Musings

Enough is Finally Enough

November 15, 2017

For many years, I’ve been a big, big fan of the T.V. show The Simpsons. I think you could make the argument that it’s the best show that’s ever been on television. The humor has always spoken to me…there’s the physical comedy that is only possible with a cartoon, there are tons of references to literature, popular culture, you name it. It can be crass, it can be crude, but it can also be intelligent, thought-provoking, and touching. There have been literally dozens of classic episodes, and I’ve been going around quoting some of the more memorable lines for years. There have been other shows, both cartoon and live action, which have echoed some of its better qualities, but there’s never quite been anything to rival it. When I see that it’s on, it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to want to turn the channel to anything else. It’s like a balm to me. It’s been a part of my life for close to thirty years.

Because that’s how long it’s been on the air, now…twenty-eight years, if I’m not mistaken, I think upwards of 600 episodes, or maybe it’s 700. It’s survived not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of other shows being cancelled and taken off the air, and it’s still going strong. I could certainly continue watching new episodes on Fox every Sunday, as I believe the latest season debuted a short while ago. And yet, even though this is my all-time favorite show, and you’d think I’d be thrilled to watch new episodes, as I do for all the other shows that enjoy, I just can’t do it anymore. I can no longer watch my favorite show, and there was a time when I believed that could never, ever happen.

So, what was it that led me to stop watching my favorite show? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? The answer is simply this: I can no longer stand to watch Homer and Marge fight anymore. Now, that might seem like an absolutely absurd statement. Homer and Marge, the father and mother in the titular cartoon family around which the show revolves, are cartoon characters. They’re not real. Yes, you could say that, and it would be accurate. But have you never cared about a fictional character, whether on T.V., in a movie, in a novel or a comic book? Did you never have a crush on Jon Hamm in Mad Men? Did you never care what happened to Frodo on his quest to destroy the one ring? Did you never wish to hang out with Holmes and Watson, or swing through the jungles with Tarzan? If your answer to all of these was no, it’s okay to stop reading now. If you don’t care about fictional characters, then what I’m saying is going to sound like gibberish.

And yet, for those that are still reading, I’ll assume that you understand that characters can be important to people, regardless of the medium through which they are conveyed. Since The Simpsons has been on the air for so long, I’ve gotten really, really fond of the characters. I’ve watched them through their ups and downs, their trials and tribulations; I’ve watched them laugh and cry, and, while I might not have literally laughed and cried along with them, it would be accurate to say that what happened to them had a lasting, even a profound effect on me. And the character with whom I associate most is without a question Homer Simpson. That has been especially true as I gradually have crept closer to the age at which the character has been portrayed. Being a cartoon, of course, Homer never ages. He’s always pushing forty…and now, so am I, thought I first started watching the show at the age of nine.

I’m similar to Homer in certain ways, but different in many others. Homer is a creature of the id. He’s overweight, is constantly finding ways to stuff the most fattening and sugar-blasted food down his gullet, and he’s a compulsive drinker. There are been many episodes that deal with his gluttony, and his presumed alcoholism. I’m not a glutton, nor an alcoholic, but I recognize Homer’s base impulses. They’re my own, too. I’d love to be lazy and work and still somehow draw a paycheck, stuff myself and sugar and fattening foods with no serious repercussions, and go through life demonstrably drunk. Who wouldn’t? Homer is more animal than human in some ways, a creature obsessed with and attracted to the creature-comforts. But while all that is true, he feels, too, truly and deeply, in a way that resonates with me as a viewer. Since the show has been on the air for so long, there have been many episodes where Homer has felt unloved by a number of the other characters, including but not limited to all three of the children, and Grandpa. But never is Homer more miserable than dealing with Marge, his spouse…and that’s what has always been the trouble for me.

Since the show first came on the air, the writers (and there have been many, many writers, over the years), have pounded it into the viewers brains that Homer and Marge aren’t well suited for each other. You can go all the way back to Season One, and the episode where Homer gets drunk and ogles Maude Flanders, leading he and Marge to go on a couples retreat. Homer would rather go fishing and attempt to catch “General Sherman,” the legendary catfish of Catfish Lake. Homer catches the fish, but then releases him at Marge’s insistence rather than taking him home and frying him up for supper, thereby proving his love for Marge. All’s well that ends well…except then these two would go on to fight another five hundred times or so over the course of the next twenty-something years.

