Friday, June 26, 2009

The Spinner Invitational

In 1988, four guys working for the Internal Revenue Service in Detroit took the day off work and drove 100 miles to play golf in Bay City, Michigan.* They didn't realize it at the time - but they had inaugurated a tradition that would still be going strong over 20 years later.

This morning, 19 brave men (and one supremely brave woman) will venture to Bay City again - hoping to find golfing glory at the Bay Valley Resort. I was going to tell you all about it - but it's after 2 AM and I need my beauty rest. So here's a picture of last year's crew - scan those faces and try to figure out who won last year.

I'll just have to say this - and save the rest for later:

The Spinner Invitational isn't about golf - it's about camaraderie.

So, no matter how I shoot, I plan to enjoy the day. I will also be attempting to make real-time Twitter updates during the tournament (just follow jimstyro).

And I'll try to keep the next post from being so lame.

Take care.

* Right next to Saginaw, MI - a city immortalized in Paul Simon's classic America
("It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw / I've gone to look for America")

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Plan

My vacation starts tomorrow. It will last about two weeks, cover several hundred miles and be broken into two major components.

Part 1: June 26 - June 29

Hanging at Wiser Times in Greenbush, Michigan. Our very good friends, Chico and Chickadee have a place on Lake Huron. We will spend a long weekend, hanging out, golfing and enjoying each others company. There will be anywhere from 2 - 4 couples and perhaps even children involved. But not mine.

Part 2: July 2 - July 10

Hanging with Leslie & Larry in Petoskey, Michigan. This is on the Lake Michigan side, up near the top of "The Mitten" (the Lower Peninsula of Michigan). It will be an extended version of the previous weekend's activities - but just the four of us. And we'll take in the annual Fourth of July parade in Harbor Springs (just across the Little Traverse Bay from Petoskey).

For our visually-inclined readers, I've included this detailed map of our planned travels. Part 1 will take us from the green dot to the blue dot to the purple dot and back. (At one point, we had planned to stay "up north" for the entire two weeks - but Snoplum likes to sleep in her own bed - so we're coming back home for a couple days. That way, we can maximize the number of hours in the car.) Part 2 will take us from the green dot to the red dot and back.
It's gonna be great.

But before all that comes the event that some men wait all year for. A competition of such historic proportions, grown men grow faint at the prospect.

FRIDAY: The 22nd Annual Spinner Invitational

Get the inside scoop tomorrow morning - right here.

Take care.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Flash fiction: Betrayal

If you enjoy writing short stories, check out the Fiction Friday challenges by Jeanne at The Raisin Chronicles.

This week's challenge was/is: to write a piece of "flash fiction" - a short story of 100 words or less that begins with the phrase -

"We had differing agendas."
If you're interested in joining the fun, click on the link above.

Here's my story for this week.


We had differing agendas. You wanted to be a free-spirit; making no commitments, going where and when you pleased. I did everything I could to win you over; bribing, cajoling, threatening. Nothing seemed to make an impression.

I was infuriated by the stench of your lies. How many times had you assured me there was nothing going on? How many times had I believed your empty promises; that you loved me, that you would come to me when your need grew too great, that it would never happen again.

“What’s that smell?”

“Daddy, me no need use potty!”


Microsoft says that's 99 words. Hope you enjoyed them.

Take care.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RTT: My Random Past

Here's some stuff I found in my Franklin Planner from 1996. To provide some content (which, of course, should be unnecessary for a bunch of random sh*t - but I'm going to do it anyway):

  • The Middle-Aged Woman and I had been married for ten years.

  • The Girl was 6 years old; The Boy, 4 - he started pre-school on January 9

  • I had worked for the Internal Revenue Service for nearly 13 years - and didn't know that I would be changing jobs before the end of the year.
That's enough d*mn context...

Jan. 4:

MAW put The Boy is his room for misbehaving. Entering his room to serve penance, he yelled out, trying to summon venom in his high-pitched four-year-old voice, the worst epithet he could muster -

and slammed the bedroom door. [We still laugh regularly about that incident.]

Jan. 11:

I figure there are two kinds of talkative people: the kind where a quieter person thinks "I wish I had said that" - and the kind where a quieter person thinks "I wish he'd SHUT UP!"

You want to be the former.

March 10:

If something is "good" only because it is new, then it will likely only be good while it is new.

March 26:

If a person is not willing to do something, then it doesn't much matter whether they are able to do that thing. You must be willing to act.

May 9:

A candidate for "The Biggest Lie You Can Tell Yourself"- Nothing I do will make a difference, will make things better.

June 5: (Editor's note - I titled this one, "Useless Thought")

All of the reasons a woman can give for not having sex boil down to the same reason - she didn't want to.

July 7:

Today, The Boy road his bike without training wheels for the first time. It finally shamed The Girl into trying.

August 13:

While donating blood today, the volunteers told me that my blood is so "clean", it can be given to infants during surgery.

Sept. 6: (Editor's note - I titled this one, "A Warning")

You don't have to "try to be" what you ARE.

[For example: "I wasn't trying to be [insert quality here]." Mean, silly, good ]

What you ARE always becomes APPARENT.

Oct. 29: Eleven days after his fifth birthday, The Boy ran into the corner of a half-wall in the hallway of our house. Before he could become aware of the damage done to himself, I got a towel on The Boy's head to hide, if not stop, the bleeding. I sternly instructed The Girl to not give any impression to The Boy how badly he might be hurt* and we were off to the Emergency Room. The Boy ended up needing 4 stitches to close up the wound in his scalp. When he hair is cut short, you can still see the scar. Both The Girl and The Boy acquitted themselves admirably in this episode.

