Five Guilty Pleasures: COLD COFFEE

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Five Guilty Pleasures
tall iced coffee with Rodney Curtis column photo by Kenny Louie used courtesy WikimediaFrom Dr. Wayne Baker: This week, welcome author Rodney Curtis, whose first two books chart his course from a career in traditional journalism through survival of cancer—and an upcoming third book will cover his life in the crumbling of America’s newspaper industry. Thousands of readers have followed his long-running blog, The Spiritual Wanderer, drawn to his style of laughing even in the face of fear.  As Rodney usually does, this week, he is considering American values from an entirely fresh perspective—looking at those moments of joy that surprise us and keep us going day after day.
Here is Rodney’s first column …

Cold coffee.

Even the phrase instills distrust. Who would sip something icy cold that should—in its natural state—be hot?

I distinctly remember when my wife and I made the conscious decision to jump into the coffee craze. It was the early ’90s and it seemed like coffee was hip and happening (though the phrase “hip and happening” has never been hip and happening). Starbucks had burst onto the scene but since our little town out east wasn’t “sophisticated enough” for one of those joints, we settled on Dunkin Donuts.

First, though, we had to get over the fact that coffee tasted really bad. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but on its own, coffee is bitter and scalding hot. That’s why God invented cream and sugar. Put yourself in our shoes: We were young journalists chasing politicians all over New Hampshire and a molten hot beverage sitting in your cup holder doesn’t always make the best traveling companion. Neither really, did journalist John King—whom I ferried from the airport, all the while hearing nothing but a tapping on his computer—but I digress.

Enter iced coffee. On the very same trip where John King ignored me (something about being on a deadline) we swung through Quikava, a drive-through joint next to the airport. I could keep my eyes on the road while my lips were plastered to a rich, sweet, succulent—chilled—brew shooting through my mouth and veins. Life was incredible.

Then, like a strung-out junkie who finds a full bag of Cheetos, I somehow fell in with an even worse crowd, the chosen frozen. I think it was Coffee Coolattas at first or—wait, no, no, it was definitely Frappuccinos! I catapulted through space and time, ending up first in Midland, where I would actually call ahead at Zero Dark Thirty to the local Dunkin Donuts and order their special homemade version of a Coolatta before work. Then I landed here in the Detroit area, where an evil Cappuccino Blast from Baskin-Robbins was so intoxicating, I devoted an entire chapter about it in my first book, Spiritual Wanderer.

It didn’t stop there, oh no. In the book’s dedication, after mentioning my wife and daughters, I said they were: “The three things in my life better than Cappuccino Blasts!” What the #@! is wrong with me? I openly and publicly admitted to loving my family as much as a caffeinated beverage. I have a disease.

Thankfully, dear reader, my predilections have slightly altered again and the vastly caloric frozen drinks have somewhat given way to the milder, decaffeinated calm of a certain large Tim Horton’s iced coffee. And usually, I walk with my wife down the block to procure one, so there’s at least a modicum of exercise involved.

It’s still cold and it’s still coffee, but for now I think I’ve finally gotten the monkey off my back.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

What reliably gives you a moment of joy in daily life?

Share this series with friends. Especially if you’re a regular reader of The Spiritual Wanderer and you want to alert friends to this one-week, temporary home for Rodney’s stories. You know what to do: Click any of those buttons above the cold coffee picture.

Five Guilty Pleasures: NAPS

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Five Guilty Pleasures
Mom (times 2). Photos by Rodney Curtis.

Mom (times 2). Photos by Rodney Curtis.

From Dr. Baker: This week, welcome author Rodney Curtis, best known for his regular column The Spiritual Wanderer. Rodney is considering American values from an entirely fresh perspective—looking at those moments of joy that surprise us day by day.
Here is Rodney’s second column …

I was lying on the couch—taking a break from blogging—trying to figure out what guilty pleasure I’d write about next. There seem to be so many. Some I’d like to share, some I’d never want out there. My eyelids got heavy and I knew I needed a quick nap.

(CUT TO: Overhead shot of Rodney’s eyes snapping wide open.)

Naps! I love taking naps!

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to get angry at Mom when she’d come home from a long day of teaching. She insisted upon needing “feetsies up time.” Her quick, power naps that didn’t seem to last longer than 10-15 minutes rejuvenated her, she claimed. I wanted her to drive me places, talk to me, not just zone out. “You can’t be getting any benefit from those, Ma!”

And then college happened.

Late night study sessions, early morning classes, loud people in the dorm: sleeping wasn’t the easiest commodity to come by. I’m literally yawning right now just writing about it. Naps helped me catch up on my sleep debt more than anything, especially during Stats class. No, no, Stats homework I mean. I never napped in class. Alma College was a tiny school; with so few students in a classroom I would’ve been instantly busted.

And then journalism happened.

