Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Non-Religious Specific Seasonal Greeting to You !

I used to send out e-Christmas Cards. But then I got lazy. Or lazier.

So now, you have my blog, and my first annual "A Prisoner in the Tundra" non-religious specific seasonal greetings blog.

So without further adieu, here is my first ever "Winter Solstice Letter."

Dear Friend/Neighbor/Former Neighbor/Classmate I haven't spoken to in over 20 years/Acquaintance/Colleague/Dude I pass on the street each day:

2010 has been such a GREAT YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We started with a short jaunt in the French Riviera. January isn't the best time to be there, but it beats Minnesota in the winter. I try to exercise my options at my many international properties to avoid the Minnesota winter as much as I can.

Nile, who is in 7th grade, had a pretty decent year. He ended up having to turn down chairing a program in Tel Aviv to help end international violence because it conflicted with a Future Leaders of America camp. I'm so proud of how often he decides that his country comes before other nations!

He balanced his civic responsibilities nicely with a respect for a sound body. He has only received 12 division I football scholarship offers, and 21 division I basketball scholarship offers. He knows this is an area requiring improvement, but he is committed to working on it.

Grady, who entered 4th grade this year, has some catching up to do. He has only received 8 full academic scholarship offers to college thus far, compared to the 11 from his older brother. We are working closely with him to understand the ramifications of not applying himself fully for his future academic endeavors.

He is cute with his many hobbies, though. The best is his small scale research project in molecular biology, where he is trying to regrow organic tissue using stem cells. It makes putting up with his temper that much easier!

Myself, I would say I've had a great 2010. Upon turning down the U.S. Ambassadorship to the country of Zimbabwe, I did decide to remain as a special envoy to Japan. I mean, I love Sapporo (Japanese Beer) much more than I like Zebra's Head Stout (Zimbabwe beer), so the choice was a no brainer.

I was very wise and frugal in my stock portfolio this year, and it turns out that we will be able to add about 10 more property purchases to our assets in the coming year. It might require jettisoning a few of my slum rental units throughout lower-income neighborhoods in the U.S., but that is a smart move with the current state of the economy anyway.

I hope that this letter finds you all as healthy, wealthy and wise as my sons and I this non-religious specific seasonal celebration period. May you have an even better 2011!

With much love,

Steve, Nile and Grady

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My First Year in Retail...the Smack My Head Moments

Let me just say as I look back on my first year in retail, I literally mean my first year in retail.

I didn't even have the "pleasure" of working retail back in high school because I thought it would be way cooler to be a summer lifeguard. I'm pretty sure I was right then and right now.

But between the interesting customers, employees, and neighbors, it's been a very entertaining year in terms of "Did you really just say that?" moments.

The customers. Ah, they are the lynch pin of my store. They're always right. And sometimes quirky. A few of my favorite moments:

- A group of women walk in, and after a few minutes in the store walking around the store, one of them asks me, with a straight face, "Do you have anything for vegans?" Really? I mean, really? You come into an steak store and ask whether we have anything for vegans?

- A younger guy walks in, strolls to the back of the store where all the steaks are located, and asks "Do you guys sell beef?" After a brief pause to make sure I heard the question correctly, I responded. "Well no we don't. But we do sell plastic bags, and then we give you free beef to put into it."

- A man walks in wearing flannel pajama bottoms, flip flops, a tattered t-shirt, and a lime green baseball cap. After buying more than $200 worth of our best porterhouse steaks, he decided to hang out for the next hour telling me about how he was close friends with John Travolta and Tom Cruise, and how Scientology was the truth of the world.

- While not a customer of my store, a frequent customer at Toby Keith's Bar & Grill deserves a shout out. Because if you're a little person with a skullet (receding hairline mullet), you deserve that at the very least.

The employees, well what can I say? They've given me some pretty good "say what?" moments as well, such as:

- The employee who insisted the reason he was late every day for his shift was because the time on his cell phone was not correct. I explained to him that cell phones were linked to satellites and towers that transmitted the real time to the cell phone, which was why we didn't have to change the time on our cell phone when Daylight Savings Time kicked in. He replied by saying he was with a really cheap cell phone company, and he didn't think they used those things.

- The employee who pulled what we call a "no call, no show" in the bidness. Since I was close friends with his cousin, which was why he got the job, I called my friend to inform him of his cousin's absence. Not five minutes after that, the employee called up and said "Steve, I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier but I just got out of jail." Seriously. That was his excuse. I'll skip the part of not wanting to tell your boss that information if it was true, since in this case I knew it wasn't true. I told him he'd need to bring in the paperwork that shows he was in jail. He said he was so mad when he left the jail he threw the paperwork away in a trash can on his way out. I told him to just have the jail fax a copy of the paperwork to the store. That was the end of that conversation.

Last, but most certainly not least, are the neighbors in my brand new mall, and the interesting things they bring to the table, including:

- The women of Toby Keith's Bar & Grill. They're the nicest women you'll ever meet when you're sitting at the bar with an open tab!

- The Booger Eater. If you missed it, there was an employee from another store in the mall who would eat her lunch on the bench in front of my store everyday. Then she would pick her boogers. And eat them. And mumble to herself. Winter is cruel in Minnesota, and unfortunately I think I'm done with Booger Eater sightings until spring.

Yes, this year has definitely been educational for me, and every day I can say at the very least that I've learned something new, or seen something new, or laughed my ass off for a new reason.

Here's to the second year, when I hope I'll be able to top the booger eater, midgets with mullets, and jailed employee stories.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Explaining DJK To A 12 and 9-Year-Old

I was expecting the question when I picked my sons up after school yesterday.

"Dad, what happened to DJK?"

To those readers who don't know the Iowa Hawkeyes, DJK is Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. An All-Big Ten wide receiver who has played (but not started) for four years. He seemed to always be in trouble with the coaching staff for the Hawkeyes. And on Tuesday, he was arrested on seven charges when the Iowa City Police Department executed a search warrant involving a drug investigation of DJK's roommate.

