I don’t drink. For my health and other good reasons.

Bad news for all you non-teetotalers:

There's no amount of liquor, wine or beer that is safe for your overall health, according to a new analysis of 2016 global alcohol consumption and disease risk.

Alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths, according to the study, published in the journal The Lancet.

Those deaths include alcohol-related cancer and cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, intentional injury such as violence and self-harm, and traffic accidents and other unintentional injuries such as drowning and fires.

For someone who drinks on only the rarest of occasions, this was great news. Not that I wish ill will upon all my alcohol-drinking friends, but validation of your chosen lifestyle is always appreciated.

If only the same thing could be found to be true about vegetables.

Though it’s great to hear that avoiding alcohol might be good for my health, here’s another reason why I’m glad I almost never drink:

Last week I was the first responder to a serious vehicular accident. I was sitting in my car, waiting in line at a traffic light in front of a McDonald’s restaurant. In addition to several other cars waiting for the light, there was a large truck, and then a motorcycle, and then me, lined up in a row, waiting for the light to change.

The motorcycle was partially blocking the entrance to the McDonald’s parking lot.

A car traveling in the opposite direction turned left in order to enter the McDonald’s parking lot and apparently failed to see the motorcycle between the truck and me. As a result, the car plowed right into the motorcycle, throwing the rider - who wasn’t wearing a helmet - onto the pavement and under his bike.

It was not good.

The driver of the car veered right, nearly hitting my car before screeching to a halt, but she did not exit her vehicle. Being the one closest to the accident and the only real witness, I put my car into park and jumped out, running to the man. His head, face, and hands were bloody, and he was in an enormous amount of pain. His leg was probably broken, and there were likely other injuries as well.

It was a bad scene.

I managed to get him out from under his bike when an off-duty police officer who was inside the McDonald’s appeared and immediately took charge of the scene. I assisted for a bit, holding a tee shirt over the man’s head wound, but the paramedics and police were on the scene in just a couple minutes, moving me away and thanking me for my assistance.

I gave a brief statement to a police officer about the accident and then returned to me car, blood still on my hands and forearms.

It was a scary scene, capable of traumatizing anyone, but being a sufferer of PTSD, I knew that it was going to create problems for me for quite a while.

I could already feel it in my bones.

When I told my friend, Shep, about the accident the next day, the first thing he said was, “That’s not good for yourPTSD. Huh?”

It’s good to have friends who understand you so well.

Elysha and the kids were gone for the weekend, which meant that I would be home alone that night and the next, making things even more difficult.

After arriving home and showering off the man’s blood, I suddenly and surprisingly found myself wanting to drink. For the first time in well over a decade, I had the genuine urge to consume alcohol. Rather than dealing with what I had just witnessed and all that it had stirred up inside me, my sudden desire was to numb the pain with alcohol.

I think the prospect of being alone for the next 48 hours had a lot to do with it.

But as I said, I don’t drink. Except for the occasional champagne toast, I rarely consume alcohol anymore. So even though I suddenly found myself wanting to drink, the fact that I’m not really a drinker made this desire to drink surprising, odd, and inexplicable but not realistic.

It’s just not a thing I do.

My sudden desire to drink probably wasn’t very different than the person who has a tough day at work and goes home for a glass or two of wine. Or the person who receives some bad news and ends up at the bar, downing a few beers with friends. Or the person who attends happy hour on a Friday as a means of blowing off a little steam.

All perfectly normal.

My desire was to avoid confronting the issues that the accident has caused within me. I didn’t want to think about the man, his blood, his screams, and all the things from my past that the accident had unearthed. While my desire to drink made some sense, alcohol would’ve only delayed my processing of these issues.

So instead, I dealt with my issues in the way I have been taught. And yes, I suffered some nightmares. I also found myself locking doors in the middle of the day. I had difficulty moving from room to room in my house that night. The ringing of the phone startled the hell out of me.

I was more than on edge for a few days.

But I dealt with it. I processed it and moved on. I was able to push aside any desire to relax with a couple drinks (or more) because I don’t drink.

This isn’t an indictment on people who do drink. Most of my friends drink to some degree.

Most of my friends don’t also suffer from PTSD.

