Singing in the Pain

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A long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away bipeds gathered around the campfire and on fields singing songs to pass the time. Singing was one of the only safe forms of entertainment since there were perils associated with other pastimes such as playing catch with rocks, eating live insects, chasing the rhinoceros and of course bobbing for turtles.

Times change. These days we’ve got modern day distractions such as DVRs, Microwave Ovens, and Costco. After all, do we really need to sing? It’s a strange thing to make pitched sounds with your face, don’t you think? And even though you love the Beatles, chances are you probably sound more like a Volkswagen than one of the legends gargling petroleum.

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But then the British invaded…again! And no we’re not talking about the Rock & Roll Invasion of the late 60s. Those people were cool.  The coolest thing offered up in the last 20 years, music wise, is” 98 degrees.” And it doesn’t stop there. Perhaps it was the advent of the home computer or even worse YouTube, where people could not only record themselves, but also be their own showcasing platform.  Embarrass yourself on American Idol…no problem; just ask William Hung. 25 million hits on YouTube and several recordings later… move over Ricky Martin.

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I guess by now you can sense our distaste for singing competitions spawned by Star Search decades ago, rekindled by American Idol and the legions of subsequent mutations infecting the airwaves. Those shows, as repulsive and sophomoric as they may be, are really a symptom of a larger problem. We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, have an incessant need to sing. One of us here at Cremideas actually teaches singing professionally…but not for fun. It’s simply to make enough money to pay for the cable TV that exalts these shows.

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So why do so many people respond to this compulsive urge for free? Have pop icons misled the masses into thinking they too can sing and shake their money maker like Beyoncé? Or is it a perfect storm where just as society has gone digitally inward, the next generation responds by pushing back outward. The music lover in us either prefers to hit mute during the show or fast forward to the results where all but one contestant’s dreams are publicly shattered and their only hope is that they can still work the night shift at Guitar Center.

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Reality TV perpetuates the myth that everyone has the potential to be extraordinary. The TV networks have cast a weird spell upon all of us. And the digital natives born into the iPod society see no reason why they shouldn’t be at the top of their own narcissistic playlist. Families gather around the boob tube, dad and mom argue over whether or not Adam Lambert should have painted his hair purple, while little Johnny paints his nails and works on his falsetto in the backyard. Little Suzie practices her dance steps recording every second of her progress for all to see on YouTube. Whatever happened to family TV such as Happy Days, the Cosby Show and the Brady Bunch? Has reality TV forever warped reality?

I guess the baby was thrown out with the bathwater when “Married with Children” went off the air. Here’s a thought: what happens in the bathtub should stay in the bathtub.

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In the end, the British laugh at all of us as they rake in the advertising money to buy new hats for Queen Elizabeth. Simon Cowell, while auditioning for the Bachelor, adds to his collection of V-Neck shirts, Susan Boyle goes to Harrods for her Extreme Makeover and the next generation of Americans program their DVRs for another “exciting” season ending in a coronation.

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Love thy neighbor?……Do I really have to?

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I haven’t blogged for awhile so I’ll keep this one close to home. literally.

In his classic poem “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost says “Good fences make good neighbors”.  With each passing day, I have a better understanding why.

I also understand why others live in Wyoming even if they don’t particularly like hunting and fishing.

Walking is one of my favorite hobbies (Note the aging alert). Growing up in New Hampshire we had to walk everywhere, even to prom for some people. Now even with time at a premium, I still at least manage to walk my dogs several times a day. I do so more for my own amusement. as I enjoy taking a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood as a reminder of a simpler past. At least in theory.this is true.

But then in what I can only compare to some weird combination of being half in the Thriller video and half in the Truman show, a swarm of two legged mosquitos pop out.

