Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Confessions of a Pizza Driver (Part III)

“I love the smell of pepperoni in the evening...
It smells like freedom.”

I began working for Papa John’s in May, 1997. At that time with Michelle's income from Ford, which was creeping upward as she began climbing the middle-management ladder, we had additional income from my continuing contract work with a computer networking services company, designing web sites for their customers; however, that work was rapidly petering out. The unexpectedly profitable pizza delivery work was a nice bonus, but we were still behind the income pace we needed to maintain to re-assuming our home mortgage from via the HUD program we were involved with.

As luck would have it, Michelle was talking about our situation with her hairdresser one day. It just so happened that her husband was working a contract job for a company in need of a web designer. Phone numbers were exchanged, resumes sent, interviews scheduled.

I got the job!

And the best part was that it was a telecommute circumstance, so I could easily do the web job from home during the day and maintain working for The Papa at night.

Now, with two corporate jobs (Michelle's and mine), combined with my PJ’s income, we could really start putting a dent in our debt.

Over the next year and a half, there were a few more adjustments. In October 1998, my corporate employer asked me to come work in-house, which put a damper on my availability at Papa Johns, so I decided to quit PJ's. HUD had already sold our mortgage to another lender, and we had long since gotten back to making full mortgage payments. Another exciting development was that our mountain of debt was now down to mere molehill status, and getting smaller. So we figured we were pretty much in the clear.


About five months later, everything started breaking at once around the house. First the washer went belly-up, then Michelle's car engine blew. Suddenly that extra $2000 or so per month extra income became sorely missed. I looked at Michelle and said, "Looks like I need to go back to the pizza job until we get some things taken care of."

Fortunately for me, back at PJ's, they apparently had been missing me too. When I called to asked if they needed any help, the manager's first words to me were, “Well, can ya start tonight?”

“I'll be there in 15 minutes,” I replied.

So began my second stint at Papa John’s. The temporary resumption of my career as a pizza driver would last yet another year.

The Home Stretch
Again, the great surprise about this whole pizza job scenario is the fact that I had so much fun doing it. I had very few problems with my fellow drivers. With the notable exception of a couple of minor clashes with a certain big, fat, arrogant dude named Bill, I got along famously with all my cohorts. I still see McGriff socially, and another former driver now has a small general contracting business; He's scheduled to do some work on my house this month. I even acquired my Internet nickname of ‘AJ’ via a PJ’s assistant manager. So all in all, it was a totally worthwhile experience.

I delivered to Nashville Predators players who lived in the area; other drivers had various opportunities to deliver to local Country and Pop stars like Alan Jackson, Amy Grant and Tim McGraw. I once delivered to Blues great Buddy Guy in his hotel room (the dude had the worst breath evAR...yikes!). There always seemed to be fun things like that to liven up a night.

However, the most important part of my 3-year tour there was what happened on the big day: August 20th, 1999. Aided immeasurably by the extra cashflow from my pizza delivery job, Michelle mailed off the final payment of the final bill that we owed to anyone besides our home mortgage lender.

We were debt-free for the first time in more than 20 years!


We've made some stupid mistakes with money, some of which I'll talk about another time. But ultimately what I'm most grateful for is that when we finally dug out of that hole we’d created, we saw the value of staying out.

I now have five-star credit once again, but haven't carried a credit card since I lost them all 10 years ago. It's a cash-only life for my family and me now. And it's GREAT. Y'know it's funny, but when you don't have any payments besides utilities, food and the mortgage, there just seems to be an awful lot more cash in the ol' checking account at the end of each month. I can now afford still buy what I want, pretty much when I want it. If not, I usually don't need to wait more than two weeks to save up, and pay for it in cash (or with a debit card). In today's priceless world of credit card abuse, I admit it's hard to imagine not using one, but it can be done.

And MAN, does it feel good!


Confessions of a Pizza Driver (Part II)

The one good thing
Seeing as how the financial rewards of my four-and-a-half week revival stint as a grocery clerk were practically nil, and the experience did little more than make me feel like I was carrying a five year-old on my shoulders for 8 hours every day, it probably should be noted that there was at least one event that made me smile. It would just be my luck that it occurred before I even started working — when I was filling out my employment paperwork on the very first day at Kroger.

I was making friendly smalltalk with the office clerk while she filled out my insurance and the other office-related paperwork. She spoke with a British accent, which wasn't exactly the type of accent one normally hears in Middle Tennessee. I mentioned that we had relocated here from SoCal and she asked me what brought us to Nashville. I mentioned my former career in the music biz, and she revealed that her husband was a musician — which IS something one hears a lot here.

“What's his name?” I asked.

Phil Kenzie...he plays saxophone,” she said. The name sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't place it. My facial expression obviously revealed that I needed another hint.

“Well, do you know Al Stewart’s music,” she queried.

“Al Stewart?! Know him, I LOVE Al Stewart!” I exclaimed, nearly jumping out of my shirt. “You've got to me kidding me!”

Now I'm not assuming that many reading this are even familiar with the work of the ‘Prose-Rock’ master, Al Stewart, but he is truly one of my all-time favorites. And Phil Kenzie's soaring tenor sax work played a significant role in creating the sound for his two biggest albums of the 70s, Year of the Cat and Time Passages.

Needless to say, I was excited at that little bit of info, but I'm weird that way. It's just so very interesting whose path you might cross in this town. Little did I know, however, that would be the high point of my employment with Kroger. Incidentally, I actually got a chance to meet Phil and Al both a year ago when Stewart played at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. A buddy of mine made a bootleg recording of the show and I got a copy. They did all of Stewart’s hits; it was so great to hear those songs again.

Come to Papa
It just so happened that when I gave my 2 weeks notice at Kroger, it would wind up taking only a week for a driver position to open up at Papa John's. So there was a period of a few days in which I was forced to work both jobs — and that wasn't much fun at all. But soon thereafter I would be spending my evenings behind the wheel of a car-full of steamin’ pizza goodness; my ride acquiring that permanent bouquet of cheese and pepperoni.

The day I first reported for work, within five minutes of my inaugural Papa John's experience I received my ‘bank’ for the night ($25.00 in fives and ones that each driver is issued at the beginning of his shift in order to make change until his collected cash builds up), I was buddied up with another driver to go out on a couple of delivery runs, to see how it's done.

When I think about the time I spent as a pizza driver, there are three things that I really enjoyed. I really liked the feeling of having $50–$100 in my wallet at all times. I enjoyed coming to know the streets and neighborhoods of my town (I actually live in a small suburb of Nashville) like the back of my hand. But best of all, I have enjoyed the long-term friendship of the guy who made it all come alive for me that first day; a fellow driver we'll call, McGriff.

McGriff was the driver I was paired with on that first few training runs. I knew right away that he was going to be easy to get along with. He was gregarious and friendly from our first handshake, and was only too happy to show me the ropes. But the best thing about him was that he was immediate proof that I was in the right place, doing the right thing. He was indisputable evidence to me that a normal guy can pull this job off looking like a professional rather than a goofball. McGriff completely shattered the dreaded ‘Pizza Guy’ stereotype that I held coming into this job.

He was a professional pizza driver. And when I say professional, I mean it on more than one level. For one thing it was his only job, and believe me, with his personal presence, intelligence and charisma, he could have pursued any number of other vocations and been successful. He owned his own home, had three cars, and money in the bank. He worked 48 hours a week, but because he was so valuable, he was allowed to set his own schedule. He made over $45,000 a year...delivering pizzas! He knew that he was good, and everyone around him knew it too. But there was no attitude or bravado with McGriff. He knew he was going to make his money no matter what anyone else did.

“Inside, outside, leave me alone...”
I quickly decided that I was going to make McGriff my mentor. I watched him work and asked him often about the best way to get to certain neighborhoods or what his methodology for getting from one part of town to another was. He was a great help in figuring out the lay ‘o the land, in more ways than one.

McGriff also taught me the art of never getting suckered into ‘working inside’ if management were ever to offered it. The crew of people who ‘throw the dough’ and work the ‘make line’ (the assembly line in which two or three workers place the toppings on the pizza, and then stick it into the oven) consist of usually three ‘inside’ workers, who are paid substantially more per-hour than the drivers, but they never leave the store. McGriff warned that I'd never make any money that way, besides, it's just boring. After coming in off the road and waiting for their next delivery run, the drivers are required to come back and help out the insiders making pizzas. This is only right, since the faster the pizzas get made, the faster the drivers can get back out on the road.

The secret, says McGriff, to not getting stuck inside, is volunteering to work "the ovens." This is the station in which the pizzas are removed from the oven, placed it into a pre-labeled delivery box and sliced. Then the condiments are added, and the box is placed on the hot rack for retrieval by either by the drivers for delivery, or the front counter personnel for walk-in/pick-up customers. Since that station is the closest one to the door, it makes getaway a lot easier than working the counter or the ‘make" line.’

Obviously, the driver wants to try to avoid spending any significant time inside. The goal is to be in-and-back out on the road as quickly as possible, because deliveries are the lifeblood of the gratuity-lovin’ pizza driver. Deliveries equal tips, and tips equal cash in your pocket; cash in your pocket equals motivation to go to work each day. The weekly minimum wage-based paycheck is really nothing more than gas-money. The only real reason to be a driver is to earn tips. So it's of utmost importance that you know where you're going before you leave the store. It's just as important to know which orders to take and which to leave behind for somebody else. It's actually quite a delicate balance.

