Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Football: Bringing world peace to many...
The roar of the crowd. The collective chant of an audience. The beer bottles flying overhead.

Okay, so there are some things that are slightly unpleasant at football games, but for the most part, there are few things I enjoy more.

Packed into a stadium with 73,000 fellow Dolphins fans last weekend, I couldn’t help but smile at the scene.

People everywhere were decked out in jerseys commemorating their favorite player, and they exchanged a nod and a smile with others sharing their opinions. Strangers slapped hands and exchanged hugs at the slightest hint of victory and produced a collective sigh when times were bleak.

For a brief moment, everyone around you has something in common, and that is a thing to be celebrated. In the grand scope of things, football is a trivial event, but I have come to embrace it as a means of brotherhood and community.

Before non-football fans discard my notion of togetherness, it is important to understand that this feeling can be accomplished in many arenas in life.

In my own experiences, I can recall trips to a theater production where the audience laughed and cried together and became one body of awed viewers. Many times I have turned to an audience member beside me at intermission or at the play’s conclusion and exchanged sentiments about what we had just witnessed.

During my study-abroad program in London, I was fortunate enough to find myself utterly lost in a crowd of thousands celebrating a “football” victory in Piccadilly Circus. I stood fascinated by the masses of people cheering and yelling, and it wasn’t long before I too was caught up in the spirit, embracing my neighbors as we herded down the street.

The term I’ve always used to describe these phenomenons is “choreographed chaos.”
On the outside, things may appear out of control, and an apprehensive person may not look to see what’s within the hustle and bustle. But an insider knows that they are safe, because they are with people who understand.

Be it a concert, a movie, a rally or anything where people are gathered with common interests, nothing compares to the unique bond that can exist in those situations. Anyone knows from experience how a great event or an amazing feeling can get muddled in the retelling. Too often the phrase, “Guess you had to be there,” can escape a disappointed storyteller’s lips.

After a great scene in whatever production in life you witness with another, there is no greater satisfaction than being able to look at someone else and without so much as a sound, be able to understand their feelings completely.

Some people are afraid of crowds, and that’s to be understood. As with last weekend’s game, some people will break the peaceful choreography, and that’s a shame. Those people will never understand the unspoken bond that they have disrupted, but rest assured, more people will get it than not.

I cannot tell you how many crucial connections I have made with fellow audience members from various events that I have attended. I’ve met strangers turned to friends, received information on good mechanics and bad doctors and even received a deal on a car.

The point is, opportunities to congregate are abundant. No matter what our differences in this world may be, there will always be some place where someone else can share your thoughts, hopes and happiness, and we should grasp those occasions whenever we can.

Happiness can come when we embrace that good ‘ol “Cheers” mentality and find ourselves in a place where everybody knows our name. There is security to be found in places that may look disorganized and dangerous. Sharing a priceless moment of joy or sorrow with others who can relate is a liberation that can be, and should be, enjoyed by all.

Unless you were a Bills fan at the Dolphins game- Then you were on your own.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Party till your dogs ache...
I celebrated my puppy Picadilly’s first birthday last weekend.

I worked late into the evening making a special cake and cookies with doggie d├ęcor to serve to all of our family at his birthday party.

I even went so far as to send out invitations and buy “happy birthday” balloons with Clifford on them (every dog’s hero).

Okay, before you start thinking I’m nuts and petition my editors to have me committed, let me explain my motives for throwing my puppy a birthday party.

I must admit, though quietly so that my beagle boss doesn’t hear, I had ulterior motives for throwing the birthday bash.

For many years, I have traveled to birthday parties, holiday gatherings and football get-togethers held by various members of my family.

I have just moved into my first ever self-subsidized, roommateless apartment, and now, it’s my turn to show off my new digs and entertain those who have done so for me over the years.

As my family sat around on my couches, in my apartment, watching the Dolphins beat the Jets on my television, a deep sense of pride washed over me.

Sure, some had to sit on the floor in my tiny living room, but it was my floor! And okay, so the furniture was all donated, but it’s mine now- no take-backs!

Despite the fact that I have to wipe a few tears from my eyes when I’m writing out that rent check each month with no roommate to defray the cost, I can’t help but think that it’s worth it to be able to come and go as I please, leave dishes in the sink and not take the garbage out the second it gets full.

Now, many beagle owners will tell you that this particular breed, especially the males, are extremely difficult to train. They are highly stubborn, very possessive and do not take rebuke well.

