Wednesday, 08 July 2009

Hello. My name is Michael and I’m a dork.

My friend Patrick has a great voice. Smooth, deep, like it was made for radio – maybe as the late night DJ for one of those booty-soul stations. It’s a voice I can imitate, sort of, for short periods of time.

Occasionally I start to think my voice would be good for radio, but then I hear a recording, typically a voice mail greeting. I’m immediately reminded where it belongs: reading farm reports on some AM station that nobody listens to, 300 miles from anything.

A former girlfriend has this outstanding, not quite husky, but great to listen to voice. When she gets a cold she complains that it sounds like Lauren Bacall – as if that’s a bad thing. It’s a voice you’d like to hear reading naughty bed-time stories. H. O. T. HOT.

When I have a cold, I can do a great impersonation of James Brown, but just of the opening “Yeeoowww!” from “I Feel Good.” That’s it. That’s all I’ve got; that and the farm reports.

While he doesn’t have all that low a voice, my friend Hjalmer is fairly soft spoken. When he does speak up, his voice takes on a certain authoritative quality. This is best exemplified by his voice mail recording. “This is the voice mailbox of Hjalmer Duenow. He would be…(long pause)…oh so grateful if you would leave a detailed message…” It reminds me a bit of the MoviePhone guy.

Like most people, I’ve been known to sing in the car. When I’m alone. With the windows rolled up. And the radio fairly loud. But once in a while, instead of singing, I’ll play with voices; practicing the low baritone of guys like Johnny Cash, Junior Brown, or Tom Brokaw.

So a couple weeks ago, driving someplace or another, I called Hjalmer and got his voice mail. Just for fun, I left a message in kind, imitating MoviePhone guy’s (and Hjalmer’s) presentation style.

And then I forgot to hang up.

A couple miles later, in the middle of a strange, extended riff that was a cross between MoviePhone and voice mail menus, I realized I was still connected to his voice mail. I croaked something, quickly hung up, then sent a text message imploring him to ignore my voice mail.

To Hjalmer’s credit, he has been kind enough not to mention the incident.

However, much like getting caught singing in the car, (or forgetting you’re in public when you launch into an extended air-guitar solo to the soundtrack that’s running in your head – not that I’ve ever done such a thing), it’s still mortifying. Quite possibly the most embarrassing thing I’ve done in quite a while.

Hello. My name is Michael. I’m 42 years old and I’m a monumental dork.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo. I’ve been thinking about it for several years now, but that’s as far as it ever gets. It sounds like a good idea in my head, and I truly envy some of the great artwork that other people have, yet I never get it done.

The first one I’d get would be a very particular thing. There’s this band I like. I take vacation time and travel to see them several days in a row. They have a glyph, their logo, of sorts, that I’d have done just below the crook of my elbow. Now, the band isn’t instantly recognizable, so the glyph is somewhat obscure, but I’ve seen other fans with the same tattoo… in the same place. Do I want to risk turning into a super-fan?

Part of my desire, and my hesitation, is that I want to be unique. However, so many people have tattoos, how unique can it be? It seems like a silly thing to get permanently attached.

My Aunt has a couple tattoos. One cluster is a set of, I think, violets. One for her mom, one for her daughter, and one for her grand-daughter. It makes perfect sense and seems like the perfect reason to me. But to me, personally, I can’t imagine doing it. While I love my mother dearly, and she means a lot to me, I don’t know that I’d want her with me 100% of the time. I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

I think that’s the main reason I don’t get a tattoo. There isn’t anything in my life that I feel so strongly about that I want it with me forever.

Sure, I know they’re not totally permanent. Tattoos can be removed if you have the money and the pain threshold. But who goes into it thinking they’ll just wipe it away when it becomes inconvenient? You go into it thinking it will be with you forever.

It’s not fear, it’s not the expense either. I can deal with both of those. So does it really just come down to ambivalence? If it’s just for the right, the high, why not sky dive, drive fast, or even just stand on the edge of a cliff?

What does that say about my life? Is it good that I don’t go into anything until I’m sure? Or is it just sad? Sad that there’s nothing I’m so passionate about that I want it etched into my body so as to declare it unto the world?

Everybody has their reason: love, lust, loss, lunacy; I’ve yet to learn mine.

Tuesday, 09 December 2008

Vanessa and I originally met at a Mensa gathering. We got to talking and seemed to hit it off. I had a great time, and was intrigued, but still too shy to trade phone numbers. Lucky for me, Scott was more bold.

