Tag Archives: bucket list

87. Onions

Okay, okay, I get it. I get it now.

It took a Blimpie’s special-of-the-week 6-inch sandwich to prove it. I never thought I’d say this, but I have officially come to like onions. True story.

A few days ago, while ordering my sandwich, the bespectacled bald Blimpie’s owner with the middle-eastern accent asked me, motioning toward the smorgasbord of turkey, provolone, lettuce, pickle, tomato, salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar already smothering my choice of bread, “Onions?”

There was a hesitation.

For twenty-five years I had replied: “Nay, my friend. Onions don’t belong between those freshly-baked slices of honey-oat. Not now, not ever.”

I looked this man in the eyes. His hand, hovering over the plastic tin of white raw onion slices, shiny as slivers of the moon.

I didn’t think about my first McDonald’s hamburgers, where I’d pull off the bun and scrape off those onion pebbles into my cheese-smeared wrapper. I didn’t think about eating everything but the onions in mom’s dinner salads. I didn’t think of their crisp bite or the worry of onion-breath. Instead I felt something new: curiosity, but something more, like trust.

For the first time ever, I said, “Yes,” to onions.

A sandwich is a magical realm where all good things come together to share their talents by way of seducing your taste buds in an orgiastic assault that hits like a hard kiss. Obviously I was worried that inviting onions to the party would throw off the balance. I’d have a flavor that felt out of place–the awkward guy in the corner. How foolish I felt when I took my first bite and realized that onions are not only a valuable part of the sandwich dynamic, but they nearly deejay the whole shebang.

You know when there’s a collective lull in conversation when you’re hanging out with people, but you’re thankful that there’s loud music playing to cover the silence? That’s what onions do.

The best thing about onions is that they don’t brag.

They knew I’d come around eventually, and so they waited, patiently, in the tins of sandwich shops, soaked in vinaigrette dressing at the bottom of a salad, snuck between the buns of a hamburger… They never forced themselves upon me. They waited until I was ready.

And they didn’t say, “I told you so.”

The point is, I think we should eat everything we can (and aren’t allergic to). Anything someone cooks for us. Finish your plate. Anything the man at Blimpie’s offers us. Don’t order the same-old-thing. Anything that exists on a menu, which somewhere, someone enjoys… Eat it. Try it. Put that in your mouth, chew on it, consume it, and make up your own opinion of it.

There are foods out there that you will love, but you don’t know it yet.

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82. Puzzles

I’ve met my nemesis and it is called the Rubik’s Cube.

No offense to its creator, Ernő Rubik, who in 1974 developed the puzzle cube. I bet you were a swell guy. The fact remains: This harmless little child’s toy with its impossible labyrinth of color shifting devilry has been a thorn in society’s side ever since.

I’ve never solved one. Obviously. Even the instructions I try to use from the internet betray me.

There are competitions, famous competitions, where people solve Rubik’s Cubes in the quickest or strangest ways. One-handed, blind-folded, floating in zero gravity. On a boat, on a kangaroo. People challenge themselves, but mostly they challenge the Rubik’s Cube, constantly stretching the boundaries of puzzle solving criteria. Soon we’ll be looking for the one who can swallow the cube whole and solve it with their digestive system.

Our fastest human solver of the Rubik’s cube is Feliks Zemdegs. The fastest computer solved it in 5.27 seconds. We’re not far behind at 5.66, thanks to Zemdegs. I guess we know who to call when during the robot uprising our species’ survival is based on the outcome of a Rubik’s Cube showdown.

More importantly, you should note, the puzzle that has taken me over twenty-five years to never complete was solved by an Australian teenager in slightly less than six full seconds.

Thanks.

But I keep going back to the the puzzle. I keep rotating at random. Sometimes I’ll have a moment of clarity and really see how the rotations work together, but I’d be lying if I said I had some kind of method. I don’t know any of the algorithms people use to solve the thing, I simply like to try sometimes. Like reading a book, picking up a Rubik’s Cube makes you feel smart, even if you’re just winging it.

What draws us back to these unsolvable puzzles though? We ache and groan because they defeat us regularly. We think we’ve figured it out, then it gets even more complicated. We might even tell ourselves that we’ve given up, but it never lasts. We’ve all got a Rubik or two in our lives.