Take too many orders, even if they're in the same area, and chances are the delivery will take longer than it should. That can lead to an unhappy customer, especially if they can feel that the pizza is luke-warm when you hand it to them (this was especially true before the advent of ‘heated’ delivery bags, which PJ's introduced only in the last 6 months that I worked there). An unhappy customer almost always equals a less-than-hearty tip. The other downside to being out on a delivery too long is that it cuts down on the total number you can make over the course of a full shift. And again, when each delivery equals a potential tip, you want as many total deliveries as you can possibly make. So keeping delivery trips as short as possible, with as many orders as practical, makes for a happy customer and ensures the greatest likelihood for a successful, high-tip shift.

What's a good night for tips? I typically worked 6-hour shifts on weeknights, and one 8-hour shift on the weekend. On weeknights, if I earned $60.00 in tips, I considered it a good night. I would say my average was between $40–$50.00. On weekends I would usually do between $80–$100.00. McGriff, by contrast, averaged between $90–$120.00 on weeknights and $100–$150.00 on the weekends, when he worked them. There were always nights that were better or worse, but somehow he and one or two of the other ‘pro’ drivers would always seem to walk out with over $100.00 in their pockets at the end of the day.

Having cash like that was addicting. That's the part I miss the most. When combined with my paycheck, I took home between $400–$500 a week.

Following McGriff's example, I soon became one of the top 3 or 4 drivers in the store and suddenly felt pretty darned good about that little loser job I had previously dismissed so easily. There was no way anybody could have convinced me going into this thing that I could have made that much money and felt so good about doing it. Working mostly by myself, at night I also had a lot of time to listen to the radio and think, which has always been one of my favorite things to do. It was fun. And though I know there were a lot of nights I would have rather been at home with Michelle and the kids, I don't have too many bad memories of that time.

With the pizza job basically providing our living expenses (groceries, kid's school lunches and activities, incidental purchases, etc.) money, we pooled everything else we made into paying off our debts.

We began seeing some progress.

Next: “I love the smell of pepperoni in the evening...
It smells like freedom.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Confessions of a Pizza Driver (Part I)

And Now for Something Completely Different...
After the heavy emotional stuff, I thought I'd talk about something least it's fun now for me to remember. And to be honest, it was actually was a lot of fun while I was doing it. From 1997-2000, I needed some extra moolah, so I went to work for the Papa

The Paper-Hat-wearing Fast-Food Cashier (although in recent years the paper hats have now been replaced by baseball caps, but you get the picture); The Car Wash attendant; The Grocery Store Bag Boy or, just a notch above him, the Stock Clerk; The Pizza Delivery Guy...

These are jobs that carry a certain status of "entry-level" in modern society. If you watch TV, the movies, or most any vehicle of pop-culture commentary, you see that notion reinforced again and again. With McDonald's essentially being the standard-bearer for the entire fast-food industry, this class of employment has now even been dubbed, a "McJob" in some media circles.

There's often something endearing about seeing a fresh-faced youngster in this type of position. Perhaps it reminds us of when we had similar jobs early in our work-a-day lives. It can be frustrating, but I think most of us will suffer a sixteen year-old, struggling behind the counter, and even smile when he screws up our change (well, the first time, anyway...) because we can identify with what it's like to be in that situation. We've all been there, right?

However those smiles often turns to sneers when the person behind the counter isn't a teenager, but rather a midle-aged thirtysomething, where those acknowledging nods are sometimes replaced by wags of disparagement — at least, internally, right? “Sheesh, what a loser that guy must be,” we may think. “Who taught you how to count, Einstein?”

Why are we so hard on the older set? Because these are supposed to be entry level jobs. Society expects its adult members to move on up the career food chain in their late 20s and 30s. The McJobs of the service industry should be relegated to the kids, we assume. With few exceptions, any deviation from this established rite of professional existence is usually met with at least some measure of social disdain, albeit usually silent, by the average middle-class American.

I certainly know *I* felt that way. Hey, I had paid my dues, having worked in all of these types of jobs from my sixteenth birthday to my early twenties. By the time I reached my mid-twenties I was working in the Record Industry in Los Angeles, with all those jobs a distant memory. I was working in the real world now, yo.

Fifteen years later, I discovered a new reality.

So as to try and keep this story upbeat, I'll dispense with the depressing details as to how we reached that unhappy place, but in 1996 we found ourselves $25,000 in debt, which by many people's standards isn't a tremendous amount. However when you realize that we only had an annual income of about $22,000 at that point in time, it becomes pretty obvious that we were in deep doo-doo. There was little to no money coming in, and things were getting worse by the day. Oh, you should have heard some of the knock-down-drag-outs I had with bill collectors over the phone on a weekly basis.

To make matters worse, due to our situation, we missed four or five mortgage payments in a row, and the bank foreclosed. Luckily, before they told us they couldn't talk to us anymore, they referred us to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). There was at that time a program that they suggested we might qualify for, since our situation was essentially brought about by the failure of my freelance business. Thankfully, we did qualify for that program, and HUD bought our mortgage and allowed us to keep our home while we got back on our feet. Our mortgage payments were based on what we could afford, based on our cashflow and our other debts.

We were thisclose to bankruptcy — but we were given a chance to dig ourselves out of it. There was a catch to this HUD program. They re-evaluated our debt status every six months to monitor our progress. If we made any purchases over $300 without the HUD's approval, they could pull the whole deal and everything would come crashing back down on us. The idea was to get real, get busy, and get out of debt.

And for me, that meant get a job. My freelance business was in the toilet. More on why, some other time. Remember...this is a happy story.

Digging out
I had been self-employed for eight of the previous ten years and now I had to start sending out resumes — and fast. I managed to get on part-time with a company designing web pages, which paid well but was kind of inconsistent. Michelle got an entry-level job with an newly-built outlet for Ford Motor Credit that had just opened here in town. We were making steady progress, but at that pace, we would have run out of HUD program (it was designed to be in place for a maximum of only five years) long before we'd payed off our debts. We needed more money.

A financial counselor we'd seen suggested delivering pizzas part-time. He said you'd be surprised how good the money is, and that a lot of his clients had done really well in using it as a means to get caught up. I nodded and said "Yeahhh...that...sounds...interesting." Because everyone knows, the ultimate loser job for an adult was to be a pizza driver! Or so I was convinced in my own mind. Apparently I was willing to lose my house but *gasp* not to deliver pizzas!

So stubbornly, I decided if I was going to have to get another job, it was going to be something I wanted to do and that I knew. I'd worked for years in the grocery industry as a retail clerk, and made good money at it throughout high school and college, so I went to the local Kroger and applied for a job. They hired me on the spot. It was only then I learned that Tennessee wages weren't even close to what I had made in California ten years earlier!

I felt stuck. So I took the job anyway, checking freakin' groceries 32 hours a week for $5.50 an hour. After four weeks I figured that there was no way delivering pizzas could be any worse than this. And besides you actually get to move around — and you get tips.

I gave my notice, and went to the local Papa John's Pizza to apply for a driver position. And I didn't give a rip what anyone else thought.

Next: Come to Papa

Monday, June 28, 2004

“Who was your Father?” (Part III)

Aunt Mom
Y'know, I really don't mind talking about my rather unusual family history, but it does get a little complex. I mean, how many people do you know who's Mom dies and nine months later his Dad marries his departed wife's sister-in-law? I mean, wouldn't you think that sort of story would raise a few eyebrows?

And no fair answering if you live in Kentucky, Tennessee or Georgia. Oh wait...I do live in Tennessee...maybe it isn't quite so weird after all...

Just kidding.

Buy yes, it's true. By the time my Mom passed in 1968, my Dad and Aunt Maxine had already fallen in love, after eight years of supporting each other through the fear and confusion of losing their respective spouses to familial early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. My uncle, Maxine's husband, was about a year further along in the disease than my Mom, and died in 1967. Meanwhile Dad and Aunt Maxine had formed a connection that would remain for the next 31 years. They were married in 1969.

However there were plenty in my Mom’s/Uncle's family who thought the relationship just wasn't appropriate. One of my Aunts (whom Maxine had a bitter, running feud with anyway) asked me sarcastically, “So what are you gonna call her, ‘Aunt Mom?’”

This, as well as my Dad's desire to leave the painful memories of the last ten years behind made our next move clear. Maxine already had a house and three grown children of her own in Southern California, so off we went. It was without a doubt the biggest event of my lifetime.

"Made up my mind to make a new start —
goin’ to California with an achin’ in my heart..."

I think it's safe to say that my Dad's marriage to Aunt Maxine was one of convenience first and love second, but they certainly did love each other; of that I’m certain. Whether or not ‘Aunt Mom’ loved me and my two of my brothers who made the move with my Dad (my two eldest brothers were already grown and established, so they remained in Indiana), however, appeared highly debatable at the time.

Living in Maxine's domain was a dicey proposition to say the least. Take three active boys ranging in age from 16 to 9 years of age, who’ve grown up with no Mother and little direct discipline for the vast majority of their collective lives; place them in an environment controlled by a Great Depression-raised strict disciplinarian who controlled that environment with an iron fist, and what do you get? If your answer includes any variant of the words ‘combustible,’ ‘disaster,’ or ‘trouble,’ and I believe you smell what I’m cookin.’

It was such a horrible dichotomy: on the one hand I had been transported from Podunk, USA, where a trip to K-Mart and dinner at McDonald's was as big a thrill as one could hope for in daily life, to this world of wonder and sophistication that was Los Angeles in the late 60s–early 70s (and I say was because anyone who has lived in LA both before and after the 1980s will tell you, it may still be nice, but it's not the paradise that it was back then). However at the same time, I has also been transported from a world of innocence and freedom, into a veritable war zone of rules, regulation, accountability and corporal punishment.

