Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The death of answering machine art

Hello?

Hello?

Hello? (angry) You're going to have to talk louder!

(long pause)

I'm not here right now, so if you'd like to leave a message, that would be great! Get back to you soon. BEEP!

Aaaah, one byproduct of the infiltration of iPhones and other smart phones into the world is the death of funny answering machine messages. I remember, not so long ago, when some budding artists would create extensive hilarious answering-machine messages. My parents even had one with a laugh track on it as they pretended to tickle Santa Claus. I love painting. I love sculpture. I used to not mind wacky answering machine greetings. What happened?

Most voice-mail greetings nowadays either are just the phone number or an extremely terse machine. If you're actually still doing the funny answering machine, we either hate you or ... you're freaking hilarious.

Of course, the answering machine has been critical to a lot in pop culture. Jon Favreau's ridiculous messages to his ex-girlfriend in "Swingers" come to mind as does the Replacement's Song "Answering Machine."
But to me, the creme de la creme of answering machines used in pop culture has to be the episode of "Seinfeld" in which George Costanza's recording uses the theme song from "The Greatest American Hero."

Believe it or not, George is not home.
Please leave a message at the beep.

As I ponder what happened to funny and lame answering machine greetings, I believe that they were simply turned into apps. Maybe goofy-ass messages have turned into a tomcat who mimics what you say. Maybe "The Jerky Boys" have transformed into Angry Birds. Perhaps one of the Crank Yankers is the Flappy Bird.

I must be out, or I'd pick up the phone.
Where could I be?
Believe or not, I'm not home.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Abracadabra! Sophie turns 9

Due to the death of the American neighborhood, I look forward to my daughter's birthday parties like Cleveland sports fans look forward to next year. I seriously love these parties because of the fun involved and having a bunch of people around.

Growing up with the XMan and my mom, my home became a meeting place for my friends, and, quite frankly, I love being social. I remember riding my bike to friend's homes as early as second grade, and it never crossed anybody's minds that I was young. It was normal.

Nowadays, that is unheard of where I live. My neighborhood is safe. It's kind of suburban, but it's in Los Angeles County. So I believe my neighborhood can only be so suburban in L.A. Let's say I live in a place called "suburban chic."

Anyway, my daughter Sophie just turned 9, and there is no way she is ready to ride her bike over to a friend's house on her own. It is no knock on her whatsoever. She has no desire to do that, and it's just not what happens in our world. We live in a different time, a different place. And for God's sakes, before we go anywhere, we better look at Google maps.

Enter: The Birthday Party.

Finally, here's a way to socialize in which Sophie, Chloe, Tova and I all get to see friends, have our cake and eat it too. Last year, a few friends went to Knott's Berry Farm. In the previous year, we went to a bounce house warehouse. And this year ... we hired a magician!

With nearly 20 kids in attendance, this guy had us mesmerized. He also took his act to the next level when he did the most creative hand shadow act in the world. The party and our glorious Lord of the Rings pinball machine were awesome as is, and — abracadabra the magic man made it even better.

My friend, Dave, and I were so shocked by the magic at one point during the show that we took a selfie.
My daughter Sophie is now 9, and I must reflect on what that means. I definitely remember being that age in 1982, when Michael Jackson's "Thriller" came out and when "E.T." ruled the box office. Now, both Sophie and I are huge fans of "Frozen," and the circle of life with pop culture sprinkled into our worlds continues.

What impresses me most about my daughter, Sophie, is her ability to adapt and grow. She had a lot thrust upon her during her early years, and now at age 9, I think she may be out of the woods for major life changes for quite some time. It is time thrive, and that is what she is doing.

Will she ever ride her bike to a friend's house and play Nintendo there? I don't think so. It's a different time. As far as thinking her childhood will fully replicate mine, I'll let it go. ... The cold never bothered me anyway.
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Sunday, February 16, 2014

'We are all shattered'

It is official. Every Feb. 16, the Snooze Button Generation and all of its subsidiaries will reflect on the world's absence of Fred "XMan" Stevens or at least do something connected to the absence of the XMan.

It now has been three years since the XMan mysteriously departed the planet, and I have somehow composed blogs titled "XMan's Death Ends Blog," "The Father of Garfield Heights" and "Two Years."

See, until the XMan passed away, I never understood the concept of unabashed, no-doubt-about-it pain. I had never experienced a profound loss. I guess I had never truly grown up.

With a backhand slap from strange odds and things I did not consider possible, the XMan vanished. So much difficulty in life surfaces when a major trauma happens that I must say I am proud of my mom, myself, my brother and extended family for surviving through this loss.

And, now, it is time to get metaphysical or in my way, Polish metaphysical.

I'm no different than a majority of the members of the Snooze Button Generation. All of my grandparents were blue collar. My parents were white collar. For me, it was predetermined that I would go to college. I feel fortunate that I could embark on two enjoyable and fulfilling professions journalism and education and feel content financially. And I have a feeling that most in the Snooze Button Generation have some similarities with that tale.

I created this blog, the Snooze Button Generation, mostly because I feel a lot of people in the ballpark of my age can look back at how pop culture has progressed in our lifetime and have a wry smile about it. I mean, seriously, is it wrong to be nostalgic when it comes to the Apple IIc or Apple IIe? What about missing the wonderful sounds of dial-up Internet? Or what about simply reminiscing about the Humpty Dance or understanding why Ol' Dirty Bastard was never Young Dirty Bastard?
This blog is all about pop culture, nostalgia and us looking at ourselves and having a chuckle. I never envisioned something like the XMan's ridiculous and painful death could derail the blog. How could fate have done such a thing?