But I’ve also always been someone who has avoided potential problems like these whenever possible. I’ve never used an illegal drug in my entire life for the same reason. Though I had many, many opportunities to experiment with drugs throughout the years, I always said no, fully aware of the potential devastation that drugs can cause.

Many people began their drug addiction through the desire to simply experiment. I wasn’t ever going to run that risk.

While I’m not opposed to the legalization of marijuana and have no issue with anyone who wants to use it recreationally, I don’t see myself ever using it. Why run the risk of finding myself wanting or needing it at some point?

When my doctor proposed that I go on a cholesterol-lowering medication because my cholesterol was slightly elevated, I opted to change my diet instead. I ate oatmeal for lunch for an entire year and lowered my cholesterol by 50 points. I didn’t want to become dependent on a medication that was avoidable with a change in behavior and a hell of a lot of fiber.

So it’s good news that my avoidance of alcohol might turn out to be a very healthy choice, but for me, it’s always been more about the freedom from ever wanting or needing to drink.

I’ve never wanted to be the person who needs a glass of wine to relax. Or a few beers to have a good time.

Or something to numb the pain of trauma.

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New Jersey is different and dumb.

I’m a nonconformist. I am not opposed to doing something different if the difference comes from a place of logic, efficiency, or common sense.

I don’t wear neckties because they serve no purpose other than acting as floral nooses.

I refuse to respond to anyone who has checked the restroom door, determined it to be locked, but then knocks on the door anyway.

Stupidity of this level should never be rewarded.

But there are times when doing something different is simply stupid, and New Jersey has cornered the market on this in two particular areas:

STUPID THING #1: You can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey.

This ban is a holdover from a 1949 law that was passed because lawmakers were worried that Americans didn’t know how to handle gasoline safely. Given that 48 states now allow their citizens to handle the pumping on their own and do it well, this myth has been effectively debunked.

The ban also offers no economically discernible benefit. While the ban admittedly creates low wage jobs, it also increases the cost of gasoline in the state by several cents, which is money that businesses could theoretically use to hire employees.

Also, on a recent stay in New Jersey, I noticed an unintended consequence of this ban:

Many of the gas stations in New Jersey are simply that:

Gas stations with an occasional garage attached. In states like Connecticut, where drivers exit their vehicles to pump gas, the gas station has grown into a small, well-appointed, well-lit grocery store, complete with clean restrooms, hot food options, and oftentimes restaurant franchises like Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway.

I went out for milk in NJ one night and ended up at a Stop & Shop because none of the gas stations that I passed had a convenience store attached.

Those people pumping gas in New Jersey could easily be the workers in these convenience stores, and the people of New Jersey could be getting their milk and Snickers bars a hell of a lot easier.

STUPID THING #2: You can’t make a left turn in New Jersey.

If you want to make a left turn in New Jersey and you’re on a major roadway, you’re out of luck. To take a left, you need to turn right onto something called a jughandle, which is an exit off the roadway that brings you above or below the opposite lane.

Think highway exit ramp but for a two lane road that would never have an exit ramp anywhere but New Jersey.

These jughandles theoretically reduce accidents. Studies have shown that they move cars efficiently in heavy traffic and reduce accidents that lead to death or serious injury by as much as 26 percent.

The problem is that these jughandles force motorists to spend more time on the roads overall, thus increasing their chances of an accident and wiping out any safety benefit they might offer.

This is because you often need to drive half a mile down the road, turn around at a jughandle, and drive half a mile back in order to stop at the store you just passed on the opposite side of the road five minutes ago. Do this often enough, and the additional time spent on the roadways adds up quickly.

For a state that has already artificially jacked up it’s gas price, forcing drivers to travel additional miles is ridiculous, and all the additional driving can’t be good for the environment or the roads or cars.

Also, many of New Jersey’s jughandles are now deteriorating, and repairing them is expensive and time consuming, because they are everywhere.

They are like dandelions.

Like I said, I’m not opposed to doing something differently if it’s logical or sensible.

Actually, I’m not opposed to doing something differently even if the result is neutral. No gain. No loss.

Being different is a good thing. A beautiful thing.

But New Jersey is being different to the detriment of everyone driving on its roadways.

That’s dumb.

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Not every service dog is equal

I was standing in line at CVS. The person in front of me, placing items on the counter, was blind. She had a service dog at her side. As the woman’s items were being scanned, the dog stuck its muzzle into the Snickers bars, pulled one out, and in seconds had bitten the candy bar in half and had begun eating.

