Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Eve 2008

Two years ago tonight, my wife and I were in Ashland, Oregon for Neale Donald Walsch's Recreating Yourself retreat. Here is what I experienced at the New Year Eve's Dinner:

That evening, there was a big dinner planned at the Ashland Springs Hotel for all attendees who agreed to pay the extra $45 for it. As far as I'm concerned, no meal is worth $45, so the wife and I didn't sign up for it. We planned to get a burger at Louie's while everyone else ate like there was no recession. Imagine our surprise when we were told that someone had offered to pay for the meals of 4 attendees who couldn't afford to go. On the next break, I went to the back room and said we were interested in attending on a "scholarship" basis.

We gussied up a tad before heading to the banquet hall. We arrived about 15 minutes after the scheduled start (this was intentional as I knew there was to be some socializing before any food was served). I asked a maitre'd if I could have a soft drink. He responded that the agreement was just that they have coffee and water available. What a rip-off! I told my wife I was going to get something liquidy out of the vending machine.

I found a dispenser on the 3rd floor (it was just outside). This was actually the 2nd time I'd been serviced by the machine; we'd been there the night before to find some chocolate to munch on before going to sleep. It was there that we petted a cat, a cat that we found out was the hotel's (shades of the shop cats we'd seen over the past few days). The cat was there yet again as I put money in for a 20 ounce container of Gatorade (I also got some juice for my beloved).

Upon my return, I found a seat and asked for a cup of ice in which to put my tasty beverage. Ah, that's much better now. I feel almost human. A few minutes later, we got in the buffet line. Neale hadn't shown yet, but had every right to be fashionably late. I'm a relatively small portion guy, so just took some chicken, a bit of mashed potatoes and something else that escapes my mind at the moment (I knew I shoulda took more detailed notes).

My wife piled it on as she was aiming to get her money's worth. We sat down and began eating. The chicken wasn't bad, but it was several degrees inferior to what was served at our wedding 10 years prior. The other stuff was mostly rubbish. I wondered if any of the others felt the same. No one was letting on at this point.

Neale and his life partner entered the room shortly thereafter. Neale was wearing a snazzy black leather jacket; very hip, I have to say. He was sitting in the table behind us, no more than 12 feet from me. He didn't make any grand statements, just ate quietly with the people who had been fortunate enough to sit at the "right" table.

I tried two desserts hoping for better luck, but again, both were shit. My wife actually liked one of the items I didn't have the heart to finish. She didn't even drink the juice I'd bought her (perhaps peer pressure led her to drink the water others were having). There was decent conversation as we got to know a few of the people at our table better. One lady was wondering what Neale thought about 2012. I just shook my head.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Night To Remember

I've made more than 700 postings here at Minnesota Meanderings. Here is the 6th post I made (more than 4 years ago):

"In 1981, our family was on vacation in Wisconsin. Mom had agreed to take us kids to a movie. I wanted to see "The Empire Strikes Back" for the millionth time. Mom suggested we go see the new comedy with Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher instead. I reluctantly agreed and was very pleasantly surprised. In fact, for the next two hours, we were all rolling in the aisles as we watched "Under the Rainbow".

It's not on DVD yet, but Warner Brothers does have plans to release it in the near future."

Up until last night, I hadn't seen the film since, probably 1987; it was on USA one night that year and my sister said she wanted to watch it.

That's more than 20 years for a movie that I'm reminded of every now and then. Many times, when I hear someone say "cable", I think back to the part in the movie where some midgets take some cable from the top of an elevator shaft and the black elevator operator laughs as the little people leave with it. The man then says, as he shuts the doors and presses the button to go down, "Talkin' about the cable...the cable...ahhhhh" as he crashes into the basement of the hotel and comes out a midget himself; he was full-grown before the fall. Imagine how it felt to know that another on has the exact same experience.

I know most of you have no idea what movie I'm even talking about, so here are a few minutes from the movie's climax to give you a taste of what it had goin' on.

The movie didn't come out on DVD as soon as I was hoping. In fact, it still hasn't had a proper DVD release. I read earlier this year that it was available at WarnerArchive as a DVD that had apparently been ripped; it can't be watched on DVD recorders. The going price was about $25 with shipping.

For years, when looking at pawn shops or thrift stores, I would take a quick look through the videotapes to see if it was there. It never happened, so I felt it was time to take matters into my own hands when I saw that it could be had for $18. It arrived by mail on Christmas Eve and I did a little 360 in celebration as I went back inside.

While seeing my mom that evening, I mentioned the film and showed her the DVD box, but she had no memory of it. While there, I found out that one of my half-sisters has a cat that is named "Monster". As a joke, I said, "Is that because of the Lady Gaga song?"; I knew she liked Gaga. Her answer was "Yes" and I was like, "OMG!"

My love affair with 1981 (the year "Rainbow" came out) continued when my mom gave me one of the things I'd requested for Christmas: The Complete Making of Indiana Jones which is primarily about the making of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" which also came out in '81.

I wound up watching "Rainbow" in the bedroom as it couldn't be watched in the family room where we have a DVD recorder. My love let me watch it on my own while she viewed other programming. Lines that went over my head as a youngster were now all too clear such as when Chevy Chase is lying on Carrie Fisher and she says, "Is that your gun?" His reply: "I'm wearing a shoulder holster".

Had I the ability to tell my 10-year old self that he would still be enjoying "Rainbow" at the age of 40, I'm sure he would have been more than a little surprised.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Backyard Shenanigans

Watching football last night, I saw a commercial for a game being played this evening between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. It was noted that this would be the first time the Vikings would be playing an outdoor game in Minnesota since December 20, 1981 (they've played in a dome since then, a dome that collapsed earlier this month due to the heavy amount of snow that fell).

They also showed a few seconds of that last game, played where the Mall of America is now located. The quarterback for Minnesota back then was Tommy Kramer.

I liked how we had the same first name.

This was right around the time that I was getting into the NFL. My dad and uncle helped explain to me how the game worked. At my grandma's, there were a number of Sports Illustrated issues from the Vikings glory years (the mid-70's) when they went to four Super Bowls.

Looking to get my mitts on as much info about the game as possible, I bought a paperback book that had all the major NFL records in it; it told me who all the past Super Bowl winners were, which quarterback had the most passing yards (the Vikings' 70's QB, Fran Tarkenton), and how to have sex with a cup on.

I had a game I liked to play with myself in the backyard. We had a one-car garage and I'd take a tennis ball and glove and throw the ball onto the garage's shingles; the garage had a slant to it. I would aim for a specific row and then try to catch the ball as it came down. Sometimes I would aim for the highest row (closest to the other side) without the ball going over. Playing there, I was actually in the neighbors' yard, but they didn't seem to mind.

It was while walking around to the other side of the garage that I had one of the scariest moments of my life. It was close to dusk and as I passed the entrance to the garage's shed, a mass of black flew not a foot in front of me. It had come out of the shed's broken window, a cat, it turned out to be.

I also recall playing a game of croquet with my family in that back yard. My parents had bought a nice set and we had a good time. I don't remember playing again, however. Is it because we didn't or because the other times weren't as memorable as the others? Same thing for a supper we had on our picnic table in the backyard. During that supper, Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" played.

There was also a good deal of excitement the day our parents bought us a deluxe swing set. Not only did it have the swings, but also a slide, one of those metal bar things that girls can dangle from (precursor to the stripper pole), and a 2-seat device that could go back and forth. I was a bit big for the contraption when it arrived, but had to admit that it was a nice addition to the yard. Truth be told, I probably had more fun grabbing a portion of the new circular clothesline we had and spinning it clockwise or counter, depending on my mood. I had zero interest in the garden my mother tended though the rhubarb it produced was fantastic.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last-Minute Christmas Thoughts

With Christmas less than a week away, it went through my mind last night that not only is telling kids that Santa Claus exists an affront to a parent's duty to be truthful to their children, so too, is the Nativity story most likely a fiction.

Of course, I believe that peace and good will to men is an excellent precept year-round, but there have been too many instances where the founder of a religion is given a birth story that defies logic. Jesus is no less a good man by not having been born to a virgin or under a bright star.

Though they lean too much on the Christmas story, I do enjoy listening to Xmas music this time of year. I have more than four dozen Christmas CD's and it's quite an effort to get through most of them in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I usually listen to one in the morning while showering and shaving, another in the car while going to work and doing other errands, and, of course, while wrapping Christmas presents.

I was able to add two more to my collection this year for a minimal price; I went to a pawn shop a few months ago and got Elvis and Josh Groban's collections for a dollar apiece. One of my favorite discs is Tori Amos's from last year. It has a number of songs that reference the winter solstice, something that preceded the Jesus story. Here's a link to one of my favorites.

Lastly, I was at Kmart last week and noticed a woman dressed all in black in one of those burqa-thingies. A number of years ago, I walked around our town's lake and when I encountered one of them, typically walking behind their husband, I would lift my eyebrows as if to say, "Damn, girl, you're HOT!!"

