Friday, March 18, 2005

Peachy Keen! (Part II)

***Length warning***
Sorry folks, but I've got to warn you, this sucker's a long one! I could have easily made this a 3-part series and this post is about a third longer than I normally allow any single part to be, but I wanted to get it out without any further delay. So here is the final chapter on the whirlwind fourteen and-a-half hour visit paid to me March 5-6th by our wonderful friend Inanna...

Inside the Peach

What can I say about the Nanner-Peach? Appearance-wise, you can clearly see that she’s lovely, and if you’ve ever spent any time reading her blog you know that she’s smart, funny and incredibly articulate. And of course, every bit of that comes across in person. But I guess the thing that I was most impressed with about Inanna is the genuine warmth of spirit she exudes; the life that is in her eyes. These are things one can only appreciate in person.

Inanna is a real person in every way. There is no distant aire; no feeling that she’s withholding anything in stay in control of the conversation. She’s the poster child for full-frontal sincerity. From the broadness of her smile to the lilt of her gentle West Virginia brogue, what you see is what you get.

Speaking of that voice, I had of course spoken to her on the phone before, but there is a difference between a person’s phone voice and the resonance of the actual sound of life that proceeds from their lips in one-on-one conversation. Now I not only can read Inanna, I will forever be able to also hear her voice as I read, and that to me is a very special thing.

And now, back to the story...

Wha’ju just call me?
When we last saw our heroes they were power-walking back to my car, having finished hobnobbing around Lower Broad, when something rather amusing happened. Inanna was elaborating on a certain subject in a rather animated fashion, punctuating her statement with an expression that each of us has used ad-infinitum over the course of a conversation.
She said, “Y’know what I mean, AJ?”

I must have physically flinched, wrinkled my nose, done a double-take or something else strange, because she suddenly paused and added apologetically, Oh…you don’t mind if I call you ‘AJ,’ do you?

I just stopped and looked at her. “You know, it’s really weird, but I’m just not used to actually hearing someone referring to me like that, especially in conversation. I’m only used to seeing it on the computer screen. Of course I don’t mind — I guess I just have to get used to actually hearing someone say it.”

“Good,” she replied. “I feel weird calling you by your real name. That’s not you — you’re AJ!”

I just smiled and thought to myself, “Yeah…sometimes I kinda wonder.”

Welcome to the jungle
I had originally planned to take Inanna to my favorite place to hear music in Nashville, 3rd and Lindley Bar & Grill, for dinner and to hear two pretty good bands. But on second thought, particularly after the experience of trying to talk over the band at Rippy’s I decided that it was more important for us to be able to have meaningful conversation time than to hear music. That was after all why she’d come, to talk, not necessarily to hear music.

So I decided to take her somewhere that was conducive to conversation as well as being a place that would be interesting for her to see. Actually it is the one place that I make sure all of my visiting guests get a chance to experience, the Opryland Hotel. Now you may be wondering what’s so great about a hotel? Well this is no ordinary hotel — it’s a work of art. It’s huge, so huge in fact, it’s the largest hotel and convention facility under one roof in the world. And it’s not just big, it’s breathtakingly beautiful as well.

The majority of the hotel area is comprised of three separate but interconnected sprawling, glass-covered atriums filled with waterfalls, lush plantlife and a winding river wide enough to support a full-scale delta river flatboat on which guests can ride on. The atriums total over 9 acres in area and contain more than 55,000 different varieties of plants, the care for which the hotel employs 50 full-time horticulturists.

The first time I stepped into the Opryland Hotel my jaw dropped. It’s just such a great place to walk around in, to take in all the nature; to just drink in the opulence of the hotel’s atmosphere.

We strolled throughout the wonderfully manicured atrium gardens, of the Cascades, the Conservatory, and the Delta, continuing our continuous conversation on the subject of real-world friends and families, as well as their Blogland counterparts. Inanna snapped several pictures of the impressive views to be seen, even at nighttime.

By the time we reached the Delta, our throats were dry so we stopped to get an ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s store there amongst a grouping of overpriced gift and clothing shops. The ice cream was no different — $4 bucks for a single-scoop cone — but it was Ben & Jerry’s, and it was mighty good.

We sat on a bench along one of the Delta pathways that wind their way throughout the vegetation and waterfalls to enjoy our ice cream. This is where Inanna and I did our most serious talking. We exchanged ideas about spirituality, personal tragedy and loss and how those things affected our perception of Blogland and relationships in general.

As she had spoken about numerous times in her own blog, Inanna shared with me about the role that her own acute sense of spiritual intuition plays in her real life; that mental “tap on the left shoulder” she’s spoken of before. On the bench where we sat, I was on the right side and Inanna was on the left. Being the wiseass that I am, during one particularly serious moment while she was speaking on that subject, I non-chalantly reached my left arm behind the bench and tapped her on the left shoulder. She jumped about a foot in her seat.

I now have a bruise on my left shoulder.

We finished our ice cream cones and I looked at my watch. We certainly weren’t “talked-out” but I could feel us starting to wind down a bit. We still had time to make it back across town to 3rd & Lindsley, to see the headlining band I had originally thought Inanna would enjoy; one that I had actually wanted to see myself for years but just hadn’t gotten around to it.

She was game, so we headed back to the car and back toward downtown Nashville. Inanna had mentioned to me at some point in the past that her Mom and Dad had been big Beatles fans, and through their influence, so she also became one. Well of course you know that the Beatles are the most important musical influence of all my life, so off we went to catch the performance of the local Beatles tribute band, known simply as, Fab.

When they were Fab
I should have known. After all it was Saturday night. But when Inanna and I pulled up to 3rd & Linsdley and saw how full the parking lot across the street was, I was surprised. Granted, I’d never seen this band, but I had no idea they would draw a crowd like this. I suppose we were pretty lucky just to get in, because it looked to me like the place was near capacity. However I quickly noticed something that gave that capacity crowd an even more amusing quality.

Normally 3rd & Lindsley isn’t what one would consider a “kid’s bar.” A lot of the acts that play there do cater to a younger crowd, but by and large it is a more mature, late-twentydomething-to-thirtysomething demographic that usually frequents my favorite haunt. I’m typically a good bit older than the average patron, but I rarely feel out of place. Well this time, I felt like the punk kid. I’ve never seen so much gray hair and leather stacked shoulder-to-shoulder in my life. Record Company types, doctor and lawyer-looking types, along with average Joes and a lot of younger-looking folks as well filled the bustling club. I motioned for Inanna to follow me and we limboed our way through the crowd to my usual spot at the corner of the bar, about 12 feet from the stage.

I guess it would serve the story to explain the layout of the place. If you'll picture it with me, 3rd & Lindley is an “L” shaped room with the bar located along the “bottom” left-to-right portion of the “L.” The stage is in the lower left corner of the “L” at its apex. So obviously the area at the left end of the bar, directly adjacent from the stage is always the best vantagepoint for the show. However as logic would dictate, it’s also the first area to fill up, and the place had been full of people since early in the evening. So the long and short of it is, it was standing room only. There were no seats available anywhere to be seen. I was anticipating this since I’d been in that same circumstance many times before. Normally people just stand around in that area, trying not to block the vision of anyone behind them. It’s just sort of a catch-as-catch-can situation.

I turned to Inanna and said, “I hope you don’t mind standing.” She immediately replied, “No, it doesn’t bother me.” “Good,” I answered. Although I really wasn’t looking forward to the uncomfortable reality of being on my feet for the next couple of hours.

Suddenly Inanna pointed up and over my right shoulder and said, “What about up there?” She was pointing to the shallow upstairs loft, the one part of 3rd & Lindsley that I had never sat to see a show in all the years I’d been coming there. I turned to survey the area and it did look like there were some seats available, so I said immediately, “Okay, Let’s give it a shot,” and we made our way back near the front door, where the stairway leading up to the loft was located. As I got to the top of the steps I immediately saw what I had suspected was the case. The two unoccupied tables we had seen from down below had signs indicating they had been reserved, which you can do if you have a party of five or more. Oh well, there was no harm in going all the way around to see if there were any more possibilities of an empty barstool or two for us to snag. On the opposite side of the loft we found that we were in luck. There was a single barstool, coincidentally enough, just above the area we would have been standing if we’d remained downstairs. At least Inanna would have a seat. Now if I could just scrounge up another. I left her to double back and look in the area we had just passed through. Sure enough there was a single unoccupied stool in the far corner. I grabbed it and we were in bidness!

The band came on a few minutes later and truly lived up to their name I thought. They did a fabulous job, not necessarily of impersonating the Beatles, but rather of celebrating them. The five band members all sang —although no one person did “all McCartney” or “all Lennon” vocals — they all seemed to do a little of each. I thought they did a good job of capturing the flavor of the vocal style of whoever’s lead they were following, if not necessarily “duplicating” them.

But where the band really shined was in the area of instrumentation. They were all extremely adept musicians and they knew every chord to every song, playing it exactly note for note to the Beatles’ recordings. There was something surreal about hearing those wonderful songs of my youth — and I knew every single one they played — with the sound clarity being so crisp and true as that only a live performance could provide.

I sang along, as did most everyone else in the room. Inanna, a permanent smile on her face as well, sang with me. I don’t know if it was the music, the beer or both, but I felt such a release after the hours of sometimes-intense conversation with Inanna. We just cut loose and had a great time.

