Summer Vacation

The public school system is designed to prepare children for adulthood. The system teaches children essential knowledge of readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic. It gives them invaluable experience in social interaction. And where else would children learn how to turn ropes of clay into treasured lopsided pots?

However, the typical public school system fails children in one very important area. For thirteen years it quietly indoctrinates each child into believing one works nine months and then takes three months off. Through the spring, as the days lengthen and the temperatures rise, so too does each child’s anticipation of summer grow.

No school! No homework! Complete freedom! Days full of beaches and ice cream. Nights full of catching fireflies and staying up past ten o’clock. All of these wonders starting in the three months after kindergarten, then after first grade, and after second grade, and so on.

I still carry a vivid memory of me riding my bike around town during the July before my senior year in high school. (I’m about 75% sure it happened right here, on Oak Avenue between Bonnie Brae and Harlem.) As I biked in the street in my usual slow and aimless pattern, I thought, “This is my last summer vacation. After this, it’ll be time for me to work through the summers. And even perhaps (gasp!) work every month of the year!

The horrors!

As it turned out, I was correct. Through no fault or ill action of my own, the universe abruptly and unceremoniously reduced the duration of summer vacation from three months to one week. And sometimes not even that.

Whelp, I’m a grown up now. In spite of the persistent lie grown ups told me when I was young (“When you’re grown up, you can do whatever you want!”) I’m going to take just one opportunity to do what I want and embark on a summer vacation.

No, not from work. No, not from chores. But from the blog. This probably comes as little surprise, given the sad sputtering of posts over the last couple months. It’s clear I need to give the old brain a break for a bit and return well-rested and strong in the fall.

See you all back here again on September First. Have a great summer and be sure to take lots of pictures!

A Week Off

As I type this, it’s a quarter hour until midnight. Which means it’s almost time for my daily, six or seven hour nap. I like these naps. When I have them, I feel more alert the next day. Alert is good. Because I have lots going on that I need to be alert for. Which is also what’s preventing me from writing an actual blorg poast.

Catch you next week.

Internet Moon

Don’t get me wrong, I like the internet. I use it to educate myself. I listen to most of my music on it. And, most importantly, it’s where I keep my blog. The internet is awesome. It’s hard to imagine the days where I couldn’t click a button and immediately find a picture of a cat.

And like many inventions, it’s exposed the both the best and worst sides of humanity. While it’s easy to say that the internet merely uncovered things that were already there, I don’t know. Take something that was “already there” and instantaneously connect it to a billion minds, and my guess is you’ve also added something new to it.

Toward the “worst” end of the internet’s best-worst continuum lies is a real pet peeve of mine: misinformation. While misinformation isn’t true, it’s also not necessarily a lie. A lie is a known falsehood with an intent to deceive. Misinformation is that benign ignorance that typically begins with an uncited “I read somewhere…”

In the last day or two you’ve probably seen articles about today’s Strawberry Moon. They all say the same thing, “rare event”, “special treat”, and, of course, “spectacular.” Let’s take a look at them and then translate the internet-speak into plain language. Oh boy, this is going to be fun!

Here is when you’ll see this spectacular event. The strawberry moon will reach its full peak which occurs when the moon’s on the exact opposite side of the earth as the sun.

This is a load of fancy words to describe every full moon. They might as well describe a sunrise as, “This spectacular event only happens when your position on the earth’s surface rotates into the path of light emitted from the sun.”

As the last full moon of spring, stargazers can expect the moon to be big and bright.

Stargazers can expect this moon to look like every other moon.

Break out your telescope and bring a picnic dinner because it is set to be spectacular.

Dinner? Only if you’re in Europe. If you’re west of the Atlantic, this happens before breakfast. Also: it’s not “set to be spectacular.” It’s just a full moon.

June’s full moon is a long-awaited event for devoted and amateur sky-watchers alike, representing a rare opportunity to witness the annual cosmic treat.

It’s not long-awaited. And did you actually use “rare” and “annual” in the same sentence? Further, this “rare” and “annual” event happens every twenty eight days.

