Comment Is Unfortunately Free

A while back, a someone I know posted on social media that she was looking for a computer for her 12-year-old son. She posted that she was looking to spend no more that $500, preferably less, and it should be a Windows PC since her son was into playing video games and she preferred a laptop since space in the house was limited. It was a simple enough request that she wanted some input on since she didn't have a lot of buying experience when it came to computers.

One of the first comments made on the post was, "Buy him a Mac, it's better. Windows sucks." I immediately shook my head and knew that no good would come of this. She responded quickly that she knew that Macs were well out of her price range and that the selection of games her son wanted to play was unavailable for the Mac operating system. The commenter was adamant, and continued to badger her that it was worth the extra expense for the reliability and the sacrifice of a few silly kids games. Other people chimed in trying to reason with her friend that she knew what she was looking for and just wanted some brand guidance. He began berating others that they had no idea what they were talking about and he knew best about what she wanted. She ended up deleting the post altogether and reposted to a limited audience instead so as to avoid this particular person.

Herein lies one of my biggest beefs with social media. Just because somebody asks for advice or asks a question does not mean that everyone has to answer it. In the above example, if your only advice is a more expensive, limited capability computer, then scroll past the post and type nothing. That goes for people who respond to posts asking for any Android users having an issue with <app name> since the last update with "I use iPhone, the app works fine for me." That's wonderful for you, isn't it? Except that nobody asked you. Comments like this appear to me to be looking for an argument where there should be none. The original post is looking for Android users and said nothing about iPhone. It happens the other way around as well, and I'm not picking on Apple users, it just happens this way quite a bit more often.

One final group are the unsuitable commenters. These are people who either don't read the original post or just feel the need to insert a comment everywhere. One example of the former was when I had posted an in memoriam for a friend and tagged another friend who had a birthday the same day. The post was saying how birthday friend was responsible for me meeting the deceased friend and was not in any way a birthday post. A friend of the birthday friend comments with a bright and colorful HAPPY BIRTHDAY animated gif. I replied simply with, read the whole post before commenting. She responded by liking my reply and that was it. After an hour, I deleted her comment.

Here's some advice...READ THE POST BEFORE YOU COMMENT! If it refers to something that does not necessitate a joke, please resist the urge to comment with a joke. Don't insert your two cents where it's not wanted, and don't try to start a religious debate over which is the best operating system for a computer.

OUTRAGED!!! About Viral Products

Yet another ridiculous product has hit the internet, thanks to a certain "higher end department store". This time around, the department store has introduced muddied jeans for $425 and has earned the ire of Twitter, Mike Rowe from Discovery's Dirty Jobs, several news outlets, and the blogosphere. There are people that are OUTRAGED!!! at this product and threatening to boycott the department store. You know what? I'm going to join that boycott. I will never shop at that department store ever* again**. Apparently, these jeans mock hard work and make light of the middle class (or some other thing that is too deeply philosophical for me to understand).

* you could add a . (period) at this point
** unnecessary word

Here's the thing...this same retailer offered a rock in a leather pouch. Another retailer offered a Kent State sweatshirt with fake blood stains on it. These things also earned the OUTRAGE!!! of the internet as a whole.

As they were supposed to.

There's an old saying, "There's no such think as bad publicity." This is true statement. I never gave either of the not-so-referred-to retailers a second glance until a trending topic came up referring to these "viral products", and now suddenly I realize that they exist. Of course, once I see a product in a trending topic, I immediately realize that it's a publicity stunt. Of course, we all forgot about the rock-in-a-pouch until the jeans came out. I may go as far as to guarantee that these products were never actually for sale and were only ways to either test the market or generate some form of buzz. The latter is definitely a possibility.

Quit falling for this bullshit or laugh it off, because if you're suddenly OUTRAGED!!! then you're going to share it with friends and they'll share it and they'll share it, etc. That's how these stunts work. That's why I didn't link to anything, because I don't want to perpetuate it.

Now, are you interested in buying a hat with fake bird poop on it? It's only $95.


One Month Down

Over the past month, I have changed my eating habits and started exercising a lot more and even had some sessions with a personal trainer. I would be lying if I said it was easy, but then it would also be a lie to say it was difficult. As I wrote about in “Nutrition Frustration” and talked about on The Illuminati Social Club (ISC Episode #18, “Food Fauxtrition”), there is a lot of really bad information when it comes to the subject of health and nutrition. When it came down to changing my eating habits, I looked at what I was eating too much of and started there. That made a world of difference.

I am not a doctor or healthcare professional. I am just a guy that has been struggling with his weight for a long time and I am here to tell you that there is no easy way to lose weight. The plan that I’m following works for me, but it may not work for you. Consult your family physician or a registered dietician for guidance. Stay away from fitness professionals (unless they’re giving you exercise advice), food bloggers, nutritionists, and anyone promoting fad diet products for diet advice.

The first thing I noted was that I eat way too much bread, cereal, and sweets. So, I cut those out, but not entirely and I will discuss that in a bit. I also drank too much milk (to go with those sweets), so I quit buying it. I have also cut out fast food and junk food. All of this has had a great effect on me, personally, and paired with increased exercise, has resulted in a drop off of 15 lbs. in a month as of this posting. I don’t miss the weight, and I don’t miss the foods I’ve cut back on. Why? I didn’t give them up.

