Monday, December 31, 2018

Season's Greetings

I regretted coming into the store, just to pick up a few essentials. If I was smart, I would've gone shopping the minute the store opened at six in the morning, avoiding the evening crowd and the long lines at the checkout. Christmas Eve shopping is always a dreadful experience.

But I had spent the previous night celebrating a well earned victory with my friends, first place with a large cash prize. We partied til the bar closed, then we continued celebrating at a friend's place. I got home just before dawn, slept a few hours and cursed my alarm for waking me up in too short and an agonizing a time later. Thank goodness I splurged (and saved during the sales) on a new coffeemaker. I hadn't had one in years. I was afraid I was developing a coffee addiction. But those four cups I had for breakfast gave me the energy I needed to start the day.

Now I was stuck in line, having made the poor decision to shop for a few items on my way home from work. And I was too stubborn to give up my place in line after standing there for so long.

I hate shopping during the peak of the Holidays. There are too many people crowding the stores, fighting over too few deals and being generally rude to each other. The spirit of the season has been lost, giving way to greed and selfishness.

Behind me stood an elderly lady with a cart full of toys and other household items. In front of me was a woman holding a baby girl, her preteen son pushing a cart with a small boy sitting in it. There were just a few items in the basket, and my heart ached for the small boy, who was being comforted by his older brother. The little boy wanted some Legos on display, but his mother said no. And I had a feeling it was because they couldn't afford it.

Suddenly, I had a flashback to a most painful time in my childhood. My father had just passed away, and times were uncertain and hard for my mother, left with raising three young boys. Our older siblings had all ready left the farm, with our next sibling finishing up in college.

In a way, they had it easier, with Dad around, their college was paid for. And if they'd rather work than go to school, Dad would get them good jobs, through his connections at work and the contacts he'd made during his lifetime. The lifestyle my older siblings had is very different to the one my two brothers and I lived. There is a huge difference in how we view and do things to this very day. Essentials and necessities mean very different things to our older siblings and us.

My two closet brothers and I had to learn to be independent, that if we wanted something, we had to work for it. And we had to rely on each other to get through the hard times. That made us closer to each other and our mother than to any of our older siblings. We still share a strong bond to each other to this day. Don't get me wrong, I love my older siblings, but I trust and rely more on my two brothers than any of the others.

We hardly had any new clothes. And we pretty much lived in hand me downs. And that was okay, because they were always clean and in good condition. If Mom made any new clothes, it was usually for church or for school uniforms. We may have not had a lot, but we were happy and safe and well loved.

Three small boys were not enough to run a farm. But my mother figured out a way for us to survive. People, even other family members, pressured her to sell the farm, but she refused. This was the home she and our Dad had worked hard to obtain. And she wasn't going to give it up. It was the only thing of value left that could be passed on to her youngest children, who no longer had a father to help them in life.

We worked hard on the farm, selling fruits and vegetables. The sale of our goats and pigs helped keep us afloat. The fruits or vegetables in season and eggs from our chickens formed the majority of our meals.

On weekends, at low tide, we'd go digging for clams and oysters. I didn't like eating clams and oysters, but I loved hunting for them. I usually caught more than my two brothers combined. And I liked watching the two of them and Mom enjoy the clams and oysters.

Friday after school, we'd set out the crab traps, and have crabs for Saturday and Sunday meals. I loved eating crabs, still do to this day. And I've finally learned to love eating clams and oysters and mussels!

We were very lucky we didn't starve. The farm and nature provided us with food. But still, there were some things we just couldn't afford to get on a daily basis. Sodas and ice cream and candy were for special occasions. If we wanted something sweet to drink, it was either coconut water or pineapple juice, and we had to husk and pierce that coconut shell or skin off the thorns on those pineapples.

I didn't even try pizza until I was 12. I was invited to a friend's birthday party. He had invited my brothers, too, but they had a little league game that day. I wasn't in the league, so I was free to go.

It was strange and exciting being in the pizza place. I was eager to try pizza. Honestly, my first bite, I didn't like pizza. It tasted terrible. It was a supreme pizza, with all the fixings, including olives. I hate olives. Olives are terrible. And they ruin pizza.

I was trying not to make a face, but my friend caught on that I didn't like the pizza. He gave me a root beer float to wash down that awful taste. He told me that pepperoni pizza was better. I took a bite. He was right. Pepperoni was better. But for the rest of the party, I stuck to root beer floats until it was time for cake.

When he invited me, he specifically told me not to bring a present. He just wanted me there. Part of me knew that he meant it. He just wanted me there. But a part of me knew that other kids would bring presents, and my Mom knew this, too. She gave me ten dollars, which was a lot of money to spend on a gift. We didn't have a lot of free cash just lying around.

I thought very hard and carefully on what I should buy. And finally, I settled on some Legos. It was my fave (and only) toy from Christmas, just two months before. It was the kind of building blocks that you could build several different things using the same blocks. I loved playing with them, making new things and shapes.

At the party, my friend's mother was there. We exchanged pleasantries, before my friend dragged me away. She was always dressed in designer clothes, and I knew that she and her husband had money. My friend's father was into politics, a lawyer, and his mother was a nurse. They lived in a big two story house, a grand building in the new rich part of town, with a professionally designed landscape and huge gates guarding the entrance to the upper class neighborhood.

I always felt intimidated going over to my friend's house. I was afraid that I might break something. So he came over the to the farm a lot, where we'd play games and climbed trees. He loved the farm animals and playing with our dogs and cats. He didn't have any pets.

He had two siblings, two older sisters, who were at college at the time. He may as well have been an only child. He liked coming over to play and hang out with my brothers and me after school. I think he liked spending time with us, and he wished he had a brother he could hang out with. I imagine he was lonely at his house. Sometimes, he'd stay for dinner and sleepovers. He always had a good time.

We had just started middle school when I met him. There were so many kids from many different places. He all ready had a crew from his old school and old neighborhood, rich kids who hung out together. None of them would've given me the time of day, which didn't bother me at all. I had no need to hang out with any snobs. I had my own friends from my hood.

But that first day of class, we ended up being partners on a school project. And within five minutes of meeting each other, we started laughing and joking and having a good time. It only takes one person to make a change. One act of kindness can make things better.

At lunch, he made sure to invite me and my friends to his table, much to the alarm of his snooty friends. But soon enough, we formed a core group, a mix of some of his friends, some of mine, and some new kids we made friends with as the year went by.

And most of those kids were at the pizza place where my friend was having his party. Plus, few more of the snobby kids his mother had invited to the party. I'd never been to the pizza place. It was fairly new. My brothers and I were curious, especially when we heard there were arcade games there. But the games cost a quarter, which we didn't have a lot of. So we had no reason (nor any money) to go there.

I didn't have any quarters with me, so I figured that I'd just watch the other kids play. But imagine my surprise when my friend suddenly gave me six dollars worth of quarters. He snuck them in my hands, winked at me, then ran over to where his other friends were, taking his turn at a game.

I was stunned by my friend's generosity. It was his birthday, but he wanted me there, and he went out of his way to make sure I wouldn't feel left out. He knew I didn't have any quarters, but he wanted me to play the games, just like the other kids there. So he made sure I'd have some quarters to play the games, and he gave them to me secretly, so no one else would know. That was one of nicest things anyone had ever done for me.

I stood there, unsure of what to next. Then I decided to play a game. But first, I'd observe and watch the other kids closely, so I'd learn how to play. I watched for almost an hour before I was brave enough to play. By then, I had memorized the combo moves and figured out which character to play.

