Memories of Chris, ten years later.

I realized while going through the remnants of my old blog that it’s been ten years since Chris passed away.   I’ve outlived a great many friends and loved ones, and some people leave more of a mark on you than others.  Chris was like that- he definitely made an impression.

I first met him in the very early 1990s on an accidental double date.  It wasn’t supposed to be a date-  Jade, one of my best friends at the time, wanted me to meet her friend Amy and arranged a meet-up at a local pool room. Amy brought Chris along, and we got on brilliantly.  After we all left the pool hall, we drove to the Lake Worth Pier.   Chris wanted to talk to Jade on the drive over,  so when we reached a stoplight, he got out of his car and knocked on my window.  A brief car switcheroo commenced, and we each drove the rest of the way to the pier in the other’s car.  This was the first of many shenanigans over the span of our friendship.

If you called Chris by his full name, he would say “the Topher is silent.”  After Chris died December 28th, 2009, from complications of pneumonia, that sentiment is truer than ever.

Chris and I were thick as thieves through most of the 1990s. We took classes together at PBCC, before it evolved into its current form. In 1994, we got an apartment in Boynton Beach and spent a year as roommates. We worked at Motorola together making the circuit boards for pagers.  He stayed on at Motorola when I left to finish my bachelor’s degree in Orlando.

A lot of who I am today was the direct result of my time with him. Being around Chris shaped parts of my personality.  Chris is one of the few people I have ever known with a music collection that was larger than mine-  we became fiercely competitive about the size of our CD collections.   It was all in fun, though-  there’s a ton of music in my regular rotation even now that I might never have been exposed to if not for him.

To this day, there are certain things that are indelibly linked to Chris in my mind.  There are certain songs, certain places, certain concepts that will always remain linked to him in my mind.  Whenever I see a Volkswagen Golf, or drive to South Beach near the former location of his favorite pizza restaurant in Key Biscayne, my mind drifts back to the past.

The memorial service was a traditional funeral mass, and I think Chris would have been terribly amused at how much the British reverend sounded like Rowan Atkinson. I kept waiting for him to say “…and the Holy Spigot.”  The only people I knew at the church were his mom, his widow, and my good and dear friend Lorrie. I’ve known Lorrie since middle school, but this was the first time that I’ve seen her in person in over a decade.  I noted a few days later how much it bothered me that it took the death of one friend to bring me back into the life of another friend.  Lorrie and I never fell out of touch again after that.  Even now, she’s a frequent concert-and-convention buddy.

But then, Chris was always a catalyst in my universe. The people from his world and the people from my world tended to get to know one another.  And quite a few of them miss him even now.

4/52

Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.
Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.

Just ow. Did I mention ow?

On Friday, I tripped on a curb and wiped out pretty hard. I am ok; I am scraped and sore, but not permanently injured. I didn’t see that there was a curb there, and by the time I realized something was wrong I was already falling and there was nothing I could do but take the fall. There’s an awful sickening moment when you’re falling where you’re aware of the fact that you’re ass over teakettle, but also aware that there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening.  I do not like being upside-down and out of control.

The whole experience has caused me to reminisce a little bit about my history of trips, falls, and injuries. Here’s the thing- the vast majority of my injuries throughout my life have been downright cartoonish. I’ll give you two examples.

In the first, it was the summer between ninth and tenth grade. I was riding a ten-speed bike through the Springhill neighborhood where my friends Brian and Phil lived. We were doing this insanely stupid thing where you close your eyes for a moment while riding, just to feel the wind and sun on your face. As you can imagine, this backfired splendidly- in rapid succession, I hit a mailbox and then the ground. The front fork of the ten-speed (which was borrowed from my brother’s friend) was bent at 90 degrees, and I landed in a broken heap at the foot of someone’s driveway.

A small child, smaller than me at least, walked down from the front step where he had been sitting, looked down at me, and demanded, “do that again!”

The specific break of my wrist that I got by hitting the pavement was such an obscure type of break that the doctor reading the x-rays had to look up the name of the specific type of break. I wore a cast for a few months, and that part of my right wrist still hurts from time to time.

In a second very cartoonish injury, I needed seven stitches in my left shin after I fell into an open manhole. I was closing up at work, walking a path I’d taken many times before to go to the utility room on the far side of the building. It was dark, and I was unaware there was a manhole there. Some workers had left it open earlier in the day, and by the time I realized there was a problem, I was six feet shorter and dangling by my elbows. I flailed on the way down in such a way that my arms hit the rim before I fell all the way down.  My left shin caught the edge on the way down, and I’d bled all over my shoe by the time I pulled myself back up. The hair on that part of my shin hasn’t grown there ever since, which gives me a weird little bald patch a few inches above the ankle.

