The Surreality of 2016

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As I sit at my keyboard, I try to think of a word to encapsulate the year 2016. I do my best thinking while consuming coffee or sugary dairy products, so I had decided to combine the two and make a homemade eggnog latte.

Before I continue, I’m fully aware that eggnog can be controversial. It’s something that people either love or really, really hate. Much like Hillary Clinton. There’s no middle ground. But I’m one of those people that adores eggnog. I don’t care if my cholesterol takes a 15-point hike during the holidays, I’m still gonna drink it.

Sipping my beverage, I find out that dictionary tycoon Merriam-Webster already announced its Word of the Year – “surreal.” An adjective, it describes something “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” From happenings in politics, sports and culture, to local news around Patterson, it seems like an apt summation of 2016.

In national politics, we began the year with roughly 14 presidential candidates from the two major parties – among them former governors, U.S. senators and even a brain surgeon. Yet, of all those candidates, the eventual winner was a wealthy former reality television star with a questionable haircut.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games were the sport highlights of 2016. When the world descended upon Rio de Janeiro, we were treated to many feats of athletic prowess. Our local Paralympic hero Danielle Hansen earned a silver, while superstar Michael Phelps brought home 6 medals – including 5 golds. We haven’t seen that much gold pillaged out of South America since the 16th century.

If that wasn’t enough excitement, we also got to witness four-time Olympian Ryan Lochte’s performance as a drunken and idiotic man-boy destroying a Rio public bathroom. Good times.

Anyway, in terms of pop culture, I would like to discuss the dominance of superhero movies and why the hell we need so many television shows featuring zombies. I’m sorry to break it to you, but superheroes and zombies are fictional. There’s more of a chance of me leaping out of my wheelchair and dancing the Macarena than there is of anyone getting attacked by a zombie. I don’t care what you read on the internet.

Speaking of fictional things, this year we also had folks roaming around looking for cartoon Pokemon on their smartphones. While the popularity of the game has waned, the surreality of it has not.

Finally, in less time than it takes to find Pikachu, the new Flying J truck stop on Sperry Avenue was completed. I’m not sure what kind of super-fast wizard built that structure, but they were clearly in Slytherin House. That’s some dark magic happening right there. I wasn’t aware that something could be constructed that quickly. I think someone should refer those folks to Caltrans.

While 2016 may have been surreal, here’s hoping your new year is not. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017!

The Day After: A Digital Reckoning

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The frenzy of a newsfeed. The thrill of an iPhone screen full of notifications. Getting the news AS IT HAPPENS. Arguing with a random stranger online over an issue that both of you probably don’t know enough about as you should.

In this world of digital immediacy, we live life in a moment, within a tweet and a text message. This adrenaline rush is intoxicating, addictive and damn fun. I mean REALLY fun. Who doesn’t want to feel like the entire world is within the small coveted device that we can’t seem to pry from our hands?

But, like all addictions, we seem to need more and more. We click “share” without much thought, without verifying the truth of the statements we send out into the world in our name. And in this digital world, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. But, we don’t seem to care. If we believe it to be true, than it is. Facts and accountability have no place here.

Some say the media is to blame, and that may be partly true. But, the media can’t sell their product to an unwilling audience. And we’ve all been oh-so willing. From Huffington Post to Breitbart… from FoxNews to MSNBC, they have all been guilty of giving the biased viewpoints that we long to hear. This is not because they are necessarily trying to sway us, but because they want to please us— their customers. As the old adage goes, “The customer is always right.” And they want us coming back for more… and more.

But, we have seemed to be okay with that. Frankly, in the last months, we’ve relished in it. Reveled in it. Every opinion can be justified with a “fact” that we find on our little miracle devices. Making us feel vindicated. Making us feel heard.

But, really, who is hearing us? The select few with which we choose to associate? The like-minded folks and trolls that haunt the comments section of the specific sites where we collect our news? Who’s to blame for the memes that make us laugh in glee to cover the meanness and spite that we try to hide from view?

In this new world, we all do this— Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative. And, for the sake of all of us, it needs to stop. This horrendous election season has taught us that… taught us what can happen when these habits run amok. These hellish months are the result of our own collective hubris. The idea that our reality is the only reality.

So, what are we going to do about it? It starts with each of us. We have a choice to make. Can we disconnect from the opiate, digital stew that dulls our senses and makes it harder to see what is true… what is fair… what is just?

Can we do that?

Can we?

Ancestry and a warehouse of saliva

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What constitutes summertime “fun?” For some, the answer would be neighborhood barbecues or camping trips to the mountains. Others might proclaim that baseball games or lounging by a pool are the pinnacle of summer fun. If you’re Donald Trump, it would mean selecting a vice-presidential running mate. Although, perhaps Mr. Trump should just pick himself to be his own VP. After all, he’s the most amazing person – surely he could do both jobs at once.

Anyway, when I was young, I eagerly awaited the summer so I could devour books from the library. I have a slightly obsessive nature, so I often stumbled upon a theme for my reading – like the summer I decided to learn everything I could about Greek mythology. Those stories had more drama than a telenovela and an episode of “The Bachelor,” combined. And here I had thought that the zestiest thing about the Greeks was their feta cheese.

For this summer’s project, I decided to work on expanding my family tree. I realize that may sound boring. But thanks to a recent explosion in genealogical resources online, it’s really rather exciting stuff. Plus, I’m addicted to those family tree shows on TV – like “Finding Your Roots” and “Genealogy Roadshow” on PBS and “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC. I get emotionally attached to the folks on these shows. Even if it’s only their great-great-great uncle’s neighbor that died at Gettysburg, I’m still going to cry a little.

