Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 220: Christmas Eve

Some people struggle at the holidays, and at times I have too.

They are times fraught with emotion, when the grip of memory can just as much cause smiles or tears. You may miss the times you had that were special with your family and loved ones. It's good to relive the memories but they can be bittersweet. There are people who are long gone, but those times were intimate and important. And now they're slowly fading into your personal history.

It can be tough. It can make you blue. This is especially true for those who have fallen on tougher times. Maybe they have lost their family somehow. People die or grow apart. Kids grow up and move away.

This isn't meant to be a downer. In fact I've been more in the "holiday spirit" this year than I have in a long time. It was a conscious decision, an effort to make this season happy and memorable. I think for the most part I have succeeded. I've done the little things that mark the season, and I've tried to be kinder and more patient with the little irritations that can be heightened when you're caught in crowded scenes.

I spoke to my dad tonight. He grew up in the Dust Bowl: A 1930s Okie. You can't get more "Depression era" than that. To recap, his mother never graduated high school, and his father ran off when my dad was 12. An undereducated mother of five, alone in a dirt-poor town of less than 2,000 people in post-war America. My dad's family in the best of times knew only struggle.

I asked him tonight what he remembered about Christmas as a child. "Well we were poor," he said. "And everybody knew it, and people would look down their nose at you. You'd be wearing hand-me-down clothes and people acted like you were nothin'."

And that's what my dad's family had at Christmas: nothing. "We were lucky if we had an apple and an orange," he said. "There wasn't any money. I'd work chopping cotton to help out. We had to live at Granny Keeter's for a while."

An apple and an orange. Merry Christmas.

My mom's family had similar struggles, only a little more money. Her family actually got gifts at Christmas, but in her case, it might be a pair of socks. She said one year they got a doll -- to share with the five sisters.

Socks, and a part of a doll. Merry Christmas.

The next time you hear about people getting maced during a fight in a store to get some stupid toy, have some perspective. The struggles my parents had may seem quaint... but with millions of people in this country out of work, this Christmas is going to be pretty threadbare for a lot of folks. Some probably aren't getting new Droids or iPads. Some aren't getting the new Batman game. Some aren't getting the Air Jordans.

Some aren't getting anything. They'd be lucky if they had an apple, an orange, or a pair of socks.

I haven't had a paycheck in well more than half a year now. But I'm lucky... M has a good job and has also found a part-time job, and I've learned (unfortunately through trial and error) how to watch our money closely and keep out of trouble. We're making it.

And although nothing is definitive yet, there has been a promising prospect recently that I'm hopeful about. And an earlier interview, once again, I was close to landing the job. To my knowledge I still could, but I think I probably will be the bridesmaid again. That's OK, because at least I felt like it was a good prospect. If I don't get the job, someone else does, and ultimately that helps everyone.

We need to remember how lucky we are, and how great life is. Though unemployed since mid-May, I'm sitting here in decent clothes, in a warm house, in a loving environment. There is food in the kitchen. And I was able to procure some modestly priced gifts.

A lot of people tonight are crying because they don't have any money. They don't have a job. They are estranged from, or have lost, people they love. They will wake up tomorrow, alone and lonely. No one will give them even an apple or an orange.

Remember these people. Think about those "ghosts of Christmas past" and present who touched you, and count your damn blessings.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day 216: Dad

My father is 78 today.

Just a few years ago, a lot of us thought he wouldn't make it this far. He's made some good moves in his life: he never carried excess weight, he stayed active (mostly by playing golf) and he never smoked.

However, he did like the koBeer at times and inherited from his oldest son an enjoyment of food.

So he's had some heart troubles and a couple of related surgeries. And the last wave, we thought he was done for. But today, his mind is clear and he sounds good. He's less ambulatory than he's ever been, and that sucks. On the other hand... he's 78! Statistically, he's playing with house money.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 213: Colors

My mother loves wild birds. She's fascinated by them and has been for a long time. Her home features bird-themed items (even a clock that hourly sounds off with different bird tweets) and of course feeders throughout her yard.

We've got a feeder here that when stocked becomes a major bird attraction. At times I've broken out the binoculars for a closer look at these visitors. Some of them are remarkable.

The cardinals... the male is bright red, stunning. It's got to be difficult to be in nature and be that conspicuous. The female is greyish-brown with red highlights. There are two pairs who frequent our feeder.
M loves the Blue Jays. Outside of the crows, this is the biggest bird that we see on a regular basis. For our smallish feeder, he has to hover to get at the seed. In NoCal last year a bluebird was spotted. Very different. Smaller, and a deeper hue. The Jay has a very distinctive call; kind of a screech, actually. They seem to be the boss of the birds around here.
Downy Woodpeckers have been spotted. These are also very visually interesting creatures. The body is kind of a very light grey; the wings are black with white spots and there's a bright tuft of red fur atop the head.

These are just a few. This isn't a bird post, it's about the beauty of nature and the colors that exist. Today the sky is so blue, and cloudless.

I guess this is a "stop and smell the roses" (or rather, look at them) kind of post.

When you're a kid, everything is amazing. When did we get so jaded? Today I'm making a point to see the natural colors around me and appreciate them.

Adjacent to our home is a bit of wild brush and trees. There are some bright red winterberries within arm's reach of the house.

Of course I could now digress a bit and talk about the lovely white cigarette butts that the neighbor dumps on the ground. She did add a little color yesterday by throwing dead flowers over the deck rail onto the pile.

Yeah, let's not talk about that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 209: Concern

This morning I received a polite "no thanks" letter from an employer.

I've gotten a few of these, so it's not shocking. Still not fun, but at least considerate. Many places never provide any response at all.

But what alarmed me with this one is that even though I have almost 10 years of experience in what the job asked for, the response indicated that I did not have the requisite experience. It was some hair-splitting... like telling a football coach with 10 years of NFL experience that they wanted someone with NCAA experience. I've done precisely the job they need filled, and further, have seen the (inferior) work of people they already have on staff.

This does not start my day off the way I would like.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 208: Perspective

Yeah, last night I didn't have much.

There's definitely a negative effect that long-term joblessness can create. Sometimes it's almost imperceptible, but when it manifests it becomes pretty obvious.

Last night I watched a football team and my favorite team in sports choked. Big deal. It's just a game, right? Except last night I was overinvested in the outcome. Not financially, but emotionally. And when the ending came, I was crushed. Beyond crushed: for a moment I thought I was going to throw up.

That's ridiculous. It's a stupid game.

But I went to bed in a bad mood. Sleep provided no relief. I had a terrible dream that upset me so much I woke up crying.

The dream wasn't about football. But I think the stress of needing to find work, and having gone so long without, has caught up to me. It's poisoning my mind.

There's no way to sugar-coat this: The last month has mostly sucked. Thanksgiving had family drama that caused lingering tension. Becky died. I had an interview, but I sense I'm once again going to place second (or third, or fourth -- anything other than first is just a degree of losing). I also had a cyber visit from some people who only want to bring me down. I really want everyone to be happy, even the people who don't like me. Can't we all just get along, even if the only way to do so is to ignore each other?

And the holiday season is one that (like for many others) can make me more blue than happy. Without much money, I am unable to purchase gifts for others. I know there are other options, but sometimes it'd be nice to buy an expensive present for my family. I've tried this year to "get into the Christmas spirit" by decorating the house and making an effort. I'm glad to do so because it is a good idea to try and not give into discouragement.

But I'm discouraged.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 205: Progress

So had an interview locally on Wednesday. It went well, but there's one huge sticking point that might be an issue. Time will tell.

Even better, a really fantastic prospect contacted me about my candidacy. This would be a major move but also a sort of "destination" job that might be "the one." A longshot; the employer will need to take a bit of a leap of faith, which I honestly addressed in our exchange. The fact that they are still interested is a very good sign. I'm not interested in playing the game any more: if we get each other, we're going to have something great. So might as well be completely upfront about my vision, and theirs.

Because of Becky and just the way the holiday season hits me, I've been thinking a lot about loss and our relatively short spans here. I see people who are just getting into their adult years and I now understand why so many people before us shook their heads and shrugged at us when we were that age. Most of these kids just don't get it. They look at time as endless, and at themselves as bulletproof. There's a certain innocence and beauty in it, this feeling that things are still possible. But the reality is that by this time many things are already predetermined for them, and breaking free of that is going to get harder as they go along.

It's like driving down a street that you think might get you to where you want to go. If you don't know, you have no real idea. Going on feel has a certain charm to it, but only if the end destination isn't something important. If the destination is your future life, that's a pretty risky way to get there. You don't know if the road is a dead end, or dangerous, or void of gas stations or food or lodging (i.e., opportunity)... if it's a joyride, that might be something you can overcome. If you want to do something specific, it's going to put that at risk.

Once M and I took a free-form trip. We went to Boston from Montreal, and back. Going to Boston we took a straightforward trip but the trip back was not set. We had no timetable so it was OK to "riff" a bit. It turned out to be a great idea. I can't remember what I did Monday, but I can remember almost minute-by-minute the things that happened on those hot summer days.

Chris Guillebeau preaches about breaking free from the conventional life almost all of us are sentenced to. It's not easy. I haven't been able to, for a variety of reasons, including the fear of taking that big a risk. I haven't defined exactly what I want to be when I grow up. But at least I know that when I figure that out, I'd damned sure better have a plan to get there. It won't happen by accident.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day 199: Neighbors Update

Well, clearly, parking is a challenge. The dude parks at weird angles, presently less than three feet from the car he has yet to hit.

