CDP Top 30 Of All-Time (’08-’10) – #8.

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#8 – ‘It’s All Okay.’
(Originally published 5/22/09.)

I have an obituary hanging in my office cubicle.

I have been displaying this obituary for over four years, ever since I found it in the back of a local heavy metal zine. I do not know the man mentioned in the obituary personally; I have never met him and have no idea who his family or friends happened to be. The obituary is as follows:

Shawn K. – Died October 24 in San Bernadino, CA.

The drummer of the metal band Prolific was hit by an airborne car battery that had been ejected from a single-car accident on the other side of the freeway.

I remember exactly where I was when I first discovered this obituary. I was eating a veggie panini at Einstein Bros. Bagels during my lunch break, and upon reading it, dropped the sandwich from my hand. For the next five minutes, I stared into space and thought about the unfathomable freak accident that took this man’s life. I thought about how it was possible that such an accident even happened. Was he behind the wheel of a car? Just walking down the street? How brutal was the single-car accident on the other side of the freeway to even launch a battery that far? It was and still is one of craziest and most bizarre deaths I’ve ever heard about.

Go back and read it again.

Whenever I read about things like this (and we all read about them every day), I instantly think about two things. One, who still believes in Fate? Who honestly thinks that it was this poor guy’s destiny to be sent into Heaven this way? Who honestly thinks that it be God’s will that children die of Leukemia, or waste away in the basement of a neglectful parent? These events always remind me that Life is random, and there is no God that decides how you will die. Period; end of argument. If you want to believe in a God that hurls car batteries at percussionists, you go for it. I, on the other hand, am steering clear (mind the pun).

And before you get all over me for no good reason, I’m not saying that God doesn’t exist, I’m saying that Fate doesn’t exist.

Secondly, and this is the most important part, I always try to take away something positive from the scattershot nature of Life (after all, that could have been me eating that car battery, and there’s always tomorrow for another crack at it). Being an Agnostic doesn’t mean that it’s all gloom and Nihilism. There’s a wealth of positivity in knowing that you’re completely in charge of your destiny, and that it can just as soon be taken away from you for no good reason. It drops the chains of guilt. Makes you focus more on the positives and the present. Makes you respect and appreciate the moments, and not waste your time worrying about being judged later.

For the sake of full disclosure, I will admit that the darkest recesses of my heart also find this story to be slightly humorous, too. I mean, how could you not? However, I find it humorous in a head-shaking, ‘That’s Life’ sort of way. Everything you work for, everything you plan for and everything you strive for can be taken away from you in ways that you could never possibly imagine. You can’t become an agoraphobic, either; this danger of a Random World needs to be embraced. It needs to be looked at with humor, otherwise most of us would never leave our homes again.

So every morning, I sit down in my office chair, take a deep sip of coffee, look up at Shawn’s obituary, and remind myself that it is completely unnecessary to stress out over insignificant business. We are fragile. We are weak. Most of us lose the plot every single day. But it’s okay. It’s totally okay.

It’s all okay.

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time (’08-’10) – #9.

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#9 – ‘Look At Me, World, I Can Use A Computer!
(Originally published 8/27/08.)

I’ve never fully understood why people venture to public places for the sole purpose of using their laptop computers. For about a decade now, and in virtually every coffee house, bookstore, food court and wi-fi compatible strip club, people are meandering out of their houses and surfing the web. “Why aren’t these people at home?” I would always wordlessly mumble as I looked for a seat. After I was assured by the Missus that these people were all business travelers and were doing extremely important and potentially life-saving work on the fly, her argument was almost instantly shot down when I noticed that damn near everyone using the Internet in public was on Facebook. To me, it seemed completely unnecessary in every way; a mere status symbol, and an excuse to hang around a Barnes & Noble without actually having to purchase anything. Silly, really.

If you remember from way back in the CDP archives, I was a bartender for about a year in 1997. Some quick math will also remind you that I was 15 years old at the time, but that story has already been told. Regardless, as a bartender, I was trained to know that non-paying customers were poison, and simply got in the way of the natural flow of business and commerce you’d want in an establishment that exchanges goods for money. If someone had been sitting on a barstool for more than a half hour without buying something, they were asked to move. It’s simple economics, really. If you walked into a gas station and wandered around the aisles for two hours, you’d either raise suspicion or get arrested, and your weird ass would deserve it, too. Why were the public Internet-surfing trolls exempt?

