Tuesday, November 26, 2013

September 11th from my point of view

     This week was the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination and it made me think, that while I wasn't around for that day in our history, I was for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and thought I would share my story of that day.

     I wasn't traveling that day, I had a trip planned for later that week but I was already up and working in my home office, at my desk when it all went down.  It was an atypical Tuesday morning for me.  I kept a small black and white TV with rabbit ears on the left side credenza of my desk, behind me, and I'd turn on the Today show in the mornings while I worked and if something peaked my interest, I'd swivel my chair around to watch the segment.  We hadn't built the Garaj-Mahal yet,
How I started to watch the coverage that day
so my office was in an upper room of our house where my son Nolan now sleeps.  I normally turned the TV off after the first half hour, but strangely, that morning I hadn't gotten around to it yet.  The Today Show was getting close to the finish, when Katie Couric got the initial word of a fire or some event at the World Trade Center, and I swiveled my chair around to watch.  The information was spotty at first, in fact the first eyewitness that called the Today show had identified the fire and explosion in the North Tower, but had no idea it was a plane strike, as she was on the side opposite of where the plane hit.  I had a sense of the enormity of the moment, so I walked downstairs to turn the regular TV on and called for my wife to join me.  She worked from home at that time. We watched together as the 2nd plane hit the South Tower, it was a little after 9, and we wouldn't leave our positions in front of the TV for hours after that.  I've never been one to worry about terrorism, because if you understand it, to have a fear of something like this happening, gives
Katie and Matt that morning
the power to the terrorists, so even after the 2nd plane hit, I was thinking that it must be a computer malfunction that may have been affecting the flight computers, I never once thought of a hijacking.  Call it naive of me, but it had never happened prior to that point, and when my wife asked me later about being afraid of flying, I told her that I'd be far safer from that point on,  that we would never be caught that unaware again.  It's been 12 years since that day, and no matter what I'm doing on a plane, whenever anyone now gets up to use the bathroom, or to stretch their legs, I pay attention to what they are doing.

     After the 2nd plane struck, Matt Lauer and then Al Roker started to piece together the unlikelihood of 2 planes striking the adjacent towers within minutes of each other, Matt used the word "deliberate" and Al questioned the odds of two separate strikes from 2 planes on different towers.  I was still wrapping my head around the idea of this happening, much less who would want to do something like this, hours and then even days later.  My wife and I watched the coverage, glued
Just prior to the 2nd strike
to the set like never before in our lives.  I answered a few calls on my office line, one from my secretary in Georgia, who knew that I traveled frequently to NYC and was checking on my well being, but I barely left that room that morning.   I worked for Mrs. Smith's Bakeries at that time.  We were still watching when the initial report of the Pentagon strike happened and once again, it was first described and thought to be a bomb detonation by the on-air correspondent for NBC.  It was not long after that when the first tower fell.  It took several minutes for the anchors to realize the tower had fallen and just prior to that happening Tom Brokaw had speculated that the damage that the buildings had suffered would likely mean that they would have to be taken down.  He couldn't have know that within 20 minutes of making that statement, both towers would collapse.  They were concentrating on reports of another plane heading towards the Pentagon when we saw the collapse of the 2nd tower live.  We were praying that the first responders that were sure to have been
A first responder that morning
on site, had gotten out, but as we now know, many hadn't, in fact nearly 400 firemen, police officers, port authority and EMT's would perish in those collapses.  I was an active volunteer fireman then, so I could relate, if only a little, with the actions of those who rushed in, while others rushed out.  The rest of that day remains fuzzy to me and I recall kind of sleepwalking through it, and then capping it with the President's address that evening.   We both went to bed that night realizing that our world would never be the same again.  The following morning we tried to get back into our routines and over time we did manage to do just that.

