Mike Teavee and the Chocolate Factory

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Charlie

Have you ever read a book that profoundly shaped your life?

I have. The book was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When I read it for the first time in the second grade, I promised myself that I would never, ever behave like those awful, beastly children that accompanied Charlie on the tour of Willy Wonka’s factory. I would not be spoiled like the little peanut heiress Veruca Salt. I would not be sassy like the gum-chewing Violet Bureaugarde. I would not be gluttonous like the greedy Augustus Gloop. Finally, I would not watch television all the time like the vacuous Mike Teavee.

As a new reader and an eight-year-old, I loved the subversively dark humor of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was turned down for being in poor taste by several publishers in the 1960s, even though Roald Dahl was already a successful author at the time. But I also understood the book to be a cautionary moral tale. When children behave badly, bad things happen, was the lesson I took from it. I was determined not to become one of those bad kids. For most of my childhood, I think I succeeded.

A few months ago, I read the book to my six-year-old son over the course of several bed times. I thought he would enjoy the book, as I did. Perhaps he’d also appreciate that the hero of the book was the humble, good-hearted, impoverished Charlie, not the loud-mouthed brats who won the other four Golden Tickets to the factory.

My son did enjoy the book, especially the songs that the Oompa-Loompas sang each time a child met some grisly fate. The moral component seemed to be lost on him, though.

“What do you think this book was trying to say?” I asked him after we finished the last chapter.

“Always follow the rules,” my son said after some thought.

“Who was your favorite character?”

“Mike Teavee!” he said without hesitation.

“Why Mike Teavee?”

“He loves television and I love television. And I love my iPad,” my son said, leaping off of his bed and reaching for his digital device. “I want to be known as Mike iPad.”

I could barely hide my disappointment.

A few days later, when I was signing him up for a summer reading program at our library, the librarian asked what password we wanted to use on our summer reading online account (because God forbid we actually tabulate the hours on a simple sheet of paper).

“What password do you want to use?” I asked my six-year-old, who was busy trying to balance a Magic Marker between his upper lip and nose at the time.

“I want my password to be ‘TV!’” he said.

“You are killing me, man,” I replied.

So my son’s password for his online summer reading log is “TV,” and his literary hero is Mike Teavee. Somewhere, out there, Roald Dahl is shaking his head. Or maybe he’s laughing wickedly.

The Next One

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About five months ago, I completed the manuscript for my second novel. There will be a few rounds of editing ahead, but I’m confident that the stack of 324 pages in my downstairs office reads cleanly and is largely free of embarrassing typographical errors.

I do not want to give away too much about the new novel until I have more clarity on how and when it will be published. Let’s just say that the book draws from my personal experience of being part of a weekend rock band with a few of my middle-aged buddies. If you enjoyed the wry humor of my first novel, A Plot for Pridemore, I think you will appreciate the new book. Even though the characters and subject matter are quite different, the style of storytelling is very much the same.

It’s been two years since Pridemore came out, and my original goal was to complete a second novel by January 2015. That proved to be a bit ambitious, as much of my writing time is relegated to late nights after we have put our child to bed. I finished the initial draft last fall, put it through a couple of rounds of edits, then shared it with a handful of readers who provided me with some excellent advice on the story’s tone and structure. After implementing many of their ideas, I reviewed the manuscript one final time earlier this year.

I’m excited about the new novel, and a little bit proud of myself for completing it, albeit a little later than planned. I believe the new work is a topical, engaging, uniquely American story. Hopefully, it is a forward step in my life as a fiction writer, which I would love to turn into a full-time endeavor one of these days.

I will be sure to update you as soon as I have any additional news to share. In the meantime, be sure to check out A Plot for Pridemore if you haven’t already. You can find it here, along with many other fine works on the Mercer University Press website.

Blue Light Special

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Police lights

Kids who grow up in the city don’t know how good they have it.

Provided you have transportation and a little disposable income, you can choose a different activity for every single day of the year if you live in a large metropolitan area. In the city, there are museums, aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, professional sports, shopping centers and even dinosaur-themed restaurants from which to choose. In the city, there is no excuse to ever be bored, even though my son might sometimes disagree with me.

For kids who live in smaller towns, it’s different. Sometimes you have to make your own fun. Sometimes, that fun may be ill-advised.

