Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why I Write

The other day I received an email from an old friend.

I was so excited to hear from this person, until I read his email. He was basically chewing me out for what he was reading here in my HeadStuffing posts.

"You're all over the place" … "I never know what to expect as your topic" … "you're letting a great opportunity slip by" … "You can't possibly be retaining any decent level of readership!"

Then he went on to tell me that I could be making a fortune in Google Ads income. Quite frankly I have never received a penny from my Google Ads yet. I don't care if I ever do.

That's not why I am here.

"Then why are you wasting all your time with this blog site, Fred?" he responded in his next email. And I realized that he didn't get it.

I like to write.

Some professional writers have told me that if they were not getting paid for writing, they would do it for free. I just skipped the part about getting paid and jumped right to the part about loving to do it for free.

I like to tell stories. And the best stories I can tell anyone are the stories about things that I know about. Stories about things that have happened to me or to those I care about. Stories like the Tale of Two Grandmas, or Raymond and the Seven Dancing Princesses. Or topics that frustrate me, like my Detroit Tigers going oh-for-seven to start the season. Or the fact the school bus won't let my kids ride the bus when it picks others up on my front yard. Or stories about those in my family who have passed away and I miss very much. Stories about leaving the bliss of the sunny south to live my life in the great white north. And then there are those topics about the things my Dad taught me.

If I don't get these stories out of my head, my head would be so stuffed it would blow up. That's where the title HeadStuffing comes from.

And I have a nice collection of them now.

And what will I do with this collection? Well, I have toyed with the idea of putting them all between the covers of a book. But what I really want to do with them is keep them for my little girls.

My girls are seven and five years old right now. Okay, Ashley-Rae, you're five and three-quarters. Darlene and I started this little family a bit late in life. There will be a day when they are young adults when Darlene or myself won't be around anymore. My hope is that they can remember us as we are now, for as long as I keep writing these stories – as long as I keep documenting our life – and they will be use these stories to keep us alive in their hearts.

Google Ads money? I don't need no stinking Google Ads money!

Now that being said, I do enjoy looking at the statistics of readers that come to HeadStuffing and read my pages. It is really quite awesome to see readers coming to read from every continent and almost every country on this fair blue planet of ours.

And some really great feedback has inspired such things as providing an easy way to subscribe to receive HeadStuffing by RSS feeds. And some other really great feedback has enticed me to consider writing something a bit more complete like a book. I have heard this even from professional writers.

So you never know.

Before I had HeadStuffing to write, I would get in trouble constantly at work. My emails in some cases were blog posts. Like when I answered a question from a high ranking government official about the adjudication processing our 01 COBOL server would perform by walking them through the amazing qualities of the "oooohhh-wan server". The government official enjoyed the email, but my bosses who were copied on his reply were not too impressed with my liberties. Other times, in emails explaining to stakeholders that I can write any design they want, because it's only pictures and words. It's up to the programmers to code what I describe, and quite often they don't read my designs. That didn't go over to well either, no matter how light I thought my humor was, the room was full of critics. Critics who could put a stop-payment on my paycheck with a phone call.

So I started writing HeadStuffing. And because I originally started writing because of the inspiration of a long since deceased sports writer named Lewis Grizzard, I have adopted my best impression of his writing voice as my own.

So there.

Many years ago there used to be this commercial on late night TV by a guy trying to sell his get-rich scheme.

"By placing a hundreds of tiny little ads in newspapers all over the country …. " it would start. The only guy his scheme made rich was him.

Now I see advertisements all over the internet on how to make six-figure incomes from blogging. And you know what they're doing? "By placing hundreds of tiny little ads …"

So thank you for reading HeadStuffing. If you like something I have written, please leave a comment or drop me a note to let me know. But if you don't – please understand why I am here.

And click one of those tiny little ads on your way out.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Getting Ready For The Slippery Slope Ahead

Today I turned forty six years old. And it concerns me that I am now on the slippery slope to fifty.

Turning forty phased me only slightly. Forty five did just a bit more. But now as I hit forty six, I realize that fifty is just around the corner.

In my head I am still twenty five.