I don’t like Marge’s character. I never did. She’d depicted as a wet blanket. She’d the worrier of the family…she’d the one who would be the least fun to hang around with of the principle family members, while the most fun would undoubtedly be Homer, the party animal. It’s clear that there’s love between the two of them, but Homer, with his impulsiveness, with his alcoholism, has a hell of a time keeping things going smoothly with her. The fault is by no means entirely Marge’s, either. Who would want to be married to a guy who has changed careers on a dime dozens of times over the years, who is unable or unwilling to curb those impulses that are so much a part of him. Going back to the previously referenced episode, there’s a part where Marge is listing to Reverend Lovejoy and the rest of the couples all of Homer’s faults…he gambles, he forgets all holidays, both personal and secular, his body makes strange noises…this is not the ideal partner, but any stretch of the imagination. Yes, Homer loves Marge, and vice versa, but love is not enough.

The two of them have never actually gone through with the breakup, though, despite how poorly suited they are for each other. The show has teased it many times, with mini-breakups, but they’ve never decided to pull the trigger and make the split permanent. I guess they thought it would alienate the audience, that it would be too dramatic of a change to the show to break up the nucleus of the family. And so, the family has stayed together, and Homer and Marge have continued fighting…and fighting…and fighting.

I watched one of the most recent episodes a few weeks ago, one I’d never seen before, and it happened again. And it was just enough. My own parents didn’t make it. They split; it messed me up something awful, and it was many, many years before I felt myself to be entirely over it. With Homer and Marge, it’s almost worse, because I really care about the character of Homer Simpson, big dumb goon that he is, and I can’t stand to see him hurt anymore. I just can’t. Maybe I feel things too deeply; maybe I care too much about fictional characters. You could make that argument, and you’d have a valid point. But I’m a Cancer, and I’m a person who feels things deeply, for better or worse. That’s what leads me to most identify with Homer’s character, and if that’s ridiculous, so be it. The bottom line is that I just can’t watch these two go at each other anymore, and I won’t watch any more of my all-time favorite show because of it. Maybe, if the writers would swear that they’d never have the two of them fight anymore ever again, I’d be willing to start watching once more. But I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. Much like the writers’ unwillingness to pull the trigger on a Homer-Marge permanent divorce, or separation, these two fighting just seems to be a fact of the show. If that’s always going to be the case, I’d just as soon they pull the plug. It took them almost thirty years to lose me as a viewer, but they finally accomplished it.

Musings

The Reality of Mass Shootings

November 8, 2017

Recently, the U.S. was rocked by another mass shooting, this one in Las Vegas. As of this writing, there were 58 confirmed dead, and at least five hundred injured from gunshots and other wounds inflicted during the panic and stampede that was triggered by the gunfire. Those assembled were there for a country music festival. The gunman was identified as Stephen Paddock, a retired accountant. Paddock had a stockpile of 23 weapons inside his hotel suite overlooking the Strip, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Las Vegas hotel windows don’t open, but Paddock smashed his in order to begin firing. He’d also set up cameras inside his suite and outside in the hallway, presumably to monitor anyone who might be approaching before he began his slaughter of those gathered below. When cops approached his room, he killed himself with one of his own weapons.

Now, the questions will begin, as they always must when something like this happens. It appears that Paddock acted alone, though obviously the authorities will continue to probe into his personal life to see if he had any accomplices or aid from known terrorist groups. In the early going, nothing at all had been turned up, and that’s one of the weirdest things to be taken from this. Paddock does not appear to have been overtly religious. He didn’t have an extensive criminal history, or a history of mental illness. His brother described him as “just a guy,” and, barring some new revelation, that seems to be the crux of the matter. Here we have “just a guy” who built up a cache of weapons and seems to have meticulously planned wholesale, indiscriminate slaughter. The amount of guns, ammunition, explosives components found in the hotel room, and the camera setup clearly indicates that this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment type of thing. This person knew what he was doing. His seemingly unobtrusive lifestyle and lack of any obvious motive almost makes this more awful and infuriating. Why did Paddock do what he did? What makes “just a guy” into the latest worst mass shooter in U.S. history, eclipsing the 49 killed at the nightclub in Orlando a couple of years ago?

I’ve written before about how mass shootings and acts of terrorism, whether for religious reasons or seemingly for no obvious reason at all, are just a part of the modern fabric in the America of the 21st century. It’s a grim thing to think about, because it lends just a little extra uncertainty to life. It can seemingly happen anywhere, at any time. Attacks at schools, churches, or sporting events…murder by explosives, guns, bladed weapons, vehicles driven into crowds…it’s real, and it keeps right on happening. Nor is it restricted to the U.S., of course. Europe has been getting hit particularly hard in the past decade, but it really does seem to be anywhere, anytime.

My previous conclusions regarding this matter haven’t been particularly decisive, because there doesn’t seem to be any immediate and obvious action that can be taken that will solve the problem. Gun control seems like a good first step, but how would that have helped, when you’ve got a guy who had no history of mental illness, made no alarming posts on social media, and whose acquaintances describe him as having a benign personality? Besides, even if harsher gun laws are enacted in the U.S., it’s not like we can very well ban vehicles, or knives, or anything else that can be used to murder. I mean, hell, anything  can be used as a lethal weapon. You can jab somebody in the throat with a pen if you want to; you can brain somebody with a rock. Are we going to start outlawing rocks, now?

