Monday, March 27, 2006

"...oh, and did I mention that you have zits and I don't?"

I knew that if I kept blogging long enough, I'd eventually get some cool shit for free.

When Emily, a reader of mine, offered me free tickets to a concert, it excited me to realize that my online networking, or whatever it's called, had actually netted me something valuable.

Of course, I am still a few thousand miles behind Ari, who apparently is going to need her own post office if she gets any more gifts from readers. Then again, with the double D's she's packing, I'm sure she's never been a stranger to such innocent generosity.

"Tim, can you come to the concert with me?"

"Where did you get the tickets?"

"My, um, friend gave them to me."


"No one you know."

"Someone from work?"

"Nope. So can you come?"

"Gotta work Friday night."

For Tim, "work" means driving a 15-year-old van--complete with body rot and missing hubcaps--to some bar mitzvah or wedding reception, and serving food to drunk people for four hours, then collecting $300 or $400 for her trouble. If she's lucky, after she has paid for the food, paid her employees, and filled her gas-swilling mechanical dinosaur with fuel, she will return home after midnight with $1.38 in spare change, a headache, and an overwhelming urge to throw inanimate objects at me.

I keep telling Tim that she should take on corporate gigs; she could work during the day, for more money, and she could actually get steady work. She's working on it, but it's going slowly. Believe it or not, I can't even get her a job at my office, because we have a long-term agreement with someone else.

"Since when do you like the All-American Rejects anyway, Steve?"

"I like them!"

"Can you name three songs by them?"

"Dirty Little Secret! I have it on my iPod!"

"Mm-hm... name another one...and don't look it up online! That's cheating!"

"'11:11', 'Move Along', 'Swing Swing'," I say, quickly.

"Oh my God. You like them!"

"Is it so hard to believe that I like music that happens to be made by guys a little younger than me?"




I call Lila. "You like AAR right?"

"I love them!"

"I got free tickets to the show. Good seats!"

"Who gave them to you?"

"Well, I--"

"His umfriend gave them to him," Tim yells.

"Tim is so funny," Lila laughs.

"Why don't you take Lila?" Tim asks.

"Maybe I'll ask Stephanie," I say. Tim scowls.

"Yeah, like Stephanie would really care about the All-American Rejects," Lila says.

"So you coming, Lila?"

"I already have tickets. I was going to go with Sophie, but I guess she can take her boyfriend or something. It sounds like your seats are better!"


Friday, March 17, 7:30pm

Our seats are on the floor. Actually, we don't have seats at all; our tickets entitled us to pink wristbands that give us access to an open area on the floor where we can roam freely, like cattle. In between bands, we grab some food.

A 16-year-old boy approaches Lila and me as we eat our hot pretzels. "Dude," he says.

"Dude," I say back.

"Are you her father?" he asks, pointing to Lila.

"Am I her what?" I snap back.

"You're older!"

"She's my g-... she works for me."

"Nice catch," Lila smiles.

"Are you her boyfriend?" the kid says, wide-eyed.

No, but I used to be. I used to nail her good and hard. Nailed her five times in one day once. You do know what 'nailing' means, don't you, sonny?

"What can I do for you, my friend?"

"Well, how about if you give me your bracelet and I'll give you my ticket, so I can go down on the floor?"

"I doubt it."

"Come on. There's no way you like this music!"

"I think it's time for you to go now," I say.

I was not prepared for the raw energy of these bands. Sure, I saw Rush and Kiss back in the day, and I've seen Aerosmith four or five times. The last show I went to was Bon Jovi, about a year ago. But those dudes are all way older than me. Sure, the amplifiers are still loud, but they don't rock nearly as hard as they used to.

As soon as the All-American Rejects hit the stage, I realize they are no REO Speedwagon. Chris, the drummer, lays down fast beats, almost thrash- or punk-like at times; Tyson spits his lyrics rapid-fire, almost unintelligibly. And Nick flits wildly around the stage with his guitar throughout the entire set, as if someone had wound him up like a kid's toy and turned him loose just as the curtain went up.

People say Mick Jagger has youthful energy. That's bullshit. Mick Jagger has a lot of pep for his age, but he hasn't had this kind of fire inside him for 35 years. These guys, all of them, play and sing as if this is their last day on Earth. They're not thinking about how tired they'll be tomorrow, or the 10-hour bus ride that lay ahead of them; every molecule in their bodies is focused on right now.

