What I learned in the Army…

I was drafted into the Army 2 days after I turned 22. I was discharged 1 year, 6 months and 6 days later. Thanks to Tricky Dick’s Vietnamization military draw down, “early outs” were the norm…and the lifers definitely wanted people like me gone.

The copy of Robert Sherrill’s “Military justice is to justice as military music is to music” that I prominently displayed at the head of my bed in the barracks might have had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the fact that Senator Stuart Syminton and Senator Ted Kennedy each contacted my commanding officer in response to letters I sent to DC. Maybe it was because I had the song that’s at the end of this piece “on repeat”…playing it morning, noon and night.  (And playing it LOUD!)

The Army is not too happy about squeaky wheels…and man-o-man, looking back at it, was I ever a squeaky Spec 4!

Apparently the 1/6/6 time commitment was magical as far as being entitled to full VA benefits. (Which are still hopelessly inadequate, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan…) I took full advantage of the GI Bill during my extended time in college after the service…i was on a campus in either Missouri or Oregon for 6 of the next 10 years after my discharge. (I LOVED college….)

While I wouldn’t do it all over again if it was my choice, I don’t regret my military experience in the least. In fact, I’d support required public service for every citizen….there are lots of ways that people could serve their country without being in the military. (Note: for most elected officials these days I don’t consider what they do “public service.” More accurate for far too many would be to call it “disservice”!!)
My time in service was beneficial in several ways:
I grew up. (although 40+ years later, i’m still not all that “mature”…);
I got in good physical shape;
I got very lucky and never went to Vietnam;
I sobered up and dried out. (I was drinking entirely too much before I was drafted…);

And I learned some things.

What did I learn in the Army?

1. Clean as you go.

2. Do it once and do it right and you won’t have to do it twice.

Those are the two most important things that I learned while wearing an OG-107 uniform. That’s it. 2 platitudes. 2 simple phrases.

But don’t get me wrong. Those are both BIG deals. Really. I probably don’t go 48 hours without thinking of one or both of them…and maybe even saying one of the phrases out loud….but usually just to myself.

Oh, I did learn some other stuff.

3. Wear sunscreen…lather up. Especially at the beach. (“Breaking starch” when you’re blistered from a weekend at Myrtle Beach is VERY unpleasant!)

4. Marijuana is not a gateway drug. If there were more potheads and less alcoholics, the planet would be a much nicer place.

5. This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for shooting, this is for fun. (I also learned the definition of a buddy…)

5a. Have lots of fun.

5b. Listen to lots of music.

(Some people might look at the 5’s as “sex, drugs and rock&roll. Just sayin’)

6. I learned a lot about myself. (The learning continues…)

All the lessons from my Army days have people and/or stories attached to them.

Maybe someday I’ll tell some of ’em.


Epiphany #1

It was spring of the year 2000. The world had survived the Y2K scare…amazingly using a 2 digit year hadn’t brought the planet to its knees.

We had taken a family vacation to Arizona during the December school break to evaluate AZ as a place to move. There had been some executive level changes at the niche consulting firm where I worked that were going to be tough to live with, i.e. my new boss was not only a roadblock to any career advancement for me. He was also more than a bit forgetful, on top of being a terrible listener, generally clueless and a grade A butt-kisser….not to mention the misguided politics that he regularly spewed.

Paula wasn’t happy with the gray, drizzly winters in Portland. She wanted to live somewhere warmer; we had talked about moving somewhere with more sunshine. I suggested southern Orygun or east of the Cascades, near Bend. She wasn’t interested in staying in OR. After our 10 or 11 days in AZ, checking out Flagstaff, Sedona, Phoenix and Tuscon, we weren’t ready to move there. We weren’t writing the state off either.

Heavy inertia was gonna keep us in Tigard for awhile. How long was unclear. The money and the culture and most of the people at S&A (except doofus) were top notch.
The original “Who wants to be a Millionaire” with Regis Philben had first aired in mid-August, 1999. It, along with Seinfeld, provided conversation fodder in the office. I have always liked games, and I had made several attempts to get on the show. There were a number of hoops to jump through, some involving luck; others involved skill.

I got close to making the final cut a couple of times. Close, but no stogie. A couple of times a week, Joseph and I would sit together and watch Regis and the contestants. It was great fun. I heard “Dad, you should get on this show!!” a lot. It didn’t happen, but not for my lack of trying…

And more than a couple a times a week, his behavior would have me saying to myself, “I gotta get outta here…this 10 year old is gonna kill me or drive me crazy!!” Joseph was a handful at that age.
About 6 or 7 months after the show had been on the air, Joseph and I had a conversation in his room one Saturday afternoon. I have always referred to it as “The Epiphany.”

At breakfast Joseph asked if we could shoot some fireworks off in the cul-de-sac later that evening. The weather prediction was for a nice day for a late February. At that time, I always kept a decent sized supply of fireworks on hand.

My neighbor across the way and his 12 year old were like me and Joseph. The four of us liked to blow things up and make noise. I told Joseph, “if you have a good day today, I’ll see if Jim and Ryan want to meet us out front after dark to light up the sky and get loud.”

