Bill Murray was wrong. Groundhog Day is AMAZING.

I had a Groundhog-like Day dream last night. The same day repeated again and again.

It was a more precarious and intense day than Bill Murray's character experiences in the classic film, but the premise was otherwise the same:

The same day, in the same town, again and again. No matter what happened during that day, I started the day over every morning in the same place, in the same condition as when I started. 

Here is what I learned:

Bill Murray's character was crazy to want to escape this day. An eternal, consequence-free existence of endless possibilities was amazing.

Perhaps after a century or two, the novelty of this existence would begin to wear off, but a solid 100-200 years, the endless possibilities and consequence-free lifestyle is something I would take in a heartbeat.

Universe?     

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Why I say unpopular things

I recently caused a bit of an uproar by admitting that I have never seen The Sound of Music because it looks incredibly boring. 

When I wrote these words on my blog (and transitioned them over to Facebook), I knew that I would be met with backlash. I had already admitted this out loud and been scolded for my obvious stupidity. 

Several passionate fans of this musical wondered why I would say such a thing. Why would I waste my time writing about how a film that I had never seen before looked boring, particularly when I know how almost universally beloved it is?  

Here is how I responded:

I've always found that I reach more people when I share my least popular thoughts, my most embarrassing moments, my worst decisions, and my greatest moments of stupidity or thoughtlessness. These are the stories, thoughts, and ideas that generate the most energy, empathy, passion, interest, and conversation. In many cases, my stories of questionable decisions and unpopular ideas have been the things that bring people closer to me. 

This may seem counter-intuitive. I know. I declare that a person's favorite film looks boring. How does that bring us closer together?

Through the passionate exchange of ideas. Through honesty and authenticity. Through vulnerability. You may not agree with my opinion or a decision I make, but you'll always know who I am and where I stand. You'll know my unvarnished self, and in today's world of carefully curated photography, social media massaging, personal branding, and political correctness, I think that the unvarnished self is refreshing.  

We're all broken and flawed and foolish in some way, and those who are willing to admit to these unfortunate bits of ourselves often garner greater respect for doing so. I believe this. I see it everyday.   

A friend of mine once said that "I live out loud." It was a good description. Truthfully, it's how I've always been. For as long as I can remember, I've always spoken my mind. Shared my stories. Tried to be my authentic self. Authenticity has always been something that I prized about all else. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with my desire to be known. Be heard. Be understood.

Admittedly, it's gotten me into trouble at times. I've shared honest moments from my life that have caused people to react strongly. I've been asked questions and felt the need to answer honestly. I may not share my unpopular opinion in certain social settings, but if asked, I feel compelled to do so.

Friends of ours don't allow shoes to be worn in their home. They ask guests to remove them upon entering the house, and they are kind enough to offer slippers to their guests. I hate this rule but said nothing about it for years. It was an opinion that needn't be shared. Then one day, the wife asked, "You don't mind taking off your shoes. Right, Matt?" 

I had to answer honestly, and so I did.

The wife wasn't thrilled.

Then the husband, who knows me well, said, "Never ask Matt a question if you might not like the answer. He's nothing if not honest."

My friend was right, and he is fine with this. Undisturbed by my opinion on his shoe policy and accepting of my adherence to authenticity. He knows where I stand. He's never going to receive fakery from me. 

Ask me a question, and I'll answer honestly.  

As annoyed as some people were with my presumption that The Sound of Music looks boring, the expression of that opinion resulted in a fascinating, interesting, engaging, and energetic discussion, both online and in real life. We discussed this particular musical but also how we filter our media choices in a world inundated by content. People were vehement and forceful with their opinions, but in the end, I don't think anyone liked me any less for expressing this opinion. 

In fact, I would argue that I became a tiny bit closer to those who disagreed with me the most. Our thoughtful exchange of ideas may have not resulted in agreement, but even better, it generated greater understanding and respect. 

