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Screw You Randy Newman

April 6, 2014

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Screw you Randy Newman. And you too Stone-Tarlow shoe company. I’m coming after you. Who’s with me?

I’ve had it in for Newman since 1977 when he released his hit single “Short People.”

“They got little hands, little eyes, they walk around tellin’ great big lies. They got little noses, tiny little teeth. Don’t need no short people round here.”

For a 5’4″ fourteen year old boy, that can be pretty rough. Even if Newman had most of it right except the part about the nose. Mine is rather large.

Who is Stone-Tarlow you ask? They’re the company with an ad in the back of Boys’ Life magazine for shoes that would make you 2″ taller. The ad showed a pretty girl with the caption: “I go for a TALL guy.”

So when people want to talk about the slings and arrows of discrimination, I hear you. Noone wants to be short. Every variation of the word is negative. Your flaws are shortcomings. Half-asses like to take short cuts. Losers get the short end of the stick. Hot heads are short tempered. When you got less than you bargained for you were short changed.

It’s a terrible and continuing injustice. The Academy Award for Best Picture went to “12 Years a Slave.” But I don’t see anyone beating down my door to make “50 Years a Short.”

Before you rush to the comment section below let me just say I’m kidding. Sort of. Did I feel self conscious about my height? Of course. But I’m not walking around with a chip on my shoulder about it.

In fact, I’m a little fed up with ignorantly sensitive people. The controversy with Stephen Colbert this week is an example. Colbert was roundly vilified for his segment on the Washington Redskins where he spoke of the “Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

Shit people, take an English class. It’s a literary device known as satire. Go read “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift. Or if you’re too lazy to read, go watch Archie Bunker in All in the Family. 

Have we grown so, um short sighted, that everyone has to be not just universally accepted but also celebrated?

I’ve gone on record on this very blog and stated that I support gay marriage. I do, however, have a problem when a man loses his job because he happens to hold a different view on the subject. The CEO of Mozilla was forced to resign over a $1000 personal campaign contribution to California’s Prop 8 initiative which called for a ban on gay marriage. Give me a break. When you fight tooth and nail for tolerance, here’s an idea. Exercise some. Not everyone is going to like you, or agree with you are accept you.

So at the risk of offending fat people everywhere, can we all just get a little thicker skin?

We can right after I exact my revenge onRandy Newman. How about we gather in Beverly Hills for a Million Man March? Actually my wife suggested a Half Million Man March. Just because it would be, you know, shorter.

5 (Plus One Bonus) Ways You Are Fooling Yourself

April 3, 2014
tags:

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1. You use religion as a salve for your conscience. 

You go to church. You worship your God. You tell people “I’ll pray for you.” You pass along the dreaded e-mail prayer chain. Beyond that, however, you lead the same self-centered, hypocritical life you’ve always lead. But since you go to church, it’s fine. After all, you’re forgiven. Or you’re saved. 

You allow the construct of religion to keep you from being an authentic person. Even more problematic, you use religious beliefs as a means to support your pettiness, your prejudices, your political preferences, your agenda. 

2. You believe watching/talking about something is the same as doing something. 

Did you see the beautiful video of the dog that was rescued from the garbage dump? How about the one of the soldier who was reunited with his family? Those made you feel great, maybe even brought a tear to your eye. 

Here’s the problem. You didn’t participate in that. You just watched it. But you triggered the emotional response in your brain that makes you feel as though you did something altruistic. 

I told my family I was going to write a novel. They thought it was a great idea and applauded this endeavor. That was a year ago. Still no novel. Same problem as above. By telling people my goal I triggered the same emotional response as actually accomplishing my goal. This, in turn, diminished my desire to follow through. I already received the emotional reward. 

3. You believe you need validation to act. 

You know what you can do. But you are reluctant to do so because you haven’t been granted “permission”. After my last article for Thought Catalog I was contacted by a young man who was knowledgeable about computers but was stuck. He was waiting to accumulate enough hours to receive his technical degree before applying for a job. “Screw that” I told him. Start knocking on doors right away. Don’t wait for a paper that says you are qualified to do something. 

4. You believe being against everything is the same as being for something. 

Here’s an interesting exercise. Make a list of everything you are “against.” Then make a list of everything you are “for.” I would wager that the list of things you are against is much longer than the list of things you are for. Find a cause-something you can really get behind. Focused energy on one positive endeavor is better than dispersed energy on an array of negative things. Instead of protesting a certain issue, champion the opposite of that issue. 

