NOT SO FUN FACTORY WITH CRAPPY DOH

Do you remember those Play-Doh Fun Factories? I think of that kid’s toy most every day. Really! You put a big blob of colorful clay in it, smush down the over-sized bright colored leaver and it extrudes long bendy logs of gloppy Play-Doh. The ads claim children will have hours of fun building stuff, but I assume most just wad the tubes back up and squish them out a couple more times until they are bored. Eventually the whole mess ends up on the bottom of the toy box with a stretched out slinkless Slinky, a cracked Etch-A-Sketch and a deformed minimalist Mr. Potato Head missing all its body parts except for one arm and an eyebrow.

play dont

FROM A PLAY-DOH FUN FACTORY TV AD

When I was a boy, most of my toys were multi hand-me-downs passing first through my four older siblings first. Since I was the end of the line, I had decent amount of stuff to play with but certainly not a Play-Doh Fun Factory. Mom would never buy that. She made her own clay for me out of a nickel’s worth of flour, salt and cornstarch. Unfortunately, that glop got hard fairly quickly and would never have squished through those cheap multi shape stencils anyway.

 

I vaguely remember something like an Etch-A-Sketch in the house but I have to assume it was a cheaper off-brand version called something like Sketchy Etch. I could see my Mom buying a knock-off Senior Spud Brain if it was under a buck at Alexanders, Mays or Lewis’ Of Woodhaven, but if we ever had one, that Reagan-omics trickle-down theory didn’t work since I never saw any part of it. What I do know for sure is my plastic egg of ‘Putty’ was ‘Fun’ brand versus the more famous ‘Silly’.

Yes, Mom was thrifty… and smart. She told us five kids that if a toy company HAD to advertise something on TV, then it must be crap that they could not sell otherwise. And for many years we believed her. Okay, to be fair, maybe we weren’t the brightest kids but who would have thought in one breath she was teaching us not to lie and scamming us in another. At least that lesson prepared me for politicians. And, oh yeah… Mom would have not used the word ‘crap’ to describe those toys to us. That was supposedly a bad word.  Whoever heard of getting in trouble for saying ‘crap’?  It made no sense to me.

When I was 10 years-old I got yelled at for saying the word ‘crap’ as we walked across the Mays parking lot. All I was doing was singing the opening line to Paul Simon’s song Kodachrome that I had literally just bought the 45 rpm record of with my own allowance money. Of course, I could not tell Mom that or she might have taken the record away from me before I even got the chance to play it. ‘Crap’ always seemed like a borderline bad word that did not deserve the same punishment as it’s harsher curse-word cousins, yet from Mom it garnered the same light smack or mouth of soap.

I guess my point is, we learned our lessons and never even bothered to ask for stuff we really wanted like a Play-Doh Fun Factory.  I finally caught on to that rule when for the holidays I asked for Hot Wheels like every other kid had and ended up with a crazy lame knock-off Johnny Lightning car set. Apparently even that bastard Jewish version of Santa was in cahoots with my Mom.

Around the time I got in trouble for “crapping” outside of Mays, I made friends with a neighborhood kid named Andrew that lived across the street catty-corner to the Myrtle Ave bridge over the Interborough Parkway. He was a couple of years younger than me but had all those cool toys I never had. Even though I was a little too old for them, at his house I was finally able to play with stuff like Legos and a Play-Doh Fun Factory. As usual, it turned out Mom was right; that heavily advertised Play-Doh Fun Factory was really lame.

Even though that was my only experience with one, like I said, the name Play-Doh Fun Factory still pops in my head most every day. It’s like Hot Pockets. I don’t really buy or eat Hot Pockets very much but the name of those frozen stuffed pastry snacks with the metallic microwave-safe burial shroud, is constantly rattling around my brain.

You see back when my buddy Mike’s kids were little, he used to call full diapers Hot Pockets. Since then, any time I am near a baby that has to be changed, the old jingle “what are you going to pick… Hot Pockets !!” plays inside my skull. Also, whenever I walk by the rows of them in the grocery store freezer, I again sing that stupid song to myself but instead of a snack I’m thinking about dirty diapers.

Yeah, that’s how my brain works. So, knowing that, you might wonder what is the twisted reason I think of the Play-Doh Fun Factory most every day. I should first admit, in my head the words “Fun Factory” is always in the style of Bobby Van singing the cheesy lounge singer voiced theme song of the obscure 1976 single-season Gong Show knock-off program The Fun Factory.

