Saturday, November 26, 2011

Angels and ministers of grace defend us—or me, at least


A couple days ago (the day before Thanksgiving), I had just gotten home from work & was changing my clothes to run some errands.  I wanted to do a little grocery shopping, get a full tank of gas & pick up the pecan pie I ordered from Lincoln Bakery to take with me to my sister Shawn’s house for Thanksgiving.

I was sitting on the edge of my bed, tying my shoes when I heard a soft thump in the other room, like something had fallen.  I came into the livingroom and saw nothing out of the ordinary, so I grabbed my jacket and opened my front door—and this was on my welcome mat.  (Oh good, it’s in large-print too.) 

I looked up and down the hall to see if anyone else had gotten one of these on their doorsteps—nope, I was the only one.  (And I happen to know three of my neighbors--Rich, Vanessa & Jean—weren’t home to retrieve anything.)  So I wondered, what the hell did I do to warrant getting this ‘divine message’?  (Oops, perhaps I just answered my own question.)  The thing is, I suppose it bothered me that someone wanted to toss some religion my way, but didn’t have the time or courage to ask if I wanted it first.

I’ve never hidden my beliefs (rather, lack of) about religion, but then again I’ve never come out in opposition to it either.  A few years back I wrote a blog titled “Why Is it So Hard to Believe” but wound up deleting it because I saw myself in ‘both camps’.  I questioned why atheists are so insistent there’s nothing beyond the here n’ now, while people of faith have to see things as holy or divine.  Can’t there be a middle ground?  I’m parked somewhere in there. 

Vacation Bible School, 1973—that’s me & Shawn in the back, Steve and Donda in front.  Why can’t things be as simple now as they were then?

I guess I’m just feeling a little... something right now because it seems like lately, God has been coming out of the woodwork.  Tuesday night I was leaving the office and feeling a bit dispirited about things in general, when a young African American woman got on my elevator at the 16th floor; she had a name-badge that read “Angel”. 

We stopped on the 15th floor, another woman got on & saw the young lady’s badge and said “Is that short for Angela?”  and Angel said “No, my mother said I when I was born I looked like an angel” (she still does) and the other woman said “we can’t have too many angels can we” and smiled at me, and for some reason it gave me a goosebump or two.

So when I got off the elevator and out the building and hurried to my bus stop, worn out and anxious and soaked with rain, I guess I did think “wouldn’t that be nice if someone up there really was looking out for us”.   Cut to Wednesday and a Book of Psalms mysteriously plops at my feet when I open my front door.  Go figure.

I know, I know—it’s just a coincidence of course.  But I couldn’t help but shake my head a little on Wednesday after I set that holy book down, grabbed my keys and went to pick up that pie for Thanksgiving.  Lincoln Bakery has got some logo there.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone

Lincoln Bakery

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanks to Stephen King, I no longer need to change the past—he’s done it for me

 In the 1980s, this pretty much was my mantra:  “Regrets, I’ve had a few.”  It began when I had a fight with my parents & moved out at 17, to working a succession of minimum wage jobs and dropping out of college.   At the age of 25, I was uneducated, unemployed & homeless.

I often fantasized at the time, “What if I could go back in time, just ten years or so, and warn my 15-16 year old self “Do this, not THAT.  And don’t do this, do THIS instead?” 

Even after I got my head on straight and began making some right decisions, I still dwelled on the past:  “If I had just said ‘not interested’ to that girl on the bus...if I’d just turned down that cigarette from that waitress at the Pancake House…where would I be now?” 

(For all I know, even worse off.)

So perhaps it’s those younger fantasies of fixing the past (and love of history, and outright adoration of all writings of Stephen King) that has me in amore right now with his latest novel, “11/22/63”.  I am reviewing an 850 page book, of which I am currently only 179 pages through.  It’s THAT good & I don’t need a fortune teller to tell me how I’m going to feel when I finish reading this terrific story.

Jake Epping is a 35 year old schoolteacher and just starting summer vacation when he’s asked by the owner of a local diner (whom Jake frequents daily) to pay him a visit.  Our schoolteacher does, and is surprised to encounter Al (who owns the diner) looking much thinner and much older than just the day before.  

