Thursday, August 28, 2014

Morning Walk

This was the view on my morning walk. Lafreniere Park.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Lesson via TMNT : Keep Your Eyes Open

I won't be seeing the new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, and not just because of my disdain for Michael Bay's movies. The turtles once played a key role in our family life, but that was a couple of decades ago. I am, after all, pushing 60, my kids are mostly grown. From the box office reports, it doesn't sound like they missed me.

But with all the hype the last few weeks, it reminded me of one of the wisest things I've ever heard a kid say. And I've heard kids say more than a few things.

It was 1991, and I had taken sons Jack (10 years old) and Ben (5) to see "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze." It's the one with the classic appearance by Vanilla Ice, who can now be seen in a mac and cheese commercial, as a himself working in a supermarket. It's always nice to see someone with a little perspective, who can poke a little fun at himself.

A few days later I was walking through Eugene's downtown pedestrian mall with the boys. And Jack went running on ahead to a manhole cover. (For the uninitiated, if there are any, the turtles lived in the sewers and emerged through the manholes.) He peered at it closely, kicking at it once or twice, then came back to me.

With a knowing look, he told me, "Any place could be a secret passage. That's why I keep my eyes open."

Something I try to keep in mind, as life offers the occasional secret passageway. You've got to keep your eyes open.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Change of Seasons

Got up early this morning, made a lunch. And so it goes, with the seasons changing.

Not the calendar seasons, of course. Friday is the first day of school. They start school absurdly early here in Louisiana. Call me old fashioned, but the school year starts the first day after Labor Day, it always has. It's a month early here. It's the beginning of August, temps are in the middle 90s. And kids are getting ready to drag their butts back to school.

And so is Tori. After two years of fighting her way through the system, she has her own classroom. She'll be teaching English Language Arts at the Stella Worley Middle School. It's not ideal by a long shot, it's across the river, so she'll have a half hour drive over the Huey Long Bridge every morning and afternoon. But it's the school that wanted her, and that makes it ideal.

It's been a long summer, especially July. Took the kids to the Rooster Teeth con in Austin. Did a lot of work for the Source. Took another freelance job that had me writing nine stories in a month. And spent a week in Louisville helping Tori clean up (both literally and legally) her brother Brian's estate, which was no fun at all. That was a really tough week. But there were a couple of bright spots. We stayed with Brian's ex-wife, who is a peach. And Tori reconnected with her best friend from 30 some years ago, when she was 14.

So it wasn't all awful, just mostly.

Anyway, we're starting a new season, and a new set of routines. Tori is at school right now trying to get a summer's worth of prep time dealt with in a day. Tomorrow she and Max are off to their respective schools. I get up first to get coffee started and make school lunches and get them out the door. Then I can get to work.

But, while I like the routines – I get more work done during the school year than during the summer – I can't quite shake the feeling that the timing is wrong. It's way too early.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

We were in Texas because the kids wanted to go to RTX.

Alan, Kate and Max outside the Austin
Convention Center, which as the sign says,
is the site for RTX.
RTX is the Rooster Teeth Expo. And let me start by saying I'm way too old and uncool to understand Rooster Teeth. Shouldn't even be talking about it. 

I've been to a Comicon and now I've been to RTX, and the one thing that leaped out at me in Austin was how much younger the latter was. At Comicon there were everything from tweenagers to old Trekkies in wheelchairs, everything from Star Wars to Walking Dead, Dr. Who and Matt Smith to Pam Grier (I can't remember what she was there promoting, but I thought it was cool. She looked good.) and lots and lots of people I'd never heard of. 

RTX was much more focused on gaming and online and anime. Everyone was young and hip. I am old not as young and have a sore hip.
Kate meets Burnie Burns, one of the Rooster Teeth
founders. Her life is now complete.
Rooster Teeth is an Austin production studio that does online live action and animated shorts. They had a huge hit with Red v. Blue (or the other way around) and RWBY, which is pronounced Ruby, and a lot of game stuff. They have crowd-sourced pledges for more than $2.5 million to do their own full length movie. On youtube they've got more than 7 million subscribers and more than 3 billion views. I give these guys huge credit, they saw something they wanted to do and made it happen, created an industry in their hometown. At RTX, they were gods.

Kate is a huge fan, Max is a big fan. Millie gave Kate a weekend pass for the convention as a birthday present. So we were off. Tori and I were along for the ride – literally, since we drove. It was my first real vacation in about seven years.

