Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The 30's and Sitcoms

Sal and I both turn 30 in the next week.

She is looking forward to her 30's.

I am not.

I don't have a great reason why I'm not. It's really a number that humans made up based on another number on a piece of paper from 30 years ago. Being 28 is not much different from being 32.

But I feel sort of ripped off. Between the multiple surgeries, getting laid off, all the overtime, I feel like we missed out of the sitcom years. You know, the 24-30 range where you make adult wages and get to have fancy cocktails in some hip New York bar/coffee house combo.

Instead, I could barely walk during those years.

And it's unrealistic. No one really lives like Ross and Rachel or the Sex in the City ladies. (I know, they were all in their 30s, but come on, they lived like 20 somethings) Most of my friends had the same struggles finding work as we did and dealing with lay offs and unexpected debt.

None of us were sipping cocktails in Manhattan and worrying about a visit from our rich, but obtrusive parents or discussing the benefits of dating older men and women.

F·R·I·E·N·D·S more like L·I·E·S
The 20's just felt like this exciting time. Older adults seemed to latch onto every story you had, living vicariously through you. The world seemed to be in front of us, and life so fresh.

When I look at the 30's on paper, it just seems like a time to get comfortable, and I don't really want that.

I'm not going to feel much different on Saturday than I did any random Saturday a few years back. This is all theoretical changes and maybe how others might view me.

I guess I'm ready for my 30's. A time where my student loans will be paid off, our car paid for, our salaries increasing (God willing), and a new chapter in life. But damn if I didn't wish I still had a few 20's to count.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Going Back to the Phones

On July 8th, I had to return to taking phone calls once a week.

I hadn't done this in almost a year, and in that year I really loved my job. The calls themselves aren't that bad. It gives me a chance to think on my feet and interact with people. BUT... this also opens me up to abuse from people having a bad time.

I've been dreading it. I used to be one of the best you could ask for on the phones, but not taking a call in a year really puts some rust on your skills.

For instance, my phone dismounts have gotten really awkward.

"Alright, that password is reset, you should be good to go..."
"OK, than..." "can I help..." "OK, umm bye" "...with anything else." Pause a few seconds, "No, bye."

I've also been stumbling to remember where I have certain tools saved. Sometimes they're a bookmark, sometimes it's an app, either way, I have 100 of both, so I have to sift through.

And I forgot how talking to users is like speaking two different languages. They don't exactly know what's going on and that's why I'm there to take calls.

So the first day back, I had a call that went something like, "Hey, I can't get logged in."

"OK, what screen are you on? Is this Windows or Email?"

"It's Windows."

"OK, do you see a change password button below where you log in?"

"No, I see a black screen."

"Ummmm, sir is your monitor on."

"Yeah should be, but it's black."

"Push the little orange button."

"Alright, I'm logged in. Thank you!"

We have a new head of technology coming in August, so my team going back on the phones is sort of a test to see if we can keep up with our other work. The answer is probably no and we're hoping whoever the next head is will take us off the phones permanently. But for at least the next few months, every Tuesday is going to be the worst day of my week.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Divergent Path

I didn't go to my 10 year high-school reunion because frankly, I didn't like high-school very much and the people I actually liked, I still talk to.

Facebook has removed the need to re-connect at high-school reunions. There is something lost by not drinking face to face, trying to one-up each other in the life awards at a real reunion, but I think I'm OK with it. I've always said, have a couple great friends instead of a ton of OK friends.

There are a few outlying people that don't post to Facebook too often that I want to know what they are up to.

My best friend from high-school reached out to me a few days ago. I hadn't really heard from him in a good 7 years when in college he told me he knocked up a girl and might have to drop out of school.

When I say I haven't "really" heard from him, it means I haven't had a meaningful conversation with him in years. Maybe about every 2-3 years, he sort of checks in and finds out where I'm living and what I'm doing.

He was cleaning out boxes in his basement and found a concert stub for a metal show we went to in high-school and reached out to me asking if I remember it.

I think the real reason is my Facebook picture is me as a kid and he thought maybe I had a child. I get the sense that he lost a lot of friends having a kid so early and was hoping to rekindle ours. As soon as I told him it was me, his answers got much shorter.

There are times where I'm jealous of the attention and camaraderie I see among parents my age. This is especially true at family functions where my brothers and I are the only ones that don't have kids or houses in the burbs.

The other cousins form circles where they discuss trips to Florida or the most recent soccer tournament. The announcement of a new pregnancy brings high-fives and hugs.

The kicker is, I love kids. I'm great with them. I just don't know if Sal and I will ever have one of our own. Anytime we've seriously discussed it, we think adoption is the most likely option for us. And even that, not until we're in our mid-30's. We both always felt like we wouldn't have one of our own, but our parental calling would be more of one for a child in need.

