Author: DearMisterVernon

"Who are you? Who are you?" I’m a married father of 3 and a lifelong resident of Morristown, NJ. I’m a medical writer by day, a screenwriter by night, and a pop-culture junkie from birth. My hobbies include coaching youth sports, binge-watching classic TV shows with my children, and rom-comming with my wife. My bio says I graduated Seton Hall University with a BA, but that’s BS. I studied the Gospel According to John Hughes growing up, majored in Entertainment Weekly in college, and have a post-grad dream of nurturing my semi-autobiographical screenplay onto the big screen. And in doing so, turning Morristown, New Jersey into the 21st century heir apparent of Shermer, Illinois. If not, I’ll settle for writing The Hot List for Entertainment Weekly. “Yah…and monkeys might fly out of my butt.” The categories of my entertainment blog follow the John Hughes script of high school stereotypes and lend further support to my belief that there’s a brain, basket case, princess, athlete, and criminal in all of us. On Dear Mr. Vernon, you’ll find me writing as… The Brain: a film historian whose commentary is directed at neo maxi zoom dweebies who can quote movie lines the way Tim Tebow quotes scripture. The Basket Case: a pop-culture schizophrenic who rants and raves about the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads we all adore. The Princess: a lover of chick flicks who can’t hold his smoke and was once accused of reciting When Harry Met Sally in its entirety to his daughter at bedtime. The Jock: a righteous dude who coaches youth sports, hasn’t officially retired from being a youth, and equates loving the Mets with living a Greek tragedy. The Criminal: a slightly less secure, yet exceedingly more sarcastic version of Chandler Bing. He often comes across as a retarded, big mouth, know-it-all, asshole jerk. All in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. “Does that answer your question?”

“What About Prom, [Shane]?”

True to the masthead I write under, I learned everything I know about high school traditions from the movies of John Hughes. Which is to say, I spent more time watching movies about high school traditions than I spent participating in them. Today, these movies are more dated than a “Where’s the Beef?” T-shirt. As such, my oldest son Cal pays zero attention to the high school lessons I preach. Lessons he aptly named: The Gospel According to John Hughes.

The kid’s got a point. Up until my senior year, I never participated in any of the major high school traditions. I observed them. I never swigged the booze or bagged the babe, but I could tell you who swigged the babe and bagged the booze. I guess you could say I was a bit of a high school anomaly. I was an extroverted introvert who studied hard, had a few close friends, just said “no” to everything, and lived vicariously through the lives of Hughes’s high school heroes and heroines. For me, there were no parties (Sixteen Candles), no detentions (The Breakfast Club), no cutting class (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and no school dances (Pretty in Pink). In fact, I had virtually no life after midnight (The Gremlins).

So by the time my senior prom arrived, the thought of scoring a date sounded downright prom-posterous. For starters, I wasn’t exactly on any girl’s A-list of eligible bachelors. In their rolodexes (remember those?), they filed my number somewhere between N and O. And with the exception of my two sisters, and maybe a few of their mannish friends, I hardly even talked to the opposite sex. In their minds, I was the opposite of sex.

“Good morning! Welcome to another day of higher education!”

In my defense, my oldest siblings didn’t exactly paint a pretty-in-pink picture of high school proms:

  • At her prom, my sister Cindy walked through an unopened glass door and wound up concussed.
  • My sister Sherry’s prom dates equaled the collective coolness of Ernie and Bert.
  • My brother Brett never made it to his senior prom; or senior year for that matter.

Even so, I knew that the senior prom wasn’t just another dance. This time, I couldn’t just say no. As prom night grew closer, my family started reminding me of this very point. Actually, they started to sound like Andie (Molly Ringwald) hammering Blane, her would-be prom date and major appliance: “What about prom, [SHANE]!?!?!” 

Sadly, up until 2 weeks before prom, this Ferris Bueller-sounding promposal was the best offer I got: “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who said she might go with you.”  

“This is an incredibly romantic moment, and you’re ruining it for me!”

Inspired by Pretty In Pink’s Duckie, I finally summoned the courage to ask the sweetest girl at Morristown High School to the prom. As I recall, my shaky-legged promposal sounded an awful lot like Rocky Balboa proposing to Adrian:

“Hey yo, Selina. I was just wonderin’ if you
wouldn’t
mind goin’ to the prom with me too much?” 

Nonetheless, Selina said YES! I wore a slightly ironic mismatched black-and-white tuxedo. We shared a limo with my 3 best friends. And I enjoyed a prom night that still inspires me to this day.

Flash forward 27 years…

As I worked late last night, and watched social media drive MHS prom photos into the local zeitgeist, I was at a loss for words. So overcome with pure pride and joy, I could only text the following to my wife: “I can’t stop smiling and crying!”

