Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Giving Thanks

I drive by a church every day whose digital sign rotates inspirational and informational messages. One in particular always catches my attention:

 "Give Thanks. It could be worse." Seems like a weird way to get people to be grateful--reminding them that their lives are not as bad as they possibly could be. Not sure it works for me. In fact, I think sometimes it makes me kind of angry. Like I'm being taunted by a sign. A church sign, at that. 

When times get tough, is it supposed to make me feel better to know that someone is more miserable than me? There's got to be a better way to get me to do this than to say "It could be worse." Perhaps there was a twitter-esque character limitation involved. As it stands, it's just depressing. It might as well say, "Yes we know you hate your life, but there are plenty of things that could happen to make you hate it even more. So stop whining. No one cares."

I guess I do see the point, though. Just like (as Ben Folds says) there's always someone cooler than you, there's also always someone worse off than you. Remembering this is valuable, right? But it's not all that easy to do. Why is that? I have tons of things to be thankful for. Why do I let the tiny stuff--annoying co-workers, the pressures of my job, obnoxious family members--get to me? Every second I spend thinking negative thoughts is a second of my life wasted. Wouldn't it be better to think about all the good things? Or to remind myself that there are Americans starving, out of work, terminally ill, and dying on the battlefield? That's all the sign is really trying to get me to think about, I suppose. 

But are Americans equipped for this kind of compassion? Here comes the naysayer (realist?) in me, but I tend to think not. Keeping it in perspective takes a bit of selflessness and empathy. Putting others ahead of ourselves is just not something we do well here. It's not the American way. I'm not very old, but was it ever? If it was, wouldn't more people be concerned with the fact that millions of children, through no fault of their own, are entrenched in poverty, wallowing in failing schools, and destined to be trapped in this cycle? I could go on with similar questions, but I think you get my point.

So sure, we should give thanks. And yes, it most definitely could be worse. But the sign misses the mark. Maybe the negativity of the word "worse" is to blame. Maybe it asks the impossible. Maybe it's a challenge. Well it's a challenge I'll take. I'll try to give a little more thanks, give a little less grief, be happier for what I have, and keep in mind those with less. I'll let you know how it turns out. How hard could it be?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Today's Five: Good Riddance

Five Things I Wouldn't Miss If They Disappeared Forever

  • Jon & Kate Plus 8
  • 3 Musketeers (The candy bar, the book can stay.)
  • Gas stations that make you pay more when you use a credit card
  • Facebook
  • Wal-Mart
This is definitely a list that I could go on and on with. But I'll leave it at that. I would like to stipulate, however, that I left the obvious things off: poverty, urban blight, war, swine flu, Nancy Boyle, etc.

Here's a fairly simple about you join the conversation by leaving a comment? What wouldn't you miss if it disappeared? And since you're taking the time to leave a comment, why not take an extra few seconds to subscribe? That way, Ben Cetera can be delivered directly to you!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Slice of Life: Sales

Got to thinking today about an old job I had for about six months during my senior year in high school. I worked at a little store called Bavarian Village Ski & Golf. I didn't know a damn thing about skiing; I was hired as kind of a stock-boy/grunt by the manager of the Golf side of things.

It wasn't exactly the most fun job I'd ever had, but it was eye-opening. Not in a "shattering of innocence" kind of way. More of a "people are strange" kind of way. Or perhaps an "I Don't Really Fit In" kind of way.

I certainly learned that
 some people take stuff way too seriously. These salesmen, on the ski and golf side, were an intense lot. Everything was about the bottom line and there were a few that would seemingly stop at nothing to make a commission. And at what cost? None of them seemed happy. Or even remotely satisfied. I'm pretty sure they didn't read anything besides ski 
magazines. And I know none of them spent any time with their families. They were driven in some way, that's for sure. And at the time (and in a way still) it was a drive that was completely foreign to me.
There were exceptions, of course. One (Dan, or maybe Dave), claimed to have a law degree but said he lacked the drive to be a lawyer. He told us he was selling skis until he "figured out what to do." It's quite possible he's still there. I guess it's also quite possible that he didn't really have a law degree...

Regardless, the cast of characters was overwhelmingly bizarre and foreign to me. They were "Type-A." I was more "Type-C." They threw themselves into selling fiberglass sticks. I threw myself into...not much. But I did a bang-up job taking out the trash. And changing light bulbs, which was actually my favorite task. What's not to like about a little ladder climbing followed by smashing those bad boys in the dumpster? 

The job didn't last long, maybe 6 months. They tried to turn me into a golf club salesman. Oh, and golf shoes, too. I'm sure you can imagine how that turned out. As soon as I discovered they were hiring stock boys at Target, I was gone.

But sometimes I wonder where those guys are now. I'm all but certain they wouldn't remember me, let alone recognize me. Kind of weird, seeing as how they're so tightly woven into the fabric of my memory. Either way, I'm sure they're obsessed with selling people with more money than me things that they don't really need. I'll continue to live the Type-C life, thank you very much.

Photo Source: Some Rights Reserved

Monday, May 18, 2009

Today's Five: Hip Hop

Five Hip Hop Groups that Need to Re-unite and Save the Genre

  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • Outkast
  • Goodie Mob
  • Brand Nubian
  • The Fugees

Okay, technically, Outkast is still together. But, c'mon, they haven't made a real album together in ages. Speakerboxx/The Love Below doesn't count. 

Better yet, these 5 groups need to not only re-form, but go on tour. Together. If they pick up the two groups that nearly made the list, EPMD and DasEFX, and bring them along, I'd be even happier. Hey, maybe they can bail out the remaining members of Junior M.A.F.I.A. so they can play the second stage or something.

