Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009


Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.
They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.
They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.
They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.
They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.
They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say: it is you who must say this.
They say, We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.

-Archibald MacLeish

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Esquire's "Letter to the Young Drinker"

In June's issue of Esquire, there is an exquisite letter from someone who I would like to imagine is somewhat like myself in 20 years writing to someone a lot like myself 10 years ago. (The real author is Tom Chiarella, the same guy who wrote the amazing "75 Skills Every Man Should Master", aka the reason I subscribed to Esquire in the first place.) Some highlights from the letter:

"When you look back on your world with some booze in you--at your family, at your home, at your troubles--you'll find yourself a little unhinged from expectation, from fear." "For awhile, for a long while maybe, you surprise yourself. You're braver. Sharper." "Understand, from the get-go, these are fun illusions." "Make rules: I don't drink beer from boots. Don't chug. Don't shotgun. Don't hoot. Like that. Draft your own lessons. Learn from your mistakes. Quickly. You get a couple when you start. After that, it's on you."

The issue is worth buying just for the 13-page section on drinking in which this letter appears. There are also some drink recipes and other fine written pieces. For instance, the one in which this sentence appears: "My choice [of drink] is a reflection of what's important to me, so, I'll have what she's having."

BTW, I think Esquire should think about making an iPhone app that has drink recipes and extras (like these articles) for subscribers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Danielle: Good Versus Evil

I've never met Danielle in person. And I can't remember how I found her blog. But I sure am glad I did. She's thoughtful and hilarious. She's insightful to the point that she seems to question just who she is with the mastery of someone who knows exactly who she is. Take this autobiographical piece that appeared in the Washington Post, for example: LIFE IS SHORT. And I love this post of hers: are your legs tired...?

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? What do you want to be now?
As a child? I wanted to be Michael J. Fox's girlfriend. When I was a teenager - which in hindsight looks like a kid - I wanted to be a voice-over artist for Disney. 


Now, I want to be a successful novelist. And healthy.
When was the last time you were violent?

Three days ago, in a dream. It was pretty brutal.
Were you in the right?

That would be up to the dream jury. I think they would sympathize. 
Describe an instance when you placed a good deal of trust in a complete stranger.
Several years ago I got involved with a man - fell in love with a man whom I would have trusted with my life. Unfortunately he had lied to me about everything from his name to what he ate for breakfast each morning. He emotionally abused me. He faked cancer - for six months. When I became so lost in that chasm that I started praying to just die in my sleep, I ran to Israel (sort of my second home) to look for my sanity. He followed me there and harmed me further. In all, it amounted to psychological rape. It took nine months for me to realize he was a complete stranger; a mirage, and mentally ill. But until then, I trusted him implicitly.
Do you own a vanity book - a book you haven't read but keep on the shelf in the hopes that people will think you've read it? What are the qualities you associate with this book?

Does my collection of The Atlantic Monthly count? I confess haven't read them all. Maybe half. Maybe. Smarties read The Atlantic

Now, ask me about the books I'm ashamed of and an entire library emerges from under my bed. Titles include but are not limited to: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (by Steve Harvey - my mother gave it to me and I never read it); The Rules (ditto); Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World (galley copy sent by St. Martin's Press when I interviewed the author); Sex and the City; and a couple Nora Roberts paperbacks. All of these would give one the impression that I am a chick, which I am not. I am a W-O-M-A-N.

Describe the last time you lost something of value.

I'd have to say it was my faith in people's honesty and basic goodness. (See "psychological rape," above.) Like so many things of value, I didn't realize how precious it was until it was gone. I was raised by good people. That's what made me such an easy target - it was unfathomable that one human being could do something so horrible to another. And so... I never fathomed it. And that's how he got me. And when he was finished with me, my innocence was gone. I can honestly say now that while I'm occasionally surprised, nothing shocks me anymore. Which is sorta sad.
Is/was there a place you repeatedly look/looked for this item?
In the eyes of every new man I meet (now that I've started dating again).
Annular rings indicate the age of a tree; they form as a result of their environment. Give your age. Describe an event that aged you and when it occurred.

I am 33 (which always comes as a surprise to me). The abuse definitely aged me. I could see it in my face when all was said and done. Stress does ugly things to the body. 

What piece of advice/wisdom that you were given at one point do you hold on to?
"Try not to be too hard on people; you never know what they're going through." Linda Richman said this to me during a magazine interview. She's my hero - read her book.
What makes the world go 'round?

Good chasing evil, and evil chasing good. 'Round and 'round they go. Who started the chase? Nobody can know.

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Buddy Tino and His Phone

My buddy Tino never answers his phone. At least not when I call. Our friends will be getting together for drinks or arranging a cookout last-minute, and I'll call him. But he never picks up. So I give him hell about it: "You know, Tino, people have mobile phones in order to be reachable more often?"

