Monday, August 13, 2012

Grumpy Ole Men

Hi. My name is Hayden. I am almost 43 years old. Recently I have scoffed at the neighborhood kids for not knowing what a skelly court is. I yelled at the ice cream man for coming down the block too late at night. I told our neighborhood kids to stop throwing the rocks from my front yard at each other (the urban equivalent of "get offa mah lawn").  I fuss with my daughter when she doesn't finish her dinner. Somewhere, out of nowhere ( at least in MY eyes), I became a grumpy ole man! How da hell did this happen?

I came to terms with my age a long time ago. I was ready to put my youth behind me a decade ago. I had a great youth and I had no desire to try to recapture it or to finally do "all those things that I missed out on". I get it: I am a man of a 'certain age' and I'm perfectly fine with that (even though my students insist on calling old and the grey hair in my beard doesn't help). In fact, I actually welcome the trapping of my age: being able to afford better trips, fatherhood, meaningful relationships, better cars, better dates. When you accept it, being middle aged is fun...even IF those young whippersnappers think that you're an old fogey.

What I did not count on was becoming grumpy. I didn't see that one coming. I consider myself to be a laid back, fun loving person. That is the antithesis of grumpy!! Lately, I have found myself tightly wound and ready to scold people! Who is this guy!?? Do we all get to this point because the ranks of Grumpy Ole Men (GOM) are thinning due to death and they need replacements? Is there something that our mates are putting in our food that makes you angry at small children and frozen treat vendors? I hope not.

My wife told me to go take a nap this weekend because I was being a particularly annoying GOM. That's all I needed to right my ship! That is the last time someone will call me a GOM until I am actually old enough to draw social security (that's if it EXIST when I get to 65!) and legitimately consider myself old. In my mind, I'm not old until I'm paying half price at the movie theatre! But 'grumpy' stops now!

...right after I get these kids to stop playing my yard....

These are my thoughts...what are yours?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Marriage is filled with mysticism. Women are cultured to dream about and it's spoken about in glowing, poetic terms throughout their youth. Frankly, sometimes right up until they actually GET married. Men hear the opposite message and are trained to think that marriage is this foreboding, restrictive part of your life that you should delay for as long as possible. The fact of the matter is that marriage, quite often, is neither of those things and the myths surrounding a marriage are sometimes damaging to people perception of how they should interact with their spouse. This becomes highlighted around anniversary time where Hallmark and the Lifetime channel put forth this image of how you're supposed to celebrate your nuptial. For me and my wife, though, it much more of a celebration that reminds us of what made us a happy couple to begin with. Sometimes  it's romantic. Sometimes it's not. Let me explain.

My wife and I have a tradition that's very simple. We give each other simple gifts in accordance to the traditional anniversary gifts. This year is iron so we will both go out and get a simple item made from that metal. Nothing extravagant. On our actual anniversary, one of us is in charge of planning an activity for us to do. It may be a trip. It may be something right here in the city that we love. We take turns planning each year: she has even years and I have the odd ones (fitting, since I'm the odd one in the couple!). The thing about our anniversary dates is that it may not always fall into the category of what one does to mark the passing of another year of wedding bliss. Take this year: we went to Six Flags Great Adventures. Sounds weird right? Well if you know us for more that a few hours, you know that we LOVE roller coasters and one of our first dates was to GA. This year was the iron year and what better way to celebrate than to ride metal roller coasters all day (without the weekend crowds at that). That worked perfectly for us and we didn't get caught up trying to find an uber romantic spot for us to escape to or a super expensive restaurant just because it was our anniversary. That's not who we are as a couple.

And that's my real point. Your anniversary should reflect who you are as a pairing. If you ate at Wendy all year and Friday night was movie night, why are you trying to go to Cipriani's and buying 4 dozen roses for your anniversary dinner? It's a day that is supposed to remind you of your relationship not the relationships you see on the Bachelor! Find something fits you better. Now I'm not saying that you should go to nice places to eat ever but I believe you should do that on random days not days laden with implications and pretext. For instance, our anniversary dinner was at a place called Casa La Femme which is an Egyptian place that we found through restaurant week. It was perfect (I will be writing a blog about that too) but it was in no way ritzy. In fact, there was grass on the floor! But that suited us perfectly because we LOVE RestaurantWeek.  So my point again is to just to "do you" and celebrate your relationship in your own personal way, regardless of whether it falls into the romantic category or not.

These are my thoughts...what are yours?    

