Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Alone

I don't know what the hell is going on with the world, but I am surrounded by disaster. Thank goodness it hasn't touched me yet, but I feel as if there is some Kharmic warning festooning about me. First a friend of mine was tragically ran over in an attempt to stop the vehicle he had forgotten to put in park from running over his pregnant wife who had fallen in front of the vehicle. Not even a day later, I sent an email out to some of my friends whom I haven't spoken to or heard from in a long time, in order to get their addresses so that I could send each of them a Christmas card. I came to find out that another guy I used to work with, Ryan—the absolute nicest guy on the planet—lost his wife last month. She wasn't even sick with anything major like cancer. The week before she died in the hospital, she came down with flu-like symptoms. Tests revealed that a virus was attacking her heart, then suddenly she was gone. Can you believe that?! Ryan was there beside her when it happened. She was perfectly healthy.

Ryan had to sell his home and move in with his parents. He's left alone to raise two girls, ages 6 months and 3 years. It's hard enough with two parents. I called him and offered my condolences, but what can one really offer in that situation except empty words? Awful, just tragic.

I thank my lucky stars and twenty other clich├ęs.

Then, last night, my friends down the street from me lost their home in a fire. They were out when it started—thank GOD! The neighbors said that it sounded like a howitzer had gone off. Apparently a propane line had exploded. My friend came home to see the fire only in the back porch area, but it quickly spread. The fire department killed the power in my neighborhood, prompting me to go out and see what was going on. I had to sneak through the woods to get there because the police barricaded the streets. I just knew it, after talking to people who were walking up the dark streets that the house was my friend's. "The eighth one on the left," came one answer to my inquiry, which was second-hand information as reported by a fireman.

When I got there my fears were confirmed. And there was my friend, with his family, huddled together on the street outside their blazing home, tears in their eyes. The flames and burned through the roof by then. Again, I just didn't have the words. What do you say to someone who is watching everything they have in life going up in flames—all the memories, the pictures, the videos of their babies being born, the pictures their kids had drawn since preschool, the love and care put into every choice detail of their home, their financial records and the sentimental memorabilia from their own childhoods—everything wiped out, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs?

At least they had their lives, and the insurance to build another home—hopefully. You never really know how good your insurance is until you need it.

If somebody asks me how I am, I have to say that I am fucking wonderful, the king of the world. I am alive, my kids and my wife are healthy, I have a great job and I can pay the bills. My wife is calling all the neighbors now and trying to collect donations of kids clothing and money to help them get through this. They have family close by where they are staying. I've offered to watch the kids for them, and to be there for whatever they need. There's not much I can do by myself, but I hope the neighborhood will come together and show them that they are not alone in this world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rock and Roll to the Rescue

Both my boys love the song Smoke on the Water, which is so funny because I remember when I lived in Couer D' Alene, Idaho and hearing it for the first time. I was in 5th grade. It was one of two songs having a catchy and distinctive guitar riff—the other being Love is Like Oxygen—hard crunching, repeating, toe-tapping. It was common to see your friend tucking their lower lip under the front teeth and doing a spot-on imitation. It may have inspired many first-time air guitarists, and not a few of the real thing.

At the dinner table Emmett sang his own words to the song instead of eating, real imaginative lyrics such as, "Poop on the water, and farts in the sky," while mom and dad rolled their eyes and said for the hundredth time, "No poop-talk," (trying not to smile).

Then Jackson got into the action, as he didn't like what was on his plate either. When Jackson gets involved, it's like that mythical amp from Spinal Tap that cranks to 11. In other words, it gets loud and out of control.

"Ok, settle down boys," I said, which has the effect of a lion cub facing down a stampeding herd of wildebeests. But after a few gentle reminders that there is food on their plates and that there are people starving in the world that would kill for a single bite (yes, it's true, we've become our parents), the boys went back to a subdued state of planning their next diversion. It came in the form of a question. The question.

Jackson asked, "Where to babies come from?"

Easy: "From momma's belly."

"But how does it get there?"

My wife and I exchange The Glance.

I decided to dance around a bit. I am the master of diversion after all. "It's like a seed, Jackson. Like the flowers we started in the egg carton (irony, eh?) at the start of summer. The seed grows into a baby until its big enough to come out of mommy's belly."

That should hold him.

Jackson is in third grade now. Though it may not sound like much, it was in fifth grade when we were introduced to sex education. If the pattern held true, that's only two years away. Perhaps the timing for modern audiences is a bit late.

"But how does the seed get there?"

Is verklempt a word? If it means to be at a total loss for words, that was me. It was time to pass the baton. My wife smiled as she took it and used it for an air-microphone, took a deep breath and screamed, "SMOOOOKE, ON THE WAAATER…"

And we all joined in, "…and fire in the sky-hayyye."

And that is the story of how Rock and roll saved the day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Over the Weekend

It was our last game of the flag football season on Saturday. We were slotted to play the Chargers, who we beat handily earlier in the year. As game time approached, the Chargers' coach said to me, "We're playing the Patriots instead—it's the closest game we've had all season."

The Chargers haven't won a game all year, so I understood. It also gave me a chance to prove something, even though I was afraid it might backfire.

All season I have taken a backseat to my assistant coach. I was in over my head organizationally. I had to put together the game plan, the order in which kids played and which positions, assuring opportunity at every position for each kid at least once. At first this was a strain, but by the end I had a system that worked easily.

What's been happening over the course of the season is that I would practice the kids while my assistant was at work, then on game day he would ignore everything that I had practiced the kids with and make up plays in the huddles. The kids were confused, fumbling and throwing interceptions. Not only that, but my son was losing interest in the game.

Once you relinquish authority or responsibility, it's hard to take back without causing resentment. But last weekend I did just that. And by some miracle it was accepted not only without complaint, but with support. Still, during the game I got a little friction when it came down to actual decisions.

The problem we've had all year is that the kids were doing in a game something they had never practiced. So I stuck to the basics. I designed a set of three plays that start exactly the same but with different end points. First you give the ball to a running back and have him run around the outside. Next you do the same but have the running back give the ball to the wide receiver for a reverse. Third, and this is where the money is, do exactly as in the latter case, but have the running back fake the handoff for the reverse and go.

On Saturday, when the running back did this, the defender totally bit on it and chased the receiver, leaving the running back with nothing but pasture between him and the endzone. It was pretty sweet.

On defense, I kept telling the assistant to put the fastest kids on the ends to keep the other offense from going wide on runs, forcing the opposing running back to run back into the middle of the field, right where our other kids were waiting. My assistant kept on calling my fastest kids back into a safety position, and even complained that I was taking our best players out of the play. I did the Dr. Evil "double-u, double-u, double-u dot zip it dot com!" to him. The other team only scored one time, and only then due to an illegal block that the refs didn't call.

We scored four or five times. The same team we played the week before and tied them in a shootout. I should have had the confidence to run the team like I knew it should have been run all season. We might have run the table. It was quite an accomplishment all the same. We started the season unable to execute a play, and ended on an incredibly high note, with nary a mistake made.

I'd like to take all the credit, but I can't. Even though I've been complaining about the assistant's handling of the play calling, which just wasn't his strength. In practices before the games, he came up with some drills that focused on handing the ball off on the run and pulling flags that the kids really got into and made it fun and challenging. A coach has to manage and utilize resources to maximum effect.

I can't wait for next season. The parents have been telling me that the kids had a blast this season, and all but for a few games I had perfect attendance.

Tomorrow I have to tell you about a conversation we had with our kids. The dreaded question: where to babies come from?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Kids, Elections and Progress

Both of my kids participated in elections at their schools in the week leading up to November 4th. I'm sensitive to any bias teachers put forth to students. If I were to ever find out that a teacher or school official exerted any sort of political influence on my children there would be hell to pay. We all know how academia stands on the political spectrum, and it's my job to teach my children to think for themselves. As I will demonstrate.

In both instances though, the teachers didn't offer any opinion, and the ballots cast were anonymous. You can guess who won in an overwhelming landslide at both schools. In Emmett's preschool, the results were posted on each classroom door. One classroom over from Emmett's reported that it was Obama, seven votes to one. In Emmett's however, McCain won eleven votes to three. 

Emmett has always said that he was going to vote for Barack Obama, but of course he has heard his parents talking about it. I kind of liked that he was thinking on his own instead of taking everything we said as the gospel. After picking him up and on the ride home, he told me that he voted for John McCain.

"Why, Emmett? I thought you were voting for Obama."

"Leighton talked me into it."

"How did he do that?"

"He said we were best buddies and that I had to vote for John McCain."

Leighton's mother was in the armed forces and went to Iraq for Desert Storm

This upset me just a little. "Don't get me wrong, Emmett, I love that you voted for McCain, but you shouldn't vote for someone because it makes someone else happy. You have to make up your own mind and do what you think is right."

He chewed on these words, then happily reported, "But I wanted to vote for John McCain."

That night Emmett wrote Senator McCain a letter. He drew a picture and had his brother inscribe, "Dear John McCain, I'm sorry you lost the election. Will you draw me a picture back?"

Jackson wrote two letters, one to each of the candidates. To Obama he told him what a lopsided victory he won at his school, and that he was happy that he (Obama) had won the election. And "could you send me a signed picture of yourself?"

