Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That Damned, Unnerving Uncertainty of It All
— A Miniseries (Part 4 of 4)

Love’s Labor’s Lost
In my research of the major stories written about Penner’s death, including an unexpected conversation I had a few weeks ago with yet another of he and my brother’s co-workers at the O.C. L.A. Times, it is clear to me, if not to all who have commented on this sad tale, that perhaps the linchpin of Penner/Daniel’s ultimate demise was the one thing he couldn’t reverse; the devastation of the loss of his ten-year partner in marriage, fellow Times sportswriter, Lisa Dillman.

On July 19, 2007, exactly twelve weeks after Penner’s groundbreaking coming-out article, he legally changed his name to Christine Michelle Daniels. That same day, Dillman filed for divorce. Throughout the year in which Mike was Christine, those close to him indicate that he honestly thought the marriage could somehow be reconciled; that Dillman could eventually embrace his decision to live as a woman.

That reconciliation never came.

According to Friess, during the summer of 2008, as Daniels detransitioned back to Penner, he repeatedly told friends that it was his last-ditch effort to somehow reunite with Dillman.

Nevertheless, the divorce decree became final on October 24, 2008. The disenchantment and frustration endured as the impact of his life-decision registered, coupled with the reality that his true love would no longer be a part of his life, appears to have been the ultimate blow to Penner’s will.

A little more than a year later, the holiday shopping season’s official beginning would also be Mike Penner’s ultimate end. On the day after Thanksgiving — now so commonly referred to as, Black Friday — November 26, 2009, in his apartment building’s parking garage, Penner rigged a vacuum hose attached to the tailpipe of his running, parked car through a window, into the passenger compartment, ending his previously very vocal life in silence.

WHY? Can somebody just tell me, please, why??
It’s okay with me if you tune me out at this point, because I’ll give fair warning: I’m gonna wax quite a bit philosophical/metaphysical here.

The human interest aspect of the death of Mike Penner, as well as that which is imminent for my brother Alex, really have only the slightest of true relationships — that being that they were friends and that their lives ended or will end far too early.

I don’t really know why I was so compelled to spend the inordinate amount of time I did writing this post. I don’t know if it was simply because I felt the need to mourn the loss of Penner; someone I felt a great deal of respect for; someone I sort of felt I knew via association with my brother. Perhaps it’s just that it’s such a tremendously story, and it makes me realize how much I already miss Alex.

How very fragile, our existence seems at times; and though we actively acknowledge that this is true, we still ask, “why?”

Why am I losing my brother years — even decades too soon?

Why has the world lost a great writer and a great person in Mike Penner?

Why did Penner feel such despair in his life that he couldn’t bear to go on living?

It's almost poetic that prior to his death, Penner’s final regular assignment at The Times was writing the Morning Briefing column’s “Totally Random” feature. It seems the inexplicable machinations of fate that caused whatever physiological affectations responsible for laying askew my brother’s brain through Alzheimer’s and Penner’s self-image through his condition, known as dissociative gender identification, were equally ‘random.’

I mean, think about it. These were two people in the prime of their careers, who literally had the world by the tail. Only good things appeared to lie ahead for each of them.

How does any of this make sense?

Both were betrayed by genetics — my brother, with absolutely no recourse. As for Penner’s circumstance, if you choose to judge him, that’s your business. I choose to judge neither his choices nor his biological reality, but only to regret his tragically mistaken notion that you can go home again, because truly, more often than not, Thomas Wolfe was right.

Who would have ever thought 25 years ago that anything so tragic could become the current reality for each of these talented and cherished individuals?

Why it happened, and to what purpose we can never know.

The only correct response, I believe, is to remember both of them for who they were, to say a prayer in support of their families, and realize for yourself that each day, each moment, each simple pleasure we experience in this life is a gift.

Never take it for granted; never assume it’s deserved.

Be grateful for it. Savor it, lest that damned unnerving uncertainty that stalks us all, be allowed to steal our joy.

Life is not fair. The sun is caused to rise on the evil and the good, and rain upon the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Here’s hoping that each of us can make the most of things while we’re still high and dry.

* * * * * *


That Damned, Unnerving Uncertainty of It All
— A Miniseries (Part 3 of 4)

Old Mike, New Christine, Same Demons
It was...a curiosity when I first discovered on that morning of April 26, 2007, the article Penner wrote, proclaiming to the world that he was finally coming out of the closet. He was a transsexual, and would in fact shortly thereafter be officially transitioning from male to female; from Mike Penner to Christine Daniels.
Penner/DanielsAlex’s former L.A. Times, Orange County Edition colleage, as Mike Penner (left), and in 2007,
as Christine Daniels (right). (Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)

He wrote, “I am a transsexual sportswriter. It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words. I realize many readers and colleagues and friends will be shocked to read them.”

Oh yeah, I was shocked. And my first thought was obvious: “Did Alex know?”

So I created a PDF of the story and emailed it to Seraph.

She said that she too had no idea but didn’t seem to be too surprised, from what she could remember of Penner’s demeanor in person. However she was ultimately saddened for the obvious anguish he/she must have experienced over the course of living, breathing, and being attached to what was decidedly a “boy’s club” atmosphere in his profession as a sportswriter.

When presented to Alex, she said he offered no reaction. Seraph would go on to explain that as being pretty much the norm for him at that point in his condition, now three-plus years ago. Although still somewhat conversant, he rarely spoke and was constantly distracted. However, as I would witness when I visited him later that September, he was even then, still capable of short bursts of semi-clarity; he may or may not have comprehended the article as Seraph read it aloud to him, but I’m certain that he thought about it, at least a little bit.

Late the next day, in another follow-up email, Seraph recounted a phone conversation she’d had with Alex earlier in the evening, trying to get him to put one of their kids on the horn to discuss dinner plans:

Seraph: Hi baby.
Alex: Good!
Seraph: How are you?
Alex: Yes!
Seraph: Who is home with you?
Alex: Uh, uh, (long pause) Mike Penner.
(ok, so he WAS listening)

Public triumph, private torment
To their ultimate credit, Penner’s peers and bosses at The Times were as completely supportive as could have been imagined. The respect he had gained as a writer trumped any difference of worldview he might have otherwise encountered in a different workplace or setting.

Penner’s family at the paper didn’t abandon him, but embraced his decision to embrace his inner reality.

Christine Daniels arrived on the scene just a few weeks later, and all seemed well. The transformation from Penner-to-Daniels was in full bloom, appearance-wise, aided by hormones and electrolysis. However, the surgery necessary for completion of her physical transformation would have to wait a full year. Transgender-related law specifies that prospective trans-surgery candidates must live as their new gender, full-time, for twelve months prior to the surgery being conducted.

In May 2007 Daniels began a blog on (which about a year later mysteriously disappeared, both online and from the Times’ electronic archives) entitled, “Woman in Progress”, in which she documented her journey.

According to Times' writer, Christopher Goffard in a well-written but perhaps unnecessarily harsh essay this past March 27th, Public triumph, private torment:
"Daniels underwent electrolysis to have facial hair burned out at the root, took hormones, amassed a shoe collection and experimented with a variety of wigs: short, long, blond, brunet. She spoke in a soft, high voice, cried frequently, happy or sad. Daniels was "exuberant, dynamic, touchy, hugging, a vibrant, vivacious person," said (Randy) Harvey" (former Sports editor, now an associate editor at The Times).
With the obvious publicity of her new profile on brilliant display, Daniels became instantly adopted as an advocate and spokesperson for the transgender community and had already become close friends with a few trans male-to-females who helped to counsel her through the rapid changes flowing in and around her.

She was an instant celebrity and appeared to be extremely happy with the attention that seemingly followed her every step. She spoke and appeared at Transgender and LGBT conferences, gave numerous interviews, and continued on as an exceptional sportswriter; covering soccer and other sports just as Penner had done previously. And though the recognition seemed to be the tonic that Daniels needed to negotiate her transition, in retrospect, it was apparently way too much, way too soon.

The external pressures exerted by the transgender community as well as those applied internally by her personal life, were greater than she expected and ultimately more than she could bear.

A series of events, including a controversial and highly uncomplimentary characterization of her physical appearance at a press function, written by a local Southern California sportswriter, landed a painful blow to her still-fragile transitional psyche.

Lost in Trans-lation
Later in the fall of ’07, Daniels experienced a disastrous photo shoot for a Vanity Fair feature that was eventually aborted. She would later assert that she was convinced the photographer, “wanted to portray me as a man in a dress, my worst fear, as I expressed numerous times...I felt betrayed, totally abused, and very, very vulnerable and exposed and alone in the world.”

Things would only get worse. The Vanity Fair debacle resulted in Daniels drawing criticism from some in the Trans community for being unrealistic about her femininity; overly concerned about appearance as opposed to being true to who she was and to the political causes for which she was now their poster-child.

This too did not sit well with Christine. In the L.A. Weekly account, according to Friess, Daniels took umbrage to the idea of her being anyone “...who needs to ‘quote-unquote’ represent some undefined community,” and that according to her friends, “[Daniels] said she felt used by the trans community.”

