My Subconscious is on Sabbatical

I recently filled out a PTO request at work, but accidentally asked for 5 weeks off instead of 5 days.

My boss got a good laugh out of that, and I did, too. Until I started thinking about how wonderful five weeks off would be, and then I was like, wait a minute…why are we laughing?!

This reminded me of how my former father-in-law used to get these months-long “sabbaticals” from his job. “We’ll pay you not to come to work for the next three months,” they’d tell him. What a sweet deal, huh? He used the time off to travel, work on projects around the house, etc. I love my job – don’t get me wrong – but damn, what I’d give to be able to take five weeks off for real. I shouldn’t complain; after all, I did have a 618-day sabbatical of my own a few years ago, but that was without pay, which dampened my enthusiasm ever so slightly. Sure, I didn’t have to get dressed until noon, but I ended up wiping out my 401K. In the Dances With Wolves parlance, that is “not a good trade.”

DWWGoodTrade

But if I could keep the paycheck and still get the time off? That’d be okay with me. I’d love to take another road trip, with an endpoint a little farther than Dayton this time around. Actually, Tara and I have talked about buying an RV and traveling all over the country when we’re old and retired, which sounds great to me. Only problem: I’m going to have eight years to kill before she turns old enough to join me in retirement. I’ll have to take up a hobby, like whittling. Or making sweaters for penguins.

Speaking of work (technically I was speaking of not working, but close enough), I had an awkward encounter today with one of our new hires. It was awkward because she clearly had me confused with somebody else, but I’m not even sure who.

“Thanks for the help with {insert member name}!” she said brightly when we bumped into each other in the kitchen.

“Of course!” I replied “Glad to help.”

Now, I didn’t specifically remember helping her with {insert member name}, but I work on stuff for a lot of different people every day, and figured I must have helped her somehow.

“I’m still having technical issues with the workflow algorithm,” she continued. “Is it supposed to auto-populate the address fields?”

Umm. Err. WTF?!

By now, I realized she thought I was somebody else entirely. Somebody in the web or IT department. I should have bailed out gracefully, but then I’d have looked stupid for taking credit for helping her earlier, so in order to save face I continued to play along. Only I don’t know a damn thing about which fields are supposed to auto-populate and, in fact, didn’t understand one damn thing she had just asked, so my blurted-out answer – “I am not aware of any limitations pertaining to that particular program” – made me sound like the world’s stupidest IT guy.

Which means, in an effort to not look dumb, I ended up looking dumber than if I’d just corrected her the moment I realized she thought I was somebody else.

I did save it with an “I’ll look into that and get back to you!”, only I can’t really do that because I don’t even know what I’m looking into in the first place.

Work is so damn complicated these days. I could really use a week or five off…

sabbatical1

Like Hugh Hefner

University of Washington
Reflecting on the future.

We took a quick trip to Seattle over the weekend – partly to celebrate Tara’s nephew’s 3rd birthday, partly to visit her mom and stepdad, and partly to take my new car for a really long test drive. Sunday morning, we hit the University of Washington (UW, or “U-Dub” to the locals) because Audrey has expressed an interest in going to college there. It’s a beautiful campus, with stunning architecture and scenery. She wasn’t the only enthusiastic one…

If I can just hang on for eight seconds...
If I can just hang on for eight seconds…

We made a brief trip downtown, as well. Zipped through Pike Place Market and grabbed Chinese food to go. I guess the fact that it was Easter weekend explained the hundreds of bunnies roaming the streets…

unnamedThough it does not explain their attire. This trio is dressed conservatively. A few minutes earlier, I ran across a topless bunny and had a brief inkling of what Hugh Hefner’s charmed life must be like.

And they say Portland is weird…

Nothing weird about this little dude, though. His face says it all.

unnamedWe’ll be back for my birthday weekend in sixteen days, though I doubt there will be any bunnies next time.

 

Baby, Can You Drive My Car?

When I drove my new car off the lot last week, I quickly learned that I don’t know how to drive.

