Big City, Small Town

Our family cabin is on a lake in a city of over 10,000 people that, even in my memory, used to be a town of 2000 that couldn’t support two convenience stores. In fact, between the 1990 census and the one in 2010, the population more than tripled.

For years growing up, we hoped it would grow and have more places to shop. The grocery store was an old SuperValu that was neither super nor had much value. There was a pizza place that had a three-wheeled hot rod for a delivery vehicle, “Gwashy’s Funny-Name Pizza” emblazoned on the side. It lasted a few years. But aside from a bait shop, hardware store, bar and a couple gas stations, there wasn’t much else. Then the suburban sprawl explosion of the late 80s and early 90s happened, forcing the town-cum-big city to build a new high school, which was shortly thereafter replaced, then expanded to meet quickly growing demand.

Thirty years ago, there were still several seasonal cabins around the two conjoined lakes. Most of those have disappeared (save for ours and our second cousins’ place next door), either converted to year-round houses or torn down to make way for oversized lakeside compounds. Several blocks from us was a place called Hidden Lake where you could walk a few hundred yards through the trees to find a small watering hole. Now the trees are gone, replaced by paint-by-numbers beige houses with nary a tree in sight. And the lake is very much visible to anyone within a block or two.

Don’t get me wrong – I like to see progress. But the lake is noisier and more crowded than it once was, at least during the summer months. The bait shop we’d always walk to is gone. And our town is no longer an unknown place only designated on the map as a blip. It’s considered a far-flung metropolitan suburb. But we still have our cabin, and it’s still on a lake. The grocery store is a lot brighter and offers more, and there’s a McDonald’s.

The Chewy Nougat Center

Back when I was growing up, the burning question on everybody’s mind came from a simple TV commercial: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop?

The answer came from the wise old owl who, after licking the pop three times, bit all the way to the chocolatey core and declared, “Three.” I’ve tried it myself, but lost count somewhere between the licking and the crunching.

That got me thinking: How long does it take to get to the center of anything? And why is it so darned difficult? Jules Verne determined it took only one journey to reach the center of the Earth, though it was fraught with peril. It takes one Ted Nugent and a whole bunch of Amboy Dukes to find the center of the mind.

Another great journey to the center of things includes Frodo traversing the toils and snares of Middl-earth, dodging evil sorcerers and demented creatures on his way to heave Sauron’s Ring into the fiery depths of Mount Doom.

But how many steps does it take to reach the middle of nowhere? And once there, does the gift shop have souvenir thimbles? Or just wearables that state, “My parents visited the Middle of Nowhere and all they bought me was this lousy T-shirt”?

Look at our political system. Politicians seem to be on the left and the right, and it seems as if the farther you veer from moderation, the more likely you are to be granted plum leadership roles and greater amounts of PR. But when you talk to people across this country, the vast majority would rather have someone with more moderate views, politicians more beholden to getting things done than one-track political donors.

I wanted to get to the bottom of the burning question of what it takes to get to the center of something, but all I found were jokers to the left of me and jokers to right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Surprisingly, Sitting Makes Sense


It’s such a simple thing, something we all do every day, an ability we all seemingly take for granted: taking a leak.

We guys can pretty much throw our streams anywhere we want. By a tree or into a bush. Behind a bar. Just not over a railing at a crowded stadium.

The ladies, on the other hand, have to do their business while parked on the porcelain. They complain about this (rather vociferously at times), even going to such great lengths as devising a female urinal. But maybe the ladies are actually onto something (literally and figuratively).

Usually people make fun of guys who take a seat to void themselves. It may not such a bad thing after all, seeing as how there are several advantages for people in repose versus their vertically-inclined counterparts.

1. When you pee sitting down, you’re much less likely to miss. Saves time cleaning up the floor, toilet rim, or seat (for that matter). And if you’re a guy who misses and doesn’t clean up, you won’t have anyone nagging you about it anymore.
2. Ladies like to have the lid closed. Guys often leave it open. If everyone is keeping the seat down, the male psyche is spared from constant beratement over this trivial habit.
3. Guys get worn out from the day. Simply put: take a load off, kick back and relax for a bit.
4. And finally, it’s a chance for the guys to be chivalrous and warm that seat for the ladies. They’ll appreciate it in the winter.

So, gents, it’s okay to take a seat. Just remember that the next time you need to go, please be kind—use your behind.

Who takes this blogging stuff that seriously?

