It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad)

After selling tens of copies of my first book, I had at least three people ask, “When is the next one coming out?” Three years and two months later, boom: new book.

Animals-3D-Book-Cover

From the back cover:

First steps, first word, first time pooping in the bathtub… as a stand-up comedian, Nathan Timmel missed numerous milestones during the first year of his daughter’s life. Traveling from town to town, he spent his night slinging jokes while his daughter Hillary discovered the world around her. 

As she turned one, Nathan vowed to be a part of her life even when far from home. Writing a letter a week, Nathan tells his toddler where he is and tries to give context to her world: why Daddy travels, why a baby brother or sister isn’t the end of the world, and the importance of dismantling the pharmacy section at Target.

It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad) is a touching, funny, and introspective glimpse into a comedian-turned-father’s hopes for—and apologies to—his baby girl.

 

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Unite Your Dumb

TweetThat Tweet started it all.

Before I knew it, a bevy of 12-year-old girls were shouting at me via Twitter; a unique society of musically impaired Mean Girls who lash out when they feel threatened.

Which is fine, I was laughing the whole time they were calling me “asshole” and telling me to “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” But I was also a little sad. By that, I mean I was young once, but I wasn’t stupid.

Well, I was stupid, but not unaware.

I liked bands like Slayer, and early Metallica. Groundbreakers. Those who lashed out against the system, not those who jumped on the bandwagon.

I also liked Mötley Crüe, and if you really study 1980s metal, you have to admit that when it came to popularity everyone copied them. Everyone. When they went glam for their second album, Theater of Pain, every mainstream band in existence went glam. Ozzy Osbourne wore glitter. KISS wore glitter. Bands like Cinderella and Britney Fox formed simply because of glitter.

When Mötley Crüe went to jeans and leather for their next album, Girls, Girls, Girls, suddenly even Bon Jovi stopped wearing sequins.

(And if any band deserves to wear sequins, it’s Bon Jovi.)

My point to all this isn’t to praise Mötley Crüe, it’s to point out that there are two ways of being an artist: leader, or follower. You can be popular no matter which path you take, but the former garners more respect than the latter.

So when it came to tween girls angry with me for taking a very small poop on their current band du jour—because let’s be honest, my slam was neither all that great nor all that vicious—I both laughed and sighed. They don’t understand that the reason they’re marketed to is because they’re so gullible. They don’t realize that “bands”—and I put that in quotes, as these “bands” are constructs put together by record companies or producers simply as a way of printing money—like One Direction already existed in the form of Backstreet Boys, and before them New Kids on the Block, and before them New Edition…

In terms of female “bands,” the same man behind Fifth Harmony, one Simon “I can wipe my ass with $100 bills I’m so rich” Cowell, already unleashed “Girl Power” on the world in the form of the Spice Girls. So to the teen who Tweeted me, “IT’S ABOUT FEMALE EMPOWERMENT, ASSHOLE!” no, no it’s not. It’s about marketing, and the powers above know you’ll buy into that nonsense. Thanks for proving them right.

What’s sad is it always works, because each generation “discovering” the band created just for them thinks what they’re seeing is special. They have no idea that their “band” was assembled, not created. These “bands” aren’t a group of people with similar musical tastes finding one another and unleashing their creativity upon the world. These bands are cookie-cutter, assembly line nonsense, with thousands of applicants trying out and having songs written for them, all in order to make money.

While there might be a certain singing “talent,” there’s no soul. They may have perfect pitch, but they won’t have a longing in them to tell a story the way Tom Waits—“ugliest voice, ‘EVAR!’”—does. Boy/girl “bands” are seeking fame; they aren’t burning to have something inside them heard. Record executives know there is a certain, very, very large segment of the population that doesn’t care about soul, talent, or storytelling, which is why these “bands” will never go away. What’s new is the fact the bands are now loved via online societies, and if you tread upon them even lightly the reaction is swift. They don’t understand the difference between a guilty pleasure (the Spice Girls, or even Fifth Harmony) and something worth getting worked up over.

Admittedly, if Twitter had been around when I was a teenager, I absolutely would have gotten into a flame-war with someone insulting Slayer. Sure, it’s what you do when you’re young and have no impulse control.

But I wouldn’t have ever defended Cinderella, or Britney Fox.

And I think that’s what makes me disappointed in the kids all fired up over my “attack” on their idols.

They should know better, but they don’t.

And that’s why we can’t have nice things.

 

Oh, look… I have a book!

TTA Timmel Book Cover SQUARE_102314

Click the picture for purchasing options. Word.

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Interpretation

I’m a comedian, which means I use words for a living. I also have a degree in English Literature, which means I know how to choose those words carefully, and for maximum effect. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean people always listen to what I’m saying. Sometimes they hear what they want to hear, or a trigger-word will deafen them to the content of what’s being said.

Though I make it very clear I’m pro military and speak of touring for the troops with pride, I once had a member of the Army enraged by my comment: “We should bring the men and women we care about home and send gang members over to fight.”

“Are you saying my friend sacrificed his life for nothing?” he shouted at me drunkenly enraged.

The man had to be removed from the showroom, and after the fact his handler explained he had a severe case of PTSD and lashed out often. He didn’t quite understand the point of my joke was that his friend should have never died in the first place.

I also have a joke about using prisoners as land mine sweeps, sending them into the field to find IEDs, keeping our military engineers safe in the process.

“Prisoners have rights, too, asshole!” was once hollered loudly from the back of a dark comedy club. The man who said it then stormed out to the amazement of 200 people who watched in confusion.

I used to perform a pro-immigration joke, where I said “The phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ is a polite way of saying ‘Mexican’ without sounding racist. No one is worried about Canadians slipping across our border.” I then went on to say we should have a “White-trash-for-worker exchange program,” meaning whenever someone came up from Mexico, we sent down someone from a trailer park.

A Latino woman began berating me, shouting that Mexicans were hard workers and that I should leave them alone. It didn’t matter that I was praising immigrants and insulting racists, she heard what she wanted to hear, which was enough to get her fired up.

