Monday, August 3, 2009

A Moment of Joy

I subscribe to NY Times' emails and along with daily headlines, an afternoon update and news alerts, I also get the opinion section. Typically, I scan the first couple of editorials and delete the email (it comes in midday and I'm usually caught up in whatever I'm doing to go in depth if it isn't a new Friedman column), but this piece from the Happy Days blog caught my eye the other day.

Averted Vision, by Tim Kreider, started out as a piece about travel, which is why I read it (I've been back from Italy for six weeks and already I'm ready for the next adventure). In the article, Kreider nailed something that I've thought about quite a bit:

"I wonder, sometimes, whether it is a perversity peculiar to my own mind or just the common lot of humanity to experience happiness mainly in retrospect. I have of course considered the theory that I am an idiot who fails to appreciate anything when he actually has it and only loves what he’s lost...We do each have a handful of those moments, the ones we only take out to treasure rarely, like jewels, when we looked up from our lives and realized: 'I’m happy.'" - Tim Kreider

Happiness -- however you define it -- is elusive. And those moments of perfect happiness, what Kreider calls "jewels" and C.S. Lewis details in his memoir Surprised by Joy (one of my favorite books), come rarely if at all.

There are those, I believe, who spend their entire lives searching for these momentary glimpses of joy, to feel their heart leap within their chest and the fates align, only to have the experience of a moment of perfect happiness slip away.

But there are others who know what it means to view the world on pause. They have felt time slow, a smile spread, and have known they have found -- or been granted -- a moment meant only for them at that time and in that place. Like the sun breaking through the clouds and illuminating one small patch in a beam of warm light, joy invades their soul and lingers there. It only comes for a moment. A moment only. Then, it is gone, but its kiss remains. Forever.

Perhaps this is why we (I?) travel? We're searching for the sublime. We press on, visiting cities, tasting food, sampling life, always pushing further, hoping that by turning the next corner or taking the next step, we'll get a glimpse of that brief moment of joy. It's not something that the travel books tell you where you can find your personal share (although that's why we buy them). It's something you can only find yourself.

When Sonja and I visited Florence, I knew there was one place we had to go. I'd been there once before, seven years earlier, and had taken with me an image when I left. I had kept a picture in my mind of Italy ever since that first visit, knowing it was a place I'd somehow return, and when I did, I knew where I'd go.


The Piazza Michelangelo overlooks the Arno from a point high above and just south and east of the city's center. Though it's not far from the river's edge, it's a steep climb to the top, first through winding Florentine streets, then up several staircases. The cobblestones are uneven, the steps spaced too far apart, and if you visit in the summer like we did, you'll be sweating and thirsty when you reach the top.

But when you do, you'll be rewarded by what is possibly the greatest landscape view in Western Europe. As you stand atop the Piazza, all of Florence spreads out below you -- walls of earthy yellows and browns and burned red tile rooftops. Towers poke up here and there, with the Duomo's massive dome dominating the city scape. Beyond the city are the rolling, green hills of Tuscany. To your back is a tall stone tower where bells chime out the hours. Past that roll more hills, one after another, criss-crossed by lines of olive trees and grape vines.

There's a staircase there that points almost directly west. On a summer night in June, the marble steps are warm from a day spent in the sun, and so are you. I remembered from my first visit to Florence that people gather there every evening, talk softly, and watch the sun go down. And I knew that's where I wanted to be.

We climbed the hill and found a spot on the stairs, just a few feet away from a young Italian man gently strumming an acoustic guitar. On our way, we had stopped at a small grocery store and bought cups and a bottle of wine. I pulled the cork and poured each of us a glassful. We sipped, the thin plastic of the cups crinkling under our fingers, talked in low tones about the day, and listened to the guitar. We clapped after ever song, not loudly but politely, exchanging smiles with the guitarists and the other couple dozen people on the steps.

I don't remember what we talked about, exactly, what we said or how we said it. I just remember never wanting to leave and that though the sun set slowly, it wasn't slow enough. And I can recall, in complete clarity, the feeling of perfect contentment -- the warmth of a heart at rest -- that overwhelmed me in that moment.

It only lasted a few minutes. The sun eventually set and we walked back down the hill, holding hands and heading back to our hotel. But I know there's a part of me still on that hill, still watching the sunset with the music in the background and Sonja sitting next to me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm baaaack!

Oh man, does it feel good to be back or what? Let's jump right in and get caught up...

What the Heck has Mike Been Doing?

Getting Married
I'm sure you've seen the pictures on Facebook (Speaking of, I'm now at - the other itinerations of my custom url had been taken by Mike Nagel's with far fewer friends and way more time on their hands. And I'm mad about it.). Please do take the time to soak in the glory that is a tailored tuxedo worn with white Chuck Taylors, while you're at it. We do promise to post pics of our own as soon as we get the digitals back from our photographer.

