Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Puppy Drama (Act I of II)

A Tough Act To Follow
In my mind, nothing could ever replace our dog Squirty, whose one-year death day anniversary is a little more than two weeks from now.

She was our baby after our real babies had reached middle school age. She was total joy over a period of time that we desperately needed it in our lives. She filled a niche that my wife Michelle had for nurturing, and that all the rest of the family had for unconditional love.

She was an awesome dog; smart as a whip; never chewed up our furniture, clothes, papers, or anything other than the rawhide chew toys we placed before her. She was easy to house-train, and with the notable exception of her last few weeks of life, never soiled our living space that I can ever recall.

However, partially due to her really being ‘Michelle’s dog,’ and partially because I was always working, I missed out on a lot of the fun in Squirty’s puppy stage of development.

In fact, I really should back up a bit and admit that I really don’t remember much about Squirty’s tendencies early on, or how long she actually took us to housebreak; and I don’t really recall to what extent she may have had a penchant for biting fingers and other objects while she was teething. However, I do know how good and easy a pet she turned out to be. I simply can’t imagine a pooch being any better-behaved.

That’s one reason why I was somewhat reluctant for us to get another dog. I just knew that we could never be that lucky twice in a row.

But guess what? We’ve got a new dog.

Her name is ‘Izzy’…and ‘Tazzi’…and ‘Sophie’…and ‘Doggie,’ in reverse order. In the three weeks since she first entered our home, each of those names has been a story unto itself.

Three weeks ago this past Sunday, I was minding my own business, reading the paper when Michelle looks over at me with a wry smile on her face.

“You know I’ve been thinking,” she said, followed by a pregnant pause that I’ve come to realize usually means more than simply catching her breath.

“My Mom is really lonely right now, and Christmas is going to be hard on her without Dad. I was thinking about getting her a dog. What do you think?”

I stammered my halfhearted approval, not really considering the implications of such a suggestion. “Sure,” I asked, “But what kind?”

She showed me an ad in the Sunday Tennessean, advertising Toy Fox Terriers from a breeder in Dixon, Tennessee, which — interestingly enough, I thought — was the very same town our previous breeder operated out of.

Could this be the same guy?

We had actually been trying to keep loose tabs on the breeder we used previously, a gentleman named Ron Hunt, as over the years we continually fielded inquiries from folks about Squirty; what breed she was, where we got her, et al.

However, we had lost touch with Mr. Hunt several years earlier and had assumed he’d simply retired or moved away. If for no other reason than to satisfy her curiosity about the breeder’s identity, I told her I thought she should call and check it out

Squirty’s litter-mate, whom Michelle’s parents had picked out at the same time back in July of 1993, had passed away a little more than a year earlier than her sister. And with the additional loss of her husband last June, life was becoming increasingly solitary for Michelle’s Mom, who had never been alone in her entire life. She needed some companionship. I fully supported the idea of getting her a puppy for Christmas. We thought it would be the perfect gift.

And after Michelle contacted the breeder by phone that Sunday morning, we were convinced that it was meant to be.

Turns out, the breeder’s name was Edwin Overhill. When asked if he knew Mr. Hunt, the man replied, “Sure I know him. He’s worked for me off and on for years.”

Mr. Hunt, we would learn, had indeed retired from dog breeding, but still worked for Overhill at his primary business, a used car dealership in Dixon. Overhill had actually taken on Hunts’ dogs when he stepped away from the business.

So, it was entirely possible that the breeding line that produced Squirty and her parents’ dog may well still be active in those that Overhill is breeding today.

The breeding lineage and connection to Mr. Hunt all seemed much too great a coincidence to be arbitrary. Surely this was meant to be.

Or was it?

We immediately went out to see the last recently-born-yet-unspoken-for female puppy that Mr. Overhill would have available before Christmas.

She was stinky and cuddly and adorable. We were both smitten with a capital ‘S’. We just knew Michelle’s mom would feel the same way. We took the eleven week-old pup home with us that afternoon.

What we (or, more specifically, what ‘I’) didn’t know was what a challenge it would be to keep her — not to mention, keep her a secret — for the remaining ten days until the Christmas Day.

And one other thing — what the heck do we call her? I certainly didn’t want to have her getting used to any name other than what Michelle’s Mom would eventually give her, but at the same time, I had to get her attention somehow. So I just stuck with ‘Doggie’ as it was both neutral and something that rolled off my tongue anyway, since it had been the endearing nickname I had called Squirty her entire life.

I also didn’t realize how tough it would be to housetrain the little munchkin. Like I said earlier, I really wasn’t in on that part of the deal with Squirters. If she was any more difficult than this one in that department I certainly don’t remember it.

However, to my chagrin, Doggie would not be a willing participant in the ‘Let’s Relieve Ourselves Out in the Cold’ club. She would do fine so long as we’d been holding her and then took her out periodically after she’d been sleeping. But several other times, left to her own devices, she would squat indiscriminately all over the house. This was particularly frustrating if it was really cold outside, as she wanted no part of eliminating in the harsh elements, and would refuse to ‘do her business’ when requested, only to do so indoors usually just minutes later, after coming back into the nice warm house.

Part of me was preaching patience to the other part of me that was cursing my wife for suggesting the idea of getting her Mom this dog in the first place. But then frustrated AJ would remember, “it’s just for a few more days, then it’ll be over.”

Cynical, right? Heartless; selfish? Guilty as charged, your honor, but with explanation.

See, I’m currently unemployed. However I do have a big freelance project that I’m STILL trying to finish, so that I can turn my attention to finding another full-time gig.

Not only did having a puppy quite necessarily strapped to my lap keep me from getting any serious work done, it also kept me from dealing with an even more pressing issue.

Thanksgiving Morning, my main desktop computer died. At the time I thought it was a bad motherboard, so I immediately ordered a new one. Well, if you’ve ever replaced a mobo, you know what comes next (for me, anyway) — hours of installing, usually with a certain amount of troubleshooting when things don’t go as planned. And of course, things did not go as planned.

When I reinstalled the mobo, I got nothin.’ No activity of any kind. Was it a bad power supply? Was it something that was causing an electrical short? I won’t go into the minutiae of what gyrations I had to go through to nail down the problem, but suffice it to say, it was a time consuming process — one that was impossible to engage while trying to keep a precocious puppy dog from chewing through the computer’s power cables.

I ended up delaying getting my main computer up and running in favor of attempting to do the work on my laptop, which has most of the same software as my main box, but only about a third of the RAM memory, hard drive capacity, and processor speed.

The work came along, but at a much slower pace than I needed it to in order for me to accomplish my activity goals.

Bottom line, I was really anxious for Christmas, not so I could get presents, but so I could get rid of one.

Now again, lest you think of me as some hard-hearted beast, let me just say that I loved that dog. She absolutely melted my heart on a daily basis. If I had been smart, I would have simply locked her up in our master bathroom with her bed and toys, and proceeded on downstairs to work. Trouble was, we really did want to try and have her at least partially potty-trained before giving her to MIL for Christmas. But in reality I just couldn’t bare the thought of her being cooped up in another room while I was in the house. There was a true love-hate thing going on within me. I wished this little dog wasn’t always there underfoot, but in truth, I just couldn’t stand the thought of her being anywhere else.

However, now well into her fourth month of life, she was becoming much more of a handful. Instead of sleeping six hours during the day, she now seemed alert and wanting to play all the time, and when playing didn’t mean chewing on and/or biting her toys, it meant chewing my fingers and nipping at the hem of my pants every time I walked across the room.

She had also now found her voice, and began to treat us to both her impish, high-pitched, yet (thankfully) low-volume bark as well as her aggressive, yet incredibly cute, gurgley little growl during physical play.

When the time came for MIL to receive her gift, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Michelle presented Doggie to her Mom on Christmas Eve. She was immediately dubbed ‘Sophie,’ as MIL had already picked out a name in the event she would ever get another pooch.

Over the following two days before she left for home, MIL and Sophie were inseparable, and everyone felt great about the way it had all come together.

However, in the back of my mind, I had a feeling that the marriage was far from perfect. Michelle’s Mom is almost exactly fifteen-and-a-half years removed from the puppy-raising experience; after what I had gone through with the little critter, I was pretty sure that this time wouldn’t be quite as easy as the last one was.

Next: Meet Tazzie (that’s short for Tasmanian Devil)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Computer Ate My Homework

Not so thankful about this...
I know I've cried 'wolf' before, saying I'd post on a certain day, and then, not actually doing it until much later, or not at all. Most often when those situations occur, it's because I've bitten off more than I could chew, either from a time-management standpoint (having the time to write) or from a creative standpoint (having the ability to write).

Seldom have I actually lost a post to mechanical malfunction. But this time I did...and I am none too happy about it.

At least six hours worth of story disappeared from my hard drive today, and I really have no idea why. I'm still investigating it, but the bottom line is, I'm probably gonna have to start again from scratch, so I apologize to say it, but this is all there is for now.

I feel really stupid for even posting this, but i figured I owed it to anyone who actually came back looking for the post I promised on Tuesday.


Happy Thanksgiving anyway, all. I hope it's a good one for everyone.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Justa Heads Up

Nothing to see here...yet
Yeah I know it's been awhile since my last post, but this brief note is to address that, along with accomplishing some business with Technorati.

New blog posts are coming, but life comes first. Lately I've been busy rearranging my life and doing a few freelance projects in the wake of my unfortunate workforce reduction reality episode three weeks ago.

So for the fine folks at Technorati, here ya go: HDQJAMZW7RND.