It’s exasperating reading some of this stuff. And it’s not just the Strawberry Moon. But we get these spectacular and rare events with the Pink Moon, the Blue Moon, the Harvest Moon, and any other time an online presence needs some content to drive click-revenue. (And don’t even get me started about the Super moon.)

So what’s a guy to do? Well, as the Roman philosopher Plato once said, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” So in that light I’d like to announce…

Stargazers worldwide will turn their eyes to the heavens in July 2017 for a rare and spectacular celestial event. The Internet Moon will be at its closest position to earth in 319 years! At this position it will appear twice as large as normal. Further, the Internet Moon always radiates a brilliant violet glow. Don’t miss this once in a lifetime event!

How’d I do?

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Back in 1987, I remember watching a newscast that began with the iconic opening line from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The program made note of the fact that it was “twenty years ago today” when the song came out, to which I then thought, “Interesting. That means it was actually forty years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.”

It was also at that moment that I realized “twenty years” isn’t a very large time span. Not when you’ve lived it a couple times or more. Back in 1987, the thought of 1967 or even 1947 seemed like forever. Every event that stretches that beyond your own personal timeline feels that way.

I mean, 1947 wasn’t too long after World War II. And my 1987 self assumed that war took place just after the Civil War. After all, both wars took place in black & white.

Today I can remember back in 2007 when it crossed my mind, “It was twenty years ago today when I first heard that it was twenty years ago today that the Beatles sang about it being twenty years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.” That meant the Beatles song was now forty years old and World War II more than sixty.

When did I blink?

Cut to New Year’s Day this year. As the clock struck January, my brain took a trip back twenty years to 1997. Were I to hazard a guess, I would’ve said 1997 was just a couple months ago, not a couple decades ago. I then began recalling all the movies that came out that year:

  • Titanic
  • Men in Black
  • Air Force One and the Ass-Kicking President
  • Batman and Robin (Yes, this movie actually happened)
  • My Best Friend’s Wedding
  • Contact
  • The Fifth Element

Really? Even The Fifth Element came out twenty years ago now? Tell me it ain’t so!

But here’s the tough part: that was also the year that George Lucas released his Twentieth Anniversary Editions of the first three Star Wars films. I remember that very clearly because theaters were running all three films back to back and Laura and I went to see them. What a rare opportunity! All three films, in the theater, in one day. It was the most amazing backache I ever had.

But wait a sec . . . that means 2017 is somehow suddenly the Fortieth Anniversary of the first Star Wars film. How is that possible? “Forty years” is that same time period between World War II and my college-aged self pondering a twenty year old Beatles album. Not between movie events in my own personal lifespan.

I’m not really sure how I feel about all this. Maybe stop back here in 2027 and I’ll have it all figured out by then. If you can’t wait that long, just blink a couple times.

Pedestal Soup

Part One

I rarely break for lunch during the work day. My logic is fairly straightforward: every minute I’m not working over the noon hour is just another minute I’ll have to stay at the end of the day. And I’m at the point in my life now where I don’t want to spend extra minutes at work. (Not saying it doesn’t happen; just saying I don’t want it.)

But skipping lunch doesn’t mean I don’t eat. It just means that I’ll grab something quick. Sometimes it’s leftovers from home but more often it’s just something from my desk drawer stash. I keep all sorts of things in there, everything from Ramen noodles to saltines to dehydrated pan-seared potato dumplings drenched in a Campari-infused arrabbiata sauce with white truffles.

One time, some years ago, I brought in a can of fancy soup. It was a creamy potato or tomato bisque thing. I can’t remember exactly. But the title looked yummy, and it was made by Campbell’s, and it cost something like $1.79. But it wasn’t noodles, saltines, or dumplings. So it was fancy.

I kept waiting for the perfect day to fix it. “Friday sounds good!” I’d say. “It’s been a long week and I deserve fancy soup!” But I’d get busy and put it off. Monday rolled around. “No, I can’t eat fancy soup on a Monday!” Days turned to weeks, weeks into years, years into the heat death of the universe.

“The problem is, you’ve put this soup on a pedestal,” my coworker sagely observed one day. “The longer you wait to eat it, the more you’ve built it up in your head.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I’ll eat it Friday! Friday will be special!”

