Sunday, December 10, 2006

ELF’n Myself

Just a little Holiday levity courtesy of

If you wanna see this wild lil’ elf do his thang, you can check me out here (you may have to give it a few seconds to load, but I trust it’ll be worth the wait...*hee hee*), then you can do your own Elfamorphosis if you’d like.

But anywhoo, things are still pretty crazy in my life right now, and hopefully I’ll be posting about it soon. But in the meantime, here’s hoping that your Holiday shopping and preparations aren’t making you too looney!

I hope you’re all having fun — despite the stuff I'm dealing with, I’m certainly trying to. I hope you're taking time to love your families and friends; soaking up the season; taking advantage of the opportunity that this time of year affords all of us — to fall in love with life again, if but only for a little while.

God Bless you all, my friends. Talk to you soon...

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving!
Just a short note to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving. Here's hoping this finds you either full of turkey or preparing to to get there soon!

The wife, kids and I are currently in Florida until Saturday, spending the holiday with Michelle's parents. It's been a kind of different experience, this little mini-trip. I really don't have time to go into it now, but it all sort of melds with the current circumstance I find myself in that I hinted about in my last post. So although I still can't get into it yet, I will when I continue things in a few days.

Suffice it to say, these next couple of months will be an important period for me. I'm really not trying to be melodramatic, withholding the details as I have since my rather cryptic post of a few days ago, but I just figured I'd try to at least get something out there today, if nothing more than to wish everyone a Happy Turkey Day. Given my recent history of weeks and months between posts, I really am tryin' to do better here.

And of course I would be remiss to let this hollowed day of thanks pass without saying how truly grateful I am to have all that God has so richly blessed me with, regardless of the potential difficulties that lie ahead for me. I'm thankful for this ability I have to communicate with and share in the lives of the friends I've gained through this little corner of cyberspace (and forgive me for using that insufferably trite little euphemism again; being more creative is gonna be my New Year's resolution ).

So here's hoping you all are having a fantastic day. Give someone a hug and tell them how glad you are to have them in your life if you can. Good friends, family, even the problems that teach us how to live our lives more completely and successfully than before — these are what Thanksgiving is all about. Be sure to ponder all that you've been blessed with, and give a little back if you can sometime soon.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bumped Off

Waxing Seinfeldian
So what’s the deal with this fist bump thing, anyway?

Just when I thought I had the “you’re the man” finger-point down, somebody decides to change the rules again? Did somebody send out a memo that I missed? I mean, who decides these things?

Oy…the plight of the tragically unhip. Once again, yours truly has met with yet another humbling affirmation that time is passing him by faster than a cheetah on roller-skates. It happened earlier this week at my place of employment.

I’m not exactly sure whether Paris Hilton designed this office building I work in or it’s regular practice to build them this way, but most of the hallways in the place are pretty darned narrow. We’re talking like, wide enough to fit one and a quarter bubbas standing shoulder-to-shoulder — and no more. In fact, it’s standard practice for one to have to turn ever-so-slightly askew when passing someone else in these claustrophobic corridors to avoid bumping shoulders; and that’s especially necessary when some people decide to take their half down the middle, which happens more often than common courtesy should allow.

Anyway, the other day I was heading back to my cubical when I looked up to see two other guys approaching from the opposite direction. One of them was a man I recognized as a guy I don’t know well but see fairly often in the building. We’ll call him Harry.

This past summer, Harry was briefly a part of my regular workout group on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the fitness center we have here onsite. We’ve had a few friendly conversations since and he now always makes it a point to acknowledge me whenever I see him. Nice guy; around my age, but not anyone you’d mistake for a hipster or pop culture maven on any level. He’s always seemed to me to be a pretty middle-of-the-road, regular Joe.

As we approached each other and our eyes met, we simultaneously extended the universal Southern guy-greet (which thankfully has never gone out of fashion): the quick, upward head-flick/eyebrow-raise, followed by a brief, semi-enthusiastic, “Hey.”

If it had ended there it would have been no problem. However this time my opposite number decided to throw a new wrinkle into the playbook.

Harry was on the outside, furthest to my left of the two men. He was walking alongside another guy I didn’t recognize. Just as the three of us were about to pass each other, I had to turn my shoulders slightly to make room for all of us to squeeze by. As I did, my head turned also — to the right (quite unintentionally) — away from the two men. At the very same moment, Harry reached across his body toward me with the right hand in a closed fist, palm down. As it turned out, his gesture was somewhat exaggerated, given that it required extending his arm in front of the other man as well in order to reach me. Problem was, having looked away I didn’t notice until I was already a half step beyond them, catching his movement out of the corner of my eye.

Then it dawned on me. I thought to myself (in my best internal George Costanza voice) “Oh crap! He was trying to bump me! What a dope! I missed the bump!”

I immediately turned and called out nervously, “Oh…sorry! I didn’t see it until it was too late…my bad…” As my voice trailed off in utter mortification, my fellow man-greeter returned my apology with a nervous smile of his own, as his hand — still in a fist — slowly returned to his right side.


If you’ve ever whiffed on a handshake (i.e.: extended your hand only to have the other person, either accidentally or purposely, not return the favor) then you know how he was feeling right about then.

Nonetheless, I seriously doubt that he could have been a whole lot more embarrassed than I was at that point.

The scene reminded me of the recent Taco Bell commercial in which the girl, flanked by her two nerdy-looking lunchmates, is too out-of-step to participate in an around-the-horn fist bump, in celebration of nerd #1’s creation of his taco superlative, “crunch-oo-eesy.” The difference here, of course, was that at least the chick in the commercial got paid for looking like an idiot.

The sad thing is that this tragedy could have so easily been avoided. If only we didn’t so insist on keeping up with the Coolios. What is it about we men that drives us to keep reinventing the “secret handshake” of our childhood? Why do we insist on continuing to modify such a time-honored institution as the good ol’ standard grip of affirmation?

The Handshake had remained basically unchanged for a hundred years until the 1960s when my wonderful generation conspired to transform this stalwart symbol of trust and friendship into a fashion statement to be morphed and mutated without warning. Its various new incarnations have been a staple of the Hip and Famous for the past 40 years.

Knowing the proper and/or hip handshake–of-the-moment isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for one’s being accepted in modern pop culture, but it certainly does separate the hacks from the made-men — and I purposely emphasize men over women in this particular equation.

Its interesting to notice how little women seem to be affected by the shifting winds of handshake fashion. As in so many other instances, the ladies just seem to remain above it all. They appear to have no need for these elaborate demonstrations of hipness. As always, they seem to exist on a plane of maturity and practicality far beyond the reach of their male counterparts; funny how things work like that.

Boys will be boys, I suppose.

Perhaps if I’d paid better attention, I could list more of the dozens of handshake permutations that have slipped in and out of fashion in my adult lifetime, but seriously, I just can’t keep up.

Just when I thought I possessed the confidence to properly ask my brother to slide Me some skin, we all started high-fivin’ each other silly. Then when I got that timing down, they upped the ante again, and started doin’ all that combo shit.

Gawd knows what the current routine is, but there was one I particularly found amusing, which was actually administered to me — in all seriousness — by a complete stranger I happened to meet several years ago.

He started off with what I like to call the Man-Shake, a.k.a. the Brother, upright cross-palm handshake, and then slid directly into a conventional handshake, which in turn slid into a four-finger fist-clasp, finally culminating in a one-for-one, single, top-to-bottom, hammer fist bump.

Whew! Freakin’ wears me out just to type it…

Needless to say, the only thing that surprised me more than the barrage of MAN-ual dexterity itself, was the fact that I instinctively went with the flow and followed the progression, missing nary a beat.

Hmmm…maybe this white boy has some rhythm after all…

Nah…doubt it.

However since that momentous occasion, I really haven’t followed handshake fashion all that much, and only within the past year or so have really been aware of the fist bump’s ascendance to its position as the high five of the moment.

And now that The Bump is the Greeting O’ the Day, can we finally dispense with the often-awkward “Man Hug?” That one always did sorta creep me out. But on second thought, my ego sure could’a used a hug that day, when Harry met Silly.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Beside Myself

BA: Hey, man. What's up?

AJ: Meh…n'much...

BA: Not much? Really? Geeze…could’a fooled me!

AJ: Yeah? And what’s that supposed to mean?

BA: Oh, I think you know.

AJ: Okay, alright. I guess you could say I’ve been pretty busy. No, make that really busy.

BA: And…?

AJ: “And” what?

BA: And, lots has been going on in your life, your job, your kids’ lives, your relationship with your wife…need I say more?

AJ: Yeah…okay. So what’s your point?

BA: My point is, you’ve been keeping it all to yourself, Doofus! What about the Blog? The writing, it was how we communicated; working it all out together. It was our outlet…our means to help process it all. I know you think about it all the time, but what happened? Why’d we stop talking?

AJ: Aw, c’mon, don’t be like that; we still talk…a little...don’t we?

BA: Man, you really ARE out of it! I guess you haven’t you read any of Michael’s comments lately, have you?

AJ: Yeah, yeah…I saw ‘em. He was just bustin’ my balls is all. He’s rather good at that, y’know…

BA: So you just ignore it…without so much as a snappy comeback? My Gawd! What’s happened to you, AJ?!

AJ: Life, Dude. Life.

BA: Talk to me, Boss...

AJ: *sigh* Oh you know. Hell, you know what I’ve been going through at work. Sure, I came through that initial period of uncertainty with the new boss okay, but things are so much different now. There are so many new things that I have to deal with. I battle with so much uncertainty about what I’m really capable of; whether my presence is truly appreciated or merely tolerated. Sometimes I really wonder.

Before, well…things were easier — maybe too easy, I guess. My job was more or less automatic. Nobody else in the whole company could do what I did. But things are different now. Hell, everything’s different. I have so much to learn, so many new procedures to follow. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve lost at least a little confidence that I can deal with it all. It’s all I think about lately.

BA: Um…Hello! Am I talkin’ Chinese here?! Do ya not remember what you always used to say — that your Blog was that which allowed you to get rid of the stuff rattling around in your head, so you wouldn’t have to think about it anymore? So what, that doesn’t work now?

