Sunday, December 11, 2011

I’m On My Weigh

I realize that I am no spring chicken. As I have reached the age of 45, with 46 coming ahead like a toll stop on the New York State Thruway, I’d say I am one rooster who has been through a few harsh winters. However, I have also once again come to the harsh realization that there is something that is holding me down more than my age. It’s my weight.

I am really not sure what it is that has made me take stock, once again, of my obesity and lack of fitness. It could be that I have seen several friends and colleagues not much older than me pass away in the last year. While that is a valid motivator, I probably should be more honest. The truth is my daughter is engaged to be married next summer. Her fiancĂ© is of Scottish decent. This means they are planning a traditional Scottish wedding. This further means that Yours Truly will be walking my beautiful daughter down the aisle…in a kilt. It may be vain of me. I would just prefer to be more fit (and look more fit) as I escort my daughter at an outdoor wedding.

There is also another reason other than the issue of my self image about my appearance. The other factor in this matter is that I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I am tried of going to the taco place by myself and ordering 10 tacos and a steak flatbread sandwich and being asked: “Is that for here or to go?” I realize that the otherwise very kind attendant is most likely just following a rote procedure but it’s hard not to be insulted by that.

Due to my work schedule combined with some college classes that I am taking, I realized that time management was a factor in making this change. It seemed difficult at best to me to making regular trips to the gym around an already demanding weekly schedule. Because of this, I invested in some equipment for exercise (kettle bell weights and a stability ball). I also invested in some DVD that would help me put these items to their most effective use. My start into this routine was briefly sidelined by a shoulder injury while I was waited for said fitness items to be shipped to my house. The irony was not lost on me.

As I nursed my shoulder injury, I reviewed the DVD’s I bought. I kept hearing words like target weight and target heart rate. I find this obsession with targets a bit worrisome. I realize that target weight is a goal. Still, speaking of targets is tough for someone who has never been good at darts or archery. My sons still won’t come near me with an apple. Once bitten, twice shy they keep telling me.

My shoulder started to get into a place of healing where it was safe and reasonable to begin using the equipment. This meant I also had to use three other important items to help me work toward my goal: a scale, a marker, and a calendar. I got on the scale and my weight was literally flashing before my eyes. Seeing this value wasn’t as hard as writing it on the calendar with my marker – 285 lbs. The only thought this figure could put into my head was that I was presently as large as the perimeter of Atlanta. I guess it’s better than taking GA – 400.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sometimes, You Just Need An Outlet.

I must admit, I have been truly blessed over the past couple of years. I have been working at my current job in technical support for two and a half years. This job has proven to be very rewarding and educational. In addition, I began pursuing a four year college degree by taking some courses online. I started my educational pursuit a year ago. In addition to this, my wife has also begun her pursuit of a higher education. I have come to believe that it is a blessing to have a job. I know this because I have been through more than one period in my forty-five years when I have been unemployed for a long stretch of time.  A person can get a job via a newspaper ad, a referral from a friend/colleague, or attending a job fair and shaking a lot of hands. A career, on the other hand, is something to be obtained through hard work. It has to be earned. So, to reiterate, I have a job and an opportunity to further my career by pursing an education. I am TRULY blessed.

Now , I don’t mean to be ungrateful to be the beneficiary of such huge blessings. Having said that, this also has been known to consume a lot of free time that my wife or myself could use for ….recreational activities. Lately, my interactions with my wife involve her making appointments on behalf of our kids or me (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! I know. What’s the difference?). Another example of recent interactions would entail my wife whispering in my ear to check my email for something she sent me. True to her word, my wife has sent me a research paper she has composed for me to review and help her edit. These interactions go on week after week. As we neared our 18th wedding anniversary, my wife and I agreed to arrange some time to remove ourselves from the great bounty of blessings in our lives. This is strictly a temporary measure to disconnect from the blessings and re-connect with one another. After all, life does go on.

Our getaway destination was facilitated by our older daughter who is engaged to be married next year. She went to a bridal show this past summer. As a result, she got a voucher for a king suite at a hotel in the beautiful Finger Lakes area. This meant that our night at the hotel and the breakfast the following morning were entirely complimentary. As the day of our getaway got closer, I searched for ideas for activities we could do together. The Finger Lakes Region of New York is full of tourist spots to check out. My wife and I were looking forward to our getaway and spending some quality time together. We just need to find the right activity for our quality time. We needed an outlet.

Within less than 5 miles from our getaway hotel, we found our outlet. It was not just ANY outlet for a happily married couple to spend their quality time. It was THE outlet. That’s right, folks. The missus and I went to Waterloo Premium Outlets. This was a MALL of outlet stores located in Waterloo, NY. There were all different kinds of stores there. There was a wide selection of clothing stores for every man, woman and child you know. There is a selection of shoe stores for discount prices on acquired kicks. There was even a store that offered discount prices on women’s AND men’s cosmetics. I know that men’s cosmetics exist because I got my self a rather nice shaving kit (hypoallergenic no less). There was a sports memorabilia store and a book warehouse store RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER. What can I say? My wife and I had a mutually enjoyable shopping experience (a challenge within itself).

Alas, our anniversary weekend getaway came to an end (as all good things must). My wife returned to making yet another appointment on my behalf. I, likewise, returned to discover that my wife would lovingly attach another research paper in my email. We have not forgotten the blessed situation in which we live. Still, we long for the time that we can once again disconnect from our daily duties and re-connect and return to our outlet. OK, that metaphor was mixed up and made no sense but you get the point.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanks A Lot, Richard. Yer Cool!

Sometimes, you meet a person that makes an impression that lasts a very long time. Sometimes, that impression lasts a lifetime. It would be too easy for me to say that I don’t do impressions; I do humor writing. The problem is, I know the former part of the preceding statement to be false. Others might argue that the latter part is also false.

1991 was a rough year for me. I had just endured the end of my first marriage and was living with a couple I knew from church. The wife of the couple was the church’s receptionist. On Wednesday nights, I would hang out at the church a couple of hours before service since the couple’s home was about an hour away. We’d hang out, attend the service, and go home afterward. In the hours prior to the service, I would often sit and play my guitar to pass the time. After the service was over, a young, bearded man approached me. He extended his hand and said “I’m Richard. I rather enjoyed your playing earlier”. I thanked him for his generous compliment and introduced myself. He mentioned that he owned a 6 string acoustic as well as a 12 string. He offered to bring his 12 string to church at the following service. I told him I looked forward to it and we both went home for the night.

Richard and I would meet rather often over the next year with our guitars. We played everything from Johnny Cash to John Prine to John Michael Talbot. When we got tired of songs by people named John. We’d gravitate toward the silly side. We always include an old Ray Stevens favorite named “Fred”. “Fred” was a song about a dog that was typically hard to finish because the lyrics made us laugh so hard. As we got to know one another. We discovered that we both had a love for puns. Richard and I would trade puns back and forth every time we saw one another. Sometimes, it was done in a manner of two blues musicians riffing in a call-and-response pattern. Other times, we were clearly trying to top one another. We usually wouldn’t stop until the other began laughing so hard he couldn’t continue.

I would also come to find Richard to be a model of chivalry and generosity. I didn’t have a car when I first met Richard. He gave me many rides. He offered me many meals as he loved to cook. Whenever anyone thanked Richard, the response was always the same - “You’re always welcome”. If you did Richard a favor, the response was also always the same - “Thanks a lot. Yer cool. You really are.”

Over the years that followed, Richard and I would go through some changes. We both got married. Richard even drove my wife and me to the hospital when she was in labor with our youngest child. One night, my wife got an email with some devastating news. Richard was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with leukemia. We visited with Richard and his wife while he was in the hospital. We, of course, traded puns as we enjoyed one another’s company. Some time later, I shook his hand. We made tentative plans to go out for a bite after he got out of the hospital.