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Planting Weeds

Every year I dig up my front and back yard and put in new plants to brighten up our outdoor space. I get great, fortified and enriched soil. I buy the best blooms from a reputable nursery and spend an entire day planting them. I spend subsequent days minding them and defending them from cats and raccoons. I do all of that and a week later they are over run by...WEEDS!!

These varmints occupy every available space in the garden like Wall Street protesters and have the nerve to grow taller and more robust than the plants that I INTENTIONALLY planted!! To be even more obnoxious, they are resilient. I can strip every leaf off but unless I put them out by the root, they will be back the next week. Meanwhile if I pluck the wrong leaf off of one of my my pansies, they wither and dies. These weeds have the nerve to use up all the resources and attention that was meant for my designated plants! Next year, I'm planting WEEDS!!!

That reminds me of teaching. Crazy right? But here is the parallel: I am constantly trying to target certain groups on campus and help with their development. Inevitably, they don't see the value and don't get what me and my colleagues are doing for them. Here is the interesting things; sometimes groups and people who were NOT our intended focus benefit from what we are doing and are truly appreciative. I guess the moral of the story is to do good work and you will affect SOMEONE'S life. Even if they aren't your target. Even if they are weeds.

These are my thoughts...what are yours?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Real McCoy

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I went to a spa recently. It was a Korean spa and because I knew that it was supposed to be a representation of a particular culture, I began to look for verification of authenticity. And then I realized that I do that all the time. And so do a lot of people.

New York City is the center of the universe. That might be a biased opinion but I dare people prove otherwise! Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, the one indisputable fact is that there are snippets of cultures all across the city. Want an authentic Greek meal? We have that! Need a Russian bath that makes you feel like home? Got that! Want to go to a club that reminds you of the Caribbean? That's here too! The problem is that for every authentic ethnic/cultural/national experience that's out there, there are equally inauthentic places as well! There are tons of place, especially food establishments, that boast of "just like home" experiences that are so far off the mark that it makes you want to sue them for misrepresentation! You can get as many jade lions or steel pans or Kemlin replicas as you want, if you're not the real deal, it shows!

So how do you then determine whether a place is true to the original? Here is my (and probably a lot of people) method: look at the patrons. Are they from the culture that the establishment is boasting to be a good representation of? If not, you're probably in a fake place. If you go to a roti shop and and no-one there is speaking with a Trinidadian or Jamaican accent, LEAVE! If you go to an upscale Chinese restaurant and no-one there is Asian, you're probably not getting the real deal. However, if you go somewhere an there are plenty of patrons from that culture in the place, then you can rest assured that you're in a good spot!

People who identify with certain ethnicities, myself among them, are always looking for reminders of home. We won't spend our money or hang out in places that don't provide a reasonable facsimile of their beloved culture. But when they do find a locale that makes them feel like they are back in the old country, they become loyal patrons...and they tell their friends! Pretty soon it's the local joint and everyone knows their name. So those are the people I look for. You can have your Zagats and Yelp. I'll follow the indigenous people as my barometer of authenticity.

These are my thoughts...what are yours?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Measuring up.

I made a status update on Facebook the other day and i was semi joking. The post was about making myself look good while my wife and I were watching True Blood. TB has become the repository for every man with a well chiseled body and I wanted to make sure that my wife didn't look at the screen, then look across the couch, and be disappointed that HER man doesn't look good.  It got a BUNCh of 'Likes' which surprised me and my wife.

The truth is that women's struggles to keep up with images in the media are WELL DOCUMENTED, however, men are not immune from this pressure either. I will grant you that it is far less than the women deal with but we do get a twinge of jealousy when we see women, especially OUR women, swoon over these dudes. It's hard not to when Idris Alba, Djimon Hansu, and cast of True Blood are running around bare-chested and making the rest of us who are past our 'college prime' stare at our gut and yearn for younger days!  It's the stuff that mid life crises are made of!

Since I don't have the money to go out and buy a sports car or a brand new motorcycle, I will rely on keeping up with the things that made me sexy to my wife to begin with; a fresh hair cut, witty conversation and a big ole...pair of arms...<snicker> Don't get me wrong though: I have started running and trying to get in shape both for me and her. In the meantime though, the least that i can do to 'keep it sexy' for my wife is cut my damn hair! LOL

These are my thoughts...what are yours?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hey Guys...Hey Guys...

I am a very friendly person. To a fault, actually. I have blogged before about the fact that I say hello to everyone who passes me on my block and I often say hello to people in the street. It's my thing and it sometimes drives my wife crazy. Unfortunately, I seemed to have passed that onto the Mushroom, my daughter!