But what I am realizing now is that there is a pretty darn good chance that any random member of the Snooze Button Generation has his own version of the XMan's death (and if you don't, consider yourself lucky!). We all have experienced our own personal tsunami. I'm 40 now. My main friends are roughly at that age, give or take five years. We've all had our major pain. It's just a matter of time when it came or when it comes.
And, now, back to my own personal pain ...

I moved out of my home in 2008, even though my daughters were only 3 and 1. I knew I had to do that to give them the best life possible and give myself a chance at some sort of happiness. My girls have been the focus of my life, and I am proud that they are two advanced, charming and healthy 8 and 6 year olds.

Not so long ago, families were intact. The surface was intact. ... I was married. My parents visited every January, and I had a brilliant idea that having a child would help my marriage. My cousin, Meathooks or Know-It-All or whatever goofy nickname we call him (pictured above in the XMan's tuxedo), bonded with my parents with his super-fabulous wife in Cleveland while I lived all the way in California. I pretended that they were surrogate versions of me. Through it all, we all loved each other's company, and no so long ago, we created a holiday commune.

Fast forward to today. Xman is gone. My marriage has been long gone, and Know-It-All's marriage has ended as well. In a strangely tender moment, playing Scrabble with Know-It-All and my mom this past Christmas break, I listened to Know-It-All explain how his divorce blindsided him, how he has had difficult times functioning and how he is in his own personal tsunami that he did not think was possible. I looked at my mom, thought about my own development and simply said, "We are all shattered."

We continue to evolve through the pain, just like the Snooze Button Generation, and maybe the unique XMan pain I have experienced is somehow something universal I never thought was possible.

Yeah, I'm writing about nostalgia and what I term "Polish metaphysics." Maybe all I need to say is: "You can tear a building down, but you can't erase a memory."
 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New York 1, Jova 0

Sometimes, you defeat the holidays. Other times, the holidays defeat you.

Two weeks ago, it had seemed obvious that I defeated the holidays. My girls, Tova and I traveled to Cleveland for Christmas, and watching Christmas from the eyes of an 8-year-old and 6-year-old is simply fun and full of love.

It was the first time Sophie and Chloe were in Cleveland for Christmas together, although Sophie was there once on Christmas before Chloe was born. Spending time with Grandma was excellent for all, and the girls especially liked their time with Jack (7) and Ellie (5).

Highlights abounded from our Cleveland trip. Some of mine were watching the girls play in the snow, devouring my mom's holiday feasts, having a schvitz and, of course, Christmas morning. The scene was so gleeful on Christmas morning that I created my own holiday tradition prancing.

When we traveled back to California, I got to see my good friend from Portland, Matt, and go to a kids birthday party in San Diego in a whirlwind of less than 48 hours. Then, bam, Jova (Joe plus Tova) was off to New York City.

I lived in the city from 1995-1998. But I hadn't been back since 2002. I repeatedly pointed out changes in the city, and my favorite conversation annoyingly began with, "Back in 1998..."
Tova's sister lives in Brooklyn and has two children, 2 and under. We spent some quality time with them and also had time to attack the city. We did a handful of things I used to love when I lived there and saw firsthand that Max Fish's bar and the Tic-Tac-Toe chicken in Chinatown were gone.

A couple of the highlights, of many, included seeing "Stomp" and "Wicked" and being pelted by snow. A blizzard came during our stay, and, apparently, New York City hit its lowest temperature in three years. Overall, I assumed we defeated New York, although the snow made it a close call.

Less than 24 hours after arriving home, Tova was blasted. Apparently, she ate something with menacing bacteria that has knocked her out of life as we know it. Since Jan. 4, she has been on a liquid diet with pedialyte as the focus. Only in the past few days has she been able to eat Ramen noodles. She can't keep anything else down.

Yesterday, her doctor assured us that all of this is caused by food poisoning, and yesterday was the day that I officially questioned her doctor's effectiveness. He took a stool sample from her on Thursday Jan. 9, only to tell us yesterday (Jan. 17) that the particular sample could not be used. Tova also went to the emergency room two days after seeing her doctor on Jan. 9 and was prescribed four other medicines.

I am frustrated that Tova remains sick and that we have no confirmation from her stool sample that she indeed had, or has, bacteria. She has missed two straight weeks of work, and I am just hoping she can progress today. With Tova still on the mend 14 days after New York, I must admit: New York, you kicked our butt!
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Silver balls: It's Christmas time in the city

"The dead are coming!"

"Mr. Frodo is not going anywhere without me."

"Get a hold of yourself!"

These phrases have been bouncing around my household of late as I have obtained a 2003 Lord of the Rings pinball machine. To have a pinball machine of this magnitude in my home fulfills some sort of childhood dream, and it has been a pinball-filled holiday season for me, Tova and the girls.

In lieu of Christmas cards, I now simply write this blog, figuring that those who would like to connect with me can easily do it by reading this. In other words, I am a bit lazy when it comes to Christmas cards and holiday family photos, and I prefer the Snooze Button Generation platform.

Actually, I plan on having an SBG entry every year from now on around Christmastime, but I have only done it in 2012 and 2009. It might be nice for me to count my blessings and wish good cheer to all, but instead, I must recount the happenings of Nov. 23, 2013, to explain how Lord of the Rings pinball is in my home. I have verbally told this story to a handful of friends, but now, it is my Christmas card.
Something magical was floating in the air on the glorious Saturday of Nov. 23. I felt excellent, had a quality espresso at Portfolio Coffeehouse and figured I'd take my car to a tire specialist to have a pesky slow leak fixed. When I took in the car, I asked how much it would cost, and the answer was "nothing." I made sure that was the case, and the man said, "No worries. We got this." ... Wow!

