Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Oral skills and dating: The keys to marriage

In three August days, I will wed the woman I love — Dina (soon to be) Stevens.

Of course, a second marriage is different from a first one. We both have a lot more wisdom now and understand how love and marriage grows. For me, I have a deeper understanding of — and feeling of — my emotions. Thank God for that!

"Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus" may be a cliche by now, but in so many relationships, I have seen that there is major truth to that. One major difference I have seen between men and women is that men do not mind unsolicited advice, while women loathe it. It is a similar phenomenon as how women don't mind asking for directions whatsoever, while men would prefer to be lost for another hour rather than ask.

On the verge of my second and final marriage, I offer the top five updated tips of advice for husbands and potential husbands in 2017. We live in an fast-paced, ever-evolving, image-heavy, perception-driven culture in which the reality of being a husband often isn't discussed. A lot of new brides and grooms are focused much more on their wedding day than their marriage. A lot of expectant parents are more focused on their child's birth as opposed to what it means to take care of an infant.

So, guys, husbands and husbands-to-be, here are my top words of wisdom for your much-needed unsolicited advice:

1. Don't get married!
Yes, that might seem like crazy advice three days before my own wedding. But so many husbands overlook major red flags that are deal breakers. Does she want to change you? Are you just playing the role of husband in her life plan, or does she uniquely love you?

Nowadays, I say meeting a potential mate for people with their stuff together is easier than ever because of ONLINE DATING. But it's also critical to distinguish between what is a legitimate red flag and what is a legitimate "typical'' problem that we all have and can be addressed and understood. Sone online daters profiles are red flags in their own; thank God for that!

2. Keep dating
Huh? What? Keep dating?!? Well, just because brides and grooms transform into husbands and wives, they still must keep dating and keep the romance going (of course to each other!). If not, they will wonder why life slowly becomes miserable.

3. Oral skills
I can't overstate the importance of using one's mouth — and ears — to communicate! You absolutely must listen and understand the other person, and gender.

4. Listen first
Just as Magic Johnson and John Stockton were pass-first point guards, a husband needs to be a listen-first communicator. This advice goes back to the "Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus" insights. Many times, men communicate literally, and women communicate emotionally. Often times, couples are not at all in the same realm when they communicate. The wise husband understands, and knows, when to enter and stay in the wife's communication realm.

5. Venn diagrams
I believe that all human beings are Venn diagrams when compared with other human beings. We match in certain points and maybe not so much in others. In life, perhaps with all relationships and especially in a marriage, we must accentuate what we have in common and build on that. When it comes to similar interests and things you like, hit that up! There is always something all couples can agree upon!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cleveland vs. Los Angeles

I've always been anti-L.A.

The main reasons why are that I associate L.A. with freeways, a polluted sky, the entertainment industry and my own failed marriage. Now, the good personal news is that I'm getting married to Dina next month, and so I can associate L.A. with freeways, a polluted sky, the entertainment industry and a loving marriage.

But why do I only look at the negatives of L.A.? What is wrong with me? I have been living there for 19 years, yet I still describe myself as "Mr. Cleveland." Is it possible that, gasp, I actually like living in the concrete hellhole known as Los Angeles?

Well, the best way to figure this out is to make a list of my favorite things in L.A. and my favorite things in Cleveland and have them battle it out scientifically to come up with a winner.

My favorite things about L.A.:
1. The incredible Mediterranean climate
2. Diversity
3. Mexican food
4. Sushi
5. Unity against Trump

My favorite things about Cleveland:
1. My family
2. The sports teams
3. The city's manageable size
4. My memories growing up
5. Golf courses

OK. Both lists look fair and logical. Let's now compare the two.

The battle of Cleveland vs. L.A.
1. The climate vs. my family. ... This is a tough fight. But in my heart, I got to give it to my family. Members of my family will say I'm crazy to pick them over the weather, but I must.
WINNER: Cleveland. By the way, here's a picture of the youngest member of our family, Ellie, signing an autograph yesterday after her play: 
2. Diversity vs. the sports teams. ... Another extremely tough one. Anyone who knows me well knows that I watch or listen to every Indians game and am a die-hard Browns and Cavs fan. But diversity is such an important thing to be exposed to. What do I pick here?

3. Mexican food vs. the city's manageable size. Whenever I travel, I undoubtedly have Mexican food upon my return to L.A. But in reality, the ability to navigate Cleveland so easily is huge and wonderful.
WINNER: Cleveland.

4. Sushi vs. my memories growing up. I have so many awesome memories growing up, especially when it comes to time with my dad, the XMan. However, to think that is better than sushi would be like living in the past on some level and totally not healthy. And I don't care what the dietitians say!
WINNER: Los Angeles

5. Unity against Trump vs. golf courses. Finally! A category that is an easy call. While I do love the natural beauty of the courses here, the weather in Cleveland allows us to only play them half of the year. In L.A., it's accepted discourse to understand that Trump is unacceptable as president. In Cleveland, I must stay clear of these talks because "The Land" is predominantly white and sometimes white people actually support Trump.
WINNER: Los Angeles

So there you have it, Los Angeles actually edges out Cleveland. Wait a second. No! It's a freaking tie?!

Due to the 100 percent empirical nature of this study, I must conclude that it is indeed a tie between where I like more between Los Angeles and Cleveland. Oddly, Los Angeles must thank Trump for this because had he not come on the scene, I bet Cleveland would have won. I definitely like Cleveland's golf courses more than the Getty.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dina gets props as Polack gets master's

What the heck did I do this year?

In a whirlwind of a year that forced me to take a lengthy golf hiatus, I remodeled our new home and earned a master's degree in educational leadership and a school leadership credential, all while preparing for Aug. 4 — the wedding of Joe and Dina — and teaching five high-school classes a day.

When I think of all that I have done, I must give the biggest props ever to Dina, who stood by me the entire year, supported my master's quest and loved me daily. "Behind every man, there's a great woman."

Well, that phrase has a lot of connotations, and in 2017, it's probably outdated. However, Dina did act like Barbara Nicklaus this year as she enabled me to go through a rigorous master's program. I know that she sacrificed repeatedly for me, our time together was lessened, and she listened to me talk incessantly about education, corporate America, the prison system and Koch brothers.

Basically, I took 12 classes in two semesters to get my degree. That's a lot of classes! I did this at Cal State University Dominguez Hills. The highlight of the program was creating a teacher support program for my school, and I feel so strongly about it that I hope other schools and districts adopt it. Adding that to the mix, it's safe to say that the workload was intense, and it had been 20 years since my previous master's in journalism.

