Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Many years ago, when I was married to pretty high ranking Boeing executive, we received an invitation from her boss to go to dinner.  This is a story from that night…

Her boss invites his entire team. However, the dinner is not at his house.  The dinner is at Norcliffe, at the Highlands.  That’s it.  There is no address.

There are directions.  It’s next to a golf course, so I assume that it’s the country club restaurant at the golf course.  I try to google it and I see no mention of it.  Hmmm…what kind of restaurant doesn’t have a web site or even a review?

All in all, it’s all very mysterious. We get there.  It’s located in pretty far North Seattle.  There’s a guard that has to let us in.  I’m assuming that this is the guard for the country club.  He takes down my license plate and then lets us go through.

We end up descending on a very narrow barely two lane road.  It immediately becomes obvious that this has nothing to do with any golf course.  The Highlands is a private, very private, gated community catering to only the top 1/2 of the top 1/2 of the top 1 percent.

Although it’s dark, as we go down the road, we pass houses that are mansions unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Between the two of us, we make several hundred thousand dollars.  We live in a nice house.  We’ve been to houses of friends and co-workers that are even nicer than ours.  We’ve been to homes of millionaires.

However, these houses are on a completely different scale.  This is like some top secret society that I’d vaguely heard about but have never really understood before.  The homes of people who make more in a week than we make in a year.

Norcliffe (and yes, that is literally its address, there is no other, no house number, no street, just Norcliffe) is at the very end of the drive.  We drive for close to 10 minutes to get there.

The house has a separate building, just for parking.  It doubles as a full-sized basketball court. We park the car and then take a little nature path to the front door, complete with waterfalls.  It resembles nothing more than a large Italian-style villa more at home on Lake Como than Lake Washington.

We walk in.  The first thing we notice are the hats.  In one room, there are literally thousands of hats, arranged by color and style.  There are red hats, blue hats, hats from the 20’s, hats from the 40’s, men hats, and women hats.  There are sailor hats, duck hats, flapper hats, and peacock hats.

The owner of the house explains that she’s going to run a charity auction in support of a foundation supporting foster children.  Apparently, there’s a tea party where people choose the hat that they want to wear and then participate in some kind of silent auction in support of the charity.  It’s not at all totally clear to me.

What does become clear is that the couple that lives there are collectors.  Pathological collectors of random stuff.  Next to the front door is a collection of walking sticks.  Probably a couple of hundred of them of various shapes and sizes.  Some of them have the head of a dog on the handle.  One opens up to expose a compass (you never know when you get so lost with your walking stick that you might need a compass to find your way).

We go into a library and find another collection.  This is a collection of baseball paraphernalia.  Among many other things:

  • There is Babe Ruth’s 1917 contract with the Boston Red Sox
  • There is the 1973 Oakland A’s World Series championship trophy (not a replica, the actual fucking World Series trophy)
  • There is Pete Rose’s jersey the night that he broke Ty Cobb’s all time hit record
  • Speaking of the Georgia Peach, there is Ty Cobb’s bat
  • There is Lou Gehrig’s jersey
  • Cap Anson’s baseball card (he was a turn of the century first baseman).

And so much more.

It’s things that you’d expect to only see at Cooperstown.  A whole room of it.  Hundreds of items.

We go into another room.  There is a collection of paintings.  There is a painting by Thomas Moran.  There is a painting by Albert Bierstadt.  These are both famous American landscape artists.  There is a Claude Monet.  There is a real Tiffany lamp.

The owner of the house strolls in.  He introduces himself as Chris Larsen.  It all becomes much clearer.  He was something like employee number four at Microsoft.  He is one of the minority owners of the Mariners.  He might not be a billionaire but definitely in the centi-millionaire department.

He asked if we had any questions.  Someone asked how he amassed such a large collection of baseball paraphernalia.  Being an owner of the Mariners as well as with the extensive collection, we’d assumed that he’d wax poetic on how important baseball was to him growing up and that he’d wanted to collect ever since he was a kid and that this was a product of many years of work.

However, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said that he’d heard that some auction was putting a number of things up for sale and that he bought the whole lot.

End of story. All in all, he seemed bored with it.  You just got the idea that he has this whole shitload of money, and not sure what to do with it, basically just goes out looking for semi-random things to spend it on.

That’s how the house looks.  The house is jam-pack full of paintings, statues and other things collectible, but you get no sense of any warmth or passion or anything like that from the house.  It’s just a large, beautiful house packed with beautiful things.  No sense of life at all.

I stood there wondering to myself, why would anyone want to live like this?  Is he trapped by his own financial success?

We ended up eating dinner there, using Tiffany silverware.  The food is nice but is all banquet style (aka no choice at all in the manner). There was some kind of pumpkin squash soup.  There was some kind of frou-frou salad.  The main course was some kind of pork entree, followed by a selection of cheeses and then chocolate mousse.  It was a good meal but I really like to be able to choose my own food.

During dinner, the truth of how this came about comes out.  My ex’s boss is head of Human Resources for all of Boeing Commercial.  He serves on the board of the Woodland Park Zoo.  He attended some auction to bring in money to support the zoo.  One of the prizes was dinner for 20 at this house.  He bid and he won it.  He didn’t say how much it cost him, but his wife did comment that his entire family (he has five kids) could have flown to China and back on what he bid.  So, you can only imagine how much this night cost him.

All in all, an interesting night.  As we left, I once again thought to myself how I would never want to live like that.  At what point do you acquire so much money that you essentially become a prisoner to it?  Can you avoid that fate?

I still flash back to when I first graduated out of college.  I joined up at Boeing after having lived a lower-middle-class life in Rat City and then later in Tacoma while going to school.  I literally had no idea how I was going to spend my first paychecks.  I was making something like $24K a year and I have never felt as rich as I did during those first couple of years.

At what point will people / society realize that, once you have enough money for food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and retirement, that money really doesn’t make you happier and in fact, can make you miserable?

As we left the house that night, I flashed back to an issue of Time magazine that focused on happiness.  There was a series of articles in it.  One was about what can only be described as a slightly mad sociologist who’d figured out how to quantify happiness.  Seriously.

He would ask people a set of questions and then would generate a number that represented their happiness.  Bizarre.

