Monday, October 01, 2018

Family


For whatever reason September seems to draw me back to my birthplace. I just returned from a weekend in Boise. It was almost six years to the day that I was there at my mother's death bed. This time I was there meeting a sister I never knew I had until a few weeks ago.

I debated writing about this. It is a family matter. But it has also been a secret too long.

A few weeks ago my brother e-mailed me a link to a story posted on a genealogy site. It was a woman's story of meeting her birth mother for the first time. That birth mother was my mother.

It was, of course, a shock to me. My mother had had a baby girl back in 1945. The father was a Army Air Corp soldier stationed in Boise. When my mother told him she was pregnant, she never heard from him again. He flew back to his home town in Pennsylvania a month before my sister was born and married his high school sweetheart.

My mother was from a family of 13. She was 20 when the baby was born. She was working as a telephone operator. She had the baby at a hospital in Boise that housed "unwed" mothers. She relinquished the baby at birth. My sister was adopted by an older couple who lived in a rural area of Idaho. She was raised as an only child.

My sister eventually faced the desire to know about her birth parents and found out my mother lived in Boise. She wrote my mother a letter, but at first my mother refused to meet her. Then my sister went to Boise with a friend and the friend convinced my mother to meet the daughter she'd given up years before. My mother was 80 at the time. My sister visited her several times after that and they wrote to each other.

My mother never breathed a word of this to me or my brothers. She carried the secret to her grave.


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Sh-It


I read Stephen King's book, It, many years ago. And I remember watching the mini-series based on the book back in 1990 with Tim Curry (of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) playing the demonic clown Pennywise.  At the time he seemed pretty scary.

A few weeks ago I watched the 2017 remake of It. It was creepy as hell. And It was nothing I wanted my kids to watch. But this weekend my son wanted to watch the 1990 version of It so he could tell his friends at school (who all seemed to have watched the movie) that he had watched It, too.

So I went to Amazon Prime and rented It, the mini-series. It was three-hours long. And those were three hours I'll never get back again. It was shit.

I didn't remember the mini-series being so bad at the time. Maybe because I saw it in the 1990s and wasn't seeing it through 28 years of life. The mini-series had all of the television stars of the 1990s: John Ritter from Three's Company, Richard Thomas from the Waltons, Harry Anderson from Night Court, Tim Reid from WKRP in Cinncinati, and Annette O'Toole, who seemed to be in lots of movies, but never quite became a star.

It was a poor choice for all of them.  Thomas, sporting a ridiculous pony tail,  played a horror writer who was married to an actress (played by Olivia Hussey who had played Juliet in a movie version of Romeo and Juliet in 1968 when she was 15). One of the horror novels written by Thomas' character was The Glowing (obviously alluding to Stephen King's The Shining).

Neither Ritter nor Anderson should have ever been cast in their roles.The dialogue was terrible at best which led to terrible acting. The special effects were laughable. The story line was nearly impossible to follow (and I read the book).

Ironically, with all it's flaws, my 10-year old son liked It.

But then again he didn't have to live through the 1990s. I'm so glad I cut off my pony tail.


Tuesday, September 04, 2018

You can't judge a book


When I was a kid, I was an avid reader. My parents introduced me to the local library early and they took me there often. I would bring home stacks of books and read every one of them. I loved reading.

My first job while I was in high school was as a page in the library. While other kids my age were working in fast food joints, I was shelving books. I worked at the library for five years and eventually became a circulation clerk, checking out books.

When I moved to Seattle to finish college, I got a work study job at the college library. I worked in periodicals.

So you could say, I have a long history with books. But I can't tell you the last time I read one (at least by myself...I read to my daughter almost every night).

I was one of the first people to buy a Kindle (though I bought it for my wife for Christmas). She didn't like the idea of reading an electronic book, so I adopted it and read that way for awhile. But after awhile I lost interest in reading.

Maybe it was having children and not having much spare time. I only have a 30 minute commute each way and spend that either sleeping or playing games on my phone or iPad.

Most of what I used to read was fiction. It was what prompted me to want to be a writer. I won't rehash my failed dream of publishing a novel. Suffice it to say that the digital world snuffed that dream long ago.

Maybe I stopped reading because nothing is new to me anymore. When I was young, the plots spoke of promise, or mystery or hope. Now I just shake my head and say to myself, "not again," or "been there, done that."


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Going to my happy place


I just returned from a family vacation at the Disneyland and California Adventure resorts. It was the third trip for to the parks for my family and about the 13th for me (including one trip to Walt Disney World when I was in college).

