The Geek Rebooted

DISCLAIMER: I rarely begin a blog entry with one of these. Usually I wait until I’m thoroughly ensconced in the writing of it to insert one. But today is different. When I first began writing this late, yesterday afternoon the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” was still a handful of hours away and anticipation for it was understandably very, very high. In the time since then a horrific tragedy has occurred in Aurora, Colorado. As you have likely heard, a lone gunman named James Holmes opened fire in a crowded movie theater and killed 12 people/wounded 59 during a screening of the movie early this morning. My heart goes out to the victims and the families of the victims affected by this tragedy. They are all in my thoughts and my prayers and WERE, even as I strove to complete this composition, today. Now that it’s done? Well, I feel that I should be upfront with you. “TDKR” features as a topic in this blog entry albeit not a prominent one. If you are uncomfortable with me or anyone referencing it at the present time PLEASE do not read this, now. I promise that it will be here at a later date. 

Thank you, all. Sincerely, F.

Good morning, afternoon, evening or night, friends. I hope that everything is well in your own, subjective universes. Things in mine? Well, they could be better but they could also be worse… a lot worse, and I consider myself fortunate that the worstthat I have to deal with in this day and age is a rebellious three year old and a seven week old. If that’s the worst that my worst is going to get then I’m a very, very lucky man. That said, I have now used the word “worse” or a derivative thereof (see, “worst”) seven times in less then a paragraph. Rather than risk being called redundant (like that’s ever happened) I’m going to leave my worst behind me and focus on my best. At least the best that I can do on limited sleep. ‘Kinda a common theme for ‘ye ‘ole pal the Madchronicler, these days.

Eight “worsts” and two “bests.” 8/2. 80/20. The same winnings split that my Fantasy Football League is employing this season. FYI fellow managers (I’m looking at you, Nicole, alias “I Just Tebowed” and you Chuck, alias “Cuff And Link”), “Mennonite Mafia” is taking the lion’s share of the prize money home with him this year. Any time that I employ a team name that draws upon the PA Dutch community as inspiration I’m invincible. Best just concede now before you embarrass yourselves. And with that little revelation I have, for the first time, added smack talk to my blog. It’s a momentous day! And there was much rejoicing…

Yay.

In truth? It is not just a momentous day but it is a momentous time for people with certain sensibilities like my own. What sensibilities you may be wondering? In case you did not know or have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, tonight at midnight, arguably the most anticipated movie of the year will premiere in multiplexes across the country. Illegal torrent streams will begin appearing on the internet shortly after 3:00 AM… reviews will begin posting on Youtube and on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB… critics that hate it will be demonized or “trolled” and those that love it will be glorified and raised to the highest level of esteem that they can achieve along the shoulder of the ever growing, ever evolving information superhighway. I speak, of course, of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final chapter in Writer/Director Christopher Nolan’s visionary re-telling of the Bruce Wayne/Batman mythos. His rebooted franchise–which began with “Batman Begins” and continued with “The Dark Knight”–has redefined the superhero movie.

Whether you’re a fan of his Batman movies or not you can not deny that he really has redefined the genre. Who’d have ‘thunk, 10 years ago, that a superhero movie could make an insane amount of money and also be considered one of the best pictures of the year? (see: “The Dark Knight”). Earlier this afternoon, I was stumbling around the internet in a sleepy stupor when I came upon someone who was, in preparation for seeing “The Dark Knight Rises,” re-watching every Batman movie ever made and reviewing them. I’m not just talking about Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” not to mention Nolan’s two outings, either. I’m talking about the original, Adam West camp-fest “Batman: The Movie” from the 1960s, the highly underrated, animated “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” from the mid-1990s, the eminently forgettable, “Batman Forever” and… CRINGE… “Batman And Robin.” BTW, guys, if you’ve never seen the last one that I mentioned please:  Don’t. The universal disdain for that movie is legendary. Believe me when I tell you that everything that you have heard about it–from the nipple suit to ‘Ahnold’s portrayal of Mister Freeze–is 100% accurate. I remember going to see it in the theater with my friends and feeling, within 10 minutes of when it had started, that Joel Schumacher had decided, sometime after “Forever” was a box office smash to sh*t upon the respective childhoods of people with sensibilities like mine.  

What sensibilities you may be asking again? Geek sensibilities, guys. I have been, and always will be a geek. That classification–which I wear like a badge of honor and have worn for the better part of my late-teen and early adult life–is the reason why I am writing this little piece of mental flatulence this evening. I’ve never hidden what I am from anyone. At least not for a while. But my existence… my geekdom if you will wasn’t always this public. Once upon a time…

‘Cause all good stories begin as such…

Being a geek was not as chic as it is presently. Movies like “The Dark Knight Returns”–the soundtrack of which I amlistening to right now via Spotify despite the fact that I have not seen the movie yet and likely won’t see it for another week or two–were considerably less popular. Growing up, being a geek was not something that you publicized. Generally you would not be able to tell a geek from a jock in public because we hid our sensibilities beneath our overpriced sports jerseys, our sweat pants and our Nike Air sneakers. We didn’t want our “friends” to know what we really were. We wanted to save ourselves a beating or three. We wanted to fit in and we did everything in our power to do so.

Maybe this doesn’t apply to you and perhaps I should not generalize. After all, I can only speak from personalexperience and anyone who has known me for more than a decade knows that many of my experiences growing up were unsavory at best. Some of them were downright horrific. But sometime around my sophomore year in high school I met a group of people like me that convinced me that it was okay to be… well sh*t, to be me. Rather than hide my obsession with a galaxy far, far away, my innermost desire to wear a brown, leather jacket and a fedora and to shout “1.21 JIGAWATTS!” at the top of my lungs they taught me to embrace it. That group of people? They were the first real friends that I had in my life and I am thankful… nay downright blessedto still have a relationship with many of them to this day. Thanks to them I found my niche and was allowed, at last, to be me. Not some sad-sack hiding in his room after midnight on a Friday night watching his old, VHS copy of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” until the reels squeaked. Me. Bonafide and certified, baby. And there was much rejoicing…

Yay.

Even then geek was still not chic despite my own, personal acceptance of what I was. I graduated high school, went to college and took up with a whole new group of friends that had like interests to mine. I spent four, phenomenal years with those people and again, I am blessed to maintain relationships with many of them,along with my high school friendsto this day. While I was attending Penn State, however, things began to change. Not just in my life but in the world at large.

I can postulate about what caused this change to occur. Perhaps it was the crossover appeal of a show like “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the first, syndicated show to ever be nominated for a Best Drama Emmy. Perhaps it was a little movie that came out in the summer of 1993 called “Jurassic Park” that portrayed intellectual heroes as opposed to the brawny, ‘Ahnold-esque ones of my childhood. Maybe it was a little video game called “Final Fantasy VII” that shattered every previous, video game sales record despite its fantastical, anime background. Whatever the case, geekdom began, much like the Dark Knight, to riseout of obscurity and in to the mainstream. And while I was still a member of a minority I was far from an outcast. It continued to grow… continued to evolve long after I had graduated college in 1997 until at last, in the early 2000s, geek finallybecame…

You guessed it: Chic. Am I being redundant again? Probably. I can’t help myself: It just ‘kinda rolls of the tongue. Geek… chic… it’s like the two words were meant for each other.

And here we are. It’s 11:10 PM on July 19th, 2012 and in approximately 50 minutes, theater doors up and down the east coast will open to the throngs of people gathered outside, awaiting their first… and sadly last glimpse of Nolan’s Batman. Reports are already popping up across my social media feed.

“Someone shined the Batsignal, so I’m filing in and answering the call.”

“In line to see the epic movie event of the year.”

“This is gonna be the best three hours of my life.”

