They Never Told Me College Was Supposed To Be Hard

My associates degree came from a two-year technical college. Most of the classes were done online or even in the workplace. As you can imagine, the demands on my time, as long as I only took two or three classes, were not that great. In fact, the classes that taught programming languages, especially once I learned C#, mainly consisted of learning a new way to write a “Hello, world” program, followed by if statements, loops, and eventually talking to a database. I do this stuff for a living now.

Then I get to Wilmington College’s Cincinnati campuses. They have a program where I can take three classes a semester, but only have to take two at a time. My advisor suggested taking three during the summer. Since there are no accelerated courses in the summer, that ain’t happening. When I started my first class at Wilmington, the prof said first thing, “We expect two hours of homework time for every hour you spend in the classroom.” I hear that all the time. Nita and AJ, who both attend University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash, get that, too. Except most of the time, that doesn’t pan out. Then again, they are both taking technical majors. I am taking Business Analysis so I’m not a complete geek when I enter the consulting phase of my career. And boy, they’re not kidding at Wilmington.

Currently, I take a Society & Business class that runs the entire semester. That class is 2 1/2 hours on Tuesday nights. OK, that’s five hours of homework a week. I can do that easily enough. But both accelerated courses, Introduction to Management and now Modern Short Story, are four hours every Saturday morning. (I am soooo looking forward to December 15, when I can finally sleep in!) That’s eight hours a week.

Uh-oh. My job is 40 hours a week with 5-7 hours of commute time each week. Somewhere in there, I have to write. Somewhere in there, I have to spend time with my family. I have to exercise, get groceries, deal with car breakdowns, illnesses, bills… Yeah, 13 hours is hard.

I did have one classmate who is taking four classes this semester while working full time with a family. She takes two accelerated classes at a time. That would be 16 hours a week at home. Now I know not everyone’s going to spend that much time working on homework. We’re adults. Life doesn’t stop because we went back to school at roughly the same time as our kids started college.

The problem for me is writing. It’s hard to get it in when the coursework is reading and writing intensive. If I mention this problem, I hear, “But you like to write,” and “You’re always reading anyway.” The problem is a term paper on why BP looks rather saintly next to Kerr-McGee (Remember the movie Silkwood? Kerr-McGee did a lot of stuff like that.) doesn’t pay the mortgage. And I’m always reading because I want to, not because I have to.

Of course, you’re probably saying, “Hey, Jim, you’re writing this blog post. What are you whining about?”

I’m writing this on a Sunday morning, about the only time I have to do it anymore. But yes, I am complaining. I know I committed to getting a bachelors after I finished my associates. So it’s not like I begrudge the work. But it’s taken me most of the semester to find a way to balance out the work and still get writing and exercise and learning a new programming language in.

But there is some relief on the horizon. Originally, I wanted to get an MBA if I finished the bachelors by a certain date. (Right now, I can probably be done by 49.) But you get an MBA to impress someone enough to make you an executive at either the company where you work or another one. I work at a small family-owned business. They are not going to make me CEO or vice president of anything in the future. My next job will likely be at a consulting firm or as an IT manager somewhere. The only CEO position on my horizon will be at a company that has not formed yet. And the CEO’s position will not be determined on whether I have an MBA or not. It will be decided by me and Nita playing rock-paper-scissors. So no MBA. Which means no deadline to finish the bachelors.

Which means I can take whole semesters off.

Good. Because summers are for writing.

And margaritas.

And In The Morning, I’m Makin’ Waffles!

So it’s Sunday morning at Chateau Nita. I’m up around 9 AM (because that’s about as late as I can sleep in these days), perusing a Stephen King novel when AJ and his friend come bounding out of his bedroom after a hard night of killing zombies and orcs on their respective computers. “We’ll be back,” says AJ. “We’re getting Adam’s waffle maker.”

Source: Dreamworks

Huh?

They were gone before they answered. I went back to Stephen King’s tale of aliens creeping out the vampires in neighboring Salem’s Lot (because, let’s be honest, even the undead don’t go for that shit. That’s just creepy.) Twenty minutes later, they return with a waffle iron, a box of Bisquick, and a pound of bacon.

A minute later, AJ pokes his head in the living room. “How much bacon you want?”

