family

Napping After Work Like My Father

My father always had dinner and fell asleep in his recliner after he came home from his construction job. A few hours later he would wake up, watch TV and go to bed at ten. Sometimes he would just take NyQuil and go straight to bed after his nap. Every morning he would get up at 5:30AM to start his day. He did that for 50 years. When I worked with him in construction for a few years before going to college, I followed the same pattern. Construction work was hard work. After starting my technical career 20+ years ago, I’ve never took naps after coming home and having dinner. Cleaning out IT storage closets wasn’t hard work. With my 48th birthday this week, I found myself becoming more like my father.

My technology job that pays the bills isn’t a physically demanding job. I get up at 4:30AM to get ready for work, take the express bus into Palo Alto, and start work at 7:00AM to catch up with the East Coast. Most of the time I’m pulling down spreadsheets with the latest Nessus scans, consoling hurt workstations and fixing broken users. Whenever I have downtime between tasks, while running scripts, or attending virtual meetings, I play with the trolls on Slashdot. After work I take the express bus home, have dinner and work on my side business — writing, publishing and promoting — until I go to bed at nine. I’ve done that for three years straight.

Something changed a few months ago. I started coming home, having dinner and taking a 90 minute nap in bed. I’ve never acquired the ability to sleep semi-upright in a recliner. The last time I fell asleep in my recliner was when I had my wisdom teeth pulled and my cheeks swelled up like a puffer fish in 2008. My father often slept in my recliner when he was working in town or visiting for the holidays. When he passed away from throat cancer five years ago, he died at home while sleeping in his recliner in front of the TV.

Maybe it’s the summer heat. My office is so cold that I have to wear a sweater for the entire day. When I step outside to wait 15 minutes for the express bus, I’m wilting like a flower in the heat. The AC on the express bus runs at full tilt, making it colder than my office. Once I get off the express bus, I’m walking home — and warming up — in the heat. These sudden temperature swings aren’t good for me. Taking naps is a good way to recover from that.

Or maybe it’s losing a pound per week. When I first got my digital bathroom scale, I weighed 370 pounds. I now weigh 357 pounds after 13 weeks. I’ve always felt the need to take a nap after working out at the gym on the weekends. The last time I felt this good physically was in my twenties when I rode my bicycle 100+ miles per week and my riding weight was 325 pounds. While my typical weekday isn’t as physically demanding as my weekend workouts, perhaps my body during the week requires nap time to build muscle and burn fat.

Or maybe I’m just getting old. I’m no longer the young person who can bound up the stairs with four loads of laundry in two baskets. I’m content to do only two loads at a time, making the extra trips to get everything done. My beard has gone snowy white; my brown hair is graying out. Something that didn’t happen to my father until he turned 55 and started demanding his senior citizen discounts at restaurants. Taking naps is just an indicator that I need to slow down and not be in a hurry.

Becoming like my father always scared me as a young person, mostly because I didn’t want to grow old and face my own my mortality. Now I’m accepting it as a necessity of life, a road map of what to expect in my middle age. One nap at a time.

The S-U-I-C-I-D-E of Robin Williams

Robin WilliamsAs a young child growing up in the 1970’s, I loved watching “Hogan’s Heroes” on TV about a band of misfit POW’s running a resistance operation from inside a German concentration camp during World War II. Bob Crane, who starred as U.S. Air Force Colonel Hogan in the TV series, died in 1978 under mysterious circumstances. My mother proclaimed his death a S-U-I-C-I-D-E by hanging in guarded whispers to my father. (Actually, according to Wikipedia, someone murdered Crane and tied an electrical cord around his neck.) S-U-I-C-I-D-E was a taboo word in my family, as my paternal grandfather committed suicide years before I was born. I didn’t understand how Crane died, but I knew he was gone. That saddened me greatly. When I heard that Robin Williams committed suicide, the same level of sadness overwhelmed me.

A new TV show, “Mork & Mindy,” starring Williams and Pam Dawber, premiered a few months after Crane’s death. I immediately fell in love with the first episode. Mork (Williams) arrives from a different planet in a business suit worn backwards, giving him the appearance of being a minister to innocent human, Mindy (Dawber), who discovers his extraterrestrial origins and takes him in like a lost puppy. This was the first TV series that I ever watched from beginning to end over four years. I was surprised to learn that his recent TV series, “The Crazy Ones,” got cancelled after one season, which I haven’t seen except for the opening scene of Williams and Dawber being reunited for the first time in 30 years.

