Fixing Regrets: Back to College

th-2We all have regrets in life. Things that we wish we had done differently, things we hadn’t done, or things we o
ught to have done. I am no different, and man enough to admit it. One of those things, as embarrassing as it is to admit, is earning a college degree. Granted, I have done okay without one, and my experiences make me the man I am; but I can reflect back on my life and see opportunities missed because I did not have that piece of sheepskin. Now, in my late forties, and going through that mid-age crisis, that men are known for, I have decided it is time to fix that regret.

I’m not totally starting from scratch, I have some college credits from High School and a few classes from my early 30s. Still, I need to complete my core classes, and the local community college is the most economical. During my hours of sitting, waiting for this advisor or that registrar I have come to a few conclusions.

1) Adults returning to school have a completely different mindset than recent high school graduates. I suspect that most of these ‘kids’ are going to classes just to get through them. The necessary evil required to graduate college, and to keep their parents off their backs. I, on the other hand, have a true desire to understand what will be taught. It won’t be merely a matter of memorizing formulas and regurgitating definitions to pass tests. I have a lifetime worth of experience, where I have seen these principles used and have always wanted to understand the ‘why’ behind them. Now I have a chance to explore them, which I am sure will piss-off my peer students.

2) These kids have no freaking clue. I don’t know if I’m more annoyed with the youth or their parents. For example, while sitting in the waiting area, a mother and son approach. The son is fresh out of high school and mom is an obvious dominating figure. “Sit there,” mom says pointing to a bench. “Okay,” mumbles the son. No sooner is his butt planted, when a gaming device appears in his hand; no interest whatsoever in the world around him. A few minutes later mom returns, with more papers in her hand. “Come on,” she demands. “Okay,” the boy mumbles and follows mom — nose still buried in the gaming device. So where is the fault here? The mom for not trying to teach her son what is going on, or the son for not having the slightest interest. These kids are our FUTURE. It really worries me.

3) Education is unnecessarily expensive and difficult. It’s no wonder that the USA lags behind the world in education. Just getting registered to attend a community college requires one to jump through a maze of hoops. Perhaps that was why gaming-kid had mommy drag him around. Then once registered, it is time for books. Oh My God! Why are text books so freaking expensive? I’m a writer, I understand that authors need to be paid for their time and research, but holy cow. I have purchased programming books three times the size and only spent a fraction of what text books cost. And it isn’t like these books are going to be constantly used over the years. No, they will be used for one semester (maybe two) and then be ditched.

4) Regardless, this will be an interesting experience. Being middle aged and returning to school is a fairly unique opportunity. I’ll be able to observe how seriously (or lack thereof) our youth take their education.

Interested to see how it goes for an older guy in college? So am I. I think I found a topic for some future blogs. Stay tuned for more…

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Road Trip

20130218-185001.jpgIt is 9 pm, central time, and I am still an hour east of Memphis, Tennessee. We’ve been on the road since eight that morning, Eastern time. We had crossed the Appalachian Mountains and nearly avoided a storm front that generated tornadoes throughout the South. The night sky is moonless with the highway traffic light. I am settling in to the driver seat after having been forced to stop for an hour in the middle of the highway while a semi burned up ahead. Beside me my wife, Donna, has her eyes glued to the iPhone as she searches for a decent place to stop for the night. A FaceBook friend of hers had commented on my posted image of our traffic predicament and informed us to reconsider staying in West Memphis.

Throughout the past six days on the road, we put her iPhone and today’s technology to the test. In Louisiana she found a small creole type restaurant that served crawfish by the pound; in Mississippi it was a hotel; in Alabama she applied for a dozen jobs, even having a phone interview; in Florida she helped navigate through some back roads to avoid an accident which shut down Interstate 95; and in Georgia she found the most important thing — Chick-Fil-A. I’ve used my phone to determine different routes back west, kept up with the Twitter universe, posted FaceBook pictures at South of the Border, and the next morning find a Starbucks in Little Rock.