As I was remarking to a co-worker the other day, the process of getting married is pretty much like having a second, full-time job. One that's a lot of fun, but also takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of patience, and you have to pay half the salary of your other job to work there. Oh, and when the job's over, there's no exit interview. There's just half a cake left and a car ride to a court-mandated, two-week vacation where you're left to wonder, "Did that just happen?"

I do want to write more about the wedding in the near future, but for now I feel guilty about mentioning it at all since Sonja and I have yet to post a single thank-you in the seven weeks after the Big Day.

If you have about six hours to spare (like, you know, when you're at work reading this), you can check out the pictures of our two-week trip to Italy: Rome, Florence, a quick stop in Pisa, a day trip via bike through Tuscany, and Venice. As you'll see, the trip was absolutely amazing... and I'll write all about it coming up. Suffice it to say, we have a whole lot of souvenirs hanging on the walls of our place.

Moving In
Speaking of, did you know when someone moves in with someone else it takes them twice as long to do it as it would if just one of them moved? Yeah, we're still finding places to put all of Sonja's stuff and others places where we can donate mine.

More importantly, when you get married, people give you a lot of stuff. And they give you a lot of money. We're enjoying refurbishing the kitchen and the non-existent linen closet.

Yup, back at it. Moving on!

Okay, so I'm not reading that much, but I am reading a little. I'll even tell you what I'm reading - Team of Rivals - in the hope that the next time one of you asks what I'm reading I'll have finished and moved on to something else. If not, I'll lie and say I've been buried up to *here* in literary magazines and haven't touched any book-length work in ages, darling.

So, here's what it's my iPod of late that you should totally check out... MuteMath's Spotlight EP - fantastic single from an album that drops on 8/18, Our Lady Peace Burn, Burn if only for nostalgic purposes, The Devil Wears Prada Dear Love: A Beautiful Dischord suggested by a dude from GYG, and Michael Jackson Off the Wall because it's great to remember when the King of Pop was still royalty.

And While I was Writing This Post...
I learned how to pop popcorn on the stove without a JiffyPop exploding foil bag.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Waiting for the Bus...

I never could understand the propensity we have toward standing in line. We'll run from one place just so we can wait in the next and stare at the back of some stranger's head. It's the very definition of "hurry up and wait."

Right now, I'm waiting for the bus, seated on an uncomfortable wooden bench. But even though it's hard, unforgiving and isn't really angled well at all for lumbar support, it's way better than standing in the line that's ever-growing in front of me. It now snakes its way past the men's restroom entrance, pushes beyond Honey Dew Donuts and threatens to block the doorway to the women's commode.

This bus, by the way, doesn't leave for another 20 minutes. And it leaves every hour, on the hour. it's not like it's anything exciting or it'll get so full that you'll miss it. Rush hour doesn't even hit full swing for another hour. And by then, the transportation company will be running three buses every hour to handle the demand.

It seems a lot like amusement parks, waiting for the bus. We'll gladly shell out $60 for a day's worth of getting sunburned while waiting upwards of 90 minutes for less than 90 seconds of pleasure. We'll then take a half-dozen heart-pounding rides in 12 hours, then call it a day—but not before buying the obligatory t-shirt to proudly proclaim, "I rode the XXX!" The underlying statement of said t-shirt being, "I waited two-and-a-half hours to do it. Aren't you jealous?"

Back in the terminal. There are even more people in line now. Each maintains a nice, safe distance from each other, not speaking, not making eye contact. They're jealously guarding their respective spaces, though. The posture of each potential bus-rider says, "This is MY place, MY spot. I am 5th. I am 8th. I am 12th." and so on. Some have even dropped knapsacks, positioning them between feet, building an even more solid foundation to their unspoken, and heretofore, unchallenged 2-foot by 2-foot plot of line land.

I wonder if the business woman in heels' feet hurt? Do the shoulders of the backpacker ache? And, why, pray God, would you try to make a 6-year-old stay in one space for 45 minutes before boarding a bus that'll make him sit still in his seat for another hour?

Lines suck.

On top of all of it, when they move, they never go fast enough. I'll join it when they start taking tickets and passengers begin heading into the idling bus, single file, shuffling for seats. But if I've neglected to take my ticket out of my bag or if I get my rolling suitcase caught on a stanchion, then I'll be subjected to rolled eyes, muttered curses, and my nearest neighbor standing ominously close. All because of a few seconds delay.

My line on lines? They're overrated. Get in late, get out early and cut wherever possible.

Note: I wrote this a couple weeks back, in a notebook, while waiting for the bus. Forgot to upload it here... and, by the way, I will try to update more often than ever two months.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Buying a trailer...

When you get married, there's a standard line of questioning you have to answer when people query you about your relationship status.

"When's the big day?" You tell them a date in response. She'll give an exact count of days, hours, and minutes left.