And this morning, turns out the smoker girl thinks the back yard is an ashtray. 11 ciggy butts. It's like a really white-trash version of the 12 Days of Christmas. Hey! An idea! New lyric subjects...

12 Empty Bud Cans
11 Cigarette Butts
10 Taco Bell Bags
9 Crappy Park Jobs
8 Calls to Landlord
7 Late-night parties
6 Hipster Douchebags
5 Dumb Ringtones
4 Sweater Vests
3 A.M. Songs
2 Dumb Neighbors
And a Plan to Move Awayyyy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Day 198: The Rules

We've got new neighbors. So far, things haven't gotten off on the right foot.

Here are some helpful hints when moving into a shared space.

* Communicate.
For example, instead of assuming your neighbors keep similar hours, ask. This is much better than playing your guitar at 3 a.m. and hoping for the best.
This is also helpful when determining property situations. We share a wall with the new tenants. What we don't share are trash receptacles. Unless you plan on dragging our trash can to the weekly curbside pickup point (you're more than welcome to!), don't just fill up our trash.
Similarly, contact the city about a recycling bin. Your trash in our container was full of bottles.

* Draw logical conclusions
When you see me raking leaves from a parking spot, you can presume that I'm doing so because in the two+ years I've lived here, I've kind of adopted it.
We've got space for four cars back here; five if you're accomplished at spatial relations. So, parking your two cars doesn't require a Masters (which at least one of you have) but it does require some degree of care and skill. Develop it. NOTE: Hitting my car as you did yesterday shows you have room for improvement!

* Be considerate
I am grateful you did handle most of the arrangements regarding the collision. Kudos! However, as we noted, the walls here are a bit thin. When you decide to stomp up and down the stairs, we hear it. When you decide to lumber about your apartment arranging things, we hear it. Seeing as how this is your first week, we're going to be cool a bit longer. But soon, let's settle down.
Along the same lines, be mindful. The first neighbor we had here was entertaining with his off-key singing (which, to his credit, he did not attempt at 3 a.m.) but less entertaining with his amorous encounters with a variety of chippies. As Archie Bunker would say, "Stifle!" We hear everything you do.

Oh, one more thing? The wine-bottle opener we loaned you three nights ago and which you pledged to return the following day? Yeah, you may have forgotten but I haven't. It's a little thing, but still important.


Got a bitch about your neighbors? Please share...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Day 197: Sweetness

After the stress of the holidays, prolonged joblessness and now Becky's loss, I could use a break.

Last night, we went to see The Muppets.

With my daughter grown, I don't go see a lot of movies that skew toward kids any more. A big exception: I'll go see anything Pixar has a hand in. "Up" is still one of the best things I've seen in years.

At what point do you perceive that you've "outgrown" certain things? When do you feel like you're too old to do the things you loved when you were a child?

I get it. I don't want cotton candy any more. Or hardly any candy at all. It's funny how adults adjust... the only candy that is regularly acceptable now is chocolate. It's been able to market itself as sophisticated. Godiva makes great sweets, but c'mon, man... that's candy. But now we can have this particular candy as adults because it's been approved.

Other foods have done the same thing... found a way to become accepted as adult when in reality they're kid favorites. Think of macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches... here in Gawd's Country we have a restaurant that makes grilled cheese sandwiches and it's positioned itself as somewhat upscale. But, it's a grilled cheese sandwich. Great cheese or not, it's two pieces of bread, butter and cheese. C'mon, man.

Another thing we did as kids that we don't do enough of now is play. It's cleverly disguised now as "fitness" in a lot of cases. Riding a bike is still fun, but you're probably going to get some strange looks if you have a ringer, handlegrip tassels, a wicker basket or a baseball card between the spokes. Or training wheels. So now to do this fun thing you've got to have a pricy bike and gear. Fortunately some play you can still respectably get away with. Softball, basketball, flag football allow your childhood jock to keep going. What hurts these are people who take these games too seriously. And someone always does. The most fun I've had with this was a co-ed league that required at least three women in the lineup. Our women players were so good we often played with four women in the lineup.

But some play is just not accepted. Call a bunch of your friends up and tell them you want to schedule a big game of hide-and-seek. I think the reaction you get would tell you a lot about who you should intensify your friendship with.

Every now and then I am channel-surfing and stop on the Disney Channel. My daughter loved this when she was little. When I see it now it seems a little (hmmm... make that a lot) manufactured. Everything is so exaggerated and over the top: the colors, the acting, the sets. But they're still a little fascinating. I love looking at the background details such as posters on the walls of schools or rooms, or notes scribbled on bulletin boards or held by fridge magnets. They're subtle: "Homecoming Dance Saturday" or a grocery list. Subtle reinforcements of "the American Way" most of the time. I guess being Disney you shouldn't expect to see a reminder about an OWS rally.

Disney released The Muppets. The behemoth company has deservedly caught a lot of grief for various things, but with Pixar and things like The Muppets I can't find fault.

Sometimes things that are sweet are too much so. This is the case with a lot of the Disney TV programming. But in these sour times, I think we could use a little more sweetness. As my friend Ken says, everything in moderation, including moderation. ANd that's why I wanted to go see this movie. The Muppets became a part of the American consciousness through Sesame Street, still one of the seminal programs in TV history. They were so appealing they were bigger than public television's greatest show. They were a part of the first season of Saturday Night Live. And the premise of the movie is a re-staging of their regular TV program.

If I ever meet Jason Segel, I'm going to thank him for being the force behind getting this movie out. It's just right. Naturally there's a lot of show-bizzy song and dance numbers, but they're appropriate for the movie. The humor didn't have quite the bite that the TV show used to have, but that's OK. The important thing is that for two hours, you're willingly giving yourself over to something you know is going to be a little corny, a little old-fashioned, and cynicism is bounced at the entrance. Throw in a Pixar cartoon short featuring the original Toy Story characters and you've got a break from the pain of the real world. Much better than a night at the bar.

And it kind of can clear your mind of the clutter.

Stuff happens. This morning I watched as my new neighbor of two days crashed into my parked car. Punctured the rear bumper that has already been replaced once after a previous smashup. It's obviously annoying and something that I will now have to deal with.

But no one *wants* to get into an accident and deal. So I'm not too bent about it. Against the normal backdrop of life, this is a pretty minor problem. I just want the days to be as full and sunny as they can be. I don't want to let petty crap drag me down. With The Muppets' reminder about the good things, I'm just going with it. Everything will work out. Most of this junk is just that: junk. Even the worst life has some good things. Some people would use the old phrase "count your blessings."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 181: Becky

Envision a six-foot-tall Amazon with blazing, long red hair, and a voice that bounces off the walls. Temper that with a lust for life, freckles and an easy laugh... that's Rosalyn Rebecca Williams. That's Becky.


I started this post a couple of weeks ago. It's been impossible to get motivated to finish it. Becky is near death at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. She's alive, but she's already gone. Barring some sort of miracle, the sickening phone call will arrive possibly as soon as today. We all know what happens now. But it's so hard to accept it.

And that's why I couldn't finish this. Because I don't want to let her go. Nobody who knows her, or knew her, does. She's a force of nature. But nature always wins. Becky's triumphed over a ton of crappy things during her life, but no one wins this one.


The first thing I ever remember happening in my life was the day I met my little brother. I wasn't yet three.

Trying to recall long-ago memories is always a challenge. What endures? One of my earliest memories is of Becky. She got married to Wendell at age 18. It was the week after the JFK assassination. I remember the big church, and her in a wedding dress. I honestly can't remember anything from my very early childhood before those two memories.


There are five Williams girls, and believe me, they're all pistols. Michaeleen is the first. My mom. Then came PJ, who is a hard-charger. Nancy, the middle child, is ideal in that spot for her balance and even-handedness. She doesn't get rattled too much. Becky was fourth. Phyllis, the youngest, is a moonchild and another sparkplug.

Two of the girls now live in their hometown. The other three have lived more away from home than at home. Phyllis went to Florida, Mike to Texas, and Becky wound up in Michigan.

All the sisters had at least one child, except for Becky. So when my brother and I were kids, she borrowed us for a couple of weeks a year.

I don't know how it got started. It must have been more or less as a lark. But my stepfather worked for an airline, so we could travel inexpensively. Starting in 1971, my brother and I began annual holiday trips to Michigan to visit Becky and Wendell.

For two flatlander Texas kids, Detroit seemed exotic. Becky and Wendell lived in an apartment near the intersection of Ten Mile Road and Hoover in Warren, Mich. -- Eminem's hometown!

I Googled it recently... the apartments look exactly the same as they did 40 years ago. I built my first snowman in the front courtyard of those apartments.

Everything about Detroit was exciting to us. In 1971, the Motor City was still a huge city, a great city: the home of the American automobile industry, Motown, and sports heroes like Gordie Howe, Al Kaline, Bobby Layne, Bob Lanier.

The first time we went was Christmas Day in 1971. As we were readying to go, I was watching a historic NFL playoff game between Miami and Kansas City. It went into overtime; we had to go to the airport. We listened to the game on the radio. When Miami won it in the 6th period, we listened to the game broadcast in our car in the parking lot at Love Field in Dallas.

We arrived late that night and the thing I remember most is passing a giant Uniroyal tire alongside Interstate 94 near Metro Airport.

