Saturday, September 17

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #14.


#14 - 'The Basement Treadmill Of The New Millennium.'
(Originally published 2/23/09.)

Wii Fit
was going to save my life.

Like most, I instantly heralded Wii Fit as a brilliant masterstroke, along with the fine, efficient Japanese workhorses responsible for such an ingenious and useful product. After all, here was a video game conglomerate using its powers for good. Inventing the cardio-friendly Wii wasn’t enough on its own; they actually went the extra step and attempted (and succeeded) to make exercising super fun and original.

It was, for me, one of the brightest spots of 2008. While American car companies were busy blowing smoke up our asses about going Green, while simultaneously begging for billions because they missed the Green Boat years ago and watched their consumers turn away from a fleet of obsolete automobiles, here was a multi-billion dollar company that saw an open and evolved market, tackled it in a new and exciting way, and also slimmed down a few fat-ass gamers in the process. Wii Fit was a success in every possible way.

I purchased Wii Fit mere days after it was released. In an almost identical fashion as to how I stumbled upon a Wii, I was in the right place at the right time, threw it into my cart and hit the road. Wii Fit was going to change me. It was going to save me the cash of buying into a Health Club, save me the burden of packing a duffel bag and leaving my home, track my progress, whip me back into fighting shape and be a whole lot of fun in the interim. $100 well spent, if you asked me.

My first week with Wii Fit was a complete success. I plowed through the Yoga poses, mastered the balance games, jogged in place, worked up a sweat and lost nearly three pounds in the first eight days. I had an after-work routine in place, and much like the first week spent in a Health Club, I felt extremely good about myself. I finally found something I could stick to; something that worked for me.

Almost a year removed now, and Wii Fit sits underneath my television, nearly as new as the day I bought it. Apart from two unrelated and random workout sessions (including one that took place while I was eating a slice of thick-crust Domino’s pizza), I haven’t touched the thing since the first week I bought it, and I’m not alone.

Human beings like the idea of Change. We love planning for Change; we love fantasizing about the end results of said Change, but tend to forget about the middle part which requires the most effort. We’re more than happy to throw hundreds of dollars at the Health Club membership, the jogging outfit, the new shoes, the water bottle and iPod; but when the time comes to put that preparation and positive attitude towards…you know…the thing that gets you from Point A to Point B, we tend to lose steam and once again attempt to determine the Path of Least Resistance. After all, preparation for positive change is the funnest part.

We all certainly know how to spend money. Spending money is easy, and we love finding excuses to do it; excuses that make us feel like we’re accomplishing something noble. In this case, a new iPod or track shoes won’t suck the belly fat off of our torsos or tuck the second chin back into our necks all on their own, but the idea that they will is present when we justify our rationalizations. After all, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, right?

In this regard, the Wii Fit tucked under the television is the Basement Treadmill of the New Millennium. The Bowflex that we hang our clothes on. The NordicTrack that we sold at a garage sale for $20, which now sits unused in someone else’s’ basement. And why? Was it because we lacked the self-control and determination needed to commit to an act as difficult and tedious as weight loss and muscle conditioning? Was it because we realized early that we were in way over our heads; that we didn’t fully realize how much we had to break our irresponsible daily routines to make way for such dedication?

Well, of course not.

Besides, it’s Wii Fit’s fault for not planning our exercises and scheduling everything out for us like a real-life Personal Trainer would. Taking away the variables of variety and allowing us to slack. Not literally pulling us off of the couch and onto the Balance Board. Calling us obese when we first stepped onto the scale. Not our fault, nope. Besides, I don’t have time for this. I need to look for instant results; I’ve heard that getting your stomach stapled can be done on an outpatient basis now!

This is typical, normal, and indicative of moments we’ve all probably experienced at least a dozen times. It doesn’t mean that you’re a loser or quitter (well, it kind of does, I guess); it just means that you weren’t up to that particular challenge at that particular time. Maybe another time, maybe a slightly different challenge. Hey, if it needs to be done, it’ll get done. Millions of years of Human Evolution have brought us to this point; we’re a versatile bunch and we’ll damn sure rise to any challenge…eventually.

Most of us- not all of us, but most- have a basement treadmill. A Wii Fit that’s still in the box. Some sort of glaring monument to our lack of commitment to something that, at one time, seemed so important to us. Something we’ve turned our backs on because it was too difficult. Because our priorities have changed. Because we stopped caring. Because we’ve lacked the determination and foresight to maintain an eye on the eventual goal.

One of the reasons that we’re so prone to turn our backs on something we’ve failed at is to save face. After all, who wants to admit personal defeat? The frustration here lies not in the money spent on a toy that’s not being used, but the embarrassment in knowing that the toy reminded you of your shortcomings as a person. We don’t like to be reminded of that stuff, and rightfully so. Who would want to admit that they’re just not motivated and determined enough to lose the weight, quit smoking, become a better spouse or merely lay off the meth a squinch? After all the effort, all the optimistic, borderline-delusional glimpses into our future, to fall short is usually too much of a bummer to revel in for an extended period of time, so we just make a pithy excuse and move on to our next project. And why wouldn’t we? It’s an instinctual defense mechanism; I’m not going to let a goddamn toy remind me that I’m weak. I’ll return it and buy a game that I can win. I’m still in charge, here.

In these instances, we’ve been taught that this is the precise difference between winners and losers in Life. Losers do exactly what I described: make an excuse for their shortcomings, tuck tail and run. While winners do the opposite and valiantly fight back, persevere and shine through. They throw the cigarettes in the trash. They flush the cookies and meth down the toilet. They strap on the sweatbands and make that Balance Board their Prison Bitch for the next eight months straight. Truth is, however, it ain’t that black and white. There can be a certain degree of nobility in quitting, and there can also be failure in the perception of individual success.

The perfect personal example that springs to my mind was my big health kick of 2007. After competing (and totally succeeding) in my first 10K run in 2006 (on a last-minute dare, I might add), I realized that not only was I able to knock out anything that I could put my mind and body into, but that I was kinda sorta good at it, too. So in 2007, I literally hit the pavement running, armed with the optimistic knowledge that I’ve seen the top of the mountain once before, and I could probably do it again in half the time with the proper motivation.

A month later, and I was diagnosed with shin splints in both legs, and a fractured tibia that I actually ran three miles on before completely blowing it out during a 5K. From that day forward, there’s still considerable pain in my ankles when any pressure is applied, and my running days are as good as over. Like it or not, I’m probably never going to be able to compete in distance running ever again; something that I was once pretty good at. So I threw the track shoes and jogging pants into the closet and moved on, happy as a Christmas Clam that I pushed myself that far and saw what I was made of. It wasn’t the happiest ending imaginable, but I emerged from the fiasco stronger than ever, based solely on the fact that I went outside of my comfort zone (and straight into Physical Therapy and an MRI machine). I failed miserably on an external level, but boosted my confidence and self-faith exponentially.

So, what’s the point, here? What’s to be learned from these experiences; these little tests of self-will? Is it about picking your battles wisely, or merely the lessons learned from their outcomes? Probably a little bit of both, provided you at least make a concerted effort to take something positive away from every success or failure.

You know me pretty well by now. My entire life (and subsequently, my entire writing career) has been about making mistakes and learning from them. Stumbling ass-first into bad luck and attempting to laugh it off. Bruising up the ego a bit, but remaining intact as a constantly evolving human being. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s all one huge defense mechanism set in place to keep me from stepping in front of a cement mixer, but hey, sometimes that’s all we have.

So, here comes the part of the essay where I attempt to tie this in somehow with the current message of self-motivation for the long-term outcome of positive national and global change.

Let’s be real. We probably won’t live to see an Earth that somehow got Global Warming under control through a massive Tipping Point concerning major ecological and environmental breakthroughs. We probably won’t live to see an Earth where things like racism, homophobia and ethnic stereotyping become truly obsolete, instead of merely ignored (and don’t pretend it’s not). For you agnostics and atheists out there, we certainly won’t live to see an Earth where the irrelevance of un-evolved religions are left in the Stone Age, ushering us into a veritable Renaissance of culture, forward thinking and global peace. For these reasons alone, it may seem for some like a waste of time to venture along this rough evolutionary path, knowing full well that we’ll never be able to visualize and reap the fruits of our labor. Just do whatever makes you feel good and doesn’t hurt anyone in the process. Live your life, take care of your family, and that’s it.

But it has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now? Rage Against The Machine was right, man! Why didn’t we appreciate them before they broke up and kind of got back together again when the royalty checks ran dry? Damn!

Look, we’re a nation of nearly a billion people, and it’s almost frightening how easy it is to make a drastic difference and change the perception of the majority. Hell, depending on what you believe, you probably represent the majority right about now (and believe me, I feel just as uncomfortable about that as you do, assuredly). Not to get too philosophical and sentimental here, but on Inauguration Tuesday, I felt as if I finally saw the official beginning of the 21st Century. The New Millennium, to me, finally began in January of 2009, and it brought with it the idea that in the face of failure and uncertainty, there were lessons to be learned and optimism to be mined from their experiences. Still no jetpacks or Hamburger Earmuffs, but I feel like we’re finally in the Future that I envisioned as a kid.