I never had to track Jim down.
It was mid Saturday afternoon, and Joseph had been sent upstairs to his room for the third time. Now this piece I’m writing is NOT about him being an oppositional, defiant child. It is not about my parenting skills, or lack thereof. It is not about what Joseph had said or done to warrant another timeout. If I had been keeping a journal back then, I would be able to provide more detail. And probably more accuracy and specificity. But I’m betting that the following dialogue is very close to what transpired when I opened the door to his bedroom, walked in and sat down next to him on the bottom bunk.

Me: At breakfast we talked about shooting off fireworks with Jim and Ryan. What do you think?
Joseph: I don’t think it’s happening.

Me: You’re right. Why do you think it’s not happening?
Joseph: Because you and her keep sending me up here!!

{I repeat: “…this piece I’m writing is NOT about him being an oppositional, defiant child.” So let’s move on to the meat of the pow-wow….}

Me: You want to play a game?
Joseph: Sure. Can we go outside? I’ve been in this room all day…

Me: Let’s play our own version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire”….but we’ll play it right here. How does that sound?
Joseph: Who is gonna ask the questions…you or me?

Me: Me. And just like on the show, the questions will get progressively harder. OK?
Joseph: Sure. Ask me anything.

Me: How many days in a week?
Joseph: (grumbling at my audacity to ask this no brainer!!) Seven…of course. Duh.

Me: Buddy, they’ll get harder…our game is gonna be just like the one that Regis plays. Man-o-man….you gotta lighten up!

Me: How many weeks in a year?
Joseph: (facial contortions at getting another softball…) Well, everybody knows that. Fifty-two.

Me: How many days in a year?
Him: 365, except in a leap year and then it’s 366. (with a smirk…)

Me: How many years do you think you’ll live?
Him: About 75.
Me: Good answer! (I was hoping he’d get close…and I liked that my 10 year-old son did.)

Me: This is the last question. How many days do you think you’ll live?
Him: About a million. (That woulda been the answer if I had scripted it!)

Me: Nope. Do the math.
Him: What do you mean “nope!” And what do you mean “do the math.”

Me: So you told me 365 days in a year. And 75 years is a good answer for how long someone will live. So if you have those two facts, how would you figure out how many days you’re going to live?
Him: I’d multiply them together.
Me: Exactly…do the math. Here’s a pencil and paper.

He banged it out. 27,375 days.

Then I told him the point of the exercise.

“Joseph, that was fun. Think about this: You haven’t lived six-sevenths of your days, so you should have another another 23 or 24 thousand days. I hope most of them are going to be good days. But some of them are going to be bad days….you’ll have plans to do something outside and the weather will be bad; grandma might get sick or die…after all, she’ll be turning 75 at the end of March; maybe you’ll be sick yourself; or it might be a bad day like today. This day hasn’t been much fun for any of us, and one reason is because of the things you did and said. Joseph, you don’t want to be responsible for ruining your own days. I’m going back downstairs now. I’ll come get you when it’s dinner time. Please think about trying to make each day a good one. I wish we were going to be setting off fireworks tonight. Let’s make it happen one day soon.”

Now for MY Epiphany.

The “game” played out like I wanted it to….for Joseph, although it didn’t have the impact on him that I had hoped for. But as I walked downstairs I thought about how the game we had just played applied to me too…and the fact that I’d already lived about 70% of my allotted days. I pushed the numbers around in my head and came to the realization that I only had something like 8,200 days left on the planet.

I didn’t like my boss or my long-term prospects working for him.
My spouse wanted to live somewhere warmer.
I loved Portland (and I still do), but the long winters with the gray and drizzle can be challenging.

I walked into the family room and told Paula: “Joseph and I had a good talk. He’s staying in his room until we have dinner ready. And I’m gonna see what kind of severance package I can negotiate. You need to start looking for a job in a warmer city.”

I had a great relationship with the HR and Finance folks and I knew I could get good, confidential feedback from them before I submitted my resignation. It worked out well for me. She found a job teaching in Tampa.

She and the kids were there when school started in August. I stayed in Tigard to sell the house. After the sale I did a solo cross country drive…without a cell phone. I spent time with some friends that I hadn’t seen in many years. I did my part for the close on the purchase of our house in Tampa (i.e. signed and initialed a stack of papers) while I was staying with a friend in Denver. I took a break during the drive and flew to NJ to interview for a job, which turned out to be the last W-2 position I ever had. There are some stories there…but they’ll have to wait for another day.

A couple of things hadn’t happened at the time of “The Epiphany.”

1. Warren Zevon’s last appearance on Letterman came a couple of years after we had moved back to Floriduh. I saw that entire show in late October of 2002 while sitting in a hotel room in Virginia Beach. Zevon was the only guest that night and he played several songs. One line from the show has stuck with me. When asked how the cancer diagnosis had affected his work and outlook, Zevon said, “You put more value in every minute. … It’s more valuable now. You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.”

That last line, along with Alfred E. Neuman’s “What, me worry?” are my mantras these days. The latter since I was barely a teen-ager, and the former since that night over 13 years ago.

2. Kris Allen didn’t release his cover of The Script’s “Live like we’re dying” until late September of 2009.
“Yeah we gotta start lookin’ at the hands of the time we’ve been given here
This all we got then we gotta start thinkin’ it
Every second counts on a clock that’s tickin’
Gotta live like we’re dying oh
We only got 86,400 seconds in a day…”

What did I learn from Epiphany #1 that day in 2000, from Warren Zevon in 2002, from listening to Kris Allen in 2009, and from subsequent events? I have to keep re-learning it all the time….