Maybe it's not hip hop, maybe it's something else...are they any broken up groups you'd love to see get back together?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Today's Five: Never

Five Things I've Never Done

  • Gone to a dance club
  • Drugs
  • Watched "American Idol"
  • Ordered wine in a restaurant
  • Been to New York City
I wish things like "Been in the back of a police car" and "Fallen down a flight of stairs" could be on the list. But they can't. Nor can "Hit head on a ceiling fan" or "Fallen asleep while taking a shower." But maybe there's a list out there somewhere for them.

    Photo source Some rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today's Five: Destinations

Five Places I'd Travel Yearly if I Could:

  • Vancouver
  • Pittsburgh
  • Las Vegas
  • Chicago
  • Yellowstone National Park
NOTE: These places are from the "Been There Before" category. I'll save places I haven't visited for another time.

I know, one of these things is not like the other...Pittsburgh doesn't seem to fit, but if you've been there before, you understand its appeal...good food, great scenery, what more do you need. It's just an awesome town. 

Another great town not making this list is Cleveland, which is near and dear to my heart. I'm there pretty much every year anyway, so I left it out.                                               

I only got to spend about 8 hours in Vancouver many years ago, but it was enough to make me realize that it's a special place.

Speaking of special places...Vegas. Forget every year, I could go every month.

Finally, the entire Rocky Mountain region is just too amazingly beautiful to not make this list. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are all just breathtaking. But I went with Yellowstone because it epitomizes all that the West has to offer, I think.

This list will lead to off-shoots, I'm sure. Maybe "Places I've Been Before and Would Like to Visit Again, Just Not Every Year." I think that title needs work.

Photo Source Some Rights Reserved

Monday, May 11, 2009

Today's Five: Music

Five Popular Musical Artists I've Never Been Able to Get Into:

  • Nirvana
  • Jack Johnson
  • Bob Dylan
  • Lil' Wayne
  • Blink 182
These five musical acts have sold MILLIONS. People flock to their concerts. They do nothing, however, for me. A couple of them actually make me want to puke. Don't cry for me, though. Plenty of CDs in my collection probably make you feel the same way.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

On Disappointment

I have no intentions of making this blog completely about sports. But I am a big fan of sporting events and of life, and I am always fascinated when the two intersect as they did again this week.

I'm talking about the troubles of Manny Ramirez

A little background: I've been a ManRam fan since he broke into the league with the Cleveland Indians. I was in college in the C-town and caught Indians fever as they stormed their way to the American League championship. On of the best games I ever saw played was at Jacobs Field in 1995. Indians-Blue Jays. 13 innings. Albert Belle hit a bomb to win it. Great stuff.

You see, for me, Manny was the last great hope for folks like me: people who romanticize sports, baseball in particular. Those of our ilk look for any way they can to hold on to the "good ol' days" when the athletes were just regular joes, driving themselves to spring training, working jobs in the off-season to make ends meet, and (supposedly) not cheating. 

I thought Manny was a throwback. An aloof, self-centered throwback, but a throwback nonetheless. I believed him to be above it all when it came to steroids. I knew Manny was clean, and that was enough to keep me following the game. The fact that there was at least one star that wasn't doping allowed me to tell myself that, yes, some things still are sacred. And, yes, I could still go on cheering, despite the heroes who'd fallen off the pedestal before him.

And while it has not yet been proven that Ramirez's positive drug test has anything to do with performance enhancement, in my mind it seems pretty clear. If Manny needed Viagra, he'd have taken Viagra. This was for other reasons. 

So it all got me thinking, as a culture and as a country, have we numbed ourselves to the pain of disappointment? Have we become so accustomed to our leaders and our heroes failing us that we're more prone to shrug it off, accept it, and carry on with our lives? There's so much less outrage, so much less pain than before. What does that say about us? Are we all just cold-hearted, un-caring robots? What other conclusion can we draw? Whether it's sports or politics or religion, our "heroes" have let us down, time and again, each one more than the last. And yet collectively we give a big "Eh?" and keep on going.

It doesn't seem healthy to handle the disappoinment in that way. Or (perhaps this is it) it's just plain scary to think that we're so used to being let down, that we don't even stop or hurt or grieve when it happens. Like the dog that gets used to being kicked, like the lab rats who accept the electric shock, we've numbed ourselves. And while from one angle that might seem like a good thing (We're tough! We're American!), from another it makes me sad. Because if we don't get pissed when it happens, it's just going to keep happening. Over. And over. And then what?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Today's Five: Jobs

Five Careers I've Contemplated at Various Points in My Life

Photo source: Some rights reserved.
  • Pharmacist
  • Driving Range owner
  • Urban Planner
  • Biochemist
  • Bus Driver

What did you think about doing, but never went through with it? Let us all know. Leave a comment and add to the conversation.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Today's Five: Cars

Five Cars I Wished I Owned When I Was a Kid

Photo courtesy of Some rights reserved

Am I the only one that thought about this kind of stuff as a child? I was certain that one day, I'd be cruisin' the mean streets in at least one of these bad boys. 

What ride am I pushin' currently? Oh, that would be a black 1997 Camry with almost 150K miles on it and some scratches along the passenger side door thanks to that blind guy driving a Lincoln down Woodward last year.

Which cars were on your list? You know you had one. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Today's Five

Five Baked Goods That I Loathe

  • Banana Bread
  • Blueberry Muffins
  • Lemon Cake
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Anything with nuts in it. That's just gross.

Agree? Disagree? Got five of your own? Leave a comment. And be sure to check back for more...come to think of it, why not just subscribe?

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