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Jason Grose's BLOG

August 2004

 

 

 


What's a blog, you ask? It stands for "weblog" and it's basically an online journal of daily thought. We'll see how long I can keep this up (as though I don't have enough to do!)

If you must have a title, I'll go with: The daily thoughts/rants of a Marine Officer, father, scholar, husband, marathon runner, Flash cartoonist, computer nerd.


Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Stephen: Just when we thought all hope was lost, our noble saviors have arrived.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Waking up early to get in a 9 mile run just wasn’t going to happen this morning. Instead, sleeping in the quiet, cool, dark hotel room was a much better choice. In fact, it wasn’t a choice at all since 0745 came and it was the first time I knew an outside world existed today.

The next idea I had was to take the kids to the pool since I could at least get my heart rate up and the kids would get a chance to swim. Yesterday, the storm was too close and more importantly, the lightning. I didn’t want a couple of crispy critters just because they wanted a dip in the pool.

Alex chose the stay in bed while I took out Steph to the pool. But then the sign said it didn’t open until 1000 and once again, my offspring’s hopes were dashed. I made promises that the place we were going would have a pool and I promised to take them. I drew the line at buying a pony. Anyway, Buster would think it was just a really big doggie.

The road once again called to us and we answered the call by piling all our belongings in the Saturn and headed toward Florida. But before we could go, we had to fuel up which meant a stop at the Waffle House. “No Sharing” was the theme of the breakfasts which was a problem since they served portions large enough to feed a small village. Because we are such a rebellious family, we ignored the golden Waffle House rule and ordered three meals to distribute among the four of us. Then we held a switchblade to the waitress’s throat and fleeced the whole joint.

Just kidding, we ate our fill, tried to ignore the cigarette smoke that pervaded the place, and got back into the Saturn for the trip.

Today’s driving went smooth with minimal traffic as we zoomed down I95. I actually displayed a fragment of self-control when we stopped for lunch at Taco Hell by going with the fiesta taco salad. OK, not exactly tops on the healthy eating list but it was better than a mucho macho burrito.

While we were there, we got a taste of the locals. What appeared to be three construction workers came in, no shirts, filthy with drywall or white paint splattering all over their bare torsos. They seemed oblivious that they were in a public eating establishment, half naked. And either the crack Taco Bell employees were too spineless to tell them to leave or such behavior was acceptable in this portion of the country. Whatever the case, I was glad we were done and ready to leave. Just another lesson for the kids on how NOT to behave in public.

We got to the Disneyworld sector of Florida about 5:00 PM. Notice I didn’t say to Disneyworld itself because what I didn’t realize was that Disneyworld takes up pretty much half of Florida. We got into the same zipcode around that time and despite having Mapquest directions right to Shady Greens (where we were staying), we got turned around and the second happiest place on earth turned into the most frustrating place on earth. My record for good-natured traveling Jason was snapped in two as I spewed my frustration all over the family in the form of minor temper flares.

The hotel we stayed at was, and excuse the technical terms, “fancy-schmanzy.” When we pulled up, the valet greeted us and showed us where to check in. The process was simple and everything went OK which, to a person like me who has become accustomed to horrendous personal service, was refreshing.

Shades of Greens is everything you’d imagine a resort hotel to be. It has lavish grounds which have various colors of green, you could even say many “shades” of, well, green. (A stale joke I’ve been terrorizing my family with since we got here). Everywhere they have rockery, lush plants, and flowing water. It’s simply a beautiful place to be.

It was time to keep some promises having to do with a certain pair of kids and swimming. It was inevitable and my spawn would have gang-tackled me and beat my head against the ground if we didn’t get them into a pool soon. So we got our suits on and headed out to the pools. Yes, pools with an “s.”

Once again, Mother Nature trumped our plans and because of the lightning that was threatening, they had the pools shut down. We hung out until they opened them though so my life was spared. I even joined the kids and we had a great time in the pool and with the Olympics close to mind, I couldn’t help but do some laps and pretend that I was Phelps or the Thorpedo. I know, cheesy but you know you do it too.

We also looked into what we were going to invest in the already filthy rich conglomerate that is Disney. After many combinations, we decided we would spend tomorrow at the MGM Studios as a family and then Carrie and the kids would decide which one of the others they would see on Thursday. I was going to spend the day with Rob so they were on their own. All the packages didn’t work because they were all for more than 2 days so we had to go with individual tickets for individual parks. Kinda sucked but we realized that we wouldn’t want to see more than one park per day anyway because we would spread ourselves too thin. As it was, I had to hawk my right leg, my spleen, and a kidney just to buy the tickets we went with.

We met up with Rob and his fiancé, Lindsey at the hotel and then found an Olive Garden, where, as I’ve been told, we are family when we are there. Well, our “family” charged us $95 for dinner but we had a great meal, complete with the only wine I’ve ever tasted that I really liked. Carrie and I had tasted it before in Fredericksburg so tonight we decided to get a bottle and share the knowledge.

Carrie claims I hogged the conversation but I challenge her assersion. Yes, I had a good portion of the wine, yes I hadn’t seen Rob in three years and had never met his fiancé, and yes, I had a lot to say but… well maybe I did express myself but most of them were the stories Rob and I shared. I shared the Scuds and Suds story, the birthday in Saudi story, and even the incoming scud story. Rob had never told Lindsey about these so I was in my element, relating some of my favorite stories.

One unforeseen even unfolded quite to my surprise. I had an “announcement” to Rob and told it would probably mean nothing to him until I explained. I told him I was going to complete the Badwater in 5 years and just like I expected, he had no idea what that meant. Then it was time to try to explain exactly what it was.

About a half hour later I had given him the outlined sketches of what the race consisted of and he came back with an unexpected response.

“I want to crew it for you!”

He said this with such excitement and commitment that it took me aback. I didn’t expect this and was just as shocked at his offer as I was that I never thought to ask him.

The big deal about this is that Rob is a doctor. To have my own personal physician, schooled in ER medicine, and a close friend who is interested in my well-being is more than a person could ever hope for.

Free Advice for Today:
Show respect for everyone who works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Monday, August 30, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Hamish: Where are you going?
William Wallace: I'm going to pick a fight.
Hamish: Well, we didn't get dressed up for nothing.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

On the road again. Yes, I know you are in fear of hearing that hokey Willie Nelson song but I promise not to sing it if you don’t.

This morning we set off on our two day drive to the wonderful state of Florida where the only thing more treacherous than the alligators are the mosquitoes. We decided not to try to make it in one leg for the following reasons:

1. I am not in my 20s anymore
2. Murdering my own children is frowned upon by the law
3. My back can’t take it (I know, related to #1)

We are on our way to a wedding of one of my best friends from way back when I was young and enlisted. Rob and I met as avionics techs in Yuma and went to the first Gulf War together. Rob was the only thing that kept me sane and the others from lynching me due my moody personality. Rob made me laugh when there was nothing to laugh about and we stayed friends long after he got out and I stayed in. In fact, he pursued a career as a doctor and he’s someone I brag about when the subject of starting out in the Corps and getting out to pursue other goals.

So Rob’s getting married again (I was his best man at his first wedding) and since I drop everything to attend any of his big life-moments, when he called we planned a vacation around the trip to the Land O' Old People.

This trip started out different than just about any other trip we’ve ever taken as a family. The reason? Well, we were in no hurry to get it started because we were simply driving to a hotel somewhere along the route. The result was that we could sleep in and did so to the tune of 0730. I like that tune.

But Buster is a different story. Despite the fact that he’s as dumb as a box of rocks, Buster knows when something’s up. Granted, suitcases out and packing at night isn’t exactly cryptic behavior but like I mentioned, Buster’s intellect can be measured in differentiated thoughts somewhere between 1 and 3.

So when the suitcases came out, the skulking began. He moped around the house like he was extremely depressed and we had to take periodic breaks to assure him everything was OK.

Normally, we would have the neighbor come over each day to feed him but we had gone to that well a few too many times lately so Carrie thought it was best to put Buster in a kennel. Doggie prison, if you will.

So after getting everything packed up, Carrie and the kids loaded Buster into the truck and he excitedly enjoyed a ride he had no idea was going to end in his incarceration. As I’m told, he went in wagging even as the lady led him to his kennel and all the other dogs barked their stupid heads off. I’m sure the topic of “fresh meat” was the main subject of dog conversation as he took his walk down the gauntlet.

The car was packed and we headed out, stopping only to drop off some movies and hitting the local Wawa for some travel food. I looked at the healthy stuff but they appeared only as a blur as I continued on to the Hostess aisle.

I saw the Suzi Qs. I walked away. They beckoned me. I resisted. I wandered back.

In the end, they won out along with their partners in crime, the package of chocolate “donettes.”

But you will be glad to hear that I put them back.

But you will further be disappointed to hear that the reason was because my son got the same pack and it was more cost efficient to get the box.

Hey, don’t judge me, I’m on vacation!!!

I started driving and we weren’t on the road 20 minutes before it started raining. Then it started pouring. It was like going through a carwash and even the wipers highest setting couldn’t handle the deluge. This went on, sometimes getting stronger, sometimes relenting for short periods of time, for a couple of hours. If you’ve ever driven in such conditions, you know how exhausting it is to prevent your vehicle from crashing into something hard and killing your entire family.

This went on until lunch time when we stopped at the Cracker Barrel.

I had never been to a Cracker Barrel and if you have not had the pleasure, it’s a theme restaurant that simulates small town country living. No, there’s no race car stuff or racial segregation, just that plain old Andy Griffith Mayberry feel.

If there was any doubt I was in South Carolina, it evaporated when I asked what kind of soup they had.

“Well, we got veg-e-table or tortilla soup.”

The best part was the pronunciation of “tortilla.” It was said exactly how it looks instead of making the double “l” sound like a “y.”

“Tore-till-a soup…”

It took all I had not to laugh at the dead-serious waitress’s face.

“I’ll take the vegetable, please” as a struggled to maintain my composure.

I tried to keep an open mind and know that through sheer statistical probability, I would eventually have to get some decent service at a restaurant. I was due.

But alas, there were problems.

It took a long time despite the relative lack of customers present. My sweet tea raneth dry as I waited for my pre-meal cup of soup that eventually showed up with the meal.

The meal was really good but we had to track down our missing waitress to get the coleslaw that came with each meal. Even so, she only brought mine and not Carrie’s. I wanted to say “That’s OK, I’m Jason Grose. I have a cosmic flag on my record that I am, by law, not allowed proper customer service anywhere I go. You are just maintaining the rules.”

Then I had to ask for crackers with my soup. At Cracker Barrel. Asking for crackers at Cracker Barrel. There's something funny there or at least ironic.

After the meal, it was Carrie’s turn to drive and my turn to read the backlog of newspapers I brought and then think about stuff (my code for napping.)

The minute we got back into the car, the skies cleared. Within five moinutes, we saw the sun for the first time and it was actually a gorgeous southern afternoon. This lasted the entire time Carrie was behind the wheel. This was not fair. May God damn my soul but this was simply not fair.

Hours later, Carrie nudged me from my thinking session and asked if I wanted to take over the driving duties. We pulled over at a gas station where the “USMC” emblazoned across the T-shirt I was wearing resulted in an elderly gentleman to claim I was “standing there looking like you just got out of bootcamp.” He quickly added he had been in the Corps years ago so I allowed him to live.

Right before we walked into the store, we heard the distant sound of thunder.

Once everyone made a visit to the restroom and we all stocked up on goodies (giant gumballs for me), we all piled back into the car and got on the highway. Within five minutes, it started pouring down rain.

So let’s recap: I drove, it rained. Carrie jumped behind the wheel and it cleared up and actually became quite beautiful. I get back behind the wheel, … rain.

And it poured like a bastard. Again with the carwash. It was just too perfect for me to even get mad about.

We got just north of Savanna since we didn’t want to deal with the business and prices of a city, we found a Comfort Inn that had a pool. The weather had let up momentarily but the sky was black with angry clouds and we had mere minutes before the rain was coming back.

I had a little issue with my daughter because I made it clear that we would all hurry and get the stuff into the room but when we made our initial trip, she stayed back saying she’d be right out. We rushed out, loaded up the luggage cart, and even by the time we wheeled it back to the room, Stephanie was still in the room.

I was not too happy about this. In fact, I let my feelings be known to my 10-year-old daughter and there was no doubt how I felt after about 5 minutes of explaining just where she went wrong. Of course Carrie played the role of making sure I didn’t go too far, worried for my quickly teary-eyed daughter.

The storm prevented the kids from going in the pool so instead, Carrie took them to dinner while I decided to get in a run after a day on the road. The motel had an exercise room with a treadmill so I got in a quick 6 miles. Well, “quick” is a relative term. I managed a 10 minute pace after a long day driving and the 14 mile run yesterday. I was soaking wet by the end but was proud that I didn’t quit at 2 miles like I wanted to. Even though I burned a good amount of calories, I probably just broke even after the gluttonous display of breakfast nastiness.

Carrie brought me back a salad from McD’s and some chicken tenders from KFC. I watched football and tried not to sweat through dinner.

Free Advice for Today:
Do your homework and know your facts, but remember it's passion that persuades."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Sunday, August 29, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Hamish: What in the hell are the Irish doing fighting with the English?
Stephen: I wouldn't worry about them. Like I said, it's my island.
William Wallace: Your island?
Stephen: MY ISLAND. Yup.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

We were planning a cookout with the Sbragias today but they got behind painting their new house and had to cancel. So instead, we packed for the trip to Orlando and watched Buster work him into a depression only rivaled by my own moodiness.

Despite my massive email back up and lack of updates, I worked on trying to catch up at least a little on the computer. Leaving for a vacation is kind of sweet and sour for me since I get to spend time with the family and will not be tempted to abandon them in exchange for computer face time. But on the other hand, I know that email will pile up while I’m gone and I’m already behind with putting stuff up on the page.

If you are saying to yourself that I’ve let the page and email suck my life down into a bottomless pit, you can stand in line right behind my wife. I have this insane notion that I will be able to catch up with all of it and one day just have nothing to put up. But at that point, I will get a bright idea and go off in some other direction. Something must give and that too, I’m working on.

My thoughts still linger on the Badwater. I checked out the site and I get a mixture of excitement and terror when I contemplate putting myself through it. The cost, the training, the time, all weigh on me and I wonder if I have what it takes to do it. When these thoughts enter my head, I remind myself that people complete it every year and while it is quite a long range goal, it is attainable. It will also dictate my training for the next half decade so if only for that, it’s worth it.

But for now, tomorrow is the start of a vacation where I can reconnect with my family and see Rob and his family. It’s been three years since I saw them and I look forward to talking with them. My schedule looks something like this:

Monday: Drive to a hotel halfway to Orlando (why push it?)
Tuesday: Arrive in Orlando and maybe have dinner with Rob and Lindsey
Wednesday: Visit Disney World
Thursday: Visit Disney World or send family and spend day with Rob
Friday: Golf in the morning with the men, wedding rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, drinks with the men
Saturday: Wedding, wedding reception
Sunday: Drive home in one shot

Free Advice for Today:
Remember that a person who will steal an egg will steal a chicken."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Saturday, August 28, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Narrator: I will tell you of William Wallace. Historians will call me a liar, but history is written by those who've hanged heroes.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Last night the boys wanted to go to Burger King so we took them. But I paid for it dearly.

I’ve known that my system does not take kindly to fast food royalty, thus Burger King and Dairy Queen send me into gastrointestinal fits. But this time I had a plan; I would sidestep this little dance with my gut and bypass the Whopper and all its varieties in exchange for the chicken sandwich. Good move, you say? That’s what I thought.

It was not to be. By the end of the night I had that all-too-familiar pang in my gut that can only be the result of monarchial ingestion. I concluded that it must be the oil they use and Carrie suggested MSG. Other than Marine Security Guard, I have no idea what that is and the only other place I’ve seen it is when Chinese restaurants proclaim they don’t use it. I assume they don’t use PCP in their food either but I don’t see them announcing that. But I digress.

So for the rest of the night and most of this morning, I had to live with the aftermath of my actions. Let’s just say I was not up to speed.

But I was able to fulfill a duty that has been over a year in the making. For some reason, it was important to my daughter that I take pictures of the Sbragia boys and warp around their faces with Photoshop. I had done this with everyone in the family and Zach but the two youngest Sbragia boys missed out back in Monterey. So here is what I came up with.

Presenting Ghoul Jake and Ghoul Adam.

Free Advice for Today:
Make the bed when you're an overnight visitor in someone's home."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Friday, August 27, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Royal Magistrate: The prisoner wishes to say a word.
William Wallace: FREEEEE-DOMMMMMM.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Today was the last day of the general court martial I’m serving and I’m glad it’s over. Despite my neutral façade I was required to maintain, the case was an emotional roller coaster for me. The last three days have been nothing but constant evaluation of a thousand little puzzle pieces and the knowledge that I have a decision to make that will affect two people for the rest of their lives. I haven’t slept all that well but it’s been easy to get up in the morning because I have a serious purpose to my day.

It’s all I think about and I was just nervous that I would make the wrong decision. Most of all, I was nervous that I had a good idea of which way I was going to go and to me it was obvious. But what if we go in today to deliberations and everyone is just as sure of their perception and it’s exactly opposite of what I thought? It was unthinkable and improbable but possible.

But there were light moments and the most memorable story in the deliberations room. The Lieutenant was telling a story about how his Marines and he were marching through the desert somewhere in Iraq when they came across some new helicopter being tested for the Marine Corps. One of the Marines suggested they get a ride in it back to base camp and the Lieutenant pointed out there wasn’t even a pilot around so who was going to fly it.

What came next made me laugh for several minutes afterwards. It was so dead-on Lance Corporal and why I love being a Marine.

One of the Lance Corporals looks at the Lieutenant and say “I’ll fly that MOTHER FUCKER, Sir!”

A few things that made this so funny.

First, I have no doubt that the young Marine would climb in this machine and risk his own life just for the chance to fly it. That is just the attitude they have, God Bless them.

Second, he said the explicative with such venom, almost like he had anger toward the challenge and dared it to beat him. Again, I have no doubt this is what transpired and that every word was meant.

Classic.

Another story he told was memorable just because of the way it was told. The main plot had something else to do with the story but when leading up to it, he said something to the effect of “…and as we went along, mortars were landing here and there and rounds were whizzing by but nothing major…”

Out of context, this may sound like false bravado but if you were to hear him tell it, you would know that this really didn't mean anything to him compared to the thrust of the story. It was a minor detail as you or I would describe a scene at the park. He didn’t realize that what he was describing was DEADLY WEAPONS MEANT TO KILL HIM and he legitimately played them off as a small details in the story.

Lastly, he told of the hassle he got when he returned from Iraq and was turning in his gear to supply. Most of these type of jobs have been turned over to civilian contractors so there was some fat civilian taking in the war-ravaged gear from the Marines.

The guy gave the Lieutenant a hard time because despite scrubbing the gear with soap, the shoulder straps to the pack had salt stains and the civilian wouldn’t accept it. It was Iraq, you dumb bastard. It was war. People were shooting things at each other. People were getting hurt. People were dying. Next thing you know, you’ll make him wash out those pesky bloodstains.

You know what, as far as I’m concerned, they can keep the gear. If you went to war, risked your life, fought and killed an enemy that was trying to kill you, I’m not going to worry about black marks on a canteen cup.

When the deliberations started, it was such a relief to be able to talk over the case. We brought up the points we all had (covering the 8 pages of notes I took) and discussed everything at length. We argued, debated, pointed, counter-pointed, examined, counter-examined, and analyzed everything we heard over the last three days.

After the deliberations were over, we all had a chance to vote via secret ballot. You would think something like this would be more proper than little Post-It notes and a piss cutter but that’s what it came down to. The Lieutenant took each piece out, read it, and recorded it. After he was done, we did the same thing on the lesser-included offense and voted.

When we returned to the court room, I made an effort not to make eye contact with anyone. I just marched in and stood at attention.

The senior member, a Captain that was standing right next to me, read the verdict and it was just like you see on TV. There is a long introduction and then the moment everyone has been waiting for.

After the trial, I felt a rush of relief. I think we had come to a proper decision and justice was served. I felt bad for the side it went against but felt that the other side was properly served.

I took my time leaving the courtroom and both lawyers ended up coming in when I was about to leave. So two of us stayed back and talked to them about the case. They were interested in knowing how they did, what worked, what didn’t work, etc. so they could improve their skills. We were open and honest to them and told them what went on inside the boardroom. We asked questions and got feedback on how we as a jury was perceived by the court.

One interesting thing was that neither side could read me. They had ideas about some of the others but admitted that I Stonehenged the entire trial and I took a certain amount of pleasure in hearing that.

I was mentally and physically exhausted so I picked up my blues and went home. On the way back, I stopped by the Exchange to see if those Mail Call tickets were in yet but they weren’t. But what I found was Lisa Sbragia wandering around the store and it was the first time in a year that I laid eyes on her. She was as shocked to see me as I was to see her and we had a joyous reunion. Chad was in the main store buying a soccer ball for the boys and we tracked him down to have yet another mini-reunion with him right there in the Quantico Exchange.

The boys were at my house and the Sbragias had the night to themselves. I actually felt excited to get home and see them and when I did, I found that I now had 5 kids tearing up my house. I say that tongue-in-cheek because these boys are the last kids I would ever mind coming over to my house and despite Chad and Lisa’s constant worry that they are too much of a burden for us, I thoroughly enjoy when they come over. My kids are better kids when their kids are around, if that makes any sense.

Free Advice for Today:
Give people a second chance, but not a third."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Thursday, August 26, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Argyle Wallace: Did the priest give a poetic benediction? "The Lord bless thee and keep thee..."
Young William: It was in Latin.
Argyle Wallace: You don't speak Latin? Eh, then that is something we shall have to remedy.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Back in court today. More testimony. More stress.

I’ve been trying to keep a neutral face for the last two days. It’s tough when you hear heart-wrenching testimony but I really did not want to react to anything. I didn’t want either side to think I was being swayed by anything. Why? Because I assume this is what you are supposed to do.

