Category Archives: Uncategorized

THE DESERT: CHAPTER 1

Welcome back! This week we’re looking at Chapter 1 from my book Cancer? But I’m a Virgo. If you’d like to start from the top, click here! Otherwise, we’ll see you at the bottom of the page! Let’s go.

PART 1

“Insert pithy yet poignant quote here that signifies the beginning of a long but life-changing journey.”

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It’s 5:45 a.m., and the sky is just beginning to lighten, turning from black, to shades of gray, to purple, to orange, same as a bruise. The sun just begins to peek over the mountains directly in front of me, and it’s one of the most beautiful and serene things I’ve ever seen.

I stare directly into the glowing orb and watch it rise, rise, rise, until it’s a blazing white-hot inferno too bright to look at. I roll my window down and the warm desert wind hits me in the face. After driving straight through a chilly night, it’s the perfect temperature. I crank the stereo; Zack de la Rocha’s latest band, One Day as a Lion, has just released its first five-track EP, and it has been my soundtrack from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for the past several hours.

The wind blows in my ears so I turn the music up louder. I turn the music up louder. I turn the music up louder. It’s at maximum volume and I am simply screaming alongside the lyrics, shaking my head and pounding the steering wheel. Whenever a car approaches, I quickly compose myself, pretending to just be a regular guy driving a regular family-friendly car on a regular freeway. As soon as I’m sure the car is out of sight, I resume my full-body-dry-heave inspired dance moves. Remember, dance like no one is watching . . . unless someone actually is. I am Axl Rose. I am Anthony Kiedis. I am Andrew W.K.

I slowly push my foot toward the floor and watch as the speedometer begins its sluggish ascent up the numeric Mount Everest built into my dashboard—75 . . . 80 . . . 90 mph . . . . I lock it in and cruise, watching cactus and dirt blur past me on the left and right. There is a certain freedom in the desert, a dirty voice that calls out to let everything go . . . a voice that is Reckless Abandon.

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At this time of morning, there are almost no cars on the highway so, like a horny high school boy, I begin to nudge a little further, just to see what’ll happen: 95 . . . 96 . . . 97 . . . 98 . . . . I’ve never pushed this or any other car to 100 mph, and being this close makes me want to just stick it in and slam it down.

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I take a deep breath, hold it, and juice the pedal. The gage immediately leaps like someone has jammed a cattle prod into the base of its skull . . . 99 . . . 100 . . . 105 . . . 110 . . . 115. At 120 mph I scream out the window at the top of my lungs.

I am twenty-five. It’s one month before my birthday, and I am invincible.

Nothing can touch me.

Nothing.

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Short chapter this week but please stick around! We’ve got a little set-up to do before we dig into the really bloody, painful, tragic stuff – you know, all the really delightful things!

Next Monday we’ll be experiencing Chapter 2: The Orange and The Sock where we’ll talk about my penis. It’s going to be really uncomfortable and I hope to see you there!

Hit that follow button in the bottom right corner so you don’t miss it!

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Ghost Towns, Bloody Noses & Bone Castles: An Adventure through the Nevada Wasteland

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I wake up in an unfamiliar hotel room, gray light filtering in through the slightly split curtains. It takes my brain a beat to catch up with my surroundings. Where am I? What state? Nevada. Hawthorne. It’s a ghost town. I stick my foot in something cold and damp at the foot of the bed. I sit up and find Quinn’s pajamas lying on the floor and her naked self sleeping across the room. She’s peed in my bed and then abandoned ship. Rory is naked as well but this is typical. He always strips off his PJs sometimes after we’ve put him down but before going to sleep. Getting him to wear clothes is like trying to dress a hurricane.

Where is Bryce? I look around. No sign of her. She’s probably weaseled her way into a mound of blankets somewhere. She’s like a guinea pig – sort of nuzzles into the sweet spots for short term hibernation. When I’d gone to bed eight hours ago she was jumping onto my back and laughing as my ribs popped out of place one at a time.

My elbow is swollen and burning up. I assume I’ve been bitten by some kind of horrible bug in the night. The room was $55 for two queen beds and that cost comes at a price… and sometimes that price is a certain level of sterility… or rather, lack thereof.

Slowly, everyone wakes up. Eyes are opened, limbs are stretched, yawns are ejected. Jade dresses the kids while I pull yogurts from the car. I throw my phone down on the table while Radiohead’s The Bends floats out of the tiny speaker – try to expose the kids to some culture while they enjoy their blueberry / pomegranate mash.

Rory finishes his cup well ahead of the two girls and casually says, “I’m still hungry,” in a way that suggests I should just continue to shovel food into his mouth until he is a plump melon begging me to stop. I grab the keys and go to the car for another yogurt, which he inhales likes a junkie before letting me know that, “Hey! I’m still hungry! I want cereal!” I ask if I can get a please out of him, please. And he relents. I head out the door and get a box of Safari Cocoa Crunch which I guess is either either some kind of healthy version of Cocoa Pebbles or some kind of super generic version of Cocoa Pebbles. It saddens me to think that Fred Flintstone will be nothing more to this generation of kids but a cereal box spokesman.

I pour a hundred little spheres in his yogurt cup along with some milk and tell him to go nuts while Thom Yorke moans about Fake Plastic Trees. Quinn falls out of her chair and Bryce poops her pants. I help Quinn up and change Bryce’s diaper. Rory tells me he’s still hungry and I say, “Tough. Lunch is in four hours,” and he says, “Nooooooo…..”

Jade says she’s going to take a shower so I take the kids for a walk around the block. It’s 8am in desert country and there’s a chill in the air but the sharp briskness reminds me of spring in South Dakota when I was a kid.

