Monday, May 22, 2017

To the Bighorns

In past blog entries I’ve mentioned my car, the trusty Honda, on numerous occasions. We’ve been together for over ten years now, during which time we’ve become good friends, mainly because he doesn’t get annoyed when I sing along to the radio, nor judgmental when I consume a hasty on-the-go breakfast from Kwik Trip consisting of a half-dozen doughnuts and coffee.

While our adventures have piled up over the years, it recently dawned on me that it’d been quite a while since we’d been on a real road trip together. During his younger days he’d taken me to both Montana and Tennessee, but over the past few years he’d been asked to do nothing more strenuous than occasionally shuttle me to and from Michigan. This newfound realization didn’t sit very well with me, mainly because of the fact that as I grow older, one of my biggest goals is to prove that I still “have it.” In short, I’d like to think that I can still run as fast and jump as high as I could ten years ago – albeit with a few more aches and pains afterwards – and so why wouldn’t the same basic principle apply to the Honda?

This was definitely food for thought, and after a little soul-searching I decided that we should go to Wyoming to see the Bighorn Mountains. It’d be a win-win situation. I’d get a chance to not go to work, and the Honda could prove that he, too, still “had it.”

The trip would be somewhat abbreviated. We’d leave Minnesota on a Sunday and return six days later. It’d be a lot of driving, but that was sort of the point. There’d be a lot of time to listen to music, ponder the mysteries of the universe, and, most importantly, relive some of our past adventures – although hopefully not the one where I almost let him roll off the Bear Tooth Pass during the aforementioned Montana trip. The problem, however, was that I simply couldn’t ignore his age. He was over ten years old and in the twilight of his life. Something was bound to go wrong. He’d been so trusty for so long that the law of averages was bound to catch up with him. The only question was: what, exactly, would it be?

And so I was actually happy when his ability to produce cold air suddenly began to wane a day or two before the trip. Maybe this was the “something” that was bound to go wrong! Heck, I could handle weak, or possibly no, A/C! I mean, the pioneers didn’t have A/C when they crossed the plains, and they survived – at least some of them! And so, armed with a renewed sense of adventure and a Triple-A card, Sunday rolled around and the Honda and I set out on our way.

Not far into our journey I turned on the radio, and the first full song I heard was William Michael Morgan’s “Missing,” whose chorus came pretty close to summing up the adventure we were embarking upon, both physically and spiritually:

Well there ain't no telling where I'm bound (correction: Wyoming)
The big city or the country, a little beach town (correction: still Wyoming)
But you won’t find me 'cause I can't be found (correction: unless you call my phone)
I'm on a mission, to be missing
I'll be back some day I just don't know when (correction: Saturday)
'Till then I'll be a feather floating in the wind
So don't you go missing me
'Cause sometimes missing is my favorite place to be

As the song’s last chords disappeared, I knew the trip had been the right choice. In fact, I was so inspired that I plugged in my iPod just so I could listen to it again. Ahhhh, it was perfect! Fate was obviously smiling down upon me and the decision I'd made! Then I realized that in my exuberance I’d missed a turn, roughly three miles from my house, which had to be some sort of navigational error record.

Undeterred, the Honda and I were soon back on track and heading into southwestern Minnesota, which can only be described as flat-as-flat-can-be-and-probably-even-flatter. Farms littered the landscape, and while I appreciated the fact that they were playing an integral role in the feeding of this great nation, I was also very happy that I was traveling via freeway, which meant I could appreciate them at a fairly high rate of speed.

It was a hot day, and having diminished A/C was a little distracting. Still we pushed on, and eventually we entered into South Dakota, where the landscape instantly morphed from flat, never-ending farmland into flat, never-ending farmland where the speed limit had been bumped up to 80 miles an hour! Woo-hoo! Now we were getting somewhere!

There’s not much to say about South Dakota except that I believe the majority of their economy is based on the construction of annoying billboards along Interstate 90. The ones I hated the most – based entirely on the sheer number of them – were for the Corn Palace, the Petrified Gardens, the authentic 1880’s town, and, of course, Wall Drug. (The Wall Drug ones made no sense, and by the end I was pretty sure that if I went there, I’d get to fight dinosaurs in a shooting gallery while drinking coffee and eating ice cream.)

The trusty Honda handled South Dakota admirably, punctuated by an overnight stay roughly halfway through, and the next day we hit Wyoming, ecstatic to leave billboard purgatory behind. After a stop at Devil’s Tower National Monument – where I took at least three-hundred pictures of the exact same landmark, all from a slightly different angle – we were again on the road, plunging into the rolling green emptiness that is Wyoming.

When we finally chugged into our destination of Buffalo, I felt myself becoming overwhelmed with pride for the Honda. He’d made it! After we’d stopped and I’d gotten out, I wanted to give him an encouraging pat on the taillights, but instead I went with the Appreciative Guy Nod, which, while almost imperceptible, still speaks volumes. However, it was the Honda who’d done most of the talking that day, and I’d heard him loud and clear. He still had it.