Richard passed away a few short days after our visit. My wife and I went to his memorial service. There was a lovely display table of many mementos. What caught my attention the most was his guitar that was displayed on the table. My mind went back to when we played together many years before. Richard and I, unfortunately had the same aggressive attack on our instruments. As a result, we broke strings often. It was always the same string. Richard and I were constantly replacing the G string for each others guitars. After the memorial service was over, I went back to the display table and gazed at the guitar. As I stared and remembered, I noticed something about the guitar. The G string was missing. You could even see the windings in the tuning machine where the string broke. I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute for my friend. Thanks for all you've done, Richard. YER COOL!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Soft Shoulder Ahead

I do like to think I have a healthy perspective as far as my personal limitations are concerned. My body has gone through some significant changes over the years. Some of them are self inflicted. Others are just evidence that I am not as young as I used to be. In 1986, I was 20 years old. I had finished an enlistment in the United States Navy and I was certain I would be the next Paul Stanley (with slightly less face paint). I didn’t look like a body builder but my body was somewhat toned due to my recent military tenure. I was ready to make my mark on the world with a guitar and a blow dryer (as I said, it was the 80’s).
Time, of course, has a way of changing things. My guitar playing is sorely out of practice. I have long since retired the blow dryer. I didn’t so much retire it as it eventually died of boredom. My hair is now much shorter and greyer. I am also a little over 100 lbs heavier than I was in 1986 (file that under self inflicted). The effects of time and the excessive weight have had its consequences. I also have sleep apnea and high blood pressure. My rock star blue eyes now have the assistance of bifocal lenses. Let me put it this way – I have all but given up hope for a career as an Atlanta Braves home run hitter. Don’t work Hank Aaron. Your legacy at Turner Field is safe from the likes of me. Nevertheless, I try to take some of it in stride. I may not be as strong or as fast I used to be. But, I still have a chance to lose the excess weight and get myself in better health. I know I can’t completely turn the clock back on my physique. I CAN however wind up my figurative watch a bit better. In spite of the fact that many of you are too young to know what it means to wind a watch. My ego is not too bruised these days.

Recently, however, my ego has been a bit harmed due to a recent injury to my shoulder. I initially thought I slept wrong on that arm. I figured a good hot shower and a nice massage from my lovely wife would help to correct this. I thought incorrectly. The pain remained to the point where it shot from my right shoulder blade all the way down to my right elbow.To move or rotate my arm was would prove to be painful. To lift my right hand over my head would prove to be excruciating.

I tried to surmise what caused this injury since I had ruled out sleep position, My wife and daughter reminded me that I had carried a window air conditioner  from my daughter’s room to the curb in front if the house. Both my daughter and my wife insisted that I see an orthopedic doctor. My daughter had also suffered a shoulder injury that had to be surgically corrected. Given that, I relented to her recommendation and my wife made an appointment for me. In the days that followed, my daughter helped me with some physical therapy (since she knew it all too well) and insisted I put an ice pack on my shoulder each night for a brief bit. My family has graciously endured my daily groaning. My daughter showed even greater patience and understanding as I referred to her as Lady Torquemada (due to the exercises and ice packs she provided me).

The appointment finally came today. I was greeted by a nurse practitioner. She wore this lovely royal blue blouse. She had long flowing hair (imagine Farrah Fawcett without a curling iron). She wore dangling, but tasteful earrings. I thought to myself: maybe this wont be as bad as I imagined. I thought incorrectly. Nurse Farrah-Pretty-Blue-Blouse asked me some questions about my injury. She then began to move my right arm into a variety of positions. These were simple range of motion tasks. It was somewhat painful when she rotated my arm. When she placed my arm behind my back and gently pushed upward, it felt like a dagger piercing my shoulder blade. The pain I felt was too obvious for me to hide as my wife and kids who were sitting in the exam room with me. Nurse Farrah-Pretty-Blue-Blouse recommended physical therapy for me. She then offered me an injection of cortisone. She said this would reduce the inflammation after a few days. She pulled the needle backward to South Alabama and met my shoulder in New York. Once inside my shoulder, she decided to make stops in Syracuse, Utica, and Schenectady before making its way back to Rochester. Finally she gave me the referral form that indicated I had a rotator cuff injury with nerve impingement.

So it was now official, I have injured my shoulder doing physical work and was treated with a steroid. Maybe I AM to be a professional athlete after all. Watch your back, Mr. Bonds. I may just go for home run 763. I only have to hit….763 home runs to make it happen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

An Exercise in CATharsis

I have told a few people in my life that I am not exactly a cat lover. I actually prefer dogs. I could list quite a few reasons for this. However, for the sake of this writing, I’ll just list several short ones. This also gives me an excuse to bring back one of my favorite features of my writing – the bulleted list.
The reasons why I am not a huge fan of cats include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • For most of my childhood years, we had a dog around the house. Dogs are great companions. Dogs can lift your spirits on your worst day. Dogs can provide great home security. I know this because we once had a Doberman Pinscher named Rickets. Along with being one of the most loveable creature on four legs, Rickets made any would be intruder know it was wise not to mess with her. A cat would just glare at a burglar for waking him up and do a figure eight around the burglar’s legs.Such irritating behavior will only provoke a burglar to steal even more of your precious belongings then sue you for the cost of a lint roller to get the fur off the cuffs of his pants.
  • Dogs are in my opinion far more responsive to their owners. You have a short period of adjustment for a time for a dog to get used to its name. From that point forward, that dog knows its name as much as you know yours. Naming a cat is pointless, I have four cats in my house: Snip, Two Face, Sonic, and Paige. Snip and Two Face have been with us for more than ten years. Sonic and Paige have been with us for more than five years. Nevertheless, the only name they respond to is KITTYKITTYKITTYKITTYKITTY! Even then, then will only respond because they assume it is time to eat. I challenge you to go out on your front porch and say KITTYKITTYKITTYKITTYKITTY! You will soon be surrounded by twenty strange cats doing a figure eight around your legs. I have a personal theory that Ivan Pavlov initially began his research in conditioned reflex by using cats. He only started using dogs because the confounded felines kept playing with the little bell.
  • Dogs tend to engage their owners in play. If you bring home a ball from the toy store, a dog will play with you for hours on end. They will eventually reach the point where they will pick up the ball and give it to you. This is because they want to play WITH YOU. Bring home one of those infernal cat toys and cats will demonstrate that they prefer to play alone. A cat will act as if you are not even in the room. If you have a toy laced with catnip, the cat will become very possessive of the toy. I have seen two of the cats in my house tear a catnip toy into two pieces as they played “make a wish” with it. You don’t have to drug a dog to provoke play and the dog will play with you. Besides, I’ve noticed that cat owners go to great lengths to teach a child to stay away from drugs. That same cat owner will has no problem giving their cat an herb with hallucinogenic properties and find it adorable when the cat sleeps chases an invisible object for two hours then sleeps for three days. Hypocrisy, I say!
Now, I realize that some of you may also accuse me of hypocrisy in return since I have mentioned that I have four cats in MY house. This is because the four cats were snuck into the house while I was away. I was not consulted on these acquisitions. Well, that’s not entirely true. When the first pair arrived, my daughters said they wanted the kitties. They even used the right verbiage. Calling them kitties instead of cats made it a much harder sell. Besides, if you think a kitten or puppy makes your heart melt, trying looking into the eyes of your two daughters (who at the time were both under 12). The younger pair on the other hand were sitting on my couch with my wife and kids when I came home one day. HONEST!
Well, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. I have to stop now. Sonic is staring me down again. He wants to blow bubbles while he chases them and pops them. I’m still not a cat lover but I am not made of stone.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

To The Finish, Please (And Through The Park)

