Friday, August 19, 2005

Quick Note (8/19/05)

Well I had written out this beautiful post talking about civility and such...and Blogger lost it. I don't have time to rewrite the whole thing, because I'm in the middle of a surprise party for my wife. As the lovely Michele pointed out: "Love makes us do stupid (and crazy) things."
I will be away for the next two weeks (or so). First to Vail, Colorado, then to New York. I will attempt to look in on other blogs and write (if I can). If not, then have a nice few weeks sans me.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

My Kind of Time...

I don't sleep much anymore. I used to be proud of the fact that I could be in top form with only 4 hours of sleep. It was my advantage. Everyone else needed those eight hours, but I could keep going. My sophomore year of college, I worked on an outdoor production of Little Shop of Horrors. The set was huge (about 65 feet wide and 10 feet tall). Because we were outdoors and in the middle of "the quad", we had to stay with all of the equipment all of the time, which meant sleeping out there. Hey, it was always fun to go your first class in the same clothes as the days before smelling like death. People thought your were just doing the Walk of Shame (yes, you are to note the sarcasm). When it was my turn, I just wouldn't sleep. It wasn't a problem back then. Go a night without sleep? Hell, you could make it up later. I remember sitting in a desk watching over everything while everyone else slept. At two or three in the morning it was like heaven. There was no light and no noise except for the wind. You could look up and just see all of the stars (that were visible from that part of St. Louis). As someone who believes in some of the zen qualities of life, those moments were precious in a way.
I grew up in a household where both my parents worked very hard. My father essentially had three jobs and my mother two. Dad would go to bed around 4 or 5 in the morning and get up around 8. He never faltered. It was quite amazing, and it's probably the reason why I can go without sleep (at least I hope it's genetic). Sure, I get cranky, but who doesn't when they don't sleep?
Still, I love the time between 2 & 5 in the morning. No one is around, most sensible people are asleep, and the world is quiet. Think of our world as a radio. From sun-up to after the evening news, it's like Motorhead blasting at level 11. There's so much to take in and process, and we have to then apply what we've learned through the filter of our beliefs. It's draining. I tell my students that work, to me, isn't hard, but living in reality is. After 11, that's party time. We head out to the bars or what have you, and become party people. Zany stories are shared, etc. We can't stop being "on" until we get away from it all.
In the musical Guys and Dolls, Sky Masterson sings about how his kind of time, "is the dark time." That's the stretch of time I mean. No one is out and about. This is when the radio is shut off. Before 24-hour channels, there would be nothing on TV or radio or whatever after a certain hour. Now, you can find whatever, whenever.
We're losing that time now. Urban areas are growing (or sprawling as it were). I live in Robbinsdale, which is outside the city of Minneapolis. On the three levels of "major cities", Minneapolis is a third-tier city. Cities like New York or Los Angeles are first tier. Second tier cities are slightly smaller, such as Detroit or St. Louis. Then there are the third tiers, such as Minneapolis or Nashville. You get the idea. Because it is third-tier, it's smaller, quieter, and not as bright. You go to New York, and you have to go pretty far away from the city to keep the lights from affecting your view of the stars. I live pretty close to the city, but at three in the morning, you can see the stars because there's less light affecting the view.
I find this time not only relaxing, but it's the best time to think about things. There's nothing to affect your mind. If I'm up, I start thinking about the world and such. (I don't really want to get political on my site, because there's too much out there already. If asked, I will share my thoughts, but I don't like getting political.)
Try it sometime. Take a Saturday and sleep in late. Then go about your day and do whatever you have to until that 2 in morning hour. You'll find three things happen:
1. The world slows down.
2. Your mind works at a different pace
3. You have the ability to concentrate on things better without those distractions.
Maybe it's just me. I'm not really an insomniac, more of a workaholic or thinkaholic actually. Once your life hits routine (and if you're working and married, and/or have kids, it will), you'll find that it's harder to take time to think. Not to work, not to relax, just to think.
And now, I have to get ready and go to work. Have a nice day folks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mr. Optimist & Mr. Pessimist 8/17/05

