Education On A Subject I Know Nothing About

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Rows and rows of blooming sunflowers make for a beautiful train ride through the Tuscan countryside. The rolling yellow fields outside the window are dotted with white villas and decrepit ruins, which leave my imagination confident that they must have been built in the days of gladiators and emperors. Sometimes all that is necessary to experience something amazing is to watch it fly by out an old, dusty window. So, a four-hour trip from Naples to Rome is spent mostly staring out the window. But when the warm sunshine hits that sunflower field just right and reflects a golden glow into the train cabin, everyone gets a second wind.

When we were growing up, my sister and I were never close friends, or polite acquaintances for that matter. We would fight and argue all the time. I didn’t want to share my friends, she cried to get her way, I bullied her with deception and she used her feet as battering rams aimed at my most crucial body parts. And then when I went to college, this all changed; like someone flipped a light switch. The day I left, we realized how much we loved each other and how hard it would be to live 1,000 miles away for the next four years. At her high school graduation, I sported a thick, red beard. It was massive by college sophomore standards. I tried so hard to be a man when she graduated. I went down to the front so my parents weren’t sitting next to me. I looked off into the distance as if pensive. My friends couldn’t see the vibrating smile, shaking a single tear down my cheek, a sharp left around the nose and settling into the tight curls of my mustache. Later, I made fun of my parents for crying over her graduation. When we dropped her off at Chico State in August, it was her turn to cry. She wasn’t ready, she didn’t like the school she chose, and she wasn’t going to make any friends. It was like leaving a puppy at the pound; she was hopeless and lost. On the way back, we passed a huge field of sunflowers. The car was silent as I marveled at the sunset dropping below the horizon, pulling a pink and orange hood over the sleepy yellow field. I remember thinking: Lexie would like this. Damn I wish I had a camera.

Tim and I are brushing up on our Italian in the train cabin, so we can woo local women we hope to meet in the Roman bars. Just as Tim loudly recites how to say “Would you like to play my skin flute?” from his Dirty Italian dictionary, a new traveler cautiously approaches our train cabin. The Italian man who has slept the entire time, wakes up and scrambles to his feet and immediately makes the plastic tray in the hall his new seat. The new guy is a monk carrying a faded backpack and dressed just in a brown robe, a dangling beaded rosary and brown sandals. He bows his head at the Italian man and smiles before taking the seat.

I’ve seen many people dressed like this in Italy; all around Europe, really. In Rome, there was an old woman lying face down on the sidewalk, hands clasped in prayer in front of an empty change tin. She was begging a monk to donate coins. I’ve never been a religious man myself. I’ve got too many fingers to count the times I’ve attended church in my entire life. A couple weddings or funerals, one favor to a friend, and one time doing community service in San Francisco. There is no call to prayer in my life. My mom tried to raise me Jewish. We had Passover and Chanukah, and I learned to spin a mean dreidel. But by age seven, I told my mom I didn’t believe in what the stories told. I still know the menorah-lighting prayer. You could say I’m atheist. Or agnostic; whatever term you see fit. Either way, there is no God to me. I’m more of an “I’ll believe it when I see it” type of guy. I tend to not have faith in in anything outside the scientific realm of possibility, but I still find religion an interesting topic. I wrote a term paper in my Rhetoric class, senior year of college. It covered whether or not intelligent design should be taught in public high schools. I argued that it should be taught. That was my first and last time getting an A+.

The monk and the man strike up a conversation through the open door. Both are clearly Italian and seem to like each other. They are both no older than 30, though the monk’s shaved head makes him look younger than his counterpart. They both seem very pleasant and I regret taking French in high school because I can’t eavesdrop on a very intense and enjoyable conversation. Still, I imagine I can understand what they are saying – a smile and a nod here, a hand gesture there. Just as I am sure about the architecture of rural Tuscany, I am sure they are speaking about religion. I want to be friends with them. They could be talking about the merits of Nazism for all I know, but it’s amazing what a lack of verbal communication and a light brown robe will do for our judgment of strangers.

That’s the great thing about Semester at Sea. I mean, sure. It’s my first time traveling to Europe and I’m getting to do some amazing things. I can go home and show my friends a rug from the Grand Bazaar and a rock from Mt. Vesuvius. But what really amazes me is the social dynamics of a ship cut off from Facebook and text messaging. When we are forced to communicate old school and really get to know each other in-depth through conversation. Some people know me as that guy. The one who added over 100 “friends” on Facebook from the ship before the Bahamas was even on our radar. Oh, we met on Facebook! But I can confidently say that I did it just to meet people. I never spent a night stalking walls and pictures deciding who would be my friend in real life. I’ve met tons of amazing people on this trip, because I put a lot of effort into meeting and conversing with everyone I came across. And it’s revitalized how I approach my relationships; there is a huge difference in the personality of most people from when I met them on Facebook to when I met them on the ship. Never judge a Facebook by its profile picture. This is a family, and I will forever love Semester at Sea for allowing me to be involved in it. Where else could I sit with my new brother Tim and watch a monk take a train through Italy?

A dark-skinned man slides between the monk and the Italian and apologizes to the Italian for interrupting. He is here to sell newspapers and make a few extra euros while traveling. The Italian shakes his head no, and the dark-skinned man turns around to try to market his product to our cabin. He holds up the newspaper and opens his mouth to speak, but spots the monk to his left and quickly tucks the newspaper away under his right arm. Mi scusi he says genuinely before bowing his head and moving on to the next cabin. I look at Tim and we marvel at the respect the monk has of everyone he encounters. This is a real live cultural experience.