For anyone else who's interested, if you like hockey, you can find some recent material here, or, if not, just check this space tomorrow for what I hope will be a very interesting look at yet another one of my musical heroes, whom I had the privilege of finally seeing perform live last Sunday evening.

Beyond that, I have two other stories that are already half-written and will hopefully be up by the weekend.

Here's wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Talk to you soon...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

And Now On A Much Less Serious Note...

Special thanks to my pal, bbqguy for turning me on to this lil' gem.

Valkyrie didn't win an Oscar, but this clip should.

If you've ever obsessed over a band, you're gonna love it.

Good gawd I needed this. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time...like about a month now.

FWIW, the guy who did this clip, also did several similar spoofs using the same Valkyrie footage but with different subtitles (click through to YouTube to check them out); but this one was the best IMO.



Tuesday, November 03, 2009

No Longer in Flux, But Now it Sux Even Worse

Uncomfortably Numb…Again
The last time I felt this way was just over five months ago, when I learned of the impending death of my Father-in-Law.

It’s just too damn soon to feel this way again.

Yesterday I experienced another death in the family — mine…or at least that of my career at any rate.

I was laid off at my job of nearly eleven years, at which, when adding in the initial nine months I worked for The Company as a contractor before going in-house, I actually spent 11 years and 10 months of my life, devoted to one employer. That’s quite a chunk ‘a time, these days especially.

I’ll receive a nice severance package, which should keep us afloat financially until I’m able to find another job — providing of course the economy cooperates and I’m able to find full-time employment in a reasonable amount of time over the coming weeks.

Chances are more than likely that it won’t be until after the first of the year that hiring will rev up again locally, but who knows; maybe I’ll get lucky.

The reason I’m coming out with this is for those of you who’ve read between-the-lines of my previous post, as well as those new friends who have been checking up on me from my new hockey blog.

And to those who have, I’m aware of your visits and am encouraged that you care about what’s going on in my life. Thank you; I am both humbled and grateful for your concern.

But I’m also feeling a lot of other things at the moment; the strongest of which is paralysis. I’m trying to fight it off the best I can, but at the moment, I feel that I’m losing the battle.

I had never been laid off from any job before; but now I have.

I’ve never had to collect unemployment before; but now I will.

I’d never imagined that I could be so affected by something like this; but now I have been.

I’m well-acquainted with the feeling of rejection, but in my experience, being rejected has usually accompanied the realization that in some small way I’ve actually done something to deserve it.

But not this time.

This is a whole different ballgame. Even more frustrating than losing my job is the knowledge that nothing that I could have done would have prevented it.

And that sucks most of all because I’ve seen the handwriting on the wall for over a month now, and have been working my ass off to somehow stem the tide.

That’s why you haven’t seen a lot of me around in recent weeks — certainly not here, but not even on my new blog. But even though I leave with my head held high, working hard and knowing I did what I was supposed to do, to the best of my abilities, I can’t shake this feeling of helplessness and the questions that still beset me.

Could I have done more?

What did I do wrong?

And of course, the answers to these questions are: ‘no’ and ‘nothing.’

My job was eliminated. They didn’t just get rid of me because they wanted someone better. They got rid of someone who was a successfully functioning, integral part of the system — simply to cut costs.

But then again, maybe I’m over-estimating my value — and don’t think that thought hasn’t been dancing around, screamin’ in my head like a banshee.

There are just so many emotions raging through me right now.

Guilty As Charged
I know how I have viewed those who have gone before me in this economy’s crucible of job loss and forced career change. I previously felt the way any normally compassionate person would; genuine sympathy, but not empathy, as it had actually hadn’t happened to meyet..

And now that it has, there’s yet another emotion added to the cocktail of of this gawdawful gauntlet of emotions I’ve been running; guilt.

Guilt for still not doing enough to save my job, despite the fact that practically, I know there’s nothing I could have done to affect this change in my life; guilt for being selfish enough to think that those who were laid off before I was were somehow less important; guilt that I’ve placed an undue burden on my wife Michelle, who for an undisclosed period of time will have to be the sole breadwinner in our household; a role she’s neither accustomed to nor well-built to bear.

Right now I just feel like a worthless piece of crap, to be perfectly honest.

But I know that I’m not.

I know there are brighter days ahead.

I know this economy will turn around.

And most of all I know that I can survive; full-time or freelance. I was self-employed 15 out of the previous 17 years prior to coming to work for The Company; I know that I can find work. I know my skills are marketable. I know that I can adapt however necessary.

In a lot of ways, this could be one of the best things that’s happened to me in awhile; and in retrospect, I should have probably left by my own volition a long time ago.

It’s clear that I grew — if not stagnant, then most certainly, a bit too comfortable — in my position with The Company over the eleven years I was with them. There are things I could have done to avoid that, but in all reality, I really should have moved on, probably 4-5 years ago.

But can you blame me for falling in love with a compelling, creative, and challenging environment, filled with high-character individuals? I genuinely liked the people I worked with, which is probably the hardest part of this whole scenario.

I’m gonna miss my crew.

Nonetheless, better days lay ahead; of this I am certain. But now, as Michelle said to me this morning, it’s okay to grieve a little. This is no insignificant loss that I’ve suffered.

And it sucks — big time.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

It Sux to Be in Flux (Again)

Sorry doesn't cover it.
This is, I know, a feeble excuse, but it’s the only one I have right now.

I don’t have time to write, and I won’t be writing a ten-part series to explain why, either. All I can say now is that I’ll be back — soon. The only thing I’m making time for right now is (with regard to blogging), quite selfishly, a new blog on hockey that I started a few weeks ago. I’ll talk more about that here as well, just not now.

At the moment my life is in a state of flux; what kind of flux I don’t really want to say — because I don’t really know for sure, but given the current state of the economy, you can probably guess what it has to do with.

What I do know is that things are changing and I have to roll with those changes. Sometimes rolling is a lotta work, and right now I’m like a duck in the water — calm on the surface, but underneath, paddlin’ like a mofo — and hoping it’s not hunting season.

But don’t worry about me — I am and will be fine.

If you want to contact me, my email is in my profile.

If you care about the NHL and want to read what I’ve been doing, blog-wise, for the past three weeks or so, you can go here.

Again, forgive my absence from this space. I know that I had some high hopes for this current series, which is now no longer a series (and yes, JWL, you were right). It was a good exercise while it lasted, but alas, shit happens.

Shit is certainly happening right now.

Talk to you soon...


Monday, September 14, 2009

An Addendum to ‘Seduction’

Anatomy of a Time Sink
Gawd I love etymologyonline.com! And I really don’t know why that is, as I never really was all that hot about English classes in high school (although I did take a Semantics course that I really dug my senior year), but as an adult, etymology has always been a real fascination for me.

Likewise, I’ve never taken a foreign language course, let alone Latin, but one of my most oft-used browser bookmarks is to Merriam-Webster Online. I constantly cruise this extensive online dictionary site for help with word definition, usage, punctuation, and root origin information.

I’m one of those types who would list the dictionary as one of my all-time favorite reads. I’m serious; I could lose myself in a dictionary for hours. I’m fascinated by words. And I’m also fascinated by etymology; the history of words. I find it extremely interesting to find out where words came from, what their roots mean, and how their definitions and connotations have changed over the ages.

The English language, being the amalgam of so many others that it is, makes for a particularly interesting investigation of how our words were formed and developed.

But back to seduction…

So there I was, last Thursday, reading Liz Strauss’s post, when she mentioned the part about getting seduced by an idea. And then, for some reason, a context alarm went off in my head. I thought about the word ‘seduced,’ and for me, the first thought I had was ‘sexual,’ because in our culture, for the most part, sexual seduction is the context through which we perceive that word.

But that just didn’t seem right to me in this case. I fully identified with Liz’s use of the word in her statement. She definitely used the right descriptor. But when I’m ‘seduced’ by an idea; when I’m led away from one idea by a different one, it’s not because I’m thinkin’ sexy thoughts. Where did the sexual context actually come from? I needed to learn more to understand the true meaning of the word.

So first I checked Merriam-Webster, and then EtymologyOnline.com, where I discovered some interesting things about the word seduce.

When placed in a historical context, the interestingly subtle change in the word’s meaning makes for an even more poignant object lesson in human nature.

And for the record, I don’t pretend to be any kind of learned linguist.** This is just a loose interpretation, but one that makes a lot of sense to me.

**For entertainment purposes only; your mileage may vary.

I learned that the moral and sexual applications of the word, seduce (i.e.: seductive/seductress), manifested themselves about 50 years into its first attributed origin of use, in the early-middle portion of the sixteenth century. It was only at this point that its connotation gave rise to the prevailing modern interpretation of the idea of seduction being ‘immoral’ or ‘sexual’ in nature. Quite to the contrary, in its original Latin root components, the word is much more neutral in its moral stance.

The original usage context of seduce was, “to persuade a vassal (a feudal servant or slave), etc., to desert his allegiance or service.” In other words, seduce simply describes the act of leading a feudal slave away from his duty. It does not necessarily insinuate the act to be evil or immoral.

Seduce’s Latin root word, seducere simply means “lead away, or lead astray;” formed by the component parts, se — “aside, away” + ducere — “to lead.”

I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t see any moral judgment there, but I guess it just depends on your point of view.

It’s interesting to note that according to most historical accounts, the early 1500s were the beginning of the end of the feudal system in Europe.

Oh the times, they were a-changin.’

The Middle Ages were over and so was the status quo (seein’ as how we seem to be on this Latin kick). The old guard obviously wasn't too terribly jazzed about this brave new world and its gradual disintegration of the feudal system.