AJ: Yeah, I know, I know, but it’s harder now. I mean…anymore I just want to come home at night and veg, y’know?. I just don’t seem to have the inspiration to write like I used to. I get bored with my own stories; I spin off into tangents and struggle to get back on point…

BA: So what else is new? That never seemed to stop you before…

AJ: Yeah, but before it was different; it seemed as though I always had something to say; it didn’t matter how long I drew it out. I always felt it would be something that others would be interested to hear. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t know that even I would be interested in my babbling these days.

BA: Oh, so now it’s about what “others” think? Well here’s MY opinion. It wasn’t supposed to be about what anyone else thinks, it’s about YOU. It’s supposed to be about expressing your life, your memories, your opinions. It’s supposed to be about building a library of experiences that you yourself can return to again and again; a library built for an audience of one, but that can be enjoyed by all.

And who cares if you fell off the horse? Get back on that beast for chrissakes! What are you afraid of? They already know you talk to yourself, ‘ya freakin’ nutcake! Everybody knows you’re a weirdo, so whadaya got to lose?

G’ahead. Take it slow. Get your groove back on. You’ll feel better, I promise.

AJ: Yeah…maybe you’re right.

BA: ‘Course I’m right! I AM the better angel of your nature, aren’t I?

AJ: Yeah, and you’ve really been buggin’ the HELL out of me lately…

BA: Deal with it, Doofus. You’ll find a way. I gots confidence in ya.

AJ: Sh’yeah…I guess. Besides, I just noticed that Gooch is back, so I reckon I really have no excuses now…

BA: Ya got that right, Homeboy, not a one. Now get busy...


Friday, September 08, 2006

Good Things Come… (Part I)

Worldview Adjustment
Again, this is a story of expectations; worldview; assumptions of how we believe things are “supposed to be.” It’s the way we perceive normalcy; the weight we place on some things over others. It’s about how we gauge happiness, for the most part. It’s how we discriminate — both in good ways and bad. And it’s not necessarily that we think we’re always right, just most of the time — by default, you know — just because.

It’s an interesting thing to witness — the way a husband and wife play off of one another; responding both to the environment they have created together as well as the one that was created by their parents, and the sensibilities their upbringing instilled in them. It’s an especially interesting dynamic when you can see it happening in your own relationship.

How do we respond to our differences in what is “right?” Do we truly acknowledge our partner’s worldview when it differs form our own? Do we not even care about what they think or are we actively sensitive to their individual sense of things?

It’s quite a balancing act, yet it’s an easy thing to ignore, since we naturally have a tendency to assume that everyone thinks like we do — and you know we’re ALL guilty of that sin; it’s human nature. I believe we need to remind ourselves; we need to guard against taking on those assumptions that can crop up, sometimes unconsciously, during the course of our everyday lives, creating division, and sometimes, even resentment.

We need to remind ourselves to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes; try not to judge too harshly if we don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on an issue. And being the expectant types we were born and trained to be, that’s not always an easy self-assessed call to make.

It’s been nearly twenty-eight years for me and I still haven’t figured it out completely, but hopefully I’m getting there.

I’m still learning that there really are two sides to a story; that there’s more than one way to skin a cat; that chunky peanut butter actually is way better than creamy.

Well, maybe not so much on that last point, but anyhow…I’m still learning, and always will be.

Seeing so many examples of this sort of thing in my life lately, I can’t help but think that somebody’s tryin’ to tell me something. And while at times I’ve been buoyed by the growth I’ve seen, I’m still reminded that there’s more than enough of that selfish, assuming, doofus part-of-me to go around than I would like to admit.

The bottom line is, I’m still a work in progress. My body may have stopped growing when I was in 10th grade, but hopefully my stature as a human being will never be stunted. I believe that when you stop learning, you stop living, ‘cuz you’re probably dead at that point. And if you’re not, you might as well be.

This summer I’ve learned some particularly important things about expectations and the inconsistencies that surround them — both in the way I perceive myself and how others perceive me.

Double-dealing Daddy-O
On the approach of my 50th birthday back in July, Michelle was beside herself.

I had let it slip (yeah, right…) several weeks earlier that I might want to actually do something on this particular birthday, seeing as how it was, like, sort of a landmark point in my life. Perhaps more than just our family — maybe something a little more akin to a…oh, you know…an actual party? Some of my friends…some of our friends…people from work…you know…a houseful.

She didn’t say anything at the time, but now here it was, two weeks before the day and she still didn’t know what to do. You see, a birthday party was a notion I’d rarely, if ever, even alluded to before in all the time we’d been together — and I guess it sorta caught her flat-footed. She obviously wasn’t expecting it; in all fairness, it was the last thing she would have expected from of her ole’ birthdays-ain’t-no-thang hubby. No wonder she was freaking.

Finally, she came to me and tried to talk me out of it. She felt terrible, but really, how could she pull it off, she asked. She didn’t know any of my work friends; how could she possibly plan something like this?

And she was right. It’s not like we do this kind of thing often (read: ever). This just wasn’t something that was part of my motis operandi.

As a rule, I’ve never put a lot of stock into these often overblown anniversaries of life — not for myself, and really not much for others either. I’ve really never quite seen the value in making a big deal out of birthdays. A nice card, a quiet evening with family and perhaps a few friends, enjoying dinner at my favorite restaurant or my favorite home-cooked meal — to me, these are the appropriate elements of a birthday celebration — not the extravagant parties, expensive gifts and “look at me” accoutrements that many of my generation seem to place so much emphasis upon. It’s not that I think effusive celebration is so wrong, it’s just not me. I guess it’s all about what you’re used to. Certainly the idea of financial prudence comes into play, and in that regard, I’d have to say that I come by my sensibilities honestly.

I was raised a tightwad.

I’ve never been thrown a surprise birthday party, and honestly I can’t remember anytime in my life having much more than just my family present when it was time to blow out the candles — from childhood to adulthood. Needless to say, when Michelle, whose family had always considered birthdays a pretty big deal, came into my life, I learned quickly that I was pretty much in the minority.

I learned that most people actually do like to make birthdays a significant event — especially where kids are involved. And so I began to change my opinion — for our kids’ sake anyway — and I’ll have to admit, it was a pretty cool thing to behold. Some of my fondest memories of Shawn and Amy’s early years were the big birthday parties we (or I should say, Michelle) put together for them, with all the neighborhood kids and the church friends’ kids in tow. It was all a frenzy of activity and excitement; squeals and messes; joy and bedlam — kiddie-style.

There were piñata parties for Shawn and big girl dress-up-fashion-runway parties for Amy. They were as major an operation as could possibly be imagined in light of the lean financial circumstances that were our lives back in the 1980s. Michelle was so incredibly resourceful, and we had a lot of gracious friends and family members who pitched in to help. Those parties always seemed to turn out great. I really have to smile when I think about the fun we all had. But then again, those experiences were somewhat bittersweet as well.

To be honest, at times I remember actually feeling a little jealous of my kids, having never experienced even one birthday party as a child, but what the hell; after all, I didn’t exactly have what anyone would consider a normal childhood. At any rate, it didn’t take long for me to snap out of it and remember how lucky I was to have married a woman who cared enough to want as full and rich a childhood experience for our kids as she could possibly provide. Lord knows, had it been left up to me, those parties wouldn’t have happened in a million years.

Yet even in seeing the by-product of it all — the joy so abundantly evident in my children’s eyes — I still couldn’t solve the mystery as to why it was such a big deal — to apparently everyone but me.

Whether it was sour grapes or what, I simply didn’t get it. The way I looked at it, why spend all that extra money? Why take the chance that something could go wrong and everyone end up being disappointed? And what purpose does it serve to set those kinds of expectations in a child anyway? Life is hard. Why encourage the idea that anyone “deserves” an extravagant birthday celebration? Isn’t the “I deserve it” mindset the root of most of our financial ills these days?

Yeah, I know. What a party-pooper. I really do need help.

But I’m just being honest here. I really didn’t see the need, although I had now become well aware that I was the minority party (pun intended) in that regard. As I knew they would, the kids came to expect it, and their Mom never disappointed, so I played along; I adjusted. I learned to do my part to feed the need, regardless of whether or not I felt hungry myself.

But then my one solo effort really made me feel like a hypocrite.

With a great deal of help by one of our friends from church, I pulled off a surprise 30th birthday party for Michelle back in 1986, and to date, it ranks near the top of the list of things I’ve ever done in my life. Michelle was flabbergasted; she had no idea, and she loved it. We had a wonderful time with about 15-20 of our best friends gathered together at our home in Long Beach. It was a weeknight, so nobody could stay too late, but just to realize that most of those people, who had small children as we did and had to arrange babysitters for the evening — on a school night, no less — it just blew me away to see the love and respect they had for us, and the honor they held for Michelle.

That experience may have changed my opinion a little, but I kept it to myself. I officially maintained my poo-poo-on-parties stance, but deep down inside I was hoping like hell that Michelle would return the favor and surprise me someday.

My hypocrisy knew no bounds.

But since my own 30th birthday had already passed, it would have to be another occasion — perhaps the big 4-OH or sometime in between. It wasn’t something we ever talked about, just a secret wish — a totally dumb, selfish, duplicitous wish — but something I hoped for nonetheless.

Next: Conservative Party

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Good Things Come… (Prologue)

…To those who wait
I’d like to think the title of this mini-series is also a statement of fact regarding the post-frequency of my blog, but hey, even I’m not that full of myself. So instead, let’s just say that the title speaks to something much more practical, but perhaps a little decadent as well; something spiritual in one sense yet ultimately tangible in another.

The familiar adage, Good things come to those who wait is a nice, “patience is a virtue” kind of cliché, but for the most part we all know that in today’s reality, it is…well…it’s bullshit. After all, this is the age of instant gratification, right? People want it, and they want it yesterday.

If you stop and think about it, nobody’s life is really all that much better if they’re forced to wait, is it? They may appreciate things a little more if the earning requires time and/or effort, but I mean, really, does anyone want to burn down Burger King? Dismantle their microwaves? Say their goodbyes to the Friendly Skies?

Nah…we’re all way too spoiled for that. Can’t un-ring that technology bell, now, can we?

And why is that, anyway?

