Friday, July 28, 2017

The End of a Family Era

On Sunday, my brother-in-law and I will be doing one final task on my late mother's house: getting rid of a bunch of ancient hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals left in the basement. On Thursday, unless something out of the ordinary happens, I, the executor of my mom's estate, will close on the house, ending a long run of family ownership.

My uncle originally had the house built in the late 1950's. My parents bought the house off him and moved in late in 1961, fleeing city life in Chicago and moving out to the far reaches of the southwestern suburbs. My parents made quite a sacrifice to move there as my mom was a typical stay-at-home mom and my dad was a blue collar worker, a mechanic who specialized in heavy machinery. Along with working his regular grueling full-time job, my dad worked some evenings at my uncle's gas station to help pay off the house as well as making regular mortgage payments. This dedication to family made quite an impact on how I perceive parenthood.

This was the house in which I spent most of my early years. I lived there full time through elementary school, junior high and high school until going to college in 1976, when I lived there only during summer and winter breaks. I continued to live there on breaks during graduate school, and last lived there in January 1982.

A rather serious young lad

Typical mid-70's high school guy

College graduation with mom and dad

Even though I no longer lived there, my parents did. My youngest brother lived there through 1986, and one of my older brothers, thundering36, moved back from Australia to live with my parents in 2000. My father passed away in 2004 and my mother passed away in June last year. When thundering36 moved out at the end of this past April to return to Australia, that ended a run of almost 56 years of family occupancy.

More significantly, the sale of the home really brings an end to the notion of my original nuclear family. No matter what, there was always my mother and father ... and the house ... to return to.

Now, the family lives in different geographical areas. One brother lives in the same home town and a sister is within 15 miles. I live about 150 miles away, another brother lives 1,700 miles away in Phoenix, and thundering36 is 10,000 miles away on another continent. My brothers, sister and I were last together for my mother's funeral, and frankly, that is likely the final time that we will all be together until one of us passes. I find this extremely sad.

Nephew Andrew's wedding in 2014

My youngest brother made a Facebook post today, featuring a video of Nickelback's song "Photograph, " and wrote "Kinda sums things up right about now!"  I have to agree. I've played the video several times today. The sentiment will remain with me for some time.

Reflecting on a Song That Was Once Very Important to Me: "In the End" -- and goodbye, Chester Bennington

I don't know how many other people are like this, but I have songs that are associated with key moments of my life. The more intense the feelings, be they love, hate, joy or anger, the more significant the song.

I was saddened to learn of the suicide of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington during my recent trip to Las Vegas. Bennington sang on Linkin Park's monster hit "In the End," a song with bitterness that resonated with me at my workplace when I was extremely upset about not getting an internal top-level administrative job that I had applied for when, in my estimation, I was clearly the best candidate. Worse yet, two members of the "juiced" search committee were people from my own department. And by juiced, I mean that the people were carefully selected so that a preordained ending would occur. Note that the bitterness has not completely gone away!

Anyway, the director of my department, one of those two members who I am sure voted for the other candidate, invited me into her office to talk with me and settle me down a bit, or perhaps assuage some of her guilt, or maybe even help to heal my hurt. Well, my feeling were too raw, and I certainly was going to have none of it.

I began a profanity-laced diatribe, dropping more F-bombs than I can remember, and quoting some of 'In The End":

It starts with one thing
I don't know why
It doesn't even matter how hard you try

I kept everything inside
And even though I tried, it all fell apart
What it meant to me
Will eventually be a memory of a time when
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn't even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn't even matter

And suddenly the guy who had always been pretty enthusiastic at work became Mr. Negative. I have rarely had things in my life that I wished I could redo, but this was one of them. I stayed in a work funk for a couple of years until I was granted a sabbatical, giving me some time away from the daily grind for almost six months. I returned to work with a renewed spirit and a new attitude, and surprisingly, even ended up with an unexpected administrative opportunity, which I relinquished this past May after a five-year run.

With retirement now looming somewhere in the next 21-33 months and with my work responsibilities now excluding heavy managerial duties, I revised my Linked In profile, causing me to reflect back on my professional career. There were definitely some down times, but I guess one doesn't work an entire professional career without having those bad periods. As mentioned, I wish that I had handled things differently in this particular case, but hey -- we are what we are.

For your viewing and audio pleasure, a live version of "In the End":
As Chester says at the end of this video, "God bless you all." And Chester, may you rest in peace.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Weekend Update: A Wedding, A Visitation, An Anniversary and A Trip to Las Vegas

The wedding: My niece was married yesterday in west-central Illinois -- pretty much the middle of nowhere. Several family members on my wife's side of the family came to celebrate, so it made the whole thing kind of fun. Otherwise, I have never really liked going to weddings and even receptions, unless I can cut out right after eating. I don't have any deep, dark reason for this -- just a quirk of mine, I imagine.

