Monday, February 1, 2016

You'll never feel whole again

Well, looky, looky here, it's February!

I've already heard several people say, "Wow. This year is going so quickly." In fact, I venture to say I hear that more and more each year I live on this planet named Earth.

As we get older, we all feel like time goes faster. There is an explanation for this. Each year we live is a smaller percentage of our life.

Remember when a year really used to mean something big. I remember when second grade was a lengthy event. Third grade, the same. But as time progressed, each year slowly felt quicker and quicker.

Does this mean we all become pessimists, fed up with life?

No. What it actually means is that our perspective constantly is changed based on our age. If we are 8 years old, a year is 1/8 of our existence. That is kind of a big chunk, if you think about it. Plus, we have no memory of the very early years.
If you are 42 years old, that is 1/42. Mathematically, it is not that big of a deal.

So, here is the idea: Whenever someone says his age, see it as a fraction. The college student will no longer be 19. He'll be 1/19. Your mother could be 1/68.

In these pictures of my daughters, they look great this year at 1/8 and 1/10, and they were also cute at 1/1 (or 1) and 1/3.

Looking at age as a fraction, the person's perspective on the ever-moving construct known as time will make more sense. I would love us to stop using age as a number and officially change it to a fraction, but I know too much tradition has gone into age for that to happen.

Age and time are manmade ideas. I do understand that the Earth goes around the sun exactly once in a year, and there is science to it that makes sense.

However, we tend to hold dearly arbitrary beliefs ingrained in us that aren't always correct. Perhaps this age as a fraction has come to you already, but I'm not sure. I did a bit of googling, and I did not find this idea on the "Inter-webs."

Maybe the fraction idea will be used to you. At least, once I figured this out, I quit obsessing over age and realized that we are destined to have each year go faster and faster.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ignorance is a choice

I heard an idea on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" the other day that affected me. The idea is this: Ignorance is a choice.

The rapper/activist Killer Mike was on the show, and he was asked if the events this year in Ferguson, Baltimore and North Charleston raised awareness among white people about systemic racism in America.

"If white people are just now discovering that it's bad for black or working class people in America, they're a lot more blind than I thought," Killer Mike said. "They're a lot more choosing to be ignorant than I thought."

In Killer Mike's interview with Colbert, he mentioned the Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes Experiment conducted by Jane Elliott as something that white people can watch to try to understand racism better. Feel free to google that, or click on the video below to watch it.

Jane Elliott echoes the idea that ignorance is a choice. "White people's number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white," Elliott said. "We don't have to learn about those who are not white. And our No. 2 freedom is the freedom to deny that we are ignorant."

As we are in the midst of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I am sick and tired of having this holiday as what the British call a mere "bank holiday" — just a day off. Or, if anything happens on MLK Day, it likely will be a celebration of Dr. King's accomplishments. While I have absolute respect for Dr. King and his accomplishments, I believe he would much rather have his holiday be a day of education.

In that vain, I believe Black History Month needs to change to be, indeed, Black History Month. As it stands now, Black History Month is actually Black Celebration Month. Of course, MLK Day as it stands and our current Black Celebration Month are better than nothing, but in 2016, white America must be educated on how systemic racism continues today. I'm not just talking about ignorant, hateful individual racism. I'm talking about systemic racism.

The worst thing I have seen with MLK Day and Black History Month is the attitude that all is OK now. "Way to go America! See, we overcame racism. See what can happen if we all just work together! MLK was great. The president is even black. We did it!" ... Please, don't make me puke.
Here are simply three things I'd like to impart today that everyone — especially white people — needs to know.

1) Jim Crow laws were in effect in the United States until 1965. In other words, blacks officially were second-class citizens by law until 50 years ago.  Officially. The Jim Crow mantra of "separate but equal" means "not equal."

Before the members of the Snooze Button Generation were born, there was official systemic racism in the U.S. Now, that has been transformed into unofficial systemic racism.

2) The new Jim Crow is the prison system, and this needs to be reformed ASAP. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Our present society is the most incarcerated society in the history of any civilization. The numbers are so staggering against minorities that it is fair to call this "official systemic racism."

People of color account for 60 percent of our prison system, while they comprise just 30 percent of the U.S. population. One in every 15 African-American men are incarcerated as opposed to one in every 106 white men.

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, one in three black males can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Let's repeat that: One in three black males will go to prison in his lifetime. 

And y'know what often happens: You go into prison on a nonviolent drug crime, then you come out as a career criminal. Beware. Once you go to prison, you may stay in prison.

Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" came out in 2010, and no true progress in the prison system has happened since then. Most white people have not heard of the book.
3) White people must revisit their stock answers. Jane Elliott points out how harmful it is when white people say: 1) I'm not racist. Some of my best friends are black, and 2) When I see you, I don't see a black person. I don't see color.

I see white people cringe if I ever bring up a racial issue with them — and I'm white myself. White people most likely will disregard this blog and continue to choose ignorance. But for anyone who does not accept this, what can they do?

Go ahead, and check out the video below. Perhaps act like your children — it's practically certain that they're less racist than you.

But more important, remember that MLK Day is not just a "bank holiday." This is an opportunity to reflect. Is America on the path we want it? Do I ever think actually consider others? Do I ever think about the prison system?

In 2016, please ask yourself: Is this the America I want?

Considering where America is today, I think of Fyodor Dostoevsky, who said, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I'll be home for Christmas

Happy birthday, XMan.

My father would have turned 68 today, had he not passed away in Hilton Head, S.C., in 2011. Phew, man, it's been a long haul to get here, and practically anybody who has lost someone close realizes that an outpouring of memories surfaces around the holidays.

So on my father's birthday, I am writing about a few things I've discovered during my years without him. With the holiday season in full swing, I will be listening to holiday music in the background while sipping on a holiday-spiced coffee. The song that happens to be playing now figures. It's the Bing Crosby classic I'll Be Home for Christmas performed by Lady Antebellum.

I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me

One of the biggest things I've learned with my father gone is that, by and large, people don't care. I dutifully press the "like" button on Facebook when friends remember their loved ones. Sometimes, I even comment. But do I really care?

It's really hard to care if you never met the person. If you happen to read this, chances are you either met the XMan and loved the guy, or you are substituting your own loved one with the XMan and applying it to your own experience. Right?

Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Another important thing I've seen is that tragedies are all around us. I used to try to quantify tragedies. "Wow, my dad's unexpected death shocked us all and hurt us, but your husband's death at 42 was..."