After mine cost me a considerable amount of money in carpet damage payments at our last place, a lot of people thought I was crazy to continue to put up with him. My friends griped each time I had to leave a get-together to take the dog out and my family grumbled whenever he accompanied me to one of their homes.

On countless occasions I have been asked, why would any free-spirited, carefree person anchor themselves to something as demanding as single-puppy parenthood?

Every time, my response is the same: because the very creature that introduced such responsibility and commitment into my life is the same that set me free.

I come home everyday to the healthy, exuberant puppy that I raised single-handedly, and he brings a sense of joy and accomplishment to my life that I have never known.

When he is sick or in pain, he looks to me to protect him and make things better. He is, in essence, my child, and I treat him as such.

It’s not just me I’m providing for- his life is my responsibility, and this home is just as much his as it is mine.

I would not be so shallow as to say that I always have everything under control and that I can handle everything life throws my way. Life is full of big failures and small victories, but eventually you find a way to make each your own. You may even grow to learn that freedom and responsibility are one in the same.

In celebrating Picadilly’s birthday last week, I was actually commemorating more that my pup’s first year on Earth. I was reveling in my first year of being responsible and free through the eyes of someone who needs me to be.

Plus, how often do you get to make a cake with icing dog bones on it?

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Life in the bitter barn...
Murphy’s Law, rule number three: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

I live my life according to Murphy’s Laws. Rules such as “If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway” and “If everything seems to be going well, you’ve obviously overlooked something” are abundant features in my life.

I say this as I am sitting in an auto repair shop, 40 miles from home, awaiting the fateful prognosis on my battered little car. I shouldn’t feel sorry for the car, though. He (yes, I personify my car) has had all week to break down on me. At any time, he could have decided to give out on me, but he had his own agenda.

In accordance with Murphy’s Laws, he suddenly heaved a tremendous sigh and decided to take an expensive nap- right in the middle of U.S. 1.

And not just anywhere on U.S. 1- in Stuart, where I had an extremely rare 9 a.m. new employees meeting.

When the tow truck men arrived on the scene, they asked if someone was coming to pick me up. The same question was asked of me when I arrived at the repair shop.

As I am sitting in the car repair waiting room working on my laptop, the obvious answer to both is no.

In the six weeks that I have called Palm Beach County my home, the area and I have been engaged in a little game of “getting to know you.”

So far, I am losing…

I have tried a number of methods in an attempt to meet new people in the area, and each of my efforts have been thwarted. Admittedly, many of those undertakings have resulted in rather humorous outcomes, making it very difficult to curse the situations as I so often desire.

The site of my first expedition to meet people was an obvious choice: church.
In church, people have to be nice to you, or they will get smoldered. Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but they do have to actively recruit you for their ministry.

Right after work one Wednesday, I sprinted over to the church for a small group single’s discussion meeting. I figured that narrowing the church mass into a smaller group of people that I could relate to would be the best plan for making new friends.

When I entered the room that evening, I immediately recognized my logical error- and so did they. Several pairs of eyes peered questioningly at me from behind out-dated spectacles, and one brave soul inquired, “Aren’t you a bit young for this group?”

Only about four decades too young, I thought, but who’s counting? They filled me in on the background of their 60+ widower’s group, and I quietly slipped out the door as they jabbered on out a potluck dinner of shepherd’s pie.

Attempts two and three left me high, dry and soaking wet, if you can imagine that phenomenon.

I called around looking for an adult softball league to join, figuring that some outdoors time after work would lead me to fun friends with similar interests. I sought the advice of two different people in charge of organizing the leagues, and their suggestion was the same: go out to the field and ask a team manager if they need an extra player.

I can’t tell you how dopey I felt walking onto the field that Friday afternoon. I felt like that little kid walking up to the posse of bigger kids, asking, “Can I play with you?”

Unfortunately, there was no one there to answer my juvenile request, because neither league organizer bothered to inform me that there were no games during the holiday weekend.

Given my track record, I guess I should have sensed disaster in the air the following Friday, but I was foolishly optimistic. I drove out to the field in drizzly weather, hoping that the games were still on for the evening.

As a torrential downpour began to unleash itself during my drive, I started to wonder if the storm cloud was simply following me or if it was affecting everyone else in the county. When I arrived at the field, people hustling to the parking lot shouted to me, telling me games were cancelled.

