2016

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Every new year I head into it thinking this is going to be my year.

2016, the Chinese year of the red fire monkey, I’m taking a different philosophy. This will be my tax write-off of a year.

Too often I raise expectations thinking a new calendar will make all the difference and come January I will have grand epiphanies, memorable accomplishments, and carve some ambition into my lazy bones. By February it becomes clear that all my thoughts have been recycled, my actions have had no meaning, and the only carving I’ve done is an imprint of my buttocks into the couch.

2016 will be different.

I will expect nothing.

2017 will be my year.

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Holidays

A few Novembers ago a friendly neighbor shattered the driver’s side window to break into my Love Interest’s car. We called some glass guy to replace it. He did the job and afterwards he wished us a happy Thanksgiving. That morning and exchange has stuck with me.

It was very early November which seemed a little ridiculous to already be wishing us a happy Thanksgiving. But that Thanksgiving came and went. As did that Christmas and New Years.

Perhaps it is never too early to get in the holiday spirit.

Deja Vu – Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Creed

spaceballs06In the 1990’s the original Star Wars trilogy was the Bible to pop culture nerds. When Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out in 1999 the anticipation was what it must have been like 2000 years earlier when the New Testament came out.

Except instead of Jesus Christ we got Jar Jar Binks.

I fell asleep both times I tried to watch The Phantom Menace and the next two Star Wars movies weren’t that much better. So I didn’t have much hope when it was announced Disney was going to crank out a new Star Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future. In fact I dreaded the new movies as a cynical cash grab that would destroy the childhood innocence Star Wars and all its action figures, Underoos, and Pizza Hut limited edition cups represented.

So what a pleasant surprise Star Wars: The Force Awakens was. Someone who wasn’t a fan of the original Star Wars movies could point out plenty of plot holes, some wooden acting, and the fact the whole two and a half hour feature was basically a commercial for the next chapter, but they could say the same about the originals.  It would be more accurate to describe The Force Awakens as a two and a half hour love letter to those original three Star Wars movies.

This is a children’s movie not made for kids, but for 40 year olds who grew up on R2D2’s beeps and Chewbacca’s roars. Our heroes Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker are even older and grayer than us, but it gives you goosebumps to see them back on the screen again. The final shot left my jaw agape. All of a sudden the next Star Wars movie can’t come soon enough.

Critics have pointed out that many of the plot points for The Force Awakens were nearly identical to that of the original Star Wars movie, which I think was a brilliant move. That is also the strategy the new movie Creed took. Creed followed the same template of its 40 year old forefather, Rocky. In Creed, Rocky is now the wise old Jedi, teaching kind of young boxer Adonis Creed how to use the Force to come out of nowhere and get a chance at a title fight.

I don’t know how much I would have enjoyed Creed and The Force Awakens if I hadn’t grown up on Rocky and Star Wars movies, but I did and so I’m grateful they provided that welcoming nostalgia I’m always chasing when I go to the movies.

 

The Thanksgiving Story

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As I bought a loaf of bread I wished the man at the counter, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“I know of this holiday.” The gray bearded Italian said, “but I do not know what that means.”

As someone who sees it as my duty to educate the ignorant I felt obliged to bring class to session in the bakery. “It is a day when you come together with your family and give thanks.”

“For what?”

“Some people express thankfulness for the bounty of food placed in front of them, others for the company they get to keep. Some are grateful for a day off to watch or play a little football, for some it’s a marker that they made it through another year. I guess in a nutshell gratitude is what Thanksgiving is all about.”

“Oh, yes Thanksgiving. The day you Americans commemorate Native people feeding you when you were starving and reciprocating their charity with a genocide that would have made Pol Pot and Hitler blush, you then celebrate with gluttony and flatulence with the ritual slaughter of millions of birds and by watching a game where underprivileged men are highly paid to try to knock their fellow gladiator to the ground.”

“I suppose that’s one way to put it. But I thought you didn’t know what Thanksgiving was?”

“Do you take me for an idiot?” He asked. “Of course I know about Thanksgiving. It is happiness I wish to learn about.”

We’re Going To Disney World

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I always said the only way I would ever go to Disney World again was if someone dosed me with a truckload of psychedelics or if I had a kid.

Last time I went was 1992. My family took in a French foreign exchange student, as a thank you the school packed the visitors and their host kids on a bus and shipped them up to Orlando. I was thirteen so I had a blast with any dose of freedom. The most memorable moment was on The Pirates of the Caribbean ride when the French boys in the boat ahead of us threw the scrawniest of their number in the water right where the cannonballs seemed to be shooting. The kid was evidently not related to Jacques Cousteau. He screamed and cried as he jumped back in the boat.

Since those innocent days though I have grown a deep seated fear of Disney World and all it seemed to represent. The crowds, the commercialization, the crass idea that you can manufacture and market happiness.

If a trip to Ikea had me one step away from a panic attack, I could not imagine what Disney World would do to me.

And so when my Love Interest requested that we take our daughter there I always turned her down. “Go with your friends and their kids.” or “I’ll drive up there, drop you girls off at the theme park, and I’ll find some  watering hole to disappear into.”

But last month I relented. I rented a car, packed us in, and took the four hour drive to Orlando. The first rule I made to help myself get through this trip as a cheapskate was not to ask how much anything cost. If they started to tell me a price, I’d cover my ears, sing “When You Wish Upon a Star” and hand over the credit card. I broke this rule almost instantaneously as I drove into the theme park and they told me parking cost twenty bucks.

