Life

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So, this morning, I read the news that Nancy Zieman died yesterday.

She was the star and host of a television show called “Sewing with Nancy” that aired on PBS for years and years and years and years — a show that I’d first learned of in 1987 while I was in middle school.

Back then, all junior high school students were required to take an “elective”, like Industrial Arts, Home Economics, or Art, or whatever, but since I was in the band, I was exempt from this requirement since band already counted as an “elective”.

Most kids in my situation — those in band or chorus — just took a study hall or open period.

Me?

No, I was a full schedule kind of guy so I signed up for “sewing”.

Now, before you start thinking I brushed elbows with Public Television royalty, no, Nancy Zieman was not my sewing teacher.

But, on the rare day that we’d have substitute teacher, they’d roll in the big A/V cart with the TV and top-loading VCR and play an episode of “Sewing with Nancy” for us.

We’d sit and watch, totally uninterested, and then poke fun at Nancy’s crooked mouth or how she appeared to never, ever, blink for the next few weeks as any middle schooler would as we sewed together stuffed mallards and eagles and things from patterns clearly targeted towards kids.

I’m almost certain some of the pattern packages we were able to choose from even had her face on them. In my 7th grade sewing class, she was kind of a big deal.

I’d always assumed she’d had a stroke or was maybe blind and had two glass eyes or something but now, having read her obituary, I now know that it was Bell’s Palsy that caused her facial paralysis.

Anyway, though I’d only seen her show maybe twice…and that was over 30 years ago now… I never forgot her.

When I saw her face, in a tiny blurb on a website this morning, aged 30 years (though you could hardly tell), I knew exactly who she was and spent much of the day in a google/wikipedia wormhole learning more and more about her.

All told, it hit me far harder than it probably should of. Moreso than the other recent deaths of Robert Guillaume, Roy Halladay, or Tom Petty — all much, much bigger celebrity names.

I guess, first, it’s the realization that people from my own “youth” that I don’t picture as being “old” are, in fact, old enough to be kicking the bucket — Nancy was 64, so older than my dad was when he died — but also cause she seemed like a nice lady, you know, doing something she loved and getting paid for it.

I kinda strive for that — doing something I enjoy and making a living doing it. And being nice too.

I’ve no doubt that she was aware of the snickering going on within her semi-forced target audience (of students) but you gotta give credit — she didn’t care.

I mean, really, she looked like someone’s Mom, hosted a sewing show on PBS, talked a little funny, and never blinked. She didn’t have any of the traits of a 1980’s celebrity — easy fodder for middle schoolers.

But you know what? She was still taping episodes as recently as September. You’re clearly doing something right if you can last that long on television — even PBS — and I’m certain she was probably living quite comfortably as a result of her “hobby” turned business.

It really sucks that she passed away.

Of anyone, Nancy Zieman should’ve been able to sew into her 90’s.

Wow, this place fell apart, huh? So, seems like the site was “hijacked” a few months ago, redirected to all kinds of unusual foreign sites and subsequently de-listed from Google so…there probably isn’t anybody reading this post but that’s okay. I’m writing it anyway.

So, first things first, I’ve eliminated the issue where someone was nefariously stealing my traffic and reputation. A few years ago, I’d be all bent out of shape over something like this — we were pulling in nearly 8000 visits per day for a while there — but now that I’m old, eh, I can let it slide. I’ll take the 35 visits per day — 34 of which are probably me — for now.

Google finds good content and I still think the site is overflowing with good content, good advice, some great typos, and some pretty silly remarks that are timeless. We’ll be listed again soon, I’m sure.

Now, I know that this place kinda transitioned from a Finance blog — which were all the rage a decade ago when I started — to more of a Mommy blog (even though I’m a dude) but that’s what happens when you have kids. In my case, three of them.

For real, they take over your life. Even financially.

So, just to get everyone back up to speed, I feel like I should re-introduce myself.

My wife and I live in central Connecticut and have three kids, born in 2009, 2011, and 2015. If you’re interested, I’m pretty sure I documented their arrivals pretty thoroughly in the archives of the website.

