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My Dissection of 2017

Well, I gave him a chance. I didn't vote for Trump, but he was Mr. Art Of The Deal, a billionaire that talked about compromise, straddling the fence, getting things done, and so on. I don't know if this Trump just imploded once he settled into the Oval Office, or he's turned out to be a puppet in power with the most odious of the GOP establishment pulling the strings (now that Steve Bannon's gone), but the Trump Administration has been mostly one disappointment after another.

But that's all you'll get from me about him. The only way I can get through these next four years without going insane is just go day to day the best I can, and continue to stand up for what I believe in (for more of that, see my last blog). And 2017, with all the ups and downs, was a mostly decent year for me.

BEST MOMENT OF 2017: This was the Year Of The Pool. It was a 12-foot-wide, 3-foot-high vinyl pool with a metal frame, but it served its purpose nonetheless: give our family cool, watery fun right at home. It was a struggle to keep up with maintenance, but I managed to get through the summer season with no major problems.

Runners-up: The solar eclipse, Destiny experiencing her first Mardi Gras Galveston parade, connecting with more distant cousins as I started to update the family history.

WORST MOMENT OF 2017: Death claiming too many people (and pets) close to home. Our gerbil died, either from falling ill or not be able to cope with living alone in a glass box with a cat always stalking her; Kallie, a former cat resident of ours, had to be put down after getting sick; our family had to say goodbye to Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jake... and if THAT wasn't enough, an old high school friend of mine was lost to cancer on Christmas Eve.

TOM'S TOP 10 OF 2017

1. "Less Than", Nine Inch Nails: Maybe Mr. Reznor's take is different from mine, but for me it was one big "ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?!" to all those who helped put Trump in the White House. And the music was classic NIN, from the 80s-TV-show-style beginning to the Downward-Spiral-esque chorus.

2. "Going Backwards", Depeche Mode: Another political commentary of the times. DM's "Spirit" album was full of them. You know times are pretty rough when Martin Gore is dropping the F-bomb in "Fail". On the other hand, I wonder if anyone else caught the subtle "Stripped" call-back in "Where's The Revolution".

3. "Last Time For Everything", Brad Paisley: A poignant track reminding us that you never know when the favorite things you're experiencing may be the last time you experience them, from enjoying your mom's cooking to seeing Prince in concert.

4. "Look What You Made Me Do", Taylor Swift - OK, she can rap pretty good (see: Dissection of 2014), and I love the Miami Bass influence in the chorus.

5. "Unfuck The World", Prophets Of Rage - A supergroup with the likes of Chuck D, B-Real and Tom Morello is exactly what this society needs right now.

6. "Up All Night", Beck

7. "Who Dat Boy", Tyler The Creator

8. "In This Cold Place", Moby & the Void Pacific Choir

9. "Humble.", Kendrick Lamar

10. "Sit Next To Me", Foster The People

What I Believe, And What I've Been Through

“Freedom of speech. Just watch what you say.” – Tracy “Ice-T” Marrow

And here I thought the proliferation of the Internet and the liberation of the arts would lead to the Golden Age of Free Expression here in the good old U-S-of-A. Instead, the unending chorus of “I’m offended!” is in danger of neutering our progress and imposing an overreach of censorship, be it self-inflicted or corporate-imposed. (Unless there’s 67% of our elected officials and 38 state legislatures willing to pass a constitutional amendment repealing the First Amendment, I’m not really worried about governmental censorship.)

Popular comedians are lamenting the increased complaints they get from college students over their act. Other famous personalities have to apologize and grovel for acceptance after making a verbal gaffe on Twitter or other social media. Politicians and media pundits accuse the Charlie Hebdo staff of “punching down” in their satire, even if the material may pale in comparison to vintage National Lampoon.

Before this gets to me, and I end up getting crucified in the social media and/or losing my job for some wisecrack I make or a gag I put in my cartoons, I want to put my personal traits out in the open, in the hopes that someone would reference this post should a controversy arise.

I’m a live-and-let-live guy.

I believe in full equality and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

I highly value free expression, creativity and individuality. If it were up to me, dress codes would simply say: Maintain hygienic standards, no offending words or graphic imagery, and keep your butt and your lower genitals covered. Otherwise I wouldn’t care if you showed up at my school or my company looking like you stepped right out of the Burning Man festival.

And I’d be happy for you even if outrageous self-expression wasn’t your cup of tea. If you wish to run a tight-knit stringent Christian community, as long as you respect individual autonomy and let people leave peacefully if they can't conform to your guidelines, go right ahead. If you’re a Muslim woman that wants to stay covered up at a public beach, fine with me, as-salamu-alaykum.

There should only be restrictive laws against doing something if one person doing it causes harm to someone else. And if there’s a high probability of someone accidentally killing themselves by doing something, put up warning labels everywhere and keep children away from it. But don’t push for a law outright forbidding it.

I’m not one to judge or shame people hastily.

I believe that all human beings deserve dignity and respect. Even those that seem to have made bad decisions on their part (and that’s purely subjective).

