Monday, December 13, 2010

Trickle-Down Pumpanomics

    I believe myself to be a reasonable man. I can roll with a few punches. I can be downright accommodating at times. Knowing that my daughter is most likely proofreading this writing, I will thank her to NOT scoff at that previous statement with very audible "HAH!"

    In spite of being reasonable and accommodating (with my wife in kids now singing "HAH!" in multi-part harmony), there are some things that DO rather irritate me. In this writing, I am going to focus on a location that has provided me with a great source of irritation recently — the gas pump.

I realize that the gas pump provides several different irritations for many people. Given this, I feel that I need to disclaim some things. I am not here to lament our country's dependence upon a supply of foreign oil. I am not here to bemoan the effects of fossil fuels on the trans-continental snow squirrel. I am not even here to the demise of free roadmaps and cartoon character drinking glass giveaways. These are all very valid reasons to be irritated. However, this is not my purpose here.

    Please, allow me to provide a bit of background here. When I was a young teen, there were a lot of things going on in our country. The country was changing Presidents, enduring a nationwide heat wave, and going through a deep economic recession. This had a huge collateral effect at the gas pump. In less than two years, gasoline prices had nearly doubled. Self service pumps were becoming more and more the norm. This required people to do more creative budgeting with their travel expenses. This also required people to show some finesse at the gas pump. Every penny counted. If you only had $5 in cash, you had to be sure you had to stop pumping right at the $5 mark. Most people would get within 5 or 10 cents of the intended amount and pump one cent at a time until they got the amount they wanted. I became very good at this. I pumped gas for my parents. I pumped gas for my friend's parents. I was even considering going on a seminar tour on the art of pumping gas.

    However, as gas prices continued to rise, another process came into place — pre-payment for gasoline. You would go inside and tell the cashier you were pumping X number of dollars from pump Y. As you got closer to the pre-paid amount, the pump would automatically slow down and then stop once the pre-paid amount was reached. This usually occurred when you got to within 8 – 10 cent of the pre-paid amount.

Now, we are getting to the true source of my irritation (and a pox on those of you that just said "FINALLY!") More than 25 years have passed since the gas shortage I mentioned previously. The gasoline prices have continued to rise with the rate of inflation. However, I have begun to notice that as gas prices has risen, the pump begins automatically slowing down sooner and sooner. No longer does it happen within the 8 – 10 cent range. We have long since bypassed that and even left the 50 - 60 cent range to be a distant memory.

One morning this past week, I had left my house much earlier than usual. This was due to the fact that the wonderful city in which I live had experienced its first major lake effect snow of the year and it was also quite bitterly cold. There was already indication on the morning news this had a very bad effect on morning traffic. So there I was, at the gas pump once again. I had dutifully pre-paid my desired amount. I was filling the tank so I knew this was not exactly going to be a 30 second process. I did my best to grin and bear it as the pump chugged along. Suddenly, the pump came to a snail's pace and hummed along one cent at a time EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS AWAY FROM THE FINAL AMOUNT. REALLY?!! EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS?!! Now, I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to finish pumping this gas before supper time or if I should invest in some sled dogs and pick my car up at the end of the day. I figured the pump MIGHT be done by then. I finally finished the process, capped up my gas tank and drove away.

    As I made my way to work, I could envision my family and friends in much warmer climates stating that my irritation was probably made worse by the winter weather. I thought that this was ridiculous. I would have been just as irritated if I had been pumping gas at 9 o' clock at night in July with 90 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity. The traffic guy on the radio quickly rebuffed that theory when he uttered the words: "Allow extra time for travel". I DID ALLOW EXTRA TIME FOR TRAVEL. OF COURSE, THAT WAS BEFORE I WAS TO THE GAS PUMPETERIA AND THEY DECIDED TO TEST THE TRICKLE-DOWN THEORY ON MY GAS TANK EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS AWAY FROM THE FINAL AMOUNT! I then decided to stop shouting at the radio. The traffic guy was just doing his job after all. I even decided not to scream at the guy who suddenly cut in front of me on I-390. I instead enjoyed a fit of uncontrollable laughter as the aforementioned driver and I were BOTH caught in a barely moving bottleneck of traffic. Like I said, I can roll with the punches.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Georgia Trip 2010 Vol. III: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Good Eatin’

I had enjoyed a great game between the great Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates. After enduring some delays brought on by torrential (but temporary) rain, the Braves had earned another win of what would go on to be a 9 game winning streak). We had dropped my friend, Bill and his wife, Jenny at the hotel where they were staying. We finally got home around 1 AM. I rang out my socks and lay my head down on my pillow while visions of RBI's and homers danced in my head.

I spent the next day hanging out with Bill and his wife at my sister's house. Bill and I caught up on the last 25 years. It was like someone had taken the needle off the record for 25 years. During our reunion, the needle was placed exactly in the groove where it left previously (though perhaps with some pops and a bit of warp). For you young whippersnappers who don't understand that reference, ask your grandparents what life was like before digital downloading (just speak up when you do).

Bill's wife, Jenny, was somewhat of a quiet and bashful type. She mostly kept to herself and politely declined any offer of hospitality. That was temporary. Soon enough, my brother in law, Larry began heating up a pot of oil on the outdoor grill to fry some catfish. He also had some ears of corn on the grill. Now THAT got Jenny's attention. She asked Larry if she could put the battered fish in the grease to fry. Larry happily accommodated her. In addition to catfish, there was a bunch of other fish my Dad and his friend had caught. It truly WAS a fine kettle of fish. Larry then offered Jenny something a little different to try. Larry took an ear of corn and coated it in cornmeal. He then had Jenny place it into the grease to fry. Jenny was like a kid in a candy store. Frying the catfish was one thing. Sampling a fried ear of corn was something else entirely different. This truly illustrates the Mason-Dixon Line of cuisine. Why boil the flavor out of something when you can seal the flavor with cornmeal and hot oil?

More friends and family joined the occasion. We all sat in the living room and socialized while my sister incessantly nagged me to play some guitar and sing a song or 17. According to my sister, I "promised". My debate over the alleged promise aside, I banged out a few chords. With my Dad's help we sang some Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash (with a dash of Hank Williams). It was a bit hard on the tendonitis but I must admit I DID enjoy fulfilling my "promise". It seemed like my vacation couldn't get much better. The next day would be the icing on the chocolate cake.

We drove about an hour or so east to visit my Aunt Judy in a nice town called Juliette. The last time I remembered being in Juliette was when I was about 14 and did a bunch of fishing with my brother and some uncles. I didn't do any catching but I did a lot of fishing. Juliette's main claim to fame is the filming of the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes". Anyway, I digress. Bill and Jenny live about another 2 -3 hours east of Juliette in Savannah. The plan was that Larry would drive in one car with my niece and her boyfriend. I took the opportunity to ride with Bill and Jenny. Bill planned to drop me off in Juliette then head straight home to Savannah. Bill called on his mother on the way there while we rode. Bill wanted to let his Mom know he was on his way home. "Where'd you go?" she asked. "I went to Marietta to see Shane." She confusedly replied "…the movie?" Bless her heart; it HAS been 25 years after all.

I introduced Bill and Jenny to my aunts and uncles. They all greeted Bill and Jenny with hospitality and hugs. My uncle Richard asked Bill if he was staying to eat. Bill said that he was planning to head home to Savannah. Richard motioned Bill and me over and opened his smoker. Suddenly we were all inundated with the sight and smell of smoked chicken. Bill decided to stay a spell. Richard can be very hospitable but his smoker is VERY persuasive.

I was treated to good eating and good times. My late mother's cousin, Jackie was there. I had not seen her in nearly 30 years. She presented me with some childhood pictures of my mother that she had scanned for me. That simple gesture was a great gift. On the other end of the generation gap, my second cousin, Amanda, blessed us all with her beautiful singing voice. Little by little, we all began to depart. Bill and I hugged and promised it would not go another 25 years before we saw one another again. I gave hugs and handshakes to all my family.

As we were pulled out of the driveway to go back to Marietta, there were some horses running in a field. Suddenly, we had to stop the car while two wild turkeys crossed the road. While all of this was happening, "Free Bird" was playing on the radio (if I'm lyin,' I'm dyin'). You couldn't have written a better ending to the week (with all due respect to Fannie Flagg).