In my head I can still chase down a grounder behind second base and do the spin to throw to first, landing on my butt afterwards. In my head I can still jump a chain link fence by simply placing my two hands on the crossbar and flipping my legs over like a gymnast. In my head, I can still swim the 200 meter butterfly with the final spring in the last quarter lap.

However the body is not as willing – in fact it downright refuses - to hold on to those same memories.

Many years ago, in a land far away – I hurt my knee. When I was nineteen years old I tore my ACL (the ligament that holds your knee steady) in my right knee. And after that operation, my knee still popped in and out on occasion. But I could still play ball and work out and what not. And I did on every occasion I could find.

Three years ago, playing in a company softball tournament, I hit a long ball that my twenty five year old brain convinced me that I could turn into a homerun. And as I was hauling my fat butt around second at full tilt, I came racing around third only to have my lovely wife - who was coaching third at the time - hold up her hands and scream "STAY – STAY!". I stuck out that right leg to stop – the knee warbled and popped out – and I went down like a sack of wet oatmeal. I rolled on the ground in pain and wiggled my way back to the third base bag and got my hand back before the tag.

But the knee would not pop back in. And results of the following MRI showed that not only had I re-damaged the ACL but the cartilage under the knee – shaped like a cup to hold the knee in place.

I still shudder when I think about it.

So I have not been as active since then as I would normally be. I've tried to play ball since then, but they usually insist on a substitute runner for me since.

Right now I am forty pounds overweight. I have to ask people if my belt matches my socks. They usually respond by being nice and saying its not important if the socks match.

So I am doing something about it.

In a couple of weeks, I will be getting my knee fixed. By the same surgeons who fix the Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, and Pistons. And they say that it should be close to good as new – if I live up to my end of the bargain of physiotherapy sessions.

And then I can run and play again. And I will drop these forty pounds.

And I will try to remember my real age. It's actually harder than ever now to forget.

Last night we finally got our Wii game box. If you're not familiar with the Wii, it's a video game unit where you actually use the controller like you would a golf club if playing the golf game, or a tennis racket, if playing tennis. You wing it and it tells the game box computer what motion you made. It's really quite remarkable.

And it lets me pretend that I am twenty five again, and playing baseball. I make the motion of swinging the bat, and the computer does the running for me. And while I am laid up the first couple of weeks, I will likely be playing the Wii a lot. Hitting line drives deep to left and stretching the doubles into triples. Or slamming the tennis ball cross court as I charge the net.

It's the perfect compromise between my willing mind and unwilling tired old body.

Because I'm forty six now.

And the slope to fifty looks treacherously slippery.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Meeting Suzie

As I mentioned yesterday in Waiting for a Dog's Age, our family has a new member.

And last night I arrived home to meet our newest little girl. She is a beautiful five month old black Labrador retriever.

And her name appears to be Suzie. Her official papers actually say Suzanne.

This is awkward because we have a friend named Suzanne, and it seems a bit uncomfortable to have a dog with a person's name. Shortly after the girls named our kitten Skye, I met a young lady with the same name. When I informed her that my daughters just named our kitten with her name, she was not sure how to take it. I would assume the perception of a dog named after you would be more … unnerving.

Suzie is beautiful. She has a beautiful black shiny coat as perfect as you could imagine. And good with children? She played with my two little girls just as if she were a child herself.

But I do have a couple of concerns.

The first in that she is excessively submissive. As I approached Suzie, she immediately laid on the ground. The bottom of her jaw firmly on terra firma. And as I moved my hand to her for her to smell, she cowered. Not a light wince, but expecting to get a whack on the head or nose. I am not saying the farmer that we bought her from beat her or abused her, but it certainly appears that somebody whacked her a few times.

I checked her face and mouth and nose, looking for any remaining signs of such abuse, but none could be found. The only remnant of such abuse would be the very scared look in her eyes.

She is not quite as timid and submissive with the girls, but there are traces of her being overly cautious, even with them.

The second concern is that we were hoping, counting on Suzie to be a house dog. To live in the house and be with us in the house. But Suzie was raised on a farm, and so far has spent her life in a pen attached to a barn. She shows no interest in the house, in fact she wants nothing to do with the house.

But I think time will let us assess the situation a bit better. And time will let her gain trust in us.

She has not received any training yet.

