Riding double

There was something about being a kid and riding double on a bike. I can still feel the other kid between my legs as I grip with my thighs and try to decide where to put my hands. Shoulders? Behind me under the seat? Certainly never around the belly.

Likewise, I will never forget the feeling of having a kid behind me. Knowing he is trying to decide where to put his hands (seldom her hands, sadly). Hoping he is paying attention.

Two kids, you had to move as one. Whether you were the rider or the passenger, you couldn’t do your own thing. You couldn’t get too distracted or you would both go down. No one teaches you how to be a passenger on a bicycle, like they teach you to ride it. But you learn anyway, on your own.

As we got older and still rode double, the passenger moved to the handlebars. Less body contact, important to teenage boys, although it was harder to steer or see. Smoking Marlboros, riding buzzed.

Riding double, it stops eventually. I did it with my kids later, but it was different. I was in charge. Back then it was adventure, trust, teamwork, and danger, all in one trip to 7-Eleven.

Dishes

I’m not convinced a dishwasher saves people much, if any, time. The household dishwasher’s chief function seems to be temporary dirty dish storage more than anything (which I have to admit is not nothing). But leaving dirty dish storage aside, and also disregarding potential water and energy savings – which can go either way depending on efficiency of certain dishwasher models and water costs – I’d like to run an experiment comparing the total time spent doing dishes from an average meal for a family of four: dishwasher vs. hand-washing. This experiment will not be done in the course of this blog post – we’ll need to wait for Part II – but I speculate three major factors would affect the outcome:

  1. Meticulousness of pre-dishwasher rinsing
  2. Post-hand-washing routine: Drying and putting away vs. leaving in rack to air dry
  3. Pots and pans: hand-wash or dishwasher?

Meticulousness of pre-dishwasher rinsing

Dishwashers become less time-saving the more rigorously one rinses the dishes beforehand. My father was a judicious dish rinser; his dishes were spotless when he placed them in the dishwasher. My mom, on the other hand, would put half-eaten plates of food straight into the appliance. “It all ends up in the garbage disposal, you don’t even need to rinse them!” she would proudly proclaim. I don’t know how they handled all this when they were married, since they split when I was about six. My guess is they did it Mom’s way, since she likely both cooked the meals and did the dishes (or had my older sisters do them). I only got to know Mom’s and Dad’s dishwashing habits later, and separately.

If you rinse dishes to spotlessness before placing them in the dishwasher, I find it hard to believe the dishwasher is saving you any time at all. The only part you are skipping is the soap, which isn’t too time consuming. Scrubbing every dish before dishwasher placement is a maddening prospect, and it’s why Dad would never let anyone help with dishes when he’d have us over for dinner. Fine with us, but it seems pure lunacy to handle every single dish, spend several seconds rinsing every last speck of food off it, then bending down to place it in the dishwasher. The thing is 96% clean at this point; you can almost just put it away!

(This seems like a good time for an aside on dishwasher placement. Dishwashers in the home are generally at ground level, which is entirely the wrong place for them. If you don’t use a dishwasher, the dish’s journey – from cupboard to table to sink to counter and back to cupboard – takes place entirely at easy-to-reach levels. But with a dishwasher, the materials must be moved almost to FLOOR LEVEL before being eventually returned to the cupboard at head level. This is a lot of wear and tear on the back, and a totally unnecessary step.)

If you barely rinse dishes at all before putting them in the dishwasher, you do help make the case for using the appliance. Also, the mechanical dishwasher is a bit of an equalizer: if every family member puts his or her own dishes in, there is less work for one person to do. It’s a bit weird for each diner to hand-wash his or her own dishes; in fact, it’s a practice I’ve never really heard of – and I’ve heard about a lot of weird shit.

But let’s split the difference and presume the average family using a dishwasher rinses the plates, glasses and flatware a modest amount: enough to get most solids off, but we’ll leave them plenty dirty for the dishwasher.

The next factor we need to consider is:

Post-hand-washing routine: Drying and putting away vs. leaving in rack to air dry.

This is huge, and the factor that can assuredly give dishwashing the clear edge versus hand-washing. The reason is clear: If you use a dishwasher, you don’t ever really manually dry the dishes. By the time you put them away several hours later – or most likely the next day – the dishes are bone dry. You’re still bending down to floor level to put the dishes in the dishwasher, and returning to floor level the next day to retrieve them, but cutting out the towel-drying process is huge.

I’ve done years of hand-washing, and I’ve never towel-dried dishes (except maybe pots and pans, simply to get them out of the way). The old adage “you wash, I’ll dry” is a bit ridiculous. Being the dryer is like playing Scrabble with a child: After your turn, go grab a book, because you’re going to have some time to kill until you’re next called upon to do something.

My first regular dishwashing responsibility was when I was eight years old and living in Los Angeles with my mother and new stepfather and stepbrother. My initial task in this new union was simply to keep my stepbrother Mark company while he hand-washed and rinsed the dishes, leaving them to drip dry in a rack. He was fourteen and I was eight, and I was unaccustomed to doing chores of any kind. But before long, Mark would wash while I rinsed and put dishes in the drying rack. And not long after that we began alternating the washer and rinser job. This is a more equitable distribution of labor than a washer/rinser and a drier, as each task – washing and rinsing – takes more or less the same amount of time. But making one person wash and rinse, while the other dries and puts away? The first person gets the shit end of that stick.

(Another aside: The purpose of drying dishes and putting them away immediately is mainly to avoid leaving dishes in limbo. It is the efficient person’s dream to simply use a thing and put it away forthwith. There is no pile of dishes in a drying rack to stare at until the next morning, and no dishwasher full of dirty dishes. It’s not a bad way to handle dishes if a) there is no mechanical dishwasher, b) there isn’t much counter space to leave dishes out to dry, and c) there are always two people around to do the job.)

The final factor to consider in the dishwasher vs. hand-washing discussion is

Pots and pans: hand-wash or dishwasher?

This is another thing I’ve done both ways. I should add that I don’t much know what should or shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher. I tend to want to put everything in unless Amy tells me not to, or unless I see on the bottom of the item that it’s “Not Dishwasher Safe.” These things: the special knives, the small Teflon pans, and the fancy commuter mugs are a pain in my ass.

If you live alone or with just one other person, you can probably throw the pots and pans in the dishwasher, but keep in mind these tend to be the dirtiest items, with the most baked in (by definition) dirty food material. If I lived alone and I ran the dishwasher every night like clockwork, I might be tempted to put the pots and pans in. But mix in another, and another, and another diner in your household, and Pal, you need to give up on the idea of throwing the skillet and the saucepan in with the plates and bowls. There just isn’t going to be room. And if you don’t run the machine immediately, that stuff is going to get caked on. There is no worse feeling than going through the trouble of running the dishwasher, then at the end having to hand-wash a bunch of it anyway. It’s a chore that really makes you question the choices you’ve made in your life.