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I’ll start with the guy across the street. He is nearing 70, doesn’t seem to have a family, is Jewish and a tennis fanatic. Sounds great,right? Except for the fact that every time I go out in the middle of a train of thought, I get ambushed. Being the compassionate guy that I am, I don’t mind the small talk and do appreciate the occasional tennis update. I try to keep a distance but he’s not particularly good at reading body language. Now I often resort to walking outside pretending to speak on the phone.

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Then there’s the guy who lives to the left of me. I’ll paint the picture. He has this mechanical bird that makes perpetual squeaking noises to apparently fend off  larger birds from doing God knows what they will probably do anyway. He also owns two identical black Camaros and likes to wash his car by my driveway so all the residue ends up near me. For these reasons alone, I try to avoid almost all contact with him.

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The guy to my right must be at least 90 and I have some sneaking suspicion has Nazi blood. He never smiles and insists on doing all of his yardwork with a look of constipated venom. Plus his wife who is at least an octogenarian likes to lug heavy items around. Granted these are thin slices of evidence but that and their appearance suggest Aryan blood..I don’t get them. If I was old enough to remember the advent of automobiles, could remember my name, and still had the strength to push a lawnmower, I would never lose my smile.  I have yet to have a real conversation with them after almost three years of living here.

In truth, these are probably my most harmless neighbors. The rest of them are what I would refer to as either Town criers, anally retentive car and lawn protectors or completely inconsiderate noise makers. This applies to their dogs as well, most of whom are oversized and undertrained and/or have Napoleanic complexes.

Wise people say to focus on the solution, not the problem. 

In that spirit, all I can think of is walking my dogs either before dawn or after dusk. Either that or move to Wyoming but run the risk of being “accidentally” shot by Dick Cheney.

Just as I’m tempted to make a big change, I remember that Biblical admonition about “loving thy neighbor as thyself”.

This will have to be a work in progress but I do accept that everyone has their quirks. For now, I just hope my dogs enjoy a stroll around the neighborhood  more than their owner does. 

 

Craigslist

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Need a mattress or car seat? Looking to sell an old guitar? Need a nanny? Did you check Craigslist? Why not? Are you afraid of meeting a total stranger in the privacy of their home? Are you not willing to read the onslaught of emails from people trying to lowball you? Do you not enjoy receiving fake PayPal emails in broken English promising payment above your asking price? To me, it’s fun and relatively informative to engage with the general population from time to time on a little digital flea market shopping. Why? Not because I like buying used pasta, but because it lets me peek inside humanity a little deeper. Also, I enjoy haggling over prices probably because I stopped playing competitive sports years ago and rarely keep my own score when I golf.

Now, not everyone is crazy, but chances are you’ll find a lunatic pretty quickly on Craigslist. Here’s an example. The nanny we have told me that she once saw an ad on Craigslist in the Housekeeper section entitled “Scent of Fresh Air.” The person placing the ad wanted someone to clean his house and occasionally fart in his face. He explained that his wife used to do it for him, but she died.

 

I recently saw an ad on Craigslist entitled: “Mattress with Non-Human Stain. Free to Good Home.” This of course peaked my curiosity. I brought my friend along with me for security purposes. Upon arrival at the house, I tried to shake hands with the seller, but he only had one arm. As he led me upstairs to his bedroom, I knew immediately this was a bad idea. I felt my pulse rapidly speed up and sweat collect on my brow. He showed me the bed, made a silly joke “I’d give you a hand…but,” and then left the room. As I inspected the bed, I was searching for blood or perhaps his hand. What I found instead was a horribly oil stained mattress. Relieved, yet confused, I wondered, how does that happen? Short story, long, I wound up buying a different bed from a Hawaiian family at a public storage.

I’ve sold many items on Craigslist. Typically I’ll meet people at public places like Palacio de Los Jugos or the BK Lounge. I’ve learned to identify legit buyers and filter out the scammers. I call these people “Nigerians.” Why? Because it is obvious from their writing that they are not American. Also, I’ve had one too many email scams sent my way from Nigeria. I’ve verified this and it is a phenomenon called Nigerian 419 scams. The number “419” refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud.  Nothing against Nigerians, but what’s with all the shenanigans?

