The ’80s: Stranger Things from a Simpler Time


You’re only young once. But if you’re lucky, you’ll be young-at-heart forever. 

My father possesses this rare gift. At the age of 76, he’s still the same dreamer with the Elvis Presley comb-over and a sweet tooth for Hollywood endings.

Lucky for me, all signs indicate that dad’s youthful heart defect hasn’t skipped a generational beat. I don’t just reminisce about those “I want my MTV” wonder years. I’m not merely a nostalgic who watches Freaks and Geeks and The Goldbergs (both great shows) or quotes John Bender like a “neo maxi zoom dweebie.” I go further than that.


  • I’ll disappear into the rabbit hole of YouTube’s memory lane for hours, only to return in Marty McFly’s DeLorean.
  • I’ve ordered 1980’s Sears Wish Books on eBay just to remember what I put on my Santa list.
  • I’ve Googled so many 1980’s TV commercials that I ask myself classic rhetorical questions like “Where’s The Beef?” and try in vein to answer them: “The HAMBURGLAR???”

I’m not your Magic Garden-variety nostalgic who simply remembers the ’80s, I inhale them. I let the ’80s seep so deeply into my pores that I need Clearasil to fix the zits.

Understandably, my significant other thinks I may have a problem. To my wife, being young at heart also means that I’m lost in time…I’ve never grown up…and I still haven’t found what U2’s looking for. I remind my significantly more mature other that I use the fond memories of yesterday as my pop-culture-infused energy source. In today’s youthful terms, they’re like power-ups that help keep me optimistic about the future. When I revisit pop-culture from the ’80s, I also remember time spent with my family, my neighborhood friends, a home that I couldn’t wait to come home to, and a president who made me feel safe…even during difficult times.

By difficult times, I mean like this one time in 1982:
I came home from school like every other day. I changed into my sweat pants, remembering to 
carefully cuff them just below the knees. I pulled my Wigwam tube socks just below my balls. I laced up my Jaclars and raced downstairs to find the end of the world as we know it (5 years before REM did).  


Seeing this TIME Magazine cover story was like experiencing my own private “The Day After”. The mental fallout was so severe that I’d Poltergeist myself into our Zenith at the mere mention of the words NUCLEAR WAR.   

Shortly after TIME Magazine foreshadowed why I’d one day pop Xanax like Tic Tacs, my father introduced us to a SONY Betamax. He also gave me my very own Video Express card. As an escape from nuclear hysteria, that card quickly pimped me into a rental whore. Late at night, when dad was watching the news downstairs, I’d play the movies extra loud upstairs. This way I’d drown out any news of the nuclear arms race and the inevitable extinction of Morris Plains, NJ. No joke, when I wasn’t navigating the aisles of Video Express, I was mapping out the quickest Jaclar route from Sussex Avenue School to my home on 14 Meslar Road. You know, in the event of global thermonuclear war.

But that was life in the ’80s. I think we all had active imaginations that fueled our childhood anxieties. We also knew our parents had a lot on their cholesterol-filled plates, so we couldn’t run to them every time something went bump in the night. I now realize, of course, that we were the last of a great generation of kids who solved their own problems. We were dreamers who looked up to the stars, not down at our cellphones. We were the first generation to have VCRs and video games; the first generation to be raised on Steven Spielberg and Stephen King; and the last generation whose parents didn’t have to worry if we strayed too far from the yard.


The 80’s were difficult times, sure, but they were simpler times. As kids, we were able to exempt ourselves from the problems of the adult world by simply disappearing until dinnertime. After dinnertime, I disappeared into the movies that captured the spirit of that time. Classic ’80s movies empowered us and gave legitimacy to our far-flung fantasies. The ones where ordinary, lower-middle-class kids could do extraordinary things.

’80s movies made us believe that:

6 kids, a treasure map, and a pirate ship loaded with booty can save the Goondocks.
(SPOILER ALERT: Their parents didn’t even have to schedule the play date).

With the help of a boy and his flying dirt bike, an alien voiced by Debra Winger can phone home without an Apple or Samsung device.


Boy who sweeps leg no match for karate kid who wax on and whacks off (sorry).

8 kids called the Wolverines can save their high school from a Russian invasion and Charlie Sheen.


When my young heart reminisces about the “good ol’ days”, I’m actually just tapping into the spirit of that simpler time. Take this election season for example. So disheartened by both major-party candidates, I desperately needed to refuel my pessimistic 2016 engine with 1.21 gigawatts of Reagan-era optimism. So on the advice of a friend, I turned my attention to a Demogorgon monster in an upside down world. No, this Demogorgon is not one of the monsters running for president. And the upside down world isn’t the DNC, the RNC, or Run-DMC. It’s the latest binge-worthy sensation from Netflix called Stranger Things. A show that my aforementioned friend described this way:

“It feels like a show written by Stephen King, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring
cast of the Goonies. Oh, and Winona Ryder is still kinda hot “

No further selling was required. I finished the sometimes scary, always spectacular 8-episode series in 2 days. In bed suffering from a brutal ulcerative colitis flare, Stranger Things proved to be a better antidote than any ass enema. It had me shrieking in fear, blubbering with tears, and goose-bumping like a 12-year-old all over again. In addition to a tremendous cast of kids, it features familiar ’80s faces like Winona “Heathers” Ryder and Matthew “Vision Quest” Modine. The nods to the ’80s classics are endless. The chills feel like they’re courtesy of Stephen King and John Carpenter; the thrills are the work of Spielberg; and the three sides of the teenage love triangle are shaped by the John Hughes classics. But it’s almost an insult to call Stranger Things an homage to ’80s movies. It doesn’t just reference ’80s movies and look like an ’80s movie. It feels like an ’80s movie too. With each new episode, I was reminded how I felt the first time I watched all those kids-can-do classics. Lost innocence found…some 30 years later.


For me, the Duffer Brother’s “Stranger Things” felt like a time portal trip through the Poltergeist TV. After 8 tightly-packaged, swiftly-paced episodes, I triumphantly screamed: “They’re baaaack” in reference to the ’80s. And this child of the ’80s is waiting anxiously to learn if “Stranger Things” will be baaaack for a season 2.

Stranger Things is great entertainment. Escapism at its best. A reminder of a simpler time before far-flung fantasies gave way to far-too-real realities. Today, our worst fears aren’t dreamed up after reading a doomsday scenario in TIME Magazine. They’re not played-out on Dungeons & Dragons game boards in the tree houses and basements of suburbia. Today’s worst fears actually come to life. We watch them in real-time. They’re devoured on social media, recycled on the nightly news, and then spun ever-so-delicately to fit his and her own political point of view.

For a brief 8 episodes, however, Stranger Things offered a welcome respite to the hate-filled campaign coverage that proves we’re living in strange times with the risk of stranger (and scarier) things to come. (Where’s the Xanax?)

So far I’ve been steadfast in my belief that neither of our current major-party candidates is worthy of my vote.

So the next time someone asks me:
“But if you had to vote for one candidate…right here…right now…who would it be?”

My answer will be:
“I’ll endorse Stranger Things right here. And I’ll vote for a season 2. Right now!” 

Like my father, I proudly remain young at heart…and apolitical to the core.


Rocky Balboa’s Guide to Puppy Love

I was delighted to see Sylvester Stallone accept his well-deserved Golden Globe Award for Creed earlier this month. But he missed a golden opportunity to give a “Yo Adrian, I did it!” shout out to the heart and soul of the Rocky franchise. Even though she’s been absent from the last 2 films, and wasn’t verbally present in the first one, there’s no denying that Rocky I-VII could never have gone the distance without Yo Adrian’s love.


