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 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!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Where the heck is Attack on Facebook?

Where the heck is Attack?

I've been asking myself that question for the past four years, and, finally today, I must admit this: Attack on Facebook is gone, and I'm getting the feeling that it's gone for good.

For those who don't know, Attack is an online version of the world-famous board game Risk. You know the one: You roll three red dice. I'll roll one white one. Let's fight!

Attack was featured on Facebook until 2010. I am actually uncertain when it debuted on Facebook, but I can tell you that Facebook debuted to the general public in September 2006.

Facebook, when you think about it, was (or is) freaking incredible. I felt I got on Facebook slightly late when I added my account in April 2008. But that was less than two years after it existed. I have friends who held out to, like, a year or two ago.

But enough about Facebook and Zuckerberg's Caucasian Jerry curls.  I'm reminiscing about Attack, which I played intensely for a year or so. Then — poof! — it was gone.

Reasons as why Attack vanished are hard to find on the Interwebs, but my theory is that Facebook didn't think it was worth focusing on gaming as part of its empire. Zynga, which created Attack, is a mega-gaming company, and so I imagine there was some sort of no fit with Attack. But who knows? Attack is gone! Damn!

Perhaps the real question is what is the deal with games that deal with world domination and war? When my daughters were 4, I taught them an important card game called "War"? I mean, seriously, a 4-year-old can play that one.

Another favorite of mine was Combat on Atari, and I realize that maybe there is a little Hitler in all of us. Maybe we want to dominate the world and have horribly ridiculous facial hair.
Yeah, you could look at "War Games" with a youthful Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, and you could look at Battleship, and Electronic Battleship, and wonder why we, as youngsters, play so many games of war.

I am completely out of loop with modern-day video games and what "the kids" are playing today. I've heard of things called "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto," but I haven't really played them because of me being a member of the Snooze Button Generation and all.

I'm wondering if Attack on Facebook was the last time I really pretended to be a faux dictator and try to take over the world. Something in me desperately wants to say, "OK. I'm attacking Madagascar. Three on one. Let's roll."

Attack, where are you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Zen and the Art of Browns watching

I have become Zen when it comes to life — and especially when it comes to the Cleveland Browns.

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, the Browns came into my life extremely early— earlier than even my First Holy Communion as a second grader. You may ask: What are you saying? Are the Browns a religion in Cleveland?

No, no, they're not a religion. They're bigger than that.

The Browns are our passion, our way of life, our reason for being. They bring back memories of yesteryear and are our conversation starters and conversation enders. This year, they've got a lot of hype because of the crafty drafting of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, and with the return of LeBron James to his homeland, a lot of sports hype surrounds our city.

The problem is this, however. The Browns have been absolutely horrible for the past five years. They have not made the playoffs since 2002 and have not won a playoff game since 1994. For the past five years, their best record has been 5-11, and so frustration abounds when it comes to this franchise.

As a new season has started, I have taken a Zen approach to watching them. In past years, my strategy of Browns watching in Long Beach, Calif., was this: I would keep tabs on them, and if they had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, I would go to a public establishment to watch them. ... I didn't go to many establishments.

This year, I took a different approach in Week 1. When the Browns vigorously fought back to have a chance against the Steelers, my girls and I went to the beach. I followed Browns updates on my phone, and when they tied the score 27-27, only to lose 30-27, the girls and I took the above selfie.

For Week 2, I took a similar approach. I went golfing during the game. However, I couldn't help myself and followed the game a bit on my phone during the round.

As I saw the Browns were marching down the field in the final minute, I had an excellent couple of shots and put the golf ball five feet from the hole for birdie. As I walked to the green, my friend Don texted me, "Browns!" I knew what that meant, confirmed it with a score check and realized the Browns won for the first time since Nov. 3, 2013 (They lost their final seven games last year).

I converted my birdie putt, finished with an 83, which is the second lowest score of my life, and took the below selfie at that moment:
Due to the recent Browns success, however, things will be changing this Sunday as the Browns take on arch-nemesis Baltimore. DirectTV will be installed in my house this week, and the Browns will be on my Californian television.

