Monday, December 21, 2015

The Biggest Problem Facing World Right Now: A Multi Generational Perspective

Recently I asked my youngest brother and mom if they'd be willing to write a short piece to be featured here on "What the greatest problem facing our country" was, and that I would contribute as well if they were game. I figured having three different generations (I am 46, my brother Wesley 24 and my other is...over 60) offer opinions on a question that could have infinite and complex answers would be a intriguing exercise and indeed it was. With my submission I chose to borrow a good deal from an earlier post as it answers the question posed in this piece precisely, so I am sorry for the mild rehash.

Here are our submissions, unedited for content, and in an "age before beauty" order ;)

Mary Andrea Abare - 

OK, so so my son asked me to write down what I believe the biggest problem facing our world is today. Me? Oh I know there are a multitude of critical issues I can think of off the top of my head, who can't, but what's THE most important one. I wracked my aging brain for awhile and finally it became so's the demise of the Good Humor man!!! Wow, that was easy...and before you laugh me off as just a deluded, demented old fool, hear me out. 

Some of you may not even know who or what the Good Humor man're too young. But there's sure to be many of us "older folks" reading this who do. This was the guy driving his charming little truck into my neighborhood every sultry summer afternoon with that welcoming GOOD HUMOR" printed on the side (along with a picture of a mouthwatering ice cream bar beckoning me) .The musical tinkling tune of his trucks bell beckoned me from the house starting around the age of four and affirming to me that life was full of joy, love and FUN! Always dressed in a crisp white outfit and accompanying white cap, I was never afraid to just run out the door (and neither was my mother) to scoop up the flavor of the day (usually toasted almond covering creamy vanilla ice cream on a stick).  I was never afraid I could possibly be molested; I never feared he might have an AR15 rifle hidden under the seat and I certainly wasn't suspicious of the grin he greeted me and my friends with each day because it was genuine. This was all part of my small world, everyone's small world in those days...a world where neighbors knew and cared about neighbors, where a five-year-old girl like myself could safely walk a mile down a city street to get to school, where a shooting of any kind was front page news for its rarity. 

I guess older people always talk about "the good ole days" but the truth is I'd give anything to be transported back to that small, safe little world now. With the advent of social media EVERYTHING has changed. Violent images, both real and produced, have bombarded our lives for decades now. Sad to say, that even the Internet, and sites like Facebook and Twitter have caused relationships to become less personal, even enabling the "bad guys" to hide behind them for nefarious purposes. Our brains are overloaded with violent stimuli and the media thrives on propagating fear. Being overloaded with these horrific stories and images, our brains, not unlike machines, have gone "TILT"!! "Too Much Information" is a truism. We have become a world of "haters" rather than "carers"(if that's a word), whether it's for religious, racial or political reasons. Everyone is now out for themselves and God forbid (interesting term) you don't hold their same beliefs! Shoot up a school must be the solution to the nervous breakdown so many people and cultures are experiencing. I guess I really have to admit the Internet and the media, to me at least, are the biggest causes for the worlds problems. That and religion, which I'll get into another time. For now, I'll just say "We need the Good Humor Man"

David Abare -

What is the biggest problem facing the world today? For me it's as easy as a five letter word we're all intimately familiar with though often estranged from: Truth.

We often hear people say "It's my truth," when referring to a particular religion one believes in or when describing someone's moral code, etc. but those statements are nonsensical. There is no subjective version of "truth"-something is either true/factual, real or it's not. We can believe whatever we choose to but that belief does not in turn make it true. The chemical composition of water is in fact comprised of Hydrogen and Oxygen; it's a true statement. Claiming that drinking 8 glasses a day is the reason you are smarter than all your friends is your truth, and not a factual declaration. However people do this every day, making statements and attaching the word truth when it has no place being associated with what they've said. Yes, I understand this could be semantics and that when someone claims "It's my truth" they in fact may be using the phrase in a way that's meant to represent what they believe, vs. what they know is supported by logic, reason or evidence-I am not trying to split hairs here-but I feel something as vital as truth shouldn't be subject to individual definition.

Somewhere in the Social Media Revolution, however, truth has become pliant. Many of us began sharing "their truth" in various political or spiritual posts, passing off a system of beliefs as fact when in numerous cases truth wasn't even in the same galaxy. When questioned, some will get defensive and angry claiming others have no right to question their version of truth, which is of course ridiculous, and even dangerous in certain situations. Over the years I've seen countless links to stories on sites like Facebook and Twitter packaged with "true" headlines detailing supposed actions/statements made, which after even elementary fact checking proved to be false. These fabrications and mistruths are often shared on these same platforms, read by some readers unwilling to research the claims, which then leads to opinions that are formulated with information that wasn't accurate to begin with-garbage in, garbage out, as they say in computing. The end result is masses of individuals whose "truth" is an opinion that isn't rooted in logic, fact, science or reason.

So why is it so easy for some of us to allow truth to be something other than what it actually is? Certainly part of it is related to cognitive dissonance-the difficulty in accepting information that conflicts with previously established beliefs-however I am convinced a lot of it has to do with fear as well. All of us have elements of our personality, background, history and desires that don't reflect beauty when a light is shined on it. So we create our own version of truth about ourselves, beliefs, principles, etc., until the manufactured version is more appealing to those around us. The problem is that a great deal of those around us are doing the same thing. So your truth and their truth is all just a fairy tale, a narrative born of our need to exist in mental head space that allows us to feel comfortable and safe vs. uneasy and in need of introspection.

So why do I feel that truth is the biggest issue facing our world? Well, in order society as a whole, across the globe, to continue evolving and to heal so many of the wounds of our history that still linger we need to care about truth, seek it, desire it above all else, and most importantly define it in the same terms. When it comes to issues of racism, gun control, abortion, climatology, police brutality, immigration, crime and the economy we have to be willing to look at all the data, all the facts-no matter how inconvenient-and make decisions based on truth and not just our interpretation of that truth. That still allows plenty of room for dissection, opinion and debate but assures we are all working with the same core data. How often have we been angered by a court decision, criminal or otherwise, where the overwhelming evidence was silenced by a crafty attorney who was able to create their own narrative for the jury? Do we really want to allow that to happen in all facets of our daily lives? If we allow ourselves to believe that a hot button issue facing the citizens of our country is the most significant issue we face yet half the world's population doesn't have access to clean drinking water, are we being truthful or delusional? If we want to condemn a group of people-whether bound by Uniform, Religion, Color, Political Party or other yet we're unwilling to accept facts that may dispute our previously established opinions, are we being truthful?

"It's not a lie, if you believe it," said George Costanza in a great episode of Seinfeld, and sums up what I have long felt is the greatest concern we have as human beings. Unless we are willing to take a look at ourselves first, and then those around us, and demand absolute truth in all things then unfortunately I see the problem growing exponentially versing receding. I hope mankind collectively turns the corner on this, though I realize the magnitude of the problem makes it unlikely, yet as a cautious optimist I will remain ever hopeful. Ish.

Wesley Contro -

The Biggest Problem Facing Our World: No connection. 

If I were to say this to most people of the modern world they may automatically think of internet connection. It has almost become a necessity in day­-to-­day life that we get connected to the world wide web. It is a comfort to many and a tool used to get whatever we may need, just as the web of a spider acts as its home as well as its means to sustenance. But as we continue to dabble around in what is truly the infant stage of the internet era, we may eventually come to find out that we are not the spider using the web to its advantage, but the fly caught in the silken stickiness cut off from the real world around us and, ultimately, wriggling to our doom. I understand the irony of my statements as I sit here typing this out on my computer with a very strong WiFi connection. The sad reality is, though, that we live in a time where your best means of getting a message heard is through the screen. And this leads me to what I consider the biggest problem we face today: the gradual loss of true human connection. 

