On my 47th birthday

Up front warning: I think this is the most self-indulgent thing I’ve written in the life of NuckolBall. But it’s my birthday, so I get to do what I want. Think of this post as a birthday present to myself. And It has been a strange present to unwrap, that much is certain. Turn back if you wish; you have been warned.

I turned 47 a few weeks ago, and my birthday was bleh. It was on a Sunday, and the plan was to go for a family hike. But it was pouring rain, so we stayed in. We played a couple games and went out for wings, but mostly everyone just schlumped around the house. We were all quarantined; no one was allowed to leave to do anything fun because it was my birthday.

Although, I did get in a hike on Saturday. I went to Tyler Arboretum and did a 6-mile loop on the grounds. And as I was out there, I had had the strangest thought: I was kind of sick of hiking, which seemed impossible, but there it was. I like to pay attention to how things smell, but there’s not a lot of smell when you hike in the winter. It just smelled like cold air. And while I usually I love hiking alone, I felt lonely.

I lived in my car when I was 23. For a year.


Hitchhiking Story #1

Before I left on the big road trip, I spent months planning. Nearly every day at work I would take my lunch break and go to the local sporting goods store. It was an escape valve for me. I bought every conceivable piece of camping gear, which was weird because at that point in my life I had spent a grand total of three days backpacking.

But when I envisioned myself out on the road, I envisioned week-long packing trips. I saw myself telling stories about long treks in the Rockies or describing the deserts of the Southwest. So I set out on the road with a pile of shiny gear.

My first stop on the roadtrip was Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. I set out for a 3-day, 2-night trek, but I muscled through and managed to cover the route in two days. I checked that off my list and pushed on.

My next stop was Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. I got up to the park headquarters mid-morning and plotted out a 4-day, 3-night trek. I spent an hour preparing my gear in the parking lot, then I headed into the cafeteria for lunch. Money was tight, but I laid out the full $18.99 for the all-you-can-eat buffet. I needed to pack in the calories before the trek. I was gonna be out there living on canned beans and peanut butter for the next few days. I stuffed myself silly, and then headed out onto the trail.

To this day, that was the most beautiful day of hiking I’ve ever done. I went down along a dark green valley that was thick with wild flowers of every color. On each side of the valley was a chorus of tall pines. Mount Rainier towered behind me. I can literally remember thanking God for giving my eyes.

By 3 PM I was at my camp site. I set up my tent. I wrote in my journal. I read. I wandered. I tried to hold off eating. I ate. By 6:30 I went to sleep and was up well before dawn.

It was a wet, misty, cold day. My tent was drenched in dew, but I shook it out as best I could and stuffed it into my pack. I had 8 miles to cover that day and I wanted to get moving. As an expert hiker, I took great pride in covering ground quickly. I set out, continued down the valley for another mile or so, then took a right. The path now started to take me upwards.

Ok, so let’s talk about that day.

I can’t describe any of the park. All I remember is climbing. Endless, mindless, senseless climbing. I remember false peaks, a series of them. I’d see the top of the climb and I’d push and pant and close my eyes and put my head down and I’d finally get to the top. Then I’d look up to see that it wasn’t the top at all.

I basically approached that day like I approach everything I do – I went full force 110%. I went as far as I could, as hard as I could, until I collapsed. Then I’d dump my pack, sprawl out on a rock, and pant.

And here’s the kicker: it was cold. As an experienced packer, I carried minimal weight, which meant I had only brought shorts and two T-shirts. I was soaked in sweat and I was freezing. Especially when I stopped to rest. I’d barely catch my breath before I was shivering.

It was a day of unchecked misery. The only good thing is that I covered the 8 miles before noon – if you really want to call that good news. I set up my tent and I changed into my last dry clothes. Everything else was soaked and I still had two days and two nights to go.

I hung my wet clothes up over the tent ropes, then I went for a short hike along a side trail. I observed the plants and noted the views and did all those things expert hikers do. I got back an hour later and my clothes were still drenched. And I finally admitted to myself: this was awful. I tried to kill some time reading, but it was cold sitting out in just my T-shirt. I hadn’t brought anything warmer. So I finally crawled into my sleeping bag, and I made a little bargain with myself. If my clothes were dry when I woke up, I’d keep going. If not, there was a ranger station a mile away. I’d head over and get a ride out. Maybe I’d go back to my car, grab warmer clothes, and start again.

An hour later, I was at the ranger station. The conversation went like this:

“Hey there, sir. I just ripped the heck out my tent.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. My car is parked over at the main headquarters. Is there some kind of a shuttle?”

“Oh. No, there’s nothing like that.”

“Oh really? You don’t…um…wow. Well, would anyone be heading that way. Maybe I could catch a ride?”

“We don’t really do that. It’s a good fifty miles to the headquarters.”

I had miscalculated about a lot of things. The ranger even asked me if he could help me fix the rip. When I declined, I’m pretty sure he knew I was lying. So I ambled out to the parking lot and put my thumb out.

I covered the 50 miles in about 3 hours. National Parks are pretty easy places to grab a ride and people totally responded to the ripped tent story.

I was back at my car before 5:00 and hit the all-you-can-eat buffet for dinner.


Hitchhiking Story #2

Our second story starts in Cleveland a few months later. I stopped in there to see an ex-girlfriend. She told me that our mutual college friend, Eileen, had just returned back from Germany and was in North Carolina. And for a lot of stupid reasons, I decided to hitchhike down to see Eileen.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events and rides, but I’ll do my best to piece it together. What I can tell you is that the loneliness of hitchhiking is unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since.

A nice man in a pickup stopped and gave me my first ride. He took me a long ways, almost to Columbus. Then a truck driver picked me up. He was looking for conversation to help stay awake, but he was quiet and I was tired. There were long periods of silence and soon he pulled over and told me that was as far as he could take me. By then it was 2 AM.

When the truck pulled away, I was standing on a deserted traffic median. I was pretty exhausted. I pulled out my sleeping bag and laid it out on the median behind some bushes. I figured I’d get some sleep.

But the sleeping bag was nappy and scratched at my skin. It was muggy as hell, but the bugs were brutal, so I couldn’t be outside of the bag. But most of all, I wanted to keep pushing on. I’d already covered more than 250 miles; I loved the progress I was making. I loved the idea of being this road genie. Drop me off in Ohio and POOF! – I pop up in North Carolina.

It’s funny. You picture a man hitchhiking and you picture a man carefree and at ease. No schedule, no rush, no stress, no anxiety – but that wasn’t it at all. I wanted to go. I wasn’t in the moment one bit. All I could think about was getting through this.

I gathered my stuff up and went back out onto the road.

A delivery guy in a van picked me up. He had Ronald McDonald hair and a wore blue jumpsuit.

“I didn’t see you until it was too late to pull over. So I went and looped around at the next exit a few miles ahead, then I came back so I could get you.”

The guy seemed nice enough, but that was a lot of effort to pick up a hitchhiker. In fact, that seemed downright creepy. I was suddenly wide awake.

So as we talked, I slowly slid my right hand to my pants pocket and carefully slid my swiss army knife out of my pocket. Then I dipped my hand down between the seat and side door. It took some doing, but I managed to get the big blade out with one hand. I kept up a cool conversation the whole time; he never suspected a thing. But if this guy was planning to try anything, I was ready.

And thinking back on this, it’s hard to believe I was literally in that situation. I was sitting next to a man and I had a knife in my fist. A knife. That was a real situation. Good Lord.

He took me along for a couple of night deliveries and each time we stopped, I was ready with my knife. He never tried anything funny, though. He pulled over at a diner near dawn.

“I can’t have you along for the next delivery, but I’ll be back this way in about an hour if you want to wait.”

But I didn’t wait. I grabbed some breakfast and then I thumbed a ride almost immediately with two teenage kids. And for the life of me I can’t remember their names.

This was somewhere in West Virginia and we were in a small town. These two guys were both younger than me and living more carefree lives. They were major stoners and basically their entire life amounted to a sense of “screw it.” They took me to the house where they lived. It was a tiny, shabby place and there were no adults. Their phone had been turned off, so we drove to a nearby gas station to try and see if their calling card still had minutes on it. They were delighted when the call went through. The call was to their drug dealer, who was willing to have them come over to buy some weed. But the dealer was not OK with a hitchhiker coming along. And truth be told, I was pretty happy about it too.

