I’m The Best In The World At What I Do.

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Today’s story is about being the best in the world at something. But first, we start at Christmas.

Not to brag or anything, but I was absolutely spoiled for Christmas last year by my mother. I didn’t ask for anything besides black socks and an iTunes card (check and mate, by the way), but my mom has a knack for figuring out things I’d like before I’m even aware of their existence. She gambles on her knowledge of me and usually comes up big.

Provided it’s not a cardigan. Her cardigan game is weak.

She found me a Wally World eggnog glass like the one from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. She found me a rad Walking Dead figurine from Japan. She even made a special project with my Nephew that is so cool it’s going to be the focal point of its own future CDP essay. I was incredibly grateful for such bizarre accessories, especially considering that I saw none of them coming.

One such accessory was the Retron 3.

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The Retron 3 is a Retro Gamer’s paradise. Like some people my age, I still have the game cartridges from my youth and prefer to play these games on a television with a system, not on a desktop or streaming emulator. However, while the cartridges are resilient and tend to stand the test of time, the systems (and especially the wires) do not. Enter the gorgeous happy medium of the Retron 3.

A slot for NES games, a slot for Genesis games and a slot for Super Nintendo games. Ports for the original controllers should you have them, universal wireless controllers in the event that you do not. Beautiful sound and beautiful video that looks outstanding on your flat screen TV. Works perfectly.

Also, this isn’t even the latest version of the Retron. The ‘5’ Model can accommodate over 10 classic systems. However, the NES/Genesis/Super NES games were the ones I cared about the most, so mom went with the 3 instead of the 5 and saved about $80. Good on her.

Needless to say, I was addicted to the Retron 3 for the first few weeks I had it. Sifting through my old games, seeing if they all worked, seeing if I was still good at them. I played a season on Madden ’95 with the Packers, throwing 130 touchdowns and adding to Brett Favre’s Hall of Fame resume. Scott Skyles and myself went on a path of destruction in NBA Jam that was borderline criminal. I played as Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat II and didn’t quit until every head was separated from every body, spine and all. It was divine.

A more obscure game for the Sega Genesis that I remembered being pretty good at was PGA Tour Golf. This was the precursor to the larger EA golf games, the Tiger Woods franchise being the most well-known. I had remembered playing the game with my golf-obsessed uncles over the course of many weekends in the mid-90’s, and popped it back in to see if I could still dominate the Player’s Championship at Sawgrass like I used to.

I played a few tournaments and won a couple of them, feeling pretty confident in my arguably pointless abilities. However, my last round of the day was a doozy. I was playing spectacularly; better than I had ever remembered playing even as a kid. No bogies. Six birdies in the front 9. I was crushing it, but maybe more importantly, I was just having a good time reveling in the good vibes of my youth.

As I kept draining birdies in the Back 9, though, I started to wonder about the weirdness of video game World Records, and how cool it would be to be considered the best player in the world at a particular game (or anything, really). As a child, I was considered one of the best ‘under 17’ Table Soccer players in the world, and to this day it’s the only thing in my life that’s netted me more than one trophy.

When I wrapped my final round with a Genesis-shattering 11 under par, I pondered to myself, “I wonder what the World Record is for this game?”

So, on a whim, I took a couple photos of the screen.

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You’ll notice another thing in the photo that blew my mind out the back of my skull. Even after nearly 25 years of collecting dust in a closet, the PGA Tour Golf cartridge remembered my initial save data! That’s my old last name looking back at me; the same name I punched in when I was 10 years old. I do not understand how electronics work, and do not claim to.

So anyway, there’s my 61. Hell of a round if I may say so myself. In fact, my -29 was more than enough to take the tournament in a landslide and net me a cool 260 grand. Take that, Bill Britton!

(Note: Bill Britton is currently 60 years old.)

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With this information, I went to Twin Galaxies, the Internet’s Holy Grail of determining and logging all things Video Game Records. You may remember their involvement in The King of Kong, an outstanding documentary on the competitiveness of (in this case, arcade) gamers.

