Giving Thanks, 2013 Edition

flamingturkeyIt’s that time of year again, when we in America pause to give thanks for what we have. In Canada, they do this in October (better weather) on a Monday (kills Monday for a week.) I sort of like the Canadian idea, but in America, it’s a rare four-day weekend. It’s a day for watching football (The Cowboys, the Lions, and, for some odd reason, now the Ravens). We consume huge amounts of the meat of a rather stupid bird, which puts us to sleep following dinner. It is a day for many families to embrace and indulge their dysfunction. Friday is a day that makes even Gordon Gecko despise capitalism, even if only for a day or so. It is the cultural end of autumn, the fiscal start of Christmas, and time when those of us who hate cold weather resign ourselves to that inevitable season we must endure for a few months: Winter.

But mostly, Thanksgiving is just that: Giving thanks. What am I thankful for?

Will code for food

zazzle.com, labeled for reuse

I work. Unemployment is still high, mainly because we have a Congress that, collectively, is the most useless in American history. Nonetheless, I have a job. Since 2008, when the economy tanked spectacularly, I was only out of work for about six weeks at the longest. When I lost my job at BigHugeCo, the VP who broke the news to me – whom I’d worked with for years – told me he regretted doing this, but at the same time told me to enjoy my summer vacation. They handed me twelve weeks severance. Within a couple of weeks, I was contracting, with only a two-week break that summer. There was a scary six weeks the following January and February where work jobs just weren’t to be had. And then I found work at Medishack, a job that was a hybrid of my old job as a desktop support technician and what I wanted to do, development. A lot of my good fortune was luck. A lot of it was persistence. And one thing I’ve seen during our most recent recession is that some people had a sense of entitlement that kept them out of decent jobs because the work was “beneath them.” These are usually the same people who complain the loudest about other people not working. So why did I not join in their reindeer games? All I know was that my creditors were asking where their money was, and it was hard for my wife to put food on the table with only my unemployment check to add to her income. I took less-paying work because I believe if you don’t work when it’s possible, you have no right to complain about not finding a job. It’s not like some people who literally can’t find work. Those people I feel for. The ones I had no respect for were the ones who asked me if I was insane taking temp jobs only two weeks after a layoff. I found that question insulting. At one point in my younger days, I worked three jobs at 60-70 hours a week. I don’t like idle time. Not without a fat bank account to back it up.

computer code

Photo: Carrot Lord, used under GNU FDL

I’m thankful I have a marketable skill. I write code. And I still fix computers. (No, I’m not going to fix yours. Forty hours a week of that is enough.) And I’m learning more about that all the time. Technology was a boon to me in the 1990’s. Through the Internet and cheap PC’s, I discovered several skillsets that will probably carry me through retirement, assuming I can retire. I don’t see why not. The more I learn, the more opportunities come my way. Add to that a business degree, and the opportunities open even wider. Nita is also getting a degree, a technology degree. This is going to help us open our own business. That, if successful, will secure our future. It won’t guarantee one or both of us won’t have to take a job welcoming people to Walmart at some point, but it makes it less likely.

Gabriel Iglesias

Photo: Tom Villegas, used under GNU FDL

I’m thankful for my health. Yes, I gained back all the weight I lost earlier this year. But after a recent hospital stay, my doctors were actually encouraged by what they saw. It’s only renewed my commitment to run the Flying Pig Marathon the week of my fiftieth birthday. I need to renew my discipline – no snacking, more fruit, stick with and keep revamping an exercise plan.

My wife expressed some doubt about me doing the Pig, but I have 2 1/2 years to get ready. In the meantime, my health can only improve. It’d better. After 50 is when a lot of things start falling apart at inconvenient moments. I intend to be healthier at 50 than I was at 40.

Nita_picMost of all, I’m thankful for the lovely lady to the right. Nita has been the best thing to ever happen to me. After five years, she still accepts me for who I am, is not afraid to be herself, and lights up my days and nights. Because of her, I’m a stepfather. And AJ looks at me as more than just the dude mom married. He is a great son, and I’m privileged to be part of his life. Our home is cozy and warm, and we all laugh a lot. I’ve married a hair metal chick and live with a boy who loves Monty Python. I look at Nita and know that I have a future. I watch AJ as he works his first job and goes to UC Blue Ash and marvel at how his adult life is a blank slate. Thanksgiving at our house is just us three with a small turkey and one rule: Stay out of Nita’s way until she puts up the tree. Once the tree is up, then we can get involved. Until then, shut up and eat your turkey. Oh, and could one of you do the dishes after lunch?

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She’s Not Older; She’s Better

My wife, Nita, turns 29 again today. My life has been so much sweeter with her in it.

nita_hat

Happy birthday, Sweet Rose. I love you.

Five Years Ago

Nita_picJanuary, 2008 – Nita, a girl I met through standup, posts one of those silly surveys that used to go around on MySpace. (For those of you too young to remember, before we had Facebook, we had MySpace, which was like Facebook, except it hurt your eyes.) This starts a bunch of racy messages going back and forth. I’m separated. I’ve also just broken up with my rebound girlfriend. I think, “I need to meet this girl for drinks. Maybe she knows some ladies she could introduce me to.”* We agree to meet for drinks as soon as we could find a night to do so.

