Thursday, January 31, 2019

January 31

I moved to New Jersey fifteen years ago today. At the time, it was supposed to be a second chance - at happiness in my marriage (my (now ex) wife is from New Jersey and had wanted to move back here) and in my career (the whole career-in-DC-politics thing did not happen). The marriage did not last, but for all the chirping I do about my job, it gives me most of the things I was looking for - stability, interesting work, and the ability to help a few people along the way. 

With that said, I cannot stand living here. The people are rude, they drive like maniacs, and every third word out of their mouths is some form of profanity. I do not *get* the Jersey attitude and never will. The thing is, had I not moved here, I do not think things would have turned out any better. In D.C. my job prospects and marriage were iffy (at best) and while jettisoning the latter would have been a lot less expensive at the time, there is little chance the former would have turned out better. If I had stayed in D.C. I never would have met Special Lady Friend or become Pumpkin and Ghost's dad; plus, they do not have pork roll in D.C.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

January 30

I wrote a thread of tweets this weekend that got a lot of traffic. This is the second or third time this has happened to me since I joined Twitter. It is a weird phenomenon. Suddenly, your follower count looks like a slot machine and your mentions are locked at "99+." It is a good reminder that social media is a vast universe that most of us inhabit a very small part of.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

January 29

My mood can turn sour so quickly. It is one of the things I wish I could change about myself. Last night, just as I pulled into the parking lot at my gym, I realized I had forgotten my water bottle. I spent two minutes cursing my stupidity and my mood immediately darkened. I do not usually carry money with me, so I could not buy a bottle and public water fountains freak me out (germs). 

I went inside anyway, and used one of the fountains a few times in between intervals of my training class, but the whole time, I was fuming inside. Just typing this out twelve hours later makes it sound so ridiculous, so minor, but in the moment, it was all I could think about. 

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Monday, January 28, 2019

The Good Place - Season Three

In the closing minutes of the Season Three finale of The Good Place, Eleanor asks Janet a question - “what is the answer?” - one would expect from a show that traffics deeply in philosophy; but it also felt like a bit of a troll by show creator Michael Schur. If nothing else, The Good Place has mastered the art of leaving the answer to that question just out of reach. At first, we thought we were watching a show about an unworthy person’s attempt to cheat her way into heaven, then we found out she was actually in hell, along with the three people she befriended, as guinea pigs in an experiment to see how long they would torture each other. Then, through more than eight hundred reboots of their afterlife, they landed back on Earth, in their pre-deceased forms, trying to prove their worthiness for entry into eternal paradise. And now, they are back where they started, except with nemeses to thwart their improvement. 

Are you exhausted? Me too (and I did not even attempt to explain the Jeremy Bearimy timeline, the side trip to Canada, or a handful of other plot lines). You see, just when we think we are about to get *the* answer, Schur just changes the question. Early on, that was an effective narrative device; indeed, the show’s entry into the pop culture zeitgeist coincided with the Season One finale reveal that Michael was not a benevolent architect, but rather, the evil mastermind who constructed the fake Good Place to torture Eleanor, Chidi, Ta-Hani, and Jason. 

But like a spice that works well as a complement, but can overpower a dish if used with too heavy a hand, Schur’s willingness to continually blow up the story line suggests he is leaning too hard on flash over substance. In Season Three, the whole was far less than the sum of its parts. To be sure, there were individual episodes and scenes that really sang. Schur is still at his best when he uses humor to comment on the human condition. The neutral zone accounting department is staffed by a Bland Janet and workers who must assess points to new human behavior, 99 percent of which involve weird sexual things we do. In Australia, our main characters go to an American-themed restaurant where a handgun goes off when your table is ready and alcoholic beverages are served out of a Chevy hubcap. It is with a knowing wink that Michael marvels that a KFC and Taco Bell are under one roof and when he laments that his human form results in him feeling both too wet and too dry at the same time, the show reaches a level of absurdity and comic genius that makes it a small treasure. 

And the season’s key takeaway, that modern life is so complicated and so much of what we do has secondary effects, that it is impossible for anyone to lead a virtuous life worthy of the Good Place is right on point. You may have met your soul mate through a dating app, but that app lives on a smart phone that was made by people working in awful conditions in the third world for a corporation that harvests your personal data and sells it to third-parties. The good outcome is severely crimped by all the bad stuff that got you there. 