My mind flashed on my childhood when my friends and I would do essentially the same thing in front of the big TV/Radio/Turntable console in our living room. The only thing missing was the running around the house pretending we were the Beatles in the Hard Day’s Night movie, as we often did in our little Beatles fantasies.

I also thought of my eldest brother Jack, who I’m quite sure, at age nineteen had no idea what an incredible gift he was giving to his eight year-old little brother in letting me tag along with him on September 3, 1964, to see the Beatles in concert in Indianapolis. I’m sure he had no idea he was providing me with the seminal event of my childhood. Now nearly 41 years later I wondered how many of the hundreds of Beatles fans there at 3rd & Lindsley had actually been so fortunate as had I. The events of the entire evening all just folded into one very fun and satisfying experience.

After the show we headed back to Inanna’s hotel. Fortunately they still had a room reserved for her! When she has arrived at 1:00 PM, it was still two hours before check-in, so at one point in the evening she wondered aloud if the fact that she hadn’t checked in would be a problem. A quick call to the hotel reassured her that she would indeed have a bed to sleep in that night.

I saw her up to her room and we made plans to meet for breakfast at 8:30 Sunday morning. After all, we still had a few hours of talking left to do before she hit the road to take her home to West Virginia (hmmm…kinda reminds ya of a song doesn’t it?).

When fourteen hours feels like three…
At 8:30 AM on the nose Sunday morning, I was knocking on Inanna’s door. She was just pulling on her shoes, all packed and ready to checked out. After loading up her car we walked over to the Cracker Barrel restaurant, about 75 yards away, just adjacent to the hotel. We walked in and were seated right away, which is a rare occurrence in my experience at that always-bustling little country-style eatery.

We sat down and ordered. Soon (like less than ten minutes later) we were enjoying a wonderful breakfast. Also, this time I remembered to bring my camera, which had stayed, forgotten in my glove box the whole time we were together Saturday. It was sitting near me on the table and our waitress, who was wonderfully attentive, the entire 90-plus minutes we sat there eating and jabbering, offered to snap a few pictures.

To be honest, I don’t quite remember what it was that we talked about for all that time. As a matter of fact, much of the whole fourteen-and-a-half hour period of cumulative time Inanna and I spent together has now been compressed in my memory to what now seems to be about three hours. They say time flies when you’re having fun. I guess that speaks volumes about the time we had.

In closing this second of what I hope will be many other chapters in the story of face-to-face meetings with my Blogland friends, I really want to say thanks to this incredible lady. Thanks to her for being such a wonderfully supportive and understanding friend. Thanks to her for making the effort — and it was a substantial one — giving up thirteen hours of her weekend and driving a total of 866 miles just to come see me. We had a great time, covered a lot of ground, and most importantly, strengthened a bond and a trust that I have experienced with very few other people in the real world.

This is a special person I’m talking about here folks. A person worth knowing.

She’s a real peach, I tellya…


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Peachy Keen! (Part I)

You’re next!
Well I can’t say that I was exactly quakin’ in my boots, but I’ll have to admit to being just a little unnerved when Inanna, still excited from her first face-to-face blogger meet announced it to me. I had just commented on one of her post-Kansas City Blogger trip entries.

I wrote, “What a hoot that must have been. I’m jealous! LOL Glad you guys had a great time!” Inanna replied, “AJ – ya know what? I was thinkin’ that you’re only 6 hours away … you know what that means right? YOU’RE NEXT!


Immediately my heart started to race. “Did she mean what I thought she mea…nt?…OMIGAWD — SHE’SCOMINGHERE!!!

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t want to meet Inanna, quite the opposite. She and I had been good friends for a long time. We had long since been huge supporters of each other’s blog and never failed to comment on nearly every post the other would put out. Often we corresponded offline via e-mail, sometimes using those e-mail discussions as basis for future blog entries. Other than Michael, Inanna was clearly among my two or three closest blogging buddies. But the idea of actually meeting her face-to-face was still just a little bit daunting, especially when she just announced that she was coming like that. Now of course I realized the “You’re Next” deal was an innocent expression of excitement. I wasn’t worried that she was a serial killer or anything (more on that topic later…). Besides, we had spoken on the phone a couple of times while making arrangements for her to make a necklace and earrings as a Christmas present for my daughter, so I knew that she sounded pretty normal anyway.

Still, in the back of my mind I was concerned about what my wife would think. Now I have to cut Michelle a little slack here, but she still is a little leery of the idea of “online friendships.” She has understandably never felt all that comfortable with my having strong friendships with other women that she doesn’t know. And if the tables were turned I am absolutely certain that I would feel the same way.

I knew that I had to do some groundwork before things got on any further. I e-mailed Inanna and asked her about her plans. She said that she was already making plans to come to Nashville in May to attend the Renaissance Festival with her cousin and her son Nate, but wanted to get a feel for the trip. She had only passed through Nashville but hadn’t ever stopped here before. She thought it would be a great opportunity to get a lay of the land before coming back with her sister and son in tow. And of course most of all she wanted to meet me — I mean, who wouldn’t, right?

I’ll give you a moment to stop coughing before I continue…



I mentioned it to Michelle and she gave me one of those looks, but then said that she was fine with it and that she trusted me to know that this woman wasn’t coming to kill us all in our sleep. I told her, “Well I don’t think so, but I’ll tell Inanna you’d be against that. I’m sure she’ll understand…”

Seriously though, I was really concerned that Michelle would put the kibosh on the whole deal, or at least feel strongly enough against it to make it difficult on me. But she was wonderful and never once showed any opposition to Inanna’s coming to visit.

Gawd I love my wife!

The weeks passed and I provided Inanna lodging information in the area. She ended up staying at a motel about a mile from my house. Before we knew it the time was at hand. On Saturday morning March 5th she would set out from her house at around 6 AM, and hopefully arrive here in town by Noon.

I had a previously scheduled haircut appointment at 11AM, so if everything went according to schedule, the timing would work out just right. As it turned out, I called Inanna an hour before she was scheduled to arrive and learned that she was experiencing some traffic delays and was running about an hour behind schedule. That actually worked out great for me since as per usual, I had run short on time myself that morning and her delay gave me a chance to get my car cleaned out, you know, so that I could clear off a spot for her to even sit on? No, I’m not nearly that big a slob under normal circumstances. It’s just that Michelle gave me a new car stereo for Christmas and all the boxes, old speakers and tools I used to install it were still strewn all over the car. We really just hadn’t had a weekend day warm enough for me to get out there and get rid of all the mess. Now was my chance.

As it turned out I had just enough time to get my haircut, clean out my car, and get home to get ready to go before my cell phone started buzzing.
“I’m here I’m here come get me!” a female voice said excitedly.
“Do I know you?”
“Haaa! I’ll be there in two minutes.”

You are sooo UGLY!
Arright, if you read Inanna’s version of this story, you’ve heard that phrase before. It was indeed the first thing I said to her as I pulled up beside her in the motel parking lot. What you haven’t heard is why I would greet my dear friend in such a way. It was an inside joke and I was obviously being facetious because as you likely already know and no doubt can see here, she is anything but ugly (get it...but...ugly? butt-ugly? Geeze I kill me sometimes...).

However the genesis of that little expression is from a phone conversation Inanna and I had earlier in the week as we were confirming the whys and wherefores of her visit.

I said, "Well, we’ve talked on the phone, so we know what each other sounds like. And we’ve seen pictures on our blogs, so we know what each other looks like. So…there shouldn’t be any surprises, right?”

“Yeah, except I’m really ugly in person,” she deadpanned.

You be the judge.

Mi Casa Su Casa
First order of business was a brief tour of Casa de AJ, and to meet Michelle as well as my daughter Amy, who fortuitously was home from college for the weekend.

Michelle gave Inanna the grand tour and showed off her collection of Longaberger baskets, which are literally everywhere in our home. As Amy and Michelle excused themselves for an afternoon of shopping and doing the Mom ‘n Daughter thang, I gave Inanna the tour of the “bonus room.” It was my former office in my freelancer days; the place where my computer is and obviously where I blog and spend a good part of my time.

My room is pretty much the direct opposite of the rest of the house. Piles of papers, the skeletal remains of two and a half dead computers, not to mention the two that I have working. My TV and stereo are there as well as the drawing table I’ve mentioned before, which is like a perpetual time capsule of bills, magazines, computer parts and other various and asundried bits of junk and treasure dating back over the past ten years.

We farted around on the computer for a few minutes. Inanna checked her e-mail. Then it was time to hit the road. Next stop, Nashville and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

Talking through the Anthem
One of the things that Inanna had said she would be interested in doing while she was in Nashville was to visit one of the museums, and I immediately knew we would visit the Frist..since there really are no other art museums to speak of.

I’ve often marveled at how lucky I am to have come to live in Nashville when I did. When we moved here on New Year’s Day 1992, we were in perfect position to catch the wave of Nashville’s incredible growth spurt of the 90s. So many things were done to improve the quality of life and increase the already growing number of cosmopolitan amenities that were afoot. Nashville was coming of age as a “big” small town. It was no longer merely the butt of some Country & Western hick-town joke amongst the media and others, observing its goings-on from larger, “more cultured” cities. Some of those wisecracks had been painfully well deserved, however. To wit: since 1969, efforts had been in place to establish an adequate, permanent art-exhibition facility in a central, accessible location. In other words, there hadn’t been one — ev-er, until the Frist opened its doors in May 2001.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a wonderful facility. It is housed in the old Nashville Main Post Office building downtown on Broadway. The building, on of the finer examples of art deco architecture in the city, had been severely underused since 1986, serving merely as a branch post office following the opening of a new, larger main facility. The wonderful art deco appointments were fully restored along with its new state-of-the-art exhibit space. Michelle and I became members of the Frist last spring after seeing an incredible exhibition of Renaissance Masterworks. I am really proud of this facility, so it was a no-brainer to decide to show it off to Inanna.