So far, Suzie does what she wants. Her way of protest is to simply lie on the ground. She does not quarrel or squirm, but just simply lies there, un-budge-able by leash or collar. To move her, you must bend down and pick her up. Her defense is to go limp and force you carry her dead weight. Passive resistance in the most Ghandi-like fashion.

At Darlene's request, I carried Suzie into the house, and set her in the tub. Dead weight and all. Once in, she went again laid down into that scared way on the floor of the tub. I talked as sweetly as I could to her as I showered her. I wrestled with trying to reach her underbelly as I shampooed her. And I kept talking sweetly to her as I towel dried her. When the bath was over, she was not exactly impressed with her clean self. She continued to lay there as I struggled again to lift her dead – but now wet – weight out of the tub.

I carried Suzie past Skye the kitty – who by now was confused as to why - after only being in our home for a month and a half - we would feel the need to get a dog. But no hissing was heard. No barking, no real notice of each other except that their eyes met.

And Skye might well have been amused as I carried the wet dead-weight puppy to the garage.

Our house has a single car garage. And luckily last Saturday was spent spring-cleaning it out. It is furnished with a wall long workbench, another wall full of wooden shelving for storage, and a couch and chair set we replaced with new shortly after moving in. Indeed it looks like an outdoor den, and is the perfect place to listen to a ballgame on a rainy day.

We laid out a blanket for Suzie, and I plopped her down on it. And there she laid. For three hours she laid there. No motion, just a big sad look of homesick.

Around midnight we finally decided that Suzie, after consuming so much water, and eight cups of food, really needed to get up and go outside. So I opened the garage door, put her leash on, and we tried to coax her outside.

Her expression spoke this exact sentiment: "No thanks, I'm fine right here. If you don't mind, I'm feeling kind of sad and not really interested. I'll just stay here … and mope some more."

And sad she was.

Finally, I picked her up off the blanket I had laid her down on hours before. And I carried her through the garage door, to the front lawn. Once her feet touched the grass, her spirits picked up significantly. Now she wanted to play.

So we did.

At 12:30 AM we played on the front lawn until she finally decided she needed to do the business we had anticipated.

But then she didn't want to go back in. She pulled so hard, her collar slid over her head.

Suzie didn't run away. She came up to me with her head low, tail wagging, and actually waited for me to put it back on.

I felt horrible for her as I picked her back up and carried her dead weight into the garage again. After another 20 minutes of consoling and loving Suzie, Darlene and I went to bed.

The next morning, Alannah beat all of us to the garage door. She opened the door, and there standing happy and wagging her tail and prancing around was Suzie. She was so happy to see Alannah. So happy in fact that Alannah was frightened and closed the door.

"Dad! Suzie is scaring me. She's like a wild dog!"

I opened the door, and there she stood – tail wagging and happy. As for the mess, the only casualty was a phone book Darlene left sitting on the couch. It was half shredded with the pile of shreddings neat in the center of the floor. And upon closer examinations, she had peed again during the night – right in the pile of shreddings. It was as if she knew she needed hay to pee in from her old barn, and finding none in the garage, she derived a way – using only a handy phonebook, to make a place she could go to the bathroom.

If you would have told me I would ever praise a dog for ripping a book to shreds and peeing on it, I would have answered defiantly "Never". But that was one of the smartest things I ever saw a dog do. Perhaps there is the chance it was not be a conjured plan of her derision. Perhaps the series of events did simply add up to the positive result.

But I choose to think she figured it out.

We are again very lucky with the new member to our family. I think we will all love Suzie very much.

Although I can't speak for Skye the kitty.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Waiting For A Dog’s Age

It's funny how slow time can crawl by when you are waiting for something.

I remember how long it took when Darlene was expecting with our eldest daughter, Alannah. That entire nine month period seemed to last an entire lifetime. Of course, during that period as well, we moved, I switched jobs, and in general we set our lives up to accommodate a young family.

And my youngest daughter Ashley-Rae must have felt the same way about meeting us, because she showed up a whole three months early. I guess she didn't realize that she would have to spend those three months in the neo-natal intensive care unit growing big and strong enough to come home with us. And those three months indeed seemed like a year as we hoped and prayed for her. Now that she turns six this month, we have learned that Ashley-Rae waits for no one.

