Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No Stranger to Philly Attitude!

I caught the train after work this evening like I do every day. Upon arriving at my train stop, which is about a mile from my house, I noticed the bus that I usually take home pulling away from the stop just as I was descending the train station stairs to the street. Missed it by a hair! For some reason, I really didn't feel like waiting at my regular bus stop for another ten minutes so I began the walk home and figured I'd just jump on the next bus that caught up with me.

After walking for only a few minutes, I turned and saw the next bus about a block behind me. Much earlier than I expected! And I just happened to be standing by a bus stop. Could this situation BE any better? I waited for about twenty or so seconds until the bus pulled up to my stop........and suddenly began to pull away! I flailed my arms and made some kind of verbal exclamation before the bus soon came to a halt. As I entered, the driver yelled "You're standin' there like you don't WANT the bus!!!" I was flabbergasted. You know that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy says "I'm not even mad; that's impressive!" to his dog Baxter, who had just eaten a whole wheel of cheese and pooped in the refrigerator? That's kind of how I felt. Here was a professional SEPTA bus driver, lashing out at me because, according to her logic, I was standing at the bus stop because I didn't want to get on the bus. I could barely even be angry at such an asinine statement.

This same driver had actually blown by me in similar fashion at a bus stop this past summer and angrily claimed that "You weren't looking!!!" even though I was stepping off the curb toward the bus with my SEPTA transpass in hand. Given tonight's recurrence of events, I'm ashamed to say that in the moment, my pride got the best of me and I said some pretty rude things back to her regarding her ability to function in her current occupation. She, naturally, shot some venomous hot air right back at me. Needless to say, this made a scene amongst the other passengers, who didn't really know how to react. I sat down in the middle of the bus and didn't say another word. The driver, however, kept on saying things just loud enough that I could hear, but not loud enough that she would seem like she was trying to create another verbal war.

At that moment, I instantly felt nothing but sadness for this woman. I wondered what was going on in her life that she felt the need to start fights with passengers; I wondered where all the anger was stemming from; I wondered how I could pray for her. At that moment, I felt tremendously convicted in my heart about the way I'd talked to her and for the scene I'd made in front of the other passengers. While I get angry like everyone else, I'm not really a confrontational person and I'm certainly not someone who blows up at people in public. My behavior was inexcusable, regardless of whether or not the driver had been doing her job poorly or unprofessionally.

As my stop approached, I thought about hopping out the back door. But that just wouldn't justify the way I'd acted. I made my way to the front of the bus and said "Have a good night. I apologize for yelling at you." She softly muttered something that I couldn't quite make out, but I'm pretty sure it was an acceptance of my apology. As I walked up to my house, I prayed that the Lord would enable this woman to overcome whatever it is that's causing so much bitterness and anger to manifest itself toward total strangers.

I believe that broken people can be healed; that relationships can be restored; and that all wrongs will ultimately be made right. During that time, those of us who follow Christ, like myself, ought to be willing to be used toward this process, not against it. Tonight, I confess that my foolish actions worked against it. While I'm grateful that I got the chance to apologize, I am hoping for another opportunity to show kindness to this woman who, like me, suffers from occasional bouts of Philly attitude.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Remembering My Couch

There comes a time in every man's life when he needs to give up and surrender the very things he holds dear to his heart; the things that are present with him when he experiences some of life's more exuberant moments; the things that have been there for him, comforting him through the good times and the bad.

This past week, I said goodbye to my couch.

It was truly my couch since, at the time, it was the only couch I had ever paid for myself, and it was the first couch Tara and I got right after getting married in 2006. At the time, we literally asked around to find out if anyone was giving away a couch. We weren't being picky; we just needed something to sit on in our living room. Through a friend of a friend, a mere twenty dollars was exchanged before this couch became a valued part of the household.

But times have changed and at the dawn of 2011, the wife was no longer satisfied with it. Truth be told, neither was I. I cannot help, however, but fondly recall all the great Phillies games I watched while sitting atop its leathery goodness, how many naps I took upon its soft belly, how many movies were enjoyed while enveloped in its gentle comfort, how many nights of talking with friends were induced by its inviting presence, how many times....well, anyway....

A new sofa bed has officially taken its place, and so far, after a nap and a movie night, the relationship is going quite well. But time will tell whether or not it can fill its predecessor's big shoes. I mean cushions.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Million Dollar Question

A common question people are asking me more and more these days is this:

"Do you like American Idol now that Steven Tyler is a judge on the show?"

