Friday, December 25, 2009

X-mess 2009...

Fair warning: The following blog is an epic-length tome of chaos & woe, but not with a self-pitying, whiny intent. This simply documents the past month leading up to a scrumbled & frantic Holiday season. After all you are about to read, rest assured that I am not nearly as panicked and downtrodden as the story may lead you to believe...

"Holidays are joyful. There's always something new..."

Well, that Karen Carpenter lyric is HALF true, anyway.

The Holiday Season is ALWAYS a flurry of activity, mad dashes to the store, unexpected catastrophes, scurrying from gathering to gathering, and financial frustration, but this year has been a DOOZY! This doesn't even come CLOSE to the car wreck of two Christmas Eves ago, of course, but rather than being a single, terrifying event like the one that etched that year as "The Worst Christmas Ever", this has been a Chinese Water torture of hits that, at first glance, could plunge me into the depth of despair. However, upon reflection, each maddening setback has had its own silver lining. Still, just when I think I'm about to catch up..."there's always something new."

First off, to catch up on the last blog, I did manage to cobble together the back door threshold of the house and plug up some of the holes in the house, just in time for the cold weather to set in. With the help of the reciprocating saw my sister left behind when she moved to L.A., I got to explore my mechanical, manly side by doing some work with nails, screws & wood to make a sturdy foundation for the threshold, replaced some rotted wood, and allay some of my self-consciousness about home repair. All the bending, kneeling, and physical exertion left me PLENTY sore for a few days, but the good, productive kind of sore. In the end, it ain't pretty, but it'll do until I research some county home improvement loans and will save me a LOT on my heating bill.

I mentioned unexpected car repairs in my last blog. Well, I shouldn't have jinxed myself. The main cause of my holiday woes this year has been based on my car. My heat's always been a bit weak in my 98 Cavalier, and the temp gauge rarely goes into the "normal" range. I thought little of this, but the guys at my oil change place suggested a radiator flush should do the trick, as there was a TON of gunk in the coolant system.

Now, I bought this from a fairly green grease monkey, who obviously bought it as junk and fixed it up. The body was in great shape, but other than a good repair on the head gasket, he seemed to skimp a bit on or totally ignore the other repairs. The trunk latch was tricky from the get-go, and is now stuck shut (better than open, I suppose), some of the gauges would flip out on occasion, the check engine light was on more than off, the suspension left MUCH to be desired (especially on the near lunar, crater-filled surface of Detroit area roads), and the "theft deterrent system" didn't always like my key and would shut off the fuel for a few minutes from time to time when I'd try to start it, among other things, but the engine sounded strong and it got from A to B quite well...until I got the radiator flush.

First off, since my car was recommended for the more expensive (yet completely overrated & unnecessary) DEXcool fluid, it cost me $30 more than the standard flush. They then charged me $30 MORE to flush my heater core, which I found out later was ridiculous, as the standard flush should do that. After $90, the heat was little, if any, better. I then started talking to a friend and customer at Blockbuster.

This guy has worked at the Murray's Discount Auto Parts store next to my Blockbuster for years. He's tricked out his own show car, which is a late-90s Cavie, as well. He's certified up the wazoo in all sorts of repairs and diagnostics for cars and knows my car model inside and out, top to bottom - literally. I had him look at it.

Apparently, the flush broke the nub off the thermostat. We replaced it, as well as a bent piece that housed it (likely something the seller didn't bother to replace - just added more gaskets), and hoped that would be the end off it. After a VERY minimal charge for labor, and a lot of headaches getting the parts, after a week or so, it was done and we hoped for the best that that would be all.

At this point, I was feeling okay. Working around his schedule to get the car to him, bumming rides from people while it was there, & driving to Hell & gone to find the parts on the dirt cheap was a hassle, but I had just sold my precious F-rotor trombone to pay for my kids' Christmas presents, and so far, the extra money was covering it. Even when I was presented with a $200 shut-off notice for my water bill (which I haven't been receiving), the trombone money was just enough to cover it all. I drove the car for a day for a day, did some holiday shopping, got my son's Wii and some other odds & ends, figuring the car was fine to get me through the holidays now.

No such luck.

It stared to overheat. Thankfully, my ex was willing to drive my kids down to me for their weekend with me, and I told her I would MAKE a way to get them back, so she wouldn't have to make the hour drive here and back again for them. My repair guy's tight schedule forbade my leaving the car with him, and as it did okay for short jaunts of 10 minutes or so at a time, I made plans. My uncle was in from California, so the kids and I met him for lunch on Sat and he agreed to drive us all up. That way, we could all have a pleasant time catching up on the drive up, and he and I could have some grown-up talk on the way back.

Well, on the way to meet up with my uncle, the car overheated again, and the only way to get the parts in time for me to get the car back in time for my next shift was for me to get them while my uncle drove the kids home to Flint. So much for pleasant grown-up catching up. Nonetheless, my uncle agreed to get them home to Flint, while I picked up a new radiator, water pump, coolant, and other necessities to basically replace the WHOLE FUCKING COOLANT SYSTEM, as the nub of the thermostat that came loose in the radiator flush apparently ripped apart the water pump and got wedged in the radiator.

Thankfully, I had already bought my kids' presents, paid the overdue water bill, and after a loan from my mother, I was able to cover the cost. He did the repair and after a couple days of being stranded without a car (thankfully, during my days off), all was fine...for all of a day.

The day after getting my car back, I was running a few errands, stopped to pay my cell phone bill and was hit buy an older lady trying to pass me on the left - IN THE PARKING LOT! We get out and I assess the damage. She tries to convince me that there we 3 lanes in the parking lot (which is ridiculous, and even if there was, STILL doesn't explain passing on the left in a 'no parking zone'), and as I duck my head into the cell phone store to have them call the Hazel Park Police so we can make a report, she drives off!

My hub cap is shattered, my wheels misaligned, and a new leak has started under my car. I thought (hoped) it was just some of the coolant from the previous repair that had been shaken loose from pooling somewhere after the repair, so after talking with the cop for a minute, I continued to run my errands. The car seems fine for the remainder of my runs.

Later that night, I headed out to visit my old friend Jason and his family and pick up the last present for my little girl - a Zhu-Zhu pet, which Jason's BRILLIANT wife had the forethought to buy several of on Black Friday. About half way there, the temperature gauge started to spike and hit the danger zone. I exit the freeway in a panic. I only afforded myself a few minutes to visit before I was due at work. If my car is rendered immobile out in East Warren, I'll never make it to work on time! I let it cool down and started off again, hoping it was a glitch in the gauge I could get checked out later, but after 1/2 mile, it spiked again. I limped it as close as a mile and a half from Jason's house before I gave up, calling Jason to come rescue me. I called my work 5 times in the hour this all took, to say I'd be late, but no one would answer. Now I was fearing that not only would I not have a reliable means to GET to work, but I may not have the job AT ALL!

Jason pulled up about 10 minutes later, bought me McD's for dinner, and took me to his home, where I was cheerfully greeted by his wife and kids (my Godkids). After FINALLY reaching my place of employ on the phone and negotiating the night off to deal with this mess, I was able to spend a wonderful evening decompressing a bit with my oldest, dearest friend, his wife, my Godkids, a cold beer, and a movie.

The next day, I had to bus to 12 Mile & Schoenherr to try and coax my car closer to my repair guy - hopefully at LEAST to my Blockbuster, where it can cool down while I'm working and finish the trek to get repaired. While waiting for my connecting bus, I met an elderly lady who was having numerous health problems, was estranged from her family, laid off of work, and had lost faith in much of humanity. We talked for about an hour in the freezing cold, waiting for the bus. I was my usual, upbeat self and was more than willing to let her vent about her woes. We discussed, family, the rich, morals, values, religion - you name it. By the time the bus arrived, her mournful scowl had turned into a rejuvenated smile. She thanked me for the talk and restoring her faith that there are good people out there, after all. It really helped me put things in perspective amongst all the insanity and pitfalls I'd been facing and warmed my heart to bring some faith back to someone who was in a much more dire spot than myself. I bid her a merry Christmas, got off the bus, and thanked God for that opportunity.

After waiting in the cold 50 minutes for my connecting bus and 2 20-minute layovers too let my engine cool, I got to work just a bit late. After work, I dropped it at my repair guy's house and my ever vigilant and compassionate girlfriend drove me home.

At this point, it's December 23rd, and I'm not going to ask my repair guy to give up that kind of time with his wife and 2-year-old boy on Christmas for my sake. I tell him to get back to me after the holiday with a time line. This, of course, leaves me with no car for Christmas travel. The PLAN was to get the kids about 3pm on Christmas Eve, drive to my family's gathering in Monroe for the evening, and drive the kids back up to Flint for bed. I'd sleep on the ex's couch, spend the morning in Flint with her & the kids, and drive home. It SEEMED such a simple plan! As it was, the ex was, thankfully, generous enough to pick me up and have me and the kids spend Christmas Eve with her. I spent a nice (if at times awkward) evening with the kids & the ex and we put the gifts under the tree after the kids hit the hay.

The next morning was a flurry of of wrapping paper. We all played Wii Bowling & Star Wars - Force Unleashed on Liam's new Wii system, watched Courtney's Zhu-Zhu pet scurry and chirp around the living room, and had an enjoyable morning.

I'm a planner. When I'm confronted with obstacles, I don't whine, I overcome (okay, sometimes I whine THEN overcome). I wasn't going to ask the ex or any of her family to sacrifice 2 hours of their Christmas to cart my pedestrian ass from Flint to Hazel Park, so I booked a non-refundable Greyhound Bus ticket online from Flint to Pontiac for that afternoon. The online instructions said that the actual ticket was supposed to be printed at the ticket desk upon my arrival there. The ex dropped me at the Flint bus station, and as I approached the ticket counter, where they were supposed to print my ticket, I noticed it was closed for the holiday. I figured this was a formality, and the bus driver would have my info on some sort of manifest. When I asked, however, he said I could not board without a ticket. I explained my predicament and he coldly said there was nothing he could do. After several minutes of pleading, I opened my laptop and showed him my confirmation, which I had the forethought to print to a PDF on my desktop. Reluctantly, he let me board (whew!).

