Just Seventy Cents

I asked for the Quarter Pounder With Cheese meal, but with lettuce and tomato. The boy asked if I wanted the lettuce and tomato instead of the ketchup, mustard, onions, and pickle, and I said, “Yes.” I asked how much extra it would be. He rang it up and said the total is $8.82. I asked, “But, how much extra for the lettuce and tomato?” He said, “Just seventy cents.” I said, “OK”.

Thank God it was just seventy cents extra. Because seventy cents for just lettuce and tomato would have been outrageous.

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Somtimes a Rock

Last night, I was home alone; my daughter spends Monday nights with her mother. And I found myself sitting on the sofa, reading a book of poetry. And actually finishing the book!

Thoughts went through my head about the nature of the activity. I flashed back to my life, pre marriage and child, when I did this kind of thing quite often, practically every night. “This kind of thing” means devoting part of an evening to reading in solitude, sitting in a living area, and feeling content and chill. I didn’t call it “chill” back then, because in the ‘80s, “chill” was a verb. These days, I still read, but it’s mostly in bed before I sleep, and on my Kindle phone app at various times during the day when I can squeeze it in, such as when I’m alone at a restaurant, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, or having arrived early for a yoga class.

Life in the ‘10s is very different from life in the ‘80s, at least for me. It’s so rare these days to do one thing at a time; everything seems to be multitasked. And it’s so rare to be isolated from human interaction. The phone is constantly chiming with text, Messenger, and Skype tones.

This morning, as I was getting dressed and ready for work, I found myself listening to my Simon and Garfunkel station on Pandora. A live version of “I Am a Rock” came on. And for the first time, I listened to the words very carefully. I realized the sadness of this song. It might be their best song, lyrics-wise. It really brings out human emotions that I’m sure we’ve all experienced before.

The first line that caught my attention was this one

It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain

Wow, what a strong sentiment. I wondered how sad a person has to be to realize and state that he disdains laughter and loving. But, then I recalled feelings from my past and started to understand. For example, who hasn’t woken up grumpy in the morning, turned on the radio to one of the morning talk-comedy programs, and at the sound of the guffawing of Mark and Brian just wanted to throw the radio out the window?

That got my attention, and I listened to the next verse.

Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried

Wow. We’ve all felt this before, yes?

And then the next verse seemed to have been sent to me like magic, making me immediately flash back to last night.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me

Yikes! I was home alone last night reading a poetry book! A coincidence? A sign? Does everything happen for a reason?

My conclusion from all of this, which inspired me to quickly barf out this blog post before starting my day, is the old saying, “Everything in moderation”. Yes, a rock feels no pain, but being a rock can be therapeutic sometimes.

Epilog

When I read the book last night, I couldn’t help myself from multitasking. I wanted to write my first Goodreads book review, and I was thinking about what I would write in the review as I was reading the book. I stopped to bookmark pages, look back on what I’d read previously, and ponder whether I wanted to post my review on Goodreads or Amazon. And I might have picked up my phone once or twice to see if I had missed any messages. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to the unitasking solitude of the ‘80s. But close can be good enough. Baby steps. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Yada yada.

Sad Neil, Happy Neil

I’ve been listening to Neil Diamond’s latest album, Melody Road. It’s a pleasant upbeat album, easy to listen to, and I am enjoying it. But each time, after I’ve listened to it for about 15 minutes, I find that I switch to the old stuff. Tonight, I think I figured out why.

The new album is happy. The songs tell a happy story. Here are some examples.

The title track, Melody Road, is an ode to happiness.

I know every song you lead me to
It’s gonna be my friend

Write me a song to make you smile
There’s no need to sing the blues

The second track, First Time, gives advice for a happy life. I think it’s meant for aspiring songwriters.

Finally out there on your own and it’s
Your time
For making it happen

Make rhyme
So fine
First time!

There is actually a song on the album called “Sunny Disposition”. You get the idea.

Tonight, after I made the switch from the new album to my Best of Neil playlist, came my epiphany. I just don’t connect with the new songs. They don’t resonate with me the way the old songs do. The way the old sad songs do.

You know the old songs. The ones you can sing with a cry in your voice. The songs you listen to when you hurt. When hurtin’ runs off your shoulder. The songs you listen to when you feel lost between two shores. I could feel my mood change as the old songs played. For I was lonely. And she was lonely.

