Sunday, December 26, 2010


Amidst the hoopla of resolving to eat right or exercise more—because January 1 is upon us and we all must now make numerous and uncommitted promises to ourselves to turn from the slippery slope of bad habits on which we are currently slipping—I fear a contraption has entered my home. This was somewhat surprising, as I fervently work toward nothing entering my home. Ever. I am a minimalist, and stuff is my Kryptonite.

It happened like it always does. Someone says, “Hey, I’ll give you [thing]. I’ll bring it over, set it up, provide supplemental parts, etc etc etc.” This is said in an excited tone of voice and you are swept over by the notion of now owning this thing you didn’t know you didn’t need.

There are some cases in recorded history where this did not end in fiasco. I can imagine Ben Franklin dropping off a lovely ink pen set to his friend Thomas Jefferson rather than selling it at his neighbor’s garage sale. Good ol’ Tom could then have used it to write the Declaration of Independence. Sure, this turned out great for the rest of us, but it was still one guy dumping his junk at his pal’s house.

And what of the Wright brothers, you are probably asking yourself right now. Would we be happy to know that their first flight would not have been possible without a collection of scrap gears (and maybe airplane schematics) that others gave away rather than throw away?

Every time, either in these historically inaccurate stories or in real life, such presumed “helpfulness” is really the transfer of crap from one place to another, and I have learned to pathologically fear participating. I have stood firm for many years now. Why, then, is there a twenty-year-old Soloflex in my spare bedroom?

I could blame Kate for moving out and leaving an empty room in her wake, but that was destined to happen at some point, one way or another, so perhaps I should have had a better plan. I suggested to Kristin that we set up a home brewing operation in the room, but the combination of open flame and gallons of fermenting liquid was a deal breaker.

I was talking about fitness with this guy I know, and how running and bicycling is serving me well below the belt, but that my upper body is beginning to wither. Nearing a half-century of use, and no longer doing the heavy lifting common to a younger man. Now I get one of the kids to move the furniture or hoist the box into the garage loft, or I avoid the task entirely.

Helpful Guy said, “Hey, take my Soloflex.” He helped load it in my car, he helped me understand how to set it up, and he helped himself to a good laugh as I drove off.

One heavy piece of stuff that he would no longer need to deal with.

Mind you, he had upgraded to a better workout machine years ago, and had kept the Soloflex in a corner of the room. It was doing well as a dirty clothes organizer but he was happy to get rid of it. The only question was would it turn out to be a sensible thing for me to have acquired, or would I rue the day.

Let’s consider the past. Kristin and I purchased one of those silly riding machines many years ago. I think it was called a Healthrider or something like that. We used it for about a week. Then it started to collect dust and dirty clothes and eventually we found some poor sucker to take it. We inherited a rowing machine at one point and spent far more time stepping around it than we ever did sitting in it.

I had an old barbell from my teenaged years that was shoveled off to one corner or another in one room or another. Kristin’s parents have given us a mini trampoline or two, and Kristin has purchased Pilates DVDs and those big balancing balls. None are ever used.

The fact is that these kinds of items aren’t used in 99% of the homes that have them. They become “stuff.” And everyone ignores their own stuff before they find an easy way to make it someone else’s stuff.

The Soloflex, then, just might be doomed. Kyle and I looked over the poster-sized operating directions and have identified certain exercises we enjoy. Moving the bars and the rubber straps that provide resistance is mildly annoying, so if we have a plan to do exercises that minimize the number of adjustments we are more likely to use the machine.

First, of course, we have to open the door to the room where it hides, and we have to actually use it. So far we are not batting a thousand.

Hey, you wouldn’t be interested in a fine piece of home exercise equipment, would you? I’d be happy to bring it over . . .

Sunday, December 19, 2010


“It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you’ll be of good cheer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year” . . . with everyone yelling the Christmas season started way too early and does it really have to be so commercialized and whatever happened to the real meaning of Christmas and can’t we all just get along?

The only reason Christmas has been able to stake out so much acreage on the yearly calendar is its popularity. People love the decorating and the giving and receiving and the glad tidings and Rudolph’s bright nose and the associated winter holidays like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and stores and other commercial enterprises are thoroughly thrilled by the likelihood of increasing their bottom line and nothing does that better than great big “Christmas Sale!” signs as early as possible.

Some day we may indeed witness Christmas displays going up just as the Independence Day bunting is taken down. And the only thing that could suitably follow that catastrophe would be the entire city becoming one big year-round Christmas in July gift shop.

It’s not just people who are griping. Other holidays are feeling shoved out of the way and they are beginning to speak up. At a fictitious city council meeting recently held in the city of [name removed], several holiday symbols, including a menorah and a cornucopia, protested a 7-0 vote to drape tinsel on the lights on Main Street in mid-October. No arrests were made, but there was some serious tension when the menorah began waving around its lit candles.

Rather than civil unrest, I think there is a better way. For example, instead of mindlessly complaining that Halloween’s formerly sacred time is being invaded by the spirit of Christmas, folks should adopt some Christmas images for October 31. That will simultaneously prove the point while taking all the air out of Santa’s posturing. It’s so annoying when he struts around his North Pole workshop saying, “Who’s your daddy? That’s right, Santa’s your daddy.”