“At a midnight screening. I will be let down if it’s not also an allegorical defense of Bush era anti-terrorism policy…”

Okay. Maybe not that last one…

As of right now, #TheDarkKnightRises and #TDKR are both trending on Twitter and Get Glue already has over 13,600 check-ins… and the damn movie hasn’t even premiered yet! Why? How the hell can this be? How did an adaption of something that I was once mocked by my peers for enjoying–a comic book–become the “epic movie event of the year?” Well, guys and gals? That’s why I’m here, today: To hash ‘er out

First? Movies. If you look at a list of the highest grossing movies of all time, worldwide you see a surprising trend in the top 10. They are, in descending order:

10. Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (1999)

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

8. Toy Story 3 (2010)

7. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

6. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two (2011)

3. The Avengers (2012)

2. Titanic (1997)

1. Avatar (2009) 

(Source: Wikipedia)

See what I mean? Of the top 10, highest grossing movies of all time not adjusted for inflation, eight out of 10 (highlighted) are movies that would have once been considered “Geek Movies,” i.e. fantasy, superhero or science fiction movies. The remaining two movies are not and while I understand “Toy Story 3’s” inclusion on this list I will never, EVER as long as I am alive understand “Titanic’s” (sorry, Mister Cameron. I’ve enjoyed every one of your movies save for that one, and while I understand that it was a labor of love come on: You went from the sheer and utter awesomeness of “True Lies” to a sappy melodrama). Furthermore, seven of the eight movies highlighted above have appeared in the last 10 years. The trend becomes even more palpable the further down the list that you proceed. In all, 20 of the top 25, highest grossing movies of all time, worldwide fall in to the category of once-Geek Movies and most have appeared in the last 15 years.

So why the sudden change? How did we go from a society that embraced movies like “Love Story” and “The Godfather” to one that embraces movies like “Independence Day” and “Armageddon?” I’m not entirely sure that there is a single, set answer to that question but the same trend can be seen across other forms of media. Media Mediums if you will.  

Por ejemplo? Television (a quick, parenthetical aside: I’m sorry about the emergence of the occasional Spanish word or phrase in my writing, lately, but I’ve been watching “Dora the Explorer” with Cara and… well, that sh*t rubs off on you!). It is much more difficult to work up a list of the most popular television shows on presently since Nielsen ranks pay TV (alias cable) differently than basic TV. But I did find an interesting list on IMDB of the top rated television shows of 2011 per a combination of critical and audience appeal. They are, in descending order:

1. Game of Thrones (9.4/10)

2. Breaking Bad (9.4/10)

3. Suits (8.8/10)

4. The Walking Dead (8.7/10)

5 (TIE). The Big Bang Theory (8.6/10)

5 (TIE). How I Met Your Mother (8.6/10)

7. White Collar (8.4/10)

8 (TIE). True Blood (8.1/10) 

8 (TIE). Pretty Little Liars (8.1/10)

10. The Mentalist (8/10)

(Source: IMDB)

What jumps out at you? Perhaps the trend here is not as glaring as it was in the movie section of this composition. Four out of 10 of the highest rated shows from 2011 (highlighted) would have, once upon a time, been considered “Geek Television.” But three of the top five shows are unmistakably Geek TV. The top rated show from 2011 is an adaption of a best selling fantasy book series. The fourth highest rated television show is an adaption of a comic book series and the fifth? Well sh*t. It’s a TV show about… you guessed it: Geeks!  Follow the list down a little bit further and you see the prevalence of other shows that fit the same mold: “Falling Skies” is about an alien invasion of earth; “The Vampire Diaries” is about…. well, vampires; “Once Upon A Time” is a retelling of virtually every fairy tale ever written and amazingly enough… rolling in at number 23 despite the fact that it hasn’t been on first run television in a few years? “Lost.” Normally I would stop at number 25 but I would be remiss in my duties as a self-proclaimed geek if I didn’t mention that number 29 is occupied by, historically, one of the geekiest shows on television and one of my personal, all-time favorites despite it’s camp factor, “Doctor Who.” It’s damn nice to see people showing their love for one of the most inventive, longest running shows on television. And there was much rejoicing by the Tennant-ites and the Smith-ites that once secretly, and now publicly populate the Whovian community…

Yay.

Why? Again, I don’t know. In both of the cases that I have cited there is a counter-argument, one that I am sure the vehement, non-geeks of the world will employ if they somehow stumble across this blog entry: Who is more likely to go and see a movie on a Friday or a Saturday night, a geek or a non-geek? Who is more likely to watch television, go online and rate the shows that they watch, a geek or a non-geek? I’ll not deny that the sample size is, in both cases, likely skewed in favor of the geek but any non-geek (I used to call them “Ogre’s” when I was a kid, after the character of the same name from the “Revenge of the Nerds” movies) can go and see a movie. Any non-geek can watch television. Most do though I’d wager with absolutely no factual basis whatsoever that non-geeks watch more unintellectual fare on both the big screen and the small, thus explaining why Adam Sandler movies and Reality TV continue to thrive alongside the Marvel and DC Multiverses. Regardless of the purity of the sample size that I am citing here it is all that I currently have to go on, so please let me say to my detractors with the utmost respect: Until such time as you compose your own, counter-blog entry to mine, “I FART in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries. Now LEAVE or I will taunt you a second time. Ttthhhpppttt!!!

Perhaps someone should conduct a study of geeks and non-geeks and their media medium viewing habits. I’d volunteer the Mythbusters but the Ogre’s of the world would likely veto that proposal. After all, the Mythbusters are geeks themselves. I am open to ideas if anyone would like to offer them.

But the viewing habits of the geek and the non-geek are not really the crux of this little piece of mental flatulence. The basic question of this essay/blog entry/whateveryou want to call it is this: How has the geek been so successfully rebooted in the last decade or two? How has being a geek become trendy or… chic? You may have your own answers to that question and I’d loveto hear them. Really, I would. I fancy a good debate and I rarely get to have one nowadays between diaper changes, birthday parties, baptisms, bottle feedings and “Dora the Explorer.” I have shown you what I feel is proof that this shift has happened and is happening, presently. Now I’d like to answer the fundamental question posed by this composition. How has the geek been so successfully rebooted in the last decade or two? How has being a geek become trendy or… chic? 

In a word? Technology, friends. We as a society exist now in a world comprised primarily of Gigabytes (still working on the Jigawatt) and HTML. Everything that we are… everything that we do on a daily basis we do with some variation of a computer, be that variation a PC, a desktop, a laptop, a Mac, an e-reader, a tablet or a smart phone. And the people that have the technology? The people that have the brain power to create and improve it? Those people are primarily cut from the same mold that Iam. Many, if not all of them are well ensconced and established in their own, personal and communal geekdoms. They were reared, like me, on the promises of tricorders and phasers, communicators and EMHs (emergency medical holograms), warp drives and alternate universes… and they will stop at nothing now that they are adults to make those promises, little more than technological pipe dreams when they were children, a reality.

Think I’m exaggerating? Hmm. Okay, then. Here, in ascending order, is Forbes’ 2012 list of the 10 richest men and/or women in the world, the industries which they serve and their estimated, 2012 net worth:

1. Carlos Slim Helu and his Family: Telecommunications. 74 billion 

2. Bill Gates: Computers. 56 billion

3. Warren Buffett: Telecommunication. 50 billion

4. Bernard Arnault: Luxury Goods. 41 billion

5. Larry Ellison: Computer Software. 39.5 billion

6. Laksmi Mittal: Steel. 31.2 billion (incidentally, his company–Arcelor Mittal–is one of my company’s best customers)

7. Amancio Ortega: Fashion. 31 billion

8. Eike Batista: Oil and Mining. 30 billion

9. Mukesh Ambani: Oil and Gas. 27 billion

10. Christy Walton and her Family: Retail. 26.5 billion

(Source: Forbes)

Notice anything interesting? Four of the top five richest people in the world (highlighted, baby) currently are in technological industries, thus contributing to my postulation that the technology-infatuated geek really has taken over the world, or at least a lot of the world’s money. That postulation assumes, of course, that the people highlighted above played Dungeons and Dragons, Risk and Settlers of Catan growing up like I did and watched “Mystery Science Theater 3000” which, for all I know, they did not.