I did grow in many ways through CSUDH. One excellent thing about it was that I got to meet many inspiring educators, whom I have a lot of respect, especially Toni Issa-Lahera, the director of CSUDH's School Leadership program. Here we are, taking a selfie:
So I analyzed my school, and district, on many levels, and saw areas in which both can improve. But, egads, after hearing repeated horror stories about the Los Angeles Unified School District and the realities of charter schools, I am counting my lucky stars because, comparatively, my school/district is excellent.

Man, it feels nice to breathe now and not have some looming assignment. I can full throttle give more attention to the woman I love and get ready for our wedding. I may not be that well-versed with color schemes, centerpieces and floral arrangements due to my bombastic heterosexuality, but damn it, I will tell you what I think!

The irony is that even though I read a lot through CSUDH, took hours of tests and created a sustainable support program for new teachers, I actually may be learning more post-program than during it. In the past two months, I've read a run of books that I recommend including "Born on Third Base" by Chuck Collins, "The Big Miss" by Hank Haney, "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer, "A World in Disarray" by Richard Haass, "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin and "What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?" and "The Homework Myth" by Alfie Kohn.

Maybe, then, CSUDH was a success because as John Dewey says via Alfie Kohn: "To be well educated is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends."

I guess that's what's happening to me. As my love for Dina and my daughters grows each day, I — in turn — am growing spiritually, emotionally and professionally.

Bixby Elementary, where Chloe is finishing up fourth grade, has had a push to have parents and students alike embrace the idea of a growth mindset, how abilities develop through dedication and hard work and how a love of learning and resilience are essential to a good life. I couldn't agree with this more, and as I worked so hard this year with the woman I love supporting me, this is the happiest I've been.

Maybe I subscribe to the quote from Joshua Marine that is above Chloe's desk at Bixby. "Challenges are what makes life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful."

Monday, May 1, 2017

Cuba: Mofongo, cigars and ballerinas on bicylces

"To live outside the law, you must be honest."

Bob Dylan sang that line in his 1966 tune “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” For me, that quote never rang more true than when I spent a week in Cuba and Nicaragua this month.

Cuba is a land of contradictions, two currencies, pain, pleasure, surrealism, honesty and outlaws. It’s pretty damn poor with cars still from the 1950s that run on diesel fuel, and the country's had hardly any trade for half a century. It was the perfect place for an adventure for seven guys — seven educators.

Now, here’s the thing about a trip with seven guys. That’s a lot of guys. It could be like “Bachelor Party,” but in reality, we are all in our 40s. So, we kept the parties under control, vaguely attended two dance clubs one night and had a group total of five drinks total at both. I confirmed with a few others, “Uh, yeah, we're not really into dance clubs, at this point. Cuba or no Cuba.”

To get to Cuba, the plan was for half of us to go through Nicaragua and half of us to go through Cancun. A late addition to our crew went directly from the U.S. To do that would have saved us all a whole lot of travel time, but one of my best friends lived in Nicaragua until fifth grade. So I loved the idea of seeing my compadre’s homeland.

Trouble abounded immediately! For unforeseen reasons, the Nicaraguan trip became just two people — me and my friend, Kaytan. It turns out that the uncle of my Nicaraguan friend got us from the Managua airport and packed a week’s of exploration into a day. We saw Granada, the lake of 366 islets, a volcano that was gurgling and met Jimmy Three Fingers. He’s an expat who lost one of his fingers from the mob.

Nicaragua was beautiful, and Uncle Ray, who is the head of the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, was truly a great guy who showed Kaytan and I so much. Props to Uncle Ray and the Reverend Guiterrez (my spiritual advisor) for hooking us up big time. Thank you!

After an extremely long, long day, that was really like three or four days packed into one, it was onto Cuba. Kaytan and I arrived in Havana, where we rendezvoused with two more of our team, including the Reverend, in the airport. Three others were already stationed in Cuba, having traveled through Cancun.

After that extremely long Nicaraguan adventure, it felt excellent to get the seven hombres together. Immediately, we were greeted by a cousin of the Reverend’s who had a cab waiting for us. I quickly learned we all had new names. “The Mexican.” “The Filipino.” “The Nicaraguan.” “The Indian.” I was dubbed “The American,” but I quickly corrected that. I am “The White American.”
I took a bigger step with the Spanish language in that week than I ever had, even though we had fluent Spanish speakers in our group. The reality was that, almost always, English was not a remote possibility. I was forced to speak Spanish, and I actually did (in my limited way).

After a minor day of recovery and eating in a local restaurant that we loved, we invented a poker game dubbed "Mofongo," after a Puerto Rican dish I hoped to run across in Cuba. It turned out we loved the game Mofongo and played it every night as we unwound from our various journeys.

The next day, we took a local's bus to the center of Havana. Extremely crowded, but interesting. That turned out to be the only bus we took, and a key member of our travel group looked like this:
With the '50s cars everywhere, Havana seemed a bit surreal. Moments after we exited the bus, we saw ballerinas riding bicycles who were being filmed.

We found a cafe with Cuban music, had some cigars and spent most of that day exploring the streets of Havana. One random highlight was going into an art gallery, where some of our group members played the guitar, keyboard and bongos and jammed with people in the gallery.

The next day, our group moved from seven to four, as three had other travel plans. We quickly witnessed the "Power of Four." It was so easy to get on the same page with just four, and we could all fit in one cab. After mucking it up in Havana the previous day, we opted to go to the beach in Varadero and hired a driver for the day. This was probably the day that felt the best. It was fun, chill and much-needed.

The next day, we went out to Vinales, where I should not have tried sugar cane. It was so crazily sugary that it basically made me bounce off the walls for a few hours, only to come crashing down and insult various friends. Vinales definitely was highlighted by hanging out in the cigar-leaf hut of Don Alfredo, a 69-year-old guy who has been smoking cigars since 13 and gave us an insider's tour of how Cuban cigars are made.
On our final day, our group downsized to three and through superb airport diplomacy, convinced Avianca Airlines to not have us travel through Nicaragua to get back to the States. Instead, we skipped that leg of the journey, and the airline put us up in Melia Cohiba, the nicest hotel in Havana.

Man, this was an adventure. I do take for granted the bombastic economy of the United States. I often hear people complain about taxes, but they don't have to give 90 percent of their wages to the government like in Cuba. But if someone does not believe he is oppressed, is he oppressed?

The lack of police presence anywhere also was interesting to me. No matter how I might judge Cuba's past or government, the individuals I ran across were honest and trustworthy, and that's how things must be there. It felt great to get off the grid and live a different life for a week — and to walk away knowing that to live outside the law, you must be honest.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Legit points on American 'culture'

Go to Netflix ASAP, and binge watch "Legit" with Jim Jefferies. The two — and only — seasons of the show will be on Netflix until April 7, so this is time sensitive.

Oh, Lordy, this is just a hilarious show, and I can't think of a show I've liked more since "The Office."