I share my slightly exaggerated story above because I know that every kid at the prom last night has his or her own story. And like bookends to each kid’s story, there are parents who’ve supported their child through it all. As parents, we see beneath the newly coiffed hair, the flawless tuxes/dresses, and the generous helpings of tan spray paint. We see the long, winding, sometimes bumpy road of adolescent life that brought our kids to this destination. And when it comes to high school, let’s face it, getting there isn’t always half the fun. But boy, don’t the memories of “getting there” make moments like last night so much sweeter?

I think of all the demands that parents, teachers, coaches, peers, and cellular devices place on kids. Heck, these demands are probably nothing compared to the demands our kids place on themselves. But for one night–and a long weekend down the shore that has every parent praying to whomever they pray to in times like these–there was only one demand being placed on our kids:

Just go out there and have the time of your life!

For me, prom is the American high school tradition. It’s truly a rite of passage and the one important ritual of American youth that I was proud to have participated in. Today I’m so proud and excited for all those self-tanned and smiling faces that I recognized on social media last night. As for what lays ahead for them this weekend, I’ll let Duckie sum it up for you:

“Oh you know, beer, scotch, juice box… whatever.”

Have a great weekend everybody! “I’m off like a dirty shirt.”

My Top 10 Songs of Summer

I’ve seen more summer concerts than I care to mention,
Vanilla Ice, Hammer, and other cries for attention.
And while it’s easy to say I got caught up in a fad,
The truth is, “summer songs” just make me go mad.

By summer songs, I’m not talking about the [insert “Summer” here] songs that play All Summer Long. The ones that reak of desperation from desperate artists [that means you Kid Rock, Kid Rap, or Kid Country]. And while some titular summer songs like Bananarama’s Cruel Summer, Don Henley’s Boys of Summer,  and Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 do fit my bill, I’m referring to that summer song that’s released in the spring…picks up steady airplay and humma-bility by Memorial Day…and still rings in your karaoke-ear come Labor Day. It’s that pervasive summer song that becomes as much a part of your summer as sunshine, sunburn, and a summons for public drunkenness.

Just listen to the classic songs of summer like The Police’s Every Breath You Take or even Carly Rae Jepsen’s ubiquitous Call Me Maybe (Not). Close your eyes and try not to associate those songs with at least one golden moment from the sun-soaked season of promise that produced it.

As the final summer of my early 40′s approaches…I’ll acknowledge that I haven’t had a real beach vacation in years…and that these days my summer tan is often a whiter shade of pale ale. Even so, the unofficial start to summer this weekend has bewitched me with that whiff of nostalgia and the lure of another summer’s promise.

So this Memorial Day weekend, I’ve decided to “adjust the base and let the Alpine blast…” with the songs that bring back memories of summers past…when love was often in the air…and “those su-uh-mmer niii-iiiiiiiights” seemed to last forever.

Borderline – Madonna (summer of 1984)
I spent the summer after 6th grade daydreaming about my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and how my one true love got away (I was 12). So naturally I was a sun-soaked sucker for Borderline’s poignant opening keyboard lick and infatuation-infused lyrics. It was the first of many summers marked by romantic frustration for me. But at least I had Madonna to “keep pushing my love” to dial six out of my ex-girlfriend’s seven numbers before hanging up the phone. I repeat, I was 12.

Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard (summer of 1988)
In 1988, “Hold On To The Nights” by the nappy-mulleted Richard Marx was all the summer rage. And while many teenagers were waxing hopeful about a summer fling…or figuring out that spinning the bottle was more fun after you drank the bottle…I was racking my brain trying to figure out the “love me like a bomb” lyrics of Def Leppard’s signature song. I still don’t get the lyrics…I’ve never found myself “living like a lover with a radar phone”…but l really don’t care. I credit Def Leppard for ushering in the sound of those late-80′s summers…where the best bands anywhere were the ones with the biggest hair!

Poison – Bell Biv DeVoe (summer of 1990)
I’ll never forget the summer before my Freshman year in college. So many friendships made, lessons learned, and even more memorable love songs: Mariah’s Vision of Love, Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love [Even Though Julia Roberts Was a Hooker], and Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2U [Because You’re a Bald Chick]. All great, memorable love songs…that bring me back to a summer that bridged the gap between high school boyhood and college manhood. Yet the greatest lesson I learned that summer was to “Never trust a big butt and a smile.”

Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (summer of 1991)
In the summer of ’91, I became intoxicated by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s “new definition of summer madness.” I summoned the courage to Dippity-Do my hair like Vanilla Ice…then I zeroed the sides of my head and annointed myself The Fresh Prince of Bad Hair. I popped in my Summertime cas-single…put my ’79 Camaro on cruise control…and laid back like Vanilla Ice Cube driving straight out of Compton (by way of Morris Plains). Somehow my new-found summer confidence (and identity crisis) lead me to the Rockaway Townsquare Playhouse where I auditioned for, and won, the role of Stanley in Neil Simons’ Brighton Beach Memoirs. It was my first-ever acting experience, and I owe it all to a “groove slightly transformed” by the artist formerly known as The Fresh Prince.

All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow (summer of 1994)
The most mindless summer song of all-time is the one song I didn’t want to get out of my head. At the start of my PR career in Manhattan, Cheryl Crow’s party anthem played on my Walk-Man (remember those?) and helped me endure the daily, dehumanizing, sardines-in-a-can grind of the NJ PATH train. If you had asked me back then, I’d have said ”all I wanna do is get the hell out of Manhattan, propose to my girlfriend, and live happily ever after in Morristown.” Thanks, in small part, to Sheryl Crow…that’s all I wound up doing by summer’s end.

Waterfalls –TLC (summer of 1995)
Sad stories from the ghetto, a buoyant hook, and images of water — so of course this is the song that most reminds me of my wedding day. The song and video were inescapable during the months leading up to my September wedding. Hell, it even turned up at my wedding (and we hired a Portuguese band). It also became the song of choice from the Indigo Girls-inspired folk chicks who serenaded honeymooners at our Key West resort. I’ll never forget Waterfalls, or the amazing honeymoon I spent with the love(s) of my life…Chilli, T-Boz, Lisa Left Eye Lopez, and the girl I married.

You’re Still the One – Shania Twain (summer of 1998)
Although it peaked at #1 on May 2nd, I’m willing to bend the rules here because You’re Still the One owned the airwaves throughout the summer of 1998…and it still owned my wife’s heart throughout her pregnancy with our son. On December 22nd of the following year, Helena gave birth to the youngest Shania Twain fan on Earth. I reckon our firstborn heard that Twain song in the womb more than I heard that Twain song (Hey, Soul Sister) in 2010. Twain and Train…get it?

I’m a Believer – Smash Mouth (summer of 2001)
“Somebody once told me”… that when I had children my taste in music would change. Thanks to my firstborn—and Shrek—I fell for this drek during the summer of 2001. Worst of all, it was only 2 short years after Smash Mouth’s other summer smash, All Star. I had banked on Smash Mouth following in the footsteps of other one hit summer wonders like EMF (“You’re unbelievable….Ohhhh!”) and The Proclaimers (“I would walk 500 miles…just to be the man who walked 500 miles” to turn off that fu**ing song!). But I’m still a believer in cherishing your child’s first movie-going experience. And for me, I’m a Believer is a small price to pay for watching Shrek scare the donkey out of my 2-year old son.

American Idiot – Green Day (summer of 2005)
Bending the rules again. During a long, hot car drive to and from a pre-Snooki Jersey Shore….my sons were introduced to modern rock…compliments of Green Day. What began as lispy, backseat whispers (“…here comes the part where he says f-u-c-k”) turned into the love of one song, then the entire CD, and ultimately a whole genre of music. So American Idiot is 2005′s “CD of summer.” And thanks to this American Idiot dad who allowed his young sons to listen to a CD with explicit lyrics….my boys still treat rock as more than just a passing fad. And it’s best enjoyed when they’re rocking out with dad.

Big Girls Don’t Cry– Fergie (summer of 2007)
Fatherhood was supposed to have matured me. And while the births of my two sons definitely helped turn me into a more responsible adult….the jury was still out on the maturity claim until my daughter was born. Fergie’s song played out like the soundtrack to my daughter’s 2-year-old summer. She was becoming a big girl, my boys were growing into their roles as big brothers, and daddy became a bigger (yet, more mature) moosh.

That’s it. My all-time summer top 10. Now “pop in [your] CD and let me run a rhyme…and put your car on cruise and lay back cuz it’s summertime.”

The First Cut is the Deepest

We’ve all heard the story by now. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team only to persevere and become a national champion at North Carolina, a 6-time world champion for the Chicago Bulls, and the undisputed king of crying memes.

In 1978, Michael Jordan was just another kid in the gym trying out
for the Emsley A. Laney High School varsity basketball team. There were 15
roster spots. Jordan—then a 15-year-old
sophomore who was only 5’10” and
could not yet dunk a basketball—did not get one.

This very true story has become every parent’s rallying cry when their child gets cut. In movie terms (and these are the only terms I understand) getting cut is like being shipped away to Shawshank Prison or to a solitary cell at Alexandre “Dumb-ass’s” Chateau d’if.

