Tag Archives: United States

Of Vice and Virtue

“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” This maxim from Abraham Lincoln has a ringing truth but the ring is hollow.  A comment about human nature that lacks commentary.  A sound-bite that is easily remembered, but does not speak to the whole truth.

I, myself have a number of vices.  Some suggest they are harmless, near typical activities for an adult male my age.  Others find them repugnant and offer a scolding rebuke behind my back.  I drink too much.  I carry a pistol.  I frequently discuss so-called unpatriotic ideals such as Texas secession from the union.  Admittedly, such things can hardly be compared to other less socially acceptable activities such as using heroin—but they certainly can promote antisocial and unlawful behavior when they are not properly controlled by the practitioner.

I once knew someone who apparently had no vices.  He was a man—a native Texan in his 50s mind you—who shunned weapons, didn’t drink, drove a hybrid automobile, and generally lived a quiet life of reading books.  This despite his job, in which he entertained scores of calls each day assisting finance managers at GM auto dealerships with the endless maze of financial software and paperwork they were required to use.

Now I suppose reading could be considered a vice, depending on the content.  And I further suppose that avoiding weapons while caring about the environment is considered socially conscientious.  But the apparent lack of any discernible relief valve is disconcerting from my vantage point.  I fear he might one day snap and go on a shooting spree or fly a plane into a building.

The opposite side of that coin, however, is that vice without virtue has no value; if you accept the first premise, (in my opinion) you must own the other, and while vice is tolerated and notable, it is always the unnoticed virtue that wins the day.  That virtue is not an act, but virtuous behavior is born out of a desire for decency—a drive to leave the world better than you found it.  Most of us embody both.

Witness my oldest progeny and only son.  I didn’t know quite what to make of his travels as I watched him grow into manhood, always seeming to choose the road to perdition.  He was just released from prison on parole from a 10-year sentence, for a meth-induced crime spree.  A convicted felon multiple times over, I simply breathed a sigh of relief that his crimes were not violent and that his life was spared.  Instead of college and a job, or military service he chose drugs, debauchery, and crime.  The stranglehold of drugs tragically asserted the outcome.

Vice.

Yet as a child he was profoundly sensitive and frequently put his younger sisters’ welfare ahead of his own.  I still recall a particular day when his mother told me that she took the three of them to a McDonald’s drive-through for lunch, an exceedingly rare treat at that time because we were poor.

When they made it home his mother realized they had shorted the order by mistake, and in that circumstance he gave up his burger to his sisters without hesitation.

Virtue.

I have a very dear friend for whom I worked about three years before her manager fired me.  For most of that time she was a punitive tyrant during work hours and I was frankly a little relieved when I lost my job because walking the line between friendship and work was nearly impossible.  Only one of many casualties of her wrath, the terrible jaws of obsession with a thing being done “the right way” compounded by the need to punish offenders tested our friendship to its limits.

Vice.

Juxtapose that reality, however, with a poignant moment of loss—the death of a loved one.  Last December this same friend escorted her Jack Russell Terrier to Rainbow Bridge.  She talked at some length about the difficulty of making that decision, and how she felt like she was playing God, and the heartbreak of watching her beloved pooch take her last breath.  Last Monday at lunch she sat across a table from me and grieved yet again a year later—but she never left her companion’s side seeing her through to the very end.

Virtue.

Then there’s my friend Tom who mentioned some time ago that his kid brother Frank who suffers from multiple sclerosis was admitted to hospice.  He spent Thanksgiving with distant family members entertaining repeated questions about Frank’s well-being as they trickled in one at a time.  Over and over he was asked the same question: “How’s Frank?”  And over and over he had to explain that his brother was dying.

Last Saturday he was supposed to meet my friends and me for brew and pub grub.  He chose instead to spend the day and the subsequent evening with his two Border Collies, while he drank to stuff the pain.  He succumbed to the temptation to temporarily anesthetize the pain of the impending separation from a loved one, which ultimately and cruelly prolongs the suffering.

Vice.

And then there is the matter of my wife’s 96 year-old grandmother, Maxine, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is functionally blind and deaf.  I’m told that Maxine is coming to the end of her journey here on Earth.  That although no one is willing to say how much time she has left with us, she is winding down at an ever-accelerating pace.  A metaphorical tailspin, if you will, from which there is no escape and is ushering in both certain and swift demise.

My sister-in-law who lives with us has spent countless nights with Maxine in her bed, many of them ending any hope of blissful slumber, being awakened by her at 3:00 a.m.  My wife has tirelessly changed countless diapers and ministers to her though unending trips to the bathroom, nearly a thousand baths, and even more questions as Maxine tries in vain to ascertain her current circumstance.

Virtue.

I watch as my wife and sister-in-law lose their patience with her, an adult child who is no longer capable of being responsible for even the most basic tasks of eating, bathing, and using the restroom.  I listen as they each raise a voice while speaking to her in part to overcome her hearing impairment and in part out of frustration.

I sigh and respond with annoyance as she unendingly interrupts conversations with family over morning coffee, attempting to comprehend the most basic of information such as where she is and what she is supposed to be doing.  These are the moments of fierce impatience that prevent charity when it is most needed by a loved one.

Vice.

One weekend not long ago, after my friends and I disbanded our weekly Saturday outing with beer and bar food, one of them, Fran, followed me to my house.  Three women had gathered with my wife and sister-in-law to spend a few hours with Maxine as she continues her journey into the unknown, believing that the end is at hand.