The numerical ranking of tragedies is simply stupid. People learn to get through their grief and learn how to live the life they want to lead, even though they face enormously difficult and painful situations. This is called life.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams

I loved my dad immensely, and I wouldn't have traded our relationship for anything. But I do understand that I can't live in the past. We can only live in the moment.

This year, I'm especially happy because I'm engaged to the woman I love. We had Thanksgiving together and will be with my 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, and 8-year-old daughter, Chloe, on Christmas. This will be the first Christmas since my divorce in which I will have a Christmas morning scenario in my own home with the woman I love.

I'll be home for Christmas

Aw, man, the holidays bring up so many feelings and memories that I can't help but think back to some of the great times I had with the XMan. He gave out gag gifts to extended family every year. He once carved the holiday ham topless — but with an apron. He and my mom even got my brother and me Atari in 1981!

He was da man. I miss him. Yes, I have a fantasy to have him drop in this Christmas. But with all due respect, Sir Isaac Asimov, that type of thought is science fiction.

Ah, the holidays get emotions stirring, as does this freaking remake of Bing Crosby's I'll Be Home for Christmas. Perhaps you've noticed something about Bing's classic. But if not, I must point out that the last line changes the whole song.

I used to think I'll Be Home for Christmas was a straightforward holiday tune without nuance, kind of like Jingle Bells. Someone is coming home. Yeah! Get the egg nog going. Holiday time. Yes! But, oh no, the last line changes everything.

I'll Be Home for Christmas is really a homage to Christmases past. It's a nostalgic tune with a hint of fantasy and sadness. This dude ain't coming home. At least, that's how I understand this song and its beautiful five-word final line:

If only in my dreams



Thursday, October 29, 2015

Flip's on list of all-time kindest NBA guys

When I heard about the death of Flip Saunders this week, a chill passed through my body.

Aww, man, Flip was da man, a real class act, one of the kindest men I ran across during my seven years writing about the NBA from 2001 to 2008.

Flip and I weren't especially close. But I would talk with him whenever his Timberwolves were in L.A. In 2003, when the Wolves played the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, my assignment was to write about the Wolves, and I enjoyed dealing with Flip.

It is sad, and a shock, that Flip passed away at 60 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma just four months earlier. Life is fleeting, my friend. Don't forget about that. Right?

The thing I liked about Flip is that he did not treat me according to my role — "NBA reporter." Instead, he treated me like a mere human being, and I appreciated that.

Perhaps I simply relate to Flip's values, and maybe I just got along with him because of our mutual hometown of Cleveland. Whatever the reason, he was definitely among the kindest men I dealt with on the NBA beat.

That previous statement got me thinking. Am I glorifying Flip, just because of his death? Was he really one of the best guys I ran across?

The answer is "yes." In fact, I will create a list of my favorite NBA personnel that treated me well. Yes, it may be odd to rank human beings, but I'm doing it anyway.

To make things fair, I did not allow anyone connected to the Clippers to be on this list because I developed many relationships there during my seven years on the Clipper beat. Because I was on the Clipper beat and based in L.A., the list is top heavy with people connected to Western Conference teams, but, so be it, this is based on my experience.

The top 10 kindest gentlemen I ran across covering the NBA from 2001 to 2008:

10. George Karl. A kind, interesting guy. He edged out a slew of guys for this final spot, including Hubie Brown. The one thing I like about both Hubie and George Karl is their eloquence with explaining the details of basketball. Both have superb NBA minds, and both put their knowledge into effective and exciting words.

9. Yao Ming. Injuries did in the big man, but he was one heck of a storyline for a while. During part of my stint with the NBA, a lot of media followed him. He was always accommodating, and I had a mutual friend with his translator. Maybe that helped me like him, too.

8. Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq definitely could be moody with the Lakers, but I'll never forget the time I asked him about what Thanksgiving meant to him. He gave me a sincere, thoughtful response, and it was obvious he has a genuine heart.
7. Flip Saunders. 

6. LeBron James. Yes. Seriously. During his rookie season, I sat down with him for about a half hour, and I learned how he somehow preferred the Cowboys, Yankees and Bulls to my beloved Cleveland teams. He was very accommodating and open. I imagine lone time with him like that has been impossible since that rookie season.

5. Chris Webber. The Lakers had many duels with the Kings, and so I frequently ran across him. He was thoughtful all the time, as was his teammate Vlade Divac. The two set the tone for the Kings having one of the tightest, friendliest locker rooms I've ever seen.

4. Mark Cuban. He's considered either a "media darling" or "media whore," depending on who's talking. But the reasons why are these: He has interesting things to say. He says those in an interesting way. He is legit. Insightful. Entertaining. Good dude. Worth all of the hype.

3. Eric Musselman. We both spent formative years in Brecksville, a suburb of Cleveland, and that helped break the ice on a memorable interview I had with him. I found him to be extremely creative and thoughtful, and he actually hand wrote a thank you note for a story I did on him. He could easily be No. 1 on the list, but I moved him down because hist time was short-lived in the NBA as a head coach for the Warriors and Kings.
I notice that a lot is connected on this list because Eric Musselman's dad, Bill Musselman, coached Flip in college at the University of Minnesota. Another connection to Bill Musselman is that my mom used to play bridge with his wife.

But if you want even more connections to me, the Musselman family and my Stevens family. Eric is now coaching Nevada, Reno, where my cousin, Len Stevens, coached from 1987-1993.

2. Steve Kerr. When Kerr was ending his career with the San Antonio Spurs and hardly played, I was first shocked that reporters huddled around him when he wasn't in the team's rotation. Why? I quickly realized how insightful and well-spoken he was about basketball. I'm impressed that he has parlayed his verbal skills into being one of the top coaches in the league with the Warriors.

1. Gregg Popovich. On a random Saturday in the fall, no media was around Staples Center, and I interviewed "Pop" for 30 minutes. I asked him anything, and everything, I could think of. He obliged with sincere answers with depth. I'll never forget that.

Pop was accommodating and kind. He gave me a glimpse into leadership and understanding at an elite level. He was inspiring. Could I ever play basketball like Tim Duncan? ... No. Could I ever understand human beings as much as Pop. .... Maybe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I am Destro

I am Destro.

I would have never realized this, except Wolf Pack member Dave just asked, "Will this make you Destro?"

The answer is "uh, well, yes."

I proposed marriage to the woman I love, Dina, who I've described as, "Y'know, she looks like the Baroness from G.I. Joe."

This information means the following: I have proposed marriage to the Baroness. I am now Destro.

