2/15/13

Happy Valentine's Day. What? Yesterday? Shit!

Once upon a time, I was sitting on the floor in a bowling alley with my little brother Houdini, watching the pro-shop owner give a seminar to all the junior bowlers.  I was 16 years old, and I had been bowling in a Saturday morning league for about  two years.  I even had my own ball and shoes.  Pretty hard core for a 16-year-old.  I was throwing that bastard of all bowling balls, a 14 pound semi-fingertip, and holding about a 140 average, which I wanted to improve.  The first thing I learned from the pro that day was that my bowling ball had to go.  It was too light, and the semi-fingertip was too hard on your fingers, since the edges of the holes rested on the part of your fingers between the first and second joint.

The second thing I learned was that Saturday morning bowling seminars were good for scoping out girls.  It was a mixed league, and while I knew a few of the girls there, I was kind of shy so I never really talked to any of them.  As I was looking around the room, half paying attention to whatever the instructor was saying, I spotted a very cute girl I hadn't seen before.  She had long hair (OK, it was big hair, but this was the 80s), and was wearing black jeans with thin white pinstripes, a white frilly shirt and a bandanna tied around her neck.  She also had the biggest, prettiest eyes I had ever seen.  I stared for a while, trying not to be noticed staring, and every time she looked in my direction I pretended to pay extreme attention to whatever the instructor was talking about.  Finally, I leaned over to Houdini and whispered, "You see that cute girl over there?  I'm gonna ask her out.  Just watch."  I was a bit of a cocky bastard.  Or at least I pretended to be when I was trying to impress Houdini, who looked up to me for some reason.  I'm not sure if he believed me at the time, because I don't remember if he said anything in response.

Unfortunately, the seminar ended, I lost my nerve, and the girl with the gorgeous eyes left the room without speaking to me.

"I thought you were gonna go talk to her?" Houdini asked.

"I am," I replied, irritated that he called me out.  "Give me a chance. I gotta get up my nerve."

After the seminar, we met our coaches.  My coach was one of the dads who volunteered at the bowling alley on weekends, and he was actually a pretty good bowler - I think he even had a few 300 games to his credit.  He was a good coach but had no patience for you if you weren't serious about the game.  He spent just about all of his free time there on the weekends, helping the kids who really wanted to learn to be better bowlers, and he bowled in a few adult leagues during the week.  Everyone called him Chuck, and I did too.

Until, that is, he introduced me to his daughter.   Suddenly calling him Chuck became a little more intimidating.

Probably to his dismay, his daughter and I hit it off immediately -- but when I found out how young she was,  I was less interested.  Three years difference might as well be a lifetime when you're sixteen.  We stayed friendly though, and over time, it became apparent that she had developed a very large crush on me.  I called her Fuzz, which was an unflattering nickname that I won't even pretend to remember the origin of, but she didn't seem to mind.  I actually liked seeing her every Saturday, but I knew nothing serious was going to come of it because she was such a kid.  I'll admit that I played into her crush a little, which wasn't entirely fair, but a 16-year-old boy's ego needs all the reinforcement it can get.  My friends busted my balls, calling me a cradle robber, and I kind of agreed.  I eventually bowed to the peer pressure and stopped encouraging her.  After that, I think she got tired of never getting anywhere and just gave up on me, figuring I wasn't interested.  She started seeing a guy her own age, and I started dating someone at school too, and we left it at that.  We still talked on Saturdays, and stayed friendly but that was it.  She'd tell me boyfriend stories, and I'd talk to her about my girlfriend, and the only time we saw each other was in between frames.

A couple of years later, a funny thing happened.  I had graduated from high school, and had broken up with my girlfriend at the time, who was older than I was and going away to college.  Fuzz and I were still bowling together, and I began to realize that the age difference between us was nothing, in the grand scheme of things.  She was still going out with her boyfriend and from all accounts it was serious, but I couldn't help it -- I suddenly found myself in the odd position of falling for this girl I only saw once a week for three or four hours, who really had no interest in me.  She was madly in love with her boyfriend, and at that point I think I knew she was just indulging me because she didn't have the heart  to tell me to get lost.  The tables were turned, it seemed.