To John McCain he sent a similar letter (sans election results), expressing regret that he lost the election (the irony was not lost on me), and that all his ideas were right and Obama's were wrong.

Ok, so you think I've ruined my child. But rest assured that what I am telling my kids is that Obama is now our president, and as such our respect is his to uphold. That is a far cry from what I have observed in the reverse, and I plan to be an example of how to support a president whose ideas and ideals I oppose. There may come a time where that will be stretched to the snapping point, but I hope to remain constructive and open.

As for all the simple-minded rednecks that can't handle a black president (am I allowed to notice that?) drive yourself over the next available cliff. The Klan party is over, has been over. I'm surprised that there is still a forum for this kind of thinking, if this can even be termed thinking. This aspect of the election makes me happy and proud that race is no longer a majority issue among free-thinking people. Maybe during upcoming elections the opposition won't accuse the other side of racism. But as Steve Martin would say, "Naaahhhhh!" As long as it works to silence critics it will be used, but at least now there is precedence and history to counter with, dampening its effect.

To wrap up, my grandmother voted for Obama. She lives in Ohio. She's always been a Democrat, and is bitterly opposed to the war, which tipped her hand towards Obama. But grandma is just short of a klan type. She has never had a nice thing to say about blacks, and that's putting it kindly. In her own words, she justified her vote for a (insert n-word) because Joe Biden is a good man, and, well, let's just say she doesn't have high hopes for Obama's health. 

We have a long way to go in this world. But progress has been made. My grandma voted for a black man. Read that again slowly: my grandma voted for a black man.  Do not underestimate the size of that mountain.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Doing Ok

No surprises in the election.  Obama won and my blog buddies are vindicated after eight long years.  I'm trying to be optimistic that Obama will be a fair leader.  Now everyone gets to find out what he is really like, beyond the hype and the promises that even the heralded factcheck.org says he can't possibly keep (same for McCain; I read more than a paragraph).  All I pray for is that he puts country and security ahead of party, and that he'll seriously consider the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before it is ready to take care of itself.  You can be strong without being a bully; put your fists at your side and relax if you will, but be ready for the sucker punch, because it's coming.

These are serious times.  Stand up to our enemies and be diplomatic in equal measures; be tough and compassionate.  Show us that there is iron in your words, and I for one will support you to the end.

Please, don't lambaste me in the comments.  Nor do I want to hear how wonderful he is and how he will win me over and yadda yadda yadda.  This is your day and you've never been prouder to be an American.  I wish I could share in that optimism.

There are no words that will make me believe.  I'll have to see it for myself.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sweet Relief

I won't say what it was about, but my wife was as mad at me as she has ever been for the last couple days.  It was to the point that I actually thought she might leave me.

It definitely wasn't about politics, so get that off your mind!

Up until we made up yesterday, I had to seriously consider what it would be like if she did leave and take my children away from me.  My oldest son needs me more than my youngest does, and it would kill him, after all the promises I made that divorce happens to other families.  My youngest son would be lost without his mother.  He's my bestest little buddy, but he's momma's cuddle bug.  As a child I went through divorce four times; the first two were devastating.

And of course there is my wife, who admittedly I take for granted in many ways.  I've always been secure in the fact that she loves me.  We aren't just some couple that have fallen into a rhythm of co-existence.  We work on being better for one another.  Last weekend was devastating, and it demonstrated how disatrously close any relationship, no matter how strong, is one wrong move away from destruction.  Alliterate much?

And as a side note, here is a survival note for all you husbands out there.  Women think completely different than we do.  They are emotional first, and that trumps reason.  That's not to say reason doesn't exist, but emotion needs an outlet and the best thing, if you have the stamina, is don't staunch the flow until it's all out.

But in that time when I was considering my future alone, I really came to appreciate what I have.  I didn't care about politics, my future, playing my guitar, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, not even about eating.  Nothing mattered anymore.

Life is back to normal again, and I'm the luckiest guy I know.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Victor Davis Hanson

If I had to choose one person in this world I would like to meet, Victor Davis Hanson might just be the one.  In conservative writing circles, he is highly regarded.  I first read about him in a column by James Lileks, one of the wittiest writers I have ever read, and whose political observations I respect immensely. He commented once that VDH had made a reference to something he (Lileks) had written, and was so moved, so humbly honored to be linked by someone he considered to be in a whole other league.  I had to check him out.

And guess what--his humility was well-justified.

I linked VDH to a friend of mine once, and after initially being impressed with the article, he was able to debunk all of it by telling me that Hanson was a Hoover Institute Fellow.  Hanson's most recent missive details the state of the political race as he sees it today.  This is a great summation of the frustration I feel with Palin-bashing and the inevitable course towards a socialist society that we are heading.  

Read it here.  

In other news: PUMAs and Democrats for McCain?  Sounds like wishful thinking, but I don't think anyone voting for McCain is going to be fooled into staying home on election day.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Orson Scott Card : Democrat

Now here is a Democrat who tells it like it is.  Orson Scott Card, I salute you, sir.  Better than I could have ever said it, this is the bare-knuckled truth that needs to be told.

Has anybody been paying attention to what Biden has been saying lately, predicting an international crisis specifically because Obama will be president?  Hillary supporters are questioning whether or not Biden is hinting at a potential Obama-instituted military draft.  Palin is starting to look like a genius.  

Here is a conservative argument against Obama as president.  Is he really going to take down missile defense systems?  When Obama says cut spending does he really mean to scale back on defense spending?  Naive to say the least, and very dangerous.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Forgive me, Mr. Tolle

It's easy to forget that Jackson is only eight years old, given his height and maturity. He has a tendency to give up too soon on new things. He simply loses interest. There's no communication for the most part. Under questioning, he tends to allow for anything I suggest as the cause, leading me to think that he either doesn't know or doesn't want to talk about it. A couple months back I finally got to the bottom of it.

I'm not sure if I posted about this, but I pulled him from our local soccer program and myself from coaching and participating in board activities. Jackson didn't want to play anymore either, so that made the decision final. If he had wanted to play I would have tolerated the cock and bull. I asked him if he wanted to try flag football instead. He said no. And here we went again. Always no to something new.

"What is it about football that you don't like?"

"I don't know."

I had to be careful here. For some reason I really want him to play football and I have to do the Eckhardt Tolle self-test. Why is it so important to me? He recently quit his guitar lessons (Beth, you knew this was coming!) and I let him off the hook. Music should be fun, not a chore. I haven't given up; I'm just considering a new angle. But here is a sport that is, for the time being, non-contact that involves a lot of running—one of Jackson's favorite things in life. So I tried this:

"You love playing tag with your friends at recess, right?"

"Yes."

"Flag football is just organized tag. The guy with the ball is It."

He still looked dubious. I pressed on.

"What is it that you don't like about it?"

He seemed to struggle for a moment, but then pushed out the golden nugget. "I don't know how to play. It's confusing."

So there it is; he's just like me.

Long story short, he agreed to play with my assurances that the game is easy to understand once you have played, and that I would make sure he understood. Turns out I went one better when the league coordinator told me they needed a coach.

So I'm baaack in the saddle again.

We won our first game and got slaughtered in our second, but in the latter case we learned a fair clip about defense. Jackson ran a touchdown on his first touch in the first game, but in our second game, we were pretty much shut out because the team we played had played together to two previous seasons, and was all reverses and fakes—their QB (the coach's son) had a beautiful fake pass that turned into a handoff to his runningback waiting behind him. My boys were totally confused until I put my two fastest kids on either end of the field and told them not to move until they were sure the ball was going the other way. After that, we shut them out. The damage was already done, but we left a better team.

Jackson told me afterwards that it wasn't as fun anymore. I thought about telling him about how it's not winning but in how you played the game, but that is the age old cop-out. Instead I said, "It wasn't your fault or the fault of any of your teammates that we lost today. That was all on the coach for not having you ready to play. We'll work on a few things this week and you'll see what a difference it will make."

So yesterday we won by three touchdowns, but it could have been a whole lot worse. In our previous game, the kids couldn't snap the ball quick enough and didn't know the plays. Our defensive issues I've described. This week I created three plays that always start the same way, so that the center, quarterback and running back either go right or left. Easy. Nothing to remember. The only differences are these: in the first case, the running back runs the ball; the second, the running back gives the ball to the wide receiver for a reverse; and in the third, the running back fakes the reverse and passes the ball. Then we practiced ad nauseum the snap and handoff to the running back.

The difference was remarkable.

The highlights of the game were amazing. Almost every player had a touchdown. Jackson's came on defense. Twice he picked the ball in front of the receiver and ran it back for a touchdown. We even had one of our kids throw a touchdown pass that was so pretty you wouldn't have believed two kids were involved. The pass was a spiral that hit the other kid in stride.

Jackson told me after the game that on one of his picks he duped the quarterback by letting his guy go so that he appeared to be wide open.

I think he's starting to get it.

