Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Mets Lost Again. Shoot.

My wife and I recently added a new wrinkle to our morning routine. As we're having breakfast at the living room table, chatting and enjoying each other's company, we'll have the following exchange:

Wife: "Did the Mets win last night?"

Shane: "NO."

Wife: "Shoot."

"Shoot." She's said that a lot lately, with reason. The Mets have lost 17 of their past 20 games. For those of you who don't follow baseball, let me explain: That's a bad stretch of games. A really bad stretch of games.

I never expected the team to play this poorly, which is saying something since I had low expectations entering the season. I always have low expectations. You know how you take a bite out of a Nature Valley crunchy granola bar and you hold out hope that 50 percent of it will end up in your mouth before it falls apart and you're left standing in a pile of granola crumbs? That's kind of my approach to each Mets season. I anticipate that it will crumble, but I still hold out hope that I can enjoy at least 50 percent of it.

My wife is relatively new to all of this. She didn't grow up in the New York area, she hadn't been a baseball fan, she doesn't yet know the disappointment that comes with rooting for the Mets year after year. She's a Mets fan by marriage. She had to take this organization for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. And if you follow the Mets, you know they don't have money, the players keep getting injured, and things just get worse and worse.

This is one of the many reasons why I love her so much. I lean on her for support in so many ways: as a friend, as a confidante, as a human subway pole. But for her to willingly become a Mets fan, as an adult, realizing what that entails...that takes a special person.

The other morning, after she again asked if the Mets had won the night before, and I gave my standard response, she had a follow-up question.

"Is the season over?"

I paused and gave it a moment's thought.

"YES."

"Shoot."

Yes. Shoot.

"But," I added, "it could be worse. You could have married a Jets or Knicks fan."

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My Fondest "Seinfeld" Memory (Even Though It Led To Rejection)

The 20th anniversary of the "Seinfeld" finale this week had me thinking about my fondest memories of the show. There are many — it is my favorite TV show — but there's one in particular that stands out.

The theme song. Normally, I don't like instrumentals. I prefer music with words. I can relate to music with words. I can understand music with words. I can sing along to music with words. I can't do anything with music without words. I'd just listen to it wondering why there aren't any words.

But the "Seinfeld" theme was different. It didn't need lyrics to fit the mood of the show. It didn't need much at all. It just needed that distinctive slap bass sound — and a wide assortment of mouth pops and tongue clicks. It worked.


The reason why the theme is so memorable to me is that it saved me when I was working on a project for English class in 10th grade. The assignment was to write a paper that offered step-by-step instructions on how to do something. Anything. It was up to the student. How to tie a tie. How to pack a suitcase. How to fold a sweater. Whatever the student knew how to do, and do well, that was to serve as the basis for the project.

And the student had to demonstrate it in front of the entire class, for three minutes.

A couple of days before the paper was due, I was having a difficult time coming up with a skill I could effectively explain to the class. I didn't know how to tie a tie. I didn't know how to pack a suitcase. And I had a habit of throwing my sweaters on the floor as soon as I was done wearing them.

I did have skills, but none that fit the assignment. I had a decent jump shot, but we didn't have a basketball hoop in the classroom. I knew how to get all three whistles in Super Mario Bros. 3, but it would take three minutes just to blow into the cartridge to get it to work. I was one of the best, if not the best, in the school at the V-sit reach, but I couldn't teach that skill. It was just a gift I had.

I was brainstorming ideas with a friend at his house when it occurred to me: Why don't I just do an impression? I was pretty good at impressions. I had a list of characters that I had nailed: Kermit the Frog, Barney from "The Simpsons," Dr. Nick Riviera from "The Simpsons." (Honestly, it was all the same voice.) But how do you explain how to say, in that quirky, animated Dr. Nick kind of way, "Hi, everybody"?

And then it hit me: I can do the "Seinfeld" theme. So easy. Anyone can make popping sounds with their lips and click their tongue. I could skip the bass part and focus solely on the pops and the clicks. Brilliant idea. It would really make the presentation...pop.

I went home, turned on my computer, opened WordPerfect and typed out a 1 1/2-page paper on how to perform the "Seinfeld" theme, with the mouth as the only instrument. Regrettably, I no longer have the paper, but as best as I can remember, it went something along the lines of this:

1. Tightly press your lips together.
2. Separate your lips, making a popping sound while doing so.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
4. Lift your tongue and crash it down with all your might against the bottom of your mouth, creating a clicking sound.

