Saturday, April 30, 2016

Has He Reached a Milestone?

My son recently sent me back-to-back text messages that made me wonder if finally THAT day had come.

Text message 1

This great podcast I listen to where John Hodgman "judges" funny domestic disputes between people had on a kid and his mom. The kid wanted to get a motorcycle and kept making all these arguments  that were true in some regard, because he was clearly smart, but entirely missing the greater point. And misunderstanding what he deserved from his parents. Reminded me of myself in high school so much...

Text message 2

Also, when I was shopping with my girlfriend the other day, I pointed out to her where Game X Change used to be. I never thought about it until now but I didn't realize how lucky I was that you would take me there on a semi-regular basis and stand around while I tried out Gameboy games for an hour LOL.

Perhaps all those parenting hours were worth it? My oldest daughter hit that day of maturity and understanding a few years ago. Two down and one to go ...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Of course, it was one heck of a week, u see ...

There are some weeks of your life that are likely never to be forgotten. Although I cannot see into the future, I have a decent idea that this past week will be one of them. It was mostly a somber week, with one huge exception.

On Monday, a thirty year battle ended as a former student of the first school at which I worked passed away. John H was just a regular guy as best I can remember. Unfortunately, at the tender age of 20, he suffered a stroke. Who gets a stroke when they are 20 years old?

I remember seeing John in the hospital. It was a pitiful sight to see a young guy look so terrible. He was disabled for the rest of his life. I had pretty much forgotten about him, but actually remembered him a few weeks ago and wondered whatever happened to him. What a terrible lot in life he was given.

On Wednesday, I was saddened to learn of the death of my all-time favorite college basketball player, Dwayne "Pearl" Washington. Pearl was a flashy guard for Syracuse University at a time when Big East basketball was the most entertaining in the country. Pearl was unique looking -- dark, black skin, an olive-shaped head, and, frankly, had kind of a big butt for a primo college basketball guard. I was such a fan that I -- a guy who boasts of being frugal -- PAID an art student at the school I worked to paint the word "Pearl" and a picture of a pearl on my basketball shoes. Dick Vitale once proclaimed that Pearl was the second best point guard in all of basketball behind Magic Johnson. Heady praise indeed. I even went to Pearl's first NBA game in Chicago.
Rest in Peace, Pearl
However, Wednesday was also an important day for my family as we remembered that exactly six years ago, my son Rick was operated on due to a rare form of cancer. I can't possibly describe what a horrible day that was. I posted several times that week and received great support from my blogger friends. For that I will always be grateful.
Imagine, if you can seeing your child looking like this:
And this is the good picture. I will spare you the fun or seeing the gory picture with the huge scar.

However we are celebrating six years of Rick being cancer free! I guess things are all a matter of perspective. Rick had a cancer that only 3 out of 100,000 people get, which he certainly thinks is unfortunate. However, he was able to avoid radiation therapy and chemotherapy and has had an almost 100% recovery. He was extremely lucky in that sense. Today, he is just a regular guy trying to finish his college degree. We are very thankful.
My hipster son
And finally, the news of the week closed on a bad note as musical legend Prince passed away. I was actually surprised to see the outpouring of love after the news broke. I, like many, loved his music, especially when he was on top of the world with Purple Rain. I didn't expect to see that so many people has been affected by his music. He was a talented soul, indeed.
I, for one, would be more than happy to see next week be just a boring, uneventful week.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

To Give or Not To Give?

I recently read an article that had been featured by a Chicago Tribune columnist regarding a relationship between a panhandler and a benefactor. In this article, we learn of the life of a panhandler, how he hit bottom, and of the generosity of a radio host whose contributions helped keep the panhandler going during his rough times. It made me think about my experiences and the conflicts I have felt many times.

My background is that I grew up in a blue collar household. My dad worked a skilled labor day job and worked several evenings a week at my uncle's gas station. During summers when I was an undergrad and in grad school, I worked 60-80 hrs/week working in places/jobs like an electronics factory, working for an electrician, security guard, and as a cashier at a 7-Eleven. I began my first professional job right after grad school and have been employed full time ever since. As I look toward retirement in the relatively near future, I know I will need some sort of job or obligation to keep me busy. I really don't remember what it is even like to not work.

Anyway, I mention all this because it leads to my conflict. What do you do when confronted with panhandlers or others basically begging for money? I am in a position to be generous with these people if I choose, but I think back to how I have always busted my butt working no matter what and therefore feel less giving. However, I also realize that I have been extremely fortunate in many ways in my life, having skills and personal qualities that have helped make me successful.

I have made an attempt to give more to charitable organizations the past few years, and that is always good. However, when seeing people begging on the street , I wonder what the money will really be used for. Food? Alcohol? Drugs? Gambling? And if this person seems to have any type of mobility skills, can't he or she get at least a minimum wage job somewhere?