Thursday, we drove to Houston (a six hour drive,) stopped and saw our friends from St. Croix, the Lopez family. Their three kids (three of the nicest, smartest kids you'll ever meet) were also going. We stopped there for dinner, then went on to San Antonio where we spent the night at the home of another St. Croix family, the Jean Pierres (that's their last name, two words. They're Canadian.) Their son Alan is Millie's age and someone who has sort of been part of our family since 2008. He came with us. They live out in the boonies, we didn't get there until about 1:30 a.m.

The Texas state capitol. Very nice as state
capitols go.
RTX started at 9 a.m. Friday (the Fourth of July? Didn't seem to hurt attendance) and Kate wanted to be sure to be there for a panel that started around 11, so we left San Antonio around 8:30. Two hour drive. Dropped the kids off, went down to the hotel, checked in and fell asleep for a while. Later we toured the capital, because it was there and pretty impressive. Say what you will about Texans, they know how to build a capitol.

Meanwhile, the Lopi (our collective name for the Lopez family) did much the same. 

Tori and the giant cupcake guy. He's apparently
a character of some kind in a game or something.

Saturday was the same. Dropped the kids off (Kate was quivering with excitement the whole time.) They got autographs and pictures and T-shirts and posters and all the usual stuff. They went to panel discussions and just generally geeked out. Tori and I spent most of the day poolside or in the fitness room. I also work weekends, but because the hotel has free wifi, no problem. (My only complaint with the hotel – They have a scale in the fitness room and it's WAY off. Not even close to what I'm sure my weight really is. I don't actually kn ow, but I'm positive it couldn't be THAT! 'Nuff said.)

Austin is really nice. Not only is it far and away my favorite city in Texas, it's pretty much the only Texas city I like. And it's very, very easy to get around in. As opposed to Houston, which deserves its reputation as commuting hell. It literally is surrounded by rings of freeway, the many rings of the inferno.

Sunday was a little trickier, since checkout time was noon and the convention ran until 6. But it worked out. Tori and I spent some time visiting the University of Texas campus. The football stadium is terrifyingly huge. You could easily put the entire population of the U.S. Virgin Islands in there. Also saw the clock tower, from which back in 1966 Charles Whitman shot 48 people, 16 fatally. So there was that.

John and Tori behave inappropriately on
the set of theRooster Teeth podcast.
Our kids were horrified! Yay!
The Lopi were leaving Austin at 4, so Tori and I borrowed a couple of their kids' passes and went in to see the last couple of hours. It was winding down, energy was lower, but you could still get the flavor of the thing. I was clearly the oldest person there and it wasn't even close, I was easily more than twice the average age. We went through the main hall and saw the "museum" of Rooster Teeth artifacts. Tori and I took many inappropriate pictures. And touched things clearly labeled "Do Not Touch" and talked to people much to cool for us to talk to. Anything to distress the children. Otherwise what's the point of HAVING children?

Tori, Monty and Alex.
We saw a line forming, so we got in it. Turned out it was to get photos taken with Monty. Monty is an anime artist, I guess he draws RWBY, a young Japanese guy with longish bright blond hair. And he's another star. Now, I should have mentioned that Tori brought Alex. Her ashes are in a small box that Tori carried in her purse. She just thought Alex would would have enjoyed the convention so she brought her for the road trip. When we got to the front of the line, she asked Monty to sign the box. Which he did, and was very kind about the whole thing. I took the picture. It was kind of nice.

Anyway, RTX was fun and the kids had a great time. But you know how it is. No matter how nice the trip, sooner or later, you just want to be in your own space again.

Ricardo Lopez with the cupcake guy.
We left Austin around 6:30 or 7 Sunday and drove back to San Antonio. Stopped at a Texas institution – Whataburger. It's supposed to be so good it makes you say, "What a burger!" And you know what? We did. It really was about the best fast food hamburger I've ever had. A tossup between Whataburger, and Burgerville USA in the northwest. No contest between those two and the usual chains.

I had to work Sunday night, so when we got back to Alan's I put my hours, then went to sleep around 2 a.m. We left the next morning around 10:30, got back to Houston and spent the afternoon there with the ever pleasant Lopi so as not to drive through the heat of the afternoon. I napped, then we left Houston in the evening and drove all night until we got home about 4:30.

So that was our trip. Next week another couple from St. Croix are going to be visiting NOLA, so we'll see them (they moved to Alberta, almost the exact opposite of the islands) and we have to run to Kentucky end of the month. Then it's time for Max to head back to school.



Friday, May 9, 2014

Where Does the Time Go?