It’s all about expectations, boys and girls.

Pavlov’s Blog
We humans are a predictable lot. Doctor Pavlov conducted his famous study on a pooch, but it may just as well have been you or me in that cage, salivating at the ringing of the bell. You see, we humans love routine too. We like knowing what’s coming next. We thrive on expectation, whether you’re talking about the comforts and conveniences of modern technology or the security and warm fuzzies of a personal relationship.

We love knowing what we’re getting, as well as what we’re getting into. Oh we like surprises too, but just the good kind. We don’t care for curveballs. We love living in a manner to which we’ve grown accustomed.

And what does all this rhetoric have to do with patience? Oh, quite a lot, actually. Our entire lives are built upon a foundation of expectation, from the cradle to the grave. This is particularly true in marriage. Expectations are a reasonable part of any long-term relationship, but can be a double-edged sword as well.

We greatly value a person with whom we have grown to know and love, based on a level of comfort and dependability. However sometimes there is a fine line between dependability and predictability; between sameness and staleness. We talk about “keeping things fresh,” which means for the most part, thinking outside the box with regard to our partner; purposefully changing our usual tendencies for something better; something new.

Successful relationships require time and effort if folks are really serious about making them work. That effort requires balance — it can’t be one-sided, although women are usually way ahead of their male counterparts on that particular score. It almost needs to be a sort of competition; a game to see who can surprise the other with some new show of thoughtfulness and respect.

Maturity (both emotional and financial), learning the kind of things your partner really responds to — these are things that take time to develop in most people (particularly we guys).

That’s where the patience comes in.

Expectation, reciprocation, mind control, sound of soul
Let’s just get one thing straight. No one that I know of — whose name isn’t Jesus or Mother Theresa — is truly selfless. We all want something, especially out of our spouses and partners. A relationship is an investment, not a charity; if you put something in, you expect to get a return.

Oh yeah, I forgot — you still think you love your sweetie unconditionally. Well, hopefully you’ll grow up snap and out of that delusion eventually.

Every person alive has some expectation that the love they express to others will be reciprocated in some form or another; it’s how we’re built; it’s a large part of what makes relationships tick.

And that particular expectation is quiiite the sticky wicket in modern society. How much; how little; who makes the first move? And it’s no longer the man only whose needs must be met. It must be a level playing field for both partners if a relationship is to succeed long-term.

But once again that fine line develops. When does reasonable expectation become entitlement? At what point can we say with true justification, “I deserve this?” And how does that differ from, “You owe me?”

This is a story of my history, subsequent struggles and ultimate reconciliation (such as it is) with the concept of self-entitlement. It’s not a blueprint for happiness, nor is it a cautionary tale; it is what it is… because I am who I am, and Michelle and I are who we are, together.

It’s about the present Michelle gave me for my 50th birthday — versus the one she didn’t give me.

Next: Worldview adjustment

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Stupid Things That Make Me Crazy (Vol. 1, No. 1)

Note: This is the first of a number of concert posts I plan to share over the next several months. I’ve been savin’ ‘em up, so some are already pretty old. Nevertheless for one reason or another they’re all pretty memorable for me, as is this one — for all the wrong reasons…

David Gray Concert: Thursday March 2, 2006:
Fair warning — I'm gonna go off on a bit of a rant here. I’m also going to commit what could be considered sacrilege here in Music City. I’m calling out one of the most hallowed places in the history of American Pop Music, The World Famous Ryman Auditorium, as also being one of the most frustrating venues to take in a concert that I know of.

I’ve had experiences there before that weren’t the best, but nothing like my last visit, which may change forever my willingness to brave anything but the most prime of vantage points in the house for events I’d be inclined to attend there in the future.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s a special place, and there are hundreds of good seats from which the concert experience is unparalleled. However the conditions that could turn and sour that experience from most any one of those remaining 1,800 seats are so fragile, I just don’t know if I’m willing to take the chance anymore.

Am I getting cranky in my old age? Oh yeah.

Every musician in the world wants to play The Ryman because of the musical significance of this venerable shrine of a concert hall. It’s the birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry, and while that may not mean much to non-Country Music fans, you may be surprised to know how important it is to musicians of all genres. Given the immortal names that have graced The Ryman’s stage in its Opry heyday, it's not a difficult thing to understand. However, despite its appeal as a rite-of-passage for modern artists wishing to mingle with ghosts of Williams, Cash, Adkins, Orbison and other greats who’ve performed on it’s hallowed stage, The Ryman might well lose a bit of its luster as a must-play venue if they ever make it a prerequisite for those wishing to play a concert there to first have to sit in the audience and watch one — stuck behind a pole.

The Ryman — and FYI, that is what the place is called by us locals (simply referring to it as, “Ryman Auditorium,” instantly exposes oneself as a know-nothing-outta-towner/Music City wannabe...just thought you'd like to know) — is renowned for it's exquisite acoustics, and by all means, that reputation is well deserved. But in my humble opinion, there are factors well beyond mere acoustics that make just as much a difference to the level of enjoyment of the concert experience.

Things like sight lines, poles, and other obstructions (such as temporary spotlight fixtures affixed to balcony railings that aren't even being used for the show (more on that later).

Then there are the pews; those wonderful seats that are easily as famous as the building itself but which are also uncomfortable beyond belief. You see, the Ryman was originally a church; hence it’s moniker, The Mother Church of Country Music. A bank of wonderful stained-glass windows line the top of the back wall of the auditorium, bathing the stage in warm colors on summer evenings prior to showtime, before the evening’s bright spotlights are first engaged. Yet as surreal and picturesque as this grand old hall may be, little else can make up for the literal pain-in-the-ass that those pews are sure to deliver — not at first, necessarily — but certainly within an hour or so into the evening.

Another aspect of The Ryman’s pews, aside from their abject dearth of ergonomics, is the dynamic created by such a seating arrangement. The only barrier of separation along these 15-20 foot-long benches is a low-rising arm-like septum, repeated every six designated seat spaces (which are approximately 25" in width) as indicated by the small metal plate with the engraved seat number at the head of each space. There is no accounting for people of the large persuasion whose girth might, oh, exceed twenty-five inches, which can create a very cozy circumstance within any row sporting a bubba quotient above a three or four.

Combine this wonderful reality with the sloping floor that makes it virtually impossible to keep anything you unwittingly set at your feet (like an empty or partially-filled beverage cup) to remain upright, which also means there's a good possibility you might find your shoes suddenly transformed into islands in a stream of alcoholic liquids flowing downhill at any given time.

But that’s not the worst downfall of the pew-seating arrangement — at least not for me. The larger problem for someone of diminished stature like myself is dealing with the greatest of all sight-line obstructions: the tall guy or big-haired gal sitting in the row directly in front of you.

Now granted, the balcony seats are situated at a fairly steep, downhill angle towards the stage, so that the line-of-sight for most everyone is clear. That being said, the fact remains; not everyone is of the same height, width and coiffeur and it doesn’t take much to create a mismatch. This is less of a problem with individual stadium-style seats, as you’ll find in most other concert venues. At least with that type of seat, the occupant stays put and lateral movement is minimized.

But this is no average auditorium, it’s The Ryman; a veritable museum amongst concert venues. The pews are part of its charm and a huge part of its history. There will likely be no “upgrade” to stadium seating anytime soon. The pews are there for the long haul, so you deal. You deal with numb-butt syndrome that is surely coming later, you deal with the sticky floor that may come later, and you pray to God that you won’t have to strain to see around the person sitting in the row front of you.

But on this particular evening I encountered a new wrinkle in the Ryman obstruction dynamic; something I had yet to deal with in all my years of concert experience within this revered house of music; my obstruction decided to become a moving target.

Enter Ursula and Monkey Boy.

Mister Peepers lives.
It was the classic good news/bad news situation. The good news was that I was even able to get tickets; the show sold out in less than 30 minutes and I ordering online via, I had but one shot to get seats that appeared to be pretty decent balcony seats. Main floor was out of the question.

The bad news was that they were on the severe left-hand side; in other words, our sight angle was the closest to being parallel to the front of the stage that it could have been. My seat was on the aisle, so mine was the most severe angle of all.

More good news: our seats were forth row balcony, which meant we wouldn’t have to contend with those dreaded poles that might have come into play had we’d been seated on the main floor.

More bad news: there was a small, unused temporary spotlight fixture attached to the balcony railing almost directly in front of me. It wasn’t tall enough to completely block my line of sight, but was more than enough of a visual nuisance to crank up my distraction level a notch or two. But all in all, I seemed to have a pretty good vantage point to see the show.

And just when I was thinking it was my lucky night after all…

During the two opening acts (one guy whose name I never did catch, followed by a very cool British band called Aqualung), the end seats in two of the three rows in front of us were empty, affording me the opportunity to lean a bit more to the right and see around the spotlight fixture. It was great. I could see clearly ahead of me, and even though I still couldn’t see the entire stage, I would have a clear view of man I’d paid my hard-earned money to see: British Pop Star, David Gray.

But noooo

Halfway through Gray’s opening song, in came the fashionably late Ursula and her boyfriend, heretofore ever to be remembered as Mister Peepers. Seems the couple wasn’t fortunate enough to acquire adjoining seats for the sold-out show, so they had to settle for single seats in different rows — you guessed it — in the two rows directly in front of yours truly.

Of course this wouldn’t have been as much a problem if they’d just stayed put. However the kind gentleman occupying the second seat in the row directly in front of ours quickly offered to trade his seat for the one Mr. Peepers was getting ready to settle into, one spot down from his. The guy would get to be a little closer to the action and Ursula would get to enjoy the concert snuggled up next to her Monkey Boy. It was a win-win situation for them — but certainly not for Michelle and me.

Remember the moving target phenomenon I mentioned earlier? Well there’s more than one reason I dubbed my next-row neighbor, Mr. Peepers.

If you recall the character of the same name made famous by Saturday Night Live’s Chris Kattan then you already understand what I mean when I say, the dude would not sit still. One big difference though — Kattan was acting.

