Monday, March 30, 2009

Above and Below The Influence

Here’s where I got the idea I’m about to rip off.

There has been an argument in my brain the last few months about what to teach my kids. I want them to experience their own journey and learn what they need to on their own. A lot of parents are like that these days. They have an enormous amount of self doubt about religion and morality and they aren’t sure if they are the best resource for a child to use.

The problem is, that is, in itself, influencing them.

Your kids learn from you and no matter what happens, they will be influenced. You can’t stop it. Unless you live in a bubble and never speak to the, your kids will get a pretty accurate idea of the things you treasure. We want our kids to live free of our screw-ups and failures but they are human. We are supposed to influence them. What we do is try to be honest. No matter what comes out of your mouth, it is slanted toward your own belief system. So, do you believe in your crap or don’t you?

My kids know I do not subscribe to religion at all. I never had a meeting. They just know. They know that their mother never had a subscription and that mine lapsed when I was about 12 or so. There’s no harm in that. It is the truth. But I can’t hide it from them, no matter what I do.

So I use the influence to teach them respect and tolerance. I believe that friendship and kindness to your fellow man, especially your loved ones, trumps everything. It is bigger than competition, money, drive, will and even religion. So it goes: “Believe what you want, but don’ be a prick to anyone who believes otherwise.”

Even the little things are an issue with me. My sons are getting into movies and TV and music now and they basically like all the things I like. I don’t mandate that; they just are using me as a starting point. There is a reason I have shelves full of books and 400 CD and records. I want them to explore and have a nice base to jump off from. They are starting to weed through the collection and poop on this and that. It’s what they are supposed to do. I just served as kindling for their intellect. Not a bad gig.

Years ago, the father would dictate the lives of his kids. The jobs, the school, the address and how he spoke and carried themselves in public. We are now a society that doesn’t mind individualism. It’s nice to think you are unique, even for a short period of time. Soon enough we all learn that everyone has the same problems and our ideas aren’t all that new or interesting or poignant. Getting there is what enables us to crawl out of bed in the morning. It is the hope that one day we will figure all this dumb shit out.

Here is the big difference between Eric’s story with his little Drew in the backseat and my conversations with my kids versus the typical scenarios when we were little boys: If we opened our mouths in the car about God, the metric system, whether Mello Yello was a good beverage or if Keith Moon was the best drummer, we would get something along the lines of: Shut the hell up back there, I’m trying to drive.

Difference? We listen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Adjusting to the weather of Oregon from a life spent in Florida took me about a week and a half. Okay, truthfully, I needed to run through all of the seasons, but I was comfortable at the end of the first week. Trading the humidity and sweltering heat for breezes and air I could breathe was not difficult.

Soon I had to adjust to the prices of groceries and not pumping my own gas. Fine. The traffic was more tolerable and the layout of Portland and the west side was easy to understand. All that aside, I had to come to grips with my biggest challenge: the People.

I spent my last twenty-five years in a place where I never felt welcome. Not one day. My sense of environment was always somewhere else; in a third area. Not my birthplace in Upstate New York, or where I grew up in the panhandle of the American South. I always imagined I’d find a place where I could have what I wanted. Green like Florida but with actual weather, like New York. But not as much snow. And less red-state rednecks. And fewer tourists, because I tired of them a long time ago.

Then I moved here in 2005. And I got all of that shit.

The people here are different. Those out there who feel that people are the same no matter where you go are just wrong. People are like homemade spaghetti dinners. Everybody has the same basic ingredients, but it all ends up on the plate a little different than the neighbors. Oregonians are as laid back as human beings can possibly be without forgetting how to breathe. The angst and tension I felt on the east coast my entire life just is not here. They don’t have the same motivations. They aren’t pushy. They aren’t fast.

They are supportive and mostly broke. They have pride in their community but they don’t brag. They like sports but they refrain from being pricks about everything. As my friend Dylan pointed out, they are friendlier but not as polite. Politeness is what you need in a society that is tense. It is the grease that keeps the gears running smoothly. If everybody is cool with everything, you are less likely to get in a fist fight with a jerkoff whose Nike’s you just stepped on. It’s unexpected and refreshing.

The problem? Well, I’m not cool with everything yet.

I do find myself wanting people to move their asses in traffic. Everyone here is a safe, conscientious driver who coasts along at the speed limit. Well, I’m not used to that and sometimes I want to get somewhere! Not every day is a leisurely trip to the city park to knock around the hacky sack!