In Ferentz's doghouse more often than not, DJK had fast become a man of flash and pizazz both on and off the field.

And his story was right out of The Blind Side. Born to a teen mom in Youngstown, Ohio, Koulianos bounced around town as a virtual orphan for much of his youth before his current family brought him into their lives and adopted him legally.

And let's also be clear. He is a phenomenal player. He broke the career receiving yards record at Iowa held by perhaps the second most popular Hawkeye football player ever behind 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick, Tim Dwight.

But for every touchdown, there was a tweet. For every record broken, there was a Facebook status update. For every media interview request there was a sideshow that resembled T.O./Ochocinco light.

But DJK had fast become a favorite of my sons. I'm not going to lie, they were Ricky Stanzi fans first. But my oldest, who played wide receiver last fall in his first year playing football, looked to DJK before any other when it came to who he wanted to be when he stepped on the field.

And I respected DJK. So much so that I had personally commended him this fall on the strides he made to stay out of the doghouse this year.

So when I was forced to answer the questions from my sons, wanting to know why their hero was indefinitely suspended (aka kicked off) the Hawkeye football team, I chose to be honest. And factual.

After telling them he was arrested on drug charges, they asked what drugs. I told them the drugs that the police found (my oldest has been through D.A.R.E. and knows what the different drugs are from that, my youngest just think drugs are everything that is bad for you, including fatty foods).

They both said maybe DJK wasn't involved, maybe it was just his roommate.

I explained that he had admitted to police that he had done various drugs in the past 24 hours, and submitted to a drug test that confirmed it.

Then they both quickly came into the acceptance stage. "Well hopefully he still gets drafted to the NFL. Wow, we're going to get killed in our bowl game. But Sandeman is a good receiver. Not great like DJK, but good."

And after reading meltdown after meltdown from various Hawkeye fans all over the Interwebz yesterday regarding DJK, I realized my sons had a really good perspective on it. "That stinks that DJK isn't playing in the bowl game. Do we have any chocolate molton lava cakes?"

Heck yeah we have chocolate molten lava cakes. Would you like some whip cream with that?

I hope that Derrell does the right thing in the coming months. Take responsibility for your actions. Apologize to your fans (in particular the young ones who look up to you as a role model). Move out of Iowa City, you're not doing yourself a favor staying in the fish bowl. Work hard at preparing yourself for the next phase in your life, whether that involves football or not. Be careful who you keep in your company, there's no reason to create temptations you don't need.

And to my sons I say work hard every day.

Be careful who you call a friend.
Think about what might happen tomorrow for your actions today.

You don't have to be mistake-free, lord knows I have been far from that...but you should learn from your mistakes.

And perhaps the most important, when your superior, whether it's a teacher, coach, or boss, tells you to do something, just do it. And smile. And be thankful that you are lucky enough to have that teacher, coach or boss who cares enough to try and teach you something.

We've all made mistakes, we just don't usually get the attention that DJK is getting for our mistakes. But that goes with the territory since we also don't get the attention that DJK received for his performances on the field.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Let's hope that DJK can find his second chance in life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

By George, It Really IS Wonderful

"I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world." _ George Bailey.

It is no secret that "It's A Wonderful Life" is my favorite movie of all time.

And I'm not ashamed to admit that, even though I've seen the movie roughly 2 million times, I can still cry like a baby when I watch it.

I've seen it in black and white. In enhanced color. I'm waiting for the 3-D version to arrive in theaters.

And yes, I do realize the movie has become a cliche of the Holiday season. But I don't care.

The underlying themes of the movie speak so much to me, in particular since in many ways my life has been very anti-George Bailey.

I didn't stay in my own personal Bedford Falls (aka Sioux City). I went away to college as quickly as I could and learned a lot of new things. A few of them were even in the classroom.

I also lived in London, England for a semester, and made sure that my homework load didn't interfere with my nightly dart game at the neighborhood pub.

Then I went on to grad school in Iowa City to pursue my dream of being a newspaper reporter.

I ended up living there for 8 years, and Iowa City quickly became my second Bedford Falls.

And I wanted to stay there. I had found my "home."

But I didn't stay. Having family close to us was important to my ex-wife and I during the years we tried to juggle diaper changes with careers.

So I spurned Bedford Falls not once, but twice.

Not George Bailey. He stayed despite his hatred for doing so. Because that's what had to be done.

And while George couldn't see it without the help of an Angel, his life was complete despite all the pipe dreams and destinations he never followed up on visiting.

I don't have a Clarence to guide me back to Bedford Falls, but I have a ton of friends in both Sioux City and Iowa City who make it so easy for me when I return.

And in the long run, I know I'll be back to one of the two. Just not sure which one yet.

But I know this much...I'll be happier than Mr. Potter in a bath of crisp 100 dollar bills if when I do return, a room full of friends sing "Auld Lang Syne" and pass around a bucket for donations.

If that happens, the kegs on me, kids.

As the inscription in the book from Clarence to George read, "Remember George: No man is a failure who has friends."

"I wish I had a million dollars! HOT DOG!" _ George Bailey.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful For The Little Things

This time of year we always take time to be thankful for the things in our lives.
Such as my nephew who announced at the Thanksgiving dinner table years ago, at the age of 3, that he was thankful for his penis.
There was a time in my life when I would have been thankful for the big house I owned, or the new furniture that filled it, or the hot tub in my back yard, or my brand new pickup truck. Or the expensive vacations I was able to take.

But as I've mentioned before, the combination of becoming single again and the craptastic economy over the last four plus years has really brought me back to the basics in terms of what I'm thankful for.

Today, and every day, I'm thankful for...

My beautiful sons, who teach me almost as much as I teach them each day.

The roof over my head. I know firsthand how easily that can be lost.

The food I can provide for my sons.

The job I go to each day, happily, because it is so much better than the alternative.

My friends, perhaps some of the best people on this earth if you ask me.

My family. They have been there for me when I needed it, and even when I didn't.

