Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Should Have Tried Dry Cleaning

As part of the division of labor in our household, I have been delegated the task of doing most of the laundry. It's not something I really mind, in fact as a chore it has a lot to recommend it: Laundry requires very little brainpower or thought, putting it right up my alley. Laundry is something that can be done at all hours of the night and day, making it perfect for my availability between shift work at my paying job and writing, which I consider my real job.

Plus, and this is probably best of all, you can fold laundry and not miss a single play of the Red Sox or Patriots game on TV. Beyond that, though, you have to be careful. I've found through bitter experience that attempting to fold while watching Heroes or Lost is a pointless exercise in frustration. You end up with your wife's bras in your underwear drawer while having no freaking clue why Jack just punched out Sawyer.

But back to my point, which is this - As the designated laundry-doer in my family for the better part of the last ten or twelve years, I'm something of an expert on the subject; at least as much as someone can be who knows nothing about fabrics, etc. But I discovered something last week that I want to share with you, just in case you are as ignorant of it as I was.

IPods aren't washable!

Explanation: My middle child, who's a senior in high school and a cheerleader, came home from a football game last Friday night and hung her warmup jacket over the kitchen chair. I did a load of laundry the next day and threw it in, without checking the pockets. I know, I know, rookie mistake, but what can I say? My head wasn't in the game, I can admit that.

So there you have it - I washed my daughter's iPod.

Uh, excuse me, isn't this supposed to be the twenty-first century? Technological revolution and all that crap? I grew up listening to record albums pressed out of vinyl discs, and I'd be willing to bet that if I had accidentally put one of them through the wash, I could still have listened to it afterward. Sure, Bob Seger might have sounded a little...off...but I'll bet he would still have sung for me.

Not that iPod. One little trip through the wash and spin, and now it's worthless for use as anything besides a paperweight. And it's not very good at that either; it's so small and light a good breeze would blow it away along with the paper it's supposed to be covering.

I offer this as a warning to anyone else out there who might get a wild hair and try to wash their electronic devices. Don't do it! I tried an iPod, but I doubt you would fare much better washing your cell phone or your BlackBerry either. Just Say No.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Few Simple Things

Maybe it's because I'm getting older or perhaps I'm just a boring individual, but I've discovered I don't need to experience thrills and chills in my life to be happy. Give me a good book or a quiet conversation every time.

If I were an amusement park ride I'd be one of those little canoes that float in six inches of water at an excruciatingly slow pace in a circle so four year olds can have something to do while their older brothers and sisters ride the roller coasters all day long. Anyway, here, in no particular order, is a list of what I believe to be the best of life's simple pleasures:

- Ice-cold water on a swelteringly hot day. After you've had your water you can switch to beer or iced tea or whatever you enjoy the most, but don't even try to convince me that if you were lost in the Sahara for three days and someone placed a table filled with cold drinks in front of you that you wouldn't reach for that glass of cool, sweet water first.

- The smell of freshly-mown grass on a summer day. Maybe it's your next-door neighbor out working on his lawn or maybe you're just driving down the street with your windows open when you get hit with this, but is there anyone who doesn't like this smell? They say the olfactory response is the strongest of all the senses and I believe it.

- Seeing your children do the right thing when faced with a difficult choice. You do most of your teaching when they're young and then sit back with your fingers crossed, hoping at least some of what you tried so clumsily to impart was absorbed. Then you see your child do the right thing - not because you told them to, but because it's the right thing, and you realize they really were listening, even when it didn't seem like it.

- A completely unexpected twist in the book you're reading or the movie you're watching. You thought you had a handle on who did it and why, then you suddenly realize you were so far off base that you weren't even in the ballpark! What a delicious feeling.

- Nineteen-month old arms hugging you around the neck, squeezing with all their might. The total trust and innocence of a baby can never be duplicated in life - ever - and is one of the most awe-inspiring feelings you can ever have. Even if you don't have or ever want children, you should borrow a friend's or relative's baby just to experience this sensation at least once.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Top Ten List - Things People Ask When They Find Out I'm a Writer

Even though I have yet to snag an agent or find a publisher for either of my completed novels, there is a fairly predictable list of questions I get when people discover I'm a writer, or after they read any of my material. Fortunately, most haven't told me they regret the time they've spent reading my stuff, at least not to my face.