Often during my writing, I approach my laptop with a preset topic in mind. I keep a list topics that I update several times a week. I usually review the list of topics and make a decision on which topic to cover during that particular sitting. I then strikethrough the topic once I have written about it. After some editing, I decide whether to post the essay straight to my blog or save it for another time. I then go and resume my normal daily routine which includes finding things to write about and adding them to my previously mentioned list of topics. It’s not exactly a vicious circle but it does sometimes glare its teeth.
It’s pretty cool to actually look at the list and see that I have several topics from which to choose. These topics usually come from my warped mind doing what it does. More than one person I know has heard me say “I should write about that”. I have sent many emails to myself just so that I don’t forget to add it to my list of topics. Once I sit down and choose a topic and start writing, it truly becomes like taking a ride. I sit down and start typing away. I feel myself begin to pick up speed and momentum. I feel like I could climb any mountain and sail across the stormy sea (Please don’t sue me, Mick Jones. The Foreigner concert at Darien Lake is still stuck in my head). In addition to this wild ride, there is the fact that I am going in a much different direction than I planned when I first started. This is usually the point when I realize that I am not the One doing the driving. It is often after the writing is all done and I am reviewing the piece that I realize that I am not just in the passenger seat of the vehicle.  I am not being carried in some rough rickshaw ride. I am being chauffeured to my destination. It is truly a great ride. Just when I think I know the route like the back of my hand, I am shown a new way to get to from point A to point B. I even sometimes find out that neither of these points were quite where I thought they were. All of this happens while never experiencing a feeling of being lost. Even as I write this piece, I realize that I initially approached this with a different topic in mind. Trust me, please. I am not turning senile at 45. I am just along for the literary ride.
I am not sure why, other than foolish pride, that I feel that my writing comes entirely from me. I am so reminded that it is quite to the contrary. These reminders come either when I am searching for a topic or when I find myself on one of the above mentioned wild rides. I have a friend, Kevin Cummings, whose writing I have admired. Kevin has proven to be a great mentor since I began writing. I asked Kevin once how he handles dry spells in writing where the ideas and inspiration don’t seem to be coming. Kevin advised me to use a list of topics like the one I mentioned earlier in this writing. He also said something to me that really struck home: “You are the conduit of the talent. You are NOT the Source of the talent". It was a sorely needed dose of perspective. Now, I can make another strikethrough in my topic list. Thanks, Kevin.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Shame On You, Johnny Apple Thief!

I had previously written that there are certain things in life that, when I seem them, provoke one of three reactions: anger, laughter, or my head shaking in wonder. Sometimes it is a combination of any of those three reactions. For this writing, I feel the need to share a story that once again prompts a combination of those reactions. When I last wrote on this subject, I touched on the passing of a law sorely overdue law against texting while driving. For this writing, I feel the need to touch on a law that has been around since the age of Moses (“Thou shalt not steal’ Exodus 20:15 King James Version). I am going to share a story that I could not have possibly created about one person’s attempt to sidestep this law. Coincidentally, it is a story that also involves a garden (to be specific an orchard). It even involves fruit that is (at least to those that don’t own it) forbidden.
Before I delve into the story, I feel the need to share something about myself (to those who are not already aware). I am a Georgia native.I spent half of my life living in the Southern United States. I am now in my mid-forties. I have spent most of the last 23 years living in Western New York. All four of my children were born in New York. I have never really fallen in love with New York. I mean no disrespect to my readers from the Empire State. It’s just like the old saying goes: “You can take the man out of Georgia. You can’t take Georgia out of the man.” Having said all that, there is one thing about New York that I do love – apples. I like apple slices, apple sauce, apple juice, apple cider, and apple pie. This works well because New York is only second to the state of Washington in apple production. Such a fact helps keep my relationship with New York amicable.
Now, on with the story. This is the story of an orchard that is owned by a family in Western New York. Hurd Orchard is a business that has been running for 7 generations. The sign at the front of the orchard says it all: “A Farm, A Family, A Tradition”. This long running family business grows fruits and flowers on approximately 300 acres. Among the varieties of produce grown by the orchard is, you guessed it, apples. And among the apples produced by this orchard were 180 trees given to the family by Cornell University. These are special trees that were not to be introduced to the market for another two years. In short, they were looking to provide two new varieties of apples to the market. This could stand to provide a boost to growers throughout the state of New York. More apples for consumers. More revenue for growers.
Unfortunately, one man allegedly felt that the law of New York State (and basic human decency) did not apply to him. Six days after these 180 new apple trees were planted, 83 of them were stolen right out of the ground from where they were planted. It is uncertain how exactly this caper was pulled off. I guess when you have 300 some odd acres of land to cover, it is perhaps easier for one to greedily steal what doesn’t belong to them. Reports began to surface that this man allegedly had baby apple trees growing on his property. This man allegedly tried to explain away the new apple trees. He first said he got them off the internet. Then, when confronted by law enforcement, he said that he got them from some Hispanic males. Perhaps he thought that law enforcement would resort to racial profiling and leave him alone. After all, there were no department store security tags on these trees. There was no alarm triggered when he allegedly left the orchard with his precious bounty. He just needed to shoo away some cops and things would be fine. I can only assume this thief was looking to be the big kahuna of some underworld apple cartel. After all, why go through all the work of getting people hooked on some illicit drug when you can just literally snatch food right from folks’ mouths (and profit from it). This man, in an act of unmitigated audacity and boundless greed, attempted to steal from a family business. He also was trying to (perhaps) create an enterprise that was free to him alone. None of the explanations the alleged thief offered could be verified and he was taken into custody by law enforcement. In the end, 73 of these trees that were recently planted on a family orchard and subsequently supplanted by a thief, have now been re-planted back on the orchard where they rightfully belong.
To the family running Hurd Orchard, I sincerely hope that people all over the world speak of your produce seven generations later. To the alleged thief, may you be afforded your due legal process. May you be tried by a jury of your peers. Lastly, if convicted in a court of law, may our prison work detail consist of you spending your life gathering road apples.
PS – As I stated, this came from a news piece. The story is not one of my own creation per se. This is simply my reaction to the reported events. The story, as I found it, can be located at

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Common Sense on Draft

Sometimes in my life, things happen in which I find myself laughing, shaking my head in wonder, and angry all at the same time. Every once in a while a law gets passed that brings about this type of reaction. Will Rogers once said: “The trouble with Congress is that every time it tells a joke it becomes a law, and every time it passes a law it becomes a joke”. Rogers would probably see that in many ways not much has changed since his passing in 1935.
Some laws were just never taken off the books. Time goes on and people go “there’s actually a LAW for THAT?” It would be very easy to cite laws in states where I have never lived. However, let me talk about some states where I have lived (and loved living in most of them). For example, I am currently a New York state resident. In New York, a marriage cannot be dissolved for irreconcilable differences unless both parties agree to it. HUH? Supposedly, in my home state of Georgia, legislators are given a unique form of protection. Supposedly, members of the Georgia state assembly cannot be ticketed for speeding while the state assembly is in session. After all, legislation is just as important as an ambulance transporting a mother in labor. NOT! The beautiful state of South Carolina reportedly has a law that states a permit is required to fire a missile. Thanks, South Carolina. I will feel much safer the next time I cruise the Mark Clark Expressway. I also must not leave out the beautiful state that is known as the Heart of Dixie – Alabama. In Alabama, it is allegedly illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle. I must say that, out of everything I have cited, this last law from Alabama is the one that provides the most amusement to me. Alabama had to pass a law to tell grown people not to drive while wearing a blindfold. The same state that gave us Joe Louis, Helen Keller, and Hank Aaron HAD to tell its constituents that one watch the road while driving. This is not a shot against the legislators in Alabama. Alabama is a beautiful state and I made some friendships there that still stand today. It is just one example among many throughout our great United States where common sense had to be legislated.
It is with this thought in mind that I get back to my current state of residence, New York, and a driving law that has once again been updated. A law has just passed in New York that mandates hands free operation of a cell phone WHILE DRIVING. This means that New York drivers MUST use a hands free device to use a cell phone WHILE DRIVING. Technically, under the law, using a cell phone's speakerphone instead of a hands free device is a violation. The law even specifies that sending text messages WHILE DRIVING is a violation. Just like Alabama, the state of New York had to legally mandate that people who are old enough to know better to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road WHILE DRIVING. Yes, it makes me laugh a bit and shake my head in wonder. It also angers me a bit.
The reason why I am angered by it is that I see evidence for its need daily. Just the other day, I pulled out of the office park where I work. This office park is about a quarter mile from the expressway. Shortly after I pulled out of said office park, I see a young lady in a sporty little car. Two things were clear about this lady. She was very irate and she spoke with her hands. I know this because this lady was in the car behind me. Every time I looked in my rear view mirror, I could see her ranting on her cell phone. Presumably, she was talking to the source of her ire. She held her phone in one hand and waved her other hand about wildly to express her very apparent indignation. She did all of this WHILE DRIVING. As I merged onto the expressway, she remained behind me ranting and waving. I even noticed her correct her steering a couple of times as her car veered while she spewed her wrath into her phone. This new law is designed to protect us all from drivers such as these. It is designed to protect us all from other drivers who feel their rights and convenience is more important than the safety of others.
In closing  I’d like to air one final thought. To the angry driver, I hope you get pulled over soon. I hope you get slapped with the $150 fine and 3 points on your drivers license. I know that would be very unpleasant for you. However, I find that a much better alternative than the strong risk of police needing your family to identify your body and what remains of your car.
P. S. To New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, thank you for passing this bill into law. This is a very important step to protect New York drivers from distracted drivers, Now, if you’d be so kind Governor, please stop dragging your feet on the Autism Insurance Reform Bill and pass it into law. Thank you.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cursive Foiled Again

I have been sharing my essays with readers from all over the world (those happy, happy few). I have made it a point to write pieces that are intended to be humorous. Some are even intended to be informative or thought provoking. I have also intended to write pieces that are family friendly. If a 9 year old child reads my work, I don’t wish for his parents to pull him away because my material is too “adult” in nature. My sister has even commented to me that I self censor my writing. This may be true but I feel I get my point across well enough.