Next year, if you don’t like seeing Christmas starting up too early, stand up and fight back like the Angry Menorah (holiday symbol trademark pending). Pass out candy to everyone who comes to your front door throughout the fall season. Decorate your house with orange and black lights. And try some of the following ideas in your neighborhood to bring back the miracle of Halloween.

Send your kids out in reindeer ninja costumes, with sharpened antlers and brass hoof plates. Have them team up with other, similarly clad, children. Suggest mild forms of vandalism for them to perpetrate, whilst singing Christmas carols in scary voices.

Plant a few red, fuzzy Santa arms coming out of the front yard. This effect will be enhanced by some nearby gravestones. “R.I.P. St. Nick.” “Here lies Kris Kringle.” That kind of stuff.

Modify one of those now common Halloween decorations, replacing the witch with Santa and his sleigh. It’ll look like he slammed into a tree, no doubt killing the pilot and destroying the many gifts therein. Ho ho ho indeed! Cheerful scorch marks will add to the merriment.

Send Halloween cards to friends and family with a letter itemizing all of the horrible things that happened to you in the last year. Invent your personal catastrophes if you have to! Include photos of a Christmas tree aflame, with your children dressed as little evil elves, standing around the burning Tannenbaum toasting marshmallows made of the heads of little angels.

When setting the scene for this pictorial family memory, remember to watch out for molten, dripping tinsel, as that could cause major burns. Unless you plan to use such a misfortune for next year’s misery letter.

Any Frosty the Snowman rolled up in your front yard (for those of you lucky enough be digging out of October snow) should have a maniacal Jack-o-lantern face, carved out of ice with warmed utensils. A knife stuck in the ice crystal head would be a nice touch, and perhaps a spatter of ketchup.

Try any or all of these brilliant suggestions. No longer do earlier holidays have to suffer the transgressions of Christmas. Labor Day can be celebrated under the mistletoe. Easter decorations can be spruced up (and made more dangerous) with pointy holly leaves. Cheese logs for Flag Day, turkey-flavored candy canes for Thanksgiving, and nothing says Memorial Day like a poinsettia slowly dying on the living room coffee table.

Take that, Santa. Two months later, when Halloween is a memory and Christmas rolls around again, tell everyone you know that the bearded fellow will now be known as Svatý Mikuláš (that’s Saint Nicholas in Czech). It sounds ugly in its native tongue, and he brings potatoes and coal for the naughty kids. Brings to mind Charlie Brown and “I got a rock.” Halloween will have invaded Christmas.

The kids who have been nice will have to fend for themselves. Perhaps by going door-to-door and begging for candy!

Problem solved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Yes, I am one of those sorry individuals who has Googled his own name. You might be laughing right now and thinking superior thoughts, such as “I’d never do such a thing!” or “How does it feel finding 0 hits?” or “What’s for dinner?” I applaud your self-control and your lack of involvement in the New World Order.

By the way, the answer is pork and beans.

Sometimes I do it to see if the local newspaper has included my latest column. I write for them once or twice a month, separate from this mattbaxx foolishness, and I like to print out a copy for the “All About Matt” bulletin board that dominates our living room wall as well as forward electronic copies to discriminating readers.

If I’ve never forwarded one to you, don’t be upset. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. You can stop by and see the bulletin board if you’d like to.

Enough about your insecurities, though, let’s talk about mine. I think when my name comes up people ought to be thinking about me. They ought to picture my face (full head of hair, rosy cheeks, wide smile—actually none of the above) and all of my accomplishments and where they were when they met me and aren’t I just the greatest Matt Baxter there is? But it turns out if you Google me you are likely to meet . . . someone else.

First and foremost there is always, the web home of quite an accomplished jazz guitar player. When I first wanted to preserve myself on the Internet, I found someone else already had. So I came up with mattbaxx. It was either that or, and let’s be honest, that was never going to trip smoothly off anyone’s tongue.

There’s also Matt Baxter, photographer extraordinaire in Tennessee. His pictures are nice, but he hasn’t updated his blog in nearly a year and a half. Slacker.

Matt Baxter, the head coach at the Portland [Maine] Porpoise Swim Club, also shows up on my self-congratulatory Googling. The Portland Porpoise web page has a picture of Matt with some of his young protégés, and he appears to be young, handsome, and bearded. I can relate. In at least one way.

And though he left one consonant out, Mat Baxter of Sydney, Australia, the former chief strategy officer at MediaCom, was recently appointed chief executive of Universal McCann (in a surprise move, some say). You probably hadn’t heard this news before because it happened in late August, the same time that I was celebrating my twenty-fifty wedding anniversary. Sometimes we Mat(t) Baxters cancel each other out.

In the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles, California, a fellow by the name of Matt Baxter was promoted to the position of Vice President, Multi-Platform Marketing. My only concern is that the position was described as “newly created,” which makes it sound less exciting. After all, Big Fish Marketing, his employer, is one of “the entertainment industry‘s preeminent brand marketing and advertising agencies, specializing in the design, creation and production of consumer and B-to-B campaigns.”