The first quarter let me get a feel of the controls. The second quarter made me play better as I got the hang of the game. The third quarter made me play smarter, and I played it for over half an hour. I had a blast, so did my friend, cheering me on as I played that game. Video games are fun. And I didn't realize it then, but it was the beginning of what would later become my gaming addiction. I stopped playing when it was time for the birthday cake.

When it was time for presents, he got mostly video games and a few radio controlled cars. He beamed a big smile at those. Those things were way out of my price range. And I felt a bit unsure. Those gifts were were three to four times more costly than mine.

And when he finally got to the last gift, he expressed surprise that it was from me. He gave me a smile that I returned. I was nervous. But when he opened his present and saw the Legos, he gasped and said, "I love it!", and that made me feel happy to know that he genuinely loved his gift.

Half an hour later, I used a fourth quarter and played an hour, beating out the other kids, stopping only when it was time for me to go home. I still had five dollars worth of quarters. The next day, I split the quarters equally between my brothers. I took them to the arcade, showed them the combos, then let them play til we used up all the quarters. It was a fun day.

As for my friend, he spent the weekend building different things with the Legos. He told me that no one had ever given him Legos before, and it was the most fun toy he's ever had. And for every birthday after, I got him Legos til he moved away just before high school.

His father had gotten a better offer to live in another town far away, so in the middle of summer, they moved. We had just enough time for a few more sleepovers, hanging out at the beach, and a week of camping in the hills overlooking the town. Then it was time for him to leave.

It is always hard saying good bye to a good friend. It is always hard to say good bye to someone you care about. I was sad to see him go. We all were. He was a good friend, and I knew that where ever he went next, he was going to make new friends, and I wished him well.

We wouldn't see each other until a few years later. It was the third year of high school. I was crashing a rival school's Homecoming Dance. My friends and I were dressed up, having been invited to the dance by some girls we just met earlier in the day at the football game. Our schools were playing each other, and we tied!

The dance was lovely and our dates were fun. My friends and I enjoyed ourselves. Then someone bumped into me on the dance floor. I turned around and was stunned to see my old friend. He was just as surprised to see me.

We spent the rest of the night catching up and laughing. After the dance, we all hung out at the beach and talked til dawn. When I asked him what his plans were for after high school, he said to me, "I'm going to be an engineer! Those Legos you got me inspired me to want to build things!"

I was surprised and taken aback that he remembered the Legos, and even more stunned that he found what he wanted to do with his life, just from playing with the toys I had gotten him.

We hung out again for the next two years. I'd take the bus to downtown or he'd drive down in his truck to meet me. We'd do homework then hangout at the beach, swimming and playing and flirting with the locals there. We spent weekends camping out with friends at the beach, having cook outs, bonfires, and plenty of fun. That summer was a blast--surfing, hiking, dancing, partying with new friends and old, watching stars and talking and laughing and singing long into the night.

When we graduated, he came to mine first. Our graduation was the first in the region. I was happy to see him. He spent a few days hanging out with us, celebrating and feasting and having good time. Then he went home for his graduation, which was at the end of the week. My family, my friends, and I went to see him graduate. I got there first. I wanted to get there early enough to greet him before the ceremony.

We laughed like always, took pictures, then he went to get in line. I was going to get a seat for the ceremony. But before I went in, his mother suddenly wanted to talk to me.

Honestly, I've never said anything more than a courteous greeting and well wishes to both his parents when I saw them briefly before hanging out with their son. I was surprised she wanted to talk to me, and nervous that her husband was with her, holding me in place with his gaze, his arm around his wife.

She said, "You've been a good friend to my son," so far so good. Then she said, "I've always thought that my son was a good person for being friends with someone like you...someone who doesn't have a lot of the opportunities and prosperity he has," she paused, looking as if she had said something distasteful.

I didn't know how to respond to a bombshell like that. I was flabbergasted! She thinks I'm a charity case her son took under his wing! That he was friends with me because I was poor, and he felt sorry for me. I didn't liked the direction this conversation was going and was thinking about making a quick escape.

But she continued, "I was proud that he was being a good person by being friends with someone like you. But the truth is, he's become a better person because you are a friend to him. You see him for who he is, not what he has, and you've brought out the best in him. Instead of feeling sorry for you, I should have admired you for making the best of a difficult situation. I apologize for having thought less of you. And I thank you and am very grateful to you for being a good friend to my son."

I was stunned. How do you reply to something like that? All these emotions that have been welling up since this conversation started threatened to overwhelm me.

I have never had such an honest, heartfelt confession from an adult, acknowledging that they were wrong, that I was a better person than they thought. For too long, I had to ignore what adults had to say. In my experience, adults are stupid idiots who say thoughtless things and take hurtful actions. They've been feeling sorry for me and treating me like a charity case since the day my father died so long ago. They've always underestimated me, thought me less for being poor, and sometimes treated me like I was damaged goods, like I was nothing, that I could never be anything more.

To hear an honest apology and praise from an adult, one held in high esteem, was a startling and unsettling experience. I didn't know how to control my emotions, and before the tears threatened to fall from my eyes, I said, "Your son is a good person. He's a great friend, and my life has been made richer and better with his friendship. You've raised a wonderful and kind human being and an amazing friend."

I turned and left before they could see the tears well up in my eyes and hoped they didn't notice my voice shaking at the end. I got a seat high up where I could see the the procession and see my friend. Some place far away from his parents, because I hadn't composed myself enough to sit in their presence, and far away from my Mom and family and friends. My mother would've realized that something had happened, and I wasn't ready to talk about it. I was still processing what had occurred.

Afterwards, my friend had a huge celebration at the country club, rented out by his parents for the occasion. Lots of people were there. Friends, family, and many who wished my friend well. There were lots of high ranking government officials and well known rich people there.

A lot of people were invited. Even my mother got dragged into the celebration. My friend's parents insisted she come and join them at their table. When the sun got low, my friend and I left to join a big party at his log cabin by the lake. No adults, just teens having a good time. It was an epic party.

Two days later, I finally made it home. I was surprised my Mom wanted to talk. I didn't think I was in trouble, and her tone wasn't angry. Instead, she told me a most surprising tale. After we left the country club, my friend's parents talked with my Mom.

They offered to pay for my college. That stunned me (and my mother). They had heard from their son that I was turning down college. I had applied to some great out of state universities. And I had full scholarship offers from them. In fact, I had the more scholarship offers than any other graduate that year and since. Truth is, I applied to a lot of colleges, and I honestly explained that I couldn't afford the application fee. They waived it! If you don't ask, you'll never know what you can get.

Anyway, I was surprised to get two athletic scholarships, but most of them were academic scholarships. I was a track and field athlete and also a huge nerd and proud of it. I studied hard because I liked it, and I loved learning new things. Where I'm from, being smart is something to be praised, a highly valued trait. No one brags about being stupid.

And for a short time, I reveled in the possibilities, what my life could be in those big and reputable universities. I allowed myself to daydream of life in the big cities, of being at those exalted institutions of higher learning. I imagined how exciting and adventurous college life would be, making new friends, having amazing experiences. Ah, such wonderful dreams.

But dreams are not reality. And though I would love to have taken off and go after those dreams, my heart wasn't in it. I had other things to consider. My mother was getting older. She had a job in the factory. I didn't want her to work. I wanted to take good care of her, just as she had taken good care of us when we were small children.

I planned on getting a job, one that would allow me to be independent and have enough to support her. I didn't want her to work anymore. Not even part time. I just wanted her to relax.

It would be many years before I finally understood that my mother enjoyed work. Her friends were there, and she liked feeling productive, and she enjoyed earning her own money. She'd been working her whole life, and she felt she had a purpose, and work gave her an outlet to socialize and contribute.

I would not learn this lesson until she passed away. Up until her death, she was still working, selling our fruits and vegetables at the market, a tradition she and my father started long before I was born. And I hope my nieces and nephews keep selling our fruits and vegetables at the market long after I am gone.

