Monthly Archives: March 2007

My Life [Revision] – Introduction

Note: I have concluded the ‘standard’ autobiographical sketch with the seven previously posted entries. I am now entering a period of expansion and revision. While these additions maybe anecdotally interesting they are not as fundamentally informative as those parts which have come before. Those interested in reading the entire document as it stands in the proper order may do so here.

My motivation for this document is straightforward. It has been my long-standing wish to roam freely about in the psyche of my fellow man. I have a burning and incessant desire to see the internal machinations of the human mind and when I see a bent and sorrowful man walking along the street I yearn to know what has brought him to his particular strait in life. I wish to know what makes each person around me what he is today and it is this question which I have attempted to answer about myself in these dozen pages. If I were blessed with infinite time, it would be my desire to read such a history from every human ever born and so the least I can do is submit my own story for the perusal of the multitudes.

I also leave this as a legacy to my own progeny. Others in my family were always nebulous (or more often utterly incoherent or unavailable) in telling their own histories and so I have lost them entirely. I should never want it to be said that my children did not know their own father to the depths of his ability to express it to them. I write this document as proof of my dedication to them.

Lastly, know that my intent is to slander no one and to offend no one. If you find yourself in these pages know that I have tried to draw you with as precise a line as possible. Know also that I have tried in all things to be as open and honest as I can to provide as vivid and lifelike a picture as is practical. If some things may be found offensive then I duly apologize for having done them but not for having written them down. Drawing a deluded picture of the past serves no one.


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My Life [Revision] – Part 7: Leisure

Note the First: I have concluded the ‘standard’ autobiographical sketch with the seven previously posted entries. I am now entering a period of expansion and revision. While these additions maybe anecdotally interesting they are not as fundamentally informative as those parts which have come before. Those interested in reading the entire document as it stands in the proper order may do so here.

Note the Second: This section is inserted as ‘Part 7’ and Family is bumped down to Part 8. This was done to leave the conclusion intact with our tragic figure properly placed at the end as well as maintain the semblance of a proper summary at the end of the text.

Psychological profiles will tell you a few things about only-children. They tend not to get along well with others; they’re often self-centered and have difficulty sharing attention. One thing they can do better than any of their birth-order counterparts, however, is entertain themselves. In part 7 I will indulge myself a bit and discuss some of the varied ways I which I’ve entertained myself over the years.

As a young child I was fascinated by everything. I raced home behind my mother from the cigar factory with pockets filled with rocks, bits of metal and… well, holes. When other kids my age hardly knew what a molecule was I was absolutely fascinated by the way the somehow managed to line up with such mechanical regularity in the bit of calcite I’d found along the railroad tracks. I spent many a long hour walking along those tracks picking up bits of coal, fossils and other debris. Every time I looked up and followed those long, parallel tracks to their vanishing point I wondered what it would be like to keep walking until I too vanished.

At some unrecorded point I determined on my weekends in the country that my grandparents were deep sleepers and found that after they went to bed at 8 I once again had free reign of the world. I recall one summer evening I crept out the back door and into the night. Fearing the worst, I came back in after only a minute or two wondering if they’d heard the door or the floor creak or some other telltale sign. As the nights went on I grew more bold until I was spending whole nights outside with the heavens wheeling above me in utter solitude. You have not seen the stars until you’ve seen them far from the city lights. You have not tasted true freedom until you’ve walked on a dark and lonely road miles from the next wakeful soul. But there is no fear like the fear you build inside yourself on that road as you sprint home as fast as your legs can carry you. There is no regret like that you feel when you realize that your reprieve is only two days long and that soon you’ll be back in your 10×12 room.

When at home with my parents, my leisure was built from a pile of books. When other children read 10 books in a school semester I read hundreds. I was studious out of necessity. With no television or playmates what else could I do but read from the time I came home until the time I went to bed? I recall other attempts at diversion; I tried to watch my dad paint or work in the garage. Everything he did was fascinating to me but he didn’t want to be watched. It made him nervous to be so closely hounded. My mother was a non-issue. She did nothing worth watching and wouldn’t have tolerated my presence anyway. That left just me and the library and oh the times we had.

After my parents divorced and the reins of control were relaxed a bit my leisure interests diversified. I made a brief stab at drawing and an even briefer stab at painting. My artistic muse seems to be somewhat permanently asleep in the visual realms. One thing I did discover was the power of the local ‘antique’ shop. This dusty place had shelves upon shelves of ancient textbooks for $1 and among those tomes of wisdom I discovered some mathematics and language texts. I managed to teach myself calculus in high school (my high school didn’t offer it) and I’ve been learning Latin at the rate of about 2 words per year ever since. I often think that I would have made a great scholar except for one damnably evil purchase I made almost 20 years ago.

I’d saved up $90. In 1987 that was a lot of money to me and contrary to my grandparent’s advice I spent it all in one place. Twenty years ago I marched into Radio Shack with my $90 in hand and bought a Color Computer II. For all intents and purposes this was a keyboard that attached to a TV but it had 64K of RAM (only 1/8000th of what my computer has now) and it knew how to take instructions. I spent the next three years of my life programming on that thing, cursing the tape-drive when it failed to save and generally losing my grip on every other thing going on in my life. This loss of control and temporary obsession with a single occupation, we will find, is my life’s leitmotif.