Perhaps it is wrong of me to link technology and geekdom. Perhaps in doing so I am invariably generalizing my fellow geeks as little more than science fiction obsessed dreamers. That was and is not my intention. But compare much of what you may or may not have seen on… say, “Star Trek” with what you see on a daily basis now: Touch screen computers, tablets and phones, holograms of Tupac Shakur, communicators in the form of two-way radios, phasers in the form of the Taser and tricorders in the form of NASA’s “LOCAD.” Not to mention Apple’s SIRI and Android’s imitators, but SIRI especially which sounds distinctly like a a first generation, Enterprise computer (voiced by Majel Rodenberry, Gene’s wife for anyone that didn’t know and would like a little piece of pointless trivia to wow your peers with at your next office party, sarcasm fully intended). So many of the innovations that technology has brought us in the last few years seem to be lifted directly out of an episode of one of the many incarnations of “Star Trek.” Is it wrong of me to assume, then, that the creators of said innovations were inspired by what they viewed on the big screen and the small screen voyages of the Starship Enterprise?

No. I don’t think so though you may believe otherwise. Perhaps the next next generation–the one that my two daughters belong to and that many of your children belong to–will take these innovations a step further. Who knows? Perhaps I will see a sonic screwdriver in my lifetime just like I always dreamed I would. Perhaps not. I’d rather not speculate on what will or won’t happen in the next few decades. Had you told me a decade ago that people would be lauded and not ridiculed for dressing up like their favorite movie or comic book characters and attending an event like “San Diego Comic Con” once a year by the tens of hundreds of thousands I would have called you a crackpot. But low and behold, it now happens once a year.

The Geek truly has been rebooted, friends. He or she has risen from virtual obscurity 20 years ago to societal dominance of not only industry, but entertainment in the year 2012. And because of that, friends? There is much rejoicing…

Yay. 

The Mix Tape – An Appreciation

“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway, I’ve started to make a tape in my head. Full of stuff that she likes. Full of stuff that makes her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done.” 

– Rob Gordon (as written by Nick Hornsby and played by John Cusack), “High Fidelity.”

Last evening, I moved a bed out of mine and Nicole’s “Room of Requirement” and replaced it with a glider. For those of you reading this that have been living under a rock for the last ten years or have simply never seen nor read a Harry Potter story, the “Room of Requirement” is just that: A secret room in Hogwarts that morphs in to whatever the person that discovers it requires. A magic dojo; a place which hides a Horocrux. Pick your poison, friends. Every house has something similar. Some more organized households have a drawer or a closet. Nicole and I? We have a whole room. We originally set it up six years ago (when we bought our house) as an office/guest room. Over time, it grew in to a repository for everything from old files to my deadbeat father’s coin collection/memorabilia collection. Our office is still there albeit buried beneath rolls of wrapping paper and behind totes filled with holiday decor (due mainly to Nicole’s passing, two year or so fancy with the Cult of Home Interiors) but the room itself resembles something out of an episode of “Storage Wars.” Save for an old Sirius/XM dock, a couple of recievers and a collection of first edition, Stephen King hardbacks (unbroken all the way back to “Bag of Bones” I am proud to say) there is little of value in it but “YUUUP,” It’s there. 

I digress… again. Last night, I moved a bed out of that room and replaced it with a glider. You see, our once-“Room of Requirement” is soon to be the plus one, alias Natalie Theresa Marsh’s nursery. Much remains to be done–carpeting, painting, maybe a new ceiling fan and, of course, furniture–but we’ve finally begun the long and laborious process of cleaning it out. In one of the corners of the room behind the bed I discovered my own version of “The Wow Factor”: The stereo that I bought for Nicole way, way back when we first began dating for her birthday, complete with a three CD changer, an AM/FM radio and… brace yourselves, guys… a dual cassette, continuous play tape deck. But that’s not all. Beneath said stereo in two ancient milk crates that I have carried with me since my days as a wayward pre-teen living in a room in my mother’s house in Jenkintown, PA were tapes. Actual tapes, guys. Everything from the first tape I ever purchased–Journey, “Look In To The Future”–to the last one I purchased before I finally gave in and upgraded to CDs–Prodigy, “The Fat Of The Land.

I was shocked. I quite literally gasped at my discovery. Did it still work? I had to know. So I found the power cord, made sure that my cats hadn’t chewed through it (they hadn’t), unwound it from it’s twist tie and plugged it in. Eureka! The face lit up and a single word appeared upon it in angry, orange letters: “TAPE.” I knew it was a sign. I immediately began shuffling through my tape collection and was in awe at the diversity displayed by it–Everything from Paganini to Bon Jovi, “Fields Of Gold” to “River[s] Of Dreams”–a diversity reflected to this day in my eclectic, 36 year old taste in music. I found a cast recording for “Pippin”–the musical I proudly played King Charlemagne in during my 19th summer of life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. I found an old recording of “Dark Side Of The Moon” on one side and “The Delicate Sound Of Thunder” on the other that my uncle once dubbed for me… off of vinyl. I could go on and on–From Prince and the New Power Generation to the Moody Blues–but to do so would defeat the purpose of why I am writing this little piece of Mental Flatulence currently. Simultaneously with Nicole’s and Cara’s arrival and a spirited, “What’cha ‘doin?” from my wonderful wife, I moved a stack of tapes and discovered not one, not two but at least a half a dozen, if not more Mix Tapes. Yes, you heard me right: Mix Tapes that had been made for me by friends, ex-girlfriends and “others” over the course of my young life. I removed one and gasped as I saw who it was from. I removed another and tried like hell to remember who had made it for me. I removed still another and remembered my creepy, once-Head Cashier at the now defunct CVS in Plymouth Meeting, PA who behind his greasy, black hair and a serious case of halitosis had once of the most impressive and nightmarish musical minds I had then and have ever encountered. Memories flooded back–some good, and some bad–and the only thing that I could think to do to avert the tidal onrush of emotion?

I picked one of the tapes up, smiled, removed it from its case, inserted it–Side A–and hit “PLAY.” I didn’t even glance at the “liner notes.” I wanted to be surprised. After a second or two of what sounded like someone passing gas in slow motion, Van Morrison’s all-to-familiar lyrics hearkened to my ears:

“Hey where did we go? Days when the rains came. Down in the hollow. Playing a new game. Laughing and a running, hey, hey. Skipping and ‘a jumping. In the misty morning fog, with you. Aw, my heart started pumping with you… my Brown Eyed Girl. YOU MY… Brown Eyed Girl.”

Cue musical interlude.

As “Brown Eyed Girl” segued in to “In The Jungle” and “In The Jungle” segued in to “What A Wonderful World” and “What A Wonderful World” segued in to “Witch In The Ditch” (remember that one?) a few things happened simultaneously: I remembered who had made said Mix Tape for me, my two and a half year old daughter started dancing to music she had likely and… in this day and age of Gagas and Minajes… might never hear again, and my wife and I started singing along. While these things were happening something else occurred to me. Far be it from me to over-dramatically link my little discovery in my “Room of Requirement” to something as monumental as, say, finding the Lost Ark, but I realized that I had uncovered and was enjoying a long, forgotten art form: An idea that was touched upon by Nick Hornsby in his phenomenal book “High Fidelity” and was later successfully transposed (with the help of a then-unknown actor/comedian named Jack Black and a well-established but typecast actor named John Cusack) to celluloid. The Mix Tape. Not just a collection of songs thrown together to listen to in your car but something more. Something deeper. To once again quote Rob Gordon/John Cusack, “The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.”

The Mix Tape is a lost art form, friends. When one was created properly and with the right amount of care it was as magnificent as a painting, as pithy as a poem or a song or as epic as a novel. It was a way of telling someone how you felt about them “back in the day” without using emoticons or multiple “u’s” at the end of “I HEART YOUUUUU.” Back before any of us could afford jewelry or a fancy dinner we could always afford a package of three 120 minute, blank cassette tapes at the local CVS. And who didn’t have tapes or, later, CDs to “dub” (now we call it “burn” but we used to call it “dub”)? “Back in the day” I considered myself quite the maestro at “using someone else’s poetry to express [how I felt].” So much so that I promised Nicole, shortly after we had begun dating in 2001, that I would make her a Mix Tape. I was quite confident in my ability to craft something lasting for the woman I had so quickly fallen in love with. Sadly, circumstances interfered and it took me an additional year or two to put one together for her. But then, one late night in 2003 (per my hand written liner notes), I fulfilled my vow to her. I put together what would be the last Mix Tape of many that I had made over the course of my life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. I split it up in to two parts: Side A was entitled, quite simply, “Fast Tracks” and the song listing?