But we all seem to drink the dishwashing Kool-Aid. They tell us this machine saves us time and energy and we believe them, but I’m not sure it’s true. I once had a rental house that didn’t have a dishwasher. The owner provided me with a portable dishwasher. A portable fucking dishwasher that you had to store in some other part of the kitchen, roll over to the sink when you were ready to use it, attach one hose to the sink’s faucet and another outlet to the drain, then go through the usual hassle of the pre-rinse and bending down to floor level, then put the clean dishes away later, then finally disconnect and store the stupid beast until the next time. I used it a half dozen times before I realized it was the world’s biggest hassle, and I never used it again. (But not before it broke early on and my cousin and I spent no small amount of time repairing it. Idiots!)

Dad once told me he had a colleague, a respected attorney, who lived alone and simply kept all his dishes in the dishwasher full-time. He would take out and use what he needed each night, replace it when dirty, then run the dishwasher every night regardless. He washed mostly clean dishes every single night! This is a particular form of laziness. Gentlemen, you are never going to find a woman if you live this way. This is a stone’s throw from the guys who pee in jars because they’re too lazy to walk to the bathroom. (Ladies, it happens more often than you think. But here at Police Horse, this is not a practice we’ve ever undertaken, except in dire emergencies, like in the back of our minivan due to a lot of coffee and locked restrooms at our nephew’s Little League game.)

So, in summary, if you have not too many people to worry about, and you have ample counter space for a drying rack (placing dishes on which can be its own Byzantine game of Jenga and Pick-Up Sticks), and if you would normally give a dish a decent pre-rinse, I say forego the mechanical dishwasher altogether. Put on a podcast, NPR, or some good hip hop from the 80’s or 90’s, Zen out and wash those dishes by hand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Cowboy Junkies Brought Me Full Circle

Crossroads

I moved to Sacramento from Los Angeles when I was twenty, in 1989, leaving behind a girlfriend and great friends. My plan was to live rent-free with my dad and go to community college until I qualified for a four-year university. I was realistic enough to know those goals weren’t going to happen on my own in L.A. I needed a fresh start.

The first few months after the move were a lonely time. I eventually made some acquaintances at Sacramento City College, but when you don’t drink – like I didn’t at the time – the social stuff comes a bit harder. One weekend, several weeks into the semester, I was invited to a get-together by some classmates. I badly wanted to go, but my old friend Barry – who lived in Lake Tahoe at the time – had invited me up the mountain to hang out on the same weekend. Barry had some adventures planned for us, including attending a Tahoe A.A. meeting at which he was a regular. (I had been sober about three years at this time.) I hadn’t been to a meeting in several weeks, as I hadn’t yet found the courage to walk into one of the dozens of Sacramento meetings by myself.

Strange as it sounds, I was correct in sensing this could be a crossroads in my life: The get-together versus Tahoe. On one hand, the get-together could be a step toward more meaningful friendships, perhaps a date, and a real life in Northern California. On the other hand, Barry was a close friend, and I really needed an A.A. meeting – even one as far away as Lake Tahoe. It was a tough call.

I chose Tahoe.

A.A. meetings can be as cliquish as any other gathering of humans, so it was comforting to walk into a meeting with Barry and a mutual friend Nick, as they introduced me to other folks. I was called on to share at the meeting, and I spoke honestly about my ridiculous shyness in avoiding Sacramento meetings because I didn’t have any sober friends in town with whom to attend. After the meeting a guy introduced himself; I don’t remember his name, but he changed my life forever. He told me “Oh, man, Sacramento has great meetings! Here’s the phone number of my friend Stephanie, she’s plugged in down there.” I secured the scrap of paper, tucking it into my pocket like Jimmy Olson with a lead on a corrupt union boss.

Back in Sacramento the next week I screwed up my courage and called Stephanie, who was very kind, and recommended a meeting called Primary Purpose Group that met Thursdays at the Sierra 2 Center. It was at PPG that I met friends who became life-long. Stephanie was not necessarily one of those people, nor was the man in Tahoe, but they gave me the push I needed at that time in my life. I ended up having incredible adventures over the years, even decades, with some of these folks. PPG led me to the relationship that gave me my first child, and then in a roundabout way to my nineteen-years-and-counting marriage to Amy that of course led to my second and third children. My three kids literally owe their existence to my decision to go to Tahoe that weekend, and to the unknown man who gave me Stephanie’s phone number. (Barry, who invited me to Tahoe, tragically died of sudden cardiac arrest in his late twenties, a newlywed to a wonderful wife who wrote a memoir about the experience.)

The Crest

When you don’t drink, you have to be a bit more creative about what you’re going to do for fun. I heard about a movie theater downtown called The Crest, and they were scheduled to show Taxi Driver at a midnight show Friday night. This sounded amazing to me! I loved the movie Taxi Driver, although at that time I had only seen it once or twice. I got a group of my new friends to come along, and having never been to The Crest before, I walked inside and was floored.Crest

Built in 1912 as The Empress, later rehabbed and rechristened The Crest, the theater was like nothing I had ever seen. I had never been to L.A.’s old theaters, so this was a brand new experience for me. From the vintage ticket booth; to the foyer advertising upcoming concerts and classic films; to the ornate, carpeted lobby with its welcoming admonition: “WHEN YOU PASS THRU THIS PORTAL YOU LEAVE ALL CARES BEHIND;” to the sunken bar; and finally to the incredible 975-seat theater with its wide proscenium; gilded flourishes; huge, fringed curtain and massive sconces; the theater was truly awe-inspiring. To top it off I was about to see a classic Martin Scorcese/Robert DeNiro film, and I was surrounded by great new friends, guys and girls alike. I sat back and took it all in, feeling on top of the world, but in a humble, grateful way. I thought about my loneliness of the previous several months, and about all the good friends I left behind in L.A. Finally, I thought, Sacramento felt like home.

We saw several midnight movies at The Crest over the years, notably David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (this didn’t go over great; I was a bigger Bowiehead than any of my new friends, and it’s essentially just a concert film). I’ve seen several concerts at The Crest over the years as well: Concrete Blonde, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and They Might Be Giants among others. I’ve seen Ira Glass lecture there, as well as Terry Gross, Frank McCourt, and John Irving. In 1992 I got a part-time job working at The Crest for the Mellow Madness Animation Festival. Though not actually employed by The Crest, I worked there weekend nights for a couple of months. My job was to sell tickets in that vintage booth, hawk merchandise, occasionally announce shows from the stage to packed houses, and run the end-of-tour raffle. (John McCrae of CAKE won, and he claimed he knew he would win!) I learned not to stack merch boxes on top of the trap door in the storage closet, because for the guy who lived in Sacramento’s underground tunnels, this was his only access to the outside world, and I had inadvertently imprisoned him down there one night. I wish I could remember his name. Thick glasses, dark hair… anyone?