A word on Twin Galaxies, and the lengths one must go in order to register on their website. I have purchased several cars. I have applied for a dozen credit cards. I have rented four apartments. I have gotten married, legally changed my name, purchased a house and obtained a passport. However, the application process to get verified on Twin Galaxies in the single most comprehensive and rigorous process I have ever been a part of. It took me an entire afternoon. I literally had to speak to a man over the phone at one point. They will not, under any circumstances, have you pulling a fast one on them. They should be in charge of the TSA. It’s unbelievable.

So, once I proved to Twin Galaxies that I was indeed a human man and should be allowed to view and discuss their World Records, I went right to the PGA Tour Golf section under Sega Genesis. And wouldn’t you know it? There was a World Record for this game!

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…Aaaand I had broken it.

Pow. World Record. Someone give me a certificate.

Well, not so fast. The first thing I had to do was determine the difference between PAL and NTSC versions of the game, as there were separate records for both. However, the PAL record was 68, so either way I had broken both of them. Remember what I said earlier about electronics? Yeah, never gonna know what that means. Even if you tell me, I’ll forget.

Secondly, I of course wasn’t recording my 61, as I had no idea when I started that it would lead to something this weird, or even knew it was a thing that existed. Considering I had to send a goddamn DNA swab to Twin Galaxies so they could confirm I wasn’t an android, a photo of my television amounted to jack shit on the Video Game World Record scene, and rightfully so. If I were to legitimately see this through, I would need to begin again, follow the posted rules and record my 61 from start-to-finish. Assuming I could ever replicate the 61 ever again.

So…

I mean, the only logical next move would be to go for it, right? To take an afternoon, set up a camera and attempt to become immortalized (however temporarily) in Retro Gaming History? To take a diving leap at that Brass Ring in a feeble attempt to ensure that my legacy will remain long after I am but dust in the fragile earth?

They say that everyone is the Best in the World at something. You hope for yourself that it’s going to be something worthwhile. As a kid, I thought it would be video games. As a tween, I thought it would be kicking field goals for the Cincinnati Bengals. As a teen, I thought it would be playing the drums.

As an adult, it looks like it might be video games again. I’m gonna go for it.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

FRIDAY: THE TRIUMPHANT PREMIERE OF FULLER HOUSE FRIDAY.

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No Sales Tax On Clothing.

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A seemingly innocuous thing happened to me a couple of months ago, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe I’m making a bigger deal about than I should; you tell me.

The Missus and I were at the Mall of America, just walking around, popping in and out of stores. We were headed to one of the elevators, when we slowed down to let a guy on crutches go ahead of us. Dude was probably in his mid-20’s. Decent shape, dressed like a normal guy. The only thing that stuck out was that he apparently had a messed up ankle that required crutches for a bit. These things happen; sometimes you need crutches.

The Mall was, as usual, packed tight. The man on crutches got a few feet in front of us, picked up his pace a bit, and promptly ate shit. Face down, directly onto the polished marble. He hit the ground so hard. It was like when Mike Tyson fell off his Hoverboard, only face-first. The sound echoed through the Food Court like a gunshot.

No, I didn’t burst out laughing. Give me a little more credit than that.

In fact, he fell in front of no less than 50 people, and nobody burst out laughing. More specifically, nobody did anything. No surprised gasps, no concerned yelps, nothing.

Including me. I did absolutely nothing. I mean, I wanted to, but my feet wouldn’t move. My brain was telling them not to.

It was probably only five seconds or so, but it felt like an eternity. The man slowly got up under his own power, got his crutches back underneath him and carried on his way. Fortunately, only his pride was damaged. Just like that, he was gone, and everyone in the vicinity slowly shuffled back about their business.

Not me, though. I was stunned. Not by what I saw, but by how I reacted.

I’ve been lucky enough to not be privy to many situations in the past where people have been hurt (myself included), but when I was, I would always react without thinking. It’s far from heroic behavior; it’s just instinct for most of us. Someone falls down, you help them back up. Boom. That’s what you do. I was hardwired to always help before anything else inhabited my mindset, be it someone merely falling down, or someone in legit danger.

