Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Christmas Lights

Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, when all the women were running around to the mall looking for the latest sale on this or that, Jeremiah Green would get up early, go to the garage and get down the cardboard boxes of lights. Then he’d get out the ladder, the hammer, and the extension cords and set to work. He’d work most of the day, with a break around lunchtime for a sandwich made from yesterday’s dried-out turkey on white bread with French’s yellow mustard and Miracle whip and maybe some celery on the side with salt sprinkled on it. He’d sit on the porch in his old flannel shirt eating his turkey sandwich and celery, and crack open a Pabst from the cooler in the garage.

Helen didn’t cotton much to drinkin’ so he only had himself a beer on those rare occasions when she was gone and he had the house to himself. Most years a six-pack bought after the Fourth of July would last the rest of the year, then he’d allow himself another beer or two for New Year’s after Helen had gone to bed. She’d long since given up caring about watching some silly ball drop, figuring that she could tell it was a new year when she looked at the calendar the next morning at breakfast. The day changed every evening without her help; she didn’t need to stay up past her bedtime just to ring anything in. Jeremiah liked to watch all the commotion on the tv, so he usually stayed up and had himself a beer or two while that Clark fella nattered on until he fell asleep. Then he’d wake up sometime in the middle of the night and go to bed.

Then once he finished his turkey sandwich, Jeremiah (not once in his eighty-two years was he ever Jerry or Jer, or God forbid, Jed) would lean the ladder up against the side of the house and start to string the lights. By the time Helen got home from shopping with her sisters it would be full-on dark, and Jeremiah would be back inside watching Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy if she ran particularly late. Once she got home and got all her prizes deposited in the front bedroom for later wrapping and distribution, they’d go out in the front yard together and take a minute standing on the lawn of the house he bought when he got home from the war, a time he never really talked about, not even to Helen. They’d admire his handiwork, Helen would remind him to put the ladder away before they went to bed, and he’d reply that it would get done eventually, and anyway, what if there was a light burnt out? Then he’d go up to the outlet he had installed on the porch by that Reynolds boy down the street just for this purpose, and he’d plug in the main extension cord.

With that, the whole front of the house, roofline, bushes, little cedar tree by the driveway and all the porch railings burst into white light, and the whole neighborhood could tell that the holidays were upon them. There were never any colored lights, at least not since 1973 when Jeremiah shaved off those sideburns. There were never any flashing lights or strobe lights, and never any plastic Santas and reindeer on the roof. There was just a bright white celebration of the season. For over fifty years, from the time the armistice was signed and Jeremiah came home from Korea, he dragged that ladder out of the garage every November and lit up the night sky in a celebration of the season, of family, and of just being alive.

Until this year. When Helen passed in August Jeremiah sat down in that vinyl recliner in the den with a Pabst, probably the first time in thirty years he’d had a beer in August inside his house, and it seemed like he didn’t move from that chair for months. Neighbors would come to visit, to see how he was holding up, and he’d tell them, in the stoic way that octogenarian men who’ve seen young men die have, that he was doing about as well as could be expected.

As well as could be expected didn’t really amount to much, he thought to himself after the well-wishers, the pastors and deacons, the neighborhood widows and friends of his children that had moved away years before and were back in town visiting their own parents had left. As well as could be expected was getting up three times in the middle of the night to pee and being confused every single time when he went back to bed and there was no one there. As well as could be expected was fixing his own breakfast every morning and finally going into the garage to drag out the old coffee pot that Helen had wanted to toss out back twenty years ago when they got the new programmable kind but he wouldn’t let her for fear that just this thing would someday happen and he’d have to make his own coffee and be too old and near-sighted to read the instructions on the damn thing and besides, what does a coffeepot need all them damn buttons for anyhow? You just put the coffee in it, put some hot water in it, and it turns into coffee. It doesn’t need a clock in it, much less more buttons than one for off and one for on.

So as well as could be expected wasn’t really very well at all, if he would take the time to think about it. Which he didn’t, because Jeremiah was never a man to spend too much time in deep contemplation. But now, at 83, there wasn’t a whole lot left for him to do except sit. And think. And since thinking was less appealing, he managed to lose himself in some of the seventy-six channels if eternal drivel that spouted from the 19” color television that sat in the living room on top of the old console tv that had finally breathed its last some eight years ago. So Jeremiah sat. And watched tv. And that’s how most days went. He watched tv until bedtime, watched the late news and went to bed, where he lay awake listening to the silence beside him until sleep finally took him off for a couple of hours at a time.