I don’t think we can help it.

It’s boring to have everything figured out. It’s boring to solve all your problems.

We all need something on the backburner, even if the pots on the front burners are boiling over. Like a lighthouse beacon in the fog, these insistent background tasks, these puzzles you’ll never solve but never let go, they kind of remind us that there’s something to aim for, even if you never get there. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s our non-task that needs to never be completed because if we didn’t have these intangible, unrealistic goals, then we’d wander like sheep without fences.

I’m not saying the Rubik’s Cube has channeled my attention away from bigger and better things. We’re all capable of experiencing all of the life’s wonders, regardless of our puzzles. I’m only saying that I like to keep the cube around. I like to try and solve it once in a while, like catching up with an old friend. Like a grizzled cop meeting an uncatchable mobster in a coffee-shop, wanting to choke each other right there on the checkered linoleum, but sipping coffee with amicable smugness and understanding between them. I’ll never defeat the cube and the cube will never defeat me.

Live life. Pursue goals.

But not all the puzzles will be solved, and there will be goals that evade your reach like fireflies, flashing briefly before slipping away. Chase them, but do not be defeated by them. Know when to put the cube down for a while and take care of bigger things.

75. Regret

Guest Thought from Alison McClelland

:::

A friend of a friend was telling me a story a while back and it made me think about how much we miss out on when we do or don’t do something for fear of what other people might think.

She and her husband flew to Las Vegas for one weekend and for one reason. Star Trek Experience. A noble reason, I might add.

Well, being that I’ve experienced the Star Trek Experience I know there’s a place called “Quark’s Bar.” Evidently, there’s quite a spectacular beverage served there called “Warp Core Breech.” They ate lunch at Quark’s where she decided not to order said beverage as it was “too early” in the day. She decided they would return that night and order the drink then, ignoring prompts by her husband to disregard the “too early” rule.

Ah, I sense you have already guessed the ending of this tale.

They returned only to find Quark’s bar CLOSED to the public for some special event and they were leaving the next morning.

Now, mind you, they flew to Vegas just for the full experience. Naturally, she felt jilted and full of regret. Tough to live with that forever when you live 700 miles from aforementioned libation.

It brings a Hellrung’s Law to my mind, “if you wait…it will go away.”

So, my advice to you… if you want it, drink it. It has to be happy hour somewhere on planet earth at any given time. Just tell people you’re on Zimbabwe time.

If you really like it, buy it. It’s only money. You can’t take it with you and do your kids really deserve to inherit everything?

And lastly, if it makes you happy, do it.

Listen, livers regenerate (or so I’m told) and credit cards can be paid off, but remorse is like genital warts. Sometimes you feel great and then it flares up and it’s a real pain in the nuts.

72. Ghosts

I’m waiting, Mr. Ghost.

I’m waiting for a cold draft, an omnipresent whisper, and a flickering lamp. I want some footsteps upstairs when the house is supposed to be empty. I want doors left ajar that I’m sure I closed when I left. I want noises in the basement. I want the dog to start acting funny, barking at empty corners and shadows. All I’m asking for, Mr. Ghost, is a little sign.

Send a rocking chair into a frenzy. Slam a few windows. Leave eerie messages on my bathroom mirror.

I want to believe in you.

Your existence means a lot to me. I don’t care if you’re the friendly spirit of a child or a wicked poltergeist spawned from the soul of an executed mass-murderer. Just prove it. Show me that the afterlife exists. Show me that some of you still linger. Set fire to a ouija board or raise skeletons from their graves. I don’t care what you do, just do something.

Show up in the background of a photograph. Appear in a hallway mirror.

I can’t even begin to explain how much that would change things for me. Imagine, a real ghostly encounter. Sure, I’m not going to lie and say it wouldn’t be unsettling at first, but wandering into a haunted hotel to find a ballroom full of ghosts wearing masks would really make my day. I’d have so many questions for them.

Mr. Ghost, I have to ask, is it cold in the afterlife?

Do you have to remain in human form?

Which senses do you still possess?

Why do you think you’re still here?