A week or so later Scott called to say that Vanessa was having a Hanukkah party. She had made a special point that I should stop by. Normally I would have avoided any party where I didn’t know most of the people there, but something about the tone of the invitation compelled me to go. And, boy, was I glad I did!

The party was a blast; hours went by in seconds. Vanessa and I talked occasionally throughout the afternoon and I was still there long after everyone else had gone. We talked easily, almost like old friends catching up after a long absence. I finally left around midnight, but not before we had arranged a dinner date.

The next few months were a bit of a whirlwind. We spent most evenings together, weekends too, and talked on the phone at least twice a day. I was smitten – there’s no other way to describe it.

We would talk about our hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments. On walks together we’d point out how ours would be different than the house we were walking past, and what our wedding would be like. It was during those conversations, on one of our walks, that talk about “the one” came up.

I believe that each of us has a someone out there, but you may not find them right away. Sure, there are the high-school sweethearts that stay together forever, but other couples take longer and my not even meet until later in life. If you love someone and you grow apart, no matter how much you adored them, they were not the one.

Vanessa, on the other hand, was convinced we each have only one true love, and that hers was in a former boyfriend. Since they couldn’t be together, she could never really be happy. She refused to believe anything else and would let it short circuit parts of her relationships with other guys. I think that’s part of what happened with us.

I’m not entirely blameless either. It’s not like I really knew what I wanted at the time. I was bored with my job, my consulting business wasn’t taking off, and I still had a piece of carry-on baggage left from my divorce. But those are just excuses.

We started off strong, but she just wasn’t into the relationship – not as much as I was – and I wasn’t strong enough to fight for it. We simply drifted apart.

For a while I thought that she might possibly have been right. What if my one true love had slipped by? And did that ever hurt. But the more I thought about it, the easier it was to accept the fact that she wasn’t my “one.” I remember her and the relationship fondly, but it was apparently not to be. I remain hopeful, and convinced, that my true love is out there somewhere. When I find her, she and I will both know it.

That’s what makes the love true.

Monday, 19 May 2008

I was headed to a friend’s house Sunday afternoon, driving West along 40th Ave in Woodbury, and it was in this middle-of-nowhere location that I came close to death. Much closer than I could ever be comfortable with.

40th is a two-lane road that is straight, flat, and open, with a 55 MPH speed limit. You can see what’s coming a mile ahead, easy. There are some groupings of trees here and there, but they’re set back from the road by 30-40 feet.

It was shortly after 1 PM and the sky was clear. Not being completely familiar with that section of road, I was doing a little under the speed limit. I saw the SUV pull up to the stop sign at a cross-street roughly 1000 feet ahead. They had a stop sign, I did not, so there was no reason for me to slow down very much.

Unless, of course, the SUV decides to enter the intersection…then stop half-way through completely blocking my side of the road. The driver either hadn’t bothered to look or didn’t see me. I’m thinking didn’t look, because I saw them pull up to the intersection and stop in the first place. Doesn’t matter, because there was no way they could have cleared the intersection before I got there.

When they pulled out I had less than 300 feet before reaching the intersection. That’s .06 mile — well under 1/10th mile. 300 feet until disaster. 300 feet from death. 50 MPH is roughly 73 feet per second, so 300 feet goes by in just a hair over 4 seconds. 4 seconds to realize what’s happening, evaluate options, and execute what you hope is the best choice. The 60-0 braking distance on my car is around 120 feet. That’s half the time I had before meeting with what seemed certain disaster.

That’s 2 seconds from death.

Luckily time stood still. I slammed on the brakes, swerved around the front end of the SUV, then punched it to get back my own side of the road before someone else came along. If I had a passenger, they could have reached out to touch the SUV’s front-end on the way by.

I have no idea why the SUV stopped. If they hadn’t, or if there had been a car coming the opposite direction, people would have died — not the least of which would have been me. There would have been no way to avoid it.

I don’t mind the occasional test of my car’s handling capabilities, but I’d rather do so on my own terms and without the involvement of anyone else on the road.

Thankfully the final 5 minutes of my journey passed without further incident, but I had to sit for 15 minutes just to stop shaking.

Thursday, 27 September 2001

Radios blaring, sirens wailing, bells ringing, trucks hauling, planes flying, phones ringing, tires screeching. I can’t take it! What I would give for just one day of total, blissful, silence.

Unfortunately, that’s something I can never have, not any more. I have what’s called tinnitus, a constant ringing in my ears. My left ear is worse than my right, although it is audibly present in both.

