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.

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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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RWNewYorkCast

Truman Burbank:
“Was nothing real?”

Christof:
“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.

Searching for “The Real World” in Reality Television

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

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LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL: PARENTAL GUIDANCE ISN’T SUGGESTED

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“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.

sandlot

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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Vanity Scare: George Costanza’s Guide to Male Pattern Baldness

you-are-a-young-george-costanza-1-30845-1366996589-9_big1I write about my age a lot. I’ve written about being a 14-year-old freshman in a 4-year-old’s khaki suspender pants. About turning 40, but still acting 14. And about spending the first 3 months of 41 glued to my toilet and breaking bad wind.

Age was still on my mind when I started my 4-week treatment for colitis in early January. I was feeling old and weary. I needed some light at the end of my ulcerated tunnel. So I threw caution to the wind and made it rain on StubHub. Since Super Bowl weekend would coincide with the end of my treatment, I marked that weekend as my coming out of the bathroom party: Keith Urban at The Garden followed by The Chilli Peppers at Barclays Center.

En route to the world’s most famous arena, my father and I stopped at Jersey’s most famous diner. Unbeknownst to me, Tops Diner would soon turn into Tom’s Restaurant.

I’m [41] years old. I haven’t outgrown the problems of puberty…I’m already facing the problems of old age. I completely skipped healthy adulthood.”

Like the show about nothing, I expected a meaningless conversation during our pre-concert meal. I ordered my colitis-friendly chicken blandwich. Dad ordered the hot open roast beef with French fries, extra gravy, and a side order of stent.

Then I made a colossal mistake. I asked my dad for pity. I whined about my colitis and how the doctor decided to extend my treatment indefinitely. I told my dad that I felt old. That’s when I started having dinner with George Costanza.

Dad:
“Old? How do you think I feel? I got moles on my face.
My skin’s startin’ to sag. My hair’s all wispy. And I have tits.”

 Shane:
“Dad, you’re 74!”

Dad:
“Yeah, but you don’t get it Shane. Up until a few years ago, I still had it. I mean,
young women would still check me out. But nowadays…” 

As a young, mildly attractive waitress passes by without returning dad’s smile…

Dad:
“You see that shit! I get nothing!”

Shane:
“Dad, you’re 74!!!”

 Dad:
“Shane, I have tits!!!”

“After seeing my father’s hooters, I threw up all night. It was like my own personal Crying Game.”

When we reached the Garden, I was still feeling old and I was surprised to see so many young Keith Urban fans. Wasn’t it only yesterday that I felt like a frat boy at Kenny Chesney’s Garden party? Flash forward a few years, and I couldn’t even drink beer. I had to trade in my “keg in the closet” for prune juice in a f**king sippy cup. 

“You should have seen her face. It was the exact same look my father gave me when I told him I wanted to be a ventriloquist.”

When dad failed to get so much as a “look at the cute old man” smile from a female fan, he turned sour for the rest of the night. Every wannabe Urban Cowboy was “a DOOF” in dad’s eyes. Every woman “built like a brick shit house” was a woman he could no longer woo. Sensing dad’s vulnerability, I shifted the focus back to me. I opened up to him about things that make me feel old. Most notably, the current state of my hair. 

“These are not scraps. These are the historic remains of a once great society of hair.”get-attachment.aspx

It’s no secret that the Smith men are hair guys. I’ve been obsessed with my hair ever since my wife cited it as THE reason she said yes. And while I’m sure my father was a lot balder than me at 41, I never considered him bald. I mean, nobody has ever done so much with so little. 

When we were kids, my brother and I would watch in awe as dad would wake up, enter the bathroom with 72 strands of disheveled hair, and exit the bathroom as Fonzy. “How does he do it?” we’d ask ourselves. Was it a magic comb? Did he buy the comb from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans? (see My Cousin Vinny).