"Legit" starts with Jim Jefferies helping a friend's brother follow his dream — be with a hooker in Las Vegas. The only wrinkle is that the friend is in a wheelchair, and so that adds a funny yet human element. As the show progresses, the characters develop, and it turns out to be absolutely hilarious but with substance, too. The show was embraced by the disabled community and critics as well and is an absolute diamond in the rough. The show is legit!

As I pondered why the show is so good, I came to an odd realization, which I should have figured out years ago. American pop culture ain't hardly anything unless you add a foreign influence.

Jefferies — he's the star of the show, and he's Australian. Even the last show I liked, "The Office," was a spinoff from the original British show.

I happen to be reading "Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica" to have unity with one of my students in our two-person reading club. Metallica, well, there's an American band. Not really. The driving force behind 'Lica is Lars Ulrich, who is Danish.

Then, think of the best bands ever to be heard in America. We got the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin — damn, all British!
Well, let's think of the greatest artistic achievements possible. What randomly comes to my mind are Shakespeare, Picasso, Aristotle, Socrates, Mozart, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brahms, Beethoven. ... Will an American ever crack the list?

Look, I'm not saying America never brought anything to the table in terms of art. We got jazz, of course, the Harlem Renaissance, Elvis, the blues, Motley Crue, Ted Danson and Emo Philips. But let's get real, by my definition of culture, America ain't no cultural center of anything (unless maybe we count my beloved Cleveland as the rock 'n' roll capital of the world!).

How could I not have realized this until now?

I'm certainly not trying to be anti-American, but when you put the constraints of our harsh economic system around us, how often do we get kids who aspire to be artists? My freshmen in high school students believe they're doing the right thing by eschewing art for business internships, but are they really?

In a page-turning frenzy, I just read "Born on Third Base" by Chuck Collins. He examines the United States' economic state today as 1 percent of the country has 99 percent of the wealth. This book was not only an education in the reality of our economic system today, but it made me again realize that art, creativity, dance and innovation are not rewarded in the U.S. Sadly, if you do that stuff, you better get a day job.

And back to "Legit" with Jim Jefferies. Why in the world were there only two seasons of that show? Despite incredible critical acclaim, it was apparently mishandled with Fox and never truly got to its proper audience. Also, it's ratings were stagnant on an odd network called "FXX." Well, you know how it works in America, if it doesn't sell, it ain't worth anything.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Millennial males: In crisis

Millennials have been renamed "The Screen Generation," the Snooze Button Generation (TM) announced today.

In related news, Snooze Button Generation founder/CEO Joe Stevens clarified the names of the past three generations.

The Screen Generation (1986-2004) — often referred to as millennials.

The Snooze Button Generation (TM) (1966-1985) — often referred to as Generation X.

The Television Generation (1946-1965) — often referred to as Baby Boomers.

With the development of The Screen Generation (TM pending), the title "The Snooze Button Generation" makes even more sense. As technology and population increase so rapidly, it is important to have an element of technology in the title of a generation. In retrospect, the Snooze Button Generation title is even more apropos because we are a part of an extremely transient generation when it comes to technology — especially personal technology.

Of course, maybe these names don't mean too much, and many stereotypes abound with entire generations, especially with millennials, AKA the Screen Generation.

Not all millennials are phone-addicted, self-absorbed kids with a gross sense of entitlement. However, elements of that stereotype exist. Shifting industries, developing technology and some hidden truths in the United States have made it tough for millennials — particularly males.
Chew on these statistics: 20.5 million students enrolled in college this past fall. That is up from 15.3 million in college in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yowsers, that's a wild increase. I would argue that America is the most formally educated it has ever been, but it is perhaps the least informally educated as it has ever been. Yes, folks are piling up degrees, but how worldly are they? Could they switch occupations easily? Could they hold a conversation with "strangers"?

But here is the statistic that truly supports something I have long thought for the past few years: 11.7 million students in college are female, and only 8.8 are male (57 percent to 43 percent is significant to me!)

I have long thought that younger males are in crisis — just by what I see in my classroom. It's not outrageous behavior, really. It's just a stunted maturity that pales in comparison to girls. Now, some people might say it's always been that way, and I'm just noticing now. But I'm thinking this issue is becoming larger, and it's hardly addressed.

Males — millennial males, really — are in crisis. This is not some sort of sexist, "Make America Great," more power to the white male statement. This is a mere observation.

What does it mean to be male? What does it mean to be masculine?

A girl in one of my classes a few years back made this statement: "Masculinity is fragile."

That is truer now, more than ever. We often see stereotypical images of what "being a man" means. Many of the images of pop culture males — think Kanye, think Trump, think Tom Brady, think McConaughey — are more than slightly ridiculous.

Most of my male students are thoroughly confused. They remain confused when I give them this simple advice: "Be Yourself."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Travel ban should band us together

I just saw a couple Tom Hanks movies — "Sully" and "Bridge of Spies." Apparently, the actor is cornering the market on American hero rules.

In "Bridge of Spies," when Hanks character is pushed by a CIA agent named Hoffman to break his attorney-client privilege, he brings up the American "rule book."

"My name's Donovan. Irish, both sides. Mother and father. I'm Irish, and you're German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing. One. Only one. The rule book. We call it the Constitution, and we agree to the rules. And that's what makes us Americans. That's all that makes us Americans. So don't tell me there's no rule book, and don't nod at me like that you son of a bitch."

Let's do another quote: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the retched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

That second famous quote is from "The New Colossus," the 1883 sonnet written by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Like most reasonable Americans, I am outraged with the racist, immoral and ignorant travel ban of visitors from Muslim-rich countries by President Donald Trump. Are you kidding me? This is happening? Trump does not know that this does not work because of 1) American ideals and history, 2) Ramifications within the world and 3) Ramifications within the United States.

Here is what Trump and anyone not condemning this stupidity needs to know: There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world (of 7.4 billion people). There are 319 million Americans. By population, perhaps we can make this statement: The Muslim world is more powerful than the United States.

Of the 1.6 billion Muslims, the estimated number of Muslims affiliated with terrorist organizations is 100,000, according to the U.S. government and many statistical computations and groups that study this subject. That mathematically computes to .006625 percent of the Muslim population.

So Trump signed an executive order to immediately ban all visitors from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia for four months until he gets more information. Say what?
Obviously, I have never supported Donald Trump for president for an assortment of reasons. The racist/sexist platforms he espoused while getting elected was the top reason. The second reason was an overall air of ignorance with the actual problems facing our country, and third reason was zero experience in public office. There were at least another dozen reasons, but those were the top three.

Now, I am wondering this: If we do not speak up or protest this ridiculous travel ban, are we complying in an immoral, un-American and criminal act? ... Well, yes, we are.

