Monday, September 22, 2014

Chained and Bound

Despite the obscure Otis Redding song reference in my post title today (I love Otis Redding), I'm none too please right about now.  Don't worry - I'm not going to rant about how we're all trapped in our roles in society or about how we're all stuck in the rut of our daily lives; we're all where we want to be or else we'd change, right?  (Thanks to my favorite mentor teacher who taught me that lesson almost 20 years ago.)  I'll make this short and sweet:  I'm pissed off at Verizon, and the problem is I don't know if I want to change.

We bought our son a new smartphone when he started high school last month and just got our updated bill in the mail.  We're paying $285!  That's up over $100 from what we were paying monthly before the purchase.  Sure, we have four lines (three smartphones - and mine is an outdated piece of crap, by the way), but this seems outrageous (isn't that a Seinfeld quote, Mike?).  Our wireless service is now costing as much as our electricity, gas, and water bills combined.  What exactly are these smartphones doing for us anyway?  Have they become more important to us than the most necessary of basic needs?  Clearly.  My fear is that if I change providers, I'll lose the excellent coverage that I get with Verizon.  We hardly ever drop calls and rarely find ourselves in a mobile dead zone.  Looks like Verizon has us by the proverbial balls and knows it!  If I threaten to leave, they'll probably scoff without even a departing "it's been nice knowing you these last 10+ years."

This is just another example of how corporate America is anally raping the average middle class consumer.  Unfortunately, I don't feel competent enough to argue politics or even to defend my rather helpless position.  All I get to say is that I'm pissed off and live with it.  Author Chad Kultgen wrote that the worst thing about getting old isn't the getting old part.  It's accepting it.  I guess the same rule applies here.  Thank you for fucking me up the ass, Verizon.  Give me some advance notice next time so I can least provide the lube.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


For over 20 years, I harbored a grudge against a couple of football players who pulled me out of a fight my older brother had against a bully on the last day of my freshmen year of high school.  It wasn't until I told the story to my son a couple of years ago that I finally realized how those boys only did so to protect me, despite what it looked like at the time.

The whole thing started about a week before school let out.  My older brother was hanging out with friends, (they were cursing and messing around with each other - typical teenager shit), and this punk thought some of the comments were directed at him.  He harassed my brother for several days until they decided to settle the score in the parking lot after the bell rang to end the school year.

In the car that morning, my brother only told me the following (by the way, this was all after my mom had already given him the third degree about the crappy T-shirt he was wearing): "I'm having a fight after school."  I said, "OK."  He said, "There's a bat in the backseat."  I again replied, "OK."  He answered, "Use it."  No explanation.  No special combat training.  No "Tommy, I know you're only a buck fifteen, and you'll probably get yourself killed, but who cares?"  Just two words: Use it. 

What the fuck was I supposed to do with a baseball bat?  Fighting was my brother's thing.  My dad's thing.  Not mine.  But I knew I couldn't let my brother down, so I sweated the whole mess until I walked out to his car that afternoon when the fight started.  Not at all how I figured the last day would go.

It was kind of funny at first.  I laid low by his car with a buddy and watched from a slight distance.  There was a mob of people crowding the parking lot.  Mind you, both boys were hulking masses compared to me.  Muscles popping, veins surging; the whole scenario predated the UFC contests you see on TV today.  The two combatants circled each other a couple of times with fists raised and then kicked each other.  No harm done.  Just feeler kicks, really.  Then my brother punched the other kid squarely on the nose and knocked him to the pavement.  I'll never forget what it looked like to see that huge boy collapse like a wet noodle. 

As soon as that happened, a flood of kids swarmed the fight, and I lost sight of my brother.  I took that as my call: Use it!  (In my head, I might've added a "you fucking asshole" in my brother's voice.  His short temper has always been part of his charm.  Kind of like my dad.)

I grabbed the baseball bat and charged into the crowd, swinging. 

Almost immediately, I realized two things.  First, the majority of the kids were chanting for the other boy (funny how bullies tend to be popular).  Second, my brother was bashing the kid's head squarely into the pavement and didn't need my help at all.  I wasn't using the bat for anything more than to make myself an easy target for an angry crowd of spectators whose prized fighter was getting his ass kicked but good.