We sat in the living room and listened as Maxine complained of a sore lip from a fall two nights ago, cramping joints, and a general discomfort caused by a near-century of time here on this spinning, blue orb.  And then, without any apparent context, my sister-in-law began to speak.  With a sense of the inevitable nature of Maxine’s circumstance, she began to talk about how she awoke early that morning to find Maxine crawling on her hands and knees toward her bed.

I watched as her eyes became glassy and she tried in vain to hold in the grief as reality once again overtook her like a swelling tsunami.  I placed my glass of Maker’s Mark on the table top next to my chair and crossed the room to sit with her.  I placed my hand on her back as she briefly wept, unable to contain the emotion any longer.

The moment passed and I returned to my seat as Maxine began to speak again:

“My feet are cold.”  From across the room Fran replied “Your feet are cold?”  Maxine repeated her assertion: “My feet are cold.”  He set his beer down and stood up.  With a sense of purpose he crossed the room, knelt at her feet and began massaging them through her terrycloth slippers.

“That feels good; your hands are warm.”  Fran silently continued.

The symbolism was blinding.  Emblematic of the good in each of us, an able-bodied man bowed at the feet of an elderly woman and ministered to her comfort as her season was drawing to a close.  A simple act of kindness that cost him nothing but that did require humility.  Maxine smiled.

Virtue.

Guy-o

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Crow’s Feet

I owe all of you an apology.   This is my second hiatus from my blog-spot since I established it in August of last year.  I’m going to rely once again on the excuse that my life is complicated and I often succumb to distraction, never mind that were you a proverbial fly on the wall of my life you would no-doubt blame my absence on whiskey.  However, you would be wrong.

Like a loving wife, I hope you will once again receive me back into your good graces and sit with me while I offer a few recent events that will explain my momentary exodus.  In addition to receiving a job offer after 252 days of unemployment, a week ago last Friday, I became a grandfather.  A grandfather.  Hmmm.

I’ve been pondering this notion as I prepare to re-enter the work force, because I’ve never thought of myself as old—and grandfathers are old.  This in spite of the fact that I’ve been trying to embrace the idea since my oldest daughter, Rachel, gave me the news last October.  Everyone else around me seems to be accepting their incremental aging quite gracefully.

My friend Fran frequently speaks about his need for reading glasses.  Karoline talks about her granddaughter with great fondness.  Tom talks incessantly about all his medications.  Jeff talks about his late onset diabetes.  The lives of my brother Mark and sister Suzan seem to revolve around their grandchildren.  I, on the other hand, tend to sit in my office and wonder how I went from disaffected youth to cranky old man—and the answer is of course, I have no idea.

No amount of meditation or whiskey can reconcile the perception of ourselves as time passes compared to the way we are perceived by others.  Allow me an illustrative moment.

About three weeks ago, back when the possibility of becoming a grandfather was still an abstract concept to me, several members of my immediate family came to town for Rachel’s baby shower.  Heidi, Cindy, Maxine, and I all met my father, mother, sister, and my sister’s granddaughter, Ari, for an attendee swap in the parking lot of one of the local HEBs.  The women got out of my car and transferred to my Dad’s car, while my Dad swiftly moved from his car to mine.

Neither my dad nor I had any intention of going to a baby shower, and we were about to head over for a beer at my favorite sports bar.  Protocol being what it is, though, I stepped out of the car to greet my family.  Suzan was the first to offer salutations:

Suzan: “Wow; it’s Guy with white hair!”

Me: “Hi Suzan; how are you.”

Mom: “My goodness Guy.  You’re hair really is white.”

Me: “Hi mom.  Thanks for noticing.”

Mom: “No seriously; your hair used to be so dark.  I can’t believe you’re 53, your hair has turned completely white, and you’re going to be a grandfather.”

Me: “Well you know mom, time marches on.”

Suzan: “Yeah; it’s just such a shock.  I was just looking at photos of Ashley’s wedding and you still had color in your hair.  I can’t believe how much it’s lightened since then.”

Me: “Well, Dad and I need to be going.  We’re meeting the guys.”

Brief hugs, a kiss goodbye for Heidi, and then dad and I got in the car at which point I simply sighed.  Politely, my dad asked “Everything OK?”  “Everything’s fine dad.” I replied.

Here’s the thing: When I look at my hair in the mirror, I see sort of a light salt and pepper—a kind of silver cast to what was admittedly a head of hair that was nearly jet at one time but is no longer.  I can actually see the black hairs that still have color in them blending in with those devoid of color.  Yet anytime someone describes me, I am known among other things as “the white-haired dude.”  This is but one example.

Several weeks before this charming incident I was having lunch with my friend Jen, who is herself a recent mother.  She began the conversation:

Jen: “So you’re going to be a grandfather.  How do you feel?”

Me: “I have mixed feelings.”

Jen: “How so?”

Me: “Well Grandfathers are old, and I’m trying to come to grips with that aspect of my mortality.”

Jen: “But you are old.”

I stared at her for a moment, my mouth agape and then changed the subject as she laughed aloud, claiming she was just teasing.

If these two incidents weren’t enough to convince me of how subjectively I perceive myself, I naively moved the ball forwarded toward the “oldsville goalpost” by posting a high school photo of myself on FaceBook.  Bad idea—or maybe not.

About a week ago, someone I attended high school with (an actual beauty queen in the Miss USA pageant mind you) posted an unflattering photo of herself from grade school, with a self deprecating remark as a joke.  Sensing a competition unfolding, I posted an equally unflattering high school photo of myself.

