#PSSA2015

I acknowledge that we live in a society based upon high-stakes, high-pressure, high-competition standardized testing. I begrudgingly accept it as well. What I won’t stand by and idly watch is the public celebrations forced upon our teachers and students lauding the special-interest, corporatist, lobby-driven, political-kabuki shit-show that is our data-driven education system.

Here in Pennsylvania, it’s PSSA time. That’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. It’s like a vacation…if vacations really sucked. Like, sucked a lot. As far as I can tell from various conversations with educators, administrators, students, and parents, apparently every minute of instructional time before these days is dedicated to ensuring a particular average score that will seal the fate of funding and educational autonomy. This endeavor is pursued to the detriment of humanities like music and art as well as exercise opportunities including physical education and recess. Fucking great idea, huh?

I walked into a school today and needed to battle my way through a wall of hanging streamers to enter the office. “That’s odd.” I thought, “Must be someone’s birthday or anniversary or baby shower,” then continued with the sign-in process. The school calendar, displayed prominently, settled my speculation. On one day, in bright excited font, was written: PSSA Pep Rally! Then, on each succeeding day that the PSSA would occur (including this very day…me sitting there slack-jawed, attempting to process what was coming into my head) there appeared smiley emoticons and rainbow acronyms as if the letters stood for: Pizza & Snacks & Soda & All-day-recess. If the teachers’ and students’ faces, demeanors, and behaviors were any indicator, that is certainly NOT what it meant. But they had a pep rally nonetheless. What the hell did that look like?! Imagine rounding up your entire family, forcing them into an echoic, crowded gym, hooking up a tinny, loud PA system, playing whatever shitty formulaic pop music is current, then chanting about your family’s genetic predisposition for heart disease. Yay! How about a hysterectomy party? We could pound a fallopian tube and uterus piñata filled with hard boiled eggs. A genocide parade. Pin the toe tag on the murdered ethnic minority. Sounds like a blast, right?! How about a sciatica celebration. Jump around. Jump around. Jump up, jump up, and get…OUCH!!! Really. A goddam PSSA pep rally. Who is actually buying-in to this? The writers and creators and hucksters of said standardized assessments and corresponding curricula? Lobbyists? Politicians with as much sense as…well, politicians? It isn’t students. It can’t be teachers. I pray it’s not administrators. Truly, what a shit-show.

And then, the entire fucking school was decorated as if high pressure standardized testing is a holiday. Hey everyone! Let’s celebrate PSShannukkA, but instead of candles, we’ll be lighting your fingers on fire for each day of emotional torture. Presents? Sure. You’ll be getting the gifts that keep on giving for a lifetime: low self-esteem, frustration, worry, anxiety, confusion, and failure. (Wait, that part kind of sounds like a real Catholic or Jewish holiday. But I digress.)

And to ensure that no teacher could escape, that no child was left behind, everyone was wearing a pseudo-motivational shirt. The logo? “With hard work there will be success. #PSSA2015.” And it was in a military font on a matte green shirt. I fucking gag each time I think about this. I envision the meeting, perhaps one person, the superintendent(?), mustering up false enthusiasm…or God forbid authentic enthusiasm. “So! We should, like, use a hashtag because, like, that’s cool, right? It’ll fit with the current atmosphere of social media. Oh, and let’s lay all of the responsibility on the students and you teachers. We thought about: Don’t be a lazy fuck…but ultimately decided on a gentler message still rife with judgment and expectation. With hard work there will be success. Whaddayathink?” (A few hands hesitatingly raise.) “Okay great. It’s unanimous then.” (“Ahem,” from the back of the room.) “And we’ll add the hashtag PSSA2015. Thanks for your input, everyone! Grab a Giant Eagle Danish on your way out.” (The crowd shuffles out, most looking down, the rest pressing buttons on phones to escape for just a minute.)

I thought about this, more than I should have, and here are a few of my t-shirt suggestions:

With hard work you’ll likely still not succeed because you’ll be anxious and emotionally overwhelmed. #PSSA2015

If we focus on #PSSA2015 as if only it matters, perhaps someone will cry or even emotionally crack. #Yay

Only good people get good scores. #PSSA2015

You’re only 10? Fuck you, take the test. #PSSA2015

Oh, and you’re 11? Stop crying, take the goddam test. #PSSA2015

If we waste any more of your life with these tests, your brain will atrophy…perhaps to the extent of an intellectual disability and then you won’t need to suffer through the eventual realization that we did this to you. #PSSA2015

(That last one might not fit on the shirt.)

I need someone to make me understand, to convince me that all of this is a good idea…that it is NOT a bad idea. Just one person, with an independent brain and the ability to self-generate thought and solve problems. Not a ditto head. If we were sitting over drinks at happy hour and I was being entirely honest, and if you asked me, “Where would you start, Greg?” I’d set my base position at this: I would abolish all standardized tests except for those employed for pure peer-reviewed research purposes. All of them. The history and reality of how we’ve used and, indeed, still use these tests indicates that we don’t know how to use them. And not only that, we use them incorrectly and to the detriment of society. Like a child who not only can’t share his baseball bat, but also bashes anyone over the head who even looks at it, and rightfully loses said bat…we need to lose our standardized tests. (And we shouldn’t get the damn things back until we learn about them…how to administer, score, and interpret them; what they tell us and how we should disseminate that information; for what purposes are they indicated and, conversely, contra-indicated; and why we even need or want them in the first place.)