Another exit passed by and I reminisced on road trips from my past. I recalled hitchhiking thirty-five miles in the middle of the desert because of a blown engine. I remember the heat of the Alabama summer while I helped my dad rig the brakes on my grandmother’s Cadillac to get us, and my broken down Impala, back to New York. In the nineties there was the night of three exits and five hotels trying to find one with vacancies. And how could I forget the hundreds of roadside gas stations with the unsanitary bathrooms and raunchy food. Our trip had none of these. The stress and trials of road trips seem to be a thing of the past.

Donna asks if we should stay on the Tennessee side of the River. I think of the Monday morning rush hour and consider it would be safer to be out of the city. Forrest City, she says, is just west of Memphis and a Holiday Inn Express lies right off the highway. She switches to another app and pulls up ratings. There are few reviews, but it is probably because the hotel is new. She calls and reserves a room while I stretch the tension from my back and shuffle in the seat to ease the pain settling in my posterior. Donna pulls up the address and inputs the address into the car’s navigation computer. In seconds a route is calculated and shows me that a bed is now just an hour away.

Tonight there will be no guessing. We won’t have the fear of leaving our car in a parking lot. Best of all the shower will be clean and the toilet will flush, not over flow. I kiss my wife’s hand. Her work as navigator and companion has made our impromptu trip enjoyable. And the technology in her phone has made it bearable. Once more long road trips can be considered without dread and derision. I can foresee more road trips in our future as we explore the beautiful country we live in. So long as we keep our smart-phones charged.

 

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Getting (Re)Started

Six years ago I completed my first century (100 miles) bicycle ride; less than a year later my first Half-Ironman triathlon. I considered an hour ride or a three mile run a warm up. I was one of those guys and loved every minute of it. My fitness level eclipsed even my Marine Corps days. At 39 years old I found myself in the best shape of my life.

Fast forward to today. I am fifty pounds heavier and my idea of a workout is taking the dogs down three flights of stairs for a walk around the pool. My mood has soured, as can be seen in my last few blog post. My confidence is shot and I am quite peeved for allowing myself to get this way. Oh sure, there are excuses: life, stress, marriage, moving, new jobs, and finishing my novel. But excuses are all they are. I can clearly recall myself telling others that exercise must be a priority in your life. Only then will you find the time. I know how to fix my situation and I have finally been doing something about it.

For the last week or two the wife and I have been taking increasingly longer and more intense walks. Because of them my mid-day energy levels have increased, my motivation is elevating (although in small increments), and I can feel a twinge of the old self lurking under that 50 pounds of fat. This past Sunday morning I took it to the next level. Running at my age and weight will tear up my knees and inflame the plantar fasciitis of my right foot. I needed something that will allow a long cardio workout while keeping the impact low. The obvious answer has been sitting on my porch for the last year — my bicycle.

I must admit that getting the bike, the bike rack, and my cycling kit down three flights of stairs was a workout unto itself. I seriously considered tossing everything over the balcony or just skipping the workout altogether. I held fast and headed to downtown Fort Worth. Less than a mile into the ride, I had more doubts. My thighs were tight and trying to maintain a pedal cadence of 92 rpm (rounds per minute) seemed impossible. Being over a year since my last ride, I realized that I’d have to start slow; let my muscles loosen up and get back into the routine. I slowed down the cadence and eased into the aero-bars for a long ride. Over the next 7 miles I realized a few things.

 

1) There is a LOT of construction going on along the Trinity Trails.

2) My 50 pound belly makes leaning over while pedaling very uncomfortable.

3) There have been some massive changes along the trail — all for the better. (Thanks to the Fort Worth Mayor — may God bless her and keep her in office for another term.)

4) Road bike seats are not very comfortable when your ass isn’t used to it.

5) MapMyRun app for iPhone is cool as shit — it even gives you mile splits without turning off Pandora.

6) I’m slow as hell.

 

At the 7.5 mile point (my turn around) I took a five minute break. Stretched, clean my glasses, and hoped I could make it back without passing out. Back on the road I could feel that I had a tailwind, which help out tremendously. By this time, my legs had eased into the routine and my belly fat had shifted enough for me to go into the aero position with suffocating or crushing my testicles. I know it is probably my imagination, but I could almost feel my system cleansing itself of the toxins that were injected into my body over the last few years. I didn’t just stink of sweat, I reeked of ammonia. But, then again, that is one reason why I am out there.