But without even knowing the change had taken place, my first instinct now was to freeze and assess the situation in a skeptical way. The reason I didn’t move and hesitated to help was because my first thought now was to be cautious. More specifically, cynical.

The thought should have been, “That man has fallen. He may be hurt. I will help him up.” Instead, it was “What’s his angle? Is this a prank? Are we on hidden camera? Is this some YouTube bullshit? A Psych student’s social experiment? A crazy man wanting to stab me the second I get within striking range? This isn’t real.

Now, one could argue that this is a logical, intelligent defense mechanism; one that has kept me alive and unstabbed for the last 34 years. But I certainly didn’t feel intelligent. I felt cowardly about the whole thing. When did this happen? When did I become conditioned to not trust certain scenarios anymore? Why didn’t I help that guy? Am I some kind of sociopath all of a sudden?

Who am I, really, when a bystander is in danger?
Who am I, really, when I’m in danger?
Who am I, really, when someone I love is in danger?

Maybe it was the crowd that had me hesitating. It’s that psychological phenomenon where, the more people are around to help, the less people actually help because everyone thinks someone else will do it. That’s the reason why, when someone needs medical attention, you’re supposed to specifically tell someone to call 911. Otherwise, everyone will assume someone else has, and then nobody will.

This is what I’m telling myself, but it ain’t doing the trick. If it were just me and the guy alone when he fell, I’d like to think I’d be quicker to assist, but I’ve never been one to blame my behavior on Mob Mentality. I thought I was better than that, but shit, maybe I’m not. This happened over New Year’s Eve, and I’m still pissed at myself about it.

So yeah, this has been bothering me. I thought I knew who I was, but a guy tripping in a Food Court has me thinking otherwise.

Talk to me. What do you think? What would you do? Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your week.

I Got A Dog!

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When I was very young, my family got a dog. His name was Jasper. Here is literally everything I remember about Jasper:

Nobody trained him. Nobody housebroke him. I never saw him eat. I never saw him sleep. I never saw him poop. He barked constantly. He ran unsupervised and unleashed around our property. He jumped on everyone. I don’t remember how we obtained him, and when he vanished without a trace one day, I never knew where he went.

Needless to say, it was sort of a bad experience.

But hey, if you haven’t noticed, I’m having myself a rebuilding year, and one of the ways you evolve is to put the baggage of the past behind you and claim new experiences for your own. And that’s exactly what I did when I adopted Dottie Dumpling Dog a few months ago.

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(Dottie in her typical habitat.)

I’ve always been a cat owner, and it has suited me just fine. I speak their language, I can leave them unsupervised and they match my personality in a way that dog’s don’t. I also don’t have to stand outside with a cat in sub-zero temperatures for hours at a time while they search for an adequate place to whiz. Even when the Missus pushed to have three cats at once (which we did for a few years), I eventually relented, because it wasn’t a big enough blow to my psyche to dispute.

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(Dottie on her way home from Camp. Safely harnessed, of course.)

For several weeks, the Missus subtly schooled me on the virtues of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Small. Loyal. Quiet and calm. Sleeps a lot. Develops a strong bond with their owner. Intelligent and easily trainable. Sure, they all have major heart problems and die early, but hey, that’s what a thousand years of inbreeding will do to any species.

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(The rarely-photographed Cavalier Smile.)

I must admit, I was sort of placating her when I said that sure, I’m willing to look into the option of adopting a Cavalier, as long as it’s from a shelter. I knew that these animals were primarily purchased from breeders and mills, and the odds of one appearing in a shelter was slim-to-none. In fact, in all my years of visiting dogs at shelters, I never saw a Cavalier available for adoption. It was a win/win for me: I was supportive while confident that I didn’t have to actually see my promise through. I’m kind of an asshole sometimes.

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(Dottie in her Winter parka.)

But then it happened. During an Adoption Fair at a local store, we saw Dottie (named Patches at the time). She was receiving a lot of attention from passers-by, but stayed quiet and shy in her cage. As it turned out, the story of how she ended up in a shelter was quite the bummer.