I was luckier than most. I grew up in a mid-sized town called LaGrange that had a four-year college, a large recreational lake, golf courses, tennis courts and about 10 months of good weather each year. When I was in high school in the late 1980s, they opened up a six-screen cinema in my town, which was a social and cultural game-changer for me and my peers. I saw my first R-rated movie in that theater (Fatal Attraction with Michael Douglas and Glenn Close), even though my friends and I were under-aged. The new Cineplex brought a little bit of big-city daring and decadence to the town of LaGrange, Georgia.

Still, it could get boring at times. We had to make our own fun. My friend Jason and I swore off drinking for our high school careers, and we didn’t quite have enough nerve to swing though the school parking, where a lot of our classmates hung out on Friday and Saturday nights. Some evenings, we just drove around town in Jason’s Volkswagen Jetta, blasting U2 on the tape deck and somehow hoping that Bono’s words would inspire us to drive into the high school parking lot and talk to the cool kids.

One night, just to try something different, we grabbed a flashlight, a roll of duct tape, and a large, blue plastic cup from Jason’s house. Our hope was that, by taping the cup over the flashlight, and turning the light off and on rapidly, we could simulate the kind of pulsing blue light that police officers mounted on the dashboards of their patrol cars. To test our experiment, I stood on the side of the street and watched Jason whiz by in the Jetta a few times, his right arm holding the flashlight over the dash and turning it on and off just as fast as he could. Sure enough, it looked a lot like a police light.

When you are a pair of bored 18-year-olds who suddenly have invented your own police light, your next move is obvious. We hit the road on a warm Saturday night, patrolling the unlit rural routes that wound around and across West Point Lake. At about 10 o’clock that night, we pulled behind a red Chevrolet pick-up that was going about 10 miles above the speed limit. Jason turned the volume down on the Midnight Oil album we’d been listening to. Riding shotgun, I turned on the blue light and held it to the windshield, my thumb doing double-time over the switch to create the perfect effect. I might have even been whistling siren noises at the time.

After a quarter mile or so, the truck slowed and stopped on the gravel shoulder. Jason and I stared at each other in amazement. Did we just pull this guy over? What do we do now?

Jason gave it half a second of thought, then stomped the accelerator. The red pick-up was a blur as we sped by. Jason did not slow down until we entered the city limits. Along the way, I looked nervously in the side-view mirror, expecting to see the Chevy’s headlights cresting the hill behind us, its driver furious at being snookered by a pair of skinny, wanna-be cops in a 1985 Volkswagen Jetta.

Fortunately, we got away. Jason and I took the blue light out on the road a couple more times that summer, but we made only half-hearted attempts at enforcing the county’s traffic code. My friend and I were just a few weeks away from going to college in different parts of the country. Neither of us wanted any trouble when we were so close to our first tastes of freedom.

I sometimes think about that summer and how we might have been charged with a felony if we’d been caught using a flashlight and a plastic cup to transform Jason’s Jetta into a Georgia patrol car. If that happened today, of course, we’d be on the six o’clock news, and all over social media. Our lives would be ruined, at least for a while.

That’s why I feel for the kids growing up in the smaller towns, and maybe even the kids in the cities, too. The tolerance level for teen-aged mistakes is a lot lower these days, and the amount of public shaming is at an all-time high. One act of stupidity, and a kid could be in serious trouble. And who hasn’t done something stupid when they’re young and bored and aching for a little bit of adventure, like pretending to be a patrol officer for a night?

Ali, The Poet

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ali
I’m not old enough to remember when Muhammad Ali was in his fighting prime, but I’ve always enjoyed watching old film clips and documentaries about him in those days. I especially love the poems he would write and share with the press before big fights. In addition to being the greatest boxer in the world, he was a genius with words and phrases. Ali coined “Rumble in the Jungle,” and “Thrilla In Manila,” the phrases we use to recall two of his most pivotal bouts. Grantland Rice would have been hard-pressed to come up with better catch-phrases than those.

Ali wrote the following poem, “I am the Greatest,” when his name was still Cassius Clay. He was 21 at the time. National Public Radio featured the original audio recording of the poem earlier this week.

Do you know any 21-year-olds who have the self-assurance to read a piece of verse they wrote to a large gathering of strangers? Do they also possess the skill to make the piece boastful, but humorous and playful at the same time? And do they have the charisma to read a poem called “I am the Greatest” without coming across as an arrogant jackass? Finally, how many 21-year-olds do you know who could back up that performance by actually being the greatest at what they do?

