Monday, May 28, 2007

I Feel It!

Congratulations, you are officially the conduit of my writer's block.

Give yourself a hand!

You see, I am officially writing a book. Now keep in mind, I've said a lot of things in my life, but this time I really mean it. I've made claims that simply weren't true, though I would have denied it at the time, even to myself.

Some have been blatantly false, as in I was just taking a piss. To feel good, because growing up, feeling like me sometimes was too much to bear. That's not the way of it now, so don't feel sorry; it was a different time. One of my college favorites was pretending to be the quarterback of the Washington State Cougars. You had to be pretty stupid to believe it, or perhaps I'm being too self-deprecating. Any guesses on what my name was during the spinning of this yarn?

I also used to pretend to be a member of a "cool" fraternity, to see how the sorority girls would react. There were some houses that were known for only admitting the creme de la creme, so naturally, I wanted to see what it would be like to be part of those elite, and to see if the girls believed it was possible. Most of the time they did. I met a girl in Boston right after I had graduated from Potsdam, so I was still young and could pretend to be in school still. She was gorgeous. And after telling my story for an extended time, I could see that she was actually falling for it in a bigger way than I had expected. And that's when I knew I had blown it. I said I was a Sigma Chi, which I had been for a couple months. She asked me for the secret handshake, which I knew. But something in my manner gave me away. I'm guessing it was my guilt. As she stomped away, I knew I had given my last performance.

But I'm way off on a tangent here. I'm talking about the lies I tell myself, which naturally extend to the rest of the world. I tell myself that I can do anything, that I can learn guitar for instance, that soon I will be good enough to be in a band; I'm a great singer, though I'm actually quite limited; I'll someday own my own computer software company; I'm a great manager of people. It's the power of positive thinking on steroids, and it has its advantages. But after awhile, people stop listening, or glaze over as I describe my newest, biggest dream. Writing, however, is more than a dream. I'm actually doing it.

My mentor has read quite a bit of my work in progress, and for the first time, I'm getting the sense that he really believes I can do it. Not that he hasn't been in every way quite positive and complimentary, and maybe nothing on his end has changed; maybe the change has occurred inside me.

Either way, the result is the same.

I'm tasked with outlining my story, and that is how I started this post, looking at the blank screen of my outline and thinking, "What else could I do right now to avoid this for a little while more?" But I did manage to eke out some more details (I started this post late last night), and even came up with a killer ending, and more than one scene in between.

It's gonna happen. I feel it!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I'll Miss it Here

Tomorrow will be my last day at my current position here in Watertown, Massachusetts. As a send off, a bunch of coworkers took me out for drinks. I got the night off from father duties in order to really take advantage of the night.

I was pleasantly surprised at the turn out. You gotta love it when you reach for your wallet and they tell you to put that thing away. I stayed out late, drank more than I have in who knows how long, then drove to my faraway home in boonesville. By the way, I know it's irresponsible to drink and drive, but like Sam Kinison once said, I don't want to drink and drive; it's just that there's no other way to get the fucking car back to the fucking garage.

By the way, Sam was eventually killed by a drunk driver.

That's no joke.

So I am trying not to think about it, but I'm really going to miss these guys. Tomorrow I'll be going out to lunch with the crew, so today was my last trip to the Meat Spot deli, where I have gone faithfully for almost a year now. They are the best people; Dick and Harry are the Armenian brothers that own it. Karen, Dick's wife, always has a smile and book recommendations for me. Their daughter works during the summer once in awhile, and has Karen's looks and personality -- cute as a button (and miraculously only in eighth grade). I brought a coworker who just started yesterday with me, and introduced him as my replacement. Harry though... he's my favorite. Quiet, unassuming, a perfect gentleman, the kind of guy you love to make laugh. As they bid me heartfelt goodbyes, I promised to bring my wife in sometime to meet them. Walking back to my car, I have to admit that I felt a little misty.

I'm getting sentimental in my old age. Good people are never to be taken for granted.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Eight Random Facts about Me

I've been tagged by Toni, Shawn and Jason. It's about time I got on with it.

