40 Years – Knowledge McNuggets

So today I’m 40 years old and I thought about doing a retrospective of some sort.  You know, maybe go back through the old pictures and junk and show people how much (or little) I’ve grown up over the years.  But I don’t know, man.  That seems pretty self-indulgent and let’s face it: a lot of work.

Instead, I thought I’d pass on some really useful information.  Call it a guide to life from someone who has kicked, punched and clothes-lined his way through 4 decades of life.  Usually on my birthday I get a couple of gifts, but let’s turn this around.  This is my gift to you, Patient Reader.  If you haven’t made it to age 40 yet, you can consider this your cheat guide to what’s coming.  If you’re an old fart who has me beat by a couple (or more!) years, then think of this as the “Oh crap, I missed this in my journey into senility” wake-up call.

You’re welcome.

Pack a lunch or take this advice in small chunks.  It’s bound to be a long one.  You don’t want to fill your head with TOO much of this knowledge at once.  It could make your head (and let’s face it, your pants) explode.

40 Knowledge McNuggets comin’ at you…

1 – Waffles: When you’re eating waffles and you’re thinking of adding syrup to them, do what I do.  Cut them up into nice little squares before applying the sugary lacquer.  By doing this, you’ll let the mouthwatering syrup get into the cracks and crevices, therefore ensuring complete waffle saturation.  I know it looks nice (like in the commercials) to just pour the syrup on top with a perfectly squared piece of butter strategically placed, but that’s just dumb.

2 – Armpits: I know I’m not saying anything new by suggesting you clean your armpits daily.  That’s kid’s stuff.  But finding the right deodorant is really key.  They have those antiperspirant kinds that are white, but they clump up like nobody’s business, leaving you to look like LL Cool J in his performance of “Mama Said Knock You Out.”  Remember that?  Where he had those little white balls of pit-stick stuck to his armpit hair?  They looked like little moth-balls.  Anyway, what I’m trying to say is you should use SPEED STICK GEL: COOL FUSION.  It smells awesome and goes on clear.  (No, I wasn’t given any promotional monies to tell you this)

3 – Books: I read a lot of books and plenty of them are…not really all that good.  But, I’ve made a credo with myself that I’ve never broken.  I finish every single book I start.  No matter how bad it is! (Hello Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER Book 7) While many might think this is a waste of time, I think it only makes me a better reader (knowing how to separate the good from the bad, but it also allows me to discuss why it wasn’t my cup of tea.

4 – Tea: I don’t drink tea.  I just don’t like the idea of setting a bag of dirt in a cup of hot water.

5 – Baths: On the subject of steeping, I can’t remember the last time I took a bath.  Something about  having your  body steep in its own filth just rubs me the wrong way.  I’m a true believer in showers.  You go in, you scrub the garbage and stink off of yourself and down it goes into the magic hole in the floor.  No fuss, no muss.

6 – Papa Murphy’s: You should pre-program Papa Murphy’s into your cell phone so you can call ahead and order.  I never wait with all the other people in there, sitting around like they’re stuck at the DMV on a Saturday.  Also, on the subject of Papa Murphys, I only get the DELITE varieties of pizza.  It’s thinner crust and (somehow) a little better for you.  Not only that, the other versions of their pizza usually ends in a one way trip to the thunder bucket.

7 – Gym: Let’s face it, people: Going to the gym to work out in not fun.  I mean it’s not even a little fun.  Getting on a machine and sweating until you stink is for the birds.  What’s worse is they have it set up so you can watch awful programming while you whittle away the calories.  I know exercise is important, so I’m going to let you in on a little secret that will make dreading the gym a thing of the past.  Get a portable DVD player or throw some movies on your iPad.  You dial up some entertainment, climb your fat dumper onto a machine, press play and BOOM.  Instant work out.  You’re no longer hearing yourself gasping for breath, suffering through commercials on the provided TVs or anything.  You pick what you want to watch (commercial free) and away you go.  Some bits of advice: Get a DVD player that can fold flat.  I had an old one that just opened like a laptop and it dropped onto the treadmill, zipped between my legs and exploded against the machine behind me.  Also: Try not to watch stuff with too much nudity.  I watched (the awful) HALL PASS once and there were some scenes that had people wondering: What the hell is this guy watching???