I did not know the complete Destro story, but based on intense Internet research, I have learned: "Destro's key characteristics are his sense of honor, a calm demeanor and love for Cobra's second-in-command, the Baroness."

One major difference between me and Destro, though, is that he is forced to wear a steel mask for crimes, while I have a more conventional head made by 100 percent Polack DNA.

This will be the second marriage for both me and the Baroness. I might argue that fact makes the marriage even more impressive. No myths. No fantasies. Just pure love, understanding and the ability to feel good daily and feel happy to see each other each day.

I could say the details of the romantic proposal. I did it on my 42nd birthday! I did it at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That Frank Gehry — he deconstructs architectural standards with massive projects of impact. I might say that I got her father's blessing in advance and got down on a knee.

But, nah, let's have those details disappear. I just feel cool, knowing that I'm giddy over my girl, the Baroness, and she loves her Destro, AKA the Polack.
Shoot, I must admit I don't "know" anything. This marriage proposal is guttural. I didn't consciously choose this, but I would if I could. I don't choose to love Dina, but I would if I could choose it. This love thing has chosen me, and I love it. I love her.

Yeah, Hawkeye will be hitting on her at the bar. Clutch will be making some advances after he fixes her car. I'll, too, get my fair share of winks from Scarlett. That's life when you're a couple in love: Destro and the Baroness.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Attempted retraction turns into diatribe No. 2

Meathooks has called for a retraction.

I lost a 25 cent bet to Cousin Paulie.

Cleveland is happy, and its residents will be making sweet, sweet love tonight because the Browns actually won a game.

But I still can't stand Johnny "Freakin" Football.

What is my problem?

I just don't like him as a human being, a person. I try not to judge people, but when the weight of my Cleveland Browns falls on his 5-foot-6 shoulders, I believe I'm allowed to ponder this guy.

First of all, thank God the Browns beat the Tennessee Titans to improve to 1-1 and hold on for a 28-14 win. Manziel threw two touchdown bombs to Travis Benjamin, and those were the obvious offensive highlights. The first TD bomb on the second play of the game set the tone, and Johnny Football deserves major credit for that.

I've upgraded my thoughts on Manziel from "he's an absolute bust" to "let's wait and see — but he's probably a bust."

I am conflicted on whether I want him to be a bust. With a Browns first philosophy, I want him to work out and be a superstar. However, he is the most unlikable sports figure to don a Cleveland uniform — according to me.

I'm not even sure who's in the running. Albert Belle from the Indians was much-maligned. Ricky Davis from the Cavs could be redonkulous. I'm sure there have been plenty of criminals, but Manziel remains the biggest douche.

This could be a Snooze Button Generation (TM) gap. This punk is only 22, and I'm 41. Maybe there is a generation gap with this kid because I repeatedly look at him and think, "You got to be kidding me."
My gut tells me that Manziel still has the maturity of a flea. My gut says that he is all flash — and no substance. Even in football, he had two spectacular TD flings. But other than that, he was not good.

Johnny Football's success on the field may very well have to do with his mentality. I believe he has a highlight-reel mentality, but I'm not convinced he knows how to do little things to get a team to win.

I also surmise his personal life is like that. I bet he'd be a great guy to date because of the flash, but when it comes to hanging out at home and feeling chill, he'd be fumbling all night long.

Would I want my daughters to date him? Oh, God no. Would you want that for your daughters?

I don't trust Johnny Manziel, and I don't like that feeling. When the weight of the Cleveland Cavs is on LeBron James' shoulders, yes, I'll take that. If the weight of the franchise is on Manziel's shoulders, I am still thinking, "What has happened to us?"

But, hey, let's put this all in perspective. The Browns won. They're 1-1, and they've been to the playoffs once in the past 20 years. Even if today ends up as the highlight of Manziel's career, we'll take it!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Please, just release Manziel

As a native of Cleveland and longtime Los Angeles resident, I often look at connections between my beloved Cleveland and L.A.

The most obvious connection is this:

Both towns have been without the NFL since 1996.

You might say I’m being too harsh to the Browns, who actually did go 7-9 last season — their third best record in the past 20 years.
But I was absolutely disgusted — yes, disgusted — with the team’s 31-10 loss to the New York Jets this past Sunday. It’s time to vent!

Here I am on Thursday still disgusted. The team had the entire offseason to prepare for the Jets, who went 4-12 last year, and was blown out in the opener.

I believe we all have issues. We all have anger. We have negative thoughts and feelings at times. I put all of mine onto one person: Johnny Manziel — the devil incarnate, a boy who doesn’t belong on the football field, a symbol of the dysfunction of the Cleveland Browns. He’s got to go, ASAP.

Manziel does not belong in the NFL. The jury isn’t still out on whether he can be productive in the league. He is NFL incompetent. We knew that last year. We still know that this year. The possibility of Manziel playing more for the Browns makes me want to puke.

See, a lot about being an NFL quarterback is about instincts. Manziel is not a “throw-first” passer. He’s not even a “run-first” passer. He was a college star whose game does not translate whatsoever to the NFL. He can’t be “Clockwork Oranged” into a player with instincts that work in the NFL. I feel embarrassed for my team and for my city when he’s on the field. 

The fact that the Browns have him as the team’s backup quarterback irks me. The football people in the organization know that he will never be serviceable in the league. The ceiling on Johnny Manziel is “backup quarterback.” But his mentality and personality are so selfish and unhelpful, that role will not work. I say the Browns just cut his ass.

No one wants to admit mistakes. If somehow Manziel miraculously transforms his game into Andrew Luck’s or any legitimate starter in the league, then I will gladly print out this scathing column about him, place it next to my TV and remind myself how wrong I can be.

Impossible!

Unfortunately, I’m not wrong on this one. Manziel is the worst of the Browns’ 23 quarterbacks since coming back as a franchise in 1999. That list includes Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Manziel couldn’t hold Seneca Wallace’s jock.

Have the Browns learned anything in 20 years?

You can’t just half-assedly pick Manziel because he won the Heisman, has a lot of Instragram followers and was around for the 22nd pick.

How in the world can he be selected that high and over Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr?

Manziel? A franchise quarterback? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!
The Browns know very well that Manziel will never be a franchise quarterback. And what is the point of keeping around a 22-year-old dickhead who has no chance of being that franchise guy?

The team’s acquisition of Josh McCown was the best they could do for a stopgap until one day that miraculous franchise QB comes along. But it would have been nice if they had McCown and St. Ignatius’ own Brian Hoyer on the roster this year instead of Johnny Freakin’ Football.