My mother committed suicide by breast cancer in 2004. She refused to seek treatment despite knowing that the disease would kill her. My father and I drove up to Boise, Idaho, that summer, to bury her ashes with her parents. He gave me a grand tour of the land. We went up to Lucky Peak Dam, where my paternal grandfather, a carpenter, committed suicide after falling off a roof and injuring his back on a wooden stake (back surgery in the 1950’s was remarkably crude), and, surprisingly, my father explained to me how his father died. I was always under the impression that my grandfather drove off the roadway and tumbled down the earthen dam to crash in a fireball, as some relatives claimed that it was an accident. Not so. My grandfather drove his car down the boat landing at full speed to drown in the reservoir. That’s no accident.

I found out about William’s death after I got off work and took my iPhone out of airport mode. An email from the Huffington Post made the announcement. I felt that intense sadness overcoming me as the death of Bob Crane once did, thinking that 63-years-old was too young to die. His picture got plastered on the front page of the Palo Alto Daily the next morning. News that he committed suicide and had early stage Parkinson’s Disease came out over the next several days. The world didn’t lose a talented comedian, but a truly great human being who showed us our humanity.

Finding California Second Chance Lotto Scratchers

CA Scratchers 2nd Chance HeroI picked up many discarded California lotto scratchers in the parking lots of shopping centers around my neighborhood following the Great Recession. Someone bought a scratcher, went back to their car, discovered that it wasn’t a winner, and tossed it out window. These people don’t know that discarded scratchers are eligible for a second chance drawing on the Internet. I found 500+ scratchers, entered the numbers, and never won anything during a two-year period. And then the scratchers disappeared in recent years. As I take public transit to my new job after being out of work for eight months, I’m finding scratchers again at the bus stops and parking lots.

When my father and I played of scratchers, we could always count on at least one winning ticket for every $5 USD spent. (The holiday-themed scratchers were the most generous and frequently sold out of all the scratchers.) The most my father ever won was $500 USD, and I won $20 USD from time to time. We almost always break even when playing, seeing how long we can play multiple scratchers after getting back our five bucks. One time I played 22 scratchers in a row as I kept getting free ticket winners.

From what I read elsewhere, scratchers are less generous than before and less worthwhile to play. That could explain the dearth of scratchers in the parking lots. I’ve seen people entering a huge stack of scratchers into their laptop at the Starbucks cafe inside Safeway. Like people who collect bottles and cans from garbage cans and dumpsters before dawn, perhaps these people roam the parking lot to collect scratchers.

As for the second chance drawing, it doesn’t cost anything to play except for a few minutes to enter the numbers. Sometimes the website refuses to accept the number because the scratcher is a winner. One time my father gave me a poker-themed scratcher that was a winner, but we couldn’t figure out why it was a winner. The winning poker hand was quite obscure. I got a buck back when I turned it in at Safeway. If I couldn’t win a second chance drawing after entering 500+ scratchers, perhaps no one else can either.

Does finding scratchers in the parking lot indicate that people are now confident in the economy?

I don’t know. I’m not going to rush out to play scratchers again. Since I had four jobs in the last four years, and unemployed for three years out of the last six years, I haven’t financially recovered from the Great Recession. I’m reluctant to spare five bucks for scratchers. I have no problems in picking up someone else’s discarded scratchers to enter the second chance drawing and removing litter from the environment.

The Macintosh Came Out 30 Years Ago

Byte Magazine MacIntoshUnlike the first-generation iPhone in 2007, I wasn’t there for the introduction of the first-generation Macintosh in 1984. I was in the eighth grade at John Steinbeck Middle School in San Jose. According to the girls at school, I came from a “poor” family because my parents couldn’t afford cable TV to get MTV. We were too poor to own an Apple II. My parents gave me a Commodore VIC-20 for the Christmas the year before. When I informed my teacher that I got a computer, I got laughed out of the Apple II programming class in the seventh grade because he called the VIC-20 a toy (which it was).

A real computer, I learned, requires big bucks.

As my interests in computer programming and electronics developed in 1984, I read everything I could get my hands on. Byte Magazine was my primary source of information, where I first read about the Macintosh. The two most influential books I read that summer was a technical book on the Motorola 68000 processor that the Macintosh used, and “Hackers: Heroes of The Computer Revolution” by Steven Levy. I felt frustrated because I didn’t have a real computer to do anything with and the computer revolution was marching on without me. Never mind that I was only 15-years-old at the time.

