Saturday, July 17, 2010

What it takes to be a man....

So I finally started to figure some things out. It was about time. My parents were more patient with me than I deserved, and maybe even more than was good for me. Working at PC Systems had started a fire in me that would stick with me for the rest of my life, or at least for the rest of the life that I have lived since that time. I finally had the last piece of the puzzle that I needed to figure out what I needed to do with the rest of my life, but I was afraid. Ultimately I think I was just really terrified of failing again. I knew that this was the last shot I really had. If I screwed this up, I would end up on my own with no degree and likely in a job I couldn't stand. And lets face it, by this time I had been searching for that piece of the puzzle for several years and I was worn to a frazzle. The constant worrying and fretting over the fact that I just couldn't seem to come up with a plan for my life was wearing me thin. I had my distractions but those were getting less and less effective at distracting my mind from the fact that I had no idea where I was going in life. The whole subject had become the big pink elephant in the room that no one wanted to acknowledge, but we all knew was there because it was always staring us in the face. I was afraid this was another dead end, or even worse, that I would totally screw this up like I had done in the past.

Putting your all into something is hard because if you utterly fail you have no excuses. It's something I've seen time and time again during my time on Earth. People have this tendency to pull back so that if they fail they have the safety net of telling themselves that they could've done it if they had really tried. That may have been why I quit school in Tuscaloosa, by leaving early I still had the "out" of telling myself that I could've done it if I had tried. It makes really putting yourself completely into something a challenge. I do know that I faced this very problem at this point in my life. On one hand I knew that in order to be successful I was going to have to go all in and give it everything I had. My life experiences to this point had shown me that. I knew if I didn't do that I would definately fail again. But that little voice in the back of my head also told me that if I failed again I wouldn't have any excuses, I would've given my all and failed. Sometimes there is solace in the fact that you tried your best and came up short, other times that means you have to face the fact that you just weren't good enough.

Ultimately I decided to start slowly and make sure that I was really on the right path. I started off by taking a few classes at Calhoun Community College to sort of test the waters. I started off taking a couple of introductory programming classes. I enjoyed my experience with software as I messed around at home, but that didn't mean I was going to really like it when it came to doing it for a living. I kept working at PC Systems because I really needed that comfort zone to balance all the other insanity that I was facing in the rest of my life. Those classes ended up going well and only served to strengthen my belief that I was really on the right path. Finally I was on the right path. It felt good. It felt right. I can't really explain it, but after all the years of searching, finding myself on the right path was a relief. I was still scared, succeeding presented new challenges that I would have to deal with.

Calhoun was interesting. Those classes I took weren't hard. But sometimes dealing with success presents challenges that you don't really expect. And at this point in my life, I hadn't really had to deal with success a whole lot. If I'm being completely honest, those programming classes were easy. They had nothing on the things I'd already learned by messing around with the software related topics that I had already played around with. By this time I had taught myself things far more complex than the basic stuff we were learning in class and I had to stop myself from getting cocky. On one hand, the things I'd learned messing around with hacking and writing viruses and so forth were orders of magnitude more complex than the stuff we were doing in class. On the other hand, if you want to be a successful programmer you have to learn how to approach problems. Some of the things you learn in those early classes are very important in your development as a programmer. And those things aren't taught in the world I had learned software in at that time. Luckily I realized this and reeled my ego in and listened to what my teachers said, even if I already knew it.

After the success I had at Calhoun I faced a crossroads. In my prior academic career I hadn't been crazy about math. This created a problem. I had 2 paths to chose from. I could take the Management Information Systems (MIS) path or I could take the Computer Science (CS) path. The CS path would mean taking some seriously hardcore math classes, but I would be getting down into the weeds, which is where I wanted to be. The MIS path would be far less math, but I really wouldn't get down into the weeds like I wanted, I would have a more business centric approach. Both paths could lead me to a programming career, but the CS path would be better in the long run. But taking that path meant having to face my fears and even add to them. I hadn't been good with math thus far, was taking the CS path just asking too much of myself? I even had people tell me I was crazy for considering it. I remember sitting down and having a long conversation with myself about the whole thing. I tend to do that a lot when I really need to think about things, I've had some great conversations with myself on many occasions. You should try it sometime, you'd be surprised at what you can figure out if you'd just talk to yourself. I do usually try to do it in a place that will give me the privacy to do it alone so that the neighbors don't think I'm crazier than they already do.

This night was a real turning point because it was the night I faced my fear about taking the steps I needed to take to move on with my life. I had finally reached a point where I couldn't' put it off anymore. This was it, I had to make a decision and do something. That night is very vivid to me because it was hard, I mean really hard. I knew that I had to look deep down inside of myself and figure out if I was really ready for this. And in order to figure that out I would have to be completely and brutally honest with myself. And even though I was still pretty dumb, I knew that doing that was going to be unpleasant, to say the least. So I took it all out and laid it on the table. I took all my fears, reservations, concerns, you name it and I brought it out. I had to know if I was really ready for this step. I had to be sure as I could be about what I was thinking about doing.

I cant say that I liked a lot of what I saw sitting on that table. It's hard to describe what it's like seeing all of your shortcomings staring you in the face like that, it's just something that you have to experience. But, even with all the things I didn't like, I realized it was finally time. It was now or never, I had to take that step because if I didn't do it now, I'd never take a step like that again. I think what really hit home for me was that at some point I realized I was focusing on all the wrong things. You see I was spending all my time thinking about what was going to happen if I failed again. It was like it was a foregone conclusion. What I hadn't really thought about was what would happen if I succeeded. What would happen if I took on the toughest challenge of my life and beat it? For one I would have the confidence to challenge myself again because I would know that I could handle it. I firmly believe that you will not really be able to grow as a person if you don't challenge yourself. And once I realized that, my choice became crystal clear. I knew that it was as simple as believing in myself, even if a lot of other people didn't. I knew I had to believe in myself for once and actually try. If I backed down at that point I could almost see the path my life would take where I constantly backed down from challenges because I was too afraid to try.

I don't know if everyone has a point in their lives where they have to make a choice like that and the results of that choice will reverberate down the path of thier life for the rest of time. But my life had a moment like that and I made the right decision. I decided that I would go to UAH and major in Computer Science. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would have to do extra work to make up for deficiencies that I had in my academic career. I knew I was choosing the more difficult path and that by doing so I was increasing the odds that I might fail again at a time when I couldn't fail. In short, I took the past least followed. And the truth is that I never looked back. I made my decision and set off. I had no idea how hard it would be, but I was as ready as I could ever be.

I talked to my parents and they agreed to give me one last chance. I think I had to sign some kind of contract with them or some such silliness. Look, there was no way they could put more pressure on me than I was already putting on myself. I know they meant well, and I wouldn't have believed me either when I said that I understood that this was my last chance. But the truth was that I did understand that, I actually understood it better than they did. To them this was my last chance for them to help me try and find my path in life. To me this was the last chance I had at finding my path at all. Yes that's overly dramatic, so what, I was smack dab in the middle of life changing metamorphisis. Ok, I got overly dramatic again. It was a big deal though, bigger than we all knew.

I also decided that I couldn't keep working at PC Systems. I knew I would need all the time I could get to focus on my school work and the task of getting myself caught back up. I had a double whammy. I hadn't been in school in a couple of years so everything was rusty. To top that off, I knew I was going to have to learn how to study and how to approach college because I certainly had no idea how to go about it. By this time Sherman and Greg were on the outs and I didn't know if Sherman was going to stay. He took a temporary leave of absence that seemed like it would be permanent. Greg actually offered me his job if I would stay. But I knew I couldn't. It was time for me to move. It was a time for another one of those introductions.

So I left all of that behind and enrolled in UAH with the intention of getting a CS degree. I knew it would be hard, but I still didn't really know just how hard it was going to be. But I was about to find out.

My personal life had started changing as well. We finally stopped hanging out in parking lots. I could drink legally by this time and we found ourselves hanging out at Applebee's more and more often. That was a nice change because it made me feel like I was starting to move on with my entire life. We had a lot of fun there. Another decision I had made when I decided to go back to school was that I wasn't going to get too serious about any girls. The last thing I needed at that time was the drama that goes along with dating someone seriously. That was a distraction I couldn't afford. I would still go out on dates, but I wouldn't let myself get too involved with anyone. When things started to get too serious, I'd pull the plug and ride off into the sunset. There were a few girls that I probably hurt by having this approach, and I'm sorry that it was necessary. But believe me, it was. I just couldn't handle that kind of thing at that time. Besides, I was still screwed up enough that I wasn't doing a girl a favor by sticking around. I was a mess.

UAH would present a lot of challenges for me. But it was a turning point, a turning point I'll pick up in the next post.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A New Dawn.. PC Systems and the Horny Chicken.