And so on.

At the end of the paper I added a pixelated graphic of the "Seinfeld" logo that I borrowed from a "Seinfeld" clip art program I had. (I told you it was my favorite TV show.)

I can only imagine what my teacher's reaction was when she first read the paper. She either really admired my passion for "Seinfeld," thought I must not have taken the project seriously at all, or some combination of the two.

I delivered my presentation a few days after handing in the paper. I was not a confident person by any means, but for whatever reason I felt very sure of myself when I walked to the front of that class. I stood there, head held high, and I showed 25 students how to play the "Seinfeld" theme with their mouth. Most of them hadn't known what was coming, and if you were to ask them about it today they probably still wouldn't be able to describe what it was they saw (and heard).

There was a sense of dumbfounded curiosity, if there is such a thing, in the room as I carefully listed each step, exactly as I'd written it in the paper. I had the students' undivided attention. They wanted more.

I'll never forget the grand finale, when I put it all together and did the entire theme for them. It killed. The applause...it was loud, it was sustained, it was incredible. I received high fives from several male classmates as I walked back to my desk. The next kid, who had to show us how to tie a tie? He didn't stand a chance with me as his lead-in.

I should probably mention at this point that I had a massive crush on a girl who happened to be in this class. I don't know for sure what she thought of the presentation, but I have a pretty good idea what she thought because, riding the emotional high of my "Seinfeld" theme performance, I decided to ask her out later that week. She said no.

I was disappointed at the time, of course, but with the benefit of hindsight I completely get it now. Not every teenage girl is looking for a boy who's proficient at making popping and clicking sounds.

But you know who liked them? My English teacher. She gave me an A. I got an A for re-creating the strange noises in a theme song for a popular sitcom. If you were to ask me what I'm most proud of in life, it's that.

So that's my fondest "Seinfeld" memory.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

5 Things That Will Definitely Happen When I'm Fasting

I'm currently fasting for religious reasons. I'm a Baha'i, and like all Baha'is around the world this time of year, I'm not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. We do this for 19 days before we celebrate our new year on the first day of spring.

I find the Fast to be rewarding — spiritually, of course, but also physically and mentally. Rainn Wilson wrote a nice explanation of the Fast and what it means to Baha'is that you can read here.

I'm often asked questions about the Fast, specifically how I hold up during the Fast. I'll be very honest with you: It's not easy, though not for the reasons you'd immediately suspect. I figured I'd put together a list of some of the challenges I face when I'm fasting. I'm not speaking for all Baha'is, just for myself, but these issues do seem to come up for me every year.

1. I will question whether I can last the Fast


Though not at first. I feel good when the fasting period begins. Very good, and very confident. Why should I not feel confident? I've fasted every March for the past 20 years. And it's only 12 hours a day. Between work and errands (and maybe a catnap here and there), the time flies by...or so I tell myself.

"It's not a big deal," I'll say, both to myself and to my friends. And when I say it, I believe it. My friends, on the other hand, do not believe it. At all.

"For how long are you doing this?" they ask. For 19 days, I tell them. "Is that just food, or are you not allowed to drink, either?" they want to know. Yep, no drinks, either, I respond.

"Wow. I could never do that. Never."

Oh.

You know what happens next, after my friends say that? My stomach rumbles. Which is odd, because it doesn't rumble before my friends plant this seed of doubt in my head. Also, my mouth will start to feel dry. Not just a little dry, but rather Sahara dry.

I'll start to get a little more impatient and antsy, too. I'll check my phone for the time and discover it's not even 11 a.m. and that sunset isn't for another seven hours.

What I'm trying to say is, it's important to cut all friends out of your life in order to fast effectively.


2. Friends will show no regard for the fact that I'm fasting


You really do need to cut all friends out of your life when fasting. I'm not joking.

Friends will eat in front of you. They will drink in front of you. And they won't be eating and drinking run-of-the-mill products, either. They will eat a double-bacon cheeseburger and garlic fries with a strawberry milkshake, with a brownie topped with whipped cream for dessert.