And when we added a pet to our home, a kitten we named Skye, we did not wait. It was a split-second decision my wife made (with suggestive consent from yours truly). The door bell rang, and a kitten was suddenly a part of our home.

Well, another new family member has arrived at our home today. A new family member that I have not met yet. Another family member that I did not expect, nor have any preconceived notion of when I awoke this morning.

She has no name yet – for I have demanded full naming rights be reserved for me, but she is a five month old black lab pup. A girl pup. But I have been in constant communication with the missus every step of the way.

It started with an ad in the paper:

BEAUTIFUL BLACK labs, purebred champion stock, 2 males, 1 female, 5 mths old. $100 each. Call ….

I am a dog lover. I love dogs. My last dog was a border collie named Champ. He could catch Frisbees and play goalie. He understood English and could herd anything from sheep in a field to ants on a driveway. But Champ was devoted to my former girlfriend, and rightly so. I have thought of him often. That was ten years ago now.

So it took little to convince me that we needed a dog.

Darlene called. And she talked. And she got the answers she was looking for. And then Darlene called me on her way back from the pup's countryside farmyard birthplace.

"She's beautiful", she started.

"And I know she was meant to be with us", she went on.

"How so?" I asked.

"Well, when the fella let her out of the barn, she ran all around the barn, and then ran right up to me and dropped a present at my foot."

"Really? What did she bring you?"

"A dead bird!" and Darlene started to laugh as thou it were the cutest thing she could imagine.

Now I have never known Darlene to think a dead bird to be cute. That's just not my wife. And quite honestly my second image in my head was this pup brining our new kitten Skye to Darlene in the same fashion.

"Sounds like she's a keeper!" I said. "She is definitely a retriever."

<deep sigh>

Another girl.

I guess I will never get any male reinforcements in my house.

The schedule of events as they unfolded worked out so that Dar had to drive directly to the school to pick our daughters up for three o-clock. There was no time to take the puppy back to the house. So just as she was pulling in to the school parking lot, she called so I could be part of the introduction ceremony. The pup was sleeping in the back cargo area of the Jeep quite contently. After finally rounding both girls up and leading them to the car, I heard through the phone the voice of my daughter Alannah:

"It stinks in here".

Then she spied the bag of puppy food on the floor. "Mom, are we getting a puppy?"

Ashley-Rae started in "I want a puppy, I want a puppy…"

Then the puppy must have raised her head in the back of the Jeep.

"WE GOT A PUPPY!!!, WE GOT A PUPPY!!" they both sang in unison.

And shortly after that, I hung up, because, well, I had to get back to work.

And as I while away the remainder of the afternoon, from this break that I'm taking until the time I leave at five o-clock, it will seem like a whole day.

It always seems to be that way when we add new members to the family. And I still haven't met her yet!

I guess I better buy her a Frisbee.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Papa

When I was a boy, I only knew one of my two Grandfathers. My Mother's father passed long before I came along.

My Dad's father was known to the kids in my extended family as Papa. Papa was quite a man. Papa was already old and bald in my first memories of him. Hunched over with a cane as the result of a life of hard work.

He had a little tin case which held his current plug of chewing tobacco. The kind that looks like a little cake. And he would take a nip off the end and sit and enjoy it.

Each time we would visit in the summer we would usually find Papa in the kitchen at the table – ears on the radio and eyes on the television – with the Tigers game on. When the game was close, he would sit with fingers crossed. Not just two fingers crossed, but all of them, trying to will the Tigers to victory.

One of my earliest memories is being a very small boy and sitting between my Dad and Papa in Tiger stadium, half way up behind the third base side dugout. That was the day Al Kaline became my hero because he hit a game winning two run homer. He also made a diving catch in right field. I don't have a clue who they were playing.

But Papa was full of stories.

Wonderful stories of going across the river to watch Ty Cobb in old Briggs field – which became Tiger Stadium.

Wonderful stories about running cross country as a boy.

Tales about running with a friend through old Detroit in the 1920s when it was a beautiful city with a friend of his named Jack. Papa was known for his long distance runs – a passion I myself nor any of my other family never really shared. On this one particular day, he and Jack came accross the event of a gangster murdering someone. As they passed, the gangster noticed they saw him and he took off after them in a car. They both speeded up to run as fast as they could to get away. As Papa looked over to see how Jack was making out, he heard a gunshot – and watched as Jack's strides go limp and he fell to the ground. Papa kept running.

