Sunday, March 02, 2014

Bye Bye, Baby

On February 7, 2014, I was devastated to learn that my beloved cat Baby had chronic renal failure (CRF), a common disease in older cats. Sadly, Baby succumbed to her illness yesterday, on March 1. I'd had her in my life for exactly six years and four months.

A rescue kitty, Baby came home with me from New York Animal Control on 110th Street in Manhattan two weeks after my brown tabby cat Martin died--just days after we'd moved back to NYC in October, 2007. Baby was shy at first but rapidly became the best cat I ever had.

I miss her dearly. Baby was my light in a dark world. An affectionate Chantilly/Tiffany cat who loved her "person," (me!), Baby wouldn't let me eat breakfast, watch TV or work at my desk without making herself comfy in my lap. She was fun, playful, and sweet--all wrapped up in one beautiful chocolate-brown package.

Baby's antics while "pillow diving" and chasing the red laser light made me laugh. She was forever trying to get her foster sister Jelly to play with her. Try as she might, she never gave up despite repeatedly being snuffed by the Jelly. Regardless, Baby opened her heart up to Jelly when we rescued her in May 2009, making Jelly the third addition to our happy little family.

In her final weeks Baby was snuggly-buggly with me in bed at night, which was a gift that I wasn't accustomed to from her.

May she rest in peace on the other side of the rainbow bridge. This photo was taken Feb. 13, 2014, at our home in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Grady

There is a big hospital in Atlanta called Grady. Apparently a lot of babies get delivered there, hence the bus stop shelter signs and highway billboards showing some ordinary person claiming "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Grady." If you are a "Grady Baby," you are a native Atlantan for sure.

But this blog post is Part 3 in a short series about my brother-in-law named Grady who is still not fully conscious after a February 3rd bicycle-versus-truck accident in Florida.

From what I've learned while getting to know Grady the past several weeks, he is quite an influential man. Not in a profound or infamous kind of way—but rather in a simplified, utterly human way. It is in his nature to inspire others to be better people and live life as if God and the Truth within you comes before everything else. It's a simple yet sometimes trying way to live.

Grady is a smart man, a "numbers guy," as his wife Joanie says, with a natural gift of persuasive people skills. He is the kind of person who has learned to laugh at himself and live in the present. Being the type of person who would give anyone the shirt off his, back, Grady has been a positive role model to his children and nieces and nephews, ensuring they are thinking about their futures and planning for them. According to Grady, by the time you are 17, you should have your five-year plan honed to perfection.

If you are on the verge of quitting something because you are unsure of your goal, a talk with Grady will get you back on track. Marriage falling apart? Grady will tell you to read Emmet Fox. Interestingly, things work out and your world is right again.

Of course, he's not perfect—far from it, in fact. He is a genuinely caring, unique and inspirational individual. Even in his coma, he somehow manages to change the lives of others for the better. I've seen it myself. This isn't just something I'm spouting off about—it is what everybody who knows Grady is saying.

One day a while back, a sharp young man who works with Grady came into Grady's room at Shepherd Center for a visit. There lay Grady in his coma, potentially able to hear the conversation in the room, but unable to respond. I asked the fellow how he knows Grady, and he was happy to tell me all about how Grady had been his "mentor" at work but taught him so much more than how to do the job. Without appearing the least bit uncomfortable about Grady's condition, he talked about how Grady changed his life. His faith that Grady would come back to us one day was immediately apparent and went without saying.

Everyone who comes to visit Grady says this about him. What is it about him? How did he become so inspiring to so many people? I have watched and listened carefully over the past nine or 10 weeks, slowly figuring out the answer....

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Getting to Know Grady

So who is the individual named Grady that I brought up in my last post?

Grady is a guy I am honored to know. He is my brother Pete's wife's sister's husband. What do we call that—a brother-in-law in law? A brother-in-law once removed? I'm not sure. But Grady is definitely family.

Grady is a husband, brother, friend, father of three and star employee of one of the Big Four. He is the type of person everyone wants to be around, the life of the party, the optimist. He touches every life that he bumps into. Grady was once recognized (out of 165,000+ global employees) for having the best people skills; in fact, he was due to interview for partner on Monday, February 4.

His road to partner took an unexpected turn when, the evening before, Grady left my brother's house in Florida on his bicycle to head home. He was crossing Hwy. 17 when the traffic light turned and he was hit by an oncoming truck.

Judging from this single photo found online the following day—and thanks to Google maps' street view—Grady's bike landed up to 50 yards from the site of impact.

Grady was unconscious when delivered to Orange Park Medical Center with a broken hip, crushed wrist and severe brain swelling and hematoma. A shunt was inserted in his brain to drain fluid. After a move to the Mayo Clinic and another move to Shands Jacksonville Medical Center for surgeries on his wrist and hip, Grady was transferred to the renowned Shepherd Center here in Atlanta for rehabilitation. He is still in a coma today.

It just so happens that Shepherd Center is walking distance from my home, just 1.1 miles away. Since Grady's arrival here around February 28, I've gotten to know him pretty well, mostly through his wife Joanie, her sister Jacqui, Grady's brother Steve, and their dad and step-mom. There have been plenty others, too. Grady has had lots of visitors, including a couple of the firm's partners and a fellow employee for whom Grady was an enlightening mentor.

Oddly enough, Grady continues to be an inspiration to those around him, despite his current inability to communicate. More on that in my next post.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Catching Up

I'm sure no one reads my blog anymore, especially since I haven't posted in over 18 months. 2012 is the first year that I didn't blog. Probably due to my paranoia of sharing TMI online.

Since my last post, I've moved (yes, again!) and actually don't plan on moving again for a long time, or until my knees give out, whichever comes first. That's the trick of living in a townhouse—you have to deal with all those stairs. Besides, two mortgages is enough for one person. Hence, no more moving! I swear.

The good news is that we finally found Jelly's favorite fuzzy when the movers pulled out the dryer in my last apartment. There it was! I was so happy for Jelly. At the time, she was probably too stressed out from being subjected to her third move in less than three years since I'd adopted her in Virginia. Poor Baby, on the other hand, this was her fifth move in five years with me, and she really hates when all the furniture disappears from her home.

Personally, I am amazed that I survived another move so soon without totally cracking up. I came close, I admit.

We truly love our new home, which is in a great location between Buckhead and Midtown, right on the Beltline trail that will eventually connect all of Atlanta in one big loop. It's a beautiful trail which is perfect for running—until I had to give up running (again) due to injury.

At least I finally have a name for my chronic pain—it's called, well... chronic pain—or, specifically, chronic myofascial pain (CMP), which I was diagnosed with a year ago, along with something called central sensitization. Anyway, I've been in trigger point therapy treatment for a year for that and we still haven't found the end-all solution. I love my PT group, so I'm not giving up hope yet!

For some people, it's a long road. My CMP is primarily concentrated on the entire right side of my body, from my right temple (where migraines start), all the way down to my toes. If one thing doesn't hurt, something else does. Anyway, I've still got both my arms and legs so I can't complain. Plenty of folks have it much worse.

