Good Men and Bad Advice is an essay containing random observations of life.

My words and opinions may be offensive, crude and irrational to some, but may prove insightful to others.

My goal is to share my thoughts, judgements and opinions
and hopefully make the reader laugh, cry or just think about the subjects presented.

Many of these stories will appear in my upcoming book
"Good Men and Bad Advice: Cerebral Pollution" which will be released in 2011.

Please share your thoughts. Your feedback is welcome.

Enjoy! - B.T.

December 23, 2009

The Heavily Seasoned Storm

When I was a child there was nothing more magical and enjoyable than the holiday season. At the end of Thanksgiving dinner, I would begin to think about all the beautiful decorations my mother would hang with so much care, the music that would fill the air in every store, and the obscenely lit tree we would soon erect in the corner of our living room. At this time of the year any problem or worry that lived inside my small cranium would disappear and be replaced by thoughts of stockings, snow and the smell of wood burning in the cold New England air. When you are a child these things embody all that is warm, exciting and spectacular. It is almost too much for a small heart to handle without screaming out to the world with joy. Holiday tunnel vision is what I miss the most about being a child at Christmas. Now that I am an adult and have a family of my own, I can finally see and understand the meaning behind the sparkle in a child’s eye on Christmas morning. Most importantly, I can now fully appreciate the exhaustion, stress and anxiety that remains on an adult’s face for weeks to follow long after all the lights have gone out and all the presents have been either broken or ignored.
At the beginning of October I begin to worry about what is to transpire in the upcoming months. I watch TV and my eyes begin to twitch. My heart beats quickly and my breath is much shorter than it is normally between January and September. At the beginning of October I realize that a great storm is coming. I’ve seen it’s kind before and the devastation it leaves in its path. Like the great winter blasts that have historically pounded the coastlines of New England and paralyzed miles of the upper-mid west, this storm will be far more intimidating and unpredictable. This storm does not contain strong gusts of wind, intense rain, blistering cold or life threatening electricity. There is no advisory, no shelter, or no team of experts to give to tips on survival. This storm exhibits the strength and threatening presence that no adult can seem to block or defeat. At the beginning of October I begin to hear and see the subtle warnings. I know that after it has plowed over my life and tested my will I will be questioning how to prepare myself better next time. I will then laugh to myself sadly and accept that there is no way to avoid the damage. This storm will come again and again. All I can do is sit, wait for its thunder and ride out the next three months with an ample supply of pain relievers and alcohol close at hand.
In some families this storm is called the “Holiday Season” but I have recently given this beast a new name, which I feel accurately, depicts its unique power and magical force. I call it “Retailius” after the infamous Roman warrior Xavius Retailius who, after several successful but bloody campaigns against the Germanic tribes, suddenly dropped dead on his doorstep when he then realized all his military pay would be spent on gifts and food for the upcoming Roman holiday. He survived the teeth of his enemy’s blade but the thought of the holiday season quickly killed him. Of course there is no Xavius, but I feel that any adult with children can identify with his plight. Between January and September, I feel like poor Xavius. Out in the world, fighting the good fight, deflecting my enemies and knowing that by the end of the year the battles will be over. Then just when I think the battle has been won and I’m free to go home and enjoy the spoils of my labor, I see the first clouds develop in the sky. I watch TV and my eyes begin to twitch. I see the words “Seasonal Sale” flash quickly across the screen and the thunder cracks. My wife sighs and confirms with a comforting “I can’t believe it is that time of year again” sparing my feelings by not using the words “Holiday”, Halloween”, Thanksgiving” or “Christmas” in her sentence delivery. I know it is as hard for her to say, as it is hard for me to hear. Like a forbidden phrase we are never to speak, we know that once it is uttered, we are doomed to accept the upcoming storm and the damage that it will bring. The storm comes slowly and its characteristics are always the same, but for some reason we are never prepared for its fury. At the beginning of October I sit and stare as the wind blows cold in my direction and makes my hands twitch.
The great storm, Retailius, consists of three holiday weather patterns, their traditions and their powerful connection to the almighty dollar. The first is Halloween, which, although the weakest squall of the three, can produce major dents in any bank account as deep as those on a car’s hood after a good Oklahoma hail storm. At the beginning of October advertisers remind us that everyone needs a costume, accessories and enough candy-disguised sugar to fill Yankee Stadium to accurately celebrate this holiday in fashion. This holiday is like an annoying wind that you can’t avoid. The engines of most children between the ages of 3 and 10 are fueled by sugar, which is the true lightning of this storm. Most churches will not openly promote Halloween as a holiday, but they will invite you to their “Fall Festival” where games and fun reside. Most importantly there are large supplies of candy on hand, which, for anyone who has kids, is the only thing they really care about in a sea of decorations, games and costumes. Like little junkies, every child knows it will get a fix of sugary delight, which slowly opens the gates of delirium for the next two months.
Tell a child that it will not be celebrating this holiday and you may have a life-threatening situation on your hands. This is why most adults give in to the threats of the lightening, insulate themselves carefully, and run for cover until the danger passes. Humorously, the church, not only will not mention the word Halloween or admit to the blatant similarities in their celebration to the pagan tradition, but they will become the biggest sugar pushers in their zip code joyously contributing to the borderline epileptic seizures most of their guests will experiences within the homes of middle America later in the evening. After this year’s corn syrup extravaganza, I witnessed a whirlwind sugar high take hold of our seven year old in the middle of my living room. Let’s say it was like watching a miniature version of Obiwan Kenobi dance and sing uncontrollably after spending a long weekend with Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan on an Ozz Fest tour bus. It has changed my life forever.
After the wind and hail of “All Hallows Eve” has passed, Retailius begins to transition into a warm front. There is a small period of calm where no one speaks of the upcoming blast. After the sugar coma and blistering headache it’s hard to want to think about anything but the evening news and the price of gasoline but the truth cannot be avoided. On my commute to work I hear an advertisement for a local super market. The spokesperson begins to mention two things that go together like snow and ice in an unwanted winter weather report, football and food. He starts to pontificate about the upcoming “big game”, “deli plates” and “chips n dip” and how you need to be prepared for the upcoming festivities. When the next sentence jumps out of my speakers, I experience a brief, but sharp pain on the left side of my brain. “And don’t forget friends, we’ll have a good supply of frozen turkeys and spiral hams to handle those big holiday dinners you have planned for this upcoming Thanksgiving celebration”. I almost swerve into oncoming traffic. The reality is alarming but true. In the next two weeks I will see the next phase of the great storm hit my household with such force it will push all of us to the brink of insanity. This sounds dramatic but it is actually business as usual for us during this time of year. It all starts when my wife begins to think about the food. Yes, the food. She buys and prepares enough food to feed a small Army camp, the horses and the enemy’s horses. Each year I wonder who will eat all this food and where we will store it before the dinner and after the festivities have concluded.
By the eve of Thanksgiving, my wife is functioning on her three food groups; caffeine, nicotine, and oxygen. She has slept a total of 4 hours in three days time, and her primary expression is that of an underpaid 24-hour gas station attendant at 4am on Highway 30 in Omaha, Nebraska. Each year, I question her mental state and if she will ever return to us the same way she left. To make matters worse, over the past few weeks, she offered additional invitations to extended family, friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. She also advises that after speaking to someone in the mall, she considered inviting him or her as well because she felt bad. As most would step in and question why one would inflict such torture on them for a meal, we do not and would never dare to consider the act of suicide. She has decided, she is right, and we should not question. For this reasoning, I am still here to write of these experiences.
By Thanksgiving morning, most of the household is frightened of my wife and frankly cannot stand the sight of each other. Like a huge tornado, this gift of family, togetherness and thanks has sucked the life, will and joy out of most things in our household that have a heartbeat. The day is filled with confusion, noise, beer, remorse, doubt, wine and fantasies of escape, but as every good storm comes, it leaves a moment of calm. As I pick smashed green peas out of the carpet and pile the fiftieth dinner plate on top of the mountain next to the sink, I can’t help but thank God quietly under my breath for getting me through yet another storm. I thank him but forget to add an additional prayer. In my joy and borderline drunkenness, I forget about the third and final wave that will pound the side of my ship over the coming weeks. As the dinner concludes and the last of the family, friends and wandering strangers leave our house, my wife reminds me that she will be leaving very early in the morning to beat the rush for “Black Friday” the annual tradition which can resemble a scene from “The Road Warrior”, a cult classic where a post apocalyptic world tries to exist without the joys of the holiday season. As I have vowed never to take part in such a ritual, I leave my sleep-deprived wife to plan her day of insanity and appreciation for her fellow man. The winds begin to howl as I can feel the cold draft of Christmas creeping. For a boy who used to cherish the face of Santa Claus and await the spark of the season, I began to consider a conversion to Judaism just to avoid the shopping.
When I first heard the phrase “Black Friday” it had nothing to do with the annual “mall brawl” that takes place around the country. I remember the Steely Dan song and the lyrics clearly.
I never realized how this song could fit into my life so accurately:

When Black Friday comes
I'm gonna dig myself a hole
Gonna lay down in it
'Til I satisfy my soul

When my wife starts talking about this day, her plans and how crazy it will be, I want nothing more that to hide under a rock and not be involved. My love of people and holiday shopping is on my list along side root canal work, hemorrhoids, and migraine head aches. I picture myself out in the world amongst them on a normal day and my heart takes a quick nosedive. Putting myself in a highly volatile situation is not what I consider merry, joyful, happy, or serene. My wife will do what she can to get the best bargain so I leave this quest to her. Each year she returns from battle with fascinating bargains and tales of parking lot smash-ups and in store rudeness. The joy and Christmas spirit abounds as thousands of people, some of questionable mental capacity and criminal stature, descend on the streets of retail avenue looking for the best gift at the best price. I am always plastered to the television news the following day to hear about a trampled crowd, the shooting at the customer service desk, or the beating applied to an elderly man after he bought the last Clone Wars blaster rifle. All those feelings of warmth and magic return to my heart after hearing these new holiday classics. I often wonder how these people would act if this was about survival and not only about getting the newest toy for their kid. After Black Friday and every demented day of shopping that occurs up until the marvelous holiday, my wife dumps the gifts she has purchased into every available space inside of our house. I am instructed not to enter any closets or other specified spaces in the house because of the high volume of storage needed. Her instructions are serious and delivered with policed officer charm so you are convinced without a doubt of the aftermath if you decide to break this rule. Because of this, I never pick up a broom, use a vacuum cleaner or walk through my house freely until December 26th. I am honestly afraid that her lack of sleep, high intake of coffee and cigarettes or infection by the mutant shoppers of the world will cause her to go mad and exterminate me just for trying to clean the kitchen. So I keep my eyes front, ears open and stay aware until the real storm comes.
During the final days leading up to the day of reckoning, things reach a pinnacle of dementia in my humble home. It is one day before "our" Christmas and my wife is behind on her wrapping. My granddaughter will need to be picked up at 7:00am, driven back to our house before the other children and guests wake up. It is now 7:00pm on the night before Christmas and every creature is stirring, plus the mouse I’m confident is living in my garage. She plans, as always, to make a fresh pot of coffee and stay up all night to finish wrapping all the gifts. I begin to help out since I’m certain that there are only a few gifts to wrap and I do not want to see my wife in an insane asylum. Insanity is not far from reality since she is still paying for the sleep deprivation she had suffered a month earlier. As the hours go by more quickly, we all realize that there are many more gifts than was originally projected. In fact, by my twentieth gift I was now convinced that we had more merchandise in our living room than Amazon and Overstock.com had in their combined warehouses. In addition to the enormous pressure of time constraints and shear volume of product, my wife demands quality in everyone’s wrapping. Quickly, this rule falls to the wayside. As time goes by and the coffee begins to wear off, the standards begin to take a downturn. As we began to run out of tape, an alternative needs to be found. Somewhere during the process, a roll of two-inch clear packing tape joined the production line and we were slapping them together like UPS. By 6:30am, the entire warehouse was wrapped, fourteen rolls of tape were used and eighty thousand feet of wrapping paper was cut. By now my contact lenses felt as they were permanently affixed to my eyeballs. We all needed sleep, peace and quiet. I walked into the bedroom and looked at our bed like I had been sleeping in a cave for the past twenty years. Rest would not come so soon.
I have been appointed guard over the gifts and Christmas area per order of my wife. She and her son would now drive to pick up our granddaughter. While they are gone I must make certain that no one descends onto the living room floor before they arrive. I accept this challenge knowing that if I can survive this storm, I can survive anything. Within 10 minutes of their departure I am fighting sleep as I sit on the couch in the living room. As I dial through the 2000 cable channels looking for something engaging enough to keep me awake, my vision began to experience effects close to LSD trips I had been on later in life. As I was riding the cloud of sleepless hallucinations, I heard a faint cry. Something made me spring to my feet and look to the top of the stairs. There stood my younger, pint-sized granddaughter, weeping and scared. Before she could make her way downward, I ran to meet her and attempt to settle her anguish before she woke everyone else in the house prematurely. Unfortunately she did stir the entire population successfully, but soon there after my wife returned and the celebration began. For the next several hours a house of eleven human beings proceeded to create a monumental mess consisting of wrapping paper, boxes, hundreds of assembly instructions and warranty paperwork. The monster twister, the almighty storm had arrived, sucked the family into it’s jaws and spit us out like rag dolls and trash in a matter of twelve hours. No escape just magical, festive, devastation. At the end of the day I pinched myself to make sure I was still alive. I felt like a large delivery truck piloted by a drunken, belligerent Santa Claus had hit me. After bouncing me into the gutter, Santa backs up, gets out of the vehicle, walks over to my limp body and proceeds to urinate on my head. His gravel layered chuckle is followed by an arrogant “Ho, Ho, Ho, Sucker” and final kick to the side of my head.
As frightening, frustrating, exhausting and downright insane this season seems to be for myself and many others around the world, we seem to forget the trauma as quickly as the blunt force was applied. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If old Albert’s definition is true, we are all certifiable in our own way. We know the storm is coming. We know what damage it will bring. We know that many will be hurt or even die during the process. We realize the enormous cost but we choose do repeat the steps each year. I’m reminded of a story I read about residents of highly vulnerable, coastline areas around the United States. The California coast is famous for lying in parallel to a mammoth fault in the earth’s crust. Their earthquakes have taken more lives and created more havoc than many natural disasters to date. Their wildfires are an expected happening each year and burn hundreds of people from their homes every season. Knowingly, thousands of people build homes in these areas. Then, like someone has removed all logic, good sense and mention of these catastrophic risks, they plan their lives and enjoy the temporary beauty. Then, just as expected, like clock work, within hours, even minutes all they have is lost. They weep and mourn the greatest loss they have ever experienced. The Florida Keys has experienced extreme devastation caused by decades of violent hurricanes and tropical storms alike. Thousands flock to this area, erect multi-million dollar dwellings high on stilts so they can enjoy stunning views of the ocean and experience the ultimate in nature’s gifts. Again, because the earth has no compassion for human want, a powerful front, which appear as regularly as the postal service, push huge tidal fists into these dreams leaving nothing in their wake. The residents find themselves homeless and stricken with overwhelming loss. Brought down to zero they can’t believe what has happened to their lives. Unfortunately, we are silly, moronic creatures. In both cases, after being slapped, punched, pushed into the ground, spat on and buried, human beings choose to go through some of the most painful experiences again and again all for the temporary, but incredibly satisfying feeling of happiness where you can witness beauty, joy and total ecstasy all in the same moment in time. This is what makes us all walking contradictions that function purely on feelings more than on logic. If logic were our driving force, no one would live in California, Florida, North Carolina or anywhere else that experiences extreme weather. No one would ever ride a bicycle. No one would eat that bean burrito they sell off the back of a truck parked outside the office building at lunch break. No one would ever do the same thing over and over expecting different results. The seasonal storm would come once; cause complete chaos, and then everyone would move away never to see that beautiful sunset ever again.
It’s now three days since our Christmas storm has past and all has been cleaned, patched and recovered. I’ve slept through the night, sat on the couch, drank several beers and watched my favorite TV show at least once. Honestly, aside from what I have written, the tired feelings, aggravations, frustrations, regrets and psychotic imagery that I experienced over the past three months has magically disappeared. I know that the spring will come, followed by the summer, then the fall. During these months we will never think about what preparations need to be made, what food needs to be cooked, and what presents we will need to buy when the winds of Retailius return to expel havoc onto our lives. We will enjoy the sun, think about ice cream and swimming, and even dream about visiting California, Florida or some other high-risk area. We have weathered the storm, taken our lumps, spent the cash, lost the sleep and hurt our feelings many times before and we will do it again. We will do it again because of the temporary joy we see in our children’s eyes as they feel the magic of their Christmas. As we entered the room of adulthood, parenthood, and beyond, we unconsciously left logic and sanity at the door. We have accepted, but continue to complain about our new roles as providers of not only of food, shelter and money, but also of joy, happiness and love. This job demands that we repeatedly build on weak ground, place our hands on the burner even though we know it will hurt, and stand out in the cold rain and snow if it will make someone we love happy. The Christmas storm does not come to bring comfort, a joyful noise or a partridge in a pear tree to me anymore but it allows me to see the joy in other’s eyes which is a reward at an entirely different level. When I think to myself, “Why do I do this every year?” the answer is clear. For the one beautiful memory it gives back to me.
God Bless us, everyone.