As you grow you are asked one question about 1,432,323,341.2 times. How many times did you hear the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" as you grew up? It's an innocent enough question on the surface, but think about it. It's really rather profound. Let's rephrase it a bit, "What do you want to do for the rest of your life that will provide you with the ability to find a mate, support said mate, have and support children, afford the things in life you want, and provide you the ability to have some form of comfortable retirement when you get old enough?". Does that change it a little for you? In essence, that's kind of what it boils down to, at least to a kid it does. The reality isn't necessarily that harsh, people change careers all the time. But that reality isn't really presented to a kid as they grow up. It comes across as a big choice, something that will have a very drastic impact on your life. If you choose wrong, you just might end up totally screwed. As you grow up they start throwing in twists to make it even more dramatic. You have to choose something that gives you all the above AND it needs to be something you actually like doing, or you risk being miserable or at least sucking at whatever it is you chose. And naturally, sucking at that will lead to no success and misfortune so you will be screwed in the end anyway. Yay!

That's how it all seemed to me. In my world I was supposed to have that figured out by the time college rolled around. I can't say who made me feel like that, perhaps it was everyone, but that's how it seemed. The problem was that I didn't know, I had absolutely no idea. I named a different thing every week. A lot of things seemed fun, but then I didn't really know anything about them, about what it really meant to do whatever job it was that I was interested in that week. At one point I wanted to be a psychologist, I even took psychology in college. It took that class to make me realize 2 things. The first was that I didn't, in fact, want to be a psychologist. The second was that psychology seemed like a large pile of horseshit that people used to justify being an insane nut bar. At one point I wanted to be an electrical engineer, then I saw the math involved and ran away. Then I wanted to be a teacher, but realized I wasnt' crazy about kids. So you see, it was always something different, but none of it was real. My rush to "figure" out what I wanted to be was driven by this belief that I should know it already. But I didn't, and that really fucked with my head.

Here's the reality of it if you aren't aware. Most of us enter into college not really knowing what we want to be, but with a general idea about the kinds of things we like or are interested in. Your first couple of years of college actually are set up to give you the chance to explore those things and find out the truth about them and see if it's something you really want to do. For some people, they need to investigate these things before college. Sometimes rushing into college immediately after high school isn't the best path. I know that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but I believe it's true none the less. I took a non-conventional path, but I really don't think that any other way would've lead to me finding "what it is that I'm really meant to do", whatever that means.

So I tried college and it didn't go well because I had no direction and no idea where to start to being the process of "discovering myself" or "figuring out what I want to do with my life". I use quotes for those sayings because they're bullshit that a lot of people use to sound like they have a clue when they really don't. I discovered myself at the age of 13, I "discovered" myself in the bathroom all the time. I even got caught "discovering" myself once and it really wasn't pretty. Here's a hint, if you use toilet paper to "catch" the "evidence", your parents will figure out you aren't "blowing your nose" every day for a month. That's especially true when you don't appear to have a runny nose any other time of the day.

So, now I was lost in a sea of aimless wandering. Being on my own had finally shown me that I needed to do something. I was starting to realize I needed to go back to school, but I didn't have the last piece of the puzzle, what I wanted to do. I was also starting to realize that I needed that piece in order to have any chance of success. After getting booted from Parisians I started hanging out with a buddy that had started working with a guy who built computers out of his garage. By this time they had enough business to move to an actual store and PC Systems was born. Actually, it had existed for a while, you see PC didn't really stand for Personal Computer, it stood for Pressure Cleaning. Greg Ellis had a pressure cleaning business before he got into computers. But the name worked, so why change it.

When I first started "working" there I didn't really get paid. At first I just hung around cause I didn't have a job and ended up going with Sherman (my buddy) on jobs. He started showing me some of the things Greg had shown him so that I could help. They really did need the help. Computers were really starting to take off in the mainstream and business was growing. Eventually, with some pressure from Sherman, Greg decided to hire me. I wasn't paid much, but the job was fun. I discovered I really liked building and fixing computers and that they fascinated me. I discovered a hunger to learn more and more about them, how they worked, what you could get them to do, all of that. So the fact that I worked like a slave for peanuts didn't really matter. The environment was great too. There were three of us and we all pulled together to make things work. We did a little bit of everything. I sold computers, fixed computers, built new computers, went on service calls, bullshitted customers, you name it and we did it. Greg Ellis took a chance on me, he taught me what he knew and I loved every minute of it. In return he got an employee that busted his butt for little to nothing, more for the chance to learn than the paycheck. In some ways it was one of the best times in my life.

I ended up moving back home, a year had past and my parents were paying most of my expenses because I didn't make much. We had a pool house out back that had it's own entrance. It was a completely separate building designed to be a nice changing room for when you went swimming. It was one room, but it had a bathroom stall, a shower and a sink. It was small, but cozy and insulated. So I moved right in. It was my bachelor pad. I had the freedom to come and go as I pleased, and could even smoke in there. In the end it worked out for both me and my parents as it gave me the freedom I was used to, yet was free. My parents were happy I had found something I liked and were willing to let me run with it a bit to see where it led. After all, they both had jobs as programmers at that time so they were hopeful that I might find something with computers that might allow me to support myself.

Greg was tough, but fair. It's not easy having a small business like that as your primary means of income, and Greg was good at what he did. We took care of our customers, realizing that our customer service would set us apart from the competition if we were diligent about it. You have to remember, at this time there was no Dell Computers or Compaq or any others. You would come into our store and if you didn't see a computer that we had already built that fit your needs, we would talk with you, figure out what you really needed, and build a custom computer for you. If you had an old computer, we'd help you transfer files and data over. We'd help you get the software you needed. You also have to remember that the Internet was just a school project at this time. Getting information about various software packages wasn't easy in those days and we spent a lot of time making sure we knew what was out there so that we could provide our customers with the best support possible.

I spent a lot of time at work, but when I wasn't there I started doing somethings other than hanging out in an empty parking lot. Oh, I still did that some, but other things started interesting me. One thing I got into was the BBS scene. For those of you that don't know, a BBS is a Bulletin Board System. If you had a computer with a modem you could dial the number of a BBS and connect to it and had a variety of things you could do. Some BBS's had files you could download, some had message boards you could chat on, some had cheesy text based games you could play, and some had a mixture of all three. It was the precursor to what the Internet would provide later on. There were some big national BBS's but most of the time you connected to local ones run by some guy like me. When I decided to run one I realized I needed a catchy name to lure people in. I also realized sex sells, so I figured if I came up with a name that sort of intimated that I had a sex site of some sort, people might be lured in. I didn't want to go over the top and call it the "Pulsing Vulva" or anything that obvious, I figure that might turn people off. I also figured if the name was "out there" a bit, it might attract the curious and I could get them hooked on my brand of BBS awesomeness. So, The Horny Chicken was born. Yeah, I know.

Running a BBS was fun. I really got into it. It was neat because I could sit there and watch what the person who connected was doing on my site. I could even pop them into "SYSOP Chat" and talk with them if I wanted. Earl was my "CO-SYSOP". We had to come up with handles so I chose Renegade and he was Weegle. And thus the dynasty was born. It was a lot of fun as the number of users started to climb and we got more and more into things. I ran a version of BBS software that I managed to get source code to and began to "dabble" a bit. It was neat because it allowed me to customize my software so that it wasn't like everyone else, and it was one of my first forays into the world of writing software. I even met girls through this thing. Okay, they weren't necessarily attractive girls, but they were technically female.

Here's a good story. I kept getting paged by this one girl to chat whenever she got on. I did it at first because I wanted girls on my site. It wasn't because I wanted to jump their bones, but there weren't a lot of girls out there, and the more girls that visited your site meant the more desperate lonely losers would visit your site. I was looking for user count. She was a sysop groupie, and yes as hard as it is to believe, they did exist. Eventually we decided to go on a date. So the night of the date arrives and its a few hours before I'm supposed to pick her up. I'm messing around my place and keep hearing the page command going off on my site so I eventually stroll over and see that it's her. She tells me that she has to tell me something. She goes on to confess that she wasn't totally honest about her attributes and appearance. She didn't really go into detail at first but I finally dragged it out of her that she was about 40 lbs heavier than she had claimed. I figure it's no big deal, I didn't really have anything else to do anyway, we could at least shoot the shit. And you never know, maybe it wouldn't be that bad. I was wrong. Oh dear lord in heaven was I wrong. First of all, she wasn't totally honest when she said 4o lbs. It was either that or she had absolutely no concept of weight. I knew I was in trouble when I could tell she was coming to the door by the tremors radiating through the ground. What answered the door was a behemoth the likes of which I can't describe (but I'll try). She was about 5'8 and probably weighed 1,800 lbs. She had no discernible neck and had a sheen of sweat. That girl would be hot on Pluto. She didn't breathe as much as she wheezed and she had an odor of bacon and week old cheese. She was a hambeast in EVERY sense of the word. I probably should've run, but I didn't. And thus the "date" began. I squeezed her into my truck and we spent a few hours riding around talking. That's it. I wasn't stopping where anyone could see me with her. Some of my friends did see my truck however and did ask me later why it was listing to the right so dramatically. They said it was like I was hauling around a bunch of lead weights that had all shifted to the right side of the truck.Eventually I made up some excuse and went home. She tried to give me a kiss, but I pushed her out of the truck and sped away at warp speed. When I got home, I deleted her account on my site and placed her on the ban list so she couldn't get in. She tried to get around it by creating a new user account but one of the modifications I had made detected the phone number used to call in and I used that to ban people. It prevented people from just making a new user account and annoying me. It wasn't fool proof, but it kept her away.