Recently, Tino bought an iPhone, and when I got his voicemail again, I left the following message: "Tino, you've gone and purchased the world's most advanced phone, just to continue ignoring it. Nice." The next day, I got the email below, which almost sounded genuinely defensive to me:
"Hey Ross - Thanks for the invite on Sunday and sorry for not calling you back but I do have a reason (or excuse depending on your outlook). 

Roy, Nicole and I had gone to Carbondale on Saturday and picked up a fridge for me and a bunch of other appliances from her dad's rental properties and so on Sunday we spent the afternoon and much of the evening dropping them all off at various family members houses around the city.  I'm embarrassed to admit it but I left my phone at Roy and Nicole's because I didn't want it to get broken in some awful refrigerator smashing incident where I would have to sacrifice a limb to save my phone.  I'm still in the infancy stage with my phone and I'm positive I'll grow out of it.

So long story short, I didn't get your message until late and so I didn't call - my bad but I'm sure you aren't shocked."
I wrote this back:
"Fine, I guess that's an acceptable excuse for not answering my call.

I hope you don't really feel like you need to explain your reasons for not answering when I call. I always assume there's plenty of reasons why you wouldn't. For instance 

a) Tino is busy watching TV.
b) Tino is [getting] busy.
c) Tino is napping.
d) Tino was once brutally man-checked by Ross and is still a little bitter about it (totally understandable, and I am still sorry, even after you man-checked me back, although not as brutally).
e) Tino is making an iTunes playlist for his next get together. It's based on a Dave Matthews song. It includes several songs by the Squirrel Nut Zippers. It totally rocks.
f) Tino is taking a bath (I have my reasons for thinking this).
g) Tino is drunk.
h) Tino is trapped under something heavy and can't get to his phone.
i) Tino is trapped under something light (I have other reasons for thinking this).
j) Tino is playing with the dog.
k) Tino is running.
l) Tino is already on the phone, ordering something from IKEA.
m) Tino is cleaning out his car (I have reasons to believe this would never happen. Ever.).
n) Tino is planning for the apocalypse and has run to the store for several more 5-gallon jugs of water and three cases of canned tuna.
o) Tino feels apathetic about the incoming call from Ross. It's nothing against Ross. Tino just doesn't care to answer right now.
p) Tino is busy researching the process of joining the Fred Savage Fan Club online. Tino is having trouble finding the Fan Club, and he is beginning to suspect that he will have to start one on his own. This will make him the president of the club, and that makes Tino VERY happy. Fuck Ross's call. This shit is important.
q) Tino is considering the manliness of bow hunting. Seriously, how primitive and cool is that shit? Guns are for wussies.
r) Tino is painting the kitchen. Again.
s) Tino is playing a game on his new iPhone, and if he stops now to take the call, he might not break his own record.
t) Tino believes that Fred Savage might be calling soon, and he doesn't want to miss it.
u) Tino feels antisocial to the point of being phobic. (Don't worry, it happens to us all sometimes.)
v) Tino is getting busy. Again.
w) Tino's phone is out of batteries.
x) Tino is almost out of minutes. Again.
y) Why? Because we like you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eric Saling: No Apologies

The responses below are from Eric, my friend of more than a decade. We've been to the end of the Earth together (literally), and he was the Best Man at my wedding (for good reason). I've never come across another person like him.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An Architect  Being able to make something from nothing, on your own ideas, and have others appreciate it was all I was looking for. 

What do you want to be now?

I love being a firefighter, but all I really want to be is smarter.

When was the last time you were violent?

I don't know that I've ever been violent to another person directly.  The closest I have ever been is when I was 26 and punched a sign after having a fight with my girlfriend and sister at the same time. 

Were you in the right?

Looking back, no one was right or wrong.  We all had our own opinions on the events that took place.  I am terribly upset at how my reaction affected both my girlfriend and my sister, though.  Violence is rarely the answer.

Describe an instance when you placed a good deal of trust in a complete stranger.

I was sitting outside a coffee house when two people with foreign accents approached me and asked me for some money to get to their embassy.  They said they had been mugged and all of their money and documents had been stolen.  Normally I don't give money to anyone and had them sit down and explain what happened.  They took their time and were very detailed in the story.  I was convinced and wanted to help these people get to a place they felt safe.  I told them I would help them as long as they promised to repay me when they got back home.  They agreed and I gave them my contact info.  Twenty dollars exchanged hands and I felt good about assisting travelers having a bad vacation in my city.  I should have listened to my gut, 10 years later I still haven't heard a thing. 

Tell about a time when you gave a heartfelt apology.

This may be one of my bigger downfalls.  I can't think of a time that I have truly given a heartfelt apology.  If I have done something that I need to apologize for, I am sorry that someone was hurt or offended by my actions, but they are rarely intentional.  I did what I did because I felt I was doing the right thing at the time.