When I got to the Pontiac station, I figured I'd just catch a local bus down Woodward Ave to either my grandfather's house or Blockbuster for my shift at work. As I had no idea when the next bus was due (but assuming it would be within the hour) I plugged in my earbuds and started walking South toward my grandfather's, looking over my shoulder on occasion to be ready for a bus. After nearly 4 miles of walking in the cold, ice & rain, with my overnight bag in hand and computer bag on my shoulder, I approached my grandfather's, and as I'm about to cross Woodward to my grandfather's subdivision - you guessed it - the bus drove by. I laughed as I sloshed my way through the slush for the last block. I just got a nice 4-mile walk in, was bundled appropriately for the weather & had my blood pumping so I wasn't freezing, and got one last dose of my Christmas music on my MP3 player. Silver lining. :)

As I walked up to my grandfather's door, my uncle greeted me with a hug and a ham sandwich made from leftovers from the Christmas Eve gathering I had to miss. I had a lovely visit with my uncle, mom, & grandfather before my uncle offered to drive me to work. I had a nice, if busy, shift at Blockbuster and my coworker offered to drive me home.

My friend and repair guy called me the next day after looking at my car. The prognosis? Cracked heater core. Not an expensive part, but entails ripping apart the ENTIRE dash and much of the front seat to install. EASILY $500 in labor at any repair shop. He agrees to do it in exchange for a Wii. Thankfully, only a $200 cost, but still more than I have. The following day, I bus to work at Starbucks. My dear friend and duly crowned "Queen of Awesome", Marney, agrees to loan me the money to buy the Wii, as buying it myself would mean no house payment this month. She meets me at Starbucks on my lunch break to drive me to Target to get it.

A couple days later, repair guy calls me and says it's all done. He also cleaned off my dash before reinstalling it and aligned my wheels to the best of his ability. He also agreed to replace my wheel bearing, letting me pay for that repair after I got my paycheck that weekend. By New Year's Eve, I had my car fully operational, my mortgage paid, some of my chaos-related personal debts paid, and life mostly restored to some semblance of normal. I'll post pictures on my Flickr page when I can afford to restore my Pro account.

Throughout all of this, there were SEVERAL bright spots that helped keep me sane and brought several moments of joy to an otherwise crazy holiday season. The Flint Holiday Walk gig with my quartet, making my family's traditional fudge, visiting Santa, and decorating the tree with my kids, Christmas shopping with my girlfriend, driving with the Christmas music on the radio (when the car worked, anyway), all helped bring periods of serenity, peace, and normality to the season.

I didn't get much by way of tangible, wrapped gifts this holiday, but I DID get a couple. My girlfriend gave me a couple Detroit t-shirts she designed (awesomely talented graphic designer, BTW), a simple white T that says "Bazinga" (if you get it, kudos!), and coolest of all, a cigarette case with a Star Trek logo on it with a built-in lighter! She couldn't have hit the nail on the head better. Not a THING I asked for, yet so completely DEAD-NUTS-ON-THE-MONEY-PERFECT for me! She absolutely floored me.

It wasn't a huge material haul for me this Christmas, yet I am in NO way disappointed with that. My friends and family have bent over backward to see that I survived through this ordeal, as they have for the past 9 months or so. I don't need much. Most of what I need, I have. Everything else is just fluff. What I was given this Christmas was far better than any DVD, electronic gizmo, or toy. I was given the opportunity to see what wonderful friends and family I have, sacrifice to make my kids smile at Christmas, bring hope and faith to someone less fortunate by simply listening, revel in some off the simpler traditions of the season, and gain my perspective on how great my life truly is.

I'm George Bailey, and I'm the richest guy in town.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Truckin', like the do-dah man...

Well, here it is, a month later again, and while I can’t say everything’s improving, there’s enough progress in several areas of my life that I continue to be very happy.

The house is continuing to improve, at least in d├ęcor, if not structure. The back door threshold and floor need to be replaced, like YESTERDAY, but I can scrumble together a working temporary solution until I can afford to do some serious rebuilding on the entire back wall. I replaced a few of the kitchen floor tiles to make it usable until I can get around to replacing it in its entirety. I still have to furnish the kids’ room, so I’ll have to find a good deal on a couple twin beds and a dresser. There’s still some wall—washing to be done, carpet to be re-cleaned (and properly, this time), and the living room NEEDS to be painted in a serious way. Still, I have working utilities, a working furnace (knock wood), the basics of furniture for the living room and bedroom (courtesy of my sister), and a working stove and fridge. About the only things I’m missing are a washer & dryer so I don’t have to haul to the laundromat every week (where I’m sitting right now). After the cleaning, painting, and basic repairs are done, I hope to start replacing the living room furniture piece-by-piece to make it less “college dorm room” and more “grown-up home”.

Dating is a different story. I didn’t date much in High School to begin with, and now, being single again after 20 years is taking some getting used to. I’m finding it’s requiring a reexamination of my entire value system and self-esteem, mostly by realizing that I’m not quite the fugly chud of a loser I often though I was. Losing 40lbs didn’t hurt that, of course, but realizing that there are women out there that may value the aspects of myself that *I* value in me and may even find me attractive for who I AM, rather than who I COULD be (with their training), has been an adjustment. I’ve always been a bit of a contradiction: an egomaniac that’s ridiculously self-conscious. Lately, I’ve been trying to curb those extremes and I’m finding the middle-ground very peaceful.

I’ve dated a little over the past several months - nothing real serious (or at least, not realistic), until recently. I’ve been seeing this one girl for the past month or so. I could write paragraphs here, but I’d rather not go into a lot of detail. Suffice it to say, we like each other a lot, have a LOT in common, and are completely honest with each other. She’s an attractive geek, with an 80’s pop-culture knowledge that rivals my own! We’ll see where it goes, but I’m very happy right now.

The biggest worry continues to be money (ain’t it always). Between the usual bills, unexpected car repairs, surprise payroll snafus, and the like, the income seems to always meet the outgo, but I wish I could provide more for my kids. Things aren’t finalized with the divorce yet, but the ex and I have been working things out quite well and are cooperating to see that the kids’ needs are met. I’m providing what I can, when I’m asked, and always looking for ways to scrounge up a few bucks to try and make some financial headway. The quartet has a few gigs, I’m starting to give private trombone lessons again to a small degree, but that money always seems to get eaten up by some corresponding catastrophe. It’s IMMENSELY frustrating to be 35 and after a few years of relative financial stability (by NO means, prosperity), to be living paycheck to paycheck again. My big hope is to be able to come up with enough, along with the ex, to get my kids a Wii for Christmas. That’ll be the big present this year, God willing. With the help of the grandparents, it’ll happen, but I’m hoping to come up with enough on my own so they’re free to shower the kids with the cornucopia of gifts the younglings are used to getting.

Thankfully, my needs are few. Most of the creature comforts and luxuries I want, I already have. I don’t eat much, or have expensive tastes. The techno-gadgets I own suffice quite well for my uses and I don’t feel the need to upgrade them. My Christmas List will likely be rather small, compared to most years. I’ll get to that in my next blog, hopefully before the New Year…


Friday, October 30, 2009

SCARY busy lately!

Well, another month goes by without a blog post. I've just been so busy lately I've barely had time to catch my own reflection, let alone sit down and write a blog!

Okay, the recent topics are:

Cleaned and moved into my old house, with a few noticeable "gaps".
New job is going well overall
Socializing more
Barbershop convention was awesome
Staying above the drama
Quartet gigs are slow and steady
School's on track to see me back in January

Okay, let's tackle these one by one, shall we?

I am officially back in my old house! I spent the last 3 weeks cleaning the place. Between washing the walls, cleaning the carpets, taming the jungle of a yard, and assessing my next home improvement steps, it's been a daunting task. Especially with no gas in the place to make hot water to clean with! I spent most of the time either boiling water on the charcoal grill or filling buckets one coffee pot at a time, slowing the process dramatically. The depressing part was when I rented a carpet cleaner, intending on getting the 4-hour rate, and getting it home only to realize it's a model that DOESN'T heat the water on its own. Back to the slow process of one coffee pot at a time to fill the enormous tank. Grr...

Finally, though, last Saturday, I managed to get the worst of it up and make the carpet a little less "guugh". With the assistance of my best friends Jason & Lou, I got all of my stuff and the furniture generously donated to me by my super-heroine sister moved in. There is still the matter of turning the gas on (which I hope to hear about today), so I can have a hot shower (a PRESSING need of mine within the first 5 minutes of waking up), and a fridge to store the perishable food I'd like to cook once the gas stove is usable. Still, I have a space heater for now and the rest of the place is very homey again. There are a few repairs that need to be done rather immediately and several I plan to do over the years as the funds become available. Bottom line: this is MAH HOUSE! My cat, Tassie, is buried in the back garden, my daughter was born in it, I bought it, and I intend to keep it. It may be small, it may be run-down, but it's mine.

I plan to have a housewarming party in the next couple weeks and hope to get a few small housewarming gifts that will fill in the odds-and-ends gaps (house plants, oven mitts, etc.). Hint, hint....

The new job at Starbucks is going well. It's uncomplicated - I like that. I go in, put in my time, I go home (or to my next job). Yea, the pay sucks, but it's a job. I'm surrounded by 20-somethings, each with their own drama. Thankfully, I'm able to converse and maintain friendships with these folks without getting sucked into the drama. One of the advantages of being a decade older, I guess. Just enough of a generation gap.

Meanwhile, Blockbuster's the same as always. My hours have been a bit skimpy lately, but that's being resolved.

I'm finding new ways to socialize on the cheap, too! Tuesday Trivia nights have become a regular thing for me and several friends at Rosie O'Grady's in Ferndale. $2 domestic beers and good company keep the costs low, so I can have a fun night out nursing 2 beers and picking at friends' leftover fries over the 3 hours or so. We still need to find a jock to join the team, though, to help us in our weakest category: sports. Isn't it funny - when you NEED a jock... Anyway, I'm getting out a time or two a week and seeing some long lost friends and meeting new ones. It's a good thing. :)

Barbershop convention was completely awesome! Most of it was filled with the typical stuff: a good contest performance for the chorus, nice lunch afterward, ducking in and oout of the quartet finals, singing tags in the lobby, free food & beer in the hospitality rooms, a a bunch of great friends I don't get to see very often. The added plus was having my friend, Jenn along for the festivities! She says she enjoyed it, but the mere fact she was able to even TOLERATE 24 hours of barbershop says loads about her! She gets the bronze star for courage for that alone!

