Friday, June 24, 2011

The Ten Commandments of Birthdays

The Ten Commandments of Birthdays

I turn 44 next week. I'm not going to raise a fuss, or be embarrassed by my advanced age. If anything, I see it as evidence that I'm doing everything right. It also gives me some insight to the proper way that birthdays should be celebrated. So here are my Ten Commandments of Birthdays.

1) Thou shalt not be an old poop and refuse to acknowledge thy birthday. Everyone has one, so it's no use pretending you don't. You're already getting older, and ignoring your birthday won't make that stop. Also, you may say you don't want to draw attention to yourself, but then go through the year shrieking, "I DON'T WANT TO CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY! I DON'T WANT TO CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY!" Please know that this attracts way more attention than sucking it up and smiling and thanking people for one day a year.

2) Thou shalt be happy about surprise parties held in thy honor. In addition to not being an old poop about your birthday, you also can't whine about surprise parties people throw. They're doing it out of love. To grumble and say you hate surprise parties is your way of saying, "I don't really appreciate you people, or the fact that you think highly of me." It's ungracious and makes you look like a baby.

3) Thou shalt get a real birthday cake. This is your special day. You only get one of these per year, and you need to celebrate it in real style. Don't weenie out and stick to your diet. One piece of regular cake won't kill you.

4) Thou shalt covet real presents, not things thou needeth, especially for work. I've known self-employed freelancers who got writing software, construction workers who got tools, and home makers who got cleaning equipment — all stuff they asked for. Ask for something that you would never buy for yourself, but you've secretly wanted, not toiletries and socks.

5) Thou shalt not buy presents for kids who do not have birthdays. If you're celebrating a son or daughter's birthday, don't get a present for a sibling just so they don't feel left out. No kid really wants to share their birthday with anyone else. For one whole day, they get to be the center of attention, and they don't want their spoiled sibling stealing the spotlight. I have never met an adult who didn't resent sharing their childhood birthdays with another kid who whined just because he wasn't getting any presents.

6) Thou may choose thine own birthday cake flavor. It doesn't matter if no one else likes, say, cherry chip cake. The birthday holder's choice trumps all, and everyone else has to deal. No one else gets to whine and complain that they don't like that. Otherwise, the birthday holder is free to whine and complain about that person's choice. However, the birthday holder shalt not be a royal pain and choose something they know everyone will hate.

7) Thou shalt show appreciation for all gifts. Whether it's something you already have, didn't want, or don't know where you'll ever use it, you will show graciousness and gratitude for everything you receive. Whether it's a pair of socks or a magazine subscription to a hobby you haven't had since you were 12, you will smile, thank the giver, and return the thing later when everyone has gone home.

8) Thou may bear false witness about thine age once thou art over 60. Everyone reaches a point in their life where they're free to lie about their age, and 60 is as good a number as any. If you look younger than 50, then you can lie and say you're that age. If you look older than 60, lie and say you're the age you look, so no one looks shocked and says, "jeez, you look like hell."

9) Thou shalt not lump birthdays and major holidays together. Anyone who has had the misfortune of being born in November through January quickly learns to identify the cheapskates in their family. They're the people who give one present that's supposed to cover both a birthday and Christmas. Winter birthday kids always miss out on half the loot that the summer birthday kids get, and it really bothers them to have to share a birthday with Jesus, even if his is 30 days later.

10) Thou art entitled to making a big deal out of thy birthday. Never feel like you're bragging by telling people it's your birthday. It's the best day of the year, and should be a national holiday. Everyone has one, so this isn't something that some people get while the less-fortunate don't. Be proud, and tell people, "hey, it's my birthday today."

We all have a limited number of birthdays, and a limited number of times to feel like the coolest kid in the city. Enjoy your birthday and celebrate the specialness of the day. I know I will.

I've registered on, and my favorite color is blue.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Indiana Fever Beat Tulsa Shock, 82 - 74

Tuesday night, my family and I got to see an exciting Indiana Fever game as they played host to the Tulsa Shock. And while the score may show an 8 point differential, this gap didn't happen until the last 60 seconds of the game. Until that point, the two teams were constantly trading leads, rarely if ever going up by more than 3 points at any one time.