My shy, animal-loving daughter Melanie reminds me of Adrian. If you recall, Adrian was just a shy pet-store lady working at J & M Tropical Fish when she first met Rocky. It was Rocky’s love for his pet turtles–Cuff and Link–that brought him to the pet store. But it was his affection toward the store’s resident bullmastiff, Butkus, that really endeared Adrian to the future heavyweight champ and star of Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! I think Adrian fell in love with Rocky because she loved the way he loved Butkus.


Maybe Paul McCartney was on to something when he said “You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.” In the process, you just might fall in love like Adrian did.

Before I get back to why this all reminds me of my daughter Melanie, I need to first defend myself against an oft-repeated claim that’s dogged me for years. While it’s true I’m not a card-carrying “animal lover”, I’m certainly not an animal hater’s gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Yes, it’s true I didn’t own my first pet ’til I was 35. Also true, an errant bird did spring to life in the back seat of my Nissan Sentra. And I did bolt from the car, in the middle of an intersection, arms flailing about while screaming “Take that, you winged spawn of Satan!”

However, that doesn’t make me an animal hater. In fact, I have 3 very reasonable explanations for why it took me so long to own a pet. First, my mom never let us own a dog or cat growing up. Second, the pets we did own were more accident-prone than the lawyers in John Grisham’s The Firm. And third, I seriously thought there was a serial pet killer in my family. Like the time when…..

  • I watched in horror as my sister’s rabbit, Charky, got mauled to death by an escaped German shepherd. Sure it was the dog’s fault. But it was my father who built the rabbit coup, so I guess I always felt like it was an inside job.
  • Our tropical fish aquarium was deep-fried like a Long John Silver pub bucket. Mom claimed to have “accidentally” turned up the tank’s temperature while cleaning it. I contend that she “hit puree”.
  • My Daisy-Red-Rider-owning brother repeatedly fired bee bees at our neighbor’s donkey, Peanut. You’ve never heard a “HEEEE-HAAAAWWWW” until it comes from the mouth of a jackass who’s just been shot in his peanuts.
  • My sister’s parakeet, Tweety, died shortly after my parents purchased low-priced bird food at the Chester Flea Market. It turns out the box of bird food in question had expired 8 years before Tweety did.

Remarkably, my siblings were unscathed by memories of our “sometimes-dead-is-better” pet cemetery. In fact, they all welcomed their own pets as soon as they left home…

My sister Cindy:
Her love for animals knows no bounds. Like Ace Ventura: Pet Rescuer, she’s owned countless rabbits, a one-eyed pug named Pugsley, a Syberian Husky named Lakota, a turtle named Topanga, a parakeet named PJ, and Smokey: a cat with feline AIDS.

My sister Sherry:
She owned a black lab named Jake who wasn’t just the “family dog”, he was the “neighborhood dog.” When Jake passed, the whole neighborhood cried. Jake was quickly replaced by another dog named Kitty who, understandably, deals with identity issues. Ironically, I think she might also have a cat named Dog.

My brother Brett:
He owned a dog named Buford and it was Buford who taught me that dogs can catch ADHD from their owners. Technically, Buford was a boxer, but I say he was the reincarnation of Mike Myer’s “Phillip-the Hyper-Hypo Boy”. 


When Brett was in acting school, I used to walk Buford…which is to say Buford used to walk ME. Instead of a leash, I used one of those back-brace harnesses that deep-sea fishermen use to haul in blue marlin. And even after 2 hernias, I grew to enjoy Buford…and the day that Brett put Buford down, I cried.

Today I still cry when I go to Brett’s home because his American bulldog Memphis rapes me. Don’t get me wrong, Memphis is a wonderful family dog. He’s also a projectile slobberer. And not in a Turner and Hooch shoelace slobber way. It’s more like: if you enter Brett’s home wearing dark pants, you exit wearing Ross Gellar’s leather “paste pants.”


All kidding aside, I learned a lot about pet-loving from my siblings. I learned how they become a part of your family and how there’s a major void when they leave your family. But I didn’t truly know what “puppy love” was until I watched my daughter Melanie fall in love with our dog Scruffy.

“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one is a life diminished.”
—Dean Koontz

As a pre-tonsillectomy gift to my oldest son, Scruffy joined our clan in August of 2007. Scruffy is a Cavachon, which is a mix between a King Charles Cavalier and a hamster.


While my son will always be our dog’s “owner” and protector, Scruffy is officially “Mel’s best friend”. It was love at first sight for Melanie, and our shy little girl is never happier or chattier than when she’s with Scruffy or telling a silly Scruffy story.


Which brings me back to why I brought up Adrian and Rocky in the first place.

Just as I believe Adrian fell in love with Rocky because of how much he loved Butkus, I fell in love with Scruffy because I loved the way Melanie loved Scruffy. Her love for Scruffy is that “first thing I want to see when I wake up/last thing before I go to bed” kind of love.

Melanie’s love for dogs extends beyond our home and even influences her social life. From an early age, it was clear that Melanie was down with OPP (Other People’s Pets). In fact, Melanie has a long list of BFFs who happen to be dogs. When she asks for playdates with friends, they’re actually playdates with dogs who happen to have human owners. “Mom, can I go to Marnee’s house to play?” translates into “Mom, can I have a playdate with Jessica’s dog?”


My love for the way Melanie loves dogs is the only reasonable explanation for why I said “Yes” when she asked if grandpa’s Portuguese hunting dog could come live with us. The dog’s name is Niko, and he’s the reincarnation of Brett’s Hyper-Hypo dog. He actually hunts and kills rabbit for sport, yet I watch him transform into a lap dog on Xanax every time Mel is near.


Charles Schultz once said that “Happiness is a warm puppy.” For me, happiness is the warm smile of a shy girl who loves her dogs.

I’m proud to say that after so many pet-less years, I can finally call myself a “dog lover.” And unlike Stallone at the Golden Globes, I’ll give a shout out where a shout out is due:

“Yo Melanie, I did it!”




Great Pumpkin My Ass… “It’s A Hate Crime, Charlie Brown!”

Nostalgia has a funny way of making us accept things today for what we believed them to be yesterday. And it seems like only yesterday I was wearing footie pajamas, sharing a beanbag with my sister, accepting It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! as must-see-Halloween TV. It’s a holiday tradition that was born during the time of 13 channels; when prime time was for adults and cartoons were for Saturdays. In other words, when it came to prime time fare, we’d watch Don Knots Has Crotch Rot if it was animated.

My kids, on the other hand, are far more cynical. When it comes to the classics, they believe that some things are better left in the shag-carpeted rooms of dad’s childhood. Perfect example: Years ago I convinced them to give Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas a try. I never tried again. If I had, there’d be a hole in my flat screen to match the one in Mama Otter’s washtub. [Cue the jug band quartet.]

This Halloween, however, we gave It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! a second try. While my 9 year-old daughter was the target audience, I wanted to believe that my teenage sons (we’ll call them Beavis and Butthead), would give the timeless classic a fresh look. My realistic goal: A review that didn’t include “Dad, this sucks more than anything that has ever sucked before”.

[30 minutes later]

Dad, why did you make us watch that?

Because “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!” is considered a Halloween–

–Hate crime?!?!

You know what, Butthead had a point. So I decided to re-watch the show from a different point of view. Not as a nostalgic 42 year-old, but as a literal-minded, streetwise detective investigating reports of alleged bullying in Peanuts Land. Using only the 1966 Charles Schulz classic as evidence, I conducted surveillance and filed the following police report with the Peanuts PD:


Case Number:
ABC 10312014
Reporting Officer: Mr. Vernon
​​​​Date of Report: 31 October 2014

At approximately 4:00 PM:
I began to observe a series of events that, in their totality, suggested a neighborhood-wide pattern of physical and psychological abuse directed at block-headed bald kids. Alleged victim #1: Charlie Brown, a mildly-depressed ne’er do-well with a bumble-bee shirt and a bald head.

