Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Would Somebody Please Force Me To Read More?

I've been tagged for a meme about books.

I don't think I've ever done an official meme on this blog, but the "tagger" was
Simple Blog Writer, and she's beyond cool, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

(and did I mention that it's about books? how can I not do it?)

1. One book that changed your life:
It, by Stephen King
Not because I think it's the greatest book ever written, or even King's greatest book, but because I started to read it and got about a hundred pages in, and lost interest, putting it away for a couple months. Then I picked it up and did the same thing over again...surrendering after a hundred pages. One day I started again from page one and became so engrossed I spent every free minute of my time with that book until I was finished 1,090 pages later. That's the first book of that size that I ever finished. And it turned me into a King fan.

2. One book that you have read more than once:
The Catcher In The Rye, J.D. Salinger
If you don't know Holden Caulfield, you really should. Seriously...go. Buy it, rent it, steal it. Get to know Holden.

3. One book you would want on a desert island:
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
No, I'm not saying that to sound pretentious. I figure if I was alone on a desert island, I'd eventually get so bored that I'd have to read it. I've been meaning to for the past dozen or so years, because it's regarded as one of the great literary masterpieces of all time, with reviewers fawning over it, saying that even the most minor characters spring to life. And there it sits...on my bookshelf. Unread. Mocking me. I've tried. I've failed. So push me out of a plane in the Caribbean somewhere with a parachute and an unabridged copy of War and Peace, and then I won't have a choice.

4. Two books that made you laugh:
Anything ever written by Dave Barry.
The guy could type the letter "k" on a piece of paper, publish it, and people would buy it, and laugh. Or at least I would.

Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
They say that anyone who's survived their childhood has enough material to write about for the rest of their lives. Burroughs can write for twenty lifetimes and still have stories left to tell. He's as good of a storyteller as David Sedaris.

5. One book that made you cry:
You know...I've been mulling this one over in my head for a few days now, and I can not think of a book that made me cry. That statement makes me so sad I just want to...cry.

6. One book you wish you'd written:
Any of the Robert Fulghum books. Maybe some people regard them as fluff, but...his writing is so smooth, and he turns tiny little details into great stories that make you smile, think, laugh. I'd be more than thrilled to have my name on any of those books.

Oh, and of course, the Great American Novel, as well. Cuz who doesn't want to write that, right?

7. One book you wish had never been written:
All of the garbage out there by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, and on and on and on and on...

8. Two books you are currently reading:
The Courage To Write, by Ralph Keyes
I'm rarely more than two or three steps away from a book on the writing craft.

Homegrown Democrat, by Garrison Keillor
Keillor was introduced to me only a short time ago...within the last couple/few years. And I owe somebody somethin' for pushing his name into my inbox and my ear so many times that I finally had to see what all the fuss was about. I'm very grateful.

9. One book you've been meaning to read:
Republic, by Plato
OK, maybe this one is on here to sound pretentious. But it's not really, either. Someday I'll slog through it.

Now comes the part where I'm supposed to tag five people to do this meme on their own blog. And I've got a couple specific people in mind who should love a meme like this. (yes, you. and you, too.) But perhaps I'll just end it like this:

If you're a voracious reader, and you visit this blog on a semi-regular basis, you've been officially tagged. If you don't have your own blog, but have answers to most of the questions...please share them in the comments.

"To buy books would be a good thing
if we also could buy the time
to read them."
—Arthur Schopenhauer

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Space...The Crowded Frontier.

I was watching “Larry King Live” last Friday night, which is a little hard to admit here in this opening paragraph because it makes it appear that a date with CNN was my best social option to kick-start my weekend.

So I probably shouldn’t reveal that I also have in-depth knowledge of which candidates have won the presidential primaries up to this point, or you’ll start to think that the cable news channel is my only friend.

Anyway...back to Larry King. He had a panel of guests last Friday from Stephenville, Texas, who all claimed to have seen a large UFO in the sky near sunset on the night of Jan. 8.

The fact that dozens of people reported nearly the same thing made the story a little more credible and interesting than if one individual kook came forward and started babbling about seeing a saucer-shaped object and little green men with seven eyes.

Several people said they saw a low-flying object with very bright lights flying at a high rate of speed, and that the object was enormous...maybe a mile wide...and silent.

Sounds like something a little bigger than a Stealth Bomber to me.

UFOs fall into that category of things that, if someone tells you they saw one, you might listen to their story with great interest, but also with a bit of a grin as if to say, “No, you did not see that!!”

The panel on Larry King was convincing enough to make me believe that they saw something, but at the same time, I’m enough of a skeptic that I’d have to see it for myself.

