Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reason #4,239 I'm not ready to have kids...

I love my niece. She's the cutest thing I've ever seen, and I'm not saying that just because she's related to me (not that it hurts, ha).

She's my first niece, is the first grandkid on both sides of the family and is an only child. So, um, yeah, she's spoiled rotten. Not that she's bratty in the least - she just loves being the center of attention. Ashleigh is cute, smart and happy... just a terrific all-around baby.

Most of the time, that is.

We spent nine hours together in the car on two separate occasions last week on drives to and from Buffalo for Christmas. That's a long time for anyone to be confined in a small space, never mind a 1-year-old strapped into a car seat. On the way out there, she did great for 7-and-a-half hours. But for that last 90 minutes? As they say in Jersey, "fuhgeddaboudit."

She was not happy. And she was vocal about it. Her entire face was contorted into the most pitiful expression you'd ever seen. Her mouth, with every single one of her gappy, sparse baby teeth showing, was wide open. The pink tongue stuck partly out as scream after scream rolled over it. She screamed high, she gurgled low and gasped for breath and then she screamed again. And again. And again.

I have minimal experience with babies. But what I have learned from the few friends of mine that are parents is that sometimes, kids just need to cry it out. They get overtired and a good cry will help them fall asleep. I, in my blissful ignorance, assumed this would be the case.

Sadly, it was not to be. Lil' Ashleigh is a stubborn baby girl. And, apparently, she had drank some Red Bull or something, because she was not about to just roll over and fall asleep. Nope; she was just going to keep on screaming.

Jen (my sister) and I were in the car together... I was driving and even though cruise control was on, I didn't feel like it would be safe for me to turn around and start making funny faces to my toddler backseat passenger, so Jen was in charge of quieting Ashleigh down with the help of my shouted suggestions. It sort of went like this:

M - "Give her something, anything!"
J - "Here's a book, Ashleigh, you love books."
A - "Wahhhh... AIEEEEEE... EEEEEEK!"
M - "Try the cups! Try the cups!"
J - "Here's your stackable cups, you love those things. Remember, you were playing with them for an hour while we drove through Albany."
A - "AH-AH-AH... WAAHEEEE!"
M - "Try milk!"
J - "Do you want your milk?"
A - (takes bottle and throws it on floor, continues one constant scream, uninterrupted by a single breath, for 270 seconds straight)
M - "Try water! Try singing! Try baby-talk! Try yoga pressure points! Try speaking in tongues!"

This went on for half an hour until we both gave up and sat in silence, listening to her varying pitches of screams. It was an operatic performance, indeed; she put on quite the Baby Einstein aria for us.

Finally, we caved. Jen called our parents, who were driving in a different car. We ended up pulling into the next rest stop and switched cars for the final 25 minutes to Buffalo, both of us with a splitting headache.

My parents reported that Ashleigh didn't peep once for the entire ride.

Gah!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What is Mike up to these days?

Okay, so here's part number 2 in a 500-part series... "What is Mike Up To?" If you somehow missed the chance to have your life, your beliefs, your very soul changed by reading my first submission, here's the link to catch up.

You're welcome.

Pure and simple, I'm going to give you a list of some of the things that have caught my attention/obsession over the last month or so, just in case any of you out there in web-land care to know. And, in case you don't care, you can click here or here to go to much more fun ways to kill time.

(If you followed those links, I've already suckered you into doing what I suggest! Muah-ha-ha-ha...*cough* *hack*... that was my best attempt at an evil laugh. I think I hurt a lung. Let's move on...)

The Best of 2007

It's been suggested by a wonderful, faithful reader that I write more about music, which actually surprised me, because normally when I start talking about music in a bar, everyone around me either decides to go to the bathroom or their eyes glaze over and they start staring at the shapes the foam makes on their glasses. But maybe things are different when I talk about them on the 'net... so here goes nothing...

(Wait, what's that sound? Hundreds of mice clicking away from my site?)

Anyways, I used to compile top-10 lists of the year's best music, but I'm not going to do that this year. It's actually a ton of work because, heaven help you if the list doesn't stand up to the test of time or you leave something out. So, instead of giving you my top 10, 25 or 50... I'll give you links to some experts with much better ideas on what you should be buying:

Woxy's top 97 of 2007
eMusic.com Listeners' and Editors' choices
AllMusic.com's alphabetized list and their Editors' Picks
Pitchfork's staffers' favorites
Spin's random selection of 50 albums that contain no surprises and a sucky, cop-out #1 pick


And, while I'm not going to do my own list, I will give you a list of albums that would probably make it and you should go buy. In no particular order:

Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City
I found it extremely surprising that this record didn't show up on anyone's top-2007 list and I have to chalk that up to the band being a victim of its own success. Their debut, Silent Alarm, was THE ALBUM of 2005 - the one everyone bought, everyone loved, everyone talked about. So, when 2007 rolled around, everyone was Bloc Partied out.

That's too bad, because A Weekend in the City is a great album. It still rocks with the band's signature, frenetic, alt-punk energy, but has some lovely ephemeral touches painted on its canvas. It's as if the politically minded band is now less concerned with blowing up the world and more interested in bandaging the wounds it perceives. Solid.

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I arrived to Spoon late, having bought Kill the Moonlight last year and then forgetting to listen to it (a really bad habit of mine). I finally did crack the spine on the CD case when their latest record dropped and all the indie sites started buzzing with glowing reviews.

Let's just say that Spoon is now one of my favorite bands.

The Texan trio isn't supremely talented in any one aspect... vocals aren't outstanding, music is simply arranged and hardly uses more than four or five chords a song, lyrics are fun but not special... but they do know how to be a band. The guys work function well together and don't try to push the envelope further than they can deliver (yes, I just mixed two cliched postal metaphors).

If you want a free sample of their music, I can burn you a copy or you could just rent Stranger Than Fiction (solid flick and the soundtrack is mostly Spoon songs). If you're not singing Spoon's songs in your head the next day, then I'll give you your money for this post back.

Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
This disc should come with a warning label - "Listen at your own risk. Kings of Leon is not responsible for any injuries sustained by bourbon-drinking, beard-growing, tight-jeans-wearing boogieing down while listening to this album."

Because that's exactly what happens. I find myself having to shave every time I listen to this Southern rock masterpiec and that has really worn down the blades on my Mach 3.





Radiohead - In Rainbows

It's Radiohead. Tons of people have written about it. Go out and buy it, you'll like it.

(By the way, I wrote about this album in a previous post, so feel free to check that out, too.)









Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
I have a thing for acoustic, singer-songwriters. Maybe it's because I've always wanted to learn how to play the guitar, so I can be the center of attention at every coffeehouse, fireplace and drum circle I visit.

Bird probably put out the best solo project of the year. His light, airy guitarwork accompanies twisting, complicated lyrics perfectly... he doesn't try to overdo anything. It's the perfect cloudy-day album (and Lord knows we'll have enough of those in the next few months).

And, in case this isn't enough to keep you entertained and Santa's given you more dough than you know what to do with, go buy: The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible, Raine Maida - The Hunter's Lullaby, The National - Boxer, Stars - In Our Bedroom After the War and, yes, even Paul McCartney's "my career isn't dead yet" release - Memory Almost Full.

Once You Pop, You Can't Stop

Even though it looks like microwaved popcorn may cause deadly lung diseases (see this story, about a guy who eats two bags a day and will now die because of it, but not before winning a giant lawsuit), I'm still eating more of it than ever.

Why, you ask? Well, it's because of this - Mr. Orville Redenbacher's delicious Natural Buttery Salt and Cracked Pepper. Oh. My. Goodness. It is the most amazing snack I have ever microwaved. If you could make something taste like stardust, rainbows and cute puppies, this would be it (except for the dog parts).

AND it's good for you! It comes in individual-serving bags that are under 200 calories. The popped kernels aren't covered in that fake orange butter-like substance, rather they are "all-natural popping corn" and are lightly salted with a hit of butter taste and sprinkled with pepper for some yummy kick. The flavors are natural, too, so this stuff is actually good for you. At least it's marketed that way.

So, yes, of course I eat two of them at a a time while drinking beer and sitting on my couch, but I could be injecting black tar heroin, so it's not the worst thing ever.

Christmas Cards

No, I don't send them out. But I have gotten quite a lot, which means that... A) I might be popular and B) my friends are apparently getting older and doing more "adult" things. I feel as if I should be doing the same, but I'll probably wait it out... My thinking is I should be married and have a shot taken of myself, my spouse and my Labrador retriever all wearing matching sweaters and sipping cocoa first.