We stayed for a week, and wound up going back several more times. I know for sure we were there in 1973 (on New Year's Eve we saw our first NHL game against Buffalo at the bombed-out Olympia Stadium, opened in 1927), 1975 (I watched the Cowboys' Hail Mary game while in Michigan), 1976 (I listened to Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" repeatedly -- a Christmas present), and 1978 (saw my first NBA game, with Dick Vitale as coach of the Pistons, in the Pontiac Silverdome -- as it turns out, 14 years to the day prior to the birth of my daughter). But my mom says we went every year.

We might have gone other times as well. I'm pretty sure we were there over New Year's in 1974.

Becky also invited us up a few summers. We were there in the summer of 1973 -- I saw my first baseball game at Tiger Stadium. Becky knew the catcher for the Tigers, a guy named Bill Freehan, and he threw me a ball before the game. We sat on the third-base stands, lower level about 15 rows up. Good seats. They cost $3.50. I still have that ball, still have the program. I found the boxscore online:

Memory is strange... I thought Norm Cash and Al Kaline homered that night. Only Kaline did; Cash didn't play. But I got to see some amazing players: Yaz, Fisk, Spaceman. And Willie Horton. Every time he came to bat, Becky would yell, "Hit that ball, Willie!"

We also saw the Swingin' A's pound the Tigers in a 1975 twinbill. I remember Reggie hitting a homer, and misplaying a fly ball below us (we sat in the right field upper deck). The ball flew over his head for a John Wockenfuss triple -- a rare occurrence, one of only 11 career triples by the Tiger's backup catcher.

Becky liked baseball. This girl was competitive. I wouldn't say she was a tomboy, but when you're a six-foot redhead you're kind of hard to miss, so I guess you'd better be ready for anything. I think this is a Williams sister trait: none of them are exactly wallflowers, but I'd have to say Becky was always the most ebullient. The first time we went up in summer, she was playing softball for a team. Naturally, she was the star. A six-foot shortstop. I imagine opposing pitchers lived in fear.

I got a taste of her competitive nature one year when we were all at the family homestead in Arkansas. A group of us was putting together a jigsaw puzzle. As the puzzle neared completion I confiscated a piece and pocketed it: I don't know why, but I wanted to put in the last piece. As the moment arrived Becky noticed a piece was missing and my secret was discovered. For some reason she didn't approve of my move and chased me through the house to rescue the missing piece. She felt guilty about that for years.

Bec, it's cool. It gave us a funny story to talk about for a long time.


So a huge highlight of my teen years was our annual pilgrimages to see Becky. We always did so many fun things and had such great times. The older Williams sisters had children and seemed more "grown up." Becky and Phyllis were more like us. But Phyllis was in Florida and although we visited at times, Florida was like Texas with Disney World. Michigan's holiday visits made them memorable.

My first time on ice skates was on a frozen lake in Michigan. Ditto first time on snow skis. We went to a place called Pine Knob. The biggest hill there seemed like a 90-degree precipice. I still get palpitations thinking about it.

When we left Pine Knob Becky took us to a cider mill. A *real* cider mill with a water-powered press. It was sublime.


As the 80s unfolded my brother and I were unable to take the annual trips and so we obviously didn't get to see Becky as frequently. Wendell was a firefighter and also a drinker. I'm not sure what precisely happened with them; I know on one of our last visits he was in a hospital trying to kick his attraction to alcohol. Sadly the last time I remember seeing Wendell was when he was in the hospital.

Wendell was a dark, stocky guy with a dry sense of humor. He didn't say a lot. They had a green Mustang that had a sticker on the inside that said "FTA." For years we would ask them what that meant, and they would laugh and say "Fun, Travel and Adventure." Wendell was a veteran and it wasn't for many years until I found out what "FTA" really meant was "Fuck The Army."

When they'd pick us up from the airport in that Mustang, Becky was always wound up. We'd all talk excitedly for the trip back to Warren, which seemed to take an hour. Wendell was always the mostly silent driver. Becky would chatter about the things we were going to do, ask how things were, etc., etc. And at then end of each exposition, she'd turn to Wendell and end with "Huh, Wendell?" Wendell would nod or agree. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

So I don't remember as much about Wendell. He had a reel-to-reel tape player that had amazing sound and seemingly everything the Rolling Stones had ever recorded. I remember the tapes piled in boxes and lusted after their sound the way a lot of teenage boys lusted after Valerie Bertinelli. And like if Valerie Bertinelli was there, you never would touch even though you wanted to.

Tangent: The first time I ever heard Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" was on a radio station in the back of Wendell's car as we drove around Detroit.

Wendell had family in the Detroit area. We hung out with them some, but not a lot.

One last Wendell story: There was a convenience store that had a large sign proclaiming "If we don't have it, you don't need it." We stopped and waited in the car as Wendell went inside to procure whatever. But he came out empty-handed. As he opened the door and saw our puzzled faces, he grinned and said "I guess we didn't need it."


I don't know when Becky and Wendell split, or how. And I don't know when Wendell died. I probably should. He was a neat man.

But in the time after Wendell, Becky had a rough period. I'm not going to get into too many gory details, but like a lot of us she met someone she would have been much better off not ever knowing. I met this guy but didn't really know him. But he was bad, bad news, and toxic, and led Becky down the wrong path.

Fortunately Becky had met someone else around this time: George. When things got really bad for Becky, who was all alone in Michigan, George loved her more than anyone outside of her family. George rescued Becky.

George is one of those people you meet who you know is pure goodness. When there is a family member you love, one of the best things you can ever hope they have is someone who will appreciate them, cherish them, do right by them. Everyone knows George is Becky's hero. He's kind of my hero, too.

We're all worried about George. He and Becky have been United Against the World for a long time. It's clear they have one of those relationships where they always have each other's back. The difference, from this view, is that George never needed Becky as much as Becky needed George. What I mean by that is that George has always seemed centered enough to be strong no matter what. Becky had stumbles, and George always was there to make sure she could get back up.

George is going to be tested now. Losing Becky is going to be the greatest loss of his life. This is probably happening the way it should. Becky couldn't live without George. George is strong. My heart aches for the guy. He's maybe the nicest person I have ever met. He's a better person than just about anyone I know. I hate knowing his pain is so great. It's just unbelievably sad.

I guess the good thing, for George anyway, is that he had more and better years with Becky than any of us. He's lucky in that sense. But that also makes his loss the hardest to withstand. I love you, George.


I've bought one house in my life. It was a magnificent home, and I loved it. Becky made it happen. She loaned me the money to pay for it.

When I got divorced, I had to stop paying her back for a while. "A while" became several years. These years were struggling years for me in a lot of ways. When I finally got stable I talked to Becky about resuming payments.

She sent me a note making the remaining balance a gift. This was not a small amount of money. So throughout my life, she was always giving me unforgettable memories. I could repay the money. I could never repay what she meant to me or how she enriched my life.


I was lucky in the late 90s to have a job that required the occasional visit to Southeast Michigan. I got to see Becky at home a few more times. My daughter's first time to fly and to see real snow was a trip to Michigan.

During that trip we took a sidetrip to a frozen Niagara Falls. Only time I've been there. So naturally, another memory exclusive to Becky. We also cadged a sweet suite at a Red Wings game during that visit.


In 2001 I was in a bit of trouble. I felt like I needed to get out of town. I hatched a ridiculous plan but knew that I would have a safe haven with Becky.

After 24 hours of driving, I placed a phone call to her early one morning in the summer of 2001. "Hey, how are you?" Becky: "Oh my God, how are YOU? What are you up to? Where are you?"

"Ummm... a few blocks away."

::laughter:: "Want some breakfast?

I got to spend a couple of days with her and George. Becky and I caught a baseball game at Comerica and reminisced.


Then she got sick. I saw her a few more times in the intervening years. The last time was a couple of years ago and she had obviously slowed down a bit. But still Becky.


That hair! I've had a thing for redheads ever since.


When she went into the hospital recently I couldn't call her. I heard that she wasn't in great shape. Maybe I am selfish about this, but I just couldn't bear to pollute my memories of her with the shell that her well-lived life is leaving behind. That's not her.

Becky's the attractive, amazing woman you see at the top of this post. That's who she'll always be. I love her. And I miss her.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 180: Choices

As cheesy as it sounds, attitude is a choice.

Some things could bring me down today. Already I've had some unpleasantness to deal with. I'm going to fight through it.

Our lives are marked by choices big and small. What to have for breakfast. Which way to go to work. What to wear. Where to live. Who to spend time with. What to say.

I'm a pretty accomplished Eeyore when I want to be. I don't want to be. I'm going to look at the positives as much as possible, as long as possible. Examples:

* An old friend and I reconnected over the weekend and put aside some differences. It's cool. I like this person immensely and my life is now a little better.
* I saw some beautiful teamwork at home and elsewhere over the weekend, too. That's a good feeling.
* A beloved family member is on her deathbed, and her imminent passing will leave an awful void in my life. I'm trying to fill that void with memories of the amazing, special times we had that she made possible. She will always live on with me because she did so much to enrich my existence.
* We all want to be liked, but some folks just don't get each other. I've got a few of those people who would love to take me down a peg and who are actually pleased that I've been struggling. That's their right. But I can't worry about that. Some people don't like me, I don't like some people. But I've got too much to do and too much yet to experience to let them drag me down. To the "haterz" -- I hope your lives improve to the point that you get your energy from sunshine, not darkness.

Go love something today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 177, Pt. II: Comments

I love comments. I love the interactivity. However, an old psycho stalker-type person has turned up. So pardon the inconvenience, but comments are now moderated.

We now return to your regularly scheduled whatever.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 176: The thermostat Nazi

This house was built in 1939. It's got a lot of typical charm for a pre-war home: hardwood floors, big windows, nice trees in the lot. It's located within walking distance of the campus, the main drag, a grocery store, the city's best park.