1. I was one of the last kids in my school to swear off Sesame Street. When I was in eighth grade, I still had a stack of 45 RPM records with such famous hits as the Sesame Street theme song, Somebody Come and Play, I Love Trash, I've Got Two Eyes, and Big Bird's alphabet song (the one where he finds the alphabet chalked onto the sidewalk and thinks its one big word). I couldn't get enough. While the world dreamed of living in a yellow submarine, I was playing games at the ladybug picnic.

I put them away for good when my step-brother announced it to my schoolmates.

The great sadness of my childhood was that Ernie, Bert, Grover, Oscar, Big Bird, Kermit, Cookie Monster, The Count (ah, ah), et al were not real. I dreamed of a living, breathing Muppet world and vowed when I was in sixth grade to bring them to life, so I bought a science book from the grade above me and read it from cover to cover. When I finally went to college, Robotics seemed like too much math, so I settled for a generic computer programming degree instead.

2. When I was in fifth grade, all the neighborhood girls three or more years younger than myself had crushes on me. Nobody my own age, of course. So I set up a kissing booth thinking to make a few dollars. This created a "swarm" of about fifteen girls, so I crawled on top of a mobile home trailer and dangled my hand. The first stepped up and pecked at it like a woodpecker until I jerked it back and closed up shop.

There was another girl that was older than me that always referred to me as dimples. She always greeted me on the bus as such, then laughed as I squirmed and turned red. If she ever saw me around the neighborhood, she would chase me, threatening to kiss me if she caught me. I was too fast.

3. I've always had a dream, and not so coincidentally, same too with my father. Thankfully, I at least was instilled with a worker gene.

4. In college, while wrestling with Jeff Gordon, I threw him onto his guitar, snapping the neck clean off it. I didn't have money or any access to money, so he took my skis as collateral until such a time as I had it fixed. At the end of the school year, situation unchanged, I took my skis back. He asked, "How do I know you'll make good?" I answered, "You don't."

That summer a friend bet me that he could shimmy up the side of a skinned log we had stuck in the ground as the first ingredient of a home-made crane. He didn't make it five feet. Instead of paying me, he offered a guitar that he had taken from a previous business partner who had screwed him out of some money. I accepted. The next semester started without me in attendance, but I took a special trip to Washington State University in order to make good on my word. The guitar was far superior in quality and sound to the one I had broken. It even had built-in pickups for plugging into an amp. I was feeling quite magnanimous as I handed him the guitar in a beautiful, hard-shell case.

Jeff picked it up, strummed it once, leaned it against the wall and said, "Thanks. I've got a lot of homework to do, so if you don't mind…"

5. I have an obsessive personality, whatever that means. For example, when I finally got it in my head that I wanted to play guitar, I drove everyone absolutely bat shit crazy talking about it. I played Johnny B. Goode in my room over and over until Dave Haase finally told me to play something else. Then I went through a Doors phase. In college it was The Wham Rap, which led to Lip Synch. Later, much later, in the bars, happy hour, after work, it was Karaoke. Then it was La Fonda Del Sol where a band had me sing Cover of the Rolling Stone. Then it was softball. Now it's writing. I talked a lot about it as recently as a month ago, but now, for some reason, I don't blather on about it, preferring now to get something done and let the work do the talking for me.

6. I'm phenomenal at making new friends. Keeping them… now that's the trick.

7. At forty two, I think I'm finally over high school. Maybe.

8. I have an infinite capacity to love and forgive, and I often wonder why people don't see that. Then again, maybe they do.

I'm supposed to tag eight people, so here goes: Tee, Mr. Schprock, Beth, Jen, Natalie, Toast, Peter, Unlucky Girl. I'm not sure if the last two would even be interested, but I think they would be interesting.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Coach Johnson

I don't know if I've told this story before, but all this discussion of junior sports, about winning and effort and what's important, has got me thinking about a time when effort meant more to my coach that the actual results.

Damn if I'm not forgetting my team name at the time, but I was in sixth grade in Akron, Ohio. We were playing the best team in our league. They could hit and field, and didn't have a weak player on their team. At least that was my impression. They would eventually take the championship trophy home. But on this day, they had to go through us.