Help me here, because this has been a challenging year as a speech/language pathologist (SLP), as an instructor of aspiring teachers at Duquesne University, as the husband of a school-based SLP, as the step-father of a middle-school student, as a tax payer, and as a citizen. It’s getting very, very hard to not gnash my teeth, scream, cry, and throw shit. (Literally, like a monkey. Throw…shit.) So I write jokes, and I laugh…but just as the tears of a clown are poignant and heartbreaking, so is the sarcastic laughter of an armchair sociologist.

Why do I call this endeavor, “Driven to Drink,” you ask?

This shit is assuredly part of the answer.

-G

PSSA_large

(Dude, I’m totally down with *this* PSSA.)

Enjoy the Silence

Between 1992 and 1998 I spent weeks, perhaps months, collectively, bathed in Bengay-scented fog and the smoke from burning cloves, moodily hopping about stacks of speakers and black-clad emo-brethren, drinking quarter or even nickel drafts out of tiny plastic cups, the amplified sounds of the often-depressed and predominantly-British 1980’s causing hearing loss from which I’d never fully recover. Like the occasional flashbacks and visual trails of a now forty-something high-school LSD enthusiast, tinnitus frequently overwhelms me like a tsunami of underwater tests of the emergency broadcasting system. (Remember, this is only a test.) I still contend it was all worth the occasional bouts of dizziness and ghost tones.

Last week, I got beer (…not Natty Light, though that would’ve really set the mood and emulated the era…), set up the recorder, turned up the stereo and tuned-in to the Depeche Mode Pandora station. “Reach out and touch faith-faith-faith-faith…,” and my own Personal Jesus ushered me back to the days of The Upstage, The Beehive, and before all that a hole-in-the-wall on Atwood Street I only remember as, “The Biz.” (Anybody? I’d love to remember the name of that place.) Through all of these iterations of “80’s Night.” and indeed up through today at Belvedere’s Ultra-Dive in Larryville, D.J. EZ Lou was our shaman.

(UPDATE 1: Because of the work of one Jebediah Farnsworth von Luck [not his real name] and his esteemed colleague, Walter Brainsworthy [also an alias], I can here state that “The Biz” was formally known as: Babylon.)

(UPDATE 2: An interaction of great amusement and mirth occurred as the friend of said Mr. Farnsworth von Luck added the following. I quote Mr. Brainsworthy directly because…well, just read: Babylon. The metaphorical embodiment of extravagance, grandeur, materialism, and unbridled power. The absurdly lofty and delusional use of Babylon as the bar’s name was a colossal blunder when compared to the physical reality of that South Oakland joint. Greg, you and your pals were completely righteous in renaming it “The Biz”. Here’s a link to a recent Google Street View image of the storefront. My eyes aren’t quite resolving one of the Ancient Wonders of the World – heh heh. [And in a separate message] Sorry, but I just realized that the current business signage says Hunan Chinese & Cuban Cuisine. This has to be a front right? Mao and Castro would be proud. Good stuff, huh? Okay then, back to your regularly scheduled programming…already in progress.)

The brews obtained for this trip down memory lane, as I alluded, were a distinct upgrade. I drank Arcadia barrel-aged Shipwreck Porter and Trappiste Rochefort 8 and 10. Jen drank He’Brew Hop Manna. But the music? The music was precisely the same as it ever was. (Same as it ever was.) And the hits just fucking kept coming!

Each time we record, I have a general plan but really Jen ends up being the star of the show with her ability to scan the internet for related topics and brilliant bits. Hearing me mention EZ-Lou, she asked, “Is that really his name?!” (Indeed it is, he’s Lou Ortego on Facebook. Still smiling. Still spinning.) From here she found a D.J. name generator, and as Steve Perry began, “Just a small town girl…,” she dubbed me: DJ Mumford and Discharge and herself: DJ Big Gay Blue Balls. Another friend’s DJ name would be: DJ Big Gay Dick Whiskers. (Go ahead, try to say, “Big Gay Dick Whiskers” five times fast. Really. It’s hilarious.)

She also found a list of the 25 worst DJ names in America. My two favorite, by far: DJ Osteoperosis and DJ Scratchatory Rape. (You can search these guys on social media. Scratchatory Rape is from Boston. His twitter profile picture shows him, the centerpiece of a group of pure dudes, double fisting bottles of Bud Lite, sporting a green shirt that proclaims, IRELAND, and wearing his headphones with the connectors down over his eyes like futuristic sunglasses. A caption in the picture states: The Banshee. His forearms are quite vascular. It all seems to fit. DJ Osteoporosis seems to collaborate often with DJ Penetration. Irony? )

Next up on Pandora? A-ha, “Take On Me,” and I was reminded of the Beehive 80’s nights. (We preferred “The Sun Always Shines On TV” to “Take On Me,” but both are stellar.) The dance floor was a former movie theater. Think about that. You enter from approximately 8-10 feet above where EZ-Lou was spinning down on the stage, and you walk gradually down to him. Hundreds of drunk, melancholic emo-youth dancing on a 3% decline…with steps and aisles exactly where you might be stepping during, “Groove Is In the Heart,” broken hearts and ankles strewn about the black-light back-lit atmosphere…the persistent, “shhhhhhhhhhh” of that menthol smoke machine bathing us in ambiguous and mildly depressing fog.