But here is the thing. While there is great wisdom in that observation, it is ultimately irrelevant to at least two (Eleanor and Jason) of the four main characters on the show. No one would suggest that a telemarketer who sold fake vitamins to old people or a low-level street thug from Jacksonville merit entry into an eternal heaven, regardless of how fraught any one purchase of an organic tomato might be. So why do I care about the people I am asked to root for if the premise I am asked to accept is irrelevant to them? 

If the idea is that a benevolent higher power should change the Hall of Fame into the Hall of Very Good, or even that trying your best on earth (or in a simulacrum afterlife) should be enough to avoid an eternity of torture at the hands of bees with teeth (or penises), that is fine so far as it goes, but is it worthy of all our time and attention?

But the larger issue is Schur’s restlessness with his own story. Like a kid shifting in his seat, Schur toggles between different ideas and venues without letting the viewers ever get comfortable with one or the other. The Good Place shares a lot of DNA with LOST and I fear it is suffering from one of the latter show’s main shortcomings - lots of bells and whistles diverting from a core story line that simply does not have enough runway to justify season renewal after season renewal. Schur used plot twists to great effect in Seasons One and Two, but in the service of continuing to keep the audience guessing, I think Season Three was too cute by half. Instead of allowing the audience to linger in one place, the show kept hopscotching across space and time. If you did not like the Soul Squad in Australia, you need only wait a few episodes before they were heading off to the Accounting Department in the DMZ between the Good and Bad Places, where you barely got comfortable before zooming off to Canada or Mindy’s Medium Place, or wherever else. You need not invest in any particular storyline because Schur is constantly snapping his fingers and rebooting the show. 

Some criticism has been levied about the sharper focus on Eleanor and Chidi, but my concern is over the broader narrative drift. Ta-Hani and Jason have been reduced to one note bit players - she name drops incessantly and he says dopey things as comic relief, and any semblance of logic or rationale went out the window long ago. The Good Place was tailor-made to be a well-told three-act story, but since it has been renewed for a fourth season, it would benefit from the thing that finally focused LOST - a definitive end point. Having been with The Good Place since the beginning  and seeing it gain greater cultural currency during its standout second season, it pains me to say it, but Season Three failed to deliver.

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January 28

Yesterday, I fixed one of the toilets in my house. It probably sounds like a small thing, and in fact, the entire repair took less than 90 seconds. All I did was detach the rubber flapper and chain in the tank and install a new flapper and chain. But I am not a handy man. Handy man projects intimidate me. They always have. My father? Now *he* was a handy man. He owned lots of tools and knew how to use them. Me? I was a constant disappointment to him because I never got past the difference between a flat head and phillip's head screwdriver. 

He would not have thought twice about such a simple repair, he would have just done it. I, on the other hand, watched three how-to You Tube videos, fretted over cutting off the water supply to the toilet, bought a backup flapper in case I screwed up, and fumbled with the links in the chain to get the right fit. But you know what? I did it. A small victory.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

January 27

If it seems like I think a lot about death, it is because my father died at 53 and my (maternal) grandfather died at 51. Part of me feels like there is a ticking clock in my head (they both died of strokes) that will bring things to a premature end and while I hope that is not the case, I am also reconciled to that possibility. Ironically, it is the same way I look at ever finding a romantic partner - I am prepared to live the rest of my life alone while holding out hope that will not be the case.

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

January 26

There are times when I feel like the sole employee of the world's smallest non-profit. I do (almost) everything myself. It leads to an odd paradox - on the one hand, I literally have all the time to myself, but on the other, I feel like I get no time to myself. Today is a perfect example - groceries need to be bought, litter boxes need to be cleaned out, shopping needed to be done. I woke up at 5 am and basically have not stopped moving (it is now half-past noon). 

I wear my independence like some perverse badge of honor, as if those who ask for or get help from others are somehow lesser, and that is not right, but I do not like being anyone's debt, to owe anyone anything, even if something is done for me out of kindness. It is fine for now, but I do think a lot about what will happen when I am elderly and legitimately need someone to take care of me. 

