The Battle of Independence Day

This past Saturday was Independence Day in the United States.  Or, as Americans refer to it in their local vernacular, the day of barbeques, beer, high-powered explosives, beer, blown off fingertips, a drunk Florida man putting a saddle on a gator, beer, sparkler sword fights, beer, and FREEEEEEEDDDDOOOOMMM!  And maybe some eagles and shit.  Independence day became an American holiday after winning its independence, which effectively began when a bunch of men donned Native American garb and stormed a British merchant ship, and tea-bagged the British Empire.

‘Murika!

Of course Independence Day is also highly regarded as the day Will Smith saved planet Earth from interstellar invaders.  It’s true.  I saw it on the History Channel, which as we all know, is the prime academic authority on all things extraterrestrial. Aliens. X-Files. Wookies.  The History Channel has you covered.  But actual history on the History Channel?  Fuck no!  But I digress.

As for myself on the 4th of July, I had been invited to a barbeque at my brother’s place with his family.  However, before I had a chance to head over to his house, I received a message from a lady friend asking if I’d like to go to the river with her, relax on the beach, swim a bit, and hang out.  And being the faithful family member and perfectly good and loyal sibling I am, I did what any good man would do in my situation.  I texted my brother on why I was going to be quite late to his barbeque and fireworks smorgasbord.  His response, in good brotherly fashion was, “Do it!!”

And so, I eventually arrived at my brother’s house where I joined his family and my parents in the great American tradition of using fire & flame, charcoal, cussing, and beer to scorch various meats until they resemble somewhat edible bits of compressed carbon.  Burnt meat and beer!  ‘Murika!  In truth, dinner was marinated, baked chicken and seasoned zucchini and squash.  And beer.  Still very good, mind you.  But everywhere else around the country, Americans were most assuredly doing what we normally do, and that is to flambé our meats with a World War II era flamethrower.  Because freedom.

After the sun went down we all gathered in the cul de sac with the rest of the neighbors to begin the fireworks displays.  Several households contributed to the accumulated pile of flashy and festive explosive materials.  This is despite the fact that a package of fireworks today costs approximately somewhere in the neighborhood of ***checks calculator*** about $15,487.  Or roughly the equivalent of purchasing a small car, a semester of university tuition, or three Starbucks frappuccinos. 

But this exorbitant cost of fireworks did not deter Americans from getting their freedom on!  Quite the opposite actually.  There were so many fireworks popping off for so long, it honestly sounded like a warzone.  I wonder if that this year, each American family probably spent close to half a billion dollars, or about the cost of a small house in San Francisco, on fireworks.  There were the usual fireworks flashing in the night sky, in addition to what I’m sure was tracer fire from anti-aircraft flak guns, .50 caliber machine guns, and a surface-to-air missile or three.

The booms, bangs, whizzing sounds, small explosions, and sirens lasted most of the night.  It reminded me of that grainy, night vision footage of Baghdad during the Gulf War when the allied coalition began airstrikes on the city.  It was pretty obvious that with everything going on in the world, especially in this country with the Coronavirus, it didn’t stop people from celebrating Independence Day.  In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect.  More and more people than before came out to enjoy the holiday and celebrate with friends and family.  It was as if Americans were even more encouraged to celebrate, as if in their own way to symbolically and defiantly do battle against this unseen enemy that currently plagues the world.

Americans came out in droves, and by firing enough explosives and weaponry into the air to defend London during the Blitz, was their method of saying, “We are not afraid!  We will win!”  It is definitely an American trait.  To stare danger and adversity right in the face without backing down, to look a threatening enemy in the eye and kick it right in its dangly bits.  During this year’s Independence Day celebrations, it seemed Americans did just that in order to do battle against the Coronavirus, and against the fear and uncertainty in life it brings.

I just hope it doesn’t have any adverse effects.  Doing battle against an enemy that threatens and attacks you still requires a strategic plan.  That’s why armies have generals.  In order for America, and the rest of the world to win this battle, we all have to be smart about this.  I’m not saying that people setting off fireworks and Civil War era cannons weren’t being smart.  I’m saying that when we are staring this enemy in the face, we should remember to be smart, be safe, and also be considerate of our fellow humans.

I have no doubt that despite everything, we as a people will win this battle.  We will get through this.  We will prevail.  And after that battle is finally won and we can all move forward with our lives, Americans can move on to the next important battle that we have been fighting for at least a hundred years.

And that is the battle against people who drive slow in the fast lane.