But back to my daily Play-Doh Fun Factory thoughts… you see… well…  I have a dog. Sometimes my wife and I kid around that he is hollow since for a miniature dachshund he puts out mountains of waste. It really does seem like he empties out double what he consumes.

Now I have been walking dogs for decades. I am pretty practiced at doing the embarrassing poopin’ pup ‘look away’ move while they’re doing doggie doo-doo business. You know what I mean, ignore the ugly obviousness by trying to look at absolutely anything but what is happening right in front of you screaming for your attention. Like when your boss has one of those little boogers that slip in and out of their nostril as they bark an order to you or when Gramps leaves the restroom with liquid drops all over his crotch region or when a young teenage girl really should not have worn white pants.

But it is inevitable that every time I take our little Pup out, I eventually end up looking down to see how he is doing. And… well… pretty much every time I catch sight of him slowly extruding his long bendy gloppy logs, the image of that damn toy pops in my head accompanied by it’s modified jingle and I always think well I finally have my own little red wiener dog shaped Play-Doh Fun Factory…      with crap shaded Play-Doh.

 

 

 

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590 PROBLEMS BUT JERRY LEWIS AIN’T ONE

Over the past 11 years I have slapped over 590 of these little bloggie posts up here on the ole’ World Widening Web. That’s almost six hundy weekly posts in a row each offering a scary view into the dimly lit recesses of my brain.  That’s a lot of whining about my petty problems, large leaps of memory faith, really frightening self-introspection and a gazillion hours dedicated to a fairly useless endeavor.  Of course, it’s not like I would have used those few hours a week doing something positive for society like curing cancer, creating an app that identifies everyone in your phone’s photos based on social media images or delivering Mealy Wheels to needy Humanity Habitaters.

Some posts are easy to compose with the words flowing like lava uncontrollably spewing out of my head all over my keyboard faster than my fingers can type them. Other times extracting a good idea from my skull is tougher than pulling a tooth with a tweezer. But at the risk of turning this week’s dissertation into something akin to those hated retrospective episodes that every long running TV show tosses into the mix when they are running low on fresh ideas, you know… where instead of new content they flimsily string together a bunch of cut-up rehashed tidbits from past, during this morning’s search I thought maybe I should look to the past to stimulate a new topic.

In May 2006, my first month of blogging, I recalled a hypochondriac-like fear. “As I watched my shaky fingers I thought of Michael J. Fox (which is a scary enough thing on its own) and thus started a two-year period in my life that I was sure I had Michael J Fox Parkinsons. I was afraid to tell anyone. I kept the life shattering news to myself that this young strapping indestructible man in his late thirties was suffering from the early stages of Michael J Fox Parkinsons and no doubt would soon be unable to function in society without massive doses of medicine. Eventually confined to a wheelchair. Jockeying for loose change selling pencils on a street corner shaking a tambourine next to the blind guy as my only way left to make money. I would be paraded onto one of those lesser-known Telethons hosted not by Jerry Lewis but by his son Gary Lewis who would close the 5-hour show with a rendition of This Diamond Ring.”

In case you are torn up with curiosity, I later revealed it was not Michael J Fox Parkinsons but just a bit of early stage commonplace arthritis. A week later I posted some tid-bits from my travels.  “In Illinois I found a drugstore that’s overhead sign read Service To The Sick which I’m sure was what they did offer. In Douglas Georgia there was another drugstore called Jerry Lewis Drugs which immediately conjures up the image of the Nutty Professor behind the pharmacy counter. There’s a chain of gas stations in the Midwest, which an outsider could get confused for a roadside brothel because of their name Kum & Go.”

That was two off-hand Jerry Lewis references in my first month. Another time I posted “my friend Madeline and I went to see the 1981 released Jerry Lewis movie Hardly Working at a 50 cents movie theater on a rainy night in a little Key West movie theater. It was so bad we left halfway through and on our way out she stopped at the ticket booth and, on principle alone, she asked for her money back.” Just last month I said “I just think my paranoid nature and twisted world view would cause me to raise very neurotic unbalanced Jerry Lewis like ‘Cretons’. ” Not long before that,  I brought up how when she was a kid, my Sister witnessed Jerry Lewis angrily curse out one of her younger friends.

What is all this? I mention Jerry Lewis a lot. In June of 2012 I admitted “Jerry has been resting on his comedic laurels since before I was born. Yeah, he made some unfunny stinkers but a lot of Jerry Lewis’ old movies and TV shows from the late 40s, 50s and early 60s are funny… My dirty little secret, I still love a lot of that stuff and it still makes me laugh like a giddy little boy. But shhhhhhhhh, don’t tell anybody. My wife already has enough ammo to use against me.”