A few months ago, I thought it would be a great idea to create a blog. Actually, it’s my second or third attempt to create one of these, but seeing as how my first two rotted in a dark corner of the web and collected thick layers of cyberdust, I thought this was the charm. This was going to be the breakthrough. This was going to be the blog I keep writing on, keep posting on, keep updated with whatever I feel like posting.

But as you can see by my posting dates, that hasn’t happened.

When I decided to try riding the bull again, I read about blogging, trying to pick up sage advice. “Pick a specific topic and write about it” was probably the most common. But the problem is that I’m a generalist, one with lots of different experiences, interests and ideas. I’m kind of a renaissance man, thought I don’t know that I’d call myself an expert in all the different areas, but merely well-versed. I don’t like to oversell myself. Underpromise and overdeliver, I’ve been told. At least that’s something I’m usually pretty good at.

So specializing was out. Which meant I have to write about things in general. Subject matter solved.

Then I read another bit of advice: try to write a thousand words a week. That seems like a lot, considering that if you kept that pace you could write a novella in a year’s time. But if you break it down and write 250 words four times a week, that’s not so bad. Or 333 words twice a week with 334 somewhere tucked in the middle. Or any other mathematical possibilities for writing quantity.

I kind of like that goal, so I’m going to aim for it. Quantity of posts, solved.

And I fancy myself a good writer, well-versed in American grammar and style, a punctuation patrolman to boot. Now I may not write in high-falutin’ turtleneck lit prose, but it’s going to be clean and neat, and hopefully not as rambling as I usually am in casual conversation.

So whatever it is that pops up here is going to be some random subject matter culled from the hidden vestiges of my grey matter. Length doesn’t matter to me (and unless you’re in competition with Ron Jeremy, it shouldn’t matter to you, either). And it will hopefully be of interest to at least someone, somewhere. But as I’m prone to the big undersell, it may be a long time before anyone gets anything worthwhile out of all this.

More to come.

Through Smurf-Colored Glasses

The other day, while listening to the cartoons my sons were watching, I couldn’t help but think how badly these were written. So I turned to look. The animation was of decent quality, but the verbalizations didn’t match the movement of the characters’ lips. Gotta love a fully-developed sentence coming out of a fully-closed mouth.

Not only was the episode written by a remedial English dropout, the storyline was about as compelling as a concrete block but was less predictable. As a parent, I wanted my children to watch something with more redeeming value, or at least something that was much more smartly created. But did that exist anymore?

Then I got to thinking: were the cartoons I grew up with that badly done? Or were they really as exciting and wrapped in creative genius as I remember? I only needed three exhibits: a copy of the original Smurfs cartoon show from the local indie video store, a few episodes of Voltron from my wife’s DVD collection, and back-to-back episodes of He-Man and She-Ra on late-night TV.

Voltron is one of those early anime imports from Japan, poorly dubbed into stilted American English. My wife enjoys it. I simply smile and roll my eyes as she relates the entire story arc of the first couple seasons. She’s not an anime person, but rather it’s a guilty pleasure. I’ll give Voltron credit for having a slightly worthwhile story, only because there’s a basic storyline that progresses from one episode to the next.

I then popped in a video cassette (!) of the Smurfs. Wow. As cute as those creatures were when I was younger, they used the word “smurf” about twenty-six-hundred times too many in very little micro-episode. Granted, the episodes were still funny after all these years. So points for creativity and entertainment’s sake.

My final bit of research with He-Man. It was painful. And I don’t mean in a Skeletor-beating-He-Man sort of way. The Power of Greyskull sent wave after pounding wave of pain and confusion through my cranium. Bad animation. Bad writing. Bad voice acting. He-Man, you failed me miserably. I saw the opening credits for She-Ra roll, and that’s when I turned the TV off. I figured I’d never get to sleep otherwise.

The next day, my boys were watching Wordgirl on PBS. My ears perked up. Clever writing, snappy lines flying left and right across and out of the screen. A coherent (if completely ridiculous) storyline. And the animation was very bold and stylized, engaging both kids and adults.

So many of the badly-created shows we watched when we were kids have been forgotten, simply because they were so bad. Those that were entertaining live on, not having been buried in the vast TV wastelands. It’s the same thing with music. We remember all the good stuff (some may be cheesy or incredibly bad, but that’s why we remember them) and tend to forget about the steaming dung piles that failed to make the B-sides.

As for me, I’m just going to pull out the Looney Tunes collection to watch some first-rate entertainment. After several decades it still holds up, even as ol’ Wile E. and the Roadrunner continue the same old schtick.