Category Archives: Thought and Opinion

I Wanna Go Back

Me“I wanna go back and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know.”

“I Wanna Go Back” was a song written thirty years ago by Danny Chauncey, Monty Byrom and Ira Walker for their band Billy Satellite. It was the band’s debut single and peaked at #78 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

But it wasn’t until two years later when Eddie Money covered the song on his 1986 platinum album “Can’t Hold Back” that a then seventeen-year old boy man finally stood up and took notice.

On a side note: I recently asked Money why he decided to include a version of the song on his album and he said “Because I recall hanging out on Friday night. The first slow dance. Hoping that I’ll get it right…C’mon, you can’t get a better lyric than that!”

For me though, the song resonated about innocence lost and the longing for the impossible: a return to a much simpler, less complicated time. Of course in 1986, I had no experience in such matters and absolutely no desire to return to anywhere. Every day for me was new and exciting.

Here’s what a typical week for me was like in 1986:

It was the summer when I got my first real car. A 1973 Toyota Corona. A laughable clunker when I think about it now, but it was my Rolls Royce then.

Weekly guitar lesson: Shredding on everything from AC/DC to Zeppelin.

Dreams of being a rock star: Heck, it even says so on my yearbook picture!

High School: Which started out every morning with Concert Choir and also included Music Theory and Art in addition to the mandatory English and Math.

“I recall hanging out on Friday night”

Friday always…ALWAYS meant going to the mall and perusing through the latest album releases at the record store. I’ll admit, I was also one of those habitual bachelors who passed by the Orange Julius in hopes of seeing a gaggle of cute girls. Then using the last fifty cents of my lawn mowing money trying to obtain the high score on Centipede in the arcade and if I was lucky, one of those “out of reach” girls would be playing a game right next to me. {SIGH}

“Back then I thought that things were never gonna change”

So, thirty years after Billy Satellite originally released it, what was it that made me think of the song this morning? I suppose it was the culmination of everything that’s been going on in the world in recent days. Here are just a few examples. Take your pick:

1. Russia escalating the crisis in Ukraine.

2. Elected representatives voting their party rather than the people they’re supposed to represent without fear of repercussion.

3. Terrorist attacks throughout the world.

4. The media’s never-ending quest to fear monger the weather and make the slightest storm out to be doomsday.

5. Neglected and abused animals, women, children and veterans.

But despite what your local newspaper, talk radio or favorite extreme Facebook group might say, the real problem with this world isn’t the fault of one particular country, political party or extended forecast. Rather, the real problem is we, the people. We’re the ones who are to blame for the mess that we’re in. And nothing showcases this example better than The Walking Dead. Yes, that’s right. The zombie show.

In a post-apocalyptic world where it’s just humans and undead walking around, the humans can not seem to overcome their own desire for power and greed in order to survive. Instead of pulling together for a common purpose (like finding out what caused the apocalypse or better still, how to cure it), they’d rather build loyalties and fight skirmishes with both humans and zombies in order to pillage whatever they can and gain an advantage. The undead themselves are actually just pawns in their cruel game. Is it too far-fetched to believe that if this happened it real life, that’s the way we would react?

The answer to fixing our problems is so simple, so why can’t we do it? It all starts (and ends) with US.

People often wonder why I still have a fascination with 80′s music, Godzilla and breakfast cereal and I could ramble off a dozen reasons about how it’s cool, or how delicious a bowl of Lucky Charms is. But perhaps the best reason of all is because it reminds me of a much simpler time. A time when I didn’t have to care. At least, not as much as I do now.

Sure, I know now that things will never be the same… but I wanna go back.

Sealed With a KISS

DressedToKillAs an early member of the KISS Army, all I can say is that I did my duty. So don’t blame me.

Ever since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened its doors in the mid 80′s, I joined my fellow brethren in bitching and moaning for KISS to be inducted. And over the years, I’ve painfully watched as other artists and bands (many deserving, most not) walk through the Hall’s hallowed doors while Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were unjustly ignored.

Regardless of whether or not you like their music, there can be no denying that KISS deserves a place alongside The Beatles, Hendrix, U2 and (gasp!) ABBA.