The past year and a half has been pretty stressful due to the house purchase and 49th move combined with obtaining my CISSP certification and starting up grad school again while working full time. There have been family illnesses, apartment maintenance nightmares, a never-ending series of doctor appointments, pet illnesses, car repairs, a new tenant, an ex-tenant law suit (that ended with a complete absence of justice), work events that drive me insane—you know, all the usual suspects. Oh, and I was elected President of my newly formed HOA, an appointment that lasted all of about 5 minutes. Ha! Thank god that's over. (That's another story for another day.)

But things will finally calm down in two weeks when my final exam is over and I get a summer away from the mayhem.

There is something else going on that I want to write about. It's the reason I decided to start up my blog again. And that reason's name is Grady.

Grady is a family member who has touched my life and that of so many other people in such a positive way that I feel compelled to write his story. I was sitting with his wife Joanie in a nearby hospital waiting room this past Saturday morning when I told her, "You really need to write a book about everything that's happened."

But because Grady is in a coma, Joanie has her hands full. So I thought I'd take a shot at telling his story myself. And that's what I plan to do, right here. To the best of my ability.

In the meantime, stay well and remember that life isn't fair, but it sure beats the alternative.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Atlanta's Own Broadway

I've known about the historic Fox Theater On Peachtree Street for a while but hadn't had the opportunity to see a show there—until last night when my friend Mike from work took me, along with his son and daughter-in-law, to see Wicked. It was a show I was familiar with, after living in direct view of the massive 30' tall Wicked ad outside my apartment window at the Gershwin when I lived in NYC during 2005; I was on 50th Street across from that theater.

My introduction to the interior of the Fox theater was a view of the fabulous starry ceiling as I stepped up the carpeted steps toward the entrance to our seating area. The sky was an expansive, realistic dusk-blue that, for a split second, made me think I was approaching an outdoor theater. I knew it wasn't, by this sky is so convincing that I had to take a double-take.

After I sat down, I looked around and thought, "Man, this is the biggest theater I've ever been in...with the possible exception of Radio City Music Hall." And it is. The Fox seats nearly 5,000 people. And last night's show had a full house.

The friends I was with were a blast. We had a lot of laughs during dinner before walking over to the Fox, just a few blocks from my office. Topping off a fun dinner was a fantastic show!

The performance was incredible, with the actress playing the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, stealing the show. Her voice was stunning, and her harmony with Good Witch Glinda was unbelievable. The set was obviously expensive—very extravagant. My sister told me today that shows like that arrive at the theater in multiple semi-trucks requiring extensive unloading and setup.

But, along with the performance was the ingenius story line. If you aren't familiar with Wicked the musical, it is based on Gregory Maguire's 1995 book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. I started the book about four years ago but never finished it. Wizard of Oz fans will love the tale, which describes how the wicked witch came to be killed by Dorothy.

Or was she? Was Glinda really a good witch? Was Elphaba born wicked, or did she have wickedness thrust upon her? How did the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion come to be? Did the wicked witch cast those spells? Who was Wizard of Oz? Who did the house really fall on, and why? How did the flying monkies get their wings?

These and other questions are answered in Wicked. I highly recommend it. The twists and surprises and one-liners will entertain everyone. It offers a whole new perspective on a long-held view of what we all know well as the story of Oz. It is so neat to think of Oz in a new light, and that's what made this show really special. For baby boomers and their parents, this story fills in the gaps. It adds intrigue, excitement, and background to one of the best movies of all time.

The show was more than a treat. I warn you, it is a long show of nearly three hours. By intermission time at 9:30 I was approaching my normal bedtime. By 10PM (after a 10-hour work day), I was pooped. But I continued to enjoy the show, right up to the impactful finale. But that's all I'll say. You gotta see it yourself!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jelly Befriends New Fuzzy

It's hard to tell from the photo, but this is Jelly the cat with her fuzzy toy in her mouth. It took several weeks, but last month Jelly finally gave up the search for her long lost fuzzy and ceased shunning the other fuzzy. She has since treated it as if it is her own baby. We don't know how the old (nearly identical) fuzzy was lost. It was never found.

At first, Jelly pined for it and wouldn't have anything to do with the other fuzzy. But eventually she saw the light and everything is back to normal at home. She carries her fuzzy around in her mouth, tail held high, as if to say, "Mine."

Yesterday I finally got to spend time with my family after nearly a month. We shared a lunch of Dim Sum and celebrated August birthdays. Work has been brutally busy, so I haven't had a full weekend off in nearly a month. Our team is so severely understaffed that most of us are working OT just to keep up with day-to-day tasks. We have mentioned it to our boss on a number of occasions, but the budget is tight and the only thing he can do is pledge that we will work "smarter" going forward.

For those who have not spent a lot of time in the corporate world, "working smarter" is the de facto management answer to doing more with less. In reality it is just a euphemism for "work more hours and have less fun." But I'm used to it. It's been this way for as long as I've been in the technology business post-Microsoft. At Microsoft I don't recall suffering resource issues. Ever. Of course, that comes from perpetually having billions of cash at hand.
Recessions are tough on everyone.

To compound the stress of overwork, my nephew Jason is doing his second tour in Afghanistan right now. I have to admit, though, his positive attitude is what sustains our family through this worrisome time. Imagine wearing heavy combat gear in the 130-degree desert heat while conducting patrols from inside the stifling steel encasing of a Humvee. Now imagine that the AC is broken in your Humvee. Keep in mind you cannot roll down the windows in a military vehicle of this sort. There is no moving air.

Set your kitchen oven on 200 degrees, crawl inside, and close the door.

Personally, I wouldn't last five minutes in those circumstances. Jason has been subjected to such torment since early June. Bless his heart. But Jason has come to accept what he calls this "medieval torture device," indicating that it comes in handy when they have to give rides to people they don't like. On the bright side, says Jason, "At least I don't have to worry about getting fat on this deployment."

Making matters worse this summer was my four major dental treatments and having to postpone my long-awaited July beach vacation. Of course, the thousands I had to shell out for all this work only added insult to injury.

So it's been a tough summer.

But things brightened up a couple weeks ago when my sister's teenage son Connor produced a video short that took the grand prize in a Clean the Air Tennessee advertising campaign. We are all so proud of Connor. The prize nets him $1,000 plus a matching grant to his school.

To view Connor's 30-second video that encourages motorists to stop idling, go to the Mission Emissions web site and click the YouTube link for the grand prize winner.

Way to go, Connor!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why it's Called 'Laughing Gas'

I've spent more time in the dentist chair in the past five weeks than I have in the past 10 years. Usually I only go once a year, to have my teeth cleaned and occasionally X-rayed. About 20 years ago, I had two cavities filled, one in each of my back molars. No problems since then—beyond a wisdom tooth getting yanked. Until this year.

I'd been thinking it was time to get my teeth cleaned, so I was on the verge of finding a dentist on my new insurance when, one weekend in June, one of those cavities fell out. The metal one. When I checked in the mirror, I was shocked at how much of that tooth was gone. I went to the drug store and got a 5-dollar emergency dental repair kit, which consists of a tiny container of puddy that hardens as it dries. I used this and it was quite successful. On Monday I made an appointment to go to the dentist on Tuesday morning.