She’s a purebred that spent all of her adult life in a Puppy Mill as a breeding dog. She mothered litter after litter under she was overbred and suffered an umbilical hernia. Now, no longer useful to the shitbags who ran this mill, they decided to throw her onto the street instead of paying the money to patch her up. I’m quite certain she never had a positive experience with a human being in her entire existence.

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(Dottie in her raincoat.)

So she ended up at the shelter, where they successfully completed the surgery and scooped out her uterus so she didn’t have to work as a breeding dog anymore (I’m pretty sure that’s how that works). For all these reasons plus the ones Celia sold me on, we ended up running into her on that particular day and adopting her on the spot.

I was admittedly terrified. For most people, this was just a dog. Dogs are easy. Most people have had dogs their entire life. I had not. But this was about so much more than feeding and training to me. It was about erasing the lingering Jasper issues of the past and truly offering Dottie the safe and loving environment she deserved for the rest of her days. It was also about pushing my comfort zone as part of my self-improvement when it came to my Anxiety.

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(When it’s brutally cold outside, there isn’t much time for fashion.)

I’m 34, but in a lot of ways, adopting Dottie felt like the biggest adult responsibility of my life so far. Owning a house, keeping a job, remaining a good husband, these things came far more natural to me than taking care of a needy animal. No more leaving the house on a whim and returning whenever I pleased. Lots of walks. Lots of poop. Lots of hair on the carpet. Dottie didn’t realize it, but merely by her existing in my house, she was going to help me manage my Anxiety by forcing me to just let things go every once in a while. She was going to make me happier by first making me very, very uncomfortable.

If this poor dog knew the kind of pressure I was placing on her in regards to my sanity and well-being, she’d fling herself through a plate glass window.

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(I had no idea how much fun it was to make animals wear clothes.)

What I thought I was going to get in Dottie…was a dog. Jumpy. Barky. Messing stuff up. Being a doofus every once in a while. An animal that didn’t care about my brain and forced me to be more happy-go-lucky and dog-like. What I actually got was more of a representation of what Dottie had to go through before I showed up. Basically myself in dog form. Anxious. Afraid of everything. Not trusting of male authority. Skittish when she feels out of place. A wonderful soul with plenty of love to give, but quirky and requiring lots of patience and slow movement.

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(Almost instantly, Dottie’s wardrobe eclipsed my own.)

It was the opposite of what I had planned. I thought the former would be just what I needed, but it’s been the latter that I got, and has forced me to ask the real questions about myself.

It’s been slow-going, but she’s starting to warm up to me. I understand; I can’t even fathom what she went through at the mill. She loves the Missus unequivocally, but because I’m a big oaf with a loud voice, she’s not a huge fan of my affection. She doesn’t growl or bark, she just seems really scared, which makes me sad. When I start to feel impatient or frustrated, I just try to empathize and give her all the time and space she needs.

After all, if I can crack the code and find a way to make her comfortable, then maybe I will also find a way to make myself comfortable.

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(Dottie, Lain and Faye share a tender moment. It’s madness, MADNESS!)

I gotta be patient. She’s a work in progress. Just like me.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your week. If you’d like to visit Dottie’s personal Facebook page, give it a go!

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(For Jasper.)

My Anxiety Year.

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I felt stupid. I felt that I had been coasting on the idea that I was a good person for 5 years. I remember what it felt like to feel good about myself, and it was about 5 years ago. And that flicker would help me get through tough times, but I remember thinking to myself…if I was watching this person in a movie, I wouldn’t be rooting for him anymore.” – John Mulaney

I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism, but when asked about my Anxiety, I always compare it to having a superpower. And it’s true. Except for when it isn’t.

As long as you can keep it at an absolutely perfect balance, it can actually do wonders for your life. Anxiety keeps my house clean. Anxiety pays my bills on time. Anxiety keeps groceries in the fridge and my albums alphabetized. Anxiety keeps typos out of ma essays. I never miss deadlines and I’m never late. Anxiety would never let me get away with such things. When I want to quit halfway through a project, Anxiety reminds me that I can’t. Anxiety helps me do all the things I don’t want to do, but have to.