My stay in the Bighorns was highlighted by rain, snow, fog, hail, giving a random guy who’d hit a deer a ride back to Buffalo, the Chris Ledoux statue in Kaycee, and the trusty Honda not rolling off any mountains. Needless to say the time passed quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to embark upon the return trip. Our sights were set on Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, and with Car Talk blaring through the Honda’s speakers, we again took to the interstate. As with the previous few days, it was raining, but as we headed east the skies eventually cleared and the sun broke through, making for a pleasant drive. This lasted up until the sign in Custer, South Dakota that points to Mount Rushmore, at which point we hit a dense layer of impenetrable fog that pretty much confirmed my working theory that I’d recently done something to annoy Jupiter, the Greek god of light and sky.

And so, thanks to Jupiter and I now somehow being mortal enemies, I get to say that I’ve been to Mount Rushmore but have never actually seen Mount Rushmore. It was all sort of funny, and I found myself stifling giggles as I walked the Presidential Trail in a doomed attempt to get close enough to see through the fog. Nobody else around me, however, seemed as amused by the situation as I, and so I did my best to keep my mirth to myself, as I didn’t want to get beaten up in front of Abraham Lincoln.

Once I’d finally given up on seeing anything, it was a straight shot back home, highlighted by us blowing past the Wall Drug exit out of the sheer principle of not being manipulated by advertising. (Although I did sort of want to fight the dinosaur.) The rest of the trip was uneventful, and when we finally pulled into my driveway I realized that I never should have doubted the trusty Honda. He seemed as strong as ever, except for the minor A/C issue.

My condition, however, was a different story. I was exhausted from driving and navigating and consuming nutrient-deficient food, and as I tried to find the motivation to unload all of my stuff into my house, it suddenly hit me: Perhaps I’d been thinking about this wrong the entire time. Maybe I was the weak link. Heck, maybe the Honda was going to have to trade me in!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Whole Story On The Whole 30

Recently, I decided to join the rest of the nutrition-conscious world and do the Whole 30, as I’d grown tired of feeling inferior whenever I was amongst a group of friends, who’d all seemed to have completed at least one round. Also, it just sounded like a good idea, given as how I’d just finished the grueling Bowl Full of Jelly 30, which is a program that takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, during which time the healthiest thing you eat is green frosting.

But What Is The Whole 30?

Since the official definition of the program contains the facepalm-inducing term “nutritional reset,” I'll instead break it down into layman’s terms: The Whole 30 is when you eat healthy foods for 30 days and then act incredibly surprised afterwards when you look and feel better.

Wait, you might say, that’s it? That’s what all of the fuss is about?

Yup, that’s it. You eat good foods for a month to improve your overall health, after which time you go online and blog excitedly about your experience, sometimes in ALL CAPS:

  • “The Whole 30 changed my body! I now fit into clothes I haven’t worn since high school, which is weird because I donated all of my clothes from high school years ago!”
  • “The Whole 30 changed my life! I now have an endless supply of energy, and it’s been weeks since I’ve fallen asleep in the shower! Who would have guessed that eating vegetables would actually be good for you?”
  • “The Whole 30 saved my marriage, got me a new job, and taught me how to do a proper pushup!”
  • “Once the Whole 30 was finished transforming me into a virtual supermodel, it rescued several small children from a burning building downtown! I think the mayor may even be giving it the key to the city!”
  • “The Whole 30 for president 2020! HOORAY FOR NUTRITIONAL RESETS!!! 
To get into a bit more detail, when you do the Whole 30 you eliminate from your diet all of the foods that most everybody on the planet agrees makes you fat and sick – think anything Hostess or Mountain Dew related here – along with the foods that most people agree really aren’t that good for you. Then, once your cupboards are basically empty, you throw out even more stuff, simply because the Whole 30 is sort of a jerk who doesn’t want you to be happy. Once the dust has settled and you’ve wiped the tears from your eyes, you’re basically left with vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, and fruit. However, the news isn’t all bad, because in addition to being allowed to drink coffee, in some weird twist of fate, bacon somehow makes the cut!

In short, during the Whole 30 you rid yourself of all the nasty stuff you know isn’t doing your body any favors (except for bacon) and replace it with real – I.E. whole – foods. Simple, huh? Then, once you’ve fought through the 30 days, you slowly start to reintegrate the foods you cut out back into your diet, in order to see how they affect your body. In theory, this allows you to get a good feel for what foods works for you and what don’t. However, if you’re like most people, your reintegration is really just a headfirst dive into a mountain of Oreos and pizza, because they’re delicious and you missed them more than you ever thought possible.

So What’s Doing The Whole 30 Like?

