Monday, August 30, 2010

Acting Single

So I had an office chat this morning with a coworker, when she asked an innocent question - “How was your weekend?” I replied that it was good, did a couple of fun things like play a poker tournament on Friday night and went to a concert downtown Saturday night. I finished off my recitation with the statement, “I acted single.”

The reason for using this phrase is multi-fold. For one, I am single. For two, I sometimes have to remind myself of that since I am at an age where it is somewhat unusual to be single. And for three, I am not presently in a relationship. I don’t even own a dog. It’s just me.

And I am good with that - for the most part. This story is not intended as a self-pity nobody-loves-me mushdrama. I enjoy the construct of my life, or at the very least, have come to accept it. I have learned that relationships cannot be artificially forced & wished. They just happen…or don’t. In my case it’s the latter. And I am good with that.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my moments. And invariably these moments are the weekends, specifically weekend evenings. As I was explaining to my coworker, who is married, when you are married you are presumed to spend time with your spouse, and that the activity is secondary - whether it’s going to a concert or watching reruns on TV, you do them together. That’s sort of the essence of the marriage - two make one. I obviously do not have that dynamic to be concerned about.

I live in a big city. Orlando. Always something going on, and while it is a great place to raise kids for the obvious benefits of all the activities targeted towards children, it is also a pretty cool place for single people. Lots of bars, a vibrant downtown, clubs, many opportunities to socialize. And it is this realization, coupled with being single, that presents, well, challenges. I cannot, in good conscience, sit and watch Lockup Raw on MSNBC on Saturday night with this playground outside my front door. If I do, I end up hating myself when the light of Sunday morning comes through my bedroom window.

So I go. And I do. If for no other reason than to shut up that nagging voice in my head.

One of these days this dynamic will possibly change. I may meet someone, we may fall in love, and then two will become one. I have been there before and it was enjoyable. I guess my goal, until then, is to be just as enjoyable with the situation as it presently is. And that is, I guess, one of the messages I am trying to impart here. Life can't be forced. It can't be constructed. Well, it can, but I believe the results are not natural. The older I get the more I have come to embrace this way of living - life has to be natural. That is not to say you cannot have dreams and desires, and further it is not to say to don't try to achieve them. It is more a statement of acceptance.

I was talking to my dear friend Dawn the other day & she asked me what my plans for the upcoming weekend were. I said well, I’m going to play poker Friday night, play golf Saturday morning, take a nap, hit downtown Saturday evening, probably wash my car Sunday & watch the golf tournament Sunday afternoon. Now that’s acting single.

I usually end my stories with some kind of coda. A meaning, some glimpse at wisdom that passed through my brain & got caught in the synapses and took residence. In this case, I am not sure what that wisdom would be, other than this - enjoy your life, whatever the circumstances, and don’t complain about it.

Because really, nobody cares. Except you. And that’s who you wake up to every day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Boss, the Chicken Farmer

I have a job that can be quite stressful. Many of my work days are running from one crisis to another on top of managing a number of projects and overseeing the work of four planners. I absolutely love it. But like anyone, I seek down time and pursue activities that divorce my mind from the complexities and chaos of my work environment. I play golf, bang on drums, play poker, write, surf the internet. Those are my distractions.

My boss raises chickens.

To be more precise, free-range chickens.

We work in downtown Orlando. Big city. Traffic whizzing by on I-4 right outside our window. When my work day is done, I retire to my apartment in Altamonte Springs, about 9 miles from downtown. Tony, my boss, goes to his home in DeBary, about 25 miles away, and moves chicken coops. Because, as I have found out, that is the “free” aspect of “free-range” chickens. I have learned a lot from Tony about the proper way to raise chickens.

So, many evenings, as I am sitting in a dive bar somewhere in Orlando trying to catch my inside straight on the river to take down another poker player or figuring out how to finesse a 7-iron to a sucker pin placement, my mind diverts to the thought of Tony, after a hard day’s work supervising me and the other planning managers, chasing chickens around. This mental image brings a smile to my face.