At the store last week, I didn't see her with anyone. Perhaps she was doing some Christmas shopping or whatever holiday it is that they celebrate. What caught my eye, though, was what she had in her hand and wound up checking out with: some kind of perfume or body spray called Sexual Fantasies. I was taken for a loop and thought, "Repressed MUCH?"

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Visit to a Hindu Temple

On the recommendation of a friend who had read my book, I made a visit to the town's Hindu temple two weeks ago. This friend felt that although my belief system lined up with Buddhism, I might get something out of going to what amounted to a Hindu Bible study. He had been attending for the past couple months. Knowing that life begins at the end of one's comfort zone, I agreed.

While getting ready, I decided to go for something a bit more formal than what I typically wear: black dress shoes and black corduroys. I arrived about 25 minutes before the service was to start. As I stepped inside, I saw an Indian lady at the door. I said, "Hi", but she didn't say anything back. She headed downstairs as I took off my coat.

It was then that I noticed the sign that said one must remove their shoes before entering the inner sanctuary; my friend had said that I would have to take them off, but I'd conveniently forgotten. My feet get cold easily, so I was a tad nervous about making it a full hour without any coverings, other than my socks, that is.

As I walked into the temple proper, I saw an Indian and a Honky talking quietly. I was a bit floored (pun intended) when I saw that there were no chairs in there (save for half a dozen on the left side of the room). I let the two gentlemen continue their discussion while I sat on the floor cross-legged. I looked around the room which had about a dozen various Hindu deities with an equal number of candles lit next to them. I pretended to meditate while I waited for others, including my friend, to arrive.

After a time, the white guy got up and greeted me. A tad older than I, he was a former Christian who had justifyingly grown dissatisfied with the faith. As he looked at "the gods" we were surrounded by, he said he didn't know any of the names of them, but was looking forward to learning. That is one aspect that can be cool about a new faith: learning its history and traditions. I could tell that this man was very earnest in his search and saw a bit of myself from my college days.

My friend arrived a few minutes later and gave me an extra copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the scripture we would be studying.

I quickly headed downstairs to the bathroom before things got going. There wound up being six males for the study, three crackers and three of the Indian persuasion. One man led the study by reading a number of verses from the Gita and then elaborating on what they meant. Throughout the hour, I was tempted, sitting on the floor, to spread my legs out, but knew that that would be a no-no, so continued to sit Indian-style (more puns) as time went by. One thing was certain: I was going to have better posture coming out of this thing.

There were a number of points brought up that I was in hearty agreement with, things like it takes more than one life to experience all there is to know about the human experience and that one's misery can be greatly reduced by detaching from things having to go a certain way in one's life. It was also acknowledged that God is in everything, including dogs (there's no doubt of that in my mind). Another thing I liked was that there was no talk of Jesus as these scriptures were written hundreds of years before God had his way with Mary. Jesus is cool, but he is pre-dated by a huge percentage of respective human history and evolution.

As time went on, the room got steadily darker, so dark, in fact, that it was becoming difficult to see the others' faces. I wondered if/when someone was going to turn on the lights. A few minutes later, the women and children, who had been playing downstairs, came up to close the service. One of the women turned on the lights as the others got in line to praise a favorite deity. I stood in back and watched this take place. A song was also sung by the group before we finally adjourned.

Just before leaving, I told my friend that I had enjoyed the service. He asked if I would return. I said I wasn't sure. I shook the hand of the other white guy and wished him good luck on detachment; it was something he said he was working on.

Next, I arranged to meet my wife at Famous Dave's. Being Jewish, she said her parents would have a fit if they knew she went to a Hindu temple. The good vibes from the service apparently were making an impact as I felt like smiling while sitting at the restaurant. As we began eating our entrees', I saw a number of wet spots on my upper shirt. I couldn't figure out where the hell they would've come from. I smelled them and looked a bit closer at the color before realizing that it was corn juice; it had sprayed from my love's mouth to the collar of my shirt. Fifteen minutes later, without doing a thing, the stain had faded.

My good mood continued as we finished up. At the table next to us, a couple were having burgers. I laughed out loud as the woman squirted an almost-empty ketchup bottle onto her cowpie and it made the sound of a juicy fart.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

My Obligatory Christmas Post

For the second year in a row, I won't be getting Christmas cards for the people with whom I'll be celebrating on Christmas Eve. Not only is it a waste of money (as most people toss the cards, anyway), but the thought of trees dying so that I can say, "I love you" to loved ones just doesn't work for me, especially since it can be done without negatively impacting the environment.

The wife and I have decided, for the first time, not to exchange any gifts this year, though I did pick up a DVD I think she'll like at Wal-Mart yesterday. Giving her a list of three to five things that I want and then acting surprised when she buys me a couple of them, well, I'm just not in the mood for such games. I told her that if she does find something that she thinks I'll like, to pick it up, but be sure to save the receipt.

My mom has taught me a good strategy for making gift-opening a bit more fun. Many times when she gives out presents, she'll have them wrapped in a box for a completely different product. I'll be getting her this time as I wrapped a 6-pack of socks that I bought her in the box for a digital camera, and it looks perfect, like it really is the camera that she's getting.

To give you an idea of what Christmas Eve is typically like for me, here is video from our 2005 celebration:

Monday, December 06, 2010

Entry From My Wife's Journal

Tom proposed on Saturday, November 15, 1997, at the Valley View Mall in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

We ate lunch at the Olive Garden prior to him popping the big question. I ate angel hair pasta, warm freshly baked breadsticks, and white grape "love" juice (italian) delicioso! Tom ate, yes, you guessed right, pizza italiano, breadsticks, and white grape juice "the love juice!"

The engagement ring is beautiful. 1/4 carat mounted in a cathedral setting. Flawless, and I might add, very sparkly. I am a nurse and many of my patients, along with dear family and friends, have made endless comments about the ring's beauty.

(Editor's note: Tom actually proposed in the mall parking lot, having chicken-shitted out from doing it at the Garden).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Meandering Questions

My other half (I actually don't believe in an "other half"; I feel we are complete just as we are, though having another in which to share our completeness is a blessed thing) finally began reading my book last week.

The below pic is on the back cover with the caption:

"With my two favorite people, "--- ---- and Neale Donald Walsch"

I laid on the sofa with the TV turned down a bit as she sat on the recliner reading the 397-page tome. She had a number of interesting comments and questions to make as she plowed through the first 100 pages. Here are a few of the more notable ones:

"Do you know how to play Cribbage?"

"Now I know why you don't like to go swimming."

"I didn't know you were Catholic."

"You should change the part where it says 'colored teenager' to 'black teenager.'"

"What does 'quietude' mean?"

"Did your mom ever catch you masturbating? Did your brothers?"

"Now I know why you don't wear deodorant."

"Why don't you chew gum anymore?"

"Did you sneak into the study last Christmas to get a peek at the presents I bought you?"

"You didn't go to your high school graduation?"

"Why did you write that biking made you unable to father children?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Another Thanksgiving at Old Country Buffet: Part II

We thanked our friends for coming before heading up to the buffet. I first chose to get a couple glasses of pop. I was a tad disappointed with the choices they had before going to the other side of the fountain to see that they had Cherry Coke, my new favorite soft drink (for the last few years, it's been Mello Yello).

I then got in line at the meat station. The mashed potatoes weren't labeled, but I recognized them as such and took a good portion. Just like two years ago, there was a young guy behind the counter asking if we wanted him to cut a slice of turkey, ham, or steak. I opted for turkey. As he cut it, I said, "You know, your arm's gonna be pretty sore tomorrow". He smiled and nodded his head.

I finished filling up my plate with a slice of pizza and some baked fish (had to be healthier than the fried version). I was a tad discouraged not to see any cinammon rolls. I asked one of the workers who said that they no longer had them available. My love said that she didn't see any stuffing up there, either.

The dynamics of dinner conversation change remarkably with the addition of another couple. I pelted both of them with various questions on work, movies, and most pleasurable sexual positions. Our friend's wife said that she was enjoying watching Sarah Palin's new nature show. She said that even if you didn't like her politics, it was worth checking out. I disagreed to myself while outwardly nodding a bit.

A few minutes later, I was able to give the waiter a buck. He was happy to get it, but not like two years ago. I decided that I would give him one more dollar the next time he came around.

I asked if they still went to church (they are Latter-Day Saints). The husband said that he had his testimony (I didn't ask him to elaborate) and though the church recommended fellowship with other Mormons, he didn't feel that he needed to be at church on Sunday morning.

As an aside, a co-worker, after reading my book, invited me to his church, a Hindu temple, this past Sunday. Would you believe they have services in the afternoon? Quite a break for me as one of the reasons I don't regularly go anywhere is not wanting to get up early. I'll be sure to issue a report on what I experienced in the near future.