When you do the Whole 30, you quickly notice a few things. The first is that no matter what 30 day-window you pick, you constantly find yourself in situations where you’re offered free food expressly forbidden by the program. For example, if you work in an office environment, you’re guaranteed to stumble upon birthday and retirement celebrations boasting free cake almost every day, including some for co-workers you didn’t even know existed. (“Michael from accounting? Since when do we have an accounting department?”) On the home front, you’ll be routinely invited by friends and family to go out to eat, attend parties, or even consume chocolate chip cookie dough straight from the container, just for the sheer joy of it. In addition, every time you enter a grocery store you’ll most likely be offered a multitude of free samples – and it’ll never be kale-based – and there’s also a very good chance that at some point a vending machine will malfunction and expel its entire payload at your feet without warning.

I have no doubt that Garfield was on the Whole 30.

However, these constant temptations can’t be avoided, and so it’s up to you to be strong and decline all of these free treats, even if it makes everybody around you feel bad for indulging. You may think that a polite, “No thank you,” might defuse the situation, but you’ll quickly realize that, in the end, it’s roughly the same as saying, “Go ahead and enjoy eating that junk food that’ll probably kill you. I’ll be over here munching on a carrot stick, looking smug and self-satisfied.” (That’s another thing. Never look smug or self-satisfied when declining treats, as your co-workers, friends, or family members might get annoyed at you to the point of holding you down and force-feeding you Doritos.)

In the end, however, it boils down to one simple thing: The Whole 30 is about you and your health, and nothing else. Who cares if you ruin multiple celebrations and activities during your 30-day window because people think you're a pretentious junk food snob? You simply have to do your best not to worry about it, mainly because you’re going to need all of your worrying capacity to try and figure out what you’re actually going to eat during those long 30 days! 

Yes, planning meals on the Whole 30 can be tricky, and you’ll quickly find that you fall into one of three camps:

  • Camp 1: You do it by the book. (Literally, there is a book.) You follow the rules explicitly and never deviate. You spend hours on the internet looking for delicious Whole 30 compliant recipes. (This is, of course, impossible, since you can’t eat processed sugar or cheese.) Still, you’ve made up your mind to do it the right way, and that’s what’s going to happen! In short, you’ve immersed yourself in the program 100% and you WILL NOT cheat yourself.
  • Camp 2: You haven’t read the book (as you hate taking direction from anybody) but you do know, vaguely, the Whole 30 guidelines. Also, you detest following recipes, mainly because when you attempt to cook anything that consists of more than one or two ingredients, you always end up with something far less edible than what you began with. So, instead of immersing yourself 100% into the program, you keep it simple (hello eggs for breakfast every day!) and you may even - gasp - cut a few corners, just as long as it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the program.
  • Camp 3: You miss Oatmeal Creme Pies too much and give up on about Day 4. (Camp 3 is by far the most delicious of all of the camps.)
Personally, I fell squarely into Camp 2, as evidenced by the fact that one time during my thirty days I broke down, had a piece of gum, and didn’t even restart the program! In addition, being the terrible person that I am, I cut a corner and got the majority of my veggies via green smoothies.

Wait, you might ask, green smoothies are bad?

Well, sort of. You see, blending food leaves it in a rather un-whole state, and the Whole 30 would really, really, really like it if you ate foods that are, well, whole. So, while technically not violating the rules, blending does infringe upon the spirit of the Whole 30. My thought process on the matter, however, was this: Since I clearly wasn’t going to be dedicated enough to eat a truckload of whole vegetables each and every day, I had to find a workaround, or risk turning to the dark side. (I.E. the side that has Chips Ahoy)

It’s been a while since I got a Darth Vader reference in.

So, without any feelings of shame, I compromised and made smoothies.

Not that smoothies are some sort of magic food, mind you. They just make eating vegetables a bit easier for those of us with vegetable-challenged taste buds. In theory, the reason to drink them is you get to mask the taste of vegetables with fruit, but the problem is that to actually accomplish this, you need about a 4-to-1 ratio of fruits to vegetables, which really isn’t all that healthy due to the sugar in the fruit. So, you instead have to find the sweet spot consisting of just enough fruit – sent on what amounts to a kamikaze mission – to cancel out just enough of the vegetable taste to allow you to choke it all down and claim a moral victory. (“Well that was sort of terrible, but on the bright side, I ate spinach and I'm still alive!”)

My Personal Smoothie Recipe:

1 apple: “Sorry brave little apple,” I usually say as I put it into the blender, “I wish I was going to be able to taste you, but your job of canceling out vegetables is still a very important one.”

3-4 small sticks of celery: Included because, unlike most other vegetables, celery doesn’t really taste like anything.

4-5 cucumber slices: These make the cut mainly because they’re easy for me to find at the grocery store.

4-5 broccoli trees: Included because of the large nutritional punch they provide, along with the – ah, who am I kidding? I only use them because they look like little trees, and I find that to be hilarious.