“Without Me” – Eminem
“Cowboy” – Kid Rock
“Question” – Familiar 48/Bonehead (take your pick; same band/identity crisis)
“Grey Street” – Dave Matthews Band
“Love Rollercoaster” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Nookie” – Limp Bizkit
“Lucky” – Downcircleback
“Everyday” – Dave Matthews Band
“Preaching The End Of The World” – Chris Cornell
“Brand New Day” – Sting
“F*cking In The Bushes” – Oasis

No subtext, guys. No, none whatsoever. Side B was called “Love Songs” and the track listing?

“Sunshower” – Chris Cornell
“To Be With You” – Mr. Big
“If You’re Gone” – Matchbox 20
“Where Are You Going?” – Dave Matthews Band
“Porcelain” – Moby (yes, once upon a time I listened to Moby. My techno-identity crisis was brought on by a friend. No names but if you’re reading this, you know who you are)
“I Don’t Know How To Love Him” – “Jesus Christ Superstar”
“Lullybye” – Billy Joel
“I’m Open/Around The Bend” – Pearl Jam
“Somewhere In Between” and “Everything” – Lifehouse
“May It Be” – Enya

Again, no subtext. I swear. While the songs chosen may seem tame and… relatively Top 40 in their nature in truth? You’ve never met my Top 40 wife. Seriously, though (and sorry about that, sweetie), I had never put more thought in to a single Mix Tape that I had made for anyone. Why? Because I knew, even then, that I was making it for the woman I hoped I was going to spend the rest of my life with. Marry. Buy a house with. Have children with. Create a “Room of Requirement” with. Turns out I was right in my assessment on all fronts though admittedly? Had things gone awry I would have felt much like Lloyd Dobler–a different John Cusack interpretation–did when in “Say Anything” he told the woman of his dreams to “burn” the letter he had written her, for “it hurts him to know that its ‘out there.'” There are a few tapes that I made for people over the course of my life that I know remain “out there.” Does it hurt me to know that they are? Not really. Because each of those people–be they friends or ex-girlfriends or “others”–had an indisputable impact on my life at the point that I made said tape for them. Each in turn helped me to grow beyond the child I was then and in to the man I am now and for that? I am eternally grateful. Maybe one day–if I ever achieve my seemingly ceaseless dream of becoming a published author–said tapes will be worth something though I’m quite sure given what little, legal knowledge I retain that copyright infringement is a valid worry. Ah f*ck it. I’ll cross that particular bridge when and if I come to it.

Perhaps there are others out there either reading this or not that feel the same way about the tapes they made for mebeing ‘out there.’ If any of those people are reading this I have one thing to say to you: Don’t. Ever.I’m not a big fan of looking over my shoulder at this juncture in my life though occasionally, an odd situation like this onepresents itself and reminds me of the road that I traveled and the people that I encountered to get to the point I’m at today. I’m even less a fan of “looking back in anger.” What do I have to be angry about? I’m pleased with how my life worked out and I hope that you, you and you are too. If anything, I will always hold said compilations near and dear to my heart because they represent something more than a DVD or even a book. They represent a little piece of your heart and soul. There is, in my opinion, nothing more selfless and thoughtful than that. So thank you. All of you.

Cue musical interlude. And of course, I digressed… again. 

As Cara danced and Nicole and I sung along andtook turns dancing with Cara I proceeded to look at the other Mix Tapes that I had uncovered. I determined upon closer observation and thought that there are, in fact, five distinctly different kinds of Mix Tapes, many of which were represented to some extent in my collection. We’ll call this my own, “High Fidelity-esque”Top Five List. “The Top Five Distinct Types Of Mix Tapes As Partially Represented By My Own, Personal Collection.” In no particular order they are:

1. The Friendly Mix Tape: This one is about as simple as they come. The songs are selected not by significance but by what flows and what naturally goes together, i.e. Jimmy Buffett with James Taylor, The Police with solo Sting, etc.. I have multiple versions of this Mix Tape in my collection. One of them I have already mentioned–The one with “Brown Eyed Girl,” “In The Jungle,” “What A Wonderful World” and “Witch In A Ditch” on it. Many of the others were made for me by a good, still-friend of mine after my unfortunate run in with a white picket fence and a pond one icy night in December of 1993 in Huntingdon Valley, PA. My entire tape collection was ruined by the two feet of water that seeped in to my mother’s Pontiac Sunbird and he took it upon himself to replenish it as best he could from his own collection. I still have all of those Mix Tapes today, their liner notes written in precise long-hand by a now, mid-30 something, still-perfectionist who I have been and remain proud to call one of my oldest and best friends. No names, but if he’s reading this he knows who he is. And if he doesn’t? Wus. 

2. The I Want You But I Don’t Know How To Tell You Mix Tape: This particular tape is, perhaps, the most complicated of the lot because it is difficult to determine if the Mix Tape that was made for you is, in fact, what I’ll call a “Number Two.” Number Twos are halfway between “Number Ones” and “Number Threes.” I potentially have two such Mix Tapes in my collection. I say “potentially” because classifying either as a Number Two is not an exact science since only one resulted in a very short-lived, albeit intense relationship for the same reason that I just mentioned. Ask yourself: Is there a subtext to the song selection or not? In many cases the only person that truly knows for sure is the compiler him or herself and all you, as the recipient can do is speculate and be grateful. But if you have a thing for the person that made you what potentially could be a Number Two? Well, friends, said speculation and gratitude can quickly become the cause of a lesser form of insanity that can drive you to drink, do drugs or, in many cases, do something drastic only to discover that the only reason said person put “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel on there was because he or she likes the song. Not because he or she is telling you not to give up on your chances with him or her because he or she currently has a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Not that I ever made that mistake…

Cue musical interlude. “I don’t care what you play just play it loud!

3. The I Love You And You Reciprocate My Love Mix Tape: Case in point is the above mentioned Mix Tape that I made for my then-girlfriend Nicole Gentile: The song selection has a clear subtext. The only real guesswork for the recipient comes from determining the intensity of the Love echoed by the tape. How deep? How physical? Here’s a tip for any dinosaurs out there who are considering putting one of these together: The inclusion of a song called “F*cking In The Bushes” means that the giver really, really wants you. Really. And there’s a reason why “Cowboy” by Kid Rock is the second, most popular song for strippers to dance to directly behind “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard. Don’t believe me? Google it. “Cowboy, baby.”

4. The I Want You Back Mix Tape: Admittedly, I don’t have a single one of these. I never madeone either. Generally speaking if you dumped me or if I broke up with you it was pretty mutual. That may sound cold but trust me: My personality tends to grate on people after a while. Even now, I marvel at how long Nicole has stayed with me despite my oft-times quirkiness (see: This blog post). Looking back over the course of my life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence in this, my own subjective universe I can only think of one, particular incidence where “wanting someone back,” at least from my perspective was even a consideration post-break up. As it turned out that desire was little more than a pipe dream, fashioned by me from my own psyche to compensate for the knowledge that I was not in lovebut was, rather, in love with the idea of being in love. Because I was a romantic and I wanted to be in love so badly.

And believe it or not, I didn’t even need a shrink to teach me that. I just ‘kinda… figured it out. 

Little did I know what True Love felt like. Not melodramatic, “Princess Bride-esque” “‘Twue ‘Wuv” but Love with a big, bold capital “L.” My wife taught me that first. Now my two and a half year old, “Dancing Queen” daughter is teaching it to me. And in a few months? My plus one alias Natalie Theresa will, I pray,  teach it to me even further. How do I know this for sure? Simple: I just do. 

