Might as well start off the list with a good, hearty breakfast. It reminds me of traveling, which my family did frequently when I was young. Actually, it was not so much traveling as moving every year, usually within a couple weeks of Thanksgiving. Often, it was within a week or so of my brother John’s birthday, which was a bummer for him. For a good five-year stretch when I was in elementary school, we moved every year, usually in November.
When we moved, we would stay in hotels and most hotels had a restaurant attached, so we would get breakfast, like pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns. Sometimes it would be French toast, sometimes waffles. It was always so good, though, and I still like to go out for a good breakfast.
I don’t have the actual data for my entire life, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out I’ve eaten more than 10,000 PB&J sandwiches in my lifetime. I eat them almost every day. I’ve been tracking everything I eat for almost seven years. I always have strawberry jam when I eat a PB&J sandwich and I rarely have it other than when I’m eating a PB&J sandwich. This means strawberry jam is a good proxy for PB&J sandwiches. Over the last seven years, I’ve had strawberry jam 2,125 times. That’s over 300 times per year. That’s about how many PB&J sandwiches I eat.
Just listen and enjoy.
How can this song NOT make you happy?
"Everybody wants a box of chocolates and a long-stemmed rose..."
In September of last year, a Twitter user named Brant criticized the site and the following exchange occurred:
Brant: your rating system sucks. Just change your name to “CuteDogs.”
WeRateDogs: Why are you so mad Bront
Brant: well you give every dog 11s and 12s. It doesn’t even make any sense.
WeRateDogs: they’re good dogs Brent
Brant: It’s a cheap gimmick
WeRateDogs: well, Brint, the people love it and I’m doing it for them, not you
OrneryPiglett: yeah, Brunt! We love it!
Brant: all I’m saying is you could have real legitimate ratings, instead of just saying every dog is a 10, 11, or 12
WeRateDogs: that’s how it started, but as the audience grew, the amount of submissions grew. Standards were raised
Brant: You could also show some of the less cute dogs as well… like some 3s or 4s
Johnny Walker: why can’t they all be cute dogs, Brint?
It’s so true, why can’t they all be cute dogs, Brint?
I wrote a review of this book at Goodreads.com. Here it is:
In The Soul of Baseball, sportswriter Joe Posnanski travels around the country with 93-year-old Buck O’Neil, a man who had been barred from playing Major League Baseball because of the color of his skin, but who comes across as a gentleman without the bitterness you might expect from someone who had been discriminated against for much of his life. Through Posnanski’s descriptive writing we are welcomed into the world of Buck O’Neil, a world of joy, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Reading about Buck O’Neil makes you wish you had been able to spend a few minutes with him. Posnanski accompanies O’Neil on his many speaking engagements around the country, and without fail, the fans who are lucky enough to be in attendance are treated to wonderful stories, comfortable hugs, and sly winks from O’Neil.
We learn about O’Neil’s time playing in the Negro Leagues, before Jackie Robinson broke the modern color barrier in Major League Baseball. O’Neil has stories about all of the Negro League greats, from Oscar Charleston to Josh Gibson to Satchel Paige, who called O’Neil “Nancy” (you’ll have to read the book to find out why). More importantly, Joe Posnanski’s simple observations of how O’Neil interacts with people during their travels makes this a book worth reading. O’Neil brings joy to those around him, simply by being the person he is. You feel better about the world knowing a person like O’Neil existed in it.
This book is about so much more than baseball. This book is about life and how one should strive to live it. Many former baseball players criticize the modern athlete, complaining that “back in their day” they played for the love of the game while today’s athletes are all about the money and the glory. O’Neil doesn’t go down that road. To him, baseball is still the great game it has always been and he doesn’t disparage the current players. It’s refreshing.
As much as I love baseball, the most memorable moment of this book for me was a simple story about an exhausted Buck O’Neil heading into his hotel after a long, tiring day in the sweltering heat of a New York summer. As Joe Posnanski tells it, he and Buck were walking toward the hotel and there was a woman in a bright red dress standing there. Joe continued into the hotel, then turned to ask Buck what he thought of the woman. Buck wasn’t there. Joe looked back through the door and saw Buck talking to the woman in the red dress. When Buck finally came in from talking to the woman, his mood had changed, his energy was back, there was life in his steps. He turned to Joe and asked, “Did you see that woman in the red dress?” Joe nodded. Buck shook his head and said, “Son, in this life, you don’t ever walk by a red dress.”
I used to really like greeting cards. I still like them, but I don’t spend hours at stores looking through the greeting card section like I once did. I’d buy greeting cards even if I didn’t have an occasion because I thought that someday the occasion might occur that I would need that particular card. In a few cases, the occasion hasn’t yet occurred, so I still have greeting cards from 20 years ago waiting to be used. This was one of my favorites:
Driving home from work one day.
I stopped to watch a local Little League
Baseball game. As I sat down
Behind the bench on the first-base line,
I asked one of the boys what the score was.
“We’re behind 14 to nothing,”
He answered, smiling.
“Really,” I said. “I have to say
you don’t look very discouraged.”
“Discouraged?” the boy asked
with a puzzled look. “Why should we be
discouraged? We haven’t been up to bat yet!”
7. When it’s the perfect temperature outside.
For me, 68° is about perfect. When the temperature gets into the mid-70s, it’s a bit warm for me, especially if I’m in the direct sunshine. Over 80° is awful and over 90° feels like impending death. My body doesn’t handle high temps well because of a spinal cord injury, so I like that upper 60s sweet zone. If I’m in the shade with a cool breeze, I can handle 80°, but that’s pushing it. I will never live in Arizona.
I think most people have at least some family members they like to spend time with and some friends they like to hang out with. I would also guess that most people say, way too often, that they don't seem to see their friends and family as much as they'd like. We can't find the time to get together. We have too many things to do, too much going on. Then time passes and you haven't seen your closest friend in months or your childhood buddy who lives 15 minutes away in years or your brother who lives in a different state in a decade. Facebook allows people to stay connected, but it's not like seeing someone in person and hearing her laugh or seeing the way he (still) talks with his hands. You don't get the familiar gestures and quirks and looks like you do when you're together. In a way, perhaps this makes the time you spend together even better because it's more rare, but if it makes you happy to be around your friends and family, why not try to do it more often?