The BBS was fun and I even developed a reputation. Somehow I had managed to offend some people. I'm sure that comes as a complete shock. One thing I did was create an "alter ego" that happened to be female. I did for 2 reasons. The first was an experiment of sorts. I wanted to see how many people contacted her even though I would do nothing more than just create her. I wouldn't post as her so that the only way you would even know she existed was if you went and checked my user list. I was shocked at the number of messages sent to her in one day's time. The second was simply to add another "female" to my roster. I ended up even having more fun with her. I started posting as her after a while and I made up this story that she was my ex-girlfriend but an ex that sang my praises. She started talking about how great I was in bed, how gorgeous I was, how smart I was, you name it. It was pretty over the top and Earl was amazed at the people who bought it. And buy it they did, I had lots of messages from other girls asking about me and wanting details, then they would start messaging the real me trying to "get to know me better". When it all came out, some people were kind of pissed. I developed another alter ego named "Dark Evil" who would post on other message boards and insult people right and left. While the connection to me was never proven, a lot of people strongly suspected it was me. And there was the time I went to an actual local gathering of BBS users. At one point we all had to stand up and introduce ourselves. My friend John, aka Grim Reaper, had started a BBS by then and had a reputation as well. He went first and the crowd gasped when he introduced himself. The positively shit themselves when I stood up and said I was the one and only Renegade. It was a mixed reaction, I had fans too. I had somehow become someone that you either loved or hated, there wasn't a lot of middle ground with me. Again, I'm sure that comes as a great big surprise. In some ways I havent' changed a lot. All in all it was a fun time.

I'm telling you all of this because I don't want to come off like some artsy jackoff who made some discovery about himself, changed for the better, and lived happily ever after. Yes, I was figuring some things out and growing up. But at the same time I was still an immature, pompous, ass bag that did stupid things. But I was getting smarter, although that's not always a good thing. I learned how to do more damage.

My BBS fun morphed into getting into the seedier side of things of pirated software. While I didn't really put the stuff on my site, I started getting into that world. That led to the world of hacking and other computer trickery. I'm not going to get into what I may or may not have done with that. I will say that I never did anything really bad, mostly it was about learning. I didn't want to hack into things, but I wanted to know how. Of course to learn how, you have to experiment some, it's a hand's on kind of thing. I think that should say enough about that topic. I played around with some viruses, again learning about how they worked. I was plagued by this desire to know how everything worked and I wanted to learn about it all. It also has it's downsides. Writing your first virus almost always results in you infecting your own computer. Shit happens.

During all of this, I was also learning about the hardware side of things and how computers worked from that perspective. My desire to learn on that side was equally as great. The other advantage of working at PC Systems was that I got all of my computer stuff at cost. And not the "at cost" that some salesman bullshits you with, I mean the real "at cost". It certainly made getting the latest and greatest computer equipment a lot cheaper. It also meant I could build cheap machines at work to experiment with and then just wipe them when I was done.

Sometimes I didn't have a lot of time for things other than work. Certain times of the year were so busy that all I did was work and sleep. But we still had fun. We had a lot of crazy customers, many of which would try to take advantage of us and our liberal customer service policies. But that comes with the territory. Word of mouth worked well for us and we continued to grow. Earl would even come help us during the summer when he was home from school. It was a mad house sometimes, but it was also great. I discovered that my sales skills were considerably better when I actually gave a shit about what I was selling. I could move some computers, boys clothes however, not so much. I'll share a few stories that I remember from those days.

We had one lady who spent all of her time in AOL's chat rooms, it was her life. Her computer went down and she was frantic to get it back up and running, after all she had no friends in real life. Those were her words by the way, not mine. She was so worried about it that she hovered over my shoulder as I worked diagnosing the problem. We don't usually allow that, but she was all worked up so we sort of let it slide. She kept asking questions about every little thing that happened and every diagnostic test I ran. You would have thought I was operating on her kid, heck I guess I kind of was. Eventually I had enough, you just can't get anything done like that. So I reached into the bottom drawer and got out the hammer and set it next to the computer. She had this horrified look on her face. I mean I could read her thoughts, "What on Earth is he going to do with that????". Eventually it was too much to bear and she asked me what the hammer was for, which of course was what I waiting for. You didn't really think I was going to hit her computer with a hammer did you? You didn't? You thought I was going to hit her? Remember the part where I talked about us having good customer service? Try to keep up. Anyway, I calmly turned to her and said "There's nothing a hammer can't fix". She looked at me in absolute horror, then it dawned on her that I wasn't serious. After that she laughed and calmed down.

We had customers come in and accuse us of creating our own processors and selling them as Intel's. I offered to show them our "processor lab", but they didn't think I was funny. They were wrong of course, I am funny.

Some of the best were the people who knew jack shit about computers but would go in and tinker with things to "optimize performance" and make their computers faster. By faster I mean not boot up. That was usually the result. They would always come in and tell us that the computer just stopped working and they had no idea what happened. They never realized how easy it was to tell. I knew what the default settings were, I set the things up all the time. I knew that if a value was 500000 instead of 50 someone had been fucking around. But these guys would almost never admit it, so you just fix it and move on.

Sometimes we'd get on AOL and play around in the chat rooms. I'd go in the lesbian chat room with all the other guys acting like girls and wait for my lead in. It never took long, some one would come in and starting asking for sex talk and wanting to go to a private room for some cyber fun. At that point I'd break out the "Just because I'm a lesbian doesn't mean I'm a whore" line and I'd get a bunch of private messages from other "lesbians" agreeing with me and asking me to cyber with them. I almost never accepted.

I learned a lot of stuff at PC Systems and the more I learned the more I wanted to learn. But eventually I started to realize that I would need to go back to school and get a degree to really do anything with it. As much as I loved working there, and as comfortable as that all had become, I knew that wasn't a career. I wasn't going to start supporting myself on what I was making there and I would have to do something different to change that. But I was also scared. I needed to take some baby steps and test the water. I figured I didn't have a lot of chances left at this point and I needed to make sure I was doing this right.

Sure I had the desire to know more and to learn more, but I still wasn't sure what that really meant. Hey, I've said it before, leaving my comfort zone is very hard for me to do, and I was about to have to do that again. It was almost time for another of those introductions. Maybe it was finally time I grew up and really got on with my life. I was realizing that time was running out on being a snot nosed kid and that fairly soon I would have to make some decisions whether I liked it or not.

I want to take a moment to say how much I appreciated what Greg Ellis did for me. Working at PC Systems is a pivotal point in my life, it literally ended up changing the path I was on in a major way. Greg didn't have to hire me, but he did. He always took the time to teach us things and he taught all of us a lot. He also became a friend as well as a boss and he figured out how to make that work. In many ways we were a family at PC Systems. We took care of each other and genuinely liked each other. I haven't found a bond like that in a job since. Yes I make a lot more money now, but I miss those days sometimes. They were simpler and more "pure". There wasn't competition to be better than each other, we all did what we had to do to make the business a success because it was important to all of us. And there was a bond that formed between us in doing that. I don't know if it was the best job I've ever had, but it was the most fun.

What happened next is a story for another day. It involes another introduction and more lessons in what it means to become an adult. And that means it's a post for another day.


So I made a promise, of sorts, and I think I'm about to break it. Look, I'm not always the most dependable person you'll ever meet. I'm dependable to my kids, that's important, frankly most of you aren't. It's not that I don't love you all, I do, but keep vague promises I make in this blog about what I will talk about next aren't abandoned to be believed. Most of the time, I post about what I feel like writing at the time. The hard part for you the reader is stringing together coherence from a timeline that might jump around a bit. Sorry about that, life is just full of these little disappointments. And the truth is, if this really upsets you, your life is going so good that you have no right to complain. Please continue.....

I said I would talk about another person who changed my life, but that might be jumping ahead too much. When we last left our hero (that's me by the way), I was just coming to grips with the end of an era, the era that was Super Shops. But, it didn't really end that fast. It's not like I woke up one day and all of a sudden I was ready to be a "right and proper" adult. I don't mature quickly, never have and probably never will. Actually when we stopped hanging out a Super Shops, we moved approximately 300 feet to an old abandonded restaurant named Bobby G's. It was an empty parking lot, and that's about all we required. We continued there for quite some time. It wasn't really that different, people came and people went. But during that time things started changing in my life, and those changes colored everything that I did.