"How's wedding planning going?" they ask, while your eyes glaze over and you start spouting figures from your bloated budget.

"Where are you planning to live?" It's not always the third question, but it's generally in the top five. And it's a valid one.

Sonja and I don't live together. We live in the same town, but she's four miles down the road—close enough where we spend quite a bit of time together. She'll probably eat about half her meals at my place, she has a toothbrush on the sink, slippers in my closet, and my sweatshirts are constantly disappearing as she wears them home at night.

We've talked about where we want to live after the Big Day. Right now, the plan is to stay put. Moving is a pain and there won't be any time to look for a new place in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Afterwards, we're planning to pay off some bills and settle into life without the added hassle of hauling furniture. So, for the foreseeable future, my swinging bachelor pad will become a cozy apartment for two.

With the housing market the way it is, though, we've talked about buying a place. And why not? If you can get a loan, housing prices are way below the place they were just a few years ago. Up here in the Northeast, the market remains above other parts of the country, but it's still weakened quite a bit. It's gotten to the point where buying a place is feasible, even on our not-too-overwhelming income.

So, in my free time (yeah, I do have bits and pieces of that here and there), I've been trolling through Have you seen the site? It's pretty cool. Basically, it's a real estate listing website. But instead of seeing pictures of homes with addresses, you can actually view available homes in your area by clicking through a Google map. Homes are listed by price and you can sort for your preferred area and cost. Pretty sweet and a great way to kill some time on the weekends.

Zillow lists all kinds of properties: condos, apartments, mansions, vacant plots, big houses, small homes, etc. They have it all... including mobile homes.

That's right, I've been looking through trailer parks for a place to live.

Of course, I haven't been looking with any kind of sincerity. But I won't lie... it has been rather tempting. Did you know, for example, that you can buy a two-bedroom home with a deck right next to a river and pay under $400 a month? Sure, your house will be on wheels and there's always the oft-chance that a tornado will strike your patch of garden gnomes at any second, but $400? That's not much more than I pay for groceries!

(Granted, I like to eat filet mignon covered in gold dust, but still...)

$400 bucks a month! And you can own a house. Yes, the outdoor hot-tub is a caldron placed above a pile of firewood (and it doubles as a possum slow-cooker), but it's still a hot-tub. For $13 a day, you could have the ability to put a gun-rack on your pickup and climb the cinder block stairs with pride to your own doublewide castle. With the money we'd be saving, Sonja and I could take up hobbies like wearing flannel, forgoing shaving, and even figure out how to chew tobacco... or Big League Chew. The possibilities really are endless.

I'm really not considering buying a mobile home. But, for the price, it's probably a better investment than opening another 401k, right?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Wedding Website...

Just a quick note, but our wedding website ( is now live and out of beta-testing—if someone who doesn't know what he's doing can beta-test a website. There are a few more bits and pieces to add (hotel deals, the Target registry, etc.), but that's pretty much as good as it's going to get.

Hope you like it!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Traditional Wedding vs Eloping...

Planning a traditional wedding:

Set date, announce to family, announce to friends, update Facebook relationship status, take engagement pictures, send save-the-dates.

Buy a dozen wedding planning books, book church, book reception hall, draw up budget, throw up in your mouth at how much a wedding costs, re-draw budget, create guest list, slash guest list.

Pick a maid of honor, pick a best man, pick a flower girl, pick a ring bearer, pick your nose.

Meet with DJs, barter with DJs, book DJ, taste cakes, taste cupcakes, taste fake cakes, book baker, find limos, think about music, hum music, book musician, buy custom-made wedding bands.

Look for dress, try on dress with friends, buy dress, wait for dress to be delivered, make final payment on dress, try on dress once weekly for months.

Have tux custom-made on a whim while traveling overseas, hang tux in closet, never try tux on and hope it fits on the Big Day.

Think about flowers, send guy pictures of flowers at work, dream about flowers, create an assortment of flowers, re-create flowers idea after scrapping for a better one, think about flowers some more, book florist, redesign flower ideas once more.

Book pastor, begin 8-week marriage counseling, drive two hours each Sunday so you can attend church and counseling sessions, confirm that you really were meant for each other after all.

Learn how to dance, how to mix a cocktail, how to build a wedding website, how to throw a bouquet, how to spell distant cousins' names, how to not invite people, how to disinvite people, that "full figure garter belts" exist, that everything is obscenely expensive.

Plan ceremony, plan reception, plan honeymoon, plan backup plans.

Day of - wake up, say "I do," party hearty, ooh-la-la.


Book plane tickets. Get married. Tell mom via postcard.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Traveling to Italy

I love travel. I love seeing new places, trying new foods and a new language on for size, and finding out how the rest of the world works (and how much we really all do have in common).

I also love all the day to day tasks that go along with travel, too. Packing lists, passports, tickets, itineraries, and planning, planning, planning—it's all good.