Everywhere I look, there seems to be increasing amounts of drama. All of my friends seem to be going through a rough time, but thankfully, I seem to be maintaining a position of being a good friend and sounding board without getting sucked into any of it too deeply. I have a tendency to genuinely offer my assistance and thus stretching myself a bit thin. I'm still offering my assistance genuinely, but have just managed to not be needed or called upon. It's been refreshing, given my insanely busy schedule lately. Being available to my friends is a big part of who I am and where I derive a lot of my self-worth. It's a trait I'm very proud of. Still, it's nice to have a bit of 'me' time now and again.

Quartet rehearsals have been kind off tricky to organiize laately, what with all the stuff going on with me, and now with Lou being in a play rehearsal on our usual Wednesday night, gearing up for our holiday gigs will be kind of tough. Lou, Dave & I should have no problem brushing up our holiday stuff as we rehearse it in chorus and have sung the same songs every year forever. Big Dave may be a bit slower on the uptake for a few, though. We have 2 or 3 gigs in the next couple months. We'll see how it goes. Next up is prepping for April's contest. We had too skkip this one due to budgetary woes for 3/4 of the quartet, but now that we've tracked down the arranger for one of the tunes in our Sinatra set, we're set to put it on the contest stage!

I spoke with my wonderful and generous father the other day and my Christmas gift will be thhe remaining balance on my WSU bill. All will be set for me to rejoin the studious multitudes in January and get the f'ing degree the hell done. If all goes REALLY well, I could be done by next December. More realistically, though, I'm looking to finally graduate in May 2011 and (God willing) find a job by that fall.

Well, it's that time again! The Geek's Christmas! HALLOWEEN! I've had my costume planned for months and only started on it the past week. Jor-El. Marlon Brando from the 1978 Superman. Geek-tastic, as always. Got a couple parties I'll probably hit with Jenn tomorrow to show it off. Pics to come!!

Whew! I'm usually a lot more flowery with my phrasing, but just getting a month's worth of the basic updates has taken up a lot of space! I'll try to keep up on here a bit better once my internet is set up at my new (old) place.

Peace out, y'all!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Since You've Been Gone...

It was recently brought to my attention that it's been well over a month since my last blog post and some of you (I can only imagine a handful, to be honest) may be wondering what's been up with me lately. Well, SO much has been happening and my schedule has been so crazy tight, that I doubt I could even BEGIN to cover what's happened in the same kind of detail that I usually do (which likely bores most of you anyway). However, I'll endeavor to recap the last month to the best of my ability.

I started my new job at Starbucks a few weeks ago. It's a good job. Yes, the pay sucks and it's another barely-minimum-wage service industry job, but the company seems to have its business ethics in good order, they have a GREAT benefits package (which I become eligible for in about 2 months), and the people are great. It's becoming similar to Blockbuster, in that I like who I work with, I am getting to know my regulars, and the schedule has some flexibility so I can get personal business done during normal hours on occasion and work around seeing my kids a bit easier. The area where it's BETTER than Blockbuster is in the actual job itself. Being food service, there's always something to do or clean, so the shifts seem to fly by pretty quickly. - no twiddling of thumbs, trying to look 'busy'. The downside is that once I finally stop moving, I realize how exhausting it is! But, it beats flipping burgers. I 'd rather go home smelling like coffee than burgers any day.

Also, I'm back in the marching band game! A buddy of mine contacted me, saying he had a colleague that may be in need of a drill writer. Being this was mid-August when he contacted me, I was a bit suspicious...and concerned. Turns out it was him that needed the help. His drill writer was having trouble getting the drill to him on schedule and he was wondering if I could write a good competitive drill rather quickly. I was MORE than happy to help out a friend AND get back to doing what I love, so I agreed. The music's solid, the show concept is cool, and the staff are great. I think I made a good impression with the quality of my work, and particularly my prompt and open communication with him and his staff. I'm REALLY looking forward to seeing it on the field, and even more excited to finally have a MCBA staff pass to add to my collection after a 3 year gap! Oh, and the money's a good thing, too!

The back-to-school thing for me has hit a speed bump of sorts. I went to WSU, met with my adviser (who's a WONDERFUL lady) and we figured out just what I need under the new degree requirements. Some classes were dropped, others added, but all-in-all, it adds up to about the same class load I expected. We mapped out what I need to take and when, caught up a bit, and then it was off to face the massive bureaucracy that is Wayne State's Accounts Receivable department. After flitting between the cashier's office and Accounts Receivable office several times, I managed to pay my old balance. After waiting in line for a half hour to finally get my holds released, I get to the desk and am informed that the FIRST person I met with there (and the 3 others I spoke with on the phone beforehand to be SURE I knew the EXACT balance I owed) neglected to tell me about a near $300 collections fee assessed to my account! I would have to pay that before I could register...and this was the last day of final registration.

So much for starting classes this Fall. To be honest, I was a bit concerned that with the divorce still in process, a new commute to see my kids, moving back to my house, new job, drill writing, quartet gigs, and the plethora of other things on my plate that adding classes into the mix would have my brain exploding, a la Scanners. Still, the groundwork is laid to get me back in school and on track to finish my degree starting in January... and get me the Hell OUT of Fucking Wayne State, FINALLY!!!!

The divorce is progressing in some ways and not in others. Again, I don't want to get too heavy into details out of respect for the other parties involved. Suffice it to say that the ex and I are communicating amicably and while the finalization of the papers seems to have been put off for a while, we are working together to continue to make sure the kids continue to feel secure and loved by both of us, and working the logistics to enable both of us to establish and live our own lives with respect for each other. In short, we're figuring this out well for ourselves, slowly, and will re-involve the courts as soon as soon as we figure out some specifics, get a few bills and insurance issues resolved, and settle into a more predictable routine. We're both eager to have this over with, but also are NOT thrilled with the idea of lawyers charging us an arm and a leg to instigate us into arguments over property & money, or the courts pressuring us to adhere to THEIR time line. "We'll figure it out like adults and call you when we're ready for you, thankyouverymuch."

My quartet had an audition for voice-over roles for a kid's movie recently. My sister and a friend sent me the audition info, as the casting director was looking for an established quartet in the area. I sent some info to the contact listed, but was contacted directly by the casting director before it was even read! We went there and saw one of our other chapter quartets exiting the building as we entered. After exchanging pleasantries, they informed us that another established local group of much more renown had auditioned just before them. Kinda put a damper on our hopes, but we went and did our best, anyway. We sounded good, read well, and left with satisfaction of a good attempt, but not much hope of getting a call-back. No word from the casting director yet, so our impression was probably accurate. Oh well. At least I won't have to rent a tux for some red-carpet debut!

Other than that, my reintegration into the general populace is moving kind of slow. It's tough re-learning how to be social with the kind of time and financial constraints I have. I'm socializing via my laptop fine and reconnecting with a LOT of old friends there and on the phone that I've had trouble communicating with over the years, but getting OUT and meeting new people is tricky. "ya got no money and ya got no (good) car, and ya got no woman...and there you are," as the poet says. It gets a bit lonely at times.

But, thankfully, I'm keeping as busy as ever, reconnecting with old friends, and still losing a bit of weight. I went into Wal*Mart yesterday (generally against my principles, but one can't always afford one's principles), and found a couple pair of $8 jeans in the smallest waist size I've owned in over a decade! I haven't been this thin since before I got married! I still have a ways to go before I'm anywhere near where I'd LIKE to be (it'd be nice to get under 200lbs again), but it's nice to know I'm still getting there. I may start walking again to boost the momentum...maybe.

Anyway, that's the recap of the bigger news as of late. I'll try and keep up with this a bit more now, since inquiring minds seem to want to know!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Don't Believe In Destiny, or the Guiding Hand of Fate...

Okay, so that's not ENTIRELY true...

Sometimes fate doesn't just guide you. On occasion, fate can grab you by the cajones with all the subtlety and tact of a rabid pit bull and just yank you along the right path.

Case in point:
I started my Bachelor of Music Education degree in Septemer 1993. Marriage, kids, house, apathy, laziness - all factors that have slowed me along the way. Nonetheless, I have plugged away at it over the past 16 years. Now, all that remain are 3 classes, my student teaching...and 4 credits of private lessons. These are only offered at 1 credit per semester, which means that despite being able to finish my coursework in 1 year, I am a minimum of 2 years from my degree. It seems so daunting and far off.

I started taking private lessons my first semester at Wayne with Ron. Helluva player, fun to talk shop with, never one to pressure you, but insisted on improvement. A GREAT teacher. I took 4 semesters with him and passed each one. Not always with stellar grades, but enough to pass.

I took some time off school to start a family. When I returned, Ron had been replaced with Ken. Ken expected you to START at a minimum conservatory level, and if you weren't there, you weren't worth his time. I took 5 semesters with him and only passed once - when he didn't show up to my jury. This man became the gatekeeper of my degree. In order to finish, I needed to pass 4 semesters with him, and I couldn't. So, I decided to wait him out. His students were dwindling and sooner or later, the administration would notice. (see more on this in my original post from 9/06 HERE)

So, my obstacles for a long time were time, money, and my private lessons. Flash forward to this present day. Last month I watched the premier episode of Glee. I truly identified with the director character and between the odd parallels in the character's story and the inspirational music, I started thinking real hard about what I might have to do to finish my degree and start teaching.

Next, after not taking classes for 3 years and being rather consumed with other areas of my life that are exploding right now, I get a form letter last week from the WSU Music Department, inviting me to return to school and finish, complete with numbers to call to find out what I need to do. I'm sure they sent the same letter to several students, but it came just as the thought of returning and finishing my degree popped to the forefront of my mind.

Next, I get this new job at Starbucks. Not much money, but MUCH greater flexibility in the schedule to be able to fit in my student teaching durring normal school hours. Having had jobs that run 9-5 as my only available work time, and my primary income, that hasn't been much of a possibility at all.