Tony was born and raised (on the free range?) in Iowa. He’s a farm boy. There is a term I have heard - ‘Gentleman Farmer’ and I have to admit that I am not totally sure what it means. But for Tony it is a perfect phrase. He is a farmer, and he is a gentleman. Unflappable, friendly, patient, intelligent, calm, collected. Tony has a large role in our company and has to juggle a myriad of projects and responsibilities. He moves with ease from one subject to the next, showing an aplomb rarely found, but naturally emanating from him.

And he also raises chickens! I’m sorry, but I just have to chuckle at that.

Tony was telling me how one day, as the chickens were out free-ranging, he moved the coop. Because that is, as I have found out, how free-range chickens have to be raised in order to be free - you let them cavort about, feeling the freedom of their chicken lives, and presumably there is a quality introduced in their lives that makes for…tastier dinners later on, I guess. But anyway, he moved the coop. And when the chickens returned, being, well, bird brains, they could not find the coop…Tony moved it about a hundred feet. And he is relating this story with a huge smile on his face, a gleam in his eye and a chuckle in his voice - he duped his chickens.

So why am I writing this story? Because I think Tony’s choice of recreation can be a source of solace for those of us that are having a rough day. If you are finding life being a rough slog, maybe the spouse is nagging at you or the kids are being recalcitrant, picture Tony W, LYNX Director of Planning, chasing his chickens around.

I bet you’ll smile.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Shit Rolls Downhill

The family dynamic. Oh, the volumes that have been written to describe issues such as “Middle Child Syndrome” or “Is your twin Satan?” or whatever. Psychologists have lined countless bookshelves with tomes on why your big brother made you smell his farts under the bedsheets or why little sister microwaved big sister’s Barbie doll. For my family, there was a very simple explanation for this behavior –

Shit rolls downhill.

Yeah, I am the youngest. We were born girl-boy-girl-boy, which I have categorized as my family’s version of the rhythm method. So I have two older sisters and an older brother. And this is going to be a story about the family dynamic from the viewpoint where it seemed most of the shit settled.

The timing of our births tells a lot. The oldest, Barb, was born in 1950. Then in rapid succession came Kenny and Patty in 1953 & 1954. There was a four-year lag (where mom had to rest up I am sure) before I was born in 1958. Picture two bookends with two volumes – The History of World War I and World War II – in between, and you get a rough scope of the dynamic.

I do not mean that as some kind of slap to Kenny & Patty. They were stuck in the middle, and stuck together. They were the team. Barb and I were separated by age from this cabal. Now, in Barb’s case, being the older one, she was mostly above the fray. While Kenny & Patty were plotting overthrows of small countries – or at least of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio – Barb was off to Wendy Ward Charm School, learning how a ‘lady’ walks and which side the salad fork goes on. She got married at age 19, and was gone.

That left Kenny, Patty…and me. Two against one. And that ‘one’ was five or four years younger than them. So picture a 14-year-old Kenny, a 13-year-old Patty…and a 9-year old Jerry. They had pet names for me. Kenny called me Nimrod, and Patty lovingly referred to me as Ricky Retardo. At that point in time, at least 6 city blocks were under their control, and their empire was spreading. I was just trying to figure out which end was up. And not surprisingly, I tailed them around. That did not go over well. Often, three would leave the house and two would return, and mom would ask, “Where’s Jerry?”

Tied to a telephone pole at Harrington Field would have been a good guess.

Patty, being the next-youngest, was often saddled with the task of babysitting me. THAT did not go over well either. Her actions at the time, which I took as abject hatred towards my very existence, were resentments for being separated from her friends in order to watch me. Of course, I did not realize this at the time – “Why does Patty hate me?” was a common refrain. The answer – because I was there. It wasn’t her fault – but it became her responsibility. And as I have come to find out, the worst thing you can do to a 13-year-old girl that wants only to talk on the phone & squeal at the arrival of a piece of fan mail from the Dino Desi & Billy Fan Club, was to babysit Ricky Retardo.