Then came, “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and I was transported straight back to a fateful recording session with the collegiate a cappella group in which I sang. Dearest old-school…hell, original-school Pitt Pendulums, I’m sincerely sorry for ruining the entire rest of the recording, an entire CD, because I couldn’t find the note, “…but it’s a problem I find…find…FUCK…problem I find…It’s no problem of mine, but it’s a problem I find, FUCK…,” across approximately 35 takes. Vocal percussionists suffering dehydration, sopranos with vocal cord exhaustion, bored altos ready to throttle me, and all the while I simply couldn’t…FIND…the simple note. The whole experience made me hate the song for many, many years. Today I love it again, but that first verse brings me vestigial guilt and phantom embarrassment. Living a life that I can’t leave behind. (How appropriate, that?!)

And then, perhaps it was after those first few synth runs in Chaka Kahn and Rufus’ “Ain’t Nobody,” we arrived at one of the most interesting, out-of-character events of my life. I mentioned the club Rosebud, the times we went to see House of Soul. Jen asked, “Is that where you danced with unitard girl?” Only two people I knew witnessed this. It was Dan and Tricia. And then there was my solid gold dancer for the night. A tall, bleached-and-feathered blonde, high heels and a full-body silver sequined unitard. I shit you not. We locked eyes at some point, and I spent the evening buried in her bosoms and hair. The entire fucking evening. “Did you seal the deal, Del Duca?” What fucking deal?! I was a poor college student without a driver’s license or car, large glasses and a Dago-fro, likely one too many squirts of Drakkar Noir staining my rayon shirt. New Balance sneakers squeaking on the floor. “So how did it all end?” I walked away, stunned. I don’t even think Dan or Tricia mentioned it to me. Like ignoring a monumental fart, or not mentioning a brown stain on a grown man’s trousers, or acting like all of the portraits of dead puppies in a date’s house is not alarming. It was obvious what happened. But we all lifted our perceptual carpets and kicked the detritus of that shit-show right under. Obviously it lingers still, particularly when I hear live funk or soul from the 80’s. (Truth be told, I kept that night in the old spank-bank for years after the fact.)

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(This is entirely closer to the reality of that night than I care to admit.)

I think about the speaker-dancer, the bow-hunter, same-tired-move, poor man’s Billy Joel, Sam the Eagle, and the array of characters I encountered during all of those years following EZ Lou with Meesch and Rich and the rest of the crew. And Lou? When Jen found his image she backed up off of it. “He’s old.” He is. The year 1980 was 35 years ago. He must’ve been well into his 20’s, perhaps 30’s, even then. Oldies stations are now playing 80’s music. Robert Smith looks like a fat old witch. A Filipino karaoke singer is fronting Journey. And Axl Rose has become a bloated confederate cowboy pimp. But fuck it, right?

Every time I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray. And then press your Life Alert button.

We present to you, “Enjoy the Silence.”

IMAG0075
(You have to believe we are magic.)

Got My Hipster Vibe On Fleek

Pittsburgh has become ground zero for the Hipster-verse. Portland is entirely too self-important and authentically hip, thank you very much Fred Armisen. Seattle is the home of Starbucks, so fuck that. But here in Pittsburgh, the tens of thousands of self-employed, earnest…but not so earnest so as to appear earnest, coffee-roasting, latte-art-perfecting, poetry-slamming, 80’s-emo-karaoke-singing, craft-brewing, yinzer-embracing youngsters are now running the city.

What is “hipster?”

It would seem the entire hipster ethic is to so deliberately appear as though you don’t give a shit about the mainstream that you prove how much you give a shit about the mainstream, to study the current trends of nonconformity so deliberately that you become a card-carrying conformist, to ultimately become a contradiction to your own contradiction, thus achieving hipster nirvana.

Hipster necessities ‘round these parts include:

Tattoos…well-done but not overly artistically rendered. I call it: On-purpose not-awesome.

Meticulously maintained haircuts that involve wildly disparate elements (e.g. thick mutton chops with a bald head, shaved-in part with high and tight on the sides but 6 inches of unwashed bird’s nest on top).

Chunky framed glasses. Like cartoony big. Will Ferrell as Harry Cary big. Fucking Big. These are the glasses often employed in ugly-duckling-becomes-stunning-debutant movies. How can you possibly make Anne Hathaway look like a homely beggar? Well, you start with the hipster eye boutique.

Skinny pants, rolled up at the bottom. No socks. The calves and ankles are often exceptionally toned given all the bike riding.

A bike. You simply cannot be a hipster without one. And not just a bike…but also TGIF-level bike-loving flair including: stickers, patches, non-for-profit posters, backpacks, helmets, gloves, and tattoos. Tattoos likely rendered by said hipster. Or some other hipster bike enthusiast.

T-shirt that appears dirty and disheveled but likely cost $50 at a vintage boutique swarming with women wearing 80’s style jeans high and tight and over-sized shirts low and loose.

Anachronistic facial hair. You say Cary Grant sported that moustache. Well fuck yes I’d like it. The Count of Monte Cristo had mutton chops. Gimme gimme. Dig that Amish chin strap? It’s yours.

Androgynous affect and aesthetic. Gender? Meh. Are you gay or straight? Perhaps. You like David Bowie? Lou Reed? Like Gods.

Winter caps in summer. I don’t fucking get this one. Are you making yourself sweaty, pimply, and uncomfortable on purpose? Do you think it’s necessary to cover the $35 shaved-in part and pomade-infused coiffeur to prove some contrary point? (I see more and more low-fidelity mesh baseball caps, and these I can get behind, as can, I imagine, the Hipstertuden.)