Nov. 29: My last day working for the Internal Revenue Service.

Dec. 2: My first day working for Perot Systems (my current employer)

Dec. 22:

"Daddy, why are you naked?" - a question posed by the The Girl at 7:55 am on Sunday morning.
(Editor's note: I wish I could provide some context here - but I got nothing. Maybe she walked in on the MAW and me...)

PS: And since we're talking about nudity - and I've previously mentioned my statistical tracking of sexual activity in my Franklin Planner during certain periods of my marriage - I noticed a DRAMATIC increase in activity around the time of my career change. Hey - maybe I've been going about this all WRONG...

Hope you found this "Blast from the Past" interesting.

Take care.

Monday, June 22, 2009

All About My Father's Day

I had a great Father's Day this year!

The day actually began on the way home from Music Night - the Middle-Aged Woman and I didn't get home until about 1 AM. Once home, I finished writing my Father's Day post about/to my Dad. Then I went to bed for a while.

Before leaving for church this morning, I remoted to my Dad's computer (I use the tool available at and left him an initial Father's Day greeting (which directed him to check out my blog post). I went to church alone (as usual), got my car washed afterward and headed home. At home, I recorded the audio accompaniment to Sunday's post.

[From the Editor: I must disgress for a moment here to ask some questions concerning THE AUDIO PORTION OF OUR PROGRAM - Does anybody listen to the posts? Or all you all just reading them? If you do like to listen to the posts, do you listen as you read - or primarily do only one or the other?

Did anyone not realize that I provide spoken versions of most posts? [The tool from that loads at the top of the page allows you to click on the MP3 filenames to listen.] Now that you know, do you think that you'll bother to listen?

I beg you - please let me know whether you find the audio posts cool or useless. They are enough work that - I need to know whether people feel they add something to the site - so I can summon the energy to keep making them available. And now, we return you to your regularly scheduled rant...]

At this point, it was around 2 PM and, having skipped breakfast, I was getting hungry. Snoplum had recently gotten out of the shower and asked if I could wait for her to finish getting beautiful (which she already was completely - but I told her I'd wait anyway). She chose that moment to present me with a few Father's Day gifts:

Thomas Keneally's Searching for Schindler (a memoir from 2007), the 20th Anniversary DVD of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (this and The Fisher King are my favorite Gilliam films), and the 20th Anniversary DVD of The Times of Harvey Milk (which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1984; Gus Van Sant's latest film, Milk, with Sean Penn owes a great debt to this earlier documentary film). Did I mention that my wife has extremely good taste (and knows how to easily access my Wish List at Amazon).

She also gave me a wonderful Father's Day kiss - at which point I may have mentioned that I had a little something for her as well. This part of the day is a little fuzzy for me now; I must have blacked out due to lack of blood flow to the brain. Anyway, one thing lead to another, and the next thing I remember, I was getting dressed so we could get some lunch. The MAW and I had a fine meal at Panera and I called my Dad to wish him a Happy Father's Day when we returned home.

The kids got home later in the afternoon (The Girl, from work; The Boy, from visiting a friend) and presented me with a great card and some additional loot (golf balls and tees - which will come in handy beginning next week). We all went to dinner together and then saw the latest Pixar film, Up (which is very much worth seeing). We even picked up some donuts on the way home as a Father's Day dessert. It had been a while since we had spent that much time all together - and enjoyed each other's company with no bits of bickering or human drama.

It was really nice. I'll take another day just like that one anytime.

Take care.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Dad

If I didn't know any better, I would think that my father was never a child. To the best of my recollection, I've never seen a picture of my father as a child. I do have a photo of my Dad dancing with my mother around 1960 - before they were married. My Dad was 16 at the time the picture was taken - but he's turned away from the camera. So I didn't include the photo below.

I have been told that the picture to the right was taken on my father's birthday in 1963 - so this shows my Dad a little over four months before my birth. He was 19 - but with that baby-face, I think he looks even younger.

At this point in his life, my Dad was trying different jobs (working in a factory briefly, running a pizza parlor) trying to acquire the means for he and my mom to live independently. You see, I am the oldest child in my family. My parents were married in November and I was born in June (not prematurely) - you do the math.

My father and I have never discussed how the unplanned nature of my arrival on earth affected his young life - but it must have been difficult at the time.

The next two pictures were taken about 10 years apart. At left, my Dad is pictured with my sister, Wendy (the older of my two sisters) circa 1968. On the right, my Dad is pictured in the late 70's - at the time, he was still younger than I am now. Both of pictures were cropped from larger family photos - and when I look at them, I remember that by late 1970, my Mom and Dad had four children. My Dad was 26; the same age I was when the Middle-Aged Woman and I had our first child.

By the time of the later photograph, my Dad was working for Montgomery Ward, a company that he would serve for 25 years before leaving to pursue other lucrative opportunities (getting out before Wards went belly up). My Dad worked his way up from salesman, to department manager, store manager, and regional manager. And he did quite a bit of travelling for business as his responsibilities at Wards increased.