I’d already eaten, but what the hell. It’s bacon. “I’ll take some.”

“Good. You’re making it.”

Wow. But whatever. I went in and was immediately instructed by Adam, AJ’s friend who has practically moved into the house since they both graduated high school, how to make the bacon. Sure, I’ve fried bacon before, but for this waffle breakfast, Adam told me to cut the bacon in half. It fries faster, and it’s easier to control how the bacon comes out. Damned if he wasn’t right. Adam was our head chef, poaching the eggs and making the waffles. AJ became the sous chef, making toast and plating the food. Me? I was the fry cook.

I did my Gordon Ramsay imitation for Adam. “Hey! Donkey! I asked you to boil water! You burned it! And these Hot Pockets are raw! Get out!”

Then AJ and I had to explain who Gordon Ramsay is. I suppose this is a good sign. An 18-year-old doesn’t know who a reality star is.

We had the bacon made, the waffles waffled, and all the food plated. I told AJ to take a plate into Nita’s room because she loves getting breakfast in bed.

“Duh.”

God, he acts like he’s eighteen or something.

Nita was indeed touched.

It was good guy time for me and AJ (and of course, Adam.) I think that was the first time we ever cooked together. There were times where we came in and helped Nita with breakfast or dinner, but this was almost spontaneous. One minute, they’re bounding out the door in search of Bisquick and bacon. The next we tearing the kitchen up and building the perfect feast.

The breakfast took me totally by surprise, but I’m pleased that it happened. AJ and I have not really had any real guy time together since I first married his mom. We used to get a half hour of Wii time in, but the Wii died. Plus I got more involved in school while he became more interested in marching band and a succession of girlfriends (the last two of whom we’ve treated like surrogate daughters.) It seems, though, now that AJ has to worry about things like college and job interviews and keeping gas in his car, we’ve been doing more things together. If anything, I’m now the one who slinks off to his room to hunker down with the computer. Nonetheless, we had fun. I hope we do it again soon.

Four Years Already?

In June of 2008, I left Cincinnati a single man and came back a married one. I married the former Juanita Lynn Brock in a mountain-top chapel in Tennessee as her son – now my stepson – gave her away. There was no bachelor or bachelorette party. Instead, we went white water rafting the day before the wedding.

Four years later, we are still together, endured a few crises, and watched AJ grow from a quiet middle school student to a newly minted high school grad contemplating college.

It’s been four of the happiest years of my life. I love you, Sweet Rose. You make my life worth living.

The Nitamobile

On Saturday, as I was screaming George Carlin’s seven words at the Neon while I worked on the brakes, Nita took AJ to get his license. He passed with flying colors and became a card-carrying slave to the automobile culture. His reward? We gave him Mabel, the 2003 Santa Fe that has served us well for these many years. Of course, now Nita needed a car. So she went to a dealership where a former coworker now sold. What did she get?

This is the Nitamobile, a 2011 Nissan Versa. The thing scoots like mad, though AJ found the accelerator hard to get used to. I like it, though. The brakes are a bit of a shock. Both the Santa Fe’s and the newly rejuvenated Neon’s are a bit of a soft touch. The Nitamobile’s remind me of Ford brakes. If you own a Ford built since 2000 – Well, for starters, good call. Up until about 2010, they were the only American cars worth a damn, and I still have my reservations about Chrysler. Anyway, as I discovered first with the car I inherited from my dad, then with a rented Focus in New York City, Ford brakes are quite capable of stopping the car on a dime, often at risk of sending the driver through the windshield. The Nissan’s are like that. I consider this a good thing, but damn, after four years of Dodge and Hyundai brakes, it’s a bit of a culture shock.

The Nitamobile is also the only car we own that you can plug your iPod into. Mabel, the 2003 Santa Fe, has a cassette deck that you can use with an adapter, but that sounds like crap. The Neon is too new for cassette, too old for an audio jack, and really depressing unless you want radio or CD.

So what’s with the names? Well, I used to name my cars. Some of them, anyway. There was a disposable beater phase I went through where naming the car was an exercise in futility. The car would blow a rod or seize up before the year was out, and it was off to spend another $700-1000 on something equally decrepit. But in the beginning, there was Besse, a 75 Nova that proved in the 1980’s that they didn’t build them like that anymore. There was The Bluesmobile, a rusty 1973 Buick Centurion. There was the Wintermobile, the Ford Taurus my dad drove when he died.