Life is precious. Enjoy every minute you have and enjoy every bite of every sandwich. Tell the people who you love that you love them. And be. Be kind. Be nice.

Just Be.


Romance is a funny thing…

Why is there a bromance?

From my perspective, Joe Jackson’s lyrics nail the romance between the media and Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator of the Alabama football team:
“Is she really going out with him?
Cause if my eyes don’t deceive me,
There’s something going wrong around here…”

I just don’t get it. It’s a love affair that I find baffling. There is something going wrong around here.

Another lyric from the song: “They say that looks don’t count for much…” In the case of Lanie, the facts (historical and current) and logic don’t seem to “count for much.”

Late in the 1/11/16 championship game versus previously unbeaten Clemson, with the end result pretty much determined, unless the Tigers pulled off a couple of miracles, we witnessed the two talking heads standing in the booth spewing nonsense about Lane Kiffin “redeeming himself with this win.” Say WHAT?

1. The key play in the championship game was the perfectly executed onside kick. (This play was NOT called by the offensive coordinator.)
2. The next play that Nick Saban, the head coach, credited with making the difference was the 95 yard kickoff return that put them up by 12 mid-way through the 4th quarter. (Nope…not called by Lanie either.)
3. A couple of long pass plays were probably called by Kiffin…but they only worked because of total defensive breakdowns. In all honesty, if an old codger like me had been as wide open as O.J. Howard I would’ve scored on those plays. Clemson’s defense was a mess on some critical plays.
4. The Heisman trophy winner had 3 Tds on 36 carries for 158 yards. My Dad, who never-ever watches football, would know enough after watching Derrick Henry for 2 plays to say “give the ball to that guy again….and again.” You don’t have to be much of an offensive football genius to know what to do when you have that offensive line and a running back like that guy.

I don’t watch all that much football anymore, but I have seen several Alabama games each of the last few seasons for a couple of reason. (1) Let’s just call them personal reasons…some people in my life who root against them, and some who root for them. (2) The Crimson Tide keeps competing for and winning conference and national championships.

I’ll admit it. I don’t know that much about football. But I do know what the facts say about Kiffin. His record as a head coach is less than stellar. And as an offensive coordinator, the facts don’t support him having all that big an impact on Alabama’s offense statistically.

All the announcers (not just the two from the championship game) have probably forgotten more than I ever knew, or ever will know about football. (Well, that’s not quite true…for some reason Brent Musburger is still getting paid to ramble on incoherently??)

But why are they so enamored with this guy…I’d really like to know. He’s the only offensive coordinator that announcers constantly drool over. Thank goodness Gary Danielson wasn’t called the game…he can’t get an Alabama series without saying Lanie’s name.

Before coming to Alabama, Lanie had been a failure as a head coach for the Oakland Raiders, the Tennessee Volunteers and the USC Trojans with records of 5-15, 7-6 and 28-15, respectively. (yep, winning only 63% of your games at USC will get you fired mid-season.)

In the 3 years before he came to Alabama the team was 36-4, winning 90% of their games and 2 national championships. The past two years, they are 26-3 (89.6%) with 1 championship.

Of the 126 teams in 2015, Alabama was 30th in points per game and 45th in total yards per game this season. In the 2 seasons before Kiffin arrived in Tuscaloosa, they were 17th and 12th in points; 31st and 33rd in total yards…sliding in both points and total yards since he arrived.

This media fascination with Kiffin is a puzzle. Last night, as in every Alabama game that I have watched, we hear his name and the camera is focused on him nearly as much as it is on Saban. But what about the offensive coordinator on the other teams who play them? I don’t think I heard the name of Clemson co-offensive coordinators even once last night. Lanie seems to have lots of buddies in the booth…but why?

That’s my rant. I’m hoping that Lane Kiffin is the next head coach for the Oregon Ducks. I’d love to see their points and yards per game drop like they have at Alabama as he works his magic.   😉

Here’s a good tune:


More music memories….

First-time-tunes…continued. I left off in 1976. It looks like there were 25 years when I don’t seem to have experienced any “first time tunes.” Really??

I certainly never stopped listening to music, but I did mostly stay in my musical comfort zone and listened mostly to “old favorites” during those years. Those were “work hard, play hard” years, coupled with lots of “family issues.” Most of those 25 years are a bit of a blur….maybe that’s why I don’t have any distinctive memories of hearing a song for the first time?
When my marriage finally imploded in early 2011, I packed up a few possessions and shipped them to my sister’s place on Table Rock Lake. I stayed with her and her husband for just over 3 months, and then it was time to move on.

But I did hear a song during my time at their place that was perfect for where I was at the time. I’ve never been a country music fan, although I have always liked some artists with a touch of country, e.g. Poco, John Hiatt, John Fogerty, Wet Willie. I never liked twangy, and I don’t like “crying in my beer” songs.

I was down on the dock with my brother-in-law and another fellow who has a slip on the same 6-slip boat dock. The radio reception isn’t all that great, so we took what we could get on the hot day in mid-July. It was a toasty day, and we were a bit toasted. I had heard the name of this guy who was singing, but I’ve never listened to anything of his other than this song, and I probably never will. In addition to not liking twangy, I’m also not a fan of people who wear cowboy hats. (This probably has something to do with the narcissist who controlled the franchised business that I invested in….and the reason I always will spell the 28th state as “Texass.”)

