining in a tone-deaf rendition of the fight song…I think I may go home and grill in the middle of the street just for fun.

Pro football – Two words. Fantasy Football.

Start of Network TV Programming – No, there isn’t network TV programming on during the summer. It doesn’t exist. I will not debate this point. I love my wife dearly. And I love our walks in the evening. Every evening. But come on, agree with me here everyone, around 8:00 there’s just nothing more you have to say to each other. In the summer, you have to pretend…sitting out on the porch, saying how lovely it is. When in the back of your mind, you’re really thinking, “I may go inside and watch re-runs of My Name is Earl, I need to remember the plot line for next season.” Am I the only one geeked for the new Studio 60 show? And the return of Weeds on Showtime. Classic television.

Fall Festivals – Those of you not from Ohio probably haven’t had the pleasure of attending the Circleville Pumpkin Festival. Look it up. It’s huge. Something about wearing a long sleeve shirt and buying a cup of hot chocolate that makes those festivals enjoyable. In the summer, I would rather lose a finger. But in the fall? Priceless. And seriously, can anything where they sell pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin chili, pumpkin tofu, pumpkin sushi really be bad?

I stop sweating – Since I work with some of you and innocently flirt with others of you, Ill leave out the details of this one. Trust me. It’s a good thing.

The Little Brown Jug – I will probably lose many of you here, but it’s a tradition in my family. For those of you who dont know, this is a horse race in Delaware, Ohio that attracts almost 70,000 people. It’s like the worlds largest truck stop wet t-shirt contest. Its the Kentucky Derby…but without the pompous and ostentatious displays of money. And the godforsaken hats. At the Jug, everyone is friendly and just there to have a good time. The horse racing is fantastic, but really it’s the whole experience from fried tenderloin sandwiches to lawn chairs tied to the fence to save seats that make it memorable. Just trust me. Everyone should go once. I am NOT in danger of getting a job offer from their PR department anytime soon, eh?

Knee-length skirts and knee-high boots – There may not be a more welcome fashion trend in the past 50 years. You may have to go back to cleavage-forcing corsets in Europe. I’ll look into this.

Apple Cider – Warm. Cold. Who gives a crap? When I see the first gallon in the grocery store each year, I yelp. Really. Yelping. Not pretty.

Jumping into leaves – Aside from the rare amputee due to a hidden object, is there anyone who doesnt get giddy when thinking about jumping into a pile of leaves? I think not.

Okay…that’s enough for now. I welcome additions to this list. In the meantime, I’m going to go back to searching Ohio State tribute videos on youtube and pretending this half-caf, skim, moosed turtle mocha from Caribou is actually apple cider.

August 16, 2006

I believe … the Wiggles are a sign of the apocalypse

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 10:20 am

When you’re about to become a parent, people tell you repeatedly about their own experiences with children and with how exciting certain milestones are. They talk about crawling, walking, first words, first time sleeping through the night. But there are also important, life-changing milestones that people NEVER talk about, milestones that parents reach. A few examples: the first time you call YOURSELF mom/dad, the first time you wake up in the morning, turn on the TV and realize the LAST thing you watched was not Sportscenter, not some god awful reality show, nope, it was the Disney Channel, the first time your spouse and child go away for the weekend and you are so excited, sleep in, wake up and promptly realize you have NO idea what you used to do before you were a parent.

All valid examples and ones that non-parents probably really don’t understand the gravity of. I reached another one last night. We took our daughter to a Wiggles concert. For those of you not familiar with the Wiggles, please feel free to look them up here: http://www.thewiggles.com.au/. To give you a quick description though, they are this generation’s Barney. Read: the most unbelievably annoying program that entrances children of all ages and causes parents to contemplate suicide, but ultimately cause them to also fall under the spell and buy-in to this crap.

To me, the Wiggles are a TV show, a TV show that entertains my daughter in the morning while were getting ready. It never occurred to me that there would be concerts. Concerts are for major music stars like Dave Matthews and American Idol fifth place finishers. Not ridiculous TV characters. Heh heh. Stupid dad. So when tickets went on sale for a concert within two weeks of my daughters birthday, it was a foregone conclusion that I would shell out well over $100 for this experience.

My first inkling of the absurdity I was taking part in was when my wife began scouring e-bay and calling in favors from her contacts in the city to get us on the floor. Now understand, we are like five rows back from the floor. But clearly being ON the floor was important enough to collect old debts. As the day approached, it was like boot camp. My wife insisted we watch over and over again until songs like Fruit Salad and Rock-a-bye Bear were not merely songs, but became mantras that somehow found their way into daily life. “So its like they say in Fruit Salad, ‘the first step, peel your bananas’.” Yikes.

The day finally came and we had our plans all set. I left work early, joined my wife and daughter over at the arena and chaos ensued. It seemed EVERY human who has ever had a child in the last six years was in attendance. I am officially changing the phrase, “I was sweating like a pedophile in a Toys R US” to “Sweating like a pedophile at a Wiggles concert.” It was that serious.

Before we even entered the arena, we were bombarded with the hawkers. People selling cotton candy, light up trinkets that someone in Bangladesh made for 5 cents were going for $10, even ticket scalpers. Seriously? Scalpers. People must need those floor seats. Once inside, the scene was vomit-inducing. There were two distinct groups. Wiggle veterans and Wiggle newbies. The veterans were easy to spot. Their children were uniformly decked out like a Wiggle character (Dorothy the Dinosaur, Captain Feathersword…kill me). But what really gave them away were the roses. Apparently in this Cult of the Wiggles, EVERYONE knows that Dorothy the Dinosaur loves roses. So you have to bring one to the concert. Good God.

