31 August 2012

One of THOSE Weeks

It's been one of THOSE weeks.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  I think Norm, everyone's favorite high-functioning alcoholic from "Cheers," captured my week when he said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "It's a dog-eat-dog world and I'm wearing Milk-Bone shorts."  Suffice to say, those dogs have been traveling in packs this week and they've been ravenous.

One of the highlights lowlights of this week was learning that when I enrolled in my new company's benefits plan five months ago, I thought I had enrolled us in a very effective dental plan.  I was horribly wrong.  Turns out, I enrolled in a plan that pays for, wait for it, nothing.  I'm serious...other than cleanings, it pays for nothing.  This was not known to the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML when she signed everyone up for checkups and follow up work. Thanks to ridiculously fast billing, we learned about my error.  I called my benefits provider and learned that this particular plan is a lock-in for one year.  No getting out of this dental plan clearly borrowed from the Brits.  I could not have been more angry at myself for misreading the plan information.  Clearly my fault and as a result, we will be doing our own home version of dentistry...kind of like this guy with the drill:
I'm hopeful we can avoid any dental drama until next March.  But like I said, this incident pretty much sums up the week I've had.  And then to have to endure the sight of the disturbing and terrifying Calista Gingrich during the gathering of the Mittites in Tampa...oy.

Yep, it's been one of those weeks.  Hoping that next week will improve.  It's got to...

26 August 2012

Hope in Lower Manhattan

For years, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I have made New York City a getaway.  We'd try to get there for a long weekend as much as we could. It was a place where we could play tourist unabashedly, eat well, and take in all that the City had to offer. In a prior work role, I was in NYC often and when I found myself on a long run through Central Park one morning, I felt like I'd arrived. Now that we are living a mere two-plus hours from the City, we were excited to introduce it to CAL and The Boy.  That introduction was made yesterday.

I won't go all hellish "slide-show of Aunt Sylvia's summer trip to Sioux City" on you here.  I will say this, my children are now adept at navigating the city with their MetroCards in hand.  I was really pleased with how well they made their way around as we hit the places they wanted to see.  The Boy, while enjoying the place, made it clear he is a Chicagoan.  As far as he's concerned, Chicago is the First City, not the Second. CAL was especially eager to see Times Square (her sighting of the Naked Cowboy was a strange highlight) and Ground Zero.

I was not eager to go to Ground Zero.  The events of 9/11 changed the scope of what I do professionally forever.  It is still difficult to properly articulate what that day means.  While I personally knew no one who died in the Towers, the Pentagon, or that field in Pennsylvania, this was an intensely personal event for me.  It still is.  I will never forget flying over the still-smoking ruins of the Towers a few weeks after they fell. Tears fell fast on that day as we flew over Ground Zero and each anniversary has been a mixture of emotion for me.  So going to the site was something I approached with trepidation at best.

But we went.  As we took the "R" train down to the site, I asked my family to bear with me at the site.  I wasn't sure how it was going to go.  As we emerged from the subway, what came into sight was something that struck me as so very hopeful.  We saw the Freedom Tower. Rising from the horror of 9/11, the Freedom Tower represents a nation's resilience. Although I think it's pretty hideous architecturally, it was, for me, so hopeful to see this tower nearing completion. I had a lump in my throat as we walked in its shadow to get to the 9/11 Memorial.  Once you clear the TSA-inspired security (lots of screaming about taking off all sorts of stuff before being screened), you walk onto the footprint of the two towers where the exquisite memorials have been built.  The names of the thousands who died are etched into the two memorials.  Having read so much about those who died, I recognized more than a few of the names.  I got emotional as I recalled their stories. I was suddenly glad that we were there though.  As I watched the water that courses through both sites, I was struck by the power of the site.  With the Freedom Tower rising in the background, it was very hopeful. This is a place to remember what happened. Once the Museum is completed, it will be an even more powerful experience.

For me, it was a sacred experience. I felt much the same way after the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML visited Mauthausen, one of the most heinous of the Nazi concentration camps.  It was awful, even gut-wrenching, but in the end, inspiring.  I think the 9/11 Memorial's mission statement sums it up beautifully: May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance, and intolerance.

23 August 2012

A straight line

Not my commute, but not that far off either
One of the things that has been most strange to me about life in New England, at least our corner of it, is the complete and utter absence of straight roads.  I am telling you that they do not exist. This confounds me.

