Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bah, Humbug!

Saturday, in the park. I think it.. is the 3rd of December??  Whoa.  Wasn't it the 4th of July just yesterday?  Man, time does fly when you're not waiting for anything particularly important to happen.  Well, except for maybe... oh I don't know. Happiness?  Or as my Italian side of the family calls it, "Ah-Penis!"  (Yes, everything in Italy ends with an exclamation point.  And with the word "Penis". Well, the actual word in Italian is "Cazzo".  Which rhymes with "Fatso".  As in, "Wait, where was I going with this?  Cazzo!")

Chimney smoke and snowflakes are not the only things in the air this month, are they.  Yes, it's most certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Or as department stores call it: Ka-ching

I was having dinner last night with my daughter Tasha!  (yes, she was born in Italy), and we got to talking about her job at the mall.  Tasha's been juggling work AND studies towards a degree in Psychology, something that makes her papa and grandpapa very proud.  She works at a well known retail store in one of Cincinnati's most prestigious shopping centers.  OK, Cincinnati's only prestigious shopping center, who am I kidding.  After all, this is a town that believes that the word "sports" placed in front of the word "bar" is what separates a dive from a classy joint.

So I took the opportunity to ask her, as she is the first Yanes to infiltrate the corporate mall during this most wonderful time of the year, if she had any early observations about Christmas shoppers and holiday cheer. After she rated my attempt to rhyme "year" with "cheer" lame, she told me something that surprised me: holiday shoppers are in fact some of the biggest f***ing idiots she's ever seen.

Her answer was surprising to me on many levels.  I was surprised that she did not find my rhyming cool.  But once I got past that, I became very curious about why Christmas shoppers would act even more lame than store employees' dads.  Don't get me wrong, the fact that I was no longer the most lame person out there was cause enough for me to do a Joe Boxer dance in my head.  As lame as that image may be.

But perhaps the most sobering thought that came to mind was this: could it be that I have been wrong about this whole Christmas thing all along?  This may have been my Ebenezer Scrooge moment.  That precise moment when one of Charles Dickens' most memorable characters comes to the climactic realization that "I don't know anything!  I never did know anything!  But now I know that I don't know... All on a Christmas morning!"

Indeed.  All on a Christmas morning, or on any given Black Friday.  You see, it's not that Scrooge was wrong merely about his ungiving ways: it turns out that the essence of what he was wrong about was his angry and selfish ungiving ways.  As it turns out, it is actually possible to be angrily and selfishly giving, especially when one is armed with pepper spray and all.

And as it also turns out, the counterintuitive flip-side is just as elightning.  It is quite possible to be ungiving for the right reasons: because what we are giving is not what really matters.

To quote an Italian general, the late Renzo Moauro, who also happened to be my Italian language teacher in Rome many years ago: "Why are most people slaving to be in pursuit of material stuff, when they should be freely in pursuit of ah penis!"

Ma che cazzo!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why Thanksgiving Is My Favorite Holiday

So we Americans decided long ago that we would set aside a day to be thankful.  I presume it was originally intended as a statement of gratitude expressed to a higher being, when the early colonists first gathered to celebrate a successful conclusion of the fall harvest. I also presume that during this very first extended family gathering there must have been a collective sigh of relief, when it turned out that uncle Harry's and cousin Jimmy's butter knife wounds were not as fatal as they first appeared.

Being grateful is no doubt an very useful evolutionary trait.  I believe it makes us unique on this planet.  Case in point, every Thanksgiving it is over a quarter-billion humans who join their families to celebrate with a fresh out-of-the-oven turkey, not the other way around.  In fact, much more so than the threat of global warming, I say it's imperative to our survival that we prevent turkeys from learning how to give thanks.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for three reasons: first, the name of the holiday itself is gracious, unassuming.  Based on the name alone, it practically earns the right to a hearty celebration.  Other holidays typically have complicated and depressing names, such as, "National Observance of Overworked Laborers that Haven't Yet Been Passed Over or Crucified."  The name of those holidays alone makes you want to march to the drugstore and get yourself some Oxycontin -- ensuring of course that you spend the entire four-day weekend petting your plants and watering your dog.

Second, and speaking of a four-day weekend: has no one else noticed that Thanksgiving is the only holiday in America that offers an automatic four day weekend?  Yes, with the exception of prisons, forced labor camps (aka retail stores), and football players, everyone else is appreciatively offered a full four-day weekend.  That's an honor not even granted to the mother of all holidays: Christmas.