When my friends parents offered to pay for my college, my mother politely thanked them and turned them down. She explained to them that the decision was mine. And though she had encouraged me to go and seize these opportunities, my mind was made up. This is what I wanted to do. And she'd raised me to make up my own mind and make my own choices.

My friend's mother broke down and cried. She told my mother, "Your son is sacrificing his future just so he could take better care of you. You are so blessed to have a son give up the world for you, that he puts your happiness above his."

My mother later told me, "I don't want you to give up this opportunity for a better life. I don't want you to worry about me. I just want you to live your life the way you want and be happy."

I told her, "Mom, I am living my life the way I want, and I am happy, because this is what I want to do."

And that was the last time my mother tried to convince me to go to college. For many years after, my mother would tell this story to my younger nieces and nephews, of how a high born and wealthy lady had cried over the sacrifice of a son for his mother.

I was a difficult and hard headed child, and growing up, people considered me trouble and damaged. But in the end, I grew up to be a smart kid, a tough kid, and one that in the end, put his mother (and his family) above his own dreams. I grew up to be a better human being.

Years later, I did go to college. And my working experiences did make me a better person, a stronger person, a wiser person. I had life experiences and life long friends that made me better. And through it all, I was able to take care of my mother and let her live life on her own terms.

As for my friend, he did become a civil engineer. When we met up for a vacation years later, he took me to his favorite amusement park: Legoland in California. Later, he sent me a picture of him at Legoland in Denmark. I smiled at that picture, because it's hard to believe that one small toy set the course for his life.

It humbles me, because out of all the expensive and fancy toys he got for his birthday, my simple, least expensive one was the one that inspired him and set his path for the future. One person can make a great change. One act of kindness can change the world.

His kindness to me, giving me quarters to play videogames, made me feel like I was worthy to be there with all these other rich kids. I wasn't less. I was someone who was just as important as the rest. And to hear his mother tell me that I was a good person and a good influence on her son, that I was respected, made me feel like an adult, like I mattered. That changed my outlook on the world.

For many years, I ignored what others had to say about me, because most of it was negative. But hearing praise and acknowledgement that I am a good person, someone to be respected made me feel stronger and proud.

It only takes one of act of kindness to make the world a little bit better. So I was now back in that long line at the cash register, behind a mother holding a baby; with a preteen son pushing a nearly empty shopping cart, comforting his small brother who was crying, because he couldn't get the small Legos toy he wanted. They most likely couldn't afford it.

I reached into my wallet for twenty dollars that I could give the small boy, so he could buy his Legos and spend the rest on his family. But as I pulled out my wallet, a store staff person in a yellow vest suddenly came up to the mother.

I had seen this yellow vested clerk earlier, being rude to the old lady standing behind me in line. When the old lady asked her about an item, she told the old lady, "That's not my department," then walked away, leaving the poor old lady looking lost and stunned.

Now that piece of work stomped up to the mother and loudly said, "Ma'am, your son is wearing the shoes from the store aisle. Are you going to pay for them?"

She seemed so smug and vicious, adding, "If you can't pay for them, you need to return them."

Hearing that bullying tone pissed me off.

The mother looked surprised. Her preteen son seemed to shrink and look down. I noticed his shoes did look new. I heard him whisper to his mother, "Mama, my feet hurt. My old shoes had holes on the bottom."

I suddenly realized that the poor kid had switched his old hole filled shoes with a new pair. The mother looked stunned. But before she could say anything, I took out all the cash I had in my wallet, my large prize winnings from earlier. I tapped the mother on her shoulder and said, "Ma'am, you dropped this."

She looked confused but I put the money in her hands. The yellow vested clerk went from looking smug to confused. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Meanwhile, the stunned mother just looked at me, so I told her, "Just go ahead and pay for your items and the shoes. Merry Christmas!"

She nodded her head, eyes watering up, mouthing silently, "Thank you."

She paid for the items and the shoes and left with her kids. Behind me, I heard the murmur of customers, talking about what I had done. I paid for my shaving gel and at the last moment, picked up two Legos toys on display, plus a Disney Princess doll, and paid with my card.

As I picked up my bags, that annoying yellow vested clerk suddenly said to me, "You shouldn't have done that."

So I snapped, "And you need to mind your own damn business!"

She looked shocked, "What?"

I was furious, the emotions had been building up since I first saw her try to shame that impoverished family. So I told her off, "You are rotten to the core, trying to bully that poor family and embarrass them. You think that makes you look good by talking down to those people? It only shows what a horrible and hateful person you are! You disgust me! You are ugly on the inside and even uglier on the outside! You are a piece of crap! Go to hell!"

She looked shocked and confused. The sudden applause from the other customers in line finally got her to turn and run, I could see her starting to cry. Good. She was an awful person. I was not nice, and I was definitely harsh, but I didn't care. She brought up unpleasant memories of me being treated awful by others because I was poor. Well, I wasn't a small helpless child anymore. And I sure as hell wasn't going to going to let anyone else bully someone, especially a small child, just because they were poor.

There are more discreet and professional ways to do a job. And if anyone even tries to bully someone else in my presence, I'm going to put a stop to that, and I will get ferocious and annihilate the bully!

So much for the Holiday spirit. But I just did what I thought was right. I always feel better when I speak honestly and take action. I left the store while the rest of the other customers in line cheered me and wished me a Happy Holidays.

I was about to get in my car when I saw that family at the bus stop. I headed over to them. They spotted me, sat straighter, unsure as I approached. I reached into my shopping bag, gave the two boys each a Legos set, handed the doll to the baby girl, wished them a Merry Christmas, then left after they thanked me, big smiles on the kids faces. I felt good knowing they were going to have a good Christmas. If I hadn't found them, those toys would've definitely gone to an organization that helps collect toys for needy children. I've all ready donated twice this season.

Near midnight, I sat in a Catholic church slowly filling up with worshippers. I listened to the Christmas carols and hymns being sung, trying to feel the spirit of peace I seek out this time of year. Christmas and Easter are the two times of the year you'll most likely find me in church. Habit from the old days.

When I was a child, we had church services on Christmas Eve night--a nativity play, followed by a two hour service. I hated that midnight service. The sermon was always too long, too monotonous, too boring.

I spent most of my childhood going to church. Then I stopped in high school. I had an epiphany, after a confrontation with my pastor. Why did I go to church? Did I truly believe or was I just doing it because that's what we did every Sunday? Was it faith or habit? And I spent a glorious time exploring the different faiths of my family and friends. In the end, I stopped going to church all together, having realized that the Divine is everywhere and within me.

Still, there's something comforting about being in church on Christmas and Easter. I'm reminded of my family, all siting down for the Sunday feast, of how we'd spend the day together, laughing, talking, just reconnecting. And for Christmas Eve service, I love the carols and the sense of fellowship that being in a holy place engenders, that we come together in hopes of peace on earth and a better world for everyone.

I was suddenly torn from my reverie by some people settling down beside me. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was the old lady from the store earlier. She smiled at me.

I nodded. She said, "That was a wonderful thing you did tonight. You gave that family a nice Christmas, " then she laughed, "and you taught that rude creature to mind her manners!"

I chuckled with her. Hearing her tell me that I did something right suddenly made me feel at peace. One act of kindness. One thoughtful word can change everything.

For this New Year, I've decided that I want to be a better person. I want to be a kinder person. I want the world to be a better place. So for this Holiday Season, I hope you experience kindness, and know that one act of kindness can change everything. And wherever you are, know that you have the power to change the world, that kindness matters, and Kindness makes the world better and more wonderful and amazing.

Happy Holidays.