This doesn’t mean I’m a sad person. It’s just easier for me to connect with a sad song. When I am sad, hearing a happy song doesn’t do much for me. But hearing a sad song gives me a feeling of empathy. When I am happy, the sad songs make me appreciate my happiness.

Hearing about love on the rocks reminds me of what I’ve gone through to make me strong today. I gave you my heart, gave you my soul, you left me alone here with nothing to hold.

If I am ruminating about a failed relationship, I don’t feel so alone when I hear lyrics telling me that memories won’t go, that thoughts of her won’t leave my head, and perhaps just one thing makes me forget. I’m not the only one whose blue, blue heart has been torn apart.

The old songs are a gold mine of therapy. Melinda was mine till the time that I found her holding Jim, and loving him. Until I can find me the girl who’ll stay and won’t play games behind me, I’ll be what I am, a solitary man. Forever in blue jeans.

If I’m feeling down, It’s not even necessary for me to drink red, red wine to make me forget. All I have to do is listen to a few bars of Cracklin’ Rosie to make me smile.

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This post contains excerpts of songs. All lyrics quoted here were written by Neil Diamond.

Love and Loss

A friend of mine recently reminded me of the old saying, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I happen to agree with this. I can’t imagine going through life never having experienced love.

My friend said this to me to encourage me to go “out there” again. But the saying doesn’t exactly apply, because I’ve been lucky enough to have already experienced love. And I’ve been unlucky enough to have experienced loss.

I do think that for someone who has experienced love and loss, it’s still worth that risk to try again. A second chance at love is probably worth the risk of another loss.

However, I also believe at some point it makes sense to stop. Loss is always painful. And it doesn’t get any easier each time. In fact, I think it gets harder. Isn’t there a limit to how much loss one must endure in their quest for lasting love? Surely so much loss must have a deleterious effect on one’s health.

If someone has been lucky enough to have already loved ten times, but has been beaten down from ten losses, I don’t think it is true that it’s better to love an eleventh time and experience yet another excruciating loss. At that point, it’s worse to lose yet another time than to try to love again.

Let us summarize what we’ve learned so far. Better to love and lose once than not at all. Better to love a second time and lose again than to give up trying. Worse to love an eleventh time and lose yet again than to quit while you are already so far behind.

It seems that there is a magic number between two and eleven, an inflection point, where the risk of loss starts to outweigh the potential benefit of another attempt at love. Let’s say that number is five. Then the saying for that infection point would be, “It is equally as painful to experience a fifth loss as it would be pleasurable to experience love for a fifth time.” And once you pass this number, stop and choose a new hobby.

In Search of Rhonda

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Since my divorce in 2005, I’ve been on a quest to find my true life partner. My soulmate. The woman I will hopefully share the rest of my life with.

It’s almost twelve years later, and so far my quest has not been successful. I’ve met some nice women, and I’ve had several relationships, but unfortunately, there was always something that made them not work out. And, as I’ve learned, with each failed relationship comes a new loss in my life.

Losses are tough to take. As we go through life, we experience more and more losses. First we lose our grandparents. We lose pets. We lose parents. Some of us are unfortunate enough to lose siblings.

When one suffers a loss, they go through emotions that are similar to clinical depression. And, of course, there are always all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Right now, I’m still alternating between all of the first four. I’ve had brief visits to acceptance, but those have been short glimpses that lasted less than a day.

I’ve mitigated the chances for future grief a bit by making a pact with myself never to get another pet. We always outlive our pets. Pets are certain loss. In my life, I’ve lost Skippy, Elmer, Licorice, Kihei, and Kitty. And I’ve been there to see my daughter lose Tweety Bird and Peanuts. That’s enough pet loss for a lifetime.

After each relationship ends, I always restart my quest, once I’ve finally made it to the acceptance stage and can stay there. Single friends have told me that they admire my persistence, my optimism, my tenacity.

When recent relationships have ended, I’ve gone to a playlist that I made for myself a few relationships back. I listen to it in the car. It consists of six covers of the song “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”, by various artists. My favorite is the one by Elvis Costello. One of my favorite stanzas from the song is this one:

What do you get when you give your heart?
You get it all broken up and battered
That’s what you get, a heart that’s shattered
I’ll never fall in love again

But, there is a part at the end that is hopeful and optimistic:

So for at least until tomorrow
I’ll never fall in love again

It’s saying that when I say “never” I don’t really mean never never. I might change my mind tomorrow. Or the next day. And in the past, I’ve always done that and returned to my quest.

