Going Against the Grain: It’s a Matter of Taste

I once had a friend who was so thin, so “man-orexic” that we used to joke he could choke on a single grain of rice.  Of course he was also very pious and we used to imagine that the Virgin Mary received apparitions from him.  That’s my “grain” connection.  Here now the prompt from The Daily Post.

Matters of Taste

When was the last time a movie, a book, or a television show left you cold despite all your friends (and/or all the critics) raving about it? What was it that made you go against the critical consensus?

Today at work I overheard two colleagues talking about their book club.  I don’t know when this became a thing.  Book club.  In fact, I have many friends who belong to a book club.  I can’t understand the appeal.  Other than the wine that I hear they serve I don’t think I could get into it.  But I politely interjected “Talking about a book club?”  I could tell that one of the participants in this chat wanted to shoot back “No, we just like throwing out titles of classic novels for fun.”  Thankfully he held his tongue.  Just then the other party to the original conversation did the unthinkable.  She invited me to join.  I thought for a moment.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t.  I’m functionally illiterate.”  And then I walked away.

This is guaranteed to leave anyone cold.

This is guaranteed to leave anyone cold.

The fact is that most book clubs (not to mention most contemporary books) leave me cold.  I am probably way off base but I feel like many people who belong to them are not truly in it for the reading and lively discussions.  First, I don’t need to discuss my feelings about a book to feel validated for having read it.  I mean, when you think about it, I don’t have a TV club to discuss the themes found in the subplots of episodes of Lost.  And you probably won’t find me sitting around a dining room table to discuss what I read on Drudge earlier.  I’ll probably discuss it but it won’t be in any formal setting.  Unless, of course, there’s wine involved.  Again, not judging, but I feel like most of the people I know who are in book clubs are in it for a number of reasons and many of them center around the fact that book clubs are popular at the moment.  Then there’s the whole socialization aspect.  People like to come together and enjoy each other’s company.  I suppose every shindig needs a reason for being; but a book being that reason seems odd to me.  The other reason I don’t like book clubs is that (other than today) I’ve never been invited.  That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that the husbands of the women meeting in these clubs usually have similarly-timed meetings of their own (drinking parties, mostly) and I never get invited to them either.  I guess you have to know somebody.

So what book in particular leaves me cold?  It’s a sordid tale of woe and revenge, murder and mischief, sex, drugs, and smooth jazz.  Actually, that kind of book might be intriguing.  Oh wait, I mentioned that books are out.  Listen, the last tome I read was a book on airport terminal design.  It was called The Naked Airport.  Surprisingly there was more sex and drugs in those 500 pages than I was expecting.  Still I doubt anyone else would have found it as interesting as I did.  How about a TV show?  Again, I have very peculiar viewing habits and, having worked in television, I don’t watch it the same way most people do.  What about a movie?  Thinking…  Yeah, no…  I’m not a big fan of the movies either.  Perhaps I’m just too discriminating and never really pay much attention to what the crowd says I should like and so I don’t really care.  Let’s flip that around though.  There are movies that I LOVE that were panned by everyone including the pope.  The Scary Movie franchise comes to mind.  What can I say?  Sometimes I just like mindless comedy.

I guess I’ve just gone against the grain by not going against the grain at all.  Think about that.  I’ve got kiddos to put to bed.  Our book selection tonight?  It’s one that really leaves me cold.  The Tale of the Ice Princess.

A False Choice for a Writer

I remember taking a course in the history of Western music when I was in college.  I think it was called “Music and Civilization” or the “History of Music of the West” or “You Need an Elective and You’re a Musician So This Will Do” or something like that.  Great class, actually.  I learned a lot, got an A, and became friends with the professor who, as it turns out, was a collaborator of Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz.  It was during this course, while studying the underlying essential questions pertaining to “good music” versus “popular music” that we were asked “would you rather compose a piece of music that is beautiful and will stand the test of time or would you rather write something that is popular in the here-and-now?”  I always felt that this question was a flawed proposition.  Who says your music can’t be both?  And that brings us to tonight’s question.

A literary-minded witch gives you a choice: with a flick of the wand, you can become either an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades, or a popular paperback author whose books give pleasure to millions. Which do you choose?

A Timeless Classic.  Sure it helps that the author was... God!

A Timeless Classic. Sure it helps that the author was… God!

Wow.  Really?  A literary-minded witch?  That sounds like the afternoon librarian in the children’s room at my local branch.  The reason these kinds of questions are flawed is because of a logical fallacy both questions employ.  That is, the statements both drop just about every qualification necessary to make the proper judgement.  For instance, I can become ONLY one or the other?  Why not both?  How about this one…  Where is this witch getting her powers?  Is she a good witch or a bad witch?  Is she a freaky witch who likes to get down with her bad self?  If she is I might decide to have a few drinks with her and then try to take advantage of her intoxication to get even more of a deal.  What’s she wearing?  I’m just curious.  And how did this witch get my name and address?  Because if WordPress has been selling my information I won’t be too pleased.

