A Year Without Chocolate

Just kidding. Mugging for the camera this summer with my brother’s chocolate cake.

As 2010 drew to a close, I sat on the couch and watched revelers in Times Square while gobbling down handfuls of M&Ms and despising my gluttonous nature. My chronic overindulgence inspired an end-of-year post in which I confessed a lifelong habit of overeating as well as bouts of draconian self-deprivation. I concluded my observations with a noncommittal suggestion that I might try to forgo chocolate for the entirety of 2011, as it had become a rarity for me to go even a day without it. Fellow chocoholics, I stand before you now to report that I am less than 48 hours away from having endured a year without chocolate.

Hold your applause, please. For though I am certain that I shall imminently achieve my goal, I am hardly a changed man. No, my gluttony persists, as you shall soon learn, a vice redirected to other heathen avenues. But I suppose there is something to be said for pulling off a stunt like this in a fattened society where chocolate is as prevalent as our basic necessities. I am here to tell you that, though it may seem as daunting as survival sans oxygen, living without chocolate for prolonged periods of time can be done. Read More

The Dark Sides Of The Room

Forget the soft illumination of red safelights. THIS is what I used to see.

I used to work in total darkness. Not all of the time, mind you, but I experienced the complete absence of light for an average of an hour every working day for a few years. And no, I wasn’t sleeping. As the manager of a micrographics department within a small records management firm, it was my responsibility to handle raw film stock and process every exposed reel. As a result, I spent a fair amount of time squirreled away inside a darkroom.

Our digital age is rapidly transforming the very notion of a darkroom into an antiquated concept. Forthcoming generations will grasp the idea only through its representation in old movies and television shows, with their romanticized, red-tinted photo labs inhabited by outcasts who discover startling evidence upon retrieving an enlargement from a chemical tray. Such a cliche never once happened in real life, I guarantee you. Dramatic moments of unexpected revelation might occur when a photographer is projecting a negative with an enlarger prior to exposing a sheet of photo paper, but unanticipated compositional elements never emerge from a fixer bath. I guess the truth is too complicated or dull for visual narratives. In any case, that isn’t the kind of darkroom in which I worked. Read More

Turkey Bowl

November 24, 1983: Muddied combatants pose before heading home for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was a sacred tradition for a number of years, a ritual no less important to its participants than the national holiday on which it occurred. Every Thanksgiving morning at 9:00, a ragtag group of brothers and friends assembled on a frozen field at Robb Park for a spirited game of touch football. Victory with all of its bragging rights was awarded to the first team to score five touchdowns. By that time, great patches of dormant grass would be stripped away, leaving a muddy pit as testimony to the annual battle. Soaked through, sore, and grimier than any other time of the year, the players trudged home to clean up in time for heartily appreciated turkey dinners.

The Turkey Bowl began as a smaller affair, nothing much more than my three older brothers and a few of their friends running some plays on Thanksgiving morning. Things changed when my brother Richard taught 7th and 8th grade math and science at his alma mater, the same Catholic school that I attended.

“I told students I was a tight end at Cal Poly Pomona,” acknowledges Richard. “They didn’t know any better.” Read More

The Vinyl Frontier

Jim…there’s something funny about the walls and floor…

Star Trek or Planet of the Apes? That was the paralyzing decision that I had to make one afternoon in 1975. I stood transfixed before brightly colored boxes, my brow furrowed with the anxious knowledge that whichever option I chose, it would come at the expense of forfeiting the other. Star Trek or Planet of the Apes? Both playsets looked fantastically inviting, especially when accessorized with a quartet of eight-inch action figures. I studied the pictures and tried to envision what exciting scenarios I might be able to create with these tantalizing toys. Did one of the choices offer more hours of fun? Might I grow tired of one of them sooner than I imagined? Did one road lead to sustained happiness, while the other ended in unforeseen regret? My nostrils flared. Star Trek or Planet of the Apes?

My mother and father stood nearby, patiently observing their youngest child’s angst. We were standing in a long aisle within the vast establishment known as Children’s Palace. The mere sight of its turreted facade had thrilled me to my very capacity for excitement, for I had seen television ads for the store and yearned to visit it like a prospector dreams of El Dorado. In my hometown of Lima, toys were confined to a small department within stores that sold an array of goods. The concept of a big box retailer dealing exclusively in toys was like hearing tell of a swimming pool filled with chocolate milk. Yet here in Columbus, I was standing within a genuine Children’s Palace. Read More

A Crown For Every Collar

I grew up believing that the first President of the United States was George Worshington. Oh, I knew it wasn’t spelled that way, but that was how I said it. Similarly, I knew my home was equipped with a worsher and dryer, which we used to launder all of our clothes and linen, including the worshcloths. I inherited this peculiar dialectical preference and used it for years without the slightest notion that it was a deviation from standard English. Then one day, in the midst of questioning every other facet of my adolescent existence, I realized that there was no justifiable reason to pronounce wash as worsh, and I was appalled. I had been betrayed by my upbringing, tarred with a rube’s tongue, and I vowed to eradicate the vulgarism from my speech at once. It took a few weeks of consciously correcting my bad habit, a learning curve akin to knowing how to use a foreign phrase with the aplomb of a native, but I eventually became forever worsh-free.