My friend's wife asked if we'd seen "The Man With Two Brains". I responded, "From 1983?" She said, "Yes". A bit later, they were talking about "The Shining".

I said, "1980" knowing with absolute certainty that that was the year of its release. The friends' husband said that I must be a big movie fan. I said I was and this name-the-year thing is something I've been doing a lot lately.

A couple weeks ago, I was buying some movie books at Salvation Army and the cashier mentioned that she went to "The Exorcist" and didn't go to the movies for two years after because she was so disturbed by it. I commented that it came out in 1973.

Many times when my wife is watching a movie, I'll say the year I believe it came out, and in four out of five cases, I'll be right. You might say that this is useless information to have, but it helps from time to time when playing along to Jeopardy! movie categories.

As our meal neared its completion (I finished up with a small slice of pumpkin pie), I was able to give our server another dollar. He nodded his head and smiled a bit. Our companion couple didn't tip a dime, saying that they paid enough for the buffet. I offered that the servers didn't get a cut of what we paid to get in. They're a tad miserly considering that they both work full-time and have plenty of money. Being Republicans probably doesn't help matters.

They invited us to join them at their place afterward, but I was eager to get home and watch a football game that I'd been taping. We headed home and watched a good deal of telly before engaging in my favorite sexual position. As the temperature dipped, I looked forward to having the next three days off and being able to sleep in to my heart's content.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Another Thanksgiving at Old Country Buffet

For the second time in three years, my Thanksgiving was spent at Old Country Buffet (for all the details on my experience there in 2008, click here). Instead of my high-school friend, this time I went with my life partner. We'd invited another couple to join us, but they weren't too hot on coming. A pleasant surprise was had, however, when they called while I was in the shower asking what time they could meet us there.

I hadn't been back to OCB in the two years since my last visit. Just like last time, the line was (almost) out the door. Our friends hadn't come yet, so we opted to queue and then get a table once we paid for our order. Waiting in line for 20 minutes can be quite taxing, especially when one is hungry (and your money is being wasted if you don't go to OCB almost starving).

Of course, I could talk to my beloved, but really, what is there to say that we haven't already talked about at some point?

The couple in front of us had a four-year old child and were trying to make out how much it would be for him to eat. Not being able to make out the prices displayed up front, I told them that it would be $3.49. They asked if I could actually see that far or if I just knew it. I said that I could see it. Both commented that they should get their eyes checked. I told them not to worry, that I've been known to have good eyes. This was reassuring to me as, having recently turned 40, I was wondering if I still had the eyes of a hawk.

The husband mentioned that his wife would probably only eat half a plate of food (she was ridiculously thin). I said that they really should just charge each person based on what they weighed instead of a set $10.49. My girl, who recently had weight-loss surgery, could've told the cashier that her shrunken stomach would only allow her to eat one plate of food, but didn't want to mess with it.

The teen son behind us was talking to his parents about how good a movie "The Expendables" was. He said it had Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Bruce Willis. When he wasn't able to name some of the others, I jumped in saying, "Jet Li, Jason Statham, a wrestler".

As we moved closer to the front, I saw our friends has made it and both had smiles on their faces; the wife was passing the time playing on her iPhone. From time to time, I took a peek inside the restaurant to see if anyone I knew was there. No dice, thus far.

One good thing about going out to eat with my wife these days is that she is no longer allowed to drink soda; the fizz messes with her stomach. So we save $2+ every time we go out as the only thing she'll drink is water (and the water she can't drink until 30 minutes after she's finished eating).

We finally made it to the front where we paid for our dinners before my girl headed to the bathroom. She told me when she got out that she didn't actually have to go, but that her pants were about to fall down (one of the downsides of losing 40 pounds in three months).

The hostess directed us to our seats where we waited for our friends. I smiled as I saw the Chinese-Japanese waiter that I'd given a $1 tip to two Thanksgivings before. A minute later, I took a dollar bill out of my wallet which I sought to slip to him the moment he got close to our table.

(To Be Continued...)

Monday, November 22, 2010


In stark contrast to what I experience these days, I caught a number of colds every year while attending college. I had to be really under the weather, however, to skip classes. There wasn't much of a difference between laying in bed and sitting upright in the back row of a classroom. Both were passive and there was something to be said about keeping things business as usual even when one wasn't feeling 100%.

I was greatly aided on those kinds of days by a number of oral medicines that I'd take. For sore throats, Chloraseptic was a life-saver. Even the worst pain in that area was soothed by the stuff.

I made sure to bring plenty of cough lozenges with me to class when that was one of the symptoms I was experiencing. Few things are more trying than coughing uncontrollably while others are trying to learn. I also made sure to be relatively quiet while blowing my nose so as not to bother others.

When my condition dragged out or was more severe, I would be seen at the college health office. Upon being admitted, the first thing they'd give a student was a page with tips on how to best deal with a cold or flu. I'd peruse the paper for a moment or two making sure I was doing what was asked before browsing a magazine while I waited to be called.

There was a fifty-something nurse who was especially kind to me. Like most health care workers, she didn't like to see a person suffering needlessly (though if no one was suffering, she would be out of a job). She'd take my temperature, ask a number of questions, and if necessary, give me heavy-duty anti-flu meds.

On one occasion, she asked if I was seeing anyone. I hesitated a bit before saying that I was. I gather that she had a daughter, perhaps, who was looking for a good man and thought I might do the trick. I wondered for a time after who the woman in question was, wondering if I'd missed out on the chance to go steady with a dreamboat.

One of the best things about being sick is the feeling one gets as the sickness goes away. After trudging a number of days feeling 40% or less, to see that percentage steadily increase is cause enough to believe that there's a God. Of course, if belief in God is how one gets better, than who was it that instigated the sickness? And to what end? (I've always wanted to use that phrase in a blog posting)

These days, in which I rarely get sick, I sometimes look longingly at the cough drops and sore throat sprays on the grocery store shelves. You see, ingesting them always takes me back to my college days where I utilized them the most and though I'm quite happy that the Good Lord has blessed me by rarely needing them, I sometimes wish I'd catch a 48-hour bug, if only to take me back to those long-ago days.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Snow Day

After the light dusting of snow we got last week, I'm reminded of those long-ago days when it snowed so hard that school had to be canceled for the day. One of the last opportunities I had to experience such a day was just over 20 years ago. Thankfully, I have video documentation of said event. As you'll see, all seven of my mom's kids did as they wished (the twins were too young to attend school). For those hoping to catch a glimpse of yours truly, well, somebody had to hold that monstrous camera to their face.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Christmas In The Dells

In December of 1984, my father, wanting to avoid the holidays and also in the mood to get out of town, asked if we'd like to stay a few nights in the Wisconsin Dells. Though I was now a teenager, one of my favorite vacation memories is going to Storybook Gardens there; pictures exist of this trip to prove that the memory is not faux. Not only would the five of us kids go, so, too, would the first two children of a family friend. Named Heath and Heather, they were sure to make a Christmas spent in another state a bit more compelling than it would otherwise have been.

I told all my teachers the days I would be gone and they prepared me accordingly. My computer teacher had me take a test before leaving town; the rest of the class would take it while I was gone. He was exactly what you'd expect from a computer instructor in the mid-80's. Bald, except for around the ears, with glasses and a pocket protector, he made the primitive instruments he'd mastered look cool.

One afternoon, while teaching the language BASIC, he showed us how to write a short program which would allow us to write any sentence we wanted and then see it stream endlessly across the monitor. There was a somewhat nerdy girl that liked to talk to me during class's downtime. Though it made me feel a bit embarassed, it was cool to have the attention of one of the fairer sex.

As I took the test, Mr. Kolter, along with a good-looking student aid, watched to make sure there were no bugs. It all went extremely smoothly as I finished up and looked forward to some time off from 8th grade.

A couple days later, we were firmly ensconced at the Dells staying at a nice hotel and enjoying being together. Heather had had a bit of a crush on me for a number of years and it was during this time that we got closer than we ever had before. With minimal parental supervision, we embraced quite a number of times that week. Happily, my dad encouraged it, saying that perhaps we'd be together one day.

The rooms had a built-in radio placed just over the bed. As the two of us were about to leave the room to go to the swimming pool, I told Heather to hold her horses as one of my favorite new songs was on, "Jack Wagner's "All I Need" (he was also a actor on General Hospital). We smiled at each other as the words spoke to what we were both feeling. Another song that reminds me of that week is Cyndi Lauper's "All Through the Night".

This would be one of the last times that I would go swimming. Feeling self-conscious about my body (puberty will do that to you) and moving in with my mother seven months later, in which the opportunity to spend time at hotels would be much less frequent, all but put an end to my time in the pool.

One of my happiest memories, though, is sitting in the whirlpool with the others and looking outside through the two-story window. Just fifty feet away, there were pine trees and snow on the ground.

