Chicago

I'm often amazed at the speed in which one can travel to other destinations around the country in such a short time. This morning I woke up in Houston where it was already 75 degrees and not yet 7:30 am. Four hours later I'm having lunch at my favorite diner on Broadway in cool, rainy Chicago. I love Stella's Diner and not just for the food. It's warm inside with large windows from which you can watch the people outside. About every third person that enters the restaurant recognizes someone else already eating. The wait staff acts like they really know you if nothing more than their second cousin's best friend from college whom they met once but have never forgotten. The manager, a large man that wears only Hawaiian shirts and talks about cars helps all the families carry in their babies or seats their children while telling a funny joke. I smile as content familiarity fills my mind. I used to live in this part of Chicago known as Lakeview. Little did I realize at the time when I moved what a great part of town I had selected.

There really was no science behind it. I knew I wanted to live in the downtown - close to the culture and far from my office. I ended up with just what I was looking for which also included a nearly 2 hour work commute in traffic, but I still would consider it worth it. I found a newly remodeled flat at the end of a tree-lined side street. The flat was perfect with 2 bedrooms, wood floors, a fireplace and a bay window with a view to the life outside. My neighbors incidently were The Blue Man Group who based their Chicago shows at the Briar Street Theatre with which I shared the back alley. Granted there were nights when I felt the frustration of coming home late only to be blocked for nearly thirty minutes while waiting for traffic to let out from the evening's performance thus blocking access to my garage space. Then there was the large population of rats that fed on the left over food that served as props for the night's show. Captain Crunch, whipped cream and marshmallows would litter the asphalt where the dumpster sat, thus serving as an all-you-can eat buffet for those (not-so) little rodent bastards. One morning I went to my car and found several containers of used marshmallows on the top of my car. They had spilled, of course, and contents were spread around quite nicely with the tiny outlines of rat prints stamped in it as if to mimic a miniature Hollywood walk of fame. However, that was still better than the homeless guy I found sleeping under my car on another cold morning. Despite our little differences, The Blue Man Group and I existed in relative harmony thus maintaining the eco-balance of urban Chicago.

I am sitting in an Argo Tea as I write this. My Mate' Late depleted with the empty cup winking at me as I consider getting another. Argo Tea isn't exactly an independent coffee shop, in fact it's really just the "tea alternative" version of Starbucks only with a less commercial feel to it. There are plenty of the hard-core purist coffee shops that require at least one genuine body piercing in order to drink there (in fact I can think of one where you get a new piercing with each coffee and on your twelve epidermal hole-punch you get your next drink or tetanus shot free); however, I came to Argo, not for the authentic Bohemian feel, but because it was close, had free wifi and large windows that allowed me to observe through glass the people of Lakeview as if they were an exhibit of sorts. Today is no different in that respect. It's in the upper 40's today, overcast and wet. Fall leaves are still on the trees, but most lie matted on the streets and sidewalks forming oddly patterned quits that hide the pavement. People walk all over them. The kids shuffle through them breaking their continuity. The adults walking by look down, then up and keep on walking. Mothers push strollers through the leaves stopping periodically to peek over the stroller cover to check if their baby is awake, or asleep, or wet, or cold. But everyone keeps walking in their way.

As they go by I watch their faces. I like to play a game as I watch them trying to guess which ones are happy and which ones are just numb to life. I make snap decision. "Happy... sad... really happy... high... kicks his dog (that one is easy because they are kicking the dog as I watch)." I harbor a certain impatience in making my little judgements because what I'm really wanting to focus on is what they are wearing. It's superficial to a certain extent on my part, but I love to see what they have on. Given the weather the corresponding fashion requirements are a favorite of mine. I love that layered look. Designer jeans and chunky boots, turtle neck sweaters and wool petty coats. Some of the women wear hats. The businessmen where heavy fall suits in natural hues; some have overcoats and leather gloves. There is one item in these people's wardrobe choices that I value above all over. Scarves. They are something you rarely can wear in Houston unless hiding hickeys from family and co-workers, but here in Chicago at this time of year they are as essential as air itself.

I love the fashions prevalent in the north. For whatever reason I attribute it to a perception of looking smarter. Looking smart is almost as important to me as actually being smart. Hell, if the truth be known given a situation where I met someone that was a complete mental reject, but they dressed smart and could at least speak in coherent sentences I would likely have a higher opinion of them than I would of some Einstein member of Mensa wearing cut offs and a t-shirt proclaiming either his unflinching desire to "Do Chicks" or his work as an FBI agent... FBI being the acronym for Female Body Inspector."