The unfortunate reality is that when there’s a crime on this scale, with no obvious cause, it seems as though it would have been impossible to predict beforehand. Maybe we’ll find some obscure motive for what Paddock did…maybe it will turn out he hated country music, or something…but as of right now, there are no answers, and even if there were, they probably wouldn’t be much consolation to the grieving families of those slain. In my opinion, I think humans are just bloodthirsty and depraved, and looking at history, they always have been. It does seem true that in this era, there is a certain brand of violence that seems to be manifesting itself a lot. Much of it is being done for fundamentalist religion, just as has always been the case. But some of it seems to come about for no easily identifiable reason, and when there is a “lone gunman,” as is the case with Paddock, the question of why can be asked over and over, by pundits and politicians, by family and clergy members, and there’s no answer that will ever entirely satisfy.

What’s truly frightening is how passé it seems to have become. Perhaps Paddock simply wanted some form of recognition, and he thought the best way to do it was to try and take the new high score as the biggest mass murderer in U.S. history. If that was his goal, he accomplished it. The saddest part is, in this world in which we’re all living, I doubt he’d going to successfully hold that title for very long. There will be a next time…the only questions are where the terror is going to strike next, and how much worse it’s going to be.

Musings

Weiner Behind Bars

November 1, 2017

What do you think of the title? Pretty good, huh? I’m referring, of course, to the latest development in the long and sordid saga of former congressman Anthony Weiner, the man who’s done about as good of a job of fucking up his life as anyone I’ve ever seen, with the possible exception of the late Aaron Hernandez. Weiner received a sentence of twenty-one months in federal prison after his laptop was seized by law enforcement and it was determined that he had sent sexually explicit material to a minor, a girl who was fifteen years old at the time of their interaction. “This crime was my rock bottom,” Weiner said at one point. He was also apparently in contact with nineteen other women at the time of his correspondence with the fifteen-year-old.

Seldom in politics, or in the life of any public figure, has there been such a spectacular, and mortifying, downward spiral. It’s hard to even remember, at this point, back to just a few years ago, when Weiner was a fiery, outspoken member of congress. His name was spoken of in regards to a possible presidential run, and he did end up running for mayor of New York, though by that time, the first of his sexual misadventures had already come to light. From there, his whole life just continued sliding downhill at a precipitous rate. At first, his wife, the multitalented Huma Abedin, stuck with him, probably at least partially for the sake of their young child. But when it seemed clear that Weiner wasn’t learning his lesson, and had actually been sexting with a minor, Huma finally did what any sane person would do, and told him to hit the bricks. She can’t be blamed for that. The man needed help…and it seems he’ll be getting it from the inside of a prison cell for the next twenty-one months.

The public are voyeurs, and they’ve taken a lot of pleasure in the downfall of the man who once dubbed himself “Carlos Danger.” We all love to slow down at accident scenes on the highway, to view the skid mark of someone’s brains on the blacktop. There comes a certain point, though, when a story like Weiner’s drags on and on, that even those of us with the most contemptible instincts must turn away. I think a lot of people have reached that point, myself included. I hope Weiner get the help he needs, and since the loss of his dignity, his political career, and his wife and child wasn’t enough to show him the error of his ways, maybe some hard time will get the job done.

I’m still left with the question, though, of exactly why Weiner felt compelled to make the mistake that he did, not once, but again and again and again. Some people at this point are going to say, well, sex addiction. Here’s the thing, though…I don’t believe in sex addiction. I scoff at the concept; I think it’s bullshit. People can be addicted to crack, or heroin. You know that they’re addicted to it, because if you deprive of them of it for a couple days, they’re scratching their skin off, vomiting, and shaking uncontrollably. That’s addiction. People who act like Anthony Weiner just have serious self-control issues. They need help, clearly…there’s some psychological compulsion that’s leading them to act in the way that they are. But any husband, or wife, who tells their partner that they just boffed their best friend because they’re a sex addict is the worst sort of scum, in my book. They’re trying to make themselves a victim. Weiner certainly wasn’t a victim in all this. His victim was the fifteen-year-old who was subjected to the underwear-clad “little wiener.”

The public loves a comeback story almost as much as they love a celebrity falling from grace, so maybe we haven’t seen the last of the former congressman. However, I think I’m not the only one who’s heard more than enough from this guy. He’d probably be better off staying out of the public eye when he gets released from prison, and trying to live some quiet, unassuming life somewhere. Though what exactly he’ll be able to do with himself is an interesting question. Not only will he be a convicted felon and a registered sex offender, but he’ll always be the guy with one of the most recognizable names, and faces, in America and abroad. It could be that going into porn would be his best bet. Maybe that’s something along the lines of what he was always looking for anyway.

