Friday, October 26, 2012

Travels and travails

I'm sitting on the couch with my laptop, typing this post and watching "All the President's Men" on TCM. The last two weeks or so have been nonstop, and tonight, I finally feel like something isn't impending. That's false, because things are pending -- contract work, shifts at the newspaper, soccer, more soccer, registering the boys for basketball, Halloween, NaNoWriMo.

We went to Moab last weekend for a little vacation. The trip was fun, culminating with Lori running a half-marathon. As we walked to the car following lunch in Moab after her race, very suddenly, I felt a cold come on. We stopped in Price so I could buy some Cold-Eze and attack the cold, because two hours in, I knew it was going to be annoying. I got a flu shot last week, and I wonder if it was simply a residual effect of the immunization. Nevertheless, it hit quick.

Lori got a one-day break before departing for Milwaukee on a work trip. I felt miserable Monday, slogged through Tuesday, and felt a little better Wednesday. The whole week felt like a slog. Usually, I get by fine when Lori is out of town -- sure, we endure some little dramas, but the boys and I do fine. This week, maybe because of the cold, maybe just general chaos, might have been the toughest time I've had without her. I felt so unproductive all week, even with everything pending. On top of everything, Salt Lake City got hit with an early snow, further clouding my general mood.

So here I am tonight. Lori flew back this evening, and we went from the boys' Halloween dance at school to the airport to pick her up. Tomorrow morning, I'm coaching two soccer games, then we go to a Real Salt Lake game in the evening. I work Sunday, then another crazy week ensues. But that's OK. Tonight, as I type this and watch my favorite newspaper movie, I'm decompressing. I'm blaming this past week on the cold. Next week will be better.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Walk the walk

(It's been more than a week since my last post about fall. On the bright side, my Internet is finally faster. Alas, my PC is just slow ...)

This post recalling autumns past is actually about two years: 1993 and 2011. The story starts 19 years ago.

Lori and I had been dating about five, six months in the fall of 1993. She was living at her childhood house on Milwaukee's far west side, keeping it up while her parents, who had moved to northern Wisconsin a few years earlier, tried to sell it. We used to go for long walks at night in her neighborhood and nearby Wauwatosa, just talking, getting some exercise and breathing in the cool fall air. I loved these walks.

As we walked through the residential neighborhoods, I would look at the fronts of houses, some of them with the window shades open, and wonder about the occupants inside. What were their lives like? What did they do today? Were they bored tonight after a long day of work? I didn't want to think that these homeowners were mundane, but I could felt that the mere fact they owned a house, shuttled their kids around, worked a 9-to-5 job, came home and settled in for the night was a little boring. It was a life I couldn't yet comprehend. I was fewer than 18 months out of college, had my foot in the door for my dream job (working at a newspaper), worked non-traditional hours, lived on a more vibrant, younger side of the city, and had a new girlfriend and was falling in love. I didn't disdain what I was seeing; it was just that life I witnessed as we walked might have well been another planet.

Jump ahead 18 years. I don't take as many night-time walks as I once did, and when I do, I'm either running and/or listening to my headphones. But with us adopting Popcorn last year, the number of night-time walks exploded last fall. They started out small but got longer as the dog kept growing. I usually listened to (and still do) fantasy football podcasts off my smartphone during the walks. I found myself looking forward to walking her, to the point that when fantasy football season ended, I found other podcasts to listen to instead of just taking my iPod. Part of the satisfaction with these walks surely was just owning a dog again, but another part was a little bit of serenity I've always found on walks.

For the first time since those walks with Lori two decades ago, I found myself looking at the houses in our residential neighborhood, wondering about the occupants inside. What began to occur to me was that I had become one of those people I wondered about when I was 23. I own a house. I shuttle kids around. My work schedule is still non-traditional, but there's still a clear routine (one in which I'm settling in after walking the dog). But I don't feel bored. Restless sometimes, but not bored. Did I misjudge Wauwatosans way back when or simply not understand them? I understand now. Those people were home. Maybe home wasn't the happiest place for all of them, but it was home. Home was something different to me back then. It's evolved as our lives have evolved, from being 20-somethings falling in love to being a happy family with kids, a mortgage and a dog. It was something I couldn't understand just walking past, but instead, until I lived it. Then it took a few extra years to even realize that.