When my injuries weren’t ridiculous and cartoonish and self-inflicted, they were usually at the hands of my brothers. Brothers are good for that sort of thing. I have one scar on my knee from when I was playing tug of war with my brother over a piece of the grill before we went on a family vacation. He let go, I kept pulling, and suddenly I had a gouge in my knee.

In another instance, my brothers taught me to fly. Each had me by an arm and a leg, and they were swinging me back and forth. Every time this comes up, and it comes up fairly often at family gatherings, my elder brother swears he didn’t mean to let go. Let go he did, though- both of them did. I flew splendidly through the air, right into the arm of a nearby chair. To this day, I can’t grow a full beard on my chin because of the scar there.

The scar on my forehead? That’s from where my siblings pushed tiny-me’s tricycle into a wall. I have a litany of smaller but less permanent injuries from various competitions and fights with my siblings, including one hilarious time that I was racing Jon down the street on our Schwinn bicycles and I rammed right into the side of a car that had just backed out of the driveway. I flew over the handlebars, slid over the hood of the car, and fell in a crumpled heap to the ground on the other side, laughing all the while. That poor woman was so traumatized, but I just thought it was the most fun I’d had all day. All boys love the Luke Duke hood-slide, even if they don’t know who Luke Duke is.

Sometimes I think that I really ought to just bubble wrap everything in my apartment – I crack my knee on the coffee table at least once a week, I whack my hand on doorframes as I walk past, and stubbing my toe is almost a scheduled event.  Maybe I should wear a hazard suit at home.

None of these injuries will ever be quite as over the top ridiculous as the stuff I did when I was younger, though.   As for my brothers and sister, I have a sneaky suspicion that all the shared trauma when we were kids is a big part of why we’re so close now as adults.  That’s as good a theory as any, I suppose.

What’s the most memorable time you have ever injured yourself?

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Another year has ended. Hello, 2020!

As 2019 ends and we enter the roaring 20s, it’s time for my yearly wrap-up and review post. This was an eventful year for me, with the passage of my father and a significant job change that I haven’t really talked about on the blog.

It’s also the closing of a decade, and for me, that’s much more momentous-  at the start of 2010, I owned a condominium in South Florida, lived with my girlfriend and her adorable cat, and had been with the same company for eight years.   I stayed with that same company until they dissolved in 2016, but during that time, they sent me abroad, and I worked for them in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Bavaria.

At the start of the 2010s, K and I split up amicably and I short-sold my condo.  I moved into my brother’s spare room for a short while, then I began a string of moves that would take me to Germany and back.  I started this blog, visited twenty-seven new countries, and saw countless concerts and musicals.   I dated other people after K, and stayed with someone for about four years who ultimately wasn’t right for me.   I’ve been single since that relationship ended, and I have no interest in changing that status- I’m not entirely closed to the idea of love, but I’m not looking for it either.  As long as I have friends to go with me to concerts and cons and restaurants, I’m doing just fine.

At the end of 2010, my newest niece was a newborn, and now she’s an adorable nine-year-old lunatic-smartypants.  The lunacy runs in the family, and it’s entertaining as hell to watch my brother coping with fatherhood.  My sister and I have started an annual tradition of taking a trip every year during her summer break from teaching.  This started when I was overseas and we went to Rome and Venice together, but in recent years we’ve taken trips to other places we hadn’t been like Boston and Philadelphia.  The rest of my very large family has spread geographically, in interesting ways.  My sister’s branch of the family all moved up to Orlando before I moved back up, and various aunts and uncles all moved from northern climes down to Florida.  Some of my cousins are closer than ever before, and some are further away.

In the past ten years, I’ve strengthened and reinforced some of the deepest friendships of my life, and I’ve made many, many new friends all over the world.  I’ve traveled extensively, and I’ve seen things that have enriched my soul in ways I can’t even fully quantify.   I would call the past ten years a wildly successful part of my life.

theycantalk.com is really great! go there now!

Let’s get back to the regular year-in-review stuff.  I started doing goals instead of resolutions last year, after realizing that resolutions are kind of pointless and they never last the entire year anyway.    How did I do on last year’s goals?