The current exhibitions featured at the Frist were American Anthem, a celebration of American folk art through the history of our country, including many kinds works that I knew she would enjoy. Having already seen the exhibits I knew that the incredible needlework, quilts and expressive paintings would be right up her alley.

In the upstairs gallery, another exhibit I thought she would find interesting was the work of Nashville’s legendary “Couture Cowboy,” Manuel. He’s the clothing designer whose often sequin-studded creations you’ve seen on country, rock and movie stars at award shows, onstage and in film. A native of Mexico, Manuel created a special tribute to America by designing a unique commemorative bolero-style jacket for each of the 50 states of the union, adorned with his signature sequins, state slogans and imagery.

Well the exhibits were great, and I think she really enjoyed them, but I couldn’t help feeling like everyone in the building was staring at us as we made our way through the museum. You see, out of courtesy to fellow patrons, most people remain silent as they make their way through an art museum — not AJ and Nanner, boys and girls. I doubt that we went more than 15 seconds the entire hour and a half that we were in the place without maintaining our continuous conversation.

Michael had predicted that we’d be like “a pair of super-balls in a handball court” when Inanna and I got together. He wasn’t too far from the truth. Even a six-plus-hour drive from West Virginia hadn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the Nanner Peach. We talked about ev-ry-thing. We reveled in the fact that after learning so much about the other through words on a computer screen, that we were finally applying that knowledge to a real flesh-and-blood person. It was surreal.

Once we’d finished up at the museum, we both suddenly realized that we were starving, so we left the car in the Frist parking lot and set off on foot the four blocks or so down to what we like to call, “Lower Broad.” This is a four-block swath at the end of Broadway that comprises the largest concentration of tourist spots in Music City. Restaurants, the famous Ryman Auditorum — Nashville’s preeminent concert venue and former home of the Grand Ole Opry — honkytonks, and gift shops all stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this area, which on any given Saturday is heavy with foot traffic.

Rippin’ it up
On the corner of 4th and Broadway, across from the Gaylord Entertainment Center (where I should have been spending 2-3 nights a week this winter watching the NHL’s Nashville Predators play hockey), is Rippy’s Smokin’ Bar & Grill, or “that place with the band,” as Inanna described it in her blog post. I had eaten there a few times and knew the food was good. What I’d forgotten apparently was that the restaurant features live entertainment every night, and it’s a fairly small place. Add it all together and you get a good place to grab a bite, but definitely not for being able to hear yourself think.

But we made the most of it. I had the BBQ Sandwich on Texas Toast and Nanner went with the Fried Catfish Sandwich, which she claimed was “to die for.” Our conversation thrived despite the adversarial auditory environment. We spent the next hour basically shouting into each other’s ear, but we had a great time nonetheless. Hell, she picked up the tab — gotta love that! I informed her however, that would be the last thing she’d pay for that evening. The rest of the night was on AJ.

After we’d had a couple beers and satisfied our hunger pangs, we went off in search of the Holy Grail of Country Music souvenirs, The Velvet Elvis Painting. Nanner had mentioned that she’d like to try and find one as a gag gift for her Texas blogger-buddy Trashman, who she would be visiting a few weeks later, along with her sister and others among Blogland’s Texas contingent. I had told her that it may not be quite so easy to find a “VevetEvis” here in Music City, as this town’s merchants have for years been trying to play down that sort of image of Music City as Hicksville, USA.

We never did find the Holy grail, but there was plenty of other merchandise that qualified in the same area code of tackiness. However some of it was just so funny you couldn’t help but laugh out loud!

From the redneck t-shirts to the shotglasses with emblazoned with captions like “Pour me're still ugly!” Inanna and I were cracking up out loud as we searched around for that elusive prize. The closest thing we could come to an Elvis painting was a little Elvis “Dress-Up” novelty board which came with magnetic Elvis outfits spanning his music and movie career, which you could position over the basic Elvis body. It was designed to look just like similar paper doll-type novelties that were popular in the 60s. Inanna loved that thing and came thisclose to buying it, but thought better.
Another couple gift stores turned up nothing and Inanna turned to me abruptly and said, “Okay, we’re done.” “Thank God,” I thought to myself. Tourist traps are not my thing normally. This was the first time I’d ever been inside any of those gift shops along Lower Broad, and while it was sort of fun, I won’t be going out of my way for any return visits anytime soon.

As we began the trek back to my car the conversation continued (what a shocking revelation that is, eh).

And the night wasn’t half-over yet...

Next: Inside the Peach

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


This is a mini-post in which I thought I’d wedgee a few announcements.

First off, I wanted to call attention to something that a few of you have already noticed. I have updated my blogroll and links there in the right hand margin. In light of my blogger tribute series, I've placed some of the “bloggers of extinction” in their own section for easy selection. I invite you to visit the archives of those that are still available. They're all just as great a read now as they were when they were first written.

I have also added the “new kids on the blog,” of whom I wrote in the final entry of the series to my blogroll. Please visit them if you haven’t already. I think you’ll like what you read.

Finally, I’ve gone into each of the links and updated the “ALT” tag popup message for all of my friends. Just mouse-over the links to see the message. I hope you like ‘em.

Archive page updated
I apologize that I have been horrendously derelict in my duties to keep my Story Archive Index updated. Well I have now done that, and from now on I’ll reference the date of last update there along with the link, also in the right hand margin.

All links on the archive page and blogroll are now formatted to open in a separate browser window, avoiding the hassle of “back-button purgatory.” Enjoy.

She’s NEXT!
The photos are scanned, the story is almost written, and your opportunity to meet the REAL Nanner-Peach is just around the corner.

She has already blogged about it, and now it’s my turn. Tomorrow, March 16th, I’ll be posting my account of the AJ/Inanna encounter from March 5th here in Nashville. We had a great time together and I’ll be sharing a few of my perspectives on this wonderfully talented, irrepressible fellow blogger whom we all love so well. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Stupid Things That Make Me Happy (Vol 3, No 1):
A Spring of Consciousness

The Grass is greener…on this side
I gotta warn you, this post is likely to be all over the map. It will be long and sometimes intense. I’m going to make some very personal statements here that I hope will not be misunderstood, but which might help you to know who I am a little better. Hopefully it will allow me to understand myself better by simply saying them out loud. I had planned to write about something completely different this weekend, but then Saturday happened and it changed everything.

Saturday was a beautiful day here in Middle Tennessee. It was a good day to be alive. It was a good day for me to feel like me again, and to be thankful to God for allowing me to draw breath at this particular moment in time. I know it’s dangerous to think it, let alone say it, but I love my life, especially over the past few years. However it wasn’t always this way.

I suppose I had Inanna’s blog post from a few days ago in the back of my mind when I set out thinking about all of this. She wrote about her journey out of the darkness that was her life three years ago onto the new, more positive path on which she now treads. I am on that same path — hopefully we all are. I’ve been reminded of that fact over the past couple of days and decided that I need to allow my thoughts to spill out so that I will always remember them.

2005 is a somewhat dubious anniversary year for me. It’s the ten-year anniversary of the time in my life that I looked over the edge and nearly jumped; nearly deluded myself into thinking I could survive the fall; nearly believed that I was out of options and had no other choice. Ten years ago, almost to the day, I was utterly lost and confused. I completely turned my back on everything I believed in and everyone in whom I had previously trusted. I was alone. If you had told me back then that I could have the life that I now enjoy, I would have verbally laid you waste for such a ridiculous notion. I would have rejected out of hand any possibility of that kind of a future for myself. I would have told you “Thanks, but I know what I’m doing. YOU don’t know what I’ve been through or how I feel, and FUCK YOU for even thinking for a minute that you do."

As I sit here typing this out, my vision blurred by the tears of emotion that grip me every time I think about that time for more than an instant, I can say without an ounce of hesitation or hubris, that today it is good to be me, right here and right now. To be who I was ten years ago was not good — it was a disaster; a train wreck waiting to happen. To be who I was in 1995 is a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy.

Fortunately or unfortunately — depending on your level of curiosity — I’m not going to get into the details of that very dark period of my life. I may at some point in the future, but not now. It would take much too long and be much too depressing — for me anyway. I guess the reason I even brought it up is simply that Saturday put me in such a reflective mood, as the renewal of all things reminded me how blest I am, and how much I truly have to be thankful for.

I don’t know about you, but springtime affects my mood like no other. I suppose that’s true because it bursts upon the scene with the most contrast to its predecessor of any other season. It always seems that winter's gray skies continue on and on until suddenly a warm sunny day appears out of nowhere to remind us of what lies just ahead — to tease us if you will — but oh, how we love to be teased. Now it usually happens that this portend of winter’s end is immediately followed by a few more days or even weeks of cold weather before spring actually arrives. But that first breath of warm air and sunshine always makes me feel jubilant that the renewal of all things has cycled its energy back into the pathway of my life once again.