September 23, 2009

Slapping Down an Imbecile

Over the past twelve months I have been confronted with several situations that have left me very confused and sometimes a bit angry. The confusion stems from my all-time favorite subject, “Human Relations” and how the consistent trampling of logical communication never ceases to amaze me. From the “know-it-all teenage retail warrior” trying to grasp their own definition of customer service, to the “mid-thirties, cursed to always be single, big mouthed, over-fed troll” flashing their winning personality through the glass window at the local medical center, it has been my pleasure to experience a wide range of social grace over the past year.

If I were Victor Hugo, I may refer to these individuals as Le Imbéciles misérables or “The Miserable Imbeciles” since they are obviously miserable for being tortured in their own existence and just plain dumb for allowing this self made misery to direct their logic, sense, and overall behavior towards all other humans they encounter. Sometimes I feel those people who suffer from this personality disorder enjoy annoying their fellow man because it makes up for their own insecurities. Possibly, my writing about them is a sure sign of my own. Either way, the most important aspect of their existence is that they choose to deal with other human beings on a day-to-day basis. I find this incredibly humorous and disturbing in the same breath.

Even I, as some of you know from my writings, do not like most people, but work my hardest to adapt to the language, the dynamics and their behaviors just to make it through any given day. That is just common sense. These creatures seem to exist primarily to perpetuate ignorance, selfishness, stupidity, and laziness all for no apparent, logical reason. They can be fierce and attack without provocation or be incredibly passive and do most of their damage through simple frustrations, lack of vocabulary and basic non-sense. When in their presence you will repeatedly question their purpose, question your sanity and pray for divine intervention.

Their habitat is not like the Grizzly Bear, which you will find primarily in the uplands of Western North America. They lurk and roam everywhere and sometimes pop up where you least expect. They are increasingly appearing in every mall, restaurant, and customer service desk in the United States. They are more like the cockroach or the mosquito. Mostly everyone has seen one and more accurately had to deal with one at some point in their lives. Once confronted with one of them, you are immediately irritated, annoyed and after a short period of time are fantasizing about methods to remove them from your life. If it were only as simple as slapping one into oblivion as it tries to suck out your lifeblood, we would sleep easy. If we could smash them beneath our shoe, wrap them in a tissue and flush them into the sewer we would rejoice. Unfortunately, in the realm of reality, they can push us to consider many forms of verbal abuse, indecent gestures, or even assault to stop the torment, but most sane, educated people would not consider this a reasonable conclusion. Unfortunately, as I examined one of my most recent experiences, I believe I came very close to serving time in the county jail for “slapping down an imbecile”.

Recently at my office, one of our staff reported that the hard drive in their Apple laptop computer had committed suicide over the weekend. Since I am the individual responsible for rectifying these situations, and since the device was still under manufacturer warranty, I was given the assignment to bring the unit into our local Apple Store for repair. I am quite familiar with Apple culture since I have been an Apple customer since 1989 and have spent most of the past 20 years as a Macintosh Specialist in the creative realm, with music and video production, and the technical realm in product development and system support. I can say with confidence that I know my way around the operating system, the hardware designs, and most importantly the difference between an iMac and an iPhone, even though I’m not an owner of either model. Unlike most Mac users, I’m not an elitist. I like Windows as well and own a PC. I’m one of those rarities in the computer world-a “dual platformer”. I feel that all computers can be a royal pain in the ass and do not have a greater love for one that the other. Of course, when you walk into an Apple Store, this type of talk would be considered heresy. Every light-saber in the joint would be unsheathed and the rumble of the geeks would begin.

To me, walking into an Apple Store can be a strange experience. First, the huge Apple logo glows above the door ominously like a huge, neon cross found on the top of a number of small, Christian, churches along any highway in the heartland of America. It is a subliminal message that says “Come In. Get Saved. Buy a Mac” as an orange shirted member of the congregation with a small white Apple logo in the center of his chest meets you at the door with a robotic “Welcome to the Apple Store”. Once inside, you can’t decide if you have stumbled into an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute displaying the H.G. Wells vision of futuristic retail shopping, or a “meet n’ greet” for the fans of Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and the makers of Dungeons and Dragons. There seems to be a lot of unwashed hair, overgrown beards, iPhones on belt clips, bright T-Shirts, guys that look like post-breakdown Brian Wilson and girls that look like Joni Mitchell in 1975. You also see lots of multi-media, flat screen monitors broadcasting constant streams of Apple propaganda, hip terminology, clips of software applications in action, and promises that you can conquer the world with an Apple computer. One day I’m hoping to see a holographic projection of Steve Jobs from the eye of one of the staff hipsters where he dressed as Princes Leia will appear and say “Help me Ob-Wan Kenobi. You are my only hope”. It’s the epitome of high-tech cool in a retail space, but all that technology and elegantly brushed aluminum seems to take the human warmth right out of the equation. The thing you will notice above all is the unbridled, geek lathered ego that seems to be a pre-requisite for all Apple Store employees, but most of the time they can mix the words “dude”, “cool” and “sweet” into there normal techno-banter and deal with anyone on any planet. Soon I was to find out how cool you have to be to be in this congregation.

From past visits, I knew that when you have an appointment at the Apple Store at a specific time, you should arrive at that time since it is run like a tight ship. Minutes could offset the well-executed schedule so radically a vibration this strong could damage the colony forever. I was certain I would arrive on time and have no problems getting in and most importantly, out. Now, keep in mind, we have done this many times before in this same store. We are a big Apple customer in our city and stand out for how many workstations we have at our facility, so you would think that we would be treated well and the process would be efficient. We had made an appointment to bring the laptop computer to the store’s “Genius Bar”, for 4:40pm. To me, walking up to a bar of pre-ordained geniuses is an uncomfortable experience just waiting to happen. Usually, we do a “quick drop” which does not require much mingling with the crew while standing on the deck of the Enterprise. Again, this is something we do quite often. On this day, I was to deal with someone who I have never met. I will call him “John”, an uncommon name for an Apple geek, but one more general than the textbook “Shawn”, “Eric”, “Josh” or “Aaron” which seem to overrun the payroll records at Apple.

I arrived at the temple of geekdom at around 4:30pm, knowing that this would give me plenty of time to check in the laptop, do the paperwork and make a quick escape. A tall, unshaven, young man who resembled an unkempt version of Ross from “Friends” greeted me. “Welcome to the Apple Store. Can I help you?” says our young Ross with a less than enthusiastic tone. After informing him that I had a 4:40pm appointment at the Genius Bar, he responds with a solemn, yet strange “Hmm, early” then proceeds to direct me to the rear of the store and wait for my name to be called. Above the bar is a large flat screen display, which lists all those in line for service. At this point, it is 4:35pm and in my mind I am more than prepared. We called the Apple store to arrange the repair over 24 hours before the appointment, so the rest of the procedure should be pretty painless, right? You would think so, but maybe my Jedi skills are not as sharp as the genius I was about to meet.

