Thursday, September 15, 2011

Remembering Dads and Dogs

Of Dads...
It’s my dad’s 100th birthday on September 15, 2011. No he’s not one of the new era of Japanese centurions who are in the press today. He actually passed in 1991 so he died just short of his 80th birthday. That would make ME how old now? 80? 70? 60? Let’s just skip 50 and tell you that I’m 41. So from early on in my life I had to contend with the notion that my dad probably wouldn’t live to see me reach certain milestones in life. He saw me through little league, soccer, buying my first car, high school graduation, pledging a fraternity and that’s about it. Now I’m not trying to belittle the time we had together, but let’s face it, not meeting your son’s wife or grandkids is kind of sad. In fact, my kids have never known met their own grandfathers- on either side- as my wife’s dad passed before we were married. And I never got to meet my own grandfathers. I was a baby when I met my mom’s dad, but that doesn’t really count.
So my father has been gone just as long as he was with me on earth. Here’s a brief synopsis of his life. Born in Kentucky, lived in boarding schools with his older brother David, went to University of Oklahoma- ROTC, served in World War 2 in among other places under Patton in North Africa and he was actually on the Champs -Élysées on VE day, became a full colonel in the Army, has pictures with Bob Hope, Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield during what appears to be USO shows. He was married before my mother and had a daughter who now lives in Maine. He served a full career in the Army and then went on to become a vice president of the Long Beach, CA Chamber of Commerce. He worked for a startup company that did hazardous waste cleanup. He was pretty much retired when I was a kid, attended every practice and game, took me to every rehearsal. He kept going to college even when he was old- learning more foreign languages and whatnot. He always had stories to tell of his military friends and adventures, and he always had a semi-racist joke chambered which always left me a little uncomfortable. We had a clear generation(s) gap to contend with but to this day, I still love hanging out with old people.

We travelled a lot when I was young- Hawaii, Tahiti, a Eurail Europe vacation, an “Across America” tour which included Canada and Guatamala. He had a lung cancer scare years after he quit smoking- they took out a third of a lung and he made a full recovery. He loved to garden, meet people of all cultures, bring cold beers to the guys working on the utility problems in the neighborhood. He had a big belly for as long as I could remember- thin as a rail except for that gut. I never saw him drink a touch of alcohol (where did that gut come from and how do I avoid it?)

During college, I knew that he was getting on, so every visit home ended with a crying goodbye as I wondered if it my last time seeing him. I’d lay with him in bed and sometimes talk about things though I don’t remember what about- I was more concerned with his breathing and thoughts of death.  I had no clue what I'd do after college, how to find a job, network, deal with office politics, etc. But it was kind of late to start discussing it with him. He eventually succumbed to age and I was able to visit him in the hospital before he actually passed. He had a little dementia before the end and a few scares- like the time he disappeared in his Cadillac and ended up in Dana Point (about 30 miles south of home). His final hospital stay was pretty short and I told him I loved him and although he couldn't say it back to me, I knew he could hear me and that if he could answer he'd say the same thing. The day I got the official call that he had passed, (I was back at school) I had a final. I took it and did fine. I didn’t really cry at his funeral- I guess because I was prepared. It actually took me like a full year to cry after he died.  My girlfriend at the time joined me at a veterans cemetary by school and I spent some time at the flag since he was actually buried at sea and we had no actual place to visit his remains.

Our mom (I have a younger brother named Bobby- we’ll get to him later), still grieves about him regularly and on his actual birthday, she and my brother will go to the Seal Beach Pier like they’ve done many times before and say a prayer and throw some flowers in the ocean. I live in Arizona so I’ve never actually shared in this private ceremony with them. I guess this year, I’m remembering by writing this. Perhaps I’ll even share it with mom and Bobby. I really do miss him and I talk to my kids about him and I show them pictures of him. But just like my dad’s parents are to me, my kids won’t think of him fondly as a family member they’ve met. But that’s ok. Happy Birthday Dad…

Of Dogs...

Now I could easily end this here, but the timing of certain events will double this little entry. So if for some reason, this has made you a little sad, I need to go over another topic that’s related.

When I was a kid, my parents got a Dalmatian for the family. Of course we named her Spot and she was a cool dog. She ran like the wind, only knew how to “sit” and she was an outside dog. If ever she did get inside she’d do these insane laps around our giant two story house. She’d run up to my parent’s master closet and just start digging at the floor- like she was looking for a bone. When she’d get out of the yard, she’d just bolt. And the only way to get her back was to physically get the car, chase her down and open the door. She was flat out nuts like so many other Dalmatians, or dogs in general.