I got a Commodore 64 for Christmas that year. Although a toy compared to the Apple II and Macintosh, this Commodore 64 was the first of three I would use for word processing, programming and video games over the next ten years. The Commodore 64 got me through the four bad years when I stayed home from high school and four good years at San Jose City College when I got my associate degree in general education.

The first Macintosh computer I used was a Macintosh Classic II at the SJCC library. English literature instructors demanded that all papers be turned in as either typewritten or laser-printed. The near letter quality (NLQ) setting on my dot matrix printer was barely tolerated. I would print out papers at home, re-type the papers into the Macintosh at the library, saved the file to a 3.5″ floppy, walked over to the checkout counter, insert the floppy into the Macintosh connected to the laser printer, and printed out the pages at ten cents a page.

As I worked in Silicon Valley, my experience with the Macintosh was touch-and-go in the Windows-centric corporate environment. Every time a co-worker taught me how to do something new on the Macintosh, I would get laid off from work two weeks later. Recruiters always teased me about Apple jobs but never submitted my resume because my work experience was—and still is—predominately Windows.

After I started earning the big bucks, I got a Mac mini in 2005 and a black MacBook in 2006. I later gave the mini to a friend who needed a Mac more than I needed an extra system. I’m still using the MacBook eight years later. Although suitable for word processing and web browsing, it’s no longer suitable for compiling programs in the background. I’ll be getting a replacement system later this year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh.

Firing On Cars With California License Plates

Targeting The GreenbackA conservative blogger, Bill Whittle, at a Tea Party rally this week advocated that Texans should open fire on any vehicles with a California license plate to prevent refugees escaping the collapse of the California economy and/or zombie apocalypse from settling in the “no tax, low reg” hell hole known as Texas. I see one serious flaw. Since the California GOP has more in common with the spotted owl than one-sixth of the U.S. population, these “refugees” are probably fellow Tea Party members.

If Texas wants to execute their own, by all means, let them.

When my father and I drove up to Boise, Idaho, to bury my mother’s ashes with her parents in 2004, our future Tea Party-leaning relatives teased us about driving a car with a California license plate, as Californians got blamed for high real estate prices, drug dealers and drive by shootings.

High real estate prices I understood too well. If my parents had kept the house they paid $32,000 USD in the 1960’s until they retired in the 1990’s, they would have walked away with a million bucks to buy a similar house in the boondocks of California or a palatial mansion in a western state. Unfortunately, they had a failed divorced and filed for bankruptcy in the 1970’s. My father was quite certain that monthly rents would never go above $400 per month, when San Jose was still a bedroom community to San Francisco and Silicon Valley haven’t yet spawned enough millionaires to drive real estate prices through the roof.

As for the drug dealers and drive by shootings, the finger pointing wasn’t justified.

Most of my father’s side of the family smuggled something for a profit throughout the years. My father and his brothers smuggled untaxed cigarettes from Oregon through Nevada to sell to construction workers in Southern California from the trunk of their car in the 1950’s. A distant cousin smuggled cocaine from Cuba to Florida until the Coast Guard caught him in the 1990’s. As for the smuggling of meth, heroin and prescription drugs to the local white trailer trash, you don’t mention that in polite company.

No one shot at us while we drove around with a California license plate. When my father did a California rolling stop at a four-way intersection, car horns from three different directions blasted us. My father looked in the rearview mirror with surprise.

“I was born in Idaho,” he said. “I’m not from California.”

As for California today, the economic collapse and/or zombie apocalypse is nowhere on the horizon. The 2014 budget is projecting to have a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus. If Governor Jerry Brown can hold the line on Democratic spending proposals, reducing the state debt will happen. A severe drought might be the most serious threat to the state, imposing widespread water conservation as many reservoirs are at their lowest levels in decades. Droughts, like earthquakes, come and go all the time.

Rather than worrying about Californians coming to Texas, maybe Texans should worry about their own problems that require a functional state government to fix.

Outrunning The Busybody Obese Police

No Fat KidsIf you’re an obese child in America today, you have to outrun the busybody obese police (BOP) who sends letters home from school or trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Of course, it doesn’t help if your birth weight matches a bowling ball. Rather than judging you on your character, the BOP will assume things about your weight and make your life a living hell.

Doctors told my mother that she was going to have twins. After one hour of labor and 250 stitches later, she gave birth to a ten-pound bowling ball. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was a boy and not a girl. As a young child, being overweight wasn’t a problem. Although an undiagnosed hearing lost in one ear was enough to declare me mentally retarded in kindergarten, no one mentioned anything to me about my weight.