It turns out Jerry Lewis is all over my damn blog. I kept finding more and more references. I had not really thought about it but apparently, I am very obsessed with Jerry Lewis.

“Since my success rate at fixing technical problems in the car were about the same as those of the Hindenburg’s landing crew or the Titanic’s ice berg watchers, I realized I was not going to have a working headlight anytime soon. My life was turning into a bad Jerry Lewis movie with no happy ending in sight” 3/17

“Like if Trump appointed Jerry Lewis as his press secretary…” 2/17

“every time she changes the number I will do a bad Jerry Lewis impression yelling ‘give me a Timpani’!!!”   12/15

“They are more spoiled than a two-month-old glass of milk left out in the Mojave Desert sun. Paris Hilton, Jerry Lewis and the Prince of Monaco are less overindulged than the four-legged critters at my house.”  1/15

“I was running, well more like flailing kinda’ like a cross between Jerry Lewis’s nutty professor and that naked crying kid escaping from a napalm attack in that iconic Vietnam war photo.” 9/14

“It’s like a hemophiliac working at a pin factory or a Priest into pornography or Jerry Lewis staring as a clown in a movie about Auschwitz; nothing good can come from it…”  5/14

“She continued to go off on me like a chiseled jawed drill Sargent that stumbled upon a Jerry Lewis-like slacking soldier.” 10/13

“… or in Jerry Lewis’ case four or five decades past his prime” 7/12

My friend Allyson always hated Frank Sinatra but a few years after he died she found a soft spot in her heart for the memories his music brought her. I asked her if she thought the same thing would happen with Jerry Lewis and she said ‘absolutely no way’… well she used more curse words.

I have always had that soft spot for Jerry Lewis. I grew up loving his old movies and watching the telethon just to catch glimpses of his early genius. He made it OK for me to be over-the-top goofy and silly like Steve Martin, Robin Williams and Jim Carry did decades later. I did not realize I was using him in my blog as an iconic cultural reference like Marilyn, Dean or Kennedy; my touchstone for goofiness.

With his innovative years long past, his recent passing did not affect me as some others but it still makes me sad. He was one of the last vestiges of a long gone simpler era. I wonder if that is why I liked him. He conjures up easier less stressful days of my childhood while simultaneously making it okay to be a goofball.

dan tub

 

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WACKY WEEKEND COWBOYS AND OVERWHELMING ENDINGS

I had an old friend in town this past weekend and the usual wackiness ensued that has happened most every time Charlie and I have gotten together in the past 30 years. Wackiness is a very good thing. Forget about meds from a doctor’s prescription pad; think about how much better you would feel if you had several daily doses of good old hearty laughing. It’s difficult to worry about your woes when you are busy rolling on the floor like a loopy little lad.

Most of Saturday we sat around watching sports and hanging out by the pool unintentionally finding new and creative ways of causing my wife to roll her eyes at us, until she had enough of our silliness and went off to spend the evening with a friend.

The big excuse for the visit was to attend Sunday’s Rams vs Cowboys football match way over in Arlington in Jerry’s Giganta-torium on Sunday. The game was great; none of the 92,000 Dallas fans that attended tossed their spittoon juice on my buddy in his Rams shirt or even gave him a hard time when he celebrated his team’s victory over the local Boys. Just in case though, when Charlie got a bit boisterous, I cowered a bit behind him worried a random spur might come flying our way.

Unfortunately, on the way home our silly juvenile fun was interrupted when I discovered my car tire was looking less like a big black doughnut and more like a burnt crepe made by a novice blind chef with ADD and a touch of palsy. It was not pretty. After feeding a dozen quarters to a gas station machine in an attempt to re-inflate it, my gauge still registered zero air pressure. Now my blood pressure was a different story.  Looking at the twisted tire, I thought, maybe we did experience a spur attack?

My Mini has no spare but instead has ‘run-flat’ tires but the three hour wall-to-wall chaotic traffic exiting the stadium parking lots (who schedules a nearby professional baseball game to end at the same time) and drive home truly tested that ‘running flat’ concept. As it did to my patience and ability to not wind myself up into a tense mess with my mind spinning in a faster frenzy than the Tasmanian Devil in a Red Bull factory. No distraction from an old friend was going to help, as I worried about what a dangerous blow-out on the highway might do to mangle my car, effect my ability to get around next week and at the least disrupt the rest the weekend’s plans for unplanned wackiness.

