Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

How I became a fan of The Fan, and other alarming signs of middle age

Over the course of the past year, I embraced the surest sign of middle age there is: talk radio.

When I was growing up, radio was my primary source for music. I listened to Casey Kasem’s “Top 40 Countdown” nearly every Sunday, waiting with breathless anticipation to find out which song snagged the top berth and keeping my tape recorder close by to make bootleg copies of my favorite tunes along the way. What I liked best about music on the radio then was the element of surprise. You never really knew which song would come up when – the only way to summon up a song on demand back then was to call the radio station and make a request – and if you wanted to know which song topped the Billboard list for that week, you had to tune in to the Countdown.

If video killed the radio star, the internet killed the element of surprise on music radio (and pretty much everywhere else, too). No longer do we wait to hear a favorite song or to find out where it falls in the ranks of popular music; we Shazam it, type some text into a search window, and we’re done. The efficiency we gained is great, but we sacrificed that sense of suspense that made it fun to listen not just to music on the radio but for it.

And just in case the preceding paragraph didn’t brand me completely as middle-aged, let me remove all doubt by adding that the music that lands on pop radio today, and the way all the stations seem to play the same three songs on an endless loop, doesn’t inspire me to seek it out. I’m not saying there isn’t some worthy pop stuff out there, just that if there’s a modern equivalent of Prince, he’s not hanging out on the FM airwaves. (If my Prince will come at all, he’ll probably arrive by way of Spotify, which is where I look for new music these days.)

And if you’re tempted to shoot down my “music radio was better way back when” theory by pointing to musical atrocities of my youth, like “Pass the Dutchie,” “We Built This City,” and “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” I have two things to say to you: 1) Yes, I know these songs are now stuck in your head –

you got what you deserved by mentioning them; and 2) Like all self-respecting Gen X-ers, I am deep in the process of sanitizing the memories of my past, which means I have re-characterized these abominations as musical foils meant to enhance our appreciation of artists like Prince and George Michael. Now get off my lawn.

So a year or two ago, I began the transition to talk radio when driving around town. I started with WTOP for traffic and weather “on the ‘eights’ and when it breaks” — “and when it breaks” has always sounded to me like the onset of a pox, and maybe that’s about right —  but the repetitiveness and lack of depth wore me out in short order. I switched to NPR. It was a nice enough place to hang out until Campaign 2016 came along and started barfing all over the joint.

Hankering for the sound of live voices and desperate for a haven from the stench of politics, late this summer I skidded to a stop on 106.7, an all-sports talk station known as “The Fan.” I grew up on and love sports, so it made perfect sense, except for one teeny, tiny thing: I don’t like the Redskins. I never have, even though I’ve lived in the DC area for my entire adult life. Both of my parents are from Pennsylvania, Mom is from Philly, thus the Yank DNA requires that we root for the Eagles. (No one roots for the Eagles by choice. It ain’t an easy gig.) This means I must root against all division rivals, including the ‘Skins. My dislike for the ‘Skins might not have mattered had I not made my move to The Fan during the pre-season. The circumstances were far from optimal, but I’d run out of options.

When I tuned in, the Sports Junkies –four local guys who’ve been on the airwaves for 20 years — were on. I’d caught bits and pieces of their show before but had never stuck around long enough to get to know them. In an era when we all need to work a little harder to understand those whose beliefs differ dramatically from our own, I decided it was time for me to cozy up to some ‘Skins fans. And you know what? Aside from learning more about football, a sport I speak proficiently but not fluently, I’ve learned the Junkies and I have some things in common. We’re basically peers, age-wise –with similar physical complaints to show for it –and I get the sense that their musical, linguistic and cultural references haven’t moved much beyond the late ’90s and they’re unapologetic about it. So I’m pretty sure you can get off their lawns, too. And one of them is on a quest to improve his dating life, not that I can relate or anything. Best of all, though, listening to the Junks banter careen from topic to topic takes me back to the days when I’d sit around watching a game with a bunch of my guy friends. Since my cadre of guy friends has shrunk over the years, another casualty of marriage, those hangouts have pretty much fallen by the wayside. The Junkies give me a way to experience that kind of camaraderie again, albeit vicariously, and I love that.

On the drive home, I sometimes catch part of “Chad Dukes Versus The World” on The Fan. Though I suspect my and Chad’s politics differ, I know we have one important thing in common: we both love his mom. She taught music when I was a student at Orange Hunt Elementary School and remains one of my all-time favorite teachers, even if she is technically responsible for the fact that three friends and I burst into a rousing rendition of “The Fifty States Song” at a funeral. I also enjoy the way Chad weaves underused words like “bombast,” “gravitas” and “bloviate” into casual conversation. And as someone who co-hosts a weekly podcast whose episodes last however long we want ’em to, but never more than an hour, I have mad respect for someone who hosts a four-hour show daily and pretty much solo.

So yes, I’ve transitioned to talk radio and the Fan, two things thirty-something me would have mocked mercilessly. This puts me squarely on the middle age track, which doesn’t thrill me, but it helps to know I’m running in good company.

