Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This just in ... I'm an election winner

I'm an election junkie, meaning that I actually look forward to the wall-to-wall media coverage of local and national races. Between checking websites and clicking between Bay Area and national television stations, I'm soaking up every tidbit of information that scrolls across the screen. CNN reporter Ted Rowlands, in fact, just reported on California Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative, by standing next to a plate of marijuana baklava. The network then came back to studio analyst Jeffrey Toobin who pointed out that brownies are the food of choice when marijuana is an ingredient. Fascinating and important stuff. Some of my election choices -- both in people and propositions -- were winners and some were not. Still, though I am not a candidate, I feel like a winner simply because tomorrow is Nov. 3 and I have to believe that I will no longer receive junk mail from candidates and television stations will quit showing wall-to-wall ads about Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman and Anna Caballero and Anthony Cannella and on and on. The signs littering local streets and stuck in lawns around the community will be coming down; soon I hope. Regardless of who is in power nationally, we should expect more of the same -- gridlock, partisanship, vitriol -- on the national scene. Four out of 10 Americans who were eligible to vote were expected to turn out today, according to NBC News. That is sad, but that is the way it is. I voted, for good or for bad, and I couldn't imagine why anyone would pass on that opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fear the Bud?

The Texas media's fascination with "pot-smoking San Francisco Giants fans" is, well, fascinating. Watching some of the coverage from media-types during this week's two World Series games in The City, one would think AT&T Park sold joints next to the garlic fries and gave away "Fear the Bud" shirts to the first 20,000 fans. TV guy Newy Scruggs gained some national recognition when, during his live report from McCovey Cove, he actually saw people smoking weed. This is outside the park, mind you, not in the kids' Whiffle ball area beyond the left field bleachers. Rangers' left fielder Josh Hamilton told reporters that he could smell marijuana smoke wafting through the air during Game 1. Some media outlets gave the impression that the whole park was passing around a roach clip during the seventh inning stretch. There is no denying that some fans sneak cannabis into the game, which is both inappropriate and illegal, but come on Texas media, YOU are the pot (pun intended) calling the kettle black because Hamilton is, admirably, a recovering crackhead and Manager Ron Washington this year admitted to cocaine use. Yes, Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum was caught with marijuana in his car. There's no defending that. But because of that, we all need to watch which stones we throw -- especially at stoners.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It's autumn, so why not fall?

One of the most embarrassing moments of my life happened when I was a senior and was late for English class. All of the other students had settled in and the teacher was taking roll when I stepped up into the portable classroom and caught my foot in the doorway. Not only did I tumble big-time, but my backpack flew over my shoulder and landed in front of me. The commotion caused everyone to turn around and burst out in laughter. I could only sheepishly smile as I made my way to the front of the classroom, second row, where I sat red-faced for all to see. Even my teacher -- my kind, sweet teacher -- could not help laughing at the tumble, which did not result in physical injury but certainly injured my pride. I didn't blame my classmates for laughing, as I would have done the same. The fact that the laughter continued on and off for about half an hour didn't help, but I deserved it. I heard the "have a nice trip? see you next fall" line about half a dozen times. So that stood alone as my most embarrassing tumble for about a quarter-century ... until this morning. My wife and I were enjoying a leisurely walk in our neighborhood when we passed by (ironically) the house of my former high school biology teacher, who was outside with two other people. We exchanged pleasantries as I turned my head with a smile, and suddenly my left foot caught a raised portion of sidewalk and I took a tumble worthy of my high school days. There were only four witnesses for this fall, not a whole classroom, but I was just as embarrassed. I bounded right up and kept walking as our neighbors asked if I was alright. I joked that I should sue the homeowner as my wife began suppressing her laughter while trying to look sympathetic. I bruised my left knee and scraped both palms, though the injuries were minor. I couldn't move on and turn the corner quickly enough. At least I could walk away from the scene of the tumble this time; no sitting at the front of class listening to the snickers.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