In America, we are expected to say yes or no, and then move on. At a baseball game: peanuts, get your peanuts! If you say yes, you hand over half your life savings and get a big bag of too-salty nuts thrown at your head harder than a Nolan Ryan fastball. If you say no, you don’t exist. There is no in-between. Here, you can either admire the work ethic of the fake Rolex salesman as he follows you four blocks, chattering about best price, very nice watch and good gift for lady! Sister! Like all women love plastic timepieces. Still, it’s admirable that they have so much energy and passion for making money, which at the root, is based on bettering their lives and their family’s life. On the other hand, the customer service here is to be applauded. You say yes to the human megaphone from the kebab stand, and they will treat you to a five-star meal. Welcome, welcome! as they pull out your chair. No kebab lover gets by without trading family trees, favorite music or intimate secrets of their love life with the megaphone before the kebab even gets to the table. In America, we are expected to say yes or no, and then move on. These people here? They know how to be human.

The monk catches me looking at him. I look away quickly, but not before he can nod and smile at me. I look down at his feet to avoid the awkwardness of just being publicly busted and wonder why his small backpack is rounded at the back. Just a couple minutes later, he answers my question by unlatching the top and turning the bag to show the Italian what he is traveling with. It’s a familiar sight; in fact, I spent most of my childhood carrying one too. The entire contents of the monk’s bag are a shiny new, black and white soccer ball. He laughs at something the Italian says and puts the bag back at his feet. Tim leans over to whisper to me. This is awesome he says, before I shush him and continue my corner-of-the-eye observations.

I remember one soccer game in particular. I was 12 and my dad was still the coach. This was the end of the bookend for me. By that, I mean it was before I let life take me by the throat and make me its bitch. I lost that innocent sense of determination that made me such an easy kid to raise. The teenage years and most of college was when I was just part of the herd and never tried to stand out. This soccer game pitted the best of the best. My team, the Sting against the Scorpions on a local football pitch (as they call it on this side of the world). The game went down to the wire, knotted at zero. Then tied at one. The equalizer at two. And with ten minutes to spare, I took a shot and it hit the crossbar, bouncing into the net in slow motion. I told you I’m not a religious man. But for a moment in this game, I felt like I was floating through heaven. Waiting out the final minutes was agony; purgatory if you will. Nothing in the world was more important than beating the Scorpions and securing middle school bragging rights for years to come. The whistle blew. Sting 3, Scorpions 2. I ran like crazy toward the sideline, celebrating with my teammates. I jumped into my dad’s open arms and pumped my fist in the air as he held me, yelling like I had just knocked out Mike Tyson. I know my dad loves that moment. He talks about it all the time. Not the game, or the win, but the moment we shared on the sideline after one of the most memorable days of my life. When I tell that story, I shiver. I get that pre-tear feeling of moistness developing deep in my stomach and slowly, painfully, slithering up my chest and through my skull into the back of my eyes, before I clear my throat and kick the ladder back into the depths of my manhood. What is heaven like? Who can tell me? Got any photo slideshows? Perhaps an autographed halo? Well, I imagine that day, that victory, that paternal embrace; is what it feels like to be saved.

Another beggar walks by moments later, this time an older woman with long, tangled hair. She waves a small piece of paper with a picture of her hungry children on it above her head and says something in a curious tone. Her gaze lands on each passenger one by one until finally resting on the monk, who also kindly refuses to donate money. Whereas the newspaper seller saw a respected man of God, this woman saw a generous, empathetic opportunity for success. The variety in their attitudes catches me off guard. The woman mimes what I believe to be You think about it, I will come back. And when she does come back, the monk apologetically hands the paper back to her. She contests his decision and begs him to reconsider. The monk puts his hands together as if in prayer and softly says something to the woman. She smiles, nods and walks away, seemingly content with his reason. And I see why. Because this time I’m sure of what he said: Instead, I will pray for you.

Examining a #DayInTheLife Through Social Media

profile picLet’s face it: Social media is the future. Hell, it’s the present. Classic American institutions like the U.S. Postal Service and print newspapers are slowly being rendered irrelevant because of the rapidly-improving online word of communication and journalism.

My generation was raised with MySpace, Facebook and YouTube and are leading the charge for programs like Twitter, Instagram and Tout.

Because I consider myself somewhat of a wizard on the above platforms, I decided to try a fun experiment yesterday with the help of my Tout app (the one program I’m least familiar with — it’s basically a service that allows 15 second video clips in a feed-style interface) and Twitter.

Now, I just got into Tout recently, and only have about 50 followers to my name. So the experiment in itself probably didn’t have much of a reach, but it did get decent, if limited, feedback.

And even if it went completely ignored all day, I had fun doing it. I would love to see a social media-friendly celebrity or athlete (I’m looking at you, Shaq!) do something like this, if only just to demonstrate the incredible scope of communicative abilities all this new technology offers. Survivor host Jeff Probst actually did a similar series on Tout recently!

In the 20 or so video updates I posted yesterday, I learned that my average day is far more eventful than I originally believed. It’s promising to see that even on the laziest of Sunday’s (and one that I slept until noon on, no less) can still be exceptionally productive in multiple facets of my life.

But that’s enough of my blabber. This “experiment” was merely to document a full day in the life of an average social media-savvy human. I think it’s far more interesting to see something like this than “reality shows” like Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

So check out all the videos HERE and keep up with the Jamblinman’s instead!

Oh, and if you couldn’t tell…I kinda like baseball. Here is a montage/inspirational rendering of Sunday, March 3rd, 2013 through the eyes and iPhone of me:

Not So Miserable Anymore, Huh?

les mis posterI was originally going to author a New Year’s Resolution blog in this space. After examining the massiveness of that cliché, I thought better of it. That, and one of my resolutions was to actually blog once a week.