2019 goal – Be healthier: Eat better, sleep more, and get some damn exercise.

I did ok on eating better, but my sleep and exercise habits are still basically rubbish.  I let my gym membership lapse this year, because when I do work out, it’s either in the apartment gym or at home.

For 2020, I obviously need to keep moving forward on this one.   Working from home warps my sense of what time and what day it is and getting out of the house regularly helps recalibrate that.

2019 goal – Travel more: I’ve decided on a try to make at least three out of state trips and at least one international trip for the year.

I didn’t make it out of the country this year, but I flew to New York three times, as well as trips to Dallas, Philadelphia,  Chicago, and Washington DC.  I’d call this one a success despite the lack of international travel.

For 2020, I still have no International travel on deck, but I already have plans for a few out-of-state trips.

  • My cousin is getting married in the mountains about forty miles from Portland, so I’m going to spend a few days in PDX before the wedding.  After the festivities, my sister and I will be taking our annual summer sibling trip by going to see Seattle.  (We’ll already be on the left coast, so it makes sense to try to fit that visit in while we’re already most of the way there.)
  • I’ve got tickets to a concert in Nashville later in the summer, so I’ll be checking out that city as well.
  • For the first time since 2003, I plan on going to DragonCon in Atlanta.
  • I almost pulled the trigger on airfare to the Waikiki Spam Jam (I’ve wanted to go for years,) but my Portland/Seattle trip will eat a lot of time and I don’t want to ridiculously overdo the time-off requests at my job.

2019 goal – Feed my inner introvert: Spend more time with books and less with little screens, whether they be my phone or my television.

This was a mixed bag.   I read enough books to meet my arbitrarily chosen Goodreads reading challenge goal.  I had a significant decrease in screen time,  but I still watch too much television.   I have spent lots of quality time on my own, though, and I definitely not let my inner introvert starve this year.

For 2020, I will set the same Goodreads goal and keep reading for pleasure.  I will try to clear some of the things loaded on my Kindle before acquiring new titles.   I will try to reduce the amount of television I watch.

The networks have been helping me out by not making too many new shows that I actually want to see.  And also by making shorter seasons for the things I DO want to see. The Mandalorian’s first season was only eight episodes.  Watchmen wrapped up with nine episodes.  I feel a lot less guilty about a show that only eats eight or nine hours out of the year than one which runs 24 episodes, with a third of that being filler.

2019 goal – Write more in this blog.

This was an utter failure.   I only wrote four blog posts all year, despite having plenty to talk about.

For 2020, I have a more specific blog goal than just saying “write more.”  I am setting myself a goal to do a minimum of 52 blog posts- that’s one per week, with this post serving as my first one.  If I have a busy week and can’t get a post out the door, I will have to double up the following week so that I don’t fall behind.  If I manage to do better than 52 posts, then that’s groovy too.

2019 goal – Listen to more music, live or otherwise.

I did really well on this-  I started the year off with Hamilton on their Orlando tour stop, and I followed that up with the Boston Pops, the Fixx, Waitress twice, Fiddler on the Roof, Aurora, Muse, Alice Merton, Tom Jones, Weird Al, Information Society, Hugh Jackman, Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, A Flock of Seagulls, Carly Rae Jepsen, Queen + Adam Lambert, Billy Joel, Bishop Briggs, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Alice Cooper, Dennis DeYoung, Night Ranger, King Princess, Sara Bareilles, and Beetlejuice on Broadway.  And that’s just the live stuff- I also listened to hours of recorded music.

For 2020, I realized that I don’t need to set a goal for something that I am already compelled to do.   I’ve already purchased tickets for ten or eleven shows through this summer, and I’ve got another eight or so on my radar with loose plans to go to them.    Music is as vital to me as breathing, and I don’t really need to set a conscious goal to do either one.  I plan on buying a new gadget or two sometime soon to improve the soundscape in my apartment as well.

2019 goal – Let go of rage.

I am much improved in this area, although I still find it challenging at times.  The passage of time helps a lot- the things that were a source of anger for me in 2018 are all well into my rear-view at the close of 2019, and I had a few perspective-setting events throughout the middle of the year, like the death of my father.  I also made a change this year from a frustrating and unsatisfying job into one which is much more challenging and enjoyable.

For 2020, I just need to continue on my path toward being centered and easygoing.  I’ve kept an active social life with local friends this year, and that has helped me enormously-  being around people I like helps to keep me happy.

