How to Eat Breakfast

One summer ago, we had our roof re-shingled. Some people call it having a new roof installed. I think that’s a strange saying, because I envision a crew removing the rafters, the physical framework of the upper part of my house. But in this case, they simply mean that the shingles and the underlying protective layer are being replaced. Here in Texas we have extremes in weather, intense sun and heat, high winds, and hail. These elements really do a number on asphalt shingles. We hired a small crew to install the new roof, and they arrived every morning for four days, shortly before sun-up. As soon as there was a hint of daylight, several men, and one woman, were on our roof, stomping around, dragging cases of shingles and tools across its surface. There was no way to sleep through this.

I was never what you would call a “morning person.” I typically spend late nights working on little projects, writing, sometimes playing video games. Occasionally I stay up late with work. But I’ve always found something to keep from going to bed at a decent hour. But then here came these roofers, plodding riotously just above my head. Since there is a logical flow of events beginning with the emergence of daylight and culminating with the clamor of office work – phones ringing, chatter, and the tell-tale nervous laughter of hyperextended workaholics – once awake, I needed to get up. That time in between, this morning Thoreau spoke of, is meant to be relished, accepted with joy and dare I say, exhilaration, because morning is truly inspiring. Just ask all those dead poets and philosophers. Yeah, I thought so.

Inasmuch as I am a night owl, mornings do hold a certain mystique that I am still learning to appreciate. Things happen in the morning that you cannot reenact. One of these is breakfast. Breakfast, from the late Middle English for break and fast, in other words, a meal following a brief fasting period, albeit only 10 hours or so, is truly intended for mornings. I’ve had breakfast foods – omelette, waffles, etc. – at various times of the day and night. Yes, night. Something about IHOP at 11:30 pm is just kind of cool, or dorky.

My wife and I, therefore, were compelled to have breakfast together each morning. And even though this clamor of rooftop ballet lasted only a few days, we have continued to make and eat breakfast together every morning ever since. Breakfast in the US usually consists of eggs and bacon or ham. Some prefer pancakes. Our regimen includes oatmeal with fruit, coffee, and grapefruit juice. I prefer steel cut oats, but they take 30 minutes to cook. We sit at the kitchen table and actually talk about things – the expectations of the impending day, weird dreams we might have had, stuff we want to share – and we eat said breakfast.

I used to say that I didn’t have time for this, even though the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been drilled into my consciousness for decades. Whether or not this is true, the ritual of sharing a morning meal has enriched my life. We carry it into the weekend, where additions are afforded, like sausages and eggs. on rare occasions, waffles. Each morning, preparations are made, and time is carved out for the spectacle. We talk about what’s going on with us, what plans we’ve made for the day. We compare schedules and talk about upcoming events. Quickly then, we clean up, and I get ready to leave. But I’m not in a hurry because I’ve carved out this time. It’s our time, not theirs. And that’s the beauty of breakfast.

I know very few people who have this luxury. But I see it as a necessity. Not the food, but the time spent relaxing and enjoying it; the ritual, the act of breaking bread. My perspective has in turn made it less of a luxury and more of a right, a privilege. I feel entitled to having a meal. I mean, food is a human necessity. Why do we feel we have to defend ourselves for making time to eat? I see my coworkers actually skipping lunch because of work. They say they have no time to take a lunch break. Not only is this absurd, but it is actually in violation of OSHA standards. There’s that precious time, that elusive time, the subject of many poems and songs. Why do we deny ourselves what is our fundamental right?

I still don’t think of myself fully as a morning person. Caffeine is a main source of my morning energy. But I have become somewhat of a creature of the morning now. The night still calls me, but lately I’ve found I actually look forward to sleep, and the following morning with that reward of coffee and and English muffin. Suddenly, the night has less appeal. It’s strange to see such a change in oneself. But these things happen. And I don’t lament saying goodnight to my old ways.