And lest you think I’m being overly harsh, let me ‘splain it to you. It’s not that I begrudge anyone his or her freedom to move around a bit while enjoying a show, but this guy was unbelievable. He was bobbin’ and weavin’ like a prizefighter ducking punches; constantly moving from side to side, leaning over to retrieve a sports-type water bottle, which I’m inclined to believe contained something other than water; craning his body one direction, then the other, peering through the miniature binoculars he wore around his neck to study someone either onstage or in the crowd below; turning to whisper something into Ursula’s ear, then slip in a five-to-ten second tonsil-hockey smooch.

The pointing, the whispering, the laughing, the drinking, the moving back and forth. Oy vey, can somebody get me a freaking Dramamine?

I mean, really, can we have a little common courtesy here? It never ceases to amaze me how people seem to believe that the price of admission includes carte blanche to do and act any way they damn well please in a public auditorium. Am I being too anal here? Maybe I am, but nonetheless, I for one always try to be aware of whether I’m being a distraction to people around me. It’s just common courtesy.

The good news was, Mr. Peepers didn’t completely ruin my evening. The concert was great, and though the distractions I had to deal with were just that, I will always have a positive memory of the showmanship and dynamism that is a live David Gray show. The man just knows how to perform. He did every song in his catalogue that I’ve ever liked. It was fabulous.

I still kick myself to think that I had the opportunity to see Gray perform in an intimate setting at 3rd & Lindsley back in 2000, soon after the release of his landmark White Ladder CD, but before his career really caught fire here in the States. I decided not to go at the last minute for some reason. I figured he’d come back, but what I didn’t figure was that it’d be impossible to get a decent ticket to see him when he did.

But bad seats or not, it was a great show. Michelle still talks about how good a time she had that night, despite all the distractions of the folks in front of us. I guess she’s just not as easily bugged about those things as I am. She actually found Mr. Peepers to be rather amusing.

I guess the moral of the story for me is to learn when it’s time to just bite the bullet. I’ve enjoyed some of my greatest concert experiences ever at The Ryman — but I’ve also endured some of my most disappointing. And the single determining factor in either case has always been seating. I just can’t stand it when I can’t see, so I’ll have to accept the fact that unless I can get really good seats, I just can’t go. That may sound a bit shallow, but it’s an important reality for me. It’ll be a tough policy to stick to, but in the long run at least I know I’ll get the most out of my experience. And I don’t know about anyone else, but to me, the experience is everything.

But again, maybe I am getting cranky…


Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Letter from Heaven

Another Fiftieth
On July 28th, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday — obviously a big milestone for me. However July 29th marked another fifty-year anniversary I would like to commemorate as well.
A month ago in my hometown of Anderson, Indiana, at my family’s Annual Cousins Reunion (which is held each summer, but which I had never gotten off my butt to attend until just this year), I was approached by my cousin Maggie, whom like about 90% of the other folks at this gathering I hadn’t seen more than once or twice in the past 35 years. She didn’t greet me with a hug or even a “hello.” She simply walked up to me, leaned in and deadpanned, “Did he give it to you yet?”

“Oh…HI!…and, um…no…no he hasn’t, but he says he will.” I replied, believing I understood what she meant.

“Tell him I will HURT HIM if he doesn’t give it to you AS SOON as you get back to his house this evening.”

Maggie is a former marine. She could make good on that threat.

So what was “it?” It was a letter; a letter from Heaven; a precious piece of personal history that Maggie discovered amongst the belongings of her Mother (my Aunt Lee) penned by my mother, Annie, fifty years ago yesterday.

After running across it this past Spring, Maggie sent the letter to Jack, who was supposed to give it to me in late March, when I was in town for Uncle Jake’s funeral. But he set it aside and forgot. After learning about it in a phone conversation later, I was determined to remember and retrieve it when I returned for the reunion in June. Nonetheless, no one brought it up and I had forgotten all about it until Maggie’s query jogged my memory.

The letter was originally a communiqué from Annie to her Mother, my Grandmother Vera, the morning after the day I was born. Annie was in the midst of a four-day hospital stay — unusually long by today’s standards, but right in line with the custom of the day — recovering from her fourth out of an eventual five childbirths, all of which were boys.

My Dad would tell me years later just how much my Mom hoped I would be a girl — her “Julie Ann” — but as you’ll see shortly, while her understandable desire was to have at least one daughter, her love played no favorites.

Having never had the opportunity to ask her about it, I have often wondered if she really ever was disappointed that in me, the Y chromosomes had won again. But now, wonderfully, via this gift of yellowed, dime store stationery, I have my definitive answer.

Whether the letter was ever mailed, I do not know, but it ended it up among Aunt Lee’s keepsakes where Maggie found it following her mother’s death of a few years ago.

Let me now publicly thank both Lee and Maggie for blessing me with such an incredible link to my past; a gift too precious for words.

To briefly set up the context of the letter, Annie had just given birth to me, her fourth son on Saturday, the day before. However the circumstances were rather unique in that Lee, her directly younger sister and lifelong sibling companion was also pregnant and could deliver at any time. The hospital agreed to reserve the bed beside Annie’s for Lee, who would give birth to my cousin Samantha just the next day, on Monday July 30th.

Annie was understandably excited to be able to share such a rare and special experience with her sister, and while waiting for Lee to arrive, wrote to my Grandmother to talk about it.

In addition to being a very personal, wonderful, priceless glimpse into the mind and personality of the woman who gave me birth, this letter is just a tremendous slice of life; an authentic sampling of late-1950s American culture. My Mother’s description of her hospital room and meal; her doting accounts and descriptions of my brothers, as well as her simple, almost naïve-sounding commentary about childbirth, speak to an innocent, less-worldly existence back in a day when life just seemed to make sense.

Of particular interest to me is the wonderful grammar and sentence structure she exhibits in her writing; it’s nearly perfect — also a sign so typical of that time, but which is nearly non-existent in today’s culture of colloquial communication.

My Mother was a woman of faith — that much is obvious. She speaks of her relationship with God with such calm sureness; it is a testament to her spiritual strength. Included in the letter are numerous references to friends from church, a community from which, along with her family, she drew strength and purpose.

While nothing in the letter is really all that profound on its own, the fact that it affords me an opportunity to glean even a little bit more of the essence of this woman — whom I have so little first-hand knowledge of — is highly significant to me.

The Players
And since ya can’t tell the players without a scorecard, here’s a brief reminder who they are:

Mother: My Grandmother Vera, age 65
Annie: My Mother, age 37
Darren: My Dad (heretofore unnamed in any of my stories; It isn’t his actual name of course, but it means, “Great” so it fits), age 35
Lee: Annie’s younger sister, age 35
Jackie: My eldest brother, a.k.a. Jack, age 9½
Davie: My brother David, age 7½
Kenny: My brother TK, age 2½
AJ: Your neighborhood bouncing baby boy, age 1 day

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sunday Morning

Dearest Mother:

I’m lying here in bed wearing your yellow gown and your blue bed jacket while a nice cool breeze is blowing in on me. The bed next to me is still empty — waiting for Lee to come up here. I don’t know if they will hold it much longer — actually, thanks to Dr. Donaldson, they’re holding it as a personal favor to us.

Honestly, I’ll just die if they bring someone in who smokes, swears or has a radio. It’s so peaceful and quiet up here. This room is the nicest one I’ve ever had; it’s nice because it’s a corner room with one window on the west — alongside my bed and another window at the foot of my bed facing south. Then there is another window facing south at the foot of Lee’s bed.

So much about the room. Well, Mother my girlhood dream has finally come true — I have the four children I dreamed about for so many years. You can’t imagine how proud I am of them.

I know lots of people are disappointed that I didn’t have a girl, but Darren, the boys and I don’t care so why should anyone else! We are the ones who should be concerned. Before Jackie went to camp, he said, “I don’t care whether it’s a boy or a girl — it doesn’t make any difference to me.” When Davey left for Tippecanoe to go after Jackie yesterday, the last thing he said to me was, “Mommie, just be sure it’s a little boy.” And Kenny all along has said, “I don’t like ‘gulls.’” It isn’t that we don’t like girls or that we didn’t want one — it’s just that we never believed we could get one.

The real test for me came when I came to yesterday and Darren told me we had a little boy. If I had hoped for a girl — as Rev. Losh claimed — there would have been a tinge of disappointment in my heart when he told me the news. But there wasn’t a tinge of disappointment at all. A little girl would have been very welcomed, but for some reason it wasn’t in God’s plan. And after all, He gives us what He feels we need.

So actually the prayer I prayed while I was in the delivery room was answered. I simply asked Him to have His way and we wouldn’t complain.

I was disappointed though in the fact that AJ only weighs 5 pounds & 4 ounces, although I don’t think I’ll have the trouble with him that I had with Jackie. At least he drinks his glucose and has nursed just a tiny little bit. If I can keep him awake long enough to eat, maybe I won’t have the trouble getting him started — like I did with Jackie.

I just had a wonderful dinner. I had the breast, wing and neck of a chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, broccoli, fruit salad on lettuce — chocolate ice cream and iced tea. Believe me I ate every bit of it and I’m stuffed!

Now I’ll get on with my news. Darren would probably get mad at me if he heard me say this, but I believe in being honest. AJ isn’t a pretty baby like Kennie and Jackie were. As a matter of fact, Davey wasn’t a pretty baby either. But just look how cute Davey turned out to be with his dimples and dark eyelashes. So there is hope for AJ too. When he fills out he’ll be cuter. But now he’s skinny and scrawny — but awfully, awfully sweet. He’s just a teeny, weeny thing. The first two times they brought him to me he wasn’t asleep nor did he cry. He just looked at me with such a sweet helpless look and I wondered then how anyone could be disappointed in the sex of a child.

I think Lulabelle Palmer paid us a great complement when she said, “Annie, boys need lots of love, care and understanding, and I think God knows which parents to give them to.”

We do love our boys and they’ve given us an awful lot of happiness. If I can just get AJ to nurse so that he’ll gain weight quickly I’ll feel a lot better.