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The four of us walk up the sidewalk and down a dirt alley. Quinn picks up a rusty bolt and Rory bangs on a gas tank. Bryce stops and watches ants. We make our way to the main street – a completely dead four lane road – and cross to the other side. It’s clear that at one point this town was a place. A real place. A real place with real businesses and real things happening but now it’s about one good month at the mortuary from being a ghost town.

The kids and I explore an abandoned hotel that the Earth has begun to reclaim, dragging it slowly down with it’s green fingers.

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Across the street there used to be a car wash but it too has fallen into disrepair at the hands of Time and then was generously decorated by a poet doubling as an entrepreneur in the field of women.

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I grab Jade and we head towards a gas station feeling like I’m trapped in an adult version of Children of the Corn.Jade fills up our coffees and cooler while I clean out the car. I find some dirty socks, crunchy peanuts and loose change, which I pocket. Under my seat is a grape, which I toss over my shoulder onto the pavement. Jade exits and says, “Whoa. Look at the size of that bird…” I look behind me and see a crow the size of a small dog hopping towards me. It eyeballs my grape before picking it up in its massive clicking maw. “Take the grape, Crow. Take the whole bag. Just don’t peck my eyes out.”

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I reach into the backseat and pull out two clementines and think about my dead dog while I peel them. Poor Clementine – my little cocker spaniel. Hit by a stupid car and thrown away by a homeless man a little over a year ago. A citrus mist pops into the air as I pull back the bright orange skin and it smells refreshing. I throw the peelings on the ground and before I’ve started the car, three tiny brown birds are sniffing them out to make use of.

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The Nevada landscape pours slowly past us like sand in an hourglass. It has a beautiful liquid body – the rolling hills, the salted fields. One mound rolls into the next rolls into the next. We pass through several more towns that should be euthanized… or at the very least placed in resting homes.

In Fallon we stop at a restaurant called The Slanted Porch for lunch. It has a dirt parking lot and is across the street from a massage parlor called THE RUB, which looks like it’s inside of someone’s house. I imagine walking in and finding a heavy set Canadian woman lying me down on the bed she sleeps on, crawling on top of me and then using a curling brush against my back and on the top of my head. I have no idea why the woman is Canadian in my imaginings. I shiver and walk up the path to the restaurant instead.

A man that looks like Willy Nelson beats me to the door and opens it up. Jade says, “Go ahead,” and he shakes his head. “Nah, you first. You got more legs than me,” and I say, “Yeah, a little caterpillar,” and he says, “Haw-haw-haw. Boy you sure got your hands full!”

We ask to be seated outside and let the kids run around while we peruse the menu where every item, regardless of its contents, is named after a famous painter. Jade and I each order The Monet – a tomato / pesto sandwich – while the kids all order The Homer – a peanut butter and jelly.

I fail to see the connection in any of it.

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The waiter tells me that he drives just over an hour everyday for this job. He drives from Reno. He used to live in The Bay Area in California but now he leaves out here in the desert. Says he needed a change of pace – just packed his car up one day and started over from scratch. Says he likes to serve. I ask him why he doesn’t serve in Reno and he mumbles something that doesn’t make any sense to me. I assume there’s more to his story but he never lets it slip. Our drinks come just as the town’s air raid sirens begin to go off. I pray it’s just a test and we’re not about to be nuked. The missile never comes but the double Monets do.

Rory shouts, “DAD! I GOTTA POOP! NOW!” and two older women at the table next to us pretend not to hear. I say, “Shhhh…” and pretend not to hear him as well. Rory whispers. “Dad… I gotta poop and pee…right now!” I push back my chair and take him to the bathroom whereupon he crawls upon his ivory throne and begins to talk in stream-of-consciousness-I-don’t-even-know-whats. I nod my head dumbly. At one point he stops talking mid-sentence and I glance over at him. His face is beet red and his gaze is a million miles away. I say, “Are you, uh, okay? Are you pooping right now?” I hear a loud PLOP and he says, “OOOOOOOH!… How did you know?”

“Just a hint.”

Then he leans back, like he’s in a recliner, leaning against the toilet tank. Kid is really getting comfortable now and just starts swinging his feet like he’s on a park bench. I ask if he’s done and he says, “Nope. Not yet.” I pull out my phone so I don’t have to stare at a pooping human for the next few minutes. I’m going through my email when Rory releases a super sexually charged, “YESSSSSSSSSS!” and I shout / whisper, “Quiet! Quiet!” and then can’t help but laugh a little. “What are you doing?” and he says, “It’s coming out!”

“Okay. Let’s just… are you almost done?”

“Yeah. I’m done.”

“Awesome. Wipe, wash and let’s be on our way.”

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Back on the highway the view is bleeding past us and the road is stretching straight into the horizon, falling off the side of the Earth. I’m strumming my ukelele in the passenger seat while Jade drives. I tell her about “a sweet travel app idea” that I have and she says, “AWESOME!” I say, “Thanks! Really? I mean, I thought it was good but-” and she says, “LOOK AT THAT!” She points and I turn my head. Off to the right of the freeway is a giant monument that looks like a chapel constructed from bones.

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I say, “What is it?” and she says, “I have no idea. We need to turn around. We need to turn around right now.”

She pulls the mini over to the left side of the road and finds a turnout that says “No U-Turns” before pulling a U-Turn. A paved road turns to a dirt road turns to a dirt parking lot. The fence surrounding the place is made from old scraps of wood and chicken wire.

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We park and pull the kids out. Quinn pees on the tire before we head in – we are in solitude. Bryce doesn’t want to walk and instead just sits in the dirt and cries. No one is around so we let her. “See ya, Bruce!”