Finally, I'm running into the warehouse today to talk with one of the guys about a customer's order, and who's sitting at the counter picking up supplies...but my old teacher, Ron. Apparently, he's now the primary trombone teacher at WSU. Ken is gone, and Ron's who I would be learning with. We start to talk about how close I am and that lessons are the longest part, taking a minimum of 2 years to complete. He suggests that there is precedent to double up the lessons to 2 credits per semester, getting me out in 1/2 the time.

Time and private lessons have been taken care of for me. Time for me to take the bull by the balls and get the money. I have to find $850 to pay off my old balance so I can register. I have a few days next week. I will be researching every grant, scholarship, and loan I can find to make this happen.

It's now within the realm of possibility (and I can't believe I am saying this) that I could have my degree by May. It depends on several factors and paying my balance this month, but that's the earliest I could have it.

My heart just sped up to about 120bmp just typing that. And I'm a band guy. I KNOW 120BPM!

Paul 2.0 Beta

The revisions to "Paul 2.0" continue. The latest programming breakthrough involves the revision of the "job.exe" operating system to fix processing bugs and unpredictable system failures. The old template utilizing "commission.dll" has proven to be insufficient to provide the system resources for complete functionality and user-friendly interface, as well as caused regular failures in "bankaccount.dll" and caused basic operating subroutines like "mortgage.dll" and "eating.dll" to be underalocated or ignored completely.

The new "hourly.exe" platform promises to provided the minimum required system resources to fix the aforementioned bugs, increased reliablility, and more flexibility to run multiple processes simultaneously, as well as the addition of the "bennies.exe" virus scan and auto-fix program, which also covers peripheral applications such as "kids.exe".

Research will resume shortly on a "degree.exe" programming platform that will provide a MUCH broader system base, and the capacity to run the much anticipated "career.exe" operating system. This will allow the much anticipated "Paul 3.0" to operate at peak efficiency, provide a friendlier user interface, and allow for the development of more recreational applications like "vacation.exe", as well as allow the "Paul 3.0" to interface with other systems more reliably.

Okay...I probably ran with that a bit longer than necessary. Oh well. I found it amusing.

Bottom line, I resigned from my commission-based job in wholesale music supply yesterday. I wrote a very respectful resignation letter, presented it, respectfully, to the VP, and was it was received with gratitude, respect, and kind parting words. All bridges remain intact, with pretty little flowers on them. :) My last day is Friday. I could just coast through the next 3 days, but being that my last paycheck will STILL be based on commission, I still have to hustle. Meh - 3 more days I can handle.

Next week, I start working at Starbucks. My friend, Sam, works there and clued me into the opening. I'm not crazy about another low-paying, just-above-minimum-wage job, but after interviewing with the manager, meeting a few employees, and considering that I was averaging HALF of minimum wage on commission, it didn't seem all that bad. Add to that the benefit package they offer, with medical, optical, and dental at HALF what I'm paying at Blockbuster for just medical and dental, plus the more flexible hours to finish my degree and deal with day-to-day stuff durring business hours, it seemed a very good choice. Oh, and of course, FREE COFFEE!! There's a chance I may move up to shift leader a bit sooner than later, so the extra money would be nice there. I'll still keep the Blockbuster job for some extra cash, and to be honest, I enjoy it.

Weekend with the kids was great. We visited my mom and grandpa, watched movies, made pancakes, and got to go to one of my oldest friends' daugghter's birthday party. My kids played with my Godkids, I hung out with some dear friends, and a great weekend was had by all. The best part was just kissing my sleeping kids' foreheads before I turned in on Saturday night. It's the simple things...

Last night I went to Rosie O'Grady's again for what is becoming a weekly meeting with my friend Pashka for their Trivia Contest. I got there a bit before her and bumped into my old friend and Sigma Pi Grand Big Bro, Matt. We spent about 45 minutes just BSing and catching up, and he bought me a couple beers (which is good, since I figured I had the budget for 1 the whole night). He's doing great and running his own marketing business (no, not direct marketing like Amway). He explained it and it makes a lot of sense! He may have an event or two he could use my quartet for and maybe even some freelance work for me on occasion. God, I love networking! You never know where it may lead you!

About 9ish, after Pashka joined us, we took our leave and joined in the team trivia contest they have there. We were hoping for more friends to show up and give us a bit of a broaader knowledge base to work with, but it ended up being just us again. We swapped stories for a bit, moved up and down in the team rankings, and ended up getting our asses handed too us, soundly. Once again, the sports category killed us. We need a jock on the team. Oh well. No bag of cheap swag for us that night.

After the contest, as we're wrapping up, the guy running the trivia contest comes over to talk to us and was CLEARLY testing the waters to see if Pashka was "with" me. I made it clear by giving a dramatic yawn and excusing myself for the night. I was eager to get home to make a call, anyway. It was a great, fun night!

I'll have a few days next week to chill before starting the new job, so I can get my mind wrapped around budget planning, finances, and paperwork, as well as yard maintenance and other household chores. Lots more going on these days, but I gotta get to work and try to look like I'm still "THERE" rather than just "there".

Eagerly anticipating the completion of Paul 3.0.. Hopefully, it'll allow for the addition of a few peripherals (better car, bigger house, travel budget)!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hittin' the town

Last night was more fun than I've had in weeks!

I have been mowing lawns for my sister's friends for a few month for a little extra cash. I don't mind mowing lawns in the least. Fresh air, sunshine (when the weather cooperates, anyway), exercise, and a visible sense of accomplishment when I'm done. The lawn at my current abode is a double lot of mostly weeds, spotted with kidney bean shaped garden patches, with a quadrant that tends to turn into a jungle after just a week. It's daunting and time consuming. The lawns at my sister's friends are a cinch by comparison.

One friend has a double lot, but there are no obstacles. I can usually finish in about a half hour, but have to get my lawn mower there, which is a trick with the trunk latch on my car broken and stuck shut. Her other friend has a single lot, no obstacles of note, and her own mower. She's been offering me $20 per run, which I've reluctantly accepted because I can use the cash, but is much more than is necessary for the 20 minutes it takes me to complete the job.

This gal is fun, intelligent, gorgeous, and just a blast to hang with. Feeling a bit guilty for bilking her for a Jefferson each time for the past couple months, this time I gave her an option: $10 cash or $5 and a drink at the new Rosie O’Grady’s Pub in Ferndale. There are a bunch of reasons we're not right for each other romantically, so I had no worries that this might be interpreted the wrong way. Thankfully, she chose the latter.

I headed over and did the mowing quickly, but efficiently, so as to avoid the rain that seemed eminent. When I finished, she suggested I head over to the bar while she cleans up from her home improvement endeavors. I head the ½ mile to the pub and find a table in the main bar area. Rosie O'Grady's used to be just a step above a dive bar. Nice, relatively clean, but a but worn around the edges - just enough to have 'character'. Rosie’s new digs are AMAZING! Not only is it huge, clean and new, but it has a very open floor plan, separate sections for covered patio, sidewalk patio, bar, and dining areas, DOZENS of flat screen TVs with local sports, and i t's boisterous without being so loud you have to shout to be heard by the person next to you.

I order my beer and wait. She shows up just late enough to be fashionable, and looking fabulous. We proceeded to have some great conversation, talking school and careers, dating stories, how much we both miss my sister now that she’s made the move to the West Coast, and life after divorce. She orders some pizza for us to split and we munched while enthusiastically playing their weekly team trivia game. We started out at the head of the pack in the game, but fell quickly behind when the subject matter moved from pop culture to modern music, then finally to my Achilles Heel, sports.

We were there for about 3 hours just swapping stories, playing trivia, eating, drinking, and having a blast. I’m not used to going out to local trendy ‘hot spots’, let alone with a gorgeous woman, so not only was I having a great time, but I was feeling like quite the envied stud! The tab was a bit more than I had expected, so I offered her a free week of lawn service.

One of the best parts of the evening was going home MUCH later than my roommate (or I) had expected, and putting on my best shit-eatin’ grin. He knows this girl and is QUITE aware of her beauty and charm. I just grin at him and he gets this look of total shock, assuming MUCH more than had happened. I just paused with my cat-who-ate-the-canary grin. I held it for about 5 seconds before I cracked. “We had fun at the bar the whole time. I just wanted to see the look on your face when you assumed…” Priceless. ;)

Doing a favor for a friend, a great night at the bar, lookin’ like a stud at a local hot spot with a major hottie, and making my roomate’s eyes bug out for a few seconds. Yea, awesome night!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gratitude for what I have...

I met for dinner with an old friend the other day. Without going into detail, it got me thinking about what I have versus what how things could be. I have my health, I have 2 jobs (crappy-paying though they may be), I have friends and family willing to help me as needed (which I try desperately not to abuse), and I've managed to keep going without government assistance. I've never had to apply for unemployment, I've never had a financially crippling medical emergency (knock wood).

I've also never been without a job for more than 2 weeks in my entire adult life, and beyond that I've had between 2 and 5 jobs at a time over the past decade. On top of that, while the entirety of Michigan is in a labor panic and everyone is looking for work, I have 3 solid leads on better jobs. I don't have them yet, and none of them are what you'd call well-paying careers, but they pay a damn sight better than what I'm making now, but one of them is bound to turn out. In a state with 15.2% unemployment, and living 1/2 mile from a city with over 25% unemployment, I consider myself ridiculously lucky.

In the mean time, I feel loved, appreciate, and respected for who and what I am. THAT is the biggest gift. As long as the basics are covered (food & shelter for me and my kids), if there is love and respect, I will always get by.

And how do I come about this love and respect, you may ask? The answer is simple:

I love and respect others.

I've pontificated on Karma and what-goes-around-comes-around plenty of times. Showing love and respect for those around you, no matter their differences, breeds something beyond goodwill. It goes beyond Biblical tenants of "turn the other cheek" and the more universal "do unto others" philosophy. It creates a personal mental state of peace. It allows one to better analyze one's own thinking and be more objective about one's personal beliefs.