Have a Wonderful and Amazing New Year full of joy, laughter, and love.

P.S. When I left work on Christmas Eve, I held the door open for an older woman who was entering the building. She thanked me, and I said, "Merry Christmas!"

To which she replied, "Oh, dear! I'm Jewish!"

And I immediately answered, "And so is the Baby Jesus! Happy Holidays!"

And we burst out laughing and went on our way.

Today, as I was entering the building, I held the door open as the same woman was leaving. She recognized me, smiled, and said, "Happy New Year!"

To which I replied, "Mazel Tov!", Congratulations and Good Luck, the only Jewish phrase I knew. Once again, we both walked away laughing. I hope the New Year is full of small moments of joy like this.

Happy New Year to all!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Music Albums Top Picks--Honorable Mention: Rhythm Nation 1814 by Janet Jackson

Continuing the spirit of top ten albums list started by Jon, Rhythm Nation 1814 is one of my fave albums. The original idea was to list the top ten albums I like, with no compilations or Best of... albums. Bummer, since most of my albums are Best of... and compilation albums. Let's be real, not all songs on an album are going to be great. Some are just fillers.

Rhythm Nation 1814 gets an honorable mention, because it is a great album, one that immortalized Janet Jackson as an icon. True, I don't like all the songs on it, but there are some amazing songs there.

Among my faves is Love Will Never Do (Without You). The song is upbeat, happy, and charming. It reminds me of my first crush. Absolutely delightful! I think the video showed Janet most beautifully: Simply enchanting, free, and alluring.

And then there's the sad and haunting Come Back To Me, which showed Janet Jackson's softer side.

But it was definitely the dance songs that shaped my childhood. When I was just a preteen, my two brothers and I, with some of our neighborhood friends, formed a break dancing crew. We were inspired by the break dancing movies of the day. Mind you, we were just rural, remote coastal kids out in the boonies. The tv only had three channels (til a hurricane knocked out one of the channels).

Any music videos we watched, we got from VHS tapes that our relatives in the far away big cities had recorded off their tv using the VCR. We heard the songs on the radio before we saw the music videos.

The dance songs from Rhythm Nation were great. But the music videos we saw later were awesome! We practically wore out the VHS tapes, pausing, rewinding, and fast forwarding til we got the dance moves down. We mostly practiced at our house, because we had the space to hold a large crowd.

My brothers and I had to be sure to do all our chores first before we got to practicing our dance moves with our friends. Otherwise, Mom would yell out, "Did y'all feed the hogs and goats?", or "Have y'all cleaned out the chicken coop?". And nothing breaks up our momentum (or embarrasses us) like having to stop practice to go feed the animals or shovel livestock crap

Once, we had to stop practice because we had to round up the escaped piglets. We left the pen open in our rush to get to practice. Those piglets were fast and feisty! Our friends that it hilarious when some of the piglets we caught peed on us as we carried them back to the pen. Filthy and vengeful little piggies!

Thankfully, we were much more diligent after that. We had more time to focus on our act. The dance moves from the videos served as a base on which we built and invented new dance moves. We were fired up to created new routines.

We were just kids having fun. We had no clue what the real world was like. All we knew was that we were having a great time creating our routines and dancing late at night, after we snuck out of the house, to jam at our spot to the late night FM radio that played the latest dance hits. When we got older, we made mixed tapes of songs to play on a portable stereo we used to practice our routines and listen to good music.

Janet Jackson's Control album had given us great songs and inspired us. That first year, we won local talent shows with her songs. The biggest one was at the end of the summer, with actual prize money, $100. We won by using her hit, The Pleasure Principle. There were 8 of us, so it came down to $12.50 a piece. Not bad for a bunch of amateurs!

We were just happy to win first place. Until then, the only people who supported us were our families and friends. We were the youngest group competing. And there were older kids and older competitors that looked down on us. We were unknown and didn't have any flashy costumes. But we shut them down after our performance! The few acts that came after couldn't excite the crowd like we did. After our performance, the show just became boring!

Even after we won, we got a few snide remarks from some of the other competitors. Especially rude were the junior high schoolers, who won last year. This time, they were a far second place to us on top. They thought they were the better dance team. They weren't. They had too many pauses and were a little disorganized. And they started rumors that the only reason we won was because we were related to the judges. Total lie! We didn't know any of the judges, and we certainly were not related to any of them. Those losers were just vicious bullies on the talent show circuit.

Our moves were more innovative and daring. Plus, we had tumblers and spinners and sliders in our act! We worked hard to develop our talent and it showed. Hell, we used the chair trick from The Pleasure Principle video!

Which, if you recall from the last post, got my older brother and I a spanking, for doing such a dangerous stunt and damaging the dining chairs. Mom was furious! Totally worth it! Those two chairs still have the dents and scratches my brother and I put in them.

When we last gathered at home for Mom's last days, my two brothers and I reminisced about those chairs. The grandkids were sad that their grandmother was passing away soon. So we did what we could to cheer them up, telling them stories of our childhood with Mom.

My youngest brother enjoyed telling the kids the story of how me and my older brother got a serious spanking from Mom, when she caught us practicing dangerous dance moves on the chairs. We learned our lesson. For the talent show, we used some old orange hard plastic school chairs the school had thrown out in favor of new blue ones.

When the kids asked me and my older brother to do the chair move, my baby brother just laughed out loud and told the kids, "They're too heavy now to do the chair trick! They'll break the chairs! The chairs can hardly hold their big butts!"

The kids thought it funny and laughed out loud, too. Mind you, he was exaggerating. We're not fat. But I will concede that we are no longer short nor skinny like the little kids we used to be. We're definitely bigger and taller and, yes, a hundred pounds heavier. But we are, for sure, not fat.

Anyway, back to that first talent show, we ignored the haters. We were just ecstatic we won. And we didn't realize how big we had become until we were asked to perform at the Halloween Dance, sponsored by the town. They paid us $100! The town council had seen our act and thought we were great. We were thrilled to have our first paying gig!

Naturally, we did Michael Jackson's Thriller, because it's the epitome of Halloween classics, and it's awesome! And we paired it with Janet Jackson's Escapade, because we loved the festive vibe. Everyone at the Halloween event, which had a bigger crowd than the talent show, cheered for us and gave us a long applause after we were done. We had given a great show and started the party off with a bang!

That Halloween Dance job led to us being asked to take part in the Harvest Festival, three weeks later, by the county commission. Another paid gig! The county commissioners liked what they saw, and they thought we could be one of the great acts performing at the festival.

We decided to create new routines in three weeks. Daring but also smart. Because the opening act for the Harvest Festival were those mean junior high schoolers, and they had totally ripped off our Halloween act! Seriously! They copied the Thriller dance routine and then imitated our Escapade moves! Terribly, I might add!

They were still disorganized and lacked our passion. When we make a move, we hit hard and really get into it. These mean guys and girls were playing it chill, not going all the way with the dance moves. They thought they looked cool, but instead, they looked sloppy! Lazy!

The audience was not impressed as evidenced by the scattered applause. There were people in the crowd asking why this group was doing a terrible imitation of the routines of another group from the Halloween Dance. We were wondering the same thing, too. It's like they thought we would do the same routines, so they did it first to sabotage us. Except, they sabotaged themselves! They were gawd awful!

It was not a good way to start the Harvest Festival. The commissioners did not look happy. But thankfully, we were the second act, and we started the party right. Three weeks was just enough time to create new routines.

And by coincidence, the first song we danced to was Janet Jackson's Alright. The video was awesome! It had Cab Calloway and Cyd Charisse. And it was loaded with amazing dance moves we adapted. We blatantly stole the handkerchief dance. Our Alright act became our way of convincing the audience that it was going to be all right. They were going to have a good time. And they believed us by cheering along and dancing with us.

