The Costs of Record-Breaking Journalism

CVS stuff!

When your most prominent product makes your business “essential” and no one’s bullying you into refusing to sell non-essentials.

I’m generally happy to pay for journalism. I believe a free and fully functional press is a critical component to the structural integrity and ethics of any given country, state, and city. Local journalists in particular can cover topics too far below the radar of the numerous nationwide organizations out there. As a staunch anti-partisan who thinks extremely little of our feud-fueled political system, I don’t need to agree with every journalist’s tribal allegiance as long as I can discern either some capital-N News or some genuinely informed insights in their offerings. It helps that I tend to skim past the Opinions section and refuse to read the letters from readers unless they’re from someone I recognize, which so far this century has happened once (congrats to one of my wife’s cousins for that feat).

I’m old-fashioned enough to have a subscription to our local daily paper, the Indianapolis Star. A traditional seven-day subscription seemed a bit much, so I have a scaled-back subscription that requires one of their few remaining physical carriers to deliver a print-edition paper to our mailbox only on Sundays and Thursdays. Over the years the Thursday paper has turned slimline and provides me five minutes of preoccupation at most, but the Sunday paper remains their heftiest, with expanded content such as longform investigative pieces, restaurant news/reviews, faith-related essays, the starving remnants of the once-useful classifieds, retailer advertising inserts, grocery coupons, and four pages of Sunday comic strips in color. Longtime MCC readers can guess which section gets sorted to the top of my reading pile.

The Star shocked me three times this past weekend. Under the terms of the interim normal, two of those shocks were sorrowful but explainable. The third is debatable.

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Gazing Upon the Works of Others

Autumn Maple, 2014

This is probably my last autumn photo of the year. I sure didn’t make this tree, but I did work to save its life one year during a terrible drought that pushed it to the brink. Taking extra steps to keep this pretty piece of Creation around seemed the least I could do for the sake of nature in general and our backyard in particular.

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Indiana Comic Con 2014: Leftover Talking Points

Adipose, Doctor Who

Adipose wasn’t at the Indiana Comic Con, but I took this pic later the same day. Cuteness goes a long way toward banishing frustration.

Several random digressions were tossed from the previous entry because I wanted to keep it concise and streamlined for first-time visitors and photo addicts. The following self-Q&A represents what I hope will be the final roundup of anecdotes from our weekend in general, a few reflections on the positive things that came from it, and some eager anticipation of potentially exciting events ahead in 2014 for us and for MCC readers.

So…was that it? You left the con, went home, wallowed in your high blood pressure, and registered your dismay on the internet for all to see? We had a backup plan, but I didn’t expect to have time to use it. After abandoning downtown we headed out west and attended the open house at Who North America. Touted as America’s largest online retailer of Doctor Who memorabilia, they’re normally closed to the public except by appointment, but they open one Saturday every month for a four-hour window. They timed their March open house to coincide with the con and drew at least ten times their normal visitor count. The line to enter was a ninety-minute wait…but at least we were allowed inside. They even announced they were extending their hours to accommodate the tremendous response. We literally applauded their generosity.

This way for more questions, a map, and a 2014 convention schedule!

Is It Time to Reboot Your Franchise for the New Year?

personal reboot, relaunch, restartAll around you are family, friends, and strangers using the excuse of a new January 1st to restart, relaunch, or reboot their lives. You may doubt their sincerity, their dedication, or their grasp on reality, but you’re not in charge of their story arcs. For whatever reason, they’ve decided their “series” needs to begin again from scratch. Some of them aren’t so sure about what they’re doing, but they firmly believe the results will justify the scheme. Some of them will be wrong, but it’s possible a few of them may be on to something.

What if they’re right? What if it works and they win? Can you steal their idea after the fact and hope no one notices? And how can tell when it’s your turn to end your current numbering and start over from #1? Check your life for one or more of the following warning signs:

* Situations and struggles have become so predictable, what once took you twenty-two minutes to solve now takes only two.

* The world around you seems poorly drawn, as if the architect of your universe is distracted and rushing to get each day over with.

* Every other day you’re butting heads with the same arch-nemesis again and again and again, as if there’s nothing better for you to do.

* Your best friends nag you about how your life has become too boring to follow, and keep writing long essays about how they’d make your life 100 times better if they were in charge.

* Your last few decades’ worth of continuity have become so convoluted that you now have multiple conflicting memories of singular events, all impossible to reconcile with each other.

* You find yourself saddled against your will with one or more lame, whiny sidekicks.

* You have a tiny, hardcore group of supporters who think you’re winning at life, but deep down you wish you could sacrifice them all, sell out, and appeal to a much wider, younger, shallower, less discerning audience instead.

* Everyone else around you is doing it, and hopping on bandwagons is cool.