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We walk in and find what is, essentially, an outdoor exhibit that celebrates Native American culture by creating art from “garbage” found around Nevada; old cars, bottles, cans, car engines, animal bones. There are picnic tables made from spare bulldozer parts and outhouses decorated with license plates. Dolls are scattered throughout, feeling like molested versions of baby cherubs. Life sized Indian statues sculpted from cement populate the premises, making you feel like you’re being watched at all times.

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*Peyote, baby!

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Rory asks why there is barbed wire around some of the exhibits and I say, “Because there are stupid people who try to ruin beautiful things with their garbage.. even when those beautiful things are made out of garbage,” and he says, “Oh,” and then throws the wrapper to the snack he’s eating on the ground and it immediately blows through the fence. I go, “What was that?!” and he looks at me with these blank eyes. “What?”

“What-WHAT? Did you just throw that on the ground? What did I just say. Literally. Just now. What did I just say about this fence?”

“That, uh… people throw their garbage down?”

“Yeah. Okay. So doubly negative points because you were actually listening and should know better. Pick it up.”

“I can’t! It’s on the other side of the fence!”

“Then get on your hands and knees and reach your scrawny arm through and pull it out. Otherwise we’re going to have to do a B&E and get you over this fence to teach you a lesson.”

“What’s a beanie?”

“Another time. Grab your wrapper, knucklehead, and don’t litter. This is the only Earth we’ve got. Haven’t you ever seen the commercial with the crying Indian?”

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By the time Rory has re-acquired his trash, Jade and the girls have wandered off. Rory looks down at a plant and says, “Hey… look at this…” He squats down and touches the growth. “C’mere, Dad. Come down here. Look at this.”

I squat down. The plant looks like some kind of desert weed. It’s green with flecks or magenta. I say, “It’s pretty, huh?” and he says, “Yeah. What’s it called?” and I say, “I honestly don’t know… we could name it something,” and he says, “I wish we got here a little earlier so we could’ve asked the people who built this what it’s called.”

I nod my head and stand up.

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On the way out Jade suddenly shouts, “There’s a tornado! Go jump in it! See if it lifts you off the ground!” I look down the road and see a dirt devil heading our way. I set off at a dead sprint directly towards it, every moment one step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream. I shut my eyes and jump into the playful whirlwind. It kisses my cheeks and blows dirt in my face. I turn around and jump back into it. “Here I come, Oz!!!” but no. Nothing. I just get really dirty.

I jump in the driver’s seat and pull onto the road. A dog runs out of nowhere and tries to bite our car and I almost run the stupid thing over, again reminded of Clementine. My elbow still burns and it’s getting worse. Whatever poison that bug shot into my body is working its way into my fingers. My entire left arm is starting to tingle and my bicep is swelling.

Before we’re twenty minutes down the road, Rory is shouting that he has to pee. I pull over, kick open the backdoor, unbuckle him and grab my uke. On the side of the road he pulls his pants down and pees into some weeds while I strum out a simple pattern and sing, “Rory, Rory, peeing on the freeway. Rory, Rory, peeing in the wind.” A trucker drives past us and sees me serenading a half naked child in the middle of nowhere.

Rory turns, mid-stream, and says, “I’m hungry.”

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We stop on an Indian Reservation and have dinner in a casino that’s perfumed with smoke and decorated with dormant slot machines. A few locals have bellied up to the bar and no one pays us any attention as we walk through the haze and back into the diner portion. Before we sit down Rory says, “I gotta go potty,” and Quinn says, “Me too!” and I say, “What is with your bladder, kid?”

I take them both to the restroom and Rory gets a burr in his shorts because sometimes that’s just how he is. Sometimes Rory is just difficult. Sometimes he’s a sweetheart and sometimes he’s a monster that can’t be reasoned with. I tell him to wash his hands and he does… sort of. He gets soap on his mitts and scrubs them into a lather and then says, “I’m not washing my hands anymore.” I tell him, “Rory, you need to rinse off your hands,” and he says, “I won’t,” and I say, “Rory. You need to wash your hands so we can go eat. You can’t eat with soap on your hands.”

He fires back, “I’m not going to. You can’t make me. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” and he screams the last few words like he wants them to hit like rocks, his voice echoing in the small bathroom. I don’t count with our kids – get over here before I count to ten! I give them two options and I spell out the consequences of both options and then I allow them to choose. Immediately after they choose I deliver them the consequences of their decision

They’ve gotten use to the “I’m going to give you two choices” speech so when I say it, they pay attention. With this method, if they choose incorrectly, they’re not being disobedient, they’re just being stupid. And I can correct stupid behavior. It transforms the situation out of an emotional power struggle into a logical choice making one.

Sidebar: they don’t always choose the right path. It simply shifts the event into something that is more manageable for me.

I lean down close to him and say, “I’m giving you two choices right now so listen closely. I am going to walk Quinn back to the table. If you’re still standing here with soap on your hands when I get back, I am going to take you outside and give you a timeout. If you wash the soap off, we are going to go sit at the table, eat dinner and have pie. Do you understand your choices?” We have a stare off and then I say, “I will be back in thirty seconds.”

I walk Quinn halfway back to our table, never letting the bathroom fully out of my sight, hoping that Rory just needs a few moments alone to collect his thoughts. I stand outside of the bathroom for a beat before I hear him start to moan, “Daaaaad… Daaaaaad…. Daaa-haaad….” Excellent, I think to myself. He’s ready to communicate. Pie over timeout. Easy choice.

I walk back into the bathroom and he’s still standing in the same spot, soap still all over him. I say, “You still have soap on your hands,” and he says, “I’ll NEVER wash them!”

To his credit, he makes firm decisions. It will probably lead him to be a powerful CEO someday if I can funnel it properly.