In the 1970′s KISS was literally the biggest thing on the planet.

Consider this:

1. You NEVER, EVER saw them without make-up. It was big part of their schtick and one that they took very seriously.

2. They were SO huge that each member created their own solo album and released them all simultaneously.

3. Dolls were made in their likeness.

4. They were in movies, on television and in comic books.

5. Kids (like me) dressed up like them for Halloween.

I remember being a naive eight year old reading the TV guide when I noticed that one of the members of KISS was going to be in a movie that was coming on. Can you imagine my horror when I turned on channel 4 to discover that my hero was actually actress Jean Simmons in a black and white movie. I thought they had spelt Gene’s name wrong.

But that was the kind of impact KISS had. We read about them, listened to their music, bugged our parents to buy their merchandise. Most of all, we wanted to be them. When the “Dressed To Kill” album came out, I thought they were cool. When the “Alive” album came out, I wanted to be a rock star.

Late last year, it was revealed that the band would finally receive their long overdue induction into the Hall. Euphoria ran amok in the KISS Army, while tears of joy ran down the faces of the now middle-aged fans who had dreamt about seeing their beloved four original members reunite in make-up for one final soiree.

But alas, then came the shit storm.

For some reason, whether it was monetary, too much trouble or (most likely) that they simply just continue to hate each other’s guts, the band has announced that they will not play in any line-up at their hall induction. Kind of ironic when you consider that it was Simmons and Stanley (the only two original members still with the band) who have bemoaned the Hall for decades for not accepting them.

Over the years, original members of the band have written tell all books and released ho-hum records. Their induction was the one thing fans wanted most and the only thing that would make KISS relevant again. It’s sad to think that these guys can’t put aside their differences for just one night.

After finally getting their long overdue reward, wouldn’t it have been cool for KISS to put on an induction performance the likes of which have never been seen before? Maybe do it and then announce your retirement during your acceptance speech and seal the band’s legacy with the ultimate rock moment? Sadly, we’ll never get a chance to see anything now.

Gene Simmons once declared that KISS is a band that’s unlike any other. In light of what the band has done to the legions of fans who finally got them into the Rock Hall of Fame, I’d say he got that right.

It’s A Miracle

WaterWineI was never one of those people who was really big into miracles but in light of this morning’s circumstances, I might have to reconsider.

Here in the northeast, we’ve just finished digging out of the latest winter storm. One that dropped another eight inches of snow on a tired area of the nation longing for spring relief. Anyone who says snow is beautiful has obviously spent more time riding a sleigh than standing behind a shovel, and I spent much of last evening doing the latter; digging and snow-blowing a manageable path to get my car out for work the next day.

As usual, I left my house at 5 am this morning. The drive in to work was just as it always is after a snow storm: a slippery mess. But I always try to be cautious when it comes to driving in snow/ice conditions. I even have one of those little indicator lights in my car that alerts me when the car is slipping around.

The route I take to work travels eighteen miles on a normally busy highway. I’ll admit I was a bit concerned about the road conditions there, but was pleasantly surprised on my arrival to discover that the surfaces were completely clear for the most part.

I was driving along in the slow lane at a moderately reduced 35 mph, behind cars doing a similar rate of speed. It wasn’t long before I came upon a car ahead of me that had its four-way flashers going indicating that the driver was in some sort of distress and going extra slow. I slowly moved over into the passing lane to get around him and in retrospect, that was probably my first mistake. For instead of moving back over to the slow lane after I had passed the car, I chose to continue driving in the passing lane a little longer, a lane which had suddenly started to slow down.

It was at that moment that some knucklehead in the slow lane decided to move over into the passing lane and cut me off. Now, this is a maneuver I’ve experienced countless times in the past and one that would require me to hit my brakes to slow down in order to avoid an accident. On a warm spring day this could easily have been achieved, but obviously not in the beginning of February and on the morning after a snow storm.

In my attempt to slow down, I encountered some black ice on the road and immediately knew that there was going to be no way to avoid a collision. Although I was able to reduce speed I still struck the back-end of his car doing about 25 mph. Loud enough to hear the dreaded “THUD!” and knowing that damage was going to be done.