So, without further ado, and since I'm not really sure what "ado" is in the first place, here is my Top Ten List of Things People Want to Know When They Discover I'm a Writer:

10) "Do you think I could write a book?"

My answer - How the hell do I know? I'll tell you this, though. Everyone has a story inside them which would be fascinating reading. The hard part is developing the discipline to get it down on paper, but if I can do it, so can you.

9) "How do you spell [Fill in the blank with some obscure word no one has ever heard of]?"

Everyone figures since you spend so much time writing you must be some kind of spelling wizard. In my case, that happens to be true; I'm a great speller, even though I did get eliminated from the fifth grade spelling bee when I choked on the word "you." Don't ask. That was a dark time in my life.

8) "What's your favorite book ever?"

It's actually a tie between The Fixer and Paskagankee, two books you may never have heard of. Actually, unless you know me, I guarantee you have never heard of them. They are my two completed manuscripts - my two babies, so to speak, which have yet to be seen by anyone outside of a very small circle of friends and family. Eventually they will be, though.

7) "Where do you get such twisted ideas?"

Anyone who has read any of my work, whether my two completed novels or any of my short stories, seems shocked to discover how dark my mind really is. The really shocking part is that the stuff I have written so far is only what I've been comfortable putting out for public consumption; the truly strange stuff is still knocking around inside my head trying to get out.

6) "Did you get an agent yet?"

Sometimes the question is phrased as, "When are your books coming out?" So far, the only answer I can give to either question is that your guess is as good as mine. I'm one hundred percent convinced that it's going to happen, but it's definitely not happening tomorrow or next week or even next month.

5) "Will you still talk to me when you get famous?"

Of course not. What's the point of being famous if you can't blow off all the people who hung out with you when you were just a regular guy? I'm kidding, by the way.

4) "Do you know [Fill in the blank with the name of the person's favorite author]?"

Everyone assumes you are on a first-name basis with guys like Stephen King or Lee Child or Dean Koontz when they find out you are writing a book. An awesome thought, but so far none of them has returned any of my calls.

3) "How do you deal with rejection?"

Great question. I just pretend it's happening to someone else. Actually, many of the rejection letters I have received from agents have been quite complimentary and although none of them have yet offered me representation, they haven't actually told me to unplug my keyboard and throw it away, either. At this point, I consider that a major accomplishment. I remain convinced that the next one I hear from will be the one who is salivating at the prospect of representing me as the next great debut novelist. I believe that's called self-deception, but whatever floats your boat, right?

2) "Can you use my name for one of your characters?"

This one mostly comes from my middle child. My seventeen year old daughter is bound and determined to be a star in one of my novels, and I've told her a thousand times that I'm not killing off my own child, but when a good part comes along for a young woman who is perfect and loves her dad, she's in.

1) "Can't you write about stuff that's not quite so dark?"

This question mostly comes from my wife, who can't be pleased to know that so much of my creative juices are focused on murder and chaos and mayhem. The answer, of course, is "no;" I can't help how my mind works. On the other hand, one of my favorite short stories is called "Uncle Brick and Jimmy Kills," and is a little more light-hearted than my typical fare, although it involves murder and the mob. I wrote this one specifically because she seemed so concerned about the dark tint to most of my stories. So far, no one has seen fit to publish it but I'm going to keep flogging it around until someone does - it's really good.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What's in a Number? Or, Pass Me My Spectacles, Sonny

Okay, so I turned 49 a couple of days ago. Not a big deal, right? Age is nothing but a number, anyway, right?

Here's the problem I have with that theory. Have you ever noticed that the only people who say things like, "Age is just a number" are old? Really, when was the last time you heard a 23 year old go, "Yeah, I'm 23, but age is just a number. I feel like I'm really 80."