Being able to see a special someone's smile or hear their laugh, and feel a butterfly in your stomach.

Music. The sweetest sound to my ears, which can soothe my soul easily.
Laughter. The second sweetest sound to my ears. Medicine.

That I was born in the greatest country on this Earth.

The fact that I'm an Iowan. Forever. No matter where I live.

And the list would not be complete without Iowa Hawkeye Football!

As you sit down to feast tomorrow, and begin listing off the things that you are thankful for, let me challenge you with this closing thought.

Why do we only do this one day a year? Why can't every day be Thanksgiving. Because let's face it, each and every day we wake up is a gift to be thankful for in and of itself.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and enjoy the Tryptophan!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Time I Got Sprayed By a Skunk

Growing up, my best friend Jeff and I got into plenty of trouble.

Like the time we decided we were going to build a baseball stadium in the front pasture of his farm. My mom arrived to pick me up and found Jeff sitting on a fence post, yelling at me for what part of the project I had to do next.

Or the time that we decided to add a fireplace to the fort we built right next to the farm's gasoline tanks. A fireplace would be bad enough, but we built a fireplace without a chimney (such things are lost on 10-year-olds). Jeff's mom returned from an errand to find us putting the fire out, wondering if she'd ever be able to leave us alone again.

But there is no memory with Jeff more vivid than the time we got sprayed by a skunk.

It started innocently enough. We were going snake hunting.

Jeff lived on a nice farm just outside the city limits. A rolling piece of land was our playground. And on this day our chosen form of entertainment was snake hunting.

So he and I built our weapons of choice. We whittled long sticks to have a spear on one end. Primitive, yet effective. Jeff's two older cousins joined us in our hunt. We set out and found a series of holes along a hillside path that looked like they needed further investigation.

When we came upon a slightly larger hole, we looked at each other, and Jeff said "I think this might be a really big snake living here."

We all decided the best tactic was to attack as a team. As we moved closer, a set of eyes peered out of the hole at us. "Wow, that's a big garter snake," I remember thinking to myself.

The next thing we knew, a little black cat with white stripes came bolting out of the hole and immediately turned around to run back into the hole.

Or so it appeared.

This was no cat. This was Pepe Friggin' Le Pew. A skunk that was not at all happy that we woke him up from a nap looking for snakes.

Before we knew it, we were all sprayed by Pepe. And it burned our eyes. And stunk. Worse than nearly anything else I've ever smelled in my life.

We made our way slowly back to Jeff's house. As we arrived, Jeff knocked on the kitchen window to tell his mom to come outside. Upon learning of our situation, she quickly called my mom. My mom arrived and took Jeff's cousin and me back home. She made us ride in the back of the station wagon. Many moms may have made their kids walk home.

A few tomato juice baths later, and many repeated loads of clothes washing, my world returned to normal. But in that short time, I learned a very valuable life lesson.

Don't go hunting snakes if you're not ready to be sprayed by a skunk.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From The Mouths of Mini-Me's

*WARNING: This blog entry contains material that may be inappropriate for those who have not been around young boys who like to discuss topics like testicles and poop. Please do not read it if you are scared by the mere mention of those topics.*

So I'm sitting in the living room, minding my own business, because that's how I roll.

My mini-me's and I had just finished discussing the fact that their neighbor friend at their mom's house was going to be having surgery because one of his testicles (not the term they used) was larger than the other.

They giggled as they told me of course. And I tried to explain to them that while the topic can be funny, not when someone has to have surgery for it. My oldest mini-me then asked me "Dad, if one of mine is a little bigger than the other does that mean I have a problem?" I told him I didn't think so (he's my hypochondriac).

So a few minutes later from the bedroom I hear my youngest mini-me yell out "Daddy!"

"What, Gman?"

"My balls are dangling and they look like a butt crack."

At which point I realized that I was doomed.

Which made me think about a few other times over the years that these two have made me wonder how much karma could come back to bite me in the butt for the things I said as a child to my mom and dad.

There was the time a couple years ago, when they were complaining about whatever horrid dinner I cooked that night. I pulled a "I sound like my father" moment, and exclaimed "You know there are kids starving in China who would love to have that food!"

My oldest mini-me shrugged his shoulders at me and said "Well good, then lets just send it to them."


Or the time we sat down to fill out a fun survey together, and when the question came up "What's something your Dad is not good at doing?"

And my oldest mini-me answered with a crap-eating grin, "Picking out girlfriends."

Freaking. Doomed.

Then there was the time shortly after I moved into my own townhouse following my divorce. My mini-me's had a propensity to use the toilet and not take care of flushing on a regular basis. As I walked into the half-bathroom off my kitchen, I noticed a package left for me in the toilet.

I walked back out to the living room and interrupted a very intense Lego construction project. "Hey guys, which one of you left that in the toilet without flushing?"

Both mini-me's in unison announced "Not me!"

The only response I could think of was, "Oh, so it must have been a ghost."

About an hour later, as we were driving to the store, my youngest said, in his still little boy voice, "Daddy, I fink I know who pooped in your toiwet."


"It was a goat."

Short pause.

"Or a pirate."


I'm definitely doomed.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Get Out And VOTE!

I tend to listen to advice from my mom.

Two things you don't bring up at the dinner table: politics and religion.

And in this virtual dinner table we call the interwebz, I tend to follow those rules as well.

But since I brought the topic up, let me first tell you I'm a complete mish-mash politically speaking.

I've been a registered Republican, and I've been a registered Democrat. I've worked for campaigns for both parties. I've left both parties when extremists inside the party push out those who are more moderate.

And I've become very jaded about the system.

Good people don't run for office anymore, and the few that do end up being corrupted by the money/lobbying game soon enough.

Getting re-elected has become a full-time job for nearly every politician, as opposed to doing the right thing. Or doing anything.

And the political debate in this country has become a shouting match full of name-calling, finger-pointing and half-truths.