Since the start, my finances have been the main topic covered — specifically paying down debt while also building wealth.

Through the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m really, really, really good at paying down debt but not so great at growing savings.

Living debt free is so much more appealing than being rich. They seem like they’d be connected…but they’re more different than you’d think.

I suspect the reason behind it — my preference of “being” in debt — is that it’s easier to set, and work towards, a goal of “not owing anybody anything” than it is to just have the most commas and zeros in your accounts.

For that reason, as of right now, I find myself deeper in debt than I think I was way back in 2007 and 2008. I’ll give everyone an update on where my finances are with a long overdue Net Worth report shortly.

Another topic I covered quite frequently were home renovations. My house is over 125 years old and, subsequently, has required some, ahem, updating. Costly updating.

For years and years (and YEARS!), I went on and on about the 3-car garage I imagined on my property. Well, guess what?

During my hiatus, we built that garage! Hooray!

It’s not done yet — still needs interior painting, a new driveway, and a bathroom to be finished — and it hasn’t come without it’s own set of drama…but it exists.

Pictures and updates on that are also in the pipeline.

In more recent news, and related to my finances, my trusty 2005 Scion xA died on me a few weeks back. Mustered 142k miles out of it before I was forced to abandon it, err, sell it to CarMax three states away from home.

I’ll have to share that story here as well which, as it was happening, caused me great anxiety but now it all seems pretty funny.

My spending habits have also changed, I think, since I last reported. Sure, I still spend stupid amounts of money on that dumb hockey jersey hobby but NOTHING like I used to.

That spending has been replaced by spending money on hockey tuition for my kids. Good investment? Terrible investment? Is it even an investment? I have a lot to say about that, as well.

And on the front of always trying to add little bits of passive income here and there, I’ve started using those peer-to-peer lending websites — Lending Club, specifically. No, not to borrow for myself, but to lend to others.

It’s been an learning experience, now nearly two years into the process. I can see the value in it but I went about it all wrong at the start so I’m just barely breaking even.

For real, would it kill people to pay back their loans?

I’m far to naive in thinking “most” people pay their debts back. So, yeah, I’ve gotta cover that too.

I guess I’ll leave it at that, for now.

Oh, and if you read this, please leave a comment just to let me know you’re out there!

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Back during the summer, I posted some things about potentially purchasing a $750k house as kind of a ‘toungue in cheek’ type of deal.

But the more I thought about it…the more it started to, well, make sense.

Say, for instance we nixed the plan to build our extravagant 3-car garage and instead put that money towards a down payment on a much larger (and nicer) house that already had a three car garage and more bathrooms and an updated kitchen?

And then I started perusing real estate listings…

Before long, we were doing drive-bys. And we even nearly attended an open house a couple of weekends ago.

Things were starting to “get real”, as in, we should probably tell our architect that our renovation and addition plans had changed drastically… we’re moving instead.

It all made sense.

Bigger house, better neighborhood, better schools, and a house that wasn’t still in need of major, not to mention expensive, updates. We could get everything we were looking for elsewhere…at a price we could afford.

The timing all seemed right.

So my wife and I finally found 7 minutes to actually discuss something that adults should probably talk about every now and then, you know, without one of the kids interrupting…and we made our decision.

We’re gonna stay put.

While we’re probably in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase the type of house we’ve only dreamed about, financially, it just feels too risky.

Our current location is close to major highways — not so close that we can see or hear them or anything but it doesn’t take us an eternity to get to them either.

We’re close to “stuff” like grocery stores, Targets, Walmarts (ugh), banks, restaurants, you name it.

During my time in Canada, I can’t tell you how much it sucked to have to drive 45 minutes just to get to a mediocre shopping mall full of dollar stores. And I never lived “in the sticks”, either…

Where we are now, we can pick one of five malls that are all within 45 minutes, like good malls too, with stores with names I can’t even pronounce. That’s really convenient.

My wife really likes our neighborhood and the schools too.

We differ in opinion on those.