For two days, I’ve been analyzing the psychology of being in court. I’ve been trying hard not to be swayed by things I assume are pitfalls, based on the years of TV-watching experience. I know, not the best model to go off of but it’s all I had to go on.

I tried not to be swayed by things like emotional testimony by the witnesses. By the way people looked on both sides. By the personalities of the lawyers. By the ranks of some of the witnesses. All this was common sense but also, we were warned to not make any decision either way until we heard all of the testimony and had our deliberations. So that’s what I did.

One interesting thing to mention was the court reporter. She was a Gunny who I knew when I was in 29 Palms but back then, she was a Sergeant. It seems she picked up rank fast but it’s not surprising since her field is probably small and valuable. She told me that she had picked up Gunny two years ago which made me feel rather old.

But I was amazed at her skill. I’m not quite sure how it works but I think that they have a modified keyboard that they use to write exactly what is said in court. Glancing over, I could see her “zoned” and pressing down seemingly meaningless combinations on her efficient keyboard as fast as people were talking.

One of the guys says they go into some kind of trance to get everything and their training teaches them how to do it. He also says that if you look at it, its all coded and then a computer decrypts the typing into the dialogue. I found myself intrigued by the entire concept and couldn’t stop noticing how strange it was to see her pound out various combinations as people spoke. It was like watching someone play the piano.

Free Advice for Today:
Be the first to say 'Hello.'"
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Argyle Wallace: We'll stay here tonight, leave in the mornin'.
Young William: But I don't want to leave.
Argyle Wallace: You did not want your father to die either, but it happened.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Today, I had to report to the court martial.

Now obviously I cannot discuss the details of the trial but I can explain the process and the non-deliberation, as I will call it. You see, when we would go back to the deliberation room (jury room), we weren’t allowed to talk about the case at all until all the evidence was presented. So we talked about everything except the case and these are the stories I can discuss.

The jury, called the court martial board members, consisted of 6 Captains and one senior First Lieutenant. But a couple of things made it just like we were all Captains. First, the Lieutenant was a former enlisted Marine so he was much more mature than the average Lieutenant. But more importantly, he was one of two people on the board that just returned from combat in Iraq. Needless to say he garnered a lot of respect and we never for a moment saw him less than an equal and in some respects, on a level exceeding those of us that have not spent time in Iraq.

The rest of the court consisted of a Lieutenant Colonel as the judge, a Gunny as the court recorder, and a 2ndLt for the bailiff. Both lawyers were Captains and the defense also had a civilian lawyer hired to co-council the case.

The basic drill was that we would be summoned to the jury box to hear testimony and receive instructions. We would get breaks or when the judge wanted to talk to the lawyers alone, we would be sent back to the jury room where we were not allowed to talk about anything concerning the case. So you can imagine how hard it was to hear very dramatic testimony and then go back to the room and talk about anything but what we just heard.

Now that I’ve set the stage, let me say a few things about this group of people. First, you could not have found a better jury than this one. We were all exceedingly professional and took the case very seriously. We later found out that we were considered a “strong” jury and both sides could tell we were going to do the right thing.

With that said, we did a hell of a job staying away from the subject of the case while in the deliberation room until all was said and done. We talked about a variety of subjects from politics to guns to politically correct and incorrect topics.

In a way, we had a lot in common, being mid-grade officers in the Marine Corps. But we had a lot not in common which only helped the case. But the overriding thing was that in all of this grab-assery we delighted in as we scrambled for things to talk about, it became evident that no one was going to be bullied into any decision. We had 7 strong personalities and we poked and jabbed at each other all day getting to know each other and more importantly, getting a feel for one another. We didn’t know how the deliberations were going to pan out but I will reiterate, my impression was that if there was going to be a fight, it was going to be an epic battle because no one was going to get pushed around in that jury room.

Free Advice for Today:
Never give your credit card number over the phone if you didn't place the call."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Monday, August 23, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Stephen: I'm the most wanted man on my island. But I'm not on my island.
[Laughs]
Hamish: You're island? You mean Ireland.
Stephen: Yeah. It's MINE.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

I had a talk with Carrie last night concerning this; why I wanted to do the Badwater. I came to a conclusion. The last time I felt like this was when I decided to try out for the officer program. Like the BW, I had known about it for years but always thought it was for others who lived at a station in life far above mine. Then one day I asked the simple question “Why not me?

Ironically, it was a five year commitment (1 year application and prep, 4 years of college).

I didn’t have a good answer then and I don’t have one now. But I do have that scared feeling of committing to something huge. Something that was much bigger than anything I’ve ever tried and wondering if I really had all that it took to accomplish. I was scared to commit for fear of realizing down the line that no matter how much I wanted it, how much I prepared, I just didn’t have it in myself to accomplish. Having to face that would be crushing and that’s what scared me most of all.

The time before the officer program was the decision to join the Marine Corps. Same feelings.

I guess the best ending to this story is simple.

I stand before you, a MARINE OFFICER.

Free Advice for Today:
Never underestimate the power of a kind word or deed."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Sunday, August 22, 2004

Quote of the Day:

William Wallace: ...chaque jour j'ai pensé à toi.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Today I attended Camden Yards for the first time to watch the Orioles play the Blue Jays. But the actual game was the least interesting aspect of the event.

Back in June, I was a volunteer instructor for the Presidential Classroom and due to the schedule, the instructors, interns, and staff did not have a lot of time to spend together other than official business. So one of the instructors organized an event where we could attend a baseball game together and 3 months later, we made it happen.

Because the date of the event randomly corresponded with my brother-in-law's visit, I asked if he wanted to go and unbeknownst to me had been his boyhood dream to go to Camden Yards because his favorite all-time player was Cal Ripkin Jr. Mine? Probably Jay Buener just becasue he looked like he'd beat you with the bat if you pitched inside to him.

Obviously neither would be playing today but just to be in the same ballpark was a monumental treat for Jeff.

So we got two extra tickets and took both our sons to the game and met the PC gang at the stadium.

After the game, we said our goodbyes and headed back to the car. When we got there, I discovered I didn't have my cell phone on me.

Crap factor high to partly oh s***.

The last time I remember using it was before the game outside the stadium and I seemed to remember clipping it on the pocket of my shorts. Now it was gone. (my phone, not my shorts. Stay with me, people) I had Jeff call it on the chance someone had it and was willing to do me a huge favor by returning it, thus preventing me from paying for being stupid. But it just rang and rang. Don't worry, little buddy, I'll find you!!!

We decided that Jeff and his son should stay at the car and I would take Alex to go back to the stadium. I figured we may be able to get back in or at least check out the lost and found.

As we approached the stadium, I saw that all the gates were closed and I remembered that they had stipulated that once you enter the stadium and left, you could not return. But my poor phone was somewhere in Camden Yards (hopefully, unless I dropped it outside but what would someone want with a cell phone I could cut the service to? I'm sure it was valuable if you knew how to change the number or something).

I caught a break because as we were walking up, someone inside was swinging the gate open to let a bunch of people in. I assumed it was the cleaning crew who were assembled outside and it worked out that I just melted into the crowd and went in with everyone else. Never mind I was the only white person in the crowd of about 50 and I had a 12-year-old boy with me.

Since my days as a security guard in college, I knew that if you look like you know what you're doing and you're walking with a purpose, you can usually go unchallenged just about anywhere you want. In a big organization with a lot of moving parts, everyone assumes someone else hired you and that you are supposed to be there. I took advantage of this, told the boy to stay close, and retraced my steps back up the ramps to the upper levels. There were a few concession stand workers cleaning up but they were only interested in getting their job done and getting to go home.

We made it all the way to the tunnel and as we walked out to the bleacher area, the entire Camden Yards stadium was completely abandoned except for the disgusting amount of trash left in the bleachers. We started looking for the phone but did not find it right away. Amazingly, I looked in my seat two times before I actually found it wedged in the corner the third time over.

But I found it. And all was good in the world.

I called my brother-in-law to let him know we got it and was coming back to the car. Now it was a matter of getting out of the stadium.

Reversing our course, we got the same disinterested looks from the random smattering of people trying to clean up. When we got back to the bottom, I noticed all the cleaning crew were still standing around talking and it appeared they were waiting for the go-ahead to start cleaning. Have at it, I'm out of here.

Not so fast. The gate was closed. And locked.

Crap, now I'd have to talk to someone. I scanned the crowd but no one looked even remotely in charge. They were simply the clearing crew. I sent Alex to recon the area to see if there were any open gates. The boy was nervous and his adversity to breaking rules was playing on his fears. Even I was starting to worry about this because it might take some explaining to people who may not be too happy about the security breach. It didn't help that I didn't have my wallet on my person and therefore had absolutely no identification.

Looking over the crowd, I forced myself to think. Watch for something. I'm currently reading The Bourne Identity and I felt like a spy having to depend on his wits to get out of a sticky situation.

Suddenly, I saw something that didn't belong. Four young teens were making their way through the crowd. It was bobblehead day and each had a box with them and their concession stand bib draped over their arm. This told me that they were likely done with their shift, grabbed their bobblehead, and were heading home. There was my opportunity.

I grabbed the boy and told him to stay close to me. We fell into pace about 20 paces back and followed them. I figured they knew a way out or at the very worst, were going to a break room where I could talk my way into finding an exit.

The boy was very nervous now and I was hoping none of them would notice us following them. The oblivious teens didn't notice and when we got near a side gate, I heard one of them say "Cool, this one's open. We won't have to go all the way around."

They opened the iron gate just enough to get through and the back up allowed us to fall in line with them. As our turn came, I heard the first one out say "Last one make sure to lock it."

Crap, I was the last one and they would turn to me as our turn came.

When it happened, one of the teens looked at me with a curious look, and I said "I got it" and pulled it shut. This seemed to satisfy him and we got through and by the time I shut the gate and turned around, I saw that there was a second gate at a 90 degree angle and it was being held open by a uniformed police woman.

CRAP!!!!!

We were able to get right behind the last teen and when we got to the front, I nodded at the officer and walked right through. I could feel my heart beat and beads of sweat form on my brow. I grabbed the boys hand and before I knew it, we were through and in the clear.

I let a laugh escape my lips.

I said to the boy, "Do you realize we just got into Camden yards, went into the stadium, and got out completely undetected?"

Of course now that it was over, Alex thought it was the coolest thing in the world and couldn't wait to tell his mother.

And he pointed out that he knew I'd be writing about it in my blog.

Free Advice for Today:
Use good stationery when you want your written comments to be taken seriously."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Saturday, August 21, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Nicolette: Englishmen don't know what a tongue is for.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Not a lot to write about today except that I went ahead and ran 12 miles. It was good to get back into the distances but I was a worthless lump for the rest of the day. That's OK, that distance is halfway to the really painful portion of the marathon so that gives me the creeps until I vomit.

Because I resembled a rock for the rest of the day, I found something that I found exceedingly funny. Plus, I've talked very little about the Olympics up to this point which prompts my future self to ask "What the hell were you doing? The 2004 Summer Olympics were on, you jackass, and you didn't pay any attention to it!"

OK, here's my check in the box, written by Christian Finnegan, the guy I ran into when I was in New York who played a memorable character on a Chappelle Show skit, (The Mad Real World). If you don't know what I'm talking about, read the blog.

(warning, adult language)

GREECE ENLIGHTNING *

Have you caught Olympic Fever yet? I haven't, but I did recently suffer a bout of the 24 Hour Olympic Flu. I was in on the toilet all night long, shitting rings. (rim shot) Hello! Come on, people!

Anyhoo, I was watching gymnastics a couple of days ago and I have one question: what the f*** happened to the horse? You remember the horse--that tan thing that 14 year old freaks of nature vault off of, and the thing that your Nazi gym teacher made you basically dry hump in order to pass 2nd Grade phys ed. Well, the Olympics have apparently done away with the classic dildo-esque model we all remember from our youth, in favor of some new mushroomy thing. Apparently they got rid of the old vaulting horse because it was deemed "dangerous". And in response, I have but one word: Exactly. Why the f*** do you think I'm watching Olympic gymnastics in the first place? To see some Romanian girl with a hardluck story (is there any other kind?) score a perfect ten? Hell, no. I watch because I know there there is the chance, however slight, that I might get to see a growth-stunted anorexic totally wreck herself on national TV. Call me cruel, but that's good TV.

But seriously, what is the IOC doing, making the Olympics safer, especially when you consider what they're up against nowadays? If you want to compete with Fear Factor, you need to be making the events more dangerous, not less. For instance, the long jump--why not add a shark tank? You know, not a huge one. Most of the athletes would clear it no problem. But every once in a while... And instead of just having a guy chuck the javelin out into the middle of a field, why not have two javelin throwers throwing simultaneously, in opposite directions? Of course, each thrower would have his leg chained to a nearby post, so as to cut down on dodge-ability. And would it be so hard to have one of the Greco-Roman wrestlers pull out a folding chair every once in a while? Let's get some goddamn excitement, here.

Free Advice for Today:
When working with contractors, include a penelty clause in your contract for their not finishing on time."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Friday, August 20, 2004

Quote of the Day:

[Lord Bottoms has previously taken Morrison's wife as his own]
Morrison: Do you remember me?
Lord Bottoms: I never did her any harm. It was my right.
Morrison: Your right? Well, I'm here to claim the right of a husband.
[Kills Lord Bottoms]

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

I found a new friend who has an even more insane running goal than I ever had. And what happens to people who converse with crazy people? Why, they adopt their insanity.

For years, I’ve entertained the thought of attempting the granddaddy of them all. After starting marathoning after a drunken poker party agreement in 1999, I graduated to ultras in similar fashion: going from single marathons to 2 on subsequent Sundays followed two weeks later with my first ultra. Then I did the same schedule the next year.

The second year, I had a hard time with the 50 miler and came close to giving up on running. Then I had the worst run I ever had at my next outing in the 2003 Marine Corps Marathon. Following that, I had the slowest run ever during the Wild Wild West Marathon which I walked most of.

So you would think it was time to hang up the sweat-soaked hat. After all, I haven’t had a run I could be proud of in over a year and my new job actually makes me commit a full day so the half-days I enjoyed in Monterey were no longer available for the training (and napping).

I was seriously considering giving up on the sport and commit the effort to other parts of my life. I was never all that good at it anyway.

Then I got an email from Tracy. She was a married mother of two who was interested in getting involved in ultra-running and wanted to know what gear to get for the sport which elicited the gear email from me.

For me, it was an opportunity to consolidate much of the advice I had given out in pieces and I discovered I had quite a bit of knowledge to share on the subject. I actually had a good time explaining all the little details that I had learned after 5 years in the sport; lessons I learned mostly from trial and error.

Tracy appreciated my response and began to talk to me about her reasons for wanting to get into the sport and I discovered she had the fire I once had when I was actually excited about the possibilities. She was in her honeymoon stage of discovering the benefits derived from testing one’s self against nothing more than perceived abilities. She found out that demons can be exorcized too.

The more we corresponded, the more we realized we had a lot in common and a higher-than-average drive to accomplish the impossible.

Then she let the cat out of the bag. She was not only intent on grabbing for the brass ring, she wanted the entire Fort Knox. She wanted Badwater.

My initial reaction: this woman knows not what she asks for.

Over the years, I’ve heard of Badwater. I’ve read a few things about it and knew it was the Olympics of ultra-surviving. Larry Anderson, a Major that I shared lab space with in Monterey, joked about it after I had finished the Bishop 50 but I never really took it seriously. Way out of my league.

But I was the one who was about to get educated. Not only had this woman done her homework, she understood and accepted the challenge she was about to embark on. She had scoured the site, read articles, rented videos, and bought books on the subject.

What I soon discovered was that I only had an outside notion of what was involved. I was scared silly of what I knew and what I knew didn’t even come close to scratching the surface of what was involved.

To give you an idea of the depth of impossible horror of this race, read this horrifying article to the end.

But despite all common sense that screams to the contrary, I decided to commit to the challenge. Maybe “commit” is an apt term to use.

There is a lot to do but luckily, we are smart enough to give ourselves 5 years to get ready for it. We plan on doing 4 events per year culminating in the Badwater in July of 2009. Here is the sketch we came up with:

2004
May: WWW
October: MCM

2005
May: WWW
September: Triathlon
October: MCM

2006
Spring: Triathlon
May: WWW
Summer: ultra (50)
October: MCM

2007 (I move to Seattle at the end of the year)
Spring: Triathlon
May: WWW
Summer: ultra (50)
October: MCM

2008
Spring: Triathlon
May: WWW
Summer: ultra (100)
October: MCM

2009
Spring: Triathlon
May: WWW
July: Badwater (135)
October: MCM

So that’s the plan. I already asked Sir Phil to be my crew and he agreed only if he could drink as much beer as I drink water. In fact, I tried to get him to talk me out of this after reading the article and this is what he told me:

Well, buddy, either Nike or Nancy: you pick. I guess the training regimen is going to have to pick up. I suspect that if you lose about a hundred pounds and have a sex change operation, your chances of achieving this go way up. The good news is that I'll crew for free. The bad news is that for every liter of water you drink, I vow to drink a 12 oz beer, so the chances of us getting to the end without them pulling your support over for DUI are very low. I might suggest you correspond with that chick who has the incredible stretching dog for help. As that particular dog is obviously the result of a genetic engineering program, perhaps she can offer to lend her black helicopter so it can cool you with rotor wash periodically. Black helicopters do have rotors, don't they?

I also asked my wife to crew and she said she would although she was not too happy after I read the article to her. Something about seeing the man she loves put himself into self-inflicted danger of dying. Detail, details.

Free Advice for Today:
Sign all warranty cards and mail them promptly."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Stephen: [To William Wallace] The Almighty tells me he can get me out of this mess, but he's pretty sure you're f***ed.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

My brother-in-law and his family are in town this week and next. He is my wife’s brother and their two sons are 4 and 6. Luckily, we have the room to accommodate all of them as long as my boy doesn’t mind sharing a room with his sister. After headlocks and constant pummeling, he finally relented.

Since it’s Jeff and Kate’s anniversary this weekend, we agreed to watch the boys while they spend the weekend in a hotel down in Washington D.C. So starting tomorrow, I will be in charge of 3 boys, a girl, and a wife that is going to be pretty pissed off that I even claim to be in charge of any of these people.

Of course I wouldn’t be a real uncle if I didn’t bring home some candy so I stopped by the store on the way home and stocked up for the visit. After perusing the candy aisle for many minutes (down from hours when I was a kid), here’s what I came up with:

Lick-M-Stick or Fun Dip. This was a staple for me when I was a kid and consists basically of flavored sugar you dip a hardened sugar stick into and scoop (or let your saliva-covered stick attract the sugar) out of the little packets into you mouth. It has the cherry. It has the grape. It has the lime. The small ones, which I never bought, had one stick and two sugar packets. But the big one had two sticks and all three packets. I was wired all afternoon after eating this and particular liked to eat the second stick alone as a post snack, snack. The package has both names on it so I always referred to them by either name interchangeably.

Super Gum Balls, packet of 5. I’m a self-professed gum pig so the package of enormous gum balls was a must. To a little kid, one of these things would fill his whole head.

Spree: because it just isn’t a candy-fest until you rub your tongue raw with candy. And once this is done, you can be sure your mom is going to serve something spicy like chili for dinner, thus exposing your raw tongue to spices that make your mouth feel like your eating magma.

So with this sugar extravaganza, I came home to dole out the goods one day at a time.

Yesterday was the Fun Dip. Jeff and Kate don’t often let the kids have candy so the little fellas were kind of confused at the whole thing. I thought they’d be bouncing off the walls because, yes, I’m that kind of uncle to bring contraband home and let them gorge. But I got little to no reaction from my nephews who just kind of set them aside.

Today I pulled out the Spree and had kind of the same reaction. They had not even tackled all of the Fun Dip so the Spree were now way back in the queue. Oh, well.

But my kids were getting kind of mad at this whole candy giveaway because they weren’t involved. Based on the reaction of the first two unveilings and the fact that they’d never get to them during the trip, I decided that my own kids were getting the gumballs.

You talk about a reaction. My sugar-loving kids thought I was bestowing solid bricks of gold on them and flipped out when I gave them the gum. Now THAT will ensure more to come.

If it sounds like I’m blaming the boys, I’m not. They must have been momentarily taken aback with everything happening and after not seeing me for so long, they were dealing with the newness of everything to include this weird uncle with candy.

They did work on that candy after dinner and the sugar did indeed wire them up good. Ahhh, the joys of unclehood.

Free Advice for Today:
When taking family photos, include a few routine, everyday shots."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Quote of the Day:

William Wallace: Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.
Young soldier: William Wallace is 7 feet tall.
William Wallace: Yes, I've heard. He kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse. I am William Wallace, and I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

I received email from someone who wanted to know about the gear needed for distance running. Over the years, I've covered many of the topics individually but had never put it together in one place so I decided the effort was worth consolidating and posting the entire list/explanation.


Tracy,

I know it’s been awhile since you sent your email and I’ve been working my way back to answer it but if you keep an eye on the site, you will see that I was in NYC last week and have 30 pages of unprocessed blog and 215 pictures covering everything that happened.

Add to that the fact that my entire system went utters up the day I got home and you have my pitiful excuses for not getting back to you.

So emerging from my blogging cave into the harsh light of email, I’m putting aside the 115 other messages in my inbox and writing you.

For a long time, I subscribed to only 2 mags: Runner’s World and Kittens Exposed. Just kidding, the other one was Smart Computing. But the point is, Runner’s World is the best running magazine out there and if you haven’t already, subscribe. I’ve since signed up for PC and PC World. As a result, I have stacks and stacks of back issues waiting patiently in my study.

How many times have I blown off a morning run after staying up late (usually in front of the computer?) More times that I’d like to admit but I’m trying to get back into the habit of consecutive early morning Saturday runs. Like everything else, it’s a habit just like skipping them is.

I’ve heard that running is great because it’s a gear-light sport. Just shoes, shorts, and shirt, right? While I would recommend wearing all three, I’ve discovered it isn’t. But I’m a gear hound and gadget geek.