The walks with the dog are more routine now, and I'm worried I see them more as a necessity rather than an opportunity. I do know this: Every walk ends up at home.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Internet intermittent

I'm fondly remembering the days of dial-up.

In 1996, my first foray into the Internet was via America Online. We got a disk with the new computer, plugged our phone into the tower, logged in, endured 30 seconds of an annoying connecting sound, and voila, we were online with a reminder that "You've got mail!"

It all seems so quaint now. We just take instant Internet for granted. Within a couple years after moving into our new house in 2003, we had DSL installed. Double-click on the Netscape shortcut (damn, Netscape sounds so quaint too -- I must have switched to Firefox very soon after) and I was on the web much sooner. And it worked better as well. It had to work better with the arrival of YouTube and websites that ravenously gobbled data. Songs would that would take 20 minutes to download from Napster (the nostalgia continues!) took only two on iTunes. DSL was wonderful.

Eight years later, our Internet is slow again. I thought maybe it was just my older computer, but this week, our Internet slowed waaaaay down, to the point it wasn't working. Though it came back hours later, the phone company tech who came out said the line coming into the house was just slow.

As a result, we are upgrading to a speed eight times faster and switching from the old turtle-esque phone line to the fiber optic line. We got the new phone/Internet package for less than what we were paying before and got a new modem free. The faster Internet starts Tuesday. I can't wait.

In the meantime, I'm fondly recalling when no one watched video online because it was too slow. I remember when it would take 20 minutes to download one song off Napster. I'm remembering to dulcet tone of the dial-up. And I remember how awesome that 1996 computer seemed in comparison with my old Atari 400.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Paydirt

(Click here for my last post about fall and how nice Wisconsin is this time of year.)

Football is in the fabric of every fall. No matter how much I don't want summer to end, I know that football season is one thing I will look forward to every September. And yes, the football memories abound from all these autumns.

I blogged about my grandfather taking me to a Bears game when I was 9. That wasn't my first Bears game, however -- I went with my dad to one a couple years earlier -- nor was it my last. I saw my high school's football games; unfortunately, the four years I was in high school might have been the losingest stretch in the history of the school (1-8 my junior year, ouch). I saw my first college game at the University of Illinois when I was visiting friends in 1988, then saw a bunch once we moved to Madison. I covered high school football as a reporter. I collected football cards and 25-cent helmets from gumball machines. I played Tecmo Super Bowl. I still own a Mattell Electronic Football II (the green one). I've played fantasy football since 1995.

Yet one of my favorite football memories is from playing the game, not watching it.

No, I never played organized football. Are you kidding: I would have been crushed. But I did play pickup games with my friends. Mostly tag, in the street, but sometimes tackle at the park. There was a stretch of street near our house bordering a long, wide stretch of lawn (before it got to the sidewalk), and the owner didn't mind if we played football there. We would tag on the street, tackle on the grass. I'm lucky I didn't get killed -- I was so skinny, and most of my friends were older.

In 1988, my first month of college, I came home for a weekend. There's something about that first trip home after you go away to college -- everything seems ... quaint. My high school friends were all off at their colleges, so I hung out with the friends from my block, the older ones who I didn't keep up with as much once I got to high school. That Saturday afternoon, they were going to play pickup football with some other guys they knew, and I joined them.

My friend Jim is four years older than I am. When I was little, he would pick on me more than anyone else. He outgrew that, but there was still a clear delineation -- he was older and I wasn't. By 1988, he already had served a stint in the Air Force and was married. That afternoon, he was on the other team, and something he wasn't used to happened: I tackled him

It shouldn't have surprised him -- after all, I was taller than him by this point. But it still did, and maybe annoyed him. On his next play when our team had the ball, even though I wasn't involved on the play, he felt the need to bring me down. I wasn't hurt and laughed it off. I knew why he did it: Little Joey had upset the past order of the Rascher Avenue universe.

I had dinner with those guys that night and played Nintendo with Jim. Even though I was still 17, I felt like an adult that night, not because I was hanging out with the older guys, but because I was one of the older guys as well.

We're all adults now -- parents, no less -- and the tackle football days are long gone (and a little reckless, in retrospect). The kids in us still remain, and I can't see those guys without wanting to reminisce, or at least to count off on a pass rush, "One-one thousand, two-one thousand ..."