And quite frankly, I very much preferred the symbolic start of the 21st Century in comparison to the actual January 1 of 2000, which found me vomitous, reeking of vodka and passed out on a filthy mattress in an unfinished basement after being duct-taped to a hot water pipe. True, sad story.

I’m going to wrap this up before the preaching gets any thicker than it already is, but I’ll say that things never evolve if they never up and fail. Things never change if you ignore them and take them for granted. The Wii Fit can’t help you if it’s tucked underneath the television; the treadmill can’t help you if it’s in the basement; the major changes that we want to see made in our world can’t happen if we just assume that someone’s handling it for us. If you fail, you fail. At least you know what you were capable of. This life isn’t a dress rehearsal; if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but for whatever reason, abandoned it out of fear of failure or situational apathy, why not now to try again?

Spring is coming. Do something. Anything. It doesn’t matter how insignificant it appears.

Me? I’m pulling the Wii Fit back out.

Friday, September 16

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #15.


#15 - 'One Week In Dubuque.'
(Originally published 8/10-14/09.)

You would think that a long weekend in Iowa/Illinois would produce no comedy gold whatsoever, and you'd be sort of right, but sort of wrong, too. Dead wrong. Enjoy these five (mostly photo-based) essays from one of the sleepiest midwestern cities I've ever gotten drunk in.

Part 1 - What The Hell Am I Doing In Dubuque?
Part 2 - What The Hell Am I Doing At The Hotel Julien?
Part 3 - What The Hell Am I Doing On The Mississippi River?
Part 4 - What The Hell Am I Doing In Galena?
Part 5 - What The Hell Am I Doing In The Tri-State Area?

Thursday, September 15

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #16.


#16 - 'The Leukemia Nickel.'
(Originally published 1/19/09.)

Like most of you, I get letters in the mail every week from various organizations asking for donations of some sort. As someone who’s previously sent checks to Planned Parenthood, the ASPCA, HospiceCare, Anheuser Busch, Burrachos Mexican Restaurant, Wolf from American Gladiators and that guy who has photos of me drunkenly making out with a Torrid Clothing mannequin, I tend to get bothered around this time every year from folks that want me to once again pay up.

Their methods to entice (ie: guilt) you into making a donation are typically similar in substance. Usually it’s personalized return address labels, which I absolutely adore and appreciate. Mailing out somewhere in the neighborhood of eleventy dozen bills a month (rough estimate), I never thought I’d grow to appreciate return address labels as much as I do now. When I run out of them, the pedestrian nature of printing my name and address on an envelope becomes sheer torture for whatever reason. Never mind that it takes approximately 10 seconds or so longer than applying a sticker, but hey, time is money, and I have books of puppy and kitten-themed address labels to last me a lifetime and help speed the devolution of my own handwriting.

This week, I got something a little different in the mail. It was from the American Leukemia Association, or Foundation, or Hospital, or whatever they happen to call themselves. They’re the same place that uses Ziggy, unquestionably the unfunniest and most depressing cartoon character in the history of Mankind, as a whimsical mascot, and also has the cardboard quarter slots you see at every greasy spoon and long-forgotten gas station in the United States. They're usually right by the Lion's Club mints, or the gumball machine that hasn't been refilled since 1984.

I had never donated to these Leukemia folks before, which said to me that they were doing some sort of blast mail to thousands of random people in the nation, hoping for some sort of a bite. What got me was that, in addition to the Ziggy-themed return address labels (which I will never use, not even to pay bills-- way too embarrassing and tacky, even for a guy that used Halloween-themed labels for his Christmas 'Thank You' cards), they also included a shiny new nickel in which to use as a sort of 'free postage.' The idea here is to guilt people into sending back any type of donation with the nickel, as no self-respecting human being would be able to sleep at night knowing that they bilked five free cents from a place that treats sick kids.

Right off the bat, I knew I wasn’t donating. I was very charitable this Christmas, donated to a lot of different causes, and was trying to be a little tighter with my millions of dollars in 2009. Furthermore, I didn’t like the idea of being guilted into making a donation. As someone who was raised Catholic, Guilt was an emotion I understood well, and I abhor it when people try to use it as a weapon. The starving and emaciated dogs and cats on the ASPCA commercials, however, is a completely different story. To this day, I still wouldn’t mind smooching Sarah McLachlan a little bit if given the alternate-dimension opportunity. Shill those animals! Empty those cages!

This all left me with a weird little dilemma: What should I do with this nickel?

I mean, I couldn’t just throw it into my change pile and treat it like the rest of the money I’ve earned through hard work and late-night panhandling. I couldn’t just throw it in the garbage like a cold pizza or unwanted newborn on prom night. This was a dirty nickel. This was a cursed nickel. This was a Leukemia nickel, and I had no idea how to handle it.

Conjuring up the best compromise I could, I threw the 2009 nickel into a decorative tobacco box in my foyer that was full of pennies. There, the Leukemia nickel could rule the roost, feeling confident that they were the only piece of silver within at least a six-inch radius. Furthermore, safely within the confines of the penny pile, I knew that I’d never spend it by accident, and would probably forget about it entirely. 50 years from now at my Estate Sale, some antique collector on a jetpack will discover it and never fully understand why a single nickel was surrounded by thousands of copper lowlifes. This, however, was the only way that this was going to work for me.

Fast-forward to Friday afternoon, at work, in the Break Room. The half-pint carton of skim milk was staring back at me from behind the Plexiglass confines of the Wheel of Deliciousness. It looked so good in there, so beautiful, seeming to genuinely enjoy every second of its 360-degree ride back into my field of vision. I was meant to have that milk; to tear it open and savor every drop of goodness. To give it the attention and respect that it deserved. By this point, my breath was fogging up the Plexiglass; we couldn't stand to be apart for another second. I needed 50 cents, and now.

I galavanted back to my cubicle, shaking every last piece of currency from my messenger bag.

45 cents. This wasn't happening.

I checked my wallet. No bills at all, which is entirely too commonplace for me to be comfortable with. I stopped carrying cash on me almost nine years ago.

"Keep it together," I reassured myself. "Check the car."

I spent the next five minutes on my hands and knees, tearing apart the interior of the Wild Stallion amongst the -50 Wind Chill that has schools closed for three straight days. Shivering, shaking and defeated, I goose-stepped back into the office knowing that I was somehow being punished.

I knew I couldn't ask someone for a nickel. I just couldn't bring myself to do something so pathetic. As a means to save face, I instead embarked on one of the saddest, most downtrodden journeys of my adult life: wandering the hallways of my office building, looking for change on the floor. It was my own personal Trail of Tears; I did this for almost 10 minutes, before slumping back into my chair, a defeated, sad and thirsty man. By the time I got back to the break room, the milk was gone anyway.

I don't know how it happened. I don't know why it happened, and I'm pretty sure I don't know what happened, but I think that the Leukemia Nickel had the last laugh. I, on the other hand, had to drink out of the water fountain that afternoon.

Wednesday, September 14

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #17.


#17 - 'The Top 10 Albums Of The Decade.'
(Originally published 12/11/09.)

'This song will become the anthem of your underground.'
-Saves The Day, 'At Your Funeral'

Well, it's about time. As The CDP Decade In Review comes down to its final posts of the year, we finally wrap up our three-week long countdown of the Top 250 Albums Of The Decade. Within these 10 albums, you'll see about five classics that should arguably be on every decade-ending list, and about five personal favorites that had a major effect on me over the last 10 long years. It should also be noted that my Top 3 shuffled back and forth until the last possible minute; they really could all be #1 in my book.

Enjoy; let's go.

10. Further Seems Forever – The Moon Is Down (2001)

“I’ll give you my life, if you give me yours, somehow.”

1. "The Moon Is Down"
2. "The Bradley"
3. "Snowbirds And Townies"
4. "Monachetti"
5. "Madison Prep"
6. "New Year's Project"
7. "Just Until Sundown"
8. "Pictures Of Shorelines"
9. "Wearing Thin"
10. "A New Desert Life"

When 2009 wraps up, I'll probably be sitting in the living room of my house, lip-locking the woman I love amongst a few close friends and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with surviving such an ebbing and flowing decade. However, on the last night of 1999, I was in quite a different place, literally and figuratively.

I was 17 years old, at a New Year's basement party with about two people I wanted to see, and about 20 others that I haven't seen since. I was miserable. I was alone. The girl that I had been setting myself up for, the girl that I had changed my plans for, and the girl that I had been setting a course for, was gone. Off my radar. A certain impossibility. Where I once saw a path to my future, I saw a solid block of brick and mortar, not unlike the basement walls I was slamming my head into that night.

So I drank. And drank. And drank. As the night went into slow-motion and the emotions began to run rampant, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might never leave that basement. Never see 2000. Against any sane man's better judgment, I begged to be arrested (or killed), and drove home, borderline-subconscious and woefully underage, at three in the morning.