Such a day was Saturday. The sun was brilliant, the air was crisp but not too cool. The sky was a deep indigo, dusted with but a wisp of white cirrus clouds. It was a perfect day to get out into the yard and survey the damage done by Old Man Winter.

The first day of yard work. Yeah, BABY!

No, I mean it. I actually like to do yard work. It soothes me, fills me with a sense of accomplishment, and affords me precious time to think.

It’s stupid, and it makes me happy.

My back yard, which doesn’t get a fraction of the sun that the front yard does, has always been a challenge from the standpoint of trying to keep a healthy lawn growing. By the end of the summer, the Fescue grass base has been beaten into submission by the summer heat, rocky soil and poor drainage of my property, which is located on the side of a hill, backing up to a wooded, undeveloped area. I always have to re-seed in the Fall with Winter Rye grass to avoid having a mud wrestling arena behind my house all winter long. And naturally since the rye grass thrives in cooler temperatures, it starts growing a couple of weeks sooner than the Fescue in the front yard, which is still dormant. So Saturday was not only first yard work day, it was also first mow-the-lawn day, in the back yard anyway.

Even better!

I could be wrong, but I think I’ve blogged about this before. Yard work, particularly the lawncare aspect of it has always been my therapy. I love it. No matter how tired, hung-over or burnt-out from other things I happen to be, I always look forward to mowing my yard. As unlikely as it might seem, I owe my love of gardening to the years of slave labor inflicted on me by my Stepmom Maxine, who used to make going back to school in the Fall an event to be relished. The months of concentration camp existence that were my summers between the ages of thirteen and nineteen did have one benefit though, they taught me the value of hard work and the reward of a job well done. It took a lot of years before I truly allowed myself to believe that the upshot of Maxine’s tactics were more good than bad. But since that time, the first day of spring has never ceased to be a day of remembrance to her, as the terra firma of a new season first soils my hands.

I can hardly believe that in a few more months it will be five full years since Maxine’s passing. And in each of those springtime moments when my rambling mind stumbles upon the realization that I really like what I’m doing, this portion of the eulogy I delivered at her memorial service echoes through my mind as a prayer to her memory…

“Maxine was many things to many people. But to me, she was not only my Mom, but also the author of my work ethic, and my sense of duty and principle. She is my conscience, and I am very proud of that fact.

When I strive to go the extra mile to do a job to the best of my ability, it's because that's what she taught me to do, and because that's what she did.

When I try to explain to my teenagers, "It's the PRINCIPLE of the thing!" it's because that's what she taught me, and because it is (dammit!).

And when I sit back and survey the results of an afternoon of "sweat equity" in my yard, at my workbench, or after a home-improvement project, I see her, because she taught me the value of hard work, and because she lived it.

— May 31, 2000

Thanks again, Mom. Nice seeing you again this weekend

Blogging to myself
I made a rather surprising discovery while I was mowing along on Saturday. I started blogging — out loud. Of course no one could hear me above the din of the machine, but if any of my neighbors were watching, I’m certain that my lips were moving. It was completely unconscious until I caught myself, and then I remembered that I did the same thing last summer. I remembered that this above all other reasons is why I love yard work. I love the freedom it gives me to put my brain on autopilot and think, dream, and create.

I remembered the literally dozens of blog posts last summer spawned from my thinking-out-loud ramblings behind the lawn mower. I wondered (and still do) if it was that outlet which allowed me to churn out so many stories last summer, when blogging was new and the posts almost wrote themselves.

Hmmm…something more to think about.

At any rate, my mind was working as hard as my body, developing ideas, posing questions, even challenging myself as to the truth to my own opinions on a number of topics that may well become blog entries in the coming weeks. Some of them are highly charged for me emotionally, and may not be suitable for public consumption, I will have to weigh on them a bit more before making that decision.

All that being said, the one topic that practically branded my consciousness was a simple one: I am one very happy guy. I could list a dozen reasons why, but the only one that matters is that I just am. And to be honest, I’m a little reluctant to crow about it because I know I’m in the minority. I know this because I realize how much different my life is now than it was ten years ago. And back then I was “normal.” Now I’m just weird.

Now be sure to understand that I in no way believe I have cornered the market on happiness, nor do I purport that unless you do things the way I do, or believe the things I believe, you’ll never be as satisfied with your life as I am with mine. Let’s be honest here — I am happy despite my life. I’ve learned to find my happiness where I can find it. All of the turmoil and heartache of my childhood, combined with the uncertainty of what may lie ahead in my later years with Alzheimer’s potentially looming has taught me to not place too large a weight on any one thing or person in deriving satisfaction out of life. I take joy in little things, often-insignificant things. Things that others consider a chore or too mundane to be worth anything other than their contempt.

I choose to be happy. I know that it is my decision and mine alone. No one can make me feel any particular way, except for the man in the mirror I shave with every morning. It has been this realization that has made all the difference. And if 1995 had never happened, chances are I would never have learned that.

And just in case anyone mistake my tone of thanksgiving for boasting, allow me to assure you that the aim of this blog has never been to take what certainly must be considered at least in part, my good fortune in some areas, and shove it down anyone’s throat. For certainly unless you believe that I’ve just made up all the stuff about Alzheimer’s disease in my family, no one could really consider my life anything but cursed from that standpoint alone. And though that period in my life ten years ago taught me much, in hindsight, it could never be confused with what anyone would consider a “good situation.” The fact that I made it through those dark days in one piece is truly miraculous.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that as I both lament and celebrate the events of my life through this blog, and in so doing I hope you understand a few things about me. One, that I do not wish to be pitied, and two, that I certainly do not wish to be envied. I only wish to remind myself of how it all feels. Because feeling is real, and real is the only way to be. It is the only way to live.

I sometimes try to remember when it was that I found myself again after those dark days of the mid- 90s. At one point I believed it was when I decided to finally get off my ass and got the job delivering pizzas, which was the first step in the process of getting my family out of the financial hole I had dug for us. Yet again I later re-thought the question and decided that my redemption arrived on that day in August of 1999 we wrote out the last check, paying off the last bill that had kept us under the thumb of personal debt, and made us debt-free for the first time in our then-twenty years of marriage. And while that was indeed a powerful event, I know that I still wasn’t free — until last summer — when I discovered blogging. Prior to that my thoughts were still trapped inside my head. The voices that haunted me from years ago were as loud as ever and I was still restless much of the time. The catharsis of blogging has silenced those voices, and the warm and supportive comments from the friends that I’ve made in this community have replaced them with words of affirmation, respect and love. You, my friends have made me feel very special, and I relish every opportunity to return the favor.

I wish I could properly describe to you all what a joy it was for me to write my recent series of blog posts paying tribute to old friends who are no longer active in Blogland, as well as those ones who are either new to the medium, or just new to me. I just really enjoyed doing that. Not for any kind of recognition for being “Mr. Magnanimous,” but because I believe that there is no greater joy than to give joy. And everyone here in Blogland has given me so very much. I am so grateful to you all. If doing these types of things are one way I can show my appreciation, as long as it won’t get me arrested, then I most certainly will.

So I suppose that’s my roundabout way of tying everything together. I am extremely grateful for everything that life has given me — the good and the bad — because to add to or take away from any of it would make me a different person than I am today — and I like who I am today. And Blogland is a huge part of that reality. It’s not that my life couldn’t be any better, but I seriously doubt that I could be much happier.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Bloggers of Extinction: A Tribute (Part V)

New kids on the blog
Finally, as I end this series of tributes to some folks here in Blogland who have been and who are, very important to me, I’d like to also give a tip ‘o the cap to a few others. These are a few of the newer faces among the readers of this blog whose faithful participation I want to take a moment to recognize here. But first I want to give a shout-out to two who certainly aren’t new, but whom I have never before officially recognized for their longtime participation here.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life of our friend Brighton. While we mourn her loss, let us now take this time to remember those precious times we had to spend with her here on this earth…and um…

Wha? Oh…yeah, sorry…I forgot.

The eulogy’s supposed to come after she dies...

(Nyuk nyuk nyuk…inside joke.)

About ten months ago apparently somebody decided that there was just way too much fresh air in the state of Texas, so they decided to start exporting some of it via the Internet.

Well that might not be exactly how Brighton ended up here in Blogland, but it might as well be.

Anyone who knows her — and most of you do — also knows that she’s no newbie. She was among the original group of commentors on Kevin’s Life at TJ’s Place blog like so many of the rest of us. She has been a consistent participant on this and a great many blogs in our community. Her sharp wit and intelligence have graced many a discussion in and around Blogland.

But the primary reason I’m including her in this part of my tribute is that until very recently, she had no blog of her own. This energetic mother of four is a secondary school teacher by day, and those two experiences alone provide her with ample material from which to spin any number of interesting stories.

But did I mention her night job?

After the urging of many, Brighton now has her own blog. It’s based on all the things that make her the interesting person she is. Including her life as a part-time adult entertainer. Yes, that’s what I said.

A Day in the Night of a Stripper may sound like an attention-getter of a blog title (and it is), but don’t be fooled. That association doesn’t even scratch the surface of the depth of character of this wonderfully atypical lady.

Her story is a fascinating one, and after months of merely knowing her through her comments, I invite you to take the time to get to know her through her personal commentary on life.

Brighton is a wonderful communicator, and her insights cast the often-seedy world of strip club existence in a light much different than many people have ever seen it. As I once said in reference to Kevin’s blog, it may not change your opinion about strip clubs in general, but I can almost guarantee that it will change your opinion about the kind of people who work in them.