A couple of large arms grabbed me and asked me what the fuck I was doing.  These were the football players.  They were gigantic.  I recognized both of them because they worked out with my brother in the weight room where I would sometimes be forced to wait when I'd rather have been off playing Dungeons & Dragons with my gang of nerdy (but very safe) friends.  When you're a tiny freshmen and your big brother plays football, it's just what you have to deal with.  How did I get such scrawny fucking genes anyway?

While in their grasp, I got popped in the forehead with the bat someone had snatched from my hands and cold-cocked on the left jaw before the two ballplayers could get me out of harm's way.  All the while, they were yelling at me and making sure the angry mob never thought for a moment they might actually be on my brother's side.  They held onto me until they handed me off to one of the gym coaches who eventually arrived to break up the fight.  By that time, my brother had turned the bully into an unconscious bloody mess and had gone apeshit in the parking lot.  He would've destroyed the whole crowd that day if they'd dared to step up to him.  One jerk did, in fact.  My brother shoved him hard in the chest with both hands and screamed "Nobody fucks with the Dragos!" about two inches from his face.  The boy vaporized into the simmering crowd.

I remember walking to the Dean's Office.  The gym coach clutched me tightly under the arm to make sure I didn't get lost in the sea of angry kids who might be looking for an easier target given that my brother was fairly indestructible at that moment.  I can't tell you how many coaches eventually wrangled him to the office.

I started out thinking I would be my brother's life-saver but ended up needing a couple of guardian angels of my own.  I think my brother would still tell you I'm his hero for doing what I did.  We're brothers.  That's all that matters in the end.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I like to think I help others in need.  I'm a schoolteacher, after all.  I wouldn't have gotten into this business or have lasted these past 25 years if I weren't somewhat altruistic. 

But not all that I do is selfless, obviously.  I enjoy it.  Teaching is an effective outlet for the creative artist inside me.  Along with writing, playing the guitar, acting, directing, cooking, and everything else I do to express myself, teaching always gives me that platform.  Each time I step in front of a class, I imagine that I'm a celebrity speaking to his fans.  Maybe a rock star or a famous athlete.  Either way, I know I have the power to motivate young people, and although I might not reach as many in a single setting as I would if I were making movies, over the years I hope I've made a lasting impression.  And I know not everyone's gonna love me or appreciate me - that goes with the territory; same with celebrities, right?  For those who haven't, they've probably tried too hard not to be inspired by me.

I wish I had the money to donate to charities on a regular basis.  That's the downside of teaching.  We don't get paid much.  Let me tell you a secret ... none of us does this for the money.  But let's say that I made enough to give some away.  I'd start with since my wife's had that disease for longer than I've known her.  I'd also give to since my niece was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes a few years ago.  Beyond those obvious choices, I'd like to help for their unending fight against childhood cancer.  By the way, Alex's Lemonade Stand is also an outstanding organization.  We donated the proceeds from our production of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a couple of years ago.  I don't know that I've ever been more proud of an accomplishment involving my students.  If I had to pick one more, I'd probably choose  Jerry Lewis might have been a silly funny man, but the work he did for his kids was unsurpassed by anyone I can think of.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Out of Gas

After the long, narrow escape from Camp Verde, my buddy and I made it back to Flagstaff that Sunday night.  We'd left Phoenix after sunset.  After the trip to Mexico.  After the hotel party.  After the street fight.  After my dad nearly killed the repo man for parking in front of our house with sights set on a neighbor's pickup.  Honestly, I wouldn't have cared if we had gotten abducted in the middle of the desert where we ran out of gas.  I'd had a rough weekend.  Fucking crazy, really.