I finished my 15.5 mile ride in 1hr 9min 56sec. It’s nowhere near my pace of five or six years ago, but this is an older, rounder, and slower self. I really don’t mind too much, I’m going to use it as a benchmark — my starting point. Less than an hour after the ride and I felt great. The rest of the day I had energy and felt productive. I got out there, pushed past my boundaries, and finished. I am better for having done it and I know it is only the beginning. That is the hardest part — starting. Get started and it will be easier from here out. I know it, I just need to keep reminding myself.

The Man In Progress has started once more!

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Dog Days of Summer

It is mid-July and the summer heat is topping triple digits. It is days like this that I stay inside situated under the AC vent. This past weekend was no different. I found myself procrastinating while surfing the internet for a blog idea to jump out of the world wide web and smack me across my bald head. At some point, Alley, one of my two Shih tzus excitedly jumps between me and the television, her tail wagging franticly. It’s her way of telling me that she needs to go out.

After three minutes of trying to ignore her antics, I succumb and head over to the door. Oreo, the male dog, pops up from his resting place under the end table as if asking “walk?”

I am a firm believer that dogs are animals — not people. Though I’ve cared for this pair for nearly ten years, never once had I referred to them as “my babies” or dress them up in ridiculous outfits. (Okay, there was that one time I put a sweater on Oreo after he was shaved down a little too early for summer, but the poor guys was shivering.) They are dogs, and I am the pack leader. That being said, I still can’t help adding Pixar-type characteristics to the duo. For example, I’m convinced that Oreo is the happy dumb dog with a vocabulary limited to one word sentences. With him, it’s more how he says something rather than what he says. Alley on the other hand is a diva with a vocabulary to go with it. In fact, she is the epitome for which the word ‘bitch’ is derived. Unfortunately, she lacks memory. Like she will forget that it is the middle of summer in Texas and we live on the third floor.

As soon as the door is open Oreo bolts out and waits for permission to head down the stairs. But when the summer heat hits Alley in the nose, her excitement is shot and she saunters out. When the door clicks shut, Oreo trots down the stairs, happily muttering “Pee, pee, pee, pee….” And Alley just stands there looking at me as if to say, “Stairs? You want me to go down stairs?” On the second landing, noise from the pool distracts her and she HAS to see what is going on. She doesn’t often get an above view of humans, so she revels in the moment.

“Alley,” I yell at her.

“What?” she snaps back. “Oh yeah, stairs. Fine”

Begrudgingly, she endures the tedious task of walking down all those stairs. I’m sure she would love for me to carry her, but she needs the exercise. Besides, it is quite humorous to see her half-roll, half-waddle down. At the bottom Oreo has already relieved himself and his eyes are asking “walk?” When Alley finally makes it down she gives him a slight body slam; her retaliation for his making me take them out.

I give Oreo the go-ahead and he takes off. “WALK!” his stride says. Alley though, stands there, glaring. “Seriously? You want me to walk? It’s hot.” She then trudges off to the grass and urinates oh so daintily. When she’s done her looks says, “Okay, I’m done. Can we go back to the AC now?”

I coax her to follow and she eventually gives in. I am the pack leader after all. She trots a few steps then stops to see if I’m watching. I can easily see her riding in a wagon like the Queen of Sheba, but she’s prone to motion sickness. Pending on my patience I’ll put her on the leash. Alley does behave much better when on-leash, but when I go to connect it to her collar, she drops her head and the tail goes flaccid. The biggest act of pity me you’ll ever see.

The whole time Oreo is prancing ahead. Every twenty feet or so he will stop and look back to make sure we are following. I think that is the limit of his vision. As a young pup Oreo pissed-off one too many cats and is now mostly blind as a result. I think he has no near sighted vision left as he can’t see food placed in front of him. He strictly goes by sense of smell. His far sighted vision is limited and gets distorted with the back ground. But he doesn’t care, he happily prances along. “Walk, walk, walk… Shit?”

