Monday, December 26, 2005

A Golden Rule for the New Millennium

Happy Holidays everyone
This is something I’ve actually been planning to write about for over a year, and Christmas is as good a time as any. So as in the past, I’m taking a brief detour from my current series to talk about something that has become extremely poignant to me and has seriously affected the way I think about relating to other people.

It’s not too often that you hear or read something that changes your life. But about five years ago I was surfing the Web and found a sentiment; a pretty intelligent truism, I thought; a phrase that really made me think. It since has sort of become my credo and an important part of my personal philosophy on life.

It’s a new spin on a timeless reality; a Golden Rule for the New Millennium.

The so-called, Golden Rule, as described in the Bible, instructs us to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It has been an oft-quoted fixture in the moral code of Western society since the time of the Pilgrims. It, as much as anything, embodies the so-called Judeo-Christian Ethic. However for what is largely regarded as a religious axiom, it actually speaks more to simple civility than to faith. Anyone, regardless of their faith, can and usually does wish to be treated well. Nobody enjoys the selfishness and rude behavior we so often encounter in everyday life. If everyone treated their neighbor as they themselves wish to be treated, the world would obviously be a better place, would it not?

So why don’t we do it?

Maybe we believe in the concept, but the terminology has become too old-fashioned to embrace or even understand. Perhaps we just need to look at it a bit differently. Maybe we just need to gain a fresh perspective.

I have no idea who first penned these words. And I’m really not convinced they had the Golden Rule in mind when they did so. As to where these words of wisdom originated, I haven’t a clue. I didn’t even bookmark the Web site. I don’t know who the author is or when it was written. But as soon as I found it, I printed it out and posted it in a prominent place where I now see it every day to remind and inspire me. It goes like this:

People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget about how you made them feel

Now most men I know would consider this saying overly sappy or too emotional to even be considered. Me, I don’t care much about whether or not people think I’m too emotional. I am what I am, and what I am is an emotional being; we all are, whether or not we care to admit it. If you really think about it, emotion is the only thing in this physical life that is really real. It defines us, both in the way we see ourselves and others see us. Emotions are the only means by which we can truly control our own destiny. I can’t control the future, but I can control how I allow myself to deal with it.

I guess it was fairly easy to adopt the phrase as I did, since I’d pretty much believed and lived it my entire life, before I even stumbled upon that Web site. But it’s not that I’m so great or better than anyone else. It’s just that I’ve observed that people who have themselves been mistreated often display the greatest capacity for understanding the need for kindness. Sometimes it takes a little experience being the victim to thereby gain the compassion to try and spare others from experiencing the same fate.

I’ve seen both sides of the coin in my own life. On one side there was my stepmom, Maxine. While I have completely forgiven her, it has been impossible for me to forget how the way she treated me growing up made me feel — both about her and about myself. I felt worthless, angry, confused, resentful; wondering if she really was right when she repeatedly told me that I’d “never amount to anything.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is someone like my friend Cindy, who has never done anything but make me feel good about myself, as I’ve made reference to before.

It is extremes such as these, which span the gamut of human emotion, that make that phrase of affectation so significant.

Ever find that you simply “don’t like someone” but can’t really place a finger on why? Or conversely, is there someone you know, even casually, who makes you smile every time you talk to them, or perhaps, even think of them? These emotions are not elicited by accident. But by the same token, they’re not always purposeful in origin. They are often based directly upon whether or not someone has made a conscious effort to be kind; to be civil; to place themselves in a position of servitude to another friend, family member, or even a complete stranger on the street.

We have the opportunity every single day, and in every single encounter, to either build or destroy our personal standing with another human being.

Have a problem dealing with someone? Guess what? Chances are it’s not their problem — it’s yours. We have the power to change minds, one smile, one kind word, one encouragement at a time. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to find us likable. We’re the ones who have the greater ability to make that happen.

Say you want a res-o-lu-tion?
We often use this time of Christmas and the start of the New Year as a season in which to reflect upon our lives; evaluating things, both positive and otherwise, either acknowledging thanks that they are so, or exercising our resolve to change them into something better.

I challenge everyone reading this to accept the responsibility that we all have to make a positive impact on those we come into contact with each and every day. This isn’t pie in the sky, folks. It’s not, “all you need is love, “let’s make nice-nice” or any other kind of faux-sincerity. People are genuinely effected by our demeanor, our attitude, and whether or not we actually care about their lives or their opinions. If you think you can blow someone off or dismiss them without them knowing it, think again. When was the last time the shoe was on the other foot and you didn’t realize what was going on?

And of course the phenomenon isn’t limited to casual encounters only. What do we truly invest in our friends and family? Is it always about us, or are we actually concerned about their needs? These are tough questions because this is serious work. There is no free lunch. We all need to get paid. And because of that, we all need to put forth the effort to be deserving of such a wonderful blessing as the love and respect of great friends and family.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah. Here’s to a great and successful 2006. Take care of each other; respect one another. Make the impression you leave on others a good one.

Here’s to a new year filled with no regrets.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part II)

Day One — Friday: Buddy, can ya spare a ride? (continued)
I was stuck. For one thing, my Dad lives in Hemet, nearly 100 miles and at least a two-hour drive away. There was no way in hell I was calling him. My friend Cindy, who was putting me up for the week, was no option either; she was working from home that day because, you guessed it, her car was in the shop.

I knew I was screwed when I asked the guy behind the counter, who was doing all he could to help resolve my problem, to find out how much a cab ride from LA to northern Orange County (where Cindy lives) would be. Let’s just say it was considerably more than the forty bucks I currently had in my wallet. Yep, not only did I blow off going to the bank before leaving home, to check the status of our account, I didn’t even take the time to pick up any cash for the trip, assuming I could just get some at an ATM once I got to California.

As I sat there in the waiting area at the car rental agency, I thought my head was going to explode.

Jay to the rescue
I really had just two options. One was the bus, with a zillion transfers and logistical entanglements in tow. The other was my college buddy, Jay who was the only other person who knew I was in town that might have been even remotely available to help me out. The problem was, I’d only made the loosest of plans with him beforehand. We hadn’t even decided when we’d get together that week. It was a, “I’ll call you when I hit town,” sort of deal. I had no idea what he was doing or what his schedule was. Even being able to get a hold of him would be a crapshoot. I had his home phone number, but that was it.

One of the truest testaments of friendship is how one person responds to another in a time of crisis. Let me tellya, Jay went above and beyond the call of duty. He wasn’t home when I first called so I left a message detailing my sad story of woe. But he called me back about 30 minutes later, cheerfully ragging my ass for being in such a laughable (to him, anyway) predicament. Then after letting me twist in the wind a little, he admitted that his inner-good-Samaritan had gotten the better of him once again; he’d be happy to help me out. After giving him directions to the rental place (which was about a mile from LAX) he was on his way to pick me up.

I think it necessary to explain the magnitude of this guy’s sacrifice. It was by now after 4:00 PM on a Friday afternoon. Jay lived 25 miles away in Long Beach and had to launch himself directly into the teeth of some of the most legendary rush hour traffic in the nation, just to give me a lift to another friend’s house (whom he didn’t even know). Now that’s a pal right there, boys and girls.

I can’t adequately communicate my relief at that point. I went from utter despair to outright giddiness in a matter of about 15 seconds. After I hung up with Jay, I sat and watched the TV that was playing there in the lobby, re-orienting myself to the local color, the commercials and news personalities. It’s just another one of the subtle pleasures I experience each time I come here — the process of re-connecting with this place. I was just so happy to be out of the mess I’d been in. Now I could get down to the business of having a busy but enjoyable week.

Before I knew it my cell phone was vibrating again. Jay needed a little more help finding the car rental agency, which I have purposely not named — yet — but will focus upon a little later. Jay had overshot the turnoff, which isn’t well marked, by a couple blocks so once we got him turned around, I was able to guide him in.

(Aren’t cell phones just the most freaking wonderful things ever?)

I looked out the front window to see Jay’s familiar dark blue Chevy truck pulling into the driveway and went out to meet him. We did the man-hug thang; he loaded my duffel and suit bag into a covered compartment in the truck bed and we hit the road.

Given the Friday afternoon traffic factor, we had a longer-than-normal time to catch up on what had been going on in each other’s lives in the year since my last visit to the homeland. That week I stayed most of the week with Jay, but for this visit Cindy insisted I stay at her place. It’s nice to know that I have not one, but two, Motel Californias vying for my patronage whenever I come back to this wondrous place that still feels so very much like home to me.

I know he wasn’t expecting it, but in gratitude to Jay for his taxi service, I told him that when we got together later that week (which, we decided would be the following Wednesday night), he could name the restaurant; dinner was on me.

Welcome to Cindy Manor
If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve already met Cindy. If not, allow me to ‘splain you something. She’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, and Michelle feels the same way about her that I do. So, if the proposition of me spending a week, by myself at the home of an unmarried woman, 2500 miles from my wife, causes anyone reading this to sprout a raised eyebrow, relax. This is a purely platonic relationship. Always has been, always will be.

I won’t completely re-hash our history, and what Cindy means to me as the friend she’s always been. But suffice it to say I was looking forward to spending the extended time with her that I wasn’t able to when I was in town a year ago.

When Jay dropped me off at her house, in a nice, middle-class neighborhood of suburban Orange County, she was busy undoing the mess that’s often left behind by any auto mechanic fixing anything on the inside of your car. In this case, Cindy’s SUV had a malfunctioning instrument panel that needed repair, requiring her to work from home that day. But now that she’d gotten her car back home, she had to replace the various items, once located neatly in storage compartments in her car, which had become mysteriously strewn all over the floor and back seat.