Aside from the other goals I’ve listed for 2020, there are a few more things I want to accomplish:

  • I want to see more live Shakespeare.  I used to love watching the Bard’s plays, but I haven’t seen one in ages and I miss it.
  • I need to make a firm decision about my geolocation by the start of this summer.  I’ve been saying for a while that I hate the heat in Florida and that I’d like to go further north, but I am not decisive on this point.  Inertia is real, and it’s hard to move again now that I’ve been in one place for a while.   I have family and friends and a social life here in Orlando, and it’s difficult to think about what my life might look like in another place.  I was capable of making friends and gaining a social life when I moved to Germany though, and I’m sure I could do the same somewhere else in the US.  My Aunt thinks that DC is where I should go, and it’s on the short list if I decide to relocate after all.  My lease here is up at the end of the summer, so a decision needs to be made with enough time to set a move into motion if that is my choice.
  • I have long felt that I own too much “stuff” and I’ve been going through cycles of decluttering and offloading things I don’t use for years, and I want 2020 to be the year that I finally get rid of all the extra crap.   I don’t own a lot of stuff, but somehow it still feels like too much.  Then again, I might be a little psychotic on this front-  this photo looks too cluttered to me:

Do you have any goals for the new year?  How do you feel about entering the roaring 20s?

A brief history of my early digital life.

As far back as I can remember, Dad always got us into whatever the latest and greatest technology happened to be.

In 1980, we had a Tandy Color Computer (TRS-80) model one, with a whopping 4k. We even had a newfangled data cassette drive, so that we could record and play back programs off audiocassette. 

Back in the 1980s, there were computer magazines that had programs in the back that you could type in to make your computer do something. I’ll never forget the time that I was typing in a four-page BASIC program and I ran out of memory… Dad always said he meant to get the upgrade to 16k, but he never did get around to the upgrade.

1980 was also the year I talked Dad into getting us an Atari 2600 so I could play Berzerk. At least I think I talked him into it. It’s entirely possible he wanted it just as much as I did because I distinctly remember waking up from a sound sleep late one night to find Dad hunched over the controller, guiding Pac-Man through his dot-filled maze in the dim glow of the tv screen.

In the same time period, we also had a TI-994a, which had some program cartridges you could slide in on the right side. We had a couple of game cartridges and one or two other programs that I never paid much attention to.  There was one music program cartridge that played a jaunty little tune when you locked it into place, and I loved that thing even though all I ever did with it was slide it in to hear the song.

Dad also had a knack for getting us into trial services. Between the years of 1983 and 1986, Knight-Ridder and AT&T piloted an interconnected videotex machine called Viewtron in homes in South Florida. Dad was fascinated and immediately signed us up. This consisted of a box that you plugged into your tv with a little wireless chiclet keyboard (a big deal back then!,) and it dialed into a set of servers. There was weather, shopping, a digital dictionary and encyclopedia, and an early “CB Chat” system. I remember using it to research reports and projects for school, but the part I loved the most was the chat system.  Viewtron was ahead of its time, with all kinds of services that we take for granted now, and it folded after just a few years.

Flash forward to 1984, and Dad once again signed us up for something new and exciting- our family was charter subscribers to the new Prodigy dial-up service. Some of my earliest uses of something like e-mail were done in the message boards on this service, and I made my first “Internet friends” during this era. Alas, I lost touch with all of them when we left Prodigy a few years later, but it was still an interesting time.

In 1986, I got the first computer that was just mine- a Commodore 128. I used it for word processing, to write reports, and I dialed into BBSes with it, but mostly I used it to play games, and I loved that it used the same type of joystick as the Atari 2600. To this day, I still prefer one stick and one button for my gaming- the newer game consoles have far too many sticks and buttons and I can’t ever remember which one of the eight or ten buttons does which action.

My brother had an Atari computer in his room, an Atari 800 I think, and each of us spent time running a BBS on our respective machines for a while.  A BBS is a Bulletin Board System, and these were popular when computers used separate modems to dial out on a telephone line.  Most BBS setups had message boards, some games which were called Doors for some reason, and a few other things.  Some allowed the sharing of files, and some were set up as multi-node, which meant you could have multiple people connected and those people could talk to each other- this was an expensive setup because each node required its own phone line.  Another early feature of BBS life was FIDOnet, an early form of long distance messaging where the FIDOnet nodes would call one another and messages would be sent from node to node to reach users across long distances.   I loved running a BBS in the early 1980s, partly because I loved that sense of community, and partly because I loved being able to jump in and chat with whoever happened to be on my computer at the time.