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Go ahead, make 2017 a year of forward-looking statements

I feel kinda sorry for 2017. Two thousand sixteen is a tough act to follow, and I don’t mean that in a good way. In a year when the proverbial stage desperately needed some Shakespeare, it got Charlie Sheen’s one-man show instead. This disappointing, laborious spectacle left audiences so hostile, exhausted and disgusted that no year in its right mind would want to take the stage after that. But 2017 is here, so we in the crowd might as well do what we can to help the newcomer succeed. How do we do it? The answer is simple: we give ourselves something to look forward to, every day, every week and every month.

Psychologists have long viewed the anticipation of a positive experience as a key to happiness. That’s great news, because we can choose to create positive anticipation, and that in turn means maintaining some control over our happiness no matter what presidencies, er, events are happening around us. Anyone who’s ever planned a vacation knows intuitively that looking forward to it gives you a boost long before you pack your bags. And, as a 2014 New York Times article points out, anticipating something great, and savoring that anticipation, not only increases the chances that the experience itself will be good but helps counteract any negativity that ensues if it doesn’t live up to the hype.

So let’s start off 2017 in a way that Wall Street would hate: by making tons of forward-looking statements. Here’s what I’m already looking forward to this year…

… by the day:

  • Sweating: I make a point of exercising nearly every day. Swimming, running, and going to boot camp not only make me feel good physically but also do wonders for my mental health, creativity, and overall outlook. That makes it pretty easy to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Reading a book: I wind down every day by reading at least a few pages of a book. It settles my mind and helps my writing. And if I wake up for long stretches in the middle of the night, as I am wont to do, reading eases my frustration.
  • My neighbors: I live in a great ‘hood, on a great street, where we all know each other, look out for each other – these unbelievable people shoveled me out from Snowzilla when I sprained my wrist last year – and enjoy the occasional front lawn happy hour. I see at least one of my neighbors pretty much every day, sometimes for only a moment as I drive past, but even just the exchange of a friendly wave makes me smile.
  • My family: Not a day goes by without one or more members of Team Yank calling, texting or emailing to say “hi,” send a photo or share a hilarious story. Many of their communications do all three.
  • My friends: My pals are fun, interesting, talented people who enrich my life every day in some way, including by sweating next to me, introducing me to cool places like Costa Rica, or keeping me apprised of such crucial current events as the dates of Barry Manilow’s farewell tour.
  • Music: I always find joy in music, whether I’m making it or just listening to it.

…by the week:

  • The podcast: it’s one of the most fun things I do, hands-down. The combination of hanging out with Philippa and talking about dating adds up to a whole lot of laughter.
  • Writing: not always one of the most fun things I do, but it makes me more engaged in my world, and that’s a great thing. Besides, I’m close to having a first draft of my second book, and I want to cross that finish line.
  • Walks with friends: my pal Bud and I do our best to take weekly walks together, even when it’s cold. I love the exercise, the camaraderie and the laughter.
  • Tuesdays with Larry: my comedy partner and I get together pretty much every week to throw around new material. Sometimes we get absolutely nothing done, but even those fails are successes, because we’re always laughing.
  • More meet-ups: My hike with the Capital Area Hiking Club was a rousing success, so I’m gonna try to do more meet-ups. It’s a great way to try new things, or to meet new people while doing stuff I already enjoy.

…by the month (presented in fragments because these aren’t yet fully formed):

  • January: Going to see Wicked with Mom, Lynne and Emily; taking a trip to NYC with my great friend, LC, and both of our moms; the Women’s March; taking Dad to lose a bunch of money at the new casino at National Harbor; resuming standup comedy stints.
  • February: L.J.‘s birthday; trip to Atlanta to see him, my sister-in-law, and the kiddos. More standup.
  • March: A Joe Bonamassa concert with two people I adore; UVA basketball and March Madness; the official arrival of Spring; the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and maybe even actual cherry blossoms!
  • April: Mom’s birthday; my parents’ anniversary; cherry blossoms! (And maybe the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler?) another chance to reprise my role as the neighborhood Easter Bunny; Opening Day for Major League Baseball!
  • May: Mother’s Day; Memorial Day = cookouts, outdoor swimming, front lawn happy hours, outdoor concerts, etc.
  • June: Father’s Day; a landmark birthday for my sister Suzi; my nephew J.J.’s graduation, followed by a two-week graduation trip with JJ to celebrate said graduation (the burden I carry as his aunt).
  • July: Celebratory graduation trip, cont’d!
  • August: The Yank family reunion; Lynne’s birthday; Dad’s birthday.
  • September: Steve Martin and Martin Short at Wolf Trap. (ALERT: I bought two tickets, so those who are interested in being my plus-one should start lobbying now!)
  • October: Hikes to enjoy the fall foliage; another chance to judge the neighborhood Halloween costume contest.
  • November: YANKSGIVING!!!!!
  • December: Star Wars Episode VIII! I don’t know how I’ll top 2016’s “I’ve gone further for less” Rogue One experience, but if I have to go to Hawaii to see Episode VIII, so be it.

Whaddya know, the same things that make me happy every day – family, friends, exercise, outdoors, laughter, and music – pop up regularly in my weekly and monthly lists, too. Another cool thing? I know the list will only grow.

Try making your own list and I bet you’ll not only make the same discoveries but find that the simple act of making the list sets a perfect stage for 2017. Happy New Year, everyone!