Might I still go to the beach or golf during Browns games? Heck, yeah. But could the Browns be back? ... Here we go again.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mouse will be missed

What the 'F' is going on here?

Death is all around me this summer. Life is all around me this summer.

I might as well tweak that: Death is all around us this summer. Life is all around us this summer.

I am no Buddhist, for I am a Pollack. But I'm trying to wrap my head around why so many people connected to me have passed away this summer. All, but one, were a generation older than me and not in the Snooze Button Generation (TM), but this is forcing me to come to some conclusions that may be Buddhist-esque.

Perhaps this is what happens when a sophisticated gentleman, like myself, turns 40. Perhaps it's granted that those in a higher generation move on, but as I wasn't prepared for the XMan's inexplicable demise in 2011, perhaps I was not prepared for today either.

Mouse passed away today (Saturday). She was 71.

That is Mouse of "Uncle Steve and Mouse." She was the stepmother of The World's Most Dependable Man and Carlos, AKA "Know It All." She was a good-hearted, kind woman.

Mouse, AKA Maryann Fitzpatrick, officially married my Uncle Steve on the day I graduated from college in March 1995. She was with Uncle Steve since I was approximately 8, so I have known her for about 32 of my 40 years. She will be missed.

I just saw Uncle Steve and Mouse on the Fourth of July, in which we took the above photo. Although I have known Mouse's health was not superb, she looked far away from dying six weeks ago. I have no idea what to feel and/or think about what transpired today except to say that I loved Mouse and am sad this happened.

I especially feel for Uncle Steve, who lost such a huge part of him. I have no words for him, except to say that many people love him. By the way, during a recent visit to Cleveland, I ran across his picture in the regionally famous Harbor Inn. He is closest to me in this photo on a team of mega-dart champions in the late 1970s:
Y'know, with Robin Williams passing away from suicide/depression at 63 less than two weeks ago and with Mouse passing away today, I must point out some misconceptions many people have about certain deaths and human beings.

Mental illness and alcoholism remain taboos in modern-day America. They are both diseases. However, many of the general public do not view them that way. Mental illness and alcoholism, for some reason, are subjects that people believe are controllable. If either mental illness or alcoholism hits a loved one, many think it is because the person foolishly chooses to self-destruct. Simply put, that idea is ludicrous.

Bluntly, Mouse was an alcoholic. When she ordered "Mouse Water" at an array of Cleveland establishments, the bartenders knew that was straight vodka. Most people will read those previous two sentences and immediately judge her. Why?

Mouse had the disease of alcoholism, and her drinking was not in her control. I wish it were, but it wasn't. For lack of a better word, she had cancer, and she succumbed to it today. ... Heck, she made it to 71. She was happy, a good spirt and why not celebrate the positive impact that Mouse had on many people? I will celebrate her life, and I expect everyone who knew her to do this same. ... It is rough to see Mouse pass, but as the Indigo Girls say, "It's only life, after all ... yeah."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Taking it out and chopping it up

My "Summer of Cleveland" officially will end tomorrow when I fly back to Los Angeles with my daughters and the World's Most Dependable Man.

Tomorrow also will be my 33rd day in Cleveland this summer, by far the most in this land since 1996 when I had a summer job at The Plain Dealer. There were two stints this summer, one without kids when the power of THE RAM was discovered and this current stay in which we attacked Cleveland.

We took it out, and we chopped it up. We followed advice from Royal Tenenbaum in the "The Royal Tenenbaums," who said, "You can't raise kids to be scared of life. You got to brew some recklessness into them. ... I'm not talking about dance lessons. I'm talking about putting a brick through the other guy's windshield. I'm talking about taking it out and chopping it up."