With no warning he makes a turn and heads off to the grass, his rear legs going slightly faster than his front. He walks like this for fifteen or twenty feet before circling five times then settles in to do his deed. “Ahhhhh. Shhhiittt.” After finishing his business he attempts to vault over the pile, but his left paw catches just the edge — as always. Back on the sidewalk he returns to his prancing like nothing happened.

Throughout the walk Alley lags behind. I contemplate putting her on leash, but it is a lazy day and I’m feeling patient. She takes the opportunity to thoroughly sniff every spot dogs have marked. Oreo just marks over the spot, many times while she is still catching the scent. It isn’t until we head back upstairs that life returns to Alley. She’ll bound up the steps two at a time like she is a puppy again. At each landing she stops to make sure I’m following. Her tongue is out and I swear she’s about to hyperventilate. Several times in the past her excitement resulted in a hacking fit, so now I try to keep her calm. But with the instinct that a treat is at hand, it is hard to stop her.

Inside the apartment I hang up the leashes and kick-off my shoes. Alley’s tail is swishing so hard I worry she’s going to throw a hip. At about ten years old she is an old dog indeed. Oreo though, has taken up a “MINE” position just inside the kitchen, like he does when guarding his food or a fresh bone. He knows what is coming and knows he needs to protect what is his from the glutton Alley. I give them their treat and Alley rushes off to swallow most of hers, while Oreo devours his before returning to comfy spot under the end table. It’s only been fifteen minutes and the excitement is over. The three of us settle back in wasting away our dog days of summer.

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Confidence Begins Skin Deep

ImageLast week I ventured to the gun range with the wife and had a blast shooting hand-held cannons. The ultimate being the S&W .44 Magnum long barrel — the original bad-ass weapon, made famous by Clint Eastwood in Dirt Harry. The pumped up ego only lasted until my wife posted to FaceBook pictures of me firing said weapon. The ego was further deflated when she informed me “those were the good pictures”. I basked in the post-shooting glow for a day or so allowing my brain to slowly accept the reality those photos shown.

A week later and I have come to the realization that confidence begins with image. How we present ourselves to the public is the spark to confidence. For a man; the vehicle we drive, the tools we use, the man-toys we possess, are all items that define who we are — or at least who we want to be. And of course the more flashy, more expensive, or the bigger those toys are, the more we are trying to compensate for the lack luster confidence we feel within ourselves.

This holds true to women as well, just in a different ‘fashion’. Don’t believe me? Watch a few episodes of TLC’s What Not To Wear. Stacey and Clinton will tell you that a woman’s whole outlook on life can begin with the positive image she has for herself — meaning the clothes she wears, the style of her hair, and properly applied make-up.

(Just a side-note here. Yes, I, a man, do indeed watch the show. Not so much for the fashion advice, but because Stacey and Carmandy are freaking hot! Hehehe, I watch for the pictures, not the articles.)

There was a point in my life, not so long ago, that I didn’t need man-toys to bolster my confidence. My accomplishment, my physical feats, and my athletic body spoke volumes of the confidence I felt. Hell, for the first time in my life I felt like I was attractive to the opposite sex and had the notches in my bed post to prove it. But my confidence got the better of me and over the last few years my accomplishments waned, my physical feats were reduced to getting off the couch to go pee, and my athletic body is now covered in 50lbs of fat. The confidence is gone. I now rely on my motorcycle and moments at a firing range to give me a glimmer of the confidence I once felt.

Granted that there are men out there that are my size and very content with it. They have confidence and they wear their weight well. Though we men are simple creatures, we are all different. Confidence begins skin deep, and for this man, an athletic body is what is needed. I know what needs to be done. I know how to get that Kirk back. I have done it before and, dammit, I will do it again.

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Looking Like a Bad Ass

On a Saturday in late June my wife and I headed down to the firing range. An associate at work organized the event with a friend of his. As it was a class on learning basic safety of firearms and how to shoot them, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to bring her. The wife has become increasingly jealous of Kari Byron from Mythbusters, for having a job that allowed her to blow shit up and shoot big ass guns. It would also be a chance to show-off my self-proclaimed masterful skills with a firearm.

