Sunday, December 23, 2007

The News in Brief

I'm engaged.

I'll write a lengthy treatise on how that happened, and how my mom's engagement ring found its way from being pawned for survival money in the 1970s to Liberty's finger here.

I've reconnected with some family down in Florida, including my father and sister, who I've been in a state of part estrangement, part procrastination for the last 10 years. When Liberty and I tie the knot (details to come, Internet crazies who come to crash the party will be politely turned away at the door), they may all make the trek up to Ohio to wish us well.

Got the tree up, and a few cool custom ornaments made, did all my shopping (I usually post a Christmas to-do list, but I've been inexplicably pressed for time for the last month, and unable to sit and just write a good blog entry. Some shots of the tree and ornaments, and Stacey from a recent Christmas show she and the Westerville Center for the Arts did at Easton, and Stacey in the outfit she wore to her first Christmas formal, are up in the latest Picasa album, here:

Christmas 2007

All is well. Stacey is up in Wisconsin with Teresa, Chris, and the Dahlstrom's for Christmas, and I have to wait until the new year to finish celebrating with her (note to self - buy fruit basket on Jan 2). I miss her. I want to tell her I'm engaged, but it should be in person. I need her to see in my eyes that she's still my little girl and can't be replaced or put on the back-burner.

I'm looking forward to spending Christmas with Liberty and her friends and family. Scout (Liberty's daughter) and her father will be there too, and I'll be happy to finally meet him. Beginnings are delicate times, as Frank Herbert preached in many Dune novels, and it will be important for him to see me as a friend and confidant. He is, after all, in basically the same place I was 7 years ago when Teresa and I split up - sharing custody, worrying about the ex trying to steal away with his child, and being distrustful of new people who interact with his daughter, and who used to be his woman. I'll try to do what I can to put him at ease, and it will be interesting to see a version of my past self from my current point of view.

More after Christmas.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dating after the long hiatus

I have been out of serious romantic relationships for the past 7 years, from the time my ex-wife and I split up in February of 2000, until a couple months ago when Liberty and I started dating. In the intervening years I saw a woman for about 3 months, and while we enjoyed each other's company, the relationship didn't blossom, and we stopped calling each other. A woman I work with and I danced around a relationship shortly, and eventually figured out there was nothing between us but a common loneliness - that ended badly, and it took us most of the following year to rebuild a friendship. All told, about 6 months of false starts, and 6 and a half years of no romance.

What happened to me along the way were several good things. First, I became a devoted father, a stereotypical helicopter parent nosing his way into the school community, throwing many sleepovers and elaborate birthday parties, fretting over my daughter's struggles and beaming with pride at her successes. Stacey was my only love for all of her elementary school years. I mean, seriously, just read the archives of this blog.

I also learned to tackle personal problems, like disorganization, bad money management, a short temper, and chronic reclusion. Lastly, and most important for the purposes of what type of boyfriend I became, I stopped thinking in terms of "what would a good X do in this case?" What would a good father do when there's bickering late at night at a sleepover? What would a good boyfriend do when his girlfriend's kids want him to come play baseball in the backyard instead of hang out with mommy?

The behavior and expectations filter was once this constant background noise for me, almost as if I had no real persona of my own, and was like an autistic child trying to mimic how normally socialized people acted. Or maybe I had a fear of my own natural responses, and took comfort in just playing a part. What happened over the last 7 years was a decay of that part of me. My instincts became stronger than my habits, and I began to act in life as I would, not as my conceived archetypal ideal would. Because as a boyfriend, father, IT flunky, neighbor, and all the other hats I wear, I'm not different people, and my honest behavior and reactions now serve me better than my filtered behavior ever did.

And now there's Liberty, and I am myself around her without any affectations or embellishments, and our romance feels stronger than I imagined was possible. We've passed unscathed the stage where we learn each other's dirty little secrets, we've met each other's kids, had family over for dinner, and made the first hintings of "what if" plans. What if we're still into each other this much next year? What would living together look like? Now, I can't predict the future, I can only hope that things will work out as well as they seem like they might, but I never would have gotten here, never would have achieved this deep of a connection with a woman, without learning how to be an honest man instead of a caricature. As it turns out, I'm as loving and attentive as my ideal "good boyfriend" would have been.

I'm thankful for my flaws, and that it took me this long to grow into the man I am. Otherwise, I might never have met her. She is worth all the years of frustration and loneliness that came before, and much more. Classy, exotic, strong, intelligent, funny, well-read, beautiful, persevering, fearless, patient, caring. Perfect. The woman I love.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Stacey's soccer season is winding down now, and her last game is tonight. I believe we are currently ranked second out of the 6 U12 WASA teams, so the girls have enjoyed some success this year. Stacey has grown into a competent goalie, of all things, by being bold enough to come out of the box and grab the ball before the opponent shoots... just like I taught her. Honest.

Saturday was the last practice of the season, and was the "fun day" where the parents and the girls play against each other. We were out running around in the hot sun for about maybe 30 minutes total, enough to wipe out most of the adults and some of the kids. The adults lost, 2 to 1 in sudden death overtime, where the team's leading scorer passed me, playing sweeper, and took a shot that just snuck in on the correct side of the post. Cute kid, Alexa, and plenty of aggressive and hotshot during the team's games. I had harassed her a little during the game, sneaking in and stealing passes, blocking shots, and I finally got her mad enough to beat me on a play and score. I made it clear to her and her dad later that I didn't let her beat me, that she really did earn the point. That was the way the game was supposed to end: victory for the girls, camaraderie and teamwork defeating the greater size and life experience of the adults. It was a good thing.

The game against the girls helped me remember my love for soccer, and how fun it is supposed to be, at a time when my self-confidence as a player has been shaken. I felt good about playing, the other adults complemented me on my mad defense skillz, and everyone left with a smile on their face. So then yesterday was the game in my over-30 league, and my spirit and confidence was fully restored, and it showed.

Unfortunately, we had only 11 people on the team show up. A full complement, but no subs. So I played for just over 75 minutes of our 80 minute game in the blazing sun, finishing dehydrated, clumsy, and with a splitting headache. But before I fell to pieces, I contributed to my team, making a few good passes, harassing forwards on the other team to pass before they were settled, and making what should have been a key save in the game, only to have the ref call a foul on me. The play was against a fast opponent with good ball control who got around me at midfield when no one was behind me. I chased him down to the goal, and stepped on the ball just before he was able to get the shot off, accidentally knocking us both down. A ref called it a foul, to the great protest of most of my teammates, who all gave me encouragement and said it was a crap call. He took the free kick, sending his team up 2-1. We held for a while longer, but by the end we were all too winded to keep up, and we ended up losing 4-1.

So at the end of the day we lost, I ended up with a skinned knee and a headache, wiped out and sore, and I've never felt better. To boot, I got to the field right when the game was starting, and didn't get a chance to stretch. Today I'm a little stiff, tomorrow should be hell.

In other news, my lady friend and I, to the best of my reckoning, are officially a couple now. I've even heard Stacey say something I never thought would come out of her mouth in casual conversation: "my Dad and his girlfriend". Her name is Liberty, and I like her a lot. I haven't been in a romantic relationship for several years, and it's nice to wake that part of my brain up again. I'll be sparing on the details for everyone's privacy, but suffice to say that if my blog is cheerier than normal, she's a big reason why.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Becoming a familiar

"Help me Connor!" the little girl called to me. At that point, I knew I had officially been adopted. Connor. It has a nice ring to it. Rolls off the tongue better than Curtis, especially if you're 2 and a half years old.

The girl, Scout, is the daughter of a woman who may or may not be my girlfriend. We're at that awkward stage in new relationships where things either blow up or settle down, and the goodbyes stop being a mishmash of half hugs, quick pats on the back, and accidental headbutts and start being kisses and worried reflection... was that too much? Not enough? Scout was the girl who was shy around me last post, and yesterday evening started out looking like more of the same.

We planned to go out to Magic Mountain, a great place for tots to jump and climb, and bang buttons on various video games. When everyone arrived at my house and we were loading Scout up to the car for the trip, she still eyeballed me suspiciously and looked worried, but settled down during the ride, no doubt noticing mom and I getting along and chatting cheerfully. When we got to Magic Mountain, Scout is taking mom's hand while walking in, and subtly throws her other hand up for me to hold. Naturally, I take it. And smile ear to ear.

The play area has a giant truck with climbing tubes for the smaller kids to play in, which is less daunting than the two and a half storey nest of tubes and tunnels that the elementary school kids play in. Scout eagerly climbed in and explored, and eventually got lost and upset, and called to mommy for help. Mom peeks in one of the windows reassuringly, and gives Scout a hint of which way to go, and she figured out how everything was laid out, and was fine. With her new knowledge of the truck's topography, and wielding the adult summoning spell in her collection of scrolls, she decided to get "lost" again, and to summon me for help instead of mommy.

"Help me Connor!" I am 6'4" and not very flexible for purposes like fitting into toddlers' climbing toys, but I somehow managed to snake my way through a few twists and turns to find little Scout, who smiled at me as I helped lower her down one platform, whereupon she quickly made her escape from the bigtoy deathtrap. A few minutes later, as I finally wrenched and scooted myself back out the way I came in -- why is that always the hard part? -- we decided to go on to bigger and better things, like Ski-ball and dinner at Arby's. Somewhere during all that, Scout decided it was OK for me to pick her up and carry her, and she gave me the biggest complement a toddler can, by resting her head against my shoulder contentedly as I carried her back in the house.

