Saturday, April 30, 2005


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That time has now come for me as well.

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

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

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

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

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

Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep

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

We're all carried along
By the river of dreams

In the middle of the night

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


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Flashing in Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog at you soon…


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mowerly Musings (Volume 1, Number 2)

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

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

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

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

Little…? Who the heck am I kidding?

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

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

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

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

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

Goin’ topless.

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

I’m so jealous of people who actually tan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lucky brake indeed.

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

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

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

And I sort of doubt that was just my imagination.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mowerly Musings (Volume 1, Number 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmm…is someone trying to tell me something here?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I know, I know…bad pun.

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

I fantasized about kickin’ his ass.

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

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

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


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

I rule…

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

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

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

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


Special thanks to my cyber-editor supreme

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Executing Change (A Miniseries: 2/2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Executing Change (A Miniseries: 1/2)

The Return of the Peach
As I alluded to in a comment I made yesterday, I’m going to take a quick break right here from my current post series to talk about a couple of things that have happened with the past 24 hours. Okay, okay…a two-part story isn’t exactly quick, but you know me.

Firstly, as many of you in Blogland were aware, our favorite travelin’ blogger, Inanna, paid me a brief visit Friday evening on her way back from a weeklong roadtrip adventure. She traveled from her home in West Virginia, first to New Orleans to visit her cousin and fellow-blogger, Seven. Then on to Houston to see her sister and meet yet another group of fellow bloggers, including, Tiny Hands, Zelda & Jethro, and the irrepressible Brighton.

Michelle and I met her for dinner at our favorite Mexican Restaurant here in town, which I have always characterized as our local version of “Cheers” because everybody there seems to know your name. We rarely walk into the place without seeing someone we either know or at least recognize. Inanna arrived at the restaurant before we did and said she witnessed that very phenomenon as she watched the bustling Friday night crowd file in. She said she saw a lot of faces light up as they saw and greeted their friends.

I love that place. The food is great and the atmosphere couldn’t be friendlier.

As we sat and visited, Inanna excitedly recounted her time with her extended blogger family. We received some great insights on the real-life personalities behind the wonderful wordsmiths we all enjoy so much. Jealous as I was to have not been able to meet all of those great folks, I felt I experienced the next best thing via Inanna’s description.

As the conversation turned toward our family and specifically our kids, the often-uncanny interaction between Blogland and the real world reared its surreal head once again.

You may recall my writing that in our first face-to-face encounter a month ago, Inanna caught me off-guard by calling me “AJ” in person, which is something that absolutely no one does. It’s a name that I expect to see on the computer screen; perhaps something I expect to hear on the phone in, conversation with certain people. However no one in real-life knows or calls me by that name, so it was indeed a little weird when it happened last month — but not nearly as weird as when Inanna referred to my son as Shawn, even though that’s what I’ve always called him in my blog.

Admittedly, I have been remiss in not writing about my boy more often. I’ve talked much more about my daughter, whom I refer to as Amy although that is not her name either. Inanna and I have talked in e-mails about my daughter quite a bit more, most notably because of the fact that she made Amy a beaded necklace and earrings set as a gift last Christmas (thank you again Nanner!). Inanna has pretty much referred to Amy by her real name in all our conversations since.

So while we were talking about some matter involving the kids’ college activities (I believe the subject was ‘coming home for Spring Break’), Inanna inquired, “And what about Shawn…?” Michelle and I paused and briefly looked at each other. I said, “You know his name is ‘(x),’ right…?” Nanner’s face got as red as the warm-up jacket she was wearing as we simultaneously busted up laughing.

Change myself
We plan and we scheme
’til there’s nothing left of our little dream
But half of the time I can’t decide and
half of the time I’m petrified

I want to change the world
I want to make it well
How can I change the world
When I can’t change myself
Try again tomorrow
I’d love to change your mind
Capture your citadel
How could I change your mind
If I can’t change myself
Try again tomorrow

From: Change Myself
by Todd Rundgren (2nd Wind), 1991

After all the talk about bloggers, road-rage, and pine pollen subsided, the conversation turned a bit more serious. Inanna spoke about her life and the changes she was in the course of making, all of which seem to have coincided with her discovery of blogging nearly a year ago.

I don’t believe I’m betraying any confidences to say this because she has more than a few times alluded to it in her own writings. Inanna is what I would consider the Will Hunting of her real-life peer group. Well, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch (she’s actually better-looking than Matt Damon), but as she said in perhaps my favorite of all her blog stories:

Between the time I returned from Germany and started college, my friends from back home in the coalfields sat me down at the kitchen table with a bottle of vodka, a gallon of orange juice, and told me I didn't belong there. They were older than me. Gayle and Mike were probably 25, Dean was probably 30 or so with three kids. I was 19. It was tough to hear the friends I looked up to and felt a part of tell me I wasn't a part of them anymore, or as Dean said, "If you ever were." They saw a greatness in me, a destiny, I couldn't see in myself.