Greenwood native Katie Douglas continued to please the crowd with an awesome offensive performance that no one else was able to manage, points-wise. She nailed 8 of 13 field goals, and 6 of 9 three-pointers. Percentage-wise, only Aussie standout Erin Phillips was able to touch her, sinking 4 of 4 from inside the 3-point line, giving her 100% on the night.

Still this ain't baseball. Percentages don't win games, points do. And besides, Katie is one of my favorites, so I'm giving her the game MVP. Also, Erin was born the year I graduated from high school, so shut up.

This year is going to be an awesome year for the Deckers clan, as we got half-season tickets from my new bestie, Julie Graue, VP of Basketball Operations. Not only will I be blogging about the different games this year, but my oldest daughter is writing about the games as well, at Sports By Maddie. If you get a chance, check it out.

Our next game is on Saturday, when the Fever face the Connecticut Storm and former Fever player Jessica Moore, who played for the Fever in 2009 and 2010.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.---Like this post? Leave a comment, Digg it, or Stumble it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lamenting the Loss of Childhood

Lamenting the Loss of Childhood

It's nearly Father's Day, and I'm ruminating — at a playground with my 8-year-old son — about his life compared to my own as an 8-year-old. About what it was like for the Eriks and Davids and Julies of 1975, compared to the Jeremys and Carters and Chloes of 2011.

Life has changed in the last three-and-a-half decades, and not necessarily for the better. Whether it's the fault of a fear-mongering media, an overly litigious society, or helicopter parents and their spoiled kids.

The playground where I'm sitting is a microcosm of today's society. I can remember the playground of my day, and I see a few good things, and a lot of things that make me despair.

One of the cool things? I see some Asian kids, Indian kids, African-American kids, and Latino kids, all playing with some white kids. You just didn't see that in 1975 Muncie. But that's where the cool stuff ends.

This playground is built on a thick rubber mat, guaranteed to cushion your precious snowflake should he tumble off the parent-approved recycled plastic slide. I walked on the mat, and I sank at least an inch. Little kids will just bounce.

When I was my son's age, our playground was built with two inch tubular steel, and the surface was gravel. Not the smooth, rounded river rock that's gentle on little knees. The kind that was broken from big rocks by prison chain gangs.

When I was a kid, we made the playground rules. If there was a disagreement about how to play, majority ruled, or at least the big kids did. The big kids got more votes than the little kids. But sometimes, the little kids outnumbered the big ones, and the balance of power was restored.

Here, the parents climb on the playground equipment (it is a pretty cool playground), insuring their own sense of justice is administered, that everyone has a turn, and that no one goes up the slide, because slides are only made for going down.

When I was 8, we looked out for the littlest kids. Even the bullies helped out. Now, the bullies are the helicopter parents who shoot other kids dirty looks when they cut in front of their precious snowflakes on the twisty slide.

Thirty-five years ago, kids made their own games, and if you started being a jerk, someone else's mom would tell you to knock it off. And you listened. A mom was a mom, no matter whose family she was from.

In 2011, parents tell their own kid, "some people just don't know how to play by the rules, Alexis," but say it loudly enough so the parents of the offending child — who are only six feet away — know who the comment is really meant for. But they'll pretend they didn't hear it, and leave, making their own loud passive-aggressive comments about how some people need to grow up.

When I was eight, my friends and I would jump on our bikes and disappear for hours. Our kid instincts told us when it was time to go home, and we showed up just in time to wash up for dinner.

Kids today strap on their four inch thick helmets to ride their bikes, trikes, scooters, and Big Wheels, all of which put them closer to the ground than when they're standing up, yet, parents don't feel the need to make their kids helmet up when they're running. They pedal slowly down the paved bike path, like a family of ducks heading to water, giant melon helmets creating an aerodynamic wind drag that is only seen in semi trailers.

I understand the need to protect our children. But I also understand they need to get bumps, scrapes, and bruises. What kind of kid doesn't escape childhood with scars? It's evidence that you did stuff and enjoyed yourself and learned important lessons. My own body is a veritable roadmap of life lessons.

