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Periodic Confessional: Moving off the offensive

“You are a special kind of jerk,” she said. “Not only did you try to steal my parking spot, but when I tried to go ahead and give it to you, you went and parked somewhere else.”

“I wasn’t trying to steal your parking spot. I needed to move because nobody else in the parking lot could move if I didn’t.”
Now to me and anybody in earshot, “You try to do something nice for somebody! What a jerk!”

“Look, I wasn’t trying to steal your parking spot. I’m not a jerk, and it was just a misunderstanding. I think we should just put it behind us and move on with our days.” I looked to the Dunkin Donuts cashier who was watching this unfold, a bit slackjawed, while handing me my receipt. “Thanks. Have a good one.”

This was literally a new me. Not two weeks before, I had sat with my wife and our friends on New Year’s Eve and said I was going to move beyond being mean. I didn’t want anybody who didn’t deserve it to regret having run into me or (over)hearing something I said.

In this situation, the old me probably would’ve scanned my brain for a stinging insult. I would’ve wanted to find something that would find its way under her skin and nuzzle in for the rest of the day. If I came up short of such a zinger, I would’ve let my failure to “win” the confrontation bug me for the rest of the day.

“What the hell was that all about,” my wife asked when we got outside. We were just popping in for a donut and coffee before going our separate ways to work. Having arrived at DD first, she was unaware of anything having happened in the parking lot.

“I had to kind of pull in front of her to free up a jam in the parking lot. I knew whoever was in the truck would think I was trying to steal their spot, but I had to move. There was a car behind me turning left into the parking lot and they were hung out in the middle of the road.”

“Well you handled that a lot better than I would’ve. She didn’t even yell at me and I want to go back in there and call her a bitch.”

I couldn’t believe how good I felt. In the past, I had welcomed the chance to get upset. I would engage because I welcomed the anger, the chance at indignation. I would downplay the fact that I knew from the other person’s perspective it did look like I was being a jerk. I would retell the story at work and act like I was feeding off its energy when in all honesty, it would feed off me.

When I had made the decision to try to avoid saying offensive things or making offensive jokes, I was nervous about it. I crack jokes. Lots of jokes. In a social setting, it’s what I’m most comfortable bringing to the exchange and making people laugh is one of my favorite things. But in the course of a night, many jokes are at somebody’s expense. Maybe somebody at the bar I suspect is a douche, somebody on TV who made an easy target or somebody in a newspaper article who came off looking bad.

I never touched on the great taboos, but there are still plenty of ways to be very mean without too much fear of being called out. It was evident when I’d let a joke fly and see a hitch in somebody’s reaction. Maybe it hit on a problem they used to have. Maybe it made fun of something that affected somebody close to them. They usually wouldn’t say anything, but I’d catch their “look” and regret the ill-advised joke the rest of the night.

After this happened enough times, I just grew tired of trying to figure out what was OK to joke about and what wasn’t. Cheap laughs weren’t worth knowing you were responsible for “that look”. After having spent years trying to argue this joke or that joke wasn’t offensive, I realized when I defended jokes I wasn’t really making an argument about the joke. I was trying to convince myself I’m not the kind of person who’d laugh at offensive jokes. That’s an ugly light to shine on yourself and I wanted to get out from under it. Still, would I be able to fill the void where these types of jokes used to come out?

This was the surprising part. There was no void. It seems when I sincerely wanted to avoid saying hurtful things, the part of my brain that supplied them withered on the vine. Actually, I’m hoping it moved on to better pursuits. Every once in a while a joke will pop into my head and I try to make sure that’s where it stays. I’m sure some still slip through a filter that has blind spots. But for the most part, it’s not a flood of material I have to carefully sort through as I had originally feared.

Another surprise has been how much of a relief it is to come across everybody you meet and not size them up for potential material. It’s no longer “Look at this guy.” It’s just “there goes a guy”. What I feared would be limiting and restrictive has in fact been remarkably liberating. So in the end I have to agree with the woman at Dunkin Donuts. It takes a special kind of jerk to clutch so tightly, for the better part of thirty-eight years, to hurtful behavior that benefited noone and was likely most harmful to myself. Maybe I would’ve been more accurate to say, “I’m not the jerk you think I am.”


