Friday, September 27, 2013


Lot of emotions in the past week. It all really started a few weeks ago with the roller coaster that was the trials my aunt was going through, but it's changed my perspective a bit.

I've been working non-stop overtime since April. 50 hours a week, every week. My mind just said, "Gotta pay those bills down. Gotta pay off those medical bills. Gotta pay off that car." And that's not a bad thing. I need to pay those off and the extra money has definitely helped.

But all the stuff that happened made my responsible self shut up and I welcomed the self that has been locked away for several years now. It's the self that says, "Hey man, time to chill out. Life's short, enjoy. Listen to some Bob Marley and just lay in the grass."

So, for the first time since Sal and I have been married, we're taking a week long vacation.

Yes, we've been on some short trips. We go to Columbia every year for the True / False film festival. We've been to the Smokey Mountains for a long weekend. We've been to Chicago for a few days for an awards ceremony.

But these trips are those that you take when you're a kid because you parents want to do something great for you, but because rug rats are so expensive, you're going to Branson this year and probably the Ozarks next year.

Now my responsible self didn't completely disappear. I thought, "Where could we go in an off-season for cheap?" So Sal and I will be rushing into the cold embrace of Minneapolis / St. Paul for New Year's week. We're going to see a Blues vs Wild game, hit up some really cool breweries and bars, see some waterfalls, and generally fight frost bite with determination and whiskey.

I bought the Blues tickets today. We'll be the ones setting in the back row at what appears to be a bar. Turns out hockey is a lot more popular and expensive in Minnesota. Who would've thought?

To say I'm excited is an understatement.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hakuna Matata

When I was a kitchen manager, I was the ultimate calm over the kitchen. I was one of the guys that rarely exploded when a customer sent their order of Lo Mein back, or when that mom came in with her three kids 10 minutes before close. I shined when I was alone, working a double shift, and there was a line out the door.

While my kitchen-mates would immediately start cursing and banging pans around, I would turn to them, look them in the eye, and simply say, "Hakuna Matata."

Inevitably they would ask "What the hell did you just say?"

And that was the open invitation to reach deep into my stomach and sing, "Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase..."

It had an instant calming effect on the kitchen. The sheer ridiculousness of the boss sinking into his best baritone, and singing hits from the Lion King, cooled the heat of the angry college kids.

But sometimes I forget the lesson that the Lion King taught me, and I in turn taught others.

Since July of last year, there's been this stress monster that just sort of burrows into the back of my neck and makes my chest feel heavy. It briefly leaves for periods of time and I feel great again, but even when it appears I'm having fun, my mind is racing, trying to solve all the issues Sal and I have.

It's exhausting. When you don't have a weekend to hit the reset button, like this weekend for instance, my body starts to shut down. Sal often thinks I'm in a bad mood, but really what is happening is my brain sort of goes into a hibernation mode. I just can't think of things to say and am too tired to keep up conversation.

Much of my stress is caused by things that I know will eventually be resolved: student loans, cars, surgeries, house projects, etc. But I forget to remind myself that these issues will go away in the next few years. I get caught in the now every time I see my bank statement.

I'm going to try to be better about this. Sometimes you have to just sit back and remember that problem-free philosophy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Eulogy for Aunt Lisa

My Aunt Lisa recently passed. It was completely unexpected and added tragedy to a family that is all too familiar with it.

I think she was sort of tired of being the youngest in a huge Catholic family and at some point started going by Lee instead of Lisa. There was no way that was ever going to catch on with me.

Part of the reason Aunt Lisa was so popular among her nieces and nephews was the way she was able to hang onto that childlike wonder so many of us lose to our 9 to 5 jobs.

When outside people ask me to describe Lisa, there are a few events or personality traits that run through my mind.

She was willing to watch her Ghostbusters' VHS tape with me so often as a kid, it started wearing out and no amount of tracking could fix it.