Following our greeting hugs, I thanked Jay once again and bid him adieu until Wednesday. She was just finishing up with her car, so we exchanged pleasantries for a few moments and then went inside. She showed me my room and refreshed my memory of the layout of her very handsome home, which she refers to as “the dump of the neighborhood,” but which actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

She asked me to run down my schedule for the week so that she could get a fix on when I was going to be around. As I related to her my plans for spending Monday and Tuesday out at my Dad’s in Hemet, she went to the entry table near the front door and began thumbing through a small stack of papers gathered there. “Okay,” she said, “If you’re going to be with your Dad on Tuesday night, maybe you two could get some use out of these…” She placed a skinny rectangular envelope in my hand with the words, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim printed boldly across the front.

“I can’t make it to the game Tuesday and I want you to take your Dad,” she said with a smile. Cindy, as you may recall is a longtime Angels season ticket holder and of course, the Halos are my (as well as my Dad’s) favorite team as well. It had already been established that she and I would be taking in a game during my visit, but that was a week away, the following Friday night versus the Boston Red Sox. This other game was a complete surprise. A bonus I that certainly didn’t expect, but yet I wasn’t exactly surprised either; that’s the kind of person she is.

We sat and spent probably an hour catching up on our lives, as well as those of our mutual friends, some of whom I remain in contact with and some I haven’t seen in 10-15 years, but whom Cindy still keeps tabs on.

She is, to a large degree, the single touchstone for an entire segment of my past, without which I would certainly lose contact. She hasn’t changed one iota in all the years I’ve known her. I guess she just reminds me of a time in my life when the whole world was so much bigger and more wonderful than it is now; back when we were all young and our lives were all before us. Not that I want to live in the past, it’s just that for me, she’s just such a wonderful link to that time, and I’ll always appreciate her for that.

By the time we’d finished our little re-introductory confab, it was getting to be dinnertime. The plan was that since I’d missed out on eating at my favorite restaurant a year earlier, we’d make it a point to do so at least once while I was there this time.

Where are you tonight, Sweet Marie?
Hoo-boy, I could write an entire post about this place — and in the interest of brevity and staying on-topic, I probably will. However in the meantime, need to rant just a little on the passing of a phenomenon, in my opinion.

If you live most anywhere in the Western U.S., you’ve seen them and more than likely eaten in one as well. If you live anywhere else, chances are for the past ten years or so you’ve seen this restaurant’s faire featured in your supermarket’s frozen food section. But if your experience is only the latter, you’ve unfortunately missed out on a lot. Marie Callender’s Restaurants were founded here in Southern California and became a fixture in the casual dining arena long before the numerous wannbes that couldn’t even approach their uniqueness or quality came along.

However one store in particular, my Marie’s, the original Marie Callender’s, is the subject of this mini-rant.

Marie’s son, Don was the family entrepreneur. It was he who made the push to expand his mother’s homemade pie operation from a small North Long Beach bakery and open a restaurant in nearby Seal Beach. That restaurant, just a mile west of my first bachelor pad, was the unofficial meeting place of most of my friends at during my late high school/early college years.

The MC franchise was well underway in the mid-70s, when the Seal Beach store became our personal Cheers. The larger, full-sized restaurants were already the norm for the growing MC chain, but not so for number one. Because of it’s more humble beginnings (it was essentially pie and coffee shop when it was built in the 60s), the original Marie’s maintained it’s cozy charm, even after an early 70s remodeling nearly doubled its overall size.

This was a special place, filled with memories of a less-complicated time and a menu of unique dishes that never disappointed. If it’s possible to have a personal relationship with a restaurant, well, I was head-over-heals in love with Marie’s.

When Michelle and came out in May of 2004, we ate there in Seal Beach and I relished a side of their famous Fettuccine Alfredo alongside a salad-bar salad drizzled with MC’s legendary exclusive hot bacon dressing. It was just as good as I remembered it, and maybe better. For dessert I had my old fave, a slice of Black Bottom pie. I was in heaven.

However when I returned for my second stay in SoCal that summer, in August, I was disappointed to learn that the Seal Beach store had closed for yet another remodeling. It was scheduled to re-open in the Summer of 2005. Oh well, I thought, maybe next time, then. I didn’t know it at the time, but that May visit would end up being my final opportunity to enjoy my old friend.

They say you can’t improve on perfection, but you can sure as hell go the other way.

In an apparent attempt to bring the “little Marie’s” up to snuff, corporate decided to give the place both a major facelift and image upgrade. The inside was all but completely gutted. Its coffee shop feel was completely obliterated and in its place was installed the sophisticated look of an upscale eatery. Even the name out front changed to reflect the restaurant’s new personality. Instead of the familiar, classic script welcoming patrons to Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery, a new heavy, masculine marquee now simply read, Callender’s Grill. As far as I’m concerned, a LOT was lost in the translation.

Joining Cindy and me for dinner was another mutual friend from the old days; one I’ve actually kept up with better than most, and have wriiten about previously: my good friend Az and his wife Katy. Although his parents live just a few blocks from the restaurant, Az now lives in San Diego County, but was willing to make the 90 minute drive north to join us (what a pal, eh?). Given that it was Friday evening, freeway traffic understandably had them running later than they thought they’d be. Receiving updates from time-to-time via cell phone, Cindy and I went ahead and were seated when our name was called. We decided we’d just sit, talk and wait until they arrived to order.

We were seated in a big booth in the very back of the restaurant, which seemed to be the only part that wasn’t changed in the re-model. Unfortunately that turned out to be the only thing that was familiar about this visit to my dearly departed little haunt.

We decided to chill with a glass of wine, and occasionally called in for a road-progress update from Az. As it turned out, they’d hit a pretty big snarl and told us to go ahead and order, they’d be along as soon as they could.

So it was at this point that I first got a real glance at the menu. It was almost completely unrecognizable. Nearly all the classic MC favorites such as the Frisco Burger (the best sourdough burger you’ve ever eaten), Chicken Callendini (a wonderful combo of Fettuccine, stuffed tortellinis and a whole chicken breast, smothered in their wonderful Alfredo sauce), and even their classic Spaghetti and Meat Sauce dish, was gone. In its place was a myriad of appetizers, $15-$20 steak, chicken, and seafood entrees and the ever-ubiquitous catch of the day.

Sacrilege! You call this progress? I call it atrophy. I call it not knowing when you’ve got a good thing and screwing it up when you try to make it better. The most unique, warm, and inviting place in which I’d ever lifted a fork, was now just like any other medium-to-high-dollar restaurant, replete with servers expounding overly-contrived descriptions of today’s special. It was depressing itellya; simply depressing.

The menu’s one redeeming factor was that the Soup & Salad Bar (which thankfully made the cut) was still available, and another classic MC standard, Potato Cheese soup was as well. That was the good news. The bad news was that apparently, perhaps the restaurant’s most unique signature offering, their Hot Bacon dressing somehow got lost in the shuffle.

When Cindy and I went to make our salads, in anticipation of enjoying that incredible condiment once again, we looked at each other in disbelief when we realized that it was missing from the salad bar. We asked our server, and of course, she didn’t have the foggiest notion what we were talking about. She was a new hire and had never even eaten at the old restaurant. The place had been re-opened for a month and she admitted she’d never seen anything like it offered at the salad bar. We described the dressing to her and she said she’d go back to the kitchen and ask around. We went ahead and began eating our salads, sans the Hot Bacon.

Happily, minutes later our server reemerged with a large silver gravy boat, filled with none other than our prized Hot Bacon dressing! She proudly announced that they’d always had the ingredients on hand, but in the bustle of the restaurant’s re-opening, nobody had thought about it, and no customers voiced any complaint about it not being there until we did.

So never let it be said that Cindy and I never contributed anything to the culinary culture of Southern California. Why, we reintroduced them to Hot Bacon dressing, dammit!

Overall the food was still good, the service was pretty decent as well (that little girl earned an extra big tip for getting us that dressing!). Az and Katy arrived soon after we sat down with our salads, so we all ended up eating around the same time.

The conversation was of course fabulous (Az still laughs at my jokes — ‘nuff said). We talked about kids, jobs, and the next time Michelle and I might be able to come out to visit again. It was just a great time — a fitting end to a truly eventful first day of my visit to the homeland.

Next: Day Two — Saturday: Re-Wheeled

Sunday, December 18, 2005

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part I)

Day One — Friday: Buddy, can ya spare a ride?
Gather ‘round, boys and girls and hear a cautionary tale from ol’ AJ. It’s based on a very wise, old Chinese saying, He who make cheque fly will eventually have ass grounded.

Ya see, it all happened like this…

After a very hectic period at work I was anxious to get on the plane for eight days of R&R, doing one of my very favorite things — spending time with my family and friends. It was late August, one of the worst times of the year to be in Middle Tennessee from a weather standpoint, so I was really looking forward to getting away from the humidity and enjoying that incredible SoCal climate; that incredible combo of warm sunshine and a cool ocean breeze — the one thing above all that I so desperately miss about my former homeland.

Traffic getting to the airport was mild on a Friday, between A.M. rush and lunchtime. I arrived at the airport, having already printed off my boarding pass online, and had to wait only a few minutes prior to boarding time for my flight. I was able to procure my usual, preferred aisle seat in the upper two-thirds of the cabin and was comfortably settled in. I was curious as to whether I’d end up with a neighbor who wanted to talk or keep to themselves during the four-and-a-half hour flight. Personally I can go either way. I usually bring music to listen to, but for this trip I was unable to find my portable CD player (and I still haven’t found it), so I was out of luck as far as music was concerned. I suppose I was a little more inclined towards conversation for that reason.