You’re a guy with a drug habit? If you don’t think you can control your habit, you should try and get cleaned up and stop using it before it ruins you. If you’re able to make a living and make a contribution to society while using your drug responsibly and in moderation (and out of the sight of impressionable young kids), your habit is none of my business.

You’re a woman in some kind of sex business (or you simply uploaded an image or video of your naked self)? If you’re doing it willingly, on your own, without duress or coercion from other people… good for you, make that money. If you enjoy doing that stuff, that’s a bonus. (Not something I, as a married man who loves his wife, would partake in, though.) And yes, I would say this to my own daughter… that is, if she’s of legal age and not doing this under my roof.

You’re a man transitioning into a woman or vice versa? You have my full support, and you’re welcome to use the restroom you’re most comfortable with. I know most of you are genuinely trying to come to terms with your gender identity, and not just saying you’re identifying as something else just to be voyeuristic… or worse. Just keep in mind that: a) not everyone can read your mind about how you wish to be referred to, so don’t get outraged if they persist in the wrong terminology; and b) some people will be uncomfortable if they see the unconventional set of genitals in the locker room, and you should reassure them that you’re who you really say you are, and not get offended at their discomfort. I’ve a feeling that all this furor over transgenders in restrooms will eventually lead to a standard of unisex restrooms and private shower stalls, anyway.

You’re a bully, kidnapper, or otherwise take great pleasure (or religious gain) in hurting/offending/exploiting/controlling other people? Your actions are bad and you should feel bad.

However… if you’re a comedian or talk-show host that “works blue”… as long as your dialogue isn’t being recklessly broadcasted to those who’d be offended, or too young to be appropriate, or otherwise don’t want to hear it… again, good for you, make that money. Which leads me to my next point…

I enjoy satire and the occasional shock-humor joke.

Just because I think an off-color joke is funny, doesn’t mean that I approve of the joke’s subject matter. I laugh at it, not to validate the premise of the joke, but because it’s so unbelievable and outrageous, and I know very well that stuff like that would go against my principles in real life.

I used to listen to Howard Stern and the Opie & Anthony Show, and shock humor was their stock in trade. No question was out of bounds, and nothing was safe from being targeted as a joke. Furthermore, they always made fun of themselves as well. Genuine “shock humor” doesn’t leave anything sacred and it has no real malicious intent. And those who dabble in it should be responsible and always take care to not use it around the more sensitive of us. If executed responsibly, shock humor should always be allowed to exist, if anything as proof that our freedom of expression is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

As for that certain word that rhymes with “vigor”, I already expounded on this years ago. I would prefer the “N-bomb” not be dropped, but if it’s a part of satire (or rap lyrics) and not being used in a genuinely derogatory or hateful manner, we don’t need to get violently outraged over it. (Think “Blazing Saddles” or a certain “Kentucky Fried Movie” bit.)

I understand if you get offended, and you’re well within your rights to ask for an apology… but for fuck’s sake, don’t “doxx” the offender or demand that their employer fire them. You… just make a genuine apology, learn from your slip-up, and move on. You… accept the apology, forgive them if you can (but if not, don’t become the bully yourself and try to ruin their livelihood), and move on.

Please don’t take this advice as insensitive, because in all honesty…

I used to be one of those overly sensitive people.

I was hyper-sensitive in my childhood. Teasing and bullying would sometimes leave me in a crying mess. Some of my peers thought that I was gay, and in the 1980s, that was generally a more negative than positive connotation. So I definitely understand what the easily-offended types are going through. I managed to get over that and grow a thick skin. We would be all better off doing that. But if you’re unable to do so, that’s okay too. All I ask is that you don’t kill yourself over getting bullied or harassed. It DOES get better – and it’s a lot easier to build confidence and the aforementioned thick skin – once you get away from the toxicity of that environment. And it’s easier than ever to find like-minded souls to bond with nowadays, thanks to the internet. I sure wish there was a Facebook back when I was a teenager and feeling very alone and introverted.

So when I say suck it up and grow a thick skin, I’m not saying it as one of those “shut up and get over it” types who was never traumatized over being made fun of… I’m truly being empathetic and understanding here. And PLEASE don’t take it the wrong way if there’s racial issues involved. I sure as hell don’t want to be perceived as racist, because…

I genuinely want a multicolor, multicultural society.

I know this is gonna sound like a typical whitesplaining “some of my friends are black!” rant. But I indeed grew up in a racially-integrated community. Unless one went to a private school, everybody ended up in the same public high school, so there was no “this high school is whiter than that one” in my hometown. And I loved rap music. Not just Beastie Boys and the big names, either… everything from A Tribe Called Quest to Public Enemy to EPMD to yes, Ice-T. I just couldn’t get into the “hair-metal” scene that was prevalent among teens of my skin color at the time. But once I heard Run DMC’s “King Of Rock” in 1985, I was enamored with the hip-hop scene. Nowadays, while I still like rap (yes, even modern-day rap… Golf Wang!), I feel it’s just a matter of time before I get hit with accusations of “cultural appropriation” if I let slip some hip-hop slang.