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Dub Thee – Starship Laptopia

Over the past three years, I have owned a laptop computer. I have waxed on previously, ad nauseam, about how much I love my laptop. I have used it for work. I have used it to listen to the radio. I have used it for school work. I have used it to talk to friends and loved ones worldwide. I could go on but I think I am beginning to add to the ad nauseam. Besides, I have a bad habit of going on literary tangents and I never cared much for geometry. Mind you, Pythagoras really had some good idea with the triangles and all. Oops, there I go again. Forgive me, I'll try to avoid the bunny trails going forward and stick to the subject. I'll also try to avoid using non-sequiturs because I really like dogs.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about my laptop. The thing is that I was using my laptop for so many things; I actually had a laptop table set up at my bedside. On some days, I would sit for hours at the side of my bed doing the any one of the aforementioned ad nauseam tasks. This was not only inexcusably sedentary. It was really not that comfortable. I'd occasionally relocate myself and the laptop to different areas of the house: the dining room table, the living room couch, or (in warmer months) the patio table outside. The change was often welcome. Still, I'd even wind up back at that uncomfortable spot at the side of my bed with my laptop perched atop a plastic folding tray table. Again, it got to be rather uncomfortable and yet I'd stay there and suffer in silence (though some might debate if I was actually suffering or silent).

Clearly, it was going to take some ingenious brilliance to solve this issue. I have been known to come up with a few good ideas here and there. However, in this case, the ingenious part came from the innovative ingénue of the house (aka the missus). My wife decided that it was time to invest in a desk and chair to use my laptop. What can I say? She can be the epitome of ingenious. OK, I realize I have been throwing in a couple of alliterations in this paragraph. Please bear with me, when I am avoiding tangents and non-sequiturs, I must have some kind of an alternative.

We got the desk and chair home and began unpacking the parts. I sat on the floor and spent the next 45 minutes or so engaging in ergonomically injurious assembly. In spite of the tremendous aggravation to my tendonitis, everything went smoothly. My wife even told me I looked "cute" with my Braves hat on backwards. I tried to take that as a compliment.

The desk and chair were completely assembled. I transported my laptop to its new location in an almost ceremonial fashion. Other items soon found a place either on the desk or next to it: lamp, headset wit microphone, harmonica set, guitar (next to the desk), house slippers (underneath the desk), and a miniature rubber ducky that blinks when you hit it (which I love doing). I sat in my new desk chair to get a feel of my new acquisitions. The chair's comfort was a welcome change. I now sit at my desk and it's like my laptop has a new perspective. I feel powerful. I feel like I have just taken command of the Starship Laptopia. OK, it's a lame name but let me have my moment. I am a new productive machine and the world is my oyster. Yes, I realize I just used two metaphors in that last sentence. After avoiding tangents, non-sequiturs, and alliterations, not much else is left.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm Seeing A College Girl

About three months ago, I started taking college courses online to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management. It was a move that is designed to marry my experience working in hospital settings (during my twenties) and my information technology experience (which began in my mid thirties). So far, the two classes I have taken this semester have been manageable in conjunction with my job and my home life. I am happy to report that, as of this writing, I am maintaining a 97% average in both of my classes.

This is due in no small part to the support of my wife, Renee. She made a lot of phone calls and did an amazing amount of legwork to get me rolling. Once, I got started she has done her best to be sure I have a good environment in which to do my homework. She even prints my test scores and puts them on the refrigerator next to the macaroni art. OK, that part isn’t true but you get the picture.

My wife informed me just as I was starting college again that she was making plans of her own. She told me she was planning to enroll in college herself to pursue a degree in social work. She wants to provide advocacy and support for families with special needs children. You could have knocked me over with a feather. This is assuming that the feather was six feet long, weighed about ten pounds and was made of lead. Just as I thought everything was beginning to slow down and settle a bit. My industrious and (seemingly) impetuous wife has thrown another rock into the river. I am still not quite sure why this rock gave me such a jolt. After all, a ripple in the river is hardly a hurricane on the coast.

My wife has just received news of her acceptance into Empire State College.  This means that starting January 2011, out of a family of six, five are college students. My youngest, Caleb, won’t be far behind as he graduates high school in the spring. My older daughter, Shayna, will be graduating college at the same time. It is almost as if Shayna is opening a spot for Caleb to fill.

I have made jokes over the past couple of days that, come January, I am going to be running around with a college girl. Mind you, such a remark is designed to add some levity (and perhaps feed my mid-forties ego). The truth is, I see my wife’s approach and I see someone driven and focused with her eyes on the proverbial prize. She is in many ways the same woman I have been looking at for the last nineteen years. Yet, she is very different. It is very easy to see a ripple in the river and curse the waves rather than observe and embrace the beauty. I can't wait to see her in a college sweater. BOY HOWDY!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tiny Bubbles (Make Sonic Happy)

Last weekend, my wife, Renee, and I attended the wedding of a colleague of mine from a former job. It was a lovely wedding. The groom and his groomsmen wore these spectacular tuxedoes complete with tails, canes, and top hats. The ring bearer was this dashing young man wearing the same type of outfit. He had long, shoulder length hair that curled underneath his top hat. For such a young man, he played his role with a great sense of protocol, chivalry, and decorum. Indeed, the only thing lovelier than the wedding was the bride (the aforementioned colleague).

The couple exchanged their vows and sealed their marriage with a kiss. Renee and I exited the church and congratulated the newly wedded couple. As we exited, the dashing young ring bearer presented each person with a vial. The vial contained bubble solution and a wand for blowing bubbles. In lieu of rice or bird feed, the bride and groom brilliantly decided to have everyone shower them with bubbles. After all, when people are in their absolute best, you really don't want to attract the attention of birds flying overhead. Renee and I went to the reception and enjoyed some pleasant conversation with the folks at our table (along with some great food). Eventually, Renee and I again congratulated the couple and headed home.

A couple of days later, I was sitting around the house and generally being annoyed by one of the four cats in our house. Those of you who know me (or read my previous writings) know that I am not exactly a cat lover. Cats, to me, provide little purpose other than a foot rest or a buffer for my shoes. I have tried to find some common ground so that the cats and I may peacefully coexist (often to little or no avail). However, on this particular day, I found one of the vials of bubble solution from my friend's wedding.

Let me just state that whoever it was that came up with the idea to market bubble solution was quite brilliant. Give the average enough bubble solution and the right wand, the same person can blissfully pass an entire day making bubbles and watching them disappear (only to make more). One is only limited to the amount of bubble solution and an intact wand. I believe that making bubbles can (at least temporarily) alleviate grief and lower crime rates. Think about it, if two dudes met each other on the street and sized up one another, they could start duking it out or they could make bubbles. Teenagers could vandalize a neighbor's car or make bubbles with the neighbor. In both scenarios, one choice will cause someone to get hurt or arrested (and provoke some type of insurance claim). The other choice provokes nothing more than smiles, amusement, and laughter. No one gets hurt. The crime rate and insurance premium go down. The world is a better place. But, I digress.

Anyway, I was sitting with this vial of bubble solution and decided to see if it could help me find some common ground with the cats. The cats could enjoy the bubbles with me and I would (temporarily) find them less irritating. I started making bubbles. One of the older cats, Snip immediately ran from the room as if he was avoiding a bubbly nuclear holocaust. However, the younger male, Sonic enthusiastically chased the bubbles and pawed at them at which they popped. At this point, Sonic would meow until I produced more bubbles. Eventually, I would stop and Sonic would get the point. Sonic would then go onto other means of entertainment such as sleeping.

This all seemed well and good until it became clear that I had created a monster. Now, instead of learning feline aerodynamics by doing the figure eight under my legs (knowing how much I hate that), the cat would just come up to me and stare me down. It started with the stare down and they he would begin his Marge Simpson meow (MMMMMMMMMMMM). If I did not start making bubbles by this point, he would actually open his mouth to meow. Renee, on the other hand, is the bubble enabler. She will see me yelling at the cat: LEAVE ME ALONE! At this point, Renee starts making bubbles and Sonic is once again content. Now, I just want to go to the toy store and find a wand that will make one of those enormous, gigantic bubbles and trap the cat inside it. Alas, I know if I did that, Sonic would just start meowing at me again once the bubble popped.

NOTE -  The former colleague I spoke of in the beginning is none other than Megan Hartman Barton. Mrs. Barton is the founder of the blog "A Dash of Nutmeg". Please take the time to visit Megan's blog at and take in all of her wonderful recipes. Please be sure to congratulate Megan on her recent nuptials and tell her I sent you. - P Shane McAfee (founder of BDGJM)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sometimes, Stress Is Good?

I had the joy of visiting my doctor recently. During this visit, we got caught up the state of my mind and body since I had last seen my doctor some 8 months previously. She commented about my weight and asked if I felt that the reading was accurate. I made a comment that scales don't lie (in an effort to dismiss the subject). Her next question had the subtlety of 100 grit sandpaper: "Have you noticed your clothes have begun to fit more tightly?" My wife nodded in silent agreement. I felt like I was at a parent teacher conference being called out for passing notes in class. Except in this case, I was being called out for repeatedly asking someone to pass the gravy.