My best memory working at The Crest for the Animation Festival was after each show ended. I would put the merch away, organize things for the next show, and then I had some time to kill while a manager squared the cash with the tickets. I got friendly with the theater’s projectionist, and he agreed to play a CD of mine over the state-of-the-art sound system, while I hung out in Row N of the balcony, audience right, smoking cigarettes.

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What is the correct album for listening to by yourself in a 975-seat, hundred-year-old, painstakingly restored theater at two a.m. on a Saturday night? I really want you to think about this. What is that album? Which band’s disc, from start to finish, would be the ideal soundtrack for this exquisite scene? Are you done thinking? There is no right answer, of course. For as many people as there are in the world, there may be that many choices. My choice: The Trinity Session by Cowboy Junkies.

Cowboy Junkies

To me, The Trinity Session is the perfect album. It is slow, ethereal, and gently powerful. It whispers its beauty with Margo Timmins’ haunting vocals and the band’s restrained rock and roll take on blues and country. The nascent band learned to play quietly because every time they rehearsed a neighbor complained, so they learned to tone it down. Necessity was truly the mother of invention, because that sonic discipline became Cowboy Junkies’ signature. Margo originally didn’t want to be in the band. She was not a musician or performer, but a college student studying social work in Toronto when her brother Michael convinced her to sing for them, at least in the garage. Their first several shows she had such stage fright she sang with her back to the audience.

The Trinity Session was recorded in a Toronto church, and if I remember the liner notes correctly, the band recorded the album live, playing at the church’s apse, while a single microphone was placed in the back of the nave. This is not how albums are recorded, but it gives The Trinity Session its singular, spare sound. Along with Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Pixies’ Doolittle, Led Zeppelin II and others, it’s absolutely one of the ten records I would take to that proverbial desert island. To Zen out and listen to The Trinity Session in row N of The Crest’s balcony was pure heaven on earth.

Walking this earth and keeping my peace
I do what I want but the price is steep.
It don’t seem right, it don’t seem right.

My mama she told me, one step at a time
and sooner or later you’ll walk that line.
I don’t want to, I don’t want to.

Taking my time to live and die
I wanna find a way to do it right
and I ease on, and I ease on.

They say one thing always leads to another.
I open my mind, I don’t get it.

Breaking away to the other side
I wanna make sense of why we live and die.
I don’t get it, I don’t get it.
I don’t get it, I don’t get it.

Except back then, in 1992, I got it. I am not a spiritual person, but listening to Cowboy Junkies by myself in The Crest was perfect peace. I could breathe in, and feel all life flowing through me in stillness and beauty. I was in a new town, with new friends, a job, and for the first time since third grade I was enjoying school and doing well. If I had died one of those nights, it would have been a good life.

The following year, my stepfather, Richard E. Springer, got sick and died at the age of fifty-two. Herbal tea, cigarettes, candlelight, and Cowboy Junkies’ The Caution Horses, got me through that time. “You Will Be Loved Again,” Margo sang, and I tried to believe it. As complicated as my stepfather’s and my relationship was, he really, truly, loved me and cared about me. And by the end I knew it, and he knew I knew it. I wrote him a letter when he was dying. I sealed it, and after he died I intended to place it in his coffin with him as I said my final goodbye. At the last minute, standing at the casket, looking down at him, I kept it in my jacket pocket. He was gone, I realized, and I thought maybe someday I would want to reread that letter. (I still have it; it’s still sealed.) He had been my stepfather from when I was eight years old until he died when I was twenty-four. I lived with him and Mom full-time in Los Angeles (although I always visited Dad in Sacramento on holidays and in the summer). Richard’s loss was unthinkable; it left a gaping hole in my life. I’ll always think of him, and the pain I felt losing him, when I play The Caution Horses, and especially You Will Be Loved Again.

Twenty-eight years after falling in love with Cowboy Junkies, twenty-five years after listening to The Trinity Session by myself in Row N of The Crest’s balcony, and twenty-three years after my stepfather died, I still had never seen Cowboy Junkies live. I claimed they were my bucket list band. The musical group that I loved the most, who were still intact, still performed, but that I had never seen. Finally in February of 2017 I was in Las Vegas, fresh off of winning a cool one hundred-dollar bill. I was in my room in the MGM Grand checking emails on my phone, and I opened one from one of the many concert promoters who spam me. It said Cowboy Junkies were coming to Sacramento for the first time, in April, to…you know.

The Crest.

Two tickets were $140, but I had just won $100, so I called it a wash. I bought two in the third row and texted Amy. I couldn’t contain myself; it was finally going to happen, and at the best possible place! When the day came, Amy and I had drinks and a wonderful meal at the Empress Tavern (Empress being the original name of the theater, of course), which is literally underneath The Crest, so deep you can’t even get cell service for God’s sake! We didn’t have a reservation, but the manager decided that another couple who was twenty minutes late didn’t deserve a table, so he gave us theirs. We agreed with that line of thinking.

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Margo came out with her ubiquitous mug of tea. She was beautiful and charming, her hair let go to a luminous, natural white. They didn’t play Misguided Angel, or You Will Be Loved Again, or If You Were The Woman And I Was The Man. But they played ‘Cause Cheap Is How I Feel, and Murder Tonight In The Trailer Park, and they encored with a cover of Five Years by DAVID BOWIE!!! Margo talked to the crowd about how they’ve been doing this for thirty years. So have I, I thought.

Amy and I had an amazing time, although admittedly I’m a bigger fan of this particular band than she, with my strange, serendipitous history with both them and the venue. We ran into a few good friends at the show: Justin, Mike B and Nicole, and Renee, whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. Having given up my sobriety in 2016, I had a mild buzz going and I couldn’t help but think back twenty-five years to 1992, when The Crest represented everything good about where my life went, after risking moving from a city where I had friends to one where I had none.

“I’m Margo Timmins and we’re Cowboy Junkies,” were words I’d waited to hear for nearly thirty years, if not quite Thirty Summers. And although we had great seats in The Crest’s third row, I found myself more than once peeking over my right shoulder to Row N in the balcony.

Telemarketing: Donna Reed Writes

My first real job was as a telemarketer for the Los Angeles Times. A couple of friends worked there first, so I glommed on. This was 1985 when I was sixteen, and it was every weekday from four o’clock to nine. I was a pretty diligent worker; I needed that $3.35 an hour. The eighty bucks or so each week was weed money, and it was just about enough to keep me high full-time as long as I didn’t share too much on the weekends.

I was a shit telemarketer; I think most of us stoners were. I’m not sure why they kept us around. Our job was to sell home delivery subscriptions to the newspaper via cold phone calls, and for every sale we’d get a ten dollar commission. I think I averaged about one sale a week, tops, for 25 hours of work. Seems unproductive, but consider that one customer could turn into a lifetime subscriber, so eighty bucks a week to a stoner from North Hollywood was probably a small price to pay for the bosses.