It has been written many times that Ali was a one-of-a-kind, and that is true for many reasons. For me, his charisma stands out as something totally unique in the dull, calculated, humorless world of sports. Can you imagine Tom Brady or Peyton Manning sharing poems they wrote before an upcoming Super Bowl?

Here’s the poem. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

This is the legend of Cassius Clay,
The most beautiful fighter in the world today.
He talks a great deal, and brags indeed-y,
of a muscular punch that’s incredibly speed-y.
The fistic world was dull and weary,
But with a champ like Liston, things had to be dreary.
Then someone with color and someone with dash,
Brought fight fans a-runnin’ with cash.
This brash young boxer is something to see
And the heavyweight championship is his des-tin-y.
This kid fights great; he’s got speed and endurance,
But if you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.
This kid’s got a left; this kid’s got a right,
If he hit you once, you’re asleep for the night.
And as you lie on the floor while the ref counts ten,
You’ll pray that you won’t have to fight me again.
For I am the man this poem’s about,
The next champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
This I predict and I know the score,
I’ll be champ of the world in ’64.
When I say three, they’ll go in the third.

So don’t bet against me, I’m a man of my word.
He is the greatest! Yes!
I am the man this poem’s about,
I’ll be champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
Here I predict Mr. Liston’s dismemberment,
I’ll hit him so hard; he’ll wonder where October and November went.
When I say two, there’s never a third,
Standin’ against me is completely absurd.
When Cassius says a mouse can outrun a horse,
Don’t ask how; put your money where your mouse is!
I AM THE GREATEST!”

My Piano and Me

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Piano

One of my unrealized dreams in life is to learn how to play the piano really well. As a kid, I took piano lessons from the 3rd through 8th grade, but I didn’t enjoy it. I never really learned how to read music, and I played most songs by ear.

As I grew older, I began to think about how gratifying it would be to just sit down at a piano and play whatever sheet music was in front of me. Shortly after we married, my wife and I bought a cherry wood upright Yamaha that we put in our front living room. For a few years, I would plop down at the piano and play the 10 or so songs I knew by heart, and work my way through a few new ones. I fantasized about having friends over for dinner and leading late-night singalongs from my Yamaha, playing the hits I knew from the Beatles, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Coldplay, Billy Joel and Elton John.

This never came to pass. Not quite, anyway. One Saturday, my friend Brad and I had plans to drive up to the College World Series in Omaha. We were going to meet very early in the morning at the home of a mutual acquaintance I didn’t know very well. When I arrived at the house, the man and his wife invited me in, and we chatted while waiting for my friend to show up. I admired the upright piano they had in their living room.

“We just got it,” the man said. “Neither of us knows how to play, though.”

“Brad told me you play,” his wife said sweetly. “Would you play a song for us? We’d love to hear how our piano sounds.”

They looked at me, smiling expectantly. I nodded and slowly made my way to the piano bench. It was about 6 o’clock in the morning.

I played a few chords from “Piano Man,” which is one of the easiest tunes I know. I began singing, because the song sounds sparse without the familiar words that are drunkenly crooned in every American piano bar every single night of the week. The couple gamely sang along. I missed a few notes. It is hard to play a musical instrument and sing at the same time, especially in front of other people. After the second round of “La-da-da-da-da-da-daaa,” my friend showed up at the front door, and I was allowed to stop.

“That was really nice,” said the husband, whom I have come to know better over the passing years, but who has never asked me to play the piano again.

Today, our busy family life means I no longer have time to play the piano. The cherry Yamaha mostly gathers dust in our living room, except for the occasional moments when our six-year-old wants to bang a few notes on it. I have tried to teach him “Chopsticks,” but he doesn’t have the patience for it. I would love for him to take lessons someday, but I think he would rather play guitar, if anything.

I feel guilty not giving such a nice piano the attention it deserves. I haven’t gotten it tuned in a couple of years. Someday, when things are less busy (maybe retirement?), I tell myself that I will sit down, re-master the handful of songs that I know, and learn a few more. Then we’ll have that dinner party with friends, and everyone will gather around my piano to sing along to a string of 1970s hits.

The Mind-Altering Effects of Facebook

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If you’ve read the news lately, you know that Facebook has been accused of manipulating the content it puts in front of 1.6 billion users, instead of providing them with a healthy, balanced diet of objective, well-researched information.

