John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Home

jyb_musingsSadly, leaving for home.

Loved Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

We get back home in about 14 1/2 hours. 
Which is approximately 375 kilometergramhours –using the metric system. Or something like that. Mostly, I think that calculation just means I’m a thick-headed American. 

Guten Tag! Which I hope means “Thank You!” But I think may mean “Hello” and I know, in the states, means something that you should try to avoid in your diet. But it’s the best I can do. And reinforces my thick-headed American status.

Thanks ya’ll!! We had a really great ol’ time. Even though we could tell we got on your nerves sometimes and you thought we were too loud and messy. We get that a lot. So you probably are right about that. Sorry. And thanks for everything!

And glad to see that whole thing with East Berlin and that big wall you knocked down is working out so well. It just made sense. If we have learned anything from our travels it’s that people are about the same everywhere. They just talk different, and like I said before, get irritated by us because we are too loud and messy.

Again, Guten Toten! Or something like that. We sure had a good tine and hope we get to come back!

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So glad to be home after our trip abroad. 

“Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in after you get your luggage, go through security, clear customs, re-check your luggage domestically, clear security again and make your connecting flight in Jersey.” 

–Robert Frost (with my paraphrasing)

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We have yet to take a family trip that we could fully afford.

Or one that didn’t leave us more personally enriched. 

Travel is like that.

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Waiting to merge into the morning traffic…Is when you know that your vacation is officially over.

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Sometimes… on a night like tonight, if you’ve ever had the privilege of visiting Amsterdam, you miss not being in Amsterdam and wish you could hop in your car and head back to Amsterdam and arrive there in about 15 minutes, provided traffic isn’t bad.

On other nights, I can’t really say what you feel like.

This is my first night home after visiting Amsterdam. And this is the only feeling I am having and it’s pretty unequivocal and strong. Heck, there may not even be another kind of reaction. Except wishing you’d stayed in Berlin so you don’t miss Amsterdam so much.


 

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Aha Moments

jyb_musingsThis is kind of personal, and I have never talked about it before but here goes.

We all know what “Aha moments” are –when we have clarity of thought about something that has confused us and it finally and suddenly makes sense. The obvious explanation breaks through to us.

Well, I think for most people –based on what I have read –these “Aha moments” are brief sensations lasting only a few seconds and happen only rarely. 

But for me, they typically last 4 or 5 minutes –or longer. And one time in 1992 I had an “Aha moment” that lasted over an hour. (I was taking Dramamine. But still.) I also have them frequently –even multiple times a day.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Diet Update – Before and After Pics

Here is my “Before” alongside my future “After” pic. 

About 6 months from now….while thinking about how much better I look with all that weight off, especially when I stand on a rock and look out over the ocean while wearing faded torn jeans with a tan and long hair with the wind blowing through it and a stylish watch in case I want to know what time it is.

 

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Serious before and after:

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John Y’s Musings from the Middle: A Call to Non-Lameness

jyb_musingsA call to action. A call to non-lameness. 

Is it really possible that there are a few people still out there who find it downright giggle-worthy to send other people on Facebook a private message pretending to be someone else –someone who is younger and of the opposite sex— in order to fake a romantic interest to see what the person on Facebook will say? 

It was funny the first 3 or 4 times. The next dozen or so times seemed to be when this prank seemed to crest in raw hilarity and start to slowly decline so that by the 70th or 80th time it has been tried on you, you don’t even get annoyed any more at these pranking individuals but have instead started to worry for their mental health and comedic IQ.

Look, when I was younger my generation had some super lame pranks we repeated long after we should have been embarrassed for ourselves. There was the prank call asking “Is your refrigerator running” and after an affirmative answer we would suggest our victim be careful not to let it “run” out the door. Get it? Run as in operating and run as in motion. And there was the prank call to a bowling alley asking the weight of the bowling balls as a set up for a painfully lame and sophomoric genital joke.

And these jokes got repeated so often and for so many years that I worried that if a superior life form existed in our solar system and got wind of this repeated prank, they would write off our entire planet forever as a worthless species.
These jokes were terrible. Just really awful and But, hey, all we had for entertainment was Pong so it isn’t surprising that our wit was running at about the same speed.

But the younger generation, who I am assuming is responsible for these faux Facebook flirt messages, my God. I mean, c’mon! I know you are supposed to be the first generation in American history who had a lesser standard of living than your parents. But that doesn’t mean you have to be the first with a lesser sense of humor. There is no excuse for that and you are going to have to dig down and ask more of yourselves when trying to make a funny.

Geez. Look at me. I’m an old man writing long ridiculous Facebook posts for laughs and I have been doing it for 3 years now. I admit it is a lame use of time but can you imagine how much lamer it would have been if I had spent all that time sending fake private messages to some stranger on Facebook who may not realize i I’m really not a 21 year old ingenue?

You have to do better young wisecrackers and comedic miscreants! And I know you can do it. Stretch yourselves! Get out of your comfort zone. Look at the two old jokes from my generation and study them as building blocks for new lame jokes that won’t be so humiliating to your generation as these fake Facebook flirts. You can do it. You have what it takes. The time is now. And I am real —not a fake teenage girl. And even if I were pretending to be a young breathless girl right now flirting with a stranger on Facebook, that not even you—if you were honest with yourself–would think it was funny.