Tova's goal for the day was simple — to have sushi. We successfully did that for lunch at a place aptly called "I Luv Sushi" in Lakewood, Calif. As we finished our sushi, I made a random suggestion by saying, "Hey, do you want to play pinball across the street?" Tova did not respond with major enthusiasm, but because Cal Bowl, an enormous bowling alley with an arcade, was extremely close, we went there anyway.

Again, a day of success continued. Only three pinball machines were in the place, but the first one we encountered, The Simpsons, had a free credit on it. We played that credit.

We then moved over to a superior game, Lord of the Rings, which had a sign on that read: "For Sale, $600.00."

The game functioned, and I texted my friend, Skydog, who recently bought a machine. His Adams Family machine was way more expensive. I quickly went to ebay.com and found that Lord of the Rings goes for much higher than a mere $600.

So I asked a man, who wore a shirt that said "Ron" on it, if he were firm on the $600. Ron replied, "What are you thinking?" I said, "How about $500?" He said, "We have a deal."

Pinball plays a minor role in my life. I loved to play in college. My mom has an old machine, Top Hand, at her Polish mansion. And, now, it is back in my house and life, big time.
I am sure that my glee for "Lord of the Rings" will wear off soon, but right now, I am loving this machine. However, when a machine is marked down so drastically in price, there are reasons for that. I have put a few hundred bucks of fixes into it, and, luckily, I have discovered a kind and semi-retired pinball fix-it man. He is ready in a moment's notice to help me if problems arise with the machine.

The 2009 documentary "Special When Lit" examines a subculture of folks who love pinball. I like it, but I am not as hardcore as the geeky enthusiasts in the movie. I can't explain exactly why I love pinball. I think because it is so tactile, and it brings back memories to when I played World Cup, Twilight Zone, Adams Family, The Shadow and many more in college.

My pinball fix-it man explained to me that pinball machines are absolutely impractical. They can have problems daily, and they probably only bring in about $30 each week to arcades or wherever they are.

Yes, pinball is a dying pastime in America. But I have a slight piece of Americana in my home, and this one is modern enough to have multiball.

Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. And, guess what? The extra ball is lit!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Subway: It tastes like air

The XMan would have turned 66 today, but he is gone. This is the third birthday he has missed because of his unexpected and ridiculous death. This remains a gaping loss in my life.

Today, I am not doing anything too spectacular to commemorate the XMan's birthday. However, I did recycle 24 bags from Subway that my daughters have received with kids' meals from the sandwich chain. I cannot explained why I collected these bags, except that the bags insisted they were "reusable." I failed to reuse any of them.

Strangely, I have not gone to Subway in at least one year. I simply do not like the place anymore. Wha' happened?

I remember when Subway opened in Garfield Heights, Ohio, and it was an exotic and tasty locale. I would go there with my pals Jason, Kevin, Alex, Doug and a few other sandwich hipsters, and we'd revel in Subway's fresh ingredients. I typically got a Spicy Italian, while Jason got the Tuna. I was even in the Sub Club. If I would eat 10 subs, I would receive a free one. Subway, you were generous!

Nowadays, I practically prefer anything to Subway. The store just popped up in way too many places, and I somehow had a couple subs that tasted like nothing and/or air. How does that happen?

Due to extensive Internet research, I have discovered that Subway has by far the most stores of any fast-food chain in the United States. There are 24,722 Subways, compared to the second most 14,098 McDonald's. Taco Bell seems like it's everywhere, but there are only 5,674. By my calculations, there are 20,000 too many Subways in America.

Many mysteries exist in life and with Subway. What the heck is going on with this place? You got too many types of bread, man. And I still can't explain why Laila Ali was on a bag my daughters received when they got a sub. I guess she's a role model or something. But I truly don't want to promote boxing with my daughters.
My newly developed hatred for Subway has even surpassed my dislike for McDonald's. At least McDonald's is conventionally known as evil, but Subway slowly became evil, kind of like Grimace.

It's real awkward being around Subway nowadays because I caught him taking $20 out of my wallet when I went to the bathroom. OK, that didn't happen. But that's the vibe I get from this Subway character.



Saturday, November 9, 2013

'The Sopranos' named best TV show of all-time

The Snooze Button Generation released its list of the top 10 TV shows of all-time today with "The Sopranos" edging out "Taxi" and "Seinfeld" for the top position.

"Obviously, these lists are uber-subjective," said Joe Stevens, Snooze Button Generation CEO and founder. "In the end, I looked at all the evidence in front of me and went with my favorite 10 shows."

Stevens went on to say that many shows people often like he never watched. Some of those include "Six Feet Under," "Breaking Bad," "Game of Thrones" and "Friends."

"I never watched 'Friends' because it hit home too hard, and I was looking for more of an escape," Stevens said. "The actors were extremely authentic and insightful, and because none of them were good looking, the show was a harsh reality of what life could be like in the mean streets of Midtown Manhattan."

Various lists exist of the top TV shows of all-time, including this one, and Stevens only watches two shows regularly now (both made this list). He conjectures that the entire Snooze Button Generation watches far less television now as that entertainment has been replaced by Words With Friends.

1. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

When James Gandolfini passed away this summer, it brought back memories of his incredible show. There has never been a more real portrayal of an American family on TV than in "The Sopranos."