Along with this pleasant topic of conversation, my doctor made some adjustments in my medications. In the interest of being through, my doctor also scheduled me for a cardiac stress test. I have some mild anxiety over this forthcoming test but I was usually able to divert myself with other things: work, watching the Braves lose the wildcard playoffs after a good season, learning new chords on the mandolin, or preparing for two upcoming midterm exams. OK, maybe that last one wasn't the best way to avoid stress. Getting an F on one of these midterms is more stressful. After all, this will require that my wife and kids will have to meet with my teachers. I'd prefer not to be the only grounded parent in my neighborhood. In the days that followed, my wife caught a terrible cold. I did my best to keep my distance while proving her with a never ending supply of cold medicine and cough drops. My room reeked of eucalyptus. I had koala bears knocking on my door at 3 in the morning begging me to hook them up.

The day before the stress test, my wife got a phone call from the office performing the test. They said I could not eat for 4 hours prior to the test and I could not take my blood pressure medicine. I don't know about you but it was beginning to sound like they were stacking the deck against me. I was sure that any minute they were also going to feed me a fried bologna sandwich and make me sit in a sauna for 20 minutes before the test. This didn't happen which was sad. I rather enjoy fried bologna.

A cardiac stress test involves attaching enough wires to your body to become an antenna for the nearest college radio station then briskly walking on a treadmill. You start at a nice pace with no incline. As the walk continues, they increase the speed and the incline. During all of this, a nurse has a blood pressure cuff wrapped around your arm. This requires a lot of talent considering that you are walking and wired for sound (I think I hear the B-52's playing). So every minute or so, the nurse will say "30 more seconds on this level". Then, as you make your way up this imaginary hill and you feel as if your face will explode, the nurse inflates the blood pressure cuff on your arm to get another reading. I can only describe this part of the experience by saying I think I know what it feels like to be a zit.

The speed and incline got me to where I felt like I was racing my way to claim a prize at the top of Stone Mountain. It would have been true as I was really getting an urge for that fried bologna sandwich. The routine continued: "30 more seconds, Shane", another blood pressure reading, and my head feels like Mount Saint Helens. At this point, the treadmill slows down and the incline levels off. The nurse then takes off the leads which held the monitor wires (Darn, I was really digging that song). It is at this point that I should delicate point out that I am, shall we say, hirsute (i.e. hairy as an ape). I didn't really think of the repercussions at the beginning as the nurse was strategically shaving areas of my chest to place the leads. Now that the leads were off, I looked like aliens have made crop circles on my chest.

I left the office with my wife and I treated her to breakfast. Now, I know what you are thinking. So, let me just set the record straight. I DID NOT HAVE a fried bologna sandwich. After breakfast, I went home to relax and prepare for a midterm that was taking place that evening. As the day went on, I began to notice that my very generous wife had something waiting for me once I got home. She had given me her cold. Man, I had JUST gotten rid of those koalas, too.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Professor Momma: TV Travel 101

   My mother was a very patient and accommodating woman going back as far as I can remember. I am the youngest of three children my parents brought into this world. Given that two siblings came before me, my mother had grown accustomed to the (seemingly) constantly inquisitive mind (and mouth) of a child. I was certainly no exception to this rule. I would ask my mother questions about whatever happened to pique my curiosity. My mother would respond matter-of-factly with an informative answer.
   She would often do so without even having to stop whatever it was she was doing. Sometimes, she wouldn't even have to face me. We could be in the produce section of a grocery store. My mother would be diligently inspecting a cantaloupe for potential purchase. I would be behind her (but always within arm's reach). The conversation usually went like this: "Momma, what's that?" "It's an eggplant and don't touch, Honey." "Momma, is this a big potato?" "That's a rutabaga and don't touch." "Do roobagrabbah's taste good?" "It's a 'ROOT-uh-beg-uh' and they taste very good. They are also good for you." [Note: When Momma said it was good for me, it usually meant I wasn't going to like it.] "Is the purple egg thing good for you, too?" "Yes, eggplant is very good for you" [News Flash: I don't like eggplant either]. "What's this, Momma?" "It's a coconut and DON'T TOUCH!" We would continue to the meat counter, the dairy section, etc. etc. We even passed by a kid being reprimanded by his mother for breaking a dozen of unpaid eggs. I proudly and smugly informed him: You're NOT supposed to touch." "SHANE, THAT'S UGLY!" My mother would then firmly take my hand and lead me onto the bread section. Like I said, she was very patient.

   This type of question-and answer was not limited to the grocery store. I could find my mother pounding cube steak with a glass soda bottle. It was loud and my mother was relentless. "Momma, why are you beating up on that steak?" "It helps to tenderize it and it tastes better that way." Another day, I was watching my mother iron some clothes. She would patiently and diligently iron this shirt and that pair of pants. "Momma, why do you iron stuff?" "It gets all the wrinkles out of them and they look nicer". Tender meat and wrinkle free clothes; Professor Momma was gonna make me one educated individual.

   One day, I was sitting in the living room while watching a show on a very small black and white television set. [Some historical perspective: there were three channels, no color, and no cable. Somehow, we deprived souls enjoyed it. Anyway, I digress.] "Momma, how do the people get into the TV?" "There is a TV studio on the other side of town. They have a camera that records the people. The camera then sends the recording using a signal. The antenna in our TV catches the signal and you see the people in the TV." "You mean the signal travels through the sky like an airplane?" "In a way, yes." "What does the signal look like?" "It's invisible." "AMAZING!"

   One morning my mother woke me up and said she had a special surprise for me. She got me dressed and made me breakfast. She then drove me to this really cool looking building with something that looked like a flying saucer outside it. My mother had taken me to the local television studio. Not only that, the special surprise was that I was going to be ON TV. That's right, people. I was a guest on "Miss Patsy's Playhouse" which was a local kiddie show in Columbus, Georgia in the early 70's. I learned that day that my Momma was not only smart enough to answer my questions. She was also talented enough to help me travel invisibly through the sky and into every TV set in Columbus, Georgia. Mr. Wonka, you have been one-upped to infinity.

Monday, September 27, 2010

In Every Man’s Life, Some Whiskers Must Fall

As I have mentioned in some of my other writings, I currently work in technical support in a call center which many of my fellow colleagues affectionately (or with extreme irritation) refer to as a "cube farm". The company for whom I perform said technical support has staff which spans the entire globe. We have folks that work in several areas in the United States as well as staff overseas. In spite of this great, diverse, and widespread staffing, we all communicate with one another quite frequently (usually via email).

One day, one of our colleagues came up with a hair-brained scheme (pardon the intentional misspelling). He proposed that since the peak of our work season runs from Mid-August to Mid-October, the male staff should grow beards as a sign of solidarity. I guess he felt this was a way promote esprit de corps among the male staff. The female staff (thankfully) did not feel the need to participate in this activity. They instead decided to show their respective solidarity and collectively sashay away from the esprit de corps.

 Many of us men chose to participate. You could easily dismiss as sheep following a call. Scoff if you will. We rams were more than happy to begin sporting our great naps of woolen whiskers. One man chose to wear a Van Dyke beard. Another man chose to channel his inner Abraham Lincoln and wear a chin curtain beard. One man had to recuse himself from the activity as he already had a nearly waist length beard that would have made Billy Gibbons green with envy. Other male colleagues (and I as well) chose to grow a full beard.

As each week passed, we admired the growth of some beards and pitied the attempt of others. "Dude, your beard is filling out real nice." "Hey, son; why don't you peel off that peach fuzz and have your Mom read you a nice story". "Dude, stop crying. We were only joking." We sat at our respective cubes and stroked our beards (and our egos) with great pride. I have to admit; the male bonding ritual was quite enjoyable.

Alas, not all was great in this great state of heavenly hirsutism. My daughters would not come near me. I had been dubbed "Scruffy". I took such comments in stride. Then, I began to notice something that became much more prominent as time passed. The beard I had acquired in my forties had become significantly different than beards I had grown in my twenties. Patches and streaks of gray had begun to accent (or in some areas entirely cover) my wondrous beard. It was one thing to have your kids tell you that you are no spring chicken. It is another to realize that my beard has reached its autumnal equinox and I had the follicular foliage to prove it. The kids had dispensed the "Scruffy" moniker and began calling me "Santa". My wife had also stated her displeasure with the beard. In short, her husband had a beard and so does a turkey. She found neither to be particularly attractive.

With my approaching wedding anniversary right around the corner, I decided to do the unthinkable. I decided to get rid of the beard before the end of the peak work season that prompted its growth. I flicked the switch to the beard trimmer and hesitantly took that first stroke. That first clump of hair seemed to fall at half speed and make a reverberated thud onto the bathroom counter. I had crossed the Rubicon. There was no longer any room for rationalization or mind changing. Once I realized this, each stroke with the trimmer got easier and easier. I shaved off the stubble with a razor and foam and saw the lower half of my face for the first time in a month and a half. I looked down at the mound of whiskers piled up on the counter. I then dutifully cleaned up this pile. After all, if my wife saw that, I'd have bigger problems than a few gray facial hairs. The autumnal equinox that was my face has become more tolerable. However, the winter solstice is surely approaching. I can already see the snow on the roof.



Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comma, Come Here (Please).