Of course, the team is so dysfunctional that it became impossible to have that scenario because Hoyer attempted to be a leader and apparently that was unacceptable to the insecure brass of the team. Plus, the offensive coordinator from last year, Kyle Shanahan, asked to be released from his contract to become the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. Egads! What madness!

The Browns are an absolute laughingstock. No exaggeration.

My daughters and I make fun of them. Yes, we will be watching this Sunday. I am praying to God that I don’t have to see Manziel play. I am hoping that Austin Davis passes him on the depth chart. I’d like to see a 24th Browns quarterback in 16 years. 

Of course, I expect to hear this argument: “Manziel isn’t the only problem.”

True that.

But for a franchise that has had one playoff game in the past 20 years (a loss to the Steelers in 2002), the Browns’ dysfunction has been on display for so long that I can’t take this crap anymore. I’m especially frustrated now because the Browns went 7-9 last year, and there is absolutely no chance they can equal that this year. The team will be yet again taking a step back.

You might say, “Cool your jets. It’s only been one game!”

The roster simply does not have players that can win on the NFL level. I’m not certain the team can even compete on the NFL level.

Only one of two things can happen to help me believe the franchise is headed in the right direction.
Jimmy Haslam sells the team. The whole culture and structure of the franchise needs to be blown up, and, ultimately, that is the only way that can possibly happen.

Release Johnny Manziel.

Hopefully, McCown will be cleared to play from his “concussion protocol,” and the Browns will have a fighting chance against the Tennessee Titans.

I’m actually jealous of the lame Titans. They have a shot at having a franchise quarterback with Marcus Minotta. The Browns have no chance at that with Manziel.


I’d rather have nothing than him.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Italy: The Michael McDonald of the West

Ahh, the European lifestyle.

I've just completed a two-week stay in Italy, where my lifestyle resembled that of the Euros — and tourists — around me. I'd have a continental breakfast with espresso, shower and then sing Michael McDonald songs.

Right after the shower, I'd involuntarily sing, "Takin' it to the Streets" because it was time for Dina and me to take it to the streets and explore. Our two-week path went to Rome, Sierra, Florence, Cinque Terre, Milan, Venice, Verona and back to Rome.

I quickly realized that Michael McDonald songs were relevant to nearly every Italian city.

Venice = "What a Fool Believes" The city is so winding and confusing with its hidden paths and layout. As I thought I figured out the paths, I'd be cocksure we were going the right direction. Oh, no, not all the time. What a fool believes. He sees. No wise man has the power. To reason away. 

Florence = "Sweet Freedom" The home of the Renaissance displays the freedom artists took in painting and sculpture. The song came out when I was in the Uffizi Gallery. Shine sweet freedom. Shine your light on me. You are the magic. You're right where you want to be.

Rome = "I Keep Forgettin'" I found Rome to be a more walkable city than expected. Dina and I "stumbled" across a few major sites that I had forgotten were in our path. The Pantheon was an obvious example of that. Plus, it's easy to forget the cultural significance of so much in Rome. I Keep Forgettin'. Things will never be the same again.

All Italian Cities = "Takin' it to the Streets"
Through intense Internet research, I have learned that Michael McDonald was absolutely huge to the Doobie Brothers. Yes, the band had "Listen to the Music" and "China Grove" before him, but he took the band in a much different direction and is the most famous member of the group by far.

Italy is to Western culture as Michael McDonald is to the Doobie Brothers.

The metaphor should be obvious to all who visit Italy. Of course, the comparison isn't perfect. Throughout our stay in Verona and the opera "Tosca," I was involuntarily humming "My Verona."

Friday, July 17, 2015

My grandma: The original bargainista

The best thing about comedy is that you can tackle taboo issues, important stuff that might not normally be talked about. And today, I am going to tackle an important taboo issue: Yachting.

Joking.

The issue is money. Money is one of the biggest taboo issues in America today.

People spend money differently, and we tend to do it like our parents, whether we want to or not. Actually, I see a money evolution with each generation less cheap than the previous one. Each generation is less cheap — and less religious. We’re godless spenders.

My maternal grandma was by far the most frugal person I’ve ever encountered. It would be easy to call her the cheapest person I’ve met, but “cheap” is a negative word. She was a Pollack from Cleveland, Ohio, who turned frugality into an art form and obsession. She wasn’t a cheapskate. She was a bargainista.

Yes, bargainista — like fashionista. Fashionistas take style to a whole other level. My grandma took finding deals and being frugal to an elite place.

Her basement was filled with two-liter bottles of soda, huge boxes of laundry detergent, boxes of  Ivory soap and all the other things she ever owned in her life. Was she a packrat? Is Donald Trump a racist?

But my grandma was more than a packrat. I’m obviously an O.G. — an original gangsta. She’s the O.B. — the original bargainista.
Whenever I drink fizz-less, stale soda, it takes me back to grandma’s house. She would use a buy-one-get one coupon for soda, limit four, but she took that to the next level by having friends and family members use coupons for her. She was a coupon pimp. We were her coupon hookers.

There was no need to ever buy ketchup or salt or pepper. She had free packets from Burger King we’d use. Why would my mother ever buy me new clothes? She had some perfectly fine clothes I could use.

She had a depression mentality of saving that most of us in 2015 just can’t relate to. I have tried to cut the ties of my grandma’s bargainista ways, and I actually buy ketchup bottles in the store.

But the more I look back, I believe being a bargainista is something to be proud of. My grandma was a complex individual with many layers of wisdom, practicality and hidden baseball cards (somewhere in the attic, we thought).

For the longest time, I’d be slightly embarrassed by how she treated money. But now, I realize it’s something to be lauded — in my mandated clean underwear (if I ever were in an accident, the paramedics would know I came from good stock).

Either you know bargainistas, or maybe you yourself are a bargainista. The only problem is sometimes being so focused on getting a good deal, you end up getting a deal you don’t need or want— or end up buying a pack of 100 Slim Jims.
You might be a bargainista if:

• You’ve ever bought a Groupon for a massage, skydiving — or an adult magician. 

• You’ve argued to use coupons that you fully know are for a different product. I mean: How could there be a difference between Tartar Control with Brightening and Extra Brightening?

• Your first thought when receiving any gift card is: “OK, who can I re-gift this to?”

• You will only keep a Starbucks card because when using a Starbucks card, it completely takes off any pressure to tip the barista.

• You’ve ever cashed in a Subway card, coffee shop card or any disintegrating card in your wallet, where you only needed to purchase 10 things in order to get one free.