The visitation: Unfortunately, the father of my daughter's girlfriend passed away after a lengthy illness -- Lewy body dementia. If you don't know what that is, look it up. It is a terrible way to die. Having had my mother and mother-in-law both pass away within the past 13 months, I have begun thinking more about the future and quality of life. It is a scary thing to think about as one gets older.

The anniversary: Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated 29 years of marriage. Yes, not only was there a woman foolish enough to marry me, but she has been foolish enough to stick around for almost 30 years. I may have taken a lot of heat when I was younger for taking so much time to decide to get married, but I am happy to see that my caution and slow deliberation paid off.
My favorite picture of my wife

The trip to Las Vegas: Although I just returned from Las Vegas two weeks ago, I am heading back today! The first trip was an add-on after visiting my son in Seattle, but this trip was planned quite some time ago to coincide with a Las Vegas visit by Aussie friend Koala. I don't have many things planned out for the trip, but I hope to catch dinner with VegasDWP before he jets off to distant corners of the world, and on Wednesday night (6:30pm at Nine Fine Irishmen in New York New York), I will be having dinner with Koala, Alysia Chang, Stacy and Miyuki (from the 1st Annual "Memorial" TBC Meet Up,) and anyone else who'd like to join in. Arch, if you are reading this, join the group! If anyone else would like to be added to the dinner group, let me know ASAP so that I can revise the reservation.

So ... it was a busy weekend, but I am now prepared to have a great time in my favorite vacation spot. I'm going to also try to see a few other friends, time permitting. Now if I would only not wait until the last minute to pack ...

Thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Las Vegas Trip Report: June 28 - July 2, 2017

An unexpected trip to Las Vegas was a great way to end the month of June and finally get away with some time to myself. As usual, Sin City did not disappoint as the poker was great and I was able to spend some time with some old friends and meet a few new ones.

I had been out to Seattle with my wife to visit my son. From there, on Wednesday, my wife flew to Scottsdale to visit her best friend while I headed to Las Vegas. The trip started off on a poor note when I made an unwise decision to give Lyft Line ridesharing a try. It sounded great, right? Share a ride with someone going along my route and pay a discount price? Well, things didn't quite work out the way I would have liked.

To begin, it took longer to get my Lyft ride than other times when I just rode alone. The other passenger was dropped off sort of along the way. After we dropped her off at a parking lot to pick up her car, I expected to get to my hotel, Harrah's. Instead, the driver went out of the way to pick up a guy and his wife, which added additional time on to the trip. I was not happy. Lesson learned. Bad way to save a few dollars.

After checking in at Harrah's, I played sessions at Mirage and, strangely enough, Flamingo, a place I rarely play and have never particularly liked. I ended up a little on the positive side, not a terrible result to the first evening of poker. I called it a night (or rather, a morning), with hopes of killing it the rest of the trip.

On Thursday, I headed to the Mirage in the afternoon, booking a profit, and then headed to what used to be my favorite poker room, Bally's. I was going nowhere fast until old friend and Bally's poker dealer Ron dealt to my table. Over the years, for whatever reason, it seemed like I lost when Ron dealt. This time however , was different. I flopped a set of 3's and doubled up. A few hands later , I flopped quad 10's and felted the same guy who had doubled me up he I must admit, Ron has suddenly become a much better dealer!

I left Bally's with a nice profit and headed to MGM Grand, where I was to meet poker friends Rob and also Vook ,who I'd never met.
lightning, Vook and Rob

Vook arranged to also meet up with some of his poker friends After some dinner and drinks, we headed to the poker room. Rob and I were at one table and Vook and his friends were at another. Lady Luck was shining on me as I schooled Rob on such things as cracking the DREADED POCKET KINGS with Q-8 sooted. Of course, Rob also schooled me on one hand when I refused to chop blinds with him just to have a little fun, and he picked off my bluff. Bah! However, another session, another profit. And a fun night for five guys who like to play poker.
After MGM, I headed to Planet Hollywood to try my luck there. PH, as usual, provided good games and a profit. Feeling tired as the morning was beginning, I decided to call it a night. However, on the way back to my room, I was startled when a woman of the night slapped my butt and tried to grab my arm and walk along side of me, much as my wife likes to do. Hmmm ... she did look amazingly good looking for a street walker, so I ... well, you know Mr. Clean Living here. I told her "no thanks" and hustled back to my room with a huge grin on my face. Just another night in Las Vegas!

After a minimum of sleep on Friday morning, I headed across the street to once again play at the Mirage. My table had a few people spewing chips, so I knew the afternoon would be good. I made sure that I stayed long enough so the I would be there for at least one down dealt by Kristi (Alaska Gal). My dealer/friend luck continued as Kristi flopped me a full house! I didn't make much off the hand, but it was fun anyway.