As a writer, I always find it particularly pleasing to learn something new as I am seeking to amuse myself and my readers. I found myself musing over some pet peeves of punctuation and grammar. For example, I detest the use of quotation marks for emphasis. For example, you walk into a thrift store and you see a handcrafted sign that reads: ALL SALES ARE "AS IS" WITH "NO IMPLIED WARRANTY". This implies that the terms of the sale could be left to interpretation. Apparently, the cost of ink is great to underline words than to encase them in quotes. Our country has an undesirable unemployment rate and there are a lot of folks seeking work. In spite of this we have folks throwing around quotation marks willy-nilly and forcing them to work outside of their job description. Anyway, I digress.

Given that it was my day off from work and I had no homework to do, I did some Internet surfing about punctuation. I ran across the name of a great man — Aldus Manutius (circa 1450 – 1515 A.D). Aldus Manutius the Elder made some great innovations in writing that we now take for granted. Manutius the Elder invented the use of italics in writing. This can be a great tool of emphasis or aside information when used correctly (unlike those poor quotation marks). Manutius the Elder also established the modern use of the semi-colon. More significantly he produced what was then known as octavo book (one-eighth size paper). This allowed books to be carried in one's pocket or satchel. That's right, folks. Manutius the Elder created what we know as the paperback or pocketbook.

You may wonder what lead me to start this Internet search in the first place. Some might suggest that it could be one of the three following reasons: a) I was looking to expand my knowledge. b) My warped mind took me onto a new adventure. c) I was incredibly bored and my wife was hogging the television. Mind you, all three scenarios were a factor but the third was probably the greatest motivator. It all started very simply. My wife had to draft a 300 word essay for entrance into a college program. At first, she asked for my assistance as she was unsure that she could pound out 300 words. I found this laughable. A diplomatic person would say that my lovely wife is blessed with the gift of loquacity. I would quote the late Jerry Clower and suggest that my lovely wife "sure can shell down the corn". The point is that 300 words would not be a problem.

As I reviewed her essay, I corrected some spelling here and suggested some rewording there. I then noticed something very distinct. I have also reviewed a lot of essays for our daughter Brianna. However, Brianna and my lovely wife Renee are very different in the way that they handle one lone item; the comma. My wife, Renee, tends to insert commas here, there, and, everywhere with such reckless abandon, that is only rivaled by, the aforementioned quotation mark in its use. My daughter Brianna on the other hands writes gloriously long run-on sentences that are four feet long five feet wide and could pierce the engine block on an eighteen wheeler. I do not wish to come across like I am insulting either my daughter or my wife. Both have been known to prepare my meals. In addition, Brianna proofreads my essays before I post them to my blog site. I merely found this distinction between mother and daughter very intriguing. Therefore, I searched for the comma and found Aldus Manutius the Elder. Thank you Elder Manutius for all you have done.

I will submit a disclaimer here as well. I do not mean to suggest that I am an authority on punctuation or grammar. Several of my online friends are teachers (two of them are MY former English teachers). Instead, I will suggest that you turn to the writers' works below. I have no endorsement deal with any of these folks. I don't make a royalty nor do I get an autographed copy of their work (Mind you, I would never be so rude as to refuse such a gesture).

  • Lynn Truss – Author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves; a great book that provides an accurate tongue in cheek guide on proper punctuation.
  • Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl – I am a huge fan of the Grammar Girl podcasts and highly recommend Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
  • Bonnie Trenga – Author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing I bought this book for my daughter to help with her writing.
I would also like to apologize to any of the above three writers for any implication that I have learned NOTHING from any of you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Smooth Sailing….NOT!

I sit here and ponder as I have completely my first week back in college. So far, I am ahead on my homework assignments and I am feeling rather confident about the whole thing. Mind you, I am sure at some point I will have my head spinning over an assignment and things will be normalized somewhat. After all, life without somewhat tension would just be downright boring. In the meantime I will just have to tolerate the boredom the best I can.

According to the Chinese calendar, the year 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. However, in my home, 2010 seems to be the year of educational pursuit. Allow me to bring you up to speed on things. My younger son, Caleb, is entering his senior year of high school. My older daughter, Shayna, has begun her final year in college as a psychology major. So, at the end of the year, I will have one child graduating high school and another graduating college. Needless to say, the cost of disposable tissues will skyrocket. That's fine; I know my wife will be there with a steady supply and a reassuring hand. In addition to this, both my older son, Tom, and my younger daughter, Brianna, are in the process of continuing their college education after working hard to overcome some personal setbacks. What can I say? I have never been a prouder father of my four kids. They all show great promise for their lives in the forthcoming year.

All of this wonderful change in my family can easily make my head spin. That's OK. I can always look to my darling wife and find some sense of calm in this great ocean of change. I had no idea that the tide had not quite come in yet. I was expecting my wife to help me hoist a sail. She didn't tell me I had to stand watch in the crow's nest. I guess I should just dispense with the ocean analogy and just get to the point. After all, I do not wish to bore you (and a pox on those who say "TOO LATE!")

After doing all of the administrative legwork for the kids and me, my wife decided that it was time for her to make a change in her own life. In some of the heaviest news since "Shane, I'm pregnant", my wife tells me that she intends to continue her own pursuit of higher education. My wife has decided to pursue a degree in Social Work so that she may counsel families with special needs children. This is an area very close to our hearts and I have no doubt that she will excel in her pursuit.

Still, it's kind of weird. All of my studies are online. I can't exactly carry her books for her. I won't have a pledge pin to offer her. I won't even have a letter jacket for her to wear (they don't offer varsity letters for blogging. I already checked). So, I figured I would try to find some other way to offer some support. She told me that for one college she would have to submit a 300 word essay. She asked me if I could help her with a 300 word essay. Clearly, she had forgotten about my prom night piece.

So to all of my family and friends, please allow me to apologize in advance for my lack of availability. For the duration, I will most likely be doing my homework assignment, finding out about my next homework assignment, or helping someone with their homework assignment. Someone please tell me the location of the tranquility Christopher Cross promised us all.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shane Finally Goes to College (Again)

Well, the day has finally arrived. You have heard me go on ad nauseam about admissions letter, class registration, and financial aid. True to the spirit of my writing you have read my random ramblings and mindless minutiae about my wife's unending support (and undying patience) and my daughter's many mantras. Actually, I think if she could, my daughter, Brianna, would press charges for the murder of her patience. I would like to reassure my wife and all four of my kids that such things are all behind us now. I'd LIKE to do that but I consider myself an honest man.

Today marks the first day of classes for my bachelor's program in Health Information Management. This is the start of a new adventure for me. I have set out to further my education and my career. I start this venture at the (relatively) young age of 44. It is my goal to finish this program before I am retired, dead, or too old to remember what I studying in the first place. In my mind, I envisioned the inspirational music playing in the background as I spoke about this. Alas, all I can hear now is the churning of my window air conditioning unit. I guess that will have to do since John Phillip Sousa is unavailable.

I am starting out slowly with two classes this semester so as not to get overconfident and overload myself with school, work, and watching the Atlanta Braves inch closer and closer to the playoffs (everything in its proper place).I am taking my classes over the Internet because my college is about 3 hours from where I live. The commute would be a bit rough on my van. I have all of my textbooks on the shelf and I can study at my own pace (within the confines of assignment deadlines). I can access my classes from anywhere I have Internet access. There is no dress code (provide that my webcam is not required). I don't have to raise my hand to use the restroom (the professors quickly tire of such phone calls). I can play music during my class. I might even whip out my harmonica during some classes and no one would know but yours truly (and my neighbors). The coolest part of all is that I can even chew gum and not have to supply it for the entire class. That's right, Mrs. Douglas in Life Science class in Room 80 at Quail Hollow Junior High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. I will NEVER risk having to write 500 sentences stating that I will not chew gum in class. HAH, I say. HAH!

I have started reading some of the course materials and have even completed some of the homework. One of the homework assignments was posting a discussion thread introducing myself to the class. I even restrained myself from my kneejerk reaction to tell my fellow students that I like long walks on the beach and men who aren't afraid to cry. Instead, I just stuck to the facts. Don't get me wrong. I don't personally have anything against long walks on the beach and men who aren't afraid to cry. They just aren't on my list of favorite things.

So there you have it folks. A lot of you are probably thinking that since all this college stuff I have been anticipating has come to pass, I probably move on to other subjects for my writing. To paraphrase Michael Corleone: "Who's being naïve?"

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Wait Vol. III: A Nice Credit Report

      I had finally received the admissions letter. Now, I just had to find out what credits had transferred from when I went to college for my two-year degree. I was trying my best at this point to take my daughter's advice and just "CHILLAX!" I wasn't QUITE sure exactly what that word meant so I thought, alternatively, I should just try to take it easy and wait patiently. By waiting patiently, this meant that I would ask my wife (on an almost daily basis) to please call the college on my behalf to follow up in my credit transfer issue as well as financial aid status, registration instructions, and anything else I might need to know to proceed further in the pursuit of my higher education. This proved difficult for my wife because she often had trouble reaching the college. This was due to the fact that the college was observing "summer hours". This basically meant that, during the summertime, the college had more limited hours of availability. In addition, apparently some of the staff that had the information I was seeking were on vacation. I mean, REALLY? Who takes vacation from a college during the summertime? This didn't matter however. My lovely wife has the tenacity of a bloodhound (she married me cause I am a smooth talker).