NOTE: Despite their similarities, Mr. Brown should not be confused with that whiny little bald prick Caillou. Where Mr. Brown is a sweet, sincere, sensitive boy with a touch of melancholy…Caillou is a colicky, self-centered little brat who will flat out lose his shit if he can’t go to the zoo NOW even though the fuc*ing zoo is closed.

At approximately 4:15 PM:
I observed suspect #1, Lucy van Pelt, yanking away a football just as Mr. Brown was about to kick it. This little prank caused the victim considerable pain. I can only assume that, if not for his obscenely large cranium, Mr. Brown would be concussed at this time. Again, please don’t confuse Mr. Brown’s chrome dome with that of fellow baldy Caillou. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Mr. Brown has only 2 hairs on his huge noggin. As for Caillou, my theory is that he sucks and even his hair follicles recognize that fact.


At approximately 5:00 PM:
Ms. van Pelt continues her systematic beat down on that “blockhead” Charlie Brown. You know how the Grinch had a heart that was 2 sizes too small? My theory is that Ms. van Pelt has a heart that’s 2 sizes too smaller than that. Oh, and she’s a bitch. I observed Mr. Brown looking happier than Pigpen in shit after receiving an invitation to Violet Gray’s Halloween party. Not so fast with that Lord of the Dance shit, Mr. Brown. Ms. van Pelt swoops in to give Mr. Brown a figurative kick to the peanuts. She informs him that he was invited by mistake. Good grief! Unfortunately, all of my attempts to sic Mr. Brown’s beagle, Snoop Dog, on that punk-ass bitch failed.


NOTE: Snoop Dog was last seen wearing a World War I aviator uniform and storming into 1940’s France. The f*ck is that sub-plot all about?

At approximately 7:00 PM:
I observed alleged victim #2, Linus van Pelt, rocking his comb-forward while freezing his 12 hairs off in a pumpkin patch. Apparently Mr. van Pelt was waiting for “the Great Pumpkin to rise out of his pumpkin patch and fly through the air with his bag of toys for all the children.” Ho-ho-hold on a second. Either this kid has hypothermia, or he’s crazier than a shit house rat. Crazier yet, he seems to have found a follower in Mr. Brown’s kid sister, Sally. [Psssss…hey Sally…runnnnnn!]


NOTE: My theory is that Lucy van Pelt fostered this clever Great Pumpkin charade as a form of psychological torture on her brother. Either that, or it’s an attempt to gain favor with Santa Claus. Thus ensuring that her brother endures the torment of watching her play with countless toys on Christmas while he can only start a pet rock collection with Mr. Brown.

At approximately 7:30 PM:
I observed Mr. Brown trick-or-treating with 5 ass holes while wearing a ghost costume with 18 eye holes. I can see adding a third hole to breathe out of…or even a fourth hole to pee out of…but numb nuts cut out enough holes for a PGA tour event. Even so, this does not excuse adults from throwing rocks into Mr. Brown’s bag. I mean, honestly, who gives out rocks for Halloween? At this point, every adult in the neighborhood is suspect #2.


NOTE:  Every kid in the neighborhood–and I mean EVERY single kid–uses a bed sheet to dress up as a ghost. Ms. Van Pelt wears a witch mask on her face and a traffic cone on her head. I suspect that these bed-sheeted minions help to perpetrate Ms. van Pelt’s hate-filled agenda.

At approximately 8:00 PM:
I follow Mr. Brown to the home of Violet Gray for the party he was invited to by mistake. Mr. Brown really should have stayed home with Stephen King’s Carrie White. If he did, Mr. Brown wouldn’t have eyes in the back of his head. Yep, Ms. van Pelt and Ms. Gray (suspect #3) use the back of Mr. Brown’s head for jack-o-lantern carving practice. I stuck around and waited for this whole Carrie-esque subplot where Ms. White and Mr. Brown exact revenge (not with pig’s blood) with the innards from the Great Pumpkin. That revenge sub-plot never materialized so I’m left to conclude that this is a simple case of mistaken identity. Maybe everyone in this town thinks Mr. Brown is Caillou–The Fresh Prince of No Hair.


NOTE: Upon further investigation, I confirmed that Ms.Gray used a Sharpie pen on the poor bastard’s melon. That shit ain’t washing off ’til Thanksgiving. And why is there no adult supervision at this party? When I reached Mr. and Mrs. Gray via telephone, they informed me that they were in “MWAH MWAH MWAH.” I think that’s in Hawaii.

At approximately 10:00 PM:
I observe Sally Brown storming off after demanding “restitution” from Linus for making her miss out on “tricks and treats.” I still can’t figure out why she didn’t storm off hours ago when he delivered this creepy-even-by-1966-standards quip: “I thought little girls always believed everything that was told to them. I thought little girls were innocent and trusting.” I thought I just barfed up a cruller.


NOTE: I obtained a statement from Schroeder, the local lounge pianist who’s all smug because he’s the only boy in town with a full head of hair. When asked why Sally would have agreed to stay in the pumpkin patch with Linus in the first place, he replied: “Bitches do be trippin’.”

At approximately 4:00 AM:
My worst fears never materialized. I observed Lucy heading out to the pumpkin patch and I assumed that we’d see a pumpkin patch death scene to rival the Shining’s hedge-maze standoff. But to my surprise, Ms. van Pelt fetched her “blockhead” brother from the pumpkin patch, walked him home, and tucked him into bed. I stuck around just to make sure she didn’t grab a sledgehammer and go to town on his legs like Annie Wilkes. She didn’t, so I called it a night.


NOTE: Before turning in, I made 2 phone calls:

1) I called Mr. and Mrs. van Pelt to inform them that they’re shitty parents. I also let them know that their son froze his baguettes off while sleeping in a pumpkin patch with only his blankie and his blind faith in produce to comfort him. They nonchalantly replied, “MWAH MWAH MWAH.”

2) I left a message for the local psychiatrist, hoping to schedule a much-needed psychological evaluation for both Charlie Brown and Linus van Pelt. To my utter amazement, I learned that there was only one psychiatrist in town. She works cheap, she has a monopoly on the whole town, and she’s the biggest bitch in cartoon history.


P.S. If my case load permits, I plan to return to Peanuts during their Thanksgiving and Christmas specials…to determine if any further surveillance or criminal charges are warranted.

Until then, Happy Halloween!

Except for you, Caillou!

To Wong Foo. Thanks for everything, Helena!

My wife and I are married 20 years today.

20 years, and we’ve never had a fight (that I won).


My original blog post concept was to cover the pop-culture landscape of September, 1995. That plan backfired when Wiki revealed the #1 song and #1 film on my wedding day: Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise and Swayze’s To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. I can’t work with that (but I’ll try).  

While Helena and I have Wang Chung’ed before, we’ve never Wong Foo’d. Unless “wong foo’d” is what happened the first time I called her home.

Allow me to explain…

September, 1991
I was a college sophomore; working two part-time jobs; commuting to Seton Hall twice daily. So I’d been spending most my life living in a Gangsta’s ’79 Camaro. Helena was a fellow working-class commuter, and a cute one at that. We had exchanged numbers for homework purposes (I was a player). I finally worked up the courage to call her many weeks later (scratch the player part).

I left a message with Helena’s mother, Mrs. Moreira, whose native language is Portuguese:

“Can you please tell her Shane called.

But my seven-word English message was truncated into a one-word (Chinese???) message:


Needless to say, Helena never returned my call that night. She read the message and understandably thought, “There aren’t any Chinamen at Seton Hall.”
Shanco was wong foo’d. Thanks for everything, Mrs. Moreira!!!

