January 30, 2004

Melissa's DisneyFriend from Japan, Miho, is coming back for another visit today! She was a pen pal of Melissa's for a while, and then stayed with us for about two weeks last January. We had a great time showing her around Atlanta, and she got on very well with Matthew. She's back again, and she's brought her firend Miki. They'll be sharing the futon in the den.

This is their big vacation. These two are spending thousands of dollars of hard-earned money and time off work to fly half-way around the world from the thriving metropolis of Tokyo... to stay with Chris & Melissa Kern in the backwoods of Flowery Branch, Georgia. Don't get me wrong, I love my life, I'm just not sure that this life would be my ultimate VACATION as well. We're happy to have them, and it's very flatering that they would go to so much trouble to spend time with us, which one of them hardly knows and the other not at all. Imagine spending all this money and time and effort to visit someone that you've never met.

Kinda makes me feel like crap for not seeing my friends that live a little farther out. (Sorry, Kris and Jim! I'll call you!)

[LATER...Remembering that Kris works at the school half a mile away, I decided to meet her for lunch.]

January 28, 2004

Melissa is still down with the virus, but she was still able to meet my mother on a 1-hour layover at the airport. She's on her way back home after spending a week with her dad, consoling him on her mother's death.

We're scrambling as best we can to clean up the house and prepare the Den for the arrival of Miho and Miki on Friday. It's almost unthinkable that we'll be having houseguests for two weeks, but we'll manage somehow. It's like Geoffrey Rush's famous line in "Shakespeare in Love"

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

January 27, 2004

The Nursery at our church needs a new rule: "Children found to be ill will be returned to their parents." Some nasty viruses that have swept through families and recirculated for months can usually be traced back to a child that was put in the nursery with obvious symptoms. This is why our friend, Lindsay, mother of (God help her) four boys, probably spends more money on Kleenex and cold medicine than she does on gasoline in any given year. It is also why Matthew, Melissa and I have been out of commission for three days.

I called out sick from work yesterday, and am back in limited capacity today. Melissa is still down, hacking to the point of giving her lungs a glimpse of daylight every so often. We seem to be coming out of the woods on this, but it could very well start again when we return to church. We better find a way of containing this illness, becasue I don't want to have to explain to God that I didn't go to church for 10 years becase I couldn't afford the sick time from work.

January 25, 2004

The whole family is down with some nasty cold virus. I felt okay until yesterday afternoon, then it got very bad, very fast. I wanted to meet the Aforementioned Friend for dinner, because he didn't need to be alone in his freshly-emptied house. I had to tell him that I couldn't do it, that he didn't need to be laid up all snotty in bed on top of everything else he's going through right now. He was spending the day with his mother, a few miles from home. He seemed to be okay, all things considered.

Melissa, Matthew and I, on the other hand, feel like we're in containment level 3 of the CDC. Or maybe walk-on characters in "The Stand."

January 22, 2004

The Saga of The Aforementioned Friend and The Princess of MeMeMe - Part XVII

I wrote the Aforementioned Friend a 3-page letter, spelling out my advice about the situation. In short, Legal Separation would be a bad idea, Divorce needs to happen, and if he wants to retain some relationship with her, let go of the marriage and fall back on the friendship. I closed the letter with "Think about this, then feel free to tell me to go to hell."

The phone rang an hour after I sent it to him. "Okay, go to hell," the friend said. He thanked me for the letter, saying it crystalized some of the things he'd been thinking about. Last night, The Princess of MeMeMe told him she'd found some one-bedroom apartment she could afford, and she'd be moving out on Saturday. "Stranegely enough, I was okay with it," he said. I think the "acceptance" phase is taking hold. They spent most of their evening making a list of the things she'd take with her. Given, some of the furniture, and she'll be leaving the dogs with him, saying she'd pay for their vet bills if he brings them to her clinic. He went alone to the Marriage Counselling appointment, and said that it did him some good to talk to the person.

I'm glad this is starting to end. He deserves closure from her, among many other things.