Life just seems a lot better when you have a trip to look forward to. I figured that out the first big international trip I took, a mini-grand tour of Europe. When I got back, I promised myself that I'd take another international trip every year. So far, I've been able to keep to that promise. Every year (except 2007, sadly), I went overseas again. It's been a tremendous ride and I've been blessed to take it.

So, when Sonja and I started planning our wedding, we also started planning our honeymoon. We didn't know where we wanted to go at first. We just had some grand plans and schemes, but now it's all coming together and I'm getting a whole load of pre-trip anticipation. We're heading on a two-week honeymoon to Italy.

We booked plane tickets way back in December, before Christmas even, so we could lock in the price (and fly Swiss Air, so I could collect some Star Alliance points to pay for our next trip), then we booked some hotels and travel insurance. Now, we're just playing the waiting game. But, I figured I'd fill you in on the details so you can get pumped up along with us (or offer some travel tips).

We're going to take it slow. It's our honeymoon, right? We want to enjoy it, so we won't be rushing from sight to sight in a half-dozen different cities. We narrowed it down to four nights in Rome, five in Florence, then three in Venice. For the first two cities, we used Bed & Breakfast Italia (thanks to Lonely Planet's suggestion) and then, in Venice, we booked the second-most-romantic hotel in Europe (according to TripAdvisor, anyway).

The plan is to do all the tourist, historical-type visits in Rome, then move on to Florence for a couple days of the same. But can you be in Tuscany and miss the vineyards? No way... we'll have to do a bike tour of some sort. And we're probably going to do at least a day trip to Cinque Terre to hike along the coast and soak in the beauty of the Mediterranean. Finally, we finish off in Venice where the only plan is to get lost in the canals (which hopefully won't be smelly).

Oh sure, there will be more planning the closer we get. The excitement's mounting every day, though. There's a big trip on the horizon and, like I said, that makes everything better about life. Having a tough day at the office? So what, you're taking a trip. Car troubles? Big deal, you're renting a bike overseas. No money? They take credit cards internationally.

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm rubbing it in or anything. I'm just totally pumped for the trip.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When are you too old to learn new tricks?

When are you too old or snowboard?

Or when are you old enough to know better?

A couple weeks ago, my buddy Kevin (who's also starting a new blog about Things to Do in NYC) came up for a weekend. We hung out, did some sightseeing around Portsmouth, NH and caught up on life in general.

We also tried out something new to the both of us—snowboarding.

He'd just bought a board from a guy off Craigslist. The previous owner had run into some leg problems and had to give it up. Since he now owns gear, Kevin's hit the slopes a few times this season and also took some lessons. I've grown up as a skier, but have boarded a couple times so I knew the basics. Or I thought I did, completely forgetting that the last time I was on a board, I was in high school and probably didn't have my license yet. Whoops.

We went up to Cannon Mountain in the beautiful White Mountains of my home state. I wound up buying my own board while I was up there (Renting was $40, buying a used board, with bindings and boots, was $100. All I have to do is use it another time and a half and I get my money's worth. Freakanomics, baby.). It was a perfect day for it, really. Clear skies, relatively warm, and we still hooked ourselves up with student discounts since we're cheap like that.

We hit the bunny slope immediately.

And, immediately, my tailbone became intimately familiar with the packed powder of Franconia Notch. Again. And again. And again.

Eventually, I started to get the hang of it. After a couple runs, I had stopped falling on my butt entirely. Of course, that meant I was falling on my face instead, but it seemed to indicate some sort of progress. At least I thought it did, and then my lips swelled up. But after finishing another another couple runs, I'd managed to get the falling thing under control. Now, I was alternating between having my face smashed into the snow or bruising my pride and my coccyx simultaneously.

When you're learning to snowboard, by yourself, on a bunny hill, you're pretty exposed. Not to the elements—the ground down there is so flat that the wind doesn't whip by, it stops to laugh at you instead. Rather, you're exposed to the mockery of tiny midget jerks flying by on their own pint-sized boards and skis.

That's right, all of the under-four-footers, the beginner skiers who are too short to ride the adult-sized chairlifts to the top of the mountain are all around you, constantly annoying. To their credit, they can sure cut some snow, doing figure eights around you while they giggle at your prone form, ooohing and ahhhing at ever spectacular tumble. Even worse are the parents and ski instructors shooshbooming down the slopes with them, mournfully shaking their heads at mortifying failure after mortifying failure. My face was probably beet red, but you could also chalk that up to furious anger at the inventor of the snowboard and/or scraping it raw on icy patches.

Eventually, after breaking a couple times for cocoa, food, icy hot, pee breaks, and to cry softly into our scarves, Kevin and I graduated ourselves to an adult-sized lift. There, we tumbled off the chair at the top of the hill and realized that things get much steeper very quickly in the northwoods of NH.