5. You develop hard opinions on issues/people/events you know very little about. 

I don’t know shit about global warming. But I have a position on it. I know damn little about welfare reform or Lady Gaga or immigration or baseball or trickle-down economics or juice cleanses or Bill Belichick. This hasn’t stopped me from spouting an opinion about each of them. 

And most of what I know I learn from my preferred news sources. I have contrived my own personal echo chamber. You have too. The challenge is to constantly doubt these beliefs and test them. 

6. (BONUS): You don’t believe any of these apply to you but you can’t wait to share them with someone you think would benefit.

12 Ways You Sabotage Your Future

March 17, 2014

sabotage

(I originally wrote this for Thought Catalog)

I have mentored, counseled, encouraged, discouraged, hired and fired hundreds of people over the past 25 years. Oftentimes failure is less about a lack of talent or ability, and more about self-sabotage. These are frequent road blocks I see in people, myself included.

1. You are lazy.

Most of us default to indolence. We take the easy way. We get comfortable. We like a routine. This may be fine for 90%. If you are reading this, I suspect it’s not fine for you. So get off your ass and get started.

2. You lack focus.

You start out great. You spend thirty minutes of uninterrupted time putting together a plan, making a list, and polishing your resume, so you decide to take a break.  You check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your friend’s blog, Game of Thrones, iTunes, etc. and two hours later you’re back.  No one gives a shit about your high score on Candy Crush or Flappy Birds.

3. You are too isolated.

This isn’t 1930′s Hollywood. No one is going to pluck you from obscurity or discover you working at a diner.

If you were going to advance your goals with the help of the people you hang out with right now then you’d already be on your way.  But you aren’t. So get out. Meet new people. Do you have a great idea? Call me. Find someone who has a career you want and reach out to that person. What have you got to lose?

4. You fear rejection.

You know the answer to the question posed above: “What have you got to lose?” Nothing. But you still won’t do it because you are afraid of rejection. If you call me with your great idea, chances are I will decline. This may have nothing whatsoever to do with you or your idea. So don’t do what is next.

5. You give up too easily.

Many of the cases I have won and most of the money I have made is because someone on the other side gave in. Quit. Especially when things got a little dicey.

Know this: there are very few obstacles that cannot be overcome. Hang in there and you will be amazed at what happens. You will achieve much of your success by attrition.

6. You bitch too much.

Stop complaining. It’s a waste of time. Your problems are not unique to you. Get over it.

7. You buy into other’s perceptions of you.

There was a busboy at one of my favorite restaurants who wanted to be a chef. Unfortunately, the owner of the restaurant never thought of him as anything but a busboy. So he quit. He went to work for another restaurant where he started again as a busboy. But he made it clear that he wanted to eventually be a chef. Now he is one hell of a chef.

8. You listen to other people.

“You’ll never get that job.” “You have to have a (blank) degree to work there.” “They’re not hiring.”

The sad truth is that most people don’t care whether you succeed. They really don’t give more than a fleeting thought to something you think about every waking moment. Don’t listen to them. They don’t know.

9. You are waiting for the perfect job.

There’s no such thing. Even if you work for yourself you are always working for someone else. Take a job that allows you creative freedom or some means of independence or some level of fulfillment and ignore the rest of the bullshit that comes along with it until you find one that offers even more.

10. You lie to yourself.

Our brains are wonderful at self-delusion. We tell ourselves we are smarter than we are, more handsome than we are, funnier than we are. This leads to arrogance which leads to complacency. Be brutally honest with your self-evaluation. Are you living up to your potential? Are you working hard every day? Are you good at your job?

11. You rest on your past accomplishments.

You made good grades in college. You wrote a novel. You were a high school track star. That’s past tense. As Babe Ruth, the greatest hitter of all time, said: “Today’s ball games aren’t won with yesterday’s home runs.”

No one gives a shit about what you accomplished yesterday. What are you doing today?

12. You compare yourself to others.

There are thousands of talented people out there, many of whom are better than you at whatever it is you want to do. There are lawyers and entrepreneurs who are immensely more talented than me. I really don’t spend time comparing myself to them. I just concentrate on steps 1 through 11 above and the rest usually takes care of itself. Besides, I don’t always have to run faster than the bear. I just have to run faster than one other person.

Poke

March 15, 2014

memoir

My good friend published his memoir recently. It is brutal, heartbreaking. Took him 10 years to write.

Memoirs aren’t typically feel good affairs. They usually involve an intense exposition of a painful past.