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We didn’t work in this building, but, you know, someone must have.

We’d drink wine out of juice bottles while we made our calls, and smoked pot on our dinner breaks. We were allowed to smoke cigarettes in this boiler room on Victory Boulevard in Van Nuys, the next neighborhood over from where I lived in North Hollywood. It was at the L.A. Times that I switched from Marlboro Reds to Marlboro 100’s, because 100’s lasted longer. Cigarettes seemed to be over in a flash when you were stoned, drinking wine, and cold-calling people on the telephone. Before you worry about the nonsmokers in that telemarketing office, you’ll be happy to know that the two rows of desks on the very western-most side of the building were for nonsmokers. The other five rows were for us smokers.

The star of the office was an older redhead named Rita, but when she called folks she introduced herself as Fern. She absolutely killed it! She was cranky as all hell off the phone, and she smoked like a chimney, but she was so charming to these customers she was swimming in commissions. We figured the fake name was the key – rather than her professional attitude and natural ease with people – so we started using different names too: Mike, Steve, Jason. Then we tried to think of funnier names to make each other laugh, names like Stu, Lawrence, Jimmy, or Floyd. I don’t know what made those names so funny, but they were. One day Scott outdid us all and introduced himself to a customer as BONGO, and it was all over after that. I laughed so hard I hung up on a customer. Scott won! He was the king of all fake names! But no, I don’t think any of it helped with sales.

Today computers do all this, but in 1985 the calls were generated by us telemarkerters ourselves, via a wire mesh basket in the back of the room that had sheets with the first five digits of local phone numbers. You would dig in the basket for 765 or 762 prefixes, as those numbers were likely to be Studio City, or Burbank, and you had a fair chance of getting English speakers. If you called 504 you would likely be greeted with “Bueno?” Not knowing Spanish, we were unequipped to sell newspapers to our Latino brothers and sisters. I’m not proud of this, but if they said “Bueno,” we hung up.

Our supervisor was a cool, curly-haired, mustachioed cat named Mark, who seemed adult and worldly, but might have been only twenty-five. He was more a motivator than a boss; he was the guy who let a forty-person room know that we were having fun selling newspapers to innocent victims whose dinners we were interrupting. He’d walk around swinging his arms, always in a cheerful mood: “Smilin’ and dialin’ in Van Nuys!” was Mark’s catchphrase. When you’d make a sale, it was called “writing,” because he’d write your name on the big markerboard in the front of the office. “Chip writes!” and “Sean writes!” and “Scott writes!” were things we didn’t hear often, but it was always a thrill to write. Rita/Fern wrote more than anyone, of course.

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Donna Reed, writer

Somewhere along the way this turned into dead celebrities writing. I don’t know how it happened, but around the time I was working there Donna Reed died, so there was a lot of talk about how “Donna Reed writes.” Yul Brynner and Phil Silvers all wrote while I worked there too. Rita/Fern would write, and Mark would put her name on the board, and we’d become indignant: “No, no! Donna Reed writes!” we’d shout. We didn’t want to see Rita’s name, we wanted to see Donna Reed’s name. I can’t explain why this was so funny to us. Rita/Fern would shake her head at our idiocy. Sometimes Mark would write Donna Reed alongside Rita’s name, other times he’d use it as a motivator. “Chip, if you write you can give it to Donna Reed.” I would try desperately to make a sale so Mark would write Donna Reed instead of Chip on the board. I would still get the commission, of course. To this day I will post on my old friend Sean’s Facebook wall that “Prince writes” or “Gene Wilder writes.” He’s still in touch with that dude Mark, and he says Mark always gets a chuckle out of us still carrying on with this little joke thirty years later.

We also formed a fake gang called The Skulls, and we would draw and write SKULLS all over everything, practicing our gangland script. We’d draw pictures of skulls on the dialing sheets, we’d etch them into the desks with pocket knives, we’d ink them onto our hands with Bics. If we’d get our names on the board, we’d sneak up and draw little skulls next to them. Donna Reed with a skull next to her name was the granddaddy of all great days at work. Mark would either notice or not notice, and he’d either erase our handiwork or he’d sigh and leave it up there. Eventually we started introducing ourselves to customers as Scully, as in SKULLy. The hard part was keeping your voice from breaking while your buzzed friends cracked up while you talked to a customer. Why the bosses kept us around, I can’t say.

Once during dinner break we got into Scott’s Datsun 510 to get some food after smoking some weed. He turned down an unfamiliar street that ended in a “T.” For some reason – maybe the marijuana, who can say? – he thought the street kept going and he drove at 30 miles per hour into a concrete, vertical curb. The car slammed to a stop, and it pretty well tore the front axle off. We had to walk to a pay phone, call the office, and tell Mark we had a car crash and couldn’t make it back for the rest of the shift. I guess we were too far away to walk back to work, or we felt a duty to stay with Scott until he got his car dealt with. The Times wasn’t happy with us.

It was a good job. I took the bus there after school, as by that time I had been expelled from North Hollywood High School and was going to Grant High, not far from the Times telemarketing office. Sometimes my mom would pick me up afterwards, sometimes this older, bushy-haired, bespectacled, stoner named Al would drive me home in his Chevy Nova. Al once described in great detail how he had sex in the back seat of this tiny car with a quite unattractive woman he met one night. Al was no prize himself, he admitted, but I never forgot that salacious story. It’s still all I think of when I think “Chevy Nova.”

I had the job until I overdosed on formaldehyde-soaked marijuana in January of 1986 and went into rehab. My next real paying job was almost two years later. I didn’t smoke marijuana or drink alcohol for the next thirty years, until 2016, about the time Muhammad Ali was writing.

Other Chip, or, On Shyness

Recently I heard that everyone is shy to some degree. I’m somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, not overly shy nor overly confident. As I’ve gotten older I’ve certainly become more confident than shy, but no one relishes going to a party where they are bound to know no one. No one except Other Chip, but more on him later.

Conference

The most embarrassing situation I ever found myself in due to shyness was at a conference in San Francisco in the late ’90s. At this early-ish point in my I.T. career I hadn’t yet been to many technical conferences. From a content standpoint I got a lot out of them: attending workshops and keynote sessions by experts in my field. Of course I also took advantage of the free meals, as being a new homeowner and raising a young family was sapping every nickel Amy and I could earn. The problem – for me – was that some of these free meals were planned for conference attendees to gather, “network,” and swap ideas and email addresses. You know, the stuff you’re supposed to do at an industry conference, and truthfully one of the key things that make these events worthwhile.

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Socially confident conference attendees in the 1990s. Notice I’m not there.