This travel ban should bring all sides together — Democrat, Republican, ignorant or not ignorant. We all know this is unacceptable. We cannot accept it, and we all can be united in rejecting this goofy and sick "President" Trump.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Celebrating New Year's with Mark Twain

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

I had never heard that Mark Twain quote until I saw the movie "The Big Short," and that quote rings true in my life, the world of education and how most people think. It's exceptionally wise, and as a self-described "43-year-old sophisticated gentleman," I must say that I could not have said it better myself.

We're starting another year — 2017 — which in many ways sounds like the space age to me. I remember when Prince's song "1999" came out in 1982, when 1999 seemed soooo far away. Well, this is the year in which the song "1999" is actually further away from 1999 post-release than it was when it came out.

I see a bombardment of cliche ideas bestowed upon students that doesn't make sense to me. Often times, students are told that if they are driven and find a marketable profession, then they will be on some sort of path of "success." Unfortunately, that thinking is not truth. That thinking helps conformity and fosters hard workers. But does it promote educated, individual thinkers?

Let's repeat the quote: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't true."

My mom often says this quote from George Bernard Shaw: "Youth is wasted on the young."

When I was younger, I would roll my eyes at the quote and think, "Yeah, whatever, mom."

It turns out that I have hit a point in my life, when I also agree with my mom's quote. Students — and I'm talking good, hard-working kids — most likely will get an idea in their heads and follow it. They'll put blinders on and think that they're on the path to "success," and, years later, they'll learn that Mark Twain's quote turned out to be true.

This question then hits: "Are they able to adapt and accept their mistake, or are they stuck on a path they wish they weren't?" That question could be rephrased: "Did they glean enough from their actual, authentic education, or are they stuck in a life as mindless workers?"

It turns out that I've been saying Mark Twain quotes for years but didn't realize they came from him. As an educator, one of my favorites that I often recite is: "Don't let your schooling interfere with your education."

That's a slight rewording of a Twain quote, and I must point out that I have met Mark Twain's clone — Leo Hetzel. It turns out that longtime Long Beach Press-Telegram photographer Leo Hetzel is a dead ringer for Samuel Clemens.
Leo is one of those guys that everybody likes. Leo, I imagine you've had to have gotten these Twain comparisons, but if not, please think Twain on Halloween.

Anyway, I am not a huge fan of Mark Twain's literature, but I am a fan of the personality and provocateur. The quotes on education are freaking brilliant. When he says to not let schooling get in the way of education, I could not agree more.

Admission into a respectable college is so difficult nowadays, and students are so focused on getting A's that they typically disregard genuine understanding in lieu of how to give the teacher what he wants for the grade. To be educated in 2017 means to be a rebel, to stand outside the norm and actually know things and have skills. These rare, rugged individuals sometimes say things before consulting Google.

The literate world, as I know it, is shrinking — at least of what I see in Southern California, which may not exactly be a hotbed of literacy. I rarely see individuals with working-class or middle-class jobs who read books. I equate a passion of reading with a passion for life. And how can people have this passion when they are fighting to make ends meat and asked to work 49 weeks per year?

If you are able to read but not willing, are you a reader? There still is a chance that people have gone their whole lives not tapping into books that speak to them or help them. Maybe they don't realize the wealth of books out there, and if not, at least the New York Times Book Review and Goodreads are good places to start.

Eh, I realize that over the past few years, my personal reading has gone in a direction that has opened me up more and enhanced my existence — big time. I moved from an "able" reader to a "willing" reader to a "voracious" reader. But, shoot, I'm basically just explaining another Twain quote that can't be any more true:

"The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sleep in heavenly peace

My 9-year-old daughter asked me the other day, “Daddy, what’s your favorite Christmas carol?”

“Oh, Chloe, that’s easy,” I said and paused, fighting back unexpected tears. ... “It’s Silent Night.”


Here’s what I told her and my 11-year-old, Sophie, and my beautiful and caring fiancĂ©e, Dina:

It was back in about 2002. I was married to your mom back then, but it was before both of you were born. We went to Midnight Mass at St. Stanislaus in Slavic Village in Cleveland. You've been there.

St. Stanislaus is basically a cathedral. People visit it as a historic sight. I knew if I ever got married in the Catholic Church, it should be in St. Stanislaus. … And I did.

My cousin Jen and her husband Peter were married there, and mommy and I were married there. We both had Father Mike marry us. He seems different than a lot of priests I’ve met. He’s modern; he’s a Facebook friend. He posts Facebook things I like.

At Midnight mass, I think we had a group of people there. I forget exactly who was there, but I know that Grandma and Grandpa were there, for sure. At the homily, the part where the priest talks, Father Mike said a few words about the importance of family and God, and then he tried something different. He said, “Let’s sing Silent Night.”
He led Silent Night in a different way. He said, “Let’s start with only the men singing, then only the women, then the children.” We practiced a bit, and then we sang the song, and he was leading each group to a different part. 
The men:
Silent Night
Holy Night
All is calm
All is bright

The women:
Round yon virgin
Mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild

The children:
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

I didn’t expect to react this way, but when it got to the children, the pitch was so high that tears fell out of my eyes. The women’s pitch was extremely high, but the children’s pitch was even more so as it reverberated through St. Stanislaus. I was slightly embarrassed with my crying.

As I was trying to hide my tears and not make a scene, I looked at Grandpa, who was full on sobbing — big time. Oh, he was letting it out. He chuckled between the tears when he was saw me looking at him. We reached across the pew, hugged each other and sobbed together.

Sorry, Chloe. Sorry, Sophie. Sorry, Dina. Yes, maybe it would have just sufficed to say, “My favorite Christmas carol is Silent Night.” Maybe I should have left it at that….

As the years pass, I think I’ve gotten Grandpa’s gene for becoming overly emotional at ceremonies and seemingly random times. I guess that happens. As the years pass, I realize that the time I had with him was worth it, and I wouldn’t change it. I’ll cry if I want. My tears are drops of love for him.

This all reminds me of C.S. Lewis quote I read the other day: “Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. … To love is to be vulnerable.”

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Divorced dads: Often misunderstood

I sometimes say this to my students when the subject of love comes up: "There are many types of love. There is romantic love, love for your parents, self-love, love of friends, brotherly love and appropriate love a teacher has for a student."

I then give an odd look to a student. Once a kid said, "Y'know when you say appropriate love for a student — that sounds inappropriate."

Probably right. "A" for you, boy wonder!

Today, as we kick off December and I mentally enter the Christmas season, I want to talk about the love a parent has for his children. More specifically, I want to talk about the love divorced dads have for their daughters.

Divorce, divorce, divorce, divorce.

I normally stay clear of that subject in the Snooze Button Generation (TM) blog because I think people see divorce as a negative thing. But is it really?