I’m a social person and I get invited to dinner, parties, and I host get-togethers at my house. I am not going to turn my nose up at free food, nor at food that I love to eat. Yes, I’ve cut back on my carbs, but if I go to the neighbor’s for a cookout, you can be damn sure I’m eating a burger and hot dog both on buns. I will eat the potato salad, and even have dessert. When I go to a restaurant I order from the menu like a regular person and I won’t claim gluten sensitivity or other allergies because I don’t have any allergies or aversions when it comes to food.

The toughest part was finding substitute snacks that are high in protein and low or no carbs. I started buying almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews and roasting those up with some oil (or butter) and seasoning. I also go to the Spanish market nearby for chicharrones (large, fried pork skins) which are also allowed by my diet.

There is no magic bullet or miracle pill regardless of what duplicitous TV doctors will have you believe. There are a lot of people selling a bill of goods that’s skillfully marketed as a dietary solution. They’re doing nothing more than capitalizing on people’s desperation. The only way to succeed is by being committed to giving up many of the foods you love and eating more of the healthy stuff. And if you get invited to dinner parties every night, you may have to practice extra willpower.

Nutrition Frustration

I’ve taken it upon myself to finally, after 43 years on this planet, get into shape (or something resembling shape). I took advantage of a free consultation at the gym where I’ve already been going to get a “fitness analysis” from one of the trainers. That’s when the frustration began. Firstly, I’m going to doubt his actual qualifications to give nutrition advice based on the fact that he used plenty of hyperbole in excoriating many foods that I have always thought were just fine in moderation. Much of his advice sounded like it came off the pages of Natural News, Food Babe, and Mercola.

Let me pause for a moment to state what, exactly, my fitness goals are. I am tall with a big belly. I am not looking to run a marathon (if you ever see me running, it would be wise to try and keep up) nor swim the English Channel. I am trying to get to weight where I am not going to drop dead before I retire. I am looking to reduce the size of belly so that people will quit standing under it in the rain. I’m looking to be reasonably healthy and happy with the way I look, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

He trotted out the old “Diet soda is worse for you than regular soda” which is bullshit. The study most often cited was so badly done that it only controlled for one variable. It turns out that the subjects’ diets were self-reported, which means that they could not be verified. Yvette D’entremont, The SciBabe, wrote an excellent article about why diet soda isn’t killing anyone. 

He made plenty of other claims which I tried to verify online, such as “gluten is bad for you”, “dairy is poison”, and “peanuts are harmful”, all of which, upon a Google search, the conflicting blog posts even among so-called nutrition experts was enough to drive me into a deep state of frustration. I walked away from that consultation feeling like I was either going to be eating nothing but kale salad and drinking kombucha, or I was going to starve myself to death.

There is so much misinformation, disinformation, misguided advice, bullshit for the sake of selling products, and just plain snake oil that, as I write this, I am genuinely feeling like I am go to break down and cry (ever see a 6-foot 7-inch, 43 year old ugly cry? You don’t want to). I’m angry and frustrated and I just want to scream. I just want to know what I can eat and what I should avoid without the scare tactics or sales pitches to go with them. Is that too much to ask? 

In the end, I figured that I would cut well back on breads and sugars and step away from dairy. Why? Not because they’re deadly or poison or Hitler or whatever, but because thinking about my diet, these are the things that I’ve eaten way too much of for way too long. It couldn’t hurt to give up most of it and increase my fruits and vegetables and quit eating out so much. However, if my friends want to go out to a burger restaurant, not fast food, mind you, but a decent place that has really good burgers, I’m ordering like a normal person and eating that bun, because I’m a human being goddammit. I will keep you updated as to how I am progressing over time.

Daily Notes--1/10/17


Welcome to "Daily Notes" which is whatever enters my head at any time of day. It may be a story fragment, a sentence, a pithy quote, or a journal entry. This is my first day of trying this. Bear with me.

8:21am Supposedly it was going to be an icy drive into work with plenty of delays and dangerous road conditions. It was wet and rainy, but there were only a few side streets that any type of ice on them and that was primarily slush.

12:55pm "Hello female human. I would like to inquire of you your want to accompany me in the final quarter of the day/night cycle to assimilate nutrition."

2:08pm Politics. I'm tired of politics. Luckily, we won't be discussing politics tonight as we record another episode of The Showhole. We're never sure what we're going to talk about until we start recording. That's the fun of recording that podcast.

5:44pm I have to get a workout in at home. I've been doing well keeping after my weight. I'm down ten pounds in two and a half weeks, which probably includes some water weight, but I'm showing improvement and I'm already feeling better. I've also been working some muscles that I don't think I've ever worked before.

10:15pm I just finished watching the president's farewell address. I have to admit that I am going to miss Mr. Obama and his grace and dignity, especially compared to what's coming into the office. I will continue to read that Wired interview with Obama because it shows that there are smart and thoughtful people in politics.

Why 2016 Wasn't The Worst Year

Yes, I know, I said I hated "thinkpieces" and I was dreading the those that were going to tell us all why 2016 was actually the best year ever or at least not the worst year. I'm not doing that here, despite the title I put on it, because this is article will include a part about time travel.

Yes, we lost a lot of big name celebrities this year, but did we really? We lost celebrities who were in the mainstream public eye this year. We've lost plenty of famous people in years past, and we're going to lose more in coming years. We're moving into a time when many of the celebrities that are in an older age group started their careers in the days of heavy media saturation of the sixties. Of course, many of these people also enjoyed certain substances that may have contributed to a shorter life. So it's not that more celebrities died, it's that more celebrities that people heard of died. So that's part of why 2016 isn't the worst. I really don't want to post much about it, but we elected a new that happened. Another part is that it happened.

