Saturday, October 4, 2008

Blog 4: Corn...Maize...Corn Maze...Get It?

What a fun night I just had! It was a complete blast. It all started while I was mowing this afternoon. Adam comes strolling out into the yard, phone in hand, all nonchalant like so I power down and pluck the hearing protection from my head. "Dad, Timmy called, he wants to know if I want to go with him to the Corn Maze tonight." "Well, do you want to go or not?" "Yeah, I guess so." So I call Timmy and tell him Adam can go and I iron out the details with his mother. Ten it. Five thirty tonight, we'll see ya then.

Two cars pull into my driveway at a quarter to six. Not only is it Susan number one, but Susan number two right behind all giddy like schoolgirls. They're going to the corn maze, and they are toting 2 pre-teen girls, 2 ten year old boys and a 7 year old girl. Lili sees her little friend buckled into the back seat of Susan number two's car and immediately wants to go too. We were going to have a good old Father-Daughter mousetrap battle tonight but suddenly the plans have changed. If both kids are going then daddy had better go too. So we run inside and put on our "going to the corn maze on a cool October evening" clothes which include jeans, sweatshirt, jacket and mud shoes; because corn mazes are notoriously muddy.

I decide to ride with Susan number two, we'll call her S-2 from now on, and Lili because S-1 is toting the pre-teens and, now, 3 ten year old boys. There's no way I'm riding in the minivan from hell all the way down to Deed-By-Gawd St. Mary's County. Of course the ride was uneventful.

Arriving at Bowles farm ( you can't even begin to establish the enormity of this maze. Think of The Shining, but 10 times larger, no snow and razor sharp corn leaves everywhere. Yes you can kind of see through them, but when the sun goes down all you see is stalks, ears and maybe a flashlight beam or two. At least you don't have to worry about starving to death in there. These corn plants are 10 feet high in some places. We got there just as the sky was turning bright orange with fringes of crimson and violet, absolutely beautiful. The waxing moon was at about a quarter and the North Star was calling out, "follow me."

We pay our admission and the boys take off. The girls follow closely behind and we all know it's going to be a boys against girls race through the maze. The gauntlet is thrown, the teams choose their flags and the boys choose Phase 1, the right side of the maze, and the girls choose Phase 2, the left side. Into the stalks they run. I quickly grab a can of coke, for hydration in case the Susans get me lost and a long plastic pole with a number 2 flag on it and follow S-1 and S-2 into Phase 1 to trail the boys in the event they get too rowdy, or get lost.

Immediately upon entering S-2 announces, "I have a lousy sense of direction" and I know where this is headed. Both Susans have a map of the maze, and I have two maps in my pocket just in case. We can hear the boys ahead, and behind, and beside, they're everywhere. We see their flashlights trickling through the corn stalks and try to track their voices and footfalls going every which way, all the while trying not to let them know we're tailing them. S-1 takes the point and S-2 and I trail behind.

Strolling through corn stalks at dusk, the smell of moist topsoil, mildewy stalks and the crispness of the Maryland autumn air is very calming. It's as if you are inhaling the breath of God with every lungfull. And you envy the American farmer every foot you traverse. They are carrying loads of debt for unbelievably expensive equipment, working from dawn until dusk, every day worrying if the weather will provide that windfall of crops, or if Mother Nature will add to their financial woes. Walking and breathing the earth one can appreciate all that the Land has to offer, and the many days of hard work our farmers endure to feed our families.

After a few missed turns, more than a couple paths that lead to a wall of corn, and the hushed giggles of high schoolers doing that hormone infused dance of adolescence we make it to the halfway point, a 15 foot tall bridge from the "T" to the "H" in the carved word "LIGHTHOUSE". In the 20 minutes it took us to traverse the waves hewn into the field and the clouds carved into the field we've lost sight and sound of the boys. Several forks in the road hold clues to the right (I mean correct) path, if you can solve trivia questions like "What's the tallest stalk of corn ever recorded in the US?" or "How many kernels of corn are in a bushel?" We stood atop that bridge for 5 minutes, ears cocked, eyes sharp, searching for signs of the boys. The stars were out in force now, the band of the Milky Way clearly marking our place in the universe, reminding us of the vastness of creation. And across the expanse of a 10 acre corn field we hear them. Boys calling out, girls screeching, and we know they are ours. And they've flown through Phase 1 without us and actually caught up with the girls in Phase 2. We can see their flashlights on the bridge on the other side of the maze. Well, all that's left is to make it through Phase 1 and wait for the kids to come out together.