So those were the veterans. The newbies? They were easy to spot because they were in line. LONG lines. Not for food or beer…nope…for merchandise. And while in those long lines, their eyes reflected abject terror. Terror that the trinket of choice would be sold out. Terror that the t-shirt of choice would be sold out and they would suddenly be selling the apparel to their child as a sleep shirt. Terror that if they DIDN’T buy their child something it was akin to everyone lining up for vaccinations while they stood on a street corner BEGGING for their child to contract Polio.

As I belly laughed at those fools, I turned to my wife to have her join in my public disdain for these lemmings. She was in line. That didn’t take long. At that point, the decision began. What to buy my 2-year-old daughter that really cant distinguish between any of the crap anyway. Hmmm…$8 mylar balloon? $7 6 oz. cup? $15 light-up wiggles car wand? Or my personal favorite, the $15 feather sword, which was clearly a featherduster glued to a stick. After much debate, we settled on the light-up car.

We found our seats and I was aghast at the display. (aghast at everything that is except the never-ending MILF parade…but I digress) Parents and children were running around with toys, hats, t-shirts, holding signs, roses and gifts for the Wiggles. I imagined it similar to a Papal visit. Then it struck me. THIS is why everyone hates the western countries. I cant see Iraqis filling a soccer stadium to watch the Wiggles. It just wouldn’t happen. They’re too busying trying to, well, not die. We’re so busy protecting airlines and sporting events…if I were a terrorist, I would be targeting the Wiggles. This concert is the epitome of Western greed.

I won’t bore you with the details of the actual concert. And my daughter couldn’t give you any details of the concert since she spent the whole thing SCARED and burying her head in my chest. Regardless, the concert was really the secondary entertainment though. It was the parents that were worth the price of admission and not just the MILFs. Educated adults were turned into pre-schoolers. Dancing, singing, positioning their kids just right so that they could wave to Henry the Octopus. If I was that malicious, I could have ruined the professional lives of countless Columbus executives with video blackmail. Finally, at one point, I noticed people begin filing out. I thought they at least had come to their senses. Nope. I quickly realized they were stampeding their children down onto the floor to get their pictures taken with a Wiggle. Oh sweet Jesus.

Thankfully it lasted a little over 1.5 hours and I was home and entered into a poker tournament by 9. All was right with the world. That is, until I began humming “Fruit Salad…yummy, yummy.” I don’t deserve to live.

July 24, 2006

I believe … I am definitely not cool

Filed under: My Previous Blog Archives — HighStakesBlog @ 4:02 pm

Originally Published July 24, 2006

I am not operating under any false assumptions.  I am not cool.  I am aware of this.  I am follicly-challenged, enjoy a white castle (Crave Case) from time to time and haven’t read GQ in well over a decade (except to look at various female celebrities WITHOUT clothes).  And this isn’t anything new.  I’ve never been cool.

I fell into the “jams” trap in elementary school.  Anyone else remember this little fad?  Cloth shorts past your knees with various ridiculous patterns?  Yeah and to make matters worse, I wore white socks ROLLED down.  The chess club made fun of me.

In middle school, while everyone else was wearing parachute pants, I managed to find jeans with lots of pockets that LOOKED like parachute pants.  And were completely stone washed to the point of albino.

In high school I tried to straddle the middle ground by trying to “dress up ” Abercrombie flannel shirts.  As a result, both the “Teen Spirit” grunge crowd and the Preppie kids thought I was trying to infiltrate their clique.

College?  Flannel sleep pants.  To class.  As a guy.  Wow.

But none of this prepared me for Friday night.  I took my wife and daughter downtown Columbus to the Jazz and Rib Fest.  I love ribs and well, jazz isnt bad.  We walked around, bought well over $40 worth of crap from hygienically-questionable food vendors and had a grand old time.  Inherent in any festival of this ilk are the hawkers.  Whether it be people handing out mutant toothpicks or the hippie-wannabe Burt’s Bees crowd, while were strolling along watching people irrevocably clogging their arteries, we were inundated with these folk.

Well, among this crowd were some very, um, scantily-clad young women.  I say that as the father of a young daughter.  I can’t tell a lie and pretend I didnt notice them…but I was very proud at how little I stared.  Not a single restraining order.  But I digress.  They were handing out VIP passes to special event at a downtown nightclub, but they appeared to be handing them out selectively.  I dont know exactly what their criteria was, but as we were walking by this perky blonde in a jean skirt and halter top, she reached out to hand me one.

Me!  Pushing a stroller!  Pregnant wife by my side.  I was getting a VIP club invite!  So I did what anyone in my shoes would have.  I puffed up and pretended not to notice so she would have to make a BIGGER deal out of giving it to me.  As I neared her outstretched arm, the pass-pixie’s devilish partner slyly grabbed her arm and shot her a look.  I am familiar with that look.   The jams and parachute jeans were familiar with the look too.  No pass for me.

I’m not even cool enough for a promotional gimmick?  Are you kidding me?  Whats next?  Telemarketers telling me that theyll call me sometime and losing my number?  *Sigh*  At least I still have myspace.  And all of my fake friends.  And bands Ive never heard.  And pay-by-the-click porn chicks.  At least youre quantifiable.  Crave case anyone?

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