Trading Khakis for Dickies

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Another clothing item I never thought I’d own.

Note: This piece is about a decision I made pre-pandemic. I’ve saved any Covid-centric content for a separate entry so this one could stand alone regarding career change. Whether you’re still working or you’re looking to make your next move, I hope this brings you value.

After a decade in an office I needed change. It had been a good run working at the local college, starting in a temporary position, then getting hired part-time, and ultimately full-time. In that span I managed to marry my girlfriend, buy a house, have a baby girl, adopt my step-son, and have a baby boy.

The employment benefits were incomparable. I could almost always take time off to play gigs, and the hours were normal enough that I could comfortably do “Live from Stadium Drive” episodes during the week. (Won’t embarrass us by dishing on how demanding our silly show can be.) I also got incredible paternity leave. And it only took 10 minutes from my driveway to my desk whether I drove or biked. Most of all, the insurance rates were unbeatable.

How could I walk away from all that?

I’d hardly walked “toward” it to begin with—I’d just wanted a paycheck to supplement what I earned from music. Being a full-time musician at the level I was at meant agreeing to every possible gig, which started to suck the art and excitement out of performing. (To this day I’d rather play a quality concert for free than treat a show like an uninspired shift of work.)

Of course I liked the idea of helping students achieve their goals, but the job was ultimately means to pursue music and, later, to support my family. My opinion of higher education would change, but even if it hadn’t, I felt urgency to expand my skill set—even if it meant switching to an “unskilled” field.

After years of handling college enrollment, graduation, customer service, records, and some marketing and event planning, I had learned as much I could and effectively hit my ceiling. Since I’d always worked on and studied arts and communication, I considered becoming better rounded and learning a trade—something more tactile, while I was still young enough to devote the necessary hours.

After high school I worked three summers doing landscaping and lawn care, and in recent years had done all the random projects home ownership required, but I’d never really worked a trade full-time. Could I even hack it? I’m the sole financial provider for my family of five, so any kind of career switch would be risky. Humbling, too—I’ve got a Bachelor’s degree (double major: English and Film) that I’d more or less be admitting was a mistake, not to mention I’d suddenly be working with younger people who knew a lot more than me. I’d need to jump in, catch up, and succeed. But which trade?

I started calling friends who worked in carpentry, electricity, plumbing, and metal work. Trying to narrow things down, every answer raised more questions: In- or outdoors? Union or non-? Commercial or residential? Traveling or stationary?

A family friend suggested painting. I hadn’t considered it, though I’d done it a decent amount, and my late grandfather was a painter, and I had a friend from the music scene who was a full-time (and then some) painter. I reached out to that friend and by chance, the custom builder he works for was looking to hire another full-time painter. I picked his brain for over an hour, and beyond the demanding schedule (6am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday) I really couldn’t find a red flag. After a few days I decided I’d submit my resume, if only for the potential chance to chat with someone from the company and glean some insight. Since I was still employed I had no pressure or fear of rejection; I was just hoping for advice.

When I dropped off my resume I happened to catch both owners at the shop, which apparently rarely happens. They offered to talk right then, and I had time, so we sat in a conference room together, chatting while they looked over my resume. We got along very well; my gut told me this could be a good fit. One owner had left an accounting position to start this business, so he could relate to the type of change I was seeking. After a good 15 minutes they stepped out for a second, giving me time to think of any other questions. When they returned we talked a bit more before they told me they’d like to hire me(!), but wanted me to think about it some more, especially since I’d be taking a modest pay cut. They gave me their business cards, we shook hands, and I left, taking a moment to sit in my car before starting it. What just happened?

This was freaky alright. Directly from there I had to head into the college and work as if that meeting hadn’t just happened.

My head swirled that day. I knew everything about the job I’d be leaving, but couldn’t really know what full-time painting would be like until I was immersed. I’d be swapping known for unknown, and getting paid less to do it, though if it worked out I’d eventually earn more than ever. I had my wife’s support, but still, the risk would be one of the biggest I’d ever taken. This opportunity had come much faster than I’d anticipated, if I’d anticipated any opportunity at all.

…I had to seize it. The next evening I called one of the owners to accept the job and confirm a start date. The next morning I solemnly submitted my two-week notice to the place I’d worked for almost ten years—just eight days since I even considered painting! I could hardly believe what I was doing. My co-workers were shocked, too, but they understood, and even threw together a couple farewell parties for me. Until then I’d felt a peculiar assurance. Leaving on such good terms, though, I couldn’t help doubting the decision I made.

But now, two months into my new job, I know I made the right move.

At least for now. (Check back after I’ve scraped [paint off] a few more millionaires’ floors.) A job is a job, but here’s what makes the grass greener:

  • Physicality  — I’d rather be physically tired or even sore compared to the exhaustion from working with people. I hated the idea of draining all my politeness having to be “on” all day, and coming home tight-lipped or crabby to my family when they’re excited to see me. I also burn many more calories during the day, and suddenly spared my body from 40 hours of sitting a week.
  • Simplicity  — The work is refreshingly straight-forward. Emotion is rarely a factor. And there aren’t any meetings, e-mails, or seminars.
  • Accountability — There’s not much room for interpretation. We’re all just expected to get our work done well and efficiently. There’s no hiding incompetence, no defensiveness, and no shifting blame.
  • The vibe — I’m a pretty sensitive guy—I blog, even!—but in an office I felt like a business-casual Andrew Dice Clay. Working a trade I still mostly keep to myself, but it feels so much better to not walk on eggshells. The communication is also refreshingly direct.
  • The learning — Can’t say I’ve mastered painting, prep work, caulking, and sanding yet, but already these are skills I’ll carry forever, that I didn’t have before. (I cringe at the walls I painted in my house as an amateur.) If I ever wanted or needed, I could do this work independently for cash. I’m also trying to glean what I can about the other trades I work around—carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, masonry, flooring, etc.
  • Changing locations — From sitting in the same cubicle every day, to working at different sites in different towns every couple of weeks if not days.
  • Tangible, aesthetic results — There’s little sense of accomplishment from clicking a spreadsheet or list closed once it’s finished. But seeing a skeletal frame evolve into a unique, finished home will never get old.
  • Much more sunlight/fresh air — I still work almost entirely inside, but I’m usually surrounded by windows, and there are plenty of trips in and out of the houses.
  • No screens — Typing this blog has constituted more time staring at a computer screen than I’ve spent in the last two months combined, whereas dual monitors used to assault my eyes eight hours a day.
  • No fluorescent lights — Everything I’d hoped it’d be.
  • No dress code — Ditto!
  • Team work/collaboration — Modern offices like to pride themselves on their collaborative environment, but even with cubicle walls removed, workers are still essentially atomized. In trades, workers are like members of some savage symphony.
  • Leaner schedule/life — After a long day of work, then dinner and family time, it’s pretty much time for me to hit the hay, so without noticing I’ll go days without spending money or having a drink. It’s also got me valuing my free time more than ever, and I somehow do more because I’ve got less time.
  • Job security — The inherent insecurity in any trade is whether a given company can find work to do, so that goes without saying. But as long as I show up and do what I’m supposed to do, I’m set. The beauty of trades work is it will always be needed, it cannot be outsourced overseas, and it cannot be automated.
  • Improvisation — As opposed to micromanagement.

In the interest of fairness, here are the things I don’t like:

  • Early/long hours — I’ve been a night owl forever, so this isn’t natural for me. I’m also worried what this earlier schedule will mean for my social life and creative endeavors, which usually burn midnight oil.
  • Beating up my hands — Lots of scrapes, nicks, and broken nails. Working with caulk, putty, paints, and stains means scrubbing all that stuff off my hands and fingernails every night. Going to be a battle not to wreck my mitts (though my hands are stronger than before).
  • Port-a-potties — Self-explanatory.

In all ways this is rougher work than I’d been used to. I’ve been preferring it, but it’s going to take extra effort to keep it that way. This means a routine of stretching and light exercise every morning and night, but also keeping my mind and heart in good condition, detoxing daily with poetry or philosophy, and sweet, sweet family time.

I needed a lot of encouragement to make this switch, so I wanted to write this and pass some onto others. If you’re not liking your line of work (or lack thereof) I hope this offers some insight. If you’ve got some coordination, brain cells, discipline, and humility, you just might be happier taking on a trade.

Holler if I can help. Or just watch “Office Space”.