I cashed out with a profit and headed to In-N-Out at The LINQ to grab a double double animal style, then proceeded to Planet Hollywood to meet up with VegasDWP and Tony Bigcharles. Rob was able to meet us a little later.

There  were a few humorous things from that night. VegasDWP gave both Tony and me a casino chip from Wynn Macau as a souvenir. When I joked about how little it was worth in the US, he pulled out a hundred bill, equivalent, he said, to about $18 US money, and gave it to Tony as a souvenir. Unfortunately, didn't seem to quite get or appreciate this and cashed it in at a currency exchange! The chip got me two admonishments from casino personnel because they thought that it looked too much like a PH $25 chip. I guess I should have taken it off the top of one of my stacks before shoving on one hand! They made me put it in my pocket - lol.
Tony studying poker strategy between hands. Oh wait - that is Candy Crush Saga!

I cashed out another profit, ate a late meal with Tony, and headed back to Harrah's for my last night there. I have no hooker stories from that night. I guess I was just a one night wonder!

On Saturday, I checked out of Harrah's and again headed to the Mirage for some poker. One hand of note: I looked down to see AA. I raised and was three-bet by another player at the table who was a nice guy and appeared to be a decent player. I hollywooded for a bit, not wanting to overdo it. I shoved and he called. I was hoping he had KK, but unfortunately, he also had AA. fortunately, there were no backdoor four-flushes, which would be a crappy way for anyone to win in that situation.

After booking another profit, I met Alysia Chang at Harrah's, and she drove me to my new hotel for one night, Fortune Hotel and Suites. I was pleased to see that the hotel seemed to be okay, as it was quite a bargain for Las Vegas on a Saturday night. AC picked up VegasDWP, and the three of us grabbed an early dinner at Sweet Poke. Afterward, AC went back to her studying, and Vegas DWP and I went to Golden Nugget to play poker and meet up with Tony.

Now I have to tell you, I have not had good experiences playing at the Golden Nugget. The last time, I blew through a buy-in very quickly. Among reasons I don't like playing there: sketchy players, crowded room, no Verizon service there, uncapped buy-in. There was a guy at our table who was acting very strangely, but he left. I didn't like not having phone service and, after digging myself in a hole, I was back to about even and wanted to leave. However, since I was playing there with friends, I decided to stay. Bad choice. I played crappy poker and lost the equivalent of a regular buy-in. I decided to leave, and Tony caught me before I left to suggest playing poker somewhere else. We Ubered to Planet Hollywood, which always seems to be very good to me.

The session at PH was a little more like it. I doubled up early against one player, then felted him after he rebought when I hit a set of 10's on the turn as he caught the second nut flush. I raised and he re-raised and I called. The river paired the board, and my chip stack was looking rather healthy.

Some time thereafter, I got the opportunity I was looking for: the chance to mix it up with Tony. Tony led out the betting with  20-something and I three-bet to $68 with KK. Tony then quickly shoved all in. Did he have Aces (maybe), Kings (unlikely), Queens (possibly) or was he bluffing (maybe)? I was thinking either Aces or  a bluff and I decided to call. u see, he turned over ACES, of course! But ... I just had a feeling I was going to win the hand. The flop was J-J-Q. The turn was a 9, giving me four more outs. Unfortunately for Tony, the river was a 10, giving me the straight and Tony's stack of $200-250. I was very impressed that he remained calm. Meanwhile, I stacked chips.
We played more and I won some more hands, then decided to book the win, get something to eat, and try to get an hour or two of sleep before my flight. Tony and I ate at Planet Dailies (I highly recommend the late-night steak and eggs special) and then got ready to head out.

Tony arranged for an Uber pick up and was going to have the driver drop me off along the way. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out. I saw that the driver noted in his profile that he was hard of hearing. When he got to PH, we went inside his car and the music was turned up at top volume. Tony tried to explain about dropping me off, but he was unable to communicate with the driver. Tony was having difficulty messaging the driver, and the driver responded "no" when I asked if he could read lips. Finally I told Tony that I would just take my own Uber and said goodnight. My ride back to the hotel was uneventful.

I got about an hour of sleep (not much sleep the entire trip), checked out and caught the hotel shuttle to the airport.

It is interesting that this trip to Las Vegas was planned relatively late yet was one of the better ones since I took home a very nice profit, met up with several friends, and had a blast. The only downer of the entire trip was the time spent at the Golden Nugget, which was also the only significant losing session of the trip.

Fortunately, my original summer trip to Las Vegas is now officially less than three weeks away. I will be meeting up with Aussie pal Koala and am tentatively planning a dinner at Hugo's Cellar for the two of us and Alysia on Tuesday, July 18 or Wednesday, July 19. Others are invited. If interested, let me know ASAP.

Thanks for reading!