Yes, we must make the assumption that time travel will be possible at some point. And if it is possible, then 2016 doesn't even register as a priority year for time travelers. That means that there are far worse years that need saving and 2016 is just normal, and it is. Of course, that also means that the Spanish-American War, World War 1, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf 1, Persian Gulf 2, Afghanistan, and all other smaller wars really did not register either. That begs the question...WHAT THE HELL IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE?! If we think 2016 is a flaming shitshow, how will we handle what's to come?

Seriously, though, I have plenty of reason to dislike 2016. Many shitty things happened this year, but plenty of good things also happened. I witnessed personally the winning of what I feel is a major sports championship when the Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup in the AHL. I spent plenty of time at the ballpark for Indians games, and went to a lot of really cool metal and punk shows.

Deck The Cards

I'm in a maths mood today (Note the proper British spelling) and I can't remember if I wrote much about the maths of playing cards. Did you know that the odds are slim to none that any deck of cards ever since the conception of the modern design has ever been in the same order after a deck's first shuffle. That's because there are more than 8 * 10^67. That is, for lack of any appreciable comparison, an astronomical number of permutations.

Well, you want to know how many ways a deck of cards can be arranged? Let's start with three cards to make this easy. Say we have Ace, 2, and 3 (suits are unimportant, but if you think they matter, then they're all diamonds). How many different ways can Ace, 2, and 3 be arranged.

A 2 3, A 3 2, 2 A 3, 2 3 A, 3 A 2, 3 2 A

It looks like there are six ways to arrange them. Great, now do the same thing for all 52 cards. List out every possible permutation and you'll find you answers. There you have it.

What? Listing 8 * 10^67 permutations of 52 cards would take a little bit too much time? OK, fine, maybe we can find a mathematical formula that will work for any number of cards.

How do we arrive at that massive number? Rather simply, the formula is 52!. No, you don't scream 52 really loudly. It's 52 Factorial. But what does that mean?

Let's go back to the three card example. You have three cards in you hand and three spots to place them. How many possible cards can go into the first spot? Three.

__ __ __
3 __ __

There are two spots left. How many possible cards of the remaining can go into that spot?

3 2 __

There, now naturally, there is one spot left and only one card left. Guess what? You have only one choice for the final spot.

3 2 1

Now, just multiply those numbers together and you get 3 x 2 x 1 = 6. The same can be done with all 52 cards. 52 x 51 x 50 x 49 x 48... x 2 x 1 = 8.06 * 10^67. That's a lot of arrangements for one deck of cards.

Happy NaNoWeen

Yes, it's that time of year again where I will spend thirty days feverishly typing into a computer (or iPad) in order to get an idea out into the open where I can actually edit it. I honestly don't see the 50,000 word goal to be a big deal anymore. Achieving that is the easy part. The toughest part for me is remaining focused on one idea and bringing it to some form of fruition. Also, to be honest, I haven't really kept up with my personal writing goals this year. You may notice some long gaps in the blog. I will correct for that (like with this post that you're reading right now) by possibly posting some of what I've written throughout the month. I may also work on a couple more of my memoir pieces in tandem with my NaNo project and get those on the blog.

As far as any other goings on in my life, I got my big, annual house cleaning done. I will, once again, be hosting Thanksgiving for my family and...holy crap...Thanksgiving is coming up already? Oh, right, it's Halloween as I write this which obviously means that it's the last day of October. Well, I might as well enjoy the holidays while they're here to be enjoyed. Anyway, that's all I have for now, but stay tuned for more things that I've written.

Mixed Nuts and Bolts


In case you're unaware or don't listen to my podcasts, I am currently involved in a few projects. I have, of course, the SGMR Podcast which is my audio blog where I talk about boring stuff that is not worth writing about. I also have The Illuminati Social Club, which I'm hoping to bring back shortly with periodic discussions of old In Search Of... episodes as well as the regular discussions of conspiracy theories, junk science, and pseudoscience. Another project I'm involved with is The Anger Core, which is an NSFW news-in-review show where Jason, Brent, and I discuss politics and other news stories on a somewhat weekly schedule. Finally, one of my favorite podcasts to do is Smooth Sailing: The Yacht Rock Podcast with Jason (linked earlier). This is where we discuss the smooth hits of the 70's and early 80's in a very fun way. On top of all that, I have appeared on a couple episodes of Dispatches From the Emporium on the Talking Is Dead network, and will be making a guest appearance on another podcast soon (I'll wait until it's done and link to it).

I have been listening to another podcast called Exposing Pseudoastronomy with Stuart Robbins. He's a geophysicist and astronomer who debunks claims about astronomy made by conspiracy theorists and young earth creationists such as the hollow earth, Planet X (Nibiru), flat earth, and 2012. The reason I bring this up (besides it being a great podcast) is because he uses plenty of clips from Coast2Coast AM (Art Bell's former show now hosted by George Noory). What I noticed about that and other shows, websites, and publications that discuss fringe topics is that they never allow questioning. I found this while preparing for my episode about the flat earth. Any attempt to disprove flat earth theory with actual scientific data was deleted and the user banned. The same goes with anti-GMO pages, creationist sites, and most other anti-science groups out there. That's what I would like to talk about on an upcoming episode of The Illuminati Social Club.