When I was in school, I had friends like these guys, people who could scarf down 8,000 calories worth of pizza and Mountain Dew, and then burn 8,500. I could never decide if I should envy them, or take bets on when they were going to wind up in a box.

I remember 22. No matter what I do, my body will never be in that shape again, and I'll never be able to throw caution to the wind the way I used to. It's fun watching guys who aren't so jaded yet. It's also depressing.

Lila and I sing along with most every song. Two teenage girls make out in front of us the entire time--one heavy-set, with a shirt tight enough to show her muffin top, the other with nerd glasses, so stop whacking. Fall Out Boy follows with their own set, and then we head home.

"I'm seeing this guy Nate now," says Lila. "The four of us should get together. I love Tim. She's so cool!"

"She likes you too."

"G'night! Love ya," she says, and walks to her door as my ears ring.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The wind and the baby

New England winds can be harsh.

Sometimes, I mute the TV and listen to it, building from a low rumble, then unleashing its power like a speeding 18-wheeler, and my house creaks and groans in protest. It blows empty recycle bins hundreds of yards down the street, and rips away roofing tiles. Even when I'm driving at 60 MPH, it nudges my car east or west with its angry strength, and I wonder where its fury comes from.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006, 6:04pm
Steve's house

"We're having a baby," Chris shouts over the phone. "I'm gonna be a dad!"

I admire my older brother. Not because he cheated on his wife--though I wouldn't have minded nailing Amanda myself-- but because he confessed to Janet. He told her everything, even though he thought she would leave him. He couldn't live with the secret.

Janet forgave him, even took the blame. "I must have been such a failure as a wife," she said. You probably think that she let him off easy, but she didn't. She knows that Chris is a good man, that he would never do something like that unless he was tortured out of his mind.

So they went to therapy, and Janet was diagnosed with depression. She went on Prozac, and they had sex again. First it was bad sex, quick and tearful, as she learned to trust him again. Then it got hotter, and nastier, and pretty soon they were huddled off in a corner at every family function, her sitting on his lap, whispering in his ear, oblivious to all other conversation in the room.

The wind and the baby make my mind wander.

It was 1982, I think, and my brother Greg was about 8. We had a storm door that didn't close all the way unless you pulled it tight, and mom was always badgering us to make sure it was closed. "Slam that door," she'd yell.

It was a windy winter day, and mom had opened the front door to let the sun in. One of Greg's friends rode by on his bike. "Bob. Bob," he shouted, bursting through the storm door and rushing out to meet him.

He didn't push the door tight, and a gust of wind grabbed it, flinging it wide open with its cold, raw energy, easily snapping the flimsy chain that held it in place. The door smashed into the porch light, which cracked into pieces and fell to the bark mulch below.

Mom reacted instantly, sprinting out the door, grabbing Greg by the arm and dragging him back into the house.

Greg always tells me that I overreacted when it came to mom. He said she wasn't that bad. He wasn't saying it that day.

"You broke a $30 light! You broke it," she shreiked. Do you have $30 to replace that light? Do you?"

"I'm...I'm sorry--"

She cracked him across the mouth. The sound was far more frightening than the light breaking. She hit him again, squarely across the nose, and blood flowed. He turned to look at me in horror, and I recall thinking that it looked like he had a red beard.

Chris and I were just kids, not nearly brave enough to stand up to mom, so we just stood and stared, hoping she'd stop. Eventually she did.

Fifteen minutes after the beating, I saw him at the kitchen table, writing, and I figured he was telling mom how angry he was at her. So imagine my surprise when I saw him scotch taping a sign to the front door, sniffling, a thin trail of blood still oozing from his right nostril:

Family, please do not use this door, or make sure it is closed! Love, Greg

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Now that Super Man Has Eaten Onions, My Very Elegant Mother Jane will Serve Up Nine Pizzas to ROY G. BIV


I hear it every time a new message hits my inbox, which, lately, occurs at least 100 times a day. It's a sound I have come to hate.

I could mute my speakers, but it wouldn't matter. I hear it long after I turn my computer off, when I'm driving home with the radio blaring, or in the shower with water splashing loudly around me. It overrides everything, a psychological trump card that invades my every thought during the day, and then, after I manage to drift off to sleep, it makes me snap awake, my heart racing, my lungs screaming for air.


It's not an unpleasant sound; it's rather musical, really, a friendly, melodic reminder that someone has sent me a message. But these are not emails that can be answered with a "yes", a "27", or a "Bismarck, North Dakota"; these are multi-layered, complex problems that require input from several people, lengthy brainstorming sessions, and pages of documentation.