Monday, October 8, 2012

Walk and ride

(My last post about fall was from 1983; I'm zipping ahead to 1998 in this one)

We have lived in Utah for 12 years, and though there are some things I miss about the Midwest (SuperDawg and Leinenkugel's top the list), we don't miss the weather. Winters here aren't as cold and not nearly as snowy, May is absolutely gorgeous, summer is hot but not humid, and fall so far has been sunny and warm. That said, I miss the Midwestern fall, particularly the northern Wisconsin fall. The temps here in Salt Lake stay warm into October, it briefly cools off into sweatshirt weather, and then, it's winter. In other words, true fall is truly short. I don't mind the extended summer, but if winter is going to happen, you might as well enjoy the fall.

While living in Wisconsin, we didn't get up north in the fall to visit Lori's family as much as I originally thought we did. I can remember three fall trips and that's it, and one was a weekend to Wausau in which I was a zombie after working very late on Friday night (and it was my birthday weekend -- past the peak colors). Fall weekends were so dominated by Wisconsin football that if we weren't seeing a game, I was likely working the days around it. But in 1998, we made it to the Northwoods for a memorable, and tiring, weekend.

We had already planned to visit Three Lakes that weekend, which also was Eagle River's Cranberry Fest. We bought new bicycles that summer, and one of the Cranberry Fest events was a 30-mile ride through the woods at the most colorful time of the fall. The ride was scheduled for Sunday, and when we were pre-registering, we discovered we got a discount for also signing up for the 10-mile walk. Being adventurous, we registered for both.

The walk was nice though tiring. It started in town on a gorgeous morning, found its way to one of the many lakes, included a boat ride across said lake, then returned back to town. Years later, we would end up going to the same park the boat landed at with Michael when he was little, and also hike by a resort we stayed at twice last decade. We got free ice cream at a gas station, then shuffled back into town. I had brought my Walkman and was listening to the Wisconsin football game (playing at Indiana; the Badgers would barely win) and giving Lori updates. We got back to the festival tired but feeling a sense of accomplishment.

The bike ride was even prettier, winding through the back roads southwest of town. We felt great through the first 20 miles of it, but the tour turned hilly and drained any remaining energy we had. We got back to the festival exhausted, but we didn't have too much time to rest: We had to drive home to Madison and I was working at 4 a.m. the next morning.

Despite our fatigue, this was one of my favorite fall weekends from my 12 years in Wisconsin. Today, traveling back to the Midwest in the fall is near impossible -- between soccer, school and work, fall is so busy. The leaves in the mountains change colors and are pretty, but it's a narrow window before they start falling. And the leaves down here in the Salt Lake Valley are unpredictable, particularly when it's warm one day and cooler the next. Maybe one year we will make it back and get Ben to do the hike and Michael the bike ride (which, despite the length, he would love). In the meantime, we have our own fall memories to make here in Utah.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Living on the edge

(Still reminiscing about fall, still looping back in time after my last post about 1995.)

In grade school, from 1981-1984, I was an altar boy at our church. I tell people this and get some snickering, considering all the scandals with Catholic priests over the decades, but that's the (unfortunate but sadly not inaccurate) stereotype and not the norm. I didn't mind being an altar boy, and it was the kind of thing that was expected for boys at our Catholic grade school (this was before most churches switched to altar servers, letting girls help out at Mass as well). But there was one Mass assignment altar boys dreaded: the 6:30 a.m daily liturgy. You usually only got it one week a year, but it was for all five weekdays, 6:30 a.m., in a near empty church. It was so early.

In September 1983, I likely served 6:30 a.m. Mass for the last times. I woke up around 6 a.m., got dressed, and if I was lucky, either a parent or my grandmother (if she was staying with us that week while my grandfather was out of town for work), I would get a ride to church in time to light the candles, fill up the water and wine vials, and assist with Mass. The service averaged maybe 20 people, half of whom would get Communion right at the beginning and then head to work. The rest of the church was empty (I bet a reason why newer churches have chapels -- and St. Eugene's church wasn't that old, built maybe in the early '70s). The priest would barely give a homily (if he gave one at all), and the whole Mass was done in a half-hour. The only thing tough about serving 6:30 Mass was it was 6:30 a.m.

This memory isn't about Mass itself but getting ready for it. Chicago has some insanely early sunrises, but by  late September, it was dark when I woke up. I turned on the radio as I got dressed to hear "Livin' on the Edge" by Jim Capaldi. The song wasn't a big hit nationally, but WLS played the heck out of it and was one of the most-played songs on the station that year (No. 21 on the end-of-year survey). In a fall in which I was enraptured with music videos, I didn't see "Living on the Edge" until way into my adulthood when I found it on YouTube.