Because, right now, my picture would probably be me alone, wearing sweatpants and a flap hat and shoveling my parents' driveway.

Once I get a shot of that, I'll put it up here for you all to appreciate.

Seriously, though, thank you to everyone kind enough to send me a card... I've put them up on my bedroom dorm, a la dorm style 2000. They make me cheery and holiday spirity in the morning, when I'm stumbling out of bed and groping for the shower and coffee.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

And while we're on the subject of J.C.'s birthday, I just finished reading Lee Strobel's best-seller, A Case for Christ.

Without getting all religious on you, I do highly recommend this one. Heck, if you want to borrow my copy, you're more than welcome to. Just shoot me an email (or, better yet, leave me a comment! I love comments! And exclamation points!) and I'll send it over to you.

Here's the thing... too often, people get all in a tizzy about different faiths and religions without really researching their background from a open and, for lack of a better term, academic mind. This book takes care of that, when it comes to Christianity... it visits the questions of Did Jesus Exist? Are the Gospels historically accurate? Did early Christianity draw on other, more ancient, religious traditions? Are there other, non-Biblical, sources that can confirm the historicity of things like Christ's birth, death and resurrection?

It's a fast read in itself and simply touches on the surface of many of these questions, but does give resources for additional research. I'll leave it at that, but I do think that this book is more than worthwhile for anyone who's questioning some of religion's big questions or just looking to know more about Christianity.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Take this and shovel it...

Punny, very punny, Mike.

Now that Old Man Winter has settled in, by which I mean he's like some stranger who bursts through the door of your apartment, takes off his pants, microwaves a burrito, takes over your couch and ottoman and immediately starts watching E! at full volume - obnoxious, uninvited and a little scary - I thought I'd share some observations I've come up with about snow shoveling.

I've been shoveling for years, ever since I could walk, actually. My parents, all in the name of "building character," sent me out there, bright orange snow shovel in hand and frozen snot running out my nose every time we got more than an inch of powder. In college, I was the only one who owned a snow shovel in our entire apartment complex, which meant that I was A) occasionally popular and B) constantly ridiculed. But, I was also C) the only one who could make a pizza run during a snowstorm. Now, I keep a shovel in my car and also make sure my adorable 78-year-old landlady's porch is cleared off. Here's what I've learned...


Shoveling is Fun

Kind of. At first.

There's something to be said for the simple joys of manual labor and working up a sweat in a brisk, winter breeze with the flakes falling all around you. It's a great workout and gives attention to muscle groups that you hardly ever use. While the "Shovel Workouts IV" video has been shelved for lack of sales, I still don't mind getting out there.

BUT that only applies to November, December and parts of January. Ask me if shoveling is fun when I'm doing it in April and I may just smack you upside the head with my ergonomically designed Backsaver shovel.


Cityfolk Know Nothing

Seriously, people, how hard is it to dig out your car?

It takes maybe all of ten minutes to pile all the snow within 2 feet of your fenders on the sidewalk, leaving a nice, clean parking space for the next person to come looking for one. But the result is that I am not woken up at 6 a.m. by some idiot spinning their tires for ten minutes trying to get out of their un-shoveled space. And then, when and if they finally do get out, they drive away, leaving iced over ruts and a foot of snow for some poor sap to try to park in. The next parker will then repeat the same process, further complicating everything for everyone.

Also, by not shoveling out parking spaces, city dwellers leave piles of snow lining the streets. Meaning that if you drive a mid-size car (like mine) , it's impossible to fit into a spot of someone who drives an economy car and didn't shovel away the piles. This leads to almost endless circling of city blocks, trying to find two piles of ice that you can fit between.


Staind sucks

Okay, so this has nothing to do with snow, but remember Staind's first hit, "Mudshovel?" Yeah. I heard that the other day and praised the Lord that I no longer listen to terrible, sludgy cock rock.


Shovel (eating with)

Is it just me or is eating with chopsticks so much more fun than eating with Western European utensils? Instead of using a fork or spoon to just shovel food down your gob, you get to daintily pick them up and place bite-sized portions into your mouth.

Chopsticks are like extensions of the finger... they're so much more fluid to use than the mechanical metal utensils. I just really enjoy them.


Okay, observations on shovels done... wow. I think I'm boring myself...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Addendum...

In case anyone's reading this and wondering how the follow-up to this post (where I talked about trying to find a hat) went, I was successful.

Last week, I went to Urban Outfitters and tried on hats for half an hour before settling on the one pictured (left). As you can see, I've gotten much more ruggedly handsome and am even capable of growing stubble.

(Seriously, though, same hat, although mine's navy blue).

I had some reservations about going for the beanie-with-a-brim, because they generally look really stupid on me. I have an odd-shaped head, I guess. It's fairly wide, but it isn't too tall. So hats will either cover my eyes or poke up on the top of my head. I hate both and, either way, it looks ridiculous.

But this hat fits pretty well (probably because it's closer to children's size, than regular) and matches up with either a casual jacket or my dressier wool coat. It also covers my ears all the way, too, which is nice since my other hat doesn't and they tend to freeze solid during my 1-mile morning walk from my apartment to the T.

So, that's the updated. Hat bought, crisis averted. And all it cost me was a month of trying things on and $9.99.

Hooray!

All aboard the panda express...

I've hesitated to talk about this, in case I would jinx anything or would be accused of counting my chickens before they hatched (I'd much rather be considered a "counter of cells before they've split"), but it looks like thing are in place to take your favorite blog to Beijing.

Yes, I am slated to go to the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, China as part of the Olympic News Service. All together now...

"Bahm dahm da-dum dum dum dum.
Bum ba-da dum ba-da dum da-dum dum dum dummmm"

If you don't think I wasted 10 minutes making sure I had the right number of "dums" in that , then you don't know Mike.

It took a while for all this to come together, for a number of reasons that I won't bore you with here. In the end, though, my college was one of five schools selected to send grad students/upperclassmen to the Olympics to help with the news coverage. And that's the extent of what I know about the program. Everything else has been given to us in the vaguest of terms, because, basically, the ONS has never done this before. So, here's what I know...

- I'll be in China
- probably for two months
- they think I have a place to stay (at the Communications University of China) and maybe someone will even feed me
- we'll be covering the Games, but there is no information on what venues/sports or even in what capacity we'll be working in

And that's about it. But, screw it, who cares? My next travel adventure has begun and I'm pretty pumped about it.

I know next to nothing about China. For example, if you had asked me yesterday which city housed Tiananmen Square, I couldn't have told you. The only words I know in Mandarin are "been-fau-tong," which means "marshmallow" and "meso-hoh-nee," which directly translated is "I have sex you long time for money." So, yeah, that's wicked helpful. The only info I have on China in my apartment is my bread machine and coffee maker (both have "Made in.." status). Discounting my weekly visit to my main guilty pleasure, Panda Express, I have almost no interaction with anything China-related. Oh, except for those wonderfully vague fortune cookies I always add "in bed" to (since I'm still mentally in junior high).

Turns out, I'm your typical, politically incorrect, American traveler after all.

I'm going into this thing completely blind. BUT I think this does provide a great blogging opportunity... when I learn something, I'll share it with you. So, as I learn Mandarin, you'll learn Mandarin. As I find out the rules of ping-pong, you'll find out the rules of ping-pong. And, if I find out they do have Panda Express in China, I'll post a picture of me eating some of that delectable orange chicken.

Yum, yum.


------
HOLY CRAP

After I wrote this, I looked up the nutrition information for the Panda. Orange chicken has 500 calories and 27 whopping grams of fat per serving. Both are 200% more than the next-worst menu item (discounting the pork dishes, which are so disgusting that even the homeless turn them down).

No wonder that stuff tastes so good. Just call me Mikey McFatFat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Habitual offender...

Those of you who have known me long enough understand that I am a creature of habit. It's not something that I try to be, it's just who I am. I am a Nagel - I cannot help it. Actually, I think that my habitualness (is that a word?) is the be all, end all for the Nature versus Nurture argument. Mike does the same things, the same way, every time. End of discussion.

I try to break out of my habits, I really do. When I was growing up, I read a lot of Louis L'Amour books. He wrote Westerns, where his main character was invariably a tall, dark, quick-drawing guy with a rugged past that was misunderstood because he was invariably good at heart. And I wanted to be that dude, especially since it meant gunning down bad guys in dusty street standoffs and then riding off in the sunset to tap some calico ass. Doesn't get much better in the mind of a 12-year-old.