 

 

Publication News

New Essay Collection Now Available

October 25, 2017

Hello all. I just wanted to mention that my new essay collection, “Driving Fast in the Slow Lane,” is now available for Kindle and on Amazon in print-on-demand format, for those that prefer an old fashioned physical book, like myself. It’s $4.99 for Kindle, and $13.99 for paperback, and it features some of my best essays written over the last ten years. I’m very proud of this collection, and excited to get it out there in the world. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Driving-Fast-Slow-Steven-Finkelstein/dp/1976391687/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508414842&sr=8-1&keywords=steven+finkelstein

I hope all of you pick up a copy, and tell your friends. More soon…

Musings

World-Changing Writing

October 18, 2017

What is it that truly marks a writer as being successful? Is a successful writer one who is making a living exclusively through their writing, as I’ve tried to do for so many years? Are you a successful writer when you’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list? When you’ve optioned a book to Hollywood? When you’ve written what is considered a classic novel? There’s no wrong answer to this question, I think. It’s subjective. Some writers consider themselves to be a success when they’ve managed to publish a short story in an obscure online literary magazine for the first time. There are many different kinds of writers, and we all have different goals…some of us are much more ambitious than others.

There are some authors, though, who literally change the world through their writing. These are authors who are runaway success stories; they’re superstars. They’ve made it, regardless of what milestones one uses to define such things. One such author who I want to talk about today is George R.R. Martin. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series, better known by the title Game of Thrones, as in the long-running show on H.B.O., first appeared on my radar perhaps seven or eight years ago. I knew he was a fantasy writer, and that he was well known, but I hadn’t actually picked up one of his books before. The first several novels in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series had been New York Times bestsellers, but I don’t think I understood just how good this guy was. I saw the first season of Game of Thrones by pirating it online. I wasn’t exactly making a ton of money at the time, and I wasn’t about to add H.B.O. to my cable package. I couldn’t afford that sort of luxury, but there was so much buzz around this show that I felt like I had to check it out somehow. I knew that Sean Bean was in it, an actor I much admired. A big-budget fantasy series geared toward adult viewers, and one that was sure to feature plenty of sex and violence, since it was on a premium channel? Count me in.

The show was engrossing, spellbinding, better even than I’d thought it would be. And so it went from there…I found the entire “Song of Ice and Fire” series at secondhand bookstores, and caught up with what had become, in truth, a cultural event. Martin’s writing was probably the best fantasy I’d ever read, with the exception of Tolkien. It’s hard to say who’s better, between the two…I guess I would just say that their writing styles are very different, so it’s hard to compare the two. Tolkien is “high fantasy,” his prose more flowery. Martin’s writing has a more modern feel to it. One thing that the two share, though, is the ability to create unforgettable characters, characters about whom the reader grows to care. They’re both master storytellers, the difference being, I think, that Tolkien belongs to another era. Martin is getting up there in years, but he’s still alive and producing, and able to see the effect his creation, the Seven Kingdoms, is having on society. I would hope that he’s proud of his accomplishments.

Game of Thrones is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen on television. It’s production values are fantastic, which is unsurprising, considering it’s literally the most expensive show that’s ever been produced. It’s unparalleled in its time, just as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad were in theirs. It’s must-see T.V., it’s groundbreaking…call it what you want, there’s never been anything else like it on the small screen. The books, meanwhile, have had an equal impact. Martin’s creation, the Seven Kingdoms, seems to be the world in which his literary talents truly flowered, and I know this, because I’ve read some of his earlier sci-fi and horror efforts now, and they show promise, but it’s nothing like his fantasy. Just as Terry Pratchett created the “Diskworld,” and did his best work there, just as Brian Jacques created “Redwall,” and felt most at home there, so to did Martin devise the Seven Kingdoms, and, as a reader, I’m thankful he did. Lots of people are. Literally millions have read his books, and millions more have seen Game of Thrones.

That’s what I’m talking about when I mean real success as a writer. There’s a certain pinnacle that can be reached where the language of the books you’ve created has leaked into the popular vernacular. If you’re into Game of Thrones, you know the significance of the phrase “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” You know all about the Red Wedding. You know that “winter is coming,” you know about “bending the knee,” and you know how important it is to hold the Iron Throne. If you’re reading this and you’re lost by now, then you’re behind the times, good reader. Trust my literary recommendation, here…pick up the first novel of the “Song of Ice and Fire” cycle. You don’t have to be into the fantasy genre. If you’re a fan of just good writing, period, you’re going to appreciate these books. I won’t say millions of people can’t be wrong, because look at the success of the Fifty Shades of Gray series, or look who’s currently in the White House. But here’s one time that they got it right. George R.R. Martin is a master. His success is well-earned. Become a citizen of the Seven Kingdoms. Bend the knee.