As our cars separated, I noticed through my windshield that the back-end of his car had suffered no damage at all following the fender bender. I realized that even though he was negligent for cutting me off, I would ultimately hold responsibility for the accident because I had rear-ended his car. As if that weren’t enough, to add insult to injury, the damage was going to be limited to just my car.

We both slowly pulled off of the highway. All the while I was not only thinking about the safety of the driver, but also about the extensive damage that had been done to my car. I saw visions of police officers arriving at the scene and endless calls to claims adjusters in my future, not to mention the fact that I was also going to be late for work. I clicked on my hazard lights and slowly got out of the car.

That’s when something I still can’t explain happened.

I looked at the front end of my car and there was not a scratch. Huh?? After hitting his car at 25 mph and hearing the dreaded WHOMP, there was not even a mark. Not a scratch, dent, ding or split in the bumper. Both cars had zero damage. It was almost as if I had rear ended a pillow.

The other driver and I stood in the cold glare of our four-way flashers dumbfounded over what had just happened. As big semi trucks and snow plows trudged by us in the early morning hour, we both knew that what had experienced could not be explained.

We both shook hands and exchanged phone numbers in case something went wrong, but I don’t think it will. It certainly wasn’t a miracle in a sense of turning water into wine or having a life long disease suddenly being cured, but it does make you think.

Sometimes even in the throes of the worst winters, good things happen.

My Thoughts on The NFC Championship

SeahawksLogoI wanted to write this post well before tonight’s NFC Championship; lest anyone think that I might be one of those phony bandwagon fans who only jump on board when a team is doing well and then disappears when the wheels fall off the bus. That’s hardly the case with me. I’ve been an east coast Seattle Seahawks fan for thirty years.

That’s right, I said thirty years.

It all began back in the early 80s. I was one of those disappointed Philadelphia Eagles fans lost in the wilderness and looking for a new home after a bitter, painful defeat at the hands of some dude named Plunkett and the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV. Ok, I’ll admit I was one of those creeps who ditched the ship when it sank, just like the ones I opened this post talking about. But in my defense, I was only twelve years old at the time and didn’t know any better.

Yeah, let’s go with that.

CenturyLink-MeIt was a cold Monday night a few years after that Super Bowl when I first saw the Seattle Seahawks on television. At the time, I had absolutely no idea who they were. They had some left-handed quarterback (Jim Zorn), a wiry, fast as lightning receiver (Steve Largent) and this rookie running back from Penn State named Curt Warner. A “hometown” connection.

I couldn’t even tell you the team that they played that night. All I remember is that the Seahawks lost the coin toss and started the game out with an on-side kick. An on-side kick!!! Something almost unheard of in the NFL.

The Seahawks wound up getting the ball and scoring on that drive….and the seed was planted.

As you can imagine, the 1980′s were a time before the Internet and satellite football games became common place. So getting to see my new team was nearly impossible. About the only time I ever saw them on TV was when they played against the Eagles or New York Giants, and considering that the Seahawks were in the other conference at the time, those games were even rarer.

The Seahawks actually almost made it to their first Super Bowl the first year of my fandom, but lost to (ironically enough) the Oakland Raiders in the conference final. But this time, instead of ditching I stayed a fan. Reading updates in the newspaper about loss after loss. Some years good. Some years, very bad.

In 1992, we were so bad that we were awarded the #2 overall pick in the NFL. A time when we were in dire need of a quarterback. We wound up with a bust named Rick Mirer, while the New England Patriots got this guy named Drew Bledsoe (the “parent” QB to Tom Brady).

More years of mediocrity would follow, but I stood tall.

CenturyLink2

I was there when Seahawks owner Ken Behring tried to move the team out-of-town to California in the dead of night. That attempt failed and Behring would eventually sell the team to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. With Allen on board, the team hired Green Bay Packers coach Mike Holmgren and a slew of other talent, planting the seed for a run to greatness that came to fruition in 2005.