     I had booked my company into a frozen food show in NJ for the end of that week, and for days I awaited word of whether it was going to be held or not.  They decided not to cancel, so within a few days of the attack, I found myself getting on a plane and headed towards NYC.  My flight was booked into Newark airport.  I honestly don't remember the security procedures that I went through when I arrived at the airport, but I was struck by how empty it was.  There were only 3 of us on the
The monorail at Newark Airport
plane out.  We all took window seats so that we could observe the devastation and when we approached we could see the piles still burning and smoldering.  When we landed, the side of the tarmac was littered by planes, some still grounded and I think a lot were international flights.  You never really realize how many planes are up in the air at any given moment, that is, until you see them sitting at an airport like I saw that morning.   There is a study out that there suggests that the US saw a 2 degree rise in average temperatures on the 3 days following 9/11 that flights were grounded due to the lack of jet contrails.  Contrails provide a mirror like effect and reflect the sun's heat, and there were none over the US during that period.  When I got my bag and got on the monorail at Newark, I was literally the only person on it.  There was a miniseries that had aired about 5 years prior that was based on Stephen King's "The Langoliers".  The premise was that 10 passengers on a plane get a little
A wall of Missing posters
out of sync with the current timeline and return to world void of people.  That's what Newark Airport looked like, to me, that morning.  I made my way to the show and spent my day tossing a roll of paper towels back and forth down and empty aisle with a paper sales rep because virtually no one showed up for it.  I stayed in Hoboken NJ that evening and as I took my walk around that town,  I was struck by all the homemade posters and handbills that identified people's missing loved ones that were plastered to every bit of available fence, post, or wall space.  I was saddened by the desperation that those people were feeling, truly not knowing if their loved ones were lost, missing, injured or deceased, and for some of those people, answers were months in coming.  I was the sole passenger on my return flight home.

     Now 12 years later, I cannot say that I'm reminded of 9/11 daily, however, I am reminded every time I book or take a trip.  I smile as I go through security at the airports and remember to thank the TSA agents for helping to keep me safe.  It's weird how often the subject of 9/11 and traveling comes up and I've heard a lot of stranger's stories of traveling that day, and they have heard mine.  My peers at my current job were in Dallas that day attending a corporate meeting and like a lot of business travelers were forced to rent cars and drive back to their homes that week.  Those vans and cars full of people crisscrossed the country in the days following 9/11 on serpentine paths dropping salespeople off as they went along.  Many people
were afraid to fly in the months following 9/11, and in a truly ironic twist of fate, auto fatalities increased by about 1,600 people that year due largely to the increase in auto travel.  My family had planned a Disney World vacation that December and we decided to keep our plans.  We were able to see as much as we wanted to during our 3 days there that year since the parks had record lows for attendance.    I vowed simply to never let terrorists win by making me afraid of living my life.  I understand that there is risk in riding on buses and trains and going to malls and stadiums and people in some countries have experienced issues with these for a long time now.  I'm no longer naive enough to believe that we are insulated from these possibilities, but it won't stop me from going on them or in them.  I'll close with this last thought on 9/11, it was historically the most significant day in my lifetime and I pray every day that it remains just that.   


Monday, November 18, 2013

Our lives and "Our Town"

   This weeks' blog is simply my thoughts after attending a high school play last weekend.

       I had the opportunity to attend my local high school's performance of the play, "Our Town" this last weekend.  I went, truthfully, because my youngest son Nolan and his cousin Samantha were performing in it, but I suspect I would have enjoyed myself even if I wouldn't have had a vested interest in the cast.  The story, if you
don't know it, revolves around a small fictional New Hampshire town in the early 1900's. It's done in 3 acts, the first featuring a birth, the second a marriage and the third a funeral.   I found it quite thought provoking with a Thoreau-esque kind of quality and during the second evenings performance, I started to realize that I had many similarities to the story line.