The Self-Reflection Pool

Sometimes when you look at your own life, it can be like that scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo looks into Galadriel’s mirror.  Only instead of seeing your own possible future that may involve an epic quest, a long-bearded wizard in robes, and smoking & drinking with hobbits, you look at your present and how your past shaped it.  You reflect on how you’ve changed, evolved, grown, and matured as an adult.

I’ve been doing exactly that more and more over the past several weeks.  A dose of self-reflection with a dash of nostalgia (and maybe a little booze…just a little **insert over exaggerated winky face here**).  I realize how much I’ve grown, evolved, and matured over the last several years.  This doesn’t mean I’ve changed into a completely different person.  I haven’t.  However, I feel like I’ve grown and matured in certain ways, having learned from the past because of my achievements and mistakes, trials and errors, pizzas and beers.

You see, I’m the type of person who gets more ideas in his head than there are bad Nicholas Cage movies.  And, because of this, I could never pin myself to just one idea to pursue as a profession, occupation, or career.  Throughout my youth each day my brain would bounce from idea to idea of the things I wanted to do.  An archaeologist, a world traveler, a rock star, a writer, a historian or history professor, and then my brain–SQUIRREL!! 

I became frustrated with myself because my brain constantly bounced around, and this left me unhappy.  But now?  I’m happy with my professional and extracurricular life.  This fact is quite ironic.  Why?  Because I do none of those aforementioned things professionally.  Instead, they’ve become hobbies.  

You see, I work for a good company doing a job I like.  I get decent paychecks, and there’s a great camaraderie and flexibility there. I have a career I enjoy and am happy with it.  And with it, comes a sense of stability and contentment.  But what about those ideas I constantly waffled on?  Allow me to elaborate:

–I used to want to travel via extended trips, such as a three-month backpacking trip through Europe, or something like in the film “Eat, Pray, Love.”  That’s not me anymore.  I still enjoy travel, but I’d rather go on shorter trips, such as long weekend jaunts and yearly vacations.  For instance, in recent years I went on some long weekend trips to visit Washington DC, Gettysburg, and New York.  Hence, travel is my hobby.

–In my early 20s my brother and I had our own heavy metal band.  We also played in a metal band briefly in my early 30s.  Both of us wanted to be rock stars.  Now, I don’t want to be a rock star.  However, my brother and I play in a classic & modern rock cover band in Sacramento, and I really enjoy jamming and playing the occasional venue around town.  I also play in a monthly Irish music session at the Fox & Goose pub.  Hence, music is my hobby.

–I’ve always loved history and archaeology.  I wanted to be an archaeologist and/or professional historian.  I actually went to graduate school for a semester and found that I really didn’t enjoy it.  At least I tried it, right?  But there’s nothing wrong with being an amatuer historian and binge-watching The Civil War by Ken Burns…right?  Hence, history is my hobby.

–And as for archaeology?  The Presidio of San Francisco has an archaeological dig site, excavations, and a laboratory.  They accept volunteers, which I was more than happy to sign up for.  I get to be a weekend Indiana Jones.  Hence, archaeology became my hobby.

–I’ve loved books and reading since I was a teenager and have wanted to write my own tales.  I still do that.  I’m just writing as more of a hobby now.  However, the difference between this hobby and the others is that I’m still working to finish the books I started, and I intend to submit them to agents and/or publishers.  If my books eventually get published, that’s great!  If not, then that’s okay.  Hence, writing is still my hobby.

Looking back, I realize how immature I must’ve been.  Even though I had many great life experiences, my own undecidedness, my tendency to SQUIRREL! made things rather unstable and untenable.  But a person can grow and evolve (hopefully not growing and evolving into swamp creatures like the mold buildup does at Florida rest stops).  

As another example, I no longer want to just bounce around the planet.  I enjoy having a homebase, a home, from which I can continue enjoying life.  I’m currently saving to buy a house, and hope to do so soon.  Sacramento is my home, and my family and friends are here.  I get to go to Republic FC soccer matches, game nights or evenings at the pub, and also rocking out with the cover band I mentioned.  Although if I lived anywhere else right now, I’d consider the California coast.  

And I’ve been finding new hobbies.  I’m part of a league-winning bar trivia team, and last summer, I took swing dancing classes.  I’m very self-conscious when it comes to dancing, and for me to have fun going swing dancing speaks volumes.  As in, it would speak enough volumes to reach the level of Vogon poetry.