2. Taxi (1978-1983)

This is the only entrant on the list that Stevens saw only in reruns. In high school, he often watched reruns with his parents before going to bed, and he found all the characters, especially Jim Ignatowski, fascinating.

3. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

Perhaps no other show says "1990s" more than "Seinfeld." The show is an institution that has many phrases (No soup for you! comes to mind) in the American lexicon.

4. Cheers (1982-1993)

Back in the day, the Thursday night of TV for many members of the SBG consisted of "The Cosby Show," "Family Ties," "Cheers" and "Night Court." Nowadays, "Cheers" definitely holds up better than any of those, and it was probably the best at the time, too.

5. Top Chef (2006-present)

The only reality TV show on the list, "Top Chef" continues to go strong and be fresh. Will it have the staying power to be on such a list in 10 years? Hmm.

6. Saturday Night Live (1975-present)

This is an American staple that, with "Top Chef," is the only show Stevens still watches regularly. The current show is good, but the new girl doing the news does not appear to get the jokes she is reading. Where's Norm MacDonald when you need him?

7. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2011)

Another season may be filmed next year, but no news on that yet. Larry David's character has a handful of similarities to Stevens' deceased father, the XMan.

8. Late Night with David Letterman (1982-1993)

This show used to seem so different and cutting edge before the move to CBS. Nowadays, all these years later, watching Letterman somehow feels bizarre and foreign.

9. The Office (2005-2013)

"That's what she said!"

10. The Simpsons (1989-present)

Although Stevens hasn't watched the show in years, it seemed deserving of this list as it edged out "Entourage," "Sex and the City" and "Project Runway" for the final spot.







Thursday, October 31, 2013

Might you like some hunny?

Yet another thing I love about my Lamb, Tova, is her bombastic ability to create Halloween costumes.

Growing up, I had a moderate interest in Halloween. I went trick or treating every year with my grandfather, who dressed like an ape and gladly accepted Halloween candy throughout his senior years. That was fun, but as the years went on, I became apathetic to Halloween and costumes.

Enter: Tova.

For our first costume, we went as the Tapatio Man and a taco. I had been pondering who in the world Tapatio was, and Tova developed our costumes that included her as a Taco, which also happened to be what the World's Most Dependable man repeatedly called her when he met her.

Year two arrived. Because of Tova's national ranking in Monopoly (she is ranked No. 7), we went as the Monopoly man and a silver top hat. I involuntarily talked about the benefits of capitalism during my stint as the Monopoly man, AKA Rich "Uncle" Pennybags.

This year, as we will be attending a kid's party as well, we are Tigger and Pooh.
You may be saying. What is the point of this blog? Are you merely bragging about these kick-ass Halloween costumes? And, well, the answer is yes.

Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My life as David Lee Roth

I sometimes feel like David Lee Roth, constantly surrounded by California girls. Earlier this week, my mom finished a stay in California, so she joined Tova, Sophie and Chloe in my manly household. Mathematically, there was only a 20 percent chance of being a male in that scenario.

As I live a charmed life, I've often felt that the worst part of my life is Wednesday morning teacher meetings, in which I take the girls to school well before it starts and then teachers pretend to care about their jobs. What annoys me, and some other teachers, is that I actually do care about my job, and each week, I ask myself if the pretending will ever stop.

Anyway, with Grandma in the mix, she took the girls to school as it started for those horrific meetings, and she did a lot in terms of overall support for my household. Thank you, Grandma! We all miss you already!

Tova is like Grandma in the sense that she, too, does so much for me and the girls. It is a lot to ask a significant other to come into a scenario with two daughters and a failed marriage, and Tova has accepted and thrived with this situation. I am lucky to have her, and I appreciate all that she does.
Why do I have all these thoughts now about the awesome ladies in my life? Well, maybe Grandma's visit helped me see that being a single dad doesn't mean my life isn't necessarily "me and the girls vs. the world." We have Grandma's support, Tova's support and a lot of support from family and friends. ... The only rub is that nowadays, it feels like it is decidedly feminine.

Do I yearn to smoke cigars, drink brandy and play poker? Well, I just played poker the other day, and successfully finished in 13th place of 14 players. I'm not a big fan of cigars or brandy, but maybe I'm just realizing these ladies accept me for being the fantasy-golf addicted, Chewbacca collecting, Nintendo playing Polack that I am.

Winning.






Saturday, September 28, 2013

The James Brown Mexifest comes back!

I am officially old now as I turned 40 yesterday and celebrated the milestone with a "James Brown Mexifest."

Back in 1991, I founded the Mexifest with my pals Ryan Kenealy and Mark Schofield. The plan was simple: Eat Mexican food, and listen to the Godfather of Soul. Obviously, that is a recipe for a rip-roaring party.

Every year in Columbus, we had the Mexifest. Eventually, the party was passed on to a worthy compadre Chuck Hootman, who kept it going for a while and even got bands to play. One of the highlights of the event was hearing people in a bar talk about going to the Mexifest, even though I had no clue who the people were.

Yesterday, on my 40th birthday, my mom was in town, and my partner Tova put together a rip-roaring time. We got a taco guy. Tova got me a karaoke machine, and because of my seasoned party management skills, I feel great today.

Despite my penchant for epiphanies and conspiracy theories, I have no major announcements about the meaning of turning 40. I have to accept 40, just like all aging, and I continue to cultivate salt and pepper hair. I enjoy the simple things in life - being with family and friends, having a good IPA, translating Russian literature and playing high-stakes baccarat.

