Good Riddance, 2013

Welp, it’s almost over. 2013 is quickly coming to a close and I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled. In fact, if I had my ‘druthers, I do a cut and paste on the whole year and forget to paste it.

Yeah, 2013 kinda sucked for the most part.

To be fair, however, 2013 did end on a positive note, so I’d prefer to just write off from say January up until November. The last two months were a vast improvement owing in no small way to getting hired after nearly two years of being out of work. That alone has made the whole of 2013 eminently redeemable.

I don’t mean to come across as cynical and sour, though many days I still feel that way. It’s going to take a while to erase some of the angst of looking for work and not finding it, disillusionment being the key word for all those months. And make no mistake; it’s hard to break the habit overnight of feeling like ten tons of crap. So I’m taking this step to help move away from the negativity and into a more positive place.

Here’s my list of things for which I am grateful. Now, these are in no particular order, nor is there any priority involved. Unless there’s something funny in there, which I don’t know ‘cause I haven’t written it yet. But funny stuff goes in where it works best.

Off we go. Things for which I am grateful:

–  My sense of humor. Lord knows I’d not have made it through this without one. Thank goodness mine came standard issue. Some think my sense of humor is… well, defective. Fine. You can think that. Sometimes I do too, but I hit more than I miss, so you naysayers can bite me. (See? Still cynical and sour. I’m working on that.)

–  Being hired. Of course, I am VERY grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the workforce and stop screaming at the radio every time the job numbers described people who have given up looking for jobs. I DID give up for a while when I was sick and didn’t realize it back in 2012, but in 2013, it just pissed me off to hear that. Being back in the workforce and being blessed to work for the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center is something really cool. While I’m still new here and learning the ropes, everyone here has welcomed me and made me feel at home. So to all of my new colleagues and bosses, thank you for hiring me and thank you for making me feel so at home.

DVR–  My DVR. Holy crap, my DVR has 3 TERABYTES of storage for high-definition TV shows alone! While much of that is consumed with reruns of “The Big Bang Theory” and Seth MacFarlane’s animated shows, being able to watch “Person of Interest,” “Elementary,” or “American Horror Story” whenever I wanted to was a godsend. (On a related note, I just binge watched ten episodes of “Person of Interest” some from many, many months ago. I recommend the show. However, I do NOT recommend binge watching ten episodes.)

–  Credit card companies. Yes, while I was unemployed, I used my credit cards to pay bills. Far, far more than I should have, but hey, when your back’s against the wall and you’ve got kids for whom you’re responsible, you do your best with what you’ve got. So I’m grateful that no one cut me off. Of course, now 2014 will be the year of worrying about how the hell I pay this all off. But at least we’ll all be fed for the foreseeable future.

–  Speaking of kids, I’m grateful for them. All of ‘em. Jon and Andy, my two grown-up kids who are scattered across the continent. You can read more about them here. I’m immensely proud of them both and love them like crazy. Nate and Garrett are my significant other, Beth Geyer’s kidlings and they have made 2013 bearable. There’s no greater comfort than a small child’s hug or having them fall asleep next to you while watching TV. As heavy as they are, it’s never a chore to carry them upstairs, dead asleep and tuck them into bed. There’s no greater gratitude for me than knowing that circumstances I’ve tried to create permit their sleep unburdened by the things that keep me awake at night. That’s my job. Whatever it takes.

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–  The dog.

Nope. I lied about that.

–  I’m grateful to the online community for keeping me company when I can’t get out of the house, which is pretty much always. Thank you for entertaining me, engaging me and giving me an outlet for socialization even if it is virtual in nature. I recognize that you’re all real people on the other side of my screen, and I value your friendship, your candor and your confidence. I’m extra grateful that I DO get to see many of you in person from time to time. Thank you for being so welcoming and so supportive.

–  I’m grateful for politicians.

Nope. I lied about that, too.

beth–  Beth Geyer. She allows me to be a real parent to her children, and I try my best to do a good job. I’m grateful for your support when I succeed and for your kindness when I fail. I am grateful for your boundless beauty and your sense of humor. You are extraordinarily clever and your wit and impeccable comedic timing are the stuff of legend. Timing like that you can’t teach. (Nate’s got it, too.) I am grateful for your presence in my world. I’m also grateful for your Sub Divines – the singularly most delicious sandwich recipe ever brought to a relationship ever. Did I say “ever?” Oh, and for your love of beer.