Just as the abolition of slavery in the United States was met with extreme resistance from the establishment that had previously profited from it, the feudal kings and land barons who depended on those vassals to make their land productive couldn’t have been too happy when their way of life began to come to an end.

Again, this is just speculation on my part, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume that things worked much the same way then as they do now, with the noble and powerful, exerting control over opinion and most likely, language as well.

Is it therefore any less likely that a word, whose original meaning was purely descriptive, and without pejorative connotation, could be ‘turned’ by an establishment that disagreed with its action, than one of modern vintage, such as the word, ‘gay,’ whose ‘recent’ connotation over the past 100 years as a slang descriptor for homosexuality, has forever overshadowed its original meaning and primary usage from the previous six centuries?

It’s an interesting thing to consider, and one that I’m quite sure, if properly fleshed out, could very likely be a common theme in the evolution of our language.

Time sink concluded, now back to the series…

Next: The Difference Between ‘Alone’ and ‘Lonely’

Sunday, September 13, 2009

SOBbin’ (continued)

Time Stinks…er…I Mean…Sinks
Continuing to continue the conversation from Liz Strauss’s blog, on Thursday September 10th, 2009, the topic was, as she describes them: ‘time sinks’.

Liz says, ‘time sinks;’ I say, ‘black holes’ — but whatever moniker you wish to use — they’re creative enigmas wrapped in a practical riddle; that which simultaneously robs us of our creative energy while we are in the process of creating, and are often responsible for our being drawn away from those projects that we sometimes start but never seem to finish.

Time sinks can come in different forms; from the legitimate components of the creative process — like brainstorming and refining a project theme, to the practical evils of necessity in getting a job done — like research, or necessary governmental and/or legal due diligence.

For her part, Liz has focused on the spinning and development of ideas as her nominee for time suck numero uno. She invites us to think about the stumbling blocks that the rest of us encounter in comparison, offering,
“Getting ideas is so much fun. Making them happen is where the real work starts.

We lose interest, find a flaw, get seduced by a new idea, or land a job that offers more.

Have you found that the biggest time sink on the web are ideas that never get done?”
This, as are so many of Liz’s topics, just so apropos to my modus operandi, (which is why I’m doing this series in the first place), that it’s simply uncanny.

And then again it may not just be coincidental, but rather a common circumstance that other creative people with short attention spans (like me) experience over the course of everyday life.

However the one thing I wanted to key upon really isn’t any kind of exposition regarding the chasing of ideas down the rabbit hole, but rather my personal version of the time sink phenomenon (which not so coincidentally, I’ve been forced to deal with in the writing of this story).

Seduced by Seduction
Now I don’t consider myself an ‘idea guy,’ although I am called upon fairly often to contribute to brainstorming sessions at work, where everyone comes up with ideas regarding themes and such for the conferences and events our department is involved with.

Generally speaking, however, I consider my strong suit in that area to be a little less than the ‘nuts & bolts’ logistics that are essential in giving a project legs. Rather, I’m the type that is better suited at things like finding a clever turn of a phrase in naming a product or theme, or something else in a similar lighthearted vein.

But while that’s a large part of my external personality, it’s far from who I am as a whole. I might be a goofball on the surface, but my serious side in an equal part of my identity.

I think; a lot; sometimes too much. Oftentimes I’ll become drawn into an internal conversation so much that I lose the direction of my original thought. I’ll suddenly stop and marvel at how far off the track my train of thought had traveled. Does that ever happen to you? Unfortunately I do that when writing stories as well.

So when Liz listed, getting “seduced by a new idea” as one of the symptoms of a time sink, I stood up and took notice. That as much as anything had been the bane of my existence as a writer.

When I first began this blog, there were no roadblocks to my motivation or ability to tell the hundreds of stories that were practically bursting from my head. I’ve always written for myself first and readers second, so there was no concern about making my early blog entries ‘sexy’ for those other than myself. Frankly I never really thought anyone else would read them. I didn’t need to try and make them interesting — they just were — to me, and that was all that mattered.

Likewise, I didn’t need to work for story line material. The compelling issues of my family’s battles with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease, the fact that my Dad married my Aunt, and that a little boy from a hick country town in Indiana ended up making good in a place so far away (physically as well as culturally) as Los Angeles is more than enough guts to build a few good stories around.

However my problem with ‘seduction’ began a couple years ago — after my life’s history had pretty much been told. That was the point where I realized how much work this gig can be. And given how much I’ve struggled with it, sometimes I scoff at the notion that I even fancy myself being a writer.

I began to find myself in a consistently frustrating place when embarking on a story: I would begin with guns a’ blazin’ — knowing (or so I thought) exactly where I was going with a thought or opinion. Then two or three pages into the tale, the realization would befall that I was so far off course that I practically had two completely separate stories written instead of just one.

Why it happens is still a mystery to me. It’s not an insurmountable problem if I recognize it early enough to head it off before it ruins the flow of the piece I’m writing. However, the damage inflicted is in the time sink, and the way it affects both the limited amount of time I have to write in the first place, as well as the creative energy the whole re-work process drains me of.

It has caused me on numerous occasions to abandon multi-part series, not because I’ve lost interest, but because I just don’t have the time to go back into them and re-sync my mind into that scenario once again.

And that again speaks to this idea the Liz threw out there, of the ‘seduction’ of new ideas drawing us away from completing projects: I don’t feel as though I ‘have time’ to go back and finish these incomplete stories, why? Because there are now ‘new’ stories that occupy my mind and beg to be written.

See what I mean? It’s a particularly vicious cycle.

BTW, that’s really all I wanted to say about my personal time sink demons. I’m workin’ on ‘em, and as I mentioned previously, this effort to base a week’s worth of posts on Liz Strauss’s SOB Blog topics is in large part an exercise in breaking free of the over-thought that has crept into my writing.

Somewhat ironically, I have an addendum to this story that’s actually an example of the problem (and why this particular post is two full days late). Nevertheless I found it interesting, so I’ll share it as a separate post.

It’s about that word, ‘seduce,’ and its connotation in our modern lexicon.

NextAn Addendum to ‘Seduction’

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Lost Weekend
I've been knee-deep in Facebook and Twitter for the past couple months, and while I've enjoyed myself immensely, I've finally arrived at the realization that in so doing I've been — perhaps subconsciously — involving myself in these new media vehicles not only because they're fun, but also because they're a lot easier than blogging.

As I’ve mentioned before, it seems I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch in my motivation to write lately, due in no small part to the even drier patch I struck about two years ago with relation to coming up with new story material.

Problem is, I’ve pretty much always written only about my life, my family, and my moods. Unfortunately, over the course of five-plus years’ blogging, I think I’ve pretty much told the lion’s share of my life’s story, so the only thing left is my mood — and right now my mood stinks. I'm not inspired; I'm not motivated; I’m not really happy, but I’m not sad either. Usually one of those four things are at the personal forefront whenever I write. But right now, I got nothin’ — zippo; zilch; nada; the big donut.

This past Labor Day weekend brought my circumstance into focus.

It felt like a completely wasted five days to me — I had taken additional vacation days on Thursday and Friday to augment the three-day weekend and make it a mini-vacation. I’d had every intention of making it a blogging vacation. My wife was out of town visiting our daughter in Atlanta; I had four solid days with which to work. One would think I could at least ply a couple decent posts in that amount of time. Instead I got nothing done, apart from posting some photos on Facebook along with my typical Saturday barrage of activity on Twitter. Sure, I had some other tasks around the house that needed attention, and I did them. However I still had plenty of time with which to write if I’d applied myself; but I didn't. I just wasn’t inspired. I just wasn’t feelin’ it.

However, don’t get me wrong; my purpose for this gloomy preface really isn’t about flogging myself for having writer’s block; One positive thing did arise from my lost weekend: the realization of why it was lost in the first place. Things have been coming to a head in that regard for a long time, and as a result I’ve finally realized that I must somehow push back in order to stem the tide.

What I’m experiencing isn’t new or different from what every other writer who’s ever lived experiences from time to time. I just didn’t believe it would happen to me. I’ve needed a reason to do something different, and now I’ve got one. I’m going to experiment with something that hopefully will kill a flock ‘o seagulls with one stone.

I’ve decided to get past my dearth of inspiration by drawing some from another who never seems to run out of ideas, and who actually encourages folks like me to do what I’m going to do; to “carry on the conversation” to venues beyond her own blog; to add ideas and opinions that will hopefully spur others to do the same..

The LIZ-a-nator
Say what you will about the ‘preaching to the choir’ nature of Twitter, but this sometimes incestuous echo chamber of the social media channel isn’t entirely composed of regurgitated material. While some of the medium’s mavens can come off as at least slightly egocentric and self-absorbed, there are still many more who leave even the most personable ‘real-time’ types looking like narcissists.

One of these marvelous folks is Liz Strauss. Now Liz and I aren’t pals, per ce, but I’m certain that if ever we were to meet she would treat me like a dear old friend. Out in the Twitterverse those kind of personal characteristics can sometimes be a mirage, but in Liz’s case, after observing her for nearly an entire year, I believe that what you read really is what you get — either that or she should drop this gig and become a politician, ‘cuz she’s a natural.

Tawk amongst y’selves...
A highly sought-after conference and public speaker, one of the daily irons in the fire of Liz Strauss’s career is the support and evangelization of blogging in social media. She herself pens three blogs, one of which is targeted directly at the support and growth of other bloggers.