These instances are very, very rare, and usually contained to a single moment in the showroom. But every so often someone gets a bug so far up their butt they have to take it public. Recently, a comedy club owner told me he had a negative review on his Facebook page, one calling me out by name. I looked it up and was instantly a combination of disappointed, and livid.

It’s not the fact the reviewer didn’t like me, what got under my skin is why he didn’t like me. In his own words: “I’m gay. I’m not politically correct or hyper sensitive. The show I just paid to see was disgusting. The main act, Nathan Timmel, forced me to walk out. He would, ‘prefer to sit next to a gay than a Muslim because he’d prefer to be sticky than falling from the sky in pieces.’”

He went on to say he would never return to that comedy club again.

Well, to begin to dissect this, if your opening statement is “I’m not (fill in the blank here),” then yes, yes you are that very thing. That shows a defensive attitude and is very telling to your character.

Second, I didn’t force him to walk out. That implies I berated him specifically or took action against him, which didn’t happen.

Third, and most importantly, what offends me is his poor interpretation of my joke. This is the actual joke, in meme form, posted many months ago online.

Homo MarriagePOSTED

My favorite part of it is the inference; I never, ever, say “Muslim.” Of course that’s where everyone takes it, but I never say it. It’s more fun to me to let people paint that stereotypical picture than to verbalize it. So right off the bat the reviewer puts words into my mouth, which isn’t fair. But so be it.

The very next joke in my act is: “Speaking of gay, I have a friend who is Vegan…

…I’m sorry, that’s a cheap shot. Gay people are born gay. The overwhelming majority are kind, decent people. Vegans choose to be pompous assholes.”

(Note the statement, “The overwhelming majority are kind, decent people.” Lucky me, I stumbled across one who resided on the opposite side of that coin.)

As I see it, I’ve made two fairly pro-gay jokes/statements back-to-back, yet he preferred to view me in a negative light. Unfair, but not much I can do about it. If he chooses to go through life with a chip on his shoulder, that’s his choice. I don’t know his story, and have no idea what it means to be gay. Was he called names in school? Did his dad disown him when he came out of the closet? Something in his life made him very sensitive, so much so he now lashes out at people simply for mentioning a group he aligns with. He hears what he wants to hear, not what is.

That said, I feel I can still loathe the fact he took his attitude public. To misinterpret something is fine; to offer your anger to the world as truth is annoying. On top of that, attempting to damage the reputation of the comedy club by writing the review in the first place is simply mean spirited. Two thoughts come to mind: if you see a movie you don’t like, do you write a negative review about the theater? Of course not, that would be silly. “Avatar was the worst movie I’ve ever seen! I’m never attending a Carmike Cinema ever again!”

More importantly, as shown above, that joke is online, and has been for many months. I have over an hour of videos on YouTube. What he did was show up at a random entertainment venue without any research and expected the act to be suited to his specific tastes, which is fairly arrogant. No one goes to the movie theater and tells the ticket monkey, “Give me one to whatever you think I’ll like.” Maybe had he put the time and effort into researching my act he might have said, “You know what? This isn’t for me. I’ll go another night.” But that would have taken the slightest modicum of effort on his part. Instead, it was easier for him to just show up, not like what he heard, and then whine online about it.

Many thoughts ran thought my head upon seeing the review: I should thrash him! I should point out how wrong he is about everything! I should email some of my most reliable friends and have them start attacking him!

But as the thoughts ran through my head, I thought of the negativity involved in every one of those actions. Is that something I wanted to participate in, to reduce myself to his level of discourse?

No.

Instead of jumping into an online fight, I started looking at pictures of my kids. Within seconds, most of my anger was gone. Evaporated immediately, with only wisps of ether lingering behind.

Who could be angry looking at this?

Who could remain angry while looking at this?

Part of me was still upset with him for his attack on my career—what I do keeps the very kids calming me fed and warm and so on—but that was a very tiny fraction of the peace looking at my children gave me.

I figured I could rage against him, point out what a sanctimonious jerk he was being, and explain how he missed the point of my act completely… but it would be a waste of my time. Trying to speak reason to anger is like kicking water uphill.

As I was calming down and deciding not to engage, I noticed something. His review started getting comments; several people from that very show said they had a great time and called him out on his nonsense. That made me smile. Two people specifically said they believed my jokes sounded “pro gay” to them, and one woman pointed out, “I’m a Christian, and I laughed at Nathan’s comment about Christians. It’s a comedy club. You have to expect jokes about your fundamental beliefs.” Even better, several more people wrote their own 5-star reviews of the evening.

I went to bed feeling OK about the situation, and when I woke up, the negative review was gone.

The only person who had access and the power to delete it was the author, which had me wondering: did he calm down and look at the situation rationally in the morning, or did he just not like being challenged publicly for his misguided beliefs? The former leaves hope for growth and awareness, the latter not so much. I know of a couple people who have such little self worth that attacking others is the only way they can feel good about themselves. It’s sad, but as said, there’s nothing I can do about that.

Nothing but shake-shake-shake-shake-shake it off.

Fuck.

I just quoted a Taylor Swift song.

Now I dislike me as much as that customer did.

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Hey, look: I have a book!

TTA Timmel Book Cover SQUARE_102314

Now available in paperback or e-book. Click picture for more information.

 

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An Anonymous Tale

poop_poop_everywhereEverything you are about to read was told to me first-hand.

Names and locations have been changed to protect the… well, I guess you’d have to say guilty parties. Or party. You can’t blame a toddler for what her daddy does.

Either way, nothing in this story involves me.

Really.

* * *

On October 10th, 2014 year of our Lord, the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, Iowa, held their 102nd Homecoming Festival. As the father of a two-year-old, a visit parade route was in order. My daughter “Hillary” loves parades, and the University Homecoming throws one of the better ones you get in such a provincial state. It might not have all the bells and whistles the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day offering does, but it’s better than many of the local ones we’ve attended.

(Case in point: one was nothing but local yokels driving their own cars. Not the most exciting way to spend an hour.)

My family—wife, daughter, son, and yours truly—arrived in Iowa City as the parade was about to start. We picked a nice spot from which to view everything and started to settle in…

…when I noticed a stink emitting from Hilly’s bottom.