 Al carefully explains to Jake that sometime back, he discovered an exit of sorts, in the back of his diner’s storeroom.  And if you approach it from just the right angle, you’d find yourself in a grassy area behind a textile plant in September 1958. 

(It’s where the diner now sits in 2011.)   It’s always the same date & time when you arrive—September 11, 11:58 am.  And no matter how long you choose to remain there, for a 10 minute visit at the local malt shop or to plunk down roots and re-live the 1960s, if you return to 2011, only 2 minutes has passed from the time you left. 

It turns out that Al the diner owner had been living in the past for several years, only to be diagnosed with terminal lung cancer by a doctor in Dallas in 1962.  He had no choice but to return to 2011 (considerably older looking, given the 4 years he lived there with his disease) & find someone who will carry out his carefully laid out plans to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he can kill President Kennedy. 

Of course Jake has plenty of questions—are you off your rocker (then again, he just saw Al yesterday and he looks very different today) and if all of this is true, can you change the past??   Yes—Al explains he carved his initials and ‘2011’ on a tree in ‘58, returned to the present & located the tree—with some 50 year old carvings now in it’s trunk.  The future (or present) has been changed.   And the only way Al can convince Jake things are on the up-and-up is to have the teacher step through & take a look-see himself.

 ”Who’s that man in the odd looking clothes?”

Jake does, of course—who wouldn’t?  And like Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, finds things very different.  The air is stinky with pollution from a nearby factory that’s been shut down in his time since the 1970s, but the local townsfolk are all well dressed and well mannered; the root beer he gets at a local drugstore is like nothing he’s ever had before and everyone smokes—everywhere. 

And while enjoying looking at the cars and fashions of the day, Jake remembers an essay he read a couple years back, in his Adult English class—written by Harry Dunning, the friendly janitor at his school about “The Day That Changed My Life”.  It was a story of a young boy who watched his mom, baby sister & brothers all get bludgeoned to death with a hammer by a drunken father on an October night in 1958.   And in this time, that’s only weeks away.

So yes, he will return to 2011 and tell Al he’ll take out Kennedy’s assassin;  but he’s going to take care of Harry Dunning’s murderous dad too.  

Without giving any more of the story away, King weaves a careful, marvelous tale.  While I love ALL his works (okay, I wasn’t crazy about “insomnia”) If you’re an amateur time travel enthusiast like me & have lots of questions—like the ‘Butterfly Effect’ for starters—trust me, King answers ALL of them. 

And if the notion of reading science fiction or fantasy (or horror) makes you uneasy—not to worry, you’ll get none of that here.  Get this book and enjoy the ride!

1958 Ford Fairlane

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tomorrow morning... it’s back to the old salt mine


Tomorrow is Monday, and I have to go to work.  I’ll probably wake up around 5:29 with a start and grab my alarm clock right before it’s set to go off.  I’ll then collapse back on my pillow, tired and a little annoyed with myself for not going to bed earlier the night before. 

Yes, I know—things could be a lot worse.

I usually turn on the TV for the weather report & wind up watching ten minutes of the local news before showering; I live alone and don’t have to worry about getting any kids up for school, or for my turn to use the bathroom.  (If there are perks to being single, mornings would probably top the list.)  

It’s a brisk 5-10 minute walk to the bus stop, and I’m downtown in thirty minutes more or less.  

Two things never cease to amaze me—the number of people I have to get past on my way to the elevators in the US Steel Tower (where I work) and the number of emails waiting for me when I finally get to my desk.  I just cleaned my mailbox before going home on Friday, why are there 79 new messages? 

I’ll probably get a phone call (or IM) from someone in Pricing & grumble to myaelf that I’m not a morning person, and haven’t even gotten a cup of coffee yet.  Someone may point out that it’s begun raining, and it will remind me that we have a new cafeteria on the 24th floor. 

(It’s very nice with it’s selection of hot foods and deli and salad bar, I had a baked potato topped with chili there last week.)  

On my way back from the mini-kitchen with coffee in hand, I’ll probably stop at one of my coworkers desks to say good morning, and someone may comment about the ‘Occupy Pittsburgh’ protest still going on in the small park across the street.  There’s been an assortment of jobless people, students (and now veterans) living in pup tents & brandishing cardboard signs demanding justice for “The 99%” for several weeks now.

