Saturday, July 28, 2012

When The Cat's Away

For the last year, I have spent a substantial amount of time outside of my house. I seems that I have become very busy. A variety of things call me to leave the comfort of my castle. I have a wide array of ways I make money, and most require me to go somewhere else. I am involved with church activities. I leave to go counsel people. I spend as much time as possible with Red. I assume most people have life events that keep them busy as well, but it seems that I am spending more and more time away from the house.

I am not complaining about my schedule and would not even give this a second thought if it weren't for the fact that I have a teenage daughter. Kirsten has a rich social life and is out of the house doing exciting things almost daily, despite her belief (common to many teenagers) that she has no life or friends. However, even with her busy schedule, she does occasionally find herself at home. Since I am always running as well, she sometimes finds herself at home when I am not there.

Myself, Kyle & Trevor
Kirsten is sixteen, so she is old enough that she does not need me there to tend to her every need. However, I remember being a teenager and having the house to myself. Although, in my situation, it wasn't just me. I had two brothers who were just as willing as me to slightly bend the rules when our parents weren't around.

We lived in a big two-story farmhouse and the second floor was all ours. It had our bedrooms and an extra room which we used for our TV, video games and whatever else we wanted to do. A steadfast rule, usually enforced by our mother, was the prohibition of girls from ever going upstairs.

As a parent, I understand the reasoning behind this rule, but as a teenager, I thought it was unreasonable when my friends came over that we couldn't hang out in the game room upstairs if any of our guests were testicle deficient. This was one example of a rule that was not necessarily followed according to my parents' wishes when they were not in the house. We even allowed girls past the game room if they were willing  begged to see the other rooms. 

Sometime during my teenage years, we got our first satellite dish. It was one of those huge 12 foot monsters that made your house look like an outer space communication center. It had to be rotated to point at the specific satellite you wanted to pull a signal from. This was before the days of scrambled channels and subscription fees. If you owned a dish, you had access to every cable channel.

Obviously, there were channels we were not allowed to watch. I don't just mean HBO or late night Cinemax, but the more adult audience specific channels, like Playboy or Spice. These channels only came on late in the evening, but on the rare occasions that Mom and Dad had gone out and left us at home, you could be certain that the dish would be pointed to receive those channels for at least a portion of the night.

 In addition to these and many other violations of the rules, the worst infraction(s) happened one year when my parents left for vacation and left us at home. I don't remember why we didn't go with them. We always had in the past, but this one was just for them. As an adult, I now understand this decision as well.

As Mom and Dad went through the chores that were to be done each day (feed animals, wash dishes, etc.) and warned us to behave ourselves, we honestly didn't have any devious plans to disobey them. After one of the many times that my mother threatened reminded us, once again, that we had the house to ourselves and we were good boys who knew right from wrong, my father, in his infinite wisdom said, "Denise, once we leave, they're going to do whatever they're going to do." My father was much smarter than I gave him credit for at the time.

Within a few hours after they had left, we began to realize the freedom that had been handed to us. The first incident of that freedom happened when I had done something to my brother Kyle, causing him to chase me through the house. As I jumped into the next room, I closed the door behind me to slow his chase, but he came through the door anyway without taking the time to open it. The door was ripped off its hinges and our chase (for the moment) stopped. Luckily, Kyle is pretty handy and was able to repair the damage and we rehung the door.

We hadn't planned on having a party, but as our friends learned that our house was adult free, it happened. I don't want to try to sound like a victim. We welcomed the idea, even if we hadn't thought of it. I will give the details of this party in my next post. Too much happened to try to include it all here.

Now that's
a knife!
Two days before the party, we were playing a game in the front yard. Both of my brothers, Kyle and Trevor were standing with a dozen other teens, beers in hand, playing a game of chicken.

Chicken is a very simple game. Two people stand facing each other about three feet apart. One person throws a bowie knife at the feet of the other, trying to get as close as possible without actually making contact. Extra respect is given to the person who can penetrate the side of the shoe and still not contact the foot. A participant immediately loses if he actually hits the other person or moves his foot when the other person throws. This is called being a 'chicken' and removes you from the game for someone else to take your place.

After going several rounds and the knife getting closer and closer to their feet, they began to raise the stakes, both to scare the other person and to impress the people watching. Kyle started throwing the knife with an underhand toss rather than throwing it straight down between Trevor's feet. This was especially difficult since the blade has to stick in order to get the scoring point, but he was doing it successfully each time.

Trevor did not appreciate this technique since Kyle had to toss the knife up causing it to come close to Trevor's body and sometimes even his face before it would drop and sink into the dirt. However, that was part of the strategy designed to get the other person to move. After Trevor demanded he change his method several times, Kyle performed a beautifully executed low toss, which caused the blade to come up just under Trevor's groin. Trevor did not move.