I’ve met some interesting people over the years on airplanes. Last year, on this same flight to LA, I sat next two a father and son who were on their way home from the East Coast where they had followed our mutually favorite Major League Baseball team, the (then still) Anaheim Angels on a brief eastern road trip.

In 2002, I visited a friend who now lives in Idaho. On the flight home I spent a fascinating time discussing high-tech trends for what was then an entirely new concept of the “plugged-in home” — pre-building high-speed fiber-optic cable and other tech options into entire subdivisions of new homes — with an electrical contractor specializing in that cutting-edge service.

But perhaps my most interesting in-flight confab, at least now in retrospect ocurred in December of 1992, on the first of several business trips I would make between Nashville and SoCal, back when I still had freelance clients there. I sat and listened while a wired, very young-looking, and just a little geeky Dermot Mulroney chatted my ear off about his part in a just-completed movie entitled, The Thing Called Love, his first “big” role, in which he co-starring with River Phoenix. It was shot mostly in Nashville and Mulroney was just returning home following the film’s wrap. At the time I’d heard the film mentioned on the local news and was familiar with Phoenix, but had no idea who this Mulroney guy was. So I politely listened, gave him my business card and told him to look me up the next time he was in town.

After that, I didn’t really think all that much about the encounter until five years later when the movie,My Best Friend’s Wedding came out. To my surprise, here was this same Dermot Mulroney playing the lead male role, starring opposite Julia Roberts. This was obviously his greatest commercial success to date. He’s had a few other starring roles but has primarily made his career as a supporting, character actor. Still, just to realize in retrospect that, “Hey, that guy talked my ear off on an airplane once, way back when,” well, it was kind of a cool experience for non-Hollywood types like yours truly.

As it turned out, I had enjoyable conversations with two people who ended up occupying the seats next to me on this sold-out West Coast flight. The gentleman who took the window seat to my right was from a small town in southern Tennessee, returning to Bakersfield, CA for his father’s funeral. Later, the still-vacant seat between us was filled by a guy connecting from Detroit flying out to Los Angeles with his family for a vacation. He had given up his previous seat to a lady who needed to sit next to her elderly father with Alzheimer’s. There weren’t any empty adjoining seats left, so he gave his up to accommodate her.

It was a great flight. In the air, everything was smooth. It wasn’t until we landed that I encountered some turbulence. And going back to something that had happened earlier that morning, I probably could have seen it coming; as Lennon and McCartney once said, I shoulda known better.

Michelle had told me earlier Friday morning, after viewing our checking account balance online, that she was surprised to see the check she’d sent in for our son Shaun’s Fall Semester tuition had already been received by the bank, a mere two days after being sent to the University. Not that we are normally in the habit of kiting checks, but the close proximity of the tuition due date and my trip to California wasn’t anything Michelle had necessarily made provision for, or even worried about. She understandably assumed it wouldn’t be a problem due to the fact that normally it takes about four days to process a check being sent from outside our local area to come back and hit our account. That being said, Knoxville is nearly 300 miles from where we live, more than far enough away to qualify for that kind of scenario. Additionally, our paychecks were due to be auto-deposited on Friday night, so there was no immediate concern given to the possibility that the funds needed for me to rent a car in LA wouldn’t be there when I needed them. Michelle believed she had headed off any potential problems by moving some extra money into our checking from another account, once she’d seen that the tuition check had already posted.

So when she told me about it early Friday morning I agreed that it shouldn’t be a problem. However something happened soon thereafter that should have clued me in that all was still not well in Debitville.

My flight was scheduled to depart at 11:15 AM, so the plan was that I would first take Michelle to work at 7:30, come back home and finish packing, and then pick her back up at 9:30 so she could drive me to the airport. When I dropped her off at work, Michelle reminded me that the car was low on gas and asked if I would stop and put a few gallons in the tank on my way back home, which I was happy to do. When I went to get the gas, my debit card was rejected at the pump. Irritated but not dismayed, I figured that for some reason the money Michelle had transferred simply hadn’t been officially credited into the system, given that it had only been an hour or so since she’d done it. So I paid cash for the gas and proceeded on home to finish preparing for my trip. In retrospect I know now that I should have followed my gut and gone to the bank to check our account status, just to be sure. I had the time, although taking that extra 30 minutes or so would have made things tight. Still in the long run it would have saved me even more time, not to mention the embarrassment and frustration I would experience some six hours later.

As I’ve already mentioned, the flight was great. The time passed quickly and I was in good spirits when the shuttle dropped me off at the rental car agency.

It’s hard to say that I wasn’t thinking of it at all, but I certainly didn’t expect to have any problems. Yet there was that flash; just a thought that sort of hung in the back of my mind as one of those, now-wouldn’t-it-just-suck-if-this-happened kind of fleeting thoughts which oftentimes spring from the fertile fields of my paranoid mind.

Only this time it came true.

“I’m sorry sir, but your debit card has been rejected. Do you have another you could use? Like a credit card perhaps?”

“Um…nope. This is the only card I carry,” I replied, as a steadily growing feeling of warm dread began to overtake my spine and shoulders.

I was boiling over inside, furious that something like this could have happened to derail my vacation before it even started. However I tried to remain calm, asking the attendant what recourse I had. She said she would check with the company’s credit office and see what she could do. She then disappeared into the back for several minutes, only to return with the same discouraging refrain: she was sorry, but they just couldn’t rent me a car today.

Unwilling to give up just yet, I asked if she would call my bank directly to make sure there wasn’t some kind of mistake or at somehow vouch for the good standing of our account, regardless of what that damned computer said. Perhaps I could get the bank to explain that there would be more than enough in the account later that night when our paycheck money was due to go in automatically.

But no dice; the bank said the current balance was short of the amount needed to cover the rental company’s required 200% hold for the projected weekly rental fee. I would have no choice but to wait until the auto-deposited paycheck money hit the account.

But how did the tuition check get back to our bank so fast? At first we surmised that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville must bank with the same institution that we do, but would learn later, it was more likely that technology played the dominant role in our little misfortune.

Many companies are now using software which allows them to use that series of numbers printed along the bottom of a check to directly debit a payee’s account. It’s the same process used by companies who allow you to pay by check “over the phone.” But now, realizing that The University of Tennessee has this ability makes another one of their policies more than a little dubious. To pay via check for tuition and other fees is free. However if you want to pay online with a credit or debit card, you’ll also pay a $25.00 service charge for the privilege! How wrong is that, particularly when they can get their money just as fast with a check as they can with a direct transfer via credit or debit card? Oye.

I’m a wild and cash-only guy.
Just the same, about now you may be wondering exactly why I found myself in that predicament in the first place. Why don’t I carry a credit card like everyone else?

Call it a “once bitten-twice shy” mentality, or maybe I’m just stubborn, but ever since we became debt-free (except for the mortgage) in August of 1999, I’ve been pretty staunch in my stance against using credit cards.

I haven’t checked my credit report in years, although I know I probably should. We re-fi’ed the home mortgage a year and a half ago, so I know my credit is good, but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn if I’m five-star or one-star. And the only reason I would, is if I ever intended to use credit again, which I don’t. I may want to get another mortgage someday, but even that’s a wait-and-see proposition. I just don’t use credit. Don’t want it, don’t need it.

I’m a cash-only kinda guy. I’ve learned that for me, if the money’s not in the checking account (or not already earmarked for something else), then too bad AJ, you can’t afford it. The good news is, with nothing but the utilities and mortgage that have to be paid each month, it only takes a couple weeks of saving to be able to buy just about anything I want anyway. And while I know that I’m sort of a weirdo for living this way, after what I’ve dealt with in terms of debt issues, the alternative is infinitely worse in my estimation. But don’t relegate me to the horse and buggy set just quite yet. 99.999999 times out of 100, my Visa debit card does me just fine, thank you. I can purchase anything with it that I could with its credit counterpart. In fact, over the past six years I’ve never run into a problem of any kind as a result of not owning a credit card.

Until now.

Next: Day One — Friday: Buddy, can ya spare a ride? (continued)

Friday, December 16, 2005

More LA Stories: 2005 (Prologue)

A little travellin’ music, please…
There are a lot of ways one can spend money. Unfortunately for people like me, when you don’t do a good job of choosing priorities, you often spend too much, and find yourself in a hole before you know it. Having fought for years through all of that, it’s pretty cool to see things from the opposite side of the equation. Not that we’re now rollin’ in the dough by any means, but in recent years Michelle and I have been in a decidedly more positive financial circumstance than had been the case for the vast majority of our lives together. It’s actually taken a little getting used to.

There are obviously a lot of nice things about being unencumbered by debt. However I was surprised to find that one of the best of those benefits was something I had never really thought about all that much while we were on the opposite side of the issue. It wasn’t exactly on the list of things I pined for in the old days; the years when I wondered what it would be like to experience 24 hours without my phone ringing off the hook, an endless parade of bill collectors waiting on the other end of the line, either to extract their pound of flesh or inject a ton of guilt into my already beleaguered psyche. Back in that godforsaken time in my life, when just looking forward to the day that junkmail would once again out-draw the number of bills in my mailbox seemed like the Impossible Dream.

No, for me, I’m happy to say, perhaps the most enjoyable perk of being essentially debt-free is the fact that I now finally have the means (relatively speaking) to travel more than once in a blue moon. Not that I necessarily wish to become some kind of globetrotter; I’m more than happy to just be able to see my family and my friends on a semi-regular basis.