SeahawksHatDuring my time as a 12th man there has only been one low point, and that was Super Bowl XL against the Pittsburgh Steelers. As any fan of the NFL will tell you (and even Steeler fans too, if they’re honest), the referees decided that game. For me, it was stinging. Imagine waiting 23 years for a shot at a Super Bowl and then being cheated by a bunch of turds in pinstripes.

The thing is, in the NFL there are no guarantees and the days of dynasty left once the salary cap was initiated. You only have so much time to make a run before players and coaches leave for other pastures. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to my team following that “defeat”.

It’s taken eight years for the Seahawks to get back to the NFC Championship game. Eight long, often-times miserable years. But I never lost hope. I watched as Marshawn Lynch caused an earthquake with one of the greatest runs in NFL history and knew that the stars were aligning again….

I even took a weekend 2,856-mile trip to Seattle by myself two-years ago just to see them play the Atlanta Falcons. The first time I was ever a part of the 12th man.

They lost.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am for this game. I’ve even been having dreams at night this past week where the game is on and I am sitting around checking the score. Every time I looked, the score was changing. Thankfully, we were winning.

I don’t know what’s going to happen when it’s all over. Hopefully, dreams do come true. But all I can ask is that the refs let it be settled on the field. And may the better team then kick the sh$t out of the Patriots or Broncos.

Go Hawks!

Grammy Nominated Comedian Ron White Gets ‘A Little Unprofessional’

RonWhiteHe’s sold more than 14 million albums (both solo and with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour) with all four of them charting at #1 on Billboard. He’s one of the top grossing stand-up comedians in America today and has already earned himself two Grammy nominations.

Make that three.

Comedian Ron White has recently received a third Grammy nomination for his RIAA Platinum-certified Comedy Special, “A Little Unprofessional”.

Filmed in Austin, TX at the legendary Paramount Theatre, ‘A Little Unprofessional’ shows White’s comedic nature on full display. He takes us on a journey from the airport at LAX to a vacation retreat in the French Riviera and along the way, discusses adventures from his youth, sports, music and of course, his own sexual prowess. Whether he’s casually taking a sip of his scotch or lighting up a cigar be warned: no one is immune to White’s hilarious anecdotes.

In addition to the full  “A Little Unprofessional” special, the DVD also contains the entire first season of White’s popular “Rontourage” fan program, which features behind the scenes footage of White and his troops traveling across America. Through these shorts, we’re able to get a first-hand glimpse of what it’s like for the entertainer backstage, on the tour bus and interacting with his fans at meet and greet events.

Ron White2

One of the biggest hidden treasures of “A Little Unprofessional” has got to be the bonus feature live performances of White’s amazing wife, Margo Rey. Although Rey herself is not spared from White’s stand-up material, she showcases her awe-inspiring vocals in a hybrid mixture of pop, jazz and R&B that can only be described as Organica.

The thing that sets Ron White apart from all other stand-up performers today is his unique ability to impose empathy on his audience. Sure, you laugh hysterically at his stories and facial expressions, and may even at times feel a little bit sorry for him. But deep down, the real reason we enjoy him so much is because there’s a little bit of Ron White in each of us. Somehow, we can all relate to everything he talks about during his routine.

White’s performances don’t just make us laugh with him, they make us laugh at ourselves. And in times like these, that’s certainly a good thing.

***

For more on Ron White, check out his official website by Clicking Here.

 

Three Things I Think: 2014 New Year’s Edition

2014-Numbers-Happy-2014-New-Year-free-Image-WallpaperWell, here we are. Five days into the brand new year. Have you made any resolutions for 2014?

This year, I resolve to continue a healthful regimen of diet and exercise as well as devote more time to my music, reading and writing. Then of course, there’s also a need to spend more quality time with family and friends.

I spent much of this past week compiling a list of things I can do to help me achieve these goals like starting a journal, doing a few writing prompts and downloading guitar exercises online.

It was then that I decided to make another list. Not things for me personally to achieve, but wishes for us as a society. Things I hope are gone by the end of the year that would make the world as we know it a much better place.

So, without any further adieu, here are the three things I think we need to get rid of by December 31st, 2014….

3. Reality Shows

I know it’s never going to happen, but is it too much to ask that they tone them down a bit? I mean, “The Voice” literally just got over a few weeks ago and I’ve already seen commercials promoting the next “season” which starts in February. I always thought “season” in TV vernacular meant years and not months.