Oh, I have a license. And I’ve been doing it for 30 years now. Yet, I felt like a newbie those first few days. Because cars have changed a lot since the last time I purchased one.

I bought my Hyundai in 2002. That hardly seems like the Dark Ages, yet it came standard with a combination CD player/cassette deck. I was excited about the cupholders, for crying out loud. In contrast, my Mazda includes an infotainment system with 7″ full-color touchscreen display, Bluetooth® hands-free phone and audio connectivity, blind spot monitoring system on the driver and passenger side mirrors, a rearview camera with traffic alert, dual-zone climate control, outside temperature gauge, auto-dimming interior mirror with Homelink, and cupholders. This was all a bit overwhelming at first. Actually, I couldn’t even figure out how to start the car because – much like hotel rooms these days – it’s got no key, boasting instead a “Keyless Entry & Start System.” The one thing it does not have is a CD player, but it does come with multiple USB ports for connecting with an iPod, not to mention SiriusXM satellite radio.

Sure beats the cassette deck that my Hyundai came with.
Sure beats the cassette deck that my Hyundai came with.

Whew.

Seriously, it took me a couple of days just to get used to all those features. I was so busy trying to figure out the controls the first time I drove it, I missed my exit and ended up crossing the Columbia River into Oregon, and then had to turn around and drive back across the bridge in the opposite direction to Washington.

Whoopsie.

But after taking her up to Seattle for the weekend, I’m beginning to feel more comfortable behind the wheel. I have to admit, it’s nice never having to take my keys out of my pocket. And even though I’ve never had a moonroof before, after just a few days I’m wondering how I ever lived without one. Just wait ’til summer.

So, that's how it got its name...
So, that’s how it got its name…

So, while I may be busy searching in vain for cigarette lighters that no longer exist – not that I’ve ever smoked – at least I’m having fun doing so. Love my new car!

Are there any products that have become so technically advanced they challenge your capabilities to operate them efficiently?

Zoom Zoom

I’m happy to report I survived another April Fool’s Day without getting badly tricked.

Is it just me, or has April 1st turned into a really big deal these past few years? It kinda feels like the new Halloween. Everybody is suddenly trying to outdo everybody else with increasingly elaborate pranks or really cool hacks. Like playing Pac-Man on Google Maps. (Yeah, I could not resist taking the little yellow guy for a spin through the streets of downtown Camas, WA). Amazon went retro and changed their website back to what it looked like in 1999. PlayStation advertised a gaming system called Flow that you could strap on and play underwater. T-Mobile introduced a calling plan for family pets. Even WordPress got in on the action, announcing a new feature called AutoMatton that would utilize analytics to cobble together a post from your most frequently used words for those moments when writer’s block hits. Very clever, guys.

None of these fooled me (though judging by the comments, plenty of people were suckered into believing these things were real). I’ve always been a bit of a prankster myself, and have been known to play my own April Fool’s jokes on friends and coworkers. But now that these tricks have gotten all fancy and high-tech, my Facebook “looks like I’m going to be a dad again!” posts just don’t cut it anymore.

Audrey came closest to fooling me. Tara and I received a text around noon that said,

So…I just got suspended.

Tara’s “WTF?” response about summed up both our reactions, before we realized just in the nick of time that my daughter was trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Well played, Audrey.

In my defense, we were slightly preoccupied at the moment. It isn’t every day you find yourself sitting across from a salesman in an automobile dealership negotiating over a new car.

And no, this is not a trick. I swear.

MazdaThat’s a funny looking Mini Cooper, you may be thinking. Because anybody who knows me at all is well aware of my desire for a Mini. It’s the only car I’ve wanted, and I’ve been dead set on buying one for years. I mentioned it here.

And here.
And here.
And here.
And here.

I trust I’ve made my point and illustrated my obsession quite nicely. I’d been putting off buying a new car for so long, I never actually thought it was going to happen. I’d planned on doing so right after Christmas, but then I ended up in the hospital and almost died, so you know. No car.