So here I am, two weeks into the new year, writing my first blog. And it has nothing to do with resolutions. Instead, let’s talk film.

The Golden Globes are happening as I type this, and we know all about the Oscar nominations from earlier this week (I’m sure there’s a great story behind the name “Oscar,” but why not something cooler – like “D’Brickshaw” or something?).

I’m not going to pretend I’ve seen all the films out there, but it’s definitely a strong class in 2013. I believe Kathryn Bigelow, based on her previous work and current media buzz, got snubbed for a Best Director nomination. I was a proponent of Flight for a Best Picture nomination. And I certainly don’t think anything will beat Wreck-It Ralph for Best Animated Feature (though who knows — those numskulls at the Hollywood Foreign Press gave the award on the Golden Globes to Brave).

Also, I have to give fair warning. You’ll be able to cover a mountain of chips with the cheese I’m about to spew in your general direction. But I sincerely mean what I’m going to say. So grab a napkin and buckle up.

Now that we got the standard conversation out of the way, let’s talk about something miserable. See what I did there?

I was familiar with the basics of the story behind Les Miserables, but didn’t really get to experience it until seeing it on stage recently in San Francisco with my theater-obsessed lady friend.

Needless to say, the theater performance was incredible. But you never know how that will translate to the big screen. That being said, I’d like to present a case for Les Miserables as Best Picture:

*Spoiler Alert – if you haven’t watched the Golden Globes yet, that’s your own fault, so don’t yell at me when i tell you this very next thing!*

Les Mis won Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) at the Golden Globes this weekend. Therefore, it was not up against Argo (which won Best Picture for Dramas), Lincoln or Silver Linings Playbook. But it gives a glimmer of hope to people like me.

See, it’s not just a film. It’s a book-turned-performance-turned-film-turned-musical. And though the story is exceptionally dramatic, over the top, and depressing in most parts, it is one of the truest, purest stories of love and hope one will ever read, watch or witness.

Call me cheesy if you want, but I’m a sucker for stories that bring out emotions in people. And if you understand the narrative (it’s pretty self-explanatory, really), you would not leave that movie theater unaffected.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to sob and weep at the precision of Anne Hathaway’s version of the epic song “I Dreamed A Dream.” You don’t have to shed a tear for Russell Crowe’s internally twisted Javert. You don’t have to grab a box of tissues to get through Eponine’s sacrifice and heartbreak.

hathaway jackman les mis

Where this film differs for me from other contenders (Lincoln, Django Unchained and Argo are really the only three I can fairly make comparisons to, as they are the only other of the nine films nominated for the industry’s greatest award that I’ve seen in theaters), is in its well-rounded execution.

I was shocked into another world watching Daniel Day-Lewis, the leading candidate for Best Actor, portray Abraham Lincoln. I was left in awe of his performance and the overall technical perfection of the story and film.

And Argo was a jaw-clenching ride about a terse, political event that I also thought was extremely well put-together, and especially well-directed by Ben Affleck (one of the bigger snubs, in my opinion).

Yet where those films succeeded, so did Les Miserables. With one slight improvement.

I can praise all three films (likely, the three leading candidates for Best Picture if the Golden Globes are any indication – I assume Django, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty will all get strong consideration as well) for the story, the acting, the directing, the cinematography, and everything in between.

But one thing that Les Mis excels at is creating emotion in a viewer. Not only was it one of the most untouchable stories of all time — which, according to the girlfriend, was made into a mediocre non-musical film years ago — but it required the exclusive use of music and singing to get said story across.

Watching and listening to the story of lost hope, self-discovery, love, war, hate, revenge, regret, doubt and incredible human kindness unfold on the big screen left me feeling, as my sister said at the end of the showing, like “my heart just got ripped out of my chest.”

As unnatural as this sounds, that’s a good feeling to have after seeing a work of fiction – no, a work of art – take place in front of you. I did feel like a hole had been punched right through me, but I was beaming from the happy ending of the film and the overall dedication of the actors and characters to making their lives livable in such a desperate time.

Those are the things I reward artists for. And if I understand correctly, that is what artists live to be rewarded for. Making a difference, no matter the size, in the audience’s collective minds and hearts. oscar statue

While the other films I mentioned were not easy projects by any means, Les Mis gets my vote for its sheer power in telling the strongest, most legendary story of them all through musical theater.

Director Tom Hooper took on a monumental task, that had even the biggest Les Mis fans primed for a let down. Instead, what those theater nerds got was music that brought them to their knees, and a film that made tear glands burst.

You have to understand that for people like that — for people like my girlfriend — this film living up to the massive expectations is akin to the Dodgers going 162-0 and sweeping their way through the playoffs to a World Series title for me.

Perfection. Pure perfection. It was…no, IS, the Holy Grail of musical theater. And the fact that Hooper, Jackman, Hathaway, Crowe, and the rest of the cast did it justice at all is a feat worth celebrating.

And in this otherwise unimportant blog’s opinion, it’s worth celebrating with a shiny, gold Oscar on February 24.

Agree? Disagree? Just want to talk about your feelings? Hit Jeremy up on Twitter @Jamblinman. Thanks for reading!

Practicing What I Preach: On Newtown, CT

This is a real letter that will be put in the mail on Friday, December 21st. I decided instead of screaming via social media that “things need to change,” I’d actually send something to someone who can make things change. This serves as a petition, too – once you read through, if you feel inclined to support what I’m saying and be a part of it, comment with your first and last name (and any other comments, of course) either on this page or via Facebook/Twitter. I will add those names to this before sending an electronic copy. 