At least he wasn't anonymous

I have written a weekly "slice-of-life" column in local newspapers for the past 15 years or so, with topics ranging from the excitement about the birth of my son to the trepidation I felt the first time that son got behind the wheel of a car. I write about what I know best -- being a dad of two teenage boys and the husband of a woman who has to put up with my corny sense of humor and my maddening habit of procrastination. I don't apologize for the content, because I hope that the stories I tell can relate in some small way to the lives of those who read it. Maybe one week I'll give a reader a laugh and maybe the next week I'll make them get choked up. Either way, I hope people will spend three to five minutes with the column, because that means they read the whole thing. I generally get positive feedback about what I write, perhaps because most people aren't bold enough to criticize me face-to-face -- unless they are a relative. It makes me happy when someone tells me they enjoyed my column. Last week, a reader took the time to hand write a two-sided note and mail it to my home. I'm not sure how he got my address, but I give him credit for including his return address on the envelope. Too many people these days hide behind the anonymity of online comments, so I can respect this man for identifying himself. His note, written in a fairly legible script with a few phrases highlighted in yellow for some reason, essentially was a dressing down of my column's approach. He wanted to advise me in a condescending way that my column, which is titled "Breen Damage" and features a picture of me, is too much about me. He wanted to tell me "something you have never learned in life," that I should "learn to get away from (my) self-centeredness and the number of I's and we's" in my articles. Zing. "It seems as though most of your articles are about the 'Breen' family," he continued, which is a fact seemed pretty obvious to me, since when I write about a slice of life, it's going to be about the Breens. The majority of people who read the paper, he said, "are not interested in the Breens" and "should best be kept for family use." Double-zing. He said there is so much more in our community to write about -- and he is right. He apparently doesn't read the two or three other articles I write each week as a reporter for The Pinnacle. I cover city government and education and environmental issues. I write features and captions and news briefs, none of which have to do with me or my family. "Get off your family and Breen kick," he advises. "Grow up." Wow, this guy is full of zingers. As brazen and denigrating as his letter is, I actually didn't mind receiving the criticism. Like anyone, I love getting praise for my work. But there is something energizing about being critiqued. It's a reminder that not everyone thinks I'm as witty or insightful as I might feel when I get a slap on the back from a faithful reader. It's a reminder not to get lazy or too full of myself. We all need to be humbled now and then. My wife wasn't as understanding about or appreciative of the letter; she wanted me to send him a letter of my own telling him that he was rude and "how dare he complain about an article in a free paper." It's OK, I told her. Though he may speak for others, I'm a big boy who can handle the zingers. Perhaps his criticism will remind me to branch out beyond my family when coming up with a column idea. It's called "Breen Damage" for a reason. I'm a Breen and I'm going to write about what happens to me and my family as long as the editors allow me to do so. Maybe one of my upcoming columns will win this guy over and I'll get another letter from him saying I've matured as a writer. Or maybe he'll continue to open up the free paper every Friday and curse my name. Bottom line is, newspapers want readers who care, and this guy clearly does. Like me or hate me, just don't stop reading me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

T.P. makes me P.O'd in the a.m.

Waking up at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning is a terrible thing. The weekend is the time to sleep in, not to rise before the birds and the sun. But my sons were going fishing with their uncle bright and early, I woke up as they were leaving to wish them well. My plan was to fall back into bed, fall back to sleep and waste a good part of the morning getting some shut-eye. Then my wife noticed through the blurred vision of recent sleep that our front yard was all white, like it had just snowed. This was August and this was Hollister, so it was not snow. This was August and this was Hollister, so this was a toilet paper prank perpetrated by someone who knows one of my sons. There were rolls of paper in six different trees in our yard; paper on the bushes; paper on my roof; paper in the shape of a heart on the lawn (it was a message to one of our sons, we assumed, but we didn't love it.) At 4:15 a.m., my wife and I went to work cleaning up the mess, hoping not to wake the neighbors while cursing our fate. Toilet paper on a wet lawn becomes a lumpy mess that is difficult to pick up. But it was easier than the rolls that were thrown over the 15-foot tree in our front yard, because those rolls rolled up onto the roof, making them unreachable until I brought out a ladder. Climbing on a ladder at 4 a.m. when you are half asleep is not the smartest thing a guy can do. Climbing from a ladder onto a dewy roof when you are half asleep is even dumber. But I did it because I wasn't going to be able to sleep knowing that the toilet paper strands were dissolving into my landscaping and onto my roof. Forty-five minutes later, about an hour before sunrise, my wife and I had filled a trash bag with every last toilet paper remnant that we could find. We eventually put the ladder away, jumped back in bed and hoped to wipe this toilet paper incident from our memories.

Monday, May 3, 2010

What about the Canadians?