Nobody had done me wrong. But as I approached my 63rd birthday, there was no doubt that it was time to leave nothing behind. To take to heart what Warren Zevon said about enjoying every sandwich. To be thankful and to make the best of every new day. To sing along with George Strait’s “Here for a good time.”
Sometimes I love the lyrics of a song, even though they bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to what has happened, or is happening, to me.

My marriage was over. My ex and I weren’t talking. It wasn’t ugly…it was just over. There were no angry words exchanged. No animosity. Nothing mean. What was said was short and sweet: “I’m not happy. You’re not happy. It’s over. Time to move on.”

So this next FTT, another country song that I first heard while down on the boat dock with Don and Randy, was not a reflection of my current or past reality. But I’ll always remember the first time I heard Taylor Swift belting out “Mean,” while those two sat and drank a cold adult beverage and I paced the dock. “…someday I’ll be living in a big old city, and all you’re ever gonna be is mean…why you gotta be so mean?”
In late 2012 I had heard of Kings of Leon. I had read about them in Rolling Stone. I knew they grew up in Oklahoma. I knew that they, like me, grew up as poor preacher’s kids. My dad’s beliefs were in many ways very different than those of their father, but both were preachers. If I had ever heard a song of theirs, I wasn’t aware of it.

The radio wasn’t the only option on that day in early December, but for some reason that’s what I was listening to in my apartment. The radio stations are pretty lame in Springfield, MO; I was listening to 106.7 “The River.” When this song started playing I stopped whatever it was I was doing on my laptop and cranked up the volume. It was a deja vu experience. I felt like I already knew this song, but I’m not sure how? It had been released almost 5 years earlier, but I hadn’t listened to much radio in years (other than when I was hanging out on the boat dock with Don and/or Randy).

When I listened to the radio during the 2000’s it had usually been with my kids or my ex. Before I left Tampa, Kings of Leon most likely wouldn’t have played much on the stations they liked: hip-hop for Caroline, gangsta rap for Joseph, and sports talk for the ex. (Their radio preferences are listed in rank order for me….i’d listen to almost anything before sports talk.)

It was probably a combination of the beat and the lead singer’s voice that caught my attention that December day. But it was also the lyrics.

For me, it’s almost always the lyrics. There are some songs that I like a lot and I don’t have a clue as to the lyrics, or I might not care that the lyrics make no sense or have no meaning for me…I still like the song for whatever reason. But on that day, the lyrics that caught my attention were “…I could use somebody.…someone like you, and all you know, and how you speak….I hope it’s gonna make you notice…someone like me…”

Maybe it’s because I had met someone. I was smitten. I also knew that I could use somebody…somebody to be my playmate.

After the song finished on the radio I found a clip of it on YouTube and listened to it a few times. I listened to more K.O.L. songs that day. I bought some of their CDs. I went to 2 of their concerts over the next 16 months. Or should I say “we went…” My playmate and me, that is.
About a month earlier Shelly had posted a video clip of her and her oldest grandchild on Facebook. It was a brief snippet of them singing a song I’d never heard before. It was a catchy tune, but I never thought much of it until a bit later when we were at her son’s place and this song came on…and 6-year-old Casedy started singing it again. So did Casedy’s dad.

This time I got it…this wasn’t just a kid’s tune. It was a song for all of us.

Almost a year and a half later in Columbia, MO we saw Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros singing that song: “Home.” Lots of things had changed in that time…for the band and for me and Shelly. The female singer, who played a key role in “Home” and several of their other tunes had left the band. Shelly and I had been living together for awhile…there are a number of songs that have a “Shelly meaning” for me. K.O.L.’s “Use somebody”; Jackson Browne’s “Stunning mystery companion”; and “Home” are just three of them. “Holy moley, me oh my, You’re the apple of my eye…Home is wherever I’m with you…Home is when I’m alone with you…”
Back in late 2011 I discovered house concerts…what a great concept. So far, the only house concerts I’ve ever attended are at The Rock House in Reeds Spring…it’s a great venue, produced by 2 great people: Jeanette and Bruce. I’ve heard lots of songs for the first time at The Rock House, but one of them certainly belongs on my “first-time-tunes” list.

It was at the 3rd house concert I ever attended. November 12, 2011. A couple of guys who are in a band called The Rainmakers were the evening’s artists. Bob and Jeff had released a CD a couple of years earlier. The full band had released a reunion album called “25 years on” earlier in 2011. The band had been popular in the early 80’s. Newsday had called them “America’s Next Great Band”. There had been articles about them in Newsweek, Rolling Stone, USA Today and others.

I had never heard of them…at least consciously. Subsequently I realized that I had seen some of their videos in the early days of MTV…which I watched a lot in the early 80s, back when MTV aired nothing but videos. (What do they broadcast now?? I honestly don’t have a clue….mostly reality silliness, isn’t it?)

It was a packed house that November night. Jam packed. And deservedly so. How did the world miss out on this band? These guys are the real deal. Smart lyrics. Very smart lyrics. Maybe sometimes too smart, at least for some people. Their career was sidetracked when this KC-based band had the audacity in 1986 to release a song titled “Rockin’ at the T-Dance” which referred to the disaster when a skywalk collapsed at the Hyatt.

When they play near me, whether it be the front man solo, Bob and Jeff at The Rock House, or the 4-piece band, I will be there….for sure. I’ll want to hear this first-time-tune “Like Dogs” every time I see them, but if I don’t hear it I know it will still be a great experience. Have I told you that this band is the real deal?