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Deoxyribonucleic Acid and You

The great thing about me, about you, and all of us, is that we are made up of the combined heredity of a myriad of people; but moreso, we are made up of two – our moms and dads. Every one of us is a not-so-symmetrical blend of our parents’ DNA. You can see it when you meet the child of someone you have known for years, or for that matter, meeting that friend’s parents, and you will either say that one closely resembles the other, or that they are very different. People have been telling me my whole life – bringing me much distress during my teenage years – that I look very much like my dad. I continued rebuking everyone who pointed out the similarities until I saw it for myself in the mirror one day. It was some facial expression or mannerism, or a combination of many things, but there he was, my dad, looking right back at me. It comes and goes, but deep down I’ve always known.

So it was settled: I had become my father. Naturally, I take after my mom, too. I have her sense of humor and her tastes for music, art, and politics. I share my dad’s love for sardines. Go figure. My brother also has a curious blend of our parents. He got the good hair and the lean, muscular build. I got the brains. Seems fair. It’s all a roll of the dice, unless you subscribe to the principles of eugenics, where children can be customized and engineered, a model for humanity based not on natural selection, but on individual preference. This is a frightening prospect, leaving nothing to chance, manufacturing human beings for a potentially nefarious purpose. This might inspire someone to create a “master race” of superhumans. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth just thinking about it.

Fortunately, or not, depending on your perspective, we must leave it up to fate. From my perspective, being childless, I don’t have to imagine how it could go wrong. I would like to have seen what kind of child my wife and I could have had together. I’m sure it frightens young couples to think about the possibility of seeing manifest the worst aspects of their respective families – perhaps some alcoholism or drug addiction, or mental illness, or a tendency toward violence. Some things may be difficult to avoid. It is believed that personality and inclination are developed through experience. My cousin who has identical twins might disagree. But much of who we are was not packaged with us at birth. For instance, I am much more skeptical now than when I was younger. And I appreciate flavors I used to find disgusting as a child (wasabi, for instance).

When you look through old photos, you can see resemblances. You will see it more and more as time goes on, because in the 21st century, everyone has been photographed at least once in their lifetime. My great-grandparents might not have even owned a camera. A hundred years ago, having a portrait made was a big expense, and not everyone could afford it. If you have pictures of certain family members when they were young, consider those priceless. Nowadays, everyone has a camera in their pocket, and those pictures proliferate the internet. Therefore, as we get older, more photos will be available with better quality, and future generations will be able to see likenesses with greater resolution and clarity than ever before.

We are not carbon copies of either of our parents, but instead a unique blend of them both. Actually, it does go far beyond our parents. I have my paternal grandfather’s nose, and my brother has our maternal great-grandfather’s build. That photo album will reveal more as you go further back in time. But there are more segments of our past beyond the outward appearance. You might have your grandmother’s laugh, or you might have your dad’s sense of humor.

For some reason, I have to say, I have a good ear for music. I am a singer, and I play several instruments. A few people in my dad’s side of the family are musically inclined. It’s really a small percentage. I could say it runs in my family, but there’s no hard evidence to prove it. On the other hand, I’ve met artistic couples whose children show no interest or talent in the arts. I’m grateful for my talents, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But I do wish I were more naturally organized. What little focus I have, I have had to work to achieve it. Being organized definitely does not come naturally to me, even if it is featured among some in my family.

There are a lot of traits we can credit one or both parents for. Most of my features I get from my dad – everything from hair follicles to body shape to culinary inventiveness. Sometimes it seems I am a carbon copy of him. That’s not so bad. He and I are not likely to agree on politics, and he is probably disappointed that I couldn’t give him grandchildren (I think he’s moved on to my brother). But I suspect he also stays up late on his computer, perhaps rambling about some idea that was keeping him awake. It wouldn’t surprise me. After all, I really am my father.

Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride

I have a mild cold at the moment. I’m drinking lots of water, and I’ve had loads of vitamin C through various means. Also, I’m taking some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. The noticeable absence is some real Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine HCI). For a number of years sale this highly effective decongestant has been restricted to an extent that it has become a pain in the ass, officially.