They dropped me off at the edge of town and after a while, a brother and sister on their way to college pulled over and gave me a ride. They wanted to have deep philosophical talks with a mysterious hitchhiker, but I was ragged tired at this point and didn’t perform the part well. They pulled over to get breakfast and didn’t invite me to join them.

The rest of that day was really tough. Hitchhiking is surprisingly emotional. Every car that approaches makes your heart rise and you feel a maybe-maybe-maybe sense of optimism. Your eyes and ears play tricks on you and you think the car is slowing down. But then it doesn’t and your heart plummets. Rejection after rejection eventually becomes a deep sense of despair.

But then when a car does stop, all of that evaporates instantly. Elation lights up your whole body and suddenly you’re sprinting down the side of the road feeling like you’ve win the World Series.

I never achieved any sense of peace or balance. I didn’t sit and chill and wait. If I didn’t get a ride, I walked. I pushed myself as hard as I could.

I wasn’t on major highways anymore, so any ride I did get was usually only for a few miles. There weren’t any truckers, just locals. I had several stretches of time when I sat there, thumbing every car that passed. There was a highway not far off, and I figured I’d have better luck getting a ride there. So I put my head down and walked the four miles to the highway. By then it was getting dark. I was covered in several layers of sweat that had dried on top of each other. I smelled awful. My pack felt like it was full of boulders.

That highway was the low point. It’s a lot harder to get a ride a night, for obvious reasons. I was physically tired, but I was also pretty spent emotionally.

I was dizzy, but I kept on walking down that highway, thumbing car after car without any luck. I walked for a solid two hours.

I got to a spot along the highway where I could see a small town and a traffic light a ways off. So I scrambled down the bank, climbed over a tall chain-link fence, and then made my way through some brush until I got to the road that led into the town.

There was a bar there and I went inside. I found out where I was and figured out that the town Eileen was in was just 20 miles away. So I got change for a dollar and went back to the pay phone. I’d had it. I was calling Eileen and getting a ride. Maybe I hadn’t made it the whole way like some magic road wizard – but I’d come close and I’d done it in just 24 hours. And I was so spent; I’d had it with this ludicrous hitchhiking thing. What a mistake. What an idiot.

I called the number I had for Eileen. A loud man picked up the phone.

“Hi! Is Eileen there?”

“Wha?” he shouted.

“Eileen? This is her friend Mike. Eileen?”

“She’s moved out. They got their own place now.”

“Oh. Do you have a number for…”

“Who is this?”

“My name is…”


It turned out it was Eileen’s father-in-law. He didn’t know who I was; he had no use for sorting out who I was; he hung up on me. And I about wanted to die.

I literally staggered out of the bar. I was out of breath and light-headed and crushed with misery. I saw a church down the dark street. I stumbled down there and went around to a deck out back. I laid my sleeping bag out on the wood. I crawled inside it feeling utterly wretched. How was I going to get to Eileen’s? I’d never make it. What was I going to do?

I started to cry. And this wasn’t a manly cry. This was a messy, boogery sob.

And I don’t know what you believe about God and prayer and all of that, but I started to pray. That helped. That calmed me down. Especially because it felt like God answered me directly. Inside my head, God said: You can’t call and get a ride. You’re too tired to hitchhike anymore. You can’t walk the 20 miles. It’s the middle of the night. There’s only one productive thing you can do: go to sleep.

I woke up and it was eight in the morning. It was quiet and sunny and comfortably cool. I silently got my stuff together and slipped off the porch. I made my way back through the brush, back over the fence, and back to the highway.

The third car that passed pulled over and picked me up. This was my last ride, but I’ll never forget this guy.

He was scraggly, quiet, and skinny. He had a sad black beard that looked awful. He was 30 at the oldest. He was headed to his job at a factory, and he was drinking a beer and smoking a bowl. That’s how grated-down-to-nothing-miserable this guy’s life was. He was headed to work and getting drunk and stoned.

He dropped me off at a gas station, and I sat in the nearby grass. I pulled out my book and read for a good hour. The sun was shining on me and the world smelled like morning. I eventually finished up my chapter, then I packed up and made my way over to the road. I put out my thumb and got a ride on the first try. It was truck. It was Eileen’s husband.

I’d made it.

I took the bus back to Cleveland.



Hitchhiking Story #3

I was in the SouthWest, and again this was a few months later. I’d long since given up the solo backpacking thing and gotten into an amazing rhythm. Each night I would arrive at a national park. I’d spend the night in the parking lot, sleeping in my car. Then I’d wake up at dawn, go on a 4-6 hour hike, get back in the car, and drive to the next park. Using this method I hit Zion, Carlsbad, Organ Pipe, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Big Bend, and lots more. It was just magic. I was dusty and tan and slim.

It was in this state of mind that I picked up a hitchhiker.

He was sitting on the side of the road. He looked like this:


That’s not really him, but the features are pretty close. Leathery skin. 50s. Wrap around sun glasses. Mullet. He was holding out a 5 dollar bill.

SO…two strategies when picking up a hitchhiker.


  • Don’t be friendly at first. Take it slow
  • Don’t say where you’re headed

Strategy A gives you a chance to size things up. You might discover that you want to get the hitchhiker out of your car. If that’s the case, you just say: “OK, this next exit is where I’m getting off. Good luck.” Then you drive away.

However, you can also try…


  • Be super friendly from the start
  • Tell the hitchhiker right away that you’re on this road for the next 270 miles

When you follow this strategy, it’s a lot harder to get rid of a hitchhiker.

Needless to say, I followed Strategy B.

His name was John. He was a Vietnam veteran. We started chatting right away. I was in such a great mood and the SouthWest was vast and open. He didn’t have anywhere in particular he was headed, so he said…

“Hell, maybe I’ll just come with you all the way to that Saguaro National Park you’re talking about. I’d like to check that out.”

Strategy B – not a good strategy. Jon didn’t have any money. He’d been dicked over by his girl. He’d been cheated out of a good job. More and more anger crept into his demeanor. He had a Sprite bottle in his backpack, and he kept pouring shots of it into the plastic bottle cap and throwing them back. I could smell the wreak of liquor.

Dread seeped over me. I did not want this guy in my car and I absolutely did not want to take him to Saguaro National Park or spend a night there with him in the car.

He picked up on my apprehension as I got quieter, so he fumbled more, trying to find the right thing to say. He wanted my mood to be friendly again, but that had drained away completely. He’d say blunt things and fake laugh at what he’d said. I’d smile and keep my eyes forward. I glanced at his arms. They were muscular. He was in decent shape. Plus he was a Vietnam Vet. Plus I’d never been in a fight in my life.

Suddenly through the fog of dread:

“You’re a good lookin’ one, aren’t you?”

He reached over and pinched my cheeks between his fingers. I slapped his hand away.


We drove in silence for the next 20 minutes. It occurred to me that he wasn’t wearing his seat belt, so if things got really bad, I could run the car into a pole. I’d survive, but he wouldn’t. That was honest-to-God what I was thinking and it wasn’t just my imagination running away with me.

I had to get him out, but I didn’t have any idea how. I spotted a rest stop up ahead.

“I’ve got to make a phone call,” I said. I hoped he would get out and step away from the car. If he did, I was gonna hightail it out of there. But he knew I wanted him gone.

“OK, pal,” he said, not making the slightest move to leave the passenger seat. “I’ll be right here when you get back.”

Weakly I made my way across the parking area. As I did, two guys approached me.

“What’s up, bro? How’s it going?”

“I’m good, thanks,” I responded. These guys looked like a mess. Their clothes were dirty. One was tall and one was fat.

“You lookin’ to buy anything?” the fat one asked. “We got a lot to choose from.”

A flare shot off inside my brain. Drug dealers! Yes! I smiled back at them.

“Nah, I’m good. But hey, my friend in the car back there might be interested. Give him a try.”

I hustled to the phone, pretended to make a call, then made my way back to the car. The two drug dealers were there, but John the hitchhiker wasn’t buying drugs. He was trading drugs he already had. The dealers pulled out a small bottle of liquid, and then dripped several rows of it onto a paper towel. Acid. They handed it to John, who in return handed them a plastic bag filled with pills.

The dealers walked off. John and I drove out of the parking lot.

“Welp!” John said as he lifted the paper towel in front of him. “Let’s try it out.”

“Hold on,” I said and authority was suddenly back in my voice. “You’re not doing that in my car.”

“I’m not gonna do it,” he fumbled. “I’m…I’m gonna sell it.”