Well — at least one for sure.

El Sid
Speaking of breaths of fresh air…

El Sid (I call her Sidra ‘cuz she said I could) has been around as long as I have and has been as consistent a longtime participant in this blog as anyone. Yet for some stupid reason I have never taken the time to officially thank her for it. Please allow me to rectify that faux pas.

Thank you Sidra. You always make me smile.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in what I’m doing. I, by nature have always been more of a writer than a reader. The lion’s share of my blog-time is spent creating my own posts, as opposed to reading my neighbor’s. Sidra appears somewhat to be the opposite. Oh she posts all right, but boy does she circulate. Her blogroll is nearly three times that of mine and I am confident that she keeps up with every single one.

Post wise, she’s nothing but fun. She rants, she raves; she quizzes; she polls. There’s absolutely nothing about this lady and her blog that isn’t refreshing, cute and enjoyable. I don’t spend nearly enough time there, but whenever I do, I leave with a smile on my face.

This past Christmastime Sidra did something that I thought was fabulous. She went down her blogroll and crafted an original haiku for each one of her friends.

“Awww…how sweeet,” you say. You think that’s easy? Did I mention that her blogroll has seventy entries?

Thank you once again El Sid, for the playfulness of your nature, but most of all for always being such a support to and a friend of this blog. I think I owe you a burrito someday…

Yikes…that didn’t sound right. How ‘bout a cup of coffee?

Hmmm…Lemme see. I think I need to wax poetic on this one…

Ever get the feeling that someone was watching you? Well I did — for about two months.

I’m not an attention whore, but I play one on the Internet. So in keeping with that role, I simply have to keep an eye on the traffic coming into this web site. I’ve blogged about this before, but I check my SiteMeter daily — usually several times per day. To a large extent I know a lot of my visitors as well by their IP addresses and ISP names as I do by their real names here in Blogland.

With the advent of the header bar that Google added to all sites, and its “Next Blog” button, I constantly get several new visitors each day. Most of them pop in, get a load of all the hot air being spouted by me and move on. Therefore I dismiss a lot of the new IPs I see as those that I’ll probably never see again.

But sometime this past December I started noticing a new ISP name that was popping up with regularity. It was somewhat unusual in that it wasn’t a consumer or commercial ISP, but rather a university, a well-known one at that, Ohio State University. I didn’t think much about it at first but by mid-January this person was rivaling Brighton for regularity of visits here. Who could it be? Had they ever commented? I went back through my HaloScan logs. Nope — no match. Why don’t they say something? Do they have a blog? No way for me to tell since their info never indicated a referring URL. They must be using a browser link to get to me, ergo, no cyber-breadcrumb trail for me to follow.

To say I was intrigued by my mystery guest is an understatement. But then she slipped up — she linked me.

Back in late-February, I was in a bit of a funk emotionally about the story that wouldn’t die, It’s Still Ticking. The series took me just three days shy of three months to complete. Prior to my posting the final two parts of the series, there was a gap of more than two weeks in which I barely even looked at my blog. When I finally resumed posting, my mystery guest celebrated the fact by adding a note next to my name in her links: “AJ — Awake at last!” When she used that link to visit my blog, I now had my trail to follow back to discover her identify.

Nicole has actually been an avid reader of a number of the blogs in our community for quite some time. She is a third-year grad student at Ohio State, and after I was finally able to get her to speak up, I learned that she’s a delight to communicate with.

Thank you for being here Nicole, and thanks for joining in. I forgive you for hiding out…honest. I love a good mystery.

I swear — me and my friggin’ rotten timing. You can choose to believe me or not, but I had planned to talk about this lady the moment I decided to do a “new bloggers” section in this tribute series, and that was weeks ago. Now at the very time I get ready to write about her and plug her excellent web site, I learn that she has just gone through a very difficult personal circumstance. I guess I really need to say by way of preface that this is in no way a “sympathy post,” and the tenor of her current blog posts are by no means that of her usual work.

I want to celebrate EJ for whom I’ve come to know her to be: a witty, sharp, funny lady who lives in the Midwest with her preschool-age daughter, just working her way through life. Her observations are brief, stimulating and brilliantly, honestly thought provoking. She’s a great read, and a great reader, with a long, long list of blogs that she involves herself with.

I’m proud to say that this is now one of them.

EJ began following things here a few months ago primarily out of interest in the stories of my family and Alzheimer’s disease. Her comments have been generous and supportive. I hope she sticks around.

Thanks, EJ. I’m sorry this attention on you comes at perhaps a bad time, but I do hope it makes you smile. I believe I owe you a few of those.

Restless Angel
This delightful blogger has been just what her name suggests here since early January. Angel is a constant support and encouragement to all of her friends here in Blogland, and her presence, always appreciated. Thanks Angel for your friendly and wonderful spirit. It is an honor to have you here!

In addition to being a new reader and commentor here, Melinama has gone so far as to take subject matter from my entries and expand upon them in her own blog. That’s quite a compliment, but much more than that, she always seems to spin something very interesting out of all sorts of topical material. Obscure news items, flights of fancy, and other very thought provoking, bite-sized, morsels of tasty brain-food.

Another lurker/reader I discovered late last year is wonderful Catie, whose blog is currently on hiatus due to the fact that she is now serving our country in the United States Navy. She rarely commented but visited often. I never got the chance to really thank her for her service to our country before she shipped out, but Catie, if you’re reading this, godspeed and come home soon.

Veronica is an amazing lady who recently began commenting here and has become a pillar of what I like to call the “Southwest Contingent” of Blogland. She is a phenomenally gifted professional artist whose paintings adorn her very personal and interesting blog.

Even more amazing are her strength and grace in the face of her current battle with full-blown breast cancer, which her doctors are now aggressively treating. If you haven’t recently, I would encourage everyone to visit Veronica both to enjoy her wonderful art and to send her all the positive vibes you can.

Lastly but not leastly
In closing this tribute to my neighbors here in Blogland, new and old, I wanted to recognize two folks who I consider important friends of this blog who still as yet, have no home of their own.

The first is a gentleman who was my very first commentor way back in May of 2004. I really have no idea whether or not he visits, although I have a suspicion he does from time-to-time. His involvement here was brief but well appreciated. So Mr. Fec, here’s to ya sir! Thank you for being here. I hope to see you again.

Finally, this lady needs little introduction if you ever read Lovisa’s blog, as they have been best friends for over 25 years. Why she doesn’t have her own blog I still can’t figure out, but I suppose she has her reasons. She is a gifted writer, is extremely funny and intelligent, and is just about the nicest person one could hope to meet. She’s the one we lovingly call Snick.

Snicky, I haven’t seen you around a whole lot in the past few weeks, but I hope all is well. I want to thank you for your constant support and genuine warmth. You still need to start your own blog, darn it!

Well I hope I didn’t bore too many of you with this little non-stop love-fest, but this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. If I’ve left anyone out, sorry, but do you really want this post to get any longer? Didn't think so.

As far as my friends who are already in my blogroll who I didn’t talk about, I've already told you how special you are, so don’t feel slighted now. But to be completely fair, let me once again say thanks to Aimee, Brian, CCC, Whirligirl, Esther, Regan, Fleece, Gooch, Inanna, Jake, Jamie, Jennifer, Johnny5, Kim, Kat, Kimber, Leese, Queenie, Todd, Vadergrrl, and Victoria.

You would not be in my blogroll if you all weren’t great writers and wonderful folks. Thank you all for being my friends.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Bloggers of Extinction: A Tribute (Part IV)

Meet the new blog…same as the old blog
As I mentioned previously, in something that appeared for awhile to be a trend (that many hope will continue), another two of Blogland’s finest also left, but returned after a respective respites of a few weeks to a month’s time.

Sloth — Slow Adventures in Slothville
Left December 14, 2004, returned January 10, 2005.

Slothy/Slotherella/Slotherooni/Her Slothaciousness, you name the variation, is just a fun person with a great blog. Slothville has been for the most part, a lightening rod — of popularity as well as controversy. But whatever her topic (or the flavor of comments that follow), it is written with a sharp wit, and worldly élan vital unlike any other in our community.

She is quirky and classic, elusive and lyrical, boisterous and serene; she is the personification of naïveté and sophistication, all rolled up into one very interesting and engaging young woman.

As far as our respective blogs go, given in large part our difference in age, there aren’t a whole lot of subjects that we touch upon in common, which is what initially kept me from getting to know Sloth’s work. She is passionate about all things political, and I am not, particularly as far as my blog is concerned because of the very divisive nature of the subject. That’s why I don’t write about it and rarely, rarely will even comment on another person’s story on that subject.

Last summer, when the presidential campaigns were in full swing, Sloth’s blog was alive with politically based stories. Having seen her name in the comments of many other bloggers whom I was just beginning to discover, I went over to check her out. Seeing the nature of her stories, I looked but didn’t touch. That stuff’s just not my cup ‘o tea. But I kept returning nonetheless, because I saw a less impassioned, more relaxed and fun person in those other people’s comments who I was waiting to see emerge on her own site.

Allow me to interrupt myself here and say that I am well aware of how unfair I may have been at the outset for somewhat turning my nose up at something that was obviously important as those political posts obviously were to Sloth. But isn’t that what most of us do? First impressions, warranted or not, are the starting point for our opinions all of things. My point is, I didn’t dismiss what I saw on first blush. I wanted to see more, and soon I did.