All of L'Amour's heroes shared the same characteristics, right down to their tricks of staying alive on the dusty trail - they never tied their guns down (so they were always ready to fight), they swung first (element of surprise), they didn't stare into the fire (cuts down night vision) and they always, always made sure that they never took the same path twice. Mixing up your daily routine and not falling into habits were methods of survival.

I found that I couldn't cut it. I simply cannot break out of my habits. I squeeze toothpaste from the botton, I re-fold shirts in clothing stores, I put my gloves on right-hand first, I alphabetize my music, I file papers, my shoes are arranged in order of preference, my closet is categorized first by season and then sub-categorized by shirt type and favorite status.

It's not that I'm OCD (much), I just like to have a place for everything and everything in that place.

This means, however, that it takes a huge mental and physical effort on my part to change any part of my routine. But, as we all know, I'm not perfect, so there are some things that are going to have to change. I guess you could call this "Mike's Preparation for Having to Come Up with a New Year's Resolution."


My Manicures

Yes, I get manicures. No, that does not make me gay, just like leaving my phone number scrawled on the walls of bathroom stalls when I'm drunk doesn't mean I like men.

Here's the problem, though... For 22 years, I bit my nails. And then, I managed to stop and started getting manicures (I don't know how to cut my own nails, since I always bit them and my nice group of South Korean ladies really do an awesome job at it). However, I've fallen back into the bad habit of biting my nails... maybe it's because I've been stressed out, or been bored in class or stopped chewing as much gum so my oral fixation is compensating.

Anyways, I need to stop this. It's discusting and my cuticles look awful because it's been months since someone else soaked them, smothered them in goop and buffed them to a shine. I kinda miss that.


My Journal

I have kept a journal off-and-on for over five years now. It's kind of fun to read back through it and see what a jackass I used to be. Or what a jackass I've become. Same difference.

There were periods in my life where I wrote in that thing every day. Some of it was good stuff, too... things about travel, happenings in my life, answered prayer requests and such. But lately, I haven't been doing that. The journal (which, incidentaly, is actually a 99 cent notebook from CVS and not a pink book with a ribbon and a key, thank you very much) sits collecting dust next to my bed as I ignore it on a nightly basis.

Need to get back to that.


My Social Life

My social life is kind of non-existent. By the time I get home from work, finish all the crap I have to do for grad school, clean the house and/or make dinner, I'm spent. When the weekend rolls around, I have lately taken to renting on-demand movies and drinking wine. Alone. I'd switch to gin or scotch, but I have a scary feeling that that could resemeble the actions of an alcoholic. Plus, that stuff is more expensive.

However, there was a time in the Life of Mike where I would go to the theater (alone or with friends), see random concerts, visit museums or even just walk around the city. I miss that.

Now that I'm about to start some time away from work, I feel like I have the chance to get back into that. So, for all of my Boston compadres, let's start making plans!


My Emails

I am THE WORST emailer. I receive emails that sit in my inbox for months. I literally have an email from my friend Sarah that came in September. Of 2006. I haven't replied to it yet. I guess I must've been "busy."

I should get better at this. But I'm afraid that it may be a hopeless cause. I have never been good at it and, as more time goes by, the excuses for not writing back just continue to pile up. If anyone stumbles on this blog who emailed me years ago and assumed I died, I'm actually okay. I'm just a jerk.

I think emailing will continue to go on the back-burner... mostly because I haven't thought up a proper apologie for not writing that doesn't involve a coma, a collection incident with the Mob gone wrong, sudden amnesia or a monkish vow of solitude.

But, hey, at least I can get started on getting my nails done! Maybe I'll get a pedicure, too...

That won't make me gay, right?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

This is your morning wakeup call...

Good morning everyone!

I say that because it's morning now, when I'm starting this blog. But it may not be the a.m. when you're reading. In which case, buenos tardes or good evening or why the heck are you reading this at three in the morning - go to bed you insomniac!

I just want to discuss a rather embarassing event in the Life of Mike. It actually wouldn't be embarrassing,if I weren't sharing it with you, Dear Reader, because no one was there to
witness it. But I am posting it here because, let's he honest, self-deprication is what the Internet is all about.

(side note: who decided that the Internet deserves the same respect as God. Auto-type always capitalizes that "I." Did Al Gore mandate this? Is it Bill Gates' way of subtlely deifying himself? I need to know...)

Back to our hero...

I gave myself a "hot oven" this morning.

For those of you not familiar with the term, it does not denote a deviant form of furious masturbation with a microwaved pop tart. Rather, it's the name given to a practical joke where two people are sharing a bed and are underneath the (preferably heavy) blankets. The joker rips a fart and simultaneously pulls up the blankets over the jokee's head. The result of this action is that the jokee becomes trapped in a "hot oven" of odorous, flammable and sometimes even visible flatulant.

It is the highest of high comedy.

However, there was nothing funny about the situation this morning when I awoke to find that I was both the joker and the jokee. It is only humorous when two or more are gathered to share in the hilarity. Trust me on that.

My alarm went off at 6:30. I was snuggled deep under the covers, where a cave of warmth was keeping the December cold at bay. I'm always a slow riser (not E.D., you perv!), so the noxious fumes that greeted me slipped slowly into by consciousness, until...

OH My GOD, WHAT CRAWLED UNDER MY BED AND DIED?!

"Pungent" doesn't begin to describe it.
"Palatable" gets closer.
"Perverse" probably sums it up best.

I had, apparently, been repeatedly ripping off juicy farts for at least a half hour and, upon waking, found out I'd burned away all my nose hair and had an oddly acrid taste on my tongue. I mean that stuff stank. You could practically see a green haze floating below the ceiling.

It had nowhere to go. My door was shut, my windows are covered in plastic (that's right, ladies, my boudoir is decorated like an 80-year-old woman's) and there was no fresh air to be found.

I crawled to the doorway, retching, trying despretly not to breathe and managed to get the door open without moving my head more than six inches from the floor. The effort and the stink caused me to pass out right then and there, but thankfully I'd reached some untainted air and my life was spared. Otherwise, my blogging days would be over.

When I came to, I lit one of those idustrial-sized Yankee Candles. After an hour, my room still smelled like poo, but at least it was mingled with the scent of Banana Bread Housewarmer. I plan to burn my sheets tomorrow, you know, like the did back in the days of the Plague.

Oh, and I'm never again eating meatballs for dinner without cracking a window.

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Note: this is my first mobile post. Sorry for any typos. How's it look?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Wait for it... wait for it... wait for it...

It's 11 o'clock and I'm going to bed. Before I go, however, I want to point out that I have had the above screen up on my computer for 13 hours today.

Today is the first day Red Sox tickets go on sale for the 2008 season. Unlike most teams, the Sox don't release their entire season at one time - that would not only crash the MLB server, but probably start blackouts on the Northeast's power grid, leading to rampant rioting in and around Boston and definite destruction of anything with the words "New York" in it north of Connecticut.

So, at 10 a.m. this morning, nine "Sox Packs" (tickets to four different games interspersed throughout the season) and a half-dozen April/May series individual games went on sale. Unlike Ticketmaster, which is run on a first-come, first-serve basis, the Sox choose to make use of a virtual waiting room. That above-pictured page reloads every 30 seconds. Each time, a user is randomly selected from the room to purchase tickets.

I had six computers at work loading the page. When I left at six, I went straight home and started up two more computers.

Zip. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

I've got nothin'... and now, the message on the bottom of the page says that all the packs have sold out and that there is extremely limited availability for the remaining games. This may not be happening this time around.

I love the Sox, don't get me wrong. But it's disappointing, sometimes, to not be able to see them live. And when you do, you have to pay the scalpers twice the face-value of the tickets (which are MLB's most expensive, as it is). Walk-up tickets are a thing of imagination in Beantown, just like the tooth fair and Jeter's heterosexuality.

There is something to be said about the simple joy of being able to say, "Hey, let's catch a game tonight. The home team's in town," and being able to go see a ballgame that night. This summer, I was on a business trip to Dallas and some of us decided to see a Rangers game. We bought $20 tickets, had great seats in the 2nd deck and sat right in front of a bar that served $5 beers.

Sox fans would kill just for the opportunity to have one of those things.

Then again, Red Sox Nation is the most devoted fanbase in this country. They've proved it by selling out Fenway for hundreds of games in a row and ensuring that I won't have the chance to buy tickets for this coming season.