The passing of my Step mom, Maxine, in 2000 slapped me in the face like a wet glove. The realization that my parents had actually become mortal, seemingly overnight caused me to see things from a much more proactive perspective. That impetus became even more pronounced two years later when my Dad, who had never even been diagnosed with high cholesterol before, suffered a minor, yet near-fatal heart attack, resulting in quintuple bypass heart surgery at the age of eighty.

At that point it became abundantly clear that it was time for me to wake up and smell the reality; my Dad was not going to be around forever, and seeing him once every two or three years was no longer acceptable. I decided that seeing him as often as is feasible was something I needed to make a priority in my life.

Michelle’s parents live relatively nearby in Florida, and she has always made seeing them a priority. Either she travels there or they come to spend a week or so with us, at least once a year. I figured it was time I did the same with my Dad.

My plan finally took flight in early 2004, when Michelle surprised me by saying she wanted to take a trip to SoCal as a belated celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary (in March). It would be the first time she’d been back to SoCal (or indicated that she even wanted to go) since we’d moved to Tennessee. I of course had been back several times on business, and most recently for Maxine’s funeral. But at that point it had been more than three years since I’d seen Dad and over two years since his heart attack). Needless to say I was eager to go.

That summer was also my 30th High School Class Reunion, and I had already been planning to attend that as well. So as it turned out I made two trips; one in May and the other in August, giving me the rare opportunity to see my Dad and his wife Helen twice in less than three months time.

I decided that twice a year would be my goal from that point forward. If I couldn’t pull it off, so be it, but I really wanted to try.

This past year I made only the single trip to California that is the subject of this series. Nonetheless I was able to see my Dad twice in 2005 because of the trip we together had taken in February, to Dallas to spend a few days with my brother Alex (something I haven’t written about but may at a later time). So now the pattern is somewhat in place. Twice a year, some way, somehow, I’m going to try to find a way to see my Pop twice a year, and I’ll continue to do so for as long as I have the opportunity.

But for as much as I love seeing my Dad, these frequent visits back to the SoCal homestead have provided an additional bonus. They’ve allowed me to reestablish familiarities with a few old and dear friends from my high school and college days, in addition to further cementing friendships with a couple more recent pals from Blogsville. A lot has changed since I lived in Southern California, but thanks to my friends, I really do feel as though I can go home again.

The title of this series is merely an update of the original from the 2004 trip, for which I owe a tip of the cap to Michael, who first gave me the idea. But I really need to offer my most special thanks to Aimee, who I had the extreme pleasure of meeting for the first time on this trip, and without whom much of this story would quite literally have never been written.

And I’ll explain that a bit later.

Next: Day One — Friday: Buddy, can ya spare a ride?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A (blog)spot poll

This will be a very short, VERY temporary post for today only. I'm back from vacation and antsy to blog again. Problem is, I've really got so much to write about I honestly don't know where to start.

I know that some of you have been anxiously awaiting the resumption of my current "Long Strange Trip" series, and quite frankly, so have I. However, my two recent vacation trips, first to Reston, VA and then the just-completed one to SoCal are literally screaming to get out right now. I'm GONNA write something today, it's just a question of what.

So I'll throw it out to you. Call it a (blog)spot poll. Which story would you rather see first?

1.) Continuation (to completion) of What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been?
2.) The stories about my vacation trips to D.C. and L.A.?

I certainly won't have my feelings hurt if nobody responds, but I just thought I'd give you all the option. Personally I can go in either direction.

Lemme know today.

This post will self-destruct in 12 hours.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

This Nerd's in Paradise (Preview)

No Rest(on) for the weary
Got back home on Tuesday evening exhausted from my second 10-plus-hour drive in three days, but it seemed much shorter because of the wonderful memories fresh in my mind of what turned out to be a spectacular weekend. However, as is normally the case when I return from any time away from work, I was instantly swamped when I went back into the office Wednesday. So there was really no time to write until today.

I'm determined to continue with my current series for now, but I will be writing much about my experience in Reston, Virginia with Tony Kornheiser and my fellow "Nerds" sometime in the near future.

I golfed very poorly but it didn't matter. It was as much fun as I've had in a very, very long time.

My foursome for the golf outing included, (L–R) fellow TK Blogger, "The Tick," Tony's son Michael, Tony Kornheiser, and myself. Also pictured is Tony's radio show right-hand man, Gary Braun (far right)

But in the meantime...
This upcoming week will be another crazy one as I prepare for another eight-day vacation, this time to SoCal where I look forward to spending some time my Dad as well as a few old real-time and recent online friends, including Michael, and for the first time, Blogsville neighbor, Amy. And now I’ve just learned that (by way of West Virginia) I'm going to see Inanna as well!

I will try to keep writing throughout the week, but again, if you don't see anything new posted here for awhile, you'll know why.

Thanks to all for your interest and patience. I hope to share some interesting stuff with you here coming up soon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pardon the Interruption...Once Again

So sorry for my silence, all
I have been up to my eyeballs planning this Tony Kornheiser golf outing that, along with 20 of my "Original Blog-Mates," I will be a part of this Monday August 1st in Reston, VA.

I hadn't intended for it to work out this way, yet I somehow became the point-person between our group, Tony's people, and the Sheraton Reston Hotel, who is sponsoring (and fully comping) this entire she-bang.

I've been working on it on nearly a daily basis for the past three weeks, so it has occupied whatever mental energy my work and family hasn't taken up during that time.

I'm also furiously trying to get ready for my trip to California, which comes just 10 days after that, so I've truly been swamped.

I will be writing A LOT about the Reston trip after the fact. It's unbelievable how well this thing has come together. You're gonna die when I give you all the details (my wife is dying right now because she can't come with me)! It promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and my buddies.

So please "Pardon the Interruption" (and a gold star to those of you who get that pun *LOL*), but I will get back to my current series after this week, and possibly sooner, (but don't hold your breath).

Talk to you soon...


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Vivo en el Cinco de Julio

Happy 5th of Alive, folks.
For many years now, July the Fifth has been sort of a second Thanksgiving Day to me. No, we don’t grill turkey breasts or even bob for sweet potatoes out in the back yard. It’s a personal celebration, one that I’m not sure that I’ve ever really talked to anyone about before now.

With the possible exception of being a little hung-over, most people wouldn’t regard today as being much different than any other.

But it is for me.

Twenty-Nine years ago (omigawd you can’t believe how old that makes me feel) I was a few weeks shy of my 20th birthday. I was also president of the college-age class at my church. Like any other social group, we often planned activities around holidays when people would be off work or school. The Fourth of July fell on a Sunday that year, so the added bonus of that happenstance was that most everyone was off on Monday the 5th. So we thought it might be fun to plan a little outing on that day.

I dubbed it a “Cinco de Julio Celebration.”

We planned a day hike in the local SoCal mountains; just a half-day kind of thing. Pack a lunch, hike a little, take in the scenery, hang out and relax. And since it was principally my idea, I was also the one with whom the responsibility of delivering the devotional was charged (after all, this was a church group outing).

I don’t so much remember what it was I said, but I do recall a lot about the time I spent preparing for it. A good part of the previous day, I sat on the couch in my apartment with the TV on, watching as I wrote down notes to this short, fifteen-minute, (hopefully) inspirational talk I was about to give.

It was July 4, 1976, our nation’s Bicentennial, and the networks were awash in special programming about the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Every channel it seemed was broadcasting some kind of patriotic program. I remember tears welling up in my eyes as the pride swelled within my chest. I was so thankful to be an American.

I still am.

Every year since, Cinco de Julio has served as a reminder for me; as the first day after the fireworks have faded and the bands have fallen silent, that life continues, and the real celebration should begin. A celebration of freedom; a celebration of life as a blessed people.

Despite the debacles, both social and governmental, which have stained America in our lifetime, this is still a great nation. It’s not perfect, but then again neither are we. Neither am I.

What I am is blessed — no matter how you choose to interpret the word. That’s how I feel today.

Of all the metaphysical gin joints in the world that good fortune could have walked into, she chose to walk into mine. And as each year passes I find myself more and more amazed at my fate but less convinced that I had any real hand in making it so.

Regardless of your stance on things political and/or social in the world, I hope you celebrated our nation’s birth yesterday — I mean really celebrated it — in your mind and in your heart, not in just the outward trappings of food and fireworks. I know I did. And I realized once again just how good I indeed have it today — not ten or twenty years ago — but today. It doesn’t matter how much better I ever thought my life should have been. The fact is, it’s pretty damned good right now.

There is still a lot of work to be done to make this country what it could be, but I hope you’ll join me today in celebrating it for what it is; and for what we are: a truly blessed people.

Happy Cinco de Julio, my friends.

Happy 5th of Alive.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Dad’s Day Tribute, 2005

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there, wherever you are.
Once again I’m taking a short break from my current series to write this, despite the fact that it was totally unplanned and spur-of-the-moment.

However this morning I felt compelled to write by as much sudden inspiration as I have ever known during the 12-plus months in which blogging has become my outlet for the thoughts and expressions that ramble around in my head.

I felt a genuine pang in my gut as I read the Sunday Tennessean newspaper this morning and saw an article with a photograph that nearly spun my head around. As usual, I was browsing through the sports section. The article was a large, two-thirds-page pick-up from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution featuring three figures well-known by anyone who has followed Major League Baseball in the last 30 years with more than a passing interest.

With the proliferation of cable TV in the 90s in general and the notoriety of the “Superstations” in particular, two National League teams became adopted as “America’s Teams.” They were the Atlanta Braves, featured on WTBS, and the Chicago Cubs, featured on WGN. Both stations were, and still are, included in 99% of all basic cable packages. And while it's no longer the case now, throughout the 80s and 90s, both Superstations carried most of their respective team’s ballgames on the air.