Mother, I didn’t tell you about my water breaking because I didn’t want you to worry. I figured you were sick enough as it was without something new to worry about. Actually Davey’s birth was the easiest, but this one too was a cinch. Dr. Donaldson isn’t in favor of having “forced labor” and the only reason he did me was because I had lost all my water. I didn’t cry with any of my labor pains at all. In fact every time I felt one coming I would picture Jackie’s sweet face as we had devotions together before he left for camp — then I’d picture Davey’s dimpled smile and pretty eyelashes as he said goodbye to me and told me to bring home a little boy — and finally I could see little Kenny as he said, “Mommie, do you know what? I love you!”

And by the time I pictured all three of my boys in my mind, my pains were already gone! I learned more about having babies this time than I ever had before. I asked the nurse anything I didn’t understand and she told me.

By the way, AJ has a lot of real black hair and he’s dark. He doesn’t resemble anyone I know. Lee and Darren think he’s cute.

Well I guess I’d better bring this letter to a close. Maybe I’ll remember to ask Darren for a dime tonight and I’ll try to call you up.

Bye for now and here’s five kisses for you. X X X X X. I miss seeing you a lot, but I’ll be past Tuesday afternoon to show you your 6th straight grandson.

Lots of Love,


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve never heard an untoward word ever uttered in association with my Mother; though there’s no doubt in my mind that she must have had some type of shortcoming, I’ve just never met anyone so inclined to list a single one. Naturally to that end I have to admit feeling more than a little bit cheated in not having any memory of a true connection with her.

Sadly, I don’t remember ever having a conversation with her on any level; only flash images of her doing housework, talking with friends on the phone, sunbathing on the back patio — wearing shiny copper pennies over her eyes to protect them from the sun — things of which I’ve written before; these are the memories I cling to, yet which often ring hollow; mere silent movies with no meaningful interaction.

Unfortunately I can’t hear my mother’s true voice within my memories. More often than not, the only voice I hear is that of the confused, middle-aged woman I knew when I was eight years old; her mind clouded by physical forces she had no way of understanding. I hear only frustration and the anger, not the love and vitality I’ve come to know as her hallmark by the accounts of those who knew her well; those fortunate souls who can reach back and pluck from their memory banks any number of rich interactions with Annie in her prime.

And though I’m indeed envious, I’m really not bitter, because I know I’ll meet her again someday, and I’ll know everything there is to know about her; and she about me.

But for now I’ll be content to augment my own memories with those of others. I’ll take advantage of opportunities such as the advent of this wonderful letter, projecting Annie into new scenarios, creating new memories for myself of her; learning what I can; what she thought; how she lived.

What a powerful thing to fathom, knowing what she was thinking so long ago. What a humbling experience to actually feel through her written words, the love that only a mother can have for her children.

Sunday Morning

Dearest Mother:

I’m sitting here at my computer, wishing so much that you could see the man your scrawny, little black-haired baby boy has become; wondering if you’d be proud; wondering how different my life would be if I hadn’t lost you so very many years ago. And although I cannot know the answer to these questions now, I look forward to the time when I will know all things fully, just as I have also been fully known.

Thank you for this letter; for giving me another precious glimpse into your life and spirit; a spirit I’ve tried so desperately to emulate over the years.

I’m not sure whether or not they have Internet access in Heaven, but I trust this will get to you somehow. Thank you for giving me life; for loving me. Thank you for always being with me.

Love, eternally,



Friday, July 28, 2006

50 Sense

Look Who’s Back
It figures. As busy as I’ve been all this year (and particularly the past two months), it figures that on the occasion of my birthday — the only birthday since my 25th that I’ve actually felt inclined to acknowledge with much more than just an extra candle on the cake — that I should wind up pressed to the eleventh hour trying to come up with something to say in its remembrance.

So once again, I’m breaking up another series for the sake of a special occasion. What else is new? And guess what else is new? I worked until nine o’clock tonight — again. But hopefully that sort of thing is coming to an end soon (more on that when I get back to my current series).

So needless to say, I’d planned on starting this post a lot sooner, but here it is, an hour-and-a-half before the big five-oh, and I’m just getting started. Oh well…sleep’s overrated anyway, right?

Heh…Twenty-Five; what a kick in the ass to realize that twenty five was half a lifetime ago; that I’ve now lived more than half my life as an adult.

That can’t possibly be right, can it?

I’ve decided the only thing weirder to me than thinking about being fifty years old is trying to make myself actually believe it.

I mean, fifty’s OLD, right? How come I don’t feel it?

I honestly don’t feel all that different than I remember feeling twenty-five years ago. Well…not much anyway. But I certainly feel better now and am in far better shape than I was ten years ago.

Forty was a rude awakening for me. I didn’t deal with it well; but not so much for the reasons you might think.

While many folks want to stay thirty-nine forever, I was sort of looking forward to it. Forty isn’t fatal was my battle cry. And quite frankly, I rather enjoyed the fact that at the time I didn’t even look thirty-five, let alone forty. It was fun watching people’s jaws drop when they’d unsuccessfully try to guess my age.

I felt pretty good about myself; maybe too good.

Beg For Mercy
As I wrote about at great length last year, perhaps that little bit of haughtiness caught up with me. Sipping a lethal cocktail of denial, depression and apathy, I worked my life up into one hell of an emotional hangover between ages of thirty-nine and forty. I narrowly escaped losing my house and even more narrowly eluded losing my family. All the many things I had going for me seemed to dissolve as I eschewed the life that God had so richly blessed me with, in favor of pursuits so selfish I was hardly recognizable as the person I’d always been. For awhile, I wondered if I’d lost my soul as well.

My life imploded at forty. I literally had to start over in terms of my self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.

The good news is that I was surrounded by friends, family, and a wife who loved me enough to forgive my stupidity and lack of will; to forgive my rash break from reality. Although the damage was considerable, it was not irreparable; we all pitched-in to pick up the pieces.

Miraculously, my emotional state was restored, but the effect that period had on my body left changes that seemed considerably more permanent — at least that’s the way it felt.

I don’t know if it was the incredible stress I was under during that year-and a-half period, or simply the way of nature that everyone goes through, but my body started breaking down. I felt as though I was coming apart at the seams.

Seemingly overnight, my lifetime of 20-20 vision went by the wayside. I didn’t want to, but had to get glasses. However I was so unwilling to admit to myself that I needed them that I intentionally sabotaged my first eye test, fudging on which letters on the chart were actually clear and which ones were fuzzy, but pretending they were clear. Apparently I guessed right often enough, because my first pair of glasses were utterly useless, which in turn didn’t encourage me to wear them, which in turn made me even more miserable, having to strain harder and harder to see anything less than a foot and a half in front of me.

Meanwhile, the stress and financial woes I’d helped create for my family lent themselves toward a host of bad body-related circumstances.

I took on two extra jobs to help get us out of debt. However, while I felt great about the accomplishment of overcoming that burden, the solution was had its own set of costs. I delivered pizza for Papa John’s for three years, and made a tidy sum of money, but the circumstance also forced me into some predictably unhealthy eating habits. I found myself eating pizza for dinner five nights a week, and when I wasn’t pizza, it was some other kind of fast food at 11:00 PM or Midnight. I gained nearly 25 pounds, which is a heap ‘o lard when you’re a person of slight stature like me.

But likely the most damaging part was the way it changed my lifestyle and longstanding mentality of being an athlete. I became sedentary in what little off-time I had. So instead of working out two or three times a week, as had always been my habit since high school, I was suddenly in the midst of a two or three year lapse without any vigorous exercise to speak of. While I can’t say it with absolute certainty, I think those years took something away from me that I’ll never get back. Maybe it’s a pipe dream to believe that my body wouldn’t have begun breaking down at that age anyway, but I’m pretty certain I hastened the process along. However in the greater scheme of things, I believe it was actually a fairly good thing for me to experience because of what it taught me about appreciation for what I have.

Get Fit or Die Tryin’
I’m now a little easier on myself than I used to be. I’m able to appreciate the progress I’ve made in recent years a lot more readily now as opposed to always taking my health for granted. I’ve been working out again now continuously for almost two years. It’s been hard — really hard — but I feel great; maybe not in the same way I did in my twenties, but really good, nonetheless. I can appreciate the sometimes delicate balance between fitness and fatness so much more now than when I was younger and didn’t have to worry about what I ate or how much; those days are definitely gone forever.

It doesn’t take much to find yourself flat on your keester with the wagon speeding off into the distance. The key for me has been learning how to get back on board.

Back in 2000, when I was at my worst, I felt like absolute crap. I had fallen far and I knew it. The only consolation I had then was that working as I was to get out of the red was the right thing to do for my family, if not to myself. I truly wondered whether or not I would ever feel good again.

Thankfully, now I do.

I’m fortunate enough to work for a company offering a wonderful onsite fitness program and state-of-the-art training facility. Two years ago our CEO started a program promoting fitness across the company. They even hired a full-time professional fitness trainer who conducts circuit training classes several times a day, five days a week.

It’s been a godsend, and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have access to it, all completely free of charge.

So now I truly appreciate the strides I’m making, because the more time passes, the harder it will be to hold onto what I have physically. At this point I’m just about where I want to be, body-wise. The challenge of course will be to maintain it for as long as possible.

I really feel as though I’ve been on both sides of the mountain — from the valley to the summit, and while I’m definitely on the backside decent, it’s a great hike and I’m enjoying it. It feels good…it really does.

50 Sense in the Future?
The occasion of my fiftieth birthday also brings me pause (but hopefully not for too long) pondering the fact that the more distant in the rearview mirror my forties become, the more likely it is that I have indeed survived the family curse.

However, there’s still the chance that I haven’t.

Although the times and his austere personality make it difficult to know for sure, my Maternal Grandfather, the patriarch of the strain of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease that runs through my family, was not institutionalized until his early fifties, but died a few years later. There’s really no way to know how old he was at onset, but it appears that he began getting sick a bit later in life — possibly in his late forties — than the majority of his children and grandchildren who would carry on his ill-begotten legacy decades after his death. Typically the early forties (ages 41-44) have been the period in which my affected family members have lapsing into dementia. So that my Grandfather lasted well into his mid-fifties casts at least a shadow of concern as to my vulnerability.