The image to the above left, from the Wall Street Journal, is something to keep in mind.
The Curly Wurly bar, made by Cadbury, is the British equivalent of the Marathon bar, which was my favorite candy bar when I was a kid. The Marathon bar was a long, intertwined candy bar made of chocolate and caramel. I like chocolate and caramel. It’s one of my favorite food combinations.
The sales pitch for the Marathon bar was that it lasted longer than other candy bars, as shown in these commercial clips from the 1970s.
By the way, the airplane pilot, Quick Kurt, in the second commercial is the guy who played Uncle Leo in Seinfeld. The Marathon bar was discontinued in 1981, but the Curly Wurly lives on.
I like a good fireworks show, but it has to be live, like at an Aquasox game. Watching fireworks on TV is like eating mashed potatoes without the gravy. It’s still mashed potatoes, but it lacks the extra something that the gravy gives it. Fireworks on TV just don’t have that watching-it-live feel.
Setting aside the fact that the actors in Grease are in their 30s and playing high schoolers, I still love watching the movie. It’s one of those movies that I can randomly flip to and continue watching from that point forward even though I’ve seen it dozens of times. John Travolta is the coolest member of the T-Birds, without question. When it comes to the Pink Ladies, of course Olivia Newton-John is super nice and wholesome and beautiful, although I do like when she does the switch at the end and comes out dressed in black with the makeup and big hair. Marti Maraschino is underrated hot in the movie.
When it comes to the movie Grease, I’m kind of obsessed with the guy in the green shirt who shows up in all of the big dancing scenes. I noticed him years ago in the final dance scene at the carnival because he does this goofy penguin walk. Then I started looking for him in the other dance scenes and he’s always there, with his 50s hair. I can’t watch the movie now without looking for the guy in the green shirt.
I found out a few years ago that I’m not the only person obsessed with the guy in the green shirt. Here’s a website by someone who loves the guy and the commenters agree that the guy in the green shirt is one of the best parts of the movie. One person wrote, “I agree with you 100 percent. Dan Levans (the guy in the green shirt) is by far the most interesting person to watch in this movie. He is the most energetic dancer in the troupe, putting that extra touch to make him stand out on the screen.”
Here he is in all his glory.
Spinning off of the guy in the green shirt from Grease, I enjoy coming across people who are very passionate about what they do, like the guy in the green shirt. He gives it his all in every scene, dancing like it’s the most important thing he’ll ever do. He gives 100%, not the mythical 110% that athletes give, but a legitimate 100%. It’s inspiring.
Another example is an English professor I had at the UW named Roger Sale. I took multiple classes with Roger because he was so incredible to watch teach English. He was the most inspiring teacher I ever had and I’ve written more about him at #37 on this list.
Another very passionate and memorable person was someone I didn’t really know. He was a checker at QFC named Maurice and he genuinely seemed to love his job. He had a big smile for everyone who came through his line, like you were best friends from way back. Sometimes he would sing when it was a slow day. I never saw him acting any way other than cheerful and positive. He never seemed to have a bad day. He was a ray of sunshine working as a checker in a grocery store. Then one day he was gone and going to QFC was no longer as fun as it had been when Maurice worked there.
Some movies are genuinely great movies and some movies are great because they come along at just the right time in your life. For any number of reasons, it’s the perfect time for you to see that movie because it connects so well with who you are in that moment. Before Sunrise came along at the right time for me. I was recently out of college, like the main character, Jesse. He had flown to Europe to visit his girlfriend who was studying in Madrid. It didn’t take long for him to realize she was no longer as in love with him as he was in love with her, which leads to this quote:
“You know the worst thing about someone breaking up with you? It’s that you know how little you thought of the people you’ve broken up with and you realize how little the person breaking up with you, thinks of you.” That was a gut-wrencher and a knife-twister for me. I’d never considered it before and it made me look back and feel retroactive embarrassment at how much I’d tried to make a couple previous relationships work after the person had lost all interest.
After the breakup, Jesse has two weeks before his flight leaves to go back to the states so he gets a Eurail pass and travels around Europe. The night before he has to leave, he meets the beautiful Celine and they get off the train in Vienna and walk around the city.
One of my favorite scenes is in a music store, where they are sitting next to each other listening to music and desperately wanting to look at each other but then avoiding eye contact when the other person looks over. Here’s the scene, but if you have any interest in seeing the movie, you should wait and watch it then.
It was the right movie at the right time. Other movies in this category for me include Pump Up the Volume (Christian Slater, shy high school student during the day, angry shock-jock pirate radio guy at night), Beautiful Girls (Timothy Hutton returns to his hometown for his 10-year reunion), and Lost in Translation (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet in Japan).
14. The ending of the movie Lost in Translation.
Speaking of Lost in Translation (above), it was one of those weird, quirky movies that I saw at the right time. It coincided with a weird, quirky friendship I had at the time. I won’t give away the ending. Many people don’t like the ending, but I like that it isn’t wrapped up in a tidy little bow like many Hollywood films.
Also, this scene from that movie.
Other than playing around with a harmonica every now and then, I’ve never played a musical instrument. I didn’t have piano lessons, never had a drum set, and didn’t even learn to play the guitar, although there exists a picture of me holding one when I was a kid. I’m sure I had no idea what I was doing. In school, I did play the recorder because everyone played the recorder that year.
After seeing the movie Cousins, I asked for and received a trumpet for Christmas. There was nothing I wanted more than to sit up in a window like Larry, softly playing the trumpet late at night while thinking of the woman I loved. Then I got the trumpet and couldn’t play it at all. I didn’t know how hard it was because in the movie it looked like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. I never did learn to play the trumpet, but I still like the movie.
I’ve logged many miles on the Sammamish Trail over the last few years. I usually park at Wilmot Gateway Park in Woodinville and head towards Redmond. I’ve been out there so often that there’s a whole cast of characters I’ve come to recognize, people I’ve seen dozens of times. Most are friendly and say hello or smile or nod. When the Pokemon Go sensation was happening last summer, the park was filled with people looking for Pikachus. There aren’t many of those left this summer. That fad came and went faster than “poking” people on Facebook.