Successful and Outstanding Bloggers (or, S.O.B. for short) is Liz’s daily invitation to hack thru the kudzu; an opportunity to apply fresh opinions to fresh ideas and release them into the blogosphere. Simply stated, Liz choses a topic, often one that’s been brewing on Twitter or other social media outlets for the previous 24 hours, and places it on the table à la Mike Meyers’ SNL character, Linda Richman, to “talk amongst yourselves.” The effect can be manifold. First, it extends the discussion beyond its original bounds and potentially brings many more people into the conversation, providing new ways of looking at a subject, creating ideas and story material for others to write about, which can in turn spawn countless other potential conversations.

It’s a great concept, and nobody does it better than Liz. So, considering my current plight of not having anything compelling to write about, I figured I would take the opportunity to exercise my SOB genes and give it a try.

For the next seven days (or as often as Liz updates her SOB blog seven times) I plan to continue the conversation and see where it leads.

Wednesday’s topic was particularly apropos to what I’ve been involving myself with lately: Twitter and Facebook. Liz asked, “What IS Facebook” — not as in a literal definition, but rather as in relation to Twitter as a metaphor for a conversation. Some of the respondents to Liz’s poll related it to a party, whereas Twitter was more like a business meeting, “a huge networking room,” as someone put it.

The opinions were fairly varied, but whatever the analogy, the basic difference thing fairly unanimous: Twitter is the more formal of the two media, primarily because of its more restrictive 140-character input limit. And while conversations are trackable through the use of hashtags and more readily available with alternative Twitter interface apps like TweetDeck, that 140 character limit for responses just seems to create an air of formality that sometimes is hard to break through.

Facebook has no such barriers. It’s threaded commenting interface makes it easy to follow even lengthy conversations in a way that Twitter simply can’t do well on its own.

However the judging the physical merits of the two social media clients wasn’t really the question here, but rather, what they represent in comparison, metaphorically.

Liz Strauss’s initial question on the table was “What is Facebook”? She then refined that by adding, “If Twitter is a huge networking room, what is Facebook?

Allow me now to wax a little metaphorical…

Twitter is indeed a huge room; one whose only networking limitation is your willingness to walk up to someone and say hello. Some folks you encounter may indeed ignore your engagement, but if you’re genuine, and have something worthwhile to say, people are highly likely to return that engagement, albeit only 140-characters at a time.

Personally I love Twitter. I love the rapid-fire tenor of the conversations flying back and forth. It can be challenging to follow the story at times, but it’s never dull.

Facebook on the other hand is more like a large, but private, hospitality suite; big enough to house a large group of your closest friends or acquaintances you’d like to become friends, but intimate enough to hold lengthy conversations with any number of those friends, complete with the sharing of photos, videos, or even a party game or two.

So despite the fact that I still prefer Twitter, Facebook has really been growing on me of late, as I begin to plugin more and more to the lives of former high school mates and family members who are discovering its value as a connection tool.

Bottom line is, both are equally valuable for accomplishing the mission of social media, particularly as potential business applications — but that’s another discussion (and metaphor) for another time.

I promise it won’t be quite as long-winded.

NextContinuing the Conversation

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Unfinished Business 2009 (Vol 1, No 1)

Welcome to two months ago.
A little more than a year ago, I embarked upon a personal experiment, holding myself up to public scrutiny in the process.

...And failed miserably.

In an attempt to goad myself into begin writing again on a more consistent basis, I promised here in this space, to finish what I had started but not completed: my goal was to post the concluding parts to four series, as well as four short stories that had languished for a year or more in various stages of incompleteness.

Oh, and did I mention that I proposed to do all this in three weeks?

Oh well. At least I managed to get four posts out of the deal, which in recent years is actually pretty good output for me in three weeks’ time.

Additionally, part of that proposal was to backdate the new/old series posts to keep them in chronological order with the the original story parts; then to post a current page (like this one) with links directing readers to the new parts.

Trouble was, I never actually finished any of the four series I was attempting to get sewn up, so I never had any reason to post the backlinks.

But this time I’m gonna do it right…ehhhxcept that now I’m doing it for yet another series that I let slide; one, however, that is quite a bit more recent — as in two months instead of two years old.

It’s the conclusion to The Eagle Has Landed, a tribute to my Father In-Law, who passed on June 7, 2009. I managed to get two of the eventual five parts of the series written and posted before an unfortunate event — one nearly as unfortunate as Ed’s death itself — reared its ugly head and robbed me of my motivation.

However all that’s in the rear-view now, and I decided that I would today finish what I started, both to honor this great man, and maybe…possibly… get myself back on the blog beam once again.

I mean this makes six posts in eight days — not too bad for ol’ slothmeister, AJ (but I’ll try to do better…).

So if you’d like to pick up where story left off left off, click here. This will take you to Part II, an intermediate post that ‘sort of’ explains what derailed my original attempts to get this tribute out in a timely manner (you’ll understand why I can’t be more specific after you read it).

On the other hand, if you didn’t get a chance to read it from the beginning, you can do so by clicking here and return to the Epilogue.

I’ve never before asked anyone to read my posts; I’m asking you to read this.

Please join me in honoring a great man, my Father In-Law Ed C.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

John Hughes Addendum

About Yesterday…
Okay. I was originally going to include all this yesterday, as a postscript to my longer-than-I-wanted-it-to-be tribute to John Hughes, but thought better of it for one very good (think: War And Peace) reason.

Nonetheless, today is another day, this is another post, and I’ve had nearly 24 hours to really think about what I wish to say here.

First, please understand that I was so torn up about John Hughes death as to be all but paralyzed. I wanted to write something, anything, that might convey the sadness with which I met the news of his loss to us all, but I really didn’t know how to say it, given the power of his legacy as a ‘Teen movie guy.’

You see, as I kind of indicated in the last post, I never really got that from John Hughes. I wasn’t one of the young people he connected with in the 80s. I never even saw one of his movies in the theater until Home Alone in 1990 — when I was in my mid-thirties, and just a year before he all but bowed out of limelight after directing his last major motion picture (Curly Sue) in ‘91.

As in so many other circumstances in my life, I was late to the party.

I never saw The Breakfast Club until probably the late 90s, because I really never thought it was for me.

I know that Home Alone was the ‘a-ha moment’ for me with regard to Hughes’ films, but perhaps just as great a revelation was Uncle Buck, a movie I very much doubt that Hughes — or John Candy — ever got enough credit for. THAT was the one that cemented John Hughes’ genius for me. But again, I saw it only several years later, after Hughes had stepped away from the Director’s Chair.

So here was my dilemma: I really didn’t know how to fashion what I rather felt was a relatively ‘johnny-come-lately-to-the-John-Hughes-bandwagon’ experience without sounding just that: like a bandwagon-jumper-on’er.

A Shout Out to a Couple’a Bloggers
So, all that to say, there is a reason why I was able to put my emotions into words yesterday. There is one person in particular who paved the way for me, without whose honesty I wouldn’t have been able to pull out of myself what I very much wanted to say about this humble, gifted, and genuine filmmaker.

An important acknowledgment of gratitude is actually due to two bloggers, without either of whom I likely would not have written yesterday’s post: Brian Clark and Alison Byrne Fields.

Brian is a tremendous writer and a really interesting guy. His blog, Copyblogger may on the surface seem to be all business, but his posts and the persona he exhibits on Twitter reveal the heart of a very personable, well-grounded individual. The kind of guy you could really enjoy hanging out with.

I’m a big fan of Brian’s, but have never been so grateful to him as yesterday morning, when he tweeted a link to a story of another blogger; an author whom I did not know, but whom, as I would learn later on (much to her chagrin, BTW), has become somewhat of an overnight Internet celebrity for her heartfelt post last Thursday John Hughes passing, and in particular, the pen-pal friendship the two held from 1985-87.

Alison Byrne Fields is a talented woman with an impressive career apart from her blog, however the publicity of her John Hughes story has apparently taken on a life of its own. The post registered well over eleven hundred comments less than 48 hours. Add in the interviews on NPR and full reprints of her post in the New York Times, and, well, you can understand why all the attention might be a little unnerving.

Her most recent blog post details the shell-shock she’s experienced, and for me reveals in no uncertain terms her true motives in revealing something that that could easily be perceived — and has, by a very few — as little more than a publicity grab.

I don’t believe for a moment that her intentions were anything short of a desire to confirm what we already knew about John Hughes, through the intrinsic nature of his work. I applaud her for her courage and her generosity for sharing such a personal treasure with us.

The Rest of the Story
Alison had mentioned her warm, yet distant relationship with Hughes a few times previously in her blog, but never called it out as any kind of claim to fame. She even admitted just last summer that she indeed knew why Hughes had disappeared from Hollywood, but sprightly declined to reveal the reason. She said that she wished to honor the fact that if the man himself didn’t want to talk about why he decided to step out from under the spotlight’s glare, than neither would she.

In retrospect I believe I appreciate her for that more than anything else she would do later. However, when that part did come this past Thursday, she granted us all the greatest of favors.

Alison finally told the story in detail, from the beginning.

In 1985, following a I’m-pouring-out-my-heart letter to Hughes, thanking him for making The Breakfast Club, the movie that made her “feel like he got what it was like to be a teenager and to feel misunderstood,” she received an unexpected reply.

Really unexpected.

Instead of a personal reply acknowledging her candid and heartfelt thank you letter to Mr. Hughes, she instead received a form letter, along with some Breakfast Club fan club paraphernalia.

Rightfully incensed, she fired back a letter to Hughes, blasting him for the ‘inappropriate response.’