He then went literally around the world to all kinds of different countries, peoples, and occupations and asked them the same set of questions.  He then was able to produce what was essentially a world-wide gauge of happiness.

I don’t remember too much from it but the one statistic that I do remember was that American centi-millionaires and Bangladeshi goat herders ended up with the exact same happiness score. That statistic struck me as hilarious.

As I left, the truth of that statistic struck home to me.  Perhaps, maybe the Bangladeshi goat herder was actually under-scored?


Introverts Unite!…Quietly Alone

I am, I must confess, an introvert. Looking at my blog, with its 130 book reviews and 90 movie reviews, this is probably not exactly a shock.

I am in something approaching a leadership position where I work, so I can overcome it. It’s gotten to the point where I’m actually pretty comfortable now speaking up in meetings, giving presentations, and other such nonsense.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been living alone. I have no real burning desire to become the guy that dies at 90, his body  left undiscovered for weeks, and when the authorities finally do break down the door, they’re confronted by ceiling high piles of newspapers, mildewed books, and decades of old magazines. There’s a rabbit warren of barely navigable pathways that lead inevitably to my shriveled, desiccated body, buried under a pile of National Geographics from the 1980’s.

To avoid that, I make a conscious effort to go out, especially on the weekends. I try to make it a point to try a new restaurant, go to a play, concert, reading, or movie, or some other public event where I have to, even minimally, be amidst other people.

This weekend, I had several options. One option was to go to Punk Drublic, which is a punk rock / beer festival. Some popular bands from back in the day were going to be there. I was tempted but it was an all day thing and it was way out in the hinterlands of Tacoma, so if I was to drink (which I would), getting there and back was going to be a minor hassle.

Literally next door from where I live, Chris Rock was performing tonight. Maybe a mile away or so, Jim Gaffigan was performing. At a small club about a mile from me The Beaumonts were going to play. I don’t really know much about The Beaumonts, but they appear to be a Texan honky-tonk punkish kind of band, which sounded fun.

But…there was another option. Without going into too many details explaining why, one of my lifetime goals is to read James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake. For those who don’t know about it, Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s last novel. He spent nearly twenty years writing it, and was blind or poorly sighted for much of that time. He essentially invented a new language while writing it. Eighty years later, there are people still trying to figure out what it’s about. Here are some examples of prose from it:

  • The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. 
  • And the duppy shot the shutter clup (Perkodhuskurunbarggruauyagokgorlayorgromgremmitghundhurthrumathunaradidillifaititillibumullunukkunun!)
  • The (klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatschabattacreppycrottygraddaghsemmihsammihnouithappluddyappladdypkonpkot!).
  • Wold Forrester Farley who, in deesperation of deispiration at the diasporation of his diesparation, was found of the round of the sound of the lound of the Lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk.
  • For hanigen with hunigen still haunt ahunt to finnd their hinnigen where Pappappapparrassannuaragheallachnatullaghmonganmacmacmacwhackfalltherdebblenonthedubblandaddydoodled and anruly person creeked a jest. [205]
  • Let us here consider the casus, my dear little cousis (husstenhasstencaffincoffintussemtossemdamandamnacosaghcusaghhobixhatouxpeswchbechoscashlcarcarcaract) of the Ondt and the Gracehoper.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, those bolded words are one hundred characters long each.

I think that you can see now that, even though I’ve been reading semi-seriously for over thirty years, I have yet to tackle it.

What does this have to do with anything?

Well, apparently someone in the Seattle area has, not only read it, but has decided to memorize it. And not only memorize it, but he puts on shows where he declaims it. His goal is apparently to find the musical underpinnings of the prose.

That’s actually cool on a couple of levels. First of all, apparently there is a rhythm to Finnegans Wake when spoken aloud. More than that, the pre-written word epic poets of ancient Greece used to recite their poems. These poems were passed down from generation to generation by poets memorizing the verses. To aid in the memorization, poems like The Odyssey or The Illiad also have a musical structure, so we seem to be circling back to the arts of the ancients. Lastly, Joyce was nearly blind and Homer was allegedly blind, so there’s yet another weird multi-millenial tie that binds.

The artist is apparently up to chapter four. If that doesn’t impress you, understand that reciting just chapter one takes an estimated three hours.

So, given all of that, imagine my shock and surprise when I saw that he was going to read chapter one Saturday night. Even though I have no idea how such an event could possibly go (if I can’t read it and understand it, how can I possibly hear someone else recite and get anything out of it?), I quickly abandoned thoughts of Chris Rock and decided that I wanted to hear some dude recite from memory some gibberish!

Perfectly normal!

It starts at eight. It’s about a mile and a half away, so I walk. I arrive about five minutes early. It is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There are no lights anywhere. I walk past what appears to be a couple of hyper-local storefronts (one is a hairstylist). I keep walking. I walk past one of the storefronts and the door is open.

I look in and see about fifty chairs set up. It looks like nothing more than one of those storefront non-denominational churches (Rock of Faith, all are welcome!). I look in as I pass by. No one is sitting down. There are three people standing at the front. I figure one of them must be the counter person (tickets must be purchased). The three of them have formed a conversational triad with a level of comfort that implies that they all have known each other for a while. There is no one else there.

I walk past the theater (I guess?) and stand off to the side. No one else comes in over the next ten minutes.

What do I do? If I’m literally the only person in the audience, that will leave me extremely uncomfortable. Even if two of the people are audience members, clearly I’m the guy that doesn’t fit in. What if they ask me about Finnegans Wake and I have to confess that I’ve never read it? That I have to admit that I’m some kind of voyeuristic poseur of avant-garde literature? I was planning on checking it out and then maybe ducking out at the intermission. That’s going to be really hard to do if I’m the only fucking person in the audience. What if it’s really uncomfortable? How am I going to respond if this artist, who has spent God knows how many probably thousands of hours memorizing gibberish, stands in front of me looking sad or forlorn but feels some show must go on duty to make sure that I get my $15 worth? Or even worse, what if he sits next to me, knees touching, and stares at me fiercely, eye-to-eye, while he regurgitates Joycean stream of consciousness at me for three hours?

The pressure becomes too much. I bolt. Like I said earlier, I do try to make an effort to break out of my introvert shell, but this was asking too much. We all have our breaking point and I’ve just found mine.

I think that I’ll see what’s in my Netflix queue.