I wrote about “Life on the Sammamish Trail” here.
The Sammamish Trail is close and easy to get to but Green Lake is a more interesting place to get some exercise because of the people you see. There’s a woman who sits at a table with a sign that says “free poetry.” I’ve never received any free poetry from her, but I’m glad she’s there in case I need some one day. There used to be a guy who had a sign that said “Spanish Lessons” but I haven’t seen him this year. I hope he’s okay. One guy I’d rather not see is the nearly naked, speedo-wearing “Free Hugs” guy. No hug for me, thanks.
One of the popular things at Green Lake this year is tightrope walking. Every time I go, there are at least a few groups of people with tightropes strung up between trees. The tightrope walkers seem to be welcoming people. I’ve seen strangers walk up and express interest and the tightrope walkers always show them how it’s done. If you ever want to try walking a tightrope, head to Green Lake and see if one of the tightrope walking groups will show you the ropes (see what I did there? Ehh?).
The other popular thing at Green Lake this year is the hammock. I’ve seen plenty of people lounging in hammocks this summer. They aren’t the old fashioned Gilligan Isle hammocks; they are new and improved sleek-looking hammocks. Tightropes hammocks and have taken over Green Lake.
One last popular thing at Green Lake is girls in bikinis. No explanation necessary.
19. A fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon roll
I really enjoy a warm, buttered, fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon roll. A good homemade one is best, but I used to enjoy the ones from Cinnabon also. They are just a bit too sweet, though. I haven’t seen a Cinnabon lately. I wonder if they still exist.
Speaking of cinnamon rolls, in my first year working at Skyview, I was invited to a meeting with four teachers to discuss technology for the upcoming school year. We agreed to meet at the Maltby Café. This was around 20 years ago. When I got there, I looked and looked but there was no way for me to get in the restaurant. It wasn’t accessible. The only entrance appeared to be a set of stairs in the front. Since I can’t levitate, I couldn’t get down the steps without doing the O.J. Simpson from Naked Gun.
One of the teachers asked the manager about it and the manager guided me around the back of the restaurant to the service entrance, where there was a very steep ramp (definitely not built to ADA specifications). I needed one person in front of me and another behind me to get down the ramp. This was just a couple years after I had become a paraplegic and I HATED needing to get help like that. It was humiliating and I’ve never been back to the Maltby Café. Everyone raves about their cinnamon rolls, but they don’t deserve my money.
My favorite is Jimmy Fallon’s story about playing ping-pong with Prince. I could watch it every day. I wish I could have played ping-pong with Prince.
This is a tradition I’ve had since I was in junior high. On those rare days when we got to skip school because of the snow, I always had peanut butter toast and hot chocolate. I did this all through junior high and high school and continued the tradition for all the years I worked at Skyview. Even though I’m no longer involved with schools, I still have peanut butter toast and hot chocolate on snow days. A few years ago on a snow day, I got a message from one of my favorite former students, who also held the title “Coolest Person Ever” for many years. She asked, “Did you enjoy your peanut butter toast and hot chocolate.” That’s how she keeps the title, year after year.
22. Randomly hearing from the perennial winner of the “Coolest Person Ever” Award.
Speaking of the “Coolest Person Ever”, she periodically shows up in my life for an hour or two and then disappears again. She’s elusively cool, like a movie star who won’t go on the talk shows to promote a movie. I might not see her for a year or two, then she’ll show up again and we’ll have lunch or dinner, then she’s gone. When she does show up randomly, it makes me happy to be able to spend a little bit of time with her.
I don’t believe I’ve ever been as happy and excited as she looks in this video and I doubt that I will ever be as happy and excited as she looks in this video. She’s literally jumping up and down with anticipation.
When I was in high school and college, I read all of the novels Tom Robbins had written to that point. They were exactly what I needed at that age. I loved the way he expressed his incredible ideas, the words he used, the way his stories were like wild flights of fancy at times and remarkably enlightening at other times. He is skillful with similes and marvelous with metaphors. His writing took me places I never imagined I could go. He was one of the reasons my world expanded from a focus on math and numbers to embracing literature and prose.
The first Tom Robbins novel I read was Another Roadside Attraction, but my favorite is Jitterbug Perfume. Another Roadside Attraction was recommended to me by a girl I knew in high school who was way cooler than I was. She was a year below me in school, but light years ahead of me in what she knew about life. I was the suburban guy who lived a half-hour from Seattle but rarely ventured downtown for anything other than a Mariner game. She invited me to a concert in Seattle and, as the band was playing, looked at me and said, “This would be great sex music.” I smiled and did nothing because I was the most oblivious person on the planet.
She tried again a few days later. It was near the end of the school year, during that time when we went to our classes but just signed yearbooks rather than do any schoolwork. I was wearing shorts. She grabbed a Sharpie and started at my ankle, drawing a snake going up my leg, around and around. First she said I had nice calves, then she looked me in the eyes and said I had nice thighs. I thanked her. Class ended. We said goodbye.
One of my favorite Tom Robbins’ poems is this one, Genius Waitress. I’ve been in love with a couple waitresses in my life and this one speaks to me.
Of hidden knowledge, buried ambition, and secret
sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins; of aching
arches, ranting cooks, condescending patrons, and eyes
diverted from ancient Greece to ancient grease; of
burns and pinches and savvy and spunk; of a uniquely
American woman living a uniquely American compromise,
I sing. I sing of the genius waitress.
Okay, okay, she's probably not really a genius. But
she is well-educated. She has a degree in Sanskrit,
ethnoastronomy, Icelandic musicology, or something
equally valued in contemporary marketplace. Even if
she could find work in her chosen field, it wouldn't
pay beans--so she slings them instead. (The genius
waitress is not to be confused with the
aspiring-actress waitress, so prevalent in Manhattan
and Los Angeles and so different from her sister in
temperament and I.Q.)
As a type, the genius waitress is sweet and sassy,
funny and smart; young, underestimated, fatalistic,
weary, cheery (not happy, cheerful: there's a
difference and she understands it), a tad bohemian,
often borderline alcoholic, frequently pretty (though
her hair reeks of kitchen and bar); as independent as
a cave bear (though ever hopeful of "true love") and,
above all, genuine.
