Monday, February 26, 2007

In My Life

I've posted several times recently about my past, about where and how I grew up. OTJ has also written several posts recently centered around her past. Sunday I was out driving and heard a Beatles tune that really spoke to me about this. Here is the first stanza of "In My Life":

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places had their moments,
With lovers and friends I still can recall,
Some are dead and some are living,
In my life I’ve loved them all.

I have such strong memories of certain things. My grandfather's store, his farm, etc. These are places I haven't been, except in my memories, for a long time. I go almost every year to a family reunion of my mother's family. It is held in a state park a few miles north of the little town south of which my grandfather lived. It wouldn't take but a 20 minute journey to get to his house, and a few more minutes to the store. But I am afraid to go. I am afraid of what it is like now, that it won't be the place I remember. All of this has passed out of family hands. I don't want to lose my memories of these places, to replace them with images of today and the disappointment that they are no longer as I loved them.

A few years ago I had to go to Reno, Nevada for business. I was there for two weeks. Instead of flying home for the weekend, Laura flew out and we drove over to Monterey, California. She and I met and were married there while we were students at the Defense Language Institute. We drove all over the Monterey peninsula that weekend, chasing down places we used to frequent. It had changed so much. At one point, I suggested we try to visit the Presidio itself and Laura refused. She explained later she wanted to keep her memories of where we met and lived.

For our 25th wedding anniversary we are planning a trip to Crete, Greece. We lived there for two years and both of our children were born there. We are both really looking forward to the trip, but I am a little anxious. This too was a special time for us. The base I was stationed at is closed and even though the local town has taken over part of it, many of the buildings have been gutted and are derelict. There's been a good bit of development in the area where we lived, and I am afraid that the little out of the way places we used to go to will be gone. It will, I think, be a bittersweet trip for me.

I don't want to be one of those people who live in the past, nor do I want to be one of those people who want to forget their past. It could be that my recent preoccupation with my past is, in part, because of the uncertainty in my present position - the changes of the past 2 - 3 years in the company I work for, the real possibility that it won't be in business or I won't be working for it in the next few years - that this uncertainty has me looking for better times. At the time we were living in these places there was much uncertainty too, but we were young and had so much ahead of us - and maybe in the arrogance or blindness of youth - to look ahead to.

That isn't to say that I don't have anything to look forward to now. But there has been so much change in the past few years. Our kids have grown up, and while they aren't quite out of the "nest", they are almost gone. We don't see either of them during the week - Kris is at school and Zack works swings. (He might or might not come to the house for supper). We are by ourselves for the first time since we were married. I am enjoying it, but I miss them.

Laura and I have a lifetime together to look forward to. We are not wealthy but we have reached a point where we aren't worried about paying the bills and we can afford - for instance - for Laura to go to England with her sisters. I am quietly excited about our life to come. If I've lost the enthusiasm of youth I've gained the ability to live in - and appreciate - the present. So, while I reminisce about my past, I live in the present and enjoy the memories I've made and anticipate those I am going to make.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I have no theme, but feel an urge to post, so here's a few things going on right now.

Our son Zack had two things he really wanted to do once he got his job. One of which was to get high-speed internet. We have had dial-up since we first got internet access, and for one reason or another it never gets any faster than 33Kb (the fastest any modem can transmit data is 56KB). With today's complex web pages this means s.......l......o.......w loading screens. Last week he came to me (again) and said that if we would order broadband he would pay for it. I had been resisting due to the sizable increase in our cable bill. But, if he were going to pay for it........I ordered it. I also got a wireless router. This means the kids can use their laptops from anywhere in the house, not just in the living room - with a phone cord stretched across the floor ready to trip the unwary (or naturally clumsy). Zack is happy now and I'm diggin' on it too. Laura is happy too because she can now do her research into what to do and see on her trip in May. Only one thing left to decide - since I've also wanted it and am liking it I now have to decide how much (if any) to make Zack pay. Sure is tempting......

Apropos of new internet connectivity, we have a tom cat that must have sensed it coming because the day I ordered it he sprayed the keyboard - rather thoroughly. I had to spend 3 hours taking it completely apart, cleaning the hundreds of parts and putting it back together without losing any of them. After that demanding task, I didn't feel up to configuring and installing the cable modem. I now have a gleamingly clean keyboard and a new cat-pelt rug.