    Several days later, I finally got a letter showing the credits that transferred from my two-year degree. I was kind of dreading this as I figured there might be some classes I would have to repeat. After all, while I did make the dean's list several times, I was not always a shining star in every class. I perused the list of classes that transferred to my four-year program. Some examples include:

  • College Composition – THAT was a cool class that I really enjoyed. The professor told me I was one of the strongest writers he had taught. You can blame him for being subjected to my essays.
  • Technical Writing – This one was a bit more challenging as I had to write in a more sterile field than I had been accustomed. As I recall, I drafted a memo to my wife that the class was over. She displayed it upon the refrigerator.
  • Astronomy – This was a class that really fascinated me (and still does). However, I discovered quickly that it is easier for me to look at the sky in awe than to know how many astronomical units it is from the Earth to the Andromeda Galaxy. I hoped to be a shining star in this class. I proved to be more of a neutron star (extremely dense).
  • Statistics – I can't begin to tell you how glad I was to know that I do not have to take this class again. This class occasionally had me in the corner reaching for my blankey. The teacher told me I was an average student but he was just being mean (Did you REALLY think I'd let that one go?)
  • All said and done, there were a total of 50 credit hours that transferred. I won't list them all as I don't wish to put you to sleep (and a pox on those of you that said "TOO LATE!")
    So now, I pretty much have my financial aid in order. I have registered for two online classes for the fall semester. I will be ordering my books on the day after this writing. Now, I just have to enjoy the coming week as much as possible. In eight days from this writing, I will begin my online classes. At this point, I just need to enjoy my leisure time while I still have it. I think I will take my daughter's advice and CHILLAX! I think I'll just prop up my feet and listen to the radio. OH, MAN! It's THAT song AGAIN! Billy, in the name of all that is good; why not just break it off with the girl BEFORE the band comes down Main Street. GIVE US ALL A BREAK!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Rocked Too Hard

Some extended family of ours is in the process of moving. During that process, they weeded out and handed down some older belongings of theirs. Among these belongings were an older video game system, a collection of games compatible with said system, and some controllers. When my daughter, Brianna, was handed these items; her reaction is what many physicians and scholars have referred to as going gaga. She didn't actually make an audible gaga sound. Nonetheless, you could see the glazed look in her eyes and her unnaturally widened smile and know she had definitely been afflicted with gagas.

The next Sunday morning, Brianna had wasted no time in hooking the video game system to our television in the living room. It wasn't long before she and her brother, Caleb, were playing a game together. This wasn't just ANY kind of game. This game simulates playing guitar in a band before an audience. It even included a guitar shaped controller. I say because there are no strings and no pickups. There are several colored buttons on the neck as well as a toggle controller on the body where one would normally pick the strings. You choose from a selection of real classic songs. You then use the screen to cue you as to when to press which button on the neck. You must also simulate playing the notes by moving the toggle controller on the body. Anyone who knows me knows that the mere mention of the word guitar is enough to get my attention. So, I sat down and watched Caleb and Brianna do their thing.

I was watching Brianna choose songs from bands like Foghat, Mountain, and Pat Benetar among others. Many of these songs were songs I knew from when I was younger than any of my kids. This made it even more interesting to watch Caleb and Brianna try to tackle songs they had probably never heard previously. The song was cued up and Brianna started ripping through the song like a seasoned axe slinger. I figured some of this was due to the fact that Brianna can play a few chords on a real guitar. This theory was quickly proven wrong. Caleb's turn came up and he chose a Mountain song. Now this was a classic song but I had doubted Caleb had ever heard the song before. You'd have thought that I had Leslie West, himself, sitting on my couch the way Caleb was ripping through this. He wasn't familiar with the song and does not play guitar. That didn't matter because he had played this guitar game quite a few times previously. The kids were having a blast and I was having fun watching their virtual shredfest.

Brianna then held up the guitar shaped controller and said "You wanna give it a try?" Now, I not only had heard these songs many times over my lifetime. I actually knew the chords to a few of them. All the same, I chose the Pat Benetar song. It was a song I knew and I knew the chords. What happened next can only be described as a quick exercise in humility and humiliation. I didn't make it halfway through the song when I was told by the game that I failed and was booed by the virtual audience. Here I was thinking I could get Pat Benetar to fire her husband. Apparently, I wasn't even good enough to get an audition for Spinal Tap. I could actually see Nigel Tufnel shaking his head at me and saying I was "dreadfully, frightfully, bloody awful". I actually went upstairs and grabbed my red Squier Affinity Telecaster. I HAD to assure myself that I KNEW the chords to this song and the passage of time had not erased my memory of those cool power chords.

Caleb took the controller (once he and Brianna stopped laughing at me). He chose another song and started jamming. He was REALLY getting into it. He had his body hunched over and even had a cool grimace on his face. You'd have thought he was headlining a great summer outdoor concert. He suddenly shifted his body back. This motion tugged the controller cord connected to the video game system. Suddenly, the video game system slides off the bottom shelf of the entertainment center and onto the floor. The cool thing was that it landed face up and didn't cause a skip in the game. Caleb kept playing right through to the end. He then looked at the system on the floor and smiled. "I guess I rocked too hard". We all had a good giggle out of it. Caleb and Brianna kept playing the game. I remained content to just hold my red Tele. Pat Benetar still has her husband playing by her side and Spinal Tap STILL won't return my calls.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Wait Vol. II: CHILLAX!

The days continued. With each day that passed the ritual remained the same. I would wait for the time when the mail was due to arrive. The now seemingly scripted dialogue soon followed: "Did the letter come today?" "Not today, honey." "Do you think it'll come tomorrow?" "I dunno, honey. We'll see." My wife and kids had been very patient with me. They accommodated the daily questions. They would occasionally would pat me on the shoulder and tell me it would be okay. They even let me be when I ultimately began rocking myself in a chair (sans rocking chair) and repeating "They said it would be two weeks but it's been more than two weeks. Two weeks is FOURTEEN DAYS." They DID become a LITTLE concerned when I began marking each passed day on the wall with a chalk mark.

Finally, as much as they love me, my wife and kids had endured as much as they could take. They had grown tired of the daily questions and the rocking. My wife insisted that I clean the chalk marks off the wall. We had begun to incur legal costs as the postman had sued and filed an order of protection against my wife for her "unprovoked attack during the performance of the postal carrier's duties". Some people can be REALLY touchy I guess. Finally, I got up one day to discover that my daughter had written a message on my bedroom mirror: "It will come when it comes so CHILLAX!" So I decided to pull myself together. After all, my wife keeps telling me "Good things come to those who wait." I'll try to remember that the next time I am in the doctor's office waiting to undergo a "routine diagnostic procedure".

Then, one fine summer Saturday, I stood outside basking in the sunshine. My wife and daughter were both out of the house. I watched the cars as they passed by my house. I was beginning to embrace the day as a long overdue return to normalcy. It was around this point that this feeling began to overcome me. It was a good feeling but, all the same, it felt unusual in light of the self-induced near catatonic state from which my wife and daughter had all but forcefully ejected me (though they use the words "gently nudged").

Out of the corner of my eye, I began to see a shade of blue. I had seen this shade before but couldn't place why it was so familiar. As I turned my gaze to finds the source of the color it became clearer. A nice man in a blue uniform toting a satchel on his shoulder approached me. He seemed REALLY nervous. "Your mail, Sir", he said. I thanked him as I accepted the delivery from his trembling hands. This guy was shaking like Don Knotts in a deep freezer. "Your wife's not here, is she?" I told him she was out and he went his way. For the life of me, I don't know what it was about my wife that apparently made him so nervous.

I took the mail inside and began to sort out the bills and the mail that goes directly to the recycle bin (addressed to "Current Occupant". Suddenly, as I looked at the last piece of mail, the good feeling that came over me turned to ecstasy. IT CAME! IT FINALLY CAME! The letter read: "Congratulations, you have been accepted….into our BS in Heath Information Management program for the Fall 2010 semester….A transfer credit evaluation including the number of credits accepted will be sent under different cover." I'M IN! I'M IN! I'M IN! I whipped out my handy dandy cell phone and took a picture of the envelope. I then sent to picture to my wife's cell phone. She called me right away and proudly congratulated me.