After the game, one of the boys from last week's team, the aforementioned QB and coaches son, had a birthday party, so all the kids gathered and played even more football. I was on the sideline. Jackson lined up as a runningback and a kid on the other team said, "If Jackson gets that football we're dead!" He did get the football, and it was the prettiest run I've ever seen him do. In the first game we played, he ran around the corner and just sprinted away from everyone. On this day he looked more like Adrian Peterson or Barry Sanders, planting and switching directions three times while ever pressing forward with defenders grabbing at the ghost images he left behind. He's long and lean, and by far the fastest kid in the league.

Are you sensing a little pride?

You'll have to forgive me, Mr. Tolle, but my head is swelling.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Wonder

You might think from my last post that I'm voting for McCain. I'm not voting for Obama for the reasons I stated before and others I didn't (and nothing racial in case someone wants to pounce on that). I've decided that after the bailout bill I can't vote for either candidate. McCain's main message is that he is going to make anyone famous that tries to put pork into a bill that crosses his desk. How about the 150 billion of just such in the bill he just voted for? If he was serious then he would have voted against it. Instead, just like Obama, he didn't think the political risk was worth it.

This two party system creates the illusion that someone is right and someone is wrong. We stack what we like in the left column and justify and minimize everything else in the right. I really like what Palin said about living within our means, just like our parents told us to do when we got our first credit card (for the record, my first credit card was backed by my bank account so there was never any choice for the first couple years--and my dad has never had a credit card because that leaves a paper trail for the government to follow).

Palin isn't running for president, and she isn't ready for that anyway (so take a deep breath and count to ten). I think she'll become the next Alaskan senator and work her way up the chain. I'm pretty sure Obama is going to win because the country is in a panic and change will be the biggest motivating factor. Obama will spend and increase taxes and kill jobs and make things worse, unless the economy is ready on it's own to adjust upwards, which I doubt. Meanwhile jobs will still move out of the country because it will be increasingly cheaper to do business outside the country. McCain, I hate to say it, really does mean more of the same. He proved it with his vote for the bailout.

So strap up people. I really have no idea what all this means, but it's got me spooked.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Palin

I have to say that the last couple weeks, since I last posted, have been a real low point in American journalism--and that is really saying something. Gibson and Couric did their level best to take Sarah Palin out of the race, and very nearly succeeded. Last night's vice-presidential debate reset the typewriter of this election to the home position. Palin held herself up high and squealched any and all doubts her supporters had about her. The key word being her supporters. I would also add that she likely attracted many fence-walkers as well.

She wasn't perfect, avoiding questions that she either didn't want to answer or couldn't answer, while Senator Biden was direct. The difference between the two in my estimation is that Palin didn't pretend to know what she didn't know; Biden on the other hand, and quite cleverly I should add, made deliberate or willful misrepresentations on a range of topics, including John McCain's voting record. These canards served to create the illusion that his arguments had substance. Palin talked straight, and the contrast was sharp.

A long time Washington insider would have flayed him alive, but that leads to the next subject: Respect. We heard a whole lot of it last night, such that I haven't seen since Ross Perot lost the presidency to Bill Clinton and told his booing supporters to get behind their new president. Biden not only showed respect for Sarah Palin (er, Governor Palin), but also for John McCain. I walked away from this thinking that Joe Biden is a good man.

Listen, I know many of you don't think Sarah Palin has the experience necessary to step into the role of Vice President. I'm sympathetic to that view point. I'm a bit of a dreamer and a romantic, as are many Obama supporters. I can't help but get the Jimmy Stewart vibe from her, a small town American headed to Washington to break through the barriers of politics to make a fundamental difference. It takes force of character and charm. Regardless of how this race turns out, we haven't seen the last of Sarah Palin. With a couple more years of schooling she'll be Hilary Clinton times two with a personality akin to ol' Bills.

What I find ironic is that so many of her detractors women. I respect any criticism that speaks to her credentials or past history as it applies to the job she has done in office. Recently Sandra Bernhardt commented that Palin would get gang raped if she walked alone in New York City. I understand that Palin is not her candidate, but is this necessary? Have some respect for a woman who has achieved so much to be standing toe-to-toe with Joe Biden on the national stage. Women have come a long way. And not just any woman, but an attractive woman that is not hiding her femininity to fit in with the male establishment. It's a huge stride that should be aknowledged instead of mocked.

None of this is taking anything from Obama, whose achievements deserve similar attention. This election for me comes down to who is better on economics and security. My opinion is that Obama's taxation policies will take money from the rich, which on the surface seems fair. The net effect however will be the loss of jobs as corporations scale back to pay for the costs, which will have the further effect of decreasing tax revenues and increasing payouts for unemployment and possibly other social programs. I also don't believe in the time-table pullout from Iraq. We leave when we can and no sooner. Politics cannot determine war policy, and that is exactly what Obama represents.

Democrats are licking their chops over the damage that the bailout has caused the McCain campaign, and it might just be the golden egg that gets their candidate elected. But I think McCain has it in his back pocket that it was Barney Frank and like-minded Democrats that blocked efforts by the Bush administration to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which may have prevented the current crisis.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Be Very Afraid

If you saw a recent interview of Sarah Palin by ABC News anchor Charles Gibson, then you have been sold a bill of goods. Follow this link if you want to see how ABC News edited her responses to radically change the meaning of her words. And if you don't believe in media bias after this, then you are simply beyond reach. This isn't a rah-rah for Palin. It simply scares me to think that so many people have been intentionally misled by a news source. But this is nothing new, and yet still I am shocked.

This is the kind of thing that puts someone in office, opponents getting caught doctoring interviews, like the Dan Rather business of falsifying a letter purported to have been written decades ago on a typewriter when it clearly originated from a word processor.

I was hoping this election was going to be about the issues. McCain has some disingenous ads making false claims about Obama (go to The Curious Villager if you'd like more info). It pains me to see that. I've often thought that if I were ever to run for office, I would only stick to what it is I plan to do, not how the other candidate will utterly fail. And now the media is up to its old tricks so as to make Palin look like a bubble-headed prom queen.

It makes me sick. All of it.

Just pay attention people. Even so, you'll never know for sure if the dog isn't wagging you.

** Update: More ABC partisanship

Monday, September 08, 2008

Air Barber

When Marion Barber -- the newest cast member of Heroes -- was asked about his secret to horizontal hang time, he replied that he jumped into the air like normal, hoping for a few extra yards, when suddenly he remembered that the tax extension he filed back on the 15th of April at 11:59PM expires next month -- and he forgot to fall down. He glided past a slack-jawed defense for an easy score.

When the Browns head coach Romeo Crennell came to his senses, he protested the game. Though nothing has been made offical yet, league sources have indicated that their investigation has revealed trace amounts of flubber on bottom of Barber's cleats.

That's my caption. Care to give it a crack?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

It's The Same Everywhere

I lifted this from a website I found by following through from Instapundit. It's a reproduction of a conversation a member of our military had with an Iraqi man. The whole article can be found here (check it out, it actually contains some good news about the Al Anbar province, where Iraqi security forces have assumed control from the Americans).

Just read:

Him: “Are you married?”
Me: “Yes”
“What is your opinion of marriage?”
“I’ve been married 13 years; I don’t have an opinion anymore.”
“In Iraq they say a husband is like a monkey, a donkey and a dog. At first she loves you like a pet monkey, then she orders you around like you are a donkey, then you are an old dog, you bark and bark and no one listens.”
“It’s just like that in America too.”
“Is it true in America you only marry one women?”
“Yes”
“And in America if you leave she gets half?”
“Yes”
He rolls his eyes and says “Thank God I am Iraqi.”

Friday, September 05, 2008

Just To Say Anything

I thought I should at least let everyone know that I am still alive. It's hard to say what direction I'm taking right now as it pertains to writing. I'm not in the place I was before about writing, and yet I don't want to give it up. In fact, it is still very much my ambition to write a novel, and perhaps a contest or some other form of inspiration will kick me into high gear. But right now, I'm just content. I have a great story in my head right now, but it really has two parts, and that other part isn't totally clear to me. The concept is catchy and pretty amazing, but it's like two slices of bread that needs some meat to finish the sandwich.

Definitely do not interpret this as me being down. I'm not. I feel good actually. My guitar lessons are coming along and I'm really picking up on things. My birthday is coming at the end of the month and I've "asked" for a recording device that comes with two microphones that plugs into the computer so that I can record what I am up to. I am planning to put some of what I am practicing here, so stay tuned. Right now it's pretty much bluegrass music, so don't get too excited. And it's not that bluegrass is my thing either—though it comes close—but technically it's a lot of fun.

Yesterday I got my hair cut at the local barber shop. Joe, who usually does the job, was just finishing up with a customer so I was feeling fortunate with my timing. However, the older fella who owns the place popped out of his chair when he saw me, all smiles. His buddy, to whom he had been chatting said, "Time to go to work, huh?" Something in his manner persuaded me to give him the business.

I'd been to him once before, the first time I had ever been to the barber shop. He reads Civil War fiction and loves history. And when I had seen him last, he had offered me his copy of Killer Angels. So I asked him conversationally if he was the one that liked this kind of thing, which of course I already knew he did (but it had been a long time ago), and we started in on Gods and Generals, Gettysburg and a few others.