I was astounded.

The CVS employee who was ringing up her items saw all this and alerted the woman to the problem. She apologized profusely and pulled the candy bar from the dog’s mouth.

A manager appeared a moment later. Remaining on our side of the counter, she told the woman not to worry about the candy bar and began expediting the processing of her items. As she did, the dog’s muzzle disappeared into the Hersey bars and was eating one of those in seconds.

Again, I couldn’t believe it.

The manager noticed this and alerted the woman, and once again, she pulled the candy bar from the dog’s mouth, scolded the dog, and apologized profusely. As she did, the dog grabbed a bag of peanut M&M’s, ripping the bag open and scattering M&M’s across the carpeted floor.

More disbelief. More apologies. More cleanup.

By now the CVS employee had finished ringing up the woman’s items and the transaction was complete. She and the dog, accompanied by the manager, retreated to the area by the doors to the store with the partially eaten candy bars, where they seemed to be trying to determine how much chocolate the dog had actually consumed.

I’ve met very few service dogs in my time. I’m sure that not every service dog is equal. Some are certainly more effective and obedient than others.

There’s probably a bell curve of effectiveness for service dogs, as there are with most things.

But I think I may have seen the worst service dog on the planet that day. A dog that actually makes life more difficult for their visually impaired owner.

Witnessing greatness is always thrilling, but witnessing the absolute worst ever is pretty entertaining, too.

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Why people think women aren't as funny as men (maybe)

A while ago, I sat through a four hour meeting. 

18 women and me. Par for the course in elementary education.

An observation:

About halfway through the meeting, it occurred to me that I was the only person trying to be funny. I was the only one going for the laugh. The only one speaking off topic in order to make a joke. The only one making fun of himself.

It wasn’t that the women in the meeting were incapable of being funny. I know one woman is especially funny, and I’m sure others were as well. They were simply choosing not to be funny.

That got me thinking:

I'm often the only one in these female-dominated situations going for the laugh.

It’s important to note that I think women are just as funny as men. Michelle Wolf, Nikki Glasier, Amber Ruffin, and Elysha Dicks are four of my favorite funny people alive today, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that despite their ability to be funny, I don’t think women try to be as funny as men in many situations.

In situations like a meeting, they don’t go for the laugh nearly as often.

At least in my experience.

I have two theories to possibly explain this:

_______________________________

THEORY #1

So much research indicates that women find humor attractive in men, but the reverse is not always true. In an effort to get the attention of women and be perceived in a positive light, perhaps men have been conditioned to try to be funny over the course of their lifetime, regardless of the circumstance, and therefore the perception becomes that men are funnier than women because we simply go for the laugh more often. 

Men aren’t necessarily funnier than women. They just try to be funny more often than women, because there is a greater incentive for them.

Honestly, if I had the choice between being good looking or funny, I would choose funny in a heartbeat, and I suspect that many men would feel the same.

Would women make the same choice? I don’t know.

_______________________________

THEORY #2

Women are often fighting for respect in the workplace, and perhaps humor does not serve this purpose well. If I’m a woman in a meeting hoping to be taken seriously and have her ideas thoughtfully considered, perhaps humor isn’t the best way to approach things, so they lean towards professionalism rather than the laugh.

A man, however, often has to fight less for the same level of respect and therefore feels more confident that he will be taken seriously, therefore he can afford to dare to be funny and will more often go for the laugh.

_______________________________

I don’t know if either of these theories are correct, and perhaps there are many professional settings where women go for the laugh just as often as men, but in my experience, it’s simply not the case, despite my belief that women are capable of being at least as funny as men.

But I do know that there are plenty of people - mostly men - who claim that women aren’t as funny as men, and I think it’s nonsense. And perhaps it has more to do with how often women try to be funny as opposed to how funny they really can be.

Feline interference

I have the same exact struggle with my cat with one exception:

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I’m not just doing surgery when Plto sits across my forearms.

I’m writing.

A far more serious piece of business.

Speak Up Storytelling: Robin Gelfenbien

Episode #17 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is ready for your listening pleasure.

We start by talking about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." We talk about the Homework for Life submitted by a listener, and I offer up three Homework for Life moments from the week and discuss why one is better than another.