I feel much better buying a meal for anyone. After having dinner at a local bar/restaurant, I once was confronted at my car by a guy asking for a quarter to buy a McDouble. Huh? Who asks for a quarter? I told the guy that I wouldn't give him any money, but would go inside with him and pay for a meal for him if he was hungry. We went inside, and the waitress was pissed off that he was there, saying that he had been bothering customers all day and had already gotten two or three free meals there that day. Instead of feeling angry or used, my first thought was "How hungry did that guy have to be to continue to beg meals after already having had a few that day?" She told the guy he could get take-out, but the boss didn't want him inside bothering customers. I made sure that he got food to go before I left.

So I feel caught when I see people panhandling. My Catholic upbringing (and Catholic guilt!) make me want to help, yet I question whether or not my generosity will really be helping or only perpetuating alcohol or drug addiction. I have been tempted to do things like go to a fast food joint and hand out some free food, but I have also heard horror stories about people doing so in Las Vegas and catching grief from the panhandlers who were a tad picky about what food they would accept!

Hearing some of the tales of panhandling from Tony Bigcharles, who used the money to buy in at poker tables, and reading about how some panhandlers actually make more than one would think only makes the whole issue more murky in my mind.

So I ask you -- what do you think?

Monday, March 28, 2016

In Retrospect, a Most Magical Night: Rock to the Rescue - December 4, 2013

Sometimes the appreciation of an event comes much later than one would expect. Tonight I was thinking back to a magical concert in Bloomington, Illinois on December 4, 2013: Rock to the Rescue, a fund raiser for tornado victims in central Illinois. Most of the performers came from Illinois and were joined by a few that were not, such as Larry the Cable Guy and Ted Nugent. Some things that, in my mind, made the concert one to remember:

Gary Richrath, former lead guitar player for REO Speedwagon, joined the band on stage for a rousing rendition of Riding the Storm Out. Richrath left the band in 1989 and had not played with them for 24 years. It was his one and only performance with them, as he passed away on September 13, 2015.
One of several bands playing that night was Survivor. In an interesting set, Survivor performed with its two main lead singers -- original singer Dave Bickler, who went to high school in my home town, and his replacement, Jimi Jamison. Bickler was the voice on Eye of the Tiger while Jamison was the original singer on subsequent songs like I Can't Hold Back, High on You and The Search is Over. Sadly, Jamison passed away on August 31, 2014.

Styx also performed at the concert. I have seen Styx a few times, most notably for the Mr. Roboto tour in the early 1980's, and a couple of times more recently. I even bought a raffle ticket at the concert from Tommy Shaw's daughter! However, former lead singer Dennis DeYoung has been gone from the band since 1999. I finally got to see Dennis DeYoung in concert in ... Bloomington, Illinois earlier this month. It was worth every penny.

Another Illinois rock band, Head East, opened the show. When keyboard player Roger Boyd played the opening riff to Head East's most popular song Never Been Any Reason, it occurred to me that I had seen him do the same riff during my freshman year in college -- in 1977! Here is was, over 37 years later, and I was hearing the same player hit those notes. Who would have ever believed it?
The show was sold out for some time. However, I was able to snatch a great main floor seat about 16 hours before the concert when I looked by chance in the wee hours of the morning.

Funny how now, after over two years have passed, the concert means much more to me than it did that night I saw the performances. Some things you just can't really appreciate without the perspective of time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Unfortunate Race to the End

Racing usually involves two or more people or machines going against each other in a match of speed, each trying to be the first to cross the finish line. Be it track and field, NASCAR or drag racing, the competition and drama are all part of the fun of the race. Some races, however, aren't fun. Such is one "race" in my life.

2016 is proving to be a difficult year so far as the health of both my mother and mother-in-law continues to get worse. My mother turned 90 last October -- something which is kind of amazing in itself. Despite numerous health issues, she has already outlived my father by over 11 years. My family would never have believed that she would live this long. However, she has a diagnosis of "failure to thrive" and continues to slip away little by little. In visiting with her this past weekend, I was surprised to see that on last Sunday, which I imagine was not one of her "good days," she did not even remember that I stayed with her for four nights after Christmas so that thundering36 could get a respite from his care giver responsibilities. However, at least at most of the recent times that I have visited, she has been relatively okay as far as remembering her children's names and making sense with much of what she said.

My mother-in-law has, unfortunately, had a rapid downswing. Due to back and other problems, she is no longer able to walk. My wife spent this past weekend in northern Wisconsin helping to clean and sort out her mother's belongings since my mother-in-law is now in a nursing home for the duration of her life. Her dementia has caused her to have all sorts of strange delusions. Fortunately, she still recognizes her family, so at least there is that. However, my wife has had to deal with the difficult part of knowing that the mother she grew up knowing is fading further and further away.

The mother and child relationship is one of the greatest gifts that we have been given. As I think back over my life, I am fortunate to have known that no matter what happened to me in life, good or bad, there was always -- no matter what -- at least one person there who was on my side. I am sure that my wife has felt the same about her mother. And strangely enough, in probably the darkest hour in my life, the person who was there for me was my mother-in-law.