5. The I Despise You On This Or On ANY Side Of The Proverbial Wormhole Of Existence Mix Tape: “YUUUP.” These particular Mix Tapes? They’re generally very similar in content regardless of who or what is making them. They usually start off with something from “Jagged Little Pill” Era Alanis Morisette. It doesn’t have to be “You ‘Oughta Know.” It could be something veiled in anger like “You Live You Learn” but if said selection doesn’t start off Side A I gauren-damn-tee you it is strategically placed on there somewhere. Other musical selections that might be included on said tape? “Head Like A Hole” by NIN. “I Won’t Become The Thing I Hate” by Stabbing Westward. And the always pep, pep, peppy “I Hate Everything About You” by Three Days Grace (about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the nads). I can’t say that I ever made one of these Mix Tapes nor did anyone ever make one for me. I count myself lucky on both fronts but if you have made a tape like this for someone in your wayward, youthful, lovelorn days? Fret not: One particular friend of mine got a combination Number Two/Number Five Mix Tape once. We listened to it multiple times in his now-defunct, black Camaro as we ferried ourselves too and from State College, PA back in our own, shared, wayward and lovelorn youth, alias the mid-nineties. If anything, it was an always reliable topic of conversation. “No message, Vato?” No message, Vato. None whatsoever. Cue Stabbing Westward, “Shame.”And cackle in a combination of humor and fear for your respective lives.

And there you have it, friends. THE MIX TAPE: An Appreciation. Perhaps not as poignant as “Contrary” but it sure was fun to write. We live now in a post-modern age of MP3s and streaming music. Even the CD has begun a steady, fiscal decline similar to the decline experienced by the cassette in the early parts of the last decade. The future of music is digital and what I am referring to via this composition as an art form may be little more than just one, pseudo-madman’s rambling about the mentality he grew up with: A mentality reflected in a book and a movie like “High Fidelity” but nowhere else. No one will ever confuse a Mix Tape with a work of art by Vincent Van Gogh, a poem by T. S. Eliot, a song by Kurt Cobain or a novel by Toni Morrison. But for me, it exhibits many of the characteristics of each: It’s colorful and textured like a masterwork of art, it’s multi-layered and symbolic like an epic poem, it’s a virtuoso synthesis of music and words like a musical composition and it tells a story like a book. It is, in fact, a synthesis of all art forms and science, i.e. the ability to duplicate–oft times illegally–previously recorded content. You don’t have to run to the clearance table at Walmart or Target and buy a cheap, three pack of 120 minutes cassettes. You may not even have access to a tape recorder or a stereo. But remember the idea of the Mix Tape. Pass it on to your children. Tell them about “dubbing” and teach them how to “burn” music for someone they care about. Maybe one day–when everything is holographic and stored on an extensive Cloud–one of them will find their old, iPod docking station and their equally old iPod behind an old bed in their own “Room of Requirement.” They’ll plug in the docking station and charge up the iPod on it. They’ll realize both work and they’ll power up the latter, select a playlist that they created and shared with a friend, ex or “other” once upon a time and hit “PLAY.” And as the lyrics penned by Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj echo out from the speakers and across the room that they’re prepping for the arrival of their own, respective plus one they’ll watch with their own wife or husband as their first born child dances awkwardly across the floor to music they’ve never heard before and likely never will again… the music that they grew up with. They’ll look at each other with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes and they’ll think to themselves…

You guessed it: “What a wonderful world.”

F.

“Contrary” – An Appreciation

If you look up the term “contrary” in any dictionary you receive a definition similar to, if not the same as this one:

Contrary [kon-trer-ee] (ADJ, N): 1. Opposite in nature or character; diametrically or mutually opposed; 2. Opposite in direction or position; 3. Being the opposite one of two; 4. Unfavorable or adverse; 5. Perverse; stubbornly opposed or willful. 

That particular definition was taken from www.dictionary.com, one of my many internet bookmarks and an app on both my phone and my Kindle Fire. “Contrary” is not what I like to consider one of my “chosen words.” You know the types of words that I’m referring to, especially if you are a writer like I am or I aspire to be (depending on whose opinion you ask). If you’ve ever read anything that I’ve written–be said “anything” one of these oft ignored blog entries or the novel that I just finished writing–you are likely familiar with my “chosen words.” Examples include: “Aforementioned,” “segue” and “frighteningly.” I don’t even think I used “contrary” once in “Endworld.” Not even “contrary to popular belief” or “contrary to what you might be thinking.”

I’m not sure if the omission of a relatively common word is conscious or subconscious. After all, I generally try not to be “contrary”: Not in life, nor love, nor… well sh*t, friends, anything. I try very hard to keep a positive outlook despite the precariousness or dreariness of a given situation. But some days? Well, some days I remember the words of a once-acquaintance who used the term “contrary” to describe a different circumstance. When said acquaintance was having “one of those days,” she called it a “Contrary Day,” i.e. a day where she was just… off. Not depressed nor angry, just “contrary.” I’ve heard others refer to it as everything from being “bleah” to being “out of it.” I didn’t learn a lot from that once-acquaintance. If anything, I learned how much of a dick with arms and legs I can be, and if that person is reading this right now–as I sit in what my wife Nicole calls “my divot” on the couch in our living room with the Sixers on mute across the room and Bach playing over the speakers of my laptop–I’d like to take this long, overdue opportunity to say that I am sorry.

Refocus. Eyes forward. Oh crap, if I look forward I catch a glimpse of the Sixers beating the “best team in the NBA” by 15 points late in the Fourth. Refocus. Eyes on the screen of my laptop. Back to “contrary.”

Lately, friends, I’ve been feeling quite “contrary.” Primarily over the last week or so. Said (“said” definitely equals another one of my “chosen words”) “contrariness” is due largely in part to my current work situation–down a person in my department for the next month/forced to do her work and my own during one of the busiest periods we, as a company, have ever experienced–and by association my newly elevated stress level. But there are other factors contributing to it, as well, some that I have been able to diagnose and some that remain a mystery.

One that I have been able to diagnose is ‘kinda simple: I’ve a hole in my soul where there once existed a novel. There’s an emptiness inside of me now that “Endworld” is done: A sense of loss that I can equate with many things, some that I would write about had I more time and energy and some that are somewhat… private that I won’t regardless of how lucid I am. As a wise sage of the cinema once said: “I keep those thoughts for myself.” The solution to my problem? I could start the next novel. I am, in fact, itching to start it. But beginning something as extensive as a novel directly on the coattails of something equally extensive is a daunting task, especially in light of the workload I am carrying currently. And considering that the fate of “Endworld” in many ways remains up in the air until I receive feedback first, from the person who is currently editing it, second from my wife who is currently reading it and third, from a collection of a dozen or two “beta readers” that have expressed interest in previewing it, I think its best not to begin the second until I know for sure if the first has appeal. So for now, “Endworld” book two will remain a plot in my head and a rough outline sketched out in virtually indecipherable cursive on a legal pad until such time as I am confidant that it has legs.

I also equate it to life: Beginning a serious relationship on the coattails of another, serious relationship is oft times doomed for failure. Some times it works out. Take Nicole and I: I came out of a serious relationship and within a few months I was inan even more serious one with the woman I would, eventually, marry, alias the mother of my one daughter, Cara, and the soon-to-be mother of my second daughter. For those of you reading this that don’t know yes: Nicole and I are expecting what I have been calling a “plus one” for the last few months. Cara Angelina’s little sister, Natalie Theresa Marsh is due in early June. But many times? What most people call a “rebound” relationship does not work out. It fizzles and the participants are left even more scarred than they were before beginning it. The moral of the story? Take a little time after you complete something epic, be that something a book, a relationship, a job or any number of “a’s” and a noun before you begin something equally or more epic. Sometimes the jump works out. Others? You end up in a worse place than you were before. I’m thankful… damn thankful that my situation turned out the way it did. If there’s one thing that isn’t contributing to my “contrariness” right now it’s my marriage, my family and my friends. Not to mention a surprisingly dominant home basketball team that just spanked the Bulls by 16 points. “Show ‘ya ‘luv,” Philadelphia. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a professional basketball team in this town that we can be proud of.