She had pooped.

No worries; I was surrounded by many University buildings, which means I was surrounded by many warm, clean, well-lit bathrooms. There would be no changing a diaper in the cold air of a Friday night in October for this fella.

I scooped up Hilly, grabbed what I thought was a changing pad with diapers and wipes in its pouch, and made my way to the closest building.

Arriving at the front door, I made an unfortunate discovery. The University, in all their smarts, decided they didn’t want hoards of parade-goers befouling their bathrooms, and had locked up tight.

A wise move, I thought. But I also wondered if they were smart enough to lock down the elevators.

I walked into the parking garage, pushed a button for the elevator, and once it arrived took it up into the building proper. Nice work, University employees. You locked your front door but left the window wide open.

Now safely inside the warm building, I set out to find a bathroom with a changing table. This turned out to be a task akin to finding a husky kid who hates candy. Universities are places of higher learning, run by people with the highest and most expensive of degrees. They know that kids these days are having babies in high school, not college. Why put changing tables in University bathrooms when anyone with a kid isn’t furthering their education anyway?

Well, that F.U. in my face, I picked a nice sofa to lay Hilly down across. Cushy = nice for a toddler’s back. No need to put her on the cold tile of a bathroom floor.

I peeled her diaper back to find not only had Hilly pooped, she had really pooped, and had done so a while ago. It was everywhere, and it was dry and caked on. Time to get to work using the handy-dandy wipes…

…I thought I had brought.

Nope, the pouch I grabbed contained a diaper, but no wipes.

OK, what to do?

I decided I would call the Mrs.—who was just outside watching the parade go by—and do my best to prevent Hilly from making a mess until Mommy arrived with armaments. So, putting one hand on my squirming toddler, I used the other to make my call.

“Hi,” I hurried as she answered. “I need you to bring me a new diaper and some wipes, quick!”

Instead of springing into action, a barrage of questions was flung my way. “What? Why? I don’t understand. You have a diaper. Why do you need another?”

“I don’t have wipes. I need to… Hilly!”

As toddlers are wont to do, I noticed my daughter was attempting to dig in her poop. I chastised myself silently for not putting the new diaper on before calling in reinforcements.

Meanwhile, my wife continued her interrogation into my ear: “But I don’t even know where you are. Why do you need wipes? I thought you brought them.”

“I’m in the building right next to you,” I responded. “Just come to the closest doors. I need a diaper and wipes, now.”

But now was too late.

Hillary had already squirmed off her diaper and was now contorting in joy on the sofa.

The cloth sofa.

The “boy, I sure do absorb anything placed on me” cloth sofa.

Multiple poop stains were clearly visible.

“Hilly, no!” I commanded, not really telling her anything specific, like “Sit down,” or “Don’t squirm.”

Hilly stood up; poop was really getting everywhere.

“I just need you to bring a diaper and wipes to the front door of your building,” I pleaded into the phone again.

“But I don’t know where you are,” my wife told me. “Upstairs or downstairs?”

“Upstairs,” I sighed.

It was a lost cause.

Now poop was strewn across the sofa, embedded in its fibers like an ISIS cell in an Iraqi city.

I gave up.

Hilly was allowed to squirm, stand, and move about to her heart’s desire. There would be no mitigating this disaster.

Eventually my better half showed up with the needed items, and I cleaned Hilly’s bottom the best I could. I took a wipe to the sofa, but all I managed to do was rub the poop deeper into the fibers.

I gave a last, resigned look at the devastation, and then disappeared like Keyser Söze.

I felt sorry for the janitor who would find the mess, but I blame the University overall. Bathrooms with no changing areas, and environmentally-friendly air dryers only? Sorry, folks. No paper towels = no ability to clean up spills.

And my baby’s butt > your precious sofa.

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Coming In October

Animals-3D-Book-CoverIt’s OK to Talk to Animals

(An Introduction)

 

September 3, 2014

Dear Hillary,

Like most good ideas under our roof, the project you are reading came from your mother’s mind. She saw a story about a parent writing letters to their infant and decided, “You should do that while you’re traveling. Write to Hilly and tell her where you are, and what you’re up to.”

(Because creating projects and pawning them off on me is what your mother does best.)

So, I did as I was told and wrote, wrote away.

From August 2012 to August 2013, I dreamt up and scribbled down letters to you, the topics of which are as varied as can be. Sometimes I wrote to you in the present moment, you being a toddler, sometimes I imagined an age far in the distance and wrote to you as if you were reading my words in your college dorm room. I wrote about our daily activities, milestones in your existence, and my life, the last of which being done in the hope you may forgive me my nonsensical ways.

It’s good I started at your first birthday, because to detail the first twelve months of any human existence wouldn’t be the most exciting of tales: “Today you ate, pooped, and napped. Repeatedly.”

Likewise, it might be best the writing has slowed now that you’re two, because the “Terrible” age kicked in quickly after your second birthday. It’s as if a switch was thrown, because you went from being my adorable little cuddle-bug to a tantrum-throwing monster almost overnight. Not that I don’t still love you, and you are still my little cuddle-bug, but my God, some days you are almost Sybil in nature, given how quickly you can flip temperaments. Plus, tales that perpetually end “and then you threw a fit” might be as boring as repeated poop/nap letters.

Anyway, as the year passed, I dropped a couple of the notes on my blog and holy poop-on-a-stick was the response overwhelmingly kind. People laughed, cried, and spread the words around, telling their friends, “Hey, you need to check this out.”

“So,” you might be wondering, “why not just post them all on your blog? Why turn them into a book?”

Because college is expensive, and I don’t have it in me to “Tiger Mom” you to death so you can get a great scholarship (and have no friends or life along the way). Also, to quote The Joker in one of my favorite movies, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”  (Daddy has odd idols) For all of the above reasons, and the fact that I flat-out enjoy writing letters to you, this book came into existence.

Also, I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by anything in here. The letters are personal, but they’re not sensitive. Plus, given my ability to act the fool in public, I’m sure by the time you do read these you will have a thick enough skin to avoid being scarlet-cheeked by anything I’ve shared.