The BOP didn’t make an appearance until the sixth grade when teasing by the other retarded boys and girls drove me to tears. The principal and my teacher called my parents into the office to scold them for my bad eating habits. They discovered that my parents were skinny people, assuming that I came from a family of fat people who shoveled junk food into my mouth. Shocked and dismayed that they couldn’t scold my skinny parents, I got sent to the doctors for testing to find an underlying medical problem.

After poking and prodding, the doctors determined I was just a big boy. Genetics wasn’t a common word back then, so no one bothered to look up the family tree. Since my parents moved to California from Idaho in the 1960’s, I didn’t know about my extended family until I was an adult. We had some big men and strong women on both sides of the family. I have inherited the “bigness” gene that has skipped my parents.

By the time I graduated from the eighth grade and dropped out of high school in 1984, I haven’t grown to my full height yet, weighed 400 pounds, had the stomach ulcers and high blood pressure of a Type-A businessman, and hated going to school. I became a shut-in for the next four years as I educated myself from newspapers, magazines and books from the library. On my 18th birthday, I got a ten-speed bike that I rode everywhere and lost 70 pounds in a year.

After I became a Christian and joined the campus ministry at San Jose City College (which I graduated four years later with a general education associate degree), the BOP came roaring back into my life with a vengeance, citing 1 Corinthians 6:19-20“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

With that scripture in hand, the brothers would give me “friendly” advice about losing weight. This became the source of many conflicts in the ministry because I wasn’t shy about pushing back, especially if I thought their ideas were impractical or unrighteous. I made many enemies as the leadership always ruled against them. After 13 years of pushing and shoving, I got tired of that crap and let them kick me out of the church.

Before I got kicked out eight years ago, I joined a gym and lifted weights. I’m now 5′-10″ tall with 350 pounds and wearing 2XL shirts. I can easily bulk up to 400 pounds in muscle, but finding 4XL shirts is problematic. I’m focused on trimming down to an XL shirt. Except for the occasional fitness nut at work, the BOP has left me alone because I can physically pound them into the ground without trying. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “Bigger guys get better respect.”

A Truly Tasteless French Ad About JFK Assassination

[youtube url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaxAstd7jUc]

You can always trust the French to come up with something truly tasteless about American culture, say, a new TV ad for a gambling company with the JFK assassination as a backdrop. Two Dallas cops are standing along the parade route when one bets the other that he can spin his gun like a cowboy, accidentally discharges the gun, and the bullet ricochet all over the place until hitting someone inside a passing open-air limousine, where a Jackie-O look-alike scrambles over the backseat as a Secret Service agent jumps the back of the limousine, and the bumbling cops points to a nearby building.

An interesting reinterpretation of an iconic moment from American history that still prompts raw emotion in people, as the 50th anniversary of the assassination is on November 22, 2013. I wouldn’t be born for another six years, but the assassination deeply impacted my parents as their first wedding anniversary took place time. Like many significant events witnessed on TV, they remembered where they were when it happened. For my father in particular, and many older white Americans in general, this was the moment when the American dream got flushed down the toilet and the country went straight to hell.

Here are my favorite pop culture reinterpretations of the JFK assassination.

Red Dwarf

This British science fiction comedy TV series, “Red Dwarf,” has the intrepid crew going back into time to accidentally prevent the JFK assassination from happening. Most Americans remember JFK as being a great president because he got assassinated. If he had survived to complete his term, people might have remembered his administration as being no better or worse than the Jimmy Carter administration. The Red Dwarf crew takes an older, washed-up and jaded JFK back in time for him to pull the trigger to assassinate himself from behind the fence to restore his place in history.

The Watchmen

I was at WonderCon 2009 when the opening montage for “The Watchmen” movie, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, got revealed for the first time, where a series of reinterpreted American scenes from the 1940’s to the 1980’s included the superheroes with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing” playing in the background. The JFK assassination takes place with The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) pulling the trigger from behind the fence. The visual effects and the music made for a stunning montage.

The X-Files

From “The X-Files” TV series came the episode, “Musings of A Cigarette Smoking Man,” which explains how the Smoking Man as a young man became a key player in so many conspiracy theories about aliens and UFOs. His role in the JFK assassination was setting up Lee Harvey Oswald to take the fall by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and firing the fateful shot from a storm drain. As the older Smoking Man once told Agent Fox Mulder, he had watched presidents die.

The Ho-Hum Sticker Shock of College Housing

Hand towerThe San Jose Mercury News wrote that the cost of campus housing exceeded the cost of tuition for San Francisco Bay Area colleges. A quick back of the envelope calculation for my college years as a young student (early 1990’s) and an adult student (early 2000’s) shows that housing was always more expensive. Other than the sticker shock that parents are going through at this time of year, I’m not sure why this is news in Silicon Valley. Being a starving student was never an easy task.