In the early 80's, while I was living on-campus at the University of Detroit, the rest of my family moved to the Chicago area where Wards was headquartered. After leaving Wards, my Dad moved to Maryland, then Ohio as the result of job changes. Earlier this year, he retired - and I am looking forward to seeing him more frequently and getting in more rounds of golf with my Dad than in times past.

The last picture I will include today is from about 10 years ago. The MAW, my Dad, and I took The Girl and The Boy to a cider mill to see the animals, drink apple cider, and eat a donut or two. It was pretty darn cold that day - but we all had a fine time.

My Dad is a gentle soul. Although he can clearly be difficult to live with (he and my mother separated in the late 80's - around the time The Girl was born; but did not divorce for another ten years!) - my experience of my Dad is that he is a warm, easy-going and articulate fellow.

For years, my father smoked too much and weighed too much. He still does. I don't harp on him about it anymore - because I don't expect him to change. But I hope he will prove me wrong. The point is: I long ago accepted the fact that, given his habits, my Dad could die of a massive heart attack at almost any time. So I don't pass up an opportunity to hug or kiss my Dad and tell him I love him.

Writing all this down is one way of doing that long-distance. But I'll give him a call too. Just so I can say:

I love you, Dad.

Take care.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Add some Music to your...night

"Music - when you're alone
Is like a companion
For your lonely soul"
--Brian Wilson, Add Some Music To Your Day

I got my first job delivering newspapers when I was eleven. My primary purpose in getting that job was to save up enough money to buy a stereo system. You know, one of those all-in-one units with a tuner, cassette deck and the record player on top.

[OK, you have to imagine that the unit above has a tape deck in it rather than a CD player - and a remote control!?]

So I got enough money with my Christmas tips that I was able to purchase my own stereo. I had that record lathe from junior high to college. The Under-Aged Woman and I made out listening to Side Two of James Taylor's Greatest Hits played on that system. It was in the dorm room I shared with Paul Joey at the University of Detroit, so we could lie stoned on the floor and listen to Riders On The Storm. From that Christmas onward, I have always valued good stereo equipment. Eventually, I was even able to purchase some.

Anyway, I told you that stuff, so I could tell you this: Tonight is Music Night.

That is, the Music Night Federation of Metropolitan Detroit will be gathering tonight for its latest event - to produce a new musical compilation around the theme - "Risk". The Federation has been getting together for over 18 years now. To date, we have produced 90 different musical collections on topics ranging from Aging to Work (no "Y" or "Z" topics - yet). If you did the math, you already know that we get together 4 or 5 times a year for the purpose of sharing music, food and friendship.

The only rule of Music Night is: there are no rules. You might ask: Who decides whether a song is "on-topic"? The person who picked it, of course. However, we do have structure. We rotate topic selection amongst all participants (so that in each "round", everyone gets to select the topic once) and the person who picked the topic get the lead cut on that collection. This also ensures that the topic selector will get the maximum number of cuts on that collection (since we rotate song selection based on a draw of cards the night of the event).

We pick and play songs through the night until we have a roster of approximately 160 minutes of music - enough to fill two compact discs. Every Federation member in good standing (that is, them's that has paid their dues - just enough cash to defray the expenses of blank CDs, jewel cases, labels and packaging inserts) receives a copy of the resulting compilation for their listening pleasure.

We have a great time. It's a wonderful excuse to have a party - and almost everyone gets exposed to some music they have never heard before. Which is sweet!

I could go on and on with additional details (and I probably will in some future post(s)) - but time is running short...and I still need to pick out my top choices on the topic of "Risk". If you have any suggestions, leave me a comment. Anything used on the final collection will be appropriately noted on this here blog.

And, for the right price, I am willing to discuss franchising opportunities for starting a Music Night Federation in your town...

(I may yet be rich beyond my wildest dreams!)

Take care.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Flash fiction: The Chief

My Flash fiction submission was submitted too late for consideration in this week's competition at The Raisin Chronicles. But I still wanted to share it with you.

The Chief

You never meant this to happen. But, man, if some of those Ivy League pr*cks from college could see you now, they'd choke on their silver, fr*ckin’ spoons. And the Dekes are going to celebrate tonight; those dudes know how to par-tay!

‘Course you remember the times that got out of control too. The stolen Christmas wreath, Dad bitching at you for running over the garbage can with Marvin in the car, the DUI. You’re glad all that’s over.

Still, a beer right now might calm the nerves – as you raise your right hand.

“I, George W. Bush…”

100 words (according to MS Word)

Take care.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good / God:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Twelve

Ten years ago today...

I've been using a Franklin Planner since 1991, so certain parts of my life are extremely well-documented. On the page for June 17, 1999, under the heading "Jim Styro's Philosophy, Part I"* is found this entry (modified only slightly for this world premiere):

One person is not inherently better than another.
A person can only better him/herself by desiring to -
and doing - good.
A person cannot credibly declare their own goodness.
It must be demonstrated - and/or established through the testimony of others.

The big lie is not that God exists.
It is that we can become perfect without God through technology - through our own power, ingenuity or insight.
We reject the idea of perfection through goodness because it is
so simple to understand and so hard to achieve.

Hey - that's not bad...for a youngster

PS: Saw the following on a poster at Garden City Hospital near my house -

Perfection is our goal
Excellence will be tolerated
It has stuck with me ever since. That's the sort of attitude I want when life and death may be on the line.

Take care.

* My delusions of grandeur are not a recent development...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't Ask / Don't Know:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Eleven*

On Monday, we began considering how well we know the people around us.