As it turned out the tire incident did not put a damper on our silly fun as much as the physical limitations of being humans our age with real world adult responsibilities. The next morning while I played an insanely frustrating one-sided game of phone tag with the mechanics trying to find out if I did any damage to my car, my wife was dealing with an infuriating situation with a contractor that was supposed to be finishing an estimated 2-day multiple door replacement project that had been dragging on since mid-May.  When the worker arrived, he discovered one part he needed was missing and the other, for the third time in as many visits, was damaged.

Meanwhile Charlie also woke up to a handful of headaches to handle here and at home. We all needed to vent as things started piling up on us at an almost a comical level. Our laugh-fest became a bitch-session as problems seemed to roll over us in waves like those fits of laughter had the previous two days. We all were trying to get past it but things changed as the day went on.

I learned Las Vegas, one of my favorite places to escape the reality of the world, had been smeared with the blood of massive meaningless tragedy. That was exaggerated even more when later I again was reminded of how fragile life is when I learned about singer Tom Petty’s death. My mood soured and there was a lot less laughter.

Being so crazy worked-up and hyper-focused over the inconvenience of a door or a tire seems kind of silly in the light of so much devastating death or while the entire populations of Puerto Rico and a half-dozen other islands in the Atlantic are fighting just to make it through the day alive with no shelter or electricity.  We are on the brink of war, building walls instead of repairing bridges and internally everyone is fighting each other because no one wants to do the one single obvious thing we teach every tiny child… to work together and share.

Now as I write this, yet another close friend is dealing with the very inevitable death of her father. At least he made it past her birthday. The world is already a cruel enough place; no need for that to be ruined too.

The sorrow and helplessness of this week reminds me just how special and very important wacky weekends with old friends are. I am mad at myself for letting solvable problems grow big enough to spoil my good times, especially since I’m old enough to know that right around the corner some big bad uncontrollable ugliness is usually waiting to pounce.

I don’t have any big answers. I don’t know how to get people to stop fighting. I don’t know how to stop the senseless killing. I don’t know how to make the heroes of my generation stop dying. I don’t know how to cure old age. But hopefully I still have enough time left to learn how to better handle the controllable things. How to better balance my priorities by adding more time with friends and family.  And most importantly, how to add more wackiness and hearty laughter to every day.

CHAZ DAN 2017 COWBOYS

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THE BELLMORE BREAKOUTS or HOW TO BE A BAD A FRIEND

I have mentioned him before in passing, but one of the few friends I had in New York during my astoundingly awkward seventh grade year was a kid named Jamie. I have to assume since he was buddies with a clueless dork like me, he must have been pretty lonely and damaged too but then again, who doesn’t feel that way in seventh grade. We went to second and third grade together before he transferred elsewhere but we somehow ended up in the same smart geek-filled SP advanced class together when we started Junior High. Don’t worry, by eighth grade they booted me outta’ that program and shoved me back with the regular riff-raff and rambunctious remedials.

Besides not really knowing or liking much of anyone else in the class, the only real point of context we had to build a friendship on was a shared obsession with The Beatles. We dissected albums, quoted lyrics and tried to stump each other with researched band history factoids during class. Eventually we hung out together after school a handful of times.

One of our bigger mismatches involved sports or more precisely, my cluelessness on the subject. Jamie was a typical somewhat athletic kid that could hold his own in any game and near religiously followed all the local sports teams. Most of my family could not even name all the local teams and we certainly were not known for our athletic prowess.

There was never an inkling of an iota of a floated around idea of a thought that maybe I should join something remotely close to an organized sport team or Little League. Like signing up for the local Hitler Youth Choir or an after-school self-immolation club, it just was never even a consideration.  No one would have stopped me but… I mostly played New York street games like boxball, stoop-ball and Ace King Queen. The only real sport I consistently played was basketball but my skill set was primarily based on the fact I sprouted taller a couple of years before my peers.

I recall Jamie and I walking down to the courts down Woodhaven Blvd between Victory Fields and Co-Op City to play handball couple of times and once we tossed around a football in the street in front of his house, but that mostly consisted of me chasing a ball down the street or throwing it at his feet until he got fed up with me. Most of the time we spent together consisted of making numerous cassette recordings of us poorly performing parody versions of Beatles songs with re-written lyrics making fun of all our classmates that we disliked.

We created a back history for our fictional band The BellMore Breakouts. Bell from Bellview and More from Creedmore, the two major New York psychiatric hospitals. I believe his sister was handicapped, so writing improper joke lyrics on the subject was likely therapeutical for him; I had no excuse except I was a typical adolescent insensitive dope.