When I got home, I threw up in the kitchen, stumbled downstairs to yet another unfinished basement (My mother and stepfather's new house wasn't quite equipped for me, as I later found out when I was asked to leave a few months later). As I laid in my freezing bed, watching the trusses and insulation spin over my head as the sun came up, I knew for sure that this was one of the most pathetic moments of my entire life.

No less than a week later, I met Celia and my life changed. Changed changed. Had I not experienced such heartbreak and disappointment over those few months in late 1999/early 2000, I'd probably be...well, who really knows where I'd be.

Some people hear a song and think it was written for them. In my 17-year-old and depressed-out-of-my-mind stupor, this is how I felt when I heard 'New Year's Project,' off of Further Seems Forever's masterpiece, The Moon Is Down. Originally recorded for a 1999 split EP, it essentially tells the story I just told you above. Due in part to this, along with nine other breathtaking tracks, The Moon Is Down tells the story of the fading of youth, the remembrance of raw emotion, and doing (and feeling) anything to get to those that you love. We all know what Emo has become, and The Moon Is Down captures the other side of the equation, the reminder of how much an album can function as a Time Machine.

Nowadays, when I hear 'New Year's Project,' I'm happy. Happy because I'm older. Happy because my wife is next to me. Happy because I survived adolescence. It's a beautiful song, The Moon Is Down is a beautiful album, and hey, life is beautiful sometimes, too.

You Must Hear - 'New Year's Project'

9. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Tyranny Of Distance (2001)

“You had me two times out on the ledge, but I still love you, you see.”

1. "Biomusicology"
2. "Parallel Or Together?"
3. "Under The Hedge"
4. "Dial Up"
5. "Timorous Me"
6. "Stove By A Whale"
7. "The Great Communicator"
8. "Squeaky Fingers"
9. "My Vien iLin"
10. "The Gold Finch And The Red Oak Tree"
11. "St. John The Divine"
12. "You Could Die (Or This Might End)"

(Review by The Missus:)

Is there any possible way to dislike Ted Leo? If there is, I have yet to find it. The Tyranny of Distance, released in 2001, was the first full-band album by Ted Leo & the Pharmacists and immediately solidified them as a mainstay on the indie scene. An unusually prevalent attribute on this album is the Irish-folk inspired guitar styling, which melds seamlessly with Ted Leo’s pressured vocals and impossibly clever lyrics.

The Tyranny of Distance is one of those albums that will never leave your CD or iPod rotation once it’s there. Try as you might, it’s too monumental to put away for long.

(Note By The CDP: Considering Ted Leo's career, determining his 'best album ever' will surely lead you to some amazing music, and with The Tyranny Of Distance, we see him at his most inspired and amazing; no small feat.)

You Must Hear - 'Under The Hedge'

8. The Features – Exhibit A (2004)

“Hold on, ‘cause the end is coming soon; it won’t be long.”

1. "Exhibit A"
2. "The Way It's Meant To Be"
3. "Me & The Skirts"
4. "Blow It Out"
5. "There's A Million Ways To Sing The Blues"
6. "Leave It All Behind"
7. "Exorcising Demons"
8. "The Idea Of Growing Old"
9. "Some Way Some How"
10. "Situation Gone Bad"
11. "Harder To Ignore"
12. "Circus”

(Review by The Missus:)

Exhibit A is, well, Exhibit A of how major-label debuts can be grossly mishandled. While Kings Of Leon were starting to gain widespread popularity, The Features should have been eclipsing them by leaps and bounds…but they didn’t. Instead, their masterpiece Exhibit A is just another blip on the radar for 2004. With frantic, warbling vocals, blazing organ accompaniments, and sing-along melodies that stick in your head for days, The Features are impossible to dislike. Nearly all of Exhibit A is a lyrical ode to singer Matt Pelham’s young twin daughters. His love for them oozes adorably and evidently from every song.

Despite its total major-label failure, Exhibit A has remained a critical darling and garnered The Features a sizable and loyal following.

(Note By The CDP: What The Missus fails to mention is that, despite the overall feel-good tone and positive southern vibes emitting from Exhibit A, the music is downright psychotic at times. It's like drunkenly wandering into a swamp church in the middle of the bayou, meeting Satan and realizing he's not that bad of a guy. I love, love, LOVE this record.)

You Must Hear - 'Leave It All Behind'

7. Polysics – For Young Electric Pop (2002)

"Hey! Hey! Are you ready to go! Black out! Fall out!"

1. "For Young Electric Pop"
2. "Colon"
3. "It's Up To You"
4. "Wicked Lough"
5. "Black Out Fall Out"
6. "Let's Go"
7. "Mad Mac"
8. "Tv's High"
9. "Secret Candy"
10. "Weekenders"
11. "Get Back To 8-Bit"
12. "My Sharona"
13. "Code4"

For obvious reasons, Polysics could get by on their exotic charm and not-from-this-country aesthetic in America for the rest of their careers, without ever really having to evolve or possess any real talent. Fortunately for us, Polysics are insane geniuses, and have no intention of ceasing their hyper-evolution until they eventually take over the planet and enslave mankind.

Okay, so you have four Devo-obsessed Japanese folks (2 guys, 2 girls) who wear futuristic costumes and sing in 1/3 Japanese, 1/3 English and 1/3 gibberish. They started out writing screeching, noisy, lo-fi ear-splitters with rapid-fire start/stop/destroy rhythms, but eventually went a more pop route without sacrificing any of their punk brutality. Throughout all of their seemingly non-mainstream musical maturity, they actually became more accessible, their newer stuff acting as a gateway into their more hyperactive older stuff.

I had always loved Polysics, but even I thought they could take this shtick no further prior to the release of For Young Electric Pop. Then, they did what they've been doing for 10 years now; impress the hell out of me and introduce me to yet another new world of sounds. What they did so brilliantly on Pop that they didn't normally do on their older releases was run about 50 years of American Pop Music through their filter of spazzy, Japanese synth-punk. It's sort of like those 'American Pop' CD compilation infomercials that you see at 3am, only completely re-recorded by a J-Pop band.

And here's something else that most noisy, non-English-speaking bands can't do well; they actually can convey emotion at times. On the rare occasion that they slow things down for a few minutes (they alternate between their male and female vocalists), they make the ballad work (albeit their own special brand of ballad). For Young Electric Pop is unarguably an album that you have never heard before; they throw everything to the wall, and everything goddamn sticks.

You Must Hear - 'Code4'

6. The Impossibles - Return (2000)

"If we never say goodbye, there will be no end."

1. "Enter/Return"
2. "(Never) Say Goodbye"
3. "Connecticut"
4. "Gone 4 Good"
5. "This Is F**king Tragic"
6. "Intermission"
7. "Oh, Angelina"
8. "Stand Up, Fall Down, Get Crushed"
9. "4gn 4ever"
10. "Hey,you Kids!"
11. "Decompression/Debilitation"
12. "Stopping Sound"

Here is a photograph of Gabe and Rory, the chief guitarists and songwriters for The Impossibles:

And here's a photograph of Gabe and Rory, my two male, Siamese cats:

Okay, so there's not much of a resemblance there, but the point is simple: I named my cats after these guys! For me, from 1998 to 2002, there was nothing, and I mean nothing, more influential to me than The Impossibles. They got me to start a band (who tried to rip them off at every corner). They got us to do an entire set of just Impossibles covers (a colossal failure). Their live shows amazing (still probably the best live band I'd ever want to see). We even include an 'Intermission' on our album, just as The Impossibles did on Return. Has it gotten annoying enough for you yet?

When Anthology came out, I spent several months dissecting every second of the album, speculating as to how these two kids (at the time) cracked the Weezer-ska code of structural musical brilliance. Their lyrics introspective, genuine and youthful. Their sound, guitar-driven, harmony-loaded and upbeat. Every song perfect. Every progression flawless. These guys shouldn't be this good! How did they do it? For awhile, I figured we'd never know, because they broke up for a couple of years, only to return and release...well, Return. The upstrokes were gone, replaced by more abrasive guitars, driving pop-rock hooks and those soaring choruses.

One of the things I really love about Return in retrospect is the opening introduction, which features the sound of a modem connecting to the Internet. If there's another sound that captures the beginning of the decade more perfectly, I haven't heard it.

And if Gabe and Rory (the musicians, not my cats) fade into obscurity or commit some atrocity against nature, they will always be immortalized for having written 'Never Say Goodbye,' the greatest and best rock song of the last ten years, bar none.

You Must Hear - 'Never Say Goodbye'

5. Ozma – Rock & Roll Part Three (2000)

“Chances last a finite time, and you’re running out of time.”