While our long established tree-lined street is great now, I’ve seen it decline consistently over the past dozen years or so.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still nice, just not as “tree-lined” as suddenly everyone is paranoid that a tree is going to fall on them. Or something.

Maybe they just hate trees?

Can you tell we have one annoying tree-hating overly paranoid neighbor that likes to report EVERYTHING to the city?

Further, many of our “other” neighbors are elderly. Again, that’s great in my opinion, but as time passes, “new” folks will be moving in. Based on the price point of their homes, well, I’m not sure the “new” neighbors will be of the same ilk…

Now I’m sure that when my neighbors saw me move in as a 25-year old, and the first thing I loaded into the house was my HUGE stereo system (currently covered in dust), they thought the same thing,

“There goes the neighborhood,” but more recently two of the more modest homes in the area were sold and turned into legit crack houses.

Really, like you’d see on the news.

They went from little houses with an old man living in them to houses with broken windows and different cars coming and going at all hours of the day and some scary dude sitting on the porch staring you down… within a week.

No joke, one even had some sort of late night fight club in the street on a regular basis. Thankfully an arson charge and a couple of foreclosures took care of it but for a good five years, that area of the neighborhood went down hill really fast.

For the following five years, the houses were boarded up. Yeah, eye sore. Big time.

Both have since been purchased by development companies, totally gutted and renovated, and currently sit on the market… and have been for quite some time.

I pray they don’t lower the price to the point that more scum move in…but that’s what I fear for my neighborhood in the years to come when the current owners pass. These century-plus old homes will be considered entry-level.

As for the schools, well, my oldest in the only one currently in the school system and he’s killing it, obviously. I switched schools at his age and survived so I wouldn’t have a problem switching him now.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a SINGLE home in his current school district, on the market or not, that will suit our family’s needs so if we were to move, he’d be in a different school (and likely a different town).

Of all of those issues, though, it’s really the location and the conveniences that it offers that really weigh the most.

They always say, “location, location, location…” Well, we have that.

And then there’s the financial aspect…

This part of the discussion took up at least 6 of the seven uninterrupted minutes we had.

As I’ve said before, probably to the point of boasting, we can afford a bigger home without issue. Maybe not a $750k one but we could very easily swing something with a $400k price tag. Easily.

Once the two young children are out of full time day care, well, that would be an additional $2000 per month to use at our discretion. No small sum.

But here’s the thing that convinced us to stay put and move on with our original “build a garage” plan…

It’s been OVER a decade since we’ve had a sleepless night worrying about money.

I can’t remember the last time I had a bill that I was unsure how or where the money would come from to pay it.

If our car were to die tomorrow, we could go out and but a new one, same day. If both cars died at the same time, we could buy two.

Duncan’s hockey tuition of $2500 out of the blue, no problem. Sure, it sucked making that payment but we could do it. And it didn’t mean we had to not pay something else.

Just last month, we decided we needed a new mattress. Five minutes and $800 later, we had one on it’s way. It’s awesome, by the way.

I’m not so far removed or so wealthy to not know that most people would have to save up for things like this.

I might sound like I am but, truthfully, I know I’m in a *very* cushy place to be able say those things.

And a lot of that is due to the fact that the house we live in isn’t beyond our means. It’s not far below our means. In fact, it’s probably just about right.

So, yeah, I don’t know if we’d be the “true” definition of house-poor if we moved to a larger home but just taking in our current situation — even if the opportunity to make it so much better is right there for the taking — I’m not sure I want to disrupt the path we’re on.

We’re in a pretty good place.

And a garage addition that will nearly double the size of our home (putting it in range of the home we’ve been looking at) won’t mess that up.

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Clover LawnOver the years, I’ve probably spent well over $1000 on various types of grass seed, fertilizer, and new sprinklers in a feeble attempt to make my lawn look amazing.

Success has been, well, minimal.

My lawn looks pretty much like it did when I bought the place 14 years ago — some nice grass, lots of brown stuff, the occasional dandelion, that really tall mossy stuff, and bright green crab grass.

