ORLANDO

I don’t really want to write this blog, but I feel I must.  I wish I could continue to hide my head in the sand and act like the massacre in Orlando didn’t happen this weekend, but I can’t.  We’ve got to start discussing and debating in this country and quit yelling and demonizing.  I need to speak up more.  There are things going on that I cannot stomach and I shouldn’t just be sitting on the sidelines shaking my head.

To paraphrase a post a saw on Facebook yesterday: Pardon my dust. I’m still sorting this all out, but I have to talk about it.  I usually write and tweak and edit these entries, but I feel I need the benefit of stream of consciousness today.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here we go.

Let’s talk about guns.  I am pro gun control.  What does this mean for me?

If you like hunting: no problem

If you want home protection: no problem.

If you enjoy target shooting: no problem.

If you want to own a military grade weapon: I have a problem with that.  They should be outlawed.

All the arguments and sound bytes and pro/anti gun rhetoric is just a bleak cycle of feedback. I don’t want to hear the same arguments anymore.  Assault rifles should not be legal.  That’s it.  

People should not be able to buy ANY gun without thorough background checks.  Gun shows? Private sales?  Off the radar transfers?  Illegal.  I mean: when will this madness stop?  Shootings at an Amish schoolhouse, colleges, movie theaters, Sandy Hook, Ft. Hood, Planned Parenthood. Could it possibly be worse?  Are we not even willing to try?

We have got to take a radically different path with guns.  It’s new ground.  It may scare some.  It may outrage some.  But this can not continue.  The inflexibility of the debate must end.

I need to do more to make my voice heard on this issue.  Signing petitions.  Calling Congress. Whatever I can do, I should do it.  I’ve been too silent, I guess.

Now, let’s talk about Islam.

It is certainly disturbing to read about these terrorist cells or individuals in our country.  People that are plotting violence should be ferreted out and incarcerated.  But the horror of Orlando isn’t about Islam any more than the Westboro Baptist Church is about Christianity. This is about minds warped beyond recognition with hate.

How do you respond to that?  I don’t have a pat answer, but I know the answer isn’t with more hate.  Hate is a convenient but dangerous vehicle to pour our anger, frustration and sadness into.  It’s too easy.

I don’t know the specific reason why our president won’t use the exact words that his critics want him to, but I would bet it has something to do with not wanting to demonize an entire religion that a large number of Americans practice.  The moment a leader says: “This was Islamic terrorism,” he or she is subtly or not so subtly pointing a finger at millions of people that are just as repulsed at these crimes as we are.

There is nothing wrong with Islam simply because it is different than what many of us know.  It is foreign to many of us, so it might seem intimidating.  But take several steps back and view the long strand of history: how many horrific things have been done in the name of the Christian God?  The scales are weighed down on both sides.  Millions of lives lost in campaigns of diseased righteousness.

The problem is extremism.

My good friend has the last name “Hussian.”  Easy enough to pronounce: it sounds like “Russian” with an H.  But in the wake of the first gulf war, he had nutjobs calling him out of the phone book because in their addled mental state, “Hussian” looked too much like “Hussein.”

These are the people that refuse to fly with someone in a turban on an airplane.  Or desecrate a mosque.  Or open fire in a crowded nightclub.

They are all on the spectrum of fear and hate.  And we must reject them.

This isn’t some namby pamby meme-message that “Love Conquers All” or that we all just need to hug each other more.  No.  If your neighbor is a creepy freak that you think is going to do something violent-- call the cops.  Whether he is a Muslim or a Jehovah’s Witness.  Don’t hesitate because of political correctness.  That is another kind of madness that needs to stop. Horrible crimes are committed by people of all colors and creeds.  If you see something, say something!

But following Donald Trump’s urge to ban all Muslims?  That is completely the opposite of what this country is supposed to be about.  I don’t think that my friends who support Trump (and I have several) are nasty hatemongers, but I do think they are misguided.  And I do think that the path that Trump would take us down is slippery and dangerous.

History is littered with tyrants, demagogues, and dictators.  America is somehow immune to this possibility?  No, it is not.  We sadly seem quite attracted to suspicion and division.

Lastly, let’s talk about avoidance and de-friending.  The answer to tragedies like Orlando is not to cut yourself off from people who you disagree with or who piss you off.  The answer is to talk, engage, and debate with them.  Removing them from your Facebook feed isn’t going to make them or their opinions disappear.  These are difficult conversations.  But if we don’t have the guts to face prickly conversations with people we know and love, we’ll never get anywhere.  

I’m not wild about the fact that I know many people who support Trump because I think he is a terrible choice.  But I refuse to vilify those who disagree with me because that decision is not that removed from the scapegoating of any group.  It is too easy and doesn’t get us anywhere.

