Archive for July, 2009

Questions: The Regrets Edition (Part II)

Great answers to Part I of the regrets column. Here are my other 5 top regrets.

6) I regret being afraid of dying. In some ways, I feel my whole life’s purpose is to finally accept (at least on a Zen-like level) the inevitability of my death. Instead, the concept so terrifies me that it has clearly kept me from being as adventurous and/or productive as I could have been. A little caution can be a good thing, perhaps, but to live without fear of death sounds so freeing. (To be completely accurate, it’s more the pain of dying than the actual being dead part that scares me).

7) I regret being shy around girls. Ok, so it’s all good as I ended up finding this great awesome girl, but oh man, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have caught the eye of a beautiful girl and wish I had gone up to her and introduced myself, make small chat, throw her a compliment, ask her on a date, etc. but instead only watched her walk away and out of my life forever. If I had chosen not to do any of those things because I thought it would be too forward and ungentlemanly or even creepy, that would be one thing. But me … I was mostly just scared, especially of rejection, and that’s just silly. Only the rejected can give rejection its power (Oh yeah, that’s like Tony Robbins good!)

8) I regret not being more serious about my writing. Even as a young kid, I fancied myself a writer. I remember creating a whole series of short stories, including a choose your own adventure (damn I loved those), about a porcupine named Kong. I had people who liked and encouraged my work, including a teacher I had in elementary school who took a bunch of my stories and compiled them in a pretty cool bound package and helped get one my tales published in a young children’s magazine (still one of my all-time great thrills).

I continued writing short stories and small pieces throughout college, but as time passed, I grew more discouraged. I would read stories by the masters, by authors I totally loved, and bemoan the fact I could never be as good as them. I experimented with longer forms of writing, including novels, but could never finish my projects. My imagination was lacking. My vocabulary was inadequate. My characters were cliched.

But if my writing was inadequate before, it’s only gotten worse. Writing is a skill that must be honed like any other and I unfortunately have written very little over the past five years – aside from these blog posts, of course. I think I convinced myself that writing was not as enjoyable as it used to be, but I wonder if maybe there’s something more going on here.

Because sometimes I think of how envious I am of the people who seem like they know what they’ve wanted to do since the day they were born, who have passion about something and pursue it with joy AND single-minded determination, a lethal combination for success. And then I think back to how I would spend hours as a young kid holed up in my room, composing stories, getting lost in the process, reveling in my own creations, and wonder if for me writing should have been that thing, and – note the emerging theme – I just was too afraid to pursue it. That my imagination was lacking, indeed.

9) I regret not doing more for my fellow man. This one is simple. I give to charity a decent amount, but not nearly enough. But more importantly, I should be more generous with my time. On this site, I’ve often complained about the lack of compassion certain members of society seem to have for their fellow humans, and yet I cannot honestly say I’ve done much to make a difference in this world. I talk a much better game than I do, and worry I just may be more selfish than I’d like to believe. Even when I try to do something charitable, I often do it begrudgingly and with the minimum effort, like the time several years back when I along with my brother mentored an inner-city student and helped sponsor his private Catholic school education. I did so little to really help that kid succeed, and embarrassingly, have since lost touch with him and his family.

10) I regret not going to California to watch the Northwestern Wildcats play in the Rose Bowl. OK, this is a small one, but when I was a senior in college, the Northwestern football team came out of nowhere – after decades of being the doormat of the Big Ten – to shock the world with a miraculous year for the ages. In one season, they beat Notre Dame, Michigan (in the Big House) and Penn State to win the Big Ten and earn their first appearance in the Rose Bowl in fifty years.

I saw every home game that year, and even a couple of away games, and that season easily stands as one of the top three sports fan experiences in my life. Many of my college friends went out to Pasadena during the Winter Break to cheer the team on, but I was a rather broke student and decided it would cost too much money. So I went home to St. Louis and watched the game on TV with some friends and family.

