Friday, July 29, 2011

Days Gone By

This weekend I will be returning to my hometown to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my high school graduation. It’s with a nostalgic approach that I tell the following story of days gone by. I’ve written and re-written an introduction to this story numerous times today, but I keep straying too far from the point, so I’m just going to skip the intro and just delve right in.

During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school… wait… I need to back up a little farther…

When I was in high school, I noticed a lot of girls. Yeah, that’s natural, because, after all, I was a teenage boy. So of course I was going to notice a lot of girls. But I’m thinking of one girl in particular here. She was a year older than me... she had wonderful, waist-length, jet-black hair... a wonderful smile, even with braces... In short, she was beautiful. Though she had caught my eye on many occasions, I figured that we were worlds apart, and that I’d never have a chance with her. Somehow though, the planets aligned, and we met. I don’t recall when, where or how, but a cast party keeps coming to mind.

Knowing that was probably my one and only chance, I seized the opportunity and struck up a conversation with her. Again, I can’t remember what we discussed, but things must have gone well, because next thing I knew, we were dating. I was completely smitten with this young woman, and looking back it seems that I spent virtually every waking moment consumed with her. It seems that we were constantly together. When we weren’t together, I was looking forward to our next meeting. I was obsessed with her – in that teenage crush sort of way, not that creepy stalker way.

During the next couple of months, our mutual affection became more physical, though we never “went all the way.” Believe me though, I tried! I remember telling her that I didn’t kiss and tell. That was technically true, because I didn’t tell my friends per se, but I did have two friends in whom I confided enough vague detail that they were able to fill in the blanks.

Late that summer, I went on a family vacation. I didn’t want to go, because I couldn’t bear being away from her. But despite my longing for this girl, I met someone while I was on that vacation. I never got physical with the girl I met on my vacation, but the emotional connection was real enough for me to question the relationship I had with the girl back home. I came to believe that I had a crush on the girl back home, knew that I couldn’t carry it on any longer, and decided to end it after the vacation.

Wanting to say things as eloquently as possible, I wrote her a Dear Jane letter. Looking back, that was a shitty thing to do. But in my own defense, I had planned to at least deliver it in person and stand there while she read it. I stopped by her house many times during that day, but each time I knocked, there was no answer. Eventually, I lost my courage, and just left the note.

I was at a birthday party some time later… maybe later that week… and a couple of guys came up to me. One was one of the two friends I mentioned earlier… the other was a dude I had never met. They asked if they could chat with me in private. They took me aside and they both hit me… one in the jaw, the other in the gut. They said it was a message from the girl I’d left. They also told me that she wanted to talk to me, immediately… and further informed me that if I didn’t leave, right then and there, that they would find me and kick my ass.

I left the party and met with the girl. It was her and me, in public, surrounded by her friends, as she screamed and cried, and called me every name in the book. At the time, part of me felt bad for her. For the most part, I just wanted it to be over.

I don’t remember seeing her after that. In time, it all became a memory… the romance… the break-up… all of it, faded into the hazy, distant past. But every now and then, that summer comes back with a vengeance. And looking through the eyes of one who is much older, and a little bit wiser, the thing that re-surfaces most is a twinge of regret. Not over the relationship… not over having dated her… and not even at the public berating. No, what I regret is that I didn’t have the balls to look her in the eye, and actually say that I was breaking up with her. She was a good person who treated me very well. She deserved at least the courtesy of a face-to-face break-up.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Still Lame, After all these Years

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... my high school graduating class is lame.

Don't get me wrong, we suck less than we did five years ago, which sucks less than we did twenty years ago, and that's not as bad as when we actually graduated. But for the most part, we suck.

Why do you ask? Well, it's generally accepted that 20 and 25 are big reunions. I didn't find out anything about the 20th until about a month before the event. I had planned to go, but life got in the way (which proves that I'm not immune to the lameness of my graduating class).

Fast-forward three or so years. I started talking to and hanging out with some of my high school classmates (aside from the one or two that remained my friends throughout). The ten to twenty of us who talk and hang out all seem to realize that we're not who we were, while reliving fun, sad or embarrassing times from our past.

I had kind of hoped that things would change for this year's 25th class reunion. No such luck. People started planning events around nine months ago. The events included...

-A Friday night get-together at a local bar. It's a rare establishment that was cool then and is still cool.

-A walk-through of the school Saturday morning.

-Hitting the skating rink. Designed to be a family-friendly event, but it was canceled because too few people committed to and paid for the event. (This is another areas where I'm not immune to the lameness. But in my defense, this is because I didn't read the itinerary carefully enough.)

-A big party Saturday night. $40 per person would buy the venue, food, two kegs, and a DJ for 4 hours. There was also a planned cash bar. Canceled because too few people committed and paid. (I did pay for this event.)