When I went to college the Color Computer II found its way to the bottom of the dust bin and was replaced in short order by a 386. It was in this machine that my academic fate in college was truly sealed. This white, rectangular Satan along with Sid Meier and his pixilated demons ravaged my ability even to attend class. Long stretches of my life were utterly annihilated in days of Civilization, online chat rooms and delivered pizzas. The obsession did not abate until Purdue’s polite request to leave left me with no convenient place in which to plug in my computer. By the time I came back, the demon had spent his fury and I was once again free to carry on with my life.

But nature abhors a vacuum and she filled the one left by computer games one summer day as I was working at Value City on summer vacation. The store had clearanced a large bag of football trading cards. Totally ignorant of the hobby I bought them thinking that surely a huge bag of cards must be worth something more than the few dollars they were asking. That first bag amounted to about 400 cards and cost about $10; eight years later in 2005 I had almost 250,000 cards of all sorts and had ‘recycled’ tens of thousands of dollars by selling cards and then buying new ones with the proceeds. In retrospect, I sold eight years of my life in exchange for the pursuit of greed. I honestly believed that I could somehow grow a business from that $10 investment, a business large enough to actually support myself and my family. You can still see the echoes of my dream on the internet; just do a search for “Common Man’s Cards” on

Late in 2005, I sold the whole lot for a few thousand dollars. In the end, I had worked a ludicrously long time on this ‘business.’ I estimate 8,000 hours of my life went down the crapper and in the end I probably broke even. For eight years I had to trudge upstairs and ‘fill the card orders’ rather than just relaxing or reading a book or learning a new language. Everything in my life took a back seat to this ludicrous pursuit. Despite the ostensible wasted eight years, I think that time taught me how to enjoy my leisure and how to differentiate between a ‘good dream’ and a ‘stupid and selfish dream.’ I wonder if everyone learns this lesson at such great expense.

Since the sale of the trading card ‘business’ I’ve finally managed to get back to some of the less obviously rewarding pursuits in my life. The reading list has been coming along nicely and I’ve taken up woodworking in the hopes of making something my children can hand down to their children (photos in the photos area). Further, and most obviously, I’ve had time to write. Hopefully all this will be significantly more meaningful than any number of idiot baseball cards I could have sold on the internet.

Currently Reading: “Typhoon and other Tales”, Joseph Conrad [160/220]

Periodic Robism: The more technologically advanced a device is the more susceptible it is to primitive attack.

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Photos Galore

All these posts about times long gone have made me dig in the photo album…

A few old family photos

A unique collection of my dad’s artwork.

Hrm. That seems to be all. Pity.


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My Life – Part 7: Family

If you’d asked me twenty years ago what I expected out of life I’d have told you that I didn’t expect to live to voting age. Such was the blackness that enveloped my outlook. My mother, as you may no doubt suspect, was a very negative person and kids pick up on such things pretty easily.

From early in our relationship, my wife was very outspoken on a number of topics but chief among them was that she wanted to have five kids. She was the youngest of three while I was the only and worst mistake my mother had ever made so we came from opposite ends of the stream in that regard. I’d been told all my life that kids were the bane of married existence so when my future wife said she wanted five kids I for once had the good sense to keep my mother’s ‘wisdom’ on that topic to myself.

Despite my silence, I had a secret and hidden dread of being a father. I was an only child after all. What would I possibly do with an infant or a child of any age for that matter? Those things are breakable and need care and feeding far beyond anything a mere mortal man can possibly provide. “If she wants to have a baby,” I thought, “then that’s HER business.”

As with all the stupidest plans of man, my plan to not have children fell by the wayside. I will not lie and say, “The moment I saw that cute little baby I just had to hold it and knew that I would love it forever.” That’s bullshit. I saw that little baby and thought, “Uh-oh. Now what do I do?” Luckily for everyone involved my wife asserted herself and told me what to do. Before we had a daughter we each revolved in our own separate orbits. We lived in the same house; we ate the same food but we weren’t really a family. When our youngest came along we had to pull together and work as a team to raise this tiny child. In this way my mother was dead and completely wrong. Children save marriages and make families out of couples, not destroy them.

As of this writing our eldest is seven and every inch of her on the outside her mother. Every cubic inch inside her cranium is her father. She writes bestiaries in her spare time complete with illustrations and I’ve a mind to start her on recopying the encyclopedia as I did at her age. Our youngest is a true toddler character and the reverse of her sister. Outwardly she’s a miniature version of me while inside she’s a daredevil like her mother.

My wife’s parents live next door and despite all the Ray Romano references that may come to mind they’re the nicest people I’ve ever met. For example, not long after Kathy and I met I went home with her one weekend to visit her parents. While there I availed myself of the use of the shower and through some idiotic circumstance I managed to break off the soap dish in their shower. Since I had practically just met these people I was utterly horrified. Instantly my mind went to how I would somehow get back to Purdue. Was there a bus station close enough that I could walk and get a bus ticket? Perhaps I could hitchhike. Anyway, long story short I wasn’t kicked out of the house and I didn’t have to buy a bus ticket anywhere. I did apologize about 73 times and they even eventually consented to let me marry their daughter. I hope I can be so magnanimous when our daughters bring home their gentleman friends.