8 – Snow: Don’t eat the yellow snow.  Seriously.  Don’t do it.  I’d actually avoid yellow Sno-Cones, too.  You can never be too sure.

9 – CDs: I realize this advice is going to be old news within a decade or so, but opening CDs is easy if you know the trick.  Run your fingernail along the little slit on the front of the CD, where it folds open.  This should make a nice slit in the cellophane.  Tear that crap off.  Being careful, unhitch the bottom tab that holds the cover in place and lift it up.  This should separate the  label/sticky thing (that everyone hates) from the top.  Pull it off with one clean pull.  BOOM. Your CD is open.  Time lapsed: 7 seconds.

10 – Microwave Popcorn: To ensure that most of the seeds are popped within a sack o’ popcorn, open it up and mash the bejesus out of the grease and butter stuff.  Press and separate the mass of sludge as much as you can, making it nice n’ flat.  At our house I find the magic happens when I push the POPCORN button and then add 1:00 to that.  Also, if you haven’t tried it yet, SMART BALANCE makes a delicious (and not as bad for you) bag of microwaved delight.

11 – Be Nice: This shouldn’t need to be mentioned here, but I’ve found it can be difficult for some people to grasp.  Be nice to people you come in contact with.  I’m talking everyone, people.  Don’t give the stink face to people working jobs you couldn’t be bothered with.  Suffice it to say, you’re not any more important than anyone else on this planet, regardless of your tax bracket or how important (you think) your job is.  If someone says hello, return the gesture.  Ask people how they’re doing.  Smile at people (you know, without being creepy).  Thank someone for doing crap for you, even if it’s handing you your burgers in a sack through a window.  I have a hard time liking or relating to people who can’t be human to other humans.

12 – Orange Popsicles: Seriously.  Aren’t these things delicious?  I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The sugar-free ones?  EVEN MORE DELICIOUS.

13 – Concerts: I try to go to at least one concert a month (if possible).  And in my time, I’ve seen some pretty random and awesome shows.  Even so, one of the things I rarely do is buy a concert t-shirt.  In the past I HAD to have one, regardless of the cost.  Ask me where my Michael Jackson concert t-shirt from the BAD tour is.  I bought the thing for like $30 (even back then!) and once I got home, I realized: I’m never going to wear this thing.  I know there are exceptions and MJ is/was a different story, but really?

14 – Opening Acts: Try and see the opening acts when you go to concerts.  I know it’s cool to roll in right as the headliner is coming on, but I can’t tell you how many bands I’ve “discovered” by showing up a little early.  And the money I would’ve spent on a t-shirt I’ll never wear usually goes toward a CD from a band who’s just getting their start and could use a new fan or two.  Also, it’s cool to say you saw so-and-so way back when they were opening for whats-their-name.  Bragging rights, y’all.  Catch the fever!

15 – Cookies: Notice I put this advice a little further down from the “working out” bit.  Okay, so if you want the best cookies in town, I suggest you hit up Target.  Seriously.  Those Monster Cookies they have at the snack bar?  Incredible.  They’re huge and only cost a buck plus change.  If you stumble into a Super Target, you’re in even MORE luck.  They sell smaller versions of them in a pack of 6.  And. They. Are. Delicious.  Also: Deadly.  Each cookies clocks in around 250 calories.  Eat a sack of them (which I’ve done) and you’re staring down the barrel of 1,500 calories.  Pack up your DVD player and hit the gym, Cookie Monster.

16 – Wrong: Admit you’re wrong from time to time.  I come from a very stubborn family of Irish/German/French/English (we’re mutts, okay) people (myself included) who have a tough time admitting when they’re at fault.  In my 40 years, I’ve tried to be better about coming out and saying I’m sorry or that I screwed up.  It’s not easy and it’s humbling, but I’ve found that if you wait for other people to do it (family or otherwise) you might be waiting forever.  Suck it up, come clean and move on.  And that’s one to grow on!