The downside: it's poorly insulated, the furnace is more than 40 years old, not a single floor is level, foundation cracks abound. In the summer the ancient water pipes finally gave way and required a massive rip-up of the yard (which still hasn't been restored... the steps leading to the front door are only barely usable and somewhat a health risk to the mail carriers).

I've added weather-stripping and taken some measures to watch the energy consumption. Our very first heating bill here ran $209. An upgrade of the furnace would be a good idea, but when you are a renter, you can only hope that the landlord is willing. And while he's at it, maybe a new fridge to replace the 26-year-old on hand?

Anyway I've earned the nickname "the thermostat Nazi" because in the summer I set the a/c at 80. It's worse in the winter. After the overnight house temperature dropped to at least 55 (could've been lower), I decided to turn on the heat for the first time this season to see if the pilot was still lit and it would kick on.

The holiday season is upon us, and with it come some wonderful aromas: pumpkin pie. Baked turkey. Fresh hot bread.

That first time you turn on the heater provides a seasonal aroma as well. Not sure why furnace dust, or whatever this would be called, has that particular stench. But it's unmistakeable.

I set the thermostat at 56. That's probably too low. I'm willing to consider 58, but only if I can annex Poland.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 175: Eventually

The worst day on a job is always the first. However, I look forward to it.

The first day you're always nervous. Obviously you made a strong enough impression, but now what? Job interviews are like first dates: They're inherently phony. You're only showing the very best possible representation of yourself. That's a facet of you. Not you.

And this goes on for a while, either by design or by showing good sense. In some cases you might have a probationary hiring period where if you do something stupid they will chop you. Generally you've got to hope that there's no slip-up on your part that might give them reason to not like you as much.

It's a balancing act. I can be a little intense and on the job that can rub people the wrong way. I've never understood why. When I am hired to do something, I'm always motivated to do the best possible work I can in fulfillment of my job. Here's an example: I worked for a large PR firm in California, handling the agency work for a global automobile maker. This company was preparing for a gigantic launch of an important vehicle, a legacy vehicle. The intro was going to take place at the largest U.S. auto show.

This particular auto show is a grind for the media. Thousands fly in for the show. For more than three days, the media throngs from automaker event to automaker event, hearing from the bigwigs, seeing the new toys. Every hour, sometimes every half-hour, they move like a herd of 5-year-old soccer players from booth to booth. After a day of this, it becomes a drone. After two days, you just can't wait for it to be over. On the third day, you're homicidal.

I attended many of these as a media member. I think my analysis is fairly typical.

When I was working for the manufacturer, we started planning the big launch. The manufacturer reps had an hour. They planned to open the show with the sexy new vehicle, then touch on the rest of their product line, none of which had the jazz of the new arrival. I made the case that opening with the new product would mean once they moved on to the other stuff, the media would fade away and start staking out ground at the next intro. Three times I made this case, and three times they said they would start the show with the new thing.

When the show came, they started with the new thing. For the second half of their show, they spoke to an audience about two-thirds smaller than what was at the start.

I felt it was my duty to bring my experience to this scenario, but they went another way. The fact that I was right is nice for me, but ultimately, I'd rather have been able to make the case that what I was saying wasn't about me but about what was best for the company. I was willing to go against the grain to make the point that was in the best interests of the company. It wasn't in *my* best interests. I could have easily just shut up and nodded.

I feel that's the coward's way out, and doesn't ultimately benefit the team. But you all know that the workplace is filled with sheep who just want to get through the day without any conflict. I have a hard time doing that. I think it's a matter of integrity to work hard for who you work for.

I've got tons of examples like this. One stop, in a nepotism situation that should have been handled by corporate, one of the beneficiaries of nepotism was incompetent. I could have let that go, and not helped fix that problem. Obviously no one would be able to complain since the nepotism was allowed. But I couldn't bear to let the product suffer so I fixed the problem, over and over and over again. Why? Why should I care more than the people I work for?

Because I don't like coasting. If I'm in it, then I'm in it. Dolph J. Regelsky said it well: "Pro way is the easy way."

So when I get that new job, I will tread lightly to fit in, and hope that everyone is rowing in the same direction so that I don't have to be the one to stand up and try and fix things.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 174: Tremors

Weird stuff been happening around here lately: EARTHQUAKES!

I expected this but never really experienced it in SoCal. What does it mean?

* 2012 stuff is unfolding.
* Fracking is fracking dangerous.
* It's a sign from beyond...

I have had a couple of little job tremors, too. A job with local Behemoth has unshaken some back-and-forth via the e-mails; even more hopeful is the NoCal dream job that I applied for with little hope of becoming reality.

I'm a major longshot for that one although I could clearly shine in the role. It's something that not only would allow me to put to the test my ideas about the future of J, but the fact that it would happen in a dream location is not unappreciated.

Again, I'm definitely a dark horse on this one, but so are earthquakes in Gawd's Country.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 170: Drift

I'm frustrated.

I'm not inspired to write. I feel like I'm trying to run underwater.

Last night I had a dream where I had to make a cross-country flight simply to be in person to sign a document. I flew to my destination, caught a cab to the place I had to go. It was a sterile, nondescript glass-and-metal office complex, filled with people. When I got to the place I was supposed to go, I entered a large, dark blue room that looked like a medical waiting room. It was filled with people but since I was expected I was quickly ushered past the waiting room and into the place where I was to sign. I signed, then immediately left.

Outside there were even more people around the building. I found a security guard and asked about getting a cab to get back to the airport. Apparently my entire trip consisted simply of the trip to sign the document, doing so, then returning. The return flight was probably less than three hours after my arriving flight.

What does it mean? I think it means my dreams are stupid.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 166: Actions, not words

Last Wednesday night was chatting with two friends about the events of Day 160. Both have experience in the job training/job placement field.

Both offered to take a look at my resume and offer feedback. Of course I took them up on it.

One I'm still waiting to hear back from. The other jumped right in and provided me with, basically, several hundred dollars worth of expert analysis. The net effect was a complete re-write of my resume and a new approach. It was a difficult exercise -- forcing myself to think in a completely new way. But obviously, given my near misses (and complete misses!) it was time to try something fresh.

Now I'm really excited about the new format and the way I think it may position me to get the attention of "hiring managers" (such a labored term).

She didn't have to help me. We haven't known each other for a long time. And she basically gave me a lot of free money in the shape of resume counseling and advice with not much benefit to her at stake.

It's pretty reassuring to know that people are still capable of being so nice.

One of my past gigs I had responsibility for a 10-person team and a budget of $1.5 million. It was a great job and I did everything I could to ease the grind on the people on the team. About 40 percent of my time was dealing with personnel concerns; probably another 25 percent was consumed in meetings (this was a meetings-intensive place), and another 10-15 percent was taken up with paperwork-type things. This left about 20-25 percent of time left to do actual work. It was interesting in the sense that "actual work" was kind of no longer what I did in this position. I truly had to "manage" the work of others, not in the sense of sitting on their shoulders making sure things were done, but in coordinating the work of the team and then just getting out of their way, and providing a forum for their concerns and ideas about how to improve processes.

It was fun, actually. I got the most satisfaction out of trying to create an environment where they could be at their maximum efficiency. One person wanted to work from home. We tried it. After a few months, they didn't like it. The main thing was we were able to push the boundaries and see what worked. As a team, we were able to brainstorm ideas and came up with some really good ones, most of which we put into place. It was the best working group I've been a part of.

Naturally, there's always one bad apple, and this malcontent did a pretty good job of being Julie Jerky. But for everyone else, I think that the situation was as close to ideal as you can get.

People can be good, and do the right thing. My friend helped me. Our long-ago work team believed in the team and almost always did the right thing. (Of course there were stumbles, like the time the company intranet post wasn't proofread first and sent out a notice about the fight against Beast Cancer.)

What you do matters a lot more than what you say.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 160: Do it Right

So among the jobs I applied for last Thursday was a gig for a copywriter position for an ad agency that has an outpost here in Gawd's Country.

Today, Tuesday, not even three full business days after I applied, I got the rejection notice.

Now, at this point I'm used to this. And kudos to the agency for at least giving me some notification. I'd say well more than 85 percent of places don't even have the human decency to do that.

However, my credentials in matching up skills needed for this job are completely on the mark. As in, there's no effing way they have a vast field of applicants with more experience. So I'm at least worth an interview, right? Apparently not. But this aggression will not stand, man.

In the rejection notice was this line: "Please continue to review our job postings for positions that peak your interest."

Now, if you're going to blow me off, and blow smoke up my tailpipe saying that you've given my candidacy "careful consideration," then I want you to be so damn on top of your stuff that you don't dismiss me with incorrect word usage! What they meant was "pique," not "peak" my interest. I'm piqued off!

So I decided not to accept being tossed aside in that fashion. I went back and re-applied, and pointed out that they had the wrong word, and that I was the kind of guy who wouldn't make that sort of mistake, and shouldn't that be of value to them? I mean, as an agency with national reach, I'd be humiliated if I submitted something to a client that had that sort of amateur mistake in it.

Maybe it will wake them up. At the very least, maybe they'll correct the mistake in the next rejection letter I get.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Cool giveaway!

Oh my, we've got a very special giveaway today for one lucky Jobless Journal visitor: an autographed copy of President Bill Clinton's memoir, My Life.

Pretty cool, huh?