Whatever the case, I’ve been trying to replicate dad’s magic hair trick ever since. My brother Brett came close to replicating it when he joined the Marine Corps. During infantry training, Brett mastered the art of camouflaging his bald spot by shaving his sparse ginger locks tighter than Gerald “Major Dad” McRaney.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find the magic beans strong enough to restore my windswept wisps to their Brandon “90210” Walsh heyday. But you can’t say I haven’t tried.

“I was in the pool!!! I was in the pool!!!”

When I was 35, I tried Propecia. For those of you who aren’t medical writers, let me break down Propecia for you:

  • Merck boasts that Propecia regrows hair by blocking the formation of DHT. 
  • After several months, I could only boast that it blocked the formation of boners. 

raymond_george-costanza-shrinkage

“Significant shrinkage!”

Funnily enough, my brother started taking Propecia around the same time I did. Of course, he was far too proud to share his “frightened little turtle” story with me. He called me one night and used his best Lieutenant Columbo act to break me before he did. Vague statements like “…well, uh, they say it’s not uncommon for, you know…” evolved into a cryptic confession: “I mean, uh, it’s not like I can’t…you know…it’s just, uh, kind of bendy.”

So we said goodbye to Proshrinkage, and I vowed to never sacrifice my vitality for vanity again.

“I would like to dip my bald head in oil and rub it all over your body.”

I never gave Rogaine oil or foam much of a chance to regrow hair out of my head. After a few dollops, Rogaine made my heart beat out of my chest. So the last option I considered was Bosley Hair Transplantation. The Bosley commercials were inviting and the whole process sounded like a Sherwood Forest adventure. The doctor steals follicles from the follically-rich areas and gives them to the follically-poor areas. Here’s what they don’t show you in their follically-misleading commercials:

  1. “Stealing follicles” is Dr. Frankenstein speak for scarring your scalp.
  2. The hair that “regrows” is about as thick and voluminous as my 8th grade pubes.

Oh, and if you want to maintain your freshly grown pubes, you have to take Propecia for the rest of your life. Thanks Bosley! A lifetime of sex using my freshly boiled “Fusilli Jerry”.

“[Shane] is getting upset!!!”

That’s all it took. My father opened up to me about Father Time and feeling past his prime. So I cheered him up by reminding him that his sons, 30 years his juniors, often feel the same way. We laughed the whole ride home. 

I also reminded my dad that there aren’t too many 74-year-olds who still hang out with their sons. I mean, if my dad weren’t so young for his age, we’d drop him off at the Bingo parlor on our way to the show. The truth is, we love hanging out with him. And I’m sure hanging out with us makes him feel young again. Which is why, I think, dad turned into George Costanza that night. When I started talking like an old fart, I think dad started to feel like one. Never again!

“Appearance not important! This is unbelievable. Finally an ideology I can embrace.”

Two nights later, I found myself at a much younger, cooler event. The Chilli Peppers rocked out to a sold-out Barclays Center crowd half their age. My “old age” and bald spot were the furthest things from my mind. In fact, I’ve never felt so young and alive at a concert. And it wasn’t the strong gust of second-hand wind that must’ve blown in from Colorado that gave me such a buzz (and my kids the munchies). It was the opportunity to experience what my father experiences with his 2 sons several times each year. I was the old man, feeling lucky as hell to rock out with his young sons. With any luck, I’ll still be young enough to rock out with them 33 years from now. 

get-attachment-1.aspxThe truth is, I’ll never stop trying to look and feel younger. At 41, I’m probably not ready to stop shopping at American Eagle…even if my sons think it’s “getting kind of creepy”. I may never stop searching for that fountain of youthful hair. And the next time I post a picture of myself, I’m sure I’ll still search for a Hair Restoration photo filter between Antique and Sepia. But I will try my best to embrace my advancing age and my ever-expanding bald spot. When all else fails, I’ll follow the example of the youngest 74-year-old man in the world.

I will also hold out hope that my favorite prophet, George Costanza, was on to something when he said:

“Hey believe me, baldness will catch on. When the aliens come, who do you think they’re gonna relate to? Who do you think’s gonna be the first ones getting a tour of the ship?”

I know who…

Me. My brother. My father. And his tits.