If there were a couple of straight roads between the Den and my office, I am telling you my commute would be at least ten minutes shorter than what it is now. Not that I'm complaining. Remember, I spent five years driving 130 miles a day, A DAY, on Satan's favorite freeway, the 91, in southern California.  When I think about the amount of time I spent on that road, it makes me, well, enraged sad. Although on that commute I did elevate the ability to read the LA Times cover-to-cover while driving to an art form. Another art I elevated while on that commute - changing from work clothes into a swimsuit in order to go jet-skiing while keeping the naked driving time to a bare (and I do mean that pathetic,easy pun) minimum.  That's a story for another time.

I like a straight line when I drive.  Maybe it's part of that oldest/first-born child thing.  Maybe it's that borderline OCD thing I have with certain things being in order.  I was never much for coloring outside the lines. I guess I like the concept of sticking to the straight and narrow.  There's a lot to be said for sticking to that path. It may not always be the most exciting path but it works for me.

(I know I've been off the grid for a little while - work has been insane this week.  That's all there is to it.)

17 August 2012

#22 In Line

As we settle into this next chapter of our lives, entitled 'The New England Experience,' we are wrapping up the last few things.  One of those was probably the most arduous.  It's an activity that strikes fear into the hearts of the bravest of the brave. Even the most stalwart among us fear it.  Of course, I speak of this:
Beelzebub's Agency Here on Earth
That's right - the Department of Motor Vehicles.  It is, in fact, an agency run by Satan himself and it is where common sense goes to die. It is a place where government employees delight in byzantine rules and where they take in inordinate amount of glee in seeing people crumble before them in frustration.

We arrived at the DMV early - 35 minutes before they opened.  We were already #22 in line at that point.  That said, we knew going into this that it was going had the potential to be ugly.  Three out-of-state cars to register and four out-of-state drivers licenses to issue, including one for a minor. In our little corner of New England, the rules for a minor getting a license are akin to getting someone from PETA to wear fur to a veal tasting (um, nigh unto impossible), so we knew this would be fraught with trouble.  It turns out that getting the Boy his license was almost the easiest.  I say almost because he won't get it until next month.  Yes, next month.  The next available appointment for the road test is next month.  Sadly, you can only make appointments for the road test when you are at the DMV.  There's no pre-scheduling, unless you pay a private driving school a few hundred bucks.  Like I said, this is where common sense goes to die.

Only one of us walked away with a license today and that was me.  And that was only because the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML couldn't get her license (because she didn't have our marriage license!) and I was able to use some of her residence proof for me.  You need to know that I spent several hours reviewing the document requirements and I checked it all off as I assembled our package (I'm not kidding - I walked in there today with a friggin' dossier). Apparently, because we live in a place that has two names according to the US Postal Service, this was too much for the DMV to handle.  You know the DMV is jacked up when the USPS can handle a concept like an address having two names which can and are used interchangeably and the DMV can't. I don't have the strength to detail the conversation with the agent and the ensuing run-around that went down about this. Frustrating does not even begin to cover it but I did get my license.

Then it was time to register the cars.  If only we'd been greeted by someone like this:
If only she'd worked at the DMV today
Instead, we got a lady who started smoking when she was two.  When I presented the three forms, her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and she wheezed out, "One form at a time!"  If you ever saw "Ma's Roadhouse," you'll get a flavor for the voice we encountered.  She would occasionally look up from the task of reviewing our paperwork.  I worried that three cars may cause her to get up and go out and smoke a pack (which she could probably do in about a minute and a half) but to her credit, she got them done.  And I'm hopeful we didn't get lung cancer from the residual haze.

So, three cars have new plates and are appropriately registered.  Only one of us has a drivers license, which is ridiculous.  Four of us still have to go back.  I can't send the Boy alone into that mess.  I'm not looking forward to the return train wreck visit.

14 August 2012

Cold Water. I'm not a fan.

This is ridiculous.
Growing up in the barren desert wasteland that is Arizona, one thing I didn't have to endure is cold water.  Trips to the lake for water skiing rarely required a wetsuit.  Most of the time the water was plenty warm.  I'm a fan of the warm water off southern Florida.  Suffice to say, I'm no fan of cold showers.

One of the blogs I follow, the Blog of Impossible Things, recently espoused the benefits of cold shower therapy.  It seemed to work for Joel, the author.  I, however, am not ready to give this a shot.  I blame the waters off the coast of Oregon for my reticence to embrace that therapy or to enter any of the inane 'Polar Bear Plunge' contests that come around annually.