And both sides of the aisle have become so obsessed with maintaining their power hold, they've forgotten how to work together and compromise on the things we can all agree on.

Yes, the American political machine is a bit like a hot dog...I don't really want to see what goes into it.

But I still vote.

Because the day I stop caring enough to vote is the day that our already fractured system may as well just be declared obsolete.

So I don't care who you vote for, or why you vote for them.

But for God's sake, just vote.

It's all we've got left.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trick or Treat...

I can't really explain why Halloween is among my favorite holidays, because I've had my share of Halloween tragedies.

There was the time when I was 6 years old when a group of teenage girls surrounded me, grabbed my bag of candy, and dumped it into their little brother's bag and ran off with my bounty. My mom took me around to all the houses again to explain that my candy had been stolen, so they didn't think I was trying to double dip. Some people didn't buy the story she was selling.

Then there was the time when I was 11 years old, working at a haunted house at the KD Stockyards basement with my best friend, Jeff. Apparently I must have drank a lot of Coca-Cola before we arrived for our shift in the haunted house. About 2 hours into our shift, I really had to pee. Badly. But I couldn't leave my station, or else people who paid good money would not possibly pee themselves. So I'd like to think I was the Messiah of Haunted Houses. I pee'd myself so that others would also pee themselves.

And perhaps even better, there was the time when I was a 20-year-old college student studying abroad in London. My "flatmate," Lev, and I had decided to hit a local thrift store and buy prom dresses to use as our Halloween costume for the party some fellow students were throwing. We spent hours getting pretty, then ventured out the door for the 2 mile walk to the party location. One minor thing that we didn't realize before we transformed ourselves from Steve and Lev to Stephanie and Levita. The United Kingdom doesn't celebrate Halloween. Sidenote, we had a lot of offers for a free drink along the walk.

Despite that, well, I've had some incredibly awesome Halloweens in my 40 years. Whether it was building haunted houses in my garage or basement to scare my neighbors, or hosting costume karaoke parties that featured fog, strobe lights, a stage, and a professional DJ, I take my Halloweens seriously.

The evolution of my Halloween priorities thus far is essentially:
  • Stage 1: Get an awesome costume, eat lots of candy
  • Stage 2: Get an awesome costume, hope the girls at the party get an awesome costume
  • Stage 3: Get an awesome costume, drink lots of beer
  • Stage 4: Get your kids an awesome costume, drink lots of beer while you take them trick or treating
I'm not sure of the rest of the stages yet, but I'm pretty sure it will end up with a final stage of "drink lots of prune juice, and yell at the kids with awesome costumes to get off your lawn!"

So as a gift to all of you at this festive time of year, I give you my favorite 3 costumes I've worn for Halloween:

1. JFK back from the dead. I bought a vintage suit from a secondhand store, some basic stage makeup kits, and hair dye. I had bullet entry wounds in the front of my neck, the back of my head looked like spaghetti, and I talked in a thick Boston accent all night. Unfortunately, I could not convince my then wife to dress as Marilyn Monroe back from the dead.

2. I did, however, convince my then wife to dress as a brick one year. I took a cardboard box, painted it, cut the proper holes. Why would she dress as a brick, you ask? Because I asked, and because I was dressed as a bricklayer. My ex-brick ended up leaning up against the wall at the party. She ended up staining the wall of my co-worker. In her new home. Her American Dream. Stained brick red.

3. Tim Dwight. Yeah, if you don't know who that is, you can just stop reading now, it's ok. Thanks for reading this far. If you do know who he is, well, you'll know that I have alot in common with him. I'm bald, he's bald. We're both Iowans. Ok, so that might be about all we have in common, but still, this costume was awesome. Trust me.
Happy Halloween, and may you get the awesome costume you're hoping for.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Benchwarmer at a wedding dance

There's nothing like a wedding to drive home how single you are.
You're there for a special moment in two people's lives, and for an instant, even as a divorced dad, you can even let go of the jaded idea that marriage sucks.

I realized this weekend, while attending my niece's wedding in Sioux City, that I have been single at every wedding I've attended since getting divorced over 4 years ago.

Now mind you I haven't been single the entire time since my divorce, but every time I was attending a wedding, sure enough, it was either me solo, or me with my sons.

Last night, I was enjoying myself on the dance floor numerous times, when I was forced to my seat by the song selection of the DJ.

For every "You Shook Me All Night Long" there's a "The Way You Look Tonight." For every "YMCA" there's a "Have I Told You Lately?" For every "Macarena" and "Chicken Dance" there's a Couple's First Dance and Father/Daughter Dance that usually brings tears to the eyes of every woman in the place.

And every time the sappy slow dance song comes on, I made my way back to my lonely table, full of empty beer cans and plastic cups, and chairs covered with suit coats and ties.

Don't get me wrong...I've made a choice the last year and a half or so to pretty much ignore the thought of dating and focus on my boys and myself. But that doesn't mean I don't second guess that decision when I'm faced with a night filled with superlatives about how great marriage is, how they're beginning the rest of their life together, and how great they seem for each other.

I know I've already neutron-bombed the post-modern American Dream of a mini-van, a happy wife and kids, living in an idyllic suburban 4 BR 2 BA home.
But that doesn't mean I'm not interested in having someone to approach at a wedding reception, grab her hand, and say "Hey beautiful, want to dance?"

Someone to wake up with a hot cup of coffee waiting for her in bed.

Someone that will want to laugh with me as I watch the world around me and just want someone to turn to and say "Did you just see that?"

Someone to take the good days and bad days in stride.


So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I need to knock down the brick walls I've erected and start figuring out what options are out there again.