Plumbing the Depths of Despair: A Christmas Story

11036419_983825525009163_9214948248004658624_nOn the eve of my 41st birthday, I had many reasons to be merry about my first year as a mid-lifer. My family was healthy, business was booming, and Christmas was right around the corner. I guess you can say I was happier than Ralphie Parker and his carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle.

“Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

Shortly after my 41st birthday, without cause or provocation, my ass started talking to me. Nothing odorous or vile, just these little baby-talk gurgles that spurted out of me every time I so much as sniffed food. There was no way to control it or explain it. Whether a Tic Tac or a taco, my ass would break into staccato.

Then came mid-October. My appetite was writing checks that my colon couldn’t cash, and the ass-gurgles graduated to full-blown movie quotes:

  • When I ate something spicy: “Say hello to my little frrrrrriend!”
  • When I’d reach for some produce: “You can’t handle the [fruit]!!!
  • If I dared to dream of fried food: “If you [eat] it….[shit] will come.”

Now I’ve spent the better part of my professional life as a medical writer. I know that, unless you’re a pet detective, a talking ass shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here’s the problem, though. I may have enough medical knowledge to diagnose a fart before it comes out of someone else’s ass. But when the medical writer becomes the medical subject, I cling to my own hypocritical oath. Meaning I don’t practice what I preach. I hide behind my MD (medical denial).

“I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.”

By mid-November, I was still in denial and a whole lot of pain. Far too proud (scared) to visit the doctor, I self-diagnosed myself with a disease called bull shit. It’s a rare condition where the food you eat runs through the corridors of your colon like the bulls of Pamplona. The bathroom breaks were so frequent, I began to measure my ass-weary misery in medicated wipes. I “worked in (medicated wipes) the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was (my) true medium. A master.”

By Thanksgiving, my colon sounded like the demon child of Danny Torrance. I’ll never forget the horror of seeing blood in the toilet or hearing the chants of “Red rum! Red rum!” as I flushed.

“It was all over. I was dead. What would it be? The guillotine? Hanging? The chair? The rack? The Chinese water torture? Hmmph. Mere child’s play compared to what surely awaited me.”

Eating anything became far too great of a price to pay. So I boycotted my all-time favorite meal, Thanksgiving leftovers. “No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone”. 

By Christmas Eve, my brain-gutt connection was completely disconnected. I was crapping out food that I hadn’t even eaten yet. I had dropped at least 10 pounds, and my body fat consisted only of my hemorrhoids. At dinnertime on Christmas day, I sat alone on my couch and sulked. My bottom, as I concluded, had finally reached bottom. And the next morning, my wife made the call that I should have made 3 months earlier. I visited the gastro-enter-my-ass-agist and….

…. “Ohhhhh…..fuuuuuuudge……

….he scheduled me for a colonoscopy. He also gave me instructions for a type of cleansing called bowel prep. Don’t let theImage B_SUPREPKit_About_SUPREP_sm name fool you. Bowel prep isn’t like SAT prep. It’s not a dry run to help you get a better test score. Bowel prep is Chinese water torture mixed with a grape-flavored nuclear warhead. My bowel prep instructions were quite explicit: “drink 48 ounces and then let Linda Blair possess your ass for 5 hours.”

I won’t pretend to know what natural childbirth feels like. I can, however, describe what it feels like to carry a 48 oz water balloon to term. I never felt a contraction, it was an eruption. I hopped off the couch, unbuckled my pants with one hand, corked my ass shut with the other, and pogo-sticked my way into the bathroom. [Insert image of my 3 supportive children laughing their asses off]. I made it to the bathroom, popped the cork, frantically dropped trough, and finally dumped a polka-dotted potpourri of prep on my bathroom tiles.

“Oh my God! I shot my [ass] out!”

But the cleansing was all worth it. By the next morning, I was wheeled into the exam room where Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb serenaded me into the most relaxing snooze I’d had in months. When I awoke, the true music to my ears was that the gurgling, the pain, the blood, and the express lane from my mouth to my ass finally had a name: Ulcerative colitis. It’s kind of a scary disease. There’s no known cause. It’s chronic, you treat it, and hope it goes away for a long time. But not before you endure one final assault on whatever dignity your derrière has left.