So I'm adopted now, one of her familiars. Life is good. Thanks, little princess.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Training, the kid keeps growing, and romance revisited

So, here I am in a C# training class for the week, which I'm assuming based on the first couple of hours is going to be a miserable week, reminding me of all the things in the IT world that are upsetting. To enumerate, the sign on the door "Introduction to C+", the personal ramblings ("I think x will be the future of programming"), the experimenting with nonstandard classroom computer configurations, dirty keyboards, the table and chairs out of sync heightwise, and nothing yet that approaches any programming meat. The good news is the unfiltered Internet connection, hence this post, which I couldn't do from my office since about a year ago when "blog" was became a filtered keyword.

What's new? My kid is awesome, which isn't new, but she's continuing to be awesome in Middle School, making friends, being more challenged in some classes than she's used to, like the advanced 6th grade math class, all the while tackling a full schedule of dance, soccer, and music. We've butted heads on a few issues in the natural progression of her asserting her independence. My angst for that whole deal is out of proportion to the problem because of one simple fact: I've been a natural at fatherhood up until now.

After I last got angry with her, I chilled myself out and sat down with her and had a conversation that went something like this: Stacey, you've always had a natural gift for numbers. You've been at the top of your math class since you started school, been bragged on by your teachers, and been put in the gifted program at school. This year, you are put in with other kids who were at the tops of their classes, and the work is harder, and it doesn't come easy for you any more. You have to work at it, practice, and be patient while you get your head around new concepts that don't just automatically jump off the page at you as obvious. It's the same with me, now, with being a dad. I used to always know what to do, and it was easy, and I was never worried that I was doing the wrong thing, never frustrated, and always got along with you famously. Now you're growing up, and it's harder. You're running into life problems I struggled with when I was kid, and how to help you and balance being a parent and being an empathetic friend is harder. I'll have to work at it, and struggle to not be frustrated. And I love you just as much as I always did, and we'll figure all this crap out.

Or something like that. I doubt I was that eloquent, but the message was the same.

In other news, I met this woman. I like her. She has a cool kid who is almost 3, and although is unafraid of my wild Husky, the kid is completely terrified of me, the new guy. Between that and the recent struggles with Stacey, I feel as though I've completely lost my kid mojo. I found out later that the kid actually liked me, and liked the rice krispie treats I made for her, and liked playing in Stacey's playroom, and watching Cinderalla, but was a little concerned that mom intended to leave her there for me to babysit.

It looks like the woman and I might start seeing each other regularly, and I'm running the gauntlet of emotions again, the ones I thought I had conquered years ago. I've still got love, passion, fear, impatience, confidence, and cowardice all jumping around in me, just like I was a kid again. It's fantastic!

Two thumbs up for:
Shoot 'Em Up
Resident Evil 3
and The Truman Show, which I somehow managed to avoid seeing for 9 years.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The play - Success!

OK, she did such a great job, and the pictures turned out so well, that I'm not waiting until tomorrow. Here's the link to the web album:

Theater Camp

All the kids did a great job, and I'm really glad Stacey got to be a part of this. The show went off pretty well, and most of the kids needed some direction - including Stacey. Since all the kids learned their parts in under 40 hours, that shouldn't be surprising. Still, it was cute, and came off great, and the director, Candace, obviously loved to be working with the kids.

At the end of the show, she called all the kids up and said a personal anecdote about each of them, and gave them little trinkets, a small wind chime with a crystal in it. Very nice touch.

Thespian memories

Seven years ago, when Stacey was almost 4, I lived for a short time in a small apartment, piecing my life back together after Stacey's mom and I broke up. I started from scratch, taking only my clothes, computer, a reclining chair, and some odds and ends. By the time I had bled my money dry, I had procured the necessities of life: dishes, a kitchen table, cookware, a desk, two bookshelves, and two beds - one for me, one for Stacey.

The next few months were, without doubt or exaggeration, the best of my life. Stacey and I were close since she was a newborn, but we grew so attached to and fond of each other in the Spring of 2000 that it's difficult to describe. We were perfect in each other's eyes. She was beautiful and loved by everyone, a natural learner and eager and happy to explore everything. I was infallible, strong, and always available and willing to do anything she was interested in on a whim.

We hung out at parks, did crafts, and went to the zoo. When the weather was bad, we spent lazy days hanging out at a local mall that had a kids' play area.

We signed her for ballet class...

Went to see a kids' concert...

..and we discovered reading.

I introduced her to Sneetches, Madeline, the Velveteen Rabbit, Winnie The Pooh, other Dr. Suess stories, and some stories I wasn't familiar with that we bought at the local book store.

Stacey wanted me to read her bedtime stories almost every night, a ritual I looked forward to as much as she did. She would get under the covers in her bed which faced the bookshelf, then look at the books, throw the covers off and run and grab a book, then come back and get under the covers again, scooting over to me and putting her head on my shoulder. I would wrap my arm around her and get into character, and my reserved, quiet demeanor would fall away as I become a master thespian for a while.

I had never been skilled at reading aloud until I had someone who really wanted me to read to her. It took a few tries to get my confidence and ignore that I felt silly being in character, but I got over it, and became deft at reading aloud and speaking clearly and at the right tempo and volume -- and I became better at a lot of things because of that.

Around that time, I was recruited at work to come teach data communications to new hires when the "regular guy" wasn't available. This required not only creating my own materials and a plan, but also speaking clearly, and at the right tempo and volume, the very things I had been practicing nightly. I did well enough training my first class that I became the regular guy myself, and later went on to teach a week-long advanced class to the "level 2" tech support team.

A couple years later, I volunteered at an Elementary school teaching basic computer skills (creating Powerpoint slides and basic spreadsheet charts) to Fifth-graders, and ended up with a pair of giant construction paper thank you cards from the kids two years in a row. Again, the soft skills I learned by reading to Stacey, and the class-running skills I learned at work came into play.

So my kid wanting bedtime stories, and me embracing it wholeheartedly led to other benefits. Yet another example of how being good to your kids pays off.

This week, Stacey, almost 11, is in a theater daycamp, where she is learning the part of Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Last night we were practicing her lines, and I had great fun becoming Nick Bottom, arrogant and overbearing, and trying to play every part in Pyramus and Thisbe while Quince struggled for control of his play. As I hammed it up during our practice, Stacey got to the point where she couldn't stop laughing, and we had to quit for a minute.

The memories of reading bedtime stories came flooding back, little Stacey tucked into my arm with a grin on her face as I read off...

until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
whether this one was that one or that one was this one
or which one was what one...
or what one was who.


Miss Genevieve,
noblest dog in France,
you shall have your ven-ge-ance!!

I've been pretty emotional with revery all day. The performance is tonight at 6. I'll get pictures and post how it went tomorrow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


All of life's problems at the moment:

Dog sheds too much
/dev/urandom only readable by root
Kid growing up too fast
Six month weight loss plan over, still have six month muscle-building plan to go
Four node webMethods cluster inefficient
Pension doesn't vest for another year
Bathtub needs to be caulked
Can't be in two places at once
Need to design new dinners kid and I can both eat

Not too bad, if these are all the problems I can think of. I've got my family, health, job, and sanity. Most of the problems will be familiar to everyone. The geek problems are just what's going on at work at the moment, transitory, to be replaced in a week or two with new problems. The unvested pension means I can't even consider rethinking my career for another year, else waste the free money that is 4/5ths waiting for me. The last one though, that's going to have me scratching my head for a little while.

Stacey is a growing girl, naturally active and healthy, burning through Calories as fast as I can throw them at her. In fact, when she is in the middle of a growth spurt, she eats more in a day than I do. I am currently eating 1600 Calories a day, and after I drop my final 2.2 pounds to hit 185, I plan on going back to around 2400 Calories with a lean, high-protein diet, and changing my workout to focus on aggressive muscle-building. Needless to say, my diet won't mesh well with the needs of an 11 year old girl.

The solution I'm considering now is to build meals that I can piece together at the table, and give myself smaller portions of the carb-heavy and fatty foods, and letting Stacey plate up on a balance of everything. For example, I'll take the roast chicken but no gravy, a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, and keep cheese off of the salad, where Stacey can pile on the gravy, salad dressing, and add lots of butter to the potatoes.

Next week is the last week before school starts, and she'll be with mom, so I'll take an evening or two and run around the grocery store and search for recipes online. I've been doing packaged meals and meal-substitute bars for so long now, that this will be a welcome change.

Here's a little anecdote I wrote up after Memorial Day but never published, when I attended a church picnic with some friends:

"Is it OK for Christians to beat up little girls?" This was the question my roommate asked me after I recounted the story of a volleyball game Stacey and I played in. She and I were on the same team, she having been picked dead last, and still a little peaved about it. It was game point, and we were losing. The ball is served to us, we return it, it comes back again to Stacey, and an aggressive, competitive man on our team runs up to hit the ball, knocking Stacey flat in the process. The ball came back to where I was, but I had lost interest and let it land beside me, thereby causing my team to lose the game. All the while I was staring at my kid picking herself back up and the man, my friend, who had knocked her down, thinking to myself "don't cock your fists, don't cock your fists." The aggressor in question was contrite afterwards, and Stacey was not as upset at the experience as I thought she would be. I was fuming, and struggling to keep my head. Later, after I had chilled, we played another game, and karma came to the rescue.

The final game we played that day, Stacey and another little girl were the team captains. Stacey picked no adults except for me, just teenagers and other kids. When the game started, another man who showed up late joined our side. Among the others on the opposing team was the man who knocked her down, and his son, who had been baiting Stacey and carrying on like the wild beast he is for most of the day. Our team did well, thanks to some lucky and overconfident plays by the teenagers, and as the game wound down, we were winning, and two points from game point, and it was Stacey's turn to serve. The son/wild animal was acting foolish and yelling taunts, trying to distract Stacey so she would flub her serve. She served well, and we won that point. Game point, the son turned up the asinine factor on his antics, and Stacey calmly looked at him, expressionless, and served the ball to him.


