I am thankful for all the obvious things one should be thankful for (life, health, work), but one thing that hit me this week was how thankful I am for the graduate writing program I’m enrolled in.
I’ve attended college for lots of reasons over the years — because I wanted to start something, because I needed to finish something, because I didn’t know what else to do — but right now, I’m going to school because I want to. We are paying for my classes out of pocket, and it’s not cheap. That’s not any kind of badge of honor, but a testament to how much I want this. Every day, I walk into class and open my spiral notebook, ready to capture any sliver of information that will make me a better writer.
I am thankful for my classmates, a motley crew of youngsters half my age who push me to be a better writer than I really am. Bad writers get weeded out of graduate level writing classes pretty quickly, and all the ones that survive are good. When I started the program the names and faces ran together, but as time goes on it’s really neat to know them as people; to learn about them by what they write, and to learn from them by how they write. Many of us are competitive, but not with each other. Each of us want the others to make it. I understand the allure and convenience of online classes, but the interaction I have with my classmates is such a core part of the educational experience for me that I can’t imagine attempting a degree like this online.
The University of Oklahoma has gone out of their way to hire not only published authors as professors for their professional writing program, but ones that truly care about their students’ success. I’ve had conversations with my professors before, during, and after class about my writing. They have offered guidance, suggestions, and feedback, and are genuinely excited each time one of us gets something published. Each assignment I get back comes with suggestions on how to make it better, and I love it. I’m not doing all of this to have sometime tell me I’m good; I’m doing it to get better. So far, it’s working.
There used to be a line of insults that began with, “When God was handing out brains…” and there’s no doubt I got a weird one. I remember things that happened to me in kindergarten, but use a daily alarm on my phone to remind me when to pick Morgan up at the bus stop. Sometimes in social situations I can never think of things to say, and yet while sitting behind a keyboard, I never seem to run out of them. I come up with ideas for short stories and novels every day, and this program is helping me develop the tools I need to turn those ideas into complete stories.
The odds of becoming a financially sufficient full-time writer are so slim that they could be compared to shark attacks and lightning strikes, but that’s not what it’s about for me. Sure, I’d love to be a guy who “writes for a living,” but I will be content to be a guy who “lives to write,” and that’s what I’m learning to do at the University of Oklahoma. And for that, I’m thankful.
Gather ’round, children, and let me tell you about the days of old.
If you’re in your mid-20s or younger, you probably don’t remember life before the internet. Those of us in our thirties, forties and beyond remember the world of catalogs. Other than the Thanksgiving Day parade, nothing else marked the beginning of the holiday season more than the arrival of 500 bound pages featuring photos of every toy you could imagine. Sears, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penny, and other large department stores couldn’t wait to get their thick catalogs into the hands of children, who would flip through the pages and create their wish lists from home.
While people have more fond memories of the winter calendars, those same companies also released spring/summer editions, too. They contained few (if any) toys and therefor were much less popular with kids. My dad recently ran across a 1993 Sears Spring/Summer catalog and dropped it off. I’ve had a great time going through it.
Not having held one for a while, I was immediately impressed by the thickness of the book — 1,554 color pages featuring everything from clothing to household appliances. Imagine if someone printed out pictures and wrote descriptions of every single thing Sears sold.
The first thing I flipped to were the computers, which are separated from the electronic typewriters, word processors and fax machines. The catalog flagship machine is the Packard Bell Legend 800 — “The fastest machine we have offered.” It’s a 486 DX2/50 that comes with a 210 MB hard drive and 4 MB of RAM for $2,099.99. The Legend 730, a 486 SX/20 with a 130 MB hard drive and 2 MB of RAM is half the price at $1099.99. On the following page, there’s an IBM PS/1 computer with a 486 DX/33 processor for $2,699.99. A few other computers are shown. All of them come with 5.25″ floppy drives. If you’re into retro technology like I am, you would be thrilled to find anything this old and still working in your local thrift store. If you’re not, I can put it in perspective; you can buy machines for $5-$10 today that will run circles around these dinosaurs.