So naturally, not only did the teams themselves gain notoriety outside their city’s general market, but their announcers did as well. And those announcers just happened to be father and son. The immortal Harry Caray broadcast for the Cubs, and his son Skip (whose real name is Harry Jr. but has never used it because of his famous father’s notoriety), called the play-by-play for the Braves.

The third person in the photo was Skip’s son, Chip, who has worked for both the Cubs and now has joined his Dad as a member of Atlanta’s five-man rotating broadcast team. At first glance, the three smiling faces, caught in a happy, but apparently rare pose together taken in 1991 (Harry Sr. passed away in 1998). Front and center in the picture I of course immediately recognized Harry, whose full head of white hair and large, thick Elton Johnesque glasses had become his signature nearly as much as his famous broadcast exclamation of “HOLY COW!”

(left to right) Chip, Harry and Skip Carray, 1991
File Photo © 2005 Nashville Tennessean

But even before I fully recognized Harry and in turn, Skip, my eyes were drawn to the young man flanking the elder Caray on photo’s the left side. I didn’t recognize him for whom he was, quite frankly because with the exception of maybe a half-dozen occasions over the years, I don’t believe I’d actually seen his face on television. But believe me, I was shocked when I saw it in this newspaper photo. It was a young, 26 year-old Chip Caray, at the very beginning of his career following his father and grandfather into the broadcast booth. But what grabbed my attention was how in this picture he appeared to be the absolute spitting image of my brother Alex at that same period of time in the early 90s, the time in his life that Alex’s image is most prominent in my mind. I literally did a double take.

The article spoke of the fact that today on Father’s day it will mark the first time that Skip and Chip will have spent the holiday together in nearly 20 years. They’ll be together at mic-side calling the game between the Braves and the Reds in Cincinnati on WTBS. The article went into painful detail about how divorce has split two generations of the Caray family. It told of the pain that Skip has endured watching his two children go through the same thing he went through as a child when his father Harry’s marriage broke up when he was a mere five years old. It spoke about the fact that as Skip had to do, his son was forced to “get to know” his Dad by watching him on TV and listening to him on the radio.

I have to admit to sucking back the tears a few times as I read through the lengthy article. What a sad story I thought. I had never known that about the Carays. It made me ponder and even more appreciate the incredible way that God has blessed me with a family, though certainly embattled by tragedy, has managed to avoid the harsh emotions and gut-wrenching damage that is usually caused by divorce.

Today I am truly thankful that I didn’t have to learn of how to be the man I am from a voice on the radio or from a relative stranger I only saw every fourth weekend. And while my Dad wasn’t able to spend the time with me individually while I was growing up that I would have liked, I never once felt abandoned or shut out, because his actions made his words count, and I never once doubted them.

And naturally I also thought about Alex, whom is heaviest upon my mind at this moment. He is of course in the mid-stages of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The image of Chip Caray in that newspaper photo was so haunting because it so well captured my mind’s-eye image of Alex: young, handsome, vital; a man who seemed to have the world by the tail. My once-indestructible little brother, who now because of the family curse, may or may not even fully grasp the significance of the day in which we celebrate the love and gratitude we hold for the men in our lives whom we call Dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Pop; Happy Father’s Day, Alex. I love you both from the bottom of my heart.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

What a Difference a Year Makes

This is just a short acknowledgement that I wanted to make to mark the first anniversary of this blog, one year ago today. Three hundred sixty-five days, one hundred thirty-five posts, and a little more than one hundred twenty-five thousand words later, it has become more a part of me than I could have possibly imagined.

Originally intended to merely be a repository for assorted remembrances of concerts and family anecdotes, it quickly grew into an extremely personal biography about all of the things in my life I have ever considered important or worth remembering. That particular function of this site will continue for as long as I have memories to recall and stories to tell.

I want to say thanks to all those who've stopped by to look over my shoulder and comment on the words I've written; many of whom I now consider my friends. Thank you to all the members of our wonderful Blogger community who have likewise shared a part of their lives with me through their own blogs. Thanks to you for inspiring and challenging me; for your words that caused me to roar with laughter or choke back tears. What an incredible gift this entire experience has been for us all.

I look forward to seeing how long we can make it last.

At the risk of slighting the rest, please allow me to single out one person, my good friend Queenie, who was the first to comment on my blog, in my third post on May 25, 2004. She said, “I enjoy getting to know people I will never know.”

Thank you Q, and to all of you as well, for taking the time to get to know me too.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Not dead yet...Still “Trippin’”

Ah geeze I’m a mess.
Just a note to let anyone who cares know that I'm not bummed out or sick, just busy and confused. This kind of thing seems to happen to me a lot when I get involved in a long story in which the sequence of events are vital to its impact. I knew going in there were a lot of sub-plots that I would have to work into and around, and I have to admit, just the mapping out of all these things has been almost as much effort as the crafting of the words themselves.

Also, in my personal life, I've been extremely busy at work, filling in for a vacationing co-worker while trying to do my own job at the same time. But the good news is that he's back now and this week things have started to return to normal. Also, my in-laws were staying with us for 10 days over the past two weeks and that limited my time as well. But again, things are slowing back down now so I'll be getting back into the swing again soon.

In fact, the next time I post, I'll actually be posting two and possibly three parts simultaneously (they're already written but need a lot of editing). So why haven't I posted them yet? Well, it's a matter of flow.

One of the reasons it has taken so long to get this story out is that I’m really struggling with my efforts to keep the main story flowing and the sidebars to a minimum. However the sidebar issues are vital to the story itself, and I'm learning that one of the most difficult things about writing is managing the flow of a story. And I've realized that I'm not doing a very good job of that. I'm now trying to re-arrange some of the things I've already written so as to make the events fall into place better, instead of continuing to stop the story to pursue a tangent, and then starting it back up again, which I feel I've been doing in the last few installments.

All of my stories are important to me, but this one has taken on special importance, because I've come to realize that it's not just about my marriage; for all intents and purposes, it's the autobiography of my entire adult life, and I want to do it right.

So the next time you see a new post, be sure to scroll down because there definitely will be more than one to read.

Special thanks to all of you who are still with me on this. I apologize for the frustration, but hey, I'm still new at this...


Saturday, April 30, 2005


Can we tawk?
Another brief detour off the boulevard from my current series to post a smattering of anecdotes involving things I’ve been thinking about lately which have absolutely nothing to do with me mowing my lawn.

This is for the most part a diary post. I entitled it Confluence because it seems that there are so many streams of circumstance and thought now converging upon the river of my life that I just fell I have to stop and record them.

Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m a flake
I can assure you I will be the first one standing in line at CompUSA the day they open the doors to begin selling a Brain-Dump interface device that allows you to transfer your thoughts directly to digital data. That way I’ll be able to blog without interruption, never allowing myself to be distracted by things like, oh…life?

I’ve apologized so many times before, both to my blog readers and to myself for saying I was going to post a story and then end up either not getting around to it or getting distracted by other things. I know you all understand that ultimately I’m writing for myself and really shouldn’t feel any pressure to “put out.” But by the same token, the consistency I discovered (much to my own surprise) in writing so much last summer — when I was posting 4-6 times a week — was such an accomplishment for me, that I feel as though I’ve let myself down lately.

So I’ve decided that I will simply stop saying when something will be posted, because I’m really starting to feel like the boy who cried wolf. And please don’t tell me to stop beating myself up over this. Don’t worry — I really don’t lose a lot of sleep about it, yet it bugs me nonetheless. I want to be consistent. My personality needs this kind of consistency. This type of thing plagues every part of my life — it is something I always need to work on. But all the same, I’m gonna stop making promises externally, while trying my best to keep them to myself internally.

Isn’t it ironic…don’tcha think?
I have to laugh just a little at the way things have turned out with regard to blogging and my online existence as this person known as AJ. As you may remember, I’ve talked before about the other circumstance in which I use this online moniker, which is a direct link to how I discovered in the first place. Lately a few interesting ironies surrounding all this have come to the fore.

I chose the name for my blog based on a running joke with another group of friends I hang out with on a message board while listening to a particular sports talk radio host on the radio each day. This particular show used to be syndicated nationally on ESPNRadio, but after a contract dispute last year between the show’s host and “The Worldwide Leader,” it is now broadcast exclusively on a local Baltimore AM ESPN affiliate (and also via tape delay on XM Radio). However the live broadcast is streamed over the Internet, and that’s how I’ve been able to continue listening.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always had a relatively high profile among the listeners to the show because I’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of my e-mails read by said host on the air over the years. At one point there were even a couple of instances in which listeners actually signed my name to their own e-mails in sarcastic protest because, as one wrote, “that’s seems to be the only way to get an e-mail read around here.”

The irony is that my blog, which I never expected to become what it has, is still undiscovered by any of my message board buddies (one of whom maintains a site himself, dealing specifically with the daily goings-on of this radio show). I had fully expected at least one of them to find my blog, and “get” the joke referenced by the blog title. But now that my blog has become so personal and my thoughts expressed in it so intimate, I’m not really sure that I even want them to find it, although they could so easily, that each day passing in which I’m not outed boggles my mind.

What brought this issue up is the fact that over the last month or so I’ve noticed that my blog is receiving an ever-increasing number of hits from Google searches. Most are random hits involving my story titles and the references I have a tendency to make toward pop culture phrases and figures within them. I like coming up with that kind of stuff, but not so that more people will find me — oh far from it — I just like to make things clever and sometimes humorous to offset the often-serious nature of my story content. I really don’t want to draw attention to myself necessarily, but I’m not exactly hiding from anyone either. I like flying under the radar a bit, and I like maintaining a certain amount of anonymity, although should I lose that, the way I write or deal with my subject matter probably would not change much at all.