Here is what I use and why:

Shoes: buy the most expensive you can afford and that feel good. You get what you pay for and the difference between the cheap ones and the good ones is more evident than any other piece of gear (other than toilet paper). Oh, and if you can swing it, buy 2 pair at once and alternate for each run. This gives them time to dry out and decompress, making two last as long as 3 pair sequentially.

Shorts: again, comfort is the key but make sure they are running shorts that wick away moisture and stay dry. I like the longer (but not tight spandex unless it’s cold) ones to protect the thigh swoosh.

BTW, you will learn runners talk about normally very private topics to include body parts and physical processes openly and freely.

Shirt: I like tank tops in the heat. Make sure they wick away moisture and layer if cold.

Running jacket: ideal for the cold weather and you can strip and tie off at waist if you warm up during the run. (Check to see you wore a shirt underneath though or you’ll get more attention than you likely desire). Make sure it’s a running jacket that wicks. Expect to pay more than you think for the lightweight kinds.

Sports bra: you’re on your own on this one. But I hear their a good idea, at least for women.

Gloves: I’m getting repetitive but: wick. You will discover why gloves are a must the first time you run in the cold without them. Blood is drawn away from extremities to heat body core and legs which are doing a lot of work. Hands get brittle and miserable.

Hat: I like to wear one year around so sweat doesn’t get into my eyes. Also, protects from sun.

Socks: I like the specialty socks, poly-pro. I don’t get any blisters when I wear them. And I mean NONE even during marathons. And this from a guy who has baby-soft feet (not a great feature for a Marine).

OK, now we get to the gear.

Sunglasses: I wear Nike running glasses. They wrap around, are light weight, but most of all, they look cool.

MP3 player and headphones: I find it difficult to run without music, especially at long distances. This is obviously up to the individual but I like it. I pick out the songs and enjoy “losing myself.”

GPS: I bought a Garmin because I was tired of having to go out on Friday nights and tying bags on trees to mark the mile marks for my long Saturday runs. Plus, it enabled me to go on any path as long as I could remember my way back. I use it solely for measuring distance.

Buttpack: this is a piece of gear, not an action. It holds my MP3 player (with the wires running down my back, out of the way) and other items you need for long runs (see below). The hard part about these is to cinch it tight enough that it doesn’t flop around and loose enough that your gut isn’t hanging over like a bag of mashed potatoes.

OK, maybe that’s only a problem for me and not you but you don’t want it too tight so that it cuts into your waist. Plus, some people can’t stand running with anything around their waist.

If you use one, you might have to supplement the load with a small towel to fill up any extra space. This prevents gear slosh plus a clean towel across your face at the half way point is pure indulgence. Oh, and it’s a dry, clean surface to clean your glasses, maybe the only clean dry surface you have when you need one.

Throw in a couple of Band-Aids, too.

Camelback: I wear one on my back (duh, but hey have waist-kinds too, thus the specification). There are different varieties and this is a Catch-22 because you don’t know which you prefer until you run with one. But I made a choice and ran with it (Get it? Done rolling your eyes?). For the long runs, this is a real life-saver.

Watch: I like to keep it simple. As long as it has the time and a chronograph timer, it’ll do. I don’t mess with lap splits or anything. With that said, I just spent $60 for a Nike watch but that’s because I’m a Nike kind of guy and I was tired of having my leather watchband soak up my sweat and then stink.

Heart monitor: this is a hard one. I have one but I’ve never committed to wearing it and using it. It’s a commitment you have to make and it’s a program you have to learn. I have a book on it but never really followed through. They say it does wonders but I tend to just try to get in the miles.

Other items you want to take along in the buttpack:

Toilet paper in a plastic baggie: for obvious reasons. Get used to squatting against a tree and sometimes in front of perfect strangers. There is very little sexual context for partial nudity during long runs.

Extra batteries for MP3. It sucks when you run out and have to finish a run in silence if you’re used to running with music. On long runs, sometimes it was that perfect song that pushed me through the wall and those walls live toward the end of the run where you tend to lose battery power, literally and figuratively.

Raisins in a plastic baggie: perfect for the half-way snack to give you energy on the return.

Gu or other sports gel. These little rocket fuel packs really work but train with them. Don’t use it for the first time during a race. BTW, that’s the golden rule of all running: no first time stuff during a race. I normally down one every 5 miles.

Lip balm: I use Carmex but I’m just like that.

Some people suggest doggie snacks for the stray dog you might encounter and a cell phone. The cell phone is a safety precaution but extra weight. I don’t normally carry one.

Stuff to have in your car or at finish line:

I normally bring a little cooler full of Gatorade. Yum.
Motrin – I take 800 mg after a big run. Cuts down on swelling.
Aleve – two blue pills of bliss (hopefully not mistakenly replaced by Viagra).
A dry shirt
A clean towel to dry your head and to protect your car seat on the way home.
Bananas: replaces potassium and prevents cramping

Pre-race stuff:

Put on a thick layer of sun block on legs, arms, and neck. If you wear a hat like you should, avoid putting sun block above eye level. I found out the hard way that head sweat will carry the sunscreen into your eyes. That’s not fun.

Use Vaseline and pardon me while I get personal: put it in your arm pits, slather your crotch from top of, well, lowest point of your lower back (there, I was polite about it) to your belly button and down your inside thighs to your knees… and all points between these three markers. I call these the “nether-regions.” Don’t be shy about the amounts. Also, put a layer between your toes. Cuts down on potential blisters and hot spots.

Also, if it’s windy, put a thin layer on your face but AFTER you put sun block on.

Always lay out your outfit the night before. If you are racing, pin your number on the night before and very important: PUT ON YOUR ENTIRE RUNNING ENSEMBLE THE NIGHT BEFORE. This will ensure you have everything. So many times I’ve thought I was ready and did this only to find out I missed something (like pinning one or more of the safety pins through the front and back accidentally and it looking like someone getting into a short-sheeted bed). Then take it off and set it up so you don’t have to think about it in the morning.

I have a running plan I use to work up for marathons. It’s in an Excel file and if you want to talk about it, let me know. It works up from low mileage to what you need to be ready for a decent marathon.

Here is the craziest advice: after a long run when your body is shredded, fill up the bathtub with cold water and dump ice into it (I use the ice-maker bin in my freezer). Lower yourself into it. I keep my underwear on. Why and why I felt the need to point it out, I don’t know. You can too, if you want. Well, not MY underwear but you get the idea.

Stay there for 15 minutes (I use a watch and don’t stay in 1 second longer). This may seem nuts but it constricts your leg muscles and blood vessels, thus squeezing the lactic acid out of them. Follow with a hot shower. When I started doing this, I went from not being able to walk on Sundays to just being a little stiff without the pain. It’s worth the 15 minute torture session to save 2 days of lactic acid talking to you.

So to sum up, here’s what you’d see in all my running glory:

Specialty shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, and hat. Nike sunglasses and ear buds connected to an mp3 in a buttpack with toilet paper, batteries, raisins, sports gel, a small towel, doggie treats, and a cell phone. A camel back full of water and a GPS strapped to my waist. A heart monitor strap around my chest and a monitor watch on one wrist and a watch on the other.

I tend to look like a Borg.

Some people just wear the shirt, shoes, and shorts. But I’m not like other people, or so I’ve been told.

-- Jason

Free Advice for Today:
Never pick up anything off the floor of a cab."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Quote of the Day:

William Wallace: And if this is your army, why does it go?
Soldier: We didn't come here to fight for them.
Second Soldier: Home, the English are too many.
William Wallace: I see a whole army of my country men, here, in defiance of tyranny. What will you do without freedom? Will you fight?
Soldier: Against that? No, we will run, and we will live.
William Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade all of that from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take away our lives, but they'll never take our freeeedoooomm.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

The Sbragias are back.

One aspect of the military that SUCKS is that you make friends and then either they or you leave within a couple of years. Then you end up keeping up with them over the years and distances until one day your paths cross again and if you’re lucky, you get another shot at continuing a good friendship.

Such is the case with the Sbragias. We met them in Monterey when Chad was going to the Defense Language Institute and I was going to NPS. He was a Marine Major who had compteled a dgree at NPS and stayed around to spend another year in Monterey in order to learn Chinese. He then had a one year payback tour in China.

At first, we weren't even friends. Carrie and his wife Lisa, knew each other from meeting at multiple practices when our two sons played on the same soccer team. I would see Chad there with his lawn chair sometimes, reading away but his personality is a lot like mine; not one to instigate interaction with strangers so we just kind of showed up at the same practices for months with little more than a head nod to recognize a common link of familiarity.

Finally, we “met” and we all became good friends. Chad is a great guy on the quiet side with three incredible sons. Lisa is a bouncy conversationalist who has a million things going on at once.

The real link was between my son and their oldest, Zach. Alex and Zach are two of the most compatible kids I’ve ever met and they became inseparable during our time at Monterey. They did everything together and it was a rare weekend that we didn’t have him spending the night or vice versa. Most of the time, both.

The weird thing about their friendship is that even though the were together constantly through the 10, 11, and now 12th years of their life, they never fought. They never had a spat or even a heated argument. It’s spooky.

I had the pleasure of coaching two of the three Sbragia boys in various sports and they are just those kids who have a combination of natural athletic ability coupled with humility and respect. They are all just “good kids.”

So you can imagine what it was like when they had to move a few months before we left Monterey. They were moving to China for a year and we only hoped they would be stationed at Quantico afterwards because that’s where we were going.

For the first time, my son had to feel the sting of being a military kid. His best friend in the world was leaving and he was left alone. It broke my heart to see him that way and at the same time, we were saying goodbye to Chad and Lisa. We were once again the “last man standing” which is when the group of people you get to know at a duty station all leave and you are the last one of “the group” still there.

We met the Sbragias at their temp house a year ago to help haul them to the airport and say goodbye. It was a tough thing to go through and a tough thing to watch.

During the intervening year, we tried to help the Sbragias out because they were isolated from anything American. We would send care packages with things like cereal and treats. We would tape shows like American Idol and send them. We sent whatever we could to make their stay in China a bit easier and we even invested in international calling cards so Alex could talk to Zach every once in awhile. It was a tough year but when we found out that they got orders back here to Northern Virginia, we were ecstatic.

Today, I got in touch with Chad by calling the Crossroads Inn on base and getting patched through to his room. I tried most of the day and was rewarded with Chad picking up the phone in the afternoon.

Great, you get in town, you never call” sure, just blow off the Groses” I joked.

He told me he just got in from driving from his parents house where he left the wife and kids until he could get accommodations. He was about to go to the airport and pick them up since they were flying. We talked for a bit and I let him go but not before making him promise he’d work it into his schedule to meet up before Alex goes postal.

It put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. I had friends moving into town but more importantly, my son got his best friend back and as far as I could tell, the bond they shared was only strengthened after a year apart.

Free Advice for Today:
Slow down. I mean really slow down in school zones."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Monday, August 16, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Robert the Bruce: Lands, titles, men, power... nothing.
Robert's Father: Nothing?
Robert the Bruce: I have nothing. Men fight for me because if they do not, I throw them off my land and I starve their wives and children. Those men who bled the ground red at Falkirk fought for William Wallace. He fights for something that I never had. And I took it from him, when I betrayed him. I saw it in his face on the battlefield and it's tearing me apart.
Robert's Father: All men betray. All lose heart.
Robert the Bruce: I don't want to lose heart. I want to believe as he does.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Today I got an email giving me two choices. I was already picked to be on a standing administrative separation board no matter what. Congratulations for volunteering in the greatest tradition of military volunteerism. For those that don't know, an admin sep board is a group of officers that decides if a Marine deserves to be administratively separated from the Corps based on something he did. These are usually less minor offenses like drug use or a series of other wrongdoings that when considered at a larger level, rates the Marine to get the boot.

So here was the deal. I was picked to be on the board for a year and they call me any time they need me. Or, if I act fast, I can volunteer to be a standing board member for courts martial. A court martial is the military equivalent of a trial so I would in essence, be a standing juror for a year whenever they needed me.

But I had to decide by the end of the day because there were only 4 slots left and if no one picked them, the General was going to choose tomorrow morning.

So I had a dilemma; despite my years as a legal officer, I didn't know which to pick. I had been exempt from all these kinds of boards because it was a conflict of interest for me to participate since usually I represented the "prosecuting" side, AKA: the Command. I had actually never sat in on an admin sep board nor a court martial. I had no idea which was the better deal so I tried to approach it logically:

There are more admin sep boards than courts martial so sheer quantity would point to CM. But I assume CMs last longer than ASBs so while I might be tapped for less of them, the CMs might last longer.

I would think that CMs would be more intriguing than boring admin sep boards. So for the sexy factor, sitting in on a murder case would be better than a kid who went UA a few times or smoked reefer.

I tried to ask around to see what other officers thought and I couldn't find any around because it was noon chow time. The ones I found didn't offer much insight so I went with my gut. Gut picked the court martial board and I sent in my reply.

What did I get back almost immediately?

"Can you be ready to stand in on Monday?"

In the eternal words of Sir Phil: no good deed ever goes unpunished.

Free Advice for Today:
When you need professional advice, get it from professionals, not from your friends."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Stephen: [Speaking heavenward] Him? That can't be William Wallace. I'm prettier than this man. Alright Father, I'll ask him.
Stephen: [To William] If I risk my neck for you, will I get a chance to kill Englishmen?
Hamish: Is your father a ghost, or do you converse with the Almighty?
Stephen: In order to find his equal, an Irishman is forced to talk to God.
Stephen: [Heavenward] Yes, Father.
Stephen: [To William and the others] The Almighty says don't change the subject; just answer the f***ing question.
William Wallace: The answer is yes. Fight for me, you get to kill the English.
Stephen: Excellent.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

With a working computer set up yesterday, today I had to break it again. I was in a fragile state after losing my data drive and spending 36 hours reformating my main drive and setting everything back up. Now I had to pull the plug on my internet connection and try to set up the router. I didn’t know if I had it in me to handle the potential pitfalls of such a move.

Luckily, I did and the obstacles were minor. I followed the step by step instructions and before I knew it, I was going through my router and I had my wireless connection set up. It only took a couple of hours but that was only because I followed every single instruction to the letter and was methodical to an insane degree.

But the task was not complete. Like many things, the devil was in the details and while I had completed 90% of the computer setup, there was still the 10% I had to attack and it took most of the day. Stuff like setting up the macros in Photoshop that resizes all my pictures and them makes thumbnails for me. Or like the macro in Word that formats the screwed up text you see when someone has forwarded an email to you. The little things like that took a lot of time because by nature, they were created to save me time but since they were done once and a long time ago, it takes awhile to remember how to build them.

Then there was the Black Viper set up. This is a website that tells you all the tweaks you can make to your system to make it run faster and better. It seems Microsoft turns on all kinds of little processes in the background, most of which you don’t need but take up processing time and RAM space. So this site goes through and tells you how to turn these things off, and keep them off, thus making your system run better. It took a couple of hours to run through everything (with many restarts to make sure I wasn’t breaking anything) and make the necessary adjustments. The website is: http://www.blackviper.com/.

The last thing I did was set up my back up program. Breaking the rule of “if it works, don’t try to fix it,” I downloaded the beta version newer than the version I had been using. It had a different interface and it took a longer time than I thought it would to get things right. The initial backup took a couple of hours and then I had to tweak it around to make sure it was backing up everything that I wanted.

The end result was that I have my OS and all my data on my C drive. I back up onto an external hard drive every night. While this works, I would still like to separate my OS from my data but until I can get around to purchasing a new drive, this will be the set up.

I thought that I should just get a small hard drive to use as my OS and use the 120 as my data drive but since drives are so cheap (and I didn’t like the thought of having to set up everything on a new drive once again), why not just keep the 120 as the OS drive and buy a bigger data drive? I ran through all of the permutations and then just decided, screw it, I’ll just buy a big data drive.

By the end of the day, all was well. It was a serene landscape at the Grose house and I was content to have my computer back and tweaked to optimal use. Yes, I lost a 200 GB hard drive but that would be addressed later. They are only about $100 bucks these days so not catastrophic.

I was ready for the week ahead feeling that while I had lost my weekend I really wanted at home after being away, I was ready to get back to work.

I don’t know what I was thinking!!

Free Advice for Today:
Be especially courteous and patient with older people."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Saturday, August 14, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Longshanks: Archers.
English Commander: Beg your pardon sire, but won't we hit our own troops?
Longshanks: Yes... but we'll hit theirs as well. We have reserves... attack.

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

The first thought that entered my head in the morning was: try to reformat the hard drive now that you have the OS set up.

I know, sad but at 0700, I shot up out of bed with one thing on my mind.

OK, AFTER going to the bathroom, I was intent on getting downstairs and spending some quality time with my “new” computer.

The first order of business was to get the internet up. Without it, I could not update anything else I put on so it was the first thing I wanted to tackle. I made some coffee and promised myself not to get angry. I had all weekend. Just get the net up FOR ALL THAT IS SACRED IN THIS EVIL WORLD GET THE NET UP. Ahem, I mean, it held a bit of importance for me.

But it had been a long time since I set up the original connection and I knew it would be potentially horrendous. The first thing I did was disconnect my router and just plugged in the computer straight to the internet. I could set up the router later an the important thing was to get the net (see above).

I plugged it in. The computer couldn’t have cared less. Nothing. So much for auto-detect.

I tried a few different automated wizards but nothing worked. After a few more flailings about, I decided it must be the network card since I was getting nothing. Simple, I would dig out an old card, replace it, and go from there.

Opening up the card, I received a lesson on how well I remember the inner workings of the computer I built. It had no network card. It plugged right into the motherboard.

I called Adelphia, my cable internet provider, and after walking me through a few things that didn’t work, it came down to the fact that XP was not recognizing the network card and I had no idea where the disk was for the drivers, much less the kind of integrated network card which wouldn’t have helped anyway because to download the drivers, I’d have to have an internet connection. Catch vente-dos.

So they told me I could either find the disk or go out and drop 10 bucks on a cheap card that had the drivers. I was not too happy with either choice.

Digging through the dilapidated cardboard box full of old computer stuff in the depts of my garage, I found a disk with no label. When I brought it in and put it in my computer, it just happened to be the drivers for the network card. I know, I used up all my luck I’ll ever have in one fell swoop.

I loaded the drivers, plugged in the cable, and POW! I had internet connectivity. A silent tear rolled down my cheek.

For the rest of the day, it was a matter of loading software, updating it online, and starting the computer over as I read “The Bourne Identity” in between steps. Everything, to include setting up the preferences for endless programs, went smooth and I learned once again that no matter how careful you are, there are little details that you just don’t back up (macros, etc) that have to be rebuilt.

I geeked for the rest of the day and by midnight, I had a reasonable facsimile of a working computer with all of the important programs back on and set up.

I also re-learned what I already knew: like a house fire, it’s a tragedy when the computer goes utters-up but afterwards, you only reload what you need and therefore clearing all the accumulated crap that infested the recesses of the hard drive. This results in a cleaner, leaner, and faster machine. Is it worth it? Probably not but that’s the only lemonade I can make out of this putrid lemon.

Free Advice for Today:
Kiss your children good night, even if they are already asleep."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Friday, August 13, 2004

Quote of the Day:

William Wallace: "You dropped your rock."

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

New York, Day 5

I’ve been all over the city and the city has been all over me. It was time to leave.

When we got up in the morning, we were late and this didn’t manifest itself until we got on the road and I figured out that our late start would put us right in D.C. traffic on a Friday afternoon. We sure blew that one.

The trip home was uneventful but took an extra hour than it took to get to NYC. Then there was the matter of tolls again which didn’t help my mood but I was glad to head south and back to Virginia. Suddenly, all my complaints about Virginia dissipated and I actually looked forward to getting back to “rural” Virginia. Yes, the people drive slow but they don’t drive insane like New York. Yes, the service industry sucks but not as bad as NY. Yes, there are a lot of people but not elbow to elbow. I guess it’s all relative.

When we got home, I checked my email and spent a little time with my beloved computer. Flush with excitement over having email and internet, I got a little froggy and tried to move some files.

Then the trouble began once again. It’s bad enough that it froze up the computer when I tried but it also corrupted them as I went along. It was getting worse and worse and then I made the realization that my 200 GB data drive might be going bad.

As a test, I tried to copy files to the 120 GB OS drive and it worked. That proved it, my data drive was calling it a day, forever.

No problem, I have all of it backed up on my external 120 GB back up drive. I’ll just reformat the data drive which will identify the bad sectors and I’ll go from there, reloading the data back on.

Nope, it would not let me reformat because it said that a program was using the drive. So I shut down everything and even killed some processes but still, it would not format.

Next idea; erase all the data using the delete command and the one that won’t shut down is the one running. All I had was data on there so I couldn’t figure out what was “running” from it.

I killed all the data but I had the same problem: no thanks on the old format command. I had an empty 200 GB hard drive that won’t accept a format command. I felt stuck.

Grrrr. I dug out the diagnostic disk that came with the drive and ran it. It would not let me format it either but it did let me write all zeros to the drive (basically copying zeros to every memory space) which in effect kills all the data. That should do it.

It finished and I restarted the computer. Here is when it got weird: it didn’t even recognize a drive was there now. It was like it wrote over it’s identify to the computer. Now it was really dead and I once again tried the diagnostic disk to format it. No joy.

But there was a more serious problem: the internet didn’t work anymore. I thought this a glitch until I restarted many times and checked every setting. It simply had no reason for the internet NOT to work.

I ran up to Alex’s room and checked his connection and it was fine. That told me that the signal was coming in, through the modem, through my computer, through the wireless router, and through the air to his computer. It was my computer that didn’t want to display it.

I should interject at this point (and my family to include the dog can testify to this) that I was a raging maniac, yelling at my computer and talking to myself in a most unflattering manner. Buster was hiding. Carrie was telling the kids I was just having a bit of a meltdown. You know, the normal stuff.

I tried everything I could think of and I came to the only conclusion I had left: I would have to reformat the entire OS drive and reinstall EVERYTHING. So with a heavy heart, I proceeded to format the third computer in my house in as many months, vocalizing to the entire house that this would undoubtedly cost me the entire weekend to get set back up. I was not a happy camper and when I’m not happy, no one in my family is happy.

A flaw, you claim? I completely agree.

