A Lesson from MawMaw
A couple of years ago, I began feeling guilty about not spending enough time with my grandmother. She was getting older, and had struggled with a short bout of cancer a few years earlier. I wanted to make myself more available and become the adult who did the inviting and not the adult who waited to be invited. So, I took her out for lunch in what I had hoped would be the first in my monthly grandmother hangouts.
She decided on Chilis, so I drove us there and we both ordered fajitas. We spent three hours chatting, or more accurately, she spent three hours chatting. I didn’t get a chance to speak much nor did we talk about anything much other than death.
In the previous year, she had lost three friends/family members around her age. She talked a good talk about not fearing death, but it was obvious that she was terrified. The fact that so many of these people had died suddenly, had left her unprepared to deal with the grief that followed. So, she talked about how she didn’t fear death and how tragic it was and for three depressing hours. I had already heard it twice before at different holidays and would go on to hear this same story a couple dozen more times until she passed away fourteen months later.
My grandmother had lots of thoughts on the afterlife and was fearful to discuss it with people since she was worried they’d think she was nuts. It really wasn’t all that strange, but I can understand her apprehension.
My grandmother had another bout of cancer come upon her about a year ago. She was optimistic that she’d beat it, and rightfully so. She looked great for her age and was quite active. She was having some minor memory issues, but other than that she was pretty healthy. Sadly, she wasn’t able to fight off this wave of cancer and it ended up taking her in the early fall of 2019.
For whatever reason, I thought about this the other night as I lay in bed. Not so much her death, but that lunch at Chilis and how much time and effort she wasted talking about death. I don’t think it prepared her for it, nor did it give her any relief. If anything, it showed that her thoughts were dominated by it and soon death showed up for her.
She wasn’t able to give proper goodbyes, my family didn’t give her the type of funeral she requested, and the majority of her belongings, accumulated over the past sixty years, ended up in the dumpster outside of her apartment. An entire lifetime of things, were thrown out, sold at a yard sale, or picked over by a few family members. All the credit card bills she endured into her older age caused stress and pressure and the things she bought on credit ended up being throw out in the end. What a waste.
I’m not sure why I didn’t think more about the fragility of life following her passing until now, but I think maybe I needed a reminder of how useless so much of this life is. How powerless we are and how in the end, we all end up the same.
I wish my grandmother could have had more joy in her life. She had it hard and then made choices that did not make it any easier on her. She didn’t want to end up in a nursing home, and she didn’t, so I’m happy that wish came true, but when I think about the proud, powerful, independent woman I knew in my youth, I saw almost none of that the last few years of her life.
I like to think that maybe these thoughts coming to me now are a reminder of how to live and what not to do. It’s just one more lesson my grandmother can teach me.
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The Soundtrack of My Life
Over ten years ago, I had this idea for a blog post called The Soundtrack of My Life. The idea is to look back at all the songs that have played an intricate part of my life then list and discuss them. It’s a sort of self-reflection that is going to take a lot of time and research not to mention some hard decision making. I love music and I have hundreds upon hundreds of songs that I love, so it’s daunting to think about sitting down and trying to list songs that actually affected my life or defined a moment of my life versus songs that I enjoy listening to.
While working on this list, I discovered a lot about what I listened to, how my musical tastes changed, and the role music plays in your life. Looking over this list, I see a handful of songs I listen to regularly, but a lot of this was just background noise during big changes in my lifetime. It’s a little wild how they sort of imprint on your mind, whether the experience are good or bad.
In order to create this list, I’ve placed the songs in chronological order in which they came into my life. This is NOT by the release year of the song. Some of the songs were several years removed from when they were first released. So when you see a date, just know that’s an estimate of when the song came into my life and made an impact.
1986 – Glory of Love – Peter Cetera
This is the first song I ever remember enjoying. The Karate Kid II came out in 1986, so I would have made me three or four years old when around the time that I heard it. I have a vivid memory of pulling up to my uncle’s house while The Glory of Love was playing on the radio and my dad turning our old Nissan Stanza fan off. I squealed out that we had to turn the car back on and my parents sat there in amazement as their tiny child demanded to listen to Peter Cetera. Yea… I was a weird kid.
1988 – Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
What do I remember about 1988? Well, I remember Spud MacKenzie, getting the USS Flagg for my birthday, and the music video for Don’t Worry, Be Happy. This song was another song that was played a lot on the radio and MTV, and I was fascinated by the minimalistic music video. It would fifteen years before I’d recognize Chevy Chase in the video.
1989 – Kokomo – The Beach Boys
I liked Glory of Love, but I LOVED Kokomo. Kokomo came out in 1988 and the song was all over the radio. The fun, tropical beat really appealed to me. One afternoon my parents were going through all their old LPs and I heard them say The Beach Boys. I lit up and told them I loved The Beach Boys. They were surprised that I knew who the Beach Boys were and immediately put the album on. As soon as a song would start I’d respond with, “That’s not The Beach Boys” and so they’d move the needle to the next track. This went on for the entire album and I stood by that it was not The Beach Boys.
1991 – 2 Legit 2 Quit – MC Hammer
MC Hammer burst onto the music scene with Can’t Touch This back in 1990, but it was his follow up hit, 2 Legit 2 Quit that caught my attention. 2 Legit 2 Quit felt epic and for this first grader, I was all over it. It led to me getting my first ever cassette tape and I can remember listening to it over and over on my parent’s stereo system while lying on their waterbed.
1992 – Jump – Kriss/Kross
MC Hammer opened my eyes to an emerging urban rap scene and being a child, there was no hotter group than child rap group Kriss/Kross. They inspired me to put my jacket on backwards while at school (it’s incredibly uncomfortable BTW) and they became the second cassette tape I ever owned. My parents divorced around this time and my Kriss/Kross tape accompanied me on awkward family vacations and provided music for my first of many school changes.
1992 – End of the Road – Boys II Men
In 1992, Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang came out. It was a raunchy sex comedy that somehow I managed to see. I fell in love with the film and the soundtrack and I just about wore out the cassette tape. The soundtrack was full of great artists like PM Dawn, Babyface, and A Tribe Called Quest, but it was Boys II Men that caught my ear. End of the Road is arguably still my favorite Boys II Men song.
1993 – Simply The Best – Tina Turner and Some Girls Do – Sawyer Brown
My parents divorced in 1993 and for around six or eight months I lived with my mom in a tiny duplex. I can't be sure all of what my mom was feeling and going through, but she listened to these two songs on a loop on our massive stereo system. Of course, this was 1993, so when I saw on a loop, I mean she'd listen to the song the once it was over, she'd stop it, rewind the tape, and hit play again. I'm not kidding when I heard both of these songs played back-to-back a dozen or two times each time she felt like listening to music.
1995 – I Wish – Skee-Lo
In 1995, I moved to Orlando, Florida, and I’ll never forgetting listening to my Walkman and hearing I Wish for the first time while driving onto the base we were going to be living on. I Wish was a catchy song that got quite a bit of play that summer and I remember hearing it all over the base in places like The Exchange and the barber shop.
1995 – Too Much Love Will Kill You – Queen
Both my mom and Wayne’s World introduced me to Queen in the 90’s, and they quickly became one of my all-time favorite bands. I listened to so much Queen in the 90’s, I rarely listen to Queen now because quite frankly, I think I’ve exhausted myself on their music. I remember sitting at the beauty salon with my grandmother in Orlando where I lived and being bored out of my mind. I decided to walk over to the next shopping center and visit a music store. This music store was like most music stores in the 90’s, it was full of cassettes and CDs and was really overpriced. It was one of those places that charged $17.99 for pretty much anything in the store.
I stumbled upon a new Queen album called Made in Heaven, which was the first and final Queen album released after Freddie Mercury’s death. On this album was a song originally recorded in 1988 but then re-recorded in 1995 called Too Much Love Will Kill You. It wasn’t a traditional Queen song, but it was a good song nonetheless. Once my grandma finished getting her hair cut, she swung by and bought me the single for Too Much Love Will Kill You.