Tinnitus is preventable, at least it was in my case. In high school I drowned out any intrusion from the outside world with a Walkman turned up just shy of distortion. Later it was dance clubs and concerts with no thought given to ear plugs or other hearing protection. In short, I have only myself to blame.

The ringing isn’t the only price I’m paying for sins past. I’ve been slowly going deaf for years. It’s a gradual, agonizing slide towards silence. The sounds I used to hear, the sounds I want to hear, replaced by a ringing that won’t go away.

Music is a big part of my life. Few things bring me more joy than sharing a new find or even an old favorite with friends. I’m constantly picking up new CDs and looking for new artists to enjoy. When I’m working on my model trains, or at my day job, music is playing in the background. I notice what song is playing at a restaurant. It’s hard to imagine a life without.

I’m scared. I don’t want to live in silence, feeling isolated from a world I used to be a part of. It’s even more frightening because I can see it coming and there’s no way to stop it.

Thursday, 31 May 2001

It started when I saw them making out in the car, right in front of the house.

When she came inside, I didn’t say anything. I convinced myself that I must have seen things wrong. She wouldn’t do that to me. We were married and in love. Still, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind and it gnawed at me all day.

That evening I said we had to talk. I truly hoped I was wrong, but if I didn’t come right out and ask, there would always be doubts. “Is there something going on between you and Cindy?”

The look in her eyes told me everything, but I still wanted to hear it. “Did I see the two of you making out in the car this morning?”

A week later, she was gone. I got home from work to find her house key and wedding ring on the dining room table. That was it, not even a note.

Saturday, 11 November 2000

In March 1997 I, or rather my Web site, was mentioned in “Mpls./St. Paul Magazine.” It was a sidebar to a larger article titled Legends in Their Own Minds. The sidebar, or sub-article, read:

Self-Promoting on The Net Dar and Tom have created a Web page called, ingeniously, Dar & Tom’s Web World. After a quick look at “Tom’s Pet Peeves” (“people who drive too fast,” “long lines, especially at the grocery store”), we fixed ourselves a cup of very strong coffee and moved on. We love straightforward Bill’s Little Web Page: “Hello! My name is Bill and this is my Web site…. There are a couple examples of my music here now.” There’s also a photo of Bill, looking like a folksinger with a science degree. Emily has a born self-promoter’s confidence that whatever she has to offer is good enough. Even poetry. Baudelaire she’s not, but the Van Gogh she fitched from someplace are nice. Van Gogh… now theres a guy who could have used a Web page. Born too soon, he was reduced to slicing off his ear to get attention. CarolAnne describes herself as a “colorful” person and her life as “a harrowing stereotypical transgender existance.” Michael Armstrong of Brooklyn Park displays his résumé, which corroborates what we already suspected: He can create a Web page.

I realize they were trying to be snide, but admittedly the site wasn’t that special. I was doing Web design consulting and the site was built to reflect that fact. In early 1997 that meant more effort went into convincing someone they wanted a Web site than why you were better than any of the 5000 other designers out there.

I was thrilled simply because it was a first for me. Never before had I been mentioned, by name, in any large publication. I would not be daunted by their petty sarcasm.

Since then, my little corner of the internet has evolved . It has taken on a new name and a new address. It has even grown. I’ve dumped the consulting business and gone into personal publishing instead. The half-dozen pages extolling the virtues of having a web site have been replaced by an empire that is pages strong.

I’m sure it means my 15 minutes are shot, but hey, how many people get their name in print other than their obituary? At least I got to see mine.

Saturday, 04 November 2000

If you only knew what I see what I can’t say and remains unspoken.

If you only knew what is hidden kept inside and out of reach.

If you only knew what I think how I feel things might be different.

If you only knew…

Saturday, 09 May 1998

The power is out. It has been for more than three hours now. A dead tree fell during a wind storm and it knocked down one of the lines a block or two away.

I’m left without my usual creature comforts that I’ve grown so accustomed to. No computer, no stereo, no television. The telephone works only because there’s a backup battery inside, a feature I gladly paid extra for. When the battery wears down, I’ll have nothing. I’ll be completely cut off from the outside world with only my thoughts to tide me through. Even now, as the light dims, there isn’t much left.

It’s only now that I realize I’m an addict. Not to drugs, alcohol, sex or other common addictions, but to technology. Take away my technology and I don’t know what to do, I die and grow cold. I express myself through the various pieces of electronica I surround and shelter myself with. Without them I am nothing. My body is the chips, wire and cards, my soul the bits and bytes that flow within them. My emotion is my craft, my art, how I make my soul dance.

