61.

I was thinking about a party my parents had when I was a tiny, tiny person, in the house we lived in until I was seventeen.

The second house I have any memories of was in a neighborhood called Florida Gardens.  It was five bedrooms and two bathrooms on a quarter-acre of land, and Zillow says it was constructed in 1973.  The house was built at roughly the same time as I was!

This is the house as it appears on Google Maps. Our landscaping is all gone now, and the driveway is in worse shape than when we lived there. The house on the left is, hilariously, the house we lived in before this one- I still remember carrying my own toybox between the houses when we moved, even though I don’t think I had a room yet when I carried it over.

I lived in that house through all of middle school and most of high school.   It started out as a three-bedroom, but the garage was sealed off and converted into two more bedrooms at some point before we moved in.  My parents took the master bedroom, which was on the far side of the dining room. My room was in the back-right corner, with my elder brother’s room right next to mine. The garage-converted bedrooms were given to my other brother and my sister. They had a shared door between their rooms, which gave them plenty of opportunities to be co-conspirators when they were supposed to be otherwise engaged. I remember wandering into my middle brother’s room often to listen to his 45 records.  After my sister went off to college, some of her room became a miniature office, and my brother ran a BBS from a computer sitting in that room.

I remember when our grandmother came to visit from New Jersey in 1979. We had HBO and I was watching The Black Hole in the living room when she arrived. She would stay on the second bed in my sister’s room, and in the morning she would make us Farina. I still have a fondness for Farina, despite how bland and grits-like it is.

I digress, however- I was talking about the party. I must have been seven or eight years old- old enough to know I wasn’t allowed into the party, but also old enough to want to be involved. The Formica bar on the back porch was in use for drinks, and there was music on the eight-track player in the living room. I do not remember any of the people my parents invited- I just remember there were other adults there, and my tiny little brain wanted to see all the unfamiliar people.

I’m not sure what made me think about this house party from another time, and I’m not sure that this post even has a point, other than to distract myself from all the weirdness happening in the world right now. It’s nice anyway to think about some interesting memories from back when I was a tiny, tiny person.  Like this:

Do you have any fond or interesting memories from your childhood home?

12/52

There’s No Place Like “Home”

Last week, I found round trip airfare from Orlando to Atlanta for this year’s Dragon Con for only $136.  I posted it to BookFace, saying something like, “The moment when you spot an INSANELY good rate for Dragon Con airfare, but you don’t know if this will still be your home airport. ::sob::”

To my vast surprise, several people had a “wait, what?” type of reaction, and a few messaged me privately to ask if I was moving away from Orlando.  I mentioned in my new year’s post that I was contemplating a move out of Florida, and I’ve been talking incessantly about the possibilities with a few people, so it never occurred to me that so many of my friends would be in the dark.  (Clearly, I need to get more of them reading this blog.)

To address the question more directly:  I still haven’t decided for sure if I’m leaving Florida.   Or where I’m going if I do move.

It’s really difficult to break through the inertia of staying in one place for a while.  I’ve moved twelve times in the last ten years, but I’ve been in this one place for a little while now, and it can be difficult to pick up and go for the thirteenth time.

What I have decided with certainty is that when my lease ends this summer, I don’t want to stay put.  I don’t really like my apartment, for one thing.   Also, it’s fricking hot here.  And it would be significantly hotter in South Florida.

The climate here isn’t the only thing to be considered.   It’s been years since I lived in a place that “felt like home” to me. When I came back to the US after my time abroad, no part of South Florida felt quite right; I felt like a stranger in my own home town- more than I did in Germany.

I traveled back to Germany twice after I moved back, once for work and once just to visit.  During both of those trips, I had the uncanny feeling that I had only just left a few days before.  Aside from a few familiar restaurants closing and new ones opening, and aside from Jenny and Robert’s children getting taller, everything felt the same.  It felt like I had just left, and it felt like no time had passed at all.  I was incredibly comfortable there.  Not so with my return to the US – everything here felt kind of alien to me.

I’m not suggesting that I want to return to living outside of the United States- I absolutely do not. (Although if my job wanted me to be in the London office for a while, I wouldn’t say no.).  What I am saying is that when no place feels like home, it’s difficult to feel settled.  I genuinely don’t know where I want to be.