Idea #1: You may not know (or understand) as much as you think you do.

Yesterday, I presented a second post which covered...

Idea #2: The only things we can truly know about others are the things they reveal

Today, we complete this leg on our journey toward the Meaning of Life by asking the question...

Idea #3: How can I learn more about the people I love?

There are some little proverbs or bits of "wisdom" that I've heard repeated that just don't speak to me. For example:

"Never complain, never explain"

"Everything is negotiable"

"There is no such thing as a stupid question"

and, one of particular interest given our present topic...

"Never ask a question you don't already know the answer to"

Although I believe I understand how each of these statements might be of use in a particular circumstance, I don't find any of them to be true in the broader sense - and particularly within the framework of discussing how we can understand more about the people closest to us.

If you've agreed with me so far (at least for the purpose of discussion) that we shouldn't assume we know too much about others - and that the only things we can claim to know with certainty are the things that have been shared directly with us...

Then, keeping all that in mind, the answer to the question "How can I learn more about the people I love" is really quite simple, I think. Ask them questions.

Of course, anyone who has ever been in the midst of a long-running misunderstanding with a spouse, child, parent or other loved one is now screaming at their computer - "It's not that easy!!!" Hey, I never said it was easy - I said it was simple to know what to do; knowing how to go about it is another matter entirely.

But you know me - I'm full of...opinions. For what it's worth, I'll offer a few suggestions on how to go about it which may be of some use for those who are truly looking for a way to make a deeper connection with someone in their life.

  • Consider what you want to know - and why you want to know it

Although this may not be very important in the early stages of a relationship (when people expect to ask and answer questions as they get to know one another), asking someone you have known for years a lot of unexpected questions will almost certainly make that person, if not suspicious - at least curious. (Think about it: in the same way that we often assume we know more about our loved ones that we probably do, the people we love will often assume that we understand them better than we really do. They assume we have figured them out. Can't you just hear your mother saying: "After all these years, don't you know?") So the person asking the questions should be prepared to explain him/herself.

  • Ask a thoughtful question to get a thoughtful answer

If you are trying to resolve a misunderstanding that has been going on for years, you should be prepared to spend more than a few minutes thinking about the best way to ask for the information you seek. Don't just shotgun a list of questions that require nothing more than "yes" or "no" answers. Leave the questions open-ended so that the person responding must elaborate. Try not to be too leading with your questions; if you supply the answer in the question, the person may simply be inclined to go along with your preconceived ideas. Be direct with your questions - but don't use words and phrases that are accusatory or judgemental. Don't try to tell the other person what (you think) they are/were thinking or feeling - ASK.

Consider asking questions that begin with statements like:

"I've wondered for a long time why you... "
"What were you thinking/feeling when that happened?"
"What influenced your decision to..."

In the process of preparing questions for the other party to answer, consider how you would answer the questions yourself (if both you and the other person were directly involved in the situations or incidents you are asking about).

  • Be prepared to reveal yourself in the process
Don't expect that the other person will be willing to reveal her/himself to you, if you are clearly not willing to do the same. In fact, you may need to set the example by sharing first in order to break the ice. Keep in mind that you are not planning an interrogation; you want your loved one to share their thoughts and feelings with you - so you need to be prepared to follow suit (or maybe even lead trump**).

Well, I hope that this discussion and these ideas are helpful to someone out there. I know it has been good for me to think it through - so that I will have a better chance to honestly share myself with the people I love - and perhaps help those around me to connect with me and the ones they love.

The stated policy of the U.S. military with regards to homosexuals in their ranks used to be: Don't Ask / Don't Tell.

In answer to the question, how can I learn more about the people I love?
Jim Styro says: If you Don't Ask, you Don't Know.

Take care.

* "These go to eleven"
** That one's for all you euchre players out there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Ten

Yesterday, we began considering how well we know the people around us. And I covered our first idea in some detail.

Idea #1: You may not know (or understand) as much as you think you do.

Today, we move on to a second idea in the same vein.

Idea #2: The only things we can truly know about others are the things they reveal

Sherlock Holmes may have been a great detective - but I'm here to tell you, I don't think he'd have lasted five years (maybe not even five months) as a husband. Why? Because I submit that deduction is the enemy of emotional understanding. People (you may have noticed) aren't always rational, emotional responses aren't necessarily repeatable with mathematical precision. The only way to know and understand another person in a meaningful way - to understand the way someone thinks and feels - is for the person to reveal themselves to you.

Of course, the process of revealing yourself to another person is, dare I say it, complex. It requires willingness. It requires honesty. It assumes a certain level of self-examination and understanding (If you don't understand yourself, how in the world can you reveal yourself honestly to anyone else?). And it requires the right circumstances - a level of privacy that can be difficult to achieve. (I believe few people are brave enough to reveal themselves honestly to more than one or two people at a time; and oftentimes getting the opportunity to be alone with another person is hard to arrange.)

Another factor that affects this revelation process is a person's own security with him/herself; to use an old phrase - how comfortable are you in your own skin? I believe the more secure you feel about yourself, the less risk you feel in revealing yourself to others. Having this comfort level increases both the likelihood of revelation and the chances that the information shared will represent an honest glimpse of person being revealed.