Laura and I went to see Chick Corea and Bela Fleck last night. WHAT A GREAT CONCERT. I've been a fan of Bela Fleck's for some years. His talent is amazing. I haven't listened to a lot of Chick Corea, I think I will now. This was only their second performance as a duo. Listening to them you'd think they'd been together for years. The way they played off of each other, the entire performance seemed like improv. Ever since I learned to play an instrument I have come to really appreciate the skill it takes. Listening to a symphony or a band I am always aware of the virtuosity of the musicians. But there is a special talent that jazz players have, their ability to improvise, to hear a melody and then to instantaneously compose and play a variation on it, take it amazes me. Last night was 2 hours of give and take, melodies handed back and forth, it was a performance I'll long remember. I would love to hear them again at the end of the tour, when they've played together for a while.

Tuesday was my daughter's birthday - she turned 20. We called and wished her a happy birthday, but had to postpone the celebration until this weekend when she will be home. Her birthday wasn't a total bust, some of her friends took her to dinner. There will be presents, cake & ice cream at our house Saturday night. Woot.

Monday, February 19, 2007

School Daze

(I had written this post THE FIRST TIME and blogger ate it. AARRGH)

I’ve read several posts recently that, directly or indirectly, referred to school. I’ve always thought my experiences to be unusual until lately. You can be the judge.

Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd grades – Kaiserslautern, Germany:

- I went a DoD school (department of defense) at Vogelweh Army base. (We lived on the economy.) We had a weekly class to learn german and the teacher used a felt board to put various characters and items on telling fairy tales (Cinderella, little red riding hood) in german. I was totally bored as I had learned german idiomatically playing with the kids in the neighborhood. I was our family’s translator. (just imagine being in a foreign country and having to rely on a 5 - 6 year old to translate everything for you.)

- I had to catch the school bus at the bottom of the hill, in front of a grocery store and across the street from a fruit stand. My bus driver was friends with the people who ran the grocery store. One day I was playing with the kids in the neighborhood, we were in the store’s basement. They went outside and I was sitting on a barstool reading a german comic book. I didn’t want to go out, so one of the kids spun the chair – and I fell out of it, landing on an empty bottle breaking it. I ran crying around to the front of the store, dripping blood. The lady running the store wrapped my hand and my bus driver took me home. I had to translate for the bus driver as he told my parents about my having a blood-soaked rag around my hand. I still have the scar on my palm.

- I once decided to go home from school with a friend because it was his birthday and he was having a party. My parents didn’t know where I was so my friend’s mother had to call them to come get me.

3rd & 4th grades – Biloxi, Mississippi:

- In 4th grade I decided to use my middle name as there were two other kids in my class with my first name.

- one day I dropped my thermos running for the bus (breaking the glass liner). I asked the driver to wait a minute and I ran back (only 4 houses) where my mom met me at the front door with milk money. I was running back to the bus when he pulled away - just before I got to it. I ran down the street yelling for him to stop. (the bastard had to know I was running behind him, I could hear the kids on the bus yelling for him to stop). My mom was livid. She spent the morning giving the school all kinds of hell about it.

- My brother jumped off of some steps at school and broke something or another – all I remember is a cast on his lower leg and crutches.

- There were several bomb scares. (never any bombs). I remember being bored having to stand around outside, NOT being able to play, while the building was searched.

5th grade – Blakely, Georgia:

- One of my teachers would tell us Jack tales – this boy named Jack who lived in the Appalachian mountains in NC and was always defeating giants by being smarter than they were.

- I remember a microwave oven being demonstrated – scrambled egg IN the shell. Another food related item – earthworm brownies.

- One of my teachers – Ms. Golden – was a distant cousin of some-sort. For years since, I was embarrassed at family reunions by her telling my mother and me how sweet and smart I was.

- We used to play kick-ball and dodge ball in P.E. – you could get back into the game if you would take a lick (a swat of the paddle) from the coach. You were jeered at if you didn’t have the courage to take the lick.

6th grade – Biloxi, Mississippi:

- I had a friend named Francis, who had black curly hair. I remember thinking it was a bit weird that a boy had a girl’s name. Another friend was a girl nicknamed JackRabbit because she could outrun everyone in class. There was another kid, a bit of a jerk, who had a pet gerbil that he brought to class one day and it bit him. (his name might have been Larry……)

- My parents sent me to a child psychologist during this time. They had a hell of a time with me, they think it was because the previous year Dad had been gone overseas and I didn’t like his authority being reestablished over me when he came back. (I don’t remember why I was so unhappy – just me being me I guess.) I begged and begged to be allowed to go back to Georgia and live with my grandparents. They acquiesced and let me move back the following year. That had to have broken my mother’s heart. I still look back on that and wonder what the hell was going on in my 11-12 year old mind.

- I started playing trumpet – which I picked because I LOVED Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Band. Still do.

