Monthly Archives: May 2014

“Shuffle Songs” As Metaphor for Personal Change

Quote of the day: Each loss has its compensation. — H. Butterworth


For years, I’ve created playlist after playlist of songs on my iPod based on consistent mood and sound level so I might experience a  c-o-n-t-r-o-l-l-e-d  and  p-r-e-d-i-c-t-a-b-l-e  g-r-o-o-v-e  when listening to music while driving. Suddenly, however, I seem to have lost that desire – I’ve been programming the iPod to play whatever it wants from the 850 songs on my music catalogue by hitting “Shuffle Songs.”

Wow. I’m on the edge of my seat now, wondering what song will be played next. What was wrong with this concept in the first place?

Shuffle songs. Shuffle events. Shuffle expectations. And enjoy not knowing what comes next.

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Remember This? The American Dream


Memorial Day, 2014. It’s a day to remember the people and things we hold dear that are now gone.

At one time, I believed the American Dream would come through for me. As the middle class has disappeared year by year, I’ve watched the American Dream slip away from millions of Americans, even though they’ve worked hard all their lives.

I’m not bitter. Although I’ve lived most of my years at the poor to lower middle class income level, I’ve always had enough to meet my needs as a single person. But what about the millions of families for whom the American Dream seemed particularly built for?

Today, I take time to privately honor my stepfather who served valiantly in World War II. It seemed to me he lived the American Dream. He married, served in the Air Force, had children, divorced (perhaps no American Dream is complete without a divorce), married my mother, retired at a reasonable age, and had a pension. Risking his life in combat flying P-47s over Europe in WW II, he earned his military pension.

Although my stepfather is gone, I hope – for all Americans who in one way or another have sacrificed  and saved their hard-earned money – that our national dream will one day return.

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What It’s Like to Read Your Work on Open Mic Night For Two (and a half) People

Thought of the Day:  The only certainty is that nothing is certain.  —  Pliny the Elder

005I enter the bookstore early, prepared and excited about reading a passage from my memoir. Thirty folding chairs are set up around a raised stage complete with microphone and overhead spotlights. The store conducts only one open mic night a month, so I immediately sign my name to be the first one to read to the masses at precisely three o’clock.

Trying to kill the thirty minutes left before my opening oration, I wander through the store, perusing the new memoirs that couldn’t be nearly as good as mine – that is, if my memoir were published.

A few minutes before three, I rush to the stage area, but stop when I see all the folding chairs still empty. Worse yet, the sign-up sheet has one name on it – mine. Two chair backs have coats on them, but no one’s around.

Maybe if I rotate through the entire store again, I’ll return to find people anxiously waiting to hear performers from a long open mic list. I make my circle, but no such luck. The only good news is that the owners of the coats have sat down, apparently the only two people in Santa Fe who’ve heard about this “event.”

The host arrives to tell me if I prefer not to use the microphone, it’s okay. What’s the point of a mic? After all, there’s two people here. They could hear me whisper my reading, even from the back row. In fact, I’m too embarrassed to use the stage and stand directly in front of the two women. Since they were kind enough to show up, and have basically saved my day, I’m happy to give them a customized reading.

I read an excerpt from Chapter 13, “Health,” of my memoir, Maybe Boomer, about the day my doctor of oriental medicine told me I had Lyme disease. I recite a few pages that act as build-up to that big moment in my life.

Reading along, approaching the part where I talk with my DOM, I glimpse the silhouette of another person entering the store’s doors. Maybe it’s a third person to hear me read! The silhouette stops, lingers, and listens to my big oratory finish: “Mike, I’m sure now. You have Lyme disease.” I pause, then read on. So, just to be sure, I get tested for Lyme. And what do you know? The results come back positive. My DOM was right.

The two women are almost on the edge of their seat in anticipation about what comes next. What else could I ask for (except to not have Lyme disease)? What could possibly top this?

I look beyond them to see the silhouette in full – my DOM.

“Oh my ….” I exclaim. “It’s my DOM.”

Coincidence. Smiles. Thrills. Laughs. The two women even ask my DOM for her business card. Happy endings all around.

It’s probably the best reading I’ll ever have.

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Remember This Guy? Chef Boy-Ar-Dee

047_ATT304848 (1)As a kid, I assumed this handsome Italian chef guy made all the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee brand spaghetti personally. I visualized him stirring a huge vat of it in a factory somewhere around Gary, Indiana, the factory capital of the US. But even as a four-year-old, I knew Chef Boy-Ar-Dee wasn’t great spaghetti.

Regardless, I learned one very important thing from Chef B-A-D: the taste difference between “canned” food and fresh. Unfortunately, Mom – head chef in our house – preferred canned spaghetti (and peas, corn, beans, Spam, potted meats, etc.) Tin-encased foods represented one less meal she had to prepare from scratch over a hot stove. (Mom took this to the hilt in retaliation for too many other housewife responsibilities. Read more about it in the introduction to Chapter Three, “Revenge,” from my memoir, Maybe Boomer.)