I take two steps across the bathroom, grab him by the wrists and force his hands under the water. He screeches and shrieks and I’m certain the people in the casino thing I’m beating him mercilessly with my belt. Once the soap is off his hands he pulls away from me and says, “I’ll NEVER DRY MY HANDS! EVER!”

Now, it has occurred to me, in my almost five years of parenting, that at some point, the more intelligent of the party must stop arguing with the less intelligent and simply green light action. And so I grab him by the ear (yeah, I do the ear – it takes very little pressure and the entire body follows with very little effort) and I drag him out of the restroom, through the casino (where no one acknowledges us), out the front door and onto the sidewalk where I place him nose first against the front of the building. I say, “You’re standing here and you’re getting a time out. When you’re ready to talk to me in a nice voice, we can go inside.”

I walk away and stand on the curb where I slowly count to fifty. This exercise isn’t just about letting him calm down. It’s also about letting me calm down. Parenting is, by its very nature, an emotional topic BUT it is my opinion, imperative that we approach it as logically as possible, pushing our emotions aside. Emotions allow us to feel sorry for the child and not see through the punishment. Emotion allows us to strike out in anger. Both things lead to less desirable results.

I count to twenty. I count to thirty. I push my emotions away and think about the process and the consequences. I count to forty. I slow my breathing. I slow my heart. The closer I get, the smaller Rory’s pleas become. By the time I hit fifty he’s completely silent. I walk back up to him, myself in perfect calm, and say, “Are you ready to go inside and eat?” and he says, “You can NEVER make me go inside!”

Inside my head, fireworks are exploding, hammers are hitting anvils and buildings are collapsing. Lord, give me patience, I pray, and then give myself a moment before I speak. Don’t show weakness.

“Rory James… you are going to walk with me right now inside this restaurant. And you are going to sit down at that table. And you are going to eat because you have been telling me all day how hungry you are.” And he looks at me and he says, “I’M TAKING OFF MY SHIRT!” and then he starts to pull off his sweater.

What is happening right now? I just want a mozzarella stick.

The door opens and the sheriff walks out. He stops and looks at me, looks at this kid. Looks back at me and says, “Uh oh.” I say, “Getting a little time out on a road trip.” The sheriff says, “Good luck,” and disappears around the corner. A minute later his cruiser pulls into the street and he doesn’t even look our way.

“Rory. Put your shirt down. You look foolish. WHY… Why are you -”

“I’M TAKING OFF MY SHOES! I’M TAKING THEM OFF!” and he flips his foot and a shoe pops off. In other circumstances it would be comical.

Lord help me.

“You put your shirt down. You put your shoe-”

“I’M GONNA BREAK MY GLASSES!”

I point at him and I say, “Don’t touch them.”

Idiot. You’ve show a weakness.

He grabs them off his face and lifts them into the air. He says, “I’m going to throw them on the ground. I’m going to break them.”

I look him square in the eyes and I play a wild card, “Fine. They’re yours. Do whatever you want with them… but have fun seeing all fuzzy for the rest of your life.” It’s cloaked but it’s another choice – me trying to pull this out of emotion and back into choice and logic.

He stares at me for a full minute before slowly placing the glasses back on his face. I point to the ground in front of me and he walks over. I open the door and he walks in. We find our table and sit down. Rory has a pancake for dinner.

Disciplining your children in the private comfort of your home is one thing. Trying to do it in an unfamiliar public place is a challenge worthy of reality TV competitions. After I get one of the kids to bend to my will, I feel like somebody should be dropping 10k in my lap and throwing a wreath of roses over my neck. I want to high five a stranger and say, “You see that. YOU SEE THAT? I got that kid to reason.”

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*Roadside attraction. I bet it’s soft serve.

We get back in the car as the sun is setting – red, yellow, orange. It’s a true vanilla sky. The sun disappears behind the mountains and the creams turn to grays, turn to blacks. We cross into Oregon and pull over for gas. As I open up my door to step out, I bump into a man and scream. “Filler up?” He stares at me, some tall drink of water, his mechanics bibs hanging off of him two sizes too big.

Every single time I enter Oregon I forget that you’re not allowed to pump your own gas. “Yeah, yeah. Everything. All the way. Regular. Thanks. Hey, where’s the next hotel?” He says, “‘Bout sixty miles up you’ll find Nampa, Idaho… but it’s dark. You gotta watch out for deer until you hit the state line.” I thank him and pull down my seatbelt. Just as I turn over the engine, Rory screams. I turn around in my seat and his top lip is covered in blood.

“What is THIS?!”

“Quinn…. PUNCHED ME!”

I look at Quinn but she’s hiding under her blanket. Her voice comes out muted, “Wasn’t me! I don’t know who did that!

I shove a piece of toilet paper up Rory’s nose and rip the blanket off Quinn before giving her a dirty look and a speech. What is happening today?

Slam the door, snap the seatbelt, fire up the car, pop the headlights, shift into drive, get two miles up the road and Jade screams, “WATCH OUT!” I swerve hard to the right and avoid a bull crossing the street like he’s sauntering up to a broad at some bar, three beers deep. I try to imagine what a bull’s body would do to a mini-van. “Thank goodness, our car wasn’t red! He might’ve chased us!”

I slow down to forty-five MPH and slam a Red Bull because driving at night makes me crazy tired. We reach the hotel after the kids are all asleep. Jade and I crawl out of the minivan and unbuckle all three of them as they try to shake off their sleep. “Are we there? Are we at the hotel?” Quinn asks. “Ho-tey!” Bryce shouts. Rory jumps onto the asphalt barefoot and says, “This place smells like goat’s breath.” I inhale deeply and start to laugh. He’s absolutely correct. All three of them begin to wander like short zombies towards the entrance to another cheap, off-brand hotel, their blankets dragging behind them.