I am hoping that the turning of 40 makes the James Brown Mexifest an annual event again, and there are more entries like this one about the Mexifest on the interweb.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Bohemian Like You

For five and half days this summer, I went on a Bohemian adventure, traveling to a place called Portland, Oregon, and tasting quite a few of well-crafted beers.

I've always been fond of Portland because of its idyllic urban planning and the idealism of many of its residents. I'm a dreamer, at heart, and it's nice to kick back there and have antiquated conversations about indie rock and conspiracies.

Another major reason I like Portland is the Polish Falcon himself, Matt Kalinowski, who is not only Polish, but a close friend who I have known for years. He puts up with my constant psychobabble for days on end, and we like to compete in various games of skill and chance, including Ms. Pac-Man.
I proudly got the high score on Ms. Pac-Man. However, Matt beat me 11-7 in pool during my stay there. He went berserk on the final day by winning five consecutive games to recover from a 7-6 deficit. All I could feel about those five games was this: Ouch!

I often return from Portland with major, deep insights on life and this time around, realize that the city's Rose Test Garden is absolutely gorgeous. I think that simple things, good IPA's, healthy food and having the arts in my life all make me happy. I saw some music with Matt, and his roommate, Ben, turned me onto Shakespeare in the Park. My main cultural push in Long Beach is fantasy golf, and it would be nice to have more of the arts in my life. Why not?

Of course, many Portlanders may not have known what to make of me. Although I may conform slightly in Oregon, I refuse to dress scuzzy and involuntarily snicker every time I smell someone wearing patchouli. I cannot explain my patchouli snickering because I have no anti-hippie sentiment. Perhaps it just makes me feel like a hip teenager — and I like that.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

River burns; Sophie and Chloe thrive

One of the highlights of my life is my annual two-week summer trip to my own personal nirvana, Cleveland.

Why is Cleveland so spectacular? Well, besides its vibrant economy and championship sports teams, I have a lot of important family and friends there, and I feel most at home there.

My itinerary was so jam-packed of goodness that I must list some of the highlights of what I did.

July 1 — Tova, Sophie, Chloe and I arrive in Cleveland. We examine the best Top Hand (pinball) scores in the history of the game. I somehow scored more than 8,000 about 15 years ago. I try my best to do better than that on the trip, and the best I score is 5,982.

July 2 — Daytime: The World's Most Dependable Man, Tova and I haul four children ages 8 and under to downtown Cleveland. Ultimately, the grit of the city is not as kid-friendly as I had hoped. Evening: Chloe has her sixth birthday party on her actual birthday with many key family and friends and a defeated piñata.

July 3 By this time, I had tried various Great Lakes beers. Burning River, most likely, is my favorite, although Commodore Perry is in the running.

July 4 — Sophie and Chloe witness their first-ever Fourth of July parade at Chippewa Lake. I scold Tova for using the term "white trash." Chloe goes "tubing" on Uncle Ed's boat. We then spend the rest of the day in Westlake at Fred and Judi's. There are fireworks at night, but the real fireworks come when J.T., Neal and I throw Fred into his newly purchased pool.

July 5 — Tova and I finally get some lone time to check out some cool Cleveland stuff. I immediately take her to the House of Horrors, where three ladies were held captive as slaves for many years. I remark how close it is to my high school, St. Ignatius, and the glorious Great Lakes Brewery. We, obviously, go to Great Lakes and another brewery across the street. We even meet up with my friend Doug at the world-famous Harbor Inn.

July 6 — Jack turns 7, and we bowl and celebrate his age.

July 7 — Tova flies back to Long Beach. The Stevens family celebrates Ed and Amy's 25th anniversary at Medina Country Club. Afterward, my mom, Fred, Uncle Bob and I play at Medina C.C. The girls enjoy a day at Chippewa in which Sophie goes "tubing."

July 8 — Sophie and Chloe see their first Cleveland Indians game. It rains for nearly the entire game, yet it is played. The Tribe, who I predict will win another World Series in 2048, lose in extra innings to the Detroit Tigers. However, the Tribe does not allow ace pitcher Max Scherzer improve to 14-0. He stays at 13-0, which is still the best start in Major League Baseball since 1986.

July 9 — Sophie, Chloe, Jake and Ellie and I visit The World's Most Dependable Man in Cleveland Heights to slip 'n' slide. It is awesome!

July 10 — We hit up Geauga Lake's Wild Water Kingdom. This is doubly awesome! Unfortunately, a tornado warning closes down the park only about two hours into our fun. Bummer. We then go to Kim and Ron's, where they have an at-home movie theater. The kids watch "Annie."

July 11 — Afternoon: Grandma and I play "The Buzzard's Nest," five holes of golf at Hinckley Hills Golf Course, with Sophie and Chloe with us. Both of the girls actually drive the golf carts. Night: Three-fourths of the original wolf pack unite as I meet up with Jeff and Cato. Dave cannot make the commute for a full reunion because North Carolina is slightly too far.   

July 12 — Fred, Carlos, Neal and I play Sleepy Hollow. I have one of the worst rounds of the last year. Oh well, I try to impress the boys with my new-found golf skills, and I try too hard. It happens.

July 13 — Day: We fish in Hudson. Jack and Carlos actually catch a fish. Evening: Grandma treats Sophie, Chloe, Jack and Ellie in a group of 10 to "The Lion King" at the State Theatre.

July 14 The girls, Grandma and I visit the XMan's grave site. We conclude the trip by having fun at Fred and Judi's with the kids having fun in the pool.