Which brings me to my third, and arguably most controversial reason: Thanksgiving is not Christmas.  Now, before you report me to Macy's, hear me out.  I do not hate Christmas. And I do not hate Capitalism. But putting the word "shopping" after the word "Christmas" is like putting the word "legitimate" before the word "rape" - it does not clean it up for you.

So just as I was getting ready to once again enjoy my favorite time of the year, with no traffic, no stores open, and as few TV commercials as I can possibly prevent without being kicked out of the house, here comes "Black Thursday". And there goes the neighborhood.

If you love to camp outside a store on any given black day, and you don't think twice about stepping over a little old lady to snatch one of those half-priced 50-inch plasma flat screens with a built-in popcorn maker, does that make you a bad person?  Aside from the stepping over the little old lady part, not necessarily. But my bet is that it does not make you a happy person either. And therein lies the rub: unhappiness is contagious. 

I can of course choose to bitch about what seems to be a depressing trend, but I realize that it is probably the most contradictory thing I can do. So instead, to be consistent with the name of this wonderful holiday, I would like to wish a special happy Thanksgiving to all those parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who refused to conform to the pursuit of unhappiness.  I am very grateful for the sacrifice they made when they left everything behind in the name of change.  I am inspired by their commitment to improve what some of their peers considered too sacred to change. And I'm just as thankful for those who protected the newfound freedom that came as a result of change, even when they knew it might cost them their lives.

A happy Thanksgiving of course to all my family and friends, thank you for your love and friendship.  And if you have read this far, I leave you with a classic Thanksgiving expression of relative love: shut up and pass the butter before somebody gets hurt.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Your Self

If there was such a thing as "the five food groups" of evolution, protest would surely be a key nutritional source. And like any of the five food groups, protesting would be an important contributor to our growth as a species. Without it, who knows, maybe the dinosaurs would have staged a comeback and they would be running the show today. So with that in mind, the recent grassroots swell of protests that is going on in many cities today must be a healthy thing for our society. Certainly it should not be dismissed or silenced.  I'm fairly certain that disagreement with a protest is just as healthy for us as well. What is never healthy, of course, is crossing the line from protest or from anti-protest to T-Rex behavior.

Most people have a strong, even if mixed, opinion about this "Occupy" wave of protests. If you haven't heard of it, you've been in a coma. If you have been in a coma, here's a recap: large numbers of people recently took to the streets of Manhattan, the Wall Street area to be precise, to protest corporate greed and the perceived effect it is having on their lives. This (presumably) grassroots movement has now spread to many other cities, and not just in the US. The media did not give it much coverage initially, but it has now decided it is worth looking into. Maybe someone will place themselves in front of a moving limo when you least expect it.

So back to opinionated folks. What do I think about this movement?  Simply this: although a part of me sympathizes with the corporate conscience-tugging effort, it is essentially a waste of time.

Here's why I believe that:  While I defend the right of anyone to legally amass a fortune, yelling at a group of people who have opted to take in more money than they truly need is a bit like yelling at a fat kid for eating most of the food at the table.

First of all, if the fat kid ate ALL of the food at the table, shame on you as much as on him. What were you doing, staring at him? I believe that obsession with other people's choices, good, bad, or undecided, is suspect in itself. And even if you are honestly not envious of the fat kid, your deer-in-the-headlights protest puts you in the awkward position of having to defend your own actions, or rather, lack thereof. Not to mention your motives.

The time and energy that the unemployed, underemployed, or unhappily employed are spending on these protests is not only taking precious time away from their being able to come up with a productive sustainability for themselves, their families, and their communities, it is also missing the bigger picture opportunity by a mile...

Learning to get up when we've fallen, working hard but not merely for money (or any derivative of money, such as power), and finding a whole new level of happiness when we shed as many material cravings as we practically can, is something the fat cats will never know. By yelling at them you are only feeding their ego, and wasting your precious time.

So go occupy thyself.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again

Especially when you can't find the stupid place. Whatever the reason may be for the human brain to have a limited memory, before it stops working properly, it tells quite a story.  A sad or painful story at times, but then warm and even funny at its best. The more I appreciate life, the more I prefer to find the humor in it. As a wise person once said, you should never take life too seriously: you'll never get out of it alive.

I visited my family in Miami recently, on the occasion of my mom's ninety-first birthday. I flew down with my daughter Tasha for good measure. My other child, Danny, opted to stay back home on this particular visit.  He cited the cleaning of his trombone as a scheduled complication. I understood completely, even asked him if I could stay to help. But, selfless soul that he is, he told me to go fly a kite.  