A mosaic, really. Nothing ever dies (even when I poison the crap out of it) and nothing ever spreads either. (The picture of my son practicing his shot is an accurate representation of my entire lawn.)

Not suprisingly, the lawn looks a lot like the lawn I had growing up, the one I was paid $5 each week to mow.

No green thumbs in this family, apparently.

At least we’re consistent.

Anyway, while doling out professional advice to a client, who Facebook friended me out of the blue and I then cyber-stalked online, I couldn’t help myself but to ask how she kept her lawn (that I’d seen in the background of nearly all of her Facebook photos) so green all the time.

Flattered and embarrassed, her one word response was…clover.

And that got me thinking…

The few really nice green patches on my lawn that always have the fat furry bumble bees hovering above are clover.

The stuff never turns brown and looks amazing just after I mow the little white flowers off…

Hmmmmm…a lawn full of clover…

Growing up in the land of cul-de-sacs, which doubled as hockey arenas and baseball stadiums, there was this one house just beyond the “outfield” wall, err, curb where we’d get hollered at anytime a home run sailed into their, ahem, grass.

For real, the guy that lived there was tending his lawn daily and, frankly, you could tell.

Perfectly straight mower lines in a criss-cross pattern and bright green all of the time…right up to the first snowfall.

But I also remember sitting on that curb with our hands in the grass searching for four leaf clovers with pretty decent success.

And we used to “catch” those furry bumble bees in our hands there too.

(One time we made the mistake of trying to catch yellow jackets in the same manner behind home plate. BIG mistake.)

Thirty years later, I know know that guy was a total fraud.

He was mowing his lawn every single day so as to not EVER let one of those little white flowers pop out.

His ENTIRE lawn was clover.

So I ordered sixty-something pounds of clover seed and it should arrive sometime this week.

Actually, I just checked the Fedex tracking and it’s apparently hanging out in Augusta, Montana right now…

So, being that I google almost everything, I decided to look Augusta, Montana up.

Population…284.

Um… how is it that a place with just 284 people has a FedEx ground “warehouse” or whatever they call the places where they scan all of their packages…

I mean, this is really the middle of nowhere.

For real, I Google earth’d it. Three bars, a diner, and some place called the “Bunk House”.

Their high school graduated nine last year.

NINE!?

Augusta Class of 2015

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Financing the Mortgage the Old Fashioned WaySo I convinced myself earlier last week that we could totally afford a 5000+ square foot palace with twice as many bathrooms as it does bedrooms.

And, as factual as it is that I can afford such a place, it’ll never happen.

Over the weekend, I came across a real life reinforcement as to why I’d never do such a thing.

A parent of one of my son’s former classmates (in daycare) was told this week that her position would be “eliminated” next month. Sort of a reverse two week notice, of sorts.

We’re not “tight” enough for me to know if she’s the main bread winner in their household but based on the fact that they’re had a tag sale, like, right now *and* put their house on the market already kinda of tells the story on it’s own.

In some ways, I’m envious of the reality that she’s been applying for jobs (yes, already — clearly they move quickly on things) all over the country, totally committed and prepared to leave this area entirely.

I mean, I’m not entirely sure how or why I ended up where I did, geographically, and though it’s certainly near the the top of my list for places I’d like to live, well, it’s not the top spot.

Either way, I’d never want to put my whole family in a situation where we’d have to pick up and turn our lives upside down on essentially zero notice.

So, while I feel like we’re living paycheck-to-paycheck as it is now, should me or my wife suddenly find ourselves without income, you know what?

We’d be okay thanks to our sub $500 monthly mortgage bill.

Guess we won’t be moving to Southern Ontario, Wisconsin, or Ohio anytime soon…

Drat.

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Coach McLellanOver the weekend I learned of the passing of my high school track coach.

He was 77 years old and in a nursing facility due to Alzheimer’s.

I call him my track coach but he was better known in Connecticut as a legendary football coach as well as “the” gym teacher at my hometown’s high school.

He started at the school in the early 1960’s.