I still hold out a bit of hope though. Saturday afternoon, we're having an informal gathering at the local swimming hole. (I'm kind of proud of myself on this, because it's my suggestion.)

Saturday night is a pub crawl. I think I'll probably be done drinking by the time this really gets going, and I'm a little disappointed that there aren't more kid-friendly events, but the kids are old enough to fend for themselves for a while... besides my parents LOVE to spoil their grand kids.

Either way... I'll fill you in after the event and let you know how things went.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sweet Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. Thanks to all of my friends and family who sent me birthday wishes.

I wasn't celebrating a milestone birthday or anything like that, so for the most part it was just another day. It was nice to have my birthday on a Saturday though. But with that said, it was a good day...

My younger daughter bought me a copy of King Rat, by James Clavell. I'm VERY impressed at the thoughtfulness of this gift, and here's why. Months ago, she and I went to Barnes and Noble to buy a gift for either my wife or my older daughter. I think it was the wife. While we were there, I saw King Rat and mentioned that it was a good book. The kid recommended that I pick it up, in addition to the gifts we bought, and one or two others. I left King Rat behind because I had already exceeded my budget. Now... take a look at this story... I don't remember how long ago this was, who I was shopping for, or the exact books I purchased. But my daughter not only remembered the title of a book I didn't purchase, she went out and bought it for me months later! That's one of the most thoughtful gifts she's ever bought me.

I also went to the Jones County Fair with my neighbors and younger daughter, where we saw My Darkest Days, Hinder and Seether. My neighbors asked me to go... I figured "What the hell, it's a free concert." I was more than pleased with their performances. I think that My Darkest Days has a lot of talent, and if they stay disciplined, they've got a shot at making it big. Hinder is comes across as an old-school, good time partying rock band, and Seether blew me away. I liked Seether before, but last night made me realize how many songs they have that I love... and their performance was dark yet polished. They turned me into an actual fan.

It was a good day, spent with family and friends. What more could a guy want?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Evaluating the Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner

I'll admit it. I hate cleaning. Well, that's not exactly true. I can tolerate cleaning up after myself. But I really, really dislike cleaning up after other people. Geez, here I am, three or four sentences into what's supposed to be a review of a product, and I'm already going off some irrelevant tangent. Too bad, it's my blog, so you'll have to tolerate it for a bit. Anyway...

One thing I'm not wild about cleaning is my shower. Unfortunately, my shower is a high-moisture, low-light area, so mold and mildew tend to accumulate relatively quickly. I've tried all kinds of tricks to reduce the frequency of cleaning, but nothing's really worked.

-I don't like the idea of running a squeegee over the walls immediately after a shower. Why would I clean a shower before I finish cleaning myself?

-I tend to forget to spray the stuff after I shower.

-And once I've left the bathroom, cleaning is out of the question.

As a result, I've come to the realization that every few weeks, I'm going to need to scrub down my shower stall. But being a procrastinator, this turns into a quarterly job, which of course makes the clean-up all the nastier and more time-consuming.

Enter the Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner. The commercial shows a woman happily pushing a button, and the animated bubbles scrubbing the shower surround, leaving a tub so clean that it's almost like staring at the sun. I'm kind of a skeptic, so Dow's marketing department set themselves up for failure on this one... big time.

When I bought and installed the shower cleaner, my shower was already dirty and slimy. The fact is, I was hoping that I'd install the shower cleaner, push the button once, and the shower would be all bright and shiny clean when I walked in the next morning. I didn't EXPECT this result, but I did HOPE for it. Alas, my hopes weren't fulfilled.

But the packaging DID lead me to believe that running one full bottle of the cleaner, over its natural course, WOULD slowly but effectively clean the shower. Alas, that also failed to happen.

In fact, my first impression of this product was so dismal that I was having a hard time deciding whether to try taking it back, or to just smashing the piece of crap with a sledgehammer. But please, don't take this as my final review... stick with me. This story has a happy ending.

But like any good story, there must be trials and tribulations for the hero to overcome. such is the case here. In my specific instance, there were two things about the shower cleaner that I just hated...

-The first thing I hated was the abysmal battery life. And when I say "abysmal," I am not exaggerating... The day I bought the cleaner, I put four newly-charged AA batteries in. Within three days, the batteries were too weak to power the cleaner.

-The second thing I hated was how quickly I chewed through the bottle of cleaner. I should clarify on this one... the cleaner has two buttons... one for every day cleaning, and one for cleaning up bigger messes. I used the buttons a lot... each time I changed out the batteries... after every shower... and I ALWAYS used the heavy cleaning button. I plowed through the first bottle of cleaner in less than a week, and my shower was still grimy.