I’ve learned that life doesn’t have to be huge and complicated.  It can be just as exciting and fulfilling if it’s simple and stable.  If you’re looking for an epic quest, navigating California traffic to the store because you just had Taco Bell and ran out of toilet paper can be a harrowing journey itself.  We all try our best to make our lives worthwhile.  We grow and mature, and try to be better people for it.  Never stop doing these things.  I know I won’t.  Who knows how much I’ll continue to grow?

I’ll sign off with this bit of advice.  If someone resembling a long-bearded wizard in dirty robes approaches you in the street asking if you’d like to meet his hobbit friend, be cautious.  This could just be a random hobo with his tweaker friend named, Douche Baggins.

The Blurring of the Days

Do you get the feeling that as the days pass during this lockdown, this quarantine and social distancing that we’ve been in, time seems to have sped up?  It’s as if each day ends almost as soon as it begins.  While staying at home all day, every day, I’ve had plenty of time to workout, go on longer runs and more walks, absolutely not watch Tiger King, and get caught up on some Netflix and Amazon shows.  And drink and write more (as I’m writing this very sentence, I’m drinking whiskey like a proper writer).  I also promised myself to read more books and play my guitar more. But failed to do either of those.

However, I have exercised more, and started writing again.  This blog website is proof of that.  I know many of us tell ourselves that if we just had more time, more opportunity to get those special projects done, we would be churning out achievements faster than NCIS or Criminal Minds can spit out new episodes.  I’m sure we all started out with these good intentions.  

Such as:

-Getting your body beach ready with a crazy workout schedule, but then very soon after realize, like everyone else, that donuts exist.

-Painting the house.  

-Building a backyard catapult (who doesn’t want one of those?).  

-Crocheting a Tardis blanket.

-Actually doing the laundry.

-Learning to cook some new, amazing meals because you’ve seen so many cooking shows.  Now’s your time to shine in the kitchen and show your spouse or significant other that your cooking skills would make Gordon Ramsay jizz his pants! But you end up just putting taquitos in the microwave instead, and calling it done.

But despite our earnestly good intentions, we end up doing this:

-Constructing a World War One trench system around the house to keep out the toilet paper hoarders.

-Rearranging the furniture because you’ve been meaning to do it for months, then realizing you don’t like the new arrangement, moving the furniture again, and then again, and again, until you’ve made a couch/chair/nightstand fort in the corner of the living room while your only source of light is a Coleman lantern.

-Creating a science lab in the garage to determine if in fact, the answer to the world’s most burning question, is whether or not a Twinkie can be used as an explosive.

-Staring at the teetering mountain of grungy dishes in the sink, doing your best attempt at a Jedi Mind Trick to get them to wash themselves.

-Drinking

-Wondering if the aging, moldy leftovers in the back of the fridge, possibly leftover from the Korean War, would give you superpowers if ingested.

Lately it’s felt like time is hurtling faster and faster.  It’s as if I’m sitting inside the Millenium Falcon as it heads to light speed, the days streaking passed me, stretched and blurred just like the stars outside the cockpit window.  With each rapidly passing day, I feel like I’ve failed to do something productive or meaningful.  One more book left unread, one more page left unwritten, one more guitar piece left unlearned, one more pizza left uneaten (only kidding, never leave a pizza behind!).  You get the idea.  It’s hard to not feel guilty when we have the time to accomplish things, but end up scrolling FriendFace, Instracram, and Chitter while binge watching YouTube tutorials on primitive hut construction instead.

And of course, making sure that absolutely no pizza and tacos get left unattended.  Remember that in this difficult time…to think of the tacos. **Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” begins playing the background**

I’m here to tell you right now, as much as I’m also telling myself, that you are not required to be productive.  Do not feel any form of guilt.  These days are unprecedented in recent history.  None of us have experienced this before.  What you and I need to do above all else is to just live.  Get through your day as best and safely as you can.  If that includes building a sofa-sized Lego Star Destroyer, then create your ultimate weapon against the Rebel Alliance!  If your day includes relaxing in the garden, or on the couch (next to your Lego Star Destroyer) as you read or watch TV, that’s perfectly okay too.  You do you!

We will all get through this.  Together.

Remember To Live

We are living in historic times.  The world has necessarily shut down and everyone is sheltering in place as we try to beat the Coronavirus into submission.  When historians and archaeologists look back on this era, they will undoubtedly conclude that what human civilization valued above everything else, was a clean butthole.  Future scholars five hundred years from now will make arguments in their university dissertations that 21st century humans considered toilet paper as the world’s most worthy commodity.  Beavis may be regarded, not as a moronic cartoon character, but as a prophet with his shouts of, “I am Cornholio! I need TP for my bunghole!”