We were pumped. Though we were huge underdogs, in our hearts we knew we could beat them. I played first base, and can still remember the intensity I felt on the field. The only play I can remember was a line drive shot over my right shoulder. I reached up with my glove hand (my left) and pulled it down to end their inning.

It was electric. We really came to play.

But in the end, we lost.

There were two traditions after any little league game in those days. You shook hands, and then the winners went for soft serve ice cream at the custard stand.

Shaking hands was always a perfunctory ritual. Get in a line, shuffle forward, slap hands on the way by muttering "Good game, good game, good game..." But today, as we passed by, I got real hand shakes. I felt the relief, saw it in their faces, heard it in their voices. "Great game, oh my God! That was close, nice snag you had there..."


Heads low, we gathered around the coach as he called us in for the obligatory speech. I'll try to reconstruct it, but keep in mind that this is only a reflection of the emotion I can still feel after all these years, after the details have faded away.

"You boys played one tough game out there today."

I thought, "Yeah, but not good enough."

"I have never been more proud of you than I am right now. By all rights you should have won that game, and it's only by dumb luck that you didn't. You played your hearts out."

He looked at each one of us, making sure we were paying attention. There was no mistaking his sincerity. "Now I'm not supposed to do this, but..."

We perked up like dogs hearing a sound outside the human range.

"I'm taking you all out for ice cream."

Today we have a thousand flavors to choose from, but back then it was chocolate and vanilla. I've probably sampled each of those myriad flavors since; but never, ever, has an ice cream tasted so sweet as that plain vanilla cone did that day.

His name was Paul Johnson. I'm betting that his son, Paul Johnson, Jr., my erstwhile friend, classmate and teammate, is a little league coach today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Word of Explanation

I'm getting the feeling from the response to my last post that I've sold myself as a different kind of person than I am.

I love kids.

And many of you know that. But I have to be clear on one point. As a coach, if I have six kids on the field and six sitting, the six that are on the field need to be playing to the best of their ability. I don't mean to say they should be the best in the league, and not even the best they can be. But they better be out there trying and paying attention. Or they will be pulled out until they get that.

I'm not going to be responsible for scarring kids for life, and if you ask any parent whose kid is on my team, you would not get one of them saying that I'm being unfair in any way. I had one parent observe that his kid hadn't played in a quarter, but one kid has to sit every quarter of a game, and that has to cycle through every kid in my team. The only criticism you could level, and one that would fall on deaf ears, is that I don't make my best players sit out.

A game is about having fun. On that we all agree. Where people diverge is on what the definition of fun is. Fun for me is hard play, and yes, winning. Winning is fun. There I said it. Winning is FUN. Losing is not fun. The trick is balancing a winning strategy while spreading the play time around to all the kids involved.

So, to be clear, I have several players on my team that have absolutely no soccer skills. They can't kick, pass, stop a ball or get in someones way. They simply do not exist on the soccer field. They get equal playing time, and when they make a play, any play, coach Scott is out there letting them know.

But, I'll admit that I did want to have an assembly of kids that could really play the game, mostly so that my son could know what it was like to be on a team of crackerjacks. I still remember when I was a kid and won a little league championship. The feeling was beyond description, and it lasts a lifetime. And it doesn't happen to everyone, and maybe I'm hopping on that ride too soon. But I promise that I'm not taking it out on the kids, that they are having fun, and I would rather shoot myself through the head than to give them a bad experience of the scarring variety.

We've all had them. I'll never forget mine, and I won't be responsible for dishing them out. I still want to win my games. I give it my all just like I want my kids to give me theirs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sweet and Sour Weekend

Mother's Day we took my wife to the Brimfield Antique Show. I was prepared for an extremely boring day of shopping. As it turns out, it was kind of neat. The proprietors of each station are some kind of hybrid between carnies and deadheads, selling some pretty random shit. I should have kept a notebook of some of the more obscure, such as a child's toy that I remember from my own childhood. It was one of those panels that have a series of knobs that click, whir and ding, a rotary telephone dial. Funny thing is, for as old as it is, my kids zoned in and went to work on it. I had to pull them away.