1996 – Songbird – Kenny G
My dad loved this song. Not too unlike my mom a few years later, he'd listen to this song on a loop, luckily CDs were around by this point in time which made it a little less annoying.
1999 – Talk Dirty to Me – Poison
In 1999, VH1 aired Poison Behind the Music and I fell in love with the band. For five to six years, Poison was my favorite band of all-time. I'm not sure if it was the awesome story that VH1 told or finally putting faces to the great music that I liked, but something just clicked. I still like Poison, but I don't listen to them nearly as much as I did. That Best of Poison 1986-1996 CD was probably the CD I listened to the most of during my entire life. This song and time period is what launched me into my interest in 80's metal/hair bands and that dominated the music I listened to for years to come.
2001 – Heaven is a Half-Pipe – OPM
By the year 2000, it was already becoming difficult to find non pop music videos on MTV. Usually you’d have to watch sometime after midnight before any blocks of music videos would begin. I would set my VCR to record these blocks and find hidden gems, like Heaven is a Half-Pipe.
It was 2000, Tony Hawk video games were ruling the world and the X-Games were the hottest sport on TV, so skateboarding was everywhere. This simple, and even goofy song came out at a perfect time and it’s catchy chorus could keep you signing for hours. Even now I have a hard time getting the song out of my head, should it get in there. My brother and I would go around singing Heaven is a Half-Pipe all the time, and I even ripped the song of my Xbox hard drive so I could listen to it while playing Tony Hawk.
2001 – I Just Want You – Ozzy Osbourne
We all go through these awkward growing years where we develop a social life, relationships, and all that fun stuff. I didn’t really go through this in high school, but it did blossom once I finished high school and was working full-time. My love of 80’s metal had continued to evolve and I found myself listening to a lot of Ozzy at that time which was around 2001. Unlike today where you have YouTube and song previews, you had to go in blind when buying albums and I picked up The Ozzman Cometh and discovered all sorts of great Ozzy songs I’d never heard. One of the songs that really appealed to me the most was I Just Want You, and this CD was in my car during all my lunch dates, trips to the movies, and general hanging out. I developed my first real crush around this time and all that teenage angst and confusing feelings emerged and I had Ozzy there to channel my emotions and keep me company.
2001- Crash Into Me – Dave Matthews
I would never call myself a Dave Matthews fan, but I enjoy some of his songs. Crash Into Me is the one I remember most fondly, not because of its quality, but because it was played on a loop while working at Blockbuster. It was one of the many music video that played as part of our hour long video package, so I got used to hearing it quite a bit. Its cemented in my mind as one of the songs that immediately takes me back to the dusty shelves of Blockbuster and reminds me of my late teens/early twenties.
2002 – Ignition (Remix) – R. Kelly
After leaving Blockbuster, I worked for an IT company on the Navy base. It was a decent job where I met some really cool people, including one guy named Tom, who became a mentor to me. He was seven or eight years older than me and taught me tons about working out and women. He also introduced me to some new music that was outside of the mostly 80’s metal that I listened to. One of those songs was R. Kelly’s Ignition Remix. This song really defines my time working on base and the beginning few months of my first real relationship.
2003 – Superman – Eminem
In my eyes Eminem was at his peak in 2002, and Superman was one of those “Wow, I can’t believe he went there” songs. It was the type of song you’d listen to after a breakup or if you were truly angry with a girl. I had a mini-breakup with my then girlfriend and I’ll never forget going home and just listening to this on a loop. If there is one thing Eminem does well is channel anger for his listeners.
2003 – Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming – Deep Purple
I have a love/hate relationship with this song. I love the title and I love how the song begins, but once it shifts into a heavier rock song I begin to dislike it. Still, I listened to this song because of the title. I think it’s one of those things we can all relate to. But lyrically and everything else about the song relate to me in absolutely no way. Despite all this, I listened to this song a bunch in 2002-2003 and it was one of the songs that accompanied me on my drive to the Navy College where I took classes. Anytime I hear it, I instantly think back to driving on the road right in front of the new Navy College building in Millington, Tennessee.
2003 – Cherry Pie – Warrant
Okay, this is by far the most cringe entry on this list. In 2003, I was nineteen or twenty and just gotten my 1994 Mazda Miata. It was red with white racing stripes and I loved that little car. I also thought I was the shit in it. I lost a ton of weight and was living my best life, which usually consisted with the top being down and blasting my favorite music which a lot of times included Cherry Pie by Warrant.
2004 – The End Has Come – Ben Moody featuring Jason Miller and Jason “Gong” Jones
In the early 2000’s, I’d gotten back into comics in a big way. We were on a cusp of some big time comic book movies with X-Men and Spider-man leading the way. I was all about any and all comic book movies, and the upcoming Punisher adaptation was one of my most anticipated films of 2004. It wasn’t the most faithful adaptation but it was a damn good movie, and I really enjoyed the soundtrack. I discovered one song called The End Has Come that really connected with me and I listened to that track hundreds of times over the years. I was going through a lot around this time. My father had begun heavy drinking, I got booted out of my house, and I was hanging on by a thread. This song played through those late night drives to clear my mind that I so often took.
2005 – Cells – The Servant
In late 2004/early 2005, the first trailer was released for Robert Rodriguez's Sin City. It featured an amazing instrumental song that I discovered online was sampled from a song called Cells by a small British band named The Servant. I quickly sought out their album and then every other piece of music by them that I could find. I fell in love with The Servant hard and looking back they are probably one of my all-time favorite bands. I don't think I heard a song that I didn't like by them, and for years I listened to their music almost on a loop. Like some of the other music on this list, I might have overplayed it a little and rarely listen to it now.
Still, when I think back to going to college and my final days in Memphis, I can't help but think about listening to The Servant. I even brought a song in to have my Music Appreciation class listen to.
2006 – Something to Say – Kane
2005-2005 is when I discovered Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I went all in on learning everything I could about the show and its spin-off Angel. One of the things I learned as that Christian Kane, who portrayed Lindsay on Angel, had a band called Kane. I searched for their songs online and found a great song called Carolina Rain. It was a nice country song that I digged. But then I downloaded a handful of rock songs that were obviously not by his band. There is also a Dutch band named Kane and they had a song called Something to Say I absolutely loved. It became one of those songs I just about wore out I listened to it so much.
This song really defines the time that I worked at GameStop. I was nerding out about Buffy most days and listening to Kane on my hour long drive to the mall.
2009 – A Favor House Atlantic – Coheed and Cambria
I still don’t know if I like Coheed and Cambria. They were an indie group that had a few hits around 2008 and then fizzled away. I remember discovering two songs of theirs I liked, A Favor Hour Atlantic and Feathers, but I really couldn’t stand any of their other music. I was listening to this song quite a lot in May of 2008 which was during a very difficult time. The movie theater I worked had just been purchased by Regal Entertainment and everything went to hell overnight. Mismanagement and utter incompetency reigned and we were left working crazy hours into the early morning trying to keep the building up and running the opening weekend of Iron Man. Coheed and Cambria was my soundtrack to this chaos and now it’s one of those songs that doesn’t really bring back good memories.
2009 – Gold Digger, Take a Bow, Alone, No Air – Glee
In 2009, I decided to give Hulu a try. I signed up for a free trial and was disappointed with their selection of TV shows. I noticed a new show called Glee on there which had just aired its fourth episode. I decided to turn it on for a few minutes and see what it was all about. Four episodes later, I was obsessed and I had to walk into work the next day and admit that I had just watched the least masculine show I could think of to my music lover boss, who I knew if he gave the show a chance he’d love. After some jokes, he did give Glee a shot and fell in love with the show like me, which lasted all of the first season and then the show went to hell. It was hard to pick just one song, so I decided to list several, because these song were in endless rotation on my mp3 player at that time.