One of the guests was a private pilot, and thought the object was traveling at “maybe two to three thousand miles an hour.” Quite an estimate.

And another saw it fly over his house toward Stephenville, hover there for a bit, and then come back in his direction, this time followed by three Air Force fighter jets. Of course, there was no one from the Air Force on the program to either confirm or deny the activity of its pilots in that location on the evening of Jan. 8.

The panelist who presented an opposing view was a former pilot himself, and stated that there is a military base nearby, which could explain the jets, and that there are many different types of phenomena...weather, astronomical, man-made...which might explain the bright lights.

To which I replied aloud, to no one in particular, “What exactly is a man-made phenomenon?”

The discussion held my interest for the full hour, but it left me with the same opinion I held before I saw the show. There’s got to be something...or someone...else out there.

Are we alone in the universe? Is there intelligent life on other planets? Are there aliens living and working among us? And if not, how do you explain reality TV?

Certainly not questions that can be answered in an hour on “Larry King Live.” But I bet if we all put our heads together in the comments section, by the end of the weekend we can have the answer to whether or not extraterrestrials exist.

Now take me to your leader. And tell them my Friday nights need to become more exciting, or I’m going to go crazy down here on planet Earth.

[On the agenda for tomorrow night: organizing my sock drawer according to color and/or style: black, brown, blue, tube, thermal, argyle.]

“I don’t laugh at people anymore
when they say they’ve seen UFOs.
I’ve seen one myself!”
—Jimmy Carter

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hey, Buddy...Can You Spare Some Change?


That’s an awfully big little word that some people are throwing around wherever you look these days.

This one wants to be the “greatest agent for change,” and that one has “the most experience to affect change,” and still another is fighting for “change we can believe in.”

Many Republicans probably want citizens to believe that the Democrats will turn their hard-earned dollars into...pocket change. While the Dems are promising change from the past seven years...which, I’m guessing, begins with actually being able to spell and correctly use the word “change” in a sentence.

Don’t look now, folks. It’s an election year. (You looked, didn’t you? I warned you.)

The primary season is in full swing, and the candidates are seemingly everywhere at once, as they should be, trying to get their messages out. From formal debates to appearances on talk shows to speeches in small towns broadcast on C-Span.

It’s up to them to tell us how they’ll change this country, and it’s up to us to listen.

I’ve mentioned in the past my desire to run for president, but as I see how the process is unfolding, I must admit, it’s caused me to change...my mind.

Oh, sure, I could go out on the campaign trail and start saying all the right things about hot-button issues like the war (I'd like to start four more), the environment (I'd like to keep it), taxes (I'd like to end them) and a budget surplus (let's build one).

But then, get this...if the people of this country vote you into that oblong-shaped office in Washington, D.C., they expect you to make good on all your promises.

Whew! Some of these candidates might be in trouble.

When I talked earlier about running for president, I was asked what my platform might be. And I figured, being 6’4”, I didn’t really need a platform...did I? I thought I was tall enough to handle any obstructions that might arise during my campaign or my presidency.

Then I learned what a platform was, and I tried to build one. Aside from making sure that Miss Teen South Carolina has enough maps so she can find places like The Iraq, my platform wasn’t too different from some of those already in the race for president.

So I thought I’d leave it to the professionals. Running for president is a 26-hour-a-day, nine-day-a-week grind of a job. And I need some time to watch the football playoffs, because they’re getting pretty entertaining.

Once you’re actually in office, though, the pace gets quite a bit less hectic, and you’re allowed plenty of opportunities to take some nice vacations, provided your schedule for the week doesn’t include any speeches to fumble.

Although I’m officially declaring myself out of the running before my campaign even picks up any steam, I will continue to do my part as a citizen and pay attention to those in the race, and cast my vote in the primary on Feb. 19.

When I get too overwhelmed by all of this political spinning and arguing and *ahem* debating, I know it’s a sign for me to change...the channel.

“The only person who is educated
is the one who has learned how to
learn and change.”
—Carl Rogers

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Starting Off The Year With A...Plunge

(I apologize for not getting this post up sooner, but I was perfecting the art of Photoshopping my head onto Matthew McConaughey's body, to make this a prettier post for all my female readers, and that took a lot of practice. I know, I know...I can't believe how much he's let himself go, either. Next time I'll use Jon Lovitz's body instead.)

Remember the scene in National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” where the Griswolds were staying at a hotel for the night, and Clark went down to the pool and found ├╝ber-hottie Christie Brinkley in the water, asking him if he was gonna “go for it?”

Clark stood by the side of the pool, flailing his arms and repeating, “This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy!”

I know just how he felt, because on New Year’s Day I stood on the shore of Lake Michigan on Bradford Beach in Milwaukee, wearing only flowered board shorts and old tennis shoes, thinking the exact same thing.