So on this Friday after Thanksgiving, instead of listening to Helen get up at the crack of dawn to go shopping with her sisters, then getting up to drink the coffee she left for him in the machine he never did figure out how to operate, then heading out to the garage to start on the decorations, he sat. He turned on the tv and watched a little bit of that, then fixed himself a dry turkey sandwich with Miracle Whip from the leftovers from the turkey that the Methodist women brought by on Wednesday.

He ran out of mustard last week and kept forgetting to put it on the list that hung on the refrigerator. If he didn’t write it down, he wouldn’t remember to get it when he went grocery shopping this Sunday, either. He had taken to grocery shopping at eleven on Sundays so he didn’t have to worry about seeing any of the church women in the store. Helen had always been real active in the church, but with her gone he didn’t see much sense in him going. He figured he and God still had a few things they needed to sort out from about fifty years ago, but they were the sort of things a man needed to talk through with his maker face to face, and going to church wouldn’t do him a whole lot of difference one way or the other.

As he was sitting, not really enjoying his mustardless sandwich but not really not liking it either, he started to hear some rattling around in his garage. The neighborhood, which had been full of young veterans when they moved in all these years ago, had seen its ups and downs, and was currently on the beginning of one of the up periods, which was to say that there were a lot more people living there at the moment who could be considered down than up, but in general they were hard-working people who didn’t cause too much trouble. The people on the tv liked to talk about it as a neighborhood “in transition,” but Jeremiah just thought that was a fancy way of saying there were some poor people that lived there, some white people, some black people and some Mexicans thrown in for good measure. There was some crime, sure, but in general it was decent place to live. But when he heard somebody rattling around in his garage, he didn’t run out to go look and see what they might be stealing.

It’s not that he was afraid that whoever was in his garage might hurt him. He’d known pain at different times in his life, you didn’t make it past fourscore years on this earth without getting hurt more than once, but he just really wasn’t that interested. And as the day wore on and the noise in his garage continued, he finally decided that if there was something worth taking out there they should have already took it and left him alone, so he went to the back door and stuck his head out to yell at whatever hooligans were back there. But by this time whatever perpetrators there had been were already gone, so all he saw was a closed garage door and a q quiet back yard. He went back inside and dozed in front of his tv for the rest of the afternoon, watched a little football, not that he knew or cared anything about any of the schools playing, but it was something to pass the time, and napped a little more.

Along about seven o’clock, he started to listen for Helen’s sister Mary’s car, and then remembered that Mary didn’t drive anymore after she got so blind they took her license away last summer, and besides, she wasn’t going to be dropping Helen off tonight anyhow. But as he stood in his kitchen alone, feeling once again the lost feeling of someone who is missing something that he just can’t quite put his finger on what it is, there was a knock at his front door. He had left all the porch lights off to keep folks from coming by to check on him since he didn’t really feel like sharing another afternoon of how you holdin’ ups with somebody who he didn’t really give much of a damn about and he figured didn’t give much of a damn about him either, so the knock was a little surprising. He figured it was a kid, since they weren’t usually smart enough to figure out that when the porch light wasn’t on it meant that the body inside didn’t want to be bothered.

So he made his way through the darkened house to the front door, and pulled it open to find an empty porch. He looked around for a minute, confused, before he saw it laying over to the right of the door. It was an orange extension cord with a red bow tied to the end of it. On the bow was a card, and Jeremiah reached down and pulled the card off the end of the card and read it.

“Dear Mr. Jeremiah,

We are sorry that your wife died. We are sorry that you are sad, and that you didn’t want to put your pretty lights up this year. We hope we did it good and it will make you a little happy.
Feliz Navidad,

Jose y Hector Garcia (from across the street)”

Jeremiah stood there for a minute looking around, not really knowing what to think, when he looked up and saw two boys looking out of a living room window across the street. The bigger one looked like he was about thirteen, and the little one looked to be maybe eight. The big one just watched him, but when the little one saw him looking, he waved excitedly, indicating that Jeremiah should plug in the cord.

