It’s not the End of the World…..and I feel fine

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Disclaimer. If I could write like Dave Barry, this blog would instead be a Miami Herald column syndicated to legions of newspapers around the country. But I spent way too much of my childhood playing Atari and rooting on the Celtics to have such satirical gifts. Nonetheless, I do love to write and they say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, so I will do my utmost to chronicle the 2012 year in the spirit of Dave Barry, fully knowing I am at best, a journalistic hacker.

First, the fact that I’m writing this journal shows that the Mayans were a little off in their math. They didn’t have the luxury of Google Calender nor the most cognitively friendly alcohol, so a faulty prognostication about when the world would end is excusable. Besides, apocalyptical predictions and truth are about as compatible as ham and an Orthodox bar mitzvah.

I think it’s rather good that the world didn’t end.  I have many more items, including cleaning out my garage and learning to speak proper Spanish to check off on my bucket list. But as 2012 sadly showed, we Muggles are not quite as smart as we think we are nor as civilized as we should be. As a result, many lives ended prematurely this past year and in large stretches of the modern world, it probably feels as if the world is ending. Syria, Egypt and the appropriate sense of doom and gloom after the mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown are good cases in point.

If 2012 taught me anything, it’s that we shouldn’t make predictions. Peyton Manning now quarterbacks a different team and his heir apparent in Indy has made thousands of Colts fans actually feel glad the legendary Manning is gone. Meanwhile, his Forrest Gump-esque humble younger brother once again trumped logic and the Patriots by winning his second Super Bowl. I could go on and on about sports. In short, sports are a microcosm of how unpredictable the world is, though it was comforting to see Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Joey Chesnutt (the hot dog eating champion) continue their hegemony over their respective sports. Aside from the repeat winners, I’m sure I speak for all of Miami and no one in Cleveland by mentioning just how uplifting it was to see Lebron James win his 1st and certainly not last NBA championship, and for tennis fans, particularly Brits who can now breathe a collective sigh of relief and dance like Marry Poppins, knowing Andy Murray finally captured his first grand slam.

I won’t delve too deeply into the political happenings of the last year. I’m just glad the American election season is over although if I hear the word fiscal cliff one more time, I might just have to try to throw a few “They shall not be named” senators and congressmen off a cliff. I mean, how OCD is Capitol Hill? The only phrases more annoying these days than “the fiscal cliff” are The Kardashians and anything that mentions the NRA. Come to think of it, maybe we can throw the entire NRA lobby and the Kardashians off the “fiscal” cliff. I would add Rush Limbaugh, Jeffrey Loria, Karl Rove, Bashar Assad and Hugo Chavez to the mass of disposable projectiles.

No matter where I look, Muggles find a way to make a big mess. And a lot of noise. Whatever public place I visit seems to believe there is an incessant need to blare some ear cavity generating music and for the customers to speak loudly on every communication device in their possession. Karl Marx once said that “religion was the opium of the masses” but religion has nothing on cellphones. I know Crossfit is a big craze but as soon as some opportunist designs a high impact workout entirely based on touching our digital devices, the earth will tilt off its orbit and Crossfit will be no more.

As a movie buff, I feel a need to make a little plug about the movies. I didn’t think Adam Sandler was capable of making a film worse than Punch Drunk Love or Funny People, but he found a way with ‘That’s My Boy”.  However he did get some redemption points with his “Hallelujah Screw You” jingle for the Hurricane Sandy relief concert. Speaking of which, maybe the Mayans weren’t entirely off base when Florida remains unscathed during the Hurricane season while NYC gets pummeled in late November.

I didn’t get to see as many films as I would like but the Total Recall and Bourne sequels were an insult to the preceding ones, particularly when Jason Bourne has no visible role in the film.

Still, any year which has a Dark Knight installment, a Lincoln movie directed by Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis, Argo which shows Ben Affleck to be a hell of a director himself, and finally a new Tarantino film, more than offsets all the busts at the box office.

On a personal level, I will look back on 2012 with great fondness. I finally began taking my dream to become a published writer of some form (perhaps it’s a pipe dream but at least I’m trying) more seriously. This quest began in earnest when my fellow literary sojourner, David Fernandez and I attended the PubSlush conference in NYC in early January.It was nerve-wracking and at times frustrating, but a rite of passage for both of us.

On the travel front, I literally sojourned half way around the world to Singapore, a Herculean 26 hour flight that tested my gluteus muscles and mental endurance more than any previous trip. In and of itself, it was worth the two days of flying and great to see the Orient, but then was back-ended by spending time with my twin cousins in Paris and then the three of us flying to Mallorca for a host of great outdoor adventures. Naturally a year of traveling would not be complete without stops in Ecuador; this year one to visit the pristine Galapagos and the second for the amazing Mindo Futures Medical Mission.

Surprisingly, I kept more than half of my new year’s resolutions, which did not include avoiding speeding tickets. That and not worrying about trivial things like the Red Sox are two resolutions I need to make in the year ahead. But like all of us, 2012 tested my faith and ideals, and I feel quite confident I was up to the challenge.