But inside, we were toasty warm and Stevie Wonder's "Love Light in Flight" was playing.

As inevitably happens with young love, me and Heather were at each other's throats a couple days later. We were able to make up by the time we made it back to Minnesota. I would be in the faith that we both shared for just a few more months. After that, she all but disappeared from my life. I heard sometime later that she would, most likely, marry me if I came back to "The Truth" (the Jehovah's Witnesses). Though she was a wonderful girl, that was just too high a price for me to pay.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Mall Walker

Yesterday morning, having the day off and knowing my friend, Shanon, did as well, I sent him a text asking if he'd like to go to the Mall of America. Little did I know that the texting function on his phone wasn't working due to lack of payment. All was not lost as he wound up calling me, anyway, asking if it'd be OK for him to come up next weekend to celebrate my fortieth birthday; his girlfriend's birthday happens to be the day after mine.

They said they'd be more than willing to go to America's Mall. I'm not generally too big on malls, but felt that the trip might almost be worth it if after shopping, we went to IHOP, a restaurant that isn't located in our 100,000-strong city.

We made it up to the mall at around 3pm. One pleasant surprise is that the halls and stores weren't too crowded, something which probably wouldn't be the case today and certainly wouldn't be so three weeks from now.

We first stopped to have a bite to eat at one of the mall's two food courts. They went to Taco Bell while I opted for a Whopper Jr. meal at Burger King. I hadn't had BK in a while and it was much better than I remembered it. Shanon had to make a deposit in the bathroom afterward, but was a bit flustered when all three stalls were occupied. A few minutes later, he was able to get in.

We toyed with the idea of mini-golfing, but decided to place more of a priority on checking the stores out. There is also an amusement park located at the center of the mall which we chose to avoid.

I kept an eye out for mall security officers throughout the day as there is a TV program that recently aired on A&E about MOA's mall cops. I saw a number of them, but none that struck me as familiar from the series.

We started on the second floor where Shanon and his gal found plenty of opportunities in which to spend their hard-earned (they work in a factory) moolah. Shanon stopped at a place called Lids (they sell hats) and bought a couple winter caps. I sat and waited outside the store as he checked out and grew impatient as this went on for more than ten minutes; he was the only one in line. I finally went up and asked what was happening. He said he was getting his check approved. A check? Can you imagine? It was eventually approved, but for the rest of the day, he wisely elected to use his debit card.

Shortly after we hit the 3rd floor, they stopped at Frederick's of Hollywood, a world-famous store that sells sexy lingerie. As they shopped, I stepped to the guardrail and looked at the floors below. A few minutes later, I looked back into the store where his girl had gone in back to try some sexy piece on. It was then that I noticed a woman working the register. She had some type of black boustier on that really lifted her bosoms up. I don't typically like to stare, but have to admit to gawking for a number of minutes.

As time went by, I wondered when my feet would get sore. As a teenager, whenever I went to LaCrosse's Valley View Mall, my feet would get achy near the end of my day there. My favorite stores to shop at back then were Waldenbooks, Musicland, and Kay-Bee (a toy store). So far, they were fine. Perhaps the running stores I'd recently bought would delay its onset.

At one point, we walked past a restaurant called Bubba Gump's Shrimp (it's based on an idea Forrest Gump's friend had about opening a place that sold all kinds of shrimp). At the entrance, in a glass enclosure, was one of the suits Tom Hanks wore for the movie as well as his suitcase and a box of chocolates.

I marveled that I had actually seen the movie at that very mall in the summer of 1994; my mother had taken me and my brothers to the Twin Cities for a mini-vacation.

One of the last stores we hit was on the first floor, Bath & Body Works. Shanon's girlfriend grew excited when she realized there was a store-wide sale going on in which if you bought three of their products, you could get three for free. As she browsed, I noted that the overhead speakers were playing Ray Charles' version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". I wasn't surprised to hear a Christmas song playing in early November at the U.S.'s largest mall, but wasn't about to let the moment pass without saying something. After Shanon and his girl checked out, I said, "Merry Christmas" to the cashier.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cheap Seats

In the late 90's, one of my favorite places to spend a few hours was at the "Cheap theatre". Some called it the "Dollar fifty theatre" as that's what they charged for admission. If I happened to miss a film while it was in first run, the cheap theatre gave me an avenue in which to still see it on the big screen. The formal name of the movie house was Cinema 1-2-3.

The Mrs. and I had seen Chris Tucker's breakthrough in "Money Talks" a number of weeks before, but were so amused by him that we decided to catch the film once again at the cheap theatre.

We were one of the only ones there. Partway through the movie, it started getting quite cold. My girl said that her nose was cold. I wasn't about to put up with it, so went up to the only employee who appeared to be there: a teenager named Zach.

I told him that my lady was freezing her touchis off, but it was to no avail. He said that there wasn't any way that he could adjust the thermostat. I didn't believe him. I told him that I'd keep a mental note of his name, which is obviously still the case thirteen years later. We watched a couple more minutes before electing to leave, sneaking out the back door so I wouldn't be tempted to give Zach any more disapproving looks.

One evening, while waiting for the movie to start, I sat on the aisle when a bunch of black kids found seats near the front. Over the next few minutes, they ran back and forth from their seats to the lobby. To encourage them to slow down, I stuck my foot out into the aisle a number of times. They still ran, but avoided my side of the aisle. Before I knew what hit me, a black lady was all up in my face wondering why I was trying to trip her brood.

Some nights when my lady was working, I'd go to the movies by myself. "Boogie Nights" was one of the best movies I saw back then. It was my first brush with Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman and that last shot was a doozy! The most notable thing about seeing "Dangerous Beauty" is that the audience was virtually all male. This, mixed with the mature subject matter, made it feel like I was attending a porno screening.

One night in 1999, we were out with my mom. They wanted to see Anthony Hopkins in "Instinct" while I opted to see Catherine Zeta in "Entrapment". I knew I made the right choice when partway through my movie, I went to see how they were doing. It felt like Vegas in July; there were a great deal of people in there which could have been the source. I sat for a moment with them remarking on how warm it was. They didn't seem to mind. A moment later, I returned to the coolness (pun intended) of "Entrapment".

Later in '99, I went to see the "South Park" movie for the 4th time at the Cinema (the first three were seen first-run). While waiting for the show to start, a teenager with crutches came in with his father and a friend. The father sat a row or two behind his son and friend in order to give them some space. I'm not sure the father knew just how hard-R this film was, so looked forward to seeing his reaction to various scenes. Indeed, he appeared quite offended by a couple of sequences, but there was no way he was going to infringe on the fun his injured son was having.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

July 31, 2000 - Journal entry: Part II

I have been writing today's entry in the Charter House. I am at the Mayo Employee Orientation. Safety is being discussed right now. I think I get paid for this orientation session. I'll have to look at my paycheck in a few weeks.

Anywho, I start my regular job tomorrow at 9am. I got the call this morning when I was checking messages, on a break from orientation. I'm to report to the 20th floor of Mayo. Sweet. We'll see how that goes.

This session today isn't quite as boring as I thought it would be. It's not as exciting as looking for videos and CD's in Pawn America, but what is? The thing I love about PA is that I never know what I'm going to find there. They currently have all CD's priced at $2.99 or $1.99. A few days ago, I bought the Spice Girls' "Spice World" there.

It wasn't a great CD, but it only cost about $3.00.

Movies are cool, too. A couple weeks ago, they had "The Matrix Special Edition" for only $5.00. What a deal. I like to go to PA often enough where I have a good chance to look at the new stuff before too many other people have that chance. Otherwise, that CD or video will be gone. I'd rather not go too often, though, or else I'm just looking at the same old shit all the time. So, I try to strike a balance. I haven't been there in about 3 days, so I'm probably due.

You may ask, when does this stop? When do you have enough of these things where you don't need to go to Pawn America any longer? That's a good question and one that I'm sure Dori would like to know the answer to. My response to that is as long as there is a video or CD that I am interested in purchasing, PA serves a purpose.

Virtually all the videotapes I have purchased over the last few months have been previously viewed (used). It's much easier to justify $5 for a used video or CD than $15-$20 for a new one. Of course, if GB comes out with a new recording, I'm there right away. I'm not going to wait for used stuff in that case.

I occasionally go to Broadway Records and Face the Music for used CD's, but they usually don't have too much. For videos, I also go to Hollywood Video and Blockbuster Video. Hollywood's PVT's are fairly expensive, though. PA is the most enjoyable place for me. Their low prices and good selections make it a can't-miss for me. Okay, Dori?

Dori has stopped taking her birth control pills. Why the hell would she do that? Well, I actually approved it. Hard to believe, but true. She's doing pretty good. She LOVES her new job. We are financially strapped right now. But her check will go a long way to helping us out. She gets that in about a week.