I also learned a lot. A friend of mine who I would never have expected to enjoy The Sound of Music told me that he has watched it at least ten times and offered this perspective on the movie and the song Edelweiss, which appears in the film:

"Edelweiss is a flower that only grows at high elevations in the Alps. In WWI, Austrian soldiers wore it only if they were able to climb by foot to pick it. It symbolized grit, strength, and patriotism. They’d pin the flower to their uniforms. My great grandfather served in the mountain battalion for the Austrian-Hungarian empire in WWI. 

In WWII many Austrians fled Nazi Germany by climbing the Alps to Switzerland. Edelweiss became a symbol of freedom. They knew if they climbed high enough, they’d find the flower and peace. That’s what the song is about. My grandfather moved to the United States in the 30’s to escape the war and then served as a POW interrogator for the US because his first language was German. He cried every time he heard the song. It means a lot to Austrians."

Now that makes me want to see the film and listen closely to the song. I still may not enjoy either, but the historical background intrigues me, and the story of my friend's grandfather lodged itself in the center of my heart. 

I would've known none of this had I not expressed an knowingly unpopular opinion. 

Speak your truth, even if you know people won't like it. If you are being honest, authentic, and true to yourself, the road may get bumpy at times, but it will be a far more interesting road than the one driven by the cautious, the filtered, and the inauthentic.

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A tribute to Carrie Fisher

I've always thought that Bruce Springsteen should be frozen in time. Not permitted to die. Experienced by all future generations. 

I think Carrie Fisher fits that category as well. 

Below is a moving, tear jerking tribute to her by the Star Wars team.

But anytime I see someone so young and vital who is no longer with us, it kind of destroys me. 

Does the dog die? We need to know.

I Am Legend is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film loosely based upon Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. It stars Will Smith as one of the few survivors of a plague that has killed most of humankind and left many in a zombie/vampire-like state. It opened to the largest ever box office for a non-Christmas film released in December and was the seventh highest grossing film of 2007.

The film also sold 7 million DVD's, making it the sixth best selling DVD in 2008. However Warner Bros. was reportedly “a little disappointed” by the film’s performance in the DVD market.

And I’ll tell you why sales were disappointing.

The dog.

While helping to save Will Smith’s character from certain death, his dog becomes infected with the virus, and after much consternation, Smith’s character is forced to put the animal down.

It is the scene that prevents me from ever watching this film again, and I suspect it’s the scene that has suppressed DVD sales and has kept the film from being plastered all over the basic cable channels like so many other of Will Smith’s blockbuster movies.

It’s not the violence or gore of the scene, because there is none.

It’s because no one wants to see a dog die.

It’s that simple.

Kill mothers and fathers and children galore, and people will be more than happy to watch the movie again and again.

Smith’s blockbuster Independence Day is a perfect example. Millions of people are killed in that movie, including the President’s wife, who dies tragically under the watchful eyes of her husband and daughter.

A father gives up his life while his son listens on and a best friend dies while Smith’s character looks on and can do nothing.

And like I Am Legend, there is a dog in that movie, too. Once again, it’s a dog owned by Smith’s character. In fact, the two dogs look so much alike that they could be the same dog.

Perhaps they are.

And guess what?

The dog in Independence Day survives.

It appears in the final scene of the film.

Independence Day airs on basic cable all the time.

Warner Bros. left a lot of money on the table when they decided to kill that dog in I Am Legend.

For a great many people, including me, that film became unwatchable the second time around.

If you're worried about watching a movie in which a dog dies, there's a solution for you:

www.doesthedogdie.com

This website offers three ratings on films:

  • No pets die.
  • A pet is injured or appears dead but ultimately lives.
  • A pet dies.

Don't be surprised by the untimely death of a dog, or even a cat, a hamster, or a goldfish anymore. Go into every film prepared for the possible death of a beloved pet.

Or avoid the movie altogether.  

If you search doesadogdie.com for I Am Legend, you will find this entry:

"Dog is infected by a zombie-esque virus and is killed by her owner." 

Sounds pretty unwatchable to me.

Writing advice from a toddler that authors should heed carefully

When my daughter was three years old, still unable to read, she taught me three invaluable lessons about the craft of writing. Specifically, she offered three specific pieces of criticism made an impression on me as an author and remain with me today.