Vaping, or rolling one’s own cigarettes. Or both. I’m the contemporary Scrooge of vape pens. “If I could work my will,” said Del Scrooge indignantly, “Every idiot who goes about with a vape pen on his lips, should be boiled with his own pomade, and buried with a stake of organic heirloom carrots through his heart, bare ass poking out of the ground into which we might implant said vaping implement. He should!”  Hell, maybe we can park our bikes in the crack.  Creative reuse, am I right…or am I right?  Right?!

Toms. These fucking shoes seem to capture the entire movement perfectly. Hey, purchase this pair of expensive shoes that looks like blind Somali children put them together with found cloth, old tires, and no sense of style or even foot shape. And then we’ll give a pair to someone actually starving in Somalia each time you buy a pair. So they can eat the shoes. I guess.

Apple products. Somehow Apple has figured out, and I applaud them, how to appeal to hipsters and their apparent enemies, those who are mainstream and traditionally popular: jocks, sorority/fraternity types, preps, and the truly serious corporate and capitalistic mainstream. To be seen with an Apple product is apparently to appear cool. Apple allows its users to stare down at people not using the product. They are sexy as hell. Slick. Unfortunately, all hipsters seem to be doing with their Apple products is streaming shitty music and scouring the internet for anything anachronistic or vintage.

Look, I have a parted haircut, use pomade, have grown a righteous beard, and give tours at the local whiskey distillery. I really like The Decemberists and appreciate low-fidelity, unprocessed music and cool, vintage shit. I got my hipster vibe on fleek. None of this is lost on me, and I love many individual hipsters. But like with many categories, once the individuals amass in a group, things get a little squirrelly for me. The group ethos is a bit too much, though I still want to fit in. I want to be liked. And this is where I appreciate and perhaps am a bit jealous of the contemporary hipster…to act like one doesn’t give a shit, even if it is a public artistic display, is what I ultimately seek. I truly wish I didn’t care what you thought, and hipsters seem to be there. So for as much as I judge and point, when I look in the mirror and stare deep into my own eyes, I know who that judgement truly scars.

But Jesus do I hate fucking Toms.

-G

look at this fucking hipster

(Look at this fucking hipster. Oh, and please check out “Look at this fucking hipster,” here. As we say in the ‘burgh, “It’s rull funny.”)

Shame Eating Aftermath

We saw Maron Friday night (4/17). Before the show we drank at Voodoo Homestead, our new favorite beer and brewery, and we had food from the Berlin Street Food cart. The sandwiches were sublime.

The venue was within walking distance from the brewery and the evening was warm and sunny. The smell of food in the air, the sounds of children playing basketball, the volunteer firefighters cleaning their trucks and laughing at private jokes…a perfect community vibe.

Maron walked on-stage at about 8:20, and he was outstanding. All the things I expected, and more…hilarious, honest, relaxed, in-control. He moved through stories, jokes, call-backs, spot-on improvisational choices, impersonations, and he did it all with perfect…Maronness. He’s on my Mt. Rushmore of comics and podcasters (…that’s two separate monuments, for those keeping track…), and I was on cloud 9 for like 75 minutes. Really, he went for that long…and he was on fire the entire time.

On the walk back to the car, Jen and I both claimed, nearly simultaneously, “I’m hungry.” I thought about IHOP, but that place is a nightmare always. It’s typically packed with people, and even when it isn’t the service is several ticks below a McDonald’s drive-through at 2 a.m. on a Friday night in a college town, near the bars.

“We have food at home,” Jen said. So we drove home. She went to bed. I shoveled processed, packaged, sugar and corn-syrup laden “food” into my face. I dragged my ass to bed, a sense of forboding slowing me with each step. I woke in the morning feeling just as sad and gastro-intestinally unsettled as I’d predicted.

Here’s my Facebook post from the morning:

Open the garbage can to toss out a tissue. The detritus of last night’s food ravaging staring me in the face, imploring me to remember each bite. Shame cascading over me like so many salty chips, peanut butter eggs, Oreos, and nondescript shitty Easter chocolate. “Can I get an Amen from the choir?! Bite Jesus’ head off for your salvation.” (Or perhaps damnation.) Only one word suffices. Fuck. Post it on Facebook, get on with my day. Today, not yesterday, is my cheat day. Still is. Don’t judge. Maron was funny, though. Ended his 75 minute set with a shame eating bit. So I honored him. Though, the comedy is not here for me. Yet. Reeses eggs are not meant to be eaten by the handful. I’ll pay. Today I’ll pay. Both emotionally and gastointestinally.

I had to give tours that morning, at the Wigle Whiskey strip-district distillery. I recorded myself as I made the commute into the city. Today, only I, Gregory, present to you our first mini-episode, “Shame Eating Aftermath.”

Reeses-Milk-Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Egg sample

(Peanut-butter and chocolate flavored corn-syrup solids. Yay!)

Gone

Dear Dave,

Through alphabetic providence, we, perhaps the only two white kids deeply and completely connected to hip hop and hip hop culture in Glenshaw in the late 1980s, became locker partners in ninth grade. 1988. The year I moved from Connecticut to Pittsburgh, an exceptionally awkward teen terrified of not fitting in yet knowing that I wouldn’t fit in and not wanting to be a popular douchebag but ultimately giving too much of a shit and really pissed off about the whole internal struggle. Del Duca. Dengler. Both of us with overalls, Public Enemy gear, ball caps and sneakers that, whenever possible, matched the caps, and thick, perhaps not entirely unintended white-boy afros. Both of us working 20 hours per week to buy the shit we loved because we came from families without money. Both of us honors students and smartasses who didn’t quite fit in with the preppy Glenshaw overly-earnest-pseudo-poetic-pop-leaning (…fuck Michael Stipe…) honors-student vibe. You were among my earliest friends and have been one of my longest-standing friends. You hooked me up with free Arby’s and Pizza Hut and you drove my no-license-having ass all around Pittsburgh when I wasn’t bussing it. You blasted EPMD, Eric B. and Rakim, Marly Marl, Biz Markie, and the Beastie Boys. You accepted me and you endeared yourself to my Mom. You were my boy. Almost all of my memories of you from the 90s involve boisterous laughter, hip hop, and happiness.