First Days of R-Ball

My brother and I had visions of becoming tennis players.  However, living in Rat City, unlike someplace like Orange County, there was not a lot of opportunities for coaching or even playing.  We’d walk down to the local high school, which had two courts in somewhat primitive condition.

One year, for some reason, we decided to join a club.  It was called Tennis World, located in basically a converted warehouse in the middle of industrial Duwamish.  It was, I don’t know, maybe 5 miles away from our house (maybe more, but not 10, I don’t think).

When we start going there, I’m probably somewhere around 15 and my brother Brian is 20.  We’re a couple of scruffy Rat City punks with $10 rackets playing on open courts side-by-side with people who are taking this sport way more seriously than we are.  We are continually hitting the tennis balls into other people courts, probably unknowingly committing a host of unwritten tennis etiquette violations, and generally making a nuisance of ourselves.

Eventually, we got sick of hitting the ball 2 or 3 times and then having to trudge off to God knows where to retrieve it, all the while apologizing to increasingly miffed-looking elderly couples in their sparkling clean white attire.  We investigate the club further, and we discover the racquetball courts.  These are enclosed.

Hey!  We can hit the ball anywhere we want and no matter how poorly we hit it, you never really have to walk more than 5 ft or so to pick it up.  We have just lean’ed out our process!

We buy $10 racquetball rackets and start to play.  Eye protection is mandatory.  I’m wearing prescription glasses at this phase of my life, so I just wear those glasses on the court.  Of course, these are not safety glasses of any kind, so if I ever actually got hit in the glasses, not only would the lens probably shatter into my eye, but the frame itself would probably disintegrate into projectiles that would end up lodged deeply in my cerebellum.  I have a pair of old beat up glasses that have an obsolete prescription.  Brian pokes out the lenses from them and uses them as his ‘safety’ glasses.  We’re set.

We’re pretty clueless regarding such things as strategy or technique, so it was pretty pathetic in there.  On top of that, occasionally we’d get mad at each other (or to be honest, maybe just bored with the game), at which point the goal of the match migrated from scoring a point to inflicting maximum pain upon the other.  In that situation, serving became a decided disadvantage, as you became a moving target that the service returner could line up in his sights with minimal ease and with maximum velocity.

Being brothers, we had a code (and this applied to all of our sporting endeavors, not just racquetball).  Never show pain.  Even if you just got absolutely nailed by a rubber ball moving at 100 miles an hour and all you wanted to do was to curl up in the corner and whimper for your mommy, the only acceptable response was to look down at where you were hit, and calmly say…”That’ll leave a mark”.

If anything positive came from this, it’s that I now have zero fear of the ball.  I’ve been hit so many times that I know that really nothing bad is going to happen to me (especially now that I wear real safety goggles).

Interestingly enough, I still abide by that rule.  Now that I’m proficient (and slightly more mature), I actually very rarely hit my partner (95% of the time, I play a guy named Russ).  However, when I do accidentally hit him, I’m serious, he is such a fucking baby about it.  He’ll walk around grimacing in apparent agony, bending over, taking deep breaths, acting as if I just shot him with a bazooka.  I have to feign concern, but seriously, my only thought is a slightly smug…yeah…that’ll leave a mark.

Of course, when he hits me, he is profusely sorry and is genuinely concerned about my well being.  I’m like, dude, I’ve been hit worse in Nerf gun fights.

Another interesting thing between my brother and me is that we were both intensely competitive with each other.  Of course, being 5 years younger, and let’s face it, my brother was a husky guy while I was more likely to be blown around in the wind like a kite.  Therefore, even though I was very competitive and I hated to lose, the fact is that my brother could kick my ass my entire childhood in pretty much all sports (not so much now…revenge is mine!!!).

Brian knew that if we actually played real games, he’d kill me and I’d end up storming off vowing to never play again.  So…we never kept score.  We basically played one very long game (for the entire hour), just like it was a game, except we didn’t keep score…ever.  We probably played for close to, I don’t know, maybe 5 years together, and we never played a real game once.

After I started at Boeing, I played occasionally but I didn’t play much with my brother anymore.  I’d just started working with this new manager, and during some conversation or other, it turned out that he used to play racquetball.  We decided, hey, let’s give it a shot, and now here are, nearly 30 years later, and I’m still playing Russ, once a week or so.

And yes, I keep score with Russ.  Real games.  And yes, I care deeply whether I win or lose.  Over the years, I’ve probably won about 60% of the games that we’ve played. As I’ve aged, especially over the last year or two, some of my competitive instinct has died down. Maybe it’s not life or death that I win every racquetball match.  Maybe I’m actually growing as a person (it could happen!). Perhaps there will come a time when he’ll start dominating me.

However, I have not let that happen yet.  🙂

An interesting thing about Russ is that he’s -very- religious.  When I get tired / excited, I have a tendency to revert back to my Rat City days, so when I miss a shot, all I want to do is to scream an obscenity.

However, Russ really does not tolerate poor language.  Therefore, the most that I allow myself to say is something along the lines of ‘shoot’, ‘gosh darn it’, or ‘doofus’, when really all I want to do is to scream Motherfucker!  It gets very challenging to contain myself.  At one time, we played cut-throat with a guy who was ex-military, and one time, he got really frustrated and screamed in anger “Fucking Jesus Christ!”, which broke I’m not sure how many commandments in Russ’ little book.  Shortly thereafter, we quit playing with him.

Now, over the last several months, I’ve started playing with another partner, a woman. It’s fair to say that she has a significantly more salty vocabulary than Russ. I’m now free to scream, yell, and curse to my heart’s content.

However, after all of these years of controlling it, I find that I can’t. I still find myself saying ‘shoot’, ‘gosh darn it’, or ‘doofus’.

God damn you to hell, Russ.

Make $10,000 A Month From Your Home!

I know that times are hard. The economy has been inching along in a gradual recovery for many years now. This is the new economy where there are no safe assumptions. There is no such thing as a job with security. There is no such thing as lifetime employment.

Therefore, now is the time to strike out on your own. Now is the time to chase your dreams of starting up that business that’s always been there in the back of your mind.

Yes, now is the time to clean out your basement and set up your own private jail. And, boy, do I have the web site for you! This is just a little bit nuts.