Best,

-Matty

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Seen here with a Sherwin-Williams HANDy Paint Pail®, somehow happy at 7am.

 

From Vegetarian to Hunter

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I never, Ever imagined possessing one of these.

I’m 34 and just went deer hunting for the first time. I’ve almost wrapped my head around that—most people get into hunting either early in life or never do at all, and most hunters didn’t used to be vegetarians.

Much as it’s been outside my comfort zone, I’m enthusiastic about it now.  Peer reactions have spanned excitement (“‘Bout frickin’ time!”) and intrigue, to bafflement and disappointment.

For those wondering why I’ve suddenly become this cruel barbarian, I’ve hoisted my otherwise dragging knuckles to type some insight on why 5% of Americans try and shoot animals in [insert current year]. Not long ago I mocked hunting and scorned hunters, so I’ll keep that mentality in mind as I try to improve your opinion.

For anyone interested in hunting, maybe this’ll help you decide if it’s for you. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, and what wisdom was passed onto me from the half-dozen dudes who graciously endured all my rookie questions. Which isn’t to say everyone’s been encouraging—turns out there are some less-than-community-minded hunters out there as well, trying to shut others out. Hopefully I can spare you some of those interactions.

And, for anyone who’s been hunting since they could talk, I hope this will articulate some aspects you’ve been able to take for granted.

My Dietary “Cred”

My evolution’s hardly prescriptive—I’m not telling anyone whether to try hunting and I’m certainly not telling anyone what to eat. But I want to run through my past self-imposed dietary restrictions here, to weaken the misnomer that all hunters are sadistic animal haters.

I was a strict vegetarian for three years—no meat, no fish.  My high school Biology teacher had run down the wastefulness and land degradation of the meat industry, as well as the damage of commercial fishing, and I wanted to be one less contributor. I wasn’t militant or judgmental, just doing what I thought was right, and it helped that I’d always loved veggies. Unfortunately it was probably the least healthy time of my life—I was too young, lacking the discipline and money to make it work well—think cheese pizzas, french fries, shakes, cookies, etc. So after three years I reintroduced poultry and fish to my diet, yet continued to abstain from red meat.

One summer day about two years later, Muddy Udders was on our way to play a private party at some woodsy campground when my mate’s van broke down, just 1,000 feet from the place. We played the show and stayed the night as planned, but we were going to be stuck there another night—two of us would stay with the broken van while the other got a ride back to civilization for parts. Since we hadn’t packed for this, our only food option was the local bar. When we got our second round of bland frozen pizza for the day, this time I couldn’t bring myself to pick off the pepperoni. Unceremoniously, after five years I was back to a wide-open diet.

This remained the case until about five years ago, when a family trip to a farm/petting zoo unexpectedly changed me—the fluffy chicken I was holding reminded me of our cat, the small black cow I was petting reminded me of our dog, and it messed with me.  Silly as that sounds, I was suddenly too sentimental to justify eating meat from any animal I wouldn’t personally want to harm, which was nearly all of them. (That very night I declined free pepperoni pizza after a Muddy Udders show.)

I had, however, caught and filleted fish previously, so having already crossed that rubicon I opted for a pescatarian diet. I stuck to this for another year, before slowly opening my diet back up again. In a word, convenience was what got me, and not just for myself and what was available to me (I painfully recall declining a brat while tailgating), but also not to limit what my wife was cooking for our family. The ethical dilemma just kept gnawing at me (sorry), though, so I developed the practice of sparing a thought of gratitude for any animal that’s died for my meal. I also promised myself I’d get into hunting some far off day, to better understand my place in the food chain.

Connection

Recurring zombie nightmares plagued my childhood—blame a too-early viewing of “Night of the Living Dead” and “Resident Evil” videogames. The scariest thing about zombies is their mindless compulsion to consume, and although they’d haunted my dreams for years, before that fateful lesson in Biology class I’d never been mindful about the resources—farming, ecosystems, raising animals—that went into my meals. Even bland food merits appreciation when considering what it required—cultivation of agriculture, technology invented and employed, how it was transported.

Further, I’ve tried to view food as a source of nourishment and not just a brief thrill for my taste buds. All that effort and sacrifice…what good work can I do with the energy I get from what I eat? What positive action will that precious fuel, fuel? (No, I don’t remember to run through this thought process at every meal, but I’m glad when I do, and I recommend it.)

My wife and I are aiming to be more involved in the process. We’ve stepped up gardening at our house and at a friend’s plot in town they no longer use. We’ve got logs inoculated with mushroom spawn that’ll hopefully bear blue oysters next year, and do a bit of foraging. And we just got a chicken coop, free, from a neighbor who’d built a bigger one—we plan to raise four chicks next year, and look forward to all the fresh eggs. None of this is groundbreaking; we’re just trying to maximize our ability to produce our own food. And to be as self-sufficient and organic as possible, I’ve now ventured into hunting.

The Culture

Though my wife fully supports this venture, some friends and co-workers have disapproved my getting into hunting. But why? Why would someone who eats meat, and watches violent movies and shows, be offended by hunting?

Well, I always hated the culture. My impression of hunters came from the lunkheaded, truck-revving types from high school. Guys who managed to scoff at art and trash nature. The target market of “I LOVE ANIMALS—THEY’RE DELICIOUS” t-shirts.

I was proud to have nothing in common with those people, so it’s been humbling to learn not all hunters are like that. The guys who helped me get started are typically in it for the same reasons: they aspire to provide quality food for their families, while revering nature and respecting animals. If anything they’re fascinated by deer and know a ton about them. As one said, “If you’re not at least a little sad when you take a deer’s life, you probably shouldn’t be hunting.”

These decent people are what you’d call True Sportsmen™—taking only what they need, legally and ethically, while appreciating solitude in wilderness. Hunters will sit still and quiet in the woods, immersed, doing little more than watching and listening to nature for anywhere from four to ten hours.

I loved that part of it. 40 hours every week I stare at two large computer screens two feet from my face, then spend my lunch breaks reading, and read more before bed. It felt so good on my eyes to just sort of bathe them in nature for such long stretches.

And the sounds…About half an hour after getting to my ground blind (sort of like a tent for hunting) the woods would start to forget I was there, and between all the strange bird sounds, the fighting squirrels, and howling coyotes, it’d almost get loud around me.

It was incredible to be out there sitting still at sunrise and sunset. I’d close and open my eyes and by faint degrees it’d get lighter or darker. I realize this experience isn’t exclusively reserved for hunters, but I had never sat alone in the woods for so long, nor had I ever woken up that early for anything other than catching a flight.

Why Now?

I’d been building myself up to address my ethical dilemma about eating meat, and apparently this was the year. For so long I had tacitly approved the hiring of an animal killer, while clinging to moral superiority as if I weren’t still responsible for animals’ deaths. I ignored that personal hypocrisy as long as I could.

I’ll also admit that I wanted a gun for home defense. Obviously I don’t think I’ll ever need to use it (I wouldn’t live where I do if I had actual worry), but I love my family so much that I couldn’t justify being defenseless when I didn’t need to be.

Perhaps the biggest driver was the encouragement of my brother-in-law, who was willing if not eager to mentor me, this season, based off the interest I’d expressed. And another one of my good friends was getting back into hunting after a six-year break, and couldn’t have been cooler about helping me get the right gear—most of which was seriously discounted at a local store that happened to be closing. (That timing was also significant to my pursuing this so suddenly.)

Another key factor is my teenage son is interested in hunting, and I wanted to be able to be there for him to foster that interest in a positive (i.e. not lunkheaded) way. I’d only ever shot a handgun before this year, and I wanted to better understand firearms and hunting before he started getting into it. Not that I’m an expert hunter now, or ever will be, but the crash course I embarked on to get ready for deer season, as well as the hours of wisdom I’ve gotten from friends, will be something of a gift I can give to my son, and will help me steer him more to the True Sportsman™ side.

So… Did Ya Get Anything?

Errrr no. Unfortunately not. The big excitement my first weekend was a bird flying into my blind, back-to-back mornings. In fact I didn’t even encounter a deer until my fourth and final day. That morning one spotted me from behind and started snorting and stomping at me, running off before I could even see it. Then that evening at dusk, just outside my range, a couple of does went leaping by, but because of my license I could only shoot a buck. Day three had been particularly cold and uneventful, so I was very happy to finally hear and see some.