For you Mac fans, there’s a Performa 600 with a 160 MB hard drive for $1,899.99, monitor not included. (A monitor is available for an additional $399.99.)
The catalog has 10 times as many portable cassette players as it does CD players. Sony’s CD Walkman starts at $149.99; there’s one with 8x oversampling and “Megabass” for $229.99. The accompanying headphones in the pictures seem old to me. There are no big headphones with flashy colors, nor are there any earbuds.
The video game section starts off with the Nintendo Game Boy and original NES before moving on to the Super Nintendo, Sega Game Gear, Sega Genesis, and the “Sega Super CD” ($299.99), a CD add-on for the Sega Genesis (later renamed the Sega CD).
There’s a $499.99 VCR, a 61″ Magnavox rear-projection television for $2,999.99, and a whole section for TV antennas. Other things haven’t changed as much. The refrigerators and stoves look like refrigerators and stoves, at least to me. To someone else they might seem as outdated as the computers do to me. The ceiling fans, desks, and tools all look like the ones in my home. Based on the pictures, I don’t believe we’ve had any breakthroughs in tent design over the past twenty years.
While there are four pages worth of cordless phones, there are no cell phones or mobile phones. There are no DVD players, no GPS units, and no MP3 players. Beanie Babies wouldn’t debut for a few more months.
The most telling omission is any reference to the internet. There’s no mention of a dot com, no suggestion for customers to visit Sears’s website. Instead, a 1-800 number is listed for customers to call for local inventory. Over the next few years, the world would move online and by 1998, these catalogs would be a thing of the past.
These lovely ladies never saw it coming.
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved joke books. I loved reading jokes and telling them to my friends, although I usually forgot them almost as quickly as I read them. Morgan likes reading and telling jokes too, and although she normally gets them from websites and phone apps, when I ran across this book of jokes I just had to pick it up for her.
First of all, it’s the “ultimate” joke book. If you’re only going to own one, it might as well be the ultimate one, right? Also on the cover, the book guarantees laughs for every day. How can you go wrong for only $1.99?
Very, very wrong.
Excited about my find, I opened the book up to a random page and read the first joke on the page.
“You know,” said the farmer to his wife, “with all the additives they’re putting our milk these days, don’t you reckon it makes old Bessie feel right deficient?”
I flipped back a page.
The chicken yard was thrown into a clucking fright when farmboys at play accidentally kicked a football near the coop. After the ball had been retrieved and the flock had calmed down, one hen turned to another. “Now that,” she said, “was what I call an egg.”
Noticing a farming trend, I realized the jokes were organized by topic. Here’s one under “crime”:
A new prisoner was shown to a cell he was to share with a crusty old lifer. “How long’s your sentence?” was the veteran’s first question. “Well, thirty years–but I’m up for parole in ten,” said the rookie. “Then I get the bunk nearest to the door,” said the vet. My parole comes up in only six years.”
Hey, here’s a section on lawyers. Surely there’s a funny lawyer joke in here, right?
“I need a criminal lawyer,” a stranger announced in a small-town barbershop. “Know where I might find one around here? “Well, Lawyer Blake and Lawyer Black are obvious choices. There are a couple others we suspect, if Blake and Black are both too busy to take your case.”
Two friends were discussing a mutual acquaintance. “I don’t think she’s really antisocial,” said one. “Nah,” said the other, “she just despises humans.”
For the first time in my life, I felt horribly ripped off after spending $1.99 on something.
Toward the back, I found the jokes about school.
“How was your first day of school?” Mother asked Wanda. “Tell me all about it.” “It was a complete waste of time,” said Wanda. “I’m dropping out.” “Oh no! What went wrong?” “I just don’t see any point to it. I still can’t read. Can’t write. And I’m not allowed to say anything to anybody.”
Is… that a joke? Is that a guaranteed laugh that belongs in not just any joke book, but the ULTIMATE joke book?