Musings

The North Korean Threat

October 11, 2017

It’s rumored that before former president Obama left office, he met with incoming president Donald Trump. Obama told him that one of the biggest threats facing America, and likely one of the biggest headaches during his presidency, would be Kim Jong Un and North Korea. I doubt Trump was even paying attention. He was probably busy engaging in another pointless Twitter feud with a D-list celebrity, or possibly daydreaming about fucking Ivanka. In any event, we’re a few months into the Trump presidency, and North Korean rhetoric against the United States seems to be rapidly increasing. I can’t really say something like “it’s at an all time high,” because North Korean saber rattling has been going on for decades. It’s only the uptick in testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles that should have the U.S., and the rest of the world, taking notice.

It’s estimated that in the near future, it’s possible that the secretive country headed up by “Rocket Man,” to borrow Trump’s cute little nickname for the tubby autocrat, could have the capacity to launch a missile capable of hitting the west coast of the United States. It could also have a nuclear weapon with a payload big enough to cause catastrophic damage. The missile tests in which the North Koreans had been engaging for years were greeted with derision by the rest of the world. The rockets blew up soon after launch, or went wildly off course. But the latest tests seem to show significant strides in terms of both power and accuracy, and it’s not only the U.S. that’s worried. No one wants a nuclear powered North Korea. Trump’s Twilight Zone-flavored speech at the U.N. may have alarmed some of the delegates, but they at least agreed with the sentiment that North Korea is dangerous, and becoming more so with each passing day.

Years ago, I talked about the arbitrary nature of stockpiling nuclear weaponry. What I mean is that the United States has nuclear arms, and several other countries do as well. Having nuclear arms means that, as a nation, you have to be taken seriously. If you’re not, it’s possible that you might just decide to launch against your neighbor, in a fit of pique. America, which has had nuclear capabilities for decades, loves to try and dictate which other countries should be allowed to have them. It was just the same with Iran nearly a decade ago as it is with North Korea now. We like to have our own nuclear arsenal, but if it seems as though a country we don’t like is going to get the bomb, we try to impose sanctions and even threaten war against them. I’m not advocating that it would be a good thing for either Iran or North Korea to have nuclear weapons. What I’m saying is that it is and always has been hypocritical for the U.S., or any other nuclear powered country, to say “We should be allowed to have nuclear weapons to defend ourselves, but this other nation shouldn’t.” Who are we to dictate such terms? We’re not God, and no other nation is either.

Our declaring that we should have nuclear arms and North Korea shouldn’t seems to presuppose that our leadership is steadier and more rational than theirs. If Kim Jong Un is so volatile, it makes sense that he shouldn’t be able to have nuclear weapons. However, are we honestly saying, during a Trump presidency, that our leadership is more tempered, more restrained, more trustworthy? Look at Trump’s childishness, his pettiness, his egomania. Are we that much more comfortable that this guy has the nuclear launch codes? What if, late one night, instead of insulting the latest celebrity via Twitter, he decides he’s going to unilaterally wipe some other country off the map because of a perceived slight? How farfetched is that, exactly? With Trump’s volatility, the idea of what’s impossible changes almost on a daily basis. At this point, I’d be willing to believe almost anything. I’m almost as nervous with Trump being in power as I would be if I was living in North Korea.

Ultimately, what we can do about North Korea and Kim Jong Un becomes a question of might making right. If the U.S. can find a way to stall their weapons development through sanctions or intimidation, we’ll try to do so. But intimidation seems useless, and sanctions haven’t been getting us very far. It seems almost a foregone conclusion that North Korea will eventually develop the weapon they crave, unless the U.S. makes some sort of preemptive strike against them. It’s anybody’s guess how all this is going to shake out. There are philosophies in life that amount to something along the lines of “only worry about the things that you can change,” and I certainly can’t do anything about the North Koreans. The only thing I could do against Trump was vote against him, and look how that turned out. I don’t know if Trump and Kim Jon Un’s blustering back and forth is going to eventually lead to something more than words. In a way, they seem to be like peas in a pod, both of them clearly relishing all the talk of blowing each other’s countries off the map. We’ll all have to wait and see if either one of them ever decides to put their money where their mouth is…or their missiles, as the case may be.

Musings

The Brood Grows

October 4, 2017

I have no children, nor do I ever intend on having any. Since I am now well into my thirties, and married, that is a little unusual. There are people who choose not to have children, for various reasons, but to be a male married to a female, with both of us capable of procreating, but for us to make the conscious decision not to do so, we are in the minority in American society. Many people don’t actually make the choice at all. The woman will accidently get knocked up, if either one of the partners is careless with whatever birth control method they were using, and they’ll decide to go through with the pregnancy. There are still some people who are old fashioned, or their parents are, and that accidental pregnancy will lead to the two of them marrying. Getting married because the woman got pregnant is usually a horrible idea, and leads to divorce down the line more often than not. Luckily, societal mores have changed to the point that a woman getting pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean that marriage follows, or even having the child, for that matter. It’s great that abortion remains a legal option in this country, and let’s hope it stays that way, though the G.O.P. is always trying to take away a woman’s reproductive rights.