And then work got in the way. As usual. I had to cancel my appointment when I found out the night before my appointment that my boss had scheduled a second interview with a candidate that my own brother had referred. I have the world's best boss, but he failed to communicate that tidbit with our team. I absolutely couldn't miss that interview because I was the referral source, so I cancelled my dental appointment.

It was hard getting the dentist rescheduled. When I finally got in, a full 10 days later, I realized I was in a bit of trouble. The night before, I discovered that my other molar had lost its filling too—although I don't know when—and that tooth appeared to have a substantial crack on top. Yikes. In the dentist's chair the next day, Dr. Mills didn't even go there when she saw the original tooth that had lost the metal filling. The decay was fairly serious, and extremely close to the nerve ending. Infection was just setting in. There was a huge gap in the side of the tooth, not just the top. She had a lot of restorative work to do, so I kindly asked if she just knock me out to perform this work.

That's when I learned the joys of nitrous oxide. Wheeeeee! When you are under that stuff, you just never know what you are going to find funny. I never had so much fun at the dentist's office in my life. Truly, this particular dentist has a great staff, and they all have a good sense of humor (thank goodness).

Dr. Mills ground out that tooth, put some medicine in there to prevent infection, and filled it with a temporary compound. This whole thing took two hours. Then we had to watch and wait to see if a root canal was needed. That day's tab was $470.

For my entire life, I'd heard horrible things about root canals. My July vacation was rapidly approaching, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it to the beach to spend time with my two best high school buddies, Chris and Missy, and their families. When the tooth became painful a few days later, that was my signal that a root canal was necessary.

Meanwhile, I went in for yet another visit to get the other molar fixed and crowned. Another two hours in the chair. The tab for that? $1,300.

Worse came to worst, and I ended up scheduling a root canal on July 13, in lieu of my beach vacation. The root canal was done in a different office, by a doctor who does nothing but root canals all day long. That guy must drive a Bentley, because the charge for that procedure was $1,480. If he just does five of those a day, he's raking in close to two million a year. Sheesh!

But the root canal was quick and painless. It only took an hour. I was so stoned on the laughing gas that it seemed like five or six hours. I now know the meaning of the expression "going on a trip," because that's what it felt like. When I was coming out of it, I told the doctor, "Now I understand what the 60's era was all about." They must have really cranked the nitrous oxide that day. Wheeeeeee! Root canals have a bad rap; don't believe what you hear. It was a cakewalk.

Alas, it came time to go back to Dr. Mills and put a crown on the original tooth. When I walked into her office yesterday I announced, "You know, this is my third time in here in a month, and I have yet to get a single free toothbrush!" Everyone laughed.

I spent yet another two hours in her chair, watching the suspended TV while getting high. Insurance doesn't cover the $49 nitrous oxide charge, but I didn't care. I hate dental work, and I wasn't going to do it lucid.

Stoned, I asked Dr. Mills where my free toothbrushes were. She said I had to get with the staff on that. I replied, "But the staff told me to talk to you!" It was pretty funny.

They charged even more this time than for the crown on the other molar—unbelievably, more than the root canal itself. But I left with a little goody bag that included two 'free' toothbrushes.

The grand total spent on these two teeth in the past five weeks is close to $5,000. For two crowns and a root canal. That's a lot of toothbrushes. Insurance will cover about 60% of that. Hopefully. You know how it goes ("Oh, that's not covered under your policy. Read the fine print.")

I have yet to get my teeth cleaned this year. I told Dr. Mills I needed a vacation from the dental work, at least for a few weeks, then I'd come back for the routine cleaning.

Too bad you can't get laughing gas for that!

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Case of the Missing Fuzzy

Today is Friday. About a week and a half ago, Jelly lost her fuzzy. This is serious business.

Jelly has a multitude of fuzzies at home, but she concerns herself with only one of them. It's a white sphere of some kind of animal fur (probably fake). Originally, when I bought it in Virginia, it had a red elastic band attached to the center, and we played with it until the elastic broke off.

After that, Jelly became quite attached to her white fuzzy. She'd carry it around in her mouth, head held high, and sometimes bat it around on the wood floor. Eventually we started a game. Each night, I would put the fuzzy on my night stand before getting in bed to read. Jelly would come in, stand up on her hind legs, and reach out to the fuzzy on the table top. Pulling it toward her with a paw, she'd grab it with her mouth, turn around, and prance out of the room with it.

Then I'd hear her squeaking and mewing with the fuzzy for a while until it was time for her to go to bed. Inevitably, the fuzzy would be missing in the morning and eventually I'd look under my big comfy swivel chair and dig it out for her.

This has gone on for well over a year. I almost always knew where to find the fuzzy—under the chair where she couldn't get to it. One time that it was missing, I searched high and low for two days. I finally found it in between the sheets at the foot of my bed.

One other time I saw it in the litter box, half buried. Fortunately, it wasn't soiled. When I returned it, Jelly was unfazed.

After we moved to our new place, Jelly started losing her fuzzy under the laundry room door; or, sometimes I'd find it in the hall closet. Most every night, it's the same game: "Find the fuzzy."

Even on evenings when I was tired and all settled in with my book, I'd get out of bed to find the fuzzy if I'd forgotten to pick it up and put it on the night stand—because Jelly would be up on her hind legs looking for it, wondering why I wasn't playing the game.

On an extended search not long ago, I found the fuzzy buried in the litter box. This time it was not clean. It was attached to a kitty poopie. I took it out and rinsed it well in hot water. After it dried, it stank. So I washed it with soap and hot water, drying it with a hair dryer. It still stunk. I was sure that Jelly would have nothing to do with it.

So I went to the toy basket deep in the closet and got out a brand new white fuzzy, cutting off the elastic string. I took it to Jelly. One sniff and it was over for that fuzzy. She blatantly shunned it. Boy was I wrong. It tried yet another fuzzy. Same deal. I finally tossed her the stinky fuzzy; she gladly picked it up with her mouth, prancing off and mewing happily.

Before the fuzzy went missing, I could line up all three nearly identical white fuzzies in front of her, swap them around (like the shell game)—and she'd still pick up only the one particular fuzzy. Like a kid with his blankie. So I've felt obligated to do everything in my power to ensure the safe return of the fuzzy.

Last Tuesday or Wednesday after lights out, I inadvertently found the fuzzy in the sheets before falling asleep and tossed it blindly on top of the night stand. The next morning it was gone, and I haven't seen it since. Over the past nine or so days I've looked everywhere—at least two or four times. It's driving me nuts. That fuzzy is nowhere to be found. This has never happened.

And it breaks my heart. Each night, Jelly comes into the bedroom, sits up on the leather bench, and peers over at the night stand longingly. She looks to me, looks at the bed and the ottoman (where I have sometimes put the fuzzy for her to retrieve), and gives up.

