Missing My Father Day

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Here we are again - Father’s Day.  I still think about my Dad almost every day, but on this day of the year the feeling is a little different.  I’ve already been alive on this Earth longer without a Dad than with one, and the missing connection is still raw and intense.  

Memories of parents, loved ones and even brief acquaintances are cast in stone.  The sands of time may alter some of the realities.  But the lingering memories, which remain in our minds, create the icon that we look to when reminiscing through our archives.  

My Dad was a consummate entertainer.  He was a ladies man and a man’s man.  He was also a salesman’s salesman.  His very presence in a room was captivating.  He told stories like nobody’s business and could easily reduce even the most staid person into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and happy tears.  He was equally comfortable in large groups as he was in intimate settings, a valuable character trait that even some famous personalities today would envy.

I have mostly positive memories of him, and still look up to him as a key role model.  Were he still around, I would be the first one in line to ask him for advice about all of life’s questions that keep tripping me up.  Yet, I don’t mind telling you that for a lot of my life, I was terrified of the man.  He had a commanding voice and, real or imagined, I sometimes felt scared and not quite good enough when he spoke to me.  As I got older and slightly more mature, I felt a closer connection to him.  It may have been my youthful insecurities that instilled a false sense of fear in my mind.  But toward the end, even when he was lying on a hospital bed in our dining room, unable to speak, I always wondered if he would just sit up in the bed and get agitated about something.  

There was such frustration on his part throughout the illness.  Brain cancer, late diagnosis and a brain surgeon who was missing the gene for good bedside manner – you couldn’t concoct a more tragic outcome.  One day he was lucid, literate and eloquent.  Then, post-surgery, his gift of speech and reasoning had been repossessed.  He hadn’t been told that he had cancer, so I can’t even imagine what he might have thought when he finally awoke from the surgery.  He was unable to speak coherently, eat by himself, or even move the right side of his body.  He was also not aware of his projected limited lifespan.  It soon became our family’s experience that whatever “it” was, it was always the worst possible version of “it”.  

These days, I have strange triggers for remembering him. When I am working out on the elliptical machine at the gym, and the ‘calories burned’ number gets to 419 (his birthday, April 19th) I think of him and smile.  He had invested (badly, as it turned out) in the hydroponic tomato business; and to this day when I smell tomato plants, I think of the times that we would drive out together to visit the greenhouses.  Every time I walk into a men’s restroom at a restaurant, I think of him and wonder if he would have approved of the level of cleanliness.  (He was known for checking out the bathrooms of restaurants before being seated.  Because he felt that if management couldn’t keep their bathrooms clean, could he really trust them to keep their kitchen clean?) He taught me how to drive a stick shift; that was fun.  He would tell me that, 'back in the day' (that expression hadn’t been invented yet when he told me) he learned how to drive in a bakery truck.  He would have to ‘double clutch’ to shift gears – that is, to shift out of gear into neutral, release the clutch, and then shift again into the next gear.  I enjoyed demonstrating that to my daughters when I felt nostalgic, but I don’t think they were nearly as amused as I was during the actual demonstration.

One of the funniest stories that my Dad ever told me was the night he went out for a business dinner with some clients.  While waiting for their table, drinks in hand, the phone began to ring.  It was a busy night, so the maître d’ wasn’t at the front of the house.  My Dad picked up the phone and began to speak, “Yes, table of six? When would you like to be seated? Yes, Mr. Jones, we look forward to seeing at 7:30.” Upon return, the maître d’ asked my Dad what he was doing.  My Dad told him that no one was there to answer the phone, so he took a reservation for him – Jones, party of six at 7:30PM.  The maître d’ was somewhat upset, not only because some stranger had answered the phone in his restaurant, but that some stranger had booked a reservation when there were no more open tables available for that evening.  My father never said, but I’m sure his clients gave him their business after that night.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


Mirror, Mirror on the Ground

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The day began like most other days, with my Shih-Tzu licking himself and making obnoxious slurping noises. I swear, if this dog were human he would be one of those people that takes hour long showers. It’s also 5:15AM, but who’s looking at the clock? I get some coffee brewing, because when my wife wakes up she should be able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee. There’s no reason to break that tradition now.

It’s my day to drive the daughter to school, and surprise, she just remembered that she has a poetry project due today. In our most polite parenting voice, we urge her to write a poem of some kind - because a rough draft poem is better that an incomplete poem. With backpack and lunch in hand, we’re off to the car. It’s 7:40AM, but it’s also Friday, so there’s hope in the world.