Dear President Obama,

I am writing this on a plane. I am on a cross-country flight from Chicago to San Francisco, where I live. I’ll be honest; I was always terrified of flying. I don’t like heights, and I’ve never trusted a gigantic hunk of metal, piloted by a bunch of people I am forced to trust without ever knowing, to get me safe passage to a desired destination.

Yet tonight, I’ve never felt safer. I know there are no guns on this flight. September 11th, 2001 assured me that as long as I live, airport security will be far too tight to allow such things to take place again.

The same cannot be said when I’m back on the ground. Below me, it is realistic to assume that at least six people were murdered by gunfire during my five-hour flight, somewhere in the United States.

I know this, because it’s derived from simple math. We know that ever year, there are over 10,000 murders-by-gun in this country. That is about 30 per day. In one-fifth of my day, six people have been killed.

When I land in San Francisco, I will take public transportation from the terminal to my hometown. I’ll be on a crowded train with limited security for over an hour. On my way, I will pass countless malls, two movie theaters, multiple hospitals and my own elementary school.

Those are places I once considered fun, or safe, or beneficial in some way. After the events in Newtown, CT last week, which closely followed the events in Clackamas, OR, which followed the massacre in Aurora, CO, which was one of over 50 public shooting sprees since Columbine…I no longer feel the same way.

These days, when I take my girlfriend to the mall I feel what it must be like for a gazelle in the sights of a lioness. Eyes constantly scanning, thinking worst-case scenarios and my best escape route if a psychotic surprise were to come running into the mall, guns blazing. Take the fire route to my left? Throw her down on the floor and shield her with my own body? Sprint away, and run until I can’t hear the screams anymore?

With the frequency of death-via-gun in this country I’ve always called home, I am legitimately terrified for my life on a daily basis. It’s no longer “it can’t happen to me.” In Clackamas, someone I know was working inside the mall that day. In Newtown, one of my close friends was getting ready for work, ten minutes down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In my mind, it’s no longer an impossibility. Rather, it’s a likelihood that sometime in my life, my family and friends will be threatened by a mentally disturbed, mass-murdering psychopath who wants to be thrust into twisted martyrdom like Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Adam Lanza.

I don’t want to go outside anymore. I don’t WANT to go shopping, or to the movie theaters, or to a baseball game. I don’t like taking public transportation, 35 minutes each way, from home to work every day, exposed in public places. I don’t like that I’m becoming paranoid at barely 24 years old.

I don’t like, that as a young man who hopes to have a family of my own someday, that I will be forced, by the nature of a few sick people in our country and our unwillingness to fix a flawed, 200-year-old law, to home-school my children. To stream movies from a laptop, to shop online and never let them experience the joy of adventuring through San Francisco on a summer weekend, or buying my son his first suit and tie at the mall, or sending them to a midnight movie premiere.

I want to make sure my future kids receive the basic liberties – those same liberties that gun control opponents claim would be denied them if restrictions increased; liberties that the young children in Newtown had taken from them. Do some people have more of a “right” to own a gun than I have to feeling safe enough that I will survive an average day in my hometown?

Twenty kids, murdered in class would disagree. So would the six adults who were forced to play the part of hero, because our government won’t.

Sending “thoughts and prayers” is a noble deed, and much-needed. But how will the victims and their families be assured that something similar may never occur again?

Since I can’t physically prevent the violence, I’m using my greatest strength to put in my greatest contribution, in order to show how many people really, truly care about this issue.

There is desperate need for better research and support for mental health, and I surely endorse that. But there are changes that can be more immediate in a time when we really need instant impact.

What we do know as fact is that guns themselves are designed to kill – whether it be hunting, protection, law enforcement, military, or recreation, the entire point of the entity of a weapon is ultimately to make something once living, dead.

In the timeframe of one short week, we have seen a shooting at a mall, elementary school and hospital, not to mention Aurora, earlier this year. A movie theater at a midnight premiere, an elementary school, a hospital and a crowded shopping mall. Four places in which a shooter knew, regardless of mental stability, that the volume of people would be large and the ability for defense would be minimal.

If only the teachers in Newtown, CT held pistols in holsters while teaching five-year-old kids. If only the midnight movie-goers had the necessary training to unleash their weapons in the dark, see through the tear gas, and fire a fatal shot at a heavily armored psychopath before he got the chance. Where’s the logic?

I mourn for the innocent dead. I am furious at the murderous killers. I am disappointed that the greatest country in the world refuses to acknowledge a problem staring down the barrel of a gun, right in our faces. I am disappointed that we refuse to change.

So what do I want? Certainly not the complete abolishment of firearms – some people rely on rifles to put food on the table. This letter you’ve undoubtedly received by now outlines my thoughts quite nicely.

I want anyone carrying a hand gun to be doing so under extremely tight laws and certifications; even retired law enforcement officers. For example, it should take a thorough background check, a psychiatrist’s clearance, and yearly certification to buy a gun. Hell, make people take polygraph tests first.

It should cost illegal traders and buyers years in prison if caught. Every provider should be pre-cleared and regularly monitored. Make trafficking weapons a federal crime, instead of aligning it with similar punishments doled out for illegally moving livestock. Appoint a serious director to the ATF. Release relevant records to the public.

Require every citizen who carries a concealed weapons permit to renew their license once per year, demonstrating mental stability and knowledge of proper use and safety. Ban assault weapons completely – they serve no protective, recreational or non-military use for a regular citizen in the street. They are simply designed to inflict fatal damage on a large population in a short amount of time.