Next, we listen to Robin Gelfenbien's story about finding love with the help of Marie Kondo, then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of this fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about storytelling in everyday life and offer some recommendations.

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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Serena is beautiful. You are a terrible human being.

Comedian Amber Ruffin alerted me via Late Night with Seth Meyers that horrible human beings have recently been insulting Serena Williams for her physical appearance, specifically related to a black body suit that she wore at the French Open but also for her physicality in general.

In the words of Amber Ruffin, “When you’re skinny, people let you live, but when you’re a curvaceous black woman, people feel like it’s okay to tell you to cover up.”

If you think Ruffin is wrong, look at this. On the left is Serena Williams wearing her now banned outfit.

On the right, Anne White’s perfectly legal outfit at Wimbledon in 1985.

What’s the difference between these two outfits?

I know what’s different. Anne White is white, and her outfit is white. Serena is black, and her outfit is black.

That’s the only objective difference.

Or what about these outfits? Are these outfits, also worn my professionals on the tour, less revealing than Serena William’s outfit?

I’m so annoyed by this news that I’ve decided to violate my strict policy on never commenting on physical appearance to say that I think Serena Williams is an incredibly beautiful woman.

I’m also quite certain that anyone who insulted Serena Williams’s appearance is ugly (at least on the inside and possibly the outside) and stupid. Also probably jealous, possibly racist, and definitely awful.

We have a President who constantly insults women (and women of color, in particular), brags about sexually assaulting women, and silences porn stars through hush money. The last thing we need in this country is a bunch of morons insulting a world class athlete and genuine humanitarian because her physical appearance does not conform to their predefined definition of beauty.

To these monsters, I say this:

Shut up. Go do something productive. End this junior high nonsense. Stop contributing to a culture where women are objectified and there is only one definition of beauty. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What is so broken inside of me that causes me to insult the appearance a woman like Serena Williams? Am I filled with racial bias or just a horrible human being? Or both?”

Then go do something good and decent for the world. Something that doesn't involve insulting women for the way they look.

Names are interesting. And confusing.

I met a woman in Iowa who has five brothers and one sister. 

Her five brothers are named after Biblical characters whose names begin with J.

James, John, Jesse, Jude, and Joshua.

Her sister's name is Anne. It was their grandmother's name.

The woman who I met is named Amanda. When she was born, her parents hadn't chosen a name, so they asked a random woman in an adjacent hospital room what they had just named their new baby. The new mother said, "Amy," so Amanda's parents named her Amy, too.

But because they also thought that Amy sounded like a nickname and was not professional enough for a possible future CEO, they named her Amanda but called her Amy.

Because this all makes sense.  

When Amanda/Amy went to kindergarten, there was already an Amy in the class, so the teacher told her that she needed to be called Amanda at school.

I once had three Matthews in my class (not including me) and three Julias in my class, but apparently this teacher couldn’t keep two Amys straight.

So Amanda/Amy was Amy at home and Amanda at school, which led to people occasionally thinking Amy and Amanda were two different people.

Remember: Amanda/Amy's parents named their sons in a very specific Biblical/alphabetical way. And they named her sister after a deceased grandparent. But Amanda/Amy, who was third born, received a name based upon the name of another random baby who happened to be born around the same time. 

Then she got another name, too, because that first name wasn't good quite enough but also somehow good enough, too.

Parents name babies in the strangest ways sometimes.

My wife almost didn’t have a name. Her parents originally named her Jordan, but the doctor told them that Jordan was a boy’s name, so they abandoned their choice. Then they hemmed and hawed about a new name for so long that the hospital threatened to put “Girl” on the birth certificate.

They finally settled on Elysha, which was the name of my father-in-law’s secretary. Apparently they didn’t love the secretary but liked the name a lot. They wrote all the various spellings of Elysha on the back of an envelope and then chose one.

My wife’s name would be Jordan today if the doctor hadn’t opened his big mouth.

Elysha and I took were slightly more purposeful in the naming of our children.

Our daughter is named Clara Susan. Clara is the character in one of my wife’s favorite children’s books, The Van Gogh Cafe, and Susan was my mother’s name.

Our son is named Charles Wallace, which is also the name of the character from A Wrinkle in Time, a book that my wife and I love. We also love the poet Wallace Stevens, who lived and worked in Hartford, CT, so Wallace was an added bonus.

