Thursday, May 22, 2014

500 Words: The Perfect Day

I would wake up at about 8:00 am on the perfect day. This way I would feel less guilty about sitting in my pajamas for three hours before I got a move on the day. I would eat pancakes, drink coffee, and eat fresh berries with friends for a few hours. We’d reminisce about good times, not worry about the future and put away our phones. We’d be present and in the moment.

We’d go for a hike after breakfast, not an exhausting one, but one to burn off the excess energy so we could be lazy for the afternoon. I’d think something in northern Minnesota. Maybe Maine, maybe Wiscosin. There would be pine trees everywhere. We might see a few animals, but it’s not a requirement. I’d like the hike to end at a lake or a river or a vista. I’d take my shoes off and let my feet breathe for a while. We’d have cookies and cheese and crackers for lunch. More fruit. Probably dried fruit, dried mango. People would get tired, but I’d make sure everyone stayed together and had enough water.

Our caravan would head back to where we were staying and we’d have a lazy afternoon. Some people would nap. Others would read. I’d take a shower first. Put on my comfy Saint John’s baseball shirt and some gym shorts. I’d probably fall asleep after reading for a little bit. I’d want a bit of sunshine shining through my window. I’d fall asleep for an hour and a half or two. There’d be no pressure. We’d be on a lake, so maybe there’d be a quick jump in the water and we’d crack open a few beers. No dark beers, just summer stuff or IPA’s. Maybe whatever regional cheap beer is popular.

Eventually we’d start to get dinner ready. Ideally, there’d be someone who knew how to barbeque. We’d have brats, burgers, and chicken. Probably some veggie burgers too. We’d have chips and cookies and fruit. Nobody would feel guilty because you’re with your friends and calories don’t count when you are out with your friends. We’d eat so much. You would get that wonderful feeling where your belly is bursting, but it is okay because you don’t have to do anything or be anywhere. Everything would be delicious because you’d be outside and with your friends. Our feet would be dirty from walking around in flip flops and being barefoot the whole day. It would be a great feeling.

Afterwards, we’d sit by the fire and watch the sunset. We’d roast marshmallows and have s’mores. Somebody would definitely set their marshmallow on fire on purpose and I’d wonder why, I always thought that was a waste. The only sounds would be conversation and the fire crackling. If we were feeling adventurous, maybe a skinny dip into the lake. But I’d probably just be content to sit in an adirondack and sip another beer. We might pass around some good whiskey for a nightcap, but we’d all be content and we’d all just be there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

500 Words: Oatmeal

Oatmeal gets a bad rap. You never quite know what you are getting when you get a packet of oatmeal. It can be flavorless. It’s consistency can range from gritty to goopy. It really depends on the maker, the person who’s doing it and the amount of water you have. It can ruin your day if things don’t all fall in line.

Oatmeal reminds me of camping. It reminds me of cold mornings. In the insides of a house with a heat, a nice dining room table, Good Morning America, and everything else, Oatmeal will taste bland. But outside in the woods, oatmeal is manna from heaven. The flavors taste better when they are mixed with sleeping in tents and sitting around a fire. It’s a little piece of “wake me up” that you take for granted when you are at home and rushing to get going on your day. When your camping, you do not have a set schedule. You have wake up, eat, do what you got to do. Oatmeal helps you out with that.

I eat oatmeal out of those hard plastic measuring cups. Sometimes it gets a bit watery if you don’t want to use your spoon. You boil water on the stove and pour it over, not using exact measurements. Then you have to wipe the excess oat flakes with your finger. And the lovely “grey water” so you don’t leave any excess food out in the woods.

At home, we’d buy those big tubes of Quaker Oats more often than the little packets. You really have to make an effort to make those bowls of oatmeal taste good. I prefer raisins and brown sugar (LOTS of brown sugar.) I’ve seen people put nuts, butter, blueberries, fruit, and even cheese in their oatmeal. That’s a lot to handle in the morning.

I always wondered if Quakers actually ate Quaker oatmeal. Did Benjamin Franklin eat it? I’d like to think that is what fueled him during the American Revolution and during his periods of invention. Quaker Oats could probably have gotten a good endorser if Ben Franklin was still around. I remember a few years ago when Quaker put out those weird Dinosaur egg oatmeal stuff. It was very weird. I didn’t like it because I probably didn’t wait long enough for the eggs to “hatch.” Keep it simple, oatmeal. You’re healthy. Don’t go trying to be like a sugar filled kid ceral. Parents feed it to us because it’s healthy, and with a few adjustments, it can be pretty great.  

