Category Archives: Differently

TYOLD Day 6: West Winging It

I think the biggest challenge of The Year of Living Dangerously is going to be finding stuff that I can do during the work week.  Although I would certainly like to take several hours off and go explore some museum I’ve never been to or learn Mandarin, I have a feeling the company I work for would frown on that.

So during my lunch break I was trolling around on the Internet, looking for inspiration, and stumbled upon a video of a 5-year-old kid who could name all the Presidents of the United States.  In order.  I knew Washington, Adams, and Jefferson; understood that Lincoln, Truman, and a couple of Roosevelts were in there somewhere; and then was pretty solid from Kennedy to now.  Yes, I was having my basic American history ass handed to me by a 5-year-old.

No more, pal.  As of now, I officially know all of the US Presidents, in order (44 presidencies with 43 presidents because Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is, therefore the 22nd and 24th).  I thought of recording a video of me reading their names aloud to prove that I had done it but I knew that would wind up on YouTube along with really snarky comments, so instead you’re just going to have to trust that I am about to type all of their names without cheating…. ready?

George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
James Polk
Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
Grover Cleveland (again)
William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
William H. Taft
Woodrow Wilson
Warren G. Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
George HW Bush
Bill Clinton
George W Bush
Barack Obama

I have a witness at work who will verify that I could list them all verbally earlier today.  Feel free to quiz me the next time you see me, although I will most likely forget half of this by tomorrow.  And once again a 5-year-old will be smarter than me.  Oh well.

Wait... I missed one...

Wait… I missed one…

TYOLD Day 5: A Horse is a Horse of Course, Of Course

I have gambled. A lot. On just about every game imaginable. If it’s in a Las Vegas casino or you can wager on it from a Las Vegas casino, I have probably played it and probably lost money on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have won money as well. This last week when I was in Las Vegas was particularly profitable. But usually I come out of the casino at least a little less money than I went in with.

But the one thing I have never gambled on is horses There are no horse racing tracks in Las Vegas and while you can wager on horse races in other places from a Las Vegas casino, it’s just not something I have ever done before.

Well, thanks to the lovely, talented, and creative Maureen Bergmueller, now I have.

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Maureen invited me to join her at Santa Anita Park today and we spent the day in a box, watching the horses, drinking, eating, laughing, being slightly horrified by the people sitting in front of us (there was excessive plastic surgery and borderline child abuse going on, but that’s all a story for another time), and yes, wagering on the ponies.

Santa Anita Park, for the record, is beautiful; fantastic art deco with a sense of glam old Hollywood that practically oozes history. I looked it up and found some interesting tidbits: it opened on Christmas Day in 1934 and was designed by the same architect who was working on the Hoover Dam at the time; it was the place where Seabiscuit raced his last race in 1940 (he won!); over the years it counted people like Bing Crosby and Al Jolson as shareholders; during World War II, it was closed and was used as both a military staging ground and as an internment camp for Japanese Americans with more than 17,000 people living in the stables.

Also, for the record, I apparently suck at picking horses. I guess basing my choices on their names and the colors their jockeys are wearing is probably not the best strategy, but I’m sure there have been worse ways of doing it. Out of nine races I picked exactly zero winners. Most of the time my horses came in last or close to it, thereby allowing me to embrace a phrase I recently heard Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) utter: either win or lose spectacularly.

Maureen picked one winner and walked away with $7 for her $2 bet. I was very jealous, but I’m sure I could kick her ass at a Las Vegas casino.

Thank you to Maureen for giving me today’s new thing.

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TYOLD Day 4: Here’s the Story…

…of a lovely lady
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
All of them had hair of gold, like their mother,
The youngest one in curls.

Here’s the store, of a man named Brady,
Who was busy with three boys of his own,
They were four men, living all together,
Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow
And they knew it was much more than a hunch,
That this group would somehow form a family.
That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.
The Brady Bunch, The Brady Bunch

That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.
photo 2

Located just down the street from where I live but I had never been there…

TYOLD Day 3: Walking in LA

I have lived in Los Angeles for nearly 30 years – longer than I lived anywhere else – and so my Midwestern upbringing has ceded ground to Angeleno traits in a variety of different ways.   I work out with a personal trainer; I say soda instead of pop; and I drive everywhere I need to go.  When my office was a little under a mile from where I lived, I drove to work every day.  The CVS on the corner just down from my building where I get my prescriptions refilled?  I drive there.  Last week I went to three different businesses each located on three different corners of the same intersection and I drove to each of them.