1. "Domino Effect"
2. "Apple Trees"
3. "Shooting Stars"
4. "Natalie Portman"
5. "The Ups And Downs"
6. "If I Only Had A Heart"
7. "Baseball"
8. "Rocks"
9. "Battlescars"
10. "In Search Of 1988"
11. "Last Dance"

Ozma was a relatively unknown band on a national scale up until around 2001, when a copy of Rock And Roll Part Three was handed to Weezer guitarist Brian Bell. Bell, who has probably been handed thousands of demos over the last 15 years, liked what he heard so much that Ozma was booked to open all shows on Weezer’s nationwide tour later that year. The rest is…sort of history. After Rock And Roll Part Three, they released a couple more albums over the next six years (with a breakup wedged between), only to break up once and for all in 2008.

The material on Rock And Roll Part Three is Ozma at their absolute best; a band that takes nerd-rock, Nintendo-core, guitar-noodling rock and roll, and turns each 4 minute track into a miniature pop opera. Dueling vocalists, shredding guitars and the kinds of melodies you only dream about are constantly on display, here. And the lyrics are as wry and clever as can be. Take ‘Apple Trees’ for example, a track about attempting to attract a girl in Math class (and hanging out in an apple orchard), using all sorts of puns, double entendres and Shakespearean nerd wordplay to do so:

“An apple pie, the number pi, I studied you in math class I did all my work but never got your digits Take a number like 5, times 10, times 10 again 500 miles of apple orchards to defend”

‘Domino Effect’ begins with a synth line that you’ll probably have playing in your head for the rest of your life, and ‘Natalie Portman’ is a song so emotional it borders on utter obsession (but considering the focus of the song, obsession is more than worthy). One of the album’s closers, ‘(In Search Of) 1988,’ with its Nintendo and Ouija Board references, take you right back to your room as a kid, and it’s beautiful without being patronizing or overly sappy. This is fun music about perpetual bummers.

There were a lot of bands this decade that attempted this sound, and only Ozma did it absolutely right. Rock And Roll Part Three can always be played in my car from beginning-to-end with no objections from anyone; in fact, I always get comments like, “Wow, this album is still awesome.”

Damn right.

You Must Hear - 'Natalie Portman'

4. The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site (2003)

“You said ‘hey, can you help me, I can’t reach it,’
and pointed at the camera in the ceiling.

I climbed up, blocked it so they couldn’t see,
turned to find you out of bed and kneeling.

Before the nurses came and took you away,

I stood there on that chair and watched you pray.”

1. "(Manifest)"
2. "The Reasons"
3. "Reconstruction Site"
4. "Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call"
5. "Plea From A Cat Named Virtue"
6. "Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)"
7. "Time's Arrow"
8. "(Hospital Vespers)"
9. "Uncorrected Proofs"
10. "A New Name For Everything"
11. "One Great City!"
12. "Benediction"
13. "The Prescience Of Dawn"
14. "(Past-Due)"

John K. Samson, The Weakerthans frontman, has stated that their albums take so long to make because it takes him a long time to write the music and the lyrics. “I don’t know how some people do it so fast,” he’s admitted. Considering Samson’s output, I think the only problem is why everyone else isn’t following his lead and taking their time. For my money, he’s our greatest working lyricist (‘our’ meaning Canada, I guess).

Fallow and Left And Leaving, the two previous Weakerthans works, were nearly flawless examples of their brilliance. Still holding on to punk roots, the uptempo drums and fuzzy guitars scattered about each album, but it always seemed like Samson was struggling to keep up; wanting more time to explain his thoughts to you (this was the main reason Samson left Propaghandi and started his own band). With Reconstruction Site he gets that chance, stringing his lonely, bitterly uplifting, and sometimes hilarious thoughts over more drawn out acoustic and twanging numbers. Sure, some tracks like the timeless ‘Our Retired Explorer’ kick an ass or two, but this album is about reflection, not rebellion.

And it is certainly an album; one track on its own is good, but require the bookending tracks to put it more into perspective and overall thought process. The walking through the hospital corridors, feeling death at every turn. The confession to the significant other, “I’m so glad that you exist.” Even a track sung from the perspective of Samson’s cat, giving him an ultimatum to cheer up before she decides to stray for greener pastures.

You can’t dislike The Weakerthans. You can say that Samson’s voice leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s always going to be something that keeps you coming back. Reconstruction Site is a modern masterpiece of rock, folk, alt-country and musicianship, and an album that I see myself coming back to forever.

You Must Hear - 'Our Retired Explorer'

3. Saves The Day – Stay What You Are (2001)

“Despair can ravage you, if you turn your head around and look down the path that’s led you here, but what can you change? You’re a vessel now, floating down the waterways."

1. "At Your Funeral"
2. "See You"
3. "Cars & Calories"
4. "Certain Tragedy"
5. "Jukebox Breakdown"
6. "Freakish"
7. "As Your Ghost Takes Flight"
8. "Nightingale"
9. "All I'm Losing Is Me"
10. "This Is Not An Exit"
11. "Firefly"

Saves The Day is one of my favorite bands of all-time. Following Chris Conley and company through their evolution has been amazing; their rise from Lifetime-influenced hardcore, to Jawbreaker-influenced emo, to becoming the standard-bearers of their own genre, is a success story all its own. I had already worn my copies of Can’t Slow Down and Through Being Cool completely out; would it be possible that they could once again show exponential growth and out-do themselves yet again?

What we got was Stay What You Are, an album that means so many things to so many people, and essentially defined a genre for the last eight years. Considering that Conley was about 20 years old when he did this, is mind-blowing. When I was 20, I was cracking jokes in an Electricity class, trying to put together a broken Atari 2600.

To really grasp how important Stay What You Are was, you need to grasp how important Saves The Day is to their audience. I remember my band playing a show on the night that the album was released. During a break between sets, one of the audience members stormed the stage and started singing the opening lines of ‘At Your Funeral’ into the mic (‘This song will be come, the anthem of, your underground…’). Within seconds, the entire hall had erupted into an impromptu sing-along; everyone knew the words, and the album had been on the streets for ten hours! I found this beautiful.

Most moments on Stay What You Are last the test of time (the anthemic ‘At Your Funeral,’ the gruesome ‘As Your Ghost Takes Flight,’ the endless-night storytelling of ‘Firefly’), especially the feel-good-existentialist lighter-waver, ‘This Is Not An Exit.’ I’ve ran into many people with tattoos commemorating sort aspect of Stay What You Are (be it the title itself, or usually a favorite lyric), that it makes me feel good that this album hit others as hard as it hit me (a certain age, mindset and mood is paramount). If you notice, the font on the album cover is the same as the one I currently use for all of my CDP logos.

I could really go on forever about Stay What You Are, but we’ve reached a point where trying to properly convey the sort of emotion that is awakened by your favorite albums becomes an impossibility. In fact, Stay What You Are was supposed to be the #1 Album on this list, until I thought about it some more and dropped it to #3 (I may regret this later). Check it out; maybe you’ll like it, maybe you’ll wonder what the big deal is. All I know is that I feel very fortunate that it hit me (and all those kids in that hall) when it did, because Stay What You Are has brought me a lot of company and happiness over the last decade.

You Must Hear - 'At Your Funeral'

2. At The Drive –In – Relationship Of Command (2000)

We sample from the shelves
Tore a page out from this chapter

Deface the essays in the book that you're reading

We are the leeches that stop the bleeding

Deficit attention program

By any means necessary

Blare sirens to the library

Whisper instructions to the book-wormed glossary

Is it heavier than air...tell us, am I supposed to die alone?

1. "Arcarsenal"
2. "Pattern Against User"
3. "One Armed Scissor"
4. "Sleepwalk Capsules"
5. "Invalid Litter Dept."
6. "Mannequin Republic"
7. "Enfilade"
8. "Rolodex Propaganda"
9. "Quarantined"
10. "Cosmonaut"
11. "Non-Zero Possibility"

We lost a lot of good bands this decade, none better than At The Drive-In. No band was more passionate. More energetic. Their lyrics and music just as powerful as their following. Fortunately for us, they decided to break up on their highest note, following the release of Relationship Of Command, a sublime masterpiece of hardcore from the El Paso quintet.

I never got the chance to see them live; they were all but wrapped up by the time that I got around to appreciating them. That being said, I implore you to hit YouTube (or just watch the linked clip), and witness the slithering, manic madness that ensued. No live band put more into a set, and not many bands put more into their music. Their messages were brutal, political, spiritual and revolutionary. Their tales sordid and beautiful. Their instrumentation, light as a feather in one moment, atomically destructive the next. Cedric Bixler, the skinny, afro'd frontman, could whisper something in your ear so beautifully, microseconds before yelling it off with gusto.

Relationship Of Command is open to interpretation; critics range their lyrics from deep and meaningful to borderline unintelligible, five-syllable soliloquies. What's not open to interpretation is the energy, emotion and raw power possesed from start to finish. 'Punk' means nothing. 'Emo' is worthless. Even 'Hardcore' leaves so much to be desired. At The Drive-In incorporated so much into their wall of sound, that Relationship Of Command stands alone on top of a massive pyramid of those either trying to find their identity, or wholly and admittedly influenced by ATDI.