Where I live it's mostly white bread and I don't see too many people of color around. And so it was with some surprise that as I was talking about how General Sherman pioneered the concept of attacking the enemy's infrastructure and thus crippling its ability to sustain a war, I noticed that a colored man was in the chair opposite me. The entire conversation I was just having replayed in my head, and I felt guilty that I had brought up the subject matter. It was innocent, a total coincidence, but I was convinced that the man was thinking that the first thing I thought of when I saw him was the Civil War. I was further convinced when he glared at me on the way to the register. I felt like explaining, but what could I have said.

Maybe he reads my blog?

My son took his first lesson. I gave him my first guitar—the guitar that I learned with. I just saved three hundred dollars if he quits. But somehow it seems that by giving him mine he is more excited that if he had gotten his own. He actually practices. I've started him off with the first song I ever learned: Greensleeves, or the Theme From Lassie, neither of which he as ever heard of.

And just call me a glutton for punishment, but I am coaching again, but this time it's flag football. The program is sponsored by the NFL, so I got to choose which NFL team I wanted to be. You'll never guess which I chose. And just to mess with me, the other coaches kept trying to tell me I had to be the Eagles or the Redskins. In the deep south they would say, "Them's fightin' words!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Biannual Event—A New Post

Lately it seems that my sons are getting along better. Partially this has a lot to do with my youngest, Emmett, getting older and more of a companion and contributor to the fun. Like my little brother, he finds the greatest delight in every silly thing his older brother says—or grunts or screams. It can be a bit maddening.

Some quick highlights.

Friday I took the day off and went with the family to Ogunquit, Maine. I'd never been there before. My wife loves the beach and I don't have much use for it—at least I didn't before Friday. Ever since Garp lost his son to the Under Toad (a child's mispronunciation of under tow), I've had the fear of losing my own children in the same way. The ocean can be harsh. But at the beach in Ogunquit, the shore feeds so gradually into the sea that the grade is barely perceptible. It's a sandbar in fact, such that you can walk in ankle-deep water for at least a hundred yards. The waves were beautiful, so we got boogie boards at tourist prices and went for a romp. I transformed from grumpy old man to old man of the sea. Now I'm thinking about getting a surf board.

This is sorta cute. While I was sweeping the pool yesterday, the kids made water balloons, then got down to their skivvies and went swimming with them. The water balloons all had names. But the one that stood out was Snot Knowledge. No idea where it came from.

My oldest son Jackson is going to start taking guitar lessons. Willingly. Oh. My. God. Pinch me.

I've resigned from the soccer board that I previously belonged to, and have decided not to coach any more. Too much drama was my answer to the question: but why?! Oh, and incidentally, I said, Coachzilla owns the soccer board. But she quit the board, I was told. But she'll be back. When she left you she was but a learner, but when she comes back, she will be the master.

Jackson doesn't want to play anymore and Emmett can't be bothered anyway.

Oh, we saw the new Clone Wars animated movie. Much, much, much better than episodes I through III. They finally ditched Hayden Christenson and got some voice talent. The action rocks and the characters were actually likeable.

I'll stop by and say hi as I get the chance. Football is gearing up and my Boys have a lot of work to do. I'm really excited about Felix Jones.

What? You don't know who Felix Jones is? As Yoda once said, "You will. You wiiillll."

Monday, August 04, 2008

Play Guitar

My latest obsession is more productive than my previous addiction to Call of Duty 4, the latter of which I hope I am truly over. Since I bought a new computer with the latest video technology, I had been on a power binge of gaming every night until two in the morning. It became an awful feeling, knowing that I should be getting to bed but being unable to step away. The addicting part of it was that I wanted to be the best at it but kept coming up short.

But hopefully that's all over now. I have a few buddies that I play with on occasion, and I'll save myself for those times.

But the good news is, I have something new to occupy my time. Of all things, it's my guitar.

I am taking lessons again. The beauty is that I'm already a pretty good player, and by that I mean a passable strummer on the acoustic with some ability to play leads. I'm solid but by no means flashy. If you asked me to play a song you would glaze over in thirty seconds. That's because I really don't know anything you would want to hear, and I've forgotten everything I used to know that would come close.

My intention was to learn songs that people like to hear, but songs that have a little pizzazz, something to make the guitar sound interesting. Oh, and songs that are within my singing range.

The guy I am learning from is a bluegrass guitarist, but he is purportedly one that can play any style. I asked him if he knew how to play Drive by Incubus (definitely out of my range), and he replied, "What by who?"

I'm thinking at this point that rumors of his diversity had been greatly exaggerated.

So I said, "I like country music as well." I didn't want to admit this because all I know are country songs, and I don't meet many that want to hear it. But I could see that it had pepped him up.

"Who do you like? Name a few artists."

Before I could stop myself I blurted, "George Strait and Alan Jackson."

He had his pencil poised over a notebook page, but he dropped both. "Ah, classic country—ok. Play me something you know."

Not to be sidetracked down the same old road, I snapped the capo on the fifth fret and said, "Have you heard of Death Cab for Cutie?"

"No," he said with a hint of disappointment.

I rattled off the intro to I Will Follow You into the Dark, which I had just finished learning the day before. As I'm playing he rifles through a stack of papers and puts one in front of me entitled Walk on Boy.

"Have you heard of Doc Watson?"

I told him that I had with a hint of resignation. Doc Watson was old school country.

"It's similar to what you just played." He put a CD into his computer. The first few strums from the speakers sounded so typically bluegrass that I almost refused, but then Doc Watson played a riff that arrested my speech. The shock was mild, but the guitar instructor saw it and played it back for me.

"That's awesome."

So now I can mostly rattle off that riff, the part that he transcribed for me. I've immersed myself in this song and am feeling that old feeling once again, the love for my guitar. My old friends remember this way, but this time I actually have some talent.

My next lesson is this Wednesday. I've got the solo down and am learning the nuances of the verses, which fly counter to how I normally strum. I'm wondering how the instructor will react when—and hopefully if—I play it just like the recording, even learning some of the parts he didn't transcribe for me. I'll settle for the parts he did for now.

In other news, I had a great idea for a novel. Unlike my previous ideas, it's clean and simple, easy to explain in a sentence or two. What has killed my previous efforts is the lack of a focused overall concept. This recent idea was inspired by a conversation I had with some friends over the weekend. When it struck, I told them about it, which was based on the story they just had told me about their relationship. When I told them the twist (there's always a catchy ending to my ideas, or they aren't worth my attention), they both loved it.

It needs a middle part.

But I'm working on it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

She Be Cranky

Having been up until two in the morning after my work computer contracted the Trojan Vundo virus (I swear it wasn't my fault) I slept in. I was pensive though. Normally when I'm all alone, after the wife and the little lump called Emmett—otherwise known as our son and the thrasher—get up before me I stretch out and have my best dreams. Not on this day. My brain was all whirls, clanks and thunks, working on a game plan. How was I going to break it to my boss?

Best, I thought, to be a man. Just own up to it and get it over with.

So when she walked in to the bedroom, I blurted, "Honey, my computer has a virus."

She stopped and glared at me from the foot of the bed. Lips taut. "A virus." Not a question, an accusation.

"Yeah, a pretty bad one too."

"On your work computer. Because of that software you downloaded?!"

Across my field of vision scrolled a list of responses from which to choose, but none with the impact necessary to divert this conversation from the waterfall toward which it was heading.

I opted for blather.

And as I relayed the circumstances of my terrible tragedy she turned up her nose and went into our bathroom and shut the door behind her.

Great.

This called for something drastic, some token of my enduring love. That's when it hit me. The replacement outdoor light! It was sitting in a box, in the garage, where it had been for a month now. I popped out of bed and jumped into my shorts. I had a purpose as I descended, step by gigantic man-step, into the basement for my toolbox, then up again and into the garage and through the side door.

She watched with a wary eye from her flower garden—where she goes to be alone—as I handed her one of the wireless phones and said in my handyman, Johnny-On-The-Spot voice (think Gaston from Beauty and the Beast), "Tell me when the light goes out."

As I headed to the breaker box, I tried the phone, "Can you hear me?"

A brief pause, then, "Yup."

Audible. Monosyllabic, but a start.

When I clicked off the right breaker switch she said, "That's it."

Two syllables. Even better.

"Thanks," I said, but the line was already dead.

She had relocated by the time I got back outside. I prefer to be alone anyway. Less pressure that way, because I tend to blunder through these things, and I prefer to experience these journeys alone and let others see the polished final product.

Just as I was wrapping it up, I stumbled and stepped on her new Azalea bush. It snapped like a dead twig. I picked at the branches and it came completely off, broken at the nub. I saw my life flash before my eyes. She loves that bush, and was so proud when she put it in.

So I did what any good husband would do and carefully put the branches back into the dirt and propped it up like nothing ever happened. It was perfect. She didn't notice a thing as she admired the newly installed light. She was so happy.

And as with all little fights that we have, there came the moment of confession. She told me, "I was a little mad about that virus."

"I know."

"You did? But how?"

"I'm instinctive that way."

She smiled. "That computer is your livelihood, our livelihood. You can't be taking chances like that."

"I know. But you have to keep in mind that I am a gambler by nature, and a lot of what we have today was gained because of that willingness to take chances. I just made a mistake, one that won't be repeated."