She is the friendliest kid that I have ever seen (not that I go around measuring the friendliness of toddlers). She walks up to adults and children alike, introduces herself, and try to strike up a conversation. Luckily, is enrolled in an enrichment program that also has a bunch of friendly kids that all know each. So when she reaches out to people in that environment, it is reciprocated. However, in the 'outside' world, they're not so nice.

I have seen my poor child say hello to kids on the playground and get completely ignored. She loves playing with older kids and she is always saying "hey guys....hey guys!" to a group of kids who are busy doing their own things and , frankly, don't even see her trying to get their attention. I struggle with this. I tell her that when people don't respond, it's because they're not as nice as she is. But the truth of the matter is that she needs to know that not everyone wants to talk to her. That doesn't change how my heart breaks for her when I see her trying so hard to get noticed...and I have to suppress the urge to walk up to the offending kids and shake them saying, "HEY!!! DON'T YOU HEAR MY DAUGHTER TALKING TO YOU!?!?!?!" Not sure exactly what to do. I'm sure there is some developmental lesson happening there but are jerks....

These are my thoughts...what are yours?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Serendipity and missing home.

This is bonus blog! No...there is no prize at the end. don't get entered into a contest just for reading.  And no...there will be no number to call for monetary compensation in the last paragraph...or is there... This bonus is that this blog is a two-fer. I saw something and it made me think of two entirely different topics. Rather than bore you with two blogs, I'm cramming them into this one. You're welcome...

So here you are. This week's entry is about the kite in this picture (know you can barely see it...blame my crappy camera phone!). I was walking home one evening and above me was a reminder of my childhood: a mad bull kite.  A mad bull kite is a homemade kite. You can't go to a store and buy one (or at least, I haven't seen that you can). It's an octagonal kite made from butcher paper to make it durable. It has a hitch in the front to invite air currents and strung across that opening is a flap of paper that loudly announces its presence to other kite flyers. Back home, we would attach razor blades to its tail and have kite battles. Mad bulls are hard to make and even harder to make properly. The skill required to complete one automatically vaulted that boy into the hierarchy of the neighborhood social structure. The kites were dangerous and deadly to other regular kites and I always wanted one. But as I said before, they weren't available for sale and I had just learned how to make a simple kite. Mad bulls weren't in my future.

So here I was on a street in Brooklyn where the tallest structures were multi-family apartment buildings, not trees, with a mad bull kite floating in the sky. It was fluttering loudly above my head, in between apartment buildings and it looked completely out of place. There were no open fields or piers from which to launch its flight. Furthermore, I wondered how it had managed to clear the power lines. I followed the line from the kite and, low and behold, it originated from the roof of one of the buildings! Of course! That's the only way you could get a mad bull up on this street. And that made me realize two things: the ingenious lengths that immigrants go to in order bring aspects of their culture to this land and serendipity. Let's talk about the latter first.

My wife says that I kill people. Now before you go off and call the authorities, let me explain. If I ever, in casual conversation, muse about whether a famous person has died, be assured that if the grim reaper hadn't already visited them, he is on his way to their house! I once told my wife, while at a Yankees game, that the guy announcing Derek Jeter had recorded that intro before he died. Problem? The man wasn't actually dead...then. Three days later he passed away! That happens all the time. I also "talk things up". I'll mention something or wonder about its existence and poof! there is a news report about it. She says I need to talk up some money! And that happened to me with the kite. I had JUST finished reading the chapter in the Kite Runner that talked about the kite fight on the train and I walk out to see this kite from MY childhood flying above me. Ridiculous coincidence or maybe a harbinger... Either way, I wondered if that happens to other people as often as it happens to me.

The other issue is that this kite was flying in the sky at all. Think about it: someone had to have wanted to desperately fly this kite near their home. I live a short train ride from Prospect Park and a bus ride from Floyd Bennett Field, both ideal places for kites. But here was someone who wanted to have this particular experience in this specific place on this day. He or she was going to make it happen then and there.  They took the time to make this kite (a mad bull takes hours to make) and found their way to that roof and just like that, they were transported to their homeland. No passport needed. I see this everywhere. Snippets of a former life, a distant culture burgeoning in the concrete jungle. Hindu worship altars in front yards scarcely larger than the offering itself. Steelbands practicing in garages crammed together in a space like a high school rock band. And the list goes on. We find ways to make this place seem more like home, no matter the inconvenience. To us, it's worth it. It's hard enough to survive in NYC to have to do so without the comforts of home. So we cook meals for 40 people out of kitchens in Queens studios apartments. We do tai chi in Chinatown parks next to drug addicts. And we fly kites from the roofs of Brooklyn apartment building. Don't judge us...we miss our homes.

These are my thoughts...what are yours?