As my name was called, I noticed the genius behind the bar didn’t fit the geekish Apple stereotype. You would expect a scruffy, skinny, borderline "hip in his mind", artsy type possibly wearing thick black-framed glasses, Vans and a wallet chain protruding from his baggy jeans. You may even imagine an over weight, under bathed, young hobbit with a two week neck beard and a ponytail right out of a sixties documentary of the Haight-Ashbury. Well what I saw was much different. The one I refer to, as “John” was hairless, muscular, and dripped of badass wannabe punk rocker. Tattoos covered his arms and part of his neck. I imagine he loves intense hard-core music, or he claims. He seems to be infatuated with himself and his vast knowledge of everything and his vocabulary is filled with today’s hip phrases. He stood over his laptop like a big city bouncer with the newest Bluetooth earpiece clamped to his head like a secret service agent. He had this look of intensity on his face that rivaled Bruce Willis in Die Hard. His Para-military stance and over confidence suddenly transported me into a Michael Mann daydream where he declares that he will repair our laptop no matter how many people he needs to kill. At that moment, a new Ford Mustang comes crashing through the entrance of the store. He jumps up on the genius bar, empties his chrome Israeli assault rifle into the muscle car’s window and escapes with our laptop through a shower of broken glass and sparkling electricity. He was the Apple Store hero. Cool, calm, and conceited. Now he’ll know how to get the job done and done right.

A deep voiced bark of my name wakes me from my action flick daydream and prompts me to approach the genius bar area. Without raising his eyes from his laptop keyboard, he begins to engage in his form of communication. “I believe your appointment was scheduled for 4:40 this afternoon, correct? he snaps with an authoritative, yet egotistical tone. “Yes” I answered, “We called this in yesterday so I could stop by and check this in.” Then, as he slowly raises his eyes from the small screen, he replies, “Yup and five minutes too early.” He then punctuates the statement with a condescending sigh. I paused for a second and thought, “Oh, is early wrong, rude, unprofessional?” Well, maybe he was just clarifying the Apple Store appointment rules in his own little way. I tried to let it pass and move on in the process. John then asks “So, what brings you here early today?” keeping his own signature personality in tact. “We called in this laptop for warranty repair yesterday so I’m just dropping it off for service.” I answer with a slight undertone of aggravation in my voice. Again, John raises his eyes slowly and stops typing. Without a smile or expression he replies, “So, what does that mean exactly?”

A part of me wanted to respond, “What do you think that means? I want to buy a cookie. Yeah. That’s it. Do you have any Apple flavored cookies back there under the genius bar? I hear you guys make the best so I called in yesterday to make an appointment to eat one of your cookies.” Instead of responding, I stood silent for a number of seconds to think of an answer he would understand. “We set this appointment up yesterday and I am here to drop the unit off and sign the appropriate paperwork,” I said with full confidence. “Ok, again, what do you need?” he says with a bit of frustration. I then start to feel the needle on my frustration meter rise as I quickly respond. “Listen, we come into this store very often and I drop off workstations for repair all the time. This belongs to one of our staff members, they reported that it no longer works, and, as we always do, called into your store to schedule an appointment for repair. It is under warranty, so we were told to arrive at 4:40pm, come to the genius bar and do a quick drop off. Ok?” His response to this was both memorable and infuriating, “So, I assume that you want this laptop repaired, right? Maybe you could give me an idea of what is wrong with it? Why do you think it needs to be repaired by us?” I felt the top layer of teeth in my mouth dig into my tongue.

At this point, the Jon Sena clone that stands before me has that familiar look on his face that we often, but shockingly witness within the customer service realm. It is a look, which clearly states, “You are an annoying, demanding, idiot customer. I don’t get paid enough to do this job but I’ll put up with you since I get to wear a GENIUS T-Shirt and you don’t. Remember, this T-Shirt means I know everything. and I am much cooler than you.” Well, most often, when I’m caught in these situations, I play the manager card. We have built a good relationship with the store manager, who I will call “Bruce”. We set the original appointment up with Bruce. As an enterprise customer, we deal with Bruce most of the time and are treated reasonably well. At the end of my level of patience, I respond to our hero appropriately, “May I speak to Bruce please. We generally deal with him directly. I would like to speak to him or your current manager”. John then replies quickly without a flinching or delay, “Bruce is not here today.” a response I found odd since we were told he would be working all week. “I just want to make sure you are bringing this in for the right reasons.” he says like a preschool teacher addressing a delinquent child. He then fires off a number of questions, which seemed to take forever to list “Has the unit been dropped? Is it used more than ten hours daily? Was it being use outside when it failed? Is it allergic to any medications?” One after another, but all responded to in the same way, “I don’t know”, “I have no idea.” “No clue.” “Who knows?” I said with increasing degrees of apathy. Now both sides of the table were completely annoyed but at least we were moving forward.

At the end of this procedure, John made several references to his genius stature, and checked his look in the mirror-like Apple décor, which surrounded us in the store. He may have said many more things or asked me questions regarding the repair, but at this point I had successfully shut him off. At the conclusion of the transaction, Bruce, our store contact, appears from the back of the store with several technicians in tow. His appearance was obviously noticed by our young John, but neither explained or justified. He acted like his lie about Bruce’s absence did not exist. When Bruce saw me, he immediately asked if I have been helped and need anything further. Without an ounce of conscience, John put the paperwork in Bruce’s hand for him to review. Naturally, Bruce offered to finish the transaction, as any professional support professional should. John slid off stage left without a word, statement of thanks or appreciation for my business. As I observed this, I felt everything from shock, amazement, and disappointment to relief, frustration and a sense of normalcy. I looked around the store and realized that this was just another day in the world of modern retail. The Apple Store, its hippy roots and cool, shiny charm is just another corporate retail money machine infected with the same flaws and backward mentality that saturate the customer service field today. I know that “customer service” sounds horribly close to “customer: serve us” so now I know how certain creatures in the fold can get confused.

A part of me would like to salute my young John. He is an efficient, emotionless machine of corporate retail. He has broken the stereotypical mold, which has been protected and exploited by the technical retail world for decades. The predictable standard of the white, pocket protected, short sleeved, button down, dress shirt wearing, socially handicapped nerds controlling the employment of hundreds of computer specialized retail outlets has been disabled. With the introduction of my new friend John, the Apple Store has given me new hope that a new breed of egotistical, emotionless, apathetic, socially vacant, narcissistic, bullish, hipsters have a place in the already dysfunctional world of human relations. So, if you strive to be visually intimidating, have limited social skills, enjoy tattoos, avoid mature communication, practice selective listening and think you are the best thing since sliced bread, look into a career at the now revamped Apple Store. The place where you can be called a GENIUS, act like an ass and grow up to become a miserable imbecile with little or no effort.

Thanks Apple Store. You’ve finally arrived. You are just like everyone else.

August 31, 2009

Eating doughnuts and Drinking coffee

I think as technology progresses, our brain cells begin to wither away and die at an ever increasing rate of speed. Information, convenience, and opinions are shoveled into our dull noggins like coal into a steam ship's engine barreling towards Portugal. It's often too fast to process, examine or contemplate. It is just ingested like a big fat Twinkie. Cream filling but no nutrients. The brain just shuts down for business or just stops trying to work as hard as it did for all those years. Why should it work hard? Who needs or wants to remember any of this stuff?

I picture a little man sitting at a desk in a huge room filled with file cabinets and well used boxes of books. This man works in the library of my brain. He used to be very busy. He would scurry here and run there, filing thoughts, documenting ideas and reading about interesting subjects to build upon the great vault of information which was my brain. He was fit and ready to take on any challenge but over the past few years, his life has become a bit boring. He doesn't always need to get up and has no motivation to file things for me to remember.

Passages and verses from literature are not that important anymore, so every so often, when he is really bored, he slaps some tape on those boxes of books to seal them up and sit them on a shelf. Ideas briefly come through on the brain's fax machine which he checks daily but most often only throws away since they are barely legible. In the recent years, my brain's little clerk has become fat, complacent and apathetic. He sits at his desk, with feet up, eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. His boss is now asleep, so he is left to goof off and hang out, taking up space and going with the flow. This picture worries me, but whom am I to blame? My brain is a huge muscle that needs exercise and stimulation to survive. Now it is becoming similar to a piece of ground round in your grocer's meat department.