At this very moment, doctors, nurses, and medical personnel are the front-line warriors against the Coronavirus pandemic.  They are the ones in the trenches, fighting off the enemy. And the most important thing we can do to aid them, as well as ourselves in this fight, is to stay the fuck at home.  If we stay home, we can help stop the spread of the virus. The last thing a hospital needs is to be completely overwhelmed like Walmart employees on Black Friday. If we all stayed home and ceased non-essential functions, we can beat this sooner.  

I know many of you might be going stir crazy by staying home all day, every day.  And I’m sure any introverts reading this will think, “I’ve got books, Netflix, video games, and taquitos in the freezer.  My life has changed how?” But we can’t forget to live our lives as best we can. Even if that means playing beer pong with your dog, or attempting to play Jenga with your cat.  Living life is important!

But how?  Let me offer some suggestions.

–Daily walks.  This can be done as long as you remember your social-distancing, and is great to get some fresh air for a short while.  You can also use your daily walks to scout the perimeter, spot for bandit ambushes, and see if there are any taco trucks still around.

–Cooking. Take this time to cook more and learn new dishes using whatever you find in the pantry.  It could be a healthy and delicious meal (as long as tofu and brussel sprouts aren’t involved), or it could be a mishmash of kielbasa sausages smothered in Cheese Whiz with Oreos on the side.  No judgement.

–Binge Watching.  Now you have the perfect excuse to watch all your favorite shows in one sitting.  Get caught up on some great shows and movies. For me, I’m working my way through Supernatural, I started The Good Place, and may give others like Outlander a try.  Who knows? You may find a new show or movie you never thought you’d like.

–Video Games.  Are you an Xbox warrior, slaying the world’s digital enemies, hoping that one day your efforts of saving the planet will be recognized by society?  Well, now’s your chance. Stay the fuck inside, play every Call of Duty title, and save the world. For real.

–Crafting and Art.  You might have little crafting or art projects you’ve been putting off.  It could be crocheting Xenomorph, face-hugging aliens or painting a picture of Bob Ross painting himself painting a happy tree, a Happy Tree-ception if you will.  Regardless of what it is, creating is good for you, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Especially if you’ve ever wanted to make your own backyard catapult.

–Books.  I love books.  I own many. If you’re a big reader, then you’re probably like me, in that you have a large stack of books on your “to-read” list, but this never prevents you from buying new ones. But now the bookstores are temporarily closed.  So devour that “to-read” list! Devour it like a hungry zombie that’s fresh out of brains and stumbled into a Mensa convention!

These are just a few suggestions on how to keep yourself occupied while you’re bunkered up at home.  Remembering how to live our lives is important. Because when this is over, and it will be eventually, appreciating all that life has to offer will be taken much less for granted.  People will have a new love for game nights with friends, sporting events will be jam-packed, and restaurants will have a wait time of about twelve years. And most importantly, speaking as a Californian, the taco trucks will return.

We just have to do our part.  Stay home, have a pint, and wait for all this to blow over.

Sporks In The Road

My name is M.A.D. Hagan, and I  was born and raised in California.  Even though I’ve lived most of my life in the Golden State, the land of movie stars and $3,807.23 per gallon gas, countless farms and pothole-filled roads that resemble the Western Front’s “no man’s land”, and an amazingly diverse, melting-pot population and junkies, I’ve also lived in other places.  

Life has a way of providing each of us with a bunch of choices, opportunities, or a seemingly endless series of forks in the road.  Where your life takes you, the adventures you have, your trials and tribulations, your triumphs and defeats, everything that happens to you or the things you do, or the things that will happen to you or the things that you will do, has its foundation in those life choices.  Do I join the military or the circus? Do I try to go to college or become a phone sex operator? Do I eat a healthy-ish meal of rice cakes smothered in strawberry jam, or consume an entire box of Fruit Loops?

I call these life choices, “Sporks In The Road.”

Sometimes these life choices bring you to a Waffle House in the Florida Panhandle at 2:37am, shoveling down smothered & covered hash browns with syrup and chili (and of course a waffle on top, we’re not savages) in order to soothe your troubled innards, burning and burbling with too much rum, cheap beer, and destroyed inhibitions.  You do this while giggling at the drunken characters that always frequent every Waffle House in Anytown, USA until you realize you were merely gazing and giggling at your own hazy reflection in the restaurant’s window panes, which are already moist from Florida’s inhumane humidity and your own drool.  

