#64 Popping a giant zit

You know you love it.

When those red bumpy mountains erupt out of the ground called Your Face, you suddenly notice them in the mirror and cast an evil eye. “Bastard, I’m gonna get you,” you say out loud with vengeance, startling the girls putting mascara on beside you at the bathroom sinks. “You’re all mine.”

Now there are five levels of Popping Zit Satisfaction so let’s break it down in China Town:

Level 1: Cheek Pain 101. I was stuck at this level for many years. It involves grunting, gritting your teeth, and squeezing that zit in the mirror, only to have … nothing happen. You probably didn’t wait till the zit ripened so now you’re just stuck with severe cheek pain and a bright red bullseye over the zit. This will come in handy when you try finding it again in two days.

Level 2: The Pop That Doesn’t Stop. You did it! You waited till the whitehead, waited till after the shower, used two fingers, and… went too far. Now you got a drippy pop but with it comes a tidal wave of blood. Your new nickname is Toilet Paper On Your Forehead For Half An Hour Guy.

Level 3: The Classic Pop. After many years you become a zit expert. For some people it’s years of bathroom practice, others take a course down at the Y, and some study in distant forest retreats under Zit Gurus. (Sort of like Pai Mei in Kill Bill, but for zits.) Either way, you’re in the zone now, and it’s time for the classic pop. Freshly washed face, two gently squeezing fingers, and a satisfying ooze. Congratulations!

Level 4: Share the love. I was at my friend Matt’s house a couple years back when I noticed his wife Sam just staring hard at my face. “What is it?,” I asked. And she said “I’ve been staring at that giant zit on your forehead for half an hour. I have to pop it. You have no choice in the matter.” This is when I first learned about Zit Obsessives — people who must pop any zit they see regardless of whose body it happens to be on. There isn’t much literature on ZO’s, but we do know that, for them, the big pop on someone else’s face leads to Total Zit Actualization.

Level 5: 3D Surround Sound. My friend Mike gave me a lecture once on Level 5 of Zit Popping. “It’s when you can actually hear the pop and it squirts all over your bathroom mirror.” Now what on earth makes somebody enjoy this level of zit popitude? Scientists are currently studying caveman brain stems to figure it out.

Sure, if you listen to your doctor, nurse, or guidance counselor they’ll tell you all the risks of popping zits. “You don’t need to do it,” they’ll start. “You look beautiful anyway.” Plus, it could scar, it could hurt, and it’s pretty gross besides. But there’s something so primal and deeply satisfying about this level of Disgusting Grooming that we’re here today to tell all the experts to just lay off.

We say pop ’em loud and pop ’em proud.

AWESOME!

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#65 Dads

My dad was born in 1944 in the village Tarn Taran in India.

He lived in a small clapboard house on a sandy sidestreet and shared a tiny bedroom with his three brothers and one sister. He was only three when his mom died of unknown causes and the family suddenly had trouble making ends meet. With his dad running a Singer sewing machine shop in nearby Amritsar their aging grandmother came to watch the kids who were taught to scrimp, save, and raise each other for twenty years.

School was important and math was his specialty. Times tables and algebra were done on slate, “The Pickwick Papers” was his English assignment, and gym class consisted of running around a dusty schoolyard full of pebbles and crab grass. In the evenings he worked long hours ironing shirts at the sewing machine store … helping his dad stay on the sales floor by doing laundry in the back. To this day he insists on ironing my clothes when I stay at my parents’ place. Stumbling to the bathroom at six in the morning I’ll see a faint silhouette of my dad pressing my dress shirt in the upstairs hallway before I go to work.

I’ve only seen one picture of my dad as a child and it’s a blurry black and white shot of him with his older brother Ravi standing beside a bicycle. Tall socks, flat faces, and curtly combed hair give a quick glimpse into a simple childhood full of big dreams. He loved math and eventually abandoned Charles Dickens to scrape together his savings, tutor in the evenings, and ride his bike to the University of New Delhi for five years until he got his Masters in Nuclear Physics in 1966.

After university my dad applied for Canadian immigration and was accepted in 1968. He arrived in Toronto with eight dollars in his pocket … and spent it all the first couple days. Years later we’d take the train downtown from the quiet suburbs and rumble past a rusty restaurant beside the tracks. “That’s the first place we had chicken,” he’d say, and we’d laugh at the idea.

He got a job as the first physics teacher at his school. “It’s the king of sciences,” he’d say with a smile, and he even looked like a physicist too — with curly black hair, thick sideburns, and boxy glasses that never changed for years.

He never used the book but knew how to teach.

When I’d bring home my math or physics textbook and have trouble figuring out my homework, my dad would pull up a chair beside me and try to show me how to do it. When I still didn’t understand, he would try again, except this time he would try teaching me a different way. He didn’t just repeat what he said the first time, but came at the problem from a different angle. If I didn’t get it, he’d change again, and again, and again, until me, or one of the many students he taught, finally figured it out.