I was in a band at the time, and we did our fair share of original tunes, generally written by the guitar player, Mike, who was and still is a phenomenal player to this day.  As the (mediocre) drummer, I was usually left out of this writing process, other than to add the drum parts to the finished tune. Even this, for the most part, was under the direction of the other guys in the band.  Mike could also play drums, so he would often get behind the set and say "maybe play something like this." and then kick out a pattern that I would have to wrap my head around.  This process was about to change.

In my ridiculously love-stricken state, I naively started working on a couple of songs, directed at the object of my unrequited affection.  When I thought I had something, (I did not) I finally got up my nerve to bring one of the songs to rehearsal and show it to the rest of the guys.  To his credit, Mike didn't immediately laugh me out of my parent's basement.  Generally, the last thing anyone in a band wants to hear from the drummer is, "Hey guys, I wrote a couple of songs."  That sentence is usually followed by long and painful groans.

Instead, he read through my lyrics and listened to my basic melody and took it home to work on it.  At our next rehearsal, he played me what he had come up with.  It was much better than I ever thought it could be.  He had taken my angst-filled, melodramatic lyrics and turned them into an actual song.  I gave it my blessing, and he recorded a rough cut of it into a little cassette recorder and handed me the tape so I could practice putting a drum part to it.  I couldn't wait for Fuzz to hear it, so I took it with me to the bowling alley the following weekend.

I clearly remember that she was sitting on a stool at the closed bar, drinking a soda.  I walked up to her, Walkman in hand, and said, "Hey.  I, um...I wrote a song for you."  She looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and pity, but even so, she took the headphones from my hand and put them on.  I pushed play, and waited with my heart in my throat.

When the song ended, she took the headphones off and looked up at me with tears in her eyes.  "I don't know what to say," she said.  But it wasn't "I don't know what to say because the song touched me so deeply and I'm speechless."  It was more of a "I don't know what to say because I don't want to break your heart into a million little pieces."  As you can probably imagine, that wasn't exactly what I had wanted to hear.  Had I expected her to jump into my arms and declare her undying love because of one stupid song?  Perhaps something like that. When you're eighteen, music can be a powerful force in your life. Hell, it can be a powerful force at any age.  But when you're eighteen and the music is something that came from your own ragged heart -- well, that seems like something that could quite possibly change the world. To have that music rejected, especially by the person it was written for, hurt deeply.

"You don't have to say anything," I replied, popping the tape out of the player and handing it to her.   "Just take it.  Listen to it once in a while if you feel like it."  Then I walked away, feeling incredibly stupid and kicking myself for being an idiot.

Months later, I remember being in the kitchen at home when the phone rang.

It was her mom.  "She needs you right now," she said. "She and Brett broke up, and I think she could really use a friend."  I thought it was a little odd, but I agreed to go.  We hadn't said a lot to each other since the song incident.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do or say, exactly, but I drove down to her house anyway.  She was glad to see me, mostly I think because she wanted someone to talk to, and as far as talking went, we had a bit of a history there.  She told me that she still loved him.  She told me that he had dumped her, suddenly and brutally.  She told me a lot of things that were hard to hear.  I wanted to hurt him for doing this to her.  I think it was the first time she had had her heart broken, and that's always a hard thing, especially when you're sixteen.  Unfortunately, I knew just how she felt.  I also couldn't help but feel  that if I did what I could to make this easier for her, we might have another shot.  It seemed I wasn't quite ready to give up.

I kept being a friend to her, and eventually she came around.  I asked her to a concert, just to test the waters, and she said yes.  Then I tried dinner and movie.  She said yes again, and I started to feel like we might actually get a second chance.  I was trying hard not to rush her into anything, but we seemed at ease with each other,  and things seemed to be going well.

I remember the first time I said "I love you."  I also remember the first time I said "I love you" and she said it back.  The road between those two first times was long and hard, but worth every second.