But even though we got her as a puppy, she eventually got on in years. At one point she got a tumor in her chest so we had it removed. Later, her hips started giving out on her. She started going blind- to the point where when we’d take her for a walk, when she got to a curb, she’d instinctively try and hop up the curb and collapse when she landed. It was pretty sad.
I was in high school about that time and one night when I was at my part time job at the CD Center, I found out that my dad had taken her to the vet to put her to sleep. I was a little shocked at how quickly this happened. But what was sadder was that my dad told me that he was sitting out back in his chair in the afternoon, and Spot ambled up to him and placed her head in his lap, and looked up at him with sad eyes. My dad knew what she was telling him and he decided that it was time. Sure it’s the humane thing to do, and at first I took it at face value. But later, I found out that my dad was especially upset about it because he revealed that he always assumed that HE would pass before Spot and would never have to endure another lost dog. That story always makes me sad.

So how does this event from 21 years ago relate to recent times? Well, my brother Bobby is still single and besides living with roommates, he’s unattached. Some years ago, Bobby inheirited a dog simply named Girl. Now Girl came from an abusive owner and had been permanently scarred with a fear of men. Whenever we’d go visit his house, Girl would always go hide.  I could never go wrestle with her or even leaving her alone with the kids was a little sketchy as she was very much a regular dog- protective of her space and stuff.  We on the other hand have our own dog named Molly who will always shy away from overfriendly dogs, will never growl, will never bite and will even let you scrape the tarter from her teeth without much protest.  I guess we have a weird dog- but now I've strayed from my point...

Bobby was pretty much the only male that Girl trusted. He has pictures of the two of them on trips and just hanging out. Several years ago, Girl got a crazy illness caused by foxtail that bores into dog skin. It caused enormous boil-like sores and essentially can cause organ damage if not surgically removed. Bobby rallied his friends to have a “help pay for Girl’s surgery” party and he was able to offset the costs.  Within this past year, Girl got sick with a pneumonia-like illness with a nasty hacking cough.  As Bobby is a musician in a touring band, he couldn't really stay home with her, but he did make the right decision to postpone a trip out to visit us to take care of her instead.  She recovered somwhat from that too thanks to his love and affection.

But last week, Girl took a turn for the worse.  As he posted on Facebook:

And then just yesterday:

Our mom was with Bobby when she was put to sleep.  My brother was crying a lot.  And she took one last photo of the both of them with her iphone (it is now the photo that pops up when he calls me)
It's Girl right before she went to eternal rest.  Bobby purposely wore one of our dad's shirts for the ocassion.
Goodbye Fuzzy Angel, Happy Birthday Dad.  We miss you already and always.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years Since That Infamous Day

Where were you ten years ago? It's hard to forget where you were. After all, there are only some things that will be etched in our minds forever- depending on your age. For me, it was the day the Challenger exploded and where I was when OJ was set free. Both sad days.

However, the day I'm talking about- ten years ago- was also the day that Ed McCaffrey broke his leg on Monday Night Football. It was one of those gnarly events that rivals Joe Theismann (actually pronounced THESE MEN) or Moises Alou or Willis McGahee or even Freddie Mitchell. It was flat out gruesome and I will never forget it.

But let's get serious for a moment. We all know what really happened ten years ago. Sure I can try and gloss it over with some humor- however gross it may be, but those who don't care about it are either insensetive, unAmerican or just flat out bad people. Let me recount my perspective...

It started off like most other days. I was getting ready for work. I was dressed and ready to leave the house and my wife Nadine called upstairs in a very serious voice for me to come downstairs. The big joke to this day is that I replied with "do I have time to check my email?" She replied with silence, so I knew that it was something that couldn't wait.

So when I came downstairs, I realized the severity of my insensetive request. We got in the car and drove in near silence down Interstate 5 from Vista to La Jolla, California. Traffic was moderate. I kept looking over at her but she was staring out the window- I could see that she was crying. I tried to make light conversation but was met with more silence. We kept the radio off.

Luckily we arrived at our destination safely, but as soon as we walked in the building, we knew that this whole incident was reality. We were rushed to our safe haven to brace for the worst.

Then the emotions really hit me and I started to tear up. It was overwhelming. And within a few hours we felt like things were over. And we prayed and we knew that we would never forget.