Deer hunting’s a lot harder than I imagined. It’s impossible to mask our scent from them, so playing the wind is vital. And their hearing is almost as acute as their sense of smell. One guy I know apparently just shot his first after ten years trying.

I plan on doing more scouting this off-season, maybe even setting up trail cameras. I also plan to do more target practice, as I’d really only had a week to get the hang of it.

Which brings me to the coolest thing that happened from all of this:

The last day possible, I went to an outdoor shooting range to test out my scope/aim, a place I’d never been, and I’m a bit lost, not seeing any staff around. A truck had pulled in shortly after I parked, and two older guys got out. One walked off, while the other sort of stood in the back looking as unsure as I was. After a minute I went up and asked him, “Excuse me, have you been here before?”

He turns and says, “No, sir.”

AND IT’S MIKE FREAKING MCCARTHY! Go figure, he’s there, and he’s about as inexperienced as me, because he’s been coaching football for thirty-some years every fall during deer season. We chatted very briefly about hunting and wished each other luck. Wow! I even somehow played it somewhat cool! (No way could I tell him about Live from Stadium Drive.) I was stupid excited to meet him, though, so shooting accurately with my nerves that fired-up sort of simulated the excitement of having a deer in my sights. Thanks, Coach!

Although I can’t know how long it’ll be until I get my first deer, this thing’s been great so far. I’ve learned a ton about wildlife, I’ve demystified guns, had some new experiences well outside my comfort zone, and have taken steps toward making peace with my diet. In fact I’ve already applied for a turkey hunting license for spring, and who knows? Maybe what I started this year will eventually culminate in enough venison, turkey, duck, and fish to feed my family year-round—an alternative method for us to not contribute to the environmental devastation of the meat industry.

I hope you enjoyed this or even found it helpful. Hit me with any questions at all!

-Matty

P.S. Killing to live is one mighty paradox. The burden of our position on the food chain leaves few free of hypocrisy. I’m trying to square as many of my circles as possible, and I hope you can too, even if it calls for a very different path than mine.

Politics Sucks

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Even the local stuff, apparently, as borne out by the results of yesterday’s mayoral primary.

This is indeed a “sour grapes” post, but maybe not how you’d imagine. If you’re feeling sweet, perhaps after reading you’ll share some advice.

So who’d Green Bay get? Two guys with—for better or worse—experience in local politics, who by all accounts outspent their competition, in some cases vastly. Nothing shocking or blog-worthy there.

What’s disappointing about these candidates, though, is they are essentially proxies for their respective political parties, in a mayoral race which, to my understanding, disregards party affiliation.

In other words, I spent three precious hours of my weekend researching eight primary candidates and all I got were these lazy Team Red™/Team Blue™ choices. Hashtag-democracy.

Out of principle and respect for the supposed political impartiality of mayoral races, I’d concluded that neither of the blatantly party-affiliated candidates would get my vote. I strive to be an independent person and that absolutely extends to my politics, so I was excited by the prospect of a race requiring partisan voters to look for more than an “R” or “D” next to someone’s name. We might all learn something!

Alas, nope. Political dependence prevails. (We await word on water’s wetness.)

If I sound naive, I suppose I am. I had never voted for mayor before, let alone in a mayoral primary. Parenthood must have spurred my sense of civic duty. But I was especially drawn to the political ambiguity of this race, so I’m dismayed by the outcome, and doubt I’ll vote in April’s election.

It was still heartening to become aware of some quality local people I’d otherwise not know. And this was a great way to learn about the city’s under discussed (see: non-road) issues, such as the capital-D Debt, water infrastructure, plans/cost for a new police station, and lots more. There are some real, ongoing messes, and I’d been pitifully unaware.

Frankly, heaven help whichever of these masochists gets the job. If you’re going to vote, I might suggest the guy whose blame placement you think you’ll prefer.

Already dreading the next election,

-Matty

 

Six Kicks for Someday

I hate saying no! I want to do far more than time allows. To find some peace, I’ve decided these six activities can wait for when I’m older, slower, and sorer.

  • Bowling league
  • Cribbage tournaments
  • Watch “The Sopranos”, “The Wire”, and any number of series I’m sure are fantastic, yet eat tons of hours.
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Hunting/Fishing/Icefishing
  • DJing

Yeah. Much as I’d like to do/try those activities now, I’ll save them for the coming decades. And really, if I never get to them, it wouldn’t torment my soul—”I sense a disturbing presence in this house…as if its former owner never finished ‘Game of Thrones’!”

It’s hardly as if I delay all gratification, in fact, partially thanks to the best TV show of all time. I may have solved the mystery of the “Time Enough at Last” episode of “The Twilight Zone”—there’s long been debate as to why the perfectly lovable Mr. Bemis should suffer the cruel fate of breaking his glasses the moment he, at last, gets endless time to read. Some feel the twist exemplifies the (alleged) misanthropy of the show’s creator-writer, Rod Serling. But I think it’s ultimately an allegory to warn against putting off what you love.

Right now my spare time goes to my sweet kids, wife, and friends, and to hobbies involving music, the written word, film, politics, history, sociology, and home improvement. These are too urgent or fleeting to not enjoy now, whereas the activities I listed above can wait. Only retirees should place a premium on time-killing amusement.

Just doing some mental maintenance—I just had a birthday, and visited my grandma at her retirement home, so I can’t help but size up the next (hopefully) two-thirds of my life.

What can you afford to put off? It sucks to say no, but I found it useful to define at least a few activities that can wait.

-Matty

PS. I just finished the manuscript for the book I ghostwrote, so I’m suddenly able to jump on here more often. See you ‘round!

PPS. Apparently “The Twilight Zone” is being rebooted. SACRILEGE.

In Memoriam: Mike McCarthy

by Andrew Hetzel, thirdeyegraphics.net

It dawned on me shortly after he was fired: Mike McCarthy is my all-time favorite coach. Not the best, but my personal favorite. I hadn’t realized this, even with my Twitter handle—borrowed from one of Mac’s classic phrases—staring me in the face.

McCarthy was hired exactly a month before Muddy Udders’ first show—my longest-running band. I’m a sentimental guy, but my admiration for Big Mac wasn’t just tied to time. Nor did it have to do with all the mileage we got joking about him over five seasons of my Packers comedy show. Just like with Ted Thompson, or anyone else Tommy or I impersonate, it’s good natured, and we’d only send up someone we like.

Why I Like(d) Mike

In a broadcast of one of McCarthy’s first games, the commentator (thinking Joe Buck [sorry]) smugly remarked Mike looked more like an equipment assistant than Head Coach. Maybe that got me defensive and endeared me right away, but I always rooted for McCarthy.

He’d occasionally baffle or even infuriate me, particularly his decisions in the last minutes of first halves, and the old fullback dives—I could go on. But overall I think he’s a great coach. Bill Belichick agrees.

In fact McCarthy purposefully modeled himself on Belichick, particularly in his press conferences, where he wanted to fulfill his duties at the podium and leave without revealing anything significant to his competition. McCarthy once called this intentional approach Boring By Design™. Some of us saw it as a hilarious art, especially when Mike allowed the mask to slip. Others grew frustrated with Mac’s lack of charisma and his dull answers.

Creating headlines was never as important to McCarthy as the messaging he sent to and about his team. Up until Ty Montgomery’s game-killing gaffe in Los Angeles this year, I’d never heard McCarthy single out one of his players publicly, and even then it was just shortly before Montgomery was jettisoned.

As long as his locker room was on board and guys had “bought in,” McCarthy was allowed to impart his philosophy, and while he’s no Jung or Nietzsche, I’ve taken two of his concepts to heart. Perhaps for these two ideas alone I’ll always appreciate Mac’s tenure. Please forgive my paraphrasing and misquotes.

  1. “Our biggest challenge will be handling success.”

McCarthy gave this response during his first press conference as Head Coach. He said it matter-of-factly—he’s not a cocky guy, he’s Pittsburgh Macho. McCarthy’s been proven right, too—Aaron Rodgers claimed in years after winning Super Bowl XLV that the team wasn’t hungry like they used to be. (Mac just as easily could have been referring to spoiled Packer fans.)

Real success (allegedly) is a result of commitment to principles and passion, and ideally enjoying the process, rather than tunnel vision on the reward. Once achieved, though, success can warp the mentality of a person or unit. Imagine a band that starts out wanting to, say, rock, who then makes a hit album, and suddenly becomes more concerned with making another hit album than, say, rocking. Good life advice from an unexpected source.