In addition to being simply nice people, my in-laws are unique characters who should publish their own life stories. My wife’s father came from a tiny town in Southern Indiana and has a plethora of anecdotes to share from his childhood. This was always most refreshing since my own family tended to sit around in sullen silence most of the time. His accumulated experiences and wisdom are something that I hope he’ll share with his granddaughters as the years go on. My mother-in-law is the proverbial bundle of energy. She’s the only person I’ve ever known who has worn out a piece of exercise equipment. After an hour a day for 10 years her treadmill seems to finally be showing signs of just plain giving up. These two are finally on the verge of retiring to well-deserved lives of travel and leisure.

My own parents, if I recall at all correctly are approaching the 25th anniversary of their divorce. My dad was out of my life for the majority of my adult years due to some relatively threatening stance taken by my grandfather during my teen years. I had on many occasions expressed a desire to ‘go live with dad’ but having no way to traverse the 20 miles into town found it to be a difficult impulse to actuate. After college I didn’t seek him out on the theory that since he hadn’t contacted me then he must not be interested. It was not until my wife, ever diligent and wise, sent him a Christmas card and we reestablished contact with each other. Even now we rarely speak as he’s busy working at a group home for the developmentally disabled. Ironically, much of our contact actually happens through my stepmother. If ever there was a lively character, she is one. She’s the only person that I’ve ever met more assertive than my own wife and that is saying a lot. I sometimes think that if God himself walked up to her back door, opened it and walked in her first words would be, “Well you could have at least knocked!”

My mother, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. Never in my life have I known anyone with less self esteem or more deflated ego. My relationship with her began to fall apart when I heard from my dad again. When she found out that I was talking to him, she instantly began to devise all these grand theories about how often we talked and what horrible things we said about her and how we were out to get her. Then when her father died she somehow got it into her head that I was also in league with her brother against her. She lives in a miasma paranoia and self-doubt that is completely unparalleled. The last time I spoke to her was a couple of years ago and the first words out of her mouth were, “Just checking up on me to see if I’m dead, huh?” Despite my protestations to the contrary, she refused utterly to believe I had anything but malevolent intentions towards her. She ended the call by saying simply, “Don’t call here any more. Can’t you just leave me the hell alone?”

I have honored that request since but I do sometimes think about her and wonder what she’s doing. If she’s happy then I wish her all the best. If she’s still wallowing in the pit of her own despair then I wish her a quick escape from it. In the end, she really is the only victim in this prolonged diatribe. My father escaped and found happiness in a wife who is his perfect compliment. I found success and happiness in a way she could never even begin to understand. Even her father, who blackened her soul so utterly and caused her all this sorrow, found peace at last. She is the last tragic figure upon this stage and of all the players it is for her alone that I weep.


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My Life – Part 6: Work

Following closely on the heels of college for most people we find the working world. I maintain that my best job was my first despite the fact that it was unpaid and I was only 13 at the time. How I got the job is long lost to my recollection but for a blissful few months I was librarian’s assistant at Frankfort Junior High School. For the first time in my life I had a ‘vocation’ and something to do beyond the usual trivial schoolwork. As I said, I have no idea how I was picked from among the teeming masses of those who wanted to work in the library. Perhaps it was the fact that in 6th grade when Mrs. Timmons asked for 10 book reports for the year I turned in 197 (after all, what the heck else did I have to do but read books) or more likely I was the only one who applied. Whatever did the trick it was well worth it because those hours spent quietly in the stacks with the indivisible quanta of human knowledge in my hands stick with me even today.

Sadly though, all things must pass and I didn’t make it back into the working world until my senior year of high school. By then, as you may recall, I was living in town with my grandparents who dutifully shuttled me back and forth to Marsh supermarkets 3 days a week. For a year I carted old lady’s groceries out to their cars in the rain, the snow and dark of night. It was then that I realized that I could relate to old people. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the only real people I talked to were my grandparents but whatever the reason this was a demographic I could relate to. There were momentary amusing bits to even this mundane occupation. Did you know, for example, that these places actually have national-level bagging contests? Or at least they did when I was a lad. I also stood in utter amazement at the ability of the average shopper to come to the checkout at the busiest possible time. Ten minutes would go by without a customer and then suddenly there were twenty people waiting. It’s as if people are unable to approach the checkout unless other people are waiting, as if they’re unwilling to disturb the peace and quiet of the checkout area. Mercifully though, this too passed as I went off to Purdue.

My primary mode of employment at Purdue was food service waiter and later waiter captain. This is the closest I ever came to actually becoming a member of the ‘pointy-haired management’ club. I was a fixture in the Terry Courts kitchen even after I was forcibly ejected from Purdue for a while. Times in that old place were good; I recall some amusing practical jokes played on the morning captain when I would stay up all night for no good reason.