Continue to pull violent songs from the radio, and increase movie, television and video game ratings again. Enforce a law that requires gun owners to have their weapons locked up at all times when they aren’t being used, to help prevent accidental shootings at home. That way, nobody can break into a home or steal a gun to use in a pre-meditated manner.

Lastly, put metal detectors and trained security in every sports and concert venue, school, hospital and movie theater.

Yes, people would still find ways to get guns. Criminals would still exist. But using that as justification for not trying is absurd. Don’t wear seat belts because crashing with them on could still kill you? Surely everyone can see the flawed logic here.

We have seen the results pay off in other countries (In 14 years after a gun ban and buy-back was instituted in Australia, murder and suicide rates dropped significantly and there was not a mass shooting spree in that time). And we regulate everything else in our country – cars, food, homes, even children’s toys – so why not the most dangerous weapon in the world?

I leave you with this thought: Twenty innocent school children will never go to prom, or break curfew, or experiment with energy drinks before a college exam. They will never get a job, lose a job, attend a wedding, and have children of their own. They will never see a life-changing film, read a life-changing book, or explore a life-changing country.

Six-year-old Olivia will never get to play an angel in the school play. Six-year-old Jesse will never master the art of horseback riding. The least we can do is make sure they did not die in vain. We can work towards ensuring that no other child or adult suffers the same fate.

Please, President Obama. Prove that you care about the lives lost. Prove that you actually want this country to change. Prove that you want to try.

Everyone else: stand with me – whether you support better mental health research, gun control, or both. Even if you don’t, sign this petition and make a stand in honor of the victims of Newtown and Aurora and Columbine and prove that you are willing to sacrifice your own convenience for the possibility of preventing such horrific events in the future.

Sincerely worried,

Jeremy Dorn

IF YOU WANT TO ADD YOUR NAME TO THIS PETITION, COMMENT FIRST AND LAST (WITH ANY OTHER COMMENTS) BELOW, OR ON FACEBOOK/TWITTER! I WILL ADD YOUR NAME BEFORE SENDING AN ELECTRONIC COPY TO THE WHITE HOUSE.

I Already Know How I’m Going to Die

I didn’t pay $30 to let a crazy old lady in turban-like headgear look into a foggy, mirrored ball and tell me very generalized “predictions” about my future.

It wasn’t one of those weird flash forward instances like in every hilarious, poorly-acted Final Destination movie.

And I certainly didn’t see this in a dream (most of my sleep thoughts consist of fighting panda bears that have dragon wings and/or talking to old friends who morph into 80-year-old versions of themselves – the sad part is both scenarios really have materialized in this brain in recent nights).

For some reason, I just know. It’s a strange, uncomfortable feeling in the depth of my gut. I don’t know when it’s going to be, and definitely don’t know why. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will experience death by either plane or deer.

Yes, deer.

I’m fairly certain that the one chance fate had of ending me while airborne passed a couple of years ago, when I somehow averted the reaper by surviving 45 minutes hurtling in circles above Oakland airport in a storm that would make Zeus shake in his sandals (I’m talking lightning bolts striking just outside my window, rain causing static-like screens in my immediate vision, and unbearable turbulence).

So the more likely answer is that I will one day be killed by a freakish, vegetarian, antlered beast of the suburbs.

Please, let me explain.

I should have realized this was life’s verdict around age eight. Our neighbor used to have a shoddy little basketball court just down the street from my house. Before my family got a hoop for the driveway (always set to seven and a half feet so I can throw down monstrous dunks like THIS), I would mosey on down to the neighbor’s court and play for a while on most summer days.

Side note: For how often I shot hoops as a kid, there is no explanation for how royally I SUCK at basketball…

To provide context, my house (address not listed for security reasons – I don’t want you hooligans pulling any shenanigans like stealing my six-year old DELL, collection of NOW CD’s, or signature of Janet Evans) is also backed up to the Open Space.

In Walnut Creek, CA, the “Open Space” is a big, grassy, hilly area with flowers and wildlife and bodies of water. You know? A space…that’s open. Oh, nevermind. It’s where people go hiking and walk their dogs.

Sometimes, the woodland creatures venture down to my street from the Open Space and try to eat our apparently delicious garbage. Snap back to the basketball court with eight-year-old Jeremy ballin’ like LeBron. Before LeBron existed. Weird.

I chased an awful air ball into the bushes behind the hoop, and when I turned around there was a centaur-like buck with gargantuan antlers staring at me, furious. I had gotten too close to his sugar mama and offspring for his liking and Papa wasn’t happy.

Let’s just say my description of the animal is completely exaggerated, but he really did have antlers. And cut off my only route home. So eight-year-old me with my peach-like ego proceeded to whimper and sob in the bushes, clutching my basketball, until my dad came looking for me an hour later.

My dad scared off the mighty deer, reinforcing every young boy’s belief that his fatherly figure might be a superhero, and walked me home.

To this day, I have loathed the animal that trapped me in embarrassment for so many painful minutes. Add in the fact that they kind of resemble horses, which legitimately terrify me, and that those little puff-tailed demons shit ONLY ON MY LAWN, I’m convinced that deer have it out for me.

When I was little, I rarely thought about death. But now that I’m nearly a senior citizen (turning 24 in January) and very close to a deer-induced burial, it crosses my mind. And for whatever reason, those disgusting critters have evolved.

They are all over my neighborhood, and only come out at night. Especially when I’m driving down the street. In the rain. And they only jump out from the bushes when they recognize my car.

Fearlessness is a pretty scary trait to face in an opponent. And even though yelling and honking my horn no longer fazes them (they look up from eating, smirk, and carry on…bastards), I do have a shovel and many sharp kitchen utensils at home that are begging to be used.