As for me? I was originally going to be named Bartholomew, but my mother claimed to have “saved me” from my father’s terrible choice by telling the nurses that I was Matthew before he even had a chance to meet me.

Choosing a name without your husband’s consent. Also a strange way to name a baby.

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Ocelots have a lot of sex. My daughter told me.

My daughter, Clara just told me that an ocelot mates up to 70 times each day.

My first thought: Sounds like a hell of a lot of fun to be an ocelot.

My second thought: Did my nine year-old daughter just tell me that the ocelot has sex up to 70 times a day?

My third thought: Does Clara even understand what mating (or sex) means?

My last thought: I really, really hope she doesn’t ask me to explain mating at 6:12 AM.

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Empathy vs. I believe in you

I’ve been accused of lacking empathy on more than one occasion.

This accusation takes many forms, but the most common one goes something like this:

I fail to recognize and acknowledge the struggles and limitations of others, as well as the advantages that I enjoy. As a result, I often expect more than is sometimes possible from others. Essentially, I believe that if I can do something, so can you. It’s merely a matter of effort, focus, and desire.

This, according to my accusers, is simply not always true and is the result of my lack of empathy.

Perhaps it’s true. I acknowledge that my viewpoint fails to take in a host of factors that might impact someone’s personal trajectory, many of which are beyond a person’s control:

Mental illness. Intellectual limitations. Physical disabilities. Aging parents. Family illness. Depression. Financial insecurity. Unavoidable, external forces.

All true.

But couldn’t this also be true:

I simply believe in people more than they believe in themselves. I fundamentally believe that almost every human being in the world - myself included - is capable of more than they are currently achieving and possesses the potential for greatness, just waiting to be realized.

Is my problem a lack of empathy or a belief in people beyond their own imaginations?

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A job is a job. Only a douchebag would think otherwise.

Did you hear about Fox News reporting on former Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens being spotted bagging groceries at a New Jersey Trader Joes?

The shopper who spotted the actor said that she was grocery shopping with her wife on Saturday evening when she recognized Owens and took some photos.

Then the news outlet decided to purchase those photos and make it a story.

This is awful, of course. Job shaming at its finest. Though Geoffrey Owens has continued to act and appeared in guest spots on TV shows such as "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "That's So Raven" and most recently starred in an episode of "Lucifer" in 2017, it''s certainly not news if he's choosing to bag groceries when the acting jobs aren't paying the bills.

Job shaming is nothing new, and I hate it. I’ve experienced a bit of it in my time.

When I was 16 years old, I started working at McDonald's, and by the age of 17, I was a manager in the restaurant. I continued to manage McDonald's restaurants throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut from 1987 when I finally graduated from college in 1999. 

It's how I put myself through college. 

Though I've worked many jobs before and since then, including as a elementary school teacher, a novelist, a magazine columnist, a public speaker, a wedding DJ, and the founder and creative director of Speak Up, no job has come close in terms of difficulty as managing a McDonald's restaurant. 

Motivating 60-80 people - high school students, stay-at-home moms, immigrants, retirees, parolees, non-English speakers, high school dropouts, and side hustlers - to work together for little more than minimum wage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Add to that managing labor and food costs, scheduling, customer relations, calculating P&L statements, equipment calibration and repair, vendor negotiations, training, advertising, board of health inspections, and being the best at every position in the restaurant - made this job incredibly demanding.

Both mentally and physically.

Yet when I left McDonald’s for teaching, people would say things to me like, “I don’t know how you did that mindless work for so long,” and “Thank God you escaped that hellhole.”

Hellhole?

McDonald’s taught me to manage my time effectively. Delegate responsibility. Prioritize. Communicate and collaborate with people from background entirely different than my own. I learned about responsibility. Integrity. Motivation. Hard work.

I learned to crack four eggs in two hands simultaneously. Clean and repair HVAC units. Swear in Spanish.

I believe that every Fortune 500 company - regardless of the nature of their business - would do well by identifying the most successful McDonald’s managers in the country and stealing them for their own companies. These are motivated, intelligent, and gritty people who would serve your organization well.

Once you can manage a fast food restaurant successfully and profitably, you can do anything.