Let’s keep talking.  Let’s get uncomfortable.  Let’s make progress.  And I guess even if it doesn’t solve all our problems, it couldn’t hurt to hug a little more, too.

Handy-Incapable

I learned long ago to wave the white flag before the battle even begins.  

Some might call that defeatist.  I call it reality.  When faced with a home repair or maintenance issue-- no matter how slight-- the best thing for me to do is put down the flat-head and pick up the phone.  Call a professional.  Call a friend.  Call anyone with a modicum of mechanical skill so that before I’ve wasted the better part of my weekend with blood pressure rocketing into the stratosphere, I can head off the crisis by simply parting with a few bucks.

I hold this truth to be self evident: I am not, and never have been, a handy guy.  Need a voice for your outgoing message?  Got ya covered.  Need a silly joke in your Facebook feed?  I’m there.  But if you have a honey-do list of things that need to be fixed at your house?  Best to leave me on the bench for that one, coach.  Or better yet: don’t even let me near the field.

My lack in this area was most recently demonstrated when strong winds took down the basketball hoop in front of our house.  Faced with a broken backboard and bent rim, I sullenly resigned to a tree hugger’s last resort: tossing it out.  But to achieve this sad goal, there was a hurdle: disassembly. The entire thing was not simply going to be put in the trash can.

I began by taking out screws.  Then I . . .  I . . .

Ok.  That’s all I really did.  Take out 3 or 4 screws.  I was already frustrated.  The pole that ran from the base to the backboard appeared to separate into 3 pieces, but I couldn’t get it to dislodge.  I took a few steps back and stared at the whole thing, taking a second to collect myself.  This is a good thing to do when you want to fool yourself into thinking you’re actually cooking up a strategy.

The charade lasted less than 30 seconds.  Who was I kidding?  It was time to call Dennis.  

Dennis is a great friend for lots of reasons, but one way he consistently earns his stripes with me is showing up with his tools whenever I need help.  Good friends know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and respond in kind. When my wife needs to mount something heavy onto our wall, she doesn’t even bother to ask me.  Why would she?  If I put up shelves, they’d be about as stable as a Jenga tower.  My wife calls Dennis.

So, with a broken, horizontal basketball hoop littering our cul de sac and guests coming over for Easter, I had a job to do.

Step One.  Remove a few screws.  Then, when the first bubbles of irritation begin to surface...

Step Two.  Call Dennis.

Dennis has a typical backstory for handy guys.  He learned through his father. He has an older and younger sister, so Dennis was the natural heir to his dad’s mechanical knowledge.  

As I have searched the annals of my memory, I realize my dad was a lot like me. A bare minimum handy guy.  He certainly took care of what needed to be done around the house, but the project I remember him working on most often was putting up and taking down the seasonal awning over our porch.  This consisted primary of tying knots, a skill which was definitely not passed on to me.  You do not want me as first mate on your sailboat because all the rope will be tied like my shoelaces.  

Secure the rigging with bow knots?  Aye aye, cap’n!

Commercials for Home Depot make any domestic project look like a breeze.  The ad is 30 seconds long and by the end, the kids have a treehouse for fuck’s sake!  How hard can it be for me to replace a doorknob?  For years, I bought into the idea that I could tackle basic tasks, because I’m a linear thinker.  I believe in lists and agendas and order.  Follow a set of simple instructions? Piece of cake.  

One of the first times this perception of mine collided with the real world was when a headlight went out in my ‘82 Volvo.  

“Well,” I thought, “can putting in a new headlight be much different than screwing in a lightbulb?”  I found the answer in the following weeks as my new headlight  illuminated the treetops, instead of the asphalt in front of me.  And the installation process itself was maddening.  What I thought would take 10 minutes stretched for over an hour at least.

As I transitioned into married life, my wife began to understand the limits of my skills (read: extreme novice).  Like many couples, she and I learned that assembly instructions from Ikea should also include contact info for a divorce lawyer.  Our attempt to put together a bunk bed for my son stalled at 70 percent, with both of us ready to whack the other with the wooden slats scattered on the bedroom floor.  In a moment that became etched in marital legend, I declared, “If you wanted a some-assembly-required husband, you picked the wrong guy!”

We live, we learn.  I’ve accepted what I can do well, and what I cannot.  I’m still open to learning new things and have even become comfortable with a few power tools over the last year or two.  But I know my limits.  

Put another way: if you need help building a treehouse this weekend-- call my friend Dennis.

 

 

ACTION!

Sometimes, memory and reality get all tossed around in our noggins.  In my mind, it was a cold December evening in 1981 when my dad came bursting into our small row house in Baltimore County, urgently telling me to come with him.  There was a movie.  A movie he had just seen.  And now-- he couldn’t wait to take me.