Back in November of 2011 I was dating a woman who loved her dog more than she did most people, other than her daughters….well, at least 2 of her 3 girls anyway. I’m not much of a pet person. I’m OK with dogs and cats, but I never have had a pet, and I don’t see that changing. I am simply too irresponsible and too impetuous; that’s a story for another day. But because of my time with this woman and her daughter who lived nearby, and their dogs, I had developed a deeper appreciation for canines.

And even if I hadn’t, the first verse of this song hit me right between the eyes because of how directly it spoke about someone I’ve known for a long, long, very long time. “You’re the kind of man who seems to leave a trail behind him of friends who used to be so close, but then in some concocted scene they done you wrong, and so you write them off and bye-bye they are gone….”

The person who immediately sprang to my mind has never heard “Like Dogs”, and if he had he is such a narcissist that he wouldn’t really hear it. Oh well…

People that I know, or have known, spring to mind for each of that song’s other 3 verses. I’m not alone. Before I heard this song for the first time the singer-songwriter (Bob Walkenhorst….btw, he’s the real deal!) told the story about how this song came to be. He also relayed the fact that after it was released he received a few calls from people asking him if the song was about them.
There are some first-time-tunes that I haven’t listed.

I expect to have more FTTs in my future, in addition to the ones I’ve written about here. I could even include a couple of more songs from that night in mid-November, 2011: “the wages of sin” and “government cheese” have lines that are stuck in my head.

When music and lyrics and people and places come together it’s a very good thing. First-time-tunes are a very special thing.

“Here for a good time” by George Strait

“Mean” by Taylor Swift

“Use somebody” by Kings of Leon

“Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

“Like Dogs” by The Rainmakershttps:

“The wages of sin” by The Rainmakers

“Government cheese” by The Rainmakers


Jackpot hijinks

When I posted my Facebook status yesterday, January 6, 2016, I was pretty sure that a good friend’s reply was right on.

I wrote: “OK…alright…i know that the odds of winning are 1 in 292,201,338. But you can’t win if you don’t play. It was either a couple of bottles of two-buck-chuck, or this: Powerball_010616

Charles replied: “Should have bought at least one bottle, so if you win you can celebrate, or when you lose, you can drown your sorrows.”

I teasingly gave him grief for the word choices, i.e. the “if” and the “when.” It turns out that he was right when he said “when,” but not just for me….nobody won the jackpot. They’re predicting it will be the largest in US history at $675M on saturday.
In the early days of lotto, when Illinois had one of the bigger games, I was working at Andersen in Portland, frequently traveling to WHQ in Chicago and the Training Center in St. Charles. A friend and I sometimes talked about what we’d do if one of us won the state’s lottery grand prize. These conversations usually happened after one of us had just taken the direct UAL flight back to PDX from o’hare.

One recurring theme was how we’d quit Andersen.

The preferred option was to be out at a client when we found out we had the winning number. We’d excuse our self from the client meeting and place a call to the office. After pleasantries with whoever was on the switchboard, we’d ask for Harry (the managing partner), hoping that Marilyn would answer. “…could you give him a message. I’m quitting effective immediately….just pack up my office and ship everything to my house. Tell Harry that i said thanks for everything, and good luck. Be sure to tell him this: Go Beavers!!”  If we happened to be at a client we liked, we’d go back to the meeting. If not, we’d just vanish.

Time passed. We had the above conversation a few more times…talking about what we’d do with the money, and how big the prize would have to be for us to make that call and walk away. John was now based in Nashville, and had been for awhile. I was in the depths of hell at AATT-whatever (they changed the name often…) in Sarasota.

I don’t know many times we’d had these brief lotto fantasy chats as part of longer calls. Then one mid-afternoon on a spring day John called and he got right to it.

The first words I heard: “Steve, we’ve both been wrong about this all along.”

Say what??

“Really John? What the heck are we talking about?”

“Steve, suppose right now I get a call from Jack in Atlanta.” (it coulda been bill in nyc…those specifics don’t matter here.) “He tells me that I have to be at a client in new york for a breakfast meeting.”

“I tell my secretary to get me a flight and a hotel. I call Betsy and tell her to pack a bag and get it to the airport asap. And then I head to BNA in a panic, and so does she. Fuck Me.”

And we’re just now about to get to the best part!!

“You asked what I was talking about? I’m telling you how to quit this chicken-shit operation… We DON’T quit….repeat: we Do Not Quit. Steve, if I’d really won that 66 million here’s how it plays out when I get that call telling me to head to NYC. I see how far I can push the bastards.”

“My secretary and Betsy don’t have to do a thing…well, Betsy will have to listen to what went down….and you’ll get to hear about it too….but nobody will have to make any hurried reservations, pack any bags, or rush around. I’d tell Jack that I’d really love to be in New York in the morning, but it’s not gonna happen, what with Angie having a soccer game this evening, and me having something to do with Julie in the morning.”

“I’d tell him I could be on the phone for an hour or two tomorrow, but I can’t be there in the morning. I’d tell him that next Tuesday looked good. And then i’d see how many times I could pull this shit before they shitcan me….”

I damned near fell out of my chair….it really was an LOL experience. I’m chiming in a little while he talks, but I’m laughing too hard to say much.