He never raised his voice, got impatient, or made you feel like you were slow because you weren’t catching on. He simply kept changing how he taught you … until you learned. And in some ways that’s all we’re ever really doing. Seeing things, trying them, and then, eventually, learning them. Teaching somebody how to add fractions or multiply decimals is one thing, but teaching them that they have the ability to learn… giving them confidence in their abilities… showing them they have the power to understand… and letting them feel the satisfaction of understanding… is something else altogether.

I can’t think of many greater gifts my dad gave me, my sister, and many other people, than simply… teaching them that they could do it themselves. Since we grew up near his school we were always bumping into former students, in their twenties, thirties, or forties…  at the grocery storein the bank lineup… or while getting an oil change. And when I was younger I still remember so many times the students would talk to him for a while and then look at me and smile and say “You’re lucky.”

“Your dad taught me math. He’s the best teacher I ever had and I bet he’s going to teach you so many things over your whole life.”

They were right.

When he came to Canada my dad decided to embrace every aspect of his new country. Some of his family members chose to live downtown near Indian restaurants, temples, and shops. While respecting their choices he preferred heading into the unknown and lived as one of a handful of visible minorities in a big city. Naturally curious, he started eating beef, going on school canoe trips, and chaperoning dances, where he’d swirl and twirl my mom at twice the speed of everyone else — in frilly baby blue dress shirts, dark velvet jackets, and a big smile — his boxy glasses flashing rainbow reflections from the disco ball.

He brought home our first Christmas tree, hosted birthday parties at Burger King, and took us cross country skiing a few years after he first saw snow. He didn’t know what he was doing but he knew he wanted to try. My dad saw awesome things everywhere and his sense of wonder with the world rubbed off on me and my sister. This blog is a reflection of his endless excitement.

Last summer a big company in Montreal asked me to come talk about the 3 A’s of Awesome with their employees on a Monday morning. I made it a weekend away with my dad and we enjoyed a couple days of strolling stony sidestreets, eating poutine, and watching French television from our hotel beds. After that I got really nervous about my speech and practiced it over and over for him in the hotel room on Sunday night.

Monday morning arrived and I headed off to the company office while my dad finished up in the city and made his way to the train station. (It was cheaper than flying.) When I finished up and got back to the hotel room there was a note waiting for me on the desk. It was written in faint pencil on a bright yellow cue card and said:

“HI NEIL, After breakfast, I went for a walk South to the water front & came back North and visited the Church. There was no line up at 9 AM. Then I went to the gym. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and the time with you. Any time in the future you need company for any trip, I will be privileged to join you. Of course your friends come first for your company. Your speech & presentation was wonderful. I am sure you will get standing ovation. Also on Tuesday you will enjoy the book store ceremony. You have surpassed my expectations as a son & professional competence. I hope to enjoy your company whenever possible and trips for many more years. LOVE DAD.”

AWESOME!

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#68 Effective use of The Honor System

I grew up riding shotgun a lot.

My dad was a teacher so summers were spent fiddling with the radio dial as we dropped my mom off to work, took my sister to swimming lessons, and waited in bank lineups.

Since bank machines weren’t invented yet those lineups were long and slow ordeals — filling out wispy-thin slips of paper, winding through velvet ropes, inch by inch, minute by minute. That might be why I could probably give a police sketch artist a vivid description of what a bank inside looks like – down to the sharp straight-cornered counters, giant unhinged vault door behind the tellers with deadbolts the side of shaving cream cans, and paper box of foil-wrapped mint chocolates on the counter with a change box for a veteran’s donation.

I don’t remember wondering how the veterans got into the mint chocolate business but I was curious why their little chocolates sat out in the open where anybody could grab them. I mean, you just took some chocolate and dropped a quarter in the paper box and that was that.

Little did I realize then that The Honor System really is great for at least three big reasons:

1. Pennies from heaven. Bars on windows, vending machine glass, and locked store shelves cost cash. Just imagine a world where we didn’t need systems in place to check for trust – no jail bars on pharmacy windows, security cameras outside corner stores, or endless steams of receipt tape. The Honor System skips the locks in favor of trust … and we all save, including our pal The Environment.

2. Hit the fast lane. Since The Honor System relies on trust on both sides it moves us a lot faster than our clogged-up cattle pen security checks, body scans, and baggage inspections.

3. Embracing our humanity. Sure, there are some bad eggs out there, but most people won’t snag a big bag of cashews from the bulk bin without paying. So The Honor System lets us display our honor and lets our moral compasses guide us without all the red and green lights.

So let’s hear it today for The Honor System. Let’s hear it for “Pay what you can” night at the Comedy Club, $2 Friday Jeans Day buckets at the office, wooden shelves of peaches on the side of the country road…. and little boxes of mint chocolates everywhere.

Hey, no offense Buddy, Metric, or Solar.

But The Honor System’s got you beat.

AWESOME!

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#69 Those games you made up when you were a kid

Let’s turn off the TV, put away the board games, and toss the deck of cards in the trash.