Psychologists often cite that actions create belief. For example, if you make yourself smile, you'll begin to feel happy. That's a bit simple (and not always true, of course), but the concept isn't without merit. If you treat others with respect, even if you completely disagree or are even morally repulsed by their ideals, you may allow yourself to open you mind to more possibilities. It doesn't have to change who you are to consider a point of view you disagree with and you don't have to change your opinion to show respect. On the contrary, being weak-willed doesn't garner respect. However, not only will SHOWING respect by letting others have their say, not discounting their ideals out of hand, and paying honest attention to what they are trying to communicate, open your own mind to new possibilities for growth, but you've gained the appreciation of a wider circle of people, which can be beneficial for all later on.

I've started to ramble and get off topic. Hell, it's my blog. :)

Anyway, today, despite having to work to days of doubles in a row and being drastically underpaid for it, I'm happy. Not because I'm forcing myself to smile, but because grateful for what I have.. More than that, I'm realizing why I have the blessings I do: because I show love and respect at every opportunity.

I highly recommend it

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ya Feelin' Lucky....PUNK?!

I've never been one to seek out action flicks (aside from Sci-fi, of course), let alone want to LIVE one. Tough guys and explosions just aren't my bag unless there's extremely witty dialogue, space travel, aliens, or maybe Seth Rogan. It seems, though, that fate decided to add just a dose of Schwarzenegger to my life this week.

Wednesday is my night to have the kids for dinner. I was looking forward to it, as always. As I had quartet rehearsal later in the evening and would need to get the kids back to their mom in time for that, rather than waste my shorter time with them by actually MAKING dinner (and I'm usually VERY good about making them a full, well-balanced meal) I just picked up some pizza. Lou shows up a bit early to share in the movie we were watching (Midnight Madness - Michael J. Fox's film debut) and homemade s'mores.

As we're packing up to leave and I open the front door, I hear a *BOOM*. Being just a over a week past the 4th of July, I figured it was a local setting off fireworks...but it was still quite bright out. That's when I noticed the 1/2 mile long, 200 ft. high plume of smoke coming from the North.

It seemed to emanate from the 9 Mile Rd./I-75 area, and as I drove the kids home it seemed confirmed. My first though was that my favorite gas station had exploded in some accident. As we pulled up to 9 Mile via local back streets, we all looked East to see a HUGE plume of black smoke with enormous flames shooting skyward. Liam gaped for a minute when he exclaimed, "AWESOME!!" To which I replied, "In an action movie, it's awesome. When there are people involved...not so much.' He showed an appropriate amount of contrition (well, for a 9-year-old boy, anyway) and hoped no one was hurt. They didn't seem traumatized by the event in the least, so I dropped them off with their mom and proceeded to do what all good Americans would do - become one of the gawking masses.

I parked a couple blocks away, walked as close as I was allowed by the police tape, and called Lou to have him and my bari, Dave B., bring my camera down. Our bass was being re-routed through Hell's Half-acre and trying to get to my place for rehearsal. Lou and I never managed to connect through the throng of on-lookers, but he did snap a few pics before we met back at my place to wait for our bass.
Tanker Fire 7-15-09 (2)
Tanker Fire 7-15-09 (4)
Tanker Fire Aftermath (1)
We all had a good (if a bit short) rehearsal, choosing to focus on the music to distract us from the blazing inferno a mere 1/2 mile away.

2 miracles I take away from this: 1) if I had left the house when I had intended to, and taken my usual route back to their place, rather than finish the scene we were watching for my son's sake, we'd have been ON that bridge when the explosion happened. This wouldn't have necessarily resluted in injury, but it would have been scary as hell and likely traumatized my baby girl, at the very least. 2) As the reports came in throughout the night and following day, I heard that despite the horrible traffic accident, destroyed cars, raging fire, collapsing bridge, and chaotic scene, absolutely NO ONE was killed! There were only 3 minor injuries!

It's not often I find myself in a position where I am grateful for divine providence. I tend to thank God more for wisdom, guidance, and patience, rather than for setting all of the physical pieces in place and kinetically 'making things happen', but in this case I find myself TRULY grateful for everything being just-so that despite a horrific scene and the potential for tragedy, everyone was able to escape with their lives.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I'm not a Bible-thumper. In this case, however, for myself, my kids, the people involved in the accident, the firefighters, the EMTs, and the local community, I'll say, "Thank you, God, for intervening".

Monday, July 13, 2009

Musical & Computer Geerery...

I've been watching guys doing multitracks on YouTube for years. Guys like "Big O", "FinneyLee" and "BHSNerd" have been doing the coolest tags with unbelievable precision and with full video for a long time. This is one of the things that got me on my kick of doing learning tracks for other quatets for money. I've played with computer recording software for nearly a decade, from the cromagnon Sound Recorder bundled with Windows 95, to Cool Edit 2.0, to its only slightly bigger brother Adobe Audition 1.5, which is what I currently use.

I've always loved creating quality multitracks. There is no thrill greater than ringing a chord, as any barbershopper will tell you, and when you can't organize 3 other guys's schedules, you make due! Ever since I saw these video multitracks online, though, I've wanted to show off for the world. Listening to them, I realized that there were a LOT of guys infinitely better than I doing this, but a lot worse as well. More recently, I figured it might be a good way to drum up some business for my learning track business (which has been virtually non-existent lately).

The only missing pieces of the puzzel were decent video editing software and a webcam. Well, the webcam was easy enough - $15 at MicroCenter. The video software is a different story. I tried playing with Windows Movie Maker, which is clunky and good for little more that snazzing up home movies to the level of a high school AV class, circa 1990. To be honest, I didn't need much more than that technology, but this lacked even the simple 4-panel tool I needed to do a video multitrack.

This weekend, I procured Sony Vega. Vega is kind of a multitracker's standard, and as is my usual M.O., started playing right away. It works well and quickly with my Adobe Audition and turns out some good stuff! I started out with the tag to "The Shadow Of You Smile", being a track I've done before and didn't need to re-learn. With no tutorials and glimpses into the how-to manual, I turned out a decent product before turning in for the night. (you can find it on my YouTube channel, but I'm not proud enough of it to post it here.) The next morning, however, I decided to try again and use the bits and pieces I'd learned the previous night to try the "Flying Sinatra Medley" tag and cranked this out in under an hour:

I now have a new way to spend my dubiously copious "free time"! Check out my YouTube channel to watch for more!

Also, while talking with my old friend Ralph on Facebook chat, I started wishing I could combine it with my other buddy lists. I've used Trillian to combine my AOL, Yahoo, & MSN IM names for years and been pretty happy with it, but have been using Facebook more than anything else to chat recently. Trillian - even the new version, Astra - doesn't do Facebook chat, that I've seen. Ralph clued me into a new IM consolidator called Digsby. I downloaded it and absolutely love it! It's not a HUGE leap from Trillian, but it does simplify things enough to be worth it.

Other than that, this weekend, I went to see Wolverine and had some AWESOME steak at Texas Roadhouse with my good friend, Marney (Wolverine is fantastic - ignore the nay-sayers). I also went to my friend Dave's wedding reception/open house with my sister and mowed a friend's lawn. All of this while appreciating gorgeous, sunny weather.

God, I love summer! I can't wait until I finish my teaching degree so I can have the time to APPRECIATE it again!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Double C-note Entry!!

Yup, 200th post. Should that mean anything? Make me reflective? Have me analyzing my progress over the past 3 1/2 years so I can coalesce the vapor of human existence into a viable and meaningful comprehension?

Probably...but it won't. And kudos to those of you who got the reference...

So here's how my weekend went...

It was mildly uneventful, with a few minor exceptions. The weather was just downright frickin' BEAUTIFUL! Saturday started with sleeping in just a tad, checking e-mail & Facebook, and some chores (laundry, dishes, etc.). It seemed like it was going to be a fairly boring weekend. About noon, my roommate, Paulie B., asked that I drive him to Ikea for some "knick-knacery" to deck out the digs in. I had never been to Ikea. I had heard over the years about the wonders of Ikea - the simple and functional design, the rediculously affordable wares, the fun and festive shoping environment - but never made the 1/2 hour trek to the nearest one in Canton. As I walk in the door, expecting some kind of Sam's Club-ish warehouse, I'm greeted to the smell of cinnamon rolls and offered a Sweedish meatball...and I was smitten. Any store that greets be with comforting smells, a friendly smile, AND meat is okay in my book!!

Paulie and I browsed for about 2 hours, finding all SORTS of great furniture, rugs, housewares, and odds-and-ends that would be PERFECT for the House of Pauls, meanwhile I was making my own mental shoppping list for when I eventually move back into my own house. Of course, as I'm dead broke , I simply bought a 6-pack of the cinnamon rolls that had seduce me upon entering, and 2 8-packs of wooden clothes hangers for $3.95 each to start replacing the bent and warped wire ones in my closet. A seemingly insignificant purchase, but for some reason, the quality and price had me squealing like a teeny-bopper at a Jonas Brother concert! My first Ikea purchase!!! It was like a rite of passage.

From there, we head back, I hang my fresh, clean laundry on my new hangers (yay!), and Val stops by in her new ride she bought exclusively for getting herself to California in a couple weeks. We pile the lawnmower into the back and head to her friend Pashka's place so I can mow her lawn. As Pashka was out of town and unavailable to visit, Val decides to head to the Salvation Army for some shopping during their 1/2 clothing sale while I tend to the yard work. I finish quickly and I cool off in the breezy evening and have a nice chat with a friend on the the phone while I wait for Val to pick me up. We then head to help out my ex-wife by mowing her front yard. After I'm done mowing and Aunt Val's done chatting up her niece, we pile back into the new ride and she drops me home to have a peaceful evening at home.

Sunday was productive and peaceful. I woke up and made scrambled eggs and thick-cut bacon for me and the roommate (the place STILL smells like bacon - yummmmmm). As the beautiful day wears on, I helped Paulie vacuum up the varitable RUG of dog hair underneath the washer & dryer, sweep the floors. I notice the neighbor next door edging his sidewalk. I had planned on this as one of my chores for the day, but as he has crept a good 3 feet onto our property with his edging, I couldn't put it off. As I'm slicing into the 1-foot-square patches of turf that had overgrown onto the cement over the past half-decade, my neighbor offers his garbage can for toting the remains to my compost pile. Then, the neighbor across the street offers his wheel barrow! As I finish, my next-door neighbor helps me shovel the dirt & grass and grabs his blower to clear my sidewalk! As I admire my clean and clear sidewalk, I'm suddenly struck with the notion that I have completely awesome neighbors and live in a great town.