Daniels soon began backing away from commitments, and later, asked The Times to discontinue her blog. She generally began to withdraw from the trappings that had made her an overnight sensation; the speaking engagements and conference appearances that just months before had offered so much confirmation of the legitimacy of her journey, now began to be replaced by depression, doubt, and seclusion.

Things finally came to an end for Christine Daniels, the reporter, in April 2008. She took medical leave from The Times, complaining of abdominal pain and additional emotional stress over the recent death of her elderly mother. She posted her final story under the Daniels byline on April 4th.

In June she entered the hospital and was diagnosed with severe depression. The stress of her previous year’s post-transgender announcement, coupled with the death of her mother had manifest itself in the intense stomach pain she’d been experiencing.

Apparently, it was all too much.

Fifteen months after coming out of the closet, Penner/Daniels began the process of attempting to un-ring the bell. She made the decision to cancel her sex-change surgery. She cut off all of her transgender friends, save for her closest throughout the experience, Amy LeCoe, who had herself been inspired by Daniels’ journey, to embark on her own. Daniels began the process of detransitioning.

LaCoe was closest to Daniels throughout that critical summer of 2008, when Christine’s tower of triumph began its steady and unrelenting crumble beneath her feet.

Friess quotes LeCoe’s recounting of the conversation in which Daniels admits that her life as a woman wasn’t working, and reveals what was certainly the ultimate devastation of her new reality.
Daniels shut out virtually every other transgender friend except LeCoe, who struck a nonjudgmental tone and persisted in demanding that Daniels let her help. Deep inside, LeCoe struggled to reconcile what it meant that the woman who had once been the role model for her own transition was crumbling. But she did her best not to let her doubts show.

“Don't decide so quickly,” LeCoe said. “Maybe you'll reconsider it when you feel better."

“I have been feeling this way for a while,” Daniels gasped through tears. “I can't do it anymore.”

“Which part can't you do?” LeCoe asked.

More silence, then: “I had the perfect life with Lisa, and I threw it all away.”
Upon returning to work at The Times, in October 2008, without comment or explanation, she dropped the Christine Daniels byline and returned to being Mike Penner, both in print and in person.

She eschewed the hormones, electrolysis and high heels of Christine, giving away her clothes, jewelry and wigs, and returning to the appearance, dress and demeanor of a male. However the single most important thing that the ‘new, old Mike’ wished to restore, he could not.

Next: Love’s Labor’s Lost

That Damned, Unnerving Uncertainty of It All
— A Miniseries (Part 2 of 4)

A Long, Long Times Ago...
Following the aforementioned email I rediscovered, I made a pointed search for a particular byline on the Los Angeles Times website. I was interested in learning about the current disposition of a writer who had been the subject of that email exchange I’d had with Alex’s wife in late April, 2007, when he had written a most unusual article about himself.

To my utter chagrin, instead of finding one of his current articles to catch up on, I discovered that Mike Penner, one of The Times’ best and brightest sportswriters by acclamation of all who knew and worked with him, following a tumultuous and very public two and-a-half year period in both his personal and professional life, committed suicide the day after Thanksgiving last year, November 27, 2009. It was Black Friday in more ways than one.

I was crushed, not only in stumbling upon the sad news, but even more so in the unjustifiable guilt I felt for having learned it so far after the fact.

Even more ironic, I thought, was that even coming in so late, the more I read, the more it seemed that I really wasn’t all that far behind others in commenting on what has rightfully become a blockbuster of a human interest story.

The saga of Penner's demise has obviously been big news at The Times, which published an expose on it this past March, but it has also been well-presented in major pieces by GQ Magazine in June of this year and, most recently, in last month’s article by Steve Friess in L.A. Weekly, posted on August 19, 2010.

Right about now you may be wondering why an L.A. Times sportswriter who who took his own life nine months ago has anything to do with a story about my brother Alex — or perhaps, why you should really even care. Well, the latter is up to you, but former, that's my bad.

I wasn’t aware of if, but apparently in writing about my little brother over the years, I’ve neglected to mention the career that he almost had; the one he dabbled in previous to his decision to make the practice of law his ultimate profession.

The Young Sportswriters of Orange County
While still a college student, Alex worked as a sportswriter for the now-defunct L.A. Times’ Orange County Edition from the early-to-mid 1980s. The late Mike Penner was one of his closest colleagues in that effort. They were good friends, well-respected, and appeared to both be on the fast track to local stardom as sportswriters in Southern California.

Penner actually came on a bit later, in 1983 and worked with Alex, often side-by-side, covering the local Orange County high school and junior college sports beats out of the L.A. Times Orange County offices in Costa Mesa.

My brother was a part of the same group of writers from which would emerge such current notables as Rick Reilly, Chris Dufresne, and of course, Penner; who went on to be a tremendous writer, and in most any other environment would have likely risen to the station of lead columnist.

However, due to the glut of organizational talent surrounding him at The Times, Penner had to settle for being just another great sportswriter in a department of great sportswriters. Nothing I have ever read or heard would indicate that he ever chafed at that status. That’s the kind of team player and non-assuming person he was.

Though their early roles on the high school/JUCO beat weren’t always sexy, both Penner and Alex were from time-to-time, given opportunities to write feature articles that appeared in both the Times L.A. Edition as well as its O.C. counterpart. Most involved the California Angels baseball and/or the Los Angeles Rams NFL football teams, both of which played in nearby Anaheim.

For Alex’s part, however, among his bigger splashes were a pair of rather controversial circumstances that didn’t necessarily feature his name in the byline.

The first occurred in 1983, when California Angels slugger Reggie Jackson was struggling through one of his worst seasons ever. Alex was gathering quotes for an article that would actually be written by another Times sportswriter, and in the course of the interview, asked Reggie a question that Mr.October apparently didn’t like.

The exchange quickly developed into a shouting match of apparently such epic proportion that the Hall-of-Famer to-be threatened to kick the young scribe’s ass.

But that was Alex. He was brash, confident, and knew B.S. when he smelled it (...and Reggie was usually full of it).

Then in August 1984, one of my brother's pet peeves, the Olympics came to town, being hosted in Los Angeles. In the midst of a sarcastic rant in the newsroom one day, a Times columnist absconded a quote from Alex that landed in a notes column appearing in the main paper’s sports section.

In it, Alex chirped, “The bad thing about the Olympics is that it legitimizes trash sports every four years.” It was but one sentence in a brief 61-word paragraph buried in a lengthy, four-column article, but the response to Alex’s statement ended up dominating the Times Sports ‘Letters’ section that week, as a host of angry readers took him to task for his contentious stance.

Yep. The boy was opinionated.

It’s important to note, however, that Alex wasn’t merely a shit-stirrer; that part of his persona wasn’t the norm. However he did have the balls as a writer to go with his gut wherever he saw fit; he wasn’t a yes-man; he couldn’t care less about being politically correct. he called it like he saw it.

He was as nice and as charming as anyone you’d ever meet, but cross him in an argument and you’d better remember to bring you’re ‘A’ Game. He was as skilled a debater as anyone I’ve ever witnessed — and as opinionated. His intelligence was almost annoying, but always as irrepressible as his vibrant personality.

When Alex went to work for The Times, huge sports fan that I am, I was as jealously proud as a big brother could possibly be for the direction his career seemed to be taking.

However after a few years, particularly when he and his wife decided it was time to start a family, Alex determined that the late nights, deadlines, and bar closings weren’t the ingredients of a future he wished to pursue.

He announced that he was leaving sportswriting behind in favor of a law career. He was subsequently accepted into a leading California Law school, where he went on to finish second in his class and serve as President of the Law Review his graduating year.
My initial reaction was mild disappointment over what I selfishly considered to be his giving up on a career at which he was obviously a natural to excel. However my disappointment quickly gave way to the awe and respect I felt in seeing him set his sights so high — and then going out and achieving them.

But then again, when he was a little boy, he always proclaimed that someday he’d be the President of the United States. Perhaps this was a logical first step, I remember thinking.

However if public office was an actual goal that he wished to pursue, it never got beyond the dream stage. He was indeed an outstanding attorney for 15 years, but appeared to be happy doing just that, while building a family and a life together with his wife, Saraph, including no further political aspirations (that he spoke of anyway).

Tragically that all changed once he began to succumb to the effects of Alzheimer’s. He officially resigned from the Bar Association in 2005.

Alex’s O.C. L.A. Times colleague, Mike Penner, on the other hand, would go on to great success with the paper. His life seemed to be the envy of anyone in his profession, with respect, great exposure, even the happiness of his apparent marriage-made-in-heaven to fellow Times sportswriter, Lisa Dillman.

But obviously things aren’t always what they seem; and as with my brother, Penner’s own set of demons would make themselves manifest a few years later.

Although I never met him personally, Alex’s numerous accounts involving the exploits of ‘The Penman’ (as they all called him), along with those of others in that stable of young sportswriters that now-Times Deputy Chief Sports Editor, John Cherwa had assembled in Orange County, made me feel as though I’d known him — and them — for years.