(Your teenage years will most likely play a great role in this “toughening up.” Teenagers are already sensitive; having a comedian for a father will probably lead you to eye damage from all the rolling you’ll be doing as I embarrass you. But, at the end of it all, you’ll come out all the stronger for it. Promise.)

With any luck, the pages that follow will help give you insight into what life was like in one of your earliest years.

I hope you enjoy it.

Love,

Dad

The book It’s OK to Talk to Animals, and Other Letters from Dad will be available online at both Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com in October.

 

You can read sample letters here, and here.

(Several other letters are peppered throughout my blog; feel free to go searching for them.

Book cover designed by Lydia Fine.

Picture by Dreamday Photography.

 

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Sunshine Saved My Life

10416609_751737838201393_2876214994543462887_n“Sometimes I feel like, I’m so uninvited, like something so out of touch. They tell me depression runs in the family, well that doesn’t help me much.”  ~Todd Snider

My wife likes to joke that I have no soul, because I don’t cry. She, for the record, weeps at the drop of a hat: during movies, a commercial, while reading… She even cried at the birth of both our children, and seriously, who does that?

(What, everyone does? My bad.)

The Mrs. is quite in tune with her sad side, because she suffers from clinical depression. She was diagnosed and placed on medication at age twenty, and it changed her world. For the first time since childhood, evil thoughts weren’t pounding away at her constantly, making her feel worthless, or that her life had no value.

I’ve never been diagnosed as manic-depressive, but it’s heavily prevalent on my father’s side of the family, and I have had plenty of damaging thoughts about my self-worth.

I have also been right on the cusp of suicide.

My story is no secret, and it is neither original nor special. I moved a lot as a child, and my parents had an unhappy marriage. Combine those two and you have a kid who thought friendships don’t last and love isn’t real. I swam inside the idea I would never have friends, or be loved. Once beliefs like that are ingrained in your cellular structure, they live with you for decades. You can combat the feelings using positive influences such as therapy or medication, or self-medicate using drugs, alcohol, or, my method of choice: comedy.

(Everyone knows you don’t become a comedian when everything is right inside your noggin.)

Again, this was wasn’t an original reaction to what I felt; most comics worth their weight in salt have something hidden inside that pushes them to the spotlight. Personally, comedy was both a weapon and a shield. It became an armament that gave me distance from the world—think Pink Floyd’s The Wall—and was a weapon used to attack when feeling defensive.

(Which, to someone depressed, is quite often.)

Like any drug, you eventually build up an immunity to it. For a while, the glory of a great show sits with you and carries you through the dark hours. But after a while, it’s not enough. As a comedian, you go from being on stage in front of two hundred people, basking in the glory of their laughter…

…to alone in your hotel room, the thoughts of worthlessness screaming at you at the top of their lungs.

So, when your main drug fails, you compound it with others; the alone gets shut out using women, alcohol, pot, and whatever you can get your hands on.

My drugs during bouts of depression were music, and anger. Music, because there were songs I could relate to and not feel so alone in the world. No matter what I was going through, I could tether to an artist and understand I was neither unique nor special. They knew what I was going through, which mattered to me. Anger, because when I was at my wit’s end and absolutely ready to end it all, the overwhelming desire to say “Fuck you!” to whatever power may be out there (God) would carry me through. Sadness happens, so buck up and deal with it ya pansy. Every fiber of my body would be telling me to do it, just exit this world to escape the pain, but suicide seemed like losing. And I hate losing.

*  *  *

Mork & Mindy premiered in 1978; I was eight years old.

In life, that’s what’s known as “perfect timing,” as the show was aimed directly at eight-year-old sensibilities. I had no clue who Robin Williams was, I just knew that I laughed at the wacky man pretending to be an alien.

I more than laughed, actually. I reflected. Each episode ended with a moral, an oft-times touching moment where Mork waxed philosophic on what he was learning on earth, and reported that information to Orson. It was in those moments I discovered the genius that was Robin Williams; he could make you laugh, but he wanted to make you cry.

(Maybe, because if you were crying, he felt not so alone in his pain. I cannot say that with absolute certainty, but I don’t believe it’s too far a throw.)

An instant fan, I became obsessed with both Robin, and Mork. I scampered around the house saying “Nanu-nanu,” and “Shazbot.” I begged and was taken to The World According to Garp, a movie not exactly marketed to a twelve-year-old. Good Morning Vietnam made me howl; Dead Poets Society choked me up.

Robin Williams was also the first stand up comedian I saw live.

I would have been, I can’t remember, sixteen or seventeen. He was performing at The Riverside Theater, in Milwaukee, and when I heard about the show I immediately called for tickets. Naturally, the show was sold out, but they were considering adding a second performance; did I want to be on a waiting list?

Hell to the yeah I did.

A late show was added, and I got my tickets. I remember absolutely nothing of the evening, save for the fact I missed over half the jokes because I was still laughing at the one before. Tears ran down my face, and my face and jaw hurt at the end of the night.

To me, Robin Williams was a God. He meant more to me than just about everyone.

(Except Martin Riggs.)

Robin was open about two of his drugs—alcohol and cocaine—but I’ve not heard anyone discuss his other weaknesses: women, and marriage. Comedians aren’t special creatures; like anyone else, they find solace in the arms of a lover to assuage their pain.

Robin Williams cheated on one wife, married his daughter’s nanny, and then married a third woman just a few years outside the end of his near-21-year second marriage. I will neither judge nor analyze his behavior, but I will say I am all too familiar with the pattern: the thoughts of not wanting to be alone, and of wanting to feel loved when you believe you’re unlovable. In my younger years, I entered into several relationships too quickly, if only because I was astounded by the fact someone seemed to like me.

“This one is fooled,” I would think. “Better not let her go!”

It was only when I reached my mid-30s that the desperation faded; I went through therapy and examined the origins of my insecurities, and hit my Malcolm Gladwell tipping point of failed relationships. I began to attack my depression, and eventually realized what I had wasn’t medical; I didn’t have a disease, I just had a shitty childhood I needed to deal with.