I could never understand why a fiction writer would, for example, be afraid to talk about her/his life for fear of having people misinterpret their work (by attempting to infer what is autobiographical in their stories). It seems to me that, the absence of any authoritative information on an author's personal life is likely to spur deductive reasoning concerning parallels between a writer's work and private life, rather than minimize it. Of course, maybe authors just use this as a smokescreen; people are certainly entitled to keep their lives private, if they wish. But the trade-off of fame, it seems to me, is that people can express a legitimate interest and curiosity in the lives of the famous (it can and does get out of hand in many cases - but it is not in and of itself, wrong).

In any case, receiving information from the source (so long as the original source is trust-worthy and true) is certainly superior to any amount of deductive conclusions that might be obtained through Holmesian detective work. Intention or motivation are difficult or impossible to deduce from observed behaviors. Think of the situation where a man purchases an expensive gift for his beloved; is he doing this as a true expression of his strong feeling - or did he feel obligated because of a previous gift received? Is he giving the gift to compensate for the fact he can't express himself emotionally - or is the gift intended to distract his beloved from discovering that he is involved with another lover? Because deduction is not a tool best suited to the information sought, we must be prepared to engage our loved ones in a dialogue that will offer them an opportunity to reveal themselves to us.

And that leads us to tomorrow's concluding post on
"Knowing the people in your life", wherein we look at
Idea #3: How can I learn more about the people I love?

Don't miss it.

Take care.

Monday, June 15, 2009

You think you know a person:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Nine

You think you know a person...but you don't.
"After all, is there anyone who knows the qualities of anyone except his own spirit, within him?"

--1 Corinthians 2:11
Since I'm a glass half-full kinda guy*, I don't believe that most of the unhappiness issues arising from marriage and other central relationships are caused by deliberate acts of meanness or sabotage. But neither do I underestimate the extent to which people misunderstand, not only themselves, but those around them - even those closest to them.

So today, let's begin the process of kicking around a few ideas concerning what we can know about the people around us, the difference between what we think we know and what we really know, and how to obtain additional information.

Idea #1: You may not know (or understand) as much as you think you do.

If familiarity doesn't necessarily breed contempt, I would say that it at least fosters a unique over-confidence combined with interpersonal laziness. To some extent, I think people just assume that they know and understand certain people because they have been around them a long time. But that's a big assumption. The end result is - we take for granted those who have been around us for a long time. We assume we know and understand things about them that either we never knew - or were true a long time ago - but not anymore.

Let me tell ya a little story that may not illustrate this idea perfectly - but hopefully it's at least somewhat amusing. The Middle-Aged Woman and I were going to visit some friends last weekend and were packing up a few things to take with us in our travel cooler. Because I knew Snoplum's back had been particularly bothersome to her that day, I said:

"Hey, honey - why don't you put a couple of your ice packs in the cooler we're taking to Chico and Chickadee's?"

Although the MAW acknowledged the remark, there was no real response to my suggestion (no surprise since: a) none was needed, and b) after being married a long time you just get used to that). I packed up the cooler, added a bunch of ice to keep everything cold (the MAW observed all this) and went about my other preparations for departure.

We left home a few minutes later and had barely made it around the corner from our home when Snoplum said:

"Oh!...can we go back to the house? I forgot to bring an ice pack."

"Uhm....OK. I thought you were going to put them in the cooler." I headed back to the house.

She ran in to get the ice packs. I wasn't going to make a big deal out of it; I figured she'd just forgotten - despite my mentioning the idea just prior to our departure. But when she got back to the car, I thought maybe she had assumed I was going to put them in the cooler. So I said:

"Did you think I was going to put the ice packs in the cooler? If so, I'm sorry."

"No, I knew they weren't in there."

"So you didn't forget to pack them?"


Snoplum then proceeded to admit to me that she had assumed my suggestion regarding the ice packs pertained to the idea of using them as the sole source of coldness within the cooler. And since she felt that was such a ludicrous idea, she dismissed it. She did not realize that my suggestion was simply a reminder that she ought to take ice packs on our trip because she would need them to soothe her back. Until the moment she asked me to go back to the house so she could get them.

Now who can blame Snoplum for this? I blame myself - for the constant bombardment of stupid ideas which I have (apparently) forced upon her in the past. If she hadn't been required to wade through so much of my previous bullsh*t, perhaps the ice pack idea might have gained more traction before being tossed on the ash heap of Jim Styro's Cacamaimey Suggestions.

Anyway - hopefully you get the idea. Even people who have known each other a long time can misunderstand simple things. They may even be more prone to misunderstanding - either because they're not listening carefully - or they make assumptions about what has been said that aren't correct.

One last thought concerning Idea #1 - The more confident you are that you know and understand another person, the more care you should take in validating your understanding. One thing that many thoughtful people over time have come to acknowledge is that - the more you learn and understand about a thing (or a person), the greater appreciation you have for how much more there is to know.

Tomorrow we'll move on to Idea #2:
The only things we can truly know about others are the things they reveal

Take care.

* Maybe even three-quarters full

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My masterpieces

Yesterday was The Boy's graduation party. I took the day off on Friday to relax and work on party preparation; so my son and I were home together for most of the day. In the early part of the afternoon, we had a conversation (OK, it's true - I did most of the talking) and I told The Boy this:

When I was growing up - a teenager like The Boy is now, and even earlier - I wanted to be rich and famous. I figured that I would be an actor, an author, a singer/songwriter - or at least a disc jockey (I assumed ascending to that low rung of the celebrity ladder would be the worst I could do!). I would make my way in the world with my creativity - and people would know my name.