We commuted to Pitt. We hung out in the William Pitt Union and played too many games of ping pong across our Freshman year. We wagered sodas and lunches and we purchased our own paddles. We became fucking ping pong nerds. And why not?! Things changed the following year. I asked you to be my roommate in our shitty, roach-infested, slum-lord-managed apartment on Bates Street. Stone also played ping pong with us, and I worked with Rich. They shared a room, and we shared a room, and the roaches took up residence with Scobes and Cordes across the hall.

You were a shitty, shitty roommate. Inconsiderate and seemingly clueless. You pissed me off somewhere in the vicinity of all the time. You have no idea how close you were to having your ass beaten by one or all of us across hundreds of occasions. I once cleaned the dirty toilet…the one you just left unflushed, post burrito, and with some piece of metal stuck in the bowl…with your bath towel. You drank directly from the 2 liter bottle like that’s how the world worked, so I backwashed into that like a mother fucker behind your back. (I’m not proud, just being honest.) I used to turn on the hot water when you showered to fuck with you. We laughed our asses off each time you made that silly little sound when the water pressure and temperature dropped. And we talked about you fiercely behind your back. I came to really dislike you…and I bailed right the fuck out of another year in the apartment. That distance was the key. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. This proved true for us.

You came to my a cappella shows religiously…you were my biggest and most consistent fan. We hung, we ate, we shared music, and things shifted largely back to normal. I was in your wedding, and we participated in friends’ weddings together. Your laugh remained boisterous…the kind of laugh that turned heads. I’m glad you never gave a fuck about all that. When you laughed, you laughed with your entire body and soul. And when you showed up, you were really there. You weren’t preoccupied nor were you fake. You were present. Not many people on this planet are present. Like ever. You were. That’s a fucking fact, Jack.

And now all you are is gone. (You loved that song, too.)

I saw you last at a fantastic party for our close friend. Before that, my family and I ran into you at Pamela’s in Millvale and we all whooped it up for like a half hour. You showed me your new Jeep. It was a dream vehicle for both you and Dawson. Each time I ran into you it was a little reunion, a celebration, an event. Mad Mex. My 40th birthday party; you, Jen, and I all wore denim bib overalls. I had my Tribe Called Quest shirt on. (You were one of the few that truly understood the significance of Tribe.) The Pig Bar; you dressed as Billy May for the Halloween S.G. Project. That De La Soul show at Mr. Smalls. It was the night that Bush was elected to his second term. The crowd there sucked. We both thought that De La would never come back to Pittsburgh given the lack of enthusiasm weighing down the place. But we fucking jammed that night. It was as if we were right back in high school…and we were listening to “Me, Myself, and I” for the very first time. Minds blown.

I marveled at your interactions with Dawson, David. You were a loving, caring, generous, present (…ever fucking present, man…that was your gift…), guiding Father. You got me completely back when I saw you in that role. All else forgotten, swept under the carpet of too-many-years-ago and too-few-days-left-to-hang-on-to-bullshit. Too goddam few days left. How could we have known how few?

Dude, I miss you. Life is precious and precarious. I’ll not forget that again. I won’t. I promise I won’t. I’ll find a way to remind myself. You will be remembered. You were loved. You made an impact and you made a difference, and you spread a whole lotta love, laughter, and joy. That’s all we can hope for as humans.

I’m numb, man.

It’s never really too late. Until it is.

It is.

G

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(Mike D., Prof D., & Greg D. Photo by Joose.)

No Gays Pizza, In Stereo

On today’s episode of the D2D Pod, Greg makes himself a “Union Smoke and Maple Punch,” incorporating Wigle Smoked Whiskey (…with grains smoked on the Union Pig and Chicken smoker…), Lapsang Souchong tea and pumpkin rooibus, lemon juice, and maple syrup; while Jen enjoys a nice lemon cayenne cleanse probiotic drink. (One is fun, one is healthy.) Kate, the dog, finds the smell of cayenne immediately aversive, thus finally proving that she will not eat anything. (Though she will happily eat litter encrusted cat shit, among other mammalian fecal delicacies.) Greg apparently identifies with Norman Bates’ awkwardness and inability to understand girls, though not his predilection toward murderous fugue states. Jen mentions an Indiana pizza shop, social medial backlash, a homophobic Kickstarter, and the fact that no self-respecting gay couple (…or straight couple for that matter…) would ever have a wedding catered by a pizza shop anyway. Greg follows up the discussion from, “Our First Inclusion Excursion” with an update on C-Man, and reminds himself to always set expectation ceilings high.

We humbly present to you, “No Gays Pizza, In Stereo.”

Union Smoke & Maple

(Union Smoke and Maple Punch, Chimay goblet, Roundabout Brewery torpedo growler.)

