Monthly Archives: May 2014

5 simple and cool activities to make the most out of early summer

It’s officially summer now, right? I mean, I can’t tell you the exact date off of the top of my head, but Memorial Day to Labor Day, that’s basically the unofficial summer season. And it’s the best. Spring is such a joke. Everybody gets all pumped up for spring, but the enthusiasm is a little too over the top. It’s like people are so desperate to shake the winter chill from their bones, everybody dons a pair of shorts that first day the temperature cracks fifty-five, all as they try to ignore the frost escaping their mouths as they shout, “Yay spring!”

No, early summer is clearly the best season. We’ve got the endless possibilities of a whole summer in front of us. It’s hot, but it’s not hot-hot. You know what I mean? Like our bodies haven’t yet rejected the heat that will feel oppressive come July. I guess maybe this might not make sense to you if you live in Phoenix, or Siberia, but even if you don’t happen to reside in a northeastern four-season climate like I do, these following simple activities will help maximize the joy out of any early summer day.


1. Lay out in the grass

I’m not talking about a picnic, so no blankets. Just take off your socks and shoes, find a nice big patch of lawn somewhere, and sprawl out. Stretch every limb out as far as it’ll go, making sure to grab big fistfuls of grass when your arms have extended to the max. Roll around a few times, ideally at around three or four in the afternoon, the sun at that perfect forty-five degree angle of shine, while you think to yourself, I could fall asleep here, seriously, why don’t they make beds as comfortable as they make this lawn?

This particular activity is best enjoyed right now, these very first few days of summer. After a wet spring, the grass is finally soft and full for the first time all year. And since it’s still early in the season, the infinite broods of mosquitos and beetles have yet to really assert their presence to the outside world. Enjoy it while you can, because summer only gets hotter, and the grass is never as green as it is by the end of May.

2. Plan a picnic

Maybe I’m crazy, but I feel like if you plan a picnic anytime past mid-June, the whole event invariably winds up getting overrun by bees. But much like my earlier point about mosquitos and beetles, the bee population just hasn’t had time to populate the area, let alone strategically plan out ways to circle all of your beloved picnic foods en masse.

But picnics are about so much more than food. It’s a great opportunity to play all of your favorite lawn games. I’m talking Can Jam, Corn Hole, badminton and croquet. Basically anything that’s really easy to set up and only involves one hand to play. I could play outdoor games for hours.

3. Eat a whole watermelon

I know that you can buy watermelon all year, but it’s something that you have to go out of your way to look for off-season, and it’s never really the same. Not like it is early summer, where every aisle of every supermarket is something like fifty percent stocked with watermelons. They’re everywhere, pre-sliced, cut up into cubes, blended into smoothies.

But trust me, the best way to eat a watermelon is whole. Even if you only do it once a year, it’s one of the most enjoyable methods to consume fruit. Buy the watermelon, put it in the fridge, and go out for a long run. Don’t bring any water with you, and make sure that you push yourself just up to that point where you feel like you might be in danger of passing out. Then come home and eat the entire watermelon. Eat it with a spoon. Slurp up the watermelon juice when you find yourself staring at an emptied out rind, asking yourself, did I really just eat a whole watermelon by myself? You did, and it was amazing.

4. Get some Mr. Softee

Wait until around two or three in the afternoon and then hang out on the corner of the local public middle school. OK, you know what? That came out wrong. Go to a park, take a walk past the a busy baseball or soccer field, or if all else fails, just sit by the front of your house with the window open, listening for that faint but unmistakable music-box melody, the Mr. Softee song. Slurpees are OK in a pinch, and I guess the pizza store Italian ices will work if you really can’t find a truck, but Mr. Softee is the preferred way to ring in the summer.

When it’s your turn on line, trust me on this one, don’t go for anything fancy, not yet. There’ll be plenty of opportunities later in the season to go for the milkshake or one of those Incredible Hulk popsicles with gumballs for eyes. But for the first Mr. Softee of the year, just get a classic soft-serve cone. One lick and I feel like I’m a little kid again, like I’m hanging out with my grandfather and he just bought me a cone. If you really want to get into it, make sure you get ice cream all over your shirt and face, but your mom’s going to yell at you for making such a mess when you get home.