 

Typically “Nigerians” can be identified by having email addresses that don’t match their screen names. Their names are often also not entirely regionally appropriate. For instance, Miami people are rarely named Anishwari Gonzalez. They also tend to have a long story about how they will be visiting for a brief time and will need to pick the item up for a friend or variations of the sort. It tends to end with them asking you for an account number that they can wire funds to. They may try to get you to send the item via mail after you receive what looks like a legitimate PayPal payment confirmation via email. These are variations on old fashioned cons dating back to the early 19th century. They come in many forms: Fifo’s Fraud, Spanish Prisoner Scam, Black Money Scam, Pigeon Drop, fake checks, wire transfers, employment and lottery scams, online sales and rentals, pet scams, and of course romance scams (sorry Manti Te’o). This isn’t such bad business. Recent US statistics confirm that annually Americans lose over $200 million on internet scams.

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So, if you want some used pasta, need a little help around the house, or perhaps need to sell a few items you aren’t using, what should you do? Here’s some advice.

  1. Buy your pasta new. It’ll be far less risky to purchase and even gentler on the stomach.
  2. Avoid housekeepers at all cost. Farting issues aside, they are almost impossible to fire (see previous blog).
  3. List on Craigslist. There you may find a bucktoothed Nigerian sucker to buy an empty box of Invasiline.

 

Negotiation and the Art of the Dance

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I have always enjoyed a good negotiation. It’s challenging, fun and all consuming. There is an art to it. And those who play the game well typically eat filet mignot instead of hot dogs. I have often wondered why it isn’t a competitive sport complete with jerseys, arenas and cheerleaders. After all, it’s pure competition that everyone can relate to. Imagine: ESPN X-Games Negotiation Edition. If not, perhaps there’s a reality show in this idea. For most of us in the US, very few items seem negotiable. In fact, we would be told we’re crazy if we tried to negotiate at frequented stores like the supermarket, gas station and drug store. And, because of this, we rarely exercise our negotiation muscles. In other parts of the world, people haggle over everything, including the cost of a turkey sandwich. But in the US, unless you’re an auctioneer, pimp, carpet salesman, art dealer or probation officer, chances are you’ll probably pay full retail price on everything from cars to spaghetti. So, in order for us in the US to successfully negotiate, we really need to step outside of our comfort zone and put on a pair of uncomfortable dancing shoes.

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I’m a little different than the typical American. I love a negotiation. Whether calling around town after trolling through Craigslist for a discount on used furniture or going to open houses to negotiate prices on homes that I have no intention to buy, I love the process. And for me size doesn’t matter. Whether it’s the amount of plantains I can get for $0.99 or the cost of a brand new Subaru with the All Weather Package, I love a good fight. I have, on many occasions, called the manager to the cash register at the supermarket if the toilet paper costs $0.15 more than marked. I’m notorious for whipping out coupon books at restaurants, I avoid tolls whenever possible and I typically only buy things that are on clearance. My smart phone has a UPC scanner in it and I regularly scan items in stores confirming reviews and prices on the web. I’ve done this right in front of salespeople in awkward fashion such as the fine china department at Bloomingdales. So when it comes to buying, at least for me, it’s not buyer beware, it’s salesman and sales manager beware.

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What is the art of the deal? What makes for successful negotiations? After all, most everyone feels cheapened if they don’t get at least a modest discount. People blindly gravitate towards buy one get one free offers even if the price is double. All it takes is the illusion of a discount. Ironically, these same people resent it when the dancing shoe is on the other foot and they have to give away the discount. But that is exactly what defines the see-saw of negotiations. They say it has to be a win-win. But in my experiences, there’s no such thing. Someone always wins and someone always loses. The key, I think, is for the loser to be tricked into thinking he’s a winner. So how does one go about this sleight of hand? It takes a gentle bit of massaging and an even more delicate use of language and tone. There are masters of this craft out there. They study the dilation of pupils, offer you relaxing teas and ease you into a sense of comfort where you are tricked into thinking you bought a Mercedes when, in reality, you just bought a potato.