It seems so contradictory to think that we have created a technology that connects to just about everyone around the world, and yet we are less connected than ever before. But if you take one look at the current state of affairs, nationally and internationally, you will see that there is a widening gap. Hate runs rampant around the world. People killing each other over petty issues such as theology, race, finances etc. In this country alone, the incredible wealth gap and racial disparities have caused massive amounts of protests, rioting and even murder. All this going on, and yet so many want to turn away those being tragically affected, regardless if it is actually any fault of their own. People seem scared of one another. Where did all this distrust come from? Seems like when talking with elderly they will tell you that “back in their day” people were more friendly, inviting and kind. 

There are two factors I could think to attribute to this societal shift. The first being that we have slowly faded out a great deal of substantial human interaction. Interaction primarily occurs through some kind of screen these days. Research has found, that more and more students these days feel more comfortable interacting through some kind of online or cellular platform than in person. What implications does the loss of all the unquantifiable qualities of face-­to-­face communication mean for future generations and their relationships with others? The other factor would be would be the constant bombardment of the evil that exists in the world through various technological lenses accompanied by so few reminders of people’s ability for good. “Compassion is the awareness of a deep bond between yourself and all creatures.” (Tolle) Compassion is the greatest human strength. But, when you are made to believe that compassion is lost or that it is actually a weakness, you begin to see the world as “us vs. them” instead of just “we”

Connection with each other is not the only thing we are losing. We have lost connection with our home, Earth. We are forever connected to this Earth. All that we are came from it, and eventually we will go back to it. Yet we live in a way that implies we are separate from it. We treat it like a constantly renewable resource that will give, give, and give as we take, take, take, assuming it will not ask for anything in return. But the great Earth and mother nature is much wiser than any of us. It has been around a lot longer and will most likely continue to revolve around it’s warm, glowing star long after we are gone. Those who think we may cause the eventual downfall of the Earth are letting the ego get the best of them. If an asteroid 36 miles wide, moving 12 miles per second couldn’t cause the demise of Baby Blue then I doubt we will really have much luck. Though that doesn’t mean we won’t make it inhabitable. There is a global conversation about the impact we are having on this Earth and what that means for our own survival in the future. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, I don’t think it is too wild to say that we all need to take time to go out and appreciate everything that this world have given us. 

The final and most profound connection that I see we are losing and the one that may just be the cause for everything else is the loss of self connection. We live in a world of constant stimulation and distraction. Being alone, truly alone, is thing of the past. Whether it is through some kind of social media or even the subconscious fear that we are being constantly watched or tracked, there is the continuous awareness that there is someone on the other side of the computer or pocket screen. We have done away with waiting and boredom. These things seemed like inconveniences, but what did they really mean to us? Waiting provides opportunity for patience. Boredom provides opportunity for action. Without these things we become apathetic, anxious and high strung. We lose connection to our internal states of being. We cannot come to know who we truly are. It is through moments of real solitude that we connect with and begin to understand our own emotions. Without this what do we really have? We stumble through life from one day to the next trying to numb anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. But to grow as people we must be able to be aware of the moments that make us feel alone, sad, anxious, apathetic, worried, and scared, accept them, and then use them to bring forth socialization, ambition, courage, and compassion. We need to take time to learn about ourselves and our place in this world. This seems difficult these days. It is tough to pull yourself away from the numbing agents and push yourself into a situation that makes you uncomfortable. But it can be easy. That is why I am suggesting that we all take a moment, leave the tech at home, go outside and sit under a tree. Close your eyes and breathe. This is the simplest way to get in touch with yourself and it has been done for thousands of years. Not only may it do YOU some good, but you may find that it helps you connect to everything and everyone else.


Friday, December 11, 2015

The Lone Bellow @ House of Independents - Asbury Park NJ

Every year or so I discover a band that becomes a bit of an obsession. They end up dominating my Playlists, being shared & promoted to my social media friends, family and co-workers and I see as many of their shows as time and funds will allow. This pattern began in my teens and hasn't shown any signs of abating in my forties, but as obsessions go I suppose it's a healthy one to endure, as music can't file restraining orders and rarely requires medication to manage. A couple years ago it was Volcano Choir, more recently the brilliant The War on Drugs and in the last month it's been The Lone Bellow, a band so remarkable I am frankly embarrassed I hadn't heard them at length prior to this year. I was at Newport Folk Festival in July and listened to several fans sing their praises, yet due to a GI system that felt like Slayer was playing inside it, I missed their set, unfortunately. 

The Lone Bellow are Zach Williams on Guitars and lead vocals, Brian Elmquist on guitars and vocals & Kanene Donehey Pipkin (certainly the most fun name to say in Rock & Roll) on mandolin, vocals and bass, and formed in Brooklyn in 2011 after meeting at a Diner and thankfully realizing that the the combination of these three melodious voices results in total sonic bliss. Their two CD's, The Lone Bellow and Then Came The Morning have received sizable critical acclaim and drawn fans worldwide, and although the recorded material is excellent, The Lone Bellow are a live act, meant to be experienced instead of just heard. With some bands that means there's an "entertainment" factor present that includes visuals, stage antics, props, etc., that adds to the bands music in a live setting, but with this incredible trio it's all about the sounds bellowing collectively and independently from each member.

Last night, in the intimate new venue House of Independents in Asbury Park, NJ, I was finally able to experience the impassioned performance of the The Lone Bellow and it's left me spellbound. There's always been beauty in vocal harmonies, but when it's blended with great songwriting and musicianship-as well as engaging stage presence-it crosses over from captivating to completely mesmerizing. Zach Williams' lead vocals, emanating from his "6 foot stature" (according to his mom), are where Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon wishes he could push himself, yet with Williams it comes naturally and with better tonality. He drove songs like "Take My Love" that rely heavily on the harmonies to more dynamic places with his timbre and power. He soared on tracks like "Fake Roses" and "Cold As It Is" as the band filled in the sound around him. Both Elmquist and Pipkin are exceptional vocalists in their own right, with Pipkin taking lead on the beautiful "Call to War", but it's when the three of them are in unison that you realize you are experiencing something spiritual. The singer/songwriter Marc Cohn has a line in his hit "Walking in Memphis" where he answers a woman asking if he's a Christian where he replies, "M'am I am tonight" and that's how you feel experiencing The Lone Bellow in a live setting. They aren't a "Christian band" nor do the majority of their lyrics talk a lot about God but when you're in their presence, hearing them perform and taking in the majesty of the moment, you're a believer in whatever they are preaching. 

The band closed the main set with the upbeat "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold" and from what I heard it's a reference to one of Zach's two young daughters, who were both at the show and at one point dancing in the aisle. Many of the bands songs have elements of Country, Bluegrass and Roots music but it's the infusion of rock and roll that makes songs like "Green Eyes..." and others so intriguing. It's curious to me that the band is most closely associated with Country as I haven't heard anything in that genre in years that's moved me the way The Lone Bellow has, though I know everyone enjoys putting music/bands into little boxes. Whatever label-or lack thereof-the band prefers for itself is fine as long as they continue to write and perform their music, as far as I'm concerned.

Perhaps one of the best moments of the show, and certainly most endearing, was during the encore where the band prompted audience members to share in a chorus of Christmas Carols chosen at random. The only moment that could have topped that happened when Zach brought his two little girls onstage while Brian sang "Watch Over us" (with one of the girls even offering her vocal support). If there's a better living postcard of Christmastime in America I can't imagine it. 