2010 – Coastline Journey – Mishka
Around 2009-2010, I decided a little change of pace in my life would be a good thing. I wanted things to slow down a bit and I started following Matthew McConaughey’s guide to life, just keep living (JK Livin). This led me into discovering a Canadian reggae artist named Mishka that Matthew McCaonughey had signed to his JK Livin record label. The relaxing Caribbean beats soothed my soul and gave me something new and different to listen to. I even went to a couple of Mishka’s concerts. Mishka was the backbone of a new relaxed version of myself, one that I desperately need to get back in touch with.
2012 – War – Poets of the Fall
My all-time favorite video game is Alan Wake. It’s the perfect combination of third person shooter, Stephen King, and The Twilight Zone. I love the atmosphere, the insanity, and the music. One of my favorite moments of the game occurs inside a shed when a radio is playing a song called War by Poets of the Fallen. It’s so unexpecting to hear music with lyrics, it’s almost as startling as when Jose Gonzalez’s Far Away begins in Red Dead Redemption.
Thanks to Alan Wake, I discovered Poets of the Fallen and enjoy a lot of their music. War is by far my favorite song of theirs, and it’s one of my go to “pick me ups” songs.
2013 –* Wagon Wheel *– Darius Rucker
I was driving home from Tennessee the first time I heard Wagon Wheel. It was such a fun and upbeat song, it instantly stuck in my head. Little did I know all the radio stations, country and pop would play this song to death over the next six months. Still, it defined a moment in my life where I just listened to the hell out of it.
2013 – Oats in the Water – Ben Howard /* Last Pale Light in the West* – Ben Nichols Both of these songs I heard while watching The Walking Dead, somewhere around the season with The Governor. They were simple folk songs that just spoke to me. I listened to both songs on a loop and eventually discovered other alternative country artists that I still listen to often.
2015 – *Annabelle *– The Duhks
Speaking of folk/alternative country artists, The Duhks did an amazing rendition of Annabelle for the tv show Hell on Wheels. The song was cut to a beautiful montage and I knew I had to find it.* Annabelle* is one of those songs I've yet to tire of and I listen to it at least monthly, if not several times a month on one of my western playlists.
2017 – Return to Innocence – Enigma
One of my favorite infomercials of the 90's was for Pure Moods, a collection of new age music. The commercial was iconic and I loved a lot of the songs I heard on it but I never got my hands on the actual album until 2017 when I ran across it at a thrift store. I actually managed to find the second and third albums as well and I really enjoyed this time period where I listened to relaxing music and spent my weekends thrifting.
2018 – Writings on the Wall – Sam Smith
I hated this song. I hated it with a passion, but I still put it in my James Bond mix on Google Music and after a few listens, I started to appreciate it. Then that appreciation grew and I started to love it. I spent a lot of time driving and listening to this song in 2018. I was going through buying a house and then a divorce and I spent a lot of time driving between work, my mom's, and a friend's house while listening to this song.
2018 – Bridges Burn – Paul Otten
Bridges Burn is a song that I first heard playing on an episode of Longmire. It’s strange how some songs really connect with a person and Bridges Burn is one of those songs that I instantly loved. It’s probably in my top three songs of all-time and every time I hear it, it feels new and fresh which is shocking considering that I’ve listened to it at least a hundred times.
2019 – If Only – Maria Taylor, Conor Oberst
In January of 2019, I discovered the TV show This is Us and that first season had an amazing soundtrack. My favorite song from the first season was If Only and this became a song I jammed out to a lot. I remember driving and listening to it on a loop because for some reason ti just really spoke to me at that moment in my life.
2019 – The Comeback Kid – The Midnight
I heard this song in early 2019 and I swore it would be my anthem for the year and it was. The lyrics of this song really spoke to me as I was coming off a divorce, some awkward friendships, a weird living arrangement and so on. I knew I had to get my crap together and I'd end 2019 in a much better place than 2018 and I did. I found myself listening to this song quite often as I explored the subgenre of Outrun music and it still perks me up when I hear it.
2020 – Middle of Nowhere – Hot Hot Heat
This is a song I just recently discovered on a Spotify playlist made up of the songs featured in the TV show Psych. It's catchy, fun, and reminds me of the mid 2000's. It's been my song of 2020 and whenever I'm in a mood it picks me up.
I know for a fact I'll never be happy with this post. There will always be songs that I've forgotten about and that drives me nuts. But, I guess this is as good as its gonna get it. I've had this post in draft status for several years. I'm glad to see if finally, somewhat done.
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The Recession at the Movies
In 2009, Paul Blart Mall Cop made $183 million dollar on a $26 million dollar budget while garnering horrible reviews and releasing horrible trailers. Why did this movie which seemed to be destined for the DVD bargain bin manage to become a success? That’s the question everyone was asking themselves as this little movie just kept making money.
I was managing a movie theater in 2009 and got to see this first hand. I remember quickly trying to move Paul Blart into bigger theaters and opening up more showtimes to accommodate the crowds. No one ever imagined this film would do so well and I remember a few weeks later reading one theory on why the film found so much success: it was a light fluffy comedy in the middle of a recession.
Sure people were lacking funds, but they also needed escape. Houses were being foreclosed on and people were losing their jobs and everyone just needed something to get out of their heads for a while. Paul Blart was just released at the right time, when people needed something dumb and fun to watch, especially in a world where the news and cable television were turning progressively darker by the day.
I remember my old boss telling me that movie theaters were traditionally recession proof, because people couldn’t afford to go to Disney anymore, but they could usually find a few dollars to have a night out at the movies. I worked throughout the recession at the movie theater and he wasn’t wrong. We didn’t do a record number of attendees, but the job was stable and while the world seemed to be collapsing around us, we stayed opened and offered a little light at the end of the tunnel for some people.
One of my more depressing days at the theater involved a theater hopper. For a couple of weeks, our box office attendant noticed this man in a truck who’d buy a ticket for the first show, and then wouldn’t leave till around 4:30 PM each day. He made management aware of this, so we decided to track the gentleman one afternoon to confirm he was indeed hopping theaters.
Being that this was a serial offense, my boss decided to call the police to show that this was serious and stealing. I escorted the police officer to the theater and we asked the guy to come down. I explained why we’re pulling him out of the theater and he looked remorseful. What I didn’t see was the pain on his face that the police officer noticed. He asked the guy to step to the side to talk and I backed off. The man apologized and asked not to be trespassed and offered to pay for all the movies he’d seen. I refused and told him just to please pay for the movies next time in advance and he went on his way. That’s when the police officer described his conversation and humbled me.
The man had recently lost his job. He was a newlywed with a baby on the way and a brand new truck he had bought a week before being let go. He was frantically looking for a job but wasn’t having much success and he had no idea how to tell his pregnant wife that he was no longer employed. So, every day, he got ready for work at the same time, and instead came to the movies and killed most of his afternoon until it was time for him to return to home where he pretended like nothing had changed.
I was twenty-six at the time and thought I knew everything. In one moment, I realized I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know stress or pressure the way this guy knew it, and I didn’t know what a bad day was like that this guy experienced.
I think about this guy every few months and that look on his face as I brought him out of the movie theater. I think about what must have been going through his mind and how embarrassed he was. And I think about how easily that could have been me.
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Shame and Blogging
Forty-eight hours ago, a blog that I've read for the past four years closed. It was a place for the author to share childhood memories and interests along with a daily journal to discuss her personal life. It inspired me because it was a blog that wasn't advertised or written to impress anyone. It existed on a very small corner of the internet by an author who remained anonymous. It was a real person exercising their thoughts online with no agenda. It took many several years to get back to this core of blogging.
Blogs close all the time, so what's the big deal?
Well, in this case, the blog closed down because the author felt shame. They felt like their ideas, thoughts, and energies were no longer valuable because they weren't fighting a large social justice fight. Online bullies and social media made this author feel like her writing was no long valuable, because it wasn't controversial nor combative.