Gravitating to our favorites, Jamie character was modeled after Paul, I was a John character and rounding out the non-existent quartet was Hagstrom Map, the name of the company printed in small letters on the bottom of a decorative map hanging on his wall, and Tom Carvel, the gravel-voiced elderly owner/spokesman for the local ice cream chain. Hagstrom did not show up on any songs since he was the ‘quiet one’ but we found endless humor in the concept of Tom Carvel singing lyrics with his ‘nails on a chalkboard’ voice and throwing in the occasional line about Thiny-Thin diet ice cream and Cookie Puss cakes.  Did I mention that neither of us could sing or play a musical instrument? I said I was a dork.

Although it might be the same morbid curiosity that would cause you to look at a fiery car accident on the side of the road or try to figure out what a flattened road-kill pizza might have been in its previous incarnation, I guess I would like to actually hear one of those cringe-worthy recordings but my copies are gone. Long-term friendships have been forged on far less than Beatles parodys but this one did not stand the test of time.  By eighth grade we rarely saw each other. His family moved out of the neighborhood to Long Island and I only went out there once. By then he had actually bought a bass guitar and was trying to learn how to play.

Girls had become as big a topic of conversation as the Beatles and he had a bit of a crush on Bonnie Tyler based on her cover photo on the It’s A Heartache album where he claimed you could see the shadow of the edge of her nipple… you can’t but a 13 year old boy in the pre-internet era took what he could get. During my one visit Jamie also wanted to film a Bellmore Breakout version of the Beatles’ Let It Be concert on the roof of his shed using his Mom’s Super 8 camera, but we ran into several logistical problems the least of which being there was only two of us instead of four and one of us had to operate the camera from below.

Since we weren’t in class together anymore, writing lyrics making fun of people from a year before seemed kinda silly and I was kinda bored having kinda’ outgrown the whole thing. Later that year I moved to Miami but had still not made any friends down there yet when Jamie called suggesting he come down for a few days. It did not go well.

Again, he still wanted to record more stuff but at that point it just seemed ridiculous to me. He envisioned the trip to be filled with writing / recording our stupid songs and ogling girls on the beach. Neither happened. To make things worse, my Grandmother had just moved down and my folks expected us to spend one of his days visiting helping paint her condo. I don’t really blame him for being upset. He was miserable and I was a shitty host. We barely talked his last day in Florida and after he left I uncharacteristically threw out those horribly embarrassing cassettes. Except for an accidental bumping into each other a few years later on the streets of Manhattan where we exchanged pleasantries, we have never talked since.

So here is my dilemma. He recently appeared on my ‘people you might know’ section of FACEBOOK. I don’t know how he got there, we have no mutual friends. Did he look for me? Did the internet gods point him out for me to have some cosmic atonement for being a Junior High jerk or is there some tiny bit of data on a dusty circuit board on the bottom of some buried mega-computer that stumbled upon the fact we both went to JHS119 together for one year decades ago? What computer algorithm made this happen? Why can’t it find Stacey Hoffman instead, the girl in elementary school that developed breasts first that I had a very silent from afar crush on.

Or… or… follow me here… do I reach out. Test the waters, see if he does not think I am a butthead and then spring the question. ‘Do you still have any of the tapes?’  Is my curiosity about wanting to hear something so god-awfully bad, so squirmingly uncomfortable, that will absolutely cause 100% guaranteed embarrassment and stir up miserable memories of one of the worst eras of my life truly that strong?  Yeah, it kinda is.  I’ll keep you posted.

70S DAN

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RACING HURRY-CANES TOO

Back in the late summer of 1992, Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on Miami like a middle aged just-divorced sleazy swinger in a leisure suit eyeballing the singles bar’s newest bimbo wearing a two-sizes too-small skin-tight mini and a poofy coif of unmovable exposed dark-rooted dyed blond hair that could only be obtained from a box of Dollar Store hair dye and ¾ a can’s worth of Aqua-Net (we are talking about Miami in the early 90s).

After being evacuated from her place on not quite yet tres tres chic South Beach, my friend and I sought refuge from the inevitable storm at the condo of an old High School friend’s Mother. Like a lot of life’s choices, hurricanes don’t always go where predicted. Unfortunately, where we sought sanctuary ended up being closer to where the brunt of the storm hit.