Because I sure the hell am getting sick of having to sit out on the sideline every time a Lionel Ritchie song comes on at a wedding dance.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Definition of A Friend

You are a friend if you (check all that apply):

__ Make me laugh

__ Laugh at and/or with me

__ Teach me something new

__ Back me up when I deserve it

__ Tell me when I don't deserve it

__ Tell me I'm a good cook, even though I'm not

__ Call me when you know I'm lonely

__ Leave me alone when you know I'm not lonely

__ Fed me when I was hungry

__ Called me "Clemmy"

__ Called me "Higgy"

__ Called me "dumbass"

__ Root for the Hawkeyes

__ Root against the Huskers

__ Know my "breakdancing" name

__ Have seen me with lots of hair, parted down the middle

__ Have seen me at my best. And my worst. And still acknowledge me.

__ You like me, you really like me!

Total up your points. (0 = You're not my friend), (1 and greater = You're my friend, and you rock, and thank you).

Good night. Tip your wait staff. Try the veal. I'll be here through next Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jumping out of a plane, Part Deaux

So perhaps in this case, insanity can be defined by doing the same thing twice expecting the SAME result.

After successfully surviving my first tandem skydiving experience in May 2009, for some unexplained reason, I decided to cheat death a second time last weekend. And I have to say that it was a completely different one -- both better and worse -- from the first time.

Let me first say that I was WAY more nervous the second time around. Perhaps because I actually knew what to expect. The first time, adrenaline started the minute the door plane closed and continued for a few days afterward. This time, the adrenaline wouldn't last as long, or help me through the hours before my jump.

Let me also add, it's not real wise to do youtube searches for videos of skydiving accidents the night before you jump. Call me morbid.

I jumped in a new location this time, in Winsted, MN, where the tandem instructor I had last year...Jumpin' Joe, formerly known as Crazy Joe, had opened his own place.

My nerves subsided by the time I got to the airport and started talking to Joe. His mixture of humor ("We haven't had a death, yet, which means we could have one any day") and intensity and passion for jumping helps keep you calm.

My last order of business was to hug my kids, hand them all my possessions, and tell them if it looked like something was going wrong when I jumped, to turn around and not watch.

As my plane took off, a Zen-like calm came over me as I realized that if I did have to die, this might not be that bad of a way to do it, other than the guarantee of no open casket funeral.

The view this time was so much better. Last year's jump was in flatland farm country in Wisconsin. This year's jump was in flatland farm country in Minnesota. But there were lakes. Thousands of them. Which I guess is how this state got it's nickname. Crazy.

But you could also see the famed lake of the Twin Cities, Lake Minnetonka, as well as the skyline of downtown Minneapolis.

As the moment of truth arrived, and they opened the door on the small Cessna plane, it was me leaning out over the edge of the wheel with 10,000 feet of air between me and the ground. There really are no words to describe this feeling. The wind is whipping you before you even begin to plummet at 125 miles per hour.

And as Joe and I tipped out of the plane, unlike last year, we tumbled backward and did a few flips as we left the plane behind and watched it soar into the distance.

The free fall experience is something you also can't put into words that aptly describe it. You really are flying at this point, albeit because of gravity, not wings. Nearly twice as fast as you typically are going down the freeway in your car.

I love the peacefulness of the descent after the chute opens, but the free fall is what keeps me coming back. Maybe it's the rush of knowing you're dropping like a lead weight toward Earth, and there is still a chance that the chute won't open. Cheating death. It can become addicting.

And while it's not the same thing, if you'd like to at least see what I experienced (even though it doesn't really do it justice), check it out here:


And if you ever find yourself with the opportunity to take life by the balls, do it. After all, life isn't a dress rehearsal. Happy jumping!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

GUEST COLUMN: From my friend G, who is from Canada, which explains her weird spelling

I finally belong....

The 2010 college football season is about to begin and there are no words to describe the way I feel about this game, or how it has changed my life.

About 3 years ago I was inadvertently led to an online football message board and while there I started to get to know some real down to earth, genuine people. Each day I’d post about some random topics and engage in everyday conversation and banter.

These average folks posting along with me live in small town America and truly love their football. Some might say it's because they have nothing else to think about and nothing else to do, but I think they have something more than most. I think they belong to something simple, yet unspoken, I know they belong to something more than just a game.

It seemed peculiar to me at the time, their unusual relationship to football and their relationship to each other, but as I got to know them I realized that they were bound to one another. Their Hawkeyes connected them and I was intrigued, like a science experiment I was drawn to uncover the secrets to the bond they formed.

At first I tried to buy into what they were selling, but I will be honest I thought those young guys tossing a football around in tight pants were just kids and the people who loved the game just got together to drink beer and hang out with other like minded. I didn't know a “drop back” from a “drop kick” and I definitely didn’t realize why these people would count down the days until the next season started.

And now look at me, I’m counting down the hours like some love-sick teenager who spent an hour on the phone with her boyfriend, but is waiting for it to get dark so she can climb through her bedroom window just to spend whatever time she can with him. I admit it, it’s addicting. The more time I have had, the more time I want, and I never want it to end.

This probably seems a bit foolish to anyone who doesn’t love college football, especially the Hawkeyes the way I do and I am continuously questioning how it all happened. All I can say is that something transpired the first time I went to a game in Iowa City. On that crisp October morning I tailgated on the streets with almost complete strangers; I simply never felt alone, or uncomfortable. I was scooped up and taught immediately that being a part of game-day was full of tradition, a deep faith, a powerful loyalty, and patience for what’s meant to be.

To be part of this relationship you had to have staying power and you had to believe, always believe. Those Iowa Hawkeye fans never give up on their team and they never give up on anyone who comes along, curious about what they have, someone like me. They continue to embrace me, not only during the actual season, but each and every day until a new season starts. Talk about loyalty and faith, huh?

I don’t pretend to know what this season holds for my team; whether they will be winners or losers, and frankly I don’t care, that isn’t why I am here. You should know though that the promises by experts are that it will be an awesome year, with the word “championship” written all over the place.

If you are reading any predictions when it comes to college football, you won’t read an article anywhere regarding the Hawks that doesn’t state the expectation they will go far, further than they ever have in their history. Doesn’t that just make you want to watch one Saturday morning to see if “they” are right? I do.

It’s so tempting to think I am just star struck, and you know what I’m not going to lie, I am. When those eleven players walk out onto the field I get goose bumps, my heart swells with pride, and it’s a feeling I can’t describe.