The venue, House of Independents, just opened in Asbury Park and was an intimate setting perfect for the band, even if their immense talent and power is deserving of far bigger stages. Last nights show was full of friends and family as well as the the bands last performance of this year before they head off to Europe. My only complaint at all, other than choosing the worst possible seat to sit in based on the row being the easiest line to bar and bathroom, was that the band omitted "Tree to Grow" from their set. It's almost like complaining that your Maserati is broken and you have to drive the Ferrari, the Lambo or the Porsche instead however, as the bands set is so strong and full of exceptional music that skipping one song is easily forgiven. Having said that, (in best Larry David voice), The Lone Bellow will be playing in Northampton MA at the end of February and I am hopeful that the song finds its way back into the set list. If not, well, I'll drive the Porsche.


Full Set List was: "Take My Love", "Marietta", "Fake Roses", "You Never need Nobody", "The One You Should've Let Go", "Two Sides of Lonely", "You Don't Love me Like You Used To", "Cold As It Is", "Call to War", "Teach Me To Know", "Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold", (Assorted Xmas songs, audience participation), "Watch Over Us". 

The Lone Bellow are on Descendant Records and their latest Album is titled "Then Came the Morning".

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Community Forum

As Social Media has grown exponentially over the last ten years, so has the user base and along with it the growth of “Community Forums”. These are places where members of various towns, groups, etc. can discuss local events, politics, businesses and anything (and everything) else that may come into their mind. After spending a year or so browsing and participating in some of these groups I have noticed they, in general, are made up of seven primary personality types which I have outlined below. Obviously this dissection and summary is not scientific, but I feel it’s 99.973813765% accurate with a margin of error of +/- 98%. Let’s take a look at these different member types below*:

The Administrators – The “Admins” are the ones that either started the Forum or have been asked to join in the governing/policing of it. Besides being drunk with power, these Admins are often sadists who relish the opportunity to virtually smack the shit out of you when you break one of their rules, which they are quite happy to remind you about anytime you even get close to infringing on. As they scan the forums seeking out policy violators, they also chime in regularly on content, often times cheer-leading for your post about a Bake Sale benefiting those with Halitosis or offering a genuine “You go girl, those things are creepy!!” when they notice your post about successfully murdering a spider in your Foyer. Admins often have to break up threads that get too heated politically or emotionally and will often do their best to remain neutral while slyly inserting their opinion into the response. Example: Jerry, come on now. There’s no need to get hostile. We all want this vote to go smoothly and no one is suggesting voter intimidation or anything like that. Obviously we just want to make sure that anyone that’s too intellectually challenged to see that the incumbent is a dolt and a kitten punter has all the facts when they step in the booth. That’s all, Jerry, so please just watch your language. Admins are usually folks who used to light ants on fire with magnifying glasses and laugh uncontrollably as bigger, stronger kids hung nerds from their underwear on hooks.

The Bleeding Heart/PC Die Hard – The BHPCDH is the Forum member who is offended and hurt by everything. There’s virtually no subject they can’t find a way to be bothered by as their lives are spent finding new ways to be upset and sob uncontrollably at the injustices brought onto everyone except straight, white males with a job. The BHPCDH will ALWAYS comment on anything of a political/societal nature and will side with the underdog/alleged victim every time no matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary may be. They wear Cognitive Dissonance like a Scuba Suit as they swim in waters filled with offensive “Jellyfish” who are seemingly always ready to lay their ouchy tentacles across their sensitive and fragile bodies at every turn. The BHPCDH will post links to and like it’s their job and they will often use the Hashtag “SMH” after many of their posts. Example: Guys, did you SEE the video? That teacher had no right to pull him out of his chair and force him to go to the office, he’s an innocent child! <Uhh, Carrie, the ‘kid’ is over 6 feet tall and told him he was going to stab him in the face if he didn’t give him his phone back> Ugh #SMH. The BHPCDH usually has good intentions and a big heart but difficulty in accepting reality in their lives, so they often retreat to Lifetime television and/or growing an herb garden in their picture window.

The Agitator – The Agitator is the one(s) that will always choose to start shit and annoy others, no matter the subject. Sometimes the agitation can come in the form of an initial post, usually about something long beaten to death and/or resolved they just didn’t like the outcome of, or just a comment: Guys, did you hear that Mr. Watkins only left a 5% tip according to Laura Schmoper at the Tavern?? Really?? REALLY??? This is the guy we want leading our town Government??  The aforementioned individual likely had won an election or been vindicated of alleged crimes like 4 months earlier but the agitator can’t let it go because they are so drenched in self-loathing they can’t help themselves. The Agitator is usually an attention addict as well, and will often post “controversial” and annoying things just to get feedback, whether good, bad or indifferent and even if previously had been completely ignored. They also relish the opportunity to comment on others posts just to be shitheads. Example: <Has everyone seen the new front walkway at the Town Hall? It’s beautiful!!> Agitator: Yeah, and can’t wait to see all my tax dollars get sucked out of my check, what a WASTE!!! <There was an old woman who broke her ankle on the steps before, you’re seriously against repairing that?> Whatever. Go play with your Obama Bobblehead!! The agitator is often blocked or has posts removed from Forum postings but will have others post on their behalf or beg their way back in to Admins, only to be blocked again. In most cases, however, the Agitator is laughed at so universally by others outside the forum and via constant Inbox messages that regardless of their attacks it’s they who end up looking like fucktards. Agitators usually have difficulty in personal relationships, especially with themselves, and get angry at everything on Earth at almost every moment.

The Even Steven – The ES is the Forum poster, much like the Admin, that tries to settle everyone down and keep the peace in the forum. Although they have no problem letting some of their political or religious beliefs come out in posts, their goal in forum posting is usually to keep some level of “fairness” or calm in the community. Example: Hey, I know we don’t ALL want a Hooters here in town but to be fair those women do choose to work there on their own and aren’t forced. Plus, it will add more jobs to the town and help the tax base. Can we just move on and deal with the real issues in town like getting Satan out of our schools? Even Stevens can be playful agitators and often times become Admins and are also known to self-police their own posts if they feel (or receive commentary) that one of their posts has crossed a line. Even Stevens usually drink boxed wine, Busch Light or similar in cans and are mildly popular at town establishments.

The Die Hard – The DH is the political lefty/righty or religious fanatic that feels it’s their job to “stay the course” despite contrary evidence, community discussion, opposing thought or any source in opposition to what they have chosen to believe. They also wear the Cognitive Dissonance Scuba Suit but theirs is made of Titanium. They have anointed themselves the Prime Minister of cramming their opinions down your throat and any opposing view will get rolled the fuck over like a flapjack under a Hummer. Example: Republicans are the only ones who don’t want to take ALL of my paycheck!! If you vote Democrat YOUR AN IDIOT!! Regardless of the obvious grammar flaws, which occur on all sides of course (I’m an Even Steven J), the DH usually uses many ALL CAPS and exclamation points to hammer their opinion home. They often have personal pet projects they want you to know about incessantly as well, and if you feign interest, or worst case mock them, you will be met with not only the DH’s wrath but their “minions” as well. The DH can vary between a very educated individual to a complete moron that can barely operate their own phone.

The Voyeur – The Voyeur is the Community member that spends 99.89785% of their time on Social media, and 99.9999999% of their time on a Community Forum but rarely posts anything at all, with the exception of the occasional “lol” or “Yes!” The Voyeur just likes to watch the battles, arguments and discussions and hopes that the chick he’s been pseudo stalking from High School posts a pic without her boyfriend so he can immediately Inbox her a “Hey, how have you been?” They watch everything very closely and if you run into them in real life they will be extremely informed and up to date on all Community business, which will perplex others as they rarely see them post. Example: <Hey Gary, how have you been?> Great, John, and you look awesome! I saw that you lost all that weight doing that 30 day cleanse and that your wife was annoyed you spent the money for the Aruba trip on all the supplies. She forgave you though, and that Tag Sale you had last Saturday looked awesome, lotsa great stuff, and I saw Bernie Jones walking around, did he buy anything? Oh and how did your girl Amber do at that gymnastics meet? <Uhhhh…> Hearing such things from a Voyeur can be shocking at first but rest assured that only 7-19% of them actually have had cameras installed in your home and only a slightly higher percentage have figured out a way to access the microphone on your iPhone. Voyeurs are usually kids who used to get picked on a little and/or were passed over for a job by the Quarterback in High School and although completely unstable and very dangerous, they rarely are outside your window every night of the week.