The morning captain had to come in at 5:30 and open the kitchen to prepare for breakfast at 6:30. One night I noticed on the schedule that my friend Tim was on breakfast duty for the following day so I took the kitchen keys and plopped them into a 10-gallon bucket of water. Then I wheeled the whole thing into the freezer. At 5:20 in the morning I brought it back into the middle of the kitchen where it could be easily found (but not so easily put to use). Another evening as I was closing up I made up a batch of fake juice for Tim’s breakfast shift tomorrow. A gallon of water and some red food coloring later and I had some genuine “Strawberry Juice”. Right on schedule the next day Tim came in and set up for breakfast and put out my fake juice. Some of the patrons that morning complained that the “strawberry juice was a bit weak,” completely disregarding the fact that there was no such thing. It should be noted that this wouldn’t be funny today since people apparently do drink strawberry juice in some deranged attempt to be healthy.

During my college years I also had other food-related jobs at the standard selection of places. I worked for about three days at Taco Bell and a few months at McDonalds. When I ran off to South Carolina for a summer I worked at Wendy’s for three months. Of all the fast food places I’ve worked at, Wendy’s is the only one for which I have any modicum of respect and whose food handling practices don’t make me want to vomit. I was trained on the operation of the grill while my girlfriend at the time ran the register.

The Hispanic gentleman who ran this Wendy’s was a racist and it was pretty obvious. 75% of his staff was black and for the most part they did everything and had been there for years. Whenever he could get white employees he put them up front where the customers could see them. That allowed him to push the black gentleman who trained me for my job to go work in the back out of sight. Anyway, one day I was taking out the trash at the end of a shift when I noticed a long register tape in the trash. Always ready to be nosy I started reading through the tape and couldn’t help but notice that it contained everyone’s hours and hourly wage for the past week. What came immediately to my attention was that the wages were obnoxiously unfair. The white employees were paid more than the black employees despite the fact that the black employees were more experienced and did most of the real work. So of course, always one to stir up trouble I went straight to the other employees and pointed this out. Sadly, since I was very near the end of my tenure there I never saw the final outcome of this little revelation but I have a distinct recollection of one of my black colleagues tearing into the boss about this ‘little issue.’ I hope they managed to get what they deserved.

In addition to my various food-related duties I also had a job as a computer lab monitor for a couple of years. I have memories of long hours of sitting in completely empty computer labs. If one was wise in one’s selections, one could be paid $5 an hour for sitting in a lab and doing one’s homework (or whatever). In two years of working for PUCC (Purdue University Computing Center) I believe I answered exactly three questions and at least two of those were “How late is this lab open?”

Finally, after what seemed like half a dozen years of college, I entered the real world and got a real job. This, for me, was a horrendous shock. Not because of the work to be done. During my first years of working I found it to be damn entertaining. I worked in technical support for the first three years and I’ve never enjoyed working quite as much since. No, doing the work was the easy; what was shocking was the price attached. When I got my first job straight out of college I started at $32,000/year and I giggled all the way home. I was officially making more than my mother and she had been working at the same place for a dozen years. There’s a special giddiness you get when you realize that you’re making more than your parents. It’s even more giddy when you enjoy doing it.

I puttered around in technical support for three and a half years by the time it was all over and in retrospect, despite the difficulties at times, that was an incredible job. Because you had to poke your head into your neighbor’s cube and ask questions like “What the hell is a thunking error?” you got to know people. By the time the company I was working for finally closed its doors due to an “accounting error” in 2002 I could walk around that building and confidently talk to any one of 20 different people. I actually felt like part of a family and I’ve not felt that way since. Stupid accounting errors.

After that, I followed a colleague of mine to a teeny tiny company that does “electrical load control.” Basically, they build devices that allow the electric company to shut off your air conditioning when the power supply is being overtaxed. From a conceptual standpoint, I think this company has a great idea. As a company of only 10 employees they were looking at pulling in million dollar contracts. Unfortunately, one thing they’d forgotten was to value their employees. The boss would always strut around crooning that he could “get any $50,000/year programmer to do my job” and after rewriting all the major systems in 11 months I gave him the opportunity to prove it. I’m guessing he didn’t quite manage because a few months after I left I got a call so we could “have lunch.” He was still apparently looking for a $50,000/year programmer.

After a short stint at a company that does online job applicant screenings I ended up at my current workplace that does cutting-edge parking software. (Yes, I know this sounds like an oxymoron.) Like all but one of my previous jobs I was brought here by a previous colleague, Chris, my manager from the first job I had out of college. I’ve been in the job market for just over 10 years and I’ve worked with Chris or been his direct report for all but a year of that. Frankly, I’m not sure why he’s not tired of me yet (or perhaps how he hides it so well). My overly frank and almost belligerent approach to working would have worn any lesser man. Despite our fundamental disagreements on most topics, my continued employment is evidence that we must get along on some level.

Currently Reading: “Typhoon and other Tales”, Joseph Conrad [130.5/220]

Periodic Robism: Despite what some people may think, animals were not put on this Earth merely to keep meat fresh until you’re ready to eat it.