September, 1995
Ultimately, Helena would receive one of my messages and we married at the barely-legal age of 22. Following the ceremony, we celebrated with a barely-fire-code-legal 265 guests at Newark’s Sports Club Portuguese. Then we honeymooned in Key West, where I spent the first 48 hours introducing our honeymoon suite’s shitter to a liqueur that most call Sambuca, but I called Some-puking.


True to the first reading at our wedding, “love is patient…love is kind”…and Helena was both of those things during our first 48 hours as wife and “Exorcist baby.” And Helena’s been the most patient and kind partner for the past 20 years.

September, 2015
Fast forward 20 years, 3 children, and a Scruffy dog later…and I’ll profess to being a better father than husband. I’ve made mistakes, I’ll make more, but I’ll Never Stop Learning.   

As blog-post pot luck would have it, the #1 Twitter hashtag on the eve of my anniversary was #MarriageAdviceIn3Words. “Never Stop Learning” works for me, as does “Marry Your Friend” and “Make Her Laugh.” But as you’ll soon learn, I’m in no position to give marital advice. Instead, I’ll simply share the 3-word marital tweets that made me laugh the loudest…

Run Forest! RUN!!!
Hide The Porn
Compliment Her Mustache
She’s Always Right
Keep On Humpin’
These Are Balls
Spitters Are Quitters
Lower Your Standards
Ask My Wife
Smile And Nod
Hire Ugly Nanny
Delete Browser History
Buy A Shovel

…followed by those 3-word marital tweets that made me reminisce the longest…

Do The Dishes
I have the world’s greatest mother. Having said that, mom made my bed, cut my meat, washed and ironed my clothes, and then sent me out into a 1990’s world as a 1950’s husband. Like the “Shanco” story above, it took me some time to “get the message” about how to be a good husband. As the legend goes:

We had our first real dinner guests about 2 months after moving into our apartment. Somewhere between dessert and Pictionary, this happened:

Friend 1:
Should I put the dishes in the dishwasher?

We don’t have a dishwasher.

Friend 2:
Shane, isn’t that a dishwasher?

Friend 1:
Helena, is that really your husband?

But I’ve Never Stopped Learning. I’m also proud to say I’ve never stopped doing the dishes…even though (I think) we have a dishwasher for that.

Check First
This tweet cracked me up. Even if there were an before I proposed, I wouldn’t have needed it. I knew I had hit the future in-law jackpot when I first met the Moreiras. And despite the fact that I once showed up to their house with a Doo-Rag on my head, they welcomed me (the whitest person they’d ever met) to their amazing family.


  • Thanks to my in-laws, I’ve had an “experiencia religiosa”. This is my broken-Portuguese way of saying I helped slaughter a lamb for the feast of their patron saint (okay, I just watched. Alright, I passed out).
  • Thanks to the unforgettable Uncle I never had growing up, I drank “aguardente.” Aguardente is called “fire water” because it makes your pee flammable and it probably caused my ulcerated colitis.

My in-laws have introduced me to so much: culture, vino, their native Portugal, and the concept of long lunches that just kinda turn into dinner. In short, the Moreiras are the exception to the in-law rule and I’m so proud to be the adopted son of a Portuguese-American family.  

Love Things Together
Some things we loved together from the start (Movies, 80’s Music, My Hair). Other things we learned to love together (Rom-Coms, Christiano Ronaldo, and The Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas”, which begins in 44 days…or so I’ve heard). A perfect example of learning to love things together: BASEBALL.


During baseball season, my beloved Mets dominate weeknight television in our family room. Helena joins us, but her knowledge of baseball vernacular begins and ends with her knowledge of the 1989 baseball classic, Major League. During games,  she speaks only in Major League terms and in the character’s voices:

After an anemic offensive output from the Mets:
“That’s all we got, one goddamn hit?”

After David Wright boots a ball at third:
“Don’t give me this olé bullshit!”

After a Yoenis Cespedes strikeout:
“Up yer butt Jobu!”

Major League is a major reason why my wife and I don’t only watch rom-coms together. It’s also a perfect example of how we’ve learned to Love Things Together.

No Comb Overs
Helena will always be my one-woman fashion police department. The first time she said yes, she told me it was “my hair” that attracted her to me. Today my hair appears to be allergic to me, but she loves my hairs just the same. She just has one simple rule: “No Comb Overs.” There are countless examples.

Like many years ago, I discovered that working out actually grows muscles. Inflated by this realization, I decided that sleeves were overrated. (As shown below: by “muscles”, I simply mean that my biceps were no longer just skin on humerus).


Once again, Helena was there to show me the error of my humerus ways…

“Helena, what’s the dress code at this restaurant?”


And it works both ways. I’m also happy to offer Helena advice. Like the time she started a weight-loss program…

“Have you considered Couch To 5K Helena?”

“Have you considered Couch to Fu*k You Shane?”

Sorry, I promised I wouldn’t make this blog post sappy.

As You Wish
Helena and I also support each others wishes. Helena’s wishes often turn into impulse buys that are small and practical. She will buy the shit out of anything labeled “Pampered Chef” or “As Seen On TV”. Not to minimize these impulses, but let’s just say that Helena puts the WOW in ShamWow.

My impulse buys, on the other hand, are much larger and far less practical. Nonetheless, Helena is always supportive. She fully supported my mid-life diversion from mid-sized sedans to a Mini-sized Cooper. She was always there to help me stuff 4 little-leaguers and 2 bags of baseball equipment into my clown car. And she was there to console me when the Mini engine blew because I forgot that Mini tanks need oil worse than the Tin Man.

All joking aside, 20 years is a long time and there’s reason to celebrate. But I have no sage advice to give or secrets to reveal. Marriage isn’t guided by 3-word tweets. It’s nurtured by 2 people who fall in love, take a chance on each other, and are willing to stick by each other through thick and thin, mid-sized and Mini.

Happy Anniversary to my eternally beautiful, patient, and kind partner, Helena. Or, as it translates into Chinese…

To Wong Foo. 

Thanks for everything, Helena!


John Hughes, John Green, John 3:16


My “Song of Summer 2015” is an oddly titled countryfied pop confection from Keith Urban. He’s my favorite Australian singer who’s not a Wiggle. Lyrically, the song name-drops to illustrate Urban’s influences in life. Drenched in so much coming-of-age nostalgia, each verse culminates with this catchy hook:

Just another rebel in the great wide open,
On the boulevard of broken dreams.
And I learned everything I needed to know, 
From John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.

When I break down these lyrics, I can’t help but ask: Why in the Wiggly World do I like it so much?

  • Rebel in the great wide open? My most rebellious act was shaving my 18-year-old head like Vanilla Ice.SCN_0002
  • Boulevard of broken dreams? My boulevard has been a straight and narrow path of more broken bones than hearts or dreams.
  • John Cougar? I prefer John Mellencamp over John Cougar; Van Hagar over Van Halen.
  • John Deere? I don’t own a tractor or a mower. And I’m pretty sure that toolbox in the garage is my wife’s.
  • John 3:16? Okay, 1 out of 3 Johns ain’t bad.

Nonetheless, I sing along…much to the secondhand embarrassment of my wife and 3 kids. I belt out lyrics that recall a childhood of “backseat freedom,” “TV dinners,” and a yearning to “never grow up, never grow old.” I sing it word for word, but I tweak the final hook. It’s a shout-out to the John who influenced me as an insecure teen (Hughes), and the ones who continue to inspire me as an immature parent (Green) and an imperfect man (3:16).

In my younger years, despite the fact that I was the poster child for the All-American boy, I always felt different. And for me, the word “different”, used in any context, was horrifying.


“Shane, you’re wearing a white tux with turquoise blue bow-tie and cummerbund to an 8th grade graduation ceremony. And you’re singing ‘We Are the World’? That’s different.” 