Perhaps Louis C.K. said it best when he said, "Some day, one of your friends is going to get divorced. Don't go, 'Oh, I'm sorry.' That's a stupid thing to say. No good marriage has ever ended in divorce. If your friend got divorced, it means things were bad. And now, they're better."

I also would argue the idea of "staying together for the kids" doesn't help anyone. That models misery or fakeness or useless fighting, and why would we want to model that for our kids?

But, today, I'm not tackling divorce in general and many people's misconception of the D-word. Rather, I'm looking at divorced dads and daughters.

Divorced dads. Man, we have it hard. First of all, the courts are stacked against us. There have been so many deadbeat dads that the courts favor heavily for the woman. I consider myself fortunate that I obtained 50/50 visitation/custody of my girls without much deliberation. Thank God!

That's not always the case, and if a woman lawyers up, the guy can get screwed big time. That happens to countless divorced dads including Alec Baldwin, who wrote about that in his book "A Promise to Ourselves."
Divorced dads are stereotyped for many different things, and I've been stereotyped many times because I'm divorced. I've been stereotyped as a guy just looking for a young, hot thing, and while I certainly had an awkward dating phase post-divorce, that's not a fair assumption of divorced dads.

For some teachers of my daughters, I've been treated as "The Second Parent," and that also is not fair. Luckily, I have ran into some key supportive teachers of my daughters and me, and I appreciate them.

But when you have daughters and you're a dad, it can feel like being "The Second Parent" because, well, I have heard that girls and moms actually are the same gender. Being a dad of two girls makes me realize that I am indeed a masculine fellow.

Sophie prefers art and music while I lean toward sports, and I've been trying my best to bond with her through her activities. That's not always that easy. Looking back, I've spent the past decade doing way more arts and crafts than I thought I'd ever do.
But here's why this blog comes out now. It could be a difficult holiday season for me because even though I do have 50/50 visitation, the schedule falls heavily for the girls with mom this year. It is a fair schedule, and I know I will have the schedule fall heavily for me next year. But it's still not easy to go through this.

The way the schedule accidentally works is that the girls were with mom for all of Thanksgiving week. They'll also be with mom for Christmas, although I have them for New Year's. Plus, we do alternate weekends, so I have them on less weekends than normal during this holiday season. For god's sakes, I miss my kids!

A father's love for a daughter runs deep. Having daughters has been a game-changer for me. I grew up in a male-dominated family, never had a sister. I understand girls, and women, more than I ever have, and it's because of these two entities.

This girl, Chloe — she just might be a daddy's girl. But she's so unique. She's probably a mommy's girl, too. She's everybody's girl and seems to know everyone. We just ran into a girl at Target yesterday, who ran up to her reaching for a hug and yelling, "Chloe!!!" (That girl wasn't even in Chloe's class.)

I love Sophie and Chloe, unconditionally. I hope they feel the depth of this love from me, but if either one doesn't feel it today, well, I certainly feel it and maybe they will one day — probably a common statement/feeling from divorced dads (and maybe even parents).

I also must say I relate to Chris Martin, singer of Coldplay, who wrote the song "Magic" about spending time with his daughter, Apple, as he went through his divorce with Gwyneth Paltrow. Many times, for us divorced dads, just spending time with our daughters puts everything in perspective.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I love the Indians more than ever now!

I blame global warming.

I just see no way how the Tribe does not win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series if it were 50 degrees, like it should be in Cleveland on Nov. 2.

Our pitching would win over the bats. It would be too cold to hit. We'd probably sneak by with a 2-1 victory.

Instead, it was a calm, warm 69-degree night throughout the game. The ball was carrying out, and the Cubs defeated the Tribe 8-7 in a 10-inning thriller in Game 7 of the World Series to overcome a 3-1 deficit and become world champs.

Unlike 1997, I am not curled up in a ball in my New York City apartment, weeping, after a cruel 11-inning loss in Game 7 to the godforsaken Florida Marlins. This time, I accept the fact that the Indians lost a 3-1 series lead, did not win the World Series and lost in extra innings in Game 7.

Of course, a lot will be made of god intervening with a 17-minute rain delay in between the ninth and 10th innings to take away the Tribe's momentum. Maybe God did intervene. But I contend that America's god — money — intervened more, and my Tribe deserves mad props for what it did.

The fact that my Tribe nearly won the World Series with a $98 million payroll against a team that has a $167 payroll makes me smile.

Major League Baseball is an uneven playing ground. The Tribe also beat the payroll of the $199 million Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. And we won the AL Central over the $199 million payroll of AL Central rival Detroit Tigers.

Turnabout is fair play. The Cavs came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the 2016 NBA Finals. The Indians gave up a 3-1 lead in the World Series. So be it.

In my lifetime, the Tribe is now 0-4 in World Series close-out games. The Tribe is also 0-2 in extra inning Game 7s during my life. But somehow, through it all, I feel that my love for the Tribe has only become more intense because of those facts and this season.

We're talking baseball. We're talking Tribe! ... I care deeply about my Cleveland Indians, and I am certain that fans in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles do not have a relationship that compares to mine with the Tribe.
I am not taking anything from the Chicago Cubs and their championship. Congratulations! You just ended a 108-year drought of winning the World Series. The Cubs deserve credit where credit is due. I have nothing against the Cubs.

But this is a story about the Cleveland Indians, love and what it means to follow a major-league team in a small market. This is something people in New York, Chicago and L.A. will never have. I highly doubt anyone's high school in those markets ever experienced having half of their high school walk to opening day and watch the opener. I did!

This World Series has only confirmed my love for the Tribe. There's something to be said to be always rooting for the underdog. That's called loyalty.

There's something to be said for listening or watching approximately 80 Tribe games per year, every year, even when you live in Los Angeles. That's called love of baseball, love of the Tribe and loyalty.

Thank you so much, Tom Hamilton, the voice of the Indians, for giving me another great year of love, hope and even a World Series! The Tribe made it to the seventh game of the World Series. We lost. But this was absolutely, 100 percent the best baseball season of my life.

Yeah, the Tribe lost, but I think it proved something. We are a lovable team, a lovable franchise, a lovable city. New York, Chicago and L.A. will never have what I have. You guys got the population and economics. We got the heart.

Thank you, Tribe. I love you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Chief Wahoo has always been cursed!

Maybe Chief Wahoo has always been cursed!

It's interesting in my lifetime that I have changed my feelings and view of Chief Wahoo. The fact that I feel that way signals some sort of progress.

Back in 1995, I was a grad student at NYU, and I was approached to write an op-ed article defending Wahoo. I went with a tongue-in-chief thesis: "Wahoo should stay because Cleveland sports fans have gone through more pain than Native Americans."

Years later, I have readjusted my stance. Wahoo must go! ... But the good news is that the Cleveland Indians franchise also believes that fact, as do many fans, and Wahoo is being fazed out.