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Crappy Ideas

There’s a fundamental problem with the world and that is that there’s no quick, easy and reliable test for crappiness. Let me illustrate. I had this idea that it might be amusing to write my autobiography. So, to test the idea I sat down and wrote. I wrote for hours and hours and then more hours. Then, after I’d spent 5 hours on it even I lost interest. Now if anyone’s going to have an interest in my life it should be me but I’ve managed to bore even myself. So in this case, the crappiness test took about 5 hours.

Illustration the second. The other day I was doing the laundry or some other similarly mundane task when my mind started to wander into song parodies. It occurred to me that the Zager and Evans tune “In the year 2525” could be adapted to revolve around parking. It should be understood that I work for a company that does parking software so this isn’t quite as silly as it seems. Anyway, I was as far as “In the year 2525, if man can still drive…” when my mind again wandered onto a much ‘better’ idea.

In this much better idea, you could take the Nirvana song “Smells like Teen Spirit” and rework it into a religious tune. There are a lot of Christians around here so I often think about things to entertain them for some reason. Anyway, I got as far as the Chorus:

“Smells like the Holy Spirit”

Now I’m kneelin’ and I’m prayin’
Sure hope God hears what I’m sayin’
Got my bible, here in my hand
Soon I’ll start up, my own punk band
Who’s the best now, of the apostles
If you ask me, wow, I like pa-ul.

Luckily, in that case the crappiness test only took about 10 minutes. Sometimes nature does smile upon us once in a while… or perhaps it’s laughing.


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My Life – Part 5: College

After high school I marched on to Purdue. Tens of thousands of dollars (and almost as many pizzas) later I was officially degreed in Computer Science. Simple as that! Nothing else to tell. Okay, not really.

I toddled off to college and for the first time I was absolutely surrounded by people. These things were absolutely everywhere. I lived in the worst student housing on campus, Terry Courts. Built as temporary housing in the 40s these were finally torn down 50 years later. I worked my way through a series of roommates from the drunken ones that weren’t there to the studious ones that actually went to class. The hilarity never stopped, not even for education. Despite the innumerable puerile amusements in which I took part I’m at least vaguely proud to say that I never had a drop of alcohol in college. Now I did freeze hockey pucks of ice and shoot them under the neighbor’s door at the end of the hall and call my own room and let the phone ring 300 times to wake the hung-over neighbors but these things were done in a spirit of complete sobriety.

When I wasn’t harassing the neighbors I spent much of my time just enthralled with all the people. I was star-struck by the fact that I could sit on the corner and watch hundreds of people walk by. Even more stunned that I could strike up a conversation with one of them and by my demeanor look like a total and complete weirdo. But the point was that I could do it. There were people here. There were thousands and they each had a story of some sort. Oh the bliss that would be mine if I could get inside those heads and roam around a bit and see what the furniture was like.

Among all those thousands though I did manage to find at least one person who didn’t think I was a complete weirdo. Waltzing through a computer lab one day I saw an appropriate female target for my affections and having been in the computer lab enough to know the layout I quickly discerned her identity. See, this was in the days before ‘security’ concerns. You could to all sorts of subtle tricks if you knew what you were doing. Anyway, one simple UNIX ‘talk’ request later and I had a date and later a girlfriend. I even went so far as to go home with her to South Carolina for the subsequent summer. Much to my mother’s dismay I didn’t actually bother to tell her about it before I went. My reasoning for this was relatively simple; since they didn’t give a crap about me it seemed only natural that my vanishing could only be a welcome change for them. Not surprisingly they didn’t really see it that way but the police were able to locate me with little hubbub using the forwarding address information I’d provided Terry Courts so everything worked out in the end.

Not long after my return after the summer it was becoming increasingly clear that she and I had learned just about all we could from each other. At least that’s now I saw it. One day we sat down to have a serious talk and while she was expecting a ring I delivered a break-up speech. I’d say that overall it was not one of the moments in my life when I did job of setting expectations. Anyway, as always happens in these situations animosity eventually ensued and we don’t speak today.

Not long after that unpleasantness, I met the woman who was to become my wife. This was also accomplished the aid of a computer and the primitive predecessor of the modern chat room known simply as ‘The Haven.’ I won’t bore you with all of Haven history but for a really dumb trivia game sometime you may wish to know that I was known by the pseudonyms ‘Granite’, ‘Tigger’, and most amusingly ‘The Celestial Knight’ on this epic waste of time. I completely fail to recall what my future wife and I talked about on the Haven that first night but it was less than a day before we met ‘in real life’ as it’s called.

I strolled over to her dorm the next day, she lived in the new and posh Hillenbrand. When she stepped out of the front door I just about fainted. There I was with my shaved head, my velour shirt and my skin-tight pink shorts facing a girl who was unbelievably attractive. My first thought was, “I am SO out of my league.” She was absolutely everything that my ex-girlfriend wasn’t. She was attractive; she was assertive; she was intelligent and she had a driver’s license. What more could you want in a woman? We saw each other every day after that and have done so pretty much every day since. I still think I’m out of my league but I’m careful not to tell her that.