At first, I felt that I was giving Relationship Of Command the crown as some sort of Lifetime Achievement Award for At The Drive-In. Some sort of recognition for a career done well. However, Command stands alone; arguably their best album (structure-wise, production-wise, lyric-wise and tone-wise, without a doubt), and also a blazing metaphor for how the decade was about to play out. The anger, uncertainty and rebellion of 2000 is just as raw, just as relevant and just as real in 2009, and that's a true testament to an Album Of The Decade.

When we're through with alt-Country, when we're tired of attaching our egos to the latest Indie band, when we're too old to care about what's on the radio, we'll still want to scream. Still want to raise our fists and damn the Man. Still want to remember what it's like to be whipped into a rage, to feel like a revolution is just around the corner. With Relationship Of Command, that awakening is always just a few seconds away.

You Must Hear - 'Arcarsenal'

1. Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)

“I guess we’ll just have to adjust.”

1. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"
2. "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)"
3. "Une annee sans lumiere"
4. "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"
5. "Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)"
6. "Crown Of Love"
7. "Wake Up"
8. "Haiti"
9. "Rebellion (Lies)"
10. "In The Backseat"

When I look back on this decade, it was easily the most important of my life. And how could it not? The years from 2000-2009 took me from age 17 to 27; from High School, to music, to employment, to moving out, to College, to more employment, to marriage, to home/cat ownership, and finally, my quest for Internet Immortality as an author. This has really been the only decade that ever mattered to me as an adult, because it’s the only decade I’ve ever experienced as an adult. For some of you, that decade was the 80’s or 90’s. For a few of you, it will be the 10’s.

The greatest moment of the decade for me was my wedding day. The culmination of a dream courtship that ended (or began) on a day so unbelievably perfect that I thought I was going to have a piano dropped onto my head at any second. I’ve never deserved anything so wonderful, and every Winter I’m reminded of how me and Celia met and turned a terrible Midwestern season into our own personal paradise. How we jumped into my 1986 Buick and braved the cold every night, just so we could hold each other for a couple of hours. The spark of new love that keeps me warm to this very day. Every snowfall reminds me of her. Every icy windshield makes me happy, because I know I’m coming home to her. This would sound unnecessarily sappy and trite if I wasn’t being completely genuine with you.

The worst moment of the decade for me (and, so far, the worst moment of my life) was losing my Grandfather to cancer in January of 2005. You couldn’t have asked for a smarter, funnier, charismatic and influential man in your life; he functioned as my father more times than I care to even discuss. His death was inevitable, yet unfathomably tragic. Like my 2000 Winter with Celia, this all took place during the most bitter part of January, and the feeling of loss amongst the desolation of a Wisconsin Winter was almost too much to bear. To this day, every drive back home in the Winter reminds me of the night we lost him. Every time I enter my Grandparent’s house (where I lived for several years, and where he died), I feel a tremendous sense of pain where there was once overwhelming joy and timeless memories. I’m over it on a functional level, but we never fully recover from the loss of a loved one.

It’s these conflicting Winter memories, the best of times…the worst of times, that bring me to Funeral. The debut full-length by Arcade Fire, and probably the most regarded Indie album of all-time (only behind In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, perhaps). It’s these memories of blissful love and heartbreaking loss that created the gateway and opened the door for Funeral to completely overwhelm me in every possible way, because in many ways, the album was entirely about what I was going through.

At first, I ignored the hype machine like a lot of you probably did, only to break down and grab the album about a week after we put Grandpa into the ground. The rest was unstoppable. Immune to hipster criticism. Impervious to the cries of ‘overrated!’ None of what anyone was saying about Funeral, good or bad, penetrated my wall of emotion. This was my album. My solitary experience. My therapy.

From the opening, tinkling piano of ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),’ we hear the story of a young couple in love, surviving the Winter, growing their hair long and disappearing into their own world for so long that they could no longer remember the names of those they once knew. This was a feeling I knew well. ‘Neighborhood #1’ is also one of about maybe three songs I’ve ever heard that I would deem ‘perfect.’

The recurring theme of family and coping with change comes back up in ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika),’ and ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),’ the latter being a rousing, drum-looped number that recalls a week-long power outage in Montreal. The lyrics are mostly a call to arms for the hurting, announcing that what’s in your heart should be put in your hands (be it a sword, a pen or what have you). This was the motivation I needed to pursue writing as a career, as my fragile state of mind at the time was a constant reminder that we’re all on borrowed time and need to act quickly.

Which leads me to ‘Wake Up.’ For some, this has become a bombastic, bloated anthem that you’d probably expect hear at a hockey game. For someone fresh off a profoundly painful loss, however, it was permission to cry, put my first through a wall, dig the grave and pummel forth. ‘Wake Up’ was my grieving process.

Something filled up
My heart with nothing.

Someone told me not to cry.

But now that I'm older,

My heart's colder,

And I can see that it's a lie.

Children, wake up!

Hold your mistake up,

Before they turn the summer into dust.

If the children don't grow up,

Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.

We're just a million little gods causing rain storms,

Turning every good thing to rust.

I guess we'll just have to adjust.

I missed the old guy more than anything, but it was time to adjust. Time to live. Time to do all the things I knew I was capable of doing. I’m a bitter, jaded, atheist husk of a man right now, but I can honestly say that I’m stronger and more motivated than I’ve ever been, or thought I'd be.

The penultimate track of the album, ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ is a reminder that not only can age and experience not be trusted, but that maybe, maybe we’re all going to be okay. A lyric as simple as “Here’s the sun, it’s alright…here’s the moon, it’s alright” can seem life-affirming when you need it more than anything else. Another call for motivation comes in the opening lines, "Sleeping in is giving in, no matter what the time is." This is a mantra I follow to this day; I always feel a certain amount of pain when I see the Missus sleeping until noon, because I know that there will come a day when she wishes for those hours back.

Finally, we end with ‘In The Backseat,’ where Regine tells us that she’s “been learning to drive my whole life,” another reminder that despite the horrific trials and tribulations we face, we’re more ready for it than we give ourselves credit for. The loss. The love. The new beginnings. The tragic endings.

Funeral could not have shown up at a more perfect time in my life had I written it myself, and I know this. I won the lottery when it came to personal albums, and hey, the imagery is vague enough for all of us to find something in there that we can relate to (good musicians do that). The production is shitty. Win Butler couldn’t sing. The multi-instrumentation would be more impressive if they could play their instruments better. Doesn’t bother me none. Funeral got me through the roughest patch yet, introduced me to some amazing music and changed my life for the better.

Isn’t that exactly what music is supposed to do?

You Must Hear - 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)'

Tuesday, September 13

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #18.


#18 - 'The Broken Elbow Quadrilogy.'
(Originally published 4/6-9/09.)

Part I.

As some of you may know, the Missus broke her elbow a few weeks ago at the Roller Rink. Inspired by the awesomeness and recent stratospherical growth of the local Roller Derby squad, she decided to strap on the skates and give it a go, with the hopes that she may one day join the elite ranks of the female rink warriors.

And no, this is not a CDP Flashback Essay from 1977. This new Willennium has been a bust since Day One, so it stands to reason that we would take pride looking backwards for something fun to do on the weekends, and we’ve already thoroughly mined the 80’s and 90’s for fuzzy nostalgia. The jetpacks are still decades away; tough girls, roller skates and Pabst Blue Ribbon are empowering, sexy and forever cool.

Anyway, like most of us have done at one point or another while skating, the Missus forgot to wear protective gear and took a nasty spill. What most of us haven’t done, however, is snap your radius in two. From what the Missus and Wikipedia tell me, the radius is a bone attached to your elbow that hurts like hell when broken. The prognosis is typically a sling, truckloads of Vicodin, and if you’re really lucky, a surgery where they have to pin everything back into place. As a woman who has to pass through a metal-detecting weapons screening booth every day at work, you can see why this would be a serious conflict of interest.

On the day that the Missus decided she no longer wanted to use her right arm for three weeks, I took an uncharacteristically solo trip up north to visit my folks. I left town because I had no intention to ever set foot inside a roller rink again, as I still harbor deeply-rooted fears that alter my decisions to this day. More on that tomorrow.

I spent most of the day thinking about her, as we typically don’t spend weekends apart. I hoped that she was having a good time with Ben and Sherry, and assumed that if anyone got hurt, it would most assuredly be Ben. Seriously, dude’s about 6’2” and his center of gravity is somewhere between his first and second vertebrae. I predicted some sort of concussion or blunt trauma to the back of the head, and waited patiently for the text message while sitting at an Italian restaurant with my mom and sister.

When my phone finally chimed, I got a relative first-glimpse as to how the Missus likes to break bad news:

‘In Urgent Care. Broke my arm :)’

You read that right. She took the time to tack on a smiley. Either because she wanted to downplay the severity of the incident and didn’t want me to worry, or because she was hopelessly in shock.

After cleaning up the spat Killian’s Red from my polo shirt, I hit the road and headed for home. My feelings were mixed. First and foremost, I wanted to make sure that my wife was okay. Secondly, I wanted to passively scold her for not wearing elbow pads, as I had stressed since Day One. Finally and most selfishly, I wondered if this meant I had to drive her to work and make dinner for the next few weeks.