This post was inspired by a couple of Adam Kotsko’s posts at An und fur sich on free will that have struck a chord. 


April 17, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional | 4 Comments

Monday Morning Satire: The Race Expo!

Race weekend is approaching and I am getting so psyched. When I started training on New Year’s Day, this seemed so far away. When all my friends said I was “crazy” and “neglectful of my responsibilities” and “annoyingly obsessed with running”, it was because they don’t know the excitement I feel as my race weekend approaches. When I realized that, I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the best parts of a race weekend, the expo. I’m not sure I can properly convey how awesome they are, but I’ll trust the marathon bumper stickers’ message, “You can do this.”

I guess the most important part of the expo is picking up your race packet. These packets include your running bib (that piece of paper with the number on it), your free race shirt, instructions for the day of the race (pay attention to parking!) and a bunch of coupons to all the area stores. But I don’t just go to the expo because they don’t let you get your race packet any other way.

All you have to do is pull into the parking lot and it’s already evident you’re not going to regret taking the time to visit the expo. There are SO many magnets, bumper stickers and vanity plates (“FastrNU” – we’ll see about that!). If you’re like me, you gain inspiration from these, especially the magnets. If I get a swelled head after setting a personal record (PR) for a half-marathon, somebody else’s 26.2 magnet reminds me I can always work a little harder. I assume marathoners think the same of ultra-marathoners, who probably have to look to the 140.6 magnets of the ironman triathletes for their inspiration.

Who do the ironman triathletes look to? I’ve always wanted to ask. It seems kind of sad to me, not really being able to go any farther in an organized race. I suppose they just keep trying to set PRs. Although, I did read one time about a 130-mile run through Death Valley, a lot of which is uphill. The neat thing about that race is there’s no way to duplicate the grueling conditions when you train. Until you’ve finished it, you have no way of knowing if you have enough to finish. Or even survive! But I bet if you do survive and finish, you come away thinking that was the best week of your life…once your toenails grow back, you can walk again and your kidney treatment is successful.

Until you’re ready for that kind of thrill, though, you’ll have to settle for things like your race’s expo. Whenever I walk in to one of these, I like to just stop and take in all the vendor booths. This is my chance to gain some perspective. By the time I walk into that expo, I’ve been training for sixteen weeks. Something like 240 miles and 25 hours of running. All that time, all I’m doing is turning inward to my thoughts, sorting out problems or issues and using the thoughtful time alone to try to put my life into better order. It’s almost meditative.

But do you know what I’m not doing? Spending any money. Sure I use plenty of gas driving to the trail I run on, but I’d probably use that gas driving to the gym if I didn’t run so I can’t really count that. And yes, training for my half-marathons usually causes me to go through a pair of shoes per year. But is the economy being kept afloat by my one pair of $100 shoes a year? Doubtful. So when I stand and take in all those vendor booths, I’m reminded of my chance to make up for lost time and be one of the economy’s givers and not one of its takers.

They make it easy to spend, too. Because when you walk in, the registration table where you pick up your packet is on the exact opposite side of the arena. The really good expos arrange the vendors so your path is serpentine like a line for a roller coaster at an amusement park. This makes sure you get to see the best of performance wear, energy bars, energy gum, energy drinks, equipment you just don’t see anywhere else (like $3,000 elliptical bikes!) and info on out-of-town races. My advice as you wind your way through is to take it in as best as you can. It’s important to remember the easiest way to be accepted as a serious runner isn’t just running. It’s looking the part.

Don’t just get caught up in what you can spend money on, either. Listen to the bands or any other performers there might be. One year, I went to an expo that brought in a controversial runner comedian. His “thing” was a series of jokes that point out the differences between eight minute milers and nine minute milers.