What helps us to do things faster and more efficiently, also takes away our ability to think and reason for ourselves. Instant information, instant money, instant satisfaction has become the norm of everyday life. The kids today don't know what it is like to have to wait for an answer, wait for a movie to be released in the theater or even wait for a web page to appear on their computer screen. It is all there at our fingertips yet we are all more impatient that we've ever been. Some day, a computer will be manufactured with such a fast processor, that it will physically suck the users brain right out of their skull while booting. Not a bad idea. The way things are going, by then, we will not need anything but a specific data cable, a laptop and a bird brain to plug it into. With all that instant information, who will need to examine or contemplate? We have technology in place to do this for us. Now, with all this cutting edge, high tech help we should be drooling idiots by the year 2025.

One day last week I was at my desk, minding my own business when an email pops up on my screen. I proceeded to read the email, of course, because I'm pretty observant and smart. I also know that when the sun comes up it is "morning" and when it goes down, this means "night". Well, I'm not sure everyone gets the "electronic mail" concept. It's like the telephone in a way but I assume most people get that concept. If you work in an office with more than two hundred employees and send an email to someone on the other end of the building, several departments away, the idea is that email would be your friend. This technology was invented to save you a lot of time and help air breathers communicate. When someone who works in a completely different department, a different building, and obviously a different level of reality appears at my desk and asks "Did you get my e-mail?" I begin to worry. Would this person call someone's home and when there is no answer, proceed to drive to their house, knock on the door and say "Did you get my call? I called you, did you know that? I just thought I would check?".Sounds funny and is scary.

I proceeded to look up at this poor slob and say "Yes, right after you sent it to me. Did you think there was something wrong with the network, your computer, my computer? You came all the way over here to ask me if I got your e-mail" With a confused, dead pan look, the techno-wizard answers creatively, "I wanted to explain it to you." Well, isn't that considerate? What needs to be explained? After reading it again I began to understand why Bill Gates may think I didn't retain all of his critical instructions. Let's review. The subject line said "Meeting tomorrow at 11:00am". Could this be Mountain Time? Is the meeting in the Bahamas? Maybe not. After a look at the message content, I realize that it may be something inside the mail that is needing explanation. Was it written in Arabic? Is there a riddle involved? Do the words threaten national security? It doesn't seem to be any of those things but I can still understand why explanation is needed. The main body of the e-mail reads as follows: "Meeting Location: South Conference Room, Time: 11:00am, Subject: Third Quarter Office Moves, Note: Please bring individual plans and share concerns." I'm sure glad that this needed an explanation. All those confusing words and obscure phrases make my brain hurt.

What would I do without people like this? I know, I know - Keep my sanity. - BT

August 15, 2009

Thanks for Calling

As I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, I look at the clock and see that it is only 6:00 am. The coffee pot in the kitchen is full and I decide to sit quietly with my thoughts, enjoy a jump start from the first swallow of hot caffeine, and think about what my wife had told me thirty minutes earlier. At around 5:30 am, the phone rang on my wife's side of the bed as I laid still fighting insomnia. Something bad had happened according to the sound of my wife's voice. Two members of our family had been involved in a serious motorcycle accident. The details were very vague, but it was known that both riders, a young couple with three small children at home, were in serious condition. "Where are the kids? How did it happen? What should we do?" are all questions that raced between us as we tried to put a story together that makes no sense.

I believe when you are an adult and care for a family of your own, there is nothing more frightening than hearing the phone ring in the early morning hours. There is something dreadful within it's tone like the distant sound of a crying baby through the trees in a dark forest. Sometimes the sound and the timing is so surreal you doubt if you have the strength or will to answer. Unfortunately I have experienced more than my share of off-hour telephone calls and the subject matter is never positive. Unfortunately I've never been woken up at 3 am to be wished a "Happy Birthday" from my sister. I've never been called by Publisher's Clearing House to be told I've won a cool million. I've never answered with a nervous heart hearing my President's voice ask if I'm happy and sleeping well in America tonight. This type of break in my already restless sleep would be nice, but it is yet to happen.

Early one morning over twenty years ago, I received a call from an old friend I had met during my stay at a rehabilitation hospital in Newport, Rhode Island. "Lori is dead" were the first words I heard as I picked up the phone. "Who is this? Do you know what time it is?...Who, what did you say?" I replied with a graveled voice and sleepy anger. "Lori is dead. They found her in the city last night. I've been trying to call her all week but she didn't answer. She was scared when we talked. She was high. She said she was afraid to die." the voice said as it wept uncontrollably. Without further questions or wonder to who was on the line, I new my friend Courtney was now shattered, shocked and mourning the death of our mutual friend.

Lori was found dead in the early morning hours of a cold day in an East Providence parking lot. She had been beaten, raped and stabbed after trying to buy heroin from her boyfriend's drug dealer in the worst part of an already bad city. I was stunned by the reality of the news, but was not surprised. We had learned a lot about addiction in the hospital and I knew that her death was added to the growing numbers in an already shocking statistic. Alcoholics and drug addicts die. They die faster if they don't quit. They are also slow learners and bad listeners. As I hung up the telephone, I could only think that one more name, one more number, and one more date would be added to the growing list. I saw Lori's beautiful smile, dark middle eastern eyes and infectious laugh flash in my mind for a brief second and then it was gone. After I had finally realized that I would never see her that way again, I laid back down and cried myself to sleep. When they found her, she was wearing a three hundred dollar pair of shoes. She drove a Porche and spoke three languages. She was always the brightest light in the room and turned heads when she walked down the street. She had a picture of her grandmother, a spoon, a syringe, and a cigarette lighter in her pocket. She had a cross around her neck. She wanted to be a fashion designer. She was twenty years old.

We were all brought together during a 90 day rehabilitation program for drugs and alcohol. I was barely twenty two years old and my new friends were only around eighteen and nineteen.

I was admitted after a six month exploratory journey with heavy drinking, an increasing secobarbital habit, cocaine abuse, and a short bout with snorting Heroin. I thought that the past deaths of Judy Garland and Jimi Hendrix at the hands of pills, booze and heroin addiction were not enough proof to make me think twice, so I needed to find out myself. Basically, I was a mess. My friend, Courtney, high on angel dust, found it necessary to strip naked, climb to the roof of her home in Coventry, Rhode Island, and attempt to commit suicide by jumping to the driveway with a note taped to her chest. Her attempt obviously failed. While climbing on a make-shift ladder, she slipped, fell backwards and landed badly on the deck of the family's above ground smimming pool. On our first day, she meekly sat next to me in the admittance office waiting room with a broken leg and hands cuffed weeping softly.

As Lori entered the room, all eyes, both male and female, followed every movement. Dressed in designer sportswear and the newest model Reebok sneakers, she looked more like our newly assigned physical fitness counselor, not the most recent inmate at the asylum. Lori had been involved in a cocaine induced high speed chase through the streets of Providence which ended at a guard rail seconds before the Massachusetts border. She had been on an all night bender not that different from a Paris Hilton or Britney Spears media covered scenario. Lori was the daughter of a wealthy Rhode Island businessman with a non-stop river of money. Her normal club hopping, line snorting episode had reached another level. She looked around the room, examined the sad collection of souls, plopped herself down directly across from us, and flashed a brief smile. She had already won my curiosity and a small part of my heart.

My angry mood and withdrawn personality seemed to mix well with Courtney's dangerous depression and Lori's high strung denial. Between our awkward fits and starts, we were able to start a conversation and all bond as fast friends. "Misery Loves Company" should have been printed clearly on our chests. We were doing just fine on the cloud nine of our lives, but we were a truly pathetic trio. During my residency at the rehab, I often thought if we would survive. I worried mostly about Courtney. Her act of desperation, her overall sadness and the longing she had to be wanted, could push her over the edge, but it never did. As I look back at those days, I can see clearly now that Lori was untouchable in our eyes. She rode on the back of misery wearing Gucci sunglasses, designer jeans all while clutching her Coach handbag. We never thought that she would be taken away before growing old. How the world can change after one simple phone call. From my experience, it is always best to answer.