I made sure I had all the stuff I thought I’d need on the external back up drive. But I had a bit of a problem. The entire formatting process (running fdisk, killing the partitions, creating another DOS partition, rebooting, and only then doing a formatting command) involved a lot of steps I wanted to get right and after doing this twice before in the recent past, I knew the website I needed where it showed the step-by-step instructions. But I had no internet so I had to go upstairs and use Alex’s. His printer was on the fritz and it would have taken a ton of ink (screenshots were almost all black) so I just copied the instructions by hand: a situation that made me even more angry than I was already.

With data backed up and instructions at the ready, I slid the Windows 98 boot disk in the floppy drive, restarted the computer, and scraped my entire drive. For a few moments, I had a virgin drive.

I took out my Windows XP CD, put it in the CD drive, and restarted the computer.

“Non bootable disk. Please replace disk and hit enter.”

What?

I did it again. So did the computer.

Why?

I slid the Windows 98 boot disk back in to get a DOD prompt, changed the drive letter to the CD ROM drive, and did a directory command. There it was, a setup.exe file. I launched it.

“Cannot run file in DOS mode.”

I was livid again. I had a stripped system with no way to get an OS on it and I was wasting time on stupid problems while time ticked away; time I’d need to reinstall EVERYTHING back onto my computer.

I had no time nor patience to deal with this so I dug out my set of four Windows 2000 disks and the CD. I knew this would work because I had installed Win2000 on the other two computers.

Sure enough I got it installed and I figured once I got it on there, I could just upgrade to XP using the Windows XP disk I had. It’s how I did it originally anyway.

Next bonehead play: it asked me if I wanted to do a full install or an upgrade. For some reason unknown to me, I picked the full install and the result was that it put a full copy of XP on the C drive alongside the Windows 2000 OS which, if you’re keeping track, roughly doubles the amount of space needed for the OS, half of which I will never use but takes up the room nonetheless.

The good news is that I got the OS put on, it booted up, but it was 1:30 AM and I had a long day. I decided, quite brilliantly, to leave the rest for the morning. I had made a lot of progress but I still slipped into the bed with a pit in my stomach and no sense of accomplishment.

Tomorrow would be a full day of setting things up from scratch.

Free Advice for Today:
Never give a pet as a surprise gift."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Quote of the Day:

William Wallace: "We all end up dead, the question is how and why."

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

New York, Day 4

Vacation. Sleep in. Eat everything to excess. Yes, I fell into the vacation trap; sleeping, eating, and sight-seeing. I might have set my marathon training back by weeks.

We continued our sight-seeing for the day and I was starting to feel the stress. After last night’s frustrations and then my lack of PT, excess of sleep and food, I was not in a great mood.

I guess that accounts for my barking at Alex and making him feel bad. We went to the subway and had to swipe our cards. Carrie and Steph went ahead and Alex was in front of me. He swiped but I saw the way he did it and knew it wouldn’t take. He did it again and I was getting impatient so I just swiped mine and told him to go through. He did but then I was stuck because you can’t use the same card within 18 minutes.

Alex had handed his card to Carrie who held the cards and I told her to give me his. She didn’t know which was his so she handed me one.

Card just used.” It told me.

She handed me another one, same thing.

This went on until all 4 cards somehow said they were just used but the fact remained that I was on the wrong side of the stall.

I was enraged.

Carrie wanted to give me $2 to buy another ticket but that only fueled my fire since we hade spent $180 for 3 days on the subway. But I had no choice, took the money, and went to the window.

The disinterested worker behind the glass just pointed to his right. I asked what he meant and told me I could only buy individual tickets from the machines. My rage ratcheted up a few notches.

When I got to the machine, I tried to put the dollar in it but it wouldn’t take it.

Ratchet.

I tried the other dollar. No joy.

Ratchet, ratchet

I stormed over to another machine. Same thing:

Ratchety-ratchety-ratch ... Total pegging of the Rage-O-Meter.

I snapped. I walked over to the stalls and said “I’m coming through because I have the tickets to prove it.” And with that I shimmied under the bar, barely squeezing through with my camera wedging along side.

When I got past, I barked at Alex “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SWIPE AGAIN THIS TRIP. I WILL DO IT FOR YOU.

Of course my rage level was no excuse and I was reprimanded by my wife who shot back a just-as-lethal response and proceeded to comfort the boy. I was too mad to do anything but keep my mouth shut and hope that didn’t set the tone for the day.

I guess I’m lucky I didn’t feel a hand on my shoulder as I walked down the stairs toward the platform.

Things got better over the day and we got on the uptown tour. The tour guide this time was a woman and although she was better than the first guy (who wouldn’t be?), she managed to get etched onto my list. And it’s not the “I like you very much” list.

It started with her New York attitude which was not even pointed at me. Some guy at the back of the bus stood for a moment to get a picture and she very loudly reprehended him over the microphone about the dangers of standing. Then she reiterated it several times in that way that uses polite language but in a demeaning tone.

A few minutes later Carrie, who was sitting behind me, handed me my cell phone over my shoulder and told me I had a message. I had expected a call from OddTodd or even The Daily Show telling me the planets aligned and either I would be meeting up with OddTodd or I got tickets. I flipped open the phone and suddenly I heard over the loud speaker,

“SIR, PLEASE PUT AWAY THE CELL PHONE.”

This was not going to be pretty. I am very conscientious about talking on my cell phone and rarely do it in public or even while driving. So to be called out like this was a bad day waiting to happen.

Immediately, I yelled out “WHY!?” and it became immediately obvious that she was unaccustomed to being questioned on her bus. She bent her wrist and while still holding it, letting the microphone fall to the side. Her lids were half closed and staring at me. I stared right back.

Returning the mic to her mouth and without moving her lips she twanged in her rude New York accent “For the consideration of the other passengers…

“I’m expecting a very important call and this is a public area. You have no right to tell me I can’t use the phone.” I got about half of this out when she interrupted me, taking advantage of her amplified voice even though I could hear her without it.

“If you need to make a call, you can get off the bus at the next stop.”

“It’s voicemail. I have a message.”

“Well, if it’s voicemail, you can listen to it but are not allowed to make calls.”

At this point, I was already on the phone and listening to the message. But inside I was seething. We had no more interaction at all and if it wasn’t for the fact that we were almost done with the tour, we would have disembarked and caught the next one (likely the first fat guy from yesterday.)

We got off the bus and decided not to fight the kids for lunch. There was a McDonalds and it was probably the cheapest thing around so that’s what we did because we had time before the Statue of Liberty tour.

I took the kids upstairs to get a seat and mellow out after the phone incident while Carrie ordered the food. Turns out, she had her own run-in with the New York service industry.

After getting the food, she asked for some catsup after watching the worker put in only a couple of packets in the bag. The worker said there was some in there and Carrie pointed out that a family of 4 needs more than a few packets. The worker then put in a few more, but still not enough. Carrie asked once again for more and the worker told her she can come back if she needs more. Carrie, rightfully so, told the worker, no, she’s not going to come back and since she KNOWS they will need more catsup, she wanted more packets now.

This is when the worker took an enormous handful and slammed them on the counter to which Carrie thanked her for in an irritatingly polite manner but followed up the response with something to the effect that she did not appreciate the attitude when simply requesting enough catsup that a customer should receive. The shift manager heard the entire exchange and rushed over, apologizing profusely. He asked if she needed any more catsup and then took the worker in the back for a little talk.

All this happened when I was upstairs and Carrie came back in a mood similar to my own. When I asked why half the bag was full of catsup packets, I opened Pandora’s Box and got the entire explanation.

I was getting more and more fond of the prospect of going home tomorrow.

Then it was time to see Lady Liberty. We got out tickets with amazingly little problem and stood in line to take the ferry. But before we were allowed to go anywhere, we had to go through security. We were searched, wanded, and our stuff dragged through the X-ray machine. Then after all that, it was time to go through the puffer. I had heard about this somewhere but don’t remember where.

It’s like a normal metal detector but you stand in the middle while puffs of air are blown from top to bottom. The air is then automatically analyzed to see if there are any traces of explosive. Once you are cleared by an electronic voice, you step out of the device.

Going across New York harbor, I took advantage of my first close up look at the Statue by snapping 5 times more pictures than was probably necessary.

When we got to the Liberty Island, we were once again searched and ran through a metal detector. After all that, we were not allowed to bring our backpack (that had been searched twice and X-rayed once) into the statue.

Now I understand there is a threat. As a military man, I can respect the procedures to a point but this was really overkill. At one point, a young lady was taking video as she walked into the security area. Nothing said she couldn’t do it but suddenly a big fat Latino woman security guard went on the rampage.

The guard had shaved her eyebrows completely and had a very poor representation of said eyebrows drawn over her eyes, ending in the middle with a squared off block at each end nearest the nose.

She rushed at the lady, telling everyone else to move ahead as the poor woman stood there unaware what was going on. The security guard just kept waving people by while telling her to stay put. Then she asked the lady if she had been taking video inside the security area and before the poor woman could answer, the security guard yelled out the name of another guard to come over there. When I left the scene, they were checking out what she had recorded.

When we got to Liberty Island, I was amazed how small the island actually was. We walked around it very easily and strolled in the grass while waiting for our tour to begin. I even got a quick nap in a bench while we waited and cooled off from the day’s rudeness which I discovered was the source of my fatigue and general funky mood.

Before we could go into the Lady (my, how bad that sounds), we had to rent a locker because despite the many layers of security we went through, no backpacks were allowed to go in. Let’s inject some common sense here, people. I think even a determined terrorist would have a hard time getting anything through everything we had passed through and not allowing backpacks just seemed like raw harassment. But what can I, Joe Citizen, do? If you complain, they cite security and then you are an enemy of the state if you point out there is a line between security and stupidity. And let's not forget it's yet another opportunity to suck out even more money from the tourist because they set up handy little lockers but, of course, for a fee. No choice here unless you wanted to throw away everything in your backpack. Nope, they don’t tell you a thing on the way over and then they spring this requirement on you when you get to the island. Smacks of trips to Tijuana. But I digress.

The neat thing about the locker was that it was keyless. It took a scan of your thumbprint and when you return, it scans your thumb which opens the locker. Wow, high tech extortion. I was impressed. Then I was charged an impression fee.

We got the tour and it was impressive. I learned everything I’d ever want to know about the history of the most famous statue in the world. We got to see the original torch which they replaced in the 80s. Of course I had to take a million pictures of it.

The museum was kind of neat and it led to an area where the regular ticket holders split with the special ticket holders who got to go up into the pedestal. I was one of these golden ticket holders and was awarded with a ½ wait in line for an elevator.

When we got up there, we could see into the statue but only the very bottom. It was dark and obscured and we only saw the bottom of the folds. Then we were allowed to go out on the balcony and look over the harbor. It really wasn’t all that special since you can’t go up into the crown or anything anymore. I don’t know, or want to know, how much more we paid to go up the pedestal but whatever it was, it wasn’t worth the cash.

At some point, the wind got the better of Stephanie and her hat went flying off. I thought to myself, “Man, that things GONE!” I told her we’d look for it at the bottom but not to get her hopes up. We’d have better luck finding Nemo.

When we headed down to the bottom, we inspected the perimeter of each level until we got to the bottom. The hat was hot pink so that helped but we hadn’t seen a stitch of it. Coming off the last little wooden bridge, I looked down and saw the hat. It was right under the bridge and when I got to the bottom, I noticed that there was nothing between me and the hat but a little wall, chest high. I was a little skittish about scaling a wall with all that had happened so I flagged down a security gourd and explained the situation to him. If he would have not helped or allowed me to get the hat (which his eyes hinted at as I explained), I’d be writing this blog long hand from the NYC jailhouse.

Luckily he obliged but I still thought it was stupid that he insisted on getting it rather than just giving me the go-ahead to retrieve it. It really wasn’t in an “unauthorized” area but just off the beaten path about 15 feet. But we got the hat and it was one of the few positive highlights of the day.

Looking up at the statue, I just couldn’t quite fathom it. The image is so burned into my mind that looking at it did no good. I couldn’t see the statue as a copper statue but only saw the icon. I tried over and over to look at it with “fresh eyes” but couldn’t. Especially when I was head on and got the typical view of the statue. I tried to contemplate what the statue meant, what it meant to so many people, what it symbolized, how famous it was, how many people had looked upon it. It was impossible. It was an icon.

Maybe this is why I attempted to get so many pictures of it. When I looked at it, it was so spectacular that I had to try to capture the mood. I tried to get non-standard views of her in an attempt to wrap my mind around the actual statue. It was tough and resulted in more than a few “weird” pictures.

I think the thing I liked most about it was the pose. The way she is holding that flame, leaning forward in earnest and holding that flame up high, it just conveys an urgency and a proud gesture of help. She is not only beckoning travelers, she is PROUDLY holding that flame up as high as she can and gesturing a universal meaning: come to the flame for safety and opportunity. I would like to think that the statue would be as moving even if I had never seen it before today. They captured a feeling in that statue and it resonates with my soul. I guess that’s why she is the Statue she is and why her appeal translates to all human beings.

Going from that explanation to the next, I know I’m being shallow but I had to make a decision: go to Ellis Island or go to a show. After sight-seeing so much in the last few days, I was about tapped out and although I’m not discounting the significance of Ellis Island, I just didn’t have it in me to spend any more hours looking at landmarks.

I had tickets to Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. It’s a show that comes on right after The Daily Show so sometimes I end up watching it after my nightly ½ hour with Jon Stewart. Tough Crowd is basically a combination of improv, current events, and stand up comedy. Colin Quinn, who did Remote Control and SNL in the 80s and 90s, leads the show and 4 other comics sit around and argue, make jokes, and insult each other over the latest topics. I like the show but some nights the bickering is too much and I have to turn it off.

My cousin told me that it wasn’t hard to get tickets so I called and sure enough, I got tickets for yesterday but didn’t find out until it was too late. So I called them back and asked to get tickets for tonight which they set up.

Carrie wasn’t too “jazzed,” as she put it, to go and we had nothing to do with the kids since we had to be there at 5:00 and my cousin worked until 6:00. So we made the decision to split up. I would go see the show and Carrie would take the kids to Time Square and sell them for whatever she could get. Just kidding, they were to wander around until Jen got off work and then they’d go see The Princess Diaries 2.

Now normally, this would be a 2-fer deal. I’m talking about The Princess Diaries 2. Not only would I get massive points for taking the kids to a “kid movie” but two hours of looking at Anne Hathaway. I mean come on. Have you seen this woman? She’s an even better-looking version of Julia Roberts.

So I gave up my opportunity to see Ms. Hathaway’s gorgeous mug on the big screen to see Colin Quinn’s not-so-gorgeous mug live in person. OK, this would not be the first time my priorities seemed a bit skewed.

This is when I saw a different flavor of New York. We were gong to take the train from Battery Park to Times Square and then split from there. What I didn’t know was that we had to make a transfer to make this happen and we were informed of this by the conductor in classic, curt, confusing New York style. Then one of the passengers must have saw the confusion in my eyes and actually offered to help. He actually asked where we were trying to get to (in a civil manner) and, get this, listened to our response!! I know, crazy weird.

He told us that we had to run across the track at the next stop and hop on the other train. We thanked him and while we discussed my route to the studio, another polite man informed me that I needed to board yet a third train after the cross-platform transfer to get me closer. I was pushing the time factor so was very appreciative of the advice.

The first guy confirmed it and the four of us discussed it as they reassured me this was the best route. I was flabbergasted that after days of rudeness, this spontaneous display of patience and kindness, on the New York subway no less, took me by surprise. It almost put my faith back into New Yorkers. Almost.

The transfers went fine and I found myself on the Grid. New York has a simple street-numbering pattern in sequential order at 90 degree angles, collectively called the grid. All I had to go was go two blocks one way, and two blocks the other. Simple, right?

I went completely the wrong way to start out. I was on 8th and needed to go to 10th. I couldn’t orient my map (I know, from a Marine, that’s funny) and briskly walked until I hit 6th. Crap.

So I turned around and jogged back to 10th, turned right, and headed down the right way. I expected to see a big sign that New York is famous for but it’s also famous for little out-of-the-way places with nothing but a doorway to represent its presence. Luckily, there was a line along the street and the sign-less studio was readily apparent.

I got in line and was handed a ticket. When we got in, after the obligatory search of course, we got in another line to be seated. But I had to go to the bathroom and it seemed so did everyone else because even the men’s bathroom had a line. It was the topic of conversation as the ladies waited too. My joke about it having a sink therefore could handle more than one dude at a time hit with some, not so much for others.

Getting seated, I noticed that the audience area was really small. The good thing about this is that there really wasn’t a bad or obstructed view. I was a few rows back but since it was slanted up, it put me above the cameras, looking down on the show. It was extremely close and I had that odd feeling you get when you look upon a sight you have never seen live but is familiar through seeing it on TV. It was the Tough Crown set and just like when I saw Friends years ago, the end of the set marked the end of the illusion. It looked fake until the moment you hit the set area and then it resembled a real room. Where the cameras view ended, so did the set.

The warm-up comic was really good. He prepped the crowd and got us in the mood. He did some stand up and then interacted with the crowd. He was quick with his jokes and really showed his talent.

He did stuff like getting audience members to sing TV themes (Fresh Prince, Jefferson’s, etc) and one guy did a rap he claimed got him booed off the Apollo stage. He then played “Stump the Comic” by getting the audience to give a title and he’d sing the theme. He missed more than he hit but every time I missed the stumper got a shirt or a hat.

After awhile, he introduced Colin Quinn who came out and did a monologue. It was off the cuff and if you’ve ever seen Colin Quinn, you know that he can either be hilarious or fall flat. He was a happy medium tonight and it seemed he was making up things as he went along which is basically his act. But it was weird to once again see someone up close that you’ve seen for years on TV.

He introduced the comics for the night and they were the following:

Judy Gold
Dom Irrea
Artie Lange
Mark Maron

The show was pretty off-the-cuff and they shot it in three segments; just long enough to fill the time between the commercials. The big news, of course was that the New Jersey governor admitted he was gay and was resigning because of a gay love affair. With the way New Yorkers feel about New Jersey, you can imagine how this went over.

The show was pretty much like you see on TV with the obvious exception that you could watch anyone you wanted and not just who the camera was pointing at. This made it a little strange since you could see “off-camera” reaction and normal moments.

The one I was most intrigued with way Arty Lang. I remember that he was a cast member of Mad TV and kind of recognized him although I couldn’t pinpoint what sketches he was in. So when they offered the opportunity to ask questions during the commercial breaks, I raised my hand and asked him what his favorite skit or character he did on Mad TV. He said his favorite was MY WHITE MOMMA. It was a skit based on the terrible WB comedies where a white guy ran over a black woman, and she then possessed him. Then he thought he was the menthol-cigarette-craving black momma of Shequanna.

I laughed out loud and asked him to yell out the sound bite to where he belted out: "Don't make me break my foot off in your ass!!!"

The crowd applauded and I thanked him. It was a great moment and I remembered the skit perfectly.

After the show was over, I was determined to get some pictures. They didn’t allow any pictures during the taping for obvious reasons but they said we could take some shots after it was over. So when they yelled cut (not really, it just kind of ended), I grabbed my camera and took some shots. Unfortunately, none of them turned out very well and either I was too far away in the darkened audience, or I repeated my often made mistake of zooming too much and getting jittery pics.

I made my way down to the floor and some of the comedians hung out on the stage. No one was shooing the late-hangers off so I walked around the stage waiting to talk to comedians. I shook Mark Maron’s hand and told him I liked his work. It always strikes me how animated they are on camera and how reserved they are one-on-one.

I made my way over to Artie Lange but he had a few people talking to him. Then they wanted a pic and I saw my opportunity to snap a couple of pics in the background. Afterwards, I came up to him and asked for his autograph. He ask me what I did and I told him I was a Marine who came down to see the show. He actually acted impressed and said “Oh! Really?” as he signed the autograph. I then asked if I could get a picture and he seemed psyched about it. I reiterated that I loved his work on Mad TV and that I was the one who asked about his favorite skit.

The crowd was getting thin and I was about to leave when I saw Judy Gold talking to someone. I waited patiently but two things started to piss me off. First, she saw that I was waiting there and didn’t give me so much as a look even though I know her peripheral vision told her I was waiting for her. Second, one of the seaters hovered around and with body language, made it clear it was time to go. I told her I was waiting for Ms. Gold and she said she was sorry but they had to clear the set.

I accepted that and started walking off but I noticed that Ms. Gold had heard the same thing and headed toward the exit. If she heard her, she heard me; that I was waiting for her but she still made no attempt to even say hello and instead kept talking to her friend.

I slowed my pace, thinking I might get a picture or at least a hello but she kept ignoring me and the thought occurred to me that I was acting an idiot. Why was I putting myself through this demeaning exercise just because she is on TV. I came to my senses and walked out of the studio.

Now I do have to take a step back and point out something from her point of view. She probably gets a lot of strangers coming up to her and from what I heard, she was discussing a break up she just had and she seemed a little distraught about it. So I was just some schlep to her and that’s what made me a bit put off.

Coming out of the studio, I saw two guys talking and they asked me if Artie Lange was coming out. I told them that I had just been talking to him and to my surprise it looks like the comics leave out the front just like the audience so they might be able to see him.

Sure enough, he came out and they talked to him. He was more than happy to talk to them and even get some pictures with him.

After this was done, the two guys pointed to another guy who was by the street between two cars smoking a cigarette. His back was to me. They told me he was an actor from the Chappelle Show who played the only white guy in a Real World skit where all the other housemates were black. His name is Christian Finnegan.

Here is something I found on the net about the skit (maybe a bit over-analyzed, though):

Perhaps the most fully realized sketch of all is from last season, a takeoff on MTV's The Real World. Instead of one African-American tossed in with "a bunch of crazy white people," a single white guy named (of course) Chad moves into a sprawling apartment filled with angry black people. (Chappelle's goal—to reverse The Real World's invidious racial alchemy—nicely expresses his retributive itch that, in interviews, he seems to mistake for a sense of justice.) The escalating abuses and misunderstandings climax when roommate Tyree, a feral ex-con played by Eddie Murphy's brother Charlie, stabs Chad's visiting father with a prison-style shiv. This sketch riffs off a black guy's view of a white guy's worst nightmare—the willful misunderstanding, the (literal) whiff of drugs and violence, the scalding indifference to white-bread niceness, the threat of sexual humiliation. Gentle and high-voiced, wide-hipped and pudgy, Chad arrives emasculated, and so, by the ineluctable logic of this nightmare, his cute and busty girlfriend ditches him to sleep with both Tyree and Tyree's prison buddy, Lysol.