There were the countless and desperate pictures I was tagged in on Facebook, of errors her and grandma's ancient computer would throw at her in the middle of the night. All with captions of "WTH does this mean? LOL" She knew that Nephew Dan's tech service never slept.

Or how she would bring her own food to family gatherings. And while some people couldn't understand why her Jack N the Box tasted so much better than actually grilled burgers, I used it as an opportunity. No amount of compliments I received for my cooking from others could compare to the seal of approval of Aunt Lisa not only eating my food, but then asking for the recipe. (This often also lead to pictures of me being tagged on Facebook, every time she made my Buffalo Chicken Dip or Mac and Cheese. Now that I think about it, I don't know that Lisa actually ever tagged me on a picture with me in it.)

Or how her face would turn red as she laughed at Nick and I playing Royal Rumble on the Sega Genesis. All it took was throwing Hulk Hogan into the bell and hearing it ring.

But I think the greatest definition of who Aunt Lisa was to me involved Legos. If my parent's needed a child sitter at night, it was usually my Aunt Lisa that would volunteer. (Or be volunteered)

Other sitters from around the neighborhood were happy to let me sprawl my Legos out on the floor and earn their money as I mostly took care of myself. That wasn't good enough for Aunt Lisa. She had to be involved in my adventures, and let me tell you, she was one hell of an adventuring companion.

Lego didn't always get movie licenses. In fact, that's a fairly recent phenomenon. Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" was set to come out in 1991. So, to beat them to the punch, Lego released a Robin Hood knock-off known as the Forestmen.

I got the Forestmen's Crossing for my birthday, and Lisa was excited. She had played with Lego pirates and astronauts with me before, but this was the first time Lisa saw a strong woman, equipped with a bow and arrow.

This is how my Aunt Lisa looked

No matter what fiendish enemy attempted to attack our tree fort, Lisa's Lego heroin would save the day. 

She would say "pew pew" with a smile on her face as she let loose arrows at the Lego monkey that always for some reason had pistols in its hands. 

She always fought me when I said she got shot by one of the pirates saying that her hero had dodged the bullet. 

And anytime one of my heroes was laying on the ground with a sword wound, she would swing in on a vine and save me. 

So to me, Lisa will always be one of Robin Hood's Merrymen Merry-Women. Always swinging in to save the day from the 9 - 5 tedium we all get lost in. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Love Hotels!

I don't know if everyone knows this about me, but I love staying in hotels.

Another thing people should know is that I cannot sit and be comfortable if there is clutter or "dirtiness" within eye view of where I'm trying to relax.

I think that's part of the reason why I love hotels. It's one of the few places I can just plop down on the bed, watch some trash TV, and feel relaxed immediately. The maids have already cleaned the place. It's a fresh pallet with no clutter. As long as there isn't a black light available, I'm going to be happy.

Even in my own house, when I sit down on a Friday night, preparing for a movie night and a glass of wine, and I see a stack of DVDs sitting out, or Sallie has her nail supplies on the coffee table, or I see crumbs on the floor, I have to get up and remedy that before I can fully focus on fun.

Unfortunately, as I've gotten older, the magic of playing in the hotel pool and throwing quarters at the arcade machines in the rec area has dwindled. Sal and I now find that we usually just get to use hotels to sleep in.

When I was a kid, usually the hotel room signified a vacation.

I remember running around the halls of the Holiday Inn across the street from Six Flags the year the water park opened. Ryan and I played the pinball machines, swam in the hunting lodge looking pool, ran through the halls barefoot to feel the wonderful padded carpet. I was almost as excited to be there as I was to have two days at Six Flags.

Now Sal and I are usually staying in a hotel because there's a race Sal is running in the morning. Or we are blowing through town on the way to somewhere else. Essentially, we're going to bed and leaving early. The hotel room might as well be a closet with a bed in it.

We're due for a real trip sometime soon. A trip where we don't sleep on a friends floor to save some money. I for one am excited to try to reignite the "fun" of the hotel.