Stubhub, here I come!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I [miss?] NY...

For those of you that don't know, I lived in New York City for just over a year (June '04-August '05). While I wasn't there for the longest of times, my life did confirm to me that I really don't ever need or want to live there again.

Anyone even remotely familiar with the City knows that there are a ton of things to dislike about it:
- it's enormously overwhelming, and that never changes
- living expenses are so wildly out of proportion to the rest of the country
- the abundant bouquet of smells: from the rotting essence of the East River to the garbage-juice squelch streaming down back alleys to the piss-smell of the subways to the fried, over-cooked oil burn of street vendors to the unmistakable and overpowering cologne of a Guido all dolled up for date rape
- paying $12 for a Corona, repeatedly
- the thousands of mustachioed Yankee fans
- JAPs
- massive crowds blocking sidewalks, taking pictures of buildings, hideously-decorated Christmas trees and the dark Today Show studio in Rockefeller Center, thereby causing your commute time to double during the months of October-January
- the way the wind whips up and down the Avenues, turning the city grid into one giant wind tunnel
- people. Everywhere. All the time.
- Times Square

I could go on, but you get my point. New York is a rough town to make it in. I think if I had stayed, I could've gotten used to a lot of that, but, quite frankly, I didn't want to. I was comfortable being an outsider and I never wanted to become a "true New Yorker." Now, I know enough to take visitors around to the main sights, go to a few out-of-the-way places and have favorite restaurants, coffee shops and bars. That's all I really need.

Every now and then, though, I do start to miss life in the Big Apple. These feelings are fleeting and they're never accompanied by a desire to pack up my cheaper, bigger and better-located apartment in Boston and head south, but they do happen from time to time.

For example, I was walking through Copley Square here in Beantown the other night and saw the image above. It's pretty and full of holiday cheer, but that's not what grabbed me. What got to me were how the lights from the tall buildings sparkled against a clear, cold night sky. Looking up, I was able to ignore the few people around me and enjoyed a brief, sparkling moment of Zen.
(Either that or the burrito I had for lunch was acting up.)

Sometimes, when I lived in the City, I'd have those same moments. Most often, they would come on a Sunday night, after I left my church. Morningstar New York is located in midtown, in an old, renovated theater. Some nights, when the snow fell softly over the city, I'd decide to talk the long way to the subway. Instead of catching the N train around the corner from the church, I'd bundle up, wrap my scarf around my face and walk a mile north to 63rd and Lex.

It was like stepping into a photograph. Nine p.m. on a Sunday night, after the shops close and taxis look elsewhere for business, the east side died down. I could walk for blocks and not see another person out-of-doors. The snow would crunch softly under my feet as I picked my way across the concrete sidewalk slabs. The big, white flakes drifted down and the skyscrapers loomed above me, lit up and stretching toward the sky. It was as if I was walking inside of a giant snow globe.

Invariably, I'd switch to listening to Death Cab of on my iPod... the mournful sounds of Transatlanticism filling my ears...

I need you so much closer
I need you so much closer
I need you so much closer
I need you so much closer


At times like those, completely alone in a city of millions, I'd find a peace unlike any I've felt before or since. It was the sort of mournful solace that only comes from a solitude multiplied against the masses.

I felt a touch of that here in Boston the other night and, just for a brief instant, I missed New York.


------
Thanks to Jessa Barder for the photo. I stole it from her facebook page, not having the wherewithal to take the picture when I was actually there.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Stress...

This is a photo of what my room looked like this morning, right before I ran out the door for work. Observe...

Kind of messy, right? (The bed has been made, though, so I get extra credit for that.)

The image got my brain working, algebraically, and I thought up this equation: S=FM2

Normally, I'm allergic to math and I've avoided taking anything even resembling a math class this century, but it was an Einstein lightbulb moment. Sparks flew, angels sang and a 80-watt cartoon bulb popped up over my cranium.

With four, no five, characters I had clearly illustrated a corresponding relationship in the Life of Mike. I could prove to my faithful readers (both of you), that the state of my mind (S) is equal (=) to the state of the floor mess squared (FM2).

As you can see, my floor's a little messy. For me, that's about as bad as it gets. I cannot stand clutter, hate wrinkled clothing and can't function in a dirty environment, so I'm usually pretty OCD about my things (just ask my sister/roommate). The only time I allow clutter to build up is when I don't have enough time to clean it up. A buildup like the one pictured takes about a week to accumulate. I can break it down day-by-day:

1) The stack of books are from my Non-Fiction Lit class, which meets on Mondays.
2) And some other books are from my Publicity class, which meets on Tuesday.
3) Wednesday I didn't do much besides go to work, but I didn't clean, either. Natch.
4) That white shape in the bottom, left-hand corner is an inflatable mattress. Jen had a friend over Thursday night.
5) Friday, I went to the gym before work, hence the schoolkid's backpack.
6) I worked late in the office on Saturday, coming home, dropped my blue Puma bag on the floor and cracked open a beer and one of the books to do homework. Par-taaaay!
7) Sunday and Monday, I went up to NH to see my girlfriend and do work, hence the black, skull-and-bones dop kit and the Target bag of laundry.

I don't remember when I wore the jeans or the scarf, but it was in there somewhere.

By now, you're probably wondering... "Why is Mike boring me with this?" and "Man, that was a long explanation, I should probably pretend to do five minutes of work since I'm in the office and all."

Basically, I'm apologizing for not posting. I've been stressed and busy. Last week, each day consisted of going to the office, working non-stop (I had two new people to train) and then coming home to immediately start homework.

It wasn't a good week.

I know I'm getting stressed out when my body starts to hurt (in addition to floor clutter buildup). I clench my teeth, so my jaw gets sore (when I wake up with a sore jaw, stress levels go from threat-level orange to red). My head hurts because I don't take water breaks at work and get dehydrated. My butt hurts because I get constipated from the lack of water and my sphincter becomes tighter than a balloon knot. My shoulders and back hurt because I don't take the time to remind myself to correct my terrible posture. And my eyes hurt because I have to stare at a computer monitor for 90% of my waking day.

Let's just say that now my teeth are flat, I'm chewing aspirin, we're out of toilet paper but I haven't noticed, I pee dust and I've developed a hump.

But, enough with the excuses... I'll get back to posting this week. Scout's honor. I can't let you down, right? I mean, you may actually have to be productive in your office environment and I simply cannot allow that to happen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

iCamera

In case any of you are wondering what I do in my free time or, better yet, how good the camera on the iPhone is, I present to you my hot-off-the-press, just updated Flickr site.

Check it out. I had a few minutes to kill, so I uploaded about 20 random shots taken from my iPhone over the past couple months.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Lovin'....

The holidays are upon us. I think they snuck up while we sleeping off the diabetic coma of Halloween or something. But they're here! The Christmas music arrived for our work sound system (not that I'll be playing it. Ever.) and Turkey Day has come and gone.

Prepare to overeat. Prepare to overspend. Prepare to overindulge. Holiday Season '07 only comes once every 100 years! No, really, it does... I did the math and everything.

This is a special year for me, personally. Since I was the number-one, card-carrying, woman-denying, hyphen-over-using commitment-phobe on the planet before being snatched up by a lovely (and forgiving) young lady, I have never celebrated a holiday with anyone else.

My relationship history prior to meeting Sonja went sort of like this:
Boy meets girl.
Boy kisses girl.
Boy keeps on kissing girl until she decides to have "the talk."
Boy freaks.
Boy meets another girl.
And so on...

There was never any reason to spend the holidays with someone else because there really hasn't been a "someone else" for years. And there's the fact that my family are isolationists of a Pat Buchanan-level (political joke there... primaries are in two months... I'll stop now).

Basically, spending the Thanksgiving meal at Sonja's house with 20 of her relatives was a big deal for me. I never really get nervous about anything, with the possible exception of my sort-of-annual physical, but it was kind of nerve-wracking.

I was a definite outsider. Everyone else there had either sprung from the loins of her dad (good mental picture there), married into the family or was pretty much in a common-law marriage type relationship. So, I stuck out there. All the guys (she has five brothers and one dad) are much bigger than I am, which always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. You'd think I'd be used to this, since I haven't grown since 8th grade, but I havne't yet. This is one reason, I think, that the few guys I consider to be good friends can be described as "bookish." The menfolk are also all hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types who ride Harleys and know stuff about machinery. I drive a Camry and the most manly thing I've done in the last week is get the lid off a jar of spaghetti sauce for my sister. Needless to say, I wound up spending more time in the kitchen slicing veggies and learning how cheesecloth can be used to marinate a turkey (fascinating stuff).