5. Play some pickup basketball

Everybody always talks about playing basketball. At least, that’s what it was like for me. Every year around this time, all of the guys would start paying lip service to getting together at the park and running fives. But it can be intimidating, showing up at a court, everybody else is already playing, there are all of these unwritten rules and etiquette that everybody there already just kind of knows.

Just grab four friends, make plans to show up, and if the court is already packed, if the sidelines are brimming with people waiting to play, start asking, “Who’s up next?” Eventually you’ll be up, and even if your first game is anything like mine was, like a total blowout, just hop back at the end of the line and wait for another go. You’ll get better, and if you make basketball a regular thing, you’ll meet people and make friends. Plus, the Mr. Softee guy always shows up at the basketball courts, so it’s a win-win.

Originally published at Thought Catalog

Life begins at thirty

I’m thirty now, and everything’s different. Like before I was thirty, like yesterday, I would never have said anything like, “Life begins at thirty.” But now I am thirty, and I’ve changed, I’m a different person now. So now I totally say stuff like that. I’ll say it right now: Life begins at thirty.

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And so I feel like I’m a newborn again, albeit in a thirty-year-old man’s body, but it’s like I’m seeing the world through a completely new set of eyes, a thirty-year-old set of eyes, a new thirty-year-old set of eyes,and I can’t believe all of this stuff that I’m noticing that I’ve never noticed before.

I remember I was working at this restaurant a few years ago, and I don’t know how the conversation got started, but I wound up talking with one of my managers, about life, about what we want to achieve and how we want to not be working in restaurants anymore. And he said it to me, exactly what I said before, he looked at me and said, “Rob, life begins at thirty.”

And I said, “Oh, OK, cool,” and I smiled and nodded my head. But I was thinking in my head, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Did he really just say that to me? That life begins at thirty? And I thought he was so stupid, and that I was so superior, I was looking down at this guy, come on, thirty, what does that even mean?

But now I’m thinking back on that very conversation, and I get it. Like I totally get it. Life begins at thirty. Do you get it? If you do, you’re definitely thirty or older. And if you don’t get it, it’s pretty obvious that you’re not thirty yet. And if you’re under thirty and you’re saying to yourself, “Well, I’m not thirty yet, but I see where you’re coming from,” you’re lying to yourself, because you don’t see where anybody or anything’s coming from.

Because if you’re not thirty, technically your life has yet to begin. Yes, you’re walking around and you’re taking in oxygen and surfing the Internet and eating breakfast and, so, to look at it from a distance, you might think, or I might think, this person is alive. But you’re not alive. Not yet. Not until you get to be thirty. Until then, you’re just taking up space, thinking thoughts that aren’t even real thoughts.

Like remember what I was talking about earlier? About how I didn’t get it until today? Well, now I get it. Before, I didn’t even think there was anything to get. In fact, I’m going through all of my previous experiences, all of my memories and feelings and, it’s like I’m watching a rerun of a really old TV show, something I haven’t seen in forever, like I can’t remember the main character’s name or anything.

And it doesn’t matter. Because it’s so true, that life does not begin until you’re thirty years old. Now I finally feel like I’ve got it figured out. I woke up this morning, I opened my eyes and the first thing I said was, “Ohhh, OK, I get it, I’m thirty, I’m alive now, it all makes sense.”

And my wife turned over from her side of the bed and said, “What is it Rob? What makes sense?” And I looked at her, she’s still twenty-nine, she won’t be thirty for another twenty days or so, and it’s like I barely recognize her anymore. “Nothing, go back to sleep honey,” she’ll be there soon enough, she’ll be thirty, she’ll get it, I won’t even have to say anything, I can just picture it now: I’ll get up earlier than she will on her thirtieth birthday, I’ll wait for that same expression on her face, upon awakening, she’ll look at me, I’ll look at her, there won’t be any need for any further communication, and we’ll just slowly nod our heads in agreement, saying without saying, I get it, we both get it, this is thirty, this is how life begins.