I was barely on the highway and I pulled over onto the side of the road.

“Look,” I said, “you just made a drug deal. I can’t have you in the car.”


I had him. He knew it; I knew it. That was a legit reason for ejection. He’d screwed up big time.

“I’m just…I’m not…”

“John, come on. You gotta go. You have to respect that.”

“I can’t…I just…” He was struggling to come up with something. He did not want to leave that car.

“Look,” I asked. “Do you have any money?”

“No! I don’t have any money.”

I pulled out my wallet and open it.

“Here,” I said, handing him all I had. “This is…32 dollars. That’s all I’ve got. Take it. Here. But you’ve gotta go.”

It was somewhere between an act of charity and being mugged. It still took another minute of him trying to think of something to say, but he was beat. He took the money and stepped out of the car.

I floored it before he’d even closed the door.


I don’t know what all that means or how it’s relevant to me feeling lonely on a hike the day before I turned 47. I’m not 100% sure what advice I’m trying to convey here. By no means do I want you boys to try hitchhiking. Like I said, this is a weird one.

At 47, I’m technically in my late 40s – which seems impossible and irrelevant at the same time. I don’t feel old. I don’t even feel like an adult; I don’t even know what that means. I have kids, I own a house, I have a retirement account, I have a business card with my name on it, I can sign waiver forms. They let me rent a car without any second thought.

But I’m not boring. And I’m almost never bored. I resent boredom. Actually, I’ll take it one step further. Truth be told, I like adventure. And I actually think that’s the message I want to convey. Adventure.

It’s a silly word, right? Adventure is what happens in movies. That’s not a real thing. Adventure? Certainly not a realistic goal in life, is it?


I have to respectfully disagree.


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About Fatherhood (The Curse of Donna G’s Boobs)


This is the final and concluding installment of the Donna G Project. This project has been written to and for my boys. It was inspired by my wife’s friend Donna G and her experience with breast cancer.

The final subject of the Donna G Project: fatherhood.

If you’re a dad, and you take your kids out for breakfast without your wife, there is a 100% chance that someone will come up to you and say:

“What a good father you are.”

It’s a sure thing. It usually happens 2-3 times over the course of the meal.

Now let’s break this down. A dad spending time with his kids without his wife is so extraordinary that strangers feel the need to come and recognize it. Hell, you’re not even making breakfast – you’re taking your kids out so someone else can do the cooking. But still, it stands out as a marvelous act of fatherhood.

Think that happens if a mom goes somewhere alone with her kids? Not a chance. But that’s how low the bar is for dads.

The fact is, dads get a pass. For some reason, wives, kids, society, everyone is just fine with dads getting away with doing 10% of the parenting. Watch families in public for 5 minutes and you’ll be stunned.

Dads pretend to not smell the dirty diaper. They pretend to not hear the baby crying. They dodge their own kids and for some reason that’s OK. It’s actually expected.

That’s the bar for dads.

Now you may ask yourself: How can this be? Why is it like this? Good question. Well, as a father, I can share 4 reasons that help explain the current state of fatherhood.

Reason #1) There are times when fatherhood sucks

Everyone will tell you it’s wonderful being a dad. Children are a blessing. But in reality, some things about fatherhood are just awful. Fatherhood is sitting through 2-hour pre-school “concerts” where 14 classes of kids sing crappy songs. You wait for your kid’s class to sing and then afterwards you tell them how amazing they were at singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Fatherhood is pushing a big wheel around the driveway until your back is killing you because kids don’t pedal for themselves. Fatherhood is deep knee bends down the hall at 3:55 AM trying to get them back to goddam sleep. It’s rushing into the skankiest gas-station bathroom for an emergency poop and suspending a 4-year-old over the bowl for seven minutes with your face level to the lip of the foul-smelling toilet.

Fatherhood is boring. It’s exhausting. It ruins vacations. Hangovers are brutal.

A lot of the time, it sucks having kids.

Reason #2) Kids make it easy

Fatherhood is the most unfair relationship in the world. You have all the power – and that is awfully seductive. You make the rules. You define good and bad. You have the power to punish and reward. You can say: “Daddy needs to watch this game and then we can play.” And because you said so, you’re right. Hell, you can punish them if they don’t leave you in peace.

In other words: if you want to avoid fatherhood, all you have to do is tell your kid that it is right to do so. They will accept your rules as right because you’re the dad, and you have the power to enforce your bullshit rules.

And on top of it all, that kid worships you. So after laying all that unfair bullshit on them, when you finally do get up and spend 20 damn minutes kicking a rubber ball around the backyard, your kid will forget the 3 hours of waiting. They’ll be deliriously happy. Kicking that ball will be their favorite memory of the whole week. They’ll tell you you’re the best dad in the world.

That is how easy kids make it.

Reason #3) Technology makes it easy

Give your kid your phone – done. Put on a video – done. Set them up with the iPad – done. This one is obvious, but still it is so easy to fall into that trap. Whole teams of brilliant experts are developing technology designed to be more interesting than you. Your kids will beg for it and all you have to do is say yes and you’re off duty.

Reason #4) Society (including wives) make it easy

Think of it this way: if you went to your job and 90% of the time, dodged your workload and dumped it onto your co-workers, what would happen? There’d be a damn mutiny. You’d be fired in a week.

But dads do that every single day and for some reason it’s fine. Maybe wives just give up and decide it’s not worth the fight.

In fact (and I swear I’m not making this up), I wrote a draft of this in an airport and right across from me…a mom, dad, 3 little kids. The kids were crying and fighting and the mom was struggling to wrangle the 3 of them. That dad sat right there, talking on his phone, like he didn’t even realize his kids were there.

So now when you ask yourself why the fatherhood bar is so low, you have 4 solid reasons why. Someday you may experience these reasons first-hand. In fact, that’s where we’re going to go. But before we go there, we’re gonna take a time out. This is the last installment of the Donna G Project, so I thought it made sense to check in with Donna G. Let’s revisit her story, shall we?

It started with an abnormal blood test. Then a scan and the detection of cancer in her right breast. There was telling her husband. There was telling her two daughters. (You boys know them, imagine that moment.) There were logistics and appointments. Then the surgery.

They laid her on her back, put her under, and took scalpels to her breasts. They cut down the tops and across the bottoms, discarded her nipples, and then peeled the skin back like opening up an orange. Then they cut out all the flesh of her breasts. They slid implants under her pectoral muscles. Then with great care and precision, they sewed the skin back together.

Start there. Consider that mutilation. That physical devastation.

From there, the slow, plodding, aching recovery. Physical therapy. Muscle spasms in the pectoral muscles. Knots in the tendons under her armpits that a physical therapist would have to “crack” by pushing down hard with both thumbs. That’s what Donna G went through.

It’s been two years and no sign of the cancer returning. But still the thought never leaves. When Donna’s knee hurts after going for a run, cancer lingers. She will think: “Has it spread to my bones?” Horrible doubt and fear lurking. Donna G lives under that shadow.

She takes medicine that causes her hands to ache. Her daughters will notice when it’s bad and say, “You don’t have to braid my hair, Mommy. I’ll wear it straight today.”

Donna has faced it with grit. With bravery and clarity. She told me, “cancer is a control freak and you have to take control back from it.” That’s what she does. That’s what she has done. “It’s the new normal,” she says.

And as I read that over, it occurs to me that those are her reasons. If she wanted to do a half-ass job as a parent, she had plenty of compelling reasons.

So with that, let’s go back to fatherhood, shall we? Because as we come to the conclusion of this project, I am invoking all the power of Donna G. The suffering, the endurance, the refusal to live under any terms but her own. I invoke all of it and bring it to bear in the form of a curse.

When it comes to fatherhood, you two don’t get a pass. Your pass has been revoked. You two get a different bar and I’m setting it right here and right now. In all the other things I’ve written, I’ve given you advice. This is not advice. This is a requirement. This is mandatory.

I am calling on the full power of Donna G’s boobs and laying this curse upon you.

If you choose to have kids, you are going to be kickass dads. You read that right; I am placing an honest-to-God curse on you.

Oh, and remember those 4 reasons I laid out? Well those don’t hold water for the two of you.

“But sometimes being a dad is so annoying. I thought it would be fun.”

Too bad. Get in there. I don’t care how bad it sucks. Especially when it sucks. You will engage every friggin’ time. You will get your ass off the couch. You will dress up in dumb costumes. You will play hide and seek even though kids always hide in the exact same spot every stinkin’ time.