After all of the controversy over Arizona's strict new immigration law, which gives law enforcement officials broad powers to stop and question people suspected of being in the country illegally, I'm hopeful -- but doubtful -- about the chances that it will be enforced equally. While I'm all for protecting our borders and making sure that people are following the rules, I can't help but wonder if Arizona police will pull over a car full of people in a Volvo with Canadian license plates. Maybe those Canucks are here illegally, trying to take away American jobs or smuggling drugs into our country. Oh wait, apparently only Mexicans do that. If the authorities hear a couple of people speaking with British accents, will they ask them for immigration documentation as well? If this law is to be applied fairly they will. If it will be used for racial profiling, they won't.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't explain the high-five

The high-five is an accepted form of communication, primarily in the congratulatory sense. Raising an arm and slapping hands with someone else is an action that displays and relays positive emotion. High-fives have their place. After a baseball player hits a home run and returns to the dugout, a high-five from teammates is perfectly fine. When someone gets good news, like an A on a test or a promotion at work, a high-five is in order. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous action can also be uber-corny. So here are some tips on avoiding high-five corniness: Don't yell "whoo hoo" when giving a high-five; don't jump toward the person you are high-fiving during the action, as it can lead to a loss of balance; don't make the high-five a high-ten, it's just too awkward; and please, please don't say "high-five" before, during or after the high-five. That's like saying "handshake" while shaking hands with someone. The high-five is such an important part of American culture that there is a move afoot (ironic) to give the hand gesture its own special day. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of it when it passed two weeks ago, but I'm hoping next year to celebrate National High Five Day, which apparently has been around since 2002. I would have bought a card for my wife had I known that this special day occurred on the third Thursday of April. Or at least given her a high-five.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tlk 2 me, in 160 characters or less please

OMG, teens like 2 TXT a lot. More than half of all teens text on a daily basis, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The average teen sends and/or receives 50 texts per day and more than a third of them top triple digits each day, according to a story in The San Francisco Chronicle. My 15-year-old son helps skew the numbers upward, sending and receiving thousands of texts each month. As of this evening, he has sent or received 7,601 messages since last month's bill. When I heard that number I wanted to LOL. It hasn't been a month since that last bill, so he's averaging at least 253 texts per day. Assuming he is awake 15 hours per day, that's an average of 16 per hour or .28 per minute. I hardly have .28 thoughts per minute throughout the day, much less .28 things I want to text to or receive from someone. But that's the dominant form of communication for today's teens. If I want to reach my children to tell them or ask them or remind them of something, more often than not I'll send them a text. My wife and I communicate by text if we're otherwise occupied. Even my parents, who are retired, are texting machines. It's new the way to send birthday wishes and grocery lists. It's a great way to tell my baseball team about rainouts. Forget sending out invitations to a party. I'll send a text. If a person is not a close enough acquaintance to be listed on my cell phone, they probably won't be on my invite list. 2 bad 4 them, I guess.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How about we try to party together?

Thursday was national Tea Party day in the United States, as angry and disaffected (mostly Republican) citizens chose tax deadline day to complain about being over-taxed and under-happy about our perceived slide into socialism. I'm all for peaceful public protest, as it is one of our greatest rights in this country. I was pretty upset myself this week as I had to cut a check to the IRS and the franchise tax board on top of the check for my tax preparer's work. It had been years since my wife and I didn't get a refund, and we didn't like it. I'm not happy with the economy or the uber-partisan nature of Washington, D.C. politics. People are labeled as either a big-government liberal or an anti-Obama conservative -- pick a side, pick a corner. I'm not scared of my government. I'm not happy with it, but I want it to work. Protesters who want to "throw them all out" aren't coming up with alternative plans or inspirational leaders. They are playing on people's fears and forgetting that just two years ago our economy was on the verge of collapse after years of stagnation. Are things better now? It sure doesn't feel like it, but hoping for the failure of the current president is only hoping for the failure of our country. Tea Partiers are well within their rights to be mad with the government and protest against it. It's great that they are working to engage a disaffected citizenry. I only hope that they work for positive change with positive ideas and positive leaders. The Tea Party movement is an only-in-America effort that can lead to needed change if handled responsibly. A little tea is a welcome change of pace. Too much and we're drowning in partisanship. That's not the type of change we need.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Liz and Larry, sitting in a tree