Stacey redeemed herself in her own eyes, and the silent ace to win the game was as poignant a response to being picked last and knocked down as I could imagine. Victory was sweet, and despite not generally being competitive, I couldn't help but feel smug. My little angel saves the day again. Next up, Stacey saves Christmas.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Apparently I've been so busy with the "Operation Inner Stork" blog and keeping up with work and life that I've neglected my journal for most of the summer. So what's been going on?

The divorce was final in late May, and although I had been separated for years, the finality of it felt a little strange for a while. The ex and I still communicate well for things that involve our child, and not at all otherwise.

Stacey has been enrolled in a number of summer camps this year, and this is the first time she has done an overnight camp outside of the city. It was a Girl Scouts camp, Molly Lauman (, and they had horseback riding, swimming, crafts, songs, and other camp stuff for 5 days. I was worried that Stacey would be uncomfortable or homesick, having never been away from home and relatives for more than a night, but she reports a fantastic time was had by her and all, and she came home with new friends, email addresses, and Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Millsberry buddies.

It's getting so that I need to give up worrying. The kid is, as always, competent and attacks life like nobody's business, while I fret away nervously to no end.

So other camps she did this year were a combo sports camp, a couple performing arts camps (one for dance, one for theater), a second scouts camp, and her first year of ropes course. Busy, busy.

And lastly, a crazy anecdote. Stacey and I head down to North Carolina for a week in late July to visit family. My 85 year old grandmother has some sisters who are getting old enough that travel is hard on them, and one of them is in a rest home. The plan was to visit the extended family in Virginia for a day, then head to West Virginia to see the oldest sister, and then Stacey and I would shoot back to Ohio.

Everything went great, and Stacey got to see some family she hasn't seen for a while, we slept at a house of one of my great aunt and uncles. The next morning, when we were getting ready to head to West Virginia, my mom mistakes the door to the basement for the door to her bedroom, and falls all the way down the stairs! Head over heals, screaming a scream that can only be described as "this can't be how it ends, damnit!", and conks her head on the basement floor.

A quick call to 911, a ride to the hospital, and 3 hours of observation and x-rays later, and it was determined that she didn't break a damned thing. Just bruises and some pulled muscles. 56 years old, out of shape, and a hypochondriac, and she comes away with a 12 foot fall with nothing broken. Zounds.

It's been a couple weeks now, and she's back on her feet, assisted with yummy pain pill goodness, and paying more attention to where she's walking. Needless to say, everyone was freaked out when it happened, and Stacey was genuinely frightened for the first time I can remember. She was a real sport in the hospital after she figured out grandma was going to be OK, and struck up conversations with nurses and asking about procedures and equipment, as she still plans to be a doctor.

So there it is, a close call and a little education, and life goes back to normal.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


This May 3 marks me as 36 years old, and I've decided to get a good jump on my pending mid-life crisis. Since March 14, I've been returning to regular exercise and proper diet. I've been taking long walks daily, stretching, working with freeweights and nautilus equipment, and doing incrementally more intense cardio work. I have also been cutting out between-meal snacks and most of the sugar in my diet, and I am staying under 2000 Calories per day. In 8 weeks, I have lost 30 pounds, a grueling feat, and have finally reached the point where the Calories must come up, or the exercise must go down.

I haven't mentioned the weight loss in earlier posts, in case the whole plan blew up in my face, but I've been keeping a separate record of my progress over at (The blog's first entry explains the name.)

So I'm looking markedly better, although I still have plenty more to go before I would consider myself speedo material. My divorce, which I typically refrain from talking about here, is nearing its end-game, and by my 40th birthday, my daughter may give me her blessing to be on the market again. Touchy subject, as I prefer to sacrifice my desire for "that kind" of companionship to focus on Stacey's well-being, but to say that the desire isn't there would be a lie. It's something I think about, and when I'm having a fit near my 40th birthday, it will be something I think about a lot.

My work gives me every indication of wanting me to stay on, complete with a recent promotion and raise, and a bonus check that caught me up on lawyer's fees and the last of my credit card debt. In four years, if I haven't given up the IT ghost in favor of running my daycare, I will probably have a comfortable amount of disposable income.

Because of all this, I can see what happens to guys as they near 40, and why they have their little breakdowns. Maybe the marriage didn't work out. Maybe you got fat. Maybe after living alone you had to struggle financially for a few more years before getting your footing back. Maybe now you got yourself back in shape, and can finally afford the sporty car you never had as a teenager. You look at your progressively greying hair, and wonder just how long the girls will still find you sexy, and how long you have before the ED problems start. Maybe you see now as your last chance to be young, to get all those fun experiences the commercials promised you, what you were denied as a kid, before you start to decline to a marginalized, laughable old man.

It's all a lie! Get back in shape, great. Improve your financial situation, also great. But act like an adult. You aren't young any more, and the dream you were sold was a selfish one. If you have made it to 40, you should understand by now the greater benefit of living clean, and for the betterment of those you love. The 40 year old with the Jaguar and the 20 year old trophy girlfriend, the sunglasses and the James Dean demeanor -- he's an atrocity. A selfish boy bragging that he finally caught up to the cool kids from High School. Bleak. Empty. Hollow. And 22 years too late.

This is finale season in all of Stacey's activities. Her strings recital is tonight, her dance recital is in a couple weeks, her last soccer game was yesterday, and last Friday she laid down some vocals at Theatre Caffette with a pair of other girls, Sydney and Lauren, both talented. 5th grade "graduation" is just around the corner, as is the Girl Scouts end of the year swim party, and although I won't be swimming, I plan on going and not looking out of shape and afraid of the sun, like I've looked for the past couple years now. [Note to self: make sure boys are allowed at the swim party, since they are often banned from Girl Scouts activities.]

Stacey and I have been butting heads recently, in the natural process of kids growing up and asserting their independence. It frustrates me, especially considering the near perfect relationship we've had for the preceding 9 years. I still love her to death, and at times I am still the center of her world -- rarer now, but sometimes. How long before the idea of being tucked into bed is abhorrent? How long before the open rebellion? The shock-value boyfriend? I don't know, but how long before we give up on each other? Never. The base of our love and friendship is solid, and will withstand the torrents that life and nature will throw at us. She is now, and will always be, the reason I embrace life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Now I has jazz

Stacey and I went down to the Southern Theater last week to see the Columbus Jazz Orchestra play some Cole Porter tunes. It was righteous. The last time I went to that style of theater was over 10 years ago to see Tori Amos, of all people. The Southern Theater is pretty and well restored, and cozy, fitting possibly 1000 people on 3 levels. We got hooked up with two orchestra-level seats by one of the band members, which was a great out of the blue present. Thanks, Bob.

I didn't keep a program, so as best my memory serves me, they played arrangements of the following:

All Of You
Begin the Beguine
Don't Fence Me In
I've Got You Under My Skin
Just One of Those Things
Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love
My Heart Belongs to Daddy
Now You Has Jazz
The Physician
Too Darn Hot

"So what," you ask? So they played 10 complex arrangements flawlessly (to my ears), and some of the orchestra members have other jobs. It's noteworthy. And when you consider that last month they performed Miles Davis, and in February it was Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, it's damned impressive.

Stacey had a great time, and made me happy when she snuggled up to me during "My Heart Belongs to Daddy". Now that she's getting older, she'll want to go out and see live music more, as cartoon movies and Disney start to become less important. I'm looking forward to it.

The last two weeks have been busy, and zipped by quickly. I finally found a free day to fix up my neglected yard for Spring, on a day that Stacey was at a camp riding horses with her Scouts troop. Other than that, it's been soccer games, dance class, rehearsal for an upcoming singing performance, and in the middle of it all I managed to make good on my promise to take my mentee to see a Reds game down in Cincinnati.

My running around schedule lately has been analogous to playing a fast song on Dance Dance Revolution, frantically stomping on the buttons, trying to keep time with the arrows as they fly up the screen. I'd give myself an AA over the last few weeks, with many Perfects, a couple Greats, and exactly one Marvelous: When it was our turn to bring snacks to the Soccer game, our homemade brownies and Rice Krispies treats were a hit with the girls.

Now, if I could only sleep more than 6 hours a night, and not wake up panicking that I'm forgetting something. Fortunately, the busy season will wrap up soon, as the extracurriculars wind down for the season, and the end of the school year draws near.

Stacey's soccer team is playing well this year, and the coach, Henry, is a good morale booster and technical instructor for them. Even though we haven't won any games yet, we have steadily improved, never had our butts handed to us, and just yesterday tied a very good team. The girls were very positive yesterday after our 2-2 tie.

The coach was short on help this season, and asked me if I would come and manage substitutions for the team, which I gladly said yes to. Being on the sidelines during the games, I've learned a little about coaching, reading a simple position/sub chart, and managing bouncy 9 and 10 year olds (a score of prior sleepovers and outings with Stacey's friends was good practice). Among the softer benefits, I finished learning the names of the girls I left out a couple posts ago: Carly, Caroline, Malorie, Vickie, and Grace. I feel good being out there with the team, and Stacey loves to see me participate in her world, so it's good all around.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Goodbye, Randy

My best friend's father, Randy Pees, died over the weekend. He had a rough life, but, as I see it, a nice enough ending: He played with his grandchildren fulltime, and died in his sleep. Personally, I couldn't ask for anything better.

He and I didn't get along, due to my brazen jackassery as a teen, but later in life made amends, if not friends. On one occasion, he, Bill (his son, my aforementioned best friend), I, and my daughter, met for lunch at a nice Italian restaurant, and had a swell time. I never saw him after that meal, and compared to how things could have been between us, I consider us well quit.

He was a lawyer, and debated as such with damn near anyone who crossed him. Despite our passive-agressive antagonism to each other, I payed attention to some of the things he said. He was not fond of telephone harassment, getting billed by service providers who failed to provide their service, working for The Man, or restaurant staff who dropped the ball.