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Optimist and Mr. Pessimist will debate my fortune cookie's message:
"Today it's up to you to created the peacefulness you long for."
Mr Optimist, you're up first.
Mr. O: Ok, we can look beyond the fact that there is a typo (created where they mean create) to see that this message is the very essence of being positive. You have to take charge and make your peace. And, better than that, the message is saying that you get the peace you want if you make it.
Mr. P: Oh, I remember when I was that naive. You're not seeing the forest for the trees. Look, it's not saying that you will get the peacefulness you want, it's saying YOU have to MAKE it. Beyond that, why is it up to me? Does this message truly realize the life situation that Leab here is in?"
I want to interrupt you gentlemen for a minute. Um, last time you debated as if I wasn't here AND you insulted me. I won't have that this time. Please continue Mr. Pessimist.
Mr. P: No one cares what you think Leab. Now, back to my point: If you have to create your own peacefulness, then how does this message really help you?
Mr. O: You're missing the real message here. You can't just sit back and hope that God or Fate or Time or the Universe will give you what you want. You have to go out and make it. You want inner peace? Create it. You want more money? Find that job and get it! You have the power, so use it.
Mr. P: That's nice. Go tell that to the guy on the street. "Hey, buddy, you may be poor and have no where to live, but if you go out and try, you can get that job and save your family. Look, Optimist, while you're living in La-La Land, the rest of us are here in reality. Sometimes we need help. This message says no one can help you.
Mr. O: Ah, but that's not what it says...
Mr. P: Yes it does!
Mr. O: No it doesn't!
Ok, kids, break it up. Mr. O, you have the floor. Mr. P, we let you have your say so be quiet.
Mr. O: It DOESN'T say that no one will help you, it says that you have to find what you need. You want someone to help you? Then you need to seek them out and ask for help.
Gentlemen, we're about out of time. Can we have your final summations? Mr. Optimist?
Mr. O: This is a positive message. It says that if you want something, you have to go out and get it. You have to use the power of positive thinking to help you get achieve your goals.
Thank you. Mr. Pessimist?
Mr. P: Once again, this is a wake up call to everyone. This message says you are on your own and can only help yourself. Secondly, this message says that while others are given what they want, YOU have to make your own way. Hey this guy over here was given greatness, but have to go your own way if you want even a chance.
Thank you gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen of the audience, thank you for being a part of this. If you wish to comment, feel free.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Possum in the Cooler