But last Friday, on my trip to the mountains, when I parked my Hyundai at the trailhead I noticed smoke coming from the engine. Never a good sign. I’ve had an oil leak for some time and figured my car wasn’t actually going to explode or anything, but the burning smell under the hood had been bugging me for months. And then, on the way home, I pressed the button on the A/C for the first time since last fall…and nothing happened. Even though I had it repaired a year ago. Add in bad brakes, tires that were due for a replacement soon, and the fact that it was 13 years old and had 140,000 miles and…well, I just knew it was time.

A few weeks ago, sensing the end was near, I picked up a copy of Consumer Reports in the checkout line of the grocery store and started leafing through it. That’s when I saw the not-so-flattering ratings and reviews for the Mini Cooper. Turns out my dream car ranks #26 (out of 28) in terms of reliability, user satisfaction, and resale value. Further research showed that it’s just a problematic vehicle. I could have said “screw that!” and taken my chances anyway, but I’m a practical guy and refused to base such a big decision purely on looks.

Now what?! I wondered.

I went to the top of the list. #1? Lexus. Well, that was not about to happen. It’s far too rich for my blood. But Mazda landed at #2, and I’d long been a fan of the Mazda 3. So I did some research and learned that this particular car was named best compact in its class by  more than one publication.

Sold.

And three hours later, after a few rounds of haggling and a fair amount of stress, I really was sold. Drove off the lot with a sporty little “mica reflex” (fancy name for blue) Mazda 3.

And promptly learned that I don’t know how to drive, because cars are so technologically advanced nowadays you practically need an owner’s manual for your owner’s manual.

But that’s a different post. Today, I’m reveling in my new purchase. Ain’t she a beaut?

ZoomZoom

Go Climb a Mountain

So last week, I climbed a mountain.

Impressive achievement? I dunno. It wasn’t this mountain…

P1030949It was this one.

TDHBut I got a great view of the mountain I didn’t climb from the top of the mountain I did climb.

unnamedAnd besides, a 1700′ elevation gain is nothing to sneeze at! The 90-minute hike was basically all uphill. Which meant, at least, that the ensuing 90-minute return segment was all downhill. In any case, I took advantage of my free day off from work by scaling a 5,066′ peak in the Cascades. Considering I was half tempted to just sit on my ass and watch Barney Miller and Shark Tank all day, I’m calling that a pretty decent achievement.

Especially with views like these…

I even got to make a snowball. Laugh it up, east coasters, but we got screwed out of winter this year!

unnamedAll in all, not a bad day!

 

100? Yes, Please.

“My new goal is to live to be 100,” I announced to my family yesterday.

“Why?” Tara asked.

“So I can knit tiny sweaters for penguins,” I replied. “Duh.”

By now, my wife and daughter were looking at me as if I’d lost my marbles. But the joke’s on them! I’d need to have marbles to begin with in order for that to happen.

“What are you talking about?” they asked in unison.

s-OLDEST-MAN-KNITS-PENGUIN-SWEATER-480x360What I was talking about – or more accurately, who I was talking about – was Alfred Date, the oldest man in Australia. He is 109 years old, and his passion in life is knitting sweaters for penguins. Following an oil spill in 2013, the Phillip Island Nature Park in Australia put out a call for knitters to craft tiny sweaters for their colony of penguins to wear, in order to prevent them from ingesting oil while preening themselves. The oil also causes their feathers to stick together, making the penguins cold (irony alert!) and preventing them from hunting effectively. Alfie, as he is called, got down with his bad self and began knitting like crazy. As a result, he’s got a newfound purpose in life. When asked about his secret to longevity, Alfie replied, “waking up every morning.”

I like this guy.

Who wouldn’t want to live to be 100? I mean, c’mon…the alternative sucks. “I don’t want to be old and infirm,” Tara said.

“Trust me,” I countered. “I plan to stay firm. Err…you know what I mean.”