I don’t like admitting this. I think this is where the guilty pleasure title really fits. But during several internships and, indeed, during several full-time newspaper jobs I lived pretty close to the office. Since a photographer does his work out in the community, I could generally find time to swing home and plop down on my bed for a few minutes/hours. Before cell phones I would worry about how much time I was away and rely on someone at work paging me in an emergency. After the introduction of these amazing portable communication devices, I could take my cat naps knowing I was available in an instant. Sleep was bliss.

That felt good. Well, actually it felt kind of terrifying finally admitting that. But “live life on the edge,” right?

And then babies happened.

Parenthood = Sleep deprivation. The common myth is that a mom or dad can get things done while their child naps during the day. If “getting things done” means catching up on sleep, that seemed to be the only thing my wife and I were good at during down times. Plus, our first child didn’t really do much napping. I was incredulous hearing about a co-worker’s kid who slept 12 hours at night, then napped three hours during the day. Something wasn’t right. He was drugging her. He had to be.

All that napping prepared me for getting older. Now, quick daytime siestas on the couch or longer interludes back upstairs help me face the rigors of modern living. I’m not the only one who believes in the art of 30 winks. Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace, “A nap after dinner was silver, before dinner, golden.”

At 80, my mother still puts her “feetsies up” every day. She has taught me many wonderful life lessons, not the least of which is the power of napping. When we spent a week with her at a rented cottage Up North, she reinforced the value, sustenance and downright awesomeness of naps.

Maybe now I can stop feeling guilty about them.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Share this series with friends. Especially if you’re a regular reader of The Spiritual Wanderer and you want to alert friends to this one-week, temporary home for Rodney’s stories. You know what to do: Click any of those buttons above the photos of Mom napping—but try not to wake her.

Five Guilty Pleasures: TIGERS GAMES

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Five Guilty Pleasures
My two Tiger jerseys hang in the closet. Fernando Rodney was born the year after Bill Freehan retired from baseball. I canʼt wear the Rodney one anymore; he pitches against us now for Tampa.

My two Tiger jerseys hang in the closet. Fernando Rodney was born the year after Bill Freehan retired from baseball. I canʼt wear the Rodney one anymore; he pitches against us now for Tampa.

From Dr. Baker: Welcome author Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. The Spiritual Wanderer.
Here is Rodney’s third column …

I should be writing, working out, on the computer looking for jobs, engaging with my family or volunteering out in the community to make this world a better place. Instead, 162 times a year—give or take a few if I’m incapacitated or have read the schedule wrong—I’m checking in with the Detroit Tigers on TV, the radio or online.

In my first book, Spiritual Wanderer, I wrote a chapter about what the Tigers have meant to me throughout my life. I barely understood what was happening in 1968 as the Sock-it To ‘Em boys won the World Series and helped start the healing process in a Motor City that had been ripped by riots the previous year.

I loved them during their Bless You Boys 1984 run. They were unstoppable, beginning their year with a staggering 35-5 record. Part of my soul was bruised by their last-game-of-the-season loss to the Twins in ’87. I can still remember watching from the outfield seats of the old Tiger Stadium as TV cameras illuminated the Gatorade being dumped on Twins manager Tom Kelly.

It was a tough two decades after that. Then 2006 happened. The Tigers went all the way to The World Series.

Instead of Parrish we had Pudge (we also had Placido Polanco and Paws).

Back then, Tom Brookens patrolled the infield. Today, well, Tom Brookens—who looks like he hasn’t gained an ounce and could probably snag a hard liner—still coaches the offense from his box along third base.

Catcher Bill Freehan was my childhood idol and, as I’ve written before, I came literally inches away from shaking his hand until he yanked it back, not wanting to get pine tar all over my hand.

Incidentally, I am convinced my career as a major league catcher was in some small way hindered by my abject fear of round, speeding objects hurtling at me from 60 feet, 6 inches away.

It’s only a game. It’s only a pastime. There is no reason I should be so addicted to the Tigers, but some of my greatest joys in life have been tied to baseball. At least I’m not alone.

Three million fans are expected again to visit Comerica Park this year. And I take no small comfort in the lines from one of my favorite movies of all time (adapted from one of my favorite books of all time) Field Of Dreams. James Earl Jones says these wonderfully poetic words: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

The Tigers made it to The World Series again last year, losing big time. Maybe when they win it all again, the game will lose its allure for me. Maybe that will get it out of my system. Even as I write that, I know it’s not likely. I know I’ll still sneak off to watch, listen or check up on my boys. Especially when we have Cabrera and Scherzer and Verlander and Fielder and …

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

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Five Guilty Pleasures: ‘TOTAL BLACKOUT’

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Five Guilty Pleasures
Syfy Channel ‘TOTAL BLACKOUT’—Under normal circumstances, a teddy bear wouldnʼt be too frightening. Turn off all the lights, submerge it in water and Teddy becomes terrifying.