7th, 8th & 9th grades: Blakely, Georgia:

- I was put into the high school band because the middle school didn’t have a band program. The two schools were on opposite sides of the main street into town and there was a creepy tunnel under the street I had to use to get to band class. Seems like it was always wet down there.

- At that time, there was generally one high school per county, so football games were a few hours trip away. There was a mad scramble to sign up for bus seats in the back of the bus. The cool kids sat back there, as did the couples – so they could make-out during the long ride home.

- My band director at the time nicknamed me Porky. NOT because I did cartoon impressions. (You figure it out). I didn’t mind too much, I was 12 years old in a crowd of high school kids and I was happy to belong. But - it didn’t stop me from being in a kissing contest once out back of the band room one night after we got back from a game.

- In the 9th grade I was nominated to join the Beta Club (kinda like the National Honor Society). We put on an air-band concert (with unplayed instruments, though) and I was a lead guitarist for Boston.

10th grade – Austin, Texas:

- This was a huge change for me. The high school I attended had 3000 kids and was one of eight in the city. You signed up for classes just like it was college. You had a catalog of classes and a form to fill out with which to build your schedule. This happened 3 times a year.

- The band was equally huge – around 200 kids in the varsity band and over 100 in the junior varsity band. The varsity band played for varsity sports and competed with other bands/other schools. The JV band played for the JV teams – no competitions. There were regular tryouts for chair that required you to make a tape of some selected piece and the results were printed and put up on a bulletin board. I just wasn’t used to this kind of organization. I was used to small bands where you knew everyone. I don’t think I met most of the band. We practiced in small groups, the band director in a 3-story tower with a bullhorn to watch over a football field full of practicing kids.

- I couldn’t get into the school’s drivers ed course. Texas required the class to get your driver’s license at 16, so I took a commercial course in downtown Austin. I would take a city bus after school and return back to the school campus afterward where my folks would pick me up. One day I had a school band concert the same day as my drivers ed class, so when I got back I changed into my uniform and played in the concert. When I called my parents for a ride home, I found out they didn’t know where I was and had called the cops. I thought that they knew about it especially as my mom had specially taken me to school that morning WITH my band uniform.

11th & 12th grades – Columbus, Georgia:

- I was in all of the band classes offered – symphonic band, marching band, & jazz band. Our band director hated marching band, but since he had to do it, we were damned well going to do it right. We marched our asses off. Band camp start 2 weeks before school and was 10 hours a day. We always made 1’s in the contests we were in. We worked equally hard in the other band classes. I played trumpet, French horn and flugelhorn my senior year.

- It was an open-plan school. There were teaching teams for the major courses. There were 3 – 4 classes in one big room (in their own corners) and the teachers would rotate among them teaching the same lesson to each class. It could be distracting when the other class(es) were watching a film or had discussion and we were trying to listen to a lecture. Friday’s were test day. The room could be sectioned off using sliding dividers if needs be.

- At the end of my junior year I was selected (one of 4 from Georgia) to attend the Summer Scientific Seminar at the Air Force Academy. I had to get permission to miss all of my finals that year. The academy campus is gorgeous – on top of a mountain in Colorado. (I tried to run track while I was there and couldn’t breathe – lower oxygen concentration). It was a week of barely veiled recruiting for the academy, which I had no intention of attending. I enjoyed it though, and confirmed academy life was not for me. Despite getting to start and run a jet engine.

- When I was a senior I went to my first frat party and stayed out all night, getting in at 6 AM. My parents had called the cops and my dad was out looking for me. I was grounded for over a month. No dates, no nothing except school and work. (as you can see, me going my own way was a theme that goes back to my earliest days).

This has gotten long enough, so I’ll wrap it up now. My experience of going to many different schools was unusual – to the kids I went to school with. Maybe today it is different.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

happy corporate greed day

My wife and I were talking this morning about valentine's day. My gift to her this year is to go home during lunch and bring in the citrus trees as the temperature is dropping. Actually, the way she put it is that my gift to her is that I'm doing her bidding. (I do that every day anyway.)

The last gift I recall buying her for valentine's day (we don't exchange valentine's gifts anymore) was an anatomically correct, life-size & weight chocolate heart. Occasionally when she is told of some piece of jewelry or bouquet of flowers so-and-so got she'll tell them of this. At minimum it causes a pause in the conversation, and not a few raised eyebrows. She reminded me of it last night with a chuckle and suggested that I share this "expression of my love".

Every kiss does NOT start with Kaye. or De Beers. or Hallmark.