However the affinity I felt toward Penner was strongest for a couple of reasons; one being the fact that he and Alex were more or less partners in their duties during the entirety of the time they worked together. Just as importantly, Penner, went on to be The Times’ beat writer for my favorite baseball team, the somewhat schizophrenically-named California/Anaheim (and now, Los Angeles) Angels — which also meant that I read him religiously, even after I left Southern California.

I know how good he was and I know what a loss his departure truly is to the collective, quality fabric that makes up that outstanding newspaper.

But if you’re at all any kind of L.A. Times Sports aficionado, you likely also know that Penner’s intrigue as a person of interest didn’t just end with him being a fabulous writer; it quite literally ended with him being a tortured soul; it ended with him terminating his own life — as a man, when in fact he had lived most of the previous two years as a woman.

Next: Old Mike, New Christine, Same Demons

That Damned, Unnerving Uncertainty of It All
— A Miniseries (Part 1 of 4)

NOTE: I’m all about full disclosure, and if the title of this miniseries hasn’t at least given you a clue, I’ll just go ahead and say it: this is not a happy story, and I make no apologies for that.

This is a tribute to two people (…or is it three?); one you know — if you’re a friend of this blog — and another you might know — if you’re an enthusiast of Southern California sports media. What you don’t know, is that the principals are related — in more ways than one.

That being said, it has taken me just over three weeks to ponder, research and write this story, and now that I’m finished, not only am I drained, emotionally, I’m sorta asking myself why I did it, because it really isn’t anything other than bad news. However bad news still needs to be told, and sometimes, even bares positive fruit.

So go pop a Zoloft, put away the sharp instruments, and pardon my melancholy as you learn a little more about a couple of outstanding and complicated people.

Rude Awakening
Ever the electronic packrat, I have genuine difficulty in erasing personal emails. I have nearly every meaningful one I’ve either sent or received since about 1999 — and probably many more than that stored within even earlier system backups. They’re holed up somewhere in some old backup program’s format that I likely no longer have the software for, on ancient DAT tapes that will probably never again be restored.

However I just can’t bear to toss those old tapes, y’know? I keep thinking, “maybe someday…”

Emails are like electronic time capsules; some providing more valuable information than others, but for me, even the most mundane trivia of my past is something I can lose myself in for hours.

The problem is that I don’t spend nearly the time I should, sorting through and determining what deserves to be kept and what should have never made it to my inbox in the first place.

Three weeks ago this past Sunday, however, I was engaged in the semi-regular activity of weeding through some of those old emails; judiciously purging the inevitable junk mail and other useless noise that I’d unintentionally saved over the years.

In the course of that process, I came across an exchange of emails I’d had with my sister in-law, Seraph, back in late April 2007, some five months prior to my most recent — and likely, my final — visit to Dallas to see my brother Alex.

The email made me smile; but it was a smile wrapped in sadness. It returned to mind a bittersweet moment in both the life of my brother as well as that of a friend of his, who was actually the subject of that communication.

Following up on that discovery of a few Sundays ago, I was curious to find out about the current status of Alex’s friend, so I investigated further to hopefully gain some kind of idea of that person’s current standing, as it occurred to me that I hadn’t read or heard anything about them in quite awhile.

There was a good reason that I hadn’t, but it wasn’t because no one else was talking about it.

Stop me if you’ve read this already…
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written anything about my brother, whom If you’re unaware, is in the final stages of the insidious strain of Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease that has plagued my family for more than two generations (probably a lot more).

Although several maternal-side family members (including my grandfather, aunt, uncle, and mother) succumbed to the disease, we didn’t know a lot about the nature of how it was passed on until 1992, when my family took part in extensive genetic testing at the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer Disease Center, in an effort to find a means to test for it.

Heretofore there had never been any reliable way to even detect Alzheimer’s prior to physical onset, which in the case of our family’s “pre-senile” variety, usually becomes manifest during the victim’s late 30s-to-early-40s. Even then, the disease generally takes a couple of years more to present itself to the point that the victim or family members become aware that something is truly wrong.

Fortunately, identification of the causal genetic mutation responsible for our particular brand of AD came to light a year later, based in large part upon the comparative research of our family’s genetic material, including that of my second-eldest brother, David, who was in mid-to-late onset at the time but would become my immediate family's second victim just two years hence.

The results of the research were published in a 1993 Lancet medical journal article. My family reveled in the joy that we had helped accomplish something that would not only serve our progeny, but that of generations to come, both within and outside of our family.

However, that joy was later all but totally mitigated when we discovered that we’d misinterpreted the test results, which had seemed to indicate (unofficially) that we were all in the clear, but in fact had thrown out several family members by necessity of the rules of blind clinical trial method; a fact that we hadn’t noticed, but which simple arithmetic would have been revealed, had we’d been paying attention.

Sadder still was the reality that one of the two family members who fell between the cracks was Alex, who began showing signs that no one acknowledged — the least of whom being himself — back in the early 2000s. By the time we allowed ourselves to consider that Alzheimer’s could be the cause of Alex’s rapidly-decreasing ability to function normally, it was already too late. He was positively diagnosed in November 2004, a year or more beyond the disease’s initial onset.

Although the introduction of recent Alzheimer's drugs Aracept and Namenda have slowed the progress of the disease’s advance and in have fact likely added at least two years to Alex’s lifespan, they have only postponed the inevitable.

[It’s a subject that one glance at my tag cloud (in the left sidebar) will tell you I’ve written a lot about, so I’ll dispense with any more re-hashing and refer you here, here, and here if you’re interested in learning the lion’s share of background info regarding the family curse.]

Though four years my junior, Alex was someone I revered like an elder brother. He was my lifelong best friend. Although I helped raise him as a child, there was never anything but total acceptance as equals between us once we became adults. We married the same year, spent time together both alone and with our families, and never hesitated to constantly affirm to one another how much they were loved.

Alex was my chief confidante; we trusted each other with personal details that will never reach the ears of another living soul. Knowing that I have now lost that outlet has been more than sad for me, so much more than a simple loss, but infinitely less than that which has been experienced and will forever be felt by the wife and three children he’ll leave behind.

Alex is now in hospice care and has been for several months. It is a general rule that hospice enters when the patient has a year or less to live, and so that would indeed indicate that the end is near for my beloved little brother.

He is truly a shell of his former self; unable to speak, feed, clothe, or bathe himself. He still lives at home, as he has from the beginning, a triumph of determination that my sister in-law set forth from the outset; that her husband would not die in a nursing home or other undignified facility as did all in my family who preceded him in this supremely unceremonious terminus of life. Her circumstances have been immeasurably trying and she deserves so much more credit than could ever be given her.

However my intent wasn’t to make this entry a premature obituary for my brother, but to also acknowledge my sadness over the other sobering news that I learned that late August Sunday afternoon.

Next: A Long, Long Times Ago...

Monday, September 06, 2010


Nope…not gunna duuh it…Wudn’t be prudent
Believe me, I know. I know my tendencies. And if you’ve read this blog or have known me for any length of time, you know ‘em too. But I’m not gonna do what I normally do in this circumstance; I’m goin’ a different way.

Once again, it’s been a while — like five and-a-half weeks — since my last post; in baseball terms I did an ‘oh-fer’ the month of August, and as you may know, my oft-repeated wont after such a lapse in content is to come out spewing apologies for my absence, particularly in view of the fact that as recently as June I publically ‘rededicated’ myself to more regular blogging.

Yeah, I know. “Wolf.”

However I’m not feeling particularly apologetic today. In fact, as much as I would like to have done the opposite, I more-or-less voluntarily took a break from social media the past month or so, partially out of necessity — and partially to see if I could really pull it off.

In retrospect, I’m kinda proud of myself for doing the right thing.

The hardest part was reducing my Twitter stream to less than a trickle. To their credit, several people actually did miss me and expressed some concern that I was in fact alright, physically, which I appreciated a great deal.

But no, I wasn’t abducted by aliens or in the hospital doin’ the H1N1 tango.

I was workin’ like a mofo.

I chose to pour all my time into two freelance web design projects I’ve been working on, the proceeds from which are vital to my family’s bottom line. I decided to give them nearly all of my attention and I must say the results have been extremely positive.

I’ll be back with links when everything is finalized (I’m still in the very final stages of wrapping up both sites), but I can’t help but admit that I’m really proud of how everything is turning out.

In the Pipeline
I’ll have to admit, however, I did cheat — just a little. I spent a couple days two weekends ago, writing the lion’s share of what will be my next multi-part post — a miniseries on the death of a well-known journalist who was a longtime friend and colleague of my brother Alex.

Hopefully, shortly thereafter, I’ll have a belatedly-posted, Mowerly Musings piece of as-yet indeterminate length, that really, I’ve been thinking about for most of this long, dreadfully hot and humid summer that we’ve had here in Middle Tennessee. It’s part ‘tolerate thy neighbor’ rant and part moral object lesson; and I hope it sounds as interesting on paper as it does right now, rattling around here inside my head. You be the judge.