In the early part of 2000, I was up very late in my Boston apartment anxiously trying to make my editor's deadline. I had just completed an article based on an interview with Henry Rollins I had conducted earlier that week. Throughout the evening hours my phone was ringing repeatedly prompting my answering machine to turn on and off, but not recording any message. I finally turned both phone and machine off to get a little peace so I could finish my article. Something bothered me that morning when I finally got to bed. I had a feeling of dread and wondered who could have been calling. I had no caller ID, and didn't bother with *69. I finally resolved that I would hear from the caller in the morning if it was actually an important issue. I fell slowly to sleep thinking of my upcoming day at work and what my editor and Hank would think of the article. It seemed like it would be a normal day with no surprises.

As the next day passed I thought less and less of the calls, the article and the stresses of the day. We had recently moved into a new office space and I had worked a long, hard day getting things in order. It was an hour past my usual quitting time and I looked forward to getting home and getting some needed rest. As I picked up my bag and coat to leave, my desk phone rang. I thought this was very odd since the phone company had just configured our system and I had yet to receive a call all week. "Hey, it's Dave..." came through the ear piece slowly and sadly. My friend Dave and I had become friends during a short run with a band I had started years before. "Glad I tracked you down" he said with exhausted desperation."What's up? I was just to head out the door" I said with the intentions of ending the call quickly. "Were you the one calling me all night?" I said as I was reminded of the previous night. "No. Listen, Michael took his own life last night. His room mate found him dead in his apartment. Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you like this" Dave said holding back his tears. I held the phone with both hands and did not say a word. It was like I was punched in the stomach and slapped at the same time. I didn't know if I should cry or get angry. I knew that I felt instantly lost and could not think.

Michael was one of my best friends and someone who's creativity and talent leapt far beyond what this world could grasp. Dave, Michael and I played in a band trying to find our musical individualism and our muse at the same time. Dave left to follow his passion to lead and play guitar in a popular power pop band. I took myself down the same path but took many alternative roads in between. Michael was different. He did not want to follow the path heavily travelled. He wanted to make a unique mark on the wall and didn't care what people thought. He composed obscure music for film, arranged strings and classical pieces far beyond anyone's perception. He mixed the genres of jazz, country, hip hop and rap to develop a genre of it's own. I played bass with him on small tours, on recording projects and experienced his genius first hand throughout the years. As time went on, things began to change drastically and too quickly for most to notice.

He began to develop serious headaches, dizzy spells and bouts of depression. After some examinations, it was determined that a tumor had been growing behind his eyes over the course of a few years. His doctors had confirmed that most of the growth could be removed but some would remain because of it's sensitive location near the eyes and brain. He would be treated with drugs that would continually shrink the remnants but the side effects would prove to be difficult and invasive. He suffered from temporary blindness in one eye, headaches, nausea and confusion. As a musician and composer these side effects would begin to take there toll on his overall sprit and creative output. He once said to me that his life was over and that living with the treatment is worse than the tumor itself. He was depressed, miserable and suffering, but in the final months of his life, he suddenly gathered his musical friends together and began working vigorously on a new recording project.

During this time his behavior was joyous but confusing. He began to give personal property away and live his life with reckless abandon. Once on the road, the band and I discovered that Michael was missing. At this point, he was partially blind and had difficulty with his balance. After hours of searching the grounds of the musical festival we had been playing, we discovered him in a fraternity house, drunk on apricot mead, and oblivious to any of our concerns. He later told us how angry he was that we spoiled his fun and that it was up to him to when he was to die and no one else. Now as I remember, it is haunting to think that he was planning the end of his life before our eyes but we did not have the foresight to stop his plan. He was not the type to ask for help, to turn to you with his emotions, or to show a moment of weakness. He was a determined artist and man moving forward to what ever destination he chose.

As I hung on to the telephone that evening I could hear Dave trying to break my silence, "Are you there? I'm sorry for this. The wake and funeral is in New Jersey on Saturday. I thought you may want to drive down with me. Can we talk about it?" The words didn't make sense but their truth made it much more difficult to swallow. "I will go with you. I need to go now. I'm sorry Dave." I said quickly before I hung up the phone. I sat at my desk for an hour and cried for my friend. "I will never see him again" I thought. "I should have picked up the phone. Why couldn't I help?" the questions bombarded my mind. I never knew if those were Michael's calls and I never will. I do know that it still haunts me when I think of him and why he left us. Both calls, one unanswered, changed my life again, forever.

Just recently, a New York man, who had recently been involved in a custody battle with his Italian Born ex-wife, was on the way to pick up his son from day care. He was interrupted by a call advising him that his son was no longer in New York City, but in Italy, being held in an orphanage. The boys mother had packed up the belongings of her and her child, boarded a plane to Rome, and hoped to start a new life with her son away from the father. Unfortunately, the Italian authorities stopped her in Rome, discovered that she and her son had insufficient identification. After a scuffle with police, her son was taken from her and she was labelled unfit. The boy has been held in this orphanage for months. His release is suspended because both parents carry individual citizenship. The boy remains a ward of the state. He may never see his parents again. With one phone call, the lives of many have been changed forever.

In a perfect world each day goes by without a care, bump or worry. Our lives never get turned upside down at the drop of a hat, the turn of a switch or the ring of a phone. When I was younger, I thought that my life would see less and less sadness, trauma, and turmoil. I assumed that excitement, drama, romance, tragedy and sadness were freely dispensed on the young simply because they can recover much quicker. I was sure that after I passed the forty year mark, my life would slow down and I would be able to sit back and avoid the hustle and bustle of daily drama. I was wrong in one sense, but I was also very right in another. As I've walked through adulthood I've experienced my share of sadness, some which has been shared in this article. I am grateful, so far in my life, to be spared more tragic news behind the ring of a small telephone. Each time the phone rings I am mindful that it could be a simple hello or some news I may not be able to handle alone. Each day I hope that I can be spared the types of tragedy I have seen in the past and those others have so unfortunately had to endure. I'm praying that I may get a slice of the perfect world someday and get the call for a million dollar payment. I hope that this year my sister is the first to wake me up with a "Happy Birthday" in my ear. I pray that someday, before I die, I will get a call from my President asking me with all sincerity if I'm happy and sleeping well in America. If that day should come, I will answer with an honest tone and a strong voice, "Yes Mr. President, I am happy and I am sleeping well... And you know what? I'm happy to finally say to someone - Thanks for calling." - BT

August 5, 2009

Better Red than Dead

When I was a young boy I used to think it was very strange to hear people say that they were "living inside their own head". It is just not something a seven year old can grasp without some major explanation.

I couldn't imagine what a statement like that could possibly mean. In 1972 I heard a lot of people talking about "tuning in, turning on, and dropping out". Could this be it's meaning? Drugs? Transcendental Meditation? The Maharishi? Gilligan's Island? What are they taking about? Is it a bad or a good thing to be inside your own head? I guess it depended who you spoke to at the time. An explanation coming from both the Reverend Billy Graham and Charles Manson would have totally different meanings.

At the time, all of the outrageously hairy and freakishly mellow were coining phrases that took on the theme of enlightenment, self-realization and soul searching during a very exciting yet explosive time. To most in this circle, it was very cool to be one who could explore the unknown reaches of their own head. To a depressed, manic and possibly suicidal person it meant something totally different and possibly horrific. Harvard professors were teaching and sitting around in loincloths each day promoting it's wonder. Bands with psychedelic names and half baked frontmen were singing it's praises. The center of the mind was explored, exploited, bought and sold as a simple pleasure trip for some. Over time, for the majority of society, through political correctness and conservative influence, the romance behind these journeys would quickly dissolve, but for others, the same journey became something far more serious.

Back then, dropping a hit of acid or partaking at a bong would get you into your own head quickly and happily. You could then stare at a piece of toast and give a full discourse or seminar about "The Meaning of Bread: The Pain Behind the Slice." You could honestly appreciate it's sadness as it was uselessly tortured between the hellish walls of the toaster. "Poor bread. poor oppressed bread" we cry as we take another hit. Insane but true. Self searching was much more fun when you were in control and could choose your vehicle by the drug that fueled it's momentum. As a young child I took in my experiences and tried to make sense of everything based on my level of intelligence and understanding. Unfortunately, our main education and confirmation of logic comes from our parents, whether they be Harvard educated brain surgeons or fruit pickers from San Jose. My first influence came from my folks, especially my father. I often wonder if his ramblings and opinions were far off from truth.