Yes, Maxine was definitely into the Biblical addage of "Spare the rod and spoil the child," but I never got the impression that she was all that concerned about my being ‘spoiled’ so much as whether or not I did anything to piss her off — and she could become pissed off at the drop of a hat. She didn't spank — that would have taken too much time. Her hair-trigger temper required a much more immediate response: a swift slap across the face. It didn’t stop there generally, however; if one had the time to flinch and duck before receiving her hand, a pummeling of both hands about the head and shoulders was sure to follow. My older brother resisted, but I always stood there and took it, usually befuddled as to what in the world I had done wrong now.

Of course the beatings never took place when my Dad was around — but initially at least, he always heard about them when he got home — if, that is, we had a chance to speak to him alone.

I say ‘we’ but in fact it was usually my older brother Kenny who usually made it a point to detail our mistreatment at the hands of Maxine. I never denied it, but I feared retribution much more than believing that raising a ruckus would change Maxine’s behavior. But not Kenny. He went out his way to bring the actions of our abuser to light.

The subsequent arguments were roof raising. Kenny actually appeared to be attempting to break up the marriage at first. He was staunch in his hatred for our new Step-Mom’s tactics, not just for the fact that she hit us, but also for the restrictions that were being placed on his life. He was now a sophomore in high school and had grown so used to being his own man over the previous several years; there was no way he was going to bow to such treatment. He lasted through the end of that school year in 1969-70, but then convinced Dad to let him return to Indiana to stay with our two elder brothers — supposedly just for the Summer. But as he was leaving for the airport in the early hours of that June morning, I knew wasn't coming back.

Hey, wasn't this story supposed to be about my Dad?

Sorry, but I've taken this detour of focus because I think it’s necessary to point out just what was going on around my Dad during this tumultuous time. Now I’ll digress a little further to correlate a bit of international intrigue that would affect my Dad — and ultimately, my family — just as much.

An untimely (All)end(e)...
As I’ve indicated, my Pop was under tremendous pressure in those days. The debts that had piled up in the wake of my Mother's illness followed him to California. Adding to that, a previously-arranged job transfer with the company he worked for in Anderson never materialized — in fact, it vanished before we even left.

The company that my Dad worked for was a manufacturer of industrial copper wire and cable. Just a few weeks before we were to leave for California, word came down that the plant located in Orange, CA that he was supposedly transfering to, was closing in the wake of the company’s impending loss one of its primary sources of raw material.

In 1966, the Chilean government began in earnest, the process of nationalizing that South American country’s rich and lucrative copper mining industry.

Prior to 1955, multinational corporations built, owned, and controlled Chile’s chief natural resource. From 1955 through ’69, agreements were ratified with the Chilean government, that made it possible for both entities to profit from this important enterprise. In this process of negotiated nationalization, the foreign corporations would begin to gradually allow the Chilean government to ‘buy in’ to the mines, eventually taking full control and ownership while ‘reimbursing’ the foreign companies for the cost of developing the industry. The corporations, of course, wanted to protect the millions they had invested over the years and the host country naturally wished to finally be the beneficiary of what they quite understandably considered theirs.

My Dad's company, Anaconda Wire and Cable, was one of the companies whose copper mines was going through that process of nationalization in the late 60s, and in 1969 signed an accord with outgoing Chilean President Eduardo Frei Montalva.

According to the plan at the time, the Chilean government had just purcased a 51% interest in the Anaconda mines, and had until 1983 to purchase the remaining 49%. Everything was hunky dory until Montalva came up for re-election.

If you remeber your history of Third World socialist regimes in the mid-to-late 20th Century, one name you'll undoubtedly recall is that of Salvador Allende, the leftist who succeeded Montalva as Chilean President in the 1970 election. Even before he took office, Allende made outright nationalization of Chillean copper a vociferous election campaign topic.

Anaconda could see the handwriting on the wall, and in anticipation braced themselves for the blow by first cutting back operations in several of their U.S. plants — including the one in Orange, CA. — then later closed those facilities for good following Allende's victory and subsequent, swift implementation of his Día de la Dignidad Nacional (Day of National Dignity), pushing through the Chilean constitutional amendment that allowed him to nationalize outright all mines, and transfer all present and future copper fields to the state.

The news of the cutbacks placed my Dad in an especially tough position. Even though he was welcome to keep his old job in Anderson, he was already committed to the move to California. Our house was already sold; the cord was all but cut. We simply had to proceed onward and let the chips fall where they may.

Instead of having a well-paying job with all his seniority intact waiting for him in California, my Dad arrived in The Golden State without a clue as to how he would support his family. He was one lousy year shy qualifying for his pension and now would have nothing to show for 24 long years at Anaconda. And though he tried, he was unable to find similar work within the industry in SoCal at first.

As a stop-gap measure, he ended up taking a job with Forest Lawn Mortuary selling cemetery plots — no kidding. “Talk about your dead-end jobs,” he would joke. But the fact was, with the economy already in a downturn, we were in for some lean times in the early 70s.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to be my Father back then. His normal smile was in short supply. He was often distant. I didn't really have any concept of the financial realities that we faced, but I knew my Pop wasn't happy. I decided I wasn’t going to add to that unhappiness. So after my brother left to return to Indiana, I knew I was going to be the #1 target of Maxine's wrath. I decided that I wouldn't tell. I would simply deal with it and try to keep her happy. If she wasn't, and took it out on me, Dad would never know. And until years later, he never did.

The continued details of my relationship with Maxine will more than likely be the subject of another story entirely, so I'll end them right here. But make no mistake, although there is still inside me, a red-faced young boy shaking his fist at her when I think about those days, she was the only Mother I ever really knew. And for all the bad, there was still an awful lot of good in the things she taught me about responsibility, which I desperately needed and for which I'll always be grateful.

However my point in recounting this convoluted tale is this: seeing my Dad's courage — sticking it out through the hard times — and the committment of his marriage to Maxine; that was such a great object lesson for me; one I would draw upon later in my own life.

Several years ago, on Father's Day, I wrote him a note along with my card, telling him that he was my hero. I quoted the chorus of Wind Beneath my wings, but to me it wasn't cheesy — it was from the heart.

I marvel at his genuineness, his lack of hubris, the true kindness of his nature, and the emphasis he places each and every day on being the same, consistent person that he was the day before.

Even now, with my life more than past the half-way point I can still say, I wanna be like him, yeah, you know I’m gonna be like him.


Sunday, June 27, 2004

“Who was your Father?” (Part II)

Cats in the Cradle
My son turned ten just the other day
He said "Thanks for the ball Dad, come on let's play!
Can you teach me to throw?"
I said "Not today — I got a lot to do." He said "That's okay."
He walked away but his smile never dimmed,
It said "I'm gonna be like him, yeah,
You know I'm gonna be like him."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
"When you comin' home, Dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, son —
You know we'll have a good time then"

From "Cats in the Cradle" © 1974 Harry Chapin

I said earlier that my Dad has been the same as long as I can remember. I think I need to clarify that. He has always been the same person in terms of his character and the strength of his soul. But what he had to go through for a decade would have broken lesser men. It did change him. But it didn't change the person he was.

There would be no Cub Scouts or Little League for my younger brother or me, but it wasn’t a matter of Cats in the Cradle-style indifference, but of necessity. The fact is, my reference to that classic Harry Chapin song is not to draw comparisons between my Father and the song's writer, but rather to myself and the son. My Dad was always my role model. And the fact that he spent almost no time with me while I was growing up never changed that. I understood why. We all did.

Back in the late 50s — early 60s there wasn’t the employer-provided medical insurance that's so common today. I’m sure my Dad’s company provided basic medical coverage for his family, but certainly nothing to cover an event such as this. My Father's life became his work — grinding out as much overtime as he could muster to pay the medical bills of my Mom's care as well as the rising expenses of a family of five growing boys.

It should be noted that my maternal Grandfather, who died long before I was born, also suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s, although it was unclassified at that point, and its victims were committed to insane asylums as “mentally disturbed.” My grandfather died in an institution such as this, in a room that was tantamount to a large steel cage, to protect those around him from his wild, violent mood swings.

So my Mother’s diagnosis with this newly classified disease was a breakthrough in what would soon be understood as a family-wide problem. For unbeknownst to most everyone else, my uncle, who lived in California, was a year older than my Mother and had begun exhibiting the same symptoms a year earlier. His wife, who had never gotten along particularly well with her husband’s family in Indiana had kept silent, attempting to deal with this frightening reality herself, rather than risk judgements from the family back East that it was somehow her fault. But when word surfaced that her husband’s younger sister was experiencing the same mysterious symptoms, Aunt Maxine quickly contacted my Dad to compare notes. This was the beginning of a confluence of individual fates that would add the most significant chapter yet to this novel of sweeping life changes for my family and me.

More on that later.

I didn't see much of my Dad from 1965, the year my Mother was committed to Logansport Mental Hospital, until she died in 1968, at the age of 48 (looking much more like 68). However she didn't have to suffer the horrific conditions that her father did, with a steel-cage room and electroshock treatments. They knew what her problem was, they just had no idea how to treat it. As a matter of fact, so little was known about the nature of Alzheimer's back then, that the only way to positively diagnose it was via post-mortem autopsy. Mom spent her last three years in relative comfort as her mental faculties continued to diminish. In the final days of her ability to still walk on her own, I would be told, she even lost the capacity to understand the functionality of a doorknob.