The Neon didn’t have a name, but while Nita was shopping for the Nissan, she dubbed the venerable old Santa Fe “Mabel,” after the old lady who owned the house before Nita bought the place nearly twenty years ago, and, we suspect, still haunts it. Mabel (the car) is old, reliable, and takes care of us. She even took us Tennessee to get married. So Mabel it is.

I decided the Neon also needed a name. The Neon hasn’t given me too much trouble – a cheap battery, brakes, a transmission line that Chrysler took its sweet time sending a replacement for – but it is temperamental. It’s very much a feminine car and has the lines of a diva. I called it Princess because it’s a whiny bitch that knows it’s cute. Never mind that similarly designed cars have more guts under the hood and handle curves better. Princess looks like a sports car and wants to be treated like one. Never mind that it’s a sedan with a spoiler.

So as Nita pulled in, there remained only one name to bestow. I looked at the car, white and cute. It reminded me of Nita’s personal avatar, Marilyn Monroe. I said, “Marilyn.” Nita said no. “Marilyn” should should be sleek and sexy. As if to prove her point, a Corvette rolled by. “That’s Marilyn,” she said. So the car became the Nitamobile. Thus it has been spoken.

It’s a rough time for us to get a car, but I keep pointing out that we have two cars getting up there in miles. Princess is over 86,000 miles and near the end of its loan. Mabel just crested 100,000 miles. AJ will be driving it mostly around here. Otherwise, he’d be driving the Nitamobile to work. We need something long term after AJ takes Mabel away.

It’s a sweet little car. And being a 2011, we’ll have it long after the loan is paid off.

Graduation

Tonight, AJ graduates from high school. He is ready to drive and will be starting the University of Cincinnati in the fall.

I’ve only been in his life for four years. His mother… There is no one closer to him than his mother. So the last four years for me, and the last eighteen for her, have been all about getting him started in life. Now he’s ready. Tonight, he will march down the aisle in cap and gown and receive his diploma.

It makes me think back to my graduation. I remember our principal, Mr. Szakovitz, scolding us for tossing our caps in the air during the ceremony. We might, he warned, put an eye out.

:::eyeroll

What I also remember was the commencement speech. Unless your speech is given by the President of the United States, someone like Steve Jobs or Larry Page from Google, or a comedian like Conan O’Brien, you will not remember your commence speaker’s address. My commencement speaker was a professor from Youngstown State University, and the first thing he told us was, “Twenty years from now, you will not remember this speech.” I remember that part 28 years later.

Watching AJ get ready for his final act as a student at Deer Park High School makes me a little jealous. His life is a big, blank canvass for him to paint on. Few choices have been taken from him so far, and most of those he can probably work his way around if he so chooses. When I was 18, I had no clue what was possible or what opportunities I would ultimately miss. His mother was already working full time, and she was married by 19. I’ve always admired Nita for being in charge of her life like that, and her only regrets come from when she didn’t live up to that standard. All I can say is she did better than I did for several years.

For AJ, it’s going to be a new experience. He’ll be entering the workforce. College will be a new experience for him where he is in control of his education. But it will be scary. He’ll be living with us while he’s in school, at least for a couple of years. But more and more, he will have to take responsibility for things he used to take for granted. He’ll have to help with expenses. He’ll have to drive himself to school and to work. Eventually, he’ll have to get an apartment and deal with utilities and groceries. I remember all that. Now?

I used to say I wish I did a lot of things differently. Now not so much. I only wish Nita and I could know that we were out there for each other in the late 1980’s, knowing what we know now. (And somehow still have AJ born.) But that’s it. Frankly, if my life had gone differently, AJ would not be my stepson. Instead, I’m here, and his mother and I get to see him close this long chapter of his life tonight. Tonight is all about AJ and what he can do with his life going forward. We’re excited for him.

Eighteen

That’s AJ to the left there, looking large and in charge with his percussion group from high school. Who is AJ, you ask? He’s my stepson, and today he turns 18. He’s also the main reason why I was allowed to marry his mother.

When I first found myself single again, I knew most of the women I’d go out with would have children. This was a plus, actually. I’d always wanted to be a parent, so if things worked out with a single mom, I’d be more than happy to be, at the very least, That Dude Mom Married.