ULTIMATE: the best achievable or imaginable of its kind. (dictionary.com)
Go get your jokes from the internet, kids. Print is dead.
I was home alone last week when I heard a voice behind me.
The little girl’s voice was as plain as day — not something you might imagine in your mind, but something real you would hear with your ears. I had just flushed the upstairs toilet when I heard the voice. I spun around to see who was standing behind me, but no one was there.
Had one of the kids stayed home sick from school? I tip-toed out of the bathroom and looked around. All the lights upstairs were off. I stood still for a long time, waiting to hear it again. I went back to the bathroom and waved my arms around in the air like a madman, thinking maybe I had set off one of the kids’ motion sensitive toys.
After thoroughly searching the upstairs I came downstairs and, with the precision of a one-man SWAT team, searched the rest of the house. If there was a girl or a ghost on the loose, I would find it. I searched each room, my heart skipping a beat as I peeked inside each closet. I’ve watched too many horror movies for this to be any fun.
Finally, I peeked outside through the closed blinds. Susan’s car was gone. I was home, alone.
I will not lie and say that for a few minutes I did not question my own sanity. I was sure I had heard the voice and not imagined it — but then again, wouldn’t a crazy person think the same thing?
I checked the bathroom a few more times that afternoon, investigating the counter for any sign of something that would make noise. There was nothing there.
The solution to my mystery came the following day in the same bathroom. I was home alone (again) and this time I had closed and locked the door behind me in hopes that it would keep the ghost from spying on me. Right after I flushed the toilet, I heard a weird sound — air bubbles trapped in the pipes, I think, but a distinctly familiar sound: “craaa cruuu,” it said.
Or, to someone not expecting it, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied, as the water and my ghost spiraled down the drain.
At the beginning of each graduate course I’ve taken over the past three semesters, students are expected to introduce themselves to their fellow classmates. The format varies slightly, but key bits of information always include giving your name, what your undergraduate degree was in, and where you earned it. This seems like it would be simple information to provide, but I get tripped up every single time. Let’s just say I didn’t take the express train to get where I am today.
I first attended college at Redlands Community College. I started in the fall of 1991 (right after graduating high school) and attended classes for two years. I was a full time student pursuing a degree in Journalism, but due to dropping a couple of classes and taking Yearbook and Newspaper four semesters in a row (which didn’t count toward my credits total), at the end of two years I only had 42 of the 60 credit hours needed to graduate. When people ask what me what I got my associates degree in I say journalism, and when they ask where I got it from I say Redlands Community College. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s a lot simpler than explaining the whole story.
In 1994, I left Redlands and moved to Weatherford, OK, where I enrolled at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) and majored in nothing. I took four classes the first semester I was there and withdrew from all my classes the second semester.
I didn’t return to school until the spring of 2000, this time at Oklahoma City Community College. I think only one of the classes I took at SWOSU counted toward my associates degree, so I needed five more classes just to earn an associates degree. I took four classes during the spring semester and a fifth one that summer. I was awarded an AA in Journalism and Broadcasting from OKCCC in 2000.
From there on out, things get fairly normal. I enrolled at Southern Nazarene University (SNU) in 2004, and graduated with a bachelor of science in Organizational Leadership in 2005. I had a 4.0 average at SNU, but because of all my previous foul-ups, I barely graduated Cum Laude with a 3.485 cumulative GPA (fortunately they round up).
In the fall of 2015 I enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and began pursuing a masters of professional writing degree. My first semester of school I only took one class (short story) and it didn’t count toward my degree. That seems to be a recurring theme for me. I took seven credit hours last semester and am taking seven credit hours this semester. Depending on whether or not I take classes during the summer, I should finish the program in two-and-a-half or three semesters.
The reason I stumble when asked where I went to school and what my degree was in is because I took all my journalism courses at Redlands but earned my journalism degree from Oklahoma City Community College (over a span of ten years), waited five years, earned a BS in Organizational Leadership (a degree that confuses people), took ten years off, and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma.
I think the next time somebody asks me I’m just going to make up a simpler story.