Hmm, I get the sense that many of you were scared off by yesterday's topic. Let me see if I can give you something that is true, yet bizarrely funny.
When I was in college, I moved into an apartment my sophomore year. I knew I wanted to be away from campus near the city, and I knew alot of the people that would be living around me. I did, however, meet one interesting character: Tom.
Tom lived in the building A of the apartment complex. I was in B. His window was directly across from my living room. I never really found out how old he was, but his hair was peppered with gray. He also lived alone, played alot of golf, and was never without a beer in his hand. I'm not kidding about that last part. Whether it was 8 in the morning or 10 at night, Tom had a Bud in his hand. It "HAD to be a Bud," he once told me. He was one of those guys that was really friendly, but once you started talking to him, you had no clue what the heck he was talking about at the time. I returned home from class one day to find him sitting on a lawn chair drinking a beer and reading a magazine. With a Poison album blaring from his apartment, he got up and stopped me to talk about a girl in his magazine (yup, it was that kind of magazine). I had just been through a particularly bad test, so I wanted to get into my apartment and relax. As he kept talking to me and I kept trying to go, I never got the impression that our topic had changed from the girl. I guess it had, however, because he told me he was talking about his job. I never caught the change in topic.
Tom was, however, a good example of why you don't drink all the time. I remember one night I was eating dinner outside. The night was gorgeous, and the sky full of stars. I loved nights like that when I was in college. You could sit on the stoop or fire escape, have a nice dinner, and people watch around the neighborhood. Well, as I sat there that night, I could hear screaming and the sounds of a struggle. I ran around the corner to see Tom, bleeding from his arms and left leg and sitting on top of a cooler that was making noise. It sounded like screams and scratches. Now, put yourself in my position. Here's a guy who you know is drunk most of the time. He's bleeding, but still holding his beer and smiling, and he's sitting on top of a big cooler that's rattling and making noise. What's your first reaction? Mine was, "What the hell are you doing?"
What he told me was quite possibly the funniest and saddest (at the same time) answer:
"Duuude. I was out here with the barbeque drinking a beer when I saw something coming near my meat. I didn't know what it was, so I decided to investigate. I fell over and there was this...thing baring it's teeth at me. I tried to move, but it attacked me and bit my leg. I grabbed it, and it bit my arm, so I slammed its head into the ground and then threw it in the cooler with my beer. I don't want to move, because it might get out. Can you get me the phone?"
So here's what happened: Tom was drunk, he feel and found a possum and its babies. The possum freaked out when Tom tried to shoo it away and almost stepped on a baby possum. The animal attacked, and Tom threw it into his cooler where it drowned.
I ended up calling Animal Control to take away the dead possum and its babies. Tom also had to be checked (along with the possum) for Rabies. The genius almost got arrested as well, because someone had called the cops. The officer who showed up was a woman, and Tom started hitting on her and harassing her. If I hadn't sat him down and sobered him up a little, he would have gone to jail. The cop later asked me why I was helping him. "Why not let him go to jail? He's got to learn his lesson." I looked at her and told her the truth, "I don't know. I get the sense that if someone doesn't help him now and then, he'll hurt himself...or die." She just looked at me and said, "You're a good person. Stupid...but a good person."
I often wonder, even now, if the cop was right. If a person has no connection to you, should you still care? You don't know the guy on the street, so if he asks for money, should you ignore him? I guess I helped Tom because it was also a way of helping me.
In the end, I moved out of my apartment and into the house next door. I never saw Tom again after he tried to crash a party at my house one night where he groped a friend of mine and was later arrested for punching through a police cruiser window (I'm not kidding). He just disappeared.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Step to the Line