Now, by the time I was in high school, in the 1990’s, he was like something you’d only seen in nostalgic “good old days” movies.

Big chested, big square teeth, brush cut, whistle around the neck, clipboard in hand, and a booming voice that wasn’t overly loud but came through clearly as a growl more often than not.

He was the epitome of the classic high school football coach that doubled as the gym teacher

No simple task for an older John Wayne type to be surrounded by a bunch of Gen-X’ers slipping into the grunge era — it must have been confusing to him — but, man, did he ever command respect.

And he got it too.

He wasn’t your friend, he was your coach — whether you were on one of his teams or not.

I remember running track when all of the other teams had started wearing long mesh basketball style shorts and leaving their over-sized singlets untucked.

We’d step off the bus with our short shorts and singlets tucked in like we were competing in the 1948 Olympic Games.

One classmate of mine, upon hearing of his death, mentioned that he’d wanted to get an earring in high school really badly, had his parents approval and everything, but refrained for fear that Coach would rip it out and was, now 25 years later, happy that he’d made the decision not to get one.

I doubt Coach would have ever actually said something like that out loud but I 100% believe that that’s the way he thought.

Glenn McLellanOld school.

For real, he was straight out of the 1950’s…in 1991.

Thinking back, I can only think of one guy in our high school that made the mistake of getting an earring. I can think of around 30 that got one once they were out of high school and out of Coach’s view.

The man clearly had an impact.

So, back in February, a former student of his (way older than I) posted on Facebook that she was doing some sort of volunteer work with comfort/therapy dogs in South Carolina and she’d walked into a room and saw a familiar face — Coach McLellan.

She posted a picture of Coach, still looking like a big strong gym teacher, and mentioned that Coach was suffering from Alzheimer’s related dementia and that his wife thought it was wonderful to see him light up reliving the “old” days — all but ignoring the dog in the room.

With that, I contacted my fellow alum for some contact details and wrote Coach a letter…the old school way…on paper the very same day.

I’m glad I did.

Here it is…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – |
Hi Coach!
My name is ##### ###### and I went to AHS from the Fall of 1990 through the Spring of 1994.

I was mostly a rec-level athlete growing up so by the time I was in high school, and in your gym class, my athletic endeavors were pretty much coming to a close.

As such, my moderate athletic abilities were pretty much unknown to everyone — myself included.

In Grade 9, I had gym class during seventh period — at the very end of the school day. The group in our class was an unsual mixture with a handful of kids from all four grades — something that didn’t usually occur for gym or any class, really.

Not sure if it was a scheduling mix-up or what — it was a weird situation but for a ninth grader coming in, it was pretty intimidating — especially for someone that wasn’t considered extraordinarily athletic.

One of my first memories of that gym class was when you paired us up in twos for two-on-two basketball.

Basketball was never a strength for me and I think that was obvious to you. You paired me up with DS (name removed but he went on to became a professional athlete).

Imagine that — a freshman paired up with a senior who just so happened to be the star of the soccer and basketball teams…and pretty much the most elite athlete to ever attend the school. Crazy.

As a result, I thought it was pretty neat that he even knew my name. And I’ve got to admit that his abilities on the court actually kinda made me look good too.

I also remember that when the floor hockey session eventually came around in gym, I was somehow forced to do recreational dance with B.T. (the female gym teacher) instead.

In fact, during my four years in high school — I never once got to play floor hockey in the gym; the one activity I knew I’d excel at.

But my fondest memory came in the Spring of my freshman year.

My parents had always said things like “Make the most of the opportunities presented to you” but I’d never really been able to apply that to anything in my life at that point.

It was the day we had to run the mile down on the track for the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

I’d always been “okay” at most of the tests — pull-ups were always very easy for me.

Running distance though, not so much.

So you had our whole class walk down to the track and set us off running.

Most of the girls walked.

The smokers walked slower.

I started off trying to stick with the “real” athletes like Larry, Ken, Jimmy and John (all jocks in the stereotypical sense) and was doing a pretty good job sticking with them.

Then I started to pull away from them.