Do you own a vanity book - a book you haven't read but keep on the shelf in the hopes that people will think you've read it?

The closest thing I would have to a "vanity book" would be my huge unabridged dictionary.  I can't say that I've read it all, but it is the best book I own and the one most overlooked by others. 

What are the qualities you associate with this book?

An almost infinite amount of knowledge.

Describe the last time you lost something of value.

Outside of relationships, the value of anything is nominal.  Things can be replaced, those relationships can't.

Is/was there a place you repeatedly look/looked for this item?

I do my best to never lose what is dear to me.  But being who I am, once they are gone, I try to stop looking back.

Annular rings indicate the age of a tree; they form as a result of their environment. Give your age. Describe an event that aged you and when it occurred.

32 years 4 months 2 weeks.  For better or for worse, each event of my life has shaped me in to who I am today, and I wouldn't change a single one.  

What piece of advice do you hold on to?

"If you think your life is so bad, go read the newspaper"  -William Saling, my father

What makes the world go 'round?

The spirit of adventure, exploration and experimentation for the betterment of mankind.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

There's More Than One Way Home

As a sophomore in high school, I used to hang out at a friend's house nearly every night, eating dinner there most nights, and then I would walk home to my house just a few hours before bedtime. On weekend nights, I would hang out with my friends at the same house, and I would walk home in time for my 12:30am curfew.

On one Friday night, just before school let out for the summer, I was walking home from my friend's house, and I found a small wheel that had fallen off of a wheelbarrow. I thought it might make a good go-cart wheel, so I picked it up and carried it home with me.  (This is despite the fact that I did not own a go-cart. I figured, sometimes all you need is a good reason to buy a go-cart, and this may have been mine.) The night was beautiful and clear and hot, and the street lights and porch lights lit up the roads for me. 

While I walking along Gillaspie, a road that ran alongside two large, empty soccer fields, I heard the strangest noise, like someone on my heels snoring lightly. It was wet and glottal, and it made the hair on my neck stand up. I spun around and saw nothing. I looked for bats or birds in the air above me, but there were none. I started walking again, a little faster.

After a moment, I heard the sound of tiny hooves behind me: "clip, clop, clip," and a little bleat. I whipped around again and saw nothing to the side or behind me. I spun the other way and saw a tiny, white baby goat prancing around the side of my feet. He looked up at me inquisitively with his bright blue eyes and bleated again. It was all I could do not to scream loudly. 

My skin crawled. I looked around, searching for someone else who might also be seeing this, or perhaps something that would indicate I was dreaming. The world appeared normal. No shifts in the light and every familiar house in its place. Strangely, I was holding a small, rusty wheel, but I could explain that. I surmised that this was really happening.

I bent down and laid my hand on the goat's head. I looked at his eyes, which were beautiful and blankly staring at me. A hairy little bump under his chin was forming. His tiny pink nose sniffed at me. His hair was a little bit course and bristly. His ears flopped around, listening.

I sat there for several minutes, just soaking it in, trying to decide what to do next.

Just two blocks away from where I was lived a friend of my mom's, a woman named Joan. I had grown up with her kids, and I thought about her every time I passed her house. I thought she might be home, but there were no lights on. I walked up the front lawn with my tire and the baby goat behind me. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. I heard some shuffling inside, and I stood back a ways from the door so she could see me through the window.

"Who is it?" I couldn't see her. She was standing behind the door.

"Hi, Joan. It's me, Ross. I need your help. I have a baby goat out here."

"A what? You what?"

"A goat. It's following me. Can you call Animal Control?"

She opened the door slowly, peaking through. When she saw my face, she opened the door wide, bringing her face close the the screen door to look at me closely. "Ross, what's going on?"

I turned sideways and pointed to the goat, who now had his front hooves up on her stoop.

"OH MY GOD!" she said. "Ross, I thought you were on drugs! That's a real live goat!"

"I'm glad you see it, too. Can you call Animal Control?"

She brought me into the house and we put the goat in her garage while we waited. At one point, I asked her if I could call home to explain why I would be late for my curfew. She said yes. When I told my mom what happened, she didn't believe me, so I had to put Joan on the phone with her. She said, "I know! I thought he was on drugs! And then when I saw it, I thought I was on drugs!" She handed me the phone again, and, feeling vindicated, I asked my mom to come pick me up. She said, "Sweety, I know that this has been a strange night, so you are excused for being late. But that doesn't mean I have to get out of bed to come get you." 

"So no ride?"

"See you in the morning."

Animal Control came to pick up the little one, and I headed home with my tire.

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up.

Boulder Day Nursery, where I started school at the age of three, was the stereotypical Boulder pre-school. At the time (1980, or so), it was run by some of my mom's hippy-dippy friends.