Look. The Tribe just blasted the Cubs 6-0 in Game 1 of the 2016 World Series. Game 2 is on tap tomorrow (weather permitting). Today is unchartered territory for me. It is the first time in my lifetime that the Cleveland Indians have led 1-0 in a World Series. (They lost the openers in 1995 and 1997.)
It also is the first time the Tribe has led 1-0 in a World Series since 1920, when the Indians beat the Brooklyn Robins 5-2 to win the World Series. That is no mistake! Back in 1920, the World Series was a 9-game series. Man, history is crazy. In that same year, women got the right to vote!

Wahoo, or the lack of Wahoo, may be the factor that will give the Tribe its first World Series since 1948. The reason I say this is that the red-skinned Chief Wahoo did not come into existence until 1951 — after the Indians actually won the World Series. From the beginning of the franchise in 1915 until 1947, no Native American-type of image was connected to the franchise.

When vanguard owner Bill Veeck owned the franchise, he created an Indian image and horrible mistake. From 1947 to 1951, the Tribe had a mascot that was this:
And while this mascot was in effect, the Tribe won Series in '48, so in a way, all was good back then.

But beware of 1951! That is when the red-skinned Wahoo we all know took charge. During the red-skinned Wahoo's reign, the Tribe has won zero World Series, and heartache lasted almost all of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

In 2013, the Tribe organization took a stand and made Chief Wahoo the secondary logo of the team. Excellent move! We're fazing out Wahoo! It would be too drastic simply to cut off the chief. Ohioans might go ape with such a drastic move.

All has been moving in the right direction. But that is why I am shocked to still see Wahoo on the hats of the Tribe during the 2016 playoffs. Why not just the letter C?

Look. All I'm saying is this: The Cleveland Indians have won zero series with red-skinned Chief Wahoo as the primary mascot from 1951-2013. Now, it's looking like a way better chance since that 62-year stretch. Coincidence?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Talent is a myth

What the hell is going on here?

My Tribe — the team that I follow religiously day in and day out — is one game away from the World Series.

Look. This does not necessarily mean the Tribe will win the World Series. But right now, I'm feeling major feelings of validation that have taken 43 years to obtain.

Maybe, just maybe, the Tribe has done it right all along. When it comes to baseball, what are the necessary ingredients to win? ... Now and for a long time, the answer has been a given — talent and payroll. But here we are again, not seeing those ingredients prevail.

When it comes to baseball — and life — I believe that desire, humility, team work and guile trump talent. Basically, I believe this: Talent is a myth.

Look. There is no doubt that LeBron James had immense talent when he was at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He might very have well been the most talented high school basketball player ever.

However, that did not make LeBron into what he is today. Prep stars flame out repeatedly. LeBron didn't. He had the necessary work ethic, grit and desire to become the man that brought Cleveland its first championship in more than five decades.
It's not as if I am making this theory up out of thin air. It's out there, and I recommend the new book "Grit" by Angela Duckworth if you truly want to explore how the idea of talent hinders us as opposed to elevates us.

As I look at my own life, I realize that I went into writing, even though I typically had better test scores in math. It turns out I really loved writing, put 30,000 hours into it and become passable at it. It's not about talent. It's about where we put our time, understanding the big picture and accepting our own foibles.

Now, that's why I love this 2016 Tribe. They are not "supposed" to be here. They have the 22nd highest payroll of 30 teams. Six teams have double the payroll of their 25-man roster. Those are the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cubs and Giants.

I believe money well spent is a better trait than simply spending money, and no doubt about it, I want the Indians to win it all, not only for my own connection to them, but because it would mean more than even the freakin' Cubbies winning it.

Francona matters. The use of the bullpen matters. Going to second on a ball in the dirt matters. That is more important than the Cubbies' freaking $176 million payroll.

When it comes to success, grit trumps talent. I'll tell you what. As hard as it pains me to admit it, the Tribe in the 1990s tried to do it on talent alone. It did not work.

Plus, our 1990s manager Mike Hargrove did things often because "that's how we always do it." Oh god. That was a recipe for pain and disaster.

 Right now, the Tribe is definitely in good hands with Tito Francona who knows how to adapt on a fly — even when his starting pitcher can not make it past the first inning!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

We moved in!

The house wasn't too bad. You could probably move in, if you wanted.

But we knew there were things we'd like to do, and it's always better to do them before moving in because, who knows, you might never do them.

To make a looooooong story short, we revamped the house we moved into in Cypress, Calif., and made it a show-stopping masterpiece. We redid all the floors, painted every room, put in a new kitchen, a new bathroom, modified two bathrooms, got the electric up-to-date, painted the front door and backyard trellis and got new hardware here and there to make this place a show house.

Did we overdo it? Probably. Was it worth it? I hope so.

We have finally moved in!

It is an odd situation to buy a house in one's 40s. You've lived and learned. You're wiser. But egads, I hadn't learned yet that you always go double! It takes double the time and double the budget to do what you set out to do. We doubled down, and we're feeling good — but, oh yeah, we forgot about something called furniture.

We'll get to that. But in the meantime, it is nice to have a five bedroom, three bath home. I love the space. It's wild to actually have space in a California home. It took major hard work to 1) simply buy a house like this, and 2) renovate it as we did.

It was perversely fun to talk to three or four contractors a day, stay on top of all of them and be constantly ordering items necessary for the remodel.

We assembled a ragtag Ocean's Eleven type of crew for this project, and in my power rankings of how good of a job they did, this is them:

1) Sergio the Floor Guy, 2) Captain Nemo the Tile Man, 3) Pedro the Painter, 4) Elias the Detail Specialist, 5) Bob/Rory the Plumbers (but, man, they're too overbooked!), 6) Scott the Electrician, 7) Josh the Tile Point Man, 8) Andre the Kitchen Planner, 9) Sam the Cabinet Guy and 10) Ed the Shower Man. ... We actually had a handful of other people involved, too, but the list is getting ridiculously long, and few guys we didn't feel that great about their work and/or price.

For a lot of this ride, I felt like the Ray Liotta in the sky-is-falling scene from "Goodfellas."

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Nirvana: The 'Greatest' American Rock Band

Ask anyone what the "greatest" rock band ever is, and the person will probably answer The Beatles.

That's a fair and correct answer. But if you ask anyone the greatest American rock band, and they'll most likely say an array of bands they didn't realize were British.

Then, a discussion and debate ensue. If you haven't realized it, England has a stranglehold on the "greatest" rock bands of all-time discussion.

To me, the top five "greatest" bands of all-time are: 1) The Beatles, 2) Rolling Stones, 3) Led Zeppelin, 4) The Who, 5) Pink Floyd. ... All British!

A lot of other key bands, including the Kinks and Queen, also are British. So when it comes to the United States, this is a tough list to figure.