     If there is a main character in this play, one could argue that it is George Gibbs, the local baseball player turned farmer that marries his high school sweetheart and chooses to forgo college in order to stay in his small town and by her side.  He explains it simply by saying "I think that once you've found a person that you're very fond of... I mean a person who's fond of you too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character... Well, I think that's just as important as college is and even

The beaches where I could have been in my 20's
more so, that's what I think."   It's a profound statement saying that there is no more important decision in life than choosing your mate, and it's one that I concur with.   In 1983 I was just graduating high school in a small upstate NY town and I found myself making a similar decision for the same reason.  Anyone that knows me now, would not have recognized me back then, I had no drive or ambition, I slept late and contributed little and I was wrapped up pretty tightly in myself (well, OK, that one is still true).  About to graduate high school, I hadn't taken an SAT and was pretty ignorant of the whole college application process, so I decided to take the test for entering the Army.  I scored extremely well on it and got called back to discuss possible duty stations.   They said I was a guaranteed candidate for Officers Training School and that they wanted to send me to Monterey California to live in a pseudo Russian or Chinese community in a total immersion language school.  They had recognized my aptitude for language and at that time I had taken 3 years of French and 2 years of Latin.  I was a budding linguist but truthfully a novice lothario, that is until I met my wife.  We started working together and very soon the idea of traveling 3,000 miles across the country didn't seem so appealing, and I thought I should probably stick around and sort out this relationship and where it might be headed.  It was a decision that I never regretted.  I also got an opportunity to take a peek at what my future might have held one evening, years later when I took one of my broker reps to dinner.  Her husband was able to join us, and over cocktails, he told me that he had attended that exact language school and in the same year I would have attended.  He served his time and when he got out, he started teaching language in a small school in Jamestown NY.  By comparison, I had found a job that paid better, suited my personality and I had not left my girl behind to discover that there were other men, better than me, out there.  She may still hold the delusion that there are not, these 30 or so years later, because I've always been around to reinforce the idea.  Point is, I stayed and married, just like George Gibbs.

     The second similarity of our life and "Our Town" is the quaintness of our communities.  Grover's Corners has around 2,600 people in it.  I grew up in Canandaigua NY that had just under 10,000 people, and then moved to Hall (formerly called Hall's Corners) that has 300 or so people in the hamlet, but coincidentally about 2,700 in

the town of Seneca, in which it belongs, according to the 2010 census.   I know a little about a town that size.  Our post office and diner serve as the poplular meeting places for gossip and news to be exchanged, and I'm sure the talk there mirrors the talk in ""Our Town".  Births, deaths and marraiges are the hot topics but intermixed with current illnesses and ailments, accidents, and the local hot political topics.  Everyone knows your name and your business.  I like to tell the story of going to rent my PO Box when I first moved to Hall, only to be told by the Postmaster at the time, where I lived, how many kids I had, and how I made a living.  She had even set up an appointment for me to talk to the folks that owned the local diner.  That's life in a small town.  Leave your Christmas decorations up a few too many weeks and you are sure to be the topic of conversation at one of these gatherings.  Some folks can't take that kind of closenesss, but it works in the positive as well.  Get sick and your porch soon fills with crockpots and casseroles.  Lose a job and everyone has their ears open looking for a new one for you.  Pass away and a card quickly and silently appears on the counter of the Post Office with a collection box nearby.  It was a shock how things worked when I moved here, but just like the decision I made to marry my wife, I wouldn't take this one back either. 

     The last similarity I'll mention is one that I have in common with the dead people in Grover's Corners.  They are fast losing all fondness for material things and so am I.  When Emily arrives, she talks like a newly dead person might, about her new Ford and cement pond, but slowly comes to realize that they mean nothing to her

now.  She's stricken with remorse about not taking more time to appreciate the simpler things that God had given her, and although I'm not dead, I've begun this journey too.  I have trouble making Christmas lists, as I can't think of any things that I want.  I end up putting socks and underwear nd wallets and stuff on there, that I'll know I'll need to buy eventually, but the buring desire to buy new and shiny things is gone.  We'll need to replace a car soon and I'm struggling with even the thought of shelling out $30,000 for one when I should be able to buy a nice used one for a third of that price.  On the trip out this week I went cover to cover in the Skymall magazine on the plane and didn't find one thing that I thought my life would be enhnaced by owning. I'm not sure if this is growth or me just being cheap and it may be too soon in the process to tell, but I'm going to count it as a similarity between me and the movie anyway.