January 21, 2004

Last night, Melissa was reading up on the "Return of the King" game for the PS2. "We need to get a second controller," she said. "Why do we need a second controller?" I asked. "Because then we can play 2-player co-op mode." I was speechless. "Oh, and it says here we can even play on-line with other gamers," she continued, "so I guess we'll need that PS2 On-line adapter thing."

God, I love this woman. Thank you.

January 19, 2004

Over the weekend, Melissa and I played host to the Aforementioned Friend, having him over for dinner and a movie, and dinner & a video game, while the Princess continued her avoidance spree. About that video game bit: Melissa realized that many evenings are spent with her on the computer reading up on Lord of the Rings stuff and me on the PS2. She did some research and decided to buy the "Return of the King" video game, so we could play it together. "I've been wanting to get into video games for a while, and I figured that this was a good way to start," she said. I said it was a great idea, "It's like that Reese's Peanut butter cups commercial...'You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!' 'You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!' but they taste great together kinda thing." She frowned, thinking I was making fun, but I assured her that I was legitimately impressed with the idea.
Our U.K. family, the Nash Family, called us last night. Apparently there's a new Bio-Terrorism law that states that you can't send pre-packaged foodstuffs to the United States. Homemade food is apparently fine, but anything store-bought is banned outright. Par for the course of our administration, this makes no sense. According to this law, terrorists can feel free to send us an "Anthrax Ripple Pie", so long as it's in kitchen wrap, but an innocuous package of Chocolate Malteasers would be seized as contraband and the sending parties taken in for questioning. If you wanted to send food in the mail, you had to register on this website, which appears to be for commercial export businesses and not for individuals. The family had hoped that we might be able to shed some light on this, but as usual, America's foreign policies are largely kept from it's citizens.

So their package of store-bought chocolates and biscuits had to be re-packed without food, and without their letter. Oh, did I mention that? Yeah, you can't send a letter AND a package together, otherwise it'll be confiscated. I have no earthly idea what this is supposed to protect us from, or how your average postal worker is supposed to detect or enforce this. Or maybe this is just a scam by the post office, trying to get more money out of people. As with most things with this administration, you never can tell whether policies are just pooly thought-out and when you're just being taken advantage of. All of these policies were just now put into effect in Britain from an unknown 2002 Anti-Terrorism act.

You might have heard on the news that Airports will be scanning the fingerprints of foreigners flying into American airports. A good idea, but in practice, it leaves much to be desired. The effect on the average world citizen is they have to apply for a new passport with their biometric information, specifically their fingerprints, and pay an additional 60 Pounds (USD~$100) for the upgrade! Travellers without these new biometric passports will not be allowed to travel to the United States after October 22nd of 2004. While I think that this is one of the few good security ideas that we've had, the cost is a bit high, considering that a plane ticket to the US from Britain is only around $400. I understand that there is a signifant cost for issuing these new passports, but it once again runs counter-intuitive: Your average tourist from the U.K. probably won't pay the upcharge, and decide to spend their money visiting somewhere else. Your average terrorist, however, would have no trouble fronting the extra cash, since they're not planning on coming back anyway.

Wow! It not only fails to stop terrorists from coming to the States, but it ALSO deprives our country of Tourism revenues! What a great law!

January 16, 2004

One day after Ron lost his job, the Princess of MeMeMe told my Aforementioned Friend that she wanted a divorce. These events share a lot in common. Both were horribly tense situations that were just begging for some sort of resolution, ANY kind. Both have freed their victims from undue stress and allowed them to find greener pastures where they will be more appreciated. Both are events that will be looked upon in later years as a turning point in their life.

The Friend is taking things much better than we had expected. Given the level of crap he was willing to put up with from The Princess, I had feared that he'd be willing to continue this marriage-in-name-only just to keep it. He's going through emotions and tough times like anyone else in his situation would, but he's firm in not being a doormat anymore. He chalks up this resolve to the long build-up of the situation; he had to accept that she was slowly taking steps away from him, and after a while, he could see which way she was going.