As the story continues, Papa is in a Detroit courthouse, to testify against the mobster who shot down Jack. As Papa was sitting waiting, the mobster came in and walked up to the Judge. They shook hands and had an extensive conversation, smiling, laughing, and patting each other on the arm from comment to comment.

The mobster got off.

There were so many other stories, but in the twenty five years now that Papa has been gone, that is sadly the only one that I remember.

Papa loved all of us grandkids the exact same amount. I remember one family visit at my Uncle Fred's when Papa approached each and every one of us privately and slipped us each ten or twenty dollars. As he did he would grasp our arms in a hugging fashion and whisper in our ears "This is because you're my favorite." I only learned this because after he did this with me, I overheard him with the others, saying each time "This is because you're my favorite."

For most of my years knowing Papa, the family was always concerned that the next time we saw him would be the last. And yet he kept on plugging away. Through my childhood, Papa lived in a three or four story apartment building on Ouellette Avenue in downtown Windsor. The Maple Apartments. He was the building supervisor, living in a nice but small basement apartment that he shared with my Grandmother before she passed away. He kept the gardens outside rich, full and beautiful. The halls of that building were wide and shiny, and were a lot of fun for us kids to slide and play in. And across the hall was a large furnace room. Each week, a coal truck would come and drop huge piles through a coal chute into the room. So from time to time in the winter, I would accompany Papa into the furnace room to watch him shovel coal into the furnace.

As we grew to young adults, we were more and more certain that every time we saw Papa would be the last. Every time but one.

In 1983 my cousin Jenny married her husband Carter. At that event, Papa perked up into a spirited man like we hadn't seen for the last decade. And the whole week or so there with Papa was wonderful. And we were all so happy. In fact the photographer who took those wedding pictures took a special one of Papa – in his blue suite with corsage on the lapel. Eyes twinkling and a happy most contented grin. She won an award for that picture in a photo contest of some sort.

Papa passed away some three months later.

I guess he waited until everything he needed to accomplish was done.

But then I also think that in 1984, when the Tigers last won the World Series, Papa had something to do with it.

Hey Papa, we could use a little help down here this year too!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It’s About Time

Thank God that's over.

I have just come in from the garage. That's where my radio is. The radio I listen to the ball games on.

I tried using the stereo in the family room. But everyone else is watching TV or playing music on the computer. So my little portable stereo sits in the garage until the weather warms up enough to spend my evenings on the back deck. That's where the ball game sounds best. On the back deck – preferably with the sizzle of the BBQ in the back ground and the splash of kids in the pool.

But it's only the second week of April.

Tonight I spent the night in the garage, listening to the second Detroit Tiger game of three against the Boston Red Sox – at Boston. At old Fenway park. Green Monster and all.

It's a formidable venue to play in. And the Red Sox – defending World Series champs – are a formidable foe in the best of circumstances.

But these weren't the best of circumstances.

The Tigers lost their first seven games of the year.

Yes, the same Detroit Tigers that were picked by countless authorities to win their division, win the American League, and by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series this year. They even put them on the cover. Don't you think that Sports Illustrated would know that when they make a prediction and put it on their cover, they put a curse of immeasurable proportions on the team or person they predict on?

I'm positive that's what happened.

Ok, I don't believe in magic. And I don't really believe in curses.

But I am superstitious.

Some of the games that we lost were ugly. Huge scores by the opposition. Silence from the bats of our all-star lineup. Errors by gold glove winners. And pitching that would serve better in men's softball beer leagues. Sunday against Chicago, the White Sox were actually laughing at us from the visiting dugout.

And you know what? We deserved to get laughed at.

The whole city of Detroit was in a panic. I was no exception.

But those with saner heads kept saying "be patient".

"Because it's only the second week of April".

Patience was nowhere to be found. Other pundits were pulling out historical statistics:

"No team has ever won the World Series after losing the first four games".

"No team has ever made the playoffs after losing the first seven games."