     I could throw in a few more, but it's late and I'm tired and the page looks pretty full already, so I won't.  I enjoyed the play "Our Town" with it's deeper meanings and simpler staging, but I think I like living "Our Town" just a little bit  better. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On turning 50 - A guest blog from Char Yarger

     Author's note:  The following words are my wife's, alone and unedited.  She uses exclamation points like I use commas, but be kind, she has a lot to be excited about.  I did choose each of the pictures that go with this blog and there are even bonus ones at the end.  She does not consider herself to be a talented writer, but I invite you to let her know if you disagree. 

"No, I'm not a half-century old, I'm only 50 son!!!"

Let me begin by stating that I am well aware that 50 years IS a half-century. If you have not yet had
The author
the pleasure of turning 50, when you do then you can tell me which sounds better!

Yes, it's true - I just celebrated my 50th birthday. Since it is such a milestone and the normal author of this blog is looking for guest authors, I thought it would be an excellent topic to blog on. After all, I have 50 years of wisdom and knowledge to impart, right?

To me, 50 is just another number. I truly believe the old adage, "you're as young as you feel". I will credit part of feeling good about myself to my friend (you know her as Stretch). She walks by my elliptical machine whenever I am exercising and cranks up the resistance! She has me at 10-12 now! At first, I was annoyed and thought, what is this crazy woman doing? Now I understand! She and my husband were very
Char and Stretch at a concert
instrumental in getting me to participate in an exercise regimen a few days a week. I am definitely in better shape now than I was 10 years ago! Thanks guys!

Another thing I think I am better at now is making friends. As a teenager, I was very shy and not good at making or keeping friends. I can honestly say that I have more friends now than I did in my teens, 20s, or 30s. And these are GOOD friends! I know these people love me for who I am and I feel the same about them.

I am blessed to be part of two large families, mine and my husbands. If you are not married yet, you may not understand this, but once you are, you will see. Your spouse's family will be just as beloved to you as your own. There are people in my husband's family that I would be lost without. They have become as important to me as my own biological family. Speaking of biological family, mine
Char in the center of some of my family
 is special! Oh, yes they are special!! You would just have to know them to see what I mean! I do love them dearly and we are all fairly close. We all support each other in times of need. That's the wonderful thing about family. My husband kids that he would never have moved to this small hamlet we live in if he had known so many of my family would follow us. I think he's kidding? I love having them here!

I am also blessed to have three very smart, happy, wonderful children. As a teenager and again in my early 20s, I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I can't imagine my life without them. They make me proud, angry, happy and even discouraged at different times! I am grateful again to my husband; he had to be the bad cop most of the time. I got to be the loving mommy, and got the hugs and the thanks. I hope they realize the sacrifices he has made for them. I consider my daughter one of my closest friends at this point, but I am not afraid to "scold" her, even now, if I feel it's necessary. She knows she will always be my baby girl! You were the first; not an easy thing,
Char in the center of her family
as we were growing up with you! You have made me very proud! And to my number 1 son, you are a gift! We have leaned on you more often than the others. I was a middle child too, so I know the territory! I hope you know how much I love and appreciate you! To my baby boy, you have given us so much! It's easier to raise you. I would love to say it's because we've done it twice already, but I think much of the credit goes to you. You have made it easy for us! I am so excited to see what you will become! I already feel a great sense of pride when I identify you as my son!

I can say that at 50, I am very happy in my job. I have really enjoyed most jobs I have had, but at this time in my life, working two part time jobs,
Char and Molly in Spain
one at home and one outside the home just seems to fit! I get the social aspect I need from the outside job and the flexibility I need from the home-based job. I like the flexibility as it allows me time for my family, both immediate and extended. I have to thank my hubby for this. He has allowed me the freedom to do this and supported me always, both emotionally and financially.