“My kids tell me I’m a great dad. They understand that I need time to myself. I’m helping them be independent.”

You don’t get to pull that bullshit. That incredible power over your kids is to be used to make them good people. It is to teach them good life habits and ingrain them with a sense of right and wrong. You get to use that power responsibly and for the interest of your kids, not for your own self-interest. It takes tremendous restraint and discipline – but that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.

“They don’t want to play with me – they want their devices.”

You’re gonna put that shit down. Devices are not the parents — you are. You need to be more fun than the device. Cut that bullshit out.

“But that’s how dads are. My wife gets it.”

BULLSHIT! 100 times – bullshit! You will not buy into that – do you hear me? You’re gonna get down on that rug and roll around. You’re gonna push that kid in those swings and chase them around the playground – then do it again. You are going to be the first to smell that diaper and you change it, goddamit. That’s your kid. Spring out of bed at night when you hear the crying. Read those awful picture books over and over.

You two listen to me, and listen good. This curse is real. It is legal and binding. It is happening. If you boys choose to be fathers, you will honor this curse or you will spend fatherhood with my foot (and Donna G’s foot) up your ass.

That is the curse of Donna G’s boobs – and I hereby lay it squarely on you both.


Full stop.

Take a moment to appreciate the fact that you’ve just had a curse placed on you. Because now I want to follow that rant with a few stories. Check it out.

My precious son, Jack:

The day after you were born I went for a run. My run took me through a tunnel and as I ran through it I suddenly found myself bellowing: JACK! JACK! JACK! It just gushed out of me. Again and again, I yelled it with all the might my thunder-throated voice could bring. The sound of your name crackled off the concrete arches and each time I heard it, reality sunk in deeper and deeper.

What had happened didn’t seem possible – but it was real. I was a father. I had a son.

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My son, Alex:

When you were three we spent a whole day together. Mom and Jack were away for some reason. You and I ran errands, we played ninja fights, we had dinner together. That night, I put you to bed and you were falling asleep the second you lay down. As I tucked you in, you said to me in the sleepiest voice:

“I wish we were twins.” Your voice was so tiny.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then we’d be together always for our whole life.”


My son, Jack:

When you were two years old and we were living in that temporary apartment in Pennsylvania, you wanted to play cars outside after dinner. It was raining just a little, so I sat down on the concrete and rested against the door. I expected you to go play cars on the sidewalk, but instead you sat down right next to me like it was perfectly normal and suddenly everything everything locked into crystal clear focus. The whole universe instantly made perfect sense. In that moment I literally knew the meaning of life with absolute certainty. I had it in the palm of my hand. The doughy little boy, side by side with me on that cold concrete was everything I had ever wanted or needed. It was more than I ever had the right to ask God for, but there it was just the same.

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My beautiful son, Alex:

Our first backpacking trip. We slept in the shelter, and in the middle of the night it absolutely poured. The rain rattled so loudly on the metal roof it woke me up. I sat and listened to the whole world roaring around me. Out there with no one around for miles I sat there with your tiny sleeping body next to me, and I wished that moment would last forever.

My two sons. My two magic boys:

These moments are endless for me. I could fill pages and pages and pages with these moments. You boys have brought me joy that dwarfs anything else I have ever known. When it comes to my love for the two of you, it feels like God himself pulled the sun from the sky and stuffed it into my chest. To me, that is fatherhood. That is what the two of you have brought to me.

So yes, I have put a curse on you. But in spite of what the majority of people seem to believe, Fatherhood is not a curse.




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The Biggest Moment of My Life

This one is gonna be all over the place. This one is gonna zig and zag and zing. So buckle up, cause here we go…

This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

We start with running. And not pretty running. Not athletic, sleek running. No, this is fat-guy running. Hunched and head down. Panting. Huffing. Slobbering. This is bad.

College dining halls did a number on me and I was 240 when I got to LA. (That’s a full 50 pounds heavier than I am today.) I started running to lose weight.

I would go around the block. Once. I clocked it in my car and it was less than a half mile, and still I walked most of it. The pavement was tough on my joints, so after a couple weeks I started running in a nearby park. But then I got chased by a junkie girl with a stick, so then I drove over the 5 Freeway into Griffith Park. And Griffith Park was…

Hang on, some Los Angeles geography:

LA is not really a city. It’s as if you took a real city, smashed it with a meteor, and scattered it over 100 mile radius. That’s LA. It’s 350 towns.

There is a section of LA called “The Valley” and it really is a valley. If I stood on the end of my driveway, I could look to the right or left and see walls of sandy, tan hills that formed The Valley. Griffith Park was in the hills to the right.


The park was a vast acreage of hills full of fire roads, coyotes, scrub bushes, owls, and sand. I started running there. I’d plod up and down the dusty roads and I got to the point where I could run a mile or two without stopping. But the fundamental issue hadn’t changed: I hated it. With every stride, all I thought was: This sucks. I hate this. This is awful.

One night I took a route I’d never tried before. The path went up and along a ridge, then turned down and went into a little pocket within the hills. But as I headed down, something felt wrong. There was something eerie about the situation. I could hear the cush cush cush of my feet striking the sandy fire road and it made me nervous.

Some more Los Angeles geography:

LA is completely covered in freeways. Huge 6-lane roads run throughout the entire “city”. The 5, the 15, the 105, 118, 405, 134. Wherever you are in LA you’re never more than a mile from a roaring river of non-stop cars. The sound underscores everything. It is white noise that is always present; I had never even been aware of it…until that moment in those hills.

Suddenly I couldn’t hear the freeway. I felt so still. It felt like I was floating. I forgot I was running altogether.

And after that, I loved running. I’d sneak out for long lunches from work and do a quick 3 miles. I found a 6-mile loop that I’d do Friday nights. When I ran, all my scattered thoughts jostled around in my head until everything somehow settled into place. It became peace and freedom. Running became a thing that was right in my life.

But not much else was right.

Dead End #1. My writing career was going nowhere.


My job sucked. Actually, that’s not true. It was a good job. I was a Production Assistant in Disney Feature Animation. I’d landed a job at a major studio, which lots of people would have killed for. But I wanted to be writing. I had figured that I’d get the job, become the most awesome PA ever (which I was), and work my way into the writing department. But it hadn’t worked out that way. In fact, it was impossible for it to work that way. Disney had a strict policy of only considering writers that came in through agents. So being employed at a top studio actually worked against me.

But it got even worse. I hadn’t really paid attention to all the forms I signed when I got hired, but in there was a contract that made it so everything I wrote while I was a Disney employee belonged to them automatically.

In other words, I was completely trapped. I couldn’t get into the writing department at Disney and I couldn’t even try to get in at another studio.

Dead End #2: I didn’t fit in at all.


LA sucked. I lived with a bunch of awesome, crazy, fun-as-hell guys and damn we could not find anything fun to do. LA is the most un-fun city in the US. Everyone’s so hung up on acting like they’re hot shit in the film industry that no one is even a little real or fun. It’s a land without authenticity and thus it is deeply boring.

Meeting girls was impossible. Girls wanted guys who stood on the side of the dance floor and looked bored. Me and my crew? We couldn’t ever stay on the sideline for more than a minute.

All in all, LA was a lonely, fake place and I didn’t fit in one bit – and that wasn’t going to change.

And it was there, amidst all these dead ends, that it happened.

One weekday night, I went out for a run. I found my thoughts knocking around in a familiar pattern. I cycled through my standard series of complaints and bemoanings. Why does my job have to suck? Why does Disney have to be so corporate and suffocating? I wish LA wasn’t so lame. I gotta find a way to make it fun. I gotta find somewhere that has girls that aren’t so shallow. Stupid Disney. Stupid girls. Stupid LA. Stupid everything.

I was going along a fire road that cut in and out through the hills with a lot of quick ups and downs. I found myself going faster and faster and not getting tired. And that’s when it happened. I suddenly came up with a remarkably simple realization.

If you ask people to name the turning point in their life, most of them are going to struggle to come up with an answer. Not me. I can definitively tell you the very moment when I became me. My life has an honest-to-God turning point and this was it. It was at that moment that I realized:

I could leave.

I know that sounds like no big deal – but boy was it ever. It was like world had changed to a different color. I hadn’t stopped running. In fact, I’d forgotten I was running at all. But I looked down and saw that I was going what felt like 40 miles an hour.