Add to that the rugged individualism and solo acts in the United States, that it becomes even harder. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Prince and Elvis are, thus, eliminated because they belong more on a solo artist list. ... Of course, all of this is highly subjective.

So where does that leave us? Well, Nirvana is No. 1 — kind of by default. To get such a title, influence also is a factor, and Nirvana had that.

And why make a list anyway? I can't explain this, just as I cannot explain why I would make mixed tapes of songs for girls I liked.

A list phenomenon exists, and this is pointed out in the recent book "But What If We're Wrong?" by Chuck Klosterman when he talks of "The Book of Lists" (1977).  He writes, "The library in my sixth-grade classroom contained many books that one ever touched. It, however, include one book that my entire class touched compulsively: The Book of Lists."

The "greatest" American rock bands of all-time:

1. Nirvana. Kurt Cobain passed away in 1994. There is a chance that his death ended rock 'n' roll — in the sense that it is exceptionally unlikely any "greatest" band can make the list after 1994.

Jack White and the White Stripes and/or Raconteurs is the only post-Cobain musician with a chance for that. In Klosterman's book, Eddie Van Halen says, "For generations, rock music was always there. For whatever reason, it doesn't feel like it's coming back this time."

Hip hop and pop music today has made rock an outsider for current music trends. I just don't see another band coming along that develops the significance of the bands on this list, but despite what the Internet message boards say, I am not a soothsayer.

2. Guns N' Roses. GNR holds up and in some ways is better than Nirvana. Hardly any band has an album that compares to "Appetite for Destruction," although Axl appears to be a fa-tass-e now.
3. The Grateful Dead. I was never really a Deadhead, but I got to respect the longevity, avid fans and music. I wish they rocked harder, though.

4. Aerosmith. A solid, likable band. But this crew does not belong in the same conversation as the Beatles, Stones or Zeppelin.

5. The Doors. Mojo risin'!

6. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Beyond "Free Bird," "Sweet Home Alabama" and maybe a couple other hits, does anyone really listen to Skynyrd?

7. Metallica. Holy crap, we're old! Did you know that Metallica is in its 35th year of existence. Yes, 35th, not 25th. Yowsers!

8. The Eagles. I'm sure there are some who might argue the Eagles could be No. 1 on this list. But I just despite the Eagles. In ways I can't explain, I just really never want to hear an Eagles song.

9. Pearl Jam. Way to speak up in class, Jeremy.
10. Creedence Clearwater Revival. It's tricky here, but CCR edges Van Halen, the Beach Boys (I don't consider that stuff rock), R.E.M. and everybody else I can think. "There's a bathroom on the right."

Monday, August 1, 2016

All One People

During the first night of my stay in Cleveland this summer, my mom wore a T-shirt that said "All One People."

This was not an ordinary shirt. This shirt was revered by my dad, the XMan. He wore it. I wore it at some point. My mom was wearing it, and she was surrounded by grandchildren, surrounded by life.

I believe the XMan loved the shirt because it was a three-word blast of his philosophy of how he saw the world. "All One People."

He meant that we are all equal, regardless of manmade, societal concerns or wealth. I like that thought and wholeheartedly agree.

But, wait, there's more. "All One People" is not actually a philosophy or ideology. It is more literal and scientific. There is a picture of the earth on the shirt.

Dude, we're all humans. In essence, we are all ... the same. We're "All One People" spinning on a rock that rotates a fiery star called the sun.

Perspective. In the heat of a presidential race, I find that the presidential race often confirms people's ideology — whatever that may be. People don't change their beliefs, unless they have that possibility embedded into their philosophy (I do, by the way.).

Although major issues must be tackled by the human race and these presidential oldsters, perhaps the biggest question we still must ponder is this: What does it mean to be human?

Often times, I believe ideology gets in the way. Some of my best childhood friends have opposite political beliefs, but we connect on something deeper — humanity.
Eh, my daughter and niece just pulled me away from this blog by teaching me how to meditate. Where do they get these New Age-y ideas?

The meditation class taught by the 9 and 8-year-old was excellent. I breathed deep, let out the negativity and brought in the positivity. I feel refreshed, and I owe it to the youngsters. Thank you, Chloe and Ellie.

All One People.

Monday, July 18, 2016

These candidates are too freaking old!

Religion and politics.

I've heard those are two topics to avoid at dinner parties. Sadly, in my world of Southern California, where adults frequently wear ball caps and Jams, I find that dinner parties are not that common any more. Are these still topics to avoid?

As the Republican National Convention commences in Cleveland today, I actually am not here to talk politics. Rather, I am going to point out a bipartisan issue that I believe all can agree on:

These candidates are too freaking old!

Seriously. Donald Trump is 70 and has eight grandchildren. Hillary Clinton is 68, has two grandkids and entered the White House as the First Lady 23 long years ago.

These candidates are too freaking old!

Perhaps the funniest thing about this election is that the most viable third candidate was Bernie Sanders. He is 74!

The oldest president ever elected was Ronald Reagan, who was 16 days shy of turning 70. That means if Trump somehow is elected, he will be the oldest president ever elected. Hillary will be second only to Reagan.

These candidates are too freaking old!

Sanders would be 75 on election day — by far blowing away Reagan's age. I find it cute how Sanders somehow was often considered "the voice of youth." I also find it cute that he was somehow considered an"establishment outsider," after being a Congressman from 1991-2007 and Senator from 2007 to the present.

What is going on here? And what do all of these old candidates say about 'Merica?

I'm worried that these old candidates show a systemic problem with leadership throughout the U.S. Where are the inspirational leaders under 60 nowadays? Or better yet, how about under 40?

I am not a fan of these old coots, whatsoever. When Obama entered the office, he was 47. That is reasonable. He had kids, Malia and Sasha, grow up in the White House, as did the Clintons with Chelsea.

Bill Clinton was 46, and JFK was 43. Teddy Roosevelt has the record as youngest president at 42.

Only two children were born to presidents in the White House. JFK Jr. (pictured above with JFK) was born when Kennedy was the president elect, and we'll count that. And trivia question Esther Cleveland was the only child ever born to a sitting president as Frances Cleveland gave birth while Grover was in office.
I bet that a younger president is good for the morale of young people. Why in the world am I forced to vote for a person who cannot possibly be good at sex?

Yuk. I don't want think about Trump, Hillary or Sanders in that way. But, egads, is the only way to avoid any type of silly-ass sex scandal to get an old, asexual politico into the White House?

Plus, style is majorly compromised with Trump and Hillary. Trump's hair and his odd orange glow are not things we should show other countries. Hillary's pants suits aren't anything special. What would the French think of these two?

These candidates are too freaking old!

By comparison, Obama and even George W. Bush actually look slick. They would not be out of place in GQ. Trump and Hillary aren't going in any fashion magazines. Are these all superficial points I'm making? Of course they are.