Also providing anomalies to the course of the inherited disease, two of my family’s female victims, my Aunt Ruth and Cousin Kay also showed unusually late signs of onset — late 40s and early 50s respectively. One possible explanation — the fact that they were both on menopausal hormone therapy — has been offered as evidence that estrogen seems to delay the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Guess I’m sort of outa luck there…

But all in all, I think there’s a pretty good chance I’ve been spared. Nevertheless, until I go back up to Indy to learn the results of my AD diagnostic tests from November 2004, signing my life away via a stack of legal waiver forms in the process, the only way I’m gonna know for sure is to just wait it out. If I’m still thinking clearly in about five year’s time, then I think we’ll pretty much know that I’m out of the woods.

Cradle to the Grave
But just in case I’m wrong; if perchance I’m not as lucky as I think I am, the thing that I’m doing right this moment takes on all the more importance — especially for me.

Perhaps the best thing I’ve ever done to strengthen my mind is what I’m doing right now — writing. My blog is my life, and as far as I’m concerned, will always be.

This weekend I’ll be sharing with you a wonderful gift I received on my recent trip to Indiana. It’s a letter that my Mother, Annie wrote while in the hospital the day after I was born. She was writing to my grandmother, sharing her thoughts about her family, her faith, and about how scrawny I was, among other things. It’s a snapshot I could have never hoped to have, but was unexpectedly passed my way by one of my cousins who found it among her mother’s things and wanted me to have it. I so look forward to reveling in the wonderful emotions it already has stirred in me. What a perfect case in point to the very special thing that writing about my life has become.

On entering the second half of what I hope is my one hundred-year existence, I’m both scared and excited about what the future holds. Which direction will my health take? Will I truly have the option of retiring in another ten years, or be forced to continue working whether I want to or not? These are the kinds of things I never thought about before, but now find myself mulling over more and more often.

But I can only do what I can do, trying to stay as healthy as possible and living my live to the fullest now, with an eye toward the future, not my entire gaze. Tomorrow will take care of itself. I want to focus on being happy now, utterly basking in the joy that each day can bring, and the memories thereof.

I can’t worry about family curses. I just want to embrace the blessings I enjoy; things that I am so very fortunate to have; things that I clearly don’t deserve

But whether or not I ever lose my memories, I know that I never want to stop saving them. This form of self-expression is a gift I love to give to myself, and have sorely missed doing so over the past few months. So since it’s now well past Midnight…

Happy Birthday to me.


Thursday, June 29, 2006


The Reader's Digest Version
I guess it's not fair to those of you who have been continuing to check this space for something new, to make you wait any longer. I have a lot of catching up to do, and as is my bent, it won't be easy to get it out quickly. So in the meantime I thought I would literally take a few minutes (i.e.: I'm putting a fifteen-minute cap on this) to post a little stream-of-consciousness, spewing out as much as I can about what's been going on in my life since the lights sort of went out on April 4th.

I've been reassessing a lot lately. As I'll be writing about soon, things at my job took a dramatic turn at the beginning of this month, and I was thrust into a new job function, covering for a co-worker who suddenly left the company. It has been one of the most significant events in my life in a very long while, bringing with it change that may not ultimately alter my career path, but most certainly has altered my perceptions.

A funny thing happened on Father's Day. I got a big mirror as a gift from my family; I was able to see myself clearly for the first time in a long time. I saw what they saw, and boy was I surprised. It wasn't a pretty picture, but it sure was enlightening. Interesting thing; you never knows how bitter the medicine is until you've had a taste for yourself.

I love my family; that's nothing new. However sometimes it takes losing a family member to realize how important it is to maintain ties that have loosened over the miles and years. My last post was a tribute to my Uncle Jake. I had just returned from Indiana and was prepared to expound upon the reconnection I experienced with Aunts, Uncles and cousins I saw during that short three-day trip. Well now I have even more to talk about. I just returned from a second trip to the town of my birth for an annual cousin's reunion; an event they have every year but which I had never before bothered to attend. It was a fabulous experience. But best of all, I received an indescribably wonderful gift, a letter from my late Mother, Annie, that is just about too cool for words. Much more on that later

The Pursuit of Happiness
Lots of great concerts; Mowerly Musings; time spent with Michelle; mulling over the place that blogging has in my life. These are also the things that have been occupying a goodly portion of my time over the past two-and-a-half months.

I'll get to all of them, and if anyone is still listening, I'd love to hear your comments. Thank you for your patience, and special thanks for the comments and e-mails from those of you caring to check up on me. It's been a good break, but hopefully I'll be able to get back on the beam soon.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Lion Sleeps Tonight — A Mini-Series (1 of 2)

04-08-06 Update
Upon returning from my Uncle’s funeral, I decided to make this post a Mini-Series because of all that happened during the brief but eventful 36 hours I spent this week in my hometown of Anderson, Indiana.

I have completely updated this first part with much more in-depth information and amplification of my original thoughts, hurriedly written last Tuesday afternoon before leaving Nashville, so if you had previously read it, I would definitely invite you to give it another look.

The second part is a series of anecdotes about the trip itself; the adventure the trip up turned out to be, and of course the funeral, and the subsequent wonderfully unexpected re-connection I had with my Uncle Jake’s legacy.

Mortality Memorandum
I thought it a bit too unfeeling to subtitle this post, Another One Bites the Dust, but it would be pretty accurate from the standpoint of reality, especially given my recent awareness on the subject.

You see folks, I’m getting old; or so I’m being forced to accept. Not because my body is slowly, and more consistently beginning to betray me — that’s really the least of my worries. No, it’s not that I feel that much older, but rather, it’s that everyone else just seems to be heading that direction. Life has taken a sharp turn toward the mortal side for me over the past couple years; coincidentally I suppose, since I began writing this blog.

For it was only after writing tributes to my two mothers, Annie and Maxine, that I became cognizant that most of my aunts and uncles on Annie’s side had passed away; people whom I had grown up with and loved dearly, yet had completely lost touch with, both figuratively and actually. Somehow, in my mind they were all still in their fifties; healthy and wise, and some, just a bit wacky.

Imagine my surprise when I realized — naïve as that notion was — that it was I who was now approaching fifty years of age. It is I who is now on the backside of the hill. What a freaky notion that is! What a sobering realization when the very pillars of your life; the people upon whom your childhood, your family structure, your memories and notions of normalcy, begin to disappear one by one.

Moreover, it was only after I chronicled the history of my family’s fight with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease — the family curse, as it were — that we learned it had claimed yet another victim, my youngest brother, Alex.

What was once to me, a glassy pool of calm and happy reflection, my memoirs, my blog; a joy to write and connect to myself with, has now in many ways become a whirlpool, sucking me down with the undertow of my own mortality. At least that’s the way it feels sometimes.

And while it hasn’t soured me on writing in any way, it has definitely sobered my outlook. I think I’ve become a bit more realistic — perhaps a bit less idealistic — about life and the fleeting nature of youth. I’ve come to realize that while it’s a fine thing to feel young at heart, it doesn’t mean that you are young; and just because you still feel like a kid it doesn’t mean that you have all the time you did when you actually were one.

Time is marching on, my friends, and if you need any evidence of that fact, just take a good look around; if you’re honest, you’ll see its power. It’s not difficult to observe the way time is affecting everyone and everything else.

Another ripple in the pond of my life reached shore last Friday. My Dad’s younger brother, Jacob — my Uncle Jake — passed away after a long period of declining health. Jake suffered a massive stroke last Wednesday and hovered near death before his life finally ran out on Friday morning, March 31st.

His funeral is tomorrow and I’ll be on my way, driving up Anderson, Indiana within a few hours. I’ll be one of the pallbearers at the gravesite, an honor I’ve never before experienced.

This is the first funeral I’ve attended since Maxine’s in May of 2000, but what I dread the most is the probability that it may become a recurring exercise in my life.

Uncle Jake would have turned 78 later this month. My Dad, the eldest amongst his siblings at 83, is the only one of my Mamaw’s four children who didn’t inherit her enlarged heart, a defect that not only claimed her own life, but that of her youngest child, my Uncle Norman, who died in his mid-forties. Norman, Jake and their sister, my Aunt Kate, each developed enlarged hearts in adulthood and have battled the related heath issues associated with it for most of their lives. It was the cause of a previous stroke Jake suffered a few years ago, and was ostensibly the reason for the recent one that took his life.

Ironically, it will be other kinds of health issues that will keep my Dad and his sister from making the trip to Indiana for Uncle Jake’s funeral. For Dad, his wife Helen, in addition to recovering from abdominal surgery a few months ago, is still suffering from back and leg-related issues that have kept her in considerable pain for nearly a year. He just couldn’t bear to leave her while she is both barely mobile as well as in need of his emotional support.

At age 76, Aunt Kate is, as I write this, scheduled to be in surgery herself for a hip replacement, so there was no way she could make the trip from her home in Nevada.

So it’s up to my brother Jack and me to represent our branch of the family tree. Jack, who was extremely close to Jake, and whom for several years was, along with his wife Marnie, our Uncle’s primary caregiver, will deliver the eulogy.

“Big” & “Baby”
Jake’s eldest son — who I’ll simply refer to as “Big AJ” (since he and I have the same name), is eight years my senior. He was born the same year as my brother, David. Because he, David and Jack were all about the same age, they used to run around together and have always been close. Meanwhile, Big AJ’s only sibling, younger brother, Danny, hung out with Alex and me.

So why, you ask, would my Dad and Uncle Jake each give one of their sons the same name? Amazingly, even I never thought to pursue the question until just a few years ago. My Dad’s explanation made total sense. It was to pay tribute to another of their brothers who bore the name but died in infancy. Had he lived, my original namesake would have been the second-eldest child in the family, between my Dad and Jake. And because of that, they both desired to honor him in this way.

Uncle Jake took the first opportunity, naming his first-born son after the big brother he would never know. Eight years later, when I came along, my Dad followed suit. However now, with two AJs in our very close-knit extended family, some sort of distinction was in order.

It was at this point that Uncle Jake instituted what would be his most enduring influence upon my life, or such was my opinion for a very long time. He dubbed me “Baby AJ” distinguishing me from his son, who was referred to as “Big AJ” in the same context. From the time I can remember the meaning of words, that name irritated me to no end; and everyone called me that.

I guess I wasn't a very good sport, particularly later, as it was becoming evident that I would be the small-of-stature person I in fact became; I really didn’t appreciate the constant reminder.