We didn’t shoot our eyes out, but…

As an antidote to a macabre few days that claimed George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in rapid succession, I figured I’d write a wrap-up of the Yank Christmas.

Before I do that, though, I understand why lots of people are shaking their fists at 2016 and yelling, “ENOUGH!” It’s been a Sith Lord of a year for many people in many respects. Losing in a twelve-month period those three luminaries, as well as the likes of Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and John Glenn — people who dreamed and dared, who lived with sometimes painful authenticity, whose music, characters and sheer bravery inspired many of us during adolescence and upon whom we were counting to keep us company at least through middle age — has felt for some like insults heaped atop injury. I get it. If you ask me, the most constructive thing we can do is treat 2016 as a cast-iron-skillet-to-forehead reminder not to be complacent, not to take who and what we have for granted, and to be humble. (That last one could be very important for the President-Elect, not that anything can penetrate that forcefield of hair.)

Where was I? Oh right, the holiday wrap-up.

We who celebrated Christmas have had six days to tunnel our way out of the discarded wrapping paper avalanche, which means many of us are now in the process of completing the Retail Circle of Life by exchanging the “thoughtful” gifts we got for stuff we actually wanted.

I got to skip that process, because my Christmas featured everything I wanted: family, friends, love and laughter.

It began at my sister Lynne’s house. I spent the night there on Christmas Eve because, as one of the Roommates pointed out, I’ve done that since 2011 –when I was living in their basement because I was getting divorced –and it is now tradition. Those two sure know how to make lemonade from lemons. At 12 and 14, the kids don’t believe in Santa Claus but nevertheless get excited about Christmas because they know they still have a shot at getting something other than clothes. Even Buddy, the family dog, seemed excited. (Then again, Buddy views projectile vomiting as a festive occasion, so his excitement bar is set low.)

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Before (and tell me this isn’t a thing of beauty).

My parents live fifteen miles away from Lynne and always come on Christmas morning to join in the festivities. In years past, they arrived at Lynne’s house by 6 a.m. so as not to miss a minute of gift-opening action. The Roommates felt magnanimous this year and agreed to move the start time all the way back to 7. Mom and Dad showed up right on time and, like the Three Wise Men, came bearing gifts. Because not all hosts enjoy frankincense and myrrh, Mom instead brought three homemade pies: pumpkin, chocolate, and apple. All three could have done duty as Gourmet cover models, but Mom’s apple pie – a cinnamon-spiced, double-crusted, exquisite creature with lumps in just the right places- won the pageant. Mom put the beauty queen on the sideboard in my sister’s dining room, a suitably dignified place for it to bide its time until dinner that night.

They came into the family room and the gift-opening frenzy got underway. We were maybe thirty minutes into the festivities when we heard a loud thump from another room.

“Buddy!” Lynne shouted.

I made a beeline for the kitchen. Buddy tends to hang out where the food lives, so I figured that’s where he’d gone. Nothing.

The other half of the search party, my brother-in-law Paul, had headed for the dining room. There, he caught Buddy paying homage to A Christmas Story and doing his best imitation of the Bumpus Hounds on my mother’s beautiful apple pie.

For a tense moment, no one knew what to do. But then we all got dressed, hopped in the car and headed to a Chinese restaurant. Just kidding. We all looked at Mom, and she shrugged it off because her grandchildren, even the furry ones, get a pass for pretty much everything.

Buddy calls this "a good start."

After, or as Buddy calls it, “a good start.”

After we’d all committed to eat around the Buddy spots, the gift melee resumed and I opened a bag that held an R2D2 apron – a wink to my recent road trip – that I wore for the rest of the day.

I kept it on when I paid a visit to a dear friend whose mom passed away right after Thanksgiving. To maximize the effect, I had also conscripted my parents and made them hold up a “These are not the droids you’re looking for” sign. Our cheer bomb also came loaded with a plate of Mom’s incomparable Christmas cookies, and for at least a few minutes, my friend smiled. 15747358_10211426162756066_4574908933500634748_n

From there, the three of us went to see my friends Dave and Donna. I’ve known them since the fall of 1998, when Dave and I were first year law students at George Mason University. Circumstance drew us together – he’s wheelchair-bound and I was assigned to be his notetaker – and it’s been my enduring good fortune to count the two of them and their three kids among my closest friends ever since. Somewhere along the way, I became a part of their Christmas tradition. I show up, have a beverage, play a few Christmas carols on their piano, and then go on my merry way. I don’t remember how or why it started, but I’m glad it did. I’m also a little surprised, considering some of the things that have gone spectacularly awry when I’ve visited. Their three kids, who were wearing footie pajamas when I first met them back in 1998, are now all grown and launched, and all three were in residence when my parents and I knocked on the door last Sunday. Dave was in particularly high spirits because, in a nod to his Swedish heritage, Dave’s son had made a gigantic batch of a wine-based beverage called Glögg, a compound word formed by the union of “glue” and “slog.” Actually, I rather liked the stuff. And truth be told, even though it seemed to make my fingers stick to the ivories when the time came for the annual mini-concert, it’s really more like paint thinner than glue.