1. Don’t overwrite. More importantly, don’t refuse editing. 

After watching some of its more famous musical numbers on YouTube, Clara and my wife sat down to watch Mary Poppins in its entirety for the first time.

Three years later, she still has yet to see the complete film.

While her interest admittedly waned throughout the film, her most telling comment came just over thirty minutes into the movie when she stood up from the couch and said, “Too long!”

She’s right. At 139 minutes, the film is far too long for most three-year old children, and it might be too long in general. As much as I loved Mary Poppins as a child, a two hour and nineteen minute children’s musical probably could have stood a little more time in the editing room.

Authors often have a great deal to say. We try to restrain ourselves as much as possible, but it often requires the expertise of an agent and an editor to bring our stories down to a length that will maintain a reader’s interest. It’s not an easy process. My agent has chopped whole chapters out of my book. My editors has murdered my characters. Hours and hours of work and strings of carefully honed, treasured sentences lost forever.

But better to lose an entire chapter than to have a reader toss down the book and shout, “Too long!”

2. Conflict is king. Backstory and resolution are secondary.  

With almost any television show that Clara watches, she exhibits the same pattern of interest:

As the conflict in the story rises, she remains riveted to the program. But as soon as the resolution is evident, even if it has not yet happened, her interest immediately wanes. She will walk right out of the room before the resolution even takes place if she can see it coming. 

It’s a good lesson for authors to remember. It is conflict that engages the reader. Backstory and resolution are necessary, but these elements should occur within the context of the conflict as often as possible and should probably occupy the fewest number of pages as possible. Keep the tension high throughout the story and keep the conflict ever-present in the readers’ minds and you will hold their interest throughout.

3. Keep your promises to the reader.

Clara does not appreciate when a television show goes off-book or changes genres midstream. Her favorite show for a long time was The Wonder Pets. It’s a program about three preschool class pets who moonlight as superheroes, saving baby animals around the world who are in trouble.

But occasionally the writers of The Wonder Pets decide to step outside this proven formula. In one episode, The Wonder Pets save an alien who is trying to return to his planet. In another, two of The Wonder Pets must save the third from peril. One episode is essentially a clip show in which the baby animals that they have already saved return to thank The Wonder Pets for their help. 

Clara hated these episodes. The alien episode scared the hell out of her. She fled the room saying, “Not this one! Not this one!” The other more experimental episodes never manage to keep her interest.

Clara is invested in The Wonder Pets because of the promise of baby animals being saved and returned to their parents by the three characters who she adores. 

It’s a good lesson for authors who sometimes offer the reader one thing but then give them another. This can happen when authors fail to remain faithful to the genre in which they are writing, infusing their fantasy novel with a sudden splash of science fiction or bringing serious social commentary into what was supposed to be an escapist detective or romance story.

Authors make promises to readers and then must deliver on them because readers are not simply empty vessels awaiting for the author to impart whatever wisdom he or she deems worthy.  Readers are discerning customers who need to be able to trust an author before investing time and money into a book. There are many reasons that readers purchase books, but it is rarely because they think the author is a wonderful person and whatever he or she has to say will be worthy. Most often, they buy books because of a promise made by the author. A promise of genre or character or plot or quality of the writing.

Authors must be sure to keep these promises or risk having their readers shout, “Not this one! Not this one!"

Star Wars will have gay characters. Bigoted heads presumably explode like Alderaan.

Director JJ Abrams has announced that there will be gay characters in future Star Wars films.

“When I talk about inclusivity it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity. So of course there will be gay characters.”

“I would love it. To me, the fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”
— JJ Abrams

My first thought:

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of bigoted, small minded, homophobic voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

I love it when the news can ruin a bigot's day.

My son is starting to like Star Wars. Also, he calls it Star Whores, which led me to Ken and his dad.

Charlie is starting to come around to Star Wars. His sister is not a fan (only because the boys at school love Star Wars), so he has assumed the same position out of blind loyalty. But he is beginning to crack. 