Then there’s “American Idol”, “Biggest Loser”, “The Bachelor/Bachelorette”, “So You Think You Can Dance” and “X-Factor”. Oh, and let’s not forget “Dancing With The Stars” which seems to run non-stop all year long. If we could just get rid of one of these shows in 2014, I’ll be a happy camper.

2. Crappy Music

I may sound like an old fuddy-duddy for saying this but I don’t care. New music today sucks. You can’t turn on the radio dial without hearing the exact same terrible songs over and over. Auto-tuned vocals, blasé beats and cliche’ lyrics are the norm these days. Whether it’s Taylor Swift’s latest man problem, Justin Bieber’s threats of retiring or Miley Cyrus’s twerking, it never seems to go away.

This June will mark the 30th anniversary of the very first concert I ever attended: The Scorpions and Bon Jovi. This is relevant because three decades later I can still remember exactly where I was, who I was with and the music I heard. Better still, Bon Jovi; the band that was just starting out at that time and literally got booed off of the stage in favor of the Scorpions, was the highest grossing tour act of 2013.

There’s something to be said about having longevity in music. Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Elton John, The Rolling Stones. Some of these artists have been doing their thing for more than a half-century.

Call me old-fashioned, but somehow I don’t think that we’ll still be talking about Taylor Swift, One Direction, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus 50 years from now. And even if we are, I’ll thankfully be long gone by then.

And now, the #1 thing we need to get rid of by the end of 2014….

119498920855513921snow.svg.med1. Naming and Fear Mongering about Winter Storms

I don’t know what part of the country (or world) you come from, but here in the great Northeast the weather has changed dramatically over the last year.

And no, I’m not talking about global warming and an increase in heat waves, rainfall or snow accumulations. I’m talking about way the media has decided to hype up their weather forecasting coverage by fear mongering about “apocalyptic” storms.

An apocalyptic event should be one like a Category 5 Hurricane, an F-5 Tornado, an earthquake, volcanic eruption or a horrific Tsunami. Not one where the region gets blanketed with three inches of snow causing slower than usual commute times to work on a Monday morning.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that we’re given advance notice about pending hurricanes and nor’easters. But it seems that lately every passing front that goes through between the months of December and March qualifies as Armageddon.

Here are just a few quotes I’ve heard regularly on television weather forecasts (emphasis added because the meteorologist added it in their own reporting).

“It’s going to be the coldest air in FIVE years folks!” — (Wow! That’s certainly a long time ago.)

“Stay tuned and I’ll tell you when to expect the COLDEST air we’ve had in TWENTY YEARS on NBC news at 11.” — (Beg pardon, but what was the weather like 20 years ago? Yep… cold!)

“Winter Storm Hercules is bearing down, blanketing our area with as much as a foot of snow in some of the higher elevations.” — (Hercules? Oh, please!)

Since when have we become such a watered down society that we now have to name every single storm regardless of cold temperatures, ice and snow? I don’t know about you, but in my forty-four years of existence we’ve always had just one name for this type of phenomenon:

Winter.

Reflections of 2013

gojimmygoWell, here we are. The end of another very productive year of blogging. One that saw more than 170 articles, interviews and semi-regular rants from me on everything from Spider-Man to politics. It sure has been an amazing journey these last twelve months.

This year, I decided to shift my focus away from the rant and more toward the interview side of things and the results were beyond my wildest expectation. So much so, that if I had to describe what this year has been like for me in a single word, it would be surreal. Surreal in the sense that I never would have ever thought I’d have the opportunity to speak to some of the people I did.

Let’s take a quick look back at a few of the most memorable moments of 2013:

Music

Those who knew me growing up in ’87 and ’88 know that I’d often spend countless hours after school listening to the likes of REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Night Ranger and Styx. Twenty-five years later, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon), JY Young (Styx) Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) and Jeff Pilson (Foreigner).

Then there’s Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar, Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), Mickey Thomas (Starship), Michael Sweet (Stryper), Lita Ford, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), John Waite, Carmen Electra and Andy Summers (The Police).