About a year later, we were going steady.  I was in my second year of college at the time and she was a senior, and we spent every moment we possibly could together.  I picked her up after school almost every day, we went on many more dates, and we knew it was serious when we started spending the holidays with each other's families. One Christmas eve at my parent's house, I asked her to marry me and she said yes.

About 13 years ago, we were out seeing a band we both liked, and she decided to offer up my web design services to the lead singer.  As a result, I ended up doing their website and mailing list for a number of years.  They were (and still are) called The Badlees, and they were touring on a top-40 hit at the time.  The lead singer Pete and I became close friends over those years, and we still hang out as often as our schedules allow.  I count him as one of the best humans I know, and probably the best friend I have.  I never asked for any money to do the website, but once, about ten years ago, I asked him to do me a small favor.  I had stumbled on an old cassette of the song Mike and I had written, and I asked him if he would be willing to record a version of it for me as an anniversary gift to my wife.  He agreed, and I e-mailed him an mp3 of the song.  A few hours later I got a phone call.

"Dude, are you sure you sent me the right song?  he asked.  "Maybe it's just me, but these lyrics don't sound like it's the right song."

"Trust me, it's the right song," I said, then laughed.  "It's kind of a long story."

A few weeks later he and his wife came up to visit and he and I sat in his car and listened to the song, and it was brilliant. The song itself was still hokey and sentimental, but it was well done and sounded amazing considering he and his guitar player recorded it live into a portable hard drive while sitting in a ratty hotel room somewhere on the road in Pennsylvania.  I explained the history of the song, and then he understood.

"You're either going to be a hero, or this will end in tears," he said, laughing.  I thanked him again for doing it, and tucked the CD in my pocket.

A month or so later, I gave it to my wife on our anniversary.  It ended in tears, but I'm 95% sure they were happy tears.  That song, for those of you who stuck with me this far, is here.  It's a little embarrassing, but also a part of our history, and as such, I thought it was worth sharing.  Hopefully Pete won't mind.

It's hard to believe, but this past year marked our 25th wedding anniversary.  We've had our share of ups and downs like any couple, but we've always managed to come out on the other side of whatever trouble we've faced stronger than we were before.  I just wanted to take this time to tell the wonderful woman I fell in love with a lifetime ago that I wouldn't trade our time together for anything in the world.  She always says it's about the little things, and I thank god for that, because  I'm nothing if not a middle-sized white boy.

Happy Valentine's day, Fuzz.  Thanks for sticking with me.  I'm glad we finally decided to like each other at the same time all those years ago.


2/6/13

My shell has no power.

I'm in training this week trying to wrap my feeble brain around something called PowerShell that should probably be called PowerHell because I am extremely dense and can't program my way out of a wet $x.load.  Right now I'm sitting in a hotel room listening to Trick of the Tail and eating takeout from TGI Friday's and wishing I didn't have to get up early tomorrow for another day of bafflement.  At least I get to fly home at the end of the day.  All in all, I learned quite a bit so far, and even though I will never be a script jockey, there's a slim chance that I might be able to make some sense out of someone else's code if I had to.*

On the plus side, some 65-year-old guy in a pickup truck just tried to pick me up while I was walking over to Friday's. Either that, or it was totally innocent and he really did just want to give me a handful of cash in exchange for a smoke.

My flight out of Albany was delayed over two hours because of the weather, and because the jet we were taking had to come in from our destination, be refueled, then turn around and go back.  You know how when you use a bathroom stall at work and you get all grossed out because when you sit down, the seat is still warm?  It was like that.  I ended up sitting next to a guy with a shaved head and a bad cold who was working on his manifesto or something, because he was writing on some ratty, stapled-together stack of papers the whole way here. Unfortunately I was sitting on his left and he was a left-handed manifesto-er.  That meant he was doing that hook-handed thing that lefties do, so I had a rib full of elbow for 2 hours.  At one point he tried to be polite by sneezing into his sheaf of papers, however he managed to angle them precisely enough so that their curvature created a boomerang of airborne pestilence and I actually felt a fine mist of sneeze juice hit my face.  I finally resorted to adjusting my overhead air control to blow away from me, and turning my body toward the aisle. I also bathed in purell when I landed so hopefully I will avoid contracting whatever variation of Captain Trips he was spreading.