  • He likes R2-D2 a lot. 
  • We are constantly battling with our faux lightsabers. 
  • He recently saw a photograph of Chewbacca and asked me lots of questions about him.  

Eventually we'll watch the films together and enjoy them.

Another thing that will sadly change in regards to Charlie  and Star Wars (but hopefully not too soon): He doesn't call the movie Star Wars. 

He calls it Star Whores. It's hilarious.

Out of curiosity, I looked to see if there is a movie called Star Whores.

Of course there is. Actually, it was the an adult sci-fi comedy pilot that never went beyond a pilot. The IMDB description of the show goes like this:

Follows the adventures of Commander Nymphette and her droid, Six-of-Niner, aboard the SS Deep Thruster.

Reading the IMDB page for this TV series is quite entertaining. I won't share all of the amusing tidbits found on the page except for these two:

  • The producer of the film is listed as "Big Jim."
  • Special effects on the film are credited to "Ken and his dad."

Strikes me as a tad informal.

For the record, I also have an IMDB page (which I rate as one of my greatest accomplishments ever). I'm listed as a writer for the film Unexpectedly, Milo, which is currently under development. 

I'm hoping that someday soon, we will move past development and into production. And with people other than Big Jim and Ken and his dad.

Wonder Woman's invisible jet is stupid.

The new Wonder Woman film is more than a year away, but a "trailer" was released last week showing the first glimpses of the film.

It got me thinking about Wonder Woman's invisible jet.

I hope the filmmakers abandon this ridiculous concept in this new iteration. While I certainly see the value of an invisible mode of transport, I cannot understand the value of an invisible jet that does not also make the passengers and their belongings invisible as well.

What is more noticeable?

A jet flying through the sky at 33,000 feet or a half-naked Amazonian princess with golden wrist band and a lasso flying by in an oddly seated position?

It's better to love because it makes you better than other people, which is extremely satisfying.

I have friends who didn't like the new Star Wars film. Despite admitting that there were moments of enjoyment while watching the movie, they nitpicked it to death after the fact and declared the whole thing a failure.

I think they're crazy. 

I embraced my inner child (which is admittedly a sizable part of my interior) and adored every bit of the film. It made me feel like a boy again. It brought back memories of sitting in the carpeted aisle at The Stadium in Woonsocket, Rhode Island in 1977 and seeing Star Wars for the first time. My heart soared at the appearance of Han Solo. I felt absolute joy upon seeing the X-Wing fighters fly into battle for the first time. I experienced genuine heartbreak at moments that will go unmentioned here in case you haven't seen the film yet.

But I didn't try to argue with my friends about the greatness of the movie. I didn't attempt to convince them that they were wrong. I didn't defend my opinion in any way. 

Why?     

I'm always extra happy to discover that I love something that someone else cannot.

Never be embarrassed about the things that you love. If you adore the music of Justin Bieber, then the world is a little brighter for you than it is for me. If you think Taco Bell makes the best tacos in the world, then you have inexpensive, readily-available, world class food available at thousands of locations across America. 

Lucky you. 

It's a wonderful feeling to know that you're living in a bigger, brighter, more beautiful world than the next person. 

 

Poetry memorization need not be boring or a waste of time. I have used it to make a woman swoon (possibly) and enact one of my greatest pranks of all time against a fellow teacher.

Mike Chasar of Poetry Magazine writes about the lost art of poetry memorization. While it’s true that the academic demand to memorize poetry has all but disappeared from the American school system, I’m happy to report that this dying art remains alive and well in tiny corners of the world, including several of my own.

I took a poetry class in college with the late, great poet and professor Hugh Ogden, and he required us to have a newly memorized poem “of substance” ready for each class. 

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“Of substance” meant that it had better not be four lines long.

We sat around a large, wooden table and recited our poems as our classmates listened on. Remarkably, Hugh had many of the poems that we recited committed to memory as well. He would close his eyes as we recited, almost as if he were listening to music and not the fumbling, occasionally inarticulate words of an nervous, undergraduate English major.