You know what, though? Our differences didn't matter. Once everyone sat down at the table, appetite, dinnertime conversation and a general spirit of thankfulness took over. We took turns complementing the half-dozen chefs that contributed, we talked about the different places we live, I even tried out a couple Grizzly Adams jokes on Sonja's brother Greg, who sports mane of hair and 4-inch goatee. He laughed and didn't give me a noogie, so that worked out all around.

The holidays are about family coming together. And now that I have "someone else" in my life, my definition of family is expanding. I wound up having a great first Thanksgiving at her house with her wonderful relatives. They made me feel welcome, accepted and overstuffed. And for that I am thankful.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Will work for money...

Some of you out there in internet-land know that I'm about to quit my job. Well, I'm "taking a leave of absence," which means I don't have the balls to all-out quit and really would like to keep the door open to fall back on instead of winding up homeless, addicted to crack and singing for change outside of CVS.

The reality of it is two-fold.

One, I just really need a break. Since I got out of college (2004 - almost four freakin' years ago, incredibly enough), I've either worked a 70+-hours per week job or been employed while going to grad school full-time. It's more than a little taxing and I think it's sort of caught up with me.

Secondly, and probably most important, I have a thesis to write. It's the culmination of three years of grad school, $60,000 dollars of loans and, to be honest, a mostly useless MFA piece of paper to hang on my wall. While it may not be the smartest thing to leave my only source of income right before I have to start repaying loans, I really want to make sure I focus on the thesis project and get the most out of my experience and the crapload of money I'm spending.

As of January 3rd, 2008, Mike Nagel will no longer be gainfully employed. After almost seven years of higher education and four of working (including management experience!), I will be jobless. I wonder if I can get on welfare?

I do have some savings and I'm expecting a rather large tax return, since I can claim a student credit (if anyone else is in grad school and you haven't done this, DO IT - you basically get all your taxes back). I'll be living off that for a while.

But I'm also going to try to supplement that by working, when I can. The plan is to become a "freelance writer," which is really just a fancy way of saying, "I have no money and no job, but my spelling is swell!" I actually do have some opportunities on the horizon, but I won't discuss them here because I don't want to jinx anything.

However, that income while great, needed and a nice morale/ego booster, won't go too far towards paying for the lifestyle I've become accustomed to. Yes, that lifestyle consists of stealing WiFi, washing my underwear in the bathtub using dish detergent, preferring to wear three sweatshirts instead of turning the heat on in my apartment and testing the limits of Trader Joe's free-sample policy. But, dang it, it's still a lifestyle!

I have been preliminarily researching some job opportunities, though, and I thought I'd share a couple of the more interesting ones I've found.

1) Ordained minister

You'd think that becoming a man of the cloth would take deep religious devotion, years of prayer and research in a seminary and an attuned sense of the spiritual, right? Actually, no. All it takes is five minutes and internet access, thanks to the Universal Life Church and the Spiritual Humanists.

I stumbled across their sites while flipping through a copy of The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Weddings (not for me, I mailed a copy to my friend, Jenny, who just set August 3rd as her wedding day. Congrats!). Apparently, if the minister shows up, you can ordain a friend to perform the ceremony for you.

I thought that I could take the ordination test/form thing and then offer my services for a small fee. I don' t know what real ministers cost, but I bet I could charge half that and still make a killing. Of course, that would probably come at the expense of my eternal soul twice over, but, hey, a dude's gotta eat...

2) Drug dealer

I have no background in this field, except that I'm good at sales. And, actually, I really enjoy selling.

The problem is, I've never done drugs. The only injections I've ever had were for my allergies (way cool, Mike, way cool) and the hardest thing I've ever smoked were cloves. I still get a high off cigarettes for goodness sake. So, I don't think I could be convincing as a dealer, seeing as I don't even know how a bong works, much less how much a gram costs.

Then, there's also the possibility that I could be gunned down one day while walking to the T because I crossed paths with the wrong person. That would suck. I bet it would pretty much spoil my week.

But, I guess if I didn't die from the shooting, Medicade or Medicare (I don't know the difference) would probably pay out my medical bills and I could live on disability for the rest of my life. I mean, look at 50 Cent, he got shot a bunch of times and it totally made his career.

3) Prostitution

I thought about this for about three seconds, but I know even less about sex than I do drugs. And it's already way too cold to be standing out on the street at night in fishnets. So, moving right along...

4) I've got nothing

That's it for ideas. If I think of something else, maybe I can fall back on that... Otherwise, I may become the next over-educated, underpaid barista at a Starbucks near you.

I sure hope the food kitchen doesn't shut down because of e-coli or something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Party jeans...

So, I was out shopping the other day - just kind of looking around (for a hat, incidentally). I always like to check out the clearance racks, since I'm a poor, starving-artist type, so I was poking around in the backs of all the stores.

It's always hit-or-miss on those racks. Sometimes, my size works in my favor. I'm not a big guy (no comments, ok?), so I can sometimes luck out on shirts. Smalls will work, as long as I'm not having a fat day or something. Mediums are better, but they're harder to find since they're one of the more popular sizes.

Pants, though, are tougher. Yes, it's hard enough to find a decent pair of jeans, as it is. But finding one on clearance? It's easier to find a Yankee fan with a 5th grade education. (Sox 2007 World Champs, baby!)

So, when I spotted a pair in American Eagle in my size (32/30) and in the low-rise cut I like, since it means the legs are shorter and I won't be stepping on myself constantly, I had to try them on. Didn't matter that I can't close my jean drawer, even though I just donated four pairs to The Salvation Army. You just don't pass up a good pair of jeans, right?

They fit. My butt looked great. I'd post a picture for you, but let's not get all conceited, right?

AND they were $20. Un-be-lievable. Of course I had to buy them.

The thing is, I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something oddly familiar about these jeans. They fit too well, almost. The casually destroyed portions sort of aligned to a pair I bought back in August. The coloring looked a little different, but...

"Ah, whatever," I thought, "I'm buying."

I did. And then I took them home, laid them on my bed and pulled out the pair I thought they resembled. They were exactly the same.

I had just bought the same pair of jeans. Same size, same cut, same frayed pockets, same everything.

For a moment, I thought about taking them back to the store. You wouldn't buy two of the same shirt, right? Why would you buy two pairs of the same jeans, then? But, since they cost just $20, I couldn't bring myself to return them. I cut off the tags, folded them up and put them in my drawer.

It got me thinking, though... a good pair of jeans is so hard to find. You try on a dozen pairs and find one you want to buy, if you're lucky. And, if you're even luckier, they don't cost an entire week's salary. Why don't we, when we find a pair we like, buy two? Or three?

Think about it... pretty much every pair out there has been "casually destroyed," giving it different markings and coloration than other pairs - even ones from the same batch. Jeans all wear differently, too. Colors fade with washing, holes appear in different places. The more you wear them, the more different they'll appear.

I don't know if I'll start buying multiple pairs of jeans. Actually, I almost definitely won't. But it's an idea...

I'll let you know later on if it's turned out to be a good one.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Screw NBC...

ARGH!

NBC is driving me nuts right now.

I had planned to spend a quiet night in tonight.

Hey! Don't roll your eyes! Yes, it's a Saturday night and, yes, I could be doing something much less loser-ish. But I'm getting old - I have a trick knee and everything. I'm tired. I work 40 hours a week and I go to school full-time. And I blog; I'm obviously just not that cool anyway.

Anyhoo... back to my quiet night in sweats at casa de Nagel... I missed this week's "Office," which isn't a big surprise. I still have yet to see a new episode when it originally airs. So, I was planning to come home, log-on to NBC's site and watch streaming video of the episode. I'd be done in 25 minutes and ready to go on to something else (another beer? an on-demand movie? a pint of Ben & Jerry's? I'm a wild man - who knows what'll happen?).

Of course it couldn't have been that easy.

The streaming video wouldn't stream. I can handle that mostly, but this was choppier than sharing a water-bed with a pre-diet Subway Jared. To make matters worse, every time the episode cut to the little commercials NBC inserts, the show would start again from the beginning. And then, the option to skip a segment didn't work, either. Meaning that I was forced to watched the first segment half a dozen times.