How do you win? Go back to the blog and name your winners in the comments sections of the incomplete Comedian Playoffs (CP) posts. I promise to post more bracket choices in the next week. On Monday, Oct. 31, I'll have a random drawing and this autographed book is yours!

Day 156: The Filing

There's a nice inbox adjacent to my desk that has become the repository of financial documents that I keep. It's got debit card receipts, utility bills, pay stubs, bank statements, etc.

The box is maybe two inches deep. Right now it's almost full. There are files for all the above, and more. The smartest thing would be to file things immediately as they are processed, but I don't always do that. Sometimes it takes the thing overflowing to prompt action.

But the action takes place. The stuff gets filed.

And that's the lesson. The dull stuff has to be done. It's not always fun.

But it takes some time, sometime, to learn this lesson. Thing is, doing the filing applies to just about every endeavor in your life. There will always be detail work that has to be done to maintain your relationships.

Here's a list of some of the things that have to be done, but aren't necessarily enjoyable:
* Cleaning up after your pet. We've got two 50-pound dogs. They eat. You know where this is going. I have to clean up after them outside. And not just here, but at the dog park, etc. You'd be shocked -- or maybe you wouldn't be -- at how many people just let their dogs do their business wherever and don't attend to the mess. (These are also some of my terrorists.) Picking up dogshit is anything but fun. But it has to be done.
* Doing the dishes/housework. This house was built in 1939. Updated with a new bathroom, ceiling fans and a modern upright washer and dryer a couple of years ago, it's a pleasant place to live. It's got hardwood floors, big old windows (drafty and completely energy-inefficient, BTW), a nice deck, and plenty of trees/foliage. What it doesn't have is a dishwasher. I'm the dishwasher. When we were looking for a new place to live, we spent days and days and days driving around, looking. We totally stumbled on this place, ideally located near the U, the park, the main drag. Perfect. But... no dishwasher. I had to agree to dishes duty for a year to seal the deal. I don't always do them, but I almost always do them. And I don't like it. I also don't like cleaning up dog hair, dusting ceiling fan blades, vacuuming. I need one of those Jane Curtin-as-Prymaat-Conehead aprons that says "I Hate Housework." But the work has to be done. And being the person around here without a real job these days means I have to contribute something useful.
* Car stuff. Yes, this traditionally falls to the guy, but it's even more pronounced in a household where half the driving contingent only learned to drive five years ago. Some basic things like changing wiper blades, checking tire pressure... bleah. But, gotta.

But it's not just gender-traditional things that have to be done. Look at the bigger picture. Your personal relationships require filing, too.

In an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" someone -- I think it was Jeff Garlin -- makes a comment about Larry David's uber-casual, rumpled outfit. Larry says "I'm married - I can wear whatever I want." When you settle into a relationship, your natural laziness can re-establish a foothold. It's not just love relationships that are at risk. Family, friends, work relationships each require attention.

Consider houseplants. Some are pretty hardy, but without watering them and tending to them at least occasionally, they're going to wither and die. Relationships are the same. You've got to water them. You've got to pay them attention. You've got to do the filing.

Maybe this seems obvious to some of you, but it wasn't to me for a long, long time. I've got the trail of fractured relationships to prove it. I feel badly for the mistakes I made, the inattentiveness that I displayed. Ignorance is no excuse. Being unaware that I'd have to work at sustaining relationships doesn't excuse my damaging them. The inbox overflowed. I let it.

You've got to keep working. You've got to attend to the details.

Now, you're not alone in this. The other part(s) of the equation have to do their part, too. All involved parties have filing to do. One can do more, but only for a while. If the work falls solely to one person, the relationship is doomed.

I'm a movie lover. One of my favorites is Stanley Kubrick's dark take on Vietnam, "Full Metal Jacket." The first half hour is astonishing, a visceral trip inside the hell of a Marine boot camp. The undisciplined, lazy Pvt. Pyle is a constant irritant to the hardass drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. Pyle is a "non-hacker." On an obstacle course, Pyle fails to climb a wall. Hartman rips him, asking if he expects to "miracle his ass" up there.

You can't expect to reach your goals by magic. You're not going to be able to "miracle" your ass up there. You're going to have to do the work. You're going to have to do things that aren't fun. You're going to have to do the filing. Best to learn and accept this as soon as possible. Now would be a good time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 152: Sunsets

The latest issue of Rolling Stone features Steve Jobs on the cover and a lengthy amount of editorial space is devoted to the Apple icon.

Jobs' passing elicited tributes left and right, although, by many accounts, he was a jerk for much of his life. But his products were cool, and have a lot of fanboys who swear by them. I fall into that category.

It's easy to canonize someone who is successful, rich, famous -- a celebrity. In a way it's also positive that people who become celebrities can be from different fields -- not just athletes and artists.

I sat alone on the deck last night and watched the sun set while the dogs cavorted and did dog things. And I thought about Jobs, about Hunter Thompson, about my parents and my daughter and about it being late in the day, and later in life. I thought about M, about my friends, and my ex-friends (one newly made!), and about legacies.

In Jobs' case, because of Apple products, his legacy is going to be a positive one. The man is associated with something widely popular; he'll be remembered as "cool."

In the case of someone like HST, like Hemingway, his legacy is marred by the way he went out. All the good they did, washed away with the twitch of a finger.

My parents are old. Nearing 80. I saw both of them recently and my dad, a little decrepit these days, seems to have a strong spirit. My mother, typical of her lineage, defies nature. She'll be 77 in a few days, but she's showing no signs of slowing down. It's encouraging in both cases.

What will their legacies be? If he thinks about these things, my father doesn't share that information. He seems to just keep moving ahead, without giving much thought to the day he doesn't. That might be a good approach. He had some fairly serious health issues a few years ago and could have thrown in the towel. He didn't. And for me, those extra years have made all the difference. We now have a closer relationship. A lot of things would have been left undone otherwise.

Are legacies defined by the individual, or by the collective views of those who remember the individual?

I will remember my father as someone who overcame many obstacles. You can do this and still be unknown. Not every success equals fame and fortune. But those successes are no less notable and important.

I will remember my mother as someone who also overcame many obstacles (perhaps one of them: my father! I joke!)... my mom is a loving person. She wants to be optimistic. I think I frustrate her with my pessimism.

It's interesting how the concepts of family and loyalty are manifest through my parents. My mom is fierce about those concepts; blood means a lot to her and that line goes back through her sisters and parents, as close-knit a bunch as you'd ever know. For my dad, his ideas of family were distorted by his father. When my father was 13, the oldest of five siblings in a tiny Oklahoma town, his father abandoned them. He told his uneducated, unemployed wife he was going to Oklahoma City to look for work. And never returned.

At 13, my dad suddenly had a lot of pressure on him. There weren't then and aren't now a lot of economic prospects in a scrub town. When my dad was born there, this town had a population of about 2,900. In the 2010 Census, the population was about 2,900. It doesn't change. I never understand why people live in places like that.

We've never talked about this a lot. In a town that small, everyone knows everyone else's business. It must have been humiliating for my father, even though it was no reflection on him at all. In fact, his working to help his family and continue going to school actually should have put him in a somewhat heroic light. But I don't think he ever thinks of that, just the shame of having a shitty dad who would dump five kids like that. If hell exists, I hope that man has a seat by the fire.

The damage to my father played out over the middle of his life: abandonment issues colored his behavior. And they have also colored mine. Part of his legacy has been trying to get over that. It's part of my legacy, too. As Cheech Marin accurately stated, "responsibility is a heavy responsibility."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 146: The First Amendment

Awoke this morning to find a lot of overnight chatter about OccupyWallStreet.

When I first heard of this a few weeks ago, the noise was that the MSM wasn't giving it much attention, and why? I thought it was a legitimate question. Now the media has to pay attention. It's exploded all over the U.S. When I was in Dallas over the weekend I saw the group there assembled in a park near the convention center.

Apparently in the middle of last night police in Boston swooped in and flushed out the protesters. Not only that, they arrested more than 100 (apparently, a lot of them were part of the group Veterans for Peace) and may have beaten some. Reports say they took tents and camping gear and threw them onto trash trucks.

The irony of this happening in Boston should be obvious. There were protesters there a few hundred years ago, too. Some of them were killed by the authorities. Those authorities were eventually overthrown.

I hear about this stuff and I wonder how any thinking person can not be terrified that the country is being taken over by fascists.

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. constitution is commonly known as the Bill of Rights. These amendments are thrown around in political talk all the time, but do people remember exactly what is promised? Probably not. And government has done such a good job of creating dense, impenetrable documents that most would be shocked to remember that the Bill of Rights is a simple, straightforward list. Not a lot of legalese.

The first amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

As the very first amendment, the founders clearly felt that these rights were inviolable and crucial to a thriving democracy. The first amendment provides for freedom of religion. Anyone (like some politicians on the right) who says that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation" is by definition veering into a violation of the first amendment. Government and religion SHOULD NOT MIX. And it's my freedom of speech to feel that way and say so. We're supposed to have a free "press" (I don't know if the word "media" was in the lexicon of the time)... but most of the "press" in this country is now as bought and paid for as the members of the same Congress. They all have an agenda, and often it's as simple as "make more money." But that last one is the one that was violated last night: the right to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. That's what's going on with the Occupy movement. People are tired of being trampled on by banksters, corporatists, the 1 percent. The government hasn't protected us -- they are generally a part of the 1 percent.

If you haven't looked over the constitution in a while, check it out here:

And practice it as often as you can...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Day 142: Drift

Yeah, I know...

Hard to focus lately. The mind is alternately cluttered, then just kind of blank. It's like that AM radio station that you can't quite tune precisely.