Last weekend after searching every pillow case, I stripped the bed and washed the sheets. I donned rubber gloves and went through the kitchen trash, piece by piece. No fuzzy. Later I took the vacuum cleaner bag outside, ripped it open, and meticulously sifted through the piles of interwoven hair and lint. I knew I wouldn't find it in there, but I wouldn't rest without checking. I went through the used kitty litter in the litter trash can, breaking it up clump by clump. It wasn't in the Dust Buster or any of the house plants. It wasn't in any drawer or under any piece of furniture in this apartment. It isn't under or behind any cushin. I couldn't find it in any pocket in my coat closet. (Like it could land there in the first place.)

The cabinets have been searched. Yesterday I went back through the lower drawers, pulling out and shaking every piece of clothing. I took every cloth grocery bag out of my car trunk and hall closet. I emptied every basket. I went through every one of my 160+ shoes. I checked around all the stereo components enclosed in my A/V cabinet, under every pillow, behind the bed headboard.

I've looked behind books on shelves. Under the bed. Behind toilets. I pulled up every rug and looked under every appliance with a flash light multiple times. I checked around the hot water heater and dryer hose. Last night I took a flash light and painstakenly peeked into the crevice behind every dresser drawer (to the best of my ability).

I'm going insane.

Yesterday, on my mom's advice, I tried rubbing catnip on one of the other white fuzzies then coaxing Jelly to make friends with it. Nope. No dice. To create a positive association, I put it next to her food bowl. I put it next to her favorite treats on the floor as she gobbled them up. No good. She wants her fuzzy. It's her baby.

Nonetheless, I am going to continue encouraging her to adopt the "other" fuzzy as her own. For the old one is gone. Gone, gone, gone. I still have a hard time accepting that, and it's tough to not keep looking. I'm not sure which one of us needs therapy.

Fuzzy being rejected earlier this evening (note Jelly's ears folding back):

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fat Cats Don't Eat Salmon

It's weird, but my cat Baby practically jumps into my lap when she witnesses me sit down in my favorite chair with a salmon dinner. Salmon is one of my favorite foods, so I eat it often.

A few days ago I sat down with my salmon dinner plate on a tray in my lap. As always when eating salmon or chicken, I put one foot out in front of me to push the ottoman (that the cats are sprawled out upon) far, far away. This is primarily in an effort to alleviate Baby's pathetic begging and pleading that I am forced to endure.

This time, though Baby managed to stretch waaaaay over when I turned my head away for a split second. Before I knew it, she had a front paw on the edge of my dinner tray and a rear leg on the ottoman. Picture a cartoon character on a boat dock with one foot on the drifting boat and the other on one of the wooden planks of the pier. (Or, more appropriately, picture my sister Lisa in that precarious position. Last fall that is how she managed to tear her ACL.) Anyway, one of the two was destined to fall—Baby, or the tray of food.

It would have been a disaster if I hadn't caught the tray before it fell to the shag rug.

I got up, got Baby a little plate, and shared my (now getting cold) salmon with her, as usual.

Jelly, on the other hand, my 13.5-pound chubby cat, won't eat it. Freshly cooked salmon. It's just like my old tabby cat Martin (may he rest in peace!)—he wouldn't touch the stuff either. And it makes no sense because Jelly will eat just about anything else you put in front of her. And then continue to eat everyone else's.

But wait—allow me to tell you why I had momentarily turned my head away from my hot steaming yummy salmon dinner. It was to grab reading glasses. Why, you say, would anyone my age need reading glasses to eat dinner?!

Glad you asked. I now need reading glasses to see my plate. This enraging subject is definitely worthy of an entire epic blog post but—(just briefly)—the reason I can't see anything within five feet of my face anymore is because I made the colossal mistake of going back under the laser to have my under-corrected right eye corrected (after the LASIK incident of 2007). We won't even discuss the botched left eye today, which is still uncorrectable, except possibly by a whiz doc in British Columbia who has cornered the market on fixing decentered ablations.

No, never mind that.... I CAN'T SEE 90% of what I'm looking at, and I'M MAD.

Why do people get LASIK? Honestly, I thought the whole point of laser eye surgery was to get away from the inconvenience of glasses and contact lenses? You know how many pairs of glasses I own now, post-LASIK?? Sixteen.

Between home and work, I have two pair for computer distance, two pair for TV distance, and a total of twelve reading glasses stationed at various locations. Tonight, I discovered I need to put a pair in my car console as well for when I need to stop and read a map.

The magnification on the reading glasses I own ranges from 1.0 to 2.0 (as of now) to use at varying distances. I am not kidding. The four prescription pair of glasses I have are now useless. After my "corrective" surgery last Monday, I require 2.0 glasses to read a book. I also have to sit 12" from a computer screen, wearing 2.0 reading glasses, to do my job. Yeah, that's comfortable to do 10 hours a day.

On Tuesday when I went back for my next-day follow-up appointment, which is always a requirement after LASIK, I just sat there in the chair and cried, secretly wondering why I keep paying people to wreck my vision. I asked the doc to write me a prescription for my bad near-vision but he would not do that—at least, not for several days. He told me to come back in a week.

Thus, I will be returning to the laser doctor Wednesday to see what he can do to help me. Of course, this will mean more glasses. More money. More time away from work. More inconvenience.

Again, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. Clearly, I qualify.

If anyone asks for my advice about LASIK, it is this: Do not ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER, EVER get LASIK. This is an elective surgery. It is your choice. I'd give anything now to go back to wearing contact lenses during the day and prescription glasses at night, but it is too late.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's Baaaaaaaaack!

This weekend I was talking with my sister-in-law Judy about the pending annual pollen storm that lasts at least six weeks every spring. She said she could feel it coming. Her nose told her. Judy's instincts were right on. Monday afternoon, when I reached my car outside the Marta train station, it was coated with a layer of yellow pollen. I thought, "Oh no! The pollen is baaaack!"

I think that this is the longest I've been without updating my blog. That's because I recently moved yet again. I left my dumpy old apartment in Brookhaven because I was tired of the continual maintenance problems, the thin walls, and noisy neighbors. It was also really dangerous turning left in or out of that place because it sits on one of the busiest 6-lane arterials in the city. It always made me nervous, and I witnessed numerous accidents from my balcony, right in front of the building.

So I went through the pain, expense and massive time expenditure of moving to a slightly bigger place about three miles closer to work. The end result? For $200+ more a month, I now live in a place with funny loud mechanical noises and rattling pipes. During my first six weeks here, I experienced five times the number of maintenance issues than my last place had in the 11 months I was there. (I have the spreadsheet to prove it!) It takes me 20 minutes to drive the 1.6 miles home from one of the train stations nearby, or 12+ minutes to drive the one mile from a different station. (I could run home faster than that.)

Clearly I should simply never move again. Obviously I have bad luck with moving. It's as if I've broken a mirror every 7th year of my life.

I admit, I like the apartment. It has skylights, big closets, high ceilings, ceiling fans (a necessity in the South!), a huge fenced patio, and seems much bigger than my old place. I can't hear my neighbors except when they party on their patio next to my bedroom window late at night or leave their poor little dog outside whining and pining to come back inside on the weekends. (It breaks my heart!)