In the forth year she became catatonic and eventually succumbed to pneumonia. You see, Alzheimer's doesn't kill the body — It kills the brain. The body dies from the complications of the victim's subsequent prolonged bedridden existence.

I remember walking to school one day when I was in the 8th grade, two years after she had passed away. I was thinking of my Mom and all that had happened. She had been sick for practically as long as I could remember. Mere flashes of earliest childhood were my only touchstone of her as a whole person. I thought, "You know, it's pretty amazing that with all my family has been through, that I've turned out as normal as I have." Little did I know how relative the the term "normal" is. Yet however scarred I may be by the misfortunes of my family, I'm certain that it was my Dad's presence that lessened the blow; keeping me from more serious issues, some that my others in my family couldn't seem to escape. Even though I always knew our family experience was "different" from most everyone else's, I still had a happy childhood, with many, many fond memories.

When we moved to California in 1969 however, my life would take a radical change.

Next: Aunt Mom

Saturday, June 26, 2004

“Who was your Father?” (Part I)

Someone asked me that recently.
Now I'm sure there was no intention to necessarily insinuate past tense, but I was somewhat taken aback at the question, since my Father is still very much alive — a hale and hearty 81 years of age. At least, that is, he's as hale as can be expected of a man that age, who also underwent quadruple-bypass heart surgery a little more than two years ago. As to be expected, he was also ordered by his doctors to lose that spare tire he'd been carrying around his waist for the last 40 years or so, and to exercise more often. But when I saw him last month, he looked as fit as I can remember seeing him my entire life.

He's hardly lost a hair on his head, although they're nearly all as white as snow now. And though time has managed to fade the color of his hair, it's been totally unsuccessful in fading the smile on his face or the twinkle in his eye. My Dad is a handsome man, with an almost embarrassingly gregarious manner. He's the type that will immediately glance at the name badge of the girl behind the counter at the fast-food restaurant, specifically so that he can answer her by name when she asks for his order. He's not trying to be flirty or fresh, he's just personable. That's the kind of person he is.

He is a two-time widower, has already buried one of his children, and thereby has seen more sorrow than any man should ever have to deal with in a single lifetime. Yet nothing that I've ever seen him go through has seemed to change him. He is the same today as I remember him being as a child: loving, enthusiastic and sincere.

He's my hero, and the one who I've always attempted to emulate as both a man and a Father. I've often said, when someone has given me a complement, that if you see anything good in me, it's only a reflection of my Pop.

However if you looked at my early childhood, it's actually rather odd that I would feel the way I do about my Father. I had three older brothers who got the kind of classic "All-American Dad" attention that any Baby-Boom product could have hoped for. My Father was the president of the local PTA. He was Cub Scout Den Leader and Little League Head Coach to my older brothers as well as scores of other neighborhood boys who thought the world of him.

He had a secure, well-paying job as head payroll accountant for a local factory. He sold World Book Encyclopedias on the side to make a little extra money. We lived in a modest, but nice house in a good middle-class neighborhood. My mom was a homemaker who was also busily involved in civic, school and church activities. Our family was loved and respected in the community. It was a real-life "Ozzie and Harriet" existence.

Then the first and most severe heartache was visited upon him. My Mother began exhibiting instances of forgetfulness and erratic behavior. A normally meticulous housekeeper, piles of laundry and dirty dishes inexplicably began to pile up around the house. My aunts and uncles became harshly critical of my Dad for not giving her more help. What with four rambunctious boys and a fifth one on the way, surely a little more cooperation was in order. My Dad agreed, and did what he could to pitch in with the housework. Yet while he was at his job during the day, less and less was getting done at home. My Mom's forgetfulness also increased. She began to uncharacteristically miss appointments, and fail to meet her commitments outside the home. People started to notice. Word spread in our small town.

"He's driving her crazy," they whispered. "He's working that poor woman to death."

At this point, my Dad was desperate for answers. He took my Mother to a local doctor, who in turn arranged for tests to be performed at a hospital in Indianapolis by a neuro-specialist named Dr. Zieman.

After several tests, the diagnosis was unsure, but Dr, Zieman told my Dad that my Mother appeared to be suffering from a newly-classified brain disorder called "Pre-Senile Dementia" also known as "Alzheimer's Disease."

The year was 1961, my mother was 41 years old, and our lives would never be the same — especially my Dad's. He would soon be essentially alone to care for five children, and my Mom, as she gradually retreated into her world of confusion and detatchment. This once bright, intelligent and engaging woman was now becoming distant, frustrated and erratic. The Valedictorian of her high school class, whose graduation day speech asked her fellow students "What Kind of World Will We Leave to Our Children?" was now leaving her children and husband a difficult world indeed, though certainly not of her own volition.

Next: Cats in the Cradle

Friday, June 25, 2004

Are spouses the death of friendship?

I'm just askin.’ Honestly.
I'd be willing to bet that there isn't a person reading this, male or female (but most notably male) who hasn't lost at least one pretty good friend to somebody else's spouse.

It's funny how thoughts begat other thoughts; memories weave in and around our conscience, touching, grazing other memories, until they all seem to congeal, re-forming into a brief, but vivid place in time. One that if only for a moment, can be smelled, touched, felt. Sometimes the feelings are good, sometimes bittersweet, other times, painful.

I was commenting earlier today on another blogger's page about something entirely different, making reference to an old gymnastics buddy of mine, who I've never written about, but think of often. He's one of the only men I've ever known who was perhaps even more open about his feelings than I am.

We both have the same first name, which was also somewhat of a novelty in our friendship, but for the purposes of this story we'll call him "Skeez," which was how I used to refer to his feet, making fun of how long and flat they were (about a size 11 as I recall). Skeez was a fellow rings specialist — much taller than your average gymnast — 6'1," about 165 pounds. Skinny legs, but from the waist up, pure muscle. Talent-wise he was average, but very strong.

We were great friends and spent a ton of time together during my last two years of competition. Even after I got married, while he was still single, Michelle always encouraged me to keep up my friendship with Skeez. She insisted he come over for dinner often.

Can I just say that my wife rocks? I mean, when we got married, she immediately supported all of my friends as I did hers. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. I assumed that was the way everyone thought. How wrong could I have been.

At any rate, around 1980, Skeez became involved with the woman who he would marry two years later. Now I wasn't stupid enough to think that our friendship wouldn't change once he found the woman of his dreams, but by the same token, I never expected to be cut off almost completely either.

Mrs. Skeez was always cordial with me, but I never got the feeling she really liked me, and to be honest, that bothers me because I pride myself on being a likeable person. And I know I never did anything to offend her. She apparently just believed that the thing for her husband to do was to retreat into his relationship with her and everything else became basically unimportant.

Over the years we got together socially as couples with the Skeez' often, but individually I rarely ever saw my friend again, and that was tough, because we'd he'd become confidant to each other on subjects guys just don't talk to their wives about. I could talk to him about anything.

It was unfortunate, but hey, that's life I guess. Yet I wonder to this day why those types of things happen. I suppose it's a combination of priorities versus insecurities. I'm not even sure how I should feel about it. Am I justifed for feeling anger toward Skeez' wife for breaking up our friendship? Is there any real reason that I should expect other women to have the incredible sensibility for encouraging their husband's friendships like my wife does? Actually that's easy — I now know how rare that one is. I'm incredibly lucky to have a wife like Michelle, who has never complained about me hanging out with mah boyeeeez.

And I guess that's the "look on the bright side" moral here. I'm just blessed. Period.

Sometime after we moved to Tennessee, I believe around 1994, the Skeez' moved to Virginia, where the Christmas letters we receive each year tell us how wonderful their lives are. The Skeez have four beautiful, homeschooled children. I've seen my friend once in the last 12 years. He seemed somewhat resigned to life, but to be honest, so was I at that point.

Life goes on, and I wish him well.

Any thoughts from the peanut galley?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Shallow Thoughts
by AJ in Nashville

Busy day today. No time for my usual, wordy yarns. I'll most likely post a few random thoughts as I go, a la my fellow George Jones fan, "F."

The only thing "mystical" about it is how the hell it managed to get nominated for "Best Picture"
I rented "Mystic River" last night. I think I can talk about it without spoiling things for anyone, since I'm quite sure that no one on the planet takes longer to see movies after they're released than moi. I had really been looking forward to seeing it. It had gotten great reviews. It won two Oscars and was nominated for four more, including "Best Picture." I will say that the acting lived up to the hype. Sean Penn's performance was indeed Oscar-worthy. Tim Robbins, despite the fact that his Bahh-ston accent had gaps that you could drive a truck through, also delivered a great performance that rightly earned him "Best Supporting Actor."

However the plot...hmmm. Let me just say I got some seveah mixed feelings heeah. Is it just me, or was the ending of this movie the biggest anti-climax since "The Perfect Storm?"

It was hard enough to watch, with the agony that Jimmy (Penn) experiences with the murder of his 19 year-old daughter (you see, Amy is also 19, and those kind of parallels can kind of get to a guy, especially when you know nothing about the story plot going in). But once the shock subsided, you really wanted to see how this thing would be resolved. I did like the twists involving "Just-Ray" and his sons, but I thought that too much of the rest of the plot was just painfully predictable.

However I couldn't have predicted just how shallow the end of the story would be.

I was sure that justice would prevail in the end. Instead, evil not only goes unpunished, but is actually celebrated as something that is admirable; that it's something we're somehow expected to pay homage to as a father's duty; that blind rage-driven retribution is acceptable if it's done in the name of "family." Oh, and if you just happen to take your anger out on, say, the wrong guy, oh well...whadaya gonna do?