Want a spit hood? You can get it right here!

Want a full head restraint that looks like it’s right out of Abu Ghraib? Look no further!

You’ve got a slightly unruly teenager that’s getting on your nerves? Three words…Full body restraint.

It’s all here. There is literally everything here that you could want to set up a jail. You can get everything from holding cells to inmate uniforms to handcuffs. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no check to determine whether or not you’re actually a governmental agency at all. In fact, they advertise that you can buy 1 or 1000.

One stop shop for torturing serial murderers! Act now!

And yes, all major credit cards and PayPal are accepted.

A Boy Becomes A Man

I have a friend getting married soon and his best man is somewhat languidly planning his bachelor party. At this time, it looks like a pretty small group of guys going out for some drinks. I’ll probably be in bed by 10.

And I’m OK with that.

The first bachelor party that I ever attended was one of my brother’s best friends from our neighborhood. I’m guessing that I might have been somewhere around 18, so this places it in the very early ’80s.

Clearly by this time, Al Gore had already invented the internet, but Tim Berners-Lee had not yet enslaved the world with his hypnotic zombie software, so there was no way to seamlessly move from the word hirsute to explicit pornography, alas (this is a very inside joke that I may or may not write about in the future).

You had to go old school. This was a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-who-had-a-dirty-movie technique. Somehow, some way, some where, someone had managed to procure what was then called ‘stag’ films.

Hard liquor has been drunk. My brother has created a ball and chain out of a really thick bicycle chain and a bowling ball. The lucky groom-to-be has been tackled and the ball and chain has been padlocked to his leg using a bicycle lock. He spends the rest of the night somewhat glumly drinking and holding the bowling ball in his free hand.

The time comes. Someone, God knows how (I’m guessing broke into the local elementary school), has acquired a Super 8 projector. The film (and it is a roll of film, not a DVD, not a VHS, but an honest to God reel of film) is presented to the party in much the same manner as I imagined Moses presented to his people the 10 commandments.

The room goes quiet with awe. There is no screen. The film is shown against a white wall in a bedroom. This is a small bedroom. There are probably somewhere around a dozen males, most in their early 20’s, crowded into the room, anxiously awaiting this moment.

The film is spooled onto the projector. With a great clacking noise, the projector begins to play. Of course, it starts off horribly out of focus. Amidst many frenzied, anguished shouts of “Focus!”, the adjustment is rapidly made with trembling fingers.

A couple of comments:

  • The film is approximately 5 minutes long.
  • It is black and white.
  • Judging by the actor’s appearance, the film was first made sometime in the 60’s. How many bachelor parties have had their crowning moment be this very film?
  • Very conventional sexual activity takes place. The wildest scene involves a shower. I don’t even know what hirsute pornography is, but nothing even remotely like that takes place here.

There is no sound. Helpfully, the director of the film decides that an acceptable workaround are title cards. There will be some sexual activity followed by a title card that says “oh!…oh!…oh!…oh!” or “How do you like that, baby?!” (and no, I am not making that up…we’re talking the rarely executed Jenna Jameson / Buster Keaton mash-up). The entire time that the film is rolling, the only sound in the room is…clack, clack, clack.

After the apparently mandated by federal law shot of a man conclusively proving that yes, he has been satisfied (followed immediately by a title card that says “Ahhhhh!”), the film ends.

In the room, there is a hush, followed by nervous laughter, followed by a few nervously executed jokes, at which point, feeling communally slightly dirty, everyone heads back to the kitchen where the alcohol is and the party proceeds in earnest again.

So, yes, you can talk about the miracles of Amazon and Google, but at the end of the day, it’s the porn industry that truly has blazed the internet trail. In so doing, it has fundamentally changed our culture in ways that probably have not yet even begun to be imagined.

Well Played, OSF, Well Played

I’ve been to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival several times now. It’s always pretty amazing because it’s consistently world class theater, but one year I went and it just seemed a little bit odd.

Now, I can’t remember if it was trouble getting tickets or what, but of the three plays that I went to, only one was Shakespeare or even Shakespeare themed. That was Antony and Cleopatra. I’d written about this a bit in an earlier post. It was well done and well acted, but the play itself is just kind of a mess. There’s way too many plot points and set changes. Various scenes take place in Rome, Pompey, Alexandria, Syria, Athens, Actium, and various military camps. They literally had a little teleprompter reading out the location of the scene as it took place. It might have made sense as a movie, but as a play, it’s pretty hopeless. The players did as well as they could, but it was just too discordant. This was the first play that I’d ever been to at the OSF where I was even remotely disappointed.

The second play was the Count of Monte Cristo. In the play notes, it said that it was based upon a 19th century version of the play. The book itself is long. It’s probably somewhere over 700 pages. It’s a big old potboiler revenge melodrama.

Although, since it was a play, it was by necessity much condensed, it stayed truthful to the spirit of the novel. It was kind of this almost silly play with big moments of drama, moments of comedy, moments of dramatic reveal, and moments of tense revenge. It was probably the play equivalent to a big budget action hero movie. I felt like getting a barrel of popcorn and a 64 ounce Coke to go along with it.

Like Antony and Cleopatra, it was well done. It was entertaining. It just didn’t seem to have the depth / complexity that you’d normally expect to have of an OSF production. It just seemed like an odd choice for a play for the OSF to stage.

The third and last play that I saw was Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill. I approached this play with some trepidation. It’s four hours long (give or take). There are basically four characters in the play: a father, a mother, and two sons. In the course of those four hours, they fight, make up, discuss trivialities, discuss insecurities, discuss fears. It’s four hours of a family’s conversation. I was afraid that, even though it’s a great classic of a play, that I would find it a little too theater precious or even worse, possibly dull.

Instead, I was transported. The actors brought their characters to life, in all of their tragedies.

The father (James) is a somewhat wealthy man but whose wealth is slowly draining away. He was a famous actor that once appeared on stage with the great Edwin Booth. He was marked early as a young great American actor. However, at a critical point in his career, he gave up the artistic sensibilities of being an actor and landed a role in a very popular play. He then played that role for the next twenty or so years. He became wealthy from it, but in so doing gave up the dream of being the great artist that he could have been. He clearly has regrets over squandering his gift.