After this week, I had gone through two sets of rechargeable batteries, one bottle of cleaning solution, and my shower was still icky. Now you can see why I was frustrated and ready to toss this piece of crap into the garbage. But I am, if nothing else, a tinkerer at heart. I like knowing how and when things work, and how and when things fail to work. So I didn't give up.

With this tinkering mentality, I had two suspicions. One was that alkaline non-disposable batteries might work where rechargeable batteries failed. So I ditched the rechargeable batteries and installed a set of alkalines. I am happy to say that the alkaline batteries are working like a charm after several weeks of daily use.

The second thing I did was clean the shower and start from scratch. While the automatic shower cleaner failed to prevent me from having to scrub the shower clean, I will report that when I finally broke down and scrubbed my grout and tiles, it was a breeze. Using just a water-dampened scrubbing brush, I had my shower clean in less than five minutes. So it didn't exactly "clean" my shower, but it did make life simple when I finally did so. Furthermore, since the shower has been clean, I've been using the daily clean setting, which has dramatically slowed the rate at which my cleaning solution is depleted, AND my shower is staying pretty clean. Perfect? No. But it is a lot better.

So, at the end of the day, I will give the Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner a qualified thumbs up. I say "qualified" because there are a couple of things that consumers need to bear in mind when purchasing this product...

-You need to use non-rechargeable, alkaline batteries.

-You need to start out with a clean shower.

-This device will not make it so that you never again need to scrub your shower. What it WILL do, however, is significantly reduce the frequency of your cleanings, and noticeably decrease the amount of labor required to clean the shower when it's time to do so.

If spending a little bit more money is worth saving a little time and labor, but this product.

**Updated July 5, 2012  After having the product in my home for about a year, I can no longer endorse this product.  I stopped using it a few months after this initial review because I ran out of the solution and didn't get around to cleaning for a while.  What did I notice?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  With this in mind, I can no longer endorse this product.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bowl Full of Awesomeness

Sometimes I need to toot my own horn. Today's one of those days. During the last week I...

-Had two clients ask me if I would leave my current employer and work for them directly.

-Got into a pull-ups contest with three other guys, and I successfully did as many pull-ups as all three of them combined. One guy was ten years younger than me, and one was five years younger. One guy was about ten years older than me, and couldn't do one pull-up, so it almost doesn't count... but then again it does, because he still thought that he was manly enough to crank one out.

-Got my kid to try buffalo meat, and she LIKED it. In the same meal, I took my first stab at cooking elk fillets, and they were freakin' TASTY!

Sometimes life is just really good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Coming Home

It's not hard to reach back to the day the war finally came Home
-"Sullivan," by Caroline's Spine

Over the last three years or so, I've had the pleasure of establishing a working relationship, nay a friendship, with a delightful woman named Erica. Erica has always been one of the shiny, happy people, with a bright smile and a positive outlook. And she frequently spoke about her husband, a man she obviously adored... a soldier in the National Guard.

Roughly six months ago, Erica told me that her hubby was being deployed to Afghanistan. As a veteran, all of my experience with family separation was as the person being sent overseas, and even then, it was my parents, brothers and friends I was leaving behind, not a spouse. So it was kind of interesting to hear about the deployment from Erica's point of view, and I made a point to ask about her husband each time I saw Erica. I distinctly remember her calling me when her computer died, because that meant that she lost her ability to video conference with him while he was in Afghanistan.

On Monday, I found out that he was killed on this tour of duty. I cannot speak with any authority, but it sounds like he was killed by an Afghan native at a routine checkpoint. I've also heard that this was his last patrol before coming home, and if I remember correctly, he planned to retire after this deployment. Erica and her husband were planning to have kids after he retired, so yes, they literally put their lives on hold for the military.

While I can empathize with Erica, I will not be so bold as to say that I understand what she must be going through. My heart really aches for her. Erica is a genuinely cool person, and doesn't deserve this agony.

This event, as you might understand, has prompted me to take a step back and once again ask myself if it's all worth it. For almost a decade, my country has embroiled itself in two separate conflicts, under the banner of protecting and preserving our freedom, with a secondary goal of bringing freedom to the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. The question that keeps coming back to my mind is "Is this all worth it?"

In a word, I guess that my answer is 'no,' and now that I think about it, that's been my answer for a while. Now, since this is my freaking blog, I'm going to explain myself. And I suspect that once you read my rationale, you will find it difficult to refute my conclusions... but I'm MORE than willing to entertain any dissenting opinion.

Before I continue, I want to remind you that I'm not a liberal pantywaist who thinks that war is never the answer, and that all human life is sacrosanct. In fact, I firmly believe that if someone invades my home, or threatens my family with bodily harm, I should be able to reserve the right to preemptively kill that motherfucker so that my loved ones remain safe. My reasons for believing that we should bring our troops home are far more pragmatic.

