Even If We’re Just Dancing In The Dark

May 8, 2013 at 10:21 pm , by 

2 years, 5 months.

Dear Jack,

Last week as I was putting you to bed one night, in the pitch dark, I heard you say, “Here, Daddy…”.

Expecting for you to give me one of your half a dozen Hot Wheels cars as a parting gift before I made my way downstairs, I reached out my hand.

My instant response: “Ewwwww! GROSS!”

Yes, it was a big, long, slimy booger you had just picked fresh for me. It felt like the size of a caterpillar.

That sort of ruined the whole ambiance of the “settle down” part of the night.

Another strange surprise I experienced, also while putting you down for the night, was when I asked you which song you wanted me to sing for your bedtime song.

Your request: “Nooning.”

Having no clue what that was supposed to mean, I started singing the word “nooning” to a made-up tune I hoped would sound like some famous traditional Chinese folk song.

You interrupted my glorious musical number: “No! Talk about it!”

Talking about “nooning” was definitely more difficult than singing it; I must admit.

At that moment, I imagined you as a toddler talk show host, introducing the topic for the episode that day.

During those final minutes before I officially put you to bed before leaving the room each night, you basically just see what kind of random stuff you can say and get away with… and so do I.

To celebrate our mutual randomness in the pitch black darkness of your bedroom at 7:43 PM each night, I have now added Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 hit “Dancing In The Dark” to my list of bedtime songs to sing as I’m holding you.

When it comes to intercepting caterpillar-like boogers and trying to figure out what “nooning” really is, this gun’s for hire.

Even if we’re just dancing in the dark.

 

Love,

Daddy

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Why Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is the Most Anti-Patriotic Song to Ever Be Loved by America as a Nationalistic Anthem

Like many Americans in my generation, I’m confused by what it means to be “patriotic.”

It’s interesting to sit back and watch while half of America cheers after hearing about the execution of Osama bin Laden then the rest of America chastises them for cheering the death of an enemy, as they misquote Martin Luther King, Jr.  The concept of being a patriotic American is surely much different than it was my for grandparents and their parents.  Being completely honest, I think a lot of us are actually confused about what it actually means to be “patriotic.”  Is it possible to be a proud American and to be proud of our military, yet to be ashamed of some of our nation’s foreign policies?

In May of 1984, country artist Lee Greenwood released “God Bless the USA”, the song many of us think is titled “Proud to Be an American.” The song truly embodied traditional patriotism; no doubt about it. Then just five months later on the day before Halloween, Bruce Springsteen released the song “Born the USA.” Maybe it was because radio listeners were still in a truly patriotic mood thanks to Mr. Greenwood, or maybe they were just blinded by the catchy, rockin’ beat of Mr. Springsteen’s song.  Either way, “Born in the USA” became a legendary hit;  though largely for the wrong reasons.

President Ronald Reagan even referred to Springsteen’s song in one of his speeches, believing “Born in the USA” embodied the message of the American theme of making dreams come true. However, Bruce Springsteen’s song was actually about the effects of the Vietnam War;  including the fact that often the American soldiers who came back from the war were not welcomed when they returned, not being seen as heroes like the war veterans from decades before.  In fact, I can’t help but wonder if some of the song’s lyrics would disqualify it from being played on the radio today, being that they are too “politically incorrect.”

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up…

I got in a little hometown jam
And so they put a rifle in my hands
Sent me off to Vietnam
To go and kill the yellow man

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
I go down to see the V.A. man
He said “Son don’t you understand”

I believe that 27 years later, “Born in the USA” perfectly captures the confusion of people like me, who want to be patriotic in the same way as my grandparents were, yet are so sick of the politics of politics.  I don’t want to be left to choose between traditional Republican or Democratic agendas.  I want another choice- one with a different policy on our economy,our constitutional rights, and how we handle international war as well as “the war on drugs”.