As morbid as it is, we both separately had this deep feeling that something terrible would happen someone we knew and we would take their kids and raise them instead of letting them go to child services.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Things You Learn About Yourself and Six Flags

There are days where men are challenged. Where they take a deep look into their inner essence as a man, and discover just how much they can take. That same man, if truly a person of this Earth, then looks at his environment, and notices details he skips in everyday life. The way a leaf sways in the wind and how completely different the dance looks as a whole. The way rain runs down the branches of a tree.

Today was one of those days. Today I learned some things.
  • My younger self was either braver or dumber than my older self.
  • The rides at Six Flags are mostly not built for a 6'1" full grown adults. 
  • Shirts are required at Six Flags, but sleeves are not.
  • That park is much smaller when you're tall enough to see over the line railings.
I hadn't been to Six Flags since I was 17, almost 13 years ago. No... let's not start the story there, let's back up a little more.

Being a kid with an early growth spurt, I was both blessed and cursed with the ability to ride any ride at this early age. When I was 5, the Screaming Eagle had just had some renovations done and there was heavy marketing during Saturday morning cartoons for it. I wanted to ride it. I wanted to ride it more than I wanted a Rafael action figure.

And I did. And when I almost fell out of the seat every time this creaking wooden roller coaster hopped the track, I decided that would be the last time I ride a coaster for a long time.

We went back to Six Flags around the time I was 7. My mother made a deal that if I rode the Ninja with her, I would get some cotton candy. I went on the ride, trembling. Turns out I liked it OK and it seemed as if my coaster phobia was fixed.

I had season passes in high-school, and soon got bored riding the Batman, Mr. Freeze, and the Boss. We were there just about every other week and got to the point where we just walked around Six Flags like it was a casual day at the mall.

Flash forward to today, and I thought, just maybe, JUST MAAAYYYBBEE, today would be the day I finally ride the Screaming Eagle.

We start the day on the Batman. The line was non-existent. This was a good sign. We had high hopes.

And then my cranium got beat to hell on the ride. I had a headache. I felt a little woozy. This was a bad sign.

Then we move to the Mine King where my knees were beat to hell.

And then swings thinking that would let my brain stop rattling. Well, these aren't your grandma's swings. These swings first raise you about 100 feet into the air, and then start spinning you around. Neither of us felt comfortable.

The heat start pounding down. My energy was draining quickly. My head seemed to grow three sizes. I was too aware of the Jimmy John's hanging out in my stomach.

We got smart and spread coasters between other rides. hoping I would recouperate on the non-coaster rides.

We rode a new one called the Boomerang (surprisingly was a good ride) and then cooled off in Thunder River (barely got splashed) and the Log Flume (got splashed a little more.) But still, the heat barreled down and that headache I got from the Batman was also turning into a stomach thing.

We started really noticing the clientele of Six Flags has changed dramatically since our childhood. We remember middle class families, standing in line, generally building memories.

Now... man... now it's like some Blue Collar Comedy Horror Movie. Lot's of really fat children, red necks in Hustler t-shirts, (sleeves cut off of course, exposing the side of their hairy man chests) and little girls (3-4 year old) in "I'm sexy and I know it" shirts. It was sad enough that Sal and I actually turned to each other and said, "Maybe we should get some kids so that the whole world isn't screwed in 18-30 years."

So I said, "No Dan, you will not go quietly into the night. I will not vanish without a fight. We're going to coaster on!"

We walked the approximate 3 miles to the Boss, my favorite coaster from my high-school days. And halfway down the first hill, at the worst possible moment, I came to the realization, "I don't think I like roller coasters anymore." The rest of the ride I held my glasses on, with my abs engaged, teeth clinched, and eyes closed, just repeating, "Do not hurl" in my head.

We got off the Boss and I had had enough. My head was pounding, the heat was making me feel sick and weak, and I had no interest in checking Mr. Freeze and some new coaster called American Thunder off the list.  That Screaming Eagle will stand as a monument to my roller coaster failures until inevitably someday it jumps the track and actually kills some people.

We start driving home, I'm still feeling rough, but I'm focusing on the highway in front of us. We're so close at home. Soooo close... and then BAM! My head flips forward, my already pounding brain is beat against the front of my skull, and shortly after the shock I realize we've been hit from behind. (BTW: Sallie has only driven home from Six Flags twice in her life and has been in accidents both times)

We pull over and meet an erratic Bosnian. He obviously didn't have insurance. He kept saying, "Oh everyone is fine, there's no damage, there's no need to get insurance involved. I really have to get to a job. See, I'm wearing work clothes. This happened before and the people let me drive off, I praise God." I'm feeling so crappy at this point that I just see a small scratch on our bumper and I don't think I can physically wait for the hour or so for the cops to show up and write up a report.