17 – Photo Booths: I rarely pass those black n’ white photo booths without fishing some dollars out, especially when I’m with my family.  Even way back when Laura and I started dating, we made a tradition of hoping into the photo booth, taking a strip of pictures and filing it for later.  As we’ve added kids to the fold, we threw their little butts in there with us, too.  As it stands, we’ve got a ton of these picture strips chronicling (by 4 mini pictures at a time) our lives and how much we’ve changed.  I had the (genius?) idea of taking random shots from the collected strips and making a killer photo collage on our wall.  When you see it, I sorta think you’ll wish you would’ve thought of it.

18 – Listen to Your Kids: It’s so easy to just tune out the little people in your life.  I mean, I get it.  You’re busy with work, and what crap people are posting on Facebook and whatever.  But think about when you were a little dude/chicklet your parents weren’t so run-down or easy distracted as you might be.  I’m guilty of occasionally “yeah, yeah”-ing my kids, but I’ve been trying to make a point to capture some of their witticisms and general goofiness to share and savor later.  Besides, I don’t know about your kids, but my kids say some hilarious and profound crap.  They’re little piles of entertainment with legs and a head on top.  Enjoy these funny little people, people.

19 – Abbreviations: Maybe this is showing my age, but I never really got into the abbreviation thing whilst writing comments and such online.  When I read LOL, I think people are lying.  When I see SMH (shake my head) I think that’s one inpatient so-and-so.  I think instead of saying LOL when someone scores an awesome comment or comeback, type it out.  I’m a big fan of using: Best. Comment. Ever or even Hilario, which is about as much as I’m willing to shorten things.  And really?  SMH?  I think there should be a quota as to how many things you can shake your head at over a given calendar year.  Do better, internet dwellers.

20 – Name: I know this isn’t new territory, but I’ve learned it’s not easy to change the way you’d like people to address you.  Growing up as a young dude I was always “Tommy” and then when I got a little older, I graduated to “Tom.”  But, somewhere after my college years and when I became pretty darn serious about the writing thing, I made the (gasp!) move to becoming a “Thomas.”  This was not (and hasn’t been for some) widely accepted, even by my parents WHO NAMED ME!  You’d think I’d asked to be called “His Royal Highness.”  Is there an easy way to let people know?  I thought about sending a postcard out to everyone, kind of like one of those “WE’VE MOVED!” cards, but then I thought, eh…postage.  Also, I didn’t really think about it through.  I guess this wasn’t much of a tip as it was an observation on the delicate nature of names and how people aren’t fond of extra syllables.

21 – PBJ: When making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I always put the grape jam on first.  I apply it to one side of the bread, rinse the knife off under the faucet and dig into the peanut butter, applying it to the other slice o’ bread.  I’ve seen people put both the peanut butter and the jelly on the same slice and I JUST. DON’T. GET. IT.

22 – Sports: I’ve never been a big fan of watching televised sports and/or getting excited about a team winning or losing or kicking a ball through some sticks or into a net.  Not really my thing.  This is not to be confused with actually playing sports.  I think that is fun and would gladly play some football or basketball with a handful of jokers.  I don’t know.  To me it’s like watching someone else have fun.  “Hey, Thomas.  Come over here and watch me play video games for 4 hours.”  Maybe it’s the extreme time commitment and the sifting through commercials that comes with it or just the extreme fans that kill it for me.  I think if more people actually played as opposed to just sitting and watching passively, there’d be less diabetes in the world.  Maybe?

23 – Guns: So I’ve shot some guns in my time.  Long, long ago I was shooting at some pigeons (with an anonymous person from the days of yore) and I lined up a shot inside of a metal barn.  I should back up to inform you this was a pellet gun that shot little dart-tipped pellets.  I’d gotten pretty good at shooting the filthy pigeons, so I was getting cocky. I was lying down on some hay bales next to my partner in crime and I aimed and fired.  A sound like ZING rang out and the pellet ricocheted and zipped between our two dumb heads.  I don’t know if I would’ve lost an eye or killed either one of us, but I was sort of done for the day…and many years.