So he did, and he walked out on his lawn to see his house lit up just like it was every year, with white lights on the little cedar tree by the driveway, on the porch railings, on all the bushes on the front of the house, and even on the roofline, although how those little boys got all the way up there he had no idea. Until he saw his ladder leaning up against the side of the house just like he did every year until after he got everything working just right. He stood there for a minute imagining he could feel a smaller hand in his own as he stood there on his lawn not quite as alone as he’d been a couple hours before, then he turned around, nodded to the two boys in the window, one waving like his arm was one a spring, and one nodding back solemnly, gathered his ladder, and put it away in his garage until after New Year’s.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 1

In an effort to force myself to write more, and to take more pictures to decide if I can justify the expense of a digital SLR camera instead of the cheap-o Kodak digital I've been rockin' for the past year, I've launched the picture a day plan. This is kinda ambitious, so I reserve the right to fail.

I want to take at least one picture every day for a year of something I see. Most of the time I'll write about them, so hopefully this will spur me to write more. Here's today;s entry.

This was the window dressing that my employees put up in my office when I was at LDI in October. I came home to a lovely set of My Little Pony drapes in my office. I've left them there. It starts conversations, alright. And says a lot about the industry I work in.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Is Twitter killing my blog?

Well, it certainly hasn't helped it. I do find myself twitttering all the short, random shit that I would typically post here, and with work getting busy I'm having to retrain myself to post more regularly. This week was certainly interesting, with getting back from Vegas, being home for almost 48 hours then taking a work trip across the state, managing to injure myself along the way and then spending 36 hours practically bedridden.

So we got out of Vegas before the snow, and I made my tight connection in Chicago with about 10 minutes to spare. I won the exit row lottery on both my return flights, and there was no one in the middle seat from Chaicago to Charlotte, so that was a comfy flight. I don't really remember the Vegas-Chicago leg, because I was asleep before our wheels left the ground and was barely awake when we landed. So I got home ahead of Suzy and Bonnie, and they got in safely, and all was right with the world.

Tuesday was my only day in the office, because I had a meeting planned in Manteo on Thursday afternoon. Manteo is about as far away as you can get while still being in North Carolina. When they called that part of the world the Outer Banks, they weren't kidding. So my plan was to work Tuesday and Wednesday, drive halfway to Manteo Wednesday night, and finish the trip for a 1PM meeting Thursday. Except my project manager's wife sprained her ankle over the weekend so he had to drive her to work every day. Which precluded him from making a site visit in Greenville (NC) on Wednesday. So I took that visit, which cut out my planned Wednesday in the office. The site meeting was fine, just a basic walk-through with the electricians, and then I was off to Manteo.

The Lost Colony is one of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the US, if not the oldest. It tells the story of the first colony on Roanoke Island, and the first English child born in the US, Virginia Dare. It also explores the mystery of the vanished colony on Roanoke Island, without giving us any answers, because frankly, we don't know what happened to those people. We helped them with a major infrastructure renovation last summer, so they want us to work with them over the next two years to fully renovate all their lighting. So I headed out there to meet with the Executive Director and several guys from the National Park Service (because Roanoke Island is a national park) to talk about the plans for that.

It was a good meeting, and we've prettty much got the gig, and it was neat to walk around that facility, that's seen the work of several theatrical giants. Terrence Mann (Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast) has directed there for several years. Andy Griffith got his acting start there, and the current costume and production designer is a little guy who some folks in the theatre world might have heard of - William Ivey Long. William is one of NC's most famous theatrical sons, with 5 Tony awards to his credit. So there's a lot of history there, and the absolute coolest back stage I've ever been on. It backs up right on the water, to the point where if the wind is blowing over the water, you get wet standing back there. There's probably 10' from the back stage area to the water, so that's pretty cool.

Then I drove most of the way home, waking up in the middle of the night with a screaming pain in my right foot. I made it through the night sleeping intermittently, and then drove the 4 hours back to Charlotte and went to an urgent care joint. Turns out that the tendon that extends my big toe has become inflamed from all the driving and walking that I've done over the past two weeks. So the doc gave me one of the dorky post-op shoes, some anti-inflammatory drugs and told me to stay off it for a day or two. It's mostly better now, as long as I keep the Cataflam in me, so hopefully I'll be able to finish my Christmas shopping tomorrow night. Or at least start my Christmas shopping tomorrow night. Suzy gave me her list, so I've got some guidelines, just need to get the wheel back in shape so I can do it.