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Friday, January 25, 2019

January 25

My best friend from childhood died last year. Today is his birthday. When I heard about his passing (we lost touch years ago), I took out a photo of us at his wedding. It was a picture of his groomsmen (including me) and him. I thought about that night and what it would have been like if someone from the future tapped him on the shoulder on one of the happiest days of his life and said, "hey buddy, hate to break the news, but you've only got another 21 years left." His life was more than half over and he did not even know it.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

January 24

Sleep is one of those things you take for granted when you are young. In my teens, I could sleep for 10 or 11 hours or more, dead to the world. Even into my 30s, and especially after a good workout, I would crumple into 8 or 9 hours of deep slumber. Nowadays? I'm lucky if I can keep my eyes open past 9:30 and rarely do I make it through the night without waking up at last once. Sometimes its what I can only assume is a shrinking bladder, other times, the nocturnal prowling of my feline friends, but last night, it was just because I was hot under the covers (though I did have to pee as well). Perhaps compensating for the change in my sleeping patterns, although I can be bolt upright at 2:30 in the morning, more often than not, I can fall back to sleep ... until 5 am or so. 

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January 23

Money is a funny thing. Around Christmas and without a second thought, I spent about $300 on gifts for a woman I was dating. After New Year's, I spruced up my wardrobe on the cheap - I bought a Joseph A. Bank suit on clearance for $89 and I got a 3 for $99 deal at Charles Tyrwhitt. The shirts are french cuff and I thought about buying myself a nice cuff link set from Tiffany. Cost? $300. My reaction? "That is way too expensive!" 

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

January 22

I ran into a co-worker at the gym yesterday. She told me her brother-in-law had died recently of cancer. He was 63. "He was so young," she remarked. Age is a funny thing. If you are 63 and alive, "you're getting older," if you die at 63, you "died too young." 

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Monday, January 21, 2019

January 21

Yesterday there were two football games. I used to care so much more about sports than I do now, but I watched parts of both and the ending of each. The first game (Saints-Rams) should have ended with the Saints kicking a chip-shot field goal as time expired, but the refs blew a clear pass interference call. The Saints kicked the field goal, but the Rams tied the game and then won in overtime. It was brutal. The second game (Patriots-Chiefs) was exciting and well-played, but ultimately, the Patriots won. 

I feel bad for people who live and die with their teams because yesterday was a great example of what makes sports really compelling *and* really difficult to watch. The Saints clearly got hosed and now their season is over. The Chiefs outplayed the Patriots for most of the game and still lost. Life is unfair and sometimes you do not get what you deserve even though you did everything right. 

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

January 20

Two years from today, a new President will be sworn into office. The last two years have been awful, just a daily misery watching what Trump is doing to our country. I want to believe with every fiber of my being that on this day in 2021, it will not be Trump (or Pence for that matter) putting his hand on a Bible and swearing the oath of office, but then again, as PT Barnum said, no one ever went poor underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

January 19

What was supposed to be a rain/snow/ice cluster fuck looks to be a mostly-rain/maybe some of it ices over situation. Hooray. The vagaries of the atmosphere and the movement of storms 50 or 100 miles one way or another can spell the difference between potentially life-threatening conditions and minor discomfort - I am retiring to Arizona, just as soon as I can afford to do so.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

January 18

Yesterday, I rebalanced my retirement account portfolio. It was a very capital-A adult thing to do. I also increased my pre-tax contribution. Taking retirement more seriously was a new year's resolution for me, so this is a small step in the right direction. At my age, this is what passes for excitement. Doing small things you hope will pay off if/when you are lucky enough to not have to work anymore. I think I liked it better when my dreams were more prurient, but here we are.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

January 17

Last night, I had a great work out at the gym. One thing I try to do is workout with people who are younger and in better shape than me. It forces me to push myself harder to keep up (I am super competitive) and it also motivates me when I am able to do things people who are ten, fifteen, twenty, even twenty-five years younger than me cannot do. 

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

January 16

The other day, Axios published an article, Life Brightens, Sourness Surges. The basic premise was that life has never been better, but a lot of people have not benefitted. With large chunks of the federal government shut down, all of the sudden, stories are being told of people with good government jobs who cannot make ends meet. Who live paycheck-to-paycheck. Who, if you take away a single paycheck, are suddenly in financial peril. 