Like this Springsteen shirt below? Clear here to find the price for it on Amazon!

springsteen t-shirt

 

A) Why I Could Never Be a Cartoon Character, and B) Who I Would Be If I Was an Action Figure

Granted, most cartoon characters only have four fingers on each hand and wear the same outfit everyday.  So in that case, none of us (assuming…) could be a cartoon character, accordingly.  But with action figures, it’s a whole different story.

Since the 7th grade, I haven’t been able to commit to a haircut.  I am constantly growing my hair out to a new hairstyle until it eventually gets too long and I start back over again with a buzz cut.  There is a progressive series of hairstyles I go by that has been subconsciously modeled after Jewish actors (I have an Asperger-like obsession with all things Jewish; most people have learned to overlook it by now).  I start with the David Schwimmer, then Zack Effron, next Joseph Gordon-Levitt, then David Arquette/Bronson Pinchot, and lastly, the Zack Braff.  But it’s not just the lack of a consistent hairstyle that prevents me from being a cartoon character who looks the same day after day, throughout the years.  I’ve got three different pairs of glasses, though often I don’t wear them at all.  Plus an enviable collection of hats, from ball caps to fedoras to “old man caps”.  Sometimes I grow a beard for a week or two.  I’m just not a physically consistent kind of guy.

Last week, I went back to the Nashville Chocolate Kitchen after having visited there for the first time a week ago, and when I walked in, the staff remembered me by name (which in addition to their unimaginably awesome gourmet sweet treats, is one of the things they are known for).  I was impressed that they recognized me since the first time was I there, they met the “glasses off, hair pushed-to-the-side” version of me and this time it was the “glasses on, hair pushed back” version.  I felt compelled to explain my change in appearance to them, but I refrained since they obviously could handle it.

I just think that I particularly don’t have what it takes to be comfortable in being physically consistent regarding my appearance.  Like The Boss says in his 1984 hit “Dancing in the Dark”, “Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself… I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face.”

But my realization is ultimately that I am not an easily recognizable person, in general. My hair, clothes, and accessories just simply help distract fro my indistinguishableness.  I am a default-looking man of classic proportions; like the host of a show on The Food Network or HGTV.  Since being featured in American Baby magazine this month, I’ve had more than one person tell me they didn’t realize that was me until they saw my name- the picture didn’t clue them in at all.

I try to imagine if I was an action figure based on a fictional character, who I would be.  Throughout the past decade, countless people have told me I look like Clark Kent.  And I see that, but the problem is that Clark Kent was already a large muscular man in a business suit, before turning into Superman.  At 5’ 9” and weighing in the low 150’s, I have a frame similar to Bruce Springsteen or Greg Kinnear.

So maybe Peter Parker (Spiderman) is the best option.  Though I could be Dexter (played by Michael C. Hall).  Or Bruce Banner on The Incredible Hulk TV series (played by Bill Bixby).  Or Maxwell Smart of Get Smart and/or Inspector Gadget (both played/voiced by Jewish actor Don Adams- surprisingly, I have also been told many times I look like both).  I would totally make a better action figure than I would a cartoon character because action figures typically have several different versions of themselves: There’s He-Man in his robe (Adam), He-Man with the revolving chest as it gets damaged (Battle Armor), “Flying Fists” He-Man…  But cartoons typically never change.  (Maggie Simpson is like 21 years old in human years, “but in Simpson years”, she’s still a baby.)

I am easily disguisable.  Coincidently, it’s in my nature to be a chameleon; not only in appearance but also in personality.  I would make a great spy.  If nothing else, I can very easily get away with going back every five minutes to get more free samples at grocery stores.

Unsurprisingly, I enlisted the help of facebook friends by asking them this question: “If I was an action figure based on a fictional character, who would I be? In other words, which action figure would you choose to best represent me?”  Interestingly, they mostly named powerful intellectual mutants.  I’ll take that as a compliment.  But it’s funny to see how their perception differs from mine.  My choices were pretty much normal men without superpowers or super strength.

Who others said should represent me as an action figure:

Clark Kent

The Beast from X-Men

Leonardo, the leader of the Ninja Turtles

Captain Planet (nice underwear!)