After that was done, Paulie, as a gesture of gratitude, takes me out to see the new Transformers movie. I don my Autobot belt buckle and we head to the Star John R. Cineplex. It was fun. A decent enough movie, heavy on mind-blowing special effects and way cool action sequences, but painfully thin on plot or character development. The main character's parents were better developed than anyone else, and have the least screen time. A good popcorn-munching flick, but a bit of a disappointment and PAINFULLY long at nearly 2.5 hours. On the plus-side, it DID have Devastator, Soundwave, & Rampage (who was the only robot that looked even remotely like his original counterpart).

After that, I headed out to Caribou Coffee in Royal Oak for their Open Mic night. I had hoped to have my quartet sing there, but asking 2 days ahead of time was a bit too last-minute - especially for our newly employed bass, who had to work. I showed up with my ukulele a bit late, but James, a Caribou employee, friend, and Blockbuster customer, was glad to have someone else to fill some time, as the roster was kind of light that night. I sat with my sister and we chatted and played on our laptops while we waited for my name to be called. After listening to some good (and not-so-good) guitar players and some mediocre poetry by an octogenarian, I get up there. I hadn't planned ANYTHING, but decided to try Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - and made a miserable mess of it. The crowd was very forgiving, and I played it up with good humor, gracefully leaving the stage with a witty quip. As the evening progressed, Valerie and I decided to try something together, so we ducked int the alley and tried "Lucky" by Jason Mraz & Cobie Caillet. It sounded decent, so we went up and tried it with the following pallet-cleansing results:

From there, I went home and hit the hay, satisfied with a weekend off great weather, some great fun, and some productivity. This week's packed to the gills with quartet rehearsal, chorus rehearsal, dinner with my baby girl (while my big boy is off at summer camp), work, and who-knows-what for the holiday weekend! As usual, I'll fly by the seat of my pants and make the best of it!

Friday, June 26, 2009

15 Books in 15 Minutes

I did this survey on Facebook and thought it would make a good blog. A bit of a divergence from my usual stuff. Yea, it took me a LOT longer that 15 minutes to write them up, but ooh well. I can't just say a couple words about these books.


15 Books in 15 Minutes

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 (or more) friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose.

1. The Bible. (specifically the story of Sampson & Delilah in Judges) - Okay, I'm not a big Bible-Thumper, but my mom used to read this story (quite enthusiastically) from her braille bible when I was a kid. I always asked for it.

2. The House With The Clock In It's Walls - John Bellaires - My 5th grade teacher read this to the class and I re-read it myself. Oddly enough, my father-in-law found it for Liam last summer,as well! Great young-reader level Gothic horror.

3. 1984 - George Orwell. (I'm stealing K.T.'s write up on this. It's perfect, and I'm lazy) This book stuck with me after I read it in high school and I still remember certain scenes and images from the book (The movie sucked! Don't bother!) as being so solid -- possibly one of the best books ever written. (PK's note - it's also a beautiful and tragic love story)

4. Animal Farm - George Orwell. Another great. Emotionally riveting, politically inflammatory, and a timeless story. This book wrenched my emotional and intellectual guts out. I've read it several times.

5. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory - Ronald Dahl - Read this in 5th grade and devoured it.Of course, I saw the movie first, but at that age, I was AMAZED that there were so many differences! "You mean when they make a movie about a book, they can CHANGE things!?" It curtailed my impulse to watch a movie rather than read for my book reports. I subsequently read "James & The Giant Peach" as well as "The Great Glass Elevator". I always wished they made a movie on that. Imagine floating Vemicious Knids with today's CGI!

6. Skeleton Crew - Stephen King - A collection of short stories, many of which made it into the Creepshow movies. I had it on my night table at age 11 and read a story a night before bed. BAD idea! Loved it, of course, but I didn't sleep much or well while I was going through it.

7. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (series) - Douglas Adams - I won't write up every book, because they really can't be looked at individually. Once I realized Adams was a Monty Python writer, it cast a WHOLE different perspective on the series and I found it absolutely...freaking...HILARIOUS! The only one I haven't read is "Starship Titanic", but though it's a part of the Guide's multiverse, it's by Terry Gilliam and not Adams, so I don't feel guilty about it. I'll get to it eventually.

8. Star Trek: The Return - William Shatner (& Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens) - THIS is the book that got me back into reading for pleasure. I had stopped reading books that weren't assigned about 8th grade or so. No time, too much effort, excuse, excuse, but while walking through Rite-Aid, I saw this cover with Picard & Kirk's face. I was intrigued and bought the paperback. While reading it, I found it was the 2nd in a series of Trek books by Shatner and devoured the series. There's some pathetic "I'm Not Dead Yet" moments, ego maniacal passages, and some WICKED bad puns now and again, but good stories! Kudos to the Reeves-Stevens for keeping Shatner on a leash! I now own and have read some 20 or so Trek novels and own most in hardcover.

9. Metamorphosis - Fraz Kafka - Creepy. This was assigned in college and was my first foray into existentialism. Good thing I'm generally a cheery person. A GREAT read full of amazing imagery, but just a plain downer. Then again, the same can be said of most of Orwell's stuff.

10. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo. Okay, I didn't finish it. Have you seen this book? I mean, have you SEEN this book? Unabridged?! It's a mile thick! That's not so daunting in an of itself, but the rambling descriptions of Paris can make you feel like you're reading the 'begats & begots' sections of the more dry books of the Old Testament! I try not to read 'abridged versions' of anything. I like to see what the author was trying for, like the director's cuts of movies, but it's like going from a 25lb barbell to trying to bench press a Mack truck. A great story, no question, but get over your literary high horse and read an abridged version - or just see the musical. It makes a great step-stool for changing light bulbs, though.

11. The Killing Joke - Allan Moore & Brian Boland - Batman...yeeeeah! I owned a 1st printing of this uberdark graphic novel in High School. It was my first REAL comic book purchase. It practically tripled in value in a few months. When they got to the 9th printing, I traded it for Ralph Biggs's copy of Dark night...and creased the cover on it. Needless to say, the trade became permanent for good form. I bag and board nearly everything now. Great story, AMAZING artwork, shocking plot twists, and NUDITY (rare for the family-friendly DC, especially in the early 90's)! I still own a copy, but it's hardcover...and in French. I don't read French. :/

12. Stupid White Men - Michael Moore - Yea, he's a self-serving blowhard, but the guy's got a lot of great points, his ideals line up with mine, and he's just freaking hilarious! Most of his books are pretty similar, but this one's not as dated. I should reread them to see if they hold up as well a decade later. I have most of his books, and this one I got him to autograph.

13. Lies and the Lying Liars The Tell Them - Al Franken - C'mon. Politically left, well researched, AND an SNL cast member and writer?! You think I WOULDN'T own his books? He blends current events, pop culture, and his own personal life into a GREAT read. It's like sitting on a living room couch and talking with him over coffee. Comfortable, unpretentious, never preachy. Just a helluva guy and a helluva writer.

14. The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein. Classic, though I never quite reconciled whether the focus was about a mother's love and generosity or the ungrateful, oblivious kid. Still, it makes me cry whenever I read it.

15. Pat The Bunny - Edith Kunhardt Davies - Who didn't own this book? It had a special place for me, though. As my mother is totally blind, this was the one book we could share interactively. We could pat the bunny, feel daddy's scratchy face, smell the pretty flowers, and truly experience the book together. Lots of happy memories of this book, and the first book I INSISTED on getting when my son was born.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Whistle while you work...

Wow! Has it really been almost three weeks since I wrote a blog? Deepest apologies, dear readers (and lurkers). I'd love to say there's been nothing worthwhile to report, but that'would hardly be the truth, and to be honest, there's too much to try and fit in one blog.

Lemme e'splain... No. There is too much. Lemme sum up.

I'm on the verge of being financially destitute, but I'm managing to scrape by with the help of my family. I'm going through a divorce, but I don't feel lonely. I'm at the lowest point of my life, but I'm happy most of the time.

I know, right!? Makes no sense, but I'm not complaining (much). I am surrounded by the coolest people and drawing strength from the fact that I have unbelievably supportive friends and family to see me through this. I've re-established my direction and WILL pull myself out of this, as I always do. The only real frustration is not being able to give any real details here, as pertinent personal and professional parties have a tendency to snoop around my blog, looking for ammunition. It's pretty maddening, because most all of the things I want to blog about are on these topics.

I saw the premier episode of Glee (CBS) a week or so ago and it rekindled the fire in me to finish my degree. I plan to meet with my adviser and re-enroll at Wayne State in the Fall. The biggest trick to that is to somehow find the $850 I owe them before the term starts. This will be particularly tricky as I am currently earning BELOW minimum wage, working on commission. I could rant for several blogs on this topic, but it is what it is and all I can do is sell my ass off and try to earn more, for the time being. It's infuriating, but as always, I'll work hard within the system to better my situation.

I'm finding that having a roommate has it's ups and downs. I don't have the freedom to use the space as I please much of the time, as we have to coordinate our social schedules. Even just sitting in front of the tube to chill is often out, as he also want the freedom to have his friends or his band over or do some chores and play his music (which, thankfully, is usually all kinds of awesome - the kid's got good taste in music).

One of the perks (and perils), though, is that Paulie's pretty damn OCD. He keeps a STERILE clean environment. The drawback - he expects me to share in said disinfecting. Living in such an environment is VERY refreshing, and I have no problem keeping up my end, but his standards tend to get a bit...much. In my experience, most people have 2 levels of clean: everyday, and company. "Everyday" is tidy enough - dishes accumulate a little bit, the floors need sweeping, the occasional pile of mail or clutter is left out for a little while, but it's kept to a minimum and not left for so long as to become a day-long daunting chore to get things back to livable. "Company" is the get-in-the-corners, don't-let-a-dish-sit-in-the-sink, clear-off-all-surfaces, mop-all-floors, harsh-disinfecting-chemicals-over-every-surface kind of cleaning one does when trying to impress. This is the level he expects all the time. I'm finding this the complete opposite end of the spectrum from what I'm used to, which was refreshing at first. Unfortunately, now that he expects me to adhere to his General Patton white glove treatment (thankfully keeping his standards out of my bedroom), it's creating the same frustration and workload I had before. Rather than coming home from work and relax in my own home at any point, I 'm given a list of things to do and I have to hop onto chores. Thankfully, he has some understanding when the kids come over, and they're generally tidy enough when they visit, but I am usually left with some sweeping, mopping, and dishes to do on the quick.