Nowadays, most atriums and Wi-Fi ready locations are loaded with freeloaders; jackasses that buy a small vanilla Latte and camp out for a length of time rivaling that of the entire Korean Conflict. If I were the manager in a place like this, what would be the point in letting these people hang around? Ambiance? Hipster status? Fear of lawsuit? This is one of those seemingly insignificant things that really bothers me when I go out; “What are you doing here? Got sick of playing Scrabulous at home? Needed to feel like you were actually interacting with a non-virtual environment?

The Missus told me I was being an asshole (I am, and an unreasonable one at that), and reminded me that for a lot of people, they don’t have Internet access at their homes, and if they had to walk down the street to the coffee shop to check their mail and research an important term paper or report, then they should do so. My response to that is Internet access can be obtained in your home for about $10 a month now. Make the phone call, and stop making me wait for a seat at Gloria Jeans so I can enjoy my hot chocolate like a nice, paying customer should. In 2008, a home without Internet access is like a home without a toilet. You’re in my way.

In an attempt to clear my head, I stepped away from my unnecessary rage that consumes me on a minute-by-minute basis and considered the weight of the situation. I wanted to see both sides of the “public web surfing” argument, so I decided to join the unwashed masses and try it out for myself. The Missus was throwing a dinner party one day (the ruthless cult known as Pampered Chef has sunk their potpourri-scented claws in), and I took it upon myself to get as far away from CDP Headquarters as I possibly could for the next five hours. In doing so, I threw my laptop into the Wild Stallion v4.0 and headed off to Borders, where I was to become everything that I’ve ever hated.

I ordered a Latte and a chocolate chip cookie that was about the size of a personal-pan pizza, and took a seat next to four other computer-pecking guys that had clearly been here for awhile. Maybe since the place opened; I don’t know for sure. One guy had ordered nothing, it appeared; a nerdy looking fellow that was probably about 30 years old (nerdier-looking than even I). The guy next to him meant business; a chubby hick sporting a trucker hat with important newspapers and documents strewn across his table. He was sucking on an energy drink that they didn’t sell within the confines of Borders, which meant that he brought it in himself. Christ.

The third guy was tucked in the corner, looking very shifty and strung out. Clearly, he was looking at something that he didn’t want anyone else to see. Corpse Porn*, probably. The fourth guy packed up and left before I even had a chance to set up my computer. Again, he was certainly up to no good.

(*I’ve heard about people that are into the idea of Necrophilia, and to accommodate their curiosities, they have their significant others soak in near-freezing water for a length of time, and remain corpse-like and limp back in the bedroom, essentially simulating a dead person during the intimate act of their choosing. While I’ve never participated in this, no doubt interesting, activity, I will say that if you’re fortunate enough to have a mate that will do that for you, hang onto them for all they’re worth. That’s a man or woman that will go through hell for you later down the road.)

Anyway, I set up my equipment in the last open table and got down to business, beginning to write the essay that you’re reading right now. Almost instantly, I realized how distracting it was to be creative in public. I’m typically so focused on not tripping over things, spilling my drink into my lap and getting robbed that I have no time to worry about writing something worth reading (this essay is potentially Exhibit A). I was constantly looking over my shoulder, people-watching and gently nibbling on my embarrassingly-large pizza cookie; my laptop was an afterthought.

I’m used to my own private room, mood lighting and ambiance; this was like an exercise in futility. The constant screeching of the barista’s blender, the hopeless, brittle, Tupperware party-throwing bitches at the table next to me rambling on about how much better the planet would be if they were the President (“No more Olympics cutting into my Soap Operas; Haw-haw!“) and the lingering thought that a bunch of my Wife’s friends were simultaneously touring my home and pawing my breakables with Mojito-sticky hands was almost too much for me to handle. I figured that if everything around me was succeeding in hindering my creativity, I’d do the same thing for the sake of my own entertainment. I almost instantly started talking to the fellow web-surfers around me.