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Car salesmen are an interesting bunch. They typically overdress and try to over impress. They often pretend to be your friend and endear themselves to you and your family in an all too transparent fashion before trying to stick it to you. So being in the market for a new car, I put on my shabbiest outfit and headed off to the Subaru dealership this past weekend, remembering to bring my dancing shoes.

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There was a little foreplay before the dance. I called Doug, the Subaru salesman, a few days earlier and let him know my interests. I explained my specific needs and the rationale behind them. I didn’t lead on about price, but did indicate that I had already been to a dealership where the salesmen were too laid back and didn’t seem to want my business. This was the first layer of the massage. As I rubbed my hands with oil, I let Doug know he was better. Doug, reciprocated by providing me with the stock of empty promises including the best service, guaranteed lowest price, and of course, free hot dogs.

My wife and daughter loyally accompanied me to the dealership. But I didn’t invite them out of love, this of course was a negotiation tactic. My wife and daughter provide a large degree of leverage for me. Anyone with a baby knows how powerful the baby excuse is when needing to get out of awkward situations. Plus, most people upon meeting my wife feels a sudden need to be nice and possibly eat her delicious Dominican food, which she will likely offer you after 2 minutes of getting to know you. Her purse is regularly stocked with Arepas. My daughter, who is only 15 months old, has a set of dimples that makes most people’s knees weaken. She also has acquired a new skill in diffusing the air with sulfur which works well when you need an excuse to evacuate from an awkward situation. So I prominently placed my wife and daughter in the car for all test drives. I made sure that we went to the dealership during nap time, since my daughter would eventually get fussy, giving me another potential excuse to leave the dealership after being given an offer that I may have found attractive but not quite enough to bag the deal.

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It played out as expected. Doug offered us all hot dogs, my wife offered him Arepas,, my daughter weakened his knees with a grin, dirtied the diaper as we finished our last test drive and then started to fuss just as the price haggling began. After two or three back and forths, some long division, some clever subtraction through addition that Doug swears is just subtraction, the sales manager appeared. He, of course, had on too much cologne and emanated the spirit of the ultimate prick. He smiled insincerely and tried to obfuscate the process by using car dealership-speak such as “holdbacks”, “prep-fee” and “invoice incentive.” I thanked him for his time, complimented him on his perfume and started packing up (a 10 minute process) heading towards my car. He walked back to his office (to put on more cologne) and Doug hung his head in disappointment.

As we loaded up the trunk and put the baby in the car seat, Doug came out to us and asked me what he could do to keep my business. I respected this from Doug. I had hoped he would have asked me for another dance. I massaged him again as I explained that he was better than anyone in the dealership and should have his manager’s job, that is if he could consider moving to a perfume-based diet. I flattered Doug on all his hard work, and thanked him sincerely for the hot dogs. I explained that I’d be happy to dialogue over the phone, but that family matters took precedence. The baby needed to get home. Doug begged; he dropped the price $1000 right then and there.

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In the spirit of keeping the dialog alive and seeking a win-win feeling, I drove away while waving careful to let him know that I’d be in touch. For 2 weeks Doug called me every day like an infatuated high school crush. He was persistent, even offering me more hot dogs. I imagined what it was like to be Doug trying to see things from his perspective. So I called him at weird hours like 10pm during halftime of the Miami Heat Playoffs. Our bromance reached in apex once the team won the championship, and since winning felt contagious, I gave him the business and we all lived happily ever after.

Waitlisted

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They say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and after a recent epiphany, we’re tempted to become fruititarians. Let us explain. Aside from having to drive on US1 during rush hour, one of life’s foremost un-pleasantries is going to the doctor’s office. However going there and actually getting seen seems to have about as much time lapse as it takes to contract a new illness, have it fully incubate and then heal itself.