However, concern about being discovered is the very reason I have not actually mentioned the name of said radio sports talk show host here in this post, and here’s why. This group that I’ve been involved with for nearly three years now has arranged to have a golf trip this summer so that we can finally meet each other. We thought it would be cool to ask said host to come and be our guest of honor, since he’s the one who brought us all together in the first place. Much to our delight, he has accepted — and that, we didn’t really expect. However something else we didn’t expect was the fact that he would mention it on the air! We certainly didn’t want to advertise this thing, due to the number of other listeners whom surely would wish to get in on the action (said host has an incredible cult following, largely due to a very popular program on ESPN TV which he co-hosts, and a recent CBS sitcom based on his life).

I really don’t know what he was thinking, but he has now mentioned the outing on the air several times over the past few weeks. This has precipitated a ton of e-mails from people all over the Eastern Seaboard asking if they could get involved.


The good news is he knows it’s a closed list and has never said anything to indicate that anyone could just show up and play. He has however received a half-dozen solicitations from area golf courses offering their facilities — with most of them offering them for free.

And then last week, just out of the blue he blurted out that he wanted me to co-ordinate it all. The original line of communication had been via a combination of myself and one other member of our group who was local, but the other guy gladly handed the responsibility off to me when he heard said host’s pronouncement on the air.

So now I’m talking to golf courses, hotels and restaurants getting bids on accommodations and greens fees for 20 people…and my head is spinning.

It’s gonna be a helluva lot of fun though…

But the irony thickens in that my interaction with this outing has potentially raised my profile among the show’s listeners to an all-time high. And that is the chief reason that I’m not mentioning his name. I know they may find me eventually, but I’m not going to necessarily help them out.

Flashing in Atlanta Update
I’ll probably augment and repost my blog entry from last week when I was in Atlanta for Macromedia (or should I say Adobe) Flash training, and had a delightful time having dinner with EvilScienceChick and her beau, Kev. However I wanted to make mention of the training part of it here, just because it goes along with all the things I’ve been talking about lately.

The training was hard for me, and I mean HARD. I was one of only two non-programmers in the class of six. I really struggled to keep up. However I’m excited about the potential impact it could have on my career and my day-to-day work habits, as I will have to make it a point to study and refine what I’ve learn on my own in order to really burn it into my brain. This is a huge deal for me and I know it will change my life.

The impact it will probably have on blogging is true to what seems to be a consistent theme cropping up in my life. It’s my coming to terms with the fact that I’ve been coasting in my career for the past five years or so. I’ve been stuck in a tech-rut not of my own making, but yet I’ve done little more than simply complain and hope that someone will listen and help me out of it. Now there’s certainly more I could say to fully explain all that, but this is supposed to be an anecdotal post, right?

The fact of the matter is that I am pretty much my own boss as far as responsibility for my tech knowledge is concerned. I am looked upon for solutions to keep my company’s corporate web site functional and in step with current web technology. I have not done that due to the disconnect that has always existed between my department and our company’s revolving IT presence (consisting of two outsource companies and finally an in-house IT department in the last six years). They have never given me the time or support for web tools that really do what we want them to do. Because of that it has always been relatively easy to pass the buck when my boss asks why we can’t do this or that.

And now I’m getting the vibe that perhaps they think it’s me and not IT who is holding us back. Whether or not my paranoia is justifiable, it is high time for me to step up and claim what I want for myself. Over the past 18 years I had always prided myself for being ahead of the curve technology-wise, but in the past five, I have fallen horribly far behind.

To make matters worse, I’m going to be 50 years old next year (ohmigawd did I just say that?) and there’s nothing less secure in today’s marketplace than an inadequately skilled fiftysomething.

So the long and short of it is this: I need to work my ass off this year, if not to reinvent myself completely, then at least to reestablish my viability in the eyes of my boss and co-workers. All that to say, I will not be blogging from work much if at all. And knowing myself as I do, that means I won’t be blogging much at all unless I can somehow conjure the will to do it at home, at night, and that very much remains to be seen.

I hope no one takes this as any kind of announcement that I’m quitting my blog or anything of that nature. I am most definitely not. However this just goes along with my earlier resolution to no longer make promises and then routinely break them both to you and myself.

In essence I suppose I’m searching my own soul for answers to the question of “what truly are my boundaries?” and “where am I going as a person in this life?” Y’know when you’re a member of the generation that once cried, “never trust anyone over thirty,” it’s a damned freaky proposition to consider that you’re rapidly approaching double that age. And retirement, or whatever your dream of the notion was, is literally just around the corner.

As my boyeee Magic Johnson always used to say as he led his LA Lakers teammates into the 4th Quarter of an NBA basketball game, “It’s WINNIN’ time!”

That time has now come for me as well.

“The dream police, they live inside of my head…”
I can’t remember whether or not I’ve talked about it much (perhaps I did briefly in a post last summer but I’m too lazy to look it up right now), but I’m dreaming again. And that makes me very happy.

There was a period of several years when I could not remember my dreams. I don’t know if that has any bearing on anything, yet it disturbed me a lot. I’ve read that a lack of dreams can be due to not reaching REM sleep, the period in one’s normal sleep cycle when most dream activity occurs. It’s said that sleep deprivation reduces more than just the amount of rest your body receives but also the ability you have to achieve that deep, REM Sleep State.

Well I know for a fact that I’m sleep deprived, but I just can’t seem to make myself go to bed any earlier on a given night, regardless of whether it’s a weekend or weekday. And now that my dreams have returned, at least to a greater extent than they have been for the past several years, I really don’t know what to think. I’m not getting any more sleep than usual, yet I’m waking nearly every morning with the memory of one or two dreams. They memories of them are normally vivid at first, but as usually is the case they fade rapidly into mere ghostly impressions within a matter of minutes.

Some are erotic, some are graphic and breathtakingly beautiful, and some are out-and-out demonic (like the one I had last night — YIKES!). But they all have one thing in common — they always make me smile — just because I can finally remember having them. I feel so much more alive when I dream. So much more full of hope. Who knows why? And more importantly, who cares?

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep

Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep

We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams

We're all carried along
By the river of dreams

In the middle of the night

From: In the Middle of the Night
Billy Joel, © 1993


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Flashing in Atlanta

A strange trip of a different kind
Hey all, just a short status post (which I really should have done before I left), to say I’m sorry for my lack of activity lately.

I’m currently in Atlanta for the software training I mentioned a few posts back that I said would be a pretty big deal in importance to my career path. This is day two of a three-day-brain-wrinkle fest with Macromedia Flash, a program I’ve used now for three years, but whose functionality I had only scratched the surface of previously. So far, so good, but it’s been a tough go. Although I’ve been a Web developer now for just shy of ten years, I had never gotten into code-writing outside of plain ‘ol HTML. And of course, the training I’m getting here is heavy into code-writing and a number of other concepts that are fairly new to me, so I feel like I’m treading water at the deep end o’ the proverbial pool — and boy are my legs gettin’ tired!

I actually brought an old back-up computer with me in order to be able to write while I’m here, but then realized that in copying over my most current files, I missed the Word document that had my current Long Strange Trip series on it, thereby forcing me to re-write three pages of yet-unposted story from memory if I wanted to try and continue it from here, as was my original plan.

That being said, I just wanted to let you know that I’m not going to attempt that at this point, but I promise to get right back into things this weekend (sorry ‘bout that, Phoebe…).

I will however be posting a short blog tonight or tomorrow on my meeting with EvilScienceChick. I’ll be meeting Reagan and Kev for dinner tonight, and I’m really looking forward to my latest in-person encounter with another citizen of Blogland...that is, provided I can make it to the restaurant without getting killed by these zany Atlanta drivers first. *LOL*

So again, sorry for the lack of posts, but getting ready for this trip was almost as intense as my experience with it now has been. Wish me luck. Hopefully you won’t be hearing any news reports about some guy in Atlanta whose head exploded as a result of information overload.

Blog at you soon…


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mowerly Musings (Volume 1, Number 2)

A continuing series of short stories, notes, and sometimes disjointed mental snapshots, swirling ‘round my brain while in the process of my favorite outdoor labor, lawncare…

Acting like a grown-up
On Saturday evening we traveled to Chattanooga to visit my daughter Amy and take in her latest thespian effort, a one-act play that she wrote, as well as another in which she acted. It was all part of a quarterly event UTC’s Theater Department puts on that they call The Coffeehouse. It’s a sort of free-for-all evening showcase in which all of the students of the department can “get in the act” to display their talents in a more-or-less freeform circumstance. The Coffeehouse is all student-written and conceived, with as little direction from faculty as possible.

Amy made us proud with both her performance as well as her playwriting skills, which we had never really seen previous to this.

The whole show was a lot of fun. Afterwards we took her out to dinner at Chili’s and had a great conversation with our little girl…

Little…? Who the heck am I kidding?

I’m so proud of her. She is just short of having enough credits to officially be a senior, but her senior year of college will be three semesters long. She’ll be taking the Spring Semester of 2006 to participate in a foreign exchange program in the Czech Republic, then come back in the Fall and (hopefully) graduate in December ’06.

What does any of this have to do with me mowing my lawn? Nada. But it was on my mind Sunday while I was doing it, along with something else that happened along the way.

Sunday, April 10, 2005
It was a great day to be outdoors. The temperature: a near-perfect 86 degrees with no appreciable humidity; bright sunshine, a cloudless sky, and a lilting, cool breeze. Whenever we have that kind of day here in Middle Tennessee, I’ve always referred to it as “California weather,” because it so reminds me of the remarkably consistent, typical spring and summer temperatures I grew up with in SoCal. It’s honestly the only thing I really miss about living there.