The mother (Mary) is emotionally and physically fragile. The rest of the family is both suspicious and solicitous  of her. It turns out that she has a history of morphine addiction. She has just recently been discharged from a clinic and she claims to be cured. However, at various points in the play, she has mysterious absences that causes the rest of the family to believe that she is once again using.

The elder son (Jamie) is an alcoholic misfit. James and Mary both disapprove of him yet realize at some level they bear some responsibility for making him the man that he has turned himself into. Jamie both idolizes his father and also hates him for knowing that he can never measure up to him.

The younger son (Edmund) is the sensitive poet that everyone loves and worries about. He has tuberculosis, which Mary refuses to acknowledge. Edmund is effectively the audience’s point of view for the play, as he deals with his own mortality, his mother’s addiction, and his brother’s alcoholism.

It was actually a profoundly moving experience. The final scene, with Mary walking around in a narcotic fog while the rest of the family looks on with despair, was heartrending.

In fact, I was so moved by the play that afterwards, I did a little bit of research on it. From that little bit, I discovered that the play was largely autobiographical. In fact, O’Neill decreed that it should not be played until twenty five years after his death. His wife ignored his wishes and it was played within a year of his death. He received a posthumous Pulitzer prize for it.

He did have a brother named Jamie that was alcoholic. In fact, he drank himself to death. His mother, named Mary, had a opium addiction. Eugene himself did suffer from tuberculosis and was committed to a sanatorium sometime around 1912 or 1913 (the date when the play is set).

His father, James O’Neill, was a career actor. As a young man, he actually did appear on stage with the great American actor, Edwin Booth. He had a great future in front of him but instead of going for artistic greatness, he landed the main role in a very popular play. Over the next several decades, he became synonymous with the play. He played it over 6,000 times. From it, he became wealthy but never again would receive critical acclaim.

Do you think he regretted his choice? Do you think he regretted giving up his dream of possibly becoming the next great actor, possibly even becoming his generation’s Edwin Booth, just so that he could build a house by the sea and live a life of relative ease? Do you think that he might have regretted his marriage and his children, those barriers that might have kept him from achieving greatness?

Those are all interesting questions that came out of my research about a play that asked those very same questions. This is art imitating life imitating art.

And, oh by the way, the play that he was most famous for?

The Count of Monte Motherfucking Cristo.

Yes, that play that I was earlier talking about where I was confused why the OSF would put on such an lightweight overtly box office friendly play was the exact version of the play that James O’Neill played in over 6,000 times.

Nowhere in any of the playbills was this referenced. There’s no way that it was a coincidence. It was just some bizarre Easter egg that the OSF directors put in as some kind of weird inside baseball theater that, for I’m guessing the relative few that figured it out, would blow their minds.

Well, my mind was blown.

Well played, OSF, well played.

Who’s On Trial Here?

When I was living in Tukwila, for some reason I seemed to always get jury summons. I probably averaged one jury summons a year. It would be semi-understandable if it was consistently coming from the same courthouse. However, it came from a variety of sources. I remember getting a couple of summons from King County (from multiple court houses in the County), one from the federal courthouse, a couple from Tukwila, and even one from the city of Sea-Tac. I didn’t even live in Sea-Tac. I remember I called them to ask them why they selected me. They said that they didn’t know and they didn’t care. I had to come down anyway.

One day I received a jury summons for the city of Tukwila. I wasn’t too worried, because Tukwila, at least at that time, was a pretty sleepy town. Really, all there is to Tukwila is the Southcenter mall. I figured I’d go down to the courthouse and listen to stories about young men shoplifting teddies from Victoria’s Secret or something equally nefarious.

I did my civic duty and I showed up bright and early in the morning. At the time that I did this, I was, I think, 29 years old. I was by far the youngest person in the prospective jury pool. It was almost entirely composed of retired men and women. Not only that, but at 29, I still was still getting regularly carded at bars. I probably looked somewhere in my early 20’s at the latest.

Some of these people looked at me and gave me these looks like they could just tell that I’m a wonderful young man who probably makes someone a proud grandparent. I was beginning to bask in these feelings when the judge came in and started things up.

The courtroom itself was a pretty modest affair. It basically looked like the set of a cheap courtroom drama. There were a couple of rows of benches in the back of the room. That’s where we prospective jurors were sitting. There was a little guard rail between these benches and where the lawyer sat. Each side had its own desk, which kind of resembled the old desks that teachers used to have in grade school. In the front of the courtroom was a semi-circular wooden structure. Facing the front of the courtroom, the section on the left was where each witness was sworn in and testified. To the left of the witness box was the jury box. On the right was where the court clerk sat. In the middle in a raised section was where the judge sat.

The judge came in and it was all pretty routine, if somewhat small scale. For example, at the King County courthouse, there’s usually several hundred prospective jurors and there’s at least a dozen or so trials going on. Here in Tukwila, there was maybe 25 or 30 prospective jurors, and there was only one trial.

The judge himself looked to be relatively young, probably something less then 40 years old. Everyone rose as he came in. We all sat after he sat.

I stole a look at the people sitting at the two tables in front of me. On the left was the prosecutor. He was the only one sitting at his table. He was even younger then the judge; probably not even thirty, but already balding. He wore a suit, slightly worn, that looked like it was bought at JC Penney.

On the right was the defense. The defendant was a very attractive young woman dressed in a somewhat provocative, tight clinging dress. The lawyer next to her was probably somewhere in his fifties, portly, and was dressed in an improbably green suit.

The first thing that took place was figuring out what jurors were actually going to sit in on the trial. Usually, I don’t even get called; after which I can just go home. However, this time, my name was the first one to be called. In Tukwila, when your name is called, you actually have to get up and sit in the jury box.

So, I got to sit in the first seat in the front row. The bailiff called the other names. All of the other names were retired men and women and they took their places in the jury box.

Thus did the voir dire process start. Most people know, from the near infinite number of legal shows endlessly broadcast, what the voir dire process is. It’s the chance for the two attorneys to ask questions of the jurors and to determine whether or not they’d be acceptable. They can ask pretty much whatever they want to ask. Since I was the first juror selected, I was the first one to go through the voir dire process.

Before the questioning started, the bailiff came over, made me raise my right hand, and promise to tell the truth. With that, the prosecuting attorney proceeded to ask me questions. He first started by explaining that the case involved illegal touching at the Déjà Vu. This was a local strip club. I immediately started sweating a little.