Here are two anecdotes of Randy in prime form, one I witnessed, one recounted to me:


I was at the Pees house, probably playing Super NES with the gang, and Randy was talking to a Sears bill collector on the phone, and they appeared to me to be calling to demand money for a disputed charge. I only heard one side of the conversation, and it progressed thusly:

"I told you guys not to call any more, and here you are calling again. That's harassment."
"It isn't?! Are you a lawyer?"
"Well I am a lawyer, and I know what harassment is."
"Your supervisor? Sure, let me talk to more assholes from Sears!"

Bringing the veiled threat of a lawsuit against a $5/hour telephone flunky always brings out the best in people. A question worth asking here is: Why do retail companies employ people whose job it is to break the law?

Tee Jays

This one was recounted to me by Bill.

Randy takes his son, Bill, out to eat late one night to the local 24-hour Tee Jays. They were unexpectedly busy, had a minimal staff, but for some reason kept seating people that they wouldn't be able to serve any time soon. The restaurant had plenty of chairs, but only one waitress, Martha. The waitress was clearly in over her head, and no executive decision was made to stop the madness by getting more help in the store, or refusing service, or even suggesting that it may be an hour after you're seated before your meal comes.

Randy and Bill walked in, and were cheerfully greeted and seated, and no mention was made of the current staff/customer ratio problem. They chatted for a while, and even though it seemed a good long while before their order was taken, they didn't think much of it. After a substantial wait after placing the order, their food finally came. Among other issues with the food, Randy's water had a sizeable piece of trash in it, clearly visible. A casual observer would have no difficulty spotting this, much less an experienced waitress, part of whose job it is to declare product fit to consume before delivering it.

Randy ate his food and avoided his water. The waitress never returned to check on them, another standard job function of serving staff. Eventually she returned to place the bill on the table, and scoot away hurriedly. Randy went up to the register to pay, and Martha was there to take his money.

R "Busy night?"
M "Oh, yeah, it was terrible.."
[Other chitchat, putting Martha at ease.]
R "Do you have any kids, Martha?"
M "Why yes, I have..."
R "Well that's a shame, cause people like you oughtn't have the right to breed!"
[Stunned silence, followed by pitiful, mousy reply]
M "..but, sir,... I was the only one on the floor."

Shock and awe indeed. The argument can be made that Martha was not at fault, being too overwhelmed trying to help too many people. I counter that she should have put her foot down and demanded a manager take corrective action when things started to get out of control. It may have been greed at a potential wealth of tips, an inexperienced manager who didn't know what to do in an emergency, or, likely, no manager in the store since it was so late at night. I know at least one restaurant, Denny's, that runs this way -- which is an anecdote of it's own, but I'll save that until later. No matter what else, nothing excuses bringing someone contaminated food; you could kill someone that way.

There was more than self-righteous rage to Randy. He loved his kids and grandkids, he overcame an alcohol addiction, he found it in his heart to make amends with me, the troublemaking teen. I have no complaints.

So long, Randy, we hardly knew ye.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Spring Break, Taxes, Vonnegut, Baby Eaton

Horror movies are never as frightening as their literary counterparts. The imagination, however rusty, still outperforms an SGI. -- Liza Daly

Stacey went with her mom for Spring break, for the first time that I can recall. Spring break is a time that Stacey and I usually travel, to the beach, to Washington D.C., to visit relatives, to amusement parks, museums, etc. This year, Stacey and her mom went to Las Vegas, and apparently had a really good time. I did nothing but clean my house, play with my dog, and eat TV dinners (more on that later, as the astute reader will know that this goes contrary to some statements I've made before).

This year Westerville's Spring break was also during Easter week, rolling into Eater Sunday. Stacey has long since given up belief in various supernatural gift-givers, such as a certain pagan deliverer of eggs, but she still likes to get Eater baskets. I put together a basket for her as a surprise when she got back, with some dyed eggs, a couple nice chocolates, peeps (of course), gummy rings, and some generic jelly beans. My recent purchase of a double boiler came in handy, the bottom pot easily boiling a dozen eggs at the same time for dying.

[--Curtis' simple rules for egg boiling: Let the eggs sit at room temperature while the water heats up. Get water to rolling boil. Add eggs for exactly 13 minutes for a nice yellow yolk. Plunge eggs directly into icewater to pull the albumen away from the shell. Easy setup, perfect eggs every time.]

Stacey liked the basket, and was happy to get something, since she and mom had (understandably) spent Eater Sunday recuperating from the trip. The gummies went fast, as did half the chocolate, but the jelly beans, peeps, and eggs were mostly uneaten. I had 8 of the eggs as a lunch additive the following week, Stacey only being able to get through 4 hard boiled eggs before getting tired of them.

My tax returns netted me a whopping $119 dollars, which is great. I've been adjusting my W-4s over the last couple of years to try to maximize my paycheck, and get my tax returns as close to 0 as possible. The reason is simple, and I've gone over it here before: I want more control of my money. I want to get all I'm owed, owe nothing, and not have a big check once a year to go nuts with. I want to correctly spend my money, save for retirement, save for my kid's college, and pay off my last two remaining debts, my car and my house. Once-a-year mad money is counterproductive to all those goals. So this year I came real close to hitting the mark, off by a scant C note.

Kurt Vonnegut died. If you've ever been a literate rebel, this isn't news to you. The man's writing, and some films based on his writing, have evoked great emotion in me. Mother Night, for instance, caused in me a great sense of hopelessness for mankind. It was beautiful.

Most of my reading of his work was done when I was too young, and I found it "cool", but somewhat incomprehensible. The good news of his death, is that I'm spurred into picking up his books again, and this time around I'll better enjoy the bitter vitriol.

A man's death spawns in me anticipation to read things that will make me miserable. So it goes.

In better news, Stacey's second cousin Brian and his wife Tabitha are going to have a baby, making Stacey an "aunt" at 11 years old. Actually, they will be second cousins once removed, as shown in the (abbreviated) chart below:

She's due in November, so hopefully when Stacey and I head down for Thanksgiving, there'll be a new baby to play with, and a new great-great-grandmother in the family.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


My daughter, Stacey, is my life's focus, and most of my excess energy is spent on her entertainment and well-being, and fretting about her safety and future. Although I dote on her friends somewhat when the occasion calls for it, such as getting her friends the cool Hillary Duff T-shirts when a couple of them went with Stacey and me to see her in concert, or fixing extra plates for dinner when the stragglers playing at our house get hungry, I rarely focus on any one of them to the point that it stands out. This last Girl Scouts meeting was an exception.

One of the girls in her troop, Taylor, is allergic to peanuts. When she comes over to spend the night, we always make sure she has her epi-pen, and that I don't have any menu plans involving peanut butter or tree nuts of any kind (to err on the side of caution), and if we eat out we alert the restaurant staff of the allergy, etc. I read some time ago about a peanut butter substitute made from sunflower seeds, Sunbutter. Around Christmas last year, I bought some and tried it out, and it was pretty tasty. Stacey and I thought it would be a nice Christmas present for Taylor and her father (also allergic) if we made some buckeyes out of it.

I had never made buckeyes before, so I found a recipe and substituted Sunbutter for the amount of peanut butter the recipe called for. They turned out edible, but much too sweet due to my chocolate selection, and a little sticky since I didn't use any paraffin or shortening with the chocolate. I was disappointed, but Stacey, being 10, didn't mind the super-sweetness of them. We delivered them to Taylor's house, to moderate fanfare and a couple of goodbye hugs. It was a nice moment, sure, but I knew I could make better product for round 2.

Round 2 came on Tuesday the 20th, when it was our turn to bring snacks to Girl Scouts. Historically, Stacey and I had brought snacks near Thanksgiving and again near my birthday. This was due to the snack list being alphabetized, and our last name starting with A. This was a great system for me, since I like making pumpkin pies and birthday cake, but the snack order was changed this year, and the Autery's got stuck with St. Patrick's Day instead. In the intervening months, I had procured a double-boiler, semi-sweet chocolate chips, a block of paraffin, and of course another batch of Sunbutter.

After school on the day of the meeting, Stacey and I worked together to make the evening's snacks. We took turns mixing the dough, I melted the wax and chocolate, and Stacey used a toothpick to dip the dough balls into the chocolate. The result was an order of magnitude tastier than my first attempt, and the troop gobbled down all 35 of them, concurring with my quality assessment. They also ate about half of the Christmas wreaths (cornflakes + marshmallow + green food coloring) we made because it was close to St. Patrick's Day, and they were green.

The punchline to all this was Stacey introducing the snacks not as buckeyes, but as "Taylor-tots", to the great amusement of the other girls. So our choice of snack was influenced by the food allergy of one girl, but the joy was still in the family candy making that Stacey and I did side by side.

In the news, Stacey's soccer season has started up again. A few of the girls from the fall season (Melany, Holly, Rachel, Bob/Katie, and Nicole) are back on the same team, along with some new girls (Margaret, Kelly, Haley, and a few I can't remember yet). Last season's coach isn't coaching this season, as his daughter has a leg injury and can't play, so one of the WASA organizers is sub coaching for us. He's a good guy, older, and has a good understanding of the game and how to herd rowdy 10 year olds into being productive. I predict that our team, using the placeholder name "Totally Turquoise Turtles", will fare better this season than we did last fall.

It just occurred to me that I never answered the riddle from March 1 about what color hat Sam is wearing. He's wearing a red one. Here is the sentence that gives it away:

"Sam sees that Frank is wearing a white hat, and Bob a red one..."