There's the time I learned not to jump over a rope chain in the grass after it rains. And the time I learned not to play with a sharp knife, or the time I learned not to play with a dull one. The time I learned not to run into mailboxes on my bike, and the time I learned not pound a storm door window in anger. (I learned that one twice.)

Kids today will never learn any of those lessons. Instead, they're going to bounce off the rubberized ground, safe inside their puffy pillow-helmet, and think mommy will always be there to soothe the phantom boo-boos, and that daddy will make the mean kids wait their turn.

They're going to be in for a major disappointment in life when they're adults, and they meet the other now-grown kids who weren't cushioned and coddled when they were eight.

And they'll wonder why their big bubble helmets didn't save them from that.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

I’ll Have What She’s Having

I’ll Have What She’s Having

Erik is not feeling well this week, so we are reprinting a column from 1999 when he lived in Syracuse, Indiana, because we're feeling all nostalgic and want to see whether we can get away with it.

I’ve sometimes considered being a restaurant critic, but there aren't many I don't like, except for the restaurant that delivers shish kebabs William Tell style.

Unfortunately most restaurants sell the same items with no great variety. The typical restaurant, assuming it’s not a four-star gourmet restaurant, serves some sort of hamburger (and the ones that do will charge you 15 bucks for it). Every restaurant has some variation on chicken, vegetables, and salads. There’s no major difference in taste or quality, assuming they're all competent. The biggest difference is the name of the food, which varies wildly from restaurant to restaurant.

Since the hamburger is usually a restaurant’s flagship sandwich, it’s named after the restaurant or one of its characters. You can order the Big Boy, the Halfback, the Gunslinger, and the Bronco Burger: a quarter-pound hamburger with pickles, onions, lettuce, and tomato on a bun, plus some kind of cheese.

One of my favorite lunches is a nice Reuben sandwich — corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread. It’s a universally recognized sandwich, and one of our local restaurants makes a pretty decent Reuben.

Unfortunately, the restaurant, which has a nautical theme, has named the sandwich the "Shiver Me Timber." As a result, I’m supposed to order the "Shiver Me Timber," and NOT "a Reuben sandwich" whenever I eat there.

It doesn’t matter that I order the sandwich so often the waitress has it waiting for me as soon as I walk in the door. And it doesn’t matter that everyone else in the free world, including people in Brazilian rain forests who have never seen corned beef, calls this a Reuben sandwich. They don’t even care if I read its menu description ("succulent corned beef lovingly smothered with sharp Swiss cheese, tart sauerkraut, and a huge smear of Thousand Island dressing, layered between two thick slices of fresh rye bread").

No, what matters is that I call the sandwich by its proper name, the "Shiver Me Timber." But I hate doing it, because it sounds like something Pee Wee Herman got arrested for.

"I’ll have the Reuben," I tell the waitress.

"The what?" she asks.

"The Reuben. . . sandwich."

The puzzled look on her face tells me I must have been speaking Ancient Greek and not been aware of it.

I point to that particular item on the menu. "This one." I silently plead with her not to make me say it. But I can’t make her mad; I don’t want any "sneezers" mixed in with my Thousand Island dressing.

"Ooooh, you mean the 'Shiver Me Timber,'" she says, like she has just had some amazing epiphany and discovered one of the secrets of the universe.

"Yes, that one."

"That what?"

I grit my teeth and try not to cry. "That sandwich."

"Come on, you have to say it," my waitress says in a sing-song voice. I was afraid it was going to come to this. I hang my head and my shoulders quake with silent sobs. I barely gasp out the words, "I’ll. . . have. . . the. . . Shiver. . . Me. . . Timber."

I feel so dirty.

"That wasn’t so bad, was it?" She goes off to put in my order, ignoring my dirty looks. I hear her yell from the kitchen, "Hey Joe, I just broke another one! That’s 37 for me this month!"

Now I can put up with the occasional Shiver Me Timber or Big Buoy burger nonsense. But what really makes me cringe is ordering off the kids menu. Luckily, most restaurants across North America have the same kid’s menu, because my daughter is as predictable as gravity when it comes to restaurants: "I’ll have chicken, French Fries, ketchup, dip," she used to say the way only a parent could. Unfortunately, no one knew what the heck she was talking about.