The Old Timer – The Old Timer is your mom. Maybe your grandmother or a beloved teacher or parents friend that hasn’t fully grasped technology or the “Interweb” but make a diligent effort and love the platform of the Community Forum. They generally have wonderful things to say about everyone and have regular anecdotes about things that happened 47 years ago. Their lack of experience with technology often comes through in their posts, but always cloaked in honey and love. Example: Dear friends, I love this forum and <post ends. 3 days of posts in between> I am so happy I found this. Does anyone <day and a half of posts replying “Do you need help?” Etc and then an erroneous Inbox they sent posted as a comment> Does anyone know when the Flower Sale is happening on the Town green? Old Timers are generally so full of good intentions and warm wishes that any mild annoyance caused by them is easily forgiven and often met with shared laughter. Occasionally, however-like any of these Forum Poster Types-an OT can be a partial Agitator or Die Hard or both and these need to be handled carefully as respect should always be given to elders. Unless they are totally nuts then all bets are off.

Community Forums are a wonderful place to get to know your neighbors, advertise a Tag Sale or local event or discuss relevant town issues. It’s not what these forums are used for 91.8367% of the time, however, as they are instead often petri dishes of virulent anger, disagreement and insanity but at least they are contained within the virtual world and not happening on Main St. Of course, not every person who participates in a Community Forum can be subdivided into the categories I have created here, nor does every person that seemingly fits into a certain category exhibit every characteristic of said label; at times each of us may manifest various traits of each and every label listed. However, what we can all hopefully agree on is that we are all pretty much nuts and nowhere does that shine through more clearly than in the Community Forum at times.


*The preceding post was written by an individual with possible mental defects and in no way, shape or form should it be interpreted as factual, relevant or even interesting. Any complaints or concerns can be emailed to:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Truth, Comedy and Great Sex

OK so the last part of the title was added in just to grab your attention, but what better way to start a piece on Truth than open it with a lie? :)

One of the last places you'd probably expect to find Pearls of Wisdom is Washington Square Park in NYC, though several years ago I made one such discovery. I have written about the experience before, how I was playing Chess with an older African American man and he asked me "What's the most important thing in the world?" and how myself and my girlfriend at the time offered up all the requisite and typical responses, "Love?", "Family?", "God?", "Health?" and each time he shook his head and finally replied, "Truth." We talked about at length about what Truth meant to him and his definition and understanding of the word has always paralleled mine.

We often hear people say "It's my truth," or "It's their truth" when referring to a particular religion one believes or when describing someones moral code, etc. but those statements are nonsensical. Their is no subjective version of "truth"-something is either true/factual, real or it's not. We can believe whatever we choose to but that belief does not in turn make it true. The chemical composition of water is in fact comprised of Hydrogen and Oxygen; it's a true statement. Claiming that drinking 8 glasses a day is the reason you are smarter than all your friends is your truth, and not a factual declaration. However people do this every day, making statements and attaching the word truth when it has no place being associated with what they've said.

Somewhere in the Social Media revolution, truth has become pliant. Many of us began sharing "their truth" in various political or spiritual posts, passing off a system of beliefs as fact when in numerous cases truth wasn't even in the same galaxy. When questioned, some will get defensive and angry claiming others have no right to question their version of truth, which is of course ridiculous, and even dangerous in certain situations. Over the years I've seen incessant bashing of various Politicians and cable news stations and often these attacks are packaged with "true" headlines detailing supposed actions/statements made, which countless times proved to be false. This leads to sharing and further commentary and often results in opinions being formed by the readers that are formulated by information that wasn't accurate to begin with-garbage in, garbage out, as they say in computing. The end result are masses of individuals whose "truth" is an opinion that isn't rooted in logic, fact, science or reason. This applies to both sides of the political aisle, as well as those claiming to be Independent or non-voting.

So why is it so easy for some of us to allow truth to be something other than what it actually is? Certainly part of it is related to cognitive dissonance-the difficulty in accepting information that conflicts with previously established beliefs-however I am convinced a lot of it has to do with fear as well. All of us have elements of our personality, background, history and desires that don't reflect beauty when a light is shined on it. So we create our own version of truth about ourselves, beliefs, principles, etc., until the manufactured version is more appealing to those around us. The problem is that a great deal of those around us are also doing the same thing. So your truth and their truth is all just a fairy tale, a narrative born of our need to exist in mental head space that allows us to feel comfortable and safe vs. uneasy and in need of introspection. 

I have always had an affinity for comedians, and certainly some of that stems from the fact that my father was a comic for a few years as well as my belief that I am funnier than most of you. Comedy is often a form of protection-distance from the same audience the comic seeks to entertain-a shield that keeps those seeking to reach too far inside from penetration. However, what's intriguing about comedians is that they are some of the most honest individuals out there, pouring some of their most embarrassing, unflattering and dark secrets/habits out onto the stage. They often bleed their insecurities, fears and failures out verbally and the audience roars with approval, the result of a talented delivery and a familiarity with the source material. The comic is often at the forefront of societal discussion and political arguments, and in many circumstances their opinions reflect the truth at the meat of the issue yet it's met with offense and disdain. Even when the comic is feeding their own ego, building themselves up with real or imagined accomplishments and success, it's usually in jest and is often followed by numerous self-deprecating tales highlighting major fears and failures.  My best friend in the whole world* Colin Quinn is a perfect example, as his One Man shows, Stand Up act, book and especially his Twitter posts are rife with bravado, ego and accomplishments, yet one of his most popular routines/stories is the time he bombed horribly at his hero, Robert DeNiro's, birthday party. Colin reveals his early adolescent missteps, failures with women and problems with alcohol in much of his work as well, and like many other comics, when he appears on news programs or is interviewed he offers his actual opinion and feelings vs. the PC/sanitized response so many others in showbiz and the public eye put forth. Vulnerability is the oxygen to the lungs of intimacy. How much more vulnerable can you be than pouring your soul out on stage, screen or page, and it leaves no wonder as to why many of us feel it easy to bond to comedians.

I had an argument years ago with someone about the statement "Everybody lies", regarding it's validity. My point was that no human being could possibly be truthful 100% of the time in every situation throughout an entire lifetime and my friend countered there were likely many people who have never nor will ever lie. I still find it highly unlikely that there's anyone who's never told a lie as there are so may scenarios where it may even be necessary, but my desire for more truth isn't dependent on the world joining hands and taking an honesty pledge; truth in the greater sense has much more value than eradicating every white lie that's ever told. Each time I see my dear, dear friend Colin* I tell him how amazing he was/is and that I love him but that may be a slight bending of the truth. Or not-he is pretty awesome-but the larger point here is that exaggeration and embellishment are not the same crime as blatant dishonesty and delusion. 

In order for our society and our world to continue evolving and to heal so many of the wounds of our history that still linger we need to care about truth, seek it, desire it above all else, and most importantly define it in the same terms. When it comes to issues of racism, gun control, abortion, climatology, police brutality, immigration, crime and the economy we have to be willing to look at all the data, all the facts-no matter how inconvenient-and make decisions based on truth and not just our interpretation of that truth. That still allows plenty of room for dissection, opinion and debate but assures we are all working with the same core data. How often have we been angered by a court decision, criminal or otherwise, where the overwhelming evidence was silenced by a crafty attorney who was able to create their own narrative for the jury? Do we really want to allow that to happen in all facets of our daily lives? 