There’s lots of history behind why Los Angeles became the epicenter of car culture that involves somewhat of a conspiracy between the automobile and oil industries, but that’s a story for another time.  What it resulted in is a city that is almost wholly dependent on automobiles to get from one point to another, regardless of how far apart those points are.  If you live in LA and you don’t have a car – one of those weirdos who uses our pathetic excuse for public transportation – you are viewed with suspicion and mistrust.  There must be something wrong with you.

These days I work in a big office park in Woodland Hills, the Capital of the Boxy Office Building.  In the park there is a small food court style building with four choices – Baja Fresh, Daphne’s Greek, Salad Farm, and The Stand (burgers and sandwiches) plus a Coffee Bean for caffeine boosts.  Everything else is outside the office park, at least a couple of blocks away – and these are not small blocks.

Most days I bring my lunch and on the days I don’t I’ll either walk over to the food court (which is right next to my building) or I’ll drive to something elsewhere.   I have never walked to get lunch anywhere outside of the office park in which I work in the nearly two years I have worked here.

The bulk of that is because I’m lazy – freely admitted.  But there’s also issues of how long it takes (I fret about being away from work for longer than I have to be), the weather (sometimes too hot, sometimes too chilly), the traffic (it’s a very busy, noisy, exhaust fume filled street), etc.  There’s also my ongoing food issues, which makes something as simple as lunch a challenge.  I’m nauseous a lot and the idea of eating often makes me want to hurl.  And when I do eat, I can wind up in pain or with some side effects best left out of this particular discussion.   So when I go out for lunch, I like having my car so if the place I was heading to suddenly makes me want to puke, I can pivot and head somewhere else.

But mostly it’s because I’m lazy and I’m an Angeleno and we don’t walk.

Work today is still a little slow post holiday.  The weather is a stunningly beautiful 75 degrees and sunny (sorry, snowbound New England but also kinda not).  There are less cars on the street than usual, again because of the holiday.  My stomach was feeling fairly calm.  And I needed something new to do today…

This is me walking up the sidewalk to get a sandwich at a place up the street.


I know you want me to say that I felt great doing it, that I saw things I had never noticed before, and that I gained edifying insights not only about myself but the world around me… but really, it was just me walking a couple of blocks to grab a sandwich.

At least it didn’t make me want to hurl.  And it was different.

TYOLD Day 2: The Shoe Car

I have lived in the same general area of Los Angeles for most of the nearly 30 years it has been since I escaped from Iowa (which I did as soon as I was sure my parents couldn’t send a sheriff to bring me back). It’s North Hollywood unless you want to call it Toluca Lake or West Toluca Lake or Studio City Adjacent or the NoHo Arts District, which people do for reasons that mostly have to do with property values and status. Regardless of the name, I have resided in the same neighborhood forever (except for a couple of short stints of living in other parts of town not worth mentioning) and lived in the same apartment building for nearly 19 years (!!#**#!@).

One street north of me is a street called Camarillo and if you take it east you cross into Burbank (which is usually only called Burbank) and the street changes names to become Verdugo and you see this:

photo (2)
The Shoe Car has been in front of or next to Victor’s Shoe Repair (3810 W. Verdugo, Burbank for the record) for as long as I have lived in this neighborhood. I’d say I have probably driven by it thousands of times and I have always wondered what kind of car or truck gave up its life to become a Shoe Car. I’ve always wondered but never stopped to ask. Today, I did.

The Shoe Car was originally a Toyota 4-Runner. It has been an iconic bit of the Los Angeles scenery for decades and believe it or not it still runs!

It reminds me of the kinds of things Mary and I used to see on our Plucky Survivors adventures – the muffler men and the giant chicken statues and the like. There is a lot of whimsical and wacky here in Los Angeles but I have either been too busy to pay attention or simply couldn’t be bothered to seek it out. I think I have missed a lot because of that, so herein is the lesson for Day 2 of The Year of Living Differently: stop and smell the Shoe Cars.


The Year of Living Differently Day 1: New Year’s on the Las Vegas Strip

I’m kicking off The Year of Living Differently in Las Vegas, which has offered me a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of new and different.  I dined at a couple of restaurants I have never visited before; I went in to an Apple store for the very first time (verdict: a little creepy); I felt J-Lo’s ass.  Well, I felt the ass of a wax mannequin of J-Lo but only because the person giving me the tour of the Madame Tussaud’s in Las Vegas told me to (the statue blushes when you do it – cute).

But of all the new things I did, the one I’m going to pick for my inaugural TYOLD item is that I rang in the new year on the Las Vegas Strip.