I’ve talked a lot of times here about dating Nita and how rapid our romance blossomed. Nita told me on our first date that any man she dated had to meet with AJ’s approval. Since her divorce, when he was ten years old, he had stepped up to be the man of the house. I admired that. So on our second date, she introduced us. She later told me about the lead up to our first date.

AJ would be turning 14 that year, and Nita had just gotten comfortable leaving him by himself for extended periods – never overnight but for an evening or a few hours during the day. As our date approached, she worried AJ might resent her not spending time with him. He told her to go, that he had not seen her that happy in a long time. So we were already getting off to a good start, and I hadn’t even left to meet her yet.

As I started to spend more and more time at Nita’s house, one of my rituals was to spend about half an hour playing on the Wii with AJ. His father wasn’t much of a video game player, so this was new for him. Well, not really. A couple of Nita’s more serious boyfriends would play, and I absolutely sucked at it. I think he enjoyed kicking my ass. The three of us also played Rock Band together a lot. I did vocals most of the time. AJ did drums. One day, I noticed he wasn’t playing to rock band when I walked in. He had music blaring on his computer and was playing to that instead. Little did I know he would soon be playing drums in his high school marching band.

The night I proposed to his mother, it just sort of overtook us in the span of about five minutes, starting with Nita asking me to come to Gatlinburg with her and AJ for an already planned vacation and ending with me dropping to one knee and asking her to marry me. Only, I didn’t ask one person for her hand in marriage.

We called AJ into the room and told him what we planned. He ran into his room, and we were panicking. Did we scare him? Would I have to leave? We followed him into his room to make sure we hadn’t upset him. I pleaded with him to let me marry his mother and was fairly blubbering like an idiot. AJ just looked at me with that thousand-yard stare of his that can be a bit unsettling at times and slowly gave me a double thumbs-up.

AJ is a very smart kid. Like a lot of kids that smart, he knows it, which occasionally gets him into trouble. But isn’t that what being a teen all about? Nonetheless, even though I’ve only been in his life for four years now, I’m still very proud of him. AJ was an object lesson too many people who marry into families never learn: You don’t claim the title of stepparent. You have to earn it.

I’m very pleased AJ has let me be his stepdad instead of just Dude Mom Married. I can’t wait to see what he makes of his life now that he’s reached the starting line.

Ain’t That A Kick In The Teeth?

Nita had her wisdom teeth taken out. Like me, she waited until her 40’s to do it. Like me, she was out of commission for the weekend.

They always say you should get your wisdom teeth or tonsils out while you’re still young. In fact, I told AJ to get his wisdom teeth out before he’s 30, then he won’t have to deal with it when he has kids underfoot and work to do. However, I never really saw the wisdom in waiting until you’re older. You only do it once, and it hurts like hell no matter what.

Nita was lucky. Her surgeon had an elaborate setup where they could move sedated patients in and out on an assembly line basis while taking great pains to make patients comfortable. Since Nita is considerably smaller than me, her anesthesia lasted all day, letting her sleep most of the first day after extraction off. Mine started wearing off about three or four hours after I got home. Had I been more lucid, I’d have swallowed a dose of Vicodin* when I got home. Nita did for hers. I did not on mine. So a couple hours after I got home…

“Owwwwww!!!!”

In a panic, I took two. Don’t do that. Don’t take two Vicodin on an empty stomach. It’s no fun being doped up on morphine trying to heave cookies that aren’t there. Nita slept.

The wisdom tooth extraction diet is unappetizing. I subsisted on yogurt and pudding for two days. Nita opted for Spaghetti-O’s and queso dip. I eventually attempted a hamburger during that two-day recovery by chewing with my incisors and mashing it with my tongue. Not fun, but doable.

My doctor was different from Nita’s. He was a depressed-looking neo-hippie who didn’t take well to the humor between me and my wife while I was going under. She made a joke about my life insurance being paid up, and the doc flipped out, saying it was bad karma. My normal response to this would be, “Hey! It’s my jaw getting carved up. I’ll tell you what’s funny.” Since I had an IV of vercet in my arm, all I could manage was an eye roll. Just as Nita had to leave the room, she squeezed my hand and wished me luck. I said, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Once again, the doc got offended. I passed out from the morphine before I could say anything else.