He's not rude about it in the least, but his standards are just a bit over the top. I'm no Oscar, in my opinion, but he's a Felix to the Nth degree. It's just how he is and we're just getting used to each other and learning to adapt. Given my current situation in all aspects of my life, I'm finding my ability to adapt and still stay relatively unstressed VERY handy. I still think he's an Ubercool roommate, and maintain my insanely high opinion of him as a helluva guy. As he says, "OCD isn't for everybody."

I have tons of other things to blog about : the kids, friends, family, but all of that will have to wait for next time. For now, as the man says, "Time to make the donuts." Tune in next time! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Kind Of Town!

The first time I remember setting foot in Chicago was the summer of 1990. I was on tour with my drum corps and we had a free day between shows somewhere in the Midwest. The bus pulled in front of Shed Aquarium about 10am, dropped us off, and basically said to be back by 6pm. I remember walking through the streets with my cohorts in complete awe of the variety of things to do, places to shop, architecture, sculptures, and culture as we tried to find the Sears Tower in the gaps between skyscrapers. Since then, I have always said that if I could live ANYWHERE else in the US, it would be Chicago.

This past weekend, after finally accepting a standing invitation from one of my oldest friends, Josh, I got to return to "that toddlin' town". He's told me time and again that I should hop a train and spend the weekend with him at his apartment by the lake, so I finally decided to take him up on it. After a mere 32 hours in Chicago, I am more in love with that city than ever before.
I woke up 2 hours before my train was scheduled to leave, just to be prepared for any SNAFU's. Having worked both jobs the night before, I was amazed at how much energy I had! I double checked my packing list, loaded up, and got to the station 45 minutes before departure. I spent a peaceful half-hour snapping pics of the dawn on the trees and playing my uke to kill time. The train ride was SOOO relaxing compared to driving, and for roughly what I would have spent in gas anyway, by FAR the best choice.

I emerged from Union Station about 1/2 hour later than planned, and so I didn't have to wait long for my friend Jenny to pick me up. We headed (via several missed turns and 2 calls to Josh for directions) to Josh's place of employ, as he planned to buy us all lunch at his upscale steakhouse while he worked his shift. Thankfully, it was VERY slow at the restaurant that day, so we all hung out, ate, chatted for a few hours, and did some much needed catch-up for a few hours. Afterwards, Jenny drove me to Josh's place, we talked for a while, and when she left I played on Facebook while waiting for Josh to return from work so we could hit the town.
We walked from his apartment the 3 blocks to the El station and hopped the train a couple miles. We get off, walk 2 blocks, and Josh says, "Paul Keiser, meet Wrigley Field." I look up and there's the sign I've seen in so many of my favorite John Hughes movies. Josh took the obligatory tourist photo of me, then we walk down a few blocks, turn, and all of the sudden I am confronted by a TIDAL WAVE of fabulosity. Josh had taken me to "Boy's Town", the GLBT Mecca of Chicago. We head into his favorite watering hole he described as "the un-gayest gay bar in Chicago...aside from all the Madonna & Cher on the jukebox". The vibe was fun, the beer was cold, the patrons cool, the owner was great, and Josh and I had a great conversation without having to shout (much). I had a BLAST!

After 4 beers and 3 shots of Jager, I'm beginning to feel the fact that I hadn't had much more than 4 hours of sleep in about 40 hours, so we stop by a Mexican place for some grub and hop a cab back to Josh's to turn in.

Sunday was to be the day we hit the downtown. I woke up about 2 hours before Josh, so I played on my computer and watched Ferris Bueller - ya know, for research. Once Josh is up and we'd had abut 3 cups of coffee each, we headed out in the GORGEOUS sunshine to explore Josh's eclectic neighborhood on the way to have Dim Sum for breakfast. We passed stores, markets, restaurants and bakeries representing just about every culture in just the 4 blocks to our destination, all the while Josh pointed out their specialties and his favorites within them.
I've never been much for ethnic food. I'm a fan of the "know quantity" and rarely stray much form the menu at a typical corner diner. I was in an adventurous mood, however, and Josh hadn't steered me wrong yet, so Chinese it was - and I loved it. We strolled back to the apartment, stopping in a few shops on the way and looking at the whole cooked pigs, chickens, & ducks hanging in the windows.

I then packed my overnight bag back up, and we took the bus downtown. The weather was absolutely perfect. Josh planned the route very carefully, apparently, because we hit most every major Chicago icon on our 3 hour walk through the city. The Chicago Theater, the river, Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, Sears Tower, Chicago Stock Exchange - everything south of the river - on our way to Union Station so I could catch my train home. I got a ton of great pictures you can find on my Flickr page.

As I edited and cropped my pictures ion the ride home, I realized why I love Chicago so much. It has a layout and footprint that feels very much like Detroit, but so much better. The transportation system works, the parks - ALL of the parks - are maintained, the buildings are clean, and best of all, the architecture is maintained and restored, rather than neglected or demolished usually.

Someday down the road, maybe I can find a way to move there. It'll be a while, because I'm not leaving my kids, but someday. It certainly is "My Kind Of Town".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Well, while this weekend certainly wasn't the nice big bag o' lazy I was hoping for, it was gorgeous weather, productive, and fun!

Saturday, I did manage to sleep in until 10am, which is very good for me lately. I recently managed to get my grandmother's mantle clock back from the ex and decided to wind it up and let 'er rip! However, as the living room is still a bit Spartan in its decor, there's no place to put it in there yet. So, I decided to just set it on the dresser in my bedroom. Only trouble is, I forgot which crank turns the clock and which turns the chime - so I turned both. Now I get the chime every hour and half hour. Not enough to disturb my sleep the whole night, but as daylight creeps in my room, it's enough to get my up at a reasonable hour, whether I want to or not.

Anyway, I got up at 10am Saturday, took some 'me' time to check the e-mail and Facebook, and proceeded to do the dishes, clean the laundry, mow the lawn, wash the car by hand, and scrubbed the kitchen walls down with TSP in preparation to paint them this week.

Later, my sister popped by with her roommate, Nadia, and we went to see the Hard Lessons play at the Lager House in Detroit. We got there a bit early, hung out with some of Nadia's friends, and I got to meet and talk with Korin, the singer/keyboardist from the band. Korin's a great gal! Between her having a barbershop lineage and a quartet of her own, we had plenty to chat about. Turns out her new quartet just got a gig at Cranbrook for a fund raiser my quartet had to turn down! Small world!

The band did a great show! Their music is very original, with a complex, yet radio-friendlly sound I REALY appreciate. Lots of good harmony, clever use of effects pedals, and interspersed with audience participation. It was an early show, but Val & Nadia were exhaused and Val's voice was destroyed from screaming, alergies, and bar smoke, so they dropped me off for the evening.

I had hoped to be home early enough to have my old friend Ryan stop by for some barbecue, but he was already at the Royal Kubo in Clawson, ready to get his karaoke on. He invited me along and I eagerly accepted. I hung out there with him and his friends from Go! Comedy! (a comedy/improv club in Ferndale club similar to Second City). I had fun catching up with my old friend, meeting some new ones, and rolling my eyes at the bachelorette party that invaded the place, rockin' out their 80's themed evening (big hair, neon spandex, and all). I was starting to feel the weight of my busy day, so after waiting for my songs to come up in the queue for what seemed like forever, I called it a night before getting a chance to strut my stuff and went home.

Sunday, I did a bit of lazing around, a bunch of chores, and went to have lunch with my mom, grandfather, and sister. We had a great visit and caught up. Monday,I was looking forward to seeing my kids march in the Hazel Park Memorial Day Parade. As the ex had booked them long in advance for 2 weekends in a row, despite us agreeing to alternate weekends, it was going to be the only chance I had to see them this weekend. They were supposed to go to the ex's cottage in Canada for the weekend, and return for the parade to march with their respective Scout troops. As the group approached, I notice neither one was with them. Slightly disappointed at not at least SEEING my kids, I enjoyed the parade with my friend Lou, who had crashed at my place after a late night of arguing with his girlfriend with me as the mediator (can you say 'irony'?).

The rest of the day was all about gittin' shit done. My sister Valerie, my roommate Paulie and I spent the lion's share of the day laying the new floor in the living room. I was dubbed "the Master of the Mechanical Stuff" and bequeathed the power tools for cutting and shaping the planks. After about 8 hours of some solid, heavy work, the living room has a MUCH brighter and cleaner look and feel. I did the mandatory Footloose skid across the floor in my socks (pants on) and we had some great BBQ chicken, some burgers, and beer to celebrate, before my crew departed for the evening.

So, all-in-all, not the lazy, laid back weekend I had envisioned, but very fun, VERY productive, and extremely enjoyable! I know, not the heavy, philosophical shit I usually blog about (especially at this length, but hey, it WAS a 3-day weekend), but damn it - IT'S MT BLOG! :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

How did I love this weekend? Let Me Count The Ways....

1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand....

This weekend was my 35th birthday/Housewarming party at my new place with my roommate, Paulie B.. Hands down, an awesome weekend!

First, on Thursday night, I went with my sister to Liam's choir concert at school. While the instrumental part of the show dragged for QUITE a while, when the teachers finally stopped yapping and the choir began their mini-musical, it was a LOT of fun. Courtney elected to sit between my sister and I, rather than with the ex and her family (I figured it a bit awkward to sit next to them, plus the bleachers provided a better, unobstructed view). Liam got a duet...with HARMONY no less! In 3rd grade!!! He sang his part perfectly and sounded great! 'At's maboy!! I think we may have a 4th generation barbershopper on our hands, but than again, I've thought that for a while.