And so the make-up dance went back and forth for a few more rounds, and we were a happy couple again.

But there was still the lingering issue of the Azalea. What to do, what to do? I could go buy a new one, but it would have to be a close facsimile or the jig was up. That was the terminus of the Big Brain Express, so I asked her to take the kids with her to check out the new paint job a friend had just had done in her kitchen.

"Are you high?"

Ok, nix that plan. If I brought the kids with me, the little parakeets would be singing my death tome when she got back. There was nothing more to do about it, as the odds were remote that I could pull it off anyway.

"Uh, honey, I have a bit of a confession to make."

She was intrigued. "And that is?" she said dubiously.

"I stepped on your Azalea. It's broken."

"It looked fine to me," she said.

"That's because I propped it up to make it look ok."

"You what?!"

Then she burst out laughing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Situation Normal

A special thanks to JC for hooking me up with the 411. I thought I was screwed immaculate, but Malwarebytes worked like magic. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Rinse and repeat. Thank you!

When the problem first arose, I did some research and actually saw that Malwarebytes was used by other folks having the same problem, but this virus seems to have evolved, or I didn't install Malwarebytes from the desktop, or both. I'm not sure what the magic combo was.

In order to get Malwarebytes, I downloaded from my wife's laptop and network tranferred the file, but the virus wouldn't let me run the installer. But I was able to run another application mentioned in the solutions of others called Avast. I ran a complete scan with Avast which found one dll infected by the Vundo Trojan virus. Once Avast had taken that out, I could get to the internet again--and I could run Malwarebytes.

A full system scan with Malwarebytes turned up 150 affected files and registry entries. I deleted them all.

And like magic, everything was back to normal.

Unbelievable.

I spent most of yesterday backing all my personal files to an external hard drive. I also went to Best Buy and bought another computer for personal use. I'm using it now to post here. I am going to try to stay off blogger (which was not responsible for this virus, by the way) while on that machine, and I won't play any games there either. Music will come from this machine as well. Strictly business, that's my motto from now on.

That was close. Too close.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Slammed

It hasn't been a great couple of days. Nothing I can't survive, but I've never strung together so many bad things all in a row.

The worst though is that my computer--my work computer--is infected with a virus. As viruses go, it is quite sophisticated, and has me backed completely into a corner. It has disabled the internet (I'm writing this on my old laptop), barred access to my System Restore utility, blocks any attempt to run a spy sweeper, and has basically taken over my entire system.

Ironically, it works by alerting me to the fact that I have spyware on my system. It takes a form that appears legitamate, posing as the Windows operating system itself, and directs me to a recommended a website that can help, which is of course the same web site that has perpetrated this virus.

Thankfully I still have access to internal and external hard drives. I am in the process of backing up all my files, work and otherwise. Then I'll get aggressive about removing the virus, but I don't have high hopes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Latest

Quickly, Jason has another of his famous contests going on, and I finally got off my duff and entered again. It's a bit sappy, and not my usual, but I kind of like it. You can check it out here. I've met a few new people like I do every time I participate, and it really is a lot of fun.

Man, I have been bizzzz-ee at work. So I have an excuse. Sorry I've sort of dropped off the map lately. Some things I've been working on for over a six months suddenly went south, so my manager and I came up with a plan to get around it. Everything was working fine until one customer had a particular setup that caused my stuff to not work, and an easy solution wasn't available. The plan involved me rewriting an entire section of code, and it had to be done instantly. I worked from sun-up till midnight most of last week getting it done, and of course there were other problems and subsequent fixes, problems and fixes, over and over until it was mostly resolved.

Yesterday, the day before official release, I took a day off and took my family to Canobe Lake (an amusement park). When I got home at 9PM through two traffic jams, my work inbox was crammed with still-yet more errors to fix, and the rantings of a panicked manager (the manager of my manager) who didn't know I'd taken the day off.

So I was up until midnight again fixing problems. But I wiped them all out. Now I'm waiting for the verdict, and hoping I don't lose this freaking incredible job that I have.

I'm not that worried about it, but you never know what can happen.

We took our dog with us to the park, which is allowed by rule, but we certainly got the hairy eyeball from passersby. Right out of the gate. The people in the car next to us stared at us as we deployed the family plus dog. Rudely. We were approached more than once on the subject, and I heard families discussing it with their children as we passed, "that's just ridiculous to bring a dog here!"

She's just a small thing, not like a Rotweiler (check that spelling because I'm too lazy to), a Dobie or a Pit Bull. I'm not sure what had everyone's panties in a collective bunch. I remember in the old days when there were no fences between yards and dogs ran free and kids were allowed to roam in their neighbor's back yards. I hate to say it, but America has gotten to be way too uptight.

Anyway, the car parked next to us had a cracked driver's side window, and it was still there as we were leaving, so my wife dropped a napkin onto its front seat that said in her distinctive feminine handwriting, "Fuck you" and a smily face where the period would go.

God bless her.

One other funny thing, before I forget. We had Brinks Home Security over at our house to replace a battery and transformer that went dead on our alarm system (it was way past due). Two young guys, professional and efficient. We always offer something to technicians that come by--for cable installations, dishwasher repair, furniture delivery, etc--such as water or snacks. My wife was making sandwiches for the kids, and said, "Can I offer the two of you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?" One of them, without missing a beat said, "No thanks, I have to drive."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Status Update

Quickly.

I had my wisdom teeth removed on Friday. Call me Bill Murray if you will, but I have really enjoyed the whole experience. I love that (cue the Eagles, Mr. DJ) peaceful easy feeling of nitrous, and Vicoden is to die for. But best of all, my wife has been pampering me. I haven't had to lift a finger.

Freaks and Geeks. Rent it. It only lasted for a season, but it touched me. I'll admit to getting misty eyed when it was over. The characters where like old friends in the short time that we were together, and they grew up in the same era I did. I played D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) for instance. The pop references were dead on.

I'm working on season two of Dexter. My wife and I are hooked. Great writing and acting.

Still haven't talked to Dad, and I can't get my brother on the phone. Thanks for the support, all! I was touched by the comments.

Work is crazy, but I love it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Coming Out

My brother called me on Saturday. His voice was tight, arrow sharp. Driven.

"What's dad's number?"

No hello, how are ya? "You sound angry."

"I want to talk to him before he dies."

"I don't understand."

"Just give me his damn number!"

"Hold on." I looked it up on my cell phone and repeated the numbers. He dismissed me with a half mumbled thanks.

Neither of us got the better deal in the high stakes parental lottery. We have different mothers, he and I, but our father is one and the same. His mother was my first (and long time ex) step-mother, the one who has inspired more than a few posts and a short story on the subject of abuse. She favored my brother John and beat me for the crime of being alive. My father, on the other hand, favors me and completely ignores my brother and my sister, but cries on holidays that nobody calls.

When my brother John was a boy, I'm guessing around middle school age, my aunt told me that when she asked John about his father, he simply started bawling. A little boy whose father totally abandoned him. No calls, no support. Gone.

I've asked Dad several times. What don't you call? Because, he said, he's got nothing good to report. Believe me, I've tried to reason with him, that the simple regard would be enough, an assurance that he was thinking of his son. Love doesn't have a price tag. It simply is, and only needs expression to be real.

Now his son is almost forty. And in most ways I still regard my brother as that little boy who never grew up.

Until now.

He called back an hour later. I can't reconstruct the conversation we had. My brother is a lot like his father. In some ways a carbon copy. He has a little girl that he adores and takes care of, but he has another little girl that he won't acknowledge. A little girl that will grow up resenting the father that abandoned her. The girl's mother was a one night stand. One night of mindless drunken fun with a lifetime of consequences.

Might he get an angry call years from now? Will the pieces come together in his head? Will he regret and make amends, or will he turn away unable to bear the weight of a lifetime of wasted opportunities?

My father is getting old. He's lived in the shadows, evading creditors, many of whom used to be his friends—and most importantly the government. He's volatile, turning on those closest to him with irrational anger and sometimes violence. He calls me regularly, and wants me to move my family near to him. I don't have the heart to tell him no. But I won't say yes. How could I sacrifice the house that love built on the altar of dysfunction and delusion? I love him, but not more than my children. I made a plan with my brother to go into business with him in Houston. My wife is on board, and we are just waiting for the real estate market to rebound enough to make it possible to sell our home and make the move.

But I haven't told my father. He has so little. It's his own damn fault, but guilt tears at me like a desperate drowning cat.

It turns out that I don't need to worry about it anymore.

It's taken care of.

My brother did it for me.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Father’s Day

I had big plans to write a long post about my special Father's Day, but I have a small problem: my memory ain't what it used to be. Although several New Years resolutions have been made, I still don't carry around that notebook to record those cute little moments, nor do I used the digital hand-held tape recorder my wife gave me two years ago that I swore I would always have at my side. So I have to rely on this rusty bucket called my head that retains memories like a strainer holds water.

The day was about the little things. No big presents or grand gestures of love. Nope. But lots of little ones.