Robin Williams suffered from the disease; his was a manic depression, unlike mine. That means his hole was larger than most, one that couldn’t be filled by millions of dollars or awards. When he looked in the mirror he didn’t see an icon, he saw his own insecurities.

And in the end, that was too much to bear.

By the time I started writing this, arguments aplenty littered the Internet. Did he kill himself, or end his own pain? Was his act selfish, or was it his choice to make?

I don’t care.

I’m not here to fight or start arguments, I just want to talk about what he meant to me.

I was at the gym when the news broke; I finished up my workout, grabbed my phone, and it was waiting for me in a text: “Robin Williams, dead. Suicide.”

I think my only surprise was at how not surprised I was. Knowing his life and story, I don’t want to say I expected it, but after Belushi, Farley, Jeni, and Geraldo… It just wasn’t as out of left field for me as it may have been for others.

But that didn’t make it any less tragic.

As I drove home, I started to well up. Pulling into the garage, and could feel the tears behind my eyes. I got out of my car, and opened the door to my house; inside, my two-year-old daughter was playing on the floor in the kitchen.

“Daddy!” she shouted happily.

“Hi sweetie,” I croaked.

Fuck, it was really going to happen.

My wife asked me something and I tried answering, and she heard it in my voice. Alarmed, she jumped up, saw my eyes, and started asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

I waved her off twice, saying “Nothing. It’s nothing,” but she kept prodding, hugging me tightly in the process. “Robin Williams committed suicide,” I finally sputtered.

I wept for about twenty seconds, then felt a mix of better and silly. Which is how I believe most people feel after crying in front of others.

If anything, it made my wife joyful.

“I can’t say you don’t have a soul anymore!” she cheered.

I’ll remind her of that at the end of the next chick flick she drags me to, when she is sobbing and my eyes hurt from rolling.

 

tl/dr: watch this instead.

The Character Study of Cinema

413799_planeta-majmuna_fI remember sitting in a theater, watching Dances With Wolves. Behind me was an obnoxiously stupid woman who chitchatted throughout the film, and became especially noisy during one scene. There is a moment where Wind In His Hair and John Dunbar meet for the first time; Costner’s white settler is holding a gun at the native Wind In His Hair, who is shouting defiantly “Do you see that I am not afraid?” in response.

It is a tense moment, and during it the woman behind me whispered fearfully, “Oh my God, shoot him. Shoot him. Shoot him-shoot-him-shoot-him!”

It took all my self-control to not turn around and yell, “Will you shut the FUCK up?”

Obviously, Costner did not fire his gun, and the two men become friends over the course of the film. The whole movie is a study in communication between strangers, and how solving problems through relating to others is better than force.

I thought of that scene during Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In ‘Apes,’ the path to war is set in motion when a human named Carver runs into two apes in a forest. It is a moment somewhat like in ‘Dances,’ only with the completely opposite outcome; Carver, a fearful and stupid person, shoots and kills one of the apes. Where Costner was reserved and patient, Carver was panicky and impulsive. Carver is the kind of person who only looks out for himself. He doesn’t trust anyone or anything but his own instincts, which is unfortunate because his character doesn’t have the brainpower enough to warm a piece of bread, much less handle complex situations.

Over the course of the movie, Carver’s ability to grasp reality never expands; he is continually behind the curve when it comes to what is happening, and what he believes. During one scene, it is explained to him (and the audience) that scientists experimenting on apes in a lab created the disease that wiped out most of humanity. This disease got the name ‘Simian Flu,’ but apes didn’t spread it, and apes were not the host. The disease was entirely man-made, and man-spread. This fact didn’t matter to Carver; he heard ‘Simian Flu’ and blamed apes for the downfall of mankind, facts be damned. The “Carver character” works so well in the movie because he is all too real, and people like him walk among the rest of us.

The crux behind ‘Apes’ is that individual characters can hurt the whole. On both sides of the coin—among humans and in the ape colony—misguided individuals think what they believe is more important than what is beneficial to all. Some humans don’t trust the apes; some apes don’t trust the humans. Instead of conversation, these weaker, less intelligent characters call for violence. When you remove ‘apes’ from the equation and insert ‘religion’ or ‘country,’ it becomes a mediation on how all of humanity can be shaped or driven by the weakest and least intelligent of the herd. The idea “A single drop of poison ruins all,” if you will.

When you relate it to politics today, you see that a minority of tea baggers, people so incoherently clueless they believe destroying America is the only way to “save” it, currently controls the Republican Party. When you relate it to religion, a minority of Muslim terrorists create enough fear that the entire religion is looked upon with suspicion. Translate it to disease, and anti-vaxxers who ignore scientific fact present a threat to the whole of the populace. In each case, the minority can (or does) inflict great damage upon the whole simply because they champion ignorance above all else.

Several days before seeing the movie, I interacted with a real-life ‘Carver,’ a man who, in 2014, still believed America invaded Iraq because Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Obviously that was never the case and has been disproven repeatedly over the years, but in the run up to the 2003 invasion “9/11” was trumpeted from the rooftops and broadcast from the airwaves. It is a perfect example of population control: you repeat a lie often enough, and the dumb will believe it. This means 1984 wasn’t just a great read, it was prophetic.

(“We have always been at war with Eastasia.”)

The real-life ‘Carver’ exposed his cluelessness regarding the world around him, but could parrot talking points like nobody’s business. When presented with facts on the economy, “Lower taxes!” was shouted. When Iraq was discussed, “9/11!” When presented with the state of tax rates over the past few years, he had no comeback other than to double down on his particular political fetish. When presented with facts regarding trickle-down economics, and the current state of affairs in Kansas, who had just cut taxes to nil, lost massive amounts of revenue, had their credit rating demoted, and was running severe budget shortfalls, silence was the response. Not because he was mulling over the facts presented to him, but because there was no point in discussing facts. What he believed had to be true, all evidence to the contrary. This same willful ignorance happens when Christians are told “Not all Muslims are terrorists,” and when anti-vaxxers are told “Jenny McCarthy is a fucking idiot and vaccinations do not cause autism.” It doesn’t matter what the facts are, they know in their heart and gut that they’re right. No matter how wrong they are.