I think best of all, 2012 brought me the most amazing girlfriend, Daviela. I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store for us, but so far, it’s been a dream come true and certainly one of life’s most beautiful surprises. She’s the absolute best!! I can’t thank God enough for the blessing of having a genuine, smart and gorgeous girlfriend.

In closing, there are many things I wish Hurricane Sandy had instead destroyed in its wake, most notably the term “fiscal cliff” and any mention of Super PAC’s, the NRA, Jeffrey Loria and The Voice. I am certainly glad the Mayans were wrong, because as Robert Frost so well versed “These woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

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Feliz Navidad – Miami style

While the Christmas holiday season is only hitting its stride, Christmas Day and all its appropriate pomp and ceremony is over. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but having experienced yet another “Christmas Day” in Miami, I am still not convinced, the calender, ‘Church bells a ringing’ and Christmas red Heat t-shirts aside, that yesterday was in fact Christmas. Let me explain.

I grew up in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a mightily cold, nature usually trumps man place to be in winter. Particularly during the latter stages of December. There is a not so hyperbolic joke that during the winter season, if one spit from the third floor balcony, it would turn from a liquid to a solid before it hit the ground. A less funny reality is that in the days of Levis 501 button fly jeans, any guy who accidentally left his fly unbuttoned paid a rather unflattering price. The houses, for functional reasons, actually have chimneys and believe me, Santa would probably prefer the front door given how coated with soot some of them are. There were snowball fights, pine, oak and maple trees laced with snow, sledders and outdoor ice skaters, galore and the sense that lighting a warm Christmas fire was in fact a saving grace.

Clearly nostalgia is setting in, but up North, no matter where a person was, the Christmas spirit was in the air.

I do need to press the “be careful what you pray for” alert button. Because a little over 11 years ago, I moved to Miami to escape the psychological and physiological downsides of cold weather. I actually think the fact that Miami days such as yesterday, all 77 degrees of tropical seduction, to be an amazing balm for almost any type of ailment, including the holiday blues. I played tennis instead of throwing snowballs at parked cars yesterday morning. I drank lemonade instead of hot cider. Nor did I have to remove driveway snow and scrounge for an ice scraper to whittle away at a cake layer of car windshield ice.

But I’d by lying if I said that yesterday wasn’t weird. The fact that Heat fans went to the game in shorts, my neighbors were partying it up on their boats and there wasn’t a trace of snow or scent of pineytree or gingerbread in the air was a little displacing. Every time I wished someone a “Merry Christmas”, I felt as if I should have been saying, “Happy Memorial Day”.

Living in a region without seasons is at the bare minimum, “surreal”. I do love the fact that there is a hardly a reason for our spirits to be down, never a day to be concerned about leaving the house with wet hair, or seeing the local golf courses turned into sledding and cross country skiing meccas at least one-third of the year. I appreciate the fact that if one wants to be almost completely anesthetized to the perils of the outside world here, there is every excuse to do so.

I will close this quasi stream of consciousness blog by adding that the day after Christmas in Miami feels just as weird as the day itself. My guess is that a good handful of locals will ask me how my “Christmas” went and whatever I reply will feel contrived. If I were to answer the question as I truly feel, my answer would go something like ” I didn’t realize that yesterday was Christmas. But now that you told me that it was, I guess it was awesome. I spent the day outdoors, enjoying the Miami sun and sharing wonderful moments, including a great movie and ice cream with my girlfriend.

And then if I really get honest with myself I should add – “I can only hope for many more ‘Christmas Days’ like it! Image

         “Christmas” at South Pointe

Enough has been enough for more than enough time

And so another unspeakable tragedy has struck what should be one of America’s most dependable havens – our schools. Schools are supposed to be a bubble, a place where students can find answers to their unsolved questions, friends to create a community that is often lacking at home, and a sense of self that is hard to develop elsewhere. Schools are supposed to be the one place, institutional dysfunctions aside, where most of our societal ills are kept in the shadows.

Perhaps this notion is illusory. As the Columbine, Virginia Tech and now yesterday’s unthinkable and virtually barbaric tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut shows, schools are not immune from the defects of the world in which we live nor the evil, perhaps blindly evil, intentions of those who suffer from some form of derangement. It’s one thing to see schools portrayed as hostile environments in the movies, a place where grudges are carried out and ill-will begins to overboil. But those are isolated high schools, usually in violence ridden neighborhoods, and at the end of the day, those are film-based scenarios, not real life contexts. Unfortunately, the news usually suggests otherwise.

I am not even sure where I want to go with the rest of this blog. I just know that when I heard the news yesterday afternoon and read an assortment of headline articles this morning, I feel the need, like most of us do, to air my opinions a little.

I’ll start with the issue of gun control. Some issues are so obvious, they speak for themselves. The last time I checked, we haven’t had a war on American soil for over 150 years. The age of militias needing to bear arms to protect certain frontiers is over. As is the Civil War. I am still not even sure why anyone, other than someone in combat overseas, needs to carry a gun. It’s not as if the hunter-gatherer system is still in place. There are tons of grocery stores in America, perhaps too many. As for the issue of self-defense, exactly who is attacking us? Solicitors, spammers, Snookie, Christmas jingles, reality TV? None of the aforementioned “assaults” can be fended off with guns, nor should they be.

