Rearview Mirror

When I set out to create something, I typically stumble all over myself at first as I look for a pattern to establish. Rarely does the original outlined idea actually happen as I realize, through the creative process, that I was short sighted in how the thing I wanted was going to be achieved. What ends up as the end product is almost always the product of my aforementioned stumbling. This is how creating art of any kind works and it takes patience, dedication, and stubbornness to achieve. There are exceptions to this rule, but not everyone is a savant nor can they be. But those of us who have creative drives need to learn that in an ever increasing ADD world, finding the right stumbling block takes time – 99 percent of us will never see that right moment at the right place. But we will see our ideas come to fruition, even if it doesn’t look exactly like what we originally thought.

When I originally set out to do the BetaFiles, my first idea was a blog of me doing mess like this. Then, a few years later I got the idea that I could do a podcast. I planned the podcast out, wrote corny dad-style jokes, and did the exact opposite of what I promised myself I wouldn’t do in focusing on politics – particularly the President. Thankfully, life intervened and forced the podcast to end its short 10 episode run. But that creative push to create something, though shifting to an album I’ve been working on for three years now took its place for the interim, led to me looking at YouTube and what possibilities I could have there. Originally, I was going to move the podcast to YouTube and do audio only tracks while promoting everything through Facebook. My distaste for Facebook led me to leave the platform and subsequently shut down my personal Twitter account as well (there is still a BetaFiles twitter account out there that doesn’t require a personal account to be tied to it, though all it does is tweet that latest postings from this site). The idea of having audio only videos soon soured with my exodus from Facebook, and I began rethinking my strategy again. This time I would use Instagram as the primary social vehicle while expanding the YouTube idea to be both audio and visual. I was still going to use the original format of the podcast as the template.

But the more I thought about it, I didn’t really like the way the podcast had evolved. In turn, I decided to create shorts that I would tie together in a TV show – style episode for each week. My original plans for this have proven immensely time consuming, and I have (through those stumbles) been forced to step back and re-evaluate how I will actually create this content leading to a new system that should have been obvious to begin with.

I was also forced to realize that, even though I am creating content, I am going to eventually need a second or third or fourth creator to help with the projects along with coming up with other new ideas. So far, the few ideas I have had seem to be working for what I want them to accomplish, but I realize that, like so many things, only a couple of them will be able to withstand the daunting demands of changing tastes over time. Richard Cranium will live for a long while on the channel. “The Two Brians,” inevitably, will expire as the schtick will grow old. So will the newest idea “Janice from HR.”

My point in all of this rambling is that I have actually reached one of those productive stumbling blocks in this venture that is helping to define what I am trying to achieve. I have re-evaluated the whole project and have found the best way for me to create and distribute this content for consumption. Now I will execute and continue to learn and grow and create and evaluate and create more. That is the real workflow of art.  Patience, learning, trial and error, and continuous growth.

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Lifelong fears are remarkable. They fill us with anxiety over what others may see as asinine or irrelevant. But for those who fear them, they are as real as the air we use to fill our lungs. We rationalize them, find ways to avoid the consequences that lead to them, and we March through each day envisioning the end goal of that fear – the ultimate pay day when the fear comes to collect. But what happens when we pass the threshold that encompasses that fear? What happens when we turn to look back on the fear instead of looking forward at it as we always have?

Today, I am in that unique position as, today, I have officially lived longer than my father.  

My father died on July 19, 1980. He was 43 years, 7 months, 14 days old when he passed. Today marks my age in time as 43 years, 7 months, 15 days. In my life, I have run into many different fears that led to whether I would survive. When I was 32, I was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease (heart disease). I have brought my plaque numbers down from 53% blockage to 14% over 11 years in the more important arteries that doctors focus on. In 2015, I had a horrible lung infection and before they found out what it was, I was certain that my chest was going to collapse and I would not live to see another day. I was in the hospital for 12 days before they finally found the right anti-biotic that beat back the infection. By March of 2017, I was drinking so much that I had pancreatitis, was borderline with cirrhosis, and was riddled with gall and kidney stones. I got sober and have recovered with a relatively healthier liver, pancreas, gall bladder, and kidneys.