I wonder what these people think when they see themselves on screen. I wonder if they recognize themselves in the most ignorant of screen characters. The woman sitting behind me in Dances With Wolves was crying at the end of the film; she sobbed as Wind In His Hair shouted, “Do you see that I am your friend?” Maybe the movie touched and changed her just a little. I don’t know.

Maybe others don’t think anything at all while watching the screen flicker. They just want to be amused and entertained.

Maybe they agree with the actions of the dumb, and think, “I would’a shot him, too.”

How sad.

 

Post Script: For the record, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a horribly boring movie. Yes, it has moments of character study, but overall it isn’t worth your money. I won’t give a movie review here, but Vince over at FilmDrunk sums it up nicely. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I agree with enough of the points to say, “Yeah, ‘Apes’ is not a good movie.”

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One Step Back

10252048_10154066713390693_6438589448822900165_nJune 30, 2014

Dear Hillary,

Today was tiring.

We went to Target, which is par the course, and while there my phone was dropped and destroyed. The screen didn’t even crack, but the impact scrambled the electronics within.

You giggled; I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t even upset. It’s a phone, it happens.

I mean, I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t upset.

It happens.

We went to buy a new phone, an expense I wasn’t excited about, and that took about an hour. For being so bored in a boring store for an hour, you behaved wonderfully. I smiled and danced with you when I could, and carried and bounced you when I had to deal with the phone people.

(I also changed a poopy diaper of yours in the employee lounge. Which is what they get for not having a changing station in the restroom.)

When we got home, I put you in your crib for a nap—you had actually fallen asleep in the car—and fired up my computer.

And I saw the news.

During her entire pregnancy with Squeak, I’ve joked with Mommy about my wanting another daughter. I figure that after raising you, I understand better how to take care of a little girl than a little boy. I also worry about the stereotype surrounding little boys: they’re destructive.

Mommy has an instinct that Squeak is a boy, and when she tells me this (which she does constantly), I say “It better not be!” and pretend to be angry. I’m not angry, of course, because I’ll love whichever gender comes popping out of her. But I pretend.

Sometimes, however, I’m not so sure I want to bring another girl into this world.

And I often worry about you.

It is still, in 2014, so much easier to be a white male than anything else.

When I got home and jumped on line, I saw that a Supreme Court dominated by misogynistic assholes decided that, as men, they knew better than women what was best for women.

(Forgive my language, by the way. I’m just being accurate.)

Five men stated: The type of health care a woman receives should not be determined by women, but by corporations owned by assholes who use ancient tales to cover their intellectual shortcomings.

(The three women on the Supreme Court were, of course, against this ruling. One lone man, one who probably remembered he had a mother [and possibly a wife] he loved, also dissented.)

As a father, I am at a loss for words.

I see horrible stories—universities who refuse to investigate sexual assaults, law enforcement agencies that refuses to acknowledge rape, high schools that protect athletes who commit atrocious acts against young girls—and wonder: why would I want to bring another woman into this world? Why would I want to expose her to such treatment?

As a nation, America raises a pointed finger at supposed “underdeveloped” 3rd World Countries and trumpets loudly our superiority; in certain areas on this planet, women can be (and are) put to death at the whims of men. With an air of condescension we shout, “Look at those savages!”

But are we really the superior nation when we subjugate women using legal means, not blunt force? How does championing our fairy tales as greater than their fairy tales elevate us above anyone?

This very Supreme Court ruled “Corporations are people.”

Unfortunately, they don’t feel women deserve that same distinction.

I am angry, frustrated, and fearful.

Which is not unlike the men who feel the need to control women; mine is just sympathetic to your plight, not cackling at it.

When you awoke from your nap we went outside and drew on the driveway with chalk. You watched Sesame Street (which is only known to you as “Elmo!”), and I watched as a storm blew through town and destroyed our gazebo.

Like with my phone this morning, I wasn’t upset as I watched it get damaged. It’s just a thing, and things are replaceable.

(Just like women, according to some men.)

Hilly… I’m not sure how to end this.

I’d like to have positivity and hope swoop in, and finish by telling you that I’m going to enroll you in martial arts so you can protect yourself against predators, that I’ll know exactly at what age we can talk about inappropriate pictures and how they live on forever via the Internet, that by the time you enter the corporate world women will be taken seriously and earn as much as their male counterparts, that whatever you want to do with your life and career won’t be challenged by a desire to have a family, that you will be judged by your mind and not your looks…

…but I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know how much of that will be true.

I do believe that life is about moving forward, even when obstacles are on the path in front of you. And I know that Mommy and I are going to do all we can to give you the strength you will need to navigate the minefield that is being a woman. Many women before you have overcome greater obstacles by far and advanced the rights you have today. As I write, many women are fighting for the rights you will have tomorrow.

My hope is as you grow, women will gain more footholds than they lose.

My hope is that today was just a bad day, but that tomorrow—as the song goes—is a latter day.

(The skies are clearing and the sun’s coming out…)

Love,

Dad

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The Wonderful World of Public Restrooms

I have written this before, but it is absolutely worth repeating: I cannot wait until my child has reached the age where she is no longer fascinated with my bathroom activities.

April 30, 2014

Dear Hillary,

I have written this before, but it is absolutely worth repeating: I cannot wait until you have reached the age where you are no longer fascinated with my bathroom activities.

This week, you had extra special fun with me “going number one,” because it happened in a public restroom. We attended Music Time With Nancy, a multi-week class we signed up for in order to get a little socialization into you. It was the first class for me—last week Mommy and Grandma Diane (Mommy’s mom) took you—so I wasn’t too sure of the protocol.

We walked in as everything was about to start, and Miss Nancy asked me to put a nametag on you. Since you were wearing—as you usually are when I am in charge—a Batman outfit, I wrote “I’m Batman” on the tag. Not only would it represent accuracy, it was also a nice bit of nostalgia for those who would get the dual meaning.