Kenny. Oh my. My CPU will give out long before I can keypunch out our dynamic. But roughly, it was this – I looked up to him for all the wrong reasons. Reasons, to this very day, affect me. But at the formative time of our teen years, Kenny was the man. He got the girls, was naturally cool, confident. I was none of those things - I was nervous, fidgety and a total dork. I wanted to be Kenny. The lesson, some thirty years later, is I cannot be what I am not. Because, to Kenny, they were natural. He didn’t learn them – he was them. And I have slowly learned to be not Kenny’s Little Brother but my own person. Our relationship, to put it midly, has been a combustive one.

Also not surprising are how our personalities have evolved from these formative years. Kenny and Patty are very social creatures. I am not. When Patty turned 50 her friends threw a surprise birthday bash for her. When I turned 50 there were no parties. Because I do not have a large group of friends. Patty plays in a Monday Night golf league with 30-odd friends. I play golf alone. I am not trying to elicit pity - it's just the product of our personalities and where we fit in the family dynamic.

So I write this with a bit of a ‘back through the looking-glass’ mentality. I could never understand why there was shit, why it rolled downhill, and why I was at the bottom collecting it all.

As I found out, the answer was simple.

Because someone had to.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Campaigns Of Clichés

Okay, it’s time to get political.
Most everyone knows I am a Liberal. Proudly. So I am going to take some shots at some campaign ads I have seen from a number of Conservative candidates. I do this not to point out the differing political philosophy of left versus right, but more to illuminate the insulting dumbing-down of these ads. They are literally nothing more than clichés – and bad ones at that. For example, here’s the latest one being trotted out to incite –

“Secure Our Borders!”

This was Arizona's justification for passing their 'papers please' immigration law, that "Washington" couldn't "secure our borders." And it has been picked up by Conservative candidates as a rallying point to decry some drummed-up federal government inaction.

Ponder this for a moment before you break out into xenophobic applause. I really just have one question: HOW? Show me this grand plan of securing a two-thousand-mile border with Mexico (and what about Canada? Hmmmm?). A fence? A wall? A piranha-infested freekin’ moat? Stationing military every fifteen feet? Show me this plan. Don't just snap off a 'secure our borders' retort without some modicum of freekin' reality. It is impossible, and for Arizona to use an impossibility as justification to pass disgusting, racist laws is reprehensible.

And by the way - not only it is impossible, but let's just say for a moment it could be done - what would the cost be? How is this Western Hemisphere Berlin Wall going to be funded? And exactly what efforts by "Washington" would get you off of this dangerously slippery slope you have put your state on? Electrocuting Mexicans trying to climb a fence? Will that slake your bloodthirst?

Arrgh. Let's move on to our next inanity –

"I am not a Washington Insider"

This is supposed to a badge of honor…I guess. As in to say ‘I have not been tainted & influenced by the corruption inherent inside the Beltway’ or some similar tripe. But here’s what it tells me – you’re not qualified for the position you want us to elect you to. I work in the public sector. Have my entire career. It’s not easy. It is a business like any other, with its inherent complexities requiring years to master.

And you’re saying your strength is in not knowing any of this? Name me any other profession where the most sellable point you can make is being totally ignorant of it. I dare anyone to walk into a job interview and profess that your strongest asset is a total unknowing of the industry. Yes, I understand the point they are trying to make – elect me and I will blaze into Washington and shake it up! Uh no. No you won’t. You’re not Jimmy Stewart and this isn’t Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. It will change you. Approximately fifteen minutes after your plane taxis into Dulles. So stop it.

Speaking of the illegal immigration debate, there's this -

“I will repeal the 14th Amendment!”

Really. All by your ownsome, huh? Again, no you won’t. To being with, changing the Constitution in any fashion is a complex, labyrinthine procedure. The intent of our Founding Fathers was to prevent the Constitution from being changed by the political whims of the times. Which is exactly what this illegal immigration debate is. It does not even come close to Constitution-amending. The Constitution is amended to abolish slavery. To give blacks and women the right to vote. Not to cater to your cause du jour.