So today was all about catching up on my movie watching, which so far consisted of War, Inc. (highly recommend), one episode of Numb3rs, which I had never seen before (not bad), two episodes of Eleventh Hour (which I am oddly enamored with), two episodes on NCIS with Suzy (which we both love) and Stealth (which was every bit as cheesy as I thought). Tomorrow we have Christmas with Suzy's fam, then some shopping, then the Sunday Warm-up on Stars, then the huuuuge Sunday night game with the Panthers and Giants. Then back to work for another short week on Monday. I like short work weeks. Unless I have a bunch of stuff to do, in which case I hate them. But I've lined most of my stuff up so I don't have too much cooking until the first of the year, so we should be good.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This is not a WPBT trip report

Just a few disjointed thoughts from the weekend.

I got in a few hours ahead of Suzy and my sis Bonnie, who was making her first-ever plane ride, and got completely bomber at the IP. Thanks to everyone who bought me a drink, thanks to everyone who drank with me, and damn you all for how I felt Friday morning (and early afternoon). Overall the whole weekend was a great success, I thought. We all got together, we all drank a little (or a lot), some of us got married, one of us won a poker tournament, some of us won money, some of us lost money, but we all had a good time in each other's company.

Thanks to all the friends, old and new, who I saw this weekend. You guys inspired me to write again, if not significantly more frequently. I am always amazed at the feeling of closeness I have with people that I see for only a few days once or twice a year. In one of those rare quiet islands of thought right in the middle of the chaos, Iggy and I stood in the middle of everyone at the Geisha Bar, looked around, and just shook our heads at the insanity of what we are. We're a group of incredibly disparate individuals, who, almost by accident, became something bigger and better than ourselves.

Walking back to the bus after Gracie and Pablo's wedding, I was trailing along in the back of the pack and could overhear Pablo talking to his mom, and one thing that he kept saying really resonated with me. He said more than once "we're so blessed." He was incredibly touched that a pile of people would ride in a bus down to the magistrate's office in Las Vegas to see them get married off, but it's a lot more than that. I feel blessed to have you people in my life. I know that you're out there, my invisible internet friends, and that if I ever need you, all I need to do is call. It's really amazing the strength of the network that we've built.

Sure we might not all play the blogger tournaments. Some of us can barely be considered poker bloggers with all the other stuff we write about (yeah, I mean me). But the connection is real. We've laughed together, cried together, drank FAR too much booze together, raised money for good causes together, and made compete idiots of ourselves in public together. But this weekend reminded me that somehow, with all the different lists, and generations of bloggerdom, and groups within groups, that just walking up and saying "I'm (insert blogger name here)" and being a decent person is an instant ticket into something really kinda special. Something I'm honored to be part of.

I'll ramble more about the weekend at some point, but right now I'm in the cadillac of Fairfield Inns in Williamston, NC (I don't really know where that is, either), and it's almost time to look for food. I slept in my bed for two nights in a row, which is kind of a big deal lately, and now I'm on the road again. I think it calms down for a week after this, but then the Monday after Christmas I'm back in the ATL. So if any of you boys down there wanna sling some cards early in that week, let me know. I'll be there Monday and Tuesday nights, driving home for New Year's.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Not bad for a first day...

It went pretty well, I think. I'll admit to some trepidation coming into this meeting, but I think I got across the point that I'm not here to replace anyone, and that no one will lose their job because I'm working here now. The office has done well, but I think that I can help them find some new markets to explore, and work on increasing profits. That's the kind of thing that I'm good at, finding new ways to do things in our industry and maximizing the amount of money that we make. I also think I managed to convince them that I'm going to support them, and not try to change everything that they're doing just for the sake of change.

So I'm in Atlanta until Wednesday afternoon, when I drive home to pack for our trip to Las Vegas. Then it's a weekend of drinking and degeneracy with my invisible internet friends. We've got about 70 people lined up for our Tourney at 3PM at the Venetian, and I told them to plan for 90 or so, so if you wanna play, show up.

Looks like I'm gonna be back in the ATL every couple of weeks for the foreseeable future, with my next trip coming the week between Christmas and New Year's. I'll likely get down here Sunday night and leave on Wednesday again, so if anybody wants to get together for a drink or some cards, lemme know. I didn't try to get together with anybody this trip because I was unsure about how the trip would go, so we'll have to hook up next time. Now I'm in my hotel room watching the Panthers/Bucs game (which might decide the future of the entire NFC), and getting ready for tomorrow.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Yeah, it was a Facebook/Twitter tease...