–  My Toyota Prius. It’s paid off.

photo–  Jeff Tobin. Jeff and I go back to 1972.  Last week after a server crash, I sadly lost a terrific essay I wrote about our long-standing disagreement about who’s the better drum major. He’s been a good dude for well over 40 years, and I have always valued our friendship, perspective and the rapport we’ve shared for a year or two now. Specifically, though, I am VERY grateful for you introducing me to single malt scotches. Yes, that was a 2013 thing. I was visiting Chateau Tobin in May near our birthdays this year (we were born 16 hours apart) and Jeff set us up with a scotch tasting. Changed my life. I am grateful for you and for your liquor cabinet.

–  HD Radio. Not satellite, but HD Radio. It’s a form of digital terrestrial radio that no one knows about except geeky guys like me. Living near a big city I can get a whole boatload (yes, it’s a large boat in case you were trying to quantify a boatload) of HD Radio stations you can’t receive on the regular FM band. Relatedly, thanks to Best Buy for having an open-box desktop HD Radio for $29.99 that was going for nearly $100.00 on Amazon.

That’s about it for now. I’ll have more later, I’m sure. Baby steps, you know.

Oh, and to you, my reader. Thank you for reading this. And thank you for commenting, liking it or whatever. Maybe you could think about the things in 2013 for which you are grateful. Tis the season and all that, right?

Jeff Tobin's Gingerbread House (Used shamelessly without permission.)

Jeff Tobin’s Gingerbread House (Used shamelessly without permission.)

 

P.S.  If you speak binary, you’ll get the message.

Whoopsie!

I did it again.

It’s not an unusual thing for me, crashing a server or two or three of four. So it’s taken me a few days to get it all back and working, but it’s there. I’m missing some information and posts and the like because I trusted (stupidly) an automated backup system.

I should have known better.

I’ll restore what else I can over the next few days, and for my one reader (and that’s me) mea culpa, I’m sorry, Apologies abound.  I screwed up.

Ah well, I learned plenty in the process.  I suppose that’s something.  🙂

Nighty night, and I hope y’all had a very merry Christmas while I was restoring.

 

Pearl Harbor Day – A Different Perspective

This is by my friend and former acting colleague Ken Parham, who also served in the Coast Guard in Alaska when I was stationed up there in the Army in the late ’80’s.  Ken and I did a number of stage performances (“Arsenic and Old Lace” is one.  I was Mortimer — he was Teddy.) together up there and met up again in LA as union actors in the early ’90’s.  

Anyway, Ken posted this on Facebook and I thought it was worth reposting here.  This is a great story written by a great guy.  Thanks, Ken, for allowing me to republish this.

KenParhamWhen my ship would go for “refresher training” at Pearl Harbor, we passed by the USS ARIZONA twice a day, going into & out of Pearl Harbor. We passed so close that we could see amazing details of the ship that you couldn’t see from the Memorial. When we passed-by, our ship “rendered honors”. Most of our crew would “man the rail”. Maybe you’ve seen this on tv when Navy ships return from a long deployment; the crew is on-deck, lined up at intervals along the perimeter of the ship. When rendering honors to the ARIZONA, the crew lines ups at intervals on the side closest to the Memorial, preparing to salute.

Right before we start passing-by, the flags are “dipped” – or, lowered. A person blows the whistle over the ship’s P.A. system to come to attention; another whistle for saluting; another whistle for dropping the salute; and a final whistle to “carry on” once past the Memorial.

It is an incredibly solemn and highly, highly emotional experience. Even the “crustiest of Old Salts” are brought to tears. Well, *I* was the one who blew the whistle from the bridge of the ship. I didn’t want to. I did everything I could to get out of the job. Why? Because I was a “basket-case” when we passed the ARIZONA. Sometimes SOBBING (as I’m prone to do & am apparently not ashamed of).

Years later, my Commanding Officer, who became my drinkin’ buddy, told me he gave me the job because I was such a practical joker. He wasn’t making light of the solemnness & seriousness of the respect to be rendered to the ARIZONA, but this was payback for my putting one of those Hawaiian frogs in his shower. If you haven’t seen them, they’re just about as big as a manhole cover. I only did it because I heard he was afraid of frogs. He went on to say that he wanted to see me “get serious” for a few moments, along with seeing if I could do it “without weeping”. I could not.

Well, I KINDA could…sometimes.