What a joke. You don’t get opportunities like that often, and when you do, money should hardly ever be the deciding factor. I know the advice to save and prepare for retirement or a rainy day has its merits – and especially sounds sage in tough economic times like the current ones – but money is merely a means to an end, nothing more. Be prudent, but have fun and take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities when they arise. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Questions: The Regrets Edition (Part I)

In a post long ago, I talked about regrets and how I view them as a natural part of the examined life, something to be embraced, not feared. A person who claims he has no regrets is either a magnificent liar or an unreflective fool.

You can learn a lot from your regrets, and the only goal should be to minimize their occurrence as you grow older.

I didn’t go into much detail discussing the specifics of my actual regrets, but I’ve now decided to list the top 10 regrets of my life to date, thinking that it could actually be a useful exercise for me and an enjoyable, potentially educational, but very long read for others (so long in fact that I’ve decided to divide the column into two).

Over at dagblog.com, each regret will be accompanied by a related question in the comment section for you to answer.

Some of these regrets are small, some are huge. Some are in the past, where nothing can be done about them, and some persist today. All contribute to who I am, and as the new Senator from Minnesota was known to say in a previous life, “And that’s … OK.”

1) I regret not lifting weights when I was going through puberty. Let’s start off small. I think a bit of strength training – not a crazy amount, mind you, just a little weightlifting – is much more impactful when your body is developing and maturing. I’m not very body obsessed, but I think being stronger would have helped in a bunch of different ways. At the very least, it would have made me a better baseball player, which would have been nice as not making the high school baseball team is another regret of mine (although not worth a top 10 since I did try out 3 times, getting cut each year, and I give myself props for that).

2) I regret not making the top 10 of my high school graduating class. This is actually a bit of an anomaly because if anything, I think I cared too much about grades and schoolwork. But there’s a reason why this stands out as a regret. I remember going to my brother’s graduation as a junior high schooler and seeing the ten students with the top 10 GPAs get recognized for their efforts – they were asked to stand and the crowd gave each of them a significant round of appreciative applause.

For some reason, I decided there and then that that was something I wanted to accomplish. It became a goal – a ridiculous and nerdy one to be sure, but a goal nonetheless. And it was in my grasp til the very end, as I got all A’s until my final semester of high school. But I didn’t do the extra effort to sneak into the top 10, refusing to do the term papers that would have gotten me the ‘H’ honors (and 5.0) grades in history that would have put me over the hump. This sounds like a small, almost stupid thing but in many ways its indicative of a lack of single-minded determination, which I think the most successful in society seem to have and I clearly don’t (an issue that comes up later in this post). I had a goal, I should have worked just a bit harder to achieve it, plain and simple.

3) I regret not living an extended period of time in a foreign country. This is pretty self-explanatory and clearly, the easiest, best time to do this would have been in college, studying abroad for a semester or year. To me, it’s a sign of me living scared and nervous about trying new things.

As a side regret, though it isn’t necessarily my fault, I regret not learning a foreign language (or two) earlier in life. Like developing muscles, languages are so much easier to learn when you’re young, and I automatically give people an extra ten points of respect and IQ when I hear they’re fluent in multiple languages. Unfortunately, the arrogant American public education system didn’t include foreign languages as part of its early education curriculum back when I was a kid (I think it might now, but in any case at least American kids today have the bilingual Dora). In the end, I took 6 years of French in high school and college and still could barely communicate with the Frenchies when I was in Paris for a trip about ten years back.

4) I regret not being nicer to my mother through my teenage and young adult life. My mom is awesome. She’s funny and social and loving and sensitive and generous, and full of so many endearing quirks. Everyone loves her. I do, too, of course, but there was a time when she embarrassed me. OK, she still does, but there was a time when I was way too annoyed by my embarrassment and wasn’t always so nice to her.