I’d better. When I reach the century mark, the lil’ lady will be a spry 92 years old. Talk about robbing the cradle. Also, I have to live that long, because by then Alfie will be 163 and probably won’t be able to churn out quite as many penguin sweaters as he does nowadays. We can’t let these little guys go cold now, can we?

penguin sweaterI figure, the odds are in my favor. Well, not really. Actually, the opposite is true. The odds are against me. But that doesn’t sound nearly as optimistic as the first phrase!

Statistically speaking, my diabetes puts me at risk of dying at a younger age. But my family tends to stick around. My grandmother is 97, another relative is 92, and a third is 90. And a great-grandmother lived to 100, while another hit 90. I like these trends. True, all of them are/were women. Also true, one of my grandfathers passed away at 47. But he probably never knitted a sweater for a penguin, so you know, it was kind of inevitable. Keep the body and the mind active, and the sky’s the limit. Also, f!ck you, diabetes.

Today, I used my 8 hours of free PTO and took the day off. Hello, instant three-day weekend! I am driving up to Mount Hood and taking advantage of a gorgeous spring day with a nice, long hike. Provided I don’t fall off the side of a cliff, I should be well on my way to reaching my goal of becoming a centenarian.

How long would you like to live?

Armadillos in Our Trousers

Saturday evening was weird, but fun.

Weird because we went back to our old condominium complex, a year after moving away. It was remarkable how little things had changed. It’s still next to impossible to find parking, because the residents all use the guest spots, so we ended up parking roughly eight miles away. Fun because we met up with our old neighbors, David and Andrea, for the first time since our impromptu drunken Super Bowl party in 2014. They recently learned that Tara and I had never seen This Is Spinal Tap and declared this a grievous cultural omission that must be corrected. So they invited us over for dinner and the movie.

After our long hike to their front door (in which I had to force myself to turn left when I reached their front porch rather than right, where my old door is located), we rang their bell and quickly commenced on catching up. There isn’t much I miss about the townhouse (especially after hearing that the HOA fees have gone up to $250/month), but D & A are good people and I do miss having them as neighbors. And, well, the covered back porch was nice. But that is it. Ironically, this was the first time they’d ever had us over for dinner. It only took us moving away and a year to pass before it finally happened.

This pretentious ponderous collection of religious rock psalms is enough to prompt the question: ‘What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap and couldn’t he have rested on that day, too?’

Dinner was awesome. Andrea showed off by whipping up a spinach salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, a Moroccan chicken with garbanzo beans and quinoa, and fresh berries for dessert. Man, if I knew she could cook like that, I’d have invited myself over years ago. And the movie? Loved it. It’s very Christopher Guest-ish, which is a good thing, especially if you’re into Best In Show. Funny stuff, and very quotable. The movie does for rock ‘n roll what The Sound of Music did for hills. We had a great evening.

Friday wasn’t too shabby, either. Tara and I had tickets to see Pigs On The Wing, a Pink Floyd cover band we had seen perform Dark Side of the Rainbow soon after she moved out here. The show as at the Doug Fir Lounge, a favorite Portland venue, which gave us an excuse to grab a few drinks and settle in for a fun night of rock ‘n roll. They played the Animals album in its entirety (my favorite – awesome!) and followed that up with tracks from Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, and Wish You Were Here. There’s nothing like a great rock ‘n roll show to set the tone for the weekend.

dougfir

Not Quite a Pot o’ Gold…But Close

A few days ago, I received the following email.

Dear [first name],

Once again we will be hosting a customer appreciation event with a focus on Social Seciurity and helping you prepare when it comes time to retire.

Call me crazy, but if you’re holding a customer appreciation event, shouldn’t you make said customer feel, you know, appreciated? My name is not [first name]. If you appreciated me, you would know that. Don’t even get me started on the bludgeoning of the word Security. This email from my insurance agent doesn’t exactly instill confidence. How can they help me prepare for my retirement when they couldn’t even prepare to send out a properly formatted and error-free email?

I think I’ll sit this one out, thanks.