It was not a pleasant experience. Nobody warns you that in the dark of the night after the power is knocked out, the sounds of the storm are the scariest part. The three-story building shook, wave after wave of unrelenting rain pounded against the taped windows, the front door creaked as it bowed from the sustained 120+ mph wind exposing a slit of dim light on either side and air raced through the keyhole tumblers making a shrill high-pitched whistle a deaf/mute dog would likely hear.

We got through it all safe with our lives and belongings intact but obviously many others nearby didn’t. We ventured out in the morning with my video camera filming streets covered with roof tiles, tree limbs, street signs and various other blown debris. At first we felt a little like adventurers but once we discovered dangling traffic lights swinging over empty intersections, cars crushed under trees and houses with less roofs then that deaf/mute dog, it stopped being so exciting. I put away the camera and our thoughts drifted to the overwhelming feeling of how does an entire City start picking up the pieces. Later when the power eventually returned we learned how amazingly lucky we were when we saw how close and how massive the complete devastation of some entire nearby neighborhoods was.

Over a decade later on one of our first anniversary trips, was when I introduced my wife to Miami. At that point, there were only a few remaining scars from the storm. Many of the trees had grown back, the houses rebuilt and the city nightlife as vibrant as ever. I was supposed to go on another romantic anniversary vacation to Florida this past week. After a quick visit with my family we were to head to my favorite beach for a few days of relaxation and good food near the peaceful ocean. I am not sure if over the years since, it is Miami or me that has changed, but we now tend to stay on the quieter west coast.

Hurricane Irma had a different plan. Instead, we spent a week stressing about my parent’s safety as they hunkered through the storm in my Aunt’s somewhat secure senior living facility. At their age, we were not sure if staying through the storm or traveling for days to avoid the giant hurricane’s path, was more dangerous for them. Meanwhile we prepped my house to become a far western storm evacuation shelter for my evacuating niece, her family, her in-laws, friends and various pets who were already en-route just ahead of the storm.

Our evacuees had been driving the better part of a day but only reached the Florida panhandle when they decided to cut north and head to closer friends in the Carolinas. My folks turned a negative into a positive, taking out their hearing aids the night the storm hit. They mostly slept through the worst of Irma, who took a merciful turn just south of Tampa leaving their City, without power for a few days but otherwise, relatively unscathed and intact. Even after learning they were safe, I still felt horrible that my folks had to go through the stress of the unknown that hunkering through an ominous incoming Category Five brings.

With the knowledge that everyone was safe but a romantic Florida beach anniversary vacation out of the question, my wife and I faced a new dilemma. What were we to do for our anniversary vacation? After tossing around various ideas, studying the weather map’s possible trajectories of the three new brewing hurricanes, analyzing where we had the least amount of friends and family to offend when we did not call them while we were on our secret little googly-eyed get-a-way and playing one of the most dragged out bizarre versions of Rock Paper Scissor known to modern man, we both decided going the opposite direction to San Francisco was best.

We had both independently previously been there but my wife did not recall the high level of homeless that the lenient politics, leftover hippie idealism and ideal weather attracts. I kept thinking about the hurricane and as I said before, how like a lot of life’s choices, hurricanes don’t always go where predicted. How easy it is for a storm to take away everything you have: your home, your work, your possessions…

How many people living day to day, month to month, without a safety net, did this year’s back to back to back natural disasters make homeless?  How fragile is the world we create for ourselves? I slipped out of our cushy multi-star hotel early one morning walking right passed many folks sleeping on the street. As I wandered the pre-dawn quiet piers around Fisherman’s Wharf with the song Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay tritely running through my head, I wondered if Andrew or Irma had drifted just a few miles left or right how much my universe might have radically changed.

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SOME BASTARD NAMED ANDREW IS KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

On Friday August 21st 1992 I was playing in the calm clear water off Miami Beach. As usual, I re-re-applied mountains of sunscreen on my shoulders, back and chest but did not yet have to slather the top of my head in fear of a glowing red noggin. This was so damn long ago I still had all my hair… well… most of it. There was not much in the world I loved more than just care-freely watching the day turn to night while floating in the warm ocean.

Emotionally my world might have been a bit messy but I still managed to juggle a somewhat profitable career while simultaneously hiding from reality and responsibility. I had helped my old friend Madeline move into her cool summer vacation Ocean Drive condo a year earlier but still somehow managed to not yet wear out my open invitation to visit. The place was located across the street from the beach right next door to the jumping Clevelander hotel which featured the most conspicuous party bar on the strip.

I officially moved out of Miami over a decade earlier when I left for college but had started going back more and more especially after I started spending time with Judy, a smart, sweet woman with a passion for partying. Unfortunately my brain had gotten very good at sabotaging most of my relationships before they even got started and my constant traveling for work usually took care of the rest. So even when she moved on and stopped phoning me, Miami definitely kept calling.