Now I viewed this image as either a bad photo, or a photo of someone having a bad day.  I had this image in my mind of myself in high school as a loner with devastating good looks, a poor self image, and a unique fashion sense.  The image the photo presents, on the other hand, is one of a sad, shy, lonely person who didn’t have a friend in the world.  And guess what happened next?  A groundswell of comments poured in from my former classmates.  To a person, they all said essentially the same thing: “Now that’s the Guy I remember.”

I was frankly floored, but I shouldn’t have been.  This is how I was perceived by others—and this is exactly the affect the march of time has had on my current self esteem.  I know this because last night my daughter posted a photo of me holding her son.  I hardly recognized myself.

There were creases next to my eyes, known as “crow’s feet” by women when they are critiquing themselves.  My hair, while not entirely white was thinning and missing much of the vibrancy it held in my youth.  My ears and nose seemed a little larger, and my unshaven whiskers were also dotted with white specks.  The only remaining sign of youth I could find was the color in my eyes—and all of this juxtaposed with the three-day-old infant, Roy, I held in my arms.

Maybe it was simply the camera, or the angle of the photo, or maybe I was buying into the voices of self-loathing once again but, whatever the reason, I felt as though I was seeing myself as others see me for the first time.

Somewhere in our minds, most of us see ourselves as youthful, kind, generous, and attractive—and the first three are typically true of the people I’ve known throughout my life.  That’s because they are the result of a state of mind.  That last item, however, is largely beyond our control.

Father Time is relentless, and no amount of wishing will keep us looking the way we remember ourselves in our 20s or 30s or even our 40s.  So now, how to be gracious and accept the crow’s feet as badges of dignity and wisdom?

I’m not sure—but I think it involves spending time with your grandson, watching him grow, and patiently answering all those inevitable questions.  Questions like “Why is grass green?“ and “Why is the sky blue?” or most importantly “Papa, why do you drink whiskey and carry a gun?”

The answer to all those questions given the fact that I’m neither a science teacher nor a psychologist is, of course, “Because.  What do you say?  Wanna go for ice cream?”

Guy-o

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Karaoke Gremlins

Life lesson #321: karaoke is always a bad idea.  The reason?  Gremlins.

Gremlins are mischief makers who were first discovered in association with the problems of pre-modern combat aircraft engines.  In the 20’s and 30’s, the internal combustion engine was still relatively new and tailoring it to the miracle of flight was a cutting edge, technological innovation of that time.  Such advancement is, of course, problematic and although nobody has ever actually seen a gremlin, their existence was considered evident as fighter and bomber pilots attempted to explain unexplainable failures.

Like any creature, gremlins tend to adapt to changes in their environment and I believe with some conviction that one of the many habitats of the modern gremlin is the karaoke bar.  The modern karaoke bar is ripe for mischief-making, and is thus tailor-made for gremlin inhabitants.

First, karaoke bars attract exhibitionists who are easily goaded into making spectacles of themselves.  Second, in an environment in which bystanders become rock stars for three minutes at a time, average people are more likely to make themselves spectacles than they might under other circumstances.  Finally, there is a plentiful supply alcohol, which lowers the inhibitions of these potential victims, making them more susceptible to the persuasive powers of these little guys, who lie in wait for those vulnerable souls.

You can almost see them as they whisper in the ears of these individuals: “Have another round.”  Or “See that hot little number over there?  She’s been eying you all night.  Oh yeah; she wants you.”

Case #1: Last Friday I was at a well known Austin karaoke pub called The Common Interest.  As is typically the case at this establishment, I was standing at the bar with my friend Fran nursing a beer and a scotch.  I looked over at the stage to see a rather attractive woman performing You Give Me Fever.  With mic in hand she began to gyrate and hike her skirt as though she were about to perform a strip tease.  A crowd of drunken men began to gather in front of the stage as I watched the train wreck unfold.

Halfway through the song, three of her friends joined her on stage and followed suit.  I was transfixed as the women behind the “performance artist” began to dip and sway, pelvis to buttocks in time to the music while fluffing their hair.  Discretion prevents a more detailed description, but let’s just say that the drunken men in front of the stage along with Fran and I were not disappointed.

As they exited stage right, a very large, unattractive woman, Hester the Molester, approached me, leaned over the bar, and began performing The Bump against my right hip.  Unable to ignore her, I turned and noticed that the first two fingers of her right hand were resting just above her cleavage in the v-neck of her pull-over top.

She began slowly drawing down the v-neck of her blouse to display her cleavage, and then, in a brash gesture, waxed existential:  “Do you know why you’re here?”  Nearly speechless I simply replied “No.”  “Fate.”  She retorted seductively as she lowered her left hand to my right thigh.  A confluence of confusion and terror overtook me as I searched for an appropriate response.

Fortunately, one of the waitresses intervened and explained to Hester that she was blocking the serving station and ordered her to move to a table.  A few minutes later, the manager, Katie, tried to usher Hester to a cab.  She, of course, resisted.  “I don’t wanna cab!  I wanna drink!”  Sensing the rebellious determination in her voice, I did what any red blooded American male would do: I charmed her.

Taking her by the hand, I said “Come on sweetie let’s get in the cab.”  Without any resistance whatsoever she stood and followed me out to where the driver was waiting and, after pouring her into the back seat, I returned to my perch at the bar.  The manager later thanked me and bought me a round for my assistance.  That’s right: I helped a drunken woman into a cab and I was rewarded with free alcohol.  I love this town!