What I did not sit out was today’s potluck at work. We had an authentic Irish feast which included Italian wedding soup, Rice Krispies treats, deviled eggs, artichoke dip, and cupcakes. You know…original recipes from the old country. In all fairness, somebody brought in a “Dublin Coddle” – basically sausage, bacon, onions and potatoes. In other words, pretty much the entire Irish food pyramid. I love potlucks, but they’re hard to enjoy when you’re on a special diet. Because I won’t touch sugar and limit my carbs, 2/3 of the dishes were off-limits. Kind of a bummer…damn if those cookies didn’t look good…but my body thanks me for it. And there were still some really good dishes I did not shy away from.

The real draw of the potluck was the raffle prize: everybody who brought in a dish was automatically entered to win 8 hours of PTO. I didn’t expect to win, but earlier in the day I found one of three hidden clovers scattered around the office and earned the following prize:

lemons

That’s a 5-lb. bag of fresh lemons. Score! Ironically, just yesterday I was talking with a coworker about how much I love lemons, so my win was fortuitous. I had a quick text exchange with Tara in which we debated how to use said lemons. Fresh lemonade, vodka sodas, and Hollandaise sauce are our top three picks. Hell, I like to add a slice or two to a glass of ice water. I’m not the only one who likes a twist of lemon in his drink, either.

I was still basking in the glow of my newfound lemonness, when the winning raffle number was called.

“Three, seven,” McKenzie said. An air of excitement filled the room, until she announced that everybody’s ticket began with 37.

“Six,” she said. Groans erupted, but not from me. I had a 6. I was still in the running. Then again, I never win these things. I held my breath anyway.

“One,” she finished. Potluck

OK, I can no longer say I never win these things, because damn if that wasn’t my number. Today was a very lucky day for me at work. I came home with five pounds of lemons and a free day off, which I plan to redeem soon. I really ought to buy a lottery ticket, huh?

Hope your St. Patrick’s Day was as lucky as mine!

Squeaky Shoes

I recently picked up a new pair of walking shoes. With as many miles as I’m logging lately, the Vans – fashionable as they are – were no longer cutting it. Even without a fancy little swoosh, these new shoes offer an improved walking experience.

Except at work. Because every time I walk across the bare concrete floor, they squeak.

Jenny was the first one to bring this to my attention. And by “bring this to my attention,” I mean, tease me mercilessly. ‘Cause that’s what she proceeded to do, giving me a complex about my footwear. When I posted about what a big meanie she was being on my Facebook page, did I get sympathy from my friends? Nope. But I did get a brand new nickname.

“Squeaky Shoes Petruska.”

This, courtesy of my mother-in-law. Thanks a lot, Tracy. Should I consider it an early birthday gift?

As far as nicknames go, this one did not appeal to me much. It kind of sounds like the world’s worst mob nickname. But then my sister-in-law came to the rescue with the following comment.

You could always say you got that name because “even though they can hear you comin it don’t mean sh*t.” But you have to say that very “thug -like” while making a gun gesture with your hand.

Which made the nickname not-so-bad. Thanks, Esther. But it did nothing to alleviate the constant squeaking occurring with every step. Fortunately, I’m good at thinking outside of the box. Or in this case, outside of the shoebox. The next day, I showed up at work wearing slippers.

slippersOne thing about Squeaky Shoes Petruska: the guy’s a problem solver. And he don’t take no shit.

About those slippers, by the way…

When I was in the hospital, I brought them along with me. And I am not kidding when I say how badly all the male employees coveted them. Doctors, nurses, you name it – they all really liked those slippers. Even when I’m on my deathbed (ever-so-slight exaggeration), I’m apparently a fashion icon. Good to know. They are pretty cool slippers, as far as slippers go. I’ve had ’em for years and couldn’t tell you where I bought them to save my life. But they put an end to all the squeaky shoe talk in real short order.

Have you ever had shoes that squeaked? How’d you solve the problem? And do you, or have you ever, had a nickname that you either loved or loathed? Feel free to bare all in the comments!