My Buddy

Stretch Armstrong

 

Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of The Fantastic Four)

Maxwell Smart, the only fully human action figure any other person said I reminded them of

Who I said should represent me:

Peter Parker (before he turns into Spiderman)

Sam Witwicky (played by Jewish actor Shia LaBeouf in the Transformers movies)

Dexter Morgan

Bruce Banner (before he gets P.O.'d about Nancy Pelosi and turns into The Incredible Hulk)

But really… I’m just glad no one said Pee Wee Herman!

 

The Art of Storytelling: How to Be a Good Storyteller- Start in the Action or Plot, Note the Irony and Comedy, Then Do a Quick Recap

I’m not good at it.  I just follow a formula I made up.

Last month my Italian second cousin Phyllis from Kenosha, Wisconsin left me a comment on my post People Watching in Nashville Traffic, saying, “I love your stories!”  Until then, it had never crossed my mind that I even told stories.  I’ve always seen myself as a younger Grandfather Time- the voice of a man who keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, in order to keep a nostalgic feel on everything “new” idea I write.  Just an involved narrator.

I’ve always thought of myself as a commentator on life.  A writer of nonfiction.  There’s no hesitation in me admitting I’m no good at making up stories- fiction is something I am only a spectator of, not a creator.  What I can do is embellish the story that is already there.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

By connecting the facts to old school pop culture references with a subtle smart Alec touch.  Finding ways to make the ordinary occurrences of life seem more interesting than they are.  My favorite author, Michael Chabon, refers to it in his book Maps and Legends, as “the artist’s urge to discover a pattern in, or derive a meaning from, the random facts of the world”.

 

And that’s basically what I’m doing.  And I get so much out of it.  It makes me feel like, in a sense, I’m about to prove the world’s wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrong, when he said there’s nothing new under the sun.  (Though he’s still obviously right.)

Because everyday life events actually are more interesting than they seem.  They may just need to be seen from a reversed diagonal angle.

So now I’m embracing the fact that intermittent in all my quirky observations are actually little stories.  The tag “storyteller” became even more real to me yesterday as I was conspiring with my sister to write Which Role Do You Play in Your Family? When I asked her what my roles are, the word “storyteller” came up write away.

There are certain things about yourself you can only learn from other people.

Frank Lapidus

Maybe my surprise in all this is the connotation that the word “storyteller” conjures up in my head.  Some eccentric, animated man looking like Frank Lapidus from LOST (for some unknown reason) telling a corny ghost story to a bunch of kids gathered around a campfire who all gasp at the end of the tale when he says, “And the ghost of Tom Joad still haunts this campground today in the form of the wolf that killed him…”  And of course, right as he finishes that sentence, the storyteller’s buddy, who has been hanging out in the woods waiting for his cue, howls at the top of his lungs, for dramatic effect.

 

But now I get it.  Storytellers can also recite true stories.  Nonfiction.  That is my specialty.  And now that I better understand who I am as a writer and communicator, I am starting to realize my frustration when people don’t tell stories the way I like to tell them (and hear them).

Like the guy at work who drags out the end of the story until the last sentence.  And I think to myself, “You can’t do that!” Because I get annoyed waiting to find out the point of the story and I stop listening and start thinking about something else, and whatever I start thinking about instead ends up becoming a new post on this site a few days later.

Or the friend of a friend who uses the punch line or climax of the story as the opening line.  Again, “You can’t do that!”  Because then I feel like there’s really no point in sitting around to hear all the details.

What that tells me about my own form of storytelling is that I have a formula for it:

1)     Start the story in the first moment of action and/or the plotline.

2)     Get to the resolution of the story by the second paragraph, approximately 1/3rd or halfway through the length of the post (or if the story is being told orally, 1/3rd or halfway through the time set aside to tell the story).