Let’s commit to coming up with a new Facebook prank–that isn’t inexplicably lame. Together we will make sure that your generation, material measurements notwithstanding, will never be lamer than your parent’s generation. I am that generation. And trust me, we are pretty darned lame.

Lauren Mayer: Stand By Your Man, 2.0

The phenomenon of political spouses standing by their scandal-plagued husbands has become such a cliche, it’s even inspired a t.v. show  - “The Good Wife.” We’ve seen women forgive men for infidelity, patronizing prostitutes, embezzling funds, or cringe-worthy texts, among other misbehaviors.  But recently we’ve seen a whole new twist – not only is Maureen McDonnell (wife of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell) standing by her man in his corruption trial, apparently, she is letting him blame the whole thing on her.  According to McDonnell’s defense, they couldn’t have coordinated any quid pro quo because their marriage was so damaged they didn’t communicate, and besides she solicited gifts from the tobacco-supplement-magnate because she had a crush on him, not because they hoped to exchange expensive goodies for political favors.

I don’t know what the real story is, whether this is an elaborate hoax or a messy public airing of a sour relationship, but it sure is gothic enough to inspire a Tammy Wynette-style country ballad.

 

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Smiling for Pictures

jyb_musingsSmiling for pictures. A confession. 

My new family Facebook photo got me to thinking about something that has always been a little understood pet peeve of mine: Smiling for pictures. 

The kind waiter at the restaurant offered to take a picture of us tonight and we stood together and posed along the street behind us. His fist shot caused him to hesitate and give me a look that said, “C’mon guy. What’s wrong? Smile for goodness sake.” So I tried harder for his second attempt and only modestly succeeded, as you can see. It’s not really a smile but more of a pose that tries to appear as a candid shot yet could be honestly mistaken by others for a smile. Like when you aren’t sure of a person’s name and when introducing them you slur what you think is their first and last name into an almost indecipherable gibberish name that you hope sounds close enough to fool everyone involved.

And that is about the best I ever seem able to do in photos. (Note; the other profile pic of me with just my wife is an exception and I believe I was honestly laughing about something when it was taken…so it really wasn’t a successful “posed smile.”)

And the “posed smile” is the problem for me. I don’t remember when it started but as far back as I can remember I never liked posing for pictures. As a boy it was because I was–like most all boys–too restless to stand still for 6 to 7 consecutive seconds. And to be expected to smile on top of this inconvenience was simply asking too much.

Later on as a young man, I still disliked standing still but mostly didn’t smile fully because I was, in my own petty way, rebelling against whoever was demanding the picture. Sure, on the surface I may be posing for the picture. But I wanted to be clear I wasn’t anyone’s monkey and the childish rebel in me was getting a subtle satisfaction by not smiling fully for the requested picture.

And then there was the period between being a young adult and a full adult when I was in college and law school where I did pose for pictures when requested but refused to smile easily because I wanted to look smart and serious and deep (I was for a while a philosophy major and wanted to look the part) —and also not be a poser who would lower himself to manufacturing an emotion to create a fake image for others to see. In other words, I feared being a phony, maaan!

But then as an adult, no longer as restless and seeing the benefit of taking photographs with family and friends, I tried to smile but couldn’t pull it off. I don’t know if it was that I never learned when I was younger how to just smile and “say cheese” when someone was taking a picture or if there is just something in me that can’t beam happiness on cue.

Maybe there is just this odd combination of restlessness, rebellion and philosophical determination “not to give in to ‘the man’” by smiling naturally for photos. Or maybe you can’t teach an old dog a new trick. But whatever the reason, there is a “smile deficit” I suffer from in most photographs I am in. I typically look to be the least happy person in the photo. Not because I really am. I like to think my happiness is at least in the 50th percentile of people with whom I am photographed. I’m just not very good at expressing “photograph happiness.”

And my hope is that “photograph happiness” is a lot like other kinds of happiness. It’s not something that is easily seen from the outside as it is something you feel on the inside. So if you see a picture of me that I post and I appear to be in mid-scowl, just try to overlook the clueless non-pose and just know I’m probably smiling –or trying to smile–on the inside.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Foreign Languages

jyb_musingsWhy learning foreign languages is important. 

Just now I was emailing a friend and colleague back home who knows I am in the Netherlands and I wanted to say “Thank you very much” at the end of the email and be clever about it by saying it in Dutch. But I don’t know how to say “Thank you very much” in Dutch. Or German (which is close to Dutch). I only know how to say “You’re welcome” in German. 

So I did the only thing that made sense to me at the moment and added at the end of the email “Muchos gracios!” I explained that Spanish was the only foreign language I had ever studied and was determined to say “Thank you very much” in some foreign language since I was traveling overseas now.

Of course, after my first email I had to write back and correct my spelling and note it is “gracias” not “gracios.” (I Googled it).