Friday, February 09, 2007


I was listening to NPR this morning and it was reported that some official of the government of Spain had the gall to suggest that the bull in a bullfight be allowed to leave the arena alive. (Apparently this is what is done in South America.) An end to bullfighting was NOT suggested, despite a poll that indicates that over 70% of Spaniards have no interest at all in bullfighting. However, there is a huge uproar in Spain – who has the audacity to suggest a change to this cultural rite? One young lady – a bullfighter in training – commented to the effect that it had been wrong of Spain to impose its cultural values on the new world during its colonization, so it is wrong for the world to impose its cultural values on Spain.

Now I expect that my reaction to this story was probably the same as most people – that bullfighting is a barbaric custom that is an affront to modern cultural values, is cruel to the bulls and it is about time that bullfighting is stopped. Another of the people interviewed in Spain made the observation that these bulls are treated better than cattle are here and have a relatively quick and painless death at the hands of an expert toreador. I have not been to a bullfight and cannot speak from any direct knowledge, but how can a bull’s death be relatively quick and painless when it is continually stabbed and bled, it is run until it is too tired to escape and the toreador can deliver the coup de gras. Seems to me that it would be painful to be continually stabbed by the picadors and the toreador.

Aside from ending bullfighting I also have an aversion to hunting. In this country, at least, there is no reason for people to go out to kill game to put food on the table. It is more expensive to hunt, factoring in the cost of a gun (or bow), ammunition, and the hunting license, than to buy meat in the supermarket. Ditto for fishing. This appears to be a growing sentiment as the state of Georgia felt it had to amend it's constitution to protect the right to hunt and fish. My aversion to hunting comes from the viewpoint that since it isn’t necessary, that we are killing animals for sport. Even if they are eaten – which is mostly the case – it isn’t necessary, Kroger down the road has reasonably priced meat. Hunters argue that they perform a service, thinning out the game population to the point where the game can continue to flourish. I.e. – there is an overpopulation of the game being hunted. And that is probably true, as we are continually destroying their habitat to build more subdivisions and malls, forcing the game to concentrate in smaller and smaller areas. They also argue that it is in the nature of things that we eat other (lower) animals. After all, don't lions eat gazelles, cats eat rodents, wolves eat sheep, etc? Natural.

I really LOVE a good steak. I enjoy chicken cooked in a variety of ways. In other words, I eat meat. So, how can I object to people who hunt (or bullfight) if I have no problems eating animals? In fact, I eat animals whose sole purpose in life is to be eaten by me. Hunters can argue that they are eating animals whose purpose was to live, to be part of the ecosystem, and that only a few of them wind up as food (or as heads on a wall). Which is a valid point. I mean, it is unmentionable what is done to put veal on the table, or to produce goose liver pate. With the amount of chemicals that are pumped into cows to get them to market I am surprised we haven’t grown extra limbs. Beaks of chickens are clipped and they are forced to live crammed into small cages beak-to-beak until processed for our tables.

I can’t say that I have thoroughly thought out the relationship between humans and the other animals on this planet. I tend to believe that they have as much right to survive on this planet as we do, so what gives humans the right to use animals to our benefit? We are sufficiently advanced as to be able to derive our protein from non-animal sources, so they aren’t necessary as a source of sustenance. Why is it wrong to experiment on chimpanzees if those experiments save human lives? Why is it wrong to test cosmetics on animals if it prevents harm to humans? Why is it okay for me to eat a cow who’s entire existence is dedicated to providing me with gustatory pleasure?

I can’t decide. If I follow through with the majority of my feelings regarding animals, then I should be a vegetarian. Or vegan. Why don’t I have the strength of my convictions?

How say you?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I have had the worst time lately getting motivated at work. I can't concentrate for any length of time and am only sporadically productive. While this has given me time to be distracted by you-all (blogging) it is certainly not what I am being paid to do.

I am not excited about my work anymore. Not even my impending trips to the middle-east (which could be because they are being pushed back and pushed back) are lighting my fire. I am not sure why - but maybe we'll discover this together.

I have had a tough year. My mother-in-law went into hospice last March and died last December. Laura was gone for 3 months during that time, which had its own consequences. I missed her terribly. I also missed her paycheck. Our finances took a hit as she wasn't paid for the time she was gone. The constant background hum of her mother's condition, when was the end going to be, etc. was there and wore on us both.