We did that, metaphorically of course, as we repeatedly swam in Gary's pool, visited Chippewa Lake several times, explored the woods, went to Swings 'n' Things, golfed the Buzzard's Nest, navigated a boat through downtown and saw a game-tying home run by the Tribe in the ninth inning land three rows in front of us. In this video, by the way, you can see my brother Fred lifting up the lady who got the home-run ball and me dancing.

Why did we do all of this? Well, I enjoyed my childhood in Northeast Ohio, and I try to give a glimpse of that to my daughters. I simply like going back to my homeland, and I'm pretty sure the air in Cleveland has healing powers. Chloe likely believes this, too.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about my "Summer of Cleveland" was the ridiculously high 33 days spent here. I have loved nearly all of them, but I'm wondering if some relatives are sick of me by now.

Me: "What do you mean you're busy now? So what if it's 2 p.m. on a Wednesday? ... Forget about work. Shut off your phone, and we'll meet at the Burntwood Tavern pronto."

As a sophisticated gentleman and teacher, I must accept the fact that being on a powerboat roaring through Cleveland on a Tuesday afternoon is not that common for a lot of folks. Is it common to beat your chest like Matthew McConaughey in "The Wolf of Wall Street" with children ages 6-9?

I actually don't care if it's common or not. The girls and I had some unforgettable experiences that took them out of their California comfort zone and made us smile, and I'm hoping that happened to the many important people in our lives that we visited. We took it out and chopped it up.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Praise THE RAM. Hallelujah!

The Ram has healing powers.

I am not into voodoo, witchcraft, scientology or Catholicism, but I am into the mystical support The Ram gives me.

A few weeks ago, the Wolf Pack saddled up at the Winking Lizard in Independence, Ohio. Cato, a key member of the Pack, has a specific goal in mind: Drink 100 different beers at the Lizard and earn a T-shirt.

As the Wolf Pack helped Catonio work through his lengthy list of brews, Jeff — AKA Hefner, AKA the Heffman — ordered a beer that made me do a double take. He ordered something called the Celebrator Doppelbock from Ayinger Brewery in Germany. The beer came with two rams on its label and a trinket of a ram draped around the neck. I had never seen any beer that came with a trinket.

The next day it was time for a showdown. Cato and I faced off against Dave and the Heffman in golf at Astorhurst Country Club. At the beginning of the round, the Heffman hung The Ram on his golf cart with twine, and it dangled majestically.

Dave and the Heffman basically annihilated us on the front nine. While facing a deficit on the back nine, Catonio and I devised a plan to steal The Ram and see if our luck would change. We successfully stole The Ram, and mojo came to our side. We slowly got back into the match and had it all square going into the final hole.
Of course, Dave is a little too good for all of us. He and Jeff birdied the last hole to take the crown, but, scientifically, The Ram proved its worth.

I then tried to wear The Ram as a necklace, but due to the twine, I found it too itchy. Because of my intelligence and handyman skills, I transferred The Ram from the twine to a shoelace, thus making it wearable as a necklace.

We have since gone back to the Winking Lizard and have slightly hurt Cato's 100 beer plan by ordering more Ram beers. I have suggested that each member of the Wolf Pack wears The Ram to ward off demons. Jeff recently wore one dangling from his wristwatch.
Jeff also suggested that The Ram is likely the reason why LeBron James has returned to Cleveland. He is correct. Have I gone mad, putting my faith in a plastic trinket that comes with a beer? Of course not. At a certain point, you just have to throw logic out the window and take a leap of faith, like all good religions say. Guide me, Ram. Make me a channel of your peace.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The GREATEST day in Cleveland sports history?

As a self-appointed spokesman for the city of Cleveland, I must tell LeBron James this:

In my life, there's been heartache and pain.
I don't know if I can face it again.

LeBron, one more thing:

I wanna know what love is.
I want you to show me.
I wanna feel what love is.
I know you can show me.

Just like my brethren in Northeast Ohio, I had a giddy day of goodness as King James announced his return to our underrated and much-maligned city. I strangely got chills writing that sentence. Talk about drama! Talk about excitement!