Why Oregon?  This all went down a few months prior to leaving on my mission. My mission to Florida.  South Florida.  At that time, I was dating a girl from Oregon.  FYI - it was still three years before I would meet the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML.  She invited me up to Oregon and off I went.  During that trip we went out to Seaside, Oregon for a few days.  Wanting to make a good impression on her family, in spite of the dismal weather (I should point out that it was June, so it was summer), I vowed to show off my aquatic skills.  I wasn't much of an athlete in high school and college, but I was good in the water.  This decision would prove disastrous.

It was still four years before the horror story that was Baywatch would premiere and unleash the 'Hoff on an unsuspecting America.  I didn't know it at the time, but I totally channeled the 'Hoff that day.  With the family watching, I ran from the cottage towards the water.  My scrawny chest, which may have been covered in a grand total of four hairs at the time, was puffed out with pride as I ran towards the water.  For whatever reason, I had the good sense to not plunge in headfirst. I did, however, run into what turned out to be the heinously cold water up to my waist.  At that moment, my life flashed before my eyes.  I was as good as dead since it was so cold it took my breath away.  In a nanosecond, a scream came out of me from at a pitch I'd never heard.  Frankly, I think only dogs heard it at first it was so high.  I turned and essentially ran out of the water without ever touching the ground.  I was back at the cottage, wishing for the sweet relief of death.  I was greeted by gales of laughter and the knowledge that would be my only polar bear plunge ever.

So, yeah, I'm not down with cold water.  Like I said, I'm not a fan.

11 August 2012

On my mortality

Given the title of this post, let me first be clear: I am NOT dying. Well, at least not right now.  I mean, let's face, we will all die at some point but my ticket is not being pulled right now.  But more on that later.

It's been a fun family weekend.  Last night after work, I met the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, CAL, and the Boy for burgers and then we took in "The Bourne Legacy."  My review - it was a worthy addition to what is an outstanding film serial.  One thing - this was the first time we'd been to a movie theatre since the horrific shootings at a movie theatre in Colorado.  During an intense scene in the movie last night, an usher came into the theatre with his flashlight glowing. He walked across the front of the theatre and then positioned himself next to the exit.  He stood there for a few minutes and then proceeded with what was clearly a security sweep and then he left.  Note to the theatre managers - if you want to instill a sense of comfort in your patrons, do not have a pimply-faced seventeen year old who may be lucky to weigh 115 lbs. wet walk through with a glowing "Light Saber" toy from the Dollar Store next door as your security detail.  Rethink that.

Saturday morning, we were up early to grab breakfast at a little local place and then we were off to Boston.  It was an opportunity for us to see a bit of the history of this nation.  Boston is a fantastic walking city and we took full advantage of it today, allowing us time to be together.  The drive to and from Boston also gave us more of that together time.

It was on the drive up that my mortality came into play. Since we'd driven my OMC (Old Man Car), I was, and rightly so, in command of the media being played.  This meant my family was subject to the eclecticism that is my iPod playlist (everything from Dame Joan Sutherland to Joan Jett; from Snoop to Grandmaster Flash; from Mozart to the Mo'Tab - it's all there).  Anyway, one song came on that reminded me that I needed to tell the mighty fine and stunningly patient SML that I'd found a new arrangement of a song I want sung at my funeral. So I told her that. This led to a discussion about my funeral and the music that will be played.  The Boy suddenly chimed in from the back seat about his role in my funeral planning.  He was concerned that he'd have to plan it. Knowing of my distinct lack of sentimentality, he clearly is all at ease with that role.  He thought for a second and blurted out the following, which was promptly Tweeted:

On planning my funeral, the Boy said "I'm throwing you in a pit, 
saying a prayer, and you're gone.

He could not have been more serious.  I know now that my mortal remains will 'rest' in something like this:
My future?
The question is where that hole will be.  That was the other fun part of the conversation, all of which was had through gales of laughter.  When you've called more than a few places home, as we have done here in the Den, this decision makes for an interesting question.  And as of tonight, it remains unanswered.  That's fine with me.  As far as I know, I'm not going anywhere for a good long while.

08 August 2012

Going for the Gold in Awful

When the 2012 Summer Olympic Games got underway nearly two weeks ago, I was looking forward to watching the Games.  I intentionally did not watch the Opening Ceremonies because I knew that they would not sit well with me.  Once I learned that they had the Queen parachute out a plane with James Bond, I knew I'd made the right choice.