If I had 1,000 bucks for every time I’ve laughed at the thought of that call from John, I’d for sure be driving a nicer car than the one I bought on e-bay six years ago.

Btw, whenever we had any future chats about lotteries it usually included some speculation about how jack or bill or whoever would have reacted when we laughed as they were being all serious when they finally got around to terminating us. After we stopped laughing, we would begin negotiating a generous severance package, not letting them know about our good fortune.

I haven’t had a W-2 job in a dozen years, so I haven’t had a job to quit for awhile. I seldom buy a lottery ticket, and only then if the prize is huge. So this fantasy hasn’t been relevant for a long time.

But sometimes you just gotta dream. And sometimes you have to think about good times gone by….and laugh out loud.

Be.  Just BE.

The magic of music…and memories

I’ve loved listening to music as long as I can remember, but growing up in a conservative baptist home I had to sneak around to listen to my music of choice: rock and roll. Surprisingly I don’t remember any “first time tunes” from the late 50’s when I was clandestinely listening to Top 40 countdowns on St. Louis’ KXOK.

During my lifetime I have listened to thousands and thousands of songs, and I did hear each and every one of them a first time. Some of these songs would make my “desert island list.” Most of them wouldn’t. But the memory of the first time I heard some of them is list-worthy. And it’s more than just the song. It’s the experience associated with hearing my “First Time Tunes.” FTTs.

Perhaps it’s because my “first time tunes” are a combination of the music and the place, and often the FTT also involves the person I was with at the time. There is always a lyric component too.

The most distant first-time-tune memory is from a Sunday night in late November, 1964. I was with my high school friend Robert Rice, heading south on Springfield, MO’s Boonville Avenue. We were heading for the city’s square with the radio playing one Beatles tune after another. But the cabin of his Dad’s Oldsmobile was soon taken over by Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” That’s exactly where we were headed…to the downtown square. We drove around a couple of more hours that evening hoping they’d play the tune again. They did. We loved it. It probably happened a few more times during the next several months, “Downtown” on the car’s radio while Robert and I were cruising toward the square…or wherever, but I’ll always remember that first time. “…forget all your troubles, forget all your cares…go downtown, where all the lights are bright…”

There isn’t another first-time-tunes memory until the spring of 1966. There were 4 of us in the car. We turned left and headed up the little hill into the Monett, MO city park. 2 guys and 2 girls. Not a double date. Just four friends cruising town on a Saturday night. A very middle class seating arrangement: guys in front, gals in back. I don’t remember much else from that night. I know who was driving us around in his dad’s car, and I can only remember who one of the 2 girls was. I did have a crush on her. But there was not a “Groovy kind of love” with her that night, or any future night. The Mindbenders were singing the song by that title that night, after Wayne Fontana had left the band. I don’t know when I heard the song the last time, and I never listened to the Phil Collins cover. That spring night in western Missouri, the first time I heard that song it had me shivering and quivering.

The August before I left home for college, several of us were hanging out in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen at the corner of Central and Cleveland in Monett. A song that summed up the weather we’d been having, but not the place where we were, caught my attention. Monett was, and is, small town mid-America, but “Summer in the City” was perfect for that place and time. It was a hot time that night, in lots of ways. Don’t you know it’s a pity that I can’t remember more of that night…at least nothing that I want to share….

Nine or ten months earlier a song by the same band, The Lovin’ Spoonful, grabbed me, and it hasn’t let go till this day. It was a Sunday night. It was in an Oldsmobile. But it wasn’t Robert Rices’s dad’s, and it wasn’t in Springfield. It was Buz Tennison’s dad’s car, sitting in the parking lot of the Temple Baptist Church. My dad was the pastor; Buz’s dad “Doc” was the song leader. The song was “Do you believe in magic?”

That evening I did. Today, I still do: believe in magic…believe music can free your soul…believe that there is magic in music.

I was living at my grandma’s, attending junior college, when I heard “For what it’s worth” by Buffalo Springfield for the first time. Actually I saw it for the first time. The tv show was called “Where the action is.” Paul Revere and the Raiders were on the show often….I don’t have a first time memory of any of their songs, but I always liked to hear “Kicks.” I only remember seeing the Springfield that one time on “Action.” I’ll never forget that show, that day. I’ll always remember Neil Young’s jacket. Later I got one like it myself with the fringe. Something was happening…here, there and everywhere. It wasn’t clear to me then, and it isn’t now. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll always love everything about that song.

The first time I heard the Beatles “White Album” was just after Thanksgiving in 1968. It was during a weekend in Kansas City, where a friend of mine had recently moved to pursue his desire to become a pharmacist…which was just a stepping stone on his way to becoming a radiologist. I wasn’t sober for much (any?) of that weekend. Contributing to this was my friend’s offer to “try a few of these…” We listened to the White Album a lot that weekend. The one song that I remember the most, the one that played in my head when the turntable wasn’t spinning (but my head was): “Rocky Raccoon.” That album got mixed reviews at the time, but is now considered one of the greatest of all time. I doubt that “Rocky Raccoon” would be picked by any music critic soon after release, or now, as the best tune on the album. Not by me either. Today my favorite songs from the 30 on the album would be “While my guitar gently weeps” or “Happiness is a warm gun” or maybe a couple of others. But I don’t remember the first time I heard them. I do remember sitting on the floor, drinking an 8 ounce can of Schlitz Malt Liquor when the spoken word intro began. It hit me right between the eyes.