Also, I grew up in a place where the Klan had footholds and there were abortion rallies and protests about gays visiting Disney. Here, there are more transvestites and cross dressers than you can shake a genuine or prosthetic stick at. I’ve worked alongside both men with C-cups and ladies with full Billy Mays beards. Rainbow stickers, marches and gathering in the center of town. And everyone from the old woman throwing crumbs to the ducks to the young Kindergarten teacher has a tattoo. Somewhere.

They are accepting here. They don’t judge anything. Unless you try to build a Wal-Mart too close.

I love all of this. I want to eat it and digest it and breathe it in and be a part of me. I want my kids to grow up in this atmosphere.

But, what I really wish for is to feel like part of this place. I didn’t like being a Yankee in the south. I don’t wish to be a foreigner anymore.

I guess I should ask around. They may have already accepted me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

They May Have At Least One Point. (Maybe.)

I usually have to hide my radical leftist views. I’m certainly not attempting to be perceived as cool by making that declaration, I’m just stating fact. As I’ve written before I have to abstain from most political debates because the country has shifted from the right side arguing with the left side in a constructive, albeit frustrating manner to a bunch of embarrassing third grade poop. One side has rotted and is buried in the mud. There is just correct and incorrect now. And the right is just wrong.

That is too diplomatic of me. The honest reason is that I am a lunatic. Deep down, in my European roots, there is the DNA of leftist, nutball revolutionaries. Downtrodden, sickly firebrands whose passions always get them killed. Probably the Italian side. I’m guessing. Example? I don’t care that the rich are taxed more. I think they should have so many taxes laid upon them that they wish they were never rich and the idea of exorbitant wealth became disgusting to the world. Not socialism, not communism. But watchful capitalism; the type that lets anyone thrive and succeed as they desire, as long as they remember they are part of a country that directly or indirectly supports them through protection, taxes and citizenship. That is what beats in my swarthy heart.

You can see why rational political debate eludes me forever. I’m a kook.

So what can I possibly learn from these free market dipshits? Well, they are wrong about everything socially. That goes without saying. Internationally they are insensitive and stupid; that there is nothing there to play with. They are mistrusting of science and that is an affront to learning which makes me sick, so that’s out.

And, they are sickeningly patriotic.

Hold on.

I like being patriotic, too. I understand that nationalism is dangerous so I’m not advocating America Against the World. That’s one of the reasons we are where we are. There is one world and everyone is riding on the thin outer crust.

No, I mean honest, genuine warm feelings about the fifty states that comprise our country. All of it’s mixed up and misdirected glory. The advanced and the lagging behind, the rural and the urban, the deserts, the beaches, the mountains. All that happy stuff. I like all of that. We aren’t the best and we are far from the worst. We are who we are, and like it or not there are dozens of countries who wish they had our problems instead of their own. I don’t enjoy crapping on America, and I share that sentiment with all of those soulless misguided right wing doody-heads.

(For more on these feelings, read anything by Sarah Vowell.)

All that aside, this boils down to the simple pleasures of living here. I don’t feel bad when I go to the grocery store. That compassionate guilt, (the kind the Republicans loathe..Christ-like guilt), the feeling that we have so much and others have so little…it doesn’t get me down. I acknowledge it. I just am thankful and a little proud. I’m proud of a few extra choices in breakfast cereal and movie theater and shoe style. I like endless rows of books. I know, we went apeshit with all of the choices. We tend to do that. I’m kind of proud of that too in a weird way. It’s not the worst problem to have.

We use our wealth is wasteful ways. (Tongue twister) But we actually have wealth, and for that we should remember to be thankful. If we’re not enjoying what we have, we are exactly like those rich whiny bitches in Orange County, CA complaining about snippy waiters to the rest of humanity.

These thoughts cool me down when I catch snippets of congressional debate. I use my boyish, idyllic thoughts of America like aloe on a burn. It works.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Roscoe's House Of Chicken And Dolphins

I had to get bloggy for this one. My son Holden made this for me in art class. If its not plainly clear, it is hammered metal stuck to a block of wood, and the image is a piece of fried chicken. Hell yeah.


On a completely unrelated note, can someone clearly explain the fascination we have with swimming with dolphins? What is the attraction? What are people looking to get out of the experience? I can only guess they want to saddle them up and jump through fiery hoops. If not, then they are Troy McClure-like freaks who would prefer to do the whole thing behind closed doors. If not those things, then I can only imagine a briny, bumpy experience with an animal that would most likely be annoyed that you are there. At worst, he’d cackle and knock you in the skull with a fin or a beach ball.


Oh yeah, and I just figured out my life can be encapsulated in a Supertramp song. Guess which one.