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This is why the typical doctor’s office has all the amenities of a 4 star hotel including warm towels, spa water, and chair massages. Knowing that even the creature comforts are not enough, the receptionist barricades herself behind the 6 inches of concrete and a peep hole to keep the patients at bay. This maintains a sense of exclusivity, thus confirming that time on their side of the wall is vastly more important than yours.

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Why is it that the doctor’s time is so important that she schedules 4-5 patients for every ½ hour? Is it that she has a compulsion to work without breaks? Most people cherish wasted time in the office, evidenced by TV shows and movies such as The Office, Office Space, and Clerks. After all, isn’t it in your best interest as a worker to not work and still get paid? So why does the doctor want to work so darn hard? Perhaps, she doesn’t work all that hard. Maybe it’s an illusion. Maybe the only people working are the receptionists answering the onslaught of questions from patients asking whose next? And come to think of it, maybe that’s why they call them patients because their primary role is to wait. It seems to me that the doctor’s office most closely resembles a deli where it’s first come first served. Except we’re not talking about something as important as a Turkey on Rye here. We’re dealing with something much more trivial: people’s physical and mental health.

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Slightly long anecdote alert (this is good reading if waiting in a doctor’s office)

Jerry recently had a proctologist’s appointment.  Fearing the invasiveness of this sensitive procedure, he liquored up 20 minutes before his appointment. Wanting to insure optimal numbness and promptness he arrived early fully buzzed. Much to his amazement, the parking lot only had valet parking. This was the beginning of Murphy’s Law.  Having blown almost all his cash at the liquor store, he ended up parking across the street behind a big Boar’s Head delivery truck. With his head spinning, he stumbled into the doctor’s office only to be told by the receptionist that in addition to filling out 5 pages of paperwork, he needed to take a number. Apparently he was number 7. With all the seats taken in the waiting room, he decided squat in the middle of the floor scowling at the other patients. He pulled out a pad to make a list of questions for his doctor since he knew that he would only be given 3-4 minutes of actual face time with her.

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As he planned the list and struggled to breathe shallow breaths through his nose, trying to avoid contracting any of the airborne bugs circling above him, he realized that his buzz from the whiskey had worn off. He dashed out of the waiting room to get more whiskey. When he returned, covered in sweat and reeking of alcohol, he engaged in a battle with the receptionist. She called the police. He toweled off with the spa towels and water, noting a funky taste. Shortly thereafter, he passed out.

We’re tempted to belabor the point here, but in the name of not acting like a doctor, we’ll cut to the chase. The last place any hypochondriac or frankly anyone in need of medical care should be left to their own thoughts to ruminate on possible tumors growing inside of them is in a room of fellow worriers listening to Michael Bolton. The more we write about this, the more inclined we are to believe that doctors forcing excessive wait time is a ploy to allow sicknesses to fester. By the time you are seen, typically 75 minutes later, or how long it takes the cleaning lady to unload the dishwasher (see previous blog), you are granted a maximum of four minutes of face time with the doctor. Since she doesn’t have the time to develop a proper diagnosis, you must now make another appointment. Thus the vicious cycle continues.

Jerry, for example, came into the doctor’s office for a routine prostate exam, he left with two referrals to a psychologist, one required anger management counseling, another alcoholics anonymous meeting, and of course $150 ticket for parking in a loading zone. To add insult to injury, he “contracted” a lifetime of resentment towards Boar’s Head deli products.

The crack staff here at Cremideas makes the following recommendation which may or may not be approved by the AMA.

  1. If you are going to choose a doctor, pick the one with the lowest ratings. He will have fewer patients, lower prices and even lower expectations.
  2. If you must go to the doctor, avoid spa water, BYOB, pack a lunch and wear a SARS mask.
  3. Kiss you children before you leave because by the time you get back they will likely be in medical school.
  4. Get dropped off: this avoids valet parking and potential feuds with deli truck driver.
  5. Learn golf: it’s cheaper than going to the doctor and you’re more likely to befriend one there.