But none of these fears matched the overwhelming fear that I would not live longer than my dad.

When my dad died, I was almost four. As I grew, the idea that I would not live beyond my father’s age grew with me. It was a totally irrational fear – I had the opportunity to change how I lived, how I treated my body, how I could change the way I approached life. So, naturally, when I turned 18, I started smoking because – I’m stupid. I worked at a fast food restaurant in my teens, eating cholesterol laden burgers nightly because – I’m stupid. For years in my teens and twenties, I was a rabid binge drinker. In my thirties, the binge drinking turned into nightly drinking. Nightly drinking turned into daily drinking. Daily drinking turned into non-stop drinking high functioning alcoholism because – I’m stupid. And yet, through it all, I watched myself knowing I was tempting fate. I was going to make the fear become reality.

When I was diagnosed with heart disease, I actually sighed a deep breath of relief. They had found it a decade ahead of time. I also had at my disposal more tools and better medicine than my father had (he died of a second heart attack). Through all of the stupidity of my thirties, I stuck to a heart healthy style diet. I clung to my regimen of pills that are designed to help keep the numbers in check. I did what I could to eliminate sodium as much as possible. And even though I was actively trying to test the boundaries of how far I could push my organs, I also monitored how I was doing with my ticker because – I’m stupid.

So, this morning when I woke up, and the realization that I had somehow come to the other side of a fear that has weighed on me for around 30 years, two things crossed my mind: “I did it, somehow, I did it” and “does this mean I can back off?” Then it hit me: back off of what? Outside of just making sure I eat semi-better, I haven’t exactly done anything except survive. This doesn’t mean I’m gonna just throw up my hands and do whatever. My daughter is nine, and I would like to see her grow to be a woman. So, the game will change to what it was supposed to be the whole time. In short, to answer the question I posed before (what do we do when the fear is no longer a fear), we do what we were supposed to do while we were living in that fear. We live. We move forward. We take a deep breath and enjoy the life we have been ignoring because of the overwhelming presence of our fear.

I woke up today not afraid. But instead of being relieved, I realized I have been completely stupid in how I have approached life. So, today at 43 years, 7 months, 15 days I approach life in a new way – the way I should have done for 30 + years. It is too late to fix the past, but the future isn’t here yet…

Bohemian Rhapsody

Common knowledge is a misnomer.

I personally do not believe there is such a thing as something that everyone knows as specific knowledge. I do believe there are common actions and reactions – ways in which we understand how to naturally defend or oppress which is driven by innate understandings of our environment. But common knowledge would mean that we all think the same way which would mean that we would all have to live the same lives. The reality is that we do not.

I often tell my students that they have been lied to all their lives as being “special.” I explain to them that none of us are particularly special – however – each one of us is unique. Let me explain the difference: to be special would be to say that you have lived some way of life that would put you above everyone else. You have become the epitome of everyone who wants “success.” The problem with this idea is that success is defined by each person differently in different environmental circumstances. My success may be defined by having just enough retirement savings to live another 10 years beyond retirement. Someone else my own age, living in a deep portion of the amazon in some “uncivilized” culture may see success as making it through just another day. For that person, retirement doesn’t even exist. Thus, the person that I see who has achieved the goal of saving enough to live comfortably beyond retirement becomes “special” to me, but they mean nothing to the deep amazon Brian counterpart who is constantly making sure that they survive one more day.

But to be unique – you need nothing to accomplish that. Each one of us lives a life that no one else can live. No one else on this planet can or will ever experience life the way I have. The total sum of events in my life have happened to me only in the order, consequence, and experience that I have observed them. They have completely shaped how I interact in this world, and they have created the knowledge that I have.

Thus, in sum, the knowledge I have is unique to me only. There is nothing that I have seen that can lead to a connection with some kind of common shared knowledge as the knowledge I have belongs to only me. I can use my knowledge to make connections with other people through a shared sense of experience, but the experience itself is different from individual to individual. How we interact with others comes not through what the group understands, but what the individuals understand based on their personal experiences. Commons knowledge then is nothing – common connections, that’s a different story.

