Am I Enthusiastic? Apparently So!

heylookawriterfellow:

The lovely and talented Britt Skrabanek recently accused me of being enthusiastic about life. I wasn’t sure if she was correct in this assessment. (My morning coffee hadn’t quite kicked in.)

Then she invited me to write a post for her popular monthly blog feature, “The Life Enthusiast Chronicles.” Suddenly I discovered that I was enthusiastic! By golly, Britt was right!

So that’s where I’m hanging out this week. Come on over and leave a comment or three. I’ll bring scones.

Originally posted on Britt Skrabanek:

Last month Zen from Zen Scribbles reminded us never to lose sight of the child in ourselves, to enjoy things that makes us happy—no matter what they are, no matter hold old we are. In my monthly series, The Life Enthusiast Chronicles, magnificent human beings from all over talk about what makes them excited to be alive.

Today I’m stoked to bring you guys a New Jersey native, Mike Allegra from heylookawriterfellow. Hands down, Mike’s blog is one of the funniest and most entertaining blogs I read on a regular basis. He puts a humorous spin on day-to-day experiences that will make you laugh your ass off. Seriously, I’ve spit out my coffee in the mornings on numerous occasions. 

Beyond that, Mike is just a great family guy with a great talent for writing (and doodling). I’m so glad that he took me up on the Life Enthusiast offer. Enjoy.

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More Resolved Solved!

Resolutions be tricky.

Resolutions be tricky.

At the start of 2015, I posted six resolutions that I planned to accomplish over the coming year. By the first week of February, I had nailed two of them:

Resolved: I will do something bold, yet well-planned.

Resolved: I will get rid of my golf ball collection in a manner that is – at the very least – mildly amusing.

Needless to say, I was feeling rather good about myself. In fact, I was smug. “Ha ha!” I chuckled. “I have 11 months to accomplish four more measly resolutions. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!”

The  remaining resolutions didn’t seem all that tricky, either:

Resolved: I shall neither form opinions nor comment on the opinions of others until I have finished at least one big mug of morning coffee.

Resolved: I will meet more blog buddies in person.

Resolved: I will become a Laundry Master.

Resolved: I shall write early and often.

But, then, resolution-wise, I kind of hit a wall. February became March and March became April. During that time I was unable to put anything in the done pile.

That is, until last week. My lovely wife, Ellen, with great ceremony, presented me with the following two documents (suitable for framing).

Woo!

Woo! (Click to see larger.)

Double woo! (Click to see larger.)

Double woo! (Click to see larger.)

Thank you, my love! I am honored and touched. And I can now see the light at the end of the resolution tunnel.

Onward!

Card, Catalogued

postcard of factoryI loathe clutter. I am always the person in my house to say, “Time to clean out! Throw it away or give it away! I don’t care what you do with it, as long as it’s gone!”

My family accuses me of taking this to extremes – and maybe I do. I have been caught trying to donate toys that my son is currently playing with and clothes my wife is currently wearing.

But I can get sentimental, too. Once in a while I’ll look at one of my possessions and think, “I will never, ever, in a million-jillion years, give this up.”

Shortly after my grandpa passed away, Mom gave me a stack of his old postcards. I was faintly familiar with them. I remembered seeing them in the bottom of his desk drawer during one of my semi-regular childhood snooping sessions. I never paid the postcards much mind, however, as they were stuffed underneath a distracting stack of ancient men’s magazines that featured models who looked like Ethel Mertz.

But now that the postcards had my undivided attention, I was in love.

My favorite is the card at the top of this post, a depiction of The Draper Company Works, a weaving loom factory in Hopedale, Massachusetts. In terms of architectural ugliness only parking garages are more of an eyesore than factories, yet the illustrator did a stellar job in making the facility look crisp, clean, and pristine. I especially love the faint wisp of smoke apologetically creeping into the brilliant azure sky. It is industrialization at its most Utopian, as seen through beer goggles and a generous slathering of Vaseline.

As much as I love the picture, it is what’s written on the back that makes the postcard a beloved keepsake. Most of the postcards in grandpa’s desk were blank, but this one is a window into my family’s history.

Dated July 21, 1926, it is a letter from my great-grandmother, who was visiting her mother in Upton, Massachusetts, to my great-grandfather, who remained home in Little Falls, New Jersey.

I never knew either one of my great-grandparents. My great-grandpa was long dead by the time I came on the scene. Great-grandma was alive, but my family never visited her. This led me to believe that she was either nasty or bonkers or both.

But that’s neither here nor there; this postcard, written almost 90 years ago and only a few lines long, opens a window into my great-grandma’s mind and soul. I never met her, but I feel I know her.

It reads as follows:

Dear James,

Just a few lines to let you know I feel terrible this morning. My whole body shakes. I scared Mr. Felton and Mama. They thought I was dying. Oh, the gas is killing me. Lastly, that’s all I care to write this morning.