As a late-blooming freshman in high school, I was too insecure to run with the “cool” crowd and I assumed that girls filed my name under “N” and “O” in their Trapper Keepers. More like Urkel, less like Urban, I wasn’t “baptized by rock-n-roll.” I wasn’t a “rebel in the great wide open.” And if not for the Gospel according to John Hughes, I’d have felt like a guppy in the great wide abyss of the high school fishbowl.


“Shane, you’re wearing Bugle Boy khaki suspender pants on the first day of high school? Didn’t Kids R Us have something different?”

The karma chameleon-like way that I blended into the fabric of my high school was comical. I wasn’t the brain, jock, princess, basket case, or criminal. I was a mix of all the John Hughes archetypes. I was built like Molly Ringwald; I had Ally Sheedy’s dandruff; and I longed to be the brainy, jocky version of the Judd Nelson criminal minus the dope in his locker.

Why was I insecure? For starters, I was built like 6 o’clock and I had more tics than Lewis Morris Park. But thanks to John Hughes, I took the day off with Ferris Bueller. I blew out Sixteen Candles on Samantha Baker’s birthday cake. I even partied with a Chinaman named after a duck’s dork. Through the most awkward moments of my freshman year, John Hughes reassured me (and countless other teens like me) that we weren’t so different and we certainly weren’t alone:

“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us
are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”
–The Breakfast Club

If John Hughes were alive today, I wonder if he’d appreciate that 30 years after the release of The Breakfast Club…I choose to write a blog under a masthead that his unique voice inspired. [Nah…he’d probably call me a “neo maxi zoom dweeby.”]


My view from a 30-year anniversary screening of The Breakfast Club with my nephew (a second-generation Hughes disciple).


I’m a father of 3…master of none. I try to be the best parent that I can be. I teach my kids right from wrong, but I also give them the freedom to figure out wrong on their own. Some parents lament how “connected” their kids are…fearing the many vices that their mobile device-obsessions may fuel. Not me. I think back to a time when there weren’t many social outlets for teens. If you were “different,” there’s a good chance you felt different and alone. Today, there are so many more positive ways for teens to celebrate their “differences” together.

Our world is far from perfect…but I’m encouraged to know that today’s teens are influenced by a new breed of authors who present very real, multi-layered teen characters. And there’s none better than John Green. From Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines to Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars (yep, I’ve read them all)…John Green shows zero appreciation for the paint-by-number teen archetypes that Hughes introduced.

Where John Hughes wrote characters in black and white (wait, weren’t they ALL white?), Green’s characters are more colorfully drawn than an episode of Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting. We’re talking dark sienna, van dyke brown, yellow ochre, and titanium white characters who spout verbal poetry with the same ease that Bob Ross painted happy little trees.


John Green’s characters don’t only embrace their “different”, they often shout it from their own little treetops. In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Green describes a super-sized football player named Tiny as “the world’s largest person who is really, really gay.” Tiny is “not the type to go around unnoticed”, and I’ll bet that’s how John Green wishes all teens could be. Further, where John Hughes was the introverted auteur with an almost creepy-uncle vibe, John Green (a self-proclaimed nerd) connects effortlessly with his millions of fans.

  • Green and his brother Frank host a popular educational channel on YouTube called Crash Course. Their Vlogbrothers channel boasts millions of fans who refer to themselves as “Nerdfighters.”
  • Green’s mantra to fans: “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.”
  • The mission of Green’s Project For Awesome Foundation: “Decrease world suck.”
  • Green also connects with fans on social media and he’s never afraid to put himself out there to help normalize different.

FullSizeRender (3)

FullSizeRender (2)
Yep, being a teenager can sometimes suck. I’m grateful that my kids (and yours) have voices like John Green’s that inspire teens of all colors, shapes, and disguises. And let’s be honest: “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome” is far more inspiring than the decidedly downbeat Breakfast Club anthem, “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

JOHN 3:16
Which brings me to the “Gospel-in-a-nutshell” Bible verse:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

I’m a go-to-church-every-Sunday Catholic and the John 3:16 verse means more to me than I care to share in a mindless pop-culture blog. Like many things Catholic, however, these same words are often used to promote an elitist agenda hell-bent on exclusion over inclusion. So I guess I’m what the holiest of rollers call a “Cafeteria Catholic.” The term is applied to those who assert their Catholic identity yet dissent from some of the more rigid Catholic moral teachings.

To better illustrate, let me use the Meg Ryan deli scene from When Harry Met Sally. 


Sorry, not the fake orgasm part. The part where she’s being very particular about her lunch order.

Just like Sally substitutes food items and requests items “on the side”, Cafeteria Catholics pick the doctrines they’ll uphold from an a la carte menu at the Catholic Cafe…

“What can I get you?”

“I’ll have a number three.” 

“I’d like the pre-marital sex please with the condoms and
the rhythm method on the side.”

Waitress (writing, repeating):
“Pre-marital sex, condoms, rhythm method…”

“But I’d like the life begins at conception and I don’t want the holy days
of obligation…I want them on the side. And I’d like gay “marriage”
instead of “civil unions” if you have it. If not, then nothing.”

Yes, I’m a Cafeteria Catholic. My right wing sometimes points left, and my thou-shalt-nots are guided by my own moral compass. This makes me “different” in the eyes of the church, but well, I’ve always been a little different (see my Urkel and Vanilla Ice pics above).

In the final verse of the song that started my rambling, Keith Urban sings about the end of his journey to self-discovery:

I spent a lot of years running from believing,
Looking for another way to save my soul.
The longer I live, the more I see it,
There’s only one way home.

Along with the words in John 3:16, I like to think that the believing he speaks of is simply believing in yourself. The way to “save your soul” is to embrace your “different” and accept the differences of others. And the “only way home” is to follow your moral compass…even if it sometimes points more left than right; right than left.

If the second coming were to come tomorrow, I choose to imagine a Twitter account with hundreds of millions of followers. The first tweet would be influenced by witnessing a past century of equal parts social/moral progress and decay. In other words, there’s still too much “world suck.”

The simple message would be shaped by the most universal religious virtues of faith, hope, and love. My faith gives me hope that the tweet would look something like this:

Long Duk Dong’s Back-to-School Fashion Guide

What was he wearing? Well, uh, let’s see…he was wearing a red argyle sweater, and tan trousers, and red shoes………Hmm? No, he’s not retarded!”

Don’t spend another second feeling sorry for Long Duk Dong. For a “Chinaman named after a duck’s dork”, he had an epic first day as an American high school student. Sure his taste in “appetizing food fit neatly into interesting round pie” was square, but his style was all his own. And he rocked that style harder than the Porsche-driving, sleeveless-swea   ter-wearing object of Samantha Baker’s affection. “Donger’s here for five hours, and he’s got somebody. I live here my whole life, and I’m like a disease.” Yes, for those who kept score, Long Duk Dong nabbed a “new-style American girlfriend” before Jake Ryan did.

It’s back-to-school-time again, and we want to tell our children that the content of their character matters more than the contents of their closet. And it does. But we’re talking about the first day of school here, and you always remember your first. So whatever first-day fashion statement your child is about to make…be sure it’s one of their own making. I know this may not be the best lesson to preach, but I preach from a painful personal pulpit.

“Why do you think you’re a dork? I don’t think you’re a dork. I don’t think Mom thinks you’re a dork.”

My mama always said that I was born with Forrest Gump feet…so my fashion choices were limited. She had the option of sending me to school with braces on my legs or with special shoes. Back in those days, “special shoes” was the medical term that podiatrists used to describe saddle shoes. And “saddle shoes” was the politically correct way of saying Shane dressed like a f**king cheerleader.