And then I lapped them.

I remember thinking in my head as I began the fourth lap, “What on earth is happening?”

Seriously, it was like no one else was even trying…except they were.

The guy in the converse high-tops and argyle socks that couldn’t shoot a basket, was horrible at volleyball, and mediocre at soccer, should not have been leading the field.

By OVER a lap!

I remember crossing the finish line winded and you coming right over with the watch in your hand and a grin on your face and saying, “Brainy… you’re on my track team now.”

Perhaps it was my very first runner’s “high” but I really thought you were kidding.

That is, until we went back up to the school and you showed me where the track locker room (which I’d always thought was just for football) was.

Not even taking off my gym clothes, I went to the pay phone to call my dad — “I’d need to be picked up later. I’m joining the track team!

Now, it was kinda awkward to be the new guy on a team with so many upperclassmen.

And being the new guy who didn’t appear to have much athletic ability made it even more unnerving for me. And joining the team mid-season? Well, that was unheard of. And it certainly didn’t help that I was a little bit shy too…

But you took me into that locker room, introduced me to everyone and pretty much set my mind at ease.

Actually, I was scared shitless and felt really, really, out of place. I didn’t feel I’d truly earned the full backing of Coach McLellan, the legendary High School football coach.

But you did back me. 100%.

Even though you didn’t coach the distance runners directly, you made sure I was taken care of — and I can’t thank you enough for that.

That weekend, I went out with my dad and we bought some running shoes — really ugly Asics with horrible green and highlighter yellow trim that totally clashed with our uniforms.

Three school days later, I was on a bus to Stafford or Tolland or somesuch other outpost in Connecticut for a track meet and running the very first event of the meet and as the only runner from our school.

I finished “in the points” and, being my first real race, it was a personal best.

On the bus ride home, I sat with Joe Gillis — nicest guy around — and I remember thinking… I’d have been home watching tv with parents right now… but instead I’m a valued member of the track team and sitting with a popular senior on the bus talking about how we did in our events.

For a ninth grader, that’s a big deal.

So as the weeks passed, I got better and better, and started doing more of the distance events — all of them actually — and by the end of the season, the 5000-meter was “my” event and I was finishing first with consistency and qualified for the State Open.

Somehow, a couple of freshman, Jeff and I, had managed to reel in and surpass every other distance runner on the team. It was really neat to have guys who, weeks prior, wouldn’t even so much as look at me in the hallway at school, darting back and fourth across the football field cheering me on by name for both straightaways.

While I was pretty much a non-factor at States… as a team, we won the State Title in 1991. What an awesome bus right home that was from East Hartford…

Now, still not really feeling comfortable with my place on the team, I skipped the team banquet that year.

Man, you got in my face about that at my next gym class, called me into your office down in the locker room, gave me my JV letter, shook my hand, smiled, and told me not to skip another one in an almost silent tone that only an intimidating football coach could.

The following fall, instead of hanging out at home, I joined the cross country team.

And then I did track again. And then cross country. And then track again and so on wracking up six varsity letters and adding another State Championship in 1994 — when I was a factor.

Not to bad for the seemingly unathletic kid that played tuba in the band and rode the “loser cruiser” to school each and every day.

Oh, and for the record, I never skipped another team banquet.

Now, my parents were never really athletic. I’m not sure there’s an athletic bone in my Mom’s body. My dad was more of a musician who ending up working for one of the insurance companies. But what man doesn’t want to be good at sports?

My dad died back in 2010 but my fondest memories of him are how he’d show up at every single track meet — you know where we had crowds that could be counted on a single hand — to watch his son outrun everybody.

He was beaming with pride sitting on those bleachers next to the tower hearing all of the guys cheer me on as I boringly ran in a big circle twelve and a half times, then four times, and then, later, another eight times.

I can still picture the look on his face saying, “Yep, that’s my kid.”

I went two seasons without losing a single race at home. I think the only time I wasn’t the first across the line was at one of the invitationals we went to. Talk about a personal confidence booster.

And that’s 100% on you, Coach.