February – The best night we can come up with was Valentine’s Day. I tell her I’m separated, she’s single. Why not let me spoil her for Singles Awareness Day? She accepts. Over the next couple of weeks, we spend a lot of time emailing, IMing, texting (which I hadn’t done a lot of up until I asked her out), and talking on the phone.

February 12 – I get one of those email blasts from FTD. They had a really cool special on a dozen roses, Godiva chocolates, and a stuffed animal. I spend the money.

February 14 – 10:30 AM – I get a phone call at work. I guess the flowers worked.

5PM – In and out of the shower, praying I don’t slice my neck open shaving (which I seem to do on Mondays, before job interviews, and getting ready for weddings, funerals, and public speaking engagements.) Spritz myself with a little bit of Aramis and wonder, “Do women really like this?” (No. But I got a nice umbrella out of it.) Out the door by 6:30.

6:45 – Stop for gas. Call Nita from the car, asking for the most beautiful woman in the world. Yes, that’s lame. She responds that her mom is not there. She is nervous. I don’t admit it, but I am.

7 PM – This is how you know we’re in the 21st century. I pull into the lot, call her, and ask where she is. I’ve never seen her car. She’s never seen mine. I spot her across the parking lot. We walk in together, and the waitress thinks we’ve been together for a while. We have a lovely dinner, splitting a bottle of white Zinfandel (a safe choice when you don’t know your date’s taste in wine.) She kind of looks like Marylin Monroe the way she has her hair done. I can’t believe I’m going out with this girl. She’s got a cute laugh, a beautiful smile, and I admire that she’s fiercely devoted to her son. I knew I’d be dating a lot of single moms if I dove head first into the dating pool. That she required me to respect her time with her son was a good sign. Some women don’t, or men for that matter. We all know them. Kids are impediment to dating and partying, even at our age. So while Nita was taking a chance on this strange man, she was protecting her son at the same time. No, strange man, you don’t come home with me tonight. But I will go out with you again.

February 15 – I violate the rule that says you wait 18 hours to call your date after the first date by calling her as I’m walking to work from the parking garage that morning. She invites me over to the house Friday night after I get done with a standup gig. We agree to go out Saturday night. We haven’t known each other long, and we’ve only had one date, but I’ve fallen very hard for this girl. The feeling is mutual. It takes only four months for go from new couple to newlyweds.

Valentine’s Day, 2008 remains the most important date in my life. Somehow, when I left the restaurant that night, I knew I was going to have a really good second half of my life. I haven’t looked back since.

I love you, Sweet Rose.

*She knows about this. She’s known since the first week we dated.

My First Christmas Date With Nita

2008 was the first Christmas I spent with Nita. We had some time off, so we took a day for ourselves. I wanted to photograph and write about the Krohn Conservatory’s annual Christmas display for the late, lamented My Town Monday multi-blog effort. Since the Conservatory is in Eden Park, near the city’s Mt. Adams neighborhood, we decided to make it a date day.

The Conservatory was fun. I’d only been there once in the entire time I’d lived in Cincinnati (17 years at that point). This was new. The previous weekend, we took AJ to Duke Energy (in the old CG&E Building downtown) to see the annual model train display. He practically yanked the camera out of my hands to take a few shots. This would have been a good trip for him as well, but he was in school.

The weather was something I could never get used to in this city. Growing up on the fringes of Cleveland, I was used to snow starting right after Halloween and continuing snowfall or deep freeze until the thaw hit in late March. Not so Cincinnati. Nita and I left our jackets in the car as it was 68 degrees outside.

We took a self-guided tour of the Conservatory, Nita posing for a few pictures for the blog. Then we went to see the sheep in the live nativity scene. Sheep on television and in movies are cute, white, fluffy things you just want to hug. Sheep in real life?

Yeah… Not that much different from pigs, except pigs have fine hair that doesn’t cake with mud and… well… you know. So seeing the sheep made me appreciate what a let-down being born in a manger must have been. Now take into account that the stables were often cleaner than the inns back then. (There’s a motel about 10 miles outside of Savannah, Georgia, I stayed in once that rivaled this stable. I still shudder thinking about it.) But we were there to take pictures and see the sights, so we got over the dirty sheep.

Off we went to Mt. Adams. For those of you unfamiliar with our fair city, Mt. Adams is a neighborhood that sits on a high hill overlooking downtown. Geographically and culturally, Mt. Adams is more like San Francisco than the rest of Cincinnati. They even considered it for an episode of The Real World some years back. At the very top of the hill is a monastery, which looms over a restaurant district. That was our lunch destination. We ate at a place called the Mt. Adams Bar & Grill. I pointed out that the building on the corner below us was where Clear Channel used to run several radio stations that now operate in Nita’s building where she works. I have to say the Kenwood location is probably easier to get to, but I’d miss working in this charming neighborhood if I had to leave it for a soulless office tower with a view of an unfinished shopping center.

We took a walk along St. Gregory and stopped in at the coffee place I’d often detour to some mornings. Customers were sitting outside, only a few days before Christmas.

In typical Cincinnati fashion, I had to drive out to the condo I was renting out to salt the back deck for our new tenants the very next day. The temperature dropped forty degrees overnight.

We haven’t had a date like that in a long time. It’s hard to get the time off lately, and it can get expensive. But it was our first Christmas date. You only get one of those.

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.