Tuesday night after class, a few of my classmates and I left campus and walked to a nearby bar. The bar has half-a-dozen flat-screen televisions mounted over the bar, making it well-suited for watching sporting events. Normally the televisions display multiple football, baseball, and basketball games, but last night they were all tuned in to the 2016 presidential election. In a booth not far from the bar, six of us gathered to watch the results of the election.
It would be more poetic to say I was drinking because I had some inkling as to how the election would turn out, but I would be lying. I was drinking beer, but it’s because we were celebrating. I don’t know everyone’s reasons, but personally I was celebrating the fact that this horribly dirty election had come to an end. I’ve lived through a lot of presidential elections, and can’t remember a campaign quite like this one. I don’t think anyone alive can. Between the debates, the leaks, the controversies, the name calling, American politics hit an all time low. Hillary’s campaign slogan was “When they go low, we go high,” but Donald Trump’s lows were so low that her highs were still pretty low, too.
Dating back to Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, I’ve successfully picked every winning presidential candidate, usually many months before the election took place. When one classmate expressed concern about the outcome later that evening, I told them not to worry, and that I was sure Hillary Clinton would win.
For the first time in 24 years, I was wrong.
For the record, I’m not a huge fan of Hillary Clinton. We often use the term “the lesser of two evils,” and that sums up how I felt this year. I didn’t agree with all of her policies and I struggled with the whole email server controversy because, quite frankly, as a government employee, I would be instantly fired for doing the same thing. I felt like a vote for Hillary was a vote for the worst candidate I had seen in a long time, and a vote for Trump was a vote to burn down the system. I voted one way, half the country voted the other, and here we are.
My dad once taught me that a chess match can end in one of four ways: checkmate, stalemate, and forfeit are the three obvious ways, but you can always pick the board up and hurl it across the room as a fourth alternative. Tuesday night, America hurled the board.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened. Yesterday, CNN interviewed several people in Ohio who voted for Trump. “I’m tired of Washington,” said one man. “I wanted to send a message that we wanted change.” I understand this man, but not his actions. I want change, too. If your landlord raises your rent, setting your own apartment on fire isn’t the best form of protest. I’ve tried seeing the other side’s point of view, but being repeatedly called a “middle-aged, male white dipshit who just doesn’t get it” didn’t help.
To my gay friends, my Muslim friends, my hispanic friends with undocumented family members living here in the United States… good luck? I support your rights, your right to freedom and your right to choose. If the government tries to pass laws that will limit your rights I will vote against them, but forgive me for not having a lot of faith in the voting process this week.
Last night on CNN I watched the protests in Chicago, and Philadelphia, and New York City, and Albuquerque, and our nation’s capital. Some people have written these protesters off as sore losers, but there’s more to it than that. Many of them are angry because they’re afraid. I am too.
Regardless of who you voted for, I, along with the rest of the world, will be waiting to see what happens next. Some people claim that the Trump we see on television and in the debates is not the same Trump that works behind closed doors, getting things done. I hope that’s true. I hope the same Trump that yells at people, denigrates women, and gets in Twitter fights at three in the morning is not the same guy that shows up when foreign heads of state come knocking. If they are one and the same, then lord help us.
Halloween tip-toed in through the front door and left out the back without saying goodbye. The Halloween decorations (stored in plastic tubs up in the attic throughout the year) made it as far as the garage floor this year, where they remain.
Both kids (with Susan’s help) made rather than bought their costumes this year. Morgan dressed up as the Joker as he appeared in The Dark Night. She and Susan put together a costume, and Morgan did her own makeup. Mason dressed up as a cockroach. He found the costume online for $85; Susan sewed a reasonable replica for about $5.
On the Saturday before Halloween (which fell on a Monday this year), we participated in a neighborhood Trunk or Treat event. I have long stood against newer bastardizations of the traditional Trick or Treating model, but this year I gave in. Following a picture Susan found on Pinterest, we turned the trunk of Susan’s car into a big green frog and handed out candy to a steady stream of kids for almost two hours. Somewhere between 100 and 200 kids showed up to the Trunk or Treat event, and last year we only had three groups of trick-or-treaters to ring our doorbell, so it’s hard to argue with that.