In frustration, I tried to download the episode (NBC will give them to you free for 48 hours before erasing your viewing privileges). But you first have to have NBC's specially designed viewer. That doesn't work on Macs. Now, granted, Apple only owns an 8% market share... but, think about it, who are the ones watching shows online? Yup, that's right, the younger, hipper, smarter, better-looking, Mac-owning crowd.

Then, I tried downloading the player on my sister's PC. That took about 20 minutes, because Microsoft makes everything as complicated and as user-unfriendly as possible. And (of course!), I had to get the newest version of the crappy Windows Media Player in order to get the NBC Viewer thing to run. Ten more minutes of downloads there...

After all of that hullabaloo... did I get to watch The Office?

No.

Instead, I received a nice, fat error message.

F. U.
N. B. C.
F. U.

(A little background here... NBC has chosen to not make its shows available for download through iTunes. So, instead of being able to drop two bucks for an episode that I can watch in less than 10 minutes with a single click, I had to pull out handfuls of the little hair I have left - most of which is in my nose. And that smarts.

For the love of all that is good and holy, please put The Office back on iTunes!)

Friday, November 9, 2007

What is Mike up to these days?

As you can tell, I am one classy dude. I don't know what gives it away more: the plastic cup of booze, the stolen scarf that doesn't match the jacket or the plastic beads that I had to drop trou for...

But, from time to time, I plan to let you guys know what I'm in to lately, what life choices I have ahead of me. This way, you will be able to correspondingly rearrange your cultural, fashion and social lives to better mirror the example I have set.

Or, more than likely, you'll just ignore me and my ranting. Which is perfectly acceptable and probably better for your overall health and state of mind.

---What Mike is Listening to---
My boy, Maynard James Keenan (the voice of both Tool and A Perfect Circle) has yet another musical project of mayhem that he's unleashed on the world. Puscifer is a step in a completely new direction for Maynard. While APC can sometimes be called - I mean this with no disrespect - Tool-lite, Puscifer is an entirely different type of project all together.

The musical inspiration draws heavily from Western African drum beats and, oddly enough, Moby's softer side. But only if Moby decided to start worshiping Satan, dropping acid and manipulating his mixer with his tongue. Gone are the bellowing, in-your-face vocals with detailed, cryptic interpretation. Instead, they're replaced with layered, spoken-word tracks that talk about sex, booties, genitalia, drugs, sexual slang and ol' fashioned gettin' it on. It's a weird mix, but then, MJK never was the kind of guy you'd want to bring home to your mom. Assuming you wanted to bring a 5-1/2 foot bald guy home for the the holidays.

Even weirder? It works... while Tool fans won't have to spend hours on message boards deciphering song meanings (hint: Maynard likes sex. With women. A LOT.), there are some pretty catchy hooks going on. I'm not expecting a tour or huge album sales - frankly, I could do without either - but this is a cool, niche record to own.

---What Mike is Thinking---
MySpace vs. Facebook - the final showdown.

Okay, so there won't be any showdown. But for those of y'all on MySpace, you'll have noticed that I don't visit the site any more and haven't updated my profile in months. Part of that has to do with the fact that my employer has chosen to block MySpace, so I can't log-on when I'm at work and I have very little desire to do so when I'm not working. Incidentally, porn sites are not blocked...

I probably should just delete my MySpace profile, now that I've become a more regular Facebook user (the latter is not blocked at work, easier to use and about 200x's more spam-free). But I haven't been able to bring myself to do so. In my head, I equate this to killing a friend. Or a mild acquaintance. Or someone I made out with once and then forgot their name.

There was a time, when I was new to web 2.0 in a band, and the social networking world was my oyster to shuck. And I shucked it good... I got lots and lots of friends, many of whom were also in self-recorded bands or sold jeans and penile enhancers; reconnected with peoples whose names and faces I barely recognized; solidified my emotional well-being by being in many, many top-8 when top-8's meant something; I commented; I learned html; I rocked MySpace's world.

But now, MySpace has lost my interest. It was a fad. I've moved on to this blog here and Facebook. They fulfill my social needs (Yes, editing my "status" via my iPhone and writing a public diary fulfill all the cultural interaction desires that 40,000 years of civilization built up). MySpace is excess. It's fat and it needs trimming.

I just haven't gotten around to it. Yet...

The guillotine has been raised. We're all just waiting for the blade to drop.

---What Mike is Wearing---

Well, I'm not wearing one yet. But I am debating about buying a hat. I have a mostly-shaved head right now. And it's starting to get cold here in Boston.

I've realized that having 1/8 of an inch of hair is much different than having 1-1/2 inches. In that, it's really freakin' colder on the old pate these days. A hat would be nice to keep my noggin warm.

But I haven't decided yet if they're too nerdy. I don't mind nerdy, but I do mind too-nerdy when it comes to fashion. Nerdy can be chic, too-nerdy means you're a loser. Mike is a winner. Or he thinks he is. So, if you have any hat suggestions, please let him know.

---What Mike's Plans Are---
Correspondingly, I'm thinking about a new coif to go with the (soon to come) new year. Sonja, my wonderful girlfriend, really likes my hair now. I believe the words she's used to describe it are: "sexy," "handsome" and "rowr."

Whereas, for a previous, more emo haircut with bangs and spikes, the description went something like this: "You're going to cut that, right?"

Anyways, I want to try something new, but because I start to look like a giant puffball when I grow out my hair, I want to wait to have a purpose before I do so.

Hence, I'm taking suggestions - should I go with a professional-looking, business man cut with a part? Should I spike it, as I have in the past? Should I keep it the same? Should I do the Slater gerrie-curl perm? I'm open to suggestions...

Monday, November 5, 2007

1. The Wake

Disclaimer: This post is quite long, so I’ve divided it into four separate ones, corresponding to breaks in the narrative. Just keep scrolling down to read the other installments (all numbered). Also, it’s still rough and I may come back and flesh it out later.

Thanks for your time… I’ve heard from more of you than have commented here that you’re reading and you’re interested. I really appreciate your time and your patience.

Orchard Park, NY – “NAGEL-Florence T. (nee Gowgiel) Of Orchard Park, NY, October 21, 2007, beloved wife of Richard Nagel, M.D.; loving mother of Nancy (Wayne) Nichols, RN, Richard (Gloria) Nagel, MBA, CPA, David (Mary) Nagel, M.D., Gregory and the late Kenneth Nagel; sister of Edward Gowgiel and the late Helen (Raymond) Mack; sister-in-law of Robert Nagel and the late Christine Nagel; also survived by nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Florence was a beautiful, warm and friendly lady with a sweet and gentle spirit who always had a smile on her face. She always placed her family and friends ahead of herself. In a small way, this was shown by her talent for remembering the names of anyone she came across. Besides her love for her family she enjoyed cooking, reading, and movies especially Westerns and Mysteries. Florence was an honor graduate of Hutchinson Central School, Buffalo, NY where she served as vice President of her graduating class. She served as a den mother in the Cub Scout Organization and helped her four sons attain the rank of Eagle in the Boy Scouts. The family will receive friends…”

(Published in The Buffalo News from 10/25/07-10/26/07)


This is my first wake, my first funeral. Prior to this, I’ve been lucky – no close relatives or friends have passed away.

Passed away, that’s what we say. We don’t say died, that would be too harsh. We use the more gentle phrasings of passed or gone on, as if the loved one has just fallen asleep for a long time or left somewhere on vacation. But the fact is that death isn’t gentle, and most of our words reflect that. It’s a tearing away from “this mortal coil.” It’s a finite, measurable end. But we cannot seem to bring ourselves to admit that’s what has happened, so we’re tender with each other, cautious of what we say in whispered voices, no matter how much the warning sirens are screaming in our heads that somewhere, something has been torn.

She lies in the oak coffin. She wears a green suit and its color is bold and more vibrant than anything I’ve seen her wear in the last ten years. Mostly, she wore thin, open-backed hospital gowns because they were easy to put on (or have put on her). The prints, if they had any, were faded from too many washings, and the colors always seemed to blend into a uniform grey-green in my memory – a sort of colorless color, devoid of cheer.

I say she, because that only seems polite. Because she is not here, she is not that collection of carbon-based cells in the shiny, oaken box. That, there, is just a shell and it is hollow and empty. While her soul was still within, her body betrayed her. It started breaking down when she was just a girl, arthritis racking her body until she could not take it anymore and she left, leaving it behind. She is gone. We have only it to remember her by.