My doctor handed me 2 prescriptions that day:

  • Prescription 1: A 28-day course of steroids, administered orally.
  • Prescription 2: A 28-day course of mesalamine, administered rectally (in medical terms, this means you stick it up your ass)

photoFortunately, the manufacturers of mesalamine included this handy dandy diagram that offers 2 positions for administering the medicine. What they don’t include are instructions for growing the orangutan arm required to administer it.

Following the directions closely, I assumed the anal rape position. “Insert the applicator slowly to avoid puncturing your rectum” lent comfort as did the feeling of 60 mL of yogurt traveling up my colon. Thanks to what I assume to be the anal sphincter’s natural catch-and-release defense mechanism, the first 60 mL bottle only managed to medicate my bed sheets. The second bottle gave me bed shits. But the third bottle made itself at home. I “remain[ed] in the position for 30 minutes to allow thorough distribution of the medication internally.” And gradually, I drifted off to sleep.

Today, I am one week shy of completing my therapy. I am finally eating again, and I haven’t heard a word from my ass in weeks. More than anything, I am so ready to put ulcerative colitis, and the past 3 months of hell (fueled by denial), behind me.

If there’s any lesson to learn from my painful experience, it’s that we all know our bodies and we have to trust our gutt when it tells us something is wrong. The other is that the brain-gutt connection is a two-way street. Just as anxiety and stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system…so too can digestive problems take their toll on your psyche. As I’ve been reminded, I was miserable to be around. And with each miserable day, I withdrew more while gradually accepting each new low as my new normal. Resigned to just living with my symptoms, I was too depressed to see that I was hardly living at all.

I regret that I spent the first 3 months of 41 with my head up my ass, and my ass on the toilet. Which is why, I guess, sharing my “Christmas Story” feels surprisingly cathartic. But I’ll stop short of calling it a cleansing.

Mesalamine-Box_and_bottle“Next to me in the blackness lay my [60 mL bottle of mesalamine]. The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received, or would ever receive. Gradually, I drifted off to sleep…”

Buddy Hinton’s Guide to Bullying

553923_416617291729992_787666550_n“Baby talk, baby talk, it’s a wonder you can walk.”
Buddy Hinton

If life were a sitcom, our worst fears and biggest problems would be introduced, pondered over, and resolved within 24 minutes. When “calm, cool, reasoning” failed to deter a bully, we’d face our tormentor head-on and he’d never rear his ugly mug again…unless his sitcom got picked up for syndication.

When I was growing up, endless repeats made Buddy Hinton the poster child for the schoolyard bully. You remember that episode, right? “It’s the story…of a lovely lady…” who comes home in tears after Buddy Hinton picks on “the youngest one in curls.” Peter tries admirably to defend his sister Cindy—the lisping Goldilocks—but he doesn’t get porridge for his efforts…just a black eye. So Mr. Brady decides that Peter must learn to defend himself. Peter does…and he knocks Buddy’s “tooth looth”…and all is right in Brady Land (until it’s time for Peter’s voice to change).

brqdy

While I was never bullied growing up, I was definitely an easy target for teasing (proof: I wore Bugle Boy kaki suspender pants jacked up to my nipples on the first day of school. Not pre-school, HIGH SCHOOL)! So yes, I had my awkward, slow-to-reach-puberty teen years. And as my brother likes to remind me, I had more ticks than Lewis Morris Park. There was my “ostrich-neck” twitch, which is hard to explain and nearly impossible to watch. With whip-like force, I would lunge my neck as far as it could go from left to right. Imagine watching a mental patient trying to eat French fries off his shoulder and you’ll have a pretty clear picture. There was also my “porno grunting” habit, which began innocently as I would try to clear my throat perpetually with a “Ha-um”. Until eventually, my “Ha-um, Ha-uh-um” slowly transformed into a one-man symphony’s rendition of “Orgasm in C Minor.”