From there our fearsome threesome went back to Lynne’s house for Christmas dinner with the Roommates, my brother-in-law, and two people who long ago transcended the “friend” category and are full-on family. The nine of us spent the next five hours telling stories, laughing ’til our sides hurt, and assaulting the eardrums of innocent bystanders with a sing-along that featured Christmas carols and such old standards as “You Light Up My Life” and Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.” It was enough to make you beg for Glögg.

I hope your holiday was, if not as loud, at least as merry. And may the Force be with you as you head into 2017.

 

 

Sometimes going on your own merry way is the only way to go

Just as I predicted, the nasty aftermath of the 2016 presidential election left me with a hangover. Not the garden variety, one-day affliction either, but a long-acting, and singularly joy-resistant strain. It didn’t care that the holidays were approaching, thus I didn’t care, either.

That wasn’t like me at all; I love the holidays. They’re just an excuse to do fun stuff with my family, like hunt for Christmas trees, hang up pretty lights, and make architecturally unsound gingerbread houses. But the thought of those things didn’t put a dent in my hangover.

The Yank tree hunt went forward the first weekend in December as usual and we had fun – Dad and I took turns using the saw to cut down my tree and then celebrated the early Christmas miracle of retaining all of our limbs – but the idea of decorating my tree sparked no enthusiasm. It did, however, spark enthusiasm from my neighbors. On seeing my car pull into the driveway with a tree atop its roof, they immediately mobilized to lend a hand. I politely declined, not because I didn’t appreciate their offer but because the presence of competent help would have minimized the chances that something would go comically awry, thereby reducing the chances that I could get a blog post out of the whole thing. Sadly, I got the tree upright and reasonably straight in the stand on the first try.

Two days later it remained vertical, so I decided to decorate it, solo.  I couldn’t summon up the usual urge to invite friends over for an evening of snacks and ornament origin stories (a Spam ball warrants an explanation), which made me realize I had to snap myself out of it. But how?

During a text exchange with my brother the following weekend, the answer came to me: force. Not a force, but The Force.

L.J. and I had been texting about travel when the topic of Star Wars arose, as it does, and he wrote:

Btw, are you flying down next weekend so we can see Rogue One?

He and I had grown up on the Star Wars franchise and went to see The Force Awakens with my niece and nephews when it came out last year. His  question about the latest movie, opening on December 16, was as natural as it was tongue-in-cheek. My response was, too:

We both know I’ve gone further for less.

It’s true — I’ve gone to Pennsylvania for bacon shirts and Seattle for Barry Manilow — and the Star Wars flicks are not my sister-in-law, Leslie’s, cup of tea, but there was no way I could pull off a flight to Atlanta on less than a week’s notice during a peak travel period. Yet I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. What if I could find a way not only to get there but to surprise my brother? I tested it with Leslie, and she loved it. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got, until doing it became not an “if” but a “must,” and for almost entirely selfish reasons.

I cashed in some miles and booked a flight that would put me on the ground in Atlanta at 9:30 p.m. on Friday the 16th. With just a little travel luck – something I can’t always count on – both the plane and my spirits would achieve liftoff. I could hardly wait to give Leslie the news, and I could hardly wait to get there. That feeling of buzzy and nearly unbearable anticipation — a purely kid-at-Christmastime sensation — grew as I counted down the three days to my trip. By Friday afternoon I was ready to jump out of my skin.

I’d requested an Uber to take me to National Airport so I wouldn’t lose time parking. The driver pulled up right on time and got out of the car…dressed in full cowboy regalia. The only person on Earth who’d have appreciated that sight more than I did is my brother, which I took as an omen that everything was going to work out perfectly.

The driver tipped his hat and said, “Howdy, ma’am. Where y’all headed to?”

“The set of Tombstone or a Village People casting call, whichever is closer,” I wanted to say. But I just asked him to take me to National Airport instead. A missed opportunity, I know, but I had places to go.

As we got underway, he said, “I’m not from Texas,” simultaneously reading my mind and eliminating the only plausible explanation for his attire. He’s from Florida and has a passion for horses, so I guess he just wants to be ready in case a steeplechase breaks out on the Beltway. Outfit notwithstanding, the rest of the ride was uneventful, as was my flight to Atlanta for a change.

The minute we touched down, I sent Leslie an email to tell her I’d made it. I hopped in an Uber – this one driven by a person dressed for suburban Atlanta rather than the OK Corral – and in 30 minutes was standing in my brother’s driveway. I dialed his number. I rarely call him, especially after 10 p.m., so I wasn’t surprised when he answered on the second ring and asked what was up. Our dialogue went like this:

Me: Um, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m going to see the Star Wars movie soon, and I thought you should know.

Him (sounding a bit disappointed or envious, I couldn’t quite tell which): Aw, that’s okay, Wheat. Are you going tonight?

Me: Uh, well, really soon.

I put the phone on mute so I could knock on the front door.

Him: Are you going alone?

Me (still knocking, loudly): Haha, no…

Him: Who are you going with?

Me (still knocking): Um, this guy…

Him: Who is this guy, making you pick him up, and so late? And is he ever going to answer the door?

Me (still knocking): I don’t know, are you?

Him: Wait, are you downstairs?

Right then my sister-in-law cued up the Rogue One trailer, the Star Wars theme song began to play in the background, and I burst out laughing. Leslie and I had pulled off the perfect surprise.