Like I said, Sporks In The Road. 

If you think about it, all of us live out our lives and make our choices, choosing directions on that flimsy, plastic tine on the Spork In The Road in front of us, leading us to a life of interesting and great experiences, even if we don’t see it that way.  I think we’ve been conditioned to never feel satisfied in life, that we have to be wealthy, famous, rockstar athlete CEOs with 2.7 trillion Instagram followers in order to not be a failure. Well…that’s bullshit.

If you’re feeling like your life has sucked, that you haven’t been super-duper successful, and that the Magic Wand of Wealth, Happiness, and Free Tacos (™ ) never bonked you on the forehead, then perhaps you just need a little perspective.  Allow me to use myself as an example.

I’m not rich, not famous (don’t want to be), and I have less than a hundred Instagram followers.  However, I’ve lived a life where my choices, my seemingly random direction changes, my feelings of restlessness, have led me to a lot of interesting and amusing experiences.  I’ve always felt like I was just bumbling along in life, just getting by. But in retrospect, my life has contained so many unique, yet different things.  

For instance:

-I went pub-crawling in Dublin with the local Irish.  And survived.

-I went mountain biking in Panama to explore an old Spanish fortress, and saw the Panama Canal too.  It’s rusty.

-I accidentally stumbled into the red light district in Frankfurt (seriously, it was an accident…I just stumbled in…I didn’t know where I was…stop laughing), and was accosted by a gauntlet of German street pimps.  Those fuckers are aggressive. And sexy.

-I am a pretty good musician.  I’ve played guitar for over two decades.  Even though I started playing mainly to learn my favorite Megadeth and Metallica songs, my musical tastes have since greatly expanded.  This includes Irish traditional & Celtic music, classic rock, flamenco, and big band swing music. And not country.

-I served eight years in the US Navy, got involved in the intelligence community, and earned a top secret clearance. With this experience, and newly gained knowledge, I can confidently tell you, assure you, that positively 100%, there are absolutely no grey aliens in the government.  Stay away from those conspiracy sites.

-I once drove from Pensacola, FL to Sacramento, CA in two and half days.  I did this by making myself as Caffeinated As All Fuck (Caffeinated As All Fuck is defined as “enough caffeine to make a water buffalo’s heart explode”).  Afterwards, I slept for twelve hours. I will never do that again.

-I have eaten at a Waffle House in the Florida Panhandle while drunk at 2:37am.  And survived.

-The Navy sent me to Monterey, CA to attend the prestigious Defense Language Institute (DLI) where I would learn a foreign language quickly.  During the 18 months I spent there, the languages I learned were Bullshit, Alcohol Consumption, and Arabic.

-I lived in Bahrain for a year, working as a command investigator for the US Navy base there.  What was that like, you ask? Well, it was so hot and humid there it was like walking into Jabba the Hutt’s taint.

-I have climbed on Mayan Pyramids in Belize where another tourist asked, in utter disbelief, why an escalator was not installed on the pyramid.  I’m serious.  

-I was once married for a decade, in what became the longest relationship of my life.  But that is another story.

I listed all of those things to give examples of how, if you put events in your life into proper perspective, it can make you realize that life is amazing.  Go wherever your life choices take you. My mother, at age 20, decided she wanted a family, and raised me and my brother. One of her joys in life has been seeing us grow into the people we became, that we grew up to be healthy and happy.  

If you don’t think your life was that interesting because you’ve only been raising your family, what about the time that you laughed your ass off when one of your kids coated the family dog in a bag of flour, and the dog then ran off into the neighbor’s yard during their Sunday football barbeque, leaving a white, dusty cloud in its wake, and causing the neighbors to sneeze uncontrollably?  Or when your kids used permanent markers to draw beards (and maybe a penis) on their faces the morning of school picture day? Or how proud you felt when your child became an adult?

It’s all about perspective.  When you look back at all the directions you took, the tines you chose for each Spork In The Road of your life, you realize that life is pretty amazing.  Try to always enjoy where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. Learn from your mistakes and the bad things that happened, and appreciate all the good things that happened.  So here’s to all of you, especially if you’re reading this while on your phone at 3:00am, may all the choices in your Sporks In The Road of life lead you to happiness and free tacos.