How many of you have been in a fight? I don’t mean a play fight or a verbal match. No, I mean a donnybrook. A slobberknocker as it were. It’s a very strange experience. There’s a combination of horror, adrenaline, and pride all mixed into a giant ball of rage.
It can all start with a word. Just one wrong word can make a person summon up the energy needed to throw that first punch.
We like to believe that we are civilized (a topic I will post on later). We want to see people debate using words. Yet, there is something about a fight. Deep down inside in places we don’t want to talk about, we want to see the debaters grab swords and duel. We want to see blood. Rome could be considered the very pinnacle of civilizations, yet their method of entertainment was quite bloody. Why do most people watch NASCAR? They want to see that crash where the tire shoots into the crowd and crushes the fat grandma. It’s also why wrestling is so popular, why people slow down at car crashes, and why we watch the Three Stooges (though the last features no “real” pain).
So when that first punch comes, or you throw that first punch, it’s not as quick as the
Hong Kong Films make us think. For the sake of this post, we’ll discuss it as a punch coming at you.
I have this ability, so I am told, to use words like a weapon. I’ve talked before about how words have the power to hurt someone much deeper than a beating. Scars on the outside from a kick to the face will fade, but verbal beatings and scarring never fade and are very hard to heal. There have been children who have overcome the beatings given to them by their parents, but a child who is never hugged, never told he or she is loved, or is cut down no matter how often they succeed will often hurt more.
So, having understood this idea since I was a child, I always made sure to have the proverbial “ammo”. One thing you’ll learn, my younger readers, is that if you’re on a college campus, in a high school, or at a job, and you just sit and listen to everyone else talk, you’ll learn things about the people around you that they may not want you to know.
At one point in my college career, I had a very bad break up (again, a topic for another post). Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, on the campus knew about it. On one particularly rainy day, I grabbed a hot sandwich and sat up in the catwalk of the theatre and ate my lunch. Unbeknownst to the class occurring below me, I was listening to them talk about me. I was the discussion du jour. However, they then branched off from me to talking about their bad breakups and other juicy gossip about other classmates and even faculty members. One girl, in particular, talked about how this one guy made her gain 20 pounds. Now, fast forward two weeks. I’m at a party, and this same girl is trying to give me crap about a life choice. I turned to her and said, “Your thighs look a little chunky. Did Brad break up with you again?” Her face turned red, her mouth hung open, and she just stared at me. That’s the power of words. You take what you know about people, and you twist it like a knife.
Imagine you’ve said something to the wrong person. You’ve insulted his manhood (I’m using the “he” pronoun, because I have never hit a woman, I’ve never had a woman hit me, and I would NEVER hit a woman, even if she punched me in the face or kicked me in the groin). Better yet, let’s use a real example. A person makes a racist statement about the students you teach. You decide to cut into him about the fact that his grades are low, his mind is closed, and his ex-girlfriend told you, over a few pints, that he was the lousiest lay since that eunuch in France (if you don’t get it: he’s bad). From the moment you say the last part, you can see the anger flash into his eyes. This is the moment that our civility melts away. Our primal nature takes over and tells us, “hurt, kill, murder, destroy!”
From the moment his body turns, you know what is coming. The body is turning, the arm is moving back, and the open hand is now a closed fist. In short, this person is going to use man’s first weapon against his fellow human.
Most people will tell you that it’s all a blur, but in truth, time does in fact slow down. Your brain kicks into high gear in order to help you prepare. Thousands of computations and strategies fly through your head. If you been in multiple fights, then you’re figuring out not only where you need to block, but also what points on your opponent’s body are now vulnerable. The surroundings come into play. Do you have the ability to move? Do you need to move? Does this guy have friends that can hurt you? In the time it takes for you to read the first three words of this sentence, a person could have already knocked you out with one punch. This is what I mean about your brain going into overdrive.
Now his arm is coming around, and you’re wondering how high it is, where it's going, etc. When a person takes a swing at you, they often go for the face. Most people have never been in a fight, so they think it should be like the movies. One punch and the bad guy goes down. It’s not that easy usually. Yes, you can knock someone out with a good punch to the chin. Several nerves in the chin are connected directly to the brain. If you hit those nerves hard enough, they will spasm, and the person will drop. How often does that happen? Not very. Fights are also rarely as clean as in the movies. Two men who square off care more about winning rather than using
The Queensbury Rules. A kick to the groin? Some guys don't think twice about it. Eyes and ears are even fair game. It only takes about eight or nine pounds of pressure to remove an ear from the head. That's not much folks.
Maybe you judge the punch right and move out of the way or block it. Perhaps you misjudge, and the punch connects. If the person misses, you have to spring back quickly. Take advantage of their mistake. However, if they hit, it's a different story. Think about the movies again. Whenever that famous actor hits the bad guy, there's a sound. A loud sound that sounds like, "Wo-pow!" In real life, there is no sound if the fist is closed. That is, unless, it connects. If you are hit in the face, you hear the bones and muscle of the fist grind against your own bone, muscle and tendon. The crowd may not hear it, but you certainly can. The sound, along with the pain, resonates to your brain. Think of a sonic boom: the plane passes by, then you hear it. It's the same principle. The fist, foot, or head connects, and you hear it in your brain before the pain blooms.
What happens next depends on who you are. I've seen people get punched and just stand there holding back their rage. I knew a guy in college who was hit in the back with a baseball bat. He got himself up, turned the to person who did it, and said, "I've turned my cheek. Hit me in my chest....I dare you." Others, seeing that they would be hit, ran. With fight or flight, sometimes we run. Me? I've never known better. I defended my students in the very same building where I was gaining my Master's. That's right: I had a fight with a fellow Master's student. It was a mistake (make a note of that, kids, Mr. Leab is saying that fighting is not the right way to go). Why? Well, honestly, words can do more damage if focused in the right places.
Hopefully, however, you never need to throw that punch. If you do, however, make sure you keep your thumb on the outside of your fist. You hit someone with that digit inside, and it's broken.