It was an incredibly difficult but incredibly rewarding expectation. I still have about half a dozen of those poems committed to memory, including Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which I fell in love with through the process of memorization and still love today.
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Later, when I had students of my own –third graders and then fifth graders – I would require them to memorize at least one poem “of substance” each year. My students would grumble and complain about the requirement, but once they had the poem memorized and performed it on stage, they were happy to have done so.

Today, my students perform Shakespeare, and they memorize dozens and sometimes hundreds of lines with nary a complaint. And we still memorize our one poem of the year, myself included, in honor of Hugh.
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Years ago, in a time when Elysha and I still exchanged a present for every night of Hanukkah, I memorized Elysha’s favorite poem, William Blake’s  “The Tyger” and presented it as one of my gifts to her. With the poem committed to memory, I told Elysha that she had access to it at any time as long as we were together, and I would always recite to her on demand.

She loved the gift, or at least pretended to love it. And I can still recite the poem today, as can she.

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But my favorite moment of poetry memorization occurred about ten years ago when the teacher in the adjoining classroom began using the following call and response with his students:

Teacher: Oh Captain!
Students: My Captain!

I asked the teacher if he knew the Whitman poem that he was using – which I had memorize in college for Hugh and still have committed to memory to this day – and he did not. He had taken the idea from Dead Poet’s Society, the Robin William’s film about an English teacher at a boy’s boarding school in the 1960’s. 

I thought this rather unfortunate, so the next time he was absent from his classroom, I handed a copy of the poem to each of his students and asked them to begin memorizing it in secret. I explained that I would pop into their classroom whenever he was out to help them memorize the poem and rehearse, and one day, when they all knew the poem by heart, they would leap to their feet in the midst of the call and response, and instead of simply saying, “My Captain!” they would proceed to recite the entire poem to him.  

It finally happened on a morning in April. Since our classroom had an adjoining door and window, I was able to wait and listen for him to shout his first, “Oh Captain!” of the day. Then I watched as they all stood and recited the poem back to him. Shouted it back to him. 

In my memory, their recitation was universal and flawless. I suspect the truth was something not quite so cinematic. Still, it was amazing.

Had I been more familiar with the film at the time, I would’ve had them all stand on their desks. That would’ve been cinematic.

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One of the best nights of my life

My wife, Elysha, and I were eating dinner in a pizza joint with friends last night. My friend and I were quoting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I have no idea why, but we were. “You chose… wisely,” I said, quoting the Grail Knight near the end of the film after Indy chooses the real Holy Grail.

No,” my wife said. “You have chosen… wisely.”

That’s right. My wife corrected my quoting of an Indiana Jones movie.

I have chosen wisely. I clearly married the greatest woman of all time.

image ____________________________

As if that wasn’t enough, my wife then reaffirmed her assertion that if she were pregnant and in labor with our first child, and I was scheduled to play in the Super Bowl at that very same moment, she would expect me to play in the game and miss the birth of my child. ____________________________

To cap off the evening, another friend said, “Actually, I read something this week that I liked a lot… Oh, you wrote it!”

That’s right. My friend was about to quote me back to me. ____________________________

Maybe not the greatest night ever. My wedding night was pretty amazing, and there have been other nights equally memorable, but this one was pretty damn good.

I want to be overpaid.

For the second year in the row, Forbes has declared that Adam Sandler is the most overpaid actor in Hollywood for 2014.

This fact is often stated with derision. 

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Just for the record, my life goal is to be overpaid for my work. In a country where CEOs earn 33 times as much as the average worker and 774 times as much as minimum wage earners, I have no problem with anyone trying to be overpaid.

Good for you, Adam Sandler.

My 1992-1994 culture gap: Two years without television, movies, or music

If you haven’t heard, Twin Peaks is returning to television. For me, it will be my first chance to watch the show. Though I was alive and well when the show first aired, I didn’t watch it because it fell between the years of 1992-1994.

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My lost years. My cultural blind spot.