Obviously realizing the seriousness of the influence his work had struck, and being the kind of person he has now demonstrated himself to be, Hughes wrote back apologizing, and later agreed to become pen pals with his young fan. Over the course of the next two years they exchanged letters, forging an active friendship that would last for many more.

Alison would keep Hughes abreast of what was going on with her life; with boys, with her parents; her pursuit of writing, her challenges, dealing with critical teachers, and her dreams for the future.

Hughes’ encouraging responses were more than lip-service. He shared insights, movie ideas, things that anyone, regardless of age would be thrilled to receive from a man of his stature.

He made her feel significant.

“I can't tell you how much I like your comments about my movies,” he would write, “Nor can I tell you how helpful they are to me for future projects. I listen. Not to Hollywood. I listen to you.”

“You've already received more letters from me than any living relative of mine has received to date,” Hughes confided at one point. “Believe in yourself. Think about the future once a day and keep doing what you’re doing. Because I’m impressed.”

Alison obviously took his advice. She would go on to a career that has been heavily involved in advocacy and non-profit concerns, including such notable positions as Creative Director and Chief Strategist of the late 90s ‘Rock the Vote’ initiative, and has also worked with a variety of private and governmental agencies on the formation of policies to combat the AIDS pandemic around the world.

She as well has been a driving force in the development of the use of social media strategies to promote issues advocacy, and currently holds the position of SVP/Group Account Director, Issues & Advocacy/Social Media Strategy Director for global Ad Agency giant, DDB.

Is it any wonder this former ‘misunderstood’ teen would impress John Hughes?

The Right Reasons
Alison Byrne Fields didn’t ‘need’ the story of her friendship with John Hughes in order to receive her fifteen minutes of fame. Hell, she was already going on her fifteenth hour…

She didn’t need to curry favor with the world by revealing the full story, including the contents of that fateful telephone conversation she and Hughes shared in 1997. She did it because she’s honest, and I believe, she wanted the world to know the true heart of the man; someone we already respected, but realize now even more how well-placed that honor has been.

John Hughes walked away from a movie career, making millions, in favor of a simple life on a working farm in rural Illinois. He did it, not because of any physical stress that lifestyle cost him, but rather out of concern for what it could do to his family. He feared that his sons could “lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant.”

He walked away for the right reasons; he placed his family first. As always, his heart was in the right place.

So was Alison’s.

That was the incentive I needed. That was the light bulb that suddenly cleared the cobwebs from my emotionally-tangled head. THAT was who John Hughes was, and that’s exactly what comes through in his movies.

Thank you, Alison.

Rest well, Mister Hughes.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

He Made Us Comfortable in Someone Else’s Skin

What a lousy year…
I’m really not in the mood to write today, but I feel I must. I need to do so in order to pay tribute on at least a somewhat timely basis to the passing of yet another luminary in our culture whose life has come to a premature end; a man whose movies defined a generation in a way that may never be duplicated: reknowned 1980s writer/director/producer, John Hughes.

Photo courtesy Cinetext/Allstar

Over the past three months I’ve started and stopped at least four stories regarding the notable lives that 2009 has claimed; the list is staggering. It seems that each time I try to express my regret for one of the individuals who has passed, another one drops off and I’m once again crippled by grief and have to set it aside.

On June 25th we experienced the double-whammy of losing both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson within mere hours of one another. And though these were the two who captured the attention of the TeeVee news magazines for weeks, there were others who preceded them. Giants of significance to me, in the personal, entertainment, pop culture, and political arenas; names like Ed McMahon, my Father In-Law, David Carradine, Dan Miller, Chuck Daly, Dom Deluise, Jack Kemp, Bea Arthur, Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych, Paul Harvey, James Whitmore, Andrew Wyeth, and the great Ricardo Montalbán.

But the Grim Reaper wasn’t finished in June; he kept right on going, and has in just the past six weeks claimed the additional lives of Walter Cronkite, Robert McNamara, Steve McNair, and Karl Malden.

Now if you’re looking at that list and either scratching your head because there’s a bunch of names there you either don’t recognize — or in whose passing you weren’t quite moved enough to really feel bad about, well, no worries here. Chances are you’re not 53 years old, have split your lifetime between LA and Nashville, and/or are married to the daughter of a late, former Apollo 11 Moon Mission engineer.

You Just Never Know
We all have our own individual list of people that have touched our lives; its not the same for everyone, just as we also wield our own sphere of influence that touches the lives of others.

Sometimes that influence is through incidental contact; other times it’s quite intentional. Sometimes it’s a part of our job; other times it’s none of our freaking business. Sometimes our influence is a good thing; other times it’s the worst thing that we could possibly do to another person.

There’s one constant in all of this however, and that is that we never know.

We never know how just a look from us can change another person’s day; how an encouraging word can either make or break a child; how the conscious decision to NOT let our ill mood affect our response can make all the difference in the outcome of an inter-personal situation.

We never know how years of direct exposure to another soul can either mold that person’s character for good, or cast an irrevocable die of pain upon their life.

We just never know.

My all-time personal favorite quote — the single greatest influence I have ever received from a poet, is displayed in the masthead of my blog. It’s not from a poem, but is from the heart of a wise and inspired poetess, Maya Angelou:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This has become my mantra; something I attempt to use to govern my actions; to make each and every contact with another person a positive one, because…you never know.

A Hughe(s) Loss
John Hughes probably had a clue, but I doubt he ever knew just how influential his movies were, or how much he would be missed when he left us this past Thursday.

I sure as hell didn’t know how it would affect me.

And the thing is, at the time I heard the news, I really didn’t know why I was so shaken.

Perhaps it was just the straw-that-broke-the camel’s-back of this god-forsaken ‘another one bites the dust’ kind-of-year.

Perhaps it was the fact that just a few days earlier I had actually done a Google search on Hughes to try and find out what he was up to. I hadn’t heard anything about him making movies in what seemed like forever. Was he ill or just laying low? Why had he dropped out of the limelight? Why had he not directed a single feature film since the early 90s?

And then came Thursday...and he was gone.

The irony was simply too sharp. I really had to swallow hard as I read aloud to my co-workers the news of John Hughes death from the press release I received via email late Thursday afternoon.

I felt as though someone had punched me in the gut.

The man was 59 years old — just six years my senior. I had no idea. I’d always assumed him to be was much older than that. I’d never even seen a picture of him prior to that news release.

I guess I knew a different John Hughes. The filmmaker I admired was perhaps different than the one whose movies you connected with as a teenager. I was well beyond my teens in the 1980s, but instead was traveling through my late twenties and into my thirties by the time Hughes’ films exploded upon the scene.

Hughes’ original Brats: (clockwise from left) Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, and Molly Ringwald
Photo courtesy WashingtonPost.com

I was, by MY generation’s directive, almost ready to join the ranks of ‘those not to be trusted’ when The Breakfast Club hit the theaters in 1985.

Oh, and did I mention, I what an ASS I was back then, too?

In the mid-80s I used to bristle at Generation X, as they recently had been dubbed. The kids born after the mid-60s; those malcontents who listened to Punk Rock, dyed their hair chartreuse, and spent their time yakking about ‘No Nukes.’ These were the age and experience group that John Hughes’ films were directed to the most.

I realized at the time that this must have been how my parent’s generation felt about me and my mates in the 60s, when the first so-called ‘generation gap’ formed.

I was aware of The Breakfast Club, although not necessarily cognizant of Hughes per se. What I did know, however, was the ‘Brat Pack’ — this group of up-and-coming actors, and how they were being hyped as ‘the next big thing’ in Hollywood. The Breakfast Club was ostensibly the birth of the Brat Pack, as noted in the 1985 New York magazine cover story which popularized the phrase.

Yeah, they were brats alright, I thought. Kids these days.

I just rolled my eyes.

But as has so often in my life been demonstrated, I later realized that I needed to stop assuming things that weren’t necessarily true. I mean, you know what they say about ASSuming…

So I went to a different ‘Brat Pack’ movie that came out that same year: St. Elmo’s Fire. It wasn’t a John Hughes film, but its ensemble cast featured three of the Breakfast Club’s five principles, including Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson.

I loved it.

But enough about brats; back to John Hughes.

An Overdue Present
I may have given the Brat Pack a second chance in 1985, but would continue to be late to the John Hughes love-fest for another five years, until a screaming kid would force us to take him to a movie about another screaming kid: Macaulay Culkin in his portrayal of the precocious Kevin McCallister, in Hughes’ comedic masterpiece, Home Alone.

Our kids were ages eight and six in December, 1990, and Home Alone was all the rage among most of the young parents we knew. So after much cajoling from our son Shawn, we treated the kids to the now-classic Chrismastime flick — which they loved.

However it was I who received the long-overdue present at the movie theater that day: the gift of John Hughes.

There are two movies from the Early 90s that simply enrapture me, not necessarily for their production values, or even their story lines alone, but rather the aesthetics created by the combination of those two elements that infuse the mind of the viewer.

One film, about which I’ve written fairly often in previous stories, is City Slickers — both for it’s breathtaking cinematography of the West and its humorous-yet-gripping truths about a man saying goodbye to his youth.

Home Alone is the other, and probably for exact opposite reason. Oh it’s funny, silly, and all of those things that one would expect from a plot about a young boy who believes he’s made his family disappear, but there was something more in it for me.

Home Alone reconnected me to my childhood — not that I ever spent any time fending off burglars by greasing up the basement steps or pretending I was a gangster joyously filling my enemies full’a lead.