There's another superficiality that attracts me to walkers of Chicago. Smoking. I'm not an advocate of the practice, but yes, I smoke (and quit and start again and quit, etc) and I am aware of the health hazards but damn it nothing looks cooler than to have a cigarette wedged between the fingers of your hand as it swings back and forth in perfect step with your stride. It hangs at your side like perfect walking companion, conversing with you in each long drawn out drag. Houston recently banned smoking in all public buildings to include bars and clubs creating the impression that the act of smoking is on par with necrophilia. In Chicago, you just look cool.

My time is almost up and I need to get on the road now. My visit has been an unexpected treat. I miss Chicago very much even though it was one of the loneliest times in my life. Of course that has all changed for me and for the better I might add. I am very happy where I am at in life and in Houston, but there are times when I think back to my short stint in Chicago and I fantasize about transporting my entire life, friends, family, job, girlfriend, church, etc there. I know that's just not possible, but today at least allowed me to indulge in my little day dream and for that I am content. As a parting sentiment I think I'll a pack of Malborow Lites and take one more stroll up the street.

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Honor

I know I've already made one plug for CBS's Television drama "The Unit," but here I go again. I have to watch this show alone because I find myself tearing up so many times through the course of an hour you'd think I'd been subjected to 12 straight hours of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The story lines are both powerful and realistic covering not just the shoot-em-up-bang-bang aspect of the soldiers themselves, but also an equal dedication to the lives of the wives at home as they deal with their own issues most of which are unrelated to what their husbands are involved in. Over the course of the last two weeks' the soldiers and their families have had to deal with the unexpected death of one of there own killed in action during a mission in the Middle East.

The plot covers the subject from a number of different angles running the gambit of the expected such as the girlfriend left behind and the bewildered parents of the slain soldier, to the far more complex points of view of the NSA (National Security Agency) officer trying to keep a lid on the operation in order to preserve the President's Middle East initiatives, and the rescued, liberal journalist who, motivated by his sympathy for the people of Beirut and journalistic integrity, intends to "out" the otherwise secret mission conducted by the US on his behalf. As if these weren't enough to expound on, the plot even brings awareness to the very real stress currently placed on local chaplains trying to keep up with the numerous amount of memorial services required for the casualties of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course the point of view that gets the most attention is that of the fallen warrior's brothers-in-arms. The emotional impact is obvious, but unstated. Credit the writers and actors for not falling into the cliches of fist pounding and the "Dear-God-why-not-me-instead-of-him?" cry. Instead, the reaction could be felt only in their eyes - and not those long-contemplative stairs either, just simple and well-timed glances. Along with the glances was the team's resolve in completing their mission with an even greater level of composure and professionalism than before. In the face of this great personal tragedy, the members of the team instinctively understood the best way to honor their brother's death was to make sure it wasn't a wasted.

It's been said many times, but soldiers really don't fight for their country, they fight for the soldier next to them. The tougher the fight the stronger the bond. The stronger the bond the greater the degree of honor that exists. Honor... it's a horribly mangled concept these days or so it seems anyway. It's cliche to even discuss it, which only highlights our society's attitude toward the concept. Ironically, we downplay it's validity, but yet we harbor a deep respect for those that display a high degree of honor in their actions. Moments such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina bring stories of honor and heroics to the forefront of our conscience and we applaud these heralded exploits. Over time, however, these stories dissipate like wisps of smoke from the rubble as complacency and cynicism fill the air once again as we fixate on acts of depravity instead.

I am a firm believer that for even the most cynical of hearts, people sincerely want to believe in the higher concepts of our humanity such as honor and integrity, yet they continually look for opportunities to discredit these concepts in daily occurrences. Why do they want to disappoint themselves? One reason is that by discrediting acts of honor they also lower the bar for their own actions, thus giving themselves an out when they act dishonorably themselves.

I also think that people consider honor and morality the same thing and because they don't consider themselves moral (or moral in relation to someone like, say, the Pope, or Mother Teresa) then holding themselves to acting honorably is out the window too. The two concepts are closely tied together for sure, but I would propose that they are not necessarily the same thing. That may sound controvercial, but rather than get too deep into this point I would tell you to go get your "situational ethics ball cap" on and watch the last two episodes of "The Unit." As you're watching it count the number of occasions when a complex moral decision had to be made (and made fast). What did the team do? Was it right or wrong? Was it is justified? At the end do you still think they are honorable men? Keep in mind one fact though. These men are tools asked to do work by a less-than-honorable government (only adding to the complexity), meaning their honor will even be tested by the very entity that is responsible for them.