Hey, what’cha working on?” I asked to the weiner-looking guy to the left of me.

Resume.” He replied kindly, kneading his forehead with his fingertips in a feeble attempt to calm the hell down after digesting approximately eighteen gallons of coffee. It appeared that he really was working on something important, although I still wondered why he would work on something so important in a place so capable of breaking concentration. I didn’t ask a follow-up.

On my right, I got the attention of the large, trucker-hat guy with all the papers and documents.

Hey man, what’cha working on?

Online exam.” As fate would have it, he was working on one of the many State Examinations that I worked with the Wisconsin Board to help create. Poor guy; those things suck. He then surprised me when he turned the tables and asked me what I was working on.

Well…um, I’m writing an essay.”

Cool. What about?

I stammered and thought of anything besides the truth. “I’m writing about how much I think I hate guys like you” seemed to be a little counterproductive and practically begging for a boot to the sack.

I…am working on…um…book. A book, I mean. I’m working on a book.” Technically, I was sort of telling the truth.

Wow, a book, huh? Good for you, man.”

Hey, thanks. The answer to Number 23 is ‘Connective Tissue,’ by the way.

Awesome, thanks, buddy.”

This research conflicted me, as these guys were legitimately there for business. Regardless of how I felt about it, they had every right to do so. Hey, maybe the annoying buzz of the downtown Borders was still a more tranquil and peaceful location than their home. This is almost certainly true of a household containing any more than zero children.

(NOTE: Borders charged $6.95 for a Wi-Fi subscription, so the argument that people go to these places for free Internet is not always true. That, to me, almost completely negated the purpose altogether.)

After nearly an hour had passed and my coffee and pizza cookie were gone (both delicious, if you were wondering), I was entering uncharted territory I had forced myself to venture towards. Just how guilty was I going to feel sitting here without buying anything else? I mean, how much longer did a seat in a coffee house belong to me once I was done enjoying their delicious, sugary products? In any case, I had at least another hour to kill before the dinner party started to wind down, so I dug in and went for it.

Suddenly, an unexpected thing happened. The latte, a caffeinated drink that I seldom suck back except for cases of extreme loneliness (much like brandy Manhattans), began to take its toll on my colon in a dangerous and, quite frankly, unpredictable way. I had to use the bathroom, and fast. But what was I going to do about my computer? My saved seat? This was something that I never thought of. What if someone takes my notebook? What if someone takes my spot? Do I take all of my stuff into the stall with me? Should I just stake my claim and mess my pants? What was I going to do?

I deliberated for a few minutes until I reached critical mass in my small intestine. A decision had to be made, and quickly. In lieu of asking the guy next to me what he happens to do in these situations, I decided to leave everything where it was and make a beeline for the can. I didn’t want to, and I can assure you that I took the fastest poop of my life, but it was something that needed to be experienced for the good of my vital research. And so far, the theory of using a computer in public wasn’t worth the trouble; resume, exam or otherwise. I missed my office, I missed my bathroom and I couldn’t ignore the fact that, for a place that’s supposed to be hip and ambient, these places tend to destroy your will to concentrate. It felt like I was trying to recite a Shakespeare play from memory while running through the ‘Slopsticle Course’ on Double Dare.

Good,” I thought to myself; “This is telling me exactly what I need to know. Public web surfing is bad for your brain.”

About a minute later, the Missus called me up and told me that the dinner party was over. Like a shot, I gathered my things and made a beeline for the door. On the car ride home, I tried to come to some sort of finality or official word on how I felt about public web surfing, but surprisingly, couldn’t. While I still stand firm that owners of these places have no reason to let web surfers hang around without making regular purchases, I have no question that a coffee shop or bookstore can sometimes offer something that your home cannot (coffee and books, for one). In one way, it made me happy to know I have such a tranquil home life, but in another way, made me feel like my research still isn’t over.

That night, as I was soaking in freezing cold water while the Missus blared the Funeral March from the master bedroom and put on her favorite black dress, I still couldn’t understand why people are so damn weird.

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time (’08-’10) – #10.