There's excitement in the air come and watch them play — Cavs! Taking on the best in the NBA. Cavs! Cavs! Cavs!

(That was a jingle from back in the '80s when Mark Price dished many a pretty pass to Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, Ron Harper or even John "Hot Rod" Williams.)

For four grueling years of hopelessness, I have loathed LeBron James more than any living human being. Come to think of it, he was the only human I've loathed. For my own emotional health, I have tried to forgive him for his stupid-a$$ "Decision," but I could not. I was stuck in the anger mode of healing for four years and just couldn't get out that mode.

As a news alert from the New York Times came on my iPhone, my whole emotionality turned upside down in an instant. This was the opposite of a trauma. This was shocking, amazing, smiley face time, bona fide glee. I somehow even broke the news to my brother and mother. Throughout the day, I put my fingers in the air and rubbed them like Johnny Manziel. My daughters and I repeatedly did the finger rub in Souplantation.

A flurry of emotion hit when the news struck, and I simply surmise this is what Andre 3000 means when he sings:

I think I'm in love again.
Baby, you are the prototype.
Do sumn' outta the ordinary. 

Today could have possibly been "THE GREATEST DAY IN CLEVELAND SPORTS HISTORY" (since 1964). Hyperbole? Maybe. But even if the Cavs never win a championship, or even if they do, the scales of justice balanced out today. That could better than a championship.

Of course, analyzing today as potentially THE GREATEST DAY IN CLEVELAND SPORTS HISTORY also underscores how horrible our city's sports history has been in my lifetime. Yes, we nearly won the World Series in 1997 with one of the glorious Tribe teams of the '90s, but they coughed up the lead in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 and then lost in extra innings. Ouch!

I've always said that you learn more in making mistakes and in losing than you do with winning, and that is why Northeast Ohio has the most self-knowlegeable people on the planet. Seriously, through years of being a gamer and a fierce competitor, I know that competition is not about the end result. It's about the ride.

LeBron's return is going to put my beloved Cleveland on an internationally envied ride. Yeah, it would be nice if he and the Cavs sealed the deal with a championship. I do yearn to have just one Cleveland championship in my lifetime, and if that happens before I'm 50, it will be 28 years earlier than I thought it might happen (I used an abacus for that calculation).

But, really, goodness is in the air. I feel great. I feel alive. My trip to Cleveland last week helped, reading the book "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" by Dr. Seuss to my daughters also helped.

Yes, LeBron was an Outkast for the past four years. We viewed him as a Foreigner. 

LeBron, as Andre 3000 also sings in "Prototype," I must say:

Girl, right now I wanna say, I wanna say
I wanna say stank you very much
For picking me up
And bringing me back to this world...
I wanna say stank you, stank you.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cleveland: More beautiful than Spain

I am leaving heaven today, but I'll be back in a few weeks.

Now, some friends I have from California may not believe that my own personal Valhalla Cleveland, Ohio is as majestic as I say it is. My suggestion to them: Go there in the summer.

Every night I spent in Cleveland got to be a running joke because I'd behold the twilight and remark, "Oh my god. This is beautiful. This is more beautiful than Spain."

I wasn't exaggerating. The twilight in Cleveland puts a godlike glow on the many trees there, and the sky remains lit until about 9:45 p.m. The sun will officially go down at 9:04 p.m. today, but it really doesn't go down until another 40 minutes of wonder.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous each day I was here, and this land has two key natural things that Southern California does not have — clear, fresh air and fertile ground that needs no artificial watering.

For me, Cleveland also has a support system of family and friends that makes me identify Cleveland as home. My Wolfpack, which dates back to grade school, reunited, and that was especially impressive because a critical Pack member traveled all the way in from North Carolina.

I also played six (yes, six) rounds of golf. That's 108 holes. I played Sleepy Hollow, Astorhurst, Ironwood, Fox Meadow, Creekwood and Ridge Top. All of those courses are beautiful. They're all carved out around trees that have been around for centuries, and I hadn't played Astorhurst and Ridge Top since I was a kid. It simply felt right to be out there.