Frustrating. Bouts of intense frenzy followed by little motivation.

Going on a road trip. Hope to be able to push the reset button but also a lot of angst on this. Will see my aging father. A rarity.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 138, Pt: 2: Uganda?

There's a gig in Uganda.

Scary but tempting. Several years ago I was looking for jobs and one was posted for an English-language newspaper in Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma). (Summers in Rangoon!)

The listing pointed out that the job was particularly challenging because "free speech was limited (monitored)." Hell, it might have said illegal.

This was before the monastery protests of a few years ago that resulted in a violent crackdown.

Part of me longs for a shot at a global hot zone. Another part of me realizes that being unemployed, depressed and alive is better than being in some far-flung third-world banana republic, with a possible wrong-seat view of the barrel of a gun.

Day 138: Dogs

My history with dogs has been one of mostly sadness.

My first dog was named Toto. How original! Anyway, he was a fuzzy, curly haired little black dog. He wasn't that big. The last day I saw him is one of the enduring memories I have of my family. We had taken a vacation to Colorado. I was five or six years old. My brother would have been two or three.

Actually, this is the last memory I have of my parents being together.

On the descent from a visit to Pike's Peak, our green Oldsmobile station wagon had a flat tire. My father pulled the car off somewhere to replace the tire. Somehow, the dog got out of the car and took off. I remember my dad chasing him up the road.

When he returned, we had no dog. So my dog trauma started at an early age.

A few years later, our dog dug his way under a fence, escaped and was hit by a car. Another dog also died.

All of this happened at a pretty young age. Later I had dogs that lived long lives, but in looking back on it, I think I struggled with the losses. The relatively short lifespans of animals are supposed to be "teaching opportunities" but they only taught me that it hurt to lose your pets.

Moose and Monster (Piper) are healthy and young. It should be a long time before they move on to doggie heaven. I hope so. I'm closer to these dogs than to any dogs I've ever been around.

They're gentle, although Monster roughhouses a little too much sometimes. It's interesting to see the personalities they have. Moose is very calm and mellow. The only time he gets worked up is when a dog makes uninvited sexual motions toward him. Then he gets angry and barks and bares his teeth at them. Why do some dogs try to hump my dog?

The Monster is a spazz, but she also seems to be pretty well-behaved. She's half-greyhound, however, and as a sight hound she can instantly get micro-focused on something and take off. That's scary because she doesn't have the good sense to fear vehicles. We have to be careful when she is off the leash. She's getting better about not darting off but it's still a terrible possibility.

I guess one other thing I like is just the innocence and purity of their behavior. They're like small children like that: unprogrammed to some extent. The reactions are all honest.

They help me stay upbeat sometimes. That's a plus.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Day 136: Spin the Dial

I just completed a survey where one of the questions was "how likely are you to move in the next year?" and I have to say that I feel that is very likely.

The crazy thing is I have no idea where. In fact, within the last week, I've looked at jobs literally a quarter of the globe apart.

It's getting close to the point where being selective is not the top factor.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 134: On Baseball, and Taxes

You've basically got two ways of thinking about people: like (good) or dislike (bad).

Somehow I still think like (good). Which isn't to say I haven't seen people do extraordinarily awful things. I've done some awful things myself.

It's hard to see the positive sometimes when you see deceit and outright lies, greed, selfishness and worse. There are a lot of things that lure people to become jerks. Money is a prime motivator. People will get cut-throat in its pursuit. I love competition and think that is one of the things about capitalism that is generally a good idea. "Build a better mousetrap."

But things in our society encourage the wrong values. Being financially strong and able to maximize your enjoyment of life is a good thing. But some people don't understand where the line is. They want to have a nice car, be able to live in a comfortable home, provide for their family. They want to be able to hold on to this comfortable lifestyle and protect it from catastrophe such as huge medical expenses or some other problem. All that's fine and dandy.

But sometimes wealth can be excessive. When someone has several multi-million dollar homes, that's carrying it a little far. It goes beyond needs, way beyond.

This is why I respect only a few of the mega-rich. Bill Gates has been active in donating huge sums of his vast wealth. Warren Buffett lives in a modest home in Nebraska that he purchased decades ago. He also advocates higher taxes for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, richies like the Kochs use their vast wealth to try and spread misinformation and influence political outcomes through lies.

Who is spending their money for the good of society and humanity in these examples? And what would YOU do in these situations?

Paying taxes is pro-America. Only luck allows people to be born into wealth. If your wealth came about through hard work, innovation and effort, then at one time you were just a lowly plebe like the rest of us.

I'd love to go to the government and say "You know, if I didn't have to pay taxes, I would be a job creator, because I would spend more money and stimulate the economy."

Sounds great. But communism "sounded" great. In practice, neither of these things work.

Taxes pay for all these things we take for granted. We're such spoiled brats in this country. We have infrastructure -- roads, power grids, public buildings like schools -- through the collective. The collective pays the taxes so that we have these things that stimulate our economy, provide incentives for businesses to start and thrive, for people to have jobs to pay taxes!

Those taxes also protect our property and our rights by paying for law enforcement and firefighters. Like many Americans, I have family members who have been in law enforcement and fire departments. These people work long hours, under the most stressful conditions, and for crap salaries. They're never paid like so-called "stressed out" workers such as banksters.

Teachers are paid by us too. Or rather, underpaid by us.

Having these things are all pretty obvious benefits to our shared society. The idea of using our collective effort, energy and a portion of our money in the form of taxes to enhance our infrastructure and communities is a powerful thing and something that shows the best of how we can work together to create equal opportunity. It's an example of how we can be good.

Our emphasis as a country should be more toward working together and showing what we can accomplish. In a way it's like baseball.

Last night was a thrilling night in a game that has too many non-thrilling moments. Four teams were fighting for their lives. Four others were jockeying for position to help their causes down the road.

Baseball has long been a great metaphor for some of the values we cherish. The literature and history of the game is uniquely American. Part of this is because the game has remained fairly intact throughout its history, a history that ran side by side with the blossoming of the U.S. on the global stage. It's a link to our past that remains true to itself.

Baseball has been used to make us think about country, family, honor, duty... it's also shown us mirror images of our dark side with its scandals concerning greed, lust (for power), drugs... baseball has pitted rich against poor, with (predictably) the poor getting screwed more often than not. Baseball has exhibited racism and discrimination, sexism, class warfare. It's so American.

Pro football's my game of choice. But I'm a sports nut, so I follow a lot of the athletic world. For a lot of people today, baseball's charm is heavily tied to its familiarity and history. But also for a lot of people today, we've mostly left baseball behind. The unquestioned king of sports until about 1960 (not surprisingly, about the time pro football made its quantum leap), baseball has seen an erosion of its fan base.

Why? Because it's slow and deliberate, and requires a big investment from its fans. In another way that's very American, baseball means getting up and going to work every single day. That grind is a realism that a lot of us aren't comfortable with any more... going to work isn't an "event" the way a weekly buildup to a single game is. For the modern generation, the attention span is too short to see the nuance and delicacy of a season that emerges in February and finishes within a few weeks of the holiday season. We need our attention-deficit brains to be stimulated more than baseball provides.

I'm as guilty as anyone on this. Where I grew up, we didn't have a nearby team to root for until 1972. And for most of the next 30 years, that team was inept. As a result, baseball was something you paid attention to until football started. You never expected your team to be involved in the playoffs.

So now, even though my team is strong, I haven't fully given in to it until late in the baseball season. It's kind of like being interested in the political fates of the country but only voting in presidential election years. That's going to yield iffy results.

But the fantastic drama from the games last night and in the last month, and the imminent drama when the playoffs start tomorrow, reminds me of the greatness we can achieve as a nation. Yes, there are winners and losers, and for those who fall short the pain can be a lingering heartache of lost opportunity and broken dreams.

BUT even in that sadness is a positive: they had a chance. The rules were known, the teams were built, and over the long months of striving, the possibility for greatness was there. Even though the Evil Empire -- the team with the biggest payroll -- is in, another deep-pocketed bunch crumbled in the clutch. Small-market/small-revenue teams in Tampa, Milwaukee and Arizona made the cut. Baseball-proud Detroit is also in, a boon to a city that I love but a city that has been devastated by an economic calamity much like Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

Everyone had a shot. That's the American way. That's really what baseball is all about. And to win, you've got to slog it out every day, just like you do at YOUR job.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 133: Voting with your wallet

Hello strangers. Did you miss me? I have missed you.

I've had a crisis of enthusiasm lately. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of unemployment dragging on for a while: motivation. I promise to do better.

Today I have a dilemma I'd love some feedback on.

Fortunately the household has some income. None from me, sadly... unless you're counting the dwindling amount the State of Gawd's Country has so generously provided each week.

Now, we aren't on food stamps. Wait, that's not P.C. -- they're not called food stamps any more, they are the "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program." Oh, SNAP! So we still get to do restaurant food from time to time. We've seriously cut back on the pricey options, but still avoid "fast" food for the most part so we try and make smart choices.

