Friday, November 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Brothers: A Death in His Family


Three days ago I received this brief email from my brother Steve:

“I just saw that John Roberts that I graduated with died Friday.  He was Danny's brother and I was wondering if you had heard how he died or anything about it.”

No, I hadn’t.  I located the obituary online, and couldn’t believe what I saw.  John Ira Roberts, 44, of Point Marion had died unexpectedly on Friday at 3:05am.  The funeral had taken place on Sunday.  

I went to the funeral home’s website & signed the guestbook, and sent my old friend Dan a condolence note.  I may or may not hear back from him, as it’s been a long while but I hope I do.   I still don’t know what happened, but I am guessing “unexpected” means something sudden, like a stroke or heart attack.   While I knew John was once a truck driver for many years, I did not know he was married and had children.

Just to clarify, John was the younger brother of my oldest friend Dan Roberts.  Dan & I met in the fourth grade and were best friends for 25 years.  As kids, he spent as much time at my house as I did his, and we ‘parted company’ sometime in the mid 90s, after Dan married and had a couple more kids, and I moved to Pittsburgh.  (I’ve only seen Dan twice in fifteen years, sad to say.) 


John Ira Roberts, Nov 14 1966 – Nov 19 2010


When I showed the obituary and funeral write-up to my sister Shawn, she asked me how well I had known John.  Not very well, I’m afraid.  I remember going to Danny’s house often after school or on the weekends, and thinking how much John reminded me of my own little brother Steve.  They were born the same year, and were both your typical farm kids, though John had an “ornery” side to him, and an infectious laugh.   This is a dumb memory, but I remember sitting at his family’s dinner table one evening & declining an offer of broccoli because they reminded me of “little trees”, and John broke out in hysterical laughter.  He liked to tease me about it for a couple years afterward.

I only wish I had more memories to share of ‘John Ira’, as growing up, his family was pretty much my second one.   Dan was like a brother to me of course, but I felt close to all of them.  Their parents William & Freda, their sly older brother Bill, and their lovely sisters Yvonne & Jean Carol. 

It’s been many years but the loss is felt just the same.  Rest in peace, John.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A little gray matter, and I’m not talking brains

Gray Indian



This all began a couple days ago, on Friday.  I was at the office, plugging away, when Linda (a coworker) walked past and remarked that she was surprised at how gray my hair was, and said (with a wink) “don’t let this place age you!”   I knew my hair was showing it’s age, but was still surprised when I fished a small mirror out of my desk & saw my noggin under those florescent lights—where the hell did all that gray on top come from?!  

The lighting there is a lot brighter than my bathroom mirror at home, but I wasn’t expecting such a drastic change at work.  I made a mental note to stop at CVS on my way home & pick up some ‘stuff’.  It had been over three months since my last dye job, I knew I was overdue.

I confess—a little over eighteen months ago, I began noticing a graying at the temples.   I hated it, it reminded me of Ward Cleaver from ‘Leave it to Beaver’.  I worried that if left untreated, I’d look like Paulie from the Sopranos, with those big white wings on the sides of my head!   So after doing some exploring at the drugstore, I thanked God I was a man (I’m sure you’ve seen the endless rows of women’s hair color) and basically had three colors to choose from--light, medium or dark brown.  I began touching up my temples, usually once every other month.

Just for Men - Medium Brown

I kept up the practice for awhile, and when the gray began creeping upward, I simply poured the concoction over my entire head. I never had a bad experience with the stuff, and in fact was always surprised at how nicely it turned out.  It made me feel like ‘my old self’ to have a head of dark hair again.   And when the silver started making its way back faster, I switched from 8 weeks, to six, to once a month.

When I informed my barber what I was doing, he said “You won’t keep that up forever, it gets old fast.”   Nope, I thought—I’m no Richard Gere or George Clooney, I won’t get better looking with gray hair.


July 2010, about 2 weeks after my last dye job; those sides are stubborn!   A lot has changed since this too


Anyway, my barber was right; I picked up a box of Just for Men on Friday, but it’s been sitting on my kitchen sink ever since.  I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle, and I’m wondering if it’s a good time to throw in the towel (the one stained with Medium Brown hair color) & admit defeat.  I recently read a quote that struck home:  “Forty is the old age of youth, and fifty is the youth of old age.”  Well, I’ve got another year to go before I hit that fiftieth milestone, and if I’m not going to act my age, the least I can do is stop hiding from it.

1980… it was a very good year.  For hair, at least!

Shawn & me, 1980

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Don’t worry, just read & be happy


I’m in a love-hate relationship with Barnes & Noble.  Recently I purchased one of their ebook readers, a “Nook”.   This wasn’t an impulse buy either, as I’d been wanting one of these contraptions for some time.  Originally my heart was set on an Amazon Kindle, after seeing a woman on my bus with one; it looked private and convenient. 

So last winter, around the same time I decided on buying one, B&N said “Wait, before you buy a Kindle, look at this!”   They were rolling out their new e-reader, the Nook.

I liked what I saw—it was similar to the Kindle, but included an MP3 player and a beta web browser.  It was a little smaller, a little heavier, but was getting great reviews (and okay, looked pretty stylish too).  But what really set it apart was a color touch screen below the reader that also displayed all the books in your e-library.  I was drooling!   At the time though, it was kind of pricey ($249) and bound to have bugs being a brand new product and all, so I made myself wait at least 6 months before buying one.  


My ‘e-library’; I currently have around thirty books, but it can hold thousands—also magazines, newspapers,songs, photos, etc.


I’m glad I waited, because they worked out the kinks and lowered the price too.  So last month I finally decided the time was right & bought one.  It’s a cool device, and renewed my interest in reading (which has been on the decline for the last couple years.)   You can browse the Barnes & Noble e-Bookstore right on it, there’s ‘Free Ebook Fridays’ and it only takes a few seconds to download Mackenzie Phillips drug-laced tell all.  (Or ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, better?)

To be honest, when I first got it I found it a bit peculiar that I needed a reading lamp, just like a regular book—but then I visited an online forum of Nook fanatics, who explained to us newbies that it uses “e-ink” which is supposedly easier on the eyes, and besides your “real” books don’t light up either, do they?  Well no, but they’re not electronic.   It would’ve been nice though.  Maybe someday, in the far future…

And then last week, after I’ve had my Nook a total of 4 weeks, I get an email from Barnes & Noble:   “As a Nook owner, we thought you’d like to know—on November 19 we’re releasing a brand NEW Nook, the NOOK COLOR.  Wait, what?!  If I’d only held out a little longer!


The whole screen is now a touchpad, not just the bottom; you can read magazines in full color & without any external light source, son of a—!


Of course, the Nook forums are now full of Nookies (you know, Nook Groupies) telling everyone not to panic, this is not replacing THE Nook, it’s just another model to the B&N lineup.  “And besides, for reading the e-ink is best!”  Uh-huh.   

So after spending a couple days sulking over the lousy timing, what could I do?  I shrugged my shoulders and got back to reading with my Nook.  And y’know, the more I use it, the more it hit me—I love this simple thing.   (It also helped when I learned the new Color Nook only holds an 8 hour charge—my Nook’s battery lasts at least a week.)   So fine, Barnes & Noble—unveil your new reader in a couple weeks, I hope you sell a million of ‘em!

(And I’ll just wait six months or so until they work out the kinks and drop the price some…)