That's all I have for now. Please check out the podcasts that I have linked to above, and let me know if you have any suggestions for any of my podcasts. And if you'd like to be a guest on Smooth Sailing, send me an email or contact me on Twitter.

More Absolute True Things I Just Made Up

There are people who believe that the moon landing in 1969 was faked and it was all filmed in a studio on earth. They are partially correct, the moon landing was filmed in a studio, but it wasn't on earth. Due to a secret treaty with the Lunatics, a moon-based civil rights group, earthlings were not permitted to step foot on the moon. So instead, the people to step foot on "the moon" were actually walking on, you probably didn't guess it, Mercury. It took many years of preparation to be able to go to Mercury to build a studio that they could use to stage the moon landing. Unfortunately, it's incredibly hot there and only an air conditioned studio would do the trick.

Many work crews were dispatched to Mercury after negotiations with the Lunatics failed repeatedly. The next plan was to film on Pluto, but there was that whole Planet X fiasco going on so that plan was scrubbed. Jupiter remained a possibility for quite a while until it was realized that the whole planet was made of gas and not really conducive to the construction of a multi-million dollar studio. So it came down to Mercury. Residents of the fiery little rock were quite happy to get the additional tax money that expensive, deliberately deceiving hoaxes tend to bring in.

Once the big day came and NASA was ready to launch the mission, they still had some work to do. First they had to redirect the rocket to Mercury and then they had to convince people not to train their telescopes on the moon in case it was able to see the lander and the astronauts. They used the excuse that a stray reflection could blind the astronauts as they walked on the surface.

There's Someone Else Controlling Me

I decided to fast forward a bit since the details of the early years are not nearly enough to fill any significant portion of a blog. I may refer back where necessary and provide a vignette, but let's pick up in 1986 when I was 12.

I remember the PSAs during Saturday morning cartoons that talked about marijuana being a "gateway" drug. I know nothing about that as I never did drugs and didn't start enjoying the occasional beer until way later in life (seriously, not even joking). I can, however, speak to the truth of a different kind of "gateway" to a wider world.  The gateway to metal.

I was in seventh grade during 1986-87 and my brother was a sophomore in high school. He was friends with the group I will call the jeans vest guys. This is not to be confused with the "denim vest guys" who listen to country music. The jeans vest guys were the long-haired guys who cut the sleeves off their jeans jackets and adorned them with patches and artwork of their favorite heavy metal bands. My brother, as mentioned earlier, was already into bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and of course, Ozzy Osbourne. The next step in the metal chain would be the band that was the gateway drug to even more metal.

Metallica. The album was Ride The Lightning. My brother borrowed the album (on vinyl) off of one of his friends, came home, put it on the turntable and…I was a bit underwhelmed for the first forty seconds. Here was this melodic acoustic guitar solo to start things off. Wow, really? This is…wait…holy shit! I had never heard anything so fast and heavy in my life. The growling vocals singing about impending doom due to warfare. It didn't take long for Eric to buy the album for himself and for me to borrow it and record the first two songs for a mix tape. Of course, this new found sound would not make me any more popular at school.

This brand of heavy metal was commonly referred to ask "kill your mother" music. Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella, and other hair metal bands were fine. It was the serious underground metal that scared people. So I was listening to Metallica on my Walkman when somebody in my class asked me what I was listening to. Stupidly, I answered, and then it came, "Hey, Jasen's listening to 'kill your mother' music!" I don't remember my reaction to it all, but I probably retreated into my own mind and tried not to pay attention any semblance of popularity I thought I had fade away into oblivion. From then until I graduated the following year, I kept this part of my musical taste under wraps, but I continued to experiment with harder forms of metal, like Anthrax, Megadeth, and eventually the kings, Slayer.

If I could go back in time and talk to myself (provided it doesn't result in the collapse of the universe), I would probably tell myself, "Pay no attention to those other kids because in two years Metallica would release …And Justice For All and they will all jump on this bandwagon. You will be able say that you liked them before they were 'cool'." Of course I can't go back in time (yet) which means I also can't prevent me from wasting a Christmas gift, but that will have to wait.

Sundays in the Kitchen

Growing up, Sundays were truly the most fun day of the week. My mom made dinner every week and my aunt, uncle, and grandpa would come over. Mom was always a good cook and her house is still the gathering place for all major dinners except for Thanksgiving. I took over that holiday when I moved into my own house.

After dinner would be coffee and dessert and listening to the oldies show on radio. My parents and aunt and uncle would go out to a local bar on Tuesdays to see the DJ who hosted this show, Bruce Ryan. If it was somebody's birthday, my dad would call in a dedication for the Beatles' "Birthday". When I was young, there was a great thrill to hearing my name said on the radio. (Today, as a podcaster, I hate hearing my own voice.)

One of the favorite songs that came up just about every week was "Little Darling" by The Diamonds. We would sing along to this song, especially the high-pitched vocals and the spoken word part. Beside that song, my all-time favorite has always been "Stand By Me", whether it's the original by Ben E. King, John Lennon, or the fantastic version from Playing For Change, where musicians from all over the world recorded various songs and they were mixed together.

Oldies still hold a prominent spot in my music listening, especially some of the stuff that wasn't always played on the radio. These days, the local oldies station only plays from the mid-60's and later, which means that I have to depend on Google Play and my own CD collection to give me the good time oldies I enjoy so much. I recommend the box set, Loud, Fast, and Out of Control, the Wild Sounds of 50's Rock. It contains many of my favorites, but no ballads. And I still sing the high notes of "Little Darling" when ever comes through the rotation.