He started off with pretty basic questions. After some initial questions, for some reason, he asked me if I was married. I’d literally just been married the week before. I mentioned this fact, and all of the retired people perked up and they really proceeded to give me the warm puppy dog looks. You could just tell that they were so proud that I was to embark on this wonderful adventure named marriage and that I was going to very soon bless my lucky parents with that ultimate gift, grand children.

The prosecutor congratulated me and made some further small talk. He then mentioned that it was common for young males before their wedding date to have a bachelor party. He asked me if I’d had a bachelor party. I said that I’d had. He said that many times bachelor parties are held at strip clubs. He asked me where mine had been held. The headlights on this train are now rapidly approaching.

You see, I’d been married less then a week. Just before the wedding, a couple of my buddies had taken me out to the very strip club at which the illegal touching took place.

Let me state at this time that it was not my usual habit to frequent strip clubs.

Keep in mind that I was in my 20’s and I was not yet at the height of respectability and responsibility that I am now at. Also, that maybe I wasn’t as discrete in the selection of my friends as I could have been.

Let us now proceed with the story… I took a deep breath, considered the consequences of lying (jail time) versus the near certain public embarrassment about to occur, and after several beats, responded that it’d been at a strip club.

From the retired people gazing lovingly at me, there was an audible gasp. I think I actually saw one reach for his asthma inhaler. Another dabbed at her eyes with a finely croquet-ed handkerchief.

Before this point, the questioning was somewhat lackadaisical. Upon my confession of my near real-time experience with the strip club underground culture, the prosecuting attorney quickly moved to a position directly in front of me and the defense attorney’s head audibly snapped as he jerked towards me. The comely young defendant smiled knowingly and crossed her legs demurely underneath the table. Even the judge, whose head was nodding gently to some invisible dream music, snapped awake and glared down at me.

The prosecuting attorney asked me which strip club that I’d been to. Totally red-faced and seeing the headlights of the train now beaming directly into my eyes, I somewhat glumly admitted that it was the strip club in question. I was really hoping that admitting this fact would cauterize my public wound and they would quickly kick me off the panel, after which I could slink home in shame.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The prosecuting attorney thought that, since I had such obvious first hand knowledge of the whole strip club scene and since apparently from his point of view I can’t go more then a week without going at least once to a strip club, he began to ask me detailed questions regarding the practices at said establishment.

He asked me if I’d received a lap dance. I’d said yes. He asked me to explain what a lap dance is. So, in open court, I explained that the usual practice was that you’d sit at a table some distance from the dance floor. The DJ / MC would call out some dancer (usually named Desiree or Gabrielle or Monique or Gertrude). This woman would come out wearing a tiny little bra / panties number and dance on the elevated platform. There literally is a pole in the middle of the platform (hence the phrase pole dance) and the women would perform various quasi-dance, semi-gymnastic moves on the platform while liberally making use of the pole as a prop. Various popular songs would be playing while this was taking place (Flashdance, Footloose, Dude Looks Like a Lady). At some point during the dance, the top and bottom of the costume would come off. At the conclusion of the dance, the dancer would put back on her top and bottom and then walk from table to table asking if someone wanted a dance. A straightforward dance, where she’d do basically the same thing that she did on stage but much closer to you would be $5. However, a lap dance would set you back $10.

Since I had friends with me and it was my bachelor party, they each bought me a lap dance (which actually, at this place was called, I believe, a Texas couch dance). After they paid, the girl led me to the dark fringes at the back of the club, where a number of chairs of a quality that you’d find at a young man’s first apartment were set along the back wall of the club. She set me down in one of these, and when the next dancer came out with her song blaring on the sound system, the girl started performing her lap dance for me, which in its entirety consisted of her rubbing her back end in my lap to the beat of the music.

In hindsight, a somewhat sordid business. And all of which, I got to explain, in great detail, in open court in front of a couple of dozen of the elderly who were now convinced that not only was I not a shining example of young manhood but a level three sex offender. There was literally no one making eye contact with me now from my fellow jury pool.

And the prosecuting attorney was relentless. I remember him asking questions like, was the woman dancing for you or was her sole purpose to arouse you sexually? After what seemed to be hours of questioning, he turned to the judge and said that I’d be acceptable to him. I was shocked. I thought at least, if nothing else, I’d get the boot.

I was not done yet. The defendant’s attorney, stood up, and started walking towards me. He started to ask me how I felt about the police. I didn’t have any real special feelings about them one way or another. They have a job to do and it needs to be done. I’m not thrilled to see them in my rear-view mirror, but all in all, I’ve got no problem with them.

He then proceeded to ask me if I’d had any run-ins with the law. Thus, the headlights of a second train started approaching me in the tunnel. You see, approximately two years before, I’d gone to a party with some friends, and had just a little too much to drink. I’d gotten pulled over, did the whole how drunk am I test, and ended up getting arrested.

So, once again, in open court, I’d said yes, I’d had a run-in with the police. He asked me if I’d ever been arrested. I’d said yes, I’d been arrested. At that point, with an audible scraping noise, the lady next to me scooted her chairs six inches further from me.

I got to explain, again in great detail, the details behind that magic night. Why the policeman pulled me over (I was weaving and speeding), what kind of tests were performed, which ones did I fail (walk a line, pivot, walk a line), was I handcuffed, did I spend the night in jail and other interesting facts that I’d not previously shared with anyone, let alone with strangers.

By the time that I was done, I wanted to hide underneath my chair. Even then, after all of that, the defending attorney said that he had no objections to me serving on the jury, so I still didn’t get excused.

Between the two attorneys, I imagine that they spent somewhere close to thirty minutes grilling me. The other potential jurors collectively they blew through in about 15 fifteen minutes.

Before the trial started, the defending attorney said that he had a couple of motions to run through before the trial can start. These were motions that the jury was not to hear, so we were excused to go to the deliberation room.

The deliberation room is a tiny little room with one long table with six chairs. I was the first one in (because I was still in the first chair of the first row). I took a seat at the end of the table. As the other jurors trooped in, they all grabbed chairs and moved to the other end of the table. After all was done, I was by myself at one end of the table and the other five somewhat elderly ladies and gentlemen were all piled together at the other end of the table a safe distance from the alcoholic pervert that was in their midst.