With love from me and the children,

Emily

This card tells me many things. First of all, it explains why great-grandpa didn’t go on vacations with great-grandma. I can just picture him reading this card from the comfort of his home in Little Falls thinking, “Thank God I’m here!”

The card also shows that great-grandma wasn’t one to suffer in silence. When she had gas (and, boy, did she!), she was going to make sure everyone knew about it – not only Mama and Mr. Felton (whoever he is), but also her mailman. That was just the way she rolled.

But the most remarkable thing about the card is this: No one ever threw it out. My great-grandpa kept the card and passed it down to his son. And then my grandpa, in his infinite wisdom, held onto it for his entire life.

And now I have it. And you can bet your butt that I’m keeping it for the rest of my life, too. Mom gave me this postcard for a reason, I think; she knew I was the only one in the family who would appreciate its importance. Only I would make sure it was properly archived and kept safe.

And when I die, I will bequeath it to my grandchildren, for I feel it is my duty to let them know that, on one fateful summer day in 1926, their great-great-great-grandmother had a terrible – almost lethal – case of the farts.

postcard back

Salt Solution

UtahI awoke with stinging eyes, a pounding headache, and a whiff of stale smoke burning in my nostrils. It was all the effects of a hangover with none of the boozy fun of the night before.

Boozy fun didn’t happen in a Salt Lake City Holiday Inn — especially this one. The only vacancy was a smoking room with a lumpy king-size mattress that groaned every time I rolled over. It groaned often. I groaned, too, as I searched in vain for a comfortable sleeping position.

But it wasn’t all bad. I had reached my goal. I had made it to Utah. That was something, wasn’t it?

I was in my mid-twenties. College was over. I was living with my parents. I had no girlfriend or any prospect of finding one. Most of my friends had moved away. The only reason I had to get out of bed in the morning was my job at a bed and breakfast trade magazine situated out of a suite of dingy offices in South Orange. I didn’t like the work, but it was all I had.

Then I got laid off. In one fell swoop, I had lost what was left of my identity.

I still had money, though — and I didn’t want to spend what little cash I had left living my boring life in the same boring way. I wanted to spend it on something else – on gas and motels and heavy meals like fried steaks slathered in thick, speckled gravy the consistency of joint compound.

I wanted to see things. I wanted to travel.

“Where are you going?” my friend, Bill, asked through masticated bites of cheeseburger. Like me, Bill still lived at home. Unlike me, he had a job, a girlfriend, and an exit strategy out of his parents’ basement.

I didn’t have an answer. A destination had never occurred to me, so I said the first silly location that sprang to mind.

“Utah.”

“Ah!” Bill nodded. “You could use a couple of wives.”

We chuckled as we slurped our diner coffee, wordlessly mocking a place neither one of us had ever been.

In that very moment, however, a less cynical part of my personality took over.

Well, why not?, I thought. Maybe I would find my future wife on this trip. Maybe I’d stumble into a job – a good one that paid well. Maybe I’d find a little town so perfect that I’d never want to leave. Maybe the hours of quiet contemplation behind the wheel of my Plymouth Duster would help me make sense of my life. Who knew what was out there a thousand miles west of New Jersey? Anything could be out there. Maybe it was wonderful. Maybe it was waiting for me.

My stomach trembled with giddiness. For the first time in a year or more I fell in love with possibility.

I began my journey on a crisp, March morning with a bulging wallet, two bulging suitcases and little fanfare.

I first drove to Baltimore to meet up with an old friend. But our relationship wasn’t the same as I had remembered it.

Then I drove to Pittsburgh – where I went to college – to see if I could recapture something from that point in my life. I couldn’t.

Then I drove to places unknown. Ohio. Indiana. Iowa. Illinois. Nebraska.

I met a few people along the way, but not really. I didn’t want to meet people, so I mostly kept to myself. Part of me knew that I was sabotaging the entire point of my trip – the desire to find something to turn my life around – but I stayed the course. I drove a few hours. I set up in a motel. I watched Dragnet on Nick at Nite. Then I repeated the process, day after day after day, until Wyoming bled into Utah.

Because Utah was my destination, I had convinced myself that the answer to my problems would be found there. But all I could see was a vanilla town filled with fit, chipper people. When you’re depressed, the last place you want to be is in a town filled with fit, chipper people.

That night, in my stinky motel room, I counted what was left of my cash. More than half of it was gone. Logic told me that I had to head for home right away if I didn’t want to get stranded.

But I resisted. Everything was still unresolved. Everything was so very much the same as it was before that I couldn’t bring myself to turn around.

So the next morning I skipped breakfast and drove further west.

Shortly after Salt Lake City disappeared in my rear view mirror, I came upon the Great Salt Flats. The idea of such a lonely place so near a city startled me. I had driven across many desolate patches on my journey, but nothing quite like this. Before I knew what I was doing, I pulled over to the shoulder.