A spin off of that oatmeal is Granola, which my parents make by putting the oats in an oven. It’s pretty good, but my parents eat it almost every morning. (Except Sunday mornings, when we have a larger breakfast.) It can be a bit of a different beast if your eat it with milk or yogurt. I just had a bowl with some Greek Oikos yogurt. It was pretty tasty and will fuel me for the next few hours. It could have used some fresh berries though. Strawberries and bananas would have been great with it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

500 Words: Being Nice to People

One of the most important lessons my parents ever taught me was to be nice to the people who cook your food and who clean up after you. I don't think they ever told that to me directly, but I saw them practice it during their careers as educators. I remember going with my dad to work one day when I was very young and he talked and joked with one of the lunch ladies. They had an obvious rapport. He also talked a lot with one of the janitors. There was no sense of status or, "I make more money than you." It was my dad being nice to someone who was probably under paid and under appreciated.

My mom was the same way with the staff at Wyoming elementary, where she was a teachers aid. I remember that a room was locked for our Cub Scout meeting, but she was able to track down the janitor, Jim and she got him to unlock the door. She'd probably had numerous conversations with him. I wonder if that same thing would have happened if she didn't know him. I'm guessing it would not have happened.

Last night I did the food order for work. It's a thankless job that requires handling a fair amount of money and making sure orders are right. (That in itself stresses me out.) We had an order that came to about ninety-four dollars, but something like only a three dollar tip. I thought that was ridiculous. The guy (who I later found out was notorious for undertipping) said, when I asked people to chip in an extra buck, "Oh don't you know, the new guy is supposed to cover it?" I gave him a look that said, "Really?" First off, we're punishing the guy who was delivering our food and second, I'm not a big fan of hazing or rookie pranks because I don't make a lot of money to begin with.

I’ve always been curious about hazing. I understand rituals and ceremonies (I am Catholic after all), but the idea of making someone do something hurtful or damaging for the sake of acceptance seems so weird to me. Why can’t we just be nice to people? Why can’t we just accept people for who they are? Shouldn’t a firm handshake and a nice discussion about the latest episode of Mad Men suffice for acceptance?

I was talking with a priest friend of mine the other day. We were walking in Davis Square and there was a man sitting on a ledge. He obviously didn’t have a job and may have lived in shelter. He didn’t look clean, but the father stopped talked with him for a little bit. Turns out that they were both from Waltham and somehow shared a last name from a distant relative. I’m guessing the guy was ignored for most of the day and lots of people just scoffed at him. However, he had a smile on his face after we talked. I think a tear in his eye as well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

500 Words: Laughter

Laughing is the most important thing I do every day. It keeps me grounded. It reminds me that things don't have to be so serious. It helps me comprehend things when the world doesn't make sense anymore.

People criticize Jimmy Fallon for laughing when he's acting or telling a joke. I think it's endearing. He's human and I think it shows that he gets joy out of his job. I respect people who are able to harness joy in their careers and show it. There are too many miserable people in this world. It’s the same with Click and Clack from Car Talk on NPR. I love how even after thirty or so years, those guys could just break down in laughter during every show. I think that shows you are getting joy out of your job and your life.

I took classes in standup comedy last year. That was a goal of mine for quite a while and I’m proud of myself that I was able to go onstage, even just a few times, and get a laugh. I love to make people happy and I’m glad I was able to get a few giggles out of people. I’ve really enjoyed working at ImprovBoston. I love that there are companies, organizations, and people whose purpose in the world is to make others laugh. I think that is a great gift and one that we undervalue in our society.

I just finished up another level of classes at Improv Boston and I had my 301 Improv showcase last night. I think I did very well, better than I thought I would. I told myself before the show that I would take all this stuff that I was feeling and put it out on stage. Just let it all flow out and try to make some people laugh. I think it worked and I feel a lot better today. There was one scene I really liked where I played an intern for a drug dealer. It was a bit lacking in relationship, but I think it could have gone somewhere. That’s the beauty of improv though, you do what you can with the one shot you have.

There’s a connection between pain and laughter that people don’t always acknowledge. I think it’s an underrated way of healing and dealing with pain. (I really want to watch Patch Adams again.) I love those tv shows that can navigate the water between pain and laughter. That’s why I’ve been watching a lot of Community lately. The thing I love about that show is that every character is broken or not normal in some sort of way. Jeff Winger is a disbarred lawyer. Abed is socially awkward. Troy is a recovering prom king. The character aren’t perfect. They deal with their stuff and they look to thrive and create joy in their relationships any way they can.