Case #2: Some time ago I convinced my friends, Tom and Jeff, to visit another karaoke bar here in Pflugerville called Players.  At the time they were karaoke virgins but were also in a bluegrass band, so they decided to be adventurous and give it a try.

The place is exactly what you would expect a karaoke bar to be in a little burg like Pflugerville.  In this place, everyone knows everyone and everyone smokes.  A Texas state flag hangs behind the stage and the furniture is kind of old.  It’s also complete with pool tables where young men in cowboy attire engage in coarse, macho posturing and a shuffleboard table where old men like to congregate and demonstrate their prowess on the shellacked wood covered with fine sand.

We found a table for four in the back of the karaoke room and the three of us sat down, leaving a single chair free; to wit, send in the gremlins.  20 minutes later I returned to my table, after belting out a cover of Folsom Prison Blues, to find a guest.  He was an older guy, with a tangled beard, unkempt hair and a generally disheveled appearance.  Meet Chester the Molester.

On cue, Chester succumbed to the karaoke gremlins and decided that Jeff and Tom were appropriate targets of one of his twisted pastimes: feeling up strange men.  Now here’s the weird part: I was completely oblivious to their frantic attempts to fend off Chester, as I happily sang along to familiar tunes sang by the various performers while he treated my friends like an amusement park ride.  Fortunately for Chester, he left for another beer before I noticed any wrong-doing and he apparently became distracted on his way to the bar.

Jeff and Tom then related their tale of horror and as fate would have it, we didn’t see him again until we decided to leave two hours later.  When it was time to go, we all climbed into Tom’s van; I was in the back and Jeff sat in the front.  I strapped on my pistol and Jeff followed suit.  Without any warning Chester jumped into the back seat next to me and demanded a ride.

Tom craned his neck from the front seat, raised his arm, pointed to the left side of his rib cage, and said “Hey Chester, take a feel here.”  Chester eagerly complied.  What he didn’t know was that is where Tom carried his 9mm pistol.  As Chester suddenly became aware of this lethal hardware he gasped like a little girl and then quickly recoiled.  Tom then amped it up to 11 and said, see that guy sitting next to you?  He’s got a .45 on his hip and so does my friend next to me.

I watched with glee as the blood drained from his face.  Chester slowly turned, stepped out of the van and simply said “You fellas have a nice evenin.”

It’s funny how quickly the behavior of even the most wretched degenerate changes when he’s out of the influence of gremlins and under the influence of three guys armed with serious firepower.

Guy-o

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If Frat Boys Ruled the World

The term frat boy has a universally negative connotation.  To most people it conjures images of the college-age George W. Bush portrayed by the media when he was running for office—and maybe the reputation is deserved; I have no idea.  That’s not the point of my comment.  The point is that such images produce a bum rap for fraternities.  Fraternities while, associated with drunkenness, bad behavior, and a frivolous approach to life, can serve a very noble purpose for men.

I experienced fraternity life not in college, but in the United States Coast Guard.  As I recall, during the nine weeks of hell known as basic training, my most vivid memory was the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie I experienced.  The regimen of physical training, nautical education, and military protocol coaching, while much less stringent than the other branches of the armed forces, galvanized strong bonds with former strangers.

One training exercise that comes to mind was the swimming regimen.  On week two, we embarked on two days of testing, training, and exercise in an Olympic size pool complete with a 25 foot diving platform.  We were all initially asked to swim several laps while observers graded our performance.  They then divided us into three groups: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.  I, of course, made the intermediate team because it’s the hallmark of my brief existence here on Earth thus far.  Intermediate is a synonym for mediocre, which pretty much sums up my life.

Then the observers donned their training mantle and gave us our instructions.  One of the instructors dispatched Team Beginner to the shallow end of the pool and announced free-time.  He then turned to us, Team Good Enough, ordered us into the deep end of the pool and instructed us in the art of drown proofing.  This technique essentially requires you to impersonate fishing bobbers, taking a breath, submerging, and then resurfacing.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  ”Now you boys practice that until I tell you to quit.”

We all did as we were instructed and he moved onto Team Star, instructing them about something I couldn’t quite decipher as I bobbed up and down with my teammates in the water.  He returned 15 minutes later and barked “Recruits: out of the water.  MOVE!”  Next, he ordered us to sit, which made me feel a little bit like a Labrador Retriever.  I then watched as he ordered the individuals of the advanced team up the ladder of the diving platform.  One by one they walked to the edge of the platform, crossed their arms with hands on shoulders, and stepped off for a vertical freefall into the drink.

“What are they doing?” I asked the guy next to me.  “They’re practicing abandon ship.”  I was suddenly struck by the disparity in the training.  The losers get free-time, the also-rans practice drown-proofing, and the winners are trained to abandon ship.  “Why aren’t we all practicing abandon ship?” I naively inquired.  “Because in the event that a ship goes down, those guys are the only ones who are going to survive.”

Now that doesn’t initially sound like a bonding exercise that would promote camaraderie—but then something interesting happened.  One of the guys froze.  He was JROTC in high school, knew a myriad of cadence calls, and seemed to possess a natural sense of military bearing.  But it seemed he had trouble with stressful situations—and this particular situation definitely qualified.  25 feet might not sound like much, but give it a try.  If you’re even slightly acrophobic, you might as well be standing atop the Chrysler Building.  But the important thing is that after a few seconds we were all pulling for him.