First off, I smoked, my parents knew about it and hated it, but they also realized that they weren't going to stop me either. What they would put there foot down about was me smoking in my room. Now, actually I kept the window open and blew the smoke outside, but apparently enough got in to stink up the place. They were perfectly justified in their outrage, I would drop kick my kids into another zip code if they did that once. I repeatedly ignored their warnings and outcries, I wasn't much into listening and definitely didn't really get into the whole parental authority thing. So, naturally, they got fed up and kicked me out of the house. I'm not sure if this was intended to be a scare tactic because they told me to find an apartment, and I did, a few days later. They seemed very surprised that I had found something that quickly and seemed eager to leave. The truth was, I was eager to leave. They agreed to help me pay for the rent and groceries, so in my mind I was set. At the time I had a job at the Space and Rocket Center. It paid above minimum wage, but not much. Also by that time I had a stint at UAH that didn't go so well, largely because I hadn't accepted that I had to study in college.

Let me say a little about that whole UAH thing in my defense. When I left Tuscaloosa I was freaked out, I mean I seriously thought my life was ruined. At some point in my coming of age I had developed this "master plan" that dictated how my life was supposed to go. I wasn't aware that I had developed this plan until everything fell apart, but apparently it existed. The bad thing about my "master plan" was that it wasn't really based in reality. It was some hybrid plan of everything that you saw in movies and television that told you what a normal life was like, in TV land. I was supposed to go away to college, meet a girl, get a degree, get a job, marry previously mentioned girl, have kids, buy house, retire, and die. That's the abbreviated version at least. As you can see its not really realistic so I was doomed to fail. The problem was that I didn't realize it at the time. So, when my life didn't match the script, I thought I was totally fucked. I was destined to become your local neighborhood trash man, picking up your trash at 6am every Tuesday morning. Seriously, I thought I had totally ruined my life and I didn't know how to reconcile that. So I just sort of moped around and gave up looking for a real direction in my life. And there in lies the problem. I had no idea what I wanted to be in life and I honestly believed I was supposed to have that all figured out at that time. There is some very important lessons I learned from all of this and I've made sure my kids understand that life isn't like TV. When you say it you want to say, "Duh". But you will be surprised at how TV and movies color the expectations we have, and it's not healthy. So when I went to UAH immediately after Tuscaloosa I hadn't figured anything out. I had no idea the real reason's I had failed there and thus was destined to make the same mistakes. Sometimes the reasons we fail at things aren't real obvious. For me, it was more than just a lack of effort, that was part of it, but why was I so unmotivated? And until I found the right motivation I was destined to fail over and over and over, I had to fix the real cause. Part of that was that I eventually found what I wanted to do and that motivated me. Another part of it was living a life that kind of sucked to drive home the importance of things like getting my education. Sometimes life has to kick you in the Jimmy Sack a few times to get your attention. It's not a bad system because if life has to do that enough, you end up sterilized and can't reproduce which does the rest of us a favor. Anyway, going to UAH was destined to fail, and fail I did.

So, back to the story, there I am in my new place and thinking I'm tough shit. Most of my peers still lived at home so I was set. It definitely helped in the ladies department. Having your own place to come back was definitely a perceived value enhancer. I could have people over, do what I want, come and go as I pleased, oh yeah and pay bills. That sucked. Luckily my parents helped out so it wasn't all bad, but it started getting my attention. I ended up leaving the Space and Rocket Center and worked at Parisians. At first I was a sales associate in the Boy's department. But I sucked at sales. We had quotas that I NEVER met. And then there was the little black book. The idea was to develop "special" customers that you could call when new stuff came in and stuff like that. I'm sure that seemed like a great idea to someone, but to me it was the anathema of everything I thought a sales person should be. I don't like being approached in the store, if I need you I'll let you know, otherwise leave me the fuck alone. The idea that some jack monkey would call me at my freaking house to tell me about the jeans they got in, and that they just thought I would looking smashing in them made me physically ill. To make matters worse, the Boy's department has the lowest total sales department in the whole store, and most of the sales associates were 60 year old ladies. The two exceptions were me and this chick with huge tits. I was freaking doomed. No mom wants to become my "special" customer. Well, two did, and that's because we ended up dating (and by that I mean having sex a lot for a while). We were supposed to develop a certain amount of new ones every couple of months depending on how many we currently had. Since I had 2, I was expected to develop a lot more in a relatively short amount of time, no chance of that happening. 95% of the people that came into our department were already one of the other associates special customers. So I sold jack shit and had 2 special customers. To top that off, somehow just how "special" my special customers were got out and it upset my manager. She was very religious and VERY sexually repressed. Personally I think she secretly lusted after my one eyed wonder sponge, but I could be wrong about that part. So, I didn't exactly do well, and she had great fun rubbing my nose in it. She was also very proud of her Business Management degree from East-West Podunk Community School. Okay, admission time, I do sometimes wish I could find her and show her my pay stub and how many decimal places are in it. Yes, it's petty and pointless, but she thought she was on top of the world as manager of the boys department at Parisians in Parkway City Mall and made my life hell for 6 months. Sue me, I'm petty sometimes, like the time between sunset and sundown. I'm usually real mature while I sleep.

My other problem in sales was that I didn't like the other customers that weren't already "special", so I hid from them and that tends to effect your sales totals. Additionally, the others sales people, mainly in other departments, were catty as hell and there were all kinds of "sales people" rules that I didn't care about and didn't know. There is no telling how many people I offended on a daily basis. At one point, a guy came up to me and told me that he needed to talk to me. Apparently I had offended someone (surprise). I asked him who and he said that they didn't want me to know. So I asked what I hads said but he couldn't tell me less I figure out who the mysterious offendee was. So I asked when I had done this and of course he couldn't disclose that to me either. So I was left with the fact that I had offended someone at some time by saying something, which I'm sure comes as a great surprise to you gentle reader. I told him he could kiss my ass because there wasn't anything I could do about that. I mean I wasn't intentionally offending people, but I was 19, I still had A LOT of rough edges. If he had told me who it was and what was said, I would have apologized (unless it was really stupid) and made an effort not to do/say whatever it was that I had done (again unless it was really stupid). But of course I couldn't because I had no freaking idea what this guy was talking about. I really don't know what he thought this was going to accomplish other than him getting to feel like a big shot.

Here's where that story gets interesting. You see, my mom worked at the service desk at Parisians as a second job off and on to get the discount on clothes. A lot of the people that worked there knew her, so this dick tonsiler tells me that it would be a shame if my mom were to find out about this. Yes, ass boy threatened to tell my mommy. I asked him if he was actually serious. When he said yes, I told him go ahead and gave him her phone number. If he had really known her, he would've realized she would have called him a jackass. He just sort of looked at me and told me how serious he was. So, I told him how serious I was. I informed him that I lived in my own place, paid my own bills (mostly), and that I had a trouser snake large enough to engulf his entire head like a mad munchkin chasing a tater tot. And to further offend him I told him that his face was strangely configured and that I found his general being to be rather uncouth and that he was also extremely malodorous. Ok, I don't remember what I said, the previous stuff is what I would say now, but you get the general idea. He stormed off and went back to wherever he came from.

So, apparently I didn't make lots of friends among these ass kissing dip shits. I'm sure they all weren't like this, but I never met any of those. All the ones that I met were total wastes of human life. So life went on at Parisians. My manager kept on hating me and accusing me of all sorts of bizarre things. At one point she asked me if I had messed up inventory on purpose. Actually I hadn't, the jack off they hired to come in just for inventory had written everything in the wrong columns. Ironically she blamed it on me despite the fact that the other person had signed the damn page. So when my manager asked that I told her "Yes, I work for Mc Rae's as a secret agent of distruction and chaos, my code name is Chaos Ninja". She ran off to get the store manager, apparently that moron believed me. The fact that the other person signed it may have saved me, because the store manager asked me why I had intentionally messed up the inventory and was I really sent from another store. Apparently store managers aren't a lot smarter than department managers. I laughed and told her I had nothing to do with it, that I didn't fill out the little sheet, and she noted that it was signed by the other person. When asked why I said I was sent from another store I told her it was a stupid response to a stupid question and that if anyone actually believed that they probably shouldn't be allowed to run a department unsupervised. Yeah, that got me a lot of points. So they dropped it, well the store manager did, I'm quite sure that my manager didn't. But I didn't make her look stupid, she was good at that on her own. Seriously, asking me if I had done it on purpose? I don't know what qualifications they looked for in the interview process, intelligence, common sense, and generally having a fucking clue clearly weren't requirements. I also noticed that big tits weren't a requirement either, not saying that's good or bad, just making an observation.