In late June of last year, Sloth went on vacation to Australia, and even managed to get in a blog entry from down under. I found her from around that time to be cute, humorous and easy to read. In the weeks ahead she continued to regale us with posts about her trip, replete with her wonderfully artistic photography, which on its merit alone made every trip to Slothville a profitable one.

But then I was blown away.

Oh sure, it only makes sense that I would be drawn to an emotional epic, but what I saw revealed in the wake of a certainly devastating personal tragedy, instantly bonded me to this wonderfully complex and gifted writer.

On Monday July 19, 2004, Sloth wrote about The Ambassador’s Wife, a stirring tribute her beloved Grandmother, who had passed away the previous day. The fact that she could at that point write at all is a testament to her strength. The fact that she could write such a poignant and noble tribute is a testament to her genius.

From that point on I could no longer remain on the outskirts of Slothville. I was voluntarily obliged to become a citizen.

Slothy, if I was wearin’ a hat, I’d take it off to ya. You have my undying respect for being as close to all things to all people as anyone I’ve seen. Thank you for returning to us and continuing to make us think, as well as feel.

Michael — Make Mine Mike
Left December 31, 2004, returned February 1, 2005. Pffft...I knew he was just playin’ possum…

I dubbed him “The Honorable Mayor of Blogsville” sometime back because I don’t believe there is anyone else around who can touch him in over-all popularity. I mean what’s not to like? He’s smart, savvy, incredibly funny, an extremely gifted writer, AND…a cartoonist! If that’s not a slam-dunk of likability, then I don’t know what is!

Michael is the quintessential easy read. Not that he hasn’t or doesn’t tackle tough or heavy subject matter. It’s just that he always seems approach his stories in an easy-to-read, easy-to-digest manner. Always enjoyable; always refreshing; always leaving you anxious for his next post. He is the Holy PUNtif, the Mad Rapper, the Wizard of Witty Repartee.

As you’ve certainly noticed, his name appears on nearly every blogroll in our community — and with good reason. He makes every reader feel like family, from the way he crafts his stories to the way that he interacts with his readers.

Michael lives in Los Angeles, which is probably the first thing that caught my interest when I first encountered him in the comments boxes of Kevin’s, Jay’s and other bloggers I began frequenting in the early summer of 2004. Having spent my formative years and all of my young adulthood there, LA will always be home in my heart, and I will always feel a special bond to anyone who lives there. On one such occasion on seeing him make an allusion to where he lived, I went over to his site to look around, albeit briefly.

Soon thereafter I was at the site of another longtime favorite blogger, Leese. If you know her, you probably know that Leese lives in the Bay Area of Northern California and works in Silicon Valley. She’s a sports fan too, particularly one of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. I of course, grew up an LA Lakers fan. By requisite, all Sacramento Kings fans despise the Lakers. The Lakers are their tormentors, having knocked them off numerous times in the NBA playoffs. Now, please forgive me, because given the current state of both franchises, who really cares? But this was last season, when both teams were playoff-caliber and squarely in the hunt to go far, possibly all the way to the NBA finals.

Guess which team made it? Oh, oh…sorry Leese. I digress…

Anyway, during the playoffs last year, the exact date I don’t remember, but sometime either during the late Conference Semis or early Conference Finals, Leese wrote a post about the Lakers. It was on the first iteration of her blog (which unfortunately no longer exists) and she spoke about how much she as a Kings fan hated the Lakers and their rude and overly-boisterous fans. The Kings had but again been eliminated from the NBA playoff tournament in the second round while the Lakers had advanced, to the chagrin of all the purple-and-black faithful in Sac-Town.

As I recall I just happened to be Leese’s first commentor on this particular post, and as always I was my normal charming self, but…I just couldn’t keep from giving my team a few props in the face of such an assault.

I said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory since the post or comments are no longer available to cut-and-paste) something like, “I’m really sorry for ya Leese, but as a died-in-the-wool Lakers fan since 1969, I really can’t feel too bad… (with the requisite smileys to let her know that I was just teasing).

Leese took it in the spirit it was delivered in her response to my comment. But later when I went back again to see if someone else had commented, I saw that Michael had weighed in, in support of Leese’s lament. He said (again paraphrasing), “Yeah Leese, I know what you mean. I live in LA and I’m not into pro basketball, I’m a New York Yankees baseball fan, but I can’t stand listening to those smug Laker fans.”

Now I knew that Michael was a New Yorker from among what few posts I’d read on his blog to that point. And if you know anything about baseball, you also know that the Yankees owner is the biggest spender in pro sports. This, many say, is a big reason why the Yankees are consistently one of the most successful teams in baseball, having appeared in six of the last ten World Series, winning four. This has elevated the Yankees to the position of the most envied — and hated — franchise in baseball, the same position that the Lakers had occupied in pro basketball.

Not surprisingly, Yankee fans expect their team to win. They too have developed a reputation for being pretty smug about the success of their Yankees. So you can’t blame me for wanting to bring of this little bit of serendipity to Michael’s attention.

“Hey Michael,” I said, “excuse me for bringin’ it up, but isn’t that just a tiny bit like ‘the pot calling the kettle ‘black?’” and reminded him that Yankee fans were legendary for their smugness and assurance that their team would win the World series every year. Again, I provided smiley emoticons to hopefully communicate that it was a playful jab. Oh and I may have mentioned something about “The Evil Empire.” Oops…

His response later was one that I can’t exactly repeat — oh not because of that — but because I just don’t remember exactly how he worded it. It was something along the lines of, “Why, I oughtta…Put up yer dukes, Yankee hater” although I’m sure it was even more playful and less confrontational than that.

I responded doing my best to diffuse the situation, assuring Michael that I was just playin,’ adding that I admire Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner’s chutzpeh to do whatever he has to do to win.

The upshot of it all was that this encounter piqued my interest in this quirky fellow. I began visiting his blog and really began reading this time. It was great! His cartoons, stories about his funny friends, even a story about the Yankees, when they came to LA last June, which gave me a little insight as to why he was such a diehard fan of his Bronx Bombers.

But it wasn’t until the latter part of July, just prior to his vacation to St. Croix that I started commenting and complimenting him on his wonderfully entertaining blog. He returned the favor and soon we were an active part of each other’s daily roll through Blogland.

In late August last summer I traveled back to SoCal for my 30th high school reunion, so I took the opportunity to make plans to meet His Honor, the Mayor for dinner one evening. I came away from that meeting with a friend. I never did figure out what happened to Mike though…

Seriously, we hit it off immediately and have been fast friends ever since.

So to you Mikey, I say thank you for being willing to trust this Yankee hater long enough to learn how much he respects you for the brilliant writer, extraordinary humorist and all-around good soul that you truly are.

Thank you for all you mean to Blogland, and thank you for coming back. Although I always knew you would, I hear that Brian really missed you.

Oh and don’t worry about the Sawx beating the Yanks this season. My Angels ahh gonna kick botha youse asses!

Next: New kids on the blog

Friday, March 04, 2005

Bloggers of Extinction: A Tribute (Part III)

Lovisa — Unbearable Likeness of Bean
Site and archives are still up, but in stasis as of February 18, 2004.

Wow. This one’s gonna be tough. I have so much I could say about this brilliant yet wonderfully mysterious lady from Manitoba, but I’m going to try to keep this (relatively) brief.

As I've mentioned before, one of my current heroes is sports columnist/TV and radio talkshow host, Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post and ESPN. On his daily radio show, in soliciting participation from his listeners, he has on many occasions described his preferred type of e-mail. His well-worn phrase in reference to e-mails is, “I’ll forgive anything for ‘smart and funny.’”

Given those criteria, Lovisa would qualify as a star pupil in Mister Tony’s school of journalism.

I discovered Lovisa, again early on in my Blogsville experience. I’m not sure whether or not it was at Kevin’s blog or not. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was actually in the comments section of one of the Filipina twin-daughters-of-different-Mothers, Leese and Fleece, who both also used to hang out at Kevin’s.

One thing I do remember is reading her blog for the very first time. It was Thursday, June 24, 2004. I had casually wandered over from a funny comment she had made on one of the aforementioned blogs. I took a look around and, as most people of the male persuasion would be, was drawn to the image of four attractive twentysomething women, standing together in what appeared to be a “girl’s night out” group pose.

Above the photo was the post’s title: “I am the lizard queen” — an intriguing title to say the least. So naturally I began reading, and soon became immersed in a beautifully poignant, wonderfully honest story of maturity versus the follies of youth. You simply must read this story if you haven’t already — I won’t even mind if you do it right now, so long as you promise to come right back.

The single greatest passage I have ever read in a blog was in that story. I literally went from near tears to pound-your-fist-on-the-table-laughter in the span of a few sentences. To wit:

...There is a smirkle (smirk/wrinkle) affixed to the right side of my face forever now, as all those years of condescending smiles have left a permanent mark. I'm glad it's there, it serves as a constant reminder of how ugly I once acted in my attempt to be beautiful, I see it as the scar I received when I knocked myself off my self-created pedestal. The picture I posted today is one I really like not only because it was a great night, with great friends, but because I don't have many pictures of me where I am smiling like that, in most of them, I’m smirking.