Facebook, some people argue, is cynically skewing the way we see the world, as if the social network bears the responsibility of some sort of public service instead just being a free, digital place where you can write “happy birthday!” and share photos of your adorable children and pets.

The company I work for sometimes buys Facebook ads that appear on the newsfeeds of people we think might want to use our services. One of these people sent us an angry message recently, telling us to “stop spreading spam!!!

“I didn’t like you,” he wrote. “Get off my page!”

Lucifer in the flesh? No, wait--that's Ted Cruz.

Lucifer in the flesh? No, wait–that’s Ted Cruz.

It’s not really your page, I wanted to tell him. You don’t own it or pay for it. The page, and everything on it, belongs to Facebook. But instead of getting into an argument about privacy rights with an upset truck driver from Thief River Falls, Minnesota, I gently instructed him on how to disable our ad with just a couple of clicks in his account settings.

Regardless of what Facebook’s role is or isn’t, any organization with 1.6 billion members has enormous influence. In an effort to test this power, I spent a full week using Facebook as my only source of news and information, just to see what it would do to me.

Here are the 11 most important things I learned from my week on Facebook:

  • That no one posts about the presidential election anymore, either because they’re sick of hearing about it or too depressed to comment on it.
  • That Winston Churchill was famous for uttering the phrase, “You’ve got to fight for the right to party.”
  • That a pooped puppy and a tired police officer fall asleep at an animal shelter, and you won’t believe what happens next!
  • That my friend’s wife likes to paint her toenails aqua before going on a trip to Cozumel.
  • That when you scroll across a link promising photos of serial killers when they were children, you cannot help but to open it.
  • That because you once listed To Kill a Mockingbird as a favorite book, Facebook thought you might be like to buy a To Kill a Mockingbird T-shirt or perhaps an Atticus Finch beer koozie.
  • That a photo that captures someone in the crowd holding up a smartphone at a Mike Tyson fight proves, finally, that time travel exists.
  • That you feel kind of dumb for commenting—again—on a post that a friend re-posted from three years ago.
  • That you really want to tell Hillary Clinton, “Get off my page! I didn’t like you!”
  • That when you scroll across a link promising embarrassing pet photos, you have no choice but to open it.
  • That most people want to just post pictures of their kid graduating high school or a good-looking sunset, or they want to wish someone happy birthday—which is what Facebook was designed for in the first place.

A Lazy Stroll with Digby Willers

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This month marks two years since my first novel, A Plot for Pridemore, was published by Mercer University Press. I have a hard time believing it has been that long since the first copies arrived on my doorstep, and I held in my hands the product I had spent so many years working on. It seems like only yesterday.

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I recently completed a second work of fiction, and I hope to tell you more about it in the near future. In the meantime, I’d like to share an excerpt from Pridemore that introduces Digby Willers, a character who plays a decisive role in the scheme to bring notoriety to the small town of Pridemore, Missouri:

A few blocks away, Digby Willers kicked an old soda can and whooped with delight as it bounced across Main Street and clanked against a curb.

He had kicked the can through most of the downtown business strip, from Saynor Circle to the blinking stoplight at Dunbar Street. The can left scuff marks on his new pair of Dingos, but Digby didn’t mind. The marks, he thought, gave the boots a real-life cowboy look.

Pang! He kicked the can into the street near the faded centerlines. It was an unseasonably hot, breezeless afternoon in late May that left the courthouse flags sagging and stray dogs sprawled and panting in the shade of a few parked cars along Pridemore’s main drag. Digby kicked his can against the stucco walls of The Lizard Lounge, which closed after Willie Larson shot Alan Carr in the thigh over some girl they were both seeing. Digby kept on kicking past the abandoned Westbrook Feed & Seed and he playfully range the big brass bell outside Truman’s Malt Shop, which no one answered because the shop’s owner, Ernie Tate, was in Farley getting an alternator for his Monte Carlo.

Anyone who strayed out into the 90-degree heat at that particular moment (and most locals had more sense than to do something like that) couldn’t have missed the 6-foot-3-inch, 280-pound man-child zigzagging his way up Main Street. Digby wore army fatigue cut-offs, an orange T-shirt smeared with peanut butter and jelly, and a Cub Scout cap that sat on the back of his head like a navy blue beanie. He had a round face with cheeks that turned crimson at the first sign of embarrassment and thick lips that curled into a slow, open-mouthed smile. His hair, yellow as lemon custard, rolled over his ears in long bangs that gave him a Prince Valiant look. Digby cared very little about that. He just knew that he hated getting haircuts.