What I’m describing, however, is an extreme exception to the rule. If this balance gets knocked out of whack even a fraction of a percentage, Anxiety will spiral out of control and ruin your life. Gum up the works. Shut everything down. Now, instead of merely keeping the house clean, you’re vacuuming thrice a day and taking every minuscule scrap of trash immediately to the dumpster, because you don’t want anything in the garbage can. Instead of paying your bills on time, you’re balancing your checkbook after every purchase and refreshing your account information every five seconds until the transaction goes through. Instead of keeping food in the house, you’re throwing everything out because they’re within a week of expiring, and ordering take-out so you don’t have to think about it anymore. Instead of not missing deadlines and staying punctual, you’re cancelling appointments and calling in sick to work, because you have a full day of cleaning ahead of you.

I have done every single one of the above examples, and about a thousand more. It’s not ‘playful’ Anxiety or ‘quirky’ Anxiety. It’s the straight-up, documented, frustrating-as-all-shit kind, and I’ve been battling to keep it in balance for at least 25 years.

Remember this list? When I laid out just a sampling of all the weird rituals I had to do every day just to get out of bed and function? Well, note that it was posted over a decade ago. Now imagine having to live your life every day for over 10 years adhered to every one of these bizarre rules (and about 100 more I didn’t want to share). Just reading the list is exhausting, let alone treating it as gospel.

Like I said, when the balance is off, it’s bad, and your life can come to a dramatic standstill. I stayed as disciplined as I could for as long as I could; keeping blissfully optimistic with the ‘Anxiety as Superpower’ analogy. On good days, I could outperform anyone, but it was all due to these negative factors that were slowly deteriorating my body and mind. It took an incredible amount of energy just to stay ‘normal’ throughout any given day, but I didn’t really realize it because I had been doing it my entire life. It was some Dragon Ball Z shit; I had a Power Level of over 9000, but after the battle I would need days to recover.

This was my normal. I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I also knew that acknowledging it is a problem meant I was going to have to deal with it.

But…I’m getting older, and I’m getting tired. It’s not a superpower, and I don’t have the energy to maintain it anymore. Unless I’m able to keep up this pace in a more positive, less harmful way, I was going to fizzle out and quite literally die. I needed to slow down, try to learn more about myself, and try to rebuild myself from the ground-up to accentuate my personality in a more positive way. This couldn’t be me anymore.

Okay. Where to start? Gotta take the leap. Gotta get better. Gotta stop lashing out. Gotta stop being moody and emotional. Gotta stop being unemotional and sociopathic. Gotta stop drinking to self-medicate. Gotta actually medicate. Gotta be there for my wife and friends. Gotta stop living in my head so much. Gotta not let my family drive me crazy. Gotta not let my past define and consume me. Gotta go through that stupid list one-by-one, and vaporize each and every goddamn quirk that’s turning me into a husk of a man.

This is mostly what I did in 2015 instead of writing. I had to do it for my long term. It seemed like I wasn’t doing anything. In reality, I was doing everything.

The process started slowly. I would just come home and attempt to unwind, instead of jumping directly into my post-work routine (which usually consisted of answering more e-mail from work). I allowed myself to sit on the couch (without vacuuming it), to play with the cats (without brushing them), to not vacuum immediately. Let’s see if I can wait until tomorrow. And maybe tomorrow, I’d be able to wait another day, and so on. It was painfully incremental. It was therapy.

My brain didn’t initially like this resistance. My philosophy when it came to discipline was that, once I fell off the wagon, I’d never be able to hop back on. If I skipped cleaning the house or some other mundane (yet irksome) activity even once, I’d instantly become a worthless, lazy bastard and never again have the motivation to do anything ever again. I thought if I slowed down, I gave up. I’m not much for middle ground.

But I stuck to it. I had no choice. It was an addiction thing; now that I actually acknowledged that I wanted to get better, it was then just a matter of conviction.

I won’t get into the minutiae (that’s for later), but I can honestly say that I’m currently better than I’ve ever been before. In fact, out of that initial list of 50 things I wrote so long ago, I currently still deal with less than 15 of them. Not too shabby.