Actually, the Chef Bor-Ar-Dee people are still around, but have a new guy modeling as Chef. I’ve gone to a health food diet in my adult years and kind of miss the old Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, even his Beefaroni and Spaghetti & Meatballs. Do you? Or do you still (secretly) crank out the can opener for an occasional comfort food hit?


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Beware the Joker

jokerI’m not real good with jokes, that is, people who tell them. I’ve always been a second or two (or three) slow to understand the punchline, which is deadly because by that time, everyone is laughing and I’m still scratching my head. Even worse, the longer the joke’s storyline, the more info I have to process.

I had a friend years ago, Carl, who greeted everyone at the beginning of the day with a joke. Day after day. How tiring.

“Good morning, Carl …”

“Hey, Michael, know why I’m called Jesus Christ?”

I hate being set up like this. If only I knew the punchline, I could shout it out. That’d shut him up.

“No, Carl, I don’t know. Why are you called Jesus Christ?”

“Well, that’s what my dad said to me every morning in the bathroom. ‘Jesus Christ, are you ever coming out of there?'”

I laugh, not because it’s funny, but because I actually got the joke this time and smile in celebration of my victory. Nothing like yesterday’s debacle when the set up was so long I had to fake yet another laugh. Whatever happened to, “Good morning, Mike, how are you?” and greetings like that, not “See, there’s these two Belgian guys out in the battlefield on their way to the foxhole ….” Please, someone bring back knock knock jokes. Those were easy to figure out.

Actually, Carl and I were good friends. What he didn’t realize was that I much preferred to know him better than the fleeting characters he lunged at me every morning. Maybe joker’s are insecure people and receiving a smile from a joke is one sure way to be liked. Or maybe they just like telling jokes and that’s all. But after a while, the jokes come off as a crutch, as if the joker is hiding under a shell, afraid to show who he really is.

“Good morning, Carl …”

“Hey, there’s these two Belgian guys who walk out of the foxhole and ….” I hear the beginning of yet another set up and want to scream, “Carl! Jesus Christ, are you ever coming out from under there?”



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Paper or Plastic, Dude?

Quote of the day: Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths. — Moliere

005I was at the grocery check out when the cashier asked me, “Paper or plastic, dude?” Not really paying attention, I thought he was asking if I wanted to pay with bills or a credit card.

“What?” I asked.

“Paper or plastic bag?”

“Oh – well, I dunno. It’s just hard. I mean, plastic bags, they hang around the environment for a hundred years. And paper bags? They cut big trees down to make them. I dunno – you decide.”

“Like … what?”

Flustered, it was obvious he’d never weighed the ecological consequence of choosing paper or plastic.

“Uh, you know, I can just carry my groceries to the car. I can carry them.  I didn’t need a bag in the first place.”

“No problem, man. And I think we sell cloth bags on aisle six … yeah, I think six.”

“Great. Great. I’ll get one next time. It’s good to see you care about the environment here.”

Then, while walking out of the store, groceries dropping everywhere from carrying too full a load, I wondered if migrant workers picked cotton to make those reusable cloth bags on aisle six.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, dude.

I don’t want to be like my cashier friend, but sometimes I don’t want to be me either.

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Art Education, Cubed

Quote of the day:  A little learning is a dangerous thing. — Pope

Fins Color duplicate 48bit 1200 dust remv007

“Fins” Pastel on paper.

I was raised in the Maryland suburbs right outside Washington DC and was privy to see some of the world’s greatest works of art exhibited in galleries at the Corcoran, Hirshhorn, National Gallery, and Phillips Collection (my favorite). The fact that all these galleries had their own Picassos didn’t necessarily impress me. I wasn’t that fond of Picasso, especially his Cubist works that looked like someone slashed the canvas a couple hundred times over. In fact, it not only took me forty years to appreciate art in general, but one of Picasso’s own piers, Georges Braque, to help me understand Picasso.

Braque would do little collages of still life set ups, but split the wine bottles and bowls and apples into sections, then distribute them around the canvas, freeing himself – and the viewer – from experiencing art in the usual way. Although Braque and Picasso are synonymous with the invention of Cubism, I’ve been less partial, or perhaps comfortable, with Picasso, who often split women’s faces and breasts up and placed them in the darndest places by the time the painting was finished. But I credit both artists for inspiring me to look deeper at the possibilities for art, including my own.

The image above, “Fins,” is my pastel drawing of the strange and angular rock formations I saw traveling in Utah’s Arches National Park. This range of rocks not only roused my interest, but lent itself well to a Cubist-style breakdown. The completed composition reveals the way I wanted to see the rocks, ones that resembled fish fins in my mind, or so I thought.