The point is, I endured my fair share of weirdness and loneliness growing up. But while this made me an easy target for bullying, I was never targeted. Was I prepared to fight a bully? Probably. Was I prepared to take flight from a bully? Maybe. But what I can’t imagine are feelings of loneliness and shame that bruise so deeply that a teen would choose suicide over subjecting him or herself to another day of merciless taunts. This is how far bullying has come since the days of Buddy Hinton telling Peter Brady to “cackle like a chicken.”

In today’s society, bullying extends outside the school bus and beyond the schoolyard. The bruises inflicted by today’s Buddy Hinton don’t heal from a slab of meat that Alice stole from Sam the butcher. The punches are often viral…thrown from a mobile device…and forwarded by others. The bruises are more often psychological than physical….and the damage often goes unnoticed until the victims finally make us notice.

In the troubling documentary, “Bully” (available on Netflix), we follow a group of teens and tweens who face constant bullying in the form of physical and verbal abuse. We meet Kelby, an out-and-proud 16-year-old who faces homophobia from students and teachers on a daily basis. We meet Alex, a 12-year-old whose daily routine includes humiliation and assault on the school bus (or whatever you call being stabbed with pencils repeatedly). Alex can’t bear to tell his parents about the abuse, and I couldn’t bear to sit by and watch grieving parents whose sons chose flight…in the form of suicide.

bully2

Yes, the film only states the obvious: feelings of loneliness are one of the most painful consequences of bullying. But what the film doesn’t say is that loneliness is often the cause of bullying. And it’s not only the socially isolated who are targeted—for every “new kid”, “fat kid”, “gay kid”, and “basket case”…there’s the perfectly ordinary kid who’s bullied for reasons only his or her tormentors know. Maybe it’s jealousy fueled by the tormentor’s own insecurities. Whatever the case may be, the bully virus doesn’t discriminate. And today, it takes more than a stiff right hook and a cup-o-chicken-soup to cure the virus.

Today, any twit can tweet, text, or post a comment that acts like a weapon of mass social destruction for an unsuspecting kid. But for reasons never explored in “Bully”, and for reasons I’ve never understood, why do we as a society fail to embrace—or simply protect—the most isolated and vulnerable kids? How do we as parents monitor bullying when the opportunities to bully extend way beyond the few times that our kids are unsupervised at school (cafeteria, recess, school bus)? Is it as simple as reminding our children that being an “innocent” bystander to bullying is in fact part of the disease?

“Bully” doesn’t offer any answers to these questions. It only offers the testimony of brave youths and heartbroken parents who still search in vein for answers. I highly recommend that you seek out “Bully” and encourage your kids to do the same. It’s time that we encourage our kids to stop being indifferent to bullying…and to make a difference—to stand up against bullying instead of standing by.

In my lifetime, I’ve known a teen and a teacher who committed suicide. I can’t be sure that bullying was the cause. But I sensed their loneliness, I assumed they were struggling, and I failed to act. Today I live with the regret of knowing that maybe all it would have taken were a few simple words of encouragement. Not from a family member whose love is unconditional…but from peers whose respect every teen yearns to earn. Maybe all it takes is a simple nonverbal cue. A wink or a smile that says “Hang in there….I’ve been there too.”

Because, let’s be honest, haven’t we all?

To learn more about the movie “Bully” and The Bully Project, visit www.thebullyproject.com.

bully

Turning 40: From a Glass-Half-Full Kind of Guy

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I’ve always been a glass- half-full kind of guy. Even on my worst day, when I’m convinced that half the country is half-full-of-shit, I choose to focus on the better half. The half who wake up every morning and realize that, despite its imperfections, America is still the greatest country in the world. But for the better part of this summer, I’ve struggled to keep my glass full enough to appreciate all the little things I love about this great country of ours.

Dear Mr. Vernon: Is that why you’ve battled blogger’s block worse than an axe-wielding Jack Torrance? [Rent “The Shining”]

To paraphrase my favorite country singer, I’m just a blogger of simple blogs…I’m not a real political man. I do lean right, but I’ll be the first to admit when the right is wrong. I’m a man of faith, but I have no such faith in Bible-thumping politicians who speak of “legitimate rape” and preach on the miracle of the female reproductive system’s kill switch.