Well, there you have it. The history of these past 6 months. They have been quite eventful, to say the least. I hope it's not 6 months before I write another entry. Let me close by saying that Dori is cute.

I forgot to mention that Arthur moved to Illinois last month. I'll give more details on that at a later date. That's it for now. All is well. I am joyful. I am loving. I am accepting. I am blessing. I am grateful. I am that I am. Amen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Hike to Sugar Loaf: Part II

As we walked, we came closer and closer to the foot of the hill. It was absolutely divine. I began to show a little apprehension because I wasn't exactly sure where the path started. I made an educated guess and directed the boys to follow me. There were still houses nearby. But we were about to leave all that.

We started climbing. My guess was right. We continued to climb, higher and higher up from the rest of the world. Occasionally, the boys would look back down at the houses far below. We climbed for about 20 minutes. It was getting hot. Right before we started the climb, we had stopped to have a drink from our water bottles near a water tower which marked the beginning of the path. But the weather was making us thirsty again. I told the boys that the perfect place to stop for a drink was right around the corner.

We hiked for a few more minutes and we were about three-quarters up the hill of Sugar Loaf. There was a niche in the hill and we stopped there for some Doritos and a cold drink. As the persons of my party began consuming the goods, I showed them that just yards away was a fantastic view of Winona. The boys moved near the cliff and ate with their legs dangling over the edge enjoying the view. My siblings and their friend were loving it all! After about 10 minutes, we were ready to hike the rest of the way.

You could see on their faces that the boys were excited. I had them wrapped around my finger. My every word was their command! We hiked for a few more minutes and then, a spectacular sight! It was Sugar Loaf! We were only about fifty yards from touching the rock itself! We were on the top of the hill of Sugar Loaf! Matt, one of my brothers, let out an "awesome!" and the rest of them were amazed, too. They had grown up all their lives seeing Sugar Loaf hundreds of feet above the ground on a hill. Now they were standing before it as if it were a god.

I decided to seize the moment. I had taken a few pictures with my brother, Brian's camera at the spot where we stopped for a snack break. But THIS was a real opportunity. I took a picture of the boys running around and trying to climb the rock. Then, I got a shot of the scenic view below of Winona. Finally, I had them all pose in front of the rock and took a snapshot of that. The rock towered over all of them in the picture.

Soon afterward, a few dozen men and women arrived on the scene with some kind of military man leading them all. Several of these people were carrying ropes with them. We watched as the military man briefed the others keeping a safe distance away from the group. Shortly afterward, about half of the people went down the hill. The others stayed and several began scaling the rock. We watched for a little while, had some more water and Doritos, and then decided to head back.

About halfway down the hill, we came across the rest of the group. A rope was extended from one part of the side of the hill to another. Members of the group were taking turns sliding down the rope by holding onto some sort of a handle. We stayed out of their way as we continued down the hill. We made it to the watertower and the end of the trail.

We walked the rest of the way home and spoke happily about our little adventure. My idea of showing them Sugar Loaf had turned into a total success!

[Teacher's comments: Nice job, Tom! (A)]

Monday, October 25, 2010

70's Memories

Before posting the conclusions of my last two entries, I thought it'd be fun to discuss some of the earliest memories I have. I've already talked about the time in kindergarten that I stank up the toilet as well as the day that I struck another student. Now here are some "all-new" memories:

I went to kindergarten and 1st grade at a school called Jefferson Elementary.

One week, every student at the school was given a card in which they could vote on which animal they'd like to be the new Jefferson mascot. I circled the one I wanted and was a bit disappointed when the pick I made didn't win.

Our PhyEd teacher looked a great deal like Charles Nelson Reilly.

During those years, I walked six blocks to school. On one cold morning, I arrived at the school to find the doors locked. Not seeing anybody inside, I walked back home. I told my mother what had happened. She looked through some papers in a kitchen drawer. A minute later, she found what she was looking for and told me that there was no school that day.

I sometimes walked to school with Ricky and/or Shelly Smith. I don't believe they were related. They just happened to have the same name. On one occasion, Ricky said he knew about a short cut to school. We went through some brush and railroad tracks to get there. I wasn't sold, so continued to take the conventional way.

One afternoon, on my way to school, I passed my uncle John; he worked at a factory called Wincraft and was sitting on the front stoop eating a sandwich. He said, "Hi" to me and smiled.

On another afternoon, I was walking home with my sister. As we approached the railroad tracks, I saw that a train was coming. Knowing I could make it across before the train came, I sped up a bit and asked my sister to do the same. Understandably feeling a bit nervous about the situation, she elected to wait. I easily made it across and then looked back at my sibling patiently waiting. Not wanting to wait for her, I resumed walking home.

In kindergarten, one afternoon, my teacher Mrs. Untiet was outside with us kids. She asked me why I'd be missing school for a couple days the following week. I didn't really know how to say that it was for a religious gathering. She kept asking things like, "Is it for a family reunion? Is it to see friends? Vacation?" I was so frazzled with all the kids around and feeling like I was being unfairly questioned that I began to cry.

My parents bought me a nice watch in 1st grade. It was green and my teacher, Ms. Whetstone, complimented me on it one morning.

Standing half a block from my house one day, an older teenager came up to me on the sidewalk and started conversing with me. At one point, he grabbed me so that I could not get away. I said that my mother was calling. I know mom and dad probably told me not to lie, but I think they'd understand in this case. The older boy said she wasn't calling, but let me go, anyway.

I went into the fridge one afternoon to get something to drink. There was a sippy cup, so I took a sip. I quickly spit it out when I realized that it was milk; I'm lactose and didn't suspect that that's what the sippy contained.

A fellow Jehovah's Witness gave each of us kids presents one evening. That was done, in part, to show that although Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays or Christmas, they would still be able to get gifts. This didn't end up happening as much as it should've. Nevertheless, on this night, I was given a small safe. Jim Dembraski, the gift bearer, showed me how to work the combination, but it was a bit complicated for my 6-year old mind to grasp. To help, he marked lines on the numbers that I was supposed to turn the knob to. I'm not sure what I ever put in that safe, but my siblings never figured out that an answer key to getting into it was staring them right in the face. At around this time, my parents also bought us a Holiday Inn playset.

My first crush was a girl named Courtney. At the tender age of 7, I fantasized that all the boys in our classroom were lined up and it was up to Courtney to choose the one she most wished to be with. There's no need to say that in this fantasy, she wound up choosing me. I saw her, for the first time in many years, in July of 2009, the occasion being our 20-year reunion. I desired to talk to her, but she hung close to the bar with her husband at her side and a beer in her hand. Just being able to look at her from time to time that evening brought me peace and a shot of nostalgia that I was able to live on for a few days.

The events I've just described transpired 35 years ago, an incredible amount of time. Despite this, I've come to realize that I'm never that far removed from the young boy who experienced them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

July 31, 2000 - Journal entry

Much has changed in the last 6 months since I wrote in this journal. The reason I haven't written is because after we moved into our house, I lost track of this journal. I just noticed it lying on the basement floor yesterday afternoon. I read the previous entries with amusement, to say the least. They brought back a lot of memories.

Well, we did move into our home during the latter part of January. It didn't take too long to get used to it. I thought due to the smaller space, I wouldn't like it as much as the townhouse, but I do love it now.

We had a bit of a scare this morning. I woke up at about 5:30am wondering where Brandy (our Saint Bernard) was. She wasn't in the bathtub. She wasn't lying by the front door. I saw Zoe's leash hanging in the front door. That's the leash we've been using for Brandy because she broke hers. Dori likes to keep Brandy through the leash in the front yard late at night because it's easier to bring her in. That backfired today, though.

I didn't see her lying in the front yard. I opened the door and the leash was broken off. Dori said she left Bran out there and she had been out there quite a while. So, I told her that the horse was loose. I started walking down the sidewalk. I then realized that it would be more efficient to bike. I didn't think that she could have gone too far, but you never know. I was more concerned that someone may have taken her.

I needn't have worried. I saw her walking in back of our fence which is in our neighbors' back yard. Those neighbors are from Hidden Valley. So, I put the bike away and went to get her. Dori came out and helped me get Brandy. She was in another neighbors yard by then. She was walking with part of a leash around her neck. We brought her home. Dori thanked God as did I. Interesting morning, but things turned out good.

(Here she is, four years later)

Well, I don't work for Rochester Technical Services any longer. No, no more surfing the internet, no more transferring irates to Scott Ladwig, no more, "Western Digital Rebate Center, this is Tom, how can I help you?" Western Digital went with a more inexpensive rebate house in Young America. But we did get 2 weeks severance pay, which was pretty sweet. All's well that ends well. Paul Hegseth and company are closing up shop supposedly this week. I will miss that place But I am very thankful for the time (10 months) that I spent there.

I worked at Premiere Video South this past week.