2. “Don’t let fear dictate your decisions.”

McCarthy responded with this bit of wisdom when a reporter asked if Mac would consider sitting a player who had just been cleared from injury (I believe Jordy Nelson). And I love it. Fear can sink so many otherwise positive pursuits. Yes, I actually think of Mike freaking McCarthy when I catch myself justifying surrender, or start to talk myself out of something, and I’ll instead try to focus on the upside and potential rewards. If I’m driving and being tailed by a cop, good ol’ Mac’s advice helps me focus on driving well, instead of trying to just not drive poorly. Maybe this stuff is natural to you, but I’ll continue to get value from it, long after the Big Mac Era.

Goodbye, Big Guy

Should the Packers have fired McCarthy? A serious concern with any long-tenured coach is whether players will grow numb to the message and tune out. Perhaps one person’s voice can only be a source of inspiration for so long before it loses impact, and perhaps McCarthy had finally lost his locker room.

On the other hand, was that locker room simply lacking talent? Examinations of the Packers’ last three drafts have shown how bare the cupboard’s become, and between Aaron Rodgers’ struggles in 2018 and other significant injuries, there was an argument to be made in McCarthy’s favor—that he just did not have the (experienced) players to run the type of team he wanted. Still, coaches are supposed to coach the team they have, not the team they wish they had. I’m not sure McCarthy did that well enough this year.

Maddening officiating, injuries, and lapses in individual players’ judgment or execution all factored into this season’s failures, which could’ve helped make the case for keeping McCarthy—that these misfortunes weren’t his fault, that not even Belichick could’ve overcome them. But these issues all fall under the blanket term of adversity, which was something Mac had always handled with solemnity. Other than Rodgers’ individual Week 1 heroics, the Packers did not handle adversity well enough in 2018, and that’s on the Head Coach.

I was shocked that McCarthy was fired mid-season. However, I was also shocked his team lost to a very bad Cardinals team, at home, in the first game of a potential run. Mac’s future depended on how his team played out the season, though. Sunday’s brutal loss sealed his fate, and he surely knew it.

Mike was especially emotional in his press conference immediately following the Packers’ loss at Seattle, but since then he seemed more resigned, if not delivering his words as an audition for his next job in the NFL. Though no Packers Head Coach had ever been fired mid-season, breaking precedent and letting McCarthy go early not only spares him a four-game humiliation lap, but also grants a head-start on finding his next gig.

Some other team will be lucky to hire him. If McCarthy’s in-game decisions could drive me nuts, I think he was the right guy for a very unique job, whose leadership skills we either took for granted or flourished outside public view, and though it’s time to move on, he deserved to be Head Coach as long as he was.

Who Will the Packers Hire Next?

I mildly worry the organization has overestimated the appeal of being the next Packers Head Coach. A case can be made as to Rodgers’ insubordination this year: anything from a bad attitude to changing his coach’s plays.

I’d written something about McCarthy in January 2018:

We only see a fraction of McCarthy’s relationships with his players, but by all accounts, Mac’s a players’ coach. Sure, Aaron Rodgers probably thinks he’s smarter than Mac, but as long as Rodgers doesn’t rebel, what team wouldn’t want a quarterback that competitive?

We saw signs of rebellion this season. At 35, Rodgers has a right to feel a sense of urgency, but he himself was hardly blameless, missing throws, not seeing open receivers, handing off to Aaron Jones resulting in a game-changing safety. I also wondered what role in the mess now-interim Head Coach Joe Philbin had played as Offensive Coordinator. Were Rodgers’ comments of offensive staleness veiled barbs thrown at the OC in his second stint in Green Bay?

While Rodgers never criticized McCarthy outright, he sure didn’t stand up for him. As Rodgers—deservedly—has influence in the organization, I don’t know how positive a message his (in)actions have put out to potential Head Coach candidates.

I know, it might be nothing—maybe every coach alive wants to work with Rodgers regardless. I hope Aaron learned well from witnessing Favre’s special treatment his last few years in Green Bay. Then again, Favre was about Rodgers’ age when McCarthy was hired, and that was fruitful.

What’s clear is the team must find someone Rodgers will genuinely respect. This probably means someone with NFL experience, as opposed to some hot college coach with a flashy playbook that’s never been tested in the pros.

This is hardly a hot take, but, gun to my head, I’d take Josh McDaniels as McCarthy’s successor.

My son—who was two years old when Mac was hired—had a wild idea: what if the Packers got McDaniels as Head Coach, and the Patriots got McCarthy as Offensive Coordinator? A Belichick-McCarthy partnership could be terrifying for other teams. Wherever Mike ends up, we have zero say in where he takes his talents next. Will haters be forced to retroactively respect him?

I’m a die-hard Packer fan, and I’ll manage to trust in whoever Gutekunst/Murphy/Rodgers choose to hire. But Big Mac’s left some giant shoes to fill.

Thanks for reading. Go Pack,

-Matty

Review: Modest Mouse at Brown County Arena, 9/19/18

 

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Per Isaac Brock’s banter, he was once gifted one of these.

With apologies to Duluth and LaCrosse, Modest Mouse was great in GB last night! I regretted missing James Leg in Appleton (he’s playing in Green Bay tonight if you did, too [I’ll be filming LFSD and can’t attend]), though I’ve seen him maybe 5 times, and had only seen Modest Mouse once.

MM were hands-down my favorite band when I was a moody 15-year-old. I listened exclusively to their 1996-2001 catalog for a year straight—it was just all I wanted to hear. I fell for rock’n’roll and lost interest in indie rock by the time “Float On” became a surprise mega-hit, and never bought the “Good News…” album, but they earned success and even if I was detached I was happy for them. I did get to see them in ’04, but it was in the horrible echo chamber of Milwaukee’s Eagles Ballroom and I wasn’t not un-sober, so it wasn’t terribly memorable.

Since then I may not have listened to MM at all, not that I grew to dislike or disown them, more that falling down the rock’n’roll rabbit hole was a capital P- capital S- Paradigm Shift for me and other than Pixies and Weezer I didn’t do much looking back.

Sure did last night, though. I wound up going solo, obligated not only to my former passionate fandom, but to the venue itself, as this concert’s slated to be the last event to be held at the good ol’ Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, where as a pup I’d attended countless UWGB basketball games, my first Bob Dylan concert, a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert, and a WWF house show, among other events.

Before I went I had to drop fliers at Frets for the Black Pussy/Muddy Udders show and was running about 15 minutes late, but not sweating it, nor even listening to MM to get pumped. I planned on parking not-close/for free and hoofing it, meaning I’d miss at least the first 20 minutes. Once in my life I would’ve driven 10 hours to see this band, and here I couldn’t even be on time for their concert in my city. Part of my delay was strategic, though, to check for confirmation the show was even happening—after last-minute canceling the previous two nights’ concerts there was good reason to doubt whether this $30 show would go on.

Pulling onto Oneida it didn’t appear anyone was charging for parking across the street at Lambeau Field, so Good News #1: parking close, for free!

I scuttled through the light rain to a box office area dead and shut down. The security/ticket collectors seemed confused to see me arrive so late, but I spotted someone in the dark behind the glass window. I asked for a ticket, and she gave me one. GAVE. No. Charge. WOW!! Good News #2: free entry! When does that happen?! Surely this was out of pity, as I’d missed half the show.

…But inside, there’s only this quiet disco music playing. My goodness: they hadn’t even started yet! Good News #3 (with apologies to the opening act): great timing!