Piece of Clay

Today, I received a message from the Mom of a beautiful, amazing young man (…I’ll call him George…) for whom I worked for many years but with whom I’ve not communicated for several. This young man, who was and is a stutterer, also has several siblings, one of whom (…I’ll call him Sheldon…) likely had been contending with some social-pragmatic communication disorder. The Mom had been brow-beaten, I believe, by friends and family members, to get this older child tested and diagnosed with, likely, Asperger’s Syndrome or some form of higher functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. She never felt comfortable moving in that direction, therapizing and pathologizing her son’s behaviors and personality. Ultimately, I spent some time counseling Sheldon in addition to my speech and fluency therapy with George. Anyway, Mom wrote to me. The message brought a warmth to my belly, and as I read through the paragraphs the warmth spread upward and outward, and it ultimately exited my body in the form of pure love energy. And tears. Here is the message:

Dear Gregory,

I hope you and your family are doing well! Somehow, I got to perusing our many past email conversations about George (and Sheldon!) and stumbled on this from me to you:

On a positive note, George’s fluency is relatively good this week! It is just mind boggling to me that sometimes he speaks COMPLETELY fluently and then goes back to rather disturbing dysfluency with no outward sign that he is aware of either! I’m sorry to appear so negative. I’m actually quite astonished at the progress that he has made and am VERY aware of how far he has come. I simply don’t have anyone else to talk about it with. I try to be much more upbeat about the progress with everyone else! Here’s my dream, that by the time he is ready to leave my school and enter middle school, that he has gotten his speech acceptably under control; i.e. no secondary behaviors, no huge stumbling blocks, just limited mid-sentence stuttering…. That would be amazing…

So now George is actually in middle school. Did my dream come true? Well…… His tongue-flipping behavior is still massively and unfortunately omni-present. He still stutters pretty consistently. However, he continues to think he is the cat’s meow. He’s got tons of friends. He’s rockin’ it on the cross-country and soccer teams. He’s acing his classes at school. The girls love him, something he pretends to ignore. He is obsessed with Magic the Gathering and goes to a public forum for open play every week, talking to and making friends with total strangers. He is taller than I am. He is a pretty happy 13 year old, speech be damned.

And Sheldon? He is a freshman at university and literally glowing with his new-found independence. He joined a band and plays snare drum, where he met his girlfriend! His girlfriend! OMG! She plays drums and violin and is an engineering major and he seems so happy! He is also acting his classes. He is majoring in Chemical Eng. He volunteers for service work in the city totally of his own volition. He signs up and shows up and is completely making it. He keeps in touch with his high school buddies and is the social center of the group, inviting them all over to our house during breaks.

And for good measure, their sister is consistently winning “best attorney” in all her mock trial debates. She acted in a public production and became stage manager and sound tech for the rest of the season. She has a lovely boyfriend. They are great for each other, matched well academically and artistically and temperamentally. She is also succeeding at school and is college hunting.

Really, all is good and I wanted to share! Thank you so much for helping them along the way!

Yours,
Mom

After I made it through the tears, and read the note several times, a line from perhaps my favorite song of all time came immediately to mind. The song is, “Piece of Clay,” by Marvin Gaye. I’ll leave a link here, and I encourage you to listen to the song as you read the lyrics:

Father stop criticizing your son.
Mother please leave your daughters alone.
Don’t you see that’s what wrong with the world today.
Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay

We all talk of kindness but it’s only a word, truly.
Brother turn on a sister in this cruel, cruel world.
That’s what’s wrong with all in this world today.
Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.

Everybody wants somebody to play with.
They want to mold you, shape you like they want to, want you to do their thing.

Children are told to give not just to take.
If we were all children, you know the world would be a better place.
Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.

We should all love each other.
Love, not hate, one another.
We should all love each other.
Love, not hate.

Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.
Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay, truly.
Everybody wants somebody to mold, to shape them their own way.
Everybody wants somebody to try to make them do their thing.
Everybody want to take somebody to try to make them like their self.
Everybody want somebody to be their own piece of clay.

See…I’ve often encountered massive doubts and discomfort in my professional endeavors. I never understood why I often reached a point of feeling depressed and useless, restless and overwhelmed. Recently, I’ve begun to understand. I never entered the field of speech/language pathology to “fix” people. If I look back, and indeed if I just read my entrance essay to the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate school of Communication: Science and Disorders, the answer is right there. I entered this field to provide children and families with unconditional positive regard. That’s love. (I was on a psychology and counseling kick and began borrowing the language of certain counseling pioneers as well as Buddhist teachers. “Unconditional positive regard” was one of those phrases that I adored and ultimately overused.) I entered to build people up, help them understand their value and strengths and find confidence. I entered to change society, to facilitate communities of inclusion. You belong here. It’s right there in the essay. (I’ll spare you that gem from a young Emo-Hippy Greg, but understand that these larger thoughts were bouncing around my skull very early in the process. Unconsolidated, for sure. Nebulous. I couldn’t quite grasp them. But they’re evident even in my horrid pseudo-poetry and essays of the early 90’s.) I never entered to fix. And it turns out…I don’t view humans as broken. Or bad. (Except myself, but I’m even getting a handle on that…as you have seen across my previous posts.) Both George and his brother Sheldon were shining examples of this, and the fact that Mom and Dad allowed both boys to be and become what they were and would become…is really, and tragically, exceptional. I remember George in preschool, with speech that was significantly unintelligible given both a severe stuttering disorder and speech sound disorder. However, the children flocked to him. He became a de facto leader. He was beautiful, and bright, and brought joy, and he was smart and creative…and they adored him. Indeed, at small groups, other children would become less fluent almost in solidarity with George. It was totally unconscious. I swear. There was no teasing, no poking…they just loved and connected with him so strongly that they began to stutter a bit more around him. They wanted to be more like him. I wanted to be more like him. (If we were all children, you know the world would be a better place. Truly.)