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Fan Crazy

The American Psychiatric Association recently came out with its fifth version of the DSM:  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. On it were many new clinical diagnoses, some with significant merit, and others mundane ranging from food truck addiction, post toothbrush partum depression and hoarders’ syndrome. What the DSM-V failed to include was HPS. This unrecognized, yet all-consuming disease is Heat Playoff Syndrome.  Miami’s community is particularly vulnerable to contracting this because its current mutation is highly contagious and targets a community with highly exposed skin.

Professional sports are supposed to be entertaining. The keywords there are “supposed to be.” But the reality is that, at least for the concerned fan, it represents more stress than pleasure, and often manifests a series of life complications. People are arrested, families argue, beer is spilled, etc. Worse than all of this is that sports fanaticism fosters (OCD) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: not necessarily the sort that is clinically diagnosed, but more likely the sort that Jack Nicholson’s character displays in As Good As it Gets or Robert De Niro’s character in Silver Lining Playbook. I for one, if treated by a psychologist today 8 hours before game 7 of the NBA finals, would probably be referred to a mental hospital with no TV, Wi-Fi or satellite hookups. The reality is that, at least for today, we all are in need of serious help and even worse represent a public hazard.

But why? Why does sports make me even crazier than we already are? As a child, I grew up in textbook fashion. My mom read Dr. Seuss to me and Dr. Spock to herself. She was a great mom teaching me to love sports, especially the statistical side of things given her experience as a scorekeeper for the then Brooklyn Dodgers. Fortunately, ESPN didn’t exist when I was a kid, but I did indulge in reading newspapers, collecting baseball cards and staying up late to watch west coast games on school nights through the rabbit ears. By the age of 13 I became “self-aware” and not in the Biblical sense. I realized I was not 100% right in the head. Perhaps it was the sports, or perhaps a mild dose of narcissism chalked up to a mom and dad who always told me I was the greatest. Sorry Muhammad Ali. But more than likely it was sports. I was always a bit too superstitious and this led to weird compulsions like double and triple checking everything from the alarm clock, light switches and door locks. My lifelong addiction to sports combined with undiagnosed OCD superstition makes for a grown man who tries to control sports outcomes by such acts as counting eye blinks during games, keeping track of how many times I swallowed in a quarter, and touching the screen every time I’m trying to stop the other team from scoring.

In short, sports compounds my mental problems.  Again…how is this possibly entertaining? Tonight I’ll probably wear the same clothes as the last time we won, eat the same food, sit in the same chair, chew the same amount of chews, walk the same amount of paces, probably even have the volume on the TV at the same level even though it was unlucky 13.

Now I have a close friend who has a totally different perspective. He admits to a life of undiagnosed OCD issues often related to severe sports mental disorders. But he took a stance this year and opted out of watching all games. He’s trying, perhaps struggling to seek a new enlightenment called Sports Buddhism, which requires total detachment. He, rather than watching these games, chooses to listen to Dave Brubeck and eat sushi. Why? Because he realizes that it isn’t worth the struggle nor the potential anxiety to engage in caring.  He thinks that we have about as much control over the outcome of professional sports competitions as we do over the weather.  The irony of this is that I’ve played many rounds of golf with him and watched him do a rain dance just so he can get an excuse to leave the course on the 12th hole after exhaustion and my “incredible” putting.

A second reference to Silver Linings Playbook is probably helpful here.  How can any sports fan even pretend the movie is pure fiction? Tonight millions of Miamians will indulge as many of their neurosis as they can to try to help the Heat win. The arena will turn into the city’s largest nightclub. The streets will be ablaze in commotion akin to a Venezuelan rally for Capriles. Sports bars will resemble a rock concert/mental ward. The entire city will be unified, paralyzed and completely divorced from reality. And if psychiatrists were anywhere near the action, they should feel compelled to add HPS in boldface on page 1 of the DSM. Perhaps as many of the local sportswriters have mentioned, the sheer insanity of it all is what makes it fun. And that’s why this city will be so uncorked tonight.