I do have to ask… what really IS “cultural appropriation”, people? I always thought it was the act of one race/culture adopting the customs of other races/cultures AND either claiming them as your own or continuing to disrespect the races/cultures you got them from. But I frequently see it characterized as simply “white people doing stuff that other races do”. That would be detrimental to our society if the latter really was the intended definition. I really do want to see white folks with afros, black folks wearing lederhosen, Indians (yes, I refer to the Asian kind) managing sushi bars, Koreans dancing Irish jigs and so on. If it’s your passion, your ethnic background shouldn’t discourage you from indulging in it. (If you do it just to ridicule the race/ethnicity you got it from, however, you’re a bad person.) And if someone doing your stuff is not the same race as you, you can tell them they’re doing it wrong or it should be done with reverence or learn the history of it and so on, but you shouldn’t be offended simply because they’re doing it.

I place humongous value on racial harmony. I’m squarely in the “Black Lives Matter” camp for that reason. And for those who retort with “All Lives Matter!”… no, that’s NOT the case right now, because some people in powerful positions DON’T believe that Black Lives Matter. I’m fully aware that as a white guy in the United States, I’m surrounded by nuances of white privilege, and while I strive to eliminate that, I try my hardest not to take advantage of it.

So that’s me in a nutshell. Call me libertarian, call me centrist, call me wishy-washy if you must, but I’m firmly on the side of freedom, equality and civility. And civility without freedom or equality is a civility not worth preserving. Neither is a social “us-or-them” zero-sum game that Team Red and Team Blue seem to perpetuate.

My Dissection of 2016

Who's left? How's everyone feeling? Good... people dropping like flies lately...

BEST MOMENT OF 2016: Hands down (with puffy white gloves on them), the family excursion to Walt Disney World. This destination has been on my bucket list for decades, and it was a genuine thrill to finally pass through those gates of the Magic Kingdom (and its adjoining parks). And even though there weren't many thrill rides (most thrilling being the Aerosmith Rock-n-Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood), the parks didn't disappoint. On the whole, Mickey's Florida compound was very entertaining and very memorable.

Runners-up: Adding another cat to our family; crossing another bucket-list item off with a visit to Hodges Gardens.

WORST MOMENT OF 2016: Already at least one columnist/blogger has called it "The Year The Music Died" - and between David Bowie and George Michael, there were indeed many deaths of musicians whose work I enjoyed - but what really hurts is the death of a radio station. My beloved KDGE ("The Edge") was taken off the air in mid-November to be replaced by yet another adult-contemporary format. While the station has seen its better days and I haven't listened to it lately as much as I used to, it was still my favorite station for most of the time I lived in the DFW area, and it was nice to know it was still giving younger audiences a good dose of new rock (including my son Jaden, who was just as bummed at the Edge's demise as I was).

Runner-up: A couple house issues, first a gas meter accident, and then an air-conditioner failure, resulting in a couple weeks of discomfort and frustration. Oh yes, and the presidential election, which was one massive disappointment after another. (On both sides... it SHOULD have been Rand Paul vs. Bernie Sanders, dammit.)

TOM'S TOP 20 OF 2016

1. "Heathens", Twenty One Pilots - This band is one of my son's main musical obsessions, but they do make a lot of catchy tunes. And this one off the "Suicide Squad" soundtrack captures quite well a soul with a fragile sanity, feeling like an outsider to society, yet managing to connect with like-minded outcasts. (I may be reading too much into this song, but dammit, it sounds incredible.)
2. "I Exhale", Underworld - A very close, almost-a-tie contender for the top spot. The sound of techno veterans looking towards the future, at "the light that glows over the horizon". The video is simple (strobe lights, a door, and a guy dancing around them) yet trance-inducing.
3. "Out Of Control", Lush - I'm so glad this band made a comeback. And they sound like their classic shoegaze selves again here.
4. "We The People", A Tribe Called Quest - Another welcome reunion (although short-lived - RIP Phife), bringing a fiery protest rap to the incoming Trump administration.
5. "Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time", Panic! At The Disco - Champagne, cocaine, gasoline! And a little sampling of "Rock Lobster" thrown in for good measure.
6. "May We All", Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw - All the makings of a great country anthem.
7. "Blackstar", David Bowie - A final masterpiece from the Thin White Duke.
8. "Whoodeeni", De La Soul feat. 2 Chainz - A fun blend of old-school and modern-day hip hop.
9. "OxyContin Girl", Claypool Lennon Delirium - A collaboration between the son of a rock legend (and a legend in his own right) and the father of Primus... what's not to love?
10. "Sit Still Look Pretty", Daya - Pretty much a modern-day feminist anthem, telling girls they don't have to settle for striving for supermodel looks or the married-with-kids lifestyle.
11. "24K Magic", Bruno Mars
12. "The House That Built Me", Miranda Lambert
13. "Amputation", Jesus & Mary Chain
14. "Classic Masher", Pixies
15. "Cheap Thrills", Sia
16. "Starboy", The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk
17. "Still Breathing", Green Day
18. "Campaign Speech", Eminem
19. "Formation", Beyonce
20. "Panda", Desiigner


1. "Humble and Kind", Tim McGraw
2. "Tear In My Heart", twenty one pilots
3. "Cake By the Ocean", DNCE
4. "Unsteady", X-Ambassadors
5. "My House", Flo Rida

A Monumental Effort

This started out as a personal quest to find something that my brother and sister got to experience, but not me - as I wasn't born yet.