One of the things I had to realize about myself is that I will probably always be a shifty, anxious, weirdly-motivated dude who always is particular about certain things. Just because I fight it and take time for myself every now and again, it doesn’t mean it’s ever going to go away. I’m not going to lose the things that I like about myself. The work will always get done. The house will get cleaned. The bills will be paid. I will not sink the future of my life and my wife’s simply because I want to sleep in and hold off a few errands until later in the week. I can just be a dude.

Anxiety is not a Superpower. It’s a work in progress, and I’m not done by any stretch of the imagination.

But I gotta say, I’m feeling pretty damn super.

Please Don’t Let Me Forget How To Read And Write.

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(School questionnaire, sometime in the late 80’s. This is real.)

How was your 2015? Everything okay? We good?

My year was decent: I got a dog, got a new job, bought some stamps, quit my new job, used all my stamps, hung out with the Missus and drank about a thousand Tequila Sunrise’s. Not too bad, considering that on a global scale, 2015 was just the worst. Moist garbage. Shit sandwich writ large. Nonetheless, over the next few months, I’ll tell you all about what I was up to then and now, I promise.

My goal for the CDP in 2016 is simple: New content every week. That’s it. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, and while inspired motivation is a much more fun and creative outlet than deadlines and sheer discipline, I tend to do better with the latter over the long term. Motivation will let you down; discipline won’t.

Also, people will let you down; TV won’t.

Speaking of TV, I have a big project planned for the CDP this year. Similar to what we did with the Greatest TV Show of the Last 25 Years, only you don’t get a say in the matter. So…more fun for me. It’s TV History-centric. You’ll dig it.

While my goal for the CDP in 2016 is weekly content, my personal goal for 2016 is to carry on with something I started in 2015: A little self-improvement, one horribly awkward step at a time. There are things I simply dealt with my entire life because I was either too lazy to change them or wasn’t ready to deal with the consequences. Now that I don’t have the energy or ambition to be an anxious, stuttering drunk anymore (and it was never charming), I knew I had to actually start taking care of myself (mentally and physically) before my heart, brain and liver simultaneously exploded.

Check this out. Today is my 34th birthday. I started the CDP when I was 22:

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There I am. Svelte. No tattoos. Dyed hair. Full of purpose and lean tissue. The world was my vegetarian oyster, and the cows were Swiss as far as the eye could see. I had just gotten married, just graduated from college, just snagged a new job and just started writing for a global audience. I was also super into tiny bottles of water.

You know, if I could go back in time and give this kid any advice, it would be to…actually, I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, I could tell him to do a pull-up every once in a while and to save his money, but shit, sushi is delicious and expensive and you can take medication for high cholesterol and it’s genetic anyway so why even bother. The next 12 years are going to be fun, man: You’ll make friends and publish books and get into Anime. Just cool it with the alcohol so you don’t get stabbed.

Okay, maybe I’d tell him not to run that 5k in 2007, because it’s going to leave him permanently injured and unable to jog ever again. And maybe I’d tell him to take a real vacation in 2008 instead of getting depressed and trying to drink himself to death in St. Paul. But even those things turned out okay. St. Paul is awesome and I never liked running to begin with. My road to self-improvement is paved like my personality: Picky, particular and erratic beyond comprehension.

But I’m gonna try. I really am, and have been. And it’ll be fun to watch.

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Here I am at 34. Inked up. Natural hair color. Trade the water for champagne every now and again, but responsibly. A little thicker around the middle, but healthy and nothing a size Medium can’t conceal. Still rocking the fake glasses and shiny forehead. Still working at the same office, albeit promoted a few times. Still hanging out with the same dorks from High School. Still listening to the same music. Still happily married to the dopest woman in the known universe.

Still making poor life decisions, and still learning. And twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

I’m looking forward to writing again this year, and I hope you stop by every now and again to see what I’ve been up to. Happy 34th Birthday to me, and Happy 12th Anniversary to the CDP. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your week.

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