Then there’s hockey. Training Camp for the Nashville Predators starts in a week-and-a-half, and the regular season, just a little more than a month from today. I’ll definitely be jumping back up on the Zamboni and previewing the Preds’ upcoming 2010-11 season on my hockey blog as well.

Ohhh…and I may have a few things to say about my daughter, Amy, and a gentleman friend of hers whom we met this Labor Day Weekend...

So yeah, I’ve been away, but it was an absence with a purpose, and my focus on work, I believe has indeed paid off (no pun intended). I look forward to engaging your comments either here, on PMFF, or on Facebook and Twitter.

The summer of my dis-CONtent, for the most part, is over.

Catch ya again real soon.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Birthday...To You.

I really don’t have a lot of time to write today, so if you’ll forgive the cross-pollenization, this is a simulblog; I’m posing identically, both to All Your Blogs Are Belong to Us and Pull My Fang Finger.

This is a note directed at you who for the most part only know me as that goofy guy who wears his heart on his sleeve via his mostly sappy-yet-passionate, personal and/or hockey-related blog posts. And hopefully, you also know that I don’t take a lot of things for granted; usually going a bit overboard in my effusiveness on the various subjects I’m passionate about.

So if my PMFF readers will forgive the off-topic nature of this missive, the main reason I’m double-posting today is because I don’t want to miss anybody; I want to let all of my friends, both on Facebook, Twitter, and throughout the blogosphere, know how much I appreciate you, and how humbled I am at the many Birthday good wishes I’ve received this morning.

Yep, today is my birthday, the day I officially climb into the rarefied air of my mid-fifties. I turn 54 today, so I can no longer say with any conviction that I’m just in my ‘early’ 50s. And that’s kinda significant for people who are still in their 20s and 30s, because if they’re anything like me (and I’m pretty confident they are), they look at you pretty differently after you hit the half-century mark, and even more so as you inch closer to 60 — that magical age when everyone more-or-less officially becomes ‘old.’

I’m pretty confident that I’m as good an example as anyone in confirming the notion that ‘you’re only as old as you feel.’ And I do NOT feel any different now than I did, when I was half my current age. Oh yeah, my body reminds me — often — that I’m no longer that 20 or even 30 year-old who used to fly through the air with the greatest of ease as a gymnast, but it still hasn’t convinced me that I’m not the same person.

I only wish someone would tell that to the prospective employers who've apparently been casting my resumes into the circular file after discerning my age from viewing my job history.

Nevertheless I am indeed wiser for the years that evermore quickly seem to pass, which only intensifies my acknowledgment of the wisdom plied by George Bernard Shaw when he penned the lyric, “Love, like youth is wasted on the young.”

However, I know my love has not been wasted, nor my youth for that matter. It has taken me through a lot of stupidity and halfhearted attempts at self-definition, into a wonderful balance of accomplishment and failure; enough of both so as to fully appreciate the difference between the two; never, ever forgetting the path that brought me here.

I love my life, and the people who’ve allowed me to live it so well.

Thank you, my friends, for making this birthday and each one hereafter, a true reason for me to celebrate.


* * * * *


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Long Division (Part 2 of 2)

Boom Goes the Dynamite
As you probably know, Michelle and I are Boomers. We’re a part of the vast, so-called Baby Boom Generation, generally tagged as including all persons born of American parents between 1946 and 1963 — those years of tremendous optimism and economic expansion following the Allied victory in World War II. The soldiers came home from the war to launch a brave new world and started making babies like there was no tomorrow.

I was part of a five-boy family while Michelle had two siblings. All the children in our respective families were born during that Boomer period.

What I’ve always found to be fascinating about my extended peer group is how widely-varying our respective worldview seems to be. My generation is the generation of change. We started and have fought for the Civil Rights movement and Affirmative Action, the Ecology movement and various ‘Green’ and other governmental initiatives and reforms; we initiated the battle to achieve equal rights for women, including their reproductive rights and ethical redress of equal pay for equal work.

I’m kinda proud of that.

However, we Boomers have also screwed up a bunch ‘a stuff as well, in my opinion.

We’ve led the way for the distortion of personal responsibility as a traditional concept, and instead of truly embracing it, have passed it off in an enormously irresponsible game of ‘hot potato,’ shrugging off our failures with of the insistence that nothing is ‘our fault.’

After all, The devil made us do it; we weren’t hugged enough as children; we were terrorized by the Nuns in our parochial schools. We’re all just victims, being held down by The Man, don’cha know…

We have conveniently reduced morality, in large part, to a relative equation, which, while imminently plausible, can cause a lot more problems than it solves if used as an excuse — which it is, all too often.

And while the above statements are indeed another topic for another time, they correspond poignantly to the subject of my story; the relative roles between men and women in our society, and in particular, my marriage.

Rolling With the Marital Role-Play
Michelle and were born the same year, in 1956, smack dab in the middle of the Boomer Generation. We both come from classic, conservative, 1950s-mentality households. Our Fathers both served in the military — mine in WWII and Michelle’s a few years later during the Korean Conflict.

The good news is, neither of our Pops saw time on the battlefield, although, Michelle’s Dad was involved with something that was potentially just as bad; he was a ground-zero soldier at the Nevada Proving Grounds during the atomic and nuclear weapons tests of the early 1950s. ‘Nuff said, there.

Nevertheless, the kind of moral worldview both my father in-law and Dad grew up with was, in a word, old-fashioned. Their wives didn’t work; they were homemakers. The woman’s responsibility was to keep the house, cook the meals, and raise the children; theirs was to bring home the bacon and to be the family’s authoritative figurehead, just as their fathers had been before them, and so on down the line.

Michelle and I weren’t completely unaffected by the changes that our generation was fighting for in the 60s and 70s, however we weren’t buying into it lock, stock, & barrel either. We came into our marriage in 1979 almost completely on the same page, roles-wise. We both wanted the same thing: for me to be the man, and for her to be the woman. There was no confusion as to what that meant.

And while things have certainly changed over the years, with economic realities making the dual income pretty much a requirement for middle class families in this country, Michelle held out until our kids were in middle school before taking on full-time work outside the home. However in the fourteen years since, she’s had a successful career working for Ford Motor Company’s leasing operations here in Nashville.

And obviously, once she started working, household responsibilities between the two of us were altered accordingly. However, I have to admit, when compared with the task-sharing habits of married couples a just a few years younger than us, and certainly in relation to the more typical habits of young people our kids’ age who are getting hitched these days, I’ve always had it easy.

I don’t cook (apart from grilling out). I do precious little housework, save for my vacuuming, and the only time I’ve ever really done laundry to speak of has been in very recent years whenever I’ve needed to make sure that my two sets of gym clothes were clean so that I could work out three times a week at The Company’s athletic facility.

Yeah...I know how spoiled I am.

However, by the same token, we each have our particular specialties; including some that people might really scratch their heads about.

Because I’m the Man
Michelle is adamant in her refusal to do certain chores, claiming they’re “the man’s responsibility.”

Most involve physical exertion, like vacuuming the couch as I mentioned earlier, but there are other, shall we say, less justifiable examples as well.

To wit: my wife will do little if anything to take care of her own car. Now I will admit that she’s gotten a lot better about it; I mean she is willing to pump her own gas nowadays, and geeze, she’ll even drive her car to the Jiffy Lube to get the oil changed — both major concessions in comparison to the stance she used to take.

However she still refuses to clean her car — inside or out. Never mind the fact that I don’t drive the thing more than an average of once a month; it somehow falls on me to wash, detail, vacuum, and empty out the ad papers and other trash that collects on the floorboards.

I’m also expected to put air in the tires and to check the oil and other fluids — all things that I’ve taught our daughter Amy to do for herself with her cars; responsibilities that she has accepted without incident and with a minimum of complaint.

Now obviously I don’t expect Michelle to be a mechanic any more than she expects me to be a seamstress, but this is just an example of the traditional norms with which we were both raised, remaining, well...the norm.

Taking out the trash is something else she refuses to do. Ditto on going near a lawn mower (they scare her to death).

On the other hand, she is the green-thumbed lady when it comes to the flowers. In that vein we actually make a great team in the lawn & garden arena, and our yard and flowers are usually the envy of the block.

I do anything that has to do with strenuous exercise, lifting, or anything mechanical. Yet for some reason, Michelle is perfectly comfortable using power tools, such as miter saws, or drills. She doesn’t let my availability to help, or lack thereof, stand in the way of a project she wants to accomplish.

She loves painting and decorating interior rooms in our house, and is well-capable doing so with no help from me. She’s even poured concrete (an abject failure of a venture that I will never allow her to live down) in the name of getting an outdoor project done once while I was out of town.

But hey — don’t ask her to change a light bulb or switch out an air conditioning filter; that’s my job.

As far as the finances go, I handed over the bookkeeper’s visor to her fifteen years ago, after I’d made such a mess of out of our finances in the 90s, while attempting to be the man but failing miserably.