I certainly am no marriage expert, but I know it can be complicated and wonderful at the same time. That complexity makes me wonder how anyone can do it multiple times. Like Larry King and Elizabeth Taylor-type multiple times. In the least surprising marriage news of the year, Larry King filed for divorce today from his seventh wife. I don't own seven pairs of jeans, much less have seven ex-wives. Taylor this week denied rumors that she was heading toward her ninth marriage -- at age 78. Or, as I like to look at it, she's still on the market, just like Jennifer Aniston, only four decades older. My parents will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary next month. My 17th anniversary is less than two months away. That's enough complexity for me. One suggestion for the 70-something celebrity marriage addicts: Larry and Liz, I know a single, 70-something person who'd be perfect for you. They probably won't ask for a pre-nup and they wouldn't be marrying you for fame, because they've already got it. I've heard the 16th time is the charm.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pee fees take flight

Howard Stern had it right the other day: He said that airlines are adding on so many fees that the next step will likely be to charge passengers extra if they want a trained pilot on their flight. I don't fly that often -- maybe once every two years -- so these fees don't have a huge impact on me. But if some of these ideas catch on, I may stick to ground transportation. Ryanair, a European budget airline, made headlines recently when it announced that it plans to charge passengers for using the bathroom on flights. So within two years, flyers will have to pay about $1.50 to enter the latrine in-flight. Or, they can plan ahead and where adult diapers and save the hassle. Would I pay to use the toilet? If you gotta go, you gotta go; so yes. But I would not want to sit near the front or the back of the plane, near the bathroom, for fear I would be hassled for spare change by a lady crossing her legs to avoid having an accident.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bedell story brings the media

The town has been buzzing with media from around the region, the state and the nation since last night's news broke that the man who shot security personnel at the Pentagon was from Hollister. From KCBA television crews camped outside the gate at Ridgemark, the country club where John Patrick Bedell apparently lived, to the massive CNN satellite truck parked on Fourth Street near the county courthouse, our quiet town hasn't seen such media activity in some time. KGO of San Francisco called the Free Lance newsroom requesting an interview with the editor, KRON-4 from The City sent a truck down here, trying to find a place to park near the local media outlets. Sheriff Curtis Hill gave two press conferences: one at 12:30 and another at 3 to accommodate the East Coast media's 6 p.m. newscast needs. In the combined Free Lance/Pinnacle newsroom, the story had the staff scrambling since last night. From calls to sources to a visit by Bedell's brother, who dropped off a family statement, to research on the Internet, it was the kind of breaking news that just doesn't happen around here very much. Hollister typically is in the news for one of three things: earthquakes, bikers or some sort of tragedy, which, thankfully doesn't happen too often. The national media will move from the story over the next 24 hours, as that's how the news cycle runs. Locally, Hollister's newspapers will continue to follow the story as they prepare next week's editions, looking to dig a little deeper into the life and motivations of a troubled man that by all accounts came from a loving family.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Family time ... shocking

This just in: Within 10 minutes, my entire four-person family will be together under the same roof, eating dinner together and then sitting in front of the fireplace on a chilly, rainy night. Not front-page news stuff, but news nonetheless. With a freshman playing high school baseball (read: practices or games every day but Sunday, even when it's raining) and an eighth-grader winding up his school and travel basketball seasons and beginning his spring league baseball season and with Dad coaching all of the eighth-grader's teams, nights like these are rare and therefore special. My boys don't know what to do with themselves when they aren't busy, though nights like these are cherished in our family. Spaghetti and garlic bread for dinner; all four of us settling on the couch in front of the fire for some American Idol; it's the modern version of Leave it to Beaver. Enough writing, it's family time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

'Staches for STAR

My column in this week's edition of The Pinnacle discusses a novel approach a San Benito High School English teacher came up with to raise awareness about the need for students to well on the standardized STAR test; by having teachers sport moustaches. The "Staches for STAR" campaign, the brainchild of Mario Ferrito, calls on all male faculty -- at least those who are able to -- to grow a moustache ahead of the STAR test in April. The thinking is that students will start wondering why teachers suddenly have moustaches and that will lead to discussions about the value of the STAR exam, which not only measures students learning but is one of the criteria the state uses to determine if a school is successful or not. Click here for a link to Ferrito's 'Staches for STAR homepage, which also has links to Facebook and Photo Bucket sites where the teacher moustaches can be viewed in all their glory. And, yes, female teachers are encouraged to participate. They don't have to stop waxing, though. Ferrito has a sign with a built-in moustache with which female teachers can pose for a photo. (drawing courtesy of A_of_Doom's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/a_of_doom/2923734341/)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dancing for Diana