Trevor bent down to pull the knife out of the ground. When he stood up, he had a smirk on his face and we all saw the look in his eye. We all knew what was about to happen.

Kyle stared hard at Trevor and through his teeth whispered, "You son of a bitch."

Trevor smiled as he raised his arm. He quickly let it drop and sank the blade in the center of Kyle's foot.

Kyle let out a howl, but stood his ground. He then looked at the crowd and yelled, "Did I move? I stayed still, right?"

Several members of the awestruck crowd agreed that he had not moved. He then pulled out the blade, handed it to Trevor and said, "You lose."

He ran into the house to patch up his new injury and we could already hear the blood sloshing in his boots as he moved. After a few minutes, I went in to check on him and was appalled to discover the trail of blood across the carpet and spray of blood on the bathroom wall from when he had swung his leg up into the sink.

I yelled, "Look at this mess!"

Kyle retorted, "Look at my foot!"

I looked at the bloody mess of the sink and the crimson settling into the carpet. "Uh, yeah. That looks awful...look at this mess!"

While Kyle tended to his foot, Trevor and I started cleaning up the blood before it dried hoping that would keep it from staining the carpet.

Now that I am a parent, every time I come home after my daughter has been home without me, I check the 'recently viewed' list on Netflix, examine the condition of the door jambs and demand to see her feet. I have explained that these inspections are for her own protection and necessary precautions for me to perform as a responsible parent, but she doesn't seem to understand. I don't tell her why I am checking because I don't want to give her any ideas.

So far, all inspections have been to my satisfaction proving that my daughter has never tried anything. Hopefully, she never will.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Too Tired for More Tires

I have entered into a new phase of my life. Things have been going well for me. I am doing well in school. Thanks to this blog, I have met a fantastic woman. My future looks bright and I look forward to what the next years have to bring. However, choices have to be made in order to keep things on the current track. I have run out of money.

Over the course of the last year, I have sacrificed and put money back to be able to have this summer free and it was well worth it. I had my rent and a few other bills paid up over six months in advance. I had plenty of money in my savings account to carry me for more time than I needed to get through the summer without a job. I have traveled to both the West and East Coast over the summer. I sent my daughter to Puerto Rico for a week. I have been free to do volunteer work and spend time with family. It has been great. However, there was one expense I hadn't considered. When I set up my summer budget, I had not yet met Red.

I am not suggesting that she has drained my money. She hasn't. The things we do together require very little money. We like to visit state parks. We meet in a town halfway between us as explore the sites. We occasionally catch a movie. The unavoidable expense is the gas required to see each other.

Red lives almost exactly 200 miles from me and for a while we were seeing each other twice a week. Sometimes I drove to her. Other times, she drove to me. Often we meet somewhere in the middle. It has slowed a little lately. Not because we want it to, but because we are both feeling the money crunch.

Neither of us have had jobs for the last several months and with no money coming in, the money going out does not get replenished. Red has been looking for work since she got to Indiana and it looks like she is very close to landing something soon. My original plan was to just get through the summer since I have income during the school months, but I didn't quite make it.

In order to continue to see her and pay my bills for these last six weeks of the summer, I had to get a job. Since I only need something for a short period of time, I went to a temp agency. They immediately placed me in a local factory.

Here's something you need to know about me. I am best suited to an office work type of environment. I know computers and paperwork. I am good at it and have an eye for detail. I enjoy looking over data spreadsheets and expense reports. I love crunching numbers and trying to solve problems. What I do not love is physical labor. I am just not made for it.

I have always had this issue. I grew up in a family of hard workers. My dad is one of the hardest working people I know. He worked in coal mines when I was young. He has worn several hats since they closed down, but he was never afraid to get his hands dirty. He can build or fix anything and he does it well. My brother Kyle had those qualities as well. He is insanely gifted at many types of labor and works hard to provide for his family.

As a child, I spent great effort to get out of any type of physical exertion. I hated mowing the lawn, working on a car, cleaning pig stalls or anything else that might cause me to sweat. Even when I would try, the despair would set in very quickly. Once while bailing hay, I seriously considered throwing myself into the bailer to get out of the rest of the day's work.

Considering the importance my father put on a hard day's work, I often felt inadequate. It's not his fault. It's a great quality, but it's not me. I had a professor in college once joke that if he had lived and been thrown into a concentration work camp during the Holocaust, he would have died. He was only half joking. He proudly stated that he was a theologian. He studied and wrote papers for a living. He was exceptional at paperwork and management. A work camp would do him in. I could relate to that.

That brings us back to today. The size of this town does not offer many options with the temporary services. They send people to one of four different factories. I have done factory work in the past and can survive on an assembly line, although I feel my brain dying every time I walk in. Even if the work is easy, I quickly begin to hate life if my mind is not being challenged.