You know how when a child is in its final whimpers from crying? Well, put a WHISTLE in that child’s mouth and see how it sounds. I sounded like a drunk Irish referee at a soccer game. I might as well been blowing a clown’s slide whistle. I learned early on to keep the whistle from my face until I was going to use it. A whistle doesn’t do so well when it’s full of tears. One time I even blew a snot-bubble with it.

I also learned to keep the whistle WITH me the entire time we were in Hawaii. The snot bubble gave my buddies on the bridge the idea to put a little drop of liquid dishwashing soap into the whistle. There’s nothing worse than trying to blow a whistle during a solemn event when you’re crying/laughing at bubbles on the bridge…

I somehow know that if they were alive, the sailors on the ARIZONA would find bubbles coming out of the ship’s whistle hilarious…unfortunately, they gave their all for our country…

I Hate Ronald Reagan

Misleading headline alert!

DA-SC-90-03096More correctly, I hate HEARING about Ronald Reagan these days. (The headline is admittedly just a ploy to get you to read more. I’d blame it on my editor, but I ain’t got one.)

While commuting the other day, I was listening to some nondescript radio talk show pundit on a nondescript radio talk show ramble on about how the Republican Party needs to return to the policies and values espoused by Ronald Reagan. Anytime anyone invokes the former president these days it’s usually a conversation much like the one I heard on the radio. I’m sure you’ve heard it too, if you pay any attention to the news at all: “Reagan had principles.  He stood up to the Soviets and won the Cold War and everything Republican would be hunky-dory if we could just get back to that sort of leadership again.”

I get it. I remember. I was around then. I even voted for him twice.

reagan-d-dayLast night I was testing the new FiOS app on my smartphone. I stumbled across Megyn Kelly’s broadcast at the end of which she was doing a story about Reagan’s speech at Normandy in June, 1984 on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of the European Continent. It’s a memorable speech and one of my personal favorites: “… These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

Twenty years later, when I was working on the Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, we spoke in reverent tones about that speech. And rightly so.

But that’s another story.

What bugs me about hearing all about President Reagan lately is all this looking backwards – looking to the past at a great leader during a very different time in our Nation’s history. Was he the right guy at the right time? Yes. Who knows if the Berlin Wall would still be standing had Reagan not demanded three years later the leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall”?

If Republican pundits and the Party want to become relevant again, stop invoking Ronald Reagan. While yes, the Reagan years were awfully good to me personally, now is not the time to be looking for the next Reagan. The world is a VERY different place now than it was back then. Besides, it’s pretty clear from the queue of lousy candidates the Republicans have backed at the national level that one doesn’t exist — at least not yet.

The Republican establishment, in my opinion, has nearly always relied on the old establishment guys for national leadership positions. While there’s no arguing that experience has value, the party needs to stop fronting candidates just because it’s their turn.

The Republicans need to create and foster a party in which the natural leaders are free to emerge without fear of the potentially damning criticism of the conservative wing of the party. Most people don’t vote based on just one issue, so why exclude an otherwise outstanding candidate because of just one issue?  The collective candidates of any party are far more alike than different. So why is it that the Republicans always seem to eat their young? 

Allow leaders to emerge and let the public decide what they’ll support through a primary system which encourages honest debate focused on ideas and most importantly, doesn’t destroy a potential Reagan before he or she ever has the chance to be recognized.  It’s OK to disagree without completely destroying your opponent.

Is it wrong that I yearn for some degree of reasonableness in the process?

President Reagan was a great president and was perfect for the times. He was the right guy at the right time. Serendipity? Perhaps. But the way the Republicans seem to be running things these days, such a serendipitous candidate can never happen.

Stop looking back to Regan for inspiration. Look within.  Look forward instead of looking back.

Ten Things I Learned During My First Week at Work

1.) How to spell “FHWA” correctly.

2.) How highly automated hiring a new federal employee is. (Good thing I’m a computer nerd, otherwise who knows where I’d have wound up.)

3.) Commuters in Northern Virginia have neither changed nor improved in two years.

4.) HOV lanes + Prius = relatively pain free commuting.

5.) The difference between RD&T and R&T.

6.) Where the gym is.

7.) That the pop machines in the break area take credit cards.

8.) What I used to call a CAC card is now a PIV card.

9.) All bureaucracies have much in common.

10.) Dry erase markers bleed through a notepad’s next two sheets below the one on which I’m scribbling.