24 – Potlucks: If I were you, I’d stay away from potlucks.  You have no idea what’s in some of these stinky dishes and you’re just asking for diarrhea by scooping up a heaping spoonful of a co-worker’s hotdish (or casserole).  Seriously.  Do yourself a favor and go get a sandwich.  Potlucks are the slop buckets of the human world.

25 – Socks: It might already be too late for you, but if you can avoid the really elastic-y socks that you pull up part-way up your shins, you should.  I didn’t over my formative years.  And while I have pretty hairy legs (sorry ladies, I’m taken!) there are  spots right above my instep on both legs where I don’t have any hair.  It’s as smooth as a baby’s buttsteak and there’s no chance it’ll grow back.  Next time you see me, I’ll show you.  For a dollar, I’ll even let you feel it.  Be gentle.

26 – Whistle: Somewhere along the line, I learned how to whistle louder than anyone I know.  It’s strange.  I don’t use fingers and here’s the kicker: I don’t blow out…I suck air in.  I can make ears ring like there’s no tomorrow. If you ask how I learned how to do it, I’ll tell you I stumbled across this fantastic(?) talent when I was 10 and playing Legos with my brother.  I used to be a sound-effects guru when I was a dorky little chap and I made a weird sucking sound to show how fast my Lego spaceship could fly.  Next thing you know, a loud, shrill sound was coming out of my mouth.  The rest, friends, is history.

27 – Caffeine: Here’s the thing about caffeine: You don’t need it.  You just think you do.  I used to inhale Diet Cokes like my life depended on it and for a while, I believed it did.  Having never developed a taste for coffee (hot, wet bean juice!) I turned to soft drinks to fuel my caffeinated head.  When I missed a couple doses and wasn’t able to drink one before 10:30am one day, I had a headache that felt like it would split my giant melon.  It was then and there that I learned (for me) the true meaning of addiction.  I decided it was time to cut myself off.  This was almost 11 years ago.  Sure I fell off the wagon for a week way back when, but it’s been good.  I still stay up later than most people I know, I’m rarely uber tired (unless I end up getting multiple fire/EMS calls in a night) and I don’t crash like I used to.  It’s funny to hear people say: I can’t function without coffee or caffeine.  Sure you can.  You just don’t wanna.

28 – Laugh Tracks: I’ve learned that TV shows that don’t rely on laugh tracks to prompt people to laugh are 90% funnier than those that do.  Fact.  This is science, people.

29 – News: You probably won’t find this hard to believe, but I’m not a big newspaper reader and/or a news watcher.  I catch little hits of what’s important through the internet (usually by accident) or when I overhear someone talking about a particular topic.  I’ve found (even more so as I’m getting older) that it’s easier for me to get through the day without hearing about awful things happening in the world, which sport team won which game, political coverage, murders, suicides, and which scientific nugget about health they’ve unearthed that makes all the previous ones defunct.  Call it living in a bubble or being ignorant to the world around me, but I really don’t feel like I’m missing out.  Besides that, I have a firm belief that we’re only getting part of the story and it’s usually the part that keeps us fearful and paranoid.  Eh.  No time for that.

30 – Facial Hair: It’s the sad truth that as long as I’m an active firefighter, I can’t sport a hot n’ dirty beard.  I know, I know.  This breaks my heart more than anyone else’s.  I also learned (a few years back) during a mustache-growing contest we had at the fire station, that I’m not meant to have a mustache either.  I lasted exactly 2 weeks before I had to surrender the ‘stache.  I looked like someone John Walsh was after on America’s Most Wanted.  Swarthy.  Greasy.  Filthy.  Hats off to the thousands of Americans who can pull this off.  Looks good on you, sir.

31 – Kids: Kids are not easy to raise.  I don’t really have any good advice on this topic other than it’s a work in progress.  Check back in 20 years.

32 – Kool Aid Stands: If you see a Kool Aid stand in your neighborhood, make a point to stop and buy some.  I don’t care if it’s watered down swill or over-sugared sludge.  These kids are working hard for the money, so you better treat ’em right.  I always ask them how business is going and over-tip.  It’s my little way of pumping some dough into the economy.