Some of the finest people who I have ever known have been the McDonald’s managers who worked alongside me.

Yet I also know what people thought of me when I managed those restaurants. Some of the customers would say these terrible things right to my face.

Happily for Geoffrey Owens, his story has a slightly happy ending. In an interview, he explained that much of his financial struggle is the result of The Cosby Show being pulled from syndication because of the Bill Cosby’s sordid past coming to light.

But upon hearing about this incident, Tyler Perry spoke up, offering Owens a 10-episode deal on his own show, “The Haves and the Have Nots.”

Despite the opportunity, Owens also understands that he still may need to go back to Trader Joe’s at some point.

He explained that acting is calling. “I’m going to keep pursuing it,” he said. “I’m going to persevere. And even if that means, that eventually when all this hoopla dies down, I might need to take another job outside of the business. I’m still willing to do that.”

And no one should think there is anything wrong with that.

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I can smell mustard when other people cannot, and it's probably saved my life.

I'm allergic to mustard. When I eat mustard, my skin becomes inflamed, I get sick to my stomach, and enter the early stages of anaphylactic shock. 

I've been in anaphylactic shock thanks to my bee allergy before, so I'm a bit of an expert on the matter. 

Thankfully, I've never experienced anything close to anaphylactic shock due to mustard because I am so attuned to the presence of mustard that I've never eaten it in great quantities. 

A couple years ago, Elysha served me some barbecue chicken. I took one bite and instantly knew that there was mustard in the barbecue sauce. Though she could not taste the mustard at all, I knew instantaneously. When she check the label, she saw that, sure enough, it contained mustard.

Yesterday, at the Patriots tailgate, my buddy, Tony, opened the ziplock bag that the steak had been marinating it overnight. I was sitting about six feet away, but as soon as the bag was opened, I asked if the marinade had mustard in it. No one sitting around me, including Tony, could smell any mustard, but I could. 

Tony said no. There wasn't any mustard. In fact, I'd eaten that same marinade before. 

"Okay," I said. "The smell must be coming from somewhere else. But I definitely smell mustard."

Once again, no one smelled a thing. 

Then Tony's wife said, "Wait, we used a new barbecue sauce this time as a part of the marinade."

Sure enough, that barbecue sauce contains mustard. 

Our bodies are amazing machines. I'm able to smell mustard when no one else can, and it's probably saved my life on more than one occasion.  

My friend, Tom, doubted my mustard allergy years ago. It's admitted an odd one, but still, don't doubt a man when he says a food makes him ill. Then we were at lunch one day, and I was served a slider with mustard after I had asked them to hold the mustard. I took a large bite, sensed the mustard immediately, spit it out on my plate, and still had a reaction. 

I love "I told you so" moments, but not when they come at my expense.

Elysha recently purchased the first food item that I've ever seen that acknowledges mustard as a potential allergen and sent me a photo, knowing how much I would appreciate it. Having never met another person allergic to mustard, and knowing how often people are surprised and even disbelieving of my allergy, it was nice to see. 

Perhaps I'm not alone after all. 

Busy Town update gets my enthusiastic seal of approval

I never understood Richard Scarry's Busy Town. I didn't have a lot of children's books growing up, so I missed out on the series for the most part.

But I also made no effort to get my hands on the book for one specific reason:

Even as a kid, I always thought it was stupid when animals in books and movies just did things that regular human beings already did.

Books like the Arthur series were similar. 

I would think: You're going to let animals talk and do stuff, and the best you can do is send them to school every day like me? Give them homework? Make them eat dinner at a table with their parents? Why? 

I also thought as a kid that Richard Scarry's books were falsely advertised. A guy named Richard Scarry wrote these books, but there not a single scary thing in any of these books. What gives?

However, I recently ran across to updates to Richard Scarry's Busy Town online, and these I can support. I love both, but I really love second one best. 

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We don't need another ice cream flavor. Especially mayonnaise-flavored ice cream.

Simplicity. I prize it above almost all other things.

Live an uncomplicated life, and you'll have more time for the important things. For this reason, I try to limit my choices whenever possible so that my time and energy can be devoted to other, more important matters.

I wear the same thing onstage whenever I perform.

I wear the same pair of sneakers every single day.

I eat the same breakfast and almost the same lunch every day. 

I shop in the same grocery store every time. 