This time I haven’t made it to that point. It seems different. This loss seems to have broken my spirit. I’ve come to the realization that if I try again it’s almost certainly going to end, as every attempt in the past has, and I’ll have to go through loss and grief once again. I can prevent that by not trying anymore. I can make a “no more relationships” pact, similar to my “no more pets” pact.

One thing that makes me happy in recent times is the poki bowl, also known as the poke bowl. When I have a poki bowl, it always puts me in a good mood, always makes me smile. Especially sweet is when I find a new poki restaurant, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the quality of the poki.

After yoga class, I was looking for a new place to have dinner, so I took out my phone and fired up the Yelp app. I was looking for some new fast food restaurant near the yoga place, so I could have a quick dinner before going to Trader Joe’s, down the block, for some grocery shopping. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new poki place. I searched Mission Viejo for restaurants. And guess what was the first restaurant to come up in the search, 0.3 miles away–right across the street? Yes, a new poki place! Poke Wave! It had 154 reviews. Five full stars. Yay!

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Less than a minute later I was in Poke Wave ordering my bowl. But before I ate it, as I am wont to do, I had to take a picture of my food, check in on Facebook, and post a photo. Here is the photo for you, dear reader.

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It was even better than it looked! And I thoroughly enjoyed it. As I was eating it, one of my friends replied to my Facebook post with this question:

“Are they playing the Beach Boys in the background?”

Because Poke Wave. Get it?

On the way home, I listened to my Beach Boys playlist in the car. First “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, then “California Girls”, then “Surfin’ USA”, and finally “Help Me Rhonda”. And I realized what I need. I need a Rhonda!

Help me, Rhonda
Help, help me, Rhonda
Help me, Rhonda, yeah
Get her out of my heart

No News Is Good News

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I’ve always read the news. I want to be informed. I believe it’s important to know what goes on in the world.

When I was a little boy, my mother always had the car radio tuned to the local news station. KWY. News Radio. 1060. Those of you from Philly are probably hearing the jingle in your heads right now. Sorry about that!

But lately, the news is hard to read. Horrible things happening all over in the world. Lies. The current race for President makes reading the news almost unbearable. I hate the way the candidates and their followers are viciously attacking each other. When some dirt comes up about something someone has done twenty-five years ago that might ruin this person’s life, a news reporter somewhere is pumping his fist and saying “Yes!”

I decided that reading the news was too depressing, so I decided to make a change. One of my news sources has a page called “Good News” that filters the news and only shows what they consider to be good. I was glad to find this. I needed something to cheer me up from all the other headlines and stories. So, I clicked on the “Good News” link. By the way, by “click” I mean I touched the screen on my iPhone with my finger. Clicking on a link is now like rolling down a window. Or dialing a phone number. Or not touching that dial on the TV. But that’s another blog post!

Excited to see what good news story I would find, I was very disappointed to see that the top story was about a teen who died from cancer, with a big photo of the boy. It was the top good news story because his school honored him. Just below that was a photo of wreckage from the floods in Louisiana. It was on the good news page because apparently one of the flood victims won the lottery. So, one person won the lottery, and thousands or perhaps millions of people lost their homes or lives. This is the good news page. Sorry, but this didn’t cheer me up.

I thought I’d give them one more chance, so I moved on to the next article on the Good News page. It had a photo of a cat, which looked promising. The article was about a local news organization in Portland, Maine, that was having a local debate-watching party. In the room, they had nine therapy kittens. The kittens were there for people watching the debate who wanted to take a break from the ugliness and chill out. What a good idea! My faith in humankind is restored. I can always count on kitties to put a smile on my face!

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The Lure of Facebook

Facebook has become a daily part of my life. When I wake up in the morning and grab my phone, not a minute of the new day goes by before I’m checking what’s new with my Facebook friends. This goes on throughout the day. And when I retire at night, Facebook is again there with me.

I don’t even want to think about how much time I spend with Facebook each day, and how much time I’ve spent with it over my life. I checked my email history and found that I first signed up with Facebook in 2007. June 19, 2007 to be exact. 9:44 AM. A Tuesday. Yes, I’m well into my tenth year! And if you signed up, as I did, back in those early days, you know what it means to be poked.

I asked myself what it is about Facebook that so powerfully draws me in. I think one of the top reasons is FOMO. If I don’t spend significant time today reading Facebook, how will I know what all my friends are up to today? What’s the latest meme that everyone is talking about? What’s the latest quiz, and why am the only one who hasn’t taken it yet? All my friends are scoring 95% or higher on knowledge of ‘70s music. What’s my score? I have to know! And I have to post it, because my friends are waiting to see it. What’s the latest political discussion? Which of my friends are arguing with each other, sometimes on my timeline? I have to read every message on every discussion thread to find out.