One station had old band equipment, used up trombones and tubas. There were ancient baseball mitts, catchers gear, helmets, and bats. Arrows with the guide feathers stripped. Crazy. And old man scrutinized us as we sifted through the trash. As we left, he seemed angry that we didn't buy anything, picking up the tuba and slamming it with a thundering crash back onto the pile of twisted brass.

I ended up buying a collection of old pinup art of sexy ladies in embarrassing situations, such as the time Marilyn Monroe stepped over the street vent, and she had to hold her hands down in front of her to keep it from blowing up. My wife is still trying to figure out why.

The day before, on Saturday, my son had his sixth game of the soccer season. You may already know that I am coaching this team.

Now this is where some of you are going to diverge on your opinion of me. This is an under eight league, meaning that the kids are only seven years old. I am all about having fun; but fun for me is all about winning. I could amend that by saying that I can take losing as long as our effort was a hundred percent. But to me, there is no sense in playing anything unless you are there to play.

There is another coach in the league that handpicked her team and gave everyone what was left over. When I was asked to coach originally, I was able to have a few choice players as well. My aim was to have a team that could compete on game day, so my son could have that experience. Last year the coach didn't care, and it trickled down to the players. I could see it on the kids' faces that they didn't like losing.

So once I had my team in place, the aforementioned coach didn't like that my team looked so good, and it got around that I was stacking my team (I know this sounds ridiculous, we are talking about kids here--I get it). So, I gave one of the other teams that didn't have many talented kids basically my best player. So, the aforementioned coach decided that she had a kid she didn't want, so she gave him to me.

That same player's father this weekend complained to me when we were up five to four with three minutes left in the game that his son hadn't played in a while. It was true, but one kid needs to sit per quarter due to the number of kids on my team. It was his turn. However, I acquiesced, and put his son in the game, the same kid that just earlier was contemplating the mystery of a hole in the ground while he should have been defending.

The other team tied it up. Then, when we got the ball back, this kid gets the ball and dribbles it backward, toward our goal. He passes it to the other team, and they scored the winning goal.

I have been going back and forth about this in my head. My whole goal for this season has been dashed. Now I have to be a smiley bobble head and say that it's just about the kids and having fun.

But I tell you what, I could have strangled that kids father. At the same time, I'd hate to be in his shoes.

Oh, by the way, my son is totally digging baseball. We bought a new bat and a cool batters helmet, and suddenly he thinks he's Big Papi.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The No Asshole Rule

This is the kind of thinking that made America great, the lack of which has made us a country of simpering milquetoasts.

The following is an excerpt a Publishers Weekly review of the book, The No Asshole Rule:

This meticulously researched book, which grew from a much buzzed-about article in the Harvard Business Review, puts into plain language an undeniable fact: the modern workplace is beset with assholes. Sutton (Weird Ideas that Work), a professor of management science at Stanford University, argues that assholes—those who deliberately make co-workers feel bad about themselves and who focus their aggression on the less powerful—poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit and therefore are detrimental to businesses, regardless of their individual effectiveness. He also makes the solution plain: they have to go. Direct and punchy, Sutton uses accessible language and a bevy of examples to make his case, providing tests to determine if you are an asshole (and if so, advice for how to self-correct), a how-to guide to surviving environments where assholes freely roam and a carefully calibrated measure, the "Total Cost of Assholes," by which corporations can assess the damage. Although occasionally campy and glib, Sutton's work is sure to generate discussions at watercoolers around the country and deserves influence in corporate hiring and firing strategies.

There is some hope after all.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Healing Smile

I really, really hate the snow, and the cold, the ticks, the mosquitoes, opening and closing the pool, and even the neighborhood where I live, the neighbors that form against you for whatever reasons secret reasons they have (could it be because I voted for Darth Bush, the creator of terrorism?).

This place kinda grows on you though. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, as they say.

I spend a lot of time around the kids, and it makes me sad to think that someday, every last blame one of them will be crusted over by the time they reach adulthood. Maybe I'm being cynical. The world has a way of doing that to you.