Occasionally in my writing, I may even stand on my proverbial soapbox on a particular issue. Again, the point is to get my thoughts across and generate a laugh at the same time. I would like to address an issue that is really sticking in my craw. The issue of this writing is….well the issue is writing. To be specific, the issue is handwriting. Handwriting has been a talent I have sorely lacked all my life. I have always admired people who so seamlessly let their thoughts flow from their mind to a piece of paper. Legible handwriting has never been a strong suit of mine. As a result, the only thing I write cursively is my signature. If I actually use a pen and paper, I print everything else. Many of my teachers during childhood squinted, changed their eyeglass prescriptions, or shook their heads in disbelief. In spite of my obvious shortcomings in the area of writing, my teachers (and my parents) still insisted that I continue practicing.

This now leads me to an issue that I have found to be absolutely reprehensible. At the current time, some districts in the United States and across the world have decided to remove cursive writing from their curricula. Some other districts, while not removing it altogether, allow students to learn cursive writing AS AN ELECTIVE. That’s right. Cursive writing in some schools will be the same as taking drama, band, or a foreign language (such as written English).

I realize that technology makes it easier for kids growing up these days. I must admit that I am grateful for some of these advances. I have typed many a college paper in my adult years that would have costs my parents a lot of typewriter ribbon from all the editing. Remove the typewriter from the equation and you would have seen a lot of crumpled paper and pencils broken out of frustration.  Technology has also helped many kids with learning disabilities to more effectively complete assignments. This is not a bad thing.
Nonetheless, I still question the logic of removing such teaching from kids who do not have the aforementioned disabilities or disorders. While it’s true that I rely on my computer for a lot of things. I know that if my power went out and my computer was not available….
You may scoff and say: “That printed. It’s not cursive”. TouchĂ©, I say but the following is also true…..
PSM_Hand_Write I agree that it is not the most legible writing in the world. That’s OK. By my own admission, I am very out of practice. I would like to offer however that for a child to learn to do cursive writing there are quite some advantages. First of all, such writing can prove to be a great therapeutic exercise. When one writes in cursive, all the letters in a word are connected. There is less stopping and less less movement of the writing instrument from the surface. This allows much more flow with writing. Such writing also helps to build and improve eye to hand coordination. Also, such writing has a more personal touch if one does it well. This makes things such as greeting cards and thank you letters to appear more “from the heart” and less like a form letter. As I stated previously, I admire people who write their thoughts well with just a pen and paper. If schools refuse to teach this, parents should continue to encourage the practice to their children. I realize it can be a time consuming process. The same can be said for teaching a child how to play baseball, bake a cake, or drive a car.  I truly worry that we may become so dependent upon technology that kids will no longer draw in the dirt to plan a play of backyard football because their phone has an app for that. I worry that kids will not acknowledge gifts with a thank you card because their printer is down. I even worry that a kid will stand at the candy counter of a movie theater with a confused look because neither he (nor the kid helping him behind the counter) know how to break a $20 bill for a $19.47 purchase of a 6 ounce box of chocolate covered peanuts and a soda that could fill a cow’s bladder. I believe that technology should be a supplement and aid to a child’s education. It should never replace it.

I shall now step down off my soapbox on this issue (for now). I pray that five years from now, a young adults can use a pen to fill out a job application. I pray that young adults can balance a checkbook without a spreadsheet. I pray that parent’s will have the fronts of their refrigerators will have at least one creation from their child that was actually created with their child’s own hands. If schools and teachers continue to make decisions such as the removal of cursive writing. We may have little recourse other than prayer.
In conclusion, to my parents who insist that I not do my writing homework on the school bus (or math with a pen) and to all my teachers who insisted that I practice to improve my handwriting, I’d like to say…

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rock of the Aged

I went through my teenage and early adult year’s in the 1980’s. Just as it is today, music is an essential element for daily living. I have been a frustrated guitar player since I was about 10 years old. I am very out of practice and no one will ever confuse me with with the late, great Les Paul. Nonetheless, my red Squier Affinity Telecaster remains at the side of my desk so that I can play some chords until my tendonitis makes it hurt too much. My love for the guitar has driven me toward great guitar sounds. I have always enjoyed listening to many different genres of music. I love the wonderful chords and beautiful vocal harmonies that come from acts like Simon & Garfunkel, The Eagles, and Dan Fogelberg. I also gravitated toward the harder rock edge from a young age to bands such as KISS and Queen. This harder rock edge and my love for great guitar tones, rockin’ guitar riffs, and rippin’ guitar solos made the 1980’s a great time for music in my life.
Some of my obsession with guitar driven rock music probably started when I got a 45 record of “Don’t Stop Believin’” from Journey. [NOTE: For those of my readers who don’t know what a 45 rpm record is, ask your parents.] I already liked Journey’s music at the time. But that song is one of many in their catalog that features the perfect blend of Steve Perry’s vocals, Ross Vallory’s bass, and the smokin’ guitar of Neal Schon. I played that record constantly as I started my air guitar career. If Neal Schon was unable to fulfill his duties in Journey, I wanted to be READY.
During my sophomore year in high school, another band released a great album – Foreigner. Their album, “4”, had some GREAT songs on it which included: “Urgent” and “Waiting For a Girl Like You”. Once again, it was that perfect blend – Lou Gramm’s vocals and Mick Jones’ guitar. This culminated in my attending a concert in 1982 at the Savannah Civic Center. Foreigner was promoting their “4” album with (then unknown) Bryan Adams as an opening act. I went to the concert by myself. I was so close to the stage I could tie Lou Gramm’s shoelaces if he needed it. At one point in the show, they told us they were playing a song from their new album - “Juke Box Hero”. I stood there as my chest rattled from Dennis Elliot’s bass drum and Rick Wills bass guitar. You could feel the crescendo build as Lou Gramm’s vocals began. Then, Mick Jones brought me to the crest of the wave. I HEARD ONE GUITAR (JOOOOOOOOOOOONG) AND IT BLEW ME AWAY (JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENG).  I could see stars in my eyes. So, the very next day, I walked around sporting my overpriced Foreigner shirt that I bought at the concert. I saw Foreigner again three years later. The second time, I was in the nosebleed seats with a group of friends. I would have loved to have been closer to the stage but among this group of friends were some very pretty girls. Sorry, Mr. Jones. SOME things have priority over watching you play the chords to “Feels Like The First Time” from 15 feet away.
I am now in my mid-forties and I still love those songs. Next month, I am going to have the pleasure of seeing Journey and Foreigner live. They will be accompanied by another great band from the 80’s – Night Ranger. The bands and I have all gottten just a bit older. None of them have the original lineups intact. Neither Journey nor Foreigner have the singers that helped put them through the stratosphere. That’s OK. Arnel Pineda and Kelly Hansen quite superbly handle the lead vocal spots of Journey and Foreigner respectively. Even Night Ranger has a different guitarist these days (Joel Hoekstra replaced Jeff Watson). Obviously, it won’t be the same as it was in the 1980’s. Then again, neither am I. I know that once the chords start playing, I will be back in 1985 (minus the Members Only shirt).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From Daddy’s Arms to the Commencement Stage: Part Three – Caleb Strikes Back