See, here’s the deal, here’s what suddenly hit me: It wasn’t Disney and it wasn’t LA. I’d been blaming them for months. But really that wasn’t the problem at all. The problem was something completely different. The problem was me. And if I was the problem, that meant I had all the power to fix it.

If I didn’t like my job, I could quit. And if I didn’t like living in LA, I could move. I. Could. Leave.

I had turned into a rocket. I flashed around a wide bend, charged up a peak and shot 10 feet into the air before I landed on the path and kept blasting down the hill even faster.

I could leave; I could move to New York City. I’d have to get rid of my car somehow, but…Wait! Oh my God, I had it. I could leave and live in my car and drive around the country. Then when the car finally died, I could move to New York. I could hit the road. I could do that. I could do anything I wanted to.

I went back to the house and put up a big sign on my wall.

“Let the record show that I am out of here. These are the things I need to do to prepare.”

  • Get a tune up for my car
  • Buy a Golden Eagle Pass
  • Buy a new backpack
  • Give notice at work
  • Etc

I listed out about 20 things and over the next couple of months I knocked every item off the list. We had a big party, and then with a car stuffed with clothes, camping gear, and books, I headed out. I hit the road and spent a year living in my car. I hiked National Parks, slept on friends’ couches, and made a lot of questionable decisions. Then one year and one dead car later, I moved to NYC.

I left.

Conclusion…right. Here goes. I know I usually end these with 3 pieces of advice, but here I really just have one.

It’s easy to be a victim. It’s so tempting to lie back into the anesthesia of believing there’s nothing you can do about your situation. The teacher isn’t fair. The ump made a bad call. I’m late because of traffic. My boss is an asshole.

But when you say “it’s not my fault.” When you say “I lost the game because the umpire made a bad call” – you make yourself powerless over your own life. You could never have won and you are powerless to win in the future.

But when it’s your fault. When you lose because “I misjudged the pitch and let strike three get by me” – that hurts a lot more. It opens you up to the full weight of the loss. But it also means you have the power to change the outcome of the next game.

There will always be bad umpires, bad bosses, and bad situations. There will always be traffic to blame for being late. There is always a way to create a life narrative of being trapped in a dead end. You can tell that narrative to yourself and the people around you – and most people will nod right along with you. It’s so easy and seductive and comforting.

But it’s not living.

At 45 years old, I can promise you that life goes by very quickly. So quickly it’s hard to believe. So my recommendation to you boys: Fill your life with as much living as you possibly can.

I feel confident that Donna G would agree.


This is me at Yosemite National Park.


This is me and Reef in San Francisco. I don’t have a lot of photos from my time on the road. I didn’t own a camera (which is probably incomprehensible now that phone and camera are one).

About Streaking

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

My junior year of college, I wrote a play and got it produced by the student theater club. The play was 80 minutes of bad dialogue, but then at the end, one of the main characters commits suicide. It ends with two monologues that were really good. And suddenly everybody forgot the terrible 80 minutes and thought it was a great play. I had girls crying afterwards. People were hugging me and telling me how beautiful a writer I was. It worked out really well.

My friends from high school came up for opening night and we had a big party at my house. And as I celebrated the success of my “brilliant” play, I was on a high like I’d never felt before. At that party it felt like a tuning fork was in my chest ringing ringing ringing until I couldn’t stand it.

“Let’s go streaking!” I yelled. Chief was in. Spider was in. I was already moving for the door.

I burst out into the cold air and was tearing my clothes off. Chief was behind me and I vaguely heard Spider somewhere, but once your clothes start coming off, especially your pants, the last thing you want to do it stand and wait, you want to move move move and that’s what I was doing. I burst down the sidewalk, buck naked and howling with exhilaration. It felt like my entire skin was ablaze with icy fire. It felt like frantic lightning bugs were crawling all over me. I ran down the street at full speed and finally – finally – that tuning fork in my chest was ringing out as loud as I needed it to. Finally, I got my ya-yas out.

GOD it was awesome.

I wrote another play that next year, and this one was way better. It also had some moments of intense violence, which the audience mistook for excellent playwriting, and again I was heaped with praise.

Again there was a party that night. Again, I streaked. This time it was expected. Actually….as I reflect back I think I may have written that second play just so I could streak again.

It was a better streak too.

A diagram:


This is the route of the first streak. It was short. It was a side street. Basically, the only people who saw me were the people who cam outside from the party.

Let’s compare that to Streak #2:


Let me break it down for you.

  1. This route went right through the main street of a college town on a Friday night. The sidewalk and bars were packed with people.
  2. The black line is the route taken by my brother and my friend Reef (who streaked with me). They went right down the center of the street.
  3. The green line is the route I took. I was fat and in bad shape. I was panting for air by the time we reached the corner, so to cut my route short I went on the sidewalk. I ran right past people, slapping fives as I ran by. Until…
  4. The “X” is where I had to stop. I doubled over and panted, desperately trying to catch my wind back. That is until I heard someone yelling:”Hey! Hey! Hey, you ain’t got no clothes on!”

    In a panic, I took off running again.

And I’ll tell you – streaking is addictive. It’s a crazy high. I streaked downtown a few more times that spring. On graduation night we went and played 3 innings of naked wiffleball on the lawn of the college president’s house.

I moved to LA after college and one night I led a group of guys to put on ludicrous hats and streak the grocery store near my house.

I streaked a wedding reception a few years ago. I streaked a party in town just last summer.

And really, that’s the only point of this piece. I like streaking. I know a lot of other Donna G Project essays are sentimental and have deep meaning, this one really doesn’t. This is really just to let you guys know that I think streaking is fun as hell and I recommend it.

You get a crazy thrill, people FREAK out and tell you you’re a wild man – but you’re not doing anything harmful or dangerous at all. Honestly, I’m surprised it isn’t more common.

Plus, you’ll never run so fast in your life.


Oh yeah – 2 pieces of technical tips to wrap up.

  1. Stash your clothes somewhere safe. Some joker may try and hide them.

    1A. If some joker does hide your clothes, go RIGHT AT THEM. They think they have the upper hand because you’re naked – but really YOU have the upper hand because you’re naked. Go right for that him and he’ll BEG you to take your clothes back. Jokers can’t stand to be next to a naked man.

  2. This is by far the most important tip: Wear your shoes when you streak. Don’t do it in bare feet. That’s the big one.



3 Keys to Success at Work

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

OK, now for part 2. Follow these 3 steps and you will dominate at work. People will scheme and beg to get you onto their team. People who go to other companies will try and recruit you.

For starters, all the wisdom I am about to impart upon you is based on The Fundamental Truth:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

Remember it. Learn it. Accept it. It is the key.

Key to Work Success #1: Do the reading

Before a project begins, they usually send out a whole mess of background materials. My experience is that nobody reads it.

You should. Here’s why:

It immediately makes you the expert. You may be the least experienced person in the room, but if you suddenly start quoting facts and referring to points in the reading, suddenly everyone takes notice. And you know why…because with you around it means they don’t have to do the reading. Now you’re the guy everyone needs to have in every meeting. You’re the guy they want at the presentation in case there are any questions.

People are lazy. They don’t want to read all that crap. They want to pretend like they did it. And when they have a team member who digs in and knows the background, they want that person around.

Look, it’s gonna take you a couple hours at the most. Spend the time. Highlight key facts. Underline stuff. Look things up that you don’t know.

Do the reading.

Key to Work Success #2: Be great at receiving work

Imagine you’re a manager. Your job is to go around and assign tasks to people. And here’s where The Fundamental Truth comes in big time.

“I already have so much on my plate.”

“You gave me that proposal just yesterday.”

“I’m not sure I would know how to handle it properly?”

“What’s the deadline? Are you serious?”

Managing people is getting people to do stuff that they are trying to avoid. They bitch about it. They whine. They wheedle and negotiate and make excuses. And a manager has to pet them and threaten them and be nice to them – all to get them to just do their goddam job. Hell, sometimes it’s such a pain in the ass, managers just do the work themselves to avoid the headache.

So now a manager comes to you, asks you to take on a task, and you say:

“That sounds fun! I’d love to do that. Thanks! When do you need it?”

Imagine how great that will feel for your manager. Instantly your boss will be telling everyone what a great addition you are to the team. People will be trying to get you on committees and task forces. Your boss will start confiding in you, because unlike everyone else on the team, you’re not a source of stress.