3-4 glugs of almond milk: Only included because the act of pouring almond milk out of one of those flimsy containers is both nerve-wracking and fun. However, each time you manage to do so without incident, your self-confidence soars, and having high moral is one thing that’s desperately needed on the Whole 30. (“If I can pour almond milk without making a mess, surely I can accomplish anything!”)

1 avocado: Note that no matter how hard you try, whatever avocado you pick will always end up being either overripe or not-quite-ripe enough. This is, however, not your fault, as avocados have roughly a ten-minute window where they’re actually good to eat. (Note: If the avocado breaks your blender, it probably wasn’t ripe enough.) Still, they’re worth putting in, as they give your smoothie a creamy texture that will allow you to almost convince yourself you’re not eating a ground up pile of vegetables and almond milk.

2-3 hacks off a cabbage: I know what you’re thinking: “Cabbage? Who in the world besides Peter Rabbit actually eats cabbage?” Now, while that's a valid point, let me explain myself. I only use cabbage because one day I looked into my refrigerator and saw one just sitting there. Considering that I’d never even considered purchasing one before, this was quiet peculiar, and I half-suspected that it felt lonely and jumped into my grocery bag when I was on my way out of the store. Feeling sorry for it, I decided to give it a shot, and I’ve since grown used to it to the point where it’s become a smoothie staple.

1 pound of bacon: Ha-ha! Just kidding! Although, now that I think about it…

1 handful of spinach: Included because I’m still influenced by all of those Popeye cartoons I saw years ago.

½ lime, squeezed: Since I don’t use love, I needed a different secret ingredient, and lime juice provides the smoothie with a much-needed tang.

But What Were Your Results?

Overall, my Whole 30 experience went pretty well, as I made it the entire 30 days without cheating. (Assuming, of course, that you ignore the whole gum incident.) In general, when I make up my mind to do something, I can be pretty stubborn about it, and committing to the program brought that out in full force. Honestly, I think the best part of the Whole 30 might be the challenge of it all. While not some nutritional magic bullet that’ll cure all your ills, framing it as a 30-day challenge gives you not only something to strive for, but also something to celebrate if you should succeed. 

This is because there were no jokes in the previous paragraph.

But did it work? Of course! I ate healthy food for 30 days! How could that not be beneficial? But did I look like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III when I was done? Of course not! That’s preposterous! The Whole 30 is a nutritional reset, not a weight loss program! Also, Rocky had hair! But, just in case you were wondering, here’s one of those before and after pictures you tend to find all over the internet when researching various health programs and initiatives:

The difference is like night and day!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really should get to figuring out how to approach my reintegration. Although, since we’ve become such good friend, I might just stick with the bacon.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gray Beards and Surprised Koalas

The aging process is a heartless phenomenon made only slightly less terrible by the fact that it happens very slowly, and also not only to you, but to everybody else around you.

However, even though the decaying of one’s body is a gradual process that affects the global population, there are still landmark moments that can slap you in the face, and it’s how you react to these moments that measure the true depths of your character. Do you laugh it off as an inevitability of life, as a milestone of something you have no control over, or do you instead freak out and start throwing things?

Personally, I recently chose option 2.

You see, about a year or two ago I was looking intently in the mirror, wondering why my nose had decided to grow in such a funny way, when all of sudden I saw it: a single solitary white hair nestled comfortably in my beard.

“Hi there!” it seemed to say. “Your life is over!! Also, don’t bother to pluck me, as reinforcements will soon be coming!”

While the memory of my immediate reaction is a bit hazy, I’m pretty sure it involved me verbalizing the following: “YYAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!!!” Then, once I’d thrown a few things across the room, I decided to buy a Corvette and go on a backpacking trip to find myself.

Soon after, however, reality began to set in. First and foremost, I would look stupid in a Corvette. I mean, really stupid. Also, finding myself seemed like a lot of work that I really didn’t want to put in, not to mention the fact that no matter what I did, the white hair would still be there.

So I decided that for better or worse, I’d just have to live with it.

At first my strategy consisted simply of not looking at myself in the mirror. However, after a few spinach-stuck-in-the-teeth incidents, I realized that I couldn’t hide from myself forever. I had to accept what was happening and make peace with it.

Reluctantly, I turned to the mirror and began to picture what I’d look like as more and more of my beard turned white and/or gray. At first it was hard, but soon I began to have visions of others who’d gone through it before me:

Sean Connery
Gandalf the White
Willie Nelson
Jim Leyland
Obi-Wan Kenobi

Then it hit me. For some unknown reason, when a man goes gray he suddenly begins to emit an aura of great wiseness and maturity, even if he’s the type of person who can’t operate a revolving door without injuring himself. It’s one of life’s great mysteries. Why is it that all it takes is some salt and pepper in a man’s hair to instantly make him look like the type of person you’d want as your mentor, your financial adviser, your airplane pilot?