And it became our way of telling those rip off losers that we didn't care that they stole our routines. It's all right, we are a lot more talented than them. And we danced harder and livelier, just to make them see that we weren't afraid of them, that we were so much better than them! Come at us and you're going to get knocked out!

And we accentuated that point by throwing down with Black Cat! It is one of my fave rock songs ever! Whenever I need to pump myself up to take on a challenge, I put this song on blast! We rocked the crowd with Black Cat. They were dancing and singing and jamming with us. Black Cat should've been the theme song to Marvel's Black Panther.

After our performance, the commissioners were very happy we got the crowd fired up. We were rewarded with extra tickets to the festival to share with our family and friends. As for those horrible junior high schoolers, that was their last public performance. They imploded after that. And when we saw any of them out in public, we pretended that we didn't know them.

We loved the crowd's reaction. But the best feeling came when real famous regional talent, true singers and comedians and a magician, told us that we were great! We were like, 'Whoa! These people like us!'

That county gig got us a special invite to the regional talent show. We were accepted to perform at the Flag Day Festival, no audition nor screening required! That was unheard of! We couldn't believe it nor could our families, right up until the week before the celebration. We went to see the stage and learn when we would go on. The Flag Day Festival was a week long celebration. And for several nights, there would be different talent contests for singing, comedy, traditional arts, and finally, our category, dancing.

We were awed at the amount of people it took to run the festival. We were a bit nervous about the competition. Right off the bat, we knew the top three acts: Two college groups and a professional ballet troupe! One college team was a modern dance group. The other, a jazz group. And once again, we were the youngest group there, not a teen amongst us!

But we were also more excited to be at this level competing. We spent months working on our routines. And we felt ready. By luck, we drew going last. It was agonizing watching all the other groups put on great performances. The ballet troupe was exquisite, doing a number in swan costumes. And the college jazz dancers were spectacular to watch. But the modern dance college team was stunning! They were incredible, with their choice of music and telling their story with their dances and shiny costumes.

We were amazed. We only pooled our resources to buy black jeans, black t-shirts, black shoes, black socks, and black bandanas with white markings as our uniforms. Janet looked good and powerful in black. We thought we did, too.

We didn't have any shiny costumes nor did we have the maturity of the other acts. But what we did have was passion, precision, and power. We learned from watching Janet Jackson. And we took those lessons and created our own movements.

As the last group, we were nervous. The crowd was still talking about that modern dance group that performed before us. And we definitely lacked the color and pageantry of the other popular groups. But that's okay, because we knew we worked hard to create our act, and our show was a masterpiece.

We started with Janet Jackson's Miss You Much. And we killed it with our big moves and exciting performance. We came out swinging, hitting hard and never let up. And we practiced long and hard to get it right. And the applause was confirmation that we were doing it right.

But it was our Rhythm Nation performance that got the audience on their feet, dancing and cheering. Rhythm Nation is one of my favorite Janet Jackson songs and music videos ever! It is a magnificent and spectacular work of art! Epic and Visionary!

Rhythm Nation inspired us to craft a spellbinding and stunning routine. We worked hard to make our movements fluid, exact, in sync, and explosive. And that's hard to do on a veranda with no large mirrors to gage our movements. We didn't have the large numbers of the other groups. It was just the 8 of us on a big stage, and we had to make our movements uniform, precise, and larger than life to captivate the audience.

And when we were done dancing, we could hardly hear the audience roar! We were gasping for air and the sound of our racing hearts was thundering in our ears. But we could see them on their feet, smiling, laughing, hooting and cheering, and we knew we put on an amazing show.

And in the end, it was astounding enough to win us first place, with the grand prize of $1000! That's $125 a piece! It was the most money we had ever won, let alone held in our hands. What was more incredible was that the crowd agreed with the decision and roared again when we were announced as winners. It was an unbelievably awesome feeling! All our hard work and efforts had paid off.

The other competitors were really nice (or really good at hiding their displeasure) and congratulated us. Either way, we were riding a wave of success that would let us dominate the talent show and entertainment circuit for a few years. And we owed it all to Janet Jackson for inspiring us to do something fun, challenging, and awesome. To this day, when I want to throw a party or just dance, I play my fave songs from Rhythm Nation and have a good time.

Still haven't done the chair trick though. My vinyl floors and carpet are too slippery for the chairs. And I fear I may break not just the chair, but an important body part. I'll wait til I have access to wooden floors (and a soft landing) before doing that chair trick again. I was significantly two feet shorter and a hundred pounds lighter when I last did that move years ago. I'm hoping it's like riding a bike. You never forget. Though, there's probably going to be some scrapes from trying it again after so many years.

Related Links
Thriller by Michael Jackson
Bad by Michael Jackson
Control by Janet Jackson

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Music Albums Top Picks--Honorable Mention: Control by Janet Jackson

As Michael Jackson got weirder (and whiter), my friends and I were suddenly struck by the meteoric rise of Janet Jackson. She is my favorite Jackson. We were influenced by the break dancing movies of the day, starting our own dance group and imitating all the dance moves we saw.

Then the Control album (and accompanying music videos) debuted, and we found our idol, an incredible performer, with spectacular songs and fantastic dance moves: Janet Jackson.

The Control album had several amazing hits: What have you done for me lately, Nasty, Let's wait a while, and Control.

But it was her dance hits that really got us motivated. They were innovative and exciting and fantastic! When I think of you is one great dance song. Fun and with great beats we could do routines, too.

But it was definitely Pleasure Principle solidified Janet Jackson as our muse and idol. Her dance moves were amazing!

We tried to imitate and copy everything she did, right down to that chair trick. My older brother and I practiced that chair move using my Mother's dining chairs. Our baby brother just shook his head. He was right to be wary.

Mom caught us doing that chair trick, scratching up her chairs. We got spanked for doing such stupid and dangerous stunts and damaging the chairs. But it was totally worth it. Three weeks later, my dance crew entered our first ever talent show, and using those chair moves, we won first place!

We were ecstatic! And it was the beginning of our long winning streak and the start of our dance crew career that lasted from grade school, to middle school, and finally high school. When we first started, we just wanted to try out those awesome dance moves. Then we had so much fun that we imagined making a living just dancing and battling other dance crews on the streets and in industrial buildings, just like in the movies and music videos.

We had no clue what real life was like. We just dreamed of somehow making dancing our life when we grew up. In high school, our goal became being a professional dance crew, hopefully becoming background dancers for major stars. We wanted to be background dancers for Janet Jackson.

Forget Madonna. We saw her Truth or Dare movie, and her background dancers were total bitches and drama queens, stabbing each other in the back. Definitely not the kind of environment we wanted to work in.

And as Janet got better and more awesome with her dance music and moves, we got better and more amazing, too, beating out bigger and more experienced dance crews on the talent and entertainment circuit. It was a fun and amazing time, a wonderful experience to share with family and friends.

The Control album made us want to dance. It inspired these farming, backwoods, remote coast kids to form a dance crew and go on to have adventures and grow and thrive as a dancers, having fun for several years and forming bonds of trust and friendship that last a lifetime.

Janet Jackson has said that the Control album was a declaration of independence. For us, it was the inspiration to try something new, to create something amazing, and have a good time. Control liberated us and encouraged us to try new things. It was our inspiration and motivation to be adventurous and do the things that made us happy, with the people we loved and enjoyed spending time with. It was a marvelous and exciting and fun experience.