And those times I felt lost, depressed, and useless? Well, those were the times I became caught up in systems, in seeing entirely too many children per day or week, and trying to fix them. I’ve always felt at least mildly unwelcomed and unalike at professional conferences, and I think it relates to this very thing. My goal has always been the relationship. I’ve always felt most helpful and satisfied when the individuals around me are happy, joyous, communicating, playing, having fun, relaxing, feeling welcomed and safe. My own anxiety, worry, and depression are alleviated when those around me are calm, happy, stable, and safe. (Perhaps I do what I do for selfish reasons? But then, is that a bad thing?) Generally, the process of programming and structuring and therapizing and pathologizing serves to increase anxiety, decrease motivation and attention, block relationship-building, and is amost always a full-on bummer. Now, I don’t think the two (cognitive/motor therapy and psychological/emotional healing) are mutually exclusive. Indeed, the best clinicians out there capture the two perfectly. But perhaps…I’m just less and less interested in the first. (Father stop criticizing your son. Mother please leave your daughters alone.) Also, I’ve noticed that people become better (…encompassing both cognitive/language/social aspects AND mental health/emotional functioning…) when I focus on the former.

Another poem, and song, resonates strongly here. “On Children,” by Khalil Gibran, from the book, “The Prophet.” (I recommend reading “The Prophet.” I can trace my spiritual quest for Truth and joy to this book. This, along with, “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” by Thich Nhat Hanh.) Sweet Honey In the Rock do a powerful a cappella version. I’ll link the song here, and again I encourage you to listen while you read:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I wonder where this is all leading. I look forward to it. What a gift I’ve been given at the age of 40. It’s like a rebirth in many ways. The deeper I dig, the more I understand. The more I understand, the happier I get. Dig?

No such thing as spare time.
No such thing as free time.
No such thing as down time.
All you got is life time, go.
Time to shine.

(That’s Henry Rollins. Shine. Check him out as well.)

-G

Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach

(Holocaust Memorial, Miami Beach. Powerful and sobering.)

Voodoo Brew Crew, In Stereo!!

On today’s episode of the D2D Pod, Greg and Jen use an old-school Zoom h4…and just like the even earlier days of stereo recording, Greg is full-on left speaker…though somehow Jen manages to get her voice across both sides. (Warning: We feel this recording is perhaps best enjoyed in a car or over speakers rather than headphones. It can become a bit disconcerting to have Greg all up in your left hemisphere. But hey, maybe you’ll like that sort of thing!)

G&J discuss “The Music Man Junior,” inclusion with C-Man (…this is a follow-up to the discussion in “Our First Inclusion Excursion,” which recently premiered on LibSyn and iTunes…), coffee withdrawal and the benefits of weaning, and the pure bliss that is Voodoo Brewery.

The conversation also veers back to the MeUndies session, Jebediah Farnsworth’s neck beard and whistling, Jubes McGillicuddy’s clapping, and Sid Sinclair’s undeniable charm and energy. Stay tuned, more (…outtakes, alternate versions of the jingle, and plenty of Sid Sinclair’s desperate adoration of Jubes’ beautiful instrument…) will be coming from that evening of debauchery I now fondly refer to as, “The Shit Show.”

We present to you, “Voodoo Brew Crew, In Stereo!!”

GaffiganVoodoo

(Jim Gaffigan, the “pale male” apparently loved Voodoo’s pale ale.)

Six Undeniably Simple Things You Can Do To Be Happier Today & Healthier Tomorrow

It is likely that you’ve read, scanned, or relegated to the trash-bin hundreds, if not thousands, of messages like this. However, I’d like you to take several minutes to move through this one.

Why?

One, there is levity herein. I find that many “self-help” posts, and self-help advocates/writers/speakers, take themselves entirely too seriously. I’m certain that neither they nor I have THE answer, so we might as well laugh. Mind you, I take my well-being as seriously as it deserves, but humor is as essential to my life as is water and air.

Two, when I write “undeniably simple,” I mean it. I find that most messages in this family are not. They claim simple, they assert easy…but they neglect the fact that the process of recalibrating our brains, our habits, our addictions, and our priorities is as close to possible, let alone probable, as is the likelihood of Kanye West hitting an intended note without auto-tune.

I am not going to bog myself or you down with copious footnotes, references, and research. But rest assured…or don’t rest, you can easily do web-based research on any assertion I make…if you engage in even one of these suggestions, you will improve your well-being. Also, the more of these things in which you engage, the more improved will be your health and happiness. Additionally, these things can, likely will cause you to live longer and have an improved quality of life through those extra days, months, or even years. This I promise. (That and a couple of bucks will get you a cheap cup of coffee.)

——————–

1. Smile

In the early 90’s, on college campuses, Hare Krishnas still roamed freely. I used to laugh at them. They were generally white people who had shaved off their dreadlocks, continued to not use deodorant, and dedicated their lives to playing percussion poorly, singing “Hare Krishna” with negligible musicality (Kanye?!), and being perpetually pleasant while smelling unusually unpleasant. (I guess the combination of vegan burritos, herbal tea, weed, and incense could not overcome limited bathing.) I was considerably less enlightened then. I understand something now. The theory that if one simply practices unfettered joy, chants “praise Krishna” (…or Jesus, or Jeep Wrangler, or whatever in the world you worship…), and smiles from one’s soul that one can become authentically happy is…well, empirically valid. Really. If you just practice smiling, greeting people you meet with joy…you can literally change your brain chemistry and become a happier person. A happier person is a less anxious person. And less anxious people live longer with a better quality of life to boot. So…if you just put a little effort, even if your default brain chemistry and attitude want to drag you back to negativity, into smiling…you can make yourself happier. When you smile, regardless of the social benefit, just the neuro-muscular process of smiling releases brain chemicals that promote well-being and happiness. I’ll repeat. You can make yourself happy by just practicing smiling. (If you feel self-conscious or worry about appearing to be cuckoo crazy to the world, just do it indiscriminately, in private moments, or go with the half-smile, or whatever.) The key is to break the myth of unidirectionality. Most of us believe that when we’re happy we smile. We neglect to practice the scientific fact that when we smile we become happy. Dig that, you dirty hippies and Caucasian Hindus.