Over the course of the next 40 hours, we not only saw the movie (which L.J. and I loved) but pimg_2126acked in a visit to the aquarium with my adorable little nephews, a delicious dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant, and a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us so the little guys could pick out a Christmas present from their aunt. My time in Atlanta flew faster than reindeer on Christmas Eve and my spirits were soaring just as high.

When my brother dropped me off at the airport on Sunday afternoon, I felt a bit sad on the one hand, yet on the other, I was looking forward to getting back home for Christmas with the rest of the family. Getting into the holiday spirit this year was as easy as going Rogue.

Hope all of you find your holiday spirit, too. See you back here soon!

 

The right way to talk turkey on Thanksgiving

Commentators discussing the 2016 presidential election have said things like, “The people spoke.”

Really? That strikes me as an overly euphemistic turn of phrase. From where I sit, we didn’t so much speak as let loose a big, ugly, collective hurl, one whose nasty contents spilled far beyond our polling places.

Frankly, we should’ve seen it coming. For more than a year our information diet consisted of gut-roiling junk, much of it doled out 140 characters at a time or in Facebook posts, because we didn’t demand anything of substance. After eating all that garbage, of course we got sick.

It’s going to take a long time to clean up this toxic mess, of course, but we shouldn’t let it touch Thanksgiving (or “Yanksgiving,” as I like to call it). This holiday should be about community, kindness, gratitude, and charity, and a meal that celebrates those things. My family will be celebrating the fact that I’m not cooking the turkey this year, for example. But I digress.

Right now a lot of people are asking how, if they’re surrounded by turkeys, they can make sure the only turkey that gets the stage on Thanksgiving is the bird on the table?

I offer two pieces of advice, the first of which was given to me by a dear friend: “When you least feel like giving is when you most need to give.” The friend in question said this when we were in the middle of an argument and the only thing I felt like giving him was a knuckle sandwich, but you know what? He was right then, and he’s still right. I forced myself to give, he forced himself to give, and slowly but surely, the giving created a positive loop and things began to get better.

What did we give each other?

  • The benefit of the doubt
  • Our full attention
  • Smiles
  • Gratitude
  • Calm
  • Kindness

We checked our snark at the door, ate humble pie, and generally acted like the adults in the room. And that’s what you should do, too.

HAHAHAHAHA! I’m sorry, I just cracked myself up, there, with that whole “adults in the room” thing. Who am I kidding? The only room we’re in right now is Romper Room, and the lone adult, Miss Sally, has gone on the lam.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice: get ready to channel your inner Mad Libber. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, someone might bring up one of those other turkeys, and when they do, you’ll need a diversionary tactic. You can’t just get up from the table – what if the pie hasn’t been served yet? – but you can change the subject, and this construction works well:

“LOOK, a [absurd noun]!”madlibs

For example, “LOOK, a UFO!” (I have another friend to thank for that one – it was his default response to any declaration of love.)

Speaking of alien life forms, “LOOK, Kanye West!” would probably work too. The more absurd, the better.

If you really want to sell it, as you’re mad-libbing, be sure to gesticulate wildly in the direction of the nearest door or window. And then steal the last bit of stuffing while no one’s looking. Go ahead, you earned it.

So you’ll survive Thanksgiving just fine. But unless you’re aiming for a career in politics, you can’t hide behind Mad Libs and diversionary tactics forever.

If you want to feel better in the longer-term, try that first piece of advice, and also consider cleaning up your information diet. Go out and get quality content yourself; don’t rely on others or social media to feed it to you. Find out where your information is coming from before you consume it. Check not only your source but your source’s sources. Not all purveyors of information are purveyors of fact, and even reliable sources get it wrong sometimes. Make your diet balanced, eat slowly, and take time to digest. And for Pete’s sake, if someone hands you a Twinkie, don’t let ’em tell you it’s kale.

Where do things go when they can’t go to the dogs?

When things weren’t going well, people used to say the country was going to the dogs. In another clear sign of the times, we can’t even seek refuge in that idiom anymore. Based on two items in the past week’s news, now we’re going to the squirrels.

Last Thursday, the Washington Post reported that a squirrel that had evidently gone off its nut bit an innocent bystander outside a retirement community in Florida. Not content to stop at a bite-and-run, the squirrel kept its dental grip on the victim and refused to let go. In fact, its teeth might still be sunk into that poor person’s flesh had the squirrel not paused to announce which scholarship it had chosen to accept from the law schools that had lined up with offers,

Okay, fine, that’s not exactly how things went. Desperate and panicked, the squirrel-bitten person ran inside the retirement home for help, squirrel still firmly attached. Once inside the facility, the animal was immediately mistaken for Donald Trump’s hair and avenged the insult by going “on a rampage.”

Okay, fine, that’s not exactly how things went, either.

Technically only the rampage part is true (though the squirrel’s defense attorney ought to be taking notes, here). The squirrel really did go on to bite and scratch three or four more people before a quick-thinking resident managed to capture and toss it outside. I find this particularly impressive, considering retirement homes are not usually known as hotbeds of quick thinking.

The victims were later treated for their bites but no rabies shots were administered, consistent with this guidance from the Center for Disease Control’s website:

Small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits, and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. Bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in any unusual manner and rabies is widespread in your area.