Nothing major, just small cutting comments or a general lack of affection. I know where I was coming from and what I was doing – just trying to rebel a bit. Like all good Jewish mothers, my mom is a bit smothering and neurotic and for much of my pre-teen life I was a big mama’s boy, and I probably overcompensated in my attempt to shed that image. I can now fully embrace that I am and will always be a mama’s boy. But I know there were times I hurt her when she did nothing wrong, and for that I am sorry.

5) I regret giving up acting in college. In high school, I was in many of the plays, and had decent-sized parts in a lot of them, except for the musicals because I can’t sing or dance (We did Fiddler on the Roof, and I – one of the few Jews in the production – had to play a Russian because of my limited skills). I really enjoyed acting, and thought I was pretty good at it (I knew I had some talent when during a final exam in a freshman acting class I was able to cry during a scene in which I played a father who found out his wife had left him. The tears even surprised me.)

I wasn’t perfect,  by any means – watching old tapes, I cringe at some of the tics I brought to the stage,  but I would have liked to continue to pursue acting. Didn’t think that would be an issue seeing as I was, after all, going to Northwestern University, which was known for its theater department. Unfortunately, freshman year I got paired up with a roommate who was majoring in theater and it discouraged me when I saw his commitment to the profession. I thought about performing as a lark, not necessarily a career, and my roommate and his theater friends were approaching it on a much different level. So I chickened out and never pursued it further. I’ve taken a couple of acting and improv classes to try and rekindle the magic, but I’m afraid that dream may be dead.

MOFT: Episode 17 (Crocs)

As devoted deadman blog readers with photographic memories know (a surprisingly slim sample size), I’ve never been a fan of being barefoot.

For much of my teenage, young adult and now creeping middle-age life, my bare feet have been a rare site, indeed, with notable exceptions being in the shower and on the beach. I’m not 100% sure of the reason for this, exactly – while they definitely don’t fall into the stunningly beautiful category, I don’t think my feet are hideously embarrassing either (photographic evidence to the right – my apologies to my photographic memory readers who will now be stuck with this image seared into their brain for all time).

I think my aversion to bare feet in the past has been partly due to bad circulation (there are times during the dead of winter when I have to soak my feet in hot water just to feel them), partly due to the way I hate the way toenails and skin rub against bedsheets (it reminds me of fingernails on blackboards), and partly just out of habit (as if I am anything, I am certainly a creature of that)

Whatever the reason, the conspicuous lack of naked, or even scantily sandal-ed, feet has been a notable trait of my life, so much so that some of my lovers have never even seen my feet (oh yeah, sex with socks – hot!!!), and the soon-to-be-Mrs. Deadman has endearingly nicknamed me Sox.

But all that has changed over the past two summers, and the reason for the sudden change of events is solely due to Crocs footwear, winner of the latest My One Favorite Thing of the Week award. Granted, I don’t yet sleep or shower or exercise in my Crocs (though I think it’s high-time I try sex with Crocs), but at almost every other time you can find me and my bare feet luxuriating in a pair of these bad boys.

These things rock. They’re so cushy and comfortable. Seriously, it’s a like a party with every step. They’re not the most fashionable things for sure, although many of the newer styles have abandoned the clunky atrocities of the earliest versions of Crocs.

I look at people now wearing Birkenstocks, or heaven forbid, regular thong sandals, and I feel so sad, like I’m watching savages who haven’t yet discovered fire, or heathens who need to be shown the Light and taught the way of the Croc.

Yea, once I was Sox. Now, just call me Crox.

Unfortunately, the company that manufactures these little rubber beauties may be in some operating trouble – its 2-year stock price performance, at least, has been a sheer disaster as the brand has passed that hot fad phase.

But I can at least feel good knowing me and my Beyonce have done our part to ensure the company’s survival, scooping up pairs and pairs of the shoes just in case we have to hoard them for the future.

Yet I don’t think that will be necessary. While the proliferation of reality TV may suggest otherwise, i still believe in the inexorable progress of evolution, and I just can’t imagine society ever going Croc-less again.