I'm really proud of him, because he's already looking ahead. He had lived with his parents until he was 26, then went straight into marriage with The Princess. "I've never really learned how to take care of myself or lived alone," he said, "and maybe that's what I need to do now. In the past couple of months, I've learned to cook for myself (a little), do my own laundry and I've started to handle the bills myself. I guess that's a pretty good start."

I unintentionally gave him some comic relief last night. He was going over their conversation about how to divide things up and a few sad moments. After each of these, I was only able to say, "Man, I'm sorry..." After about five or six times, I realized that "sorry" is about the only thing he's hearing from me and everyone, so I apologized for saying that I was sorry so much. Then I apologized for using "sorry" in that previous apology, then paused and said "I'll just shut up now." He laughed at this and thanked me, saying he had not laughed in a week. We invited him over to watch the DVD of "Johnny English" with Rowan Atkinson tonight. I think it'll do him a lot of good to feel positive emotions for a change.

January 14, 2004

At 4pm yesterday afternoon, Melissa called me and said that her father, Ron, had just been fired.

I was stunned. As businessmen go, Ron is about as sharp as they come. He worked for Lennox Industries for the past 18 years, working in technical sales of Heating & Air unit to engineers and architects, and every year he was more productive than the previous one. He not only did his job, but he constantly went above & beyond, developing documentatiopn and tools for fellow employees. He developed incredibly technical, but easy-to-use spreadsheets to figure everything from sales figures to thermodynamic heating curves, which he freely sent out to anyone in the company he thought might benefit from it. A third of the documentation in his branch office was either written by Ron, or procured by him.

Ron had such a rapport with the engineers and architects that he worked with that when Lennox let him go in December of 1993 (for not taking a "suggested" relocation to Texas), nearly every client that he worked with told the company that they'd take their business elsewhere unless Ron was back. The Layoff was a ploy to get him to accept the Texas position, so Ron transferred out there and eventually found his way back to Atlanta in 1998. You won't find a more knowledgeable, helpful man in his field, and his superiors knew it. And one thing managers can't stand being corrected or proven wrong, even respectfully or in private. So when Ron was passed up for a promotion to management in favor of an MBA with no experience in Heating & Air, (a friend of the vacating manager by coincidence,) the situation was rife with tension. Ron would correct this manager as respectfully as he could, when the guy was making false claims and mis-stating facts, but never in front of customers.

Last year, this guy set out to fire Ron, to save face and keep with Lennox's unwritten corporate policy of letting employees go right before they can retire. He put Ron on probation for his "Attitude problems" when correcting management and for unspecified lack of performance. The man did his best to fabricate performance reviews, but he was eventually undone when every client that Ron worked said he was the best, most competent rep they'd ever worked with. He seemed to give up at this point. We all breathed a sigh of relief, but it was too soon. Performace reviews were scheduled this week. The manager sat Ron down yesterday and told him that he was being terminated for poor performance. No review, no reason, nothing to back it up. Then he simply got up and walked out, leaving Ron in the company of a Lennox Rep that would oversee the emptying of his office. The rep told him that he had 30 days to accept or deny a 3-month severance package (for 18 years of work). Brenda had to come and pick him up, since they wouldn't let him drive the company car home. The manager gave her a nice, big smirk as she came in to help him pack.

Of course we're worried about him finding more work, but I have long held that his skills could be more appreciated elsewhere, so I honestly believe that it's a good thing. Ron had long been documenting this manager's misguided crusade to get rid of him, and he's got evidence of this man lying in his performance reviews. He's going to contact a lawyer and see about his legal options for Wrongful Termination, and sue for his retirement package. It's a sad state of affairs when companies let their best, most knowledgeable employees go beacuse their managers are made to look bad in contrast.

He returned home last night with a carload of personal documents and publications, and we took him out to The Olive Garden. On the bright side, at least now he's not fighting me over getting the bill anymore!

January 12, 2004

My grandmother on my mother's side, who has been suffering with cancer, has passed away. She decided to go off the chemotherapy earlier this year, in order to live out her remaining time with some quality of life. At her request, there was no funeral, and she was quietly cremated. I don't know how to feel about this. I never knew her that well. Frankly, no one did. She and my grandfather just kept to themselves in their cinder block house in Palmetto, Florida for the past 20 years, sending my brother and I a check in a Christmas card every year, and receiving us for lunch whenever we were in the neighborhood. Thankfully, I was able to take Matthew, Melissa and her parents down to meet them last year on our December Florida trip, so she was able to meet my wife and see her first great-grandchild before she went.