The store bought card (pictured) from Jackson was perfect. At a glance it might seem that he picked a card off the shelf at random, but far from it. I like to sit on the diving board of our swimming pool, feet dangling in the deep end, while I play and sing to the kids while they splash around at the other end. When Jackson was a only three or four, I would play a little as he went to sleep. I've never considered him a fan, and I've never gotten a request, so this card is nothing short of perfection. Gee, you're great Pa! Now can I have some money? Look out world; he's one smart kid.

From my wife the card said simply: Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to be sharing my life with you. Sue me, but I got a little choked up. It's official. I'm getting old.

One of the highlights of my day, besides sleeping in and playing Call of Duty while the wife was doing yard work, was my little Emmett sneaking up behind me while I was sitting at my desk. Buck naked—as usual. He lifted his left arm and pointed at his arm pit with his right index finger. "See, daddy? I'm growing some fuzz." And for the record, not even close!

I'll end this with something Jackson did for me in his second grade class. The paper is titled, "Top 10 Reasons Why I Love My Dad." Each of the top ten was started for him with a blank underlined portion for him to fill out, similar to the concept of a Mad-Lib. Here is what he wrote:

10. I love my Dad because he reads me stories.

9. I love my Dad because he helps me do my homework.

8. I love my Dad when he makes me laugh by when he says jokes. And tickles me.

7. I love my Dad because he taught me how to read.

6. I love to hear my Dad sing everything.

5. I love my Dad because he finds time to play with me.

4. I know my Dad cares because he is my father.

3. I know my Dad is smart because he is my daddyo. ( I read this out loud originally as "he is my daddy, yo!)

2. I love my Dad because he works so hard at work.

1. I love my Dad because he's the BEST DAD EVER! (Ok, this line was preprinted as is, but I'll take it anyway)

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words


OK, I Won’t Keep You Hanging

Sorry about the brevity of my last post. Yes, it's more soccer drama, and at the time of posting, I just didn't have the energy to write the words. Now that the weekend has passed, I'm back on center.

I live in a small town. This has some well-documented disadvantages. You never know who you can trust. Before the soccer board meeting I had sent out an email to my friends to come and support my candidate for in-town soccer coordinator, a position of which whose occupant was in contention. The other candidate was part of the problem and frankly had to go, but he was also in all other ways a good guy. My wife and I were conflicted, felt bad even, that we would be standing up publicly against him. He left the soccer board meeting when I showed up, throwing in the towel as it were, which elated my wife and me.

Well, that person directed an email to me on a distribution list that includes a great many people in this town that was similar in nature to that of Coachzilla's earlier email to me, except this one was even more pointed. At this point however, after enduring the personal attacks to date, I found myself strangely calm, almost numb, objective even. I simply took it in and wrote back to the list. I will not respond to personal attacks, but will gladly take it offline. My only concern is for the kids of our in-town program, and how best to create balanced teams for the enjoyment of all. I refrained from saying more. Believe me, there were lines that were written and deleted, written and deleted, edited for neutrality.

For some perspective, this man was the coordinator of the under six soccer teams, Coachzilla of the under eights, and both are together as coach and assistant coach on a team (with their own kids as members) in each. Both teams have the best talent, and in each case, there are a string of complaints from parents and coaches about team stacking. I won't go into all the examples, but when I heard that the same pattern was being repeated by this duo in the under six league that they have been doing together in my son's league, I had to take action. The difference in the case of this guy and Coachzilla is that I actually think he is a decent guy who is either behaving badly or is being used. Either way, he had to go.

He got wind of what I was doing, so a good part of this town has labeled me as trouble with a capital T. I have become a divisive character that has come to represent the numerous folks that have had enough. Fine. When I really think about it, I prefer having the reputation as someone who will stand up for himself and his beliefs than someone who sits idly by, complaining about everything and doing nothing.

I saw him at the final soccer event on Saturday and walked right up to him and told him that I hoped someday we could still be friends, that if he walked away from the soccer board because of me it was a mistake, that he should come back. He told me that he heard I had a problem with him every time he went to the grocery store or the post office, and that he was sick of it. Then, I said, we should talk about it some time.

And that's where it is. I'm not sure if I got through to him or not, but I hardly think you should condemn someone based on what some gossip relates to you third-hand. Some of what he says is technically true, but I am perfectly willing to speak to him about my feelings. But I think he knows that. And I further think that he was just using me as an excuse. Because, as I said before, I've come to represent a group of people whose voice is growing in volume. He wasn't running from me. The man saw the writing on the wall and spared himself the indignity of being voted out.

One of my soccer mom's told me that Coachzilla confided in her that she (Coachzilla) felt bad about our recent falling out. My answer: "And you believed her?"

Strangely though, throughout this most recent development, Coachzilla has stayed out of it. There are three possible explanations. The first is that she really does feel bad and has come to realize the error of her ways. The second is that she lost her cool in the last meeting and got slapped around like a pinball, deciding now to let someone else carry the torch. The third, and most likely, is that she is biding her time, a lioness crouched and concealed in the waving grass by the watering hole, waiting for me to placidly dip my head for a drink.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Drama’s Not Over Yet

Let's just say that I've made some enemies here in my small town.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Bit Geeked

It's getting to be that time of year again. Can you smell it in the air? Football season is almost upon us. Well, maybe not for most people, but for pigskin-heads like me there isn't any other sport. So while the NBA finals have the rest of the country glued to their sets, I am combing my favorite Dallas Cowboys websites for any information about voluntary workouts, waiting with baited breath for training camp to begin.

I won't bore you with it; I promise!

What is interesting though is a new blog by Dallas middle linebacker Kevin Burnett, who gives the inside scoop of the off season, and fields questions from his readers. And what he is discovering is that his fans are very well informed. It's amazing how much football knowledge is out there. I don't even bother to comment. Burnett has been stunned by the responses, and even comments at one point that some of the fans should coach. I thought he might have been facetious.

So saddle up. If you have a favorite team that is not from a certain Texas town that doesn't start with big D, then my condolences. Our major weakness, our only weakness, i.e. our secondary, was plugged in the off season in a most unimaginable way, with a first round draft pick and the free agent signing of the equivalent (legal troubles aside, see Tank Johnson for historical precedent), not to mention a seventh round pick that many experts say might be the steal of the draft. All our skill players at every other position are back and signed long term. So mark it down. The Cowboys will DOMINATE. I'm biased of course, and I think I might have said this last year, but this is not drug induced.

Toke. Strained voice. Cowboys. Superbowl. Champions. 2009. Nobody even comes close.

Exhale.

And cough.

Now back to work.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ramping Up

My writing instructor and friend, David Daniel, has just published his latest novel, Reunion, which is available at bookstores and online. I encourage you to pick up a copy and give him a read. He is a brilliant writer, with such a knack for turning a phrase. As a young man he published somewhere in the magnitude of eighty short stories, though that number could be much greater. It's funny, but as a wannabe writer it would make sense if I were a better observer, so that factoids like the one I just "quoted" could be a bit more reliable. Let's just say for argument's sake that Dave has written a shitload of short stories. The man is a machine. His prose at times has a poetic lilt. He's given me permission to take an expression of his and mold it into my own, but to me it just feels so, well, not right. He insists that as long as you don't copy another's works, if you pull it with your own strings, it transforms into something uniquely you. "Call it inspiration," he said with a paternal smile. "Art imitates art, and we are all inspired by others. Nobody writes in a vacuum, and all authors were and are all readers first."


At his Reunion launch party, I met some of his closest friends, guys he met in the service back in the days of Viet Nam. By the way, David is a conscientious objector, and did not suffer the horrors of that blight of a war. In fact, the theme of his latest novel is about the loss of innocence, in those far away high school days before the world would change forever. But as I was saying, many of his friends are poets and writers at various levels of success. Most have books you can pick up at the local Barnes and Noble. One in particular is a columnist, whose columns my wife has read in our local town paper.


The question was always posed to me that night: "Are you writing?" No, I would reply, I'm taking a break. "Why?" I lost my confidence and my way. I told them how my self-doubt had stopped me cold, how what others thought of my writing became more important to me than my own opinion. One man in particular really let me have it. "What the fuck are you doing writing for the sake of other people? Huh?" His face was in mine now, his anger genuine. "Why do you write stories? What made you want to put something down on paper?" Because, I said, I have something to say. I might not know what it is, but when I'm writing it, and I'm in that zone, there is no better feeling in the world. Like free-falling. "Then sit your ass down and write, and don't give a shit who's going to read it. Do it for yourself." He accented his last syllable with a thumping finger poke to my chest.

I bought him a beer, which tamed the savage beast.

It helps to be surrounded by people with like interests, because they just understand.

And they know just what to say to get you through.

Oh, and if you do pick up a copy of Renunion, take a look at the acknowledgements section. You might see a name you recognize.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Let There Be Justice

I'll be damned if there isn't justice in this world after all.

I really don't have a lot of time, so here it is in a nutshell. Last night only four more parents showed at the Soccer Board meeting (besides us), so our numbers weren't strong. But I think it intimidated the competition because he shook hands with the board president and said, "I think it's for the best." So it was no contest. My man got the job. Now Coachzilla will be a coach like any other, not only lacking control over player placement, but now she has an enemy in the captain's chair. We'll see what kind of coach she is with a normal team of kids—which may just work out in her favor, she being an excellent skills coach.