So there we were, back in the tropics with Tasha. Miami is one of those cities that can mesmerize you when you arrive in it. The perennial warm breeze, Cuban sounds dominating the air waves, women with painted-on clothing regardless of their size... a city that sooner or later will make you blurt out, as if you've suddenly contracted Tourettes, "DOES ANYONE HERE SPEAK ENGLISH??" You would think it wouldn't affect me so much, as I speak Spanish just fine. But let me try to explain it his way: it's like an American going to a Chinese restaurant in London, and the waiter speaks to him in Cockney English with a thick Mandarin accent. My Spaniard friends will surely understand.

I spent many good years in "Meeahmee", as the locals call it. Don't let my cheap shots fool you, I do have an appreciation for the place. Not really my shot of espresso, but I do enjoy visiting every now and then. Either way, there is something that sets it apart from other Caribbean or Hispanic cities along the entire Latin American Caribbean coast: the disproportionate amount of elderly that still hang on for dear life.

My wonderful parents are certainly not the exception. They could easily be poster retirees for the entire South Floridian region. After all, they meet all the requirements: they are now in their 90's, they are rapidly forgetting how to speak English, and they are still driving, much to the protests of sidewalk pedestrians. Thanks in great part to the American Association of Retired People, who have successfully lobbied for trained flamingos to operate the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Florida. Which also explains the pinball-like traffic patterns of the state.

The word "dementia" has, in my opinion, been hijacked by the general public.  It essentially means "out of mind". We can all get out of our minds sometimes, but a conversation where someone is directly referred to as "demented" usually does not end well.  Yet that's exactly the generally accepted term we allow doctors to use when talking about our parents. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Doctor: "Your father has dementia."

Patient's son: "Are you saying he is demented?"

Doctor: "I suppose I am, yes."

Patient's son: "Well your mother is a whore."

Perhaps a kinder, gentler term would make a big difference. Something like "No silly, that's not Adolf Hitler, that's Tom Selleck!" would be a much more loving approach. A little long, that's true. But what about absent minded? I mean, what's the difference between being absent from your mind and being out of your mind? 

Our perception of where our mind is at any given time during the course of our lifetime is such a relative thing, sometimes I'm surprised we can walk and breathe at the same time. Submitted for your approval, an example from that recent visit of Tasha and me to Meeahmee...

On the evening that my family was going to meet at Coral Gables' Biltmore Hotel for our version of the film "Big Night", I had gladly volunteered to be my parents' designated driver.  Quite an appropriate term by the way, in case you've never seen a ninety year old drive. As I made myself comfortable reading a magazine by the front door at my parents' house, I experienced a rather surreal and unforgettable conversation:

Dad: "Peachy, are you ready?"

Mom (crying): "Why do you hate me so much??"

Dad: "Um, I was just curious if you were ready. Sorry, didn't mean to upset you..."

Mom: "Well, it's MY birthday, and I'll be ready when I'm ready. Stop bugging me."

Dad: "Okay, but a this rate you'll be ready when it's no longer your birthday. Can I bug you then?"

Mom: "Shut up."

Me: "Dad, give her some space, come on. What's the hurry?"

Dad: "Okay, okay. So, where are we going anyway?"

Me: "The Biltmore, Dad. Mom's birthday."

Dad: "Oh right. PEACHY! Are you ready??"

Mom (coming out of the bedroom): "I swear to God Alberto, I am going to kill you... Oh, hi Armando, what are you doing here??"

Me: "My name is Jose mom, your fifth born. Armando was your second born. I'm driving you guys to the Biltmore for the family dinner, remember?"

Mom: "Oh, right. Alberto, this is all your fault! Your father was a wild Indian, I should have listened to my mom."

Dad: "So it's my father's fault that we're going to be late to dinner tonight?"

Mom: "Your father's AND your entire lunatic family. Anyway, I think I'm ready, let's go.  Pedro, where are we going again??"

Me (looking behind me, to see if there is a Pedro in the house): "Um, if you are talking to me, my name is Jose... Oh, screw it. You got me, my name is Pedro, and I'm here to take you guys to the Pink Pussycat Gentleman's Club."

My parent's looked at each other with a confused look on their face, contemplating my answer. Finally my dad says, "That sounds like fun. Is that the one by the airport?"

Before I could respond, my mom interjects, "Shut up Alberto and let's go. But listen to me carefully: if you even try to drive, I will get out of the car and walk. Either we let Lorenzo drive, or I am walking."