Absolute True Things I Just Made Up

Back in 2012, I wrote some bizarre things for NaNoWriMo that I never made public. It was actually written primarily for my own amusement, but now I will share some of it with you. I may also continue writing stuff like this because the voices...THESE DAMN VOICES!...Make them stop! 

*For the sake of argument (and avoiding them) the earth in this universe will be referred to as “this earth” unless the conditions call for it to be called something else.

It was in 1382 when, in the desert of New Dakota, a UFO crashed taking out most of a small logging village. The remaining residents refused to believe it was anything out of this world and fooled themselves into thinking that it was a weather balloon. The surviving alien from the crashed craft would manage to escape unnoticed (while the residents discussed what a crashed weather balloon might actually look like considering that none of them had ever seen one before. The alien would go on to marry seventy-eight year-old woman and have twelve children, three of which would go into politics and one would end up as president. Since nobody had ever seen and alien before and didn’t know what to look for, the alien was safe and sound in his job at the hardware store.

FACT: Aliens love hardware stores. They like playing with the various earth tools, so if you ever go into a hardware store, never ask the store clerk to demonstrate any of the tools, you will never get him away from whatever it is he’s demonstrating and you might end up as a specimen for his collection.

FACT: Aliens do not like administering anal probes. Some species are too flatulent and that interferes with the sensitive instrumentation. EXCEPTION: The Flatus tribe of the seventh planet of the Procopal system in universe XB98ACCD5 finds the aroma to be reminiscent of their childhood.

Variations of the above story have been made up by various tribes of various systems of various universes. One of them replaces the hardware store with a donut shop and the alien with a famous entertainer and even changes the timeframe to be more convenient for technology. It is a known fact that replacing known facts with things that couldn’t possibly be true makes a story more believable.

In order to enjoy the story more, people will actually replace important details with known falsehoods in order to sound like they know what they’re talking about. That is just…impossible. No story can be rendered false by changing any details because in this complicated collection of multiverses there are infinite possibilities. Leave it to the ignorant populations to try to defy logic just to sound intelligent. Actually, the entire story from this earth happened in its entirety on Flotsam 789 in the WRT65JJJJJ universe. Funny, because the story they tell on that earth exactly recounts the story as it happened on this earth. 

FACT: The alien’s ship is described as a shade of purple in that earth’s version. Everybody knows it was celery green.

Of course, this earth has ways of making really interesting stories really boring (I refer you to the story of the creation of the universe. Now that is interesting). It is a fact that every story is boring until the third time it is told. That is because some mundane detail is changed and, for some reason, in human minds that makes it interesting. Let’s try this example:

Version 1: I am writing this book while drinking a light roast coffee.

Version 2: I am writing this book while petting a baby emu.

Naturally, the first version is far more interesting because as most should know, I am petting a baby emu.

Back to where I had started. When the original crash took place, the ship, which was celery green, crashed in New Dakota. This fact was changed to New Mexico because people actually heard of it. The year was 1382, but because 1947 is more interesting to imagine, it was changed. Personally, 1947 was a really crappy year, nothing happened, which is probably why people decided to place the story here. Good idea, but it is inaccurate to infinite universal historians.

My Formidable Years

This chapter is a collection of small vignettes since I really can't elaborate on any of this due to lapse in memory (give me a break, it was nearly 40 years ago) or the story doesn't go that deep.

As I mentioned in an earlier post (Kissin' Time, there might be a link here), the parents in my neighborhood growingup never bought into that whole "Kiss is evil" bullshit. None of our families were particularly religious but my parents went to church every week and sent my brother and me to Catholic schools. Just because we weren't religious, though, didn't mean our parents didn't want to cart us off for two weeks of peaceful evenings.

Our neighbors belonged to a Lutheran church and, for about two weeks, they had a vacation bible school. I think they got a tuition credit for their daughter's schooling based on how many kids she could rope into going. It was only for a few hours in the evening, but those few hours each evening had to be paradise for our parents.

Each evening, we would pile into the neighbor's red Chevy station wagon and head off to bible school (I swear I could hear cheers and champagne corks popping as we drove away that first night).  I'll be honest, I don't remember much from those days. I remember Jesus-based songs and the fact that bible verses were talked about, but other than that, I probably has Kiss songs in my head and just wanted to be at home playing. I think we did this forand then it was over, especially since I would starting school.

The year was 1979 and Dynasty by Kiss came out. Now, I'm going to make a confession here and I don't want you to hurt yourself, so please sit and hold onto something. I liked Dynasty. As a matter of fact, I still do. Apparently, some fans disliked the album because Kiss went "disco" or they "sold out". News flash, Kiss sold out with their debut album in 1974. The entire object of their existence was to merchandise themselves and make as much money as possible. </rant> Oh yeah, I also started school.

I entered kindergarten and after the usual, cliché crying and crap that kids do when left in school for the first time, I eventually settled in to the routine of what would become the next thirteen years. My teacher was Mrs. Verardi who was probably in her twenties when I started and left a year or two later (years later she would remember me when I came back to do my high school volunteer service). Mary Beth (the neighbor from down the street) was in my class, and so was the kid who would become my first ever best friend, Travis.

Travis lived further down the street from me, but within walking distance or bicycle distance. We were inseparable once we became friends. It seems that I would actually introduce him to Kiss and then other music down the line. We would be friends (for the most part) until grade school ended, and then we would lose touch. That is until 2009 when we would reconnect on Facebook. He's married with three kids and lives down in Columbus now. He will be heard from again in this saga.