If you know me at all, you know I'm quite infatuated with Aerosmith; have been since the age of 13 when I first heard "Cryin'" on the radio. At that time, back in 1993, there was no internet, no iTunes, no YouTube. All I knew is that I couldn't get enough of that song, but didn't know what it was called. Today, you just Google the few lyrics you do know and you'll find your answer in one click. Back then, you had to do some digging. I asked my friends and they would start singing the chorus, but then admitted to not knowing the song's title either. I went to a music shop and awkwardly asked the guy at the counter if I could buy the album that had the song "Sweet Misery" on it (which is what I simply assumed the song was called). The guy had no clue what I was talking about and rather than embarass myself any further by trying to tunefully recreate it for him, I just left. My luck changed when I just happened to be watching SNL one night and Aerosmith just happened to be the musical guest. When the band launched into "Cryin'," I almost fell out of my bed! The next day, I went to the music shop, bought Aerosmith's new album, "Get a Grip" and got hooked on every song. Shortly thereafter, I fell in love with the band's entire catalogue and have been a student of this legendary group ever since. You see, I love hard rock and I love blues. I love fast, up-tempo screechers and I love slow ballads. I love loud, thrashing guitars and I love soft acoustic tunes. In my opinion, no band covers this entire spectrum of sound bliss quite like Aerosmith. Not nobody! Not no how!

It goes without saying then, that I consider Steven Tyler to be the greatest songwriter and performer of all time; a master of perfect pitch, harmony, and rhythm. As a musician myself, there are a lot of artists whom I pattern my own songwriting after, however, my attempts to emulate my own work to Aerosmith's have always fallen flat, as I could never dare to accomplish such genius.

So, getting back to the original question: Do I like the TV show American Idol now that Steven Tyler is one of the new judges?

Um...nope.

I know this comes as a shock to most people who think I blindly love anything and everything to do with Aerosmith, but them's the facts. I think American Idol is lame and is driving today's music industry -- already in a state of continuous degeneration -- even further down the spiral. The fact that Tyler alienated his bandmates and a large part of his fanbase by contributing to this problem instead of getting back to making great Aerosmith music just makes me think less of the man himself. And that certainly doesn't make me want to start watching American Idol all of a sudden. Here's another shocking anti-Aerosmith revelation for you: I really really dislike the song "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." I went along with it when it was all the rage during the summer of '98, but it got old fast and now, more than a dozen years later, the band continues to play it live for all the fourteen year olds who think Aerosmith got its start from the film Armageddon. I don't care if the song is the band's big #1 hit...it's crap (and they didn't even write it!). Ok, just had to get that off my chest.

So there it is. While I hold Tyler in the highest regard as a musician, and admire how he overcame drug and alcohol addiction, watching him sit at a table and critique a bunch of wannabes sounds only slightly more appealing than removing an ingrown toenail.


Dude (Looks Like He's Not Getting Any Younger)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Welcome Home, Clifton Phifer Lee!

The evening of Monday, December 13, 2010 was quite calm. Tara and I finally got around to putting up our Christmas tree and decorations, followed by hot chocolate and some lame and cheesy Christmas music, courtesy of Pandora.

I got ready for bed and against better judgment, checked my email one last time. It was approaching midnight at this point; a bedtime I've been trying really hard -- with little success -- to avoid the past few weeks.

No new email. Good.

Against even stronger judgment, I then clicked on ESPN. Surely, nothing newsworthy could be transpiring at such an hour. What was the point? Must...not....click....(click!).

Since the end of the 2010 World Series -- whose teams shall not be named -- I'd been followng the destination saga of free agent mega-pitcher Cliff Lee, a nuclear left arm my beloved Phillies had acquired midway through the 2009 season and then traded off for a bag of Tastykakes (stale ones!) at season's end, believing a long-term contract extension was less likely than a Taylor Swift/Kanye West world tour. Conventional wisdom had Lee choosing the monopoly money offered by the New York Yankees or possibly returning to his 2010 team, the Texas Rangers, who had also ponied up a large sum of zeroes in hopes of luring back their postseason ace. This story had dragged on for more than a month and I was hopeful each day that he'd just stick it to the Yankees and stay put in Texas.

Except that last night's ESPN headline about Cliff Lee contained the words "Phils enter fray." A little flutter went through my stomach as I read about the Phils making a late charge to woo Lee back to the team that gave him his first taste of postseason baseball.

I explained this turn of events to Tara, who actually became somewhat intrigued and shortly thereafter, brought up the Phillies' website on her laptop. Her next words rang in my ears.

"They got him!"