We got out of the vehicle and I prided myself that I walked the extra few booths down to find a shorter line. “These stupid tourists” I snickered as I saved us a few minutes, but I was going in with the wrong attitude. At Disney World as in life you will never defeat the line.

I don’t know if it was the high price of admission, but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I feared and the clientele was not how I remembered it. In my memories every other person at the theme park was morbidly obese and every parent was threatening their kids with a whoopin’, but most of the people were trim and civilized towards their children.

You don’t see as many of the costumed characters anymore. You have to pay extra to get your pictures taken with the big dogs like Mickey Mouse or the princesses from Frozen. There were long lines for random supporting characters like the monkey from The Lion King who we started waiting in line for when he walked off and we were told he had to take a break to drink a banana milkshake.

Fortunately the lines for the rides weren’t bad. We went on the Jungle Boat which was filled with bad puns and African stereotypes. Our daughter’s favorite ride was the carousel. Mine was It’s a Small World which would be the safe zone if you did go to Disney World on a truckload of psychedelics.

When you’re there with a two year old though, the rides aren’t that important. The most amazing aspect is seeing it through her eyes, that all this manpower and resources were spent in celebration of an animated rodent.

This is a crazy world we live in, this Disney World.

 

The Great Whiteside Hope – 2015-2016 Miami Heat Season Preview

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As a fan of the Miami Heat since their inception the stakes and my expectations always seemed to rise. When the team first started in 1988 I was happy for them to beat anybody. When we got a few decent players like Glen Rice, Steve Smith, and Alan Ogg my expectations at the start of the season were that we would make the playoffs. When Pat Riley came in 1995 I expected a lengthy run in the playoffs.  When we got Shaquille O’Neal I expected a championship and in 2010 when LeBron, Bosh, and Wade joined forces I expected solar eclipses of legendary hoops.

Now that a year has a passed since LeBron James, Ray Allen, and any realistic hopes for a championship left Miami I’m still numb. It was annoying to watch last year’s Finals and know a Miami Heat team with LeBron and Ray Allen would have clobbered the champion Golden State Warriors.

But without a realistic hope for greatness it’s hard to feel anything with a new season upon us. After going four years where every Miami Heat game beckoned with the possibility of athleticism and skill that had never before been seen on a basketball court, where every playoff game had the pressure often reserved for the fate of civilizations, I’m left wondering now what’s the point of watching? To hope and pray they win 49 games and get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs?

I got spoiled.

And if the Miami Heat fans feel ennui toward the upcoming season how must the players and the coaching staff who were along for the epic four year ride where they went to the Finals every year feel? If last year is any indication when Dwyane Wade decided to sit out every other game, Birdman cut off his mohawk, coach Erik Spoelstra made player substitutions like he wanted to be fired, and Chris Bosh made up some auto-immune disease so he could take the second half of the season off, they were also in a state of existential crisis.

Now it’s year 2 post-LeBron. Dwyane Wade is back. Chris Bosh has recovered from his fictional illness. We have Goran Dragic as a point guard, who is an offensive upgrade from Norris Cole. Rookie Justise Winslow was by most expert’s opinions a top five player from the draft who somehow fell to the Heat at #10. Gerald Green is an athletic shooter even though he has only nine fingers and Amare Stoudamire is instant offense who bathes in red wine.

But our only true chance at greatness lies in center Hassan Whiteside. Last year the  seven footer had a triple double of over ten points, rebounds, and blocks. It’s a feat that hadn’t been done in the NBA in years and it took him less that half a game to accomplish that. He had more 20 rebound games in his first 50 games than any player since Shaquille O’Neal.

In a league that is over reliant on shorter perimeter players, having a true beast in the center like Whiteside often was last season, could be a chance to stand out. Under coach Erik Spoelstra I am a little concerned that won’t happen. In this year’s first game he benched Whiteside four minutes into the game. Whiteside only took four shots and had a sorry stat line of four points and six rebounds. Perhaps our coach thought that would motivate him and maybe it will, but Spoelstra’s track record of getting young players to reach their potential has not been solid, he gives up on them fairly quickly.

But if the Heat are going to go for greatness or at the very least have us spoiled Miami Heat fans care about this upcoming season, it’s Whiteside or bust.

The Pier

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We used to jump off the pier at the south point of Miami Beach. Some would do flips or dive head first, I was only brave enough to jump. It wasn’t life threateningly high, though someone once told me their stepdad spent his adult life in a wheelchair because of a tragic leap off it, but it was a rush that lasted as you sunk ten feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean and stayed with you like the salt on your skin until you washed it off.

The pier was closed off and under renovation forever. Maybe a year ago it reopened, child proof with clear signs that there is no jumping or diving allowed.

I took my daughter out there on a beautiful day. Though there was no way she could slither through the fence I still do the math in my head of how long it would take me to dive after her if she did and how I could climb up the rocks while holding her.

But there is no drama or action to this day. We sat in a shady area and the water was so calm and clear even with my awful vision I could spot a parrotfish swimming by. When a tugboat motored through, the waves in its wake scattered out even more sea life. I asked my daughter if she saw the fish, she acted like she did but I’m pretty sure she’s pretending. Then she points out a turtle. I act like I see it as well.