Friday rolled around. I fixed the soup. I ate the soup. It was disappointing. “Why this wasn’t any better than the $1.19 soup!” I complained to the sagely coworker.

From that point on, “pedestal soup” became our idiomatic expression for anything you build your hopes up for and then are ultimately let down.

Part Two

As mentioned a little while back, I’m running my current memoir-in-progress through my online writing community, Scribophile. The astute reader of my blog might remember I said this book would be available in April 2017. Well, clearly that didn’t happen. The current critique cycle will take this into July and I’d really like to take the time to get it right.

Which is a complete 180 from where I was last fall when I thought, “I don’t really care if it’s good or not, I just want to get it done and get on with my life.” However, almost on a whim, I decided to let the Scribophile community take a shot at it and I’m glad I did.

I really like having fellow writers who are also complete strangers look it over. No one sugarcoats anything. If something works, they’ll say it works. If not, they’ll pull a Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay on you. There’s nothing to be gained from a weak critique.

With the latest critiques, almost everyone brings up the same flaw or two, and I do want to address those. There are at least two people who say it’s just not working for them. But, I’ve been happy that there are also a few people who totally get it.

Because that’s the thing with humor. You either get it or you don’t. Throw any comedian’s name out there and reactions are split right down the middle. Love or hate. Rarely anything in between. So when someone “gets it” I’m extremely happy because that’s so much better than zero people getting it.

To that end, I thought I’d share a few comments from recent critiques from those who get it.

This is so unbelievably well done.

I have to tell you that I read your next chapter, and the one after that, and the one after that. I couldn’t stop.

The writing is so clear, and concise. Breezy to read.

Genuinely funny writing is rare. It takes a special talent…and you have it in spades. Bravo! Really, really enjoyed this piece.

Now you want to read it too, don’t you? Well, be careful. Because I’ve just given you your very own can of pedestal soup. Don’t set your expectations at the $1.79 level. Odds are this will actually turn out to be a $1.19 book.

Friday Ramblings

I woke up at half past seven this morning, later than usual. Was up working late. Again. After spending a couple hours landscaping. Again.

Which is basically all I’ve been doing for a few weeks. The day job starts in the morning, runs all day, then continues into the late evening. Except when I take a break for a quick bite or to break my body on the landscaping out in the yard.

That project is an extension of the house move, a project which has been basically going on for two years now: from that first day we set out to “look at houses” up to last night where I banged the end of my finger with a hammer. Along the way, I’ve complained a couple times on the blog about all the house-related work, with the usual disclaimer that I can’t complain about a thing: as it’s completely and one hundred percent voluntary.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s soaked up a lot of time. According to my most recent Timekeeper report, I’ve spent 1,408 hours, 42 minutes, and 17 seconds on this project. By comparison, my upcoming cancer book only has 203 hours, 46 minutes, and 7 seconds logged. I try not to think of the fact that I could’ve written half a dozen books in the time spent teleporting all my belongings twenty-six miles north.

I’m looking forward to focusing again on my creative endeavors.

Any year now . . .

So I woke up at half past seven this morning, and thought, “Ugh. It’s Friday already.” That’s usually a happy day for people, but I’m just way behind on everything and need a few more days this week to cram it all in. “And I didn’t write a blog post last night,” I added, wondering what today’s post might be about given I only have about fifteen minutes to do it.

Welcome to Friday Ramblings!

This may become a thing.

Road Trip, Part 2

The drive north began well. I listened to Tim Curry read A Christmas Carol as the first two hundred miles of road rolled beneath me. It was a free download from Audible that year and the first time I’d ever actually “read” the story that had spawned so many dozens and dozens of adaptations.

“Rat ruz retty good!” the dog said when the tale ended.

“I know!”

We were past Dallas by that point when it began to drizzle a little. Normally, I’m all for the clouds and the wet stuff. But not at 3:30 or four in the morning, behind the wheel, with Scooby Doo getting nervous. But surely it wouldn’t last.

I ran out of steam somewhere in Oklahoma around 7:30 that morning. I pulled off the road and into a McDonald’s parking lot. After giving the dog a short walk, we returned to the car for a nap. I think I slept for an hour or two and, as before, woke up doubly refreshed. There was just a quick drive ahead of me (a quick eleven-hour drive) and we’d be done.