I also Googled the phrase again just now and realized I was supposed to use “Muchas” not “Muchos” But I already explained in the prior email that I had to take Spanish I twice in high school and, besides, a third email correcting my hip use of a foreign language phrase would start to undermine the cleverness of the effect I was going for.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Musings from Amsterdam

Something not to do when in Amsterdam. (Unless you are intro dressing up like a cheesy underworld figure from a bad video game.) 

Last year on our big family vacation I mentioned that my wife likes very structured and planned activities and I didn’t. I even said, sarcastically, that sometimes our trips feel less like a vacation and more like a program for continuing education credits.

But after it is all over I usually am glad for all the planning my wife does. Without it, I might just stay in the room and watch TV (if I can find an English speaking TV station). But that is not to say that all of her planned activities are winners. Last night we moved into record territory for worst planned family activity ever.

Rebecca did a wonderful job of finding fun and interesting activities for us during the day but last night she purchased four tickets at 10 Euros a piece to something called an “Ice Bar.” Granted, on the surface, it sounded like a promising activity. It seemed like it would be a tour of some sort of underground ice cave and we would see, we imagined, ice carvings or some creative use of ice that is common in the Netherlands.

Instead we arrived and were told to put on giant blue ponchos and gloves that were provided for each patron and to enter the “Ice Bar.” We did and found ourselves, literally, in a small ice covered alcove that was, well, a bar. With music and alcohol. And about a dozen silly looking people who, like us, had each paid 10 Euro to stand in sub-zero temperatures in a bar for an hour. We got a very good laugh out of it all and made the most of it by staying as long as we could keep laughing. And then calling it quits. About 53 minutes early.

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jyb_musingsMornings in Amsterdam

I was never an R.A. (Resident Advisor) in college. They always seemed like overly responsible, non-partying, uncool types who weren’t fun to hamg out with but who I would readily ask for class notes if i missed a class. And despite being slightly amnoying apple polishers they really did have it much more together than other students on the dorm floor.

Mornings in Amsterdam are solemn and sobering. The sun is coming up but the sky is overcast and there is a heaviness in the air like a bad hangover. As you walk the morning streets you smell coffee and baked goods and try to dodge places on the street spattered with vomit from last night’s excesses. It is peaceful and pleasant but the kind of peaceful and pleasant you feel if you live next to a fraternity house and it is Saturday morning and everyone in the fraternity is still asleep or achy and quiet.

10599340_10154534198235515_4941364976135923487_nAnd for the first time in your life you feel like at R.A. And you realize that R.A.’s on Saturday mornings probably surveyed their dorm floor and were reminded why they were willing to give up to be an R.A. type and were proud of their decision. And this morning, walking the streets of Amsterdam stone cold sober and sitting at a cafe drinking my coffee, which sits next to a Heineken beer bottle someone left from the night before, I feel proud to be an R.A.

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At various times today, my son and I discussed Burkean Conservatism, immigration policy, polling trends for the national Democratic and Republican parties and different dipping sauces that went well with french fries.

Here we are discussing the pros and cons of mayonnaise, ketchup, chipotle, and truffle dipping sauce, and the need for a spicier option for the American demographic.

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Being in Amsterdam makes you ponder all sorts of philosophical and personal questions that have never occurred to you before. 

Questions like, If you got a sex change and decided it wasn’t a good choice and then decided to get another sex change to reverse the previous sex change would others see you the way they had in the past (before the first sex change) or would both sexes look at you with suspicion about your current choice of gender —and at the very least consider you a person prone to being indecisive? And if all of this happened in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal and pervasively used, would anyone even notice?

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Lauren Mayer: Make ‘Em Laugh

The past week has been a particularly sharp example of the connection between comedy and tragedy.  Robin Williams’ suicide reminded us that there is often a dark side to funny people, and meanwhile the unrest in Ferguson, Iraq, and the Middle East have many of us exhausted by bad news and craving some comic relief.

Like many humorists, I often struggle with the seeming frivolity of what I do, wondering if my effort would be better spent trying to cure cancer or feed the homeless.  But when I first moved to New York, I was fortunate enough to have a roommate who was getting her degree in oncological social work (counseling families of terminally ill patients).  She brought a group of her colleagues to see me do a comic cabaret show, and they assured me that they couldn’t face the constant tragedy in their line of work without people like me helping them laugh and blow off steam.

Not that I’m equating my weekly songs with the genius of Robin Williams, but I do appreciate getting comments like, “Thanks for helping me laugh at a frustrating subject,” or “Keep the funny songs coming – it really helps!”  (And those are a refreshing change from other comments like “Who told you you could sing, you clueless feminazi libtard?”)

I actually don’t even mind the negative comments, since they are amusingly deficient in grammar & spelling as well as logic.  However, I have to admit, there is one frequent comment that irks me – “Hey, you should send your stuff to Jon Stewart!,” as if that had never occurred to me, and as if all I had to do was take the reader up on that fabulous suggestion and voila, I’d be appearing on The Daily Show.  But since sending my weekly songs to the show’s email & Facebook page doesn’t seem to be working, I decided to try a more direct approach . . . .

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Revenge with AT&T’s Text Warnings

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