Shortly after that my academic irresponsibility finally caught up with me and Purdue asked me to go off into a corner and take a break for a while. I, Purdue reasoned, had other things on my mind and needed to get my stuff together for a while. Of course it was correct in its assessment. During my tenure there for the first few years I’d guess that I attended about half my classes. As such my grades were utterly rank and it was clear that I wasn’t really applying myself. After a semester off in the most abhorrent apartment I could have possibly conceived of I came back to Purdue with a renewed determination to actually graduate. When I came back I tried some things I’d never done before. I went to classes… all of them. I did the assigned work. I made a half-hearted attempt to study but it wasn’t really necessary. I was stunned at how laughably simple college was when you actually did what you were supposed to. I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I’d actually applied myself to college the first time around. But I was too busy with other things; for one, trying to figure out these people that there just seemed to be so many of in the world.

Currently Reading: “Typhoon and other Tales”, Joseph Conrad [130/220]

Periodic Robism: No institution of any size was ever devised that did not have as its fundamental purpose the movement of money from one party to another.

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My Life – Part 4: High School

My mother’s foray into pharmaceutical fatality didn’t really come as much of a shock for some reason. My grandfather got his wish; while mother went to talk to some people in white coats I went to live with them full time. With that change, came a change of schools. I completed my middle school years in Frankfort and began high school at Clinton Prairie out in the middle of the Clinton County boonies. I was ecstatic at the change. Finally, I would be able to ditch the baggage I’d accumulated in Frankfort and start over with the added bonus that I’d also be able to shower on a regular basis.

The first day of high school I stepped onto that bus with some trepidation but in generally high spirits. Today was the first day of the rest of my life, after all. I reasoned that since I was changing schools between 8th and 9th grade that I’d just be one of many new faces around. I had gotten it into my head somehow that many schools must feed into this high school so most people wouldn’t know each other. Imagine my horror then when the bus pulled up and I saw ‘Clinton Prairie High School’ and attached to it… Clinton Prairie Middle and Elementary Schools. There were no ‘other’ new kids. These people had all been going to the same damn school their entire lives. This was the worst possible outcome. I’d been dropped into the middle of a class of 60 kids that had been going to the same school together since kindergarten.

Utterly deflated, it wasn’t long before I was again a target for the outgoing. For one thing, I was a shy kid anyway so my weakness made a good target for rambunctious high school kids. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, was the ‘perfect storm’ in which Spanish class, English class and Health class all somehow managed to come together in the perfect way to crush me. How, say you, kind reader could this be? Well, do read on.

My grandparents convinced me to take Spanish class over Latin. For them, it was a matter of practicality. One of the things they do in Spanish class is give you a Spanish name. Well, we already had a ‘Roberto’. Heck, he’d been Roberto for 9 stinkin’ years in that school so I wasn’t about to displace him. Apparently the next choice after Roberto is Beto, Spanish for Bob. That’s pronounced ‘Bay-Toe’, this’ll be important later. Concurrent with this one of the English classes was working on letter writing. One of the things one learns in letter writing class is how to proper address people. You’ve got your Miss and your Mrs. And your Mr. and of course for boys you have ‘Master.’ Ah, so now you may see the point already. Someone got into their head to wonder, “How would someone address a letter to that new kid in Spanish class?” and of course the answer comes back, “Ah, of course Master Beto!” So with the help of health class I was known forever as “Master Beto” which I must tell you was a hilariously funny moniker to carry around high school.

Things went on this way for three long years with little change. My timidity kept me from really getting to know anyone and nobody really cared to know me. I was so shy that I never actually ate lunch in the cafeteria for my entire high school career because I wasn’t sure about proper lunchroom procedure. So when my grandparents moved back into town during my Junior year of high school my emotions were decidedly mixed. On one hand, I wanted to get the heck away from these Clinton Prairie kids but on the other I didn’t want to go back to those Frankfort kids. I started my senior year of high school back in Frankfort once again and ready for the worst.

Surprisingly, that final year at Frankfort I recall with enough positive memories that I wished I’d never had to leave in the first place. In whatever way these things become known, it had become common knowledge that my home life had had some issues. During that year I actually made a few friends that I wish I still had contact with. Oh how easily we lose the things most precious once we find them.

Stepping way out of character, I took part in a play… in front of actual people. (Yes, that’s difficult to imagine I know.) I as on two (count them, two) academic teams. To put it mildly, my senior year at Frankfort was the closest thing I’d had yet to normality in my life. For once, I was sad to leave a place and head off in another direction altogether.

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My Life – Part 3: Primary School

During my formative years my other great escape was school itself. While the other children groaned at the resumption of classes in the fall I rejoiced. Finally, after all that time, my isolation was at an end. I once again had people my age to interact with even if that interaction was not always wholly positive.