But beyond that, the big reason I was in Cleveland and, in total, will be there for more than a month this summer is the relationships. I have my mom and brother and cousins, who are like brothers, plus an extended family that felt good to see. 

Yesterday, on the Fourth of July, I went to Chippewa Lake, where the Stevens family now has three cottages at the circle. My idea is that I should buy a fourth one, and then we'll be allowed to tear them all down and build a hotel.
Chippewa always will hold a lot of memories for me, and with all these cottages now, many family members will be there much more now. Things evolve, and I — and perhaps many in the Snooze Button Generation
— look to the past with nostalgia, whether it be the Apple IIe, dial-up Internet or blowing off firecrackers at age 10.

Sometimes it's nice to look back to the past to enhance the present. Hopefully, that's what I was doing in Cleveland, which is growing and thriving and the most beautiful place I've ever been to in the summer.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

A 'perfect' Father's Day

"It's a perfect day. The Indians won."

My dad used to say that whenever anyone asked him how he was, and when it happened to be one of the approximate 80 times a year when the Cleveland Indians shined bright like a diamond. I realize, mathematically, that approximately 22 percent of my dad's days were perfect.

Today, the Tribe did win in extra innings against Boston, and the girls and I tore it up on Father's Day. We actually blew it out this entire weekend (their first without school!). Sophie had her first round with the Long Beach Golf Academy on Friday night and had a blast with her peers, then we had a rip-roaring birthday party for Chloe on Saturday. Today, we went to both a water park and played nine holes on a par-3 course. Winning!

My goal with the girls and golf is to play every Father's Day for the next 40 years. I would like us to take a picture every year and see how we progress. The interesting thing about the above picture is that I said we should each hold our favorite clubs. Sophie chose driver. Chloe had her 7-iron, and I grabbed my putter. ... We would be perfect in a scramble.

I shot lights out with the girls at Heartwell Golf Course, where the average length of a hole is 125 yards. I only had two bad shots. I missed a 3-foot putt on the first hole and had a bad chip on another hole for my only bogeys of the day. I birdied one hole to finish with a 1-over 28. Unfortunately, the par-3 course is extremely short and plays into my strengths, but I still am bragging about my score.

I expect Father's Day to always bring up various emotions because my dad is no longer here. For God's sakes, I am living for him. I am trying to do everything I can to be the best dad I can be. Indeed, life is short, and I'm trying to have as much fun with my girls as he had with me and my family.

The one thing that I am taking to the next level is my parenting, which is evolving. My big push now is to give the girls appropriate independence, even though that is difficult for me because I only have them 50 percent of the time. My gut says I should smother them, but I'm pretty sure that's not the best plan.

Recently, I have presented the girls with various "adventures" that they have loved and gained some sort of "ain't nothin' gonna break-a my stride" feelings. The big one they like to do nowadays is to take their bikes or scooters to the corner store and purchase Gatorades and/or Vitamin Water.
Man, I love my girls, and they love me back. It is quite fulfilling to watch them becoming fierce. I love in the way I do, like my dad did, and like his dad, Coach Stevens, did. We play a lot of games. We compete. We love each other.

"You can't raise (girls) to be scared of life," Royal Tenenbaum said. "You got to brew some recklessness into them."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why I'm a teacher

Teachers are the easiest people in the world to make fun of, mmkay. I personally have had some doozies for teachers, despite going to a prestigious high school and claiming to be a kind-hearted individual.

One horrible teacher that comes to mind was an extremely unhealthy Spanish teacher, who happened to be Caucasian. Each day, he would start class by violently coughing for five minutes, then he would say, "Just pull out something to work on. OK?" He's got to be dead by now.

Another thing I'll never forget was in seventh grade when my math grade was a 96 percent, and I got a B plus. I went to the teacher and said, "My percentage was 96. Isn't that an A?"