I understand if someone decides they want to spend less time blogging and more time volunteering or fighting for something. That makes sense and is just a change of focus which is natural. But to close off your writing because you feel it no longer holds value or will be judged and condemned for not having certain content bothers me.
The internet, for me, has always been an escape. It's like television. I don't want to turn on every channel and see depressing stuff. I don't want to spend all my time hearing about the injustice in the world. I need to balance that negativity with positivity and that means I need some fluff. I need some content that wasn't created to inspire rage or fear, and sadly, the internet has become a rage and fear factory. We are manipulated on a daily basis to experience these emotions because they make other people money.
Earlier this year, I was pretty much done with the internet. I debated about just walking away from it altogether. I felt like I was alone in wanting the internet to be fun. Then I decided to empower myself and just bend the internet to my perspective. I closed accounts and re-directed my focus to reading personal blogs and avoiding all the mainstream stuff. I found other people frustrated with the internet world who just wanted a less stressful and happier place to hang out online. I started building up a huge catalog of personal blogs to take up my online browsing time instead of the news, social media, reddit, and the like. And for the first time in a very long time, I found the internet to be stimulating, fun, and relaxing.
Now these very people are having shame spill over into that more peaceful existence online and that really sucks. We can all do things to make the world a better place and people online or even society as a whole, shouldn't make you feel like you aren't doing enough. For some people just being nice is enough. For others donating time or money is enough. But the one thing I don't think you should do is destroy all that makes you happy because you feel shame. You shouldn't take away your outlet for expressing yourself because you don't have a certain banner or don't talk about certain topics.
I feel like this post violates my own blogging goals of not discussing controversial/political/news events, but I just don't want to see anymore blogs die because of shame. The world needs balance and the internet is full of enough negativity, please don't snuff what little light remains.
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Fifteen years ago, I remember sitting in a movie theater with my buddy Alex waiting for Batman Begins to start when a trailer popped up for a cool looking sci-fi movie titled Serenity. He flipped out when he saw it and went even crazier once the screen said, “From the Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I sat there, unamused, wondering why he was so excited. Between trailers, he tried to explain that Serenity was based on a cancelled TV show but he lost me at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Shortly there after, Alex convinced me to watch Buffy and I loved it. The movie had soured me years earlier, and I hate that I didn't give the show a proper watch while it was still on the air. But it didn't take me long, running around town to all the CD Warehouses, to buy seasons of the DVD and power my way through all seven seasons. Once, I reached the end, I was going to start Angel and that's when Alex reminded me about Firefly, another show by Joss Whedon that had a sequel movie coming out soon. So,I used whatever form of piracy was popular online at the time, and I sat on my bedroom floor watching every single episode in a row. It was the first time I ever binged a complete season and one of only a handful of times I've ever done that. I loved every moment of that show and as much as I loved Buffy, Firefly was superior in my eyes.
Firefly had the same great writing that Buffy did but it was more sci-fi balanced with a large dosage of western. Being both a huge sci-fi and western fan the show just played to my interests. The cast was amazing, the action pieces great, the humor was hilarious, and the ship... the ship was perfection.
I watched the whole series again over the next week before starting Angel and I anxiously awaited the release of Serenity. I bought tickets for the first showing, a 11 AM matinee and I took my girlfriend at the time and a friend of mine from high school. I hyped them up the entire way to theater about the second coming of Star Wars and how amazing this experience was going to be. I wore my “Joss Whedon is My Master Now” shirt and I squealed like a school girl when I saw they had mini-posters on the table out front.
We walked into an empty theater and my stomach churned. By the time the trailers had started two other people had taken a seat and I knew this wasn't good. Serenity had cost $39 million to make and it only brought in $10 million the opening weekend. After the entire theatrical run was over and the international market was included, Serenity had brought in just enough money to cover it's budget. Between DVD sales I'm sure it made it's money back or at least it got close, but this wasn't the breakaway sci-fi hit I was expecting.
Firefly fandom was in full force with the release of Serenity. The movie was greenlit because of the demand of the rabid fans and people constantly compared the fan uprising to that of Star Trek's. I think we all thought our favorite crew would live on in a motion picture universe the same way The Original Series cast did in the 70's and 80's. Unfortunately, with no major stars attached and without the benefit of fifteen years of syndication, there just wasn't enough support to pull it off.
Afterwards, I joined forums and attended “Can't Stop the Signal” screenings. We all discussed how Firefly would come back eventually, and I think deep down we all believed it would. Eventually a lackluster comic series was produced, and a mobile game was announced. Sadly, despite the cast recording lines for the mobile game, it never saw the light of day.
When Netflix picked up Arrested Development back in 2012 it was a huge deal. Everyone expected Firefly to be next, or at least us Browncoats did, but then Netflix's chief content officer had this to say:
“Let me give you one broad statement about these recovery shows. In almost every case the cult around the show gets more intense and smaller as time goes by. Arrested Development was the rarest of birds in that the audience of the show grew larger than the original broadcast audience because people came to discover it years after it was cancelled. The Firefly fan is still the Firefly fan from when it was on TV and there’s fewer of them and they’re more passionate every year. Whereas with Arrested Development we’re going to be serving a multiple of the original audience. Any of the other shows we could bring back would be a fraction of the original audience.”
I think that's when my hope finally died. As much as I hated him for saying it, I knew it was true. I watched the fandom and fever die down since the release of Serenity. Firefly was a show that grew thanks to word of mouth, but everyone had already discovered it that was going to discover it and it had been so long they just moved onto their next obsession.
Since then the licensing of Firefly has increased with toys, Pop figures, models, and t-shirts having been released. A newer (and better) comic book series was released, but short lived. In the past year, several tie-in novels have been released, but according to the reviews I've read, they really lack the passion and excitement for the source material. I think the most interesting (and best reviewed) book has been a cook book inspired by the dishes seen in Firefly.
I'm even debating about purchasing it and cooking my way through it.
The Firefly fan sites and forums are a ghost town now. Memes still pop up time-to-time and Firefly is always talked about when it comes to great science fiction shows, but I can't help but to think that it's gone forever. We got what we got, and we need to appreciate it for what it is.
I recently started my re-watch of Firefly. It was once a yearly tradition, but it's been four or five years since I last watched the entire series. It's almost shocking how young the cast looks and how the CGI hasn't aged all that well. The series wasn't shot in HD and while it doesn't look terrible, you can definitely tell it's a pre-Battlestar Galactica show.
The interior ship design is still brilliant and once you get past the first thirty minutes, the cast begins to connect and you can still see the glimpses of what wonderfulness is to come.
I think what makes Firefly special is that when you watch it you want to be part of the crew. A crew that is always struggling, dabbles on the side of law breaking, and seems to run on borrowed time. Despite all of this, you feel like it would be totally worth it to live in cramped quarters on a ship that is constantly falling apart and being commanded by a very broken man. There is something about the family that is created on that show that seems to fill a void that many of us are missing in our lives.
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The Only Winning Move is Not to Play
I first watched Wargames sometime in the late 90's. It was recommended to me by a friend I had met online who knew I had a growing desire to see more 80's movies. I remember him saying that out of all of the movies he recommended, he thought I'd enjoy Wargames the most. He was right.
I'm going to assume you've seen Wargames, but if you have not, please note this post will ruin the ending of the movie. Also, it's a great movie that I highly recommend seeing at least once, so check it out if you get a chance.
We all know how this movie ends. WOPR is about to bomb the hell out of Russia when Falken and David convince WOPR to play tic-tac-toe. They do this to show the AI that in some games the are no true winners, which is enough for WOPR to call off the attack. Afterwards WOPR says:
The Only Winning Move is Not To Play
As I've gotten older, I'm not sure another quote has been quite as relevant as this one in my life.
It's taken me several years, but I've come to learn that you do not have to participate in everything. Anything from the office potluck to social media can be opted out of. I guess you can call that the power of saying no.