So, life goes on, day by day. And even as the race heads closer and closer to its conclusion, I think of how lucky I have been to have had the competitors in my life.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Illinois Pre-Primary Presidential Voting Guide

Feel sorry for me as I live in Illinois. We currently have no state budget for 2015-2016 because our corrupt Democrat-led group of state legislators cannot come to an agreement with our rich, destruction-bound Republican governor. We are deeply in debt because the state did not, for many years, put in its share of pension money. I've contributed my share every month for over 25 friggin' years, yet the legislators try to place the blame on guys like me. So really, at the risk of sounding poorly -- fuck this fucking state and its political crooks. I hope I get the hell out of here before they steal my pension money. But ... I am still here right now, ready to vote in tomorrow's primaries. My "expert" analysis of the presidential candidates:

I will not be voting in this primary as I still cling on to a few of the old Republican values. My party has largely deserted guys like me, so at some point, unless the Libertarians make a major move, I might be part of the evil side. Sigh

Bernie Sanders
My kids, poor college students, dig his socialist views. Sure -- redistribute money so everyone has some, comrade. It won't sound nearly as good to my son, who is completing his B.S in Math and Computer Science, once he lands a sweet job paying him decent money for all the thousands I dumped into his University of Illinois education. However, you have to love how a grandfatherly old guy like Bernie has energized young people. He is a good man, and our country could certainly do much worse -- like electing one of the many dildoesque candidates still in the race.

President Hillary Clinton
Difficult to see her not winning this fall's election. She is super smart and has extensive administrative experience. Unfortunately, I find her to be morally bankrupt, never finding a lie she can't love. Although I disagree with her politically, I do respect that she could probably run the country about as well as anyone. She needs to hope that one of her many crimes is not discovered before she croaks -- that she and husband Bill arranged to have Vince Foster killed. Yeah -- laugh now, but remember where you heard it. I can't believe that I might vote for her this fall.

I used to be proud to be a Republican. Not anymore. I have consistently had moderate Republican views for most of my life. Now my party has been overtaken by the radical right loonies. Instead of wanting government out of people's lives, they now want to interject God into everything. Tons of racism and hate and simmer right below the surface. What is a moderate to do?

Ted Cruz
This guy appears to be quite a prick. Apparently the people with whom he works don't like him much. He appeals to the fundamental religious right evangelical crowd. A lot of bluster about all the things he will change immediately once he becomes president. If only things were that easy. Maybe he has a master plan for expediting the removal of millions of illegal aliens in a week. I think he would try to do it.

Marco Rubio
I had high hopes for this guy, but he was a disappointment throughout the primaries. Perhaps his youth and inexperience were really showing. I think he is fundamentally a good guy who will be back in the future. I don't agree with all his views, but for some reason he gives me hope. I hope he isn't a flash in the pan. I wouldn't be surprised to see him elected president sometime in the next twenty years.

Donald Trump
What the heck is this guy doing running anyway -- bored with all his wealth? Full of bravado and bluster, he is an embarrassment to decent men everywhere. Even the indecent ones. Do you want your president calling ANY woman a pig? He is appealing to the angry, disillusioned crowd who revel in his bluntness and honesty. A thinly veiled hatred seems to be his calling card. Not a whole lot of substance beneath his mantra to "Make America great again." Go back to reality television.

John Kasich
Here is the best of the remaining presidential candidates. He appeared to be the only adult in a recent Republican debate. Unfortunately, he appears to have the personality of a wet noodle. He doesn't seem to have the gift of inspiration like some other candidates have. But ... he is experienced and at least realistic. I don't agree with all his views, but I get the feeling that he would be a decent head of state and executive administrator. He is so far behind that he has probably sunk himself, which is really too bad. Still, he gets my vote tomorrow. Keep hope alive ...

Trump wants to build that huge wall between the U.S.A and Mexico. Perhaps we need to concentrate on building a wall between the U.S.A and Canada to keep in all the people who will be ready to emigrate once one of these chumps gets elected. God Save the Queen!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ten Years Ago Today ...

It is hard to believe that it was ten years ago that I made this blog on Blogger and posted my terribly insightful first post: "Testing -- first post." It was as brief as Rob's posts are long!

In these past ten years, I have written 1,144 posts and the blog has been viewed over 235,000 times. During the heyday of online poker, I used to post several times a week. Now, however, as I am really more limited in time and energy, mostly due to the demands of my job. I'm sure aging ten years is a factor, too.

One of the unanticipated benefits of the blog is having a ten-year record of my life -- activities, successes, disappointments, feelings and thoughts. It has also help to make and friendships -- some that have pretty much come and gone, and others that form the basis of what I consider some of my best friends today. I look back on these past ten years and treasure many memories. I am thankful for the support and encouragement received during the tougher moments, especially when faced with my son's cancer diagnosis and my heart attack.

I had planned to write a special post for today, but, being a poker degen, I drove to the riverboat to play poker last night after going to a concert. I tooled in to my driveway at about 5:00 this morning and slept for most of the day. I'll wait until the time is right. I still might post a few favorite old posts this month.

For today, I will just say that I am very thankful for many things -- for the life I have been given, the family I grew up with and the one I have now, the gifts God granted me in helping me be successful in my career, and the many treasured friendships I have made. It is time to begin the next ten years. Let's do it!