I felt robbed. I allowed my emotions to be tweeked for two hours, seventeen minutes with absolutely no payoff — not even a little one.

The movie's tagline is, "We bury our sins, we wash them clean." Sorry, but this movie left me feeling like I needed a shower.

Nice Pants
Three years ago I bought a pair of linen Dockers slacks for work. They had two problems: they were two inches too long, which was made worse by the fact that they had cuffs, which I haven't worn (or particularly liked) since cuffed baggies were in style back in my disco inferno days of the 70s.

Surely it wouldn't be too much trouble for my lovely wife, who is also a master seamstress, to lop off those cuffs and thereby make my new pants wearable, right? Uh...Sweetie? Helllooo...

Guess what I just got back from the cleaners yesterday? A NEW pair of three year-old pants! Who knew they did alterations? They fit perfectly. And unlike 99% of all my other dress slacks, they're really comfortable.

And can I just say it? I really like my "new" pants.

Gawd I miss The Tony Kornheiser Show, formerly on ESPN Radio. If you're into sports like I am, you probably know the "orange man." He's a sports columnist for the Washington Post and co-hosts "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN TV with his Post cohort, Michael Wilbon. The TV show is great and Mr. Tony is a crackup, but not half as funny as he is on the radio.

He recently opted out of his radio contract with ESPN (March 26, 2004 was his last show), over longstanding disagreements with management about the show's direction and content. Tony wanted to do a funny show about "sports...and other stuff." ESPN wanted him to do a show just about sports.

It was the best sportstalk show on the air. Bar none. I was a constant e-mailer to the show and was lucky enough to be read on the air on a pretty consistent basis. It was e-mailing the TK show that really made me begin to think about writing. So I can honestly say that Tony Kornheiser changed my life.

Good news is, he's coming back sometime in the Fall, after his negotiated "non-compete" period expires. He has said he would do the show locally (from DC) and syndicate it nationally. I can't wait! There has definitely been a hole in my life from 9-Noon each weekday since he left the air.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Bohemian Rhapsody (Epilogue)

An "Adult" Ice Cream for Amy
Before setting out for Chattanooga Saturday morning, I was responding to some comments on my blog. I mentioned in passing to Esther that I was basically “losing” my daughter that day, as she was moving out on her own, possibly for good.

A few minutes later, my good friend Queenie said, “Go out for ice cream with your daughter.”

I thought about that off and on throughout the day, but never saw a place in the downtown Chattanooga area where we might get some ice cream.

Now it was time for Amy to drive me home. We were heading through downtown for I-24 and Nashville when I spied a Starbucks. “Pull over," I said. “Let’s get something for the road.”

“What do you feel like,” I asked.

“Something cold and fruity.” She said

I thought, “Well there you go, Queenie.”

Minutes later I reappeared with a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino for Amy: a fitting treat for my adult baby girl.

The trip home was filled with more great conversation. I told Amy about this blog, that she was going to be featured prominently in it, but that I didn’t want anyone else in our family to know about it just yet.

It was a great day. It was an emotional day. And while I may be losing my little girl, I‘m definitely gaining a friend.

I look forward to watching that friendship grow.


Bohemian Rhapsody (Part IV)

Breaking Bread
Since it was my daughter paying, I somehow curbed my hankerin’ for steak and lobster for the evening. We Instead opted for Panera Bread Company and a satisfying meal of their outstanding Baked Potato Soup, and a sandwich made from their fresh-baked bread.

Dianna insisted on paying her own way, but due to an order screw-up, ended up getting two sourdough soup bowls for the price of one. Needless to say, that girl was stuffed!

The conversation ranged from casual to emotional. Having already thought through the subject of my previous story subject, on the trip down to Chattanooga (Same Day), I talked about that scene from “City Slickers” and related how Amy’s accident was both the worst and best day of my life. We talked about how much that day changed our lives.

I also wanted to ask her about something else that I’d thought about a lot in recent years. I’m not sure why, but several years ago it occurred to me that neither of my kids ever really called me “Daddy.” It’s a silly thing, but I’d always liked the idea of being called Daddy by my daughter.

“All I’ve ever known you as, was “Dad,” she said. “Did Shawn ever call you Daddy?”

“Not since he was a toddler,” I said.

“Well I guess that’s why I never did either,” she shrugged. Would you like me to call you that now?” It was a sincere question.

“No sweetie,” I smiled. “‘Dad’ is just fine. I was just wondering.”

And to be honest, I can’t ever remember calling my own father “Daddy” either, so I guess my kids came by it honestly.

On the way back to Amy’s apartment, we went to check out the Budget Truck Rental office where I would drop off the truck before returning to Nashville.

Uh oh.

Unlike the Nashville office had described it to me that morning, the office offered no place for me to drop off the truck during non-business hours. The entire yard was fenced in and their was no street parking at all. So it was decided that Amy would very carefully return the truck for me at it’s due time of 9:00 AM on Monday.

On a side note, remember that $8.70 per-mile mileage allowance penalty I was in such a dither about earlier? Heh, heh…well ya see…it’s like this…

After I got home I double-checked the fine print on my Budget Truck Rental e-mail confirmation. I realized that I had confused the late charge specs for the truck and those of a Budget car rental I had made around the same time. The $8.70 was a per-hour late-charge penalty on the car rental, not the truck.

The actual mileage allowance penalty for the truck was a mere 60 cents per mile. As it turned out, the total overage penalty for the rental truck was a more manageable $9.00 than the $130.00 that I was bracing myself for.

Guess all’s well that ends well.

Next: An "Adult" Ice Cream for Amy

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Bohemian Rhapsody (Part III)

After touring the apartment, it was time to get busy. We still had a truck to unload.

There was actually only enough stuff to take up about three-quarters of the available space in the 10-foot box truck. Fortunately Amy's Eagle Scout big brother Shawn, who is an absolute master of ropes and knots, had tied everything down so securely that nothing budged an inch during the trip down.

Amy and I began unloading, then after about 20 minutes she realized that her best friend Dianna was due to get off work and had asked Amy to pick her up. So she excused herself to retrieve her friend, and I continued to unload items from the truck that were small enough for one person to carry. The break was actually quite welcome. The weather was very hot and humid; my shirt was already soaking wet.

Before I knew it, Amy and Dianna were back, and she reached out to give me a big "Dad" hug. I advised her to opt for the "I'm-really-sweaty-so-let's-just-touch-each-other's-shoulder blades" hug instead.

Michelle and I really like Dianna. She's an absolute sweetheart. As a matter of fact, there aren't many of Amy's girlfriends we haven't really liked. And with a few notable exceptions, her boyfriends have all been winners as well. Happily for us, Amy seems to be an excellent judge of character. Her friends and companions have always seemed to truly be good for her and have supported her well. Dianna is no exception.

She is a year younger than Amy and is a fellow member of the UTC Theater Department. She hails from West Tennessee, but speaks with no discernable accent. She's cute as a button and she calls me "Dad," which is actually quite fitting, since we've all but adopted her as our other daughter.

She eagerly pitched in and helped Amy and me unload the truck.

The Sofa (A.K.A. The Deep Blue Something)
The final piece we had to move was the sofa. It provided the primary necessity for renting the truck. This was a special piece of furniture we were passing on to Amy: a comfy, blue, seven-foot long mixture of dog hair and family history.

This is the same sofa on which we had huddled together, a family in shock (no pun intended), as we awaited the paramedics following Amy's accidental tub electrocution so many years ago.

This is the same sofa that had been host to so many family gatherings, birthday parties, and friends over for homemade strawberry pie and coffee. If this thing could talk...

It became the first major purchase of our household in January, 1980. The sofa came with a matching loveseat, which we moved to the bonus room above the garage when moved into our current home in 1994. We had decided the configuration of our living room wasn't right for the combo. I still park my posterior on that loveseat as I watch TV each night.

It's made of a plush, still-bright navy blue, vertically-ribbed material that has been as durable as it is beautiful. It has surrendered every would-be stain that's attempted to violate its surface. From coffee to baby barf over the years, everything has cleaned right up. However that material does have one considerable flaw. It holds dog hair like a magnet.

We have an 11 year-old black-and-white Toy Fox Terrier named Spotty who joined our family about a year after we moved to Tennessee. She has short, course, curved hairs which she sheds 24/7/365. Prior to Spotty's arrival, the sofa could easily be cleaned with any upholstery brush or attachment that comes with most modern vacuum cleaners.

However "Spotty-hair" requires a bit more effort.

For the last 11 years, I had been tasked with the job of keeping the couch clean. It's a constant job. I have found the only way to do it is to take pieces of packaging tape and manually pressing and lifting them over the surface of the couch until all the hair is picked up. As you might guess, this wasn't a fun job, but I love my dog, so I did it.

And being the cool guy that I am, I brought my industrial-strength tape dispenser along to do it one last time. Amy and Dianna pitched in to help, and we finished in record time.

The couch looked great (it always did when it was clean) and was easily the best-looking piece of furniture in the apartment. I was glad that we were giving it to Amy. She and her roommate truly needed it and I knew they'd take care of it.

It was about 6:00 PM. Our work was nearly completed. All that remained was for me to change into a dry shirt, go to dinner, drop off the truck, and have Amy drive me back home.