Diagnosed, then: Factors contributing to my “contrariness.” One: My work situation. Two: My desire to write the currently untitled sequel to “Endworld” (though my buddy Matt’s proposed title, “Red-Headed Stepchildren of Endworld” remains the frontrunner). Those are the two most prominent. But is there a third? A fourth? Likely, but I honestly don’t know. This little, psychological cross-examination of my current condition has thus far only yielded those two. I guess that my virtual incapacity to win a single game of “Words with Friends” could be a third. Consider: I have four years and some change (if you count my 24 Graduate credits which are currently sitting in educational limbo at Drexel) of experience with the English language in an academic setting. I have a relatively extensive vocabulary that, contrary to what you may believe is not limited to my “chosen words.” I can pull words like “redressed” and “factoid” out of my a** if given the appropriate tiles and board set up. Each word yields me anywhere between 30 and 40 points (my highest yet–“flux”–actually yielded me almost 60 thanks to good positioning). But then my opponent plays “axe,” hits a triple word score and a triple letter score on the “x” and completes “avoid” and “da” on a perpendicular and a parallel/ends up with a shade under 100. I can’t tell you how close I came to cursing that person out via the “Words with Friends'” chat function/throwing my brand new Kindle Fire through the screen of my television from my position within “my divot” upon the couch. If that person is reading this right now I am sorry. Reference my aforementioned capacity to be a dick with arms and legs. The moral of the story, friends? Extensive experience with the English language does not make you a “Words with Friends” ringer. If anything, it acts as a crutch when combined with your incapacity to do simple math.

Incidentally, current record on “Words with Friends”: 1-9 in my last ten matches. That one win was my only win and it came at the expense of my brother-in-law who has now avenged himself on me three or four times since, most recently by approximately 200 points. If I ever win another game I will likely leap up from “my divot” and dance a jig in the middle of my living room before I relapse in to my “contrary” state. But I digress. Refocus. Eyes forward. Oh f*ck, Nicole is watching “Phineas and Ferb.” Refocus. Eyes down and on the screen of my laptop. But… it’s… Skiddley Whiffers! 

What about a fourth? Perhaps the dearth of decent television right now (though blessedly, “The Walking Dead” is due back on a week from this Sunday) or the lack of time to do anything other than sleep, work, occasionally grab a bite to eat (down almost 10 pounds in the last week… nothing like a stress and “contrariness” crash diet to drop that extra coating of winter fur or in my case, holiday fat) and sleep again. Perhaps the fact that I am now blogging while watching the “Tour ‘de Ferb” for the umpteenth time and am desperately longing for a new episode of arguably the best cartoon on television before it stagnates. In truth? The third, fourth, fifth or dozenth factor (if one exists) doesn’t matter. I am “contrary” right now because of factors one and two. Little more explanation is needed save for this: I decided roughly two hours ago, right after Cara blessedly went right to sleep that I would take a little time to write an appreciation of “being contrary” and I did. Not just for myself but for the person who originated said concept. It’s a good one, friends. A worthy addition to the list of euphemisms people use for having “one of those days. “I’m having a contrary day.”

Take it out for a test drive the next time you’re feeling “bleah” or “out of it.” Try it on for size. If you like it, use it, and spread it around so that others can use it, as well. And while you’re at it, try writing about your state of mind. You don’t need to be a writer or an aspiring writer with “chosen words.” You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel afterwards. Much less like an overworked, stressed out, oft times dick with arms and legs that can’t win a single game of “Words with Friends.” You feel semi-normal. And maybe… just maybe “semi-normal” is enough to help you cope with your “Contrary Day.” At least, that is, until the resurgent Sixers play the Heat on Friday night.

Show ‘ya ‘luv. 

F.

Anniversaries, Ray Bans, Chronic Migraines, a Little ENDWORLD and the Awesomeness that is Spotify

Happy October 15th, everyone. Incidentally, October 15th just so happens to be my wedding anniversary so before I write anything, let me first take a moment to wish my words-can-not-describe wife Nicole a Happy 6th Anniversary. For some of you reading this that have been hitched longer than that six years might not seem like much of a milestone but for me it’s monumental. Pre-Nicole the longest relationship I’d ever been in was roughly seven months and most of my relationships averaged between one night (with the occasional breakfast thrown in for good measure) and four months. Amazingly enough, when you factor in the amount of time we’ve dated (or, if you’re more of a traditionalist, the amount of time we’ve “courted”) we’ve been together for 10 years this November 11th. Despite our proclivities towards a more casual, laid-back lifestyle now she still keeps things interesting on a daily basis. She’s about as good a mother as I’ve ever encountered and as phenomenal a spouse as I could ask for. Nicole, I know you’re reading this. I love you with all my heart and always will. OH! And thank you again for the Ray-Bans. I’m nervous as f*ck to wear them (I have a knack for breaking expensive things, sunglasses especially) but I’ve always wanted a pair. In the words of William (remember, friends: No longer Roland) MacNuff: “‘You ‘done good, kiddo.”

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me. I’m not going to lie. One or two people inquired recently why, in mid-September, I seemingly paused… at least publicly… all activity related to the writing of ENDWORLD. Fact is I did. Reluctantly. I ‘kinda had to. Shortly after I returned from vacation I had an… an incident I guess you could call it. I was beset upon quite suddenly by something that I had suffered from as a child but had, at least to my knowledge, kicked in the subsequent years since: Chronic Migraines. I actually ended up in the hospital for a weekend because of them. While I was released that Sunday afternoon and allowed to return home the damn things didn’t stop. In fact, they became more consistent albeit not as severe as they had been that weekend. I was forced to give up caffeine because the doctors considered it to be the trigger. I was asked to limit any stressful activities (also, they determined, a trigger) temporarily until I could meet with a Neurologist and work up a treatment plan. I was told to start going to bed earlier which sadly meant the end of my late night writing sprints… at least for a time. I followed all of this advice to a tee because no one should have to live with what I had to live with that week or two after I returned from vacation and continued to deal with in the two weeks after I was discharged: Constant pain is not a welcome companion on mine or any one’s journey through their own, subjective universe and if you are reading this and suffering from something similar you have my sympathies. I… truly… feel your pain.

So I did as was requested of me. I finally got to see a Neurologist who helped get me back on my feet via meds and a few recommended lifestyle changes and here I am. I’ve been virtually caffeine-free since mid-September (I am allowed to drink the occasional soda now but energy drinks, sadly, are no longer permitted), have been sleeping better (no more middle-of-the-night migraines, thank God, Allah, Buddha, or whatever deity/deities you worship), and… now that I’m feeling more like a reasonable facsimile of myself again, I’ve decided over the last few days that I am long overdue to return to the one thing that I have been holding off on, i.e. finishing ENDWORLD. So finally–as those of you that follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are aware–I finished up my read and revise of Parts One and Two and started Part Three (appropriately subtitled “Deceived”) yesterday. And after a five page writing jog (definitely not a sprint) over the course of about six or seven hours yesterday, things appear to be moving along (albeit somewhat less-frantically than before; I guess that’s what a limited caffeine intake does to you). I’ve got my fingers crossed that I can finish this thing by the end of this year. While that’s a significantly longer time frame than I had originally anticipated (the end of August and the end of September have both come on gone as you are all well aware) I’ve come to understand something vital over the last few weeks’ experiences:

I’m not under any pressure to finish this by a set date. No publisher is hanging a deadline over my head and while I hate keeping my editor waiting (I’m sorry, Amy, but I promise: When I’m done it you’ll be the second too know (right after Nicole)) I hope she understands. As for those of you–my friends and my family–that have been waiting for something to “Beta Test” if everything goes the way I hope it will you should have something in your stocking by this Christmas. That’s my new goal. ‘Cause to be completely honest with you? I want to finish this. Why? Because I’ve got some really cool ideas for the re-write of the sequel that I can’t wait to put on paper and because I owe it to myself and to the people that have most supported me to make this happen. That’s pretty much all I’ve got right now on the ole’ book. Thanks for your continued encouragement and advice. Specifically, I’m looking at not only you, Nicole, but you, Matt, Tom, Steve, Pat, Kim, Amy, Renee, Emily… all my “peeps” that have given me feedback and if I neglected to mention your name I’m sorry. Booyakasha. Respect. 