I sometimes wonder if teachers even know when they’re “making” one of those moments for their students.

Sure, I may have drawn attention to myself on my own that day in gym but you took it upon yourself to make it more — and gave me the confident backing to really apply myself.

Further, after you’d passed the coaching reins on to Kurt — he pushed the same type of confidence on entering me in invitational meets with times well beyond what I’d ever done.

4:18 mile? Me? I can’t do that.

I did it.

Confidence is a crazy thing.

My life would have been *so* much different had I not gotten involved with that track team. Err, had you not forced me to get involved with that track team.

No way would I have been “rounded” enough to somehow find myself in the National Honor Society. No way would I have ever considered myself athletic scholarship material. No way would I have even had a girlfriend in high school.

It’s amazing, just a few months ago the Class of ’94 had our 20th reunion.

At heart, I still kinda of define my high school self as the dorky tuba player in the band that didn’t talk much… But the reality is that most people remembered me as a really fast runner. That’s a pretty cool high school legacy for someone like me. Something I’m really proud of even if I still find it difficult to believe.

Thank you for noticing and forcing me to pursue something that I was naturally good at. Something that I didn’t even know I could do and something that, had you not “put” me on the track team that day, something that I never in a million years would have pursued on my own.

You gave me my first opportunity — my first big break — and I certainly rode it as far as I could. And I’ll tell you, I’ve taken advantage of every other opportunity that first once opened me up to.

Thanks so much Coach!

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Tre CoolI remember once watching Green Day perform at some festival on television, probably around 1995, and my dad remarked, “That guy is terrible” in reference to Tre Cool, the drummer in the band.

I mean, I could tell that Billie Joe Armstrong was terrible at his instrument but didn’t notice how “off” Tre Cool was — and still is in every single performance I’ve ever seen since by Green Day.

My dad was spot-on. The guy can’t play.

Fast forward a few years, and it’s the same type of deal where Blink 182 (essentially a Green Day ripoff) is playing live at some awards show or something on television and my dad utters, “Hmm, maybe he’s not so bad…” assuming it’s the same guy.

Travis Barker

Through all of the noise, all my dad would listen for is the snare — and apparently Travis Barker had “it”.

I’m not totally certain what ‘it’ was — my guess is that his rudiments are spot on unlike Tre Cool who, while fast, is actually about as (un) talented as Animal is playing with Electric Mayhem.

Either way, it was quite a sight to see a guy in his late fifties drumming away on the steering wheel to a Blink-182’s “Rock Show“.

Dennis & Randy

My dad played snare for Preston Scout House and later the Flying Dutchman, following his older brothers’ footsteps, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

It was kind of a big deal… and not, like, just locally. It was renowned. World famous, even…which back then simply meant “famous in North America.”

Still, keep in mind that this was way before marching bands, aside from DCI, turned into what they are now — social outcasts that often turn out to be the folks that own cats by the dozen later in life. These kids were cool.

From what I can gather, he was pretty good at it too as I’ve been told by a number of people who wouldn’t just say it cause I was his son or because he’d died — I’m pretty certain he *was* really good at it.

When it came time for me to play an instrument, my dad laid down a few rules.

Absolutely no reed instruments – clarinet, oboe, or that god awful instrument called a saxophone.

No flute.

And never, ever, drums.

Didn’t leave me with a lot to choose from — and I think that was his plan all along…

I ended up on a trumpet in third grade, getting a jump on most of my classmates who took up instruments in 5th grade and beyond.

I believe my dad steered me away from drums mostly because he knew that, even if I’d managed to get really, really, really good at it, for the most part, the “talent” would always go completely unrecognized.

To be just awesome at something but have most people see it as, eh, yeah, that’s pretty good.

“Have you heard the new Beatles’ song? That Ringo is to die for…”

AnimalTalk about unfulfilling.

And now, when listening to live music, I totally get it.

Most of these guys are hacks just smashing away behind a wall of drums semi-randomly most of the time — and most people think they’re gifted musicians.

They’re not.