MOLFT: Episode 2 (Cell phone taxes, fees and surcharges)

I’ll get back to the regularly scheduled My One Favorite Things soon enough, but right now I got a bone to pick with my cell phone company, T-Mobile.

I mostly have positive vibes toward T-Mobile as their customer service has been very helpful and their network seems to have continually improved in New York City, but I’m annoyed with the numerous ‘surcharges’ the company tacks on to my monthly bill.

T-Mobile probably isn’t alone here, but I think it’s a crime that these charges – which earn the dubious award of being My One Least Favorite Thing of the week – now add up to more than $10 a month, approximately 21% of the cost of my plan.

What’s worse, I just got a note in my most recent bill that T-Mobile was raising the rate of something they call a Regulatory Programs Fee to $1.21 a month. The company says the RPF is used to recover the costs ‘associated with funding and complying with a variety of government mandates, programs, and obligations, such as enhanced 911 programs, number portability and governmental requirements concerning the construction and operation of our network.”

Meanwhile, the other fees and taxes on my monthly bill include:

  • Federal Universal Service Fund
  • State Gross Receipts Tax
  • State Sales Tax
  • State Telecom Excise
  • County Surcharge
  • County Telecom Excise
  • MCTD Surcharge
  • Local Sales Tax
  • State 911
  • County 911

Are you kidding me? I mean, I understand that many if not all of these charges are due to taxes or other government-related charges, but why exactly has cell phone service – now basically a necessity for most Americans – been chosen as the revenue gravy train for state, local and federal governments.

I just have a few questions – Is it the same everywhere around the country or is it worse for me because I live in New York City? Does every wireless carrier charge this much in monthly fees or is T-Mobile being overly exuberant here? Please let me know what your carriers add on to your monthly bills.

And for anyone in the industry or familiar with its development, please tell me how and why this happened? Should I really blame the government as T-Mobile seems to want me to do??

Just looking at the menu … or ordering the rump??? (Obama and Mayara Tavares)

So the media is all abuzz of this picture of Barack and French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently checking out the rear end of a 17-year-old girl from Rio de Janeiro.

Gotta love the New York Post writers, headlining this important, hard-hitting story – ‘Tail to the Chief’ and leading the story with ‘Baby got Barack!’ Damn, they’re good.

Now we know Sarkozy is a total horndog (and the legal age in France is 15, I believe) so no surprise or problem there, but I kind of expected better from Obama.

Oh, who am I kidding?? Men were born to look, and it’s not like this girl had her age tattooed on her forehead (or her backside for that matter). Oh sure, it’s juvenile-looking, kind of fratboyish and probably unbefitting of a President, but I just can’t throw stones here.

Checking out women is one of the things I do best, and I’m not secretive about it – I usually point out the hotter ones to my Beyonce. My dad always said you can still look at the menu even if you can no longer order. I don’t see it as disrespect – I just admire beauty in all its forms. I would love it if girls checked me and my fabulous tushy out on a regular basis.

And maybe Barack was just comparing this girl’s rear to his own wife’s impressive backside. Clearly, the guy favors a healthy rump.

EDIT:  Video shows Barack may not have been checking out the goods at all. Sarkozy, on the other hand, not so innocent.

Obama’s Too Big to Fail Rules Too Late to Matter

The AP has posted an article detailing Obama’s new regulatory plan that would if enacted impose serious penalties on financial institutions when they get too large.

Although there aren’t many specifics in the article about what those disincentives would be or exactly how the government would define ‘too big’, this is a much-needed step back on the road to financial sobriety. We should never as an economy or a country be held hostage to the failings of one single entity.

As deeply as I hated all of the bailouts we’ve been throwing around to woefully (borderline criminally, in my opinion) mismanaged institutions like Citigroup and AIG, I do believe their balance sheets may have been so enormous, their footprints and obligations so intertwined in the world economy, that their failure could have crippled the entire foundation of our credit-based system and brought it to its knees.