Upon realizing this, I smiled. This was great! My beard was eventually going to make me look wiser! And more mature! And more dignified! And the best part was, I’d never been, nor will I ever be, wise or mature! I mean, just yesterday I literally spent 10 minutes at work giggling at the following picture of a surprised koala:

Honestly, I had to leave the room in order to not disturb those around me! That’s surely not somebody you’d want flying your plane or architecting your retirement plan!

So now I don’t even care when a new white hair pops up in my beard. In fact, I’ve begun to look forward to them, and when I do spot a new one when looking in the mirror, I smile and say, “Getting wiser, I see!”

Gray = Wise is one of life’s ultimate farces, and I’m now looking forward to perpetuating it for many years to come. So, ask me your questions about retirement, mortgages, aviation, or just life in general! I’ll be sure to make up something that sounds wise and gives you comfort! It’s my duty as a graying man!

Unless, of course, I’m too busy giggling at the picture of the surprised koala.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Three's a Crowd

This probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but I’m nothing if not a man of consistency. When I find something that works, I stick with it, as evidenced by my trusty Honda, my ever-growing collection of Dave Barry books, and my timeless love for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

And so, quite naturally, my need for uniformity has played a large role in the development of my wardrobe, specifically my collection of baseball hats:

Yes, those are 3 different versions of the exact same hat, and no, I don’t buy them in bulk. Now, before you ask any more questions, let me explain my reasons for owning them.

Reason One:
These hats are black and drab, which is a critical component to my style. (The Drab Forgettable Look) The last thing I’d ever want to do is stand out in a crowd (shudder), and a drab black hat goes a long way in helping me fade comfortably into any given background. Basically, it’s social camouflage.

Reason Two:
It takes the thinking out of matching. You see, I’m terrible at coordinating colors, mainly because there’s way too many of them, which confuses me to no end. (I mean, is fuchsia really a thing, and if so, is it really necessary?) Take a standard color wheel. If you were to show me one, I’d immediately get dizzy and have to lie down and rest for a while. There’s just too much going on with it, to the point where over the years I’ve been forced to develop my own personal version:

And so – with the help of this simplified color wheel – I’ve decided that black is the way to go in terms of my hat color, since it seems to match just about everything I own, including my ill-fitting J.C. Penney suit that I’ve worn only twice (both to costume parties), my swimming trunks, and, most importantly, my collection of drab black, gray, and blue shirts.

Reason Three:
The Adidas logos on these hats don’t jump out, which is something that’s very important to me, as I don’t want to be a corporate shill. Unless a logo has something to do with the Upper Peninsula, United States national parks, or the George Strait 2005 Somewhere Down in Texas tour, I don’t want it standing out. “Mind your own business” is my motto for logos that adorn my wardrobe.

But why, you might ask, do I have three versions of the exact same hat? Are you really that lazy? Well, to be honest with you, it’s because I made a terrible mistake. I probably should have stuck with just two.

You see, I had a good system going for a while. I owned two hats, one old and one sort of new. The old hat (used for semi-formal, festive, and casual occasions) was dirty, faded, and smelled like campfire. The newer hat (used for black tie, white tie, and formal occasions) was slightly less dirty and faded, and its smell had yet to reach the point of turning heads. Basically, it was the perfect system. I either wore the old hat or the newer hat, and the simple choice helped to keep my stress levels low.

Then, however, in a fit of what I thought was inspiration – but which I later realized was a brief bout of insanity – one day I had the following thought: “Two hats are good, but wouldn’t a third one make things even better?”

At the time it sort of made sense. My old hat was getting quite ragged, to the point where the possibility of it dissolving in a stiff gust of wind seemed very real. So, I figured that by buying a third hat I could begin to phase out the old hat, namely by relegating it solely to campfire and sports duty. Then, what had once been the newer hat (and which would now become the middle hat) could take over some of the duties of the old hat, while the newly purchased hat would immediately be used for high-class gatherings, such as going to Kwik Trip or the ATM. Then, whenever the old hat did give up the ghost, the middle hat would seamlessly slide down to become the new old hat, while the newly-purchased hat would become the new newer hat, officially restoring the two-hat system! Got it?

However, I wasn’t counting on the old hat being as stubborn and ornery as it is. (I think it takes after me.) You see, no matter how many fires I've attended or how many sports I've played, it’s simply refused to give up the ghost. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I’ve now quite certain it’s going to outlive me, and perhaps even modern civilization.

In addition, I’ve also realized that the newly purchased hat is, well, too new. It’s not faded at all, and it still has that annoying new hat smell. In short, it has no character, and when I look at it, I find myself thinking, “Why on earth would I want to wear you? What have you ever done to deserve that?” I then grab the middle hat and wear it instead, because it's been around the proverbial block a time or two, and I trust it.