We ask if we could have his insurance info. We wrote down his name and number and that was it. As he drove off, I snapped a few pictures of his car and wrote down his license plate. It technically wasn't a hit and run, but it wasn't far from it. (After consulting a legal expert, I found out that we're OK, even if we find something wrong later on since we have his plate info)

So hours later, after being in air conditioning, eating some food, having a beer to take the edge off, I finally feel somewhat normal again. Just really tired. I would not be surprised if I were in bed before 10 tonight.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wanting What You Don't Have

I've always been incredibly jealous of guitar players. People that really understand the instrument and can just pick it up and make things up as they go, belt out some Beatles, and generally impress everyone in the room.

Anytime I'm in a room where someone I didn't pay to hear play music starts playing guitar, my neck tenses up and I get disappointed.

Now don't get me wrong, I play guitar. I'm better than the average person. I know most the important chords and can string my guitar up. But out of all the talents I was blessed with, rhythm was not one of them.

And it's partially the way I decided to learn guitar. I came to guitar because I actually wanted to sing, but didn't know what to do with my body when there wasn't singing. The thought of my lanky, awkward body trying to do some sort of rock star dance scared me behind the strings.

I tried to learn for a solid 7-8 years and I sort of hit this point and never got any better. I had multiple people try to teach me scales. I read so many books and watched so many terrible videos. But nothing got me to a better point.

You want me to play Green Day? I got you covered. You want me to play the Who? I'm going to stare at the frets for a minute, maybe play a note or two, and then change the subject.

I guess I just sort of need to accept where I am in talent level. I can write stories like a madman, play games like no ones business, and brew beer like a champ. But none of my talents are flashy things that you can own a room with.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Separation of Tech and People

I love technology. I love the feeling of unboxing it. I love showing it off to people. I love that the entire internet is in my pocket.

I'm burned out on technology. I already feel my mind slipping. It allows me to be lazy. Instead of having to memorize stuff, I just pull out my phone. Instead of going outside, I turn on Netflix. Instead of staring at a record collection and really thinking about what I to listen to, I put Google music on random. I even allow sites to tell me what I will probably want to buy. I'm giving myself to Skynet willingly.

Sometimes you forget how much technology is ingrained in your life. I bet you don't notice how much you actually check your phone.

I see Sallie doing it at stop lights. Quickly taking a look at email, Facebook, and Twitter before the light turns green.

I notice it when my touchscreen feels hot to the touch and I realize that I've already checked all my social media sites recently.

I spend hours browsing my RSS feed and Reddit while sitting on the couch.

The focal point of most people's living rooms is the television. You have guests over and it's assumed that television will be on.

Sallie and I are going to try an experiment in the coming weeks. We're going to move the television up to where our office currently is. We're going to remove that portion from the focal point of our living area. It will be a place set up to visit, to read, to listen to records, to eat.

I'm going to see if removing that from this room always traveled, if any of my habits change.

In a few weeks, I also want to try just having the data on my phone turned off. I want to be cut off from everything except text messages and phone calls. I'm filled with anxiety just thinking about it, which is usually a sure sign that it's necessary.

It's just time to take a step back. It's all about restructuring life a little so that you have a chance to live it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Resetting the Grind

Sallie, Matt, and I climbed in the car this weekend and went to Madison Wisconsin.

I think we all needed the break. I've not had more than one consecutive day off since early March, Sal's been working both her jobs, and Matt started a new job that often has him staying late and coming home to collapse. There was a sense of optimism on the car ride up. The complaints that pepper our lives were gone. This was an actual weekend away from it all.

The Hickle kids are cursed with this "Rip Van Winkle" syndrome. Instead of drinking a potion to sleep, they merely have to hear the hum of the car and they both are out. Their eyes were shut the moment we left Missouri.

I didn't really mind this time. I desperately needed some alone time to stare out the windshield, listen to podcasts, and just generally let my brain shutdown to emergency systems only.

We really didn't have an agenda for the weekend. There were a few breweries we wanted to hit in Madison, but we were all happy to just be away.

We woke up when we wanted. Did what we felt like each day. BBQ'd and played yard games. We did exactly what you think about when you see the coming of age stories that take place in the summer.

We went to several breweries: Capital, Great Dane, and Ale Asylum, but the one that stood out was New Glarus.

About 20 minutes south of Madison, through rolling farm hills, filled with cows, in a place where no GPS would work, stood this Disney-like-monument to Switzerland. The brewery had a huge beer garden, surrounded by a fake Swiss Town square on two sides, open to the fields on a third side, and peppered with fake ruins on the last.

In it's weird psuedo-realism, I felt like a child experiencing an amusement park. Only at this one, children are given beers, and told to just hang out in the sun and enjoy. It was the most minimalist time I remember having in years. We had nowhere to be. Nothing to do. Only what we wanted.

The trip reset the grind. I've been working so much and so often that the creative part of my brain was shut off. Every morning, auto-pilot engaged, and I just worked until I met my OT hours. I'm going to continue working overtime while it's offered, but it's nice to have a reboot. Especially since I think OT is coming to an end.