All of these racing thoughts made me feel like a parent who just watched their child lock themselves in the family minivan and pull the shifter down, careening the vehicle into the street. Once you make sure they’re not dead, you want to instinctively hug and strangle them at the same time. Fortunately, she looked so damn pathetic with her sling on, I just shook my head and tried really hard not to cry.

Hey, you know what goes really well with Vicodin? Jameson.”

Oh, you’re hilarious.”

That first night, she slept for fourteen hours.

Part II.

I will never roller skate again. I’ve come to terms with this years ago, for three very distinct reasons.

One, I’m terrible at it, and I refuse to evolve for an activity that has remained relatively unevolved since its inception. As a child, every time I was invited to a birthday party at a roller rink, I grimaced and attempted to lie my way out of it. I never wanted anyone to know that I sucked at skating, and saw no purpose in spending my afternoon unintentionally doing a newborn Giraffe impression in front of my friends. At the bulk of these parties, I would play video games and hide in the bathroom during the ‘All-Skate.’

Yes, I’m serious, and yes, I know how sad that is. Besides, you weren’t the one that was crying in the handicapped stall while ‘The Limbo Song’ blared over the rink PA system. Those are memories you tend to remember, particularly when you’re quartering a prostitute in your basement.

In 1994, my next-door neighbor suffered the most disgusting arm breakage I have ever seen as a result of Rollerblading (a craze that died out almost as instantly as Hypercolor t-shirts and PM Dawn, I might add). The image of her laid-out on the sidewalk, screaming bloody murder and clutching her S-shaped right arm is etched into my brain forever, as it should be. That is something that I do not want to happen to me as a grown man with a job and mortgage, and nothing short of a full-on Knight costume is going to prevent it from happening.

The main point here is probably my endless attempts to save face in public while simultaneously embarrassing myself in tow. It literally frightened me as a child to risk a pratfall in front of my friends, no matter if everyone else was doing it and nobody cared. Ironically, I was always more than willing to take a pratfall if it was the punchline of a joke that I was telling, but we’ll save the deep psychoanalysis for another time. I ain’t drunk enough.

Two, the last time I skated, I severely sprained my wrist. This happened in gym class, of all places, and I didn’t know what had happened until hours later. Sure, my wrist had turned black, hurt like a Fungo Bat to the gonads and I threw up twice immediately afterwards, but I ignored it and continued on with my day until I could no longer hold anything or move it properly (ever try to work a combination lock with the same arm you’re clutching four textbooks in?). When I finally went to the nurse’s office, I was all but thrown into the car and rushed straight to the emergency room. Protective gear or otherwise, my brain will not let me forget that roller skating is a recipe for humiliation, pain, and limp, black wrists.

Three, and this is purely the Elitist part of me speaking…it just ain’t my cup of tea.

The bad 90’s dance music (or worse, the token ‘Wedding Reception’ music), the 30 children flopping themselves around the rink while celebrating a birthday party, the token old guy that’s all by himself and way too good at it, the fact that every roller rink is in a part of town where people get stabbed hourly, the nostalgic, teenage Roller Rink flashbacks to every failed relationship and nonreciprocating glance…why would I subject myself to this? As an adult, I’ve built my life around protecting myself from the things that destroyed me as a child, so why would I willingly step back into the Time Machine of Failure? I write essays about stuff like that so I don’t have to re-live them in a literal sense. A roller derby is where I want to be; throwing myself onto the rink is an entirely different bear.

Because it’s fun!

Sort of, I suppose. But if I really wanted to strap wheels to my feet and crash into shit, I could just get drunk at my house like an adult. And I wouldn’t have to hear the Chicken Dance, either.

Part III.

No matter if you’re going there for your own problems or the problems of a loved one, a trip to the hospital is a generally unwelcome day out of the house, validated parking or otherwise.

As we walked through the waiting rooms adorned with expensive chairs, exotic aquariums and majestic water fountains, I briefly wondered why a hospital would spend so much money making their entrance look so spectacular. Then I remembered that, for most of us, it’ll probably be the last thing we see before we die, so I guess the more lavish, the better. I always donate money to HospiceCare, because I really don’t want to die in a hospital bed. Don’t get me wrong, I’d certainly like to die in a bed, but I’d like for it to be my own, preferably free of handles or mechanical devices of any kind.

Maybe a cat or two would be nice, though.

The Missus was there to get the diagnosis on her elbow. Specifically, if it required surgery, or just a little rest, relaxation and horrid daytime television. This meant a trip into the ‘Orthopedics and Podiatry’ wing of the hospital; a place that I was previously unfamiliar with. Basically, what ‘Orthopedics and Podiatry’ means is that everyone there, and I mean everyone, is limping. Whether it was the click-clacking of aluminum crutches or the subtle groaning and shuffling of a new patient, they sprung for the soft carpet and extra-high Waiting Room chairs for a reason. I was stifling incredulous laughter for the entire duration.

I don’t know what I find so funny about a room full of people unknowingly doing the same thing at the same time, but I just can’t get enough of it. A couple years ago, I went to a training seminar for my day job, and during a break in the action, about 20 gatherers silently ate apples in the conference room. Never mind that nobody there saw the humor in it; the sound alone was so funny that I had to leave before I wet my pantaloons.

As I watched her purse and waited for the Missus to emerge with good news, I fiddled with my iPhone (absolutely no reception whatsoever inside of a hospital) and read hopelessly out-of-date copies of Newsweek and Time. I enjoy reading recently-dated news magazines, however, because it makes me feel like some sort of clairvoyant, like Dr. Manhattan or something. I pretend to myself that I’m reading a new magazine, and can predict the future with stunning accuracy.

Hmm…AIG is asking for bailout money. Something tells me that they’re about to face some powerful and necessary scrutiny for using taxpayer dollars to institute bonuses to several of their high-ranking executives. Time will tell; time will tell…

Then I’ll teleport to Mars while the whole matter gets sorted out.

Fortunately, the prognosis was good. The Missus didn’t need surgery, the cast came off, and a lot of low-impact exercises and suggestions were put into place for a speedy recovery. In two or three weeks, she might actually be back to 100%. We left the hospital feeling optimistic for the future, and she itched her arm raw for the duration of the car ride back home. Damn casts, not allowing for dead skin to naturally shed from your body.

So, the good news is that she’ll be back to normal in no time. The bad news is that she’s still in a lot of pain and sky-high on medication. The hilarious news is that she has currently adopted the body stance of Bob Dole, clutching her still-useless limb tight to her torso. She should really consider sticking a ballpoint pen in there, just to make it look like her right arm serves any sort of purpose.

I shook his good hand when I met him in Washington DC many years ago.

Bob Dole, not Dr. Manhattan.

Part IV.

Life around the house with a gimp is interesting at best, and it also allows you to re-evaluate your privileges and not take so many things for granted.

If you can walk upright, use all of your limbs in tandem and not spend every waking moment in either unbearable pain or a pilled-up stupor, you need to remember that you’re better off than a lot of people out there. The next time you run out to the mailbox in the pouring rain, cursing and complaining the whole way, remember that there’s someone out there who would gladly shoot someone in the face for that ability. This is also just a minor and temporary injury, which optimistically reminds you of how much worse it could have been.

As is always the case, it’s the little things that count. Last night, the pizza guy rang our doorbell while I was on the phone, and I silently gestured to the Missus to take care of it for me, completely forgetting that an 18-inch “Garden Of Eat’n” pie from Rocky Rococo’s with a 2-liter of Pepsi would probably be a little out of her range of motion.

Breadsticks and marinara sauce? Perhaps, but I wasn’t about to take chances.

In the bedroom, there is a stack of pillows in between me and her where she needs to rest her arm while she sleeps. No cuddle parties, no spooning, not even hand-holding. It goes without saying that Spring has gotten off to a somewhat frigid start at CDP Headquarters. Not to let you too far into my intimate lifestyle or anything, but the second that her arm is back to 100%, there’s a good chance it might end up broken again for completely different reasons.

The other day, I called her from work and told her to write me a grocery list, so I could go shopping without having to make her come along. I had forgotten that her broken elbow was attached to the arm that she likes to write with, so when I stepped into the kitchen, I was greeted with a list of foodstuffs that, to me, had been written by a epileptic three-year-old. It was the perfect childhood balance of trying extremely hard to write legibly, all while faced with the undeniable truth that you’re just not there yet from a developmental sense.

In the end, what has been reinforced the most from this accident is my love and respect for the Missus. She’s strong, fearless, does things around the house that I tend to forget about, and I can’t wait to see her back to her normal self. She’s also looking forward to skating again, too, which means that she must really be serious about this Roller Derby venture. Good for her, but I absolutely forbid it unless she remembers to protect herself during the next outing.

Mostly, I’d just like her to get around to hugging me again, but hey, one day at a time.

Monday, September 12

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #19.


#19 - 'The Greatest Depression Ever.'
(Originally published 11/24/08.)