What I got out of the movie — and the numerous other John Hughes films I would subsequently rent and devour over the years that followed, was pure John Hughes; a guy who was a child of the Midwest, just like me; a child of the 50s and 60s, just like me; and a filmmaker who poured out just the right amount of that part of his life into every movie he made.

I don’t really know how else to define it, but the ‘feeling’ of Kevin McCallister’s neighborhood in suburban Chicago is exactly how it ‘felt’ in similar settings throughout the Midwest I grew up in. The flavor was unmistakable to me. And amid all the movie’s laughs and high-jinx was the poignancy of this connective tissue that bound it all together.

This wasn’t just a movie about a kid in suburban America, it was a movie about me. And I’m certain that the way Hughes affected me in Home Alone is the same way so many GenXers felt about The Breakfast Club.

He made us feel connected.

John Hughes didn’t just make movies about teens; he made movies about the human spirit — weaving characters into whom we could lose ourselves and identify; seeing our lives through their eyes for just a little while, and then returning us to reality a little more enlightened; a little more encouraged to go out and make the world our own. He had a remarkable ability to speak to the heart, whether in laughter or in angst, making us comfortable in someone else’s skin.

And he will be missed.

Next: John Hughes — addendum

Friday, August 07, 2009

Dood...We Were Jobbed.

Say it Ain’t So, Joe(job)
If you’re a fan of micro-blogging medium, Twitter, I think you’d agree that yesterday morning was just a bit of a bummer. Our Daily Affirmation-in-a-(Dialog) Box was wrested from us for better than six hours (depending on your locality) by what was originally assumed to be a coordinated DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on several social media vehicles, including Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal and YouTube, but which is now believed to actually have been directed at silencing the political views of one individual; a well-known anti-Russian blogger, who has been particularly vocal in his criticism of the Kremlin’s policies toward the Republic of Georgia. I actually found that somewhat easier to stomach than the usual ‘because I can’ reasons many hackers choose as motivation for their mischief.

But politics aside, what I found most appalling of all wasn’t the kill-the-fly-with-a-hand-grenade approach that was taken in carrying out their mission, but rather the mindless assist these hackers got from the general public in accomplishing it.

This was no a sophisticated surgical strike of technical programming prowess, folks. It was a freaking ‘Joe job.’

What’s a ‘Joe job?’ you ask? Well the term was a new one on me too until I read this newsflash from the British IT website, The Register. To quote the author, “Joe jobs are spam messages that are designed not to push Viagra but to induce someone to click on a link in the hopes of harming the site being linked to.”

Sounds harmless enough. I mean, we’ve all received and deleted hundreds of these spam emails over the years; even more that we don’t see are corralled by our email client’s spam filters. But should one or two a day slip through, we know not to even open them, much less click on the links they offer, right? I mean what are we, stupid?


Dis and DDoS
DDoS attacks are usually performed by malicious software (or ‘bots’) exacting furious request activity on a particular web site or service, over a short period of time; the result being overloaded servers and the target site being rendered inaccessible. Since DDos bots can’t be everywhere and thereby are traceable by IP address, their attacks are usually short-lived. However in this case, the attackers were people all over the world — who didn’t even realize they were attacking. And when thousands of people worldwide click the same links at essentially the same time, the impact is virtually impossible to combat; you just have to wait it out and hope that the damage of being out o’ commission was minimal.

So there you have it. What we thought were the coordinated efforts of cunning hackers in the shadows, perhaps making a power statement on the highly visible stage of the social media Web, now appears to have actually been an old-school, comparatively unsophisticated attack that became insurmountable only through the unwitting collaboration of thousands of know-nothing link-clickers in broad daylight.

The Register article explains:
"This was not like a botnet-style DDoS; this was a joejob where people were just clicking on links in email and the people clicking on the links were not malefactors. They were just the sort of idiots that click on links in email without knowing what they are."
Bill Woodcock, Research Director, Packet Clearing House
Now I don’t know about you, but THAT pisses me off a helluva lot worse than the thought of some pimple-faced hacker dude, holed up in his Mom’s basement, hatching a plan to receive his fifteen minutes of fame.

But whatvs. People either get it or they don’t. But if they don’t understand the implications of their carelessness now, will they ever learn?

When will folks understand that clicking on links in emails you receive from unknown sources just to see where it goes is about as smart as sticking your finger in a light socket just to see if it’s on?

♫ And I get on my knees and pray...We won’t get fooled again ♪
Y’know, I can’t help but think the person or persons who actually launched this joe job are feeling like they just won the lottery. They must be bustin’ their buttons over their unexpected brilliance right about now. I mean this has gotta be better than Christmas for these guys.

Not so much for the rest of us, however.

Traditional DDoS attacks can be mitigated. User carelessness/stupidity cannot.

You don’t think other would-be copycat hackers are taking notes here? I mean, c’mon people.

Look before you leap.

Think before you click.

Google before you ogle.

This scenario could (and likely will) be repeated. It’s up to us to defuse the idiot-bomb before it explodes on our faces again once again.

WE caused Twitter, Facebook and the others to go down.

WE were the ones who made Joe Hacker’s job easier than it should have been.

And WE can be the ones to keep it from happening again.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, What Do I Get?

Moody Tuesday Afternoon
I love The Moody Blues. Being a child of the 60s and 70s, I cut my musical teeth on the great bands of Rock ‘N Roll’s ‘British Invasion.’ First of course were the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but later, around the turn of the decade, came the incredible age of Progressive Rock, which (quite unofficially, by my own recollection) seems to have lasted from about 1968 to 1974, before that abominable ‘Disco’ movement came and completely enveloped the Pop landscape like kudzu in a forest.

The Moody Blues, who like many pop giants of that era have enjoyed revival periods in recent years, long after their salad days had passed, still occasionally performing, but no longer producing any real new material — and to be fair, really don't need to. Their fans are more than happy to simply come to their shows to hear the old stuff and relive their youth.

Speaking of old stuff, today is my 53rd birthday, and if you were expecting a mini-expose on Progressive Rock, I hate to disappoint ya. No, this is gonna be another one of my like-‘em-or-loathe-‘em naval gazer episodes.

I need to vent a little bit here, and my prior mention of The Moodies relates to something I've actually thought about for a long time, but which came into special meaning for me today, while pondering the events of the past several months.

If you are indeed a fan of the Moody Blues, then doubtless you recognized the title of my post as being derivative of their classic 1971 album Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, which produced one of their biggest singles, The Story in Your Eyes. That album came out in July of that year, while I was in transition from Junior High to High School. Those were some heady times in my life as I’m sure they were in yours. Self-discovery; the longing for love and meaning in life; the formation of a personal world-view and purpose; the beginning of that awkward transformation from boy to man.

These are the struggles we all faced more-or-less during that important late-adolescent-to-teen period, and being the melancholy soul that I am, I often return in my mind to bathe in the waters of that time in my life, comparing who and what I thought I was, to the person I ultimately have become.

Sometimes I like what I see as the a mature man who conquered his fears, and the social obstacles that could have held him back, to become a successful family man of 30-plus years, with likewise a great deal of positive experience in all aspects of professional and personal life.

Yet there are still other times (although thankfully, not so many), in which I wonder how I'm still standing; how it is that still have a job, why my wife hasn't long since left me, and how the HELL I'm ever gonna make it to retirement.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Where the aforementioned Moody Blues album comes into play is simply in its title: ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.’ (I especially like the British spelling of the word, ‘favour’ — but I digress...)

In its definition as a noun, the connotation of ‘favour’ is that of a ‘gift.’ Merriam Webster defines it as a friendly regard shown toward another, especially by a superior, or, as an approving consideration or attention; approbation; partiality; along with the more archaic definitions of leniency and permission.

Sounds good, doesn’t it; especially if you're a ‘good boy’ like me...

What a concept...album
One of the hallmarks of the Progressive Rock era was the preponderance of the ‘concept album.' These still exist today, but not nearly to the extent that they did in the late 60s and more specifically, the early 70s. But while they may not have held to the purest of the concept album definition, The Moody Blues were at least, in my opinion, the masters of the concept album title.

While their works might not have been rock operas, their album titles were never the staid, regurgitated monikers of one cut they hoped would sell the collection. The vast majority of their album titles were centered around themes rather than the more common modern practice of the so-called 'title cut,' as seen so often today. Most of the Moodies' album titles have been cleverly-crafted phrases, oftentimes pointing to the overall theme of the album's collection of songs, or simply taking a common phrase and turning it on its ear as it were.

Such is the case of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. The album's theme is introspection; the desire to make sense of one's individual life — something that people seemed to spend a lot more energy doing back in the 60s and 70s than than they seem to now. And since that's a concept that's pretty much in the wheelhouse of my emotional makeup, the phrase has captured my imagination for the past 38 years.

But what's so great about it is the fact that the title's original context really isn't all that deep. It's a popular mnemonic phrase used in musical circles to help students remember the notes on the treble clef: E, G, B, D, and F. But as in the case of most of their albums, The Moody Blues' wonderful ability to turn that phrase, coupled with the album's wonderful cover artwork transforms this common, somewhat pedestrian ditty into something more; something mystical and deep in its implications — well, to me, anyway.

If every good boy deserves favour, then what do I get? What do I deserve? Did I receive it already, or is it still coming?

Inquiring 53 year-old minds want to know.

Hell Week II
I didn't think that I could have a worse week than the one that preceded my father In-Law's death last month, but this one was pretty darned close. No there were no deaths in the family, but the fallout from my performance at work, could very well leave my career on life support.