But I also wanted marriage and a family. I didn't think of these desires for fame and starting a family as being at cross purposes - but, of course, they are. And as I matured, it became an easy decision to set aside my dreams of glory in order to give my best to the reality of my wife and children. I didn't view it as a sacrifice. Just a decision - that what was most important in my life was the people I loved, the people around me - not the opportunity to be loved anonymously by the thousands (or the millions) I would never know.

Out of that decision, of course, many more arose. Some out of practical necessity, others of opportunity, others of convenience or habit. How could I best provide for my family? What sort of work could I do that would suit my personal preferences while being lucrative enough, stable enough to plan for the future. Who would hire me? How could I best ensure a steady stream of income for myself and my family?

And in this process, I began to learn my lines as husband and father, I composed emails rather than songs, wrote project plans instead of story outlines, did my DJ-ing by creating mix tapes* rather spinning records during the afternoon drive-time shift. These were not sacrifices - I made decisions based on what was most important to me.

The reward for my decisions is greater, I believe, than any film I might have made, or book that I might have written, or album that I might have released.
My children are my masterpieces.
They are bright and beautiful and loving. They're not perfect - they're still works in progress - but they are good. And even God herself, when She created the world, didn't claim much more than that.**

When I compare myself at seventeen to my son, he seems quite young. Much younger than I was at that age. I think my children have been blessed to be able BE KIDS for longer than seems the norm these days. And I'm grateful for that. I told The Boy that he might not appreciate that fact now - but later in life, he may better understand and appreciate it.

I wanted my son (and my daughter) to know all that. The Boy's graduation from high school is like a sign post on The Highway; my children's lives have moved into a new construction zone. Most (if not all) of the basic work is complete. The road has been paved, the cement is nearly dry. There may be occasional lane closures from time to time for repair - but my work on the project is all but over.

Oh, I may be able to offer a suggestion on where to place the street lights - or establishing the speed limit...if I'm asked. But I'll try not to feel badly if I'm not consulted. I know there will be times when my input will not be desired - or needed. If I've done my work well, they won't need me much anyway - and they'll know when they do - and they won't be afraid to ask.

Anyway, that's what I shared with The Boy on Friday. Where the road goes from here is mostly up to him. I told my son that I didn't think he ought to do (or not do) things in his life to make his parents proud of him. Making a parent proud seems to me to be an undue burden to place on a child. I told him he should find out what makes him happy, what will allow him to be self-sufficient, how he can be a responsible member of the community in which he lives - and do those things.

That would be more than enough, I think, to make any parent proud. Don't you?

Take care.

* I think this is a term commonly used by people who create collections of songs by various artists for their own listening pleasure (Think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets or John Cusack in High Fidelity). But it's not a term I normally use. I just call them "collections".
** Genesis 1:31

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Red Wings Playoff Update: Final Edition

The Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit vs. Pittsburgh
The Wings lost to the Penguins Friday night by a score of 2-1.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are
the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions.

The Penguins proved themselves to be the better team in this series - by winning Game 7 on the road (the first team in nearly 40 years to win a seventh game on the road - after the first six games had gone to the home teams). Congratulations to the Penguin team, their fans and the City of Pittsburgh.

The Wings had another fantastic season - but could not close the deal against a tough Penguins team that won the final two games of the series by the same 2-1 score. I only hope that the focus here in Detroit will be on what a great year the Wings had - not all on the fact that they failed to win the Stanley Cup for a second year in a row. It's hard to be disappointed in a sports team that only let you down once in two years.

One more thing: I think they need to seriously consider replacing all the crossbars on the nets at Joe Louis Arena. 'Cause if you can't get a fortuitous bounce off the crossbars at home, where can you get one?

Take care.

Friday, June 12, 2009

(Athletic) Support Groups

So, I was checking the spelling of the word, inadequacy, online recently and found a link that reminded me of a recent post by the Stiletto Mom.

I think THIS* must have been what Groucho Marx was referring to when he said:


[I just couldn't resist the built-in pun.]

Groucho took the words right out of my...mouth. No matter how appropriate my member-ship might be.

Take care.

* If you didn't click on this link, the post doesn't stand a chance of being funny. It may not be funny even if you do click on the link - but at least it's got a chance.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Flash fiction: Classical gas

If you enjoy writing short stories, check out the Fiction Friday challenges by Jeanne at The Raisin Chronicles.

This week's challenge was/is: to write a piece of "flash fiction" - a short story of 100 words or less that begins with the phrase -

"Oh God, the smell..."
If you're interested in joining the fun, click on the link above.

Here's my story for this week.

Classical gas

Oh God, the smell when I stepped into Tim’s bedroom made me feel I had entered a parallel universe. Not that I was wholly unprepared. The entire apartment was strewn with empty pizza boxes, broken tortilla chips, dried vomit and partially-emptied beer bottles.

But the bedroom...was the Eighth Dimension of Stench.

Tim only looked dead. Wished he was dead.

“I think that perhaps…”

His every pause was filled with groans accompanied by deep, loud and improbably-long farts.

“I may possibly…


the beer farts.”

“Really?” was my sarcastic response.

From now on, it’s whisky and coke for me.
(100 words - on the dot)

Take care.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Up next: Game 7

The Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

The Wings lost to the Penguins Tuesday night by a score of 2-1.
Detroit and Pittsburgh are tied 3 - 3 in the best of seven series.