Show notes:

  • About two minutes after I got there they opened with this! I wondered if the unexcited fans thought it was a new song they hadn’t heard, and in general, what the band’s setlist debate is like when it comes to older vs. newer material. Isaac botched the middle guitar part badly, which he’d later apologize for, but at the time I wondered if it meant we were in for a messy one, especially in light of his recent enigmatic cancellations.
  • The crowd was pretty stiff, but there were definitely some fun people up front. (During the wait for the encore they were yelling and singing anything from “November Rain” to the ditty from “Great White North”.)
  • “Cowboy Dan” was huge and awesome.
  • “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” was truly bonkers. Real highlight.
  • When they came back for the encore a nearby fan yelled “Don’t play ‘Float On’!” Not that you’d get to choose, but wouldn’t it be weird if your first/by-far-biggest song was an anthem?
  • It was wild to share this experience with several hundred others, as this was a band that was pretty personal to me when I was younger and was selective of who I’d even “show” their music to.
  • Whatever song they played to start their encore was real cool. If you know it, please let me know, but I’m thinking it could be a new one.
  • There was an unexpected mix of uptight hipsters and too-loose hippies, which is to say I expected the former, but when did hippies get into MM? Guess I missed that, and was a little shocked as I realized how many people there were messed up but not drunk, if you catch me. Kinda cool, though—perhaps Brock’s lyrics will help break their former dispostion to jibbooing.
  • I  hadn’t been in the arena in at least 15 years, so it seemed way smaller than it used to. At one point I walked through the concession area where in sixth grade I punched a kid for telling me I looked “like [the brothers in the band] Hanson.” Ah, memories.
  • No “Dramamine” or “Truckers Atlas”, but they couldn’t play ’em all. I was grateful for all the older tunes, and without really knowing the post-2001 material (jeez that’s a while ago) I still enjoyed the way it came off live. In my checking for updates on whether the band had canceled, I found a number of tweets disparaging their recent live performances, so maybe I just caught them on a particularly great night. Or, a band this eccentric was just never meant for the masses.
  • It felt like we got a unique performance on account of it being a smaller crowd, and because it was infused with whatever weird energy/gravity they carried from the previous nights’ cancellations.

It was confusing, it wasn’t particularly well attended (though I really can’t think of a GB venue that would’ve made more sense—Distillery/Badger State/Backstage at Meyer would’ve been too small, and the arena would’ve been next biggest, it’s just too sizable a step up), but whatever it was I’m grateful it happened and glad I went. If that mystery song I dug is indeed new material, it all unexpectedly adds to my renewed interest in the group. Isaac is still a profound dude who nowadays must be as confident in his weirdness as he is bored by it, and though I took a ~15-year break it turns out I still want to hear what he has to say.

Hello again, Modest Mouse fandom, and bye-bye, Brown County Arena.

-Matty

UPDATE: The song that was new to me was “Sugar Boats”, off 2015 album “Strangers to Ourselves”:

Pro-Parenthood Propaganda!

A single day:

  • I just got to show my 14-year-old son 1964’s “Fistful of Dollars” for the first time, per his request, and he liked it—all the more after I pointed out ways it influenced some of his favorite shows (e.g. “Samurai Jack”) and movies (i.e. Indiana Jones flicks).
  • Earlier today he, his 2-year-old sister, and I played on our karaoke machine; my daughter had asked to “sing mic’phone.” All we messed with was KISS.
  • At dinner my daughter, who I’m absolutely crazy about, told me she loved me, without me saying it to her first, for the first time.
  • My six-week-old son has just started cracking smiles, begun letting out these cute sighs, and is getting tighter with me every hour. Tonight I sang Johnny Cash songs to him while we bounced on an exercise ball.
  • I wound up singing those songs to my daughter, too; I sing to her every night, and even though she has her standard requests (“Happy”—her name for Raffi—and “James” [Brown’s “Try Me”]), Dada is running low on songs he hasn’t sung her yet.

My wife and I marvel at it all together and tell the other anything we missed. It’s five of us in this house now, with a teen and two tykes (home birth #2 was as awesome as the first one, by the way) and it’s really quite good here.

There’s a selflessly selfish (and vice-versa) nature to parenthood that only makes sense to parents. One way to put it is I work very hard for them, and they give me something to work for. I’ll forego badly needed sleep to hang with them, and it’s better than coffee.

It is very, very difficult at times. That recent week after our son was born and my wife was on her prescribed bed rest, I was basically a single father of three. It was downright scary, but I made it.

Everyday there’s unexpected stuff to get through, but I’m unexpectedly ready for it—think of how long humans have raised kids, and here we’ve inherited all that, professionals before we’ve even tried. I’m writing about parenthood entirely positively now, when the kids are all asleep, even though in the thick of it I’ll wonder what on earth I was thinking.

I love it, though. Dig what I can write with all sincerity: I love my kids, I love being their dad, I love my wife, and I love that she loves being their mom.

It’s hard to believe! Even harder to wrap my head around is that I never wanted any of it. The feeling I get when I consider life without kids is like retroactive FOMO, where I get freaked that I could have missed out on this. There was no way I could have known how great it is without experiencing it first-hand. I’ve gone from not wanting any kids to wishing I’d started sooner.

I write this for anyone who hasn’t 100% declared they’re not having kids. If you’re at all open to it I hope this blog paints parenthood in a rare positive light—or, if it unintentionally makes a horrible case, I hope it leads you to a more purposeful decision to not have kids. I dread how many people will simply default to childlessness because it’s suddenly too late, or they’d never made it a priority. If adoption isn’t on the table, ladies who want to go through pregnancy should likely start before age 35.

If you already have kids, think you might, or have one on the way, I’m writing this as a boost or reminder why it’s worth the effort and limited party time (though I may still manage more of that than most non-parents).

If you don’t have kids, I don’t think you get enough evidence in favor of parenthood. People generally don’t like removing themselves from an enjoyable moment for the sake of sharing it with people who aren’t involved…unless I just completely misunderstood social media.

Anyway, having kids has been transformative for me, in great ways, and it’d be jerky of me to keep it secret and hog it for myself.

What’s Different

I like having my mind changed, and nothing’s floored me like parenthood, not even banana peels or wild oats. Growing up I didn’t particularly want kids or picture myself with them, even if I didn’t explicitly write off the possibility. Eventually, though, I established enough serious reasons to be against it:

1. I’d always held myself in low esteem, was depressive, and didn’t want to pass on that temperament to someone else.

2. Since 10th-grade biology—an influential class that converted me (for three years) to a vegetarian diet—I’d worried about overpopulation and its detrimental effect on the environment.

3. I was afraid to fall in love because I was afraid of being trapped in a relationship with one person forever, and I figured I’d have to do that before having kids would be an option.

I’ll address how I resolved those in reverse order.

3. I fell in love, with someone who already had a kid.

2. Resources are still limited and conservation is still essential to survival. To follow the logic of “Idiocracy”, though, wouldn’t people concerned about the environment be ideal to raise the next generation? Taken to its extreme, if everyone who cares about the planet stops having kids, in what kinds of hands does that leave it? And who’s to say your hypothetical kid, based on your pro-Mother Nature nurturing, wouldn’t invent a device or process that saves Earth?

1. On-going. I always thought only stupid people were happy. At some point I realized, thankfully, that happiness is actually very hard, but it’s possible and worth the work. I wouldn’t suggest to anyone to have kids just to make themselves happy, but my effort to be a good parent has made me happier than I ever thought I could feel.

Again, more than anything I’m putting this out there to communicate the incredible rewards of parenthood, and the ways it’s fulfilling that childless adults cannot comprehend. Parents will publicly complain a lot about the diapers and stresses, and if that’s all a non-parent sees, they’ll understandably want to pass. Like with a friend who only whines about a significant other, you don’t hear enough about the good times.

Some parents, however, try to show how great it is and only give it a bad rap.

Poor Arguments for Parenthood

We see plenty of cases made for having kids, in the form of pictures and family updates on social media, but before I had kids I’d scroll right past, didn’t care. Some of the posts are ostentatious—“Look how great my life is!”—and objectively annoying. Or, these parents are self-effacing in a way that rightly baffles people who don’t have kids, like literally replacing their own online profile picture with one of their kid(s). Kids should be parents’ primary concern, but part of being good parents is to be well rounded with lives and personalities of their own. Social media creates for some people a misguided sense of competition—a contest, in this case, of who can sacrifice more for their kids. It’s bad optics for parenthood.

Poor Arguments against Parenthood

This feeds into an increasing prevalence of anti-natalism—the stance against having kids. There are approximately one million think-pieces online promoting anti-natalism  for every pro-natalist one.

There’s an odd ethno-masochistic bent to these writings, though—they’re peculiarly directed at writers’ own Western countries that already have low/lowering birth rates. If procreation itself is problematic, why not target the most prolific “offenders?” Makes it tough to take the positions seriously. I’d imagine the argument for fewer babies specifically in the West has to do with our larger carbon footprint. But really? Is the only way to reduce our impact to reduce us? Why be so fatalistic about consumption?

There’s little good that comes from these pieces. If there’s to be any result it’s that thoughtful people will be convinced to not have kids, leaving a vacuum to be filled only by the less thoughtful, and boom—swear this is the last I’ll mention it— “Idiocracy”.