In using this harmless eunuch as a foil, Chappelle vaults clear over any edifying satirical point about the way in which racism begets paranoia or whatever. Here, the animating sentiment is not disapproval or disappointment. It's contempt—not necessarily toward white people, but certainly toward white people as they appear in the black guy's view of a white guy's worst nightmare. Let's face it, Chad is a tool, and his dad, short and nice and preppy in a pink Ralph Lauren shirt, is virtually begging for a shiv. The sketch concludes with a Real World standby, the banishment scene, in which the black roommates boot Chad because they don't "feel safe" around him. He, incredulously, impotently, rejoins—as his girlfriend watches, laughing, from Lysol's lap—"But, Tyree, you stabbed my dad." This sketch is both hilarious and discomfiting. But if you find a redemptive satirical point in it, or some determinate subversive meaning, you put it there yourself.

Here is another little write up I found:

I haven’t even mentioned some of the true classics, like Chappelle’s take on “The Real World.” Upset because MTV always seems to cast one normal black guy with five of the craziest white people they can find (who inevitably kick the black guy out of the house), Chappelle explains the concept of the “Mad Real World,” in which one normal white guy, Chad, is cast with five ghetto, prison inmate styled black people. Over the course of the sketch, they force Chad to sit down while he pees, they steal his girlfriend, they sleep with her in front of him, they put Chad in a sleeper hold, rob and rape him while he’s unconscious, stab his father for having “crazy eyes,” and when Chad finally explodes, they have a “house meeting” to tell him they don’t feel safe with him living there anymore.

After we talked and got a couple of pictures, I bid my farewell and started walking down the street. It just so happened that Artie Lange and Mark Maron were talking nearby and had headed in the same direction I was going just moments before I started walking. The end result was that they were about 10 paces in front of me. It felt kind of weird because I had talked to both of them and now it looked like I was just a weird stalker now.

We walked about a block and they crossed the street and met Dom Irrea at a restaurant. There they were, just eating in the public place where everyone can see them and I guess this is one of the things you can do in NY even if you’re famous: hang out in public.

I called Carrie and she was just going into the movie and was surprised I was already done (after our 6 hour marathon at Friends years ago). I told her I would just walk around the city and wait for them to come out of the movie.

So let the freak show begin. I went to Times Square and talked to the Marine recruiter who happened to be a Lance Corporal there on recruiter’s assistance. Like me, he’s stationed at Quantico but for now, he was at the office that is smack dab in the middle of the street in the middle of Times Square. He told me they have to deal with a lot of freaks but recruiting is easy there.

I walked around and saw all manner of weirdness. As it got dark, I saw the spectacle of Times Square lit up in all its glory. I saw street performers, bums, tourists, cops, thugs, drunks, a nun, sailors in uniform, and even a dog or two. I kept busy just looking at all the unusual sites which made me feel better about myself. After all, I was doing better than a lot of people I saw.

When the family came out of the movie, my legs were shot. It had been a full day and I wanted nothing more than to just go back to the apartment and get some sleep. Oh, but there was something I wanted more: noodles. I got a craving for some noodles so we went searching for a Chinese place. Only I couldn’t find Chinese food in New York. We walked blocks and blocks before we stumbled across a place and we got it to go, wanting to get on the subway and head back.

I wasn’t the only one who had cravings. Carrie got her mind set on ice cream and the specialty shop in Astoria was open until 11:00 PM. We just made it and was the last customer of the day. Everybody got something and the bill came to $18. For ice cream. Let me say that again: $18 for ice cream.

I am so ready to go home.

When we got back to the apartment, it was not a pretty sight. I gobbled the noodles like they were my last meal on earth and when we opened up the second tub for Alex, he did his best too. But there was a lot and I was getting into my ice cream by then. After that was done, that half tub of noodles was just sitting there. There it sat. Right there.

I tried to ignore it. It just stared at me. I was full. There they sat. They were relentless.

Fine, maybe just a bite.

I downed the rest and my gut hurt. I have the self-control of a dog sometimes.

Now I was stuffed to the pork-belly, exhausted, and ready to make the trip home tomorrow. I barely made it to the bed where I didn’t go to sleep, I simply passed out.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't confuse comfort with happiness."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Quote of the Day:

William Wallace: "The answer is yes. Fight for me, you get to kill the English."
Stephen: "Excellent."

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

New York, Day 3

I think my wife is getting sick of me singing New York tunes such as New York, New York, and Broadway. I know this because I get “the look” when I start singing. Of course the New Yorkers think I’m just another loon walking down the street.

There is no litter laws in New York. If there are, a lot of people owe the city a whole lot of money. From a city that seems to take pleasure in fleecing the financial wool from the general population, this extortion opportunity would be vigorously enforced.

Where I come from, if you see someone throwing something on the ground, you give them the hairy eyeball but this would not get you very far in New York. I noticed this especially with cigarettes. And everyone smokes, even babies.

Everywhere we went, people would be puffing on a cigarette and then just throw in down on the ground in one sweeping movement as they walked off. And it seems that everyone was OK with this. The thought occurred to me you could probably do this right in front of a cop and there would be no problem.

It just adds to the whole trash problem that you would imagine a place would have that has people packed together like sardines. Trash was everywhere and even though there were a lot of trashcans and black plastic bags piled up on the street, the basic problem still remained: how do you deal with millions upon millions of people in a small area when each one produces prodigious amounts of trash?

Simple: use the streets.

The other reoccurring theme was construction. I’ve ascertained that they are rebuilding New York completely, during rush hour which happens between 12:01 AM until midnight.

Everywhere we went was construction. Classic NY construction workers tearing up the street, riding jack hammers, tearing up asphalt with back hoes, half out of view cranking on sewer pipes, etc. This hampered an already bad traffic scene and added to the noise pollution everywhere you went. If all the construction noise were to cease at once, people would stop in their tracks and wonder if this was the Reckoning. It was so noisy that we often had to yell at each other just to be heard and just when you got out of range of a noisy area, the next was taking over.

We finally found what is likely the ONLY good service in all of New York. My cousin lives in Astoria and we ate at a place called SoHo where they serve sandwiches, healthy stuff, and unhealthy stuff like fries that my family seemed to gravitate toward (myself included). The waitress did weird things like seating us promptly and took our order with patience and understanding. Then she really weirded out by bringing us our food quickly and get this, she actually checked back and was nice to us the entire time. The portions were huge, the food really good, and the cost was relatively cheap. It was like stepping into another world and once we left, we were back into the New York jungle. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted but it felt like a hallucination afterwards.

We got on the subway and were treated to one of the local sights: Goth Girl. She was probably a teenager with black everything to include hair, lipstick (with a lip ring), spaghetti-strap top, pants, boots, and of course, fingernails. The upper part of her chest was visible and had a huge winged tattoo of a skull and other intricate ink work to match various tattoos on her arms.

But the strangest and saddest thing about her was that she was actually pretty. I mean once you disregard the tattoos, Adam’s Family wardrobe, and death-pale skin, she had a simple beauty and I found it hard to not stare at the obvious gulf between her natural beauty and her manufactured look. In fact, I thought it would be funny if she got all dressed up nice for her boyfriend’s parents and then unveiled her true style once they had accepted her. Then I thought I could be that parent as the father of a 12-year-old who someday will bring home a girl. I shuddered and thought about something else.

We got to Times Square and my perception was that it was a pure spectacle. It’s a total assault on your senses: sight, sound, SMELL. You could walk down the street and in one moment say “Mmmm, what’s that smell?” and the next moment utter “Ewwww, what’s that smell?”

Everything is bigger than normal and there are lights everywhere. Big buildings with screens scrolling the latest news and huge billboards showing people as giants. It was really too much to take in and like Vegas, your attention is torn from one point to another constantly and therefore you can’t take it all in. You get tired just trying to pay attention to all the things that are vying for it.

The kids wanted to take us into Toys R Us and like everything else in Times Square, it was oversized and over-priced. We saw a full size Ferris Wheel and a full size Tyrannosaurus Rex. We saw the Land of Barbie (the kid theme, not the other kind. That was the old Times Square). We saw aisle after aisle of every kind of toy imaginable and oversized board games hanging off the wall such as Monopoly and Operation.

Needless to say, this was a kid’s paradise. If I would have seen this as a kid, I think my little kid brain would have just blown apart and my lifeless body just fallen over. My kids have been desensitized to such spectacles so their impressed scale, while almost fully pegged, did not jump the meter. The tug-boated us around the store, where my cousin had taken them last night, to show us what they were most impressed with. They played tour guide in a place where even adults are dwarfed by the sheer immensity of everything.

It was time to get on with the real sight-seeing. Instead of bumping around NYC on foot or in cabs, or worse in a car, we decided to drop the duckies for the double-decker bus tour through the city. Yes, you can get the downtown loop, you can get the uptown loop, or you can get the entire package for the low, low price of only…. I didn’t pay attention in order to avoid going insane but I think it was about $150 for the family. I believe I shall return to Virginia wearing a barrel.

So we mooed our way through the line, paid our money, and was randomly put on a bus with a tour guide that not only fit the mold of a native New Yorker, I think he created it. He was a big, fat, Sipowiz-looking guy who wheezed just climbing up and down the bus stairs. It didn’t take long into the tour before my patience was as depleted as his blood-oxygen level.

The first obstacle we had to conquer was the Cheater. Some guy was right in front of us and the standard order of the bus tour process was evidently beyond his abilities to follow. But I can see how thing can get screwed up, after all, he was expected to pay money to the vender, receive a ticket, and then show the ticket to tour guide. How are humans supposed to follow such complicated procedures?

I think he found the receipt on the ground and tried to sneak aboard. Evidently, the vender gives you a ticket and a receipt. Most people chuck the receipt and use the ticket (strange, I know) so this guy must have found the receipt and thought, hey, free tour. Well, the crack tour guide was too wise for this and got into an argument with the guy as we were all waiting behind him on the stairs trying to get by and into a seat. The guy tried to feign confusion which I don’t doubt abounded in his head but he just wasn’t acting like a guy who paid and then was not being let onto the bus. He acted like the guy who got caught and wanted to claim the receipt was all he got.

He finally got off the bus and then we had to listen to the tour guide conjecture everything that happened. It was the beginning of a long series of explanations we would have to suffer.

Here’s how it went; this guy had stories. These stories were funny to no one but himself. We paid good American money to learn of the historical significance of New York landmarks, not to listen to inane obviously-practiced puns and personal opinions of one guy. It was maddening and every once in awhile, he would interrupt his own personal history to point out a something of interest that we had passed when he was continuing with his own program.

As you can imagine, I had enough of this (too much in fact) after about ½ hour. The good news was that the tours came around every 20 minutes so if we hopped off, we could catch the next bus with hopefully a better tour guide.

So without much fan fare, we got off just past where John Lennon was shot and rested in front of Strawberry Fields until the next bus came. Carrie and the kids were taking advantage of the local ice cream stand when the bus pulled up and we hopped on.

The next guy was much better and actually pointed things out that we were interested in. When we drove by Harlem, I couldn’t stop thinking that we looked like protected viewers riding through a zoo and all the local people were the animals. I felt bad that they had to deal with people like me gawking into their lives as we passed through. But I also couldn’t shake the feeling that all outsiders feel about the reputation of a place like Harlem. For someone who only knows it by the movies and TV, it made me a little nervous to think just how dangerous it would be to get out and walk around those streets. I wasn’t about to find out, though.

We went by the Apollo Theater and it was a dump. I really expected to see it dressed up a little considering it’s such a famous landmark but it wasn’t. I know some people might ask what I expected since it was Harlem and to that I say that I thought it was more lore than truth that Harlem is a ghetto. I understand that it’s becoming more and more cultural and artsy but the truth of the matter is that it’s still an area where poor people live and the mean streets of Harlem are not to be underestimated. If you think that in 2004 that law rules in Harlem, you better be talking about the law of the street because if you think that you will be protected by civil statues against crime there, you’ll be in for a rude awakening.

On the brighter side, our tour guide pointed out that on a lot of the historic buildings, the environment produces a black substance that stains some of the exterior surfaces and the very scientific term for the substance, used by the local population, is “schmootz.” I thought this joke was absolutely hilarious and for the rest of the tour, I would point things out and comment on the schmootz. I think that once again, my wife got tired of the reference after the first 100 mentions.

The other humorous story was that a little school had no playground because it was in a building right in the middle of downtown. So during a certain time of the day, they rope off the street along the side and let the kids run around on the street for recess (only in NYC can they get away with this).

It seems our guide once got stuck inside and he said it was “horrible.”

“Kids were running around everywhere and throwing balls at my head.” (pronouncing it as “bwalls at my hed.”)

This just struck me as funny because of the accent but also because only in NY do you have kids audacious enough to wing balls at a motorists head while he’s trapped in his car. Classic.

Towards the end of the tour, we started to see that the clouds were forming and it looked like rain was coming. We were almost done and the guide told us that the Letterman studios, actually the Ed Sullivan theater, was two blocks away from our next stop. This piqued my interest for two reasons. Obviously I wanted to see where Letterman’s taped and secondly, I wanted to meet another celebrity.

So with threatening rain clouds on the rise, we disembarked the bus and headed two blocks over, getting the requisite pictures of the Letterman sign. Then it was on to find Rupert. For a decade I have seen Letterman walk out of the studio during the show and go over to the little deli where Rupert works and I was determined to find it.

We went around the building but couldn’t see a deli. The family was thirsty and had to use the bathroom so we ducked into a Subway and everyone exchanged liquids. We then got back on the street and it was getting dark at 2:30 PM. The clouds were rolling in and making night out of the day. It was eerie. I told Carrie that I wanted to try the other side of the studio but I was starting to think it was not to be because that side look deserted and the clouds were getting darker and darker.

Just when I was about to give up, I looked over and saw a little doorway as I passed and who was sitting there on his little perch but Rupert himself, just like I’ve seen him for 10 years.

I walked into the deli where there was 3 customers in the little area. Just as I did that, Carrie’s phone rang and it was my cousin calling to tell us of the thunderstorm warning. I tapped on the window from the inside to get her attention because I wanted her to take a picture once I got to the front of the line. When he waved me off, I got her attention again and motioned for her to send in Alex but by the time I got another couple of feet, Carrie had ended the call and squeezed her way in.

I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how sick this guy was of people coming in and talking to him about the show. I didn’t even know exactly what I was going to say but I knew that I wanted to get a picture and I didn’t know how this kind of behavior was received in typical New York interactions. After toxic exposure over the last few days, I wouldn’t have been too surprised if he refused and kicked me out into the rain.

When I came up to him, I introduced myself and shook his hand. I told him I was a Marine visiting the city and wanted to come meet him since I had seen him on TV for years. To my surprise, he was very gracious and genuinely pleased to meet me. I asked if I could get a picture with him and he was honored as I stood right in the spot I had seen him award platters of meat to contestants after some funny Letterman bit.

Then it happened. The sky opened up and it started down-pouring really hard. This resulted in two things. First, no one was leaving that deli in this rain so it gave me an excuse to hang out and talk to Rupert. Second, no one was coming in because they had already sought cover from the rain. So my family and I were the only ones in there and had the undivided attention of Rupert and his co-workers.

The funny thing was, they had more questions of me than I had of them. He wanted to know all about the Marine Corps and they all kept asking about the first Gulf War was like, living conditions, training, combat, etc. They asked question after question and I was glad to explain to them what they wanted to know.

The tidbits I learned from him was that the first time Letterman put him on the show, they didn’t even prep him; they just walked in with the cameras. It got some good laughs so they kept doing it and now they normally come down on a Tuesday of they are going to at all.

He told me that the “random” picking out of the crowd was fake. They have people that look for “talent” in the crowd and they tell him which one to choose but they make it look like Rupert is choosing.

I asked about the Snickers bars because Letterman is always commenting on the Snickers. Sure enough, there was a stack of them right at the counter just like I’m used to seeing on the show and Rupert tells me that they sell a lot of them after Letterman mentions them. In fact, Snickers sent him 3 cases one time after Letterman made a big deal out of them and Rupert says Dave knows what he’s doing. Anything he mentions gets a boost in sales even if it’s a negative comment.

We talked for a long time and he told me how Letterman likes the military and how he saw a difference in the Marines when they have all the services represented. A funny question came up about how easy it was to get out of joining the Marines since their mental and physical qualifications were so stringent. It was funny because it’s a mindset that he didn’t understand. I explained to him that it was not a matter of getting out of an enlistment, rather it’s a difficult process to get in. If you don’t want to join, you don’t have to fake anything to get out. Just step aside because there are plenty of others that are striving to just get qualified to join. We don’t beg you to join, we allow you the opportunity to earn it. It’s just one more thing that makes us different than the rest.

It stopped raining and I was getting another look from Carrie. Plus, people were starting to dribble in so it was time to say goodbye and leave. Rupert shook my hand again and I told him I’d come by and say hello the next time I was in town. He actually seemed happy about the conversation and I was impressed that I found a New Yorker, and a pseudo-celebrity, that treated me with so much respect.

We walked back to Times Square and walked around some more taking in the insanity until we finally had enough and headed home. We stopped at the local grocery and bought some water to replace the bottle and bottles we’ve been gulping. When we went to pay for the two 12 packs, it came to over $10 and I almost choked. Water is more expensive than beer in NY stores. So as a budding New Yorker jaded and angered by the price I went back to the apartment while schlepping a case of water (another New York term I heard a lot).

Tonight we had dinner with my cousin’s boyfriend. Mexican food was the one motif we had not sampled yet so off to the little Mexican restaurant we went after getting a phone call that he was waiting for us. Apparently, Jen thought we were meeting up at the apartment.

Her boyfriend was a native New Yorker, Long Island actually, and treated her good which was nice to see. Although who knows, maybe it was an act and he beats her around a lot. (Just kidding, hi Jen). If you knew my cousin, you’d understand she’s not the kind of person that would put up with that. He was a nice enough guy and we had a good evening over a decent Mexican dinner.

Afterwards we decided to go back to Time Square and after weighing all the options, we concluded the best way to do it was to take our Saturn and let the boyfriend drive since he knew where he was going. So we all walked down to the car which was parked two blocks over due to limited parking and street-cleaning schedules. When we got to the car, Carrie pushed the alarms to disengage it but nothing happened. After trying a few times (and everyone trying to push the button just in case the other few people hadn’t quite done it right), I just used the key to open the door, hoping the alarm would not go off. It didn’t and as I suspected, the battery was dead. After making our way in the dark last night from the concert, we must have left the dome light on that we were using to see the directions.

This dictated the rest of the night. We weren’t going to Time Square but more importantly, we were stuck in New York with a dead battery.

Pete tried to call a friend but with no luck. We tried to ask a cop but they said they weren’t allowed to help out with a jump. Non-interference: thanks NYPD Blue.

My idea was to get the battery to a garage and have them charge it up tomorrow for the trip back to Virginia on Friday. Then Peter remembered he had a jump starter at home so he and I caught a cab to go get it while the women and children went back to the apartment.

I tried to put the best spin on it but I was a little miffed at no one in particular. I thought that at least I was getting a ride in a cab; almost a tourist attraction in itself.

But this was not the yellow cab you’d expect. It was a car with a Middle Eastern guy at the wheel but with no meter. I was not feeling too good about this and it got worse when Peter asked how much for a round trip to his place and the guy jokingly said $2000. Pete left it at that and the next question came from the “cabbie.”

“You don’t mind if I smoke?”

At least he had the window down.

We got to Pete’s house and he gave me the charger unit. He said it might have enough juice to start the car but if not, all I needed was an extension cord to plug it in overnight. From that statement, I knew two things.

First, that it wouldn’t have enough juice to start the car.

Second, that this little comedy was going to cost me because I wasn’t sure if my cousin had an extension cord and I’d have spend yet more money to buy one.

When I got back in the cab, I was telling myself to keep the chatter to a minimum and just maybe this guy wouldn’t realize I was from out of town and try to fleece me. Pete told me not to let him charge me more than ten or twelve bucks which told me there would be a problem since he made it a point to tell me. It didn’t help that Pete asked me questions about my visit, when I got there, when I’m leaving, while we were riding to his apartment. I knew the cabbie was probably frothing at the mouth.

Another problem was that I only had 1 $20 bill so I couldn’t just throw 12 bucks at him and leave. I had to wait for change so Pete told me to tell him to give me a ten back and then negotiate from there.

Of course, I was dreading the end to all this and blew it when we stopped and I asked how much.

“$15”
“Fifteen? How’s that?”
“$7 there, $1 for the wait, $7 back.”

There was not much I could do but hand him the $20. Yet another not-so-symbolic fleecing.

So now I’m walking down the street for 3 blocks in the rain with a 20 pound weight in one hand after being robbed. The thought occurred to me that you make one small error in NY and they make you pay for it dearly. One small oversight and it cost a cab ride robbing, a walk in the rain at night, possibly an extension cord you really only need once, and all this doesn’t even guarantee you that it will all work out. It’s possible that it might cost a jump from a cab ($15 is my guess) or a charging at a garage or even a new battery.

I was not in good spirits as I contemplated this while hooking up the charger to the battery in the dark and rain. Just then, the alarm went off. I fumbled for the keychain to turn it off.

At least the electrical system worked and the lights, radio, A/C, etc came on. I turned it over and all I heard was a clicking sound so I guess it didn’t have enough juice. Back to the apartment in the rain, schlepping the weight I went.

The first extension cord she gave me was a standard plug but the male connection on the charger was recessed and I couldn’t get the female end into the little alcove. I was not even capable of rage at this point.