So, I guess I will close with a bit of advice for you "youngsters" out there who have not yet joined the "club" (my friends tell me it's a club).

First, don't wait until you're my age to make and keep good friends. In order to have a friend, you
Char and Danny at dinner
have to BE a friend. It took me a long time to realize this. Sometimes you have to initiate the call, go to the event you don't want to, or just listen to a long story. Good friends are not hard to find, but like every relationship, you must work to maintain it.

Second, if you are not married yet, when you do find that special someone, talk about everything. Talk about your hopes, your dreams, how many kids you want, what kind of a job you want, where you want to live, and where your parents will live when they are too old to be on their own. Always communicate. It's more important than ANYTHING in a marriage. If you talk about everything, you are more likely to stay together. If you are having trouble
Char and Nolan
 in your marriage, DON'T just quit!!! Don't be afraid to go to counseling. When you got married, you said for life, so stay in it!

Talk to your kids, at every age. Don't be afraid to discipline them when they need it. Remember that they are your children! As much as you want to be their friend, it's most important that you be their parent. They will have other friends, and they may get mad at you from time to time, but they will grow up having learned respect, discipline and love if you guide them as a parent, not as a friend. If you follow this, the friend part will come later, I promise you!

Exercise!! If you get used to doing it now, it will be easier when you get "old". It is true that it's harder to lose weight as you get older. Sigh, that one is a fact!

Char and I at a wedding
Find a job you love! Or learn to love the job you have! It's not important what your job is, but it important to be the best at what you do. Think positively at work and you will enjoy your job much more!

Like I said at the beginning, 50 is just another number. For me, 50 is fabulous!!!

The fabulous 50 year old author
Char and Wilson
Hiking the red rocks in Sedona
Swimming with the dolphins
With Meter Maid and Wilson karaoking
Char with our Scout Troop
With the volunteers at the golf tournament
Book-ended by Ace and me
The family

Cheers !

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Oh my Lord, I've become my Mother.....

     My blogs, of late, seem to have been more serious, and I think I'm bumming some people out, so this week I'm returning to the original format of light comedy and a retelling of a family story, and this one about my mother seemed to just fit the bill.  I'll thank sister Peppermint for suggesting it and serendipity for giving me the idea on how to start it.   

     This epiphany came as I flipped open my suitcase on one of my double beds in the 2nd hotel that I has stayed in that week.  As I did that, the coffee K cups that I had liberated from the hotel room that
The stash I got from the Hilton
I had occupied the night before came flying out of the unzipped top section of the suitcase and flew across the room.   As I bent to pick up the pilfered pc's (short for portion control in this instance), I was struck by two thoughts, the first being that I really have to start being less dramatic about opening my suitcases in the empty rooms I occupy and the second was that, like it or not, I had become my mother. 

     My mother's frugality was legendary.  If there was a way to reuse something or stretch it, my mother not only knew how to do it, but she did it better and likely invented doing it.  She may have invented the whole idea of recycling or at the very least was green before being green was popular.  Where most people would see an empty Millbrook bread bag, my mom saw the inner liner of a leaky winter boot. The paper ones would become our book covers or the resting place for hot, greasy cookies right out of the oven. Empty plastic milk jugs became bird feeders hung in trees by their handles, and coffee cans were used for storage of nuts and bolts in the garage.  I could go on and on, but this story really is about her hoarding of portion control condiment packets that you get from restaurants and C-stores, and at that activity, she had no equal. 