There's a new girl in the office: young, blond, pretty. I've tried to say hi here and there, but when she passes me in the hall, she looks away. She seems a bit unnerved by me. I think, "Do I exude the stalker vibe?"

But after she accompanied me and the guys for a few coffee walks here at the office, she's opened up to me in particular. "Has anyone ever told you," she asked me, "that you are a bit intimidating?"

That sounds a lot like my dad. Mean looking, hard edge, soft creamy center, hard core.

"But then when you smile," she said, "I see that you are OK."

I'm really getting into the rhythm of coaching soccer. At first I was shy. Who wants to listen to me anyway? And where does that negative thinking come from? The same negative thinking turns the corners of my mouth down, and I peer at passersby, as if to say, "Don't fuck with me or you will pay!"

Wow. You would think I'd spent time in prison, or kicked in doors in Baghdad and watched my friends get cut down in routine raids. Is life really all that bad? The answer is, for some, yes, but for an average Joe like me, not even close. But then I think it's precisely because my hackles are up that I don't get eaten by the wolves.

But when I see the faces of those children, the kids who run up and down that field for me on Saturday mornings, I feel like I'm doing something important, and it heals me in a small way.

There are two girls on my team that have never played soccer before. One of them, Caroline, jumped in front of the opposing offense, stole the ball, and dribbled it a quarter of the field, approximately three kicks, before losing it to the last defender. I cheered my head off, ran out and gave her a high five. Previous to that, she was nearly comatose out there. She tasted success, and I let her know I noticed.

You should have seen her smile.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A New Job

As a courtesy to all who enter his contest, Jason gives honest critical feedback to all contestants that request it. I took him up on his offer, and found it to be quite helpful. Little things make a big difference in reader perception.

So thanks Jason. I really appreciate your honesty and your commitment to writing and to the community you've fostered.

In other news, I just gave a month's notice to my current employer. I've just accepted an offer from another company whose software developers, and any other of their employees for that matter, are completely remote. They don't even have an office.

This was the first step in what will likely be our departure from Massachusetts once we are able to sell our home. Roughly translated, we could be here for a while, or we could be out of here in a flash.

I've made some good friends here where I work. I never expected to. Past experiences at the work place have conditioned me to keep to myself, to keep my opinions close to the vest. In short, I was starting to feel I'd gone the way of the dodo, the rotary telephone, the cassette tape, or VHS. It turns out that I may have overreacted.

I'll be posting more about that later. Let's just say there are some difficulties that must be overcome before I leave. But the most important hurdle has been cleared. I have a job.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I've said it before, that in high school, I was invisible to the upper crust. And I totally get it, especially looking back at some of my old photos. If you know anything about me, perhaps by being a long time reader, or having grown up with me, watching me make my mistakes and learning from them ever so slowly, then you would too.

I didn't even bother to ask anyone to the junior or senior prom. It would have been better had I just been a total geek, which I may have been, but not in my mind. I played football and put the jocks on their backs, but I couldn't put that damn basketball into the hoop or dribble for shit; I had the stamina of a tree sloth and was utterly baffled by the curve ball since eighth grade (a story for another time).

I didn't think I needed to work for anything, and couldn't understand as the years went past, why everybody else was stronger, faster and better than me at everything.

My sense of humor was childish; much like it can be today, which makes me a pretty damn funny dad to have. High school nearly squashed me flat. It tried to take the smile from my face, but I wouldn't let it.

But they won in many ways. I spent way too much time worrying about what the kings and queens of that society thought about me, instead of focusing on what I had. And believe me, I had plenty. I could have been happy, but I dwelt on what I didn't have. It ate at me from the inside. It wasn't until my ten year reunion that I realized how much, and finally began the process of letting go.

Like Lime Disease, it's a sickness that will always linger. Perhaps that's why I get so messed up about losing a contest, and worry about what my friends will think.

So prom wasn't even on my radar. Even then, in the height of self-denial, I knew enough to stay away.

So now, some twenty four odd years later, someone finally asked me to go to prom with her. Being the self actualized fellow that I am, perhaps now I am ready to face the music. Be warned, Beth: I've got two left feet.