This ‘dumber than a fifth grader’ approach isn’t new ground for Conservatives. They have talked in sound bites, and thus down to voters, for years – ‘You’re either with us or against us’…’Cut and run’…'Drill Baby Drill'...

Do they really think we are this dumb?

Sadly, yes. They do. You are being insulted. Realize it.

So this is my challenge to every voter out there. Educate yourself. Understand what a politician can and cannot do. I do not care if, after doing this, you vote Republican., Democrat or the freekin' Whig Party. Just please don’t allow yourself to be talked-down to. I need to be reassured that you really aren’t as stupid as these candidates purport you to be.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I write this with much trepidation, with the realization that I could be proven wrong as early as next week. But here goes -

Tiger’s done.

Want me to elaborate? Okay. Through. Finished. Call it a career.

I just watched Tiger finish the Bridgestone Invitational in 78th place out of an 80-man field. Eighteen over par. Career-worsts for him in terms of finish and relationship to par. Worst in his career. That bears repeating - worst in his career. He has had bad rounds in tournaments before, but he has always backed up a putrid 75 with a stellar 67. But at the Bridgestone, he started flat and ended flatter - the first time that he showed nothing. And while it is easy to write it off as simply a bad week and trying to read too much into it by extrapolating it to such definitive statements as his career is over, allow me to delve a little -

When I was much younger, I had a pretty good golf game - a single-digit handicap, could hold my own in amateur events. I played that way for about fifteen years. Then one day I had a routine chip shot that I had executed thousands of times before…and I missed the ball. I whiffed it. It was a totally out-of-the-blue gak. And it stunned me. Up until that point I was more or less bulletproof on chipping, but that singular shot permanently planted an ugly thought into my brain - “Don’t miss the ball, idiot.” Ever since that day, which was over thirteen years ago, I cannot execute a chip shot without that thought creeping in, and I am a basket case around the greens as a result. My 3-handicap is now a 12, and my competitive days are long gone.

Now I know what’s coming next - Jer, you ain’t no Tiger Woods. Well duh. True. Tiger has exhibited the ultimate in brain power, the ability of zoning out anything and everything not pertaining to the task at hand. His singular focus is legendary. Hoganesque. Nicklausian.

But somewhere between hitting that fire hydrant last November and now, Tiger metaphorically whiffed. A seed has been planted in his brain. His lines have been blurred. His focus is gone. When he enters his arena inside the gallery ropes, no longer is the crowd reverently silent. The majority still is, but there is now a sinister element present - the heckler. And he does not know where or when it will strike. Trust me on this - it is a tough enough game to have to navigate 7,000 yards of water, rough, traps, lightning-fast greens and trees, but Tiger has done that prodigiously. But now there is an element he has no control over whatsoever. It can strike at any time, and he knows it.

It is in this knowing where his downfall will occur. Frankly, I already think it has. It’s in his kitchen. It is that same thought I have now over a chip shot - “Don’t miss it” for me has become “Don’t yell out something in my backswing” for him. And once that thought is there, it’s THERE. Like, forever.

Can he overcome this? Sure. If anyone has the mental fortitude to do it, it’s Tiger. But remember how he would stop in mid-swing over the click of a camera? That’s how fragile the psyche of a pro golfer is. For all of Tiger’s mental discipline, a click of a camera ruins him. Well, you can ban cameras, but you can’t stop some jerk from saying something when he’s only 20 feet away.

It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that 2010 is a lost cause. And his rehabilitation from this nadir will go beyond the usual routines of someone who has lost their swing. Yes, he has clearly lost his swing, but he will find it again. His putting has been atrocious, but that too can be found on the practice green through rote and repetition.

But how do you erase a thought?

This bears repeating as a coda - tied for 78th, 18 over par. Career worsts by a mile. His invincibility has been pierced - not by being outplayed by his peers., but by a mustard seed of a thought.