She responded, "Well, yes. But an A is very special, and you just didn't have that special quality to get an A." I asked, "Did anyone get an A?" She said, "Well, yes, Melissa. Just Melissa." I later asked Melissa her percentage. She said 91. Honestly, I can't believe I still remember this episode, but I actually did learn from it.

So, I have been writing this blog for five years, and I've never written about why I'm a high-school teacher. When people ask me why I'm a teacher, I typically play the "noble profession" card. It is true that I have a chance at positively influencing a student, and I believe that typically happens by giving that student attention, being a good listener and not judging.

Officially, I try to help a student's writing and reading levels and help them put out an award-winning Yearbook, and that does happen. But, unofficially, I just try to model being a real person, be in the moment and have fun.
The best thing about being a teacher: the students. The worst thing about being a teacher: other teachers.

The downside to being a high-school teacher is the misery of my colleagues. I am unsure the percentage of miserable teachers out there, but by my standards, it's at least half. How do I know this? Well, it's because they complain about the students.

The whole reason I'm in a classroom is because I like these peculiar, finding-their-way, I-don't-know-how-to-read kids. The buck stops with me. When I get a student who is basically illiterate, yet somehow is enrolled in an "AP English language" class, I love it. The kid has so many other skills to compensate for reading and writing that I got to give some sort of thumbs up to that.

Being a teacher means being an active behavioral psychologist. Humans act in patterns, and you got to finesse those patterns to teach. Nothing is more important than the first week of school. You set it all up there, and if you falter then, you can be doomed.

You also have to play to the audience while still being you. My mentor once told me, "You were born to do this." He then had student-teachers observe me every other day for two years in the hopes of them understanding how to handle their profession. Yeah, teaching also is a funky thing, and it makes me think of this awesome article by Malcolm Gladwell, comparing teachers to NFL quarterbacks.

At my current school, there is no mentor system, and people never really observe. The teachers blame the administration, but in reality, the teachers likely suck. Oh well. The students exclusively know what's up. And that's good enough for me.
So why am I a teacher? I can think of no other profession that can help me feel so good about myself, so fulfilled, so worthwhile.

I like to think of myself as the "dad you wish you had." I may come from a social class in which being a high-school teacher may not be considered a success. But with my value system, I believe it is. Yes, teachers are historically underpaid. But there are the perks of the off time and the rewards of actually doing something that matters.

If I had to do it all over again, would I do anything different? ... I don't think so. The best teachers I've run across haven't been exclusively teachers. The all-your-life teachers seem to have no frame of reference for how the world works. Would I want my daughters in their classes? ... Not really.

Making a run of it as some type of writer was a fun jaunt for me, and I got a staff job at age 22. I like that storyline, and I'm at peace with doing this profession and ... living in the moment. Am I fulfilled doing this job? To a certain degree, yes. Do I feel I need to do anything else? Who knows? Maybe this summer, I'll finally start "The Snooze Button Generation: The Novel."

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sterling's repugnant behavior: No surprise to me

After covering the Clippers for seven seasons, 2001-2008, for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, I have some insights on the train wreck of the individual that is Donald T. Sterling.

This week, "The Donald" went berserk in an interview with Anderson Cooper and verbally assaulted Magic Johnson and the entire black community. Presumably, he did the interview to apologize to the black community, America and the world, but he made everything much worse.

His words and behavior with Anderson Cooper were 100 percent consistent with the Sterling I knew during my seven years writing about the Clippers.

"Honesty is the best policy" is a good aphorism when you are a respectable individual, but when you're egotistical, racist and delusional, it's time to clam up. During my stint covering the Clippers, Sterling was shielded well from me and most media. In essence, he was well-shielded until this year, and keeping him out of the media was the only way his franchise could function.

For the longest time, the mainstays in the Clipper organization were DTS, CEO Andy Roeser, general manager Elgin Baylor and pr director Joe Safety. Safety left this June, and DTS and Roeser were forced out this year. Baylor is a slightly different story, as he left in 2008, the year I coincidentally moved off the beat. In a way, when Mike Dunleavy became coach/general manager, and thus getting Elgin out, it was a major step in getting the wheels in motion to Sterling's collapse.