Towards the end of the meeting, and right before the elections, the president asked if anyone had any observations about the past season, things they would like to see changed. When nobody offered anything up, I said, "Ok, I think there needs to be more parity in the league. There's clearly a handful of teams that have all the talented players—"

Coachzilla interrupted. "Oh, like there hasn't been any effort to balance teams!"

I felt my face turning red. It's a flaw of mine. But I pressed on. "I realize that there has been some effort," I partially lied here to keep it clean, "but—"

"You have no idea how I have busted my ass to make this league right," she screamed.

Another parent, "Coachzilla, you need to let him finish a sentence."

"But he's accusing me of—"

"Nobody is accusing you of anything, Coachzilla," another voice chimed in.

"There are a couple teams that are really struggling," I continued, "such as Coach D and Coach…" I drew a blank.

"DON'T NAME NAMES, SCOTT!" She was getting shrill.

"Coachzilla," another parent chimes in, "you need to calm down."

I continue. "I'm not here make accusations, my only interest is making a set of teams that are roughly equal so that on any given Saturday they might win. Nobody is getting steamrolled, and no one is mowing."

"Oh, and I suppose we should just ignore parent requests then," Coachzilla supplied. "What do you do when a parent doesn't want to play on someone's team? Huh?"

"You tell them," I said, "that you will take that request into account when you make your final roster decisions, that although you respect their wishes, your first priority is to the kids, that creating equal teams fosters a better and more friendly environment for all."

More guffawing and jawing and huffing and puffing etc.

"Listen," I said, "by the time the kids are 8, we as coaches have spent three years with them. After peewee, we sorta know who the players are, U6 even more so, but by U8, there is absolutely no excuse to have overloaded teams."

This went on for some time, and I rarely got to finish a sentence, and what you see above is my reconstruction of a lot of bickering, so it wasn't all so smooth. But a few voices from the board, voices I have known and didn't think supported my way of thinking, spoke up that night. From now on, before a new season begins, all the returning coaches will get together and talk about rosters and what can be done to equal things out.

And no more parent requests.

Ahhhhh.

So a major victory was scored by the good guys last night. No more nepotism in this league. I have to give a special thanks to my wife who made all the phone calls, who organized our strike, who got me going on the path. Last night I discovered that if I keep my head and speak my mind, that others actually do listen and respond. Who'da thunk?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A New Sheriff?

Against my better judgment, we played Coachzilla last weekend and got our butts stomped six to one. It would have been worse, but the game was called in the early fourth on account of thunder showers. During the game, Coachzilla recused herself to the sidelines, giving the reigns to her assistant coach, who is also the coordinator of the entire in-town soccer league, meaning he has the ultimate power to move players from team to team. My wife was appalled that Coachzilla didn't actually coach the game, and it was concerning to me too. I was sure that somehow it was a manipulation on her part to make me look like a bully, that I had cowed her into submission.

So my wife called the assistant coach and asked him point-blank why Coachzilla sat with the parents. He claimed that he wanted to coach the game, that Coachzilla was doing him a favor by letting him.


Silly man. Doesn't he know that this is a small town? That people talk? Turns out that Coachzilla openly admitted that she gets too worked up when she coaches against me, and that she gave herself a timeout. Isn't she a noble beast?


My heart wasn't in the game, and neither were the kids'. And Coachzilla's team was possessed, running like their asses were on fire. And up six to one, they were still playing for blood. My defenders for some reason ran to the other side of the field, so Coachzilla-Junior sent his son to our side of the field to camp out, waiting all alone for the ball to come his way. The kid scored twice this way. In the big leagues, this is called being offsides, and I would never condone our kids playing like this. But technically it's legal at this level. Again, my heart wasn't in it. As I saw this happening, I could have prevented it by calling it out to the defenders, but a part of me just said, "Take the victory then leave us alone."


But tonight there is a big vote coming up. Parents of children that play soccer can attend. Coachzilla-Junior wants to continue having control over the league, and Coachzilla wants a power position as well, so she can continue to gather the young talent on her PeeWee and Under Six teams, cutting out the players that can't play so well. A coach from Under Six is running for the position of in town coordinator. My wife and I have called all our friends, including parents on my past and present teams, to come and vote against them. I don't think the opposition even knows we're coming. It's going to be an eye opener when so many people come to this meeting to voice their strong desire for change. The new guy wants to institute a system that we currently use for baseball placement. Have an evaluation day then divide the teams up equally, giving all the kids the best chance to have fun, not to get blown out or to blow away, but to compete on an even playing field.


How novel.


So cross your fingers that we have enough kick to buck these crooked cowboys. It's high time we had a new Sheriff to clean up this town.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Toast and Patch

I was so wrapped up in my little soccer drama last week that I didn't give proper homage to my meeting with the Ultra Toast Mosha God—who from here on out will be referred to as Toast for reasons that should be obvious—and his buddy Patch last week. It's a little sobering to live just outside of Boston and have to be shown around the city by two tourists from Bristol, UK. And ironically it turned out to be de-sobering as well.

My newest friends got a first-hand glimpse at a previous-me, the me that could be, the me that wanders off the reservation, away from responsibility and sensibility and into the world of no consequence. It was quite liberating. Thank goodness the guys couldn't stay out longer. After three beers I was in the mood to rock and roll, and when that happens I could wake up anywhere from somebody's couch to a back alley dumpster.

I was worried driving into the city that I wouldn't recognize Toast from the few pictures I had seen of him. Our plan was fairly loose, to meet at Quincy Market. As I approached the Government Square exit and examined the Big Dig tunnel roof for loose tiles, I imagined half the night being pissed away, fruitlessly searching for someone I had only seen in blog photos.

I was a half hour early so I took the time to find a parking place, avoiding the garages—a great investment for the owner to be sure—to save myself thirty dollars. A short casual, people-watching stroll later, a block away from and in full view of its pavilions, I asked a young couple if they could direct me to Quincy Market. They smiled and pointed.

Doh! Thanks.

All my worries were for naught. The two of them were the only two on the steps, reclining casually like two sleepy cats, exuding a comfort and world-ease that unconsciously invited the same to passersby. A quick glimpse of his profile and I knew it was him.

I think I said, "Are you the Ultratoast?" I meant to say the whole thing, but does anyone really know it? Does he? Try saying it out loud. Ultra Toast Mosha God. It takes practice. Come to think of it, I totally forgot to ask him what it means.

And how would my greeting have been perceived if I had mistaken someone else for him? An overactive imagination could have supplied a few interesting explanations for sure. I had uttered a code phrase, for instance, that demanded a scripted answer, like "Only with magna-butter and deoxyribonucleic-marmalade," or "Nine out of ten dentists surveyed prefer Jeannie over Samantha any day."

At any rate, he was not what I expected. I had in mind someone around five foot eleven. As he rose to shake my hand, we stood nose-to-nose. At six foot four I have gotten used to being upwards to a head taller than most everyone else. I had the same experience with Mr. Schprock, a notable absence from this get-together, who already had plans for the evening of a fun and family nature. Bummer. He would have really enjoyed this.

Toast introduced me to his buddy Patch, who reminded me of Adam from the second season of Heroes—blonde hair, square jaw and a friendly, welcoming air. We all shook hands and exchange pleasantries, the like of which nobody can ever remember. It didn't take them long to figure out that I knew nothing about the city. The Celtics were playing and they knew of a nice quiet bar where we could get a beer and take in the game. They seem a bit shocked and amused that I didn't care one way or the other about basketball. Perhaps their idea of the typical American was influenced by crowd shots at Fenway and the movie Independence Day—which might not be far from the mark.

As we walked along on the city sidewalks, Toast brought up that business with my soccer team, which he had taken the time to read about on my blog. I felt a certain ease with Toast and Patch that I can't really explain, other than to say that I have been a long time reader of Toast's, and many are the stories of parties and excessive alcoholic consumption—which reminds me of the good times I once had with my buddies. His blog is clean, but there are hints of political incorrectness here and there. So on this night, for old time's sake, and because I damn well felt like it, I stepped up to the plate and let her rip. Such was my disposition when Toast pushed my hot topic button, the big red shiny button, i.e. Coachzilla, so I let he and Patch know what I thought about her in the most base, guttural and Anglo-Saxon way possible, distilling my words and syllables to their lowest common form. "She's a…"

As Twain wrote in Tom Sawyer, let's draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene.

This had the happy side-effect of setting the tone for the evening. As Toast would later write, "He is so open that it would seem rude to not join in." It took a little while, perhaps like those first few face-twisting bites of an orange with freshly brushed teeth, but they got the hang of it.

Their quiet tavern had filled up in their absence. Standing room only. We picked the only spot open to us, which is classically the most annoying to waitresses, obstructing their path to the drink ordering station at the end of the bar, denoted by the pair of hooped brass bars that resemble in-ground swimming pool hand rails. Toast offered to buy the first round, and who was I to argue.

The roar of the bar crowd proved to be the undoing of any meaningful conversation—my ears already have a constant hum from cranking my Sony Walkman as a teen. But before we departed for greener pastures Patch introduced me (fact check: was it Patch that suggested it?) to Smiddicks, my new favorite beer. As Jules would say, "Mmmm-hmmm, this is a tasty beverage."