My car is nearing the exit of our gated community (OK, it’s an apartment complex, but there is a gate). There are gardeners working feverishly to plant new ground cover and re-seed for winter. The entrance gate is closed. The exit gate is open. I proceed to drive out slowly, taking care to avoid spooking the greens-keepers. The gate, in what is most certainly a rebellious move, begins to close. It totally ignores the car sensor - there is supposed to be a car sensor, right? We hear a loud bang followed by a snapping sound. Then realizing that it may have made a mistake, the gate re-opens.

As I step out of the car, I see that my passenger side rear view mirror is on the ground. One of the gardeners picks it up and hands it to me. I thank him, because I’m polite, but don’t really know if that was the appropriate response in this situation. My poetry challenged daughter says that she thought a giant bird had hit our car, and that her ear hurts from the noise. On the drive to school, while my daughter is taking selfies of herself, I wonder how much this gate incident is going to cost me. The $1,000.00 figure keeps popping in my mind because it’s a nice round number and, like a trip to Costco, car repairs always costs more than you think they will.

The property management staff are very nice. But the way that they calmly tell me that they are not responsible for any damage, indicates that similar incidents may have happened here before - I’m guessing. They take an incident report and ask me to feel free to email them some pictures to attach to the file. This was not the scenario that I was expecting, so I leave the office slightly deflated and mirror-less.

Cut to: exterior - repair shop - day. All of the credit card stickers on the door do little lower the repair estimates floating around in my mind. I ask for the cash option, AAA discount, whatever, and fill out the necessary paperwork. As luck would have it, the side door buffs out rather nicely and doesn’t require any bodywork. The mirror, on the other hand, can’t be resuscitated and must be replaced. The bottom line is that it is going to cost me about $305.00 - a bargain compared to my original mental estimate.

We have options as consumers and residents. I could do some independent testing to verify that there is a working sensor beneath the exit. I could press the issue and go to small claims court. I will probably do neither of these, because in light of the damage, this is not the battle that I want to expend my energy.  I would still like to believe that we have a realistic expectation that automatic gated entries and exits should remain open when a car is within their reach. But, really, I just want my mirror back.


It Stings Like a B

Friday, October 10, 2014

Like so many of the non movie-like events in my life, I was stung by a bee last week while driving my car.  I wasn’t running in slow motion, while in a nature preserve, disrupting a bee’s daily activities with my right hand (like the first time I was stung).  I wasn’t playing on my swing set, as a child, dismounting the swing in slow motion and landing on a bee with my left foot (like the second time I was stung).  I was merely picking up my daughter from her cheerleading practice.  My trusty, emotionally misguided dog was at my side looking out the window.  He had been strangely preoccupied with my left knee, where I felt something cool and possibly wet.  I reached down with my right hand and was met with an incredible pain in my bird flipping finger.

I’ve had my share of bodily injuries along the arc of my life, so I’m no stranger to pain.  However this event made me scream out in agony.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to filter my emotions, so I inadvertently freaked out my daughter (who, I don’t believe, had ever heard me scream out loud before in her entire life).  I had no idea what had happened, but knew that I had to pull the car over to safely assess the situation.  I recall seeing some yellowish mass attached to the fingertip of my middle finger.  I remembered that you’re not supposed to squeeze the stinger; but I was in a rush to remove it as quickly as humanly possible.  With thumb and index fingers of my left hand, I did my best to extract the still throbbing stinger from my body.

As luck would have it, I was successful on the first attempt.  The poisonous needle was out of my finger, but the pain persisted with no change in intensity.  I was really trying to deal with the tortuous pain, when I noticed that my daughter was still at DEFCON 2 because the bee was continuing to circle around in the front cabin of my motor vehicle.  I told her that the bee was going to die, since it had already stung me, but an agitated Dad does little to reassure a panicky cheerleader when there are bees involved.  She finally waved it out the window and immediately offered to drive us home.  I should mention that she doesn’t have a driver’s license.  And even if I have let her drive a few times in an empty parking lot (which, for the record, I haven’t done – because that would be illegal), I wasn’t about to relinquish the wheel to her in the evening darkness.