The philosophical argument for anti-natalism is, more or less, that life involves more suffering than pleasure, therefore it’s cruel to create life. But that’s like saying baseball shouldn’t be played because even the best batters miss more than they hit. To eradicate human suffering you’d have to exterminate humans—that’s somehow humane?

Pets Suck Compared to Kids

millenial

Not that pets suck. Earlier this year I wrote a 2500-word, sentimental tribute to my dog Batman. It’d be harder to find that much to say about our cat Foxy, but I’m a big fan of hers, too. I’ve always had pets and always will.

But I fear too many adults think they’re getting a kid substitute from having a pet. “Lady and the Tramp” illustrates the difference well—the dog feeling totally ignored for his owners’ new baby is pretty accurate. But it’s not because people love their pets less, so much as you love your kids infinitely more. Even as a lifelong pet owner, before fatherhood I had no clue of my real capacity for love and care.

People can call themselves whatever they want: a dog dad, cat mom, pet parent, chinchilla elder, whatever. Kiss your “dog-ter” good night, cool! Enjoy pet ownership, and may your pet enjoy being owned by you. Be great at it! It rules to have a four-legged friend.

But if you still think of a pet as your kid, I put forth the following:

  • If a pet is a kid, is a kid a pet? Are you, then, your parents’ pet?
  • Did your parents have a pet—and did they treat you any differently from their pet? Were their relationships with you and their pet equally meaningful?
  • You’re very fortunate if your dog lives 15 years, likewise if your cat lives 20.
  • Dogs have the average intelligence of a 2-year-old human.
  • Pets won’t take care of you when you’re old.
  • Pets cannot bear you grandchildren.
  • You and your pet cannot impart wisdom upon each other.
  • Or truly share a human experience together.

Caring for animals predicts good parenting—if you like owning a pet you’ll love having a kid. And if you like animals you’re in luck, because your kid probably will, too, and if you let them care for a pet it will help teach them compassion among other virtues.

Our society needs good people infinitely more than good dogs.

Selfishness, Ego, Etc.

Some people think it’s egotistical to want to have kids—“I’m so great that my genes deserve to live on.” Beyond Genghis Khan I really don’t think people have that conscious thought.

Still, I’d ask what’s more egotistical: choosing to have a baby, or choosing to singlehandedly stop the miraculous chain of reproductive success that every single one of your ancestors has maintained for thousands of years? That incredible, impossible lineage stops with you because…you want to travel (which, parents can if they want to), or don’t think you can afford a kid (ditto), or want to focus on your career (thritto), or for women, you don’t want to “wreck” your body (newsflash: time wrecks all our bodies regardless).

Further, do you want a better society? This blog isn’t just about having kids, but raising them, and parental input bears immensely on children’s IQ. We talk about the virtue of “paying it forward”—is there a greater way to do so than raising a good kid? Your parents did it for you, after all–or, if they were bad parents it’s likely because their own parents raised them poorly, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more virtuous undertaking than breaking a cycle of bad parenting. Parental effort could have even saved the lives destroyed by 26 of the 27 deadliest shooters in American history—mass murderers who were fatherless.

I believe parents themselves gain empathy for all people, not just their own kids. After nine vulnerable months of worry and wonder, to holding your baby’s helpless frame, you’ll develop a newfound awe that any of us have ever survived, let alone gone on to accomplish anything. Life’s cruelties will never seem crueler after witnessing the mystery and fragility of childbirth. Life is richer knowing we’ve all had a miraculous origin.

Bad Advice

I don’t have regret, nor shame, nor am I trying to normalize something deviant or degenerate by advocating parenthood. This is something that works for me, and it could for you, too.

Too many have internalized what I consider bad advice—that a corporate job is freedom, and parenthood is slavery.

Bad advice comes from people either trying to exploit you, or trying to help normalize their own questionable decision, or simply trying to drag you down to their own level of misery. I’m trying to offer something positive here, even if it’s just something to keep in mind—raising kids has helped lift me out of what was a very low place. I’ve got nothing to personally gain from elaborating on my opinion—if anything I’m afraid I’ll hurt feelings of people already committed to not having kids, or who don’t want to stress or face urgency about a big decision. Of course my goal isn’t to hurt anyone who’d take the time to read this, though it’s admittedly odd to find myself worried my pro-natalist position might be offensive.

But if you’ve read this and as a result are even firmer in your resolve to not have kids, I’m sincerely happy for that, too. My main worry is people don’t consciously decide to have kids or not, nor are we encouraged to—we’re so stimulated and distracted, if not infantilized ourselves, that before we decide the decision can be made for us, biologically. Ovaries don’t get the memo that “50 is the new 30,” or whatever some feel-good fad tells us.

Good Advice

“It’s all technicolor now.”

One of my mates texted me that the day our daughter was born, and he was too right. Other than falling in love, getting to raise a kid from birth has been the best thing I’ve ever gotten to do. I feel so fortunate to start again with my new son.

But even then, adoption is also wonderful (regardless of what some blogs claim). If raising my son since he was six hasn’t been right up there with raising my daughter since she was born, it’s because I missed his precious, early, formative years. In almost nine years together he and I have gotten tight as could be, but it does bum me out that I didn’t know him sooner, that I didn’t even know he existed when he was learning to walk or talk, or the first time he, I don’t know…blew bubbles or was moved by music. All those first moments are incredible.

Still, don’t have kids if you just want a human pet to love you, or, god, if you want to ensnare the other parent into a relationship or child support. Do have kids if you are in a stable relationship and can rely on earning money—and if you have those going but don’t want kids, ask yourself: what are you doing it for?

I will say that if you don’t want to have kids, at least do cool crap with your time. Really, really do it. Go out, take risks, travel, create, spend time with friends and family—do more than just sit home and watch shows you won’t remember. I’ve got older friends who don’t have kids, but also have a seriously commendable zest for life, though they are mighty rare.

If you don’t want kids, though, don’t date someone who might. If you’ve made your mind up it’d be cruel to not have that conversation and potentially waste someone else’s time and hopes.

It’s a very personal decision, and you should feel lucky if you even get to decide, so I’m hardly suggesting everyone have kids. But I am telling you having kids is awesome. It’s hard, but so is anything worth doing.

Humbly celebrating a house full of babies and love, and the best years of my life,

-Matty

P.S. I know next to nothing regarding in vitro fertilization, or any kind of egg or sperm freezing, but that’s certainly a possibility if you want to maintain the option.

P.P.S. I’d only just heard this, but there are some interesting correlations between pregnancy and reduced breast cancer risk.

All I Wanna Do (Is Rock’n’Roll)

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Every now n’ then I’d try to find this one incredible Protex song on YouTube—I’d heard it once years back, but didn’t remember its name, and the recording was too lo-fi for the lyrics to stand out. I excitedly bought their “Strange Obsessions” album the first time I came across it, because I swore the video file had the cover art for its picture. I liked the album okay…but my long-lost mystery song wasn’t on it.

Today I was again haunted by its memory, and I just couldn’t stands it no mo’. If it were still on YouTube, I would find it if it meant clicking every last Protex song on the site.

That’s about what it took. But YES! Found!!! That sweet, simple guitar lead, those longing verses, that poppy bridge, that chorus that says all that needs sayin’.

I’m thrilled, I’m sharing it whether you like it a sixteenth as much as I do, and stashing it on this here blog in case I forget it later. I’ve listened seven times and counting today and can’t get over it! I do hope you like it:

 

 

All I’ve been able to find is that it was recorded in 1979 for an EP that was “canceled.” It doesn’t appear any physical copies are out there.

The internet’s disgusting lately with this new level of privacy invasion on Facebook, a YouTube comedian facing jail time for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to mock Nazis to annoy her, and my growing loathing for Spotify and Netflix. It feels good to feel good about the worldwideweb today, for providing me this song I’d been missing so badly. Oh sure, and I appreciate having this blog at the ready.

Will try and write more soon. Hey, reader: you’re alright!

-MD

Dog Blog

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Guitar case Bat cave.

My family went on vacation last month and although he drives me nuts, bidding our dog adieu was surprisingly sentimental. For his fifth birthday and an exercise in gratitude, here’s an ode to my odorous doofus. I hope dog people past, present, and future will enjoy our story of rescuing Batman.