You know those cartoons where Wil-E-Coyote falls down a mountain, rolls into a ball, picks up all sorts of detritus along the way, then crashes into a tree? Yeah. That was me. Repeatedly and painfully.

I remember our final run. I'd just taken a spectacular spill and was completely sprawled out, face-up in the snow (a crash made even worse by the fact that I hadn't even been moving when I fell, I just fell over). I ripped off my goggles and lay there, staring up at the puffy white clouds like some kid trying to pick out shapes, when I realized that I wasn't a kid anymore.

My butt hurt. My back hurt. My face hurt.

"Dude," I turned my head uphill to Kevin, who was mimicking me in a similiar state of repose, "I am too old for this."

Thankfully, the next thing my butt hit was a bar stool.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Time to Decompress...

I drive a lot. My commute is 75 miles in each direction. And though I only work in the office three days a week, I still spend at least 500 miles on the road each week. Add in the other miscellaneous driving I do, and I'm putting well over 2,000 miles on my car each month.

(For reference, I snapped this picture on January 2nd and I've gone over 3,000 miles since. This means I get a lot of oil changes.)

Typically, I spend about 100 minutes driving into work and 80 going home, since there's less traffic when I leave the office.

That's a lot of driving for anyone, but I have gotten used to the commute. I don't love it, but I can't say that I actually hate it, either. That drive home, spacing out as I maintain a certain cruise control speed in the fast-lane is peaceful alone time—the majority spent listening to the music, NPR, or audiobooks—does wonders for my post-work psyche.

Now, I don't have a stressful job. Sure, some days are busier than others, but it's nothing like a fast-paced, Crackberry, newsroom environments from my past gigs. Heck, even working at the travel agency caused more stress, since I was in charge of everything. Mostly, I do my thing, do it well, and leave it behind at the end of the day.

But for me, I still need that time in the car to decompress from my day. I use it as a transition from "work mode."

What's work mode? Work mode is how I get when I'm on task. It can happen in the office, at my real job, or when I'm banging away at the keyboard at home. As a guy, I can only handle one task at a time. I'll focus on that one thing and ignore everything else. This makes me a delightful conversationalist while I'm in work mode.

"Mmhmm... yeah, whatever."

"Uh, what'd you say?"

"(Dead silence)"

Yeah, I'm not that much fun in work mode.

The problem with work mode is that it takes me some time to work my way out of it. I can't just instantly leave the office and feel my brain turn to back toward my real life. Nope, it requires some coaching, some telling myself not to think about work stuff, and a lot of zen-like emptying of the mind. Not that I'm meditating while I'm driving... More likely, I'm just not thinking of anything.

And that part's great. I'm much more social and relaxed when I get home.

I don't know why I'm telling you all this. I was just thinking about it the other day and I wondered if anyone else has a "work mode?" Or is that purely an annoying Nagel trait?

(Yes, as you can see from my odometer, my Toyota Camry is the definition of a high-mileage car.)

Aristotle on Knowledge and the Soul...

"Holding as we do that, while knowledge of any kind is a thing to be honored and prized, one kind of it may, either by reason of its greater exactness or of a higher dignity and great wonderfulness in its objects, be more honourable and precious than another, on both accounts we should naturally be led to place in the front rank the study of the soul."

- Aristotle, "De Anima (On the Soul)"

Motivation to write...

From Paulo Coelho...

"I think the only advice I can give you is this : seat down and write - anything that comes to your head and keep going. At first you may feel stuck, but with time, if you continue on your quest of storytelling, you will see how the first barrier was only an illusion."

I have to say that I both agree entirely and also ignore this truth completely.

Bad Mike, bad!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Live Blogging the Obama Inauguration

Work's letting us watch the swearing in and speech for Obama, so I'll live blog it and then post a transcript after the fact. What fun!

11:38 am - Signed into to watch their live report. Got this error message. Looks hauntingly similar to the "virtual waiting room" I sit in every time time the Sox release new batches of tickets.

11:41 am - Allowed in, but need to update my Adobe something or other. At this rate, I'll be able to see the 45th president's inauguration.

11:42 am - Lots of pictures of people on the Mall. Not a port-a-john in site. Hope all of DC's holding it!

11:44 am - The President-elect was just introduced as "Barack H. Obama." That noise you heard was a unified body of rednecks screaming "Barry HUSSEIN" at the TV. Oh wait, nevermind, they don't have cable.

11:46 am - CNN is showing a Facebook status feed. Um, Twitter much? FB status is sooo 2007. So much for Hope and Change.

11:49 am - Scattered applause for Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven Prayer. Surprised he's wearing a tie and not his traditional Hawaiin shirt.

11:53 am - Good prayer. Inclusive, yet definitely Warren-esque with the Lord's Prayer and multiple pronounciations of Jesus.

11:54 am - Aretha Franklin's wearing a bow that looks like it was made for a battleship. Seems fitting.