The effort to raise money for a San Benito High School freshman who is battling cancer has shown the value of new media, as a simple, 5-minute YouTube posting has generated tons of interest in the cause as it has generated thousands of hits. It went from class project, to buzz-worthy e-mail on campus to a report on local television. The students behind the movement were not looking for credit or praise. Instead, they just wanted people to know that a community member needs our help. I wrote about the effort in Friday's Pinnacle. As the students strive to raise thousands of dollars to help Diana Magana's family with the expenses associated with her cancer treatment, they have also raised awareness about the good work that high school students do -- without prompting -- because most of them really are creative, talented, caring kids. Help Diana if you can.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The road less traveled

My wife and I were out for a short drive to a local store when I noticed the billowing clouds gathering along the hills in the eastern part of San Benito County. "How about we drive out to the country?" I asked. "We haven't done that in a while." Our teenage boys were at home, lounging as teens do on a lazy Saturday, so it gave my wife and I rare opportunity for spontaneity. We left the store and headed east, toward the hills and the clouds. San Benito County has miles and miles of rural roads that wind through oak-studded hills. We chose a road that snakes through the Santa Ana Valley, past sprawling ranches and cow pastures. It traces the winding route of creeks, filled at last with runoff from a week's worth of rain. It curls left and right and up and down, taking us nowhere fast. Squirrels darted across the two-lane road in front of us, playing a silly game of chicken. Elsewhere along the road, the not-so-lucky creatures that didn't miss the tires of another vehicle were lunch for birds, who were quick enough to avoid us as we drove past. Up another hill and four deer were surprised by our car. We stopped and tried to get a picture as they ambled up the hill and out of sight. A couple of miles later, the road ended at a locked farm gate, just past a small bridge over a gurgling creek. We turned around, a bit disappointed that we ran out of pavement but glad that we made the trip. A phone call to our sons assured us that they were fine and assured them that we were the same. Our trip cost nothing other than a little gas and a little time; both reasonable expenses for a little quality time on a mid-winter Saturday. It was a reminder of how getting away from it all is sometimes as easy as heading for the hills and following the clouds. (photo courtesy of MHedin's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/23660854@N07/3405619985/)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Yo quiero eating healthy

The death of Taco Bell founder Glenn W. Bell Jr. at age 86 this past weekend got me thinking that there may just be something to the recently-publicized Taco Bell Diet after all. Mr. Bell, who also helped establish Der Weinerschnitzel, had to have eaten food from his two fast-food chains over the years, right? Corn dogs and burritos and enchiritos and french fries and the guy lived to 86 -- I don't want to know what's in the corn dogs and the taco meat, but whatever preservatives are there must have worked for Bell. In college, my roommates and I were on the McDonald's diet one summer because my roommate worked there. It was Big Macs for lunch and Chicken McNuggets for dinner. Sometimes, on the rare occasions that we awoke before 10:30 a.m., we'd have a Sausage McMuffin. I guess calling our food choices a "diet" is wrong. It was "necessary eating" because we were poor college guys who couldn't cook. I actually gained weight that summer until right before school started, when my two months of unhealthy eating led to a week in bed with some mystery ailment that I attribute to one too many Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I lost close to 15 pounds over the next seven days and recaptured my pre-Mickey D's figure through unplanned purging and lack of eating. It's not the type of diet that I'd recommend, because I believe my meal choices -- along with some of my college beverage choices -- caused both the weight gain and the subsequent weight loss. Now, to get my fix of McDonald's, I'll sneak a fry or two from my sons and order a fruit and yogurt parfait instead of a caramel sundae with nuts. I miss the days that I could handle a Big Mac every day, because it was satisfying (the week in my sick-bed notwithstanding). In honor of Mr. Bell, I might even try an item from Taco Bell's Fresco Menu when I want to make an unhealthy, but lower-calorie meal choice. Never, ever, will I go back to a diet based on eating at one fast food place for every meal, because as much as I don't like to diet, I also don't like to die. (Photo courtesy of rochelle, et al's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tinfoilraccoon/4061991419/)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A little redecorating