I admired them more in the beginning, when they were focused on the greed of big banks and Wall Street; since then it’s become stomping grounds for a growing list of causes   

I’m just thankful I don’t have a reason (or the desire) to be down there with them.

Did I mention that I have a nice desk?  Everything is new, from my ergonomic chair to my flat-panel, widescreen computer monitor.   I’m near the windows, so I always have lots of natural light too.   Everyone has access to the Internet, and I enjoy checking out what my coworkers are up to on Facebook when I get the chance.  

I work with a great group of people, whom I both like and respect.  

I have 12 more years of this before I’m at the minimum age to retire.  And sometimes, especially Mondays, I wonder if I’m going to make it. 

hamster in wheel

Friday, November 4, 2011

It’s time to face the beast within, but he’s somewhere under all this blubber


This isn’t a Halloween-themed blog, but in honor of the recent holiday I snapped this photo of myself (to show my niece Sophia my new monster t-shirt) and quite honestly was surprised how chubby I looked in the picture.  Okay, fat.

What makes it particularly disheartening is that last Friday was the final weigh-in at the office for myself & some of my coworkers—we started a ‘Weight Race’ 3-4 months ago, and my final weight was 4 pounds more than when we began!  My heart wasn’t in it.  In fact, I rebelled & spent this past summer picking up a tub of ‘banana split’ ice cream every time I went to the market, and got into the habit of snacking on stuff like Ore-Ida Gourmet Onion Rings (what makes them gourmet is that they’re made with real onions—hmph) along with other fun fare like “State Fair Corn Dogs” and Tyson’s Buffalo Chicken Wings—in the Family size bag.

And then there’s “real food”; after years of asking my mom or my sister Shawn to fix my favorite meal (pot roast) on my visits home, I finally perfected my own version of the recipe—an unfortunately all too simple meal to throw together (oh it’s really yummy when you bake it in a mixture of cream of mushroom & onion soup mix).  This is one I made last weekend; it would normally serve 3-4… normal people.  I had it eaten in 2 days.

So what’s the answer here?  I just turned 50 this past Monday & God help me, I don’t want to be this round on my next birthday.  But diets are useless (my metabolism knows all my tricks and adjusts accordingly) and the current way of thinking (don’t diet, change your eating habits for life) just makes me panicky & depressed and craving stuff like candy bars, which I normally don’t eat anyway. 

At the same time, I can no longer take solace in the fact that 2/3 of the population is seriously overweight or obese, and I’m just a face in that crowd.  I’ve been over 200 pounds for over a decade now, and over 225 since my niece Sophia was born 7 years ago.  That kid has never seen me as a thin person!  


Speaking of Sophie, here she is at last weekend’s Halloween party, dressed as Dorothy Gale from ‘the Wizard of Oz’


I’d love for her to see her Uncle Doug in the 1990s; I was cleaning out my bedroom closet a couple weekends ago, and behind a couple old winter coats were 3-4 heavy hangers with a half dozen dress pants (from the days when I wore a shirt and tie to the office).  I held one pair of pants up against me and both marveled & grimaced at their size.  The waist was six inches smaller than what I wear now, and they don’t even have a hidden expanding waistband! 

I need to come up with a game plan here, and after some real thought I’m going to do 2 things right away:

  1. STEER CLEAR OF THE FROZEN FOODS AISLE AT THE MARKET—well, avoid the corndogs & chicken wings at least.  And no more Hungry Man dinners!
  2. POST MY WEIGHT ON A WEEKLY BASIS FOR EVERYONE TO SEE.  If you look at the right hand side of this page, where it says ‘Labels’, I’m adding a new one—where I’m going to post my weight every Friday & hopefully embarrass myself into dropping 25 pounds! 

To be honest, I really debated writing about this—not because I’m embarrassed about my jelly belly, but when someone asks “Hey Doug what’s up” & I reply “Well, since you asked...”  all I want to hear back is “ok, have a good one” or “Well, I like chubby guys”.  What I usually get is lots of unwanted advice (drink water, eat 6 mini-meals daily, walk more) from peeps that are either bigger than me or 15 years younger & don’t understand that I knew about the benefits of skinless chicken & brown rice when they were still chowing down on mother’s milk.  Thanks, but no thanks.  

I have the answers, I just need to find the initiative! 

January 1979