Today, the hair was matted around his brow like a helmet. His sweaty hands clutched a brand-new five-dollar bill, as well as a perfectly smooth stone that would be great for skipping if there were a lake nearby and someone to teach him how to do it.

Several other stones scraped each other in Digby’s fatigues as he hopped the curb and stepped inside Sanderson’s Hardware, a jingling bell on the door announcing his arrival. He basked in the air conditioning and wiped his face with his shirt. The clerk, a skinny kid in a bright red apron, studied him a moment, then shook his head and walked to the back of the store.

“Hiya, Digby,” Red Sanderson called out from behind his old iron cash register. “Come to get your hot rod, I suppose?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, let’s have us a look.”

Sanderson led Digby down Aisle B, where the Pinewood Derby kits were stacked on a shelf about waist high. He watched Digby pick up one kit, examine it closely, then pick up another. Aside from the clerk, he and Digby were the only ones in the store.

The Pinewood Derby for the Cub Scouts’ Yellow Jacket District was more than two months away. But for Digby, who’d won the race nine of the past 10 years, that was barely enough time to make a serviceable racing car from a scrawny block of pine. Each May, he bought his kit the first week Sanderson’s had them in stock. He spent June and July in his mom’s garage, carving the block into an aerodynamic form and sanding it to a smooth finish. He even sanded the plastic wheels because he thought it made them faster. He topped it off by painting the car blue with white numbers and red stripes. One year he painted his car green and gold, which looked pretty cool, but he lost the final heat to Timmy Thurson.

Digby returned to the blue-and-red color scheme and hadn’t lost since. That was seven years ago. Competing against a field of mostly 10- and 11-year-olds, he was the Dale Earnhardt of Pinewood Derby racing in Pridemore.

Naturally, parents complained. The scouting committee hemmed and hawed for years on the issue, briefly making Digby an “honorary” racer, meaning whoever finished behind him could get a trophy, too. This pleased absolutely no one, and the grumbling intensified. When it came to racing little blocks of pine down a 30-foot ramp, Digby Willers was as polarizing as Rush Limbaugh or the Dixie Chicks. You loved him or hated him. There was no middle ground.

Sanderson watched for several minutes as Digby sat cross-legged on the floor, staring at seven or eight kits spread before him. Sanderson was exceedingly patient, something he honed after taking on a grenade in North Korea and spending a year in a VA hospital as they put him back together again. He could spend hours playing with his grandkids or needle-pointing a landscape of his lake house. Or he could sit behind his register, read an old paperback and wait to hear that bell on the double doors. Sometimes hours would pass between the rings.

“You gonna pick one out? They’re all the same, you know,” he said with a wink as Digby arranged more kits on the floor.

Digby stared at Sanderson as if the old man couldn’t possibly be serious, then returned to studying the kits. After a few minutes of pondering, he chose a favorite, helped Sanderson return the other kits to the shelf and followed the old man to the cash register.

“You give ‘em hell this year, Digby,” he said, ringing up the kit and putting it in a paper sack. “You hold on to that trophy.”

Digby nodded and grinned. He waved to Sanderson and the skinny clerk as he skipped out the door. The soda can was right where he left it, so he gave it a nice, swift kick.

“That’s a good boy right there,” Sanderson said. “Wish there were more like him.”

“That boy is 22 years old going on two,” the clerk said with a snicker. “What do they call it – water on the brain?”

The old man glared at the clerk before tossing him a plunger from Aisle C.

“Clean the toilet, smart guy,” Sanderson said.

To read more of A Plot for Pridemore, visit Amazon.com or Mercer University Press.

I am NOT a Granddad!

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NOT a photo of me and my child.

NOT a photo of me and my child.

It’s only happened a few times, but I remember each one vividly and painfully, the way you might recall a bee sting or getting a really bad spanking when you were a kid.

The first time happened when my son was just a few weeks old. It was a warm, spring evening and I was pushing him around the neighborhood in his new stroller when we passed a plump, platinum-haired lady who lived across the street from us and whom we knew slightly. In fact, my wife had just purchased a photo print from the lady at her garage sale a few days earlier.

The lady stood before us, stooped toward the stroller to inspect my child, and cooed, “Oh, what a beautiful little grandson you have!”