As luck would have it, Jen had an old power cord from an A/C unit that fit and I plugged it in, knowing in my heart that despite all the aforementioned effort, there was going to be something else. I didn’t want to think about it. I was in the apartment, I was full, I was tired, I was pissed, and I was starting to have just about enough of NYC.

Free Advice for Today:
Admit your mistakes."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Quote of the Day:

"What we have is based on moment-to-moment choices of what we do. In each of those moments, we choose. We either take a risk and move toward what we want, or we play it safe and choose comfort. Most of the people, most of the time, choose comfort. In the end, people either have excuses or experiences; reasons or results; buts or brilliance; they either have what they wanted, or they have a detailed list of all the reasons why not."

- Unknown

New York, Day 2

This morning, I awoke in New York City.

Our plan was to go with my cousin to the subway and she’d send us off from there. With 4 adults and 2 kids in a small apartment and 1 bathroom, I decided that a certain type of shower was necessary. Pronounced with the NY accent, I kept repeating to Carrie that I was set with a “hoe-wa’s” shower. She just rolled her eyes at me. This is a common occurance.

Our financial education on the New York scale continued. Because we would be using the subway today, tomorrow, and the next day, three $7 dollar day passes would run $21 each which is the price of a weekly pass. So $21 times 4 people came to $84 just to ride the subway. Yet another expense we really didn’t count on. But waddya gonna do?

The world-famous New York subway did not disappoint. There were your weirdoes, foreigners, normal, abnormal, and everything in between. I had to laugh when the conductor announced that the next stop was “City Huwalll” in classic accent. But there was no danger, gangs, urine, or graffiti so those stereotypes are hopefully a thing of the past and/or Hollywood. Or maybe they were putting on their best behavior just for us. Yeah, right.

We took the subway all the way to Manhattan and emerging out of the stairwell, the first thing we saw was the empty space where the World Trade Centers once stood. Without fanfare, we were suddenly standing at the very spot where the world changed on September 11th, 2001. Not much more than an empty hole surrounded my a metal gate, it reminded me of going to the Grand Canyon because there was nothing to see but the expanse of nothing. I just stood there imagining the size of the original towers and then imagining the spectacle of standing in that exact spot on that fateful day and watching airplanes plunge into the gigantic buildings. It was an image I think most of people there were trying to grasp along with me.

We lingered at the site for about a half hour and then set our sites on getting something to eat. Only I can be in the busiest city in the world and have a hard time finding something to eat. I didn’t want Burger King or McDonalds. We had pizza last night so that was out. The little stands on the road didn’t appeal to me because we had done a lot of walking and just wanted to sit down and relax. We tried a few different spots with no success and even went to the TGI Fridays which was a total “settle” only to find it was closed.

We ended up finding a deli with a little eating area up a staircase and I had, now hold onto hat, a turkey club sandwich. (It’s what I always get.)

After eating, we made our way down to Battery Park and saw the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The tip of the land mass is the closest point where you can see the statue and get tickets to get ferried out to Liberty Island. I know I’m pessimistic but the thought occurred to me that they planned it well to put the statue out on a little island, knowing people would have to pay to get ferried out there.

Of course the area was a spectacle. People were everywhere selling souvenirs and even had people dressed up like Lady Liberty complete with heavy green robes. It was the gaudy spectacle I’ve come to loathe around big attractions like this.

We didn’t intend to go out there today because tomorrow and the next day we are taking the bus tour of the city and figured we’d take the ferry out there tomorrow or Thursday. As we milled around, we heard over the intercom that they were sold out of the tours so we thought it might be a good idea to get tickets today for tomorrow or Thursday.

Here’s the irony. You have to call to make these reservations so we got the number and as we stood literally at the very place where the tour starts, we were talking over the phone to someone, possibly in another state, about getting tickets. Carrie got through most of the necessary process but then my phone dropped the line and she lost the reservation. Of course when she called back, the procedure to pick up where she left off (giving them our credit card numbers) was beyond their capability. She had to start all over while we sat in the ever-increasing heat but finally got the reservations.

We headed back toward the subway station and when we came to Wall Street, I decided to head down it just to say we were there. As we walked down the famous street, we heard shouting and a crowd up ahead. As we got closer, the shouting turned to chanting and I saw police holding back of people who were obviously upset about something. Whatever was going on attracted the local news cameras and I was surprised that the police were more interested in holding back the protestors than holding back spectators. So within a few moments, we were on the front line of this spectacle.

As I watched things unfold, I figured out that the protestors were, to my surprise, off duty cops. They were shouting “Never Forget, Already Forgot!” and when I asked a bystander what was going on, they told me the mayor was coming out any minute. I looked up above the exit where there were many Secret-Service-looking men cordoning off the crowd and realized I was in front of the Trump Building.

Things started happening fast. The crowd grew and the protestors started chanting louder than ever, now preferring “Run away, Mikey, Run Away!” Suddenly a group of men came out of the exit and I zeroed in on who seemed the center of attention and assumed he was the mayor. I had seen Mayor Bloomberg on TV but couldn’t pick him out of a crowd and I tried to take as many pictures as I could, not knowing if any of them actually turned out. I’ll find out when I get home and dump the pics on my computer.

It seemed funny to me that the New York City police would treat the mayor like this and ironically, being held back by on-duty police. And the odds of running into any one person in NYC, much less a famous person and much more less, the mayor, boggled the mind. What are the chances? It made for an interesting walk down Wall Street.

We caught the subway back to my cousin’s apartment to get ready for the concert tonight. A little shower, a little nap, a little rest, and a little quelling of the building excitement at seeing Sarah McLachlan in concert.

Free Advice for Today:
Never buy anything from a rude salesperson, no matter how much you want it."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


SPECIAL ENTRY:

Sarah McLachlan Concert

We left in plenty of time to make it to the concert. In fact, we left in plenty of time to make the stage set up. I was not about to miss one moment of the concert and I was worried because we didn’t know where we were going, how long it was going to take, where we were going to park, and exactly where we were sitting.

OK, so I was a little paranoid but I insisted we leave at 5:00 PM for a 7:30 PM concert when the Mapquest directions I had said it was a 25 minute drive. Mapquest I trusted not. I didn’t want potentially bogus directions to be the unraveling of the Universe as I knew it if I didn’t get in to see this concert on time.

As we zoomed down the road, I said to Carrie (who was driving in order to stave of my pissiness), “Hey, we should’ve left a little later” to which I received the Look of Death. How was I to know the Mapquest directions would be dead on?

After stopping for gas, or as I call it, once again submitting to yet another New York intrusion into my financial stability, we got to the Coliseum with a couple of hours to spare. We found a sports bar and decided to get a quick bite and a beer before the concert.

It was a college town so there were plenty of sports bar nearby to choose from. We choose randomly and as you are likely surmising if you know my track record, we choose poorly.

The place was nearly empty and we went up to the loft area where we were alone and the music wasn’t blaring. It wasn’t long before the waitress came up and we ordered two beers and some chicken quesadillas. So far, so good.

As we were waiting, it happened.

Three girls were seated nearby and we were treated to the most stereotypical Long Island caricatures you could imagine. These Hispanic girls thought that the entire bar needed to be in on their stunningly ignorant conversation. As they were sliding into the booth, the first volley in a series of brilliant, ladylike statements emanated from the loudest one:

“Take my pic-cha cwas I’m awll sexy ‘n shit.”

As funny as it sounds, she was dead serious.

This became our running joke for the rest of the evening as I repeated it maybe a hundred times to Carrie over the course of the evening.

Another offering she had was a misuse of the term “serendipity” which she kept loudly announcing to her friends.

She continued using loud, crass language and I wondered how in the world any guy would ever be attracted to such an animal. To live with that voice, that attitude, and that personality for the rest of your life… well, it was just beyond my abilities to imagine. I cannot intentially produce such nightmarish Hellscapes.

Back at our table, we were having our own problems. The food took a very long time and the beer really didn’t taste like my beloved Coors Light I had ordered. I could overlook that but then she asked if we wanted a refill on the beer to which we said we did. But she disappeared on us and it became clear that we wouldn’t have time to finish the second beers and we were almost done with the food. Now it became important to get her to cancel the order and right as I was sliding out to find her, she came bounding up the stairs (after talking to Miss Long Guylun) sans our beer. She asked if everything was OK and then remembered our beer as she spoke. We cancelled the order and asked for the check.

Another 15 minutes went by and no waitress. We got up, went down to the bar to find her, and still couldn’t. I returned upstairs, wondering why I was trying so hard to find a crappy waitress so I could give her money. When I returned downstairs, Carrie had found her and gotten the bill.

Now we repeated the process trying to pay. Once again, we looked high and low but to no avail so I just went up to our table (which was now cleaned off) and dropped the leather holder on the table.

Once again, unacceptable service. I was peeved once again but I was determined not to let this ruin my perfect evening. We hopped in the car and went to the concert.

I own a motorcycle but I don’t exactly love the culture of motorcycle riders.

In the same vein, I love the music of Sarah McLachlan. But the average fan of Sarah McLachlan, well, she scares me. This was never as evident as when we parked and entered the coliseum. I tend to analyze my surroundings so I was interested in seeing others who shared my passion for Sarah’s music. With an obsession (yes, I admit it) like I have with her music, I’m accustomed to being a lone soul in this respect. The circles I run around with aren’t exactly known for their love of music like Sarah McLachlan sings and while I’ve never shied away from or hidden my preference, I’ve become accustomed to being rather unique in this aspect.

So I wondered what these people would be like. For so many years I’ve obsessed about her music and now I was going to be in a crowd that may or may not have the same deep feelings. What would it be like? Where would I fall on the fan spectrum?

Well, I found out something that shouldn’t have surprised me. Most of the people there were women who tended toward the beatnik side. Some were, um, a little butch but most were, and let me paint a picture here using sterotypes: tree-hugging, Democratic or Green Party, activists, men-loathing, flower dress wearing, granola eating, naturalists. Some were young girls with tight spaghetti-strapped tops and jeans. There were a few Long Island or Jersey princesses that were a walking comedy act. And then there were some people I would just call “normal” as I define it. Older couples or just people like us: mid-30s out for an enjoyable night away from the kids.

There were some boyfriends who had obviously been coerced into coming to the concert which I found unfathomable. Here I had dreamed of coming to this concert and they were “suffering through it.”

Carrie had to find a bathroom so I had plenty of time to analyze the crowd. I watched the different types of people and wondered how they really felt about being at this concert. I wondered if any of them had spent hundreds of dollars to travel hundreds of miles for this single event. I had taken leave, set up a trip to NY from Virginia, crashed at my cousin’s house, driven another 30 miles to the concert, and managed to get tickets to this one pivotal event.

When Carrie got back, we went to our gate and entered the coliseum. I had a familiar tingle in my stomach I recognized as pure excitement as we entered and were escorted down to the floor. As we were led to our seats, I was dumfounded to realize that we were closer than I had ever been at any concert in my life. I stood there, staring at the microphone, and realized that I would see my Sarah McLachlan RIGHT THERE. It was so close (19 thin rows back) that I knew I would be able to see details of her face.

It was about 7:00 so we and a half hour before the concert started. I waited like a kid at a candy store, so excited I couldn’t keep my feet still. I tried to read my book but it was no use. I was just too excited.

Looking around, I saw loads of people with cameras. I had asked Carrie before we left if she thought they would allow cameras and Carrie said she doubted it and we shouldn’t take it. I could blame it on her at this point but to be honest, I didn’t think they’d allow it either.

But the bottom line is that I was within spitting distance of Sarah McLachlan and everyone around me had a camera but me. Me, the guy who takes an disturbing amount of insignificant pictures with his digital camera knowing that he can erase the less-than-stellar ones. Me, the guy who would never again get so close to Sarah McLachlan and who a picture (or 100) taken from my vantage point would be coveted files on my computer and on my webpage for the rest of the time he drew air from this cold, heartless world.

OK, maybe I was a bit miffed at being caught camera-less so I’ll blame it on Carrie.

Way to go, Babe.

That’s OK, I’m sure I’ll get another chance to be 19 rows back at a Sarah concert. Not that I’ve waited a decade for this and it was a night that will rank disproportionately high for all of eternity to me or anything. No big deal. Really, I'm OK with it (as he rakes his arm with the blade of a knife).

The opening act was a woman named Butterfly Boucher. She has one song out on the radio called “Another White Dash” and when she came out, not even half the seats were filled. She’s an Australian artists who Sarah saw in a NY club and asked to open for her on her tour. What a break.

She was pretty good but she represented the only thing standing between me and watching Sarah in concert. I got a little irritated and anxious when she kept singing. I mean she was good but I was there for one reason and one reason only. Bring on Sarah.

After Butterfly (supposedly her real name) was done, they had to tear down her equipment and I watched in silence as they transformed the stage for Sarah. Every unveiling was an event for me and it was so bad that I felt a tinge of excitement when they unveiled the grand piano Sarah would be using.

The seconds ticked by. Slowly. My heart beat like a hummingbird’s.

The lights dimmed. My heart raced until it hurt.

The curtain dropped suddenly and everyone was on stage but in shadow.

The crowd went berserk.

The opening notes of a song began and I only heard it as though I was in a deep well. The deafening crowd didn’t even register as I stared at one figure on the stage. As she stepped forward toward the microphone, she was still in shadow but now more visible. I recognized the song notes as the biggest hit from her new album but the fact was dwarfed by the stunned state I was in.

I was staring directly at Sarah McLachlan. She was as near to me as a person across a room.

How many times has her music played as the backdrop of my life? How many hours have my ears heard her sing the loveliest sounds I know? How many hours of training has she been with me as I ran miles and miles in preparation for my marathons? And how many marathons has she been whispering in my ears as I persist past normal physical limits? How many times has she been that thin line back home when I’m deployed? When she represented everything I hold dear; home, family, love, comfort. Her music evokes strong memories of places like 29 Palms and Monterey when my life was shaped by events that make up the fabric of my life.

And now she was across the room.

And she commenced to flood my senses with those very songs that mean more to me than I can describe here. I was in another universe for the next two hours.

The stage was a treat for the eyes. They had two drum sets (one normal and one that look like a cross between big bongos and a Flintstone’s drum set), the piano I mentioned, keyboards, and the normal array of sound equipment.

The background was sheets that formed a screen and then there was an earthy motif with fake rockery. But the neatest things were the hanging tubes of cloth that looked a little strange but their effect was obvious once the lights dimmed. The inside was lit and the material was translucent and the overall effect was that it looked like solid glowing pillars of rock. It was a neat effect and matched some of the background stage dressing.

The play list was as follows:

  Fallen
  World on Fire
  Adia
  You Are My Sunshine
  Hold On
  Perfect Girl
  Drifting
  Push
  I Will Remember You
  Ice
  Wait
  Witness
  Elsewhere
  Answer
  Angel
  Fear (my favorite)
  Trainwreck
  Building A Mystery
  Sweet Surrender
  Possession
  Blackbird
  Ice Cream
  Stupid
  Fumbling Toward Ecstasy
  Dirty Little Secret

Sarah looked beautiful. I will not dwell on this fact because my wife would kick me in tender places if I went on too much about it but suffice it to say that she was as beautiful as she sounded. She was wearing a black top that showed her arms (I’m a sucker for beautiful arms) and a pair of jeans. Her hair was long and she had heavier than normal eye makeup which may be necessary for being on stage. Carrie though it made her eyes look small but I didn’t mind at all. She looked and sounded gorgeous.

I would say that Sarah was in rare form but the only thing I have it to compare to is the Mirrorball album and other live performances I’ve heard. But as I suspected, she sounded incredible and a lot like the original studio versions.

Another thing I liked was the variety of instruments they brought out for certain songs. If you “celebrate her entire catalogue” like I do, you know that Sarah has some exotic sounds in her music and instead of skipping over them, she included them in her stage performance. That really impressed me.

It’s frustrating but the stuck in my mind as impressive, I cannot remember exactly what song it was for. But the instrument was a rectangular box and the back end was a bellow like an accordion. It played the very familiar sound I was used to hearing for that song and I was amazed they didn’t just synthesize the sound.

The background singer was also impressive. I don’t know if “back up singer for Sarah McLachlan” is a full time job (seeing how she takes 5-year breaks) but the girl sounded like she was the same one who was on all Sarah’s CDs. Their voices really complimented each other and if she wasn’t the original back up singer, she really knew the songs and how to sing them.

I don’t need another reason to like Sarah McLachlan but she gave me many this evening. For one thing, she seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience. Remember, she had taken a five-year hiatus when she had a baby and her mother died. Normally a five-year absence in the music business means death to an artist but her fans (including me) waited with bated breath for her new album and when it came out last November, we came back to her in droves. This seemed to surprise her and she seemed surprised that so many people showed up to see her. And when we had such a loud response (spontaneous explosion before, during, after, and between songs) she appeared really touched and surprised.

Going back to the average fan, we had an up close and not-so-personal exposure to one worth mentioning. As the first song began, this woman jumped out of her chair and started the most painful looking and painful-to-watch dancing (and I use that term rather loosely) I’ve seen since Elaine on Seinfeld. She was gyrating in all manner of odd angles as the song progressed and as you can imagine, the fans behind her were none too pleased at her visual dry heaves.

She was the only one in our section, maybe in the entire coliseum except Sarah herself, that was actually standing and it didn’t take long before the people behind her started telling her to sit down in classic New York fashion. It couldn’t just be “Sit down!” but had to be “Hey, sit the F$%$% down you stupid b%$#$!!!!!”

This did not bode well with Beatnik Betty. She said something back to them and then was oblivious to the fact that she was the only one standing and pseudo-dancing. She ended up sitting for the second song (World On Fire) but the next one was “Adia” and up she shot up gyrating with a sense of urgency we had not seen during the first song. It was horrendous in its intensity and outdone only by its embarrassing display of human idiocy.

The crowd behind her once again barked out their displeasure on not only blocking their view but exposing them to such vulgar movements. This time, her reaction was explosive. She turned around and started incoherently yelling at them right back, but conveying the idea she was not going to sit down and when they told her they couldn’t see (again, adding the identifier of less-than-brilliant female canine) she was very adamant about indicating they should stand up then. She repeated the gesture in her own dancing way which had all the grace of a drunken three-legged giraffe. It was horrid.

I’ve heard the saying “Dance like no one is watching” but I think in this case, the rule of thumb can be amended. Beatnik Betty should avoid all public display of self-expression. For the love of the public, I would count this as a favor to mankind.

After Adia, Sarah broke out into a strange choice but I liked it. She had her guitar and then sang “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when I am sad, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you, don’t take my sunshine away.”

She led right into “Hold On” but I don’t know why she sang the sunshine song before it. The only thing I can guess, and that if true, I appreciate, was that the little ditty showcased her range. She sang a few octaves above what any other singer I know could do and her high pitch version of this song was absolutely gorgeous. It reinforced my statement that I’d enjoy listening to her sing Happy Birthday or the ABCs.

I hesitate to admit this but I didn’t immediately recognize the one song I wanted to hear above all the rest. I brought a little memo book and a pen so I could write down the song order and often found myself trying to scroll out song titles in total darkness. After each song, I would have the pen in my mouth and the book tucked in my armpit as I clapped. Then I would spend the first few moments of each new song trying to remember the title of the song and despite being an aficionado, I could often recognize the song but not recall the actual title. There was not a song she sang all night I didn’t know but I did find myself writing a lot of lyrics when I couldn’t recall the title. I figure I would look them up later when I get access to my webpage back and can look them up. (I have all the lyrics on my webpage).

So when my very most favorite song of all time started (“Fear”), I was fooled when the people behind me yelled out “Possession.” That’s what I wrote in the book. Then when she said the first line “Morning smiles, like the face of a newborn child,” I almost choked. It was the one song I had hoped she would sing but doubted if she would.

Because I listen to all her music, I have lost the ability to know which were actually commercially popular. I doubted if Fear was a commercial hit because I had never seen a video for it. Also, it’s a very difficult song that showcases Sarah’s incredible voice. She hits notes in the song that are simply unbelievable and for these reasons, I didn’t think it would be on the list of what she admitted as “songs I love to sing” which was her explanation of what songs she was going to cover tonight. There are dozens she would not be able to get to and one that’s technically hard would probably get the ax.

So when I realized she was singing it, fulfilling the deepest prayer I had for the evening and fulfilling the one thing I "feared" the most about the concert if she didn’t sing it, I was stunned into silence and a big smile. What made it more special is that not only did she perform the song, she nailed it. She hit the notes too high for most artists to hit in a studio and she belted out tropospheric notes live in concert with grace, power, beauty, and perfection.

During Building a Mystery, she has a line that I turned to Carrie and asked if she was going to say it. The original version goes:

You’re so beautiful, a beautiful fucked up man…” but on the radio version, they would normally bleep it out the obvious. For a long time I never paid attention to it and one day I heard the line jump out at me. I called over my wife and asked her what she thought the line was. We listened to it over and over and our conclusion kept coming back to one interpretation. But my pure Sarah couldn’t possibly put something that vulgar into her song, especially her most commercially successful one. So it was off to the internet to see what it was and sure enough, my pure Sarah was not all that pure.

So in concert tonight, I asked Carrie if she thought she would actually say it and when the moment came, sure enough, she said it with vigor, stressing the wicked word.

I will only complain about the most minor aspects but I want to publicly announce that this was the very best concert I’ve ever been to. Every single song was sung beautifully and I knew every nuance of every note. But I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t find something and this one was a minor one.

I hate the fake ending and comeback. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I was hoping she would not play this little game but I guess it’s just too entrenched in the music business to ignore.

After Trainwreck, she thanked the crowd and left. Everyone knew she wasn’t done because she hadn’t even introduced her band and they didn't bring up the lights. Sure enough, she came back and continued the concert. Must we play this? But I overlooked it because I’m, you know, obsessed. Anyway, I don’t think she could have made it out of the building without coming back because she had a lot of songs to sing.

Then she left after Possession but came back to start with Blackbird. At this point I knew when she left again, we wouldn’t see her again. I was dreading the moment and when it came and she was gone, the small pit in my stomach that earlier was excitement turned to sadness even though I was satisfied overall with the number of songs she sang. We all got up and our section had almost cleared completely out. She had come back twice so we knew that was it but the lights had not come up and we were in the aisle when I looked up and saw a spotlight light up a spot behind the piano and saw jeans running back up on stage. Then the roar of the crowd told me that Sarah was back and I was floored she was coming out yet again. Impossible!!!