Real truth is a hard concept for a lot of us, and defining it with our own terms and methodologies often feels better. However I am trying my best to follow the comedian's model-observing the world from every angle, speaking my mind, baring my soul and being unafraid of the results. It can be terrifying but it's also liberating, even if it's adherence creates some alienation from those around you. I would rather watch Colin, or Artie Lange, or Louis CK or Norm MacDonald say something honest and fucked up rather than listen to anyone try to feed me some packaged, polished and disingenuous tripe. I understand there's a culture of "feelings" out there and I am sensitive to that but if it's it's at the expense of reality then what are we really protecting one another from? 

If I need protection the truth is I'll buy myself a gun. ;)


*These statements may be, just slightly or possibly absolutely, embellished just a little or significantly.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Everything Gonna Be Alright

This morning I logged on to a popular social media portal as I've been known to do, and someone had put a comment on a "news story" from a highly questionable website that read: I told you, we are nearing the end of days!! This person, among a few others in my social media circle, feel the current state of affairs in the world are indicative of a likely Armageddon or at least a seriously shit time ahead for all of us. However, I am here to put your fears to rest and provide solid evidence that the world is in fact just fine and that no panic or doomsday prep is necessary. So sit back, relax, slide a hand in your pants and take a looksee here why everything is going to be just fine...

1. You're probably nuts.

Yes, that may sound a little harsh and this comes from a guy who's sanity is questionable at best but I think deep down you know that it's true, right? Cooomee oooonnn, be honest. Aren't you one of those people that is always being corrected at work or on Facebook or in line at Costco or basically everywhere for saying outlandish fucked up shit? Don't you have numerous close friends pointing you to or Snopes™ to fact check your goofy posts? It's OK, we all make the mistake sometimes of sharing that story of the cactus that exploded with Scorpions or the Fox News link that apparently quoted Hannity saying he wishes torture and death for Hillary supporters, but one or two times is one thing buddy, but 10 times a week? Take a few deep breaths, log off the Internet and go pet a puppy and then don't come back until the voices stop.

2. Things were crazy worse before you were even born.

Every generation that follows the previous claims "The world is going to shit!" but logic dictates, with the formula Shut Up + No / Common Sense = Stoppit Dummy that this is absolutely not true. Do you realize there were people that thought the Automobile was "evil" and was certain to result in the destruction on Mankind? Sure it's not perfect but I'd much rather drive to the Casino rather than ride a Burro. The parents of kids in the 50s and 60s called Rock and Roll "the Devils music" and were positive their children would amount to nothing if they didn't stop listening. Some of the kids of that era started companies like Apple and Microsoft and others like Bill Clinton became President. Sure, he did sorta live out all those parents fears while leading the Country but the dude still got elected, right?? As the 60s moved into the 70s it was the Hippies many were afraid of but other than a little body odor, toking a little Ganja and roller skating half naked a lot, what harm did they really do? If we go back hundreds and thousands of years we can talk about horrific mechanisms of torture and death, violent attacks of rape and pillaging, unsanitary and inhabitable living conditions and life expectancies shorter than the average housefly. If this was 5000 years ago one of several hundred dudes in your 'hood could have crawled straight up into your crib, grabbed the giant turkey leg out of your mouth and beat you to death with it and then have taken your woman, and what were you gonna do? Smoke Signal 911? If anything, the world has gotten softer not harder folks.

3. The Government isn't going to take everything you have away.

For over 25 years I have been hearing that Uncle Sam is going to "try to take our guns away!" and despite tougher gun laws than there were then, every person I know that loves guns and doesn't have a felonious past has guns. Lots of them. The gun control laws are a little goofy because they can't do anything about the guns criminals obtain illegally but that doesn't mean there isn't a benefit to background checks and waiting periods. As for our Privacy being "stolen" and such, well, last time I checked pretty much everyone is putting every fucking thing they say or do on the Internet so what privacy are we so worried about protecting? Plus, as much as it annoys the ACLU, if I'm not breaking any laws or shooting videos of myself molesting Chipmunks then what am I so afraid of? The "Right to Privacy" is something we all expect yet there is so much of our lives that's out there for any schmo to see. I highly doubt Barrack Obama or the FBI wants to see me Whip and Nae Nae or have a "special moment" while on Youporn.

4. That God guy? Well, here's the thing...

OK so I'm an Atheist so obviously anything I hear beginning with "Well the Bible says..." is going to induce the same reaction as "So I was talking to Bigfoot and..." but I understand many of the faithful feel that God has a plan for them, and the world, and that they believe he may be coming back soon to rip us all a new ass for all of our sins. Listen, there's no question that the Earth houses a massive amount of Fucktards and a ton of terrible, violent and twisted people, but that's always been the case and "God" hasn't shown up to wipe them out in the 45 years I have been alive or even since the days Jesus was bopping around spreading good cheer about his old man. Why is that? Well, besides the fact he's the product of scared shitless humans with no access to science, knowledge or information of any kind about life, death or the planet they walked around on, if he did exist who's to say he wants to come back here? He might be busy starting up other planets with improved life forms vs. the ones he made here with bad attitudes, indignation, selfish tendencies and chronic flatulence. If there happens to be a God I am certain it's not one of the hundreds plus of previously established ones created by man nor is he waiting around to come back to set us all ablaze and take back 144,000 to the Pearly Gates. Especially not the Kardashians or Jared from Subway, obviously. There are a multitude of wonderful, benevolent and selfless people on this planet and as much as Religion (in my opinion) has served to harm this planet in it's different variations and offshoots, decent, moral and good people exist in the secular and religious world alike. We can all find a way to co exist, and one of the best ways is to not tell those without belief that your God is coming back to set us all on fire soon. Unless you have a video, Snapchat, email or text from the big guy that proves this is on the horizon, please put a sock in it. 

5. The Media is convincing you the World stinks. Log off once in awhile and go climb a tree.

If you watch Cable news, incessantly scroll through Facebook and Twitter or visit political/news themed blogs a lot you're very likely 94% certain that the world is going to either explode by next week or all of it's citizens are going to murder each other by Halloween. We are constantly bombarded with negative imagery, dialogue and statistics by these mediums that if we stay plugged in too long there's no question all sense of optimism is going to leave us like a pocket of gas after 7 Chimmichangas. The truth is though that in the majority of ways it really counts the world is actually getting better. Cracked, one of the most popular Blogs in the world, just posted a story with a similar theme as this post, listing statistics refuting a lot of the "Doomsdayer" fears, including: That school violence and shootings are actually down and safer than they've ever been, teen smoking/drinking numbers are at lowest they've been since they started counting, and that even with more distractions in a car than ever, automobile fatalities in this country are actually lower than they were in 1950! Yes, Cracked publishes a lot of humor based and oddities but each one of these factoids are sourced from legit entities and can be independently verified from other sources as well. Instead of spoil the whole piece, which is linked below and worth checking out, I'll let you read it and hopefully in will instill some level of peace vs. what you've been forced fed to believe is happening to our world. I spent the day outside yesterday in the woods and saw a Black bear 5 minutes into my walk. It was breathtaking, scary, and beautiful all at once and served to further make me appreciate this incredible planet and all that makes it a paradise.

