Saturday, November 28, 2015

Using the Grandpa

We had a good week in Florida with my parents. My boys didn’t fight too much, nor did my parents. All four troublemakers were relatively well behaved which enabled me to relax and enjoy my sandwich generations interacting.

We rented a condo in Orlando so we could hit Universal Studios and Adventure Island primarily to do the new Harry Potter area. We spent two days in theme park hell, but made the best of it by getting along well and taking advantage of an unexpected secret weapon.

The lines were really long. Sixty to ninety minutes for everything good. Our plan was to beeline over to the new Harry Potter stuff at Universal and do the ride first thing. My dad is nearly 87 and doesn’t move very well unless there is a maple glazed donut involved so instead of putting one on a stick and holding it in front of him, we rented the old man a wheelchair. 

It was kind of fun to aggressively push my dad around all day. I wrote that on purpose. It pleases me to read it out of context. So yeah pushing him around in the wheelchair you sicko! Anytime there was a slight decline I’d shove him off on a ghost ride and the kids and I would run along side laughing our respective asses off. My dad would wave his cane around and threaten to smack us if someone didn’t get back behind the chair.

Sometimes my dad would want to stretch his legs and use the wheelchair as his walker. At which point Drew, Will and I would race to sit in the chair making my dad have to work a bit harder and my mom, well she was just shit out of luck. She’s a spry 82!

 My dad was still in the chair as we approached the Escape from Gringots ride. We didn’t see the end of the line so we plowed forward, weaving around empty cordons and a maze of people movers thinking we had gotten there early enough to beat the first crowd. We turned a corner and bam. It was like a refugee camp. People were mooing. It was horrible. We saw a Harry Potter worker dude and asked him how long the line would take. 90 to 120 minutes. I think the kids even wanted to say, “what the fuck!” but instead I said, “waffles,” and asked him if there was an escape route.

Nope, we had to backtrack against traffic though the maze and found out quickly that oncoming people really don’t give a shit about an old lady walking, two young kids and a handsome man pushing an old man in a wheelchair right at them. It was a game of chicken and they won. They were all honey badgers. I wanted to take the lead and just start plowing them over with my dad using his cane like a lance to joust their asses out of the maze. But I’m a lover, not a fighter so we worked our way out of theme park line purgatory cautiously and finally got to the entrance of the ride again. The kids were disappointed, my mom looked exhausted and my dad was making Zorro sword slashes with his cane from the comfort of his wheelchair.

I stopped my posse to regroup and a young Harry Potter worker ran up to our family meeting and asked if we got to go on the ride.  I said, “Are you fucking kidding me? That goddamn line was scarier than Lord Voldemort (a crowd around us recoiled) in the Walmart line on Black Friday!” Or maybe I said, “No we did not;” I can’t remember and I hadn’t even had any butter beer yet (Oh my god, Drew loves butter beer. He was licking the insides of our cups after we were done with them. I’m still having nightmares of his thick pulsing tongue swirling around the plastic rims and sides of all our cups like a slobbering St. Bernard after a long run in the Mojave).

The nice Harry Potter worker said, “Come with me.” So I u-turned Sir Lancelot and my mom and offspring followed as the woman took us to the Xpress line and told us to tell the next two workers Keisha sent us. It was magical. We got all the way to the ride boarding area in five minutes. My dilapidated dad was from there on deemed Fast Pass Grandpa. We had so much fun (the ride is great, by the way).

For the rest of the day and the next day too, anytime we got close to a ride, my dad would take on a sad decrepit look and I’d wheel him to the guard of the Fast Pass Lane and with big stressed eyes I’d ask if I’d be able to wheel my old dying poor father from the nursing home all the way to the ride area. The answer was always yes because they make all the rides handicapped friendly and if there are stairs, there are alternative routes to elevators that also act as major line skippers. Then we’d look longingly at the Fast Pass line with the chain pulled taut blocking the entrance and then look at the guard and then at the chain and then at the guard and then at the chain and then at the guard and my dad would moan a little bit and I’d make my left eye swell up and fill with the beginning of tears and the guard would say, “Here, go through the express lane.  Tell them I sent you.”