However, to be quite honest, I’ve been happy as a clam ever since. I hated writing out bills and balancing the checkbook, probably because I was just so piss-poor at doing it.

I can honestly say, I generally have no idea how much money we have in our checking accounts from one day to the next, because I don’t want to know. I only want to know that when I need to buy something that we have the cash to cover it, and thankfully, we usually do.

How’s that for a role-reversal?

Michelle isn’t as meticulous a bookkeeper as I used to be, but that’s okay. She has her own system and it obviously works. We’re never been late paying a bill and she has never been dishonest with me about our money. I LOVE the fact that I don’t have to think about that part of my life. It’s a tremendous relief to me; a burden lifted.

And THAT, I believe, is just the point.

Harmony in the Workplace
Apart from just a tad of aggravation, there really is no avarice between Michelle and me with regard to our individual roles. It took a few years to come by it, but we have developed a system that works for us.

I’m not as proactive about some things as I should be, but my wife rarely has to nag in order to get me to do what I’m supposed to do. And I of course almost never need to nag her about her responsibilities.

We both do, for the most part, what we’re good at and/or are used to doing. It’s not rocket science, but it does require an genuine level of honesty to each other in order to implement. And once a plan comes together, it’s a very cool thing indeed — because it works.

My wife is, in my opinion, the perfect hybrid of generational influences. She’s old-school tools and new-world savvy. She is as liberated as she wants to be.

She’s never burned her bra (thank gawd) or complained about being discriminated against because of her gender. She appreciates chivalry and my lifelong habit of opening the car door for her — and indeed, she expects me to!.

She is a domestic goddess; literally famous as both a cook and a seamstress, and could have easily fashioned either talent into a catering or window coverings design career had she so desired (and in fact has spent time doing both professionally, part-time). She does impeccable, professional-quality work in most every endeavor she’s involved with.

She is kind and generous, and I know of no one who has ever spoken an ill word of her (well, except for her Mother, but that’s another story too).

However, she’s no wallflower. She can be scrappy, and doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer when she knows that ‘yes’ is the appropriate response.

She is known as somewhat of a crusader at work, where she has bucked the higher-ups more than once, managing to reverse their plans for transferring her to departments within the company that she felt were contrary to the proper use of her skills.

This is no weak-willed woman, people; the lady has stones. Yet she still treats me like a king.

And I am indeed one helluva lucky monarch.

So yeah, Sweetie, I’ll vacuum that couch; and when I’m done with that, I’ll go take out the trash and clean your car.

It’s a fair trade.

* * * * *


Long Division (Part 1 of 2)

‘Vacuum-erly Musings?’
How often do you talk to yourself? More importantly, how often do you listen? Do you like what you hear, or do you seek to tune out the noise?

As active as my imagination is, I find a lot of personal entertainment value in just allowing my mind to run free. I find it interesting to see where it’ll take me and just what its narrative has to say. I love how it is that one thought will open a door to another completely different set of mind-pictures, voices, and recollections of experiences and feelings that I might have stuffed away for one reason or another.

But then again, I am easily amused.

My mind often wanders while I’m engaged in routine tasks, and I don’t think I’m alone in that experience (at least I hope I’m not). In recent years I’ve found that I’m most aware of that fact while in the process of mowing my lawn. My blog’s recurring Mowerly Musings series is a reflection of some of those thought sessions, and has become just another added bonus to the enjoyment I derive from doing my summer yardwork.

However, just as physically listening to something requires a level of intent and concentration, listening to my thoughts enough to capture and write about them is also an exercise in active focus. Unfortunately, I really haven’t made as much of an effort to do that these past few years, and accordingly, my ‘Musings’ have become fewer and further in-between.

However last Saturday morning, I had a blog epiphany that occurred — this time, while I was behind a vacuum cleaner instead of a mower — as Michelle and I prepared for the arrival of weekend guests; our good friends from Memphis-by-way-of-SoCal, the Franklins.

It occurred to me to write about a subject of personal interest that I’ve actually touched on before, but never elaborated upon at any great length: the role environment in which my wife Michelle and I have engaged during our 31-and-a-half years of marriage; our long-standing division of labor.

Mi casa es su casa (es una casa limpia).
The primary reason we wanted to build a home of the size that we did was to take advantage of the opportunity to host family and friends at various times and occasions. It’s something that we have always loved to do. Aside from the obvious enjoyment we derive from having those we love being under our roof, in my opinion there’s another added benefit to regularly entertaining houseguests: we get to live in a home that’s a helluva lot cleaner than it would be otherwise.

I’ve always said, the best reason for having people over is the fact that it’s also the best excuse for cleaning, which is something I can otherwise just about always find an excuse to put off doing. It’s not that we’re slobs, but neither Michelle nor I are neat freaks. We both pretty much employ our own version of a philosophy I like to call, ‘pile management.’

There’s a place for everything, but everything doesn’t necessarily have its own place. Most likely, it’s in that pile of stuff right over there, but I know where it is. And it’ll likely stay in that pile until I find the time to file or throw it away permanently — or we have someone coming over to visit.

So, the more often we can have the latter circumstance, the fewer piles we have to manage. It’s a beautiful thing, really.

See, I have this love/hate thing going on with cleaning. I hate the thought of having to do it, but when I get into it, the activity sort of pacifies me, much the same way that mowing the lawn does. My mind relaxes, and I usually can get some really good thinking in, which is probably my all-time second favorite thing to do.

Last Saturday, our friends from Memphis, the Franklins, were on their way to visit for the weekend, and as usual, Michelle and I were busy, cleaning house, preparing for their arrival.

I was on vacuum detail. Specifically, I was vacuuming the couch, to remove our dog and cat’s pet hair, which our big red sectional seems to attract like a magnet.

This is a particular household job that has become exclusively mine. Michelle has done it perhaps once or twice in all the years we’ve owned couches; in other words, the entirety of our marriage.

Why is it my job only? Who knows? But it’s just something that I’ve always done and Michelle has never offered to do voluntarily. It’s just part of our marital DNA makeup; one of my roles in the relationship.

In fact, running the vacuum cleaner in general is something with which I’ve always been well acquainted. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid; it was a job I volunteered to do as soon as I could manage to push our big Hoover upright around, back in the 60s. I’ve always been fascinated by vacuums and how they work. To me, vacuuming has never been a chore, so much as an ongoing science lesson.

However, sucking persistent dog hair off a surface that doesn’t easily surrender it is indeed a chore. But since I more or less assumed the role of vacuum operator years ago, the job has fallen on me and me alone.

Michelle’s childhood experience with the chore vacuuming was the opposite of mine (i.e.: she hated it), so now as an adult, she’s more than happy that I’m willing to take it on as a regular responsibility.

And besides, the physical aspect pushing a vacuum around, and more so, of lifting and running it awkwardly across the surface of a sofa is something I’m better cut out for anyway, because I’m the man; but more on that later.

As per my similar relationship with mowing, power sweeping has always provided a great time for me to think, and on this occasion last Saturday, I found my thoughts hovered over this somewhat peculiar duty of couch-cleaning. It brought to mind the rather interesting division of roles that Michelle and I have employed in the performance of household chores throughout our years together.

Next: Boom Goes the Dynamite

Monday, July 05, 2010

A Different Kind Of Freedom (Part 2 of 2)

The family that hangs-over together, hangs-in together
This was one for the books. This was one that we as a family will laugh about for years, but one that will forever live in a much softer place in my heart as well.

It’s surreal, drinking with your kids; truly acknowledging them as adults; as equals.

On the flipside, while it wasn’t the first time either of them have been tipsy in our presence, it was definitely the first time my son had been shitfaced in all his unabashed glory, in front of me.

Kinda made me feel special, it did. To know that after all the years of ‘shields up,’ he now feels comfortable enough to just let it all hang out.

Here’s how it happened:

Amy was coming home from the ATL for the 4th, and we had decided that we would treat ourselves as a family to everyone’s favorite Mexican Restaurant, Poncho’s Place in Franklin.

Amy arrived at our house at about 4:30pm Friday afternoon, and we’d made prior plans to meet Shawn at Pancho’s at around 5:30. He beat us there by fifteen minutes or so.

When Michelle, Amy and I arrived at the restaurant, Son #1 was already there waiting, seated in a booth. However we could barely see him for the GIANT 40 OZ. MARGARITA on the table that was nearly blocking his head from view.

¡Ay, caramba!

I had never seen a cocktail that size in my LIFE! I knew that Pancho’s featured huge, 36oz beers, but this had to be BIGGER than that!

We all got a pretty big kick out of the frosty lime green spectacle, and Shawn admitted that he had no idea what he was ordering when he asked for the ‘jumbo’ frozen margarita.

Considering that he also volunteered that he’d been drinking beer by a friend’s pool since midday, and already conspicuously bore the heavy eyelids of inebriation-in-process; we knew that this was gonna be an interesting evening.

But lest you think my son a lush, please believe that he was not yet in lah-lah-land. However, by the time he’d gotten through about a quarter of that margarita, he was just outside the city limits.