Oh, and get this…if you do all this, all the time, when you do say you have too much to handle, your boss will actually believe you.

When someone gives you a task at work, act like they just gave you a present. Trust me, you’ll shoot up the ladder in record time.

Key to Work Success #3: Bring 2 ideas to the meeting

Corporate America is full of brainstorms. You’ll get into that meeting room and the meeting organizer will lay down some corporate-speak:

“I just got this proposal that’s due next week and I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to get creative and come up with some out-of-the-box ideas.”


“I haven’t spent any time thinking about this assignment so I want you all to figure it out for me and then do a lot of the work. Go.”

Now for the most part, everyone around the conference table just showed up because the meeting was on their calendar. They barely read the invitation.

Here’s where you come in. Before the meeting ever starts, read the invitation, find out what the meeting organizer is looking for, and come into that meeting with 2 good ideas. When the meeting starts, everyone is looking at each other and wishing they weren’t there – that’s when you jump in.

“Well, I did a little thinking about this beforehand. How about this…”

Suddenly, the meeting organizer is thinking: “Holy shit! I gotta invite this guy to all my brainstorms!” Everyone there will be thinking that. You look like a total go-getter, all because you spent 15 minutes thinking of a couple ideas.

Oh and by the way, everyone will want you on their team and in their meetings because they know you’re gonna do their work for them.

2 ideas. That’s it. Bring ’em.

Now – one final point to make about all 3 of the keys to success: they will SAVE you work. Sure, they’ll get you promoted and paid better, but in the long run they will actually save you time. Trust me.

So there you have it. Now go succeed. It’s easy.

The 2 Keys to Happiness at Work

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

First and foremost, we will clearly lay out The Fundamental Truth when it comes to work:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

Let me say it again:

Most people’s primary objective at work is to do as little as humanly possible.

That is THE Fundamental Truth, and people are brilliant at achieving this goal.

“I’d love to help out, but…”

“I’m not confident I’ll do it right without proper guidance.”

“If you ask, I’m there, but on one asked.”

The energy, planning, strategy, and creativity that goes into achieving this goal is mindboggling.

OK, so now I’m gonna blow your mind with this next fact:

The vast majority of people are not happy or satisfied with their job.

Are you seeing a correlation? Any bells ringing? Because this fact and The Fundamental Truth are directly related.

Think of it this way: if you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at a job that you are actively trying to avoid, by definition you will resent it. You don’t want to be there. You’re just trying to get out of there. You’re doing as little as possible. You don’t value it one bit.

Of course you’re miserable. You’re spending the majority of your waking time doing something that gives you zero satisfaction. You are wasting most of your time. You are wasting your life.

And all of this brings me to the first key to happiness…

Key to Work Happiness #1: Do a Kick Ass Job

Whatever your job, nail it. Dominate it. Attack it.

If your job is washing dishes*, get those dishes clean and then go scrub out the pots and pans. Organize the store room. Wipe down the counters. Hose down the air filters.

Look, you’re there for 8-hour shift, right? Avoid your job like most people do and you’ll walk out of there saying: “Finally, I can get out of there and start doing something I value!” Kick ass at that job and you’ll walk out of there saying: “I’m glad that’s over, but I sure kicked ass in there.” It makes all the difference in the world.

You are going to have to have a job for most of your life. My recommendation is that you avoid the trap of The Fundamental Truth and kick ass at your job.

Key to Work Happiness #2: Don’t Rush Into a Career

There is a TON of pressure to have a career. This starts very early.

“What major are you considering?”

“What colleges are you looking at?”

“What’s your plan after you graduate?”

Older people, especially the ones who care about you, want to feel like you’re OK. We worry about you. We’re invested in you. We want to be able to say: “He has a job in a big company. He’s doing well.” That brings us great comfort. That means you have an income. You have health insurance. You’re on the path to home and wife and kids and stability. It makes us feel like you’re safe and that we’ve done a good job.

I am sure you will get that pressure-vibe from me. You’ll get it from your mother too. Anyone who cares about you will be subtly pushing you into the safe haven of a career.

But I’m here to tell you – don’t rush it. Don’t succumb to that subtle gravity. Because it may not feel like it, BUT A CAREER WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. Corporate America is dying for young, responsible, competent people (think back to The Fundamental Truth). It will feel like the opportunity to get into a good company is rare and has to be taken. But those opportunities are honestly a dime a dozen. Those opportunities will come again and again and again. Those opportunities will come agains and again and again. (Plus with my next entry – 3 Keys to Success at Work – you will absolutely rocket through any organization and blast up the ranks.)

Look, when I was 23 I had a great job. But then I quit. People thought I was crazy. My parents were all a-flutter. But I quit and spent a year living in my car and driving around the US.

Want to know what the consequences were to my career path?


I came back and in 6 months was right back into a secure job.

A few years later, I quit AGAIN. This time I spent a year travelling the world with your mother.

Oh, but wait, there must have been consequences of that rash action, right?


Once again, there were no consequences. I came back and in about a month I dove right back into the world of security and career. And here I am now – good job, house, kids, wife, whatever.

And get this – looking back – imagine the consequences if I had NOT quit my job. What would have happened if I had made a career my primary focus?

I wouldn’t have backpacked through that meadow in Washington that was so beautiful I prayed to God thanking Him for giving my eyes.

I wouldn’t have been on that boat in Thailand where that Japanese guy barfed on me.

I wouldn’t have trekked the Himalayas. I wouldn’t know what kava tastes like. I wouldn’t have heard the call to prayer in Morocco. I wouldn’t have gotten that God-awful haircut in Des Moines. I wouldn’t have spent my first wedding anniversary with your mother listening to a Vivaldi concert in a gothic cathedral in Paris.

In other words, the consequences would have been devastating. The career would have been the same.

A career will always be there. There is plenty of time to fall in step and gain stability – a stability I find wonderful. But the time to wander and explore and wonder and soar? That time, my sons, is limited.

So trust me, do not rush into a career.

Stay tuned! The second part: 3 Keys to Success at Work is coming soon!

*Note about the example of being a dishwasher. In many cases, that is a hypothetical example. That is not the case for me.

Spiedies (Recipe 1 of 3)

Spiedie Recipe


Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

You will need this recipe. You will make it when friends come over and they will request that you make it again. It is easy and it is a piece of your heritage.

Spiedies were invented in Binghamton, where I am from. They are the local specialty of the region.

Occasionally someone will ask what is the difference between spiedies and shish-ka-bobs. The answer is that you don’t even acknowledge the question. Spiedies are spiedies. Just ignore those people, or if you have to, punch them in the face.

Here is the recipe.

Mix up:

1/2 Cup Oil (I use Olive but any will work)

6 Tablespoons Vineager  (I use Balsamic and Cider Mixed)

2 Cloves Garlic Minced

2 Tablespoons Parsley

2-3 Mint Leaves

1 tsp basil

1 tablespoon salt

Chop up chicken (or pork or venison) into chunks, put them in the marinade, and let them sit overnight.

Skewer them about 6-8 per skewer and cook them on the grill.

Serve with Italian bread. The correct way to eat is to hold a piece of bread in your palm and use it like a glove to pull off the meat. Eat it like a sandwich (like the guy in the photo with the gross fingernails is doing).


Coming tomorrow…Recipe #2: The Perfect Homefries.

On Popularity

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

My social life starts, ends, and centers on one thing: the Chief. So naturally, it is here where our story begins.

We met in 2nd grade. I remember running into his mother in the grocery store and her telling us that they were moving in around the corner. Chief was peeking out from behind her legs. Almost immediately, we become inseparable. We shared a bond of laughing, creativity, and food.

We shared so many fun times. Textbook kid memories. We would ride our bikes around the neighborhood and try and run over caterpillars in just the right way so their heads would spurt off. We would walk the entire length of Old Vestal Road to get to the Grand Union. I’d buy a box of Fruity Pebbles, he would buy Apple Jacks, we would walk home and eat both boxes in their entirety. We spent hours making comic books. I’d come up with entire superhero teams and awesome villians and then Chief would draw them. We’d staple the sheets of paper together and display them with pride in our rooms.

Or we’d just walk around the neighborhood and laugh. I don’t even know what about, but GOD would we laugh our faces off. We must have looked like drunken fools. I can even remember laughing about jokes kids had made behind my back about the way I said potato (“bu-day-duh”). Chief told me all about what they were saying and I laughed just the same. I guess nothing was funny to him unless we’d both laughed about it.