Please, I hope I wouldn’t be intruding with these questions. I’m only curious, you know. I want you to know I’ve been a firm believer all my life, only I’m reaching that point now where I’d like some reason to keep the belief alive. Some shred of proof. A little evidence to whet my ghostly appetite.

Not long ago, the ghost of a dog entered my room while I was lying down to sleep. It huffed into my ear with the impatience of a dog that wants you to throw the ball already. The sound was so real that I spun around to be sure I wasn’t about to befriend a phantom Lassie, but the room was empty.

Since this was such a minimal encounter, it’s tough for me to consider it a legitimate experience. Might’ve just been a creak of the old floorboards or a sound from out the window. Still, that ghost dog huff got my hopes up.

If you’re really out there, Mr. Ghost, please don’t hide.

I know it must be weird, being dead and all.

All I want is to see you at the end of the pier vaguely through the mist, or riding the carousel of an abandoned carnival, or hovering over your old grave. I won’t call the Ghostbusters. I won’t freak out. I just want to know you’re there. And I’m guessing you could use a friend.

66. Pushed

I wake up every morning with a tsunami warning in the back of my mind. An ominous feeling. Kind of like someone has taken my head in their hands, locked their eyes on mine, and asked me with utmost concern, “What the hell are you going to do with your life?” I can hear the oceans churning. I can feel the pressure changing. I am pushed, relentlessly, quietly forward.

From what?

What pushes me?

What sparked my Big Bang? I feel like the universe, expanding, a little replica of all that ever was, reenacting existence. Perhaps this could explain where motivation comes from. Where we get our drive. We are ignited, we are explosions, we are expanding in slow motion, enriching our flames.

Even on the dullest of days, there’s a force within me compelling me to make the most of myself. Even if all that means is that I do the laundry.

What am I pursuing? This forward motion gives the impression that it has an end, as if I were the tortoise in the race without knowing I was in a race (or that I was even a tortoise). I simply move forward. A heart beat, a firing neuron, a muscle spasm, and there I go. Forward every morning. Blindly through the dark.

Is it success? Is that what I want?

A part of my brain says, “Yes. Of course. You want to be a famous author. You want to have the comforts of money. You want to feel accomplished.” Another part says, “Success is so twentieth century.”

Accomplished is an interesting word. Completion is implied. Is that really a good thing, to be complete?

To be honest, of all the LEGO sets I ever worked on, the finished product was rarely as exciting as the construction of it. So what if I had a helicopter with revolving LEGO rotor blades? I just want to build things.

Maybe that’s the push.

Maybe I’m pushed to find more blocks. More pieces. More ways to grow. I’m basically a LEGO set without an instruction manual, a biological cornucopia of various ideas, experiences, and dreams built around a skeleton. Every day is a new day to add a new dimension.

I don’t think it’s completion that I’m seeking. I can’t decide if it’s success.

There are smaller things that push me now. The want for no student debt. The want for a fulfilling career. The want to go skydiving. The want to write for an audience. If achieving these things equals success, then so be it. I’ll let you know what it feels like.

Enough time passes on an idle afternoon, I feel the push come. The tsunami warning rings and I feel this need to run for the nearest craigslist job posting or unfinished homework assignment to hide from the feeling that I’m not moving forward. I can’t sit still for too long or I get worried that important things are passing me by.

Sometimes I just want to do nothing.

That feels like a crime.

The twenty-first century knows no idle creature.

We are constantly reaching. Like the expanding universe, will I once day reach my limit and begin to retract? What lies out there in the outer reaches of my design? Will I know when I get there?

58. Driving again

A little over a week after coming back to the States, I found myself the designated driver, and my seven and a half month streak of not driving a car was over.

A while ago I was having a nostalgic conversation about the pleasures of driving, reminiscing about cruising the freeway with the windows down, some Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring on the stereo, the waves of some sandy beach on the horizon.

Driving can be therapeutic.

I remember this one time I went on an eighteen hour round-trip drive north from Santa Rosa simply to clear my head. There are countless meandering trips I’ve taken with friends in my old beat-up Cherokee, each of which holds a special place in my heart.

Driving can also be a hassle.

I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve put into filling gas tanks or repairing engines or replacing brake lights. I get a little sick to the stomach when I recall all those wasted hours in the DMV. It’s never fun to drive in the rain. Overall, it seems the parking tickets and registration fees simply aren’t worth it.