Dad: "Who's Lorenzo?"

Me: "By process of elimination that would be me dad."

Dad: "Whatever. Okay you're driving, but I'll give you directions."

Me: "Sure dad. Where is it that you're giving me directions to?"

So I got a little snotty there. The Biltmore Hotel is all of five minutes from my parents' house, and we've been to the place about a thousand times.

Dad: "Peachy, where is it that we're going?"

Mom: "This is all your fault Alberto! You are a wild Indian, just like your father and your grandfather."

Dad: "So now it's my grandfather's fault that we don't know where we're going??"

As I drove to the Biltmore I pondered my dad's comment, while my parents quickly moved on to discuss a series of impressively unrelated events that took place sometime between 1946 and 2010.

I pondered that in a way this may all very well be my great grandfather's fault. It is my understanding that of my four grandparents, only one of them did not come from a family of Italian immigrants: that would be my dad's father, son of a (wild) South American Indian. My mother would love to add the word "lunatic" in there somewhere, but I will omit it out of respect to wild Indians everywhere. As my father told the story back when his memory was a bit less fuzzy, my great grandfather did not have a home, not in the traditional sense anyway. They were a tribe of wandering Aymara Indians, hunting for food and moving away from wherever they smelled the white folks moving in. But apparently at some point my great grandfather must have decided that if you can't beat them, buy a mortgage from them.

At that precise moment when my great grandfather decided to start a home, he ended centuries, perhaps millenniums of wandering up and down continents. Up to that moment, there was no home to come back to, no permanent buildings to remember or forget about. Up to that point, the phrase "you can't go home again" had no meaning. Being ready was not an issue - either you were or you were eaten by a wild (maybe even lunatic) pack of wolves. Remembering someone's name was not an issue.

I believe the true reason we can't go home again today has nothing to do with change, sentimentality, or even dementia. It has more to do with centuries of wandering tribes: we can't go home again because this planet of ours is already our home. We can't go home again because, as it turns out, home never had anything to do with a house or its contents. Home was always about whatever love and care our parents were able to give. Home is where the memory of our parents and the rest of our loved ones will always be.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window? $4,750.

Oh, there are dogs that are a lot more expensive than that. My two and a half year old Husky Nikolai was actually a bargain at only $125, rescued from a shelter. Not bad for a purebred. Handsome fellow too, a chick magnet if I've ever seen one. I didn't catch Jill that way though, they did not allow dogs at the classy restaurant where we met. No, the deal with Jill was closed with a cupcake. An expensive cupcake mind you, but I digress.

So Nikolai was romping through the backwoods and ravine behind our house last Thursday, when he let out a loud yelp. A few seconds later, up he wobbles from the bottom of the hill, as if he had just saved Private Ryan. I wasn't actually home at the time, our friend Sheryl was staying with us and she gave me the play by play. 

24 hours later, Nikolai was still limping on three legs. So off to the vet I go, after spending an hour online researching his possible condition. A torn ligament was the chief suspect. I don't know if it hit me when I was doing the research, when the vet handed me the cost estimate for the surgery, or when I sat in my car with my wallet in my back pocket. But at some point I felt a bruise on my ass. My bet is on the vet. He did not even offer me a cigarette after he handed me the estimate.

Actually $1,500 is what the surgery is costing me. Once again, there's a lot worse, no doubt. As I was leaving the vet, this guy and his cute, pigtailed daughter were picking up Roofus to the tune of $2,500 for gallbladder surgery. I didn't even know dogs had gallbladders. I thought they had a tube that went from their mouths straight to their ass. Maybe a pee valve somewhere in between for liquids that cannot be eradicated from the face of the planet, not even by an apocalyptic meteor. After Armageddon, visitors from other planets will fly through the space where earth used to be and exclaim, "what the hell is that smell, and WTF are those floating yellow stains??"

But if Nikolai's surgery is $1,500, what's the other $3,250 about? Well there's dog food, about $50/ month, grooming (unless you want your house to smell like a fraternity), another $50/month, occasional boarding / daycare, about $100/month, plus carpet cleaners and other repairs, throw in another $50/month. And finally there's the annual check-up & immunizations, which apparently are distributed exclusively by Gucci.