If either Frank or Bob saw two white hats, they would know that they were wearing red, otherwise they can't be sure. Since they both said they didn't know, neither of them saw two white hats. Since Frank was wearing a white hat, if Sam's hat were white, then Bob would have confidently announced his color... but he didn't, meaning he saw a white hat (Frank's), and a red hat (Sam's).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Valentine's Day party and Talent Show '07

The Valentine's Day party at Stacey's school this year was perhaps the single best run school event I've ever attended. A very type-A personality mom organized everything, reserved the gym to let the kids run off some energy, and thought up games and puzzles for the kids to play. A few of the parents, myself included, were left with very little to do. I managed to help set up some games, haul heavy stuff, and pass out goodies in the rooms. I imagine it's sort of funny to see me, 6'5" and 260 pounds, weave in and out of desks in a crowded room full of hyper kids without flattening anyone -- the years working in a kitchen full of gossiping teenagers gives me an edge. I felt like a fifth wheel for the majority of the party, but it was still nice to be there with Stacey, and at least somewhat engaged with the kids, students, and the moms. Oh! There was another dad there for a change!

This year's talent show had some hardships for Stacey, but it was ultimately a success. First, Stacey was out of singing lessons for about 6 months, and had 6 more months of tween defiance in her when we started lessons again. At one point the voice coach got upset with her because of what she perceived as smugness and questioning the quality of the choreography. An upset thespian is a strange sight to see, but fortunately she and Stacey were able to heal their little rift. My advice to Stacey consisted of the usual: trust the teacher, pay attention more, mouth off less.

In addition to that, Stacey wasn't invited to any group acts with her friends (and conversely didn't ask any of her friends to team up). Seeing kids at school in Stacey's grade that are fast friends and watching Stacey be on the periphery, not being outright rejected, but not being embraced, really makes my heart sink. Stacey herself doesn't seem unhappy with the situation, and I think her habit of embracing everyone and avoiding playing favorites keeps her out of the popular "cliques", a fact I'm OK with. I just easily slip into seeing it through my own school experiences, always the outsider, moving from town to town several times until High School, and I don't want Stacey to have to go through that. On the other hand: 14. 14 friends have spent the night with her over the last few years. Even though I get emotional about Stacey not being invited to do a group act like some of the other girls in her Girl Scouts troop, she does just fine by herself. And she loves too many people to have them all up on stage with her.

Another wrench in the works was really more of an opportunity. While she was busy retraining her voice and getting a crash-course on her act, she was offered a solo in the finale by the show coordinators. They still feel bad about the "Annie" incident from two years ago where Stacey showed her stage presence and confidence by continuing on with her act after her music died, and since this is the last year she's in elementary school, they offered her a special bonus. And when I say "a solo in the finale", I mean conducting the finale in its entirety.

Stacey was given a show tune, "Before the Parade Passes By" from "Hello, Dolly!", to perform, where she would sing alone on stage while the rest of the acts would come out on stage and take their final bows. When I found out what the finale was going to look like, I was shocked. There was a lot more work Stacey had to do, with only a few weeks to practice, but she pulled it off, and with class. What a hard worker she is, with all the imagined invulnerability of youth on her side.

At the show, her solo act, Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat (coincidentally my favorite childhood song), went off without a hitch, to a smattering of polite applause. When the next act, a group of popular girls, was introduced, thunderous applause and squeals from the group's hangers-on was an order of magnitude louder and more enthusiastic. It was a very Donny Darko moment, as if she were dancing the autumn angel act before Sparkle Motion came on.

The finale was a different animal, though. Stacey was beautiful in her formal dress and make-up, full of poise, singing in a voice stronger and surer than her 10 years should allow. She sang a few measures of the song quietly, in tune, with nary a quaver, and then the curtain was raised. Each act would come out and bow, to the applause of parents and shrieks of groupies, and as Stacey's voice threatened to be drowned out, she would smile and sing just a little bit louder...

With the rest of them, with the best of them
I can hold my head up high
For I've got a goal again, I've got a drive again
I wanna feel my heart coming alive again

This pattern continued, and was almost a fight between little girls hooting for their friends and Stacey keeping her song above the distraction, until she was damned near bellowing...

When the whistles blow, and the cymbals crash
And the sparklers light up the sky
I'm gonna raise the roof, I'm gonna carry on
Give me an old trombone, give me an old baton
Before the parade passes by

And raise the roof and carry on she did. It was beautiful. When it was time to leave, we were stopped several times by adults heaping copious praise on Stacey on how strong and "grown up" her voice was, and how pretty she looked, future greatness, etc., etc. Instead of the typical "that's mah girl" proud daddy reply, to the moms and dads I'm close to I gave an honest reply of variations on "I knew she was good, but I didn't know she could do that. I'm just as stunned as you are."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Burning the candle at both ends

First of all, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 be damned. This is the piece of legislation that is causing me no end of headaches right now. The last problem legislation for me was the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or the "Don't be like Enron, cuz we'll cut ya', fool" act. Sarbox was so broad in what it required IT groups to do to come into compliance, that several groups I work with were in panicked fire-drill mode for months. My individual requirements to help get us in compliance were negligible; it was the procedures we all had to follow that were changing. Not so with the energy act, or the "when do we spring forward, again?" act.

The energy act, along with giving tax breaks to Texas companies, changes the cutovers to and from Daylight Saving Time from the old dates in April and October, to new dates in March and November, and reserves the right to revert back in 9 months when it will be shown that no energy savings occurred, which has already been predicted by this study [pdf]. However, tens of thousands of man hours are being spent in coding and applying patches to account for the new DST schedule, and, similarly, tens of thousands more man hours will be required in a couple years when we switch back to the 1986 DST schedule. The great irony is that this will require a lot of computers to be switched on longer, consuming more energy.

So Sarbox didn't require the expenditure of much mental anguish on my part, just learning a new set of rules -- so much like a normal re-org that it mostly went over without any turbulence. The new DST dates, however, were a nightmare. A couple days last week I stayed up patching servers until the wee hours of the morning, only to return to work at 6:30am to start my normal work day. At work I tested vendor-supplied patches, coded some changes into one of my own at-risk programs (which, among other things, is responsible for sending our payroll file to the bank on time), and helped develop procedures to bring down services, failover to the backup system, fail back, and verify that all the services were working.

During all this, I was still a father, and I struggled to keep my participation in my daughter's life up where it is supposed to be. DARE graduation was last week, as was picking up Girl Scout cookies, getting presents for a friend's birthday, getting Stacey into extra voice lessons before the talent show, Introduce a Girl to Engineering day, and the Daddy/Daughter dance. By the end of the week, I was physically exhausted and short of temper. Friday night I crashed at 7pm, and slept until 6 Saturday morning.

On Saturday, I felt better, but spent close to 6 hours with a friend of Eric, my neighbor, helping her move. She was getting evicted from her house, her daughter was moving out of her boyfriend's place, and both of them were getting an apartment together. They were short on money and time, and couldn't hire movers, so Eric volunteered and rounded up as much help as he could find. I brought Dave, my mentee, who is no longer a little whelp, and in all there were 6 volunteers helping the ladies move. Two of them had to leave after an hour, a third left after three hours, leaving the lion's share of the work to Eric, Dave, and myself. It was strenuous work, and we had a strict timeline, so the three of us really had to put our backs into it. We got them moved on time, and the ladies were visibly grateful for the help.

After burning the candle at both ends to help my employer comply with an arbitrary, government mandated change, I collapsed for 11 hours, awaking slightly revitalized, only to push myself the next day helping some nice ladies keep their heads above water. I found that while the fiasco with Daylight Saving Time took all the life out of me, making me cranky and less daddy-like, helping the women move brought the joy of being alive back. Despite being sore and worn out, I'm happy to have gone through it. It brought back the joy I felt a few years ago volunteering with the kids at Annehurst. It brought back the memory of the look of pride in my daughter's eyes. It made me feel like winter was ending, and sunshine was just around the corner. It was substantive and worthwhile, and my body is bouncing back from it quickly... just in time to lose an hour of sleep next weekend.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Words that end in -gry

I found this riddle today in an alt.usage.english FAQ:

Think of words ending in 'gry'. Angry and hungry are two of them.
There are only three words in the English language. What is the
third word?

The FAQ talks about some word and phrase origins that are in question (posh, widget, face the music, get the lead out, etc.), examples of common English usage that is in dispute (begs the question, near miss, could of), and words that people are commonly looking for, like the name of the grass strip between the road and the sidewalk. And words ending in -gry, specifically to answer the riddle above, and thereby missing the entire point. Let me re-punctuate one of those sentences, in case you've never seen that one before:

There are only three words in "the English language".

Get it?

It's a corny joke, really, and one my daughter found some time ago and showed off to me. Those situations present me with a problem, namely I don't find the joke very funny, but I love it when my daughter thinks to share "cool" things she finds at school with me. I don't fake emotion I'm not feeling with her because I want to be honest with her (and because I normally don't have to -- I'm happy when she's around, and she's into some interesting stuff now), so I struggle with encouraging her to bring stuff like that to me, and try to remember how if it were brand new to me, and I were 10, how differently I would see it.

For the -gry words, there are several, most not used in common English. Here are three, in addition to "hungry" and "angry", that I don't think the reader will need defined:


This reminds me of a period in my life where I was asked a lot of what were thought to be "brain stimulating" questions. The year is 1980. After scoring high on the California Achievement Test, I am enrolled for the fourth grade in the Walkertown Gifted and Talented program near Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

It was an experimental program, complete with a Spanish teacher who would come in once a week and read random Spanish stories and have us try to guess what they were about, a week long field trip of the state (the sand dunes at Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers museum were my personal highlights), and the aforementioned stimulating questions brought up in class frequently. Here are a few examples:

A man hears his doorbell in the middle of the night, and answers the door, turning on the porch light. Before he can invite his guest in, he sees the dust in the air moving around, illuminated by the porch light, and he begins a sneezing fit. What happened? Did the light energy move the dust? Did he see the dust, and think about sneezing? Was the dust always moving and him opening the door let it in? [This question was left open-ended, used similarly to a Zen koan.]