But these forced gatherings filled me with dread. I didn’t know anyone at the conference; I felt too young, too inexperienced, and I didn’t drink back then. (And let’s be honest, alcohol is the great defeater of shyness.) I felt the “I’m a fraud” feelings that most of us have at some point or another, especially early in our careers. I had a habit of grabbing the free food and scurrying back to my hotel room to eat it, like a squirrel with a nut up an oak. These meals were typically continental breakfasts of croissants and fruit, or box lunches: easily portable items, tailor-made for stealing away with. Sometimes I saw fellow shy folk, clutching their own plates on the way back to their rooms instead of sitting in the designated eating sections. It was never clear if you were supposed to do this or not. Were we stealing food, or dishes?

One day at this conference they had a “regional lunch,” where we were supposed to line up, serve ourselves from the buffet, and sit in assigned areas that corresponded with our regions, like West Coast, East Coast, International, etc. I waited in line, feeling lonely and out of place as the older, seemingly smarter and more sociable people in line were chit-chatting with each other. I loaded up a plate of food, made a conspicuous beeline away from the West Coast seating area, got in the elevator, and slinked back to my room. I was starving, but as I was ready to dig in I made a horrifying discovery.

I had no silverware.

I couldn’t face returning to the lunch area – a good ten minute walk – for a knife and fork. I felt I would be noticed barging in to grab a cloth napkin and silverware set just to turn around to head back to the elevator. It didn’t seem like a reasonable thing to do, and time was a factor before the next workshop started. So I did the next best thing: I went for my trusty Leatherman multitool that I used to take everywhere until it was confiscated at the Sacramento airport fifteen years later. This was not the kind of multitool that had a fork and spoon on it, though. It had a deadly sharp, serrated knife, a file, a can opener, some pliers, scissors, and a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t too helpful for eating a plate of pasta, chicken, and salad. Nevertheless, the Leatherman was all I had, so I used some combination of file and sharp knife to eat this meal. I laughed at myself the whole time, fully aware that my ridiculous shyness had led me to this strange fate. I didn’t feel sorry for myself, though. I wasn’t a misanthrope; I seemed to like most people and vice versa when we got to know each other. Sitting in that hotel room balancing pasta on a pair of pliers may have been a turning point because I don’t remember shyness being much of a problem after that. At dinner that night – not provided by the conference – I ate at a 50’s diner and stole some silverware to ensure the problem wouldn’t recur.

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Avaya Engage 2017 in Las Vegas with friends old and new

Fifteen years later I found myself running the regional chapter of the Avaya users group, I have presented workshop sessions at this same conference, have moderated forums there, and have had a part in planning this three-thousand-person event. Attending this conference is now the highlight of my year, as I see great friends at every meal, every event, and every bar at 11:00 p.m. Colleagues that I adore are gathered there from all over the U.S., Africa, New Zealand, Europe…it’s a blast! From a technical and professional perspective I get a tremendous amount out of it, and seeing these colleagues, making memories, and having great times is the icing on the cake. This is the difference between four years in the industry and twenty, at least for me.

But no matter how much fun I have at my conference every year, I always remember that early conference when I felt so alone. I think most people have a story of feeling out of place and insecure at a point in their lives. Some have stories much sadder than eating pasta with a Leatherman multitool in a San Francisco hotel room. But there is one person in this world who has never had those feelings: Other Chip. He is not my alter ego, he is another guy named Chip.

Other Chip

When I was ten years old I had a friend named Glen, whose mom seemed younger, prettier, and singler than the other moms. I was to spend the night at Glen’s house one Saturday night, but then his mom wanted to go to a party, so we had to go with her.  In order to go to the party, Glen’s mom had to ask my mom if it was alright if we went with her. My mom said OK, but asked for the phone number of the party house. This was the 1970s, thus a routine request, but still – so embarrassing!

Later, Glen and I were doing kid stuff at the party while adults were drinking, laughing, and dancing. Suddenly the front door opens, and in walk a couple of people followed by a third man whom I’ll never forget. This third man was white, bearded, with sandy blonde hair, Gabardine shirt, probably in his late twenties, and he loudly announced to the entire party as he entered – and I swear the music screeched to a stop: “Hey everyone, I’m Chip, and I don’t know anybody here!” Other Chip was immediately offered a beer, and within moments became the life of the party. He was drinking, he was dancing, he was whispering into ladies’ ears, he was hootin’ and hollerin’ and high-fiving people. The guy knew no one there (who even invited him?), proudly proclaimed his social disadvantage as an opening salvo, and proceeded to rule that party until the end of the night.

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Not Other Chip, but you get the vibe

Other Chip fascinated me. I didn’t know a human being could possess this level of confidence, especially someone who shared my strange boy-name. I had until this point never heard of another human being named Chip. It was a strange feeling to grow up with a name that, as far as I knew, was assigned solely to me of all the billions of people who had ever lived. Until that night.

I watched Other Chip for hours. I just didn’t understand how another person could have my name, nor could I grasp how a person – regardless of name – could walk into a room not knowing anyone and become the life of the party. Despite my youth, I knew I was witnessing something rare in nature.

Another reason I remember Other Chip is because of what happened when my mom called the party house. I can’t remember why she was calling – maybe to tell me to come home at a certain time in the morning. So Mom calls the party house and asks for Chip.

You see where this is going.

Mom certainly knew I was not the only Chip who had ever lived, but she also understood it was an uncommon name. When she called the party house she felt she did not need to specify a brown-haired, green-eyed, smallish boy. She just asked for Chip, and said it was his mother calling. Whoever answered the phone immediately corralled the life of the party and dragged him to the phone.

“Hello?” Other Chip said.

“Hello?” Mom replied.

“Who is this?” asked Other Chip.

“I’m looking for Chip, this is his mother.”

“This is Chip!”

“What?”

(Confused) “This is Chip, who is this?”

(Annoyed) “His mother, my name is Gloria!”

Other Chip’s face screwed up, trying to emerge from a beer-soaked haze. He blinked his eyes and tried to wrap his brain around what was happening. Finally he said,

“My mom’s name is Betty!

Well, that settled it! Other Chip’s mom’s name was Betty, and this woman’s name was Gloria, so the facts didn’t add up: Gloria was not Chip’s mom.

I caught this because I heard the rumblings through the party: “Chip…” and “Mom…” and “Phone…” My face flushed because I knew exactly what was happening, and as I quietly made my way through the grown-ups I saw Other Chip becoming increasingly bewildered as he argued with this strange woman.

Somehow the phone got to me, and Mom told me whatever she needed to tell me. The next day she relayed to me the story of her conversation with the rude man; Mom thought Other Chip was pulling her leg. She was worried and getting angry during the call because this man was obviously drunk and her little boy was in a strange place. I felt it my duty to inform her that the inebriated, confident man was indeed named Chip, and was likely legitimately confused by the phone call.

I did not meet Other Chip that night, and I never saw him again. I received no high-five from this older, cooler guy in solidarity with a ten-year-old with the same ridiculous nickname. The course of my life may have changed if that supremely confident partygoer from the seventies had shared a handshake or a witty aside with a small kid who shared his odd, boyish name. “Hey kid, Chip is a cool name. Go ahead and eat lunch with the industry nerds at the conference, it’s fine. Tell ’em Chip said so.”