In fact, my last trip to a firing range was in 1989 while serving in the Marine Corps. I’ve fired weapons since, even once shooting a hole through a friend’s truck’s glove compartment. Truth to be told, I think that was the first and only time I fired a pistol. As a Marine we were required to qualify with the M-16A2 (rifle) but we only had one day to shoot the M1911 (pistol) and I had chosen that day to be in sick-bay with the shingles.

We arrive at the firing range a little late and head up the hill to where the rest were waiting to begin the class. The instructors go through the safety rules and talk about the basics of marksmanship. B.R.A.S.S. Got to love easy acronyms. Finally, we get out to the range and begin shooting. The wife takes to it really fast. I do have to admit, seeing her with a Bereatta 9mm in her hands was sexy and scary at the same time. I replayed the days events to make sure I didn’t piss her off for any reason before handing her the loaded magazine. We fired a range of pistols and a M&P15-22 (rifle patterned from the civilian AR-15). After things started winding down, Todd brings out the big boy, a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Model 29 with 8 3/8 inch stainless steel barrel (see the picture). The original bad ass gun made famous by the original bad ass himself – Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry.

Being the gentlemen we are, the women had a chance to fire first. A few opted out, but not my wife. She pushed her way to the front and grabbed that bad boy. If her holding a 9mm was scary, seeing the 5’4” petite woman brandishing a mini-cannon was down-right terrifying. After pulling the trigger she couldn’t help giggling. She looked at me with an expression of “don’t mess with me” written all over it. Not to be out done, I had my go at it. I must admit, that first trigger pull is a bit unnerving. After that, it’s an adrenaline rush with each pull. Even more surprising I was on target. That’s one less tennis ball.

Throughout the day we took pictures. For her, it was to prove to her daughter she actually did it. For me, it was to look like a bad ass.Epic failure. The image in my head of my cool shades aiming the stainless steel long barrel looked pathetic compared to the massive ring that has settled around my mid-section. I looked like a deflated Hersey Kiss standing on tooth picks. The only thing Dirty Harry about the image was the .44 mag. Lesson learned: don’t take pictures if you aren’t prepared for the result.  A lesson I’m going to discuss in my next post. For now, I’ll enjoy the memory of feeling like a bad ass for just a little while longer.

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Real Life Inspiration

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It has once been said that real life is stranger than fiction, and it is a fact I believe adamantly. Many mornings I can be found at a local coffee shop engrossed on my laptop. Or am I? I admit, I am not the most imaginative writer in the world. It is hard for me to sit in a sealed room and pull great works and awe inspiring pieces from the vastness of my mind. For me it doesn’t happen that way. I draw my inspiration from the world around me. To me imagination is sparked by the life stories of people that walk by me on their way for a morning cup of joe or just going through the motions of life.

A few years ago I found myself at a gas station while refueling my work-truck. As the neighborhood was questionable, I remained in the cab while the tank filled. Across the parking lot walked an older black man with dread locks falling midway down his back. He wore jeans, untied combat boots, and his untucked shirt was only half buttoned, exposing a bare chest and a gold chain that would make Mr. T envious. The man talked non-stop — not to people but everything else. The pile of firewood, the garbage can, advertisements, until finally he got into a heated discussion with a tree. I pulled out my lap top and began sketching a character that would eventually become the March Hare in my novel.

Everyone has a tale to tell, though not every tale is worth telling. For me inspiration comes in many forms and at any time. I have found inspiration at a gas station, an overflowing river, and even at church. When I do have inspiration I pull out my iPhone or lap top and jot down the first three things that caught my attention, then briefly what the sight inspired. Some ideas I have used, other’s I add to a file with hundreds of others I’ve collected. It is a practice I try to hone every chance I get; fine tuning my observations, and improve my writing efficiency. My laptop is always with me and I’m always expanding my collection of inspirations.

Just curious… Where do you find inspiration and how have you used that inspiration?

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