I don’t have any friends, at this point, but I still have family, and my wife has friends. Some of her friends have children; my sister Ann has her son, Ezra, and my stepsister, Joie, is pregnant at the moment with her sixth child by her husband, Alex. I’m glad that my sister had Ezra. Since my wife and I don’t plan on ever having children, my sister having a kid gave my parents a biological grandchild, which I know made my mother very happy. It made my father happy too, but he also has Joie’s five kids he can play with if he ever wants his grandfather fix, with yet another on the way. I can’t help but think sometimes about how different my life would be if I’d decided to have children. We had reasons for deciding not to become parents, and I think that, overall, we’re happy with the choice that we made. Joie and Alex are an interesting case, to me, because they seem to be at the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

There’s no doubt that having children changes one’s life dramatically. Those who choose to have that first kid are sacrificing tremendous amounts of time, energy, money, and sleep. I’m not suggesting that having a kid isn’t worth it. It’s just that you must accept certain realities, as a parent. You’re legally responsible, now, for the life that you created. You must keep this child alive, nurture and care for them. Your existence becomes wrapped up in child rearing. You must evolve as a person, because, if you don’t, chances are, you’re neglecting your child. It therefore follows, then, that even more effort, money, etcetera, is required if you have a second child, and a third, and so on. What Joie and Alex did, and continue to do, strikes me as a mild, or perhaps even severe, form of insanity. I can’t claim to know the reason they wanted such a large family, or even if it’s something they truly wanted…for all I know, they might just be really careless. If I shudder when I think of being the father to one child, I have literal nightmares about what it would be like to sire a brood like what the two of them have going. I don’t think they plan on stopping until they have enough to field an entire baseball team.

For all I know, Joie and Alex are loving life, and the family they created. I hope that’s the case. They’re not my blood relations, but I wish them well, and I hope they never regret the choice to have such a large household. But surely I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that it must be difficult to take care of so many young dependents. The stresses put on them, lack of sleep, having to cook for such a clan, cleaning up after them, driving them to soccer practice and dance recitals, kissing their boo-boos when they fall down, just the general tumult such a group creates…it must be exhausting. How could it be otherwise? My life is difficult sometimes. Everyone’s is. We all deal with problems, but it seems as though, being responsible only for myself, it’s only my problems with which I have to deal, and sometimes Megan’s, as well, since I share my life with her. My life seems simple, as compared to that of Joie and Alex. So while I wish them the best, I wouldn’t ever, ever want to go through what they are.

These are all choices that we make. I wonder what it was that made my wishes so much different than theirs. They wanted to be surrounded with children, to have the little buggers crawling all over them, while I’ve been waiting years for what I consider the right moment just to get a dog. We’re all different people, and perhaps it was some biological imperative that made them want they wanted, while I wanted something completely different. In any case, I haven’t regretted the choice I made, along with Megan, to not become parents. God knows I’ve made more than my share of bad decisions in my life, but I’ve never even entertained the notion of that being one of them.

Musings

Another Adult Milestone

September 27, 2017

When I was young, I was a huge fan of Halloween, as I think many children are. There was the theatricality of the event, for one thing. Whatever I was most into that year, I could buy or fashion a costume that reflected that. I remember being a big fan of ninjas for two or three years. I used to rent the American Ninja movie series on V.H.S. from Blockbuster, and practice my moves in the backyard. There are pictures of me in my black pajama-like outfit in martial arts poses, brandishing my plastic katana.

Even more so, the holiday provided an opportunity to collect candy, which might have been a cause for joy with some children, but which took on a much greater significance for my sister and I. We weren’t allowed to have candy normally, so the idea that we were about to be gifted with this veritable smorgasbord of Twizzlers and Snicker’s bars was like some sugar-blasted dream come true. We were allowed two pieces of candy per day, and because of this restriction, it wasn’t uncommon for us to still have a few pieces remaining well into December. The last to go were usually things like Sugar Daddies, which no one really liked anyway. I vividly remember trying to surreptitiously gobble as much down on Halloween night as I could…sneaking candy out of its wrapper and stuffing it into my ravenous gob while my parents were preoccupied.