Inspiration • Sunday, February 20, 2005
She is a fighter; a woman on a mission to be all she can be. It is a fight, but one that she’s confident she can win. We talked briefly about the obstacles to her leaving her current situation back home and moving on to another locale in which she and Nate could thrive. I don’t know how comfortable she would be in my commenting much further about this, but I just have to say how proud I am of her, both for her accomplishments so far and her determination to continue making positive changes for her life and for her son.

After our wonderful dinner (Nanner had the chimichunga, Michelle, a chicken taco, and me, the wonderful tacos carne asada) Michelle excused herself to return home while Inanna and I walked across the street to Starbuck’s for a couple ‘a mochas and even más conversación.

Inanna’s impending life-changes continued to lead the conversation, but soon we lapsed into other miscellaneous subjects. Terri Shiavo, allegies, humidity (I shared with her my sauna-that-is-Houston story), and other things were topics on the table, along with a few more I’m sure she’ll jog my memory about when she posts.

We closed Starbuck’s down at 11:00 PM, but well before the time the manager came over to give the “last call” announcement I could see the weariness in Nanner’s blue-green eyes. She was fading fast. So we headed back across the street to the parking lot were our cars were, and said our so-longs (she’s supposed to be back here yet again with her cousin in May for the Renaissance Festival). She then headed another 18 miles up the 65 freeway to the motel she had reserved for the night. Apparently she made it home okay this morning because as of this writing she had already made a brief post.

I don’t know if it was merely coincidence or providence that the subject of change dominated my conversation that evening with my friend Inanna. Earlier that afternoon I had received news that my life would be changing as well.

Oh no, it wasn’t anything drastic or foreboding, and certainly not as significant as the changes that Inanna is in the process of executing in her life. My impending changes are much more subtle, but not much less difficult for me to make. They have the potential to either be extremely profitable if I make them or devastating if I don’t.

I had my annual performance and salary review at work Friday afternoon. As with most people, those things always make me a little nervous. But this one had me feeling particularly tight. Not because of anything I had done necessarily, but more because of the climate surrounding the area that I work in and the role of my company’s use of our corporate Web site, which I designed and have maintained over the past seven years.

Sometimes grass grows faster than big companies make decisions. Ours is no different. When I started back in 1997, then working for a marketing contractor with my company as their client, the Web was just beginning to take off and everyone was excited about the possibilities.

But as time went on the disconnect between my role as the guy who made things “look good” and our I.T. department, the ones who implemented my work grew wider and wider. I officially work in the Marketing department, in which we often are nothing more than order-takers in the company’s sales-dominated mentality. Our overly conservative management team was too busy transitioning our customer-related technology from old-style mainframe and frame-relay dial-up to a Web-based solution to really care about including me on any part of the process.

To hopefully spare you of the boring techie details, over the past two years I have seen the relevance of my job-description slowly erode, not so much in the eyes of the company as a whole, but actually more so in the attitude of my boss, who is so fed up with our department’s lack of involvement in the overall Web strategy that she’s ready to remove us from being involved at all. She’s prepared to take her ball and go home — and I’m the ball. And while that’s fine for her, for me…not so good. My desire is and always has been to be a Web designer/developer. I was hired as a Web designer and I have no desire to do anything else.

However if things continue on the course that they appear to be right now, It leaves me with really just two options. One, leave marketing and go work for I.T., or broaden my skill-set to include value that IT cannot provide, but which I can use despite their occasional lack of acknowledgment that our department even exists.

I have for the past three years been trying to convince my boss to allow me to get some advanced software training in Macromedia Flash, beyond the beginning course I took in 2002, with which everyone agrees I’ve done well. But now I need more support to take the next step. The good news is, yesterday I got the green light. They will pony up the $1,300.00 to pay for this training. The bad news is, the strong impression I got was that it could be a “perform-or-die” situation. And if not that drastic, it would still likely mark the end of my involvement with the Web as my primary job-description should I not deliver. If that were to happen I would without hesitation be looking for a new job. I have no intention of going backwards — not now, not ever.

So this is a shaping up to most definitely be a year of change for me as well, and while I can’t speak for Inanna, personally, I hate change. I love routine and thrive on it. When I have to vary my routine, I’m only happy when it happens on my terms. The changes that Inanna is making are both positive and exciting for her, as well as scary. My impending changes are just scary. The positive and exciting will certainly come later, but right now I think I’d opt for a root canal.

However there is one thing that scares me a whole helluvalot more than the changes I’m going to have to make in the coming months, and that’s not making them. Being a guy knocking-on-the-door of fifty years old, the idea of being out of a job is not exactly a pleasant thought. Oh I know I’d land on my feet — I always have. And it’s not like I’ve never been unemployed — I was self-employed for 15 years, for pete’s sake — but that’s a life that I really don’t want to return to. It’s time for me to step up to the plate and deliver. I can’t allow myself to become insignificant. That’s suicide in today’s job market.

One other great by-product of this is the value it will add to me should I ever need to or decide to voluntarily take a job elsewhere. The experience I’ll gain by incorporating these new skills could actually double my value on the open market. And wouldn’t that be nice?

So Nanner, you ain’t the only one who has a few changes coming down the pike. I’ll be there as well. 2005 looks to be a year of growth, that is if I can survive the growing pains.

Next: Just when I thought I’d felt everything…