Sometimes it's good to move the furniture around a bit, get a different haircut, clean out the closet and donate the clothes that no longer fit or are out of fashion. I don't like doing any of these things myself, because they require too much effort and merely highlight my outdated style or laziness. If it were up to me, the couches in our family room would never be moved. I don't like exposing the couch leg indentations in the carpet, because they take forever to go away, plus I find way too many pens, peanuts and paper clips when furniture is moved. I do get a haircut once a month, but it's the same style. Clippers at setting No. 3 on the side, short on top -- just enough so it looks spiky. Low-maintenance; no comb or brush needed, just a little product (gel). As for my clothes, if I can still button or zip them without having to hold my breath and if my uber-white body doesn't show through any holes, they are staying in my closet. This blog, which debuted last year, has had the same look for months. The template was attractive and contemporary, but looking at it every day reminded me that it's leaving couch leg marks in the virtual carpet that is my computer. So today, I dumped the old template and went with this updated, dot-looking thing. The content is the same, just re-packaged. Kind of like most Web content that is "borrowed" from newspapers and "re-purposed" as original, except this is all mine. (Photo courtesy of Hiddenloop's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/hiddenloop/2985319074/)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My hometown of Hollister is not known for its culinary diversity. We have pizza places, Chinese food places, Mexican food places, fast food places and a few sandwich places. There is no real family dining, sit-down-type place like Applebee's or Olive Garden or even Denny's -- though we do have a Jerry's. If we're in the mood for Italian food, we've got to head outside the county. If we are tired of burritos and pepperoni pizza and chow mein, we've got to get in the car and drive for at least 20 minutes to find a different type of restaurant. This afternoon, I noticed that our limited local menu expanded a bit with the opening of a buffet restaurant. Now, if we're lucky, we can get pizza, Chinese, Mexican, fast food and sandwiches all in one, convenient location. Plus, we can eat as much of it as we want. When I was in college, the idea of all-I-could-eat was enticing. Going to Sizzler for the steak and all-you-can-eat shrimp meal was like winning the lottery. The all-you-can-eat salad bar at Wendy's was a Friday tradition for my cash-poor friends and me. Now that I am older and the calories don't burn away like they used to, the idea of refilling my plate repeatedly has lost most of its appeal. I get just as hungry, but I feel twice as full after a big meal. Being the reporter that I am, I do plan to visit the local buffet, at least once, and investigate its offerings. I may regret the decision, because I love to eat more than I should. Fortunately, Pinnacle Urgent Care shares a parking lot with the new buffet, so if I go into a food coma from over-stuffing, my family won't need to call an ambulance. (photo courtesy of Abulic Monkey's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/abulic_monkey/2742905884/)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mmm, meat

Eating pork ribs can evoke an ancient, carnal response; turning an ordinary dinner into a gluttonous session of satiation. From the way the meat is ripped from the bone to the dripping sauce and shreds of meat stuck between one's teeth, it's like a medieval feast --albeit with place settings, napkins and indoor plumbing. I had a half-rack of ribs for dinner tonight, and it was good. Ordering a side salad and and iced tea may not have been the most manly way to accompany the meal, but I went through three napkins during my feast and I had to wash my hands when I got home so I wouldn't wake up the next day smelling of barbecue sauce. The irony of eating meat off animal bones with my hands was that after futilely wiping off my fingers with a napkin, I had to tear open the tiny "moist towelette" pouch to finish the job, leaving my tasting tools lemony-fresh. I didn't care though, my belly was full and I felt like Fred Flintstone after polishing off some car-tipping Brontosaurus ribs. It was a testosterone party, with a hint of lemon scent. (photo courtesy of izik's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/izik/2858328816/)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I want the real thing

It has become a running joke in my family that every time I decide to order a Coke at a restaurant the waiter or waitress says, "Is Pepsi alright?" In my younger, less discerning days, I would either say "that's fine" or "yeah, sure." As I've gotten older, however, I've realized that if I feel like drinking a Coke and ordering a Coke, I want a Coke. When I order orange juice, I don't want to hear, "Would apple juice be OK?" When I order a steak, don't tell me, "The chicken's really good tonight. Will that work?" In this week's column, I address my drink ordering issue in more depth. I also mention how my dad, being the nice guy that he is, prefers to reverse to server-servee roles and put the decision in the hand of the wait-person. If he wants a cola, he'll now ask for "Coke/Pepsi." If he's in the mood for a clear soda, the list gets longer. "Sprite/7Up/Sierra Mist." He gives the list and lets the waiter or waitress pick the beverage. It's ingenious, and a bit of a cop out at the same time. But hey, I'll drink to that. (photo courtesy of Orin Zebest's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/1054035018/)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Putting pride aside

