Category: essays

Life In Pieces: Chapbook Television at its Finest

Regular readers know that I am not a big television-watcher. I can no longer take dramas. And well-written sitcoms are few and far between. I enjoy Modern Family. And I like The Big Bang Theory. But I rarely watch either of them when they are broadcast. Often I’ll watch them months later. Recently, however, I discovered Life in Pieces, a new sitcom on CBS. And for the first time in a very long time, I find myself looking forward to watching an episode when it actually airs.

You may be wondering how I discover a show if I don’t watch TV. In the case of Life in Pieces, it happened this way:

After the kids go to sleep, Kelly will put on the TV for a little while. The kids are usually in bed at about 8 pm. She’ll watch TV for an hour. Usually, I’ll sit in bed and read, and since the TV is on, reading consists of listening to an audiobook. I can’t concentrate on reading words on a page with the TV in the background. So one day she was watching Life in Pieces, and something caught my eye as I listened to my audiobook. After each commercial break, the show would resume with some text that read something like, “Story #2: Gym.”

“What they mean, ‘Story #2’?” I asked Kelly.

“They do these short stories,” she explained.

As a writer of short stories, that intrigued me, and after watching an episode, I was hooked.

There are five things I really like about Life In Pieces:

  1. The format. I like the idea of telling four short stories in 21 minutes. No, make that, I love the idea.
  2. I like how the show is shot. It is not a studio audience sitcom, and there is no laugh track.
  3. I like the actors. I especially like Colin Hanks, who in mannerism and expressions is the spitting image of his father.
  4. Each story is written like a comedy sketch, but produced like a Modern Family-style sitcom.
  5. There isn’t an arc.

This last point is a big with me, and one of the reasons I can’t take dramas anymore. I don’t want to have to invest in watching all of the episodes that came before to understand the current episode. I want to be able to pop into any episode, and enjoy it on its own terms. The characters have clear relationships to one another, but the stories stand on their own. And you get four stories per episode. It is chapbook television at its finest.

I’m already looking forward to next Thursday at 8:30 pm. My only concern is whether or not I’ll still be awake at 8:30 pm.

The Scariest Part of Writing is Acceptance

When I decided to become a writer my biggest fear was that I’d never have an idea worth writing about. Experience taught me this was a needless fear. I found ideas everywhere. The trick is figuring out which ideas are worth pursuing.


When I had an idea worth writing about my biggest fear became the blank page, a fear often magnified by a deadline. Repeated experience taught me that a blank page isn’t that scary after all. Eventually I’ll fill it.

When I filled the pages my biggest fear was that what I’d written might not be good enough to submit for publication. I reminded myself that I was a writer, not an editor. I decided to let the editor make the call, and away the story went.

When I submitted a story my biggest fear was that I would be rejected. Although I knew a rejection was not personal, they sometimes felt personal. I reminded myself that I wasn’t being rejected, the story was. After that, rejection was no longer scary.

The scariest part of writing for me is acceptance. I would never have guessed this when I was starting out.

Until the story is accepted, only a few people have read it: me, a couple of beta readers, a slush reader, perhaps, and an editor. The delay between acceptance and publication is agonizing. It is like that moment half-in and half-out of the airplane door, with a parachute strapped on your back, and the ground little more than colored squares and rectangles far below. Instead of a handful of people, thousands of readers will see my work.

Then the story is published, and the fear vanishes. The story is no longer mine. Like the skydiver, I have lost control. I am at the mercy of a kind of literary gravity. If people enjoy the story, I feel good. If people don’t enjoy the story, there’s nothing I can do about it. All I can do is breath in the experience, look in momentary amazement at what I created, and then begin the search for the next idea worth writing about.

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 on Hulu

My current favorite novel is Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I read it when it first came out, and have read it a total of five times since. Each time I read it, I like it more. I can’t say that it will always be my favorite novel. Favorites change with age and experience. But whenever I am asked for my favorite, this is the book I refer to.

11/22/63 Audiobook

Hulu is doing an 8-part miniseries of King’s novel premiering on President’s Day, starring James Franco and directed by J.J. Abrams. For fans of the book, that seems like exciting news, and it probably is, but I won’t be watching the miniseries. I have nothing against Abrams, or Franco, or any of the cast and crew. I don’t have anything against Hulu. I am in no way boycotting the miniseries. But I can’t watch it.