So S-1, S-2 and I wander through the second half of the maze, through more clouds, through the mast of a Maryland fishing boat and into the floodlit kill zone that is the field between the maze and the barn. And we wait...and wait...and wait. They aren't coming out. S-1 calls her daughter on the cell phone, it's a wonder it works down here in God's country. "We're coming" says the squeaky voice on the other end with the feigned disdain that all pre-teen girls use on their mothers. Finally, after another 15 minutes the boys burst from the exit, flashlights blasting, running and laughing and smacking each other on the back of the head trying to knock baseball caps from their perch.

But no girls. Another 5 minutes, still no girls. The maze closes in 10 minutes and still no girls. And finally, with only a couple minutes until farmer Bowles sends in the cavalry out they come. The smallest clinging to the back of the oldest, blisters on her feet because she's in new Timberlands that aren't quite broken in. The two smallest have puffy eyes and look a bit out of sorts. And farmer Bowles Sr. sidles out of his masterpiece right behind them. "I had to rescue these ones" he says to his son who was manning the entrance/exit wearing a bright yellow security tee shirt with "CORN COP" printed across his shoulders like a Washington Redskins Linebacker.

Apparently the girls got lost, imagine that. The older ones told the little ones to wait in one place while the two big girls split up and went different directions to scout a way out. Guess who forgot to leave a flashlight with the little ones? Yup, it was dark, they were alone with only each other and everyone left them behind. Good thing farmer Bowles Sr. was standing watch in his maze. When the big girls got back to the rally point he was there to guide them home. And the third pair of parents who were with us during our outing, I never got their names, where were they? They were even more lost in the maze and they were supposed to be shadowing the girls in case they got in trouble. They come walking out about 2 minutes after the little ones. Now that the team is fully assembled it's time for ice cream.

We all caravan off to Bert's Diner. It's got stainless steel on the outside, an old yellow Pontiac on the roof and a Wurlitzer Juke Box, complete with bubbles, inside. We all order cheeseburgers and ice cream. I turn S-2 on to Bert's world famous hand dipped chocolate malt with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a cherry on top. They always make too much and send the malt out in an old fashioned soda glass with the extra malt in a stainless steel mixing cup. It's the best chocolate malt I've ever had and routinely stopped at Bert's on my way home from work to bring one home to Loretta on special occasions and sometimes just because.

After we're done eating S-1 whips out a pack of cards and we play a few rounds of spoons while the kids blow quarters in the game room. S-2 was new to the game, and for any of you who don't know how to play here's a quick summary of the rules. Everyone gets 4 cards. There is one less spoon in the middle of the table than there are players. The dealer picks up the top card on the deck, decides to keep it or pass it, then repeats, passing discards to the player on the left. The card is checked by the next player who keeps or passes it. You can only have 4 cards in your hand. Once someone gets 4 of a kind they pick up a spoon. Once one person picks up a spoon everyone can pick up a spoon, and the player without a spoon is a big fat loser. So S-2 is the first to get 4 of a kind, she's sitting right next to me. When she gets her 4th card she makes this sound, "ooooohhhhh!!!!!" and everyone grabs a spoon. Guess who didn't get a spoon. That's right, S-2 had no spoon. Actually nobody had a spoon because we were playing with lottery pencils because the waitress took all our spoons when she cleared the table. It was hilarious!!!! S-2 was the big fat winner and the big fat loser all in the same hand. I want to play strip poker with S-2 some day.

If you've never been to a corn maze I highly recommend it. If you've been, go again. Don't every stop going. It's not just about the kids. It's so much bigger than anything. Surely it's no Yosemite, no Grand Canyon, no Niagara Falls. But it's very personal. You can touch, feel, smell and experience all of nature's gifts in such a small place. Yet the vastness of the experience cannot be equalled. It's so small that it becomes huge, and so big it reminds you of your small place in this world.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Blog 3: Take me out to the ballgame.