I wonder sometimes if people get discouraged by examples of honor in that they don't feel they have it inside themselves to make those same honorable choices and so why even try? I'll admit I've felt this to an extent. My dream from boyhood was to be a soldier of the highest caliber. One that operated by a code of honor and professionalism required to deal with extreme situations, but it was not to be. When I gave up those dreams there was this feeling that my ability to be honorable had been robbed. I would instead be working for some company doing what I had to feed the greedy monster known as Corporate America. There was no honor in this and there was no allegiance by the people that worked with you. This played out a number of times in my career as I was stabbed in the back, bad-mouthed and discredited despite my many contributions to the company's success. In my mind it almost seemed like a waste of myself to act honorably in an environment that only paid feeble lip service to the concept. Yet, in spite of my thoughts I still did what was asked of me. I made my share of mistakes and didn't always make the right choices, but overall, I tried to act as honorably as I could even if I wasn't willing to admit that I was doing so.

As I have matured my view has changed. You either choose to be honorable or you choose not to. Recent events in my life have confirmed this for me. In the last few weeks I started one job and then had the opportunity for a better one present itself. With the newer job I was one of three candidates narrowed down from over 300 applicants and the only one from outside the company. The remaining interview process required to select from amongst the three of us was the most thorough I have ever been through, but in the end I was offered the position. When the offer was made I was told that management was actually looking for a reason not to hire me and went to great lengths to do so, calling over fifteen people that I had worked with or for that were not on my references sheet. They requested obscure documentation from me, conducted back ground checks and drug test and in the end in their words, "they couldn't find a chink in my armor." The more they dug they less they found. As it turns out it was my honorable reputation that got me the job that by all rights would have gone to the internal candidates.

In the other instance I received a call from my ex-wife. Anyone that is close to me knows the level of friendliness that exists between us (think Israel and the other guys nearby). I don't say that to be mean to her but rather to underscore the impact of what she called to tell me. "Thank you." That's what she said. "Thank you for keeping up with the child support and health care without missing a payment during the entire time you weren't working." (6 months to be exact). I was stunned that she appreciated or even acknowledged the fact at all. It would have been easy on my part to chintz out of making the payments. In fact I came across a whole organization that helps fathers reduce or eliminate child support, but as I read their material I got an increasingly uncomfortable feeling over the methods in which they utilized to "help" fathers out. Additionally, it didn't feel right to withhold money that directly impacts the welfare of my boys. As a father one of my biggest responsibilities is to provide for my family, not look for ways to cheat them by cheating the system. But greater than providing for them is the responsibility I have to teach them how to be honorable men themselves one day. I may not be a daily influence in their lives. Something I struggle with constantly, but at least their mother won't have to say that their dad is a dead-beat.

I'm not telling these stories because I want everyone to say what a swell guy I am, (and please do not leave any comments to those effect either - being honorable should be something we should expect in others and demand of ourselves). I say all of this as an admission that I mistakenly believed that I needed to be part of a covert special ops unit in order to live a life of honor, but I have been humbled in the realization that honor is an everyday trait irregardless of the extremity of circumstances. It's something that defines us in the eyes of others and it's the most critical when we don't think anyone (like old bosses and ex-wives) sees it.

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Helluva Record

So my dearest and most beloved girlfriend Ashley has introduced me to the newest form of blogging narcissism known as the "stat counter." This simple little tool allows a blogger to see how many readers are going to their site on a daily basis, thus gauging the site's popularity. Of course in ascertaining the site's popularity what really is going on is that the author is actually ascertaining their popularity as a writer. "Ooooo Read me! Read me! Like me! Like me!" A high stat count for the author translates into, "Yes, yes, you should anoint me your king/queen and bow down to the almighty brain that feeds life into the listless monitor screen before which you sit." Conversely, a low count would be interpreted as, "They hate me and want me to drink Drain-O." The logic to this is a little off, but the basic thought process is nothing new for writers, artists, singers, etc who want some assurance that what they are doing has at least some degree of meaning for others. Nothing wrong with that. Knowing that what we do and what we create finds a place in this big world gives us a sense of satisfaction and belonging.

Take Ashley for example. Periodically she will flip open her laptop. "127 and it's only 7pm." she announces. She'll put the dinner plates in the dishwasher and check again, "131, good!" Thirty minutes later, "Hmm 132? Something must be wrong." The routine is similar to that of husband being forced to watch Grey's Anatomy but trying to catch the score of a major football game during the commercial breaks. Once the game clock hits zero (meaning bed time) Ashley checks the final tally for the day. If it's high then I find her scepter and Ashley goes to bed happy and thus Ron goes to bed happy. If the count is low then Ashley goes to bed sad and thus Ron... well, Ron waits till Ashley brushes her teeth, then he hides the Liquid Drain-O and clicks onto her bog page as many times as he can to inflate the count knowing that Ashley will double check the count after emerging from the bathroom ("Wow, 79 people read my blog in the time it took me to brush my teeth! Yay, me!") ... and thus Ron goes to bed happy.