"This whole world is on dope!" he would exclaim as we watched the six o'clock news as it's cameras stared saturated in college violence and protest marches. The early seventies in my house was a constant forum of debate between my pseudo-hippie sister and my "Harry Truman meets Billy Jack" father proclaiming that "the world was going to shit" and "the hippies and freaks are driving." What joyful and annoying memories came out of those days. Looking on I wanted it all to end. I wanted to find the stage door of my life and escape. I wanted to sneak to the back alley and have a smoke like musicians did in the movies. I liked retreating into the peace inside my mind as well. As the years went on I took on my own pile of insecurity, fears, and frustration that slowly caused me to involuntarily retreat into my own head. I really didn't want to visit that place. It kept getting worse each time I would walk in. Changing directions via drugs, drinking and sex stopped being effective. I finally figured out why. My house has been poorly wired. Sometimes the storms come and the lights go out. Sometimes they flicker. Sometimes I'm in the dark for days and I just don't want to come out. As I get closer to fifty and further away from the days of flowers and L.S.D. it's harder not to hide away inside. It's harder not to just give up.

I've been spending a lot of time inside my own head examining where I've been in my life, what I've done, and why I seem to be hurting so much. Contrary to the way I act, the things I say, and the way I look, I do care about my family, my position in life and my personal actions. It's funny what thoughts get stuck in my head on any given day. One day I may feel extremely accomplished and happy. As things go extremely well, and I get inflated another twenty or thirty pounds per square inch, my head is filled with thoughts of money, success, or quitting my job and buying that perfect house overlooking the ocean in Maui. Those days have not been as abundant lately. The shit fairy has been leaving some good size turds under my pillow.

Some days the small apartment in my head, the place for escape, resembles a dark, unkempt room inside a large warehouse. A room void of color and spirit. The fabric on my furniture is torn and some of the windows are broken. A wind blows through as if this spot was abandoned moving the tattered curtains back and forth across gray, tarnished walls. I sit alone not able to move, petrified and paralyzed from worry like my feet are bound to the the legs with chains. I worry when I see myself there. It's the blackest place to be in my mind. I try not to stay there for very long. There have been times in my life when I have curled up on that torn couch, and been too afraid to get up. I stop thinking of living life, caring where my day will take me, scared to smile, talk, or laugh.

This gray room is that place I go to when things are not promising. It's where I think of the benefits of death, how my faith in myself has been broken and how my faith in something higher may no longer exist. I've been there today. I went inside as my family looked on and wondered where I've gone. I drifted away as I do so often in thought, away from them and eventually away from myself. The room is gray and bleak, but I am glad it is not yet black. If I get inside my own head and the room slowly fades from gray to black, I know there is no return for me. The blackness is not where I want my thoughts to live. I've thought long and hard about this struggle and, very unexpectedly, found a road to the answer through a random song. 

When I built my recording studio, I made a pact with myself that I would always use my music and my creativity as my largest healing force. I would use those strengths to help me keep those thoughts away. The ones that suck me into the darkest of places and into the small apartment in my head. My music and art serves as my therapy more than ever before. I needed a color to keep me out of the blackness in my mind and cover me with it's protection and a meaningful reminder. The color red has now become my favorite color. There is no red in the grayness of my thoughts. It seems to burn all the badness away.

One evening, I heard a simple but beautiful song called "Red Cave" by the band Yeasayer.

It's power chanted through my brain as I listened. And somehow, with good warmth and a stream of positive ideas, I felt everything was going to be alright. Just listening to this song seemed to draw a red line through my life and the possibility of darkness. It's chanting began to take some of the pain away and I began to understand how I have the power to redirect my thoughts, my fears, my sorrow, my worry, and my strife towards something much more positive and uplifting. I felt all my truth come out of a simple yet powerful song. I appropriately named my studio and my media company "Red Cave". A place I could go when I felt myself drifting towards the darkness. It's words fit so well and applied to me so closely it was truly spiritual.

The lyrics read:

I went out past the willow and the well

caught my breath upon the hill

at the edge of the domain

and i went down

and further down

and when i got up,

i'm at the red cave

and with that sound

as if i had been put under a spell

she led me to her abode

despite a winter's day

It concludes with a soft, and beautiful affirmation:

Im so blessed to

have spent that time

with my family and the friends

i love with my short life i have met

so many people i deeply care for

You see, I realized that I had a choice. When times get tough and I think I have had enough pain, drama, anger, and fear, I can begin to live in my own head, visit the dark rooms of my mind and eventually give in to the gray and die in the blackness. I could also embrace the brightness of my life, the color red, and retreat to the Red Cave where my hope resides. A place where my freedom lives and creativity rules. We all walk that line between darkness and light. We all have the choice to grasp color and warmth and never let it go. Our hearts will take us to places unknown and to others we know too well but we always have something that keeps our hearts alive and our spirits strong. For me, Red Cave is more than a name, a song or a small studio where I make music. It's a lifeline to something greater than myself. It is a symbol of my spirit and blessings. I am so blessed to have those important things in life and the ability to share my gifts with others.

I now love getting lost in my Cave of Red. It is an inspiration, a truth, and a comfort...

Best of all...the furniture is brand new. - BT

July 30, 2009

Guilty of Disrespect

A man told me once that speaking of someone badly after they had died holds the highest amount of disrespect one human can show another.

This has always remained an important belief of mine throughout my life. Whether you believe in heaven, hell, resurrection, karma, ghosts, or the Easter Bunny, there seems to be a small belief hard wired into everyone that the lives and memories of those who have unravelled the mortal coil should and must be held sacred. True, the guy was a real prick when he was alive and he did really bad things to a whole bus full of puppies in Michigan in 1983, so isn't that reason enough to forget he was ever alive? Why would you want to remind yourself of something like that over and over again? Honestly, you wouldn't...

Why would anyone want to speak of a person like that in either a positive or negative way?

As human beings I'm not sure what our motivation really is, but we've all done it once, twice or three times. We've gone bananas when death came knocking. We have figuratively kicked a man while he was "pushing up daisies" or canonized a woman we hardly knew as soon as the grim reaper drives up the avenue. Wouldn't it be easier and more respectful to treat death with silent, truthful, unexaggerated, respect? Is this a hard concept? Should it be a requirement before finishing high school? Should their be an additional standardized test given to all humans before entering adulthood? We could call it the "D.A.Ts", or the Death Aptitude Test. Forget not getting into Stanford because of your low score, how about being held back in life for bombing on your DAT scores? Well, the truth is, most of us would never make the grade.

I remember the time and place like it was yesterday. He stood their at the wake and complained about how Aunt Margaret was such a bitch for embarrassing him at the school play when he was thirteen. "I can't believe she yelled out that my fly was down in front of the whole school. What a witch. I never liked that woman. I'm glad she's dead", he whispered with a growl into the ear of his wife as she filled her gob with the last deviled egg on Margaret's own dining room table. "A nice dining room table" he adds. "What are they going to do with all this antique furniture?" is said without feeling like at a neighborhood garage sale. Demented and sad but very true. We don't say a word when they live, but after they die the bullwhips and the estate lawyers come out of the woodwork. A death, whether it be of someone you know, someone you've once met, or of someone uber-famous, makes many people dress themselves up in a weird, fake, cloak where they can justify any behavior while the "death shroud" temporarily hangs over reality.

There are those who hear of the death of a family member they had met once at a wedding when they were five. Unfortunately, all they remember is bad breath, greasy hair, and a boozy personality. They barely had a memory of them when they were alive not including the occasional comments like "Oh yeah...him" or "Will he be there?" and "Is he even my cousin?" come over their lips like watered down acid. These are the same people who always turn on their love light when hearing the news of death. They will turn on tears and sobbing so heavily that the producers of the movies "Beaches", "Brian's Song" or even "American Idol" would be envious. The barely known deceased becomes the cherished favorite family member who's passing will surely kill them as well. They will spin stories of their closeness. The times they shared and how they will be missed. It is creepy to witness. I once witnessed this with a co-worker who was the company gossip and back stabber. She left her mark on everyone's back like Zorro. You couldn't escape her fury.