I am nowhere near the exercise fiend that my wife is. If she says she's going to the gym, she's going to the gym. She's like the post office -- neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays my wife from the swift completion of her rounds at the exercise machines. If there were an earthquake that destroyed the gym, I believe she would climb through the rubble, dust off the seat of a spin bike, and get to work. I, too, am like the post office in that it takes me a couple of days to deliver on my promise of going to work out. Since the turn of the new year, I have been to Gold's Gym three times in five days; and for that I am proud. Today, putting male pride aside, I even joined my wife for a 40-minute, instructor-guided session on the spin bikes. I insisted that we set up at the back of the room so the other participants would not have to watch me struggle. As it turns out, I rather enjoyed the workout. While I was the only male in this session, I didn't feel out of place. Everyone was there to burn calories and work up a sweat, so they didn't care what the person next to them or behind them was doing. We were all just trying to keep pace with the instructor. I was trying not to look like a quitter, or more importantly, die. My workout fiendishness will never approach that of my wife, but if I can go postal (in an exercise sense) just a fraction of the amount that she does, I think it'll deliver some results. (photo courtesy of kretyen's Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kretyen/2703821359/)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lose games, not perspective

My seventh-and eighth-grade basketball team lost its first game of the year this evening, stinking up the gym in a four-point loss to another local team. We played poorly and uninspired and deserved to lose. As the coach, I didn't push the right buttons or put the right combinations of players on the court and I take the blame. As I was delivering my post-game speech, I reminded the players that sometimes losing can be beneficial. They, of course, looked at me skeptically, as they -- like me and their parents in the stands -- much prefer winning to losing. But players and coaches and parents need to experience the bitter taste of defeat in order to appreciate the sweetness of victory. I reminded my team to remember the way that they felt when the buzzer sounded to end the game and use that for motivation when they practice this week. It's easy to handle winning. It's not so easy to handle losing. If they learn to win with grace and turn the feeling of disappointment after a loss into motivation, then losing now and then has its benefits. We don't get salaries for this or covered by the media or criticized on sports blogs. We play for an hour on Sundays and hope to win as much as we can while having fun in the process. Our success ultimately will be defined by improvement, though judged by our record. The coaches, players and parents can all learn from losing. None of us like it or hope for it, but if we use defeat as a lesson, the perspective gained will be the victory. (photo courtesy of j9sk9s' Photstream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/j9sk9s/4128778346/)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to Twenty Ten

I woke up this morning 10 hours after 2010 began, ready to take on the new year and new decade, even with my lingering uncertainty over what to call either of them. Is the year, 2010, supposed to be pronounced "twenty ten" or "two thousand ten?" And what decade are we in? "The tens" sounds odd. "The teens?" That doesn't work because the years 2010, 2011, and 2012 aren't teens. As my first in-year resolution, I settled this morning on calling this year "twenty ten." Even though I called last year "two thousand nine" which would mean that "two thousand ten" would be the natural follow-up, "twenty ten" sounds better to me, so that's what it'll be. My second big decision of the year (the first was whether to use Log Cabin syrup or grandma's homemade syrup on my waffles -- grandma won) was solidified when I read on SFGate.com that the National Association of Good Grammar has decreed that 2010 should be pronounced "twenty ten." I'm glad when my grammatical choices, or any choices for that matter, are affirmed by a fancy-sounding organization. So with that debate settled, I know need to figure out what to call this decade. In this month's issue of The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead asks in The Talk of The Town column what we should call the just-completed ten-year period. "We still don't have a good collective name for the first decade of the twenty-first century," she writes. "At least, not one beyond 'the first decade of the twenty-first century'." Mead mentioned options such as "the ohs," "the zips" and "the nadas," before saying "the aughts" is likely the posthumous name for the time period. Fine, that works for me. As for the years 2010-2019, we've got 10 years to figure that out, so I'm not going to worry about it on the first day of the decade. (photo courtesy of Optical Illusions' Photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/optical_illusion/4219923214/)