The earliest memoir I can recall reading was When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow by Lance Rentzel. He grew up in my hometown and went on to have a successful career in the National Football League until he was arrested for indecent exposure. I remember the story made me cry.

I’m not much for a truthful examination of my history. It’s not that there is anything particularly disturbing. I’d just rather not poke around to find out.

Besides, I don’t like to cry. I prefer laughter. I have always relied on humor to deflect a sorrowful event, so much so that I could easily call my memoir When All the Sorrow Died in Laughter. Or I could use a phrase my dad used to always accuse me of and call it “Shits and Giggles.”

Any issues I have with my past would by now be so suppressed poor old Freud wouldn’t be able to scratch the surface. I have so blurred life’s major events I’m not even able to discern reality from my over active imagination. Besides, I’m not really trying to reconcile my past. I’m trying to come to grips with my future.

My Dad is not doing well. He has trouble with his memory. It is noticeably worse than the last time I saw him. He is further withdrawn and socially isolated. In his conversations, he sticks to a comfortable, well-worn narrative.

He is convinced that someone in our family, usually one of my two brothers, has wronged him and taken his money. I am only able to escape his suspicion because I live 200 miles away. When I come to visit he starts in.

“Well your brother did it again” he likes to say.

“Did what?” I will ask.

“Took my money.”

Sometimes he aims his frustration at my brother Will, sometimes at Tom. I used to try to defend them but it was no use. He would just grow increasingly frustrated and stop talking altogether. So now I just  change the subject.

This week when I saw him he was ready to relay the latest larceny, only this time there was a slight twist.

“Well he did it again” said my Dad.

“What are you talking about?” I asked already aware of the likely answer.

“Timmy. He took my money.”

Screeeeech. Hold on a second. Nervous laughter.

“No you don’t mean Timmy. You must mean Will ….or….or……Tom” I stammered.

Sorry guys.

My dad ignored my recast of the usual suspects and thankfully moved on to other topics of interest, like where we were going to eat dinner and whether it was going to rain.

Later that evening I was visiting with a good friend about the difficulties associated with the social isolation of an aging parent.

“We don’t seem to be having that problem,” said my friend.

My friend’s son, Joe, then told a story about his grandfather, my friend’s dad. It seems the grandfather, Big Don Edwards, has taken an interest in Facebook. He is a highly gregarious, outgoing fellow so it has become a regular part of his day.

Grandson Joe Edwards recently enrolled in college and was meeting new people and adding them to his legion of FB friends. A few days later one of his new classmates approached him.

“Hi Joe” she said. “Hey….um….do you happen to know someone named Don Edwards?”

Gulp.

“Um, maybe. Why?” asked Joe.

“He poked me on Facebook.”

Facepalm. Joe later learned that his grandfather had been routinely poking his friends over the previous two weeks. To be fair, Joe was extremely good humored about the whole affair. When I relayed this story to my daughter she was so stupefied she was unable to speak for about 3 minutes.

So what is this week’s lesson? Stay engaged. It doesn’t have to be Facebook or Twitter. But human beings are social creatures. So get out. Enjoy life. Meet new people. Make new friends. Stop dwelling on yesterday. Get excited about tomorrow. Start writing a kick ass memoir.

If you can’t make new friends, I know a grandfather who will teach you. Hell, he might even show you how to poke them.

 

 

Fag

March 6, 2014

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I was about eight when I found out I was probably gay. My neighbor from across the street, Rod Hedges, came over and saw a Helen Reddy album on my turntable.

“What is this gay stuff?” he said as he read the list of songs. “I Am Woman?”

He was almost doubled over with laughter. Mortified, I tried to recover.

“Shut up” I grabbed the cover. “That’s just one of the songs. Look here, there’s Delta Dawn and That Aint No Way to Treat a Lady.”

I slowed down a little.

“…and I Dont Know How to Love…” my voice trailed off without saying “Him.”

“Man I think you must be a fag” Rod declared.

I had never heard the word before so I decided to ask my mom.

She hesitated a bit.

“Rod doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It doesn’t mean anything bad. People sometimes use it as a way to describe having to do something they don’t want to do.  Like ‘I have to do chores all day today. What a fag’.’”

“Well that’s a good word to know” I said.  “I can use that.”

My mom could see the future.

“No! Don’t. Only people from Britain should use it.”

Even better. Not only was I going to introduce my friends to a new word, it was pretty much a foreign language.

A few days later our third grade P. E. teacher told us we were going to play four square. I looked  over at Ricky Meador and rolled my eyes.

“What a fag” I said.

Apparently my teacher wasn’t familiar with the British definition.