My Dad has told me of many instances in which, even when I was of pre-school age, whenever someone teased me about being small, I would immediately rush over and begin pummeling them with my tiny fists.

But after years of annoyance, even briefly into adulthood, I guess finally realized that I just needed to get over myself and accept it. Besides, Uncle Jake was always the teasing sort. It wasn’t just me; he gave nicknames to everyone. My Brother Jack was "Johnson;" David was "Butch." I guess it took a little time and emotional growing up for me to realize that the moniker my Uncle had bestowed on me was never malicious. That’s not the kind of man he was. No, there was much more to him than that.

In fairness to Jake and the effect he had on my life, I have much more to be grateful for.

Hangin’ out in The Lion’s Den
From the time she was institutionalized in 1966, until her death two years later, my Dad would make the 100-mile trip up to Logansport State Hospital nearly every weekend to spend time with my Mom.

Logansport was a mental institution, which unfortunately was the only type of facility in those days capable of treating Alzheimer’s disease patients in advanced stages of dementia. During that time, more often than not, Alex and I stayed at Uncle Jake’s house, usually for the entire weekend.

The atmosphere there was always oriented toward sports. There was always a game on in the den. Be it the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds in the summer, or Da Bears and Colts in the wintertime, Uncle Jake fed us, played with us, and taught us to love sports. He was the most rabid sports fan I have ever witnessed, cheering on his favorites: Pete Rose, Ernie Banks, and especially the legendary Chicago Bears middle linebacker, Dick Butkus.

“DID YOU SEE THAT??” He’d scream after another bone-crunching Butkus tackle, “BUTKUUUUS!!!!”

I watched my first Superbowl with Uncle Jake: the hallowed Superbowl III, as Joe Namath and the NY Jets upset Johnny Unitas and Jake’s beloved Baltimore Colts; the game that is credited for ushering in the modern era of the National Football League. GAWD, he hated Namath!

I remember Jake’s wild, fiery eyes. He was a hooter; he was a hollarer; he was a man who lived his experiences to the hilt. He smoked Winstons and drank Schlitz beer. He was kind-hearted, but the man had a temper; he could be sort of mean when he was in a bad mood. However you always knew, beneath the façade that barrel-chested, Tasmanian Devil of a man had a heart of pure gold.

I’ll never forget how my eyes grew as big as saucers that New Year’s Eve, at midnight, when he pulled a 12-guage shotgun out of a locked hallway closet, took it out on the driveway and fired a shot into the air to usher in 1968. “How cool is THAT?” I thought. “He’s got a REAL GUN!!!”

We had a lot of fun in those days, which is surprising considering how disrupted our family was by my Mom’s illness. Uncle Jake took care of us. Whenever Dad needed to drop us off, it was never a burden. I never got the sense that we were anything but welcome in his home.

Uncle Jake was a lion, the king of his jungle, and everyone gave him his space and due respect. When the lion roared, everyone listened. But tonight, the jungle is silent.

Sleep well, O King.

Next: An Unexpected Legacy

Thursday, March 30, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part IX)

Days Three and Four — Monday/Tuesday:
Where’s The Champ when you need ‘im?

In another of the seemingly never-ending series of efforts to date myself, this next chapter in my story brings a particular TV commercial from the 1970s to mind. Back in the days before Don King and Mike Tyson transformed it from The Sweet Science into The Gong Show, the man who was the face of professional boxing was also its greatest ambassador. Muhammad Ali was everything a great sports figure could and should be. But one of the things I loved about him the most was the fact that in addition to being the Greatest of Them All, he was also the easiest to like.

Ali was a crackup. He was the Clown who wore the Crown. From the Ring to the small screen, The Champ was all about entertainment. And in a particular enterprise that some felt was well beneath his dignity, it was his self-deprecation that I found to be the most refreshing.

I remember him doing a TV commercial for Black FlagRoach Motel roach traps years ago (apparently he had a real passion for roach-extermination products — more on that later). “Roaches check in, but they don’t check out! he would say, with that same trademark, faux-menacing, raspy whisper he used for years to antagonize his opponents during many a pre-fight press conference.

With Ali’s Black Flag commercial, the term Roach Motel was added to the pop-culture lexicon; a reference that became much more attuned to describe the genre of typically low-cost motor hotels in which one might likely find the multi-legged creatures scurrying about when the lights come on, than to the actual product itself.

I don’t know if he was busy at the time, but I think I could have used The Champ to “knock out” some nasty-lookin’ cucarachas that were waiting for me in my motel room Monday afternoon when I arrived in Hemet to visit my Dad. I had run out of time and asked him if he could find me a cheap place to stay.

Poor Pop, God love ‘im. He was just trying to save me a few bucks, and he’d obviously never stayed there himself, so how would he have known? I really have no one to blame but myself anyway. In my haste to get ready to make this trip, the one travel arrangement I failed to complete was to book a motel for the two nights I would be in Hemet.

Strangers in the Night II
One might be wondering why I needed to get a room in the first place. After all, I was going to see my Dad, and I had stayed at their place the last time I visited, in August of 2004. The difference was that they had moved since my last visit — and recently I might add.

Dad and his wife Helen had just moved back to the assisted living center each had called home at a time when they were merely acquaintances, while my stepmom Maxine was still alive. They had just moved in to their new one-bedroom apartment just a few days before I arrived. Aside from the fact that they were still unpacking, and maintenance men were still installing light fixtures and such, there was simply no room to put me up at comfortably there.

As I’ve mentioned before, Helen had been a mutual friend of both Maxine and my Dad, one of the first to reach out to them when they initially moved in, back in early 2000. Helen was already a widow, having lost her husband several years earlier. In the months following Maxine’s passing in late May of that year, Helen and Dad, became closer friends through her emotional support to him at an obviously difficult time following Maxine’s unexpected death — the result of complications from a viral infection — and the relationship just seemed to blossom from there.

After Maxine’s passing, Dad found the two of them spending more and more time together. And now suddenly becoming one of the more eligible bachelors at the Center, Pop had to literally fight off the ladies who began coming on to him. All the while Helen was simply there for him, never imposing the obvious affection that was growing in her heart.

And the feeling was becoming mutual.

This is one of my favorite pictures. My Dad and me in the back yard during his visit to Tennessee in June 2001. And no, I wasn’t dyeing my goatee back then…

By the time Pop came to Tennessee for a visit in June of 2001, he was already smitten, yet not quite forthcoming in announcing the news to his family. He was concerned about what we might think, given that it had been just over a year since Mom had passed away. It took a couple of days before he mustered the courage to broach the subject with Michelle and me, fearing we might not approve. However nothing could be further from the truth. Dad seemed a little taken aback when we assured him with no reservation that we were delighted he had found a lady friend to spend his time with. He insisted at the time that it wasn’t serious, but we knew better.

Six months later, my elder brother, TK, took his own endorsement of the relationship to another level, greasing the wheels of an all-out effort to get Dad and Helen to Las Vegas to get hitched. And so they did, in December.

As it turned out, it may have very well likely been a decision that saved my Dad’s life.

Far away from the maddening crowd
It was probably a more uncomfortable scene for Helen than for her new husband, but after losing out to her in the race for Pop’s affections, some of those old hens at the Center turned on Helen. She felt a little spurned by woman she had long considered to be her friends. Combining that with the fact that he’d never felt really comfortable there anyway — and the real kicker — a recent sharp increase in rent and service fees added by the management company, Dad and Helen decided to get the heck outta Dodge.

They moved back to the old neighborhood where Dad and Maxine had lived for years prior to moving to the assisted living residence. They were both in good health (or so we all thought) and figured they didn’t necessarily need the round-the-clock nursing care (nor the price tag thereof) the Center provided. They wanted to fend for themselves. Dad wanted to get back to the vegetable garden he had to abandon. They weren’t old like the rest ‘a them fogies. They could take care of themselves, thankyouverymuch.

Almost immediately, the repercussions of that move would come to roost.

A few months after they moved out of the Center, in May 2002, my Dad suffered a mild, but potentially fatal heart attack at home, and now without the on-call medical facilities that had been available to him previously. If Helen hadn’t been there to call 911, my Pop would most certainly have died. He ended up having quadruple-bypass surgery in the wake of his ordeal, having never shown any signs of heart disease prior to the event.

The good news is, he has worked hard to change his lifestyle and is completely recovered and in great shape for a man of nearly eighty-three years. But the better news is that he had Helen there, or chances are great he wouldn’t be around to celebrate the “good” news in the first place.

And though Dad’s health has been great for the past four years, Helen hasn’t been so fortunate. She began experiencing difficulties with her legs; sores that took forever to heal; and more recently, she had to undergo surgery to remove a blockage in her colon.

So when out of the blue, a neighbor made an offer to buy their house which, in Dad’s words, was “just too good to pass up,” they reconsidered their previous decision and decided to give their old assisted living community another try (and have been very happy there ever since).

Dad and Helen in their new apartment, and still goin’ strong.

‘Cuz I’m a cheap ‘ol bugger...that’s why.
Now you know why I needed to get a room, but here’s how I ended up at The Roach Motel.

Going in, I figured on someplace inexpensive; just a place for me to lay my head at the end of each of the two days I would be spending entirely with the folks. However, per my usual penchant for leaving things to the last minute, I ran out of time and never made the reservation.

So I turned to my Pop for a little travel agent assistance, which he was happy to do. I had phoned him on Saturday to let him know I’d arrived and to ask if he would go and make the arrangements at the local Motel 6 to reserve me a room for Monday and Tuesday, as I had no access to a computer. When he said he’d take care of it, I figured, “No Problem,” and considered it a done deal.

When I arrived at Dad’s place on Monday, he proudly announced, “AJ, I think I got you a pretty good deal on a room.”

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“Why yesss,” he gushed. “I went to the Motel 6 like you said, and they wanted $49.99 a night, plus tax! But I found a little motel over here on the main drag that only charges $45 a night out the door!

“Well okay then, thanks for doing that for me, Dad!” I said appreciatively.