[Author’s Note: My original subtitle for for this piece was going to be “Odds Are For Cowards”. My LYE (Lovely Young Editor) and my wife both decided that “Caleb Strikes Back” was more fitting. They were correct. Having said that, Caleb is living proof that odds are for cowards.]
I am sure that any of you who have read my previous writings are wondering: “I wonder what Shane is going to talk about this time”. I have previously written about my daughter, Brianna, on her high school graduation. I have also written about my daughter, Shayna, on her college graduation (which also included her getting engaged). I feel convicted to inform you that I have four children. Two of them are still in college. This means that this series of writings will most definitely continue. For this writing, I am going to orate about my youngest son, Caleb, as he has now reached the point of HIS high school graduation.
When Caleb entered our lives in 1993, he was a ball full of energy that kept his mother and me on our toes constantly. He was always running at top speed and climbing the shelves in our pantry all the way to the top. He also had the same obsession that drove most boys – FOOD. This was usually the reason Caleb climbed the pantry shelves. Caleb would stack soup cans three high. He would then stand upon the stack in order to get on top of the pantry counter. From there, the pantry shelves were an all too easy reach. The next thing you know, Caleb had a handful of whatever food we had placed on a top shelf to keep away from him. Needless to say, my wife and I frequently faced new challenges of strategic food placement.
My wife and I would face another challenge we did not anticipate. As Caleb was going through the first two years of his life, things appeared to be, for lack of a better word, awry. Caleb did not seem to be as talkative as we expected of a young child his age. Also, he also seemed to have somewhat of a distant look in his eyes. It was as if he was tuned into something completely different than what was going on in the room. His mother and I just couldn’t figure out the frequency (and he seemed unable to tell us).
Caleb then went through an array of tests. This included auditory testing as we all thought perhaps there was something wrong with his hearing. We finally got a report from a developmental test that gave Caleb the following diagnosis: Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified). We took Caleb to the pediatrician with this diagnosis. The pediatrician who saw him was a very competent doctor with a rather thick Germanic accent. My wife asked her: “What does this diagnosis mean?” Without hesitation, the pediatrician said: “That means he’s autistic”. While I know the doctor did not intend it as such, her thick accent made her response sound extremely harsh as if my wife and I were overlooking something obvious. Simply put, it was just not a response we anticipated.
Over the months that followed, we had doctors, therapist and specialists attempting to prepare us for some other harsh possibilities: “He may never become fully verbal.”; “He might only get as high as a middle school education”; “It is possible that he may be dependent upon his parents throughout his life”. Even as I read back the aforementioned possibilities, it is hard not to be as overcome as I was when I first heard them. I know the professionals were just doing their jobs by telling us this. They would have been derelict in their professional duties if they did not tell us these things.
While I hold no grudges against these professionals, it gives me great delight to state that none of their predicted possibilities came to fruition. Over the years, I have seen Caleb exert his independence by making a simple meal for himself whenever the mood strikes him. As a matter of fact, he prepared a fine meal for the family as part of a home economics assignment. As far as verbosity, Caleb can tell you anything you need to know about Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario the Plumber, or Jack Bauer. He also converses quite well with his mother as they discuss a bill that is waiting for the governor’s signature. This bill (once signed into law) would ensure that people with autism receive insurance coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. As far as his education goes, Caleb spent the day of this writing registering for his fall college classes (quite surpassing middle school).
To my son, Caleb, I would like to say that you have earned the accomplishment of walking across the stage and receiving your high school diploma. I hope that as you continue to grow into a young man that I will still be able to enjoy your company for a conversation, a movie, or a Rochester Redwings baseball game. I will do my best to support you during your college education. You may be our youngest child. But you are clearly no longer our baby. Just try to grin and bear it if your parents still call you that.
To the rest of the world, I present Caleb Hugh McAfee – a young gentleman and a scholar.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Confessions of a Defiant Mule

It started off as an annual trip to Georgia. The plan was to spend a week with my sister and my Dad. I had already enjoyed baseball game at Turner Field. Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla tried their noblest since Jason Heyward was on 15 day disability. Alas, they lost to the Cincinnati Reds that night. That’s OK. A bad game at Turner Field is still better than a good day at my cubicle. I even helped my brother in law renovate my Dad’s room. Between pulling up carpet and making multiple trips to the neighborhood pool, I had a lot of quality time with my brother in law that I truly enjoyed. It was a great week of diversion and respite.

Unfortunately, such trips often cause some very old addictions to resurface. I had hoped that I would be able to keep most of these addictions under control. Yet, there I was taking 48 individual wrapped 1 ounce packages and dividing them between two large zippered plastic bags so that I could take them back to New York in my luggage. I was doing fine until one of the individual packages ripped. The precious, grainy, substance spilled onto the floor. I had travelled far for this stuff. Nonetheless, I decided to take the single ounce loss and vacuumed it up. I sat there pondering on what just happened. I asked myself: “Self, how did I get to this point.”

I suppose it all started back in 1988 when I first relocated to Western New York. It was a bit of a cultural adjustment at first but I was handling it well. At least, I thought I was handling it well. I was browsing through a local grocery store and missing my home state. I figured I could fix myself a simple meal to remind myself of home and lift my mood. I went down the breakfast aisle and viewed the different items: cereal, oatmeal, farina (YUCK!). I then thought I was getting closer to what I wanted. I found a nice cylindrical canister of grits. I then looked at the boxes of instant grits and nearly wept. They had butter flavor and original and THAT’S ALL. There was no bacon bits flavor. There was no country ham flavor. To add further insult to injury, there was NOT ONE SINGLE, SOLITARY CHEESE FLAVOR. I approached the store manager about this. As soon at he heard me say grits, I had clearly lost him. I drove to store after store after store all with the same results: original and butter flavor and THAT’S ALL. I then came to the conclusion that President Grant MUST have written some law during the Reconstruction period that made such varieties of instant grits illegal north of the Mason-Dixon line.

I tried to find a way to right this grievous wrong (at least in my own home). It started with me calling my Momma and asking her to send some in a plain brown package from Georgia. I often made these requests from a payphone in case my conversations were being tapped by the FBI (Farina for Breakfast Investigators). It ultimately escalated to the point where I was even making long distance trades with friends and family members. My wife even made a deal with a sister of hers in Florida. Her sister would send instant grits from Florida for a variety of pasta that is apparently illegal there (Curse you, Ulysses Simpson Grant). I almost feel ashamed for bringing my wife into my addictions. I say almost because my wife loves grits as much as I do (bless her beautiful heart).

I now had the incident of the aforementioned package ripping behind me. I had made it through the security checkpoint in Atlanta and was now back in Rochester. I felt sort of like Johnny Depp in the movie “Blow”. I picked up my suitcase from the carousel and tried to think of something. I tried to think of my kids’ birthdays or something festive like that. I actually transcended myself to that place if you will. I tried to think about anything except what could happen to me if I get caught with the 47 ounces of instant ground hominy in my suitcase. I began to walk out of the airport. I was stopped by a government official with a badge. He was a Farina for Breakfast Investigator. I was surrounded by four other investigators. They had caught me dead to rights. I was busted. I looked at the investigator and asked “Parlay?”. The eyes of the investigators were wide with frustration. “We have to let him go” said the lead investigator. Another protested: “But he’s referencing the WRONG MOVIE!”. I walked away with my victory, my suitcase, and my grits. I thumbed my nose at the Anti-Grits government conspiracy. And I must confess, if it means I get to exercise my God given right to more variety of instant grits in my Western New York home, I’LL DO IT AGAIN!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

From Daddy’s Arms to the Commencement Stage: Part Two - The Psychological Sequel

I have been sharing my writing with friends, loved ones, and the world at large since 2008. During that time, I have shared the triumphs and traumas of being a husband and father. As a parent, I had great examples before me. My amazing parents reared three children to adulthood. They managed to do this without winding up smoking cigarettes and watching “Captain Kangaroo”.* This may be due to my parents’ tenacity. It may also be due to the fact that both of my parent’s stopped smoking in the mid-1960’s. I can remember looking at my dad and thinking he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I can only hope that my kids will look at me and think I am at least 5' 10" with mild allergies.