They’re each going to bed with cuts and scrapes they didn’t have when they woke up. But they’re also going to bed with experiences and lessons they didn’t have. Life with these three is not always easy and it’s not always fun and sometimes it tries my patience, not only as a father but also as a human. It tries it to the very edge… and then it pushes it over the edge… and then it expands it. They expand me as a person. Their misbehaviors turn me into a better person. Rob Bell says, “We are going to suffer. And it is going to shape us. Somehow. Bitter or better, closed or open, more ignorant or more aware, more or less tuned in to the thousands of gifts we are surrounded with every single moment of every single day.”

These are my gifts that make me suffer. These are the gifts that make me better and more aware.

The road is not the adventure. My family is the adventure that travels the road. They turn the boring minutia of everyday life into a carnival wherever we go.

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We head into the hotel and everyone immediately falls asleep.

Everyone except me.

I drank a Red Bull forty minutes ago and I’m wired.

So, with a burning and infected elbow, I write.

And I stare at the kids while I do, wondering what they’ll show me tomorrow.

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Bud Light: Heads Up

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It’s been pretty quiet over at JohnnyBeBald for the past couple weeks and I have to apologize.  First, my wife and I were out of the country celebrating her 30th birthday (Insane Adventures of Two White People Who Don’t Speak English in Nicaragua coming soon) and then upon our return I jumped into directing the below Bud Light spot for a commercial competition.

I’d love for you to click the link and check it out.

http://zooppa.com/en-us/ads/16-oz-cool-twist-aluminum-bottle/videos/bud-light-heads-up

In the coming weeks, brace yourself for tales of a mugging I was part of, a gypsy circus we attended and an 80 year old man with a shady past.

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If Only for a Second…

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http://www.utrend.tv/v/one-second/

There is a video floating around the social networks as of late (linked above) wherein a cancer foundation approaches a small group of cancer patients and says to them, “We want to give you a makeover.  We want to make you look beautiful.  Let US treat YOU…”

That’s pretty much the gist; that’s the extent of it.  If you’re planning on watching the video I’d suggest just skipping to the 2-minute mark wherein “The Reveals” begin.  The first 120 seconds are just the set-up… what I’ve done above in 17 words.  SO!  It sounds great.  I can get behind this.  I think that helping people is awesome and incredible and I’m all for compassion and, having had cancer myself, I’m very excited to see “interesting” things happening in that community so long as they’re coming from a clean and positive place.

Now, before I go further, I’d like to just recognize the fact that a lot of people are probably going to disagree with my point of view on this… and I’m okay with that.  With that said, for my opening statement, I’d like to say that this video infuriated and disgusted me in a way that I haven’t felt in a very long time.  It first turned my guts about a week ago when I saw it crop up on my Facebook feed but I managed to contain my revulsion by telling myself that, like bad gas or a kidney stone, “It will pass… it will pass…”

But it didn’t pass.  Again and again this pustulant invaded the otherwise smooth surface of my digital self’s skin, invading my Facebook feed like a cockroach.  It refused to die.  My friends were posting and re-posting this viral vagrant and I was forced to see the quagmire that is the thumbnail several times a day.  (This is not to say that the woman ON the thumbnail was a quagmire but rather that the thumbnail itself gave me a quagmiric sensation…  In short, it, uh, disgusted me just having to look at it because it reminded me that it existed).

I became obsessed with reading comments on it.  “BEAUTIFUL!”  “SO HEARTFELT!” “I COULDN’T STOP CRYING!” proclaimed so many men and women who, more than likely just saw the word “cancer” and heard the emotional music and immediately turned into a visceral mess, ready to pluck any heart string they could lay their hands on.

Why is this bad?  Why is this wrong?  They’re raising money for cancer patients.  Wow, Brookbank; you must be a real lunatic to hate that stuff.  You must be a real fudder dudder to be down on good works.  You must need a little Jesus in your life, pal.

Sure, yeah, maybe.

But in fairness to the situation, let’s walk through it.  An imaginary woman named Rebecca has cancer and she has been undergoing chemotherapy for, let’s just say 5 months.  Treatments vary but side effects are all roughly the same; lost hair, lost weight, puking and death.  Well, hopefully not death but the other three, surely, at least to some regard.  So Rebecca has dropped from a delicious looking 140lbs down to a skeletal and emaciated 90.  Mind you, I’m throwing this number out there simply because I started around a buck 80 myself and dropped 50lbs all the way down to 130.  If you’ve never seen a six foot tall man that weighs 130lbs, just check out any skeleton hanging in any biology classroom and add skin.

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NOW YOU SEE THE BEARD!…

PRESTO-CHANGO! 

… AND NOW YOU DON’T!

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In any event, I dropped 50 so I’m dropping 50 on our “Rebecca” character who is, again, fictitious.  So Rebecca, who once was beautiful on the inside AND outside is now, after five rounds of hot and hard chemo, not, what we would maybe call “traditionally beautiful” on the outside, what with her weight dropping from the charts faster than a Limp Bizkit release.  Maybe she starts to feel a little self conscious.  Fair enough.  We live in a culture defined by beauty.  Is it right?  Is it fair?  No.  Is it the standard we set for ourselves and each other?  Yes.  Does our character, our Rebecca, begin to develop body issues?  Face issues?  Her cheek bones are heightened, her eyes are black orbs.  Her hands become skeletal, her breasts small.  Her clothes, which once fit her like a surgeon’s rubber glove now drape off of her frame like her husband’s sweatshirt used to.

