The scene: last week in my apartment.  I found the bright green plastic bowl underneath the kitchen sink, careless tossed into the milk crate that held bottles of various cleaning solutions and soaps.  A bulbous knob extended from one end with a smile, and eyes peaking from behind a thin red mask painted on it.  “What is this doing in here?” I asked my roommate.  “Oh yeah,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where to put it.  What is it?”  I looked down into its goofy painted eyes. “It’s my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal bowl,” I said.

Twenty years ago, when I first dug the bowl out of the bottom of a Cheerios box, I didn’t want it.   My TMNT obsessed kindergarten brain immediately recognized the red mask as the identifier of Raphael and no one wanted to be Raphael.  Whenever playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with your friends, you would want to pretend to be your favorite turtle. Young “type A personalities” were drawn to Leonardo (succinctly described in the theme song with “Leonardo leads”), while the more creative kids wanted to be Donatello (“does machines”).  A rare few even liked Michelangelo (“a party dude”).  But no one, not a singe kid, liked Raphael (according to the song, he was “cool but crude”); and some unlucky latecomer who didn’t call dibs to be one of the other three early enough was general stuck playing Raph.  His other option was playing April O’Neil and she was a girl which was way worse (though I now wonder why no one volunteered to be Splinter, the giant rat that was the group’s sensei).

“Aw man, Raphael.” I remember saying with disdain, then turning to my mother, trying to enjoy her first cup of tea of the day, and inquired if we could run to the grocery store before school and get another box of cereal that would probably have a Donatello bowl (my first choice, but I would have settled for either of the other two) inside it.  Without having to say anything, I could tell her answer was a strong and definite “No.”

And so I made due with my Raphael bowl.  Years after the Ninja Turtle fad had died out, I found it again and brought it with me to college (mainly for its kitschy throwback value) and now keep it at the office so I can eat cereal at my desk (I had brought it home to wash last week, which is why my roommate didn’t recognize it).  And you know something?  Raphael has really grown on me.  What I mistook for a grumpy cynic was actually the group’s speaker of truths, who never beat around the bush and always said what was on his mind.  And his hot-headedness?  While many will agree that it constantly brought the group into dangerous situations, it was also the acting force on most of their greatest adventures (many of which forged their strongest alliances).  In essence, Raphael was probably the best Ninja Turtle and I am proud to own his cereal bowl.

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sopranosComing out of Yom Kippur and a little over a month after Ramadan with Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon, I’ve decided it was time for an annual observance of my own—I’m re-watching the Sopranos, all 86 episodes over six seasons.  Whether you’re religious or not, I think everyone has that one thing they do every year just for them: whether it’s a trip, reading a book, or going to a game between the home team and their bitter rivals.   For me, it’s watching 86 hours of Tony Soprano say “fuck,” screw, and murder.

I could go on and regurgitate everything that’s already been written about the show and how it opened the floodgates for quality television.  Its premise allows for an exploration of a variety of themes from the psychological and family to the nature of violence and the balance between good and evil.  But that’s not what I want to write about.  It just seems that I keep coming back to this show that I’ve seen a million times.  Every time I watch an episode I see something different or catch something in a scene I never noticed before.  I think that’s how you can tell good storytelling—it’s never stale.

I remember when I got into the Sopranos—my parents had just gotten their first DVD player and my dad was searching for stuff to watch on it.  It seemed every other day he was bringing home some classic old movie, just released title, or TV show.  We didn’t have HBO, but we’d still heard the inescapable buzz about the show.  Then one day he brought home the complete first season.  “I’ve seen it a couple times on the road,” he said.  “It’s really good.”

I was in the midst of finals for my Junior year of high school and I almost failed because I kept sneaking down in the middle of the night to watch the next episode.  But I wasn’t the only one hooked, both my parents got into it.  I’m pretty sure the Sopranos is the only show that features a constant stream of nudity, violence, and cursing that you can watch with your mother right next to you on the couch.  Still, I was always the bigger fan in the family.  I absconded with the DVD’s when I went off to college.  Made friends with people who lived off campus and had HBO so I could keep up with new episodes.  And when I couldn’t swing that, I had my parents tape and mail them to me.  Each season DVD box set became a defacto Christmas and birthday gifts for me.

But my annual Sopranos marathon isn’t just about watching my favorite show all over again, it’s sort of a reboot.  It resets my mindset to take a deeper look at the world, not for mobsters and FBI agents, but for the the undercurrent of themes that run through my own  life.  It makes me reflect on what drives me and the people in my life.