Covertly sentimental, she fusses over toddlers and old
folks, yet only fear of unemployment prevents her from
handing an obnoxious customer his testicles with his
She doesn't mind a little good-natured flirting, and
if you flirt with verve and wit, she may flirt back.
Never, however, never try to impress her with your
resume. Her tolerance for pretentious Yuppies ends
with her shift, sometimes earlier. She reads men like
a menu and always knows when she's being offered
leftovers or an artificially inflated soufflé.
Should you ever be lucky enough to be taken home by
her to that studio apartment with the jerry-built
bookshelves and Frida Kahlo posters, you will discover
that whereas in the public dining room she is merely
as proficient as she needs to be, in the private
bedroom she is blue gourmet virtuoso. Five stars and
counting! Afterward, you can discuss chaos theory or
the triple aspects of the mother goddess in universal
art forms--while you massage her swollen feet.
Eventually, she leaves food service for graduate
school or marriage; but unless she wins a grant or a
fair divorce settlement, chances are she'll be back, a
few years down the line, reciting the daily specials
with her own special mixture of warmth and ennui.
Erudite emissary of eggs over easy, polymath purveyor
of polenta and prawns, articulate angel of apple pie,
the genius waitress is on duty right now in hundreds
of U.S. restaurants, smile at the ready, sauce on the
side. So brush up on your Schopenhauer, place your
order--and tip, mister, tip. She deserves a break
Of her, I sing.
Joe Posnanski is a great sportswriter, but he’s not just a sportswriter. On his personal blog, he’ll occasionally treat his readers to a personal story, often about his daughters. They are always gems. One of his best was “Katie the Prefect.” I don’t know much about Harry Potter and I don’t have any kids, but I loved the story.
Some of his columns are a mix of sports and music and his daughters and pixi-foods (a food substance that is highly pleasant to the taste as a child and shockingly unpleasant once you became an adult) and anything else that springs to mind. In these columns, he might write one terrific paragraph that sticks with me, or a couple or three paragraphs.
Here is one example about his daughter Katie:
Start at a field. The grass is sparse and burning yellow. The afternoon sun is low in the sky. Leaves crunch underneath. It is autumn. Children are playing. They are not playing baseball; you don't see children play baseball as much these days. Soccer is the thing. Let's face it, the kids are not really playing soccer either, but they are trying. The basics are here. Soccer goals on either side. A soccer ball bounces and skids erratically. The children are at different levels. Some still forget that they're not supposed to pick up the ball. One boy knows how to punt the ball high in the air, sending the others scattering for cover. Another fears getting too close to the ball, so he always revolves around the ball from a safe distance, like Mercury rotating the sun. One girl has learned a slick move where she can stop quickly with the ball and start again, and this will sometimes send defenders crumbling to the ground. Another approaches the ball tentatively, the way she might a large dog.
And then there's another girl, and she is everywhere. Everyone notices her. She is impossible to miss, though she's small. She has short blonde hair, and this gap-tooth smile, and her pink socks are pulled above her knees. She chases after the ball exuberantly. That's the big thing. Wherever the ball goes, she goes full of spirit and hope. The ball bounces this way, she runs this way, it's kicked back, she quickly turns and runs back. This happens again and again, this constant shift of direction, but she never seems to tire, and she never seems to get frustrated. She is so small that at one point the coach simply picks her up to put her in a different defensive spot. She is pure energy and pure joy, and people in the small crowd find themselves cheering for her and calling her name.
End at that field. That little girl. She runs around after the ball with such joy and such zeal. She's sure she will get to the ball, kick it down the field, chase it again. And if she doesn't get to it this time, she's sure that that she will get to it next time. That kind of verve is easier when you're young, maybe. And I wonder if in part that's why people cheer her, because that enthusiasm is so irresistible … and they know how easy it is to lose it. So they shout, "Go Katie! Go Katie!" because they want her to keep going. I know that's why I'm shouting. I want my daughter to keep going like that forever.
Tuesdays with Morrie is an inspiring book about a man who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease but still lives life with as much joy and optimism as he possibly can. I read it long ago and really liked it at the time. One of the great quotes by Morrie in this book:
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Many years after this book came out, the author, Mitch Albom, was revealed to be a real jerk. He made an anti-gay statement saying Adam Lambert was disgusting because he’s a “guy-kisser.” In 1995, he crossed the picket lines to return to work. He wrote a story for the Detroit Free Press in which he claimed two former college players were at a game they never attended, then had some difficulties with his fake-apology (or fauxpology). He wrote another column very critical of people in the service industry that very likely included made up incidents to push his point. I’ve worked in a restaurant and I know how hard it is to work in an industry where you have to deal with the public. They’re the worse. Mitch Albom appears to be one of them.
I haven’t re-read Tuesdays With Morrie, so the book still makes me happy when I think about it, but now that I know more about the author it could easily fall of this list at any moment. Many people think it’s an awful book because it isn’t so much about Mitch Albom’s old college professor who is dying from ALS (Morrie Schwartz) as it is about Mitch Albom and what a great guy Mitch Albom is becoming because Mitch Albom is spending time with a dying man. Mitch Albom loves himself some Mitch Albom.
It sounds like Albom did not follow in the footsteps of his dying college professor because Schwartz did not come across as the jerk that Albom is. I feel if I were to read it again knowing that Albom didn’t learn a damn thing from Morrie Schwartz, it would feel insincere and phony. For now, when I think about the book I focus on Morrie Schwarts and try to ignore Mitch Albom.
27. Music by big-haired rock bands of the 1980s.
Hair was big in the 1980s, particularly with teenage girls and the big-haired rock bands they lusted after. When I look at my old junior high and high school yearbooks, it looked like the girls were in competition to see who could have the biggest hair. Often times, it would rise out of their forehead like a tidal wave or flow from their face as if they were in a massive windstorm. I had a very nice mullet, but it wasn’t so much big as it was long (business in the front, party in the back). Teenage girls and rock stairs had hair that was big AND long.
A sampling of the big-haired rock bands from the 1980s includes Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Twister Sister, Skid Row, KISS, Whitesnake, Scorpions, and Ratt. My favorite band was Van Halen, but only during the David Lee Roth era. Once Sammy Hagar replaced Diamond Dave, the band was dead to me. David Lee Roth was one of my idols back in those days, mainly because he seemed so confident, with no hint of ever being embarrassed or unsure of himself. I wanted to be as cool and confident as he was.