Vintage saddle shoes from the late ’70′s…as worn on the Gump feet of a young Shane Smith.

While it took a few years, and some ribbing from my classmates, I managed to grow out of my Gump feet. In time, I also rose above my reputation as Morristown’s cutest cross-dresser.

In mom’s defense, I had medical issues that forced her to dress me like Cindy Brady boarding The Good Ship Lollipop. My sister Sherry, on the other hand, had no such reason to send me to school looking like the love child of Steve Urkel and Punky Brewster.

[NOTE: Before I continue, let me just say that I adore my sister Sherry. I idolized her growing up, so I had no reason to question her fashion advice. She wanted her little brother to avoid all the trappings of high school. The  trappings that could turn a “super-cute boy” like me into…well…a teenager. So I took her “Stay gold Pony Boy” advice to heart, and I never gave the outfit that she picked out for me a second look. And since I was able to charm the parachute-pants off girls in middle school…I really didn’t think one outfit could change all that in high school.]

“Take those ridiculous things off!”

I can still recall the most minute details from my first day at Morristown High School: a school where they brew a melting pot of more than just John Hughes clichés. We’re talking white, black, and yellow; straight, gay, and crooked; clean, burnt, and extra crispy. Scared freshman struggled to doggy-paddle their way through a sea of hacky-sac circles, decked suede Pumas, and cigarette smoke rings. You could feel their uneasiness. Desperate to climb the first rung of the high school social ladder, yet fearful of belly-flopping into the shark-infested waters of the high school fish bowl. And then there was me…

As soon as I stepped off the bus, it was clear that I had committed a wardrobe malfunction of Janet–Miss Jackson if You’re Nasty–proportions. I wore Bugle Boy khaki suspender pants on my first day of high school. Not pre-school. High school!!! Belted just below my nipples, the clown pants made me look like an anorexic alcoholic who hadn’t eaten since the Irish Potato Famine.

Shane is wearing vintage 1986 Bugle Boy Khaki Suspender Pants and pure white Jaclar high-tops with untied shoelaces. Hmmm? No he’s not retarded.

I’m not sure about the rest of my body, but my cheeks were flaming more than my favorite WHAM cassette. I considered hiding, but I had already drawn attention from two of my former girlfriends [let’s call them Blonde and Blonder]. I knew I was fried the moment Blonde and Blonder waltzed up to me and started surveying my wacky khaki package.

As Blonde squeezed my flaming cheek, Blonder plucked my suspenders like Eddie Van Halen. And to this day, I haven’t forgotten the looks on their faces or the eight words that Blonder uttered in jest:

“Ooooh, look at Shaney!  Isn’t he so cute?”

But she didn’t say this in a “Chachi’s so cute” kind of way.  No, these were the words of a grandparent squeezing the cheeks of an infant who’d just discovered the joys of eating poop. I was the infant, minus the diaper. Hell, who needed a diaper when I had Hefty-brand suspender pants to carry my shit.

By the time I crossed the entrance to MHS–like a threshold between boyhood and manhood–my Bozo T. Clown pants had already made me public enema #1. I clicked my Jaclar high-tops and mimicked Dorothy by heart.  “There’s no place like [middle school]. There’s no place like [middle school].” But I wasn’t in middle school anymore, and the great and powerful Oz was about to eat me up before lunch.

Speaking of lunch, that’s where my next huge embarrassment awaited.

“This information cannot leave this room. Okay? It would devastate my reputation as a dude.”

If you are what you wear on the first day of high school, then I’m convinced the rest of your social existence rides on who you share a table with at lunchtime. I prayed to the gods that I’d share a lunch period with at least one of my best friends, but no such luck.  Actually, I think all my friends took one good look at my suspenders and begged for a schedule change.

Fearing fashion guilt by association, I imagined they stormed into the Principal’s office and pleated their case:

Friend #1:
“You don’t understand Mr. Rooney, he’s wearing Bugle Boy khaki suspender pants.”

Friend #2:
“I’m pretty sure they’re the same pants my brother wore to kindergarten.”

Friend #3:
“I mean, what’s next?  An Alf lunch box?”

Mr. Rooney:
“Boys, I’ve heard your statements.  And quite frankly I am horrified!!!”

Friend #4:
“You mean, horrified that we’re such awful friends?”

Mr. Rooney:
“No!  I am horrified that Bugle Boy makes suspender pants for high school students.”

The office erupts with laughter.

Meanwhile, I was looking for at least one familiar face in a cafeteria filled with  sophomores who ignored me and freshmen who pretended not to know me.  Christ, with the get-up I was wearing I had a better chance of scoring a seat at Chuck-E-Cheese.

I finally set up camp next to several harmless-looking gnomes who must have raided Alex P. Keaton’s wardrobe.  We’re talking Izod sweater vests and Jox-brand velcro sneakers.  The closest thing to a jock among them was wearing a varsity jacket with a harp on the back.  I offered a faint hello to my new best friends, buried my head in my tray, and started eating. Until suddenly, and inexplicably, I found my bony index finger was lodged in my proboscis.

As luck would have it, my quick pick caught the attention of [let’s call him Biff], a sophomore whose brains were in his love handles. Destined to work in the school cafeteria upon graduating, Biff couldn’t let this opportunity pass him by. So with all the dimwitted passion of Rocky Balboa calling out to his equally dimwitted Adrian, Biff let out the following cry…

 ”EEEEEW! Look at the Freshman picking his nose!”

Knockout!  Before I had a chance to get up off the canvas, all eyes were glued to a suspender-wearing, booger-picking freshman in need of a standing eight count.

Naturally I did what any other proud high school student would do in that situation. I dropped my tray and ran straight the hell out of the cafeteria and upstairs to the library. The library became my lunchtime sanctuary during freshman year. It was my quiet place, where I could reflect on the most humiliating first day in high school history. A day that began, and ended, with a fashion statement that wasn’t of my own making.

“It’s really human of you to listen to all my bullshit.”
If there’s a lesson to learn here, it’s that we all tell our children that the first day of school is about being respectful, paying attention, and making new friends. And it is. Unfortunately, making new friends and making the appropriate fashion statement aren’t mutually exclusive. When in doubt, just be sure the fashion statement your child is about to make is one of his own making. If that doesn’t work, rent Sixteen Candles, or tell him the story about the  “Chinaman named after a duck’s dork”…and the numb-nuts who let his sister dress him like White Urkel.

P.S. Sherry, I still love you. More importantly, I forgive you.

[keep scrolling]

Now will you forgive me?



Happy 50th Doc!

251415_420212768037111_1648127768_nAs a lifelong Mets fan, I always adhere to the party line when asked about my favorite baseball memory. “It’s game 6, October 25, 1986” I always lie. The truth is, my favorite baseball memory involves my all-time favorite Met in (Gasp!) Yankee pinstripes.

I was driving home from Boston, just happy to catch a baseball game on the radio. Dwight Gooden was on the mound, trying to win his first game in some 23 months. Meanwhile, Gooden’s father was watching in his hospital bed…awaiting open-heart surgery the next day.

I listened to 8 innings on my car radio before the baseball (and traffic) Gods got me home in time to catch the final 3 outs with my wife in our apartment. Dwight Gooden did more than just snap a 2-year winless streak on May 14, 1996. He pitched the grittiest, most improbable no-hitter in baseball history.


My wife didn’t quite understand why I cried when they lifted Dwight off the field that night. Maybe because she wasn’t there with me to watch Doctor K’s meteoric rise to the top of the baseball world (he was baseball’s youngest Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and 20-game winner). She wasn’t there on those countless weekends when I’d sacrifice a night out with friends for a night in with my hero. For me, there was nothing better than watching a Dwight Gooden start. She also wasn’t there the first of many times Doc fell from grace…only to rise…and then fall again. And again.