Well ladies and gentlemen, my luck has finally turned. After 21 years I actually had something go the right way. Not exactly 100%, but as well as can be expected, somewhere around 99.99%, and it seemed to build up to this one night...actually last night...the night I turned 42. Notice 42 is twice 21, and my 21st birthday, although it was extremely fun, financially it was horrid. Yes I gambled all my birthday money away back in 1987. I even had to ask my friend Steve for cash to pay tolls to get over bridges and down the toll roads from Atlantic City, NJ to Beltsville, MD, that's how much money I lost. But it was fun...just not financially rewarding.

Now, exactly 21 years later, not counting leap years and stuff like time adjustments for the Earth's travel around the Sun, the tide has turned my friends. A most wonderful birthday night that is so blog worthy I have been thinking about what I would write for the past 24 hours. That's how great it was. And I owe it all to my buddy Rob.

Rob has season tickets to the Washington Nationals baseball team. This year the team is in a brand spanking new stadium, and I haven't been to a pro baseball game in 2 years. It just so happens that the last home game of the season landed on my birthday so Rob decided it would be a good idea to make it a birthday gift. That's schwag reward number one. Everybody count with me. There will be a brief quiz at the end.

As we stood in the guest services booth getting our tickets, this fellow wanders in with a hand full of "special" tickets and a pocket full of wristbands. Hmmmm, I wonder what he's got there. He meanders up to the booth and tells the fellow in there that he's tired of giving out these event tickets so he brought them here. He says, "If anyone comes in asking about the Barracuda Event give them a ticket and a wristband." That's when Rob and Jeff's eyes met, eyebrows raised up and we did the evil grin thing. Did someone say special birthday is a special event too...why not combine the two? So we leave guest services and Rob convinces me to go back in there and say the magic word to mister ticketman. I handed Rob my hat and umbrella and walked back into guest services. "Two tickets for Barracuda" I say, calmly. Lo and behold, we're in with the Barracudas. After a brief quest we find conference room #4, music blasting, kegs a-tappin and chili dogs a-munching. Free beer and food on my birthday, nothing wrong with that. That's schwag reward number two. Try to keep up everybody.

After gorging ourselves on chili dogs, chili cheese nachos and Becks Oktoberfest on tap we decide to do a lap around the concourse. It's about half an hour until gametime, the tarp is still on the field, the wind is blowing and there's a slight drizzle blowing around the stadium lights. I've got a short sleeved shirt on and I'm getting chilly. I need to hit the team store to get my son a Nats hoodie and figure I'll pick up a birthday present for myself in the form of a nice warm jacket...

Nats Kids Hoodie: $36.
Nats Adult Fleece Lined Team Jacket: $175.
42nd Birthday and a belly full of free beer: Priceless

So I bring the Nats gear up to the counter where the Becks starts talking. Chatting it up with the cashier I pull out my check card and, of course, it's got a nice Nats logo on it. I ask the girl if I'm entitled to an extra discount, among some other not so PC things I may have asked her, and she smiles and says, "You get a special discount." I think she liked me because the bill was much lighter than I expected. I wander out of the store to wait for Rob to complete his purchase and whip out my receipt. Sure enough, somebody else paid for the Kids Hoodie, most likely the team owners. Whomever it was, it surely wasn't numero uno, if you get what I mean. And if you lost track that's big fat schwag reward number 3...yup I said three!!! Aren't you paying attention? Sheesh.

Now I'm unstoppable. I mean, nothing can go wrong here. Where else can I scam some more stuff. I know, you're all thinking, this is where old Jeff gets greedy, well you're right. I'm unbreakable, golden boy, the birthday king...I'm not stopping now. So we look up on the old jumbotron. It's an HDTV about 40 feet wide, and there's Cliff, the stadium talking head handing out $50 gift certificates, vouchers for next season's games and lottery scratch offs. Dude, lets go find Cliff. And guess where Cliff was...walking down the concourse about 30 feet in front of us with tv cameras, Nats Girls and 20 fans of all ages chasing after him like kids behind an ice cream truck. Cliff sets up shop after walking a bit and Rob and I join the crowd. I'm positioning myself where I think the action is and wait. But the only baseball being played is the Cubs game on the jumbotron. And Cliff doesn't get the go sign until the inning is over. The Cubbies are playing well, so we all wait. We wait so long I stop waiting and leave the pack thinking my luck has run out.