Alas, the next few days passed by and I began to wonder: "Hmmm, what about that transfer of credit letter?" Then, it began again. "Did the letter come today?" "Not today, honey." "Do you think it'll come tomorrow?" "I dunno, honey. We'll see." My wife was kind enough to call the college and inquire today. They said the transfer of credit letter had been signed off by the director. I should receive the package in about a week or so. I have decided to NOT panic over this (thanks to the advice of Douglas Adams). After all, the postal carrier was kind enough to drop the suit. I think I'll relax and listen to the radio. OH, MAN! The radio station is playing Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods AGAIN! UGH!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Wait Vol. I: Wait A Minute, Mr. (or Miss) Mail Carrier

    I have found myself at the figurative crossroad recently. I have a hard time speaking about a crossroad without hearing Eric Clapton playing an A chord riff; but let's stick to the subject. I spent two years serving as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy. When I got out in 1986, I worked in several hospitals over the next ten years as a phlebotomist (the guy in the lab coat that draws your blood for testing). In 1998, I was no longer in that field and, with the encouragement of my wife and a few loved ones, decided to go back to college.

   I completed my degree program in 2001. I spent most of the next eight years working in software/hardware quality testing. I now currently work in technical support. There have been some bumps in the road along the way (i.e. layoffs). Overall, I would definitely have to say that it has definitely been worth the investment of my time (and my family's time) to pursue that degree. Nearly ten years later, I find myself in my mid-forties at the aforementioned metaphorical crossroad. I know that it is MY crossroad because I can look up and see a pair of sneakers hanging over the power line. I could continue to maintain my current career in Information Technology (while picking up new skills along the way via experience). Alternatively, I could begin to move things in a different direction in the interest of acquiring new skills and becoming a better-rounded individual (and feed people a straight line about my physique). The one option I knew I did not have was to just stand at the corner and watch life pass by. I had to follow the wisdom of Yogi Berra: "If you come to a fork in the road, take it."

   My family has been telling me for years that I needed to find a way to mesh my hospital experience with my information technology experience. I finally found a degree program that appeared to do just that. Further research (with the assistance of my wife, Renee) showed that I could even pursue this degree entirely over the Internet (with the exception of internships). In the space of less than two days; my wife had called the college, we had filled out financial aid forms, and I had applied for admission to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Health Information Management. The college told my wife that they were waiting for my transcripts from my two year college. They told her that in approximately two weeks, I would receive a packet that would confirm my admission and tell me how many credits transferred from my two year college.

   I patiently waited a few days before I decided to get antsy. Mind you, my wife would probably suggest that I am apparently working on a different solar cycle (with much shorter days). I became the kid in the back of the station wagon destined for the family vacation spot. Every day I went by I would ask my wife if the acceptance letter had arrived. Very day she would patiently respond with "Not today, honey". Another day would arrive and the process would start again. "Did the letter come today?" "Not today, honey." "Do you think it'll come tomorrow?" "I dunno, honey. We'll see." If my wife was not available, I'd ask my daughter. Some days, Brianna would anticipate the question and just say "No, Dad. It didn't come today" You could almost FEEL Brianna rolling her eyes when I asked her.

   This waiting game is only exacerbated by the fact that I am beginning to notice there are a lot of artists singing songs about sending or receiving a letter. These artists include (but are not limited to): REO Speedwagon, The Box Tops, The Marvelettes, Brad Paisley, Pat Boone, John Prine and Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods have prompted me to get something off my chest here. So, please forgive me while I go down a brief bunny trail. Billy, I don't know who you are. What I DO know is that your young and lovely fiancée does not wish for you to be a hero. Can you please just tell the little lady that you WILL be a hero and to go on with her life? Otherwise, she is just going to get a letter and throw it away and we will still be hearing about it 35 years later. Therefore, I ask you, Billy. PLEASE cut us a break.

So, the days pass (as well as two weeks) and still no letter. The daily call-and-response continues between my wife and me. I know that any day now, I am going to ask my wife about the letter. My wife is going to turn to me with those gentle eyes and say: "NO! NO, YOU DID NOT GET YOUR STINKIN' LETTER! AS A MATTER OF FACT, WHEN THE POSTMAN CAME TODAY, I PUNCHED HIM IN THE MOUTH FOR NOT PROVIDED THE ONE THING THAT WOULD GET YOU TO SHUT UP!" When this happens, I will just have to lovingly look at my wife and ask: "Do you think it'll come tomorrow?"

    I did follow up with the college. They confirmed they DID (finally) receive my transcript and should receive something "any day now". I guess they work on a different solar cycle too. I think they have shorter days in the Arctic North. I guess I will just try and relax for now and maybe listen to some music. OH, MAN! They are playing that song AGAIN. Come ON, Billy. I can't take much more of this.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Georgia Trip 2010 Vol. II: Home of the Braves

I had settled in my sister's house quite nicely. My sister and her husband have a very nice finished basement which includes a TV with two recliners, a separate room with a nice pool table, and another separate room that has couple of dressers, a few knick-knacks, and a bed. The bed rests on a bed frame that has been in the family since around 1973. I can still vaguely remember when my parents bought it. Over the years, it was handed down to my sister who has had it ever since. The wood is painted dark black. It seemed gigantic when my parents first got it. That may have been because I was 7 years old and a runty kid. The bed frame looks nearly the same as when my parents bought it. I say nearly the same because there is one difference. The frame came with a post in each corner that is about 7 feet from the floor at its tip. About two years ago, my Dad was putting some things away in that room. Dad lost his balance and grabbed at one of the bedpost to break his fall. He not only broke his fall; he broke the bedpost. In the end, my father was unharmed and the bed became asymmetric. I still envision my parents putting it together whenever I look at it.

I spent the next day with my brother from another mother — Stephan aka "Happy". Happy and I hugged when I got to his place. We hugged again when I left. We spent pretty much every other second between those two points reminiscing about old times, bragging about our kids (whom are bound to collectively save the world), and point out how much the other has begun to age. After all, only a loving brother would point out that some apple juice, hair treatment, and some iron supplement would be worth some consideration.

The following day was just as eventful. My sister has scored some tickets to see the Atlanta Braves play against the Pittsburgh Pirates. We left to go to the game. I couldn't help but notice that my brother-in-law, Larry, was driving in the opposite direction of Turner Field. They eventually pulled into the parking lot of a hotel. My sister, Marlene, got out and entered the lobby. I patiently waited and chatted with Larry in the car. I saw Marlene coming out accompanied by a young lady. She opened the door and said: "Jenny, this is my brother —Shane." Jenny graciously shook my hand. "It's nice to meet you, Shane." Suddenly, in the backseat next to me sat a man who looked me in the eye and "SURPRISE!" It was one of my closest friends from high school — Bill. Bill and I had not seen each other face to face in 25 years. Jenny, it turns out, is Bill's lovely wife. My sister had planned to surprise me by having Bill and Jenny come to Savannah and visit with me. I say she planned because I already knew about it. For starters, Bill had inadvertently let it slip when we chatted over the Internet the previous week. Also, I had recognized Jenny from pictures Bill had sent. I just wasn't about to tell somebody's wife that I recognized her from the pictures I saw on the Internet. Bill and I kept mum until we were about half way to Turner Field. After all, I didn't want to ruin the surprise for Marlene.

Now, I had looked forward to this game since I bought my plane tickets 3 months prior. Reuniting with Bill was icing on the cake. We even took a picture together with the bust of Hank Aaron. I mean, c'mon. When you have three Georgia legends side by side, you MUST get a picture. It was shortly after this that things changed. A few drops began to fall. Suddenly, it was pouring. We ran to the gift shop and Bill scored us all some rain ponchos. 81 minutes later, we all headed to our seats. A talented chorus of kids from Dacula Middle School sang "The Star Spangled Banner". The Braves lineup was introduced. The stadium was full of fans waiting with bated breath for the game to start. Then, it happened again: drip, drip, drip. The grounds crew began covering the field with tarp again.

The game resumed a short time later. Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar, and the rest of the Braves were in top form. We were riding the wave of this great game. Perhaps I should have not let the image of a wave enter my mind. It was the top of the 9th inning. The Braves were ahead 7-3 and had already given the Pirates one out. Then, it started again. Rain came down fiercely and suddenly. The raindrops were as big as your thumb. People got up in droves and made a mass exodus to leave their seats. We tried to hold out and keep hope alive. I was very thankful for the poncho Bill provided. A couple sitting in front of me whipped out umbrellas. Had it not been for the ponchos, the runoff from the umbrellas would have soaked my pants. We finally relented and began to make our way out. An announcement came over the PA system: "ONLY TIME HAS BEEN CALLED. WE STILL INTEND TO RESUME THE GAME. WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE."

About halfway to the hotel where Bill and Jenny were staying, we found the game on the radio. It was clear the commentators were getting quite tired as they kept fumbling their words. Finally, at 12:32 AM, the Braves finished the inning and finalized the score of 7-3. As of this writing, the Atlanta Braves are at the top of the National League East. I knew there was something special that night when Bill and I took that picture with that bust of Hank Aaron. When you get three Georgia legends in the same place, you KNOW it's going be fun.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Georgia Trip 2010 Vol.I: Defy the Slaw

Well, folks, the day have finally arrived. I am now in transit to the great state of Georgia to visit my friends and family. I am typing this from an altitude of about 10,000. You may wish to drink some water or chew gum to adjust to the pressure change while reading this.