Now, I know what you’re thinking and yes, I have been in Las Vegas before on New Year’s Eve.  One of my very first trips back in the 1980s was over the holiday and I remember sort of vaguely looking up from the slot machine I was playing at The Stardust as people shouted “Happy New Year” and that was pretty much it.  I spent the Y2K New Year’s here at a Bette Midler concert (they passed out little pen lights in case the power went out – they all read “I Flashed Bette Midler”).  I watched the big fireworks show one year from my hotel room at The Stratosphere with my parents and brother.

But I have never been outside on The Strip with the teeming hordes at midnight and let me tell you something, I won’t be doing that again… ever.

They shut down the street and hundreds of thousands of people jam together to drink, party, and yell “Whoooo” a lot.  I went outside at about 11:45pm and I got about 20 feet from the door and was stuck.  There was no way to go any further;  no way to go anywhere, really, so I just stopped and accepted that this was where I was going to welcome 2014.  This is what my view was:

My hundreds of thousands of new best friends.

My hundreds of thousands of new best friends.

It was insane and uncomfortable and both hot and cold at the same time  and a girl named Kayla spilled her beer on me and I haven’t had my junk touched that often since that weekend on Fire Island in the mid 1980s.

But I’m glad I did it, just to say that I had a classic Vegas moment and that today, I did something I have never done before.  364 more things to go…

The Year of Living Differently

I’m bored.

I could wax eloquently about the search for meaning in my life after a brush with death in the form of a particularly nefarious form of cancer. I could frame it in bucket list and/or YOLO terms, just to be multi-generational. If I tried hard enough, I could probably even find a way to put it in the context of world events, vis a vis the geo-political landscape in eastern Europe and its impact on agriculture prices.

But in the end it’s really just because I’m kinda bored.

The “it” in question is this, The Year of Living Differently, in which I plan on doing something new or different, that I have never done before, every single day for an entire year.

The idea got its genesis during my health hoohah, which I am now calling The Year of Living with Cancer. The night before I was going in for a massive surgery I wrote a piece called “21 Words,” in which I looked back on my life with what a not insignificant amount of regret. This is part of what I said:

I don’t think I took enough chances in my life. I’m not talking about risky stuff like bungee jumping or wearing white after Labor Day, but rather the chances we can take, both big and small, that can turn a good life into a great one. For instance, I think I would have had a career as a writer if I had more often ignored the blasted Midwestern work ethic that constantly whispered in my ear saying, “You need to have a job and a regular paycheck and health insurance and security.”

So if I may offer some advice, either to you or to myself if/when I live through all of this it is as follows: don’t be so fucking afraid. Take a chance or do something new, every day, even if it’s something small. Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited. Take a different way to work and pay attention to what you are driving past. Introduce yourself to that guy at the bar or that girl on the bus or the person at the bookstore looking at the latest from your favorite author who might just wind up being your new best friend. Get a tattoo, learn how to dance, sing karaoke, go bungee jumping… whatever that thing is that you have wanted to do but haven’t… why not?

I lived through it, and although it took me awhile to get here, I have finally decided to take my own advice, mainly because now that the medical drama is over I am, as stated above, a little bored. The medical drama wasn’t fun, but it certainly kept me busy.

So I am committing myself to doing at least one completely different, totally new, never-been-done-before something every day. The something can be something big or small, time consuming or quick, easy or hard, but the key here is that it’s something new.

I haven’t come up with specific new things yet; I’m going to sort of go with the flow, which is a new thing for me right there. Normally I’m the type of person who plans obsessively, makes lists, organizes things in binders (including cancer), and then tries to stick to the prescribed program no matter how badly things go off the rails. But for this I’m going to try to be as spontaneous as a curmudgeonly 47 year old can be. So while I have some vague categories – food, travel, culture (pop and otherwise), etc. – I have not planned out every single one of the 365 days in 2014 like some might think I would do. What the new something is going to be will be as much of a surprise to me as it will be to anyone reading this.

I can tell you for sure that one of the new things will not be bungee jumping. Or jumping out of an airplane. No jumping of any kind, most likely, unless it’s rope although I’ve done that before so that probably doesn’t count as new. Jumping up and down at an EDM concert is possible but I am not holding a glow stick. In other words I’m not expecting earth shaking, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and neither should you. Eating a new type of sandwich might be as exciting as it gets on most days.

The plan is to update this blog every day. We’ll see how that goes, but even if I don’t write about the new thing every day, I will still do the new thing every day. You can still view all the posts about the Year of Living with Cancer via the link in the top navigation.

The Year of Living Differently begins January 1, 2014. I’ll be in Las Vegas that day so at least all this will start with a bang.