The same holds true for ice cream. I've identified six kinds of ice cream that I like a lot:

Chocolate. Strawberry. Cookie dough. Mint chocolate chip. Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra Core and Strawberry Cheesecake. 

I'm sure there are other delicious flavors in the world (and I've even tasted some of them), but these six are delicious. Why risk ruining a visit to the ice cream shop by trying a less-than-ideal flavor?

I made this mistake this summer, deciding to give a shop's fat free, sugar free option a try. I tasted a tiny spoonful and was surprised to discover how good it was, so I ordered a whole scoop on a cone. 

Turns out it was only good in tiny amounts. I lamented my decision for the entire visit.

Which brings me to the latest flavor of ice cream to come out of a Scottish ice cream shop:

Mayonnaise-flavored ice cream

Yes, it's true that alongside Ranch dressing and pickles, mayonnaise is my least favorite substance on earth.

And yes, it's true that just about everyone on the planet agrees that this is a vile and disgusting decision on the part of the ice cream shop.  

But even if all of that wasn't true, did we really need another flavor?

A couple summers ago, Elysha took me to a Momofuku, a shop that sells ice cream that tastes like the milk at the bottom of a sugary cereal bowl. 

I hated it. 

As a kid, I loved slurping up the last bit of sugary milk from the bottom of the bowl, but cereal milk atop an ice cream cone?

No thank you. Too damn sweet and not how and where I want my cereal milk to reside. 

Someone recently told me about bacon-flavored ice cream, assuring me that it's delicious. "You'd love it!"

Maybe I would. I love bacon, so maybe bacon-flavored ice cream is delicious, but I don't need bacon-flavored ice cream in my life. I don't need it to exist. We don't need it to exist. Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors. Ben & Jerry's has more than 60 flavors. Carvel has two dozen. Blue Bell has 66 flavors. 

If the ice cream industry has resorted to bacon and mayonnaise, two products normally found on a BLT, something is wrong. We've reached the limit of our ice cream flavors. We've reached peak flavor. 

We have enough choices already.

Yes, it's true that on occasion, I will try a sample of a new flavor, and on a very rare occasion, I will order that flavor, but it's almost always a mistake. It's hard to beat chocolate or strawberry or cookie dough. Mint chocolate chip always kicks ass. If I love these flavors, why dabble with uncertainty. Why add unnecessary choice to my life? Why risk ice cream disappointment?  

My son, Charlie, almost always orders vanilla when we go for ice cream, which has been a lot this summer with our family's ice cream adventures. With every possible flavor available to him, he chooses vanilla because he likes it. Every time. 

He gets it. Simplicity. Vanilla is a solid flavor. Hard to beat. 

And infinitely better than mayonnaise-flavored ice cream. 

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The people in Louisiana don't suck

This week, Louisiana became the 16th state to file an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to rule that it is legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Louisiana joins Nebraska, Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming, Kentucky, Maine, and Mississippi in seeking to make it legal to fire gay people.

Seeing this list, my initial thought:

Those states suck.

The majority of people in those states suck.

What a bunch of amoral bastards.  

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Then I read this:

An recent LSU poll found 76 percent of Louisianan residents think gay, lesbian and bisexual people should have protections from workplace discrimination.

It was a good reminder that the people in power do not necessarily reflect the will of the people.

After all, we have a President who didn't receive the majority of votes and has a approval rating of 38%. 

Yet I'm certain that there are many people in other nations who look at Trump and think, "Americans voted for that ignorant, racist, sexist hobgoblin? They suck."

And with 62 million Americans voting for him, they wouldn't be completely wrong.  

Wife: Emoji Master

I don't use emojis.

It began as a purposeful rejection of them, thinking they were a silly fad, but now it's become one of those ridiculous stands that has been going on for so long that I can't stop now.

Honestly, I also don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. 

But I must say:

Sometimes I think my wife's use of emojis is brilliant. Like this one:

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Seinfeld gets it

Jerry Seinfeld explains with perfect clarity why I'm constantly standing on stages, telling stories, delivering talks, and performing standup. 

I wouldn't go so far as to call the writing and publishing of books the "definition of hell," but he's correct about the lack of immediate, specific feedback from your readers. 

When I stand on a stage and perform, I know how I did immediately, in real time, and that is a beautiful thing. 