The transformation led me to tackle other linguistic abominations as they became apparent to me. I began to enunciate all four syllables of interesting in an effort to combat the gross contraction intresting. I put the first r back into library. I even started adding a g at the end of progressive verbs. Yet I was not a budding usage curmudgeon. I found no pleasure in the superiority of the language police. I simply noticed things that made no sense to me and adjusted my speech accordingly. Read More

Two Chairs, No Waiting

My wife and I bought our house nearly twenty years ago. It’s a small two-story built by an outfit that kept prices affordable by using the cheapest materials allowed by housing codes. We’ve made some significant quality upgrades over the last two decades, installing a durable roof, buying a better furnace, replacing every window and door, and encasing our home in vinyl siding. Incredibly, however, we are still using the original, economy-grade water heater. Aware that our basement houses an aquatic time bomb that could blow at any time, perhaps leaving us without hot water on an arctic January morning, we decided to be proactive and solicit some replacement estimates.

“Now, I’m guessin’ here,” boomed a garrulous contractor as he surveyed our basement, “that you guys have two and a half bathrooms?”

Guess again. My wife and I traded smiles provoked by the perverse joy that comes with puncturing false assumptions. “One,” I corrected him. He was clearly taken aback by this information, as though we had revealed that we do all of our cooking over a boiling cauldron in the fireplace. Yet we spoke the truth. It is the secret shame of modern suburbia. You can’t tell just by driving through the neighborhood, but there exists here and there the odd house that has…[insert dramatic sting here]…only one toilet.

Read More

Con Market…Manet Cork…Knot Cream…

The human brain, that incessant maker of meaning and perceiver of patterns, is wont to seek engagement rather than endure monotony. Even when there is little at hand to provide mental stimulation, the mind will resourcefully make do with whatever it finds. I am reminded of a particular instance of this phenomenon that occurred, of all places, high in the balcony seating of a sold-out pop concert.

We had been enjoying an entertaining set by Elton John, who was touring to promote his 2004 release, Peachtree Road. It was a great and engrossing performance until we heard the opening lyric, “She packed my bags last night, pre-flight.” The audience responded predictably, greeting Rocket Man with a resounding ovation, but we were less than thrilled. Having seen Sir Elton a few times before, we knew that he had just embarked on a journey that would, indeed, last “a long, long time.” Read More

As If I Could Forget

I hesitate to add my voice to the clamorous din of narratives and opinions examining the legacy of the 9/11 tragedy on its tenth anniversary. The notorious event was born on the dawn of media saturation, and not even the enormous towers themselves could have contained the last decade’s voluminous reporting about their destruction. It seems like every news organization, whether national or local, is compelled to produce copious coverage of the milestone, as though to do anything less would somehow be unpatriotic. It has reached the point where the mere mention of the words, “a look back at 9/11” is enough to make me tune out, and we haven’t yet reached Sunday.

It reminds me of an item I saw buried in the back pages of a community newspaper several years ago. A pair of teenagers had come through town in the course of their marathon walk across the state. The purpose of their trek, according to the reporter, was to raise awareness about 9/11. That’s a little like staging a publicity stunt in order to call attention to the heliocentric model of our solar system, but kudos to them anyway, as I’m sure their intentions were sincere. Read More

A Great Summer

The rain in Maine falls mainly on the…um…rocks, I guess.

The school year is now well underway in central Ohio. Students have settled into familiar routines, teachers are dutifully plowing through the curriculum, and the specter of statewide standardized achievement testing is but a faint glow on the distant horizon. It’s the season when the world of a teacher begins to contract like a closing camera aperture. Our collective focus is narrowed on academic objectives and the welfare of our students, leaving comparatively little time for our own extracurricular pursuits. That is why I am especially grateful that I enjoyed a totally fulfilling and restorative summer break.

If you are of the currently fashionable conservative ilk who resent educators as bloated, public-sector leeches sucking the monetary lifeblood out of taxpayer coffers, then read no further, unless you want to risk being provoked into a jealous and indignant rage. For while you were slaving away, trying to prime the sluggish circulation of our torpid economy, I was enjoying the better part of June, July and August in a leisurely existence free from the annoyance of a weekday clock alarm. Seething yet? You might just want to give this lucrative education thing a try. Read More

How Many Times?

“You aren’t planning on doing this every day, are you?” asked my wife. Well…no, not really. Deep down, I knew that a $3-a-day, six-days-a-week habit was, like current state and national spending schemes, unsustainable. Yet so long as I had money in my wallet, I was finding it hard to resist the siren call of the newspaper rack and coffee machine of our local grocer. After all, what was three dollars on any particular day? Not much. Still, there was no denying that my little indulgence was putting an $18 dent in our weekly budget. No matter how much I enjoyed it, it was absolutely unnecessary.

It all started rather innocently earlier this month. We were heading out to stock up on groceries, but I was feeling uncharacteristically sluggish, as though I might be in danger of swooning over the produce bins and falling into a deep sleep. Caffeine, that wonder drug that I had managed to purge from my daily consumption for months, seemed to be in order. I wondered if there was a way that I might procure a coffee that I could enjoy whilst perusing the aisles. As it happened, there was just such a service in place. Read More

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