But in a society that preaches progress, self-improvement, and constant change, you can find yourself easily straggling the line between coming and going. There are so many people pushing for why you should or shouldn't do something and this paradox of choice leaves some of us paralyzed. We overthink and try to find out how to have our cake and eat it to. We create extra stress over the stupidest of decisions, all because of social norms or expectations.
A recent example I can think of is my relationship with social media. I enjoyed it, but I knew it was bad for me. It was a time suck and I grew frustrated with the drama and advertising. So, I took some time away and then came back under the impression that I'd limit the amount of people I followed, keep it friends only, and limit the amount of wastefulness. Did it work? Somewhat. But it didn't solve the advertising or privacy issues and since buying an ad free version wasn't an option, I decided to just not participate anymore. I had to opt out. No longer was I pulled by the social expectation that I should have a social media account nor was sacrificing my own personal morals on interacting with software that I didn't find ethical. I just stepped away from it all and you know what? Life is better. I'm no longer torn between the two worlds and none of it matters, because the option just isn't there. It truly was a case where the only way for me to win was not to play.
It's not just when dealing with social media though. I find it useful in relationships, arguments, petty drama, co-worker tiffs, and so on. In so many instances getting involved does nothing but bring on stress and pain, which can be easily avoided if you just shrug your shoulders and move on. I guess, its taken me a while to learn that you truly have to pick your battles. Fight the ones that worth fighting for and let the rest go. And if it's overly complicated or seems like a no-win scenario, then you can always take your ball and go home. There is nothing wrong with that sometimes.
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MawMaw and the Holidays
This morning felt a little different. It was a darker than normal which is usually the first hint that Fall is around the corner. It feels so weird to say that, since the normal ebb and flow of the year has been disrupted by all that has been going on. I almost feel like we hit pause on the world back in March and nothing has progressed since. Of course, the seasons wait for no one, so Fall is coming and so is Winter which means Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are just around the corner.
I'm not sure why the holidays were on my mind, but I guess I thought about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and whether or not it would happen and if spectators would be allowed. I felt a twinge of sadness at the thought of it not happening, but that empathy was for others, not myself because the parade hasn't really meant all that much to me over the years.
I didn't grow up watching the parade. Sure, I watched parts of it here and there, but it wasn't a tradition for me or my family. As an adult, I've turned it on occasionally, but the stereotypical day of parade, turkey, and football is just not something I'm used to.
Holidays weren't ever a huge deal for my family. My grandmother always went all out, but we didn't establish traditions and when my parents divorced that disturbed things further. I actually began to hate holidays as time went on since most of the time I spent my holidays traveling between parents and grandparents, and it was most exhausting than fun. By the time I moved out on my own, I swore off decorating for holidays and decided to be a Scrooge about everything.
That lasted seven or eight years, before I really started missing the idea of celebrating the holidays. I got back into watching holiday movies and I bought a Christmas tree. I started decorating my apartment and while I didn't go too crazy, I did just enough that I was comfortable and not over encumbered.
Obviously my little attempts at making the holidays my own didn't make up for the lack of traditions or cohesive family, but I started a tradition of my own which was watching holiday episodes of 90's sitcoms. Every Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I dig into my favorite sitcoms from my youth and spend the holidays with my favorite characters. My goal is to one day design my own holiday DVD sets containing my favorite episodes, but I'm still discovering new ones and I haven't put it in the time to make that happen yet.
Last year, I spent Thanksgiving in Memphis but the five or six years prior to that I spent them with my grandmother. Every Thanksgiving my mom and step-dad would go visit his family, which left my grandmother alone on Thanksgiving. My brother and I would spend our Thanksgiving with her. It was nice because she was one heck of a cook and always put a lot of effort into decorating and making her place feel special for the holidays.
I recall showing up while the parade was still on, catching up with her and my brother before enjoying a nice dinner at her dining room table. She'd pull out the good dishes and cloth napkins and we'd all enjoy whatever feast she put together. She'd have to prepare two dishes, since my brother is vegan, but I fondly remember the last dinner being a huge bone in chicken breast that she panned fried along with some fresh mashed potatoes, rolls, and green beans. After dinner, we enjoyed slices of cheesecake she picked up. It maybe wasn't the most traditional dinner, but it was good.
I think this memory glows so brightly for a couple of reasons:
She passed away last year.
It was similar to some of the best memories of my childhood.
As previously mentioned, my grandmother was the one person who went all out for the holidays. She'd had nice decorations that she brought out and she'd play Christmas music both at home and in her car. She built beautiful holiday displays at work and there was just something warm and comforting about those times with her. I think it was because she didn't just sling cheap decorations everywhere, but she intentionally decorated with some solid pieces that made her apartment feel classy.
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother following my parent's divorce and I credit a lot of my childhood interests to that time. She made sure that the time we spent with her, we spent it as children and not young people being forced to adapt. We enjoyed cartoons, trips to the library, and toys. Everyday she'd make dinner, lay out a huge towel on the coffee table, and we'd eat sitting on the floor while watching Full House and Ducktales. It was a bright spot in my childhood that occurred when everything seemed so dark, and those few Thanksgivings where it was just me, her, and my brother, were sort of a progression of those times. I wish I would have appreciated them a little more while they were occurring.
I will say, that last Thanksgiving together in 2018, I remember sitting on the couch and proclaiming that this is what the holidays should be like. Calm, enjoyable dinner, good conversation in a location that felt special. Then again, I'm sure the nostalgia of being around her decorations played a huge part in all of that. My brother was fiercely defensive of my other family members who weren't in attendance, but for a few minutes I appreciated what I had.
I'm not sure what the holidays will bring this year. My mother was so distraught at my grandmother's death last year, she wanted to do something that wasn't normal and didn't remind her of my grandmother, so we all brought Asian dishes. Now with the state of the world I have no real expectations for this holiday season. I guess, I hope that maybe everyone can find some patience and kindness and we can end this year better than we began it.
I'm gonna enjoy my 90's sitcoms. I found a great Christmas episode of Wings a few months back where Joe gets in a fight at a video store and it'll be a great addition to my normal viewings of Roseanne, Home Improvement, Sabrina, and Just Shoot Me.
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Over the past year, I’ve thought about my grandmother a lot. She died in late 2018 after a slow decline in health and by the time she passed, I was ready for her to go. She was a frail shell of who she used to be and death seemed like a better alternative to the existence she was living in the nursing home. I wasn’t upset with her passing, because I felt like I had mourned her death a year or two prior when she began going downhill, but it took a year or so for her to take up residence in my mind. Today, I want to talk about that.
My grandmother, whom I affectionately called Nanny, was a simple country woman. Raised in the foothills of North Carolina, she grew up in a family of farmers in a small cinderblock house that her parents built by hand in 1940. She was a small, skinny woman who would take hours to get ready to leave the house, even if it was just a quick trip to the Dollar General.
After my parents’ divorce, my dad quickly remarried and that marriage didn’t last but a few months. Being a military man on the road two weeks out of every month, he needed someone to watch my brother and I, so Nanny and her mother (Granny) moved down to Orlando to join us. It was the first time either one of them had lived outside of North Carolina and the first time in the city. There wasn’t as much of a culture shock as Nanny embraced the change and loved Orlando. The unlimited shopping opportunities, good weather, and the opportunity to take care of my brother and I enriched her life. She would remind me a lot as an adult that she had no better time in her life than those couple of years in Orlando.
Nanny was my saving grace in Orlando. My dad was devastated still from my parents’ divorce and the detour with a second wife had only made things worse. He didn’t have the skills or capabilities to raise two boys and quite a bit of the adult responsibilities fell onto me at the age of ten. For a few months, I acted as arguably the primary parent until we were able to make it to North Carolina and move Nanny down.
Once Nanny arrived, she took over like she’d lived there forever. For the first time (and only time in my life) I had three home cooked meals a day. The house was spotless and organized. And on the weekends, I found myself dropped off at the movies often while she went shopping for the day. It was a great time in my life and the only time I truly felt like I had the opportunity to just be a kid.