Upon learning it is a sexual orientation, I concluded that I am not, in fact, gay. Not that I did much to dispel the rumor.

My dad owned an interior design firm and my frequent means of transportation was one of his work vans with “Tom Hoch Interior Designs” scripted on the doors. Too small for sports, I joined our theater department, The Queen’s Players. (You can’t make this shit up). I spent many a weekend night driving that van, the remnants of my base makeup still visible, listening to songs like Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler. Needless to say, I didn’t have many passengers.

I’m married with three kids, and the vicissitudes of life have roughened my outer shell, so I’m not mistaken for being gay any more (except when I use words like “vicissitude”).

I’d like to tell you that my own experience makes me less likely to assign labels to other people. Not true. I can size you up and brand you in about the amount of time it took you to read this sentence. I do it all the time. I suspect you do too.

We take the most complex organisms in the universe-people-and make them one dimensional. Homeless people are lazy. Black people are scary. Men who tear up at family reunion videos are weenies. (Hey, I had something in my eye). Gay people are sinners. Muslims are terrorists. Soldiers are bloodthirsty. The mailman is creepy.

As a lawyer, it is a strategy I employ professionally. If I can make a jury believe you are defined by a single act, I win. Politicians do it. Businesses do it. Religions do it. Families do it. Couples do it.

We even do it to ourselves. We label ourselves conservative or liberal or Christian or atheist; superior, inferior, wretched, perfect. No matter the belief or the brand, labels limit us. They narrow our point of view. They deprive us of the lush gift of a diverse and beautiful humanity.

What a fag.

50 Rules for Parents

February 27, 2014

 

me again

Sorry but I’m afraid so. The “50 Rules” guy is back.

When my son was born my Dad, a man of very few words, told me: “Your kids are an investment. Whatever you invest in them, they will pay you back in spades.”

I’m not a psychologist, or therapist or counselor. But I grew up watching the Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver so I’m as qualified as anyone to give advice on parenting.

I’ve also (almost) raised three kids and, in the process, made as many mistakes as one could imagine.

There are a million different ways to parent. And a million ways to be a good parent. These are just a few of the rules that have worked for me and for people I respect over the years. Feel free to read them all or just skip to number 34.

I’d love to know what you would add.

1. Take the time.

The paradox of parenting is that it is the easiest thing you’ll ever do and it’s the hardest. For the same reason. All it requires is your time.

2. Be present.

You are not spending time with your kids if you push them on the swing set with one hand and yammer on your cell phone with the other.

3. Trust yourself.

There’s not really a right way or wrong way. Don’t compare yourself to other parents. If you give a damn and show up, you’re already 99% of the way there.

4. Don’t compare your kid to other kids.

Percentiles don’t mean shit. If your kid is different, celebrate that difference. Don’t conform it.

5. Ease up.

Because you’re going to screw up. Over and over.

6. Shut up.

You’ll be amazed at what you will learn from/about your kids if you just listen.

7. But don’t ever tell your kids to shut up.

8. Remember the two “C’s.”

After love, the greatest gift you can give your child is confidence. The next is curiosity.

9. Smile.

I know a Dad who has this single rule for every interaction with his kids. Each time he sees them he greets them with a smile. What a simple, beautiful gift.

10. Read to your kids.

11. But don’t always be the bedtime story teller.

Sometimes be the bedtime story listener.

12. Your children are not here to make you happy/fulfilled.

They are not here to entertain you, or make you rich (believe me), or save the world, or compensate for your shitty childhood.

13. Work puzzles.

These will develop critical thinking skills. At a young age a child’s brain is very elastic. Load them up with foreign languages, books, projects etc.

14. Teach them how to be alone.

Turn off the TV, the phone, the computer. Meditate, read, think.

15. Volunteer.

Find a cause and get involved.

16. Against the rest of the world, you are on the same team. Be a good teammate.

17. Learn the football hold. Lay a crying baby with her stomach against your forearm like you’re holding a football. Another move that works is to hold your baby upright with his back against your chest/ stomach and do slow deep knee bends.

18. Don’t google every malady that you fear.

19. Get away.

It is natural to feel isolated and alone when you are a new parent. Force yourself to get out of the house and be around other adults.

20. Don’t do your kid’s homework.

21. Surround your kids with good role models.

I can’t tell you exactly where to find good role models for your child but I would generally advise you to stay away from strip clubs, banks and other high crime areas like Congress.

22. Play music.

Some babies listen to Mozart, some listen to Mick Jagger. (But no child should have to listen to Selena Gomez.)