When I affixed it to you, I had no idea the instructor was going to sing her way around the arc of children facing her. “Hello Sarah! So happy you’re with us today!  Hello Kennedy! So happy you’re with us today!” When she got to you, there was a moment’s pause, but then, given no other option, she went right along with it, “Hello… Batman! So happy you’re with us today!”

All the other parents giggled, meaning my stupidity was a success.

I cannot explain why, but I’ve always lied on my nametags. Early on in our relationship, it caused a minor moment of friction between Mommy and me. We were attending some sort of nonsensical social get-together, a “Young Professionals” event. Someone created the gathering under the guise of “Building connections with people in the community!” and with nothing better to do, Mommy suggested we go network.

Upon arrival, we were given nametags to fill out, and without even thinking, I grabbed three. I began writing, and before I knew it had scribbled “Xenu is my God. Ask me about Scientology. I <3 Tom Cruise” across them.

I plastered the trio to my chest, and went about entering the room when Mommy grabbed my arm.

“You can’t wear that, it’s embarrassing!” she hissed.

“To who?” I asked, bewildered.

“To me!”

“It’s fine, trust me.”

Mommy was anxious, but I wandered off with my head held high: time to meet new people.

I don’t know if this needs said, but my nametags were a hit. They garnered more attention that night than just about anything else. Were they funny? Maybe, maybe not. Were they different? Yes. And different is all that mattered. In a sea of social normalcy, I had done something just a smidge off, and that was Robert Frost’s road less traveled. Where my idiotic mind thinks it’s normal to write stupid things on nametags, it doesn’t even cross the thoughts of most folks, so my idiocy was (in the very least) an icebreaker.

Back to Music Time.

We completed our session with ease, and you, dear one, had bunches of fun. You danced (a bit), shook musical shakers, hit timing sticks together (albeit to a different beat than the music), and both laughed and smiled. Because you were happy, I was happy. Watching you revel in the silly events made my heart grow three sizes that day.

(Or some other stolen reference involving love.)

After class ended, you wanted to explore the rest of the recreation center where Music Time was being held, so we wandered hither and dither, to and fro. You spun the handles on the foosball table, reached your wee hands into the pool table looking for the cue ball, and eventually wandered into a corner of the room and paused.

I knew what was coming next.

You turned and looked at me, your little face and delicate features growing quite stern. A hue of crimson appeared around your eyes as you concentrated; something serious was taking place.

You, my dear, were pooping.

Your poop face is hilariously endearing. It is a wonderful beacon with which to let Mommy and me know what you are up to, so we can change you quickly and not let any of the nasty stick to your skin and create a rash.

When you finished impersonating a bear in the woods, I scooped you up and away to the bathroom we went. I placed you on the changing table, took your stinky diaper off while you squirmed (and managed to plop a socked foot into the poop; kudos to you on that maneuver), and tossed everything into the handy-dandy wastebasket by the sink.

I then reached into the diaper bag… and discovered no spare diaper. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Oh, the joy I felt in that moment.

I looked at you and sighed.

Technically, I should have checked the bag for all necessary supplies before leaving the house, but since Mommy was the last person to change you in public, I felt it easier to blame her for the lack of necessary provisions.

What to do?

I pondered the idea of plucking the dirty diaper out of the garbage, scraping it clean and re-using it, but you had piddled as well as pooped, meaning it was trashed. Because you had seemingly vacated all your waste, I decided that going diaper-free until we got home would be safe. And if not? Well, that’s what a washing machine is for.

I put your pants and shoes on, helped you to the floor, gathered up the diaper bag, and we made moves to Elvis the building. While doing so, however, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I paused to relieve the pressure mounting on my bladder.

Which is where things got tricky.

I had hoped you would wander around safely and ignore me, but your interest in my bodily fluids knows no bounds. The instant I started a healthy stream, you tried to scooch as close as possible in order to get a glimpse of what was happening.

Now, I’m no prude, and I know you’re just curious, but it’s not an image thing. I don’t mind you seeing me naked (and lord knows you do constantly), but in a public bathroom things are sketchier than at home. I didn’t want you getting too close to the urinal, because the multitude of less-than-hygienic people using it daily creates a surface unsafe for a toddler’s hands. Or anyone’s hands, for that matter.

I began to pivot while I peed, as if playing basketball. My foot was constantly in motion, turning my body, blocking you, frustrating you… I thought all was won when you disappeared behind me, but no, victory was not mine to have.

A moment later you re-appeared and rushed right up to the next urinal, the one aside me. You grabbed hold of the lip and happily arched your chin up to look inside and see what it was.

My shoulders slumped.

So. Very. Gross.

After my bladder emptied a few seconds later, I scooped you up (to minor protest: Daddy! I wanted to see in there!) and rushed you to the sink. I fired up the warm water, rinsed your hands, soaped and scrubbed them, rinsed them again, paused, lathered them up a second time, performed a surgeon’s sanitizing ritual, and then rinsed them a third time.

Had I been so conscious, I would have then grabbed an anti-bacterial wipe from the diaper bag and battled all the germs on your hands with that, too.

Frustrated with my inability to be a decent father, I carried you to the car, buckled you in your seat, and watched with sad eyes as you shoved a thumb in your mouth.

So. Very. Gross.

Telling Mommy about the story later, she smiled and said, “She’s going to get hepatitis on your watch, just you wait.”

My hope is instances like this won’t happen when you realize that waste exiting my body isn’t in the least exciting. But until that day, I will no longer use a public bathroom if you’re with me. Better to soda-bottle it while driving than allow you another opportunity to do that ever again.

Love,

Dad

PS: I really do <3 Tom Cruise.  If you haven’t watched Oblivion, Jack Reacher, and Jerry Maguire by the time you’re reading this, I’ve really failed you as a father. More so than if I’ve allowed you to get hepatitis from a urinal.

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Do Not Go Gentle…

david letterman retirement cbsI was never a huge fan of Brett Favre.

I worked in the restaurant industry, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during his ascension, and was “lucky” enough to hear all the stories of his drug use and constant womanizing before they made their way to the general public. Not that there’s anything wrong with either vice, but the philandering left me a little cold. Brett was in a long-term relationship, then engaged, and then married. All the while he was publicly monogamous, you’d hear from waitresses in his steakhouse about his behavior.