Ultimately my buddy and I each have the same goal. His attempts at total abstinence and my total HPS are connected to the same collective quest: a favorable outcome.

I’ll need to wrap this up, because I need to do a few things now. First I need to call all my friends and quadruple check where I was last year when the Heat won the championship. My memory is a little foggy. I was either lost in Yonkers at a Hampton Inn in a weird industrial complex or at some sports bar in Orlando with a buddy. Not sure if I need to book a flight now on Priceline or just take a leap of faith that everything will be okay if I just go home and turn on some Brubeck. I’ll likely watch the game at home with my wife mimicking my behaviors from the victory of game 6. If we win, I’ll file it away and try to remember it for the next big game. If we lose, I’ll put away the pots and pans and go to sleep muttering to myself that it’s all a waste of time.

P.S: Before adding this postscript, this blog was 1034 words, which numerically began with Chris Bosh’s number and finishes with Ray Allen. Superstition be damned.

This Is What Happens When You’re Not Donald Trump

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We all know the honeymoon stage…everything seems perfect. They go out of their way to make you smile and even occasionally cook and do laundry for you. They are there whenever you need them. No favor is too big to ask. However after an indefinite period of time ranging from 3 weeks to several years (the average amount of time you wait for an AC repair man to show up in Miami), things get comfortable. Courtesies are exchanged for higher expectations. A sense of gratitude is trumped by a sense of entitlement. (Not sure if we’ve written about this before, but see previous blogs just in case or for pure amusement)

Don’t worry loved ones, we’re not talking about you, we’d hate to jinx the honeymoon you are still on. Nope, this isn’t about matters of the heart, although sometimes it feels all too familiar. We’re speaking of the awkwardness associated with ending relationships with…people of no emotional significance: cleaning ladies, gardeners, handymen, and pool guys, particularly when they start to hit on your wife.

It always seems to play out in formulaic fashion. Much like romantic involvement, the evolution is strikingly similar. The initial romance leads to a period of comfort where personal needs are overlooked and each party begins to take the other for granted a little more each day. Eventually seeds of antipathy are planted and an awkward silence precipitates over the fertile ground bursting with buds of problems.

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Let’s start with the cleaning lady, whom we will call Maria, since all Miami cleaning ladies, by law, are called Maria. If you are anything like us, you begrudgingly agree to hire Maria on a trial basis fully knowing that there is no such thing as a trial basis with a cleaning lady. As soon as they take one step into your house and open up the Pine Sol, not to mention rearrange your carefully unstacked newspapers, the social contract has been sealed. It’s till death do us part. So you ambivalently copy a door key and grant full access to your personal space including home office, journal, piano and your slightly embarrassing underwear drawer.

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The sad reality is that the cleaning lady comes to our house more than most of our best friends. And what started out as 4 hours of solid elbow grease, has now regressed to 2 hours or as long as she can wait without satisfying her urge for Pollo Tropical. The amount of time she works is inversely proportional to the amount of liberties she take. For one, she stopped using all the cleaning products you asked her to use and has gone back to using her native soaps never certified by Proctor and Gamble from Honduras, Nicaragua. Even worse, occasionally she mops up the floor with a pair of old granny panties. The invasion doesn’t stop there: talking on your phones, eating in front of the TV, and blasting Salsa music on your stereo which, of course, she has never dusted. Not only does she leaving a little earlier now, she may have even complained that there aren’t enough Swiffer anti-static wipes, mainly because she stole them. Recently she tripped on her way to the bus stop, and now holds a grudge against you. This is our marriage with Maria.