Clearly, I would choose to write something magnificent, like, say, a blog containing 1500 posts detailing the events of my children’s lives in a humorous way.  Said blog would be an instant classic, loved in the moment and adored for years to come.  I would tag it just so that everyone will read it — old friends who don’t comment too much anymore like Debbi and Wade, faithful readers who’s comments I look forward to like Annie, good friends like Dan, a plethora of Daily Post readers, and at least one reality TV producer who says “Hey!  This is good!  I need to option this NOW!”  And then I would rake in the royalties while retaining creative control and NOT casting Neil Patrick Harris as myself.

Not my actual daughter, though the expression is spot-on. George Goodwin Kilburne's "Piano Lesson" (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Not my actual daughter, though the expression is spot-on.
George Goodwin Kilburne’s “Piano Lesson” (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Now, let’s get back to the music for a bit.  You want to know who’s going to be a great musician one day?  My baby girl who, at the age of 4, having studied the piano (her daddy’s instrument) for just a year, got her first “hands together” sticker tonight!  You cannot imagine the pride in my heart as I watched this precious little girl.  I sit in on all of her lessons.  Across the room from me, she sat at the bench with her hands perfectly curled over the keys and played the most marvelous rendition of Mary Had A Little Lamb you could imagine.  It’s fun to see traits of yours shining through in your children. God is good.

And when we came home and announced the good news to her mommy and big brother, said big brother decided that he too knows how to play the piano “hands together”.  I don’t know what he was attempting to play but it sounded like Mary’s little lamb was taken to slaughter.  And even there, my his sense of humor and physical comedy made me laugh very hard.  Did I mention that God is good?

I Just Aged Ten Years

There are still clouds in the future.

There are still clouds in the future.

Most mornings, now that I am back to work after my recovery, I have been slipping back into my usual morning routine.  I wake up around 6:30, get my coffee, watch the news, grab a shower.  Then I get dressed (kind of important) and I kiss my sleeping babies before leaving the house for work.  This morning my little girl woke up ever so gently.  She’s 4.  She slowly rolled her head toward me from the top bunk and, opening her beautiful hazel eyes, looked at me.  She reached out and put her hands around my neck.  “I love you Daddy!” she whispered.  How sweet.  Made my whole day worth it.  In fact, it almost made me forget the patch of white hair I had seen in my beard as I was contemplating shaving a few minutes earlier.  For the record, I’m 36.  I’ve been noticing physical signs of my advancing age for some time.  Granted, I can blame lots of these on my spinal fusion.  I’m supposed to have trouble walking.  The fact that I don’t is just a blessing.  The fact that I’m around teenagers everyday also helps me not to “feel” my age.  Speaking with a good friend tonight I listened as he told me about his bad knees.  “Man, we’re getting old!” I said.  “When did that happen?”

So seeing the Daily Post prompt tonight gave me cause to think a bit deeper.

You wake up one day and realize you’re ten years older than you were the previous night. Beyond the initial shock, how does this development change your life plans?

OK, let me think about this for a second.  So I wake up and I’m ten years older.  Let’s get the practical questions out of the way.  Am I supposed to have simply rapidly aged?  Is it only me?  Are my kids and wife still the same age?  That would be weird.  What about the other people in my life?  How old are they?  Why don’t we go with the theory that we’re all ten years older and I somehow slept through the aging.  I like that.

But that’s just it.  I don’t like that.  I wake up and I’m 46.  You know what that means?  It means I’m probably on the verge of another spinal fusion (if they’ll fuse three levels).  I feel crippled because I probably am.  I find my way to the kitchen for my coffee.  Some things never change.  I get showered and wonder where my hair went.  I don’t contemplate shaving as if it’s a luxury now because if I didn’t I’d look like Santa Claus.  I knock on my son’s door.  He’s sound asleep.  Of course he is.  He’s 16.  He was out last night in my car using my money.  Hey, it’s the end of summer.  Trying to get one last date with that college girl before she goes back.  But he’s still a good kid so he mumbles something through the door.  Sounds like “I love you Dad” but is probably “Leave me alone!”  Knock on my daughter’s door.  She’s tired but, ever Daddy’s girl, she tries to mask just how tired as she says “Love you Dad, have a good day at work!”  I then say goodbye to the other three or four kids.  Wait a minute.  That’s a new development.  What will I have named them?  Decisions…  And then I get in my car and head off to my job as the beloved principal of a Catholic school.  As I carry on through the day there are no issues, no complaints from students or teachers.  Everything is beautiful.  It’s so beautiful I can leave early knowing that nothing will go wrong.