Bill Gets Hit By a Bus

Where I grew up in Southern California, we didn’t call them bodegas, packies, party stores, markets, delis, or deps. We called them liquor stores. The one closest to my house in North Hollywood was on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Burbank Boulevard. When I was younger, the liquor store’s chief draw was candy and video games. When I was older, about fifteen, the proprietor’s adult nephew would leave me cash rolled in tight bills hidden on the sidewalk out front, and in turn I would leave him baggies of marijuana behind the Bazooka Joe display inside the store.

The quickest route to the liquor store was to climb over the six-foot wall in my back yard, drop onto a ledge, and then hang drop about nine feet down to the subterranean parking structure of the massive apartment complex behind my house. Then go through the sunken parking lot, which jogged through a narrow passageway to its sister parking lot, and eventually to the far north end of this hundred-unit monstrosity. From there, walk halfway up an outdoor stairwell, and climb over another wall to a much more modest apartment complex. Cut through the small, street-level parking lot behind this complex onto the strange, jungle-like yard of a house on Laurel Canyon that was probably over an acre in size. This could have been the only actual house on that stretch of Laurel Canyon. It was all dirt driveway and jungle, with smallish living quarters toward the back of the lot, and a natural shortcut on the way to the liquor store. After all this hopping, dropping, and cutting through, you finally emerged onto Laurel Canyon proper, and were halfway to your destination.

I had a friend named Bill, and I don’t remember much about him. If I hadn’t been there when he got hit by a bus, I might not even remember him today. I must have known him  from Walter Reed Junior High, but I have almost no memory of him before or after getting hit by the bus. We were at the liquor store because we took the bus home from school together down Laurel Canyon. I disembarked at the Laurel and Burbank stop, and normally Bill would have stayed on the bus for a few more stops. But on this fateful day Bill got off at my stop to play video games. The plan was for him to jump on the next bus that would come twenty or thirty minutes later and not be too late getting home himself. The video game we played was a Donkey Kong knockoff called Crazy Kong.

crazykongMy memories are notoriously unreliable, especially from the smoke-filled teenage years, but what follows is the best of my limited recollection. Bill and I both loved hard rock and heavy metal, and we had been listening to Live Evil by Black Sabbath on his boom box. And yes, teenagers – myself included – would regularly  bring boom boxes to school in the 1980’s. (I realize only a handful of pieces into Police Horse, Black Sabbath already plays a major part in two of them.)

Time got away from us, and I was in the middle of playing Crazy Kong when Bill noticed the next bus arriving. He grabbed his boom box and bolted out of the liquor store, jay-ran across Laurel Canyon IN FRONT OF THE FUCKING BUS trying to catch it, and the bus hit him. I didn’t witness Bill getting hit, but I feel like I did. Just prior, I heard him panic when we both saw and heard the bus coming, I saw him grab his things and bolt out of the door, then I heard screeching and crashing and screaming from the street. So in my mind I can picture the gruesome collision, although there was no way I could have actually seen it.

In an uncharacteristically unselfish move I abandoned my game mid-play, ran outside, and saw Bill across the street laying down in front of the bus. I freaked out of course; I thought he was dead. But when I made it across the street I was relieved to see he was alive and probably not dying. An ambulance came quickly and took Bill to the hospital, while I collected his damaged boom box and his school backpack for safe keeping.

The radio was smashed to pieces, but Black Sabbath’s Live Evil cassette was miraculously unharmed. I played it on my own boom box at home, and Children of the Sea sounded as smoking hot as ever. I chalked it up to the Evil Overlord’s grand plan: The Metal could never be destroyed. I told this BlackSabbath-LiveEvil-Frontstory for months, convinced that demonic forces preserved the infamously occultish band’s unholy offering. Years later, I came to realize that audio cassettes were quite durable; the best way to break one was to play it ten thousand times or leave it on the dashboard of a hot car. Other than that, those white or tan plastic pieces of music were pretty well indestructible.

The next time I saw Bill he was hopping around on crutches in a full-leg cast, and I returned his Black Sabbath tape, backpack, and broken boom box. His mom thanked me for being a good friend. Of course I felt guilty for leading him off the bus in the first place, but – you know – not crippling, soul-sucking guilt. He must not have gone to my high school because I had no further memory of him. I don’t know his last name, and I’m not in contact with him on social media. I wonder what his version of this story is? Does he even remember who was there with him, or what tape was in his boom box?

It’s a common expression, getting hit by a bus. Someone at work told me the other day “If you get hit by a bus, we’re screwed.” I thought “YOU’RE screwed? I’m the one who will be screwed!” I assured my colleague no one would be screwed, because I document every fucking thing I do and how all my systems work, but still, we describe losing someone quickly as getting hit by a bus. Like Bill, poor old Bill with the indestructible Black Sabbath cassette.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Davis

Thank God for friends.

Wednesday, the 18th of January, was a tough one. The day started out great, waking up in the Marin Lodge in San Rafael. Not for nothing, this is a very decent little place to stay in Marin at $93.00 a night. Likewise, our IAUG NorCal meeting at the Marin Center went off perfectly, with David Lover doing his David Lover thing, Avaya’s VP of Global Finance gave us a killer, personal presentation on their financial situation the very day before their Chapter 11 filing went public (and he did keep his lip zipped on that, for the record!), we had awesome industry analysts like Phil Edholm and Blair Pleasant speak to the group, and I gave away a PlayStation 4 to my friend Tony!fullsizerender

It was a great meeting, with lots of friends and colleagues from around the state; we had a near-record turnout. However, it was storming, and I mean coming down in buckets. I knew it would be a bear getting back to Sacramento from Marin, but I didn’t know how big a bear it would turn out to be.

It was the type of storm where you really don’t want to drive any faster than about 55 or 60 on the freeway, and there wasn’t much traffic until I hit the predictable crawl on Highway 37 before Sears Point. After that it wasn’t too bad, and 80 east from Vallejo was a breeze. I had to pee, and I felt like a little coffee might ensure alertness for the rest of the trip (despite its guarantee that I’d have to pee again before long), so I pulled into a McDonald’s. I got soaked between the car and the restaurant, even though I parked right in front of the door. Relieved and coffeed up, I was sailing away again on a strangely sparse I-80. By the time I passed Dixon, things were still looking good. True, I’ve been on the road for about two hours already due to the setback on the 37, but with luck I’d be home in time for dinner at 5:30.

That’s when things got weird. Sometimes when I’m driving on a longish trip, even if I know where I’m going I have the Google map app running so I can see what the traffic situation is, and my ETA. But suddenly Google told me to get off the highway at Pedrick road.