The mental soundtrack: Old Habits Die Hard by Mick Jagger (with Cheryl Crow). This time there was no ironic correspondence between the song in my head and anything else I was doing, unless of course you count the fact that this wonderfully cathartic exercise of turf tweezing has become such a familiar a habit to me. Whatever the reason, that tune stayed with me all day long.

Of course, with the weather being so awesome, I gladly cashed in on one of the many inalienable rights I enjoy as a male of the species:

Goin’ topless.

Yeah baby, this was my lily-white pecs’ official coming-out party for the season. And while I may have momentarily blinded a few passersby, I do not believe that any auto accidents that might have occurred in my neighborhood could be attributable to my shameless sun-worshiping bod that day. And while I may be chenin blanc right now, I’ll be a glorious Bordeaux rosé by mid-summer. That’s my best-case scenario. Worst-case, I’m raspberry kool-aide doin’ the melanoma mambo.

I’m so jealous of people who actually tan.

• Call it a real lucky brake
One thing that’s almost as certain as death and taxes is, as soon as I get out in the yard and start working, one of my neighbors always seems to follow suit, and vice-versa. I’ve been aware of the phenomenon for quite awhile. I’m not sure whether it’s the pure inevitability of the need to get yardwork done at the only point in time in which everyone can do it — the weekend — or if the sound of one man’s lawnmower is some kind of clarion call to inner soul of other men that stirs them to action. I dunno; all I’m certain of is that I’m never alone when I’m mowing the yard. And last Sunday was no different.

It’s time for a little geography lesson, boys and girls. Here’s the layout of AJ’s cul-de-sac. If one is facing the end of the cul-de-sac (the rounded end, that is), from the perspective of a clock face, my house would be roughly located in the 9:00 position, with my direct neighbors, SM1 and SM2 located in the 8:00 and 10:00 positions, respectively. Our neighbors directly across the street from us, in the 3:00 position, are a really nice couple with two kids, an adolescent son and an elementary school-aged daughter.

As I began mowing in the front of my house, sure enough, within 15 minutes, out comes my neighbor, Reggie from across the street to start piddling in his yard as well. I wave and smile; he waves and smiles.

Reg is a great neighbor. Nice guy, good father; friendly and quiet. He’s a pretty shy fellow, but we’ve always gotten along well. As I caught a glance of him trimming the shrubs beneath the window of his daughter’s bedroom on the far right end of his house, a thought flashed across my brain that hadn’t dawned on me in a very long time.

I want to say it was eight or nine years ago, but it might have been ten. It was a weeknight in the summertime and Reg’s daughter was just a toddler if that. The house to the right of ours (at 10:00), now inhabited by SM2, was still owned by the couple who built it. There's was the first house built on our street; ours was the second.

That original couple, Steve and Kayla, were nice enough, but Steve was a little on the haughty side. I won’t go into all the reasons for my saying that, but let’s just say, he was a proud guy, and very well off financially for his age. He was smart with his money, and he didn’t mind telling you about it.

As you can guess, Steve was a pretty proud guy, and prided himself on doing all the right things — smart things with his money (he was a C.P.A.), and smart things with his house. He and Kayla were pretty young — early 20s, but yet he had the “right” way to do everything. He had the habit of asking your opinion about something and then later informing you, “well I decided to do it this way instead…” I’d just think, “Whatever…” and sort of chuckle to myself about his “humble hubris.”

He loved his job. He loved his pretty wife. He loved his home. And he especially loved his medium-duty Chevy truck. He washed and waxed that vehicle every weekend. Steve grew up in the country, and it seemed that shiny black truck was some kind of symbol of manhood for him I reckon.

I always assumed that it was because he didn’t have the room, but for whatever reason, Steve always left his truck parked in the driveway, while his wife’s Nissan sedan was always kept in the garage. He liked to back the truck up the driveway so that he could just drive it straight out into the street. But because his driveway was so steeply sloped (as is mine), he always placed blocks on the downhill side of his front tires to make extra sure the vehicle wouldn’t roll. He was real cautious that way, always wanting to make sure that he had everything under control.

Well one night, something went out of control; something that certainly wiped the smirk off of neighbor Steve’s face, and could have wiped out something a whole lot more important.

Let’s revisit our cul-de-sac geography lesson for a moment, shall we? Remember the relative positions of mine, Steve’s and Reggie’s houses — 9:00, 10:00 and 3:00 respectively? Well what I neglected to mention was that our entire end of the street is built on a fairly steep hill. On Steve’s and my side (the left side), the properties back up to a privately-owned five-acre wooded area, situated on an even steeper part of that same hill. So as you’re facing the cul-de-sac, the topography of the hill slopes from uphill on the left side to downhill on the right, diagonally. When the developers cut in the street, they leveled it slightly at the top of the cul-de-sac, but not completely. And the properties on the uphill side were built up even more as the lay of the land dictated. So long story short, if you were to drop a basketball on Steve’s driveway, it would roll straight downhill onto Reggie’s front yard.

Well on that memorable summer night, Michelle, the kids and I were all in the living room watching TV, when we heard a huge crash, as though a tree had toppled onto a house. I rushed outside in time to glance to my left and spy Steve sprinting across the street toward Reggie’s house; his wife Kayla was standing in her driveway, stiff-bodied, with her hands against the sides of her face in horror. I then turned my attention back to Steve, now standing in front of Reggie’s garage, his arms limp at his side, as if he can’t believe what is there before his eyes — a pile of displaced brick, splintered wood and crumpled drywall where Reggie’s single-car garage door used to stand. The tailgate of Steve’s truck protruded from the point of impact.

Apprarently Steve had neglected or forgotten to place those blocks down that night, and the parking break had failed. The truck rolled headfirst from his driveway (from about a 15 degree incline), all the way across the street before impaling Reggie’s garage door and taking out half of the dividing wall which separated the garage from the house in the process. The crossbeam above the garage door was now nearly snapped in half and sagging, so the structural integrity of the entire face of the garage was in serious question.

As nearly everyone within earshot of the crash spilled out of their houses to see what the commotion was, confusion reigned in our quiet little cul-de sac. Reggie and his family were obviously the first ones out on the scene, followed shortly thereafter by everyone else. The buzzing of the neighbors milling about was hushed and serious, but once everyone was assured that no human casualties were a result of the mishap, the mood lightened considerably, and people began to recognize just how much fate had smiled on the circumstance as it turned out.

You see, fortunately for Steve, and most fortunately for Reggie’s toddler-aged daughter, the truck didn’t roll straight from its point of origin. With the angle at which Steve’s truck was parked on the driveway, had it rolled unimpeded, it would have made a beeline straight for the far right end of Reggie’s house, directly into the bedroom in which their little girl, Kelsey was sleeping at the time. Given the damage done to the garage door and retaining wall, which were the ultimate point of impact, it’s a safe bet that Kelsey would have been severely injured or even worse.

As fortune would have it however, the truck apparently hit the curb just to the right of the driveway, taking out the mailbox and also kicking its trajectory to the left, towards the garage side of the house instead.

A lucky brake indeed.

It seemed like months before the damage to Reggie’s house was completely repaired. I’m sure it was painful for neighbor Steve, each time he stepped out his front door, to look out across the street and be reminded of how close had been his brush with disaster. Not so coincidentally, after that harrowing night Steve seemed to be a lot better neighbor; a little more humble; a lot less condescending. I guess that sometimes things need to go a little crooked in order in order for one to be scared straight.

• And speaking of goin’ straight…
Later on, I was trying to figure out why exactly I thought about that story in the first place, other than just seeing Reggie out in his yard, which I’ve obviously done on many occasions since the last time Steve’s crash had crossed my mind.

I decided it must have been my guilty conscience. Remember that thing I mentioned in the beginning that had happened the previous day when we went to see my daughter’s play? Oh no, I didn’t have an accident, but I did get a speeding ticket on the way to Chattanooga. We were running late and this time I was the one who thought I was above it all. The speed limit went down to 55 in a high mountain pass area. I flew right past a State Trooper and got nailed for it. So maybe in my remembering neighbor Steve, someone was trying to tell me something in the process as well…

And I sort of doubt that was just my imagination.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mowerly Musings (Volume 1, Number 1)

Goin’ Yard
Since I’m pretty much locked into a serious story with my current series, I kind of wanted to get something else out here that I decided to do this past weekend. I’m posting it now before continuing on with the series because it may well become an oft-recurring theme and I don’t want to let it get any colder than it already is.

I’ll get back to my current “What a Long, Strange Trip” series forthwith.

As I’ve mentioned before, yardwork, and more specifically, mowing the lawn, is my therapy. It’s a once-a-week dip in the think-tank to which nothing else seems to compare for me. I sometimes wonder how it is that I survive without it during the winter, yet I never really seem to miss it until the cycle all begins anew in the spring.

My lawnmower is not self-propelled, but my mind always is while I’m using it. This will be a recurring series of short, anecdotal stories about some of these oft-disjointed thoughts that fly through my mind while at the helm of my Sears Craftsman 6.5 HP. Some of these mowerly musings you may later see developed into longer, more complete stories, but for the most part, I’ll be throwing ‘em out there just for fun.

This past Saturday April 2, 2005 was the inaugural spring clippage of my front yard after having mowed the back for the first time two weeks earlier. Once again I found my mind in overdrive, so I decided to grab a piece of paper and a pen to jot down notes on some of the things passing before my mind’s eye as I went along…

• State of the cul-de-sac
I love my neighborhood. I really do. As I prepared to begin my labor of love, it occurred to me how much change has occurred in the eleven year history of the ‘hood.

