Sunday, April 16, 2017

Righting a Couple of Wrongs

I believe that most people who know me personally would probably say that I am a nice guy. I mean, I, of course, have my bad days and moments and have been known to be a tad dickish at times, especially when provoked (see Attack of the Man-hating Woman). But in general, I think that I have had a lifetime of pretty good behavior.

As I have referenced several times in this blog, in social media and personal communications, this past year has been rough. So rough that, in fact, I believe that it has been the worst year of my life, surpassing years when my father died, when I found out that my son had cancer, and when I had a mild heart attack.

I've never been one to get depressed beyond the normal/reasonable stage, but recently, I had been wondering if I had been seriously depressed during this past year. Being a clinician, I had already thought that, although I was not overly depressed, the stress I was under was enormous, causing me to think, say and do some things that I would not normally have done. I saw it was time to right a couple of wrongs I had done to other people.

I have a colleague with whom I have sometimes gotten along with, sometimes not. I was in a small meeting with her and our boss when my frustration with work and life in general got the better of me, and I ripped into her. After some time had passed, I sent her an apology email. As you might guess, I got no response. I finally got a chance to talk with her face-to-face last week and grovel in person. After about an hour-long talk about us, our relationship and work, I felt like we were about as good as we were going to get. I was a little disappointed that she refused my invitation to smack me in the face. It probably would have made both of us feel better.

Well, that was one down. However, I felt like I owed at least one more person an apology. It might surprise you who I owe that to.

On my last trip to Las Vegas in January, I was pretty much a dick to none other than Tony Bigcharles, whom I have often accused of being a shitty friend. Well, being frustrated with life in general and then finding out that, once home and back at work, I would have to deal with a brand new time-consuming and crappy issue with an employee, I treated Tony in pretty much the way I have called him out for in the past. So, for once, the shoe is on the other foot.

So Tony, my apologies for blowing off your calls and texts when you were trying to get us to play some poker at the Nugget. Friends shouldn't treat other friends like that. Period.

Things have been straightening out in my life, and life will continue to get better in the weeks ahead. Dang -- it looks like the evening will be pretty nice tonight.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Reclaiming My Life in a Month

Back in September, I wrote a post titled "Crossroads: A Work Dilemma," which dealt with a decision that was coming up for me at work. I gave some information about my situation and solicited feedback and suggestions from my readers and friends. I was given much great advice and many suggestions, for which I am grateful. However, the process associated with the change moved ever so slowly. Things became a little more clear toward the end of last month. Although I had a plan that made all the sense in the world, it was not readily accepted.

About a month ago, I emailed my boss and informed him of my intention of stepping down as head of my department at the end of April. It was a bittersweet moment, as there were many successes during the past five years. But, in truth, I was often haunted by the scourge of authority positions: personnel management. The highlight was probably having to talk with a female employee about her odor. Heady times indeed!

Before I took on the management position five years ago, I was having rocking poker weekends, traveling to Harrah's Horseshoe in Hammond, Indiana almost every other weekend. Poker jaunts to Las Vegas throughout the year were common. I hosted some poker games at my house and had a great international home poker game to go to once or twice a week. I was six months past a mild heart attack and had lost a bunch of weight. Energy was high and life was great.

Things changed after I took the management position. Extra hours and stress weighed upon me, and fatigue became part of my regular life. I eventually cut back on my poker trips and settled into a new existence.

After one year I actively ran for election to complete the final two years of the director term. I got the extra two years, and then, fearing cutbacks and tough decisions that might have to be made, I ran for a final three-year term, wanting to be the person at the helm if things got really bad. After the first year, I began longing for my old life and probably sounded pretty whiny to some of my fellow directors. Unfortunately, my personal life took some huge hits beginning with last May: my wife lost her job, my mother passed away and my mother-in-law also passed. These things really got me thinking.

In the end, I really didn't want to continue as a director unless I got certain things that, in my mind, brought the negative side of the job up to a level I could accept. When I didn't get them, it was clearly a sign that it was time for me to go.

I have one more month left as director, then basically either two or three more years of work until I retire. I haven't set the date yet.

Although I feel conflicted, I am looking forward to only having to be responsible for myself at work for the first time in five years. I have almost forgotten what it is like to not check work email the first thing after I get up in the morning ... to not have to be accessible on a moment's notice ... to not be the one contacting police, students, sometimes parents, trying to keep someone from killing him/herself ... to not have to sit through boring meeting after meeting after meeting ...

I've got a pretty good feeling that things will feel pretty good a months from now.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jerry Krause: Finally Getting the Credit He Deserved

Former Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause passed away yesterday. Krause, who presided over player acquisitions during the Bulls championship run in the 1990s, assembled the coaches and players that aided superstar Michael Jordan in delivering six championships to Chicago in eight years. Yet, despite all that success, Krause was often seen as more of a negative than a positive.