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#10 – ‘A Decade Of Television.’
(Originally published 11/2-6/09.)

The end of 2009 culminated in ‘The Decade In Review’ on the CDP, possibly the most ambitious blog project I’ve ever taken on, and in my opinion, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen any personal blogger do ever (25 essays over two months, highlighting nearly everything related to 00’s pop culture). Today, we spotlight ‘TV Week,’ a celebration of everything good, bad and merely popular about the last decade of television. Enjoy.

Part 1 – Instantly Canceled.
Part 2 – The Best Of The Best.

Part 3 – The Worst Of The Worst.

Part 4 – Top 10 Of The Decade (10-6).

Part 5 – Top 10 Of The Decade (5-1).

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time (’08-’10) – #11.

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#11 – ‘The Pre-CDP Essays.’
(Originally published 12/8-11/08.)

From 2000-2002, a few years before the CDP existed, I wrote sporadic essays on the message board of my band. It took me six years to work up the nerve to republish them, but here they are in all their glory. Read essays (and see photos) about my time as a high school student, hardware store employee, college student and all-around angsty teen. You’ll have fun.

Part One.
Part Two.
Part Three.
Part Four.

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time (’08-’10) – #12.

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#12 – ‘I Still Do Weddings.’
(Originally published 8/25/08.)

If you’re a longtime CDP fan, you may remember that I am an ordained Reverend that has previously presided over a wedding ceremony and a baptism. I’m also available for Last Rites, Exorcisms and probably Bris’s, if I could only find what I did with my utility knife.

I got into this side hobby as a joke, honestly, but it has since turned into something that has provided me with some truly happy and unforgettable moments. Oh, and I guess that the wedding party likes it, too. Whatever; I’m only there for the free veggie platter at the reception. I fill my plastic bag-lined pants with celery and ranch dressing and hit those exits in a hurry.

Quick backstory. Two years ago, when my nephew was born, my sister was getting hassled as to when she planned on baptizing him. She was indifferent on the matter, but certain religious family members (read: all of ’em) insisted that Evan get water splashed on his head so his soul wasn’t doomed for all eternity. She obliged, but did not want to do the deed at a church. She needed some advice, so she called about a hundred different ceremonial experts for their take.

And when none of them answered, she called me and I told her I’d take care of everything.

Once I found out that baptisms meant absolutely nothing from a legal standpoint (being raised Catholic, I assumed no baptism meant instant death if discovered by the torch-wielding masses), I also found out that weddings can be officiated in the state of Wisconsin by any ordained witness. Of course, to be ‘ordained,’ you need to do nothing more but have a name and hands by which to sign a marriage license, and even then, I suppose you could sign it with your feet if you were really careful.

Minutes later, I was legally allowed to officiate weddings in the Dairy State. I never planned on actually doing them, of course, I just thought it was a funny little tidbit I could add to the list and share with people, much like my CPR certification. If an actual wedding or actual drowning victim showed up on my porch one morning, I’d assuredly get someone else to take care of them, proper credentials or not.

But in August of 2006, my uncle and future aunt asked me to officiate their nuptials (see the above link; it’s in my book, too), and there was no way I could possibly say no to them. It was an unforgettable experience, and I felt very proud and humbled to be a part of it. Since then, people ask me to do weddings because they know what they’re going to get from me: a professional, non-denominational, casual ceremony that’s unbelievably cheap (I never ask for money) and a tight ten minutes in length. This keeps me in high demand, it would appear.

Which brings me to a few weeks ago. A co-worker had asked me to officiate her upcoming wedding, and she left me in no position to back out. This woman was one of the first friends I made when I joined my current place of employment back in 2004; she was teaching me how to handle phone calls at a reception desk (we were both peons at the time), and we spent a good three months tethered together by a headset with about three inches of cord between the two of us. That was how we lived at work for the entire Summer of 2004, our cheeks essentially pressed against each others, instructing licensed professionals as to what they needed to do to remained licensed.

We’ve both since been promoted, and life is a lot better. Although I’ll go on record in saying that I never minded the whole secretarial bondage thing. Our safe word was ‘wasps.’