But the optimists were saying "It's a long season of 162 games. It doesn't matter where in that period you slump".

But our patience had been exhausted. And we thought these boys would never win.

Until tonight.

Finally, in the eighth game of the season, the team that will win the 2008 World Series finally won their first game. A 7 - 2 victory. At Fenway. Against the Red Sox.

Atta-boys.

And they did it in really great fashion. Strong pitching from Jeremy Bonderman, a guy the city was ready to give up on. He pitched hard for six innings only giving up two runs.

Good defensive play highlighted by five double plays.

Great at bats, highlighted by a two run homer by Marcus Thames fourth and a solo shot by Carlos Guillen in the ninth just to make sure.

Pudge finally got his 2,500 career hit.

The bullpen, the Achilles heel of the Tigers, stepped up and held the Red Sox scoreless through the final 3 innings. But it was a scary bottom of the ninth as Tiger's closer Todd Jones walked the bases loaded after being one strike away from ending the game. Had Youkilis gotten on base, the tying run would have come to the plate. Manny Ramirez no less.

But Jones got Youkilis to pop up to shallow right. And the game was over.

You could feel the air pressure rise as this entire region breathed a very deep sigh of relief. I think my ears popped.

So there are now 154 games left to be played. And the rest of the season will be full of national media statements reminding us that no team has ever made the playoffs, let alone winning the World Series, after losing their first seven games. And I am certain that Sports illustrated cover will also be mentioned again and again.

And I will spend the summer, on the back deck, listening to the national media pundits belittle our chances on my portable stereo.

And I will simply muse to myself "It was only the second week of baseball!"

Thank God that's over. It's about time.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Masters Week


Of all the sporting events the world has to offer, my favorite is the week The Masters is held at Augusta National.


The Masters is to golf what Wimbledon is to tennis. What the Kentucky Derby is to horse racing. What Indianapolis is to auto racing.

Augusta National is a spectacle to behold. It is in my opinion the most beautiful setting for a sporting event that there is to offer.

The perfection of the fairways.

The perfection of the greens.

The lush landscaping of flowers, most notably azaleas.

The history is widely known, and nothing I could state would extend your knowledge of the place. But the fact that it was founded by Bobby Jones, arguably the greatest golfer to ever play the game. As arguably great as Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, or even Tiger Woods. Arguably so because Bobby Jones remained an amateur throughout his career.


Bobby Jones is the only player to win all four major events in the same calendar year. He won the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, British Amateur, and British Open in 1930. It is true that in those days – before the modern Open era – that only an amateur could accomplish such a feat. Professionals are not allowed in amateur events.


My family lived in Georgia from 1975 to 1980. It is a beautiful state. But back then, I did not know anything about golf. I had probably heard of the Masters, but gave it no second thought as it was a game for old men in funny clothes. Our Dad tried to convince my brother Paul and I to give golf a go. But it did not interest us at that time.


What a mistake.


Once we left Georgia, we both took up the game with a passion.


To see the Masters played at Augusta National is one of the hardest tickets to get. There is a waiting list I am told to be ten years long. They say the entrance to Augusta National is as beautiful as the course. A long entrance road between two perfect rows of Magnolia trees arrives at the front steps of the building. I don't know. I have never been there. I have seen pictures. But I have only visited Augusta National in my dreams.


The only players invited to play in the Masters are those that have won on the PGA tour, or those in the very top of it's rankings. The greatest come from around the world. The greatest come to play what some say is the most difficult course, under the most beautiful setting. And the player that wins the Master automatically becomes a member of Augusta National. They are invited back to play every year until they decide to hang up their clubs. They can visit and play the course anytime they please.


Who needs to win a purse when the prize includes an open invitation to play Augusta National anytime you like?


The events begin with a Champions dinner, where all past champions gather for a dinner hand-picked by last years Champion. They wear their green jackets. They talk about things that green jacket wearers talk about. What that could be, I could only guess.


Wednesday is the par-three tournament – a fun event I believe held in pro-am style. The cardinal rule of this event is not to win. No player ever to have won the par-three contest has ever gone on to win the Masters.


If there was ever an event to behold in high-definition television, it is the Masters. But I will be sitting in front of my old primitive analog TV, watching every stroke that I can, and it will still be beautiful.



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