One drawback is lack of covered parking. I am not used to having to scrape ice off my car - hadn't had to do that in years. I'm definitely not going to like the lack of car cover, but I'll just have to live with it.

The apartment is unique because it is above some retail shops and restaurants. I can walk downstairs and get a good dinner for 10 bucks or a pedicure for $20. It's also extremely convenient to the interstates and isn't far from downtown.

So there. Now that things have finally slowed down at home (but are insanely busy at work), I've updated my blog. Finally!!

More later.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Moving: Never a Stree-free Event

This must be deja vu because I swear I've written this same post before. Moving, for me, is often a comedy of errors. Usually, if something can go wrong, it does.

Six days days before my move, I busted a toe pretty badly. Let's just say it hurt like you-know-what. Four days before my move, the worst winter storm to hit Atlanta in decades arrived. Needless to say, no one in the city raised a shovel, and the half foot of snow on the ground morphed into four inches of solid, immovable ice. Two days before my move, I strained my back (just from general moving tasks like lifting heavy dish pack boxes).

Then on Friday, I moved. That part went OK, despite the ice. I did a ton of the work myself (plus had my brother Dave's help) the day before, but for the big stuff I hired Buckhead Movers. I actually got an excellent moving crew and am still thanking God for that huge favor. It ended up costing me less than I expected because the work (@$170/hour) got done quickly. That rarely happens, I swear.

My new apartment was recently renovated. Before moving in, I didn't understand why the bathroom had this big, long, beautiful cabinet but no drawers. There was space for drawers, with cover plates over the drawer openings, but no drawers. The apartment manager-slash-caretaker—a fantastic guy by the name of Justin—looked at the old construction contract and, sure enough, the contractor had taken a shortcut. Consequently, he was called back out and installed the drawers before I moved in. Yay.

By Friday night I realized I had no hot water in my kitchen. I checked all the valves under the sink; everything was wide open. All weekend I had no hot water in that faucet. On Monday morning while I was talking to Justin about it on the phone, I tested it, and sure enough, water came out of the hot water side and heated up. This morning, I got up and there was no hot water again.

Also by Friday night I discovered that the toilet in my master bath had stopped flushing. I knew it had worked once before and just assumed one of my movers had clogged it. Justin came out Monday, plunged it a few times, and it worked. He left; an hour later it stopped flushing. . . again.

Yesterday I went in to the office for the first time in eleven days. (We were told to work remotely during the inclement weather, due to icy road conditions.) I lasted five hours sitting at my computer before I had to come home. My back couldn't handle all that sitting. It was (and still is) truly 'out.' I haven't had this kind of incapacitating back pain in five years.

Meanwhile, Justin had called his favorite plumbers; but, after 30 minutes of effort, they were unable to fix the non-flushing toilet. They replaced it with a brand new one. By the end of their two-hour visit, the hot water was working in the kitchen sink again. I couldn't wait for them to leave so I could lie down. But guess what? I woke up today, barely hobbled out of bed to feed the kitties, and there was no hot water in the kitchen again. Obviously, it's time for a new hot water heater.

Deja vu! My last apartment needed a new hot water heater too. But the difference is that the manager over at Brookhaven Condos made me suffer through three weeks of cold showers before lifting a finger to fix it.

Here's another funny story. I'd purchased a new washer/dryer at Brandsmart to be delivered on Saturday. I specifically told the salesman that I needed an 8-foot dryer hose because there is a hot water heater in the middle of my utility room. So he sells me a cheapo "expandable to 8 feet" aluminum hose, along with a 4' electrical cable. When the delivery and installation folks arrived, they couldn't install my W/D because the 8' hose is a piece of crap (once it is stretched out, it just bends and breaks), and the 4' cord was too short. We couldn't swap the washer and dryer locations because the drain hose for the washer was too short.

The delivery guy was beyond unprofessional, carrying on in quasi-English about how those stupid salesmen at the store don't know what they're doing and how "Dey only want yo' money!" I called the store and got more grief from the sales manager. He had the gall to tell me that that hose is the only kind they sell. When I informed him that I had told the sales guy specifically how much clearance I needed, he argued and said, "I can't help it if he doesn't understand English," in reference to the sales guy (who has an African accent). Note that I'd actually been pleasantly surprised at the excellent sales experience at Brandsmart—I truly liked my African American sales guy.

That racist comment really set me off.

After the sales manager argued with me some more on the phone, I said, "Take it back. Take it all back." Only then did he become nice and stop arguing. He claimed he'd refund me the lousy $25 for the dryer kit and said that if I went out and bought the necessary parts, he'd send an installation team out Monday. So, over the weekend, I went to Lowes and Home Depot. I spent nearly $50 on a better ("slinky") hose, an aluminum elbow and connector, and a 6' electrical cord.

Because the delivery guys had failed to bring product manuals, I downloaded the dryer installation guide from the Internet, and I hooked up the appliances myself. Now I need to call that sales manager back and ask to have my delivery/installation fee refunded.

Another thing I noticed and pointed out to Justin yesterday was that there are no lights underneath my kitchen cabinets. Lots of space, but no lighting. Guess what? Turns out, that work was outlined in the contract too, but the contractor (despite putting cabinet lighting in all the other renovated units) just forgot.

The plumbers were great. Before putting the toilet paper on its holder, one of them asked me, "By preference, are you under or over?" Too funny.

I said, "You're the only man to ever ask me that!" Talk about attention to detail. Needless to say, these aren't the same guys who were contracted during the renovation. As one of them said, "Contractors give me most my work." Ain't that the truth!

Last night I was in bed by 5:45PM, nursing my back. Today I stayed in bed till 11AM, and I'm on my way back to bed now. I can barely sit at all. I certainly can't get in the car and drive. Looks like I'll be working on my next day off to make up for missed work this week. And then some.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Southern Snow Shovel

I currently live in an in-city high-rise on Peachtree Road that houses hundreds of Brookhaven residents. This is one of the worst places I've ever lived. The elevators are broken much of the time—way too often. The plumbing is old and not well-maintained. Pipes burst, flooding apartments or the downstairs storage area, on a regular basis. Worse, the front office staff response to incidents like that is, "Well, it's a high-rise; water is going to flow down!" In other words, flooding is to be expected, and I should have known that before I stored all my valuables in my assigned storage bin in the basement.

I kid you not.

My hot water heater was 25 years old (at least ten years past its normal 'life'), and it took three weeks of cold showers last February and excessive coaxing to get management to replace it. They'd told me it was only about 10 years old, but the serial number displayed a manufacture date of 9/85. My icemaker didn't work when I first moved in, but the maintenance guy didn't believe me. Despite no ice falling at all in the 24 hours since I'd lowered the lever, he said it takes "days" for it to fill the bucket. A week later, they replaced the ice maker. And the kitchen faucet.

There have been dozens of other issues. Needless to say, the building management and staff here is a tad inept. I didn't expect any differently when the snow started to fall after 8PM on Sunday. A basic rule of thumb for winter storm safety is this: remove the snow while it is still snow. Later, it becomes slush; then it turns into thick, lumpy, solid ice that is impossible to drive or walk on.

