The race is on, and I’m losing yet again.
Every year, I swear it will be different. I’ll be organized. I’ll resist the interruptions, the intrusions, the urgent-but-unimportant disturbances that break my stride. I’ll do two century rides, I’ll take 2,000 photos, I’ll spend 100 days with the grandkids, I’ll make this year different from the nearly 70 that preceded it.
And here I am again, with the calendar about to shed another page and the impending solstice mocking me like my first three psychiatrists. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t. The best we can say here is that I’m remarkably consistent.
The Yiddish proverb says that man plans and God laughs, which would make me the most successful comedian in the heavens. Here on earth, though, I’m not sure I’m in on the joke. My only consolation is the absolute knowledge that I’m not alone, that a life of distractions is the human condition.
What is it about us that we’re so easily distracted, lured away from the things we value most to give away our lives to the unimportant, the foolish, the transient goofiness of strangers? How do we allow ourselves to invest our reputations, our emotions, and our irreplaceable time on earth in bagatelles?
When the calendar flips over to September 1, daylight in Chicago will be two hours shorter than on the solstice and about equal to April 9, when the low was a rainy 34 and the high was a balmy 49. I’d like to say I used my days well since then, but I’ve spent more time reading Twitter than I’ve spent on the bicycle and more hours on Facebook than with my friends. Yeah, I know, they’re “friends,” on Facebook, too, but I haven’t met most of them.
Nope, I’ve blown most of the 90 days the sun spends north of the equator and I’ll miss the remaining three weeks if I don’t get moving. Now.
Sadly, I’ve been here before, and before, and before. Like all the times I’ve finished my fourth slice of pizza or my fifth beer or my sixth rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I promise that this is the last time I’ll make that mistake and, oops, I do it again. Next time, though, that’s the charm. Just wait and see.
Okay, enough of this tomfoolery. I need to get serious if I’m going to reclaim the summer. No more lallygagging or shillyshallying or making up words like himbydimbying just to stall for time. I’m heading out right now to pull the spider webs off the bike and greet the open road. There’s no stopping me this time.
Right after I check my feed on Tik Tok.
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Sometimes, I think we really enjoy being miserable. Otherwise, why would we be working so hard to live our lives in despair?
I know this guy who’s rich, owns more than one home, runs a successful business, travels when and where he wants, and truly is better off than 99+% of the world. But he is seething, because he thinks “they” hate him. I don’t recall hearing anyone say bad things about him and he hasn’t told me who “they” are, but I have a guess. Someone on cable news, or on one of the internet sites he visits, told him he’s a victim, resented for his success and falsely labeled as evil.
He seems to believe these conclusions, coming from people who have never met him about people who will never meet him…about conversations that have never happened. His life is just a bit less happy, just a bit less peaceful, just a bit more unsettled, because “they” told him what some other “they” believe about him.
He isn’t alone, of course. I know people of different backgrounds and ages who seem to be striving to achieve a miserable life. Somebody is out to get them, to strip them of their rights, to indoctrinate their children, and double dip in their salsa. Left, right, male, female, gay, straight, Marianne, Ginger, they’re all working hard to be offended. They aren’t vocal about it all the time, but there’s a nearly perceptible hum as their minds churn over the indignities of the day.
I get it. We have major issues to resolve and major disagreements about how, or whether, to change. It’s natural to get angry about the whole thing, whichever thing we’re thinking about, and it’s easy to find examples of whatever it is that sets us on a rampage. In the end, though, we get trapped in our own cycle of outrage, anger and an enervating despair about our future. Thankfully, there are no politicians or cable news hosts or internet trolls who would stoop low enough to take advantage of this weakness.
It takes two to tango, as they say, and it also takes two to form a dominant/submissive relationship. That’s really the core of these interactions, isn’t it? We trust someone to direct our perceptions and drive our emotions in a way that provides some kind of thrill, some reward that makes the pain worthwhile. That means there must be some excitement, some validation, some enjoyment in our misery.
Or, maybe we aren't having any fun at all. Maybe there is no real payoff from all that suffering and we suddenly realize we’ve signed up for a raw deal. What happens if the misery becomes so overwhelming that we must flee the pain? Is there a point at which we’re tired of being mad as hell, so mad we cannot take the anger anymore? Can we exercise the ultimate power of the submissive and simply say ‘no?’