I’ve had many tough times in my life, but the period from 1992 through 1994 were probably my toughest. I was homeless for a period of about four months. This was followed by 18 months spent living in the home of Jehovah Witnesses, working two full time jobs – 18 hours a day, six days a week – in order to pay for my legal defense in a trial for a crime I did not commit. I was also the victim of an armed robbery during this time, which resulted years of post traumatic stress disorder. 

As a result, for more two years, I watched no television, saw almost no movies, and listened to very little new music.

For at least two years, I was completely detached from popular culture.

The television, film, and music that I missed during that time was vast, but certain things are more prominent than others. Some cultural touchstones and ubiquitous references pop up more than others.

Things that I missed during that time are and have almost no knowledge of as a result of this culture gap include:

  • Twin Peaks
  • Northern Exposure (which I thought was the subtitle to Twin Peaks)
  • Wings
  • Saved by the Bell
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
  • The State
  • Boy Meets World (though I doubt I would’ve watched this show anyway)
  • Whoomp! (There It Is) and Whoot There It Is (and the fact that both songs were released and played on the radio at the same time)
  • Reality Bites
  • Glengarry Glen Ross

Some things, like NYPD Blue and The X Files debuted in these years but lasted long enough for me to catch up years later in syndication.

And I eventually watched many of the popular films released in those years and listened to the most popular songs, but when you don’t catch these things in their moment of greatest cultural relevance, they often fall a little flat.

A Christmas Story, brought to life through animatronics and a lot of love

On a recent trip to Indiana, I spent some time in Hammond, the hometown of Jean Shepherd, the writer and narrator of A Christmas Story. The person most responsible for planning my trip is a big fan of the movie.

Perhaps the biggest fan ever. This woman likes the movie a lot. 

She took me to the Lake Country Visitor’s Center in Hammond, where there is an elaborate, animatronic display of the most famous scenes from the film, complete with a real life Santa Claus and a pile of fake snow for the kids.

The scenes are exceptionally well done. Incredibly detailed. Slightly surreal. A tiny bit creepy.

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Jean Shepherd died in 1999 at the age of 78. He led an exceptionally successful life in radio, print, television, and on the stage.

Still, I’m saddened that he didn’t live long enough to see this annual homage to his movie.

Death is the worst.

As a writer and performer, I can only hope that one of my stories becomes beloved enough to live on in some small way like the people of Indiana have done for Shepherd’s film.

Either that or a Matthew Dicks action figure. That would be fine, too. 

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Interstellar should be a TV show

For the record, someone should adapt Interstellar for television. There was about 49 hours of content squeezed into a little less than three hours.

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It would be an amazing TV show. Perfect for HBO. A&E. Netflix.

Also, I’m more than willing to be the one to adapt it, in the event that you’re a show runner looking for a writer.

I went to the movies and met an amazing young woman and a loud-mouthed racist.

I went to a late showing of Interstellar last night. I’m in Indiana and alone, so I figured, “Why not?”

It was a good movie

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The cashier who handed me a Diet Coke and a box of Junior Mints was a young, black woman. As she poured the soda, I asked her if she had seen the movie yet, hoping for an informed opinion.

“No, not yet,” she said.

“But you get to see the movies for free,” I said. “Right?”

“Yeah,” she said. “But I have four jobs, and I’m a fulltime student at Purdue. So when I come here, I do my job, and get back to my homework or one of my other jobs. No time for movies. Or anything else other than work and school. At least not yet.”

I told her that if I lived in the area and owned a business, I would hire her on the spot. As someone who worked 50-60 hours a week while double majoring at Trinity College and Saint Joseph’s University, I know the amount of effort, tenacity, and determination required to put yourself through college all too well.

I wished her luck with her studies and headed to my movie with a bounce in my step. I felt like I had spoken to someone special. Someone who would do great things with her life.  

I sat down in front and to the left of two middle aged, white couples. The trailers for upcoming movies came on. We watched the trailer for Selma, a Martin Luther King, Jr. docudrama about the civil right’s marches in Alabama.

One of the men to my left scoffed and said, “Another damn nigger movie.”

“Jim!” the woman (presumably his wife) sitting beside him whisper-yelled.  “Don’t talk like that in public.”