The jacket collar is buttoned up high and the frilly, turtleneck blouse frames her face, which the undertaker has caked with makeup in an attempt to make her appear as only sleeping, and not departed. But he couldn’t have known that she never wore makeup and that the only indulgence she allowed herself was a monthly hair color and permanent. Instead of making her look more life-like, the undertaker has created a macabre mask. The eyelids, underneath glasses, are too blue, the skin is too pink, the blush too much the color blood. Her lips, painted red and outlined with a cosmetic pencil appear too large and drawn out for her small form. They look like the lips of a fish, spread out and turned down at the corners.

She lies with her hands crossed on her lap. In her right, she holds a single, white rose. A ribbon, tied just below the blossom, declares this to be a gift from her first great-grandchild – a one-year old girl, blonde-haired and blue eyed, full of newly sprung life.

I have an urge to touch her skin, partially from tenderness and also from what I’ll call journalistic curiosity, having never touched a dead body before. Morbid, to be sure, but I cannot help feeling that I am not looking at her. I am looking at an it, an artifact of what once was. She has become a preserved, museum piece. All around her are photographs of her life, the historic record on display for the viewing public.

The exposed skin of her hand is like that of her face, plastered and painted. Foundation has been liberally applied to her fingers, but it has cracked, writing a tiny, criss-crossing map on the backs of her hands, like the floor of a dried-up lakebed. Her hands appear abnormally normal as they lay gently positioned, clasping the flower and a rosary. Before death, her right arm swelled up from infection and reactions to pain medication, rendering it useless and bloated. It would lay on the armrest of her chair, exposed and helpless, as if it were a fish beached on some deserted shoreline. Now, it has been drained and the fingernails have been painted (she never painted her nails). She holds her hands together like she is praying. Or saying that, “Look, come see… the pain is gone.”

2. The Next Morning

My phone vibrates on the end table next to the couch where I’m sleeping. As one of the unmarried grandchildren, I don’t pull enough rank for my own bedroom, or even a bed, so I’ve taken over the living room. I reach over and shut off the alarm and lay back against the cushions.

In the semi-darkness of the fall morning, I would be able to see the rest of the living room with the pictures of children and grandchildren scattered about, if I had my eyes open. But I shut them, preferring to stay bundled and warm underneath the old, woven cotton blankets as my body slowly comes out of its cover of sleep.

The kitchen floor creaks and I can hear muffled shuffling through the wall next to me. I was planning to get up before breakfast to run, so the only other person who could possible be awake this early in the morning is my grandfather. He is moving across the tile of the kitchen, sliding his slippered feet across the floor in the same lazy gait that I’ve inherited. Glasses and plates clink against each other as he empties the dishwasher, putting each into its place in the cupboard and unconsciously turning them so that the patterns all face the same direction.

As the sleep slips from me, unclouding my thoughts, I wonder if he slept well or fitfully or at all. I know that the previous night he had not been able to sleep and lay on his bed, probably staring at the ceiling and waiting for a call from the room next door, signaling him it was time to help his wife to the bathroom. They haven’t slept in the same room in years, not since the doctors took her leg to stop the spread of infection from a previous surgery. She slept in a specially designed bed that helped to lift her out and into her wheelchair. Either he never considered buying a full-size bed to accommodate both of them or she would not allow him to. Nagels do not abide change.

The lonely chatter of cereal poured into a single bowl rouses me from the couch. He’s at the kitchen table, no doubt seated in his usual place, facing the front window, where he can look out at the manicured lawn and watch the day begin. Normally, Grandma would sit to his left, her place always the same. They would eat together and he would clean up, while she gazed out of the window, an illustrated bird watcher’s book at her place. For days, and then years, they repeated this routine, drawing comfort from the schedule, always knowing what was to come and never being surprised.

The kitchen table is unchanging. Solid and heavy, it’s never moved to make room. There’s a crack down the middle, where leaves can be inserted to create space. But it’s stretched to the maximum, with one end in a corner and the other nearly abutting a row of cabinets. The Formica top has a dull shine and is always oddly cool to the touch. Countless hands have glided across its smooth surface, moving in unaware habits during conversation.

It’s not hunger that makes me decide to start my day, but rather a desire to see Grandpa. In a home full of relatives, we never get much time together. Those moments, I’ve realized, are precious and I don’t want to miss my chance.

“Good morning, Grandpa.”

Briefly, he looks for a moment surprised, stilted out of his routine with an unexpected voice. But then he remembers that, despite the quiet that envelops the house, he is not alone.

“Good morning.”

He is wearing matching pajamas – cotton bottoms with a button-down front. He looks more than a little like a movie character from the 1950s; I don’t know anyone else that wears actual pajamas nowadays.

“How’d you sleep? Were you able to?”

“Yes,” he says, “Thanks for asking. I actually fell asleep early last night. I think I was worrying about your grandma and all the arrangements the night before.”

The first two wakes had been held the day before. I am glad he’s talking about it. I had been afraid that he would retreat within himself, stay shut in his bedroom in the back of the house, closing down into a protective shell in order to cope – another trait that he’s passed on.

We begin talking, though neither of us is particularly good at leading the conversation for any sustained period of time. Both of us feel uncomfortable making small talk, especially in light of the bigger things that are going on. But I feel it’s my obligation, especially as a grandchild, to make sure he’s up-to-date on my life. I tell him about work and grad school, he talks about his weekly breakfast routine – a different type of cereal Monday to Thursday, poached eggs (Grandma’s favorite) on Fridays, pancakes on Saturdays and eggs again on Sunday.

We arrive at a break in the conversation, so I tell him about my girlfriend. She’s a special one, I say, not like anyone I’ve met before. I tell him I’m excited for them to meet, but I felt that it wasn’t the right time yet. When it was, I’d bring her out for his approval.

“If she’s anything like your Grandmother…”

At this, his voice falters. He tries to recover, but it’s too late. He breaks. Tears spill spill out as his face melts and I catch a glimpse of the man beneath the soldier’s mask he’s donned. The lines that crease his forehead deepen, his firm mouth quivers and shakes as if the foundation of his chin is being rocked by some internalized earthquake.

His hands are on the table. The skin on the back is smooth, the fingers are long and willowy – doctor’s hands. I have never noticed them before. If I had been asked to describe them, I would have said they were calloused and hard and heavy. They would have appeared strong and unshaken with thick wrists. He worked every day of his life since the sixth grade, first to pay for his education and then to pay for his family. His hands, I thought, should have been those of laborer – it would have been fitting.

Instead, they appear vulnerable as he places them on the table, then half-raises them to wipe his eyes, then pauses and sets them back again. They tremble along with the rest of him, his fingers appearing like cattails swaying and battered in the wind. Finally, he does raise one hand to his cheek, but as soon as skin touches tear, he buries his face into his hand.

I sit there, next to him, and watch. I’m unsure whether or not I should touch him – if I should take one of his hands in mine, or perhaps touch his arm. I don’t know if that would offer reassurance or shame. At the same time, I feel both guilty for not acting and know that my presence offers some consolation.

“Grandma, she…” I begin, but falter, not really knowing what I am going to say, “She’s at peace now, she’s happy and at peace. I know it.”

My words don’t help on their own; they are small and inadequate to capture what I really mean. But he knows what is behind them and that seems to offer comfort.

“You know, your grandma was ready. She told me about a week before she went into the hospital that last time that she’d had enough.”

I had heard that from my father, but I still didn’t know what to say, so I stayed silent. My lips opened to speak, but no words came out.

“I think,” he paused. “I think she knew.”

His face reset itself. He stopped crying, he stopped shaking. He put his hands palm down on the table, looked at me and smiled resolutely.

“She knew it was her time.”

3. The Funeral

The funeral procession starts from the home, drives around the block, turns onto Main Street and ends at Nativity of Our Lord, where my grandparents have been members for the better part of four decades. The drive, even at funeral procession pace, takes less than five minutes and I am impressed by just how physically small a life she lived. Born not more than 20 miles from here, she never moved away – not to go to college, not to work. She raised her family in the same ranch house, for nearly fifty years. Her life consisted of that house, the church, friends from the congregation and the miscellaneous errands she ran around town. As disease ate away at her body, her world collapsed inward even more… first restricting her to mass on Sundays and the occasional special event, but then confining her to a solitary wheelchair, positioned in the large, bay kitchen window, looking out on the world moving around her.

This morning, I’m a pallbearer. All of the five male grandchildren are, along with my father and two uncles. I carry the front part of the casket, next to my father. There are tears in his eyes, as we walk into the church, towards the altar, followed by the eighty or so mourners.