I have to admit that it’s getting a little disconcerting, the amount of turnover that has happened in my cul-de-sac alone. Besides ours, there are only three of the original ten families remaining on my end of the street. Among the most active in its change of occupants have been the next-door neighbors on either side of my house.

Hmmm…is someone trying to tell me something here?

Two families, the current of which was split two years ago by divorce, have occupied the house on our left. They have two teenage boys, both of which still live there with their Mom (SM1).

The house on our right is currently on occupant group #3, another single Mom (SM2) with another two teenage boys. Unlike the other family, this one didn’t move into the neighborhood until after the divorce. The good news is that they’re all good kids and don’t cause any trouble at all. The bad news is that with no Dad to guide them, the quality of upkeep on the respective yards and home exteriors are rapidly falling further and further away from the standard that we all once held, when all of the original young families arrived on the scene. We were all bursting anew with the pride of home ownership, and secretly competed to see who could make their home and yard the most beautiful.

I dunno, maybe they all looked at my yard and realized that they just couldn’t compete…

…and if ya believe that, I’ve got some lovely oceanfront property in Montana you might be interested in…

• Wake up AJ, I think I got somethin’ to say to you…
I was about ten minutes into mowing the front yard when it happened. There I was, going along in my happy trance, wondering where the HELL all those weeds had come from, while simultaneously reveling in the juxtaposition of warm sunshine and the cool breeze (which are destined to be replaced by oppressive heat and suffocating humidity in a little more than two months time). Suddenly I was more than mildly amused to recognize that in the background of these thoughts, a familiar melody was playing. I laughed out loud when it dawned on me that I was humming along with Rod Stewart singing, “The first cut is the deep-est — BABY I KNOW — The first cut is the deep-est…

I can honestly say I don’t remember beforehand making any kind of cognizant connection between that song and what I was doing.


• Every man has a fantasy
Recently it has become apparent that this new neighbor on the right, SM2, has a boyfriend — at least that’s whom I believe him to be. Michelle would prefer to believe that he’s her brother, but I think I know better. His work van is parked in the driveway from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. “Brothers” don’t spend every weekend night over at Sissy’s for a month straight.

I’ve never met the guy, just seen him coming and going. On two different occasions prior to this weekend, I saw he and SM2 standing in their driveway talking when I would walk by or pull up in my car. Both times she made it a point to say hi, and I returned the greeting. The boyfriend just stared. She never offered to introduce me, so I just continued on my way.

Now if you know anything about me you also know that I’m a pretty gregarious sort, but I don’t normally force myself on to anyone — I can usually tell when someone wants to reciprocate on a greeting, so I normally react based on that. So I can’t exactly say my opinion was all that high on the guy after these first two encounters.

He’s a decent-looking guy, appearing to be in his mid-to-late thirties, as is SM2. He bears the look that is ever so popular for white, thirtysomething males here in Nashville, something I refer to it as “David Wells chic.” The look features a ballcap on a shaved head with a goatee. More often than not, the companion of this fashion statement is a fair-to-middling beer gut, which this guy had as well(s).

I know, I know…bad pun.

Anyway, I began to mow the strip of property that separates SM2’s property from mine (I usually mow both halves of it rather than just mine alone). The boyfriend’s panel van was parked extremely close to the left-hand edge of the driveway, somewhat impeding me from doing as good a job as I would normally do on her half of the strip. The thought did occur to me that given the proximity of the vehicle to my lawnmower, it might be possible that a grass clipping or two might come in contact with the van. So, considering my already somewhat lukewarm opinion of the guy, combined with the stream-of-consciousness mindset I had at the time, I did what any self-respecting red-blooded-TV-violence-bred American male would do.

I fantasized about kickin’ his ass.

Yeah, I admit it. I don’t know this guy from Adam, yet I there I was imagining myself goin’ all pugilistic on his ass. I imagined him storming out of the house to castigate me for getting grass clippings on his van. The thought just kind of flowing, so I allowed myself to go with it.

First, he starts yelling. I deny that I had done any such thing, and why doesn’t he just take his fat can back into the house and swill back a few more beers?

Then he charges toward me and…BOOM! BOOM! I catch him with a left-right jab-hook combo.


I stand over him, sneering like Cassius Clay over Sonny Liston.

I rule…

Oops…I screwed up! I just violated the first rule of Fantasy Fight Club, which is, NEVER talk about Fantasy Fight Club!

Oh, you’re appalled? I guess you’re not a guy. Fantasy Fight Club isn’t something that you join, it’s more something you’re born into. We guys all do it — some of us more than others. Fortunately most of us don’t act out our violent tendencies, but we all think about them.

Now while I don’t go looking for trouble, I’m confident that I would be able to take care of myself if the situation ever called for it. I honestly hope I never have to find out, but when my mind is on auto-pilot, it is sort of fun to imagine.

But then again, maybe that's just my imagination too.


Special thanks to my cyber-editor supreme

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Executing Change (A Miniseries: 2/2)

Just when I thought I’d felt everything…
This second part of the story is actually that from which this miniseries’ title is derived. It was really just sort of serendipitous the way the two storylines from the first part played out and sort of related to the overall theme. Like my old friend, Col. John “Hannibal” Smith used to say, “I just love it when a plan comes together.” This story will be considerably shorter, but certainly no less important to me to tell.

I received a telephone call Saturday morning from my Dad. It was somewhat puzzling to me why he would be calling, since I had just spoken to him on Thursday evening. We’d had a good conversation as I recalled, and I didn’t have any sense that something had been left unsaid. Apparently I was wrong.

“AJ, I need to ask you a favor,” he said in his increasingly halting, but ever-friendly voice. “You know we talked the other night and I don’t know why I didn’t ask you then, but I really just need to ask you now.”

He definitely had my interest piqued, but seconds later I knew what he was going to say before he finished his sentence. “You know…” he began slowly, “Your brother Alex is the co-executor of my estate, along with (my stepsister) Janice.”
“Yes,” I answered, already feeling my throat begin to tighten.
“Well…you also realize…he’s doomed,” his voice beginning to crack.
“Yeah,” I whispered.
“So,” he continued softly but having seemed to steady himself, “I’m kinda living on borrowed time now, so I need to find someone to take his place.”

He paused again just briefly and asked, “Will you be that person? Would you be the executor of my will?”

I tried hard to choke back the tears that were welling up in my eyes. I felt sure I had swallowed my throat. I tried unsuccessfully to answer him, then the second time I managed to gasp, “I’d be honored, Dad.”

Oh what a flood of emotions and memories washed over me at that moment. I felt dread, pride, sadness and joy all at the same time. How could this be happening to me, the onetime undisputed black sheep of the family? I had indeed wondered if this responsibility would befall me. I knew that someone had to do it, and it obviously could no longer be Alex, who is now in the middle stages of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. And even though at 45 years of age and the youngest of my Dad’s five boys, the likelihood that he will outlive my Dad is now certainly in doubt. But even if he does, he obviously is no longer capable to carry out the responsibilities of such an office.

As an attorney, Alex was always the obvious choice to be executor of the family estate. But when it became obvious that he was the second among us to bear the family curse, I always figured that the job would be passed on to my eldest brother Jack, who is ten years older, or perhaps, TK, my other surviving brother who is three years my senior. However Dad told me that Janice had requested that he ask me to do it instead because she felt more comfortable dealing with me than the other two.

Janice and I have grown infinitely more close since the death of her Mother, my stepmom, Maxine, nearly five years ago. The two of us have communicated more in the last five years then we had in the previous thirty. However it had been Alex with whom Janice was much closer over the years, but now the two of us had become pretty good friends. My Dad agreed that was an important component, but I still feel incredibly humbled just by the fact that he would want me to do it.

In the original agreement, I’m sure the roles between Janice and Alex were pretty much reversed from what they will be between she and I. Alex being the lawyer, Janice being the executive secretary for a high-powered Orange Real estate developer, her organizational skills are incredible. I’m sure between the two of them, all things involving dealing with the courts, the paperwork and finally the distribution of assets would have gone as smooth as silk. Now it seems to me that Janice will assume the lead role and I will attempt to support her however I can. Am I up to it? Yeah, I think I am. But this is so far from any role I ever imagined myself being involved in. It’s nearly unthinkable.

I did a little research on the role of the executor. Here’s what MetLife’s web site had to say:

An Executor is the person responsible for settling a deceased person's estate. As executor, your duties include inventorying, appraising and distributing assets; paying taxes; and settling debts owed by the deceased. You are legally obligated to act in the interests of the deceased, following the wishes expressed in his or her will.
The bottom line is, this is going to be a daunting task, and most likely not a fun one. How will I respond to the emotion that will be such a part of dealing with the constant reminder that the greatest man you’veever known is gone? What if some crazy circumstance, like someone contesting the will were to happen? How would I respond? Could it be possible that my loving family could turn on each other? These are worst-case scenarios of course, but definitely something to be prepared for.

But I guess the most humbling thing of all is merely the idea that I’m now somehow a leader in my family. To be honest, I’m really not sure I want to be. I’m not used to it. I’ve held plenty of leadership positions in other aspects of my life, but within my own family I guess I’ve never quite broken out of my self-image as the runt of the litter; the one whom no one really expected anything of; the one whom even his little brother passed up years ago.

There’s a sense of comfort in flying under the radar. Maybe I’ve just been doing it for so long I don’t know anything else. Maybe it’s time to think differently. Maybe it’s time to execute my own will for a change.