We began shouting words of encouragement—but to no avail.  Then one of the braver members of the advanced team quickly scaled the ladder and hopped up onto the platform.  “Dave!  Get it together man.  It’s just one step and you’re home free.  Come on Dave; take the step.”  Gradually a cheer spontaneously erupted.  “One step!  One step!  One step!”

Now as I write that it sounds a bit hokie to me—but remember—we were functionally just a bunch of frat guys.  The fraternity being Bravo Company of the United States Coast Guard Basic Training Battalion, Alameda, CA.  In our brief time in boot camp so far, we had already learned to rally around distressed individuals who were part of the fraternity for the good of the collective.  Sure enough, Dave took the plunge after only a few seconds of encouragement as cheers erupted from below.  For me, a kid from a small Texas town away from home for the first time, it was a quite a moment.

Fast forward to last Saturday.  Several former co-workers wanted me and my two friends Jeff and Tom to introduce them to pistol shooting.  Very well.  I sent them an invitation to report to my house at precisely 1030 hours Saturday morning for a weapons briefing, after which we would head over to Red’s Indoor Range right here in Pflugerville.

On queue at 1025 Jeff and Tom arrived to unload their hardware on my kitchen island.  Five minutes later two of our students, Curt and Adi, promptly arrived and filed into the kitchen.  Another five minutes and the last of the newbies, Nick, arrived and we began the briefing.

You could have heard a pin drop as we introduced them to the world of self defense weapons that Jeff, Tom, and I almost take for granted.  Laser-focused, they stood riveted by every word of the safety protocol lecture, technical analysis, and weapons operation demonstration.  45 minutes later we were satisfied that they were ready to step up to the firing line and off we headed to Red’s.

As we entered the range, our students seemed surprisingly at ease, despite the noise of discharging weapons and frigid air from the ventilation system that was delivered directly from outside.  For the next 90 minutes the guys went from station to station trying handguns: 9mm, .45, .38 special, and even a big-ass .357 Magnum—that last one being a big hit with the guys.  As we were nearing the end of our outing the guy in the bay next to mine tapped me on the shoulder.

“New shooters?” he shouted.

“Yes sir.” I yelled back.

“I’ve got a Sig Sauer .40 cal if they’re interested.”

“Hell yeah.” I offered up enthusiastically.

I happened to glance over at the ambassador’s girlfriend who suddenly broke into a knowing smile as if to say, “They’ve got the bug.”  Sated, we then headed over to our sports bar of choice, Twin Peaks, a few miles to the North.

We were immediately seated and we placed our drink orders before catching up on the last 10 years.  A few minutes later our drinks arrived and Curt, having the demeanor of something akin to a frat boy raised his beer glass and offered a toast: “To one more kick-ass time with a great bunch of guys.”

My friends thus inducted into our fraternity, a sense of satisfaction swept over my psyche.

Here’s to the Fraternal Order of Middle Aged Armed Guys.  Be polite to us.  We may not rule the world, but we are in charge of our little corner of it.

Guy-o

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A Dog’s Life

I’m a mutt.  A Heinz 57.  An American Mongrel.  I have no pedigree and we cannot trace my family tree back more than three generations.

This reality has always vexed me to my core.  All of my friends know both their ethnic and historical extraction.  Their ancestors’ country of origin.  When they got off the boat.  Where and why they settled.  The only thing I know is that there are three Native American tribes in my family and I know only one of them for certain.  So when a moment of potential family discovery presented itself in my young adulthood, I seized it like a rabid dog.

In the last year of her life, my paternal grandmother suffered from dementia—but amidst the mental confusion and dearth of any short-term memory this condition asserts, also exists thankful moments of lucidity.  I happened to be at my parents’ house where she was staying when one of those precious moments surfaced.  Snatching it from the hands of Father Time, I said to her “Grandma, where did your family come from before you moved to Tulsa?”

I waited with bated breath as a thoughtful expression crossed her face.  I imagined my recent ancestors were probably typical, poor, European immigrants who came stateside seeking a better life, probably landing at Ellis Island in the late 19th century.  However, I secretly hoped that some famous, infamous, or otherwise colorful historical figure would also surface.  Something that would give me a sense of who I was connected to; something that would attach me to my family’s past.

A moment later, she said “Well, it seems like my mother’s family came from Tennessee.”  A sad trombone rang pathetically in my mind as though I were locked in an SNL Debbie Downer skit.  In that moment I was as much a nobody as I was two minutes prior.

On the drive home I pondered my non-existent heritage.  I felt a little like Alex Haley, but without an ultimate Kunta Kinte to anchor me and give me a sense of my lineage.  So I did what any good American would do: I decided to adopt one.  I considered the idea and patiently gave it some time to percolate.

A week later I was sitting at a local bar with my best friend Fran and I ordered my third beer.  When the bottle arrived I responded to the bartender without thinking: “Danke schoen.”  Fran turned to me and said “Hey; sprechen sie Englisch?”

“Huh?”

“You thanked the bartender in German but you obviously don’t speak German you big doof—and neither does the bartender.”

“I took a couple years of German in high school; sometimes it slips out after I’ve had a couple.”  “Whatever.” Fran retorted dismissively.

Ignoring him I suddenly noticed the label on the bottle of Bavarian wheat beer I had just poured into my glass: Franziskaner Weissbier.  As I read the words, an epiphany descended from the heavens: my people were no-doubt Bavarian.  After all, they eat a lot of meat, drink too much, and they aren’t very industrious.  Now it’s not really the case that they’re lazy, it’s more the case that when work is done, their primary concern is to retire to a beer hall, eat sausage, and drink.  I live for that!

