All the terrifying numbers, says a birthday boy

Stupid numbers. Why do some matter more than others? Shake fear into us. Terrorize us. Cause us to cross streets or run screaming when we hear them called out at a deli or they pop up on the calendar. 13. 6-6-6. 1040. (Oh no, the taxman cometh!!!)

And then there is this one: 44.

Hear it? Despicable. Slimy. Terrifying.

The last one is the number of years I’m turning this week. And for some stupid reason, that stupid number is getting to me. Intimidating me. It’s like it carries weight. Baggage. More so than his cousin 43, or even some of his more advanced relatives like 46 or 47.

Why? Why is it that some numbers — and especially ages — do this to us? Bring added significance or added pressure. Or a special feeling of doom!

When I tell people the number I’m turning, I say it with disdain and contempt — a little bit of trepidation. A shiver curls up and down my spine.

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The news you should REALLY be reading

You need a break. Between all of the stories on Senate confirmation hearings, immigration bans, street protests, political squabbles and whether President Trump owns bath robes (seriously folks, this was a topic of conversation!), you just need to know there’s something else happening in the world that isn’t fused with politics.

It’s overload, no matter what side you’re on. The new presidency has managed to suck all the oxygen out of the air. And we need a break, America!

So I’m here to bring you some of the OTHER news you may have missed. Maybe it will brighten your day, give you a new perspective on life or help catch you up on some of the most important information you’re not getting:

• A new coffee shop has opened in Brooklyn, NY, serving the country’s most expensive cup of coffee. Price? $18. The actual cost of the cup of coffee isn’t that much. Rather, what you’re paying for is the chance to hang around with a bunch of Brooklyn hipsters willing to shell out major bucks to drink something that tastes like tar no matter how expensive it is.

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Breaking free from the screens

I had just about reached my limit. That moment when I realized I had wasted enough of my time — my life! — staring at the computer screen while clicking on an endless supply of political ramblings, soccer recaps and advice columns about getting really rich while only raising two fingers. “Go do something productive!” I commanded myself. And I was just about to … when I saw the story headlined, “Luke Skywalker learned Jedi secrets while watching Youtube.”

Oh, I’ve got to click on that!

It was then that I realized I had a problem. That my whole family has a problem. Like millions of Americans, we’re hooked on screens. They’re everywhere in the house, and worse, we’re bound to them like umbilical chords. Unable to function, think or cope without them.

“How are you feeling today?”

“Hmm. I don’t know. Let me Google it.”

Which is why I think we need to break away. Free ourselves from the screens. So I have come up with a 5-step family cleanse to help us do it. We will shatter our reliance on the almighty screen and here’s how:

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A Floridian’s invitation to Old Man Winter

Hey, Old Man Winter! Is this the best you got? Can’t you do better? Can’t you send at least a little cold stuff down our way? That way I can wear this new sweater I got for Christmas.

Last time I tried, I didn’t make it a full day before it was heaped up in a ball while I panted and Googled: “how to cure winter heat exhaustion.”

The answer was: move north!

No, I don’t want to. And I sure don’t want it cold here all the time, for months on end. But a little moderation — a little nip to the air — would be nice.

Already it feels like spring has arrived. I’ve seen azaleas blooming, and after a rain, rings of yellow pollen collecting around the puddles in the street. I stood two feet from a hummingbird slurping away at porter’s weed in my front yard. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and had a suntan.

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The evil side to the friendly fire alarm

Need proof that technology has a mind of its own? Has a sense of mischief? An evil streak?

How about this: Why does a smoke alarm decide that the appropriate time to let you know it needs a battery replacement is at 2 a.m.?

Not at 4 p.m. on a weekend, just as you’re launching into other house projects. Or 10 a.m. on a weekday, when no one is around to care.

Two … in … the … MORNING!

And does it gently prod you? Offer a nicely-worded reminder? Nope. Instead, it emits a sonic burst so shrill and piercing that it feels like a stream of molten lava has been poured into your ear canal.

For some reason, fire alarm manufacturers see no need to differentiate between, “RUN, fool! Your house is on fire!” and “Please, sir, kindly gather up a 9-volt battery, but only when you have a moment.”

Practically the same thing in my book.

This is what happened in the Thompson house at 2 a.m., directly above my head, while I slumbered in the deepest of sleeps. You don’t come out of those easily, and certainly not from a single blast of the fire alarm. The little bugger is kind enough to issue a single “blurt” before pausing for 30 seconds or so.