The reason is Craig Wasson.

The first two times I read the book, I actually read the book. The last three times, I listened to the audiobook. The voice actor for Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is Craig Wasson, and the first time I listened to the audiobook, I knew that Craig Wasson was Jake Epping/George Amberson. No one else could possibly be that character. The story is told in first person, which makes his performance that much more powerful. The actor entirely disappears, and you are listening to a man tell his tale.

It is the best voice acting performance I’ve encountered.

And that is why I can’t watch the Hulu miniseries. James Franco is a fine actor, but he is not, in my mind, Jake Epping. Nor would I want him to be. I’m afraid that if I watched the miniseries, it would interfere with my image of Epping as portrayed by Craig Wasson. Once watched, the show cannot be unwatched.

I once had a similar dilemma nearly twenty years ago. A second Foundation trilogy was announced. I’ve always loved Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and I thought he finished it off perfectly with Forward the Foundation. But I was intrigued with the new series because each book would be written by a different author. Gregory Benford wrote Foundation’s Fear; Greg Bear wrote Foundation and Chaos; and David Brin wrote Foundation’s Triumph. I agonized for months over whether I’d read the books. I finally decided to take the chance, and I had mixed results. Benford’s book was so-so. Bear’s book was better. But Brin knocked it out of the part with Foundation’s Triumph. Indeed, the ending of that book was a rare spark of literary genius.

I lucked out in that case, but I have grown more risk-averse as I’ve aged, and I don’t want to take the chance with the Hulu series. The truth is, I don’t think I can separate out the two mediums in my head as well as other people can, and I just adore Wasson’s performance in the audiobook.

If you haven’t listened to the audiobook version, I highly recommend it.

If I Had a Billion Dollars…

I read that the Powerball jackpot now stands at $1.3 billion. Lots of people are buying tickets in the hope of winning. Today, I thought I’d talk about the lottery.

1. If I won the lottery, Take One

What I would do:

  1. Take the lump sum.
  2. Set up a trust fund for the kids.
  3. Buy the American Heritage dictionary. I’ve been putting that off for a few months now.

What I would not do.

  1. Quit my day job.
  2. Alter my daily routine.
  3. Make any big purchases for at least a year. I’d need that time to think more about what I’d want to do with the money.

2. If I won the lottery, Take Two

If I could get away with it, here’s what I’d really do:

  1. Take the lump sum.
  2. Set up a trust fund for the kids.
  3. Go on a nice vacation with the family.
  4. Buy the American Heritage dictionary.
  5. Take whatever money was left over to the IRS, and say, “Here is more than $1 billion. Never bother me again1.”

3. How I would get a bigger share of the lottery money

I would buy, say, 100 lottery tickets, and pick the same set of numbers for all hundred. When my numbers came up as the winners, along with, say 10 other people, the winnings would have to be split 110 ways. $1.3 billion divided by 110 winning tickets comes to $11.8 million per ticket. And since I’d have 100 tickets, I’d get about $1.1 billion while the other ten winners would split around $110 million. Clever, right?

4. Why I won’t win the lottery

Sure, the odds are small. But my odds are far, far worse than anyone who plays the lottery. My understanding is that to win, you have to buy a ticket. And since I don’t buy lottery tickets, I have no chance of winning. On the hand, I do have all of the money that I might otherwise have spent on lottery tickets. Come to think of it, I could use that money to finally buy the American Heritage dictionary I’ve been wanting for a few months now.

  1. I can’t claim credit for this idea. Isaac Asimov once gave this answer when he was asked what he’d do with a billion dollar. I just like the answer

How I Read the Newspaper

In fifth grade, at Cedar Hill Elementary school, I was taught how to read a newspaper. We were taught how to identify the lead story, what it meant when a story was “above the fold.” I even recall learning how to read the stock market pages in our math class. I don’t know if they still teach students how to read a newspaper, especially with so many papers succumbing to the Internet. How I read a newspaper has evolved in the three decades since that fifth grade class. Here is how I read a newspaper today

Washington Post

1. I start with the obituaries, which, in the Washington Post, appear in the Metro section. People are always being reported as dead online. I prefer to get news of a death from a more reliable source.