So now I’m stuck with three hats: One that’s so ratty I’m sometimes mistaken for a hobo when I wear it, one that’s so new I can’t stomach to wear it at all, and one that’s just about right. Now, as you can probably guess, this disruption of the two-hat system has raised my stress levels to unacceptable heights, leaving me no choice but to search high and low for a solution.

The main problem I’m been having with reverting back to a two-hat system is that I simply hate to get rid of one. Throwing out the old hat seems insensitive, since it’s been so loyal to me over the years, and junking the new one because it’s just too new is plain silly. Luckily, I’m a problem solver by nature, and so I’ve finally come up with a solution, one that just so happens to involve you.

Yes, you. Now listen up.

If you ever see me wearing my old hat (you’ll know it because you’ll wonder why I have a dead animal on my head) I want you to steal it from me, run away, and either burn it or blow it up in some sort of dramatic explosion. Warning: Even though this is my idea, I might still attempt to chase you down, and perhaps even beat you with a blunt object, as I'm quite fond of that hat. However, remember that it’s for the greater good! If you succeed, my middle hat will then by default become my old hat, and the two-hat system will finally be restored! Then, after I cry a little over my loss, all that'd be left for me to do is jump up and down on my new hat for an hour or so, just to give it a little character.

Plus, you’d even get a reward out of the deal, as I promise that I'll take you out to lunch.

We’ll have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

My Kind Of Place

I was deep in the country, having traveled west from the suburbs in the hopes of finding a morning meal not cooked by me, and as I stepped into the small-town restaurant shortly after its opening time of 6:00 a.m., I realized that I’d stumbled upon one of those rare places where I immediately felt like I belonged.

The main reason for this was the half-dozen patrons already present at that early hour, all of whom were grumpy-looking old men. You see, I plan to someday become a grumpy-looking old man myself, and here I was, in what appeared to be their natural Saturday morning habitat! What an opportunity to observe and learn!

The first thing I noted was that even though I was in a small town where everybody had to know each other, none of the grumpy-looking old men were sitting together. In fact, they’d carefully positioned themselves in such a way that ensured the maximum amount of distance between each other. Clearly, this was a place where one’s personal space was valued, which in itself was enough to vault it into my Top 10 Restaurant list.

Being relatively young, I knew that I stuck out like a sort thumb, and so I found the best possible place to sit that wouldn’t infringe on anybody’s personal space and made a beeline for it. I nodded to one of the customers as I passed by, and he politely returned the gesture, but I could tell he was suspicious. I obviously wasn’t from around here. Also, I wasn’t a grumpy-looking old man. Yet.

The waitress came over and I ordered coffee, because that’s what Jack Reacher would do, and then I began to soak up one of the most unique experiences of my life.

It was quiet, so very, very quiet. Obviously, a lot of the silence was a direct result of the personal space rule, but even when the waitress topped off the cup of one of the grumpy-looking old men, their conversation was subdued, to-the-point, and generally seemed to focus on the topics of celery, tomatoes, and mud. Nobody was showing off here. This was a serious place for serious people, and although I’d only been inside for a few minutes, I could sense that foolishness of any kind would immediately be met with multiple passive-aggressive glares. What a place! It was no wonder I was falling in love with it! Heck, I excel at passive-aggressive glares!

The overwhelming silence, however, was not in the least bit awkward, and instead could only be described as blissful. How refreshing to sit in a public place without anybody striving in some way for attention! My entire body relaxed, and I sipped at my coffee and eventually ordered a meal. I’d take this over a day at the beach anytime! (Unless maybe nobody was at the beach and they served coffee there.)

The closest thing to excitement that broke out during my visit was a brief conversation between two of the grumpy-looking old men. They were sitting about 5 or 6 booths from each other, and their discussion was held with slightly raised voices. The topic at hand had something to do with celery, tomatoes, or mud, but it didn’t last long. Points were succinctly made, and silence soon returned to the restaurant.

It wasn’t, however, a complete silence. There was background music to contend with, in the form of a radio tuned into a pop station. It seemed to me to be an odd choice, and as Taylor Swift was singing “Blank Space,” I kept waiting for one of the grumpy-looking old men to pull out a pistol and shoot the speaker off the wall.

But then again, who am I to say? I’m not yet a grumpy-looking old man, and so why should I assume I know anything about their musical tastes? While I couldn’t help but imagine that most of them would rather listen to Earnest Tubb than Taylor Swift (as would I), perhaps I was completely misjudging them.

I wanted to ask the closest grumpy-looking old man about this, but I held myself back. I’d gotten away with a polite nod to him earlier, but I didn’t think an actual conversation would fly. No matter how comfortable I felt, I was still an outsider, and I was deeply afraid of being on the receiving end of a terrifying passive-aggressive glare.