Elgin Baylor is one of the most upstanding individuals I have ever met, and the "off-the-record" stories he told me made me realize that I was in the presence of secular godliness. Yet he seemed like a normal, down-to-earth guy with his personality. One story he told me that comes to mind is when he played tennis with the Kennedy's in Cape Cod. Another story was his friendship with Neil Armstrong.
Elgin was a celebrity in the '60s when access was only granted to a few. It was before the paparazzi infiltrated the elite, and well before the Internet, Twitter and "The Real Housewives of New Jersey Shore." Because of Elgin's past, demeanor and overall dignity, I liked the guy.

As a general manager, Elgin wasn't the best, but that was because his hands were tied because DTS ran a discount team for years. Once the NBA's collective bargaining agreement hit, though, it forced teams to spend a certain amount on players, and the Clippers were forced to no longer be the Wal-Mart of the league. Eventually, it wasn't easy, but the Clippers finally gave lucrative contracts to players with Elgin even being voted the NBA's executive of the year in 2006.

That year, Sterling got a taste of winning a little bit in the playoffs with Dunleavy coaching, and in essence, Dunleavy soon took on a role beyond a mere coach that involved personnel decisions. I assumed that Dunleavy was going directly to Sterling on decisions, and, despite the majority of his life as a bush-league penny-pitcher, Sterling actually bought into Dunleavy's moves.

Dunleavy officially took over general manger duties in 2008 when Elgin was replaced after 22 years as the Clippers' general manager. This was the first step to Sterling being a shielded pariah to an international a-hole phenomenal pariah that has surfaced the past few weeks.

Perhaps it was just a matter of time before Sterling came crashing down somehow. In a way, it is a testament to the professionalism of Elgin, Joe Safety and Andy Roeser that they kept the Clipper machine sailing so long with Sterling always being a wacko. Each had been with the organization for at least 20 years, and that length of stay for three guys in those positions in professional sports is unheard of (especially for a general manager on a perpetually losing team!).

So with Baylor out, the functioning dysfunction of the Clippers for more than two decades was unhinging. Dunleavy only lasted about a year-and-a-half in his role as general manager/coach, and the Clippers actually were on the path to becoming a serious contender. But, apparently, that business model never could compute with Sterling and the Clippers, and when the team looks its brightest with two superstars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and a revered championship coach with Doc Rivers, the majority of the world agrees that Sterling must go....

Actually, I realize that these past two blogs are much different for the Snooze Button Generation (TM). With Sterling acting the fool for the entire world to see, it brought back memories of my foray into the NBA.

On one hand, writing about pro basketball for seven years was fun, quirky, a learning experience and sometimes inspiring. At the time, I cared about what I was doing a lot it was my job. Looking back, I don't regret having that occupation, but I eventually felt empty with the job. It was like having cotton candy for dinner.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sterling scandal destined — without Safety net

Today is the brightest day in Los Angeles Clippers’ history.

For the entire 30-year history of the L.A. Clippers, Donald T. Sterling has owned the team and has had numerous off-court troubles and on-court humiliations to make nearly all in Clipper nation wish he would just go away. Today, that vocal majority finally gets its wish – kind of – as Sterling was issued a lifetime ban from the NBA for his ridiculously racist and hateful words.

For seven years of my life, I covered the Clippers as the beat writer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Los Angeles Daily News and their chain of newspapers called the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Today, some people have asked me if I have any insights into the Sterling situation or any inside information on how this could happen. My answer:

Oh yes I do, and let me tell you what's up!

Of course, this situation is all about Sterling’s gross racism and the TMZ recording that has outraged pretty much anyone who’s heard it. But on another level, this is a public-relations disaster that stems from changes within the Clipper organization — notably, the resignation of long-time public relations guru Joe Safety in June.