23. Your kids will do what you do.

If you don’t want your kids to act a certain way, don’t act that way.

24. Make important decisions when you are rested.

This is usually in the morning before fatigue and ego depletion set in.

25. Guilt is an unsuitable motivator.

I grew up Catholic so I know this firsthand.

26. Trust teachers to do their job.

The majority of them will. And they will do it quite well.

27. Don’t assume the worst.

I can’t count the number of times I flew off the handle before being armed with all of the facts about a situation.

28. Don’t assume the best.

A bunch of the ninth graders were caught in the park with alcohol but your kid was the only one not drinking. Yeah right.

29. Encourage gratefulness.

Kids first view the world through your lens. Are you aware of all of the wonder and beauty that surrounds you every single day? Are you making your kids aware? This was previously known as counting one’s blessings.

30. Widen the boundaries as kids get older.

31. Garbage in. Garbage out.

Scientists have recently discovered a link between listening to Nickelback and  homelessness.

32. If you’re not the coach, don’t be the coach.

33. Adapt.

What works for your seven year old will not work for your 17 year old.

34. Don’t have too many rules.

This seems a tad hypocritical coming from a guy who is giving you 50 rules. But “be kind” and “be honest” are probably enough.

35. Make them compete.

So what if they get beat? Life is going to frequently kick their ass. Might as well get used to it…and learn to fight back.

36. Choose your words carefully.

I once read that the emotional footprint from our childhood transcends all of our years. The words you choose make a big difference.

37. Teach them to eat right and exercise.

Start these habits young and make them part of a normal lifestyle.

38. Don’t ignore the possible link between biology and behavior.

If your child is misbehaving and you can’t figure out why, there may be a link beyond the normal. This could turn out to be something as simple as eyesight or diet or something else that has an easy fix.

39. After your kids reach a certain age, it’s really none of your business.

40. Have a life of your own.

Show your kids that they are not the single source of your fulfillment. Have other interests, other occupations. Share these experiences with them. That is, unless you are a crook or a hooker.

41. Be consistent.

Have concise and clearly defined expectations.

42. Don’t upstage your child.

Don’t answer for them. Don’t “one-up” them.

43. Go outside.

Breathe. Play. Travel.

44. Remove a screaming baby/child from a public place.

How can parents not already know this?

45. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong or when you’ve made a mistake.

46. Give your kids a spiritual example.

Help them search for something bigger than themselves. Introduce them to a large loving community that adopts a common set of values and beliefs.

47. Do not gossip with or about kids.

48. Don’t give an ultimatum unless you’re prepared to follow through with it.

I told my son that if he didn’t clean his room I would sell his X-box. This didn’t work out too well, primarily because I really enjoyed playing X-box.

49. Teach your kids to be happy for other people.

Life is not a zero sum game. Someone else’s success, happiness or good fortune does not diminish yours. So stop with the petty jealousy. Be happy for others.

50. Have fun.

It really is a wonderful adventure.

 

The Hardest Part

February 5, 2014

psh

We don’t really get to pick the cultural icons for our generation. They are chosen by our vapid collective. This is why we have to endure the imbecilic bullshit of the Kardashians and the omnipresent smugness of George Clooney.  But once in awhile we get it right. Once in a generation there’s a Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I was drawn to Hoffman because in many of his films he bears a striking resemblance to my younger brother. I’ve been a fan since he appeared as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. I typically choose a movie based on the story, not the actors, unless Hoffman is in it. If you’ve never seen The Savages, please do. There’s a scene in the movie where Hoffman sits down to a plate of eggs prepared by his girlfriend. Her simple kindness overwhelms him and he just begins to weep. It’s sublime.

His death is a greater loss than most will recognize. He played the losers, the outcasts, the drag queens, the morally ambiguous. We usually want a tidier star. We want Tom Cruise to save the world. We want David Beckham to take off his shirt. We want a happy ending.

It’s impossible to know the demons Hoffman battled. I pray I never have to suffer the pain of drug addiction. I’m not about to lecture those in its grip about free will and selfishness and hurtful choices. I just don’t know.

Is there a lesson in his death? I’m not sure. If there are any to be gleaned from his life it’s this: accept-even love-those who live on the periphery, who fight in the shadows, who are marginalized. Don’t fear your differences, your quirks, your fuckedupedness.

The only part we get to play is our self. Unfortunately, there’s no director, no script, no awards. As Philip Seymour Hoffman discovered, sometimes it’s the hardest role we’ll ever have.

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