I’m not afraid anymore

I used to be really scared of bugs, but come on, bugs aren’t that scary. Sure, some of them can sting and pinch and poison, but for the most part they’re all really small and harmless. Like I saw this silverfish hanging out on my bedroom wall the other day, and I looked at it, and for a second I was like, man, I hate bugs. But after another second I was like, I’m not scared of bugs, I’m not scared of this silverfish, that silverfish should be scared of me. So I reached for a slipper and – smack! – right against the wall. I had to clean it up though, and now there’s kind of a little stain. But I don’t really know how I’m supposed to go about getting it out of the bedroom without killing it. Whatever, at least I’m not really scared of bugs anymore.


I used to be really afraid of getting in a car accident. But then I thought, why am I so scared? I’ve already been in like ten car accidents, seven of them were definitely my fault, and I’m no worse for the wear. Obviously I’m not trying to diminish the seriousness of automobile safety or anything like that, and yeah, if you or a loved one has been through a life-altering car crash, I hope I’m not coming across as insincere. It’s just that, from my point of view anyway, from my experience, I can’t afford to be scared of car accidents anymore. Like I said, I’ve already been in like a dozen, maybe fifteen or sixteen car accidents, the majority of them my fault, like this one time I was driving a big cargo van and I sideswiped this lady’s Jaguar, it was a really slow speed, like we were in a parking lot, but still, I got out of the car and she was like, “My Jaguar! My baby!” and I apologized and, yeah, that sucks, I didn’t want to mess up her Jaguar, but the insurance took care of everything. And besides, a year or two years later, I was driving my car on the highway when an SUV sideswiped my two-door Hyundai Accent at full highway speed. And the SUV pulled over and these big meat-heads came out and the one guy gave me two hundred bucks, cash, like he wasn’t negotiating, he wasn’t saying to me, “Do you think we could settle this for two hundred dollars?” no, he just handed me the cash, got back in his car and drove away. And in the cosmic scale of justice and the universe and everything, I think I’m tit-for-tat with that Jaguar lady, and so what do I have to be afraid of? The universe will take care of everything, me being scared isn’t going to change a thing.

And it’s like, I used to be terrified of flying. I never had any panic attacks or anything, you know, every time that I’ve had to fly somewhere, I’ve always boarded the plane, taken my seat, everything without incident. But I used to sit there in complete terror as the plane taxied down the runway, imagining how just after takeoff, there’d be a sudden loss in power, everything would go dead, and I’d actually feel it, the sensation of being subtly lifted from my seat as my body and everything around me starts to free-fall. But come on, I can’t waste my time being afraid of planes. Nothing’s going to happen. And if it does happen, whatever, I just take three or four Xanax right before the flight anyway. If that free-fall thing actually started to happen, if I wasn’t already in the middle of a chemically-induced superpower nap, I’d probably enjoy it, the floating on the plane matching the floating in my head.

And I always used to get so bent out of shape about global warming. I’d imagine all sorts of prehistoric bugs and snakes making their way to my northeastern climate. But then people started telling me stuff like, “It’s not just global warming, OK Rob, it’s climate change.” And I’m like, that’s not too bad. More extreme seasons? I actually kind of prefer that. Because, don’t you hate it when you get all the way to March or April and there’s hardly been any snow? You can’t go skiing, the schools never close, I never get to call up my boss and say stuff like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it in today.” No, I want like real seasons. And if the climate’s changing around me to make that actually happen, then I’m totally behind it. Or if not behind it, at least I’m not scared anymore.