It worked every time but once and that was only because the regular line was really short. Fast Pass Grandpa was a godsend. I don’t even know what a Fast Pass costs for five people for two days, but I think its over eleventeen bajillion golden galleons. I told Grandpa he is a human goldmine and that he should rent himself out to weary travelers with big families.

There is a lot more to write about the week, such as spending quality time with loved ones, being thankful for all that we have and other such nonsense when compared to taking advantage of the elderly disabled. But I’ll save that for another story. Today, its all about Fast Pass Grandpa.

Thank you Fast Pass Grandpa for getting us through all the lines in record time and then having to actually go on the rides, some of which jostled me around so much I was fearing for his life instead of enjoying the whole ride, but hey, my kids had a blast.

Read all the tips and advice you want on attending theme parks. But you are really wasting your time. All you need to know is to get a wheelchair and shove a grandpa in it; any grandpa will do; and enjoy your day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Getting Lost in Myself

“So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.” When there are a gazillion thoughts swimming madly in my brain and I feel like writing some of them down but don’t know where to start, it is foolproof to pull a Willy Wonka quote. Writer’s block schmriter’s block.

If you don’t know who Jason Silva is, change that immediately. Stop reading my nonsense and go watch his narratives. You can find him here and then scroll down to his videos of awe and click on one. You will be taken to YouTube and have two minutes of inspiration and reflection and wonder and curiosity and affirmation and enlightenment and questions and smiles and perhaps even tears of knowing. Then click on some others.

Existential Bummer and Creativity is Madness are two of my favorites. The Existential Bummer reminds me of Burning Man – everything is temporary. Jason Silva’s overview included so much I can relate to, particularly his quote of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem containing the words that are my next tattoo, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Creativity is Madness quotes Timothy Leary to say, “In order to use your head you have to go out of your mind.” And then there is Silva’s video titled Non Conformity and the Creative Life that quotes Nietzsche with, “Those who were seen dancing were called insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Most of my crazy mad people know the Kerouac quote from On the Road.

Everyone is a little bit crazy aren’t they? They are just afraid to let it out. Let out the madness and share who you are and what is in your brilliant mad mind.

Whether it is writing, music, painting, narratives, building, acting, making up games with my kids or whatever – using my mind, heart and soul to deliver creativity is what excites me and keeps me inspired and drives me to places of bliss. Heck, I don’t even have to be making the delivery. I can seek out creativity or have it fall in my lap and experience someone else’s magic and be moved to that bliss and inspiration.

Another favorite Silva for me is We Need to be Lost to Find Ourselves. I love this one. We are victims of our own mental habits. We get into routines and mind mapping makes us numb to everything around us. And yet we are all wanderers. I think we just forget to wander. Must be why I travel so much.

I am totally the wanderer Silva references in his video. He is right – it isn’t the answers that are important – it is the better questions that are inspiring and enlightening. It’s about the journey, not the destination, right? In his video he talks about the ocean and it makes me tear up – I have waves inked on my arm for eternity (along with the moon and my children and my soul – it’s a significant tattoo!) as symbols for my quest for meaningful happiness.

What do you do when you first peek over the edge of the cliff and see the ocean of awe lapping at the shore and extending to the infinite possibilities beyond the horizon? You breathe. Hopefully anyway. You stare over the water into the universe and remove everything else from your brain for just a second and you breathe. Silva points out the Greek root of the word ‘inspire’ is to breathe.

All of this is why I have an awe-inspiring work of art on my wall that I bought in New Orleans at Jazz Fest by a Georgian artist named Athlone Clarke. The universal Law of Magnetic Attraction states that we attract into our lives people, things and circumstances that correspond with our dominant patterns of emotional thinking. My brother from another mother Rich and I were walking from one inspiring stage of music to another when we were drawn into Athlone Clarke’s stall of creative greatness. The piece I now have in my house is about creativity. 

We talked to Athlone about the artwork behind us for over an hour. Creativity is art and its good for the soul. I could not NOT have this in my house. It was meant to be. And it was meant to be that I found it with Rich while traveling. Two wandering souls perhaps a little lost in order to find ourselves.

I’m known to be a happy guy with a great life. And that is all true. But it doesn’t mean I don’t have challenges, sadness and uncertainty that instead of embracing I fear. Sometimes my happy go lucky attitude masks these tough times with complacency. I do nothing but the routine and I find myself in loveless relationships, bouts of physical inactivity and lacking desire to tap into my creative self. Blah. I don’t like that Bretthead at all.