They talked nervously about a couple of topics, studiously managing to avoid all eye contact with me. After several excruciatingly uncomfortable minutes, the bailiff came and thankfully rescued me.

The judge was ready for us again. We trooped back into the court room and took our seats. The judge said that because of reasons that we don’t need to worry about, that the case had been dropped.

The prosecuting attorney sat slumped glumly at his desk. The defending attorney sat with a sly smirk. The defendant looked bored as she sat twirling her long black hair. The judge then thanked us for our service and excused us.

All of the other jury members got up to go. I sat in the chair, shell-shocked. I’d just gone through a public examination of my sins, and then at the end of the day, I didn’t even get to enjoy the fruits of my public humiliation and actually get to experience a trial? Emotionally exhausted, I finally got up to walk slowly to my car. I got in, drove home, and promised to myself that no one would ever learn of this story.

About a month later, I was at the local neighborhood grocery store. I heard a voice whisper, ‘Sssshhh… there he is’. I turned and looked. It’s one of the little old ladies pointing out the local pervert to her outraged, protective husband. Shortly, after that, I moved.

A Bad Way to Wake Up

Several years ago, I was living with a woman that is now my ex. At the time, she was very unhappy with where she was working, and one of the ways that this manifested itself was in pretty much an incapability to wake up when the alarm went off. It got to the point where she would hit the snooze button without really waking up eight or nine times before she would finally get up.

One night, we went to bed as usual. Out of a dead sleep, I wake up to the sound of a man screaming. Notice that I didn’t say yelling. It was a man screaming. It wasn’t a man screaming in anger or in pain. It was the sound you’d hear if you were working in a 1940’s era insane asylum. It was the loud, shrill, and piercing scream of a man in a violent, hopeless, manic rage.

It sounded like it was coming from the front door of our apartment. I kept waiting for the man to move away from the door. But he didn’t. For what was an eternity (although only a second or two), he stood at my front door and screamed.

Determined to call the police, I moved to get out of the bed so that I could call 911 on my phone. When I did, I realized that, in fact, he wasn’t screaming from my front door, but was actually screaming on the other side of my bedroom door. He was in my apartment, screaming like a madman.

My bedroom door is unlocked. Any second now, I expected this, whatever he was, man to come bursting into my bedroom. I jumped out of bed and started running to the door. What was I going to do? I had no idea. I just knew that it was up to me to try to fight off this screaming fiend. There was no time to call for help. At this point, I’m sure that I was myself yelling, screaming, and cursing as I headed towards the door, fairly confident that I was possibly on my way to a fight to the death.

As I was running to the door, in my panic, I heard my ex yelling as well. I thought that she was yelling in fright and panic, so I ignored it, and kept heading towards the door.

As I got ready to open the bedroom door, I finally heard what she was yelling…”it’s an alarm, it’s an alarm!”

Apparently the previous night she’d downloaded a new alarm app. Once it goes off, it only goes off at full volume and does not turn off until you pick it up and walk around with it for some number of seconds. The sound options were man screaming, woman screaming, and fire truck. She downloaded it and set it without telling me or testing it.

She was very apologetic and immediately deleted the application, but she clearly thought that this was a very amusing anecdote. Sure enough, I heard her tell it many times in different settings.

And yes, it’s an amusing story. However, whenever she tells it, it puts me right back in the moment, when I quite literally thought that I was, clad in nothing but my underwear, going to have to fight a screaming lunatic, who might have had, for all I know, everything from a gun to an ax, to one of our deaths.

I think it very well could have been the scariest moment of my life.

Know Slang Before You Use Slang

I have two anecdotes that highlight the importance of making sure that you know the meaning of a phrase before you use it. It can lead to disastrous consequences.

The first, and most egregious, happened to a friend of mine. He’s actually a pretty cool guy who knows about things, so it’s somewhat shocking to me that he didn’t know better.

He used to use this phrase as a substitute for kicking ass. He apparently (though never in my presence) used the phrase somewhat regularly. He used it enough that his sister in law started using it as well.

His sister in law is a corporate lawyer for a major (think top 50) company. She was leading a meeting where they were planning a response to a lawsuit. This was an important lawsuit and it was critical that they win it. They planned their strategy, and to make every excited and to go out and, well, kick some corporate ass, she decided to use my friend’s phrase. So, in front, of a meeting full of corporate lawyers, she said that they were going to go out and…um…Donkey Punch the other company.

So, if you don’t know what Donkey Punch means, go to Urban Dictionary. I’ll wait. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

In the corporate meeting, there was stunned silence. Eventually, one of the lawyers pulled the woman aside and explained what it meant. Needless to say, she was horrified. She angrily calls my friend and asks why the fuck would he go around saying that. He had no idea what it meant.

tl;dr A female lawyer told a room full of corporate lawyers that they were going to take on the opposing counsel, have anal sex with them, and then right at the point of orgasm, punch them in the back of the neck so  their sphincter will tighten to maximize the orgasm.

Second anecdote was at work. I was working on a very large military program that was widely dispersed across the country. Therefore, we regularly had phone calls that would have a dozen or more people on them spanning multiple states.

We were working on this one project that involved getting this one guy’s data integrated into the content management store that we were providing. I never met the guy, but it was clear that he was somewhere in his 60’s. He would periodically say things that he clearly heard from, I don’t know, maybe his grandchildren, that weren’t quite right but were close enough that you could grab his meaning.

He had a problem because his data was wildly inconsistent. We needed to get it into some semblance of order so that it could be loaded and analyzed correctly. He understood that but said that automation can only take it so far. At some point, the data would have to be manually tweaked.

As he was explaining the process that he was going to go through, he repeatedly explained that he’d have to…give the data a hand job.

There were people dialed in from several different cubicles in my area. After the first usage of said phrase, everyone popped up like prairie dogs just so that we could look at each other and ask, did he just say that. After he said it two or three more times, the answer was very definitely yes.

tl;dr I’m on a multi-billion dollar military program and someone is apparently going to masturbate their data to fix it.

Please, old people, don’t use slang unless you really, really, really know the meaning of it. Young people already think we’re decrepit, incompetent, and senile.

Don’t feed that fire!