The landing was a little rough, but we managed to avoid sliding off the runway even though I have no idea how. It was snowing like a bitch and we couldn't see anything out the window but a complete white out. When we finally dropped out of the snow squall the ground was RIGHT there.  A second later, we hit the snowy runway and the brakes simultaneously, and came to a shuddering halt somewhere close to where we were supposed to.  So I just want to say: Thank you, 14-year-old pilot, wherever you are.  I wish you good luck with that first shave you have coming up.  

I haven't had great luck with my vehicles so far this week.  The hotel I'm staying at is very upscale and they provide you with transportation to and from the airport, as well as to the office, so you never have to call a taxi.  I'm kidding.  It's a Hampton Inn, and while they do have a shuttle, it's some kind of ancient minivan with no suspension, bald tires and no heat, and even though they say it runs every half hour, most of the time nobody uses it so they don't run it unless you ask them to.

There's a little indian lady who lays out the continental breakfast every morning who also happens to be the shuttle driver. She's about four feet tall, and she's worked here since the place opened back in 1886. One minute she has her little apron on, and she's busily setting up yogurt and bagels and cereal and then she suddenly yanks off the apron like Clark Kent shucking his suit, throws on her puffy down coat and her hajib and heads for the van.  She's barely tall enough to reach the pedals, and I'm pretty sure reaching the top of the steering wheel on that piece of shit mini-bus is completely out of the question for her.  I thought for sure we were going to die.  At one point, I was actually white-knuckling it in the back seat and yelling, "Curb! Watch out for the curb!" as she slid sideways into the embankment and then over-corrected and slalomed into the fast lane.

I was so jacked up by the ride that I tried to jump out at the first stop, which wasn't even our building.  She was motioning with her hand and saying, "No, no, no, you must wait," and I had no idea what she was talking about until my co-worker clued me in to the fact that I was about to jump out at American Greetings Incorporated.  At that point I was contemplating a career change anyway. I could write corny romantic limericks all day long, and you wouldn't even have to threaten to kill my wife.  I mean, if you wanted really good ones it wouldn't hurt, but I bet I could do a fair job with just the threat of someone making me drink coffee that comes in a can.

My second vehicular failure came yesterday after our training session.  Chris, one of the guys in the class, offered to give us a ride back to the hotel. In order to avoid the Bangalore Express, we accepted.  We had to stop at the security desk and turn in our temporary badges, so he said, "I'll meet you out front. I have a silver KIA."  

We turned in our badges and stood in the foyer where it wasn't so cold and windy, and waited for him to pull around.  When he pulled up,  we ran outside to meet him and because chivalry is not dead and my co-worker is a woman, I figured I'd let her ride shotgun.  I ran up to the driver's side back door, yanked it open,  tossed my backpack on the floor and then realized there wasn't any room for me back there because the entire rear bench was taken up by two car seats filled with two little black kids whose eyes were the size of paper plates because they'd never before in their lives been carjacked by a middle-sized white dude.  I apologized to the very unfriendly gentleman driving this particular silver fucking KIA and did the walk of shame back to the foyer.  He was kind of a dick about it. To be fair, I had just jumped into his car with his two babies, but I maintain that it's partially his fault for making questionable window tinting decisions.

And to illustrate how fried my brain is right now: honest to god,  for a split second, I actually thought, "Chris has two little black kids?"

Yes.  And he leaves them strapped into their car seats in the parking lot all day while he's working because it's cheaper than paying for day care.  I'm an idiot.


*and by "had-to" I mean if someone had kidnapped my wife and was threatening to kill her if I didn't tell them how to add 14 users to Active Directory using a jagged  array.