All that said, an unrelated topic: Spotify. Who reading this uses it and who loves it as much as I do? I read about it in the tech mags a few months ago when it first rolled out to the us here in the states and I never thought much of it. After all, I’ve got a couple thousand songs on my four year old iPod Classic. Who needs streaming music for $10.00 a month? Let me tell you something, folks: I finally gave in and downloaded the free service this week with the 15 day trial of the Premium service (the one that you can get on your mobile as well as your PC, iPad, Tablet or whatever you’re using) and in all honesty? I had no idea what I was missing. Pandora? Slacker? Shazam? Move aside. I have no doubt that when my 15 day trial of the Premium service is up I’m subscribing to it. I’m writing this from work right now and before you detractors out there reading this question why I’m blogging when I’m supposed to be working understand that I was working all morning. Now that I’m caught up and have some time to kill I’m blowing time so THPT! (much love). I’ve only created three playlists so far and the one that I’m listening to right now–entitled “The State Pen Years”–is loaded with music from the artists I used to listen to while I was in college. 335 tracks so far ranging from old-school Soundgarden to The Prodigy. Throw in a little Primus, Marilyn Manson and a dash of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones for good measure (shout out, Billy D) and I’m in audio heaven. Half the stuff on this playlist is music I used to own on either tape or CD. If on tape said music was simply lost over the subsequent years since I left school and multiple moves, and if on CD said music was likely sold for beer money back when I was in college or stolen by one (or more) ex-girlfriends. But now? For a couple of bucks a month I have all those songs back in mu possession. Consider the last five songs I’ve listened to while I was writing:

5. Rob Zombie, “More Human Than Human.”
4. Soundgarden, “Face Pollution.”
3. Smashing Pumpkins, “X. Y. U.”
2. The Prodigy, “Smack My B*tch Up.” (I apologize to those of you with sensibilities. Please note: I don’t condone, it’s just a cool song)
1. Soundgarden, “Superunknown.”

Now playing: “Save Yourself” by Stabbing Westward. All in all a well-rounded collection of tunes whether they are your cup of tea or not. Is it wrong of me to presume that this and similar innovations (like the iCloud) are going to eventually kill iTunes and MP3s? Feel free to debate that question if you so desire to do so but as far as this music-lover is concerned? I’m all in on the awesomeness of Spotify. Well done, Sweden. This may be perhaps the best thing you’ve given the western world since the watch. Or perhaps the utility knife. Every so often you come up big. Booyakasha. Respect. 

And with that, I’m about done, everyone. My boss has finally given me the green light to go home for the day and I plan to. I have a sixth anniversary to celebrate, a daughter to play with, a book to write and a soda to drink (I’m due for one: Haven’t had one since Tuesday PM). So with one, final salud and just one more Booyakasha for good measure I’m going to slip on my brand new Ray-Bans and roll. Thank you all, again, for your continuing attention, advice, support and friendship. I thrive on it more than you can imagine. Peace.

11:30 AM; 10/15/11

 

Retrospection Revisited

Back when we were all incarcerated for nine months in “State Pen” PA, and no one lived any place else, I had this idea. Said idea was the product of many pensive afternoons spent sitting in the shadow of one of the science buildings on campus. I can’t remember the name of it presently, but I remember I called it “The Shrine of Science” in multiple journal entries and poetry compositions. Hell, it might not have even HAD a name. It was just this really cool, U-shaped building that had its own courtyard. Said courtyard had the usual accoutrements: benches, trees, trashcans (no ash-trays then; society had not evolved in 1996-1997 to the point that it felt ash-trays were necessary). My customary position in said courtyard, however, was not reclining on one of the benches like the sun-lovers, or leaning up against one of the trees like the nature-lovers. No. My customary position was seated atop an steel grate, beneath which howled an ancient generator. Subsequent years and their accompanying wisdom have helped me to realize that what I postulated in my imaginative mind THEN to be a Morlock stronghold or a Gatekeeper of the Beam was, in fact, nothing more than a commercial-sized heater, and my reason for sitting there was not wholly symbolic—an English Major sitting in “The Shrine of Science,” scribbling entries in his journal—but practical, i.e. it gets really fucking cold in “State Pen” in October, and stays that way until late March/early April.

One frigid afternoon… I think it was in January or February of 1997… I formulated this idea whilst warming my ass on the completely pedestrian heater grate inlaid in the walkway that was my customary resting place in “The Shrine of Science.” I was smoking a cigarette and drinking a Mountain Dew (not an uncommon sight, as anyone who was incarcerated with me in “State Pen” for those nine months in 1996-1997 will attest to), and completely independent of anything else, I began thinking about my life. All 21 ½ years of it. Where I’d come from; where I was; where I was going. Admittedly, I was very, VERY confused at the time and this thought process quickly segued in to another: Why not write an epic poem called “Retrospection” looking back over the course of my life from a poet’s standpoint in an attempt to gain some clarity and direction on my current situation? At the time, the idea seemed ingenious. And the initial stages of composing “Retrospection” were quite enlightening. I started seeing my situation with a clarity that I hadn’t had before. The two-three weeks spent working on “Retrospection” were, academically, my best in “State Pen.” In fact, were it not for the sheer amount of “academic” work I did in those two-three weeks, I likely would not have graduated in May of 1997. My 60.7 average in my Ed Psych class would have ended up on the wrong side of the letter “D” and I would have been forced to prolong my stay in “State Pen” for another couple of months. Thankfully, my incarceration ended in May and I was allowed to graduate with my class, thus achieving the goal I’d set for myself of graduating in four years and NO MORE… albeit with a relatively meaningless undergraduate degree and a mountain of debt that didn’t get paid off until the summer of 2005.

Yet something happened around the 10th or 11th Stanza of “Retrospection.” I looked at what I was writing, and realized that what I was writing had absolutely, positively no bearing on anyone or anything but myself. It wasn’t even poetry. It was a glorified journal entry with one or two rhyming couplets per stanza. Was it serving its purpose? Yes. But did I foresee a greater purpose in what I was composing after re-reading the first 10-11 stanzas? No. And as any honest artist—writer or otherwise—will tell you, we do what we do not solely for our “art.” Any artist that tells you that is full of shit. We do what we do because we want our work to appeal to a greater demographic. In short, we want our 15 minutes of fame and god DAMNIT, we want it NOW. This desire doesn’t always pan out. I’m not exactly raking in the royalties from the work I’ve published. But long-term, THAT is my goal. Not simply to spend the rest of my natural life writing for ME and me alone, but to one day write things that will entertain others. Make them laugh, make them cry: kind of like “Cats” (shout out to the Royal Masque, circa 1992-1993, and Barricade Productions circa 1993-1994). Shortly thereafter, “Retrospection” perished, never to be seen again. I don’t quite remember what I did with the 20 or so hand-written, loose leaf pages that contained it, but knowing my propensity for extravagance back then I likely burned it or sacrificed it to the “Shrine of Science” gods.

Amazingly, though, this idea of “retrospection” has never left me. Privately, I’ve done it multiple times. Never publicly. I don’t think that the term “retrospect” or any derivative thereof has ever appeared in a single blog post or email I’ve composed in the last decade plus. Until now, of course. I feel that it IS important to look back over the course of your life on occasion. It helps put things in to perspective. Am I at a point in my life currently where I feel directionless? Confused? Am I sitting atop a proverbial heating grate of my own creation in my own, subjective reality, smoking a cigarette and drinking a Mountain Dew whilst staring out at the steel-grey sky overhead, and the small flakes of snow that alight gently, soundlessly upon the black-iron benches and the leafless trees that dot the U-shaped courtyard of my mind? No. I’m sitting behind my desk at work on a Saturday morning, listening to “But, Honestly” by the Foo Fighters, a Diet Dr. Pepper close at hand and the prospect of a cigarette about as far from my mind as it’s been in almost a decade (my recent bout of “sinusitis” has all but rid me of that nasty habit, it seems). The temperature outside is a balmy 71 degrees (Heat Index: 80+) and the next precipitation forecasted for Royersford, PA (where I am now) and Broomall, PA (where I’ll be in a few hours) isn’t until overnight tonight. Not snow, but thunder storms. “Thunder Boomers” as my little sister Katie used to say.