"Huh?" came my confused response. There was no way my wife beat me to the knowledge of potentially the greatest free agent signing in Phillies history. With a simple click, I saw the words that, as a lifelong diehard Phillies fan, I had only fantasized about: "Phils emerge as winners in Cliff Lee sweepstakes"

What? How? NO!!!! YES????...followed by a pause to begin the wake-up-from-dream process. Moments later, all media outlets began pouring out the breaking news that Cliff Lee was returning to the Philadelphia Phillies to join a rotation that already features 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. It turns out Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. had waited quietly in the wings as the drama between Texas and New York panned out before once again acting as a stealth bomber and getting his man. When the dust had cleared, Lee was leaving between $30-50 million, and potentially two fewer contract years at the table to come back to the team he openly states he never wanted to leave. True, one can argue that no one making the money that professional athletes make could ever win an award in financial selflessness, but that's a discussion for another day.

My head was spinning. I called my friend Seth and broke the news to him. We made a series of freak out noises; something Tara found quite humorous. I was previously really tired, but suddenly found myself wide awake and unable to get to sleep for the next two hours. I was absolutely and utterly ecstatic! I had not been this insanely hopped up about a Phillies signing since slugger Jim Thome signed up for red pinstripes in November 2002; an acquisition that helped bring respectability and a winning atmosphere back to baseball in Philadelphia. Since that time, I had witnessed a Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, a Cy Young winner, a Perfect Game, a postseason no-hitter, four division titles, a National League pennant, and a World Championship! Baseball life had certainly been good in Philly for the past few years.

Yet, the signing of Cliff Lee has me even more excited about Phillies baseball than I have ever been before; even more so than the Thome signing, which, in late 2002, came at a time when I was simply hoping the team finished over .500. By joining the Phils' pitching rotation, Cliff Lee doesn't just make the team better going into next season. He has made them the hands down scariest team to face in all of baseball! Moreover, Lee also has a chance to help the team earn a significant place in Major League Baseball history. As it stands, the 2011 Phils rotation should stack up as the best in baseball, but should they each pitch up to their capabilities -- and dare I say the Phillies win the 2011 World Series -- this pitching rotation may be regarded as one of, if not THE best pitching foursomes of all time. And that's something this historically horrible franchise has never been able to boast at any time in its existence.

In the end, I got my wish; Cliff Lee did end up sticking it to the Yankees after all, just not to the benefit of the team I had anticipated. And as my buddy Seth said last night in response to Lee's decision to forego millions to return to Philly, "He will never have to buy a drink in this city again."

Here's to continuing the golden era of Phillies baseball in 2011! Can't tell you how much I love it when baseball dominates the airwaves in December! Welcome home, Clifton Phifer Lee!

Oh, and if you're wondering what that continual thumping sound is that's echoing through the Philly region, don't worry -- it's just Jayson Werth repeatedly banging his head against a wall.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Vote Just to Vote!"

"I don't care who you vote for...just vote!"

"If you don't vote, you don't care for this country!"

"Failure to vote equals the end of democracy!"

"Those who don't vote obviously don't know or care about the ISSUES!"

These are just a few of the things I've heard over the past few days as the 2010 mid-term elections have drawn near. On websites. On blogs. On Facebook posts. On the way to work.

So, today...November 2nd...Election Day...guess who I voted for?

No one!

Do I think voting is useless or dumb? Do I hate America? Am I just lazy?

NO to all of the above.

I chose not to vote today because I do not care what any of the candidates stand for. I am not a Republican or Democrat. Therefore, I do not blindly support either party's candidates just to do so. Why should I throw my lot in with one of them just to be able to say "Yup, I voted"? What point does that prove?

A rarely-acknowledged fact is that the decision to NOT vote is just as much an American right as being able to vote. There have been countries in which not voting is a crime and that if you didn't show up to vote for that particular dictator, you could be executed. So in essence, I am exercising my American right and casting my vote by abstaining.

I think one of the biggest reasons people get fired up by hearing that people choose not to vote in a given election is that it sounds as if non-voters are simply being apathetic. And you know what? In those cases, I'm right there with the people who get fired up! Choosing to be apathetically ignorant about an election -- while I guess, still an American right -- is pretty foolish and counter-productive. This is not the place where I am coming from. While I have voted in several past elections and will certainly do so in future ones, I am making a conscious choice today to vote by not voting, based on the evidence available to all of us. In other words, I am saying that I care about the issues so much so that I don't believe my support for any of the candidates will, in my opinion, produce any significant change for the better.

If you're one of the people who believes that democracy ends with our failure to vote, my advice would be to lay off the conspiracy theory websites, have a beer, and go to sleep before you hurt yourself. If handfuls of Americans choose not to vote for thoughtful, intentional reasons, the fabric of our society will not disintegrate and the constitution will not go up in flames. Let me put it this way: if you're having a wedding and you invite 200 guests and only 130 show up, do you cancel your wedding and decide to never get married again, or do you have the wedding with the 130 guests?