I have spoken about all of my four children at one time or another in my writing. On this occasion, I would like to shine the spotlight on my older daughter – Shayna Amarelle McAfee. I was in the delivery room when Shayna entered the world on October 6, 1989. I stood there in the delivery room as I held this beautiful, angelic, newborn baby girl in my arms. I could not help but notice two very distinct features. For one thing, she did not cry as she entered the world. Shayna came into the world sneezing. It wasn't just once or twice. Shayna sneezed over and over again. I nervously hoped this did not indicate she was allergic to her father. Secondly, I held Shayna for quite a bit following her delivery. Unfortunately, I could not tell you for the life of me what color her eyes were. For the entire time I held Shayna, she would not open her eyes. This would turn out to be the first day of many that Shayna would have amusement at my expense. Even as a newborn, Shayna new how to milk a good gag. For the next few days, I would go and visit Shayna after work. She never once had her eyes opened when I was present. I knew she HAD eyes as many people who visited (as well as her mother) told me how beautiful her eyes were. The day she came home from the hospital, I held Shayna in my arms again. Finally, I got to see her eyes. As we gazed at one another, I could feel that our connection was finally complete. It is a connection that I still feel almost 22 years later (as of this writing).

There are many things about Shayna that have changed over the years. I have seen Shayna’s hair go through more colors than Roy G. Biv. Her obsession with Belle and Gaston has segued to a fixation with Harley Quinn and the Joker. Other things have remained the same. She still enjoys reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Still to this day, she saunters across the room on her tiptoes. It’s as if she comes as close as humanly possible to walking on air. She still has the bouncy demeanor of a hyper-caffeinated kangaroo. When she was a child, she spoke of being a doctor. Her vision has shifted only slightly. As I write this, she is preparing to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program (try saying THAT five times fast).

Shayna, my beautiful daughter, I have tried so hard to find the words to express how happy I am with what you have accomplished and the woman you have become. Some may say that I am blessed with the gift of sesquipedalian loquacity. Others would just say that I use a lot of big words and I talk too much. In any case, when it came time for me to express my feelings, I was unable to find the best way to give the truest justice to my sentiment. Therefore, I turned to someone who is a great influence on my writing – Erma Bombeck. Erma Bombeck was a truly gifted humor writer whose children were grown while mine were still infants. On the subject of college graduation, she offers this musing: "Graduation day is tough for adults. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. After twenty-two years of child-raising, they are unemployed." I couldn't have said it better myself. In all my adult years, I have never been so happy to be “unemployed”. I guess you could now deem me as pater emeritus. That is to say, I am somewhat relieved of my duties but  I still hold some of the honor of the position. As you walk into the world, I no longer need to stand as closely as when you first took your tiptoe steps. But always remember that if you feel you may fall, or if you even just feel the need to lean, I am never too far away.


* I often throw references into my writing, often without explanation,  assuming that at least SOME people will get it. This is from a song called “Flowers on the Wall”. It was recorded by the Statler Brothers and written by the late Lew Dewitt. It’s a great and humorous song.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

IPSBS (Invisible Passenger Side Braking System)

I can remember when my parents were teaching me how to drive. This process around the age of fifteen for most kids back then. When I say “back then”, I am referring to the early 1980’s. One of my friends reminded me that this was part of the Paleolithic Era when he and I attended Pangea High School. At any rate, this training process started to prepare a young Pangean teen to acquire his driver’s license at the age of sixteen. This also allowed parents a full year of therapeutic counseling to prepare them for the emotional transition of this great milestone of childhood. It also allowed parents to obtain a years worth of supplemental employment to financially prepare them for the rise in their auto insurance premiums.
At the time, we lived in a nice quiet suburban neighborhood on the south side of Savannah, Georgia. There were a lot of nice little side roads to go down with little to no traffic on the weekend. My mother worked for a bank in the area. There was an occasional perk to her job. We lived some distance from the bank where my mother worked. Due to this distance, she would occasionally be provided with a vehicle that the bank had recently repossessed. This usually happened for a weekend until the paperwork on the vehicle could be processed the following Monday.There is an important reason why I am given you this little snippet about my mother’s occupation. I had asked my mother if I could practice driving around the neighborhood one Saturday. I was expecting to use our family’s 1967 Ford Falcon. However, my brother had the use of that car. This meant that I got to have my first driving experience in a repossessed car. I was initially less than thrilled about this. This was until I realized that this same vehicle was a 1975 Cadillac Sedan De Ville. That’s right, folks. I got to drive around my neighborhood in a CADDY.
I sat in the Caddy while I waited for my Mom to get in the car. I decided use this time to work on the proper way to lean my arm on the back of the seat and complete my cool look. After all, it’s a Cadillac. You MUST lean. The best way to complete the look is to wear some cool sunglasses and let them hang down on your nose a bit. My mom got in the car. She started off by telling me to fix my sunglasses. She said she had no desire to ride with Marlon Brando. I asked if she was talking about the old dude in “Superman”. I knew who Marlon Brando was but I couldn’t resist taking a poke at my Mom’s age (who was younger than I am now). She then told me to put BOTH hands on the steering wheel and dispense with the lean. I tried to explain the need to look cool. She wouldn’t budge on the issue. She firmly replied: “You can look cool when it’s YOUR car. Until then, put your hands at 10 o’ clock and 2 o’ clock.” I asked her if that meant I had four hours to drive the car. “You know what, boy? I COULD just go back inside right about now.” I decided this was a good time to put my sense of humor aside.
I backed out of the driveway and drove down the side streets as my mother instructed me. Overall, things seem to be going well. My mother decided to up the ante a bit at this point. She directed me to take my main street out of our neighborhood. Check it out, people. I was driving down White Bluff Road in Savannah, Georgia. You couldn’t have gotten rid of the grin on my face with a belt sander. It was around this point that I discovered something about driving that I did not know previously. As we were moving down the road, my mother noticed a car backing out of the driveway into the street. My mother apparently did not think that I noticed this vehicle as quickly as she felt appropriate. My mother then very quickly pressed her right foot down to the floorboard. The car had been equipped with an invisible passenger side braking system. I knew that it worked because when she did this, I firmly and quickly pressed on the brake pedal on the driver’s side (producing a very audible and visible skid). This prompted a very brief exchange between me and Momma. “Shane, WHY did you slam on the brakes like that?” BECAUSE, you slammed on YOUR brakes, Momma. “Well, I didn’t think you saw that fella backing out.”  Momma, it’s a Ford pickup. Did you think I suddenly went blind? “Boy, if you keep talking to me like that, you’re gonna be blind for a couple of days.” At this point, the gentleman in the pickup drove by and gave my mother a sympathetic smile as he shook his head at me. At this point, my mother offered to take the wheel. When I say she offered, I mean she said “How about I drive now?” and got out of the passenger side before I could respond.
There would be other driving lessons over the months that followed. I would discover that there were other parts of the car to engage the passenger side braking system. Sometimes my mother would just use the floorboard. Other times, she would also put her hands on the dashboard or on the roof (or both). She even once used a unique braking system by using the floorboard, one hand on the dashboard, and the other hand over her mouth. I take pleasure in telling you all that a few short months later. I acquired my first drivers license at the age of sixteen. I couldn't help but notice that the instructor had BOTH of his feet pressed into the floorboard for the entire test.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Wild Kingdom of Study

From the moment that I decided that I was going to advance by higher education and attend college again, I knew that I was going to face a concurrent task that would be the bane of my academic existence – homework. Due to the fact that, out of a family of six, five of us are attending college and the sixth is a high school senior (as of this writing), I occasionally have to relocate an area outside of the house to minimize interruption. So, with my laptop computer and text books in tow, I retreat to the great sanctuary of silent study – the library.

When I get to the library, I walk toward a sign that designates an area for me (and others like me) to do my studies. The library calls this the Quiet Study Area. I cannot help but be amused by the irony of a library that apparently needs to designate an area for quiet study. Since I have already had my cathartic rant about that particular subject (an essay entitled “I Can't Hear You (I'm in a Library)”), I will not belabor that issue any further. I find an empty table and begin setting things up. Once I get my laptop computer plugged in and get comfortable in my chair, I devote a few extra minutes to what I consider to be a brief but necessary amount of lollygagging. I talk to my wife for a few minutes online and do some internet surfing. After all, a marathon runner doesn’t just start a 5 mile sprint without doing some warm ups.

It was during this time that I began observing some of the other people using the quiet study area with me. There was one interesting commonality, we were all wearing corrective eyewear. This is understandable to me. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wore goggles to play some serious basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers. It was clear that everyone in the room was preparing for some serious study (and I had already performed the proper warm up). I also noticed that the women in the room all had their hair pulled back. Quiet study is serious business where one should not be impeded by their tresses. I haven’t suffered such impedance in a long time. When my hair WAS long enough to have such an issue, I spent less time in libraries.