Three prisoners, Frank, Bob, and Sam, are offered the chance to be let go, if they can guess the color of the hat on their head without looking at it. If they guess wrong, they are shot and killed, if they say they don't know, they just stay in prison. There are 5 hats in a trunk, two of them white, three of them red. The men are blindfolded, random hats are put on their heads, and the trunk is then closed, and the blindfolds are taken off. Frank says "I don't know," as does Bob. Sam sees that Frank is wearing a white hat, and Bob a red one, and gets the benefit of being able to analyze their hats and their decision not to guess before announcing what color he is wearing. Can he really be sure what color hat he is wearing, and if so, what color is it? [I'll post the answer to this on Monday, to give anyone interested a chance to solve it.]

And the pièce de résistance, a written test the class was given:
1 - Read all the questions in this test.
2 - Add these numbers: 1,4,17,22
3 - Count backwards from 10 to 1, aloud.
4 - more inane simple tasks..
50 - Now that you've read all the questions, stop here and turn the test in without answering any questions.

Now, the problem with this test that I had at the time was simple, and defeated the whole point of the exercise - question 50 was illegible. The entire test was handwritten, and photocopied poorly for all the students. When the teacher wrote the test, she didn't leave enough space for question 50, so wrote it very small at the bottom of the page. I could not read the question, the punchline of the test, so I took the paper to the teacher and asked "What does this say?"

She smiled and shook her head. I didn't understand why she was smiling or why she wouldn't decipher her henscratch, so I went back to my desk and finished the questions I could read, including counting aloud, like most of the other kids ended up doing. A few kids successfully deciphered the last question, and did not take the test.

Years later, my own daughter was subjected to something similar, and when she told me about it, something straightforward occurred to me: logically, you should still take the test. The first question asks simply to read all the questions, not to act on them, and certainly not to "jump out of the system", as Doug Hofstadter would say, and follow the instructions on only question 50.

My teacher said, smugly, approximately the same thing Stacey's did: This was a test to see who was paying attention to detail. Like the "ends with -gry" exercise, this attempts to be funny, and fails. If I had been able to read the last question on my test, I probably wouldn't have taken the test, like a few others. Not because it made sense to do it that way, but because I was lazy, and erred on the side of least action when faced with ambiguity.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Unveiling

Yesterday I presented to Stacey's Girl Scouts troop leaders a pair of wood plaques based on the following design:

A man I know at work has a laser engraver, and has a standing offer to do some custom designs for people at work. I'm not naturally an arts and crafts guy, so I never investigated the idea until just recently. I had been put on a pair of projects with him, and during some ADHD moments when I couldn't concentrate for very long on any one thing, I asked him about some of the wood items in his cube. One was a small cutout of a helicopter, another a plaque with an armed forces logo and a division number (23rd Airborne, something like that).

They were interesting and well put together, so I gave some thought to what I would like to see made. I'm a big fan of my daughter, so I first thought of making a design for her (which is coming once I find the perfect set of icons, more on that later), but I couldn't piece together a decent template after a couple passes at it, so I put the project idea on the back-burner. Then I noticed a few items I had sitting in my cubical at work for years: Cards with the signatures of Stacey's Girl Scouts troop.

A few years back, I taught for a Brownies Try-It badge, my most miserable failure of a computer class. The Try-It was "Point, Click, and Go", and I had about 20 minutes to manage 10 well sugared 1st graders and go over some basic computer information. It was horrible, showing me the differences between teaching to 5th and 1st graders, between school and extracurricular settings, and between early morning and pre-bedtime classes. The Brownies class was all of the latter, my stunning success of a volunteer gig that year was a PowerPoint class for 5th graders taught at around 10am.

Anyway, though the class didn't turn out as well as I expected, the kids and troop leader still thanked me, and the girls signed a piece of paper they printed out in Word. It has clip-art of a man sitting at a computer, and the text "THANK YOU!! Mr. Autery From TROOP 1711!!" I have kept it at work with me since March of 2003. A pair of the girls who signed it, Anna and Amanda aren't at the school now.

On my birthday in 2005, and the day before my birthday in 2006, it was coincidentally Stacey's turn to bring snacks to the Girl Scouts meeting. I enjoy baking for kids, and usually go overboard for Stacey's troop meetings. Near Thanksgiving I had always brought the troop homemade pumpkin pie, and in the Spring I did Rice Krispies treats and either brownies or cake. On the 05 and 06 meetings that were near my birthday, Stacey rounded up the girls to make me a big construction paper birthday card, both of which, again, have been sitting in my cubicle at work since I received them.

The cards inspire me, as do the 12 or so pictures of Stacey from different ages, the thank you cards on Volunteer Day from the Annehurst kids I taught Powerpoint and Excel to, the simple "I love you dad" on notebook paper and the lamenated valentine from Stacey, the CompuServe "Ovation" award for coding the CSLive logfile analyzer in 1997, my recent Commended Mentor certificate from the Mentoring Center of Central Ohio, a snapshot of me with Stacey on my lap with 6 girls I was teaching Excel to for a stock market project at Stacey's school, and, oddly, the picture of me and Teresa kissing outside the church on our wedding day. All these items help me keep centered when I'm upset, keep me moving when I'm feeling lazy, and are a peaceful respite from crazy IT snafus and company politics. I could survive without them, but it would be harder.

So there I am with three cards chocked full of little girl signatures, a good woodworker willing to do little projects for his buddies, a "multi function device" printer that had a scanner and file server, a copy of the graphics program "The GIMP", and a little downtime between work projects. So I spent a little time scanning and cropping at work, a lot of time doctoring and filtering at home, and the image above is what I ended up with. A plaque with the Girl Scouts "Trefoil" logo, the troop number, and real signatures from all the girls who have been in the troop since March of 2003, even the two who moved to different schools.

Here is the final product, rendered a little poorly thanks to my el-cheapo HP 215 camera:

I had two of them made identically, one for each troop leader. Stacey brought them into the troop meeting yesterday, and I gave a brief summary to the ladies of how it was made, and where the signatures came from. One of them almost cried, they both hugged me, and then I crept away quietly as to refrain from grandstanding. When I came to pick Stacey up from the meeting, I sort of snuck in and snuck out. I didn't mention the project to the girls or the other parents (except for one a few weeks ago, who's daughter was my only missing signature -- she coaxed the girl to sign a piece of paper without explaining why, and I was able to also include her on the plaques), and I did everything possible to present this as a random present out of the blue, and to shy away from anything smacking of "ain't I cool!? Doesn't everyone just love me now!?"

It is my hope that Cheri and MaryAnn will enjoy their gifts, and perhaps will hang them in a peaceful place they use as respite from the world and for inspiration to keep up the fight.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I've been obsessed with Boggle lately. I'm in the process of writing a CQ tech experiment article about my struggles and ultimate success in creating a perl Boggle board generator/solver, which is a lengthy story that I'll spare you here. I bought a "Boggle Deluxe" game for Stacey this Christmas, and we've played some games on it, and found it to be fun and to have a little learning curve while your brain pumps new blood into its pattern matching areas.

She and I have fun at restaurants with kids' menus that have word search games on them. Usually a word search will have items from the menu hidden on the board, or the theme of the restaurant (e.g, Bob Evans has "breakfast", "bacon", etc.). After we quickly find those words, we set about using a different colored crayon to circle words that they didn't intend to put on the board, usually three letter words put there randomly -- cat, hip. So Boggle was a natural extension for us for a family game.

I don't recall mentioning that to anyone, so it came as a surprise last week when my neighbors were playing Boggle on a board they just bought. I joined in their game and thought I was doing fair, but I came in last place. The game winner, who spends a good part of his downtime solving crossword puzzles, scored half again as much as I did. Humbling, sure, but it inspired me to go figure out what I was doing wrong and train myself to do better.

First, I needed to understand the game better, so off I went examining the game and writing perl code. Along the way I laughed, I cried, and learned an important lesson about love... oh wait, that was the Disney channel that was on in the background. What I did learn was that the dice in a standard 4x4 Boggle set were substantially different from the dice in Stacey's 5x5 Boggle Deluxe set, so no analysis of likely big words on 4x4 would give me an unfair advantage when I played the game with my daughter. The 4x4 set dice are set up thusly:

a a e e g n
a b b j o o
a c h o p s
a f f k p s
a o o t t w
c i m o t u
d e i l r x
d e l r v y
d i s t t y
e e g h n w
e e i n s u
e h r t v w
e i o s s t
e l r t t y
h i m n qu u
h l n n r z

There are 7 letters appearing on only one die, namely b, f, j, k, qu, x, and z. This means words that have any of those letters doubled can't be spelled on a Boggle board. Words such as abbey (two b's), pizza (two z's), and offer (two f's) are examples of this. Further examination shows oddities like you can't spell a word with both f and k, b and j, and you can't spell a word with two c's and one m, or two m's and one c.

Once I finished the board generator and solver, I struggled to find a good workable word list, having trouble with lists that had slang, acronyms, proper names, or that were missing plural and past-tense forms of words. I settled on an official Scrabble word list, and even it wasn't perfect, missing the famous Boggle 17-letter words "quadricentennials" and "sesquicentennials" (spellable with 16 Boggle dice because one of the dice is "qu"), but that did contain "inconsequentially".

Phase two of the project had a high geek-index, writing a perl script to take my Scrabble word list and make a Boggle lexicon out of it, figuring out exactly which words could be spelled with the dice and which could not. I've taken the list of words that can't be spelled with Boggle dice and put them here.

And speaking of words...

Geek rant of the day

I hate the IT world's appropriation and misuse of the word "Agnostic". It is used to indicate that something doesn't see a certain layer, and the designer doesn't care about it. For example, the Java language is operating system agnostic. Cell phones are spoken language agnostic. Java should work on any OS, and cell phones should carry any spoken language.