See? They are out to get me. One way or another. They’re gonna find me. They’re gonna get me get me get me GET ME! Whoa…sorry.

So I don’t know when, why or how I will be killed by deer. I don’t know if it will be a hoofed kick to the heart, a mass deer-gang car jacking and beating, or a rabid buck who mistakes my neck for a delicious leaf.

I’ve accepted my fate. Remember me well, friends. But at the funeral, if you quip “Deer-ly Beloved,” my posthumous spirit will not laugh.

Maybe. I do love puns.

Let’s Get Presidential, Shall We?

I’m not nearly as bad ass as Wyclef Jean. If so, and if I was President, I too would getelected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, buried on Sunday, and back to work on Monday.

Alas, I am not the President. And good thing, too. Because once I returned to work on Monday, everyone would have nothing to argue about. I’d make this country damn near perfect with my plan.

Isn’t that what everyone with an opinion on politics thinks? I know it’s easier said than done to fix a country with problems as monumental as ours, but can we agree that the last four years have been a large improvement over the preceding eight?

I’ll start this blog with a disclaimer – I am officially registered as a Democrat and voted as such in 2008. That being said, I align myself with certain ideals of each major party, and despise certain aspects of both as well.

The most important issues to me will never be decided by a debate. Candidates have far too much at stake to be completely honest with the public. I would pay attention to the political banter on TV that so rudely interrupted New Girl a couple of weeks ago, as long as the candidates were being fully truthful.

I understand that they can’t be. They have to appease multiple demographics of voters and ooze political correctness. But any insight on the issues I care about might as well have been answered in Swedish; it was like sign language to a blind man.

Again, I know that politics have come to this. It’s the only real way for candidates to survive. But can we get a little honesty out of these guys, please?

Regardless of who you are voting for or why, just make sure to exercise your right to go to the polls tomorrow and make a difference. The results will directly affect you and your family, whether you like it or not. And if you DON’T go vote, then you have no right to complain about how unfairly the government is treating you.

I wrote this blog simply to outline the six issues I personally feel most strongly about in this election. I know who I’m voting for, and I might move to Canada if he loses, mostly because I’m a sore loser.

Just kidding, it’s because I think the other guy will ruin this country. Now that I’ve had my moment of extremism, let me get to the meat of this blog:

Gay Marriage

I’m not going to harp on this one too long, because I just wrote a full blog about marriage equality a week ago. Please go through and read that if you want my full take on the issue. All I will say is that I believe denying the LGBT community a basic human right is more than selfish. And regardless of what anyone says, it is the same as racism and prejudice were during the Civil Rights era. African-Americans were persecuted for their skin color, something they had no choice in, just like homosexuals are being denied their rights for their sexuality.

Education

I have been fortunate enough to go through pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school, and four and a half years of college without paying  a dime of my own money. My parents saved up for years to put my sister and I through school because they knew the value of a good education. Both of us are looking at B.A.’s in our desired fields and are slaying job interviews along the way.

There are a ton of families who did not save enough money, or more likely, COULD not save enough money for that same opportunity. If these politicians truly want to improve this country’s education and start catching up to all the nations who have surpassed us, they should stop forcing the firing of teachers, cutting of school programs, raising of taxes and tuitions, and the emphasis on testing.

Economy

Oh, boy. Everyone’s favorite topic of discussion. It is my understanding, as a human with common sense, that if you have a certain amount of money, you can not spend more than that limit and go unpunished. The United States have certainly kicked that rule in the nuts and laughed over the years, huh? When you are zillionbillionkatrillions (it’s a number now…) of dollars in debt, you’d think the process of re-paying would be much more urgent. Yes, there are hundreds and thousands of things that government money needs to fix, but you’re telling me in a trillion-dollar annual economy, our government can’t stash away money in order to get us back in the black? Where has all the money gone? Damn you, A-Rod. Damn you.

Defense

Don’t forget, people. George W. Bush got us into Iraq, Barack Obama is getting us out. That doesn’t necessarily get the U.S. off the hook in my mind, though. Since when did we become everyone’s way-too-overprotective big brother? We have troops in nearly every country in the world, and we wonder why the U.S. is hated. Spending money on the military is great, as long as they are protecting us at home and abroad – nobody in their right minds wouldn’t appreciate what our troops do for us. But as the most powerful and dangerous military in the world, do we really need to test the limits of this? I want to be safe, but I don’t want to build a barbed-wire fence around a croc-infested moat, around a wall.

Global Warming

There is no denying the facts; hurricanes and storms have gotten bigger, faster and more devastating in the past few years. Ocean levels are rising, polar ice caps are melting and nobody seems to give a damn. Was the environment a topic even touched on publicly by any candidates this fall? It is our responsibility as citizens of this planet to make sure there is a livable home for future generations. Stricter measures on clean energy, reduced use of oil and pollution must be taken. Ignoring that the Earth is changing and getting sick is like being an elderly who visits the doctor for a check-up, gets diagnosed and prescribed for multiple illnesses, and goes home saying “Ah, it’s natural. It’ll cycle out. I’ll be fine.”

Healthcare

If I had it my way, everything would be Canadian…er…free. But I know that’s never going to happen in America. I’m not saying insurance policies should be more lenient or that healthcare should be less expensive, but am I supposed to believe the people who say they care about American citizens, and then don’t go to the greatest lengths possible to protect them? What is more important than your people’s’ health? All I’m saying is somehow, some way, healthcare needs to be affordable for anyone.

I’ll spare you my thoughts on abortion, gun control and immigration, which I also consider huge issues. You’re welcome. You could finish the entire Harry Potter series twice before I would be done with that.