Nanny wasn’t what you’d describe as nurturing, I guess. I never thought of it until a recent conversation with my wife, but she was more of a strong, Southern woman. She loved you, had no problem saying that or hugging you, but she was not the type of person to get down on the floor and play with you. Instead, she was the type of woman who you’d want to be around so you’d volunteer to stand on a chair and rinse off the dishes just to be next to her.
I believe Nanny first took up residence in my head around the time COVID hit. Being a poor, country woman, I’d once asked her about the hardships of our family during The Great Depression. Her response was, “We didn’t really notice. There’s always someone who needs a ditch dug.” In a strange way that was comforting to me.
Nanny didn’t live a life of luxury. After my Dad remarried and we were transferred to Dallas, Nanny and Granny moved back into the same old cinderblock house she grew up. I’ll never forget spending that summer cleaning it out. The floor had to be jacked up and canned foods from the 1960’s had to be removed from the closet. It was a mess, but a fun time. Granny had suffered from Alzheimer’s for years, which is why she lived with Nanny. Everyone thought that maybe moving Granny back into the house she lived in most of her life would help her feel more at ease.
Granny would die in that house eight or nine years later and Nanny would live in it until somewhere around 2015-2016 before being moved into a nursing home.
I have dozens of great memories with Nanny and could write all day about her, but I wanted to hone in on what has really been stuck in my head lately:
Nanny led a very simple life. The type of life that some might call boring. She got up at the same time every day and went to bed at the same time. She watched the Today show, the 12 o’clock news, Days of Our Lives, and 5 o’clock news. In between those programs, she cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When she wasn’t in the kitchen making drop biscuits or cooking her delicious green beans, she was cleaning the floors, dusting, or bleaching something. That woman used so much bleach she’d take the paint and finish right off of stuff.
She enjoyed mowing her yard, working in the garden, and snapping green beans. She liked her Diet Coke, coffee, and loved a Wendy’s Frosty. But never once did I see her go on a rant. I never saw her get extremely upset about politics or throw a fit about her favorite show being delayed. She didn’t panic when her car wouldn’t start or the air conditioner went out. She was always so calm and in control. In fact, she rarely would ever raise her voice. I’m guessing that is why it was so peaceful to be around her.
I even remember the first hurricane that we encountered while living in Orlando. I was terrified and I stayed up all night and recorded the wind and trees on her video camera. Nanny, like Granny, went to bed right after the news with not a care in the world.
I’m not saying Nanny was perfect, because no one is. She had her flaws like everyone, but she had some fantastic attributes I hope to implement in my life. I’d love to find the calmness that she had when facing adversity, but most important, I’d love to find the peace and comfort she had with the ebbs and flow of daily life. Nanny was content with her boring life. She enjoyed cooking, cleaning, and just living. She didn’t complain about not being able to travel the world nor did she hang her self-worth on having some grandiose job title. She just lived each day to the fullest by taking care of herself and those around her. When she was needed, she was always there.
Nanny didn’t read self-help books and I don’t think the idea of improving yourself had ever crossed her mind. In fact, the only thing she really ever read was Star or The National Inquirer, her little “trash magazines” as she liked to call them. But Nanny lived in the moment and maybe she didn’t need a self-improvement book to teach her that.
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The End of Mad Men and Some Thoughts About a Friend
I finally recovered by the end of Justified, just to have to go through the end of Mad Men. That was one heck of a ride.
There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said a thousand times before in regards to Mad Men. It was an incredible study of human behavior, and never before has a show been so character driven. The fact that the show covered an entire decade, and the massive changes that went on from 1960-1970, is amazing. It was quite simply... brilliant.
As usual, the internet will spend the next three days arguing over whether the finale was worthy or not. I felt that the finale did its job well, and wrapped everything up nicely. It also showed how Don's character came full circle, and that was rewarding. I maybe wasn't quite so thrilled with how Don found his enlightenment, but the hippie movement was strong in the late 60's. It made perfect sense for the time period.
I started watching Mad Men around the second season. I checked out a few episodes, enjoyed it, and then took sometime to share the show with some people at my old job. My boss was one of the first to really appreciate the show and become interested.
He and I shared a lot of things, especially when it came to media. Music and television shows were our two favorites, and we had such similar tastes rarely were one of us disappointed after recommending something to one another. However, I really didn't think he'd take to Mad Men like he did. At first glance, its a show about powerful white men in the 1960's with 1950's ideals. They were sexist, racist, and practically alcoholics. I didn't know how my African-American boss in his mid-40's would relate. I sometimes underestimated him like that. I guess he related the same way a white guy his late 20's managed to relate to a show set two decades before he was born.
He died about two years ago. He was one of the unfortunate souls who died of lung cancer and never smoked. It wasn't quite like Betty's diagnosis, there was no real estimated time of survival nor did he ever make it home. It was very sad.
As ridiculous as it may seem, one of the first thoughts I had was about how much he'd miss out on his favorite TV shows. He had recently gotten into Breaking Bad, and the final season was coming up soon. I remember thinking, as irrational as it may seem, it really sucks he missed out on seeing the ending. For almost two years, I've beat myself up for thinking that. I realize that while he laid up in a hospital, his mind was most likely on his family and more important things than a television show. I knew it was stupid to think that a dying man's thought would be on how a TV show ends. But as I started the last episode of Mad Men, I couldn't help but think about him. I thought about how excited he would be on Monday morning to discuss the finale like this. We'd share some great laughs, and he'd talk about his "girl" Betty. That's when I realized, it wasn't him that I felt bad for not getting to finish these TV shows, but it was me. I felt bad that he'd never get to finish watching these TV shows, and because of that, I wouldn't get a chance to discuss and dissect them with him. One of my most treasured moments to spend with him.
Mad Men was pretty much the only remaining show that we watched together and discussed weekly. So, tonight was in a way, me saying goodbye to two people; Don Draper and William McKay.
I'm not religious, nor do I believe in an afterlife or anything, but if there is something out there after we die, I really hope I get a few minutes to discuss Don's evolution and get his thoughts on how Mad Men ended as silly as that might sound.
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Rec Center Memories - The Moment of Glory
I'm sure everyone remembers their first crush. That first person who seemed so perfect that if you could only be in their presence, you'd be much happier. Your heart fluttered if they ever glanced at you. It was painful and magical all the same.
My first crush went to the rec center with me. She was two grades above me which put her out of my normal social zone. I mean, a fourth grader couldn't date a sixth grader could he? I could only dream.
I don't recall her name, but let's call her Stacey. Stacey was that sweet head cheerleader, not the b*tchy one. She was blonde, had a great smile, and was incredible friendly. She just seemed perfect in every way. All of the boys had a crush on her but I kept mine pretty quiet. I knew I wasn't worthy, so there was no sense in torturing myself.
I mentioned in my last post that a skating rink was attached to the rec center. Every Friday and Saturday night, the skating rink was the place to be on base if you were a kid or teenager. But during the week it was us rec kid's playground. We watched movies, danced, took pictures on motorcycles, played dodge ball and soccer, and occasionally skated. Since I had never roller skated before, I was grouped up with the other non-skaters at one end of the rink for some training and practice. Each week when we skated, I'd attempt to keep my balance and get somewhere in the most illogical way man has ever devised to travel. My little brother took to it instantly, and was out of the non-skater group within a week, but me... I embraced my role as the kid who fell down too much.
Eventually they dissolved our little training group and we were thrown in with everyone else. We'd all be skating in a huge circle, and someone would call out a certain move to be performed and us non skaters would just look at each like, "We can barely stand the hell up. There is no way I'm going to try to lift one leg off the floor."
It wasn't a bad time, since we just got lapped a lot and tended to stick with ourselves in the back. So I wouldn't go as far as to say we dreaded skating time, but we'd much have preferred to be left to play video games in the lobby.