My meal soon arrived, and since I was quite hungry it didn’t take me long to work my way through it. I then sighed contentedly, and as I pushed away my plate and began to think about paying the bill, I realized that in the time I’d been in the restaurant, nobody who’d arrived before me had left. They obviously weren’t distracting themselves with frivolous conversation, and, assuming they weren’t all slow eaters, I came to the conclusion that grumpy-looking old men spend the majority of their Saturday mornings sitting in quiet restaurants, either because they have nothing better to do or because their wives have a honey-do list waiting for them at home. Either way, it sounded like a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning, and I felt my motivation to someday become a grumpy-looking old man growing by leaps and bounds.

Not long after, I left my tip and stood up. No matter how at-home I felt in my quiet little booth, I couldn’t sit there any longer. I hadn’t yet earned the right to linger over a completed meal for hours on end like the grumpy-looking old men were doing, and the best thing I could do was leave before I upset the natural balance of things even more than I already had.

As I paid the waitress at the front desk, we chatted briefly about the weather, mainly because I didn’t know much about celery or tomatoes or mud, and soon after I found myself walking towards my car, wondering what all the grumpy-looking old men were doing now that I was gone. I imagined them all still sitting there, quietly listening to Taylor Swift, sipping coffee, and practicing their passive-aggressive glares, but perhaps my assessment was wrong. Maybe as soon as I drove away the entire place would erupt into song and dance, with each grumpy-looking old man playing an instrument of their choice. I mean, how was I to know? No matter how much I want to be one, I’m still not a grumpy-looking old man, and there’s bound to be plenty I have to learn on the subject. However, when I do finally reach that point in my life, I’m pretty sure I’m going to spend a lot of my time in restaurants such as the one I discovered on that rainy Saturday morning. It was definitely my kind of place.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Missing: One Voice

It’s been said that 93% of all communication is non-verbal. However, after recently conducting an impromptu scientific experiment on the matter, I can now confirm that whoever came up with that statistic is either a liar-liar-pants-on-fire or a person who never lost their voice for a semi-extended period of time.

It all started on a Saturday, when my immune system, which obviously had been up late partying the night before and wanted to sleep in, didn’t hear its alarm go off and never reported for duty. Unable to protect myself, a virus of some sort quickly descended upon me, leaving me not only exhausted, but also with a sore throat and a fading voice. Things quickly went downhill, and by the early evening I’d been rendered nearly mute, to the point where anything I did manage to say sounded like it was coming out of an 85-year old chain-smoker who was gargling marbles.

Cursing my lazy immune system, which had since woken up and sheepishly apologized for its woeful lack of vigilance, I spent most of Sunday resting and recuperating, which was helpful in that by evening I felt good enough to resume day-to-day activities, but which unfortunately did nothing to restore my golden baritone.

I need next to mention that I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the time, and also that Monday was my day to drive back to the Twin Cities. Now, while this may seem like the perfect opportunity for vocal rest, you must also consider the “Singing Along to the Radio” factor. I mean, what’s the point of driving for 7 hours straight if you can’t bellow out mournful country songs with an intensity that would frighten most normal people? Needless to say, the drive was very frustrating. I tried to listen to music, but being unable to harmonize with the likes of George Strait and Merle Haggard soon turned me to talk radio, which quickly made me hate the world and everybody in it. My only solace was junk food, which propelled me through Wisconsin while expanding my waistline by a good several inches. Feeling the effects of extreme-chocolate-overload, I then somehow made my way through rural Minnesota and back home to the Twin Cities.

On Tuesday morning I started what I’ve since coined the Woohoo! test. Upon waking up, in order to assess the high end of my vocal register, I tried to let loose with a hearty “woohoo!” It was, however, a complete failure, and I produced almost no sound. Disheartened, I headed to work, where I labored with a raspy, broken voice that made me feel like I was going through adolescence again. Soon I’d picked up the nickname “Whispers,” and finally, by mid-afternoon, my voice had given out completely, leaving me no choice but to communicate via hand-gestures, such as the classic “thumbs-up,” along with the always entertaining “finger pistols.”

My updated name tag. Don’t ask about the Dennis Eckersley card.

On Wednesday morning the Woohoo! test again failed miserably. However, the deeper end of my voice had begun to come back, which happily allowed me to sing the “Giddy Up, Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow” part of “Elvira” in the shower. Alas, in a cruel turn of fate, my nose decided that then was the perfect time to start running profusely, and a nagging cough had also begun to manifest itself. Too stubborn to admit defeat, I spent the day at work being Annoying Sniffly Guy Who Should Have Stayed Home But Didn’t Because He Doesn’t Consider Anybody But Himself. (Yeah I know, I hate that guy too.)

Luckily, the rest of the week went a lot better, and the Woohoo! test progressed each morning until my voice had completely returned. The “Whispers” name tag was taken down the next week, and things have since returned pretty much to normal.