I will tell you this though, my being enamoured with the Hawks has nothing to do with them winning, it is because I know those young men play each Saturday because I am there, and because I care and that is why I belong to the Hawkeyes.

It is why I also belong to the tens of thousands of other followers just like me, who shout each week, for 12 weeks, “LET’S GO HAWKS, LET’S GO HAWKS, LET’S GO HAWKS!” Every chance they get.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yes My Car Is Possessed. But You're A Jerk. And I Can Fix My Car

So I'm snoozing away, minding my own business, when I get a call at 1:53 a.m. from a number I didn't recognize.

"Mr. Clem, this is Officer Miller with the Plymouth Police Department. We are here on the scene at *my address here* where there has been a noise complaint because your car alarm is going on and off all night."

"Ok, I'll be down to take care of it."

My car pisses me off sometimes. Ever since a small leak developed in the seal around my sunroof, anytime it rains, water seems to be collecting in the fuse box area inside the car, which is wreaking havoc with my electrical system.

Sometimes the door locks will just lock and unlock randomly. Sometimes the dome light will just decide it wants to stay on all night, no matter if you have it in the off position. Sometimes a taillight will work, sometimes it won't. And yes, sometimes, the car alarm decides to go off randomly.

I've been meaning to get it fixed, but was somewhat reliant on receiving my tax refund for 2007 and 2009 from the government. Now that that has FINALLY happened, I've got an appointment scheduled for early next week to get it repaired.

But back to the problem at hand. It's 1:58 a.m., and I can't find my flip flops. I knew I left them by the front door, but the kids must have moved them. I wander around in a sleepy haze, trying to find them without turning on the lights. Then I decide I'm just going to shove my stinky feet into my stinky hiking shoes because I really, really, really want to go back to sleep.

As I go out the front door of my apartment building, I notice not one, but TWO squad cars parked next to my vehicle. As I walk closer, one squad car peels away and parks about 25 yards behind, shining his lights on me as I approach the other police car. As I get within 5 feet, the female officer in the squad car looks jolted, and jumps out quickly as if she is preparing for me to launch a vicious attack or something.

I explain to her that I was the owner of the car she had just called, and was going to move my car to the unattached underground parking for the night, where nobody would be able to hear my alarm.

After a lecture about proper car maintenance and telling me I needed to update my DMV address, she moved aside so I could move my car to the underground parking.

And then I saw the notes. Two of them. Stuffed under my windshield wiper on the driver side. I pulled them out and read them. The top one said "RUDE! TOO LOUD!"

The bottom note read "Your Car Alarm is TOO SENSITIVE! It went off all night. I reported this noise pollution to the office. One more night & will report to police."

One more night, my ass.

And let me clarify, oh anonymous note writing neighbor. Despite the rumor to the contrary, not every man thinks of his car as an emotional attachment, or as a means to make up for a lack of height, size, or girth. I don't control my car. I don't like it when the car alarm goes off. So please stop calling me rude for my car's actions.

Secondly, oh note writer, you may want to edit your time frame for calling the cops before you leave it next time.

Thirdly, I'm getting my car fixed next week. When are you going to do something to fix your approach to life and people? Why don't you leave a note on my car to let me know.



Monday, August 16, 2010

I'm ready for the boom

I don't know when exactly I fell in love with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

I know it was before Hayden Fry came along to save the football program from near death.

Because I remember walking to school wearing my Hawkeye shirt, and getting made fun of by my Cyclone and Nebraska fan classmates.

But I will tell you that my love affair with the Hawkeyes has not waivered in over 30 years. Not once. It's in my blood. Win or lose.

My ex-wife, well, she probably wished she was the Hawkeyes at some point, I'd imagine.

Luckily for me, I've created two monsters in my sons. They both have their Hawkeye #12 Ricky Stanzi jerseys. They both talk about the Hawkeyes and the state of Iowa as if it is a religious experience for them. When we drove past the Gophers' TCF Stadium (The TCF stands for Terrible College Football, fyi), my kids yelled out "That's where the Hawkeyes are going to smash the Gophers this fall!"

I mean, come on, my oldest son is named Nile. (If you don't know who Nile is in Hawkeye lore, read

I'm happy that I get to share that experience with them, the same way I got to experience it with my parents. Growing up, Saturdays meant get the chores done so we could listen to the game on the radio, or watch it on TV (which was much less frequently back in the old days).

And they've learned very quickly that as a Hawkeye fan, we don't whine about losing. Only Nebraska fans do that.

So, my blog tonight has very little in the way of a point. Except that we're now less than 19 days away from the kickoff of the 2010 Hawkeye Football Season...and me, I'm ready for the boom.


Not excited enough? Then click this link now.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Silver Lining, I Kan Seez It.

I refuse to let this crap get the best of me.

I will not let the negative energy drag me down.

I'm focusing on the positives, such as:

  • I am 93.6 percent sure that I'm more knowledgeable about head lice than everyone in North America except for whatever guy did all the research papers I read online.
  • I've learned that my sons really, really, really, really, really don't want me to move away from them. Given some tough times in the last few years with my youngest, in particular, this brought a tear to my eye.
  • I know who my friends are. And they make sure I know they are there.
  • I still have my sense of humor. It's my medicine in life. If you can't laugh at the crap in life, you're going to be pulling a Mona Lisa for the vast majority of your life.
  • I'm employed. I have a roof over my head, and more importantly Nile's and Grady's heads. I have my car and the repo men aren't anywhere nearby.
  • I have two awesome sons. I mean we're talking 101.2 percent awesome. They're far from perfect, but they know I don't expect them to be. I just expect them to learn from their mistakes in life. As I am still doing.
  • I am not as schadenfreude as some people. Which is nice. And schadenfreudian.
  • I'm pretty sure that I'm going to survive pretty much anything at this point in life. Which makes me a ninja.
  • I still haven't been arrested, so I'm doing something right."
  • Football season is only 28 days away.
GO HAWKS! And remember to accentuate the positive!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Two Wolves: A Cherokee Story about Native Wisdom

Thank you to Amy H. for posting this on my Facebook page tonight. I absolutely love it. First appeared somewhere else, a long time ago:

A Grandfather from the Cherokee Nation was talking with his grandson.