I also remember being very young, five or six years old, and getting back from trick-or-treating and being sent to bed. My teeth were brushed, and there would be no more glorious sugar till the following day. But I wanted more…I went back downstairs, and told my mom I wanted to “look at” my haul one more time. I snatched a box of jelly beans, and brought them back upstairs with me. Suspicious, my mother followed me, and asked if I had taken any of the candy with me. Naturally, bad little child that I was, I lied to her and told her that I hadn’t. She believed me, or seemed to, and went back downstairs. I’d stashed the candy in my favorite hiding spot, one of the cubbies formed by the cinder blocks which had been used to prop up a sort of shelf along one of the walls of my room. We were quite poor, at this point, and much of my furniture was makeshift or secondhand. I took the jellybeans out, opened the box, and gleefully ate them one by one, savoring the intensity of the sugar high. I was also sick with guilt and adrenaline, however, and got a stomachache.

Now, at thirty-six, I’m an adult by any rubric you’d care to judge such things. My trick-or-treating days are long over. Having moved out of New York, and being the owner of my very own house for the first time, it’s put me in a position to have to do things that I’ve never had to before. I need to pay property taxes and school taxes, for instance. I need to fix things around the house…or call professionals to do the job, where in the past, when I was renting apartments, I’d just need to contact the super, or the landlord. Another thing that I have the option to do, if not the requirement, is decorate the house, with Halloween a few weeks away, and pass out candy to the kids. I live in an actual neighborhood these days, and there are plenty of youngsters about. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of little ghosts and goblins and princesses dropping by, or whatever the hell it is that kids are into these days. The tables have turned. I’ll be the one distributing the sweet treats, and exclaiming how this one looks so adorable, that one so terrifying.

I can’t eat candy anymore. My gums are receding, probably from brushing too hard when I was younger, and I no longer enjoy the sugar. Even cold drinks are starting to bother me. About the best I can do is decorate the house, have a beer, and keep a watchful eye to make sure no one’s idea of a rocking Halloween night is lobbing eggs or toilet paper at the front windows. I was guilty of those things when I was younger, but what goes around comes around, etcetera. I guess the only reason this difference, this change, is going to hit me so hard this year is because, again, this is the first time I’ve been a homeowner, and it’s a different experience than apartment living. In New York, there was no point in putting a carved jack o’lantern in front of my apartment door. No little kids were getting in.

Doubtless, it’s going to feel strange. I don’t know how many of these kids are being deprived of sugar, as my health-conscious parents once did to us, but to see them taking such glee in the holiday…because Halloween is a holiday for children, much more than adults…will probably be bittersweet. Middle age is ahead of me, bearing down like a freight train, and childhood keeps slipping further away. A lot of the time, I don’t miss it. There are pleasures of adulthood, just as there are pleasures of childhood, and those suffice; they sustain me. Halloween, however, might be one night that I envy the young again. They have their whole lives ahead of them. As the guy passing out the candy, I’ve been relegated to the sidelines. At least I get to pay those property taxes and school taxes, though. That’s way more satisfying than all the jelly beans in the world.

Musings

The Loss of Our Dignity

September 20, 2017

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been rereading and revising essays, deciding which ones I wanted to include in the collection. As I mentioned last week, it’s now available on Amazon, for Kindle. It was interesting to go back over ten years of material, seeing what I thought about political, societal, and personal matters when I was in different living and working situations.

I don’t think my politics have changed much in the past decade. I’m still liberal on most issues, though I still have plenty of beefs with the Democratic party. I certainly tore into former President Obama here on the site over the years, though not nearly as much as I did the Republicans for various reasons. I haven’t spoken out about Donald Trump here on the site recently, for two reasons. The first is that a couple of years ago, I determined that I wasn’t going to be doing the weekly blogs anymore, for the simple fact that I wasn’t being paid for them. The effort no longer seemed worth it, and I felt like my creative energies were better spent being focused elsewhere. The other reason I haven’t bad-mouth Trump is that he’s too easy of a target. The man’s flaws are self-evident, and my pointing them out wouldn’t have made any difference. Today, however, I thought I’d break my silence. Why not? It’s not likely to make any difference in my personal life, nor is it going to get the Orange-in-Chief ushered out the door any faster, but it will allow me to blow off some steam.

Trump has been president now for about eight months. He’s weathered numerous mini-scandals while in office, but I thought some of the ones he faced before he was even elected would be enough to swamp his campaign, and it never happened. The whole “grab them by the pussy” business, a couple of decades ago, seems like it would have been enough to derail him, but it didn’t happen. Likewise, his handling of the woman’s death in Charlottesville recently, where she was run down by a white supremacist, seems like it might have been sufficient to get him impeached. It didn’t happen, nor have any of the allegations so far about his campaign colluding with Russia during the election. I suppose it’s still possible that a smoking gun could be discovered so dramatic that it can no longer be ignored, even by the G.O.P., but if you want my opinion, I think we’re probably stuck with this guy till at least 2020.