A huge map of the United States in the middle of a park. My parents said it was near the town of Many, Louisiana. It stayed in the back of my mind for many years. Then, with the advent of Google Maps, I canvassed the area around Many for some kind of map-looking pixelation in the middle of a park.

The big map in 1970.

Eventually I found the elusive map... it was part of a Louisiana Purchase Memorial monument, built in 1969 on a small island named Nandina (which would also be called "Flag Island"), in a privately-owned park called Hodges Gardens. This park, founded by A.J. Hodges in 1956, would then be turned over to the state of Louisiana in 2007, and to this day it operates as a state park. But it's no ordinary state park... it's filled with lush, well-designed gardens and ponds, along with the usual hiking trails and picnic areas. Among the regular events held there are movie showings, painting sessions, church services, fun runs and night-time stargazing gatherings.

Reading about this place was fascinating... until I got to the current state of Flag Island.

It's closed to the public. Its deterioration got to the point where too much of it became a safety hazard. The terrazzo map is chipping and crumbling in places. Only the American flag flies there now, where the flagpoles used to be decorated with flags from other states. Depressing, to say the least.

Here was something I've always wanted to visit, maybe even bring the kids, and it's now blocked off and rotting away. I checked the internet for some sign of hope that someone was going to do something about it. I found one article, published a few years ago, about a group of military veterans that were looking into restoring and renovating the monument. But nothing was heard about this effort ever since.

I got in touch with the American Terrazzo Company, the contractor that originally designed and constructed the map part of the memorial (and as luck would have it, is currently based in Garland). While they no longer have the files on the original project, they did an assessment on the monument a few years ago. And the price tag for completely restoring the terrazzo map comes in at $525,000. Remodeling the surrounding structure would probably add another $50,000 or so to the bill. A steep price for a unique monument that not a lot of people really know about.

The cost isn't the only roadblock to restoring this memorial, however. The park itself may have to temporarily shut down, thanks to a state budget crunch. Complaining about who's to blame is irrelevant at this point, so here's the facts: $7.1 million has to be trimmed from the budget for Louisiana's Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Twelve state parks are on the list to be temporarily closed to the public, all funding cut off except for a maintenance skeleton crew. And you guessed it, Hodges Gardens is on that list. It would be nice if the park could revert back to private ownership - maybe sold to the Friends of Hodges Gardens organization - and not have to be a burden on state finances (even if it means admission fees would go up). But the reality is, the budget deadline is July 1st, and restoration work on the memorial may have to hinge on whether or not Hodges Gardens gets to stay open. I understand a newly remodeled monument won't do much good in a park that's "closed until further notice".

Hopefully, that won't be the case. If things go right with the state, I'm more than willing to set up a crowdfunding effort, maybe on Kickstarter, to help with remodeling the memorial. Hodges Gardens State Park is one of those hidden treasures in the middle of western Louisiana, and the Louisiana Purchase Memorial is (or should be) its crown jewel, one that's presently chipped and tarnished. And I'm willing to do whatever I can to get it back to its former glory. It's a family thing for me, after all.

My Dissection of 2015

Another one of those rollercoaster type years... 2015 had a lot of highs and lows for me.

BEST MOMENT OF 2015: My class reunion. This was the big 25-year shindig, and literally no one saw it coming. So a few of us did what we could to put together a weekend of meet-ups. And a good number of us showed up for two evenings of partying between three venues... and a finishing touch of brunch on Sunday morning. I got to see a lot of old friends again, and a great time was had by all.

Runners-up: Destiny riding her first big-girl ride at Six Flags, Jaden getting his Arrow of Light, and... gerbils!

WORST MOMENT OF 2015: A bunch of car drama. Between a break-in that busted a side window, getting caught in a speed trap, and a fender-bender, it was a rough few months for my Camry.

Runners-up: A moment of worry as my wife's surgery took longer than usual, and a lot of family members dying.


1. "Downtown", Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz & Eric Nally - Sure, "Can't Hold Us" kicked ass, "Same Love" was quite touching... but this was the TRUE follow-up to "Thrift Shop". A witty rap about buying a moped and taking a date for a ride on it, this plays out like a mini-rap-opera, a choice piece from a Broadway musical that never was.

2. "Roses", Chainsmokers featuring Rozes - A standout in the post-Lorde trippy-alternative environment.

3. "Dimes", Bloodhound Gang - Welcome back, guys, it's been way too long. With a tight disco beat and lines like "get it stuck in her head like porn star dick", this was irresistable.

4. "Get Ugly", Jason Derulo - I gotta admit, it's the "DIDDILYDIDDILYDIDDILYDIDDILY" that hooked me.

5. "Superhero", Faith No More - The best track from a great comeback album.

6. "Can't Feel My Face", The Weeknd - Mr. Tesfaye channels his inner Michael Jackson with excellent results.

7. "Exes and Ohs", Elle King - Wouldn't sound out of place in a classic Russ Meyer flick.