Dwight Gooden turned 50 yesterday. And it’s easy to look back and think, “How could he have thrown it all away?” Or “He should be in Cooperstown today.” Today I’m just grateful to know that he hasn’t fallen in over 3 years. I’m also grateful that Dwight Gooden taught me something as a kid that I can only truly understand as a grown man today:

In sports, as in life, sometimes the rise is more rewarding after the fall.

Happy 50th birthday Doc! May God bless you with the strength you need to keep rising. Again.


Searching for “The Real World” in Reality Television


Truman Burbank:
“Was nothing real?”

“You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch.”

Ever marvel at how far reality television has come since Peter Weir’s groundbreaking 1998 film, The Truman Show?

“Strike that. Reverse it.”

CriminalEver dry heave at how low reality television has sunk since the promising days of a little MTV experiment called The Real World? Before reality stars knew they were stars, the whole concept felt as groundbreaking as The Truman Show. The tragic beauty of Truman’s world is that he was unaware of the cameras that fed his celebrity. Today’s reality stars, on the other hand, aren’t only aware of the cameras…they’d dry-hump the lens if they thought it would give birth to a new lease on celebrity life. A life that’s now fueled by 140-character tweets that attempt to extend their 15-minutes of shame.

Case in point: If a Jersey Bore half-wit like “The Situation” can ride the reality rainbow all the way to the pot of gold toner at the end, how low can the genre ultimately go? I mean, can it possibly get any worse than the Cracker Barrel dedicating an entire wing to The Duck Dynasty clan of back-assward millionaires? Yes it can. How about a local liquor store selling The Sitch’s “Devotion”, a brand of protein vodka? Where’s a real Italian like Vinnie Barbarino and his rubber hose when you need one?

DEVOTION_SITCHThe Situation’s Devotion. Tastes like
vodka, reeks of desperation. 

What makes the show within The Truman Show so popular is the simple fact that Truman Burbank thinks he’s an ordinary man living an ordinary existence. In Christof’s words: “While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit….there’s nothing fake about Truman himself.” Bingo! For as cleverly disguised and criminally contrived as his world is, Truman’s actions in this world are real. Which is more than I can say for today’s half-baked and mostly-faked reality offerings.

“My name is Rick Harrison…and THIS is my pawn shop!”
A few years ago, I visited the site of my then-favorite reality show…Rick Harrison’s Vegas pawn shop. Let’s just say that if all the world is a stage for Truman, then all the world is staged in Rick Harrison’s Little Pawn Shop of Hoarders. Pawn Stars didn’t just jump the shark, it humped it, harpooned it, stuffed it, and pawned it off on millions.

IMG_2596My father and brother at Rick Harrison’s Pawn Shop.

But Rick Harrison isn’t alone, and the demise of reality TV started long before he made “so you wanna pawn it or sell it” a catch-phrase. To understand when reality TV stopped being real (that means you Ozzy), you have to go back to when it first started getting real.

“This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…”

When it debuted in 1992, The Real World captivated viewers like me. Partly because it looked and felt real, but mostly because its “stars” hadn’t even considered a world of reality stardom yet. Eric “The Grind” Nies wasn’t acting like a douche-bag to score a big douche-bag endorsement deal. Eric Niese was, in fact, a douche-bag.

1EricNiesAprEric “The Grind” Nies. Reality
television’s first douche bag. 

And The Real World was still very real in 1994 when many Americans, like me, first got to know someone living with AIDS. Everything about Pedro Zamora’s life felt real to me. So at the risk of melodramaticizing (if that’s not a real word…it should be), maybe the “reality” in reality TV has been dying a slow death ever since Pedro lost his public and courageous battle with AIDS in 1994.

Twenty years later, the whole genre is out of control. When the Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson, spewed his anti-gay venom at GQ magazine, he was crucified by the mainstream media and suspended by his own network. Even if you don’t agree with Robertson’s views, he was being REAL. Call him a real hick, a real hillbilly, or a real hater…no matter…GQ managed to capture what countless hours of highly-rated, and meticulously-edited footage had never offered: The Real World–Duck Dynasty.

The Real Housewives of [insert zip code here]? Please! The real housewives I know work their asses off in the most thankless, grossly underpaid and under-appreciated job in America. You want reality? Strap a GoPro camera on my wife’s head in the morning and stick with her on the rare night when she actually has 5 minutes to herself to read 5 pages of romantic western porn. Sorry, wrong post. Where was I? Oh yeah…

…Here Comes Honey Boo Boo!
But reality television’s most colossal boo boo arrived in 2011, when The Learning (about what exactly?) Channel introduced  us to Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson. I’ll confess that I was charmed by Here Comes Honey Boo Boo during its first season on TLC. It was funny, fresh, and the family’s love felt real. Then it happened. Back in October of 2012, I watched a barefoot and visibly irritated Alana Thompson fake sleep in an attempt to avoid being questioned by Dr. Drew on TV. That’s when it hit me! Maybe this was her Truman Burbank moment? Confronted with the harsh realities of the spotlight surrounding her life, maybe this was America’s most overexposed and exploited young reality star crying out for help.

article-0-15A171BA000005DC-637_634x378Honey Boo Boo fakes sleep as Dr. Drew fakes caring.

Now some might argue that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was real. But it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t misguided and irresponsible. Am I the only TV viewer who weeps for Alana Thompson’s future? Haven’t we all heard the oft-repeated cautionary tale about the “former child star”? Is a Playboy cover story 10 years from now boasting the headline “Honey Bares Her Boo Boobs” really such a stretch? Heck, that might be a best-case scenario.

There Goes Honey Boo Boo!
Late last week, TLC finally and mercifully cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo after reports linked “Mama June” Shannon romantically to Dr. Drew. I’m kidding. Reports linked her to a registered sex offender. I argue that TLC should have pulled the plug sooner.

What scares me is that we have no test-subject for what becomes of the broken reality TV child star. If countless child stars who played fictional TV characters struggle to grow up normally, what becomes of a child star famous for playing herself when she discovers how fleeting a friend fame really is? In Christof’s words:

“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”

At 9 years-old, Alana Thompson is already a “former reality TV child star”.

I just hope she’s able to accept the reality of the world with which she’s now presented.

Happy 20th Anniversary to Cal Ripken’s 2131

251415_420212768037111_1648127768_n23 years ago I wrote a poem about a living legend who was coming off the greatest season of his illustrious career. Yet he found himself mired in a prolonged batting slump. I marveled at how fleeting fandom could be. “Doesn’t he know the streak is hurting his game?” “Shouldn’t he just take himself out of the line-up…for the good of the team?” “Put aside your personal goal Cal. The streak must stop!”

Cal’s streak didn’t stop! He persevered through a lot of physical pain and plenty of second-guessing by the pundits and the boo birds. Until on September 6th, 1995 (20 years ago today), my brother and I watched Cal achieve the unthinkable…and break a baseball record once deemed unbreakable. Oh, and blast a home run. What made this night so much sweeter (and ironic) was that a work stoppage ended the 1994 season prematurely. Baseball desperately needed a feel-good story, and it found one in its hardest “working” player.

Happy 20th Anniversary to 2131, and congratulations to Cal Ripken: one of America’s true “working-class” legends:


The Iron Bird

Perched on high with the baseball Gods,
The embodiment of America’s game.
The Iron Bird of Camden Yards,
Consistency his claim to fame.

Sixteen-hundred…the streak limps on…
For Baltimore’s number eight.
Flying high in pursuit of baseball’s angel,
Becoming a broken-winged bird of fate.

Proof of the wear, his graying hair,
Uncommon for a man of thirty-two.
Playing through pain the Ripken way,
A throwback to the ”Pride” in Yankee blue.