I wanted to tell Jim and his wife that if I owned a business where they worked, I would fire them immediately.

Frankly, I wanted to drag Jim out of the theater by the scruff of his red neck and introduce him to the cashier who was working four jobs and attending school fulltime. Tell him that she was already more than he would ever be.

I didn’t say anything. I wanted to so badly, but the voice of my wife spoke to me, reminding me that my repeated confrontations with strangers will one day land me in a lot of trouble.

If I’m going to end up in trouble, at least let it be in my home state.

But my respect and admiration for the cashier whose name I wish I knew grew tenfold. While she and I both fought our way through college by working like dogs, I didn’t also have to deal with the Jims of the world.

Racism was not an obstacle for me.

The five years that I spent in college, two at Manchester Community College and three at Trinity College and Saint Joseph’s University, were hard enough without racists and bigots blocking my path and clouding my world.

I can’t begin to imagine how hard that must be on someone like that cashier.

I can only hope that when that young woman graduates from college and is ready to shed her four low paying jobs for one good one, there are fewer Jims in the world than there are today.

And for the Jims who are still standing when that day comes, I hope that they at least listen to their racist wives and keep their hateful remarks at home where they belong.

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Office space turned dance hall, yoga studio, lunch room hell. I bet they’re all organic, gluten-free, transcendentalist vegans, too.

We’ve come a long way since Mike Judge’s Office Space highlighted the drudgery and monotony of cubicle life.

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Some offices may have gone a little too far.

This German office may seem brilliant in terms of its use of space, but it strikes me as a little unrealistic and smug. A little cultish, even. No? 

One of the greatest sources of disagreement in my marriage centers on Kevin Bacon and a questionable dance number.

My wife and I don’t fight, and we disagree on very few things.

One of the sources of our greatest disagreements centers on a moment in the movie Footloose.

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My contention is that the ending of the movie, with its choreographed dance number and strategically-timed glitter bomb (which looks ridiculous), is also  ridiculous. It’s a scene written for a bad musical and inserted into a non-musical.

Elysha, on the other hand, loves the ending of the film. She loves the whole movie, in fact.

I don’t think the movie holds up, but that’s beside the point. I also didn’t see the film when it was released, which can often kill a movie for me,

Regardless, it’s not the true source of our disagreement. It’s the ending that is the issue.

And it’s terrible. Right?

Boyhood made all the difference for me.

My friend came over last week and installed a faucet under my sink. This is not the first time I have asked him to help me with a repair. He once spent four long hours on a Friday night unclogging the same sink with me.

He has also repaired two lamps for my daughter, though both times, the repair required the replacing of a light bulb.

My friends can repair things. Build things. Diagnose problems. They can use tools. Identify tools. Repair tools. 

I cannot. It often leaves me feeling like a fool.

I saw the movie Boyhood last night. It was an extraordinary film that brought back many memories from my boyhood. Not many good ones.

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Part of my inability to fix and repair things is a result of an innate lack of visual-spatial acuity. A school psychologist once administered a new cognitive test on me in order to practice and became irate with me for “screwing around” and not trying my best.

I was trying my best. I was completing a section that required me to rotate, reverse, flip and otherwise manipulate shapes.

I had no idea what I was doing. I barely understood what she was asking me to do. I finished the subtest with the score equivalent to an average seven year-old child.

I was not surprised.

But it occurs to me after watching the film that an even greater reason for my inability to work with my hands was simply the way that I grew up. My father and mother divorced when I was a little boy, and my father quickly drifted out of my life entirely. My mother remarried, but my stepfather had little interest in raising me. He didn’t teach me to play sports. Didn’t teach me to fish or pitch a tent or even mow a lawn. Didn’t teach me to use tools.

I didn’t have a father putting a hammer into my hand and teaching me how to bang in a nail. I didn’t have someone explaining to me how things works. I spent most of my childhood on my own, figuring out things for myself.

Then I graduated from high school and began a decade of turmoil and struggle. I moved in with a friend attending college and worked 50-60 hours a week in order to survive. My parents never visited me or even called. Unless I went home to visit, I never heard from them.