When you look in the mirror, you no longer see yourself.  You see Golum.  You see a bald creature who eats poison and shits pain.  You see something that is surely not you… but… relax.  Because this foundation has come to you.  They’ve knocked on your door and they’ve said, “We understand,” and they’ve said, “We want to treat you.  We want to give you a beautiful makeover.  And we want to make you feel alive again… if only for a second.”

And you, of course, put your faith into this foudation.  You put your trust in them because they will respect you and this is what they do.  They know, maybe more than anyone, how vulnerable you are.

And this, I truly think is incredible.  This is a true thing of beauty.  This is affecting lives and inspiring change and helping people engage with the otherwise locked off world around them.

But this is not what happens.  This is not where the story ends.

The foundation says, “While you get your makeover we will cover your eyes because we want The Reveal to be REALLY POWERFUL…” and so our character or, in this case, our 20 characters, all agree and the game is on… because what this foundation is really doing is hiring a make-up artist to transform each and every one of these unsuspecting patients into some form of human caricature, whether that be some trailer toting, truck driver suffering from mullet mania or a homeless Jamaican psychic.

You see, it’s a joke!  It’s all a prank!  A prank that is, in my opinion, worthy of the presence of celebrity pranky prankster Ashton Kutcher.  So they blindfold the patient, do this absolutely garish make-up and then ask, “Are you ready for the big reveal?” and our patients all give a resounding, “YES!” and then the blindfold is removed and they find themselves sitting in front of a mirror staring back at, not the beauty they were expecting… but just another, even worse Quasimodo version of themselves.  The camera flashes, capturing their initial reaction and then… and then… and then…

The tag line to the video is something to the effect of, “Helping patients forget they have cancer… if even for one second…”

So then the question arises, “Did they forget?… If even for just one second?” and, on the coat tails of that, the bigger question of, “Was it worth it?”

Was the build up and the hope and the desire to just look like your old self, who you miss so much, just for one day – to leave the skeletal monster that has consumed you behind – to look in the mirror and try to see yourself again and not some sick version of you staring back, reminding you that you’re teetering between life and death – worth it?  To have all that excitement of normalcy plucked out of your hand like a balloon on a windy day.

This is nothing more than exploitation to garner interest for your own company A) The Mimi Foundation and B) Leo Burnett, the advertising agency that invented this.  An advertising agency that is always on the lookout for The Next Creative Marketing Campaign!  The Next Viral Hit!  This piece of trash is being spoon fed to us on a great big plate and we’re just gobbling it up like calves in clover.

“But they’re raising money for cancer patients!” you say.  Yes.  But at what cost?  Shall we blindfold a bunch of orphans and tell them that we’ve found them all brand new parents!… and then lead them into a room filled with mannequins?  Take off the blindfolds, kiddies.  SURPRISE!  Don’t worry, it’s for charity.

A line must be drawn in the sand where we say, “This is not right.”

“But they’re smiling in the video!  The patients are so happy!”  Are they?  Let me suggest something.  I’m a video editor and I’ve been playing that game for 10 years.  It is my job day in and day out to take something and turn it into something else.  It is my job to take something sad and turn it into something happy or to take something boring and turn it into something exciting.  How many times have you gone to a movie, walked out at the end and said, “That’s not how the trailer looked…”  Yeah, that’s my job.  Creative video editing is a craft and I am calling out a bluff here.

Are these people smiling?  Sure.  In the bits and clips that we see.  But are they happy?  I doubt it.  I imagine that the following few moments play out like some awkward high school dance where everyone stands around and mumbles things because… this wasn’t… how it was… supposed to be… oh, to H-E-C-K with it!  Just give it to the editor!  He’ll put some nice music in there and people will love it!

They’re happy about this?  They’re not humiliated?  You post the raw footage and let’s watch all these great big zany individuals forget about their disease.  Let me tell you something… Nothing is going to make you forget you’re dying.  Not for one second.  Least of all some tranny funeral director costume.  Do you suppose a mother ever forgets that her child is dead even If Only for a Second (whatever that’s worth).  Perhaps she’s not actively thinking about it but it’s always there, maybe not a major player in the game, but the memory is constantly standing on the sideline, staring at you.

I don’t like it.  I think the whole thing is ill-informed and ill-intentioned and it turns my guts watching it.

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ABOVE: NOW HERE’S A GUY WHO REALLY NEEDS A POODLE WIG AND A BOW TIE TO TURN HIS DAY AROUND…

You want to go out and make a difference in the world of cancer patients?  You want to give to an organization that is helping the vulnerable, check out Joy Jars.  It was started by a girl named Jessica Joy Rees who put up a ten month fight with two brain tumors and is a beautiful and fascinating organization.  With the money you donate you give “Joy Jars” filled with activities and games and toys to children under the age of 18 fighting life threatening illnesses.

http://joyjars.negu.org/

Joy Jars is all the great things this video is claiming to be, they just haven’t had some major ad campaign partner with them to make some ridiculous viral hit.  As with each of us, intention plays a large role in the creation of something and I think it’s a scent that can be picked up by anyone bothering to look for it.  When you watch a movie or read a book, when you go on a date or help a friend move, pay attention to the person you’re with, watch the quality of the work.  Does the movie or book truly feel like it was crafted out of a place of passion and fire or was it just a paycheck for some writer / director.  Does your date want to hear about your week or is he just looking to get laid?  Is somebody helping you move because they’re great friends or because they need something in return.

Intention, regardless of the scenario, is a very powerful attribute and it is my opinion that the intention of this video was not to help the patients but to get the agency noticed.

And that, more than anything, is exploitation at its finest.

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Pearls and Swine

When I was in college it seemed like everybody smoked cigarettes; Marlboro Lights, Parliaments, Chesterfields.  I knew this guy that used to walk into the liquor store across the street and just say, “Give me your cheapest pack,” and then he’d walk out with some off brand that had been manufactured in the Philippines that he paid $1.97 for and tasted like burning tar.