Anyway, that’s just my take on the issues that I read into the most. I’d like to compare our country to the plight of my alma mater’s football team. Bear with me here.

In 2002, Washington State University went to the Rose Bowl. By the time I arrived in 2007, they were struggling to win two games, let alone be in the bowl conversation. After last season, along came Mike Leach to coach, and it all changed.

The 2012 version of the Washington State Cougars is still pitiful, but much improved. We used to lose 69-0 (no joke – at home to USC my sophomore year). Last year Stanford beat us 44-14. This year, we came within 10 seconds and one play of beating them.

Leach brought hope and a YES WE CAN attitude to that team, and they are finally, slowly climbing their way out of obscurity. Yes, there are bumps and bruises along the way, as with any rebuild. But he’s done a great job so far with what he was given.

If you don’t get the allusion here, I can’t help you. When a team has hit rock bottom, you can’t expect a new coach to come in and snap his fingers to suddenly fix everything in one season.

Have patience, people. Eventually, under this coach, we will return to glory.

These are my opinions, nobody else’s. Feel free to agree, disagree or argue with me. No matter what you do, get out to the polls tomorrow and exercise you right to VOTE! Follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman and follow this blog if you like what you see.

Shouldn’t Men Be From Venus Since it Rhymes With…?

I’m not going to lie…I only titled this blog in such a fashion because it forced you to think the word “penis.” Hah! Suck on that! Wait. No. Don’t really su–oh god, what have I done?!

For some reason I write about things I can’t personally understand or identify with. My first novel, which has been started and stopped more than your car in a friendly Los Angeles freeway commute at any given hour, will be from the point of view of a 20-something female.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I’m not a girl. I do have a sister and a mother and a girlfriend and plenty of other female friends though, from whom I can draw inspiration and make educated guesses. So you may wonder how a straight guy is really going to write a blog advocating gay rights and get you to buy in, believe in it and change the world one opinion at a time?

Insert “lives in San Francisco” jokes here. Now insert joke about the association of the word “insert” to that previous sentence…done? Okay, good.

Let me start with an admission. When I was younger, I knew I was a boy, but I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with enjoying Shania Twain and The Secret Garden. When I was about 10 years old, walking around the house singing the only part of Shania’s song I could remember (“MAN! I feel like a woman. Dun dun duh nuh nuh DUN DUN!”), my Mom stopped me and said:

Jeremy. Don’t sing that part. It’s…weird.

Boom. Just like that, a dawn of realization hit. Society says NO!

It took me a while after that to realize I just didn’t care. I like that song, I liked Kelly Clarkson, I still like Call Me Maybe. I can out-quote anybody, white, black, Lebanese, male, female, gay, straight, or Mormon when it comes to Mean Girls.

Whatever. It is what it is. But even minor differences and preferences like that are considered “queer” or strange. Yet, I’m the most stereotypically average human being on this planet. So why are homosexuals and other LGBT individuals considered so different that they shouldn’t get to enjoy the basic, lawless human right of falling in love and being wed?

I’ve yet to see a good reason from anti-gay groups on why gay and lesbian people shouldn’t marry. The most common “reasoning” I see goes like this:

1. The bible prohibits it.

2. Because it’s weird and doesn’t make sense.

3. It’s bad for children.

4. It’s like a gateway drug.

5. It’s against nature.

Allow me to enlighten. First of all, it’s okay to admit our past generations were ignorant. They won’t be offended, trust me (They are dead; sorry not sorry.).

In the bible, which is a completely fictional (Okay, really? Prove me wrong then.), yet very important and relevant (There. HAPPY?) collection of stories, other “rules” would outlaw speech by women, eating a ham sandwich or seafood (People in New Orleans and Boston read that and went Oh, HELL no!), and football. 

How many people just read that sentence and thought “Screw that, dudes can marry dudes as long as Adrian Peterson keeps dropping 25 points per week for my fantasy team!”? That’s what I thought.

The bottom line is that LGBT individuals are among a large group of people who are getting pushed around because they are a minority to those who believe in whatever God is.

In America it’s the “norm” to be a white, Christian family. Yet we have the most diverse, multi-cultural community in the entire world. Out of the 312 million citizens in the United States, about 9 million are LGBT. So what I’m hearing is that even though nearly 4 percent of Americans are a part of the LGBT community, that group does not qualify for basic human rights.

THAT law of God can be accepted and enforced. But we can ignore those silly rules about football and ham because it’s fun to watch or eat.

Right. That makes sense.

And you know what else is “strange,” “confusing,” or “weird?” A black President, a CongressWOMAN, people skydiving from space, volcanoes, how Hunter Pence physically functions, why flapping the Airhead in the wrapper until it’s a tiny square makes it taste better, Christmas music before Halloween, why Nicolas Cage still lands acting roles, and public transportation in major cities.

Shit happens. Things change. Adapt, as you do with your fall fashions and taste in music.

The argument that it’s bad for children infuriates me for many reasons. Yes, a “standard” upbringing is a mother and father for the child. And in more than half of these “standard”  marriages, the mother and father end up separating.

Possibilities of divorce in a homosexual marriage is also there, but they will take their chances. The argument that children need to be raised in a standard family is completely moot, given how often that standard family is ripped apart – forget if a child is born from birth, test tube or divine intervention…as long as the parental guardians devote themselves to loving and raising that child, I see no problem with it.

The fact that I even have to dispute the gateway argument is a bit disturbing. If people truly think that pedophilia and bestiality would suddenly have a shot for legality based on gay marriage being legalized, they are more insane than I thought. Having sex with animals and dead people is, arguably, rape. It sounds silly, but seriously, where’s the consent?