Like I said… surreal.

Books

Lou Gramm (Foreigner) released his autobiography this year and told me all about it (plus he spilled the beans on the origin of the band’s monster song, “Hot Blooded”). Then there’s Bobbi Brown , infamous for her role in Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” video and the “Ex-Wives of Rock”. She released a tell-all book about the debauchery of the LA music scene in the late 80′s that was just killer.

Inspirational People

There were no shortages of inspirational people in 2013. People who are either faced with personal challenges and overcome them or those who see something wrong in the world and make it their personal mission to do something about it. Of all the interviews I do, these are the ones that are the most special.

Guitarist Jason Becker discussed his life, music and living with ALS in “Not Dead Yet”

Following the recent economic downturn, filmmaker Paul Blackthorne took us on a trip cross-country in This American Journey and made us reconsider our own way of thinking.

Director Angelo Lobo exposed the problems that exist within the U.S. divorce industry in Romeo Misses A Payment.

Actress and 2007 Miss Georgia Teen USA winner Jena Sims discussed her film work and Pageant of Hope Charity; for kids who are facing challenges and ones who normally wouldn’t compete in pageants.

And this year, I not only interviewed a truly inspirational person, but was also fortunate enough to write not one, but TWO books with her as well. Michele Quinn

Women Who ROCK!

I love interviewing ladies who prove that they can go toe to toe with the “big boys” and this year was no exception. In 2013, I interviewed the members of Vixen: Janet Gardner, Share Ross, Roxy Petrucci and Gina Stile. I had planned on interviewing founding member Jan Kuehnemund, but she sadly passed away on October 10th.

Other ladies who rock interviews included guitarists Maxine Petrucci and Lindsay Ell.

I hope that you’ve found my articles and rants this year to be beneficial, and had as much fun reading them as I did writing them. Feel free to comment on some of your favorites below. And I hope you’ll be along for the ride in 2014 because the best is yet to come.

Here’s wishing you all the best the new year has to offer!

The Power Of Gum

freedentI stood fourth in line at the Quik Mart this morning with nothing but my customary 20 oz coffee in hand. A ritual that I’ve been following most mornings since becoming a working member of society.

While my thoughts were fixated on the day ahead and the consumption of hot, golden deliciousness I happened to notice the plethora of items that sat neatly on the store counter available for quick purchase.

There were small, red plastic bottles filled with a fluid that promised an extra boost of energy in the event you found yourself dragging during the middle of the work day. Bags of Swedish Fish beckoned to my inner child with fairy tale urges of sugar rush. Truthfully, had it not been for the fact that it was 5:30 in the morning, a package or three would have left the store with me and my coffee.

As I continued to stand behind customers purchasing everything from gasoline to cigarettes, I discovered that one of the patrons in front of me was also purchasing a pack of Freedent chewing gum along with their Marlboros.

BubblesGum.

Now there is one of life’s greatest mysteries. A 5,000+ year old product that has always confused me. For no matter how often I chew it or how many bubbles I blow, inevitably two questions always come to mind whenever I consider gum of any sort:

First of all, why is it that we as a society can invent things like the Internet or build a hover craft the size of a pea and land it exactly where want it to on the surface of Mars, but still can’t figure out how to make a stick of gum’s flavor last more than 15 seconds?

Second, and even more importantly: Has mankind ever really considered the true power of gum?

Gum itself has been taboo for years. Back in my school days it was contraband and one of the quickest ways to earn a visit to the principal’s office. It was off-limits on school grounds, and only the fool would dare risk life and limb by sitting in an Earth Science class chewing like a cow on Hubba Bubba.

Of course, that didn’t deter me us.

In between classes, when no one with a teaching degree was looking, there was plenty of gum to be found. Sometimes it was bartered in bathroom stalls or doled out behind locker doors. I confess, I was one of the offenders and did partake in the reverie. And yes, there were many times I raided my mother’s purse before school just to bring the goodness of spearmint to campus.

Gum’s power was just to big for me to ignore.

For aside from the short-lived flavorful chew just before it became a bland piece of rubber, gum synthetically gave me something more. Why just having gum in my possession gave me popularity, courage and the confidence to do things I’d normally never do.