I may take the tires off my car
just so I will never have to see tires again.
The factory I was placed in needed 20 people to help fix an issue they were having. This factory makes tires and there are approximately 45,000 tires on the floor that need to be sorted. As the tires come down the line, they must be pulled off, identified and taken to their proper pallet. Each tire weighs anywhere from 31 to 127 pounds. Add to that the fact that it is over 120 degrees in the factory and I work 12 hours shifts and it shouldn't be hard to guess how I feel about my job.

An hour into the first day, I was seriously questioning if I would be able to see this through to the end. Every place where skin touches skin was chafed before my first break. My muscles ache and I can barely move when I get off work. I can't wear my contacts because of the amount of dirty sweat dripping into my eyes. My glasses are constantly fogged, so I can't wear them either. I am blind, hot, miserable and can't quit because they won't give me another assignment if I do. Despite the conditions, leaving communicates that you "don't really want to work."

Now that I have finished whining, there are some good outcomes to this as well.
  1. This paycheck will allow me to continue to see Red for the rest of the summer. 
  2. I can look my dad in the eye confidently knowing that I am doing man's work. 
  3. After four days on the job, I have lost 38 pounds.
  4. I now have a use for the baby powder that has been my bathroom for the last four years.
Four more weeks of this and I will be back in the world of being a student and tormenting small children. That's is what I'm made for and am good at. I can't wait for September.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I am almost ashamed of myself for letting my blog writing get so far behind. Almost. I am not ashamed, but I could be doing better. I returned from my trip to Portland over a week ago and am just now doing a follow up post about the trip.

Black Chinese?
As stated in earlier posts, Kirsten and I went to attend the wedding of my cousin. Since we arrived five days before the wedding, we had time to take in the city. The first thing we noticed were the people.

Portland has been called the hipster capital of the world and it didn't take long to see why. The residents of Portland definitely have their own style. We saw a child toddler walking between his parents that appeared to be in a pirate costume, although, I don't think it was a costume. They just really liked the vest over all those ruffles.

There was a much higher percentage of tattoos and facial piercings as compared to what I have seen in other cities across the country. On average, one in every three women had a hoop nose ring and some restaurants would not allow entry without some ink showing.

I did the best I could to capture some of these people, but do not have the ninja camera skills of Misty at Misty's Laws. These are the best I could get without being noticed.

Those pants look like they were made
from one of my grandmother's quilts.

Besides the clothes,why the washboard?
Bicycle-riding crime fighter?

Was that intentional?
How does this happen?

We decided to pass on this one.
Being so far from home, we had no choice but to eat out for every meal. We searched the internet and scoured the streets for the best places to eat.

Here at home, there are the typical choices of various fast food restaurants and a few ethnic food places (Mexican/Chinese), but there is not a lot of variety. When we found the food cart area of downtown Portland, we were overwhelmed at the number of options available to us.

There were the expected Chinese, Italian, and Mexican places, but we wanted something we couldn't get back home. I love trying new foods and checked out every cart before making my choice. We could have gyros, tacos, hot dogs, shish-ka-bobs, noodles, soups or egg rolls. There was Ethiopian, Greek, Cajun, Belgian, Nicaraguan, Thai, Vietnamese, Australian and even Kosher Egyptian. After carefully considering all our options (and, trust me, it wasn't easy), we finally made our choice.

Yes! We flew all the way to Portland
and ate grilled cheese sandwiches.
After looking at all the vendors, we went with the grilled cheese. Now, I make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, but these guys really know what they are doing. Plus, they make about a dozen different varieties. I ordered one with bacon and tomato on sourdough bread. It was incredible.

Besides the food, there was plenty to see. While walking down Alberta Street one night, we came across a vaudeville type side show.

The show hadn't actually started yet. They were either practicing or trying to show people how to do what they were doing. A small crowd had gathered to watch or learn. If this happened in my town, there would have been a large crowd gathered. This goes to show how common place this type of stuff must be. Most people just walked by without giving it any recognition.

Here is a short unedited video of what they were doing.

After watching for a few minutes a deciding we had seen all they had to show, we journeyed further down the street. A few blocks down, a couple of guys were setting up a speaker on the sidewalk and soon, this happened.

The people of Portland seem to like to take their talents to the street. They other guy in the video had the talent of setting up the sound system. He did take the mike later to try his hand at rapping, but it was very short lived. I don't know if that guy would even have the rhythm to clap a consistent beat, much less try to rap.