A decisive Game 7 will be played in Detroit on Friday night.
To this point in the series, the home team has won every game.

That is a trend I expect will be continued on Friday.


PS: I did not win the Mega Millions jackpot tonight. I knew you were wondering.

Take care.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Apologia pro Blogo suo*

[The management would like to apologize for the lack of new content on this blog of late. Our head writer had a busy weekend until about 3:30 pm Sunday (that's when I got home he got home from church), at which point, he turned into a vegetable.

Unable to motivate him with either inspiration or guilt, we have been forced to fill this space with information that normally would have normally been included as replies to recent comments but which, given the current state of affairs here, is the only content available. ]

Faithful readers (or I guess, more recently, watchers - since there has been anything new to read in a few days):

Thanks to all of you who made comments concerning last week's Spin Cycle and Flash Fiction victory post. I have been spending a good deal of time over the past few days trying to catch up on my "World According to Garp" reading so as not to let Sprite's Keeper leave me in the dust. I am most grateful that she has been enjoying the book - I have as well during my rereading.

I also promised the Middle-Aged Woman that I would reading Christopher Moore's Lamb - and I have been making fairly steady progress there as well. And I (gasp) watched a couple movies (A Place In The Sun, Manhattan) and an episode of Dr. Who with Ms. Partly Cloudy and the MAW. All this reading and watching has left me little time for creating. And I'm trying to accept that.

Anyway, thanks for all the kind words about Homeland Insecurity - I'm really glad I wasn't the only person that found it amusing. (There's nothing sadder that being the only one who gets your jokes.) The next time I see my son awake (it could be awhile), I will pass along the congrats on his graduation.

I really wasn't sure how to feel about the whole "I love you too, sir" thing (while MAW mentioned in her comment). Snoplum thinks The Boy was trying to make a joke - and I guess she's right. We're not normally very formal around here - so I can't remember him ever calling me "sir" on purpose. I'm not saying it hasn't happened - but if it did, I don't remember it. The phrase "I love you, sir" just seems like an oxymoron (unless delivered by Honey Huan in Doonesbury).

Well, I hope that gives you all some insights into happenings in the Land of Styro. I really will get around to explaining the concept of Music Night and Listening Room soon. I think many of you will find it interesting (and the rest will be reading to find out if I mention them by name).

I accepted a small part in a play to try and save the Artistic Director at our Youth Theater from a nervous breakdown. More on that in the coming days.

Only two more things to cover:

1. Mikey - Disneyland is great.

2. Did somebody say there's a hockey game on tomorrow night?

Take care.

* For an explanation of the title, click here

The Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

The Wings beat the Penguins Saturday night by a score of 5-0.
Detroit leads Pittsburgh 3 - 2 in the best of seven series.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'm going to Disneyland!!!

Not that it's big deal or anything. I'm totally composed, you know. I've maintained a sense of dignity about the whole thing. WOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course, I'm very honored to have been selected this week's winner in the Friday Fiction Contest at The Raisin Chronicles. There's lots of great stuff to read there - and Jeanne, the hostess with the mostess, offers some fine ideas on how to develop and hone one's writing skill.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about (and haven't clicked on any of the links above), you can read my flash fiction for this week (entitled Homeland Insecurity) by clicking

The plan for today is:
  1. Martial arts training
  2. Lunch
  3. Finish mastering the CDs from the last Music Night
  4. Attend tonight's Listening Room event at Chico's house

Have I not talked about the Music Night Federation of Metro Detroit? The Middle-Aged Woman hasn't either. Well, I gotta do something about that.

But not right now.

Take care.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Spin Cycle: That's My Boy


There's a fantastic song on Randy Newman's latest album, Harps and Angels, called Potholes - wherein, it is written:

I even love my teenage daughter
There's no accounting for it
Apparently I don't care how I'm treated
My love is unconditional or something


The only time to say "I love you" is when you mean it.
The best time to say "I love you" is now.
You can love completely without complete understanding.*

Object lesson:

This evening, my son graduated from high school. He did not do so with any particular academic distinction - but there were no bribes involved either. As The Boy himself put it, the primary emotion he felt upon graduation was - relief.

My son did not enjoy high school. He is hardly alone in this. He thought it was long and boring. He's glad it's over.

By contrast, I sometimes feel like the only person in the universe that liked high school. Hell, I loved it. When I graduated high school, I felt like a king. So it's hard for me to understand how The Boy feels.

The ceremony itself left a lot to be desired. I'm not going to say much about it - 'cause I think the Middle-Aged Woman has a post planned around that topic. Let's just say: the conditions were not what one might have imagined for such a grand and auspicious occasion. The Boy did his part to make things difficult as well - avoiding photographs as much as possible - as well as all eye-contact or recognition of applauding family and friends. ("The sun was in my eyes", he later claimed.)

Afterward, Snoplum and I took The Boy and his BFF, Joey, out for dinner at a favorite pizzeria. While the Red Wings were busy accepting a can of whoop-ass delivered by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period tonight, Joey and The Boy happily sent text messages non-stop until Mom and I pointed out that a little human interaction might be good for the boys. Joey dutifully put his phone away and tried to maintain a conversation regarding the search for a job. The Boy kept texting away - until the MAW and I busted him for the 57th time.