I worked there Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. My feet got mighty sore. Wearing dress shoes when you're standing for an all-day shift sucks, so I wore tennis shoes on Saturday. You see, on Thursday, the two people who came in to replace me were basically wearing white tennys. So, I did it myself on Saturday. My feet were still sore, but not as bad. It also sucks not getting a break when working weekdays. Therefore, working at Premiere isn't something I can or will do full-time, maybe not even part-time for very long.

But the free movies are sweet. "American Movie" was a hilarious documentary. I also got to see "Beethoven's 3rd" and "The Beach" before they were released on video. Premiere will be a supplemental job that I will be working 10-20 hours a week until it no longer suits me. I'd probably rather work at the North store, but there were no openings. The South store isn't quite as busy as I thought it would be, which is good. I'm making $6.50/hr which isn't great, but isn't bad.

(To Be Continued)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Hike to Sugar Loaf

My mother recently unearthed the following piece which I wrote for 12th Grade English. The assignment was to write a narrative, something that's turned into a specialty for me of late. Written in the spring of 1989, it is the true tale of a journey I'd recently made with my brethren:

It was Saturday morning. Looking outside, I saw that it was going to be a fine day. There were only a few clouds in the sky and a light breeze was blowing to the west. The sun was about halfway up the horizon. It was mid-April 1988. I was still getting used to the warm weather after months of snow and cold.

Suddenly, an idea came. I thought back to the summer of '87 when a friend had taken me up on a hike to Sugar Loaf.

I had never been to Sugar Loaf prior to that. My brothers had never been there before. Why not show them the sights and have a good time on a lovely Saturday afternoon?

One of my brothers, Mike, had invited someone to stay over the night before. This friend of his, Pat, would be staying until this afternoon, so why not invite him also and add to the fun? My brothers, Pat, and I, the five of us, could get some supplies together and hike up to Sugar Loaf and I could be the leader because I was the only one who had ever been up there before. I wondered if I still knew the paths that would lead to the top of the hill of Sugar Loaf. After all, I hadn't been up there for a year and I had only been up there once in my whole life. I decided to risk it.

I asked my brothers and Pat if they would like to go. I described the majesty of seeing Sugar Loaf up close and the spectacular view of the city below. They agreed, Pat being the most enthused about it. So we proceeded to get our supplies organized. We decided to bring a red, medium-sized backpack on our journey. It would carry 5 water bottles, 1 for each of us to drink from. We would also bring some Doritos along to eat. We figured that we could "crunch all we wanted". Doritos Co. would "still make more" (reference to Doritos' late-80's ad campaign). Finally, we brought a camera. I put it in a separate compartment in the backpack so that it would not get wet from the water bottles.

We made plans to leave at about 11am. It was agreed that I would lead the party, since I was the only one who knew the way and that I would carry the backpack for the duration of the much-heralded hike. We made final preparations and left. Sugar Loaf is about a mile from my house. We decided to walk there.

It was turning out to be a beautiful day. The sun was high overhead and an air of expectation could be felt throughout our small group. I pointed out Sugar Loaf and said, "Well, in about an hour, you boys will be standing right next to that rock". The boys couldn't wait.

(To Be Continued)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My 23-Year Old Self Tries to Get You to Feel Bad For Him

Last week, I came across a paper I did in college called Stress: How Managers and Employees Can Deal With It. It opens by describing a job I had a number of years before. Since I've yet to talk about this particular position, I figured I'd just let the words I wrote back in 1994 tell the tale:

While attending Winona State in 1991, I found a part-time job at Sammy's Pizza in downtown Winona.

I worked two or three nights a week and was paid minimum wage. I was a kitchen worker who did dishes, sliced cheese, heated up spaghetti, ravioli, and lasagna, and also ran the chicken fryer.

I liked the kitchen because it was relatively quiet and I didn't have to worry about dealing with unruly customers. It was a decent job, but when it got busy on the weekends or on buffet nights, I had a tendency to get stressed out. I tried to stay relaxed, but with three or four things to do at once, it wasn't easy.

I usually got to take a half-hour break in the late evening, but if there was too much to do, I had to skip it, which made for a very long night. In other words, if we weren't busy, I could take a break, but if the restaurant was crowded, I just had to keep working and working. This caused me much anxiety, so I told management that I only wanted to work one or two nights. Many weekends I desperately wanted to quit when the work began to overwhelm me.

Last fall, I finally came to the end of my rope. I walked out (actually snuck out the back door) at about ten o'clock one evening. I just couldn't stand another minute. I was going through a major depression. The pain I felt can scarcely be expressed. I went to the bottom of the barrel and stayed there. But, through medication and therapy, I was able to claw my way out.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Rochester Post-Bulletin

Referencing Barb Kasel's letter to the editor from Oct. 5, it's well-known that Christ makes no explicit judgment on homosexuality in the Bible; those who like to push an anti-gay agenda invariably turn to Deuteronomy to back them up.

If being gay is as much an outrage as some seem to think it is, it befuddles me why Jesus made no mention of it. Ultimately, Jesus' message was one of unconditional love.

Efforts to deny homosexuals the right to marry has led to situations where one party is not allowed to visit the hospital room of their partner, even when they are on their death bed, because they are not related. It's obvious in such cases what the most loving thing to do is. Similarly, some of the issues that the Catholic Church now faces could be alleviated, at least somewhat, by giving priests the right to marry.

To those who would say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, I say that those of a different sexual orientation are no less committed to love and happiness than the rest of us. To put restrictions on who we may share our love with is antithetical to the kind of love that is attributed to Christ in the New Testament.

Thomas Dixon

(link to article, which has more than 100 comments)

Friday, October 08, 2010

April 14, 1994 - Journal entry

It rained all night as the thunder rolled across the valley. The boom of the storm reminded him of the unrest of his life. His grief was far-reaching and deep. The sky was cold and gray. Would the sun ever shine on him again?

He had tried to stop the rain, but it continued to fall endlessly. You can't change the past. You can only live and learn. Second-guessing wastes precious time. But the rain wouldn't let him forget. The sky and rain and trees seemed to merge into an ugly mass. He drifted off to sleep losing consciousness forever.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Miller Felpax

My second job out of high school (you can read about the first here) was a summer position at a local factory called Miller Felpax. It was the summer of 1990, twenty years ago. During my interview, I told the supervisors that my wish was to work four days; even back then, I didn't see the point of putting forty hours in. The reason that I wanted Fridays off, however, had to do with me wanting to see all the cool new movies on opening day. Of course, I didn't tell the higher-ups that this was my reason for requesting the hours I did. As the interview ended, I was told that I couldn't wear the tennis shoes I had on; that the job required steel-toed boots.

Biking the two miles to work wearing those monstrous shoes definitely took some getting used to. For the first few days, over lunch, I biked the three blocks to my dad's house to have a sandwich and some chocolate. He liked seeing me, but the intrusion and the amount of food I ate behooved him to forbid me to come during these times for most of the duration of the summer.

For the first couple weeks, I did standard factory work that involved machines and trying not to look at the clock much. Break time was always welcomed. I mostly used the time to get a glass bottle of Orange pop out of the old-time machine. That stuff really hit the spot; keep in mind that this was the most taxing work I'd done thus far in my life.

On Friday, June 15th, me and my 10-year old cousin, Andy, went to "Gremlins 2: The New Batch". We had waited years to see the follow-up to the 1984 movie. Well, he probably didn't anticipate it as greatly as I as he was only 4 when his mom took him to it; she figured the Spielberg production would be as tame as his last film, "E.T". He had tons of nightmares from it and couldn't even go to the bathroom by himself for some time, so sure was he that a gremlin would get him when no one was around; this happened to a lot of kids, so much so that along with "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", it helped bring about the PG-13 rating.

By summer 1990, however, he was healed and was more than happy to accompany me. I picked him up and we biked to the theatre. The film turned out to be more of a comedy than truly scary. One of my favorite lines is when the main character, Billy, gets off the elevator at a Trump-type corporation and is told by an automated female voice to "Have a powerful day".

One morning, later that month, I was cussed out by my main boss, Ed Becker, for not coming to work one morning when we received torrential rain; I wasn't going to bike in that.

I told him it wouldn't happen again. As time passed, I was given various odd jobs such as painting and sweeping. Two of the painters were also summer hires, in fact, they were fellow graduates of mine from the spring before. Dressed in their white jumpsuits, their job was to repaint the exterior of Felpax. One afternoon, I was asked to help, but the sun was so bright that I couldn't do so until I was given a pair of goggle sunglasses. Not too long after, my closest high school friend, Brian, was also hired. Becker said he hoped that Brian would be a harder worker than me. I just shrugged my shoulders.

"Days of Thunder" opened in late June and a friend of my brother's named Pat came over one weekday evening wanting me to accompany him to it. Now this wasn't because he was looking for my company. No, he was under the impression that "Thunder" was rated R, so was looking for an adult's supervision. I told him there was no way that "Thunder" was R and told him to hit the theatre. I found out some time later that he was behind the potato that was thrown through my outside living room window (it didn't damage the inner one). The caretakers wondered how I didn't hear the noise when it occurred. I said that I slept quite soundly and had a fan for white noise.