I get back to Rob who was waiting on the outskirts of the people-knot just as the Mets get the third out against the Cubs and a frenzy ensues as Nats fans see the camera lights come on and Cliff comes alive like an anamatronic Lincoln at Disney. He spots a peanut vendor and calls him over. The guy walks right past me as Cliff clears a path through his human buffer zone and peanutman starts juggling bags of peanuts for the cameras. Then Cliff starts handing out cards. And Cliff looks down the channel between red clad Nats fans and sees me standing at the end of his escape route in a new blue Nats jacket and a bright red Nats hat and thinks, "This dude needs to be on the jumbotron." And yes, he walks past about 20 screaming fans, kids and old ladies, even one in a wheelchair, sidles up next to me, the king of birthdays, mister "42 today" and asks me, "You want a lottery ticket?" And in my best Elvis voice I respond, "Thank yuh, thank yuh ver much." Guess who was on the jumbotron. Guess who got a free scratch off lottery ticket worth up to $5000. Guess who pulled an Elvis impersonation in front of 1500 soaking wet, shivering cold, desperate baseball fans dying for freebies. You guessed it. Mister lucky birthday boy. Hello schwag number 4. And I leave with the knowledge that my 15 seconds of fame are past me now. I don't have to worry that those 15 seconds will be my mugshot on the 11 o'clock news or in some Darwin Awards email sent round the globe 42 times.

Does it get any better than that? I couldn't make that kind of stuff up, really. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Rob has this look on his face like, "I can't effing believe this guy!" He was truly flabbergasted. It usually takes a bit to ruffle old Rob, mister chill, Joe Cool himself. He was visibly disconcerted, yet happy for my fortuitous evening. So I turn to him and say, "You scratch it." I mean, I felt sorry for him. He picked me up from work. He drove me to the stadium. He gave me a ticket. He even bought me a birthday funnel cake. I had to do something. The guy wouldn't let me take my wallet out all night (except when I paid for that jacket). So I hand him the ticket, and a penny. Time to get to scratching. And Rob gets this epiphany. "Dude, you've been so lucky tonight I couldn't possibly scratch this ticket. You've got to do it. Just split the winnings with me."

He had a point. Free ticket...for my birthday. Free food and beer...because of me. Free hoodie...for my kid. Free lottery ticket...because I was looking good. How could I not scratch the thing. I'm a goddamn walking leprechaun with shamrocks for hair and a pocket full of horseshoes. I'd be an idiot to let anyone other than me scratch the thing. What was I thinking? So I scratched the ticket. And that's where my luck ran out. Maybe I should have walked around the concourse looking for a heads up penny to scratch the ticket with. Maybe I should have taken the ticket home to my wife and let her scratch it. I got greedy and got nothing...and I was still smiling from ear to ear. Maybe it was all the free Becks Oktoberfest. Maybe it was the schwag. Maybe it was because it was my birthday. Who knows, but I smiled all the way home.

I tell you was the best damn birthday I've had since I can remember, and the only time I ever scored any free stuff just by being in the right place at the right time. Now I'm just waiting for the karma to come full circle. Hopefully it will hold off for another 21 years.

So who was counting? How much schwag did I collect? Do you remember without scrolling up? How many said four? Yeah, four....nope. The total count was 5. It was a trick question. Only one person could get that quiz correct, and that would be Rob. Because at the end of the night Rob, the generous friend, always the bridesmaid never the bride, mister watch all the luck get sucked away by mister birthday, gave me his all-in-one printer.

I realize now where my luck has been all along. My luck has been in finding friends like Rob, Steve, Tim, Bonnie, the Teresas, Andy, and Vic. It's been finding my wife in the basement of a government building and in the two wonderful children we have together. Too bad it took 42 years to finally figure it out.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Blog 2: Starting from Scratch

For 3 weeks now my head has been spinning. Yes, it's true, I'm currently unemployed. But that's just for the next 2 days. And the spinning head thing, that's a result of resigning from my current job, transitioning all my work over to 2 different people, preparing for my new job and leaving all my friends behind, all in the course of the last 3 weeks.