I took advantage of the situation and dashed through puddles of slippery, red mud across the field. I decided that I would corner some unsuspecting manager huddled under an awning and make them put me on their team.

The manager I encountered was in fact looking for players for the upcoming weeks, and I am now awaiting notification on my request to play with the Saucy Kitty’s Lingerie team. Don’t ask…

At this point, I feel obliged to tell you that I love this area. I am not resentful or upset that I haven’t found my niche yet, because I know that Jupiter and its surrounding areas have so much to offer someone like me.

Maybe I’m just looking at things the wrong way. I guess having your car stall in the middle of a busy highway and getting two men to rescue you by pushing your car to safety is an icebreaker for future conversation with them. It wasn’t what I had in mind as a way of meeting people, but at this point, I’m open to non-conventional alternatives.

Regardless of my trial and error follies, I have no plans to resign myself to a state of hermit-hood just yet. I will keep taking strides to find my place here, and I will not be bitter when failure seems inevitable.

Okay, maybe I am a little bitter right now, but I promise to have a brighter attitude if I ever leave the car repair shop.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Ode to Marco Polo...
When I was younger, I could think of no better way to spend a Saturday than in the pool.

What could possibly beat a ten hour pool day featuring a raucous game of Marco Polo, chicken fights and diving contests?

As a child, my friends and family and I would spend a marathon number of weekend hours completely water-logged and with pruned fingers. When our parents finally hauled us out of the water, our lips chattering and blue from the cool night air, we would enjoy sandwich dinners under the stars, wrapped in sopping towels.

As I recall, there was no greater spoiler of a water fun day than the inevitable one or two teenagers or adults who would lounge by the pool working on their tans and yelling at the kids for splashing or being too noisy. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could waste such a day loaded with fun in the sun potential, and believed firmly that I would never squander such opportunities when I was older.

As I sprawled out in my lawn chair a few weeks ago with an icy drink in hand and a relaxed grin on my face, I thought to myself, nothing could be better than laying here in the sun, letting the beating sun rays drain all of my weekday cares from my head.

I furrowed my brow at the neighborhood children splashing around, and even stifled a lecture when I saw a pack of kids running around the perimeter of the pool. I wondered, why can’t they just be still and enjoy the simplicity of their surroundings?

Woah! Could I have possibly sounded any older?

I have to recall with a laugh how many times my parents threatened to tape record my proclamations as a child. Everything was so definite back then, with no gray areas. “I will NEVER like boys!” “I will NEVER wish for a naptime!” “I will ALWAYS enjoy getting dirty!”

I have, of course, come to believe the opposite of all of these. Mmm... daily naptimes... But I digress.

As “grown ups,” we come to find that life is filled with gray areas. Decisions aren’t always as easy as which color crayon to use. Sometimes instead of choosing between a good option and a bad one, you are forced to make a difficult decision to determine which is the lesser of two evils (for example, choosing mechanics, presidential elections, etc.).

When you are a child, you want to make your own choices; choose your own destinies. As an adult faced with a problem, you want nothing more than to make someone else decide.

On the plus side for adulthood, as a child, you lack the power to choose to dine on jelly beans for lunch. As an adult, you can have them for dinner too!

The most rewarding privilege of adulthood is the ability to choose how you want to view the world. Sometimes being a “grown up” is necessary, but that’s only because throwing paper airplanes during board meetings is not sociably acceptable. When you want to cut loose and have a little fun, you have the option to choose between being an adult and exposing your inner child.

I spent this past weekend at the pool again, this time with a different attitude. I played with my younger siblings, throwing them up in the air and into the water. I watched and applauded their efforts to add a new twist to each dive they did into the pool. I even instigated a dangerous game of Frisbee (my apologies to everyone whose head I hit).

I enjoyed mealtime outside, wrapped in a sopping towel and loving every minute of it. For one moment, I remembered what it was like to be a child, thinking of nothing but poolside fun and a long weekend, and it was great.

When I went to work on Tuesday, I felt more worn-out and water-logged than I have ever felt before in my life. My mind may have been able to relive a slice of childhood, but my adult body just can’t hang with the young ones.

After last weekend, I know I will still fulfill my midweek daydreams of lazy Saturday sunbathing. I can’t promise that I will join in the next neighborhood game of Marco Polo I come across, but at the very least, I will lighten my scowl and enjoy the loud shrieks of childhood.

Maybe I’ll hide a water gun under my towel and spray them periodically. MY parents won’t be there to punish me!