After dropping out of high school three months into the ninth grade and three days into the tenth grade, I stayed home during my high school years and taught myself from books, newspapers, magazines and public television. I worked with my father in construction for several years after I turned 18-years-old, decided that I didn’t want to work in construction for the rest of my life, and checked out the local adult high school program. They turned me away after I blew out their evaluation exam, saying that it would take me five years to complete my high school diploma, and sent me over to San Jose City College to earn a general education associate degree in four years.

My parents never supported me going to college and expected me to fail like I did with high school. For the first year, I lived at home with them for free. But each day I looked for cans and bottles in the campus garbage cans to earn the $250 USD I needed for classes and books each semester. My father and I took my mountain of recyclables in his truck to the recycling center each month. After I got a minimum wage job at the campus bookstore, I worked 30 hours a week for the next three years. My parents conceded that I wasn’t a total failure when I graduated from community college.

After I joined the campus ministry to become a Christian in 1992, I moved into a five-bedroom Victorian that was a former frat house in Downtown San Jose with 12 guys. The monthly rent was $200 USD each. That lasted three months before four of us got our own two-bedroom apartment that still cost $200 USD each. Three months of rent was what it cost to go to community college for a year.

Not long after we moved out of the Victorian, the city of San Jose restricted the number of garbage cans for pick up to three. A household of 13 guys put out seven trash cans each week. Like basic cable TV, no one wanted to pay for a dumpster. The last guy to move out called the landlord in the Midwest to inform him that all the original tenants on the lease moved out a decade earlier.

When I went back to college to learn computer programming as an adult student, I worked 60 hours a week as a video game tester, paid $1,000 USD per month for a studio apartment and Uncle Sam paid for my second associate degree with a $3,000 USD tax credit to retrain for a new career. I even made the dean’s list for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in major courses. The cost of housing has exceeded the cost of tuition.

 

Becoming A Registered Democrat Again

The American VoteI got a DMV notice in the mail to renew my California identity card. That’s weird. I surrendered my identity card to the DMV in 2007 when I got my driver license at the tender age of 37. (Yeah, I’m a late bloomer.) Both my identity card and driver license have the same identification number. When it came time to shop for car insurance, AAA charged me $420 USD per year for minimum liability and no collision because of my unblemished driving record that dates back to my teenage years.

No sense in renewing my old identity card now. Looking through the paperwork inside the DMV envelope, I came across a voter registration form. The last time I filled out one of those was when I moved into my apartment almost eight years ago.

I was a flaming liberal as a teenager, growing up on the various political scandals during the Carter and Reagan administrations to become a political news junkie in the 1980’s. If the Internet was available ten years earlier and I wasn’t 20 years behind the times, I would have blogged those Republican scandals to death.

My first election was in 1988. I voted for Governor Mike Dukakis (D) who lost to Vice President George H.W. Bush (R), which my mother cruelly jeered me because my “wasted” vote didn’t count towards the winner. But I also voted for a state-wide cigarette tax initiative that forced my father to quit smoking because he couldn’t afford to buy his weekly carton.

After becoming a Christian in college in 1992, my political views became more conservative and I eventually registered as a Republican. I voted twice against President Bill Clinton (D) after he defeated H.W. in 1992 and Senator Bob Dole (R) in 1996. Although the Internet came about in the late 1990’s, I was still 20 years behind the time and didn’t blogged those Democratic scandals to death.

I was working at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises) during the 2000 election, being the only fat white boy Republican in a QA department filled with Democrats. Everyone gave me a hard time for voting for the “losing” side. The mood turned ugly when the Supreme Court anointed Governor George W. Bush (R) over Vice President Al Gore (D) as president a few months later. No one was a happy, and, being a Christian, I couldn’t gloat about my “winning” vote.

I voted for Senator John Kerry (D) in 2004 after W. ignored the real war in Afghanistan and dragged the country into an unnecessary war in Iraq. I voted twice for President Barack Obama (D)—the best conservative president that the Democrats ever nominated—after Senator John McCain (R) in 2008 and Governor Mitt Romney (R) in 2012 led the Republican Party down the rabbit hole into political extremism.

With the registration form in hand, I filled it out to become a registered Democrat again to match my recent voting record. I still consider myself a moderate conservative. This comes after the Supreme Court announced their 5-4 decision to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protects all Americans.