11:56 am - This begs the question... if McCain had been elected, would they have asked "Boot in Your @$$" Toby Keith to sing "God Bless America?" I say yes.

11:58 am - Joe Biden's orange spray-on tan rocks. I'd like to have a beer with the VP. I bet he makes a mean margarita.

12:05 pm - Sorry for the short break, had to use the potty (probably from the port-a-john reference) and move over to the big office viewing area. Somewhere, six dozen guys are gathered around a national monument, doing the same thing.

12:06 pm - "Barack HUSSEIN Obama... repeat AFTER me, dang it!" - Chief Justice John Roberts.

12:06 pm - Round of applause in the office for the 44th President. How cool would it be to have the military band play "Hail to the Chief" for you? Even if you weren't actually becoming president, it'd still be awesome. I'd pay cash money for that.

12:07 pm - They're showing a whole lot of "young people" in the crowd. What's the over/under for drunk people in a crowd of 2 million? I'm saying it's at least 200,000 (or 10 percent).

12:09 pm - Obama thanks Bush. Definitely a golf clap.

12:10 pm - Starting off talking about the war and the economy (and crappy energy consumption). Hope-O-Meter plummets.

12:11 pm - Bringing the hope back with, "On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear."

12:12 pm - "The time has come to set aside childish things." A dig at Pres. Bush? Ba-zing!

12:13 pm - Other than the swearing in, he hasn't made a single vocal gaffe or even uttered an "um." He rocks as a speaker, no doubt about it. My keyboard is the only sound in the office. You could hear a flag-pin drop.

12:17 pm - "Restore the vital trust between the people and their government."

12:17 pm - Eight minutes in and we get the first mention of national security (without using the word "terror"). Therein lies the difference between the Democratic and Republican party for this past election. He does mention "co-operation," though.

12:20 pm - One co-worker is holding a box of tissues. Pass 'em around (no matter who you voted for). The entire crowd's hanging on every word.

12:20 pm - "As the world grows smaller, our common humanity will reveal itself, and the United States must become a distributor of peace." Or something like that. He said it better. Great quote. Can't type fast enough... trying to be quiet.

12:24 pm - "Tolerance and curiosity" nice juxtaposition. He's talking about the truths and integral American qualities that have always defined us.

12:25 pm - "Why a man whose father, less than 60 years ago, could not be served in a restaurant, can now stand before you and take a sacred oath."

12:27 pm - He just finished speaking with the requisite, "And God bless the United States of America." Interesting speech... he didn't deviate from any campaign themes. Definitely called for Americans to stand behind him, like we're in a fight for survival. We'll see if that bodes anything for the first 100 days in office.

12:28 pm - G.W. looks genuinely happy to be done. Whether or not you like him, can you blame him? Eight years in the world's most stressful position has to be a crushing weight. Clinton had a heart attack afterward and Reagan lost his mind (to put it frankly).

12:29 pm - Hello, America. Here's what poetry sounds like. It does not involve Lil' Jon, windows, walls or sweaty testicles.

12:33 pm - I'll get reamed for saying this, but it sounds like Fat Albert is giving the benediction. "Hey, hey, HEY!"

12:33 pm - Watching a live news event WITHOUT anchors' commentary is amazing. Why can't they shut up more often and let viewers think for themselves? We don't always need Wolf Blitzer's beard's input.

12:35 pm - Hey, that guy on the left looked just like Kelsay Grammar! How's Fraiser get front-row seats? And where's Oprah?

12:37 pm - The glare on the TV is making it hard to distinguish faces, but it looks like Bush Sr. shot a bear last time he was up in Kennebunkport, ME and wore it today.

12:38 pm - "And when the Blue Man Group can not be known for their color but as the Cool Jam Crew." (Okay, that was lame on my part.)

12:40 pm - I could make a Family Guy-esque joke about seamen being all over the platform, but it's during the National Anthem, so I won't.

12:40 pm - I think the incoming President should be able to pick his exit music. I'd have gone with, "For those about to Ba-rack, we sa-luuuuute you!" (And the hits just keep on coming).

12:41 pm - Handshakes, congratulations, high-fives, and Hillary looking like she bit into a lemon right before someone goosed her. Time for lunch!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Get On Your Boots

In case you haven't heard, but that big band from Dublin just released their new song. You can listen to "Get On Your Boots," the first single from No Line On the Horizon at Check it out here.

I listened to it twice and liked it. It's not "Vertigo," but it's along the same vein. It's a catchy piece of pop rock that's hard enough to maintain credibility, but light and upbeat enough to garner some serious radio play. Of course, if the Edge wanted to play fart noises through a cardboard tube while Bono read off a Campbell's Soup label, they'd still sell 18 bazillion records.

It's good to be U2.