My time as caregiver was more boring than Nita’s. This past weekend was cold and rainy. I spent it shuttling AJ to drum corps, getting groceries, making carry out runs, doing homework, and rereading Holland Bay. During my time on the recliner, Nita bought and assembled a gas grill, mowed the lawn, and re-landscaped the front of the house. I still feel like I’ve got points against me on my man card for that.

But it’s over now. It’s not likely either of us will lose our tonsils at our age, so unless we have a bad appendix between us, this type of surgery is over for us.

Unfortunately, we now have all that stuff that breaks down in old age to look forward to.

*Bill Engvall is correct. Half a Vicodin and a Bahama mama make for a wonderful morning**

** Drugs? Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs. M’kay?

Four Valentine’s Days In A Row

This is Nita, my wife, my best friend, the love of my life. And it was four years ago today we had our first date. It was on a lark, actually. I was separated. She had just broken up with her boyfriend. I wanted to get together with her for drinks. She had a boy and didn’t want to ditch him for some guy she’d met at a standup comedy show. I understood this. Going back into the dating pool for the first time in almost two decades, I understood this. In fact, I preferred women with kids. They likely would be more responsible.

But we couldn’t meet for drinks. Not until Valentine’s Day. So I suggested she let me take her out for dinner. At worst, I would get to spoil a beautiful woman on Singles Awareness Day.

It worked out better than expected. We had our third date by the end of the week. I was staying over regularly by the end of the month. I moved in by my birthday in May, when I also proposed to her. To call this a whirlwind romance is an understatement. Our first date was in February of 2008. We married in June.

As I said, she is my best friend. Oh, we clash now and then, but it’s usually hashed out rather quickly. But everything we do is about our future. And our boy’s future. It’s a life neither of us really envisioned for ourselves. I assumed I would be a bachelor forever, drifting from city to city with no ties and no responsibilities. On the downside, that also would have meant no real reason for being.

I have never been happier in my life. Nita made me comfortable enough with myself to go back to school. She made me a parent. Or rather her son, AJ, did by accepting me as something more than “Dude mom married.” Because I went back to school, Nita took a chance and also went. It’s fun. This fall, there will be three college students under our roof. All this because we took a chance on a Valentine’s date 4 years ago today.

Nita tells me I came about at the right time in their lives. They certainly came into mine at the right time.

How I Plan To Spend Humanity’s Last Year Of Existence*

It’s that time of year again, the beginning. This is the time we usually set goals for ourselves and make resolutions that will be broken long before Valentine’s Day.

I don’t really do resolutions anymore. I have goals that usually set the tone for the rest of the year. There are things I intend to accomplish this year, things I want to try, and things that I simply need to focus on.

First off, what do I want to accomplish…

  • Finally finish my degree. Of course, I’ll turn right back around and start on my bachelor’s come this fall. In 2011, I came up short on my capstone project. This year, I plan to manage it better.
  • Submit one crime novel and one science fiction novel to a real, honest-to-God publisher. Hey, I’m enjoying the ebook indie revolution as much as the next guy, but let’s be honest. The hype doesn’t live up to the reality. I suppose I could quit going to school and spend all my time shilling books. Unfortunately, more often than not, that means the writing suffers. So I’d be trying to sell shit because all my time would be spent on promotion. So while I plan to continue selling Nick Kepler (the first two are edited. I have a deal to barter for editing on the third) and Road Rules, the fact remains that New York is alive and well, just extremely befuddled. Could be worse. I could be a musician trying to deal with the recording industry. Over a decade after Napster with iTunes propping them up, the RIAA still can’t find its own ass even with a proctologist grabbing its hands, pushing them into place, and screaming “Right here, stupid!”
  • Get a second, maybe a third draft of Holland Bay done. Yes, this will be the novel I worked years on. Shouldn’t every writer have one?
  • Get one short story a month published. Which means I need to take one out of the can and revise it for January.
  • Lose weight. Yes, everyone does this every year. But I have been losing weight. So this is simply carrying on what I started.

The stuff I want to try…

  • Ballroom dancing. Nita and I have wanted to do this separately at various points. This is the first time both of us have wanted to do it.
  • Running. I ran in high school. I think I’ve recovered nicely after a short 27-year break.
  • As always, ride the Little Miami Trail all the way to Xenia. Some years I make it, others I don’t.