We always have a good time at Panchos, but this evening was really something. The kids just seemed so a ease, and Shawn, he was a talkin’ foo.

One of the things he’s been wrestling with is his desire to be married and have a family, versus remaining unattached and just enjoying being a single guy. He has a long history of exclusive, monogamous relationships with girlfriends that typically last 2-3 years; it’s been that way since he was in high school
Now, he’s lookin’ at the big 3-Oh in a couple years and thinking, what am I doing here? Do I want to be like my folks, get hitched and have my family while I’m young, or do I want to continue to enjoy my new-found freedom as an unattached bachelor, and continue to play the field?

Well, you can probably guess what his mother and my opinion was.

To complicate matters even further, his chief on-again-off-again, long-standing girlfriend is kinda back in his life...again. This is a potential daughter in-law whom we have already given our stamp of approval. We love this girl! She comes from a great family, with parents who are our age and social strata; she’s gorgeous, and together she and our son would produce the most beautiful grandbabies known to mankind.

The problem is, they’re both waiting for the other to make the first (serious) move. Obviously, we told Shawn to go for it. We know he wants to. He knows he wants to. And I think she knows he wants to. She’s just waiting to be pursued by the man she loves.

But see, not half of this information would we likely have gotten out of Shawn had it not been for the alky-hall.

Hey, what kind of drunk are you, anyway?
People seem to possess a varied range of personality traits revealed under the influence of alcoholic excess. Some people are ‘mean’ drunks; others are ‘quiet’ drunks; Me? I guess I’m pretty much a happy drunk, although I do tend to get quiet when my happiness becomes AJ making an ass out of himself in front of all the sober people in the room.

I’ve really never been shitfaced, save for a couple of times in my life; and that was more than enough to learn my limits with alcohol. I rarely drink to beyond a medium buzz. I simply don’t like being out of control. Besides, I think it’s a heck of a lot more fun to watch a drunk than to be one.

Truer words could not have been spoken with regards to my son the other night. I discovered that Shawn is much like his old man when he goes over the edge. He’s a happy, gregarious drunk. He loves to talk, and in this case, he loved to talk, LOUDLY. IN PUBLIC.

But seriously, he was hilarious. We kept shooshing him to keep his voice down, but it would always creep back up. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we were in a bar instead of a family restaurant. But when it reached a point that she knew he might regret later, Shawn’s sister deftly grabbed her brother’s jumbo margarita and began redistributing the balance of it into the rest of our empty glasses. Shawn had had enough.

But the party was just getting started.

Family Night at AJ’s Pool Hall
We were stuffed, buzzed and happy, but Shawn was really in no condition to drive, so little sis took the wheel of his truck and Michelle and I took my car as we met the kids back at the house.

We reconvened downstairs in the man-cave, where Shawn, Amy and myself engaged in a pool tournament, one in which I quickly fell prey to both my pool-shark children.

My son gives me credit for making him this way, but his love for eclectic rock, electronica, and jam-blues music is always in evidence when he’s at home. He hooks his iPod up to my stereo system and we crank up the sound.

As they played pool together, Michelle sat in my recliner and just soaked it all in. I was at my computer typing some notes up for a hockey blog I was trying to spit out and I’d steal a glance at her from time to time throughout her children’s battle for cueball supremacy; her eyes were always smiling.

Given all the typical brother/sister strife between Shawn and Amy over the years, as adults they now have of late become very close, and incredibly tolerant of the things about each other that they once simply could not stand.

Michelle and I absolutely love the way they both seem to have arrived at a common place in their maturity, having at last discovered how truly lucky they are to have each other.

I was smiling too.

Beautiful Boy, Boston, and Bruce
At one point later on, while her brother was taking his shot at the table, Amy drifted over my way where I was again seated at my computer desk. She began looking through my stereo rack, where my CDs and LP collection are located just to the right of my desk.

“Maaan Dad, I am so jealous of all these old records. I wish I had a turntable.”

Then she spotted an album that grabbed her attention.

“BOSTON!?” she gasped. “I’ve heard of THEM! Can you put this on?”

Pfffft. Heard of them, she says…don’t kids these days know anything?

I announced to her that this was THE classic ‘Boston’ album, one of the quintessential American Classic Rock albums of all time, and yes, I would most certainly put it on.

The sound, even 35 years later, was like buttah. My kids were amazed. It was a moment not to be missed. It was more than a feelin’, if you will.

Soon both Shawn and Amy were over there perusing my LPs.

Then Amy discovers Double Fantasy, the great John Lennon’s swan song from 1980, an album I purchased just a week prior to his death. My kids were as fascinated by the cover photography as they were the details surrounding that horrible time as I tried to explain what an important work that album was to me and the millions of other Beatles fans who mourned the loss of one of our most beloved heroes.

But there was something else about that album that I wanted to point out to Shawn. I didn’t know whether or not I had ever mentioned to him.

I asked him if the song title, Beautiful Boy meant anything to him.

He wasn’t sure. He said the name sounded familiar, he just couldn’t place where he knew it from.

I pointed to the title listing on the album cover and told him that when he was little I used to sing him that song as a lullaby. It was Lennon’s love song to his son, Sean and it so touched me when I heard it that I wanted to share it with my own son when he came into the world just a few years later.

I put on the vinyl and cued the needle to the final track of Side 1.

Close your eyes
Have no fear
The Monster’s gone
He’s on the run and your daddy’s here
Beautiful beautiful
Beautiful Boy…

My son’s face lit up with a broad smile and a giddy, breathy, ohmygawd…I remember now kind of laugh. It was so innocent and full of joy. It was a side of my son I hadn’t seen in I don't know how long.

Out on the ocean
Sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient
Cuz’ it’s a long way to go
A long road to hoe
Yes it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime…

Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you’re busy making other plans
Beautiful beautiful
Beautiful Boy…
Darling Sean

He was still smiling and chuckling to himself when the song was over, and then I told him that it was largely due to that song that I had given him the name of Shawn (although it has a different spelling than Sean Lennon), here on my blog, because I have always associated that song with him.

And of course, for an old softie like me, that was a pretty special and unexpected way for me to tell my boy how much I loved him. But the moment served its purpose, and we moved on.

Amy grabbed Bruce Springsteen’s classic Born To Run LP and Shawn yelled, “Yeah! Put on some Bruce!”

I spun the platter and cranked up the volume.

Then I Tweeted to warn the neighbors.

All in all, it was a fabulous night, filled with:

• Great food — I’m tellin’ ya folks, if you’re ever in Nashville, you have to check out Pancho’s. Try the Quesadilla Relenna.
• Potent Potables — In addition to mas margaritas, did I mention that there at the house, as if they hadn’t had enough already, my son and daughter engaged in a straight Jack Daniels swilling contest? She won.
• TMI — One of the major issues with my son’s high-volume conversation at the restaurant was when he began giving us unsolicited details of some things that shouldn’t be uttered outside of a confessional. DOH!
• Togetherness — In recent years it has been a rare occasion when it’s just the four of us together for an evening, without other friends or extended family members to have to worry about offending; just us being ourselves, showing our warts to each other, and having fun being a family.

This is great stuff, folks. True freedom; the freedom to be yourself without fear of reprisal; the ability to love and be loved without conditional attachments. I reckon that’s what family should be all about.

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we’re any kind of perfect family. All you have to do is look at me to know that. But what I have in my wife Michelle, my children, and this great nation in which we live, is all I could ever want or need. Of that I am certain.

It could be better, but at this point in my life I am truly satisfied that it doesn’t have to be. And that’s a pretty cool thing indeed.

* * * * *


Sunday, July 04, 2010

A Different Kind Of Freedom (Part 1 of 2)

Happy Birthday, Old Glory!
There’s just something special about The 4th. Something carefree, yet sacred; frivolous, yet poignant. For me, it’s a day of great joy that leaves me totally verklempt if I spend more than 30 seconds really thinking about what it means.

July 4th is the day our nation looks back upon as the beginning of our freedom; the day that the great American experiment ripped off its lab coat and flashed its red, white, and blue underwear for all the world to see. It’s what we’re most admired for, and that for which we’re most hated as well.

But just as our nation celebrates its collective coming-out party today, there’s an even more personal meaning that the firecracker holiday has for me, and now, it would appear, for my kids as well.

Freedom From Oppression
Not long ago, I revisited the memory of my late Stepmother, Maxine, who passed ten years ago on Memorial Day weekend. There was a time in my life when I would have rather celebrated rather than mourned her death; a time when she was my most hated enemy. However the internal accord I finally reached with her wasn’t accomplished via a handshake or a begrudging nod, but with a prayer.

It happened on July 4, 1973, a Wednesday night. A night that my parents’ commitment to their duties as Deacon and Deaconess of the First Baptist Church of Long Beach, California preempted my desire to celebrate the 4th of July like every other normal, reasonable, red-blooded teenage boy in my estimation, by going out and shooting off fireworks!