Yeah, I know it’s been awhile since I played the ‘woe is me, I’m gonna lose my job’ card, but fear not; I won’t be burdening you with that sentiment. Nonetheless, the possibility definitely exists that if the powers that be at The Company where I work have any ideas of getting rid of me, they’d likely have just cause. It’s not a case of my crashing into the Bosses’ car in the parking lot or anything like that; no, this was something much more innocent, although no less egregious.

It was an innocent mistake, yet one that may actually cost The Company revenue, which in today’s economy is nothing to be viewed lightly. It could be considered by certain people in certain positions within the corporate pecking order a terminable offense if they wished to press the issue. However that's a rather large ‘if.’

The details are unimportant; it wasn’t a situation in which I violated any kind of corporate standard, unless of course, being temporarily brain-dead is against the rules.

I think it suffice to say that I placed myself in a position in which I allowed stress to interfere with common sense. I eschewed the proper safeguards that should have been adopted while hurriedly editing some web pages. Errors were made due to my haste; hopefully my career with The Company isn’t wasted as a result.

But that’s as much as I’m gonna allow myself to cry over this puddle of spilled milk. I’m actually feeling much better about things today, following an absolutely hellacious day and evening yesterday, when I first even became aware of the goof that cost our sales force nearly an entire week of Web business leads.

However now after stepping back and giving my tongue a rest from licking my wounds, I’m seeing a different angle to things. I’m beginning to see a different level to the source of my anxiety in view of this abrupt interruption in my self-confidence as a professional being.

A Question of Balance
If you were wondering when this story would revert back to The Moody Blues, well, here’ya go.

The aforementioned 1971 MB’s album, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was released less than a year following what is almost universally regarded as the Moodies’ greatest musical achievement, 1970’s A Question of Balance.

AQOB featured perhaps the band’s seminal hit, Question, a song that still chokes me up today, but which made me absolutely weep as a fourteen year-old boy, betwixt the pain of physical abuse I was suffering at home, and the emotional pain my heart felt, longing to be free; to be loved.
I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
and if you could see
what it’s done to me
to lose the life I knew
could safely lead me to
The land that I once knew,
to learn as we grow old;
the secrets of our souls.

From Question (From the album, A Question of Balance) | © 1970 The Moody Blues
I was never so naïve to believe that there was anyone out there who could take away all my troubles, but I knew there was something. I knew that I simply couldn’t be condemned to a life of pain.

And sure enough, my fortunes did change. Not too many years later I was on the opposite end of the spectrum; instead of my life being cursed, I was convinced that it was charmed.

Success in school, athletics, strong personal relationships, and finally, the one; my wife Michelle, would bless my life; I was blown away at how great it was to be me.

Of course, different seasons of life bring different weather, and as you may know if you’re familiar with this blog, as far as storm clouds go, I’ve had some real doozies over the past 15-20 years. But for the last ten, things have been unbelievably good.

Despite some difficulties in recent years, transitioning to the programming side of being a web designer, I felt as though I had successfully bridged the knowledge-gap that threatened to relegate me to the pile of obsoletes in other professions who weren’t able to change with the times. Although I still have a ways to go to completely get to where I need to be, I’ve definitely come a long way since 2006, the year my scripting skills were suddenly exposed as lacking.

The point I suppose I’m trying to make here is that there’s always something to do; something new to learn; some way to make oneself better in today’s professional world. The option of doing one thing the same way no longer exists. That’s a tough thing for someone of my generation to accept, and even harder to adopt as an automatic assumption.

It’s harder to become a star, even more so to maintain the same brilliance over time. Seems there’s always someone or something just around the corner with the apparent sole intent of snuffing out that flame, just when you think it will burn forever.

What I’m experiencing right now isn’t fair, but neither is it unfair; it just is. It’s the way of the world. Its part and parcel to the vigilance we must all endure to be the best we can be. And if that vigilance is not met, we stand the chance of being swept aside — plain and simple.

I believe God opens the doors, but its up to us to get where we need to go once we walk through them. And He doesn’t hand out skates for the journey.

The Boy on His Way
One final (brief) detour. Sunday night I saw Maia Sharp at 3rd & Lindsley. Great show. Hopefully I’ll soon have time to give the experience the description it deserves in a future post.

Maia is a grossly under-exposed, but superbly-talented singer-songwriter, who has simply had bad luck with record labels — usually as a result of them not giving her the support she needed at the proper time. However this time she decided to do it right and released her new album on her own record label, Crooked Crown Records.

On Maia’s brand new release, Echo is a song that truly struck a chord with me (no pun intended — for a change). It’s a song about a woman, perhaps somewhat autobiographical in nature, but I’m not assuming anything here.

All I know is it’s a great song; one whose sentiments could be applicable to nearly anyone approaching middle-anything; a time of life where if you haven’t quite yet arrived, either personally or professionally, you (and probably everyone else) are likely wondering if you ever will.

It’s called The Girl On Her Way. Sung from a third-person perspective, it’s about an actress whose promise, at least in her own mind, has never been fully realized.

The singer wonders,
How long can she be the girl on her way
before she’s just the woman, who never got there?
How far can she ride the dream of someday
before her ticket is only good for the nightmare
of seeing everything that almost came,
every spark that never made a flame;
Are they saying ‘she’s a star,’ or ‘what a shame’?
How long can she be the girl on her way?
How long can she be the girl on her way…?

From The Girl On Her Way (From the album, Echo) | © 2009 Maia Sharp
It’s a concept that crosses gender boundaries, to be sure, and is in fact a scenario I’ve often placed myself into — especially in recent years.

How long do I assume that someday I’ll be the professional success I always assumed I would be? How long until the promise that seemed so close to surfacing in my own life finally fades from view. How long until I’m just another man ‘who never got there?’

These are the kind of questions I was asking myself 24 hours ago, but not today.

Today, in addition to being my 53rd birthday, is also the first day of the rest of my life. Trite saying; deep truth.

Whether or not I ever ‘get there’ doesn’t invalidate who I am or where I’ve been; the successes and tangible value that God has blessed my life with will remain long after The Company forgets I ever darkened its hallways.

I am indeed grateful for all the good things that have come my way, but I am once again reminded that I must never take them for granted. This week was a wakeup call to remind me of that.

If every good boy deserves favour, what do I get?

Another day for which to be thankful, and another opportunity to prove my worth all over again — and nothing more.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

BTaO-AP-H…With Fleas

Just a quick update
Time flies when you’re having fun; including sometimes, even when you’re not — sorta like right now.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been ‘flyin’ low’ as my late MIL, Maxine was want to say.

My first issue was negotiating the wake of the inevitable family turbulence generated by the loss of Michelle’s father. That’s the part I won’t talk about (for obvious reasons). It was unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected. ‘Nuff said there.

Next, and more recent, was the equally-inevitable fire drill of the preparation, then post-trauma dance that I must do anytime I go on vacation, which Michelle and I did last week, traveling to Southern California to celebrate my Dad’s 86th birthday. We had a great time, spending time with Dad & Helen, but we also got to spend a day in Laguna Beach, break tortillas with my step-sis, Janice and her husband. We even managed to squeeze in a brunch with MakeMineMike and TheDailyRandi on our way out of town.

So it was a relaxing, but eventful five days, however this week’s process of catching up after the fact has been absolutely maddening.

I'll certainly be writing about it, but I can tell you it won't be on a scale with my LA Stories of previous trips to my old stompin’ grounds. Frankly I’m tired of starting but never finishing those somewhat over-blown yarns. Hell, I still haven’t finished the series for my trip in 2005, let alone 2008. This one will be short.

Other than that, there’s not a lot going on right now, other than work, although I do have a lot of notes from unfinished stories that I could be expending more effort trying to transcribe and post, even if some of them are a couple years old.

Oh yeah, I guess this is something — my laptop’s hard drive died on the plane out to California, taking with it at least three unfinished blog stories with it. I can't freakin’ win. Don’t know whether or not the drive's salvageable; finding out is just one more thing I’ve had to add to my to-do list for this next week. I still haven’t taken the time to send in the thumb drive I lost back in August of 2007 to a data recovery place I found that showed some promise for possibly retrieving the irreplaceable data I lost on that little device. I really need to do that as well.

Speaking of which, could it really be possible that we’ve been in our new house for more than a year and a half already? Sheesh! They say time goes by faster as you get older; well, I’m definitely living that truism right now. Sure hope it starts slowin’ down at some point. At this rate, I’ll be 65 in a couple months...

Sorry for the stream-of-consciousness, but it’s all I really have time for this morning, and even at that, it’s communication to you (or just myself) that’s long overdue.

Painful as it will be (for a variety of reasons), I’ll be finishing up my current series, the tribute to Michelle’s Dad, hopefully before the week is out. I say this here to give myself a deadline — not that I’ve been all that great at following my own mandates, but I suppose it can’t hurt.

Here's wishing us all a pain-free rest o’ the summer.

Talk to you again soon…


Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Finally Know How He Feels

Baton received
In what has now become somewhat my custom, I am once again taking a break in my current series, paying tribute to my recently-departed Father In-Law (an intermission, BTW, brought about by more than just the specific occasion of today’s post — and I’ll explain more about that later on), in order to pay a different kind of tribute; one marking what I consider to be somewhat of a watershed moment for me.

Today is Father’s Day; a day of wildly conflicting emotions for your truly.

Dad’s Day has always been an occasion in which I’ve spent time reflecting on the relationship I have with my own Father, one that has grown so much closer in the past ten years or so since the passing of my step-Mom, Maxine.