I've come to hate Ken Lay. Never mind the fact that he is (was) good friends with George Bush, the most incompetent man ever to stroll the White House rose garden, whose moral bankruptcy somehow manages to dwarf that of the treasury he oversees. No, my real issue with Mr. Lay is that, like an immature fifth grader, he has, through his own immoral behavior, made life miserable for the rest of us.

Enron lost billions, and it seems Mr. Lay knew nothing about it. It was those meanies at Arthur Anderson Consulting, you see, who sabotaged his company, completely on their own, and he had no idea what was going on until it was too late. In other words, his dog ate his homework.

We all know that's bullshit. While this sabotage was going on behind his back, Lay was selling tens of millions of dollars worth of Enron stock, while advising his employees to hold on to it. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Similar events happened at Tyco, HealthSouth, WorldCom, and others, and it became obvious that CEO's can no longer be trusted to be straight with stockholders. So now, congress has to force them to. And thus, Sarbanes-Oxley was born.

What is Sarbanes-Oxley? It's a law which makes it a crime for corporations to lie to the public. And to prevent the "I thought I was telling the truth" defense, there are piles of new rules for safeguarding companies against tampering by outsiders.

Last week, I spent three hours on the phone with my CFO: We needed a procedure to prove that our payroll is not being tampered with between the time we submit it to the payroll company and the time we receive our checks the next day. I shit you not.

What does all this have to do with your perverted blogger friend Steve? My employer happens to be a public corporation, and therefore is subject to all provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley. And being the manager of a district office, I am personally responsible for implementing every new program required under the law. It takes me hours every day to deal with the details, and of course, my regular work doesn't go away.

I am lucky to be where I am, and I try to be thankful for my success every single day. But it's getting harder. I work 60-70 hours a week, and I struggle to stay five days behind. Sometimes I think about quitting.

I have always prided myself on my memory. I never used to write down phone numbers, and would easily recall details of conversations that happened months earlier. I used my memory like a tool, intimidating people by reeling off numbers and facts, impressing Tim by reminding her where we were the last time she wore that shirt. I would laugh on the phone with my brother, rattling off lengthy Monty Python quotes in a fake British accent.

When my mind was sharp, there was no limit to what I could do. I could relive important moments from my past, enjoying my memories like a virtual scrapbook, call out answers easily while watching Jeopardy!, and solve newspaper crossword puzzles. I could bang out emails while talking on the phone and answering a question for someone standing in my doorway, all at the same time. But work has destroyed that, consuming every available byte of brain space, overwriting "Cheese Shop" with "sustainable compliance" and "internal controls". At some point, it's going to be too much.

Bonnie will buzz me and remind me that I have a doctor's appointment, and five minutes later have to remind me again. I go for months without changing my oil and forget to have my cars inspected; I skip meals; I promise to be home at six and then, when I walk through the door at 10:30, ask Tim what her problem is, having no idea what her dirty look is for.

She has been great, though. She does my laundry and my errands, and makes me call her an hour before I'm leaving so she can have a nice dinner waiting for me when I get home, and sits across from me as I eat it. She's always eaten already, so she just sits, smiling, talking about what happened on Survivor or American Idol that night.

She cuddles up behind me in bed, locking her body against mine like one puzzle piece to another, running her hand over my chest, worrying aloud about how hard my heart is pounding and whispering in my ear that I'm home now, that there's nothing to be stressed about while I'm here. I know I sound like a pussy, but it touches me that I finally have someone who wants to take care of me, and who I trust enough to do so.

I don't dare complain to Dan Johnson. I know what he'll say: That he's working more hours than I am, that there are 20 men who would kill to have my job, men who are older than me and who have been with the company longer, that I should be thankful to be where I am.

He's lost his sense of humor, Dan. He's gotten meaner, older, less patient. He doesn't ask what I've learned today anymore; he just launches into a monologue when I pick up the phone, before I can even finish saying my name, hanging up before I have time to ask a question.

I used to be all about the money, the stuff, and the power. As I get older I care about those things less. For the first time, I don't want the most powerful job; I want the easiest one. I want to go home when the sun is out, power down my laptop on Friday afternoon and leave it off until Monday. I want to leave work on a Thursday morning and say, "See you guys next week!" I want to take a five-pound sledge to my PC when I hear that brain-eating da-dum sound.

And most of all, I want to remember again.