I have mixed feelings about Disney. When I was a kid, one of my favorite programs was Disney's Wonderful World of Color. It came on every Sunday night and was hosted by Walt Disney himself. Occasionally the theme of the program would be Disneyland and they would showcase some of the latest rides or show celebrities like the young Michael Jackson exploring the attractions.

I remember one of our neighbors had been there and lent my father a copy of a map of magic kingdom. I'd sit in my room with the map on my bed fantasizing about actually being able to go there on vacation. Since our annual family vacation was two weeks camping in the mountains of Idaho, I never really thought Disneyland was an option. Even back then, Disneyland was too expensive for many lower middle class families like mine.

When I was 15 and a sophomore, my high school marching band raised money to travel to southern California to march at the half time of an LA Rams and San Francisco 49ers football game. We flew into San Diego (my first time on an airplane) and went to the San Diego Zoo and then Sea World. From there we boarded tour buses and drove to LA. Before performing at the football game we were also booked to march down Main Street in Disneyland. We made it to Disneyland, but we never got to perform. It rained too hard for us to risk ruining our band uniforms before the football game.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Forgetting to remember



I used to pride myself on having a great memory.  I could vividly recall experiences, people, places, and things people said. I've never been so good with names, but faces I would pretty much always remember. And having been semi-invisible most of my life, I have often remembered people who I've met or seen even when they don't have any memory of me.

I still remember things. But unless I make a conscious effort to dig up the memories I've discovered that more and more they have soften and become a bit fuzzy around the edges like and old school room film about "A Day at the Beach."

Of course part of it is due to aging. That's stating the obvious. But I think part of it is deliberate. Or subconsciously deliberate. Several months ago, I downloaded a meditation APP that guides you through a ten-minute meditation that in theory you are supposed to do every day. It has lots of different meditations to help you in lots of different areas. But I just do the same six or seven free ones over and over because I'm too cheap to pay an annual fee to unlock the rest.

The underlying message in the meditations is that you are working to stop the mind from thinking for ten minutes by just concentrating on your breathing (and the meditation narrator's voices and the sounds of frogs, flowing streams, birds and crickets in the background of the meditation). It makes you aware of how often in a given day your thought process pulls up a memory and puts it on replay in your head, repeating a thought or event over and over again.

The problem is that many of those types of thoughts or memories are about things you regret and can't do a thing about to change. Plus each time you replay the thought or memory in your head, you are making it real again even though it really no longer physically exists.

I think of this as dwelling on a mistake instead of learning from it. It's like watching the same movie over and over again and hoping the ending will change.

It doesn't.

So I think of the meditation as a way of training my brain to remember to forget. Or forgetting to remember. Because it is such a wasted effort to focus on a past you can't change instead of focusing on a future where you have a choice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Cable, the final Frontier


As with many people, I've been frustrated by the high cost of cable television, especially since most of what I watch anymore is streaming video through Amazon and Netflixs. I have cable bundled with telephone and Internet through Frontier. I've used their services for about eight years since we moved into our current home (and it was the only option). My cable package has included just about every premium channel out there and I've paid dearly for it over the years.

A few weeks ago I was shocked to see my bill had increased by almost a $100 over the monthly bill I was used to. Reviewing the bill didn't shed any light on why. It was full of service charges, taxes and unintelligible components. So I reached out to Frontier's customer service for an explanation. It launched a saga I'm sure many people who deal with cable companies are familiar with. But here is a sample of my chat sessions with Frontier customer service and tech support. I apologize for how long it is, but I wanted to give a true sense of how bad Frontier's customer service really is. The only customer service I have experienced that is as bad as their's is Boost Mobile.

My first session with Frontier was on July 31, 2018. Frontier's comments are in gray. Mine are in blue. My unarticulated thoughts are in parentheses. 

When you chat with us, you grant us permission to review your services during the chat to offer you the best value. Your current services will not be affected if you refuse permission by not proceeding with chat. Frontier has the duty to protect your information. This is your right under Federal law. For quality and security purposes, your session is recorded and may be monitored or reviewed.
1:17 PMTime H
My bill has increased almost $75 over the past two months. I'm trying to determine why? What is a Directory/Non-Reg charge?
Jade1:18 PM
Thank you for chatting with Frontier, Time. My name is Jade and I'll be assisting you today.
May I confirm your billing telephone number xxxxxxxxxx and this is the account we will be looking at together? 
1:18 PMTime H
Yes.
Jade1:18 PM
Thank you. 
Please bear with me while I'm reviewing the information on your account.
I see here that you have Phone, Internet, and TV services.
1:22 PMTime H
That is correct.
Jade1:24 PM
I have reviewed the account.
I noticed that your discounts expired in your June statement.
1:25 PMTime H
What discounts were those? I have had this service for eight years.
Jade1:26 PM
They were discounts for Internet, and TV services
While we are taking care of your services I will review your account to make sure you are getting the best value. 