Mostly, I feel sad for her life, and not particularly about her death. She went quietly when she was dose with morphene, and that's the best way for cancer patients. It's sad that she's gone, and she'll leave an empty place in my grandfather's life, but I feel sorrier for the way that she lived before any of this. To be so emotionally disconnected with family, even your own children, must be vey lonely. Mom thinks that they had children because "it seemed to be expected of people their age." I can't make any in-depth ananysis of them or their relationships, because honestly, I don't know them well enough. And that is sadder than the fact that she's gone.

Comic Relief Headlines: Much like Pete Rose finally coming clean about betting on his Reds baseball team, fellow blog The Sneeze was finally able to get actor Dan "Ricky" Sneider to talk about his role of "Ricky" in the John Cusack movie "Better Off Dead".

In other news, with urban clothier ECKO's release of the Flava Flav Alarm Clock, I will now throw my ceremonial handful of dirt in the shallow grave of Hip Hip music.

January 09, 2004

Feeling very productive, as my busy work from the past month has eventually come to fruition. Out of boredom, I took on the task of cleaning out our issues database of any deadwood. Ended up I closed, or flagged for others to close, HALF of the department's tickets! I did something useful during the winter lag! Now I'm learning Crystal Reports to check up on the department's general progress.

Click here to take the M*A*S*H quiz!

January 07, 2004

After venting the issue of the Friend in the Marriage-in-name-only to my good friend Sam (of the incredible Bread Pudding recipe), he gave me some good advice, which went along with some of my own philosophies. I'll paraphrase them both here:

It may do YOU some good to be able to see things coming, but it won't help other people. You could be Noah, saying that the world's going to flood, and no matter how emphatically you shout it, no matter that God himself told you this, people will not believe you. People only make decisions based on their own experiences. Sometimes you have to let people have these bad experiences in order for them to learn from them. Do what you can, tell them what you know, but from then on, it's their responsibility to act on it or not. And don't spend all your time trying to warn people, when you need to be building your ark to save yourself (along with your wife and various pets).

Although he is my friend and I care for his welfare a great deal, this is ultimately his decision, and he will live with it. If staying in a reduced relationship under these circumstances is what will make him happy, then Melissa and I will bite our tongues and play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to his Hamlet, and by our company "To draw him on to pleasures."

January 05, 2004

"The Jerry Springer Effect" - (N) Feeling better about your life and relationships after watching "The Jerry Springer Show" or a similar program and witnessing how messed up the guests are and how poorly they treat each other.

The attraction to this program, besides it being a redneck train wreck that you just can't look away from, is you can see the parade of dysfunction, cruelty and selfishness and say to yourself, "Wow, my life could be so much worse." After seeing a 350 lb. woman who refuses to stop wearing hot pants and fishnet tops, you decide that your spare tire isn't such a big deal. When you see a husband and wife sleeping their way up each other's family trees out of revenge, you may think that perhaps your spouse's unconscious tendency to chew loudly at meals isn't so bad after all.

As another year begins, I am reminded how good a life I have, from both ends of the spectrum. I have wife that I am still madly in love with, a child that is, with few exceptions, the most cheerful person that I have met, a nice house and a good job that supports us all. Unfortunately, I am also reminded of my joys by the Jerry Springer Effect.

The aforementioned friend is even further down in the dumps in his relationship with the "Princess of MeMeMe". I have seen chew toys at a Pit Bull puppy mill that are treated with more care than this man is by his "wife." I am in awe that his feelings of love are so strong for this woman that he would endure such degradation and sheer cruelty and he can still hold out hope for their relationship. He wants nothing more than to get back to "normal" with this woman and continue their life together.
His sorrow is so great that simply watching this man be broken has brought me to emotional depths that I have never experienced before.

And it doesn't help that I have downtime at work to think about this.