I can’t accurately describe just how special it’s been for me in recent years to receive the love and focused friendship that I have from the man whom I worshipped from afar for so many years, but whose attention seemed so unattainable when I was growing up.

Hmm; I guess I need to explain that last statement.

My Dad and I weren’t particularly close when I was a kid, although I never had any doubt that he loved me and appreciated me for whom I was. It’s just that there wasn’t enough of him to go around, what with him being virtually a single parent to five boys throughout much of my early childhood. And given my somewhat introverted personality, I was never the type to openly vie for his affections or attention.

He coached my elder brothers in Little League as well as being highly involved their Cub Scout troop activities; heck, he was even the president of the PTA for awhile. But by the time I had reached the age to be involved in those types of activities, my natural Mother was already well into the throes of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. We were all in flux; those extra-curricular activities no longer had a place in our family’s life.

Within the next five years, my Mom passed away, my Dad remarried, and we moved to Southern California. My life underwent changes too numerous to recount here. I suffered considerably at the hand and tongue of Maxine, and my Pop was never the wiser. He was under enough pressure to keep a roof over our heads; I was more concerned with keeping mine, which I might not have if I made trouble for Maxine. I just decided he didn't need to know. I just kept quiet and lived with the abuse.

Ours was the quintessential Cats in the Cradle kind of father/son relationship. He wanted to spend time with me, but just couldn't find the time. But it was okay, really. I was realistic.

As time passed the passive nature I inherited from my Dad began to kick in and I grew surprisingly comfortable with the fact that he simply was who he was and never held him in contempt for it. In fact, I believe it was just that firm belief that he really did love me that kept me from going off the deep end during those confusing and emotionally-charged early teen years dealing with Maxine. However as I entered high school things slowly began to change.

I became involved in gymnastics in 10th grade and in relatively short order began to emerge as a successful athlete. My Dad attended nearly all of my local competitions in high school, sometimes with my step-Mom, but usually without. However when it came time for the CIF* Finals my senior year — the highest wrung in the ladder of high school athletic competition to which I could attain — he wasn’t there.

*California Interscholastic Federation

Unfortunately for me, CIF Finals were scheduled the same week as Maxine & Dad’s fifth wedding anniversary, which they’d planned to celebrate in Hawaii.

Sure, I understood; the arrangements had been made; the tickets purchased well in advance. It was Cats in the Cradle once again; but this time it really hurt.

I took first place on rings that night, and for all intents and purposes, validated my existence as a significant human being; I was no longer the under-achieving, pint-sized, boy who Maxine routinely told, “you’ll never amount to anything.” I was a champion; I had now accomplished something that no one would, or could, ever take away from me.

Call me narcissistic; call me overly-dramatic, but that moment, I believe, set the tone for the rest of my life. I won more than a medal that night; I won my dignity.

And the woman who branded those words into my young brain, along with the only man I’d ever wanted to emulate, weren’t there to see it.

What a bittersweet moment that was, and how sobering it is to realize only now that I have come full circle in understanding its true meaning in my life.

It’s important for me to note that unless you’ve read my blog for awhile, you may not realize that I don’t hate my Step-Mom, but have completely forgiven her for the way she treated me. And contrary to the tone of the last few paragraphs, I don’t blame her for anything, but in fact, appreciate the many lessons and practical applications she taught that have stayed with me throughout the years.

Old emotions, however, no matter how distant in the past, don’t exist in a vacuum. They may become augmented over time and/or diffused by forgiveness, but we never truly divorce them; they never truly go away. Some of them we even keep around like pets, feeding and nurturing them on a daily basis. However sometimes they need circumstances to resurface; sometimes reinforcing the forgiveness that changed their previous destructive course in our lives, other times, simply floating just above the brink of consciousness, soothing or tormenting our psyches, whatever the case my be.

Such is my frame of mind this Father’s Day.

It’s in the cards.
I’ve said it so many times it might as well be my mantra: I’m a lucky guy. Lucky to have had a taste of success in this life on a variety of levels; lucky to have a pair of kids who are well on their way to leading happy, successful lives in their own right; and damn lucky to have a wife who not only puts up with my shortcomings and goofiness, is simply a superstar in the eyes of nearly everyone who knows her.

Like most men, I’d like to think that I’m the go-to guy in my household, but I know better. I’ve never had a single worry about what would happen to Michelle if I met an untimely demise; she would be fine; she would be taken care of, financially; she would no doubt live out her life confidently and in full charge of her faculties. That’s just the way she is: a take-charge kinda gal; a scrappy, yet incredibly generous and giving soul. Apart from certain members of her family (whom like I said earlier, I’ll talk about another time), I’ve never seen a person who’s had any chance to known her who hasn’t felt completely at ease. I’m obviously biased, but I’m not stretching the truth here — everybody loves Michelle.

And while I am obviously buoyed by that fact, I’d have to say that I’m just as proud — or even more proud of the fact that so much of her has rubbed off on our kids, particularly, our daughter, Amy.

One of Michelle’s most astounding traits in my estimation, is her ability to procure greeting cards that offer the coolest design as well as the most poignant, heartfelt, perfectly worded sentiments. I honestly don’t know how she does it. I do okay in picking out cards, but every now and then I just have to settle for ones that are ‘okay’ and then attempt to offset the ‘cheese’ factor with a more appropriate hand-written addendum on the card.

But she never needs to resort to such unnecessary extra effort. She just signs ‘I love you’ and her name; the card says the rest — every.freaking.time.

Well, the good news is, she’s somehow mystically transferred that power to Amy. My daughter already had a string of greeting card hits several times over coming into to today, but this morning, when Michelle presented me with an envelope adorned with an Atlanta postmark, I knew it would be more of the same. What I didn’t know was that this time, Amy would truly hit it out of the park.
It’s little things
that make Dads heroes,
Things not seen…
Sacrifices made
while living out
each day’s routine.
It’s the little things a father does,
the things he knows he must,
the ‘being there’ when each day’s through,
the love that builds up trust.
And though there’s not a list
of everything he’s done,
the heart remembers
and gives thanks
for each and every one.

You’ve always been there for me —
and since Father’s Day is here,
I wanted you to know
how much I admire you,
how much I love you,
and how proud I am
that you’re my Dad.

My heart melted as I read those words, despite the sappiness, because I knew they were true.

And as if that wasn’t enough, she, unlike her Mother, didn’t stop there. She took a page out of her Pop’s book and added a lengthy, wonderful, killer hand-written note about how well she appreciated the bond that we share, and how every year that passes, our relationship grows stronger and stronger. I mean, for gawdsakes, how can you beat that?

Say what you mean to say
I started out this story with a point to make, and it wasn’t to rattle on emotionally about my bragging rights as someone lucky enough to be a part of a great family.

What I had today was an epiphany; an ah-ha moment. And I didn't arrive there by accident. I was preceded there by my Father; I just never realized before today how similar our respective paths had been.

I finally understood why my Dad responds to our relationship the way he does; I now know why he repeatedly reminds me that he loves me each and every time we talk on the phone.

Back in 2004, in my first and most prolific year of posting to this blog, I wrote a three-part series in response to the question asked by a dear friend and fellow-blogger, “Who was your Father?” In that story I explained in detail much of my early relationship with my Dad, as well as the basic gory details of my misadventures with Maxine. It was the first of my oft-mentioned allusions to Harry Chapin’s seminal 1974 hit Cats in the Cradle.

It’s highly unlikely I need to explain the gist of song’s message, so very apropos to father/son relationships in our day and age. But just in case you’re unfamiliar with it, simply put, its moral is that of the irony of learned behavior — more specifically — if you think you don’t have time for your kids now, beware; they probably won’t have time for you later. The concept that, ‘we all eventually become our parents’ plays a particularly key role in Chapin’s wonderfully astute but simply-crafted object lesson.

After I turned 40, my life changed a great deal. I did a lot of soul-searching; a lot of prospecting for perspective. A few years later, my StepMom, Maxine passed away, and I began to search my heart for how I truly felt about her. During that process is when I rediscovered my Dad.

Unfortunately for both of us, due to the overpowering strength of Maxine’s personality, my relationship with him had remained basically unchanged since the time I’d lived at home — warm, but still distant. It was nobody’s fault; it just was.

But now I had the opportunity to really get to know him; to truly know and appreciate him for the man he was; I finally began to see the similarities in our respective personalities — the good as well as the not-so-good. I could for the first time in my life say with conviction, “If there’s anything you like about the person I am, you can thank my Pop.” I was proud to realize how much we had in common.

As mentioned in that story I wrote five years ago, in a Father’s Day card I sent to my Dad sometime in the early 2000s, I added a hand-written sentiment, similar to the one Amy included in her card to me today. I transcribed the chorus from the song, Wind Beneath My Wings, not because I’m partial to cheesy songs, mind you, but because of one eloquently-crafted line from it that perfectly emulated the sentiment I wanted to deliver to my Dad that day:

Did you ever know you are my hero; you’re everything I would like to be?

I’d been thinking it for years, but was totally unaware that I’d never actually said it to him before. The next day he called me in tears. “Did you really mean that,” he sobbed, “Am I really your hero?”

I don’t want to take even a moment of your time here psychoanalyzing that moment in my father’s life. I don’t know if was really that surprised at the notion or merely caught off-guard that after all those years I would suddenly offer such a compliment. But I do know one thing; it changes a man when someone truly regards him as a hero, especially when he really doesn’t believe he’s earned the title.

I finally know how my Dad felt that day. I know what a humbling thing it is to truly experience the Biblical concept of having one’s children rise up and call you blessed.

Like I said, I’m a lucky guy.