A few months ago, on one of the hubby's days off, we were driving to his parents place through our old neighborhood, and two teenage girls were walking down the street, one of them dressed quite provocatively for a 16 year old girl. As we stopped at the stop sign, this girl turned to look at the car, flipping her hair as she turned her attention our way, never stopping her jiggly haughty walk, smirked, and gave us the ol' one raised eyebrow. My husband and I both burst out laughing because we both saw the same thing,(me 10 years ago) and I said in a loud voice "Oh Hon-NEEE, I used to HAVE your job" and we drove away still chuckling. This may have sounded more cruel than I intended, but I wish someone had said it to me at 16, would have saved me alot of trouble.

What can I tell you? I was hooked. Despite my tendencies to the contrary, I always made time to visit Lovisa’s blog. She was a must-read for me. Her stories were always well thught out and executed, but not usually as serious as the first one I read. Lovisa’s sharp wit and well-read mind always found ways to interject humor into her blog stories as well. And not just “cute” humor, but comedian-style laugh-out-loud funny stuff. That, to me, is the Holy Grail of blogging; something I aspire to in my own writing. It’s something that Lovisa achieved routinely.

A couple months ago, however, she apparently began to wane in her desire to keep it all going. She never said why, but she intimated to me that she may at some point in the near future, take a break from Blogland. She did in fact did on a few occasions from late December 2004 forward, feature a few gaps of 5-7 days in between posts, before finally shutting it down on February 18th.

What would say to my friend Lovisa is merely a rehash of what I’ve already said to her in e-mails and IM sessions. When she first began talking about “shutting it down” I tried to convince her that I surely wasn’t the only one who enjoyed her writing as much as I do. But speaking for myself, I told her that not only did I get a lot of enjoyment out of everything her wickedly sharp mind could concoct, but that her writing was a huge inspiration to me. I told her that I believe she made me a better writer because I saw in her the very sense that I would like to communicate to my own readers.

But in the end I know now, as I knew then, that I was just being selfish. The decision to place one’s life out for all in cyberspace to see is alone the decision of that person. It is not incumbent upon them for any reason to write for anyone but himself or herself. And for whatever her motivation, Lovisa decided it was time to reign it all in. And while it makes me very sad to see her go, that’s good enough for me.

I’m just happy she has decided to leave her archives up and available for all to peruse. I’ve found that her stories are often better the second — or third time around.

I’m hopeful that in time she will follow in the steps of Michael and Sloth, and regain her blog-jones. Until then I just want to say thank you for your wonderful body of work as well as the endless stream of comments and laughs that you’ve shared with us all Lovisa. You are universally loved and will always be missed, by all.

My feelers are fuzzy too — just little droopier than I’d like them to be at the moment.

The Dastard — Aliens, Guns and Boobs
Site shell, final post, and profile link are still up, but archives removed as of February 17, 2004.

I’m sorry to say my experience with El Dastardo was similar to that of Jack in that while I certainly knew of him, we spent almost no time interacting with each other. Unlike Jack’s blog however, I did read Dastard’s a bit, but not as much as I would have if of course I knew the limited amount of time I had to do it.

I believe Dastard did read my blog on occasion, although the fact that he only commented twice in all makes it difficult for me to verify that. I believe I had a better sense of who, and what kind of person he was, more so from reading what Sloth wrote about him than by any means I discovered through actual interaction.

He was a tremendously sharp, witty, and intellectual fellow, all of which made him immensely popular. His sense of humor and ability to turn a phrase was legendary. And while I regret the fact that I didn’t know him better, I think its safe to say that there are a great many more fellow Bloglanders than me whose sense of loss far exceeds mine.

So to Dastard, I tip my cap to one of Blogland’s most noteworthy citizens. Again you have left open the possibility of returning, and if you do I hope to take the opportunity to get to know you better. I hope that time is soon.

Next: Meet the new blog…same as the old blog

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bloggers of Extinction: A Tribute (Part II)

Phoebe — Phoebe Moons
Site and archives are still up, but in stasis as of late December, 2004.

Okay Aimee. Hope you have your kleenex handy — I know I’m gonna need mine.

In my bloglinks (“Faves”) section, she is still listed. If you mouse-over her name, a pop-up message reads, “A brilliant star (in retrograde).” Phoebe named her blog Phoebe Moons after the celestial satellite of the same name, one of at last count, nineteen that orbit the planet Saturn. But this particular moon is different from the rest. It’s orbit is retrograde, in other words, its orbit is in the opposite direction of all the other moons. One of Phoebe’s real-world friends once called that fact to her attention, adding, "That sounds like someone I know!"

Leave it to “friends” to come up with nicknames that stick.

Well regardless of how accurate the Phoebe-to-Phoebe comparison really may or may not be, one aspect of it truly is.

This woman’s writing was out-of-this-world.

I’ve really thought about this and hope I don’t embarrass her too much in saying, but given the old “stranded on a desert island” scenario, if I had to choose only one blog to read, it would be Phoebe’s (providing of course that she was still actively writing…I mean, c’mon…).

There was no one in Blogland with whom I felt more of a kindred spirit as a writer. Phoebe’s ethereal phrasing and intelligent observations always took me to another place whenever I read her words. Her stories were sincere, poignant and consistently satisfying. I always came away from her blog in a better mood than when I got there. I really, really loved her work. Unfortunately for me, there just wasn’t enough of it. Phoebe is a private person, and as in the case of many bloggers, didn’t share her blog with her family. Therefore her time to contribute to it was limited by family and work commitments. I however was satisfied to wait for her posts and enjoy them as she made them available. Happily, she seemed to have a bit more time for reading, and for much of the time she made Blogsville home, she was a faithfully consistent visitor to this space.

Now let’s not kid ourselves, we all love those who love us — that’s human nature. But to receive the incredibly generous comments that Phoebe always seemed to leave, well it was really something special, not only because I knew they were sincere, but more so because they were coming from someone whose work I so well respected.

Last October came the wonderful news that Phoebe was with child following a frustrating series of attempts by she and her husband to start a family. The blessed event seemed to begin the process of what would two months later become her retreat from Blogland. Nobody could say they didn’t understand, as she now clearly had something more important to concentrate on. The good news is, she has recently begun once again to read and comment in and around our community. It is my sincere hope that soon she’ll be able to pick up where she left off with her blog, or at least post every so often.

Phoebe, my dear friend, in your final post, Saying Good-night dated Monday, December 27, 2004, I imagined you flying away into the moonlit winter’s night, like Santa on his sleigh, having bestowed upon all the good children of Blogland your wonderful gifts. As a final classy gesture, you left a long list of kind, well-chosen words for your regular readers.

Your words to me make me tear up with pride every time I think of them. You said, “Good-night A.J., big brother of the ethersphere.”

Godspeed, Sis. Hurry back soon.

Jack — Texas Music
Site’s shell is still up, but all posts and archives pulled as of last week.

This is one of those situations that I have found myself in constantly since I began blogging — hell, let’s be honest — since I’ve been alive. I’m always late. Late for appointments, late coming home for dinner, and in the case of keeping current with my friends here in Blogsville, late for the party.

I’ve avoided mentioning this previously, although I’ve considered it often. It certainly doesn’t paint me in a good light, but I feel I need to be honest because it is something that has been absolutely eating me up since last week. And if it seems like I’m unnecessarily tough on myself here, yeah, yeah I’ll get over it, but I genuinely feel bad, so let me okay?

Maybe it’s not something I should really be all that bummed about. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale about getting too caught up in oneself, being too caught up in what you’re doing, to the exclusion of learning and participating in the lives of others whom you genuinely consider to be your friends. Or perhaps it’s just another example of why you shouldn’t count your chickens — or your plans — before they’re hatched.

Specifically, I’m referring to my neighbors: other people’s blogs, and taking for granted the idea that they’ll always be there for you to enjoy and interact with. I have a very short list — much shorter than it should be — of those blogs that I check, and/or read on a daily basis. I can easily go a week-to-ten days between visits to some folks on my blogroll. This includes those, I’m embarrassed to say, with whom I am very close personally and whom, I also might add, check and read my own blog religiously.

The obvious question is why. Too busy? That’s the easy excuse. I can always say that I’m too busy, or tired, but the truth is, most of the time, I’m really just too selfish. That’s me, boys and girls. I’m selfish of my time, a lot of which I spend in my off-hours “decompressing” in front of the tube (that’s the TV, not the computer), when I could be reading, commenting and otherwise supporting my friends. This circumstance is especially true when I’m deep into writing, or simply stressing over a story that I need to write. These are both things that I’ve been doing a lot of over the course of the last three months. I have a tendency to become extremely focused, or myopic, depending on how you want to look at it, during those times.

It’s not that I don’t care about reading other people’s blogs, because I do, eventually. It just seems that I allow myself to be distracted with other things that take up my time. And I justify it all by telling myself that I can read later. After all, those posts aren’t going anywhere, right? Well, in the words of the late, great Carnac the Magnificent, “WRONG, PROCASTINATION-BREATH...”

And that brings me specifically to Jack.

I’m here to tellya, folks — I blew it. I literally frittered away nearly every opportunity I had to expand my consciousness via the words of one whom everyone agrees was truly a great writer. In the nine months that Jack and I shared this neighborhood, I saw him everywhere, either in the comments of other bloggers or linked in their blogrolls. That’s how I know him. That’s the only real sense I have of him. I never experienced the emotion with which I’m certain I could have identified, when he wrote about the passing of his father. I never experienced the edge-of-your-seat adrenaline rush from his stories about those drug busts that literally placed you right beside him as the action was unfolding. I never experienced the laughter provided by Jack’s ample wit, as he related to us the humor he found in ordinary observations of his extraordinary day-to-day lifestyle.