I don’t know if she had planned to do this last song but she very well could have decided to come back as a result of our enthusiasm. Since it was just her and her piano, she could have treated us to a dozen other songs if she wanted but the fact that she did this really touched me. It was as though she read my mind about yearning for one more song and she came out to deliver. She sang Dirty Little Secret and I managed to get about 50% closer to the stage since we were on our way out. I stood there with a big smile on my face with my wife behind me with her hands around me. It was a wonderful moment and felt like a personal act from Sarah herself in response for my feelings for her music.


Monday, August 9, 2004

Quote of the Day:

[To Longshanks]
Princess Isabelle: "You see? Death comes to us all. But before it comes to you, know this: your blood dies with you. A child who is not of your line grows in my belly. Your son will not sit long on the throne. I swear it."

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

New York, Day 1

Traveling from Fredericksburg, Virginia to NYC; this is not a free prospect. If I’m not mistaken, I pay my share of taxes. If I understand it correctly, those taxes are used in part to pay for, oh, let’s say, building and maintenance of common items for the society at large. The last time I checked, roads fell in that category.

So with all of that said, why in the hell was I extorted out of $25 getting from Virginia to NYC? It seemed that every time I turned around, there was a toll. $2 please. That’ll be $5, thank you. $4 per car. Gimme 6 bucks or I’ll break your face. Can you tell I was getting nearer to NY?

It took about 4 hours to get from where we started to the city. Then it took 3 hours to get through the city to my cousin’s apartment.

I called The Daily Show before I left because with it being so popular, I knew it would be snap to get tickets on just a day or two notice. Remember, I’m special and NY must bow to my whims and they are known to be very accommodating in this regard.

The recording told me they were taking requests for January, February, and March. Maybe they weren’t so accommodating. But they said if I call at 11:30 on Friday, I have a shot at cancelled tickets. That does me no good but I left a message with my name and phone number just in case Pluto’s moons align with Alpha Centuria just right, I might get a call. Heck, while we’re fanaticizing, maybe they’ll call and want me to be on the show.

I also pulled another cheesy move. I left my name with my military title just in case that had any pull. Maybe they were doing a military appreciation thing or something. Cheeseball, I know but I was desperate.

I also called OddTodd, the humorous out-of-work dot-bomb victim with a hilarious web site that got me interested in Flash cartooning. He is somewhat of a celebrity, at least on the web, but I emailed him anyway offering to take him to lunch when I was in town. Haven’t heard from him all day either, despite sending him two emails and leaving a phone number.

Mapquest might have saved my bacon on more than a few occasions over the years but its knowledge of NYC is about the same as mine: 0 degrees Kelvin.

I was doing OK, until we got into the city and then it wanted us to take a mysterious 21st street exit. Well, folks, two passes proves there is not a 21st street exit off of 495. But we did get to experience the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour. Yes, we traveled hundreds of miles just to hit afternoon traffic jams in NYC. It was so special.

We were at a dead stop going into the Lincoln Tunnel. It was so backed up that we literally sat there in park with the emergency brake on for ½ hour. I grabbed a book and started reading while listening to the wonderful thumping gansta rap of the two Hispanic gentlemen in the car mere inches away from ours.

The Lincoln Tunnel was a special joy. First, we had to wait a half hour. Then we got to pay a toll. (Wait to pay: it dave me a warm feeling inside). Then there was about 6 paying lanes funneling down to two lanes and this was my first exposure to classic NY driving. No one paid any attention to established lanes. People made there own and inched to cut you off both angles. It really didn’t matter that we were all going the same direction or that if we all bunched up to get in, no one would move. It reminded me of everyone jamming an exit and no one able to get through. Collective stupidity at its finest.

I can now see why there are so many fender benders, why there is white-hot road rage, and why I would never subject myself to this environment permanently. Hell, if I had a gun at that point, I might have...

Then, when we finally got going, Fate decided I needed to be in the slower of two lanes and I’m not talking just regular slow; I’m talking the traffic in the other lane was zooming while we stood perfectly still or merely inched. So I had enough and whipped over in that lane and we were flying while the other lane sat. I bet you thought I was going to complain about that lane stopping and the lane I just got out of going. Nope, for an undetermined reason, one lane sat and one lane flew. I was getting over at it was scary.

Mapquest took us right down the gut of New York City. We found ourselves on 32nd street and passed names like Park Ave, Broadway, etc. We passed Macy’s. But the main draw was the people on the street and in the cars.

First, there was the cabbies and everything you’ve ever heard about them is true. They really don’t give a s*&&. Then there are the other drivers who will attempt to ram you and as you are making an evasive maneuver, they will take advantage of your predicament to zoom ahead of you. Then there are the bicyclists who don’t seem to care that a few thousand pounds of metal versus a two-wheeled bike will result in them losing the battle very painfully. They cut in and out and it’s up to you to make sure disaster is averted. Lastly there are the pedestrians. The street are mere extensions of the sidewalk, crosswalks are suggestions.

When we got to my cousin’s house, I found out she not only doesn’t have an internet connection, she doesn’t have a computer. So my plan of dumping my pictures on her computer to leave room for more pictures as the days go by is null. I have a finite amount of room on my memory stick so I will have to be frugal. I will have to be more selective in how many pics I take since I only have about 500 to work with.

The first thing we had to do is get something to eat and pizza not only sounded good, it seemed to be the NY thing to do. So we walked down the street and found a restaurant where the only English the employees knew was the menu. We got a pie the size of a truck tire and I had two pieces that stuffed me to the gills.

On the way back, we stopped at Blockbuster and got two old movies for the kids (Jumangi and Final Destination 2). Back home, these old selections would run $1.99 each but here in the land of "Gimme All Your Money," all DVD rentals are $4.50. Ouch.

The trip to the Eckards was just as painful. We got a few snacks and things which added up to a whopping $30 for “things.” I don’t even want to start actually keeping track of our costs. It’s just too painful.

We talked for most of the night. Together with an internet connection, she has no cable so the kids were forced to deal with the movies we got them at Blockbuster while we gabbed the night away with my cousin and her roommate.

Her apartment, by NY standards, is huge. By Jason standards, it was a long, tiny apartment wedged on the second floor between a Mexican restaurant and a Greek nightclub. Two interesting aspects of this place is that the Greeks pay $300 of her rent because it’s cheaper than getting fined from the police every time my cousin calls to complain about the noise. Second, her landlord makes money the old-fashioned way: through “Family Connections” if you know what I mean and when the noise got too loud once and they complained, the landlord (or I imagine some of his “guys”) gave them a visit and things quieted down after that.

We got a taste of the noise tonight when we went to bed, the sound of the music filtering up as we tried to get to sleep. It wasn’t enough to stop me from falling into a deep, restful sleep but Carrie said she had a rougher time of it.

Free Advice for Today:
Clear your calculator after using it."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Sunday, August 8, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Lord Bottoms: "As lord of these lands I shall bless this marriage by taking the bride into my bed on the first night of her union."
Morrison: "By God, you will not!"

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

I was lazy yesterday but I got up and made up for it today: I had to run the long run this week which just happened to be 10 miles.

I decided the best place to do this was onboard the base at The Basic School (TBS). So I got up, got everything ready, and headed back to a place that I had escaped 6 years ago after a miserable 6 months. But this time it was different.

Although I’ve been back on a few occasion, this morning was strange because Sunday mornings were always the loneliest of lonely days at TBS. I was without my family and none too popular with my fellow lieutenants. Sunday was a day to catch up on rest, do errands, and dread the upcoming week.

So this morning I found myself back in that physical place where I suffered the psychological pains of being alone and far from family. With the way the morning light hit the area, it brought me right back to those lonely mornings where I’d get up, grab brunch at the chowhall, and then head to town for a movie and some coffee while reading the paper.

But this day I had a mission: I had a 10 mile run so after warming up by jogging down memory lane (and a quick trip to the classroom bathrooms for a little pre-run relief), I strapped on my running pack, my Camelback, my MP3 player, my GPS, my hat, my sunglasses, and hit the road.

I discovered a great path that went on forever. Normally I would turn right at the 1 ½ mile mark and run past the FBI Academy but when I saw a runner coming straight from the other side of the Tee, I asked him how far it went and he said for miles and miles. I decided to try it out and it was a great decision. The paved road just kept going with a few gentle (and some not-so-gentle) hills. No cars came back there so it was just like Fort Ord in Monterey: paved roads with no cars through woods.

I had a decent run and it did more mental good than physical although I do need to get my body ready for the grueling 26.2 miles. I simply had a great time running in the morning air.

Speaking of the surroundings, we have been hit with a cold spell. Combined with the normally sweltering temperatures, this evens out the temperature to a wonderful mid-70s. It’s been like this for days and it’s as strange as it is welcome.

When I got home, I showered, ate, and took a nap; the normal long run routine. It was pure bliss.

When I awoke, it was time to start getting things ready for our trip. Tomorrow I leave for New York to visit my cousin, Jennifer. We originally planned to go there for the Sarah McLachlan concert on Tuesday but thought as long as we were driving up there, we might as well make it into a family vacation.

Alex asked about his computer so I took the time to work on it. Sir Phil gave me a video card and I told the boy that it would probably enable him to play Toontown on it. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him help me and spend some time with him as well as introduce him to the inside of his computer and how it works.

I fist looked up the driver for the card and copied to his computer through my home network. Then we went up there and tore apart his computer, installed the card, and DIDN’T switch the cable to the card. This was on purpose because the computer didn’t know it was even there so wouldn’t know how to use it. I figured I’d let it detect it, turn it off, switch the cable, turn it back on, and update the driver from there.

Everything went as planned until the first step. It didn’t auto-detect the card so I just installed the driver via the executable I had downloaded. That went fine so I started the computer over and was ready to switch the cable.

When I tried, the cable didn’t fit. Then I discovered what should have been obvious from the very beginning. It should have come to light when I looked at the driver. Or when I was analyzing the card. Or even when I read the name off the actual card: Sound Blaster.

Yes, I was dealing with a sound card and not a video card.

I felt just about as dumb as I’ve felt in a very long time. And that’s saying something because I’m the King of Bonehead Plays.

Much to my son’s disappointment, he could not have his beloved Toontown once again. But he had a pretty good sound card which did him no good since the onboard sound card spit out sound that is virtually indistinguishable with the new improved sound via the hardware we put in that is incidentally NOT a video card. (While I wrote this, Sarah McLachlan’s “Stupid” played on my computer. How fitting.)

Next we went over to Steph’s computer and replaced her 64 MB memory stick with a 128 MG stick that Sir Phil gave me. Now she’s up to 384 MB of memory. At least that went off without a hitch.

While I was on a roll, I decided to troubleshoot my own laptop that wasn’t working. I suspected the hard drive but wasn’t sure. Since I got a new laptop at work that I brought home (and will take to NY so I can write my Blogs) and they are both Sonys, I decided to swap the hard drives. But mine was a 40 GB drive and the government one was only 20 GB with a different connector. So that little troubleshooting method was gone.

Next, I looked up the HD for my laptop and saw they were about $100. I tried to see if it was still under warranty but all I could get from the website was a number that connected me with automated voice menu from hell. It told me that it sounded like it was out of warranty and I could pay $20 for a help session from a live person. Oh how I loath the customer service (or more precisely the lack thereof) of this world.

Another irritatation was the website wanted you to choose the model number of your laptop and they didn’t list my particular model. It was a drop down menu so you couldn’t even type it in. Grrrrr.......

So I decided that $100 was a small price to pay for a laptop I’ve been using for a couple years free of charge. I’ll deal with it when I get back from NY but in the meantime, I have my government laptop I can use.

Speaking of which, my plan was to take as many digital pictures as I could and dump them onto the laptop every night and therefore free up the memory stick for the next day. But when I plugged in the USB adapter for the memory stick into the government computer, it told me I didn’t have the permissions to install it. This is a weird situation where some hardware items require you to have admin rights to your machine to work, as though they install something every time. Others, like my little thumb drive, work just fine. This seemed the answer to my problem until I realized there was no way to get the pics from my memory stick to the thumb drive or the computer. Annoying.

So I figure I’ll dump the pics on my cousin’s computer and then transfer them to the thumb drive and eventually bring the thumb drive home to publish to my webpage. Convoluted, I know, but it should work.

Anyway, I kind of verified that my hard drive was the culprit. Whenever I started the computer, it would give me the little windows startup screen and then a blue screen of death in a flash, and then would start over. I never could get a good look at that screen so I decided to slow down time by taking a picture of it and reading it.

You say that’s ridiculous? Well, stupid is as stupid does and here’s what I could read before.

(I’ll be offline until next weekend. When I return, I will have seen the Sarah McLachlan concert. I might be dead since I will have lived to see Sarah in concert and that might be the only thing I was put on earth to do. Yeah, you might say I’m a fan. How many people get to get up close with their musical icon?)

Free Advice for Today:
Don't allow your dog to bark and disturb your neighbors."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Saturday, August 7, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Campbell: "I'm dying. Let me be."
Hamish: "No. You're going to live."
Campbell: "I've lived long enough to live free. And proud to see you become the man that you are. I'm a happy man."

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

This morning I was engaging in one of the best weekend morning activities: lounging in bed talking with my family. Even Buster was there and at one point, he settled between my wife’s feet and hitched his arm on her shin as though he was posing for an Olan Mills portrait.

The kids were all excited to get a picture but I told them the mere act of anyone going downstairs to get a camera would be his cue to abandon the position. I started singing “Hello my honey, hello my darling, hello my ragtime gal…” but I don’t think anyone got the reference as a comparison to the singing frog who would do impossible things only when no one but his flustered owner was watching.

But Steph tried and this is what I caught.

Then when I tried again, I pointed the camera but he was not looking. I made a quick whistle sound and right on cue, Buster lept up instead of just looking.

This was the result.

I swear this dog is retarded.

I once again reinstituted date night, which is now date day, and took Steph anywhere she wanted to go. She wanted Poncho Villas and when we got there, she ordered the cheeseburger and fries.

“You pick a Mexican restaurant and then get a cheeseburger and fries?”
“They’re good here.”

I suspect she is more attached to the fact that we brought her here for her birthday and they made a big deal about it (three amigos played happy birthday in English and Spanish) so now it’s the place to go for her. That and the free nacho chips but who can argue with that?

We met up with Carrie and Alex next door at the barber where Alex was getting a haircut. He’s always been a great kid to give a haircut since he was a toddler. He sits perfectly still and doesn’t make a fuss. Now that he’s 12, nothing’s changed. He now enjoys the feeling of his hair getting sprayed, combed, cut, etc. But what he hates is his family gawking at him like Valium-filled goons although my eyes are filled with pride just watching my son in the barber chair.

Then it was off to the mall where I was going to get a watch Carrie saw. When she called me at work yesterday, she asked me if I wanted her to buy it and I told her to ask about the return policy just in case I didn’t like it. Later that night she told me she hadn’t got it because they gave her the old line:

“Because it’s 70% off, at these incredible prices, we can’t take returns.”

Much like the crap I put up with during my JC Penny fiasco, I have little (none, to be exact) patience for these kind of practices. They can stick their 70% off watch 100% up their….

But I was willing to take a look at it and it’s a good thing I did because I didn’t like it. The watch was too big and the display too small. Plus, it had a thousand different gadgets. I need it to tell me the time, have a chronograph, and maybe an alarm. That’s it! I’m not going 500 feet underwater, I don’t need 27 different alarms, time zones, or lap counters.

We ended up gong into Dick’s Sporting Goods (go ahead and laugh, I did. Are you done?) and found that they were the only place in the entire mall that sold Nike watches. I have described how I’m a brand name whore so I’ll leave it at that.

The curse of the crappy service continued although at a lesser degree. I had to put the poor salesperson out by getting her to rummage through the storage space underneath the watches to find the one I was thinking of getting. It was about $70.

While she was down there, I noticed she was looking through a lot of boxes so I asked if she happened to see any Nike models that weren’t out on display. They only had 2 different kinds in the glass case.

Suddenly she starts putting all kinds of different styles on the counter. The thought occurred to me that she knew I was looking at Nike watches and was not all that thrilled at the selection of two. So why did it take me asking her before she pulled out the variety? Grrrr…

She didn’t have the original one I asked her to find in the color I wanted (although she didn’t mention anything about giving the display watch. Why must I be driving this entire sale?). But she did have another silver and black one that I liked but it was $90. The more I looked at it, the more I liked it so that’s the one I went with, feeling a little guilty about the price.

Afterwards, we split up and I took Stephanie to Borders. I love going there with her because she goes off to her little section and I wander around the store, returning to check on her and talk about anything she finds interesting. I finally had to prompt her to go just because I was getting tired and she’s sit there all day and read the free books.

I ended up falling for the “Buy 1 at regular price and get the second for 50% off” routine and came home with “Life of Pi” (recommended by Sweet Lou who is fighting in Iraq) and “Catcher in the Rye” which is a classic I’ve always been curious about. It had something to do with a killer (was it the guy who shot Reagan?) who was enthralled with the book, not that I’m going to Manchurian Candidate anyone or anything.

When I got home, I started looking on the web for the reviews of the Nike watches and actually found that the Triax 10 was the one I wanted. It was much less complicated and looked a lot cheaper. Then I saw that the one I had bought at the mall was listed under “Women’s Watches” on the site and that sealed it for me. Even though I later found that the one I had was “Unisex,” I found a Triax 10 for $58 with no shipping and handling charges from Backcountry.com. That’s $30 cheaper and I decided that was enough to go through the trouble of returning the one I had to Dick’s (tee hee) and ordering the Triax 10 online. It also satisfied my micro-revenge for less-than-stellar customer service.

But now I must wait.

Free Advice for Today:
When visiting a small town at lunch time, choose the cafe on the square."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Friday, August 6, 2004

Quote of the Day:

"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."

- Longshanks from "Braveheart"

Truckasaurus is sick so Carrie took it into the shop.

I knew that I was on the lip of getting the proverbial shaft because as I’ve already stated, Truckasaurus was going into the shop. That in itself all but requires the auto repair goons to salivate. Add to it that it’s a woman bringing it in and the sky’s the limit on how much it will cost.

Today, the sky was about $850.00. When Carrie told me so, it didn’t even come as a shock. I just nodded, knew it would be some ridiculous amount, and once again found myself in that moment when I had no choice and knew that we all understood there is nothing I could do. They could claim any number of ailments to Truckasaurus and not only could I not dispute it but they know you have to have your vehicle back so the time, effort, and hassle of going somewhere else is of little worry for them. They know you are going to pay.

Today’s jousting came in the form of worn out brake lines. I thought it would be the pads and even accepted the possibility that they’d have to re-pack the rotors. They ALWAYS want to repack the rotors. But today, it wasn’t the rotors they wanted to pack.

The claim was that the brake lines were shot and leaking fluid. They HAD to be replaced and that involved 4 hours of labor which made up half of the total cost. Hmmm, $100 per hour. And not even flowers or dinner.

When I asked what caused this, I got the catch-all excuse: the truck is old. Wow, now that made me feel a lot better.

The other thing that I hate about all this is that if I spend $850 on, say, a new computer gizmo, I got this flashy new item to play with. Something I didn’t have before. But with new brake lines, I get nothing but a truck that stops which is what I’ve always had. Yes, it started getting squirrelly but now, all I get is a normal working truck. It’s a lot like kissing your sister.

OK, I have to go because just writing about this is pissing me off.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't discuss domestic problems at work."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Thursday, August 5, 2004

Quote of the Day:

Hamish: "Some men are longer than others."
Campbell: "Your mother's been telling stories about me again, ah?"

- Dialogue from "Braveheart"

Tonight my bachelorhood ended when my wonderful family returned. Every time my wife goes away, I tend to get reminded how much she does for me. So I had the Wife Appreciation Week this week.

I got home and took the time to scrub the broiler pan. The oven was not trashed, just the pan. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed and still didn’t get it as spotless as I'd like.

When I showed it to Carrie she was pleased but later on as we talked, she informed me that she has some stuff that you just put on it, let it sit for a few minutes, and it comes right off. Then she laughed at me when I got that hurt little boy look on my face.

I also changed the sheets which was a dicey operation. I wanted to do something nice for her and considering she had been sleeping in austere conditions all week, I thought that clean, fresh sheets would be nice. Also, since Sir Phil’s dog Daisy had spent a night on the bed, I didn’t think Carrie would appreciate having foreign-dog hair on her sheets.

But this brought up an interesting subject. How would it look to put on fresh sheets after my wife’s been gone for 5 days? It was out of character for me but I honestly wanted her to have fresh sheets when she got home. It’s one of those situations that the more you try to explain, the guiltier you sound.

"Really, I just thought that since there was a strange bitch in the bed..."

But all was well and other than informing me that I had put one of the sheets on sideways, the gesture had its desired effect.

Free Advice for Today:
Treat yourself to a professional shoeshine the next time you're at the airport."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Quote of the Day:

"Go back to England and tell them there that Scotland's daughters and sons are yours no more. Tell them Scotland is free."

- William Wallace from "Braveheart"

I drove into work today and a few interesting things happened on the way home.

I left work at the unholy traffic hour of 5:00 and resigned myself to a long and painful stop-and-go ride home on the blocked colon that is I-95. But for some reason, traffic was very light and I was able to go 70 MPH almost the entire way. I was amazed but didn’t want to jinx it by recognizing the fact that I should be in a parking lot instead of a freeway.

At one point when I was basking in the joy, I heard a distant thundering sound from behind me. When I took a look in my rearview mirror, I saw a sight that froze my blood.

During the 4th of July, Sir Phil brought over a oil drip guard made of sheet metal. We used it to light fireworks off of so I wouldn't singe by lawn in the backyard. I’ve been meaning to get it back to him and very time he comes over, he hasn’t the room to take it back. So it’s taken up residence in the back of my truck until I deliver it back to his house.