So I'm 49 now and the decades are flying by at an alarming speed that I wouldn't believe if I wasn't living through it. I remember how bummed out I was when I turned thirty. Man, I was depressed. Not only wasn't I a teenager anymore, I had already lived through my twenties! That day happened nearly two decades ago now. Yikes.

Then all of a sudden I turned forty and I wasn't exactly thrilled, but it didn't seem to bother me as much as the thirty thing had, ten years earlier. I guess I figured, what the hell, you're over the hill now anyway, what difference does it make whether you're a few years or a few decades over it?

But now that I've embarked on my final year before I become eligible for my AARP card I find that I'm dreading turning fifty. As much as I'll enjoy the discount on my large coffee at Dunkin' Donuts every day on the way to work, I find I really don't have any desire to be in my fifties, you know what I mean? Getting up three times a night to pee, trimming hair out of my ears, trying to avoid the prostate cancer that took out both my father and grandfather - As much fun as all of that stuff sounds, it's an adventure I'm not quite ready for, especially when I still feel like I'm 22 or something.

But what the hell; age is just a number, right?

Friday, September 5, 2008

How to be an Instant VIP

I enjoy the sport of golf, and really do appreciate the amazing ability of the guys who play on the PGA Tour. If you've never played the game, you probably think it looks pretty easy - Hit a little round ball with a stick until you get it in a hole in the ground.

The ball isn't moving when you whack at it, the hole is perfectly stationary, there is no goaltender protecting it, nobody is trying to separate your head from your shoulders while you're swinging; how hard could it be? Then you actually step on to a golf course and try to play and instantly get a lesson in humility. It's almost impossible to hit the damn ball straight and sure, you'll get it in that little tiny hole eventually, but in three or four shots? Not freakin' likely!

I mention all this because the PGA Tour comes to this area once each year; on Labor Day weekend, for the Deutsche Bank Championship, and for the second consecutive year, my son and I traveled an hour and a half down to TPC Boston to watch the professionals play. By the way, TPC Boston is nowhere near Boston, it's located in Norton, Massachusetts, which is a lot closer to Rhode Island than it is to Boston.

Anyway, the way they do it is you park in the huge lots at the Comcast Center (Formerly known as the Tweeter Center, and before that it was called by its original, pre-corporate sponsorship name of Great Woods, which for my money is a lot cooler name than either Tweeter Center or Comcast Center, but that's another blog entirely) and they bus everyone via huge motor coaches to the site of the tournament, which is like two minutes away.

I paid ten bucks for one day's parking, which seemed a lot better than the forty dollars it would have cost to get "VIP" parking. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time.

So there we are, my son and I, walking around the course with thousands of other spectators, watching the best golfers in the world do their thing, when we pass by a table set up under a big tent, where an old lady is handing out brand-new baseball caps with the Tiger Woods "TW" logo on them. My son says something like, "Those are awesome." to which I reply, "Let's get you one!"

We approach the table and I see people handing the old lady cards which they've filled out, which obviously contain information like their email address. So the tradeoff to getting a Tiger Woods hat is having to be bombarded with spam for the rest of your life. I start to get a sinking feeling.

But I told my son we'd get him a Tiger Woods hat, so I approach the lady, smile, and say, "How do we go about getting a hat?"

She looks down her nose at me, no mean trick considering she was about five feet tall and sitting down, while I'm close to six feet and I was standing. I don't know how she did it either, but she did. She looks down her nose at me and says, prunely (Yes, I know "prunely" isn't technically a word, but there's no other way to describe how she answered me, so there it is), "You go back out to VIP Parking and ride over in a Buick."

She then erased me from her consciousness and went on to the person behind me, who apparently WAS a VIP. So there you have it: Had I only spent an extra thirty bucks to ride ninety seconds in a Buick (A Buick, for chrissakes, not a Mercedes or even a Lexus. A Buick!) I too could have gotten a free Tiger Woods hat.

Are you kidding me? A Buick? Sheesh.

I learned two things from this experience:

1) I will never, ever buy a Buick, just on general principles, thanks to this old lady and her snotty attitude, and,

2) Nobody does class distinction like the sport of golf.