Initially, it was exciting to watch the Games and see who was going to earn a gold medal.  Initially.  And then, like you didn't see this coming, NBC managed to suck the joy out of the incredible achievements of the athletes that have made it to the Games.  Thanks to the network's vomit-inducing and never-ending coverage of the stories behind the athletes, I've learned the following:

  • To succeed in the Olympics, you must come from a single-parent household.  You get extra points if some of your meals came from the WIC program.
  • To succeed in the Olympics, while not a requirement, having a relative that's done time is helpful
  • To succeed in the Olympics, you must have had some kind of trauma that will be made into an awful Lifetime movie in the next couple of years
  • Bob Costas is, in fact, the Cryptkeeper

If not the Cryptkeeper, then someone animated Bob's wax figurine

So the coverage of the Olympics for the American television viewer has been nothing short of awful.  America's 4th (dang, what is it with me and the 4th?!) place network has won the Gold for Awful Coverage.  If it weren't for track and field now, I'd be done watching.

There have been some incredible moments.  Oscar Pistorius is absolutely amazing and inspiring.  How can you see him run and not marvel at the miracle of the human body?  He is an extraordinary example but the Games are a testament to what the gift that God gave us - our bodies - can do.  I'm amazed at what our bodies are capable of.  It is spectacular.  Those achievements truly are worthy of the Gold.

05 August 2012

The Fourth Estate

The Fourth Estate typically refers to the press and its members as a societal force.  It's a force that is not held in high regard in most circles and I think that's unfortunate, unless of course were talking about Fox News and Brother Beck, but that's not where this post is going.

Rather, as I think about the fourth estate right now, I think about our new house.  Let me be clear, our new house is no estate.  It's a great place, but an estate it is not.  What it is is the following:

  • It is our fourth house
  • It is the fourth time we've bought the fourth house on the left side of the street
When we bought our first house twenty years ago, it was the only lot left where they could build that little house that was in our budget.  When we moved to California and built (let me be clear, by built I mean we wrote a check and lifted not a single hammer) our second house, it was pure happenstance that it was the fourth house on the left. When we moved to the Midwest, for a third time we found ourselves in the fourth house on the left.  Once again, happenstance.  And now ensconced in New England, once again, it's the fourth house on the left again.  It didn't dawn on us that we'd done it again until several days after making an offer and signing the contract. It would seem that we are on a streak that cannot be broken.  The next house will have to be the fourth house on the left.

I'm not sure if this makes us creatures of habit or "victims" of happenstance.  If we're victims, it's been all good.  I don't want to break the streak.  I'm afraid of what might happen if we do.  That said, we continue to settle in nicely into the new home and the area. We continue to be grateful and count our blessings. Life is good.

04 August 2012

The Barber Shop

Since I made the move here five months ago, I've been looking for a good place for a haircut. I don't mean one of the factory places like Great, Fantastic, Cost...Clips or Cuts.  I'm over those joints.  I want the old-school barber experience. I haven't had that since our days in California. Living near Camp Pendleton, we had our pick of barbershops and the Boy and I had a great barber and all was well.

Today was the day to find a barber.  The Boy and I left the house, dropped off yet another five or six boxes at the Goodwill, and our quest was under way.  In short order, we discovered it.  A barber pole outside and a fairly ramshackle building.  In the window, a sign declaring two barbers.  In we walked and it could not have been scripted better.  The barber, who probably was cast from the "Floyd the Barber School" was about 90 years old.  The average age of the clientele was just north of 70.  When you walk in, the barber stops what he's doing, and yells 'Hello and take a seat!' a la the "Norm" greeting the borderline-alcoholic denizen of "Cheers" received.  So down we sat.  And the wait began.

The barber takes his sweet, sweet time in cutting hair.  It didn't help that the guy in the chair when we walked in was a hipster tool who was very particular, to the point of obnoxiousness, about his bangs.  Yes, his bangs.  Note to hipster - perhaps this wasn't the best place to get your bangs worked on, so you might want to rethink your choices going forward.

Once the hipster left, there were still two more ahead of me before I would be in the chair.  The wait got longer as the barber's cousin came in and began pontificating to anyone who would, or wouldn't listen.  He claimed, many times over, that he was a Communist and that he didn't pay taxes.  He talked this up a whole lot.  He also gave out a lot of advice, unsolicited mind you, on how to maintain a happy marriage.  Given that he used his wife as the butt of his many stale jokes ("She spends..., She nags..."), I'm thinking his marriage advice is probably not all that sound.  It was all I could do to feign a modicum of interest.  I was never so glad for the texts that came my way to divert my attention.