8. "Found You", Django Django - Out of a lot of great cuts from their new "Born Under Saturn" album, this one stands out due to it being reminiscent of the Madchester sound.

9. "Where Are U Now", Diplo, Skrillex & Justin Bieber - Enjoy this moment, you Beliebers... this may be the only time your hero shows up on my list. Skrillex did a great job backing him up.

10. "Real Life", Jake Owen - It's modern country with a touch of stoner-rock.

11. "Hotline Bling", Drake
12. "Here", Alessia Cara
13. "Mr. Misunderstood", Eric Church
14. "Hit The Quan", ILoveMemphis
15. "Cool For The Summer", Demi Lovato
16. "Buffalo", Tyler The Creator
17. "Love Me Like You Do", Ellie Goulding
18. "Lampshades On Fire", Modest Mouse
19. "Mess Around", Cage The Elephant
20. "Believe", Mumford & Sons


1. "Burning Desire", Lana Del Rey
2. "Geronimo", Sheppard
3. "Cheerleader", Omi
4. "GDFR", Flo Rida
5. "Shut Up And Dance", Walk The Moon

Profiles In Potential Greatness IV

It's been a LONG while since I've done one of these, hasn't it? My childhood friends haven't been fame-seekers, for the most part. And there's nothing wrong with that, actually... live your life however you want without harming others, that's my modus operandi. Still, it's fun to see someone you knew as a kid do something that gets a lot of attention. Here's the latest example:


I remember him and his brother Clinton from my Boy Scout troop. Pretty cool guys as I recall. And they grew up to become even cooler... for the past several years they've worked as DJs and producers.

But it was Jason in particular that recently made a couple of high-profile moves. The first being a collaboration with DJ Wes Wallace for a series of tracks, like "Sex Crave Boy", "The Light" and a wicked cover of Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer". The second one? Helping to produce a documentary film that could make waves in the Houston area, and potentially the alternative-music scene.

"Friday I'm In Love" is a film project chronicling the life of a long-running nightclub in Houston called Numbers. Straddling the Montrose and Midtown neighborhoods, Numbers in its present form started out in 1978, having taken over an old dinner theater building that subsequently housed a gay disco. Under the guidance of Robert "Robot" Burtenshaw, Numbers was an underground smash, attracting the goth/industrial crowd as well as fans of edgy alternative music. I first stepped foot inside Numbers back in January of 1992, and loved it. The atmosphere was minimalistic yet intriguing. A shattered disco ball hung over the main dance area, flanked by two huge projection screens playing random videos (some of which were not for the faint of heart/stomach - I'm looking at you, Skinny Puppy).

Numbers was a frequent destination of mine for the two-and-a-half years I called Houston home. And when I moved to Dallas after that, I never could find a club anywhere in the Metroplex that measured up to it. It's a rare anomaly in the fickle nightclub world... a dance club that has survived almost four decades, and without making much of any changes to its environment. It definitely deserves to be immortalized in a documentary film, and I hope Jason's profile gets a boost from its release.

Even if "Friday I'm In Love" doesn't get much exposure, Jason could still gain some fame as a recording artist. Never too late for that.

My Dissection Of 2014

The best way to sum up 2014 for me would be: The "Haven't Done That In A While" Year. There was a lot of stuff that happened to me this past year that I haven't experienced in years. I went to Austin (last time - 2010), Hurricane Harbor (last time - 2000), the Texas Pinball Festival (last time - 2010), a dance recital (last time - 1991, or 1984 with family involved), a family reunion (last time - 2003), a walk-a-thon (last time - 1996), the San Jacinto Monument (last time - hell if I know, but I know I went there at some point in my childhood), and I met up with some old friends that I haven't seen in years. I also got to see live (via satellite) a bunch of guys that haven't done anything as a group in decades - Monty Python, in their final set of performances from London.

There were also plenty of things that I experienced for the first time in 2014. I've never experienced a Medieval Times dinner show until this past April. I've never set foot in a fondue restaurant or a Korean-style spa until the fall. That trip to Austin? I've always passed that Inner Space Cavern on I-35 on the way there, but I've never been inside... until this year. (Awesome place, too.)

BEST MOMENT OF 2014: The return of a feline inhabitant to our household. After a failed attempt at taking in a cat a year ago, we gave it another go in April. And Kitkat has been with us ever since. She's very friendly (when Destiny's not all over her), very behaved and not much of a hassle... except when she decides to wake us up at 5 in the morning by meowing her ass off. Thanks to Operation Kindness for keeping her safe for us.

Runners-up: Watching Kristi get her Masters degree; getting a new iPad; the family reunion; the Monty Python live show.

WORST MOMENT OF 2014: The end of "Opie & Anthony". It was the reason I was waking up at 5 to begin with (but now I need a little extra sleep, stupid cat!), and I listened to it religiously for almost a decade. But after Anthony got canned by Sirius XM for ranting on Twitter about a woman that assaulted him, I had had enough of the two getting mistreated by their employer, and cancelled my entire satellite service. They couldn't do most of the outrageous stunts that they got away with in the past, they've been neglected in the promises that were made to them by Sirius (while no doubt giving golden boy Stern better treatment)... but hey, they could say "fuck" on the air! I'm sad to see it go, and I miss my dose of irreverent, edgy humor in the mornings... but it was getting painful to listen to a show that was a shadow of its former self.