Thor: The Dark World

2013_thor_2_the_dark_world-wideI’m pretty sure I saw the first “Thor” movie after I saw the first “Avengers” movie.  (There WILL be another “Avengers,” right?)  I liked “Thor,” but I thought the story was weak, the writing disjointed and I expected more of the talented cast.  Yeah, I guess you could say I was underwhelmed.

Not so this time.

Like “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan,” “Thor: The Dark World” (aka “Thor II”) was one of those sequels that’s far superior than the first installment. This was a really fun feature with all of the heart and humor that was missing from the first.

tumblr_static_url-1There are lots of surprises and I still can’t get enough of Tom Hiddelston’s Loki. Granted, the bad guy is usually the most interesting character on the screen, but Hiddelston owns the screen whenever he’s present – which is never enough for my taste.  Whether playing gleefully evil or not, his performance is always engaging.

 

 

DarcyDark2The rest of the cast do a great job, and the story moves along at a reasonable pace.  Nice to see Kat Dennings doing something different than the god-awful “2 Broke Girls” shtick. She’s a terrific actor and while I know she’s making a bundle on TV once a week, she totally outclasses that material. I don’t know why but it breaks my heart to see such talent going to waste.

But that’s another review.

I saw it in 2D with 2 broke elementary school kids and it didn’t diminish my enjoyment. And they loved it too.

If you like the Marvel franchise, you’ll love “Thor II.” If you don’t, you’ll still love it, ‘cause it’s a great film in its own right regardless of its pedigree.

Just stay away from the concession stand. At those prices, I felt as though I got robbed at gunpoint. It’s amazing what people will forfeit when they’re staring at the business end of a loaded bag of popcorn.

Ten Things to Do Before Going Back to Work After Two Years

1.  Adjust attitude.

2.  Learn how to get dressed BEFORE noon.

3.  Take suits to the tailors to be let out 2″.

4.  Catch up on prime time TV shows on the DVR.

5.  If it’s a government job, wait 48 days.

6.  Review wardrobe for fashion faux pas.  Wear anyway.

7.  Stop unemployment checks.  (Oh wait, they stopped on their own.)

8.  Help the dog get over her separation anxiety issues by hiding in the closet daily for 30 minutes.  (There are those who still believe I’m in there, but that’s another discussion.)

9. Get vintage Starsky & Hutch lunchbox and matching Thermos out of storage.

10.  Express gratitude for your good fortune.

55,209,600 seconds – And I Feel Like I Counted ‘Em All

HireMe

22 months to the day.  That’s how long it took.

1 year, 9 months.  15,336 hours.  920,160 minutes.  55,209,600 seconds.

639 days

A long freakin’ time.  And it felt like it, too.

881702_10151487112734793_1668790575_oDuring that time I went through countless minor depressions, a couple of big ones, constant worry, sleepless nights, a diabetes diagnosis, hundreds of disappointing job-related emails, two kegs of beer, about a bottle and a half of 18 year old scotch and bought a dog.

On October 1st, the first day of the twenty-second month of uninterrupted unemployment and about 43 days after I applied, I got hired.  It was also the first day of the government shutdown, so imagine my surprise when I got a call from a government employee telling me that I had been tentatively selected for a government job.  (Turns out that the agency for which I will be working is funded differently and wasn’t affected by the shutdown.  Who knew?)

I tried to remain calm when I got the call and answer the person’s questions accurately without sounding as though I was about to explode, even though I was.  “Yes.  My full name is Daniel James Wolfe.  Yes.  No.  Yes.  Yes, I accept the offer.  I’m on my way to Ohio.  Do I need to turn around and come back?  No?  Ok, then.  Yes.  I’ll expect your email and respond right away.  Of course.  Thank you so much!  I look forward to being part of the team.”

Well, I’ll be damned.

Wallaby Darned.1

Holy crap!

Then I got back on the road continuing my trip home to Ohio trying to concentrate on the road but so horribly/wonderfully distracted by the news that I could think of nothing else.  I really think I was in shock.  No exaggeration.  I didn’t believe it.

Hired

Before too long, I decided that I was so distracted and probably a road hazard, in my case an unguided 70-mile-per-hour Prius Missile.  (Kind of like a Tomahawk Cruise Missile, but WAY more eco friendly.)  