As big fans of the chicken wing, this is a decent option for those on a budget, like us. But being somewhat picky, we have given the places around here a try over the years, then stuck with what we like best. A quick review of the leading locals, in alphabetical order:

* Buffalo Wild Wings: B-dubs has a big fan base, but so do piles of poop. You can just taste the processing every time. Not a big fan.
* Foghorn's: A local favorite but I've found the wings too soggy. I like 'em crispy. Soggy wings gross me out. I suppose I could request them crispy if we go back here. We've been several times and my experience has always been the same.
* Hooters: OK, I understand the argument against this place. As a guy, I'm willing to overlook the chief objections. And actually, I have always liked the wings here. But saying that tends to put you in the class of those dudes who say they "read" Playboy for the articles. Plus, they overcharge for stuff. Sodas are $2.79, and they refill you as much as you want but that's not exactly healthy. And still, $2.79? I know they aren't putting that profit into the uniform budget.
* Wingstop: My favorite. Crispy, consistent, great fries. And not super-expensive.
* Zaxby's: Always clean and the wings are pretty good. However, in this household, positive feelings about Zaxby's are not unanimous.

The wings at JJ's were recommended. We've tried them and they were pretty good, actually. In fact, for bar food, JJ's pretty much nails it across the board. However, they have live bands every night and they're too overmodulated. You can't carry on a conversation without yelling. Plus, you have to tip. I've worked food service before and that's no easy job, so I tend to tip a minimum of 20 percent unless the service is just awful. On a budget, that means places where I have to tip get sidelined.

I've also heard the wings at Grub's are decent. I've never actually been there, but again... bar food. Drunken d-bags. Tips. Maybe some day, but now's not the time for experimentation.

That's the preamble. Now the problem. We're a Wingstop family. I've been going there for years. It's a Dallas-area company, and that's home. So I've been a fan a long time. They make them the way I like, and generally you can go into their stores and your expectations will be met. That's not unimportant.

There are two franchises here in NW Gawd's Country. One is too far away. The other is nearer, and convenient. We've been going there steadily since we got here.

How steadily? Too steadily, probably. I ran the numbers. Since starting to keep track of this stuff in mid-2007, we've gone to this Wingstop a minimum of 112 times. I don't track cash expenditures, just the ones using my bank card. We've averaged almost $19 on the dot every time we've walked into that store. More than $2,100. We're on a first-name basis with the owner and his top staffer. It's not uncommon to phone in an order and they're able to complete the order without asking.

We ordered last night. M went to pick it up, and while waiting there, she got thirsty and asked for a cup of water.

A new kid was there. M reports he was not unpleasant or rude in any way, but told her that there would be a charge for a cup of water. She was stunned. She didn't get the water. But she did get irritated.

I called the owner this morning and said "Is this true? You charge for water?" He reported that he did. 50 cents. The water is served in beer cups that he said costs him $45 a week to keep stocked. He said a lot of the college kids come in and order waters with their meals, apparently so many that it was starting to cut into his bottom line.

He also said that had the new kid known we were steady customers, he probably would have provided the water gratis.

The owner has a background working for the world's largest retailer. So being cheap is kind of a way of life for those folks. We've never gotten a single freebie from this guy. I have obviously been able to live with that, although I think when you have a loyal following, it's OK to throw in a damn order of fries once a year or two! Never happened, though. And we've kept coming back because he's generally a nice guy, the store is clean and friendly, and we think the food is good and the price is reasonable.

Except for a cup of water.

Now, I'm a proponent of voting with your wallet. If you don't like the way you're treated someplace, you don't have to go. This is the essence of the free market! If you seek a service and you like that service, you are willing to pay for it. If not, you don't. There have been a number of places here where we've given them a chance to win our business, and when they fail repeatedly, we get the message: Not for us. And we just don't go.

Ti Amo's, we went once, great experience. Second time, even though it wasn't crowded, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, no server after initially getting drink orders. Amazingly we stayed that long. Then we gave up. They charged us $5 for two teas. Kind of irritating, but whatevs. We didn't get a chance to make a third visit as the business failed.

Powerhouse, rave reviews. We've been three times and every time something was awful about it. Once mostly the food. Once mostly the service. Once the place was sickeningly overheated. Every time we left feeling overcharged and underserved. Out.

So what do we do about the Wingstop problem? I'm leaning toward never going back. Or perhaps going back once with my data and asking, "Was 50 cents for a damn cup of water worth losing a steady revenue source?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 128: My terrorists

Saw "Waiting for Superman" last night.

The road we're traveling leads off a cliff. The apathy about public education in this country is shameful. As Dub said: "Is our children learning?"

Yep. But what they are learning isn't how to build the world, but rather that a lot of people just don't care about anything except money. We're so short-sighted.

I always wonder where we let the terrorists win. Terrorists aren't always guys who fly planes into buildings. Sometimes they are people who bilk the system, or bribe the government to relax regulations so they can pollute our land, or make campaign pledges they don't keep.

But it doesn't even have to be that grand. My terrorists are all around me. They are you. Sometimes they are also me.

My terrorists aren't even grand enough to do something bold. Bill Maher was right about 9/11: those guys weren't cowards. Most terrorists are.

They are slowly killing us all. And doing so with the slightest, almost imperceptible moves. They are so stealth they do these things in plain sight and we shrug it off.

Ever seen someone throw a cigarette butt out of a car window? Sometimes those cause brushfires. Always they contribute to the despoiling of the air, soil and water. This is the only planet we've got. But everytime someone uses this place as an ashtray, they contribute to our ultimate demise.

How they get away with it -- like the banksters and the corporatists -- is by assuming that by the time anyone organizes and mobilizes to stop them, it will be long down the line and they'll be beyond it. It's a gamble, but one they know they are likely to win. Because we just sit and take it.

Let someone drive you down any major thoroughfare in this country. Make a point to look for the roadside trash dumped from passing vehicles. Now multiply that by every road in this country. Now think of the rest of the world, where it's very likely they don't even have the sort of cleanup crews we have here.

Think of the trash your casually create each week that magically gets hauled away. Where does it go?

Now think of the really obvious polluters: car emissions. Businesses. Think of the poison being dumped into the aquifers and soil by mineral rapists and profiteers. All so you can have more crap.

This circles back a bit to my minimalist interests. Consumerism's ugly partner is trash. Because ultimately these things you have to have become things you don't want or need any more, and since we are not efficient recyclers this becomes garbage.

My terrorists do all sorts of anti-social things that contribute to the inexorable breakdown of civilization. They cut in line. They carry on loud cell phone conversations. They clatter around next door, late at night, careless of their neighbors. They update their facebook status during movies. Or worse, talk. They let their dogs menace passerby, or roam untethered. They don't spay and neuter their pets. Which means feral cats, wild dogs and higher costs as cities are forced to spend more on animal control. Which not only raises our collective expenses but creates public health degradation.

They make decisions that are helpful to them, and don't care about you, and thus the idea of society and community are foreign. So they don't want to do their fair share, and they don't want to pay taxes, and they don't care if they already make more in a year than most people will make in a lifetime. They have millions. They want more. And they don't want to give back any of it, because they are selfish. These are my terrorists.

My terrorists believe in rights: THEIR rights. But if you are gay, or brown-skinned, or unable to afford medical insurance, they don't believe you should fight for the same rights they can afford. My terrorists are feudalists.

My terrorists may believe deep down that climate change exists, that they are being selfish for wanting to drive a 9-mpg SUV, but they deserve to be given leeway because they are so damn special. Let someone else pay for it. Let the poor people pay for it.

My terrorists talk a lot about God, but their God is money. Because God's a nice idea, but money actually provides tangible things. God didn't build that big house, that awesome HD TV, or those fake tits.

My terrorists. My kind of people.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 124: What's It All About?


Sorry, couldn't resist. And, most of you won't get the reference anyway. But (naturally) I digress...

An old friend... yes, he's old, and I have known him a long time... asked me an interesting question this weekend: "If you were going to write everyday, what would it be about?"

I hedged with my response, saying "I'm kind of all over the map." Which is true. I find most things are interesting and try and learn a little about as much as I can. This makes me a terrific trivia player; you don't want any part of me.

But it also makes me, in some ways, that proverbial "jack of all trades/master of none." Is that a good thing?

So what is this little endeavour all about? Why do I do this? And what do YOU, beloved reader(s), find worthy of a few moments from time to time?


I've been uninspired to write. Apologies. This week has shown a lot of the ugly side of our time. The state of Georgia apparently executed an innocent man. The Supreme Court punted its humanity and said that questions of innocence or guilt weren't important -- just the cold interpretation of the "law."

A lot of people try and maintain that America is a "Christian" nation. Do they even know what that means? Don't proclaim your good works: live them.

My aunt Nancy had a good line this week, saying that going to church doesn't make you holy any more than going into a garage makes you a car.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 120: Dead Ends

Sometimes you feel so isolated by this. It hasn't been four months without work yet, but today it feels like it's been four years.

Steve Nash, I think, said about playoff basketball that when you win a game you feel like you can never lose, and when you lose you feel like you can never win. I get that.

You can get so caught up in your own worry that you became like a distant dark star, imploding upon yourself. Before you know it you're way out there in the distant galaxy, cold and alone.

I'm not gonna lie, today I feel like everything is hopeless.

If only I was the person my dogs act like I am.

I'm exhausted. I can't sleep. When I sleep it's uncomfortable. It hurts to sleep. How screwed up is that?

Then I feel guilty about sleeping. I should get at least six, hopefully eight hours of sleep. But it doesn't happen when it should, so if I can't feel sleepy until 3, then sleep until 10, I feel like a bum. Which is what I am, Charlie.

Where do people find the will to keep getting up? I've been a proponent of rolling with it all my life... take the shot, get back up and try again. I've never been closer to feeling like that's a big lie.

I see shitty, underqualified people who've never done a damn thing of note with their lives, but they kissed the right asses and had perfect school attendance and look, success. It's so frustrating. I have to admit that it's particularly bad here in Gawd's Country. The Good 'Ol Boy existence is alive and well.