Friday, after doing inventory for most of the day, I went home to start prepping for the party. I spent most of the evening cleaning, breaking only for a bit to head to Paulie's for some artwork and decore for our Spartan living room. Saturday, I ran some errands in the morning, including exchanging my DSL modem for a wireless model. I now have wireless at home without having to pirate the lone, weak, unsecured signal in the neighborhood! About 3pm, Marney (henceforth known as the Queen of Awesome) let us borrow her Costco membership to stock up on party supplies. Paulie went a bit nuts, getting WAY more meat than we'll ever eat and despite the invites saying BYOB, he bought enough beer to supply the average frat house for a month. Most of the supplies remain, keeping us with BBQ provisions for most of the summer.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning, mowing, setting up the fire bowl, BBQ, and filling the laundry tub and washer with ice for the beer. Her Royal Highness stayed with us doing everything we didn't think of and generally being completely awesome.

I managed a shower just as people arrived. As folks started to trickle in, the party got absolutely cool. My quartet was there in full effect, providing tunes, with occasional substitutions by our former bass, Floyd, and Paulie's drummer, Ryan. We lit the fire, the tiki torches, ate, drank and were merry. MMy guitar was unearthed and passed around for some acoustic sets by Paulie, Ryan, and others. It eventually made its way to the fire and we sang some stuff outside that spontaneously broke into 4 and 5 part harmony (whether it needed it or not, with varying degrees of success depending on the quantity of intoxicants ingested.)

Toward the end of the evening, we realized that about 75% of the guests in attendance were Dondero Acappella alumni, so we attempted to sing some of the choir standards. Given that most of these people hadn't sung these songs in 10-15 years, it was....well...a total train wreck. Most of the sopranos forgot their parts, so I ended up on soprano for most of it (with the assistance of a good wedgie). But still, we had a BLAST trying! I have some video of it, but at the behest of my sister, I won't post it.

The final entertainment of the evening was the capper on a fun night. As I was standing around the fire with a few other divorces, complaining about exes, I heard a thumping by my car. Someone had run up and was pummeling it with eggs! I chase down the perpetrator and catch up. Knowing she was caught, she turned around, and it was my ex-wife's friend, Dorothy. She shrugs and gets in MY EX-WIFE'S CAR !My bass, Big Dave saw the whole thing. I proceeded to call the police, who arrived lickety-split, and the officer filed his report as Big Dave grabbed the hose and washed off my car. I wasn't going to press charges over a few eggs - especially since it was cleaned right away - but I found it hilariously sad. Rather than putting a damper on my birthday party, as she had hoped, all she did was provide an extra laugh!

Sunday was just chill. I did some clean-up, mowed my sister's roommate's lawn, talked with my mom and dad, chatted with a few folk online, and caught up on Heroes. It was gorgeous weather and a perfectly relaxing afternooon.

This weekend couldn't have been more perfect. Thank you SO much to everyone who came and hellped make this a GREAT weekend! My quartet, Lou, Dave, Big Dave and alumnus Floyd added some great sounds and let me shoow off the hobby I'm always raving about. Liz and Jenn Wicker for briinging plants to bring some life into the new digs. My sister, Val, for pproviding the place for the party (and a zillion other things I can't get into without being sappy - she hates that). Everyone who showed up to laugh, sing, eat, embibe, and add to the jocularity and joviality that was this most awesome, yet mellow party.

Most of all, Marney McKay for ALL the help she provided with the Costco discount, providing an extra grill, mannning the grills, and more helpful tasks than I could possibly remember. ALL HAIL THE QUEEN OF AWESOME!!

I only wish all birthdays could be so completely awesome.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brother, can you spare a dime?

I have a lot to be grateful for. In my heart, I know this. Going through a divorce is generally one of the toughest things someone can go through, but in this economy, it's even worse. I knew this was going to be an expensive process. However, with my primary job's paycheck about to plummet, my second job barely pulling in enough to pay my health insurance premiums, a home with no equity in the current market, no savings left, no investments, and no property worth enough to bother trying to sell, it's looking very bleak.

You all know me well enough to know I don't complain a lot...well, at least not on here. I vent a lot, but usually with the disclaimer that I'm not asking for help. I have had to swallow my pride a lot lately. I'm not good at asking for charity, and over the past 3 months, I've had to ask my family for more than I ever should - financially, emotionally, and logistically. I don't like putting people out of their way for me. I'm a big boy, and I need to dig myself out of my own trenches. Usually this entails selling one of my instruments or working more hours at one of my jobs. Well, my instruments are being held hostage and more hours at work aren't a possibility right now. I'm out of options.

Yes, I'm an "able bodied man" and "gainfully employed", but hardly making anything near a "substantial income", as recently implied. Not that I would know this, as I still haven't seen my tax returns for the last year and they are also being held hostage. Now I find myself trying to come up with money for a retainer for my lawyer, pay the mortgage on a home I have been locked out of, fighting a losing battle to see my kids in the few hours I can squeeze in between jobs, and returning scavenged pop bottles for grocery money.

You all know I'm a big believer in Karma. Lately, I've discovered that my faith in Karma has paid off in dividends beyond my wildest dreams. The fact that I have been able to survive this far with the support of my true friends and family is a testament to how my desire to help everyone I come in contact with has built up my stores of good Karma. Those stores, I fear, are dwindling of late. A dear friend reminded me last night that it's all cyclical. The "Pay It Forward" concept doesn't end. I am still who I am, and will be ready for the call to help my friends and family however I can at any time. At some point in the future, I may be called on to drive cross country to save a stranded friend, house a loved one, or provide financial assistance for my kids or grandkids, and I will take the experiences of the past couple weeks and jump at the chance to help. That's who I am anyway - karmic balance sheet be damned.

I picked up my summons and Complaint for Divorce papers yesterday. I'm a bit scared about what the next few months will bring. I WILL take a devastating financial hit, have to make a lot of material sacrifices, and I have no doubt that nothing will be made easy for me. Still, I will not impose on my friends and I will not compromise who I am. I will keep taking the high road, and keep doing what is right by my kids as best I can. I won't "prepare for battle". That's not what this is about. I WILL stand firm for what I need and move on with my life.

This will be the most difficult year of my life, no doubt. I may even end up financially ruined. I'm going to batten down the hatches, ride the storm, and arrive on the shores of my destination to the warm sunshine and loving embrace of friends and family a stronger man, wiser for the lessons learned.

I hate accepting charity, but lately I've taken to heart that, "I'll get by with a little help from mhy friends."

I will be my own man.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Weekend of relaxed, yet productive, awesomeness.

Just a bunch of yummy awesomeness this weekend. The weather was GORGEOUS all weekend, and I took full advantage of it!

Saturday I was up at a reasonable hour, did some laundry, and then it was off to FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! As usual, my first (and subsequently only) stop was my buddy Chris's shop, Comics & More. As expected, the place was pumpin'. Lotsa folks appreciating the freebies, giveaways, and raffles Chris was providing. I stopped in for just a minute to grab my free swag (a few choice comics, a Star Trek movie poster & bumper stickers, and some foam Wolverine claws for the kids). I wasn't sure if I was getting the kids at any point that day, as the ex and I hadn't discussed it, so I got some stuff for them, just in case.

As I'm about to hit a couple other comic shops, just to see the mele, I'm called by an AT&T service tech, saying she was on her way to fix my thus far sporadic, crappy internet. DOUBLE YAY! WORKING INTERNET! I head home and start some dishes while I wait. If the problem was outside, it was free. If the problem was inside, it could be $60-$120. She came by and started her thing and my sister came by for a brief visit. We chatted while the AT&T gal did her thing. I figured if it was inside, I'd just cancel my subscription. I can't afford a dime right now. Thankfully, the gal on the call was WAY cool and said she wouldn't charge me, even though she had to re-run the line from the box inside the house, and she had me up and running lickety-split! I CAN FINALLY CATCH UP ON HEROES & DAILY SHOW AGAIN!!!!

From there, it was home to tackle the jungle that the recent rains and 2.5 weeks of growth had errupted in my yard. As I'm finishing up the last (yet most daunting) 1/3 of the backyard, my brother-in-law pulls up with my younglings! Yay!! They run in the house to start playing the NES (yea, I'm old school like that) while I finish the yard. Then I went inside to hang with my kids while Liam played Super Mario 3. As it turns out, Liam had gotten suspended that week, so I hat to put the kaibosh on heading out to the comic shops. I was bummed, as was he, but he took it like a good sport. I showed him the comic I grabbed for him and said he can have it next week, provided he has a better week at school.

We had sandwiches, talked, played Nintendo, and had a great afternoon. From there, I dropped them home and headed to work at the video store. It was delightfully slow and I had a great night chatting with customers and my coworkers. I came home to my roommate prepping his bedroom for its first coat of paint. We hung out a while and wrapped up a great day before he went back to his crib.

Sunday was even more awesome! I woke just late enough for good sleep and early enough to enjoy a beautiful morning. I folded some laundry, spread some grass seed in the bare spots of the lawn, did some grocery shopping, swept up, put away the clean dishes, checked my e-mail, chatted online a bit, and generally tidied up - all with no schedule. (contented sigh)

About 2ish, my roommate showed up to do some more work, followed by my sister who had come to grab more of her things. We talked and hung out and had a GREAT relaxed time. I made some KILLER BBQ chicken on the hibachi (yay meat!), and we ate on the front port in the beautiful weather (did I mention the weather was GORGEOUS?) When we finished, Val asked that I take the mower to her and her friend's house to tackle that with my demonstrated expertise. A double lot, but no obstacles to wind around - simple. I had nothing better to do and it was GORGEOUS out, so I piled up the mower in my car and headed there. I got some good exercise, got to see where my sister is living before her move to California, and a couple bucks for my trouble. Unexpected cash FTW.

We came back to my place so my sis ccould grab some more stuff, started a fire in the firebowl, and just chilled for a bit with my roommate. His first coat of paint looks great! Bolder color thatn I'd choose (teal), but expertly applied.

A GREAT, relaxing weekend. If you've ever read my blog, you know what a change that is for me!

I'm starting a new chapter in my life these days. It's filled with great characters, interesting plot twists, and all the stuff of a great story. Like any great story, it'll have its trials and triumphs. I can't wait to see where this story leads, but also like any great story, it's the thrill of the read that's the fun.

"Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, escapes, true love, miracles..."

Well, maybe not fencing...