Overall, going for roughly four days without the ability to easily communicate via vocalization was much more difficult than I ever would have expected. While I consider myself to be a fairly quiet person, there were still many times when I wanted to contribute to conversations but didn’t, mainly because my ridiculously raspy voice was almost unintelligible, not to mention a bit embarrassing. At one point I was trying to book a hotel over the phone for an upcoming vacation, and being barely able to speak made it an exercise in silliness:

Hotel Guy: “Okay, can you give me your name?”
Me: “K**t I****s*n.”
Hotel Guy: “Did you say, Dirt Eyes In One?”
Me: “No! “Ku*t I*****on!”
Hotel Guy: “Cute as a Lion?”
Me: “No!”
Hotel Guy: “I’m just going to put you down as Guy Jones.”
Me: “Ok.”

The moral of the story? Don’t lose your voice. However, if you do, please make sure to seek me out. I really want to pass on the Whispers nickname.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Epiphanies and Water Heaters

Recently, I had an epiphany. However, before you get too excited, you should know that it wasn’t a life-changing epiphany. Heck, it wasn’t even a mid-level epiphany. In fact, now that I think about it, it may not have even been an epiphany at all, and instead more of a mundane realization on steroids. Regardless, I’ve used the word “epiphany” a number of times now, so I’m just going to have to stick with it.

Let’s start at the beginning, which, like so many other compelling tales, involves water heaters.

You see, the water heater that came with my house was somewhere along the lines of eight-thousand years old, give or take a century, which basically made it the Mr. Burns of water heaters.


If it had ever sprung a leak and flooded the house, or exploded into a gigantic fireball reminiscent of a scene from a summer blockbuster movie, the only rational response I could have had was, “I’m surprised this didn’t happen in 1997.” And so, with this in mind, I decided to get a new one, and, calling upon the can-do spirit of the pioneers of yesteryear – who built an entire nation with their own two hands – I rolled up my sleeves, put on my big-boy pants, and heartily used my phone to hire out the work.

The hardest part was scheduling a time for the install with the salesman I spoke with. Apparently, the people who install water heaters like to do so during the typical workday (who’d have thought?), and so I had a choice between 9:00 to noon and noon to 4:00 on the selected day. Without hesitation, I chose noon to 4:00, mainly because I’m philosophically opposed to taking a half-day of vacation during the morning hours. (If I’m going to be tired and useless, I may as well be tired and useless at work, right?) The salesman agreed to this, and with that accomplished, I went about my business of staring vacantly out of the window.

Then, about a week later, which was also the day before the water heater was supposed to be delivered, I received a phone call from the actual people who’d be doing the install, wondering if 9:00 to noon would be a good time for them to come.

After I finished hemorrhaging internally, I calmly explained that 9:00 to noon would not, in fact, work out, and that I’d already scheduled it from 12:00 to 4:00. The representative told me she’d see if she could make it work, and then promised to call back.

As you’d probably expect, as I hung up the phone I was both angry and annoyed. The salesman promised me 9:00 to noon, and I’d already taken that time off work! How inefficient a program were they running to have such a disconnect between the people making the promises and the people doing the actual work?

Then came the epiphany: As a computer programmer, I’ve been intimately involved in this situation many times before, and it always goes something like this:

Management: Hey, there’s a new project we need you to get on.

Me: What is it?

Management (after telling me what it is): How long will it take?

Me: About 3 weeks.

Management: Is there any chance you could do it in 1?

Me: No.

Management: Are you sure?

Me: Yes. It’s physically impossible to do in a single week. In fact, 3 weeks is probably pushing it.

Management: Oh… well, the sales guys promised the customer it'd be done in a week.

Me: Can we get somebody to help me with it?

Management: No, everybody else is scrambling to finish previous projects with unrealistic timelines set by the sales guys.

Me (with a sigh):  I suppose I could sleep at the office…

Management: If you’re going to be eating from the vending machines, I’m going to need you to sign the proper waiver forms.

Suddenly, I was no longer angry at the person who’d just called me. She was my mirror image, somebody working on the actual implementation side of the equation, and she was probably just trying to make things fit logistically on her end. In my mind, the sales guy had probably scheduled an unrealistic amount of installs from noon to 4:00 on that day, and she was just trying to make it all work. (“Okay, according to this we have to be in two… three… four places at once this afternoon. Hey, that’s better than usual! We barely even have to break the laws of physics!”)

And so, even though I’d probably already known it at a subconscious level for some time, I came to the realization that computer programmers aren’t the only ones routinely thrown under the proverbial bus by the sales people, and I vowed then and there to try and keep this in mind when working with anybody on the implementation side of things in matters such as these.

And I highly recommend that you do, too.

(Also, if you’re wondering, they were eventually able to fit me in from noon to 4:00, although I’m pretty sure time travel was involved.)