Batman’s our handsome lab/Australian cattle dog.  His shiny coat’s all black save a white patch on his chest not unlike the Bat symbol and another white splotch on his left paw—his “magic paw”—the one the punk used to convince me to adopt him when I had no intention to.

Dunning-Kruger may extend to dog ownership, but we think Bat’s smarter than average. Very protective, too. Once after a late gig he woke up and ran to greet me when I walked in, but must’ve been too groggy to recognize me. For at least a minute he kept me frozen at the door, 15 feet away, growling and threatening to attack if I moved. I humored him and let it go on so I could feel what it’s like to be on his bad side—turns out he’s one scary dude when he wants to be! We were never looking for a guard dog, but I’ll admit it’s kinda cool. Otherwise he’s sweet as can be to his human housemates.

Guests still get his obnoxious side, though. Despite years of consistency he still resents visitors who don’t grant him all possible attention, and he’ll even turn on his owners when we intervene. Serious nerve. Summoning superhuman optimism, I like to think his naughtiness is a sign of vitality, and indicates he’ll live a long time while only getting better. Growing up I loved our vicious cat Otis, who lived an outstanding 20 years, mellowing with age to where I’d even miss his young jerk days. I cosmically hope Batman’s defiant nature also leads to lasting health.

Bat comes with built-in behavioral excuses, too. While he growls and barks loudly at nearly every sound, passerby, and neighbor—he’s probably too vigilant—well, he is named after the World’s Greatest Detective. And although I hate how much he pulls when we walk him, his Aussie ancestors were professional herders. Dog trivia: did you know Australian cattle dogs were bred with dingoes? Makes him a bona fide ding-Bat.

He’s also the Bark Knight, Beast, Worm, Ape, Bat Buffington, and countless more. It’s fun to be stupid for pets.

Batman Begins

My now-wife/then-girlfriend and I got him when he was seven months old. The previous year we had to put down her awesome Siberian husky, Sugar, at age 13. Sugar was the first dog I’d really bonded with; I just wasn’t a dog guy before him. After Suge we didn’t really want to own another, so to get our fleabag fix we’d go to the GB Humane Society every so often and pick a pup to walk the trails and hang in the play cages—they loved the exercise and attention, and it was something different for us to do outside. We went five or six times.

Bat wasn’t even our first choice that fateful day. As usual we’d strolled the kennel area, checking out dogs and petting the social ones, reading their little info cards. We may have snickered at the name Batman, but that was it—we were excited to walk the one next to him. I don’t even remember that dog’s name now, because by the time we got back from asking staff to let him out with us, someone else had nabbed him. We shrugged and went with Batman instead.

Little jerk was so well behaved back then! He was a total gentleman, trotting through the woods, perfectly matching his walkers’ pace. After a while we took him into one of the cages to hang out leash-less and throw tennis balls for him.

Recall The Magic Paw. I crouch next to him, have him sniff a tennis ball, then throw it and tell him to GO-GET-IT!, but no. No deal, not interested. What do I think he is, a dog or something?

To this day I’m fake-mad about it. Instead of playing fetch, Batman glances at the thrown ball, stays put, looks up at me pitifully, and lifts a little black paw with a white splotch onto my knee. Pleading.

Oh, please, sir!” begged his almond eyes. “Nothing in this gosh-forsaken world could be better than coming to live with you guys. I’ll be the greatest boy of all time! Puh-LEEZE!

We couldn’t believe it. His charm was audacious, his audacity, charming.

Some suggest it was inevitable we’d fall for a dog that day, what were we thinking, should’ve known, etc. But like I said, we’d gone to walk dogs countless times, especially enjoying the lack of responsibility. We’d have a bit of fun and leave, and although I still remember some of them (Hi, Cashew! Hi, Macintosh! Hope you’re well!), adoption never actually came up. My wife also had our weirdo cat (Foxy), so we really weren’t starved for a pet. Nor were we ready to consider getting a dog, yet this little dork was forcing our hand with his magic friggin’ paw.

If there were any chance we wanted Batman as our canine companion, we knew if we didn’t claim him right then that someone else could, swooping in as nonchalantly as whoever’d taken the first dog we wanted to walk that day. When we brought him inside we figured we’d just ask some harmless hypothetical questions. We learned he’d arrived from Indiana, which at the time was euthanizing a lot of dogs due to overpopulation (I’ve got a couple of friends whose dogs came from there). Also, he’d come with his brother—Joker(!)—who had tan fur except for his face, which was all white. Joker had already been adopted.

The Bark Knight Crises

We also learned that someone else had already put money down on adopting Batman. Holy heartbreak! But, if the depositor didn’t pick him up by closing time—7 p.m.—that night, the claim would be forfeited and money refunded. Okay. And, we’d be able to check online to see if Batman were still there—so long as that funny little face showed up on the Humane Society website, it meant he had not yet been adopted. Well…? Ah, it was still such a long shot. We said our goodbyes to Batman, reasonably sure we’d never see him again. It was only late morning, after all. Maybe we’d glance online later to confirm he was gone.

Just once. Just to check.

…Have you ever obsessively refreshed a website?  eBay, perhaps? It’s a helpless position. I had to go into work until 7 p.m., and naturally spent the entire shift checking the site repeatedly (as did my wife at home). Still there. Still there. Still there! Somehow.

For whatever reason the picture of Bat was slightly stretched, giving him a sort of “Hey Arnold!” football head, and it made the activity feel that much sillier. I’d only just met him—did I even really want him? Had the drama made me more possessive, like a kid who only wants to play with a toy because his sister does, too? Nonetheless, I kept clicking and that dopey, deformed dog face kept staring back.

Finally, incredibly, it was 7 o’clock, and Batman was still on the site! Futilely I tried calling the Humane Society to see if he were indeed still there, but since they’d just closed no one answered. We had no way of knowing if the person who’d put the money down had picked him up at the last minute—perhaps staff just hadn’t taken his picture down.

My wife had found out, though, that a number of Humane Society animals would be moved to a local pet store early the next morning for a pet adoption promotion. They didn’t know if Batman would be one of them or not, but since the event began before the Humane Society opened it meant I could go to the pet store early and check.

It was a bright Friday morning in September. I had the day off, and I was nervous—my wife and I hadn’t stopped thinking or talking Batman, shocked at how suddenly we’d set our hearts on getting this dog. But if he was in fact still available, I was to adopt him.

First stop: the pet store he was potentially at. I was familiar with the store, so I hustled in soon as they opened and went straight to the dog area.

…But no Batman. I ask an employee—turns out in my haste I hadn’t noticed the giant setup of canopies and animals in cages in the parking lot. I power-walk out, head to the event area, and start down the big L-shaped row. Potential moment of truth time. Nothing yet, then, amazingly, right there in the corner, is a little black dog whose tail starts wagging as I approach.

“Hey, Batman!” I say, excitedly but gently. He, of course, has no clue about the previous night’s click fest, or how much I’d thought and talked about him in the last 20 hours.

Alright! He stays in the cage while staff get me started, and there I am, writing a check and filling out paperwork in the sun. I can’t believe he’s here, and I’m getting him! My heart thumps and I can’t calm myself, still bracing for a clash—there was no way the person who put money down on Batman wasn’t going to appear. I know in my nerves there’ll be a showdown.

And, as if on cue, suddenly, Thunderously, HE arrives.

I’m at a picnic table about 25 feet from Batman, scribbling away, several sheets to go, when I hear The Voice, and of course it’s huge and booming and furious.

“SOMEBODY TOOK MY DOG AND IT’S DAT BLACK ONE IN THE CORNER.”

Holy…NO! A veritable mountain of a man shuffles behind me toward what may or may not be my new dog and I think, is my paperwork—now half-complete—void? Or, if it’s technically official, do I get selfish, hold tight, and fight? I have no idea and I’m panicking while my handwriting gets worse.

“YUP. DAT’S THE ONE.”

I can’t even look up. He ambles closer, a worried female employee hovering near. I hurriedly whip through the papers, signing, dating, and initialing blindly, agreeing to who knows what.

“YUP. SOMEONE STOLE MY DOG FROM MY YARD,” says The Voice.

“Well, okay, let’s just make sure first,” suggests the employee, whose skittishness rivals my own. They close in on Batman.