My lips donned an irrepressible grin as a choir of angels broke into song.  I ordered a Jagermeister to celebrate.

Fast-forward 10 years: I’m married to a Heidi and live in a German settlement called Pflugerville with my dog Gretl.  Imagine my excitement when I noticed that a new German restaurant was going in—Bavarian no less.  Nirvana.

I waited with bated breath as the Nuernberg Brauhaus grand opening date approached.  Unfortunately, work and personal commitments prevented me from heading over to the beer house during opening week.  However, the following Tuesday evening I was headed to the grocery store and took the opportunity to stop in on my way.  I stepped through the door bristling with anticipation.

I sat down at the one seat left at the bar.  The energy was frenetic.  Further, it was obvious to me that not a single member of the visible wait staff was older than 20, which made it unlawful for any of them to sling booze from a bar in Texas.  So I sat and waited patiently as I watched them take orders, pour soft drinks, and retrieve food from the kitchen.

After about 10 minutes an older man, who appeared to be the manager, addressed me: “Someone will be right with you.”  Another 10 minutes and my highly anticipated Bavarian beer hall experience was reduced to watching teenagers run back and forth in a panic.  More sad trombones as I walked out the door.

The next time I tried Nuernberg it was closed for kitchen repairs.  Subsequent trips produced equally disappointing results on the heels of the giddy high of anticipation, because each time it would be closed for one reason or another.  I felt a little like Clark Griswold reliving his trip Wally World over and over and over.

Then one day in mid-December of 2011, a Christmas miracle occurred.  I decided to give the place another try, and voilà: it was open and business was modest and orderly.  I sat down at the bar and the bartender immediately took my order.  Cheerfully, I responded with a single word: Franziskaner.  Two minutes later, there it was: a half liter weizen glass with the Franziskaner emblem affixed, and filled to the .5 liter mark with ice-cold yummy goodness.  I dabbed my bev-nap to dry the tear that had spontaneously formed in the corner of each eye.  It gets better.

After a brief conversation with the bartender, Silke, she divulged that she was the owner and that she was actually Bavarian.  I went from being a bit giddy to being immersed in a state of complete ecstasy.  The only thing missing was a dirndl.  Unfortunately for yours truly, it was all too perfect.  As she served me beer number two she said “I’m going to miss this place.”

“What?” I gasped, nearly choking on my beer.  “Yeah; this is our last week.”  A chorus of sad trombones, erupted ending my near climactic euphoric state and I sat there lamenting the loss of this new-found treasure.  What a pisser!

Silence ruled the bar as I contemplated this latest bit of data and my mind began to drift back to my 50th birthday party.

Three years ago, my wife arranged a celebration with about 45 people at another local place that’s still around: The European Bistro.  They specialize in a number of European cuisines, among them German.

I smiled as I thought about how my wife, her friends, and my daughters had braided their hair, put on German costume dresses, and posed with me and my friends for photos.  And as I made my way from table to table a woman followed me around singing German folk songs and playing an accordion.  How awesome is that?  For that one night I was a full-on Teutonic Herr—without the lederhosen of course.  My wife and daughters begged me to slip on a pair, but that’s not really me.

Here’s what is me: A loyal American mutt with a crafted heritage as fine as any authentic Bavarian hefeweizen.  And my life in Pflugerville?  Here I’m a VDH registered German Shepherd.

Wiedersehen!

Guy-o

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Man up Dude

Verbing weirds language.  This brilliant comment from the equally brilliant comic strip Calvin and Hobbes is a reference to the current proverbial bug in my ass, which has to do with the devolution of the language we call English.

I once had a very good friend named Robert who was also my political opponent.  Robert was a very left-wing-leaning intellectual.  I don’t think of myself as intellectual at all, and I’m left-wing averse—but I really liked the conversations we had over multiple glasses of single malt scotch, back when I had money and single malt was still affordable.

He would extol the virtues of the Marxist collective compassion so popular with hippies.  He argued passionately about the tyranny of the glass ceiling.  He tried to no avail to convince me that the world is an unjust place in which victims are the majority and tyrants who determine outcomes for them are in the minority.

Now here’s the thing.  If you think the federal government is an appropriate agent of assistance for the poor, I disagree, but you’re entitled to that viewpoint.  Poverty is a very real problem and the feds have a lot of resources; a lot of our resources some of which belong to me, but that doesn’t qualify them to tackle something as complicated as poverty.  Take a bath you Occupy Wall Street dorks.

If you think that, as a woman, you are held back in the workplace by the misogynistic attitudes of men in charge, maybe you are; men can be pigs, but maybe you ought not to work at places with people like that.

Also, Robert descended from Scottish royalty and was a child of privilege.  I, on the other hand, am the offspring of common folk whose ancestors carved a scant living out of the Oklahoma Land Rush and interbred with Indians—I mean Native Americans.  We did OK with our meager resources; what’s everyone else’s excuse?

Even so, I was very fond of Robert and the reasoned discussions we so often had—but as you can imagine our disagreement didn’t end with political philosophy.  Robert’s honest, intellectual left-wing approach to life compared to my own pedestrian right-leaning approach also led us to different ideas about work related fare.  We were both tech writers at the time documenting cutting edge software in the information technology industry and, like our politics, our individual views of the English language were also diametrically opposed.  I thought of myself as a guardian of the language and he believed in its active evolution.