Just a typical game for Mr. Oriole,
He’s hobbled by a swollen knee.
With the winning run racing toward home,
His diving snare in the hole makes three.

It’s now his turn to break the tie,
As the boo birds rise to jeer.
His swing shoots pain through flesh and bone,
A soaring long ball brings back the cheers.

It’s time to cherish our working-class legend,
Let’s applaud all the courage he’s shown.
Because in the these troubled times of baseball,
He’s been the only constant that I’ve known.

If baseball’s a game that survives the times,
Look to Cal during this decade of doubt.
For watching him play should remind us all,
Of what baseball is really about.

On that fateful day when he leaves his perch,
There’ll be only eight men to play.
Let that vacant spot remind us once more,
That the Iron Bird played there…every day.

Shane Smith, 1992




“Hey dad…you wanna have a catch?”

251415_420212768037111_1648127768_nMy favorite line from my favorite baseball movie of all-time still manipulates my tear ducts every time. For me, the simplest, purest, American-dreamiest act of childhood is a baseball catch with the old man. Like leather bookends, a pair of game-weathered baseball gloves catches more than just a cowhide sphere tossed back and forth. They capture memories that span multiple generations of sons who become fathers and fathers who become little league coaches.

I was a son coached by his father. For the past seven years, a coach of my own two sons. From the beginning of my coaching days, it was hard not to wax nostalgic and think back to my own playing days. The idealist in me wanted to believe that little league baseball was nothing more than an organized version of The Sandlot. Every game would begin at the crack of dawn and end under a night sky lit by fireworks and accompanied by Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. Best of all, in this most wonderful of baseball worlds, parents were nothing more than glorified extras who sounded an awful lot like the adult actors from the Charlie Brown TV specials.


After seven years of coaching little league baseball, however, the realist in me knows better than to get all misty-eyed when I hear Mr. Armstrong’s heartfelt, raspy-voiced lullaby. In this coach’s opinion, what happens between the little-league foul lines is still every bit as wonderful a world as promised. But outside the foul lines, a little league field of dreams can become a nightmare for some unsuspecting players and coaches.

“I always said that the only team that I would coach
would be a team of orphans, and now here we are.”

–St. Louis Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, in a letter to his little league parents

Mike Matheny’s letter to parents is a must-read for every coach. For little league parents, it sets the perfect tone for what a coach is trying to accomplish and what he expects from parents. “The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. I think that it is best to nip this in the bud right off the bat.” Matheny continues: “…if you hand your child over to me to coach them, then let me do that job.” 

Without the benefit of Matheny’s words, I signed up to coach in Louie Armstrong’s version of little league baseball. My goals were simple: 1) Have fun and teach the game of baseball the same way my father taught me; 2) Try to be a positive influence on and off the field; 3) Play to win, but teach my players how to win and lose with class. In terms of setting expectations, I still preach a simple philosophy: Regardless of how far your future baseball career takes you, baseball is never more fun than when you’re a little-leaguer. Unless, of course, a “bad little league parent” stands in the way of the fun.

“By the time I was ten, playing baseball got to be like eating vegetables
or  taking out the garbage. So when I was fourteen I started refusing.
Can you  believe that? An American boy refusing to play catch with his father.”
–Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams

Yes Ray Kinsella, I can believe that an American boy would refuse to play catch with his father. Especially if each backyard catch comes with a time clock, and each punch of the time card raises expectation levels. It’s these expectation levels that can burden the child with an unspoken promise to repay dad with a stellar little league career. Call it little league baseball’s “Daddy IOU.” If you think that’s a stretch, visit a neighboring town and sit anonymously in the stands during a Williamsport All-Star game. If that’s not possible, read about the ongoing survey conducted by two former coaches, Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller. They asked hundreds of college athletes to think back to their worst memory of playing youth sports. The most common response: “The ride home from games with my parents.”

Based on this response, it’s not surprising that nearly 75% of kids who play organized sports quit by the age of 13. Sure, you can argue that some quit out of necessity…as they fail to keep pace with their bigger, faster, more athletic peers. Yet so many others quit for a simpler reason. Like Ray Kinsella before them, they start playing baseball for the love of the game…and wind up playing for the acceptance of their parents. What starts out as a game played for fun ends with anxiety-inducing memories that are stitched into a child’s psyche tighter than cowhide to string.

“I know that it is going to be very hard not to coach
from the stands… but I am confident that this works in
a negative way for their development and their enjoyment.”
–St. Louis Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, in a letter to his little league parents

Before I started coaching, I used to love it when the ESPN cameras panned the stands during a Little League World Series game. “What were all those cheering parents feeling?” I’d ask myself. Joy for their children; pride for their hometown team’s accomplishments; gratitude for their coaches? I’m sure there’s plenty of all three. But I’m also willing to bet that for every “root, root, root for the home team” cheer, there’s an email being composed about playing time. There’s a whisper about how “my son” would have made that catch. And there’s at least one parent who feels that even the biggest victory is pyrrhic if “my son” doesn’t shine.


It’s no different when you move back to the diamonds in the rough in your own home town. Every player is dissected, each inning is revisited, and statistics are obsessed over like hanging chads. Parents record at-bats and then analyze the swings frame-by-frame like the Zapruder film. Coaches are second-guessed about batting positioning, defensive positioning, and playing time. Worst of all, unsuspecting players are often evaluated through the rose-colored (“my kid is better”) lenses of parenthood.

“I think the concept that I am asking all of you to grab is that
this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything
about it that includes you, we need to make a change of plans.”
–St. Louis Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, in a letter to his little league parents

Now most baseball parents, to be fair, are well-intentioned. They simply love their children and want them to enjoy the same highs or avoid the same lows they experienced as children. Even Matheny admits: “A large part of how your child improves is your responsibility. As a parent, you can help out tremendously by playing catch, throwing batting practice, hitting ground balls, or finding an instructor who will do this in your place.” I couldn’t agree more. There’s no better way to help nurture your child’s love for the game than having that backyard catch every time he or she asks. The challenge comes when you move from the backyard to the ballpark.


Let’s be honest. Who among us, present writer included, hasn’t been a “bad little league parent” from time to time. Have you ever argued a blown call made by a teenage umpire? Maybe. Have you ever second-guessed a coach about your child’s batting position or playing time? I’m sure you have. Heck, have I failed to show the same level of post-game enthusiasm after my son’s 0 for 4 as I have after his 4 for 4? You bet. But I’ve learned to stop myself. I’ve learned that the game should be played between the foul lines, and it should end when you step outside those lines. I’ve also learned a lot from Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller.

In the same survey from Brown and Miller, the same college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great. What elevated their joy during and after the game? The overwhelming response: “I love to watch you play.”


Before the Winter thaws into Spring training, drive through your hometown and slow to a crawl as you pass by your local little league field. Look passed the weathered advertising banners, the makeshift press box, and the broken-down bleachers. Just focus on the field. The field represents so much more than just the promise of next season. The field is a time capsule. It holds the memories and dreams–both fulfilled and unfulfilled–of every little leaguer who’s ever stepped inside the chalky-white foul lines.

“And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped
themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick
they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”
–Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

Allow yourself to think back to a moment when a little league field was “the most special place in the whole world” to you. Close your eyes, listen closely, and you just might re-hear the cheers or re-feel the goose bumps from your most enduring little league memory.


And if we all listen to the words of Ray Kinsella, Brown and Miller, Mike Matheny, and Terence Mann…maybe we won’t hear all the screams, the whispers, the second-guessing, and the berating this coming season. Maybe during each game we’ll hear the raspy-voiced lullaby of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.

And after the game, regardless of the outcome, maybe we’ll hear six simple words from a parent to their child:

“I love to watch you play.”