One of the first concerts I went to was when Diamond Dave was on a solo tour. He was the headliner when the tour started but his opening act, Poison, surged in popularity as the tour went on and eventually eclipsed him. That probably killed Diamond Dave, who wanted to be everyone’s favorite showman.
Eventually I learned that David Lee Roth probably wasn’t someone to idolize. I still love the music and the creativity of his videos, but his idol status has been rescinded.
I usually go to Everett Aquasox games with my sister and one of my nieces, Ruby. They are easier to get to than Mariner games because we don’t have to deal with Seattle traffic. Parking is free and our seats are six rows up from the field behind home plate. Seats that good don’t exist for wheelchair users at Safeco Field, where even the Diamond Club wheelchair seats are in the very back row. Safeco’s a nice enough ballpark, but they could have had better accessible seating. The Pirates did it right with PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The Mariners did not.
At the Aquasox games the players are young, either just out of high school or college or recently-signed players from Latin American countries. Often times, the fielding is amateurish and the pitchers throw hard but lack control. These are the players down near the bottom rung of the ladder, all hoping to make it up to the big leagues.
It’s still baseball, though, and it’s fun to sit in good seats watching baseball with family and friends. We’re semi-regulars at the games. We don’t have season tickets but we try to go once or twice every homestand, so we’ve come to know some of the season-ticket holders. They’ve seen Ruby grow from a six-month old in the summer she was born to the 10-year-old she is now.
Many years ago, before Ruby was born, my sister and I went to a game that is still one of the best we’ve ever attended. It was Flyswatter Night, so the first 1,000 fans received Aquasox Flyswatters in a promotional giveaway. I wrote about that game here.
At least once every summer, I try to get together for a Seattle Mariners baseball game with a group of guys who all worked at Skyview at one time or another, although none of us work there now. We are the Inner Circle. For a while, one member of the group was on the outside of the Inner Circle, hovering around the outer shell, but we finally let him have full member status quite some time ago.
It’s an interesting group that includes the most upbeat, “Jeez, oh boy, wow!” person you could ever hope to meet. That’s not an exaggeration; he actually says “Jeez!” and “Oh boy!” and “Wow!” quite frequently. Some days, it’s hard to believe he actually exists, but it’s always a joy to be around his optimism and enthusiasm. Luckily, the group has the yang to his yin to keep everything in balance.
The other four members of the Inner Circle either are or were math teachers. I’m the oddball with an English degree (but with longtime mathematical leanings). By tradition, we get our hot dogs at Joe’s before the game. Joe’s is one of the hot dog stands between the two stadiums. The guy who runs Joe’s is known for his very loud call when he’s holding the foot long, “Would you LOOK at the size of this dog?!” Joe also seems to have discovered the fountain of youth. He looks younger now than he did 10 years ago. It can’t be the hot dogs because the members of the Inner Circle look older every year.
We sit in the 300 level because the accessible seats everywhere else are not worth the price. The view is fine, but even on a hot day in August it gets cold in the late innings when the breeze comes whistling through. Mostly, we watch baseball and catch up with each other on what’s happened since the last time we were together. It’s a nice tradition.
30. Fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies
Most people love the snickerdoodles I make, but my favorite cookie is the good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie, or the slight variation—the chocolate chip cookie with coconut. I could eat a couple dozen of them as they came right out of the oven. I don’t, but I could.
As much as I like chocolate chip cookies, it’s the wonderful doughnut that I like the most. Well, doughnuts or a piece of white cake with white frosting from Costco. Cake isn’t an everyday food, though, doughnuts can be.
My top 5 favorite doughnuts:
- Boston Crème
- Bavarian Kreme
- Glazed Twist
- Maple Bar
It’s really good pizza. It’s a thin crust pizza they put in 1000° ovens for about three minutes and it’s just delicious. If you’re in Ballard, go to the Veraci on Market street. If you’re in Wedgewood, go to the Veraci on 35th. If you’re in Kirkland on a Wednesday in the summer, go to the Farmer’s Market and let me know what time you’ll be there and I’ll buy you a slice.
This is a complex one. It’s great when I have something really exciting to look forward to the next day, but it also makes it hard to sleep. I just can’t stop my mind from thinking about it, so I’m awake for far longer than I should be. Still, it’s a good feeling.
In another way, having something to look forward to the next day has helped me get through difficult times. When I was in the hospital recovering from a spinal cord injury, there was a time when I was stuck in my room on bed rest for months. The days would sometimes pass very slowly. One of the things that got me through the nights was thinking about the cute physical therapist (Lisa) who would come to my room the next day or if my brother and his family might be visiting.
I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones or Stranger Things or Orange is the New Black or any of the other popular shows that people talk about. The only weekly sitcom I watch is Modern Family, and sometimes I forget and miss an episode and have to watch it On Demand. During baseball season, I’ll flip between games with the Extra Innings package.
The one show I watch religiously is Jeopardy! It started when I was in the hospital after a car accident 23 years ago. At that time my longtime friend Les, who has been like a father to me for 30 years, came out to Indiana and stayed with me in my hospital room. We started watching Jeopardy! every day and continue to watch it now. When it gets dark before 7:30, we’ll usually watch it that day, but during the summer when it stays light until well past 7:30, I DVR it and we watch it later in the day. I’ve taken the online test to become a Jeopardy! contestant a few times already but have come up a few questions short of making it to the next round. I keep telling myself to spend a year seriously preparing for it, but then baseball season starts.
35. Seeing Mt. Rainier on a clear day.
I’ve lived here since I was 10 years old and I’m still amazed by Mt. Rainier on a clear day. It’s majestic.
She embodies the quote: “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.” When I tried to dance in my younger days, like in junior high or high school or at the gay baR a girl I dated in college took me to, I thought everyone was watching and noticing how terrible I was at dancing. They weren’t, of course, but that’s how I felt. I hope my niece continues to dance like there’s nobody watching.