While I'm at it, here's the track listing:

1. No Line On The Horizon
2. Magnificent
3. Moment of Surrender
4. Unknown Caller
5. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
6. Get On Your Boots
7. Stand Up Comedy
8. Fez - Being Born
9. White As Snow
10. Breathe
11. Cedars Of Lebanon

And I'll also share my requisite U2 story and say that I saw them, live and in-studio, on Saturday Night Live when they played Vertigo and I Will Follow and brought the house down. Yeah, you're jealous. Heck, I'm jealous of the 2004 version of me.

Reading on the Road

Everyone wants to read more. At least, I've never heard of anyone who wants to read less. I think deciding to read more has to be the second most popular New Year's resolution—right after trying to lose weight, joining a gym and making sure I have to wait 10 minutes to get on any machine for the first 21 days of every year.

As you know, I don't really like making New Year's Resolutions, but I always do try to make a conscious effort to read more. Lately (and by "lately," I mean the last three years), I haven't been reading as much as I want. Earning a MFA actually kept me from burying my nose in books. I worked, I went to class, came home, pretended to do work, went to bed and then repeated the process. There wasn't room for much extra-curricular activity there. And when there was, I didn't read anything.

But, lately, I've been doing my best to crank through some books. I'm just finishing the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time (spending a lot of time in Mordor). I fell in love with "The Alchemist," Paulo Coelho's classic. In fact, I liked that one so much, I not only learned his name, but I also subscribed to his fantastic blog. I've joined a nerdy reading group, where we're going through Thucydides' and Aristotle's original works and discussing them on a monthly conference call (in between Dungeons and Dragon sessions and smoking pipes).

But most of the "reading" I've done lately has taken place in my car. Those of you that know me, probably aren't that surprised—you know how much emailing/texting/Twittering I do from the highway's fast lane. But I'm not talking about actual reading, I'm talking about audiobooks.

Three days a week, I spend anywhere from 3-4 hours on the road. I have a 75-mile commute, about 20 of which take place in busy, rush-hour traffic. It's a good way for a man to go insane. So I had to find some way to occupy myself and provide distraction from ramming my Camry head-on into some jerk's BMW. So, I visited my local library and started picking up audiobooks.

Being a visual person, I didn't know how I'd do. But it's turned out to be a great success. After just a minute or two, I find myself completely engrossed in listening to the book. I still pay attention to driving, of course, but my brain doesn't really wander otherwise. And it makes those 75 miles just whip by, even when I'm just doing 4.5 miles an hour and drifting leaves are making more progress. Thus far, I've "read" Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" (every word counts), David Sedaris' "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" (classic Sedaris, and always funny), Augusten Burrough's "Running with Scissors" (delightfully depressing), and the Ken Burns' audiobook companion for the Mark Twain documentary (surprisingly good). Considering the lengths of the books, I've made pretty good progress over the past two months or so. Right now, I'm halfway through Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," which has given me an opportunity to get through a book that I probably wouldn't have otherwise read.

So, while this has been a boring blog post for you to read, I did want you to know that I'm enjoying myself. And, perhaps, encourage you to find a way to read a bit more... even if it has to be an inventive way. Just, for the love of all that's good, don't become the girl in front of me at the gym, reading Cosmo while she barely pedals the stationary bike.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mikey's a Double Uncle...

I won't post pictures (yet), because I haven't gotten approval from my brother, his family, and gotten the signed signature of a certain 7-pound bundle of gums, tears, and swaddling cloth. But I wanted to let y'all know that my niece, Allison Renee, was born this past Monday.

Babies are a funny thing. They terrify me. No because their eyes are glazed, they claw at nothing and are as loud as all get-out (whatever that means). But because I don't know what to do with them.

First off, I have no idea how to hold them. Their heads just flop around if you don't support them—at least that's what I've been told. So I make my arms into some sort of basket, have someone drop (gently) the infant into the cavity, then cock my shoulder up. That tilts the basket upwards, and sort of supports the child's head and neck. But, boy, does it give me a crick in mine.

Then, once I've got the baby, I have no idea what comes next. I can kind of bounce them by lifting my shoulder up and down. But that just makes me look like I'm doing the "What is love?" dance from SNL... "Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me... no more!" Plus, the movements are pretty jarring to the kid, who'll immediately start screaming.

While they're bawling, I try to distract them with delightful running commentary. For example, when I held Allie (my new niece) for the first time, I explained to her the wonders of Velcro, how it works with miniature hooks and loops, and that it's made in the great state of New Hampshire, which is also known as The Granite State. She just cried some more. Then, I explained she was wrapped up like a burrito and I regaled her with the wonders of meat, rice and beans tied up in a tortilla. She quieted up a bit then.

So I sat there, neck getting sore and florescent lights glowing off the tile floor, holding a baby that really did look and feel like a warm burrito. I was totally unsure of what to do, so I yammered on about nonsense. Until she opened her eyes.