I finally got in the chair and nearly 45 minutes later, I was done.  I've had better haircuts and I've had worse - way worse.  Like the time the Peruvian lady in Miami balded me in several places.  But that's a story for another day.  In the end, going old school was probably not the best choice.  My quest for a really good barber continues.  There's more to come in this quest.

01 August 2012

When bombs threaten

Earlier today there was a bomb threat at the San Antonio airport, leading to the evacuation of the airport.  Some passengers were led landside, while others found themselves on the tarmac, as seen in the picture.  One of my good friends got caught up in this mess.  Thanks to the interwebs and Facebook, she kept us posted on the shenanigans at SAT.  Fortunately, it was a false alarm and she's on her way again.

This was not her first airport bomb threat.  I was with her for her last one.  That bomb threat was the culmination of one wild trip.  Buckle up, here's the rest of the story (sorry, dead Paul Harvey).

This happened several years ago.  We were returning to San Diego from a conference in Dallas.  It was summer.  It was hot.  It was thunderstorm season. Mother Nature was particularly agitated that day and all flights were delayed. It didn't help that much of the East Coast was in a blackout.  When we got to DFW, we learned our flight to Los Angeles was heinously delayed but we were with a bunch of colleagues and we camped in the crappy Red Carpet Club, waiting out the delay.  The delay went so long we were eventually kicked out of the Club as it closed.  We were the only ones of our group still left.  We'd been rebooked through Denver but still no plane.  We decided to get something to eat at the McDonalds in the airport.  Upon placing our order, we were told the most terrifying words you'll ever hear at the Arches, "Um, sir, we ain't got no more meat.  We run out of meat."  My blood ran cold or maybe it was my heart stopping ever so briefly knowing it had won a reprieve. That said, we were aghast.  No meat!  Ridiculous.  So we slogged back to the gate and sat down on the floor, awaiting our chariot to Denver.

Our plane finally landed and we were nearly trampled, I mean trampled, by a herd of German tourists who came off that plane like a bomb out of Messerschmitt over London in WWII.  After that brush with near death, we were able to board and we settled into our seats in First.  Things were normal after take-off and then it got weird.  I glanced out the corner of my eye and saw something a little funky in the galley.  I thought maybe I was hallucinating. I tapped my friend and asked her if I was seeing things.  Based on her expression, I was not.  The flight attendant, clearly a new mother, was using a breast pump and filling a couple of bottles.  Into the galley cooler the bottles went and out went my desire for anything with ice for the rest of the flight.

When we landed, we were told that we were the only two dopes who would be given hotel rooms for the night.  Everyone else who had missed their connections would be enjoying a night on the floor at the airport.  So we get trundled off to a hotel near the old Denver Airport since the newer Denver Airport is actually in Nebraska and didn't have a single hotel near it at the time.  When we got to the hotel at close to 2AM, we were greeted by fire trucks, lights blaring, and firefighters running into the hotel.  Of course.  So what did we do...we walked right in.  Clearly this hotel was used to visits from the fire department because the front desk welcomed us with open arms and said not to worry about it, it was just a little fire.  Seriously.  He checked us into our respective rooms.  To say there was trepidation and very little sleep would be an understatement.

So, if you're keeping score, we've had a blackout, an apocalyptic encounter at McDonalds, nearly trampled by angry Germans, a bizarre nursing moment, and a hotel on fire.  What else could happen?  That would be the bomb threat. Figuring that we'd pressed our luck significantly trying to get back to San Diego, we left for the airport early, hoping the wreckage of our reservations were still intact. The woman that assisted us took a look at our records and could not believe that we weren't completely irate about all that had gone down.  We started to joke that there wasn't much else that could happen and then it did. The bomb threat.  This was only a few years after the horrific events of 9/11 and the agent was having none of it.  She was gone and I mean gone before you could say 'Please leave.'  We just started to laugh and made our way to the exit.  It was declared safe even before we left, which was weird.  Again, all we could do was laugh.  We were delighted to learn our flight would be on time and that we'd be getting home that morning.

I'd like to say that there was no more drama.  At least there wasn't for me. I wasn't the one who drove into President Bush's motorcade and got pulled over by the Secret Service, guns drawn.  That was my friend.  Good times. We've vowed to never travel together again.  That's probably a good decision.