His best bit was the part when he ran across the stage, “Nine minute milers run like this!” He had the pained expression down and everything! I heard one guy go, “Did you see his supination? That is SO me!” After he was done with that, he improved his posture a little bit, looked a little more serious and went, “Eight minute milers run like this!”. For that short a distance, the speed seemed really similar but any good runner saw the difference. You could tell some people were offended by the posture and expression stereotypes, or at least laughing nervously, but I’ve been both an eight-minuter and a nine-minuter, so I felt comfortable laughing the whole time. Anyway, you’re not always going to be so lucky to get that kind of quality entertainment, but I’ve never seen performers who weren’t trying hard.

Once I’ve made my way through to the registration table and picked up my packet, I like to people watch on the way back out. Society could really learn from running and its diverse mix of white people from all walks of life! You have everybody from struggling college kids whose parents are barely paying half their tuition all the way up to corporate execs looking for things to do besides go home after their 70-hour work weeks. It’s like every story is an inspiration!

Well, those are just some of the things I love about a good race expo. It just may be the most fun you’ll have that weekend when you’re not running. Well, besides carb loading at dinner on the way home!

April 7, 2014 Posted by | observational humor | Comments Off on Monday Morning Satire: The Race Expo!

Spoiler Alert Thursday, er Wednesday: Walking Dead

As the title suggests, spoilers follow. 

The second half of Season 4 made a couple things clear. Nobody much cared for farmer Rick. Even in a world overrun with flesh-eating zombies, people are the biggest danger.

In the second half’s opener, we found out Carl really hated farmer Rick. To the extent he even went so far to say he was okay with Rick dying. Later in the season, Daryl doesn’t come out and blame Rick, but he regrets letting things get lax enough to where they let the Governor come in and destroy their home. Let’s not forget that Carol was an early adopter of the “Farming? Are you kidding me? Club”. In the season finale, we see even Rick himself was slow to come around to farmer Rick. Herschel had to convince him to try to build a life worth living for his family, and that life probably shouldn’t include family trips to the fence to poke zombies in the brain.

That’s just counting the people in the show. I have a sinking suspicion fans REALLY didn’t like farmer Rick. I don’t follow a lot of people on Twitter, but my small sampling of responses to Rick tearing Joe’s throat out with his teeth had a tone of “Finally!” I have no reason to believe that wasn’t representative of most people’s thoughts. As fans, the reasoning is we’re blood thirsty monsters. Okay, that’s probably a little harsh. But it’s fair to say we tune into a zombie show to see zombie kills and zombie escapes. When the characters are safe, the show lags and fans get antsy.

Within the show, the complaint about farmer Rick is that it’s not realistic. To survive the zombie apocalypse, you have to embrace the badass. Herschel’s idea of building a life worth surviving for was nice, but the problem seemed to be it makes survival more difficult or even impossible. Rick and Herschel tried to embrace the idea that you could go back to the person you were before “the turn”. The second half of Season 4 seemed to argue that not only was that it wasn’t possible, but it will get you killed.

Why? That brings us to my second point. Even in a world overrun with flesh-eating zombies, people are the biggest danger. That’s been shown time and time again. Sure, the main characters have had to escape zombies and they’ve all had their share of close calls, but the show’s true villains have always been people. Whether it was Shane, the Governor or Joe and his band of rapists, the parts of the show that make you whoop the most are when people who haven’t “turned” but have gone bad get theirs. In other words, even when there’s zombies, people are the worst.

Here’s the bad news. We’re people. Just like Rick and the rest can’t turn their backs to the brutal facts of their new environs, the show’s creators can’t turn their backs on the wishes of their viewers. It wasn’t just Joe’s gang and Terminus that forced the return of badass Rick. It was us. We watch the show and like to think the villains are bad guys like The Governor and Joe. What we found out in the finale, though, is we are the Governor and Joe. We demand that Rick be the brutal leader who bites jugulars and disembowels threats to his son. It turns out that as fans, our true nemesis was Herschel. Now if you’ll excuse me, Imma go try on some eye patches.

April 2, 2014 Posted by | Spoiler Alert Thursdays, television | Comments Off on Spoiler Alert Thursday, er Wednesday: Walking Dead

Periodic Confessional: C-H….C-H. What’s missing?