• You’ve specifically bought clothing with the intention of returning it after wearing it just once.

• You’ve seen two movies in one day at the same theater, but only paid for one. And in your mind, you consider it justice and a protest against the ridiculous prices of movies nowadays.

• You’ve ever smelled a carton of milk three weeks past its expiration date with the hopes that just maybe it will still be good.

• You’ve ever had an entire meal on free samples from Costco.


I must admit. Yes, indeed, I am a bargainista — just like my grandma. Time to run. Sushi happy hour ends at 6.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The top 10 comedians of all-time

The Snooze Button Generation (TM) released its list of the "10 Best Comedians of All-Time" today as the corporation's founder/CEO defended the list to much scrutiny.

"Look," Snooze Button Generation founder/CEO Joe Stevens said. "This is a subjective list by nature. But its picks are objective. These are the funniest people I've ever encountered."

Stevens has taken a lot of criticism for having eight white males on the list and one "token" black comedian and another "token" female. He denied that the list was flat-out racist or sexist.

"I respect that comedians and fans love Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock," Stevens said. "But those guys just don't do it for me as much as the others. I like them all on various levels, but they just didn't crack the top 10. They're no Monsignor Ciolek."

What about the females?

"Of course, there are plenty of incredible female comedians," he said. "But I just couldn't find a spot for Minnie Pearl or Dolly Parton."

The Snooze Button Generation's 10 Best Comedians of All-Time:

10. Bill Cosby
It's definitely horrific that The Cos may be remembered as a rapist who repeatedly drugged women. That puts a slight damper on his comedy legacy. But as far as a comedian, he killed it. I recall watching "Fatherhood" in the mid-80s with my extended family going berserk to his humor.
9. Monsignor Casimir Ciolek
Not as popular as Cosby, Monsignor Ciolek was the pastor of my childhood church, SS. Peter and Paul in Garfield Heights, Ohio. When anyone accidentally called him "Father Ciolek," he would retort, "I'm a monsignor!!" He rarely cracked a smile and was a master of the deadpan.

8. Sarah Silverman
She's pretty crafty on the Twitter, and she talks hard — like a dude. Of course, there are other female comedians that others prefer, such as Tina Fey or Roseanne or Madeleine Albright, but Silverman wins it for being so bluntly funny.

7. Cato
I have known Cato since kindergarten, when I believe we had different classes but already had strangleholds as the funniest students in class. Seriously, Cato is one of the funniest people I know. He has the best Facebook updates I've seen, and I give him props.
6. Robin Williams
Of course, it's so sad what happened on Aug. 11. An awful ending to a bombastic comic career that boomed. I remember nearly crying from laughter, watching him on Letterman with the XMan and my mom. He could make this list for his arm hair alone.

5. Uncle Steve
I can't even begin to mention the catch phrases, stories and sensibility that came from my Uncle Steve. He was a major contributor to my sense of humor as well as my cousins and family. He worked in advertising in Cleveland, wrote books and will entertain anyone he encounters.

4. Norm MacDonald
Honestly, Norm is my favorite comedian of all-time, but he does not have the elite clout of Robin Williams, Bill Cosby and others on the list. I rarely see comedians in concert because they tend to have a lot of misses. I saw Norm recently. He rarely has a miss on stage, and I often find myself speaking in the same cadence as he does. What does that mean?
3. Jerry Seinfeld
I recommend Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" to anybody. It makes me realize how incredibly insightful and witty the master is. Who knows more about Cocoa Puffs?

2. George Carlin
Carlin is on another plane when it comes to comedians. Not only was he influential, he was smart and hilarious and meaningful. His comedy will hold up forever. That can't be said for a lot of other influential comedians who's stuff becomes too dated or too overplayed.

1. Fred Stevens Jr.
My brother recently attended what I believe was his first country music concert ever. He embraced the vapid cultural experience by donning a cowboy hat and potentially wearing a confederate flag thong. If you give him a microphone, he makes Michael Scott look humorless. Here he is during a recent visit to California:





Friday, May 8, 2015

The Fight of the Century

Being a week removed from "The Fight of the Century," we can now take a calmer look at what it meant. We're not talking about the zillion dollar spectacle between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. We're talking about Keegan Bradley vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

As a youth, I was often confused by my father, the XMan, when he would watch golf on TV.

I would say: "Come on, Dad, let's go play catch."

He'd say, "After the golf."

"Why not now?"

"There could be a fight," he'd reply.

No lie. We had that same conversation, and joke, for decades. I never saw a fight on the PGA Tour — until last week.

No punches were thrown between Bradley and Jimenez. But Bradley was hard-core pissed, and so was his caddie, nicknamed "Pepsi." Honestly, I think Bradley and Pepsi were so angry because they were losing to a 51-year-old sophisticated gentleman and didn't know how to handle that.
One thing I love about the argument between the duo is that they were both 0-2 in their third match of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. In other words, neither could advance in the tournament, so the match really didn't mean anything. ... Love it!

For a golf addict, the current Match Play format was an orgy of goodness from Wednesday through Saturday. The field is 64 through Friday and then 16 and eight on Saturday. The tricky thing, though, is when the final four are left, there aren't enough players left for good TV on Sunday.

Two Match Play points: 1) We need more Match Play. 2) Somehow have more matches on Sunday.

But who cares, other than golf geeks? Two players nearly came to blows, and for God's sakes, golf needs more of this. I'd love to see Craig and/or Kevin Stadler sit on Tiger, or maybe Mickelson karate chop Louis Oosthuizen in the gap between his teeth.

Fight, guys, fight. It would be nice to see golfers getting a little more nasty. Go ahead. Take your cues from Elin Nordegren.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Steal these jokes

I am in the midst of a week-long trip to New Orleans. One thing I did not realize was this: A week in New Orleans is a lengthy time because of the reveling lifestyle all around me.

All thing considered — I'm inspired. I liken myself to a writer, and I have enjoyed reading "Poking a Dead Frog" by Mike Sacks. The book features "conversations with today's top comedy writers," and it's entertaining and informative.

When I was reading an interview with Carol Kolb and Will Tracy of "the Onion," I thought, "Wait a minute. I could write these headlines for the Onion."