One day, some Satanist decided that our comfort as skating losers could no longer be tolerated. A massive bracket was put up on the wall, breaking down a roller skating competition to crown the best rollerskater from both the girls and the boys. I assumed they would have left me off, but the size of the bracket had me doubting that. After that buzzing crowd disappeared, I walked up to take a look and saw that I was to face off against Roberto, the fastest skater for the boys.
It was like the first round of a major sport playoffs, where you take the best team and put them against the weakest team. What the heck did I have to prove? I was lucky to make it a lap and not fall down, there was no way I was going to even be slightly competitive with him. It bothered the heck out of me, especially since we were to have our match later that afternoon. I knew I had to either get out of this or come up with a plan.
My request to be pardoned was denied, I guess due to some strange lesson about life not being fair. So as I slowly laced up my skates, I decided to take the next step and plead my case with Roberto. We weren't close friends, but we got along fine. I figured maybe he'd let me win, or at least not embarrass me.
I guess he saw the desperation in my eyes as I asked him not to annihilate me in front of everyone, especially since Stacey was up next and would surely be watching this duel. He smiled and with a very compassionate heart, he told me to do my best and he would make sure I looked good.
The whistle blew and I kicked those rubber wheels into the ground trying to get a decent push off, but instead nearly fell over. I rounded turn one and was coming out of two when I heard a thunderous roar in a building with no more than ten people in it at the time. As I made it to a straightaway I was finally able to drop my concentration some and look around. I realized I was winning!
The next turn put me in front of my fellow racers who were due up next. I heard them chanting Brandon, and I looked up to see the girl of my dreams, Stacey going absolutely nuts cheering for me. I could hear her yelling over the top of everyone else, and I nearly wrecked looking at her and trying to process everything.
That cheering went on one more lap and it looked like the massive underdog might pull off the greatest upset in rec center roller skating history. My face hurt from smiling so hard, and I tried to soak in every second of it with what little bit of mental power that wasn't being used to keep me from breaking another limb.
As we neared the start/finish line for the third and final lap, Robert skated up to me and matched my pathetic speed. He looked over with a big smile and said, "I told you I'd make you look good" and then blistered on past me finishing the lap before I even made it back around to turn three.
Roberto went on to win the boys division, while I got dismissed to play pool with the rest of the losers. But for that one lap I was the hero. I got so many cheers and congratulations after my race while attempting that dangerous transition from skating rink to carpet, I almost fell over yet again.
Stacey came over and told me how proud she was and what a great job I had done. I stood there amazed and I'm pretty sure speechless. She smiled and went back to her friends, while I attempted to record that entire encounter in my memory forever.
I'm pretty sure that was the first and last thing she ever said to me.
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Rec Center Memories - The Chicken Fight
In the summer of 1993, me and my brother moved to Orlando to live with our dad. A few months prior he had been transferred to the Navy base in Orlando and he wanted us to finish out the school year before moving down. We were excited, I was ten years old and we were moving to the home of Universal Studios and Disney World! We thought we had won the lottery, which was nice after dealing with the divorce of our parents the year before.
Things were different though. We didn't have a stay-at-home mom anymore, and the Navy isn't exactly known to work around children's schedules. So my dad did like most military personnel, he enrolled us in the base MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) recreation center, a sort of daycare/camp located in an old rectangular building attached to the skating rink. I'd never been to anything like that before, heck I had never been in a skating rink before. It was going to be a very different experience and something I was really weary of.
I remember arriving our first day and just looking around stunned. In this building was four pool tables, ten or twelve arcade games, a TV area with a Nintendo hooked up, a huge patio, a craft room, and one of those awesome metal spaceship playgrounds out back.
Our days would be split enjoying all those activities and more. We'd play football out back with our cool counselor Todd or work on making all sorts of crazy crafts with Jenny in the back room. We'd spend some days in the skating rink where I embarrassed myself trying to learn how to roller skate and others taking field trips all over central Florida in the big Barney colored purple bus.
Two weeks in we had a picnic across the base at a little park. There wasn't much there, just a shelter for some tables and a few random pieces of playground equipment. The kids who'd been there before immediately ran for a small balance beam, no more than six inches off the ground and six feet long. Not an unusual sight to see back in those days, but I could not understand the excitement, it was just a pole in the ground. One kid finally told me they were playing a game called chicken, and I just looked at him wondering what the hell chicken was.
The game was pretty simple; one person gets on one end of the balance beam, and one kid gets on the other. You put your hands behind your back and attempt to use your chest to knock the other person off the balance beam. Of course, after a few rounds, hands started getting used and the game took a more dangerous turn, but that didn't stop me from wanting to try.
One boy was the chicken master. He went through the entire line twice before I decided to give it a try. He was unstoppable, and no one could dethrone him... until I got there. It took me less than a second to throw his butt off the beam and suddenly I went from the new kid to the hero. Kids cheered, a marching band started playing, and a parade in my honor began. Okay... maybe that didn't happen, but it sure felt like it.
He took it pretty gracefully and simply got in the back of the line in hopes that I'd still be there for a rematch. His patience was rewarded and suddenly it looked like a showdown in Rocky. The new rookie who had defeated the champ, was now backed in a corner to face an angry, embarrassed champion looking for vengeance. What was going to happen next?
I wish I could say there was an epic battle that went on ten minutes or something, but it was over in just a few seconds. The boy stormed across the beam, locked up with me, and then took his leg and kicked my legs out from underneath me. I remember falling and hoping I wouldn't hit the balance beam, but then I heard the loud pop, followed by a searing pain in my elbow.
Being ten years old, I thought I was dying. I had no idea what had just happened. I started crawling my way towards the woods just trying to get away from all the chaos while trying to comprehend that I probably just broke something. Like always, the stress made me want to sleep. I just wanted to close my eyes and relax.
If I would have been able to sleep it wouldn't have been for long. The Navy has full fledge emergency services on base that usually have nothing to do. So when one of the counselors called for an ambulance, two arrived, along with a firetruck, and two base security cars. You would have thought someone had been shot with all that attention.
I refused to go with the paramedics and instead waited for my dad to arrive to take me to the base hospital. I broke my elbow and shattered the growth plate which required me to have to see a specialist to ensure my elbow wouldn't start growing the wrong way.
I got a Miami Dolphins cast put on, not because I was really a fan but because rec center counselor Todd was a fan. He was in his early twenties, and was that cool guy all us kids looked up to. He loved the Dolphins, so I figured getting a Dolphins cast would endear me to him. I was right.
Below is a pic of me wearing my awesome Dolphins cast. I got to started the fourth grade with that cast on, and to save me on writing I went by a nickname my dad had for me, J.B. It was the only time I ever did that.
People were impressed with my win over this kid whose name I forgot in chicken and everyone called him a cheater for sweeping my feet out from underneath me. Suddenly I made friends, and fit in with the rest of these military brat misfits, and I knew things were going to be okay.
Oh yea, one last thing. Nobody made a fuss about me breaking my arm at least the way people seem to do so today. There was no talk of lawsuits or asking to have the balance beam removed or any of that crap. It was simply kids stuff and it was left at that. I learned my lesson, I stay off balance beams now.
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My Journey with Tai Chi and the Man Who Taught Me
In 2004, I was twenty-one years old and in the best shape of my life. I was looking for a new place to workout other than the gym, and martial arts came to mind. Growing up I took Tae Kwon Do off an on and have always had an interest in martial arts. So I started looking around Memphis, TN for a decent martial art school. After a few months I settled in on a Tae Kwon Do school that also taught Judo. It seems like a great fit for someone who was as active as I was. My mom (who runs a Tae Kwon Do school) even made a call to help get me a better rate. A few days before I was ready to sign up, I drove past a sign that said NextGen Martial Arts in Bartlett, TN. Intrigued I pulled in to see what they had to offer.