My earliest recollection of a ‘school’ situation was at the Frankfort Baptist Tot Center. Where I was before this I couldn’t say but sometime in the 3-4 age range I got my first dose of institutional care. I only have one firm memory of the place and it involved a huge vat of spools. My guess is that some industrial outfit had donated these plastic spools in bulk. They were the sort of spools you might expect to find copper wire wound around. The Center had a huge vat of these things and they were about the size of a toddler’s hand… except for one. It was THE spool. The BIG spool and it was the most coveted item in the Tot Center room I was in. If you had the BIG spool then you were lord god king of that place. One day, I got the spool… Oh the Power tied up in that object. Well for whatever reason, I reared back and chucked that sucker across the room. I recall the momentary visceral bliss as the object traced its graceful parabolic trajectory across the room. Not only had I had the BIG spool but I’d made it take flight. I was king of the air… at least until it came down. It came down right in Jamey Mundell’s face. Since this was the BIG spool he reeled with the power of the blow, fell back and hit is head on the wall and started to wail. While the paramedics came and took Jamey to the hospital for X-Rays I had to sit against the wall without the BIG spool. Oh how fleeting is such absolute power.

I’d say things picked up from there. In first grade the kid next to me, evil genius that he was told me to break his crayons. He held them out and told me to karate chop them. Well I was no fool. When someone tells me to karate chop something by golly I don’t miss the chance. So that day we worked our way through a box of 36 from sea-green all the down to burnt umber. The kid seemed absolutely thrilled at the time to have 72 crayons when before he only had 36. Well wouldn’t ya know it the next day suddenly somebody’s in trouble for breaking someone else’s crayons. It’s funny how stupid the excuse of “But he TOLD me to break them” sounds to an adult, especially when it’s true. Pretty sure I got the belt for that one AND had the buy the kid some new crayons.

Despite my skills at the martial arts, I wasn’t a popular kid. Primarily due, I think, to my inability to ever go outside. Mom always told me that I was too “sneaky” and that she didn’t want to have to watch me so I wasn’t to go outside. This is not to say that I didn’t try. One day, Tom Harrison and I worked up a plan. Tom came to my house about 20 minutes after my mom and I got home. He knocked on the door and asked politely if “Rob could come out.” My mother, ever ingenious said, “He’s not home.” Luckily, Tom was good on his feet and said quickly, “Yes he is, I just saw him through his window.” My mother responded simply with, “Go away.” I have no doubt that little act earned her a reputation about the neighborhood as someone you don’t want to bother with on Halloween.

In addition to being stuck in the house, my personal hygiene didn’t exactly endear me to any of my peers. See, in our house in the early 80s bath night was on Wednesday. That was apparently the point at which the odor from me was bad enough to leak under the door of my room and into adjoining areas of the house. One unfortunate omission from this weekly ritual was the washing of hair. That always happened on the weekends at grandpa’s house so by Friday I was not only reeking but had enough hair oil built up to lubricate the chassis of a 68 Dodge. This earned me the apropos name of ‘Greaser’ despite my attempts to pass my hairstyle off as some sort of a 60s tribute.

Looking back a paragraph, I realize it’s a bit wrong to say I couldn’t go outside. When I was in elementary school, I had to walk to school every morning come rain, snow or a hail of thumbtacks. I left the house promptly at 7:30 and had to be at school half a mile away at 8:30. Now a little math will tell you that this plan left me about 50 minutes each morning to do any damn thing I wanted. Somehow, it was deemed more appropriate for me to wander the streets for an hour every morning than to just give me a key to the house. I’ll admit that I can’t figure that one out. So for that hour I made my way to school in at least 100 different ways. I could toddle along the creek bed for a few minutes before school or check out the back of shops selling god knows what. Even more fun were the days when my father had a early-morning meeting and I was out the door before 6. I had endless fun being taken in by strangers from the old lady on Clay street with whom I had breakfast once and even wandered down to Tom’s house once during those wee hours.

Similarly, I had about 50 minutes after school each day before I had to meet my mother and walk home. Like clockwork I would meet her outside the National Cigar Factory and she would sprint home as fast as her legs could carry her with her child trying hard to keep up behind her. One learns to walk fast when one’s mom is in a huge and unnecessary hurry. I do recall that once I tried an experiment on her. Rather than meeting her outside the factory I hid myself cleverly where I could study her reactions as she came out and failed to see me waiting for her. Surprisingly, she never batted an eye. She came out, turned the corner and started for home as if nothing was amiss. She was good at pretending I didn’t even exist.

Things went on like this pretty much unchanged through elementary and middle school. In fact, until that fateful night I referred to at the end of Part 2. It was around 8th grade when my mother tried to lose herself forever at the bottom of a bottle of pills.

Currently Reading: “Typhoon and other Tales”, Joseph Conrad [130/220]

Periodic Robism: Most people are so wholly unacquainted with the truth that they fail to recognize it even when it is thrust upon them.

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My Life – Part 2: Childhood

Not surprisingly, my childhood was divided into two irreconcilable parts. Sunday night through Friday evening I spent in the city with my parents. My primary recollection of those weekday nights is one of complete isolation. For five days out of seven, my entire world (aside from school itself) consisted of a 12×10 room and as many books as I could lay hands on. The noise of the house leaked into my room through my closed door but aside from that I was entirely alone with my thoughts. I recall actually looking forward to that noise, the evidence, no matter how distant that someone existed, that I wasn’t totally alone in the world.