I was a bit tense going into the flight. I love to fly. In spite of this, I am always expecting something to go wrong. Nothing tragic, mind you, I just always expect some kind of inconvenient snag. It's those three laws of inconvenience that hover through my mind:

  • Murphy's Law – "If anything can possibly go wrong, it will"
  • Sod's Law – "Murphy was an optimist"
  • Cole's Law – Cabbage mixed with mayonnaise (which I detest)
First of all, I'd like to publicly thank the kind lady who happened to find my driver's license on the floor while we were both standing in the line for the security checkpoint. I heard someone behind me say: "Someone dropped their license". This was also the point when I noticed that it was no longer in my hands. That could have easily brought my flight to a grinding halt. BAD LICENSE! BAD! BAD! For the record, I did NOT reprimand my license in public. Such behavior would have surely resulted in some additional "processing" at the security checkpoint. I typically have no problem allowing my warped mind to generate suspicious stares from people. Nevertheless, as much as I support the efforts of the Transportation and Security Administration, I'd rather not add to their workload if I can avoid it. Thankfully, the screening went smoothly without a hitch (and more quickly than I anticipated). I had a quiet talk with my license in the men's room afterward. After all, a firm talking to seemed to be all that was necessary.

I arrived at my gate and waited for the boarding call. Since the screening at security checkpoint went so swiftly, I had about 90 minutes to spare. I went online to speak to my wife. I even sent a link to my wife so she could check on my flight status. Then an announcement came over the PA system: "ATTENTION AT THE GATE. THIS FLIGHT IS OVERSOLD. WE ARE LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS TO GIVE UP THEIR SEATS SO THAT NO PASSAENGERS WILL HAVE TO BE BUMPED." GREAT! HERE WE GO! I get the security checkpoint and NOW they lower the boom on me. Fortunately, several folks quickly gave up their seats in exchange for a voucher on a future flight. Another crisis has been averted.

Once I was in my seat upon the plane. I noticed a little girl in front of me about 5 years old. Her name was Hannah. Girls named Hannah always bring joy to my heart. It was her birthday. She was thrilled to pieces when the aircraft took off. "THIS IS AWESOME!", she exclaimed. It took a little girl to remind me that I just needed to chill and enjoy the wonders of flight. Thank you for that, Miss Hannah and Happy Birthday. I hope they aren't serving cole slaw on this flight. I REALLY despise that stuff.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Come Out and Play

It is known that you can give two boys a stick and a rock and they will create a game within minutes. They will then spend another 45 minutes deliberating over the rules. What can I say? We males really dig games. I realize women do as well. After all, my wife could probably teach Marv Levy a thing or two about the history of the Buffalo Bills. She probably also has a better chance of throwing a completed pass but I digress. Sports and games are a huge part of American culture. Sports can bring out an esprit de corps that inspire people to shout at the top of their lungs, consume untold quantities of junk food, and spend a week recovering from the horrendous cold brought on by parading around while shirtless and painted in 12° weather. For example, I live in Western New York. As a native Georgian, I LOVE watching the Atlanta Braves (I know, who am I to take shots at the Bills?) I can walk the perimeter of the local mall wearing my Braves hat. There is a good chance that a random stranger will see me and shout: "CHIPPER JONES RULES! GO BRAVES!"

However, it should also be noted that sports are not just for the armchair athlete. You can't go to school, church, or work without hearing somebody talk about their fantasy league. They have fantasy leagues for about any sporting event that come to one's mind: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, auto racing, lacrosse, disc golf, croquet, bocce, darts, jai alai, or synchronized swimming. Actually I am not sure about all of those. I don't think there is really a disc golf fantasy league.

Then you have the world of intramural sports. Most people have jobs that include some kind of sports league. This is designed to bring out that aforementioned esprit de corps amongst you and your co-workers. You may scoff about that funny, geeky guy on the other side of the cubicle wall. So what if he has the strange laugh and the annoying habit of clearing his throat. This doesn't change the fact the he has a left hook that brings the company's bowling league to a certain victory. Let the jerks from Ignoramacorp® continuously drink the last of the coffee in the break room. You'll get even at the next paintball tourney. I even had one of my colleagues do some recruiting for a league at my job. He asked: "Shane, do you like kickball?" "Say WHAT?" I politely responded. He repeated: "Do you like kickball?" I responded: "I did in third grade." He didn't need my snotty remarks anyway. He quite successfully recruited enough co-workers to form a team without me.

While I am glad my colleague found a way to have fun and promote camaraderie, I can't help but wonder — Where does it go from here? We have grown folks playing kickball on a self-formed league. You can even watch a spelling bee on a sports network. The worst part is, I run across this bee on the TV and suddenly I am unable to change the channel. I am suddenly shouting at an 11 year old girl for misspelling "colloquialism". Next thing you know, there will be a commentator giving a play by play on a marbles game: "Welcome back from the commercial break folks. Tommy Smitherson is still dominating this round. We now have Scotty Jamison at the taw line. Jamison is returning after a histing controversy in 2008. He seems a bit rattled by Smitherson's perfor…OH MY GOODNESS! JAMISON HAS LOFTED HIS AGGIE AND TAKEN THE TIGER'S EYE! THIS PLAYING FOR KEEPS TOURNAMENT HAS COME TO A SHOCKING AND SUDDEN END, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!" Great, I had Smitherson in my fantasy league.

Friday, May 7, 2010


As a father of four, I am no stranger to the fact that rearing a child is full of challenges. There were many times during my children's younger years that I would consult my parents on situations that seemed earth shattering at the time. Once, my son Caleb opened a brand new bottle of laundry detergent. He then poured about half of its contents into our carpet and ran his fingers through it. I relayed this story to my mother and frantically asked: "WHAT DO I DO?" My mother stifled her laughter and told me to thank my son for cleaning our carpet. I couldn't believe I didn't see the connection. Soap CLEANS fabric.

Sometimes even teaching simple manners to your child is a frustrating exercise. I am American by birth and Southern by the grace of God. That meant when I addressed an adult, the proper responses included the words Ma'am or Sir. Anything short of that resulted in a firm reprimand. Unfortunately, many Northern parents judged such a practice as a bit too militaristic. When my son, Tom, was about 4 years old, he was misbehaving. I called him over to correct his behavior. When he walked over to me, he said: "What?" I corrected him by saying: "SIR!" Tom then tried to correct his error by saying: "What, Sir?"

While it's true that my wife and I would face challenges much greater than I just demonstrated; a great many of them are behind us now. The aforementioned Caleb is our youngest. He will be 17 in a few short months. My three older kids have all graduated from high school (two are in college). As parents, my wife and I have experienced a similar transition. We have graduated from being rookie parents to being seasoned professionals. This allows us to enjoy the memories we have gained from rears of child rearing. It could just be that we are older now forget the fact that our kids are part of the reason we dye our hair. Such seasoned status allows us to worry less how we handle our kids. Now we do what every other parent does in our position — critique the behavior of other people's kids and their parents' reactions to them.

My daughter, Brianna, and I were in a department store recently shopping for a few items. We were browsing shampoos and conditioners when we heard the voice of a screaming child. This young boy was not being harmed. He was with his father and sister in a nearby section. His father was trying to browse the display of bicycles, skateboards, and other such items. The little boy would see an item such as a bike helmet. He would then loudly shout: "DADDY, I WANT THAT!" He would then put that item down and pick another one up. "DADDY, I WANT THAT!" This little boy did this over and over again. "DADDY, I WANT THAT!" My daughter saw (and couldn't help but hear) this child. This little boy was clearly getting on my daughter's last nerve. After all, when you've not yet had any children, you're not as thick skinned.

It was at this point that the little boy found a toy car. It was one of those toy cars big enough for a kid to sit inside it. This provided with the child with a point of focus. He no longer said: "DADDY, I WANT THAT!" He now announced: "DADDY, I WANT THAT CAR!" My daughter and I began moving to another section of the store. We walked through the cookware department. "DADDY, I WANT THAT CAR!" We walked through the bedding department. "DADDY, I WANT THAT CAR!" We even browsed through the electronics section "DADDY, I WANT THAT CAR!" This curtain climbing orator could be heard throughout the store. If the TV networks were to go under, this kid would be a shoe-in for Town Crier. "DADDY, I WANT THAT CAR!" I couldn't help but wonder if the kid was thinking it through more than it appeared. He may have been banking on the idea that if he said "DADDY, I WANT THAT CAR!" enough times, parents throughout the store would take up a collection to shut him up. Personally, I was hoping that his father would provide this carnival barker of a child with a nice woodshed. My daughter and I would have gladly paid for the lumber.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Motivation for Recreation

     I currently work in technical support. It's a decent job that has provided me with learning opportunities and new experiences. Having said that, like any other hard working, red blooded, dyed in the wool Southern American man; I support the old adage that a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work. I take no shame in admitting that I work for the weekend (insert three cowbell notes here).