I used to be really scared that I was too scared about everything, always worrying, playing out these horrible nightmare scenarios in my head. But I’m not scared anymore. Because what’s to be scared of? I heard this song on the classic radio station, and at the end, the singer records himself in a really old-time record-sounding voice, he says something like, “You don’t have to be scared of anything, except for fear itself.” And it really just stuck with me, because nothing’s going to happen, right, it’s like that car accident I was talking about before, even if something does happen, how bad can it be? What’s the worst that can happen, really?

Science fair flashbacks

I think back to high school, all of those awkward social moments, the never-ending double periods of calculus or physics, nothing was worse than the annual science fair. Nothing. I can look back at every other terrible adolescent memory and think, well, that wasn’t necessarily pleasant, but I got through it, and I’m fine now. But I’m still haunted by the science fair. What a nightmare.


The whole idea is ridiculous. We’re going to tell a bunch of teenagers that they’ve got a month or two to start working on a big science project. “Don’t let it get to be too late!” was the generic advice, our teachers warning us that we’d have to present our final projects in front of everybody, that the whole thing would be something like half of our final grade for the trimester.

And I can only speak from my experience, but of course I always let it get to be too late, every single year. But with so much of my GPA on the line, it’s not like I could ever just give up. That would have been academic suicide. So I had to come up with ever-ridiculous ways to somehow bullshit my way through the science fair.

Freshman year I remember laughing at this kid who started growing silt samples back in September for his science fair project due in March. What a nerd. But then I’d see him bringing in all of these tinfoil trays containing silts of various sizes and colors, asking for constant guidance from the teacher, really taking the phrase “above and beyond” and shitting on it, like ha, above and beyond, that’s cute, I went above and beyond back in October, now it’s January, look at all of this silt I’ve cultivated, not only am I going to get a hundred, I’m going to bring everybody else’s grade down just by comparison, because look at this, what do you have, do you have anything? Do you?

Of course I had nothing. So I kicked it into the next gear. Which wasn’t actually a gear where I got any work done, no, but at least now I was conscious of the work that lie ahead. Whereas before the science fair loomed in the distant future, something that I thought about only when prompted, that once-a-month reminder from the science teacher, “Don’t forget about that science fair, boys. Don’t let it get to be too late!” now I started to feel the ever-approaching deadline encroaching upon my thoughts with more of a weekly regularity.

And then it was February and I really started to panic. Mind you, this was all way before the modern Internet. I mean, the Internet existed, but it was just AOL, a shitty dial-up modem that, even when I connected, it’s not like Google was Google yet, it’s not as if there were a lot of even semi-legitimate web sites to rip off ideas from. Science fair projects must be so much easier now. You go online, you watch some YouTube videos about great science projects, it’s got to be a breeze.

But no, I was in full last-minute mode. I found something about sundials, how you could make a rudimentary shadow clock with your basic arts and crafts supplies. I had my mom drive me to CVS to buy all of the essentials, the oak tag, the foam-core board, scissors, a protractor. And then I started folding things and poking holes and about ten or fifteen minutes later I had this really crappy version of something that, if I told you it was supposed to be a sundial, you might scratch your head and say, “Oh yeah, I guess that kind of looks like a sundial.”

I put it in the sun and I got a reading, only it wasn’t anything close to the actual time. I consulted whichever science fair book I’d checked out from the library, and it turns out I had to do all of this work to calculate my latitude on the planet, like I was supposed to use that data to position the sundial at a certain angle to be able to make any sense.

But then I got an idea, I can just make up all the results. Like, I could go back, I could make a chart that showed what it would have looked like had I actually done all of that work. And it’s not like I needed video proof, no, I could just take a picture of the sundial and put it next to a digital clock that I’d rigged to show exactly the matching time. I did this like thirty or forty times and, bingo, all of the sudden I had months of hard work to show for.

Was I actually going to get away with this? I typed out and printed all of these nonsense paragraphs about sundials, I cut out those paragraphs and pasted them to the foam-core board, making sure to use construction paper as a border, to make everything stand out. In the center of my science fair booth I displayed my really shitty looking oak tag sundial and waited as the teacher made the rounds on the day of the science fair.