A lot of things happened in September of 1970.

George Harrison released “My sweet lord.” I don’t remember the first time I heard it.

I was drafted and sent to Ft Leonard Wood for basic training.

Jimi Hendrix died. I do remember the first time I heard him, but that didn’t have a lasting impact on me like the song I heard that day in late September standing in the evening mess hall line. It made an impression like almost no other FTT. As we stood in the line to eat after a long day of being physically challenged and mentally indoctrinated, the juke box at the PX was blaring. Many of us in line ended up in Vietnam, and some of us in body bags. Probably all of us expected to die for the ill-conceived war. I got lucky and never left the states.

It wasn’t the first song that I heard that day while standing in the mess hall line, but it’s the one I’ll always remember: “War” by Edwin Starr. It’s also the one that stuck in my head while, and after, we ate. I have no idea what we had to eat that September afternoon; I probably couldn’t have told you 24 hours later. And I don’t know when I learned who was singing this song. The person feeding the juke box played this song repeatedly. I heard it a couple of times that first day, and other times while in basic training.

What is the song “War” good for? Absolutely everything. Say it again.

It was after I had been discharged from the U.S. Army after my stint of 1 year, 6 months, and 6 days…thanks to the “Vietnamization” push for early outs in 1972. We were leaving Farmington, headed north. Not sure to where; me & Jennifer. (Wonder whatever happened to all the letters we wrote? I know what happened to us soon thereafter, and to her eventually, but not where she is buried.) The radio was on KSHE.

It was the first time I ever heard my favorite singer-songwriter. Jackson Browne was singing “Doctor my eyes” as we merged onto Highway 67. The lyrics of that song grabbed more than any of my other first time tunes. KSHE played a couple of other songs from his debut album that night too, and while I’ve listened to that album many, many times, I couldn’t tell you what the other songs from that night were. I hope to never awaken from that dream and never to lose that memory.

After the Army, I enrolled at Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau. I was living in a dorm-like apartment at the edge of campus. The apartment had 2 bedrooms, each with bunk beds, a tiny kitchen, and an even smaller bathroom. This tiny place was designed for 4 residents. I started the semester with a roommate, but fortunately he dropped out of school and I had the crackerbox apartment to myself.

I often spun vinyl while studying, but usually I had the radio on for background noise. When this next song came on, it snared me immediately. The voice…the lyrics….the beat. I knew the song wasn’t about anybody I knew, that it wasn’t about me, or anybody like me. It was almost 40 years until the speculation ended regarding the subject of the song. But that never really mattered to me. Not then, in late 1972. Not in all the years that followed. All I know is that I was out of my seat, cranking up the funky little receiver so that I could not only hear, but also feel that song: “You’re so vain.”

It was about a year later, in the fall of 1973. I was still in Cape Girardeau. My hair had gotten longer….lots longer. I had met several people who had me thinking more critically about lots of things. The country was a mess, thanks to Tricky Dick Nixon and his band of henchmen. My favorite authors were Hunter S. Thompson, Jean Paul Sartre and Kahlil Gibran. I was burning the candle at both ends.

I was thinking about leaving the USA, but I was dirt poor. My favorite singer was Jackson Browne; he still is. He had released a new album, and I had to have it. My live in girlfriend (later my wife) was at her waitress job when I listened to it the first time, sitting alone in our shabby little 2 room apartment, where we slept on a pull out couch. The first few lines of the title track, which was the last song of the album, said exactly where I was at the time: ready to leave with the light of the morning. “For Everyman” was sad and true, but hopeful.

This next song had been out awhile before I ever heard it, or at least before it registered with me. It was early in the BiCentennial year, of that I’m sure. It wasn’t on KSHE, and I’m sure of that too, but I don’t know what station it was. It was most likely KXOK, since I was in my 1972 VW bug, which only had an AM radio. We were on Hiway 47, somewhere just south of St. Clair, heading to the Lead Belt for a visit to each of our parents. I was working as a high school math teacher at Union, MO…a short lived career for me.

The title of the song wasn’t spelled the same as the name of cute student who I thought of when I first heard it, and who I can still see in my mind’s eye when I happen to hear this song on Pandora. I’ve never owned any music in any form by Pure Prarie League. But their song “Amie” made me smile that Friday afternoon in 1976, and still makes me smile whenever I hear it.

Same time frame….early 1976. Same scenario, i.e. I might have heard the song before but it hadn’t registered. Same highway, but this time on 47 between Washington and Union, MO. In a VW, but this time it was her’s and the FM radio was on KSHE, on the way to work Union (Mo) High School. The song took me to another place that morning. That was a very good thing, as that high school teaching thing and me weren’t a great fit. I would have welcomed being flown away to the bright side of the moon, or any place on the other side for that matter. The song? Gary Wright’s “Dream weaver.”

Lots of years passed between between that song and my next “first time tune.” I moved to Oregon later in 1976, to Florida in 1989, back to OR and then again to FL. I never stopped listening to music. I heard lots of songs for the first time. I attended LOTS of concerts over the years, especially when I was in my “work hard, play hard” period in Orygun before transferring to Sarasota. But I never had another musical experience that stuck with me as a FTT until 2011. I was living in Missouri again….something I never expected to happen.

I’ll write about those more recent FTTs, and my return to MO, another day. But right now, I’m gonna crank up the stereo and enjoy the day….and the magic of music.