When I said I could talk about my promotion and then didn't talk about my promotion. Thanks to everyone who sent congrats, and thanks again to everyone who sent congrats (and/or incredulous comments about the longevity of my marriage, I'm just as baffled as you are) on our anniversary yesterday. All I can really say to that is that a bunch of you have met my wife (and if you haven't she'll be the short blonde I'm hanging around with next weekend, introduce yourself) and you know she's a doll. She's a doll with the patience of Job to put up with my sorry ass and all my degenerate gambling and travel.

Which leads me to the promotion, because that travel is about to increase, at least for the next couple of years.

Jeez, I've reached the point in my life and career when I can reasonably project a quantity of work for more than the next two weeks. Never thought I'd see that shit.

A lot of you know what I do - I'm the Systems Division Manager for a large theatrical lighting company, which means that I design and install lighting and rigging systems for theatres, churches, high school auditoriums, tv studios, high-end architectural projects, casinos, etc. Well, for the past several years I've been the head of the systems group for our Charlotte office. This week I accepted the promotion to head up the Atlanta office's systems group as well. Atlanta has been without a systems manager for a couple of years, and since the two offices are run together as one company (it gets complicated), everyone decided that I would be a good choice to lead that office for the near future.

Which is cool. It's a whole new set of challenges, a whole new set of personalities to learn, a whole new set of opportunities to help folks grow and flourish. It also means that I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the ATL in the foreseeable future. Like one out of every three weeks is kinda what I'm thinking for right now. Might go to half a week every two weeks, might be less, might be more. As we all get comfortable with each other and start to figure things out, we'll figure out how much time I need to have boots on the ground.

Which also means that I will not be doing much theatre for the next little while, because week-long trips out of town really bite into the whole rehearsal process thing. Good thing I was trying to take a hiatus, huh? Since now I'm going to be taking a hiatus regardless.

I'm looking forward to this. It's the first time in a while that there has been something staring me in the face that's actually really challenging. The guys in Atlanta have done a great job without my help to this point, so hopefully I won't screw up their groove. The hope is that I can cross-pollinate some ideas between the two groups and boost sales and profitability for both teams. My first trip is next week, Mon-Wed. So if I look like I REALLY need a drink when you see me Thursday, then it didn't go well. Or I'm just beat from the week/weekend which includes the following schedule.

Saturday - Get up, recap LAPT and APPT for Pokernews. Go get oil change. Go get haircut. Get tires rotated, too. Go perform in final show of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. Go to cast party. Try to drink with the cast, most of whom were in grade school when Suzy and I got married (that realization last night sucked).

Sunday - Get up at a ridiculous hour for a Sunday and cover the World Cup of Poker for PokerStars. Recap the LAPT and APPT. Nap. Cover the Sunday Warm-Up for PokerStars. Drive part of the way to Atlanta.

Monday - Wed. - Meet with my new team in Atlanta. Try to let them know that no one is fired and they all rock, I'm just there to make them rock harder. Wednesday drive home to CLT, pack for Vegas. Cover EPT Deauville for Pokernews while I'm there.

Thursday - Go to Vegas. Party like a rock star. Avoid getting wheelchair drunk.

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's that time.

No, not the time that we all get together and get drunk in Las Vegas (although that time is coming fast upon us).

No, not the time that we eat too much (although that is also true).

No, not tech week for another show (Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens, opens Thursday).

It's time to do something nice for somebody else. I don't know about the rest of the world, but this weekend saw the beginnings of winter-type weather in North Carolina. And there are people out there who are cold. And hungry. And folks that can't buy Christmas presents for their kids.

And that sucks.

Since I obviously am willing to spend more than my fair share of money on myself (note new television, Xbox and home theatre system) I decided after reading the paper this morning that it's time to spend a little of my money on other people. Or more to the point, to give it away. So I'm gonna donate some of the money that I get from this here blog this month to the Salvation Army. And I've put a widget on my blog to let you do the same. It's called an online red kettle, and the money goes to help people who can't help themselves.

The economy sucks right now, and it's the duty of all good bleeding hearts like me to help out the folks that are a little more screwed than we are. So if you've got a few bucks to spare, please click on the link and help out somebody who needs it. It's good karma, and we could all use some of that. And frankly, there but for the grace of whatever you believe in go you and I.

So lend a hand. Thanks.