What concerns me? I’m concerned about a New Jersey unemployment rate that’s at 10% and swelling faster than Governor Christie’s waistline. I’m also preoccupied with the prospect that I could one day join this group of 10-percenters. Think “Obama Care” and the FDA have spun our nation’s healthcare system into disarray? You should join me every day as I attempt to write for, and about, a pharmaceutical industry that currently doesn’t know its ass from its elbow cream. In my humble, glass-half-full opinion, the state of American healthcare isn’t in flux. It’s legitimately fu**ed. And at the rate our economic recovery is going, Generation X will hand the reins of this country over to “Generation Y us?”

[And I’m about to turn 40…can’t you tell?]

Today I find myself a few weeks shy of life’s half-way point. That mid-life mile marker called 40 will soon appear in my rear-view…and I’ll struggle not to wax melodramatic about what America is, was, and may never be again. Life’s glass will soon be half-empty for me, but I’m determined to keep the glass full with hope for our nation’s future.

During my one [and only] week of vacation this summer, two events gave me hope for America’s future. Even more than those “Chevy Runs Deep” commercials narrated by Buzz Lightyear.

“We’re just country boys and girls gettin’ down on the [corporate-sponsored] farm.”
Even in an America where development threatens to spoil whatever pristine country remains, the dream of wide-open spaces and down-home living endures. So much so that 56,000 city-slickers (like my father, brother, and I), flocked like lemmings to Met Life Stadium on August 10th. We didn’t dust off our shit-kickers to see The Boss, Eli, or Mark Sanchez’s back-up play. We were a bunch of Metropolitanities who came to get country-fied by Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw.

chesney

Yep, we’re talking a mix of blue- and white-collared folks who are about as corn-fed country as I am juiced-up junkie. We were all wannabe rebels who didn’t have a clue we weren’t on a farm, but in a corporate-sponsored behemoth of a stadium.

Heck, even my old man was acting like he didn’t have a clue he was 72-years old. For example,

[As a 20-something walked by in Daisy Dukes, showing off her future skin cancer]

Brett:
“Dad, when do you think 20-year-old girls finally stopped looking at you?”

Dad:
“Who says they ever did? Asshole!”

After the summer sun fell out of sight, we were still singing lyrics like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”…  knowing full well my Korean-built Hyundai was unsexy. It didn’t matter. For nearly six hours, we drank, sang, and sweat our red, white, and blue asses off. Country music has that ability to transport you from the realities of your fast-paced/tech-obsessed daily life. These are simple songs about a simpler life. Songs that paint the perfect picture of an idyllic America that may only exist in our refried dreams.

brett

“Is this Heaven? No, it’s [Williamsport].”

If you’ve never visited Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series, then you may be missing the very best example of youth sports, camaraderie, and sportsmanship that this country has to offer. Entry is free, the umpires and concessionaires are volunteers, and watching the games will make you feel “as if you dipped yourself in magic waters.” Repeat that quote in a James Earl Jones voice, then stroll the friendly confines of Howard J. Lamade Stadium and tell me that Williamsport isn’t “the place where dreams come true.”

kids

At the tail end of my one [and only!] vacation week this summer, I took my boys to Williamsport to support our local Par-Troy East little league team. While my boys were disappointed to see their local team fall in their opener, they quickly shifted their focus to an international story that was just unfolding. We had heard the story about a diamond in the rough where a shoeless version of baseball is played on rocky fields among cows, goats, and anthills. And here they were, the team from a third-world country…captivating everyone in Williamsport with their unbridled joy for life and the game of baseball.

Long before their improbable 3 to 2 victory over Oregon, the Ugandan team had already staked their claim to the title of undisputed fan favorites. Despite lives filled with adversity that most Americans couldn’t possibly fathom, the Ugandan players were so happy, so gracious, and so ready to show their appreciation for a dream-come-true that wasn’t given to them…it was earned. We Americans have a tendency to focus on all that’s wrong with our country. The Ugandans showed us that every second in America felt like paradise to them.