It seems like a disconnect. All you read about is a booming stock market and low unemployment, but when you scratch an inch below the surface, you find that the majority of stock gains are (shocker) concentrated in a small percentage of people and that while unemployment is low, many of the jobs available are low wage, retail or service sector jobs. And so, the idea that people with stable employment struggle to pay the bills comes as a surprise to the serious people who write about our world.

I am more fortunate. I have some savings. If worst came to worst, I could scratch by for a few months without a paycheck. But I am not that much better off than the people who are being profiled. Who are selling things on eBay or Craigslist. Who have picked up part-time work while they wait for government to reopen. Income insecurity reaches further up the economic ladder than you might think.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

January 15

One of my Monday rituals is reading The Cut's Sex Diaries column. The premise is simple - one person, typically a New Yorker, records a week-long diary that combines the mundane, day-to-day with whatever is going on in their lives sexually. The range of diarists is broad but it gets me thinking about how boring mine would be. I rarely have sex. I had sex once last year and about five times in 2017. It use to bother me, but now I do not even notice it that much. After a while, you just sort of come to terms with the fact you are just one of those people who does not have intimate relationships with people and you focus your attention elsewhere.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

January 14

It is the beginning of another work week. There is not much to look forward to. I walk a lot at work. My office is in a big building with ample hallways, lots of stairs and usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon I will take a walk. I think about things, or nothing at all; I get lost in my own little world for ten or fifteen minutes. It helps. 

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

January 13

A light snow is falling on Central New Jersey today. I have made the executive decision that I will not be venturing out, even though we are getting (at best) an inch or two. Ever since my car accident last year, I have erred on the side of caution - if I can avoid it, I stay in. 

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I want to avoid the risk of another accident. Not only can I not afford to have another accident, from a financial standpoint, but one of the things that I still dwell on about the accident I had last year is how easily it could have been much worse - like, I could have been seriously injured. And that's the other reason, obviously, I want to avoid serious injury, but I also have two little ones that I am responsible for. It would be hard to take care of Pumpkin and Ghost if I was on crutches or had my arm in a sling. 

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

January 12

I have a theory that you can determine how complicated a person's life is by the number of keys they own. Me? I own three - one for the front door to my house, one for the side door through the garage, and a car key. That's it. That's the list. Although she will probably be the last person I ever feel romantic love toward,  Special Lady Friend had a key ring that would put Schneider from One Day At A Time to shame. Her life was super complicated, mine was as simple as it comes. I guess it never stood a chance of working out between us.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

January 11

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article that talked about how the oceans are warming much faster than expected. The implications for the planet are not good. There are few things good about getting older, but one of them is knowing you will not be around for the worst effects of climate change. 

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

January 10

Today is someone's birthday who is very special to me. She is the person who made me realize I needed to get out of my marriage and for that I will be forever grateful. Of course, one of my specialties is pushing people away who care about me, so we are not in touch right now, but it does not mean I am not thinking of her and how profound an effect she had on my life. 

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

January 9

There was a big dustup on the internet the other day. A 50-year-old French writer penned an essay about how he does not find women his age attractive and only dates younger women. The uproar was predictable. I grant you, an older guy writing about how he likes younger (and, presumably better looking) women is not exactly atom-splitting material, but having been single for some time now and read hundreds of dating profiles, women can be just as arbitrary - no one under six feet tall, no one over six feet tall, no one who owns cats, or does not own cats, or owns dogs, or does not own dogs, or has kids, or does not have kids, or wants kids or does not want kids, or is bald, or is not bald, or has blonde hair, or does not have blonde hair, and on and on and on. A lot of people think that stuff matters (I happen to think they are much less important when it comes to a successful match), so why are we dragging some pervy old man and not everyone else?

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

January 8

I am lonely. It is one of the unexpected effects of divorce. When I first got divorced, I knew it would take some time to get over it, to become accustomed to the new reality, to figure out what it was I wanted out of the next phase of my life. I was 40. I thought I had time. Now, I worry the window closed. 

I do date from time to time, but nothing ever seems to last. Most of the time, it feels more like an awkward job interview that does not result in an offer. It can be insidious too - the more things do not work, the more I want to chase finding something (and someone) who will, the more they do not work, and on and on. 