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Morgan Freeman Photos Convey Authority, Win Debates, Certify Anything as Gold

Morgan FreemanDuring the solemn, lamentable weekend following last Friday’s senseless tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Facebook users who were already struggling with their own reactions, the reactions of their friends, and the fights breaking out between friends of conflicting reactions all found themselves interrupted dozens of times over the course of the weekend by the reassuring face of Academy Award Winner Morgan Freeman, perceived as one of the kindliest, most grandfatherly figures in all of Hollywood. His face was attached to a short essay decrying the culpability of mass media in encouraging too many broken young men to become power-tripping mass murderers because of the seedy allure of posthumous headlines and ten minutes of front-page infamy. Few would argue with the content of the well-meaning essay, but this wasn’t just any old essay written by an ostensibly intelligent typist. This was an essay attached to a photo of Academy Award Winner Morgan Freeman.

Somehow the photo imbued those words with a godlike acumen that transcended all racial, economic, and spiritual barriers. Within seconds one out of every one-and-a-half Facebook users was forwarding the words and picture to everyone in striking distance under the assumption that they naturally had something to do with each other. No need for fact-checking, no verifying sources, no asking why Freeman would release a public statement as if he’s an official White House spokesman — someone they knew forwarded it to them, so it had to be true.

What you saw probably resembled this, except more professionally cobbled together and without my modified attribution:

Morgan Freeman Fraud Sample

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The Parable of the Little Reindeer Candle

Once upon a time, there was a cute little reindeer candle. I have no idea who gave him to us or on which Christmas, but we accepted him with open arms into our diverse family of Christmas decorations. Unlike other reindeer, he was white and chubby, but no one made cruel albino jokes or excluded him from reindeer games. If anything, he reminded me of me. Like many other candles, he was made of wax and topped with a fuse. Perhaps he was made to chase away the dark, but to us he was too cute and innocuous to light up.

When I retrieved our Christmas decorations from the attic last week, during the unpacking phase I discovered to my dismay that the attic’s complete lack of environmental controls had taken an unkind toll on the little reindeer candle. The summer heat had jump-started the melting process, no open flame required. His hooves and horns were now deformed. A homemade yarn-and-popsicle-stick from someone’s childhood had melded with his poor, softened, formerly rotund face. I yanked it off as delicately as I could, but several strands and dog hairs were stuck fast, leaving him with a scraggly, patchy, mountain-man countenance. He didn’t look very happy to be rescued.

Little Reindeer Candle

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The Time-Honored Family Tradition of the Overwhelming Christmas To-Do List

christmas tree 2012

“Family Christmas Tree” side quest — status: Completed!

Once again the busiest month of the year demands more of our free time than any other holiday. Given its significance to our family, that’s not entirely unjustified, but we struggle just the same to strike a balance between Christmas activities, usual mandatory chores, everyday downtime, and time-sensitive fun options that have the misfortune of being scheduled in December. I’m usually plagued by to-do lists year-round as it is, but Christmastime never fails to send me into sudden-death double overtime to accomplish all the requirements and expected acts of cheer.

(I’m sure my wife’s to-do list is twice as long as mine, but she’ll be fine because she’s more magical than Santa.)

I’m shockingly ahead of schedule this year. My scorecard so far:

COMPLETED TASKS:

* Put up Christmas tree and indoor decorations. I refuse to retrieve our Christmas decorations from our attic until after Thanksgiving is over. That’s partly because I believe in celebrating a maximum of one (1) holiday at a time. That’s also partly because I hate going up in the attic. It’s cramped and uncomfortable and the door is hard to access and there are harmful pointy nails everywhere. I call it “the Danger Room”. But it has to be done within a week of Thanksgiving or else I suffer my wife’s adorable Christmas-loving wrath. The enclosed photo evidence confirms Christmas tree is go; we have themed wreaths and other Christmas knickknacks in place; and Christmas dinnerware is now in effect for extra credit.

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Wallflower Agrees to Disagree with Company Holiday Party

Every year my wife and I pin my company’s holiday party on our calendar for exactly three reasons:

1. It’s a rare excuse to spend quality time together in an adult setting in nice clothes.

2. It’s a free dinner.

3. They’re generous about giving out door prizes to the majority of the attendees.

It’s been a few years since my last door prize, but I try not to give up hope for the first few hours of the party, during which she and I do our best to pass the time with not much to keep us occupied except each other and pure imagination. This is not as easy for us as it is for normal people. We don’t dance or drink. Those I call “friend” usually find reasons to bow out. Those I call “happy acquaintance” are great at pre-planning their seating arrangements with their longtime closer friends. The two of us usually find an empty table, establish our own Island of Misfit Diners, and grant asylum to other loners or latecomers seeking refuge. It’s a necessary service we’re used to providing.