As a substitute, Johnson & Johnson has been distributing something called Sudafed PE, which is not as potent as the other stuff. Pseudoephedrine HCI has been restricted because it can be used to make powerful illegal drugs. Consequently, it has become easier to obtain a gun.

It occurs to me that people in this country are untrusting of their government to the point that there are nearly as many firearms as there are people in the USA. I have several friends and acquaintances who are convinced Obama truly wants to take away their guns. It’s strange. Now, I defend a person’s right to own a gun. It’s kind of part of our heritage. But shouldn’t gun ownership come with some responsibility? Some accountability?

I can buy some Sudafed tonight if I need to. It will take me about 30 minutes. I have to sign something and show my driver’s license. I think it’s about the same process to buy a gun. In fact, I know it’s easier to buy ammunition. What am I going to do with one box of Sudafed? Now if I went from Walgreens to CVS, across town, buying up all the Sudafed, I would expect my name to pop up on some kind of watch list with the DEA. But buying up all the ammo probably won’t set off any alarms. I mean, the San Bernardino shooters sure didn’t raise any red flags.

I have to make this short, because it’s time for me to reload – er, I mean, take another dose.

As always, stay safe.

You’re Called What, Now?

Most humans have a name. We give animals names. My cats respond to their names, of course thinking I might offer them treats. Some people go by a single name, like Madonna or Beyoncé. Brazilian footballers sometimes take a single nickname, like Pelé or Ronaldinho. And it is customary in parts of Indonesia for people to be mononymous. In some countries, people are known by multiple names, like Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, a retired basketball player from Republic of Congo.

When we are born, usually before, sometimes much later, our parents or someone in the family or someone in the community will give us a name. You and I usually have no choice in what people will call us for the rest of our lives. It will take a court order for you to legally change it. Customarily in the States, married women will take the last name (family name) of their husband. Contrary to public conception, this is not a requirement. Some couples hyphenate the last name of their partner, like Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting (star of “The Big Bang Theory” and wife of professional tennis player Ryan Sweeting.)

Many people legally change their name. It happens every day. Often it is for personal reasons, but mostly there is a professional reason. People in the entertainment industry will change their name to make themselves more appealing to their audience, it is thought. Judy Garland was born Frances Gumm. There are too many actors and musicians for a comprehensive list, but here are a few:

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – Lady Gaga

Marion Morrison – John Wayne

Onika Tanya Maraj – Nicki Minaj

Terry Gene Bollea – Hulk Hogan

Greta Lovisa Gustafsson – Greta Garbo

And of course we can’t forget Norma Jeane Mortenson (Marilyn Monroe).

Actually, my initial inspiration for this post was to complain about the names people choose for their children. As with some of my thoughts, this one took on a life of its own. But I want to say that after sleeping on it, I had a slightly different perspective on it. You see, like the people in the list above, some of us are not completely satisfied with the name our parents picked out for us. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of market oversaturation. Certain names tend to become very prominent every generation. About ten years ago, Stephenie Meyer released the first book in the Twilight series, and shortly afterward, many children named Bella and Edward were born. That’s not a new trend. Mary held the number 1 spot for decades on the list of most popular names for girls since the 1880 US Census. The name Judy doesn’t appear until the 1930’s where it made it to 112th. In the 1940’s it ascended to 15th. Mary would be the top girls name until the 1960’s, but still came in second by then.

I go by the name Plastic Jones because of two reasons: 1. I like the name Plastic Jones, and 2. there is a professional mixed martial arts fighter with my name, so, yeah.

I haven’t legally changed my name at this point. Maybe I will eventually if I go global. Maybe I’ll be mononymous and just simply be known as Plastic. Actually I have several names. My nieces have a special name for me, by mom calls me by a name she picked up from a movie. I post on Disqus under another name. I try to keep them all separate. I only have one face, and people recognize it. But in the Arab world, you could be known by a kunya, a nom de guerre, often derived from one’s children’s names. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is also known as Abu Mazen. It’s something we in the west don’t see. I mean, what if Teddy Roosevelt was also called Everett Dalrymple? Actually, that’s not the same thing, but you get the idea.