It was at that point that I realized that the world would never be the same. Like most other sane people in this situation, we knew that our vigilance must be heightened from now on and that it would be hard to trust certain people. Call it what you want, but when you see certain "types" of people, you really need to be on your guard- call the police, inform your neighbors. My wife even asked if I would kill one of "them" if the need arose. She was halfway joking, but yeah, I just might if one of them did harm or threatened to do such harm. I have guns now and I even think there's a country song about "cleaning my gun" just to make a point.

So now a full decade has gone by. My hair is thinner. My waistline is... about the same. And yes we've gone through it again since that memorable day. But it could never be as indelibly stamped in my brain like it was ten years ago. I finally caved in and bought a cell phone, desk aquarium and Angry Bird plush doll to commemorate the ten year anniversary- we all do it differently so don't criticize...

Our Madison is now 10 today. Happy Birthday Madison! September 10, 2001. We will do our best to remember your special day each and every year and not let it be overshadowed by the realities of the world- like thunderstorm during pool parties or rained out miniature golf and water park parties.

Madison Today

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jury Duty (aka The Most Boring Story in the World)

I'm now 41 and have been a registered voter for 23 years. For the first time, I got called for jury duty. My wife served on a brutal murder trial earlier this year and she was a trooper despite the details I heard after the case was closed. So, I on the other hand wasn't really thrilled with the notion of being stuck on a week long jury. After all, I've got a job and don't want my work to suffer from having to do it at midnight for a week.

I usually get to my real job at like 7AM so I figured I'd make the 8AM check in time no problem. Of course I slept in a bit, and left the house a little later than usual, but then I hit what I'm not used to- morning traffic. What should have been a 40 minute drive didn't appear reasonable. And since I left the house at 7AM I quickly realized that I'd be screwed. But rather than freak out about it, my thoughts wandered to the countless "citizens" who get jury summons and simply blow it off- or make a lame excuse on why they can't go.

When I pulled into the parking lot at 8:10AM, I hustled to the courthouse only to be met by- a line. A line of about 50 people to be exact- and not just people going into court, but the jury pool line. By the time I got to the front of the line, there were another 25 people behind me.
Maricopa County Superior Court
Once in the jury selection room or whatever it's called we sat there until 9AM watching CNN, knitting, reading, fiddling with our smart phones, setting up laptop workstations, or simply sitting. Me and my 400+ new friends- and I guess you could call it "standing room only", or some people were simply too xenophobic to sit next to someone else.

So exactly at 9AM, a girl gets on the speaker and immediately announces a trial that will last 26 days that they need 80 people for. She'd call out names and you answer yes or no- but if you answered "no" you had to fill out an explanation form on why you couldn't do it. Once she got to 80 yeses, she was done- my name wasn't called. But Winnie Cooper was... and Elizabeth Banks too- so that was pretty cool...Winnie Cooper

Elizabeth BanksAt 9:30, the girl announced where we're supposed to park and then said that if you didn't park there, you could get up right now and move your car. So of course my thought is "oh my God!, it's going to be another half hour before we do anything else!" But instead she starts orientating up with the refreshment table, smoking locations, lunch policies, etc. It was pretty straightforward. Then we watched a 15 minute video on how great jury service is. I noticed that the flat screen TV I was watching was the only non-tube in the room. If I haven't already painted an adequate picture of the room, let's say that it was a combination of an airport waiting area, sprinkled with a lot of DMV, but with a doctor office cleanliness.

At 10AM they put on the first "in flight" movie- the blockbuster hit "Are We Done Yet with Ice Cube and John McGinley. I've got to admit that the image I had was Ted McGinley of such hits as Happy Days and Married with Children, but then I realized it was his cousin- casting favorite of Oliver stone, star of Platoon and Wall Street... oh well, they're cousins or something like that so- close enoughTed McGinley
Cousin (and much funnier) John C. McGinley
At about 10:10 they started calling the first group- 80 people whom each took a 8x10 laminated paper with a big number on it. They were shuffled away by the female bailiff (sorry Rusty, but feminism is key!). Almost immediately after, they took another 80- with another female bailiff. After a 15 minute gap, they called the next 80- third female bailiff- if you haven't figured it out yet, I hadn't been called yet. It was during this time that the same woman was called 3 times, but never answered. So she got there, checked in, and then split.

Next thing I knew, it was 11:20 and they told us we could go to lunch until 1PM! Great, downtown Phoenix in 109 degree heat. Luckily I yelped a local deli and found a decent sandwich. I've never actually walked around downtown Phoenix during the day- and I'm really not envious of those people. So while at lunch I texted a friend who flips properties and asked where they do the auctions- he told me so I boogied over there and "observed" the frat house atmosphere. It was like the cast of Jersey Shore to be honest with you. And because it's sort of a good "old" boys network of 25ish Ed Hardyish types, I got a lot of glares- even though I had my jury badge and kept a distance from the activity.