Next: Breaking Bread

Bohemian Rhapsody (Part II)

The Apartment
Amy's new apartment is located in a quaint, older neighborhood near downtown. It appears to be composed of houses and duplexes in the 40-75 year-old range. It’s hilly and tranquil, and completely wooded with mature trees and shrubbery. Her place is the right-hand half of a late 1960s vintage duplex, which lies at the foot of a fairly steep and well-shaded embankment. Her next door neighbors are two young Chattanooga police officers, who were just leaving to go on duty soon after my arrival.

Upon first entering the apartment, I was immediately struck with a certain familiarity regarding its layout and smell. The layout was reminiscent of my own first apartment, a two-story structure with the doorway on the left, giving way directly to the staircase; a cozy living room on the right. The apartment’s aroma took me back to the home of my paternal grandparents, with a sort of warm, dusky combination of kitchen grease and cigarette smoke. Sounds gross, I know, but hey, nostalgia isn't always pretty.

This apartment obviously has some miles on it. The carpets were stained, but essentially the place looked pretty clean. It was a fairly typical pad for a couple of college students — and perfectly suited for my daughter's modern-day Earth Woman tastes. She's what I referred to in an earlier story as a neo-hippie wannabe, which is all fine and well by me. And yes, she does shave her underarms and legs, but you know what I mean. If she ever stops shaving them, then I'll be bothered.

She, like so many others following the fashion of her generation, is happily sojourning through her Bohemian phase, in which being a hippie is more about fashion than rebellion. In due time, she'll more than likely be forced to put her patchouli on the shelf and rejoin the rest of the world, as even the real hippies did back in the day. Her new apartment is a veritable palace of Bohemian splendor. The wall near the front door is adorned with a homemade tapestry of purple and beige, whose pattern is composed of undecipherable words scrawled in an illegible script.

Whoa...heavy, dood...

In the far corner of the living room, there's a beat-up old New York Times newspaper rack. Its compartment window has been spray-painted black, but is broken in three places; the jagged glass is loose, but still holding. Strewn inside the compartment is a strand of Christmas lights, apparently designed to allow the newspaper rack to provide added value as a mood lamp when so desired.

On the main wall is a hodge-podge of framed art, non-framed posters and cut-out black-and-white magazine photographs, affixed with masking tape, and laid out in a manner that made my inner-perfectionist's skin crawl. Needless to say, I was sure to give Amy a short lesson on the joys of positive space vs. negative space before I left.

Next: Dianna

Bohemian Rhapsody (Part I)

Communications Breakdown
As I continued on I-24 through the heart of Chattanooga, I was carefully scanning the freeway signs for Manufacturer's Road, my designated exit.

"Do you see it yet?"

"Not yet. I'm just now passing the Central Ave. exit. That's the one I've taken before to get to your dorm."

"Um, Central? That doesn't ring a bell. You did take the downtown split when you first came into town didn't you?"

"Well, yeah I guess so. It's the same way Mom and I have always come before."

"Okay," she said. "Is there a bridge up ahead of you?"

"Yeah...looks like there is — yeah, I see it," I said, hoping I was seeing what she thought I was seeing. The problem was, the bridge to which I had referred was merely an overpass above a low-lying area. The bridge Amy was referring to was a bridge that spans the Tennessee River.

"Okay, I'm crossing the bridge. Still don't see any signs for Manufacturer's."

"Well do you think you might have passed it?"

"There's no way I could have missed it!" I said tersely. I then began to feel the dread of the realization that I had now gone over my mileage allowance. I began to entertain visions of handfuls of five-dollar bills swirling down the toilet bowl. "Well...I'm going around the bend, heading out of town...(the very end portion of I-24 that bends due eastward just before its junction with I-75 to the southeast, heading towards Atlanta). Amy, where the hell is Manufacturer's Road?!"

"How the hell do I know," she shrieked. It should be there!"

"Uh, live here?" I deadpanned angrily.

We interrupt this classic father-daughter moment to spare you of the obvious. As I'm sure you can guess, this get-together didn't exactly get off to a great start. I got off at the next exit and headed back in the opposite direction. This time however, I took the downtown Chattanooga bypass I should have taken in the first place, but was never told to take.

Like I said...classic.

Once I found the now-infamous Manufacturer's Road exit, I was home free, right? WRONG. Needless to say, we were both so frustrated by that time that even more directional foul-ups occurred, either because I wasn't listening, or she wasn't explaining well enough. In reality, I think we were too busy sniping at each other for either one of us to think clearly.

I guess this might be a good time to describe my daughter.

Unlike her big brother, who almost completely resembles Michelle, Amy favors me quite a bit facially. The flame-red hair of her childhood has now been replaced by a gorgeous mane of thick, deep auburn. Her bright denim-blue eyes are framed by coal-black lashes so naturally long and thick that mascara is virtually unnecessary.

Aside from her flat feet, and pale skin-tone, she acquired everything else from her mother — from her hourglass figure to her beautiful smile — not to mention her the fiery temper. And when I finally pulled up to her apartment building, she wasn't smiling.

I quickly wanted to bury the hatchet. So I was both our fault. After rolling her eyes, she deadpanned, "Well gimme a hug," and smiled. I kissed her cheek and squeezed her tightly

All was cool in Chattieland.

Next: The Apartment

Bohemian Rhapsody (Prologue)

The Delivery
Behind the wheel of a 10-foot Budget rental truck last Saturday, I began my descent from the last of a series of foothill passes on Interstate 24 East. The vista was suddenly picturesque, with the Tennessee River on my left sparkling in the midday sun as it traced the contour of the downtown and industrial area of the city the kids like to call "Chattie."

I fumbled for the cell phone I had stashed in the cup-holder on the truck's dashboard console. My thumb tattooed three quick clicks on the directory scroll button to arrive at the line that read, "Amy's cell." I hit the "call" button.

No, I wasn't calling someone in prison; I was calling my daughter. The truck I was driving contained the last of Amy's belongings from home, along with some bedroom furniture and our household's original family sofa — Michelle and my first major purchase as husband and wife — circa. 1980.

"Hey Dad — where are you?" the familiar voice in my ear inquired.

"I just came around the bend, heading into town. I get off at Manufacturer's Road, right?" Although her mother had been here several times, I'd only been to Chattanooga three times prior — all to see Amy's performances. She'll be entering her third year in the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga Theater Department this Fall. This was my first go without Michelle navigating, and I only knew how to get to Campus from the freeway. Her new apartment was in another part of town, so I needed some guidance.

"Right," She said.

"I'm just gonna keep you on the line until I get there so don't miss any turns, okay?" I had called her earlier and gotten thumbnail directions from a friend of hers. But the mileage allowance on the truck left little margin for error, and I didn't want to pay (what I had mistakenly thought was) an $8.70 per-mile penalty for going over the assigned mileage on this one-way rental.

The plan was, I would rent the truck one-way from Nashville to Chattanooga. The mileage allowance was sufficient, I thought, to get the job done. I would then drop off the truck at the local Budget Truck Rental office and Amy would drive me back home that evening.

Since the next day was Father's Day, and she had to work at her local job at the Tennessee Aquarium, Amy had offered to take me out for dinner when we were all through unloading her stuff. I was looking forward to spending some time with my baby girl — and marveling at the beautiful woman; the beautiful person, she has become.

We'd talk music, I'd thought. We'd talk about the family. We'd discuss spiritual things; her potential acting roles for the upcoming semester. We'd just hang.

It's easy for me to be "Dad" to Amy. She no longer pretends not to care about my opinion, and what I have to say about life in general (or even her life specifically). She seeks her Mother's and my counsel, yet makes her own decisions. The discussions we have are often poignant and deep. Yet at the same time I can lay my corny sense of humor on her without fear of looking like a dweeb in her eyes.

We've become good friends, she and I.

Amy and I have the type of relationship I had always imagined I would have with my kids as adults. A relationship made easier by the fact that we started our family at an early age. Unfortunately, I had been much too impatient in waiting to see that type of relationship arrive while the kids were growing up, especially in regard to Amy.

I didn't grow up around girls, in any way, shape or form. I grew up in a family of five boys, and was only exposed to a sister after my Dad remarried and we moved to SoCal, when I was 13 following my Mother's death. At that point, my stepsister was already a Senior in high school. She was a cheerleader with a steady boyfriend, and consequently, was very seldom around. I had no training to prepare me how to deal with "little girl goofiness." As a result, I'm ashamed to say I wasn't very close to Amy when she was little. I didn't embrace (or much of the time even tolerate) her bouncing-off-the-wall personality, her penchant for purses, Barbie dolls, and "My Little Pony," or her constant assertions that she would someday be a star pop singer or actress. I'd nod my head and say, "Sure sweetie, could you go play in the other room? I can't hear the TV..."

I was horrible. But that was then, and hopefully I didn't do too much permanent damage. Good thing Michelle was walking behind me to replace my divots.

Next: Communications Breakdown

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Same Day (Epilogue)

A New Day
The next morning I was awakened by the sunlight coming through the window at the foot of my bed. It was a another glorious, SoCal morning.

I felt reborn.

I put my shoes back on and I wandered out the door to a nearby restroom to splash some cold water on my face. I went out to the nurse's station an asked if I could see my daughter. The nurse said that they were just then in the process of filling out the release papers.

Amy seemed happy, but ready to go home.

I thanked as many people around me as I could see, and asked them to again please pass on my appreciation to the crew who had served us the night before.

I took Amy out to my car and we drove home, to the waiting arms of Michelle and little Shawn. We were a very happy and thankful family again.

In the years since, Amy and I have talked about the incident dozens of times, maybe more. She didn't really remember any of it, except in flashes, and she's actually not sure if those are genuine memories or those manufactured from hearing the story being told so many times throughout her childhood.