As the dedicated reader who sent me this article noted, we’re all fortunate this animal wasn’t behaving in an unusual manner, “like, for instance, terrorizing an old folks’ home.” Still, it’s probably best the squirrel wasn’t put down, what with it being a voter in a swing state and all.

The second squirrel news item came on Sunday, courtesy of the National Football League. During the third quarter of the Indianapolis Colts – Green Bay Packers game, a free agent squirrel outran its coverage and went sprinting across Lambeau Field.

Recognizing a golden opportunity to address its well-publicized viewership problems and reach the nation’s ADHD segment at the same time, the NFL immediately signed the squirrel to a multi-year contract.

Actually, they didn’t. But they knew a ratings bonanza when they saw it, so they cued up the “Born Free” soundtrack and let the squirrel run. This not only added some excitement for those of us at home but also gave mainstream media outlets like CBS Sports the opportunity to work phrases like “we got some varmint action” into their online reporting and fulfilled Phil Simms’s lifelong dream of doing in-depth rodent commentary (which you really oughtta watch, so I’m putting it right here).

So here it is, election eve, and we’ve gone to the squirrels. Probably because the dogs wouldn’t have us.

 

 

We all have reason to vote, and to vote with reason

The 2016 presidential election has left me feeling like an unseasoned drinker at a New Year’s Eve party who, on taking in way too much toxic garbage way too fast and way too soon, gets sick before the main event and doesn’t even care to witness it.

I’m far from alone: a survey conducted in August by the American Psychological Association found that more than half of the country is stressed out by this election. That was in August, folks. A whole two months ago. So anyone who’s surprised to learn that there’s a full house in the proverbial powder room just hasn’t been paying attention. This election has exposed rampant ugliness and intolerance, giving us little to cheer about and plenty of cause for disgust. Unlike a New Year’s Eve bash, though, we can’t avoid the nausea by choosing just to sit this election out: it’s way too important.

I always vote, but I belong to no party and I’m not thrilled with my current choices (sounds suspiciously like my dating life, doesn’t it?). If you’re in the same boat — wondering how to decide which button to push when both candidates are pushing your buttons, dismayed that you can’t vote with your heart because your heart isn’t in it, wanting to pull the rip cord instead of the lever — here’s what worked for me when I voted this afternoon: pure, simple reason.

We haven’t seen much of reason during this election — evidently it didn’t make the guest list, and I don’t blame it for not wanting to crash this particular party –but I forced it to join me in the voting booth today. I’m glad I did, too, because reason reminded me that competence matters more than likability, and so does sanity. Reason encouraged me to tune out false equivalences, like the notion that stability equals status quo, or that experience equals establishment. Reason likewise recognized that both candidates have shown susceptibility to influence-peddling (as have nearly all politicians) and prompted me to reject that as a basis for comparison. Reason also warned me that, if I really mean it when I say this election is important, I shouldn’t make my vote irrelevant by casting it for an independent or write-in. In short, reason made my choice easy, if not fun. I suspect it could make a lot of people’s choices easy, if only they’d let it.

The one thing reason didn’t do was call me an Uber so I could leave this awful party. And I really want to go home now, because something tells me we’re all in for a long, nasty hangover.

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“Think before you speak” might be good advice, but it makes for very dull stories

We’ve all said things we wish we could take back.

One of my all-time doozies came up last night while I was having dinner with my friend, “Eric,” who’s going through a divorce. Eric and I agreed that, even when everyone involved knows divorce is the right answer, it’s still a miserable soul-grinder of an experience. Experts often liken it to a death, complete with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (though all five do not necessarily occur, nor do they happen in a particular order). That comparison has always made sense to me, I think divorce can also involve a sixth phase: decency. During the decency phase, one or both parties make a concerted effort to be cordial, if not pleasant, and to resist the urge to malign the other person. As with the other phases, this one can only last for so long, and it can be baffling.

My divorce had a decency phase. As I told Eric, it happened early and, like the marriage itself, was startlingly brief. The Lawnmower and I had separated in late July of 2011, on terms that were, how shall I say, suboptimal. But we had a house to sell together –through the For Sale By Owner process, of course, because using an agent would have inflicted an insufficient amount of real estate misery for a special occasion like divorce –and a property agreement to negotiate. If decency could help us unload the Yuppie Prison and knock out a contract, I was all in favor of it. I gave it my best shot, but aspiration proved much easier than execution.

My soon-to-be-ex-husband and I were barely two weeks into the decency phase when the Lawnmower’s birthday rolled around. This presented me with a decency dilemma: should I say something? On the one hand, we had separated and were preparing to divorce, so the etiquette gods would surely show me mercy if I chose to stay silent. On the other, I knew it was his birthday, and he knew that I knew it was his birthday. I remember the birthdays of my immediate family and significant others unassisted, and separation hadn’t erased his entry in my mental calendar. Just the opposite, in fact. As I thought about unwinding our joint life, the days that used to hold special meaning for us hovered in the front of my mind like floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Even if I managed to pop them, they’d take a while to deflate.

Since I couldn’t claim with a straight face that I’d forgotten the LM’s birthday, ignoring it could seem intentional, an insult. The decency campaign might not survive that kind of threat to its existence. I needed to keep it alive, so I decided to say something. But what?