So eventually I was moved to stock because I sucked at sales. Ultimately that didn't work out a lot better. The end came when I was asked if I cared about Parisians as a career and I said "um, no". Apparently not wanting to be a career stock boy was held against me and I was let go. I didn't care, I was sick of that place and all the drama that went on. It's amazing what people with no lives and few career prospects will create to pass the time. The daily drama was more than I could stand. I was even escorted out and told not to talk to the other stock people again because they were concerned about a revolt. I'm dead serious, that's even the word they used, "revolt". I looked at them like "what in the fuck are you on about?". I didn't think we were in the middle ages and that people were afraid of peasant uprisings anymore, but whatever. I went out into the mall and called them on the phone. In my honor they refused to work the rest of the day. The truth is, they always refused to work, that was part of the drama.

But during all of this, I was in my apartment and life was good. Paying bills sucked, but at least I got to keep my place really messy. I kept all the newspapers I never read in an empty closet. When I moved out it was like 3 feet deep. I am awesome. What fire hazard?

And during this time, I hung out at the empty parking lot and wasted my time like always. People came and went and the group continued to evolve. We'd end up back at Super Shops again, apparently some things are too good to only do once. I had lots of fun experiences and some not so fun ones. But life was good, even if I was basically a piece of drift wood with no direction. That came next. My next job changed my life. Welcome to the world of PC Systems. It wasn't easy, but it built a fire in me that hasn't really ever extinguished and it finally led me to the light. I was introduced to computers and in that I found refuge and direction. A man named Greg Ellis would take me in, teach me, and give me the desire to learn more and more. That desire would take me back to school and onward. But that my friends is a post for a different day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Super Shops

Circle K started spiriling downwards, as all good things seem to eventually do. There were lots of good times there. It's funny that a number of people I've reconnected with on Facebook now read this blog, waiting/fearing me mentioning their names. I'll try not to embarass anyone too much, other than myself.

As we moved around from spot to spot on the whims of the police, the whole scene began to change. That's inevitible when the people who make up the group change, new personalities imprinting themselves on the whole thing giving it a different flavor. It's strange that it's not really noticible on a daily basis, it's only when you step back and look at the whole thing over time that you see how drastically things changed. And the changes were rather drastic. I can't really describe the changes other than to say that they were different, very different. The people, the vibe, the whole deal was different. I can't (and won't) say which I think is better or worse, sometimes there just isn't a better or worse. Sometimes all you can really say is that things were different. Some of the people that I still talk to today came along during this time. That means you Craig. And, unfortunately, some of the people I was closest with faded away. I don't think I realized it at the time, but that was a sad thing to have happen.

In time we found ourselves hanging out at Super Shops. The old Circle K gang was gone for the most part, only a few of us were really left. Most had gone on to other things in other places. Some people would show up again from time to time. Some people who now carry chicken purses would make an encore performance to spice things up a little. But for the most part, the whole group changed. Super Shops was convient. The manager hung out with us, that helped with the whole police running us off thing. Personally I didn't care for Brett or Bart, or whatever his name was. He was imminently forgettable. But it was a place to hang out and we weren't harassed by the police.

Okay, here's a confession, it wasn't the same and at first I didn't really care for the changes. I didn't really notice at first, but the magic seemed to be gone when I took a good long look at it. I think it was because it was a repeat of something I had already done. When I first started hanging out at Circle K it was magical in the sense that it was something I had never done before, it was all new and that made it exciting. Once you've done something, doing it again becomes a retread and it loses something. It's not that the people weren't great to hang out with (I love you Craig), it's just that the whole thing seemed like I had been there before. It seemed like that because I had been there before. I'm still not saying it was better or worse, but I'm trying to explain why it felt different.

I guess part of it was that I was growing up, whether I wanted to or not. Things around you change, and sometimes as hard as you may try, you change with them. Sometimes you have no choice in the matter. As the people around me grew, it forced me to grow too, because in the end I still wanted to be accepted. Acceptance drives more decisions than most of us realize. It's a little scary when you think about it. The irony is that people think that changes as you get older, but many, if not most, of the decisions we make come down to being accepted by whatever group we desire to be accepted by. You may not admit it, you may not like it, but that doesn't make it any less true. I think I've said before, being truly honest with yourself is a real bitch most days. Fun, ain't it?

There's a guy I know, and I won't mention names, but he was and is particularly driven by acceptance. I've since seen him, although not really talked to him much, and it's no different. At one point it was our group that he desired to be accepted by and he did whatever he thought he had to do to gain that acceptance. In time, the groups he desired acceptance from changed, and he always went off the deep end to be accepted. Lately I believe he is currently into religon, which is fine. He tackles it with his usual gusto and imminent desire to be accepted. Is it true dedication to God? Or is it just yet another group he desires to be accepted by? I don't know, but if I was a betting man, I know where I'd place my bet. History is a great teacher.

So life was different, yet the same at Super Shops. Different personalities were in play, different cliques formed. Yet in many ways it was the same. There were quite a few true deja vu moments that I knew I had already been through. Same shit, different parking lot. I promised that I wouldn't mention Craig's fight with Hurley, but I have to say something because it was truly funny. I don't remember what it was about, just that it happened. Sorry, buddy, you were never meant for the UFC.

So, there we were, a bunch of kids trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives, how we wanted to live, and acting like we had it all figured out. Ofcourse we didn't. We were all clueless as to what we really wanted and how we were going to get it. Well, except maybe for John Miller. I'm not sure how or why, but he always seemed like someone who had a plan and had something figured out. He was a quiet guy with a fast car, but he always struck me as someone who actually might have a clue how to get on with his life. I don't know if that was true or not, but it seemed like it.

Anyway, we were really all a mess. We focused on all the wrong things naturally, we were still kids after all. Fast cars, fast women, booze, etc, those were the things that fueled our conversations and dreams. We all had a different vice, some of us more than one. We all also had various things the "defined" us. And by that I mean that if you were to ask someone what thing they remembered about that person during those days, there would be something that most people would come up with. An example, and I'll pick on Craig since he follows this. What I remember most about those days was his IROC. It was one sweet car. I can't remember everything he had done to it and can't guess how much he spent on it, but it was fast and is probably still the sweetest sounding car I've ever heard. The exhaust note on that car was just absolutely perfect. The other thing I remember about Craig was he was always working and that meant he always had whatever the "in" thing was. He got it honest, he had a legitimate 40 hour a week job. He didn't live off mom and dad like some blog writers did. Okay, so that's two things that I remember about him, but whatever. If you are going to expect me to live by what I say, boy are you in for disappointment.

I have no idea what "defined" me in those days. I could probably list a thousand things and they'd all be wrong. Truth is, I don't know what people really thought of me back then and I don't know that it really mattered. They liked me enough to let me be a part of the group. Or perhaps, coming from the beginings of it all, I liked them enough to let them into my group, whatever the point of view, I was accepted and that was what mattered. There's that acceptance thing again, sort of a recurring theme don't ya think?

Oh, and if you are wondering, I don't think I really care what people thought of me back then either. Whatever people thought "defined" me most likely was wrong. I don't claim to be the smartest person you've ever met, the best looking, the most ethical, the most anything, but I will say that I've never been an easy person to figure out. There are a lot of layers to me, more than many people I think, and I believe it takes time and real effort to get to really know me . There are a few people that have taken the time and effort to get to know me, most haven't. And here's a hint, if this blog, or anything I say in it surprises you, you don't know me half as well as you think you do. Maybe we're all this mysterious, maybe I'm full of shit. Well, I know I'm full of shit, but while I wear my emotions on my sleeve, I don't give everything away. Maybe it's all that ninja training I had.

Lots of people came and went at Super Shops, far too many to mention here. Maybe some will get their own post later on if I feel like it, but for now lets just says lots of people hung out there at one time or another. I've run across a few of them later in life, some of them I even still like. I'll be honest about another thing though. This might make some people mad, but what the hell, I do that daily. Not long ago there was actually a Super Shops reunion of sorts. I didn't go. The truth is, looking at some of the posts people were making about the whole deal reminded me of exactly how it was back in "the day". Frankly, I've moved beyond that. There was nothing wrong with some of the pursuits we had back then, we were kids after all. But now, honestly, some of it is kind of sad. I'm far too old to give a shit about fast cars and loose women. It's the same reason I won't ever go to any of my high school reunions. I have no desire to compete in a penis length contest anymore. So what your dick is bigger, you make more money, you have a faster car, etc. If you try hard enough, and it usually doesn't take much effort, you can figure out a way to compare yourself with someone else and come out on top. Congratulations! You win the prize! What's the prize you ask? A date with yourself, after all you are the one that loves you baby! No offense to those that went, and maybe I was totally wrong about the whole thing. But, for those of you that I've kept in touch with, I don't need a reunion to talk to you. For those of you that I haven't, some how I've mananged and will just have to keep on struggling through life without hearing about your fast cars and so forth. If that opinion makes me an asshole, you aren't informing the world of something that wasn't already abundantly clear.