Tales from a Middle Aged Father: Uber

There are moments where a lack of attention to detail leads to what many would call an “adventure.” One such moment happened to me when, after a night of heavy drinking at a club, I did the responsible thing and requested an Uber. What happened after was nothing short of an epic tour of Greensboro, one that had all the trappings of Moses leading a lost Hebrew nation through the wilderness without Google maps…

It began innocently when I met a few friends at a bar downtown where we pre-gamed before heading three blocks over to a new club that was celebrating its first real gig. The band that night was a seventies funk throw back that gave us plenty of music to drunkenly dance to. It was a Saturday night, so I let loose and did not hold back on how much I took in, leading to what I am sure was the hilarious vision of a late 30s man doing his best combination of Elaine and Carlton in the middle of a dark dance floor. As the hours grew late, I realized the world was starting to shift to the side a little, and decided it was time to make my exit.

I perched on the edge of the side walk outside, watching my phone for notification of where my ride was. A blue sedan pulled up, and I asked “Barbour?” – he nodded, and I got in. I sat in the back of his car, and watched the lights of the city pass the window. I tried to plan my next day, only getting so far as planning to shower in the morning before trying to remember what I was doing in the present.

A street sign passed my window, a street that a friend of mine lived on. I contemplated what they were doing at that time of night, thought about the last party they had, thought about grad school and different times we hung out in the courtyard or bar across the street from our department – then it hit me. We were on the opposite side of the city from where I was supposed to be going.

“You know where Adams Farm is, right?”

“Adams what?”

Holy shit. Either this guy put the wrong thing in his GPS or I am down to the last few minutes of my life. I immediately panicked in my mind, remembering all the news stories of women being raped by Uber drivers, and, now, I may be the first male to be raped by an Uber driver. Or maybe I was being taken to one of those secret cults where they sacrifice people for a demi-god from the old Norse traditions, or even worse – this guy could be a Scientologist and this was a new way of recruiting – I realized I may be in for hours of Thetan counts and L. Ron Hubbard brain washing.

“Adams Farm! Over off High Point Rd towards Jamestown! Adams Farm!”

“Where?”

It was clear I was s-k-rewed.

“You need to go to Autumn Court, right? That’s what I have?”

“No! Autmncrest, in Adams Farm!”

I was now wondering why this guy wasn’t getting the fact that I needed to be on the other side of the city.

“Dude, Adams Farm, going towards Jamestown. We need to find High Point Rd.”

“It’ll be extra.”

Extra! Are you kidding me!?

“How much?”

“I don’t know. But there’s a fee for changing route, plus the new route.”

I was pretty sure this was bullshit.

“Let me out at the gas station up here. I’ll figure it out.”

He dropped me off and left. I went in and bought smokes, then after I waited ten minutes to make sure he would not be the same Uber I had before, and after contemplating if I should get a Lyft instead, I requested another one. This time it was a little white sedan. I got in, and made sure this guy knew where I needed to go. I explained what had happened with the other guy, and my driver was sympathetic to all of my complaining – either that or he was just having a great time messing with the incoherent rambling drunk in his car. Probably the latter.

We finally arrived at a small cul-de-sac, and he let me out. I had been checking my Twitter when he let me out and I wasn’t really paying much attention to where we were. When I finally looked up, I did not recognize the town homes that I was standing in front of. I searched in a daze of confusion for the front of my home place, grew angrier and angrier, and finally pulled my phone out, and ordered my third Uber of the night.

By this point, I was mentally composing a strongly worded letter to Uber about the horrific night, and the incompetent drivers. I wanted the CEO of Uber to know that I was a valuable customer who put his safety in the hands of his drivers, only to be lost not once, but twice in the same night. I wanted the world to know that Uber had added an extra hour to a twenty-minute trip. I didn’t want to know what this night would end up costing me.

When the third and final Uber arrived, I got in, and told them to please get me to my address. The driver chuckled, and said “ok.”

We drove out of the cul-de-sac and around a small curve to the front of the row of town homes where I lived. I got out. Walked into the house. Found my couch and passed out.