2. I skim the Metro section, reading the digest and skimming the rest, unless something catches my eye.

3. I skim the Style section for entertainment news. I skim all of the shows and movies that I never watch or see. While some of the plots sound interested, they just aren’t interesting enough to get me to the theater.

4. I skim the Sports section. In baseball season, I read all of the box scores. In football season, I look for baseball transactions. If it’s football season and I know I’m going to be meeting someone who follows football, I’ll read through the football news so that I can at least hold my own in the conversation. I like Tom Boswell, but I’ve got to say that the Los Angeles Times covers baseball much better than the Washington Post.

5. I skim the front page section. I probably only read 2-3 full articles on any given day, but I glance at all of the headlines.

It takes me between 20-30 minutes to get through the paper each morning this way.

When I travel, I try to read the local papers. I particularly enjoy this when I’m in a small town. Small town papers are the best. I still maintain the same basic process for going through the paper, but I delight in the insular reporting of small town papers. Especially the crime reports.

Now, some folks may be wondering why I read the news paper when I can get the same articles online. After all, I am the paperless guy, right? The answer is that I read on screens all day, and reading the newspaper is my one way of starting the day without looking at a screen. My eyes thank me for it.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who do the daily crossword in pen. Unfortunately, I have no time for the daily crossword, and even if I did, I generally don’t read the articles closely enough to be able to finish one puzzle before the next one comes out.

Dentist Jokes at the Doctor’s Office

I have taken it upon myself to entertain the medical world. Whenever I have a dentist or doctor appointment, I do my best to make jokes. When asked how much I weight, I give my weight in kilograms. When asked how tall I am, I give my height in centimeters1. When a nurse draws blood, I’ll gasp. “Are you alright?” she’ll ask. “Feeling faint?” To which I’ll reply, “No, not all. Just surprised. I expected the blood to be green.”

Sometimes the jokes go over well. Sometimes the fall flat. I like to think there are more of the former than the latter. I also like to think that by making the doctors and nurses smile, I’m making their day a little easier.

My annual physical this morning takes the cake. Never again, I suppose, will I achieve the kind of laugh that I got for a joke I’ve used repeated at the dentist office. And here I was at my doctor’s office.

At the dentist, the person cleaning my teeth will routinely asked me if I floss.

“Yes,” I say.

The hygienist eyes me suspiciously and then says, “How often.”

To which I reply, in complete deadpan, “Twice a year.”

More often than not, there is not laugh. Instead, I get a lecture on the importance of flossing every day. I know the importance of flossing every day. I also know that there are people who are flossers and people who are not, and I fall into the latter category. That my visits to the dentist generally don’t result in the discovery of cavities only bolsters my position. Occasionally I’ll get a smile at the joke—followed, of course, by a lecture.

At the doctor, I didn’t expect to be asked about my teeth. But it was a comprehensive physical. They asked me about when I last got my vision tested, did I have a flu shot, do I see the dentist regularly. I answered yes to all of these.

The nurse, who was standing by a computer terminal in the small exam room, then said, “Do you floss?”

“Yes,” I said.

“How often.”

“Twice a year,” I said.

She gave me an odd look. Half a beat passed. And then she fell to the floor laughing. The reaction took me completely by surprise. She couldn’t stop laughing. She regained her standing position, and returned to the terminal, only to collapse into laughter once again. I was delighted. She was still smiling when she left the room.

Walking home from the appointment (yes, I walked to the doctor’s office), I tried to think why the joke worked so well with the nurse, and only sometimes gets a smile at the dentist’s office. I came up with two thoughts:

1. The delivery was perfect. I hadn’t expected the question, but I had the answer loaded and ready, and there no hesitation between the question and my clear and instant response.

2. It was a completely unexpected answer, after a rash of standard answers. Vision checked? March. Flu shot? October. Regular dental exams? Yes. Floss? Yes? How often? Twice a year. POW!

The incident made me realize just how hard a standup comic’s job really is. The bit that I did that got such a good laugh took about a minute. I’ve been using the line for years, but I finally found the right delivery. If I were writing a standup routine, I’d now have exactly one minute of good material.