(Translated this means Jade will review my account to see if she can get more money out of me and distract me from the real reason I had contacted Customer Service.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Great Cornholio Tournament


"I am the Great Cornholio!"
--Beavis

I just received an e-mail that started out:

"The Everett Clinic Beer Garden Cornhole Tournament in its 2nd year will be held at Taste Edmonds. The tournament will take place the first 3 hours each day in the Beer Garden, teams of two square off in a best 2 out of 3 single elimination competition. The top teams from Friday and Saturday will play until the winners are crowned."

Do they not realize this is wrong on so many levels?

Okay, I realize the well intentioned people at the Taste Edmonds are talking about a game where people toss a bag filled with corn at a board with a hole in it. But (butt...heh-heh...heh-heh), anyone who has ever watched Beavis and Butthead remember the Great Cornholio and are aware that Cornhole is slang for the anus. And Cornholing is slang for anal sex.

From a marketing standpoint, naming something a cornhole tournament is really an unfortunate choice  unless you are targeting an entirely different demographic than I think the Taste Edmonds people are going for.  I think a safer choice would have been to call it a bean bag toss tournament.

Though there is an American Cornhole Association. So maybe I'm being totally sophomoric about this. But (butt...heh-heh...heh-heh) even the fact that there is an American Cornhole Association cracks me up (he said, "crack" heh-heh...heh-heh).

Regardless, I'm going to skip the Everett ClinicBeer Garden Cornhole Tournament. It's not something I want watch.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

No views is good views?


I'm convinced that there is very little chance that I will become the next YouTube sensation. Day after day I open my YouTube channel and am taunted with the "No Views" message on my posts. And there are no"likes" for the one or two videos that have been viewed.  In addition, no one has subscribed to my YouTube channel.

On the plus side, I haven't had any negative comments on my YouTube posts. Of course there haven't been any comments on my YouTube posts.

Over at the Medium I've had 116 people view my posts in the past month. But only 55 of those people actually read all the way through a post after viewing it. And three people became fans. I've signed up for the Medium's program that monetizes your posts if paid subscribers read them and like them. So far I've made $0.00. Their projections show that by the end of the month I should earn $0.00.

But hey, I'm not in this for the money. Though I also am in the Google Adsense program that randomly puts ads on my blog for which I am paid if people click on them. Although I've racked up almost $40.00 in ad revenues, it has taken five years to do so. And they won't pay you until you accumulate at least $100. At this rate, I should collect my earnings in another ten years.

It is a good thing that I never tried to truly make a living off from my writing. Something tells me I'd be behind the counter at a Starbucks taking fru-fru coffee drink orders to supplement my writing income.

Just for the record, I have a degree in Journalism and have spent a bulk of my career making a living by writing. It was just not writing things I wanted to write. Which goes to show you, when you write about stuff that you want to write about instead of what people want you to write about, your odds of getting read are substantially reduced. Though I seriously doubt many people were reading what I wrote when I was writing brochures and newsletters for a government agency. But at least I was getting paid.

I think I am a good writer. I just don't think I am a mainstream writer.

And don't think the irony of me writing yet another unread post about no one reading what I write escapes me.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

I want my MTV


Listen here, now that ain't workin' that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain't workin', that's the way you do it
Money for nothin', and your chicks for free
Money for nothin', and chicks for free
--Money for Nothing, Dire Straits

 I miss MTV. Oh, I imagine it is still around, but it can't be the same as it was when it launched back in 1981.  I had high hopes for it back then when I was 23 and had high hopes for lots of things. They mainly played music videos introduced by Video Jockeys (VJ's).

Music videos were unique back then. It added a whole new dimension to music. The videos added a visual storyline to the songs. It turned the singers and bands into screen stars. I really liked videos like Mexican Radio by Wall of Voodoo (I wish I was in Tijuana, eating barbecued iguana).

And there was Devo (Crack that Whip), Billy Idol (White Wedding), Cyndi Lauper (Girls just want to have fun), and Corey Hart (Sunglasses at Night). The stars didn't last long, but their videos are still etched into my brain.

It is hard to describe why music videos were a game changer at the time. I'd grown up listening to vinyl records and the radio. I loved the music, but it was one dimensional. Oh, there were some artists that had created things akin to music videos before. The Beatles had movies that bridged the gap between the songs and the performances (Hard Days Night and Help).  And there were the Monkeys who were a fictional band created for a television series in the late 60s.