But no, we had to go to church instead, and I did so under protest.

It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, and just a few weeks away from my 17th birthday; an age well within the range of the rebellious years of most teens. I was small, but in the midst of my largest growth spurt. I was maturing, physically, in large part due to my involvement in gymnastics, where I was just coming into my own as a top performer.

Yet I was still under the tyrannous thumb of Maxine. She still beat me, though with less and less frequency, and though I was at a place where I could most certainly retaliate, I did not; not out of fear, but out of respect for whom she was, and what I believed to be right.

She was still making me crazy, but no less crazy than the harebrained notion of going to church on the freaking Fourth of July!

So needless to say, I wasn’t in too good a mood when we got there. I went up to the High School/College-age meeting room where they had a brief Bible Study each week. I sat down with my arms folded, probably looking like I wanted to kill somebody.

But something else had to die that night: my anger.

I’ve often said that I don’t discuss politics or religion on this blog, and I don’t intend to violate my own rule here now. But suffice it to say, I came away from that experience a different person than I was before. I looked at the world differently. I looked at my relationship with Maxine much differently, and in my mind, things were never again the same.

Oh, she still hauled off and smacked me whenever she felt the need, but apparently, that need began to occur less and less from then on, and my reaction was different when it did.

Paying it Forward
Although I swore I would never treat my kids the way I was treated growing up, Michelle and I DID use corporal punishment. The difference was that we tried very hard never to do so in anger. We always explained to Shawn (now age 28) and Amy (now age 25) why they had to be punished, and we hugged and loved on them for several minutes afterward.

Like clockwork, they both went through their rebellious years, but there has never been any serious chasm between our kids and us. Oh there’s been plenty they never wanted to tell us about, but that’s just the reality of the parent-child relationship. They’re not angels. They both do things that we don’t and would not ever do; but they’re great individuals, solid citizens, and OMG, I could only wish I was so popular, socially.

The bottom line is, I couldn’t be happier both with the way my kids turned out and my relationship with them. I consider them to be my friends, and that circumstance is a dream come true for any parent.

I’ve written about my children’s coming of age throughout the history of this blog, particularly about my daughter and the special relationship I have with her, no doubt in part due to one particularly fateful incident that happened when she was only four years old.

And while I have always asserted that there is no difference in the depth of my love between me and my two kids, I do have to admit that my relationship with Shawn has been a little more daunting.

Maybe it’s just a Father/Son kind of conflict thing. Perhaps it’s due to the disparity in our respective personalities, but Shawn and I have pretty much been oil and water most of his life.

He’s the kind of guy who has everything figured out; never needs help, and if he did, he’d go to his friends long before he’d turn to his Dad.

Although he’s never been a burden on us financially, aside from putting him through college, Shawn’s never seriously asked me for a dime. He’s always been self-sufficient, and as a result, always just a bit more distant than I would have ever hoped or wanted him to be.

But that’s changing, as per a great case-in-point this past Friday night.

Empty-Nesters No More.
BTW, I haven’t yet mentioned it here, but Shawn moved back home recently. It’s the first time since college that he’s lived under our roof.

Unlike his sister, who chose to stay and work in Chatty between semesters, Shawn made it a habit to come home for the summer while attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, because he always had a job waiting here in Nashville, which is the reason he’s always been so financially independent. He’s a professional arborist for one of Nashville’s leading Arbor/Landscaping companies.

He’s been plying his craft since he was a Junior in high school, and makes very good money for being the guy up there in the toppy-top o’ the trees; doing the power-line tango, and literally risking life for (tree) limb.

His desire is to one day own his own company, and I have no doubt that he’ll reach that goal.

After graduation with a Bachelors degree in Forestry, from UTK in 2007, Shawn considered heading out west, but decided instead to come back to Nashville. However he didn’t attempt to sponge off of Mom & Dad. He knew, as did our daughter, Amy, that once the nest was empty, we kinda wanted it to stay that way.

Nonetheless, the kids always knew that if something happened, they always had a place to come home to.

Amy, who also graduated in 2007, from UTC Chattanooga with a degree in Theater, remained there, working in the local scene and saving up for a year before seeking broader horizons in Atlanta, where she has lived since 2008, with her acting career just now beginning to take off.

However Shawn’s domestic circumstances took an unfortunate turn recently, when in May he learned that he would not be allowed to renew the lease on the small house he was renting in Nashville. The landlord was going to sell the house to a family member, and gave Shawn and his roommate one month to get out.

So he asked if he could come home for a few months, and we gladly agreed.

To his tremendous credit, we discovered how much neater and more responsible our son had become over the previous three years. I, quite frankly, was shocked at how much my boy had ‘grown up’ since college.

We’ve had a lot of good talks since then, and I’m amazed at the level of comfort between us. You can just see how much more he ‘gets it’; how much more he understands what life is all about, and most gratifyingly, how much more he appreciates the way in which he was raised.

Not that it’s ever been a requirement in determining myself to be a success as a parent, but several times in conversation recently, Shawn has gone out of his way to recall things from years ago that I’d told him would happen in his life, just to let me know that, “Dad, you were right…”

It’s a beautiful thing to know that you’re no longer simply a gasbag who means well.

But seriously, it wasn’t merely the confirmation that he actually listened to my lectures; we’ve actually had a great time together; playing pool, listening to and talking about music; just doing stuff that I’d hoped we’d do together someday.

Somewhat selfishly, I always longed for the time when I could relate to my kids as adults; to have conversations instead of frustrations. And while I wish to heck I could go and take back all of the stupid things I’ve said in the past, it’s comforting to know that for the most part it doesn’t appear now that many of those things will come back to haunt me.

It’s just nice to know that my son is comfortable hangin’ out with his old man.

But as we discovered Friday night, the acid test in determining JUST how comfy you are with Mom & Dad, is when you’re willing to let them see you intoxicated.

Oh yeah...

Next: The family that hangs-over together, hangs-in together

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Get To Know Me...Oh, Wait...You Already Do...

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself
NOTE: As busy as I am right now, today I needed to cheat a little. This is a two year-old post that really never saw the light of day, but was to be the maiden entry in my initial attempt at blog revitalization, a boy-who-cried-wolf grand reopening of AYBABTU in January 2009. I had previously alluded to the idea in a few posts and on Twitter, and had even secured the favor of two very high-level Twitter users to promote the announcement, but subsequent difficulties with the new blog template, along with a general disillusionment with where I was actually going with this ‘AJ 2.0’ schlock kind of brought me to my senses prior to making a complete ass of myself.

Well now I have a much better understanding of where I fit into this social media jigsaw and I’m ready give it another try; this time without the fanfare.

It’s a sort of reintroductory post that largely assumes that you don’t know me. However, thanks to the recent, huge show of support from my longtime Blogsville compadres, chances are, to most of those who will now be reading it, it’s old news with a bit of a twist.

So if you’ll pardon my posting a re-tread, I’ll take this opportunity to get the most of my limited time this week. I stumbled upon it today and thought it still held enough water to go ahead and post, seeing as how I now actually have sort of re-launched this site. I’ve edited and updated the story for a more current disposition of my circumstances, but toned down some of the rhetoric regarding my once-assumed assault on the social media world (oyeee vey).

So if you don’t know me, please read on. And if you’ve known this blog for years, I’d invite you to read anyway; I have a message for you as well.

I honestly don’t know whether I’m needlessly psyching myself up with this blog relaunch business or if I’ll eventually fall back into old patterns after the excitement wears off, but I truly want to give this renewed commitment a serious try.

I hope you’ll like what you read enough to join me and see where it leads.

* * * * *

Who am I?
Funny; I ask myself that question all the time. And seeing as this is the relaunch/re-birth of All Your Blogs Belong to Us, I figured it might be a good time to reintroduce myself, both to those who have known me in this space previously and to the new friends I will meet forthwith.

I suppose that first and foremost, I'd have to describe myself as a wise-cracker; and when I say a ‘wise-cracker,’ I don't mean to say that I'm a smart, white southern guy — although I have been referred to as a "pseudo-intellectual", I am caucasian, and I do live in Nashville.

But of course, what I really mean is that I like to goof around, drop a few puns, make fun, be made fun of, and generally do my best to make you smile.

However there is most definitely a serious side to my personality, and when it comes right down to it, that's the part that truly makes me who I am.

I like to think...a lot; maybe too much.

I write about what I think, as well as music, my family and my friends.

What have I done?
As far as who I am in real life, anonymity on the web is important to me, although I've given out more than enough personal info to allow anyone to figure out my identity if they truly had the mind to. Nevertheless, I maintain at least a thin veneer of secrecy about my corporal identity, if for no other reason than to protect the guilty — including myself. I used to maintain that for the sake of my corporate life as well; but seeing as I’m currently unemployed, that doesn’t seem to be as important now.

In fact, things have changed so much for me that I actually find myself hoping that a prospective employer will find my blog, given the elevated station of social media currently in the business world. I’d like to think that my experience in this medium speaks well of the overall experience I have as a new media creative, as well as the point that I am whom I appear to be. If you wish to get to know me, just read my blog.