Strange that Google would take me off a free-flowing highway onto a country road, but I figured it knows better than me, so I got off. It was raining in torrents now, and this road led me a good couple miles south – perpendicular to the highway – but I soldiered on, navigating around semi-flooded areas and moving deeper into darkness. Finally Google had me hang a left, and then eventually back toward the highway, presumably, by way of Mace Road. All I can think is that Google knew the highway was about to come to a standstill, so it saved me a few minutes by navigating me around the worst of it. I soon came to regret this detour.

Before long the coffee has taken its toll, so I pull off up a levee-top and it’s storming so badly that, well, sorry Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, but sadly it was more than rain that soaked your car that night. Then I realized I had pulled off up in an area that I’d now have to back down in this storm, and that was a bit perilous, but I survived.

Eventually I found myself within a half-mile of returning to the highway, and I’m at an utter standstill. There is a half-mile line of cars inching – and I mean INCHING – toward the highway, when Amy texts me that the power has been out at home for several hours. It’s getting to be 6:30 at night, I’m probably a couple of hours from getting home judging by the storm and the state of the freeway, I’m hungry, cranky, tired, and I know the coffee will force me to pee again eventually. After twenty minutes and only moving a couple hundred yards I start thinking about who I know in Davis I can stop in on. It takes me a minute, but I realize: Sergio, Reyna, and Tres Hermanas!

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We’ve been going to Tres on K Street for I don’t know how many years.  Dad and Vonnie became pretty good friends with Sergio – El Uno Hermano -, Reyna and their family, and had us all over for meals several times. (They were probably the last non-family to visit Dad before he died.) I don’t know how Sergio and Reyna do it. They have three kids, they run a business together, they see movies and watch all the good TV shows, they go to concerts and clubs and on vacations. Their life exhausts me. Since they opened their own Tres Hermanas in Davis we see them less, but it’s always a treat when we do.

I figured even if Sergio or Reyna weren’t there (but they’re always there!), I’d rather spend a couple of hours at their restaurant than sitting on the stormy highway. The longer I stayed in Davis, I reasoned the better chance I’d have for traffic clearing up and the power coming on in my house.

“How do I get to Tres Hermanas from here?” I asked Siri. She guided me out of traffic, through a neighborhood, and into Davis proper. I was feeling good until I noticed that all the traffic signals were dark, and lights were out sporadically in Davis’s homes and businesses. It started storming harder, and before long I was inching through downtown Davis as well. The going was slow, but Tres was up ahead on the left. At that point traffic came to a standstill again, as I saw sirens up ahead – right outside the restaurant. I start scanning for parking spots, because it’s the kind of night that looks like I’m just not parking anywhere.

As I crawl closer to Tres, I can see there are about three police cars and a fire truck, but I’m not sure why. They’re talking to someone, rain lashing down on all of them, on the side of the road. Finally I’m alongside the restaurant and I’m crushed: it’s dark inside, they’re closed. But wait, something’s happening in there. People are moving around with their cell phone flashlights. The power is out, but are they open for business? I’ve also noticed there are some other restaurants around, so if worse comes to worse I’ll wait out the storm in a pizza place or something.

Miracle of miracles, a parking spot opens up right in front of me, right along side the restaurant! I park and head over to Tres to see what’s up. The door is unlocked and the hostess stops me. “Are you meeting someone?” She doesn’t want to let me in, not sure why – maybe because the power is out? I ask if Sergio or Reyna are there, and she perks up. “Oh sure, right over there!” Sergio and Reyna greet me with hugs, sit me at the bar, bring me chips, salsa, and beer, and ask me what I want to eat. I could cry I’m so happy. The power is out in the restaurant, they have half a house, and they’re still cooking. Still taking care of customers.

I tell them I don’t need anything to eat, I don’t want them to tax the dark kitchen any more than necessary. Chips, salsa, and beer are just fine. They’re not having it, so I get tacos, rice and beans.

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Sergio tending bar in near total darkness

I eat in the dark at the bar, with Sergio or Reyna stopping by every so often to take a pull of tequila and chat for a minute. I asked Sergio about the police cars out front, and he told me someone had been hit by a car, but his understanding was they were OK. This night was like descending into Dante’s Inferno! Still, I was safe, warm, fed, and despite the near-tragedy out front, I couldn’t be happier.

After a half hour or so, the lights turn on and everyone cheers. I enjoy the rest of my meal and a second beer in the warm glow of blessed electricity. Sergio introduces me to Sal and the group at the table behind me. Sal, who is in celebrating a birthday,  was a customer Sergio became friendly with. They had some adventures together and went on a hike to Yosemite’s Half Dome. Sergio had been out partying pretty late the night before their trip, and by the time they hiked several hours to get to the rails that lead hikers up the Half Dome face, Sergio was wiped. It got spiritual and introspective. He realized he needed to change his life. He was partying too much, and needed to focus more on his family and his inner self. Sergio was lagging behind the other hikers, wiped out physically and mentally. Sal respected Sergio’s desire for solitude, but wouldn’t leave him behind. By the time they reached the rails, Sal literally pushed Sergio by the ass to get him moving up to the top of the mountain. Their group watched the sunrise from atop Half Dome as planned, and Sergio says he came off the mountain a changed man. For Sal’s birthday, Sergio was going to present Sal with a large, framed Half Dome photograph the Sergio had taken when he was younger (he is an accomplished photographer and photography teacher). Sal didn’t know he was getting a gift from Sergio, and I was sworn to secrecy. Sergio told me this story between sips of tequila as he was serving the restaurant, keeping an eye on his and Reyna’s kids running around, and it hit me square in the feels. He introduces me to Sal and I can tell the warmth and friendship of that gentleman are sincere. I was also invited to Yosemite before the end of the night.

Amy and I are texting, the power is still out at home, and I’m telling her only half-jokingly that sadly I live at Tres Hermanas now. I don’t think she’s amused, but she understands. Sergio clinks a glass and calls the restaurant to attention and tells everyone the Half Dome story he just told me. He presents Sal the photo and there’s not a dry eye in the house. Sal gives a speech and tells the restaurant about the first time he came to Tres Hermanas, and sat at the bar “right over there where Chip is sitting now,” as I raised my glass. More tears, more hugs, more drinks, and I am in no hurry to get home to my cold house.

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I stayed for a while longer, maybe two hours total, and made my way home. Traffic was still bad, and power was still out at home, but all joking aside, my heart is on Shepard Avenue with Amy, Henry, Josie and the dogs: Benny and Rosie. And of course Vincent, although he lives in Berkeley now. Power came back on in the middle of the night, and real life was waiting back at work the next day.

My crazy day started in Marin County seeing all my friends from the Avaya Users Group, with a pit stop visiting Sergio and Reyna, and ended back where I belong, on Shepard Avenue with my family.

It’s good to have friends like Sergio and Reyna. We don’t see each other much, and don’t have a ton of personal history, but they’re my kind of people. They are people who work and play very hard, love life, and love people. They may or may not know how meaningful it was to me that they took care of me that night. Their friendship and hospitality were precisely what I needed, and even these weeks later, I’m still very grateful for it.