I also noticed some very distinct differences. One lady in the room appear somewhat matronly. She wore earrings that dangled like wind chimes to be strummed. I thought it better not to do so. This particular lady also had another distinction. She was the only one among us NOT using a computer. She was using (GASP) pen and paper. I have always admired people with legible handwriting. The last time I attempted writing anything other than my signature, I got three scholarships for pharmacy school. I also noticed another younger lady in the room. This young lady did not actually sit in her chair. She was perched upon her chair and seated more upon the heels of her feet. Her posture is almost feline in nature as if she is about to pounce upon whatever appears on her computer screen. Two more women arrive. Both, of course had their hair pulled back. However, instead of wearing eyeglasses they have sunglasses pulled atop their heads as a makeshift hair band. This is an interesting twist of the use of eye wear for function AND fashion. After all, they have no need for sunglasses in the library. Corey Hart wore his sunglasses at night but I am unsure if he wore them in the library. Should I ever meet Mr. Hart, I will be sure to ask him. It was shortly after this that two other ladies arrived (as I felt somewhat hormonally outnumbered). These two ladies were one adult and a girl about 12 years old. They are clearly rebelling against societal norms. Neither have eye wear. I did not verify the presence of contact lenses. For some reason, people are put off by that kind of behavior (once bitten, twice shy).  Also, both had their hair down. I must say that I was truly taken aback by such a brazen display of anarchism.

After all this observation, I decided that it was time to get down to business and crack open the textbooks. I took one last look around and said to myself: I have three homework assignments, I have three textbooks, a laptop computer, and I’m wearing bifocals. HIT IT!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Johnny Weissmuller, What Is Your Sleep Number?

I have addressed many things as well as the effects of those same things on me and/or my family. Such topics include (but are not limited to) the following: mall shopping, higher education, communicable diseases, and libraries. For the purpose of this writing, I’d like to focus on an issue that has become very important to my wife and me after 17 years of marriage – sleep.
Before your mind begins to wander (or wonder), let me be clear. I am not going to address the marital perspective of our sleeping quarters. After all, this is a family show. I am here to talk about the rapid-eye-moving, excessive-pillow-drooling, Metallica-stops-recording-their-new-album-because-your-snoring -is-too loud state of sleep. I am talking about that state of rest between the point where your head hits the pillow and the palm of your hand slaps the alarm clock with the force of a Hank Aaron homer. There are two entities that greatly assist my wife and/or me with getting a good nights sleep: a CPAP machine and a sleep number bed.
The CPAP machine, though a blessing to both of us, is primarily for my benefit. I have a condition that many people suffer call sleep apnea. To describe this as succinctly as possible, without the benefit of my CPAP machine, I will literally stop breathing (multiple times) during my sleep. This can result in many less than restful nights, extreme fatigue, and horrendous snoring that has threatened the structural integrity of the windows in my house. Needless to say, we LOVE having this machine in our lives. Mind you, the machine also requires me to be tethered by a nasal mask connecting me to the machine. This forces air into my airway while I sleep so that I don’t stop breathing. I am of the opinion that breathing while sleeping is good. I may look like an alien SCUBA diver but I’ll take breathing over vanity any day.
The sleep number bed, though a blessing to us both, is primarily for my wife due to a back injury she suffered some time ago. The mattress is essentially two long bladders of air (one for each side of the bed). We each have a hand controller that allows us to set the pressure for our side of the bed to a specific number (ranging from 0 – 100). We each have our own sweet spot, or sleep number, to have a comfortable night’s sleep. My wife sleeps comfortably with much less aggravation to her back injury. Needless to say, we LOVE having this bed in our lives.
However, having two different sleep numbers has proven to be problematic every now and again. My sleep number ranges from around 55 – 80. My wife’s sleep number is considerably lower. Part of the problem is my wife’s sense of humor is similar to my own. If I get out of bed and leave the room for more than five minutes, she inflates my bed to 100. This means that she gets to watch me come back into our room and plop myself into the equivalent of an eight foot long brick. She then giggles while I am now reaching for an ice pack. The other problem occurs when one of us leaves the bed while the other is sleeping. If I am out of bed and my wife rolls over toward my side, she ends up with her nose firmly pressed against a wall of air mattress. This gives her the sensation that can only be compare to those stuffed kittens you see on the window of a station wagon. On the other hand, if my wife is out of bed and I roll to her side, the end result is quite different. I fall into the deep chasm that is my wife’s side of the bed. Since I am tethered to my CPAP machine, I look something like Tarzan trying to pull himself out of quicksand. There are two key differences: a) since I have forced air blowing into my lungs, I will not suffocate and b) no one is likely to confuse me with Johnny Weissmuller.
I pull myself back up by my CPAP tubing back onto my side of the bed sweaty and hyperventilating (with forced air pouring into my lungs). My wife comes in shortly thereafter. She notices my perspiration and heavy breathing and asks me if I am feeling OK. I beat my chest and tell her the lord of the jungle is fine. She giggles at me with confused oblivion. She then rolls over and falls back asleep like a newborn child. Like I said, we LOVE having this bed in our lives.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Away With You, Sinus Squatters!

I have been having a rather rough couple of weeks. Sometime, during the past couple of weeks, some tiny gremlins took siege over my sinuses. These gremlins are too small to be seen with the naked eye. They tend to travel in packs of four and, in spite of their size, produce a collective weight of 35 lbs. Their only goal is to take residence in the sinuses for as long as possible and make you feel like you are carrying a bowling ball on your neck. I tried asking them nicely to leave. I rationally explained that they were MY sinuses and they did not belong there. It was really nothing personal. I just really dislike this extra weight on my head. They scoffed at my naive niceness. To add further insult, these sinus squatting gremlins invited their friends to make my eyes itchy and make my voice sound like a mouse in a library.

This, of course, leads to the true source of my irritation. My loving wife was kind enough to go to the store and pick up some sinus medicine for me. Mind you, she did this partly to help me feel better and partly because she had caught my cold. I eagerly opened the package hoping that relief would come soon. My hopes were very quickly dashed. It appears that the sinus squatting, eyeball itching, voice vanquishing gremlins are in cahoots with the makers of SnotAway. They start by using transparent plastic on one side of the packaging. This provides you with a view of the medicine – tiny little blue gel caps of hope. This only serves as part of the torture. On the opposite of this medicinal visual tease, the medicine is sealed with a layer of foil held onto the plastic by an adhesive. It is then topped with another of paper that is held to the foil seal by the same adhesive. Each dose (two gel caps each) is then separated by perforations. The torment continues further as one corner is pulled back ever so slightly.

First, it starts with the perforations. I do what any rational person would do. I do the bending back and forth of the perforations to make the individual doses easier to separate. This does not work because the adhesive (used to hold the paper and foil seals in place) gets between the perforations. If they has used this adhesive on the Titanic, I wouldn’t have had to sit through a three hour movie explaining why some old lady threw her necklace in the ocean. So, here I am. I am already having trouble breathing. I am wearing myself into exhaustion bending this thing back and forth. Finally, I get some scissors to cut the perforations apart. The problem is, the combined effects of my cold condition and my exhausting efforts to open this stupid medicine have made my eyes water. The blurred vision causes me to slice my index finger with the scissors. Now I am bleeding and I need a bandage. Unfortunately, the bandage is sealed between two strips of paper held together by the SAME ACCURSED ADHESIVE. I can actually hear the sinus squatting, eyeball itching, voice vanquishing gremlins giving each other high fives in my head. I find myself crying myself to sleep in a fetal position.

Three hours later, I awoke. I tried to speak but the gremlins still had hold of my voice. The still-sealed, unused bandage is stuck to my hand from the dried blood. The scissors lay at my side along with the the still-sealed, unused medication. My wife takes one look at me and says: “Honey, I bought you some medicine. You won’t get any better unless you take it. Honey, why are you crying?”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Are Your Shot Records Up to Date?