Super Shops was an end of sorts for me. It really was the last great hurrah for hanging out in parking lots and drinking beer and telling bullshit stories. I drove a 4 cylinder truck too, so I couldn't lie about how fast my car was. One, it wasn't a car, and two, it wasn't fast. But the truth is, life started catching up to me. It always will you know. I don't care how hard you fight it, at some point you have to start growing up. My time came. I had to start getting jobs and trying to pay my own bills. I hadn't appreciated what college might do for me until then, but I started to. Hanging out in Super Shops parking lot changed to other parking lots as management changed. The one constant in life is change and it had come again. That's okay, as much as I hate change, it's necessary. To become stagnate is to die inside. If you aren't growing as a person, you are dying. That's something I believe in my heart. As hard as change is for me, it's the reason I keep on trying. I know that ultimately it's necessary and that in the end it will be a good thing, if I can just make it through the rough stretches. You want to know the secret to life? That's it. The necessity of change and growth.

I had series of jobs, but one would change my direction forever. Perhaps my next post will be about what meeting a man named Greg Ellis would do for me. It was my next Introduction, welcome to the real world.

The Changing of the Seasons

Ok, this has nothing to do with the changing of the seasons, I just thought that sounded profound. When you are full of shit, sometimes you say things like that to make people think you are smarter than you really are.

So, I left off at Circle K and all the fun I had there. Eventually we got run off from there and started hanging out at a variety of different places. Usually we'd hang out at one place til the cops came and ran us off, then we'd find some place else. They were all in the immediate area for a while so it didn't really matter. You knew where to go because there were a large number of kids there. People came and people went. Some got older and moved off to start their lives, when they did, other kids started coming to hang out. I went from being one of the younger kids to one of the older ones. It's the natural course of life. Some of us hung on longer than others, change is hard thing, and leaving your comfort zone is more so. I've already talked about the need for acceptance from your peers ,and the older you get the harder it can be to find that acceptance. the need for it doesn't change though. Some people transitioned into college right away, I wasn't one of those kids. I went to the University of Alabama the fall after graduating high school and that was a disaster. My main problem was that I wasn't ready for that kind of independence. I really didn't study in high school and had no real intention of doing it in college. I guess I figured I could skate by, it had worked so far, so why wouldn't it. Sure my parents and administrators told me I would have a hard road ahead and that I would have to really buckle down, but what did they know, they were old. So I ended up leaving before the semester ended because I hated it there. Now, to understand why I hated it you have to understand how the social system worked there at the time. It was VERY Greek oriented, and by that I mean fraternities and sororities. If you weren't in thoses you were an outcast. This was especially true for guys. If you were a hot enough girl, you got attention even if you weren't in a sorority, but for a guy you were a dead man. Now, I was far from unattractive in those days, but all my good looks and charm were for naught. I even had a girl come flat out and tell me it was a shame I wans't in her affiliated fraternity because she would love to go out with me. Fraternities were expensive, and honestly I just wouldn't have handled it well. All the shit you had to go through as a pledge and a younger member were ridiculous and I would have told someone to fuck themselves fairly early on. I'm fairly certain that would get me kicked out.

I had some good times there, don't get me wrong. We had this crazy dude who had a mohawk that was insane. I mean certifiable. He got kicked out of the dorms for making a new doorway in the wall with a golfclub. He was also extremely homophobic and freaked out that "fags" were chasing him down when he got drunk, and he got drunk a lot. There was one incident that comes to mind when I think of him though that was absolutely excellent. When you went to home football games, the fraternaties had there own areas where they all sat together. It was funny because they had a dress code, one they came up with themselves, that involved blazers, ties, long pants, etc. Whoever came up with that was an idiot cause it gets freaking hot in the summer and early fall. They looked absolutely pitiful sitting in 90+ degree weather, and we all laughed at their stupidity. Anyway, they only allowed member of the fraternity to sit with them, the rest of us weren't good enough. Well mohawk boy went and sat in their section. I don't know why he did it, probably because he could. You see, he was about 6'4 and 230 lbs of muscle. I dont know why he wasn't a linebacker, he sure looked the part. Oh, and he liked to fight. I don't know if he really cared if he won or lost, I think he just liked the act of fighting. Apparently he was good at it.

So there we are, sitting in the unbearable heat of early september and he goes and sits in a fraternaties section. We're all looking and waiting to see what will happen next. You could see that the older member of the fraternity had a problem. They needed to get this guy out of their section, he was making them "look bad". But none of them were going to say anything to him because they were all 5'9 160 lbs. So, eventually they came to a conclusion. They did what they always did when there was shit work to be done, they sent a pledge. This kid had no prayer and we almost felt sorry for him, almost. Well, he puffed up his chest and went down to where mohawk boy was sitting and told him to leave in his most authoritarian manner. Mohawk boy grabbed him by the throat, lifted him off his feet, shook him, and dropped him. Then the turned to the buys who sent this little kid down and challenged them all to come move him themselves. Right when we hoped it would get interesting, security showed up and escorted our friend away. None the less, that was how things worked there, and it just wasn't for me. So, I did what any brave sould would do, I quit.

Look, ultimately this was about me being away from my comfort zone and not handling it well. It's a problem I've had all my life. Every time I have to make a big change like that I struggle, I mean REALLY struggle with it. Sometimes I've bested it, sometimes it's bested me, but it has always been one of my biggest challenges. It's something I know I will struggle with for the rest of my life. I think I moved back to Huntsville after 5 years in Georgia, in part, because this place is my comfort zone, and even after 5 years in Marietta, that wasn't home. It's funny what "home" becomes, and it's a mystery to me how it all ends up working out. For some people, home is whereever they live. They can move about and the new place will become home. For others, like me, I think home becomes a place that you get so comfortable with that nowhere else will become "home". I don't honestly know. I do know that I ran back from Tuscaloosa like a whipped dog, right back into all the things that made me comfortable. In the end, it may have worked out best. That's the thing about decisions like that, you never know what could have been, you only know what was. And sometimes, that's enough.


Growing up is full of introductions. They start off innocent enough and then sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Let me explain what I mean. You start off getting introduced to family members at a young age, some of these people will have profound impacts on your life, some won't. The trick is you don't always know which is which. Then as you get older, you get introduced to puppy love and crushes. Those seem to raise you to the highest highs and take you to the lowest lows, but then at that age everything is about extremes. It takes maturity to find the middle ground. Then more time passes and there are more introductions, some shake you to the core, some barely register. But growing up is full of introductions, so I wanted to talk about a few of mine that stick with me to this day.

The first is a girl named Whitney Williams. I was in sixth grade, she was in fifth and I thought she was the most gorgeous thing to ever walk this earth. I used to sit in my room dedicating Air Supply songs to her and dreamed of the day we'd walk hand in hand on the beach, or whatever other lovey dovey thing I had seen in a movie by that age. That led to my next introduction, heartbreak, because she didn't know I was alive. I think she did by the time it all ended, but she probably knew me as that crazy stalker kid who kept leaving her love letters in her mailbox and buying her boxes of chocolate. She certainly didn't know me as "Greg", whoever that was. It was an important introduction though because it started the process of learning a lesson that took many years for me to grasp. Life is not a movie, you don't always get to hold the boom box in the air and have the girl come jump into your arms. In real life they call the freaking cops. Now I didn't learn that lesson from Whitney, but it started there, and I think it ended about 20 years later.

Whitney was my first introduction into the world of real crushes and puppy love. It was an eye opener. Even though its not "real" love, its a powerful thing, especially for someone my age. I try to remember that when dealing with my kids and try not to belittle their crushes. I dont always succeed, but I try to keep that perspective. It may be fleeting and go as quick as it comes, but when it's there, its some powerful stuff.

My next introduction that sticks out in my head was a guy named Trace. He dated Whitney and he was my introduction into what a real douche bag is. He didn't treat her very well but no one was going to say anything because he was rather large and surly. Ironically, I believe he is a garbage man now. A quick aside, my first job out of college ended up taking me back to Oak Ridge on some business trips and I got to see how some of the kids I went to school with turned out even though I hadn't seen them in many years. There is an odd sense of humor in play out there and karma seems to be a real kicker for some folks. For instance, one of the kids that used to pick us when we were kids actually bagged my groceries. He actually remembered me. I don't know if he realized what a dick he was back then, or if he cared, but clearly the order of things had been made correct because ass boy was bagging my groceries. From schoolyard bully to a 26 year old grocery bagger, yes sir things worked out just fine.