What does all of this mean? Well, I enjoyed my childhood in Cleveland, and I want to give my girls a taste of what I had. Of course, they got a full-blown, mega-awesome childhood out here in Long Beach, California, with me. But a Tribe game for the first time? A water park? Chippewa Lake, and hardcore Grandma time? This is so good for them — and me. We're talking about the girls spending time with people who I, and them now, deeply love. Yeah, man, deeply love.

As a side note, some of the important adults in our lives were going through difficult times in Cleveland, and, most likely, that was hard on everyone who knows them. But I subscribe to many philosophies, and one key one is that my girls are my happy pills. Spending time with them in Cleveland likely will be a highlight of my life for the next 10 years, and after those 10 years, the Tribe only will be 25 years away from their championship.
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Who am I to blow against the wind?

How am I supposed to feel on Father's Day? Sadness is a conventional answer. But others might say happiness because I will be with Sophie and Chloe today, and they are my happy pills. As a human being, my feelings are much more complex than that.

Miraculously, this is my third Father's Day without the XMan, and I majorly miss him. I've heard that time heals all wounds, and I have accepted the fact that he is gone. However, the XMan's death was my personal "tsunami," and anyone who's had a true profound loss may have an inkling of the overwhelming involuntary feelings one might have on, say, Father's Day.

One thing that tears me up is my newfound addiction to golf and the fact that I can't play with him. I guess every round I play, and every stroke I take, is a homage to him. I've advanced enough in the sport to play bogey golf, and there are a handful of things I do on the course that he did exactly.

One of those things is to frequently say the phrase, "Roll your buns off." I also harpoon the flag stick off the green, if anyone takes it out and leaves it on the green. I also make a crude comparison if I ever see a player putting with a golf glove.
So what is going on is that I am spending my third Father's Day without a father, even though he would be only 65 today. Obviously, the possibility of this occurring three years ago never entered my thoughts because the idea of it would be outrageous.

I spent 12 years going to Catholic school and numerous masses, and like approximately 95 percent of the people I know in my demographic, I don't go to Church now and can't accept the Catholic church's antiquated social positions. I have no clear-cut answer of what I believe in regards to spirituality, but I do live by my Jesuit high school's motto: "Men for others."

The XMan is with me everyday. If you want to call that spirituality, that is fine, and I understand that all of us have deal with things we don't want to. I am only one of 7 billion people on this planet. Who am I to blow against the wind?

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Walk like a fireman. Eat like a chick.


During my Cousin Steve's yearly visit to California, we discovered a mantra that we plan to follow forever: "Walk like a fireman. Eat like a chick."

Raging fires are something that I rarely encounter, but if I did, my reaction would be, "Holy crap! We got to get a hose and put out that sucker!"

However, if you've ever seen real-life firemen, they do not run to the fire. They calmly walk, then they do their jobs. Hmm. Yeah, it's true. It's smart to stay calm in all situations, even though it can be hard.

An aside about firemen is this: I am certain that there is no profession that is universally liked by females more than firefighter. To women, fireman are "the hottest guys out there, no doubt." I am unsure what profession men think has the most attractive ladies, but they might pick models or actresses or something way more superficial than firefighter. That may once again prove how un-classy many dudes are.

Anyway, to "walk like a fireman" is only half the equation (equation is yet another word with all the vowels in order, although facetious has them all in order and starts with a consonant!), to "eat like a chick" is the second half of Steve and my secret to success.
Many guys eat like drunken, cannibalistic cows. They overeat meat. They have a disregard to vegetables. There is even a show titled "Man vs. Food."

No, no, that type of diet will doom us as a male race. Steve and I have discovered that we must "eat like a chick." Many a time, I have found myself at a fancy restaurant, in which I order bloody meat. The girl, in turn, orders a sensible salad.

Steve and I are adjusting to our newly found mantra. We are walking like firemen, and we are eating like chicks.
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Friday, April 26, 2013

Jump back, what's that sound?

Heavy metal, obviously, goes hand in hand with Central America. As soon as I entered the jungles of Panama, these lyrics popped into mi cabeza: "You know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby."

And, of course, Van Halen has the song "Panama," in which David Lee Roth creepily says, "I reach down between my legs and ease the seat back."

The XMan often sang to that tune and screamed "Cannonball!" at the chorus. Tova, who is my partner, confidant and more, remarked, "They're saying Panama? I thought it was "party-ha-ha" or something like that." Through extensive Internet research, I have discovered that "Panama" isn't even about the country, or the canal. It's apparently about a car. Lame!
Highlights abounded during my and La Tovadora's trip to Panama City and Bocas Del Toro. Because a man-made 50-mile canal cuts Panama in half, we had access to the middle of the jungle at a Smithsonian Institute research center on an island. Some of the fauna we ran across during or Panamanian adventure included monkeys, sloths, porcupines, lizards and even dolphins and a crocodile. No joke.

At Bocas Del Toro, we repeatedly took water taxis between islands, and I truly loved the snorkeling (It's like being at an aquarium, and you're in the aquarium!). Bocas is not completely developed yet, and that is part of its charm. A few bed and breakfasts are on the water, and we stayed in the nicest one, though it was still pretty low key. The town is so small that you walk from the airport to the main street and bed and breakfast.

I had a lot of deep thoughts about the world economy while in Panama. The Panama Canal's 100th anniversary will be next year, and there is a chance that it becomes a much more popular tourist destination. They somehow have gotten a Frank Gehry museum there that is nearly completed and set to open.

But some of my preconceived notions will remain. Whenever I hear that Van Halen song again, I will still think "Cannonball!"

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sophie becomes a Wind Seeker


Sophie Stevens has successfully aged, and I am thankful for that!