A Tree Stump By a Lake

There’s an unassuming tree stump in a park I like to visit on my lunch hour. It’s situated by a picturesque lake, surrounded by red cedars and Douglas firs. There is nothing special about this tree stump…except for the fact that it once served as the backdrop to a family Christmas card photo, many years ago.

stump

Because of this, the tree stump and I are inexorably linked forever. It’s a physical reminder of a past life, one that I would like to forget. But try as I might, I can’t forget. Every time I see it, I remember.

It’s amazing how objects – and places – can do that.

I recently blogged about my history with women, most of it bad. I should point out that it wasn’t all bad. I met a couple of really cool women and actually had a few good dates, too. Enough to whet my appetite and keep me optimistic, I suppose. For one reason or another, those dates never led to anything serious. Actually, there’s a very good reason, but it’s impolite to speak ill of the dead – even if that person took glee in sabotaging every chance of happiness that came my way. Bygones, though. If it had gone any other way, Tara and I might not be together.

And there is one glaring omission from my history, without whom there would be no Audrey or Rusty. I am speaking about my ex-wife, of course. Or not speaking about her, as the case may be. It’s a tricky subject, with family reading…and possibly the ex herself. But the completist in me says go for it anyway. So I will attempt to do so, with subtlety.

When you have kids together, it’s impossible to completely distance yourself from your former spouse. And when you work right down the street from where she lives, there is always the possibility of a chance encounter. In fact, just last week I walked right past her and she had no clue. I was walking by her townhouse and she picked that exact moment to check the mail. Fortunately, she was really engrossed in the contents of her mailbox and never glanced up, or she would have spotted me immediately. It’s strange because we do not have the type of relationship where we see each other or are even very cordial to one another. I’ve only actually seen her, from a distance, one other time in the past couple of years. All thanks to her second husband, who was the catalyst for our divorce and my daughter living with us full-time, but I don’t dare touch that topic. Read between the lines all you want.

We met in the 12th grade and were “high school sweethearts,” as much as I have grown to despise the term. Hearing that always made people gush, but while the notion is romantic, the reality of the situation is far different. There is no way you will be the same person at 37 as you were at 17, and therein lies the problem. I’m sure there are many success stories involving people who met as teenagers and stayed together ’til death did they part, but the ex and I simply drifted apart over the years, our interests diverging wildly. During our marriage, I was not true to myself, suppressing many of my interests – indeed,  my very identity – to maintain a harmonious union. This weighed heavily on me, and ended up breeding a combination of resentment and discontent years before we ever considered parting ways. When I first started blogging in 2001, I wrote about my growing unhappiness. Despite that, I was “all in” once our kids were born, and probably would have been forever had events not forced my hand. And why not? We were living the American dream in 2006. House in the suburbs, cushy jobs, two cars parked in the garage, weekend barbecues on the deck. There was a certain comfort in the norm, as staid and humdrum as I often found it.

I am not bitter over this “forcing of the hand,” though. Turns out it was the best thing that ever happened to me. As hard as it was standing before a judge on a bitterly cold and rainy December afternoon and admitting our marriage was irretrievably broken, doing so gave me the freedom my heart had long yearned for and allowed me to live the life I was meant to. I am by no means an advocate for divorce – dammit, marry the right person the first time, people! – but for me, it was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. My ex would probably say the same thing. I know Tara would, pertaining to her own situation. Sometimes, it really is for the best.

Were there good times? Of course there were. You don’t stay married 14 years if it’s all a big, miserable blur. At one time, we were the best of friends. But time has a funny way of chipping apart at that, as ceaselessly as the tides eventually erode granite. Yes, we met at a young age, and maybe that doomed us. But had we met later, we’d have been incompatible. And there would be no Audrey or Rusty. Meaning, it’s hard to regret a single thing. I was happy once. Then I wasn’t for a while, but now I am again. Bottom line, that’s all that really matters.

I’ll remember all that the next time I walk past the tree stump by the lake…