"A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves."

"One wolf is evil and ugly: He is anger, envy, war, greed, self-pity, sorrow, regret, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, selfishness and arrogance."

"The other wolf is beautiful and good: He is friendly, joyful, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, justice, fairness, empathy, generosity, true, compassion, gratitude, and deep VISION."

"This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other human as well."

The grandson paused in deep reflection because of what his grandfather had just said. Then he finally cried out; "Oyee! Grandfather, which wolf will win?"
The elder Cherokee replied, "The wolf that you feed."

Friday, July 23, 2010

What I've Learned

As I near my 40th birthday next month, I've realized that there is at least one advantage of being older than dirt... knowledge.

I've learned some great lessons in my first 39.9 years. I hope to apply the wisdom in my next 39.9.

So here are some thoughts from an old, balding, almost 40-year-old guy. Take them for what they are worth.

- You are lucky if you find love and it lasts. If it doesn't last, you we're still lucky.

- When you have some money, enjoy it. It can disappear fast...so there's no harm in spoiling yourself once in awhile.

- Cherish the moments you have with your children. They do, I hear, eventually stop listening to you for a good 5-10 years.

- Appreciate your friends and family when you are with them. None of us are here forever.

- A night of eating, drinking, and making merry can cure all of your ills for the time being.

- Don't hold grudges. Or rattlesnakes.

- Make sure at least once in your life, you allow yourself to wake up and walk along a beach on the ocean.

- Women who wear capri's, a baseball jersey, and a baseball cap with a ponytail are perfection.

- You really can't go back. But it doesn't mean you have to forget.

- Hug your mom.

- When you wake up tomorrow, after you check all your extremities to make sure they work, remember to be glad you've got another day to screw shit up.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Dead Cat

My cat, Rosie* died two years ago this summer.
* (Disclaimer: My sons named her. Not. Me.)

Well so she didn't totally die. Guess she technically has eight lives left.

But I remember her death vividly. I went off to a college friend's wedding in Dallas, and left my cat with my ex wife to have my sons watch her for the long weekend.

After a little bit of time in the NWA/Delta VIP Lounge at MSP Airport, my buddy, Gingo, and I boarded the plane for what was my virgin first class flight. By the time we arrived in Dallas, we were feeling JUST fine.

As we checked into our hotel, hours later than planned due to some beer-fueled detours, I got a phone call from Minnesota.

"I am kind of afraid that your cat is dead," my ex whispered into the phone. She whispers often when talking, both in person and on the phone, but she does it extra quietly when she has really bad news.

"What?" I asked back, mostly because I truly didn't hear what she said.

"I think my dog ate your cat today."

Now, many things flashed through my mind at that moment, but not once did I entertain the notion that her dog - remember the MINI-dachshund? - had eaten my cat.

"I'm betting she is just hiding, she's in a new place, and is likely hiding someplace where the dog can't find her," I said in my slightly buzzed state of calmness.

"Well, I went outside, and I found a carcass. All that is left is a bit of tail, and it looks like the same color hair as your cat had."

Ok, wait, is it physically possible for a mini-dachshund to eat a cat? My intuition said no, and I told her that it was probably a squirrel or raccoon skeleton that the dog had found nearby.

"No, I'm 99 percent sure this is your cat."
The last sentence would keep me guessing.

As I hung up the phone, not sure what I was supposed to do from Texas, my friends in the background were all breaking out in laughter, with all of them very familiar with the kind of relationship my ex and I had going back to the beginning.

"So, there's a chance that my cat is dead, but I'm guessing more likely it just got outside or is hiding." My friends know that I will be making jokes, as will they, about dead cats for the rest of the evening.

The humor was stifled for a moment when I got a second call from my ex's phone. It was both my sons, crying hysterically into the phone about how they hated their dog for eating their cat.

I spent a few minutes reassuring them that we didn't know what had happened to the cat yet, and that she could just be cleverly hiding, or got out, but will find her way back.

The fact that they said they never wanted pets again almost broke my heart. Especially since we didn't KNOW what had happened yet. But I couldn't undo that thought for them at that moment.

The next morning, a rather groggy minded, slightly achy me answered a bright and early phone call from my ex's phone again. "DAD WE FOUND HER! SHE WAS HIDING BEHIND THE FURNACE!" I heard two little voices screaming into the phone in unison.

After a conversation ranging from how they never really thought the little dog could eat their cat, to what kind of special treat they were going to give Rose the dead cat, I hung up and rolled over and tried to sleep.

But every time I tried to, I would start to laugh knowing that this was one occasion I felt very good to be right.

Now, a regular greeting for Rose when we return home from both boys is "Hi Rose, remember the time you died?" or "Hey Rosie, remember when Daisy ate you?"

And I smile to myself. To rip off Harry Chapin as I bid you goodnight, my boys are just like me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Yippee Ki Yay, Mr. Banker Man, I'm Hittin' The Trail

Dear Mr. CEO of My Bank of 11 plus years:

Please accept this letter as my official two weeks notice as your customer. As soon as I finally get the automatic deposit of my long overdue tax refund, I'll be filling out a withdrawal slip for the full amount of my account that day.

With your recent $25 billion acquisition of one of your failing competitors, I can understand how you may not have time to hear from a customer. No I'm not a commercial customer. Nope I'm not a CEO like you. No, I just have been banking with your place for awhile, and thought I'd let you know why I'm leaving.

I'm sure you are aware that times are tough. I hope that your bonus this year was wisely invested. But if it wasn't, perhaps you can get another $25 billion bailout from the Federal government? Or perhaps get an additional $25 billion tax break for buying another failing competitor?