I have to admit I have been tempted to add the stat counter tool to my blog. When you check the counter it's formatted into all these bars and graphs that can be sorted and arranged and rearranged plus there are colors - lot's of them. If I'm a sucker for anything - anything aside from cool hand bags, back packs, legal pads, ripped up designer jeans, Star Wars toys, superhero cartoons, Starbucks hazelnut lattes and organic peanut butter - I'm a sucker for glittery, shiny, multi-colored graphs that arise from data that I have created ("Mmmmmm, glittery, shiny, multi-colored graphs from data I have created, aurrrrrrrrrrg!"). Despite the temptation I have held off. Ashley, knowing my weakness, is not much of a help as she regularly flashes me the screen shots verifing the random numbers she's blurts out in tourettes-like fashion.

"Honey, I don't need a stat counter on my blog. It's very easy for me to count to three or four." I reason this to her with a reference to the fact that only she and my family read my blog, which I write so infrequently that I can't maintain any consistent readership thus further justifing no need for a stat counter.

"Ooooo, look! 219! That's the third highest count I've had for a Tuesday this year." and she starts to close the laptop but pauses for a moment. She looks down at the glow stretching out from the sliver of light created by the monitor and then she presses it shut. The metallic click triggers what I know is coming. "See Honey, how it works is, the more you blog, the more people will read your blog and the higher your blog counter goes up." The periods in her sentences come in the combined form of a smirk, shrugging shoulders and her eyes rolling up toward the ceiling. It's adorable.

"Ohhhhhh, that's it huh? Right. Got it."

Catching the sarcasm in my voices she gets up. "219. That really isn't as good as last Thursday's 221." She frowns by making pouty-lips. "I'm going to brush my teeth now," and off she goes to the bathroom, while I reach for her computer.

In the big scheme of things I started to think of the stat counter for my own life and it goes something like this:

35 years and 8 months on this earth
1 Mother
1 Father
3 Sisters
3 Brother-in-laws
3 Nieces
1 Nephew
3 Marriage proposals
2 Accepted
1 Marriage
1 Divorce
3 Sons ages 8, 5, & 3
1 Incredibly gorgeous, loving and talented girlfriend
Up-teen former girlfriends (necessary to find 1 incredibly, gorgeous, loving and talent girlfriend)
A ton of good friends
3 Really close friends
1 God
1 Saviour
1 Guiding Spirit
30 MG of Vyvanse once a day
50 MG Lamictal once a day
25 bucks spent per week on Starbucks Lattes (Ya, $100 friggin' dollars on coffee a month!)
3 Jobs in the last year
2 Job resignations in the same time
1 Middle finger
$734.87 in "re-appropriated" office supplies
4 Address changes in a year (Houston, Chicago, Arkansas, and Houston)
6 Different cell phone numbers in a year
431 comic books read in 9 months
Innumerable experiences and

1 pretty good life.


PS. Ya, and I added the stat counter to my page.... 14 hits and it's only 11am! Woooo Hoooo!

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Halloween?








Ok, what was Ron for Halloween? uh, weeeeeellll... let's put it this way. One night my best friend Mark and I are watching monday night football while drinking beer and out of the clear blue I announce, "I know what we can be for Halloween!" Mark's eyes light up as he visualizes the pure spectical we would create. "Yeeees!" and we punch our fists together the way that macho men do when they want to punctuate moments of masculine, beer-drenched bonding. Two days later I get a call. "Hey, we got most of the stuff for our costumes. Erin's gonna start sewing stuff on tonight..."


"Huh?" seeing as I take the call in the middle of work my confussion is all the more compounded. "What are you talking about, BubbaGanoosh?"


"You know, the costumes... for Halloween. Erin won't be able to start on mine because apparently it is impossible to locate a man-size, extra large uni-tard in the 3rd largest city in the US... ya, go figure!"


A foggy memory of beer, football and fist punching floats into view and the rest, as they say, well the rest you can see for yourself....




PS - we were a hit to say the least.
PPS - yes, Mark's wife Erin hand-sewed the costumes for us and did a great job - there was no doubt that Mark and I were truely Fire n Ice (Blades of Glory)
PPPS - when my oldest, Noah asked what I was going to be for trick or treat I explained that I was going to be figure skater to which he replied, "Dad, I'm having a hard time seeing this..."

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