I knew we were going to get along with this wedding right away, as after she read my proposed script for the first time, replied with “I don’t want any prayers or God stuff in there, okay?

Sometimes I wonder why I get myself into situations like this. My social anxiety feels that willingly speaking in front of hundreds of people is sort of counterproductive to my overall well-being, and I’m prone to agree. In the end, I’m a pushover who craves attention, and besides, I get more respect as a Reverend than as any other moniker I’ve adopted in the past 26 years. You know that you carry some power when people start watching their language around you and hiding their alcohol. That’s the sort of intimidation that you can only get by posing as an impostor clergyman, and it never ceases to make me laugh my ass off.

So, the wedding day arrived, and quite frankly, it went perfect. The bride and groom looked wonderful, the guests loved the ceremony and a certain ordained officiate didn’t puke his pants in the courtyard of the Olbrich Botanical Garden. Another job well done, it would seem. Little did I know, I was less than five hours away from ruining a marriage. Sort of.

Feeling pretty good about myself for a job well done, I took it upon myself to partake in a tradition as old as marriage itself: getting drunk at the reception.

All bets are off at a Midwestern wedding reception. The wedding party is drunk. The guests are drunk. Hell, even the kids are drunk. Rules simply don’t apply; adults always allow kids to drink at receptions, in fact, I’d argue that most people get their first taste of beer in a crammed VFW hall while ‘Shout’ blares over the soundsystem. It’s just the way it is; everyone drinks at a wedding reception.

Everyone, that is, except for the Missus. That grrrl is so Straight Edge, CM Punk just asked for her autograph. All the better, for she was my ride home.

I thought that I was off the clock. I thought that my work for the night was through. I thought I was in a position to loosen my tie, fraternize with guests and stumble out after my third piece of cake. Unfortunately, this assumption caused me to put my guard down and get a little sloppy.

At around 10:30pm, one of the bridesmaids picked my sweaty husk up off of my chair, thrust a ballpoint pen in my hand and led me to a table near the back of the hall. “Time to make this official,” she said, presenting me with the marriage license that I needed to fill out to make sure that all of this was legally binding and…you know…actually existing in the eyes of the state.

The lights were bright. The form had very small writing on it. ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was blaring. Someone kept grabbing my ass. I was confused, things were blurry and I was in absolutely no shape or position to fill out a document as important and potentially life-altering as a freaking marriage license. Nonetheless, I trudged forth with the grace and dignity of a chimpanzee flinging a wet turd at a group of stunned tourists.

I would later find out that I made several glaring errors, including writing down my street address incorrectly two times and crossing them out (a huge no-no with the Registrar of Deeds), putting ‘Officiant’ in the box marked ‘Gender,’ and misspelling the word ‘Reverend.’

Can we go now?” Asked the Missus.

Not until they play the Humpty Dance!” I slurred back. “I requested it nine times!

I’m getting my keys.

We finally exited at 11pm, and she was more than happy to call it a night. As I laid in bed that evening, room swirling over me, I felt pretty proud of myself. “Another job well done, Tiger…another job well done. That’s how you’re gonna beat ’em, Butch. They just keep underestimating ya’…”

When I walked into work the following Monday, the Bride was waiting for me. I assumed that she wanted to once again praise me for a job well done, and give me a thousand dollars or something. “We have to talk,” she said.

In the storied history of Mankind, there has never been a conversation that started with “We have to talk” and ended on a positive note. It’s never something like, “We have to talk…there’s free muffins in the conference room; plenty for everyone!” Nope, this was important.

The State isn’t recognizing the Marriage License.”

Whaa? What happened? Did they change the laws or something?

Nope, but it helps if you fill it out correctly, nimrod.” She snarked, and I knew that she found it just as funny as I did when she handed me the garbled-beyond-recognition parchment I boozily emoted over just 48 hours prior. I can assure you that the drunken Marriage License was hilarious; it looked like Michael J. Fox filled it out while riding the Tilt-A-Whirl. After some black ink and about a dozen apologies, I was out of the doghouse and the happy couple were legally married.

That night, as I was recalling all of the events of the wedding with the Missus (along with my subsequent mangling of the legal portion of it), I told her that I thought it was a good time to retire from the Ordained Reverend game. It has gotten too commercial, I remarked, and it was probably a good time to step aside and let a new generation of up-and-comers take the helm.