And I ran in...except there was no supermodel waiting for me in the water. I’m lucky there wasn’t an iceberg in there!

Yes, on January 1, 2008, I officially became a Polar Bear, along with my brother-in-law, Mark, who was a good enough sport to join me in the bone-chilling madness.

I’d seen the event make the news in past years. A couple months ago, for a reason I can’t fully comprehend, I began to think it might be fun.

I expected the thought to exit my brain as quickly as it entered, but...there it sat. And grew. In mid-December I sent out a feeler e-mail to some friends (subject line: "Shrinkage"), asking if anyone might care to join me.

One had already attempted this feat, one had plans for this New Year’s Day but expressed an interest in taking the plunge in 2009, and one specifically questioned my mental capacity, but added that if I chose to attempt it in Madison, his arm could be twisted. He just didn't want to make the drive to Milwaukee.

And from the rest...silence. I was beginning to think that this would either be a solo act of stupidity, or else I’d spend my New Year’s Day watching Bowl games.

Before the holidays, I was visiting my sister and her family, and after Mark and I had done a good job of draining an oversized bottle of wine, I casually broached the subject:

“So Mark,” I said, pausing for dramatic effect. “How would you like to become a Polar Bear?”

After another pause, possibly for more dramatic effect, but also to let the question, and the act, sink in, Mark answered.

“Sure,” he said.

“Really? I asked, thinking that the wine had done its job to sufficiently impair our judgment.

“Sure, why not?”

Over the next few days, through e-mails and conversations, I kept feeding him opportunities to back out, not wanting him to feel obligated to dive into the frigid water just because his brother-in-law was loony and wanted a good idea for a column, and a blog entry.

As I pondered, I didn’t know if it was something I could accomplish, but I knew it was something I wanted to attempt.

I spent New Year’s Eve at my other sister’s, which is about halfway to Milwaukee, and since she and her kids wanted to come down to witness the event and get photographic evidence of the insanity, I crashed on her couch, and after she woke me up in the morning with a fitting serenade of the Beach Boys’ “Catch A Wave,” we packed ourselves in the van and drove to Bradford Beach.

The wind was whipping and the temperatures were in the teens as we drove down, and I had serious doubts that I could actually go in the water. One thing I did not want to write was a column and blog post that said, “I thought I was going to become a Polar Bear, but I chickened out. Happy New Year.”

We met up with Mark and my sister and niece in a marina parking lot a half-mile hike away from the beach, and as we got out, we were met with the same cold wind. I would have been content at that point to call the attempt a failure. But off we walked.

A few minutes before we reached the big crowd on the beach, we heard an air horn blast and a big cheer. Thinking that we were too late for the mad rush into the water, I again considered postponing the plunge for another year.

Instead, we made our way into the crowd of people in various stages of undress, some soaking wet, some half dry, some frantically reaching for layers of clothes.

I was beginning to think it might be best just to write about pickles. Or politics. Or something dry, warm and clothed.

Mark proved to be a stellar motivator for this event, repeating over and over as he put his gear down on the snow-covered sand: “C’mon, Gregg. Let’s do this, Gregg. We’ve gotta do it, Gregg. Let’s go, Gregg.”

After much consternation, I took off my heavy winter jacket, and then a sweatshirt, and a pair of wind pants.

Soon I found myself, as I said before, in shorts and shoes, standing at the water’s edge. This was the first moment of the day in which I was certain I was going to officially become a Polar Bear.

I’d heard all the “rules” to becoming a true Polar Bear, and that you weren’t one unless: you went in sober; you went back in a second time to qualify the first plunge; you were an actual polar bear living in a zoo; or you’ve had a seven-figure endorsement deal with Coca-Cola and appeared in commercials during the holiday season.

Mark and I decided to heed only one rule, the most important rule: You’re not a true Polar Bear unless you go all the way under the water.

My sister got some good advice a few days before from a friend at work who was a veteran of the event, and that advice gave me great pause. It said, “Run in, go under, then run out while your brain is still able to tell your legs to move.”

Oh, boy. What about those Bowl games I’m missing?? Let’s go find a TV!

As we both stood by the water, Mark bolted first, high-stepping into the water, and before he took his head-first plunge, I got up the courage to make my feet move as well and in I went.

I got up to mid-thigh and decided it was deep enough to dive, so as fast as I could I dove under, got my footing back under me and started the sprint back to the beach where we had blankets and towels laid out.

With wet shoes on slippery snow, I wiped out on my way through the crowd and heard someone above me yell, “Man down!” but I got right back up, a towel with which to dry myself the only thing on my mind.
As we stood on the blanket, drying off and adding several layers to our torsos, it was only then that it hit me what had occurred in the last half minute, and that I was soaking wet and very inappropriately dressed for January in Wisconsin.