My daughter, Soph, turned 8 this month, and as she swashbuckles her way through second grade, I am happy to report that she is turning into a cool and collected kid.

She also was the recipient of two birthday parties, one at Daddy's house and one at Mommy's, and that system works best - by far. Because of an extremely small guest list, we also moved the majority of the Daddy party to Knott's Berry Farm, where we got classy season's passes and I reveled in the miraculous tattoos there.

With Grandma in town and an entourage of kids and parents at this bastion of humanity called Knotts, Sophie successfully rode something called the WindSeeker, while I conveniently led members of the group elsewhere during that ride.

It's pretty cool to have an 8-year-old, when I am pretty sure I have memories of being 8. As antiquated as it may sound, "The nuns had us writing cursive back then." I remember that.
I am not exactly sure how to feel today, but involuntarily, I feel sad and so does Sophie. After tomorrow morning, I will not see the girls until our spring breaks are complete. That is a long stretch for us, and this is the first time in my life I will be away from the girls that long at this time of year.
It is Sophie and Chloe's mom's year to have the girls over spring break, and I must accept the schedule that is reasonable and I have agreed to. Still, there are different parenting rules and styles at each house, and Sophie often has a hard time adjusting to those different rules at my home.

As a divorced dad, I have accepted the 50/50 schedule and the holiday schedule, and, by chance, this is the first time I feel that I will be away from the girls more than is necessary. Perhaps I will always have these type of feelings when it is not my year for spring break or Thanksgiving, and it simply is natural.
Soon I will switch gears and continue my international travel as Tova, or who Mexico and Central America refer to as "La Tovadora," and I travel to Panama. I do not completely what to expect in Panama. Perhaps I will get bit by a crocodile.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Two years

In a way, I'm still looking for the snail.

Apparently there is a snail in this picture, and I have been told it is right above the bell. OK, maybe. ... Man, that's sketchy.

A few years ago, the XMan and I frantically searched for this snail and were baffled by this particular page of a Winnie the Pooh Look and Find book. I actually have part of our frantic searching in the video below.

Why do I bring this up? Well, this Saturday will mark exactly two years since the XMan departed this planet. I have no major answers as to why this happened. Factually, I understand that he went to Hilton Head, S.C., on a golfing trip and then never came home. He had a heart attack, and I somehow composed this blog on that day.

I guess that he somehow died out of the blue is no longer an absolute shock because of the two years that have passed, although every so often I still can't believe that happened. I have been forced to accept that my father has died, and at this particular moment as opposed to the majority of my blogs about my dad — I do not feel ridiculously sad or in pain.

I continue to work through the most painful thing that has ever happened to me, and because of my lack of supernatural powers, I cannot bring him back. ... Or can I? ... OK, no, I can't, and I've never really met a reputable shaman.

Anyway, this type of loss is something that will be with me forever, and as I continually recover from this, I want to thank a lot of people who have helped me the past two years.

First of all, thank you, Tova. My girlfriend for more than a year and half and I will be celebrating Valentine's Day tomorrow, and she is supportive and a positive force in my life. She never met the XMan, but she shares some important traits with him, including putting an occasional ice cube in a glass of red wine. Without my family in California, Tova has been crucial as I adapt to life without the XMan's physical presence. Sincerely. Thank you!

I also want to thank Sophie and Chloe, who truly are my happy pills, and I want to thank my mom for being so strong and for my brother Fred and Judi, my extended Stevens and Warner family and friends who all miss X. I also thank the friends who either knew the XMan or at least have some compassion to me and my family for how profound of a loss we have endured.
I had a crying jag in Cleveland during a "year-end dinner" in which was a tradition for my mom, dad, brother Fred and me to rate our year. We picked up the tradition after a one-year hiatus, and it was difficult for me to not constantly miss him there.

Two years later, emotion will sneak up on me now and again. And, of course, I can never see any Look and Find book without thinking of my dad.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Holiday Communes: Festive and Fun

I miss my commune!

This past holiday season, I spent seven nights in my beloved Cleveland with Sophie, who prefers to be called Sophia nowadays, Chloe and my topnotch girlfriend Tova.

We stayed at my mom's house, the Polish mansion, in Brecksville, and on our second night there, the house turned into a commune.

Sophia and Chloe absolutely love to play with their cousins, Jack and Ellie, and Tova and I love their parents, Carlos and Katie. Soon, they stayed over each night as well, and we engaged in communal living.

Now, many communes get a bad rap because of a misperception that they are impractical and ultimately will end in death by Kool-Aid. But during these holidays, our days ended with all of us yearning for more communal living. We had no official religion in the commune, and on the final day, Carlos brought over his minstrel instruments.
One key that we learned early in our cult is that an equal distribution of labor is a good idea. With my mom as our overall leader, Carlos and Tova each had stints in in charge of our rations. Katie's specialty was child hygiene, and mine was child bedtime.

As our kids and all of us bonded, Carlos and I noticed some slight changes in our personalities. He and I, for example, started dressing similarly in a uniform that featured our Soprano-esque track suits. When we didn't dress similarly, we made sure to stay close together.
Festive and fun, communes are the way to go during any holiday season. I also must give shutouts to all my other friends and family members who entered our realm of madness. It was great seeing so many family members and friends, and seeing my brother Fred and Judi's new house in Westlake also was a treat.

We have no specific plans to expand our commune, but if we do, I believe tambourines will be involved.
 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Night Before Christmas

From 1974 until 1988, my extended Stevens family had a tradition of reading "The Night Before Christmas" on every Christmas Eve. After we participated in what could best be described as a constant ripping and opening "gift orgy," we capped the night with the classic Christmas tale.