I’d be sitting outside of the dorms and my friend would smoke his last Filipino Light and he would turn to the guy next to him and say, “Can I bum a smoke?” and the guy would just shrug his shoulders and say, “Sorry, man.  I’ve only got three left,” and this would be an acceptable answer in the Smoker’s Community.  It was tantamount to saying, “If I had more, I’d give you one but I only have three left.”

The Smoker’s Paradigm:  If I had more I would gladly throw them around but now that they are a rare commodity, I want to desperately clutch them to my chest and horde them all to myself.

Fair enough.  They are yours and yours to do with as you see fit; to share, to squander, to horde, to trade, to invest like Prison Money but… that’s enough about cigarettes for a bit.  Let’s talk about Real World Money and how it slowly creeps into our lives, infects us and causes cancer just like that Prison Currency does.

Let’s talk about how Money can be an addiction and control you and how it’s so very difficult to Quit.

Go to the bank, get a loan, buy a car, drive it to high school, graduate, get a loan for college, go to college, get a job to pay your loans, live in a small apartment because you can’t afford a house because you have loans so get another loan to buy a house with a garage to park your car in, work 50 hours a week to pay off your loans.  Sign up for credit cards, buy stuff for your house, so much stuff, so much awesome stuff; 40″ flat screen TV, Blu-Ray player, iPad, iPod, iPhone.  How about iPoor?  How about uPoor?

Work more, pay the loans, both the bank and the credit card, work more, job sucks but you’re stuck there because of the loans, car is busted.  Get it fixed.  Car is busted again, sell it for less than a tenth of what you paid.  Get another loan, buy a new, nicer car.  Something big.  Something spacious.  Something fancy and glossy with a DVD player inside and seats that warm up.  Work more.  Pay for insurance.  Don’t get sick.  Don’t use your insurance.  Get sick, pay your deductibles.  Never use your insurance.  Throw your money in the fire.

Have a baby.  Pay the hospital.  Pay your insurance.  Go to work.  Miss baby rolling over, first steps and first words because most of your time is, realistically, spent at that job you have.  It’s statistics and odds, folks.  You are more likely to miss these moments because you spend more time at a job you hate than with a child you love.  Have another baby.  Buy a new house.  Fix the new house.  Take out another loan for the bigger house and the bigger car.  Hate your job.  Swim in debt.  Backstroke in it.  Hold your breath because you are drowning.

 

What if there was another way?  What if there was a way to be free of money?  What if money lost its stickiness and its bond over us?  What if the rope snapped and suddenly we were just floating in space and happy and, like Art Alexakis says, “Everything is Wonderful Now…”

What are we doing, going to jobs that we hate everyday?  Why do we choose this for ourselves?  Now, wait… I know how this sounds.  This sounds like I’m saying, “Stop going to work and be free, you hippy,” but I’m not.  I’m just asking… “Isn’t there a better way?  Can’t we have the job we want?  Can’t we work less and live more?”  I’m asking us to look at the box we’ve built.  I’m asking us to stand on a tall ladder and look down on the box that we (humanity) have built and I’m asking each of us to examine the individual coffin that we’re in.  That 40 hour work week isn’t a thing that is imposed on us.  It’s a thing that we impose on ourselves.  There are no rules.  There is no Guide Book to being an adult.

I’m asking each of us to say, “Why?”  I’m asking each of us to ask ourselves what our price is.  What are we worth?

Our days are not endless and innumerable.  Our days on this Earth are finite and they have a very real number tacked onto them and every time that sun sets, that’s one more stone that’s taken out of the pile and when that pile of stones is gone, so are you.  Someday that sun is going to drop below the horizon and the shadows on the ground are going to grow and grow and grow until the darkness ultimately consumes them and then… what?

When I am asked if I want a certain job, the first question I typically ask is, “What is the rate?” and that’s not me asking, “How much money will you pay me to do that job?” it’s me saying, “I have X amount of days on this planet and you are approaching me and asking to purchase one of them.  What do you think one day of my life is worth?”  How much will you pay me to sit in an office instead of with my family?

What is that answer to you, specifically?  $70?  $150?  $500?

My number is very high because I place great value on my life and my time and my family.

What is your number?  You see it in your head?  Do you see what you are worth?  The numeric equivalent of one day of your life.  Stare at it.  Hold it in place.  Now… would that number change if you knew you only had a week left to live?  Would your personal stock, so to speak, rise, in that final week?  Would you stop saying yes to Burger King paying you $70 a day and start saying, “I’m worth more than this.  My time on this planet is valuable.”  Or maybe you would make a bigger statement.  Maybe you would say, “There is no price you could pay me to work at Burger King because I don’t want to work at Burger King for the last week of my life.”

If you knew you had a week left to live… what would you do?  You’d probably quit your job altogether.  Fair enough.  But what would you do if you knew you had three years left to live and you knew that it was imperative for you to have a job?  After all, one must survive and eat and pay rent.

What job… would you choose for your final three years of life?  And if that job is different than the job you have now… what are you doing in the drop-dead horrible line of work you’re currently in?  No excuses.

Never say, “But at least I have a job” because that is nothing more than you settling for less and you are worth more than that.  You, and I am speaking to you, reader, are worth more than any sentence that begins with, “But at least…” because you are not a “least”.

Imagine, if you were a smoker and imagine, If you knew you had three cigarettes left… what would you do?  Clutch them to your chest and savor the drag of each one, smoking them down to the butt until the smoke burned your throat and the heat singed your fingertips.