Case in point: The only time I ever had the nerve to talk to any of the girls in school was if there was a pack of gum in my pocket. And any attempt to open the line of communication without it was only met with sweaty palms and heart palpitations.

I was never one of those guys who could ask a cute girl what she got for question three on a homework assignment, much less invite her to a dance. But put a pack of Fruit Stripe in my Garanimals and I instantly became a teenage Casanova. Because as long as I had a five-pack of gum, I knew that I could fearlessly ask her if she wanted a piece, and nine times out of ten knew that she was going to answer in the affirmative.

How The Bay of Pigs Invasion could have been avoided.

How to avoid a Cuban Missile Crisis.

Which leads me to this conclusion. Stronger than any threat of a nuclear mushroom cloud or zombie apocalypse, I really believe gum might be the one thing that could bring about world peace.

What if John F. Kennedy had offered Nikita Khrushchev a stick of Bubblicious fifty years ago? I’m thinking Kroosh (I would’ve called him that) would gladly have accepted and instead of having a Cuban Missile Crisis there might have had a bubble blowing contest.

What if Ronald Reagan had offered Mikhail Gorbachev some Freedent at one of their many summits? Not only would it have not stuck to their dental work, but I also believe it might have ended the Cold War sooner. What if all the differences amongst all the nations could simply be resolved over a stick of gum?

The truth is, we may have only just begun to scratch the surface of what gum can do for the good of mankind. But whether it encourages young love in school classrooms or summit meetings between rival nations, one thing’s for sure:

The simple pack of gum has five chances to turn any enemy into a friend.

My Problem With Gandalf

gandalfThe other day I watched a video clip from director Peter Jackson’s upcoming movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; part two in a trilogy of films based on the classic 20th century novel by J.R.R Tolkien.

Jackson, as you may know, was also the director of The Lord of The Rings trilogy of films (the sequel to The Hobbit) which netted him Oscar nominations for all three, as well as the coveted Best Picture Award for the final film “The Return of The King”.

The Hobbit is one of my favorite stories of all time, and one of the few books I like to re-read every few years. Seeing this awe-inspiring video and realizing that the new movie was coming lit the fire for me, so I once again decided take the plunge. But as I dove into my worn, weather-beaten paperback copy of The Hobbit, I quickly became reacquainted with the same gnawing feeling in my gut that happens every time I read it (or any one of the other “Rings” books for that matter).

I’ve always been a big fan of fantasy worlds with dragons, wizards and trolls. Perhaps it’s the chivalry of noble men with magic rings or the notion that good always triumphs over evil that keeps me coming back. Or maybe it’s the fact that I was consumed with playing Dungeons and Dragons growing up. In any case, I love stories about bands of brothers who stick together on a journey and see it through to the end.

And that’s where my problem with Gandalf comes in.

Gandalf is the wizard in the story who “nudges” poor little Bilbo Baggins (the hobbit) on his journey with a bunch of dwarves to slay a dragon and obtain a ransom of wealth. Gandalf is one of those dudes who can pretty much destroy the whole damn world if he wants to. So why he seems content to send little people out on a dangerous quest is a mystery.

But it’s not the fact that he takes hobbits and dwarves off to fight dragons that upsets me. It’s the fact that Gandalf also likes to play “Now you see me, Now you don’t” that really pisses me off.

You see, Gandalf is one of those guys who likes to get everyone together, tells them how horrible the journey is going to be and even promises to go with them on what seems like an impossible quest. Then at some point early on during the course of the adventure, he conveniently pulls the disappearing act, and his 23 skidoo tends to occur just after an early battle. Gandalf will say something like: “Urgent matters to attend to, if you must know” or some other such nonsense. And no amount of tears or pleading from the little guys will make him change his mind.

What’s worse than Gandalf actually leaving the group is the fact that he somehow “magically” returns dozens of chapters later, just in time for the final battle and to obtain a share of the glory. Then all the way home Gandalf never has to leave again. Nope, travels with Bilbo every step of the way for months at a time. WTF?