Now I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t at least a little concerned at that point. Motel 6, say what you want about the stereotypical connotations associated with it, is at least a known commodity. You know, going in that you’re not staying at some kind of resort. But at least there is a reasonable expectation that the room, the sheets, and the linens will all be clean and fresh. One can expect there to be decent cable TV, and you can certainly expect that the only multi-legged creature in your bed is gonna be YOU. There was a level of trust with Motel 6 that I felt good about. And while the notion of moving away from that was disconcerting at first, I can honestly say I really didn’t give it much thought.

My Dad, don’t forget, was a Depression Kid, and anytime we were on vacation, it was Motel 6 all the way. So if he said he’d found an even better bargain, who was I to argue?

After a short visit with Dad and Helen, I left to go check in and drop my stuff before returning to Dad’s to go to dinner.

I pulled in and went into the office. On the outside, it looked like a typical cheap motel: smartly landscaped; recently painted exterior; clean and innocuous office/lobby area. The lady handed me my key and I drove my car down a few hundred feet to where my room was at the end of the row of rooms.

The manager had been sure to mention that the entire motel was a non-smoking environment, which was nice, but really didn’t mean all that much to me. While I do appreciate non-smoking to smoking, I’ve never been one to make a big deal over not getting the former.

When I opened the door I immediately realized that the motel’s smoke-free policy was not something they necessarily put into place voluntarily. I’m pretty sure they had to do it because the rooms were already so heavily saturated with the smell of smoke that one more wisp would have probably sent the whole place down into the damned center of the earth!

Oh. My. GAWD! My eyes hadn’t watered like that since that time Michelle and I got caught downwind of the south end of a momma hippo, cuttin’ it loose at the San Diego Zoo several years ago.

I immediately began to re-think my stance of not being bothered by smoking-allowed. This was easily the worse one I’d ever encountered. Just when did they implement that “smoke-free” policy — AN HOUR AGO? Perhaps by “smoke-free” they meant that they no longer CHARGE people for the freakin’ privilege!

And that was just the tip ‘o the iceberg. True to its Ali-inspired nickname, as I flipped on the lights I saw no less than three cockroaches scurrying off to points unknown. I just rolled my eyes. I had a notion, but I didn’t wish to insult or embarrass my Pop, who actually had tried to do me a favor. Looking at the place from the outside, there really was no to know how bad they were on the inside.

Oh wait. I forgot about the three-pound Yuban coffee can ashtrays that were mounted onto the building just outside the door of every room. Yeah…that might have been a clue.

The best thing I can say is, apart from its aforementioned extremophylic permanent residents…and the broken toilet paper roll dispenser…and the cracked tile in the shower…and the TV on which it appeared they were showing the ice palace scene from Dr. Zhivago on every channel, the place was pretty clean. The bed was comfortable, and when I awoke the next morning I hadn’t yet turned into any kind of Slither-like monster, so hey, I was okay with it.

Next: Days Three and Four — Monday/Tuesday (continued):
He Got Walkin’ Fingers…

Monday, March 27, 2006

After Further Review…

Be careful what you ask for
As the old saying goes, Be careful what you ask for — you just might get it. Well, I asked and I got, and I probably shouldn’t have been surprised with the outcome.

Pretty much on a lark a few months ago I decided to take the somewhat narcissistic plunge of having my blog evaluated by The Weblog Review. The TWR, if you’ve never visited, is a Web site dedicated to the review of these wonderful little pockets of piss, bliss, pizzazz, and personality that are the thousands of weblogs scattered across the Internet.

This past New Year’s Day evening, I was updating a few things on my blog — blogroll links, story archive page, etc — when I decided to go for it. I had recently read the post by my friend Sidra (that’s El Sid to you) from a couple days earlier, reporting the fact that she had herself been reviewed by TWR, just as now-retired fellow Blogsville neighbor, Jay had done a year and a half earlier. One of their requirements for consideration is that you must place a link to their site on your blog from the time you sign up. So since I was updating my template anyway, I went ahead and added the link.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have stopped there. But I digress…

As you peruse the evaluations they’ve done, it’s pretty clear that these reviewers are no soft-sell. Even the good things they have to say about a blog are often balanced by their perceived negatives. So why I thought they’d see mine any differently is anyone’s guess. Frankly I didn’t really care all that much, but I was curious, as most anyone who has a public blog would be. So I decided to offer myself up for scrutiny and abuse pretty much just to see what they’d say.

So I went to the TWR site and registered. According to the instructions on the site the waiting period would be of indeterminate length, that is, unless I wanted to pony up $4.97 to have it done within five days by one reviewer, or $7.97 for the opinion of two separate reviewers. Either way, if you pay, they supposedly get it done in a week. However, being the cheapskate that I am, and considering the sort of egotistical guilt I felt about doing this in the first place, I was more than happy to wait.

And wait…aaannnd wait.

Within a month my Sitemeter identified visitors with referring URLs pointing to making occasional visits, so I figured the process had begun. I had no idea how long it would actually take, but hey, I was realistic. I understood that anyone approaching my blog for the first time would likely take awhile to extract any kind of true impression from it. I honestly didn’t expect it to take a whole lot less time than it actually did, which was just shy of three months.

Actually, I consider myself lucky, as I’ve noticed that The Weblog Review has ceased accepting non-paying submissions for now. If you want them to review your blog, it’s pay-or-don’t-play for the foreseeable future. Perhaps they’ve just gotten so many requests lately that they’ve accumulated a bit of a backlog. Lord knows my lengthy web of words didn’t help.

But what would they think? Would they understand where my “head was at?” Would they think I was funny and charming, or some middle-aged, pseudo-intellectual hipster dufus? Would they find my blog self-indulgent, or would they enjoy looking into my world, my thoughts, my dreams of life as it was and what I hoped it would become?

Gonna Change My Way Of Thinkin’
Going in, I hoped I might be lucky enough to be reviewed by someone at least close to my own age. However the more I examined other reviews conducted by TWR, I realized I was much more likely to wind up with a twentysomething Web-head with no kids, itching to make snarky comments about my bare-bones Blogger template.

Guess which one I got?

When I received the e-mail announcing that “Dylan” had reviewed my blog, I gotta tell you, I was pretty excited.

“Great!” I thought. “Someone of my own generation! And since when did ol’ Zimmie start doing blog reviews?”

Unfortunately it didn’t take long to discover that my reviewer wasn’t that Dylan. Nope, this Dylan wasn’t a member of my generation at all, but rather a member of the Net Generation, just a few years older than my own kids. Dylan O’Donnell is twenty seven years old and has reviewed more than twenty-seven blogs in less than four months since starting with TWR last December; no mean feat by any stretch, and nearly twice his required monthly quota.

Apparently, Dylan’s a pretty busy guy. In addition to being a talented photographer, he’s also the Webmaster and Message Board Admin for an Aussie blues band that I understand is quite good. I’d provide a link to their Web site, but apparently a marauding band of spammers performed an all-out assault on it recently, so it’s out of commission at the moment.

In his Technorati profile, Dylan describes himself thusly: “Australian photoblogger, Dylan O'Donnell. Unix Sys Admin by day, rock guitarist and singer by night and somewhere in amongst it all, photographer, emergency services volunteer and blog reviewer.”

Needless to say, with everything he has on his plate, Dylan needs to stay focused, so in my review, one thing about my blog he seemed really focused upon was, I’m sure, the most important part to him: the look. I mean, anyone so gauche as to leave the CSS template that comes with a Blogger account essentially unaltered, should definitely be taken to task for such an egregious violation of Web ethics, right? ESPECIALLY if they claim to be a Web designer. I believe that’s a violation the hypocritical oath or something. And given that Dylan has probably been writing CSS code since he was in high school, I can certainly understand why he was so appalled.

Now obviously I’m busting Dylan’s chops a bit here. Actually I agree with him to an extent. My blog’s appearance is something I’ve wanted to upgrade from the very beginning, but at the end of the day, it’s just been something I’ve never found the time to do. That being said, anyone who has read my blog lately probably knows that I’ve had little to no time to even write, let alone worry about making my template pretty.

Besides, I find that less is more sometimes...

Nonetheless, having already communicated as much to Mr. O’Donnell in a message board comment, I do consider myself properly challenged, and will definately, “rip that blogger headline bar out of the CSS template” in due time, and hopefully soon. When I Paint My Masterpiece, he’ll be the first to know.

Although his review of my blog was laced with snarky comments, Dylan did have some good things to say about the writing, which I did appreciate. And let me say right here, despite my own snarky commentary in response, I really do understand his criticisms, and I also remember what I was like when I was twenty-seven (and perhaps he’ll be able to appreciate that statement a bit more ten or fifteen years down the road).

To be fair, he actually did hit the nail on the head when he finally remarked, “…but I don't think AJ's main reason for blogging is the design at all. Like most personal blogs I think the reason for writing varies. Sometimes its to vent, sometimes to laugh, and sometimes its just to order ones own thoughts by writing them down.

Bingo. And for that bit of insight I’ll give him a pass. I’ll even go beyond that; I think that all the folks at TWR deserve a lot of credit for the effort they put in. Grasping an accurate read on a blog without spending an inordinate amount of time on it is no doubt a daunting task. And Dylan’s reviews are to be applauded for the obvious care he puts into them. Really, my only criticism of his criteria (and not just because he called me to the carpet on this, necessarily) is his consistent hatred of Blogger templates, which I found to be a recurring theme in his reviews. While I don’t exactly think they’re that great myself, I do believe it might be in the greater interest of a blog reviewer to focus a bit less on site design issues that the vast majority of bloggers neither have the expertise nor the desire to concern themselves with.

Not everyone is a Web developer, and most of the Bloggers I know, are scared to death to do little more than barely touch their templates, and that’s okay in my opinion. It’s the reason the templates were created in the first place. Blogging is the tool of the everyman, not just the technologically resplendent. I believe it’s the content, not the look that should be the focus of a personal blog.

So thanks again to The Weblog Review for the time and for the most part, their even-handed criticism of my work. I had fun researching this post, and in the process, gained great deal of appreciation for the work that these folks do.

If you’d like to read the review of my blog in its entirety, you can find it here. If you’d care to register with TWR, you may then cast your vote to agree or disagree with the opinions of any of its more than 1,969 blog reviews currently available.