I had an English professor at the UW named Roger Sale who was incredibly inspiring. I didn’t set out to major in English. I took a variety of classes during my first few years of college because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. When it came time to choose a major, my counselor pointed out that I had more English credits than anything else, so I majored in English. I continued to take classes in the subject, but I was not inspired by them. I took American Lit, a class with a requirement to read one novel per week and write an in-class essay on Friday. I never finished any of the novels but had the ability to flip through the book and write top-notch essays so I “earned” a good grade. This is how it went for most of the English classes I took.
Then I took British Lit with Roger. It was incredible. He read Dickens to the class with a passion for words I’d never seen before. I had always been a numbers guy; math was my thing. Then I took a class with Roger and it flipped a switch. I could be both a numbers guy and a lover of words. I ended up taking a few classes with Roger, including some while in the teacher certification program. His passion never waned.
He also called me out on my writing. I’d been earning top grades on everything I’d written for years by knowing what my teaches wanted to read and how they wanted it structured. Roger would hand back the things I’d written with red slashes filling the page and comments like “formulaic!”, “robotic”, “boring!” and “there’s none of you in this essay!” He forced me to become a better writer, to not write what I thought someone wanted to read but what I really wanted to say.
Roger was the only English teacher I ever had who pushed me to go beyond the expected. All of my other teachers gave me high marks as long as I followed all the rules. I remember vividly that Roger often asked me if I wanted to be a coach who taught English or an English teacher who also coached. There’s a big difference.
I took classes with Roger during the year before I was in a car accident in the summer of 1994. A few years after the car accident, I was rolling around Green Lake with a friend. From a distance, I saw a man walking with a woman and talking nonstop with his hands out in front punctuating every sentence. I knew in an instant that it was Roger. I didn’t expect him to recognize me, considering the thousands of students he’d had in his career.
As he came towards me and I towards him, I looked in his direction. He recognized me instantly and shouted, “Bobby Mueller!” We stopped and talked. He turned to the woman he was with and said something very complimentary about me. All these years later, I don’t even remember what it was, but I knew it made me feel really good that day and I remember the moment fondly even now.
[Note: While putting this list together, I searched for a picture of Roger and learned that he died on May 11. This is his obituary. He was 84 years old. This makes me incredibly sad. He was such a bright light in my life, someone who was there at a point in college when I needed him most. I wish I had told him how much he meant to me before it was too late.]
I like numbers. I was always a math guy in school until I became an English major in college, and even then I was still a math guy at heart. I like numbers and data and information. When someone wants to convince me of something, they better come at me with evidence and not anecdotal stories about “this one person who this one thing happened to this one time.”
I like spreadsheets. I have a ridiculous number of spreadsheets. I can tell you how many times I’ve eaten at Taco Time in the last five years (142). I can tell you the final standings of the Roberto Clemente League in 2006 (fantasy baseball—I won that year). I can tell you how much money I spent on December 1, 2004 ($5.09 at Dairy Queen and $31.53 at Safeway).
When I was in college, I had a temporary job in the winter that consisted of me standing in a parking lot near Bellevue Square telling people not to park there and walk to Bellevue Square. It wasn’t fun being the bad guy. People would park and start to walk over to Bellevue Square and I’d have to tell them they couldn’t do it.
Plus, it was cold. And it wasn’t particularly interesting, especially when there weren’t any scofflaws trying to break the rules. To pass the time, I did math problems in my head. I multiplied double-digit numbers like 27 x 41 (1107) or added three-digit numbers like 753 + 886 (1639). I did that for hours and got pretty good at it. It hasn’t really come in useful yet in my adult life, but perhaps I’ll get a math question when I’m on Jeopardy someday.
It’s like a lottery ticket. When you buy a lottery ticket, you know you’re chances of winning are miniscule (if you have any math sense at all, you know this). Still, you buy the Powerball ticket that might be worth $750 million and you buy yourself a dream for as long as you hold that ticket until the numbers are drawn. You can imagine what you would do if you won, where you would live, what you would buy, who you would help out financially. It’s a form of entertainment. You can pay $12 to go watch a movie for two hours or you can buy a Powerball ticket for $2 and daydream about winning for a day.
When you make eye contact with an attractive stranger, it’s like the lottery ticket. You can spend the next 10 minutes or half hour or rest of the day thinking about the attractive stranger and whether she likes baseball and Jeopardy and Van Halen. You can imagine that she’s intelligent and has a good sense of humor and she’s a genuinely nice person. You may never see her again but, like the lottery ticket, it’s a nice little daydream.
When I was younger, I could eat 7-Eleven nachos pretty much whenever I wanted. When you’re young and active in sports you don’t have to think about calories. You just eat. Those were glorious times. I had a college friend named Kevin. We would get the Little Caesar’s Pizza Pizza meal and each eat a whole pizza, plus the breadsticks and sauce.
I can’t do that anymore so 7-Eleven nachos are a once a year thing. And, yes, I realize they are like eating toxic waste to some people, but that one time a year I eat 7-Eleven nachos is glorious. I cover the corn chips with chili and cheese and, of course, sliced jalapenos. I can never eat them fast enough to keep the chips crisp until the end, but I’ve grown to love the last few “soggy eyelid” nacho chips that are so covered with cheese that there’s no way to eat them without getting it all over your fingers. It’s all part of the experience, the last few limp nacho chips covered with cheese that gets all over your fingers. Don’t offer me a fork, either. I will stab you.
This video came out in 1997, which was my second year working at Skyview. It became my new favorite thing, replacing the ice skater Ekaterina Gordeeva. I liked the song and the kind of random video with people moving furniture in the background. Of course, I thought Natalie Imbruglia looked delightful in the video, with her mid-1990s oversized clothing and adorable haircut. When the camera came in close on her beautiful face, I was smitten.
At the time, some students would come into the computer lab during lunch and I’d put MTV or VH1 on. When “Torn” came on, everything stopped for four minutes and five seconds because I had to watch the video. When it ended, life could resume as before.
I worked at Skyview Junior High for 18-plus years and have many good memories of those years. I could fill a book with specifics, but nobody has time for that so I’ll just bullet point them:
- Working with some terrific teachers who connected with students and encouraged them to be the best version of themselves they could be.
- “Book Club” with teachers after school.