It all started when my sociology class went to Nogales on a Friday night.  The professor who organized the trip wrote his doctoral thesis on drug addiction.  On the first day of class, he told us that he'd tried every drug he could get his hands on at least once.  Some he liked; others he didn't.  Mostly, he felt that we all needed the same exposure.  Thus, Mexico.  (This was also the instructor who once told our class that he liked cursing during his lectures, and if anyone was offended, she should just get the fuck out.  I thought he was pretty bad ass.  Not enough to try drugs, mind you.  But enough to go along for the ride.)  He abandoned us shortly after we crossed the border.  He hooked up with some dope dealers on a busy street corner, told us to partake of their good shit, and then disappeared.  We didn't see him until the next morning when we loaded up the van for the drive home.  Most of us got lost hopping through dingy Nogales bars.  Those places didn't charge Americans cover (or check ID's), so we might as well have been given an open keg line from place to place.  Fortunately, we all wandered the streets on foot and even walked back to America before sunrise.

On Saturday, we stopped in Phoenix at a dumpy motel near the interstate.  The instructor told us not to throw any parties.  Of course, we threw a huge one.  While he spent the night toking up in his room, naturally.  Once the police kicked us out (we left one fallen comrade puking on himself in the bathtub), we walked to a nearby Jack-in-the-Box for ridiculously thick burgers until we caught a ride to a local party.  Some old friends of mine were getting together.  Mostly a sausage-fest.  A few cute girls, though.  Nobody I would bother chasing.  We had a good time until a couple of football players started pushing one another in the kitchen.  Fists started flying, and the next thing I knew, my very best friend from high school was sprawled out unconscious in the street, having hit head on the pavement after he lost his balance throwing a drunken punch.  We rushed him to the emergency room.  His parents weren't thrilled.  Not about the beating he took or the blood or the bruises.  Or his broken eye socket.

I ended up calling my parents for a ride back to their house (I sent word to the professor that I'd find an alternate ride back to school).  Needless to say, my dad was fucking pissed.  (Hence his nearly killing the repo man.  Dude had been given plenty of warnings, too.  I just remember hearing my dad yell, "The cops won't get rid of you, I'll fucking kill you!" and then seeing him jump through the driver's window and start choking the guy until my big brother pulled him off.  My dad was territorial that way.  Still is, I imagine, but I think he picks and chooses who he'll choke now that he's almost 70.  Back then, he had zero tolerance and no fear.  Kind of admirable, really.)

Afterwards, I called another buddy to hitch a ride back to Flagstaff on Sunday.  We ran out of gas about an hour out and carried an empty plastic jug a couple of miles in Stygian darkness until we found a filling station.  Somewhere along that stretch, my friend said, "Wouldn't it be hilarious if someone abducted us right now?  Right now while we're in the middle of nowhere?  Nobody would know where the fuck we are or what happened to us."

I just shrugged my shoulders.  "Yes, that would be hilarious.  Pretty fucking hilarious at that."

Monday, September 15, 2014


I teach a creative writing course at the high school this school year and require the students to enter a daily blog during the first 15 minutes of class.  I think I'm finally at a point where I can complete the assignment as well.  You can find the daily prompts on my Twitter page at #dragocwprompt.

Although I don't believe in anything I would define as hocus-pocus, I certainly have my fair share of superstitions.  I don't like black cats (thanks, Poe), I don't step on cracks (you're welcome, Mom), and I avoid the number 13 whenever possible. 

This last one I take to the extreme.  I won't stop reading or writing a page at number 13 (or any multiple), I won't leave the volume when listening to music or TV at 13 (or any multiple), and I won't leave the house or get in or out of bed if the numbers on the clock add up to 13.  Crazy, huh? 

I used to be superstitious about sports but have since given that up (thank God - competition is really so vain).  But there was a time when I would sit in the same spot, have the same drink, and wear the same clothes while watching (just like DeNiro's character in Silver Linings Playbook) all because I thought in some insane universe those had bearing on the outcome of the game.  Maybe if I were the starting QB for the New York Jets that would make a difference.  And the Jets could use every ounce of help they can get.  But losing year after year quickly cures one of any irrational mental exercises.
This is all quite excessive and pointless, I realize.  But neurosis isn't necessarily a bad thing (right, George Costanza?).  Sure, I might have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I kind of enjoy it, really.  Nothing entertains me more than my own mind.  What about re-checking to make sure I've locked the door wouldn't give me some peace of mind?  Maybe you should try it some time.