I’d rather laugh than be scared or angry. There is so much pain and suffering in the world. Sometimes we just need to step back and remember that there are good things and good people in this world.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

500 Words: Walking

I think that walking is the most under appreciated form of transportation. You don't have to worry about parking. You usually have plenty of personal space. And you don't have to worry about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. You can get a lot of thinking done without a metal cage on wheels surrounding you.My mind drifts a lot, and that's not usually a good thing when your driving.

In college we had a discussion group about the book Planetwalker. It was about an environmental activist who spent 22 years walking in silence, John Francis. He walked from his home in the Bay Area to I believe Washington D.C. He came and visited. One of the first things our group did was take a walk with him in silence to the Stella Maris chapel on the other side of Lake Sagatagan, in silence. The experience was unlike anything else I did in college. We just moved our feet and kept walking. We went to a friend's apartment for a nice potluck meal afterwards. The whole experience was one of the most fulfilling things I've done.

During our discussion I said that, "Five thousand cars is a traffic jam, while five thousand people walking is a movement." I believe I made that up, but I may have read the quote somewhere else. Regardless, I like that image. I think of the Civil Rights marches in sixties. I think of pilgrims on the Camino Del Santiago in Spain. Or slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad. I like the idea of controlling your movement to somewhere else.

The negative gut reaction some people to walking amazes me. A few days ago, I was heading out to the T station, which was a 15-20 minute walk. My roommate said, “Oh are you heading out? I’ll give you a ride.” I thought she meant  a ride downtown, which was fine with me, but it turns out she was just offering me a ride to the T station. I politely accepted the offer. She needed five more minutes to get ready. The car ride was maybe four minutes, and we must have spent five minutes looking for a parking spot and then a couple more minutes to get to the T from where we parked. She even said, “Oh I don’t walk to the T, ever.” I just thought, really? You’re using gas and getting stressed finding a parking spot, when you walk, you just get there.

I do walk sometimes out of impatience. I don’t like waiting more than five minutes for a bus or the T. And of course it’s much harder to walk when you are out of the city. That’s one reason I really like Boston. I could walk just about everywhere.

I think I first started to like walking when I worked at a summer camp. I was a commissioner, so my job was to go visit leaders and take care of camp sites. So, I had to walk to all of them. I loved that. It took me all morning to make my way down the road to the final campsite a half mile away. I got to stop and talk to scouts or fellow counselors along the way. And I got a chance to see wildlife whenever it poked around. All because I used my own two feet.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

500 Words: Coffee

I first started drinking coffee the summer I was a camp counselor. I worked with teenagers and little kids who were hyperactive at 7:30 in the morning. The coffee at the camp was mediocre, but it got the job done. Ever since then I haven't really cared for fancy coffees or cappicinos. I like plain, black coffee. (However, I've started to have to add a little milk to it the later I drink it.) I brought a coffee maker to my sophomore year dorm room and my roommate was never a huge fan of it. It may have been the smell. I love the smell of coffee. It's like a wake up call for your nostrils. It's more inviting than an alarm clock.

I love coffee for the way it stimulates me. It’s the only drug I abuse. It feels right to have a cup of coffee in your hand when you are getting ready for your day. I like the ritual of of making it (however precise or imprecise you make it). I like “getting a cup of coffee” with someone because it says, “I will sit here with you and value your time as long as I have a cup of coffee in my hand.” It’s one of the few rituals in our society that still requires people to be in tune with one another.

My dad taught me the trick of making the coffee the night before, so you don't have to do all the measuring and fumbling around in the morning. Purists may scoff at that, but the convience more than makes up for the perceived lack of taste. When I worked for a state park, I would set my alarm about twenty minutes before I needed to get up so I could wake up, hit the coffee machine and get out of bed later to a cup of fresh cup.

Lately, I've been working nights and drinking my coffee later. I don't really like it. It's thrown me off, but it's still a nice companion.

One of the best purchases I ever made was a coffee cup. It was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was with my roommate (the one who hated coffee) and I saw a Bruce Springsteen mug. It was something that combined my two favorite things, Springsteen and coffee. He told me that I didn’t need it, but I bought it anyway. It’s since faded pretty badly and is permanently stained a light brown, but I’ve used it almost every day for the past four years. It’s been one of the few impulse purchases that has really paid off. It’s a 12 ounce mug and I love that size. It allows me to get more caffeine quickly.  

That mug is something that I’ve held on to through everything. I remember a former roommate using it for ice cream and I freaked out. That mug was for coffee and it was mine. Other cups haven’t matched up to that one. Drinking out of my Springsteen mug is something I look forward to every morning.