Her lids flickered, sleepily (it's hard work being born). Then they opened halfway. The big, blue orbs looked up at me. Probably, she couldn't see anything. Maybe she saw a shadow. But I saw her; I really saw her. And I stopped yammering. She wasn't crying anymore. It didn't matter how I held her. Just the fact that I did.

Yeah, I can do this uncle thing. It's not so scary after all.

Heavy Metal Flow Chart

This was just too good to pass up. It's a heavy metal flow chart that breaks down hardcore band names into five basic categories: Deadly Things, Religion, Death, Animals and Badass Misspellings.

I'm giving it the big double devil horns right now. Check out the full-size chart over here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mike's a Fraidy Cat...

I HATE scary movies. Simply can't stand them. It's not because they're really scary (they're not), it's because my mind makes them more terrifying than any director ever could.

When I see a zombie ripping into someones skull and there's cracking noises and body fluids spewing, I can feel the plates separating in my head and taste the gooey salinity of my own gray matter. And let's not even talk about torture flicks that have crazed madmen doing things to a subject's eyes and/or fingernails... I lie awake a night afterward, knowing that as soon as I close my eyes, I'll see needles and pincers coming at me in the dark. Even worse, I can barely stand to have my manicurist do my nails after seeing something like that.

I don't have the intestinal fortitude to deal with those movies. Happily, I can avoid going to them. Most of my friends aren't into horror. Whenever one does want to go, I can make excuses like I haven't re-alphabetized my bookshelf or my grandma's dog needs a sponge bath. But no matter what excuse you can come up with for not seeing the movie, you can't escape the trailers.

Usually, they're easy enough to spot when you're in the theater. That deep, scratchy voice (like Keifer Sutherland's in slow-motion) comes on, the room gets dark, the bass swells, you hear panting noises and the girl on screen is suddenly, inexplicably half naked. Then, before you know it, all you see are blunt instruments pounding flesh, explosions of blood and flashes of some sort of zombie-freak dripping black ooze. Ick.

They're easy enough to avoid. I can get up and make a last-minute bathroom trip. I can look at the floor and comment how solidly my shoes are sticking. I can stick my head into popcorn or just dive behind the seats. Usually there's just one and then on comes a preview for Shrek 4 and all is right with the world.

But, lately, these trailers have been all over TV. Maybe it's because I've been watching way too much SportsCenter (on repeat, for background noise), but it seems like I have to suffer through another ad for The Unborn every commercial break. I can't explain it, but that trailer bugs me like no other. Maybe is the creepy, dead-eyed (and skinned) kid. Probably it's the guy crawling backwards up the stairs with an upside-down head. Or it could be because the whole premise has to do with a freaky happenstance with the heroine's eyes (I hate anything to do with eyes). I just can't watch it. Every time it's on, I frantically reach for the remote and switch over to the TeleTubbies or the View—anything that's less frightening.

Ugh. I don't get it. Why do they make those awful movies? And why do people go to them? Maybe I'm a wuss (okay, I'm definitely a wuss), but I really don't understand the appeal. Perhaps it has something to do with the risk of wetting yourself in public? Can someone help me out here?

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the trailer. I'm going to go hide underneath my covers now.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Balls Dropped

I hear Brad. I don't like making resolutions, either. I'm also not a huge fan of other people making resolutions—not so much because I like to impose my views on others, but because it means there are lines to use every treadmill at the gym and the natural section of the grocery store runs out of Clif bars.

But, because it's the beginning of a new year, it's as good a time as any to take inventory and see if there's anything I'd like to get accomplished in the next 364 days (give or take).

This one's foremost in my mind, mostly because Sonja and I find ourselves shelling out cash to pay wedding vendors on the 2nd and 16th of every month. I think goal-o numero uno for '09 is to pull of a successful, star-studded gala on June 5th, have an awesome 2-week Italian honeymoon and have enough left over to come back to an apartment and not have to immediately move in with either set of parents or the Newington Bus Terminal.

I'd like to have more stuff published. There really is nothing like seeing your name in print on a piece that you slaved over (or put together at the last minute). The only thing that comes close is cashing the accompanying check—that's pretty sweet, too.

Seriously, though... I cranked out 150 pages of a book for my thesis project. I turned it into my adviser at the beginning of April and haven't touched it since. Some downtime was necessary, but I need to get back to it and see if someone's wiling to pay me for some (possibly) or all (I'd have to change myself) of it. That, and I'm still going to be submitting here and there as I—in theory—write daily.

(Stealing Brad's "more/less" theme... plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery.)
More: reading, blogging, time-management, running (one marathon, minimum), recipes learned and facial hair. Five out of six won't be bad...
Less: ditto on the nail-biting, procrastination, sleep deprivation (yeah, right), impulse buying (again—yeah, right) and TV-watching.

Anyone else have some big plan for '09? Or are you taking the odd years off?