One morning, I was helping a man who was working one of the machines. While I stood and gave him the parts, the man, seated on a metal stool, put them through some kind of cutter. The boss came by a short time later and it was just then that the seated man stretched his back, grimaced, and said that his back was killing him, that a cushion or back rest would be much appreciated. Becker told him that work wasn't a place in which to be comfortable. My dislike for him grew a great deal on that day.

In early July, I saw "Die Hard 2: Die Harder"; the audience laughed on Letterman when Bruce Willis told them the movie's title.

Over a number of days, me and Brian painted a wire fence. To do so, we used gloves that allowed us to use our fingers to reach all portions of the fence. One morning, I was in front of the building and spilled a substance on the ground. I went inside to one of the bosses, Merlin, and told him what happened. He said he didn't believe it could be removed. My stomach sank. Thankfully, he was able to save my ass and get the residue out.

One day, Brian was assigned to go to the roof and paint some of the fixtures up there. Sometime later, Ed went up there to check on his progress. He found him just sitting there, meditating on the meaning of life, perhaps, not a bad idea as working there was hands down the worst job I ever had. I can still see Brian driving away a few minutes later, waving at me. I didn't find out until later that he had been fired.

I went to "Arachnophobia" in late July and enjoyed the Spielbergian overtures of the film. The audience was really into it.

On a number of occasions, Ed complained that he should've hired a guy who could put the full 40 hours in. One day, while working on a machine, it got stuck. I called for Ed who, as he fixed it, said, "Stupid people". Not too long after, he said he hoped that I'd end up finding a job in which I used my head (as opposed to my hands).

In August, I caught "Flatliners", a provocative movie dealing with death and its aftermath.

During my last few hours at Felpax, Ed had me take solids out of a large barrel filled with oil. Though he may have tried, he was unable to break my spirit. A week later, my stepdad mentioned how proud he was of the fact that I worked at a factory all summer. A couple years later, I saw in the paper that Becker had died. Me and Brian talked about our favorite memories of him before saying a prayer for the souls who were stuck with him in Hell.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Don't Know What To Title This

Today my employer went all-out and provided Little Caesar's Pizza for all to enjoy. I abstained, firstly, because I don't typically eat lunch, but also because I knew I was going to a pizza buffet just five hours later. My lady-friend went with me, but just had water. Is she dieting, you may ask?

I'll say! She's lost 28 pounds in the last four and a half weeks. You see, on the 24th of last month, she had gastric bypass surgery. Though 5'10" and under 250 pounds, pretty much all her fat accumulates around her stomach. Her cholesterol numbers were higher than John Lennon in the early 70's. I repeatedly asked if she was sure this was what she wanted. She assured me that she couldn't control her cravings on her own, that making her stomach smaller is what was required.

A couple weeks ago, she warned me not to feel competitive, not to get PO'd if her weight goes below mine. Where a few weeks ago, she was obese, now she is simply overweight. I can see her features being chipped away day by day, revealing the person I first came to love more than a dozen years ago, well before people got addicted to shit like FarmVille.

We saw a movie on Saturday: "The Town" starring and directed by Ben Affleck.

The reviews were phenomenal (more than 94% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), so I had high expectations, which actually wound up being surpassed. Taking place in Boston, it's a heist movie which doesn't give short shrift to character development. After the Facebook movie, the next one on my list is "Hereafter". Starring Ben's buddy, Matt Damon, and directed by Clint Eastwood, one of its big set pieces is the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 a few years ago.

And just to show that I'm not going soft, here is a text message that I sent to a friend today:

"Tom's head is so far up his ass that he can see Adam Lambert."

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Age Man in the Land of Sin

Five years ago this November, I took my first (and so far, only) trip to Las Vegas. The occasion was to visit my wife's in-laws who moved there in 2003. I was looking forward to going somewhere where it'd be a bit warmer than Minnesota. As the plane took off in the mid-afternoon, the passengers were subdued. I passed the time listening to my CD headset. This was the first time I'd ridden in a plane since our honeymoon seven years before.

My first plane ride was at the age of three when my parents transported me and my younger sibling to the States after my father's tour was over with the Air Force. My mom said that I threw up as we flew over the Atlantic. Could it be that flying at 30,000 feet didn't sit well with my stomach? Was it the ear popping that compelled me to hurl? Or was it the fact that I would no longer be able to drink goat's milk, the main type of dairy that was available in Greece?

The mood lightened considerably as we drew closer to Sin City. It was as if at the beginning of the flight, the people were told that they might get laid that night, but it wasn't a sure thing. Two hours later, they KNEW they were getting some. As we obtained our luggage, there were signs everywhere for various shows that were playing in town. Celine Dion's was probably the biggest at the time, one that we looked forward to attending in a few days (it was a late anniversary present from her parents).

Our brother-in-law drove us to my wife's parents house where we would be staying for the duration. They lived in a community in which all members had to be at least 55. I shudder to think of how much Viagra existed there per capita. Perhaps not coincidentally, there was a CVS pharmacy located just a few blocks away. All the houses were just one level so that the elder set would never again have to climb stairs. The name of the cable company out there was Cox which was ridiculously appropriate for a state in which brothels are legal. The next day was Thanksgiving. A good meal and time was had by all.

On the day after that, we were driven past the Strip, through New York, New York, gay Pari, and the Lion at the MGM Grand. There was a monstrous Christmas tree placed at one spot. We parked near Paris and while the guys gambled, I went shopping with the girls. Much to my chagrin, smoking was allowed inside Paris. I thought that went a tad far. They should've just gone all the way and had hookers on the street corners, too.

Later, I went with my sister-in-law to New York where we rode the roller coaster.

Priced at close to ten bucks, I got a bit of a crick in the neck from it. As we went out to eat that evening, I saw the first of three Vegas cliches, a bride and groom who had just been married. The other two, which I saw over the next couple days, were an Elvis impersonator and a guy with a cowboy hat counting his money as he came out of the casino.

The next night, we saw Celine at Caesar's. I would've much preferred to be seeing Paul McCartney who was playing at the same time at the MGM, but there wasn't much I could do about it. As we strolled to our seats, I noticed that 16 ounce bottles of Celine water were for sale. The five dollar price tag put me off of them, however. Though I'm not the hugest fan, she had quite a good show. After some time off, she's returning to Vegas for another extended stay next year. In the gift shop afterwards, it was an estrogen fest as women stocked up on Celine discs and perfumes.

The following night, we spent a bit of time in Downtown Vegas. We passed the area where the strip had originally started and saw old-school places like the Sahara (which has a camel as its logo). During the ride, my brother-in-law explained to my wife how to play Texas Hold Em. If it hasn't already become apparent, I have no interest in gambling. While downtown, we saw a number of acrobats doing their shtick about 30 feet in the air as techno music played.

On one of our last days, I was able to convince my father-in-law to take me to a place I might enjoy: a used record shop. While there, I bought Jerry Seinfeld's "I'm Telling You For the Last Time" and the Symbol's multi-disc "Crystal Ball".

Later, we went to Vegas's biggest souvenir shop. On the way there, I saw a homeless man begging for money at the intersection. I rolled down my window and gave him a couple bucks when my wife and father-in-law weren't looking. They figured he was just gonna spend the money on boos or drugs. If I was homeless, I'd probably do the same in order to forget the pain. We found jack shit at the store, but I didn't have a problem with having more money in my wallet. That evening, we went to a restaurant called Terrible's. It was located inside a casino which was also called Terrible's.

Despite the name, I found the food to be quite palatable.

The next day, we headed back to Minnesota. I can't say that going to Vegas dissuaded me much from the opinion that it's overrated; I had more fun watching "The Hangover", but at least I can say that I've been there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Nard Dog

Sharing an apartment with an adolescent Saint Bernard is no mean feat as this video from 1999 attests. The music I had playing on the stereo probably exacerbated things.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Phy Ed

Me and Physical Education had quite the relationship during my school days. One of my earliest joys was playing kickball in grade school, though I was often picked last (or close to last). One afternoon, I asked a guy in the grade above me if I could join in. He said I could, but that if I flew out, I was off the team. Wonder of wonders, I popped it up and was outta there. And, of course, there was the time that I REALLY popped it up. Click here if you're not familiar with the story.

Some of my classmates could really make it sail, so much so that the outfielders would have to go down a steep decline that went into a creek. It was quite dangerous when I look back on it, but, hey, it was the 80's. The janitor, Les Schmoker, could be seen every few days on the roof of the school throwing down rubber balls that had "unintentionally" been kicked up there.