At that rate, it would take me years to come up with enough material to do a twenty minute set.

  1. Readers outside the United States might not find this amusing. What you must remember is that the United States still uses the English system of measurement. Which probably explains a lot about our relative conservatism.

Computers Have Terrible Names

Computers have terrible names. Back in the early days, some thought was put to giving a computer a decent name. In 1944 there was Colossus, two versions of which helped break German codes at the end of the Second World War. Colossus packs a punch. There was a wooden roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain named Colossus. If the name is good enough for a thrill ride, it should be good enough for a collection of vacuum tubes. ENIAC was not an inspired name. But Whirlwind, and Pegasus showed imagination.

Around the time the personal computer made its debut, the names became dull. This becomes evident when compared to the names of another popular machine, the automobile. A Ford Mustang has gravitas. A Timex Sinclair 1000, not so much. A TRS-80 (we called them “Trash-80s”) sounded more like a science-fictional robot, than a computer. A Commodore 64 always made me think of a Naval officer in a Metropolis-like bureaucracy. Time did nothing to improve upon these names. An IBM ThinkPad never send chills down my spine the way a Corvette Stingray does. The Dell Latitude makes me think of cold weather.

Why is it that marketing departments have done such a poor job naming computers? Car names never sound like cars, but it is as if adding a lot of digits to the name makes the computer sound more computery. Dell Latitude D6000. IBM ThinkPad x60. Apple has a good brand, but the names don’t inspire confidence. iMac, PowerBook, and MacBook don’t do much for me. Of the three, PowerBook comes closest to stirring something in me.

Good names engulf the thing that they represent. “What do you drive?” someone asks. “A Mustang,” comes the reply. No need to include the manufacturer. Just Mustang. Like Madonna. Or Prince. Sure, you could say you have an Apple. But it isn’t the same. I love my Apple computers, but naming machinery after fruit seems strange to me. After all, when a car doesn’t work we call it a lemon.

The marketing departments of computer companies could have done much better. Ford already had the Mustang, but IBM could have called their PC the Lightning. The IBM Lightning. That has a ring to it. Instead of, “You know what I’ve got in the garage? A ’66 Tempest,” you might have heard someone saying, “You know what I’ve got in the den? A ’84 Lightning. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

As someone who has worked in IT for 22 years, there isn’t a computer name I’ve come across that has caught my attention the way the name of other types of machines do. Even typewriters had better names than computers. My portable Royal QuietComfort DeLuxe rolls off the tongue. Of course, if someone asked me what kind of typewriter I used, I’d say, “A Royal.” And if I was looking to impress that someone, I’d add, “A manual.”

Instead, I’m stuck with my Dell Precision laptop, which I refer to, vaguely, as “my laptop.” At home, I’ve got my iMac, and MacBook. I like to think of these two computers as Fat Man and Little Boy. Both are somewhat dated. I can’t even use AirDrop on my iMac.

Computer manufacturers could have followed the lead of car makers. New models would be recognized by the year in which they were produced. Thus, I might have an ’16 Lightning. And since I tend to be fond of old things, I’d look wistful upon my friend who still manages to operate a classic ’84 Lightning. You know, the one with two front-facing 5-1/4-inch floppy drives and 4 megabytes of RAM.

Yeah, those were the days.

2 Annotated Pages in My Field Notes Notebook

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I’ve been using notebooks more and more. I especially like using my Field Notes notebook. I carry one around with me everywhere. I use the notebook for jotting down things I need to remember, but ultimate can discard. This differs from how I use my Evernote Moleskine notebook. The notes there are things I will refer to again and again.

The best way to explain how I use my Field Notes notebooks is to show you. So below is a snapshot of two very typical pages in my current Field Notes notebook. Each entry has a number, and the number corresponds to the numbers below.

Annotated Field Notes
Click to enlarge

1. A blog posts ideas. If I decide to write the post, I’ll cross it out after it is written (see #8 below).

2. A story idea. In this case, the idea is really something that would fit within another story idea.

3. Things I want to do. Here, the note refers to a spreadsheet I want to create that tracks the number of requests I get to write something vs. the number that actually pay for writing. I thought it would be an interesting metric to track in 2016.