So on the flight to New Orleans, I quickly came up with 20 possible headlines for the Onion, and here are my 10 favorite of those in no particular order:

Aunt repeatedly uses ‘FML’ to abbreviate family on Christmas newsletter

Redneck arrested for punching Jackson Pollack painting

One month ‘relationship’ ends over comfortable shoes comment

Area man screwed by accidentally buying organic lettuce 

Kanye to protest music industry by changing name to ‘Singer Formerly Known as Prince’
Local husband joins mile-high club — alone

Son flabbergasted by mom’s 47 open apps

Area boy memorizes pi to 1,000 places; virginity remains intact

Pete Townsend pissed as he finally gets fooled again

Man fails to clean Easter bunny costume for 12th consecutive year

Eh, I enjoy coming up with these and feel I may do this more often. It's easy and fun for me. Feel free to steal any of these jokes and have fun with your friends and family (FML).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Parenting & Teaching = Ashford & Simpson

Sophie Stevens officially became a "ten-ager" on Thursday as she officially celebrated her 10th birthday. A decade on the planet. Like!

I had a birthday party for Soph and am happy she's my daughter. In news that is actually related, I attended something called "The CUE Conference" in Palm Springs from Thursday to Saturday. It was a conference on teaching and technology, and it was the first time I ever went to any type of teaching conference.

Parenting and teaching. They're more closely related than Captain & Tennille, Penn & Teller and even Ashford & Simpson.

Honestly, the main reason I'm a teacher is because I thought it would help my parenting. And it has.

I'm on the same daily schedule as my girls, and how to act with people decades younger than me is important. So many skills are transferable between parenting and teaching that I see them as feeding off of each other. Of late, I've really taken in the following three skills as a parent and teacher:

1) Get out of their way. Kids have talents and interests, which are healthy. Let them do their thing. Try to open the world up to them as much as possible.
2) Feel genuinely happy. Kids have a sixth sense of knowing how adults feel, and, in turn, they often feel the same way. They feed off your energy. If you're not productive, they won't be. If you're not feeling happy, it makes it way harder for them to be.

3) Talk with them. Don't talk to them. Communication is the foundation of ALL relationships. While authority in parenting and teaching is a necessary component, the communication has to be open, fair and kind. If not, the kids will close off, and that's no good for anyone.

On this current day, as I look at my daughters, Sophie and Chloe, they look as happy as they've ever been. Perhaps it goes back to No. 2. I'm as happy as I've ever been.

Chloe got a bang trim. We each had a Jamba Juice, and I'm feeling good about being a teacher and parent. My conference was good and all, and I liken it to a golfer's conference on golf clubs.

Technology, to me, offers teachers great tools. But, in all reality, the necessary skills of a good teacher, or parent, predate all of our awesome technology and probably are not that closely related to technology.

Sure, someone could stumble across this blog and be inspired. But I still have a fear that some parents and teachers are trying to replace interpersonal skills with technology, instead of enhancing those skills with technology.

I see myself as a teacher and parent who understands the incredible options we have. I am a fan of iPhones, YouTube, iPads, iMovie, blogging, Yelp and much more. But, alas, I have to run now. It's time to play Sequence with Sophie and Chloe.
video

Monday, February 16, 2015

Just like daddy

"Father, where do babies come from?"

"Daddy, what is the Ku Klux Klan?

Every so often, a parent may face a difficult question, and the other day, I faced this doozie from Chloe: "Daddy, can I start a blog?"

At first glance, that could have been a tough thing to answer. But I quickly realized that it would be no problem to help Chloe get a blog titled Chloe Stevens' Blog on Tumblr.

Chloe has done four entries, and she put a brief video in her last one. Her entries may be even more innovative than the Snooze Button Generation. What!?

I know of no other 7-year-olds with blogs, and as she writes about finding flowers, her school day, pull-apart erasers and Hollywood, it is a way to show what life is like for a second grader in 2015.

Of course, Chloe may be no normal second grader. She has extremely high social and emotional intelligences for a girl of her age, and she has an excellent grasp of empathy and sympathy. She exhibits strengths in categories of well-being that I have learned are exceptionally important.

Chloe's 9-year-old sister, Sophie, is no slouch, either. Sophie's mind is a sponge, and it seems like she remembers everything. I especially like Sophie's penchant for art and music and that she is a meticulous student. I have suggested that she should do a blog, too.

The major problem I find with blogs, though, is that they are often short-lived or erratic. One positive about the Snooze Button Generation is that it has been around since August 2009. It started out with numerous fun 'n' ridiculous entries in 2009, having 69 posts in the final five months of the year and then 93 entries in 2010.

However, in a stark tone shift, the blog hit a major obstacle exactly four years ago today, when my dad, the XMan, passed away on Feb. 16, 2011. Each year on this date I've done a blog in remembrance of him, and this year is a slight deviation because of the focus on Chloe's blog.

The XMan is connected to the blog thing because he loved the Snooze Button Generation. In fact, I learned that he printed out the entries and kept them in a large envelope. He always supportive of me. That's how he was.

My plans are to continue to write entries for the Snooze Button Generation but only about once a month — at the minimum. I may do more if necessary. But right now, I am equally excited about Chloe Stevens' Blog.

We shall see how long Chloe sticks with the blog, and whatever she does, I will support her. That's how I am.
video

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Cavs need executive power — fast

I hope I'm wrong, but there is a good chance Cleveland will end up hating LeBron again.

Of course, we Clevelanders are happy he attempted to right his wrong of leaving Cleveland by coming back. But the current Cleveland Cavaliers have lost six consecutive games and have stumbled to a disappointing 19-20 record. They aren't even close to having a championship team. They have to make a major move.

By "major move," many might assume they need to make a trade or acquire more players that fulfill important roles — namely defense. That all might help. But, no, no, what Cavs owner Dan Gilbert must do is hire a championship-caliber executive to give the Cavs organization a chance at competing with other organizations.

The Cavs' general manager is a relatively obscure guy named David Griffin. He spent 17 years with the Phoenix Suns in various roles before coming to the Cavs. No offense to Griffin, but he certainly has no championship experience. He wasn't an NBA player and started his career in media relations.

The Cavs' coach is David Blatt, who is in his first year coaching in the NBA. Blatt does receive some criticism, but really, Blatt is not the Cavs' problem. The Cavs' problem is this: The people in their front office do not match the talent on the court, and there is no way the Cavs can win without proper personnel in place.

Let's repeat that key line in all caps for effect: THE PEOPLE IN THEIR FRONT OFFICE DO NOT MATCH THE TALENT ON THE COURT, AND THERE IS NO WAY THE CAVS CAN WIN WITHOUT PROPER PERSONNEL IN PLACE.