200310679-002It’s late.  It’s late at night and I’m writing this post.  I could have done this hours ago.  Hell, maybe even days ago.  But this isn’t another rant about my problem with procrastination or lack of ideas to write about (God knows I beat those two horses to death!).  See: there’s nothing better than staying up late writing.   Chabon calls it “the midnight disease,” and its one of the greatest feelings in the world.  Ever scored a game-winning touchdown? Or saved a child’s life?  And his/her supermodel mom thanked you…sexually?  Yeah, those are great.  I mean what I’m talking about makes you rundown and question your sanity over debating word choices when you need to leave for work in four hours.  It isn’t that the writing is any better than from a normal time, I just love the idea that while everyone else in the entire world is sleeping, I’m creating something.  I know.  I’m a weirdo.

I was the king of all nighters.  Just ask any of my college roommates—I even drove one to the brink of insanity by disrupting his sleep so much (Don’t worry, he was from Poland—they don’t count.).  I don’t think I ever started working on a term paper before 11PM. And for my graduate school thesis?  I was up till 2AM every night, except when I slept all day on Sunday.  I would even stay up late writing my own stuff just for me.  I could stay up the entire night without any sleep and make it into work the next day.  Of course, I’d be groggy, but that’s why there’s coffee.  Glorious, glorious, coffee.  The thing is: I always remember being able to do this.  Even as a little kid, I would stay up late reading or drawing my own comic strips until my dad came in and yelled at me to go sleep.  And then I would pretend to go to sleep so he’d leave me alone and I could get back to work.  I think it’s why my parents won’t let me move back in with them.

But that’s all over now.  Now, if I don’t get at least six hours of sleep, I’m a zombie.  And coffee, my sweet nectar of the caffeinated peppy Gods?  Well, you know how a drug addict’s body builds a tolerance to their narcotic over time and they have to increase the dosage to keep attaining the same high and then they end up just taking massive quantities to feel normal? My bladder can’t take it.

In the end, maybe it’s a sign that I’m no longer a kid anymore.  That I need to tackle my writing in a more mature, orderly manner, and not just with a childish manic excitement.  Still makes me feel old though.  Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to get some sleep.

inmcqueenLast week, Kate (My girlfriend, who am I seriously considering giving a pseudonym/nick name to use when referencing her in the blog–like how Bill Simmons calls his wife the “Sports Gal.”  Ninja Girl, maybe?) spent the weekend in Brooklyn.  We decided to take her dog, Marshall, to nearby Tompkins Park which supposedly had a dog run that our friends Chris and Ari were going to with their dog, Jack.  Now, Marshall may look like one of the thousands of pampered toy dogs that are practically everywhere in the city (he’s a bichon-poddle mix), but he’s far from it.  He’s got some miles on him at nine-years old (52 in dog years), walks with a limp (a previous owner was abusive and broke his leg which didn’t heal correctly), and has a semi-cantankerous personality much like an old man.  I like this dog.

At some point on the walk over, Kate passed me the leash.  Just as we were arriving at the park, we ran into our friends, who were on their way out.  As we stopped to chat, I noticed a guy walking by with a pit bull.  Marshall perked up and pulled me over so he could greet the large dog with the obligatory canine ass sniffing (I know no better way to describe it).  I glanced away for a second, then heard the unmistakable sound of growling and snarling, and turned back to see the pit bull standing over Marshall—trying to fit his jaw around the head of my girl friend’s dog.

What lasted only a few seconds felt much longer.  While Kate screamed and people stared, I tried to wrestle Marshall (who had started to fight back) from the much bigger dog, while his owner tried to pull him off.  It was obvious that both dogs wanted nothing more to do with each other, but they’re wiggling bodies had become tangled and intertwined—creating more tension, snarling, and biting.  Then, just as quickly as the fight had begun, it was over and Marshall was free. Obviously, Kate was upset and kept yelling “What happened?”  I couldn’t understand if she didn’t fully witness the exchange, or believed that it was caused by me and the other dog’s owner, Roy (he seemed like a nice enough guy), encouraging the dogs to start their own fight club.  Marshall wagged his tail.  He would walk away with only an ear infection from a small cut in his ear and another cut on his cheek.  I was surprised by my reaction, that I didn’t loose my cool and join in the screaming, or just freeze up and watch.

“You’re good in a crisis,” Kate said.  In fact, this is something she’s said before and pointed out when Marshall had a seizure on New Year’s eve (yeah, this dog has problems) that was I the one who rationally found the phone number for an animal hospital, phoned, described the situation, and then got us into a taxi. To be honest, I was never the calm one.  I was always pretty flighty and panicky in a desperate situation, either voicing my frantic feelings or keeping them inside and waiting for the moment to pass (though I usually could never shut my mouth). Sure, I could be counted on to lend a calming hand to a friend in dire straights, but that was because it was from an objective perspective—if it affected me, I’d lose my shit.