Lastly, being gay is not unnatural. Different? Sure. But I won’t take it back to the minority argument; I’ll simply leave you with this list of common animals that have been scientifically observed to display homosexual or transgender behavior:

Cats, dogs, giraffes, elephants, dolphins, lions, horses, salmon, lizards, frogs, snakes, chicken, ducks and penguins.

Try explaining that to your straight, religious, “normal” children as they cuddle with the family cat in bed, clutching a stuffed penguin.

To anyone who believes religious doctrine suggests gay rights should be denied, talk to one of your own HERE. Point, set and match.

Now that I’ve successfully proven that the anti-gay marriage reasoning is stupider than trying to surf in Hurricane Sandy, enjoy trying to come up with more excuses as to why a basic human right is being denied to millions of people.

I’ll be waiting. And when those people realize that they are essentially telling LGBT couples not to breathe, maybe…just maybe…it will change.

You don’t have to listen to me, but take my opinion for what it’s worth. Vote for marriage equality and gay rights in any aspect of the upcoming elections. You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.

Public Service Announcement: Thumbs and Driving Don’t Mix

This is a friendly reminder to not pick up hitch hikers, no matter how friendly they look. Even if he or she has a six-pack of Bud Light, obliging the thumb is a move that will likely result in an axe to your head, then the car cascading off a cliff into a fiery mess at the bottom of a canyon, suicidal hitch hiker laughing menacingly all the way down.

Then again, it could go right – you could make a new buddy from picking up a wandering soul on the highway. Hell, you could even meet the love of your life. It’s happened before.

Since I literally have nothing else to write about hitch hikers, let’s stop easing into a sensitive topic and get on with the real meat to this blog sandwich: Please. Please. PLEASE. For the love of human existence, stop thumbing your phone while driving.

Yes, I used to be guilty myself. There was a time when a well-timed “LOL” to a girl I liked was far more important than my health, let alone anyone else in my general driving vicinity. I was convinced I was so good at texting, I never even had to look at the phone because I knew where the numbers were.

Problem is, you still have to read the text that you got in the first place and then double-check yours makes sense before sending it off through cyber space. You may think it only takes a second, but it’s long enough. And no, the “LOL” to that chick didn’t pay off; thanks for asking.

I can’t even pull the “older and wiser” card on you guys here. Technically I’m older, the wiser part is debatable, but I’m still only 23. I just know better. A story I got in an email was what changed my ways for good – whether or not it’s true is irrelevant. The story went that a guy in a smart car was texting, swerved into oncoming traffic, and died instantly due to being sliced in half by a big rig. I’m assuming he never got to send that text. Here is one of many pictures of the aftermath, according to the email (WARNING: VERY graphic, please ignore if you expect rainbows and butterflies…lots of blood, metal and body parts).

My mom sent the email to me in her desperate attempt to make her son a well-rounded citizen (it worked…I’m freakin’ awesome). As if it wasn’t worrisome enough that there are human beings and fire hydrants and mailboxes and deer everywhere we drive (readers in or around Walnut Creek – how fearless are those damn deer that are trying to re-stake their claim to the land we built our neighborhoods on? I see packs of them driving home every night. What if they were zombie deer? Holy shit. I’d never leave my house after dusk. There are hordes of them standing in ditches and on sidewalks everywhere, just waiting for the chance to jump into my windshield or shit on my lawn. THEY FEAR NOTHING. Blood-sucking little Bambi’s…sorry…got carried away there).

Where was I? Right! As if it wasn’t worrisome enough that all those obstacles exist on a normal day, we have to worry about other drivers on the road. On highways there are gigantic, loud, terrifying trucks everywhere you turn.

If you think looking down at your phone to send a pointless text is worth slamming into the back of one of those trucks and leaving your head stuck to the bumper, leg to the axle, and ass to the exhaust pipe, you’re sorely mistaken. Keep challenging the facts. Keep laughing in the face of emoticon-fueled danger. Have fun in prison.

Just ask this guy. He’s one of the lucky few who you COULD ask.

When I see people scrolling through a text, tweet, Facebook message, email, etc. on their phones while driving, I want to give them a not-so-friendly bump with my right headlight just to make a point.

You know what I do when I get a text while driving? One of three things: I ignore it until I’m done driving, I give it to my shotgun rider/navigator/partner in crime (title pending, based on who is sitting there) and ask them to respond for me. I can dictate a quick sentence to them and keep both hands and eyes on the road. Or if it’s really that urgent, give them a call on speakerphone.

Honestly, I’m no angel. I still do it once in a while. I lose focus. But it’s like training yourself to do anything else: eating vegetables, flossing your teeth, chewing with your mouth closed, not picking your nose, only farting in front of your family and close friends. You know, normal stuff. Mind over matter. Make a concentrated effort to stop. 

You can’t make this stuff up. Students were asked to navigate a driver’s ed course while texting in a study done recently. The results were conclusive – driving while texting is equal to driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08. Or the legal limit. The number all tipsy drivers fear.

Do you really need any more convincing proof than that? Ignoring a statistic of that magnitude would be an ugly display of priorities…and make me hate my own species a lot.

Look, all I’m saying is texting is a dangerous activity while behind the wheel of a car. The only time there should be something so urgent is in a legitimate emergency situation. And in that case, if you’re texting, you suck at urgency. That’s why god invented speed dial.

This is how people get cut in half. It’s no joke. And next time this blogger sees you texting and driving, there will be a pre-meditated fender bender coming to a highway near you.

Try LOL’ing at that, sucka.