As the snow fell Sunday night, as clearly predicted several days in advance, building staff didn't lift a single finger to remove the snow. Consequently, by Tuesday a solid moat of ice had formed around the building. The driveway was impassable, leaving hundreds of residents imprisoned here in the building for days.

On Day 3, I was worried. I am scheduled to begin moving today, and the movers are due here tomorrow. I finally ventured downstairs yesterday to see how the driveway looked. As I exited, I bumped into the non-English speaking groundskeeper on his way into the building. My first thought was, "Oh good, they are finally out working on the problem." That was when I looked down and realized that what he was carrying was not a snow shovel but rather a garden hoe. "Oh my god," I thought to myself sarcastically, "He thinks that's a snow shovel."

Needless to say, the 4" thick ice moat was still 100% intact.

Yes, this is the South. No, it doesn't normally snow this much. And, usually, if it does snow a significant amount, it doesn't stick (or stick around). Typically, it's gone in a day. But this was different. The weatherman clearly advised us that the storm would start Sunday night, dumping up to six inches of snow on Atlanta. We were also forewarned that the storm would continue on Monday, in the form of sleet, freezing rain, and ice, and that temperatures would remain below freezing for several days.

We all heard the news, well in advance. If I was still in NY, or even D.C., building maintenance crews would have stayed up all night shoveling snow, and residents would have awakened to a clear driveway and clear sidewalks.

My apartment building management and maintenance staff chose not to respond. This does not surprise me. God forbid there ever be a real emergency in this decrepit building. They will be sadly unprepared.

Today, I pray for sunshine and temperatures above freezing. I just want to move tomorrow and get the heck out of this broken-down place!

On a side note: I haven't been in my car since Sunday. One reason not to get on the road this week is because your less intelligent breed of southerner thinks that he can drive on this treacherous ice at normal speeds (which in Atlanta is 20mph over the limit). Take this moron, for example, who spun his tires on the ice so long that he killed his BMW in flames. See You Tube for the (illegally recorded) newscast.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Hazards of Moving

Last night I was watching the Seattle-New Orleans playoff game when I got up to go do something and ran right smack dab into an Oreck hand vac situated on the floor of my dark bedroom in a place previously unoccupied by any objects. . . until I'd started the moving process, that is. One of the hazards of moving is objects not being in their usual places, lying in wait to stub a toe or bruise a limb.

And I am the queen of moving bruises. I still have a bruise on my left arm from my last move—11 months ago!—a dark purple mark that my dad mistook for a tattoo this past summer.

Yesterday, it was my pinky toe that took the brunt of the hit. I yelled out in pain, and went straight to the floor to hug my toe. Both my kitties came running mmediately to see if I was OK. Baby proceeded to bite me in the back to ensure I was still alive (and able to feed her going forward). She does this whenever I yell out in sudden pain.

I suspected the toe was broken, but since the skin hadn't changed colors, I wasn't sure. So I got back in my chair to watch the game. Later, I got up to get an ice pack from the freezer. Suddenly, from the kitchen, I could hear the Seattle fans going ballistic. I turned back toward the TV to see a Seattle running back making his way down field as if in slow motion, flicking off tacklers like fleas as he completed an astounding 67-yard touchdown. It was one of the greatest plays I'd ever seen in football.

I was jumping up and down and hollering, "Go Hawks! Woo-hoo!" It was an amazing run that made me forget (momentarily) about my toe, until I realized that jumping up and down on it was probably not a good idea.

I was glad to see the Hawks win that game. Don't get me wrong, being a Cajun at heart, I am a Saints fan. But Seattle is closer to the heart for me.

I went to bed and just knew that my little toe was broken because it hurt to touch the sheets. This stinks! This is moving week for me. I have a ton of work to do. Fortunately, I started packing the week before Christmas and moving boxes and small furniture items into two storage units ten flights down from my apartment. This reduces the amount of time the movers have to spend treking back and forth on the elevator next Thursday. These guys get paid by the hour, and I'm so sick of moving that I want it over as quickly as possible.

Hence, I always end up doing half the work myself.

To make matters worse, we are expecting a huge winter storm (and potentially six inches of snow) to hit the area tonight and tomorrow. I keep moving further south, but that doesn't seem to reduce the amount of snowfall I endure every winter. This is Atlanta, for Pete's sake. It's not supposed to snow that much here.

I'm waiting for the emergency clinic to open at noon so that I can get my toe X-rayed and splinted. I debated going at all, and instead treating it at home, but the last time I did that with a significant injury (torn hamstring), I only made it worse. That was 2.5 years ago, and my hamstring still hasn't healed. Don't think I'll risk it with a toe. Not on moving week.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year, 2011!

Yesterday when I was waiting on the exposed, windy train platform to go to work at 06:30, I was wearing a winter coat, gloves, and ear muffs. This afternoon as I left the mall to drive home, I threw my coat in the trunk and put the top down on my convertible.

This weather is bizarre.

Since the week before Christmas, I've been packing for my next move. Believe it or not. And I woke up at 5:00AM today, so I'm too tired to ring in the new year.

If I believed in having New Year's Resolutions, I would have to vow to quit moving. At least for a year. I sure hope my new place is quieter and has less (or no) maintenance issues than this place. The maintenance man may as well set up a cot in here because this place has had every problem imaginable. It's a miserable old, unkempt building. I've only been here 10 months, and I can't wait to leave.

Well, it's 9:00 and I'm off to bed, so happy new year to all! May you be "too blessed to be stressed" (as a gem of a woman named Merry at work says every day), and may you be blessed with happiness, health, and love throughout the coming new year.

And... most importantly, Happy Birthday to my adorable niece, Maddie!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Famous Last Words

I gave all my winter coats to Good Will this year because they were too big. When I was shopping for a new coat, my sister-in-law Judy mentioned, "You won't need a winter coat here [in Atlanta]."

At 6:30AM this past Monday when I got into my car in the open air parking deck at my apartment building, my BMW thermometer indicated it was 21 degrees. As I drove out from under the deck, the temperature dropped even more. The drive to the Marta train is only a couple minutes, so I don't bother turning on the heat. It would never warm up in time.

I was wearing a turtleneck, jacket, coat, scarf, gloves, ear muffs, and hat. Standing on the open train platform, the wind ripped right through me. It was very cold. The next day was even windier and colder, when my car registered the temp at 16 degrees! Waiting for that late train in the eye-tearing wind was the longest five minutes of my life. My gloved fingers burned as if frost-bitten when I got on the warm train. The wind chill factor must've been below 10.

The next day we had freezing rain and ice. I slipped on the ice in the parking lot next door while picking up my mail on the way home from the Marta. Big mistake. Traffic was a huge nightmare. Atlanta motorists had lost all sense of civility.

I live in a huge shopping district, where traffic is absolutely horrendous this time of year. Add ice, early darkness, and below freezing temps to that, and you get some pretty grumpy drivers.