Plus, most places, you’ve got busses and subways and bicycle-friendly streets that offer plenty of alternative routes.

But this conversation got me thinking…

Despite the negative aspects of driving, there’s still no replacing the escapism that a car supplies. With a car, you’ve got access to America’s highways, spread like a nervous system between all the major cities and landmarks. You can make your own schedule and plot your own route to anywhere.

I love trains and airplanes and all manner of alternative transportation, but none of it can compare to the sensation of driving a car. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Ford, Carmax, and Chevron (et al.) want you to feel. Good car advertisements turn that incomparable sensation into revenue, and we’re suckers for it.

I mean, I’ve had “road trip” on my bucket list since I got my license.

So what does it feel like to drive again after seven and a half months? It’s as easy as hopping back on a bicycle. You never really forget how to drive. My hands found the ten and two position, my foot remembered the press of the gas pedal, and soon enough I was cruising one-handed with the whole world at my dashboard.

Driving again after a long break reawakens in you all those old dreams and plans, makes you want to keep driving through the night to discover what secret treasures await you on the sidelines of some forgotten highway.

Yes, fuel emissions are bad. Yes, gas prices suck.

But I have to admit, I’m already looking forward to the next time I get behind the wheel.

52. Whale watching

How often do you think about whales? I’ll tell you right now you don’t think about whales enough. Strange, too, considering even the smallest of them is still around 11 feet long. They inhabit every ocean. They number in the millions. The biggest of them, the Blue Whale, floats around at nearly 100 feet long, often traveling alone, an enormous peaceful beast that could swallow humans whole but feeds instead on tiny crustaceans called krill. We take for granted the fact that whales would be a terrifying force if they could fly.

Did you know that Sperm Whales have the largest brain of any animal?

They’re warm-blooded mammals, evolved from land-dwelling creatures of yore, insulated by blubber (one of my favorite words ever) that lets them sink to ocean depths where the sun don’t shine. They’ve got lung access through holes in the top of their heads, so they stay mostly submerged while breathing, first sneezing out the water that filled in the blowhole while they were swimming. How cool is that?

Did you know that Orca Whales are considered apex predators? That means they have no natural predator. At over twenty feet long, you better hope that they never figure out a way to stage a global uprising. Who knows if all those Orcas we’ve got caged up in theme parks aren’t being captured and posted there on purpose to learn our weaknesses.

Did you know that whales never sleep?

Research has shown that their brains have similar structures as those of humans, which means they learn and cooperate and behave quite similarly to us. It’s even suggested that they’re capable of existential thoughts and emotions. I’ve always thought of whales as these secretly wise creatures with all the answers to the universe, sharing the truth of existence in their mournful whale songs that we simply can’t understand.

Whales aren’t the only under-appreciated creatures on the planet, but I think they’re the ones we overlook the most. I’ve never gone whale watching. The closest I’ve come to one is watching Planet Earth. This is a shame. They are such beautiful, majestic, mysterious creatures and we pretend like they’re not even there.

We forget how small we are sometimes, how there are other creatures out there that are, in my opinion, a lot more fascinating than some of the people I meet.

39. Dads

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

:::

Dads…

If you’re reading this, you have one.

We know them, we know of them; we’ve never known them.

We loathe them; we love them… we nothing them.

Others say they see them in us: in a yawn, in a sarcastic response, in a nose, a hairline… And in the depths of a mirror searching, sometimes we see them, too.

We all, at some point, look back at them quizzically, sometimes resentfully, and then lean to peer as far down our endless swaying chain of known ancestry as possible from our vantage point at the front. What we see tells us who we are… It explains us.

We carry with us the traits and likeness of who came before us. For some, this is a fearsome reality and for others an immense source of pride. There are too, more than there should be, a group of us who are tragically blind to this side of their heritage and origin.

Despite inhabiting a generation (us) that prides itself on individualism and a teeming zealotry for the enlightened and new-normal, such backward scrutiny paints a picture for some that should not be lightly discarded in favor of a new start or laughed off in a scoffing of an older and sadly close-minded generation.