Unfairly for LeBron James, he is being forced into a role that is wrong for a player. He has to be the sole member of the organization for leadership on all levels. The Cavs need an obvious leader in the front office who has authority over LeBron, and they're not even close to having that.

In Miami, coach Erik Spoelstra had a similar role as Blatt. They're both "players' coaches" and understand their role as NBA coaches, which needs finesse because it typically is subservient to players. In their case, it sure is.
But what Miami had, and has, that Cleveland doesn't is Pat Riley. The buck stopped with Riley, who obviously had authority over LeBron. Right now, nobody in the Cavs' organization has authority over LeBron, and that recipe simply won't work for a championship.

If you look back at NBA championship teams since 1980, all of them either had a coach or executive that is a Hall of Famer in their respective job, or is debatable to be a Hall of Famer. Riley was with Miami and the Lakers. Gregg Popovich is a stalwart in San Antonio, and, of course, Phil Jackson accounts for 11 championships in that time period. The list continues after them.

The New York Knicks appear to fully understand the necessity of having an elite front-office person as they gave Jackson a five-year, $60 million contract in March. The problem with the 5-35 Knicks, though, is that their roster does not have potential to be a championship team, no matter what kind of Zen magic Jackson can pull.

With LeBron and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs definitely have the makings of a championship roster. But until they also have a championship executive, it simply will not happen.

Do I have any bright ideas on whom to get? Not really. They can maybe try to get Don Nelson out of mothballs. Or they can try to poach an elite executive from a current team. Good luck with that!

I'm just hoping Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is taking this gaping hole in the front office seriously and makes a move before April that addresses this. If not, the Cavs' championship hopes will be gone —and so will LeBron.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

My breakfast with Tom Green

I have never been starstruck in my life — until this morning. What scares me is that I didn't think it were possible for me to be starstruck, but it happened when Dina and I had breakfast next to Tom Green and his girlfriend at Du-Par's in Studio City.

"Psst, look who's next to us," I said to Dina, a moment after we sat down.

Dina nonchalantly looked over and obviously knew who it was. She acted normally, but I clammed up, not knowing what to do. I opted to do absolutely nothing because I thought that would be the coolest move.

I must state that during my life as a journalist, I have met a boatload of celebrities, and some big names, including George Lucas, William Shatner, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, actually pretty much any basketball-related celebrity and the list goes on. I have never acted differently around any of them ad never had my heartbeat change in any of their presences. So why in the world did my heart skip a beat around Tom Green?

One factor is that it was a surprise to be going about my normal life and, bam, be right next to the guy. Another factor is that I am not into celebrity culture, but I do legitimately like how Tom Green has grown, going from goofy-ass comedian to thoughtful talk-show host.

What must be understood is that during the past year I have only watched three shows regularly: 1) "Top Chef", 2) "Tom Green Live" on AXS TV and 3) "Norm MacDonald Live" on YouTube.

Because Top Chef is a pop culture staple, I don't think I'd have any trouble running into Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi or any of the Top Chef crew. For reasons I can't totally explain, I wouldn't be starstruck by them.

In my world, based on time spent watching them, my top two celebrities are Tom Green and Norm MacDonald.
Typically, Dina and I are the most attractive couple in any room. At Du-Par's, we still held that post. Tom Green's girlfriend was attractive, but Dina edged her out. I beat Tom Green, although he surprised me by his height. Usually, celebrities are extremely short. But Tom is listed as 6-foot-3. I'm 6-foot-1, and in real life, he might be taller than me, although it's close.

This past year, I watched every episode of "Tom Green Live," which may be an oddball thing because many people don't even know this show exists. Perhaps my devotion to Tom's AXS TV show explains why I was tongue-tied being right next to him. Had it been Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Robert De Niro or any other huge celebrity, I wouldn't have thought much about it because they're all regarded as huge celebrities.

Living in Studio City, Dina apparently runs into celebrities often. I suspect that I have with her as well, but, again, really the only two I know are Tom and Norm.

At Du-Par's, it wouldn't have been a stretch to look at me, Dina, Tom and has girlfriend and think we were together. Tom and I each wore hoodies, although mine had a little more style to it. We both were unshaven and were sitting so close that we heard each other's conversations.

Tom wasn't feeling well, and he and his gal were going to pick up cold stuff at Ralph's. Dina and I talked about getting a new bed frame and created a plan for the day because it was too rainy to hike. How interesting for all of us!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Laugh. Think. Cry.

Happy holidays!

By my count, nine days remain until Christmas Eve — and I am attempting to cry on each of those days

I think we may live in an a "it's wrong to cry" type of world, and "F" it, I'm crying.

See, the holidays bring up any, and all, memories connected to youth, family and good cheer, and it's the perfect time to weep. I have stifled that type of feeling in the past, and now I'm letting loose with the pouring of my tears.

I wish that I could claim this plan as my own, but in reality, it is former North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano's plan. I recently watched Jimmy V's famous Espy speech from 1993, which can be seen below or by clicking here.

Valvano was diagnosed with cancer in June 1992. He gave this speech in March 1993 and passed away in April '93.

During the speech, he says that the three things everyone should do everyday is: Laugh. Think. Cry.

I subscribe to this plan and believe we would all be better off to do each of them daily. I usually laugh and think. The crying is more difficult. But, not really.

Why cry?

Of course, I desperately miss my father, the XMan, as I prepare for my fourth Christmas without him.  I also miss a lot of key family members, including my grandparents, Aunt Nancy and Mouse, and today I even heard the news that a close friend's dad passed away today. Apparently, death makes me cry.

But according to Jimmy V, tears of joy also count as a way to cry. When I think of the deep love I have for those close to me, it can bring out tears.

I think of this girl:
I also think of this girl:
And I feel like, yeah, I'll go ahead and cry. Why not?

Actually, the problem that one can run into with an attempt to weep for days on end is that at some point you feel dried up. So be it. I may put on "Terms of Endearment" and feel absolutely nothing.

Crying is an excellent thing. I enjoy being alive.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pizza Hut: Not exactly for foodies

For those of a certain generation — the Snooze Button Generation — there was a time when Pizza Hut was wonderful. When we were youngsters who enjoyed syrupy soda and hot, cheesy pizza pie, Pizza Hut ruled.

Unfortunately, Pizza Hut has been sucking for about two decades, and hardly any of the "restaurants" have an actual hut for a roof anymore.

Pizza Hut is the Radio Shack of pie.

You might ask: Why bring up Pizza Hut now?