Nicknamed "Sleuth" for his secretive ways, Krause delighted in discovering talent. If there was a rumor of a great basketball player somewhere, Krause would be on it in an instant. Unfortunately, in an era of smooth talkers and beautiful people, Krause didn't fit in. He had a reputation of being gruff with people, and his frumpy appearance was mocked most notably by Michael Jordan, who, among others, mocked Krause by calling him "Crumbs," in reference to one or more occasions when Krause would have donut crumbs on his suit or shirt.

I would be remiss if I did not admit to mocking Krause for his most infamous quote: "Players and coaches alone don't win championships, organizations win championships." Unfortunately, the word "alone" was often left out of the quote, making it seem much worse. Focusing attention away from players and on staff and management seemed foolish. In retrospect, Krause might have not been as far off as originally thought. If only he had found a way to merge the importance of both players and sound coaching and management.

Having watched and cheered for the Chicago Bulls since their very beginning, the six championships were pretty heady stuff for me. Watching games in the old Chicago Stadium was fantastic, and the United Center proved to be another great venue. And ... living in Illinois, I was able to watch virtually any Bulls game on television during the great run.

The players from that era will always be special to Chicago sports fans. The coaches were legendary. Today's passing of Jerry Krause brought back many outstanding memories across Chicagoland. And finally, for what really seems to be the first time, Jerry Krause is getting his due for being the best executive in Chicago sports history.

Monday, March 06, 2017

A Gut-Wrenching Day: Saying Goodbye

Sunday, March 5 was one of those days that you know is coming, you dread, but also know that, as is mentioned in the Semisonic song Closing Time: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." My son, Rick, had accepted a job as a software engineer in Seattle and moved away -- almost 2,000 miles.

My wife and I had been pretty fortunate in that our two oldest children, while attending college and beginning their adult years, lived in apartments right in town. Although they lived their own lives and we saw them from time to time, it was always nice knowing that they could always come over for dinner or special family events, or even use our washer and dryer, pretty much whenever. The only time outside this new beginning when they weren't around was when my oldest daughter moved to Texas for two months after high school six years ago. I was devastated at the time and wrote a really raw post about having your child move away. Those feelings returned on Sunday.
How do they grow up so fast? It seems like just a short time ago Rick was this little kid. He had many challenges as a child and was lucky to have a mother who was his biggest advocate, supporter and source of comfort. This was especially needed when, at 15, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. We took him to the Mayo Clinic, where delicate surgery was performed. This is one of the "good" pictures I can post:
If any of you have kids, you can imagine what a terrible time this was. He had temporary paralysis on half his face, yet weathered it all with amazing courage. However, the threat of cancer returning caused him problems with anxiety in college that he still battles today.

Rick always had this dream of becoming a computer programmer. When he was young he ordered computer parts and put together his own computer. I would see my wife going to the library and bring home computer programming books for him when he was in fifth and sixth grades, He was a natural.

He couldn't wait to be off on his own and moved out 3 1/2 years ago. We always knew he would surface when he wanted free laundry use or when a grocery shopping trip was needed. He is a foodie and always had items on his shopping list that were totally unfamiliar to me. He will love living downtown in a major American city.

He moved back in with us while he was interviewing for jobs in the Silicon Valley and Seattle. His moving back was what actually made his move on Sunday more difficult. It was kind of nice to have another of our children living back with us. However, today was a particularly difficult day for my wife, who had just lost her mother last month. Letting go has been the depressing theme of our lives the past year.

After many tears today, we attempted to get on with our lives, although we were certainly feeling more than a bit empty. I finally got around to writing this post late at night after everything was quiet and dark. I knew Rick's flight would be getting in, and I texted him to make sure things went okay. I got the following response:

"Yeah, I'm just exhausted and still have to take a long ride to my place and check in. Please stay up so I can make sure I can check in. I should be able to pay my rent on my credit card because my credit limit is high enough, but I'd like to make sure I have some type of backup plan."

Okay -- long-distance parenting. It is still nice to be needed.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Re-posting of a blog post from last year

On March 22, 2016, I wrote the blog post below. It looks like the final part of the race is almost over. My mother passed away less than three months after the post. My mother-in-law's death is imminent. Sometimes life just hits you and forces you to remember that we are only on this planet for a relatively short time. Make the most of what you have and be thankful for what you have been given.

Note: Today would have been my parents' 70th wedding anniversary.