We found an Irish Pub with far less people, but roughly twice the noise due to a solo guitar player/singer, but we managed to squeeze in conversation between songs. I noticed that Toast had long fingernails on his right hand which he purposely allows for picking at the guitar. As we approached the bar, Toast sang a line of the song the guitarist was performing. His voice was perfect. I regretted that he didn't have his guitar with him. As it turns out, he plays sometimes at establishments he passes through. Too bad this wasn't one of them.

I bought the first round as lips loosened even further. Mainly the conversation centered on the fairer sex, though I decline to delve into the meatier details contained therein. But I made a connection with Toast on the subject of mindless sex vs. meaningful relationships, although he might not have realized it. As a teenager my beer-toting, braless and saggy-breasted step mother used to tell me that I was way too serious when it came to girls. She might have had a point, but I was always searching for "The One." And I don't mean Keanu Reeves, even if he could act. So it was pleasantly and mildly surprising when Toast told me that he is not into one-night-stands; that he is searching for his soul-mate. Growing up in the era of Porky's and Spring Break had programmed my mind to prioritize the former, even though my heart was never into the hunt.

But life has a way of testing our convictions. No sooner than we had taken our next sip and set our glasses down did a beautiful blonde traipse by our table, arresting our conversation into awed silence. Toast looked up and gave me a wry smile. "You know that stuff I was just saying? Forget about all that."

I could go on and on. I started this post on Monday, and here we are almost a week later. Time to publish this bad boy. So Toast and Patch, cheers to both of you. Thanks for making me one of your stops. It was truly a pleasure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Upcoming

I'm working on a post that details my meeting with Ultra Toast Mosha God, but it is taking me a while to get done. I volunteered at my son's preschool this morning, which is my normal time for wasting company money.

More later. I'll be dropping by and saying hi.

And by the way, after my son's second grade concert last night we took him out for ice cream and ran smack into Coachzilla. I acted like nada mucho and was as pleasant as a sunny day. It's better that way.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Headaches and Handshakes

I want to recap what became of my refusal to rematch Coachzilla, as Alan so eloquently coined. My own nickname for her also starts with a C, but this blog is PG-13.

In a nutshell, I've decided that Coachzilla doesn't just have ego problems. She might be certifiable--a criminal genius in the mold of Dr. Evil. I wrote a nice polite letter—and I really mean it was polite—respectfully declining a rematch. I'll tell you what, you be the judge.

Hi (Coachzilla),

I've been doing a lot of thinking about having a rematch with your team. Last year when I asked you for the same, I mentioned it to another parent who thought I was putting too much pressure on my kids. So I took back the request. I don't want to do that to them this year either. That was a big game for the kids, a real bright spot for the season, and I don't want to take that away from them. If you want to have us play (Coach A) and (Coach B) again, that's fine. A couple of my kids got hurt playing (Coach C) and I would rather avoid that one as well. Sorry if this disappoints you, but I have to put the feelings of my kids first.

Scott

This was her reply:

Sorry, but the schedule is already set. The strong teams must play each other again as I stated at the beginning of the season. I already changed the new schedule twice for other coaches and I'm not changing it again. I gave coaches an opportunity to voice their opinions two weeks ago. If you're putting too much pressure on your kids, then you need to re-evaluate your coaching style. My team has nothing to do with it and I'm not juggling the season so teams can keep their records in a league that doesn't keep stats.

This really teed me off. Actually, it sent me into a rage. While it's true that I had a chance to contest the rescheduling of the games, it didn't really sink in what she was doing until I had time to think about it. I'm a slow burner. Last year she had an undefeated team, and my team had only lost one game. I thought it would be really cool to rematch her so that my team would have a chance to be considered the best. One of the parents looked at me askance when I mentioned a rematch, and it hit me that I was using the kids to glorify myself as a coach. But notice how in her reply she takes that single instance and twists it to epidemic proportion. But what really got me is how she accused me of trying to preserve my team's record. I replied that I was insulted, and she wrote back, cc'ing league management. I had a discussion with the league president, and he told me that he put her up to the rescheduling of the games because some of the weaker teams were getting beat ten to nothing. So I was wrong that she was abusing her power, and I wrote her back and told her so. I added the lines: I really wish you wouldn't have called my motives into question. I'm a reasonable person and I always try to do what's right.

Here's what she had to say about that:

I didn't call your motives into question. Several parents and other coaches did, as well as what I have witnessed during two games against your team.

Last season you promised your team ice cream if they beat my team and did this in front of me and my players. This season you left one of your weak players in net the entire game and rarely subbed your strong players. While I understand you had only two subs, those subs complained that they got no playing time. Additionally, you were witnessed yelling at your own son during a game after he was hurt and doubled over in pain. This is not criticism, this is a suggestion to back-up and think about what our purpose is when coaching U8. I am an intense coach as well and have had this same conversation with myself many times. You are not the only coach I have spoken to this season. And I am not the only coach to have an issue with your team. As coordinator of the program it is my job to check in with you now and then and point you in the right direction. If you see this as a personal attack, then I'm sorry. My timing in speaking to you after our game may have been unfortunate but I would have said the same things to you later in the day.

If you choose not to play my team, then you are doing a disservice to the kids. I will not reschedule and my team will simply have a scrimmage that day.

(Coachzilla)

She totally missed it that I had capitulated, deciding to play the game, thus perhaps some of her anger. But look at the attacks on my character! Last year, before the game, I took my kids to the other side of the field, away from all eyes and ears and told them that if they won the game I would buy them ice cream. This is something we did in Little League when I was a kid, and I thought it would be extra motivation. But it was a mistake, and it was more of that pressure that I shouldn't have been applying. But I did this away from her. It's just that one of the kids ran over to her side and told her kids. She makes it sound like I used pyrotechnics and a pa system. Mind you that she cc'd league management with this.

As for yelling at my son… With this statement she knocked my teeth out. At the end of the last game, Jackson took an elbow to the stomach. He had his hands over it and was walking down the field, slightly stooped but moving. The other team was advancing on our goal and had he been running he could have prevented it. Had I known the extent to which he was actually hurt, I would have called a timeout. As with most kids, my son tends to dramatize when he gets a bump or a scratch. I yelled out for him to run twice, and when the goal was scored and he still wasn't running, I knew something was really up. This comment from Coachzilla really hurt me deep.

I called my son's school and told them to make my son a walker. I was picking him up. I was reeling with guilt and shame, and frankly near tears to think that my son would think I valued the outcome of a soccer game over his well-being. I put my arm around him as he met me outside the cafeteria, where we were surrounded by other waiting parents, just beside the school busses that were being boarded by the other kids. As I was struggling for the words, we walked in silence beside Bus 5 when a head popped out of the rearmost window.

"Hey Coach!" It was one of my boys.

"Hey Austin," I replied as I watched his smile widen.

Over the top of his head came another of my boys, waving frantically, eyes pinched in a gesture that I could only explain as proud. "Hey Coach!"

I pointed at him, feeling a little emotional now. "Hey Luke."

Beside the next bus, one of the kids that doesn't get to play as much as the others pounded on his glass and waved hello as well. And another as we got close to the parking lot.

On the ride home I asked Jackson, "Am I a mean coach?"

"No!"

"You can tell me, Jackson. If you ever have a problem with me I will listen. I promise I will."

"I know, dad."

"Do you think the other kids on the team are having fun? Do they think I'm too hard on them?"

"Dad, why did Austin and Luke, and Patrick and Hanna say hi to you?"

We both laugh.

And everything is ok.

The next day I saw one of the coaches from the Navy Blue team, who, if I can intimate from Coachzilla's email, complained about my treatment of my injured son.

"Coach C," I said, "It has come to me via the grapevine that you may have taken issue with the way I treated my son at the end of our game the other day."

"What are you talking about?" She looked bewildered.

I explain. The add, "I want you and everybody else to know that I love my son more than anything in the world. I would do anything for him." My eyes are a little glossed and I am cursing my lack of control. She sees this and puts a hand on my shoulder.

"Listen," she said, "we're competitive coaches, and some of the others just don't understand. When one of our kids goes down, we yell at them three sometimes four times before we realize that, oh shit, he really is hurt."

"Exactly!" I can't believe what I'm hearing. "You never know when they're really hurt because kids are always being over-dramatic."

"Listen," she said, "people around here talk sometimes just to hear themselves talk. Don't worry about it."

So Coachzilla put the Jedi Mind Trick on me, and I bought it for a day. She is softening me up for our rematch, but I'm pressing on with the way I've been doing things. I'm pretty sure there is nothing I can do to please her aside from throwing the game. It scares me what she did, and to the length she was willing to travel to knock me down. My wife told me that anyone who has met me for ten minutes knows that I would never mistreat my kids, much less my son.

It turns out that Coachzilla is defending herself in the Peewee league at an all-coaches meeting for her aggressive style of coaching five-year-olds. Apparently she has compiled a team that is dominating the other teams and she has pissed off every other coach and parent there as well.

I've decided that no further comment is needed by me. I must never underestimate her again. She really tried to hurt me.