I typed, “Happy birthday, Mark.” On my laptop screen it didn’t even look sincere. That period was fatal. Delete.

“Happy birthday, Mark!” Nope. The exclamation conveyed exuberance, which reflected either tone deafness or a very bad attempt at irony. Neither interpretation would help my cause. Maybe a greeting was a terrible idea.

My brain kept chewing on it and then, as only a lawyer brain could do, took that terrible idea and made it worse by adding a comma and a dependent clause.

“I wanted to wish you happy birthday, under the circumstances,” I typed. Before I could second-guess it, I clicked “send,” ending my internal debate. An email from the LM arrived moments later.

He’d written, “Thank you, under the circumstances.”

Eric howled with laughter when I got to the punchline. Even though that email hadn’t done me any good when I sent it five years ago, it helped Eric last night, so I was glad I brought it up. It was, after all, only the decent thing to do.

I’d have been better off sending him this, slice removed and all.

 

For crying out LOUD!

Parkinson’s Disease is a thief and a jerk.

It purloins capabilities its victims have relied on every day for their entire lives — fine motor skills for buttoning shirts, flexible face muscles for smiling, a steady hand for writing –and when it does, those people know they’ve been robbed. But they might not notice when the disease starts to make off with their voice; PD steals it in tiny increments and so masterfully they can’t even detect what they’re losing.

My father was diagnosed with PD in 2007, and a few years ago, Team Yank began to observe a gradual softening in his speech. That really troubled me, because a booming voice had always been one of Dad’s trademarks. The boom wasn’t something he achieved on his own, mind you: my siblings and I spent our formative years helping him hone it to perfection, inspiring him to create at-home classics like, “ARE YOU DEFYING ME?” and the soccer field favorite, “GET THE LEAD OUT!“. When the four of us got the lead out and went to college, the boys of American Legion Post 176 carried on our tradition, giving Dad a chance to share his gift on the baseball field. He’s been doing that for more than twenty years, and he hasn’t let PD stop him, but it’s been a while since I’d heard him challenge anyone’s defiance. I’ve missed that boom.

A friend suggested we look into a PD-specific form of speech therapy called LSVT LOUD.

LSVT LOUD improves vocal loudness by stimulating the muscles of the voice box (larynx) and speech mechanism through a systematic hierarchy of exercises. Focused on a single goal “speak LOUD!” – the treatment improves respiratory, laryngeal and articulatory function to  maximize speech intelligibility. The treatment does not train people for shouting or yelling; rather, LSVT LOUD uses loudness training to bring the voice to an improved, healthy vocal loudness with no strain.

Treatment is administered in 16 sessions over a single month (four individual 60 minute sessions per week). This intensive mode of administration is consistent with theories of motor learning and skill acquisition, as well as with principles of neural plasticity (the capacity of the nervous system to change in response to signals), and is critical to attaining optimal results. The treatment not only simulates the motor system but also incorporates sensory awareness training to help individuals with PD recognize that their voice is too soft, convincing them that the louder voice is within normal limits, and making them comfortable with their new louder voice.

“You’ll see instant improvement,” my friend said.

A bold claim, indeed, and one my father has decided to test. But as you may have gathered from the description above, there’s no such thing as “LOUD lite.” You have to go all-in. When I try to put myself in Dad’s shoes, I imagine taking on LOUD requires some serious guts, not to mention commitment. Fortunately, Dad has both of those in spades and he started last week.

Team Yank never sends anybody out on the field solo, so Mom has gone with him, listening and taking notes at every session. Because it’s always a good idea to have a reliever on your staff, I joined them today. I went not because they needed me in the bullpen but because phone conversations with Dad had proven my friend right  –the results have been immediate and impressive –and I wanted to see what makes the magic happen.

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This graph gives the PD person a visual way to compare how they sound to their own ears against how the world hears them.

What makes it happen, I learned, is effort, patience and perseverance, on the part of both the patient and the instructor. Dad’s instructor, Matt, kicked things off with several rounds of “Ahs” and “Yahs.” It’s a quasi-singing exercise that encourages the mouth muscles to open wide and helps strengthen breath support so that volume reaches and stays within the 70-80 decibel range. Attaining and maintaining 70 dB – normal social conversational volume –is no small feat if PD’s had you operating at 60 dB (which is about as loud as air being pushed into a room through a healthy HVAC unit). The computer screen showed Dad his volume so he could get used to the level of effort 70-80 db requires. After that, Matt transitioned Dad to repetitive pitch exercises and more quasi-singing. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is if you’re Dad and your singing up to this point was limited to command performances of img_0182“Happy Birthday.”

Dad warned me, “It’s the worst singing you’ll ever hear,” but I reminded him that we still have my sister Lynne, and that gave him enough reassurance to keep going.

Speaking of pitch, that’s a baseball term to Dad. So when Matt told him during a Week 1 session that he needed to work on his pitch, Dad started to move the office chairs aside so he could wind up his fastball unimpeded. Matt must have thought he was about to witness an interpretive dance routine. They cleared up the confusion in short order, but the comic relief was welcome.

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The Valley View voiceover copy. I can’t blame Dad for busting out the red pen.