I bounce back though. I focus on people I already love and do things I love to do. I exercise. I write. I travel. I smother my kids even as they yell at me to back off. Maybe it takes watching inspiring videos, a work of art on a wall or seeing awesome things that someone I love makes in her spare time.

Even though I know what it takes to find inspiration, I don’t always do it. That is why I really like what Jason Silva says about finding awe and the feeling that you have when you are in it. It has given me a kick in the pants that I needed. It made me think of some of my moments of awe and in turn I have been inspired.

I want more. I want to feed my heart and soul with moments of awe like when Will first performed on stage at his new school. Like being dropped off by a rickety airplane deep in the Arctic Circle to fend for ourselves in Alaska. Like the first time I went to Burning Man and saw, well, everything. Like hiking in the river up the Narrows in Zion. Like watching shooting stars with my best friends while camping at 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. Like discovering a new friend that changes my life for the better. Like watching my boys interact and fall into unbridled laughter. Like giving something meaningful to a loved one. Like watching Buddy Guy jam on the guitar and singing the blues with more passion than musicians a quarter his age. Like writing the perfect words. Like not having to say anything when you are with someone in a beautiful place. Like getting lost in my mind, lost in my mind (twice seems right).

I can still be present and live in the moment while wanting more awe and seeking it out. Sometimes the awe is right there in front of me and I plan on taking it. Other times I will go to it. And many times it will surprise me and come out of the blue. Because I am open to it by not being complacent and not letting mental mapping keep me in the routine.

I must be me and sometimes even I forget how to do that.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Dangerous Stroll in Central America

We naively didn’t care that we were in the sixth most violent country in the world. We are adventurers. We walked cautiously along the deserted strip of uninhabited homes and empty lots, littered with garbage and untended foliage. We weren’t wearing shoes. Hence the caution. It was hot. Hence the decision to walk in the back door of a seedy dive bar. The locals eyed us curiously, wondering where the hell we came from and how soon until we’d vacate their territory.

We downed our drinks from dirty glasses and moved on, watching our backs.  We ended up at another bar, this one nicer but very small – just eight stools and a few unoccupied tables. We met two locals there; one of them covered in menacing tattoos and wearing what looked like a gang symbol on his hat.

The next thing we knew, we were locked in the back seat of their truck and brought over to their duplex in the outskirts of the village. Their dogs barked furiously at us and we were warned to stay away from the vicious one that will bite at any time. These locals held us there until a guy named Chino was ready to see us.

Chino immediately asked us for our money. We handed over what we had and waited to see what would happen next. The local guy with the ink and gang hat held a grappling hook in front of us with a wicked smile. Chino approved and said it wasn’t as good a weapon as his but that it would do for the grisly task at hand.

The next thing we knew, we were herded onto a small speedboat and eventually docked at a private island inhabited by an associate of Chinos and his three wild dogs, one of which was covered in fresh battle wounds.

We sat there looking around us, wondering how we got to where we were.  It was crazy.  Crazy awesome.

We were in Belize. The we is me and one of my favorite people in the world.

We had been walking along the coast on Maya Beach, about ten miles north of Placencia, a sleepy village anchoring the peninsula. This is a quiet part of the coastal country and not many people were around (it was also kind of off-season for tourists). The first bar (Mango’s) was indeed a dive but had a fantastic view of the Caribbean Sea.

The next bar was actually the next day, but I like to make writer’s embellishments to add color and interest to stories. And although it was indeed small, it was a pretty swanky sweet place – a tiki bar on the beach (Turtle Inn owned by Francis Ford Coppola).

It was at the nice bar where we met Rick and Candy. They had just moved to Placencia a few weeks earlier. Rick has a bunch of cool tattoos and was wearing an Oakland Raiders visor.  They were raving about a great snorkeling trip they had taken with their next door neighbor Francis (no relation to Coppola) who prefers to go by the name Chino.

So the next day, Rick picked us up from the Maya Beach Hotel (this is a whole other story – awesome hotel and restaurant owned by great friends) and brought us back to his sweet little pad that is right on the beach in Placencia. Candy greeted us and they gave us a tour of the house while their tiny little lap dogs yapped and hopped around us.