But when she was in 4th grade, her class assignment was to write a story about heroes. She wrote "My hero is my Dad, because he saved my life."

Now any father who says he doesn't want to be his little girl's hero, is either lying or just plain stupid. I'm no different.

I'm delighted to know that she thinks of me in those terms. There is a definitely a bond between Amy and me that that exceeds the father-daughter norm. But seriously, I don't look at what I did as heroic. I look upon it as a miracle. I was just a spectator, watching it unfold from up above, hovering near the ceiling. I have no idea who that guy was, performing CPR on my daughter that day.

I really don't.


Same Day (Part III)

"I wanna get outta here!"
During the ride to the hospital, Amy had fallen asleep, and remained so for the first couple of hours we were there. We were taken to the Children’s Intensive Care ward of the hospital, which I would find out later, was renowned as one of the finest in all of Southern California.

As I sat by Amy's bedside, she slept while I filled out admission forms. When I was finished, I just watched her sleep. Flame-red hair delicately framed an angelic little face that showed no signs of the truma that had befallen her only hours earlier.

Over the next hour or so, her hospital room reminded me the "Adoration of the Magi" scene at the birth of Jesus. Doctors and nurses in a seemingly unending stream, all came by to check in on her, to see her for themselves. They all wanted to tell me how happy they were for me and my wife. How amazing it was that there was no sign of any water in her lungs. How rare it was for a story such as this to end on a positive note. "You don't know how often your story doesn't have a happy ending," one doctor mentioned warmly. "Congratulations."

Soon thereafter, Amy awoke.

"Hey sweetie...How ya doin?" I said as I leaned over to kiss her cheek.

Her eyes gave a quick look around to size up her unfamiliar surroundings.

She frowned, "I wa'a geet owa heeoh!" (which loosely translated into English meant, "I wanna get out of here!)

"No baby, you need to just go back to sleep. The doctors want to watch you tonight to make sure you're gonna be alright," I said.

"Okay..." she said (amazingly). And within minutes she was again fast asleep.

I sat with her for another half-hour before a nurse approached me about retiring to one of the guest rooms they had set aside for parents and friends of patients in situations like this. "I promise we'll let you know if your little girl's condition changes."

I reluctantly acquiesced, although I was exhausted on every level imaginable. She showed me to the tiny room, which was barely wide enough to fit the single-sized bed into. I took off my shoes and crawled under the sheet.

I was out like a light.

Next: A new day

Same Day (Part II)

Miracle on Nipomo Avenue
It was August 18, 1987, and Amy was a little less than two months shy of her third birthday. Call it stupidity; call it naivete. What ever it was, in retrospect I have a hard time believing that we could have even allowed the circumstances of this story to exist in the first place — but they did.

It was a weeknight early evening. We had just finished dinner, and we'd all dispersed to different parts of the house to different activities. Shawn, who was five years old at the time, went to his room to play his new Sesame Street record on the little record player he'd gotten for his birthday several months earlier.

Michelle had just put Amy in the bathtub when the phone rang, so she got up to answer it. Amy was fine playing by herself for a few moments, she thought. She had done it before. Just to be safe however, Michelle called to Shawn to come keep an eye on his sister while she went to answer the phone in the kitchen.

I was piddling around in my studio on the backside of the house. I needed to get something from our bedroom, at the end of the hallway, adjacent to the bathroom.

As I walked down the hallway, I heard the gleeful splashes of my little girl playing in the tub. I peeked my head around the corner and just as Shawn was beginning to play the Sesame Street record to entertain his sister.

I freaked.

This is where I need to explain the layout of the bathroom. The house was a tiny; 1200 square-feet, two-bedroom, one bath tract-style home. The bathroom was probably 12 feet wide, by 8 feet deep. Clockwise from the doorway was the toilet in the near left corner, the enclosed shower in the far left corner, the tub in the far right-corner, and the vanity in the near right-corner. It was a small bathroom and a tight fit. The left side of the vanity butted up directly to the foot of the tub.

Shawn had come in and set his little record player up on the vanity and plugged it into the wall socket in the far right-corner. My immediate thought was obviously of what could happen if the record player somehow fell into the tub.

I harshly (and probably, unjustifiably) scolded Shawn for creating this potentially disastrous hazard. I told him that his sister could be electrocuted if anything that was plugged in touched the water, and that he should never, never do anything like this again.

I'm sure the stunned look on his face was in reaction to the tone of my scolding more than any comprehension of what I was talking about. "I just wanted to play Amy a song," he whimpered. I hugged him and said, "I know, didn't know it was dangerous. It's okay."

So I unplugged the record player and placed it in his arms and asked him to could go someplace else to play for now. He went into his room, and I, like an idiot, blithely continued on my merry way to do whatever it had been that I needed to do in our bedroom. Amy continued to happily play with her tub toys.

After all these years I still ask myself why I even left the bathroom. Why didn't I at least call out to Michelle, who I could hear, still chatting away on the phone in the kitchen at the end of the hallway, to ask her how much longer she would be. But nope, I had to get back to my studio, to continue my piddling. So I left Amy, by herself in the tub. "I'm sure she'll be okay," I thought. "I'll check back on her in a minute."

In what seems to me now to have been at least five minutes later, from the vantagepoint of my studio, I could see the kitchen and Michelle, still talking on the phone. I suddenly became perturbed that she was still gabbing instead of tending to our daughter, all the while never once questioning myself as to why I wasn't in there tending to her myself.

I disgustedly began trudging across the living room towards the hallway to go check on Amy, when I heard a tiny voice from down the hall.


And then the echo of a splash.

I sprinted down the hall, grabbing the doorjamb of the bathroom to stop my momentum as my feet slid across the linoleum. I took one look at the tub and shouted, "MICHELLE! CALL 911!

There before my eyes, was my baby girl, lying motionless on her right side in the tub, her tiny face and body half-submerged in five inches of water. Her once bright denim-blue eyes were wide open, wearing a lifeless whitish glaze. Her mouth was agape and filled with water. Her skin was white as a ghost.

At this point, as my thoughts recount that horrific scene, I can honestly see myself from two distinct vantage points: one from the point of my own two eyes, and the other from a point above me, as if hovering near the ceiling of the bathroom, above my body. I'd never believed in those stories people told of "out-of-body" experiences before, but I can tell you, this was one for me.

I leapt toward the tub to grab Amy, thinking she had slipped and hit her head. As I reached in to pull her out, my arm suddenly recoiled from the water. It was only then that I noticed the cord.

Oh my God...the hairdryer.

As I write this, I am at this very moment convulsing in the guilt and shame I still feel over the fact that we could have ever been so stupid, so lazy, to have ever allowed this to happen.

From the vantage point in which I earlier described the bathroom, in the near right corner on the near wall was an electrical outlet. Directly above it was the oak medicine chest we'd received as a wedding gift. It was perfect for the limited space we had in our tiny bathroom. Directly beneath the cabinet portion was a little shelf and towel bar at the very bottom. You've seen a million of 'em in people's bathrooms.

On that little shelf, we kept the hair dryer. And we kept it plugged in at all times...because we were lazy and stupid; no other reason. Had it ever crossed my mind that something disastrous like this could happen? Sure. But it would never happen to us. Besides, the cord was barely long enough to stretch from the outlet to the tub. What could happen? We had always designated it as a "no touch" item with the kids. There was no playing with the hair dryer — ever. It couldn't happen to us, right?

How ironic it is that only moments before, as I had lectured my son on the danger of having an electrically-powered appliance near the tub, that my daughter would choose to pretend she was being a big girl and want to style her hair like her Mommy. Apparently Amy had climbed up onto the vanity and crawled over to the far side, grabbed the dryer and backed down into the tub, where she was immediately was jolted unconscious by the current from the plugged-in dryer, and hit the water. The doctors would later tell me, had she somehow managed to turn the dryer on, she would surely have been electrocuted to death.

Back to my out-of-body experience...

After receiving the mild, but considerable shock from the current running through the water in the tub, from that point on, I operated on autopilot.

I don't remember ever thinking to myself, "what do I do?"

I just did.

Immediately I grabbed the cord that trailed the hair dryer, which was taught against the side of the tub, and flung it backwards as hard as I could.

I then reached in and cradled Amy in my arms. I gently turned and sat down on the edge of the tub with her tiny, lifeless body draped transversely across my lap; her head on my left-hand side. Her lifeless eyes, staring at the ceiling.

Suddenly Michelle and Shawn appeared in the doorway and my wife gasped, "Oh my God!" Her hands covering the sides of her face trembled. She just stood there. I looked up angrily and screamed at the top of my lungs, "CALL 911!"

She hurried back to the kitchen, and I returned my attention to my baby.

Fortunately, several months earlier we had taken a CPR course, given by a friend from our church. The course also offered infant CPR. It was the responsible thing to do. I remember thinking. Something I found particularly interesting during the course was the differences in technique between adult and infant CPR, I figured that I might someday be called upon to use CPR on an adult, but never dreamed that I would ever have to save the life of one of my own children.

For those of you who have never been trained (and shame on you if you haven't), the major difference in the two techniques is the strength with which they are applied. In adult CPR, the heart-pumping technique is a forceful and deep action. Considerable down-leverage from a position over the top of the victim is necessary, due to the strength of the adult sternum and ribcage, through which the force to manipulate the heart must me exerted. Likewise, the mouth-to-mouth technique is tantamount to blowing up a balloon, using long, deep breaths to inflate the lungs.