Mom Rock

In the late 1970’s, my uncle owned and ran a small gift shop called His & Hers Curiosity Shop. Because he had a regular day job, he couldn’t run the shop during the day, so my mom did. And because I was just a tot and not yet in school, I had to go with her, which I didn’t mind. The shop only took up about two-thirds of the available space. The rest was set up like a living space.

The back area was like a living room, with a TV, refrigerator with a variety of flavors of Pic-a-Pop, and an area rug so that I wasn’t sliding all over on the cold linoleum or tile floor (I can’t remember which). I used to play back there during the day while mom worked, or went next door to visit the lady at the donut shop (this was the late 70’s in a southwest suburb of Cleveland, there was no chance I was getting kidnapped). Much of the wall decor in the back revolved around Linda Ronstadt. My uncle LOVED Linda Ronstadt...and her music.

My mom had plenty of her music on the many mix tapes she made for the car and the shop. She carried with her every day a plastic cassette box filled with tapes, both mixes and pre-recorded. She drove a 1974 Oldsmobile Cutlass with an aftermarket tape deck. We would drive to the shop listening to The Eagles, the aforementioned Linda Ronstadt, Steely Dan, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Bad Company, and many, many more (does this remind you of a K-Tel Records commercial?)

This period of time was my biggest exposure to music. I was already listening to Kiss, which my mom also had on one or more songs on her mix tapes, but I was also introduced to plenty of other music over which I had no control. The Bee Gees were a constant, and mom had them on every tape that she made and also had a few of their cassettes in that box. Every day I went to the store with her, she exposed my young mind to The Bee Gees. Today, I own nothing by them on LP, CD, or mp3…but I also do not change the channel if they appear on the radio…it is my curse.

I was playing in the back when my mom ran next door to the donut shop. I’m guessing the store wasn’t open for business yet, and I was left there, again suburb, 70’s, safe. The shopping center was either old or new, I don’t remember, but it made funny noises and I could hear people on either side of the store through the walls. This scared me, especially since this was my first time being left alone. The TV wasn’t enough to soothe my frazzled, young nerves. I waited in the back, and suddenly, everything hanging on the walls and all of the tchotchkes in the gift shop suddenly appeared threatening to me. When mom finally returned and resumed the tape in the player, I breathed a sigh of relief. I never told her how I felt about being left there alone because I loved being at that store and didn’t want to spend the day at my grandparents’ house. They didn’t listen to music all day long. 

The Gods Have Smiled On Me

One of the first places I ever went to buy records (I’m old, we didn’t have CDs) with my family was a record store called Peaches Records and Tapes. The location closest to my house was in a shopping center with two separate buildings. There was a shopping strip with a couple restaurants (one of those will feature prominently in this memoir later on), a drug store, and a place that I would later learn was a convenience store (It was called Treasure Island, or Isle, I can’t remember now). The other building on the lot had a dance club, some other businesses that I can’t remember, and Peaches.

Peaches was the main business and took up the most room. The building used to be a department store. It had a large rectangular tower with the bright and colorful Peaches Records sign on both of the wide sides. It stood towering over the area like a beacon on the hill or the Tower of Sauron. Below the main sign was a light up signboard that advertised upcoming albums, concerts, and events. Running along the lower facade were outdoor posters of the month’s top albums. The only one I remember clearly was Abacab by Genesis.

It was the biggest record store in the area and upon walking in, the racks and racks of records stretched as far as the eye could see. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I would find out that Peaches was a nationwide chain, but I recall the workers there knowing the customers, if not by name, by musical taste. They were willing to order any hard-to-find item and take the time to look for whatever the customer was looking for. I really wouldn’t appreciate this until many years later when only the electronics stores were selling large volumes of music.

Most of my music was purchased there early on. This was before CDs and digital downloads, when the most durable medium for music was the vinyl album. This was before I discovered the mail-order services that sold eight, eleven, or twenty albums for a penny. This was my musical Mecca, but there was one item that could not be purchased anywhere except for Peaches. Maybe there were cheap, off-brand replicas sold elsewhere, but none of them compared. I am, of course, talking about…the record crate.

A simple wooden crate, about twelve inches across and deep, and two feet long, the Peaches crate was more than just a storage box for albums, it was a rite of passage. My mom would eventually end up with six crates full before she finally allowed my brother and I to pillage and plunder her collection. I had a tiny record collection made up primarily of Kiss albums, but it was growing by the week. I was being exposed to more and more music and I wanted a place that would be strictly for all of the new albums I would be getting (especially when I discovered the aforementioned mail-order services). This crate was my birthright and I wanted to earn mine.

I know, hyperbole much? But at this time, I felt that record crate meant that I truly appreciated music and that simple wooden structure was the symbol of that commitment. When that day finally arrived and my dad assembled it for me and put it in my room, I placed all of my albums into it, except for the children’s albums. Those stayed on the bookshelf since I did not see them as worthy to sit in the same area with Kiss and Cheap Trick (more on that later).

Post script: Peaches Records & Tapes would eventually turn into Coconuts Movies & Music and then FYE before it finally closed down and became the abandoned husk that advertises self-storage on the top and mattresses in the side windows.