These are all things that I can only read others describing now. It’s like a guy who walks into a room full of folks doubled over in laughter from a hilariously funny joke. He doesn’t know what the joke was, but he knows it must have been funny. Well now I feel that the joke’s on me. I’m the one who missed the punchline.

Jack’s was always one of those blogs with which I was going to “catch up later.” If so many people liked him, he must be good, right? But there was no urgency, no pressure, I figured. I always had the best of intentions.

But then you know what they say about the road to hell and good intentions, right?

Besides, Jack’s blog and mine were literally on opposite sides of town. Over half of his blogroll were folks I didn’t know at all. We really didn’t have all that much in common, did we? God, I never cease to amaze myself with the bullshit excuses I can come up with sometimes.

And quite frankly, I was convinced that he didn’t read mine either — or so I assumed because the first comment he ever left wasn’t until last November, in the post I made just prior to the trip to Indianapolis with my brother Alex.

Before that I honestly don’t know how much if ever Jack read my blog. But I do know that from that point forward he commented a few more times, and it was then that I felt it common courtesy to finally take the time to reciprocate.

Yet I hesitated and remained buried in the emotional cocoon that was my “Ticking” story. And just as I was finally finishing it up, Jack was gone, leaving not even a trace of what I had been missing all these months.

So Jack, I know you probably want to come kick my ass for making such a big deal out of all this, but please believe me when I say I’m sorry you’re gone, and I’m sorry that I hardly knew ye. I know that goes double for the many who did.

Next: Contemporaries (continued)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bloggers of Extinction: A Tribute (Part I)

This is long overdue.
As I’m sure we all do here in Blogland, I constantly weigh the thoughts that swirl around in my head. I try to determine whether or not it is worth my while to pluck them out of the air, throw them down onto my keyboard, and see if a story emerges. Ideas come and go, and if I’m lucky they stick around long enough for me to get a few notes down before they return to the mental maelstrom from which they came, sometimes reappearing later, but often disappearing altogether.

Well this is a story that has been swirling around literally for weeks and weeks, so I wanted to make it the first up in what will hopefully become a return to posting regularity and normalcy for me and this blog.

“Ohhh, Oh — Catch that buzz — Blog is the drug I’m thinking of…”
Blogging is an addiction for most — anyone will tell you that. This addiction is more often than not a healthy one. The outlet it provides is often liberating, making it possible to express oneself in a way much differently than with a standard journal. Blogging provides a connection to other people; contact with a world unknown; a cry in the wilderness answered.

It was this aspect of the phenomenon, which was both unexpected and instantly engrossing to me as I began this site in the latter part of May, 2004. As many have discussed before, it was around this same time that a great many of the blogs which form the community of writers and readers who own and frequent the sites linked to my site began. It was and still is, a wonderful group of people whom I am more than happy to call my friends, despite the fact that the vast majority of them, I have never physically met or even spoken with on the phone.

Some of you I have gotten to know through your own blogs, others more so through our interaction in your comments here. And while I make it my policy to be easy to get along with, I’ve almost never encountered anyone who has challenged the spirit of friendship and respect that is the rule in our community.

That being said, the purpose of this entry is to pay tribute, certainly to all of my friends who are still around and continue to support this wonderful ideal of respect and support, both emotional and physical. However, my deeper wish is to honor those who are no longer with us, for whatever reason. For some, perhaps the addiction was too intense. Not to say that they couldn’t deal with it, but rather, giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it became a burden that they simply no longer wanted to bear. I for one can completely understand and identify with that feeling. Dealing with the emotion of my just-concluded series of stories about my brother Alex has been tough to say the least. My will to push through the pain and self-analysis was daunting, and took a huge toll on my productivity. So I understand “Blog burnout” in no uncertain terms.

But my purpose here is not to analyze why they left, but to let them know (if somehow they’re still out there looking in on us from time to time, as I know that some certainly do), just how much I appreciated their genius; their wisdom; their mojo — all communicated to me personally through their written words. Some have been gone for several months, others for mere days. As a matter of fact, the list of bloggers whom I had originally planned to mention in this post when I first conceived of writing it almost two months ago, has both shortened and grown in the meantime.

Because of this, the person whom I wanted to lead off the list with, Michael, has now returned for what turned out to be only a brief hiatus of exactly a month. However inasmuch as makeminemike has now picked up where he left off, entertaining readers with his often poignant, but always entertaining observations of life — past and present, there has been a recent spate of other longtime pillars of the community who have left us. We can only hope that Lovisa and Jack’s respective departures turn out to likewise be a brief respite, as opposed to a permanent vacation.

So here are a few thoughts devoted to our departed bloggers, listed in roughly the order that I became aware of their departure. There is no order of importance, because they have certainly all been important to me, as I’m sure they have been to many of you as well.

Still online, but in stasis since her final post, May 18, 2004

This blog is a bit off the map, and might be completely unfamiliar to many of you, but is significant because it was my introduction to It was the one that got me started.

A friend of mine on the group message board that I participate in daily posted a link to this very short-lived blog (May 5–18, 2004) of a Capitol Hill page named Jessica Cutler. She raised quite a stir in local Washington DC web-gossip circles for the posting of her day-to-day sexual exploits with a number of men, most notably an alleged US Senator from the Midwest. By her own admission she did it as entertainment for herself and friends. She never named names, but apparently someone close enough to her boss got wind and connected the pixels. She was fired for misuse of government equipment (ie: blogging at work).

This was my introduction to blogging. And because hers was a site, I started mine here. So to Jessica I have to say thanks for piquing my interest. I am a blogger totally because of you.

Oh and by the way…don’t fret for Ms. Cutler. Did I mention, she came out of all this with a $300,000 dollar book deal?

Kevin — Life at TJ’s Place
Still online, but in stasis since Kevin’s final post, August 29, 2004

It may well have been one of the first five blogs I ever visited. The man from whose loins sprang The Motherblog, as I have always referred to it. Kev’s was the first Blogland gathering place for a large number of those who make up our community, and was by definition our touchstone. Never before and I sincerely doubt, ever again will there be a place like TJ’s. The reader response was absolutely frenetic — the comment section truly took on a life of its own — but the blog itself was absolutely brilliant. Kevin’s understated style and humble demeanor inspired me to remain true to my own narrative style, which I felt was very similar.

So Kevin, I don’t pretend to believe that you’ll ever see this, chiefly because I have no idea if you ever even visited my blog, but I want to thank you on so many levels I could easily devote an entire story to your site alone. Your work truly infected me with the desire to follow in your footsteps…if not in subject matter, then certainly in the quality and sincerity of your vision. Thank you sir.

Maddy — Maddy’s Mind
Still online, but only one post since, August 23, 2004

Maddy and I discovered each other early on. We began our blogs on the very same day, May 24, 2004. Within a week or so we had found our way onto each other’s blogs. She was one of my first and most faithful commentors, always speaking her mind, and sometimes playing the devil’s advocate to my often-lofty platitudes. Although she admittedly was much more of a blog reader, she is an excellent writer as well. Her series of posts on her niece’s voluntary choice to leave her middle-class parent’s home and live on the streets of a large Canadian city still ranks as one of the most gripping pieces I’ve read in Blogland.

Unfortunately (for us anyway) Maddy’s affinity for blogging was a secret one which she hid from her husband and family for concern of their reaction to being named in some of her stories. That tension seemed to me to contribute to several long gaps of time in-between her posts. Conditions apparently became such that she was no longer able to find the time alone to follow her blogging interests. Slowly she faded from the scene, interestingly, just prior to the time Kevin stopped posting to his blog, on August 23, 2004. After months of reader comments encouraging and wishing her the best, Maddy posted an entry in late December, explaining the family circumstances for which she had been absent. She hasn’t posted anything since, but hopefully she will be able to again sometime.

Maddy, my dear friend, please allow me to say that you are in my thoughts and prayers often. I wish you all the best and hope that the time comes very soon when you’ll be able to continue your blog and be an active part of this community once again. Thank you for the love and support you radiated to each and everyone here who knew you. I hope you have an idea of how well you were appreciated and certainly how much you are missed.

The Abysmal Life of Crayon
Still online, but in stasis since Crayon’s final post on August 19, 2004

Anyone see a pattern here? It almost appeared that a trend of blog burn-out began to spread in August of last year, for whatever reason. Crayon was another of the original bloggers from the TJ’s gene pool who had a large following but faded from view. Her gentle, yet often depressed view of the world was melancholy incarnate, and beautifully written. Unfortunately I came to enjoy her blog only a week or so before she retired, apparently to leave her native Sidney, Australia and travel across Europe with her boyfriend for an indeterminate amount of time (or as she put it, “until we feel we feel we’ve done enough”). Whether or not she ever returns is of course another unknown, but hopefully the fact that her site still stands means that she will indeed re-join Blogland someday.

She never commented on my site, and quite frankly I have no idea if she ever even visited. If you like to feel the things you read, I would recommend her archives as well worth your time.

To Crayon I would only say, thank you for what you gave us; I only hope I hadn’t been so late to the party.

Which leads me to certainly the most emotional tribute in my story. Warning — gratuitous self-flagellation ahead…

Next: Contemporaries