It's weird, but my life was a lot easier when I was a more accomplished liar. I think in the past decade or so I've become a better person, more honest, more willing to step on toes in the pursuit of what was "right" and fair and true. Has it been worth it? This is what really bothers me. Sometimes the price feels pretty expensive.

It's comforting to know that I've lived more honestly, but troubling to know that society doesn't seem to place a lot of value on that. As Michael Moore said, these are fictional times.

I've always preferred non-fiction. Funny.

Freedom should mean plenty of options. But it seems like there are few. And the ones that remain are not all that great.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CP 2-3: Barr vs. Youngman

In our second bracket, it's No. 5 seed Roseanne Barr vs. No. 12 Henny Youngman. Talk about old school.

This is Roseanne's first Carson appearance, in 1985. Before the interwebs and Comedy Central gave us 24-7 access to comedians, unless you lived in a city with a comedy club your best shot was on Carson. Johnny stepped down in 1991 and the show's never been what it once was. If you appeared on Carson, you had arrived.

Actually his show was called the Tonight Show, but that was before Jay Leno turned it into crap.

Anyway, being network television, this appearance is pretty tame. If she advances, we'll be looking at some of her blue stuff. She was pretty great as a standup... there were a lot fewer women in the biz at the time. Here's the clip:

In the other corner we have the legendary Henny Youngman. His career began in the 30s, and consisted for the next 70+ years of a rapid-fire one-liners. Not a lot of set-up: Just rip it. Times being what they are, just about anyone under the age of 40 has no clue who he is. If they do, it's likely as "Hey, wasn't that the guy in 'Goodfellas'?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

CP 2-2: Sykes vs. Rickles

I hate that one of these hilarious people won't make it to the second round.

No. 8 Wanda Sykes and No. 9 Don Rickles have made careers out of ripping people. A lot of the best humor is based on the ugly truths of existence: that we all kind of suck.

In this bit, Wanda has a great take on the gay marriage issue. Like a lot of us, she wonders: Why do you care?

Rickles -- "Mr Warmth" -- has based his career on giving people a hard time. This clip is interspersed with comments from other comedians who appreciate his art. Rickles will say anything. Watch here:

Day 117, Pt. II: Job Update

And, stay tuned for more of our Comedian Playoffs, coming up next...

Busy day. Cranked out three job applications. One for a tasty position here. One in D.C. One in Colorado.

The most intriguing is actually the Colorado one, because it'd be a stone-ass adventure. I think that's part of the appeal, because it'd be such a far cry from what could be considered my "comfort zone." Put it this way: when one of the company benefits listed is a seasonal ski pass, you know you're not in Kansas anymore.

It's been a while since I've been on skis... however, I would like to learn how to board.

Anyway. Knocked two of those down, and have a long list of prospects for this week. Can't believe it's been this long. And still can't believe that experience and know-how finished second to a dress-selling babysitter. Alas. This is life in Gawd's Country, where you've still got a fuckton of stupidity running loose.

Day 117: Letting Go

First, thanks to everyone who comes to visit here. I check the traffic data and I get some views, and it is extremely gratifying. You provide a lot of psychic energy and it is appreciated.

About that psychic energy...

A few years ago I developed a friendship with a co-worker. This was a guy who was clever, smart, had a wry sense of humor... guy had a nice home, nice girlfriend. It was all good.

I'm not going into the details of what happened later, but let's just say that the guy got into a bit of a scrape revolving "corporate espionage" and decided to make me the fall guy. I was able to demonstrate conclusively that it wasn't me, and things settled. But I was stunned that a so-called "friend" would try and hurt me like that. I could have been fired. That's heinous.

Last week the guy surfaced on Facebook and sent me a friend request. Audacious! In addition to the thumbs-up "like" button I wish FB had a button where you could raise a middle finger. I responded by recapping why this was my choice and the guy said he was sorry for any "blowback" that might have arisen from the incident.


Yeah, possibly getting fired is more than blowback. Some people don't get it. And those are the people you have to just let go.

It's taken me a long time to come to that realization. And it's why I treasure anyone who shows interest in reading what I write here (which includes, apparently, Blowback Boy... hi Ron!), because my circle of friends is purposely small. I know hundreds. maybe thousands of people, but I don't call them all friends. Because friendship has to be meaningful. There has to be a real investment. If I consider you a friend, it's a substantial thing to me. I'm invested.

I had a huge graduating class in high school, but only keep up with a couple of people still. My friends Dale and Ken and I talk maybe twice a year. But they are dear friends to me because our bonds go deep. Like trees. The roots are strong.

For years I was hurt by the lack of a strong relationship with my father. My parents split by the time I was 6. The memories I have of my family being intact are distant, historic and few. For years my father sought... something. But it wasn't me. And it wasn't what I could understand for the longest time. I didn't comprehend how he didn't see how much I wanted to be close to him. It took decades, literally, for me to understand the pain of his childhood and his life, and how he had never allowed himself to let himself trust another human with his love. I finally understood that his distance from me was not because he didn't love me, but because his pain was so great that it was terrifying to love someone. Loving someone means trusting them, and trusting them means they can damage you. For my dad, that damage was too painful to risk. So he kept people at arm's length. I thought it was about me, but it was about him.

He finally found someone he could trust. And she eventually healed my dad and in turn, me. I had written him off. I was sure that we'd just never connect, and hard as it was, I finally got over it. His wife Jo wouldn't let it happen. After my dad recovered from some pretty severe health problems, she ensured that we had some face time to work on our relationship. I will always be grateful for that because we finally found a place where we could acknowledge what we meant to each other.

It was way too late to have our "Field of Dreams" moment but the wall came down. Flawed as it may be, we now talk often and I'm at peace. I hope my dad is, too. Our relationship is the best it has ever been, and that means a lot.

Another story: when M and I were dating, a family conflict came up. Long story short, I was told I was invited to a family event, but she was not. This was long ago and I've been told why that decision was made. I understand their rationale but I don't buy it and think it was wrong. If they really believed what they told me, then I shouldn't have been invited.

That day I made a decision to stand by M and not be bullied by a family member. And today, M and I have been married six years.

One more: Someone very important to me got their feelings hurt and turned the slightest of slights into armageddon. Instead of addressing the issue, or better yet, just getting over it, the incident became an excuse for them to cut ties with me. Seriously, this was an issue that didn't deserve to live past its sell-by date, but instead it became apocryphal. The person simply pulled the plug on our previously major relationship. He's made no effort to heal it. So I've had to move on.

The thread linking these stories may not be obvious. The point is that relationships are fragile and you have to sometimes make some difficult decisions. Sometimes you have to let people go, sometimes you have to try again, and sometimes you have to work really hard. If you have expectations of someone, and they aren't met, then you may have to either compromise yourself or even walk away from it.

It's self-preservation, really.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Comedian Playoffs: Bracket 2

Polls are still open from Bracket 1...

Now, our first matchup on bracket 2. We're starting with a 1 seed, the great Sam Kinison. He's up against 16 Jeff Foxworthy. Foxworthy makes you laugh. Kinison makes you cry. He was taken way too soon.

I was lucky enough to see this guy perform... a few months after he was supposed to. Apparently he had gotten too wasted in Houston the night before he was to be in Dallas and postponed the show. It was worth the wait. This was in late 1987. Amazing.

The clips are: Kinison on his first HBO appearance ( ) and a Foxworthy "You might be a redneck" bit:


Day 114: Shalt Thou Kill?

Just found out today that a high school classmate died in 1995 and that there were enough awful details that it resulted in a huge wrongful death lawsuit against the Scientologists.

My high school had 4,400 students my senior year. Our graduation ceremony was endless. I didn't know this person very well and haven't kept up with most of the goings-on of my HS friends since. I've never attended a reunion, although I was tempted once. One of my best friends from HS and I were going to go. We even went to the location the day before to scout it for escape exits. On the way there, we bailed.

I was involved in some activities in high school... football, newspaper mainly... that were enough to have provided me with access to the "cool kids" but I don't like labels and I don't like cliques. Didn't then, don't know. Before I was involved in those groups, I was on the "outside" and then when I was a part of them I didn't feel like that alone made me cool enough to be "inside." I was the same person all along.

As those of you who read my Mormon piece must have surmised, I have major questions about religion. Honestly, I think it's done a lot more harm than good. If a deity exists and that deity cares about us, then He/She It would probably be pretty pissed about the way we treat each other. We're a violent little creature. We kill way too much to be holy beings.

I think of the sacred "10 Commandments" and remember that one of the biggies there is "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Yet the same people who make such a show of their religion are eager to support our going to war and killing countless people, or cheer when a politician brags about administering the death penalty.

If God says "Thou Shalt Not Kill" there aren't loopholes. So, war or killing another human is out unless it's done for self-defense/protection. Thou Shalt Not Kill. It's only four words. There isn't a lot of wiggle room there.

And so it goes for the death penalty as well. A friend of mine is working on a thesis involving the death penalty. She's trying to gain access to some of the condemned inmates. It's been proven beyond a doubt that people have suffered state-sanctioned murders for crimes they did not commit.

There are plenty of irredeemable people in our prisons (and out). Use as an extreme example someone like Timothy McVeigh. His actions led directly to the deaths of 168 people. Clearly a bad person. An evil person. Someone who should never be allowed to be free.

But should he have been executed? No. In fact, executing him made him a martyr to the kooks who think like he did.

It took me years to appreciate the genius of what John Donne related here (emphasis added):

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."