So I got back at about 12:45 and there was some other movie on... but it was another black-centric movie which I then found to be odd- because out of like 400 people, there were no more than 10 blacks in the whole jury pool. As my lunch started to settle, I found myself dozing a tad and did the head nod into the post next to me. But I was saved by the announcement girl welcoming everyone back and going immediately into the next group. And guess who was number 31?

So our bailiff- just like all the others was also female and she shuffled us up to the 11th floor for our trial. We lined up in order along a hall and she announced that we needed to separate the triplicate form we filled out when we arrived and she told us what was about to happen. A few dudes in ill fitting suits paced back and forth, three police officers and a fireman were huddled together and then two youngish lawyer types walked by with an aerial image of an apartment complex and a pool with an arrow pointing to the pool.

My imagination is now racing- civil suit for a drowning? murder?... OK, race over. We go in, the court staff is standing there courteously- like we're the guests of honor- and except for a white dude in a suit with tattoos all up his neck and a fat young Hispanic lawyer type, everyone else was female. No big deal, but I saw a weird sexist theme going on with lots of estrogen ruling the courthouse.

The judge introduced the staff and explained what everyone does and then asked some questions about if we'd be able to serve 3 days (not counting today). Like all other questions, we were to lift our card and then they'd call us by our number to explain our answer. Like 8 people said they couldn't serve that long and after explaining their situation, the judge and lawyers chatted and let 5 of them go. Then the judge explained the case- it was an alleged parole violator who was caught with a gun.

Then came questions about whether we had positive or negative opinions of police or the court system. Then questions on if we have family who are criminals, been victim of violent crime, etc. And by this point I realized that there are a lot of people with criminal connections, or who have been victims of crime, etc. It was actually pretty scary to think about that. But I also notice that in most cases, it was the same people answering yes to every question. I didn't raise my number for any of these so I guess I'm just boring. But here's a few things I learned:

  • one woman witnessed her drug addict brother get tased multiple times by the cops

  • one man's son was in tent city and had been for the prior year and got pneumonia and lost his job, so the dad was a little pissed at the lack of swift justice

  • one guy is a chaplain at county jail and gets to hear the alleged criminals confess to him

  • one woman kept answering "it's personal" which hinted that she was victim of a violent crime

  • one guy was a prison guard for the past 5 years before moving out here

  • one girl got kicked off a jury after trial started because she couldn't stay awake

  • one guy got roughed up by the cops because he was part of a street fight and he was bitter that he got singled out when there were many others involved
They next asked about guns and our opinion on them. They asked if we own guns and I got to raise my card for the first time. A few guys had to go down the list of all the guns they own- (some people just like to hear the sound of their own voice). Finally, they asked us to get up and tell our job, amount of time doing it, kids, spouse and if we'd served on a jury before. As I'm a nuclear family kind of guy and we've already established that I'd never been on a jury, I got a sinking feeling that I might be chosen. I did some simple math- there were like 35 people left, about 12 had enough "history" to raise questions on their objectivity and I was reasonably articulate... but then again, I usually get singled out at the TSA screening line so who knows what was going to happen. They told us to leave for 45 minutes and that a jury would be selected when we came back- it was now 3:15PM

At 4PM, they called us into the room and had us all sit together. They'd call out our number if we were selected and then assign us an actual jury number, so even though I was 31, if they called me first, I'd be juror #1. "Number 5, you are juror number 1. Number 6, you are juror number 2, Number 8, you are juror number 3, Number 10, you are juror number 4..." Mind you, there are 10 jurors for this trial, so I'm thinking that I might not be picked. "Number 24, you are juror number 9. Number 25, you are juror number 10" I didn't get picked.

But even more surprising were that

  1. they picked taser sister girl

  2. the entire jury was women!

At that point, I was done and a little relieved- even though I know that I could be objective and fair and a pretty good juror- if I could stay awake. But it made me think that this poor schlub who will probably get convicted had a loser court appointed lawyer who couldn't get a single dude on the jury... but then again, maybe there's a method to the madness- I'm no lawyer

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Fraternity is No More!

Back in my college days, I joined a fraternity. Let's just call it Alpha Tau Omega- because that's what is was called. I was actually part of the fourth pledge class since the chapter started on campus so it was a new group of guys. And when they started the chapter, they got guys from two other schools to help get the initial local guys involved. The problem was that the two seed schools had two vastly different types of ATO chapters.