4. When listening to audiobooks, I’ll jot down notes that strike me as interesting. In this case, I was listening to Carl Reiner’s I Remember Me, and was struck by his mention of Allaben Acres, because I knew that to be the place that Isaac Asimov and his first wife, Gertrude, spent their honeymoon—at around the same time that Reiner was there.

5. Another blog post idea.

6. An observation I made while eating lunch at an IHOP near Starke, Florida. All of the waitresses in the restaurant would, when asking the cook a question, refer to him as “Sir.” I thought it was unusual, and might be something I could use in a story.

7. Something I read in Carl Reiner’s I Just Remembered. It was a translation of a German quote, and I wanted to look it up. I did look it up, but didn’t have much success finding the original quote.

8. Another blog post idea. I crossed it out after I wrote it.

9. I always write down the name of our server at restaurants. Otherwise, I won’t remember it.

10. After all of the Carl Reiner reading, I found out that he and Mel Brooks had done an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The note reminded me to watch it.

11. I was going over to Cafe Rio to get dinner for the family, so I jotted down everyone’s order.

12. I had quite a few things I wanted to get done on Sunday, so I made a list. I managed to get all of them done, including changing the tire myself.

13. The Little Miss fell asleep watching a movie. I knew she’d want to start the movie from where she left off, so I jotted down the time of the movie when I noticed her asleep, so I’d know where to restart it when she woke up.

14. I saw an ad for something called “Wipe New” that reminded me I wanted to clean the headlights on the car. I ended up getting Turtle Wax instead.

15. I was running to the store, and Kelly asked me to pick up a few other things.

These two pages are typical of what fills my Field Notes notebooks. As I said, it is all ephemeral, a kind of temporary cache for my aging memory. But it works surprisingly well.

A Fondness for Old Things

In my day job, I work with technology. My desk has two large flat screen monitors, plus my laptop screen. I have a fancy Cisco IP phone that can do all sorts of neat tricks. While writing code, I sometimes listen to music streamed from satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Instead of phone calls, I have video chats. I carry a mobile phone that is often smarter than I am. I am inundated by cables and wires of all shapes and lengths. I am constantly checking to see if this device or that requires charging. All of this technology has creeped up on my in steady increments over the years. Perhaps because I have been part of this explosion of information technology for the better part of 22 years, I have developed a fondness for older, simpler things.

Office Desk

I envy those writers who worked on typewriters. It makes no difference to me whether the typewriter was electric or manual, there is a minimalist quality to the idea of writing on a typewriter. I have written on typewriters, but not since I began to write with the intention of selling what I wrote. I own my grandfather’s Royal QuietComfort Deluxe manual typewriter, and instead of hiding it away as an antique, it sits in our living room, and the kids are free to tap on the keys, and watch the typebars strike the ribbon. Writing used to be noisy.

When I was a kid, we had a telephone mounted to the wall in the kitchen. It’s ring was mechanical. A signal would activate a bell within the phone and produce an unmistakable RING! This sound cannot be reproduced by ring tones on an iPhone today because those rings tones are all digital. The mechanical sound of the bell is unique. My grandparent’s had a rotary phone which took forever to place a call. It seemed like every number I dialed had lots of 8s, 9s, and 0s, and few 1s and 2s. When talking on the phone, you were leashed to the radius of the cord. As I tend to multitask when I am on the phone, only half paying attention to what the person is saying, I think a corded phone that leashed me in place would be a useful feature today to help me focus on the call at hand.

My dad had a pocket calculator that I used to play with as a kid. In high school I had a scientific calculator, but even then I preferred the pocket variety. Our local Target still sells pocket calculators, but I don’t know if anyone actually buys them. My iPhone has a calculator built into it. What’s more, I can simply say, “Hey Siri, what’s 40 times 52?” and she will respond, “It’s 2,080.”

Music is digitally remastered today, but I sometimes miss the sound of records playing on a turntable, with all of the hisses and pops that went along with it. I listened to the Grease soundtrack over and over again on a turntable. I also listened to Spider-Man adventures on 45s. I miss the sounds of records. I noticed recently that Barnes & Noble carries records. These aren’t old used albums, but newly made “retro” albums. I wonder how they sound.