Millie sent some photos from the wedding of her friends in New York Wednesday. She helped organize it on sort of the spur of the moment, when they realized their plans to move to England would be much simplified if they were already married, instead of waiting to get hitched over there. Interestingly, the bride's name is Robin. And when Tori and I got married at the courthouse (by Judge Jack Frost!) Tori's friend helped throw it all together. Her name is Robin. That's karma, or something.

Anyway, looks like they had a nice time. Wedding at City Hall, then gathering to drink toasts to the couple in Central Park. As I looked through the pictures it seemed for just a minute as if I was looking at stills from "Friends," or "How I Met Your Mother," or another of those sitcoms about happy, vibrant young people excited to be starting their lives in New York. And I wondered, how did that happen? How did my little girl, who I used to watch Arthur with every morning before getting her ready for kindergarten, grow up and become one of those characters?

Like the line from the song, "I don't remember growing older. When did they?"

And then I thought, if she's Courtney Cox or Cobie Smulders, does that mean I'm one of the actors who made the occasional guest appearance as the out-of-town, out-of-touch dad? I'm Michael Gross? Or Bruce Willis or – ooh! ooh! – can I be Elliott Gould? Way back in the '60s and '70s he was very cool. Now he's in his 70s, and I'm damn near 60.

And of course, Millie caught the bouquet. Twice! They did it twice and she caught it both times. That's not right. She's got too much going on in her life. Work. Making that career in show business. (Or, as it feels to her rapidly aging father, getting ready for middle school.) I told her that everyone knows that if the couple is having a second wedding in another country it doesn't count. Sorry. It's just the rules. (The big England wedding is still on the schedule; apparently one of the big names from "Game of Thrones" is on the guest list. Don't ask which. But considering that show's record with weddings, is that a good idea?)

Quick side note – Judge Jackson Frost, the guy who married Tori and I close to 25 years ago now, was a longtime prosecutor, then a judge in Albany. On a couple of occasions in the years after we were married, I'd run into him around town, the grocery store or something similar. "Judge Frost?" I'd say. He'd react warily. He didn't know me from Adam and he'd put away a lot of bad guys over the years. I'd introduce myself, tell him that he'd married us in 1989. He'd smile. Then I'd shake his hand, thank him and say, "I just wanted to tell you, it was the best day's work you ever did."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Milestones for Max and Millie

Max and I spent Friday morning at the Bonnabel High School cafeteria. It was the Jefferson Parish Public School System's "Celebration of Champions," honoring all the students, middle school and high school, who have finished the year with a 4.0 GPA.

And Max is one of them! Congratulations Max, great job. We're very proud of you. Hence this blog post.

They hold the event at Bonnabel, I suspect, because it has the largest cafeteria and even more important, the largest parking lot. What it didn't have, oddly, was any 4.0 students this year. Max's school, East Jefferson, had a handful – eight or nine, I think – and the two Riverdales, high and middle, both had contingents. But the Haynes Academy had by far the biggest group – around 80, I'd guess. That's the "magnet" science academy. We talked a year ago about letting Max go there, but he opted for EJ, and it's a good fit. Not as overwhelmingly academic, but a good school with a lot of options.

He's in the honors program, which provides a really strong incentive for college. Earn a 2.5 GPA and the state pays a big chunk of college tuition. Earn a 3.5 or higher and they pay almost everything. I was talking to his counselor who said there is some talk that the standard will be raised in the next year or two, "but he's not even close to the cutoff line, so don't worry."

He's got his work cut out for him. Next year's schedule is mostly honors classes – Spanish II, Geometry, English II, Civics, World History. Thank goodness for band, he's good at it, enjoys it, and practice isn't the same as homework.

Anyway, just wanted to take a moment to brag a little, Max is doing great in high school and we couldn't be prouder.

ALSO – Millie called Saturday. She had three and a half days to throw together a wedding for friends. I didn't get the details, something about the friends moving to and planning to get married in England, only to discover it would be much easier to get married in the states first. So the courthouse ceremony will be Wednesday. Millie's the maid of honor. It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were attending the weddings of various friends. Now it's Millie's turn.

We were able to help a little, found her a bit of poetry to read at the reception. Every year on our anniversary Tori and I go to the park and I read her poetry, so it wasn't like we weren't prepared. Most "romance" poetry seems to be based on the guy trying to talk the woman into having sex with him. Seems kind of inappropriate for a wedding. I mean, by the time you're standing at the altar (or in front of the judge) it's just a matter of sealing the deal. But there's one that over the years has become  both Tori and my favorite. Now it might be the favorite of Millie's friends for decades to come as well. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
  Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
  Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
  That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
  Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
  Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
  But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dirty Water but a Nice Day

Monday was a disappointment, but at the same time, a good day.