I head home to my beautiful wife who has only gotten more beautiful with time.  She has prepared a wonderful meal.  I guess it’s only lunch time now since I cut out of work early.  I sit back in my leather chair, put my feet up, look across at a picture of our late Terrier on the shelf (tragic how he died, really).  Then I contemplate how my life changed so much over ten years.

And then I remember that it didn’t and that this was perhaps not the most thought out prompt ever.  Seriously it’s like watching that show Life Without People on the History Channel.  They ask the audience to presuppose that human beings were simply “removed” from the planet en masse.  Truly implausible.  Bottom line: ten years hence I’m older, probably back in pain, hopefully with a few more kids, still loving every minute of my life with my beautiful wife.

I got nothing else.

Honey, Can You Come Take a Look At This?

I pronounce this.  Do you?

I pronounce this. Do you?

Ever since moving to Texas, this Jersey boy, normally so sure that my flawless diction and impeccable inflection are both flawless and impeccable and not at all accented — because they’re not and I will cut you if you suggest otherwise — I have had occasional moments where I begin to doubt myself.  For instance, I know that I pronounce the hard “r” at the end words like father and mother.  This is called a “rhotic” pronunciation and most American speakers of English use it.  Note that I said “rhotic” (from the Greek letter rho) and not erotic.  Gee, that wasn’t a clever way to drive traffic from search engines…  And yet, some of the people in my life (OK, my students mostly) try to mimic me by slipping into some kind of bizarre Dallas twist on a comical Brooklyn accent.  Sad, really.  Still, I sometimes doubt myself.  I drive home from work, burst through the door, kiss my kids, pet the dog, and yell out “Honey, it is pronounced /wahw-derr/, right?”

And this brings us to tonight’s Daily Post prompt.

What are some (or one) of the things about which you usually don’t trust your own judgment, and need someone’s else’s confirmation?

I’m sure most people looking at that prompt would not automatically jump to the way in which a person pronounces common words but it happens.  What happens even more frequently, though, here in the Lone Star State, at least for us Yankee transplants, is the choice of words and phrases.  Let me explain what I mean.  Recently one of my wife’s cousins was performing with his band at a restaurant out in Fort Worth.  He and his mates are all in their 50’s and sing exactly what you’d expect middle-aged, wannabe rockers to perform.  Touch Me In The Morning by Diana Ross.  No.  Actually they sing standard classic rock tunes.  On our drive out to see the show I turned to my wife, not knowing exactly who these people were or what they’d be singing, and asked “Is this place more of a BBQ joint or a cabaret?”  “A what?!” she asked.  Well, it seems that here in Texas the word cabaret can only refer to what we in New Jersey like to call a strip club.  However, in the New York City sphere of influence, where true showmen abound a cabaret is a restaurant with a small stage for a singer and accompanist.  I could see how the thought of her aging cousin singing Mustang Sally at a strip club might scandalize her.

And that brings me to another turn of phrase.  The Big Apple.  Not going to spend a whole lot of time on this one since it’s so painfully obvious I’m talking about NEW freaking YORK!  Come on, right?  In class one day I mentioned the Big Apple and was met with stares of confusion from the 25 teenagers sitting in front of me.  “Mr. H. where are you talking about?”  I started to second-guess myself.  “Kids, it’s New York.”  “Are you sure,” they asked, “because the Big Apple is Las Vegas.”  Really?  It took me ten minutes to convince them I really did know what I was talking about.  Even then most of them insisted that New York’s adoption of the moniker must have come after Vegas’.

Josephine Baker.  She sang at a cabaret in the Big Apple in a  teddy.

Josephine Baker. She sang at a cabaret in the Big Apple in a teddy.

Finally, let’s talk about a common article of clothing.  Earlier this evening as I was preparing to get my kittens ready for bed I told my daughter the following.  Keep in mind that she’s 4.  “Sweetheart, go get ready for your shower and Daddy will get you a nighty from the laundry.”  Again, my wife began to question my sanity (nothing new there).  “A nighty?” she said.  “What is it now?” I replied, second-guessing myself.  She looked me straight in the eye and said “You mean a nightgown?”  Of course I meant a nightgown.  But growing up with 8 sisters (yes, 8!) I had always heard little girls’ nightgowns referred to (lovingly, I might add) as nighties.  “And the problem is?” I asked her.  “Well,” she said, “a nighty is like lingerie, like… a teddy or something.”  Exactly.  First my dear, don’t ever say “teddy” in front of me again.  It creeps me out.  Second, did you really think I was implying that we give our precious daughter a bath and then dress her up in a Victoria’s Secret neglige?  How ’bout we go whole hog and get her something from Frederick’s?  Nighty.  Meanwhile twenty minutes later Baby Girl was comfortable dressed in one of Daddy’s old tee shirts so the point was moot.