Infant CPR is quite different. We had been taught to assume a position similar to the one I instinctively took when treating Amy, resting the victim horizontally across the lap, so as to avoid exerting too much leverage. The heart massage is performed firmly but gently with the fingertips only, so as not to damage delicate, still developing bones of the infantile ribcage.

The mouth-to-mouth technique is the trickiest however, as it's tough to gauge just how much air pressure is enough — or too much. Gentle, shallow breaths were prescribed by our CPR instructor.

I was now cast into hell, to test what I'd learned.

I bent my left ear to her motionless chest. She wasn't breathing. I could hear no heartbeat. I tipped her head back and gently pinched her tiny nostrils, closed between my right thumb and forefinger. Then cupping her precious little mouth in my lips, I gently forced a breath into her lungs.

I could feel her body rise slightly off the top of my legs as her back arched and her chest filled with air. I released her nose and drew back momentarily to see if there were any signs of life, before returning to repeat the procedure.

Suddenly a gurgling noise came from deep within her throat. Then she swallowed, and then she heaved what would be the first breath of the rest of her life.

What a wonderful sound!

I don't think I can accurately describe what an incredible sight it was to see her dead eyes come to life again. It was as though they were covered in a fog that suddenly lifted. I watched as her pupils, which had been completely dilated, suddenly constrict in the glare of the harsh overhead bathroom light. Their color immediately returned to their original bright denim-blue hue.

Amy slowly regained consciousness, as if awaking from a deep sleep. She began to cry, very softly at first, but gaining volume with each successive breath. I took her tightly into my arms and held her face to mine.

"You're okay now baby. You're gonna be okay. Thank you Lord, oh thank you!"

"She's alright! I shouted to Michelle, who was on the phone with the 911-operator, "She's really okay..."

Then I heard Michelle come running down the hall, tears of fear and joy staining her cheeks. She came into the bathroom and threw her arms around the two of us as we all wept together.

Michelle said that the paramedics were on their way just to check her out and make sure that Amy was safe. She handed me a bath towel and I wrapped it around Amy, who had begun to shiver. I held her tightly. There was no way I was letting that little girl out of my arms.

We went into the living room and all sat down on the couch. It seemed that only a minute passed before we heard the sirens. I could see from where I was sitting, a big white paramedic’s truck pulling into the driveway. A yellow fire truck was idling in the street in front of our house as well.

Michelle got up to usher the navy blue uniformed paramedics into our living room. I finally surrendered my baby girl to one of them. After asking us to recount what had happened, they checked her out useing a stethoscope to listen for possible fluid in her lungs, but heard none.

One of the paramedics shook his head in disbelief, telling us how incredibly lucky we were to still have Amy with us. Thankfully he didn't scold us about the plugged-in hair dryer, but added that he hoped we now know what not to do in the future.

He also said that although he couldn't force us to do so, he would strongly urge us to allow them to take Amy to the hospital for observation. Although she seemed to be okay, if any water had gotten into her lungs, she could be subject to infection. She needed to be checked out more thoroughly. We agreed, but there was never even a mention as to which one of us would accompany her.

That would be me.

The paramedic apologized to me for the fact that Amy couldn't ride in my car, but that regulations required for her to be transported in the ambulance, which I could follow. I said I understood and hugged and kissed Shawn and Michelle; I said that I'd call as soon as I heard anything.

It was about 8:30 at night by now and the memory of following that ambulance is as surreal as any part of this story. Watching the hypnotic swirling lights, silently cutting a path into the evening twilight. I was trying to get a handle on all that had just happened. How my life would never be the same. How could I ever have had the courage to do what I had just done?

I thanked God for giving the strength in my time of most desperate need.

Next: "I wanna get outta here!"

Same Day (Part I)

City Slickers
Y'know, I love Billy Crystal. He's always been one of my favorite comedians. He's mutually accredited as one of the best hosts in Academy Awards Show history, and his brief, but eventful one-season stint as a regular on Saturday Night Live ('84-85 season) gave us one of the 80s most popular catch phrases. "You Look Mahvelous" was a hilarious take on 50s actor Fernando Lamas, although I'm sure that fact was under-appreciated by a lot of fans too young to remember him.

Crystal went on from SNL to devote his career to movie roles, most of which have been pretty forgettable. However "When Harry Met Sally" (1989) was a great movie, and his following film, "City Slickers" (1991) is one of my all-time favorites.

The screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (two longtime collaborators of Crystal) combined with the primary cast: Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby, just hit on so many levels for me. There is so much I identify with in that movie; so many favorite moments.

While driving down to Chattanooga yesterday, I was thinking about my daughter's journey to adulthood and one scene in particular came to mind.

Phil (Daniel Stern), Mitch (Billy Crystal), and Ed (Bruno Kirby) are driving the herd, following the untimely death and impromptu funeral service of trail boss Curly (Jack Palance). Unlike Mitch, Ed doesn't want to talk about death anymore, but rather celebrate the beauty of the nature surrounding him and the joy of being with his two best friends, driving this herd of cattle across the Colorado countryside. "This is one of the best days of my life," he exclaims...

Phil: Alright, What is the best day of your life?
Mitch: You mean ever?
Phil: Yeah, best day ever in your whole life. And you can't do "when your kids were born," that's too easy.
Mitch: Okay, I got one. Seven years old and my dad takes me to Yankee Stadium. My first game. We go in through this long dark tunnel underneath the stands, and I'm holding his hand, and we come up out of the tunnel, and into the light. It was huge. How green the grass was, the brown dirt, and that great green copper roof, remember? And we had a black and white TV then, so this was the first game I ever saw in color. I sat next there the whole game next to my dad. He taught me how to keep score...Mickey hit one out.
Phil: Good day...
Mitch: And I still have the program.

Phil: Alright...what was the worst day you ever had?

Mitch: Worst day...Couple years ago, Barbara finds a lump.
Ed: What? JESUS!
Mitch: Yeah, scared the shit outta me.
Ed: You never said anything...
Mitch: Yeah, yeah y'know it turned out to be nothing, but that whole day was...*shakes his head*
Ed: Yeah, but that was a good day
Mitch: HOW?
Ed: Because it turned out to be nothing...
Mitch: Yeah, but that whole day until then...was horrible.
Ed: Yeah, but it came out good. You're a real, "the glass is half empty" kind of guy, y'know that? I dunno how Barbara can stand it.
Mitch: Yeah...

Phil: Alright, I got one. My best day...
Ed: This isn't that one about Arlene and that loose step, is it?
Phil:, my wedding day.
Mitch: What?
Phil: Yeah. Remember that day? Outdoor wedding; Arlene looked great...those water pills really worked! You guys were all smilin' at me; And my the me a little wink. Y'know? I mean, he's not the warmest of men, but he winked. Y'know I was the first one of us to get married and have a real job, and I remember thinking, "I'm grown up." Y'know, "I, I'm not a goofball anymore...I made it." I felt like a man. Best day of my life.

Ed: What was your worst day?

Phil: Every day since is a tie...
(Mitch & Ed: big laughs)

Mitch: Alright Ed, your best day, what was it, twins in a trapeeze, what?
Ed: No, I don't wanna play.
Mitch: C'mon, we did it...
Ed: I don't feel like it.
Mitch: Uh, okay...
(long pause)
Ed: I'm 14 and my mother and father are fighting again...y'know, because she caught him again. Caught him?...This time the girl drove by the house to pick him up. And I finally realized, he wasn't just cheating on my mother, he was cheating us. So I told him, I said, "You're bad to us. We don't love you. I'll take care of my mother and my sister. We don't need you any more." And he made like he was gonna hit me, but I didn't budge. And he turned around and he left. He never bothered us again. Well I took care of my mother and my sister from that day on. That's my best day.

Phil: W-What was you're worst day?

Ed: Same day.

That's way I feel about my personal best day/worst day scenario, except the worst day part came first. This is both as hard and as happy a story for me to talk about as any experience in my lifetime. It was a defining experience. It was a true miracle.

Next: Miracle on Nipomo Avenue

Same Day (Prologue)

My baby girl has officially moved out.
My youngest, my daughter Amy goes to college at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga in Southern Tennessee. At the end of this past Spring Semester, she expressed the desire to live in an apartment off-campus as opposed to coming home for the summer. We told her that what she was talking about was essentially moving away from home permanently, since the ground rules had been strictly established that Mom and Dad only support you during the school year.

She was aware of that, but she said she was ready to make that step. She had already gotten a job at the Tennessee Aquarium (a great attraction to visit if you're ever down this way), and that she wanted to make a go of it.

Okay, we thought. She's always been a responsible kid. There's no reason for her to hang out here all summer when she doesn't want to. Besides, we could actually use the opportunity to do something we'd been saving for years to do: upgrade the living room, namely, our circa 1980 sofa.

So we went ahead and bought a great-looking new sofa-sectional a couple weeks ago and set the old sofa aside, making plans to rent a truck and haul it down to Amy, along with her dresser from home and a number of her other small pieces of furniture and belongings.

So yesterday I rented the truck and had my son Shawn help me load it up. It was sad, thinking that this was in effect the end of her childhood, so my mood was somber as I embarked upon the two and a half-hour dive down I-24. I spent the time reflecting on her life, our sometimes stormy relationship as father and daughter, and how proud I was of the person she had grown up to become.

A lot of things raced through my mind. It's funny how random thoughts pop in and out. I thought of a kind of fun way to tell her how much I loved her and how much she meant to me, when something as random as a movie scene flashed across my brain.

Next: City Slickers