Related Links
Thriller by Michael Jackson
Bad by Michael Jackson
Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Divine Eats

Yesterday, I had a craving for some Greek food, so I went to my favorite Greek restaurant. It is a small place, a hidden gem in the old side of town, owned and run by an old Greek man from one of Greek isles. The food is fantastic, and the atmosphere makes me feel like I'm back at Greece, with the Hellenistic art and music playing in the background. The friendly staff and the gregarious owner always made guests feel welcomed. The food is ambrosia!

It is a special place that I treat myself to as a reward for accomplishing a challenging goal. I go there to relax and enjoy a good meal by myself. I've told my friends about this place, yet I've never really encouraged any of them to join me at this wonderful little diner. And I like that it feels like my secret spot. I enjoy sitting at the back tables that look out into the garden, always full of herbs and blossoming plants and a variety of birds at the feeders.

I was really excited and eager for some Greek food. It has been several months since I had last eaten there. So imagine my huge disappointment and horror to find that the place was gone. I circled around three times to verify, and sure enough, my favorite Greek restaurant was gone! And in its place, the building had been repainted and was now a bakery!

I was stunned. What happened? Where did the Greek place go? A couple exited the bakery with a bag of goods. I rolled down my car window and asked them, "Excuse me, but wasn't there a Greek restaurant here?"

The fellow said, "Oh, yes. There used to be. But the owner passed away this summer. His sons moved back to town and turned the place into a bakery."

I was flabbergasted. It made me sad that the nice owner had passed away. And I was troubled that the sons had changed their father's restaurant into a bakery. Why? Did they not like the Greek food? Did the old man die without passing on his recipes? Was it hard to continue running a place with memories of their father everywhere? Or did the sons prefer the bakery to a restaurant?

I sat in my car in the parking lot, unsure of what to do now. I was really upset that my favorite secret spot was gone! Now what? Where else am I going to get a tasty gyro, some scrumptious souvlaki, a delectable spanikopita, or a heavenly baklava? Why didn't I come here more often? How could I have missed the passing of a great man?

I was still hungry, and I decided to give this bakery a chance. Maybe they had baklava and spanikopita. The sign said they made donuts, kolaches, and bagels. I like donuts, kolaches, and bagels. So I decided to get something from the bakery. To take a chance and try some place new.

Except there was now a Closed sign in the door. What the frak? I read the sign on the door: Open from 6 am to 1 pm. I looked the car clock: 1:05 pm.

Dammit!!! I had wasted ten minutes brooding in the car! And now, the bakery was closed. Are the food gods punishing me? Demeter, goddess of the harvest and grain; Dionysus, god of wine; Artemis, goddess of the hunt; and Hestia, goddess of cooking, why have ya'll forsaken me? Why have you abandoned me in my hour of needing some delicious Greek food? And now the bakery is closed! What the f---!?! What kind of bull$h*t is this!?!

Thankfully, the Buddha did not abandon me, as the Chinese restaurant I was curious about, just a street over, was still open. I needed some scrumptious sesame chicken to comfort me. And that comfort was served in huge, delicious portions, enough for two. But I ate it all. It has been a rough morning to discover that one of my favorite places to eat is gone. That sweet and savory, crunchy sesame chicken, with the fried rice and steamed broccoli, was manna from heaven.

On the way home, I took a slight detour to make sure my favorite Mexican place was still there. Thank the Virgin of Guadalupe the Taco Bell was still open. Where else can I get some crunchy and cheesy, savory and spicy Mexican style food that has no origins in Mexico and confuses Mexicans who ask, 'What the hell is that? That's not Mexican!' Maybe not, but it sure is divine and delicious!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Blame it on the rain

Last evening, we celebrated a friend's birthday. He wanted to go to a local karaoke bar because of the awesome happy hour dollar drinks and five dollar appetizers. The food is tasty and the drinks are great. And anyway, karaoke is a fun scene, especially when it's raining outside.

And it was raining hard. Rain can often make people do strange things to deal with the emotions and thoughts that rain often stirs. It can make you sad, or contemplative, or just ruin your plans for the day. But you can't let a little rain stop you from enjoying your day. You can still do fun things. And for fun, we went to the karaoke bar.

There was a karaoke competition for amateurs. We get some professionals--stage actors and actual professional performing choir members. But this competition was strictly for amateurs. Some people practice. Most just do it for fun, spur of the moment decision. This was some of my friends. But Birthday Boy (BB) and I, we spent two weeks practicing. And it showed.

The evening started with drinks and a few great performances. There were some horrible, gawd awful singing, but it was the braveness and spirit of celebration we cheered on. That's the nice thing about karaoke bars. The audience is so supportive. And they're also drunk. The most entertaining singers were often the most drunk.

And the middle age woman ahead of us was definitely drunk. She kept swaying and pranced unsteadily as she yowled out Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U. She sounded like two cats mating in the middle of the night. But we cheered her on, because she was giving it her all.

Most of the performers were solo acts. BB and I were a duo. While everyone else sang one song, we came up with a medley of songs that shared a rain theme, since it had been raining for a few days. And because of number of songs we planned to sing, we went last.

By the time we got up, the patrons were mostly drunk. A few were actually passed out. And we received scattered applause--mostly from our friends at the table and a few patrons still aware enough that we were the last performers in the competition. A few really good solo acts looked confident they had won the top prize--$200. But we were about to knock them out with our performance.

We started with a classic:

Milli Vanilli's Blame it on the Rain.

Yes, they were lip syncing and they had to return their Grammy. But so what? They had everyone convinced they were actually singing! Forget the Grammy! Give them an Oscar!

These days, lip syncing is an art form and decides winners! Just ask RuPaul's Drag Race!

We deliberately chose this song as our opener, to appeal to the majority of crowd who grew up with this song. Plus, it's a fun song that got everyone's attention. And we elevated our performance by showing off our dance moves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we had a routine down.

We didn't come to play, we came to win! And the applause and whistles began to get loud and thunderous. The crowd loved it!

And to show them we weren't just singing for fun, we slowed it down and expressed our artistic and passionate side. We belted out the extraordinary and evocative
Purple Rain by Prince

That got the crowd to sing with us. We had people raising and swinging their hands side to side. We knew we had them hooked now as we emoted and played up our gestures and voices on that stage. Tease them, enchant them, entertain them, then leave them wanting more. And Purple Rain was magical!

Now that we had gotten everyone's attention, we launched into our next song, designed to tug at the audiences' emotions and nostalgia, to pull at their heartstrings and get the support of the female audience menbers, an iconic song:

Aretha Franklin's (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

That got the audience all into our performance. We had them signing with us. Everyone knows this song! And as we launched into the second verse, that drunk skank who butchered Nothing Compares 2 U had the nerve to try to get up on the stage and take lead!

I was like, 'Aw Hell No! Back off bitch! You've had your chance! You ain't gonna Kanye West me today! You better check yourself before you wreck yourself!'

BB and I really had to really gesticulate and go big to outshine that stage crasher. James Brown would've been proud of our moves! And thankfully, our host led that drunk away from the stage, back to her table. BB and I had mesmerized everyone with our harmonies and action. We had them singing along and cheering our performance.

Then it was time to make things fun with Rupert Holmes' Escape, better known as The Piña Colada song:

"If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you´re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I´m the love that you´ve looked for, write to me, and escape"

That got everyone excited and singing along loudly. Drunks love Piña Coladas! And singing about getting caught in the rain. Mostly because they pass out and the rain washes away evidence of them throwing up or soiling themselves. Happens a lot on St Patrick's Day, Spring Break, Mardi Gras, and New Year's Eve.

Now we had reached the climax of our performance. It was time to reach out to the queer members of the audience and have fun with the sensational, frivolous, and festive classic: It's Raining Men by The Weather Girls.