Worst Work Day Ever

I’ve had a rough time at work lately. In fact, there was one day in particular where there was one really bad meeting that had the effect of destroying the morale of my entire team. As we left the meeting, shell-shocked, someone turned to me and asked if this was the worst day of my professional life. This is a tough question, because after all, I’ve been working at the same company for over 30 years.

I took a second, thought about it, and responded no.

Let me tell you about the worst day of my professional life. Before I start, there is one fact that seems random but will ultimately prove to be relevant. My father died when I was a child. Like probably about ninety percent of all Christian burials, the song Amazing Grace was played at his funeral. Even now, forty years later, hearing it takes me right back to the time when my father died and my feelings of shock, loss, and grief.

Back to the story…

This was about ten years ago. I was working on a very large military program. It was so large in fact that it was being run by two companies, my company (Boeing) and SAIC.

At this time, I was working insanely hard.  I was serving as the team lead for a critical system integration team.  This team was responsible for getting all of the defense contractors (and this was a large military program, so nearly all of the big players were involved) to integrate into one platform. If anyone has worked with large companies before, you can only imagine how challenging it is to get all of these behemoth defense companies to work together seamlessly on anything.  Imagine trying to get a herd of elephants to dance in the same Conga line. That itself was more then a full time job.

On top of that, I was working on supporting another program. This program involved me traveling several times a month to such lovely locations as St Louis, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Albuquerque. This was just ramping up and so was making huge demands upon my time as well.

After doing this for a couple of months, I was frazzled. I was trying to do both jobs, each of which was more then full time. I was working 70+ hours a week, I was losing sleep and I was probably suffering from depression. In the midst of this, my then wife was also working extremely hard and traveling a lot for her job, so my marriage was under pretty severe stress as well.

In short, I was not a happy person.

On top of this, some more drama enters my professional life. The main program was so large that it had its own CIO, a man named Rich. Rich was a very controversial leader. My opinion of him was that eighty percent of the time he was actually a talented, visionary, charismatic leader that I enjoyed working for. The other twenty percent of the time he was an asshole. Also, it could at best be charitably said that he was occasionally ethically challenged.  This was a problem.

Reporting to him was a person named Rick (I know, confusing). Rick had been by Rich’s side (as his protege) for probably ten years. This had, on the one hand, worked out well for Rick, because over the last years, as Rich advanced, so had Rick. Rick was now a team leader reporting directly to Rich, the CIO.

However, remember Rich’s twenty percent asshole component. For ten years, Rick had basically been Rich’s go-fer. Although Rick had advanced as a result, eating that much shit from Rich over the years must have been galling. Rick had been open to me regarding the basic contempt that he felt for Rich, but had no way of expressing it or venting it.

At one point, Rich decided that it would be a good idea to hire his son, Dom for the program. Now, if you think about this for one second, big corporations kind of frown on overt nepotism (covert nepotism is a different story), so he couldn’t do it directly. Instead, he had the other company running the program, SAIC, hire Dom.

Shockingly enough, Dom lands in Rich’s organization, and even more shocking, Dom gets almost immediately promoted to manager. What were the odds?

So, Dom is a manager that is reporting to Rick (the team leader) who reports to Rich. So, a son is directly in a reporting relationship to his father, but there is the fig leaf that they’re actually working for separate companies. I don’t know how Boeing buys off on this, but it does.

What does this have to do with me? Dom is the manager of the systems integration team, the very team that I am the lead of. Yes, I’m a Boeing employee reporting to an SAIC manager, who happens to be the son of my CIO.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m already unhappy and stressed. This does not alleviate either of these two conditions.

And then it gets worse. Rick, who has ten years of pent-up frustration built up against Rich, upon whom he really can’t vent (being his boss and all), has struck upon an idea. Sure he can’t go after Rich, but as his direct report, he can sure as hell go after Dom.

So, Rick proceeds to harass Dom and to make him miserable. Dom’s not the kind of person to take this lying down, and after all, his father is the CIO, so Dom begins to plot to take over Rick’s job.

In all of this, they both try to pull me into their respective Machiavellian plans. Rick would regularly call me on the phone and ask me to formally tell him that I have a problem with Dom, which would give him enough justification that Rick could remove Dom. I’m like seriously, you’re asking me to drop a dime on the CIO’s son? Is that the career advice you’re giving me?

Both men are trying to pull me into their little byzantine plots, but I’m actively trying to stay neutral. So, not only am I stressed and unhappy, but I’m also having to actively fight to somehow stay out of some serious Game of Thrones type shit.

While all of this is happening, I’m still working my two full time jobs. For my lead job, I’m being immeasurably helped by a young woman named Jennifer. She’s hardworking and whip smart. The kind of person you look at and realize that you’ll probably be working for her some day. She is handling the business part of the systems integration job, and is doing a stellar job. I basically don’t even have to worry about that part. I let her run it and she only comes to me when there’re questions or problems.

One night, Jennifer and I were working late. She calls me into an empty conference room. I sit down and I notice that she’s crying. In a halting voice, she tells me that, for the past year or so, she and Dom have been secretly dating. They’re now in love, want to go public, which means that she can no longer work on the team anymore, since Dom’s the manager, and apparently that’s the conflict of interest straw that breaks the camel’s back.

I’m speechless and stunned. She was the one irreplaceable member of the team. Once she leaves, there is no one that can perform that business part of the team. I’ll have to somehow find time to do it, and I have no idea how to even start adding that into my work schedule. Not only that, but over the last year or two, as we’ve worked more and more closely together, she’s become a close friend and a confidant, so not only professionally but I’m also losing even more on the personal front.

I don’t know what to do. I’m lost. I’m forlorn.

Knowing no more work is possible that night, I decide to go home. It’s late because, well, it’s always late when I go home. I pack up and head outside. My car is the only car in the parking lot. The building is empty. The parking lot is empty. The entire environment appears as desolate as my soul now feels.

Shoulders slumped, head down, I start walking towards my car. Lifting my head, I see a man. A man standing next to my car. A man wearing motherfucking kilts. A man playing a motherfucking bagpipe.

And the song that he’s playing is…Amazing Grace.

And that’s the worst business day of my life. Things have to get a lot worse before they can even come close to that day, and I very sincerely hope that they never do.