The rain returned.

“Ron’t rorry! It’re brow over!” the dog reassured me.

It didn’t brow over. The good news was: the rain finally stopped as I neared Chicago. The bad news was, it turned to snow and ice. The worse news is that my left shoulder began to hurt maybe some five or six hours from my destination.

For all these reasons, I rolled in later than I’d hoped. It was cold, wet, dark and miserable when I finally pulled up to my mom’s house in the car I’d just rolled off the dealer’s lot only one day earlier.

“Rat ruz an ordeal!” the dog announced when asked how the drive went.

I collapsed into bed, trying to ignore the continuing pain in my shoulder.

The next day was Christmas Eve. The pain hadn’t gone away and the family generally decided I should get it checked out. Laura and I drove to a twenty-four hour clinic. They ran a few tests and decided there might be a heart issue. Something about the EKG results. You should go to the hospital.

“Okay,” I said dejectedly, pulling out my keys.

“Oh, you’re not driving like this.”

“Like what? I just drove four hundred miles ‘like this’. I think I can make the five minute drive up the road to the hospital.”

They disagreed and before I knew it I was strapped to a stretcher and being shoved into an ambulance.

“Are you kidding me?” I said to no one.

Long story short, I spent the rest of Christmas Eve in a hospital bed where they finally declared, “We don’t know what’s wrong. Here’s some Vicodin. Go home.”

And that’s when I vowed I’d never drive from Austin to Chicago again all by myself. And in case you’re wondering, Tim Curry and the dog don’t count: neither one of them offered to drive.

Road Trip

It was December 2009, the week before Christmas, and we had plans to visit my mom in Chicago. Laura, Sarah, and Rachel had some extra time and decided to take the train. I would wrap up work and then a few days later drive up to meet them. After the holiday, we’d all drive back. Seemed perfect.

I dropped everyone off at the train station without event. (Not to spoil the story, but this was the last “without event” event of my story.) After the family safely boarded and were on their way for their leisurely (and envious) rail trip, I walked back to the car only to find it wasn’t acting right. So instead of driving home, I headed to the dealership. They took a look at it and determined, in technical terms, that it was “broke.”

Long story short, it would cost more to fix than it was worth.

Fortunately, it was still driveable, at least for a short time. I got home, informed Laura, and we made one minor adjustment to my travel plans. I’d drive a new car north instead. She spent a couple days in Chicago shopping for a car online. I spent a couple days working from home. And before I knew it, it was my turn to head north.

Late afternoon of December 22, I pushed the old car to the dealership. They gave me a $5 credit toward the new vehicle and in less than an hour, I drove off the lot with a new car. As soon as I got home, I packed everything up: suitcase, Christmas presents, and one dog and by six o’clock was ready for the long haul.

“Ready?” I asked the dog.

“Ready!” the dog replied, in her best Scooby-Doo voice.

We drove upwards of half a mile before I stopped the car.

“Ruh roh!” the dog exclaimed.

No, nothing was wrong, per se. But I was really starting to doubt my plans. I wanted to drive until about midnight, stop somewhere, and then move on. But I realized I just didn’t have it in me. I turned around, unpacked a few things, and went to sleep.

A little after midnight, I woke up, repacked a few things, and off we went again. Turns out that was a great idea: I felt very refreshed and now the plan was to just drive until I got tired, rest, and then continue on.

And speaking of “continuing on,” tune in next week for the rest of this story.

Railroad Escape

While I’m always busy to one degree or another (meaning, my brain is wired in such a way that it allows me very little downtime), there are times I get really busy. This is when the number of items on my to-do list exceed the amount of time allotted to their completion.

Having moved into the new house just last year, we’re now trying to top off the landscaping while there remain a few days of Texas spring and before the cloudless streak of burning triple digits force us into air conditioned shelter for seven months.

I’ve also spent the last couple weeks quickly ramping up on a project at work. This is going to be a big one: ambitious with a lot of eyeballs on it. And I’m bracing myself for the heavy and time-consuming workload that accompanies such projects.