Agnostic, of course, is not the right word. If you break it down etymologically, you get "against knowledge", which sort of implies what the tech use is, but common usage of the word refers to not knowing if God is real. OK, so Java doesn't know if God is real, and neither do cell phones. I accept that premise, but it still doesn't convey what Joe IT flunky is trying to say. What he is trying to say is "Java is OS ignorant", or "Java is OS uncaring", but those just make Java sound like a jerk. Instead, a better sounding word was misappropriated, the speaker sounds more intelligent, Java doesn't sound like a jerk, and language as a whole suffers at the hands of vanity. Again.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pop the drop

I can understand the appeal of the Polar Bear Club. For the last few weeks, I've been taking my dog for an evening walk in the increasingly cold weather. I put on a couple layers of clothes, bundle up in my comfortable winter coat (thanks, Kelsey), throw on an iPod, hat and gloves, grab the leash, and off we go in a roughly 1¼ mile square to Stacey's school and back. Each night recently it has been getting progressively more uncomfortable, and after grocery shopping Sunday out in the 3° cold, I had to skip the nightly walk to stay thawed out (plus not wanting to get run over by crazed sports fans on a beer run).

Monday morning I made up for it in the 0° cold by walking the roughly 1 mile round trip to my bank from the office. The wind blew all the heat off of my cheeks, so I kept a downward gaze with most of my face buried in my coat. It was borderline painful to look up and check my surroundings (which I do frequently in a constant vigil to avoid ninjas and panhandlers), but I didn't need to often, as the streets were predictably empty. When I got back to work, I was completely fatigued and didn't get my second wind for about an hour. The struggle to keep yourself warm can really sap the energy out of you.

0°, incidentally, appears to be the temperature that causes schools to close in suburban Ohio. Between two days of brrr and the snow today, my kid's school has been closed for three days in a row.

I've decided to replace Diet Mt. Dew with a generic grocery store knock-off, Big K Diet Citrus Drop. The Kroger brand drink also has a knock-off slogan, "Pop the drop" replacing Mountain Dew's "Do the dew". It's cheap ($3 for 5 two liters), and uses real live aspartame instead of Dew's "tuned up" sucralose. Nasty.

So I've been in touch with my inner 16 year-old girl this morning. I opted to work from home because of last night's snow, so I've got MTV on in the background. I've been listening to such musical atrocities as R&B posers bragging on their lovemaking prowess, the misunderstood emo complaining about being... misunderstood, new school grunge in a pale imitation of Nirvana, and other styles that have me scratching my head as why kids go around quoting their lyrics. Of course, there's plenty of music in my generation to compare with this level of madness, for every Santana and Yes there was a Flock of Seagulls and Foreigner.

Amid all the crap on MTV this morning, I found myself enjoying some gems, namely Fall Out Boy and Gym Class Heroes. I couldn't help myself. Reminds me of the guilty pleasure I had enjoying myself at the Hillary Duff concert when I took Stacey and two neighbor girls last year.

Lastly, the Girl Scouts Daddy-Daughter dance is coming up here in late February, where we do some old dances like the Twist, the Hokey Pokey, and the Electric Slide. Based on this latest news, I'll need to make sure we do the Electric Slide correctly so we don't get sued.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The new kids

In a fit of serendipity, two kids made it over to Stacey's sleepover this weekend who have never been able to come before, which was great. Stacey and I are always happy to entertain new people at the house. When I realized that these two made 14 unique girls who had slept over during the past 4 years, I took the opportunity to reflect on how the behavior of this year's gang of 10 year olds differs from the sleepovers of the past -- how the new kids differ from the old kids, and to reflect on how happy and proud I am that so many kids find Stacey likable enough to want to come spend the night, and that so many families find me, a single dad, trustworthy enough to send their girls over. Even though Stacey and I face challenges in life, I feel that we are truly blessed.

The event this weekend was simple and lighthearted, we just went out for pizza and rented movies, and I did nothing more than set up mattresses in the family room, make Rice Krispies treats, and retire to my room with a book (Better Off) until I zonked out. As Stacey and her friends grow up, entertaining takes a lot less out of me. A few years ago, the kids were interested that I hang out with them, watch the movie, play the card game, judge the talent show, etc., but now the kids run the show themselves and want to talk secret girl stuff (who likes who, who's mean at school, who shaves their legs), or watch teen dramas instead of the animated movies they all loved just a couple years ago. No more giggling girls asking if they can paint my fingernails (one time was all I would submit to, and it was the rubbery kind that you could peel off later).

Sometimes I miss being the noble and cheerful master of ceremonies, praised for my cooking, humor, hair braiding, and understanding of things Disney, Brats, and fashion (I hear orange is the new black). What has replaced that is more fulfilling than the fleeting moments as the center of attention -- after all, the kids don't come over to see me, they come over to see Stacey. The style of the 10 year old sleepover is wonderful. It is my daughter maintaining her friendships over time, growing, becoming independent, and sharing her joy of living with her sisters.

One change from the 6 to the 10 year old style that I'm less fond of is how quickly my cloak of invisibility goes back up after a sleepover. [All adults have a cloak of invisibility, it is the thing that we have that makes kids ignore us.] Back when Stacey was in second grade, I taught a little weekly computer class as a volunteer, and the kids would always greet me when they passed me in the hallway when I picked up Stacey after school. When I stopped teaching the class, it took about 3 weeks before the cloak started to go back up. A select few of Stacey's closer friends kept waving to me in passing until the end of the year. In third grade, the cloak was completely back up, the kids (expectedly) having forgotten me over the summer. When Stacey would throw a party or a sleepover, the cloak came down for a few days. These days the cloak is on full-time, no matter what... except for two special girls.

One girl is from a rich family and is doted on by sycophants who want to come to her huge house and play in her pool. Stacey and I loved her since Kindergarten, never knowing where she lived or the financial status of her parents. She was always bright and sunny in the computer class I taught, quick to catch on and always happy. One day when she was feeling a little sick after recess (dehydration and running around sweating at recess = stomach cramps), I delayed the start of class while I walked her down to the office, made sure she got in to see the nurse, explained to the nurse the symptoms I saw, and left her with a pat on the back and saying something like "I hope you feel better, sweetie." Basically full daddy-mode had kicked in, and it was all the will I could muster to leave her and go back to class. The next week when I came back for class, I asked her how she was feeling, and she flashed me a big smile. After that, she could always see through my cloak of invisibility, and to this day will usually greet me in passing, unless too many of her buddies are around. I can live with that -- I'd hate to be the cause of someone breaking little kid social mores in front of her friends.

During the summer between the 3rd and 4th grade, she invited Stacey to come over and play one day, and when we saw where she lived, we understood what we thought of before as the odd behavior of her little tribe of friends. I think the fact that we never made a big deal about money or big houses, or made excuses to invite ourselves over helped her family warm up to us. Stacey and she aren't exactly close friends, but she does come over once in a blue moon for a sleepover, and Stacey and I get invited to big shindigs in her neighborhood.

The other girl who has the magic power to see otherwise invisible adults loved my cooking. I believe it was the tacos made with Old El Paso burrito mix that cinched it. That's always been a standby meal, quick, tasty, and high in fat -- my McDonalds dinner. She is a small, natural athlete, natural dancer, who is expressive sometimes and shy at others, embarrassed of her natural gifts. She, like some of Stacey's other friends, is comfortable at the house, free from older siblings and from being scolded for letting her hair down and going wild. What makes her special to me and why I'm glad Stacey and she are friends is a sort of Taoism she embodies. Basically no one hates her, and she never complains about anyone, odd traits for a 5th grader in the suburbs.

In the news, life is good. Stacey is rehearsing for this year's talent show, and was offered a solo in the finalè. I'm keeping my house nice and tidy, and my dog walked, through the miracle of listening to podcasts on my iPod, my personal "whistle while you work". I'm caught up on sleep and work. Lastly, Stacey brought home the total kick-ass report card for this 9 weeks, earning copious praise from her teachers.

Fun with bureaucracy

Note on cabinet at work yesterday: "Please return the four mugs reserved for guests."

Email to my floor this morning: "Please don't leave your dirty dishes in the sink."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Long Tail

It's Girl Scout Cookie time again, the time of year where I reflect on my ability and motivation to sell to people. This year, the market for cookies was very saturated, and I did little more than hit my "regulars" at work for a few boxes, and one or two shameless affairs such as getting a woman 8 months pregnant to buy 13 boxes. But, I kept plugging away slowly until the numbers added up. Stacey and I also do the traditional door-to-door selling, which is becoming more frowned upon in "these times". I found out two interesting things while selling at the office: No one sells out of their racial preference, and with a modest amount of effort, most anyone can be talked into a box of cookies or two, even if they've already purchased from someone else.

The racial preference thing was unexpected. I work with a lot of Indian IT contractors, and I found that absolutely none of them had been pitched, while the white people around them had. I talked three Indians into buying a total of 6 boxes, two of them having never bought Girl Scout cookies before (the other Indians I pitched to politely declined, one offered to just donate cash, which I politely declined). So basically there is an untapped market of polite middle class people, some of whom are eager to participate in bizarre American rituals like direct marketing of snacks to pay for a girls' group's activities. Not being racist, in this case, could conceivably be a money maker.

The "Long Tail" is an economic theory used mainly in reference to The idea is basically that rare items will be in demand if you have a big enough collection of potential buyers. Amazon makes use of this idea by having access to a wide variety of rare items, and has a huge audience of buyers looking for some book from their childhood that they liked which isn't on the shelves of their local retailer. Undesirable men use this idea by not being deterred by the hundreds of women who reject their advances, until they find a "buyer" who sees some particular quality in them that is more important than their overall putridness.