Once, one of her favorite targets in mud-slinging lost her husband in a fire. A week previous to his death, she had been chatting around the water cooler how her husband had been "cheating with someone at our office". "She has it coming" I imagined her whispering under her breath, "she's not good enough for him." As soon as the word was out about his death, guess who was the first to embrace the widow with tear drenched arms? Who was passing the sympathy cards around the office with her version of the Serenity Prayer scrolled across the middle in deep red pen? Who was the first to say "I'm here for you" with that pseudo-sincere, Opra Winfrey-like tone? Our own mud hurling Zorro that's who. It almost would have been refreshing, but obviously sick, for her to blurt out an honest statement like: "Don't worry. I'm here. I will be here to use all my insecurity, and ignorance to push my jagged little knife in your back again and again while you are not looking. I will put you out of your misery too, once and for all. Don't worry." How comforting- but not that far from reality.

In the world of the rich, famous and infamous, it gets much weirder. The mud comes in bigger chunks. The tears and misery are flawlessly broadcast in high definition video and in crystal clear surround sound. The knives are much bigger and come in and out of the sheath at lightning's pace. It's amazing to witness and the players are as dramatic as a latin soap opera. As we all know, there is nothing more boring and drab as a clean living, perfectly normal celebrity. The world loves junk food. Big Whoppers of cheesy meat, divorce, drugs and sex served hot and fast between two warm pieces of gossip. Unfortunately, the scenarios are predictable. As we sit back and watch, the ingredients for this recipe are gathered together slowly. Sometimes we watch as a real person grows up on fame and fortune taking their lives down the same path as many have gone before. We want to yell out to them when we see the path take a sharp turn or head for the edge of a cliff, but it is almost easier just to stare at the train wreck in action. When this person is at the top of their game, there is a brief light of praise and brilliance shown upon them as bright as heavenly light. A star is born. Unfortunately, to those who carry the knives, the light becomes too bright and needs to be dulled or even snuffed.

As I get older I become aware of how the treatment of talented, artistic, sensitive, and truthfully gifted people has grown to the point of inhumane. I've witnessed the rise and fall of so many in my lifetime it feels like I have served as an accomplice to their deaths due to my own apathy. As a society, we have begun to enjoy the misery more than the accomplishments of the world's gifted. I grew up watching the birth, life and death of iconic genius. Artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Michael Jackson walked the twisted dangerous path of fame but were tagged with a sign reading "Kick Me" along the way. Elvis came from the dirt and sweat that all poor Americans taste but work hard to overcome. His gifts were extraordinary and so was his heart. At first his innocence was the stuff that the media wanted and it was what we loved. Somewhere along the way, the light began to fade, the knives needed to carve out the innocence and hopefully cash in on the misery. The paper's read "Elvis leaves Pricilla" and the first cut is made. Drugs, sex, violence, unorthodox behavior followed and was broadcast for our entertainment. "Elvis is Dead" was the final thrust and the period on the sentence...or was it? We watched Tupelo's favorite son dragged through the gutter of journalistic sensationalism for the next twenty years. "Elvis is Alive", "Presley died on the toilet", "Elvis on drugs at the White House", "Martians brought Elvis to earth" and "New York homeless man believed to be Elvis Presley" read like disrespectful slaps year after year. I never saw the headlines read "Elvis Presley: Please Rest in Peace". I don't think I ever will.

John Lennon paid dearly for wanting to do what is right and save as many lost souls as possible along the way. He was not as charming as Paul, quiet as George, or as goofy as Ringo. The mark of the rebel could be seen on his hands immediately as he stepped off that plane in New York on February 7, 1964. He said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, he wrote about Revolution, grew his hair and spent a week in bed for peace with a strange Japanese artist named Yoko Ono. He wasn't normal and the media ate this up with gravy. The FBI spent years trying to run him out of the country because he seemed like a subversive, revolutionary. When all began to calm down for John with wife and their small boy, his story would again change. After he was gunned down in cold blood, the world mourned, the artistic communities remembered him, and the media paid their respect. After the coals cooled and the old Beatle stories lost their luster, the mud began to rise once again with the headlines "Lennon's Affair exposed", "Ex-Beatle was a drunk and violent husband" and "John Lennon's Heroin Addiction". We found out more about John after his death than when he was alive and very famous. In 2000, I went to an exhibit at a well respected music museum featuring John Lennon's work. As expected, I saw the white piano which John had used to compose the song "Imagine" almost twenty years before. I saw notebook pages full of his work and his famous round framed glasses sitting in a solitary glass case. Unfortunately, to my horror and disappointment, the glasses were stained with blood along with several other belongings to remind me, just in case I had forgotten, that he was senselessly murdered one quiet evening on his way home in 1980. A tear came to my eye as I wondered why and wanted nothing more than to strangle who thought this would be the best way to remember him. Blood and death sells more music that pure talent any day.

The death of Michael Jackson was more expected thanks to the wonderful preparations made by society, the media and our own thoughts. By the year 2009, the crazy lives and excentricities of mainstream celebrity is common place. There are web sites dedicated to daily monitoring of the steady decline of the rich, and sickly. Mr. Jackson has been a figure of criticism since he first stepped on stage in the late sixties. After the first year's realization of how talented and cute Michael and the Jackson brothers seemed to appear, the hunt began. The search for the hairline crack began hard and fast. We saw his life become a sad circus. His strange behavior, the physical alterations of his body and face, wild spending, rumors of sexual misconduct with children, and the roller coaster of financial difficulty. Michael had it all. Again, unfortunately, the things that mattered much less that his contributions as an artist were greatly overshadowed. Another life was exposed for the slaughter for the cause of pure entertainment. We all bought it and kept investing. His death was not surprising but for me was almost a relief. The media had chewed him up and spit him out mercilessly for years. They loved him when he enjoyed success or pioneered an artistic effort but flogged him at every turn of a failure. The week of his death was a media frenzy that I will always remember.

How can a journalist say that "Jackson was an artist of the upmost talent and gifted beyond human understanding. He will be dearly missed and forever remember for his great accomplishments and contributions." then spend the next thirty minutes debating if his addiction to drugs, the accusations of child molestation, or potential mental illness finally drove him to his grave? It doesn't make sense to me. Do we feel it is humane to throw your arms around someone with love, praise their efforts and accomplishments, and honor them as a pinnacle of human achievement...then with the same breath, impale them with the failures, shortcomings and wrongs that potentially live in all of us? We say "I have always hated you and I will take great joy in watching you fail. You deserve to suffer and eventually die, but I want you to know that I am always here for you and will be there for you forever. I love you." Is this how we respect our fellow man? From what I've seen, the world is becoming a colder and colder place. Death be not proud.

As the news continues to bombard us with all that is Jackson, I will strive to let the dead rest and refuse to care about the unimportant things that came before. This is not my way of becoming an apathetic, negative human place holder who doesn't care about my fellow man's life. If anything can truthfully clarify my compassion for the human race, the following words should prove to be very successful. When a person dies, expires, passes, or fades away, I will concentrate on the good they have accomplished in life and discard the assumption, rumor and failures that are sometimes exposed to my eyes and ears. If that person was a hero I will remember them for their sacrifice. If a person was infamous in life and had no values to cherish, I will remember them as well, but hope that their actions can be forgotten, forgiven and not exposed to cause any more pain in those who were first so personally effected. It does no good to concentrate on the failures and shortcomings of a person once they have passed away. These things cannot be changed and we have no power to reverse the final steps out of life.

Celebrate the person's legacy but let them go to wherever you believe they belong. I refuse to care what this person did not do or what they may have done to hurt me while on this earth. I will always remember them for their good works, but have no desire to be constantly reminded of the things they should, could or would have done. I think we have forgotten the power in three words concerning death and respect that seem to have faded from our culture. I think we have all been guilty of disrespect. To remind myself of it's importance, I will need to confirm it with my own words:

Elvis Presley, Rest in Peace.

John Lennon Rest in Peace.

Michael Jackson, Rest in Peace.

I hope we can learn to turn off the lights and finally let them all go to sleep. -BT