We had people clapping and dancing as we sang and danced on the stage. I loved that they sang out loud with us. Everyone was having a good time, and we loved that even the staff joined the crowd in singing and dancing. They were eating it up. All those days of practice were worth it, especially to see the genuine gobsmacked expressions on some people's faces, including a few friends who had no idea what we could do.

Now that we had the entire crowd singing, it was time to end with the finale: Africa by Toto, the best rain song ever!

Everyone in the bar loved it. They sang along with us. And by the time we were done, we knew we had won. The prize was a $200, and we qualified for the year end finale, with the top prize being $2000.

Even better, BB and I got free drinks, four a piece, from our admirers. Two pairs were from women's tables, the other two were from men's tables. Fans. Free drinks are always welcomed! We had a few catty remarks from our female friends at the table, but they were just jealous we didn't have to thrust out our boobs to get our free drinks.

As it was BB's birthday, I let him keep the prize money as a gift. We stayed and enjoyed a few more karaoke performances and drinks til the bar closed. It was raining as we headed over to a friend's place, where I had stashed the birthday cake I made, and we partied the night away with more food, more drinks, and used my friend's karaoke machine.

Thank goodness my friend's house was a good distance from neighbors, because I'm sure we sounded terrible as we drunkenly sang out hits from the Spice Girls, Pussycat Dolls, Backstreet Boys, Tupac, Eminem, Missy Elliot, Ludacris, Mary J Blige, and I'm remembering some Justin Bieber. I blame the tequila and the rain.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Have Mercy

This morning, as I was rushing in the dark to put on my shoes by the door, I felt something crumple underneath my foot. Kind of like a piece of paper. I looked down at the floor, but I could not see anything. Nothing under foot either, so I chalked it up to maybe my imagination.

When I returned home hours later, ready to hit the showers after a long, chaotic day, the setting sun was shining through the living room window. And behold, there on the floor, in the light, was a small black grasshopper. It's legs had been sheared off, I realized in horror, when I stepped on it accidentally this morning. That's what I felt this morning, and the poor thing was still alive!

So I did best (and worst) thing that I could think of. I got the bug spray and killed it. It squirmed for two seconds before it died. It was a tough sight to see, the poor thing. But I considered it a mercy killing.

The poor little maimed creature was probably suffering for hours while I was out. I hope it's in grasshopper heaven now.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Vote! It's your right, your power to effect change.

Tomorrow, November 6, 2018 Tuesday is a very important election day. Get out and vote, because every vote matters!

No excuses! Do the right thing and Vote!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Music Albums Top Picks--Honorable Mention: Bad by Michael Jackson

Continuing on with my top fave records, here is another honorable mention. It is the second Michael Jackson album with some of my fave songs, Bad. They played this a lot on the radio when I was growing up, and they still use these songs in films and tv and still play them on the radio today.

Everyone knows Bad, the title track. And The Way You Make Me Feel is a great song. But the best dance song on the album is definitely Smooth Criminal. The tune, the beat, and the rhythm are awesome! Exciting, thrilling, and energetic. And those dance moves and the creativity in the music video are spectacular! The popping and locking, the slides, and that lean! It is the best dance music video ever. Ever!!!

Growing up, my brothers, our friends, and I copied and built upon those dance moves, showing off at parties or just having fun on the street corner with the song blasting a portable stereo. The video inspired us to come up with our own moves and create awesome routines that would eventually win us talent competitions and battles with other dance crews.

Smooth criminal has a sensational and amazing tune, but the song lyrics are terrible! Just awful! A criminal breaks into some unsuspecting woman named Annie's place. He strikes her down, leaving her unconscious in a pool of blood. Michael Jackson comes to find her, and keeps asking her that hook, "Annie are you okay? Are you okay Annie?", and keeps repeating it all throughout the song as he shows off his incredible dance moves.

And I'm like, 'Dude! If she hasn't responded by the second time you asked her, she's is not okay! She's lying in a pool of blood, staining the carpet! For gawd's sake, stop singing and dancing and call an ambulance!!! For crying out loud, needs help!!!'

There are quite a few good tunes on the album, but my favorite is definitely Man in the Mirror. It is one of two of my favorite Michael Jackson songs, the other being Human Nature. Man in the Mirror is unlike any other Michael Jackson song. It's inspiring, self aware, and uplifting. My friends and I used to sing out loud and dance everytime this song played on the radio. It's a karaoke favorite!

Man in the Mirror

It's a timeless classic.

Related Links
Thriller by Michael Jackson

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Music Albums Top Picks--Honorable Mention: Thriller by Michael Jackson

This is my attempt at making a top ten list of my fave albums. As per Jon and IDV, there can be no greatest hits or compilation albums. That's a bummer, since I have a lot of greatest hits albums, and they are some of my favorites ever. Let's be honest, a lot of albums have one of two good songs, and the rest are meh, forgettable.

I don't have a top ten. But I do have faves on heavy rotation. But there are also some great honorable mentions. These are albums with great songs, but I don't necessarily play a lot. The songs that get played a lot are the upbeat, fast, danceable ones. They pump me up or make it a party when I just wanna dance and have fun.

But some of the albums get played when I am in a certain mood, like wanting to relax, or feeling blue, or just wanting to set the mood. I have lots of albums.

And by albums, I mean CDs, with a few cassette tapes. Most of the songs I get now are in mp3 form. Those I burn to make mix CDs or save on a hard drive to make a playlist on a USB stick. The technology may have changed, but we still love making our own mix tapes of fave tunes.

And in the spirit of Halloween, the first honorable mention is Thriller by Michael Jackson.

Yes, it's an iconic album. And yes, it's full of great songs, like Beat It and Billie Jean. And of course, Wanna Be Startin' Somethin, with the famous lines, "Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah". I have no clue what that means, and I doubt anyone else knows what it means. Still a great hook though.

The biggest has to be Thriller, with the fantastic dance beat and those incredible dance moves that set the standard for all music videos.

It is a Halloween and Zombie Festival Classic! But for me, my fave song out of the album is definitely Human Nature. This song was originally written and created by Toto, and they agreed to lend the song and make the music for Michael Jackson.

It is unlike any other song Michael Jackson has ever done. And the wistful and unique sound draws me in and takes me on a journey. It is one of my two favorite Michael Jackson songs.

Michael Jackson: Human Nature

Yesterday, I got up early and made chocolate and pecan candies for my coworkers. It's my delicious way of wishing them a Happy Halloween. Skull and Bones--perfect for Halloween, Zombie Fests, and Pirate Parties!

I'm off today to enjoy Halloween. I have plans. I hope you have a FUNtastic and Happy Halloween! Don't forget to buy all the candy going on sale tomorrow! Be safe and Happy Halloween!

Related Links
Bad by Michael Jackson

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Good Help

It's been raining these past few days. And it was gray and sprinkling when I got out of work early. I headed over to a friend's workplace, to wait a few minutes before heading out to meet the others for happy hour. A little rain won't damper our parade.

As I waited, I began talking to some of my friend's workers. They were young college students, part time workers, earning money to pay bills and tuition. They were industrious and mindful of their work. My friend says they're good help, which is rare to find in people their age. And they were friendly, upbeat, and very social. I quite enjoyed talking and laughing with them.

Then radio began playing Lady Gaga's Poker Face.

Imagine my surprise when I heard one of them exclaim, "I love this old song!"

I was like, 'Old? Poker Face is not old!'

Then I heard another exclaim, "Yeah, I was in the fifth grade when this came out."

I started doing the math. This song was only ten years old. Then I realized. Holy crap! That's half these kids lives! And then suddenly, I felt old.

I felt even older when we started discussing favorite singers. They love Lady Gaga, of course, Ariana Grande, and believe Beyoncé as the best entertainers ever. They think Britney Spears is old school!