As I finished the last page where Gandalf and Bilbo are laughing about their “adventure” together, I couldn’t help but imagine if something like that happened today. Suppose you and a team of others were building a state of the art high-rise building. Early on, your best crew member (Gandalf) leaves for no reason, but then comes back months later to hammer the final nail and claim he was a part of it. Instead of gold and glory, I’d be willing to wager Gandalf would be sporting a black eye.

Oh, you may have fooled the hobbits and the dwarves Mr. Gandalf, but not me. I’m on to you wizard.

Birthday Reflections At 44

BirthdayCakeToday is October 5th, 2013: My 44th birthday.

Truth be told, it’s sometimes hard to believe that I’ve made it this far. Especially when you consider the fact that it was only yesterday when I was the youthful teenager laughing hysterically at my parents for being in their 40′s.

I suppose there’s a certain sense of immortality you have when you’re younger that lets you make fun of your elder’s age without fear of retribution (or karma ever catching up with you).

Little did I know.

When we’re young, the whole world seems to be filled with endless possibility, and I was one of those kids who couldn’t wait for the chance to break free and start my future. The only problem was, that future always seemed like it would never get here.

Last night, I stumbled upon my 1980 Easton Area Middle School ID Badge under a pile of old memories and immediately recalled the day I first received it. Although I didn’t care much for the goofy grinning picture of myself on the front, I do remember it was what was printed on the back of the worn, laminated card that really caught my attention.

For the first time, I saw the words “YR GRAD-87″ and believed that the year of my high school graduation (1987) was so very far away. To this shy, cheesy-grinned, eleven-year old boy, seven years seemed like seventy and the idea of me one day living in the year 2000 was equivalent to being in a Star Wars movie. It was impossible for me to even comprehend it ever happening.

idcard

Fast forward, and here I am celebrating a birthday twenty-six years post graduation and nearly fourteen years beyond 2000. A brand new century. When did I close my eyes and wake up a middle-aged man? Back in 1980, it seemed like all I had was time and now, it sometimes feels like time is running out. Why just the other day, I was given the sad news about a high school classmate who had unexpectedly passed away at the young age of 43.

doodlecIf what you’ve read so far sounds a bit depressing or makes you feel old, I apologize. This post wasn’t meant to bum you out.

On the contrary, 2013 has actually been one of the best years of my life. In just these last few months I’ve been able to accomplish something I’ve always wanted to do with a dear friend – write and publish my very first book.

In addition to that, I’ve had the opportunity to interview and write articles with many of the artists and performers I admire most. A pipe dream for the little boy you see in the above picture.

I’ve also made a conscious decision to start doing something different for my birthday every year. Beginning this October, I’ll be using my age number as a benchmark to do something to help others in some way. This year, I decided to use the equivalent of my age (44) in dollars and use it to hopefully put a smile on a sick child’s face.

Who knows, maybe next year I’ll take the “45″ and divide it up into hours; donating my time over the course of the month to volunteering or raising money for charity. Then maybe at “46″ I’ll donate forty-six signed copies of my #1 New York Times Bestseller (hey, it could happen) to a charity auction. Nothing is too small and anything is something.

Which got me to thinking, what if every one of us did something similar? How about instead of just receiving well wishes and birthday cards for making it through another year, what if every person used their own special day as an opportunity to do something for the greater good? Instead of making it a day all about ourselves, what if we made part of our day about helping someone else? One day set aside that you’ll always remember (I mean, how could you forget? After all, it IS your birthday). What better feeling can there possibly be than knowing you made this world a better place, and did it on the day you were born!

Here are some ideas of things you can do to really “celebrate” your birthday:

1. Volunteer a few hours of your time at a local food bank/soup kitchen/animal shelter.

2. Walk (or run) in a marathon to raise money for research.

3. Spend part of your day gathering up unused clothing to donate to a needy family.

According to my calculations, most good work would be done on September 16th (the most common birthday) and the least, February 29th (leap year).

As for me? Well, you can add candle #44 to that birthday cake. This year, I’d like us all to imagine a world where someone is doing something to help someone else, every single day of the year.

Impossible? Maybe. But then again, that’s what I used to think about 1987 and 2000 too.

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