As for me, there is only uncertainty. I don’t know what to feel – I am saddened by the surroundings, but also confident in knowing she is at peace. I am nervous that I will trip, or stumble, so I focus on walking straight ahead, head held up and gazed fixed on the crucifix in front of me.

My right hand grips the brass handle of the coffin. It is heavy, much more solid than I had imagined it would feel. I have to hold onto her with my arm at an angle, because my cousins have passed me in height years ago. I have to lift higher to keep her level. My muscles tighten, but still I hold on with only one hand. My feet click – left-right-left – like a soldier’s would.

We place the coffin onto a wheeled cart and begin to slowly roll it down the aisle, between the wooden pews and underneath the arched ceiling. I straighten my shoulders, my hand still gripping, the bones outlined underneath the skin, until we get to the front of the church.
There, we stop in front of the altar.

The priest, a friend of the family, lifts his hand out from his white robes trimmed with gold and makes the sign of the cross over my grandmother.

4. The Drive Home

I’m in the backseat of my brother’s car and we’ve just left Grandma’s coffin at the family plot. Two men, in dirty boots and jeans are working the machinery to lower her under the ground. They’ll place the pile of dirt, concealed during the final prayers behind the tent covering the site, over her. Then, they will smooth over the top and lay the cut up sod over the grave, fixing it so it will look as if nothing had been disturbed.

Ashleigh Rose, my niece, is strapped into the car seat next to me. She’s a happy baby – plenty of giggles and singing and noises. Ashleigh doesn’t talk yet, but she’s beginning to learn the basics of conversation. One person makes noise for a time, then pauses and the other starts to make noises. They go back and forth like that.

Ashleigh looks over at me, peeking around the blue plaid padding of the safety seat, her eyes shining and sings out a string of meaningless syllables. I reply, remarking about the weather or how pretty her dress is, and we go back and forth like that for a while.

When I say something she thinks is funny, she smiles and laughs, her whole mouth opens exposing five baby teeth and a pink, little tongue. The rest of her face scrunches up, she squints her eyes and flails out her hands. Wanting to keep hearing the musical laughter of a child who doesn’t yet know about worries or sickness or loss, only love, I reach out to tickle her tummy and on her ribs, the way she likes it.

She laughs even harder, her whole body shaking as she tries to push away my fingers, loving the attention. I play-fight with her for a little while, but let her win. She holds two of my fingers, one in each of her soft hands and chortles softly.

We ride like that, my hand in hers’, until we reach our destination.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Now what?

The Boston Red Sox... my Red Sox... are the WorldChampions once again. The Curse of the Final Out lasted, um, 83 years less than the one the Babe laid down on us.

This win is different than 2004, both for the team and for myself. For Red Sox Nation, 2004 will never be topped... we hadn't won in almost nine decades, we were coming off of arguably the most awful moment in my life (Aaron F-ing Boone's shot in 2003) and our last appearance was 1986 (Has anyone seen that Buckner video less than 18 trillion times?). But the topper was that we came back 3-0, against the New York Yankees, which turned out to be both the greatest comeback in sports history as well as its greatest choke job.

That championship healed more than a lifetime's worth of wounds for a city, a Nation and a team that had suffered through more down times than any other. Every pitch was life-or-death, every
single swing in the late innings made me want to throw up. The bloody sock was our battle flag, the Idiots were our heroes, the curse was broken.

This time around, it isn't the same. I'm not saying that this win isn't as sweet... it's just different. We have three years of wounds to heal, which doesn't compare at all; Damon signing with the Dark Side was probably the biggest hurt, but does anyone really care about that anymore? We're just happy to be able to run on his noodle 19 games a year now.

I think, for many reasons, this win will take longer to sink in. 2007 doesn't offer the same salvation that 2004 did. But, as each day passes, I start to get a little happier... the parade yesterday rocked, writing about it this morning gives my face a huge grin, watching the Papelbon Shuffle over and over will not get old and hearing those little whispers of "dynasty" sends my Sox heart a'leaping.

The Boston Red Sox - 2007 World Series Champions.

Thank you boys, thank you.


-----------

Here's the real problem, though. I've watched more games this year than any other, since this is the first full season I've lived in Boston. That means, for 7 months, I'm seeing about 6 games a week, reading www.redsox.com daily, checking ESPN every 15 minutes and buying tickets whenever I can to see them at Fenway.

But now, the season's over. We're the champs. Free agency won't kick into high gear for a little while. What the heck am I supposed to do?

I've compiled a little list of things I'd now like to spend my free time on. Comment back - what will you guys be doing? Do you even care? Did you even read this far down? Ha...

1) Writing
- here, in my personal journal and hopefully doing some freelance stuff, too
2) Getting into the NFL season
- my favorite team is the Buffalo Bills. If we're lucky, they get 2 games aired out here, so it's tough to follow. But, now that I have some more time and we don't completely suck this year, I can devote more attention to the Bills.
3) Cleaning my room
- I didn't wash my game t-shirt for the last 7 games, plus the parade. What state do you think my room is in? Heck, I still have my AC unit in the window and it was 42 degrees this morning.
4) Planning a trip
- I need to get out of here. Maybe London for a long weekend?
5) Sitting, staring at the wall, thinking of more things to do...
- Yeah, I guess I didn't put too much thought into this list.


Final note - my grandmother passed away 10 days ago, so that's why I had the long layoff between posts. I do want to write about her (she was an incredible woman who deeply affected everyone she met), but right now, I haven't collected my thoughts yet.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Man shopping...

No, I am not in the hunt for a new man. Or an old man. Or any man at all.

I just want to talk about shopping as a male in American society.

The other day, I was feeling kind of down. Probably because I was at work; it tends to have that affect, sometimes. Just a mild wave of depression. It happens occasionally when I get to thinking that my life has become a routine and I'm just doing the same thing day in, day out. I start to feel hemmed-in and trapped, in need of shaking things up a bit.

Unlike Dane Cook, I don't feel an urge to just dance it out...

Usually, what makes me feel better, is shopping.

I guess the natural guy reaction would be to kill something. Or rip a fart. Or do a sky-dump onto a car. Sure, all those things are a blast, but I prefer to save them for my Friday nights. And this was a Wednesday...

On hump days, I shop.

I took a long lunch break, went down the street to Urban Outfitters, tried a few things on, and wound up buying the pictured Paul Frank sweater (now 1/2 off!). Good times... I love sweaters and I love buying myself stuff. Works out all around.

Here's the thing, though... It's tough shopping as a guy. We just don't have the same options as you ladies do. Eighty percent of retail options cater strictly those the sans-penis crowd. For the most part, we guys are limited to a small corner of one of "your" retail stores or denied shopping options all together. For G-O-L-F stores (gentlemen only, ladies forbidden), we have:

1) Express Men
2) Brooks Brothers
3) Condom World

...and that's it.

I find that extremely annoying, because it cuts down my fashion options. Since all guys are shopping at the same eight stores, we need to adjust our style to fit into one of the following categories:

"I am a lemming and my girlfriend likes the cologne"
- Shops at AE, Abercrombie and Hollister. Feels need to advertise said companies by wearing sweat shirts that scream the stores' name and/or takes racial slurs to a new, wearable level. Still rocks cargo pants and distressed trucker hats.

"Do I set off your gay-dar?"
- Shops at H&M, but only at the one that actually has a men's section. Also wore Express Men until they closed closest location. Probably owns three skinny ties. I wind up here...

"24 is the new 50."
- Shops at Gap, Banana Republic and J. Crew... wears the same outfits his grandfather does, but only minus the crew socks. Wants you to think he enjoys sailing. (Okay, maybe I'm here, too)

"My mom still dresses me."
- Old Navy, TJ Maxx and Sears. 'nuff said.

Blah... I'm pretty frustrated with it all. I have (some) money. I like to look good. I really heart shoes, but I'm S.O.L. as a consumer. Yeah, you girls have to try on 40 pairs of jeans before you find one that fits, but at least you have the option of choice! You don't know how good you have it.

Of course, we don't really deserve it, either...

Example:
I was in the mall last week, just looking around and shopping with my sister. I saw this guy standing at one of the sweater tables. He was picking one up from the pile, trying it on, snapping a shot of himself with his cell phone, looking at it and then moving to the next option. In this manner, he was able to try on six shirts without having to move or look at a mirror.

No one else thought this was unusual.

Maybe having shopping options is a privilege, not a right? In which case, thanks to the sweater and cell guy, we haven't earned it.