I worked in this style for a number of years but stopped when I felt I was relying too much on a kind of visual formula. I’d seen many Cubist paintings, especially after teaching about the Cubism movement as a high school art teacher, and questioned if my art pieces weren’t becoming patterned around Cubism so much I was losing my own statement in the process.

One day twenty years ago, when I inferred to my impressionable students that an artist should be free to express himself, a few fifteen-year-olds came right back at me with, “We agree, Mr. Andberg. Art should be about freedom, total freedom, man,” which left me far too many “totally free” pieces of dung slung on poster board to grade. (Read the introduction to Chapter Eight, “Education,” from my memoir, Maybe Boomer, for more on my stint  in teaching.)

A few years later when I lectured on the Surrealists’ method of staying up many nights in a row without sleep to get altered views of subject matter for their paintings, one of my students tried it at home. After just one night, and looking like hell come morning, his parents called me to complain how I’d put bad ideas into their son’s head.

Teaching art is hard. H-a-r-d. There are so many fine lines. Those lines are easy to cross over, for working artists as well as students.

But a student being over-educated about art? Is such a thing possible?

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Remember This? Ivory Snow (mother’s favorite)


Ivory Snow laundry detergent – what my mother spent most of her Mother’s Days with.


(Read more on my mother’s family travails in the introduction of Chapter 3, “Revenge,” from my memoir, Maybe Boomer, and the passage from Chapter 3 in Excerpts.)

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TV. The Gift That Keeps on Giving. Even at 91.

011A close friend of mine recently lost her husband. He was 91, and she’s 91. Imagine living over six decades with one person. That’s six decades of set routines – suddenly gone.

I want to help her with the big transition period ahead. One change will be her taking over the responsibilities he held in their relationship. For whatever reasons, he paid the bills and did the grocery shopping. Now she has to do them. Picture yourself being 91 and suddenly having crucial things to do you’ve rarely, if ever, done.

Apparently, another thing her husband did was take full responsibility of the TV and the remote control unit (maybe not surprising, but unfortunate).

As I sat in front of the TV set with her, she looked overwhelmed, confused about what the 53 buttons on the remote did. Apparently, her husband never showed her.

“All I know is he watched channel 4, 7 and 13,” she said.

I scrolled quickly through the channels. “Did you know you have 120 channels on your cable subscription?”

“I do?”


“What on Earth is on all those channels? Why are there so many?” (Good question, but I withheld commentary).

“Let’s find out.” (Of course, I already knew most of the channels by heart, but sensed this could be a lot of fun hopping on board her TV excitement bandwagon. Ten years ago, my new and modern TV experience had been sheer ecstasy.)

“Well, did you know Channel 35 is twenty-four hours of weather?”

“Oh – how wonderful. I’ll always want to watch that.”

“But there’s more. Channels 39 through 43 – all movies.”

“You’re kidding. I never knew we had movies on our set.”

“Do you like animals?”

“There’s an animal station?”

“Animal Planet.”

“Oh, oh, let me write that down right … what number is it?”


But when she heard about The Country Music Channel, she nearly danced in her recliner.

At one time not long ago, there were only a few channels to watch. Then, with cable, everybody went ga-ga over the gazillions from which one could choose. But, over the years, we all became disappointed and annoyed how little good quality programming existed on those channels.

May my friend live many more happy days exploring some of the pleasures missed that we’ve experienced – even taken for granted – for years.

And to spouses of all ages – get on the ball – and spread the joy around.


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Remember This? Lucy’s “Wrapping Chocolates” Episode?

Lucy always tried so hard. If nothing else, she had a ton of energy and a positive attitude, just what anyone needs to make a good first impression and be appreciated at the workplace.

This clip from the “I Love Lucy” show is one of my favorites. Watching it as a kid, I laughed at how silly Lucy was believing she and Ethel could keep up with wrapping those chocolates on their first day in the candy factory.

I recently started a new job at a thrift store. I was Lucy and didn’t know it. Apparently, I’d learned nothing from my favorite Lucy lesson of all.

Instead of letting all the new information sink in slowly during my first day, I was a bull in a china closet. In my haste to impress, I shattered a coffee pot; I locked an antique chest shut for all time; I nearly broke the hydraulic lift on the store truck, and priced the cheap tin hand basket at $300 instead of three. Had they asked me to wrap candy,  I’d have wrapped every one, been praised, then given more work to do, after secretly learning I’d wrapped the wrong chocolates.

There have been other jobs, too, where I tried to impress the boss right away and, unlike the thrift store experience, succeeded in doing just that. “Oh, that new fellow, Mike, is really smart, and he works really fast, too.” How could I live up to those standards every day from then on?

How silly I was. But a lot can be learned from comedy, if – after you laugh – you learn. Fortunately, Lucy had Ethel to confirm her laughable mistake. Is it just me, or has anyone else done the same stupid thing on their first day at work (and learned no lesson at all)?


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