To help with my own research, I took one of those online ancestry DNA tests – the kind where you spit in a tube and mail it in. It’s super easy to do. I just try not to think about the fact that, somewhere, there is a warehouse full of human saliva. And inside that warehouse, there are people that are paid to dissect my cooties and the cooties of thousands of other people – many of whom don’t brush their teeth as often as I do.

Using the results of the DNA test, and the information collected online, I was able to trace one branch of my family back to 1620! While I’m excited about the discovery, I doubt many of us would wish to live during that time. After all, those are the years before shampoo, penicillin and the internet. Without the internet, you’d be unable to stalk your ex on Facebook or follow the Kardashians on Instagram. We’d all be miserable.

Genealogy can be a great way for younger people to connect with their elders. This summer, encourage your kids to spend time with their older relatives and to ask them about their family history. If your kids grumble or complain, stand firm; they can go one entire day without playing video games or taking selfies on Snapchat.

I hope it brings you and your family closer.

To binge or not to binge

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When you hear the word “binge” a certain image comes to mind. A troubled person indulging in large quantities of alcohol, food or drugs. In my case, it would be the pumpkin pie I obsessively eat from October to December each year.

The word “binge” actually means “to soak a wooden vessel.” It was important to binge a boat before sailing it, otherwise your voyage was doomed before it began – much like the Titanic, the Lusitania and Donald Trump’s presidency.

On a personal note, I actually know this to be true. My grandparents had an old wooden ski boat from the 1950s. If it wasn’t soaked or “binged” properly before taking it out on the lake, its ability to float was in question – making it a very stylish death trap.

Once, when I was 9, I was sitting next to my uncle John as he drove the boat. As the wooden boat started leaking in the middle of the lake, he threw me a teasing grin and remarked that the boat might sink. I still don’t think he was completely kidding.

In the mid-19th century, the clever chaps at Oxford decided to give the word another meaning. They began to refer to their alcohol-soaked shenanigans as “binges.” Thus, the word was granted new life.

Today, a modern use of the term has entered the English vernacular. It has nothing to do with booze, drugs or even carbohydrates. It’s about watching TV. Specifically, it’s about consuming numerous episodes in a row of a single TV show – for hours. Binging is sitting in front of your TV or iPad for so long that your pants begin to fuse to your butt.

Don’t pretend like you’ve never done it. The advent of the DVR and online video streaming services like Netflix have made this all the more common. It’s now socially acceptable to ignore life and sit in your pajamas all weekend and watch endless episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

I recently discovered a great show on Netflix – BBC’s “Call the Midwife.” It has everything I love in a TV show – laughs, tears and snooty British accents.

To be frank, “Call the Midwife” is the reason you haven’t seen one of my columns in the Irrigator lately. A few weeks ago, the paper called me to see if I was available to write a column for that week. I lied and told them I was “super, super busy.” In reality, I wanted to scream: “LEAVE ME ALONE UNTIL I’M DONE WITH MY NETFLIX BINGE!”

Like most binging, I’m quite certain that this behavior isn’t healthy. It’s not wise to drink a whole bottle of vodka or eat an entire package of Oreos. So, it’s probably not a good idea to watch so much TV that your eyeballs begin to hurt.

But it’s so, so much fun.

#elizabette2016

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After much thought and reflection, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I’ve decided that I’m running for President of the United States of America. I’ve been watching the news lately, and there’s a lot of people who seem to think they are up to the job. So, why not me, too?

I was watching the Republican debate the other day and saw a whole fleet of candidates lined up on stage. You usually only see lines that long on Black Friday or when someone is giving away something for free—like a donut. It was rather remarkable.

While some of those people on the stage seem qualified, I think I’m the more ideal candidate. First of all, my name is really long—thus, it would probably take up more than half of the ballot. Folks wouldn’t be able to stop themselves from voting for me. Poor Jeb Bush with his short, tiny name should just give up now.

Secondly, I don’t have a secret email server hiding in my house, and my emails are so boring that no one would even want to read them anyway. And I never delete anything in my inbox—in fact, I still have expired Pottery Barn coupons from 2009. Take that, Hillary.

In all seriousness, it’s very important for a presidential candidate to have achievable and realistic goals. I have lots of goals—and not all of them are related to instituting a nationwide ban on the word “manscaping.”

For example, I believe that border security is essential to the safety of this nation. Any discussion of security must begin there.

That’s why I am advocating that we build a 10-foot wall along the Canadian border. That way once we finally deport Justin Bieber, he won’t be able to get back in.

Frankly, I don’t think being president really can be that difficult. Once you get over the fact that most folks will begin to hate your guts about four days after you take office, the rest is simple.

I could definitely handle traveling in a big plane, wearing tiny American flag lapel pins, and having people salute me like I’m Capt. Kirk from Star Trek.

As an added bonus, if I were elected, I don’t have a furry, dead animal residing on top of my head—unlike Donald Trump. I’m sure the Secret Service would be relieved by this since my hair couldn’t be so easily set ablaze by a would-be assassin. This would give the Secret Service more free time to search the perimeter of the White House lawn and cavort with prostitutes in Colombia.

I’ve only got 13 months to Election Day, so I really better get to work. In the meantime, maybe I’d better get rid of some of those emails. …