Before I reveal some of the behind-the-scenes things I saw working close to Sterling for seven years, I must be honest of what my relationship with the Clippers is now. Although there may be a few in the organization that I still do know, I have not attended a Clippers game since I stopped covering the team in 2008. So, yes, there is a definite gap in my coverage of the team, but, strangely, I believe my perspective gives more insight to why and how Sterling made his remarks and how he got banned by the NBA today.

I consider myself a bit of an intellectual (or, smirk, at least a pseudo-intellectual), and I tried to cover the Clippers with a thoughtful approach and still keep some sort of world view in the NBA land of constant injuries, game stories and watching media members eat dinner — like members of cattle.

During my first year covering the team, I wanted to do an interview and story on Sterling. However, I was politely explained by the team’s public relations director, Joe Safety, that Sterling does not speak to the media. Really? Never? I pushed a little bit to get that interview, but eventually, I acquiesced and focused on other issues on the Clipper beat.

A year or two after that, I again went through the same song and dance with Safety about interviewing Sterling, and I never got an interview. Even with this difference of opinion about the merits of interviewing Sterling, I must point out that I loved – and still love – Joe Safety. With the exception of towing the company line with no Sterling interviews, he was exceptionally accommodating in all other regards. I had many lengthy talks with him and Elgin Baylor and the key Clipper personnel in my tenure covering the Clippers, and I consider Safety a friend (even though I have completely left the NBA world behind and haven't spoken to him in a few years).

I went through long stretches with letting the “no Sterling interview” policy stand without confrontations and one day, wrote this article that Safety objected to. If anything, I thought the story was too kind to Sterling. Without interviewing Sterling, I used words like “enigmatic” and “misunderstood” to describe him. With the scandal entrenching Sterling now, perhaps those words should have been “racist” and “revolting.” Presumably, he was like this all the time but simply was shielded from the media.

The bottom line for me bringing up all of this, and even writing about the Clippers, is to point out that it is no coincidence that Sterling’s scandal is happening in the first year without Joe Safety in the organization. Safety resigned in June, and I argue that no one understood Sterling better than Safety. If that’s an exaggeration, then it’s safe to say that no one in the p.r. world understood Sterling better.
Like a ruler gone mad with power, Sterling became less hidden during the Clippers’ recent successes with superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He was always a smug, smirking a-hole at the old Clipper games, but usually, his wife since 1955, Shelly, was by his side.

Nowadays, he amped that image up beyond belief as the Clippers became the best NBA team in L.A. and the 80-year-old found himself a 31-year-old mistress and brought her to games. I have always found Sterling to be absolutely obsessed with his image, and in a season in which the Clippers and Lakers swapped identities, he could not deal with that change and went even more bonkers.

I imagine Sterling always had mistresses, but he never brought them front and center to Clipper games. So now, without the perpetual Safety shield, he is finally hit with a scandal that is going to kill him (perhaps literally).

Of course, it should be pointed out that Sterling is being brought down by a taped conversation, and that may have nothing to do with his dealings with the media. That is true to an extent, but with modern media and without Safety's p.r. wizardry, it may have been just a matter of time before the Sterling bomb exploded like it has done with this episode.

I am not saying that the Clippers’ current media staff has any blame whatsoever with the Sterling scandal, but Safety truly was a Sterling maestro to prevent this time bomb from exploding for the 20 years he worked with the Clippers. He also was the media director for the New York Yankees when George Steinbrenner was at the helm. He also was with the Pittsburgh Pirates for their “We Are Family” era in the 1970s. The guy is legit, and through the years and through the constant lawbreaking and horrific incidents connected to Sterling, the Sterling Clipper ship still sailed.

Now, that ship has sailed. I imagine there will be a lot of legal wrangling before this situation is even close to having a resolution. However, I do know that for the first time in his life, Sterling needs to accept responsibility for his words and actions. I certainly don't expect that. And, maybe, for the first time in his life, he should try something new … face the media.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The death of answering machine art



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, 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.

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."