The Great Escape

This morning I found myself trapped in the pool area behind my apartment complex’s fitness center at 5 AM. It was dark, nobody else was around, and I was surrounded by a 5′ iron fence.

It may not be Monday, but it was my Monday.

I had gone down to the fitness center to check if the stationary cycle that had been on the fritz was working yet. It was not, so I exited through the back door as I typically do, but when I tried to open one of the gates to leave, it was locked. I inserted my key, but nothing happened. I tried the other gate, and got the same result. To my credit, I did not panic. I figured if nothing else I could go back through the fitness center, but once again, my key did nothing.

Then I panicked.

Well, not really. I did what anybody else would have done in that situation: tried all three locks again, twisting and pushing and pulling, because surely I must have done something wrong the first time. I’ve only been sticking keys into locks for 40 years or so, and was probably a little rusty. When that didn’t do the trick, I tried swearing. Because calling a locked gate a “cold steel bitch” while demanding it open on command is always effective.

Not to worry, though. I had my phone, and Audrey was back in the apartment. A quick call, and she’d be down to set me free in two minutes.

Only, did I mention it was 5 AM?

“I thought I was dreaming when the phone rang,” she told me later. Huh. I don’t blame the kid. What person in their right mind is up on purpose three and a half hours before he’s due at work?

This guy, who likes to work out in the mornings. But only this guy. Audrey was fast asleep and did not answer her phone. I knew she’d be up in a half-hour, and there are usually one or two others who arrive at the fitness center around 6. Either way, I was looking at a long wait in the cold darkness with no company other than a random duck who has taken up residence atop the tarp that covers the pool, which is closed for the season. And he was eyeing me skittishly, clearly debating whether he should take flight. That would have really ruffled my feathers, but it made me realize the only way out was over the fence. So, I ended up scaling it, a feat made possible thanks to a large ceramic flower pot on this side of the gate, and an air conditioning duct on that side of the gate. Both provided me with all the footing I needed, and led me to sweet, sweet freedom.

A scary few minutes, though.

It was my Monday because the real Monday was my birthday, and I took the day off from work. Tara and I drove up to the Olympic Peninsula on Saturday, exploring Port Townsend and Sequim. Our weekend getaway included a recreation of a famous Richard Gere scene in An Officer and a Gentleman, a trip to the Makah indian reservation to visit the northwesternmost tip of the contiguous 48 states at Cape Flattery, a fantastic seafood dinner in a 90-year old restaurant in Port Angeles, not one but two ferry trips across Puget Sound, and a wedding (congratulations to my MIL Tracy and her new husband (and longtime partner) David). Yeah, this weekend had it all. And now Tara and I want to move to Port Townsend. We even found a house.

That view, though...
That view, though…

Audrey is none too pleased about this. She insists on finishing high school here. Can’t say I blame her; moving is rough. Ahh, well. It’s not like we have, oh – you know – jobs up there. Maybe someday.

Here’s a link to my acting debut.

And the original scene.

Last but not least, some photos from when I wasn’t goofing around and pretending to be Richard Gere.

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Big Man Off Campus

I’m very popular in high school. Which is funny, because when I was in high school, I wasn’t very popular.

I probably need to explain…

Audrey says all her friends like me. Which is funny, because most of them have never met me. I have somehow earned a reputation as “the cool dad” amongst her peers.

I don’t overdo it, like some people…

coolmomI’m just real. And I treat Audrey like she’s real. Apparently, that’s a novelty to many of her friends. We talk. Not about school and chores. Well, about school and chores. But we also do not shy away from topics like drugs, alcohol, and sex. I photobomb her selfies. I say things like “peace out” when we’re ending our phone calls. I crank my rock ‘n roll when picking her up from tennis practice. And I give her enough freedom to do the things she wants to do, so long as she doesn’t take advantage of my good graces. She’s earning straight A’s, so she deserves it.

And though I shouldn’t give a damn what a bunch of 15 year olds think, I have to admit it is pretty flattering to be considered “cool.” Especially by an age group who considers anybody over 30 – actually, more like 25 – to be the very antithesis of the word.