Here we are, more than three decades (and dozens of new computer systems) later, on what would have been Dad’s 81st birthday. He used to say that he wished he would have paid more attention and learned more technology when we had all those computers in the house all those years ago, but I think he did just fine. 

I started a new job about two months ago, doing some pretty neat stuff with a great technology company, and I can’t help but wonder if my life would have taken a very different path if Dad hadn’t encouraged my fascination with technology so much over the years.  

What was your first computer?

Goodbye, Dad.

It’s been two weeks since we buried my Dad.

He passed away on Sunday, May 26th. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us- he had been sick for a long time, and his health declined noticeably over the last few years. At the end, he relied on a caretaker twenty-four hours a day- an aide cooked for him, fed him, dressed him. For the last ten months or so, he was bed-ridden, and for longer than that he was almost entirely non-verbal.

That’s not who he was, though. My father was a loud, friendly person who would strike up conversations with just about anyone.  He was a pharmacist for decades, and he had a knack for learning about his customers. This habit led to one of Dad’s customers becoming our family’s go-to automotive mechanic for years. On another occasion, Dad set me up on a totally awful blind date with one of them.  We had nothing at all in common, but it was a perfect example of my father trying to do things to make his children happy.

They say vertical stripes make you look taller. I don’t think it helped me in this outfit.

My brothers and sister and I each said a few words at the funeral. I didn’t want to at first- in fact, only my oldest brother was going to speak initially. We all talked about it the night before the funeral though, and it became apparent very quickly that we all had very different perspectives about him. My sister is nine and a half years older than me, and my brothers are five and six years older, so we each had a very different relationship with Dad.  When we realized how different each of our remarks would be, we decided that it would be good for each of us to say something.

Speaking at the funeral was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  When I stepped up to the podium, I actually couldn’t speak for a moment.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to speak at all.  When I finally started,  I had to force myself to slow down.  Staring down at the paper the entire time, this is more or less what I said:

My father was always larger than life, and growing up I thought he would live forever. When I was a kid, dad was a mythic giant. I used to call him The Ogre, after a stand-up comedy bit that I liked. He didn’t much care for the nickname, because he thought it was a mean sounding word, but I meant it fondly. He was my giant.

Dad was the guy who would surprise me with a trip to Disney, just the two of us. He took me to my first concert, the first of many, even though he didn’t really like the music. He would watch movies with me, and then he would annoy me endlessly by loudly and correctly guessing the second half of the plot halfway through the film.

He taught me all sorts of things about being a man. He had opinions about everything from my schoolwork to the checklist of things you wash when you take a shower to the sorts of things a man should wear. When it was time for me to buy a real suit, he went with me to the store and explained what to look for. He helped me to pick out the suit – this suit that I’m wearing now – but then he also made me get a sport coat for some reason.

When I had the chance to go live abroad for a while, his health had already started to turn and I told him that I was worried that I would miss important dad-time if I went. He told me to go, and that I shouldn’t miss a great opportunity just because of him.

He was like that- more than anything else, Dad wanted me to be happy. He wanted all his children to be happy. Above all else, he taught us that family was important, and happiness was important.

When I was a kid, I thought he would live forever. And as I look at all the people who have gathered here to see him off, and I think about the lessons he taught us, I realize now that in some ways, he will.

For a very long time, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my father, but I learned things about him all the way up to the very end that I didn’t know.  I learned less than a year ago that his sister called him “Hal” when they were kids.  I learned from his childhood friend at the funeral that he grew up in an apartment above a candy store.  (That totally explains the sweet tooth that I inherited from him.)

Not every memory is a pure and happy one, of course.   My parents divorced when I was in high school, and there was a bit in the middle of my childhood where he wasn’t around very much. He tried to make up for it though, and he did his best to spend time with me.  We took quite a few trips together, including one summer in high school when Dad loaded my brothers and me into his Honda and we drove up to Washington DC and upstate New York and New York City.  We walked through Central Park more than once because we were a little bit lost, but it was still fun.

It became apparent to me as I got older that he would do anything for his children.  I can think of countless times that he went out of his way to make sure that we were healthy or happy or successful.   On balance, he was a pretty great Dad, and I feel fortunate that I had him for as long as I did.

I’m going to miss him.