     I'm not sure who to credit with inventing the pc packet for restaurants, but if I had to guess it would be McDonald's, Greek diners for jelly packets, or Chinese restaurants.  Whatever the case is,
someone recognized that it was expensive to fill souffle cups with sauces and condiments and see half of them get thrown away, so they invented the 7/8 oz shelf stable packet and started serving them with meals or leaving them on counters for patrons to use.  It surely was a cost savings in most instances, that is, until my mother came through the place.  Now I have to be careful to not mar the memory of a near-sainted woman by implying that she took more that what was coming to her, but I can easily say, that if you delivered it to her table,
Monty quizzing a potential player
she considered it to be hers for the taking and the inventory would be secured in her purse (My mom called hers a pocketbook, not a purse, but I never saw a pocket that would hold that small suitcase sized handbag) prior to the 2nd coffee fill up, and yes she stockpiled everything.   While I was growing up there was a game show on called "Let's Make a Deal" and the host, Monty Hall would challenge women to find obscure items in their purses for the chance to play on stage.  My mom spent her lifetime preparing for that eventual meeting with Monty, and if he had asked my mom for pancake syrup, mayonnaise, jelly, margarine, and crackers, she could easily have supplied these out of the top strata of her purse (I picture archaeologists viewing a cross section of mom's purse at this point and picking out the years represented by the items like Halloween candy and pc's included in each layer or by carbon dating the packets).  There is an urban legend in my family that has my mother making complete sandwiches out of her purse for us one time on a long car trip.  It might be slightly exaggerated but it's highly
likely she would have had crackers, peanut butter, and jelly in there to at least make a snack.  This reminds me of an oddity of what she carried, which was, I always remember her pulling wet-naps from Kentucky Fried Chicken out of her purse to help clean our sticky faces, but for the life of me, I never, ever remember going to Kentucky Fried Chicken as a kid, ever.  I think she may have been having an affair with Colonel Sanders while I was at school each day, it's the only logical conclusion that I can come up with, and have you ever, seen my brother Socrates with a beard?  See, I told you so.  There's another story of mom saving a life with her purse by using a hair scrunchie as a tourniquet, a tampon to stop the bleeding and a travel sewing kit to suture the wound, but that's just silly and not at all apropos to this topic of storing food in her purse, so I won't tell it now.  I think that I've painted the picture well enough now, of my mother's habit and now I have to talk about my problem.

     If there is such a thing as a gateway pc, then for me it was definitely the hot mustard packets at Chinese restaurants.  As embarrassed as I was at watching my mother sweep a table clean of condiments and emptying the roll basket directly into her pocketbook, that did not stop me from
I found this picture buried in mom's candy drawer, weird.
grabbing a few extra packets of the hot mustard for when I had egg rolls at home.  For me you see, lobster is the vehicle that delivers butter directly into you and egg rolls do the same thing with that delicious spicy mustard.  My wife would serve egg rolls at home and I wanted to have the same experience that I'd have at the Chinese place, but I couldn't because they didn't sell jars of that stuff at the supermarket, so I'd take a couple extra each time and stockpile them in my fridge.  I'd rationalize my theft with thoughts like, "I paid for my meal, why can't I take a few for next time that they forget?" or "it's covered in their overhead cost" or finally " They wouldn't put them out there if they didn't want people to take them", but if I'm being truthful, it was the beginning of a slippery slope.  Soon I started taking and stockpiling things that I didn't need like soy sauce and margarine packets from KFC.  I
My 4th grade math book
was beginning to have an issue.  I progressed from soy sauce, to jelly (sometimes you just need a little), to honey and then it kept going.  I'm posting an actual picture of the things that are currently in my fridge but if you can't make it out, they include, KFC margarine, honey, mustard packs, a flavored coffee creamer, picante sauce, soy sauce, Chinese hot mustard (I'm almost out), McDonald hot mustard (it's a backup to the Chinese one, because you know I need a backup), and the makings for a Caesar salad, Italian dressing, Romano cheese and croutons.  God help me, I've become my mother, she could make a sandwich out of her purse and I can make a salad out of mine.  I need help.  I opened this blog with my admission of taking the coffee from the hotel, but truth be told, it didn't end there. I came home with a wrapped bar of soap (handy for backpacking with my Scouts), a shoe shine cloth (and I never shine my shoes), a makeup remover cloth (not going there), a bag of complimentary microwave popcorn, tea bags, small lotion, shampoo and conditioner and finally a travel sewing kit, because hey, you never know when you'll need that.  I've admitted I have a problem, now I just have to find a therapist.