Misery makes us weaker, uncertain, less resistant to suggestions we might oppose, quite sensibly, in our saner moments. There’s an entire industry profiting from our misery, achieving their success through our despair. We’ve seen this movie so may times, you’d think we’d recognize the plot by now.
Spoiler alert: We don’t win.
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I spent a ton of time in Minneapolis during my consulting days, getting to know the clients and the city pretty well. So, it only seemed natural to bring the family up for a few days to show them the town I’d come to enjoy.
How embarrassing! It turns out that I really didn’t know anything about the place. Yes, I knew how to get from the airport to Apogee and from the airport to Patterson Dental, from the airport to a dozen other clients, three hotels and two restaurants. Beyond that, zip. Unless I was planning to take the family to a business meeting, I was completely lost.
Eventually, we regrouped and found our way to the Mall of America, but that trip was a cautionary tale for me, and not about travel. More relevant was the lesson about my relationships with other people.
I’m friendly with a few hundred people and we have pleasant conversations every time I connect with one of them. After a while, I could almost get the sense that I know them, but that would be a big mistake. With most, I’m about a half a step beyond total stranger, working my way up to acquaintance. We’re comfortable in our conversations and we enjoy each other’s company, but we’d be making too big a leap to assume we really know each other intimately.
With some people, the conversations are always about the same topics or a limited range of items, which means that more interactions don’t lead to broader insight. With others, we’re talking about a shared interest or a specific project, but we aren’t delving into our backgrounds or what makes us tick. Sometimes, it seems I’ve had 100 conversations with someone, but we’ve really had the same conversation 100 times. And, to be realistic, I’m not sure that…
“How ya doin'?”
…counts as a conversation.
I am active as a mentor to minority business owners and we have some discussions about issues that arise from their identities. I know many people who are deeply religious and we have occasional conversations about how they interpret issues in light of their faiths. On any given day, I might be talking with CEOs, immigrants, waiters, educators…I try to avoid any echo chambers.
Still, I would be arrogant in the extreme to suggest that I really know more than a trace of their reality. I have no idea what it’s like to grow up black, to leave your family to settle in a new land, to bridge the conflicts in a family business, or any other feature of their lives. I can get closer to their humanity, but I cannot reach the core without a ton of additional effort. And vice versa, of course.
We’re all a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, witnessing and interacting in a small portion of someone else’s life. We might think we know what’s happening, but we can be wildly off base in some of our conclusions. After enough time and too many repetitions of the same conversation, it’s easy to opine from an insight that is way off base.
Every so often, I’ll be tempted to share an opinion, explaining what someone else should do, because I know so much about their lives, their values, their families, their finances, their fears, their friends and, of course, their favorite pizza toppings. I’ve been pretty successful in fighting that temptation lately, informed by the lessons of our poorly planned visit to Minnesota.
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Our 50th high school reunion finally arrived and I can’t tell you how relieved I am about the whole thing. Thinking back on my high-school years, I knew I would be ridiculed the instant I walked in, mocked for the failure I was then and the loser I’ve continued to be, while all the rest of my class flourished in universal adoration.
As it turns out, not so much.
Thankfully, nobody seemed to remember when one of the cool kids convinced David and me to go together to the homecoming dance because lots of girls went solo and we could find dates there. It goes without saying that we didn’t find any unattached females when we arrived, so we left very quickly for a hamburger with a side of regret. David didn’t show up at the reunion—clearly too embarrassed by our humiliation—but it turns out I was worried about nothing. No one mentioned it, so maybe it’s long forgotten and I can just keep this disaster a secret for another 50 years.
In fact, not many people seemed to remember me at all. A few recalled my name or where I lived and two people remembered something specific that we did during our high school years, but the rest mostly nodded as if we’d just boarded the same elevator. To be fair, I didn’t remember them either, or anything in particular that I did during those years. I know I had one math teacher who farted a lot during a tutoring session with me, we had to swim naked in gym class, and our sports teams made us much more stoic about the setbacks in life…but that’s about it.
I don’t know what I was expecting after fifty years, but the whole thing felt like a retirement dinner where everyone was the guest of honor. Maybe they were whooping it up in other corners of the room, but almost all I heard from people were stories about the career they left behind, the ailments they’d gained, the grandchildren they did—or didn’t—see regularly, and the fogginess of their memories about teachers, classes, and the four years we spent in a shared space.