TOM'S TOP 20 OF 2014

1. "All The Rage Back Home", Interpol - A majestic masterpiece from New York's coolest band of the past decade. Starts out all quiet and mellow, but then hits a headlong rush.
2. "Uptown Funk", Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars - This came from out of nowhere in December and instantly hooked me. Bruno goes from channeling Michael Jackson (on "Treasure") to kicking the funk like classic Morris Day & The Time on this track.
3. "Chandelier", Sia - Loved the quirky video where an Abby Lee student dances around in an empty apartment.
4. "Fireball", Pitbull - So catchy I can't help muttering to myself "FIIARRRRBAWWWWL" when I see the word.
5. "Fancy", Iggy Azalea - An Australian white girl sounding like a Dirty South rapper? I'm down with that.
6. "The Writing's On The Wall", OK Go - An enchanting New Order vibe in the song, combined with a mind-blowing video full of crazy illusions.
7. "Don't", Ed Sheeran - Where a folksy-sounding alt-rocker from England manages to sound like 90s rapper Domino.
8. "All About That Bass", Meghan Trainor - Love the "big is beautiful" message, but this sounds better with a "Miami Bass" beat (think Gucci Crew II) behind it.
9. "Shake It Off", Taylor Swift - This would've charted higher if it weren't for that little unsettling rap break she does in the middle. Don't quit your day job, missy. (But hey, you'll "shake off" that criticism, right?)
10. "Word Crimes", "Weird Al" Yankovic - I'm not particularly anal on grammar myself, but I love this hysterical rant about misused words set to the tune of "Blurred Lines".
11. "The Hanging Tree", Jennifer Lawrence & James Newton Howard
12. "Greens and Blues", Pixies
13. "Believe Me", Lil Wayne & Drake
14. "Bang Bang", Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nikki Minaj
15. "I Wanna Get Better", Bleachers
16. "Something From Nothing", Foo Fighters
17. "Fever", Black Keys
18. "Sky Full Of Stars", Coldplay
19. "Ask Yourself", Foster The People
20. "Come With Me Now", Kongos

TOP 5 NON-2014 SONGS OF 2014

1. "Take Me To Church", Hozier
2. "Habits", Tove Lo
3. "Turn Down For What", DJ Snake & Lil Jon
4. "Cool Kids", Echosmith
5. "Let It Go", Idina Menzel

Tom's WORST Songs Of All Time

I've been ranking my favorite songs of the years for quite some time now. I've always been a bit of a popular/alternative music geek, though lately I haven't been as focused on the scene as I used to. And while there's not much in today's pop world to my liking, I've still managed to find new music that I like a lot. But in this blog, I'm not gonna focus on my favorite music. Today, I've decided to switch things around and list my LEAST favorite songs of all time.

While there's plenty of tunes out there that I'm not fond of, there's only a handful that will actually make me want to outright change the channel or get the hell out of the place that plays it. There's quite a few songs that used to make the list, due to my station in life. When I was a kid and thought that beer tasted nasty, I didn't want to hear any rock or country songs that celebrated the stuff. When I was a teen and young adult that couldn't get a girlfriend or even a date, I got irritated by songs like "All By Myself", "Lonesome Loser" or "Somebody To Love" (either Queen or Jefferson Airplane versions). And when a radio station puts a song into heavy rotation, playing it almost every hour, it's easy for me to get sick of the song and want to immediately change the station once it starts playing.

But after a lot of time has passed, and I got married and had kids, most of those hated songs weren't as annoying anymore. And I'd endure them with no problem. Some songs, however, have stood the test of time in my hatred.

These are in no particular order. In fact, I'll group them into different categories of aggravation.

Songs that go against my personal morals:

"O.P.P.", Naughty by Nature - The beat's great, the structure is solid... but I just can't get into a song that's nothing but "Yay, infidelity! You down with cheating on your or someone else's loved one?" Lest you think I'm a total prude, however...

"Keep Your Hands To Yourself", Georgia Satellites - He wants her bad, but she's gonna deny him the poontang until that wedding ring's on her finger. If that was me, I would've dumped Miss Frigidaire a long time ago.

Songs that are just downright sad:

"Concrete Angel", Martina McBride - A little girl endures some brutal child abuse from her parents. But she'll make it out alive, right? WRONG. She ends up dying, and that "concrete angel" is what decorates her gravestone. Thanks a lot for ruining my day, Martina.

"Alyssa Lies", Jason Michael Carroll - Same premise as above. It goes from "Alyssa lies (as in fibbing)" to "Alyssa lies (as in six feet under) with Jesus". Thankfully, this guy ended up a one hit wonder.

"Ironic", Alanis Morrisette - A bunch of unfortunate incidents strung together. And while I like her voice in almost every other song, it's just grating combined with the theme of the song here. (Notice I didn't mention the semantics of "ironic", which I really just don't care about.)