But, oh yeah, back to protecting the guilty; I respect the privacy of my friends and family members, so the names of any and all living persons (with the obvious exception of publicly-known figures) referred to in my stories are pseudonyms. As a matter of fact, my stepsister, who is a huge fan of this blog, has for years been requesting that I create an AYBABTU Scorecard — you know, “ya can’t tell the players without a scorecard”? — so that she can keep track of all our relatives that I refer to in my stories. I really need to sit down and do that. Heck, even I sometimes need to go back and check what name I referred to a certain person as if there’s been any length of time between mentioning them.

I do talk a lot about my family, but I really love to talk about my friends; that’s become somewhat of a trademark of mine.

I often try to let people know how much I appreciate them; not to kiss their asses, but to make them feel special — because they are. I believe we’re all rockstars, in our own certain way, and I like to provide even a small sense of that for those I love in any way I can. Sometimes it's just nice to experience even a little confirmation in this day and age when we often go overlooked, taken for granted, or even abused.

As my life has already passed well beyond the halfway point (statistically speaking, anyway — but piss on that — I'm goin’ for the century mark!), I’d have to say that I've had a pretty decent existence. I've had success in a lot of areas, but that success has been tempered by horrible loss — more so than anyone should have to bear.

I’ve a lost an unfair percentage of my immediate and extended family to inherited Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease, including my grandfather, mother, elder brother; and I’m now in the process of losing the most beloved of them all, my younger brother, Alex, currently in the advanced stages of AD, is currently in hospice, and is not expected to live beyond this year.

And that’s less than half of the victims that this hideous plunderer of life has plucked from only two generations of my mother’s side of the family.

However, strewn amongst the losses, I’ve scored more than a few victories. I’ve enjoyed the success of being an All-American collegiate athlete; lived one of my dreams as a part of the commercial music industry, and for eleven years enjoyed another dream job as a corporate web designer.

I've done some very smart things — chief of which was to marry a woman without whom I would truly be lost: my Michelle (ooh..I feel a song coming on...). I've written a lot about her. We celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary this past March, and I feel like a freakin' Einstein when I consider how special that fact is.

Michelle has given me two wonderfully perfect, imperfect kids, whom I love with all of my heart (I’ll actually be talking about one of them in my next post). Both of our children are grown, graduated from college and gone, but we have a great relationship with them; they are not only my kids, but also my friends. You can hardly imagine how special that is for me to say.

Materially, I've also been blessed to have a lot without necessarily ever making a lot of money. But even if I had made it, I most likely would have lost it all when I literally lost my shirt in the mid-90s.

Wait...did I forget to mention that I've done a lot of dumb things too? Well I have; and a few of the things I did that turned up the temperature of the financial hot water we found ourselves swimming in 15 years ago is at the top of the list.

Nevertheless, working together as never before, Michelle and I fought off the foreclosure of our home; I got three jobs and together we worked our way back to debt freedom — just in time to put our two kids through college (on cash, of course!) at the dawn of the new millennium.

Through all the up and downs, the Internet has defined me, more than a few times. After a ten-year career in the music industry, I launched fulltime into web design in 1995, a career that has alternately been my greatest joy and the bane of my existence.

Where am I going?
As the first decade of the 21st Century fades from view, the Net is smiling on me once again. I am both happy and excited to immerse myself in the phenomenon that is social media; it’s the primary reason I’ve re-launched this blog, although my ancient Blogger template was long overdue for the scrap heap even three years ago sorry, Doug — and you’re welcome, Dylan).

I've always said that I write for an audience of three: me, myself, and I. And for the most part, that remains true. However I'm ready to go beyond myself; to push the envelope a little, and really become a part of the burgeoning, extended web community now augmented by Facebook and Twitter.

But again, I ain’t no ‘Internet Marketer.’ I’m a web designer who merely happens to be a personal blogger; I’ll never pretend to be otherwise. I don’t write to generate business; I write to speak my mind and to order my thoughts. My personal brand is much more about who I am than what I do. I’m the real deal; what you see is me, like it or lump it.

Hopefully you’ll like a lot more than you lump; I’m sorta counting on that, else I’d probably have made the decision to scap this thing and just go to Walgreens to pick up a diary.

Beyond the obvious personal information I’ll blog about, my overall role in this community remains to be seen. However, it’s more than likely going to be equal parts court jester and Wal-Mart greeter, with a just enough pertinent social commentary and tech-info-for-right-brainers thrown in to make my claim of being a webbie appear legit, but not so much as to alienate the casual reader.

If you’ve seen me on Twitter, you probably know that while I may swim with SocMed sharks, I’m much more pilot fish than great white. I’m learning from the best, but have no aspirations to be Chris Brogan Jr.

Seriously though, I may not make you richer, but that’s not my goal. There are more than enough folks out there with far better qualifications than I to fill that bill. My chief aim is to make you smile and to make you think; to make your mind richer. And if I can do that, I think I’ve written a pretty good story.

In addition to the old friends I’ve had for years who are still out there, I'm excited about the new friends I've already met through Twitter and Facebook, and look forward to reaching out even more, hopefully with greater concentration on topically-based subjects, as opposed to my normal inclination to spend the lion’s share of my blog’s energy navel-gazing.

(However if you wanna see my navel, I’ve been told I’ve got a cute one…minus the lint.)

Wanna come with?
If we’ve never met, I look forward to meeting you soon; if we’re already friends, I look forward to expanding that friendship to a place from which we both can benefit even more. I look forward to the changes, and the rewards that lay ahead.

Seeya ‘round!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blog Comments Reunion Wrap-up...and a NEW Challenge

Holy MacAnoli!
Y'know I really sort of dreaded writing it, but my previous series, A Place Called Blogsville, was one of those things you just ‘sorta haveta do’ sometimes to move on. And quite frankly, when I first conceived of writing a tribute to the group of my fellow bloggers who all discovered each other during the golden eighteen months of — mid-2004 to late-2005 — that’s what I was doing, moving on.

I was totally convinced that most everyone had purposefully and permanently eschewed blogging in favor of Facebook, Twitter, and/or their ever-increasingly busy and more-complicated lives.

I knew a small handful of folks would respond to the post, but I mostly expected crickets. I really thought the old neighborhood was dead.

Heh. A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral.

I never dreamed the response would be so great, or that so many of you longed for the old days just as much as I did. I never realized that so many had stopped blogging pretty much only because everyone else seemed to have done so as well.

But how awesome was it to have just about everyone back together again in the same place? Thank you all once again for making it such a fun time!

I guess sometimes you really can go home again. :)

And I am even happier to learn that, at least from initial reports, Inanna, Leese, and (eventually, for a limited time only) Lovisa, have decided to begin blogging regularly again, joining Cybele, Jennifer, and Sydwynd — who really never stopped, and Jack, who revived his blog late last year.

I guess sometimes all we need is a nudge. And so I'm gonna try and give you one more.

Be my guest.
In my reintroduction to blogs outside the ol’ hood over the past two and a half years, I’ve become intrigued by what seems to be an increasingly common practice. And only in light of the great response from everyone on the comments party (I honestly hadn't thought of this beforehand), I want to offer something to any of my friends who’d be willing to take part.

One of the things many of you expressed that took you away from bloggging, and/or has kept you from returning to it, is none other than the big ‘ol ‘NT’ — no time.

No time to be consistent; no desire to subject yourself to the pressure of getting something out there on a regular basis. Believe me, we all can identify with this.

But what if you only had to write a post, like, every six weeks or something? Would that work?

Here’s the deal. I’m just like you, busier than a one-armed paperhanger with fleas. But I want to rededicate my blog to having new content out there at least every few days, if not daily. So, if you guys are keen to the idea, I would be more than happy to establish a guest blogger spot here on AYBABTU. It would be a weekly feature at a consistent time and day. The offer is open to anyone (whom I already know and trust, of course), on any subject that isn't likely to draw trolls or spammers (and I think we all know what I’m talking about — two of the three things you're not supposed to discuss in polite company).

I would LOVE to give any of you who no longer have an active blog of your own, the means to scratch that itch that has never gone away. And if our little comments reunion was any indication, this could be a lot of fun.

So if you're interested (and it’s not gonna hurt my feelings if you’re not), shoot me an email at ajinnashville (at) gmail(dot)com.

Might give new meaning to the phrase All YOUR Blogs Are Belong to US, eh?

Blogroll Update
One other thing that I alluded to previously in a comment during the reunion: I am sad/embarrassed to say that I do not have URLs for many of my old neighbors’ new or former digs. Over the course of redesigning my template and throughout the period of the last few years, as so many have dropped out of the ‘hood, I have lost a bunch of links.

So if you would, if your blog is still alive and kickin’, please leave me the URL in a comment so that I can rebuild my blogroll with everyone who is still active in our neck ‘o the woods?

I hate to admit that I’ve lost track of some of your sites, but if you’d do that for me I’d be much obliged.

Hope to hear from you soon!