His parents were so incredibly welcoming to me. If I was there at 6:00, I’d sit right down to dinner without a second thought. Mrs. Flesher had a shelf in the laundry room reserved for clothes of mine that ended up in her laundry. We slept over at each other’s houses constantly. Whole weekends would go by where we were never apart.

This was my person. My guy.

Fast-forward to 10th grade.

As we entered our sophomore year, we found ourselves the two coolest kids in a group of choir singers, theatre club members, swimmers, and Risk players. As freshmen, our lockers were assigned alphabetically. But in 10th grade, we were allowed to choose our own spots. As Chief and I headed up to select our lockers, Bryan Brick called out to us.

“Hey – why don’t you guys put your lockers over here with us? You don’t want to be with those guys.”

And just like that, Chief and I had made a social leap. Bryan’s group was of higher social status than our current group. But beyond that, Bryan’s group had 2 distinct appeals:

  1. Bryan Brick was the toughest kid in our school. It made anyone in his group immune to any threat. All you had to do was invoke Bryan’s name and you were safe.
  2. Bryan Brick’s group included a pack of hot 9th grade girls. Girls who were farther along the scale than the girls we hung out with. They weren’t full-on sexually active, but they were headed in that direction a hell of a lot faster than the girls in our old crew.

So this became our social life. This was life with cool kids. Weekend nights were spent like this:

  • We would gather at someone’s house
  • Bryan would pick on the girls and they would giggle
  • All the guys would maneuver around Bryan like his hyena pack, lunging for Bryan’s favor. Each seeking an opening to crack a joke at one of the other hyenas. If Bryan found your joke funny, he’d lead all the hyenas and hot girls in a laugh at the victim of your joke.

And while Chief and I were the coolest kids in our old group, we were at the bottom of this new group. We quickly joined the hyena battle – and both of us went after the weakest member of the pack: each other. It was a battle for who would be 2nd to last in the pecking order and who would be last.

The master stroke came when Chief drew caricatures of everyone in the group and presented it to Bryan. Bryan LOVED it. He taped it inside his locker and brought all the girls up to see it. Chief would stand by, basking in the glow. (I don’t have to tell you that Bryan’s caricature was huge and handsome. My caricature was dumpy and small.)

I tried to counter using my own special skills. I made up superhero identities and powers for everyone in the group. Bryan was The Smasher, with superhuman strength. It was awesome.

But Chief had me. I presented my work to Bryan, who liked the idea, but when I suggested that I was going to get Chief to draw them, Chief scoffed.

“I’m not drawing those,” he said like I was trying to hand him a dead fish.

With that, it was over. I was last hyena. I settled into the role of “good sport” and permanent butt of jokes for the group. I became sort of a jester and I pretended to like it.

But a few weeks later, an opening presented itself. After school, Chief and I were out with Bryan at the local Burger King. Bryan started poking fun at a group of girls in the next booth. After 10 minutes of flirting, we left and headed back to school to catch the late bus. At the far end of the parking lot, Bryan stopped.

“Think they’re still there?” he asked us.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“Go find out,” he ordered Chief.

“What? Go back?” Chief asked.

“Yeah. Run back there and see if they’re still there,” Bryan commanded.

“OK!” Chief nodded and off he ran.

I stood there with Bryan, side by side. I saw that my moment had come.

“I can’t believe he agreed to do that,” I said. I snickered at Chief’s obedience and weakness. Bryan and me, we didn’t take orders. Bryan nodded along with me.

“I own him,” he snorted smugly.

I stood there next to him and I felt those words go right up my spine.

Maybe it was all the sleepovers. Maybe it was the way Chief’s family has treated me. Somewhere in me there was still a last shred of decency and self-respect. It rose up and shook me to my senses. In his nasaly, trumpety voice, Bryan Brick had just announced that he owned my best friend. Screw him. Screw this.

And that was the end. It was that easy. There was no confrontation. I never said anything to Bryan or anyone in the group. We didn’t stop being friends. I just drifted away. Just like that, I was out.

I rejoined my old group of friends and they took me back without a word. There was an empty locker over by them that didn’t lock, and I moved my stuff into it.

Weekends became fun again. We’d hang out and watch movies. We’d sleepover in someone’s basement and play Risk late into the night, drinking Jolt soda. We’d play manhunt at the playground or sneak out at night to play caraphobia. I went back to girls who were in the slow lane – which was the lane I was comfortable in. Everyone was nice to each other. When someone made a joke at your expense, the laughter made you feel accepted not put down. In short, it was a group of kids that made me feel good about myself.

I was done with Bryan Brick and the cool kids. And while it may have been a short-term loss in status, it turned out to be one of the best long-term decisions of my life. Because I’m sure you boys have figured out by now that the group of friends I’m talking about is the same group of friends you see all the time on camping trips and when we get together for the premiere of superhero movies. We have been groomsmen in each other’s weddings and godfathers to each other’s kids. Not a week goes by when we don’t talk to each other.

In fact…here’s a photo of us in high school. (Hmm…makes me think we might have been more popular if we dressed better.)


And here’s a photo of us 20 years later headed out on a camping trip.


When you’re in a diner and there’s that table in the back full of guys who are laughing so loud the whole restaurant can hear them? That’s was us then and it’s still us now.

And the Chief? What ever happened to him? I’ll answer that with some photos.



The first photo is Chief standing up as the best man in my wedding. The second photo is Chief getting married a few years later. I got to stand up and be his best man.

Chief didn’t last much longer as a cool kid. I think he probably went to one more dreadful hyena/hot chick gathering after I left the group. Within a week his stuff started showing up in my new locker. Soon he moved in full time and we spent the remainder of our sophomore year sharing a locker that didn’t lock – but we were used to being in each other’s space.

I guess Bryan Brick didn’t own him after all.

So…I’ll end with my advice to you boys on being popularity:

  • If your goal is to be popular, you define yourself by other people’s opinion – which means you have no power over your own life.
  • The coolest thing in the world is to be nice to people and to be yourself.
  • Popular kids are boring. Don’t waste your time.

The Official Rules for Calling Shotgun

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.

I hear a lot of silly variations on shotgun rules among your friends. Usually it’s them trying to weasel their way into an illegal shotgun call, but sometimes they just have bad parents who don’t teach them the right rules. I always put the hammer down, but as part of the Donna G Project, I will lay out the official rules with no uncertain terms. These rules are non-negotiable and not up for debate.

Here they are.

Basic rules:

  • First one the call “shotgun” sits shotgun.
  • You must be outside to call shotgun.
  • If you have called shotgun, but go back inside (no matter the reason), you have forfeit your right to shotgun. Shotgun is up for grabs the instant you go inside.
  • Being inside means your head breaks the plane of a doorway. If you can keep your head outside, you still have shotgun.
  • If a girl is driving and your buddy likes that girl, consider letting him have shotgun. That is not mandatory, but it is highly recommended 

Rules for professionals:

  • The primary job of the person sitting shotgun is to support the driver. A professional shotgun will manage maps, phones, beverages, food, music, etc., and do so in way that places the driver’s needs first. For example:
    • Following a drive-thru purchase, a professional shotgun will always make sure the driver is 100% situated before opening their own meal.
    • A professional shotgun will never hand a driver a cheeseburger that is still wrapped. A professional shotgun will unwrap that sandwich exactly the way the driver wants it, so the driver can focus on driving. You are the driver’s hands.
  • A profession shotgun never falls asleep. They are there to make sure the driver is awake, alert, and supported.
  • A professional shotgun takes the role of Iroquois Runner.
    • Iroquois Runner will run any and all quick errands that are required (put a package in the mail, pick up a pizza, etc.)
    • Iroquois Runner’s shotgun status is protected while running an errand, even if the errand takes them indoors.
    • Following an errand, Iroquois Runner is to get back into the car:
      • Through the open window (opening the door is not allowed)
      • While the car is driving away

These are important rules. Learn them.


About My Mother

Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.


I will begin with the flaws, because they are glorious.