- Most faculty meetings weren’t particularly fun, but some were interesting and enjoyable. One time I created Bingo Cards with oft-repeated phrases used by the principal at the time. The anticipation grew as people crossed off their Bingo Cards when he would say something like, “I’ve spent way too many hours on this already…” or “I’ve been running the numbers…” or when he would reference the master schedule or the Green Schools Program or something about his daughter that related to sports or something about his son that related to technology. That was a great faculty meeting.
- Baking. So much baking.
- Working with eighth graders on the Westward Movement Project and ninth graders on Breakout. I know it probably wasn’t much fun for them working on projects that took a long time to complete, but they came up with some interesting ideas and impressive displays.
- Getting to know thousands of students for a few years of their lives. Most were like cars on a freeway, with Skyview being a town that they passed through on their journey to somewhere else. I was fortunate enough to get to know them for a few years, then they moved on and another group came through. Some students I really connected with and still know even years later. I’ve seen them grow up and go to college or work. Some get married, some don’t. Some have kids, some don’t. There are thousands of stories going off in thousands of directions but, at one time, Skyview was a part of those stories and I’m glad I could be there for it.
- A few specific memories:
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
- Singing the Blues with Mr. McGinn and Mr. Newvine
- Otis Spunkmeyer cookies
- The Newlywed Game
- Brainstorm (district champs!)
- Mr. Mueller’s Trivia Challenge
I could fill this list with a variety of baseball-related things, but I’ll stick with just baseball as one item and include everything I like about baseball, from playing it to watching it on TV to listening to it on the radio to reading about it to fantasy baseball and baseball statistics. It all makes me happy.
My favorite English professor at the UW, Roger Sale, once asked us to write for the prompt: When are you the most you? I wrote about being on the pitcher’s mound. At that time of my life, there was no other option, nothing remotely close to that answer. That was who I was. If I didn’t have a spinal cord injury, I would still be out there playing, probably as the oldest guy on some team in an adult rec league. If my right arm was worn out from years of pitching, I’d learn to pitch left-handed.
43A. Fantasy baseball (especially the auction)
One of the guys in the Inner Circle (see #29 above) is in a fantasy baseball league with me. His name is Vern and he’s an exuberant Asian/Hawaiian man of indeterminate age. I know he’s older than me, but I don’t know exactly how old he is. He was a math teacher at Bothell High for a while, then taught at Skyview for one year, which is where I met him. I introduced him to fantasy baseball through a league I ran at the school and his life hasn’t been the same since.
Unlike many adults who act like they’ve seen and heard everything they’ll ever see and hear and never get excited by anything, Vern is like an adult newborn, wide eyed and enthusiastic about everything. He’s the most animated and optimistic person I know and punctuates his sentences generously with smiles and laughter and phrases like “Oh wow!” and “Ooooh” and “Jeeez!”
The league we’re in is a keeper league with an auction right before the MLB season starts. Vern has his team and I have mine. When we all get together for the auction, Vern is the highlight of the event for everyone involved. He always makes sure to go around the room to say hello to everyone and asks them how they’re doing. Many of these guys we only see once a year, at the auction (some we see twice a year, at the auction and the end-of-year party).
Even though we don’t get together often, we’ve known each other for years, so it’s like old friends meeting up for a reunion and Vern is a buzzing bumblebee making his way around the room. If he had a deceitful bone in his body, I would think he was trying to get some pre-draft intel on what players the other owners might bid on, but he’s genuinely just excited to see everyone.
When the auction starts, Vern gets so excited about bidding on a player that he sometimes outbids himself. The caller will say, “Robinson Cano for $25” and Vern will yell, “$26!” Then the caller will say, “Do I hear $27?” and sometimes Vern will forget that he’s the one who has the current bid and yell out, “$27!”
He has no poker face whatsoever. Every emotion is right there for everyone to see. When the bidding on a player he really likes gets into a dollar range that is higher than he wants to spend, you can see the visible anguish on his face as he tries to decide whether to keep bidding. Sometimes he’ll say, “Okay, forget it” and everyone will think he’s out, then at the last minute he’ll yell out a higher bid. When he gets a player, it’s like he’s opening a present on Christmas morning. There are other aspects of fantasy baseball that I enjoy, but hanging out with Vern an auction day is the best part.
Bob Uecker had a less-than-stellar major league career as a light-hitting backup catcher. He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen how bad a player he was. He is a funny guy, though, and he’s used his sense of humor to have a long career as an announcer with the Milwaukee Brewers after his baseball career ended. He’s been a broadcaster for the Brewers since 1971. His Hall of Fame speech was a classic. And I think he did it all off the cuff, no notes, just telling stories.
Over the years, he made more than 100 appearances on the Tonight Show in the 1970s and 80s. He was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests. He also became well known for his Miller Lite commercials (“I must be in the front rowwwwwww” and “Good seats, huh buddy?”). He had a TV sitcom (Mr. Belvedere). In 1987, he was the ring announcer for the famous Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant match at WrestleMania III. Whenever you see a pitcher throw a wild pitch and hear someone say, “Juuuuust a bit outside”, they are quoting announcer Harry Doyle from the movie Major League. Harry Doyle was played by Bob Uecker.
When I was growing up in Florida with my three older brothers and my little sister, my mom made our house THE house where everyone was welcome. My older brothers were always hanging out at our place with all of their friends, often working on cars or hitting a punching bag hung in the den while smoking herb they grew in the woods behind our house. It kind of looked like parsley.
My mom made big dinners on Sunday and all of my brother’s friends were free to show up if they weren’t getting dinner at their house. Spaghetti was a favorite—mass quantities of spaghetti, enough for a dozen growing teenagers and three younger ones.
My mom’s generosity was never more evident than on Thanksgiving. Everyone was invited. Some of my older brother’s friends didn’t have big Thanksgiving dinners at their place, so they joined us. My mom would get the biggest turkey she could find and spend the entire night before basting it every hour or so, then the next morning she’d put together all the side dishes, like mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, dinner rolls and the gelatinous mass of cranberry sauce that plopped out of a can in its cylindrical shape. Of course, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner for me was the pecan pie.
I wrote all about Thanksgiving a couple years ago.