I may be exaggerating a little, but this is fact: They will eat something that looks delicious and smells delicious in front of you, without hesitation.

Also a guarantee: My friends will not understand that I break the Fast every night exactly at sunset, and will not wait a minute longer. They'll invite me to dinner at a restaurant and I'll say, "Sure." "Great. How's 8:30?" "No, that doesn't work for me, I need to eat at 6:02." "Well, why don't you eat something small at 6:02 and come out to the restaurant later?" "No, that wouldn't work." "Just snack on chips or...."

NO. Here's what they don't get. When the clock reaches sunset time, my jaw drops open immediately. I can't even control it. And I just shove food in my face. Whatever food is in the vicinity. Sometimes I'll be in the kitchen and I'll just extend my arm on the countertop and sweep whatever's on it into my mouth. A loose grape, breadcrumbs that fell off the plate from that morning...it doesn't matter. It is so yum.

Here's an accurate representation of what I'm like at sunset during the Fast:


3. I will set an alarm for 30 minutes before sunrise, and ignore it


Every morning the alarm will go off and I'll ask myself a question: What's more important to me, food or sleep? In that moment, the answer is always sleep. I'll hit the snooze button and then when I do get out of bed, I'll realize I have only 10, 15 minutes to eat and drink as much as I can before sunrise time.

It becomes a race against the clock. I'll drink a large mug of water and a large mug of coffee at the same time. I'll consume a slice of buttered toast on one side of my mouth while inserting a banana into the other side of my mouth. Whatever it takes to fill my belly for the day. I imagine this is how a camel nourishes itself each morning.


4. I won't know when sunset is


I will look up the time in the morning and forget it approximately five seconds later. For the rest of the day I'll ask my wife, "When is sunset again?"

And daylight saving time...you thought it was annoying for you because you lost an hour of sleep? Try fasting when it kicks in. I'll settle into a rhythm with the Fast after a week, and then the government steps in and messes around with me and my clocks so that I have to wait another hour to eat dinner.

When I'm fasting, I'm not thinking about saving daylight. I'm thinking about saving myself from tearing open a bag of Goldfish before it gets dark out. The sooner the sunset, the better, as far as I'm concerned.


5. There will be days when I won't be home at sunset


Because I'm stuck at the office late, or I'm stuck on a delayed subway train, or I'm just stuck anywhere other than at a dinner table. That's why I keep an emergency stash of food in my coat pockets.

Here's a brief list of food items I've carried with me during recent Fasts: granola bars, almonds, a plastic baggie of Cheerios, plain M&M's, peanut M&M's, five packages of Pez candy. Anything you'd be able to find at a 7-Eleven, basically. If I could fit a Big Gulp inside my coat, I would.

Worst-case scenario, I'll snack on a few Listerine strips. I've actually done it. I can't vouch for their nutritional value, but I can promise you'll never smell a fresher breath in your life.


So, those are my biggest challenges during the Fast. But let me be absolutely clear about this: the no-eating, no-drinking thing? It's not a big deal.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Mother Nature's Annoying Song

I'd never been more impressed with Mother Nature than I was last night.

I was searching for nature sounds on Spotify and, as it turns out, nature has a lot of sounds. Enough to fill at least 200 albums. That's how many I counted before I stopped scrolling through the results.

Let's pause for a moment to acknowledge Mother Nature's incredible music career. Name me one artist who has released as many recordings as she has. You can't. She's more prolific than Lennon-McCartney at the height of Beatlemania. And she has never won a Grammy Award, to the best of my knowledge. Shame on the Recording Academy.

Anyway, I wanted to listen to nature sounds because I was having a hard time falling asleep, and I've read that white noise can help. I chose a track at random: "Far Away Forest." All right, a forest that's far away. Perfect. Take me there, Spotify.

I placed my earbuds in my ears, I lay my head on my pillow and I closed my eyes. I felt relaxed almost immediately. It was great. I could hear birds chirping. Water was gently flowing down a river. I was completely at peace in the Far Away Forest.

And then a fly showed up. It buzzed in my ears, loudly enough to distract from the birds and the water.  It was a buzzkill. It was ruining the good vibes in the forest. It was ruining the track. Most importantly, the buzzing was ruining my zzzs.