Girl Scout cookies are neither rare nor putrid, but are available for just a few weeks a year, so it's easy to suggest a box or two to just about anyone, which I did. What I lacked in desire to hard sell a few people, I made up for in a long tail, selling 1-4 boxes to 20 people. Between that, Stacey and I hitting the neighborhood, and family sales, the Autery family had an above-average year with 140 boxes sold.

..and now for something completely different.

A gem from PRI's "This American Life", here's a depressing story about would-be Nazi Saboteurs, and the failed attempt by two of them to defect:
This American Life 2004 archive. Scroll to episode 260, The Facts Don't Matter, and look up some of what's being talked about here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Oh Death

Oh Death please consider my age
Please don't take me at this stage
My wealth is all at your command
If you'll remove your icy hands

..or as I would put it:

Cry the winter knife
Over iron and shadow
When will the light fall?

Our frantic whisper
Hot wind, sunshine, run, play, dream
We ache for summer

Moments stare sadly
Still water rusts the thousand
Time sleeps without will

Basically I'm sore, exhausted, and cold. And I love it. Sunday was mentor fun day at OSU's RPAC (unsure of the acronym, but it's OSU's new workout facility. I spent a few hours there with Dave, both of us getting winded and banged up pretty bad playing basketball and volleyball. While this was going on, snow was accumulating when I wasn't home to clear the driveway and sidewalk. After hanging out at RPAC, I went to a friend's surprise 40th birthday, getting home at about 8pm, too worn out to clear the snow. I also didn't get up early enough this morning to clear it before going to work.

After work today, Stacey wanted me to take her out sledding, so off we went to a local hill. At some point, I went down to the bottom of the hill to play catcher, to prevent Stacey from sailing off into the trees if she came down too fast. [Sidenote: This reminds me of a Dan Simmons story in his short story collection Lovedeath called Entropy's Bed at Midnight, although I'd like to think I was freaking out about my child's welfare slightly less than the protagonist of that story.] So when it was time to trudge my way back up the hill, I wanted to go faster and decided to jog up the steep, snowy incline. When I got to the top, my heart was racing and I couldn't stop panting for a minute or two. 250 pounds, 75% grade, 40 yards, extra muscle tension to maintain balance on a slippery surface -- 'nuff said.

So when we got home, I just had an hour or two of daylight left, and wanted to clear the snow from the driveway, so I grabbed my little wussy snowshovel and went to work while Stacey started on a snowman, and played with one of the neighbor kids. The snow had a thin layer of ice on top of it, and some of the snow had partially melted and refrozen since the precipitation yesterday. So the shoveling went slow, and I was less than 100% when I started. But I kept going.

An hour later, I finished, getting as close to complete clearance as I could. I came close to stopping a few times, but the knowledge that some of the neighborhood kids were out and potential witnesses kept me going. I didn't want them to see me give up, so I kept plugging away, slowly, mindful of my pending heart attack, the racking pain in my palm from holding the shovel, and my knees and back from hunching over to sling the piles of snow.

And now, Oh Death, won't you spare me over til another year. Pain and fatigue like I haven't felt since I managed a pizza shop. A nice hot shower to relax the muscles, reruns of The Crodocile Hunter, and I'm at peace with the world, anxiously expecting a restful night's sleep. Like Grandma says, hard work never hurt nobody.

Fun with Archie

Look ma', I'm in the paper... if you don't mind my last name being misspelled as "Autury" instead of "Autery".

Last Thursday, I was honored by the Mentoring Center of Central Ohio as a "commended mentor" for having volunteered for Northwest Counseling over the last 4 years. My mentee, Dave, attended with me, as did my daughter Stacey, roommate Bill, and 5 members of my church group. It felt good to be recognized, but as the article above shows, I and 6 of my fellows were honored mainly as footnotes to the 3 "outstanding" mentors who have either been mentoring for much longer, or who have done some truly amazing work with a volatile kid. Considering my lack of a rich public speaking background, I was happy to only have to take my certificate, get a picture taken with the other guys, and go sit back down.

Archie Griffin was the keynote speaker. I had never heard him speak before, except for a Kroger commercial or two back in the day, so I was taken by complete surprise when he gave a moving, inspiring speech, with emphasis, full command of his audience, and barely glancing at his notes. He was even deferential to the event by slipping away quietly after his speech before autograph seekers would have ruined the spirit of lobbying for mentoring. I'm not a sports nut, and I'm also not a sucker for a tearjerker speech, nor do I tend to put people on pedestals, so I can say objectively that Archie is a class act.

As fate would have it, the company I work for, AEP, was one of the sponsors of the event, and a major contributor to local mentoring agencies. Accepting a certificate and being in a major contributors' group photo would have been the director who works on my floor, Velda Otey (my boss' boss' boss), but she was committed to two different publicity events that night. I saw her name tag as I walked in, so I looked for her during the pre-ceremony dinner. I saw her come in and went over to say hi, and she was talking with Marilyn Pritchett, director of the Mentoring Center about needing to leave. When Velda saw me she said "Oh, thank goodness, you can accept the award for AEP."

"Um... sure," says I, so along with having to stand up and walk to the stage a second time to get a second certificate (amid the confused looks of some of my guests), I was in a group photo with some big-wigs from major area businesses like Huntington Banks, Chase, Nationwide, etc. So basically there is a picture somewhere with directors and Vice Presidents of big companies, and me. I had trouble not laughing like a fool when the picture was snapped, as I had this brief fantasy of showing future viewers that I was the lone coder among high paid businessmen by doing something a geek might do in a formal picture: the Spock hand-sign. Live long and prosper, indeed.

Fortunately, common sense won out.

The best moment of the evening, by far, was the look of pride on my daughter's face when I walked up to the stage for the commended mentor certificate. On the way up, the speaker narrated who I was, how long I had been placed with Dave, and some of the major activities we had done (including our two Habitat for Humanities projects). Stacey stood and clapped uproariously, with the rest of the gang attending on my behalf, and despite my long-practiced emotional control, I was moved to near tears. Stacey can do that to me -- cleanse my soul, be the medicine for my sky.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Oh The Ironcy

The year is 1993. I am making a whopping $6.25 an hour as a delivery driver for a local pizza chain, a then unheard of amount for a driver, but it was a small perk of stepping down from being an assistant manager. So what was I doing at 22 years old dropping out of a (mediocre) career path and not replacing it with something cooler, such as, say, college? Making $30,000 per year, that's what I was doing. How so? Delivery reimbursements at $0.75 each, the $1.25 average suburban tip, and about 35 deliveries per night. It works like this:

$6.25 x 40 = $250 in taxable pay per week, plus
($0.75 + $1.25) x 35 x 5 = $350 in cash, making
($250 + $350) x 50 = $30,000 per year, assuming 2 weeks of unpaid vacation.

So I averaged the same pay that I was getting as a manager, with a significant reduction in stress. Basically, I did so well for myself driving my car around town and listening to books on tape that I had no motivation to give up my lifestyle and live like a pauper, whether from working fewer hours and attending school, or from the giant pay cut I would take in an entry level position at a "real" company. I did the latter a couple years later, but all of this detracts from the anecdote. The point is, there I am, flipping pizza and observing the antics of my fellow man.

The head manager of the store I worked in, John, had a sycophant assistant manager, Debby, that was taken with him in a mad, unrequited love, and hung on his every word. One of my fellow manager-come-drivers, Dave, worked in the store with the three of us. Dave was sarcastic and aloof, and rarely had an honest conversation that wasn't full of double meaning or disparaging undercurrents. He was our local Stephen Colbert, the brilliance of his antics being lost on the people around him, who thought him simply ignorant and grouchy. Naturally, I liked him.

One day Dave had a conversation with John and Debby that they recounted to me, to illustrate that Dave wasn't as smart as he pretended to be. I don't remember the details of the conversation, but the punchline was Dave turning to Debby and saying "That's ironcy for ya'", pronouncing irony as "eye-ron-see". Debby gave him a puzzled look, and he shrugged and bobbed his head in a mock self-deprecating gesture and said "OK, Debby, ironcky", pronouncing irony as "eye-ronk-ee". Not exactly high comedy, but for something spur of the moment, it was still pretty good.

I insisted to them that Dave knew very well how to pronounce "irony", and this was an elaborate case of playing country-dumb, that John and Debby were both supposed to understand was an act. They would have none of it. No, Dave went around using words incorrectly because, despite his indications otherwise, he isn't any smarter than we regular folk.

I didn't understand then why they couldn't see the encounter as a gag, how Dave correcting himself with another incorrect word was typical of him being silly to pass the time. Were John and Debby incapable of that type of abstraction? I didn't think so. Were they threatened by Dave and latched onto every opportunity to vindicate themselves by making him out to be stupid? I swayed between those two beliefs until recently, but now I think something else was going on.

I think there is a class of people who can't read minutiae -- subtle gestures, inflection, pauses, facial tics, and some more intangible cues. Some of us can see them, others can't. Most people read each other just fine in normal social interaction; for example, people can tell right away which smiles from members of the opposite sex are cheerful, and which are amorous. Most people can tell when a toddler wants to be picked up, whether an upset person is angry or only sad, and dozens of other normal human things. However, some people can't read the subtleties, or the meaning someone is trying to broadcast if it falls outside of the basics, unless they broadcast very strongly and unambiguously.

Put simply, some people can't "feel" that the other guy is being sarcastic unless it is grossly overdone. If I'm right about this, then I have my explanation of why the world is so loud to me and my ilk. If I'm right, that explains why most popular stand-up comics are the ones with the wildest mannerisms or atypical voices. Think about it: Sam Kinison. Mork. Rodney Dangerfield. Carrot Top. Buddy Hacket. All people with broad appeal, and all a little over the top in their own way. But not Dave. No, he had to stick with pizza until he put himself through school.