Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Movin' On ... Over

I've officialy moved SMOG from Blogger to WordPress. You can now find all my entries at My previous posts will remain housed here for the foreseeable future, but are also archived at the new place.
To my six die-hard fans, don't worry. You can still expect to find the same long-winded, poorly researched and inconsistently published content at WordPress that you've come to enjoy(?) here.

Click the button below to follow me on my new site.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

A Letter to My 4-Year-Old

(To be read on her 18th birthday)
Today is your fourth birthday. All signs of you having once been a baby – bald, babbling, chubby and small enough to nestle comfortably on my thigh – have completely vanished. You are now a long, lean, intelligent, assertive and beautiful … person. Your love for nursery rhymes and picture books is being replaced by pop music and feature films. Already, many of the mental images of your early months and years are fading, for you and for me. By the time you read this, although photos may remain, you will almost certainly have lost any personal recollections of your first daycare teachers, your nursery, your red tricycle and much more.
Of course, growing older will surely bring you many new cherished memories – your first day of school, your first time behind the wheel of a car … your first kiss. As a teenager, you may not yet appreciate the nostalgia of youth as much as your old man, and it’s certainly healthier to look toward the future than live in the past. Nevertheless, in the days, months and years ahead, as you gain new independence and insight into the world around you, I have one simple request:

Remember what life was like today, okay?

Remember what makes four-year-old you happy. And sad. And mad. Remember the wonders of the world that seem amazing today but, in adulthood, will seem commonplace and ordinary.

This may be challenging to do in 14 years, so I’ve tried to help by compiling a list of some of the things that make you tick right now. As you get older, time will move by faster and faster, with new stresses and challenges presenting themselves every day. I hope this will help to slow things down – to simplify life – if only for a few minutes.

Four-year-old you believes:
  • Drinking water is best served piping hot.
  • A ride up and down a department store escalator is more entertaining than any roller coaster.
  • A bike seat is a perfect place to take a nap.
  • It’s not museum-worthy art unless it includes glitter paint.
  • A plain cheeseburger contains no cheese.
  • The gloomiest mood can be cured by two minutes of petting a Jack Russell Terrier.
  • There's never a wrong time to wear a tiara.
  • Gnats are terrifying. Locusts? Awesome, and worthy of up-close inspection.
  • Syrup is a useless and unnecessary condiment.
  • A twirl is always required immediately after putting on a dress.
  • A common crow is as awe-inspiring a creation as the most majestic eagle.
  • Clean pavement and chalk are all anyone really needs to occupy a warm, sunny afternoon.
  • "Polka-dot" bananas taste best.
  • Bedtime always includes a hug, a kiss and a high five.
  • All music is dance music
I could, of course, go on and on, but I don’t want to get too sentimental. Instead, I’ll try to tie this all together with a Dr. Seuss quote that’s a favorite of both your Mom and me. In fact, to celebrate your third birthday, your Mom posted this on Facebook (Will that still be a thing in 2028?):

Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

Always be you. Happy Birthday, Jitterbug.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Practicing the Fundamentals

I'm dismayed by the amount of bigotry that surrounds me. Everywhere I turn, I see people, many of whom I generally respect and admire, judging, condemning and attacking those whose world doesn't fit neatly into theirs. Making it worse is the fact that so many of them do it not for themselves, but because their boss, or their buddies ... or their pastor say they should.
I struggle with this last one mightily. You see, I believe there is room for everyone at God's table, regardless of their lifestyles, beliefs or religious practices. It's our actions and treatment of others that determine whether or not we will celebrate eternal life in Paradise, much more than our blind devotion to following an interpretation of rules in a book.
I realize that I hold these values because my family, my teachers and my church all drilled them into me from a young age. They taught me to recognize that our individual paths to salvation are paved with our kind words, our charitable deeds and our treatment of others as equals; not with our outward piety and certainly not with our knee-jerk condemnation of anyone who believes or acts differently than us.
And I'm stressed about it. My daughter is almost four, the start of an impressionable period where every word I utter in her presence shapes her values, her beliefs and even her personality. Will I be able to teach her the right lessons while also shielding her from, or at least helping her understand, all the unfounded hatred that she'll encounter every day? I know she'll grow up surrounded by the same love that I was, but will she embrace it?
All I can do is try to lead her down the right path, so I’ve laid out a few key personal tenets that I hope will result in a little girl who grows up into a well-rounded and thoughtful adult:

Love and respect your neighbors. In life, you will cross paths with people from all walks of life – different races, different cultures, different intellects, different sexual preferences, and so on. You’ll meet them in school, in church, in your neighborhood and everywhere else you choose to venture. Some of them will be like-minded with you. Some of them will not. Love them either way. Greet them with a smile. If you have a disagreement, don’t be afraid to debate, but always do it with courtesy and civility. And afterwards, shake hands. If your neighbor won’t reciprocate that respect, take the moral high ground. Don’t retaliate. Walk away.

Be open-minded. Don’t stereotype. People’s life choices don’t define their worth as human beings. Don’t jump to conclusions about anyone based on their skin color, manner of dress or personality traits. Get to know them first. In some instances, you’ll find out that a person is simply a jerk, and that’s fine – you needn’t have a soft spot for everyone. But you should never hate somebody without getting to know them, and certainly not because of what some book or talking head says you should think about them or their “type.”

Choose your words carefully. What you say, and how you say it, can have consequences. Your right to speak freely doesn't absolve you from responsibility for what you say. It can impact, for better or worse, your ability to lead a productive life. It can also have a profoud effect on your ability to develop and maintain meaningful personal and profssional relationships. Follow a simple rule - if you wouldn't want people to say it to, or about you, you probably shouldn't say it to, or about them.

Give freely and willingly. When you see a Salvation Army bucket, drop in some change. If your school or office has a food drive, bring in a few cans of beans. Volunteer. And when you feel like you’ve given enough of your time and treasure, consider giving just a little bit more. There are many people in the world who are struggling, and there is always someone whose needs outweigh your desires. Our society will collapse on itself if the mighty are unwilling to lift up the weak. And never forget that although today you are mighty, tomorrow you may be weak.

Absorb as much religion as you can. Regardless of how you ultimately feel about organized religion, it’s still important to understand it. Living in my house, you'll be primarily exposed to moderately liberal Protestantism, and I hope you find value in it. But I also hope you'll find opportunities to branch out. Visit a synagogue. Check out a mosque. Attend Catholic Mass. As a society, we divide ourselves by our religious differences. Wouldn’t it be better to discover all that we have in common as a community of faith? Won’t you feel more complete as a person if you can comfortably celebrate your convictions with those who express theirs differently rather than segregate yourself from them?

Most significantly, be prepared to fail in all these things – repeatedly. You’re human. Over the course of your life your behaviors will often fall short. You’ll be stubborn. You’ll scream. You'll be selfish. You’ll pre-judge others – for their appearance, for their mannerisms and for any number of other superficial characteristics. What’s important to remember is that each time you fall, you must get up, dust yourself off and commit to trying harder the next time.

My faith teaches me that at the end of our lives, we are sent to be judged before God. Our worthiness to enter his kingdom will be determined not by how hard we prayed, and certainly not by how hard we fought against those who prayed differently than us. We will be judged by how graciously we lived our lives, how willingly we put the needs of others above our own desires, and how we never stopped – not until our dying day – striving to do better.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rubber Ducky, You’re Not the One

Yesterday, my local minor league baseball team, known since 1998 as the Akron Aeros, changed its name to the RubberDucks.


The team’s owner claims the change is, in part, to pay homage to the city’s history as the capital of the rubber and tire industries. I understand this to some extent. Aeros always fell pretty flat for me. Aside from boasting a few native astronauts and being located in the state that claims itself as the birthplace of modern aviation, Akron has a fairly limited connection to aerospace.

Nevertheless, from a rebranding standpoint I have to wonder how much thought really went into the name change.  It’s weak – for several reasons:

The mascot isn’t exactly "athletic." I realize that minor league sports teams (and major league teams for that matter) tend to use monikers with local connections, and many are far from intimidating.  But a rubber duck?  C’mon. The first thing I thought of when I saw the announcement was Ernie signing in the bathtub on Sesame Street. I know minor league ballgames are supposed to be family friendly, but it’s possible to be a bit too juvenile, especially when one of the stated reasons for the name change is to honor the city’s blue collar roots.