And what I wouldn’t give for the elegance and comfort of a DC-3 over a 737-900. It might have taken longer to get somewhere, but you went in style. First class today could not approach tourist class on a DC-3.

I feel like an old man, complaining how “back in my day…” But many of the old things I am fond of are things from long before my day. They are things I read about in memoirs and history books, or experienced second-hand, through the stories my grandfather told me. The past always seems simpler. Perhaps my fondness isn’t for old things after all, but for simpler times.

I suppose many people yearn for simpler times. Even the people who lived in simpler times probably sighed, and dreamed of the simpler times of their parents or grandparents.

The Flat Tire

We have been lucky when it comes to flat tires. We’ve driven round-trip from Virginia to Florida four times without a flat. We’ve driven from Virginia to Maine without a flat. We’ve driven dozens of times between Virginia and New York and have never pulled over because of a flat tire. We’ve had tire problems. Nails and screws and things like that. I fill up the tire and then drive to the mechanic to have it patched.

Yesterday, we arrived home from Florida, after 1,100 miles of driving in just 2 days. When I got out of the car, I looked to where our second car had been sitting unused for two weeks and noticed a completely flat right rear tire.

Flat tire

Ah, well, I thought. It was bound to happen at some point. We’d just arrived home and hadn’t even unpacked the car. We were in no rush, so I figured I’d deal with the flat the next day. My initial thought was just to call AAA and have them come by and swap out the flat for the spare.

When I woke up this morning, I had a different thought. The one disadvantage to not having the occasional flat tire is not getting the experience of changing a flat. My grandfather—who had been an auto mechanic most of his life—had taught me how to change a flat. But since I never had a flat tire, I never had the need to use that experience. Laying in bed this morning I thought: forget the Automobile club, I’ll do it myself.

I did it myself, the way my grandfather taught me. I jacked up the car just enough so that the tire was about to leave the ground. I loosened the nuts. Then I jacked up the car enough to remove the old tire, and replace it with the new one. It was easy, save one little mistake.

I should have checked the air pressure in the spare before putting it on. It turned out that the spare tire, having never been used, and having been mounted on the car for years, needed air. After removing the spare, I tossed it into the back of the other car, drove to the local service station, and filled it with air, 44 PSI, as recommended on the tire. I got back, put the tire on car, tighten the bolts, lowered the car, and gave each bolt a final crank. And the spare has now successfully replaced the flat tire.

Fixed tire

The whole process, including driving to the local service station to put air in the spare tire, took under an hour. That might sound long, and perhaps it is, but I hadn’t changed a tire since my grandfather taught me how to do it as a teenager.

And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t call AAA. I’m glad I changed the tire myself. If nothing else, it gave me the confidence to know that, when the time comes and we do have a flat on one of our road trips, I don’t have to wait for AAA or a tow truck to help put on a spare. I know how to do it myself.

Oh, and the reason the tire had gone flat in the first place, even though the car had been sitting there for two weeks while we were on vacation? In inspecting it after I removed it, I found a tiny screw embedded in the tread.

If You Ever Take an 11-Hour Drive, Let Carl Reiner Ride Shotgun

If you ever take an 11 hour drive, let Carl Reiner ride shotgun. On Friday, we left Florida after nearly two weeks, and began the 1,100 mile drive home. We decided to try it in two days, instead of three. This made for a 575 mile drive on Friday. Google Maps told me it would take 8 hours and 15 minutes. Factoring in lunch, and a gas stop, I figured 9 to 9-1/2 hours. It ended up taking 11 hours.

On Thursday, having finished both of Dick Van Dyke’s memoirs, I found myself wanting more. Carl Reiner seemed like the natural  choice. I found two of Reiner’s memoirs on Audible: I Remember Me (2013), and I Just Remembered (2014). I began listening to I Remember Me yesterday, and continued listening to it about an hour after we started our drive this morning. When that book ended, I immediately started listening to I Just Remembered.