I wasn’t treated to any of those wacky hijinks today, but I did get to hear Dad do multiple readings of the advertising copy for Valley View, a car dealership trying to move some SUVs. The idea is to generate lots of enthusiasm, consistent with the genre, and practice inflection. My father is not a form-over-substance kind of guy, so he could not resist making some copy edits as he went.

The best part of the whole thing for me was hearing Dad practice over and over again some of the sayings my three siblings and I have been hearing ever since we can remember, like, “Is the Pope Catholic?””Does a wild bear poop in the woods?” and my personal favorite, “You’re still in the top four.” He sounded like himself, and tears threatened to form as I thought about how proud I am of what he’s doing and who he is. And if he keeps this up, he’ll be booming at me again in no time.

As we walked out of the office and to our cars, I asked Dad to say one more thing for me, loud. He nodded, happy to oblige.

“Make sure you get your next car from Valley View Automotive!”

Yep, that sure sounds like Dad.

 

 

 

I won’t judge you…unless you’re wearing a costume

I live in a cohesive community that reminds me in all the best ways of Orange Hunt, the neighborhood where I grew up. As in good ol’ O.H., neighbors here know one another and people take care of each other. But my current neighborhood has something O.H. didn’t: a community-owned park at the end of a street. That’s where I once again judged the annual Halloween costume contest, which took place today.

My neighborhood brought me back by popular demand, if we count as a demand last night’s neighborhood-wide email blast seeking people who are “interested and highly qualified. Or reasonably qualified.” I volunteered before they lowered their standards to “reasonably alive.” But I did it with some reluctance because my 13 year-old niece, Emily, couldn’t come. She had joined me last year in a zebra outfit and under the pretense of taking notes, but really, I wanted her there for backup in case things broke bad.

Though I didn’t have my backup zebra this year, I didn’t have to go it alone after all. As I was walking out the front door, I ran into Sue, my neighbor’s mom. She had come to town to see her granddaughter walk in the parade and nobly answered the call to the reasonably qualified. I was happy to see her. I like Sue a lot, but more importantly, she’s smaller than I am and was wearing a homemade ghost costume whose eye holes tended to rove. I felt certain I could outrun her if the crowd turned on us.

At 10 a.m., the parade got underway, led, as your better parades are, by a Jeep-driving Captain Hook. Behind him walked an inflated T-Rex, princesses, a ballot box with legs, Kraft Macaroni-n-Cheese, superheroes, a donut, George Washington, Greek goddesses, a punk rocker, french fries, a president, a farmer and his barnyard animals, Harry Potter and Hermione, a UPS crew, the entire cast of Toy Story, owls, a cheeseburger, and scores of other costume-clad revelers. The Arlington County police lent their support by dressing up as themselves and clearing traffic from the parade route. The parade culminated in the park, where the other judges and I circulated to get a closer look at the costumes that piqued our interest. Forty-five minutes later, the judges huddled to determine the winners.

As I’ve said before, wearing an inflatable shows extraordinary costume commitment.

As in Olympic figure skating, we scored based on presentation, required elements, and the ability to stay vertical while wearing an absurd outfit. After three minutes of agonizing deliberation–twenty seconds of which was spent rearranging Sue’s eyeholes–we had our winners

Captain Hook took to the dais (French for “unoccupied picnic table”) and silenced the crowd so the head judge could announce our results.

The winners I remember are:

  • Kraft Mac-n-Cheese: Were the creators going for irony with a homemade costume depicting America’s favorite processed powdered cheese side dish? We didn’t know and we didn’t care. Like most people, we love mac and cheese in any form.
  • The cast of Toy Story: they had it all, and it looked like they’d made it all. Or at least most of it. It’s hard to get close enough to inspect for “Made in China” labels without committing a serious personal space violation.
  • A family of monkeys: This looked to me like a faithful rendition of life in a zoo, or family mealtime. Either way, a few hurled bananas would have upped the authenticity.
  • The farm: We overlooked the fact that this farm’s chicken was strapped into a stroller –so much for free range eggs –because the cow and pig were so darned cute.
  • A graveyard bride: dressed all in grey and black, I imagine this is how I look when I haunt my ex-husband’s dreams. Mwahahaha.
  • The UPS crew: On person’s Amazon trash is another person’s UPS truck, loaded up with all kinds img_0161of cargo and a pig in the passenger seat. The driver, a toddler who lives on my street, refused to get into the truck. I don’t blame him; I’d be grumpy about working Saturdays, too.
  • The ballot box: By the time we announced the results, she was nowhere to be found. Either she’d gone off to stuff herself or she’d walked off with the election. We’ll never know.

And though he didn’t win, my personal favorite was this one:

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Yep, that’s an “A” that flashes on and off, making him…A-blinkin’.

I texted this pic to my family, eliciting responses that reflect the national mood right now.

L.J.: “Is he running for President? Because if he is, I’ll write him in!”

Lynne: “Me too! He has my vote!” She didn’t even ask about his email protocol.

Suzi: “At this point I would even vote for the UPS truck or the mac and cheese!!” Perhaps she thinks the mac and cheese would better represent us than the current orange candidate. I cannot disagree.

L.J.: “UPS delivers the goods!”

Like this annual event, that slogan is a real winner. Now if only we could find the ballot box.

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Me and Sue. She calls it a costume, I call it the Judge Protection Program.

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Like my creds?