Then there’s my new, self-imposed, completely-voluntary obligation of The Ubergroup at Scribophile. I applied for this earlier in the year to help me keep my writing moving forward. It’s the reason my current manuscript-in-progress will be: 1) late and 2) much, much better.

So it’s important to have at least some downtime, lest I pop. And today I’d like to share one of my little escape ideas. You can even try it for yourself!

Step #1. Search YouTube for something like Ambient Trance Beat. Grab the first or second result, and click play. No need to skip the ad, since we still have some work to do.

Here’s a perfect candidate:

Step #2. In a second browser tab, search YouTube for a “railroad cab ride” video. Important qualities: the view must be clear of obstructions (like, you don’t want to see the inside of the train), it’s best if it’s in HD, and it’s even more best if the camera is rock solid and doesn’t shake. Finally, it’s gotta be long enough to enjoy. Ten minutes is bare minimum, but I recommend one, two, or even ten hours. 🙂

Here’s a perfect candidate:

Step #3. You have three choices with the audio: either leave it on for a full mix, reduce it to a light background noise, or mute it completely. Note: if the person who uploaded the video added a music track already (especially something inappropriate like 80s Metal Hair Band music) mute it entirely.

Now, with your music happily playing in the other browser tab click ‘play’ on the train video, maximize viewing to full screen, and enjoy.

Helpful Tip

If you’re viewing this blog post on an appropriate device, you can experience this effect without leaving this blog page. Click play on both embedded videos, mute the train video’s audio, and full-screen the heck out of it:


Best Flight Ever

It is Thursday evening, April 20, 2017, as I sit at my laptop and click away at this post. I’m in an airport, wrapping up a quick three day business trip, and waiting for my flight to board. I have a long wait ahead of me as it’s been delayed over two hours. So if this post rambles on and on a while, it’s not my fault.

First up, a confession. I don’t like to travel. There, I said it. This probably puts me in a tiny minority of humanity. Over the years I’ve gathered that it’s a Big Deal for a lot of people. They dream about them, plan for them, take them, and then talk about them long afterwards. There’s a seventy bajillion dollar industry built up around it. Clearly, there are people who live for this stuff.

Not me. The way I look at it is: I have a house. I dreamed about it, planned for it, bought it, and plan to stay in it for a while. It’s got food and running water and it’s where I keep all my cool stuff. Why would I want to leave that? For me, travel just brings discomfort. I have to leave all my cool stuff behind. I have to go outside and bump into other people. Sometimes I feel sick, sometimes it triggers anxiety, it’s almost always inconvenient. And the worst part? I have to pay for all that.

However, every once in a rare while, I don’t feel sick or anxious or put out and everything seems to just come together. My best flight ever took place back in 2010. Here’s what happened.

First, it was a stormy day. Everybody who knows me knows I love storms and dark clouds and rain and lightning and all that. Well, when I boarded the plane, a good ol’ storm was a-brewin’. It was enough to keep the plane at the gate for maybe an extra half hour or more. While I’d normally be inclined to grumble at the delay, this was just fine.

Second, the plane was completely full. That’s what they said at the gate. That’s what they said boarding the plane itself. But when I got to my row, it was completely empty. Huh. So I took my seat and watched as people filed in. Sooner or later someone would sit next to me, right? You know, full flight and all. But eventually every single passenger sat, the crew closed the doors and there sat I, in a completely packed plane: all alone in a row to myself.

Third, it was a stormy day. Yes, I realize “stormy day” was the First Thing, but it got even better after we went wheels up. The plane left the ground and headed towards those big, dark clouds I’d been eyeing for a good long while now. I assumed that we’d soon be engulfed in a sea of formless grey, windows quickly blocked with nothing to see. But as we climbed into the towering, monstrous forms, colored in every shade of dark you could imagine, the clouds steered clear of the aircraft, almost parting with a respective bow to let us pass. It was an amazing view in what felt like the eye of the storm.

Lastly, I had one of my manuscripts-in-progress with me. I spread everything out: laptop, notes, a whole seat just for my snacks and drinks, while the rest of the passengers sat elbow to elbow for the whole flight.

Man, if I could somehow work it so every flight was like this, I might just leave all my cool stuff behind more often.