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Monday, January 7, 2019

January 7

Is there a statute of limitations on how long you are allowed to keep your Christmas lights up after Christmas? I have neighbors who have still not taken theirs down. I guess I understand it on some level - once the lights come down and the memories of Christmas and New Year's fade, all that is is left is eight weeks (give or take) of capital W winter. Just day after day of cold weather, limited daylight, and the persistent threat of snow, sleet, and ice. Why would you not want to be festive as long as you can?

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

January 6

Today, I am having lunch with an old friend of mine. The list of people who know both sides of my life - the "IRL" me and the social media me is vanishingly small. I have always subscribed to the idea that we have three lives - our public lives, our personal lives, and our secret lives. It is a relief when you can drop the mask and just be you around someone who accepts (and knows you) in whole, or at least as close as you are comfortable being.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

January 5

The Huffington Post recently re-upped an article about lifestyle changes for people with anxiety. The article listed 17 techniques of which, it turns out, I already do 10 (making my bed everyday, keeping my phone on silent, using cognitive behavior therapy techniques, writing down my schedule/to-do list, working out, cutting toxic people/things out of my life, establishing a bedtime routine, journaling, doing something with my hands (photography), and preparing in the morning). 

A couple I just don't believe in (if I hear someone utter the word "mindfulness" around me, I get stabby, limiting social media or caffeine? Uh, no (although I only drink one cup of coffee and never drink soda or alcohol), practicing "gratitude?" (see "mindfulness")) and the others are hard for me to do - opening up to others, practicing acceptance, and saying "no." 

If anything, I feel like I bend over backwards to gain the acceptance of others (a product of heavily withholding parents and an ex-wife who constantly moved the goalposts on what would make her happy, resulting in a never-ending chase to try and give that to her) and, to be honest, at this point - at 48 - how much juice would I get out of those particular squeezes? There is something to be said for being set in your ways and maybe that is a form of acceptance that I am coming around to.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

January 4

I do not have a lot to say this morning. I did send out a tweet last night that got some decent traction, so there is that. I was in bed before 9 pm and slept through until 5 am or so when Pumpkin and Ghost decided it was time to get up. I encourage their early morning shenanigans if only because it seems like that is the most exercise they get during the day. Otherwise, they just sleep a lot and bug me to feed them (which I indulge to the point where I worry that they are both too fat). 

Three-day work weeks are a concept I could get behind. 

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

January 3

I think a lot about retirement, or more specifically, whether or not I will be able to do so. You know those ads they show on TV asking people how much they think they will need for retirement and invariably it is way more than they think? That's me. I am 48, I tried to save, I really did, but a combination of bad luck and bad timing really set me back. To wit, I was diligently withholding 10 percent of my salary and putting it in a retirement account right up until I got divorced, when, (joke is on me!) my ex-wife got half of it. To add insult to injury, this all happened in 2010 - a *great* time to invest at precisely the time I also had to start paying alimony (truly, the gift that keeps on giving). 

So, I missed out on investing during one of the great bull markets in history. Now that alimony is done and I've recouped some of my losses, the market is running out of steam. Why do we expect something that is basically lightly regulated gambling to fund for our retirement? Anyway, I once had dreams of retiring before I was 60, now I am not so sure. I do not want to be like my parents - my dad worked until the day he died (literally, he stroked out at 53) and my mom worked well into her 70s. I saw how miserable they were, how little planning they had done (neither one was "good with money") and always said to myself, "that will not be me." Now, I am not so sure.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

January 2

300 hours (give or take). That is how long I was on vacation. It seems like an enormous amount of time when it starts, but it goes too quickly. The first day back at work is different than it used to be. Thanks to technology, we can all check our emails even while we are away, so I already know (most) of how my first day back will be. But hey, at least it is only a three-day week.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

January 1

The thing about getting older is you greet each new year with less excitement and more trepidation. When you're young, you rarely pause to consider having made it to the beginning of a new year, but when you're older, you start wondering how many more you will make, how quickly time seems to pass, and how much you want it to slow down. 

I am not one for resolutions, the most meaningful one I made was now almost 20 (!) years ago, when I decided to quit smoking and get healthy. That one worked out well, but this year, I am going to try and write more. It seems like a reasonable goal and one I might enjoy reaching.

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