3)     Spend the rest of the time or page space picking out the irony and humor of the story’s events.  By not ending the story when the story actually ends, but instead, ending on an provoking or comedic recap note, it opens up the door for the listeners to share in the story- because the story is resolved, yet left open-ended.  (Like the finale of LOST.)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on storytelling, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Karaoke is Funny: I’m Turning Japanese, I Really Think So

For the last 10 years, I believed the urban legend that “karaoke” is Japanese for “tone deaf”. I wanted that to be true. Because that would be funny. Instead the word just means “empty orchestra”. Thanks Wikipedia, for bursting my bubble.

I am hardly ever exposed to social events that include karaoke. But in the back of my mind, I am constantly juggling around songs that would be good ones in case I suddenly had to participate in a karaoke contest. There is an art to choosing a good karaoke song.

The point of singing karaoke is not to show off a person’s singing talent, but instead their ability to entertain. There should be a rule that no serious songs can be sung while participating in karaoke. No Celine Dion. Nothing by Whitney Houston. And definitely not “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel. Too sappy and too difficult to pull off for an amateur.

It’s okay for a person to sing horribly if they know they are not an awesome vocalist. But when a person thinks they’re pretty decent and actually tries to sing well, but then falls flat on several parts of a Josh Groban song, or hits the notes too sharply and loudly, “clipping the mic”, that kills the mood.

That can make things awkward, causing the audience to hope that the next performer will perform an obviously stupid song like “I Wish” by one-hit wonder Skee-Lo (“I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller…) or “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America (“Millions of peaches, peaches for me…”).

An ideal karaoke song also should be one in which the singer can incorporate stupid dance moves during the lead guitar solo and fade-out. I am set on “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen. Or “That’s All” by Genesis. Or maybe best of all, “The Heart of Rock & Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZFqA8JJQj0

Surely I couldn’t go wrong with those songs. Because I couldn’t go right. And that’s what truly defines karaoke.

 

The Edge of “Me Too” Culture: What Makes People Famous

My sister is my editor. She is the first to read what I write, typically two days before it’s published. If I am working on a piece that I feel may be pushing the envelope/over the top/too forceful, I let her proofread it for me. And most of the time, she tells me to keep it the way it is.

Just last week she labeled one of my drafts as “edgy”. Then later that day as I read a chapter in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles on my lunch break, it stressed the importance of each article I write needing to be short, informative, and edgy. There that word is again. Edgy.

Thanks to WordPress I am finally able to track the number of daily readers along with knowing which things I write are the most popular posts. So far, it has consistenty been those “edgy” ones that I ran by my sister before posting. People like edgy stuff. It has now been statistically proven.

We live in a world of “me too” culture. “Anything you can do, I can do better” has become “anything you can do, I can do, but it will probably be a crappier version, but still, I can do it too.” Anyone can sing, dance, record music, make a computer app, do a video series on YouTube, and write blogs. The more crowded a venue, the more mediocre and blandized the general talent becomes. That’s why people are drawn to the edge. The edge of what’s normal. The edge of what’s familiar. The salt of the earth.

People tend to talk about how crazy life is. (Instantly the intro to Jon and Kate Plus 8 comes to mind, along with Michael Buble’s song “Everything”). Yes, life is crazy. And it’s also pretty mundane. So when people look for entertainment and/or enlightenment, they tend to venture off the main trail to find it.

Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty would most likely not have won American Idol in their days. But their uniqueness and off-beat perspective found a way to draw people in through their odd lyrics and quirky personas.

It’s pretty obvious in any episode of Howie Mandel’s “Deal or No Deal”. The contestants always have some sort of stupid gimmick. An annoying catch phrase or weird favorite color. It becomes the theme of that episode.

From Seinfeld to Super Mario Bros.  Things that are both weird and common attract people.

For me it all goes back to Junior High when I realized the irony of the phrase “everyone is special and unique”. Yes. Yes, they are. But if everyone is special and unique, then they’re all the same. Standing in the in-between of what’s familiar and what is off-beat is often where audiences form.  Nothin’ draws a crowd like a crowd.