At the time, Miami Beach was starting a transition which was as unexpected and dramatic as Bruce to Caitlyn. A lot of the old Art Deco hotels were still ad-hoc homes for the aged filled with feeble geriatrics that looked older and more rickety then the unkempt buildings themselves. But those Methuselah-like inhabitants who could still recall Miami’s original  glory days were quickly dying off and this renascence was going to happen without them.

Several trendy all-night clubs opened attracting the young drug-fueled partying locals to the somewhat cuspy neighborhood. It was becoming a hot spot for model agencies and, through some creative overseas marketing, suddenly European vacationers filled the handful of recently restored hotels.

In between Collin’s Ave’s faded Five & Dime clothing stores, run -down greasy spoons, old timey Burlesque club, grimy Cuban coffee counters and scummy XXX movie theater, almost overnight shiny brand new chef-driven restaurants, modern boutiques and high-end clothing stores were popping up everywhere. It still had a long way to go but South Beach was getting its chic back.

Madeline’s condo was in a tired weather-worn very un-gentrified building. Even the loud whirring of the old window mount air-conditioner could not cover up the bar next door’s all-night thumping dance music and constant crashing beer/wine/liquor bottles being tossed by the dozens into the metal dumpster two floors down in the alley just beyond the window.

In between my traveling consulting jobs, I was in Miami so much that I had developed daily routines. It was not a rough life. I’d hang out at night till I  collapsed, then after a quick few hours’ sleep, I’d slip out for a peaceful early morning beach jog. Next I’d indulge in a late breakfast of Cuban pastries with little cups of sugary espresso until at some point the Cuban coffees magically turned into tall green bottles of El Presidente beer.

Then came the best part of my day, bobbing in the warm summer ocean as day turned to night. I’d watch the beach slowly empty as the lackadaisical low hanging tropical clouds lazily drifted along reflecting the the brilliant sunset colors.   As it got darker, the air temperature cooled off till eventually the water felt comparatively warmer. Sometimes my world has been really good. Sometimes… not so much.

On Saturday August 22st 1992 Madeline and I met her somewhat estranged Father for a late lunch by the marina on Biscayne Bay at Monty Trainers in Coconut Grove. He mentioned in passing the hurricane that was brewing in the Atlantic was looking real bad. We had been previously nonchalant about the far away storm and at that point had been oblivious about how serious it had gotten. Hurricane Andrew was coming but at that point my only thought was that a little rain might briefly interrupt my daily dips in the ocean.

On the drive back to the condo, the radio announcers made us a bit panicky talking about an imminent serious hit not experienced in several lifetimes. The streets on the beach were buzzing but it was not the typical chaos generated by the usual mix of leathery-skined elderly, beet-red beach bums and glammed-up club-goers.

The craziness all around us fed into a shared paranoia up and down the beach that night. Rumors spread and every overheard TV or radio blasted hurricane prep and tracking info. Madeline and I realized we were woefully unprepared and headed over to the market for supplies to weather the storm. Obviously we were not the only ones who had put off doing any hurricane prep, the local Panty Pride supermarket was in crazed frenzy.

Shelves were empty as panicked people threw anything edible into their carts. One guy was running through the store muttering loudly while constantly crashing his cart as he frantically grabbed obscure items from any shelf within his reach. The canned goods aisle was barren except for a few stray cans of survival-unfriendly items like sauerkraut, whole clams and 100% pumpkin. Even though necessary staples like water, soda and ice were nonexistent and only odd-ball sized batteries remained, the check-out lines still snaked around the entire store with people buying whatever they thought they could use or trade.

After a stressful night of taping windows, stowing valuables and doing any other storm preparations we could think of, on Sunday morning August 23rd 1992, instead of waking up to the usual sound of straggling partiers and smashing bottles, we heard the booming sound of the police slowly cruising the Miami Beach streets blasting mandatory evacuation orders.

Andrew was now a category five hurricane that was predicted to make landfall somewhere on the Miami coast that night. The news reported the roads heading north were already at stand still. The few service stations with any gas remaining, had waiting lines of cars for miles. The potential storm surge if it directly hit the beach would cover the streets around the condo with several feet of water. The repeated blaring police warnings from the street below were louder than the roaring air conditioner. We had to leave but didn’t know where to go.