The Missus cocked her head to the side, either not getting my joke or refusing to acknowledge it. “You’ve only done two weddings, dork.

I know. And I’m totally spent.

She smiled. “Love you.

Love you, too.

CDP Top 30 Of All-Time (’08-’10) – #13.

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#13 – ‘Ga-Ga-Ga-Ghost!?!
(Originally published 3/16/09.)

Well, here it is. The Holy Grail that followers of the Paranormal have been waiting their entire lives for. The indisputable, ironclad photographic proof that yes, spiritual entities walk among us in reality. Gosh, I really should have tipped off the folks at Coast to Coast or TAPS beforehand; this could have been a real media frenzy had I marketed it correctly. In fact, until I saw the photos that I am about to present to you, I thought that correct marketing was all you really needed to make the Paranormal come to life; no real evidence required. Nonetheless, prepare to have your minds collectively blown across the room and spattered against the wall.

…Yeah…

It’s become a lot harder for me to believe in ghosts now that I’ve stopped believing in an Afterlife. After all, there’s not much space for the supernatural to roam if I’ve mentally closed the door on the idea that we go anywhere when we die. Still, I’m relatively pleased with my revelation, remain optimistic about the current (and theoretically, only) life I’m living, and still have no legit proof that spirits are real, despite 20 years of my own personal searching.

It’s a bummer, but I can’t pretend anymore. I’m not going to be like devoted followers of faith healers and mediums, convinced that these con artists have a gift from God, when what they’re really clinging to is the extreme hope that there’s somehow more to life than simply being mortal. It’s comforting as all get out, but…you know, makes absolutely no sense in a logical reality.

For the record, I still hope that I’m 100% wrong about all of this, but I’m probably not. The beauty of believing or denying the Afterlife, however, is that you’ll likely never know if you were right or wrong. While it would certainly be nice to laugh in the face of those who insist on praying for my sinful, Agnostic soul, it sort of defeats the purpose of my beliefs to make it so. Proof in the Pudding, and soforth.

I used to be obsessed with the paranormal, and I have about 60 books and 30 videos on the matter to prove it. There used to be a particular book on ghosts that I would routinely check out of the elementary school library each week until I was told I could no longer read it (in fact, the photograph of the ‘Missus’ in my ‘First Time Here?’ essay is taken directly from it). And while I no longer peruse websites for nights at a time or seek further opinions on the truth of the paranormal, I still find the entire genre interesting on a completely different level than I did as a kid: a Social level.

To me, the question is no longer, “Are ghosts real?” Now, I care more about the question, “Why do people believe in ghosts?” Why do people believe in anything that lacks tangible proof, really? Is the terror of death so great that it inspires faith merely to counteract the thought of the inevitable?

Well…yeah. Totally. Death scares the shit out of me, no question about it.

Once my focus shifted from the non-tangible, theoretical level to the very real, humanist level, did my entire outlook change. Like most, I now know that I believed in ghosts because it’s comforting to know that it’s possible to somehow survive death in a non-human, non-living, spiritual form. Heck, who wouldn’t want to believe that this isn’t all that we have?

Be that as it may (and getting back on topic), we won’t be any closer to solving this little life riddle by examining these upcoming photos, even for several lifetimes in a row.

Here’s how this ‘ghost photo’ stuff all started. Several months ago, a co-worker approached me in the break room of our office:

“Hey, you’re into ghosts and stuff, right?”

“Well…no, not really. I mean, I was, but not anymore. You see, in January I had what you would call a Near-Death Experience, and instead of seeing Heaven, the thin veil of my own mortality fell like an iron curtain, and I was instantly disillusioned and surprisingly free of burden in the face of uncertainty, despair and terror. I saw an infinite nothingness that pretty much changed my entire-“

“Um…yeah. Anyway, I have some neat pictures that my brother sent me of a ghost.”

“Really? Send ‘em my way. I’d love to publicly out your brother as some sort of borderline-insane basket case that photographs rocking chairs for absolutely no reason other than to speculate what invisible things might be sitting in them.”