2,750 Words On Financial Responsibility (With Poop Jokes!)
By: Ryan J. Zeinert

PART I - "Bathtub Moonshine."

Make no mistake about it, our nation is starting straight down the barrel of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans are losing their jobs. Multi-billion dollar companies are closing their doors. Gasoline is currently $1.80 a gallon. Truly terrifying stuff.

For those of you who weren’t around for the first Great Depression (scoff if you must, but I have an abnormal amount of Nonagenarian fans), allow me to shed a little light on what you can stand to learn from it. My Great-Grandmother was a Depression-era woman, and when she passed away last year, I was asked to root through her house to see if there was anything I’d like to bring home. It was there where the family found age-old collections of bottle caps, newspapers, long-dead appliances and…gahh…Band-Aids. The place was absolutely stacked to the rafters with a lifetime of hoarding and thrifty-ness barely holding everything together. She came from a generation that had no credit, threw nothing away and had to fend for themselves when the Stock Market crumbled around them.

Oh, and she was also a pack-rat that probably would have behaved the same way had the Depression never happened at all, so you may want to bear that in mind. I love her and miss her very much, but yeah, she had a bit of a problem with throwing stuff away. Nonetheless, we can all learn a little something from Great-Grandma Milly: the Government will probably help Wall Street when they fail, but they certainly will not help us, so stock up and prepare for the Apocalypse, ‘cuz it’s a comin’.

Signs of careful spending are everywhere these days. Why just yesterday, instead of buying my usual 10-year Scotch at the liquor store, I had to settle for the inferior 2-year Scotch at the grocery store. Hey, what can you do? Corners need to be cut, and I’ll get drunk just as fast either way. Besides, when alcohol functions as both your dinner and breakfast, you’ll end up saving in the long run.

Since alcohol is recession-proof, however, you can fully expect me to get on board with my own signature brand of bathtub moonshine in the near-future.

PART II - "Coffee + Apples = Instant Enema."

It was this looming fear of going broke, losing my job, losing my house, losing my wife, losing feeling in the tips of my fingers and inevitably losing my ability to remember that I don’t like touching wieners at the bus station for money that led me to a Financial Planning seminar offered last week at one of the many State agencies that could buy and sell my life about a jillion times over without blinking (feel free to take a second; that was an embarrassingly long sentence). I attended because not only did it make me feel responsible and hopefully plant a seed of responsibility and long-term planning in my head, but also because it was a paid afternoon off of work with free coffee and apples.

Oh, and by the way: Coffee + Apples = Instant Enema. You’ve been warned. I swear to God, there wasn’t a single minute of that seminar where someone wasn’t out using the can.

For the first time ever (and for the sake of this essay), I’m going to give you a quick peek into how me and the Missus manage our money. Not surprisingly, it’s based on equal parts Libertarianism and Socialism, if such a thing is even possible. It more or less breaks down like this:

1. Your money is your own. We have separate checking accounts and trust that the other will not become suddenly irresponsible or develop a drug habit of some kind. When you’re out of money, you’re out of money, and can no longer buy stuff. In the six years that we’ve lived together, I can only think of one time where one of us had to pay for something that was normally purchased by the other. Works like a charm.

2. We have one joint Savings account for emergencies, vacations, royalty checks and sweet, sweet Pampered Chef money. This is how we make large, joint purchases; we try to put a certain amount of money into it every month, but this rarely, if ever happens. I honestly think we have 17 dollars in there right now. We blame this mostly on purchasing a house earlier in the year, and also on the fact that we’re allergic to saving.

3. After calculating how much monthly income the two of us bring in, we adjust the bill-paying so that we both have excess spending money that’s relative to the amount of income we bring into the house over the amount spent on bills. Basically, we split things up so we’re both comfy on a month-to-month basis. I’ll pay for this, you pay for that, and we’ll both have about the same cash left over. Spread the wealth, and so forth.

The Missus covers groceries, the mortgage and her car payment, and I pretty much pay for everything else. This means that if she wants to divorce me, she could afford the house and food, but she wouldn’t be able to keep the lights and water on. I, on the other hand, would be homeless, but I’d have a nice cell phone and cable TV service, if I had a television, which I would not. It forces us into mutual dependence while still remaining independent spenders.

4. Other things, such as investments, retirement, Deferred Comp and whatnot, have been set into motion years ago through our employers and don’t factor into our day-to-day. Also, considering the current state of the economy, we don’t even look at these statements when they’re mailed to us. They are immediately lit on fire and thrown into the garbage disposal, unless we’re looking for a reason to cry for five to six straight hours. We have a good retirement program, conservative, diverse investments and a few other things that put money away for us because we’re too irresponsible to do it ourselves. If anything, it’s an excuse to watch MSNBC and pretend I know what everyone’s talking about.

5. …that’s it. We’ve been running with this plan for over six years now, and it’s been absolutely rad and headache-free. No late payments, nothing past due, no arguments, nothing.

But, as I’m sure most of you can surmise from this (well, those of you who are smarter and wealthier than I), this doesn’t work for crap when it comes to anything long-term. Sure, we have the monthly formula down to a science, but when it comes to a five-year plan, sudden emergencies, paying off debt in a shorter amount of time or accumulating a savings, it’s complete junk. We’re living too well, too soon, and nothing is carrying over. It’s stagnant, and unless we both start making more money or serious financial changes, we’ll be treading water for eternity. No finished basement with a pool table, no new cars, no mewling babies with poopy pants, nothing.

Let’s face it. Socialism and Libertarianism doesn’t work, even in tandem.

PART III - "Asses & Assets."

Of course, most of us would take ‘treading water’ over ‘bankrupt’ in a heartbeat, but when I look at our monthly income, I know we can do better to protect our asses and assets for the oncoming trainwreck of an economic collapse, and I had hoped that this semin-izar would siz-et me striz-aight. All I really wanted was someone to hypnotize the love of sub sandwiches, bagels and Pay-Per-View violence out of me, and I’d probably pocket an extra $400 a month from that alone. I don’t know about you, but it makes me sick to think that there’s enough cash for a 2009 Mercedes-Benz tucked in my wallet, but it’s being pissed away in the form of potato salad and honey-almond cream cheese. Completely unacceptable. And fattening.

Instead of tips and tricks for better saving, this seminar put the fear of God and guilt into me in a way that not even 16 years of Catholic church had ever done; a remarkable feat, to say the least, and they didn’t even have to touch my Swimsuit Area to get their point across. By the end of this seminar, I was convinced that not only was I going to go broke at the hands of some tragic and unavoidable accident that would surely leave me paralyzed and inhaling puree'd ‘Hungry Man’ TV dinners through a straw, but that I deserved it because I didn’t plan ahead. Now I’m dead and char-broiled in hell, and my wife and cats will soon be joining me because we didn’t repent before it was too late. It was like watching a Chick Tract unfurl before my very eyes. However, unlike Religion and God’s love, this wasn’t a figment of my imagination; this was serious business, and I needed to change in a hurry.


I’ve seen the light! I’ve seen the error of my ways! I’m ready to embrace the love of savings and reasonable budgeting! I hope it’s not too late to turn things around! Praise the Wisconsin Investment & Risk Management Firm! They have truly saved me and my family! Praise the Excel spreadsheet! Praise the amateur-quality PowerPoint presentation!

After my fiscal awakening, I couldn’t wait to come home and share the Good News with the Missus. Tell her about all the wonderful things that had happened to me, and all the wonderful things that were about to befall us if we just obeyed the Gospel of the Semi-Balding Accountant. I had full-color pamphlets and literature, too; just to drive the point home.

I snapped out of my good mood quickly, however, when I realized that I was about to explain to my wife that we could never spend any money on anything that made us happy ever again for any reason, forever and ever, until the end of time, Amen. Even though I was on a high, I still didn’t think that she was going to go for this. Our spending habits were about to change. Nay, our lives were about to change in the name of Spending. We were about to argue over Money; something we’ve successfully avoided for years now. We were going to live our lives for the future instead of paying for the past, and it wasn’t going to be comfortable.

PART IV - "Phantom Smells."

Now, telling your wife that you want to be 100% in control of her money is a…how shall I put it…born-with-half-a-brainstem retarded argument to start for no good reason. Especially when your wife makes significantly more than you do annually and could probably take you in a fight if push really came to shove. However, telling your wife that you want to be 100% in control of her money because you fear she’s not handling it responsibly is almost certain death, and instantly on the Top 10 List of the Craziest Things I’ve Ever Done and Expected My Wife To Be Cool With, somewhere in between passing out in the driveway on Halloween and drunkenly grabbing my co-worker’s ass at a wedding reception. For this current outburst, I wouldn’t even have the excuse of inebriation working for me, for crying out loud.

After days of charting, projecting and calculating, I was about to pitch the idea of a joint-checking, joint-savings household to the Missus, with me calling the shots, budgeting out cash, determining purchases and accumulating a savings. There’s wasn’t a Pie Graph or Hi-Lighter in the world that was going to make this work in my favor, so imagine my extreme shock and incredulousness when she not only didn’t murder me, but totally agreed with me.