A Web design, a new piece of program code, writing documentation, doing research. They set my spirit free. Without them I almost feel as though I can’t live another minute, going on is just unbearable. A sure sign of addiction if there ever was one.

The battery on my flashlight is about to die and there isn’t enough light to see. In mere moments I’ll be swallowed by the darkness. I hope the power comes back soon, I don’t know how long I can last….

Thursday, 04 September 1997

I had just graduated high school and decided that I wanted to go on the Klobuchar bike trip. It is a week long, roughly 500 mile bike trip that is sponsored in part by one of the local newspapers. One of their columnists, Jim Klobuchar, started the mass bike ride many years ago. Originally my graduation present was to be a trip out East with my mom and my brother. I ended up on the bike trip while they went out East and I have never regretted that decision, not even for a minute.

Every day was a new adventure. From waking up and being amazed that you’re alive, to night time when you can’t believe what you’ve done and what you have yet to do. I can’t remember the details from most of the trip. Some things do stand out that make it one of the most memorable times of my life.

The first day was probably the most amazing to me. Gathering at a high school 20 miles out of town there were about 300 people, like myself, that were along for the ride. They represented many different levels of abilities and came from all walks of life.

The day went from awe to exhaustion however. The wind during the first half of the day was incredible. 22 miles per hour heading East. Unfortunately we were heading West. The group I was with traded off for the lead positions with the rest of us forming two columns using the front people as a sort of wind break. When one of the people in front would get tired they would drop back and the next person would take the lead. And so it went, everyone getting a turn.

Slowly but surely, the group got smaller as the morning wore on. People would break off the group to stop and rest for a bit. Eventually I started to get dehydrated and wore out. One person coming by gave me one of his spare water bottles to help me get back on my feet again. In the state I was in, I couldn’t have thanked him enough.

Finally we made it to our lunch destination. A leisurely meal and we were off again. Thankfully the wind and our path changed directions. Now the wind was at our backs for the most part and had died down some. By nightfall I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. I knew I was in over my head, taking on such a long trip, but I was determined to make it all the way through.

The wind quieted down to a mere breeze the next day. It gave me time to take in the sights and actually enjoy the ride. The people in the towns along our route never ceased to amaze me. We’d pass by farms and houses and the owners would be standing out side and wave as we went by. We made a rest stop in almost every town. There were people around with watermelon, cookies, water, lemonade, and always a kind word. I guess it was a big deal to them.

The most amazing group wasn’t really a town, per se. I forget what day, but it was in the morning, around 10 or so that we came across this immaculate white church. Very Scandinavian style construction. So white that you’d swear they scrubbed the thing down with bleach every other week. The inside was as amazing as the outside. The woodwork was fantastic and extremely well kept. Everything about the church, the building, pipe organ, pews, even the hymnals, was taken care of with great pride.

The real reason for our stop however was not a study in architecture. Like most rest stops, we were expected. This time it was a ton of food. Watermelon by the patch, sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade that certainly didn’t say Kool-aid on the package. I wish I could remember the name of little church, or what town it was nearest to. I’d like to go back andi spend some more time there.

Ever been caught in a tornado? How about on a bicycle? Well, we did that. It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat. The group I was with got blown off the road twice before we decided to take shelter. Everything got soaked to the core–sleeping bags, tents, clothes, you name it. After the rain stopped, we descended on this little town about five miles later. In small groups we paraded through a couple laundromats to dry everything out as much as possible. For some reason cold rainwater isn’t exactly pleasant. Luckily it was the town we were to stay in that night. When they saw the rain, the school district opened up the local high school for anyone that wanted to sleep inside that night. About 150 of us decided that we’d wimp out that night and slept in the school gym, tents and all.

The most memorable thing about the trip were my fellow travelers. During the day I’d ride with several different groups, meeting many different people. One of the funniest people was a gentleman in his early 70’s. He was a riot to talk with and had lots of great stories to tell. He’d be plugging right along on his 30 year old, three speed bike. It didn’t have a spot of rust on it. This wasn’t his first time on the trip, and from what I heard it wouldn’t be anywhere near his last. He was heard to say that he won’t quit making this trip until it starts to cut into his polka schedule. If you ask me, he kept up on the trip better than most. I just saw in the paper two or three years ago that he was on the trip again that year too.

It was incredible waking up every morning, watching the sun rise over our little city of tents, and the sunset every night, in a different town, over the same sea of bicycles and tents. I’ll always have fond memories of that week. One of these years, I’ll get off my duff and go again, just to refresh my memory. I never seem to find the time and I miss the experience.