I’m confused, though—stolen from a yard? I’m expecting a person who put money down on my would-be dog, not this. It was like Stone Cold stormed the ring while I  looked out for the Undertaker. And unless the Humane Society had lied, no one had owned Batman since he came to Wisconsin. I’m almost done signing…

“YEAH—YUP. DAT’S HER ALRIGHT.”

“But, sir, this dog is male.”

“HAH? …OH. WELL DAT AIN’T HER DEN, HUH. WHAT ABOUT DAT ONE DERE…”

Wow! Had this guy really just lost a dog that looked like Batman? Or was he just out trying to get a free dog? Either way,  trembling at whatever just went down, I exhaled and signed the last line.

To the Batmobile!

I paid just under $200 for the adoption, a leash, and dog food. And that was it! I came without a dog, and was leaving with one. I led him to jump into my backseat and closed the door and it hit me:

There’s a dog in your car now, dude. And it’s your dog. Anything that happens to him is now your fault.

I get in, close the door, and I’m alone with a dog, in my car, for the first time, the rush replaced with silence. Or not. In the blur of the transaction they’d mentioned Batman had kennel cough. This dog I’d found so cute was now behind me hacking and gagging like an old human.

And that wasn’t all. The stress of moving around had also affected him, particularly his stomach. He farts and it’s the worst thing I’ve ever smelled.

WHAT HAVE I DONE.

Bat and switch indeed. I’ll never forget my then-roommate commenting on Batman’s “zen” when I first got him, and as Bat quietly lay on our deck, impressively independent and self-assured. Now he absolutely spazzes if I go for a jog and don’t bring him with. The kennel cough and indigestion went away soon enough, but then he just kept getting bigger and bigger—I was worried he’d get too big for us to handle. He weighs 65 pounds now, up from 35 when we got him.

I’m thrilled Batman’s part of our life and he assures us it’s mutual. Early on my wife had brought him to a dog park where I’d meet them after work and surprise him. They’d been there a while, and I didn’t know where they were (the park is a fenced-off hunk of hilly woods), so I just called his name out. Sure enough, from a football field away, his little dog head perked up and he sprinted right at me. We’d only known each other weeks!

I do feel bad for whoever had put money down on Bat, but I can’t imagine he’d have a better life than what we provide. Other than the time he chewed up my $80 laptop power cord instead of ANYTHING else in the room, and picking up his guano, and whatever else I described earlier, he’s been just great. Loyal, fun, funny, and definitely protective. He curls up by me when I’m up late ghostwriting! Yes, I am grateful for the mutt’s existence.

I get why people want to call themselves “parents” of their pets, because animals can be very demanding, and you care about them a lot. Those early days were especially trying, but it’s been very rewarding.

An unexpected result of co-managing Bat’s life was confidence that I may not suck at raising young beings, and that if my wife and I worked well together with a puppy, maybe our partnership could work for a baby. Parenting’s totally different of course, but so far so good! In general, and also unexpectedly, I’ve only felt happier as I’ve taken on more responsibility, and my dog’s been a step in that. But if caring for a dog made life ten times better, raising kids brings a thousand times that joy. (“Lady and the Tramp” nails this.)

That, as they say, is a blog for another day. Hope you liked this one! Feel free to add your own anecdote of dog acquisition as well.

-Matty

 

My (Four) Favorite Albums of 2017

thedarknesspinewoodcd

I shouldn’t do this. I’m not an expert. But, DIY!

Of course favorite doesn’t mean best. At least one of these picks is utterly personal. But these lists are always subjective anyway, so here goes, no order.

The Priggs – “Mete the Priggs”

I’ll get this out of the way, but this is one of my favorite albums I’ve ever been a part of, and I haven’t really written about it yet. Time spent on an album doesn’t always make an album better (looking at you, “Chinese Democracy”), but I think we Priggs did just enough on our debut. I’d kicked around a couple of these tunes for years, and also got to collaborate with new, sympathetic, creative, and talented bandmates. In the best way possible there was hardly any compromise on this, because there didn’t need to be—no one didn’t like any of the ideas we pursued. Which is to say it felt great to work toward something all five of us wanted. To get it done for August was a serious accomplishment, thanks in no small part to my mate Sam Farrell, and a crucial last-minute assist courtesy of Justin Perkins. I want to release it on vinyl this year while we work on its follow-up. Anyway, like the list says, these are my favorite albums of the year, and although I can’t judge “Mete the Priggs” objectively, it’s one of my favorites for personal reasons.

Cory Chisel & Adriel Denae – “Tell Me True”

I wasn’t involved in the making of this one, but I’m still biased—Alex Drossart, Bill Grasley and I got to be part of the “First Listen” concert when Cory and Adriel first debuted the music, and have gotten to play these songs live many times since. “Hard Leaving” and “Just Pleasing You” are stone solid, but every song belongs. “Guess I Never Knew You” is a triumph, and “Deeper Love” is fascinating. Throughout, Cory and Ade harmonize incredibly, generously. Dan Knobler’s production serves the set so well, sparse and small one moment, blooming the next. The songs go from light to huge, from honest regret to shocking optimism. Since I was asked to learn and play these songs I spent a lot more time with this album than just the occasional spin, but I believe it’s great. It’s bold in its reservation, and warmly makes a case for love and parenthood in the face of uncertainty.

The Darkness – “Pinewood Smile”

I absolutely cranked this when I got it—I’d just added a couple of bookshelf speakers to my stereo and needed to try them out. By the way, if you’re looking, or if your current speakers need repair, you definitely want to go to Rock N’ Roll Land. Ed, the guy they work with, does outstanding work. I met him when I’d found some cool old Pioneer speakers on Craigslist, and the seller, Ed, happened to live on my street. His shop was about the cleanest, most organized shop of any kind I’d ever seen. Really impressive. Needed to share that! Good speaker repair is rare.

But, albums. If you spent a minute with me this last year I probably gushed about The Darkness, how their awesomeness was never fully appreciated, how they’re misunderstood, etc. (Not a soul was converted.) While I haven’t even dug into their whole catalog yet, or Hot Leg, it was very exciting for them to come out with a new album in the midst of my lonely fandom And to have it deliver. It rocks in all the right ways, but then dig what a good song “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” is. I can’t wait to see them in Milwaukee in April! We humans are very lucky to count Justin Hawkins among us.

J.D. McPherson – “Undivided Heart & Soul”

His first album was a stunner, and while I passed on his second album I still appreciated J.D. chasing his muse down non-traditional trails—while he could have made “More Signs & Additional Signifiers” it seemed like a better long-term move to do whatever he wanted, assuming that’s what he’d done the first time, too. If that resulted in a less even second album, this third one sees the risks and personality paying off. J.D. and crew wield the expanded palette here with fantastic results. Very possibly the coolest sounding album of the year, though I’ve got to spend more time with it.

That’s It?

…Did I buy any other new albums this year? I bought The Wild Reeds’ “The World We Built” after seeing them live, and it’s fine, but didn’t move me like the live show did. I bought Foxygen’s “Hang” when they released it in January, and it was impressive, but I never quite engaged with it. I didn’t buy QOTSA’s “Villains” in spite of adoring 2013’s “…Like Clockwork” and being a fan of Josh Homme in general—after a funny promo clip, the singles didn’t grab me, the interviews didn’t sway me, and hearing the songs live didn’t cast them in a much more favorable light. Maybe it’ll click someday, but if not, I’ll of course forgive them.

Surely I’m missing at least one album here. I should’ve learned from my favorite moments list last year  that I’m bound to kick myself for forgetting something (hel-LO, opening for and meeting William Bell where the Chicago Bulls used to practice). If I’m not right on top of it, I admit I don’t obsess over new releases like I used to. I learned early on, back when I’d read Pitchfork daily, was subscribed to Rolling Stone, etc., that while new music has the unique possibility of capturing a current cultural climate or saying something that hasn’t yet been said, new is hardly synonymous with good, despite the initial favor (Hope! Innovation! Reluctant voice of a generation!) we’re so willing to grant to new music. I’ll always keep a fingernail on the pulse, but I’m more excited about the endless crate digging ahead of me. My list of old albums I discovered and loved this year would’ve been a lot more interesting.

Assuming you know more about modern music than I do, please tell me what music you liked that happened to be released in 2017 and I promise I’ll check it out in hopes of liking it.

Thanks for reading—I’m back to neck-depth in ghostwriting, and convincing myself to use my little free time to do other writing has been tough. I do resolve to do more of it.

Happy New Year,

-Matty