The planet has "issues", just like all of its inhabitants. We need to consider how we can live a little more efficiently, cleaner and how we might bridge gaps between different cultures and belief systems. We need to humble ourselves enough so that we can empathize with those that have less, by no fault of their own, and facilitate the means to allow everyone a shot at the Utopian world that's available to all. It's a lofty goal, and maybe unrealistic but at one point so was Space Travel and curing Polio. The world right now is like so many of our own families-embroiled in drama, infighting, anger, sometimes violence, suffering and serious differences in opinion, but it's still ours. How many times have those closest to us made us bat shit crazy with something they've said or done only to redeem themselves moments later with a selfless act, apology or simply by continuing to be who they are and our memory brings us back to why we love them so? 

This country is our family and Earth is our home. It's messy and fucked up but I love it, and so do you, so stop bitching, stop worrying and just do something constructive today, something positive tomorrow and take solace in those things that make life great instead of fixate on those that don't. There will always be suffering, hardship and deplorable human behavior, and it will always be upsetting, but instead of amplify it with complaint and ridicule, why not deaden it with positive action? I have no hippie mantra to offer, nor am I a Falafel eating, delusional wing nut that thinks holding hands and signing songs can cure all the worlds ills, but I do know that it feels better to focus on those things that I can change vs. dwelling on those I can't. 

Leave your phone on the table and go outside and look for a butterfly or build a fort or do a cartwheel in a park somewhere. You'll be happy you did, and the world will still be here waiting when you're done.


Monday, July 27, 2015

"The New York Story" - w/Colin Quinn (Review)

Colin Quinn has found his comfort zone - One Man Shows that convey his humorous observations on History, Race and Life in general. Long Story Short, Unconstitutional and his latest, The New York Story are all set in a theatre but are heavy on the Stand Up comedy-a genre that Quinn has long mastered-so they're a feast for the audience. 

With The New York Story, the focus is (obviously) on Manhattan and it's history centered around Colin's experience and filtered through his unique comedic lens. Every nationality that surrounded him in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, from youth, adolescence and beyond, is represented (just as it was in Quinn's The Coloring Book, the inspiration for TNYS) in the show. CQ, as those of us in his "outer inner circle" offer refer to him, hilariously breaks down the particular nuances and behaviors of the "characters" he grew up with. The theme in his recent work has been that it's impossible to celebrate Diversity if we don't in fact acknowledge those traits that make us different, and nobody illustrates these characteristics better than Quinn. He weaves his way through just over an hour covering all the races and their attitudes and impact on him and the other residents of NYC. While doing this, he often nails not only the personality of each subject but the accent and cadence as well. It never comes off as racist or condescending because it's rooted in truth and painted with humor and he spares no mercy for his own nationality-the Irish. Every race and culture has it's own "voice" and Quinn hears and interprets better than anyone I've seen on stage or screen.

It's very common for "The Online World" as CQ calls it, to immediately creating the narrative of racism or being offended anytime these discussions are had, whether in jest or in casual discussion, and therein lies the bigger problem and why a "real conversation about race" is so challenging. We are all different and unique individually, of course, but there's no question our heritage, culture, Religion and background had a massive impact on our language and behaviors-to deny that is ludicrous. Quinn masterfully illustrates these particular variances comedically and simultaneously exposes the absurdity of pretending we are all the same. If we are going to celebrate diversity we have to remove the delusion that different cultures don't think and communicate in ways dissimilar to the our own.

One of the most endearing things about Quinn's own stage personality-whether performing Stand Up or a show like this-is his somewhat rushed/mumbled delivery and tendency to not finish a sentence. He will often jump to another topic when he thinks of one as well and although I have read recent reviews of The New York Story where they have labeled this a detriment I find it a strength and a unique signature. Would anyone tell Steven Wright "Hey listen, those are some great observations, but could you maybe speak a little faster and vary your pitch a bit?" A friend recently made the comment about Quinn that he's "hard to understand" and I wanted to beat him over the head with the French Baguette I was carrying in the grocery store, but of course I am not very impartial when it comes to CQ ;)

The New York Story is a riotous hour plus of vintage and modern Colin Quinn. He tells stories like few others can, he's not afraid to laugh at his own jokes a little and his personality is perfectly suited for infusing the required attitudes of his "subjects" in this particular show. The night I went there was a very diverse mix of fans in the theatre and the buzz outside was overwhelmingly positive (save for the older gentleman who felt CQ was a little too "abrasive" at times. I am sure he listened to NPR on the way home and all was right in his world again). There's a rumor that the show will be extended and that would be wonderful as everyone should go see it before Quinn, fresh off a successful book, movie and this show, gets so big that he's not as accessible. Hard to imagine, as he's one of the most down to Earth, likable and decent guys you'd ever meet, but he will be the first to tell you that's he's destined for bigger things. The guy deserves it, no question, with all his talent. I'd go far as to say he's the most talented human being of unspecified origin or Religion with undisclosed skin tone and unknown political orientation. Go see The New York Story and I'm sure you will agree.


The New York Story is playing into August at the Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC. Tickets can be found at their website @ 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Poppy and The Coachlight Summer (I Like Turtles)

Whenever I go into the basement of my current apartment complex it immediately reminds me of my father. The combination of the cool dampness, mold and moth balls (I suspect) takes me back to Coachlight Village in East Hartford CT in the early 80's. My father was a Superintendent there for a year or so and my brother Geoff and I spent a large part of that summer there with him. We often followed "Poppy" into the basement of Coachlight to do repairs or check on things, etc., and the scent was the same familiar Potpourri I smell so often of late when I go downstairs.

That summer in East Hartford lasted less than sixty days in all reality but at the time it felt like a decade. There wasn't a day I recollect that was less than 80 degrees-the air always saturated and sticky-and for a pre-teen boy and his brother in a habitat surrounded by woods, streams, swamps and a swimming pool nestled at the far end of the complex, it was Heaven carved into the Earth. One of the first memories I have at Coachlight was standing outside the front of the complex with Geoff and waiting for the traffic on busy Burnside Ave to relent so we could scurry across and grab a soda and a snack at the corner market. A dollar bill-a-piece from the old man in those days guaranteed a can of Soda and a big bag of chips or if the mood was right, maybe a Chocodile. That particular day I only remember the soda I purchased, a Mello Yello, and how it tasted like liquid gold and sunshine in a can, while in truth was just the 94% sugar and myriad of chemicals infused with bubbles. Bubbles were always cool when you were a kid. Hell, bubbles will always be cool.

The average day of the "Coachlight Summer" consisted of many of the usual activities you'd expect young kids to occupy themselves with-running, jumping, falling, swinging, fighting, yelling, swimming, overeating and annoying the opposite sex-but there were numerous more specific and vivid memories I have about my summer there, most significantly, "The Snapper." Some Snapping Turtles grow to be huge as fuck, as round as a kids bicycle tire and thicker than a couch cushion, but then you have the colossal Jurassic beast that my old man pulled out of the stream that ran behind Coachlight that year. From as early as I can remember I was obsessed with aquatic critters like fish, frogs and eels but it was always the turtle that owned the top spot. On numerous occasions my father, Geoff and I would traverse thickly wooded areas, swarming with zombie skeeters draining a pint an hour from each of us, looking for turtles- but not just any variety. My father instilled in us from a very early age that the only turtle worth catching was the Snapping Turtle. A creature so angry, so vile and so focused on the goal of tearing large hunks of your flesh off with it's steel trap jaws that only clinically insane humans-or the recently sober, aka Poppy-would ever attempt to go near them. Having surveyed the bordering lands of Coachlight frequently, Poppy was certain there was a monstrous Snapping Turtle somewhere in the streams that wound their muddy fingers around them so on one muggy summer morning we made our way in search.