He actually thought it was a good idea to invent new words.  As a writer I was appalled.  My favorite example is the word functionality.  It was 1993 when I heard this word for the first time.  I was at the office where the two of us worked one afternoon and our IT guy, Steve, was trying to assist me with getting network access.  He was mumbling something under his breath about my operating system and how it was interacting with our product suite and how it was falsely signaling a security breach.

“Oh I see the problem.”

“What?”

“You have the latest version of the product, which has some new security functionality.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah.  IBM wanted us to tighten the security but the new functionality requires the latest Sun OS.  Go home.  It’ll be working tomorrow.” he said dismissively.

I find it ironic that technologists invented this word because they tend to be very exacting about everything except the way they sometimes abuse the language.  Functionality, which is now in common usage among software engineers, is typically used to refer to a new feature in a product—but guess what?  We already have a word for that: the word is feature.

So indulge me while I explain the evolution of this word; I think it’s illustrative of a point that’s critical to this entry.  First, you take something called a noun that is used to refer to the way something works: function.  Then you add a syllable to turn it into an adjective to describe whether it works: functional.  Finally, you add two more syllables to turn it back into a noun to refer to some aspect of the way it works: functionality, because the word feature is so much more cumbersome.  Holy Christ.  Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.

This brings me a little closer to the point.  A few years ago, two additional terms made it into the common lexicon, which I find as appalling as the aforementioned “F” word: bromance and man date.  These two terms even have a Wikipedia entry which explains that the term bromance first appeared in a skateboard magazine in the 90’s.  Figures.  It’s supposed to characterize a close friendship between two heterosexual men.

It could be argued that in that sense Robert and I had a bromance and that our political discussions constituted man dates.  Notice that I phrased that as “it could be argued.”  That’s because I think those two terms are stupid.  Robert and I did enjoy a close friendship—and that’s how we referred to it.  Why invent yet another word to describe something that already has a perfectly good descriptor?

But here’s why it’s on my mind.  For Christmas, Heidi purchased a couple of DVDs for me, one of which was the film I Love You Man.   When I opened the package Heidi said “It’s about the camaraderie of male friendships.”  OK that’s cool.  I like the feeling when I’m around other guys and we talk about music, or guns, or how much we hate politicians.  Fun.  Still my spidey sense was signaling danger, and it’s seldom wrong.

When we retired to the bedroom Heidi put in the flick and we began to watch the wretched story unfold.  The premise: the main character, Peter, has no male friends and is engaged to be married.  He has no best man and he overhears his fiancée talking to her girlfriends about how guys who don’t have male friends are clingy and needy.

Wait.  Did you breeze by that?  His character has no male friends.  What guy doesn’t have a single male friend?  Do you have a next door neighbor?  Have you ever been to college?  Did you ever have a job?  What the Hell?  But OK.  We’re only 10 minutes into it.

Next, we cut to dinner with his family.  The topic arises, and his father claims to have had only two male friends in his entire life: one with whom he’s out of touch and Peter’s younger brother.  And why are Peter’s Father and brother best friends?  Because his youngest son is gay.  WTF?  Notice he’s not merely accepting of his son’s sexual orientation and loves him because he is his son.  He loves him because he’s gay.  Sorry, but that pegs the creep-o-meter for me.

Aptly named Peter then convinces his gay brother to help him learn how to pick up guys for the purpose of platonic friendship—mostly at the gym.  At this point the discomfort in the room is palpable, but it gets worse.  He begins going on blind man dates and of course nobody is suitable.  And now the final straw.  One of the dates takes a horrible turn: everything seems to be going well with the latest candidate, and the predictable happens.  At the end of the date, the other guy goes in for the kiss.

So does Peter deck him?  No he stands there looking at the other dude, who after the film portrays the most awkward moment in cinematic history, leans in for sloppy seconds.  Honestly, I’m not sure whether Peter was acting like a girl or a man who’s not certain of his sexual orientation.

Look.  If you’re gay, fine; be gay.  If you’re straight, cool; be straight.  But what is this crap about being straight and acting gay?

Thing one: Depending on your source and the way you define vocabulary elements, the English language comprises anywhere from 250,000 to 1,000,000 words, a language richer than any other on the planet.  Please stop screwing with it.

Thing two: Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of, but neither is being straight.  Just go with who you are and stop pretending we’re all the same.  We’re not, and when you cross the line it comes off really weak and it kind of pisses me off.

Guy-o

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The BLOT and Other Tasty Morsels

I’ve been thinking a lot about acronyms lately.  I shun acronyms because for a brief time I worked for IBM, and the fact that the company name is an acronym should suggest how important they are to the executive leadership of the company.  Although, to be fair, IBM is not an acronym, strictly speaking.  Acronym has come to mean any series of letters which stand for something else.

An actual acronym is a new word created by assembling the initial letters of other words that connote some meaning to the speaker or writer, such as MADD or SNAFU.  By the way it helps a lot if it’s meaningful to the audience as well.  But all too often today something we call an acronym can’t be pronounced, and in my opinion is therefore not a word at all.  Have you ever tried to pronounce the “word” IBM?

There were so many of these bedeviled beasts at IBM, when people would speak, the alphabet soup that began to dribble from their mouths began to take the form of an arcane patois incomprehensible to the uninitiated.  I often understood them but I found it challenging to reply in IBMese.  It was kind of like my German.