Songs that just plain rub me the wrong way:

"Parents Just Don't Understand", DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - This one shouldn't affect me anymore because I'm in my forties and a parent of two kids myself, right? Nah, this still gives me uncomfortable flashbacks. Will ends up getting smacked around at the end, and that's not something I like to hear in a lot of songs... like the next one...

"Down With The Sickness", Disturbed - This nu-metal track would kick all sorts of ass, if it wasn't for the break in the middle where the lead singer seems to be reenacting a vicious beatdown from his mother. At least the video version deletes this part.

"I Got A Man", Positive K - In addition to the attempted adultery afoot, the lady doing her rapping part just sounds annoying.

"Jimi", Butthole Surfers - There's a part in the middle of the song that sounds like a sexual abuse episode. Very unsettling.

Now, let's welcome the latest addition to the "shit list"...

"Rude", Magic! - Sheesh, what century are we in? Why are guys still asking the girl's dad for permission to marry his daughter? (I'm not gonna expect that from any of Destiny's potential suitors, and I would hope she'll be educated enough to be aware of any abusive tendencies in her romantic interests. But I digress.) Anyway, on top of the subject matter, the guy sounds like the worst whinybutt little boy in the chorus. "Why you gotta be so RUUUUUUDE??!! I'm gonna marry her anyway!" Whatever. Go back to your Ninja Turtles toys, Junior. Suffice it to say that this one WON'T be anywhere on my "Best of 2014" list.

Honorable Mentions:

"The Stripper", David Rose - You know, that classic burlesque stripping fanfare with the sassy horns and drums. It usually plays at a wedding reception when the groom is removing the garter from the bride's leg to throw to his groomsmen in the male version of the "bouquet toss". In my single years, I was perfectly comfortable going to gentlemen's clubs and hearing any kind of song that the dancers were gyrating to. But this is the ONE song that makes me feel all dirty and want a cold shower.

And now all the way back across the spectrum, from the ungodly to the godly... music I hate to hear at church:

"Here I Am, Lord", David Haas - The chorus sounds so much like the "Brady Bunch" theme that I'm wondering why Sherwood Schwartz (or his estate) hadn't sued his butt off yet. (Then again, Haas IS a Christian-music composer, so that would probably look bad.) It's still irritating to the point that I'm willing to temporarily leave Mass just to avoid hearing it.

"Mass Of Creation", Marty Haugen - From the late 80s to 2011, this service music seemed to be EVERYWHERE. As in probably 75% of the English-language Catholic Masses in America. And it left a bad taste in my mouth from the get go. The mostly minor-key melody sounds like it belongs in a haunted house, and the way it's structured just added to the dischord. Fortunately, after the Great Liturgical Shift of 2011 happened, most of the churches discarded "Creation" and went with new service music. And "Creation" itself actually doesn't seem too bad now after being retooled to fit the new liturgy verbage. But yeah, for a couple decades it got to the point where I tried to sneak a look at the music director's rundown to see if the hated music set was in there... and if it was, off I went to a different church.

So there you have it. Try not to end up in between me and the volume control or the exit door whenever any of those start playing.


My Dissection of 2013

This was a crazy year for me, to put it succinctly. Time to break it down...

BEST MOMENT OF 2013: Making it to 10 years of Kristi and I being husband and wife. Sometimes it was blissful, sometimes it was a fierce rollercoaster ride, but we managed to reach June 7, 2013 still married. And there's lots of blessings to show for it... our own house, two cars, two kids and a relatively solid financial footing. I don't know how Kristi puts up with me sometimes... but I'm glad that she does. And I still love her immensely.

RUNNERS-UP: Taking Destiny to Grapevine for Day Out With Thomas (the train) ...or as she likes to put it, "to ride Thomas and eat nachos!"; camping out for the first time in over 25 years, with Jaden and his Cub Scout pack; finally getting the chance to drive a Corvette; upgrading my phone to the latest iPhone (well, the latest until this past fall).

WORST MOMENT OF 2013: Getting a new cat... only to have to give her away in just a month's time. We figured it was a good time to try having a cat live with us again. But Lily, a calico that looked almost exactly like a cat our family had during my teenage years, was a bit too aggressive towards Destiny (when she wasn't being a distraction to her). When you see a kitty trying to pounce on your daughter and bite her, you know there's a problem. So we had to make the (reeeallly tough) decision to get rid of the cat. And that day I had to stuff her in a box and drive her somewhere was no fun at all. At least I managed to find a no-kill animal shelter that would take her in.

RUNNER-UP: A patio roof-rot debacle that cost us a lot and took forever to complete.