And the cold water had apparently taken its toll on some of the participants, because we heard one of the guys near us say, jokingly I hope, "I think I have a mangina!" Maybe he won't be a Polar Bear next year.

After I had a couple sweatshirts on, it was very easy and almost...comfortable...to stand on the beach in wet shorts with bare legs, and sip a little hot chocolate and people-watch. For a short time.

Five or ten minutes later, my toes started to get cold, signaling the time to don the five-dollar socks I’d purchased specifically for the event, and to get some dry clothes on my bottom half.

I expected cramping, or an uncontrollable head rush, or the inability to make my legs move, or chills for three days post-plunge. Instead...I got an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that it was official. I had a kinship with my favorite animal at the zoo. I was a Polar Bear.

We wandered among the crowd for a bit, taking in the sights, and then trekked back to the vans.

I’d like to think that participating in something so unique to begin 2008 was a symbol for a new beginning, a time to recharge and reinvigorate...that I dove into that icy water to shed some bad stuff, and that this year will bring great changes in my life, all because of those 10 frigid seconds in the water.

That’s what I’d like to think.

But let’s be real...it was just a crazy guy, near a big body of water, with an equally crazy brother-in-law. And a good idea for a blog post.

The next meeting of the Milwaukee Polar Bears convenes on January 1, 2009. I’ll be there, in flowered board shorts, at 11:30 a.m. Who’s coming with me??

— • — • —

I found this quote in late December/early January, and I don't remember where it's from. So if it's from one of your blogs, please tell me and I'll give you all the credit in the world for finding it. I don't even know the author, but I thought the message made for a great mindset heading into the new year.

Great words to heed and move forward with after thawing out from a dip in one of the Great Lakes in January.

"Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So love the people who treat you right and forget about the ones who don't. Believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it!"

“It’s tiiime for...a cooool change.
I know that it’s tiiime,
for a coo-oo-ool change.”
—Little River Band

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Another Step Back.


It's the offseason for those NFL teams that didn't make the playoffs. Time to shake things up a little, make some changes, and start working toward next year.

That seems to be an ongoing mantra with the Detroit Lions: "Next year."

All these players with all this potential, and all you can say if you're a Lions fan is, "Next year."

A couple seasons ago, they hired a tough-minded head coach in Rod Marinelli, who brought in a supposed offensive genius in Mike Martz. I can't stand Martz, but he did great things in St. Louis, so I had to give him a shot to work his magic with the talented skill players on the Lions roster.

Today, Martz was fired. And who did they promote to fill his spot as offensive coordinator? Jim Colletto, the offensive line coach. Ask quarterback John Kitna how good his offensive line was this year. Ask him to show you all the bumps and bruises and turf burns he must have from being pushed around and knocked down so much.

The offensive line is very possibly the worst unit of the Detroit Lions football team, unless you include the front office in the discussion. Then it's no contest.

So rather than firing the offensive line coach, they promoted him instead. "Here," they said as they handed him the reins of the offense. "We've seen that you're completely unable to get five players to do their jobs correctly...so why not try to manage eleven instead?"

To help Colletto in his task, receivers coach Kippy Brown has been promoted to assistant head coach, passing game coordinator, and running backs coach.

Passing game coordinator??


Sometimes it feels like it's a sin to be a Lions fan.

Thanks for listening.
I need to go and weep now.

"They say that the best defense is offense,
and I intend to start offending right now."
—Captain James

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Don't Plop, No Fizz...

Fortunately, this was not the scene on my nightstand this morning.

In years past, I might have thought that if I didn't need two of these tablets on New Year's Day, it meant I didn't have a very good New Year's Eve. Perhaps that's a sign that I'm growing ol...UP! Uhh...up! It's a sign that I'm growing up! (whew. that was close.)

Instead, I spent my New Year's Eve with good people, good laughs, good munchies, a few good beers and some champagne at midnight. I'll take that every year.

A detailed account of my New Year's Day will fill your screens in the next day or two (am I the master of suspense or what?? Dean Koontz, move the hell over!), but for now, I'm all about a couch and a movie I've probably seen before, or channel-surfing until I doze off.

Happy 2008, oh blogosphere, and especially to those of you who continue to visit my little corner of it. If you're feeling ever-so-daring, share with me some of your resolutions for the new year. (or the fact that your annual resolution is to make no resolutions.)

"The only way to spend New Year's Eve
is quietly with friends or in a brothel.
Otherwise when the evening ends and
people pair off, someone is bound
to be left in tears."
—W.H. Auden