Okay, now the hard one. This whole post is really about one introduction and its one that still bothers me to this day. There were a lot of other introductions between my middle school days and this specific introduction, but this sort overshadows them all. His name was Jeff. Jeff started hanging out at Circle K and we all became friends. Jeff was a funny guy, real smart in most every way. He had a very quick wit and was fun to be around for lots of reasons. Jeff and I were alike in many ways at that age so we got along well. Jeff was a year older than I was, heck most of the people that hung out at circle K were older than I was. Jeff was into a lot of things ,but he really got into car stereos. Not your normal kind of stereo, the kind that made your ears bleed. He had a little nissan something or other that he started off in, but would end up with one of the baddest Ford Thunderbirds around and the stereo was so loud that you literally couldn't sit in it with it up very high. It was awesome. Jeff and I hung out a lot. He was my roommate in college for the one semester I was at the University of Alabama. We had a lot of great times together, and some not so great times. Honestly, Jeff could, at times, be selfish and would sometimes be a little too focused on what he wanted and not focused enough on how he got it. I mean we all have our faults, I'm certainly no angel. But those kind of things happen as you grow up and you deal with it. Unfortunately it was Jeff that would introduce me to something I had yet to really experience. Loss. You see, Jeff died in a motorcycle accident. That was the first time someone really close to me had died when I was old enough to really understand and process it. I remember the night I got the phone call as clear as yesterday. I'm not going to rehash all of the events that followed, but its enough to say it shook me. It shook me hard. I just couldnt believe he was gone. That just wasn't how life was supposed to go. It takes things like that to make you realize that life has its own course and that you dont really know much about where it's going to take you. It was the first time that I was faced with my own mortality, because if Jeff could die, so could I. It's not an easy thing to come to grips with the notion that your time on earth is in fact limited and it forces you to reflect on everything. I think it still makes me do that when I think about it, and that's probably a good thing. I just wished that there was a less painful way to learn those lessons. I miss Jeff still today.

Not all introductions are so morbid. I was introduced to love, more than once. Those were good things even if they all didn't work out so well. I was introduced to the joy of being a parent and how that changes you. That's some profound shit too. That'll be a different post though, I don't want to get ahead of myself and jump around too much.

So life is full of introductions. The last thing that I want to say on this little ray of thought is that it's very important what you do with these introductions. None of them are a waste of time and they all have a lesson to teach. As I get older and reflect on things in the past, that's one of the things that I wished I had learned earlier. Even the little introductions can change you, and how they change you is up to you. If you try to keep an open mind, who knows what you might learn or who you might meet. You never know what life has in store and you never know how something very profound may come about.

Friday, July 2, 2010


We had lots of interesting times at Circle K, but one of the most important things that came out of me hanging out there was meeting a guy I call Earl. That's his last name actually, but that's what we all called him. Our first few meetings were nothing impressive, he hung out with another guy and was a side kick of sorts. We all sort of started hanging out together and doing things and he and I became friends. Now what I'm going to say may not be flattering, but its the truth from my perpsective. Earl became my sidekick. By this time I had lost a good deal of weight and was attracting the attention of the opposite sex on a semi-frequent basis. When we went out, I was the one that did the work attracting the opposite sex. And honestly, I was the one having sex with the opposite sex. Please understand that I love Earl dearly and hate to portray him in ANY negative light, he's done more for me than any other human outside of my parents and wife. But the truth was, he hadn't discovered his own self confidence and that severely impacts ones ability to attract the other sex. You know the old saying, if you don't believe it, they won't either.

So Earl became my sidekick in many ways. We were together a lot. Usually if I wasn't out with a girl, I was out with Earl. He was game for whatever stupid idea I coulld come up with. And believe me, I could come up with some real doozies. There were "Bad Company Missions" where we went out and did teenage things like roll yards and egg houses while playing the song "Bad Company" by " Bad Company" on the stereo. (Sue me, I liked that song). We went to the "square" where all the kids from all the surrounding high schools came to drive around in two circles that moved in opposite directions at 0.00002 miles per hour. We met lots of girls. But where I met girls who became girlfriends, he met girls he became friends with.

Its important at this point for me to explain than Earl has a heart of gold. He is a genuinely nice guy in every way imaginable. So when he met a girl, that niceness came through and they saw his heart of gold and bonded with him on a different level than they did with me. I'm an asshole. Now, I'm not an abusive asshole, but I wasn't out there trying to make friends with girls either. I had a mission, to tame and conquerer as much pussy as humanly possible in a short of time as possible. For whatever reason, girls got that vibe. It turned some off, it turned some on. But I almost NEVER ended up in the dreaded "Friend Zone". Earl almost always ended up there. It wasn't his fault, sometimes you can't help who you are. I even, foolishly, tried to help him change that at one point, one of the stupidest things I've ever done. You dont change an angel into a girl humping demon. I wouldn't be suprised if Earl still had contact with some of the girls we met way back then. That's how he was. To know Earl is to love Earl, but at the time it wasn't love in the sex kind of way.

Earl changed my life again. I've covered how Dan had my back, but Earl took that to another level. Let me say this now, I sucked at relationships. I always did. I'm too into the extremes and am far too emotional. I couldn't hide how I felt if my life depended on it and that bit me in the ass more times than I care to admit. Combine that with the fact that I seemed to have a crisis of self-confidence when it came to girlfriends and I was a mess to deal with. I made the same stupid mistakes over and over again ad nauseum. There were several in particular, one of which I ended up married to, that just tore me to pieces. And no matter what the circumstances, Earl was ALWAYS there to help pick me up and dust me off even though he knew I was going to get knocked down again. No matter how stupid I got, he was there for me every single time. I might hurt some people's feelings by saying this, but he is the only person that I can say that about. Everyone else in my life has let me down in one way or another at some point except Earl. If he weren't so damn ugly, I'd think he was an angel.

People like Earl are rare. You should hold on to them tightly and not let go. Unfortunately I've not done a great job of this. I get so wrapped up in my shit that I don't open my eyes to what's going on around me. Earl and I still talk, he only lives one street over, but we both have wives and kids now and that changes you. I tell myself all the time that I'm going to spend more time with him but with my crazy life its hard to do that. But, in the event that you ever read this Earl, know that I owe you a debt that I can never repay. And if you've ever wondered if I understood the depth of our friendship, I have, even if I haven't always demonstrated it. You've been there for me whenever I needed you and never asked me why I was continually being so stupid. You are the reason I made it through a lot of the sit I made it through and god bless you for being my friend. Lord knows I never deserved a friend like you, but I am eternally thankful that you were there for me. Oh, an Im sorry about the Bad Company things, those were stupid.

Circle K, the land of dreams

Finally I found some cool kids. Well, they didn't accept me at first, in fact there weren't that many at first, but that would change. My neighbor, Dan, started taking me out with him and introducing me to some other aspects of being a teenager. I won't get into too many details, but he taught me a lot. I admired Dan, okay, I idolized Dan. To me, he was cool in ways that I only dreamed I could be. He had a car, hot girls chasing him around, all that I wanted and didn't have. I guess he felt sorry for me, otherwise I dont know why he took me on as his sidekick. But he did and I was thankful. For the first time I had access to a life that I had onlyt seen in movies. Now being a sidekick sucks, but it was still far better than the nonsense that I had been part of up until then.

Let me say this right now, Dan was a great guy. Looking back he was one of the best friends I ever had and I don't know why he took on this poor, fat, loser of a kid, but he did and I don't know if I can ever really thank him for that. Dan letting me hang out with him was the catalyst for my transformation and for what I would later become. But like most transformations, the process is painful.

You see, my first inclination was to BE Dan. I figured if everyone loved Dan, if I acted like him, everyone would love me too. Well, life doesn't work like that and it took some time and some pointed conversations for me to realize that. Eventually I became comfortable enough in my own skin to just be me, and that's when things really changed for me, but I had to learn the hard way as I usually do.

Through it all Dan was someone I could count on to have my back. And I mean to really have my back. Throughout the years we went through a lot with each other and became great friends. To this day he is someone I still count as a person who had a profound impact on my life and who I became. Dan wasn't pretencious or fake. Dan was, well, Dan, and if you didn't like Dan then that was your problem. He wasn't going to try and be someone that he wasn't just to impress someone. He had that inner self confidence that radiated from him and attracted other people. He had his faults, but he was as proud of those as he was anything else, he got it. He realized that all the good things and all the bad things made him who he was and he was okay with that. One thing I've learned in life is that when a person realizes that, when they REALLY get what it means to accept yourself for who you really are, it radiates from you and people are drawn to that. Even at a young age Dan had that, and it drew people to him. It took me a very long time to figure all that out, but I do count myself lucky to have seen it. It was the kind of lesson that eventually really hit home. I still don't have the inner confidence he did back in the day, but I understand the concept! That's something. Right?

Dan introduced me to Circle K. It was just a convience store that we all hung out at. At first there weren't that many of us, just a hand full of kids hanging out. But over time it grew and grew. I was proud of the fact that I was one of the first. Later on the entire parking lot would fill with kids hanging out and it became almost legendary. As sad as it may seem, I'm still proud that I was there when it started with a few folks.

CIrcle K changed me forever. Yes, I started drinking from time to time and ended up smoking. Neither of these are "good" things. But that place did far more good than bad. Look, kids need a place to belong. They need a place where they can be with their peers and be accepted no matter what. They need a group of people who have their backs and actually give a shit. Yes a child needs his parents love and acceptance and thats important. But equally important is a kids need to have that acceptable from his peers. No matter how many times your parents tell you how "handsome", or god forbid, "cool" you are, it doesn't compare to your friends acceptance. Circle K was that place for me. It was a place that I could go and be one of the the "guys", even though there were lots of girls there too. Over time, as I learned how to be myself, and thus gain acceptance into the group, that place became my second home. Every weekend started there. Sometimes the night ended other places, but that's where we always started.