The Ugandan story is a triumph of the human spirit, and it’s quite possibly the greatest thing to ever happen to little league baseball. Perhaps the only thing better than watching how the Ugandan team responded to their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was how our American little leaguers responded to them.

uganda

Thanks to clothing and equipment drives run by many of the American teams, it’s safe to say that the Ugandan All-Stars will bring more than just memories back home with them. No, the Ugandans didn’t win the Little League World Series. They won the hearts of America instead.

Now please excuse me while I refill my glass.

50 Shades of Porn

PrincessMy wife says it best: I’m a “book whore.” I simply cannot read only one book at a time. Hell I’ve even serial-cheated on Stephen King. Could it be that my scrambled egg book brain works best in a blender? Whatever the case, at one point this year I was reading fiction: King’s brilliant 11/22/63; non-fiction (really?) Heaven is for Real; and a biography: Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friendsexcept the story about snorting coke with teen girls. All great reads, and best enjoyed in a blender. “Hit puree!” [watch Goonies].

My wife, on the other hand, is a book bore. She’s a prolific reader of the type of romantic westerns that Laura Ingalls would rate G. At least, that’s what I believed before I bought her a Kindle Fire last Christmas. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring…except Shane syncing his wife’s Kindle Fire to her Amazon account.

When what to my wandering eyes should appear…but half-naked cowboys on the covers of her countless “historical romantic westerns.” These weren’t Little House on the Prairie novels…they were Little Hoes on Fabio! I feared her Kindle might catch FIRE or go into heat from all the barebacked, bare-chested, naked cowboy romance.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little. But for every Sarah, Plain and Tall my wife reads…there’s at least one Tall, Dark, and Handsome on her Kindle Fire. Nothing, however, compares to the genre switch that has her giggling in bed until the wee hours of the morning. Yep, it appears that Fabio has hung up his saddle and hair extensions to allow my wife to enjoy the newest sensation that’s titillating women all over the nation…MOMMY PORN!

50 Shades of Grey? Bondage. Domination. Sadism. There’s no gray about it. It’s porn!

1

And since I’ll never be accused of judging a book by its cover…I’m now reading the book my wife reads under the covers. My initial review: It’s Crap-tacular! I mean, how can’t you love this crap:

“Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?”
“No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I f**k… hard!”

To quote EL James’s fellow literary genius Wayne Campbell:

“Ex-squeeze me??? Baking powder???”

Yes, the writing is hack…but it’s HOT…and it’s flying off e-Book shelves faster than Christian’s and Anastasia’s clothing. Think of it as a permission slip for conservative wives/moms everywhere to feel a little naughty. I mean, don’t all wives/moms deserve a  little extra sugar, spice, and everything nice (eg, masks, handcuffs, whips, and ties)?

What I find most entertaining is trying to predict which mom, daughter, sister, or even grandmother is reading it. Since the Kindle has essentially become the modern-day brown-bag booze cover….I pay extra close attention to the moms who read their Kindles at my 6-year-old daughter’s baseball games. Note to Moms: Your 50 shades of blushing give you away.

The book has been dubbed “mommy porn”, but I think that’s an unfair tag. I call 50 Shades of Grey mommy escapism. An escape from “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mama. Mama. Mama.” [watch Family Guy].

So to moms everywhere, I say: embrace your “inner Goddess”…and enjoy your 50 Shades of Porn.

Laters baby,

Shane

NOTE: Universal has already purchased the movie rights to 50 Shades of Grey. My wife is campaigning HARD for Matt “White Collar” Bomer (ryhmes with female boner). While I can’t agree with her casting prediction because I’m jealous of him, I will offer the following prediction.

The following exchange….

“Why don’t you like to be touched?”
“Because I’m fifty shades of fu**ed-up, Anastasia.”

…will replace “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” as the corniest fu**ing line in film history.