I had the year right: ‘81, but according to imdb, Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in June, so there wasn’t a chill in the air when I followed my dad out to our station wagon and onto the theater.  We probably went to The Senator: a grand, one screen palace that recalled celluloid glories from the past, with ushers and a balcony.  I want to say we went there because the experience of seeing Raiders felt so BIG.  Like a gigantic roller coaster and haunted house rolled into one.  

The movie had captivated my dad.  It completely floored me.  And over the 115 minute run time, a new bond formed.  My dad and I became movie buddies.

To this day, I have very clear memories of many movies I saw in the theater, particularly ones that I saw with my dad.  The sharpest recollections are of the R rated films he took me to, because I felt I was gaining admission to something forbidden.  

Trading Places.  Gorky Park.  Stir Crazy.  Silkwood.  Witness.  Rambo First Blood Part 2.

Well.  I never said they were all good, right?

Raiders was so indelible that it transformed me into a junkie-- always chasing a new cinematic high.  Spielberg.  Bob Zemeckis.  Ivan Reitman.  John Hughes.  Each of these guys left a thumbprint on my brain.  Sometimes it was adventure and thrills.  Sometimes it was more philosophical.  I’m not joking when I say that Ferris Bueller changed my life.  I pay attention to directing and screenwriting credits because it’s a pretty good barometer for whether a movie is going to be worth seeing.  Plus, I can torture my wife with a bottomless barrel of trivia that she has absolutely no interest in.  (Her go-to response to one of my questions is often: “Why do you ask me this stuff??”)

Even at this stage of life, when I sit down to watch a movie, I harbor hopes of being transported, amazed and awed.  But, the more movies you see, the more you realize how few and far between the gems are.  You get jaded.  I had a friend once say to me that by the time you’re 30, you’ve seen all the movies there are to see.  I hated to hear that, even though at a gut level, I knew he was right.  With only 7 basic types of stories, how many different ways can they be told?  

I still get surprised and dazzled occasionally, though.  And one of the big perks for me as a father is sharing movies with my kids, because if you can’t exactly relive the buzz of seeing a flick for the very first time, the next best thing is showing it to someone who hasn’t gone on the ride yet.  In this respect, the new Star Wars was poised to be a double treat.

Though I don’t want to sound like one of those ‘too-cool-for-school’ types who claim they had zero interest in The Force Awakens (oh, what are you waiting for, a sequel to Remains of the Day??), I was never a Star Wars fanatic.  Of course, I saw the movies and knew all the references that any Gen Xer is required to know, but did I continue to geek out about Luke, Han and Leia into adulthood?  No.  In fact, despite giving The Phantom Menace two viewings, I came away with the same impression both times: thumbs down.  For me, at least, there was no way around how bad it was, and thus, I’ve never even seen episodes 2 and 3.

And yet… JJ Abrams.  He was my primary motivator to see The Force Awakens, because he’s been one of the few directors to give me goosebump thrills and fun like Spielberg.  I know people love to rip on Tom Cruise, but have you seen Mission Impossible 3?  A total blast.  Have you seen Super 8, Abrams’ homage to childhood adventure films like E.T. and The Goonies?  Near perfect.  And have you seen that other towering interstellar franchise that Abrams revived?  Sorry, but you’re out of your Vulcan mind if you didn’t have a good time watching the Star Trek reboot.

So the new Star Wars offered the perfect opportunity for me and my son to be taken to a galaxy far, far away for an unforgettable cinematic journey.  

However... there was a disturbance in the force.  

Well, actually, there was a shitty movie theater in Maui.  And the disturbance hit me when my son and I had to settle for seats in the far left of the 2nd row, craning our necks to see the screen.  

This is how I’m going to see the new Star Wars?  My heart was beginning to break, even as I tried to calm myself down.  It’s okay.  It’s only a movie, Jonathan.

But.  It was more than that.  It was a chance for my son and I to be simultaneously blown away by a film, similar to me and my dad at Raiders, 35 years ago.  On top of the terrible seats, I had begrudgingly settled for a 3D showing, based on the movie times.  I hate 3D.  It’s bad enough that it detracts from the movie, but the ticket surcharge just adds insult to injury.

So there I was, crammed into a crummy seat, flimsy 3D glasses perched in front of my real specs, holding a flickering candle of hope that-- despite the circumstances-- I would still feel enchanted.

To JJ Abrams’ credit-- I did.  Even though the blurry screen made the action sequences a jumbled mess, I still laughed at the one liners, felt a rush of giddiness when Han and Chewie appeared, and might have even gotten a little misty when Leia dropped the old classic: “May the Force be with You.”

A few weeks later, keeping a promise to myself, I saw the movie again with both kids.  In better seats, and in 2D, the movie provided even more fun.  As the credits rolled, I smiled to myself.  It seemed that even with 44 years and hundreds of flicks under my belt-- I could still find magic at the movies.