I am not an old man. I still consider myself a young man. I don't feel young in my bones, in the mornings, when I wake up and creak out of bed. But I feel young in the mind. In the spirit. I do young things. And I grant there might be some merit to the argument that cause becomes effect. Maybe doing young things makes one feel young. Maybe it's the other way around. All I know is that I didn't take the adult pill when I was twenty-three, driving off the Air Force Base with all my personal belongings stuffed in the trunk and backseat of my Cavalier. I grew up, sure. And now I had a job as a Software Engineer at a corporate web-hosting company. That's not a child's job. And I didn't make a child's wage. But in my head, I just chose to take…
Don’t you hate walking down the front of the electronics aisle at the big blue superstore? You know, the one where they have stacks of TVs and large bins of movies to dig through? Movies, which, by the way, this is a lot of commas, you would never actually watch? Like Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top, a movie about arm-wrestling. Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea?
But that aisle that separates the electronics area from the rest of the store is where they lurk. Standing there with their clipboards and their nice tucked-in polo shirts… The Sales Assaultiate. Dun dun dun.
It’s morning. You’ve just woken up. It looks warm outside, the sun is shining, but there’s a thick blanket of snow on the deck. A large mug of coffee sits on the window sill, sunlight illuminating the steam as it lazily escapes the heat of the mug. You may be cozied up with your chin on your knees, a thick blanket wrapped round you as you stare out the window from the overstuffed leather chair. But it’s not a happy time. It’s sad. You’ve just lost a friend, finished the final legal hoops of a failed marriage. It’s a pensive, reflective moment. All cried out. Alone. Relieved, at peace, but saddened and forlorn. A complex web of emotions hangs stagnant amidst the lingering aroma of the coffee. They’re all real. Every bit of it as real as the snow outside. The sun, too far away to melt it, serves as a reminder that it will warm someday. This ain’t the last rodeo. The fingerprints on the window also serve that hope. There is life. And when the bell rings and the kids come traipsing in the front door, your silent melancholy will be abruptly shattered.
I’ve come to find that winter is my favorite season. I do like that cold. But that’s not it. It’s like a hard reset for planet America. Or at least planet North Texas. My world. It gets cold, freezes off the trials of the summer and the first nine months of a year, drops the leaves in the street and starts over. Let’s give it another chance. Let’s see if we can get it right this time. A perpetual trial and error in small, annual runs, like caption bubbles popping, saying “Once more”. Every year I contemplate what I could have done differently to make it a better year. Have I achieved what I set out to achieve this year? Have I grown as a man? A husband? A father? Am I where I wanted to be in life? On that third-grade questionnaire, where it asked ‘where do you want to be at forty-five’ what did I answer? Rich with a mountain home and a private plane? Warm with a red-haired wife and a black dog in a small cottage? Alone with a television blaring nonsense at a sub-audible level while I play solitaire on a sticky TV tray?
Just sayin. So the story goes something like this. I play a lot of poker. I don’t host many tournaments. My buddies and I are more into the cash games, or ‘ring’ games, as they’re called. The big difference is that in a ring game, the blinds don’t increase, and it’s just a relaxing, easy-going game between friends, where any many can stand up at any time he’s ready, and cash in his chips for cash value. In a tournament, it’s kill or be killed, and usually only the top three seats are paid out. You might leave with nothing. The point of all this will be discussed in the next paragraph, so please consider this sentence the closing of the first.
So if you go look on the Android market, the Google Play Store, wherever the hell you buy your Android apps, you’ll find a metric butt ton of tournament manager apps. Seriously. Like a million. But they’re all for tournaments. And thus they mainly focus on your blind schedule, and timers that let you know when they’ve gone out. But you’ll not find a single app for cash games. Well, you’ll find one. But it’s so shitty that it shouldn’t even be mentioned. Literally, it sucks like a brand new Dyson 220v industrial elephant vac. For instance, you can add money to people’s accounts in increments of 5 25 or 50. But not 1. Or fifty cents. Because we all play small chip’s a finn, right?
When I first started home-brewing, I bottled my beers. There’s something almost magical about popping the cap off a cold bottle of beer that you brewed yourself, pouring it into a pint glass. I love it. But pretty quickly the hassle of putting the beer into the bottles gets old, and most brewers begin kegging. I only bottled two batches of my beer before I said eff it and bought myself some kegs. Then I went online and ordered a kit – the regulator, the hoses and attachments, and a five-pound CO2 tank.