Look at your life.  Every day is just a cigarette in a pack and everyday, one of those cigarettes is going away and if you keep saying yes to that guy that wants to bum one for free then pretty soon you’re going to be desperately wishing you had more, wondering where all your days went.

Life is too short to be in a line of work that does not motivate you.  You are so blessed to live in America where you can do any job you want if only you can pay the cost of motivation.  That’s it.  How badly do you want something?  How badly do you want happiness?  How badly do you want freedom?  Total freedom?

Your days on this planet are yours and yours to do with as you see fit; to share, to squander, to horde, to trade, to invest.

Remember, the only thing more valuable than your money, is your time.

Your time is pearls.

Don’t throw it to the swine.

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Time Machine

If it wasn’t for a clock’s ability to keep track of a relative path of time, I would never know where I’m standing in the universe.  Time is not like the sun’s movement in that it cannot be counted on.  Like a junkie with a speed addiction, Time seems to get the jitters and talk fast before crashing into a slow motion daydream for weeks on end.  It doesn’t move the way the sun moves.  It jerks and shakes in chaotic shifts and you never know what tide you’ll get trapped in or for how long.  Why does Time move so fast when I’m having fun?  It’s a horrible trick of existence – to make the wonderful times slide through our fingers like so much watered down gravy.

I look around me and realize everything is moving too fast.  I feel like I’m driving through the desert to Vegas and I’ve suddenly glanced down at the speedometer.  110 mph!  I wish life had a break pedal or at the very least, cops to pull me over and say, “Kids are turning three.  You done everything you need to, son?”  Everything is getting away from me.  Everyday is this intangible trinket that I can never touch or see again.  All I’m left with is a memory of what happened… or what I think happened… the way I remember it…

If Time truly does fly when you’re having fun, then I’ve been in a private jet since my two oldest kids (twins) were birthed into existence.  Two nights running I’ve broken down crying while saying prayers with them and I feel like a woman on a cheap Lifetime movie.  I just see these two children and they’re so… big.  They just look like little… I don’t know… children and this is both beautiful and sad.  They don’t look like babies… because they’re not babies.  Time, that witch, has stolen my infants.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s given me two beautiful children to replace them but… I don’t know… I want it all.  I want them both.  I want to hear Rory recite his entire bedtime prayers, ABCs, 123s, Itsy Bitsy Spider and color wheel out loud, all alone, without help… but I still want him to be a chubby baby that can’t sit up without assistance.

I want to carry him and hold him and he’s already getting to the age where I ask, “Can I hold you?” and he says, “No,” and even on those occasions where he does stretch his arms towards me, asking to be lifted up, I find that he’s nearly becoming too heavy to carry around for any reasonable length of time, his feet dangling down and kicking me in the dick while I carry him through Target.

I guess it wasn’t really so entirely noticeable until the third baby was born; Bryce has put everything into perspective; locked us all into a new view of ourselves.  Before, when it was just the twins, I had that memory, that intangible trinket; I had the memory and the rules and regulations were set by me.  I didn’t see them changing.  They just… they went to bed and they woke up and they were a little older and bigger and smarter but I never noticed a difference.

Bryce makes the intangible tangible.  She says, “This is how small they used to be.  This is how helpless.  Enjoy me while you can,” and then I’m on my knees trying to scrape those sand grains into my arms, trying to keep every moment from blowing away.  I don’t want it to leave me, I don’t want to sleep at night, I keep everyone up until the very last possible moment, knowing that sleep will rob another day from me.  I wish, momentarily, that there were Time Machines but, the truth is, Time is the Machine and it will never break and never stop, the most flawless watch to ever be created.

I want to shake Quinn and say, “Never leave!  Live with me forever!  I’ll build you a tree house in the backyard and it can all be yours!  No!  I’LL live in the tree house and you can have the front house; just never leave your Papa!”  I want to clip her wings so she can never fly but… I know that would be wrong…

My mother is in town right now, staying with us for several weeks to celebrate the birth of our new daughter, having arrived just on the coattails of my  mother-in-law, both of them from South Dakota.  I look at them and I wonder and I think and I try to imagine what it’s like to have your children living halfway across the country.  What is it like to only see them three or four times a year?  What is it like to applaud your children’s success and encourage them to chase their dreams even though you know it means breaking your own heart and sending them away into the wild where they’ll be out of reach, out of call, out of touch.

Maybe this sounds like so much hand-wringing to anyone without kids but… you’ve just got to trust me.  Children are the party that you never want to end.  They are the DJs of your life and the entertainment.  They are Fonzie.  They are your friend with the trampoline in the backyard.  They are Saturday morning cartoons and pancakes for dinner.  They are Hide-and-Go-Seek and Jim Henson and adventure and cheese quesadillas all rolled up into one.

There’s nothing we can do to stop time.  It’s not a tank we can stand in front of, it’s not a rope we can grab onto and it’s certainly not a vehicle we can drive.  Time is just a cannon we’ve been fired from and we have our arms outstretched and we’re watching the scenery pass by as sticks and bugs slap us in the face.  The trick is to not shut your eyes.  Open them wide and watch.  Watch everything as it rockets past you because this is the only trip you’re getting.  Touch the grass, smell the roses, whatever you need to do.  Just make it worthwhile because when the trip is over… when you hit the ground with a thud… that’s it.

Fly.

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Mark Pickerel – “Burn the Shrine” Official Music Video

A few months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle and directing a music video for Mark Pickerel and his Praying Hands. I hope you enjoy it.

Directed by Johnny Brookbank
Produced by Nick Antonie

Director of Photography: Chris Harrison
Cam B: Ian Knippel
Cam C: Nate Rogers

Performance Cam Ops: Lonnie Callies & Johnny Podhradsky

Production Manager: Crystal Lane
Playback: Tyson Pickerel

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