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Almost forgot … resolutions

Is it too late to talk about New Year’s resolutions? The kind I’m not going to stick to? I forgot to make any this year, and felt very empty and lost without them as I navigate 2017. So I’m making up for lost time and putting down a few I hope to fail at within the next, say, 10 minutes:

• Stop being shocked when college students tell me the year they were born. Like the other day in class when I mentioned I graduated from Flagler College in 1995. “I wasn’t even born yet!” someone from the group blurted out. They then commenced pointing and laughing at me, or at least that’s how I remember it right before I blacked out and someone was dispatched for the defibrillator. Maybe it hit me so hard because that final year of college is the last that we consider ourselves “young.” It’s right before moving out into the adult workforce and the real world. And now that move for me took place before any of these kids were even born. Yowza!

• Stop throwing the kid out of class who tells me he or she was born before I graduated. They’re just going to Snapchat it and share with all their friends on social media how old I am.

• TALK about running consistently. That way I don’t have to actually RUN more consistently. I should have done this while training for my marathon last year. But, nooooo! I had to go and do the running. I had to put in the grueling miles. My life would have been so much easier if I had just sat on the sofa with a bag of potato chips berating myself for not going out and hitting the roads. I’m getting that one right this year.

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Chaos in a cube

It has vexed me since I was a little child: the Rubik’s Cube. That multi-colored block that lets you shift pieces around in a vain attempt to get all the same colors back where they belong.

The toy maker claims the cube can be scrambled in 43 quintillion different patterns. (I think they made the word “quintillion” up, but anyway, it’s a lot.)

As a kid, I think I tried all quintillion combinations, including busting the bugger up and putting it back together correctly. Or peeling the stickers off and reapplying them in the correct order. I failed even at those.

The little toy haunted me. It seemed so easy, so simple — like there must be a right way to do it. Screaming, pulling all the hair out of the right side of my head and throwing it as far as I could into the neighbor’s yard never worked. (Maybe I needed to do that 7 quintillion times?)

Which is why I was so amazed when we visited one of our college friends over the Christmas break. Her 10-year-old son, Lucas, has not only mastered it, but goes to tournaments to compete with his super-fancy, ultra-spinny cube that dances in your fingers and says things like, “Sooie, you got this, baby!!!”

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The (somewhat) flight of the Christmas drone

I was told a cautionary tale about a boy who got a drone. It cost several hundred dollars and was as top of the line as you can get. He charged up the battery. He went through his pre-flight check. He set it all up at a park and lifted of gracefully. Then promptly set it down in a lake.

Plunk! Goodbye expensive drone.

I thought of this story as my daughter and I set up her drone for its first flight in a park down the street. Big, menacing oaks with mighty claws loomed over us. Cars passed by on the street within controller range. Obstacles and dangers were everywhere.

But that wouldn’t be us. I was going to be careful with her new Christmas present. I watched a Youtube video!

“The key,” I told my daughter, “is to take it slow. Go easy and don’t liftoff too fast. I’ll go first because I have experience with these things. I’ll just hover it about eye level and then land it carefully. OK? It’s not going to be super exciting, but it will be safe and cautious.”

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Remembering the best Christmas gift of all

“Dial it down please,” said my wife to our 10-year-old daughter.

“I can’t,” she replied. “It’s Christmas and I’m really hyper!”

She didn’t need to point out that obvious fact. She was bouncing off the walls. Riling up the dog. Dancing about. Speaking so fast that she sounded like an auctioneer on fire. I worried that maybe she had stuck her finger in a light socket, or had taken up drinking espresso.

But no: It’s Christmas!

When you’re a kid, it’s just about impossible to contain your enthusiasm this time of year. And when you’re a Christmas kid — born during the season — there’s absolutely no hope.

That’s exactly what my daughter is: A Christmas kid. Born on Dec. 26.

In fact, she began her long journey into the world on Christmas morning when my wife’s water broke while we were opening presents. The little child didn’t seem too concerned that we were an hour away from having family over, or that I might want another cup of coffee. (At least she had the decency to drag the labor out and didn’t emerge until the next day.)

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The perils of holiday gift giving

It is better to give than it is to receive. Yes, yes this is true. But it is definitely easier to RECEIVE than it is to GIVE. Especially when your family won’t tell you what they want and it’s only … holy cow juice! … like a week until Christmas!

Forget giving, I’ve got to start BUYING!

But I’m stumped this year. It’s always hard, but it seems this year it’s been especially difficult to come up with ideas. Or pry ideas out of people. That includes my daughter, who turns 11 the day after Christmas. Maybe it’s a tough age — an age when toys of yesteryear don’t quite cut it. Instead, electronics and other big ticket items are more important.

Conversations in my house sound like this now:

Me: Child, why is your homework all over my desk?!?

Child: Because I needed the computer for it AND I don’t have a computer OF MY OWN in my room … hint, hint, hint …


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