On Halloween proper we drove around town and visited a few of our favorite people, like the Willraths and the Martins. At each stop, we would stay and visit for a few minutes while Morgan and trick-or-treated the immediate neighbors. It doesn’t seem like Morgan visited more than a dozen hours, but by the time she got home she declared that she had obtained exactly 156 items which included two orange plastic skeletons, a box of tattoos, and a Fiber One bar.
Except for a few candy wrappers littering the living room and the tubs of decorations sitting unopened in the garage, no trace of Halloween remains around here. Maybe next year I’ll… well, maybe next year.
As a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant made me do a lot of things. Once, after dishing an alley oop to Russell Westbrook, he made me leap out of my chair in the cheap seats so hard I spilled $9 worth of beer. Another time after hitting a buzzer beating shot to win in the finals, he made me high-five a complete stranger. When he referred to his mother as “the real MVP” during his MVP acceptance speech, he made me cry.
And last night during his debut as a Golden State Warrior, Kevin Durant made me do something I never thought I would do: he made me cheer for the San Antonio Spurs.
The story of Kevin Durant’s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder has been beaten to death. It’s been covered by so many angles that the stories are starting to conflict with one another. Kevin Durant said he would never leave Oklahoma, and then he did. Sometimes he says he left due to growing frustrations with Russell Westbrook; other times, Westbrook didn’t figure into his decision at all. Last month Kevin Durant said he and Westbrook were “still cool.” Westbrook, in response, says the two haven’t spoken since Durant left.
Strip all the “he said/she said” from the story and the fact remains that Kevin Durant left the team that put him in a pedestal for a team that made it to last year’s NBA finals. He left the team he was building for a team that he thought would bring him a championship. He broke his promise, and the heart of a city in the process.
In the film Superman II, Superman gives up his super powers to pursue a normal life with Lois Lane. In the next scene, a now mortal Clark Kent wanders into a diner and promptly gets his ass kicked by a truck driver named Rocky. By the end of the film Superman regains his powers, and one of the last things he does is return to the diner and beat up Rocky, this time as the Man of Steel.
This scene never sat right with me. As a nation, we love to win. We’re scrappers. But it’s also bred into us that punching up is okay and punching down is not. We cheer when a boxing underdog half the weight and height of his opponent pulls off a surprise upset, but rarely do we cheer when the situation is reversed and a bigger and stronger boxer pummels a weaker contender. Superman stands for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and beating up random truck drivers, whether they deserve it or not, is beneath him.
Any good auto mechanic knows you can’t upgrade one component of an engine and simply expect the car to run better. It’s about balance — how the parts of an engine work together. It’s about testing and tuning, making sure each part fits and has been properly adjusted. Performance isn’t just about the guy who can throw the most money at an engine; it’s about the guy who can make the parts he has work together.
Last night, opening night of the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors debuted their new engine to the world against the San Antonio Spurs, where it unceremoniously coughed, sputtered, and died on the court. In his debut as a Warrior Kevin Durant scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds, but toss a shiny new muffler on a previously well-balanced engine and see what happens. Last night, we saw.
The Golden State Warriors, who broke the record last year for the most number of wins in a regular season, are now 0-1 after losing by 29 points to the Spurs.
GSW now has three of the best shooters in the league, but as we saw in last year’s playoffs, if one of them has a bad night it can disrupt the entire offense. Draymond Green didn’t provide enough defense to cover for his sharpshooting teammates. Curry scored 26 points behind Durant’s 27, but nobody else scored much at all. The San Antonio Spurs, on the other hand, didn’t play like a bunch of hired guns. They played like a team.
It’s hard not to assume that eventually the millions and millions of dollars Golden State has invested in players will pay off. The engine will be fine tuned. When those guys start working together they will be tough to defeat.
Here’s to everyone trying.