The next morning, over coffee, I tried to figure out what exactly happened the night before. The first mistake was the wrong street typed in by yours truly – autocorrect changed what I had been typing and sent Uber the wrong address. The second time was 100% error on my part as I typed in the wrong house number and left off “Dr” at the end. Finally, the last mistake I made was not paying more attention to where I was and noticing my own back door as the second driver had dropped me off directly behind where I lived, and simply studying the back side of the houses I was looking at would have been a lot cheaper for me when it was all said and done.

The lesson I learned: pay attention to where you’re at…

Tales from a Middle Aged Father: The Idiot Light

It was chilly enough that the water hose I cut into was stiff. My son, a six-year-old first grader, knelt beside me watching as I put the now 20” hose into the lawn mower’s gas tank.

“Don’t ever try this until you’re big like me, ok?”

“Ok, daddy.”

“Ok, here we go.”

I took a breath, placed the free end of the hose into my mouth, and tried the well-known method of removing gas from a tank through suction.

I was scheduled to go to the doctor that morning, a check-up, before work. Because of my appointment, I had been tagged to take my oldest son to school after his mother neglected to get him on the bus on time. The boy and myself marched out the door and to my little civic, both kind of excited about this moment where dad and son got to join in the ride to school. Normally, I was gone well before the boy was up, so this was a treat for him.

However, there was a snag. When I cranked my car, the gas needle didn’t move. It sat just below the “E,” and after a few seconds, the gas light came on. Immediately I tried the desperate calculations in my head to determine if that small space between the “E” and oblivion would get me to the closest gas station. After burning some precious petroleum trying to decide if I had enough, I shut the car off, and instructed the boy that we had to do something else.

I went to our other car to check its situation, and although it wasn’t as dire as mine, it wasn’t much better. So I did what I always did when stuck in a conundrum. I lit a cigarette, and laid out all possible scenarios that would land me at the gas station. Even though car number two had a smidge more gas, it also had a larger engine and at 7:30 in the morning, my math told me it would drink faster than my Honda; I would have to chance it. I needed to get the boy to school.

I went to the back yard to grab the gas can (it too was empty) so I could get enough for my car, when I saw my lawnmower – it was a giant John Deer monster with a massive gas tank – and that’s when my genius kicked in. I yelled for my son, and he came jogging around the house to see what I needed. I looked at him and simply said, “your dad has a plan.”

Being a six-year-old, he wasn’t too wise to the world, so whenever I did something mechanical or constructive, he typically watched with eagerness, wanting to learn how to emulate his father as so many young boys do.

But on this chilly morning, he saw something different in my eyes, and his own eyes reflected a warning I did not heed.

I told him to run inside the house and grab my knife from the kitchen drawer – it was an old pocket knife I’d had for years – and bring it to me. He hustled away, reluctantly but obediently, and brought the tool back a few moments later. By then, I had pulled enough of our garden hose out to make a small syphon tube that would help me get the gas from the lawn mower into the gas can and from the gas can into my car which would get me to the gas station for more gas and on to the school where I would write my son in as by now, he was going to be late.

It was a full proof plan.

I cut the hose and marched to the lawn mower. I laid the gas can on the ground and told my son, “once I get the gas moving through this hose, I’m going to shove it into the can. I want you to hold the can still while it fills up.”

He said, “Ok.” Then his mind started calculating. “How are you gonna get the gas moving through the hose?”

“I’m going to have to suck it out.”

His face, once again, should have been enough for me to know that this was not going to work. But I had seen my step father do it multiple times, and now, as I was a man (I was in my 20s – young and stupid), I could replicate the actions and prove a hero to my son by saving the day and getting the gas needed to move on down the road.

I placed one end into the lawn mower tank, and held the other to my mouth. I took a breath in anticipation praying to something that it would work. I put the hose in my mouth, and drew back.

As the gas failed to come through the tube once it abruptly flew out of my mouth, my son quietly asked me, “you swallowed it, didn’t you?” I said nothing, and instead ran into the house. In the bathroom, I reached for a toothbrush, and tried to shove it down my throat. His mother, who had seen the flash of an idiot running by her, came into the bathroom to find me bent over a sink trying to induce muscles to reject the petroleum from my stomach.

I was not succeeding.

She asked me what I was doing, and I asked her in response, “How do you make yourself throw up?”

“What!?”