I know how to order a beer in German.  I know how to order another beer in German.  I even know how to offer the equivalent of “a toast!” in German.  That’s primarily because English is a Germanic language, and so all the important words sound very much like English words with a German accent.  So although I can understand a little German, I can’t really communicate in German.  Yeah; it was like that.

Most companies now have their own acronym-laced lexicon.  At my last gig we had D1s, D2s, IRs, KPIs, SRLs, MQLs, MDMs, AEs, SEs, and CSMs, just to name a few.  Then there are those little bastards that are the invention of the youth that replaced Val-speak when the WWW took hold and social networks powered by communication devices very much like those portrayed on Star Trek became all the rage.  Now when you think something is funny you have to offer up “LOL” or “ROTFL” or the most ridiculous acronym of all IMHO, “LMAO”.  What makes that last “acronym” ridiculous is that, not only is it not technically an acronym, it’s also a metaphor that doesn’t really make any sense.

You can’t pronounce it any more than you can pronounce “IBM”, but at least IBM means something tangible: International Business Machines.  Could someone please write to me and explain what “Laughing My Ass Off” really means?  Wouldn’t YAOCSOB (you are one clever SOB) be more meaningful?  Not only can you pronounce it (yahk-sob), it’s a nested acronym (clever in its own right) that suggests your friend is clever too.

Present Day (figuratively speaking):  I was sitting in a local watering hole with an aging food menu on a Saturday afternoon.  I’ve had everything on the menu dozens of times and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I turned to my friend Jeff who just ordered a club sandwich big enough to choke a horse.  “Jeff” I began, “what was that thing we ordered when we were tired of everything on the menu?”  “BLT” he replied between gargantuan bites.

Ah yes.  A BLT.  My hatred of acronyms momentarily abated.  The waitress approached the table a few minutes later and my friend Tom ordered a burger.  She then glanced my way and looked at me with a question in her eye.  “I‘d like another beer please and I’d like to order something not on the menu but that you guys made for us once before: a BLT.”  “What?” she inquired.  “A beer and a BLT.”  Her face immediately cloned my own countenance during all those conversations with other IBMers.  A sort of puzzled look in the eye, supported by a scrunched up nose and an upturned corner of the mouth, all  compounded by a slight rightward tilt of the head.

I responded to her nonverbal question by repeating my order sans acronym: “A Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich, but add onions please.”  Her expression did not abate.  “What’s that?” she inquired.  Momentarily exasperated, I paused, took a deep cleansing breath, and said “A sandwich with bacon, lettuce, and tomato between two slices of bread with mayo on each slice—only add some onions.”  “Wait!” she replied as she pulled out a notepad and began to scribble.

Now at this point I must add that this is not a stupid woman.  She has a working brain and has demonstrated her use of it on multiple occasions.  But this one request completely threw her.  After several repeated attempts to describe the sandwich in question Jeff offered “It’s essentially a modified club.”  Obviously confused, she wandered back to the kitchen.

I would also like to pause for a moment and offer that once you add onions to a BLT it becomes a true acronym.  You have a choice: the sandwich becomes a BOLT or a BLOT.  I prefer BLOT because it sounds funny, but if you prefer BOLT, I won’t object.  And, by the way, I had a smug sense of pride in the knowledge that I am the inventor of the BLOT, both the sandwich variation and the Acro-name—that is until God decided to take me down a notch by ensuring the following series of events.

A few minutes later the waitress returned with my beer and asked whether I wanted my sandwich girl-size or man-size.  I promptly became as confused as our dear sweet waitron when I first placed my order, and who, by the way, was trying very hard to just make me happy.  I just looked at her, searching my memory for some context like a spinning Rolodex.  Apparently the cook convinced her that what I actually wanted was a bacon cheeseburger because she further inquired “Do you want two patties or one?”

“No patties!” I shot back, hating myself for losing my patience with her.  Out came the note pad once again.  “So what do you want again?”  “A sandwich with bacon, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes.  No burger patties.  Just the bacon, the lettuce, the onions, and the tomatoes, all of it between two slices of bread with mayonnaise.  That’s it; nothing more.”

From that point forward it was a complete downhill slide.  Food orders refused to arrive.  Beer glasses went dry.  Whiskey orders seemed to take hours.  I gradually began to feel like a jerk for asking the establishment to make something not on the menu—as though I were single-handedly destroying their business.  And with this gradual rising tide of self-loathing, another familiar feeling re-emerged: my utter contempt for acronyms.

I would like to take this moment to lay the burden of this debacle at the feet of a former U.S. President who (God rest his soul) is no longer with us and therefore cannot defend himself.  The perfect scapegoat: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Although he did not invent the acronym, he single-handedly integrated them into our culture.

In fact he liked acronyms so much his moniker was itself a pseudo-acronym.  Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist.  If I were, however, I would argue that the goal of the thing he did invent, The New Deal, was merely a platform for the invention of new acronyms that would be uttered by every American on a daily basis, thus galvanizing his place in American history.  To sell the idea, though, he told my grandparents it would put Americans back to work—and maybe it did; I didn’t study post-depression economics.

However, I do know that this monstrosity made it culturally acceptable for people to make up new words at their whim, which further created two common side effects:

1) It gives these do-gooding expanders of our working vocabulary the opportunity to feel cleverly smug.

2) It ensures the further devolution of our language and by extension expands the opportunity to miscommunicate.

Thanks a lot FDR.  My favorite sports bar still hasn’t recovered.

Guy-o

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