The stuff I need to focus on…

  • Me. Or rather my health. My weight dropped nicely in 2011. It needs to go down more in 2012. I take Janumet, an expensive wonder drug that keeps me from shooting insulin. I would like to make my method of managing blood sugar simply not eating a lot of crap. That takes weight loss and exercise.
  • On the same note, mental health. I had a weird bout of depression going into the holidays. I don’t know what caused it, though I suspect it was chemical in origin – That is, eating the usual crap we stuff ourselves with sometimes wreaks havoc with your mood and concentration.
  • Marriage. Nita is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And our marriage is better than either of us could have expected. But we both realize it’s work. It’s work I’ve always been willing to do, but New Year’s Day is as good a day as any to renew my commitment to her. Followed by Valentine’s Day (the anniversary of our first date) and our wedding anniversary.
  • AJ. My stepson turns 18 this year. He graduates high school. AJ has a pretty good head on his shoulders, better than I had at his age. He had a plan going into his senior year. When logistics and finances got in the way, he didn’t give up. He simply changed his timeline and looked for alternatives. When I was dating Nita, I decided that this 13-year-old kid would be closer and closer to adulthood every day that I knew him. So for the most part, I’ve treated him like an adult. Now I need to be there as he becomes finally becomes one. It’s work I’m happy to do. Every parent should be.
  • Faith. If you’ve read this, you know I have an unconventional view of God. It has a refreshing lack of dogma, since humans, by definition, are too stupid for dogma. At the same time, I have questions I need answered and need to rethink my views. I don’t serve my beliefs. They serve me. That’s why you don’t see me picketing soldiers’ funerals or slamming airplanes into buildings. And you never will.

And of course, I resolve to gorge myself on schadenfreude pie on December 22, 2012, at the expense of all these pinheads who haven’t figured out that the Mayans simply couldn’t be bothered rebooting the calendar after December 21. There’s something sick about people obsessing about the end of the world. I keep wanting to tell them, “Well, you go first. We’ll all have to follow you eventually.” They usually act all offended, like the apocalypse that makes them all giddy doesn’t apply to them. It’s enough to make emo kids say, “Dude, chill out.”

And beyond that, I’ll make another list of stuff I won’t get to in 2013. It’s our way.

*Under the old Mayan calendar. Really. On December 22, a new Mayan calendar begins. It’s the Y2K of the 21st century.

1984 Vs. 2011

AJ went to his first prom this past weekend. I went stag to my senior prom in 1984. Was it culture shock? Well, I wasn’t at this prom, but I heard enough. For starters…

1984 – Camera meant you had a cheap Kodak Instamatic with those tiny film rolls or a Polaroid instant camera. Which meant not everyone had a camera to record the event.
2011 – Cell phones have cameras. AJ took my point-and-shoot because it had better light adjustment than his phone and takes twelve megapixel photos.

1984 – You had to wait days for your prom photos to be developed.
2011 – AJ’s were on Facebook by 2 AM.

1984 – Some of the more religious parents whispered concerns about allowing the band to play Led Zeppelin or Judas Priest songs during the dance.
2011 – Half the rap songs, which made up most of the DJ’s playlist, were bleeped.

1984 – I thought the powder-blue tux made me look hip and trendy. Five years later, I started burning any pictures of me in that tux.
2011 – AJ picked a black tux with red vest and tie that looked old school and dressy at the same time. And likely will not embarrass him five years from now.

1984 – I slow danced with Julie Melendez to Journey’s “Open Arms.”
2011 – Whoever sang the last dance at AJ’s prom wasn’t even born in 1984 and likely only knows Journey from Glee or as “that band Randy Jackson used to be in, dog.”

1984 – Prom was in a gymnasium.
2011 – Prom is at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Last year’s was at the Newport Aquarium.

1984 – Girls look better in their prom dresses than they will in their wedding dresses.
2011 – Still do.

1984 – I wasn’t the only one who thought the powder-blue tux looked cool and was wrong.
2011 – The two dozen boys we saw wearing snow-white tuxes will learn the same lesson soon enough.

1984 – Prom rocked.
2011 – Still does.