Yet don’t be fooled – our problems didn’t lie with any one or two entities, but with the entire system. What we had instead was a complete failure by the market as a whole – and even more damning, by the regulators in charge of watching those markets – to recognize the emerging credit/debt/mortgage bubbles whose eventual bursting forced this country to its day of reckoning.

A law breaking up large financial institutions or disincentivizing them from forming in the first place will help make future problems easier to spot and solve, perhaps, but it won’t by itself save us from our own worst behavior.

And it will do very little if anything to impact our current situation and economic crisis.

In fact, the most ironic thing about the Obama plan is that the entity which may now be most accurately considered ‘too big to fail’ is our own U.S. government, which through actions taken by the Fed and the Treasury has taken on much of the bad debt and obligations (and added a bunch of new ones) that will be stifling our economy for years to come.

We can only hope that the Chinese and other foreign governments continue to agree that the U.S. government is indeed too big to fail and allow us the time to work through our issues and restore some amount of fiscal and monetary discipline without cutting off their support in one fell swoop.

Questions: The Concert Edition (Encore!! Encore!!)

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Regina Spektor perform at the Beacon Theater in NYC’s Upper West Side. courtesy of a gift from the soon-to-be-Mrs. Deadman.

What a disappointment.

I really like Ms. Spektor, could listen to her breakthrough album ‘Begin to Hope’ over and over again. But her live performance was uninspired and pretty boring, to be frank. Spektor just wasn’t connecting to the audience and it really put a damper on the evening.

My Beyonce and I were trying to figure out why the performance seemed so blah. Regina can’t be blamed entirely – I think her music and her modest (perhaps-too-humble) personality would just fit much better in a more intimate setting than the 2,600 seat Beacon. And I’m sure the fact I didn’t know most of the new songs which dominated her setlist certainly had something to do with my lackluster response.

I don’t think the quality of her musicianship was at fault. But while her voice was in fine form, and the newer music decent if forgettable, she did have her stumbles, most notably during a rap she performed near the end of the concert where she forgot the words. I felt like I wanted to be Simon Cowell, and tell her in my British accent that she should have just pushed through, as few people probably would have noticed the mistake if she hadn’t sat there awkwardly for more than a minute trying to recall the forgotten lyrics.

Regina got sufficient applause at the end of the show I guess to justify the requisite encores (another concert tradition that has totally lost meaning now that its become automatic), but it all felt empty and hollow to me, or maybe that was just my own letdown feeling showing through.

In any case, I’ve decided to post a concert questions column. Looking forward to your answers.

1) What was the first concert you’ve seen? How old were you?

2) What was the best concert you’ve seen? What do you remember most about it?

3) What was the worst concert you’ve seen? What do you remember most about it?

4) Who haven’t you seen perform at a concert but wish you could have?

5) What’s the best opening band you’ve seen? Do you usually arrive at a concert in time to see the opening bands?

6) Putting aside the quality of the actual music for a second, what’s the most important thing a singer or band can do to make the difference between a great concert and an OK concert or an OK concert and a bad concert?

7) Even during great concerts, I often find myself looking at my watch near the end. Do you think concerts are not long enough or too long?

8) What’s the most annoying audience habit at a concert: a) Yelling out ‘I love you’ or some other term of endearment to the performer b) Yelling out the name of a song they want to hear when the performer has not asked for such input c) Singing loudly the contents of a song when no one else is doing so to the point where surrounding concertgoers can hardly hear the real performer or d) Something else that annoys the shit out of you.

9) Why do you think audience members yell out to a performer during a concert: a) because they are swept up by the passion of the music and the moment b) because they hold out hope that the performer will hear them, notice them, and then invite them backstage c) because they like to hear the sound of their own voices and wish they had the talent to be a performer?

10) The encore: a) Like it as is b) Should be revised (How?) c) Should be eliminated.

11) OK, OK, stop your clapping. I’ll give you one more question. I give you $100 to spend on music-related items from your favorite performer – would you rather use that money to buy two tickets to a live concert or to buy a rare bootleg album from that performer that you don’t already have and why?


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