I believe that the majority of the people in both countries we're occupying do not want democracy. What they want is security. The citizens of these countries knew what was necessary to get by under the old system. Shut your mouth, keep your head down, and play by the rules. Most of them were happy to oblige, as long as they were left alone. The thing is, we, the people of America, thought that we knew better. For better or worse, we are 100% convinced that everyone seeks our brand of freedom. What we fail to acknowledge is that not everyone thinks like we do. And the only way to change a society's fundamental thought process is by starting with the youth. This means that in order to successfully change the mindset of the citizens of these countries, we need to remain in these countries for a full generation, AND to win the hearts and minds of an overwhelming majority of the youth. I am not convinced that we can do this. I don't think that we can do it tactically, and I don't think that we can do it financially.

Speaking of tactics, there's another area of contention that I have with our occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Tactically speaking, history has proven that a two-front war is virtually unwinnable. (I've said this many times in previous posts.) Yet here we are, trying to win wars in two countries. Furthermore, Afghanistan in particular has proven itself virtually impossible to conquer as a country. I thought that we went there to kill bin Laden... he's dead, so why are we still there? Oh yeah, to install a democratic (translation: Pro-American) government.

And what the hell are we doing with our rules of engagement? Apparently our politicians have forgotten the lessons of Korea and Vietnam. Once again, so that our stupid leaders can understand... we can let our military leaders do their job, their way, and win a war, or we can hamstring them and eventually lose. There is no middle ground.

Then there's the financial piece. Why are we spending money that we don't have to "protect" a people who don't like us? Can't our politicians see that we're already broke and hurting? Can't they see that our money would be better spent at home?

Damn. My original intent was to express sympathy for a friend during her time of loss -- an expression that I'm pretty sure she'll never see, because I haven't told her about my blog. But here I am, getting on my soapbox. Let me get back to my original point...

Erica, my heart aches for you during what I expect will be one of the most painful periods in your life. I am sorry for your loss. I know there's nothing that I can say that will ease your agony for a single second, so I won't even try. But please know that you have my condolences.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lazy Children + Stupid Dogs = Hilarity

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. My children are lazy little pigs, and my dogs are stupid. Generally, this frustrates the hell out of me, but every now and then, the results are really funny. Take what happened this morning as an example...

If you look at the picture, you will will see a hair straightener (circled in white) hanging next to the dog, and if you look closely, you will see an electrical cord below the white arrows.

The dog went into the kids' bathroom and got the cord wrapped around her neck. The hair straightener was not powered on, but it was still plugged in to the wall. As a result, the dog thought that she was on a very short leash, and just sat in the hall until I got to her and "let her off her leash."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tackling Issues

Roughly six weeks ago, I wrote a post about my older daughter's boyfriend. It was a post that I'd been avoiding, that covered a topic I'd been avoiding. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the boyfriend subject has once again reared its ugly head.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that the boyfriend has been charged with four crimes... first degree theft, burglary, conspiracy and using a minor to commit these acts. My original intent was to keep this information to myself. I've already told Bakin my position on her boyfriend, and I know that the only thing that would result from harping is a damaged relationship with my daughter.

My plans changed though, and I ended up talking to her about this again. Lately, she's been nagging me to let her boyfriend stay overnight, an idea I dislike for more reasons than I can count. She kept asking, and I kept saying no. One night though, she asked me how long until I'd let him sleep over. I didn't answer. Another night, she asked why I wouldn't let him sleep over. I didn't answer immediately. But when she asked why, I realized that I had to talk to her again about her boyfriend. That day was yesterday.

She wasn't feeling good, so it was a mercifully short conversation, but here's essentially what I said... You have asked me why Derek can't stay the night. It's because I don't trust him. He's been charged with first degree theft and burglary, and I don't trust him. I don't want him in my house. I get that you don't like this answer. But what you don't seem to get is that I am making a major concession to by letting him in my house at all. You need to be done asking me to let him stay the night.

She didn't yell back. She did inform me that she knew about the charges against him. (At least he's not hiding it from her.) She basically shut down for a while, and then left... ostensibly to hang out with him.

Friday, July 1, 2011

USS Dubuque Decommissioned

I read an article today that said the USS Dubuque has been decommissioned. I spent almost a year on this boat. Out of EVERY place I have EVER been stationed as a US Marine, only two are still actually military installations... the USS Okinawa, and MCRD San Diego. And I expect that the Okinawa's days are numbered.

Correction. I just did a fact check to verify that the Okinawa is still in service. Nope. She was decommissioned in 1992... right after I left the Corps.