Well, it's important to educate the younger generation on how the place used to be. Also, I have recently announced that "I am a foodie." For an 11-year-old boy, Pizza Hut constituted upscale cuisine. And when a pitcher of soda arrived, it was food paradise. I am pretty sure Pizza Hut is no longer for foodies.
As Thanksgiving arrives tomorrow, many of us will overeat and mention things we are happy for. I am happy of the glee I felt at Pizza Hut. But I don't know how to react to decades long absences of the Hut. It is extremely reminiscent of the horrific decline of Subway.

One decade ago, Pizza Hut created something called "Pizza Hut Italian Bistro." It tried to be a classier Pizza Hut with actual hut roofs that were silver. I'm pretty sure they failed, but if I run across one, I'll probably pass.

Instead, I'll just turn my head toward the heavens and remember the restaurant on Turney Road in Garfield Heights, Ohio. I'm pretty sure it had tabletop Pac-Mac machine, too. Italian World closer to my house had better pie, and Tasty's could hold its own. But, man, Pizza Hut used to also hold its own. Not anymore.

Goodbye, Pizza Hut. Good luck with your unvisitable 11,000 "restaurants" worldwide.




Monday, October 27, 2014

Stop this clock madness!

The great thing about being a member of the Snooze Button Generation (TM) is that we can look back at past technology or fads or the way we did certain things and laugh.

We had VCR's. We used drawers of index cards in libraries. We did an M.C. Hammer dance, and some of us even wore Hammer pants.

So, what I'm hoping is that this whole spring forward/fall back boondoggle goes the way of Hammer pants. We need to keep Daylight Saving Time forever, and finally do away with fiddling with our clocks.

The vast majority of Americans are behind this plan, but, unfortunately, no one in Congress is spearheading a campaign to "stop this clock madness!" In Florida, a small push was made for the Sunshine Protection Act to keep that state on Daylight Saving Time. However, ROPA (the Regulatory Overreach Protection Act) would likely not allow that to happen on a state-by-state basis.

Stop this clock madness! Keep Daylight Saving Time forever! We need AMERICA TIME! Let's go national.

This column came out on cnn.com a few days ago promoting the idea of keeping Daylight Saving Time intact. While the thesis of the column is correct, the argument is shoddy, and the suggestion to have states try to do it on their own wouldn't work because of ROPA.

Here are the top three reasons why we need to keep Daylight Saving Time permanent:
1) Energy will be saved.
2) Overall, the U.S. economy will be helped.
3) The general population is overwhelmingly for this.

I predict that Daylight Saving Time will be permanent in the United States within 20 years. I say it should happen ASAP.

Honestly, now would be a better time than ever. As partisan politics hinders Washington more than ever, this bipartisan issue would be perfect to bring Democrats and Republicans together.
Yes, it is true that people resist change. But it gets dark early enough. Let's save daylight, and — as the idea in the hackneyed CNN column suggested — let's save lives!





Monday, October 13, 2014

A completely 'Killer' collection of short stories

I truly enjoyed my four years at The Ohio State University from 1991 to 1995. And a big reason why was my college roommate — Ryan Kenealy.

Ryan had many nicknames. Initially, it was "Killer." Then, I started calling him "Big Bear" and then "Big Ass."

The name "Big Ass" didn't make any sense because he was not overweight, which might have made it funny. Eventually, I realized that maybe "Big Ass" wasn't the most flattering name, so I curtailed my usage of it. But damn it, a few others were using that name by then. Sorry.

Ryan was my roommate for three of my four years at OSU. We met at St. Ignatius High School, then we roomed at Baker Hall our freshman year. For sophomore year, we got an apartment at High Street and Frambes Avenue, and for junior year, we lived with Will, Greg and Zach at 48 Frambes Ave. Man, that was a fun year!

Ryan is an all-around good guy and cool dude. Because of the years we lived together, I am pretty sure he knows a bunch of embarrassing stories that could keep me out of the Supreme Court. I either have no comment or deny them all.

The main reason I'm writing about Ryan is that I just finished reading his debut book, "Animals in Peril" (Curbside Splendor). The book is a tour de force. It is a magnificent collection of short stories, and I think it should be read by all. It can be ordered by clicking here.

I went into "Animals in Peril" not knowing what to expect, and by the middle of the collection with a story called "It Can Take All That Talk Without Purpose," I realized that the book commanded attention not by just me, but perhaps all.

The stories until that one were all good, quirky and with unexpected paths and connected to animals. He wrote about an Uncle Dave bringing his sister discounted jewelry described as "gum ball jewelry." He talked about circus life, hinted at the possibilities of selling drugs, displayed the ins and outs of working at a flea market and put together an all-around worthwhile collection as is.

The book has so many unique and meaningful lines that it's a good read just for those alone. But as I read "It Can Take All That Talk Without Purpose," I got chills, and it made me realize Ryan's skills aren't just with the quirky one-liners of truth but to connect our 2014 existences with nature in ways that are totally true but hardly considered.
In "It Can Take All That Talk Without Purpose, " a divorced woman named Siobhan treats herself to a stay in a luxurious hotel and meets a hotel worker in her room described partly as "a Bears fan, Siobhan thought, but in the best possible way."

Siobhan is attracted to the man and remembers that "she'd once read how easy it was for a woman to get a man to have sex. All you had to do was laugh at his jokes then, at some point, take his hand in yours."

In an array of subtle, yet awkward, advances, Siobhan nervously chats to Paul — the Bears fan — and he responds, "You keep telling me how I feel about you. Do you usually tell people how they feel about you?"

Soon, Siobhan and Paul do indeed engage in sex. As both find their encounter meaningful, the story shifts to the hotel's valet who is talking about a bird called a junco, which was introduced to start the story.
The valet says, "Dis bird. Dis bird is very famous for it can take — if you are talking, you know, just like talking to talk — it can help you understand why you are talking to talk, and it can take all that talk without purpose and put it on its wings and fly it away from you."

I sometimes find myself talking to talk. I am that type of person, to fill in the silences, to do away with perceived awkwardness. I like smoothness— like on late night talk shows.

Maybe we all talk too much. Later in the story, the relatively quiet Paul says, "... I am a lucky man. And now I've met you."

In the story, Ryan then writes, "Siobhan smiled, but felt nervous about what Paul might be implying."

I feel we often forget we are walking animals. We think we are not connected to the junco, the squirrel, the skunk or the shih tzu, but we are.

I'm definitely connected to my college roommate Ryan. It seems like only yesterday that we'd stay up late, drink beer out of plastic cups and talk about how import art was to us. And now, his art is in print for all the world to see. Ryan, you da man!