Inside I saw a typical martial art school with a catchy pro shop in the window. It was a school for a very new form of self defense called Krav Maga. Jennifer Lopez’s movie Enough had just been released and this school was primed to take advantage of the minor press that Krav Maga got following the film. I went home to investigate, and discovered a common sense self defense practice that seemed brutal and full contact. I was young and ready to crack some skulls, so I came in and signed up the next day.
The school was so new that the owner was still working his day job to keep the lights on. He did whatever he could to bring in the rough brawler types, and frequently the classes were filled with cops, bouncers, and military personnel. I felt like a total bad ass because here I was, twenty-one years old, working out with members of the Memphis SWAT team in between my college classes. I had ex-special forces guys taking me to get steaks after class. I grew to love the time I spent at the school, and I spent a lot of time there.
I would take a Krav class before I went to my college classes. Then get out of class and come back and wait around (or work out some) and take the next two Krav classes and sometimes the cardio class afterwards. I did this five days a week. I was getting leaner and meaner everyday and I started walking around with my chest stuck out just a little bit further.
I was so far ahead of everyone else, I was almost able to take the very first advancement test given at the school for the few daytime people who started out at a community center. It wasn’t “fair” for the others, so I hung back and mastered my art and eventually flew through my yellow belt (level 2) exam. Things were going great for the most part.
Injuries were incredibly common every few days in class. Broken fingers or ankles, you name it. I guess punching full force and full contact all the time takes it toll, but it started to seem almost excessive. Worst was the other students that didn’t quite care for your own safety. I had a guy throw me straight up in the air and I landed on my head full force which didn’t feel very good and knocked me silly for a bit. But worse was an injury that just should not have happened and still plagues me to this day.
A rather large man was paired up with me to practice controlling a persons neck and kneeing the person in the chest/stomach. I’m 5’10” and 170 lbs at the time. This guy was 6’4″ and pushing 275 lbs easily. He locks his hands behind my head and just starts whipping me around the room kneeing me in the gut.
I had a pad to protect my inside, but my poor neck just could not take the abuse. This guy (eventually went on to be an instructor) didn’t want to be robbed of his good workout. So he didn’t hold back. He just went full force with the whipping and I just flew around like a rag doll. As soon as he let go I knew something wasn’t right. That was eleven years ago, and I’ve spent hours in a chiropractor’s office, taken countless ibuprofen pills, and even have a TENs device to help with the pain that still flairs up from time to time.
My frustration with my neck and the treatment I was getting from the instructors did not go unnoticed. Bill (I wish I remembered his last name) was a man in his late 50’s/early 60’s, who taught a Tai Chi class at the Krav school a couple days a week. He was not what you think of when you think of a martial art instructor. He was a little chunky, smoked like a freight train, and was usually teaching between his hours working at a machine shop. His friend Angie also assisted and they made a bit of an odd couple, but the credentials were not to be laughed at. This man was a master of karate and various other forms of martial arts. He had been a student his whole life, and he was as amazing as they come. He simply taught Tai Chi at the Krav school as a favor to the owner. It gave the school a little more depth and another art to advertise which can be vital to a new school.
Since I was always hanging around the school, I’d run into Bill quite a bit. He was one of the friendliest men I’ve ever known. He was funny, smart, and really loved martial arts. He’d tell me all sorts of great stories like when he won a six foot trophy at a karate tournament and had to drive home on his motorcycle in the rain trying to hang onto this trophy and the chaos that ensued.
He also was very open about his lack of fondness of Krav Maga and where the school was going. The huge franchise fees just to use the Krav name were absurd and he took note of the injuries as well. He told me that men weren’t made to hold up to this type of abuse daily and if I wanted to do Krav, judo, or jiu jitsu then I needed to do it while I was a young. Because as you get older, you body just cant take the abuse. This is why he began studying Tai Chi, a slower form of martial art that encourages healing, strengthening muscles, and still provides some amazing self defense. I just didn’t see that when he taught his classes with ten people old enough to my grandparents. Bill had moved all the students over from his classes he taught at a community center. These senior citizens enjoyed their twice a week Tai Chi workout and loved Bill as an instructor. I could see the joy in their eyes, but when compared to Krav Maga, it didn’t seem to stand a chance. It was slow, meticulous, and looked boring. Where Krav was fast paced, hard hitting, and anything but boring. One day Bill invited me to take part in the class which I politely declined. There was no way I could slow down for that.
Bill turned on his charm and discussed my finer points athletically and felt that I would be challenged enough to really enjoy Tai Chi. I finally conceded and agreed to take part in the next class. I showed up and I was the youngest student by a good sixty years. I decided to see what these old people had to offer.
We did some warm ups and stretching and then we practiced the form a few times, going especially slow to teach me. I always hated forms in Tae Kwon Do, and now that I saw no real self defense purpose I really didn’t know what to feel about Tai Chi. I did know that I was getting a great workout though. The slow speed, and the softness of the mat made everything just a little bit harder for me. The rest of the students were going full steam ahead and suddenly I found myself being outworked by a bunch of grandparents! Me, Mr. Badass all day long in the gym and working out being outmatched by some people who didn’t look like they should be driving, let alone doing Tai Chi. I knew then there was something to this.
Once we got done with the form, Bill took me to the side to show me how the form translated into self defense moves. Suddenly a new world opened up to me. Everything came together almost at once and all of it made sense. I finished the class with a smile and then spent almost thirty minutes picking Bill’s brain about Tai Chi with my agreement to continue my studying.
Tai Chi became a thing for me, and I took a lot of crap from the Krav guys about it but I didn’t care. With Bill’s encouragement and teaching, I was learning way more in my one forty minute Tai Chi class then I was in two weeks worth of Krav. Sure I was hitting more things in Krav, but I wasn’t really learning anything. I was just repeating the same steps and exercises each week over and over again. Each class went very much like the first. Warm ups, forms, and then finally I got some one-on-one self defense teaching using the form. Afterwards I’m standing outside by Bill’s truck talking and learning and soaking up everything he’s saying like a sponge. I was too young and stupid to realize it at the time, but this was one of those rare martial art master relationships. I had a man who took a personal interest in my self growth and ability and was doing everything to transfer his knowledge to me. He realized my hunger for knowledge and the desire to be the best, something that was not appreciated by the Krav instructors. They were too worried about if I should be allowed to wear the Krav t-shirt I bought on eBay to the school since I didn’t pay their insane prices for one at the school.
I think my fondest memory of Tai Chi class came one day after class ended. Angie was working with me one-on-one at the end and as usual it was a great experience. As Angie throws her purse over her shoulder and starts to walk towards the door, I walked up behind her quickly and grabbed her purse strap and said, “What would you do if I did this?” I don’t think I got halfway through the sentence before I was looking up at the ceiling. In a split second she had flipped me over and defeated me. All this from a woman who was maybe 5’2″ and a 110 lbs.
Things in Memphis went sour for me pretty quickly. Some family problems caused me to leave there in a hurry and I never got to say goodbyes. I think deep down I thought I’d be back, but that didn’t work out. By the time I got my life together I wanted to reach out to Bill and at least thank him for all the faith he had in me and the knowledge that he gave me. Unfortunately for me he had already moved on from NextGen Martial Arts and I couldn’t find him. I couldn’t remember his last name and about once a year I look online and hope that maybe I’d run across something. He was a simple man though, I don’t think Facebook and social media were really his thing so I really doubt I’ll ever run across him.
Bill taught me a lot about Tai Chi, a lot about martial arts, and even a lot about life. He was not only a teacher but also a mentor and I only regret that I was too young and stupid to appreciate the time that he spent with me. I learned more from him in six months than I’ve learned from anybody else in my entire life. I never got that chance to thank him, so I can only hope that by preserving my memories in this blog post I give him some of the admiration and appreciation that he deserves.
I’ve recently decided that I want to take back up Tai Chi and I think down the line I’d like to teach it as well. I hope that maybe one day I can pay it forward for another young kid who needs to slow down and appreciate the art form that is Tai Chi. Back to the Top