Leaving the parking lot, I grumbled to myself about the monstrous SUV parked next to me blocking my view as I backed out of my space in my tiny car. So I backed out very slowly. I was halfway out and nearly jumped out of my seat when someone laid on their horn. I looked around the SUV, and there was a Jeep wrangler at least five full car lengths away, horn wailing at me for trying to inch out of my space safely. All they had to do was stop and let me out, as most Atlantans would in the same situation, but they'd come flying through the icy lot and were in a hurry. I pulled back in and let the jerk pass. Turns out, her "emergency" was that she needed to get to the sub shop at the end of the shopping strip; there she made a dangerous u-turn to whip into the space closest to the sub shop.

I had some choice words for her as I passed and left the lot assured that she will die early of clogged arteries from too many salami and pepperoni subs.

I finally got out of the shopping plaza to drive the remaining block home. But then I could barely make the left turn into my apartment building from the infamously dangerous Peachtree Road. The three lanes of northbound traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see. The challenge wasn't turning in (as it usually is), it was getting into the middle turn lane, which folks in the opposite direction had decided to use (illegally, mind you) as a driving lane. I have seen so many accidents caused by people driving in the turn lane in front of my building.

So I was facing oncoming traffic in the turn lane for the first time ever. This time, I was the one who blew the horn. Finally I got home and swore I wouldn't go out again until the temperatures were above freezing.

People get so antsy here when the traffic piles up. They block intersections, rudely jump from lane to lane to be "first" in line, and create a hazardous driving experience for everyone else. This week they went over the top. I really hate driving. It's much more tolerable in the warm weather when I can put the top down and enjoy it. It's times like this that I miss the NYC subway and bus system!

I gotta move off this road. It's bad enough that my apartment is an ongoing maintenance/noise nightmare and that the elevators are broken half the time; but it is just too dangerous to turn left in and out of my apartment complex. I suspected that that would be an issue, but I needed a place to live, so I took it.

Time to start packing for move #47. (I think. I lost count....)

On the brighter side, I'm tickled to death that I don't have to travel for Christmas this year! For once, it's just an hour's drive to my parents' house. Yay!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jelly's Own Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We had a wonderful feast at Mom & Dad's on Thursday. It was a good family gathering. My sister Lisa and her kids came from Tennessee, and my brother Dave's family was there, of course. The group of 17 included my sister-in-law Judy's parents and my cousins Debbie and Jenny (and Jenny's family).

The only local family members missing from the event were Buddy the dog and Jelly & Baby (my sweet adorable kitties). However, today I discovered that Jelly (clearly it was Jelly, not Baby) had her own little day-after Thanksgiving celebration in the closet of my second bedroom. On Friday I'd gone to City Dog Market to buy the girls' usual two bags of Innova dried food—the regular kind and the low-calorie kind, which I mix together.

Usually I dump the bags of dry food directly into a big plastic container. But this time I didn't. I decided the food would stay fresher if I waited a couple weeks, until the current supply of Innova was fully depleted. As I placed the two bags on the closet floor, my thoughts about the possibility of anyone trying to get into the food quickly dismissed any such silliness: "My girls are good girls. They would never chew through the bags."

How wrong I was. I got home today from some local exploring by car (in search of my next home) and was surprised to see one of the bags of cat food on its side on the floor, a large hole carefully carved out of it. There were a couple small scraps of the foil paper-lined bag on the floor. But as I write this, I realize now that there was much less volume of paper scraps than the size of the hole warrants. Hmmm. . . . I can't wait for that to show up in the litter box.

Clearly Jelly is the culprit. Going to the effort to chew a hole in a bag is more trouble than Baby would think it's worth. If Baby wants food, she either eats Jelly's food or she sits next to her bowl, looks directly at me from across the room, and meows. Once. She knows I'll feed her. Baby only eats when she's hungry.

Jelly, on the other hand, thinks about food constantly. It's not like I don't feed her enough. It's that she likes to eat a lot more than she needs (not unlike most Americans). What's funny is that the bag that she chewed open contained the low-cal food, not the good stuff. I laughed at her for that misstep. Burglary is obviously not her forte.

On Thanksgiving, I was good. I am very careful about what foods I choose at these large gatherings at my mom's. The food is always so good. If I ate everything I wanted to eat, I'd be shopping for a new, larger wardrobe in no time. But I've managed to lose close to 40 pounds and have spent a small fortune on an entirely new wardrobe, so I'm not about to overdo it.

Clearly Jelly is not as concerned about her wardrobe.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fall in Atlanta

Hard to believe that we are less than two weeks away from Thanksgiving. Last night I had to turn on my A/C for a couple hours. True story. Temps are in the mid-70's in Atlanta this week. Yesterday I found excuses to run errands just so I could put the top down and enjoy the sunshine and low humidity. It was bliss.

Things have been busy here. My brother Dave and his wife Judy held their big annual Halloween bash at their house. This party is such a big ordeal that they start decorating their house and the extensive haunted forest (out back) about two months in advance. They are still un-decorating now and might be done by the time they put up their Christmas tree.

The weather was perfect, and the costumes were fun. Two of my cousins were able to make it to the party, too. I went dressed as a cop again. I noticed that there were a lot of witches at the party, and cowboys too.

Last weekend my friend Rebecca from GW came down with her husband for an overnight stay. They had tickets to see their favorite musician Sufjan Stevens at the 100-year-old Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta. I'd never seen anyone so excited to go to a concert before. Tim and Rebecca are hard-core fans of this artist and had never had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, so this was a big deal to them.

I'd never heard of Sufjan, but he was good. Not only was the music great, but he put on a fantastic show as well. It's hard to describe Sufjan. He's extremely talented—plays about 17 instruments, I believe. I think the best way to describe his sound is "folk/pop/rock."

He had two of everything - two pianists, two bassists, two drummers, two brass, and two backup singers/dancers. Sufjan would change 'costumes' on the fly on stage by switching out hats and other attire. And boy is he a cutie! It was an unusual show, and I liked it.

I don't go to concerts very often, so I'm not used to staying out as late as we did. Just as the music was beginning, I looked at my watch and thought, "Hmmm. It's almost my bedtime." Three hours later we were fighting the parking garage traffic for what seemed like forever to get out. But it was worth it to see this unusual and very popular artist and his cult-like following.

Earlier, while downtown on a very cold and windy day, the three of us visited the World of Coca-Cola, which was pretty neat—especially the 4-D movie.

Today my 7-year-old niece Maddie is playing in her first piano recital, so we'll have another family get-together for that. Her sister Katie just turned five years old this past week; but, rather than attend her birthday party this afternoon, I'm taking my parents to the High Museum to see the Salvadore Dali exhibit.

It is fall in Atlanta. The trees are in peak color, the weather is gorgeous, and I'm still enjoying life!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Finally... a Real Job

I started my new job in Midtown three weeks ago. I am still thanking God every five minutes for this job, which is with a fantastic organization—easily the best I've ever been part of.

I work in a highly secure building, and there are certain rules about public disclosure that I must abide by. Technically, I'm not allowed to name my work place on any public forum. Let's just say it's a large financial institution. But it's not a bank.