Let’s stick with the Shawshank Redemption theme. You might say that when it comes to being cut, it comes down to a simple choice, really:

“Get busy living. Or get busy [crying].”

As a little league “All-Star” coach, I had to cut kids as young as nine. Nine!?!? Sure, I handled the cutting process delicately and I challenged each player to work hard and prove me wrong next year. Like Jordan before him, one player did prove me wrong. By age 12, he finally earned the right to be called an All-Star. Sadly, other players phased out of baseball and phased into lacrosse, track, or Grand Theft Auto.

In cases where cuts lead to quitting, it’s easy to blame the coach. And as “the coach”, it was easy for me to stand on my soapbox and deflect criticism with
coach-speak replies that were more cliche-ridden than a Bon Jovi set list. Heck, I’d even extend my “You Give [Cuts] a Bad Name” anthem to friends and family members whose kids didn’t quite, well, cut it.

“Uh, [Shane], I do believe you are talking out of your ass.” 

It turns out that being a former coach with cutting privileges means you don’t know jack crap about what it’s like on the other end. When my son got cut this season, my natural response was to shape-shift into Mama Bear and shove porridge up Coach Goldilocks’s ass.

  • Your first thoughts are irrational ones: He has something against my son. It’s all political. He must know I like pineapple on my pizza.
  • Your second thoughts are equal parts constructive and destructive: Maybe I should call the coach…call the cops…send him a letter…lace it with anthrax.
  • As the blood finally recedes from your vein-bulging forehead: I’d better shred the letter…hang up the phone…put the pineapples back on my pizza…have an honest conversation with my son.

And that’s exactly what I did (the honest conversation part). And when you do that, you might find that your child won’t take “cut” for an answer. In fact, he just might look forward to proving his coach wrong.

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.” 

As a former little league coach, I enjoy watching my former players ascend the ranks from middle school to high school ball. The coach in me can’t help but project their futures and grade them like stocks in my very own baseball portfolio. There are “5-toolers” and “bench-droolers”, “can’t misses” and “couldn’t hit water if they fell out of boats”. But like the 9-year-old who ultimately proved me wrong, there’s nothing that I enjoy more than a baseball redemption story. Especially when, in my humble opinion, the coach gets it wrong at first.

To me, a baseball redemption story is no less dramatic than Andy Dufresne crawling through a river of shit and coming out clean on the other side of Shawshank Prison. And like geology to Andy Dufresne, baseball redemption is a study in pressure and time. “Maybe that’s all it takes really…is pressure and time.” If you’re lucky enough, your time will come. And when your time comes, you hope to handle the pressure of that moment. Because, let’s face it, all good redemption stories come down to that one moment.

“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head.” 

This past week I watched two such players take full advantage of their respective times in the most pressure-filled moments of a high school baseball game. For one player, his moment was an indescribably beautiful, run-saving, full-extension, diving catch. For the other player, his moment covered three dominant, scoreless innings on the mound. What both players had in common was that they weren’t the coach’s first choice over the past couple of seasons. And it would have been understandable if either player had “vanished like a fart in the wind” after being cut and/or having to serve a commuted sentence on the varsity bench.

The redemption lesson here is that the players didn’t lose hope when their number wasn’t called at first. And, I’m pretty certain, their parents didn’t let them lose hope.

“Remember, [parents], hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

I hope that every player who was cut this year works hard to prove their coach wrong.

I hope that every coach welcomes the opportunity to be proven wrong next year.

I hope there are more baseball redemption stories to be told in the future.

I hope.

 

The ’80s: Stranger Things from a Simpler Time

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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.

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  • 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).  

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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.

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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).
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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.

et

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

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

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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
the
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”. 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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]

Beavis:
Dad, why did you make us watch that?

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

Butthead:
–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:

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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.

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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.

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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!]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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:

“Shanco”

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.

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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…

#MarriageAdviceIn3Words
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?

Shane:
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 Ancestry.com First
This tweet cracked me up. Even if there were an ancestry.com 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.

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  • 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.

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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).

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

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

Helena:
“Sleeves.”

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

Shane:
“Have you considered Couch To 5K Helena?”

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.

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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!

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John Hughes, John Green, John 3:16

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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).


JOHN HUGHES
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.

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“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.

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“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.”]

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


JOHN GREEN

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.

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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.

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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. 

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Sorry, not the fake orgasm part. The part where she’s being very particular about her lunch order. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IxeeeSUFpmE

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…

Waitress:
“What can I get you?”

Harry:
“I’ll have a number three.” 

Sally:
“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…”

Sally:
“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

long
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.

saddle
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
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:

Blonder:
“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?

“SOFA CITY SWEETHEART!”

sherry

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.

Dwight-Gooden

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.

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