Actually, how in the world has good-looking Obama avoided any type of sex scandal with critics like Fox News treating him like a cross between Flavor Flav, the anti-Christ and Corky from "Life Goes On"?

We all assume JFK and Marilyn Monroe had an affair going on. Bill Clinton took a horrific step backward from Marilyn when he had a fling with Monica Lewinsky. But is 'Merica so prude that we are forced to vote for presidents who are in absolutely no risk of having affairs?

These candidates are too freaking old!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Polack's view of SoCal real estate

Goodbye, Long Beach.

For the past 18 years, I have lived in Long Beach, Calif. — a gritty, eclectic city in Los Angeles County. But those days have ended.

My home at 3390 Lees Ave. has been sold, and for the time being, I am homeless — temporarily living in a long-term hotel I like so far.

Luckily, I am in the midst of escrow to get another home, three miles from the previous one. But this one is in a different city — Cypress, Calif., in Orange County.

The move is an upgrade in many ways. The home itself is much larger. The street is much quieter. The community may have more cache. But, man, it has been an extremely difficult process to execute this move.

Without the boredom of all of the details of why this move has been so difficult, let's just leave it at this: Southern California real estate. Gotta love it (yeah, right).

Cypress — I imagine not a lot of people outside of Southern California know anything about it. Perhaps its claim to fame is that it's where Tiger Woods grew up. I'm hoping his selfish personality never rubbed off on the Cypress community. By the way, here's the house Tiger grew up in:
Regardless of this move, my identity remains entrenched with Cleveland. However, my 18 years in Long Beach rivals my Cleveland time. Once I made it to college, I never again was a full-time resident of Cleveland. But with so many formidable experiences, and important friends and family, there, I know that home will always be CLE.

Long Beach has evolved, as have I, in my 18 years there. But I must stop my lamenting, reminiscing, etc., about L.B. In fact, this whole premise of "leaving Long Beach" is a bit silly because my daughters will still be going to school there, and I will be about a mile and half from its border.

This move made me realize three main things that I would recommend to everyone for better living. I guess they're my Polish real estate tips. But, really, these tips can help any Polack improve his life ASAP:

1) Throw away stuff — as much stuff as possible — immediately, and avoid bringing crap into the house. I had been in my home for just under eight years. To me, that isn't especially long, but it was significant. I thought I tried to keep junk out of the house, but with perpetual trips to Target, I brought in way more stuff than was necessary. I felt liberated to throw stuff away. If it does not bring you joy, do not keep it.

2) Do home improvements ASAP, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. I was pretty good with this one, although my L.B. home was in excellent condition when I got it eight years ago. But I had to upkeep this place, and I added a few minor upgrades.

The couple who moved in had a legitimate "turnkey." I moved out on a Thursday. They moved in on Friday, the next day. Too often I see people do upgrades to their home just to sell it. Why not do that early so you can enjoy those upgrades?

3) Location, location, location. Yeah, that adage in real estate is totally correct. I found something fascinating in Cypress. Nearly the entire city had similar home prices, yet after seeing a boatload of homes, I could pinpoint the best homes to two tracts. Once we sold our Long Beach home, it became a waiting game to hope something came on the market in those tracts.

It's still a bit of a waiting game, as we must complete escrow before we can remodel a bit and then move in. But at least the most hectic part is over — moving all my worldly possessions, but throwing out a ton that I realized had zero street value.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cleveland shares values — and a CHAMPIONSHIP!

The RTA bus would pick me up on Turney Road, then go down Broadway though urban decline and eventually reach Public Square. I would get off, wait a bit and take another bus over the Detroit-Superior Bridge and be dropped off walking distance from St. Ignatius High School.

I didn't think much about it at the time, but going through downtown Cleveland to the near West Side for high school shaped a lot of who I am. I learned some street smarts, how to talk with people asking for spare change and how various types of workers go about their days.

Floods of memories and emotions continue to come my way as I bask in the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA Championship.

I am not sure people outside of Cleveland understand our feelings. They may be baffled. A big reason for this is the unparalleled civic pride we have for our city. We Clevelanders have always been connected through our punishing winters, negative press from the outside world and a sense of community that continues to get stronger.

In all fairness, I have seen a lot of civic pride from New Yorkers and Chicagoans. It is legitimate, but it's not as close-knit as ours in Cleveland. Two major-league baseball teams in one city? Those cities are just huge.

Cleveland is smaller, but still a metropolis. We're all big fish there. If you're still in Cleveland, you've looked around the world and have realized that you'll take the lack of traffic, accessibility, low home prices and lifelong friendships over what you might find in other cities.

We have been brought up with Cleveland, and it is in our blood. We all have stories like this, and here's mine in a nutshell:

My grandparents were brought up in Slavic Village. My mom's parents lived there during their whole lives. My dad's parents soon moved to a bordering suburb — Garfield Heights.

My dad avoided the Vietnam draft by going to law school and supported himself and his young family by working at Kroger's. When he become an attorney, his law office was on Public Square for more than 30 years.
Two of my uncles were in advertising in Cleveland. My Uncle Bob climbed the ranks through another Cleveland landmark — Higbee's, which is now the Cleveland Jack Casino. As a youngster, I found myself downtown all of the time in the natural center of Northeast Ohio.

The city's economy bloomed when it was a steel and iron town, and because of that, the city always has had a blue-collar mentality and sensibility. Or as LeBron correctly put it when he returned to Cleveland, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have."

LeBron matured and grew and showed that Cleveland is worth returning to. He gets it.

Of course, the lead of what happened is that our championship-starved city stopped a ridiculously long drought without a title. So, of course, we are going bonkers because of that.
But we're also going bonkers because of our civic pride and how united we are as a city. I sense that outsiders look at Cleveland in one of three ways:

1) Bewilderment. They just don't get our excitement and never will.
2) Apathy. They don't care. They have lives where they don't truly have the passion and caring for anything, let alone their sports teams. These people will continue to sleepwalk through their lives.
3) Unspoken Envy. Yep. Outsiders probably won't admit it, but this championship strangely — and probably unjustly — validates our community. It validates Cleveland on a national scale. It validates our values. This is not a place that we leave and forget. This is us, and we are happy for that. Who would not want this?

I have lived outside of Cleveland for 21 years now — three years in New York City, and 18 in Los Angeles. A long time ago, I realized that Cleveland will always be my home.

With the exception of my daughters, fiancee and a couple stragglers here and there, I have not developed the depth of relationships that I did during my formative years in Cleveland. A team attitude, a common understanding, inherent trust —values that I used to take for granted aren't as readily available as they are in my hometown.

Our championship is bigger than basketball. It's also about our shared values. We get that. We are united. We are Cleveland.