The whole local “rubber” connection will probably get lost. Golden Flashes. Runnin’ Rebels. Fightin’ Illini. With occasional exceptions, in most instances of teams using a leading adjective, fans call them by their second name. In other words, the RubberDucks are going to be called simply, the Ducks. Honestly, I’m OK with that. The ballpark sits on a canal, which attracts plenty of waterfowl. Akron is surrounded by parks and small lakes that boast sizable duck populations. But if the owner’s reason for changing the name is to pay respect to the city’s industry, he certainly missed the mark. Regardless, Ducks is certainly preferable to the potential alternative, the Rubbers.

There are better options. I think it’s admirable that the owner wants to be deferential to the city’s history, and as a former Goodyear employee, it does resonate with me. But if you want to connect to the industry, there are countless names that can accomplish it without conjuring images of a tub toy. What about Vulcans? Or Roadrunners? Or even Rollers? All could be easily branded with rubber and tires in mind. The case for going with RubberDucks just doesn’t make sense to me.

To make things worse, while the team will introduce a new costumed mascot soon, it will continue featuring the old one, Orbit, at games. In case the linked image isn’t clear, I believe Orbit is supposed to be a hedgehog based off the old Sega game, Sonic. Not only is he outdated and irrelevant – he also terrifies my daughter.

So, to summarize, I feel the name change is misguided. In my opinion, it’s actually a step backward from the previous name, and from a branding standpoint, overshoots its intended target.

And don’t get me started on the Columbus Clippers.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Joys and Pains of Being an Indians Fan

I haven’t always been a die-hard Cleveland Indians fan.  As a kid in northwest Ohio the ‘80s, I rooted for the Tribe, but loved the Mets (and the Broncos … and the Pistons).  I was the ultimate front-runner – something I’m not terribly proud of today.
Nevertheless, as I grew and matured, I found myself drifting away from the contenders and cheering for the local boys.  In the summer, that meant Indians baseball – those lovable losers on the lake.  My dad is the ultimate fan and it was hard not to absorb at least some of his die-hardedness when so many of our summer days involved sitting in the back yard listening to Herb Score merrily slur his way through countless 90+ loss seasons.
Of course, being a Cleveland sports fan requires an ample amount of self hate.  No Cleveland team has won ANYTHING in almost 50 years.  And, for the Indians, it’s been 65 long seasons since they hoisted a World Series banner.  They’ve come oh so close in recent years (’95. ’97. ’07.), but always ended up breaking our hearts which, in some ways, hurt more than the previous decades’ consistent mediocrity.

But still, we root, root, root.

The past two seasons, however – with their scorching hot starts, disastrous middles and meaningless finishes – have, I’m sure, tested even the most loyal allegiances.  They have manifestly demonstrated what it means to be a Cleveland fan.

To me, it boils down to a few simple tenets.  I call it the Six Stages of Indians Fandom.  It’s a basic set of principles that can properly temper expectations and emotions for even the most novice Tribe fan through the slog of 162 games – with its highs, lows and everything in between:

Stage 1 (April) – Cautious Optimism: “Hey, we looked good in the Cactus League and are off to a solid start. We’ve got a few holes to fill, but I like what I’m seeing!”

Stage 2 (May) – Exuberance: “Holy sh*t!  We’re in first by a country mile!  We just swept the Tigers!  We’re on our way, baby!”

Stage 3 (June) – Wavering Hope: “Oof, rough start to the month, but we’re still leading the division.  If we can just play .500 ball the rest of the way, we should coast into the Playoffs.”

Stage 4 (July) – Rage: “How in the hell did we limp into the All Star Break on an eight game losing streak!?  I mean, seriously, how many f***ing saves can we blow in one month!?  Our closer’s an All Star for crying out loud!”

Stage 5 (August) – Disbelief: “I haven’t checked on the Tribe in a while.  I wonder how they’re doing.  What!? They’re 15 games out!?  Gahh!”

Stage 6 (September) – Apathy: “The Browns are 3-2, including the preseason.  I like our chances for the #6 Wild Card this year!  Woof!  Woof!”

As of this writing, the Indians are 2-0 and looking to sweep their season-opening series in Toronto.  Will this be the year they break the cycle?  I'm cautiously optimistic!