When they asked me for my fave female entertainers I named Tina Turner, Madonna, Cher, and Whitney Houston as some of my faves. They nodded, signaling that they knew who these musicians were. But when I also mentioned Janet Jackson, I got blank stares.

And when one of them asked, "Who is Janet Jackson?"

I about had a heart attack! Who is Janet Jackson!?! Who is JANET JACKSON!?!?!?! And they looked serious, too. They didn't know who Janet Jackson is!

I prayed, 'Tallulah Bankhead, Grant me your strength as I bitch slap some knowledge into these ignorant fools!'*

But before I could school these ignoramuses on who Janet Jackson is--Miss Jackson, if you're nasty!--it was time to clock out, and they escaped before I could act.

I told my friend about the conversation and how it made me feel old all of a sudden. He laughed and said, "We may be old, but we're old enough to have a drink!"

And that lifted up my spirits and we joined our other friends for happy hour. And after a few drinks and with good company, I forgot all about feeling old and laughed the night away.

*A maid took Tallulah Bankhead to court, claiming the actress had smacked her around, because the maid failed to roll a joint properly. When asked by reporters to comment, Tallulah Bankhead said, "Good help is hard to find."

Monday, October 22, 2018


I was in the mood for some buttered crackers dipped in sweet hot tea. I had the tea and butter, but no crackers. So off to the store I went. I was going to buy my usual plain saltines, but I got curious about the varieties present in the store.

I stood in front of the crackers aisle, trying to decide which type of crackers to buy. I picked up a box of an intriguing flavor and started reading the ingredients and nutritional information.

Suddenly, a hand reached for a box of crackers in front of me, and a woman's voice from behind me said, "I'm just going to give you a reach around."

I couldn't resist replying, "That's the best offer I've had all week!"

She blushed and laughed out loud and said, "I just wanted to get my hands on some crackers."

So I said, "You can call it whatever you want. You're welcome to it!"

We both left the crackers aisle laughing.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dinner with friends

Once a week, I eat out with some friends, a couple I've known since college. This summer, we've been mostly eating at Chili's. And that's usually because we never plan ahead and Chili's is where we end up going, after a short session of: "Where do you want to go?" and "I don't know...", then "What do you feel like eating?" and "Whatever". And I usually end up suggesting Chili's. I like the food at Chili's. So Chili's it is.

But last week, the couple decided it was time for something different. I was curious if they'd join me and my other friends for happy hour or maybe karaoke. But no, they got as far as saying they'll pick the place to eat next time, and it won't be at Chili's.

Last night, I arrived at their house. We were going to carpool to dinner. I was still in my work clothes, which my friends had assured me were appropriate for the dinner setting. On the way, we made a quick stop at a bakery for pound cake. Dessert for later, I thought. Nice.

My friends were mum about where we were going to eat. And when we turned into a residential area, I wondered, 'Are we going to a party?' and got a little excited.

Soon we pulled up to a house with lots of cars parked in front and all up the side of the road. I asked, "Is this a house party"?

My friends looked at each other, then she said, "They'll be lots of people here. And the food is going to be delicious."

"Sweet!," I said. I followed my friends into the house. There were lots of people. They introduced me to some of them. A very serious, somber crowd, I thought. They seemed nice, though, if a little down for a party. But I smiled and shook hands. Maybe some good music and dancing ought to liven them up. I could smell the delicious food in the kitchen before I saw the wonderful spread on the table. Yum!

My friends quickly pulled me aside and said, "We just have to say a prayer before we can eat."

"Sure. No problem," I said. I grew up praying before eating, and I've been to events where people pray before the feast. I then noticed an elderly gentleman, with a rosary bead, holding a bible. He stood up and called everyone into the living room.

It got crowded. I noticed more people with rosaries. 'Huh. Interesting,' I thought.

Then the old man asked us to sit. My friends and I were squeezed into one end of a sectional. Other people sat down on the carpet. Then the elderly man spoke a few words. He spoke about someone as the reason we were gathered. The guest of honor, I thought. Then the old man said, "Let us pray for his soul," pulled out his rosary, and started praying.

And then it hit me. This wasn't a party. This was a funeral! A Catholic funeral! No, actually, this was a novena! The nine days of prayer, starting the day the deceased was buried! I looked at my friends incredulously! These bitches brought me to a funeral! For someone they knew but was a total stranger to me!

'What the f*ck?' is what I wanted to say to them, but it was neither the time nor the place. God was watching, especially now that we started praying! So instead, I joined in the rosary. And started praying like the good Catholic schoolboy I was in my younger days.

I figured, I've been to a novena before, so the rosary should take no more than twenty minutes. I can hang. But I was wrong. So very wrong! That was a Polish novena, short and sweet. This was a Latino novena, and they stretched out the rosary and prayers! When we prayed passed thirty minutes, I was like, What's going on? Why is the rosary taking so long?

At the one hour mark, I was tempted to get up and stretch. My butt had fallen asleep. I was inwardly cursing my friends for bringing me here, me for being stupid enough to carpool here because now I can't leave, and I chastised myself for losing focus on the prayers; it was disrespectful of me to be so selfish at a funeral. Someone died, for God's sake! Suck it up! You're still alive to complain!

At the hour and a half mark, I was praying fervently to the Virgin, sweet mother Mary, please deliver me from this place! They're still praying! And I'm not even Catholic. The numbness from my butt has moved down my thighs and legs. I fear I may never walk again! Please take me up to the heavens! Help me get out of here!

At this point, I briefly entertained the thought of asking for the ground to open up and swallow me. If getting out of here meant going through hell, so be it. Unless I was all ready in hell, because it was starting to feel like it. Especially with this endless cycle of repetitive praying and being trapped on an uncomfortable, crowded sofa with people sitting in front of me, boxing me in. If I stood up, everyone would notice! Now I prayed even harder to Mary for deliverance!

At the hour and forty five minutes mark, I began praying to the Buddha. Dear Buddha, I've never prayed to you before, and I'm not sure if I'm doing this right. But if you can, please get me out here!

At the two hour mark, it was finally over! Sweet Jesus, it was finally over! Thank you Buddha! I could finally stand! My legs hurt! But thank God (and Buddha!) that I could still walk, and that it was over! I didn't even care about the food anymore. At this point, it was a relief to just be able to move around freely after being confined to an uncomfortable, hard sofa for two long hours!

The atmosphere changed from somber to celebratory as the people started telling funny stories about the deceased. And while I didn't think I cared about the food anymore, I was ravenous after the marathon session of praying.

My friends looked sheepishly at me and said, "The food's great, right?"

And it was. Shrimp, meatballs, tuna casserole, and chicken Caesar salad were among the many delicious foods served. Plus the lemon glazed pound cake my friends had picked up at the bakery.

I said, "Oh, definitely!!! The food is awesome."

My friends smiled, "Glad you came?"

To which I replied, "Hell no! If I'd known where we were going tonight, I would not have come! Why did y'all bring me here? I don't know any of these people!"

My friend said, "They're from church. We just found out that the funeral was today. Since we couldn't leave work for the funeral, we thought it best to attend the first night of prayers. And we didn't want to miss out on our weekly dinner outing with you tonight. And besides, we knew there'd be good food here."

"So you thought you could kill two birds with one stone," I said, "Go to a funeral and have dinner with me at the same time?"

"Yup," my friend said, "At least it's a change from Chili's right?"

"It sure is!," I said, "At least at Chili's, I ain't got to pray for two hours before I can eat! That's the last time I let you all pick the place to eat! And that's the last time I carpool with ya'll! Next time, we take my car, so I can escape!"

Next week's dinner, I get to pick the place. And if they don't feel like Chili's, I'm taking them to my favorite Mexican restaurant: Taco Bell.