Being good in a bad situation was always a value I wished I possessed.  My father’s method for dealing with insane moments is to vent his frustration by loudly cursing and then barking orders (he’s ex-military).  Effective, but it lacks style. I always liked Steve McQueen’s grace under pressure in movies like the Getaway, Bullit, and the Great Escape.  A cool exterior that exudes confidence.  Rescuing my girlfriend’s dog from being mauled may be a bit different from winning a shootout or escaping Nazis via motorcycle, but it’s the closest I’ve come so far.

I think that it has more to with the older I get.  I’ve lamented here before my disappointment that I’ve not had an adventure filled life at this point, but my experiences have not exactly been dull either. I’ve had my fair share of stranded scenarios and close calls that required improvising and quick thinking.  Maybe each one has helped me outgrow my previous condition of panicking and finally become the cool operator in a pinch that I’ve always wanted to be.

Exactly a week after the incident with Marshall and the other dog in the park, Kate and I came home to her place after a full day to find her roommate freaking out. “There’s a pigeon in the apartment!” She yelled. I hate pigeons.  What snakes are to Indiana Jones, that’s what pigeons are to me.  There are not enough words in the English language that can describe my abhorrence of pigeons.  And I felt them all as I watched this rat with wings flutter and perch itself near the ceiling. I shuttered (on the inside) and turned to Kate and her roommate.  “Get me a broom and stay back,” I said.

[Pic via Imdb.com]

I'm so close to 30.

I'm so close to 30.

Last weekend, I turned 26.  It was gruesome.  There was a nice dinner with the girlfriend and then a whiskey soaked night partying with friends that is now just a very blurry and gap filled memory montage somewhere in my brain.  I’ve basically been recovering until yesterday (i.e. drinking lots of water, swallowing lots of aspirin, and returning a goat to wherever my friend Kirch was able to rent a goat).  This explains my lack of posts, as well as the sick day from work, my suddenly appearing limp, and the notice for a court appearance in regards to an “indecent exposure with a farm animal.”  But as the nausea and pounding headache subsided, something hit me: pure and utter anxiety about where my life was going.

I find myself doing the math whenever I read the profile of someone successful or a celebrity, trying to figure out how old they were when they got their first big break. Thoughts like “When did they do it?” or “How much time do I have?” run through my head.  It’s as if I’m trying to figure out how much longer I can afford to not really accomplish anything substantial, to just seemingly dick around with my life.

It’s not that I think I’m a loser or anything. I just always figured that by this point in my life I’d have reached a higher level of success.   Growing up, I imagined a moderate level of fame, warranting a magazine cover or at least a profile on a major network news show.  I always thought my life would be filled with adventure and some danger.  I mean come on, I should be solving the occasionally murder or wrangling the slimmest of escapes via my trusty pocketknife and knowledge of science.  I should be getting into fistfights on top of moving trains or battling wits with a crime lord of some kind.  Today, my most exciting days are the ones where I can afford to buy my lunch and eat it at my desk (I’m a big fan of those $5 foot long sandwiches over at Subway).

Call it narcissism. Call it an identity crisis. Call it another poisoned mind of a generation that was told since kindergarten that they “can be whatever you want to be” and then met the cold reality that not everyone can be astronauts, rock stars, a-list actors, or crime solving geniuses.  But then there’s the realization that I came to this on my own.

Whatever turned my life into whatever this is, didn’t happened overnight. I made the many decisions that led me here.  And maybe I’m just looking for the wrong accomplishments.  Maybe I should remember that since my last birthday: I’ve quit smoking, gotten a handle on my personal life, reached some level of financial security (for the moment), and even began making progress (measurable in molecules of length) in my career.  But seriously, how cool would it be to solve a murder?

sickFirst off, sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been busy puking my guts out. This leads me to my second point: I’ve been sick.

After an amazing Valentine’s Day weekend with Kate that included catching an evening show of Will Ferrell’s You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W Bush, a lovely dinner at a tiny neighborhood restaurant, Sunday brunch, and an afternoon wandering around the American Natural History Museum, I awoke early on Monday, President’s Day—a national holiday. I love waking up early on my days off, yet it’s something I rarely do. But as I slowly became conscious, my eyes adjusting to the hazy sunlight coming in through the window, I became aware that something was wrong. My mouth had a bitter taste, my throat was dry, and my stomach felt bloated. I jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, falling to my knees right at the toilet.