I was hungry anyway, so I pulled off and stumbled across a buffet restaurant next to a reasonably priced (read cheap) Holiday Inn Express.  I had an early dinner and then decided I wasn’t getting back on the road so I checked in to a hotel room with a Jacuzzi tub and decided to treat myself to a nice long bubbly soak and an early bedtime.

First thing upon entering the room was to boot the MacBook Pro and get connected.  Worst hotel Wi-Fi EVER!  They should have gotten a nastygram from me, but hey, I just got a job!  I didn’t care.

I set my computer up and my first thought after the Jacuzzi tub loosened my muscles and my upper bicuspids was “Time to do job applications.”  As they say, old habits die hard. 

Ha!  Not tonight, bitches!

But of course, the “what if’s” got me and all I could think about was “What if this falls through?  I’d better keep up my routine just in case.  I mean, it ain’t real until the first paycheck arrives.

“Ding!”

New e-mail notification.  It’s from the aforementioned government worker (A VERY professional and pleasant woman, by the way, lest you think I’m disparaging a faceless, nameless person.  I’m just respecting her privacy.)  It’s the “official” tentative selection notification with a form to fill out and return.

Ok, now this felt a little more official and a little more real.  After all, I now had something in black and white that confirmed the earlier phone call.  I reviewed the form and returned it as fast as I could, not worrying about appearing too eager even though I was.  (In my haste, I discovered a day later that I had made an error and had to send in a corrected form.  Honesty is the best policy and all that, right?)

“Ding!”

Another email from my new best friend, the nice government employee saying that she’d received the email and the completed form and that the security manager would be in touch.

I slept like the dead that night.

I woke up the next morning with the usual sad sigh that I had been sighing for the previous 639 days.  It took a few groggy minutes, but I eventually realized that I didn’t have to do that any more – at least tentatively.  I got up, showered, took advantage of the free and relatively flavorless breakfast in the lobby of the hotel and proceeded toward Ohio where I subsequently arrived and began writing this note.

Trying to keep the faith over 638 days of being told “no” is a difficult task.  Perhaps my years of auditioning as an actor in Hollywood and being rejected literally hundreds of times helped to handle the sheer volume of job rejection notices I’ve received.  I think that’s part of it.  But much of it came from the support of family, friends and others who kept telling me it was just a matter of time.  They all helped me to keep the faith and to keep plugging away at it.

vec_logoI also was required to take two job search seminars from the Virginia Department of Employment Services.  What I expected to be a bureaucratic bunch of bull turned out to be extremely valuable and marked the turning point in bettering my chances of success.  One other big lesson from all this: Bureaucracies aren’t all bad and sometimes the people who work in big bureaucracies DO care.  I offer a big thank you to the people at the Alexandria office and to one of their instructors in particular.  I wish I had her name handy, but unfortunately I don’t.  Her advice was invaluable in turning things around for me.

One person, though, was most directly affected by all of this and I want to be specific and thank my son, Andy.  Andy had his appendix out a few weeks back, and as I was traveling up to Alaska to visit him during his recovery, I got the call for the job interview for this job about which I’m writing.  I rescheduled my return trip to accommodate the interview (at considerable expense) but that meant I still had to create a 5-7 minute presentation for the interview.  I had to do that while I was in Alaska and away from all of my archives on CD. Preparing that presentation took a substantial amount of time away from Andy and he was kind enough and understanding enough to say “Call me when you’re done with your presentation and we’ll get together then.”  He was very gracious in giving me ample time to square it away.

And to Beth Geyer, my significant other, who waded through all my old archive data CD’s, put them one by one in a computer in Virginia and waited patiently so that I could download from Alaska all the stuff I needed for the presentation.  You also share in the success of the presentation and in the positive outcome of the interview.

And to my former employer and friend Ron Newlan, who was gracious enough to give me a great recommendation when contacted for a reference by the selecting authority.  Couldn’t have done it without you!

To both Beth and Andy, thank you!  I love you both and would not be writing this without you.

To all of you I leaned on for support, thank you!

So hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go – at least tentatively.  But it’s looking good.

Day 640 is no longer day 640.  It’s day one.

 

Footnotes:

1.  This is a Wallaby Darned:

Peach flavored frozen drink from Outback Steak House.  No real relation to the story.  It just popped in my head when I typed "Well, I'll be damned."

Peach flavored frozen drink from Outback Steak House. No real relation to the story. It just popped in my head when I typed “Well, I’ll be damned.”