“Wow, nice job,” he told me after a cursory glance at my complete fraud of a project, “Ninety-five.”

“Thanks!” I couldn’t believe I’d gotten away with it. All of that stress, the two-month-old pit in the center of my stomach, all for nothing, the whole thing was over in about two minutes. I looked over at silt-boy, standing there with his massive trays of homegrown vegetation. Sure, he got a hundred, but I got a ninety-five, and for a fraction of the effort. Talk about winning the science fair, I don’t care who got that ribbon, I totally won the science fair.

And so sophomore year, I didn’t give it a second thought. I figured I could bullshit my way through the same way I did the year before. I waited until about two weeks before everything was due and I bought a bunch of plants at the Home Depot. I arranged the smallest specimens in one group, mediums in another, and after everything was sorted out by size, I cooked up the results that I was looking for had I actually bothered to do any work.

“You see,” I explained to the teacher the day of my second science fair, “I fed these guys water, these medium-sized plants were given soda, and the small dead looking guys only drank beer.” It’s science. The teacher looked at me and was like, “Well, this is kind of a grade-school project,” and I don’t know if he expected me to say anything back, like I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that, but whatever, look at the oak tag, don’t you like my plant illustrations? I did those with colored pencils.

I got a ninety. I’ll totally take a ninety. I got a ninety the next year also, when I did a complete last-minute science fair project about neon lights. And this one I actually feel a little bad about, like in my total disregard for even trying to show that I put even the smallest amount of work into a project, I’m sure I’ve done a disservice, to my teachers, to my school, to the entire education system.

It was the night before the science fair and, aside from picking a topic, I hadn’t lifted a finger. I don’t even think I had any foam-core. And my mom was like, “You’re waiting until the night before to ask me to take you to buy science fair supplies?” That was when the urgency of the situation started to kick in, like, maybe I had grown a little too cocky in my belief that I could pull anything out of my ass, maybe it was going to be hard to fake a couple of moths worth of work into one last-minute all-night work session.

But I didn’t even need the whole night. I found a speaker from an old stereo system in the basement. Next I took a bunch of cardboard paper towel rolls and wrapped them in different colored construction paper. “As you can see,” I presented everything to the teacher, “These rolls represent neon lights. And this here speaker is a model of all of the science stuff that goes into making the neon lights possible.” And I connected the box to the rolls with wire and printed out all of these charts about neon gas, pictures of neon light clipart that came preinstalled on my computer.

“Ninety?” I remember my mom’s disbelief, “You seriously got a ninety?” I’m pretty sure she almost wanted me to get some sort of a ridiculous failing grade, so I could come home and get punished and learn some lesson about hard work and grades and responsibility. But I got a ninety, and so my mom couldn’t really say anything.

During senior year, the science fair was a little different. Each student had to make a bridge out of thin pieces of balsa wood. The whole thing had to weigh under a certain amount, and on the actual date of the fair, the teacher would attach a bucket of weights to the center of the bridge, the winner determined by who’s bridge could support the most weight.

It was the same night-before nonsense, I didn’t even consult any of my resources, I just cut and glued together a bridge that looked like what I thought a bridge was supposed to look like. And yet I was still a little surprised when the whole monstrosity collapsed immediately after the teacher attached the empty bucket used to support the weights. What did I expect? I doubt I even gave the carpenter’s glue enough time to actually dry, and I walked away from my final science fair with an eighty, the minimum grade, the grade everybody got just for showing up with a bridge.

And I kind of felt a little bad, like that eighty hit me all at once, the realization that I never even gave it a shot, the science fair, I never took it seriously. And what else hadn’t I taken seriously? Which of my other classes did I give only the minimum effort, coasting through with mostly unearned nineties and ninety-fives? Couldn’t I have maybe achieved something if I’d actually tried?

Who knows? All I’m left with is that feeling, not of accomplishment, not even the relief of having gotten away with presenting a totally subpar project, but the dread, that pit in the center of my stomach, knowing each year that I’d have to scramble last minute, sweating while I tried to come up with another way to fool my teachers into believing that I’d actually done some work. And who was I fooling, really?