You Can’t Judge a Facebooker By Its Cover

CriminalIn one of the world’s most widely anticipated—and reported—IPOs in history, Facebook is poised to raise at least $5 billion and begin selling its stock this spring. Perhaps more impressive than the expected $5 billion windfall are the 800 million active users who are still wild about a “fad” that I once called “the pet rock of the digital age.”

Okay, I admit it. I was way off about Facebook…and I have been almost off Facebook more times than the seven stranded castaways on the Isle of Gilligan. Why? To quote the Gospel According to John Hughes, “in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions”…Facebook still feels like high school to me. In high school, we all fit neatly into one of five social categories, right? So I must steal a page from the Hughes script and apply this same “five social categories” principle to all 800 million of you Facebookers out there. I like to call it “The Five MEs of Facebook.” So which Facebook ME are YOU?

Are you a “Hey, remember ME”?
These aren’t actual Facebookers…they’re YearBookers. They’re the first to scan and post pics from old yearbooks and photo albums from the good ol’ days. If it were up to them, we’d celebrate reunions like birthdays and we wouldn’t need Netflix…because we’d just stream old home movies from each other during homeroom. And we’d buy the lie that we look as good in bathing suits today as we did in all those spring break pics we “just happened to find” while visiting mom’s attic. Shame on ME!

Are you a “Hey, look at ME”?
These are the FaceHookers. The ones voted most likely to turn their cell phone cameras around and pimp themselves out…daily. If they have children, they’ll occasionally exploit them too…but their children are more like trophies that help shine the spotlight onto “look at ME”. Or better yet, garnishes that attempt to enhance the presentation of cheap meat. And for many a FaceHooker, real tricks are being turned. Ever notice how it’s always summer in their world, their clothing stores ran out of sleeves, and their cell phone cameras are Velcroed to their bathroom mirrors?

Are you a “Hey, Facebook’s not really for ME”?
These are the FakeBookers and FaceLookers. They sign up for Facebook, go on a 24-hour friending spree, only to Faceplant themselves in the Facebook protection program behind the same years-old profile pic/smug shot. They know who they are, and we’re not fooled by their ambivalence toward social networking. They secretly monitor our every post, pic, and nip slip. They’re not quite voyeurs, stalkers, or gawkers…they’re more like the hall monitors of middle school, the narcs of high school, and the nosy old neighbor who peeks through her blinds every G-damn time my kids so much as breathe within 300 feet of her house. Sorry, where was I?    

Are you a “Hey, help ME”?
These are the FaceHaters and FaceBaiters who routinely bitch and cry for help from the BFFs they should text in private in the event of a real emergency. For every blunt “I’m not happy with my life” or whiny “I can’t fall asleep” there’s a vague, almost redemption-fueled cry like “You know who you are” or “I know what you did last summer!” And we’re all stupid enough to take the bait because “the boy who cried wolf” is the only parable that made any sense to us growing up. Note to the “Help MES” of Facebook: In the event of an actual emergency, you can just dial 1-800-GET-OFF-THE-F**KING-COMPUTER!

Are you a “Hey, nothing…just hey from ME”?
These are the FaceInvaders who abduct our news feeds with hackneyed links and mindless musings about the contents of their refrigerators, closets, and shitters. They’re narcissistic enough to believe their midnight jaunts to 7-Eleven for Big Gulps are as newsworthy as dancing the jig with the bulls in Pamplona. Every crap they take is 60 Minutes-worthy. Maybe they share the mundane so we can feel their pain? Or maybe they fancy themselves as the Dos Equis man of Facebook…when, in fact, they are the least interesting men and women in the world.

OR…and God bless you if you are…
Are you one of the rare, relevant, and refreshing Facebookers who we all aspire to be? Sure you may be guilty of the occasional nostalgic, vane, or mundane post…but you never lose sight of what’s witty and post-worthy. Simply put, you make the Facebook world go ‘round and this world would be flat, square, shameless, and (perhaps) IPO-less without you.

Now does being one of Facebook’s finest give you a golden ticket to the IPO?  Heck no! Like me, you may have to settle for a far less lucrative stock…or the next pet rock.