“Downtown” by Petula Clark.


“Groovy kind of love” by The Mindbenders


“Summer in the city” by The Lovin’ Spoonful


“Do you believe in magic” by The Lovin’ Spoonful


“For what it’s worth” by Buffalo Springfield


“Rocky racoon” by The Beatles


“War” by Edwin Starr


“Doctor my eyes” by Jackson Browne


“You’re so vain” by Carly Simon


“For everyman” by Jackson Browne


“Amie” by Pure Prarie League


“Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright


1,164 days…and counting

Over the years I have made numerous attempts at keeping a journal. It was always short-lived. Only a couple of times did it even last for double-digit days. All that changed as of October 26, 2012.

My first entry in my current journal was written the day after Shelly and I made our first road trip to Kansas City. We had met for the first time a few weeks before that, and I was intrigued by her…and her daily journaling. My journal began: “this will be page 1 of my journal. I need to start writing every (or at least “most every”) day. We’ll see how I do. Discipline is not my strong suit.”

Counting today, it’s been one-thousand-one-hundred-sixty-four days for this attempt at keeping a journal. Not too shabby for someone with as little personal discipline as me. Keeping a digital journal has several advantages. The three biggest ones: (1) I can easily search the document when a question comes up, e.g. “what variety of lettuce did I plant…and when did I plant it?” or “what did we do on 1/2/2013?”; (2) I can copy&paste to/from the document; and (3) I can read what I wrote!! My penmanship was never very good…and now it is mostly illegible. I often can’t decipher an item or two on my grocery list…

I have had many other colossal fails in my past, in addition to diary disasters. I’m only gonna write about one of them, depending on how you look at what follows…

I knew I had no chance at being successful with New Year’s resolutions, so I never/ever wrote a list. That sorta changed on page 1 of my journal, 1164 days ago…and counting.

I didn’t call them “resolutions,” they weren’t very specific or measurable as written, and what I wrote was pretty generic: “With page 1 of this journal, I pledge to watch less tv, but probably more movies…listen to more music….read more….get in better shape….go to bed earlier. That’s a long enough list.”

How have I done re the “pledges”?

I do watch much less live tv than I used to. I very seldom watch “news” or “talking heads” on television. Years ago I used to spend a couple of hours a day, and even more on Sunday, watching news shows. Cutting that out has been one of the smartest things I’ve ever done….I don’t miss the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. I also have significantly reduced how much time I waste watching sports on TV, almost eliminating pro sports.

I check out lots of DVDs from the library, and I can do some serious binge watching. Not being subjected to commercials, or having to wait a week for the next episode, are just 2 benefits of the DVD approach to watching a tv series.

I have always listened to lots of music. Since leaving Floriduh in 2011, I have listened to more new music than I had in a couple of decades. There is lots of good stuff out there. Lots of shitty stuff too. It’s the rare week that I don’t pick up music CDs at the library. (Note: I expect that I will have a LOT of blog posts in the future that are music based.)

Reading? I’ve always been a reader. These days, mostly I read magazines. I have subscriptions to 6 different publications. Then there are daily Facebook and Yahoo news feeds. Often a book going too, but not always.

Get in better shape? The question mark pretty much sums it up….colossal fail. 10K steps a day is not enough. I need to do more than walk. But exercise? I’ll start tomorrow. 😉

Go to bed earlier? Shelly does go to bed early, and I almost always meet her there to chat, cuddle, and yada yada. But I almost always get up and head to the living room after she dozes off; several hours later I’m back in the bedroom….often after 1 am.
“That’s a long enough list” is no longer true, as I have more new pledges.

1. Write at least 1000 words in my journal every day. (any blog post will count toward that day’s target.)
2. Spell check each day’s journal entry before I save the file. (I hate doing a search for something later and seeing words like “vareity” and “letucce.”)
3. Nothing to eat after 8 pm. (a challenge for me, as I do like to graze….)
4. I will do my damnedest to never bring up the name of a certain judgmental, angry, controlling, vindictive, negative person. I may, or may not, reply when his name is brought up in conversation. Life is too short to waste precious moments. This particular person is now “he-who-must-not-be-named.”
For 2016, I’m also gonna make my original pledges more specific, and somewhat measurable.

TV. I do have a guilty pleasure: noon with the hottest judge on television, marilyn milian and “the people’s court.” I’m not giving that up, nor do I plan to stop watching the Daily or the Nightly shows. I’ll watch sports selectively…and I will watch lots of March Madness. In an election year i’m sure I’ll find myself watching some “news.” But i’ll think twice before I turn the telly on….and won’t think twice about turning it off.

Music. I want to listen to at least 2 new CDs every week. they don’t have to be new releases in 2016. just new to me. they don’t have to be new artists. but at least 2 a month have to be by someone i’ve never listened to before.

Reading. At least one book a month, in addition to keeping current on my magazines and my FB and Yahoo feeds.

Get in shape. Same walking target, for now, as last year: 12K steps a day. From an exercise perspective: a goal of 20 minutes a day, 4 days a week on the machines and weights in the Abbey’s Rec Room. (This is gonna be a real challenge for me. not the walking. the “exercise.” i hate that stuff, but I know it would be good for me.)

Go to bed earlier. My goal is to be asleep in the bedroom by midnight.

One other pledge: Enjoy every bite of every sandwich.

Be.  Just BE.