So relax, America. Despite the fact that a lot of people didn't vote today, Starbucks will still be there tomorrow morning.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An Excellent Wife Who Can Find?

I am absolutely in love with my wife Tara. We've been married for more than four years and she still causes me to continuously fall for her.

How is this possible? Don't all good things come to an end, or so they say? Isn't Al Bundy the poster child for every man exiting bachelorhood? Isn't marriage equated to "biting the dust"? Doesn't tying the knot demand that all the fun you'd been having come to an abrupt and screeching halt? Isn't hardened resentment for each other supposed to cultivate and permeate deep into the fabric of your joyless coexistence? Aren't you expected to lose attraction to your spouse? And let's be honest here -- isn't physical intimacy supposed to pretty much end once you get married?

In our marriage -- and I wish it was so for every marriage -- the clear and thundering answer to all of those questions is NO!

The other day, I was reading chapter 31 in the book of Proverbs, and I came upon a passage that really struck me and reminded me of my wife and her character:

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all."
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

As I read these words from the Lord, I was overcome by how blessed I am to be married to this woman. Tara has taught me, in many ways, how to love and serve others by being a faithful example herself. She has loved me at times when I was more or less unlovable. She has pointed me to the Lord's grace when I didn't always want to face myself in the mirror. She is patient with me when I am impatient. She has laughed with me, cried with me, had fun with me, and suffered with me.

This might sound strange but one area that has really grown us over the past four years was in learning how to fight. What? Isn't the goal to not fight with each other? Well, in some respects, yes. But we're imperfect people, living in a very imperfect world. The reality is that before death do you part, you will fight. A lot. Yup.

When we first got married, I was quite irritable and argumentative. Not sure why, but I think I always just felt a foolish sense of entitlement; something I still struggle with from time to time. At a time when some women would have just shut down or fought back angrily, she fought FOR me. Over time, we learned the best ways to communicate with each other, and when we fight nowadays, there is usually a certain level of respect in our tone, no matter how angry we are with each other.

My advice to all couples: learn to fight constructively with each other.
To those couples who claim they never fight: You better start soon or you're in for an unexpected nuclear explosion!

With the passing of each year, I cannot deny that I have continued to buck our society's trend and become even more attracted to my wife; an absolutely beautiful woman on the inside and out. A couple of years ago, I was walking down the street with a married male former coworker. As we were talking, he suggested we make a turn down a path that was in the direction opposite to where we were going. I asked why, but then noticed two women, wearing more skin than clothing, headed down that way. I looked back at my coworker, shook my head, and in an attempt to be equally serious and humorous, I pointed to my wedding ring and said "No thanks, I'm good." He responded, "How long have you been married?" I said, "Two years." His next words saddened, but did not surprise me: "Wait 'til you've been married for fifteen."

While it's true that I have not yet been married for fifteen years, I can honestly say that as time continues to progress, I am not headed down that unfortunate path that my former coworker and so many others choose to follow. I don't say that arrogantly, but cautiously and as a warning to other men that marriage takes work, but is unbelievably worth it.

"An excellent wife who can find?"

I found her. And I'm keeping her. And cherishing her. And only her. Until my breath gives out.

And I can say with all certainty that "many women have done excellently, but you (Tara) surpass them all."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Stretch Run

It's September. You know what that means.

It means the Phillies are gearing up for another run at the playoffs!

This is, without a doubt, the most exciting time of the baseball season. In 2007, the Phils won the NL East Division on the last day of the season, and gave this thirsty city a taste of playoff baseball for the first time in fourteen years. Since then, not even a World Championship, followed by a National League pennant have satisfied this fanbase's desire to continue baseball domination.

The first five months of the 2010 season have been quite unique to say the least. Injuries and inconsistencies have made this year's team one of the most up and down I've ever seen. Despite the turmoil, we currently sit three games out of first; a deficit we've easily overcome in Septembers past. I'm not gonna lie though; a big part of me is hugely annoyed at the fact that we have to play catch-up at a time when we should easily be five or more games ahead of the second place team. However, the thrill-seeker in me is really psyched to duke it out with the Atlanta Braves over this final month. I'm looking forward to all the late nights of stomach-turning scoreboard watching as we come down the homestretch of the 2010 baseball season. If we had to go one-on-one with any team in the final month, I'm glad it's the Braves; a team I despise with all my heart, but one I also respect as a worthy adversary. In the end, if the Phillies emerge as the NL East champions for a fourth consecutive year, I believe we will have earned it more this year than ever before.

Let the games begin!...or continue...or something like that.