  • My mother’s defining characteristic was her smoking. My mother was the best smoker in the world. Credible estimates have her between 4 and 5 packs a day. She was so nicotine-addicted that she couldn’t sleep more than 2 hours before her body would wake her up to smoke 2 quick cigarettes before she could go back to sleep. After we moved out of the house I grew up in, when we pulled away her chair there was a huge brown stain that ran up the wall and out over the ceiling. She literally left a smoking shadow after she was gone.
  • She had a bizarre skin condition that made her prone to rashes. She refused to see a doctor (because a doctor would tell her to quit smoking), so she tried to medicate the rash through a series of diet changes that friends and strangers told her about, but nothing really worked. It condemned her to a wardrobe of loose-fitting mu-mus that minimized any chafing.
  • She’d broken her shoulder when I was in 7th grade when she slipped on the ice. She refused to go to the doctor (because a doctor would tell her to quit smoking), so it had healed in a way that left her slightly askew. She walked with a slight hunch and she couldn’t raise her right arm above her head.
  • She had exceptional trouble with word recall.

“Go downstairs and get the…thing!” she would demand.

“What thing?”

“The THING! The…the…THING!”

“Thing” could mean anything from a can of beans to a folding table. I can remember countless times I had to bumble around the basement searching for the “thing” that was right next to the “other thing”. Then I’d be sent back down until I finally managed to retrieve what she needed.

However, her word recall did work to your favor sometimes when she couldn’t come up with your name. If a crappy job was headed your way, you could sometimes make your escape if you were quick enough.

“Someone needs to paint the porch. Harry….no, Chr…no…”

“I gotta go, Mom! Bye!”

“God damn it! Get back here…YOU!”

  • She had insane theories about how the world worked that were based on nothing even resembling fact. The barometric pressure affected mood. The key to being organized was to buy dozens of multi-colored pens. The skunks were eating all the dandelions!

So with all of this, it should be no surprise that she had a heart attack when she was 55 – and that she didn’t go to the ER for nearly 48 hours. I was living in NYC at the time. When I got the message from my father, I called her hospital room.

“The doctor said I have to quit smoking,” she told me.

“Are you going to?”

“Yes!” she barked at me. “I don’t want to die!”

But she did die. She died that night. The phone rang at 3AM; it was my dad. He told me what had happened, but I knew the instant the phone had woken me up. I don’t remember the conversation clearly. I know I called my brother right after, but I don’t know what we said to each other. I remember Shani staring right into my face and saying, “You don’t even get it, man!” I think we went through my address book together to pick out all the people she would call and tell the next day. What I do know is that the whole world became a vacuum the instant I heard that phone ring. Gravity disappeared. I was somehow floating and so was everything around me.

I was really close to her and I liked her a hell of a lot. I looked up to her. She was a damn good mom – first ballot Hall of Famer. And I could physically feel her love like a heat lamp blasting on me – and not just when I was with her. It was love I felt 24/7 and love I felt a thousand miles away.

But the heat lamp had been unplugged. I guess that was where that vacuum feeling came from.

(For the record, I’m writing this on a plane and the woman next to me is trying to pretend not to notice that I’m crying. It’s messed up, boys. I still miss the crap out of her.)

OK, so this is going to sound nuts – but the days immediately following her death were fun. They were.

I took the bus to Binghamton. My brother flew in. My uncle Coddy came. Uncle Bob. My Aunt Joan came back into our lives (thank God). Marie, of course.

My friends appeared like genies – POOF – they were there. From all over the country they came to make me laugh, to talk it out with me, to cry with me. I can remember being on the phone with Chief when he called from LA.

“I’ll be there tomorrow around noon.”

“Wait,” I started. “You don’t have to…”

He bulldozed right over me. “I’m coming. I just got off the phone with Discover to raise my credit limit. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

People brought heaps of food. They hugged the hell out of me. Neighbors came by. My mom’s huge array of friends sat and told me stories about her. I got drunk with my father and brother. Your uncle Chris and I went for a walk at midnight and didn’t get back home until dawn. About a million people came to the funeral and every last one of them told me just how much they loved my mother.

And it was fun. It was filled with love and authenticity and support and laughing. It was fun.

What was not fun was pretty much every day for the next 9 months. Because the truth is, it sucks when your mom dies and you feel like shit for a good long time after it happens. I barely did any writing for the entire summer. I got an awful review at work that September. I kept feeling cranky or unmotivated or just sad. Time and again Shani, bless her heart, would say to me: “Is this because of your mother?” And AHA! The light would go off and I’d realize that had been it all along. Until I’d forget it again a week later.

In fact, I will share with you my death advice. Here are 3 things that were really helpful:

  1. My Uncle Bob told me that the average grieving time is 13 months. He warned me that you would feel it for that long – and you would notice when it starts to pass. And knowing that was helpful.
  2. My high school English teacher came by and shared her husband’s story. He had nearly died of a heart attack earlier that year. He described it as floating up through layers and layers of light, and each layer was more wonderful than the next. Knowing that helped too – especially when I imagined her that night when the second heart attack took her. She’d told me just hours before that she didn’t want to die – but I hope at the end there were layers of light and wonderfulness.
  3. My friend Bruce told me this: He said that he was sorry I was in pain. But the pain was there because of love. And while he wished he could take away my pain, he would never want to take away the love I’d had. That really helped. That was some genuine wisdom that I clung to many-a-time.

But back to my mom – because now I want to tell you about the positive traits.

The best way to describe her is to say that she was a force of nature. And a force for good. She was one of the most active forces of good I’ve ever personally known.

She was the president of the school board and a deeply involved one at that. She knew everyone in the district and they all went to her with concerns. Bus drivers, administrators, teachers, students – everyone knew Mary. And she seemed to know whatever tough thing that was going on in their life.

At least once a month a parent would show up at our door. Usually it was a father, and usually he would be near tears. The doorbell would ring and a giant, strong man would be at the door asking for the help of my bent and nicotine-addled little mother.

And my mother would go to bat for every single one of them. She’d set up meetings with principals. She’d intervene with the police. She’d arrange for tutors. She’d talk to truant officers. Once a teacher had put his hand down a female student’s shirt – and believe you me, Mary Nuckols took that one on full force.

And the school board was just the beginning.

She was an Accord Mediator. Rather than go to court, people would first try Accord mediations, which basically meant my mother tried to help families work through really bad situations before going to court. You can bet she needed a few extra cigarettes after those meetings.

She was on the local board of Voices for Children, which is a group that advocates for kids in foster care. This meant that kids who didn’t have their own parents to stand up for them had my mother. Who was a pretty damn good advocate.

She was on all kinds of state committees on education and frequently went to Albany for meetings.

Then beyond the formal, organized ways she helped people out, there were dozens of more personal examples.

For example…A young girl down the street was in an abusive relationship. My mother brought her into the house, showed her an envelope with $500 cash in it, taped the envelope behind a picture in our living room and said to the girl: “If you ever need to get out right away – that money is there. The front door is never locked and this money is yours.”

For example…One night over winter break when I was in college, I came home to find a woman and her teenage daughter in our guest room. They lived at the end of the block and their house had burned down. And sure they were much closer to other neighbors on our street, and yes they had literally never met my mother – but guess who took them in? Guess who negotiated with insurance companies for them? Guess who took them out to buy clothes and toiletries? My mother just couldn’t help herself.

Which brings me to my main point – and why I started with the flaws. Here is what I learned from my mother:

You always have an excuse. Everyone does. You always will have plenty of reasons why you’re too busy, too distracted, too whatever to help people. You’re too busy to volunteer. Your life is too hectic to pitch in. You’ve got too much going on to help out.

My mother is evidence that those excuses are a load of crap. My mother had every excuse – from poor health to too much going on already – and still she always jumped right in at every turn. I try to live up to that. It makes me SO damn proud that your mother has been the president of your PTA, runs the local book fair, volunteers for her college. And there’s something poetic about the fact that your mother and I met volunteering.

My mother was a good person. I believe she is in heaven (smoking). I desperately wish she could have met you boys — I think about that during talent shows and diving meets. She would have delighted in the two of you and would have annoyed the crap out of me with advice on how to raise you. That would have been fun. We missed out on that from her dying.

And the takeaway? I have three takeaways to share with you:

  1. Please don’t smoke. Not a single puff. Not ever. It would hurt me deeply to see you do that. I would see it as a major failure in my job as your parent.
  2. Please be good people. And to be good, you have to do good. Goodness is active; you can list it like bullets on your resume. That’s what being good is.
  3. Finally…please accept the full-blast heat lamp of my love for the two of you. It is mighty and it shines with terrifying intensity. And know this – if the pain of loss is equal to the strength of love that existed, it is my intention to make my death as painful for the two of you as I possibly can. I apologize for this in advance.