I don’t really know what that means, but if the position didn’t exist before, has this Matt sullied the reputation of us all by succumbing to the Peter Principle? Why did a new position have to be created for him? Was he a failure everywhere else? I demand an investigation! And until such time that we can determine the truth, I insist that he no longer be called Matt Baxter. We don’t want to sully the brand name, after all.

Matt Baxter is a Web developer in Dallas, and Matt Baxter is a senior at Kent Island High School in Maryland (running back on the football team), and Matt Baxter is a technician at Mike’s Foreign Car, Inc. in Anaheim, California. This last Matt gets good press on the company Web page:

“Matt has a degree in automotive repair from Automotive Training Center in Pennsylvania. He has ten years in the automotive industry as a Technician for Volkswagen Inc. He attained Expert Technician status through Volkswagen's training program and has the skills, knowledge and tools to fix your vehicle right the first time. The training he received from Volkswagen gave him the ability to be a great Technician!”

I think we can all agree if you need any work done on your 1981 pop-top Vanagon, go to Matt. Matt at Mike’s.

Finally, Matthew Baxter of Colorado (or just "Baxter" as he is commonly known) has been actively researching the paranormal for over fifteen years, dealing with such specialties as UFOs, ghosts, demonology, fraud detection, psychology, and cleansings, among other areas.

Hmm. The rest of us sound all right, as though we might be normal guys, going through life with a most extraordinary name. That last fella seems like a nut, and might just be ruining the name for the rest of us.

I think at the next Matt Baxter club meeting I’ll propose that our membership director (Matt Baxter) begin to take a look at exactly who we are letting in. Perhaps our membership standards should be tightened up a bit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Here’s a good one (written by a professional, certainly not me):

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow

Seekers of enlightenment like to find an ancient practice or foreign belief system to adopt. Maybe it must be crammed and bent to fit—because having grown out of an entirely different culture it doesn’t naturally mesh like a puzzle piece—but the enthusiastic seeker has plenty of arm strength. He is happy to beat it into submission.

Chanting and drumming were usurped from Native Americans and hawked at New Age festivals for many years. Folks lined up to beat out their rage and frustration (which worked to a certain extent, probably like scream therapy) or to bring the rhythms of the planet into perfect alignment. That didn’t work so well.

Thankfully, drumming waned, as all New Age gimmicks eventually do. If it doesn’t incorporate well into modern life it will remain at odds with everything else. People aren’t drumming on their coffee breaks or when visiting friends, and as a solo sport it left a lot to be desired. It died on the vine.

Feng shui seems to have a little more life in it, but it might just be another fad. Where to build your building, and how to decorate it by compass points, might make sense from a style point of view, but hoping such decisions affect your good luck and your life energy appear to be misguided. At least as it is practiced in modern America. Here it is put to use as soon as you pay your friendly neighborhood feng shui consultant, and it is unlikely you can buy mysticism steeped in its original glory. Mysticism ought to be something a little more natural, less wallet-based.

Haiku is another Asian hand-me-down that has been warped by modern hands. Originally haiku wasn’t used so much for enlightenment, but rather to more keenly see the natural world, to strip down to the bare essence of something, to increase quiet and increase contemplation. All good things.

Again, from an ancient master:

An old silent pond
a frog jumps into the pond
splash! Silence again

Nowadays haiku is the subject of argument. Is it supposed to be three lines, never more or less? Must it be seventeen syllables exactly? Opponents stand on either side and try to prove their case, except that is so anti-haiku. There are rules, unless the rules must yield, in which case there aren’t rules. Besides, the seventeen-syllable rationale is based on seventeen of something that translates from the Japanese as “syllable” but isn’t exactly that in the original.

I like to email my brother absurd rock and roll lyrics because they annoy him. Recently he turned the whole thing on its ear and sent the lyrics back in the form of a haiku. It almost made me sit down in the lotus position and contemplate it with my mind’s eye, except I was too busy bothering other people with my emails.

Bothering emails
to the corners of the globe
make me laugh ha ha

Okay, that one was pretty weak, but I just made it up. Perhaps the best haikus take a little consideration. Like the ones my brother can twist out of a song. He’s so good at it I put together a blog for them.

I don’t really want to advertise any of the other modern haiku blasphemies, but you can find beer haiku online, celebrity death haiku, and even online generators that make up trillions of completely random haiku that may or may not make sense. It just depends on how open your mind is, dude:

Ferris wheels whimper
steaming mud waits torn paper
lucid dreams midnight

Yeah, man. You can, like, read “whatever you want” into the poem. It “lives its own life” and, like, can “mean many things.” Yeah. Sounds like a bunch of New Age hippie drivel. You can’t find deep meaning in an art form that requires contemplation if you’re too busy rushing around looking for meaning. I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, dude, but a fact is a fact.

I think I’ll stick with my brother’s higher quality stuff. It’ll take you back to the songs of your youth. Or not. Depends on what you used to listen to. Did I mention the blog already?

Rock and roll haiku
seventeen cool syllables
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