Work hasn't been a fun place to be either. We exited a 2 year bankruptcy in August of 2005 being bought by another company. We have (before, during, and after the period of bankruptcy) closed @ 30 plants. That's approximately 13,000 people that have lost jobs. 5 of those plants are (were) in this small town I live in. This company manufactures textiles - sheets, towels, blankets & pillows. In 2000 (before any of these plant closings) we had almost 2 billion dollars in sales. I think last year we had @800,000 - 900,000 in sales. The Corporate offices have been moved from here to New York. 90% of what I do now is in support of sourcing already-manufactured goods from overseas (China, Pakistan, Turkey, etc.). My current project is to get ready for converting a plant we bought in Bahrain over to our systems. We are also installing systems in a plant in Pakistan - this is a joint-venture, not an outright purchase. Within a year or two we will be selling more sourced goods than manufactured goods.

It doesn't help either that the company that bought us has not been in manufacturing before. The man chosen to be our new CEO hates this town, has said aloud that he will never come back to this hick town (hence the move of the corporate function to New York). Almost all of upper management has been replaced with their people and I really think that the new management think we don't know what we're doing and are of no relative value to the company. I was told in no uncertain terms that when I reviewed those reporting to me that there WILL NOT BE anyone rated above meets-requirements. Nor will there be any promotions. "No one working for a company who lost $90 million last year is an above-average performer" and I guess then no one deserves a raise either.

I used to be proud of the company I work for. Everywhere I go, everywhere I shop I looked to see if our sheets/towels are being sold (or used - in hotels). If I saw them, I would point it out to people. I no longer do this. I am trying to be happy to still have a job after all of those who no longer do, but it doesn't do much for me. But, I can't leave in the middle of this huge months-long project either. The man I work for has been my boss (directly and indirectly) since I came to work here and I wouldn't do that to him.

I don't want to start a pity party here, I guess I'm using this to explore my feelings. I like where I'm living, it's a great little town and it's growing (we are getting a car manufacturing plant, it's currently under construction). But, I've often felt bad about not being closer to my wife's family. Her dad is in his 80's (but will probably outlive me) and all of her sisters live in KC (except one who lives 3 hours south in Springfield). The IT market up there isn't the greatest, though and the cost of living is a good bit higher. However - I love living in the south. My mom is from a few hours south of here and my most vivid memories growing up are from when we were here. I love the people, the accent!, the manners (which are disappearing), business with a handshake (when my daughter had her flat tire, I sent her to the place where I buy my tires at and they fixed her up immediately - I went by after work to pay the bill. This same business did me a big favor, I was in Louisiana and my wife called me upset - she had 2 flat tires. I called the tire place, they drove over, pulled her tires, fixed them and took them back to put them on. When I returned to town a week later I went by to pay them. They didn't charge me for all of the extra work they did to go get them and take them back - all based on a phone call from me 1000 miles away.) I see the proprietor around town (as I do for the other places I do business) at lunch or shopping after work and often arrange for things to get done. I have lived in a lot of places and haven't had that experience before living here.

What I really need to do is to find a way to deal with it. If I'm not ready to leave here, then I need to get motivated - they deserve to get 100% of my attention and work while I am accepting their salary. I can reevaluate whether to stay or go after this year when I'm finished with the current projects. Even though I love it here, I've always moved and I enjoy new places and new experiences. Who knows, maybe I will have made peace with the new company and will want to stay. Or maybe we will have gone under and I will be forced to change. Either way, that's the future and now is now.

gotta do what'cha gotta do.

Friday, February 02, 2007


For those waiting with bated breath on the big camera project, it has reached a project milestone. The camera was selected and ordered. I decided on the Canon A710 IS. It was $45 more than my original choice - the Canon A630 - but even though the 710 has a 7.1 mega pixel image sensor (smaller that the 8 mega pixel sensor in the A630) it has image stabilization and a few more features. So, the camera is on it's way. I got a free Canon printer with it, and I bought a 1 gig memory card and a case too. They are due to be delivered next week.

(although this was originally intended as a birthday gift, my lack of fore-planning, imagination, whatever, combined with an unanticipated ailment makes this an out-of-the-blue gift. I don't know if it counts.)

In other news, last night my daughter Kris was coming home along a country road and had a blow-out. It was raining and she was worried about changing the tire, it being on the road-side of the car. I told her to pull the car into the next driveway so she could change it safely. I taught each of our children how to change a tire (along with other basic car maintenance) when they got their vehicles. I made each practice in our driveway. So - I was more worried about her having to change it in the cold rain more that anything else. My wife was getting off work at the same time so she rode out to meet her and to make sure everything was going okay. When my wife got there, a gentleman (in the full sense of the word) had stopped to help my daughter and was just finishing up with the tire. I have his card and am trying to come up with a small gift, some way of showing my (our) appreciation at his stopping in the rain and helping my daughter. Maybe a card with a gift certificate. I dunno, I don't want to insult the guy - I know he didn't do it for renumeration. Maybe just the card.

Chivalry is NOT dead!