I confess I am not a practicing Catholic. This has been the case for nearly 25 years, and most of the time it’s hardly worth mentioning. But when you were raised Catholic, it tends to pop up now and then.

Over the past couple months, it’s come up because my nephew who will be getting Confirmed, asked me to be his sponsor. I said yes immediately because my nephew – who is also my godson – asked me. I knew there were probably going to be some awkward moments to come from it, but the way I saw it was this. The church had explained to my nephew what a sponsor should do. He thought of me, ran the idea past his parents, and they said “Great choice!” or “that’s fine” or “this should be interesting”. Something. I don’t know, but he called me and with their blessing, asked, and that was good enough for me.

Things got hairy almost immediately. My nephew handed the phone over to my brother, who laid out the situation for me. He told me this church is a little…zealous. They don’t want just anybody being sponsors. They want practicing Catholics. And there’s a form.

“A form?”

Yes, a form. And they don’t want you to just sign the form that states that you understand the responsibilities of a sponsor and that you’re a practicing Catholic. They want the church where you’re a member to affix their seal.

“Affix a seal? Affix? Seal? Churches have seals?” Continue reading

March 18, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, religion | 6 Comments

Periodic Confessional: Juror #1

Warning: Though I’ve tried to remove graphic details of the case, what follows is an account of my experience as a juror on a trial that included some degree of domestic violence. It’s my understanding reading these types of things can be very stressful to people who have suffered through these situations.

I confess I may have played a part in ruining a woman’s life. Some time in January, I got a jury summons. Some time last week, I called the number to see if I had to report. I did. When I reported, I was sent up to a courtroom as a prospective juror. As we filed in, we saw a woman sitting with a lawyer, and a man sitting with a lawyer. “Thank God,” I thought. “Civil.”

Wrong. The man with the lawyer was a detective. The judge read us the indictment and revealed this was a trial for felonious assault. The woman sitting with her back to us was accused of stabbing her boyfriend. Oh crap.

After the jury questionnaires had been filled out, the judge called the first name. It was mine. All the jokes about dodging having to serve evaporated immediately. This got very real, very quickly. The judge asked whether I was married or living with a partner. Being a former math major, I instinctively answered this “or” question with a yes. She chuckled. “May I ask which it is?”

“Oh, sorry. I’m married, yes.”

She went on to ask where I worked, how long I had been there. What did my wife do? How long had she been there? Did I have any kids, and if so, how old were they? Had I brought any reading material? I explained awkwardly that I was reading a book called “Sharp Objects”.

With those questions answered, a second juror was called. In all, 18 jurors were interviewed after me. With every one of them, she found a way to take one of their answers and ask a follow-up question about how this might have biased them against either the defense or the prosecution. When I realized this contrast with my own questions, I figured I could call my wife and my boss and let them know I’d be busy for the next few days. Continue reading

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, politics | 3 Comments

Weekly Confessional: Binging

I confess I’ve spent the summer acquainting myself with Breaking Bad and Mad Men. I was able to “get current” on Breaking Bad just in time for the second half of the final season. I’m still a good deal behind on Mad Men. I enjoy both shows a great deal and it seems the one I enjoy more is whichever show I’ve watched more recently. Here’s my problem.

I watch them alone. My wife has zero interest in either show, so I end up watching them either when she’s gone or when she’s gone to bed early. Not only that, since I’m “binge watching” on Netflix, I’m watching them alone in a grander sense as well. When I’m sitting thinking, “Joan did NOT just say that!” everybody else was doing the same two or three years ago.

The other day I was watching the season finale of Season 4 and Megan was talking to Don about her college roommate who is an actress. She complains that her roommate told her she could never be an actress because of her teeth. My thought was that’s kind of meta on a few levels. First of all, Jessica Pare plays Megan and she obviously could be an actress with those teeth. More interestingly, though, somebody who works on Mad Men had to have had a conversation with Pare about her teeth. I mean, they either wrote the season and then cast Pare as the secretary with big teeth or they saw Pare’s teeth and wrote a line about her being self conscious of them. Either way, the Mad Men staff had to bluntly broach the topic of Pare’s teeth in a way similar to the way Megan is complaining about. This led me to wonder, “Is Mad Men actually a commentary on Hollywood?”