Why is a fly on this song, I wondered. Why lay down vocals from a fly? What was Mother Nature thinking? The fly should be far away from the Far Away Forest. Really far away.

I waited out the fly, for five seconds. Suddenly, the buzzing was gone. I started to calm down. Once again, I closed my eyes and prepared myself for a fitful night of sleep.

And then the fly returned. The buzzing felt louder this time, and more annoying. It came in quick bursts.

I opened my eyes right away. I was not calm. I was the opposite of calm. I may have swatted the air in front of my face in a futile attempt to shoo away the fly. I most definitely said, "Get the f--- out of my forest, you f------ fly!"

But it didn't care. It continued to buzz and buzz and buzz. I no longer heard the birds chirping, I no longer heard the water flowing. All I heard was, "Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."

It went on like this for two minutes until I yanked the earbuds out of my ears and tossed my phone onto the nightstand.

I gave Mother Nature a try, and I just couldn't get into it. White noise for sleep? I can see that. But fly noise? No. No one likes fly noise. No one.

Mother Nature has plenty of other songs, and I'm sure some of them are great. Maybe I'll give her another chance one day. But if I ever use Spotify again to help fall asleep, I'll skip Mother Nature and the fly. I'll go straight to The Beatles instead.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The V-Sit Reach Is My Greatest Skill And I Finally Got To Use It

I ended my 2017 by doing something called the downward dog.

It was my first downward dog. It was my first time in a yoga studio. I'd never done yoga before. For months I'd promised myself I'd try it, just once, to see if I would enjoy it. I doubted I would enjoy it, not after my stressful experience with meditation a year before, but I have many friends who swear by the benefits of yoga. They say yoga relaxes them, makes them feel good. I like to relax and feel good, so I signed up for a class.

I wasn't quite prepared for it. For starters, I don't have the proper attire for yoga. I don't own a single pair of yoga pants because, well, I don't regularly do yoga. I don't own a pair of sweatpants, either, because I don't often do things that would make me sweat. 

My wife was kind enough to lend me a pair of sweatpants, and I dug out one of my Mets World Series 2015 T-shirts to complete the ensemble. It felt like one of the rare times when it's appropriate to wear the commemorative T-shirt of a World Series your favorite team didn't win; it doesn't really matter how dirty or sweaty it gets because who cares the Mets lost in five games and they couldn't even hold on to a ninth-inning lead at home in the finale.

For the first half-hour of the yoga class we did poses that were a little uncomfortable, but nothing I couldn't manage. This isn't so bad, I thought. I got this. And then, the downward dog: my arms stretched toward the front of the yoga mat, my legs stretched toward the back of the mat, my rear end high in the air, and my body in the shape of an inverted V.

It hurt. It hurt a lot, to be honest.  It certainly wasn't relaxing. And we had to maintain the position for three minutes. Show me an actual dog that does a downward dog for three minutes. I haven't seen one.

I was warned beforehand by my friends that yoga might be painful, that I'd have to do it several times before I'd start to get used to the poses and feel at ease with them. My general approach to pain is that if I'm doing something that hurts, I stop doing it. Immediately. When I touch a really hot plate that just came out of the microwave, I recoil. I don't touch it again. My strategy isn't to keep touching it until it feels natural.

After three minutes of downward dog, I silently begged for any pose that wouldn't require any type of strenuous stretching, or at least any type of stretching that would give my hands, my legs and my butt a break. It was then that my yoga teacher called for a V-sit reach.

Yes! I was really excited. I'm usually a very humble person, but when it comes to the V-sit reach I need to brag. I'm awesome at it. I can extend both of my hands completely past my feet. I don't think I personally know another man who can do that. I take great pride in that. It's without question my greatest skill. In fact, hold on one second while I update the skills section of my LinkedIn page. 

The only problem is that it's not a talent that I get to show off a lot as an adult. It was much different when I was a kid. I did the V-sit reach every year in gym class as part of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. It was one of five events, along with pull-ups, sit-ups, the mile run and the shuttle run. I don't know if every school in the country does the shuttle run, but for those of you who aren't familiar with it, it's basically running back and forth in the gym while picking up blackboard erasers. It was actually a medal event in the Olympics until 1932.

Year in and year out I'd score a 20/100 on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. I never heard from the president but no doubt he was unhappy with my grades. He probably thought about grounding me at some point.