As the trek began, the three of us worked our way through the dense overgrowth-with a few of the curious neighborhood kids in tow-looking for the Moby Dick of Snappers. Poppy, shirtless and looking like a young Paul Newman, muttered to himself like a deranged Captain Ahab. He sped through the vegetation like a Spider Monkey, pulling at small trees and hopping over rotted logs with ease, his motley crew right at his heels. In the distance there was a clearing and the stream that ran through the area spilled out into a swampy pool, littered with dead trees, rock and thick black mud. Poppy slowed to a crawl and slid his arm out to the side, motioning for us stay quiet and still. I widened my eyes and scanned the area he was looking towards, my heart beginning to race as the anticipation built. Poppy made his way down the soggy bank and into the fringes of the swampy mud hole gently and then he froze, and that's when I saw it. It's head was just slightly above the waterline and you could see the outline of its massive shell breaking through behind it. Poppy started to flank it from the right and as he did I gestured to the others that I saw something...and then the bomb went off. Collectively, my brother, myself and the kids tagging along saw the giant in the mud and at that same moment my father lunged at it. As is necessary with such a vicious, evil beast, Poppy grabbed it by it's gator-like tail and pulled it from the mud, making a sound resembling a Fat Kid with a lisp drinking a Fribble without a straw. The monster came out, thrashing and snapping violently, and Poppy made sure to keep it far away from his exposed chest and ever-present cut-off denim shorts. The gang of us erupted in screams and cheers and tried to make our way closer as Poppy climbed up the bank towards us with the Snapper dangling in the air, looking like a Stegosaurus that had been pancaked.

The next few minutes were spent in a daze of adolescent bewilderment as all of us watched my old man carry that Mack Truck tire-sized snarling death chomper through the woods and into the parking lot of Coachlight to "show it off" to whomever might be around. Being summertime, and likely due to the insane screaming coming from the woods, there were a number of people around when we made our way out of the woods. The obligatory "oohs and aahs" circled the crowd and at one point I swear I heard a portly woman say "Kinda looks like my Earl, acts like him too," but I can't be totally sure. My old man plopped the beast down onto some grass near the parking lot and the Snapper whipped it's deadly jaws around left and right trying to latch onto the Hippie fuck that had just forcibly removed him from his mud sauna. Every kid in the area loved this more at that moment than all the Soda, Cake, Baseball Cards and TV shows in the world combined. Poppy grabbed a stick and, careful to not be any more dickish than he already had been, moved it towards the Snappers mouth and the gargantuan critter chomped down on it like a Crocodile clamping down on a Hambone. Crack! The stick went as it split immediately in half from the sheer force of it's jaws. All of us erupted in a chorus of crazed approval. Somewhere around this time a woman, or a man, or maybe me or it could have been Poppy himself (some of this has been embellished slightly for dramatic effect, as any proper childhood memory should be) mentioned that "The turtle probably isn't having as much fun as we are," and the mood turned from excessive, crazed jubilation to that moment when Kathie Lee Gifford mentioned she was going to sing a song on the show with Regis. 

I don't remember the trip back to set the turtle free as clearly as I do the search, discovery and catch but I know the big fella was released safely, because whether it was a fishing trip or one of the aforementioned Turtle expedition, Poppy, Geoff and I were always careful to not harm the creatures we sought. The thing with Poppy, and his two kids, is that we were "hunters" only in the sense that we loved the chase-the notion that there were critters, big, small, odd looking, curious, sometimes dangerous creatures that lurked in the woods and waters around us and that we needed to find them. We had to locate them and then snatch them from the safe confines of their native habitat, if only for a moment, as if to say "See! Abare's are the Alpha males of this dominion! Ahahaha!" yet then we always let them go, unharmed. So in reality, all we really did was just annoy some animals because we were egotists and not getting laid. OK, yes I know my brother was too young to be getting laid in 1981-82ish but I was gaining favor with several of the area chickies, namely one Rona McLeod which, although I never even brushed against her I think I told some friends at camp that we "did it." Truth be told I looked like Ronald McDonald if he had anorexia in the early 80's but that fact did nothing to dissuade me from hitting on every female in the entire complex. By hitting on I mean creep staring and demonstrating my standing broad jump in my way too tight Bradlees shorts. 

The Snapping Turtle Adventure with Poppy was the signature event of the Coachlight Summer, but there were many more...Coachlight was the place that I first discovered my old man's obsession with Beefsteak Rye Bread and Pepper. It was usually Tuna that he'd pile onto the seeded Rye (or sometimes unseeded), with hardly a drop of mayo in it, and then cover the entire surface with Black Pepper. No chips, no accouterments on the sandwich, just Tuna from the can, a shot of mayo and a monsoon of Pepper on the Beefteak Rye. To this day when I see those red or blue bags I think of him and his odd culinary choices. Coachlight Village was also where I found out my father was an amazing sketch artist. He could draw people and places with charcoal pencils as good as any I have ever seen since. On one particular occasion my brother and I were making paper airplanes in his apartment and I decided that I was going to make a Super-Sized version out of the more dense and thick sketch-pad paper. It was a great fucking airplane, you better believe it (another skill taught to me by my dad-killer paper airplanes)! The fact that it was created on the flip side of a beautiful sketch of Elvis he had done was entirely accidental but when he found out, let's just say I would have rather snuggled up with the death chomper in the swamp than Poppy at that moment. My old man was never a spanker or hitter, but when that voice elevated and the anger came out I used to clench my butt cheeks together and just shiver like a shaved chipmunk in the Frozen Foods section of Big Y. The hour or so that would follow was terrifying and sad but then in a blink, and as if nothing had happened at all, my old man would come home with 3 Entennmans cakes and just plop them down on the table and say "OK, we are going to each eat our own whole cake and whoever finishes the most is the King! Then we are gonna go fishing!" Was it Dr. Spock, Dr. Phil or any Doctor approved? Probably not and who gives a fuck, Poppy ruled and he kept us alive that whole summer pretty much :)

Fathers Day is a hard day for me for a variety of reasons. Certainly the loss of my dad is the primary reason, but learning that I couldn't (naturally) have my own kids several years back was a very difficult thing to endure. I have also had kids in my life from various relationships and they are no longer present, so collectively these factors make it a depressing moment each year. However, there's a woman in my life who couldn't be any more open minded to any and all scenarios regarding children (and who has the most loving and motherly demeanor of anyone who doesn't already have kids I have ever known) and I have so many memories of my father that I can call upon that are hysterical, poignant and beautiful that I don't let the sadness consume me. I also know a lot of great fathers, like my brother Geoff and his wonderful three kids that I grow closer to every day, and I treasure the moments with them and watching Geoff create his own magical memories for his children right before my eyes. It wouldn't be fair to not mention my ever-present mom Mary either, because even though moms have their own day, she, like so many others, did the majority of raising her kids. On thing I loved about Poppy and Momma was that although they had divorced when I was a toddler, as I grew to an adolescent and beyond and they found themselves in shared space for family gatherings, etc., they were always a total riot together. The comic interplay, the timing and the riffing back and forth was perfection. They were two souls-born of their own respective damaged worlds-that still had an affinity for one another even though the butterflies had gone. My old man took years to finally get sober and at some point, after 9 smashed cars, a handful of bar floozies and an ever changing career path, even the most smitten and empathetic of women are going to be able to resist the Poppy charm. Watching the two of them recount some of these and other stories was a treat to behold, no doubt. 

I wish my father's life didn't begin and end with the pain, suffering and tumult that it did but I have come to accept it even as my heart will always carry that burden for him. Considering some of his life experiences, many of which were of no fault of his own at least early on, it's miraculous the guy was able to relate to people so well, even attempt to raise kids and make just about anyone piss their pants laughing. He was also a great mentor and teacher and was highly respected in AA as a sponsor, leader and friend. He built relationships, businesses and friendships that didn't always last forever but while they were breathing life they thrived as no others. Everyone wanted to be friends with Poppy, even though he regularly admitted he was an "asshole". He was flawed, he was cocky, he had mild OCD, he had more gas than a Blue Whale, he had an afro like no white man should (for awhile) and he made a shitload of bad choices in his life. He left this world with no more than a few bucks to his name and sliding down a black hole that had taken him years to pull himself out of, and he died alone.