“…Wow, you’re kind of a jerk. Do you know that?”

“Someday you’ll thank me for my evolved wisdom.”

“I highly doubt that. You just dunked your necktie into your coffee mug.”

So, she sends me the photos, and I’m finally going to share them with you. But a stern word of warning: Don’t expect to see anything that even remotely resembles anything paranormal. I could easily send you a shoebox full of cat crap and tell you it was Whistler’s Mother, and a reader can just as soon send me photographs of a television set and say that it’s a ghost. I’m only sharing them for two reasons. One, to show how quickly we jump at the prospect of the paranormal if it suits our belief in an afterlife. And two, because it’s endlessly entertaining stuff, hoax or not.

Onward!

Here we see Photograph #1. It had been titled, “The Mist Begins.” Begins where?

Some quick, random observations. First off, there is no mist whatsoever, so let’s just move right on from there. Secondly, the claim was that the guy took all of these pictures from his bedroom on a Polaroid camera, which leads me to ask, “What’s a grown man doing with a ceramic horse-drawn carriage on his nightstand…on top of a doily?” To me, this is a mystery far more compelling than anything paranormal that was taking place that evening.

I mean, if I’m being nice, I’ll admit to seeing some off-balance light emitting off of the top of the carriage, but it’s extremely far from being referred to as ‘mist.’ Furthermore, it looks like the carriage is a plugged-in lamp of some sort, so it could just be actual light illuminating from the thing.

Also, if these photographs were taken with a Polaroid camera, why were they scanned and cropped to appear like rectangular, ‘normal’ photos? Doesn’t make much sense to me, but let’s move on, because we’ve just scratched the surface of stuff that makes no sense.

This is Photograph #2, and it was titled “Face Image.” Indeed, it is an image of a face or possibly faces, bathing in a blue, white-noisy hue.

Now, this is a neat-looking photo; certainly the coolest one out of the four that were given to me. Problem is, I was told that these photos were taken in succession within minutes, and all of this was taking place around the bedroom. So remember all that natural light in the first photo? Well, now we’re in complete darkness, and a hologram is apparently manifesting itself above the guy’s bed.

Looks pretty two-dimensional, doesn’t it? Looks like it lacks depth, right? Well, you’d be correct, because this is most likely a close-up photo of a television set. What is being viewed on said television is a mystery, but the pitch-dark, depth-less nature of this image makes it all but impossible to be something that took shape in the vast space between the six walls of a bedroom.

Cool picture, though.

This is Photo #3, and it was titled, “Who Is She?

Okay. Here’s where I begin to feel like my intelligence is being insulted. In an almost identical design as Photo #2, we have another photograph of a two-dimensional object that was claimed to be manifesting itself within a room. This is sort of true, in that it manifested itself onto a television set, when the television set was plugged in and turned to a station that manifested this image during a show.

Not that these photos need any more scrutiny, but do you notice the differences between the first picture and the next two? The first photo is a picture of something that exists in reality. Admittedly, a frilly reality that likes doilys and carousel horse lamps, but a reality nonetheless. The next two photos are of a flat surface, and we know this because our eyes can process depth, even by just viewing a photograph of it.

And again, for a photo that was taken on a ‘Polaroid’ camera, it’s been bizarrely cropped again, this time as a portrait-sized image. Why would someone do that? If you thought you had some solid paranormal evidence on your hands, would you alter the photos at all?

Oh, and if this were a ghost, then it’s the most detailed and well-manifested paranormal entity in the history of Mankind.

This is a long way past shenanigans, but we still have one more to go.

Fourth and finally, we have “A Clear Face Image!

Indeed we do. Indeed we do. In fact, I find this image to be quite beautiful. What an amazing thing to have materialize above your bed one night. I also love how the Angel brought her own illuminated light to reflect off the top of her head, while somehow leaving the rest of the bedroom behind her pitch black. That had to have taken some divine interstellar intervention, not to mention a complete lack of basic physics. Sorry kids, it’s another picture of a television. And hey, what happened to the blue glow? Did the guy change the channel from AMC to TCM?

The final verdict?

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

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#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.