2. Pay closer attention to people around whom you feel happy

You need no gratitude journal. You need no mentor. You need no medicine. (Not yet, at least.) No meditation. You need only pay attention to the way you feel. Specifically, the way you feel around the people with whom you spend more than just fleeting time. And furthermore, I want you only to focus on the people with whom you feel the happiest, the freest to be you, the most comfortable and relaxed. With whom do you feel most “at home” in this world? Now, you don’t even need (yet) to explore the answer to “Why?” or “How?” Nope. Just figure out who makes you feel the best, and spend more time with him/her/them. Also communicate with these people when they’re not around. Text. Email. Facebook. Etcetera. Happy people attract AND beget happy people.

3. Pay closer attention to the contexts in which you feel happy

With what activities, places, events, or things do you feel light as a feather, like the rest of the world is non-existent, completely connected and relaxed and happy? For me, a nice, easy, non-race 3-5 mile run is one of those things. Listening to the music of my youth is another. Writing these essays, yet another. Hanging with my favorite podcasts, for certain. A few others: watching Vince Gilligan produced television, reading fiction, drinking a wee dram of whiskey, showering, sleeping (…more to come on that below…), and anything that makes me laugh. You like videos of cooing babies? Watch the heck out of them. You dig on Chaka Kahn? Well, ain’t nobody does it better than her! When I’m in the midst of MY things I am fully present and completely happy. I find ways to do these things whenever I can. Furthermore, as I’ve attended to this endeavor, my list of things that make me feel happy has grown and thus I’m doing things that makes me happy more often. It’s a positive feedback loop. Again, happy attracts and begets happy. It’s like a snowball full of pure bliss rolling down a hill of powdery awesomeness and colliding with your body like a tsunami of “Aww yeah!”

4. Sleep

There is no question that if you sleep more you will be more alert, healthier, and happier. I’m not sure I can expand that further. It is that simple. If you typically go to bed at midnight and wake at 5, try going to bed at 11:45 for a week, then shift it to 11:30, and so on. The goal is 8-9 hours straight through, but for our purposes, fuhgeddaboutit. A journey of even 10 feet begins with one step and can only proceed one additional step at a time. Don’t worry about where you’re not. Hell, don’t worry about where you’re at. Just add 10 – 15 minutes at a time, per week, per month, whatever is doable for you.

5. Hydrate

You need more water than you are currently drinking, so drink more of it whenever you can. If you can ingest it without the addition of carbonation, sugar, and/or caffeine, all the better. However, I’m just talking about hydration. My university choir director gave me the best advice for knowing if I’m properly hydrated, and I’ll share it with you. After you pee and before flushing, look in the toilet. If your pee is clear or nearly clear and if you can’t really smell anything (…unless you recently ate asparagus…), you are well hydrated. The yellower and more pungent your pee, the less hydrated you are. Keep it clear, dear.

6. Walk outside

Walking outside gets you two things that will immediately make you happier, exercise and sunlight. The more exercise and sunlight you have in your life, the happier and healthier that life will be. Full stop. (Thanks Captain Repetition.) You’re welcome. You have a dog? Walk that em effer as much as you can. (Shoot…sun, exercise, and a loyal pet is the trifecta of non-chemically-enhanced bliss.) You have a husband, wifey, significant other? Drag his or her tukus along, with the dog. Make it a quadfecta, if that’s even a thing. Find some cooing babies, carry water, take a nap mid-walk, make fun of Kanye West…and drop that atomic happy bomb right on your cranium. Boom! A mushroom cloud of vitality rises above your head, showering you in unbreakable, unadulterated, undeniable HAPPY.

——————–

See…easy right? You can do this, and it will make a difference. Hit me back in a few weeks or a month and let me know how it goes.

-G

Happy

What Does the Fox Fur Say? (Norris: Part 2)

On today’s D2D pod we conclude our time with Tricia and an effing fox fur coat. (See that? We don’t always curse outright!) Greg tells a Kenyan camping-safari story in which a man-eating lion dies and Greg laments the encroachment and selfishness of humans…as he tries to remain calm and uncritical in the presence of the previously mentioned fur. Greg is surprised to find out that women use Nair on the Pink Panther, and we all learn that the second ingredient in Nair is “urea.” That’s mammalian urine. (Piss. Yellow gold. Texas tea.) Additionally, the bottle claims, preposterously in both the conventional sense and also functional use given the fact that humans continue to use this product to cause hair to literally fall out, “Not Tested on Animals.” We learn that Tricia knows all there is to know about chicken excrement (…as well as whichever industrial animal’s urine was used in her bottle of Nair…) and, unfortunately, human excrement.

We finish positively and quite strong on, “Better Call Saul” as well as the Humble Barber Company. We present to you, “What does the fox fur say? (Norris: Part 2)

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