Chino pulled up in his boat right on the beach in front of Rick and Candy’s and we went snorkeling around two awesome reefs in water clear as day. While we snorkeled, Chino was spearfishing and caught a bunch of lobster, crab, a hogfish and a barracuda.  Rick was able to use his newly homemade grappling hook to nab a crab as well.

We then went to a private island where Chino cleaned the fish and cooked it all in one tin over charcoal for about twenty minutes. And then we feasted.  It was heaven.

As we filled our bellies with lobster, crab and fish that had been swimming in the sea less than an hour earlier, we looked around us and wondered how the heck we got to where we were. Who is this Chino dude with his mad spearfishing abilities and great snorkeling tour? How lucky are we to have met Rick and Candy on our random beach walk along the coast (keep the spare room ready for us!)?

It was crazy awesome to be in the sixth most violent country in the world and being captured by the locals. We will be back.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stand Up Paddle Boarding Without Much Standing and Plenty of Swimming

I wouldn’t call myself clumsy. Despite the fact I bump my head on stuff all the time. I blame that on having a big noggin, being 6’-3” and perhaps not paying full attention to whatever I’m doing because there are shiny things everywhere. I play sports and although nobody has ever called me graceful, I consider myself athletic.

I recently took up stand up paddle boarding (SUP). My ex is selling them out of her garage at half price so I bought two. Yeah, yeah, usually back-in-the-alley sales involve drugs, electronics, human trafficking or guns, but I live in a suburban family oriented hood where big trouble usually means Billy’s dad got home really late Friday night (9:15pm) or Sally’s mom was seen drinking wine at the pool on a Tuesday afternoon.

So I bought two boards thinking my kids may get into it and/or that I can get friends and guests in town to go with me. This sport requires a heck of a lot of balancing skills with the main variables being the size of the board, the size of the person, the wind and the roughness of the water. 

I’ve seen many pictures of friends and strangers doing yoga and headstands on paddle boards so I figured it can’t be that difficult to pick up. 

My first outing was on Lake Dillon up in the mountains.  The water was icy cold but the sun was shining. Being the dummy I am, I figured it was perfect conditions. I really didn’t want to fall in that water and die of hypothermia so I took a wussy approach and pretty much sat for the first half of the adventure. The water was really choppy and the wind was in my face.

As I rowed and my legs were tightening up from being pretzeled worse than on an international flight in the back of the plane with the dude in front of me completely reclined, I realized I had to stand up to stretch. So we turned around and had the wind behind us. I contemplated the icy water and shakily stood up, more so because my legs had been folded so long than because of the choppy water.  I was proud of myself for making it back without falling off and looked forward to going again.

Round two was this past weekend at a reservoir here in Denver. It was a hot hot hot day and the water was warm so falling in would not be a concern. What I didn’t realize was that I would be a clumsy fool.

Just walking from the truck to the beach in my flip-flops down a gravel path while holding my board, I stumbled in a rut and in effort to protect the board I put all my weight on my left side. Which means my left knee got ripped open and my left foot got all scratched up on top. And my right ankle got sprained from turning sideways in the rut, causing the fall. But I didn’t drop the board and it never touched the ground!

Let’s just say this was a clear sign of things to come. If I can’t maintain my balance on dry land, how would I do on water that was full of wake from countless speedboats and jet skis? The answer is I may or may not have fallen eleventeen times.

I was wearing a Yankees hat I had bought in Yankee Stadium while attending a game. I hate the Yankees, but I figured, while in Rome… And also a buddy is die-hard Red Sox so I wanted to send him pics and also wear it around him to piss him off, cuz that is what friends are for, right? Well, my Yankees hat now resides at the bottom of Cherry Creek Reservoir, along with some of my pride.

How the hell do people do headstands on these things? I was told by my friend the water was really rough, so I feel a little better about my flailing and having a swollen ankle and bloody knee and foot didn’t help matters. I’m gonna have to get back on my horse as soon as possible!

I did make quite a bit of distance at the end without falling so I may be getting in a good spot. I decided to quit while ahead and make for shore where I had a camp rocking chair and bottle of wine waiting.  It was a fabulous day.

So whose with me for round three?