In the 6th grade, I was able to join an exclusive club of guys who played football off to the side in the school's driveway. Two of them were Jason and Russell Speltz. They were really into sports and it felt good to be able to play with them. It certainly helped my self-esteem having been a bit of a loner the years before in no small part because of my shyness. One afternoon, while playing, I saw my mom tending the garden in our backyard; our house was located across the street and a few houses over.

On a lazy summer evening, I was playing football in our backyard with David Rinn when an older fellow named Tom Jacobi who had been bullying me passed by on his bike. My dad, aware of the situation, managed to get him to stop and told him to cease doing these things to his progeny. Tom appeared to take it well, but when he was about 30 feet away on his bike, he loudly said: "Fucker!!" My dad yelled, "Come back here and say that, Big Boy!" He was PO'd at being swore at by a snot-nosed high school kid. I found out later that Tom got in serious trouble with his mother for all the mischief he caused. I only wish that he was on Facebook so that we could have a laugh over the long-ago incident.

I was in for a rude awakening in 7th grade. We were required to wear a gym uniform (T-shirt and shorts). What's worse is that men were compelled to wear a cup. I was full of anxiety as I put the cup on followed by the uni. We walked a few blocks to the closest park where I saw an old friend from 1st grade named Shelly Smith (I'm really dropping the names here, aren't I?). The reason I remember this is because at the time we were all sitting in a circle doing stretches. I became self-conscious as I realized that some of the girls could see my cup. I resolved that day to never again wear one.

Another uncomfortable aspect of junior high Phy Ed occurred shortly thereafter as we hit the showers. Me and one of the Farrell twins were looking to get out of doing so, but an instructor said that we must do so. With our "tails" between our legs, we did as we were told. I didn't even really soap myself off, I was so self-conscious. My mindset wasn't helped by the guy who seemed to glance at every guy's dick as he threw a towel at them.

Still more trauma was experienced during the two weeks we had swimming. It wasn't so much that I didn't know how to swim, but that I had to wear what amounted to a pair of Speedo trunks.

I was all too eager to get into the pool so that others wouldn't be able to see my all-but-bare 13-year-old body. One morning, as I sat at the toilet at home, I cursed the fact that of the seven days of the week it could be, it just happened to be one of the two in which I would have to "swim".

My last year of Phy Ed was 10th grade; it wasn't required in 11th or 12th. One sunny day, they had us run around the smaller portion of Lake Winona (it's pictured below with the school behind it).

I was surprised at how much I put into it, doing my best to keep up with some of the stronger and more fit guys on the team. The coach, Mr. Kendrick, was so impressed that he asked if I'd be interested in joining the track team. I said I'd consider it, but later declined; one of the things I didn't like about running was how out of breath it made a person.

College required that we take just two Phy Ed classes. The first I opted for was Personal Fitness. I was suprised that first day when Mr. Gunnar said that we only needed to attend that first class if we covered a certain amount of ground in 10 minutes. We couldn't run, though, it had to be walking; walking fast was fine. Excited at the possibility of getting an easy A, I walked with alacrity. I felt sorry for some of the chunkier girls. It appeared that they'd be seeing Mr. Gunnar weekly for the next couple months. This other lady was able to finish ahead of me, but I was close behind.

A couple years later, I took Bowling. Also taught by Gunnar, there was no option that if you scored over 150 that first day, you'd be scot-free for the rest of the quarter. I'm kind of glad that wasn't the case, however, as I had a great time bowling with my classmates. Cups and showers seemed a lifetime ago as I rolled that ball down the lanes that Winona State had in the Student Union area.

We got out of one of the classes because Gunnar's mom died and another because he just didn't show up; his woman probably ditched him. I polished a split one morning and was beaming as Gunnar saw it and said, "Great shot!" The last day, we did a written test on the basics of the game which I had no problem with. I confess to being a tad melancholic as I left the alley that day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My 2010 Vacation: Day 5

I made sure to get up plenty early on Monday morning, the last day of the conference. For Neale's all-day, I wanted to be as close as possible. As I prepared to take my luggage to the car, I took a look at the TV and marveled at how I hadn't watched it on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Since I hadn't been on the internet, either, I was under a media blackout of sorts. If a speaker talked about something that had recently happened in the world, I was totally clueless and liked it that way. I also hadn't really had any time to be outside or to be among those of a non-spiritual bent (though the hotel employees could be considered such, they blended in so well that it was easy to forget).

I was in line for Neale's seminar at about 8:10am, 50 minutes before it was to begin. A lady walked past and said, "Are you holding up the line for Neale?" I said, "Yes" and added, in a nod to "Misery", "I'm his number one fan". We were let in around 8:35. I walked quickly up front where I got a front row seat just a few feet from where he would be speaking. In the pic below, you can see Neale to the right of the whiteboard (just to the right of the bald man) and me (wearing a blue shirt) close by:

He had lots of new stuff. Doncha hate it when you go to see a comedian and he just regurgitates the same old shtick? Like last summer, Neale went over the ins and outs of the Mechanics of the Mind and the System of the Soul, but there was plenty of time to go into other areas. Early on, a younger man asked what reality is. I smiled as Neale said that there was no such thing as objective reality. He mentioned that spending 6 hours with him might seem like a lot, especially compared to the 90-minute sessions he'd given earlier in the weekend, but that we would only be exposed to about 6% of the totality of what he'd like to share.

He said that he can afford to not give workshops, but that after a few weeks at home, he gets the craving to share what he's learned (remembered) with as many people as possible. He discussed the figure 8 from his When Everything Changes book; this showed how it is that we go from ultimate reality to the physical reality we now inhabit. Many belief systems, he said, profess that it is possible to go from one realm to another, but not that we get to go back and forth as many times as we want.

At one point, Neale thought it'd be good to have the whiteboard raised from the floor to the platform so that all could see it. He asked that me and another man come up so that the board could be moved. We lifted it up and as the other guy moved a table from the platform to the floor and I was getting ready to sit down, Neale said, "Tom, move that chair out of the way. Snap to it!" I quickly did as I was told. Pretty cool, I thought, to be taking orders from a best-selling author.

Later, he talked of ways to get in touch with the divine, one being taking 10 seconds when you're in the middle of doing something and just stopping. He illustrated this by stopping talking in the middle of a sentence and not speaking again until 10 seconds later. I've tried this one myself and it is quite potent. Not sure how good it would go over when one is having sex.

Later in the morning, while writing on the board, he said, "Those who were thinking we were going to be having a morning break, NA NA NA NA NA NA!!" A little after noon, we were given 90 minutes for lunch. A salad buffet was served and unlike Friday's lunch, this time it was Caesar salad which is much more my cup of tea.

The dessert chocolate was much too rich, however; speaking to how we experience reality differently, the women I was with said it was heavenly. Shortly before returning to the conference room, I stopped in the bathroom where I saw Michael Tamura. Wouldn't you know it, while he was trying to go, someone started talking to him and began peppering him with questions. Tamura took it in stride.

Neale had lots of really cool asides, such as when he talked about how nothing is ever deleted on a computer. It can be put into a recycle bin and the recycle bin can be emptied, but it's all still there. He said the soul is the same way. Plenty of laughs were generated when he said that FEAR stands for Fuck Everything And Run. He talked about how our brains had evolved over time, from the reptillian one, which simply reacts, to the mammalian one. In some way, he said, it would be less complicated if we still had just the mammalian one. A lions roars, for example, but it doesn't second-guess itself afterward, thinking, "Maybe I shouldn't have roared at those lions. Perhaps I was out of line".

He also spoke to those who believe that they are unworthy of God; "The sun is a part of God, the trees are a part of God, the flowers are all a part of God, but God ends at your body", he said facetiously. He had some great words on the value of having things in this world that we don't agree with, on how it is necessary for there to be the opposite of what you think you are in order for you to decide and declare who you wish to be. This made me see the good in having someone like Sarah Palin around.

As our time started winding down, he said that forgiveness is not necessary if there is understanding. That is, if you can understand why someone might do the thing that they did that makes you think they need to be forgiven. He also said that all the things we believe in, we're making up. For many years, the Catholic Church required that no one eat meat on Fridays. How did this come to be? Someone made it up. It's professed by some in the Islam faith that martyrs will get 72 virgins in heaven. Where did that come from? Someone made it up. The Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is immoral to get a blood transfusion. Again, someone made it up and the sadness is that millions actually believe it. Of course, this means I'm also making up my own beliefs, but I feel it's better to err on the side of unconditional love over orthodoxy.

Neale concluded by saying that God doesn't make any mistakes, that all circumstances you encounter are for your highest growth and that the game never ends. His wife (Em Claire) ended with a beautiful poem. Here's a portion of it:

"Go Outside and play!" said God. "I have given you Universes as fields to run free in! And here - take this and wrap yourself in it - It's called: LOVE and It will always, always keep you warm. And stars! The sun and the moon and the stars! Look upon these often, for they will remind you of your own light! I have given you everything you need. Now go, go, go outside and play!"