If properly managed, my room was my safe haven. I recall distinctly one night when I was a bit older defying the norm and opening my door and leaving it that way. I went on as if nothing was unusual, probably reading some book for the 60th time when the silence was interrupted by the *WHUMP* of the swiftly closing door. In my warped mind I thought perhaps it was a mistake. A child’s mind does whatever it can to avoid the most unpleasant of conclusions. So I waited the obligatory five minutes and concocted an excuse to open the door with a quick trip to the bathroom. Upon my return I again left the door open and then resumed my reading. Thirty seconds later my scowling mother had the doorknob again in her bony fist and said simply, “Leave this Door Closed!” *WHUMP*

The lives of my parents during this time, though they had a larger space to roam about in frankly fared no better. My father, no doubt feeling trapped by his obligation as a father revolved in his own circle of hell between a woman he’d found to be beyond rescue and a father-in-law that made him want to wretch violently. He dabbled in all manner of occupations from surrealist art to woodworking in an attempt, I think, to fritter away the time as any prisoner will. My mother meanwhile revolved around my father. Since she had lived as a servant to her father for so long she now found her only natural role in life was to serve her husband who wanted nothing less than to be served.

My mother claimed later that the only reason she had been so evil to me was that she thought that’s what my father wanted and a case in point can be found in the family dinner arrangements. I remember eating dinner with my parents at the dinner table exactly once. In our first house I’m told that the kitchen was too small to accommodate three people at the table so I was placed elsewhere to eat. I have no recollection but having seen the house I can believe it. When I was somewhere between three and seven I’d guess, we moved to a bigger house where we had a round kitchen table where we could all have dinner together. Mysteriously, this happened only once. On the second night I recall sitting in my room hearing the sound of eating and wondering what could have possibly gone wrong. I don’t honestly recall if I came out of my room and asked what was going on but later I was told that my new position was to eat after they had finished. My mother brusquely communicated to me that my father thought I ate too noisily (or some similar problem) and that I wouldn’t be eating at the dinner table any more. She was right as it turns out; we never did have dinner together again.

This, for the most part was life with mother. She was a wretch filled with asinine reactions to unlikely stimuli. To this day, I do not understand some of her actions. When I was 10 or 11 it was announced that even my presence in the kitchen was not to be borne and that from that point forward I was to eat in my room. Further, I was to eat before my father came home. This meant that she would have to prepare separate meals for me somehow and to her credit she did exactly that. For at least a year I had scrambled eggs, a baked potato, broccoli and a glass of very suspicious-looking milk for supper every single night. Of course this sudden change in diet had an impact on me which in turn had an impact on our so my reasonable mother issued a further edict that I was no longer to use the bathroom in the house. She left it up to me to find a creative ‘outlet’ for my productivity. This went on for several months until a word was dropped into grandpa’s ear on the topic and the edict was quickly rescinded with many a glare at the overly talkative child.

My father was a different can of worms entirely. I have vague recollections of watching horror movies with the man and listening to music but none of these springs specifically to my mind today. Whereas I remember my mother’s abhorrent actions in some detail the specifics of my interactions with dad are all vague and incoherent. I only know he was there really because of the tracks left behind in my psyche. Whatever we did and whatever we talked about made me most of who I am. All about me that is philosopher, skeptic, poet or thinker came from him. My mother represented hate and my dad was everything else.

By this time, you must be asking about the other two days of the week. Every weekend of my life up to the age of 13 (as far as I can recall anyway) I went to my grandparents house in the country a mere 20 minutes from town. It was here that I did the things that children do. I stayed up until 5 in the morning watching scary movies by myself. I ran about in the three acres of grass and played football… by myself. Many an hour I spent playing tennis with my grandmother’s old racket against the side of the barn… by myself. I had long drawn-out conversations about any old thing that came to mind… by… myself…

As grandparent’s will, they gave me anything I could possibly want. If I ate a whole bag of potato chips in one day grandma would dutifully get more the next time she was in town and not say even a word about it. I had absolute and perfect freedom to do anything I wanted in a room as tall as the sky but absolutely nobody to share it with. Of course I talked to my grandparents but anyone knows this just isn’t the same. A child needs children and despite my best efforts including biking the five miles down the road (one way) to the nearest neighboring child I never managed to make any contact whatsoever. I had all the freedom and all the material wealth I could dream of and yet I was still missing the only thing I really needed. My prison was bigger but the only evidence I had that anyone else existed was the hum of the cars zooming by on the interstate miles away.

This hebdomadal rhythm went on undisturbed for 13 years. I recall not a single exception to the rule until one fateful night when my mother came into my room. Mother never came into my room. I knew with certainty that something had happened because the natives outside had been unusually restless. Her demeanor was almost tender as she sat on my bed. Mother never sat on my bed. Her words were short and simple as she addressed me directly. Mother never addressed me directly. “Well,” she said, “your father’s left us so it’s just you and me now. Whatever happened before is in the past and if we’re going to make it we’re going to need to stick together.” At those words my heart leaped; not because I was glad my father was gone but because I thought that maybe, just maybe, things would be better.

Currently Reading: “Typhoon and other Tales”, Joseph Conrad [94/220]

Periodic Robism: Don’t judge a man to be a nut until, like him, you’ve walked barefoot through Wal-Mart and been looked at like you were a nut.

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