Through the unflagging signals from the nerve endings in my finger, we made it home.  My oldest daughter began to Google treatments for bee stings while I recounted my previous bee encounters, decades ago, and the severe reactions I had from them.  The best course seemed to be ice water, and that recommended treatment seemed to work for a while.  I must say that while my finger was soaking in the water, I kept thinking that the ice water didn’t feel cold enough to be fully effective.  When the intensity began to subside, even though it had been a small eternity since my last stings, I instantly recognized the dull, deep sensation of pain that follows a bee attack.  Magically, in about 36 hours, my finger returned to normal and I could once again play the guitar or passive/aggressively point the finger at troublesome individuals. 
Fast forward to one week from the bee sting…  My finger began to itch and blow up in size.  I’m well versed in horror films, and know that realistically a finger can’t explode; but it felt as if my finger were headed in that direction.  So, at the recommendation of my wife and dentist (yes, I happened to have a dentist appointment that morning) I drove over to our local urgent care center.  The doctor squeezed my fingertip in all possible directions, and this time I was pretty sure that it would pop open – but it didn’t.  He suspected that the remaining scab on my finger might still contain a remnant of the stinger, and proceeded to pull out a rather large needle as his medical instrument of choice.  Like my previous ice bath, the liquid cold spray that he used to ‘numb’ my finger didn’t help hide the sensation of the excavation process to my satisfaction.  There was blood.  There was pain.  And, yes, there were even two prescriptions – not for pain, just for antibiotics and the swelling. 

Is there a moral to this pointed tale?  If there is, it might be: try not to freak out when a bee is flying nearby.  I’m still convinced that they don’t want to sting you; they’ve got better things to do.  I keep telling my daughters this, but they are still irrationally afraid of bees and bee stings.  If you are stung, please err on the side of safety and have yourself checked out by a professional.  And finally, I might suggest that you keep a safe distance from doctors carrying around large needles.  

*I could have used a more graphic photo for this post, but it was withheld at the bee's request.


Interview in Search of an Applicant

Monday, June 24, 2013

There is a question that I’m asked on interviews and general conversations that I absolutely hate.  We’ve all been asked the question; it’s just that some people are better than others when it comes to a providing a meaningful answer.  Don’t make me repeat it again.  All right, but this is the last time, “Tell me a little about yourself.”

How can I mess up my only chance for a good impression this time?  Well, let’s see, “I’m a guy.”  Yeah, that’s a good start, I think.  Now what?  Oh, yes, “I’m married and I have two kids.” OK, I think, now I’m getting somewhere.  I don’t know where, but it must be somewhere better than where I was 5 seconds ago.

“Did you want to know how many pets or anything that I have at the house?”

Oh, no, I don’t think I should have just asked that.  Nobody really cares about how many dysfunctional, domesticated animals that I have taking up space in my habitat. 

“But you probably don’t really want to know that, do you?”

I’m not a rocket scientist, nor have I ever considered becoming a rocket scientist, but I know one thing very clearly now; this is not going well, at all. 

“Can I start over again, I mean, after the “I’m a guy part?””

My audience clearly is not amused.  In fact, I think I’ve already seen one guy in my listening circle take a casual glance at his watch. 

“Do you want to know like character traits, or are you looking for something else?” 

I’m not really sure about the protocol regarding asking the interviewer for guidance while answering such a simple question, but I think someone needs to throw me a bone or something so I can get a better grip on things. 

“You probably already know that I have black hair, right?  Although, on my license I think it might say, ’brown’.  You might be looking for something a little more substantial.  Am I on the right track?  I’m sorry, but can you repeat the question one more time?  I think I’m getting away from the essence of what you’re really looking for.” 

I’m beginning to make all kinds of mental notes in my head.  First and foremost, I’ve really got to get some kind of answer to this question prepared in advance, so I can at least appear to know a little more about myself than I seem to at this point in time.  I have lived with myself for a while.  I’ve got to know something that I can put into words that might suggest that I didn’t just inhabit this body a moment before the question was asked. 

“Just to be clear, you want a little more than my favorite color … which is green by the way.  Oh, I know, I like music.  I used to play the saxophone, but not really anymore.  I still play the piano, though.  And some might assume that I’m a guitarist, because I have a few guitars, but really I’m just in a permanent learning mode.  Is that pertinent at all to this conversation?” 

A long silent pause follows.  “Is it getting a little warm in here?  Because I feel like I’m starting to sweat like a pig – although I heard once, a long time ago, that pigs don’t really sweat.  It’s some kind of myth, I think.”

Two of the three inquisitors politely excuse themselves from the conversation.  One person remains, makes a final note on her legal pad and thanks me as positively as she can.  I know that she is being totally insincere.  I should have mentioned during the interview that one of my strong skills is being able to accurately measure BS when I hear it. 

I’m still trying to figure out how my mental train of thought had jumped the rails so effortlessly.  Why couldn’t I have mentioned my creativity, organizational skills or strong work ethic?  It doesn’t really matter anymore; I’m sure they had already emailed me the appreciative rejection notice before I even got back into my car. 

So where does this leave me?  Well, it’s a little too late for that.  But for any future interviewees out there – take note:  prepare a few thoughts about yourself in advance.  Don’t think so much about a direct answer to the question.  A lot of the information that they are looking for is in the way you answer the question.  Be yourself.  Be calm.  And just for fun, throw in your favorite color. 


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