Audrey asked me if I was popular in high school, and I laughed. There’s an adjective that never applied to me. I wasn’t an outcast, either. Didn’t fit into any of the social cliques, to be honest. When she asked me what I was, I said, “I just was.” Which pretty much sums it up. I was one of those kids who never really made waves, good or bad. People liked me, but they never went out of their way to invite me to parties or make out with me under the bleachers. I was not a jock, but I also wasn’t a stoner, a preppie, or a dweeb. In P.E., if we had to choose teams and there were 10 students, I was picked fifth. Middle of the road, all the way. Had I ever run for school council, I would have had no shot at student body president, but would have made a hell of a treasurer.

I also used to dress like Sonny Crockett. This certainly didn’t help my social standing, though it didn’t really hinder it, either. And no, I do not have pics. I’ve searched high and low, but no such luck.

So the fact that I have gained all these cool points many years later leaves me feeling stoked. Better late than never, right?

Grid

Feeding the Ego Machine

Audrey asked a seemingly innocent question recently.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

But upon further reflection – pun intended – I realized the question required more thought than simply blurting out “a face!” as I’d originally intended. My daughter was digging for deeper truths. For more complex nuances. So I gave it some serious consideration before answering.

man-looking-in-mirror

I should point out that, had she asked this question six months ago, my answer would have been much different. I think that applies to most people. Our perception of the face staring back at us every morning changes often. For too long, I did not like what I saw. It was more of a resigned yeah, that’s me. 

But when I replied to my daughter, I said,

Confidence.
Commitment.
Strength.
Vitality.

And I thought to myself, it should have been this way all along. Sadly, it took a health scare to motivate me. I knew I was not at an ideal weight and making poor eating decisions, but I didn’t care (or I did care, but didn’t care enough to take the steps needed to change that). Tara warned me about my carb intake, but I dismissed her concerns with a wave of the hand while muttering about “junk science.” We made spaghetti one time and she substituted zucchini strips for the pasta. I thought she was nuts.

zucchini spaghetti

A year later, I never would have guessed I’d be making “mashed potatoes” out of cauliflower. Cauliflower, folks. I practically declared a fatwa against it once.

We Taurans (plural for Taurus people?) have a stubborn streak a mile wide.

So I was in denial, allowing myself only the briefest glimpse into the mirror each morning in order to avoid the truth. Nowadays, the mirror is my friend. Sounds like an incredibly vain thing to say, but I don’t mean it that way. The truth is, I am proud of all my accomplishments, and I love seeing the visual evidence of my hard work and determination. It’s quite amazing to me, this transformation. I want to savor it.

I also want to apologize to Tara for not being more open minded earlier. I’m sorry, babe. You were right. As usual.

And while I’m at it, I’d like to issue an apology to bacon. I feel somewhat responsible for the swine decline because I devoured far too much of it.

baconchase

I spent two hours yesterday shopping for new clothes. Very few things fit any more. They’re all baggy and loose, and starting to look ridiculous on me. I pulled on a pair of shorts, and they immediately slipped down to my ankles.  Even my new jeans, purchased two months ago when I dropped a size, are too big. I’ve been buying XL for so long, L is a novelty, albeit a happy one. I even bought a couple of M’s. Relaxed fit has given way to regular fit. “First world problems,” Tara said, and she’s right. This is a good problem to have. But I also find myself walking on egg shells. I do not want to come across as boastful. I know people who have gone on health kicks, got into shape, and talked about it incessantly, and you know what?

It made me resentful.

Which is a terrible thing to say. Of course, I “get” it now – but I don’t want anybody to feel that way about me, so I try not to make a big deal out of it.

scaleWhen I stepped on the scale this morning, I weighed 63.5 lbs. less than I did one year ago. And I’m 45 pounds lighter than I was the day I came home from the hospital. That was less than four months ago. My diabetes is firmly under control without any medication. My blood pressure, once high, is now low. I’ll talk to my doctor about quitting my meds during my next appointment. My sleep apnea is gone; I packed up the CPAP machine and haven’t used it in weeks. And I have so much damn energy I can’t sit still. I owe all of this to the old standbys, diet and exercise. You know what?

That shit works.

I severely limit my carbs, avoid sugar like the plague, choose healthy foods, and keep my calories under 1,500. I also work out every day without fail, either walking, cycling or hiking. Treadmill, city streets, forested trail: it really doesn’t matter. Here’s a little secret: losing weight is easy. Finding the determination to make these lifestyle changes and stick with them is the hard part. My friends and coworkers compliment me on a daily basis, and that feeds the Ego Machine and provides the spark I need to keep up my healthy lifestyle.

I’m a new man, in more ways than one. And it feels great.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

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