During the dark pre-dawn hours of of Monday August 24th 1992 Hurricane Andrew slammed into the coast of Florida a few dozen miles south of Miami utterly decimating businesses, houses and lives as it barreled unrelentingly north through the far inland suburbs. The same suburbs I lived in while going to High School. The same suburbs that I still had so many friends who in the blink of a hurricane eye lost their homes, possessions and place of employment. The same suburbs Madeline and I evacuated to, in order to get away from the dangerous beach.

It might have been one of the scariest nights of my life but I got through with my world intact. This past week millions upon millions of Atlantic ocean islanders and Floridians faced a hurricane twice the size of Andrew. A few weeks ago a few million more in Texas dealt with Harvey. Each one of those people has their own horror story leading up to the storm and although most got through relatively unscathed, for many things only got worse afterwards.

dan in keys

Another Trauma From That Era

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CHILDLIKE CHILDLESSNESS

I have not reproduced. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing but it has worked for me thus far. When discussing my lack of sowing my seed someone inevitably makes the old joke ‘well no kids that you know of’. And that is true. If I am going to be precise, I have no children that I know about but I have to believe with each year that passes, the chance of a knock on the door from some fully-grown curious young adult carrying a big bag of neurotic crazed characteristics, an awkward ear for bad music, a near compulsive constant craving for bacon and the nick-name Lil’ Bastard seeking info about a famously dorky birth Pappy gets slimmer and slimmer.

While my past might be a little muddled and murky, containing the occasional typical male (mis)judgments clouded and controlled by hormones, loneliness and stupidity that my sex is famous for, since a sense of paranoia has peppered a lot of my life’s decisions (both good and bad) I really have never been too worried about procreation surprises.

But not having kids does not mean I do not like kids. Quite the contrary. I like kids… when they are not around me all the time. And I like the idea of creating, nurturing and molding a person but again, since I do not really want them around me all the time… I’m much better suited to being the occasionally visiting wacky Uncle with a heart of gold… or mold or something. I just think my paranoid nature and twisted world view would cause me to raise very neurotic unbalanced Jerry Lewis like ‘Cretons’.

It does take work to NOT have a kid. It seems like a design flaw in humans that you can very easily accidentally leave the safety off the old baby juice pistol and play an unplanned round of ‘preggo my eggo’ with a very wrong potential parental partner. It makes no sense that the act of actively NOT spawning requires far more work, planning and self-control; all characteristics that my species are famously not good at.

If possible let me be even more blunt, those who we are often physically attracted to for an evening of exciting doinking is often not the same person capable of being a good parent or even remotely in-sync with your child rearing philosophy. I think that pretty much sums up why there are so many unhappy poorly adjusted not particularly good people wandering around the planet wreaking havoc on humanity. I have enough worries without bringing a kid into this mess.

I did not start my adulthood proclaiming I would never create Little Dan Mutants, but I have also never had the strong urge or need to have little Lewbies ‘created in my image’ running around whining that they want to be removed from the bubble I would have kept them locked in until they were 30. I did already mention that I am a tad paranoid.

I am not wishing a lack of steady employment to my psychologist and prison worker friends, but I kinda wish more people would have made the same decision I did. I truly have not taken this choice lightly. I fully understand the gravity of the parent-child beauty and bond but that is not what I need to feel fulfilled.  Because I do like children it has always seemed wiser to not venture into parenthood than to do it half assed.

As the years have passed I have refined my response to the ‘do you have children’ question with my oft repeated “If I was with someone that wanted kids I am sure I could be a good Dad but it has never been a priority to me.”  Of course the replies I receive have been wildly varied from being called selfish to being complimented. I know my opinions might change and I can see how being elderly without children and grandchildren to live vicariously through, or at least have visit and occasionally care for you in times of need, could be a lonely isolating prospect but that does not seem like a good enough reason to have kids.

Unfortunately, I guess that innate parenting instinct never really goes away so what I have noticed about myself and my other childless friends is that we tend to really dote on our pets. Anthropomorphizing our animals is nothing new but childless couples seem to raise it to an artform. I recall working with a woman who talked about her cockatiel’s experiences with the same intensity as someone describing their child’s schooling preparations for collage.

I am comfortable with my skills at dog and cat caring but they do not really translate to child raising. I do not think it would go over well if I only occasionally took my kid out for leashed walks.  On the other hand, I would leave extra food and water out if I left them alone locked in the house for the weekend.  Yeah, I guess so far my choice has worked out okay.

DanOnFloorW_Girls94

Uncle Dan playing a rousing game of Rigor Mortis, where the one that can lay as still and quietly the longest wins.

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