Due to the lack of parking spaces,
all bikes must be chained to this pole
in order to shop on this block.
Portland, being the metropolis that it is, has many similar problems to other big cities. One of those problems is often what I find to be most frustrating when I am in large cities: trying to figure out where to park. There are thousands of people on the streets and cars driving everywhere, but there are only seven parking spaces that must be shared by the entire city. It gets pretty complicated and frustrating.

One of the times I used a parking garage, the attendant gave me a ticket with a parking time of two hours before I had gotten there. Of course, I didn't notice this until an hour after I had walked away from my car. When I returned to my car later and pointed out the problem, he said I would have to pay the full amount. That was going to cost me an extra $15. I refused and showed him the time stamped on the receipt of the vendor across town that I had visited right before coming to his garage. He wasn't having it and insisted upon the full amount. When I started screaming "RAPE!!!" he threw me my keys and told me to leave. That works every time.

We went outside the city one day to get out and see the landscape of Oregon. We crossed over into Washington and drove out to the ocean. Despite the beautiful scenery and the incredible views of the mountains, I couldn't help but notice that the people of the Northwest must take these majestic views for granted. I base this on the names they give the local attractions. With names like CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT and DISMAL NITCH, they don't appear to be as impressed with the scenery as we were.

Yes, that is Jen from "Jen" e sais quoi
On Saturday night, I contacted the Portlandia Mom "Jen"  of  "Jen" e sais quoi for her to recommend a church to us. She graciously invited us to her church which just happened to be having its Independence Day Weekend All-American Veteran Freedom Festival Barbecue. I really don't remember what it was called. It was something like that.

I know I have only seen this church one time, but I loved it. It seems to be an awesome church and Jen praised it several times. She loves that church and I could see why.

After the service, we went outside to get plates of food and come back inside to enjoy a full orchestra playing Americana music.

Before each song, one member would explain the significance of the song and why it was chosen. One of the songs by John Phillip Souza was written to commemorate the return of the Liberty Bell to Philadelphia after touring the country. It was called the Liberty Bell March. As soon as the song started, I recognized it.

It was the theme song to Monty Python's Flying Circus. I couldn't help but visualize the big foot to coming down to squish the orchestra. After the song, I had to wonder why patriotic Americans chose the theme from a British sketch comedy show to represent a piece of American history.

We had a great time that morning listening to the orchestra and visiting with Jen. I can assure you that she is as funny and friendly in person as she is on her blog. Plus, a few days before she introduced me to the Office Skank (her readers will understand), so I feel that I have seen all there is to see in Portland. Thank you, Jen.

In all, I consider this to have been a great trip. I saw everything I wanted to see. I don't know if I will ever find my way to Portland again, but we had a great time for the week that we were there.

Following are a few of the pictures I wanted to show, but did not fit into the above words.

I found where I want to go next year.
Kirsten did not agree.

Note that this was at a high school.

Sign stapled to a pole. I've stared at it for hours.
I still don't get it.

Kirsten seeing if she had what it took to be Malcom X.
She didn't.

In front of the vaudeville sideshow.
Facts about funnel cakes.
Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I Haven't Gotten into Too Much Trouble

I love my family.

Last night, Kirsten and I went to the welcome dinner for my cousin Andy's wedding. This is the first time I have seen him in 12 years. His brother Chip I haven't seen since my wedding 17 years ago. We got to see several others that I've seen more recently, but it was nice to get to catch up and hear what everyone has been up to.

The wedding is this afternoon. After running non-stop for three days, Kirsten and I have decided to take it easy for today. We are hanging out in the hotel room and only leaving to get food. Since we walked all over Downtown Portland yesterday, spent 8 hours in the car driving along the coast the day before, and checking out all the little shops on our first day, we are tired and out feet are sore. We will hit the town again tomorrow.

Here are some of the interesting things I have found:

Like Illinois, there are smoking laws here. People are not permitted to smoke within 10 feet of the entrance to a business.

These signs are beside every entrance to the hotel and are accompanied by an ashtray. However, they are right next to the door. Smoking is not allowed with 10 feet, but you have to walk up to the door that you are not permitted to approach in order to use the ashtray. Is it just me or does this seem like entrapment?

I could never be a street performer.
I don't have the wardrobe for it.

Despite the repeated warnings, Kirsten got too close
to one of the carnivorous trees. I almost lost her.
Don't tell her mother.

I never even learned her name.
After preventing a man from tripping and tumbling off the side of the mountain he gave me his wife. It took me less than thirty minutes to discover why he was so eager to get rid of her. I later traded her to a Japanese family to repay them for knocking their lunch and youngest child off the ledge.

They were not satisfied initially, but I explained that it was the law in America. Since I had replaced the lost child with another person they could not prosecute. I then bought them all corn dogs despite the fact that I had only cost them one lunch. I'm generous like that.

I'm looking for my contact lens.

Gotta love Oregon!