A total of 15 Stevens family members attended Christmas Eve during the stretch from '74 and '88, and each one read the book, starting with the oldest.

So my Grandpa Stevens read first when I was only 15 months old. I am the youngest of those 15 Stevens, so I read last in 1988 when I was a sophomore in high school.

I am not sure everyone feels this way. But for me, looking back, I had such comfort, excitement and good feelings during the holidays and on Christmas and Christmas Eve.

After we had Christmas Eve at my parents' house at 9911 Garfield Drive, Garfield Heights, Ohio, we opened presents on Christmas morning. We then had Christmas day at my maternal grandparents in Slavic Village, then Christmas evening at my paternal grandparents on Edgepark Drive in Garfield.
All of my grandparents have passed away with my Grandma Stevens the most recent to pass away in October 2010. Shortly, after that, my Stevens family turned topsy-turvy with pain and death as my dad, the XMan, unexpectedly passed away in February 2011. Then my Aunt Nancy Stevens was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2011 and passed away this March.

Only 11 of the original Stevens 15 remain, and despite conventional wisdom, the Stevens family is mortal. I am flooded with good memories from the great times the 15 of us shared during the holidays and engaged in our gift orgies.

I venture to say that all of us 11 - Uncle Ed, Sally, Ed Jr., Jen, Uncle Bob, Aunt Lynda, Rob, Melissa, my mom, Fred Jr. and me - share similar memories. We are adapting to our new lives, and if I ever truly need to hear "The Night Before Christmas," I will click on the video below.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12-12-12

The plans for 12-12-12 are not happening.

Of course, the Stevens family is absolutely sad and shocked that there is not "The Biggest Party in the History of Parties" on this day. The fact remains that somehow my father, Fred "X" Stevens, passed away 22 months ago and will not be celebrating his 65th birthday today.

Although it is a Wednesday, I had planned to get to Cleveland to be with the XMan no matter what. I did that for his 60th birthday and surprised him at his favorite restaurant, Mallorca, and that remains an awesome memory. Nobody let the XMan know I was coming in from California that day, and when I saw him, he gave me a bear-hug embrace I will never forget and shed a couple tears. Damn, man, I love that guy.

So what am I to do today? I will not be going to Cleveland (until later this month), and I guess I will have to go through with the day "as usual" and not weep as I teach. Somehow, the XMan passed away before the coolest birthday date I can think of, and I understand that I must accept that he is gone. The only problem with that is that I do not want this, still pretend he is here and would give anything for just one more day with him.
Yeah, I am forced to buck up, deal with my new reality and understand that to be human is a strange, precarious situation. Just as the seasons pass, so do we — or something like that.

My mom says that the XMan planned to retire completely on 12-12-12. I do not deny that he probably said that, but I am not sure he could fully walk away from his law practice. He was semi-retired for about a decade, and I think he would remained that way. But who knows?

Not only is 12-12-12 the coolest birthday I can think of, but Dec. 12 also is the birth date of Francis Albert Sinatra, who shares the exact same initials as my dad, whose official middle name was Alan. They both did things their way.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holidays replace unexpected soccer pain

Phew! I made it to December. Thank God!

I am not the type of person to count down the days to something new, but this past November presented difficulties to me because of the unfortunate and painful end of the Lavender Ladybugs. I found myself crying - yes, literally crying - in the bathroom of a place called Frog's Bounce House, and when that happens, something has gone drastically wrong.

The Lavender Ladybugs were a tight group of 11 kindergarten girls that featured my youngest daughter, Chloe (pictured on the right with her best friend). I coached the team, and I enjoyed it way more than I thought possible. I vaguely got into the mind of 5-year-old girls and enjoyed the experience of thinking about unicorns, rainbows and princesses.

We had a vibrant team with supportive parents, great assistant coaches and a dedicated team mom. I contend that we were the best team in the league because we had a lot of fun and nearly all of the girls looked forward to our practices and games. Also, we were good. Every girl scored during the course of the season, and more than half of the girls plan on playing for sure next season.

We even had a catch phrase promoted by me. It was simple: Soccer is awesome! (TM)

On the final weekend of the season, things took a drastic turn, and I was extremely hurt. It happened to be my daughters' weekend with their mom. For our final game on Saturday, Chloe was a no-show. Later in the day, Chloe's best friend (pictured on the left) had a birthday party in which the entire Ladybug roster was invited. Chloe was not taken to the party.

For the next day, the Ladybugs had our final season banquet at Frog's Bounce House. Despite my offering to pick up Chloe (as I did for the other events), Chloe again was a no-show. I gave out trophies to the other girls, but I had to give mine to Chloe when I saw her Monday after school. By the way, Chloe was uncharacteristically sick for school Monday and Tuesday following the weekend stress.

The purpose of this blog post is one last effort for me to put the pain of that November weekend behind me. I felt wronged. But what hurt even more is that my daughter, Chloe, was wronged.

Coaching the Lavender Ladybugs was an effort to add more normalcy into my daughters' lives, and it worked for a while. It all came crashing down, and I realized a lot about the reality of the situation that I am living.

OK, yeah, the holidays await. A Christmas tree was put up this weekend. I also put up 1,320 Christmas lights on the outside of my home. I had never put outdoor holiday lights out until now, and they are classy.

I appreciate Snooze Button Generation Nation for taking the time to hear the tale of the Lavender Ladybug drama. Now, it's time to embrace the holiday season and continue to love my daughters as I do.