Holy sweet Goddamn. How did I pull it off? I wasn’t prepared, sprung it on her at a bad time and failed to have any of my note cards on me. I must have really had the charm working overtime that night, which led me to believe that either I was being double-crossed, or the Missus had developed an inoperable brain tumor that she wasn’t being entirely honest with me about. I asked her if she was experiencing any ‘phantom smells’ before I continued on with my argument. But the truth of the matter was this: she admitted that she wasn’t handling her money as well as she should be (me too, of course), and something needed to be done to develop some sort of long-term plan for the future. Now, you don’t know my wife as well as I do, but she must have sincerely hated balancing her checkbook to turn such a responsibility over to me so flippantly, even more so than I ever knew. Expecting more of a backlash and subsequent stabbings, the realization that I was now in charge of our financial future was a feeling of equal parts maturity, nobility and full-blown pantal urination.

Inspired by President-Elect Obama, I drew up a battle plan and instantly went to work. I had earned this unenviable household task, and I wasn’t about to let down those who helped me to get there. Excel spreadsheets were created, budgets were handed out and toilet paper was purchased in bulk. A plan was put into play to cut our credit card bills in half within a certain amount of time, cut excess monthly costs, and create a long-awaited emergency fund for when I shatter my pelvis installing the new garage door. It was finally going to happen; we were finally going to get ahead.

I was forgetting one tiny little detail, however.

I never get ahead.

At all.


PART V - "Tinker, Monkey, And/Or Fiddle."

If you recall from this hilarious and brilliantly-penned essay, I am the living representation of Even Steven. This assurance of breaking even comes in handy when faced with hard and troubling times, but leaves me powerless to accrue any sort of insurance for the future. Surely, something was going to happen that would stomp my well-researched plan into the dirt. Would it be a gardening accident, perhaps? An illness? Pink slip? Unexpected pregnancy? Unexpected divorce followed by an unexpected pregnancy caused by a gardening accident? Answer me, damn it!

My main fear lies in not the potential for arguments or figuring out a new system for day-to-day survival, but of the sheer unknown of it. We’re about to tinker, monkey and/or fiddle with something that maybe didn’t deserve to be tinkered, monkeyed and/or fiddled with in the first place. What if it’s a disaster? What if me and the Missus become passive, vindictive people to each other because of our newfound budgeting and the inevitable power struggle that accompanies it? Then again, what if it’s a complete success, allowing us to move onward and upward in the constantly-rigged game of Life? Honestly, that outcome might be a fate more frightening than failure, for a number of reasons only a lifelong pessimist could possibly rationalize.

This pretty much brings us up to speed. The Great Experiment is a few weeks away from its estimated launch date, and despite my former optimism and life-changing fiscal awakening, I’m left nervous and trembling by the looming, greedy hand of Fate. What will come of this? Will everything work perfectly, allowing us to save money and yet remain happy in our luxuries? Will tension, arguments and poor planning slip us into a debt larger than ever before? Or will Fate step in and give me cancer of the balls?

Only time will tell, my friends. Only time will tell.

Sunday, September 11

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #20.


#20 - 'A Feral, Angry Cantaloupe Of Hellfire And Awful.'
(Originally published 7/2/09.)

As you may already know, the Missus and I are the proud and increasingly indifferent (respectively) owners of an African Pygmy Hedgehog named Laika. We’ve had her for about two years now, and for all intents and purposes, she’s a full-fledged member of the family. Sort of like a younger, hunched-over sister that’s covered in needles and eats mealworms. Every family has one.

The name Laika was chosen by me, as an homage to the Russian Space Dog of the same name; a street mutt that was sadly launched into orbit by the Ruskies with no intention of rescuing her. The original Laika has since been commemorated with a postage stamp and sculpture bearing her name and cementing her legacy as a canine pioneer in the early Space Exploration movement. I’ve always found the story to be equal parts fascinating, saddening and heroic, and to this day, I cannot look at our hedgehog without imagining her donning a tiny space helmet and blasting off into the terrifying blackness of the unknown. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

But I jest. To me, she always seemed about as well-behaved and intelligent as one could expect from what amounts to nothing more than an insect-munching rodent. Of course, my opinion was admittedly skewed as I had never been in intimate contact with any other hedgehogs in my life, save for that isolated incident in England where one skittered over my shoe and nearly caused me to ‘splatter my khakis,’ as the Brits never say.

That being said, she’s low-maintenance and lower-profile, idly going about her nocturnal ways in her spacious cage in the master bedroom. Most nights, she can be quietly heard pattering about on her exercise wheel (hedgehogs are easily capable of running 6 miles a night), generating a comforting White Noise of sorts for me and the Missus as we drift into slumber. As the weeks and months piled up, I began to think to myself, “Wow, maybe hedgehogs aren’t so bad after all.


Wrong times a million, and I now have proof.

Last month, the Missus and I agreed to ‘hogsit’ for a friend’s hedgehog while she went on vacation. The hog in question, an intimidating monstrosity named ‘Whiskers,’ was now taking residency in our master bedroom right along side of Laika’s cage for the next two weeks.

The differences between Whiskers and Laika were fairly noticeable from the start. First off, Whiskers was approximately 3-9 times the size of Laika; she honestly looked more like a morbidly overbese* badger than an unassuming, spiny insectivore. I secretly wondered if someone had been sneaking raw bacon and mayonnaise into her food supply from the moments shortly following her birth.

*‘Morbidly Overbese.’ Work it into your next discussion!

Secondly, I quickly learned that Laika is well-behaved because the Missus trained her to be well-behaved. Acclimated her to human scents, handling and familiar schedules. Developed a bond and trust with her. Let her burrow around in her shirt and chew on her hair. Essentially the very same things that she did to develop a lifelong bond with me. When you don’t establish these boundaries early on with what amounts to a wild animal, they…well, pretty much stay wild.

Everyone knows that hedgehogs ball up when frightened or angry. What you may not know is that they make a ‘huffing’ noise as well. It sounds a bit like a rattlesnake with emphysema; a low, rattling, wheezing, shaking warning cry that doesn’t sound the least bit inviting or worth screwing around with. Describe it any way you wish; it just plain sounds dangerous, and whenever I hear it, instinct kicks in and I immediately leave the premises. I know better than to deal with anything covered with allergy-inducing spikes, even something that’s small enough for me to easily demolish with a hand-held rubber mallet. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it a time or two.

Laika was a small, smart, resourceful friend to all. Whiskers was a humongous, feral, angry cantaloupe of hellfire and awful, and I was now sharing a bedroom with her.

Have you ever had someone spend the night at your house that you just didn’t trust? Be it that you thought they would steal something, bludgeon you with a golf club or attempt to nudely slip into bed with you? This is exactly how I felt for the two weeks that Whiskers invaded my personal space. I slept with one eye open. Every foreign noise was heard by perked ears. Every solitary creak was met with me sitting straight up in bed, clutching a baseball bat and drizzling with flop sweat. I had no doubt that she was more than capable of chewing her way through the steel bars of the cage, methodically clawing her way up the imitation Goose Down comforter and proceeding to eviscerate me from the inside-out.

Oh, and with Whiskers’ extra weight, extra mass was certain to follow. Listening to this nightmarish Chupacabra shuffle, rumble and gallop on her exercise wheel sounded exactly, exactly, like a shoe in the washing machine. It was ferocious. It rattled the house. It kept me up for four straight nights. The Missus, fresh off of blowing out her knee while roller skating, was so jacked up on medication and NyQuil most evenings that she had no idea what was happening. There she’d be, out like a light at…oh, say 5:30pm, while I spent the remainder of the evening pacing around the bedroom, literally (and depressingly) berating an obese hedgehog for minutes at a time.

I’d stand at the base of the cage in my boxer shorts, wedge my haggard and stubbly face against the bars of the cage and yell-whisper from around 2:30 to 3:45am:

“This cannot be happening.” (Denial)
“Go…to…BED…you fat piece of shit!” (Anger)
“Mealworms? Lettuce? I’ll give you anything you want, please just let me sleep.” (Bargaining)
“(Incoherent sobbing; unspeakable profanities)” (Depression)
“Screw it, I’m sleeping in the office.” (Acceptance)

Even though my office was clear across the second floor of my house, I could still hear her in there. Nothing short of sleeping behind the water heater in the basement was going to rid me of this nightmare. For two of the four nights, I slept on the floor of the living room with the cats.

As a teenager, I knew that with adulthood would arrive a certain amount of adult responsibilities that I wouldn't quite understand until they showed up at my doorstep. Managing a marriage, managing your finances, managing your professional career; these were all things that I had to learn and tackle one jittery step at a time. 'Whiskers' represented the banana peel. The intangible. The X Factor. The runaway cement mixer at the company picnic. You can't prepare for something you never, and I mean never, thought you would encounter, regardless of how insignificant or outwardly silly it appears to be.

Life never ends up the way you plan it in your head. Once you accept that, things seem a lot more fair.