And during these tough times, your bank has steadily become a place where I am no longer a person, but instead a risk or reward, identified by a routing and account number, and PIN code.

Your personal bankers are not allowed to be personal. They are trained to be robots who follow your edicts passed down through your layers and layers of management to the front line.

I realize that I am responsible for some of my frustrations regarding my bank account with you. I will own that much. But there also comes a time where you have to take some ownership as well. And I don't mean of more of our tax dollars.

Anyway, Mr. CEO, thanks for taking time to read this. I need to run now because one of your competitors is running a promotion to sign up new accounts. I see the bankers there everyday through my job, and they know me on a first name basis, and ask about my kids and my store. They don't just do it because they want my business. They do it because that's what people do with one another. Interact. And give a shit.

So I'm going to wander on down the trail, now, Mr. CEO. I know you've probably got a yacht party or wine tasting or charity event or something to go to. Have a great weekend, and I know you won't lose any sleep over losing my little tiny checking account with you. But don't worry, the feeling is mutual.


Your Now Former Customer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Permanent Mexican Vacation Anyone?

"O h, Mexico. It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low. Moons so bright like to light up the night. Make everything all right" _ James Taylor, "Mexico"

Today has been one of those days where I'm so tempted to pack up what I can fit into my little car and start driving south.

All I would need for sure would be some cash, my passport, some shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. Probably my laptop too.

I'd probably head west to Arizona, then south to Puerto Vallarta. I'd sleep in my car along the way, and live off chili dogs from the Kwik-E-Mart.

When I arrive in Puerto Vallarta, I'd probably head to the downtown bars first. Because that's what one should do in Puerto Vallarta.

Then I'd set up shop that week selling photographs and short stories on the beach. I'd sell them cheap, too, because all I would need to pay for is a bed, a roof, some food, and some cervezas.

Life for me would be cut down to the bare essentials. Work, sure, but only to pay for the good things in life, and most of them are free. The sun. Dancing to the vibrant music. Enjoying the sound of the ocean. The smell of authentic Mexican food cooking in the distance.

I'd spend my days on the beach, peddling my wares, and my nights enjoying the cool ocean breeze off the bay of banderas, hopefully on a balcony on the mountainside, sipping a cold Bohemia.

And everything would be all right.

Nile and Grady, some day I hope you know how lucky you are that your dad loves you more than the above scenario.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

RIP Jeff Doyle, You Are Missed

Tonight I got an email from an old friend from Iowa City.

She told me that she had received word that one of our common friends, Jeff Doyle, had died this week of colon cancer.

It was one of those "getting hit by a ton of bricks" moments.

Jeff and I got to know each other through the Iowa City-Coralville Jaycees, and we quickly found ways to get into trouble together.

There was the night we planned to hit the bars in Iowa City. I had to call my then wife and explain to her that I was still at the bar at 3 a.m. "The bars close at 2!" she replied in a sharp tone. "Not in Illinois, they don't," was my reply.

Then there was the time he hosted a Super Bowl party and bought a pony keg. He didn't bother to tell me that there were only 3 of us attending. That was the same Super Bowl party he had champagne chilling on ice so we could pop it and toast Tim Dwight when he scored a touchdown. Sure enough, that bottle got popped. Only. Time. I. Missed. Work. The. Day. After. The. Superbowl.

I also remember many nights turned into morning, sitting on my patio, enjoying cheap cigars and cheaper beer, and solving all the world's problems.

And now that Jeff is gone, I think it is safe to tell one of the most awesome secrets I've kept for over 15 years.

Jeff, a devout Hawkeye fan, made a habit out of stealing football helmets from Kinnick Stadium. He had seats behind the visitor's bench, and he wanted to collect as many helmets from the opposing teams as possible. He was a master at it. Even after having newspaper articles written up about the mysterious helmet thefts, he was never caught. The best newspaper article details a time when the starting QB for the opposing team went to grab his helmet from the bench only to find it gone. Yep, Jeff had it.

He had them all tucked away in a special display case that only his close friends got to see.

Jeff could be a pissy mood bastard, and he could be the life of the party. You never knew which Jeff you might get, but one thing you always knew with Jeff. You had someone who would give you the shirt off his back, and then make sure it fit right.

I'll miss you, buddy. I'll sing "In Heaven There is no Beer" in your honor, and pour out a 40 ouncer for you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thank you, dad.

My dad is the most moral man I know.

He won't jaywalk. He might say he will, but he won't.

If he had a late DVD return at the movie store, you can bet your ass he wouldn't drop the DVD in the night return slot. Nope. Because he wouldn't have a late DVD.

I admire my dad on so many levels.

I admire him for his work ethic. When we were young, my brothers and I didn't always see my dad much. Because he was working harder to bring home money to feed our ever-growing appetites.

I admire my dad for the fact that he doesn't waffle. He knows what he believes in, and stands by it.

I admire my dad because he has always understood the notion of the greater good. After receiving his J.D. from the University of Iowa, he promptly enrolled in the U.S. Army. His pay in the military was not anything compared to what he might make practicing law. But it was consistent. The turtle beats the hare. An important value he instilled in me.

I admire my dad because he not only made us laugh, he taught us how to make others laugh. And laughter is medicine...and has helped keep my brothers and I close over the years. Despite many a fight, many an angry moment, and many a mile between us as we grew older.

I admire my dad for his faithfulness to my mom. Just shy of 51 years, things aren't perfect for them, but they're perfect for each other. I only wish that I could find the person in my life that would be with me 51 years later (stop doing the math, I know I'll be dead by then).

Most of all, I admire my dad because he has lived his life the right way, from beginning to present day. Is he perfect? No. I learned some of my best cuss words when he'd be doing wallpaper projects for my mom.

But he's my dad. And he did a helluva job considering all the things he had to put up with. And without speaking for my brothers, I can still say that all three of us are who we are today because of the role our dad played in our lives.

Thank you dad. I can only hope that someday I'll have two boys who feel the same way about me as I do about you.