The last few months of my fathers life are always going to haunt me and like so many of us do when someone dies before their time I lay blame on myself and second guess and over think and allow anxiety and depression to swallow me whole sometimes. But at the end of the day, my father, Peter Henry Abare, lived a very full life that affected, benefited, inspired and at times disappointed a lot of people. He cut his own path, which was often jagged and full of terrors, but it was his path. If you knew my father you know that in the end there was nothing myself or anyone could do to influence his choices and actions, really, but sometimes it's hard to fully embrace that and just let the happy or comic or endearing moments be the ones that win the day, but I am trying, and I will continue to. The last thing my old man would want is me, or anyone, being unable to let go of the sadness instead of recalling the joy. 

The "Coachlight Summer" was but a small part of my childhood, but it had an indelible impact on me and is a time I think about often. One day you're an 11-12 year old child chugging through the woods looking for monstrous, snapping beasts and the next you're a mid forties year old man wondering why 77% of your body randomly aches for no fucking reason. I still love turtles and "hunt" for Snappers, every chance I get. I have rescued some from highways, pulled others out of mud puddles, chased other's across golf courses (out of the way of drunken, angry golfers in carts) and seen dozens of them since that summer, but none of them have come ckilose to the size (as I remember it) or the excitement of the "Poppy Snapper". It's one of those childhood memories that will continue to deepen, intensify, expand and grow more colorful as time goes on. I am sure by the time my brothers boys are my age they will tell stories of their uncle/dad sharing a story of some guy named "Poppy" wrestling a T Rex in a Tar Pit. 

Poppy would love that.


Monday, June 15, 2015

The Coloring Book - Colin Quinn (Book Review)

"The only problem that can never be solved is racism because too many people don't understand what the fuck it even means, and don't really want to." 

This quote was actually (mildly paraphrased) from my father about fifteen years ago but it succeeds in summing up The Coloring Book perfectly. "Race Relations", which Colin Quinn claims he solves in the aforementioned book, is a subject that is so intricately complex yet so pathetically simple it's no wonder it causes everything from laughter, anger, annoyance, violence, rigorous debate and lethargy. The problem is, the majority of those involved in the battles about the subject-and even more so those trying to solve it-don't even truly understand where the solutions lie, or what they're arguing about. I won't attempt to dissect the entire issue here or offer my own solutions as Colin's book does a great job of tearing into the issue with both levity and calculated reason. 

The Coloring Book is what every book written by a Comedian should be: Mostly autobiographical, candid, self deprecating, slightly disjointed, thought provoking and most importantly, funny as hell. As most of the very few people who read my Blog or Twitter feed know, I am a longtime fan of Colin and I have had the pleasure of hanging out with him a couple times briefly. Keeping that disclaimer in mind-and also understanding that on the list of people who Colin loves/respects/admires I am probably a number larger than the weight of a Manatee-don't think for a second I'd glorify his book if it was rubbish. Some of his talk show appearances, snippets of his standup, sure they could use a tweak here and there but The Coloring Book is a winner from beginning to end.

CQ opens the book with an introduction that briefly illustrates Park Slope-the area of Brooklyn he grew up in-as recalled from his youth. Almost immediately he dives into his theories and opinion on racial discord, its origins and subsequent proliferation and why it's a misunderstood problem. Coming from an often misunderstood comedian it's an enlightening read in those first few pages, setting the tone for what unfolds as a captivating and often riotous exegesis of his own early life amongst the many "colors" of the city he lived.

Having had a father who was a comedian for several years, I have always been fascinated with the quote that my old man frequently recited, "comedy comes from pain." When you decipher the subtext in a comedians jokes or begin to discern the real message in the stories they tell, so often you learn that humor was a reactionary device to shield them from a multitude of horrors, sometimes self induced though more often environmental. Quinn never suggests abuse or any form of torturous childhood but instead paints somewhat cloudy pictures of the internal battles he fought as a kid to feel loved, respected and even feared. He eludes to a matter-of-fact, if not cold Mother who, on some level, he was likely always trying to please. His use, and eventual overuse, of alcohol was an elixir meant to conjure bravery just as much as it was a tonic to quell whatever demons lurked.

One of the most intriguing elements of The Coloring Book is where Quinn discusses "Colum", an alter ego of sorts he created to aid in the formation of a tough guy persona, get chicks and leave behind the perceived flaws of Colin. As is the case with so many who engage in similar endeavors, Colum's arrival went hand in hand with drug and alcohol use-it's a lot easier to look a guy in the face and tell him you're going to fuck his girlfriend if a part of you knows the eventual ass kicking won't hurt as bad. Until Tomorrow.

As Colin tells his stories he weaves the racial component in beautifully. Vividly describing various characters, accents and mannerisms while never being condescending or blatantly stereotypical. A running theme of The Coloring Book is "How can we 'celebrate diversity' if we want to pretend we are all the same?" and he's dead on with this. Racism isn't the belief that individuals of different cultural backgrounds or heritage exhibit specific behaviors or traits-good or bad-but instead that a particular race is inferior. What Quinn does in this book is poetically and comedically illustrate the nuances of the many different races that lived and worked all around him as a child yet never condescending to or demeaning them. Instead he celebrates those differences the way only a brilliant and veteran comic can.

Colin jumps around in The Coloring Book a lot, a device which a lot of readers get annoyed by, yet I feel suits my ADHD afflicted mind well. I love his ability to move through the revelry of his youth to a later career anecdote and then dive right into a summation of a particular trait exhibited by the majority of a certain race. As each story unfolds they all brush across the racial landscape but what makes The Coloring Book brilliant is its ability to stay focused on that theme-from Colin's firsthand and obviously biased perspective-while covering so much ground. There's never a part of this read where I found myself disengaged, uninterested or longing for a laugh. 

There are numerous excerpts I could quote from The Coloring Book, many hysterical and typical Colin, some powerfully poignant and revealing and a few that will have the average reader a little misty eyed. Instead of splice it up in that fashion it's best to have you read it for yourself as a whole piece and enjoy the journey into the mind of one of the worlds best comics. Quinn doesn't "solve" race relations as the title implies he does, but instead he carves up the whole discussion of race in a way that all of us should, unafraid to be honest and forthright about our differences that too often are perceived as flaws vs. what makes all of us uniquely engaging. Yes, we need to "have a talk about race" in this country, and in the world, but if we can't do it with a little self deprecation and truth then we have already failed. 

The Coloring Book is a biography-lite from a gifted storyteller and comedian. It covers a lot of ground while never alienating the reader and Colin's language is equal parts clown and poetic while educating you the whole way. Anyone who follows his career knows that Coljn is a very smart guy, but perhaps what makes him a likely genius is that with all his wannabe tough guy Irish "I don't give a fuck" attitude he layers just enough charm, sophistication and compassion to make him endearing, and I believe that's by design, at least partially. Sure, his Twitter account will make the vast majority of his followers want to scalp him or employ some other form of race-specific torture (to stay topical), but somehow CQ always finds a way to lull us all back into the pathetic sycophants we are, and that's just fine.

Colin has said isn't concerned if he sells any copies of this book, and I think that's half in jest but in reality he will probably sell thousands because it's an engaging and wonderful read. For the guy who "doesn't give a care" he certainly poured his heart and soul into this work and it's a rewarding experience for the reader and hopefully a cathartic one for him.


The Coloring Book is available now in Hardcover, Audiobook and E Reader formats. 

Writing: The Most Rewarding Form of Self Torture

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, i...