All this was spilling out of my brain as I watched and while I thought it would be an interesting point to discuss, there was nobody with whom to discuss. Sure, I could go on Twitter or Facebook and jot down some thoughts, but the likelihood of that generating any conversation is slim and one should really be careful about the topics you try to discuss in a 140 character medium. I could scour the internet for discussions, but the odds of that being fulfilling seems remote. When a future civilization comes across the ruins of our society, they will point to internet comment sections and wonder, “How did they not realize the end was nigh?”

I had a similar experience of pent up critique after reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had thoughts and theories on various aspects of the book and nobody to share them with. Frustrated, I started a book club. That’s been running for about three years now. That leads me to wonder: are there TV clubs? That would be kind of cool. Agree to watch, say, half a season of some show on Netflix and then convene over beers to share your thoughts.

Reeling this back in to my original point, it’s interesting to me that with DVRs and Netflix and streaming we are taking what’s already a fairly solitary act – watching a TV show – and making it even more solitary. It would lead me to believe we don’t really care to talk about the TV we watch, but if that’s the case, why are we watching shows that generate so much conversation? Of course, I’ve found that when I actually ask people if they watch Mad Men or Walking Dead or Breaking Bad, a tiny percentage do. Nielsen ratings are dominated by shows like Big Bang Theory. When we watch so much television that’s not worth discussing, maybe we don’t realize we’re missing out when the other kind comes along.

I confess this is probably my worst effort ever at shoehorning what I wanted to talk about into the “Confession” template. With that in mind, I’ll toss a real confession out there. I love playing golf. Paradoxically, as a rule, I hate doing so with other people who like to golf.

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, Spoiler Alert Thursdays, television | 2 Comments

Weekly Confessional: More Neighborly

I confess that yesterday I found out my neighbor across the street died. On June 6th.

This woman was an elderly woman living alone with a dog who felt its job was to tell everybody to stay the hell away from its property. It took this job very seriously. About three weeks ago, my wife pointed out that our neighbor hadn’t put her trash out for at least a month.

At first, I didn’t think too much of it. She’s left to visit family for long stretches. Maybe she had a surgery or something and was just recovering at the home of one of her children. The more I thought about it, though, the more I feared I was being optimistic.

Once my wife pointed out the trash thing, a few other things clicked. I hadn’t heard that little dog in a long time. Her car was never in the driveway anymore. Her children’s cars – whose out of state plates stick out – were around much more frequently. None of these were good signs.

So yesterday, when all her children’s cars were parked either in the street or in the driveway, I decided to do a Google search on her name (which, shamefully, I had to find through the city’s online GIS) and “obituary”. She popped right up, and my heart sank at seeing her photo in the notice. Our neighbor of eight-and-a-half years had died and it took me two-and-a-half months to realize it.

This filled me with quite a bit of guilt. I’m a city planner who spends a good deal of time trying to foster improved neighborhoods and communities and have often said that a lot of our neighborhood problems could be solved or avoided if we just gave a shit about our neighbors. I won’t say I didn’t give a shit about this woman – I used to speak to her whenever we crossed paths – but when she can be dead for nearly a full season without me noticing, I can certainly confess I didn’t give enough of a shit.

Since our neighbors on the other side are selling their house, we’ll conceivably have new neighbors on either side of us. This would seem to present a good opportunity for a fresh start as a better neighbor. I’m not sure what form this effort will take. A “welcome to the neighborhood” basket? Inviting the new neighbors over for dinner? Making mental note when I haven’t seen them for the past month? Regardless, I’ve decided to make sure I never again have to use the internet to remember my next door neighbor’s name.

How about you, good reader? How well do you know your neighbors? Do you wish you better knew them or that you knew them less? Feel free to confess on these matters or whatever might ease your load.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional | 5 Comments

Weekly Confessional: Stolen Finish

I confess to getting hung up on a fairly minor point.