If I lived in the fictional world of Stars Hollow, I would simultaneously want to be a teenager who could date Rory and an adult who could date Loralei. I would want to clone myself and be two different ages. Ultimately, though, I’m more Luke than Dean, Jess, or Logan. I could run a diner that specialized in chocolate chip cookies.
I watched Gilmore Girls when it was popular. There was a group of girls at Skyview back then who made the computer lab their second home. They would have intense discussions about Gilmore Girls and, in particular, which one of them was Rory (they had a similar debate about the Disney princesses, I think because more than one of them claimed to be Ariel). It was totally obvious from my point-of-view which one was Rory, but I stayed out of the debate. Actually, they were all very nice and had some Rory in them. The good thing was, there was no Paris Geller in the group.
One day this group of girls came into the computer lab in the morning and something was off. They weren’t themselves. It wasn’t anything bad, just different. Then I realized it—every one of them had taken on the personality of a different one so that all of them were still there, but it was like they were in different bodies. It was amazing. They were so good at impersonating each other.
I enjoyed watching Gilmore Girls then and I recently re-watched the entire series again when the Gilmore Girls Reboot came out. It held up. It’s still a great show. I want to move to Star’s Hollow and open a diner and wear a baseball cap backwards.
Dawson’s Creek, on the other hand, has not held up over time. I watched Dawson’s Creek when it was popular, likely because students were talking about it and I was curious about this show they were talking about. At the time, I liked the show.
I tried re-watching it about a year ago and it was unbearable. I couldn’t get through it. I think the main problem is that I wanted to punch Dawson in the face every time he came on screen. This is a short list of why I wanted to punch Dawson in the face every time he came on screen:
- His face is too big.
- He had great hair. I never had great hair. I had a top-notch mullet when it was cool to have a mullet (and maybe for a few years after it became not-cool…), but I never had great, Dawson Leery hair.
- He was so emotional. He was an emo dressed as a preppy. Get over yourself, Dawson!
- He was oblivious. Here’s a teenage guy who has Katie Friggin’ Holmes climbing in his window at night and crawling into bed with him and he does nothing. That’s worth two punches in the face.
Scientific America knows what’s up:
A darkened restaurant with tables lit by candlelight can supply just the right amount of illumination to allow you to focus on the face of your date and your food while the surrounding patrons, tables and the rest of the outside world seemingly fade to black. You may be less likely to gaze around the room people watching and more likely to attend to your partner providing them with eye contact and attention.
The darkened environment also allows our pupils to dilate which can be a subconscious signal of stimulation, attraction and readiness for love. Studies have shown that our pupils dilate wider than normal when we are excited about something and even someone. Oo la la! Also, men unknowingly view women with larger pupils as more attractive and we have had a hunch about this for years, even centuries.
Over 500 years ago, women in Italy used extract from the Belladonna plant to dilate their pupils because they believed it would increase their attractiveness. The word Belladonna literally means “beautiful lady.” They thought that bigger pupils would make their eyes seem more “dreamy” and entice men into falling in love with them. While you cannot force or artificially manufacture attraction between two people, modern studies have confirmed that their line of thinking may have been correct.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Hess et al studied the effect of pupil size on feelings of attraction. In one experiment, they took two pictures of the same woman, presented it to male subjects and asked them to describe the female in the picture. The researchers had artistically altered the photographs, manipulating the size of the woman’s pupils to be either slightly larger or smaller than they were in their natural state. Hess noted that “none of the men reported noticing the difference in pupil size” between any of the pictures but the subtle change seemed to subconsciously influence the level of attraction they felt for the woman. When the woman had large pupils, she was said to be “soft,” “more feminine” and “pretty,” while when the very same woman had small pupils, the men described her as “cold,” “hard” and “selfish.” This frequently referenced experiment and phenomenon has been re-tested using a variety of different methods over the years and has yielded the same results; men finding women with bigger pupils to be more romantically appealing.
This dilated pupil effect can be interesting, depending on the color of the girl’s eyes. It’s more noticeable in a girl with light-colored eyes because of the difference between the light eyes and the dilated pupil. My first serious girlfriend had gray eyes (which could also tend towards blue or green at times). When we were madly in love and she looked into my eyes, her pupils looked huge. It was really noticeable and lovely to see. I’ve also known women with brown eyes that were the same exact color of their pupils, so they had a perpetually-dilated look that was also quite appealing. Of course, it could give off the wrong impression. What I might think are yearning fully-dilated pupils might actually be piercing dagger pupils being obscured by the same eye color.
La Palmera in Mill Creek is my go-to restaurant for Mexican food. When I arrive, the people at the front area show me to my table like it’s eternally reserved for me. I usually go there with a friend I’ve known since junior high and we have good Mexican food and talk about whatever is happening in our lives, then often go for ice cream after. It’s always a great time.
About once a year, a former student who spends her life traveling around the world will be in town and we’ll have lunch or dinner at La Palmera. It’s always interesting to here about her latest trip to Vegas or Europe or Bali. She’s living a life some people only dream about while they sit in their cubicles and stare at computer screens. Of course, no one’s life is perpetual peaks without any valleys, but she’s resilient when the tough times come and still maintains an optimistic outlook, which is refreshing to see.
49. A shoulder massage.
It’s probably not too shocking to learn that someone who uses his arms all day long every single day likes a shoulder massage. Although, there are some restrictions. A few years ago I was on the Sammamish Trail just cruising along to get some exercise on a nice day. I finished back where I started at Wilmot Gateway Park and was just hanging out watching the people go by.
Suddenly I felt some stranger’s hands massaging my shoulders. It could have been the Woodinville Strangler going for my jugular. The person was lucky I didn’t use my ninja skills to attack with a quick elbow/spin around/monkey punch to the throat combination. I just kind of turned my head and saw a woman who looked like she had just walked off the dairy farm that hosted Woodstock in 1969. She had hippy written all over her. I was surprised she didn’t offer me healing crystals . . . or pot.
I must have looked surprised when I turned around because she said, “Oh, I just figured with all the work you do with your arms, you would like a shoulder massage.” It’s true, I would, but not from a total stranger on the Sammamish Trail. That was an invasion of my personal bubble.
50. Potato skins
It would not be overstating it to say I LOVE potato skins. I make them about once a month and it’s a process, but the payoff is worth it. They’re dreamy.