I got out of the car. The wind slapped me in the face as my sneakers crunched against the gray silt. The land was flat and featureless in every direction. I imagined Purgatory to be like this.

“My life in a nutshell,” I announced into a gust of wind. “Nothing worthwhile in any direction.”

But as I took it all in, I reconsidered my assessment.

If I continued west long enough, I’d hit San Francisco.

If I turned around, I’d be back in Salt Lake City and on my way home.

And who knew what I’d find if I went north or south? Something else besides this, surely.

There was something worthwhile in every direction, I just couldn’t see it yet. Like Purgatory, this situation was temporary.

Maybe this was my life in a nutshell. Maybe Utah did have something to tell me.

I let the wind smack me around for a minute or two more before I slid back into the driver’s seat. With a lighter heart, I pointed my car toward home and looked forward to what might appear on the horizon.

 

Crime Doesn’t Take a Holiday

Even this guy has his limits.

Even this guy has his limits.

The people at the end of our street still have their Christmas decorations up and even the decorations are resentful. The centerpiece of the display, a large, light-up Cookie Monster dressed as Santa, fell over last week, passed out face first in the mud.

“See what Cookie Monster is doing?” I told my son. “They did that a lot in the 1960s. It’s called passive resistance.”

“I thought it was called ‘drunk,’” the boy replied.

How can you not love this kid?

And he was right! The furry blue fellow did look like he was on the tail end of a bender. You couldn’t blame Cookie Monster for his transgression, either; his holiday ended three months ago.

There is little that offends me more than the sight of Christmas decorations up past the third week of January. I just can’t comprehend how something so obvious — so on display — could be ignored for so long.

I love Christmas, but once it’s over, it’s over. I make sure of it. When New Year’s Day rolls around, the Allegra house is abuzz with Christmas purging. Boxes are pulled out of the attic, promptly filled, and shoved back in. The tree is denuded and dragged to the curb. Within hours, my house returns to its simpler, un-tinseled self.

I don’t expect this level of discipline from everyone – sadly, we all can’t be persnickety, anal-retentive neatnicks – but I do expect everybody to pack up their outdoor mangers before Easter arrives. Whenever they don’t, it takes all of my willpower to not roll down the car window and bellow, “Jesus isn’t a baby anymore, doofus! He’s in his thirties and about to be murdered!”

My wife, Ellen, agrees with me in principle. She does not, however, share my passion. When I discuss our neighbors’ crimes against the neighborhood, she tries not to roll her eyes too often.

Alex, on the other hand, has reached an age where he likes to stir me up. He takes pleasure in parroting my outrage. When I drive him to school in the morning and we pass The Christmas House, he is the one to get the ball rolling.

“They have their candy cane lights out!” he shouted, aghast, as if seeing this eyesore for the first time. “When are they going to put them away? It’s March!”

“I know!” I shouted back as if this conversation hasn’t happened at least 30 times before. “Those people should be arrested!”

“They should!” Alex shouted again.

He then grew thoughtful. At that moment, I spotted a glimmer in the boy’s eye.

A few weeks before before this particular conversation, I borrowed a set of DVDs from my parents. It was the first season of an old TV show I was certain my son would love — and I was right. Hardly a night went by when Alex and I didn’t watch an episode.

I soon heard the show’s iconic opening line.

“This is the city,” Alex said in a gruff monotone. For what it’s worth, no eight year old on earth does a better Jack Webb impression. “Los Angeles, California.”

“Or New Jersey.” I interjected in my own Jack Webb voice.

“Or New Jersey,” he said. “People live here. They go to work. They go to school.”

“They put up Christmas decorations,” I added. “When they stay up too long, that’s when I come in. I carry a badge.”

“Dum Da Dum Dum!” we boomed in unison. “Dum Da Dum Dum DUMMM!”

My outrage was replaced with unbridled joy. I couldn’t help but weave a wonderful fantasy in my mind: My son and I were partners — Dragnet Holiday Decoration Detectives — running people downtown to answer for their long ignored twinkling lights and loitering Santas.

How awesome would that be? And what a great father/son bonding thing!

“We could maybe even send them to Guantanamo,” I heard myself say aloud.

“What?” Alex asked.

“Oh, nothing,” I replied absently. Then a smile crept across my face as the bombast of our theme song echoed in my brain.

Ta Daa! The Winning Doodle!

Last week, the lovely and talented Sarah Wesson (whose blog is awesome, by the way) won the Third Semiannual Heylookawriterfellow Win A Doodle Contest!

I am an accident prone idiot, so Sarah’s prize is a Custom Made Mike Allegra Overcoming Injury Doodle! It is the first of what I fear will be many such doodles in my future.

Sarah could get a drawing of anything she wanted. She wanted a Caffeine Gnome. I had never seen a Caffeine Gnome before, so I winged it.

Hope you like it, my friend!

Jittery