There are smaller tanks available. You see them attached to paintball guns all the time. But when it comes to home-brewing and the like, I’m not sure you can get a smaller bottle than a five-pound. And it’s about the size of one of those large fire extinguishers you see on the wall at work. Anyway, I immediately went to the homebrew forums trying to find where I could get my tanks filled. There were a couple of places in downtown Dallas that did it – well, they swap tanks, but don’t fill your tanks. That means you have to give them your new shiny empty one and they give you one of their rusty old ones full of air. But there was nowhere real close to where I lived. And then I stumbled on a liquor store.
We ran into a couple of hikers the other night, and hung out at the Dog & Pony with them, then ended the night at Leary’s Landing (the Irish Pub) listening to a guy play the guitar and sing songs we all know. Well, we helped him out a little bit. And being at the table closest to him, I asked him if he knew certain artists occasionally. “Do you know any Bette Midler?” I would say, for instance. Or, “Hey, can you play any Barry Manilow? Air Supply?” Unfortunately, he was more of a modern rock guy. It was fun.
The church we attended Sunday morning was very old-fashioned. It reminds me of my childhood. The same tired old songs from the hymnals, the same tired old sermons repeated every Sunday from the same tired old preacher. He was actually reading his notes the entire time. Not very dramatic. He’s no Chris Seidman, I said. But it was good. It was nice to stop down and be reminded of why we’re here in the first place. Spending a little time in worship was pleasant before we hit the streets and bars again. Which we did in short order. The Seaside Grill serves an awful Bloody Mary, by the way (though their haddock popkin is pretty remarkable).
Minnesota Chronicles, Vol. 3
No seriously. It has been made clear to me that alls I have to do is leave my towels on the rack instead of the floor, and it will save the planet. Well, friends, I am happy to announce: the planet is SAVED. You can thank me later.
I’ve done many things for you guys over the years, but none of them probably had the impact that this one single event did. I’m just wondering though… instead of printing up this cute little sign and going through all that trouble, couldn’t the person who placed the sign just left the towels on the rack? He could have saved the planet back when he hung the sign. Oh well, it’s really no sweat to me, and I’m happy (and honored) to have gotten the opportunity to perform such a magnanimous, philanthropic detail.
For the last 18 years I’ve been working on computers in some capacity. About eight of those years were server engineering and data center operations, but the rest has been help desk. I’ve always preferred the help desk because it’s more hands-on with people. I have the great privilege to make people happy, one person at a time.
Help desk obviously doesn’t pay near as well as the server side of things, but it’s always been enough to support my family and me. And you know me – I’m not greedy. I only want to make enough to cover what I need, plus a little allowance for toys and beer. I have no desire to drive a fifty-thousand-dollar luxury automobile, or have a summer cabin in the mountains. Though that does sound quite nice now that I think about it.
Have you ever paid attention to your phone bill? Do you know that they actually still send you a list of all the phone calls you made and received during the billing cycle? Why do they do that? I mean, sure, I think the log should be available if we need it, but really? Who the hell actually looks at every call every month? Does anyone keep a record of it on a notepad or something and then check it like a bank statement, making sure he didn’t get billed for a call he didn’t make?
Another thing you might not have noticed on your bill – for those of you with smartphones – is the fact that they charge you thirty dollars a month for a data plan. Well, I know some charge more, some charge less. But the median is somewhere right around thirty bucks. Well, I know you know you get charged that every month, because when you signed up for the service and got the smartphone you agreed that you had to have a plan on it to be able to use it. But have you really sat back and thought about what this really means? Of course you haven’t, you silly goose!
Part Five: Dancing in the Streets
When you think of vacation spots, you probably don’t very frequently list Panama City as one of your choices. It seems – to me, at least – to be one of those spots like the Roman Coliseum. It’s beautiful, and you’d love to see it, but you’re not going to lie out and catch some rays on the theater floor. These seem more like educational spots. Culturally rich locations where you go with a history team, or a college class for a field trip. And certainly if you’re staying at Playa Bonita on Diesel Beach, it’s not a great place to catch some sun. The pools are fine for it. Amy (“I’m not getting any sun! I need to wash this crap off my back!”) burned like an unconscious lobster left on a grill. While the fire was lit. On high. And people threw cigarette butts at it. While laughing. Even my red-haired wife caught a little too much sun, and when her skin started peeling it really made a picture of her new Embera Ink tattoos.
But a large part of me is glad we didn’t get to choose the vacation spot for our getaway. Panama is literally the last place on the planet I would have chosen. Ireland? Turkey? Germany? Canada? Kansas? These are all places that sound reasonably like good tourist spots for a nice week away from work. But the company chose for us. As they do every year on their Presidents’ Club vacation. And this unlikely spot made for a fantastic, and life-changing experience I won’t soon forget. Yes, even I – with my terrible memory – am not likely to forget this one.