Barefoot running

I wish we didn’t have to wear shoes. Like every day, leaving the house, going to work, wouldn’t it be cool if we could just lead barefooted lives? Every day I get home and the first thing I want to do is take my shoes and socks off. And then after that, it’s like my feet have been cooped up for so long, the abrupt exposure to the air is jarring, it’s like having the lights turned on in the middle of the night, your eyes are too dilated, it hurts even to look around.


I read this book where the author talked all about barefoot runners, how as animals we’re supposed to be running around nude below the ankles. So I went to the park and I took my shoes off and I started gunning out some laps. But after like ten minutes it really hurt. Like, I think I might have stepped on a pebble, a really, really tiny one. But it just kind of sent this current of pain surging up my body. I made this face, like a really dramatic pained expression, and I think I may have audibly gasped a little too loudly.

And of course, I was at the park, there were a ton of other people there. Anybody that had been paying attention to me, I mean, it’s not unreasonable to think that I wasn’t turning at least a few heads, I was definitely the only person exercising without any shoes. But right when I stepped on that pebble, I stopped, I was in the way of all of the other runners. This one guy trotted up beside me and said, “What did you expect?”

And I don’t know. This didn’t really jive with how I envisioned it all going down in my head. But after I thought about it, I realized that it wasn’t my feet’s fault. No, if anything, it was my fault. I was the one who’d kept them hidden inside of my shoes my whole life. Of course they’d grown weak, the skin on the soles way too sensitive to brave the elements of the natural world. I just had to endure the pain, fight through the discomfort. If I could get myself to run barefoot for a couple of weeks, a month, I don’t know, I was sure that my feet would grow calloused enough to handle a few tiny pebbles, maybe even some bigger pebbles.

I mean, you think about our ancestors, right, they didn’t have fancy running sneakers with patented gel nimbus soles to cushion each step. No, they didn’t have anything. They didn’t even have paved roads. I’d definitely be fine, I just needed to give it some time.

I went back to the park the next day, but I don’t know, it was even tougher than the day before. Because while previously I’d made it like five minutes before the pain became too unbearable, now it was hurting right from that first exposed step. I hoped that nobody was watching me this time, although they probably were, because like I said, it’s just weird, right, you see some guy head to a track in the park and take his shoes off, I mean, I’m not looking for attention, but I even have to admit, it’s just something that people don’t normally do.

And maybe if I actually knew how to run barefoot, maybe I’d be able to get past all of that nonsense. But like I said, this second day, I could barely even stand. Some guy came up to me after a minute and was like, “Hey buddy, are you all right? You need some help?” And I shook my head no, “That’s OK,” I told him, “I’m trying out this barefoot running style.”

I actually made it like halfway around the track, I wasn’t running, not really, and the pain level hadn’t yet reached critical, but some guy in a Parks Department uniform came over and told me I had to put some shoes on.

“Come on dude,” I protested, “That can’t be a rule.”

But it was a rule, it was right outside of the track, screwed onto the chain-link fence that bordered the furthest lane, “Park Rules.” And yeah, it said something about shoes. I couldn’t believe it. What is this, a police state? You’re going to mandate that human beings have to cover up how they naturally are?

I made a big stink and stormed out of there in a huff, holding my shoes in my hand as if to prove a point, like fine, kick me out of your track, I don’t care, the world is my track. And I started jogging home, on the pavement, but this only lasted like half a block or so, because while I thought that the track was bad, the paved street was much, much worse. Like I was acutely aware of the gravely texture, and all of the twigs and dirt and debris that you don’t even really see on the sidewalk, but it’s there, right on the street, right before you get to the curb.

And then I saw a bunch of broken glass like ten feet ahead and I thought, fuck this, and I put my shoes back on. But man, if only I got to live like a thousand years ago, that would have been awesome, no shoes, just awesome hard feet.