And why not? We’re all a bunch of 70-somethings who moved on to have full lives between then and now, replacing teenage torment for the glories of adulthood.
On the upside, I met a few people I’d like to know better; not to rehash our distant pasts, but because they seem to be interesting people today. My life includes a constant search for enjoyable conversations, challenging ideas, and maybe a free lunch or two. Now that we’re all over this high school thing, maybe I should reach out to a few and make a connection.
Gee, I hope they like me. I hope they don’t think I’m weird or desperate or really, really needy. I hope they don’t reject me. What if they all just text each other with mean notes about what a loser I am? What if they’re still laughing at me when our 100-year reunion rolls around?
Ah, the joys of high-school. Like Hotel California, you can never leave.
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So ya know what’s wrong with America today?
Okay, other than that.
And that other thing.
Hmm... Okay, I'll start over.
We don’t have enough celebrations in this country. Yeah, we have millions of holidays and observances and more mattress sales than you can count, but we don’t have any celebrations we can all share as one unified nation. You know, the kind of things the Founding Fathers loved, like barn raisings and burning witches.
Everything’s embroiled in politics now, so you can’t really celebrate anything with all your friends; only with the friends who agree with you about almost everything. And then they’ll spoil the whole party by ragging non-stop about the benighted souls who fell off the invitation list.
Nope, we need real celebrations where everyone’s on the same page, no politics allowed, and our team of party animals at Dad Writes has come up with the perfect list to bring joyful unity back to the United States. Mark your calendars and invite your friends as we cancel our Zoom calls and revel in the unbridled bliss of…
Rotgut Recycling: Somewhere in the back of the bar is a bottle, maybe two, that we will never, ever touch in our lives, until Rotgut Recycling Day on September 8. Maybe dad left some Slivovitz behind when he croaked, or some friend brought a bottle of Malort home from Chicago as a gag gift. Doesn’t matter. We’ll be competing for hair-on-your-chest cred on the 9th, if we all survive.
Freezer Burn Bakeoff. As long as we’re tempting fate, we’ll all dig into the back of the freezer on September 12 to pull out that thing that we don’t really recognize anymore…and eat it. It might be grandma’s lasagna or Uncle Sal’s chili, or something even worse, but we’re all going to have some fun stories to tell our friends on the 13th. If we all survive.
Coffee Cup Clearance: We’re almost certain to survive this one, or so we hope. On October 1, we’ll be grabbing all those coffee cups we don’t use…the World’s Best Lover and Flirtiest Mom and Ed’s Septic Service and Gina’s Getaway Lodge….and we’ll be donating them to charity. Finally, a cleaning project that’s tax deductible for all those $3,200 “limited edition” items.
Curio Collector’s Capitulation Day: It’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen, but mom said to hold on to it because it was a collector’s item and it would be really valuable someday. Well, it will be hugely valuable on October 15 when we finally give that porcelain figurine of Princess Di and Elvis the heave-ho. Of course, we’ll donate these babies to charity, as well, and take the full deduction of $25,000, just to show faith in mom’s forecast.
Tattered T-Shirt Toss. A special celebration for women only, we reserve November 4 as the date you get to throw out that ratty, smelly, stupid looking T-shirt that he still thinks has three more years to go. As a special bonus, feel free to dispose of that godawful sweater he insists on wearing to holiday parties. Truly, you’ll be doing him a favor and, in states that allow it, burning is encouraged.
Traced Turkey Transfer: Yes, we’ll all be arguing about politics on Thanksgiving, but older parents everywhere will take unbridled joy in the new tradition of bestowing, um, priceless gifts on their children. Before any adult children are allowed to have dinner, parents will complete transfer all the “turkeys” the kids drew by tracing their hands, the paper mache pumpkins, and other piece of claptrap from their childhoods. It won’t be much of a celebration for the kids, of course, but their parents’ happiness will more than compensate.
But wait, there’s more. While all of America is busily celebrating our new days of joy, our crack team of social directors is cooking up even more ways to celebrate in orgasmic synchronicity. Coming next…Computer Cable Macrame, D Battery Demolition, Dust Bunny Bacchanalia, and, for all the hip social media types, the National Grease Trap Challenge. Seriously, you’re going to love it.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.