We are links. If it is within your ability and availability to look rearward at your dad and take stock of him, to acknowledge him or just know who and what he is then I implore you to not discard your chance. It is precious, and for those of us who have lived our lives blindly when it comes to glimpsing our own inherited identity, it something we have only dreamed of.

Do not tarry pettily.

However gruesome, however wonderful, however despicable or however warmly familiar it may be…

…Go meet your dad.

37. Road trips

I’m not speaking from experience, because I’ve yet to take the quintessential road trip, but I’ve thought about it a lot and the more connections I make with people across the country, the more plausible the idea appears. The road trip feels like something that all of us who live in the United States are supposed to do at some point in our lives.

I’m not talking about an eight hour drive from San Francisco to San Diego. I’ve done that.

I’m talking about the two-week voyage from coast to coast. I’m talking about miles of flat farmland and desert between the peaks and valleys of our country’s expansive landscape. I’m talking about seeing stars at night on the side of a desolate highway. I’m talking about roadside diners and sleeping in back seats and eating canned beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m talking about listening to the radio on full with the windows rolled down as you pass borders at back-to-the-future speeds. I’m talking about getting behind the wheel with the beach at your back and not stopping until it’s in front of you again.

The road trip.

I’ve idolized it plenty, but I’ve come at it logically. I wanted to meet people that I could visit along the way. I wanted to save up the money I’d need to get there and back again. Sure, you could just wing it, but I wanted to make sure it would work.

I’ve got some rules, too, for whenever I get on the road:

  1. No GPS. Only the old-school folding maps allowed.
  2. No Mp3 devices. Only radio, static and all.
  3. No backtracking. If I miss a turn, then I change my route.
  4. No computer. It’s time to look up from the keyboard.
  5. No giving up. No turning back.

The whole idea is very romanticized, especially in the media. One can be wary of such a portrayal. But from those who’ve made such journeys before, I hardly hear any big complaints. The challenges they faced made them stronger. The people they met changed them forever.

Maybe it reminds us of life back in the days of the Oregon Trail, or Lewis and Clark. We are an adventurous culture and we quest for the great unknown, or to search for new life in distant lands. I’m not looking to migrate permanently. I just want the adventure.

Someday, maybe next summer, I want to do this.

It’s a test of endurance. It’s a test of improvisation and patience. It’s somewhat insane and altogether a big expensive vacation, but there’s still something magical and respectable about the idea.

It’s you and the road, through thick and thin, through rain and shine, through popped tires and stomach aches and sleepless nights and bug bites. It’s you and your country, one in the same, and you’ll see things and meet people you’d never see from cruising altitude in a plane, or blazing along in the coach section of an Amtrak train.

Mark your calendars. Set aside some time. The road is calling.

16. My bucket’s bucket list

  1. I want to be a young boy’s helmet as he conquers his backyard with an endless imagination.
  2. I want to be a flower pot on a retired woman’s porch in the south where the air smells of peaches.
  3. I want to be lowered to the bottom of a new well to scoop water for the thirsty.
  4. I want to carry seashells and pretty rocks found during a lovers’ stroll along the beach.
  5. I want to mold part of the world’s biggest sandcastle.
  6. I want to be an instrument in a traveling folk band.
  7. I want to float down the Mississippi.
  8. I want to apologize to Jack for being so heavy that he fell down, and to Jill, for tumbling after.
  9. I want to be painted by a kindergarten class.
  10. I want to be filled with Napa County grapes to be smashed into wine.
  11. I want to be pulled up from the street to bring groceries to an old Turkish woman’s window.
  12. I want to be a step-ladder for that thing you can’t quite reach.
  13. I want to carry juicy red apples fresh from the orchard.
  14. I want to be a part of a teenager’s first time washing their car, even if I just hold the soapy rags.
  15. I want to be filled with bird-feed and hung from an ancient oak tree.
  16. I want to be where the kittens play.
  17. I want to carry freshly hatched eggs from the pen back to the kitchen.
  18. I want to meet my cousins, the basket and the box.
  19. I want to be full of children’s sidewalk chalk on a hot summer day in San Francisco.
  20. I want to visit Nantucket, if only because of the rhyme.

Anyway, my point is, everything has dreams.