When I was a little kid — this would have been the late 1970s, possibly early 1980s — I owned a cup that looked like an ice cream cone. The bottom part of the cup looked like a cone. The “lid” looked like a scoop of ice cream. The plastic ice cream was covered with a removable brown piece of plastic that looked like melted chocolate. There was a hole to accommodate a straw. We owned two of these cups. Mine had a scoop of vanilla on top; my sister’s was mint green.
I don’t remember where they came from or what happened to them, but approximately a decade ago, I decided I wanted to own them again.
And. Here. We. Go.
If you search Google Images for ‘ice cream cone cups’ you’ll find thousands of ice cream cone cups of all shapes and sizes. There are plastic ones and ceramic ones of every color. There are also thousands of pictures of real ice cream cones, plastic bowls for eating ice cream, cupcakes and plastic banks that look like ice cream cones, and all kinds of things that aren’t ice cream cone cups. For ten years, I have been searching Google and Google Images for pictures of the cup I used to own.
I searched Amazon, eBay, Pinterest, and other similar sites for ice cream cone cups. I also set up automated tools to monitor websites for ice cream cone cups, and combined my searches with words like “retro” and “vintage”.
Two years ago, I finally found a picture of one.
This picture came from an Etsy reseller, and by the time I discovered the image, the cup had already been sold. I offered the seller a hundred bucks just to tell me who bought it, so I could offer them another hundred for the stupid cup, but no dice. Dead end.
Each year, I hit up my online army of friends to remind them that I’m looking for the cup. Occasionally I get “I remember those!” and “I had one of those!” but it hasn’t turned up any leads.
Until this year.
This year, Twitter pal GabeDiGennaro asked, “was this a Disney cup?” Mine wasn’t, but then he shared a picture that put me on the right track.
It’s the cup. It’s the same exact cup — well, almost, but with a Disney label attached. I tracked the image to an eBay auction… that had just ended. I contacted the seller and discovered that although the auction had ended, the cup hadn’t sold. A deal was quickly arranged and… well, I think we all know how this story ends, don’t we?
The only difference between this cup and the one I owned as a kid are those Disney characters, and I’m debating whether or not to remove them. I still haven’t tracked down the source of the original cup — we’re leaning toward Tupperware, although Avon is a possibility, too.
I have found at least one other color combination — a strawberry on strawberry combination that also appeared on eBay, which tells me there are more of these out there.
And while the strawberry one is interesting, and I wouldn’t mind owning a mint green one, I’m pretty darn happy with the one I got. After a decade of searching, this plastic cone is sweeter than any ice cream could ever be.
Last week I bought some new stickers for my laptop.
Thirty seconds after I finished applying them I spilled a large glass of lemonade down into my keyboard. I dried the keyboard off with a towel and things seemed fine for a while,but when I turned on my laptop later that evening, 1/4 of the keys were stuck in capital mode and 1/4 were completely stuck.
But, hey — I’m a tech guy! How hard can it be to pop off the keyboard and clean it? Turns out, pretty hard. The instructions started with removing a dozen screws, then the battery, then a trap panel, then the hard drive, then the DVD player, and another two dozen screws. The next step involved running a knife all the way around the top of the laptop to break a seal, and then physically pry the keyboard off. Once removed, I found the bottom of the keys covered in a sheet of electrical tape. I used rubbing alcohol where it would reach, and I fixed the shift key, but by the time I got everything back together my delete key was stuck at a weird angle and my “k” key stopped working altogether.
ASUS doesn’t carry replacement parts for this laptop, but I found a seller on eBay who (for whatever reason) had a few keyboards for this model for sale. $30 later — and really, that’s cheap for dumping 20oz of lemonade into a laptop — I had to disassemble the entire thing (again). Funny thing, each time I put this laptop back together a few more screws get left out.
I’m going to go on the record and say that having to remove a laptop’s hard drive to replace a keyboard is ridiculous.
Roughly thirty minutes later, the new keyboard was installed and I was — am — back in business. It feels like new!