I loved it there. We spent our days playing in large tubs of soapy water, learning to tie our shoes, and singing "I'm Being Followed By a Moonshadow."

From the three years I spent there, I can remember quite a few full days. I can even remember some of the daily routines. For instance, at lunch several kids would be chosen to shuttle food to and from the kitchen. We would wait patiently at the kitchen door for more vegan soba noodles or large pitchers of milk (both soy and dairy), which were normally handed to us by a perpetually old-looking woman named Bee.

At reading time, we read great books by authors like Maurice Sendak (In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are), Shell Silverstien (Where the Sidewalk Ends), and, my favorite, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola.

My first girlfriend was a student at Boulder Day. Her name was Sonja, and she had a huge, curly head of hair and olive skin. She convinced me to touch tongues with her one day, and the feeling scared me horribly.

I also remember the various injuries and emergencies that happened while I was there. I fractured my collarbone when I tripped over the exposed root of a tall tree on the playground. While visiting Pearl Street Mall as a group outing, I slipped on a slick rock and bit right through my tongue. I was also nearby when several of my friends got caught eating berries from a bush, which may or may not have been poisonous. I pled innocence, but, "just to be safe," they made us swallow syrup of ipecac, which makes kids and adults alike explode with projectile vomiting. Between heaves, I pointed down into my bucket of throwup, saying "See? SEE? I didn't eat any!"

I can remember the day we learned how to wash our hands. I can remember making pinhole cameras out of Quaker Oats cylinders. I can remember a scavenger hunt wherein the prize was a plastic piggy bank from the credit union down the block. And I can remember the day after my fifth birthday, when I brought my new fireman's helmet to school and wore it the entire day.

I was friends with most of the kids there, but on weekends my mom would hang out with some of the other parents, and I would have playdates with their kids. One of my favorite friends was named Keggie (kedge-ee), a girl who was as cute as a button. She had a little round face framed by straight straw-colored hair, huge blue eyes, a golden laugh, and she always seemed to be wearing overalls.

I've been told that remembering this kind of detail from childhood is rare.

Years later, when I was maybe 19, I was waiting in line for a keg beer at a Hawaiian luau in Boulder, and the same girl, Keggie, walked up to the other side of the keg, cutting in line in front of a half-dozen guys at the party. I hadn't seen her since my last day of pre-school, but I recognized her instantly.

No one said a word to her about cutting in line; Keggie had grown into a full-fledged knockout, and she knew it. There was only one guy in front of me, so I said something to her. "Hey, I think I went to pre-school with you!"

She looked at me and pulled her head back, crinkling one eyebrow and raising the other. She said, "Oh?"

"Yeah!" I said, "Where'd you go to pre-school?"

With the same look on her face, she said, "Listen, I'm here with my boyfriend..."

I started reeling off details about Boulder Day. Keggie's mother was a potter, and she had a kiln and some half-finished pots in the back yard. We once spent an afternoon smashing pottery scraps. I could even remember exactly what her room looked like: "You had the alphabet as wallpaper in your room. "A" was for apple, "B" was for boat, and "R" was for robot."

She stood there, speechless, her beer now running over from the flowing tap.

I looked her right in the eye and said, "Yeah. I wasn't hitting on you. Don't flatter yourself." Then I took the tap from her hand and started filling the cup belonging to the guy in front of me.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Saw the Best Minds...

Last week, I saw this headline on the Wall Street Journal that was to be delivered later that day to one of our executives: "In Praise of Transgressions." The above picture appeared there, showing Tom Daschle, Jessica Simpson, and Michael Phelps, with an additional fourth and fifth images of Britney Spears and Joaquin Phoenix.

The author, Joe Queenan, says the following about these recent headliners' transgressions:

"First, let me address the issue of the message being sent to the kids. The kids in question are presumably the ones who spend vast portions of their youth massacring people on video screens, or devouring films about vicious high school girls who actively plot one another's annihilation, or dressing up like the flamboyant sociopaths they watch on MTV. These are the real kids, the ones that actually inhabit this great nation, not the mythical kids of yore who go through life completely unaware that adults are imperfect creatures until Charles Barkley gets pulled over for driving under the influence or Britney Spears loses custody of her kids or Miley Cyrus poses for some steamy shots in Vanity Fair. 

These mythical kids are the ones who do their chores and gleefully read "Ethan Frome" and never talk back to their parents and somehow manage to grow up in 21st-century America without ever hearing about Michael Jackson and alcohol and crime. They were last seen on a rerun of "Little House on the Prairie" in 1981."

I would like to think that kids these days would find these characterizations really offensive. Each generation seems to give little or no credit to the ones that follow it. I'm sometimes guilty of the same. But, if nothing else, it's an unimaginative way to describe America's youth, and mostly a sad announcement that the author simply can't identify with them.