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My Quiet Black Friday Road Trip Without Stampedes or Duels

The following photo was taken outside an Indianapolis store on Black Friday around 9 a.m. At far left in the background is a strip mall; at far right, a Best Buy.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Castleton Square, Black Friday 2012

If your answer was, “There are empty parking spaces,” you win! Congrats on spotting the unoccupied tarmac in the upper-right corner. I owe you one imaginary cookie with your choice of pretend toppings.

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Wheelchair Adventure Requires Maniac Driver to Decelerate from 60 to 0

grandmother's wheelchairSaturday the 10th was my first day spent with a wheelchair. I tried to imagine the day beforehand, to anticipate the drawbacks and plan for every single troubleshooting scenario. I’m surprised I nailed most of them, but it was still a learning experience full of ups and downs. The day could have been much more painful and full of recriminations, had I not been blessed with a very patient, very grateful passenger.

One of the highlights each year for my wife’s grandmother is when the three of us spend a November Saturday together at the Indianapolis Christmas Gift and Hobby Show, a cavalcade of Christmas arts, Christmas crafts, Christmas edibles, and non-Christmas small businesses and hucksters held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in one of their cavernous pavilions. It usually takes us a few hours to traverse the length of the pavilion several times to see all the booths, marvel at the decorations, overspend on a few choice items, and — always number one on Mamaw’s to-do list — have her watch batteries replaced at a specific jeweler’s booth. No one in all Creation is allowed to change her watch batteries except that one jeweler. Everyone else ever born will do it wrong.

Last summer, this once-hyperkinetic eightysomething dynamo took a nasty spill that left her wounded for a good while and reset her normal energy levels at a much lower bar. She’s having much more trouble getting around than she used to, and takes a little longer to perform her chores the way she wants them. Though she weighs under one hundred pounds, she still doesn’t have quite the endurance for supporting that frame around extensive distances. Excessive walking now leaves her winded and ready to call it a day. As her beloved Christmas Gift and Hobby Show drew near, she seriously doubted she could manage the day-long stroll that would entail, and had resigned herself to skipping the show, despite how many she’s attended, despite how much she looks forward to it every year. She feared attempting such a feat now would be the death of her.

Enter: the wheelchair.

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Even If You Can’t Vote by Faith, by Party, or by Common Sense, Vote Anyway.

Voting stickerAfter being raised in a household free of overt political discussion, I never had any idea which political party was mine. A moment of clarity arrived in eleventh-grade Physics class when a fellow student named Jeff sought to offer me personal definition: he asked me my views on abortion. I gave him an answer. He told me which party was mine. To him, it was as simple as that. I decided then and there that the two-party monopoly left a lot to be desired. Thus was my head sent spinning into years of aimless political apathy, college-campus pluralism, irritatingly noncommittal neutrality, alternative-newspaper perusal, and Jello Biafra spoken-word albums. Truly it was a time of intellectual isolation for me, though the accompanying music could be cool at times.

Two decades later, I’m no more into taking arbitrary sides, generalizing entire parties based on the actions of a single faction, or collecting campaign buttons than I was in my misanthropic youth. However, at least now I can say I’m participating in the voting process anyway, because the small local elections are close enough to home that the votes really can make a difference, free of interference from unhelpful interlopers like the Electoral College. Also, just because I can.

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Area Man Marks Six Months of Consecutive Daily Blogging with Self-Promotional Solipsism

Midlife Crisis Crossover magical happening placeAfter long deliberation and some preparation, I launched Midlife Crisis Crossover on April 28, 2012, with “The Train Job“, my satirical plan to unite all the incongruous neighborhoods of Indianapolis with a haphazard subway plan that would still be more functional than the marginal mass-transit options of our reality. With that entry serving as my ribbon-cutting ceremony, I committed myself to creating one new piece every day for as long I could keep finding reasons to write and ways to test myself. If I were ever to be serious about finding a purpose for this alleged writing talent, then I needed to knuckle down and see if I could activate it on a regular basis without waiting for other Internet users to provoke or co-opt it.

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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Trick-or-Treaters

Three weeks from now, our fair neighborhood will be observing Halloween, the one day of the year in which we’re all willing to look directly at each other, and maybe even speak to each other if we’re feeling particularly peppy and high on sugar. For once the children leave their entertainment screens behind for the space of two or three hours and patrol the area in search of the best kind of free handouts — the kind with no government strings attached. For me, it’s a form of community involvement, one of my rare opportunities to engage in brief fellowship and do nice things for the people around us whose names I still don’t know.

Kids of my neighborhood, or of neighborhoods exactly like mine: pay close attention. This is your target. It’s called “a neighbor’s house”.

Halloween decorations

2009 file photo. 2012 decorations and setup TBD.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it and your parents aren’t paranoid enough to forbid it, will be to approach houses like mine and undergo the traditional step-by-step procedure to obtain free candy in exchange for ten seconds of human interaction. I realize this is asking a lot from some among you. If you’d rather forgo the expenditure of effort and simply write “LOTS OF CANDY” on Mommy’s grocery list instead, far be it from me to lecture you about all those generations of diligent children who were better than you.

In preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for the evening’s task, I recommend adhering to the following principles to ensure that your candy donors are impressed with your performance and don’t regret spending dozens of dollars on all those giant bags of junk food. Remember, you’re not just out there to mooch from us adult strangers: you’re there to win at Halloween.

1. Dress like the person you aren’t, not the person you are. Your everyday street clothes are not a costume. Makeup is a good start, but should not be your sole costuming medium. If your so-called “Halloween costume” is comprised entirely of clothes you’ll wear more than three times this year, you’re a deadbeat who’s making the Spirit of Halloween cry. Even if your family can’t afford to overspend on store-bought get-ups, at least try to create something that requires the use of scissors, glue, tape, or food — anything that says, “I tried.”

2. Knock or use the doorbell. A single rapping or button-depress will do. More than once is permissible if it’s my fault that I’m taking too long to answer the door. Three times in fifteen seconds makes you look desperate and increases the odds of my throwing your candy at you overhand. Standing motionlessly on my porch, staring at my door, and waiting for me to detect your heartbeat or the fluctuation in the air pressure caused by your occupancy of that space is not traditional door-to-door decorum and I totally won’t hear you. Shyness is understandable, but hardly meritorious under the circumstances.

3. SAY THE LINE. Three words, three syllables: “Trick or treat!” It’s not a secret password known only to members of the Halloween Cabal. Anyone can memorize it. Some of your peers seem to have trouble vocalizing it. No one is expecting you to spout anything nearly as complicated as, say, “supraventricular tachyarrhythmia”. If I open the door for you, your response is THE LINE. Staring at me silently and expectantly will be rewarded with me returning the silence and motionlessness in kind. I can stay locked in that position all night if I have to. I might even make it worse with eye contact. Don’t test me on this.

4. Don’t make me open your container for you. Take the lid off your bucket, open your plastic bag or pillowcase wide, pull up the flap on the hiking backpack, whatever. If I have to do that part for you, from a distance it’ll look as though I’m trying to steal from your stash, to say nothing of the weird violation of personal space required to keep your share of my candy from dropping all over my unswept porch.

5. Don’t immediately look into your bag to evaluate your spoils. That’s just rude. My candy bucket was right there before your very eyes where you could see it, and already you’re inspecting the results? Are you checking for explosives? Are you afraid I pulled a bait-and-switch and gave you broccoli lollipops instead of chocolate bars? Can you really tell my candy apart from the dozens of other treats in your bag? You do know most of us benefactors hand out pretty much the same brand names, right?

6. SAY THE OTHER LINE. Two words, two syllables: “Thank you.” They’re English and they’re common in some circles. If it helps, write them on the back of your hand. Weeks in advance, if need be. Practice saying them to yourself in a mirror. Use flashcards. Have a friend drill you. By any means necessary, learn them. They’re your easiest way to validate me as a human being so I don’t feel like an unloved vending machine that you’re taking for granted.

7. If you’re a baby, see to it that your parent does all of the above for you. If your parent can’t handle the job, cry uncontrollably until they agree to find a cool aunt or uncle to take their place. You may have your whole life ahead of you, but it’s still too short to leave yourself at the mercy of amateurs.

Remember: enjoy the evening; be safe and sensible; travel in groups where possible; and — I can’t emphasize this enough — don’t forget your lines. If five words is too taxing or you’re struggling with stage fright, ask Mom or Dad to stand off to one side with cue cards. Pretend you’re hosting Saturday Night Live and have to succeed lest you ruin the funniest sketch of the night and end up being mocked in a thousand YouTube response videos. Have fun!

My “Forbes” Subscription Does Not Determine My Political Affiliation

Some of the most interesting events in my life were the result of my asking one simple question: “What happens when I do this?”

Sometimes my random experiments yield positive results — e.g., my 2004-2005 diet; home ownership; trying salt and malt vinegar on French fries; wedded bliss to an awesome woman; this blog. Sometimes my ventures turn into cautionary tales — e.g., my first marriage; ghetto apartment living; turnip greens; watching Constantine. Simple, earnest curiosity without an agenda or an expectation has been responsible for more than a few odd occurrences in my life.

Last March I received a random mail offer for a multi-issue subscription to Forbes Magazine for a mere pittance of ten dollars. I’d never flipped through an issue at a newsstand, let alone purchased or even read one. At the time, all I knew was that they publish articles about upper-class people, and they like writing lists of billionaires. Otherwise, I was clueless as to their content or nature. At a retail price of $4.99 per issue, ten dollars seemed like a bargain. In my mind, that meant it was time for an experiment.
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