The argument has been made that Trump being elected was a market correction for eight years of an Obama presidency, and maybe that’s true. It has also been suggested that this correction is at least partially due to racial motives. Maybe the people who supported Trump did so because they believed in what this conman was saying. They believed he’d build a wall on the Mexican border, they believed he’d save jobs in the coal industry…but I sincerely believe that some of them voted for him because regardless of what he said or did, they would have voted for any white male, just because they felt it would be going back to the status quo. They surely weren’t going to vote for Hillary. Sexism is just as much alive as is racism, in this country.

My problems with Trump run deeper the more I learn about the man, and I knew plenty about him already. I never watched The Apprentice, but I’ve sure watched professional wrestling over the years, and I know all about Trump’s association with Vince McMahon and the W.W.E. I knew Trump to be a bloviating blowhard, a puffed-up caricature of what he envisioned a New York billionaire should be. He always made much of his success, but his track record in business stated otherwise. I recall going to Atlantic City and seeing his casino abandoned, a rotting eyesore jutting out from the shoreline, letters hanging off the façade. It looked like a set piece from The Walking Dead. I was just as surprised as all the pundits when his candidacy did as well as it did, but, like the rest of them, I never believed he could actually be elected. It was inconceivable…and then it happened.

The people who voted for Trump wanted someone who “wasn’t a politician,” and that’s what they got. They got a man who had no previous political experience at all, had never held an elected office at any level. They got a reality T.V. star, and they got a presidency unlike anything ever before seen. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, watching this guy, and we’re only eight months in. Yesterday, Trump addressed the United Nations for the first time. Maybe, with his ego, he expected it to be like one of his victory rallies in Bum-Fuck, Idaho, with people cheering his greatest hits, “Lock her up!” “Build the wall!” He started riffing on Kim Jong Un, calling him by the pet name he’d devised, “Rocket Man.” There was no laughter, and there was no applause. The delegates of dozens of countries had never seen anything like this guy in the flesh. I think most of them were shocked, appalled. They’d heard and seen how much of an ass the American president was, but it was something else to see it in person. Here was what America had become; this is what we elected.

That’s what I think bothers me the most about this guy. Yes, his policies are awful, just as much they are arbitrary. What would it actually accomplish to ban transsexual service members from the armed forces? What would it actually accomplish, building that wall on the Mexican border? How can these be anyone’s priorities? But, while all of that is cause for alarm, I think it hurts me the most when I see how much shame and embarrassment it brings to this nation that this guy represents us on the world stage. Say what you want about Obama, or Clinton, or even George Bush, either version. At least they were all politicians; they sounded somewhat presidential, although W’s mangling of the English language was a trial. He at least attempted to retain some measure of dignity; Trump doesn’t know the meaning of the word. He feuds with celebrities on Twitter, he mocks disabled people, he shouts down any dissention, determined to have the last word, like a petulant toddler. His supporters don’t care. This is what they wanted…it’s the Mean Girl presidency.

As I said, I believe we’re stuck with Trump till 2020. How much damage he’s going to do in the meantime is anybody’s guess. Perhaps he’ll actually antagonize North Korea to the point that they back up some of the rhetoric they’ve been spitting at us for decades. But one thing is undeniable: America is a laughingstock right now. There were times in the past when I found it hard to be an American, because I disagreed so vehemently with governmental policy. It’s never been anything like this before. This is an unprecedented time in American and world history, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. We’re living in the era where the president goes on unhinged Twitter sprees in the middle of the night, and continues denying climate change while Houston and parts of Florida are underwater. Perhaps this is what we deserved, as a nation; we deserved to learn some humility. One can only hope that the Democrats can come up with somebody in 2020 who can play by the rules of the new political gamesmanship of this modern era, which is to say, no rules at all. In the wild west of a Trump presidency, there is no over the top. There is no lowest common denominator. No matter how tasteless, no matter how repellent a thought or action, it could be coming our way at any moment. This guy is capable of anything. Hold onto your hats with one hand, America…and hold your nose with the other.

Publication News

Essay Collection Now Available on Amazon

September 14, 2017

Hello folks. After a hiatus, I’m back, and I hope you’re all enjoying the onset of the fall season. I’ve been hard at work on a number of projects, and hopefully I’ll have updates on some of them soon. For now, I wanted to announce that my new essay collection, Driving Fast in the Slow Lane, is available for Kindle on Amazon. It costs $4.99, and you can find it at the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Driving-Fast-Slow-Steven-Finkelstein-ebook/dp/B075LXGN5X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505425184&sr=8-1&keywords=steven+finkelstein

I’m tremendously proud of this collection, which features dozens of essays written over a ten-year period, some of them deeply personal. I hope you’ll check it out, but if you’re one of those folks that prefers a print version, one should be available soon. More to come, true believers. Peace and love to all.