 

Chips Ahoy

One of my early memories is a benign enounter with an older kid in front of my school. It happend after the bell, as students siphoned out of the school to get picked up by their parents, or as was more common in the 1970’s, to walk or ride a bike home.

I went to Pony Express elementary school, and I was in either kindergarten or first grade: a little fella. I was youngish for my grade with a late September birthday, but not freakishly so. I was young enough that I started the school year at one age, then quickly turned the age most of the other kids already were. Today in California a child is required to be five years old by September 1 in order to attend kindergarten. If they had the same rule back then I would not have started kindergarten with my friend Lance in 1974, but with my other friend Chris in 1975. Chris lived across the street and was only one grade below me in school, but one grade is a lot when you’re little. He seemed like such a baby, despite the fact that he drove quarter-midget cars in weekend races, while I only played with toy race cars.

1974nnnndanichipIn the last couple decades, there seems to have been an arms race to start one’s kid in kindergarten at an older and older age. But when I was little, parents tried to thrust their kids into kindergarten at the earliest opportunity; I had a number of friends with December birthdays who had started kindergarten at four years old, which is practically a criminal offense now. When we sent Vincent, with his August birthday, to kindergarten in 2000 he was one of the very youngest in his class, if not the youngest. There were kids turning seven the summer after kindergarten, which seemed weird to me, considering I – and later my daughter Josie – didn’t turn seven until I was already in second grade. A fellow parent at Josie’s preschool remarked to Amy once that it was so hard to know what to do with an April birthday when it came to the kindergarten decision. AN APRIL BIRTHDAY! It’s like saying it’s hard to know what to do when the traffic signal turns green.

Josie, being our youngest child and desperate to join her brothers as mature school-goers, was without question (in her mind) going to kindergarten at four years old in the fall of 2006 despite her late November birthday. She had a number of friends with fall birthdays, and Amy and I tried to rally the other parents to all send our girls off to kindergarten together. The plan actually kind of worked. Now we have to get our heads around the fact that in a couple years we’ll be sending Josie to college at seventeen, and she won’t even turn eighteen until months after that. Oy.

We weren’t participating in the arms race, but plenty were. Malcom Gladwell wrote about the relative age effect when it came to hockey players and their birthdays, and as parents we witnessed it throughout our kids’ educations. Certainly some kids aren’t ready for kindergarten at five and do better by waiting a year. But there were a couple of decades where the decision to hold one’s kid back a year was simply, if unconsciously, a desire to ensure one’s offspring was one of the big, cool, kids and not some booger-eating itchy-butt baby who couldn’t tie his shoes. (But the secret is the booger-eaters catch up!)

The memory that brought me here was of one of those big, cool kids. His identity is lost to posterity, but in my mind he was the ultimate older, cooler kid, like 2-kelly-leakKelly Leak of The Bad News Bears. All long hair, steely green eyes, motorcycles and cigarettes. He was a total stranger. After school one day, when I was either four or five or six years old, this kid out of the blue walks past me and says “Is your name Chip?” I stuttered “Y-yeah…” The dude yells “CHIPS AHOY!!!,” laughs and ambles away. He couldn’t have been older than ten, but I’m pretty certain he jumped on his motorcycle, got Tatum O’Neal to jump on behind him, lit a cigarette and rode away, still yelling “Chips Ahoy!!!!!”

I didn’t know who he was then, I don’t remember ever seeing him again, I don’t know how he knew my name or why he got such a kick out of it. I didn’t even know if he was making fun me. All I knew was he was older, cooler, and he definitely didn’t start kindergarten any younger than seven.

Tower of Song

161017_r28842_rd-320x240-1476123699Like the rest of the the civilized world, I was distraught and horrified by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States of America, after both a terrible and – I don’t like to say this out loud – wonderful 2016.

The worst thing about 2016 was that my dad finally succumbed to his cancer. He was seventy-seven, but I really hoped he’d be around for another decade or so. 2016 also packed a terrible punch for the loss of so many talented personalities. Some that hit me hard besides Leonard Cohen were David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Pat Conroy, Carrie Fisher, and Craig Sager.

Other than losing my dad, it was a really good year for my family and me. Professionally things were great, capped by my giving a presentation on telecom program management at the Avaya ENGAGE conference in Orlando. But in true 2016 fashion, just days later, Orlando went nuclear: singer Christina Grimmie was murdered at her own concert, toddler L2016-06-07-004ane Graves was eaten by an alligator at a Disney resort, and Omar Mateen massacred 49 people at the Pulse nightclub. This all happened in Orlando just days after I and thousands of others had an amazing time at our conference, which also featured a killer private concert by Nate Ruess. It was hard to hold onto my wonderful memories of Orlando when the nation was rightly mourning their multiple tragedies.

Also in 2016 our family took an incredible trip to Europe, likely the only one we’ll be able to afford to bring the kids on (and just two of the three kids at that). The family is made up of human beings, who all have ups and downs like me, but for the most part we’re all healthy and moving in a forward direction. I made some serious changes to my diet, joined and kept a commitment to a gym, and made some other positive personal changes.

But when Leonard Cohen died at eighty-two, just one day before the election that ushered in the repugnant and frightening Donald Trump, I was shaken. Cohen’s passing wasn’t announced until November 10, two days after the election, while millions of us were still wondering if we were sharing a collective nightmare from which we’d soon wake up. And now Cohen gone? Talk about salt on the wound. But at eighty-two, suffering from cancer and general age-related maladies, it’s hard to say he was taken too soon. Just a couple weeks prior to his death he released his last studio album, a fine collection of original material called You Want It Darker.

I came to Cohen late, not until the early 2000’s or so. I’ll always treasure the memory of seeing him in San Jose 2009 with my cousin David Gandy: Cohen seventy-five, me forty, both born on September 21. He was so gracious and so good. It was a concert I will never forget.

Leonard Cohen: novelist, poet, painter, illustrator, monk, musician, singer, philosopher. He left us as our hopes and dreams left us, the day before the ignorant, insane, or evil in America elected a dark spirit to guide our coming days. Cohen’s Tower of Song from 1988 is one of his classics, and upon his passing I pretensiously decided to add a verse.

Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song

I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song

I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond
They tied me to this table right here in the Tower of Song

So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
I’m very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all
I’m standing by the window where the light is strong
Ah, they don’t let a woman kill you, not in the Tower of Song

Now, you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there’s a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song

I see you standing on the other side
I don’t know how the river got so wide
I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
We’ll never, we’ll never have to lose it again

Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song

Yeah, my friends are gone and my hair is gray
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song

I went to the Tower to sing one last song
They met me at the gate and said “Come along”
I said “Show me to my room, I’m tired, I’m eighty-two”
They said “Room, what room? This whole Tower’s for you”  –C.P.