Once I got my drivers licesnse it got even better. I no longer had to worry about rides, or tagging a long, I had my own ride. Okay, yes it was a baby blue Reliant K station wagon, but it was mine and it gave me freedom that I never imagined existed. Having my own wheels transformed my world, not to mention a station wagon is great to play truth or dare in.

Origins Cont

When I was about 7 or 8 we moved to Oak Ridge, Tn. It was a nice small town and I liked it there over all. I was a chubby kid and that always sucks growing up. But, all in all it wasn't a bad place to grow up. I played football there in middle school and discovered love (unfortunately it didn't discover me). I learned valuable lessons like avoid the kid who catches crawdads, tears their claws off, and puts them in his pants because it feels good. Lessons such as those can never be overrated.

Eventually we had to move again, and I came to Huntsville, Al. We moved here the summer before my freshman year of high school. That pretty much sucked. I spent the summer not knowing anyone and then had to deal with being the new fat kid and a fat freshman. It was a load of fun. It actually didn't turn out too bad, but I don't deal with change well at all, I mean I really freak out about it. This was a change in everything and everyone I knew. All of the rules had been thrown out and I had no idea of what the new rules were. To make matters worse, I didn't know anyone who would help me learn the new rules. So I joined JROTC. For those who dont know, it stands for Junior Reserve Offices Training Corps. Its a military thing, you get uniforms and such. It seemed like a good idea at the time, it sounded fun, and it would be a group of people I could make friends with. The down side was it also guaranteed that you would never kiss a girl that weighed less than 400 pounds and had a mustache. It was fun for a while. I got to shoot guns,which I liked and was good at. I grew up shooting guns and had been doing it since I could hold one. But this got old because it was much in the way of competition. First you wear this straight jacket type device that makes it almost impossible to move. Then you wrap the strap of the rifle around your arms in 15 different ways to ensure that you can't move. At this point hitting the target is easy, its like 5 feet away and you can't freaking move. I seriously don't think I could've missed if I had wanted to. So I grew tired of that and wearing the uniform. You see, wearing that uniform was the most effective girl repellent EVER invented. Let me caveat that by saying that my definition of girl is more than just someone who has a vagina. I'm sure there were any number of ham-beasts and butter trolls that were dying to take my sweet uniformed ass to bed, but I wasn't interested in searching for wet spots in chicks covered in flour. JROTC also had lots of rules about polishing shoes and your haircut and all kinds of ridiculous stuff. I think I've already mentioned that I'm lazy, polishing shoes just wasn't going to happen. So I got lots of demerits. At the end of the year they had promotions, and as you can imagine I didn't get promoted much. That actually didn't bother me because the idea of more responsibility couldn't of appealed to me less. After 2 years of that they made me a sergeant, I think because they had to. I didn't care, I was done. I had realized that my destiny lied elsewhere, atleast the destiny I hoped for. So, after my sophomore year I quit. I didn't really care for authority figures and JROTC was full of asshats who thought that playing army meant they could order me around. Well, it did mean that, but I didn't really agree to that so I left for greener pastures.

By this time I had made other friends, friends who introduced me to things like beer and parties and cigarettes and all kinds of things that were really bad for me but I loved. So I started hanging out at the Circle K.... And that my friends is a whole different post....


Where i came from... Well, technically I was born in Slidell, Louisiana. My dad was a computer programmer and my mom has been a number of things from a programmer, to a math teacher, english teacher, and ended her career as a Software Quality Analyst for the the US Government. I have one sister who is a lawyer and lives in Arizona. She is better than me at most things, or so I'm lead to believe.

Oh my parents never came right out and said that, parents never do. But, that doesn't mean that I can't read between the lines. And the truth is, she is better than me at most things. She had great grades, got a full scholarship to LSU and later to ASU for law school. She graduated the top of every class she was ever a part of. Have you ever met someone who seems to have a charmed life, they somehow seem to just fall into things and everything works out great? Well, meet my sister. Now don't get me wrong, she's worked hard for what she has. You don't get scholarships and graduate the top of your class because you are lucky. But she is lucky. For example, on her honeymoon, Mike Tyson happen to be dining at a table nearby and joined them, AND he was in a good mood. If that happened to me, somehow I'd get my ass kicked. She once went to ask her bosses about getting some tickets to the NFL draft since both her and my mother are biig fans. The boss called the Arizona Cardinals and got them box seats in their area. That was the year that Matt Lienart was drafted and guess who they got to hang out with. You see what I mean. For most of us, just going to the draft would be supremely cool, but somehow life always manages to kick it up a notch for her.

They say all of life is a balance of things and "they" may be on to something. You see, everything I touch turns to shit somehow. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but lets say I can never measure up and I'm reminded of that in many subtle, yet obvious ways. Nothing that I do is ever quite up to par and seem to generate "little" comments that get the point across. Here's a tip for parents, if you wonder why your kids don't call enough, it just might be because you make the whole deal rather uncomfortable.

Here's an example. I have a tattoo. Nothing terribly ostentatious and its not in a highly visible spot. I have a Celtic cross on my upper arm with my kids initials around it. To me, a tattoo is a personal thing, and frankly I could give a shit if other people approve. My tattoo has meaning to me, it says something about my dedication to my kids and their protection. Its not like I got a tattoo of a butt on my butt. So I decide to have a family vacation at the lake and invite them. I drop some serious coin renting a very large house, 5000+ sq ft, for several days and invite them. I figure they'd have fun with the grandkids and we'd all have a good time. Well, it rained when they got there. Not just a little rain either, it rained a lot and we spent most of the afternoon playing a game called Apples to Apples. That actually turned out to be fun for a while. Apparently my sleeve moved up enought that the bottom of my tattoo was showing and my mom's reaction was to ask if I was stupid and why I would do a stupid thing like get a tattoo. Well, I didn't react well to that. I'm 38 and I'm not going to run around desperately seeking their approval for much of anything, and I said that. I also was VERY generous in my usage of the many forms of the work fuck. Look, its my body, its my tattoo. I'd had it for over 6 months and hadn't shown it to her because I knew how she'd react. Tattoo people are evil in her world view. She didn't ask to see it, in fact she never saw more than a small part of the bottom of it. But that didn't matter, I'm not a scummy tattoo man. I went downstairs and refused to talk to her the rest of the evening. I was a little pissed off and had nothing constructive to say. The next morning I awoke to a note on the table saying they had gone. Now, you might think she felt sorry and apologized, and in a way she did. To my wife. To this day she's never apologized for the things she's said, and to this day I haven't really forgiven her for it. Now I don't walk around all pissed off about it, but our relationship is definately frosty on my end, and she doesn't even notice.

My adult life has been full of my mom making assumptions about me and the decisions I make to the point of insulting me on a regular basis. Usually I just sort of ride it out, old people are crazy and say shit. It's easy to get locked into this view of how the world should work and be very close minded to anything outside your small isolated world view. I get that. But, on some level, having someone that close to you judge you over and over again and appear to continually find you wanting is not a lot of fun and wears you down. My reaction is to avoid it, and unfortunately that means avoiding her.

A Week in the life

Its been an odd week I guess. I've spent a lot of time being frustrated at a lot of things. Work is a pain some days, the rest of life hasn't been much better. Unfortunately one of my coworkers lost his father this week which is the kind of thing that makes you think about your own life and reflect on the choices you've made and so forth. It also makes you think about enjoying the time you have left with your parents because you never know when you may not have that luxury any longer. In his case this wasn't sudden, but none the less, I'm taking Dad fishing this weekend. You know, just in case.

I've done some reflecting this week about who I am. I do that sometimes because I get bored and sometimes have this honesty streak that forces me to be honest with myself. Its usually not fun, really looking at yourself, I mean REALLY looking at yourself never is. I try to see the goodness thats inside but more often than not I see lots of things I don't like. That should probably tell me something, but then I'm hard headed and don't learn as quickly as I should about things like that. Its hard changing who you are when you've been who you are for a long time. Its hard to see you from other peoples perspectives in order to get a true sense of who you are. Taking off those rose colored glasses is a real bitch. So I'm no sure that I'm real happy with who I am in a lot of ways and I see some things that scare me. One is that Ive been drinking too much. The other is that I'm fat.

This is hard. What I say here can come back to bite me. I actually thought being honest here would be easier than it is. Its not that I'm worried about what anyone will think of me, but putting things on the internet can really bite you in the ass later on. The last thing I need is for some future employer to ask me in an interview why I once posted that I wanted to hump a donkey or whatever. But in order for this to be meaningful, I have to be honest. What a conundrum.