I think people should be able to be called by any name they are comfortable with. If you want to be known to the world as Buckethead, knock yourself out. (Actually, someone’s already got that name, and he probably won’t appreciate you taking it). If you want to spell your name Oscar but pronounce it “Oo-skeer” or “Floop”, go for it. Just try to be cool when every person mispronounces it. Of course, if they pronounce your name the “right” way in the South Sandwich Islands, please have pity on us.

Not My Type

I’m not a typical guy. I’m “straight”, and I’m married to a woman. And that’s where the stereotypes begin. Growing up male has its own peculiar baggage, where fathers hope to instill their sons with a desire to hunt, fish, and/or play team sports. The stereotypical American dad will wear his son’s team colors to games, or he might even coach his son’s little league team or drive the equipment truck. Some dads absolutely insist that their sons grow up to be carbon copies, where they can vicariously live out their fantasies of becoming the star quarterback, because they never lived up to their own potential, if they had any to begin with. Well, I’m being kind of cruel. But jocks…okay, now I’m stereotyping.

This brings me to, well, me. As much as my dad probably wanted me to be athletic and love it as well. I fell in love with music, and I joined the marching band. And I flourished there. I loved it so much, I advanced to the first-chair position in the trombone section by my 10th-grade year. This was where I knew I belonged. My dad…adjusted. I was aware that he had wished his sons would excel in sports. My brother would at least go to the little league baseball city championship. By my dad came to football games, not to see the game, but to see and hear the band play on the field. He was proud of me.

Later I would learn to sew and cook – quite well, if I might say. By the way, I’m not talking about making throw pillows, here. I’ve made jackets, dresses (for my wife), shirts, vests, coats, and more. I actually get excited going to fabric outlets, and I bought a costume design book recently that I’m really enjoying.

And I’m currently in a baking phase. I’ve been making homemade “artisan” bread for a while now. We don’t even buy bread at the supermarket anymore. And I experiment with sauces, soups, and vinaigrettes. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t think if I can make something, rather how to make it unique. I’ve developed some signature dishes that people actually ask for. And I love to cook. You can’t keep me out of the kitchen. Thanksgiving is my favorite  holiday for this reason.

I was having lunch with co-workers, my boss. We passed a Jo-Ann fabrics store – the one I frequent – and my boss made a smart-ass comment, at which the other co-worker laughed loudly and added further smart-assedness. I said nothing. I think my boss knows I sew. But I didn’t want to start that conversation. And I hope he doesn’t know I make dresses and skirts for my wife. But this is a public blog, and I make no secret of who I am.

We don’t live in a perfect world, but in that hypothetical perfect world, people would be accepting of others’ differences. Not tolerance, but true acceptance and understanding. I wish I could tell my family about my views of God and faith. I wish I could be open with my friends and family about how I feel about Prop 8. I wish that all my friends could be in the same room together without coming to blows. (Actually, I would wager that some of the people in the room would simply walk out at the first sign of bigotry and name-calling from some of the others. Actually, why am I friends with those assholes?)

I’m happy that I live in a place where I am free to be who I am. Just recently, in Sudan, a Christian woman was sentenced to be hanged for marrying a Christian man. Fortunately, she was exonerated, or at least her execution was delayed. But you can safely say that religious freedom is almost, but not quite, guaranteed in the US. Be that as it may, many Americans are anti-Muslim. But, okay, not as much as the Arab world is anti-Christian. A stereotype, of course. Actually, there are many Christian Arabs, and there are many Christians living in Palestine. We adhere to some of the preconceptions we were taught when we were young, and it’s hard to shed them, falling back on the things we believe to be true, like that Saint Nicholas was the basis for Santa Claus (no), or that George Washington could not tell a lie (not likely). We’re practically pre-programmed to believe what we’re told or what we read. I see Facebook posts every so often promulgating obvious falsehoods and myths. Much of the time, the truth – or at least the facts – can be quickly ascertained.