TOM'S TOP 20 OF 2013

1. "Berzerk", Eminem
- A perfect storm of a roaring comeback, Rick Rubin production, slammin' lyrics (with a touch of wicked humor) and a cool reworking of Billy Squier's "The Stroke". Slim Shady owns it this year.
2. "Royals", Lorde - The only serious competition for Mr. Mathers was, in music and tone, the polar opposite. Just a minimalist accompaniment and the lovely voice of a 16-year-old New Zealander singing about being happy with what little she and her friends have, as opposed to the opulent possessions of rap stars.
3. "Tamale", Tyler The Creator - A crazy mind-trip that sounds like Rakim impersonating Busta Rhymes. Hopefully we'll be able to see the entire uncensored video (that's even more crazy as it is).
4. "Boys Round Here", Blake Shelton - I never thought I'd hear "shit" in a mainstream country hit. A rousing half-rapped party song from Coach Blake.
5. "Came Back Haunted", Nine Inch Nails - Nice to hear Academy Award winner Trent Reznor again.
6. "Should Be Higher", Depeche Mode - It's not often that you hear Dave Gahan hitting the high notes.
7. "Popular By Design", Polyphonic Spree - I love how this outfit channels the eighties in this tune, with hints of A Flock Of Seagulls and a beat straight outta Book Of Love.
8. "Follow Your Arrow", Kacey Musgraves - An uplifting, positive message about being yourself, however unconventional that may be.
9. "Happy", Pharrell Williams - A peppy tune reminiscent of Motown. And what a cool video concept for that... 24 hours worth of on-the-street footage shot around L.A.
10. "Bound 2", Kanye West - This would've charted higher if it just had a good drum beat.
11. "Blurred Lines", Robin Thicke
12. "I Won't Be Long", Beck
13. "Sirens", Pearl Jam
14. "Come a Little Closer", Cage The Elephant
15. "Goodbye Town", Lady Antebellum
16. "Reflektor", Arcade Fire
17. "God Is Dead", Black Sabbath
18. "The Fox", Ylvis
19. "Get Lucky", Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
20. "We Can't Stop", Miley Cyrus

TOP 5 NON-2013 SONGS OF 2013
1. "Thrift Shop", Macklemore - Almost made Goodwill & Velcro sneakers hip again.
2. "Elephant", Tame Impala
3. "Scream & Shout", Will.i.am & Britney Spears
4. "Radioactive", Imagine Dragons
5. "Dirty Bass", Far East Movement

Ten Years After

September 2001 (just after Labor Day, by the way) was a tough time for me. I had just gotten back from a chatroom meetup in Austin, which was not as fun as the previous year's. My latest dating prospect had stopped returning my calls. I was in a lonely place, seriously contemplating whether or not I should just move far away and try to make a fresh start somewhere else.

As part of my internet routine, I scanned some online personal ads. For once, there were quite a few hopeful prospects in my search. I left some responses and hoped for the best.

Then the next day, I checked back to find that there were a couple of replies to my messages. One - well, I forget her name, but that's definitely not important now. The other was from a girl named Kristi. I kept in touch with both of them, seeing some promise in their profiles.

A couple days later... THAT event happened. Yeah, the tragic one with the towers. I was planning to E-mail my phone number to Kristi so that we could talk later, but just my luck, my internet wasn't working at the apartment. I rushed to the nearby library - which was fairly crowded given the circumstances - and once a computer was available, I fired off that E-mail and hoped she would call back.

And that night, the phone rang. It was her. She had a pleasant, friendly voice about her. We talked about each other, where we came from, what we liked to do, and oh yeah, what an insanely horrible tragedy that just happened. We decided to meet up in a few days at a mall in Fort Worth.

That day, I showed up at the mall, hoping she would turn up as well. And sure enough, there she was, sitting on one of the benches. We walked around, talked some more about our backgrounds, our likes and so on. We must've spent an hour in that mall. Finally, in the parking lot near my car, we kissed for the first time... and at that point, what started out as just another meeting with a prospective date turned into something much more. Suddenly, we decided that we didn't want the date to end quite yet, so we grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby Don Pablo's. After we finally said good night to each other, I was hoping this would be the start of a wonderful and lasting relationship.

I had already promised to meet up with my other dating prospect a couple days later, so just to be nice, I went and did that. It definitely wasn't as magical as that first meeting with Kristi, though. So after that was over, I was completely convinced that Kristi was the one for me. (She still playfully gives me a hard time over that "other woman".)

The days passed. I met her parents. I told her "I love you" for the first time. She met my parents. She helped me move into my new apartment. We celebrated my 30th birthday together. We celebrated our first Christmas together. We got into a few small arguments. We even broke up for about a week or so. But we got over that and our love was stronger than ever.

Finally I decided that this indeed was the woman I wanted to marry. I didn't enter into this lightly... after all, I fell in love and eventually married someone else before, only for that to end in disaster less than a year later. But this time, I was convinced that this would work out a lot better. So one evening in June of 2002, at an Italian restaurant in her hometown of Mineral Wells, I popped that question. She said yes. The next level of the relationship had begun.

And after a year of preparation and planning, on June 7th, 2003 - exactly ten years ago today - we exchanged rings, said our vows, and became husband and wife.

Over the past decade of being a married couple and a family, we've had our ups and downs, our unforgettable memories and our rough times. Through it all, I've never lost faith, I've never wanted to leave her. And why should I? Kristi's the best wife I've ever had.

Her sense of humor is a perfect complement to mine. She's a loving mother to our two kids. She'll deny it, but she's a beautiful lady.

And while I still have a few flaws that - bless her heart - she continues to put up with... she has helped me become a better person.

I love you, Kristi. Happy 10th anniversary.

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