One seed was USC- a very well established "Animal House" style chapter- and by that I mean that it was around from at least the 1950s, prestigious school, lots of history, lots of jocks, and pretty much one of the more popular houses at USC. The other seed chapter was from Cal Poly Pomona... which was not like the USC chapter. In fact, it was everything the USC chapter was not (or vice versa). These guys were pretty new to their school, the school was not even division I sports, and from what I heard, these guys were how shall I put it.... So who were the first members of my school's chapter? That's right- a mixed bag.
So for the years that I was an undergraduate, my house had an identity crisis. I think everyone wanted to get laid and get drunk and have parties, but there was a huge clash of who to let into the chapter and our chapter image. Did we want to become "top house" and be the jocks at school? Did we want to be the "pretty boys"? Or did we want to just "be". I was part of the cool house faction (despite my own lack thereof) but there were plenty of guys who simply didn't care- or they lost their interest. It was downright nasty at times with accusations of racism, quantity vs. quality and lots of subgroups within the house. We even had a house cleaning in my latter years that was pretty awful in concept. Don't get me wrong, I was proud to be a Tau and I had enough confidence (and hair) to not really care about what outsiders thought about me personally, but I was concerned with keeping the engine going with people wanting to join rather than us trying to keep our numbers up so that we could continue as a viable house. Plus, it doesn't hurt when the sororities like you too- which was definately a concern back then.

Moving forward, our house actually knocked off the top athletic house before I graduated, we were the second fraternity to actually get our own fraternity house (yes, most chapters didn't even have an actual fraternity house), and by the time I graduated, I felt pretty good about my fraternity and a lot of the guys who came in after me. My ultimate measure of satisfaction would be flash forwarding to when my kids were looking to go to college. When we visited my alma mater (University of California at Riverside), I'd go up to a random hot sorority girl and ask who the cool fraternities were. And if she said "ATO" then I'd be happy.
Well, boys will be boys... And boys will get crazy in college. And bad things can happen in college and my little chapter made some bad choices over the years. I'll be honest when I say that I wasn't involved after I graduated like a chapter advisor, and I never went to any reunions on campus, but some of my closest friends are my fraternity brothers that I carried home (ok, maybe they carried me home) when we were young and wild. Sure we did some jackass stuff- like knocking down a half-built home, or tagging our mark all over campus and at other schools, or general humiliation of newer brothers, or getting in minor fights, or causing the sherrif's helicopter to raid a secret ceremony- or get banned from a church... but we were good lads.

However, over the years, I guess my chapter got caught doing some really bad stuff- and I won't even speculate as it would be hearsay. And by no means am I trying to finger wag or finger point- I'm just talking about something that's a part of my life. But needless to say, they were actually put on probation a few times over the years. In the meantime, the Pomona chapter that helped found ours is now gone- as are several other more established chapters throughout the state and country. But for some reason, my own chapter- at one of the lesser UC schools- persevered through the years- 20 whole years! I can only imagine how many can say that they were Riverside ATOs. I was something like #200.

So now it's 2011- the 20th anniversary of our chapter getting chartered- which means the trial period was over, and in 1991, the UC Riverside chapter of Alpha Tau Omega was legit. I'm an old man now. And guess what came in the mail a few months back- a letter from the national president of Alpha Tau Omega. The gist of the letter was that over the years, the Iota Theta chapter of ATO had screwed up, but they always managed to jump through the hoops to set things right again- and all the while they were a chapter that people wanted to join. But the real gist was that after all the chances, enough was enough and the charter was finally revoked. Alas, Alpha Tau Omega at UC Riverside is no more. Talk about a bummer of a 20th anniversary celebration.

I still keep my ATO membership plaque on my wall, along with my little brother paddle- and I'm permanently marked, and I have a set of letters somewhere in my closet (even though it always finds its way to the semi annual family garage sale). I'm well beyond reminiscing with my "bros" and I don't live in the past in an unhealthy way. But every once in a while, a fond memory is triggered into my head for a second and makes me laugh- usually it's related to a Mike Tyson fight, or lots of Taco Bell (because you forgot that you were hungry before you put on the Metallica album) or Blades of Steel on Sega Genesis, or "asking" pledges to knock down trees, or defiling a cake that sorority girls brough to a social and only telling certain bros what you did, or impulse Vegas trips. Sure it was fun while it lasted, and the friends I still have are priceless, but it's sad that our chapter is no more.
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