Directionless? Confused? Certainly not. During my incarceration in “State Pen” back in 1996-1997, I was penniless. I was not jobless, but my job as a nighttime circulation clerk at the Pollock Library paid me a $150.00 post-tax stipend every two weeks, a stipend that promptly went toward cigarettes, alcohol, McDonalds Chicken McNuggets and occasionally my rent and utilities. My relationships usually lasted no longer than 24-48 hours, generally from Friday night at midnight (when I got done work) through Saturday or Sunday evening (don’t get the wrong idea, friends. As anyone that spent any portion of those nine months with me in “State Pen” will tell you, I was not a man-whore. I was just a guy who liked to hook-up with random women from time to time, regardless of whether those women were people I just met or people I’d known for years. Not a man-whore, just a bit of a chauvinist). My home was a two-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor of Calder Commons which I shared with three rent-paying roommates (one male and two females) and one or two non-rent paying roommates (you know who you are “Vato”). I drank copious amounts of alcohol and smoked copious amounts of weed. And I was LOST in every sense of the word.

Now? I work a steady job that pays me well, albeit an, at times, less-than fulfilling employment. My bi-weekly allowance is the $50.00-$150.00 that my wife deposits in my checking account dependent on when our mortgage and our bills are due. I generally don’t see the rest and I’m fine with that (one thing my 34 ¾ year old, 6’ 1”, 280 LB frame does NOT need at this point is a bi-weekly rationing of Chicken McNuggets). I’ve been in a relationship with the same woman for nine years this November (married for five this October 15th) and my home is a three bedroom, one and a half bathroom Colonial on a little street in suburbia that I share with my wife and our 11 month old daughter, Cara, not to mention our two cats Pandora and Roxy, and this week, my “dog-in-law” Melanie. I drink copious amounts of Diet Dr. Pepper and haven’t smoked a joint in a very, VERY long time. But ask me if I’m directionless or confused and I’ll scoff at you before smiling and telling you that no, my friends. For the first time in 35 years on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, i.e. my subjective reality, I’m FOUND. I’m a gosh-darned living, breathing testimony to “Amazing Grace,” along with remaining a living, breathing facsimile of a smiley face.

“Have a Nice Day.”

But you knew that, didn’t you? If you’re reading this, everything that I just wrote save for the bit about my “dog-in-law” and perhaps my proclivity toward Diet Dr. Pepper is likely not “breaking news” to you. In fact, the last three or four paragraphs completely contradict my previous statement that artists create “art” not simply for the sake of their “art” or for their own, personal purposes, but because they want to appeal to a greater demographic. Before passing judgment on me, though, consider the following: At approximately 11:30-12:00 this morning/afternoon, I will be departing work and heading home, where I will eat a quick lunch and take a quick shower before getting ready to head to a first birthday party: that of our friends’ Sarah and John’s daughter, Ava. Tomorrow, I’ll likely be heading over to our friends’ Caren and Matt’s/Tom and Michelle’s to meet THEIR newborns, Josephine (Josie) Molly and Grace Learned. In less than a month, I’m hosting 50-60 family and friends in my three bedroom, one and a half bathroom Colonial on a little street in suburbia for my own daughter’s first birthday party. Of those 50-60 family and friends, many were in some way, shape, form or loosely connected fashion incarcerated with me for nine months plus in “State Pen.” I say plus ‘cause as anyone who knows me knows, my tenure there only diminished in frequency after May of 1997. Truth be told, I was still a frequent visitor through the summer of 1998. Said people—my fellow “State Pen” inmates—will not be arriving with a six pack of Yeungling or cold, now-defunct Pennsylvania Pizza in tow, but with THEIR little one’s and spouses in tow: “Vato” and Kim plus one; Austen plus three and Tom plus two to name a few.

And it doesn’t end there. Also in attendance will be my little sister Katie plus three and my mother plus three, not to mention my in-laws Mariann, Chuck, Deborah and Andrew plus one. Nicole’s friends whom I met nine years ago when THEY all lived somewhere between South Philadelphia and Temple Pharmacy School and no one lived anyplace else are ALL plus one’s or two’s, with one plus three to boot. And of course, I’m a plus two (plus four if you count my cats whom I’m helpless NOT to think of as my children). All will be arriving at 2:00 PM (RSVP’s pending, of course), and will not be staying until long after a midnight reveler who calls himself “The Mad Chronicler” decides to make a drunken run to the now-defunct Pennsylvania Pizza for “Boones” Malt Liquor. Rather, all will be leaving at approximately 6:00 PM to return home to their respective, nightly routines. Give the baby or babies a bath; get them dressed in their PJ’s and ready for bed; read them their favorite Dr. Seuss bedtime story (Cara’s is “The Lorax”); watch over them as they drift off to sleep in their cribs or beds, their little legs curled up beneath them, their little bodies rising and gently falling as they sleep the sleep of the peaceful… the innocent. Carefully tip-toe out of their room, being careful not to step on the creaky board that lays 14 ½ inches and to the left of the door; being FURTHER careful not to unlatch and re-latch the door too loudly as they exit the room. Retire downstairs and spend the waning hours of the day watching “The Hangover,” and silently muse about how the seemingly unbelievable anecdotes presented in that movie didn’t always seem so unbelievable. Back when we were all incarcerated for nine plus months in “State Pen” PA, and no one lived anyplace else. Silently reminisce… “Remember when…”

…And helplessly return to the U-shaped courtyard outside “The Shrine of Science” where—upon a perfectly pedestrian heating grate inlaid in a perfectly pedestrian walkway—a 21 ½ year old pre-adult sits beneath a steel-grey, central Pennsylvania, winter sky, pondering how directionless and confused his life currently is. As he sips from a warm bottle of Mountain Dew between puffs of a cigarette and watches the first snowflakes from what will eventually amount to a six-inch snow squall alight gently upon the black-iron benches and the leafless trees that dot the courtyard, said pre-adult conceives of a plan: he’ll write an epic poem entitled “Retrospection” in which he’ll look back over the course of his life from a poet’s standpoint in an attempt to gain some clarity and direction. Maybe THEN he’ll have a better idea of where the fuck he’s going. He begins…

“Life is a bloody, ongoing fight… peril is endless and counters the light…”

Said opening lines will eventually grow in to a 10 or 11 stanza, uncompleted epic poem called “Retrospection.” Said 10-11 stanzas will disappear a few weeks later, never to be seen again. Said poet will go on in the next 13 years to graduate college by the skin of his teeth (and 0.7 points in his Ed Psych class), meet and marry the woman of his dreams—the embodiment of his heart, soul and mind—purchase a home with her, begin raising a child with her—the physical embodiment of the his union to the woman of his dreams—and host a first birthday party in which his checkered and LOST past meets his and his fellow inmates from “State Pen’s” stable and FOUND present. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” From “State Pen” PA to suburbia, friends, it’s all academic. That’s “retrospection.” To be able to look back on where you were, and see how far you’ve come. To know that the confusion felt by that 21 ½ year old seeker sitting pensively within “The Shrine of Science,” imaginatively wondering if the low hum beneath the steel grate he sits upon is a Morlock stronghold or a Gatekeeper of the Beam resolved itself in to quite a nifty little life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, i.e. his subjective reality. Being able to see that isn’t simply something personal to the writer. It’s not “art” for the sake of “art.” It’s something that everyone should be able to do. You, me… EVERYONE. And THAT is a comforting thought.

“Have a Nice Day.”