    Most weekends, I prefer to do nothing (and I don't get around to that until about noonish). This past weekend, however, provided a rather unique opportunity for me. My wife and younger daughter were visiting family in Florida. This left my younger son and me with a unique chance for some one-on-one time. I had already purchased tickets for the home opener of the local minor league baseball team – the Rochester Redwings. I got home on Friday evening and was looking forward to a movie night with my son at home. I happened to read a post from a friend online. She posted that she had just finished watching "Rocky" and was getting ready to watch "Saturday Night Fever". I admit, a Knuckle Dragging Protagonist Double Feature sounds pretty cool. You could even go for the trifecta and add "Terminator" to that lineup. Caleb and I had other plans in mind for our movie night. We burly he-men decided to watch "Wall-E". After all, it had robots and gadgets in it. That makes it a guy movie (am I right, guys?).

    Day two of the weekend was the aforementioned baseball game. I have spent the most part of 22 years living in the Rochester, New York area. You'd think I'd be used to the colder weather and enjoy the two weeks of summer that start around July 4th. You'd have thought incorrectly. There had been rain in the forecast and it had rained the previous day. It was 41° outside when we arrived at Frontier Field. Forgive me, but there is just something wrong about such weather at a baseball game. Sadly, I have no control over the weather. Given that the game went on without a hitch, I am not about to complain to the One who does.

    Caleb and I hooted and hollered throughout the game. We feverishly shook the complimentary cowbells we were provided. Given the temperature, the shaking came pretty easily. We ate like kings. Caleb took on a ½ pound burger with fires and a drink big enough to revive a dehydrated bull. When my 16 year old finished his meal, he loudly proclaimed: "I AM A MAN!" It's hard to argue with someone who took on a meal like that. It was 36° by the time we left (That's Fahrenheit folks. New York isn't on the metric system). The Red Wings pulled a sweet double play in the top of the 9th that made it worth every bone chilling minute.

    Day three was spent watching the tube and catching up on some housework. After all, there is nothing wrong with living like men. The house just can't look like it when the wife gets back. Caleb and I then watched a show that may change my view about reality shows (probably not). "Billy the Exterminator" is about a deep Southern exterminator who can get rid of just about anything. If it has more than two legs (or no legs), and crawls, flies, or swims; Billy's your guy. Billy wears a lot of leather and spikes that look like he didn't quite get the gig with Judas Priest. The reason for this was quite evident when he was bitten by one of the creatures he was catching. Billy was unharmed. He worked on a catch and release policy. He capture (and released) a 5 foot alligator. He captured (and released) an armadillo. Much to my relief, when he came to a house infested with roaches, he eradicated them. I would have freaked if he found a way to release those vile creatures into the wild. Actually, Billy only did one thing I found questionable. He caught (and released) a beaver. The thing is; he took the beaver to a petting zoo. Pardon my ignorance; it just seems that an animal that can take down large trees with its teeth hardly encourages petting by human hands. I wouldn't even pet it with a stick. I'd have a pencil in less than 10 seconds.

    Alas, my weekend is coming to a close and my wife and daughter are due back in 3 days. My son is on a break from school through the coming week. I, on the other hand will be back at work. Still, I will work through the week until I can hear those three cowbell notes once again. Thank you, Loverboy for giving me the motivation to get to my recreation.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Nice To Meet You, Warren

A lot of times, when I write, topics just fall into my lap like a spaghetti dinner on a white sport coat and a pink carnation (Forgive me, Mr. Robbins). Other times, it can be like typing the closed captions of a televised Bob Dylan speech — slow, unpleasant, and I usually wind up confused and frustrated. At times, when the latter is the case, I like to go somewhere public. I usually prefer to go the mall. There's a simple reason for this. I tend to write about things that I find absurd or laughable. Simply put, people provide the best material and the mall provides a lot of people. Napoleon I once said: "There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous." At the mall, I can find both of those elements.

It was a great day to go to the mall. It was an almost unseasonably warm early April day here in Rochester, New York. It was nearly 90 degrees and the sun was beautiful and bright. I was wearing this really cool t-shirt. My wife got me the shirt. It has guitars on it that are painted all different colors. It looks like the paint is dripping off the guitars. It's a really cool shirt. It was a great day to drive anywhere. I was elated by the fact I actually has to turn on the air conditioner in the van. That's right, folks; 255 air conditioning wasn't going to cut it. [For the unlearned, that is 2 windows down while driving (at least) 55 miles per hour. I'd appreciate it if my Canadian friends can provide the metric counterpart]. I saw an open parking spot and eagerly headed toward it. Unfortunately, a compact car coming from the opposite direction beat me to it. I let out a barely audible sigh. I figured I'd find another spot soon enough. It turned out that the driver of the compact car had an open spot directly in ahead of the original spot (leaving said spot open for moi).

I stepped out of my van and could not help but be overcome (once again) by how beautiful the day was. Apparently, the driver of the compact car had the same feeling. He approached me and said: "Is this a beautiful day in Rochester or WHAT?" He was a bald African American man about my age and height. He was quite muscular. This fact allowed him to offer a very hearty and firm handshake. He then complimented me on my t-shirt (I TOLD you. It's a COOL looking shirt). He then explained that he was a drummer and also enjoyed playing acoustic guitar. This proved something I have observed many times. There are three things that can cause an instant bond between two men that have never met: gadgets, outdoor grills, and a love of music.

We engaged in a great conversation about music. We talked about different artists in a variety of genres: jazz, blues, rock, hip-hop, reggae, country. We talked about the unplugged craze of the early 1990's (one of the best things to happen to the music industry). We talked about some of the great musical acts of the 60's and 70's. We went on and on about the great riffs of Cream, Blood Sweat and Tears, and James Brown (and that beautiful ninth chord he used over and over again). We actually sang lines to each other from acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Grand Funk Railroad. People passing probably thought we were freaks (so you KNOW we were having a good time).

We then decided to walk into the mall as we continued our impromptu chat. He asked me if I still played. I explained that tendonitis had, unfortunately, rendered me very out of practice. I then explained that I primarily spent my free time writing for my blog. We could have gone on for quite a while longer. Instead, we mutually agreed to get on with our day. He extended his hand again and shook my hand firmly. "I'm Warren Elliot. It was really great talking to you, man." "I'm Shane McAfee. The pleasure was mine."

I retreated to the food court to try and focus on a writing topic. I then stared at the people riding along on the carousel. My mind went back to my conversation with Warren. I couldn't get a Hollies tune out of my head. I STILL can't get it out of my head.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sunshine Award

The ever-wonderful Megan at A Dash of Nutmeg has made me a very happy blogger today by giving me my very first blog award, the sunshine award!

If you haven't yet visited A Dash of Nutmeg I highly recommend it!  Megan presents some very delicious recipes (which I have personally sampled once or twice).

Now, along with the award comes the stipulation that I have to pass it on to some others, so without further ado, here are my Sunshine Award Nominees (in no particular order):

  1. David at The Occasional Humorist -  A great humor blog from a very talented Canadian columnist.
  2. Dr. Jeff Sanders at A Moment in History - I have known Jeff for nearly 30 years. He is a great and and a great historian.
  3. Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl - Great tips to improve your writing and grammar. Check out her book The Grammar Devotional.
  4. Kevin Cummings at Short Cummings Audio - I love Kevin’s writing. BDGJM would not exist with his influence and mentorship. I have the honor of having an autographed copy of his hilarious book Happily Domesticated.
  5. C. Hope Clark’s blog – This is a great source for upcoming writing contests. She sometimes offers a different perspective for writing. Besides, she’s a middle name person like me.
  6. J. Timothy King’s Blog -  Another great middle name person who is an independent romance writer. His blog isn’t only about romance writing. I love his work. We had had somewhat similar career paths.
  7. Bonnie Trenga aka The Sentence Sleuth – another great authority on better writing and grammar. I highly recommended her book The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier.
  8. My dear friend Megan at A Dash of Nutmeg. Megan is like a little sister to me. Her cookies are phenomenal.
  9. Comedy4Cast – a hilarious podcast by Clinton Alvrod.
  10. On The Front Porch – Another great blog with funny stories that often revolve around the writer’s family. I love Wendy’s blog.
  11. Hey, It’s Free! This is a great source to get free samples and giveaways.
  12. Closet of Free Samples - Another great website for giveaways and free stuff!
 Congrats to the winners.  Now here's what you have to do:
  •  Put the award logo on your blog or within your post
  •  Pass the award to 12-well-deserving bloggers
  •  Link the nominees within your post
  •  Let them know they received this award by commenting on their blog
  •  Share the love and link to the person from whom you received the award