My mouth dropped open. This batty old bird lived a hundred feet from our home. Surely she knew we had just had a baby. At the very least, she must have noticed the cardboard stork and blue balloons in our yard.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I stammered before pulling the canopy over my son and hurrying back home, frightened and ashamed.

The second time happened just a few months later. I was at home awaiting a service appointment, and I answered the door with the baby in my arms.

“Sorry I’m late, Mr. Roth,” said the handyman with the ripped Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt and the slight stench of marijuana smoke. “Oh, hey, nice grandkid!”

“He’s my son,” I said tersely.

“Wow! My bad! I guess I just—”

“—That’s okay,” I replied. It really wasn’t, though. I felt a strange panic invade my body. Being a new dad in my late 30s, I expected to be the oldest person at my child’s Gymboree music circle and at all the daycare holiday parties. But did people really think I was a grandfather? Was this how it was going to be for me throughout my son’s growing-up years?

“It’s because you’re bald,” one of our less-tactful friends advised, giving me a pitying little pat on the shoulder.

Thankfully, several years passed before another well-meaning stranger mistook my perch in the family tree.

My son wasn’t even with me a few days ago when I purchased a little something for my wife for Mother’s Day.

“What a cool gift,” said, the chatty, 20-something clerk with onyx studs the size of nickels in both of his ears. “Somebody is going to have a very nice Grandmother’s Day!”

My first thought when I heard this comment was to say, “My grandmother is dead.” Then, it dawned on me that he wasn’t talking about my grandma. The clerk was implying that my wife was a grandmother—and I was a granddad.

I just smiled and nodded, anxious to complete the transaction and return to my office, where I will likely toil for 20 more years before reaching the age when most granddads can retire.

This case of mistaken identity is probably going to happen more frequently as I continue to age. Hopefully, at least, people will perceive me as one of the cool grandpas, like the Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World,” or one of those grey-haired guys in a Cialis ad, driving his classic Camaro home and always finding that the light is on in the upstairs bedroom window.

10 Signs That You Have a Really Annoying Cube-Mate

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Closeup portrait of handsome business man using laptop while looking at you

In this world, you don’t get to pick your family—and you almost never get to choose which co-worker sits next to you in the office.

Here are some clear warning signs that you and your assigned cube-mate—the individual who spends more time with you each week than anyone else—may not be compatible:

  • Your cube-mate is in sales, and his “phone voice” is about two decibels louder than the drunk who sat behind you that one time at the hockey game.
  • Your cube-mate likes to slurp reheated Lo Mein and cackle at YouTube videos during the lunch hour.
  • “You got a second?” is the verbal cue that your cube-mate is about to ask you for some marriage advice.
  • Your cube-mate is an accomplished whistler of 1970s light-rock hits.
  • When you ask your cube-mate to stop whistling, he switches to humming—usually “Can We Still Be Friends?” by Todd Rundgren.
  • You never want to borrow your cube-mate’s pens, because those are what he uses to dig the excess wax from his ears.
  • Your cube-mate checks his 401(k) balance daily, and loudly threatens to sell that crappy international fund they’ve got him in.
  • Your cube-mate’s love for every episode of Seinfeld is second only to his love for the New England Patriots.
  • It is well-known throughout the office that your cube-mate does not wash his hands after using the bathroom.
  • After checking Donald Trump’s poll numbers for the day, your cube-mate taunts you by asking “Are you worried yet? Are you worried yet?”

The Moral Bucket List

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Moral Bucket List

This article by New York Times columnist David Brooks is more than a year old, but it is a powerful essay about people we all know who are able to see beyond themselves, and achieve a certain grace and contentment through good works. It’s about those folks who live their lives for a greater purpose than just career success or personal happiness, and how we might all become more like them. If you can carve out a few minutes, “The Moral Bucket List” is well worth reading and reflecting on.

At my age, it’s easy to get wrapped up in career, family life and the ever-growing number of tasks that must be crossed off my to-do list. Life sometimes seems like a series of obligations that need to be met and goals that need to be reached. However, I believe it’s important to take a step back every once in a while to think about my place in the world, my impact on others, and what it truly means to be living a fulfilling, grateful, meaningful life.

In my son’s Kindergarten class, his teacher will sometimes ask the students if what they are doing on a particular assignment is their “best work.” It’s a good question for every stage in life, I think. Is your life today your best work—not only for yourself, but for the people and world around you as well?

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