For where to go next, I have a few main considerations:

  • Is the temperature colder than Florida for most of the year? (Not bloody difficult!)
  • Is there cool shit to do?  Especially the music;  how’s the concert scene?  Is it a constant flow of activity there or do they roll up the sidewalks at 8pm?
  • Is there decent public transportation there?
  • Do I know anyone in the area? Friends or family?
  • Can I get a decent apartment there without blowing my spleen out on rent payments?
  • Is there a variety of delicious food options?

I’ve considered a number of possible destinations.  I’ve considered eastern New Jersey, with easy access to New York.  I considered Austin for the music scene, but moving from a swamp to a desert is not my idea of cooling down.  I also thought about Portland and the Pacific Northwest, or the Raleigh-Durham area, or Atlanta.   My work is completely remote, so I can theoretically work from anywhere.  In practice, it’s best if I stick to the same time zone as the main office in New York;  I am NOT a morning person and moving west would mean working earlier.

The top contender at present is the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area.  It ticks every box I just listed, and then some.   DC has easy access to three airports and the most useful part of the US rail lines.  It has a pretty useful metro system, and a constant flow of things to see and do.  The weather is a lot closer to what I actually want.  I’ve got a few friends and a really nifty cousin there.  Despite having no firm decision to move, I already have tickets to at least four concerts there this year.  I also have a fervid desire to go to at least five more events that were announced, but until I learn to clone myself that isn’t happening.

So yes, I’m leaning that way.  Still, the decision is not fully made.

Florida is not without its advantages, and I would be remiss to ignore the things I would be leaving behind:  An established social scene with a lot of friendships that I would miss.  Easy access to the theme parks.   Having sorted out which doctors to see in the area. (Finding new doctors is just a pain in the ass.)  Tijuana Flats and Publix.   Being only about a 70 minute drive from my sister, and only a few hours away by car for most of the rest of my family.   Being able to comfortably wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year.

But then there are the parts of living here that are less thrilling.  For example, the great social scene I just mentioned is largely centered around a bar scene, which means lots of beer intake.  (Some people would call that a plus, now that I think about it.)  Also, having to wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year to remain comfortable while still sweating is miserable and uncomfortable and kind of sticky.

And Orlando doesn’t feel like home either.

I don’t know if a new city will be any better, but I do think a fresh start would be really good for me.   I’m not worried about making friends in my new location, because I’ve moved to a new city sight-unseen a few times now, and I was able to find a tribe there each time.   For an introvert, I’m really quite friendly and sociable.

And hey, at least I won’t be sweating in January.

When is the last time you moved?  Was it a difficult change?

6/52

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.

[#AtoZChallenge] A is for Afterward.

On Thursday night, people who had worked at my previous Mr. Company all gathered together in a bar for a happy hour.  The last happy hour.

I say the last one because we were let go in waves.  The first group of people was out the door in the middle of August.  There was a farewell happy hour.   The next group, the largest group, was mine, in the middle of December.  We had another happy hour.  There was a tiny group let go in the middle of January, so another gathering.

Last night was the day before the Boca Raton office closed its doors-  the last dozen or so people in the office had been busily clearing away the remains of twenty years of business.   Over the last few days, I’ve seen pictures posted on Facebook of an empty data center, rows of empty cubicles, and the lead developer wearing shorts.  These are all equally traumatic and heart-breaking.

I’ve talked about my own departure from the company in previous posts, and I mused back in December that the grieving process would probably hit me later on.  It has.  Up until now, I was still interacting with many of these people on a professional level, but those meetings have ceased.

I wanted very much to go back to the office one last time, to see the empty spaces for myself, and to walk the old familiar hallways.  I realized halfway through the happy hour that this was pointless, though.  Right now, it’s just an empty building.   The thing that made it home to me for so many years was the people, and they were all around me.

When we got together for this last farewell happy hour, it was really a wake.  A very Irish wake, because quite a few people had quite a few drinks.  I highly recommend the Red Sangria; it was delicious.  There was reminiscing, and hugging, and more than a few splashes of emotion.  People who had left us in years past turned up, because this was more than a company to many of us.   For a lot of us, it was a family.

I started with Mr. Company when I was 29 years old.  My entire life for the last fifteen years has been shaped by working with this amazing bunch of people.  Thanks to the Internet, I won’t lose touch with many of them, but I’m sure gonna miss working with them.

What’s your favorite mixed drink?

Administrative note: This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each Monday through Saturday in the month of April, I will write a new post- one for each letter of the alphabet. If you would like to participate, it’s never too late to start. Just look over the guidelines at http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/.