When the Boston Marathon bombings happened, I think my reaction was probably similar to most people’s. I was horrified. I’ve been at finish lines as both a runner and a spectator. They have an unbelievably positive vibe. Just about everybody there is personally invested and the people who aren’t are volunteering to help others and are usually very energetic about it. It seemed particularly vicious to wipe all that out with what seemed to be random violence.

Adding to my horror was a little exercise I did. In an attempt to properly empathize with the people affected, I pictured my last finish when I was able to find my wife, my brother, my mom and my sister cheering in the crowd as I crossed. That image is very positive and burned into my brain (I hope) forever. Superimposing the films from the bombings over that image in my brain was too effective, too emotional, because I assumed some poor soul didn’t have to imagine it. Some poor soul probably lived through it.

When I pulled back from that terrible image, I thought of all the ways people would be affected. I eventually realized I didn’t really hear anybody mention the runners who didn’t finish. That’s probably appropriate. They probably consider themselves lucky. I’d imagine most of them felt a little disappointment, but focused their energy on finding their loved ones and getting back home safe. Still, I felt bad for them. Continue reading

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional | 1 Comment

Weekly Confessional: Good Dog

I confess to being very relieved this weekend when I found out my brother would get to keep his guide dog after it was retired from its work duties. He’s had this guide dog for the past eight years, but when he first received the dog the organization who trains and finds home for these dogs said they typically go to a new home after they retire. The reasoning behind this is the retiring guide dogs are often reluctant to hand over their duties to a new dog.

Guide dogs give up a lot of what we think of as “being a dog” to do their work, and to respond to that sacrifice by taking them away from their home for their final years seems almost too sad to bear. Actually, knowing my brother and his family, it would have been too sad to bear and that’s why they’re keeping him. It appears the organization he uses to get his guide dog has relaxed their policy somewhat, and if the owner can care for the dog in its retirement years, it is up to the owner whether they keep the dog or not.

Unfortunately, many people who need a guide dog are alone and/or on a fixed income and cannot care for a second dog. There was one such woman at the guide dog facility when my brother trained there eight years ago. He said she was openly weeping at her loss. I can’t help but wonder how the level of trauma compares for the dog being taken away from its owner.

I’m very happy for my brother and his dog, though. His dog is as wonderful as you’d imagine these dogs to be and has grown at least as protective of my brother’s family as he is of my brother. Now he gets to live out his “retirement” with the family he’s known his entire life and will get to enjoy life as a “normal dog”. For example, when he visits my house in retirement, he’ll be able to play with my black lab mix with abandon. This is a treat he was often unable to resist even when he was supposed to be working.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional | 2 Comments

Weekly Confessional: Social cocoon

I confess I may not be as social a person as I like to imagine.

There is a local bar I go to a lot. Most of the time when I go there, it’s to place a takeout order and have a beer while I wait. The other day, I walked in and the bar appeared to be full to capacity. The only empty stools have drinks in front of them or jackets on the back of the seat.

So I planned to just stand as I waited. But a woman sitting at the bar noticed me waiting and said I could sit in the seat next to her, as there was nobody sitting there. I asked if she was sure, because there was a half full glass of wine and a jacket on the chair. The jacket was hers. the wine was her friends. It was fine if I sat down. When she explained why she had been reserving it, she trailed off and part of the reason for her trailing off may have been that she spilled her friend’s wine as she was moving it.

This situation was ripe for discomfort from my perspective. First, she had apparently not wanted somebody sitting next to her but after seeing me, had changed her mind. Potentially flattering, but not a situation I’m particularly keen on being involved in. Secondly, the spilled wine was to the right of her and I was on her left. I kind of felt like I should help with the cleanup, but a) she had it under control and b) it was pretty intimate quarters for two people to be doing the job. Therefore, I awkwardly sat in my chair trying to look appreciative for her having opened up the seat for me. Finally, when somebody spills wine all over the bar, there is a natural assumption that they are drunk. One of the least appealing conversations to have is with somebody who’s drunk when you’re sober. Continue reading

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional | 2 Comments