(You’ll note that after the 2010 scandal where he allegedly *cough* texted graphic shots of his genitalia to a woman, no reporter seemed surprised; this behavior may not have been public, but it was well known in certain circles.)

But I could have forgiven him all that, if not for one thing.

The Green Bay Packers won the 1996 Super Bowl, and immediately following every Super Bowl the winning quarterback appears on The Late Show with David Letterman. In a pre-show interview, Brett quipped something terse along the lines of, “I’m not going to let Dave pull anything on me.”

Brett said his guard would be up for Letterman, and lived up to that promise by giving a lifeless interview.

Several months or years later, I forget which, Favre went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He was relaxed, happy, smiling…

…and like that, I knew why I never embraced him: Favre was a Leno guy.

I have been a Letterman guy since episode one on NBC. I heard Bill Murray was the main guest, and if there’s one thing I’ve loved ever since SNL, it’s Bill Murray.

I fired up the television, staying up well past my bedtime, and discovered an unintended bait and switch: I had tuned in to see Bill Murray; I turned the television off wondering who David Letterman was.  Being a kid meant I had no idea a talk show could be interesting; I only knew of serious interviews, such as those on The Phil Donahue Show. David Letterman was different.

Turning on the TV at 11:30pm became a regular occurrence for me. In the days before DVR and TiVo—and with the programmable VCR being slipshod at best—going to school exhausted (or sleeping until noon in summer) was the only way to get my nightly fix. During the school year, it was worth the sleep deprivation. In summer, it was worth missing the sunrise. David Letterman was doing things any teen would find compelling, and only years later would I read that he was given a show specifically to target “young males.” The network suits may have been after the expendable income of my demographic, but Dave was simply relating to us. He did so by being hilariously immature, whether it was by throwing a flaming bag of flour off a 5-story building, smooshing hot dogs in a hydraulic press, or running items over with a steamroller. Dave would put on a Velcro suit and bounce off a trampoline, sticking himself to a Velcro wall. He’d yell out a window—using a bullhorn—at the Today show, which was taping live on the street below. It was incredible.

Dave was ahead of his time. Yes, that phrase is used too often when showering praise upon someone, but it’s true. Before YouTube existed as an outlet to become famous for doing something dumb, Dave had both Stupid Pet Tricks and Stupid Human Tricks. Did you have the ability to shoot milk out of your eye, or two dachshunds able to run their impossibly tiny legs off on a treadmill? Dave wanted you on the show.

(He also, and you didn’t have to watch closely to catch this, often enjoyed interacting with the people in these segments more than he did interviewing pampered millionaires offering their mediocre films.)

Dave was also the first entertainer to shatter my innocent naïveté regarding the way show business works.

(I shall explain.)

A few years deep into existence, Late Night with David Letterman aired what was to become one of the few bits to carry from NBC to CBS: Dave’s signature Top Ten List. What perked my ears upon hearing it’s announcement was not the Top Ten List itself, but the prelude sentence; “And now, from our home office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin…”

Not knowing any better, when Dave spoke those words, I believed him. I believed there was a staff of writers in a city I had once lived in, and that was still a mere 30 miles away. They were relatively close to me, creating hilarious lists weekly, and I wanted to meet them. New York might as well have been on the other side of the world. But Milwaukee? That was quick drive; you could go and return home within an afternoon.

It was a dream of mine to look up the Late Night Home Office and visit. Maybe take a tour, in the same way people tour Universal Studios or meander their way through a zoo.  I just wanted to go see where the magic happened.

Then, without warning, one day Dave spoke ominous words: “And now, from our home office in Omaha…”

I was shocked; what happened to Milwaukee? What caused the move? I had never made my way to the home office, and now it seemed I never would.

It was eventually explained to me Dave was simply being a goof, and that neither Milwaukee nor Omaha ever contained a home office. Picking a random Midwestern city and declaring it the base of operations was just part of Dave’s character. Something he would find amusing, even if no one else did.

Which was a huge part of his charm, the quirks.

Dave was a rare brand of performer, someone who didn’t pander, but instead did things he found amusing. His belief was that if you put honesty behind your art, people would be interested.

And they were.

For a while.

The problem with America—or maybe most people in the world—is that if given the option of being challenged, or catered to, the majority will choose “catered to.”

People don’t always appreciate unique, original, or even enlightening. America likes safe, vanilla, and easy-to-understand. When Leno took over The Tonight Show, there was a short period where Letterman bested him in the ratings, but simple soon overtook challenging, just like it always does. For most of the Letterman/Leno run, Leno won in the ratings. Letterman was John Coltrane, Leno Kenny G.

Which isn’t always a bad thing. Coltrane is a legend, Kenny G. a punchline; the same is true of Letterman vs. Leno. Letterman is widely respected. Leno, not so much.

As he aged and matured, Dave entered a new role: the elder statesman. He turned intelligently political, adding a gravitas to his interviews with those able to rise to the challenge. He could still goof around with a movie star, but throw a senator or newsman in the guest chair and Dave spoke from a depth of knowledge unparalleled by your average citizen.

After 9/11, every TV show host gave a return-to-air speech. I watched as many as possible, and none were as powerful as Dave’s. Though every speech was sincere, and many had emotion behind them, only Dave’s carried weight. True weight.

Without meaning to, he became Generation X’s Johnny Carson. The Frank Sinatra of the talk show world. Keith Olbermann compared him honorably to Babe Ruth.

Dave deserved all of those comparisons, but above and beyond, he was David Letterman. Unique, original, and at times enlightening.

Brett Favre appeared on The Late Show again many years later, in 2008. This time he was more relaxed, because he had an agenda. Brett was on his “Twin Middle Fingers to Ted Thompson” tour, playing to nothing but his ego and ignoring 16-years of dedication by Green Bay fans.

He was selling his “Aw, shucks, I’m just a country boy” persona the best he could, but I wasn’t buying it. I still looked at him as the philandering, nudity-texting, “Dig me” guy.

Dave will retire with more grace and power than Favre—or Leno—attempted to.

And I will miss him.

 

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