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The gardener who usually goes by the name Jose, Juan or Roberto is first hired under the premise that he knows significantly more than the previous gardener and wants to do things right. He’s got a Ph.D in Agronomy and a Masters in Landscape Architecture. You trust his every word and believe in him, because to you his green thumb is the size Shrek’s head and he seems willing to taste the dirt to test its geothermal phosphonutrobolicious half life. Your faith in him relates to everything including your bushes, your flower beds and even that nasty jock itch which he swears comes from a plant near your water softener.

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The only nuisance he cannot solve is a little shrub called reality. It takes the gardener 3 weeks to figure out when you won’t be at the house including your vacation plans. And that’s precisely when he comes, unless of course he’s your neighbors’ gardener who comes promptly at 6am every Saturday morning. But your gardener comes and goes as he pleases now, and you notice that the hedges that he once trimmed to perfection now look unkempt. Rather than speaking to you about the latest fertilizers in the backyard while sharing a cold one like you used to in the honeymoon days, he just drops a bill in your mailbox along with the empty beer bottles he stole from your kitchen. His prices have gone up steadily over time because of the rising cost of fuel, even though he drives an electric mower.  The same pattern plays out for handymen, pool guys and even doctors and dentists.

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So what’s causing this pattern? Is it human nature to get too comfortable and to then take our relationships for granted? Are the people we let into our most intimate spaces such as yards, bathrooms and bedrooms moving in with us in a strange kind of Freudian way? And since they are family now, is it normal to silently feud much like a marriage after 10 years and a few kids. Is it time to call your attorney to discuss divorce? What complicates the matter is that a potential split has appendages. They probably first of all work for you neighbors and if not, at least a close friend or family member. Odds are your paths will cross again by next Tuesday.

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This brings up the issue of how exactly we part ways with “the help.”

Route 1: Don’t call. This is what they do in middle school. The assumption being if I don’t call you, then you are no longer my girlfriend. This is passive and probably the least complicated approach, but lacking somehow in upholding your end of the social contract of supporting your gardener and his overweight wife and 4 kids.

Route 2: Email or text them. You can break up with a cleaning lady this way, but you’d better have a good command of Spanish and be prepared for some textual retaliation. Chances are this is how high schoolers do it. So how can you step up your game? After all, you’re over 40 years old now, have a mortgage, a few cars, and shouldn’t model the behavior of the teeny boppers on Glee.

Route 3: Direct communication. You can, after a long 1 and half hours of cleaning (I mean 45 minutes of cleaning and 45 minutes of watching her favorite telenovela), tell Maria that you no longer need her services. You can also tell her this in person or over the phone, but in person is probably the right way to go. After all, she’ll likely respect you more if you have the guts to do it face to face, but you might back out of it at the last second and instead offer her the job security of a Supreme Court Justice and all the canned goods in the pantry. The conversation often goes something like this:

Homeowner: Hey Maria, sorry about last week and not responding to your texts.

Maria: It’s ok senor, everybody is busy. Maybe you told me you were out of town. I can’t remember exactly, it’s just I save Thursday morning for you and my 16 year old daughter is pregnant with twins and can’t clean anymore…at least for the next 7 weeks while she tries to finds the daddy.

Homeowner: Umm…uh….actually…it’s not you…it’s me….my wife…my dog….uhhh….(I actually live alone)….sisters….are going to come over this weekend and do a….we’re Jewish….it’s a religious ritual called….Avinuvation….we all get together to bless and purify the spirit of Yahweh in the house. So we won’t need you this week.

Maria: Ok senor, so I come next Tuesday in that case?

Homeowner: Actually…on Tuesday…we have a book club meeting and one of the…ahh…participants is allergic to anything on the periodic table so no…not next Tuesday either

Maria: Ok senor, so I see you next Thursday in that case.

Maria comes that Thursday and every Thursday for the next 4 years. You get to know her granddaughter, tutoring her on the SAT, developing a deep appreciation for Salsa music, telenovelas and Pollo Tropical, and every now and then you cheat on her by cleaning the house yourself. After all “nobody solves a problem like Maria.”