Monday, September 9, 2013

That Punk Rock Energy

Sal and I scored free tickets to Lou Fest this weekend. We were only going to go on Saturday, but we said, screw it, we have tickets, let's drag ourselves to the concert Sunday too. (BTW: Incredibly tired today. Slept through my alarm and missed my last day of physical therapy.)

Lou Fest is a relatively new music festival in St. Louis. Two days, in Forest Park, always at the beginning of September when it's still usually ungodly hot out, but still a good thing for St. Louis. They usually score bands like The Killers and Wilco. (Both headliners this year)

There's a dance music sub-genre I've noticed of the past few years. It's usually women singers, in these dance bands that have really punk rock energy.

Except instead of wanting to put a brick through your local Wal Mart window, you just want to dance that aggression out.

We saw Icono Pop yesterday. It's weird for me to admit, but they were really good. I thoroughly enjoyed their set. It's not something I thought I would ever say. Even as I read over that line again, it just doesn't look right. You've probably heard this song on the radio this summer.

Sallie dragged me to see the Ting Tings a few years back. They too had a similar sound. Not only the sound, but when you go to the shows, it has a similar feel.

Although not quite as crude, these bands reminds me a lot of the Riot Girl movement of the early 90s. These dance music, British, girl bands are bastard descendants of someone like L7.

There's not really a Joe Strummer nowadays. I know my brothers would disagree and argue their punk bands are still fighting the good fight, but I don't feel I can relate to it anymore. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't feel the need to bring the fight to the man anymore. I'm just too tired. I don't have the energy to protest. At the very most, I might complain a little and write my alderman a strongly worded email.

Sometimes its just good enough to dance that anger out.

Side note: This blog post will likely put my blog at over 10,000 views. That's right mom, I'm making the big times!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Ultra Connected World

I logged into work this morning and realized just how connected we are.

I have Outlook, Microsoft Lync (instant messaging), and Lync Group Chat (preset chat rooms) that are all connected.

As soon as I logged in, my manager got an alert that I'm in available status on Lync.

My name in Outlook gets a green circle icon next to it to let everyone know that I'm now at my desk.

I show up in 12 different rooms in Lync Group Chat.

An email came into my inbox 10 minutes before I logged on. Before I even had a chance to read it, my IM pops up with, "What do you think about that?"

I read through the email and was confused about it. I told the sender that I wasn't sure this would work.

All of a sudden I get a meeting message in Outlook. I click, "Accept" and then my calendar pops up an alert that my meeting starts in 5 minutes, my Lync status changes to a red dot that says, "In a Meeting," and my Outlook populates a conflict message since I had another appointment set at the same time.

I love technology, but it's getting bad. We're in a world where your response is expected within 5 minutes, otherwise the person on the other end starts freaking out. There's too many text message histories that go something like this.

11:30 am: "Do you still want to hang out tonight?"
11:33 am: "I was thinking we could get sushi or Mexican. Either 1?"
11:34 am: "What do u think?"
11:36 am: "Or if you don't like sushi or Mexican, we can do something else"
11:39 am: "Are you mad at me?"
11:41 am: "Was it because I couldn't come out the other night?"
11:42 am: "I'm sorry, something came up. I couldn't come out."

I'm not exaggerating about this at all. These are actual text messages. It's 11:30 am. I'm working and responding to the desperate pleas of co-workers via Lync.

We all see the tables out to dinner, everyone staring at the comforting glow of their smartphones. Draining that battery to make sure they are caught up on Twitter feeds. As a society, we've forgotten how to live in a moment of silence. Those are now moments of Facebook.

I'm guilty of this too. But I'm trying to get better. I makes me sick that I have this physical uncomfortable response when I don't check my phone every 5 minutes.

I need to break this. Start small. I'm only going to check the phone ever 15 minutes. We'll see how it goes from there.