“HOW DO YOU MAKE YOURSELF THROW UP? YOU’RE A GIRL, YOU KNOW HOW TO DO THIS, HOW?!”

She asked me why, and before I could answer, my partner in crime had arrived to inform her of the entire episode.

“You dumbass,” was all she said as she went into the kitchen, and brought back three glasses of water. “Drink all of this and then drive my car to the gas station.”

I did as instructed, and got the boy to school late. I made my doctor’s appointment and was assured I would not die or catch on fire if I smoked (I already knew I wouldn’t as I tried the method before I went, but I wanted a second opinion).

My son and I learned valuable lessons that morning.

Never syphon gas from a lawn mower.

Never shove a toothbrush down your throat.

Never tell a woman she is an expert in vomiting simply because she is a “girl.”

But most importantly: pay attention to that damn gas gauge before the idiot light goes off.

Mighty Casey

What is Baseball?

It is not just a game. It is a romance. It is a passion.

I have been a Dodgers fan since I was in little league. When I began my short career in Baseball, we didn’t have sponsors, so we played as MLB subordinates. I was an Oriole, but my friend was a Dodger. The hat won me over, and I have been a Dodger fan since.

My boys won the ’88 series under Tommy and Oerl. I watched it on NBC. I saw Gibson make his legendary homerun in game 1. I watched Oerl pitch nine innings in game 5. I laughed at the A’s.

I was 12.

Before the internet and smart phones, I had to follow my boys through the Winston Salem Journal and Sports Center. In the spring of 1994, when I was a naïve 17 year old senior in high school, I read and heard about an impending strike by the Player’s Association that would eventually lead to me exiting MLB Baseball until the early 2000s when my brother-in-law led me back to the low and away curve thrown at 3-2 in the 5th with a runner on second.

The ’94 strike left me angry and sad. The ’94 strike allowed me to see all the flaws in the MLB. The ’94 strike left me abandoned and alone in my love for a game that moves so majestically. The ’94 strike was King Lear and Macbeth all in a theatre of Romeo and Juliet while exposing the flaws of humanity that only Hamlet could expose. The ’94 strike was the ultimate tragedy that even Shakespeare couldn’t have seen. The ’94 strike was pointless and wrong. It was another nail in the coffin for Baseball.

I have struggled to find a reason why Baseball has captured my attention since that fateful spring, and subsequent summer, of 1994. It could be the single to right that lands the tying run on 1st. It could be the 6-4-3 double play that holds the lead in the 6th. It could be the sacrifice bunt that moves the winning run to 3rd where images of Jackie Robinson stealing home immediately come to mind. It could be the two out, ninth inning batter with a 3-2 count and a runner on 2nd. It could be the absence of Jeter chasing Ted Williams and the last .400 season. It could be the anticipation of seeing a no hitter by Kershaw or Bumgarner. Or it could simply be the thrill of hearing that wonderful sound of the ball hitting a wooden bat before it sails 369 feet at Wrigley field. It could be any of these. Or even more.

I have tried to explain how beautiful Baseball is so many times in the past. The simple fact is that it is poetry in motion. Art in sport. Strategy between a manager, pitcher and catcher – all against a batter who holds a .250 – .325 average against a lefty.

Show me that depth of strategy in football…

Football.

The NFL.

I was an avid Marino fan as a child. Duper and Clayton taking those 30 yard passes that ended in 6 points. Shots fired from that cannon Marino called a right arm that were thrown in mere seconds of the snap. Shots thrown with such beautiful accuracy that you often wondered how a fly would survive one moment within Marino’s range.

But Marino, who stared down 300 lb. defenses before rocketing a pass 20 yards through a plethora of backs and safeties, never stood on the mound in the 6th inning with runners on 1st and 3rd, a 3-0 count with a batter whose avg. was .321 and who had already doubled in the 2nd. That’s pressure.

That’s Baseball.

Cobb. Mantle. Robinson. Aaron. Williams. Clemmons. Colfax. Boggs. Rivera. Ford. Martinez. Henderson….Sr. and Jr.

And of course Ruth. Oh the Babe.

Even Jordan marvels at the icon that is the Babe.