Twenty year old males, which is the average age of the Columbine, Littleton movie theatre and Virginia Tech assailants, don’t need guns. They need friends, food, women to flirt with, classes to attend and part-time jobs to get a taste of working society. If they have issues with alienation, go talk to some professionals about it, write in a journal, go listen to The Smiths. If they have issues with aggression, go to the gym or run around your house a few dozen times. Shit, you can even play pinball or some other non-violent video game. There are a literally a thousand better options than shooting up a building of innocent, life loving adolescents.

I am hesitant to read more about Adam Lanza’s character profile. This is mainly because I don’t need to. In our Pavlovian existence, we have been conditioned to know the type – intelligent (in a theoretical sense), introverted, confused, alienated and probably full of pent-up resentments. He needed a lifeline, not a weapon and not a set of laws protecting his right to purchase and abuse one.

I think I speak for most of us when I say that I wish I could pretend that yesterday’s tragedy didn’t occur and I wish I lived in a world where people would deal with their sense of disillusion in a civilized way. This is not like believing in unicorns; this is a very real possibility if we were more vigilant about mental health, the ease at which one can gain access to a firearm and simply promoting peaceful co-existence.

I also wish I could do something to prevent future atrocities and though I am not a lawmaker, a parent, nor a mental health professional, I am a concerned citizen, with a clear appreciation for the fact that the 1st Amendment comes before the second.

Today there are 28 people no longer with us who were alive and kicking yesterday. This Adam Lanza ruined the dreams of dozens of parents, elementary school children and their legions of extended family and friends. Hopefully, however, the 28 will not have died in vain if proper action is taken. Yesterday is a reminder that we need better gun-control, better sociopath control but perhaps most importantly, better self-control.

In the meantime, I will pray for a better today and tomorrow than yesterday. Enough is enough.

SOS (Save our Streets)

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With apologies to Naughty by Nature” and their very catchy hit song, but I am down with OPD. So you don’t misinterpret the acronym, OPD stands for “Other Peoples’ Driving”. I have never been a big fan of others’ driving, in part because I had to be shlepped around by my distracted mom for many years. But her driving is Formula 1 calibre compared to what I experience in Miami. As if the subpar quality of the streets, traffic and complete lack of respect for the rules of the road weren’t bad enough, the incessant need to be on a cellphone while driving has made this glitzy metropolis a virtually lethal combination of automotive dysfunction.

I was not privy to the meeting of the minds when the cellphone was invented but I’m fairly confident one of their objectives was not to increase the fatality rate. Using a mobile phone for purposes of population control should be left in the hands of the CIA and James Bond, not soccer moms driving oversized cars or one of the hundreds of others I see on the roads abusing the purpose of a car and their many accessible technologies.

In truth, I am not sounding the alarms about “distracted driving” over any particular incident I’ve encountered, although the prototypical soccer mom driving a Range Rover talking on her cellphone as she blindly backs her yacht-sized vehicle out of a narrow parking spot definitely irks me.  She’s just of dozens of drivers I see operating their cars with either their heads facing their laps is and/or not a whit of concentration on the primary task at hand.  Thus the realist in me has begun to fear the worst every time I am driving in Miami-Dade County.

Operating a motor vehicle is a ,not a virtual reality where we should be testing the limits of our ability to multitask. Using the cellphone in any capacity while behind the wheel is not just a bad habit. It’s a national epidemic. Brain studies prove driving to be an activity which requires uninterrupted attention to the task at hand. Statistical studies have shown that distracted driving has a higher potential for disaster than DUI. And yet drivers of all ages and abilities seem to have no regard for these facts, and instead place the need for instant communication over the imperative of being safe.

The national discussion over the perils of distracted driving has increased. However, the urgency to pass legislation outlawing such behavior seems to remain in the slow lane. Ask any Miami Dade cop and he/she will tell you that they are responding to more cellphone-related accidents than ever before.  The time has come to take drastic action, though I think it’s safe to say none of us wish to be another statistic to illustrate this point.

I am also writing this blog in the wake of yet another horrific accident involving former students. I do not know the cause of the accident other than they drove into a house, but my hunch tells me that whoever was driving had to be at least a little “distracted”. Just as the old adage of “parents should not outlive their children” goes so too a teacher should not outlive his/her former students. Yet I would venture to say at least a dozen of former La Salle and students I have tutored from other schools have been either killed or devastated by car accidents since I moved here in 2001. I definitely do not want to attend or hear of another student’s funeral.

I’d be lying if I said that I always practice what I preach. Who does? But I have learned that the best way to encourage better societal habits is to lead by example. So no more texting, operating a hand held phone or responding to silly emails while behind the wheel. I am proud to say that I have been relatively distracted-driving free for several months now. I really like just being able to concentrate on my driving, not to mention having more time to deal with the epidemic of OPD.

In the meantime, I think I’ll go listen to Naughty by Nature. Just not in my car.