And that's it. That's the fall memory. Fall 1983 was full of memories -- a lot of taping songs off the radio, watching music videos, playing Dungeons and Dragons, my Atari 400 and being an eighth-grader -- but this is the one I keep coming back to. I'm not sure why, either. Maybe the dark morning that foreshadowed a long winter lingers in my brain three decades later. Plenty of songs hold memories for me this fall; maybe "Living on the Edge" stands out.

Maybe, I was so out of it at 6 a.m., the song was the only thing that registered that morning. I already wasn't a morning person in 1983.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mad fall

(My last fall post jumped from 27 years to 2006. Staying non-linear, this one falls back to the 20th century).

In October 1995, I got a new job. I had been working at a newspaper in Milwaukee since college, but after almost five years, I was still part-time. For the last 18 months, I was almost making full-time money with extra shifts, stringing and a temporary full-time assignment. But by 1995, I was still technically part-time with few benefits. I was tired of waiting for the promotion that wasn't coming (and became less imminently likely after the two papers in Milwaukee merged -- I was just happy to still be employed). I theoretically was going off my dad's health insurance at 25, and with Lori and I not quite ready to get married, I pushed ahead with a job search.

After a few interviews, I finally was hired in Madison. Lori and I were both so excited -- she loved her old college town, and I finally had taken the big step I had coveted since I graduated three years earlier. We drove out to Madison on one of my days off to find an apartment and for Lori to interview for a job (which she got). The day was cloudy, but we were pumped. I discovered a '70s station in Madison and listened to it while driving around the city while Lori was interviewing. We visited several apartment complexes, ate lunch at an Irish pub, and basked in the imminent move.

The rest of that October was crazy while we moved our lives to Madison. That Saturday night, after my dad and sister, who helped us with the move, had left to return to Chicago, I took the Celica (my grandmother's old car; they had just given it us that week) in search of Chinese takeout for our first meal in the new apartment. I asked at a gas station and found a good place somewhat nearby. But as I drove around that my new city that night, I felt as if I had finally arrived. Enormous confidence. The new adventure had begun.

That first month in Madison was cloudy. And it was frenetic. Lori was still working in Milwaukee for a few more weeks and commuting. I explored my new city after work (I was on extreme morning and was usually off by 1 p.m.). I took walks in the neighborhood behind our apartment complex, including down one wooded street without sidewalks (and I still remember the CD I was listening too -- a Sounds of the '70s compilation with "Hold the Line" by Toto on it; I was big on '70s music in the mid-1990s). We went to a couple Wisconsin football games. We tried new restaurants in our new west-side neighborhoods, including Griff's (a burger/custard joint, which I miss; just found out while searching for a link that it closed a couple years ago).

The novelty of our new town wore off a little as the fall ended. The '70s station changed formats after Thanksgiving. Lori started her new job in Madison.Winter arrived, and winter in Mad Town was no different than in Milwaukee (cold and snowy). We loved Madison, but it became less new, especially for me, as we settled into our lives there.We were engaged six months later, married in 1997. Though we flirted with the idea of settling down permanently in Madison, eventually, we left for Utah in the summer of 2000 and have been here since.

The grayness of fall, the falling temperatures and the early evenings can feel bleak, but it does sometimes remind me of the start of a big chapter in our lives. The clouds hovered over a new adventure in 1995, but the sun was shining behind them nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October

October is orange and red and yellow. The leaves are these colors. The candy are these colors. The decorations are these colors. I dare you to find blue in October.

October is a sweatshirt. A fall jacket. Blue jeans are reintroduced this month. So are everyday socks.The sun creeps lower in October, but it still feels warm on your face when a cool breeze tests that sweatshirt.

October is the perfect month to run. Run for the soccer ball. Run in the woods. Run a crossing pattern. Run into leaves.

Life seems more settled in October. The two months before and the two after are full of transitions. Not October.

The moon is simply way cooler in October. You know this to be true. And this month, it's OK to be a little scared.

October is "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls and Tears for Fears' "The Seeds of Love." It's baseball's last, magnificent gasp. It's "Risky Business" and "Pulp Fiction." It's a rake and endless bags of leaves.

This is October.