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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Life Updates -- Some Good and Some Bad

I haven't felt motivated to write a new post for a couple of weeks, largely due to life fatigue and fatigue in general. Some updates, for those interested:

1) Wife gets job! My wife had been unemployed since the end of last May. Unemployment benefits ran out in December, so the need to come up with a job became more acute. It looks like she has landed something that will work out really well: a job as office manager for a chiropractor in town. My wife is friends with his wife, and the three will be working together. It seems like a great fit.

2) Son gets a job! My son is completing his degree in Math and Computer Science this semester with an online class. He accepted a job as a software engineer for a start-up company in Seattle. The job appears to be great, but that also means that he will be moving over 2,000 miles away from his family. Fortunately, Seattle is only a plane ride away, but it will be quite different not having him in the area. His mother will have an especially difficult time with this and I am dealing with it as best I can. He is finally living out his dream, which is, I guess, all that a parent can hope for.

3) The clean up of my mother's house began just over a week ago. It is difficult beginning the process --  seeing the house that you grew up in and all the requisite memories getting further and further from your grasp. My brother, thundering36 (I have three brothers and a sister), will finally be resuming the life he was living in Australia 17 years ago.

4) Death will again soon be visiting the family, as my mother-in-law is on her final days. I am pretty sure that I had written in the past that my mother and my mother-in-law were having a sad race to their deaths. My mom passed away last June, but was still in pretty decent shape mentally until the end. My mother-in-law was not quite so lucky, as dementia hit her hard and fast. My wife went to be with her yesterday. Sadly, it is just a matter of time.

Work pressures continue to build as the State of Illinois -- specifically the legislature and the governor -- seem determined to devastate higher education and social services in the state. My department is losing staff (people leaving are not being replaced) and we are gaining the many new responsibilities as a small office is being merged into mine. I am scheduled to remain head of my department until May 2018, but I may decide to step down at the end of this coming April. There are many things to consider, and I hope that I will have an answer by the end of this week.

I have been playing a little online poker recently. I have been reminded how frustrating it can be: know-it-alls popping off in chat, horrendous beats, lots of time spent playing. I probably need to stay away. I've played some brick and mortar poker in 2017, winning a little in a few early January sessions at the local riverboat, losing a buy-in or two in Las Vegas last month, and dumping a little bit at Harrah's Joliet. I'll probably up my play once a little bit of the pressure currently on me subsides.

I'm thankful for tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts and comments (on other blogs) that have kept me connected to my friends and acquaintances. The past nine months have not been great, and things will only get worse soon. I am hoping that by the middle of summer, things in my life will be more settled and life will be a little less challenging.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

TBC Meet Up Was a Great Time!

Last night a small but fun group met for the 1st Annual TBC "Memorial" Meet Up in Las Vegas. I decided to get there early, so I caught a Lyft ride from Caesars Palace and arrived at TGI Fridays about a half hour early. Nice to relax and wait for people to come.
It was kind of funny waiting and watching people come into Friday, wondering if any were looking for the gathering. Two guys walked in and appeared to be searching for something, and yes -- they were here for the meet up. It was officially on! One of them, Arch, sat down at the table while the other, Stacy, went to the bar with his wife, Miyuki, returning a bit later. These gentlemen knew Tony from Las Vegas (The Strat) and Jean (Gold Strike) and were happy to meet some people with the common TBC link.

The star himself arrived later with his good buddy Vince, who actually prefers to be called Vinnie (I hope my spelling is right). Alysia came a bit later and, stopping over a few times to make sure everything was alright, Dallas, who was working that night and who helped with arrangements at TGI Friday.

What can I say? It was a great night! We all shared some Tony stories and information and discussed Tony's future plans. The beer was cold and we kept ordering appetizer plates. There was lots of talk about poker, Las Vegas, the Gold Strike, Lake Tahoe and life in general. I hope that Tony enjoyed the evening, as people there genuinely are among the many that want him to succeed and have a good life.
Front: Alysia, Arch and Miyuki
Back: TBC, Vinnie, Dallas, lightning and Stacy

Part of the benefit of going to the meet up was hearing about Tony's next step. Of course, I will not DISCLOSE his plans just in case someone is stalking him with hopes of procuring the sockroll, u see.

Several people who hoped to attend were unable to due to work, family or other obligations. Mr. Subliminal sent his regrets as he was under the weather -- an occupational hazard for those who panhandle in the rain and cold. Michelle (9ontheturn) was still in the hospital and unable to finally meet Tony.

Some very special thanks from last night -- to Dallas, for suggesting the restaurant and extending happy hour drink and food specials for us; to Alysia, who generously covered the bar tab for everyone; and to Arch, who generously covered the food tab for everyone.

Tony, I hope you read this and comment on it. We had a great time and all wish the very best for you.

Now -- back to donking off money at the poker table!