The “nametests” app is popular right now. It’s a sort of test, but you don’t have to answer any questions. You just give it permission to see ALL YOUR STUFF, so it can give you the answer to burning questions such as “What food am I?” and “What song am I?” Yikes! Just as I was researching this post, I looked at the nametets app and couldn’t resist. Now I know what cartoon character I am. Superman. Yipeee. This…has…to…stop.

The irony here is that because of FOMO, I’m really missing out on things that I would most certainly enjoy more. The stack of books that are half-read. My queue of movies on Netflix (which is always at the maximum of 500). Phone calls with my family across the miles. Getting together in person with friends. Real hobbies! Exercise. Almost anything else!

I decided a few days ago that I would cut down drastically on my Facebook time. I don’t want to stop completely, because I do think there is a lot of value in it. But, I’d like it to be something I do once in a while, when the mood strikes me. And I’d like to get some of that time back!

So, I instinctively picked up my phone with the intention of posting this new pact I’ve made with myself on my timeline. Wait a minute. Maybe not such a good idea. I’ll explain later.

A few months ago my friend Paula and I came up with the idea of Facebook Free Friday (FFF). Very simple. No Facebooking on Fridays. And let’s see what better use we can make with the time. It was successful while it lasted. We both actually did things that we previously “didn’t have the time to do”. It went on for a few weeks, but eventually met its end. Maybe Friday was not a good day for FFF. Have to see what people post. Have to use Facebook to plan for the weekend. Maybe Wednesday would be a better day, but FFW goes doesn’t have the ring to it that FFF has. And it would be fewer points as a Scattergories answer.

This time, I decided I would cut down every day, not just Friday. The key is not to let it control me. I would look at Facebook only when I wanted to, and only for a few minutes.

Back to picking up my phone to announce my pact on my timeline. I decided against it. This would be a step that is part of my distancing myself from Facebook. (Though I suppose I will let WordPress post a link to this post on my timeline.)

The next time I picked up my phone was to open the Maps app, to get directions to a party I was going to last night. And when I picked up the phone, I saw this.

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And I had a eureka moment! The badge! There are three Facebook notifications that I haven’t looked at yet! Have to look at them. What am I missing? I realized that it will be very hard to avoid the temptation of Facebook when I see that big red “3” staring at me. In an hour, it will probably be a “5”. Tomorrow, it will be a “10”, or worse!

The red number on the badge was pulling me in. I felt like Michael Corleone in The Godfather 3. Remember his famous line? “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Why does the badge appear? It appears when there are notifications. Why are there notifications? Mostly, they are from people commenting on or liking things that I post. Or people commenting on other people’s posts that I liked or commented on. And there was still a stream of notifications coming in from my latest activities over the past few days.

There are two ways to kill the notifications and badges. (1) Turn off notifications. Facebook allows you to do this. (2) Stop posting.

Well, (1) is not an option!!! If people reply to something I wrote, I have to see it! So, the only option is (2). If I want to kill the Facebook monster, I can’t feed it. Just one post or comment or like starts the vicious cycle all over again.

But what kind of member of the Facebook community would I be if I were silent? I wouldn’t be fulfilling my social responsibility. And this brings me to what is probably the second most important reason I use Facebook. To like people’s posts. I know people get pleasure out of seeing other people like their posts. It’s like getting candy. Or heroin. What kind of friend would I be if I withhold my likes from their posts?

Even as I write this post, I am seeing notifications pop up on my computer screen. One just popped up now.

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I’m also realizing that I can’t give up Facebook for good, because I need to use it to look at my group calendars for events.

I’ll conclude with something I saw on TV last week. Michelle Obama was the guest on Stephen Colbert’s show. She was talking about her visit to the Queen and that she was asked to order what she wanted to eat from a menu. And she ordered French fries, which she said were some of the best French fries she’s ever had. And she “came out” with the fact that she’s a French fry lover. And the White House also serves delicious French fries, which she enjoys. Yes, this is the same Michelle Obama who is one of the top promoters of nutrition. She eats a healthy diet for the most part, but she also occasionally indulges in delicious French fries.

The point is, everything in moderation. That applies to French fries as well as Facebook. And ice cream. And chocolate. Well, maybe not chocolate. There is never a reason to go a day without chocolate.