Kissin' Time

Thinking back, I figured that the Lovin’ Spoonful album was probably a gift that my parents didn’t entirely care for but didn’t want to get rid of, so they added it into the kids’ music collection. I’m pretty sure if mom and dad didn’t much care for the album before they gave it to us, they were probably sick and tired of “Summer in the City” after that. I don’t think I ever listened to anything else off of that album except for that one song, and that was because that song had a sound that I liked. Of course, I would eventually get past that song and onto bigger and better. You might even say, “The hottest band in the world."

Kiss had already been around longer than I had been alive, but by the time I was old enough to have heard of them they come out with the album that would redirect the rest of my life. Destroyer put Kiss on the map. I could go off on a tangent of how Bob Ezrin produced this album and would follow it up by producing Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, but hell, I was three and a half years old and didn’t really care much for that. All I knew was that the band looked cool in their black and white makeup, the giant boots, and their music appealed to me. Lyrically, I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t understand many of the double entendres that were using, it was just cool. Just this moment, I realized that “Strutter” was about a stripper, and I’m 42. I just never thought about it (that is a conversation for another day).

Let me pause here and discuss a little something that I still read about to this day. Back in that magical time of the seventies, many young people latched onto Kiss as a band of rebellion from their parents’ music and what society as a whole deemed as acceptable. Many of those parents claimed that their name stood for "Knights (or Kids) In Satan's Service" and would forbid their precious snowflakes from corrupting their ears with such music. This resulted in many kids having to sneak around in order to listen to the band and heaven forbid their parents discover a hidden Kiss album. My parents understood that music was music and that by allowing us to own and listen to Kiss, they weren’t turning it into “forbidden fruit”. This would continue on with Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and Dio. All of these acts were permitted in my parents’ house because they recognized that music is music.

Anyway, we were friends with the kids down the street, the older two were our ages and also Kiss fans. We used to play on the neighbor’s swing set and sing Kiss songs and just have fun. I know it sounds silly now, but when you’re a kid, that was the height of fun. Growing up, there was a vast cast of characters that I will eventually run through as I write this. Some of them have faded away completely and others simply moved into the periphery for a time. They will be introduced in due time and as the story requires.

Eventually, my brother and I would get the solo albums, Kiss puzzles, Kiss dolls, and the remote control Kiss van. Yes, Kiss was all about merchandising (say it like Mel Brooks in Spaceballs, it’s funnier) and Eric and I fell for it completely. We were even allowed to stay up past our bedtime to watch Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, which was the greatest movie of all time (at age three or four, the taste centers of the brain are severely undeveloped). I would watch this piece of sh…film many years later thanks to a friend and I really can’t remember much of it except that members of the band were in it and there was an amusement park. These days, I’m amazed that that movie isn’t listed as directed by Alan Smithee.

Kiss will come up again. And again. And again. This is because I ended up seeing the band three times, though one could be listed as unofficial since it was before their return to the makeup. For now, though, I’m gonna go back to listening to their debut album and remember some of those smaller details of my early life. 

This is Where It All Starts

A few years ago, I attempted write my memoir. As I started to write it, I felt that much of my life was way too boring as a whole. So I decided instead to pick out specific events, certain nuggets of interest and write about those instead. That would be far more interesting than my David Copperfield (the book, not the magician) life, as described by Brad Pitt’s Louis in Interview With the Vampire, “I was born. I grew up. I died.” No, nobody would want to hear the pathetic tales of a grade school kid trying to be accepted and failing at every turn. So, I turned to the events and wrote about those with little if any foreshadowing. How did I come to be declared dead by the student body of a high school that didn’t even know me? What happened before that, and that, and even before that? These are the stories that nobody would want to read, but they are the stories I want to tell.

I had gotten turned onto a blogger, music writer, and photographer named James Stafford, who was writing and posting a new chapter of his memoir, Why It Matters, weekly. There was something there that I needed to read. As a skeptic, I don’t believe that things are meant to be, but I definitely found something to connect me to this life being played out before me. Each chapter (most of them, at least) was titled with a lyric to a relevant song to that chapter for the most part (something I will not be doing). It was life affected by music that he discovered in his earliest years after he rescued his aunt’s record and 45 records from certain doom (DOOOOOOOOOM!). While his story is far more interesting than mine could ever be, I notice some parallels, and I pull some inspiration from his words. I look back at my earliest memories of childhood, to the house where I grew up, and instantly there is music...

“What kind of music do you like?” This is a question that has haunted and harassed me for most of my life. It’s a question that, when asked, sends my mind into a vortex looking for an answer. It’s a question that makes me think that the asker is convinced that it is only conceivable for a person to like one kind of music. Depending on my mood, I may choose to answer with a “yes”, or simply by saying, “all kinds." I don't only like one kind of music, but all kinds, from all genres. I've been told that one cannot like Pink Floyd and punk music because the latter hated the former. I guess then that I am violating some artificial construct of the social order because I will listen to Dark Side of the Moon followed by Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death just to spite the people who say it can't be done. I suppose I could blame my upbringing.

I was born nine months after what I will simply refer to as the greatest album of all time was released (don’t read anything into that, please). I was born into a family that loved their music. Nobody played any instruments, mind you, but I grew up with stories of my grandmother dancing around to Elvis Presley (this was at a time when parents weren’t supposed to like Elvis and even find him immoral and corrupting). I feel like there was some form of music playing in the house at every waking hour, whether it was mom playing the latest music of the day by The Eagles, The Bee Gees, ABBA (gag!), or dad was listening to a new batch of oldies 45s that he picked up at one of the record conventions, including Elvis, The Beatles, Buddy Holly, or the oddball "The Flying Saucer," by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman, which was story of alien invasion told using song lyrics. I would dance around the living room as a little kid in my own, weird way, just soaking up all of the music around me.