When I was in the Navy, I can remember being taught that there were certain folks on base you didn’t want to ever upset. To be specific, there were five types of folks in particular who were good to have on your side: hospital corpsmen, dental technicians, postal clerks, disbursing clerks, and mess management specialists.
I was a hospital corpsman. Corpsmen assisted doctor’s and nurses with the medical care of military personnel. Corpsman have access to (among other things), immunizations records. Getting on the wrong side of a corpsman could result in the sudden unexplained disappearance of said immunization records. Immunization records (or shot records) must be up to date before personnel can go on leave (vacation) or transfer to another duty station. It’s quite possible that the corpsman will tell his buddy – the dental technician. Dental records must also be up to date. Suddenly, a rude an impatient sailor may find himself having to undergo dental x-rays and an exam in addition to the vaccinations he KNOWS he got six months ago. The dental technician might tell his buddy – the postal clerk who is stationed at the base where this sailor is transferring. Strangely, an issue has arisen with the forwarding of the sailor’s mail from the previous base. The dental clerk might tell his buddy – the disbursing clerk. Disbursing clerks handle payroll. Now the sailor finds that something has gone wrong with his direct deposit. The disbursing clerk may even tell his buddy – the mess management specialist (cook). The mess management specialist prepares a special meal for the sailor to “make him feel welcome”. Later that day, the initially rude and impatient sailor, has come down with a sudden “stomach bug” and has to go to sick call at the new duty station. The sailor finds himself with sore arms from vaccinations, sore gums from dental exams, homesick because he hasn’t gotten any mail from home, flat broke, and extremely nauseous (might have been something he ate). When he arrives at sick call. The corpsman notices that the sailor was last stationed aboard the USS Ersatz. The corpsman asks the sailor if he knew a corpsman by the name of so-and-so. It turns out that the former corpsman is “old buddies from boot camp” with the latter corpsman. The sailor is now as pleasant as punch and suddenly feels “much better now”. The next day, the sailor is informed that his mail has been forwarded, his back pay has been re-instated, and his immunization and dental records are all in order (once again). He even goes on to eat three square meals in the galley without incident (and uncertain what brought on that stomach bug the previous day).
It has been nearly twenty-five years since I got out of the Navy. I can honestly say that I have never participated in such a conspiracy about which I have just written. However, I couldn’t help but think of it as I went to get my hair cut this evening. I went to a stylist. The difference between a barber and a stylist is about $15. The stylist gently washed my hair and lead me to my chair. I told her that I wanted a very short cut. Her technique was such that I wasn’t sure if she was using clippers or 200 grit sandpaper. I watched her in the mirror as she did this. You’d have thought my hair was made of graphite and she was trying to erase it. I got out of the chair wondering what I had done to her to inspire such anger. Whom did I anger earlier in the day that knew her and called her before I arrived? Now I sit here in the comfort of my own home, satisfied with the final result of my haircut. One question haunts me: Are my shot records up to date?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Drinks Dye Hard

    I am not going to imply that I live a charmed life per se. However, on the average work day, I typically drive to work, work a typical day, and drive home without incident. Don't get me wrong. I have had a day here and there where: my vehicle has broken down, winter weather has made me late, or a circulating sickness has caused my head to weigh 15 lbs. Such incidents are the exception rather than the rule. I can even jazz up my routine by taking a different drive to work or home and be incident free.

    I went to work earlier this week and it seemed to be a day just like any other. En route to work, I made a stop at a nearby convenience store and grabbed myself a nice hot cup of coffee. They had several different blends available. I grabbed my little plastic cup the store provided. I turned the little spigot and the coffee poured gracefully into my cup. The aroma was wonderful. I grabbed my nice little plastic top for my cup. I typically drink my coffee black so it is usually hot for a while. I usually allow the drive to work to allow my coffee to cool down enough to drink.

    The traffic on the way to work was rather light as it was the tail end of a holiday week. I called my wife on the way to work. The nice little wireless earpiece allowed me to do this quite nicely, safely, and legally. I got to work and found a great space. I carried my cup of coffee with the nice little protective lid and went inside the building where I work and to my desk. I started my rather routine workday. I reached for my coffee to take a sip. For some reason, as I began to drink from the little slit in the cup's protective lid, it seemed I didn't quite a watertight seal. Fortunately, I also have a coffee mug that I kept at my desk. I simply transferred the coffee from the cup to my mug. I now drank my coffee from my mug in secure water tightness. I had averted a minor crisis. At least I THOUGHT I did. I looked down and noticed a fresh coffee color stain on my dress shirt. The shirt was white with light vertical brown stripes and I was wearing a brown tie. I joked that at least the stain would blend with my shirt and tie. It was kind of strange to me that the coffee spilled onto my shirt in such a way that I did not feel the heat. I let out a small sigh and decided to carry on with my day.

    The day went forward rather well from that point. It was nothing spectacular. It was just representative of the incident free routine to which I had grown accustomed. I performed my work duties. I conversed with my colleagues. I even enjoyed a nice lunch that was lovingly prepared by my wife. After lunch, I sat at my desk and began to resume my routine. Since I work in a call center, I sit in very close proximity to my colleagues. We do our jobs. We share some laughs here and there. We even occasionally share a high five or fist bump for a job well done. One of my colleagues returned from work and sat at his desk next to me. He was enjoying a cherry flavored Slurpee he had picked up while he was out. Several of my colleagues and I share our love for these shaved ice flavored drinks. You have to get them in a huge cup with a huge straw and a dome shaped cover which has a hole for the straw. Those drinks are heaven in a plastic cup.

    As we all resumed our work duties, my colleague picked up his drink right where the dome cover meets the cup's rim. Suddenly, the dome cover came apart from the cup. As my colleague and I were both wearing white shirts, we suddenly moved our chairs backward. We even leaned back in our chairs to avoid the flying droplets of cherry dye and shaved ice. It was like watching a scene with Neo and Morpheus. Of course, since we are guys, we'd probably debate about which of us was Neo and which of us was Morpheus.

My colleague dutifully cleaned up his mess and even had plenty left to drink in his cup. We all laughed it off and got back to work. All was well once again. That was until, my colleague grabbed his drink again and the dome cover popped off again. I can definitely say that, when it happened a second time, I was DEFINITELY Morpheus.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stars So Bright (Editor’s Choice)

I have spent the last week and a half concentrating on reading. There are several reasons why I delved into reading so deeply:
·         I had reached the end of a college semester and therefore a brief period of more free time.
·         I love to read and, having reached the end of said semester, I wanted to CHOOSE what I was reading.
·         I also love to write but, in order to write, I must also be reading. It’s the Garbage In, Garbage Out principle. My daughter edits my writing. I am sure she will find the comparison of my writing to garbage quite amusing.
·         Last but certainly not least, it gave me (yet again) another excuse to create a bulleted list. I love making bulleted lists. The reasons are….PSYCH! You thought I was going to create another one; didn’t you?
Having all of this free time at the end of a year has also made me somewhat introspective.      After all, it was just the end of a year. It was also the end of a decade. A lot of things have transpired over the last 10 years. I walked across the stage of the Blue Cross Arena in 2000 at my college commencement. This occurred with my wife, kids, sister, niece, and mother in the audience. I moved several times since 2000. My family has endured many harsh Western New York winters (including an ice storm in 2003). I endured long stretches of unemployment. The flipside of that is that I also go to work briefly for an airline. My last day of training for the airline, I got to marshal out a 737 aircraft. This incredible experience took place at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, GA on my birthday. I flew back to Georgia that same year as a surprise anniversary present for my mother. The following year, my wife sat at my side and held my hand after I had finished speaking at my mother’s memorial. Three years after that, I got to witness my wife handle her father’s passing with amazing dignity. I have heard both of my girls perform in various choir performances with voices that are nothing short of angelic. I have seen my older son, Tom; perform at club gigs as he becomes a better guitarist than I was 20 years ago. I have heard my younger son, Caleb; provide the history of Sonic the Hedgehog (he has a PhD in Sega).
                             With all of this looking backward, I mustn’t lose sight that I have so much to expect in the coming years. Caleb is graduating high school in 2011. Shayna is graduating from college in 2011. Thomas and Brianna are currently enrolled in college. If their most recent semester is any indication, I have no doubt that they will excel in their academic pursuits. My wife, Renee, is starting college again in 2011 with a degree to pursue a career in Social Work. She is projected to graduate in 2013. I am also enrolled in college pursuing a degree in Health Information Management. I am projected to graduate some time before Jesus comes.  We’re doing alright and getting good grades. The future’s so bright….. Forgive me; I just received notice from a lawyer representing Timbuk3 with an injunction from finishing the previous sentence.