33 – Friends: I have a dumb saying that I might’ve lifted from someone a long time ago: I like to keep my friends like luggage.  I think this was back when gorillas could jump on pieces of luggage and they’d still survive.  Nowadays luggage doesn’t last so long.  I used to have a really cool red suitcase, but that thing felt apart like it was made out of straw.  Anyway, what I’m sort of getting at is that I (in most cases) hold onto my friends, regardless of how long I’ve known them or how long its been since we talked last.  I have a handful of peeps that I still hang with that I’ve known since grade school!   And this is after I defected from Catholic School and into the world of pubic education.  Amazing, right? What I’m trying to say is, if we’re friends, (true friends) you’ll likely be invited to eat ham sandwiches at my funeral.  (Gosh, I think there’s a Spice Girls song to cover this sort of thing.)

34 – Maggots: There isn’t an age (that I’ve reached yet) that makes scooping up a dead animal squirming with maggots any easier.  I tried earlier this summer and I just had to back away.  Nope.  You guys got this one.  I’ll check back when you’re done eating, little guys.

35 – Karaoke: Not everyone likes to sing in front of people, but if you do and you’re sort of unsure of the song you’re about to belt out, work the crowd a bit.  Ask people how they’re doing tonight.  Mention that the wait staff is working hard.  Let people know they should try the French Dip.  What I’ve found is not effective (though kind of funny) is to inform the crowd that you intend to “blow the roof off of this s–tbox.”  The people seem to like this.  The owners of said s–tbox do not.

36 – Road Trips: No road trip is complete without a box of delicious Lemonheads and an industrial-sized pack of beef jerky.

 37 – Writing: I’ve been asked many a time how I get my ideas for books and if I use an outline to form it up.  The answers in short order are: Usually while driving and not really.  I don’t know how or why my brain works the way it does, but sometimes I’ll see or hear something and my head starts playing its own version of association.  Sometimes within 30 seconds I’ll have an idea for a book.  Example: Recently I heard a song that was on the Breakfast Club soundtrack.  I thought of a minor character from the movie.  I thought about his lot in life and an item he likely has with him at all times.  I thought about what would happen if it fell into the wrong hands. I thought about how that person’s life would change.  Boom.  Book.  As for the outline, I don’t use an outline or even index cards.  I use what I call an IDEA PIT and I jot down (usually type) all the pieces and fragments of ideas I have into there.  When I “dump” everything I’ve got into the pit, I save the file and do something else.  If it’s a really good idea, I’ll come back to it (usually the next day) and add more.  If the idea has legs, I’ll start naming chapters and figuring out what cool crap should be in each chapter.  By this point, the book is written in my head and I just need to type it out.  There!  There’s the secret!  Now go out and write some best-sellers!

38 – Painting: If you are considering painting your ceiling, don’t.  Have someone else do it.  Especially if you make the foolish choice of putting an unpainted bead-board ceiling in, say, a home office.

39 – Winking: Do you know people who still wink?  I don’t know many people who do.  I sort of think it’s creepy and I don’t know that I’ve ever used a wink as a means of communicating to another person.  I mean, what is that?  Let me close one (just one!) of my eyelids whilst looking at you.  I guess it’s supposed to mean you and I are in on something…or something.  I think the current equivalent is the REALLY overused expression: I know, right?  I had a co-worker that said that CONSTANTLY over 10 years ago and when he left the company, I thought that was the last I’d hear of that.  Nope.

40 – Forty: It’s early yet, but I don’t think turning forty is all that bad so far.  I still act the same and other than the number and remembering going to my dad’s 40th party (and thinking dang…he’s old now!) hitting the decade mark 4 times ain’t no thing.  It’s a number, a state of mind and not much more.  The hair is a little (a lot) grayer, I’m finding hair where I’d rather not, and some mornings I feel like I’ve been shot out of a cannon (and into a brick wall) but other than that, my 40’s seem pretty okay.

Bring it.