But music videos seemed like the music vehicle of the future. I liked that MTV treated music videos like visual records and even had top 10 countdowns. I think the VJ's were even former disc jockeys.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Car-ma Car-ma Car-ma Car-ma Car-ma Chameleon


I have worked in public transit for 36 years. I take public transit to work every day. I ride it to the airport when possible. But I still have to deal with owning a car.

And I've never had much luck with cars.

I got my driver's license when I was 14. Idaho allowed kids that young to drive because many needed to drive farm equipment.

I didn't.

By the time I had a driver's license, my parents owned a 1967 Chevy Bel Air and a 1972 Chevy truck.  Those were my driving options.

Since my dad rode his bike to work, he would sometimes let me drive the truck to junior high. It gave me some clout with the girls I had crushes on to be able to offer them rides home after school. It didn't give me enough clout to actually date any of them. Not that I could have driven anyone anywhere on a date. Though I had my driver's license at 14, you couldn't drive at night until you were 16.

I did eventually get a permit to drive at night on a specific route when I turned 15 and needed to drive to marching band practice. That's when I got in my first accident. It was while driving the 67 Chevy. An old lady ran a stop sign and t-boned the car.

By the time I was driving at night without a permit at aged 16, I drove the same 67 Chevy into a metal pole at the band room while trying to turn into a narrow drive way and drop off a bass guitar amp. It dented the front fender.

When I was 17 or 18, I bought my first car: a 1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass F-85. It was white with a red top and red bucket seats. It was a classic, but it was a boat. If I'd held onto it and taken care of it, it would be worth thousands today. But I traded it in and bought a 1973 Toyota Celica.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Dark Tourist


I've been binge watching Netflix's new series Dark Tourist. It is a documentary about a subset of tourism that involves visiting places that are historically associated with death and tragedy. New Zealand journalist David Farrier focuses on that area of travel, known as dark tourism.

Farrier travels to a different place in each episode, visiting destinations and have experiences that aren't on your typical travelers must see list. He visits a death-worshipping cult in Mexico, soaks up radiation left behind in Fukushima, Japan, meets vampires in New Orleans, and travels to Africa to become a Voodoo initiate.

On an even more disturbing level, he takes serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer tour with Dahmer-obsessed tourists and visits with Hollywood fans of Charles Manson. Oh, and he visits a place in Cambodia where you can shoot heavy duty military weapons and shoot cows or chickens.

The series confirms that humans are a disturbed lot.

I think the closest I've ever come to being a dark tourist was visiting the Ford Theater in Washington D.C., (where Lincoln was shot), the Kennedy museum in Dallas, the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. But I visited those places out of admiration of the men, not out of morbid curiosity to see where they were killed.

I find people's adulation of serial killers the most disturbing. I am also disgusted at the amount of media attention paid to the background of the people who carry out mass shootings. No one should be memorialized for being a killer.

I suppose if I was to psychoanalyze Dark Tourists, I'd say they are people afraid of death who go to these morbid places to confront their fears.

Or more likely, they are just whack jobs.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Digging holes


"The only job you start at the top is digging a hole."
I don't dig digging holes. Not that I dig that many holes. You tend to only dig holes if you have something to put in one.

That said, I dug two fairly large holes over the weekend. I didn't start out to dig holes. But when you own a home and start doing chores, one thing leads to another.

I set out to mow the front lawn. It is a narrow strip of grass maybe eight by thirty feet. It takes more time to get out the mower, extension cord (it's an electric mower), broom and trimmer than it does to actually mow the lawn. While mowing the lawn I noted for the thousandth time that, for whatever reason, there were two sunken areas in the lawn. They were on either end of the lawn and were maybe a foot and a half each in diameter.

The thing about these sunken areas is that you can't really mow them. The mower passes right over them and the grass growing in them doesn't get cut. I always have to come back with the electric trimmer and trim the grass. Then it looks funky.

I finished mowing and edging the lawn and decided it was time to do something about the sunken areas. I figured I cut up the sod over the indents, fill them with soil and put the sod back.  So I grabbed and edging shovel and began cutting the sod on the first sunken area. It went fairly quickly. I pulled up a large square of sod off the indent and set it aside.

That's when my wife walked up and told me once again how she would like to rip up all of the grass and just put in shrubs and trees. I nodded, thinking it would be nice not to have to mow the lawn, but also thinking it would be a new patch of earth for the horsetails and other evasive weeds to conquer. Then my wife suggested that rather than filling in the sunken areas with soil and covering them back up, we should plant a couple of trees to take us one step closer to her dream of a landscaped front yard.