It was spring break here, the kids and Tori were off from Thursday through Tuesday. Between stuff we had to do, and the weather forecast, we picked Monday. Tori and I were taking a drive, just the two of us, a road trip out to find some beach.

John on the Gulfport, Miss. beach.
We hadn't been to the beach since we left the island. Even in Oregon trips to the coast weren't just an outing, they were a necessity, almost a pilgrimage. From Albany, the Oregon coast was about an hour drive. It was beautiful, rugged coastline, with quaint beach towns catering to tourists in funky, cheesy ways. The water was – bracing? Try freezing. You couldn't walk barefoot in the surf for more than a few minutes before the cold was painful. You'd occasionally see one or two people surfing – clad in wet suits – but I can't remember ever seeing anyone just wading into the waves and swimming. Too cold.

Still, we loved visits to the coast. Tori in particular needed them.

Moving to St. Croix, of course, was paradise. Instead of an hour drive, it was three minutes to one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. The water was as warm as a bath. I'm not much of a swimmer, but even I could float in the blue, blue, blue crystal clear water, bobbing in the swell.

So we were excited for the chance to have a road trip to find the Gulf Coast. I'd heard about it – white sand, warm water. We were aiming for the Mississippi shoreline, driving down the shore highway to see what there was to see.

First, Weather Underground really let us down. The weekend was supposed to be rainy. So the sky was sunny both days. Monday was supposed to be clear and warm. It was cloudy and overcast all day, and the temperature never cleared 65.

As we crossed Bay St. John and headed down the coast highway, the water looked murky, lead gray. There was a white sand strip on the south side of the highway. The north side was mostly a long collection of strip malls, chain restaurants and gas stations. Literally, it seemed like there was a Waffle House restaurant every three quarters of a mile. In one place there were three within four blocks of each other. Never want to be caught without a waffle, I guess.

I suppose if you live up in the northern part of the state, or Arkansas or Tennessee, it'd seem pretty neat. By Oregon standards it was a letdown. By St Croix standards? Don't make me laugh.

Dirty water in the Gulf.
We made it all the way to Gulfport before we saw any reason to pull off the road – a beach that included a public restroom. They'd done a nice job of giving the beach some amenities, tables and benches. No trees, no dunes, no grasses. A couple of dozen people were on the beach.

We went to the water and it was beyond filthy. Black leaves and debris washed up on shore. Standing ankle deep in the cold water – not Oregon cold, but cold – you literally could not see your toes. And the feel of the water was sludgy. We wanted a shower.

We used the facilities and drove on, through Biloxi, which is full of casinos, and found ourselves in Ocean Springs. The water wasn't any better, but it was a little nicer. My favorite part was the Ocean Springs Yacht Club. The name was probably not meant to be ironic, but there was nothing there but a bunch of day sailors, 20 feet or so. And a bar.

Statue of Iberville, who established
the French settlement at what it now
Ocean Springs, Miss.
But there was a really nice park, on the site of what apparently was the first French settlement established on the Gulf Coast. Really nice playground for kids, old trees. That's where we had our picnic lunch, cold fried chicken and potato salad. We had forgotten to bring forks, but Tori discovered if you bit carefully into a drumstick you could shape it into a sort of spoon, not much but serviceable.

There was also a long pier where you could walk out. There was a guy fishing who'd caught a couple of catfish, and we watched the pelicans diving for their lunch. Even the pelicans suffered in comparison to the islands. On St. Croix the pelicans would fly about 20 feet over the water, then wheel and plunge down to snag a fish. In Mississippi they skimmed the surface, then suddenly dropped to grab something. I guess the water was so cloudy that from more than a few feet they couldn't see the fish.

Tori at Gulfport. Any beach is better than none,
but we've seen much better.
Also saw something I'd never seen before – each pelican was accompanied by a gull or two. When the pelican splashed down and grabbed a fish, the gulls would join him – sometimes actually sitting atop the bigger bird – to steal a bite or two.

Anyway, we finally decided we'd had enough for one day. We could have kept going east and been in Alabama within half an hour. But home was beckoning and we turned our heads west. On the way back we changed across a cool NASA science center at the Mississippi-Louisiana border. It was closed, but it's only an hour away so we'll likely go back for a visit.

The beach was a disappointment, but Tori and I had a great day together, one of the first no hassle fun days we've had since we moved. It was a nice trip. Next time, probably this summer, we'll get on I-10
 Pensacola is only two hours away, we're told, and Fort Walton Beach only about a half hour past that. We're willing to give the Gulf another try. If nothing else, it's a chance for the two of us to get away together.