But I didn't care, because I had the V-sit reach. I blew my classmates out of the water with my incredible stretching.

Since graduating high school, though, I've only done the V-sit reach a handful of times. Where would I do it? I mean, do it where others can observe in amazement and express their admiration? I've done it for my wife a few times. I know she's impressed. I'm sure she'd tell you it's one of the reasons she fell for me.

So, yeah, when the yoga teacher asked us to do the V-sit reach, it made the whole thing worthwhile: the sweatpants, the awkward poses, the downward dog. 

In that moment, yoga made me feel good.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter at @myemptythoughts for more of my comedy.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Better Than A Subway Pole

I used to hate riding the subway. It wasn't the delays, or the trash, or the rats. All may have bothered me to some degree, but I grew accustomed to them.

It was the pole. The pole on the train. I did not want to hold on to it. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. It was grimy and disgusting and not at all appealing. I tried to stay as far away from it as possible. It's why I was never able to pursue my dream of becoming a professional subway pole dancer.

I didn't care how crowded the train was, I wasn't going to hold on to the pole. I relied on my incredible balance to keep me steady during my ride. I'd spread my feet. I'd spread my arms. I'd bend my knees ever so slightly. I assumed a surfing position, basically. I was surfing on a subway train.

And I was stumbling a lot, too. I must have bumped into hundreds of commuters. Maybe thousands. Accidentally, of course. I'd apologize every time. They understood, every now and then. It was unfortunate and regrettable. I wish it could have been avoidable.

Fortunately, all of that changed two years ago. I haven't had an issue with maintaining my equilibrium on the train in a long while. What happened? I got married.

I love holding my wife, but I especially love holding on to my wife when I'm riding the subway with her. She's the perfect traveling partner.

All of the concerns I have with the subway pole I do not have with my wife. I feel safe when I'm around her, I feel more sanitary when I'm around her. I have absolutely no reservations with holding on to her to keep steady. And she has no reservations about this arrangement, either. At least I don't think she does. I don't know. I've never asked.

I try to remind myself to compliment my wife as often as I can, to tell her things like how talented, smart and beautiful she is. But I don't tell her nearly enough how much I value the time we spend together on the subway. My darling wife, you are so much better than a subway pole.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter at @myemptythoughts for more of my comedy.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Meet My New Companion, Trash Can. He's A Good Trash Can.

I'd like to introduce you to the latest addition to my home: the iTouchless 13 Gallon Stainless Steel Automatic Trash Can with Odor Control System, Big Lid Opening Sensor Touchless Kitchen Trash Bin. I call him Trash Can, for short.


Trash Can is the friendliest trash bin I've owned. And I've owned many. Dozens. They were all very shy, they preferred to keep to themselves. They sat very quietly in the corner of the room. They were wallflowers, minus the scent of a wallflower.


Trash Can is a different sort of trash can. It is incredibly sociable. It loves to engage me whenever I enter the kitchen. It lifts its lid and makes this noise, kind of like a purr. I can't accurately describe it with words, but it's the sweetest sound you'll ever hear from a 13-gallon, stainless steel trash bin.

I like to give it a little attention, show it a little love. I'll toss it a treat (a banana peel, a wadded napkin, a bread crumb off the countertop) and rub its belly. It likes that.

And the way it gets so excited when I return home from work ... oh, it just melts my heart. Trash Can can sense when I've walked through the door. The entrance is just a few feet away from the kitchen, and I can hear it purr and wag its lid. It has a big lid opening sensor, but it has an even bigger heart.

I didn't know it when I ordered it from Amazon, but Trash Can is so much more than a trash can. It's a loyal companion. Can it get a little messy at times? Yes. Can it get a little smelly at times? Definitely. Is it a little painful when it wants to cuddle on my lap while I'm watching TV on the couch? Of course. But it has so much love to give, and really, who could ask for more from a trash bin?

Who's a good 13 Gallon Stainless Steel Automatic Trash Can with Odor Control System, Big Lid Opening Sensor Touchless Kitchen Trash Bin? This is a good 13 Gallon Stainless Steel Automatic Trash Can with Odor Control System, Big Lid Opening Sensor Touchless Kitchen Trash Bin.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter at @myemptythoughts for more of my comedy.