As I was enjoying my uninterrupted ride down I-95, I guess the wind got under the metal and the sound I heard was the warping thunder sound of sheet metal. It was hovering within the confines of my bed liner and was actually floating, bending, and bumping on the sides. I knew it was just a matter of time before the wind caught it just right and it would go flying out of my truck bed and undoubtedly right into or flat against some poor slob’s windshield.

I tapped the brake and it settled to the bottom of the bed. The next encounter I had is when it suddenly stood up and slapped flat against the back of the rear of the cab. I believe I beshat myself but this has not been verified. I could see half of my back window was blocked. It kept falling and then slapping back against the cab. I was still terrified it would go flying out and cause an accident.

Finally it settled down flat and the traffic thickened so I couldn't go as fast as I had been.

Two weird things (clear freeway and haunted sheet metal) in a matter of minutes. I thought that was enough for one day. Others had different opinions.

For a few weeks, my brakes had been acting up. They got more and more slushy and jerked Truckasaurus when I applied them. I knew I was procrastinating but it just seemed to get put off.

Getting off of the freeway at my exit, I noticed that the brakes were really getting goofy and I started smelling burnt rubber. Like everyone else in the world under such conditions, I looked around and assumed it was someone else stinking up the area.

I put two and two together and figured out it was my brakes that smelled and Truckasaurus was really pulling when I braked. I realized they might go out altogether so I went real slow and allowed plenty of time to stop, hoping just to get home.

The smell got worse. The erratic movements while braking increased. I wondered if I was destined for an accident this day.

I made it home, hopped out of Truckasaurus and did a sniff check. Sure enough, they reeked but I was just glad to be home and wasn’t about to do anything foolish like go anywhere. I figured Carrie would be back tomorrow and she could take it in Friday. The brakes would be cold in the morning and would make it to the train station and back. There, problem solved.

I watched Scary Movie tonight. It really sucked. I would say that it was stupid but that is what they were after and didn’t do a good job at “funny stupid,” just “stupid, trying too hard to be funny stupid.” Thus ends my review.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't expect anyone to know what you want for Christmas if you don't tell them."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Quote of the Day:

"I hope you washed your ass this morning, it's about to be kissed by a king."

- English Commander from "Braveheart"

An intersting email exchange:


Jason,

I stumbled across your website and I'm hoping you can help me out. I've been trying to solve the following questions for a while. All of the other Officers & NCO's that I have emailed (I found their email addresses on USMC web sites) never write back.

Seeing that you are formerly an avionics tech I assume you'll want to get answers just like me. [I am also a former Avionics Marine (CH53D/E O level)]

Thank you in advance for any help, I'm sure you are very busy.

Please provide any help; I have a bet to win.

About 10 years ago when I was still a Sergeant of Marines the following story circulated:

In a fabled, no sh#$er type of story, (and to keep it short) a legendary Staff Sergeant did not Salute a Warrant Officer 1 outside one day. When the angry WO-1 questioned the SSGT about his failure to salute him, the SSGT showed him a particular manual which proved that a salute was not required for WO-1's. The WO-1 then steamed off in anger and the SSGT was right.

To verify the validity of this story has been a chore. This is where your help would be outstanding.

My questions are:


1) Does a Warrant Officer 1 rate a salute, and under what Marine Corps Order or Navy Regulation is this outlined?

I have researched this for many hours on the Web and the only thing I have found that makes sense is on the Warrant Officers Basic Course Indoc page that states:

"Warrant Officer 1 is an appointed rank, not a commissioned one. Warrant Officers become "Commissioned" when they reach the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 2. WO-1's have been "appointed" by the Secretary of the Navy. Upon being promoted to the rank of CWO-2 they receive commissions from the President of the United States."

The Tenth General Order reads: "Salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased."

We do not salute noncommissioned officers. Therefore, if a WO-1 is a noncommissioned officer, he does not rate a salute?

This leads to my second question:

2) What Marine Corps Order or Navy Regulation enforces the military courtesy of Saluting?

I found an article on the WEB about a National Guard soldier not saluting an officer. He was charged with failure to pay compliment (salute) under Army Regulation AR600-25.

By extrapolation the Navy/Marine Corps would also need a regulation to prosecute the same offense under Article 92 of the UCMJ (Failure to obey order or regulation)

The 10th General Order does not seem to fit all of the complex instances of saluting, and the Drill & Ceremonies manual is not all encompassing.

Military courtesy is defined as an act of respect or politeness paid to people or symbols.

If a custom is an 'act or ceremony stemming from tradition which is enforceable as an unwritten law' - then how does the Marine Corps enforce the unwritten law of saluting?

I've already checked the Marine Corps pubs on USMC.mil

It doesn't seem to be in the orders or manuals - but I'm sure I'm looking in the wrong place.

A lot of people's knee jerk reaction is that it is in the Drill & Ceremonies Manual (NAVMC 2691)- nooooo

The Drill & Ceremonies manual tells you HOW to salute (with a rifle, in formation, and alone; & what flags/colors rate a salute, when pallbearers salute in a funeral, how to salute escorts of honor) and at what distance/paces to salute a person or colors. These are for very specific situations.

What the D & C manual does not tell you is what would be considered more general information like: WHO rates a salute, UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES and WHY.

It would be a manual that would state something simple like - "officers rate a salute" - this statement is not in the D & C manual.

Other key phrases to look for would be "do not salute when uncovered', "do not salute in the field", "do not salute while under arms", "do not salute indoors", etc.

Also, the manual I'm looking for will state if and when a Marine ever salutes in civilian clothing - I found a reference to this on the internet but it has no documentation of where it came from: Marines in civilian clothes and wearing a hat conform to the rules for saluting in uniform for exchange of personal courtesies. - I have never heard of this.

Another Example: Marine Corps usage has it that a greeting be exchanged when saluting a person. When saluting an officer, the Marine might say, "Good Morning, Sir," or "Good Evening, Sir," as appropriate. The officer in returning the salute would say, "Good Morning, Sergeant (Private, Corporal, Lieutenant, as appropriate.)" This is not in the D & C manual

I know some of these basics are in the Essential Subjects books you get in Boot camp & stuff like that but I'm looking for the actual MCO

Salutes are considered a military courtesy but they will be backed by Military law

I have already asked all of the Marine Recruiters I can find in my area and no one seems to know the answers. I have also poured over all the Orders and Regulations I could find, without much success.

If you do not immediately know off of the top of your head, I hope that you are as annoyed/interested as I am about finding the answers to these questions.

I have a few beers riding on this with some other former Marines, again, any help is greatly appreciated.

Semper Fi

Regards,


Ryan,

OK, I spent some time with this and at first, I came across the same brick walls as you did. I discussed it with a retired Top who was a DI and we concluded that it was a custom and courtesy which meant it’s not written down anywhere.

I thought it strange that something so ingrained in the Marine Corps wouldn’t have an order or regulation to back it up but we concluded that if someone purposely chose not to salute, they would be charged under the catch-all article 134.

I then called a Chief Warrant Officer I knew back in 29 Palms and discussed the other question about WO1s with him. He had never heard the story you told and had never been taught that a WO rated anything less than other Officers. I thanked him and asked him to send me anything he found.

In true form, I got a couple of emails back that answered your questions, disproved my earlier determinations, and made me a wee embarrassed that my ability to research has become rusty since my Adjutant days. Here is the exchange:

From CWO3 Villescas:

---------------------
Gentlemen,

Interesting topic (not sure if it happened) in below e-mail. Any insight on the MCO or regulation? Please forward comments to me and I will forward to Capt Grose.

Thanks,
---------------------

From a Sergeant Major:

U.S. Naval Regulations Chapter 12 Section 3 Paragraph 1210 states that salutes shall be rendered by persons in the naval service to officers of the U.S. and foreign services (the word warrant or commissioned is not mentioned). Then it states that a salute will be rendered to a senior officer.

The Marine Corps Manual Chapter 2 paragraph 2101 shows the officer rank structure which starts at W-1.

Paragraph 2102 shows Enlisted grade structure. It also states staff noncommissioned officers are enlisted personnel serving in the grade of staff sergeant or higher, and noncommissioned officers are enlisted personnel serving in the grade of corporal or higher.

Bottom line is that it doesn't matter if you're appointed by warrant or commission, you're still an officer and if that officer is senior to you, you will render the appropriate salute.

*K out

---------------------
From the same Sergeant Major in another email:

OOH RAH SIR! You are correct though in that this info is also in the MCCSHD 1A (INDIVIDUAL TRAINING STANDARDS FOR ALL MARINES) on page 1-2-19 para (9) and pages 1-2-21 and 22.

*K out

Free Advice for Today:
When it comes to worrying or painting a picture, know when to stop."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Monday, August 2, 2004

Quote of the Day:

"Every man dies, not every man really lives."

- Malcolm Wallace from "Braveheart"

Happy birthday to my Dad and on the 14th anniversary of Iraq invading Kuwait, I'm giving that the cookie-eating, rock gardening monster somewhere in Kuwait the finger.

It stormed tonight which caused the dog I’m, well, dog-sitting, to hide in the kids’ bathtub. Daisy was ironically in the same earthquake I wrote about back in 29 Palms and ever since then, storms aren’t her bag. She’s been terrified of thunder ever since.

So Daisy spent most of the evening in the tub panting. Here are some pics of Daisy with, what I discovered to be, a supernatural ability to shut her eyes before the flash each time. Five tries, no luck. You are an amazing bitch, Daisy.

Ok, Ok, first try and you got lucky. Weren't expecting it, I understand....
Wow, he he, you.. you closed your eyes again. That's pretty good, what are the odds? That's almost, you know... impossible or at least, improbable. No problem, I'll try again.
COME ON!!!! NOW YOU'RE JUST SHOWING OFF!
WTF?!?!? How could you.... it's a fraction of a second, there's no way you can... no way you can anticipate... I'll take one more.
FINE, YOU WIN!!! HAPPY? DOES IT GIVE YOU THE SATISFACTION YOU'RE LOOKING FOR? ARE YOU NOW ALL HAPPY INSIDE THAT YOU CAN TIME YOUR BLINKS TO THE FRACTION OF A SECOND? YOU THINK YOU WON, DON'T YOU? YEAH, WELL WHO HAS THE OPPOSABLE THUMB HERE, DAISY? WHO CAN ACTUALLY PUSH THE CAMERA BUTTON BETWEEN THE TWO OF US? OR LET'S TRY A DOOR KNOB, HUH, MISS TALENT CONTEST? SEE THIS, IT'S TOILET PAPER! THAT'S RIGHT, I DON'T HAVE TO USE MY TONGUE OR THE GRASS. WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?? (I stomp away ...)

I completely lost it with the diet. I had a steak to grill and I ask you, can I have steak without deep fried Freedom fries? Am I not human? Cut me, do I not bleed. Gorge myself, do I not pudge?

With no one here to stop me, Operation Gluttony began.

The first obstacle was the copious amount of water falling out of the sky. This caused two problems since the grill was outside as was the deep fryer. But I would not be deterred so easy; a gut denied has ingenuity.

Braving the rain, I rushed out to retrieve the fryer and took it downstairs to the garage, almost tripping over Daisy the Ever-Present who decided to make her debut for the evening. Getting the fryer in the garage and opening the door, I had the perfectly ventilated deep frying station. Take that, oh gods of the summer storm!!! Here was the set up.

Next, I started the broiler in the oven. If the BBQ was knocked out of action, I could grill the steak in the house.

It’s been awhile since I prepared a steak (I know, I’m pitiful). But as I remember, I liberally applied the following: salt, pepper, Adolph’s tenderizer, garlic salt (just a little), and some kind of all purpose seasoning. Then I soaked it with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. It turned out well and I was proud. I can prepare and sear murdered bovine flesh.

Running up and down the stairs while avoiding the dogs, I got my exercise trying to time everything. Of course I kept forgetting things so I was always on the move. This didn’t stop me from accidentally putting the broiler on high (or as the dumbed up oven displayed: "Hi"), and the first time I checked the steak, it was starting to curl up and looked pretty much done. Oops, I flipped it over quick and put the broiler on “Lo.”

Back down to the fries, they were floating on the top so I had to dump them out. Meanwhile I had to get the salad ready, the ice in the over-sized plastic cup ready for the Mr. Pibb, the catsup down in front of the TV along with a dishtowel for a napkin (playing bachelor has its advantages), and I was almost ready.

A couple of more flips of the steak and I was almost there. Everything was coming together. But my upstairs freezer only had a half-batch of fries that I already cooked and my heart sank until I remembered the downstairs freezer. Maybe, just maybe…

YES!!!!

I then loaded up the second batch of fries since the first one was tiny and I had already put a good dent in it before I even had the steak out of the oven. I let the oil heat up again for what I thought was a sufficient amount of time but when I dropped that second basket in, it made a very pitiful and half-hearted crackle which signaled that the oil was not hot enough and I was well on my way to a bomb de grease.

I also noticed the level of oil was a lot higher than I anticipated so when it got bubbling, I decided to throw in a few more fries. Then some more. I couldn’t tell how much was in there because of the bubbling so I just kept adding more in there. We're eating like the gods tonight, my friend, said I just like Gollum

I sat down to have my king’s meal, unrepentant that I was throwing away weeks of exercise. I shooed away the dogs and watched the DVD special features for The Butterfly Effect. I was living life full throttle.

Finishing up the first batch of fries, I decided it was time I got the second basket out of the fryer. I had been rationing my steak so I could have ample fryage for the entire meal. Turns out that was an understatement.

When I went out to get the fries, I was delighted to see the top layer golden brown and ready to be enjoyed. When I pulled the basket out of the grease, the liquid fell away to my shocked-wide eyes, I realized that I may have put in a few too many fries. In fact, I put in a lot too many. The basket was FULL with enough fries to feed my entire family of 4, TWICE!!!

I guess this is why Carrie takes care of the cooking around here.

And it’s not like I could feed it to the dogs. Even if they would eat it, I wouldn't want to deal with the backyard butt-bombs nor the irate Sir Phil when Daisy starts squirting walls.

So I was stuck with more fries than I could eat in a week. I did the best I could but I can’t describe the sadness I felt when the sound of a couple of pounds of golden fries hit the bottom of the trash container.

But the meal was epic.

Here’s the aftermath.

Free Advice for Today:
If you dial a wrong number, don't just hang up; offer an apology."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Sunday, August 1, 2004

Quote of the Day:

"It's our wits that make us men."

- Malcolm Wallace from "Braveheart"

I must have “Provide Me With Poor Service” written on my forehead. For you readers who frequent my Blog, you know that I often write about the crappy service I often get whether it’s IHOP, MSN, Friendly’s, or now, JC Penny.

After bidding my family farewell (they went to 4H camp for the week), I ran some errands which included making a trip to the mall. I wanted to get a Nike watch so I wouldn’t sweat through my Timex leather band but found myself in the bookstore because I’m, you know, Jason.

Looking through the on-special DVDs, I scanned for the off chance they had my new favorite movie, Office Space. Much to my surprise, there it was in the small selection of DVDs they had and I saw this as a sign that I must get it. It was even cheaper than the Exchange but that’s not saying much.

I did the old search for anything else to buy since I was going to charge it. I know, not great financial sense but I’m just as susceptible to the same impulse buying as the next guy. I didn’t find anything so I just went with the video and now am the proud owner of my very own copy of “Office Space.” Joy!!!

I was under a time crunch since Sir Phil was bringing over Daisy, their dog, to stay with me while he’s away on a business trip. He was also coming over to watch Office Space (which I just so happened to have a fresh copy <childish grin>) at my insistence. So I looked at a few watch places but they had no Nike watches. I tried Sears but no luck. Wandering through the mall, I decided to give JC Penny a shot since sometimes the large department stores have good prices on watches.

They didn’t. Oh, if I wanted a gold watch or some other fancy-pants watch, I was in luck. But there was a sparse selection on sports watches which was just as well since there was an even sparser (more sparse?) representation of JC Penny employees to be found.

As I was leaving, I came across a table with watches stacked up high with a sign that said they were having a 25% off sale on watches. Hmmm, interesting.

I looked through but they didn’t have any Nike watches. They had some Timex watches that had the kind of plastic bands I was looking for and one caught my eye. It was $45 and due to my advanced education and mathematical skills, I calculated it was … hmmm… about…. (carry the one)…. Well, a forth of 40 is 10 and half more is 5 so about 15 off of …. What the hell, it was a good deal.

I took the plastic cube it was hermetically sealed in to the counter. And waited. The lady had been kind of helping another person (I say kind of because it was not clear if she was really engaged in helping or not) but I noticed she tried real hard NOT to make eye contact with me; actually actively avoiding eye contact. After there was no way for her to fake her way through it anymore, she turned and went to the register to grab some kind of receipt book. Finally, I announced loudly, “EXCUSE ME, could I get some assistance, please?

She turned to me with eyes half-lidded, ran her tongue across her closed lips, and walked over to me slowly as though I had just ruined her donut break.

“Yes?” came her initial contact with the potential customer that was me. The word dripped with the ambivalence.

“Good afternoon, could I open this to try on the watch?”

“No.”

We both stared at each other and the only thing that moved in the next 3 seconds was the vein in my neck.

“That’s not a great way to sell watches, don’t you think?”

“Sorry, Sir, it’s sealed for security purposes. You can buy it and try it on.”

“How do you expect the customer to buy a watch they cannot try on?”

“Sorry sir, it’s for security.”

I turned around, walked back to the display and returned the watch. The last comment I heard her say was “They are all standard sizes, Sir.”

I walked away without a word. 25% off or not, it could have been 90% off and I would not have bought it.

First, there are just some things a customer wants to try on before he buys. That’s why you don’t sell stuff like diamonds, shoes, watches, and other personal items across the net. I remember discussing this in my of my graduate classes and even at the time, it seemed obvious. There are just things that you can’t sell sight unseen. This is why grocery.com went belly up.

Second, I don’t have to put up with an attitude like that, especially as a customer, although I seem to attract such treatment like feces attracts flies. Her first word to me was what I’m supposed to hear as an answer to just about any reasonable question. The second is what I’m never supposed to hear. And when it comes to watch-buying, it is almost a commodity so I have a wide range of choices to pay my money to.

But as I’ve ranted before, there is no motivation for the salesperson to make the sale. In fact, there was a motivation to get rid of me so she could go back to doing the “little as possible” tasks she was about to continue when I rudely and selfishly required her assistance. It made no difference to her that I took my $30ish elsewhere. She will still get the same amount of money in her paycheck.

I walked out and stopped at a watch kiosk but they had no Nike watches. But you could try them on (wow, what a novel concept) and I saw with some dismay that they had a very similar watch to the JC Penny one for $50.

I had to analyze my views now. Would I pay $20 more on the basis of bad customer service? My first beef (not being able to try on the watch before I bought it) was solved but the #2 above was a matter of principle. I could try the watch on and if I liked it, go and buy the JC Penny watch. But that would make me a hypocrite.

It was getting late and my moral compass was going haywire so I just left without buying anything but my beloved Office Space. These damn tests!!!

When I got home, Sir Phil showed up a while later and we watched Office Space. Since we have known each other beginning in 1998 when I reported as his Adjutant (he being the Executive Officer and my boss), we have both spent a lot of time in an office environment. He quickly surmised that only people who worked in an office could truly appreciate the movie. We both howled at the gags and it was the 3rd time in 4 days I had seen it.

After the movie was over, Sir Phil unexpectedly requested to watch Braveheart. I have it on DVD (one of the few I own) and since he didn’t have anything to go home to, we decided it would be a good time to kick back and watch another one of my favorite movies. And since he had never seen it, it was a special treat to watch it with a first-timer.

Every time I see this movie, I get a little more out of it. Connections I mentally pass by come to me and the story becomes more and more clear. I like it because it’s an action film with some incredible fight scenes. It’s an absolutely gorgeous film with breath taking lighting and “feel.” It’s a comedy. It’s a love story. It has rage, vengeance, and honor. It has nostalgia, history, and memorial dialogue. It has Mel Gibson for the ladies and Sophie Marceau as the Princess and Catherine McCormack for the fellas.

I’ll probably get beat to a pulp for the next confessions but I got to thinking about the movie scenes that tear me up every time. Here are the ones I can remember:

Braveheart:

When the little girl hands William the flower

When he gives it back to her as adults and she realizes it was him.

When he sees her in the crowd right before he’s beheaded

When the guy takes his revenge for Primea Noctus, asking “Remember me?” and then after the scrambling Englishman claimed it was his right as the lord, the Scott yells, “… and this is my right as a husband!!!” and then follows the words with a club to the head.

Wallace praying to the Lord to “let me die well.”

“FREEDOM!!!!!”

Rocky:

Just about any ending to a fight scene

“Yo, Adriane, I DID IT!”

When Adriane wakes up right before the fight and says “WIN” and you hear a resonating bell sound in the background.

Karate Kid

When he’s in the famous swan pose and the guy rushes him. Jump, kick, right to the face, and the kid goes down as Daniel hobbles and the crowd goes nuts.

Lean On Me

“It kills your brain cells, son, it kills your brain cells!”

“… and that’s why I threw those bastards out, and that’s all I have to say!!!” and Morgan Freeman walks out buttoning his jacket.

Forrest Gump

“Is he…” when Forrest is looking at his son watch TV and wants to know if his new found son is challenged. The way Tom Hanks wells up and absentmindedly rubs his chest with his open hand is somehow powerful beyond words.

Forrest running into the bush to get Bubba and carrying him out as napalm explodes behind him.

Harry Potter

“You’re a wizard, Harry. And a thumpin’ good one…”

“Don’t you ever badmouth Albus Dumbledore in my presence again!!!”

OK, that’s all for now.

Lastly, I felt bad for allowing Buster to sleep on my bed (like he does every night) without allowing Daisy. She is not used to it, I know, but as soon as I called her up, she hopped up and leaned right up against me. So much for having the whole bed to myself for a couple of days. And it allows me to make the following statement without any falsehood:

I slept with a bitch and a son-of-a-bitch last tonight.

Free Advice for Today:
Keep good financial records."
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

BLOG entry for this day from 2003

BLOG entry for this day from 1997


Email -- jason@grose.us
Web -- http://www.grose.us/