“Are you okay?” Kate sleepily called from the bedroom. To which I gave the only known universal reply of “no” to such a question—the sound of vomiting. Once year I get really sick and this was it. By the end of the day, I’d thrown up the wonton soup (which I suspect as being the offending cuisine that put me in the predicament) along with half a tube of saltines, and several glasses of ginger ale, as well as e-mailed my boss informing her that I would not be in the next day. I need to note that Kate took care of me for the whole day—always an important moment in a relationship.

I love taking sick days. Well, okay, I love taking sick days when I don’t have to stay in bed due to the room spinning or an uncontrollable cough. Taking sick a day when I’m actually horribly sick, just plain sucks. To me, a proper sick day (or not-so-sick day) should be spent sleeping in, watching reruns (or old episodes of your favorite TV shows online), and not changing out of your pajamas. But instead, I used my actually-horribly-sick day to nibble on crackers at my girlfriend’s apartment until I was strong enough to walk her dog and survive the trip back to my place, where I collapsed on my couch and debated if the next day should be a not-so-sick day.

I decided to go to the office. As tempting as a not-so-sick day was, it wasn’t worth the hassle of being behind at work. I made the more prudent decision, which is actually kind of strange for me. Just a little over a year ago, I would have called out and taken the day off to watch some House on Hulu without a second thought. Maybe this means that I’m growing up, that I’m becoming a productive member of society.

Or maybe it means that the recession, with its poor job market options, has forced me to cling to my current employment by having an honest work ethic. Yeah, that’s probably it. Damn this economy!

cs-salute1

An artist's rendering of what I may have looked like then.

I remember when I first spent any real time away from home. It was just a week at a Cub Scout camp during the summer I was eight-years-old. I had felt the thrill of sleepovers at the homes of friends for a couple years by then and my parents and I believed that I was ready for an extended time away. Years later, my memory of the experience is cloudy. Like trying to remember a dream, only the sharp plot points stick out. I remember the hot dustiness of the place, earning something called “the polar bear badge” which required a jump into the frigid lake every morning and swimming around the dock, and I remember that it was the first time that I ever felt homesick.

“You wanted to go,” my mother says during a recent phone conversation and then corrects herself: “you were ambivalent about going—sometimes you wanted to go and sometimes you were afraid of going.” I remember the sensations: impending excitement followed by dread and then excitement again and back and forth. My mother was guiding me through my own foggy memories. “We got a phone call, probably about Tuesday,” she says. “And they said that somebody else had left, one of the other kids had left and that had caused you some anxiety.” Yes! I remember that. He was my tent-mate, my swimming and hiking buddy. We were told to keep tabs on one another, to make sure that we were both safe. It was the backbone of summer camp life—the buddy system. And my buddy was so homesick he left. “You were homesick,” says my mother, “but they thought you could make it through to the end of the week.” Yes, that was right. But I don’t remember any phone call home. “They wouldn’t let us talk to you,” she says. “They just wanted us to know.”

I remember the melancholy striking me while I lay in the dark waiting to fall asleep. “I think you really only had trouble at night,” my mom says. “You know you were so busy during the day that you didn’t think about it.” What’s odd is that I wasn’t homesick for an actual home. As an army brat, I’d lived in five other houses by that point in my life. So I knew that I didn’t miss the physical place, but rather the comfort and stability of being there. That’s what “home” was.

Years later, I would spend one week every year at Boy Scout camp and with each stay the homesickness was less and less. I was older then and felt the burning need for independence. I even spent one whole summer away as a counselor and comforted the teary eyed kids who just wanted to go home. Eventually, I went away to college. Those first few weeks of late August felt strangely familiar. “It feels like we’re at summer camp,” we said to one another. And it did, but then over time things became settled and one day I woke up and went about my morning routine before my 9AM Spanish class when I realized that it didn’t feel like camp anymore. It didn’t feel like a different place. I felt at home. Since then, I never lived with my parents again. Sure, I visited for a couple weeks over the holidays and a week or two before I took off for wherever I would spend the summer break. But from then on, I was at home wherever I was.

Reflecting now on those nights spent quietly crying in my cot, I realize that being away wasn’t what upset me the most. I missed my parents, but I knew that I would see them again. I think I knew that first week away and on my own was the beginning of me growing up. And I think that being “homesick” was nostalgia for being a child and wanting to stay one. Today, as an adult living on my own, I find myself often laying in bed at night and thinking of my responsibilities, my dreams, and my memories. And on occasion, I feel just a flash of that homesickness from that one summer week when I was eight-years-old.