Yes, it’s time to play all the made up games you played as a kid. Let’s chat about some of the greatest:

• Erupting volcano (also known as Snake Pit or Shark Tank). Here’s where you pretend the floor is covered in molten lava and you have to jump across the furniture without falling in. Sweatsocks on slippery coffee tables, ottomans with wheels, and top-heavy bookcases can be dangerous. House rules dictate whether riding the Golden Retriever across the room is allowed. Either way, I’m pretty sure you can use a blanket as a life raft to get to dinner.

Kitchen Rock Band. Grab all the pots and pans you can find, steal a handful of wooden spoons, and set up your kit on the cold linoleum floor. Now most makeshift kids bands are all drums – or percussive ensembles, if you will – so bonus points are awarded for anybody bringing in new instruments. Tip: Rubber bands over empty tissue boxes add a banjo section.

Indoor baseball. Never popular with the parents this is where you simply swing a mini baseball bat at a tennis ball in the front hallway. Feel free to set up a GI Joe and Cabbage Patch Kid stadium seating area, create bases around the house, and keep playing until something shatters.

Cardboard roll swordfights. Remember those long and thin cardboard rolls left over when mom finished wrapping the Christmas presents? Those were perfect for trumpeting announcements around the house, practicing robot voices, or using as pirate telescopes. After that they made for great lightsaber duels, Robin Hood swordfights, or gentle beating sticks. Finally, after a giant whack to your brother’s forehead caused them to spiral apart it was time for some nun chucks battles. Everybody wins.

Any game involving leftover cardboard. Yeah, speaking of leftover cardboard, the holy grail of made up childhood games was when your parents got something delivered in a giant cardboard box. A new fridge or oven could meant months of fun inside a new basement stronghold.

Store. Here’s where you empty out your kitchen pantry, put everything on the floor, and sell it back to your parents.

Yes, made up games you played as a kid let creativity roam wild to the outer edges of our brains. Rules are invented and changed, action takes over the living room, and big-eyed fun, screaming smiles, and sweaty foreheads crash together in a great big bang on Saturday afternoon.

AWESOME!

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#71 Closing your eyes and making a wish

Blowing out candles is pressure.

Lights are off, song is over, and a standing circle of everyone you know crowds around as you sit facing a giant cake covered in a flaming forest of candles. Someone screams for you to make a wish and you’ve suddenly got two seconds to think of something good before blowing spit all over dessert …

Whether it’s seconds before a birthday blowout, the moment you see a shooting star, or that quick wish before whisking an eyelash away, it doesn’t really matter if your dream comes true.

All that matters is that you’re suddenly forced to stop, slow down, and take a step back to think about where you are, how you’re doing, and what you need. For a brief moment you stand still in this spinning world and let your thoughts wash right over you.

So wish for a kiss, wish for a wedding, wish for a bike, or just wish for more

AWESOME!

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#73 Those foods that nobody can eat gracefully

Welcome to Taco Night.

Personally I’m going to go ahead and say potluck tacos are my favorite meal these days. I convinced my family to have Christmas Tacos a few years back — complete with festive red shells, green guac, and white sour cream — and this year on my birthday we did it again. There’s just something I love about everyone hunched over their messy plates on the couch, rogue lettuce scraps in their hair, salsa streaks on their pants, and meat juice sliding down their forearms that makes me smile.

I guess I love all foods that no one can eat gracefully:

1. Powdered donuts. Does your local town fair sells greasy bags of these deep-fried deliciouses like mine does? After you pop a tiny powdered donut into your mouth make sure you don’t exhale or you’ll get a nice white streak down your fancy shirt.

2. Samosas. Deep-fried triangles stuffed with spicy handfuls of potatoes and peas don’t lend themselves to fine dining. You’re in there with your hands, there’s no starting point, and chances are the greasy innards are going to tumble all over your sari. That’s the way we like it.

3. Corn on the cob. There are two ways to eat your corn on the cob. First, there’s the Typewriter Method, where you cut back and forth along the entire cob, and then there’s The Big Twist, where you do not move down the cob until you’ve done the complete chomping twirl. Either way, if you did it right you should end up with little bits of corn in your teeth and butter-drenched fingers.

4. Sticky Ribs and Chicken Wings. By the end of a plate full of wings you should look like a lion who just dug into a zebra face-first. For bonus points make sure you’re dining with your Perfect Chicken Wing Partner.

5. Melting ice cream sandwiches. Squeeze those foamy black cookies together so the ice cream drips all over the place. Just try eating one without getting a smear of vanilla on your nose and big chunks of cookie sticking to your fingers.

Yes, it’s time to get over yourself.

We’re saying big words, fancy suits, toss ’em out the window, brother. We both know behind those collared shirts, business cards, and trendy haircuts is a straight-up ugly hairy animal. Yes, I’m talking about you, Caveman Carl and Jungle Jane — because the fact is plain: past your scraggly mane we’re all basically the same.

Messy foods bring us closer together. They remind us we started out as messy eaters and we’ll probably end up that way, too. When we fill the middle years with relaxed expectations, big laughs, and fun nights, it means we skip the show, pass the pretenses, and jump all the way into the deep end of

AWESOME!

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