Syfy Channel ‘TOTAL BLACKOUT’—Under normal circumstances, a teddy bear wouldnʼt be too frightening. Turn off all the lights, submerge it in water and Teddy becomes terrifying.

From Dr. Baker: Welcome author Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. The Spiritual Wanderer.
Here is Rodney’s fourth column …

Imagine you’re in a completely dark room and trying to identify objects, animals, tastes or all three without seeing them. Now imagine Urkel goading you on. That’s the premise behind the Syfy channel’s extreme reality show, Total Blackout.

Hosted by Jaleel White—the actor who played Urkel on Family Matters in the 90s—contestants vie for a measly $5,000 and embarrass themselves in front of a national audience.

“Wait, if it’s completely dark, how is there an audience?” you may ask.

The vast majority of the show is filmed with infrared video cameras and the big, beefy “helpers” in the blackout chamber wear night vision goggles. We know what the contestants are about to face, literally, but their imaginations run wild. It’s hilarious.

Every episode features a lot of screaming, bleeped out swearing and an unhealthy proportion of gross, inappropriate things to sniff, touch or put in your mouth. Ever eaten a donut filled with hair? Ever had your head in a glass helmet at the same time as worms? Ever try to identify guacamole in somebody’s ear? Disgusting, yes, but we can’t look away.

To make it worse, many of the objects they use are just ordinary, everyday items. In the dark, though, rubber bands or wet wigs or Hawaiian leis seem anything but ordinary.

Whoever wanders into our house when the DVR is replaying Total Blackout is instantly transfixed. Nobody can look away. Yes, there are a million better things to do with our time. But this shared experience with each other while we cringe or laugh like maniacs is one of our best guilty pleasures. It’s fun for everyone, except maybe the contestants.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

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Five Guilty Pleasures: WRITING FICTION

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Five Guilty Pleasures
TRUTH or FICTION: Which is which? Click the image to find the answer.

TRUTH or FICTION: Which is which? Click the image to find the answer.

From Dr. Baker: Welcome author Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. The Spiritual Wanderer.
Here is Rodney’s last column …

The dogs barked like they were drowning in oatmeal. Two lone woofs stirred Pablo from his chaotic nap. A dream, half-remembered, mostly faded, recalled his younger days of gun running and finger painting with elephants. With a snort not unlike his hero PT Barnum, Pablo tossed the soaked sheets aside, grabbed his pitching wedge and stumbled toward the hallway. Before swinging the door open, glancing in the mirror he let out a self- satisfied sigh, ”Damn, I’m good looking.”

WRITING FICTION is my last guilty pleasure.

I’m usually not the best at it; that’s how I finally found my natural writing voice that you’re reading right … this … second. Experimenting with other styles, nothing seemed quite natural. I knew I wanted to tell stories but couldn’t get the right feeling. A baseball novel has sat on four different computers over the past eight years.

Oh, but one day! Trying many different points of view—including that of a houseplant parched for water, seriously—I stumbled upon how I tell stories nowadays. I remember early autumn of 2006; I wrote about a zillion pages of actual, real-life stories from my past. Editor David Crumm and Publisher John Hile were kind enough to give me a shot.

But I keep coming back to fiction. Can’t help it! Three books later, here I am trying to spin a tale about Pablo—and psychotic clowns. Pablo was part of a silly writing jag I used to take up space and insert text into a new website design we were considering last year. You may have heard of Loren ipsum dolor, the fake text that designers use to see how things will eventually look when they dummy up a page. Mine seems to be Pablo kicksum clownass. (Sorry, there’s no Wikipedia link for that phrase … yet!)

Writing fiction is fun and obviously I never take it seriously.

On my last internship in 1987, one rainy Sunday afternoon there was nothing for me to take photos of. Instead I was supposed to sit by the police scanner and wait for stuff to happen. During that time, I composed a long—looooooooong—fictional excuse as to why I didn’t hand in any pictures at the end of the day. It involved a grizzled, seasoned private eye masquerading as a photojournalist. He had a dual life and needed to solve “the case” instead of being out taking pictures on a rainy Sunday afternoon. You get the picture.

I didn’t get into as much trouble the next day as I probably should have.

Speaking of trouble.

Pablo was on the move—and so were the killer clowns. But, instead of packing straight razors for the kill, six of them stuffed plastic Gillette safety razors in their shoes. Three more of them inexplicably chose electric wet/dry razors and one of them went totally off the reservation with an old-school Razr cell phone. The final two clowns thought the hit on Pablo was slated for the following day and didn’t even bother showing up.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Share this series with friends. Especially if you’re a regular reader of The Spiritual Wanderer and you want to alert friends to this one-week, temporary home for Rodney’s stories. You know what to do: Click that blue-”f” Facebook icon!