The stereo was kept in the living room, the main room of the house, which points to the importance of music to us. My brother and I shared two rooms, a bedroom and a playroom, and in the latter was a record player with a small collection of records, mostly children’s records. I say mostly because one of those records, it would turn out, was a grown-up record, The Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful. I only remember ever playing one song off of this album, and while it might be way too overplayed to this day, especially on oldies stations, I still love “Summer in the City” and it still transports me back to those earliest days in the gold-carpeted, yellow and white checked walls, and that black, plastic record player. I think it was a GE Wildcat, thanks to Google, and I recall seeing the GE logo on the speakers, but then I also remember the Berenstain Bears being spelled with an “EI” instead of the “AI”, so don’t take my word for it.

Before I knew it, I would end up with my own music and that would start me down a road that I would never veer away from. I would find myself on a quest for more music. It's a journey that lasted...well, frankly, as I write this in my forty-second year of life, I am still on that journey. It all started with a crate that was, to me, more than a crate. It was a symbol of this journey and, while the crate sits idle, the journey continues...

The Conversation That Every Writer Has

You think you're that important that you can write a memoir?

Damn it! Didn't I get rid of you? No, I don't think I'm important, but I do think that I have had enough experiences to write an interesting story.

Interesting?! You've lived in the same city your entire life, and when you did move, you only moved about a mile away. How can you possibly make that interesting?

I traveled a lot and saw lots of things. I mean, granted, most of it was for work, but I still went to places, did things, and met people.

Wait. Didn't you already write a memoir? So does that mean you're going to exaggerate details of your life and then disavow what you wrote before?

What I wrote before still stands, but those were vignettes of my life. They were moments and events that were written for the sake of those moments themselves. They never stated "how" I got there, only the what. So, I guess what I'm doing is filling in the details.

Oh boy, vapid tales of lonely nights and your friendless school day existence.

Well, I am telling my story through the experience of the music that I grew up with and that can make for better storytelling.

Ah, OK, now I get it. You're going to copy off of that other memoir you've been reading, Why It Matters by James Stafford. Now there's an interesting person with a tale to tell. I hope he doesn't press plagiarism charges against you.

That would be an excellent point except that one reason why he wrote Why It Matters was so that readers would think back on their own lives much like I'm doing. Music affects everyone in some way. It set my mind off on an adventure to past events.  No, the details of my life weren't exciting at all. Playing with friends in the backyard isn't exciting at all to the reader, but set it to music, like Destroyer by Kiss, and the picture changes. People read that and remember their own experiences around that album, or they remember the music that were playing to in the backyard.

OK, fine, you got me there. But let me ask you this, Mr. Tortured Soul Writer Guy, who do you think is going to read this?

First of all, I am by no means comparing myself to any other writers out there. Certainly not any of those that made it big writing of their own inner turmoil. I'm simply simply writing the story that I want to tell. To answer your question, I don't care about the reader. OK, that's not quite true, I care in that I want to make the story as interesting as I can and maybe elicit the same result as I get reading Why It Matters. I want to inspire the reader to tell his/her own story of music and life.

What about criticism, huh? Have you thought about that? It's the internet, where people can be painfully honest. They will tear you to shreds.

I suppose if it happens I will have to deal with it. It's not like the person reading this is plunking down $14.99 for the paperback and then it turns out that it's not what they wanted to read. I am making it available free of charge, and that's just fine with me.

I'll be back, count on it. You can't get rid of me.

You're right, I can't. Every time I think about working on a project such as this, you poke your ugly head out and start questioning every aspect. You can't ever let me be. I let you talk me out of this once before, because it was scary, and that's how I wrote the first memoir. Thought I forgot about that, didn't you? I wanted to write this so long ago, but I listened to you and I took the safe way out. Well, not this time. This time I'm taking the chance and putting it out there for the world to see if they wish.

New Words Do Not Make Newspeak

A recent back-and-forth on Facebook made me realize that too many people tend to not see the true meaning of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. The concept of Newspeak, as discussed in the story and as an appendix to the book, "The Principles of Newspeak", is not equivalent to adding modern words into the language, like hashtag or feels or facepalm to the dictionary. On the contrary, Newspeak is quite the opposite.

"It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words." --Syme, 1984 (Orwell)

Syme was one of the persons responsible for the writing and publication of the Newspeak Dictionary. He took pride in his work and seems to take equal pride in whittling the language down to as few words as possible. He calls adverbs and adjectives unnecessary. An example of a Newspeak word is "good", but not "bad". What replaces is "bad" is "ungood", and superlatives would be "plus ungood" and "doubleplus ungood". The goal of Newspeak is to rid the world of thought and creativity. The only place where extra words would be allowed is in scientific research, but then that would also be closely monitored.

Adding new words, regardless of how silly or stupid they may be, is a sign of progress. It means that we're still thinking, we're still improving. It's only when the new words stop that I start worrying about the future. No, I'm not going to use the word "feels" in casual conversation, and YOLO, as far as I'm concerned, does not exist, but I'm glad that somebody, somewhere has added them to the annals. Only when they're ordered out and erased from memory do we have something to worry about.

Don't confuse new words for Newspeak. Newspeak is the absolute worst thing that could happen to us. Or, if you prefer...Newspeak doubleplus ungood.