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Shortcomings and Flaws: 2018

Years ago a reader accused me of being materialistic after I wrote about my lack of a favorite number, specifically criticizing me for saying that when it comes to my salary, my favorite number is the largest number possible.

After properly refuting the charges of materialism, I acknowledged that I had plenty of other shortcomings and offered to list them in order to appease my angry reader. Then I did. Then I added to the list when friends suggested that I had forgotten a few.

Nice friends. Huh?

So began an annual tradition of posting my list of shortcomings and flaws, starting first in 2011 (the list only had 10 items that year), and continuing in 20122013201420152016, and 2017

I'm happy to report that although the list remains relatively long (34 items this year), I'm removing two items from the list under the advice of my wife. 

ITEM #1: When it comes to argument and debate, I often lack restraint. I will use everything in my arsenal in order to win, even if this means hurting the other person’s feelings in the process. 

Elysha says that I consider other people's feelings much more often when debating now and actively try not to hurt their feelings even when they are ridiculously wrong.

ITEM #2: I am easily annoyed by the earnestness of adults.

Elysha says that I am much more patient with people these days. 

I agree in both instances. 

Also, for the first time ever, no new items have been added to the list. I may finally be evolving into a better human being.  

If you would like to propose an addition to the list, please let me know, and it will be considered.

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Matthew Dicks’s List of Shortcomings and Flaws

1. I have a limited, albeit expanding palate (though I'd like to stress that my limited palate is not by choice).

2. I am a below average golfer (but making a concerted effort to improve this year).

3. It is hard for me to empathize with adults with difficulties that I do not understand and/or are suffering with difficulties that I would have avoided entirely.

4. I have difficulty putting myself in another person’s shoes. Rather than attempting understand the person, I envision myself within their context and point out what I would've done instead.

(I considered removing this item  from the list, but Elysha Dicks said, "Absolutely not.")

5. I do many things for the sake of spite.

6. I have an unreasonable fear of needles (though my PTSD definitely plays a role in this).

7. I become angry and petulant when told what to wear.

8. Bees kill me dead.

9. I become sullen and inconsolable when the New England Patriots lose a football game.

10. I lack adequate empathy for adults who are not resourceful or are easily overwhelmed.

11. I can form strong opinions about things that I possess a limited knowledge of and are inconsequential to me.

(Elysha points out that I do this because I find it entertaining, which is true.)

12. I am unable to make the simplest of household or automobile repairs.

13. I would rarely change the sheets on my bed if not for my wife.

14. I eat ice cream too quickly.

15. I procrastinate when it comes to tasks that require the use of the telephone.

16. I am uncomfortable and ineffective at haggling for a better price.

17. I am exceptionally hard on myself when I fail to reach a goal or meet a deadline.

(Elysha feels that this is only getting worse in this regard.)

18. I take little pleasure in walking.

(It remains on the list but there has been noticeable improvement.)

19. Sharing food in restaurants annoys me.

20. I drink too much Diet Coke.

(It remains on the list but there has been noticeable improvement.) 

21. My hatred for meetings of almost any kind causes me to be unproductive, inattentive, and obstructionist at times.

22. Disorganization and clutter negatively impacts my mood, particularly when I cannot control the clutter myself

(Elysha aggressively agreed with this one.)

23. I am overly critical of my fellow storytellers, applying my own rules and standards to their performances.

24. I think less of people who nap.

(Though I've come to accept and even embrace the 10-15 minute power nap in the middle of the work day, I still think that anyone who is napping on a Sunday afternoon for three hours or comes home from work and naps until dinner is at best a disappointment.)

25. I lack patience when it comes to assisting people with technology.

26. I don't spend enough time with my best friend.

27. I have a difficult time respecting someone's accomplishments if they benefited from economic privilege in their life.

28. I believe that there are right and wrong ways of parenting. 

29. I love saying, "I told you so" so freaking much.

30. I wear my wireless headphones way too much.

31. I consistently screw up my wife's laundry regardless of how careful I think I am, 

(I ruined something this week.)  

32. My blog entries contain far too many typos, despite my loathing of typos.

 (It remains on the list but there has been noticeable improvement.) 

33. I leave my credit card at restaurants far too often.

34. I don't ride my bicycle - alone and with my kids - nearly enough.