When we look at a person, do we not judge them on appearances? Don’t we also want to be accepted and loved? Does no one see this incongruity?

I’m sure we all know what is right. But we still judge. We still assume we know what type of person the other is. We see a tall woman, and we assume she played high school basketball or volleyball. Maybe she was the drum major or leader of the chess club. Maybe the nerdy kid is actually a brilliant strategist. Maybe the strong silent type is really listening and can be your best friend.

I am of a type. Je suis un type.

 

The Stars of Night

Okay, then. There’s the big bang, and scientists have seemingly discovered gravitational waves from mere seconds after the event that created our known universe – perhaps multiple universes. And still no one quite knows how it all started, but we are still clinging to the idea that God spoke it all into existence in six days. This, I don’t buy. But, I do believe in what many describe as God. You see, from our little perch here on earth, about five hundred years ago, we were quite certain that we understood the universe and everything in it. We could explain many things; where babies came from, how clouds are formed, what happens after you die. And we were completely wrong. We also believed the stars and planets and moon all revolved around us – the sun, too – on celestial crystal spheres. By the way, mars needed to be attached with a sort-of hinge to account for its “retrograde” orbit.

We now know that there are billions of stars and potentially millions of populated worlds in our galaxy alone. Every day, stars are being born or dying across the galaxy. Planets are incinerated by their suns going nova. Whole civilizations are wiped out, having been erased from existence. We will never know about a vast majority of the life in the universe. But new worlds are being born right now, and this we have all learned from the surface of our little blue planet.

Standing in my backyard, I looked up at the stars and wondered how in the fuck God could give a rats ass about me when all this other shit is happening. And I thought about how I was raised Roman Catholic, and the sisters who taught us how to be good little Catholic boys and girls and not be blasphemers and heretics. But we grew up, and even though the Christian church as a whole has many, many followers who believe in varying degrees in the teachings of their faiths, there are many, like myself, who question their role in the universe, the nature of God, and whether we have souls and what happens after we die. We ask questions, like, “why do evil people profit from their deeds?” and, “why does God allow the righteous to be persecuted?”

I am sick and tired of the petty arguments about creationism vs. evolution, or whether there really was an ark and a flood. Fundamentalism in any form is a dangerous thing. Look at the Islamic Republic of Iran as an example of how bad things can be when religious fundamentalists control government and the people. When someone tells me they know what God’s plan for them is, I question whether there is a God, because God is incomprehensible, and it is an unimaginably terrific thing to behold, I’m told. God is not a he or she or an elephant or a cow. I see it more like the “Force” from Star Wars. People may ridicule the concept, but I believe God is all around us, in our bones, in the wind, in the earth. Perhaps this planet and all the other planets and stars are part of some giant clockwork universe, and the Great Consciousness has given it a push to put it all in motion. A stray lightning bolt or the birth of a child are not events out of some individual plan, but instead are part of the grand program, along with hurricanes and flu outbreaks. This would explain why the villagers praying for famine relief might still die of hunger, and God didn’t punish them for their lack of faith, just like God did not reward Wall Street executives for being particularly devout. It’s just part of the plan.

Now, one might think I would stop praying and simply throw up my hands, crying, “predestiny has me by the balls. What can I do?!’ But I will still pray. I pray out of gratitude, and I pray for people to be healthy and happy, and for myself, because people are selfish. (What are you gonna do?) Even though I believe God could not be bothered by my little world, I think the positive energy of my thoughts can produce results. Will my prayers for winning Powerball really make any difference? It couldn’t hurt.

When you look into the sky and see more stars than you can count, think about their beauty and how they are so distant that they might actually be afterimages of extinct suns. But imagine also that the people on some of planet still worship their sun, and that they may find a way to expand their thinking so that they wish us well, even if they aren’t sure we exist, because someday in the future, we will all be history, just as a new world is being born.