Every sport has its greats, but the Babe transcends all. Can Kobe ever be Jordan? Can Brady ever be Montana? Can Federer ever be Laver? But none can be the Babe. Case in point – Roger Maris. Mark McGwire. Barry Bonds. All shadows. All asterisks. All fall short of the Babe.

Sure the Babe never played on the west coast or had the pressure of a 120 game season. But what if he had? What if Ruth had been placed against all the factors that today’s batters are placed against. Our stadiums are smaller now, and the pitches are more limited than what Ruth faced. I have no doubt that Ruth would not need supplements to guide the ball over the green monster in Boston. He wouldn’t need chemical help to push the ball into the river at San Francisco or Pittsburgh, because he was what baseball needed when he arrived. He was THE Babe. The only player who truly defined what a baseball player could be.

And no athlete has ever defined a sport the way Ruth did Baseball. Jordan redefined basketball. Gretzky redefined hockey. Unitas set the standard that all QBs would be held. Nicklaus created expectations that, even today, putters and drivers hold as religious law. But the Babe. Oh the Babe. Even now that most of his records have been dispensed, he still remains the standard. He remains the ghost in the shell of the system.

But so has Roy Hobbs, the legendary fictitious “natural.” In the original novel, Roy succumbs to the dark side of baseball. The thrown game. It’s an allegory based on the culture of betting in the years surrounding the Black Sox scandal. It critiques America’s love for the game and the game’s heroes.

But Hollywood redeemed Hobbs. Robert Redford redeemed Hobbs. No other Hollywood moment can compare to the walk off homerun at the end as he, after belting his biggest hit in the movie (while nursing an injury), shattered the lights and ran through the sparks that fell to the field as he single handedly won the pennant for “Pops.”

There’s also Crash Davis, the minor league catcher who breaks the career homerun record for minor leaguers after helping Nuke LaLoosh get to the majors in Bull Durham. “I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.” So do I, Crash.

Major League brought us “Wild Thing” and Jake Taylor with his call to center before he bunts to bring Willie Mayes Hayes to the plate for the winning run. Cobb gave us Tommy Lee as the dying Ty Cobb, A League of Their Own gave us the greatest line in baseball lore (“There’s no crying in baseball”), and of course Walter Matthau has always been the greatest little league coach in the history of the game when he drunkenly stumbled through Bad News Bears.

And then there was Field of Dreams. The movie that didn’t celebrate baseball, but instead celebrated the love and lure of baseball. It’s not Burt Lancaster or James Earl Jones. It’s not Ray Liotta or Art LeFleur. It’s not even the fact that America forgave the Black Sox in a moment of nostalgic 1980s Hollywood magic. What Field of Dreams becomes is the same thing that The Natural becomes. A simple game of catch between a father and his son. Field of Dreams reminds us what baseball can be. It is our national past time. It is our history and our culture. As Mann notes:

“The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

Baseball is legendary folk songs. Baseball is the 7th inning stretch. Baseball is the smell of the ball park. A hotdog and a beer. Peanuts. Crackerjacks. The strikeout. The Double play. The crack of the bat. The first homerun sailing over the left field wall you ever see.

I don’t remember the first homerun I ever saw, but I remember the first my oldest son saw. Winston was the Warthogs at the time. We were at Ernie Shore Field. The batter swung, the sound echoed, and we watched as the ball sailed gracefully over the left field wall. My son jumped up and asked if that was a homerun. I simply answered “yes, it was.”

We saw two more that day, and my son learned the sound of a homerun when it comes off a bat. It’s a sound you never forget.

What makes this game so majestic and so beautiful is that within that small span of time that 9 innings cover, you see a game that hasn’t changed in almost 200 years. Yes, we have a DH now. Yes, pitchers don’t go nine innings much anymore. Yes, we’ve gotten rid of the spit ball. But in reality, the NFL changes more rules per season than Baseball has in a century. There is a wonderful feeling of knowing that one at bat has been the same year after year after decade after century. The pitcher looks in for the sign. The batter swings a few loose swings as the pitcher checks first. The wind up. The throw. And then it comes….that silence; that pause; that break in time and space as the ball sails from hand to home plate. That’s what makes Baseball beautiful. That’s what makes baseball timeless.

That is the poetry.