I Remember Me by Carl Reiner

The books are hilarious. I lost count of how many times I burst out laughing while listening to the books on the drive home. Carl Reiner narrated his own books. I listened to the book for nearly nine of the eleven hours it took us to drive from southern Florida to Santee, South Carolina, and it was as if Carl Reiner was sitting in the passenger seat, regaling me with stories of his more than seven decades in show business. The time flew by.

Part of what drew me to the books was how much I enjoyed Dick Van Dyke’s memoirs. Part of what drew me to it was Carl Reiner’s diverse career in Hollywood: actor, singer, writer, director, producer. Part of what drew me to it is that I enjoy books about hard workers, and Carl Reiner certainly seemed to fit the bill. After all, at 93, he is still working.

By the time we arrived at our hotel in Santee, I’d finished the second Carl Reiner book. We checked in to the hotel, and then headed to a nearby restaurant for a late (for us) dinner. By the time we got back to the hotel room, I was beat. But I wanted a little more Carl Reiner. So I watched the episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee featuring Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. After that, I couldn’t stop. I spent about 2 hours watching episodes of Seinfeld’s hilarious series.

On Saturday, we faced a 7 hour drive. Arriving home just before 5 pm, the trip took 10 hours. Still enjoying the celebrity memoirs, I listened, in its entirety, to Carol Burnett’s This Time Together. I enjoyed it almost as much as Carl Reiner’s books. It kept me laughing for much of the drive home. It even produced a few tears.

The best driving advice I have to offer is: always wear a seatbelt.

The second best driving advice I have to offer: bring a celebrity along with you to regale you with stories of Hollywood.

My Bad Habits

I have some bad habits. Some I notice myself, others people notice on my behalf. Kelly cannot stand that I bite my nails. This a habit that I’ve had most of my life. I don’t even realize I am doing it, which makes it all the more pernicious. I broke the habit for close to a decade, from 2001 – 2011. But it snuck back in, as bad habits tend to do.

I have a bad habit of always wanting to add something to a conversation. Often I feel like I am interrupting, or cutting off others. I don’t mean to do this. I just get excited about what we are discussing, and I can’t help myself.

Other bad habits I have:

When I pick a line at the grocery store checkout, I won’t budge, even if there are other lines moving faster around me. I dig in, and become more and more cemented in my utterly ridiculous position that I picked the line and by God, I’m going to stay in it. Kelly finds this one more amusing than annoying.

Add to that the bad habit that I can’t stand still. No matter how hard I try, while standing, I’ll begin gently swaying from side to side. If I realize that I’m doing it, I’ll stop myself. But standing perfectly still doesn’t not feel natural to me, and no matter my resolve, the swaying will begin all over again. When speaking, I try to avoid this by placing my hands on the podium. That works long enough to get through the talk. But I usually end up tapping my fingers to keep moving.

On elevators, I pull out my phone to avoid small talk with strangers. It might not sound like a habit, but believe me, it is. My mind can be a million miles away, and I’ll look up to find myself checking email or Twitter, and avoiding eye contact with anyone else on the elevator. When I’m conscious of it, I try to stop myself, but walking into the elevator car, my hand immediately goes to my pocket.

There are some habits that I have managed to break. I mentioned that I stopped the nail-biting for a decade. I also used to hum constantly. I’d even hum at dinner. I can remember my parents’ pleas for me to stop with the humming at the dinner table. In my early years at the day job, I’d hum as I walked the hallways. People took this as sign that I was happy. Eventually I stopped humming. I have no idea how or why I stopped, but I still feel happy.

New Year’s is a time for resolutions. It’s a fresh start. A clean slate. A tabula rasa (which means “clean slate”). New Year’s is a time for breaking bad habits and starting good ones. If you’re a regular at your gym, you dread New Year’s because the place fills up with people who have no idea what they are doing. You look forward to mid-February when things have returned to normal. Everyone is starting something new, or stopping something old.

I think breaking a bad habit is harder than starting a good one. It was far easier for me to begin writing every day than it was for me to give up the nail-biting for 10 years. That’s how my brain is wired. The wires stretch, but they eventually snap back into place. I have no plans to break my bad habits in 2016. After nearly 44 years, they are a part of me that I’ve learned to accept, along with any shame that goes with them. The best I can strive for is to bite my nails when Kelly isn’t looking, and avoid spreading my bad habits to the kids.