So at just under $5,000 a year, that cute little doggie in the window is a bargain, isn't he? If you don't believe that try this: go out to your driveway and throw a ball out, as far as you can. Then see if that $400/month car will go fetch it for you. Go ahead, try it. I'll be waiting right here, playing with Nikolai. Who, I might add is a sport on three legs. Yes, the $100 doggie painkillers are definitely helping until surgery day. They relax him, whereas they tend to take me back to the 70's.

Peace, man's best friend.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Love, the Stupid & Crazy Kind

I went to see "Crazy Stupid Love" this weekend.  Yes, I know, most guys born during the "Mad Men" decade would sooner drive their cars off a cliff than admit to watching a chick flick.  But we would be jumping to conclusions.  First of all, the movie was more of a comedy than a chick flick.  And second of all, I lost my man card a long time ago anyway.  Literally.  I tend to misplace things, or so I've been told by the people who find them.  I once misplaced the entire city of Florence, much to the surprise of the ticket inspector aboard the train.  It was a good thing that my faithful traveling companion was a good sport, as she followed me on my Chinese fire drill around Italian train stations from one end of the country to the other.  Ah yes, pazzo stupido amore indeed...

But back to the movie.  The story actually reminded me of what happened to me three years ago, when I found myself home alone for the first time in twenty years.  Just like Steve Carell’s character in the movie, I hit a neighborhood bar to drown myself in something that could knock out a small hippo.  Except, in my case, I did not run into Ryan Gosling, and therefore I did not have an instant wingman to introduce me to a bevy of beauties.  Nooo, that only happens in Hollywood movies.

So after downing a couple of shots of tequila, I finally looked around to see where I was.  What I saw was straight out of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”:  6 geezers drinking, 5 golden girls, 4 jail birds, 3 french fries, 2 turtle necks, and… well, me.  But, as fate would have it, there was something “different” in store for me.  Yes, maybe it was Christmas in July after all 

I'll spare you the details on what happened next, though I will say it involved a cute 25 year blonde, who was celebrating her birthday with what surely seemed like a shot of tequila for every year of her life.   So at one point blondie and I went outside to get some fresh air.  Just a few minutes into our outdoor break, blondie turns to me and informs that she has to pee.  So I tell her, not sure why, "Okie-dokie.  I'll wait right here."  Great line there, Steve Carell.  But before I could even kick myself for my  line, blondie begins to take the much announced pee within two feet of me.   Of course all I could think to say was, "So… I wait right here then??"

Love is crazy. And Stupid. But it's the only love we've got. Figure it out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

I have been noticing for a few years now that national holidays tend to bring out the best in people - and sometimes the worst.  July 4th seems to be no exception.  And I think it leaves us all scratching our heads, wondering how that’s possible.  After all, there are really not that many significant holidays throughout the year, and they all tend to focus mostly on the positive: celebrating our nation’s birthday, celebrating the lives of those who do the real work and those that fight for freedom, giving thanks, and celebrating a handful of religious events.

Now it seems to me that all of those holidays have one thing in common: the countless of references to a handful of powerful abstracts, such as Freedom, Peace, Respect, and Love.   That’s all well and good, except that no two people I know can agree on the definition of much more mundane words, like, say, “Burrito” or “ Hanging Chad”.   So how are we supposed to unanimously agree on concepts that are a thousand times more complex?

Maybe if we found a more balanced middle ground we would stand a fighting chance to finally and truly grasp these few but significant annual milestones.  I mean, surely the answer lies somewhere between Love and a Burrito.  Between Freedom and a Hanging Chad (OK I admit there’s a little irony in that last random comparison, but I swear it was unintentional.)

Let’s take Memorial Day and Independence Day for a moment, appropriately so on this sunny July 4th (if it’s not sunny where you are, just use your imagination.)  Every year, on these two days, you can hear the same two awkward extremes from a very loud yet thankfully small minority of people: on the one hand you hear one of these extremes proclaiming that this is the time when we celebrate our freedom as the free-est freedom fighters in the history of freedom.  And then there’s the other extreme, people that are angry about the senseless killing that takes place during unnecessary wars.

So on this beautiful July 4th, I would like to proclaim independence from both of these groups.  These two very vocal minorities are clearly missing a point that, thankfully, the silent majority seems to grasp rather well: if you are not truly independent, a part of you is already dead.  This unalienable right knows no borders, it is a universal truth.  America did not invent this concept, but it sure did improve on it.

Happy birthday America.  The world is a better place, thanks in great part to you.  And you are also a better place, thanks in great part to the world.

Mother Should I Run for President? (A Video Blog)

Almost forty years ago , the British psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd released its masterpiece titled " The Wall ". The double...