It all started about a month ago when I got a call, the fourth like it in the last year. "We want you to come in for an interview" said the warm voice on the other end of the phone. Not a problem, I kind of like interviews. I like being interviewed and I like doing the interviewing. The tension of everyone involved who has to make a decision whether or not a stranger can fit into a culture and do the work described based on 3 hours of talking, maneuvering and negotiating. You talk about skills. You talk about the type of work in very general terms. You talk about money. All very uncomfortable subjects yet one must look and sound comfortable talking about them.

I marketed Jeff and they bought it. They marketed themselves and I bought them. And now we have an agreement. The deal is I quit my job in 3 weeks and they give me 20% more than I'm making, improve my medical benefits and include me in their profit sharing program. The deal is done.

For the last 3 weeks my co-workers have been picking my brain all the while telling me how much they will miss me. And I knew it would be difficult to say goodbye. Hell, I've been working side by side, 40-50-60 hours a week with these people for 12 years. I spent more time at work during my son's first year than I did at home...and that was quite a strain on my wife. Some times I opened the empty building in the morning and locked it down in the evening after everyone had left. I spent a lot of time there, and worked my ass off in the process.

So today was my last day. I scheduled it for the 1st day of August because that would extend my benefits to the end of this month. A neat little trick someone told me. And I walked around the building, upstairs and downstairs, saying goodbye to all of my friends, and to some I don't particularly like, but always with a smile on my face.

I got one little creeper hugging Angela, and for good reason. Her office is next to mine. She's always been my "trouble" employee, putting more on my plate than taking from it. But that's okay because I know she's in over her head more often than not. And I'm guilty of being a hand-holding supervisor, but only with her because I think she deserves it. She's difficult, she frustrated me to no end, my boss got on me constantly to reign her in, but she's worth every aggravation because she has the most gentle and loving heart I've ever known. I worry about her future with a new boss who may discount that one angelic feature that makes you forget all her flaws. She always knew when I needed a smile, a hug or a stern talking to, and didn't hesitate to accommodate. Living up to her name, she's an Angel here on Earth and I will miss her dearly.

On to the future for me. The new job sounds interesting and I've got a little reading to do over the weekend to prepare myself. I got my future boss to send me some materials on the work I'll be doing and that should keep me busy until Sunday when I press my shirt with a little starch, iron my slacks, de-lint my jacket, examine my tie for food stains and polish my shoes. Monday is the big day. Wish me luck.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Blog 1...a n00b gives it a try

I've never blogged before. I suppose it's like talking to a room full of friends and strangers. Trying to make it entertaining and still a bit informative is the challenge. We'll see if it's possible to do that and maintain some semblance of good grammar and spelling all the while.

Let's start with contact information. If you want to send me an email about anything, I have a couple of addresses. Here they are:
I don't check the "someguys" email regularly and should probably set up forwarding for that address. Someday maybe.

Next, something about topics I'll be covering. You probably won't see too much controversial stuff in here. In fact, you won't see any at all. But definitely don't expect to read about my opinions on religion, politics, the economy, the environment...because as anyone who knows me knows, I'm not a controversial kind of person. So I won't be alarming your sensitivities.

What you may read here are topics close to my laughing heart like home repair, in-laws, gardening, cooking, raising kids, baseball, tv shows and other generally safe topics. Not because I don't believe in impressing my beliefs on others but because I'm passionate about those things. I can speak to them with more fervor and emotion than being forced to opine about G-Dub or hugging trees.

Finally, if you have a suggestion or want to hear my opinion on anything please ask. When asking let me know if it's okay to give you proper credit by posting your name and question/suggestion in the blog. If you want to be anonymous just say so...I've got no problem with that.

If you have suggestions for show topics, guest Skype call-ins, or just want to tell me I'm an idiot...don't hold back.

I'll try to post once a week, but it all depends on what's happening in my life.

So in the words of Pee Wee Herman's King of Cartoons, "Let the cartoon begin!"