My job is information security. I have so much work ahead of me that if I were to stop and consider it all, it would boggle my mind. So I take it one step at a time. The people I work with are fantastic. I've never felt more welcome on a new job. Complete strangers pass me in the hallway, stop and say, "You must be new here. What's your name? Welcome!"

Most are seasoned veterans of the organization. My boss has been there 15 years, my "buddy" (who is showing me the ropes) has been there 25 years. My IT support person, 18 years. Most of the folks I've met have been there, on average, 20 years. This is unlike any place I've worked the past 20 years—there is virtually no turnover.

That's because nobody leaves (by choice, anyway). The real kicker is that everyone I've met is truly happy to be there. I'm not used being surrounded by contented people. What I am used to is the constant ranting of complainers and whiners—especially on my short-lived Wall Street job of 2007-2008. This job makes that place look like a complete joke. What a bunch of whiney, overpaid brats! Looking back, I can't even believe I had to live with so much crap on a daily basis.

I've heard from several folks in the Atlanta area that I'm very lucky to have found a job with this organization. Many people are envious. Others want me to find jobs for their friends.

The building I'm in is new and is gorgeous—all marble with high ceilings and beautiful decor. There is a nice gym, a partially subsidized cafeteria, and a coffee/gift shop. My cubicle is great; it's pretty sizable and comes complete with coat closet. The location is perfect, just steps from the Marta station. And the company pays for public transportation, so I take the train to work. (The waiting list for on-site employee parking is 11 years. Like I said, people don't leave.)

I have a brand new Blackberry, tablet notebook PC, large monitor, and travel bag on rollers. My IT person wears a suit. She is helpful and friendly. Now, that is impressive. I am so weary of self-entitled IT people (read: brats) who choose to wear jeans to work when all around them are dressed professionally. My boss is a dream; he is completely hands-off and lets me do my job. All the micro-managers of my past have served no purpose other than generating migraines.

The benefits package rivals that of a former employer, Microsoft—something I never thought I'd be privileged to say again. While most companies are offering two weeks' annual paid time off to new employees, mine offers twice that.

One of the best things about this job is that I have three days off every week. I have my choice of flex work schedules. I chose a 4x10. I work four ten-hour days and take the fifth day off. This truly is a life changer. Americans work too long and too hard. Having that extra day off every week makes going to work the first of the week a positive thing. I go in refreshed, having had three full days off for chores, errands, family time, and relaxtion. Ever since I left Duke Power in the mid-90's I've longed for the day I can work a flex schedule again. My day has come!

I keep pinching myself. Did I really get this lucky? After years of being miserable in the workplace, what did I do to deserve this wonderful job? Will this last? I truly want to retire with this company. I have never felt that way about any company I've worked for. Besides, this is the only place I've ever worked that offers a pension plan. Man, nobody does that anymore! For years, I've been worried about my retirement. Finally, I'm not worried any longer.

The downside? It is this: the stupid hand soap dispensers in the bathroom operate on an electronic eye that doesn't seem to detect my hand waving furiously in front of it, begging for a squirt of cleansing foam.

But the fact that I, for once, don't have to glue a nametag to my chair so that it doesn't get "borrowed" from my cubicle, never to reappear, makes up for my one single complaint that the soap dispensers are ignoring me. Besides that, the restrooms and facility are the cleanest I've ever worked in.

Honestly, I have no complaints.

Man am I lucky! Thank you, God!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Short Film from Afghanistan

My nephew Jason came to visit us in Atlanta this week while on a 30-day leave following his 7-month tour in Afghanistan. He took some excellent photos over there, and shot some video that I've watched several times. It gives me chills every time I see it.

In the shots where you see three machine gunners returning fire, Jason is the Marine in the middle of the three. You can identify him by the white rectangular object strapped to the left side of his helmet. (Jason, that had better be a bar of soap and not a pack of cigarettes!)

Click here to watch the video posted on YouTube.

Also, you can vote on a small subset of Jason's photos that were entered into an international photography competition at this link. Just click on the stars in the upper-right hand corner of the page to cast your vote.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Drive Down Memory Lane

I took a road trip to Charlotte this weekend to see Chris, one of my two oldest friends. Here we are yesterday:

And here we are 30 years ago:

It is pretty hard to believe that it's been over three decades since the two of us, along with our friend Missy, were a trio of inseparable high school girls.

What is even harder to believe is that Chris's eldest son is 24, and she and her husband are celebrating twenty five years of marriage this year. Of all the couples I know, Chris and John are one of the happiest. You should see them together—they are best friends. They laugh a lot, which I think is the glue that holds a marriage together.

I fell in love with their cocker spaniel, Molly. This was my first time meeting her. She served as the welcoming committee. She was so excited to meet me that her little squiggly butt nearly peed on me. She's little Miss Social, kind of like my Baby.

It's funny, John thought that since I'm a "cat person," I wouldn't care too much for a dog. Are you kidding me?! I love puppy dogs. I'm just too busy moving to actually have one. Cats are much easier to keep at home when you live in an apartment, and I'm not too thrilled about the thought of walking a dog (rain or shine) every morning at oh-dark-thirty no matter what kind of mood I'm in. Besides, a dog needs a yard. High-rise apartment buildings just don't seem suitable for puppy dogs.

Anyway, I had a great time with Chris and her family. The drive was only four hours. It was 90 degrees and cloudless today, so I had the top down for the entire trip home (with literally four layers of sun screen on my face - SPF 15, 70, 25, and 30). I was slathering the 45 on my arms on the interstate.

It was weird driving down Independence Boulevard in Charlotte on my way to Chris's house. I lived in that city for nearly 10 years, back in the 80's. First I passed the old Charlotte Coliseum, now called "Bojangles Coliseum," which sounds so cheesy. I was delivering a pizza nearby there in 1985 or 86 when I was robbed.

Then I passed Briarcreek Road, where I had an apartment when Hurricane Hugo hit us (200 miles inland) on September 22, 1989, making most streets impassable and knocking out my power for five days. I'd been out drinking with friends the night before; I came home, put in my ear plugs, and slept through the massive Category 3 storm.

Then I passed the infamous Sharon Amity Road, where I was hit by a truck in my VW Rabbit while delivering a pizza late at night. That was September 22, 1985. I don't recall that event or most of the decade surrounding it.

I drove by a car dealership where I'd purchased one of the 17 different cars I've owned in my life (most of those in Charlotte).

I also passed by the newer office complex where Microsoft Product Support Services is now located, not far from the old location on Tyvola Road where I serendipitously started my computer career in 1991.

It was surreal to be back in Charlotte all these years later. And then to hear the stories from Chris about those days—because she remembers stuff that I'll never be able to recall—like my hiring her husband to be a driver at a Picaso's Pizza store I ran back in the day.... And all the other great stories about how she met John while she was still in college and engaged to another guy. Apparently I played a role in the plot to tell her parents of her dilemma at the time. I honestly don't recall any of that because it all happened in the month of my accident.

We laughed so much this weekend that my stomach hurt. I love Chris. There is just nothing in this world like an old, best friend. And even though we've seen each other only every few years since the old days, every time we get together it is as though no time has passed at all.