"What did she say?" asks our waitress.

"She’ll have the chicken fingers, fries, with Ranch dressing and ketchup on the side," I tell our waitress.

"The what?"

Oh no, not again.

"Chicken fingers and fries?" I ask, hopefully.

A sadistic smile slowly spreads across her face. She shakes her head slowly. I look to my
wife for help, who is suddenly engrossed in the color of the ceiling in the restaurant across the street.

"Fine," I say in a clear, loud voice. "I’ll have the Lucky Plucky Happy Chicky Delight with Tatie Stripes," reading it directly from the menu. I can clearly see that she’s written "chix fngrs, FF" on her notepad, If I have to deal with much more of this, her tip is going to be 4 pennies at the bottom of a full water glass.

She heads back to the kitchen to place the order and I hear, "Hey, that guy just made number 48. I've got the new record!"

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Air Rage Forces Pilot to Turn Plane Around

Air Rage Forces Pilot to Turn Plane Around

It's getting harder to fly these days. The TSA is groping its passengers, airlines are trying to gouge travelers with new charges, seats are getting smaller, and people are getting angrier. I used to travel quite a bit and while it was difficult 10 years ago, it has gotten a lot harder these days.

I flew out to Portland, Oregon this past week to visit family and see a part of the country I don't get to see that often. I always love coming out to Oregon. It's a different mindset out here. People are more dedicated to the environment, they have a public transportation system you only find in Europe, and there are more independent coffee shops than you can shake an organic non-fat stick at.

Oregon is the only state in the country where drivers are not allowed to pump their own gas. Rather, the gas station attendants have to do it for you. It's also one of the only states that allows medically assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

In other words, they don't trust you to pump your own gas, but they do trust you to kill yourself.

But flying isn't that difficult for most people. Pack lightly so you can get your stuff into a rolling carry-on bag and a backpack, wear slip-on shoes, and show up at the airport about an hour before your flight leaves. Don't carry metal, and all you have to do is make a decision between being groped by a large burly security agent, or have enough radiation shot through you to explode the candy bar in your pocket.

Even when they do all this, people are getting tired of being charged $25 to $50 just to transport a suitcase. They're tired of the cramped seats that don't fit, and the seat backs that jam into their knees. They're tired of being the only country in the world that makes passengers take off their shoes and their belt, the only country in the world that makes passengers choose between going through an x-ray machine that may or may not bombard you with deadly radiation and being felt up in such a way that all you can do is lie back and think of England.

Things have gotten so bad on airplanes that people are lashing out at the airlines, the flight crew, the TSA, and even each other. They're so frustrated and angry with the whole flying experience that people are experiencing what some psychologists are calling "air rage." It's just like road rage, but in their air. (Get it? Psychologists are so clever.)

Even on my way out to Oregon, people were getting angry with each other on the other end of the country. Passengers on a flight leaving Dulles Airport in Washington, headed for Ghana, had ringside seats to a fistfight between two other passengers when one leaned his seat back into the personal space of the other.

It's understandable. The seats are already so close to my knees that whenever someone leans back, their head is in my lap. I always ask them politely to lean up, since I don't want to spend the next several hours staring at the back of their head. So far I've never had anyone not do it, but I don't know what I would do if they didn't.

I do know I wouldn't slap anyone in the head for it. And I certainly wouldn't do anything that would cause a couple of Air Force F-16 fighter jets to be scrambled to respond to my actions.

But that's what happened on this flight. The pilot had to dump most of the plane's fuel in the ocean, because it would have been too heavy to land, and returned to Dulles airport so the two passengers could be taken into custody.

However, nothing happened to the two airborne pugilists. They weren't taken into custody, because the Dulles police didn't think the fight was serious enough to even press charges.

So while it may have meant some big serious trouble if your dad turned the car around and went home if you and your sibling were royal turds, the police won't do anything if it's a couple passengers getting into a slap fight because one can't respect the space of the other.

Of course, your dad never charged you a baggage fee to bring all your crap along either, so there are sometimes tradeoffs in these situations.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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