When it was pointed out to The Boy that he might want to devote more attention to the people he was with (at least, physically) - he said, "Well, I'm texting them - so I don't have to be with them." He didn't understand why we thought he was being inconsiderate. I didn't understand why he felt the need to pay more attention to people who weren't with him than to those who were seated around him.

I fear that all this makes the evening sound unpleasant. It wasn't. A forty-something married couple and two freshly high-school-graduated boys shared a meal together. There were no epiphanies, no emotional breakthroughs. We spent time together, uneventful - but nice.


I'm proud of my son - but not because of his high school achievements.
I know my son is a good boy - but I also know that he's lazy with a capital "L".
I don't understand my son - but I'm not quick to claim an understanding of anyone.**

Once the meal was over, my son was anxious to be off with Joey. They agreed to spend the night at our house (they're in the basement watching a movie as I type this) but The Boy asked if they could leave while we waited to pay the bill. No problem.

I reached across the table and shook my son's hand.
"Congratulations, son. I love you."
"Thanks. I love you too, Dad."

Take care.

* from Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It
** As the MAW would readily point out, I'm not like other people.

The Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

The Wings lost to the Penguins Thursday night by a score of 4-2.
Detroit and Pittsburgh are tied 2 - 2 in the best of seven series.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Flash fiction: Homeland insecurity

If you enjoy writing short stories, check out the Fiction Friday challenges by Jeanne at The Raisin Chronicles.

This week's challenge was/is: to write a piece of "flash fiction" - a short story of 100 words or less that begins with the phrase -

"As neighbors go..."
If you're interested in joining the fun, click on the link above.

Here's my story for this week.

Homeland insecurity

As neighbors go, the Canadians seemed like all we could hope for: distracted, docile and dumb.

Until the Great Hockey War of 2013.

Some say it was the Red Wings’ seventh straight Stanley Cup victory that set them off. Others think it was Obama’s health care plan making theirs look so feeble. Whatever the reason, Homeland Security was completely unprepared for an attack from the Great White North.

Once Buffalo, Detroit and Seattle fell, defeat was inevitable. Who knew they had turned hockey pucks into incendiary devices? It was devastating.

But…now we have pretty money.
(97 words including title)

Gotta run. Going to the doctor with the Middle-Aged Woman.

Take care.

The Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

The Wings lost to the Penguins Tuesday night by a score of 4-2.
Detroit leads best of seven series, 2 games to 1

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More Random Tuesday Thoughts

Pretty Random, Dr. Smith

  • It is sometimes disturbing to me to dwell on the large portions of my brain's capacity that appear to be devoted to dialogue from old TV shows or song lyrics. I can only hope that, since science has established that we do not use most of our brain's awesome power, I am not actually depriving room to anything important.

  • My only regret is that nowhere in the clip does the hot, green chick actually say the immortal words, "Pretty, handsome, Dr. Smith."

  • As an aging male who has been married for a long time, I think I've come to grips pretty well with the decrease of sexual activity in my life.* It's easier to be happy (or, at least, not unhappy) when you can accept reality. I used to keep track of how often I had sex in my Franklin Planner - as I recall the Middle-Aged Woman (not yet MA at the time) was appalled. Anyway, I pulled out some old Franklin storage binder to look up some information completely unrelated to sex - and was confronted by the hard statistics of the past.** It was really depressing.
  • I have gotten to a point where I can't force myself to stay up until 2 AM composing and recording my posts. I suspect that the previous consistency in timing of my posts will suffer over the next several days a result.

  • Maybe I should have retitled this whole thing "Don't Get It Up Anymore"?

  • Will they prescribe Viagra or Cialis to guys who don't have problems with erectile dysfunction? What if I just want a 4-hour erection?

Take care.

* I wish I could say the "come to grips" thing was intentional. Sometimes I'm convinced my best stuff is normally unintentional.
** See what I mean?

Monday, June 1, 2009

"There's no crying in baseball"

My life? That's a completely different story.

There's been a notable uptick in crying lately. Men, women. At work, at home. Lately, I am like a magnet for weeping.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I have no problem with crying - it is a natural thing. A normal part of living. And I am not a conventional, emotionally-repressed American male* - I will shed tears without embarrassment at the drop of a hat (OK, maybe a tiny bit of embarrassment if there are a lot of people around).

All I'm saying is: it would be cool if the crying could be spread out a little better.

Of course, life isn't like that. People die when it is time for them to die - not when it would be convenient. People don't make plans to get confused and upset - it happens when it happens.

And I'm on top of things. I've got the situation covered. But the crying doesn't make things easy.

In fact, it's times like these when I'm most grateful for being such a contrary person. I'd like to think that it's just to "bring balance to the Force" - but it's probably just being a contrary jerk. When everyone else is nervous, I choose to remain calm. When those around me are confident, I try to point out where there confidence may be unfounded. When lots of tears are flowing - I don't cry.

I assume that's one of the reasons I'm such a weeping magnet - people expect me to hold firm in such circumstances. And I'm - if not happy - at least willing to oblige.

On the grander Good News - Bad News front, it's a roller coaster ride as well:

Good news - The Wings are up 2 games - 0 in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Bad news - GM declared bankruptcy this morning

So there's likely to be a lot more crying around here soon enough.
But let's hope this won't go on for much longer. It's a drag.

Take care.

The Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

The Wings defeated the Penguins Sunday night by a score of 3-1.
Detroit leads best of seven series, 2 games to 0

* If you apply any of those terms to me individually, I would probably have to plead guilty - but not in that combination