Two years later, my stepfather divorced my mother.

When my friend graduated from college and moved to Connecticut, I was homeless. I lived in my car. Eventually, I was taken in by a family of Jehovah Witnesses, working 80-90 hours a week while awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit.

When I was finally found not guilty after almost two years, I moved to Connecticut, chasing my friend and a girl, and I quickly found my way to college. I attended school fulltime while working 40-50 hours a week managing restaurants and tutoring in order to make ends meet.

When I finally graduated from college with degrees in English and elementary education, I was 29 years old. I was starting my teaching career. For the first time in my life, I was not struggling to keep my head above water. Barely keeping food on the table.

I wasn’t until I was almost 30 years old that I had genuine stability in my life.

When was there time for me to learn to fix a car? Who was there to teach me? I grew up without an Internet. Without tools. Without an innate ability to see how things fit together.  

I saw that boy in Boyhood, and in many ways, I saw myself. I watched a boy whose life was filled with transition, trauma, uncertainty, and solitude. 

My friends make fun of me for not knowing how to make simple repairs. They tease me for requiring help with the most basic things. And when I ask a friend to repair a lamp that only requires a bulb change (twice), I deserve every one of their insults.

But I also know that I spent the first 30 years of my life just trying to keep my head above water. While most of my friends were off at college after high school, I was struggling at times to feed myself. There was a winter when my roommate and didn’t turn on the heat because we couldn’t afford it. I lived in my car. In a pantry. I spent a summer sleeping in a closet. There were many, many days spent cold, hungry, frightened, and alone.

The idea that I could’ve learned how to tune up my car or take apart kitchen sink is crazy.

For the past 15 years, there has been greater stability in my life. I have a home. A career. A family to support me. I haven’t had to work 80 hours a week or work full time while completing two college degree programs.

There has been time to learn the things I never learned.

But imagine being a 30 year-old man who has never used a socket wrench in this life. Never drilled a hole in plaster. Never built a single thing with his hands.

Yes, I could start learning, and to a degree, I have. There are things that I can do with my hands today that would’ve been unimaginable to me just ten years ago. Last week I repaired a door and a toilet seat in my house and was unreasonably proud of myself for my efforts. 

But a person also reaches a deficit in learning that can seem insurmountable. The multitude of lessons missed over the years begin to pile up. They begin to create exponential deficits. Eventually the things that you can’t do become just as much a part of your identity as the things you can do. When you spent the first 30 years of your life as one person, it’s hard to envision yourself as another.

I listen to my friends talk about their childhoods with their fathers. I hear stories about how they followed their dads into basements to repair furnaces and plumbing. Crawled under cars to inspect exhaust systems. Built tree houses in the backyard. When I listen to them talk, it’s almost as if they are speaking a foreign language.

When they come to my house to help me, I try to watch. I ask questions. I want to learn. But I also know that I am attempting to mitigate decades of learning that was missed.

When my friend came over to install the new faucet, I was able to turn off the water in my house. I held the faucet steady while my friend worked underneath the sink. I handed him tools. I asked questions. I watched him solder a corroded pipe. I tried hard to learn while trying harder to stay out of his way and not waste his time.

In the end, I didn’t help very much. I learned a little. This is how it has always been for me. Ask a friend for help. Assist in any way I can. Avoid getting in the way. Try to learn as much as I can. Express my appreciation.

This is not the same as a father showing his son how to swing a golf club or change the oil in a car or build a tree house. It never will be.

I’ll keep asking for help. My friends will continue to tease me, and oftentimes, justifiably so. It’s okay. It’s who I am.

And I will continue to listen to them  talk about fathers who taught them to dribble a basketball and coached their Little League teams and helped them buy their first car or showed them how to install a dishwasher. Sometimes I meet these men. These fathers who did their jobs. Stood by their sons. Taught them what they needed to know.

I shakes the hands of these fathers and stand in awe at the very idea of fathers and sons whose lives are connected and intertwined.

It’s something I have never known.

I hope my friends know how lucky they are.