I think from now on I’ll stick to second-guessing pointless things like whether a precancerous mole has changed color or whether I’m losing my hearing.  But then I wouldn’t have the fun of bantering with the people I love and learning new things about the world around me through our shared experience of our language.  Until then, you can find me, my wife, and our beautiful children (our daughter in a teddy) at a strip club in Las Vegas drinking wahwderr, generally enjoying life.

Getting Back in the Game

It’s time, friends.  Or, considering the original purpose of this blog, I should say “It’s time, kids…”

What time is it?

Go me!  It's been one hell of a five year run with this little hobby.

Go me! It’s been one hell of a five year run with this little hobby.

It’s time for me to resume my life.  Five months and two days ago I had my second spinal fusion surgery.  And for three years leading up to that I sought non-surgical alternatives that were ultimately not for me.  I mention that last part because during those three years, although I blogged someone routinely (at times very routinely) I was not the man I used to be.  In fact, I wasn’t really the man I wanted to be.  To be certain, though, I was not fully the man I was called to be.  That is, I am a servant of Christ, a husband, a father, a teacher, and last of all, a chronicler of all these things.

Well, last Thursday morning I was discharged from my physical therapy.  Although I still have some surgical follow-ups for the next few months I am by and large past the most intense parts of my recovery.  I feel better than ever, if not a whole lot weaker from the whole experience.  You know what that means?

NO PAIN!

Yay!  In fact, there is still some lingering muscle ache here and there but the debilitating sciatic pain that was killing me before is gone.  So, prompted by a congratulatory comment on my blog from WordPress, I am ready to get back to more regular posting.  You might recall that over the past three years there were moments when I posted that I was done or giving up or whatever.  Yeah, those days are over.  I can’t give this up.  It’s too much fun.  And now that I have my life back (and I do think, better than ever) it’s time to tell you all about it.

Posting every day?  Probably not.  But I will be checking out the daily post prompts from time to time and posting about them just for fun.

So, if you’re keeping score…  Surgery: over.  Recovery: pretty much a done deal.  Back to work?  Done.  Also, I’m getting back to the gym and this time with a professional bodybuilder as my trainer.  This should be plenty of grist for the writing mill.

Stay tuned and thank you all for your continued prayers.

Galveston 2014: Day 10

Heading Home

My sister-in-law and her son got out of dodge before we were through packing.

My sister-in-law and her son got out of dodge before we were through packing.

Packing up is always harder than unpacking.  You remember how last week I was able to successfully run up and down the stairs with all of our things?  Yeah, well then the things I was carrying were still packed neatly in suitcases or Costco boxes.  Thank goodness for my wife’s organizational skills.  Even still we were just barely able to fit everything.

A quick stop at the souvenir shop and we were Houston-bound.  Why Houston?  Well, we had been given passes to their Children’s Museum.  And actually it was a lot of fun.

Finally, we were on our way back north and heading home.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story.  Kids, when you read this I want you to remember how much fun your mom and I had taking you here and how much fun we always have with you.  Perhaps next year we’ll do a beach in Jersey?…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Galveston 2014: Day 9

Last full day at the beach!  Let’s make the most of it.

Me and the little big guy at the pool.

Me and the little big guy at the pool.

And we did just that.  We started with Sunday mass.  Then we returned, said goodbye to the parts of our crew who were driving out today, then we changed, and we went to the pool!  I love this pool for a very special reason.  For the record, it’s the Galveston Country Club’s pool that we were using.  Most of the rentals available through the company we use come with a membership to the club.  The reason I love this pool is three-fold.  First, it’s clean and not too crowded.  Second, they make a good drink.  But most importantly, this is the very first pool where my son made a splash.  He was all of 8 weeks-old on our first trip here and I remember like it was yesterday how we bathed him in sunscreen, covered him head to toe (ala a 1910 Coney Island bather), and cautiously held him in the water with us.  He loved it then and he still loves it now.  The only difference is that he knows how to swim now.  I never thought this day would come.  Weeping.  Weeping…  Just as I was about to start bawling the speakers piping in music started to blare with John Lennon’s Imagine.  Half the swimmers drowned.  Intentionally.

Anyway, we went home and spent the evening watching movies on TV including one on Lifetime where a woman who couldn’t carry children of her own befriended a pregnant woman and then stole her baby.  That’s some classic TV right there!