Kind of explains why nearly every song you hear on the radio was actually performed by studio musicians and not the “talent” on the cover of the CD or in the music video.

Anyway, while I was the best trumpet player in our school through 7th grade, it was never really my passion…and other kids were quickly catching up.

tubaI soon switched over to tuba. Yeah, the tuba.

No joke, our band teacher had a poster in his office of all of the brass instruments. I went in for my trumpet lesson one day and said, “I want to play that one” while pointing to the tuba.

I’d picked it cause it was the biggest and once the school system actually secured one for me to play it was so big, in fact, that I had to sit on a couple telephone books to reach the mouthpiece.

Played tuba through high school — getting a trip to Germany in the process — and then left it in my past the day I graduated.

While I was never very good, no one ever forgets the tuba player.

That is pretty fulfilling.

– – – – – – – –

PIAC Addendum

Total lie up above.

I actually was pretty good at the tuba.

I mean, I didn’t have a lot of competition as there were never more than two tuba players in our band at any given time so it wasn’t much of a challenge to be the best or anything, but, yeah, I was a pretty good tuba player.


– – – – – – – –

Tangent from the Deep End

Glory DaysFurther, I sometimes think about how people “peak” at a certain point in their lives before starting a steady decline.

For me, I’m not certain if my own peak came in high school (like it does for so many people) at the height of my track accomplishments or if it was in my 20’s when it almost seemed there was nothing that I couldn’t accomplish on the computer and money, honestly, came easily and from so many sources. (I bought a freakin’ plane?!)

Perhaps I haven’t peaked yet?

Who knows…

Anyway, I’m pretty sure my dad peaked while he was still marching and playing snare and it was a pretty important time for him.

It’s the only reason I can think of that he had about a dozen pairs of drum sticks from the 1950’s always somewhat accessible (though almost never used) in our basement for all those years — the ONLY thing I can think of in our house from his youth.

Kinda like my track trophy that I received when I ran a 4:18 mile in 1993 — it’s not on display at my house or anything but I know EXACTLY where it is and don’t plan on ever misplacing it.

The sticks were his trophy.

After he died, I remember seeing a pair of them in the garage of my parents’ new gated community “retirement” house.

I left them there.

I’m not certain why. Maybe cause it was in the garage, literally feet away from where my dad had died just hours earlier.

But after the surreal funeral, just as I was getting ready to go to the airport to head back home, my dad’s older brother came over with a pair of fat Ludwig sticks in his hand to take home.

I’m not sure if they were the same pair that I’d seen in the garage a few days earlier, I assume they were.

He didn’t say much of anything — he didn’t have to.

Anyway, I tucked them into my backpack and hoped like crazy the overly aggressive TSA agents at the airport wouldn’t confiscate them as weapons of mass destruction or something.

For real, I’d have started walking the 1200 miles home if that had happened.

So, sitting right here in front of my keyboard are a couple of 60 year old Ludwig drum sticks.

Ludwig Sticks

They’re not on display or anything — actually mostly buried below mail and empty Capri Sun pouches most of the time — but I know exactly where they are.

Probably always will too.

0 4750

StairwellEveryone knows about elevator etiquette.

Seemingly, anyway.

You know, where you let people off before you get on? That type of thing? Even my 4-year old knows…

Bafflingly, there are actually countless people who are apparently unaware that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Whatever, that’s fine by me as I’m a stair climber.

I take the stairs at work at least nine out of ten times — and only take the elevator when it would be socially awkward not to, like, when I enter or leave the building with someone I know.

The unwritten rule in a stairwell is kinda like the rules you should follow on a desolate sidewalk or even a grocery store aisle — you don’t pass people that are moving the same direction as you are and you NEVER ride their heels either.

(This rule, of course, doesn’t apply on busy city sidewalks that are both wide enough to not make it awkward and crowded enough so as the slower of the two parties doesn’t feel at all threatened or hurried.)

So, without fail, every time I’m cruising down the stairs at a pretty decent clip — skipping a stair with each stride — some bonehead on a lower floor enters the stairwell and procedes downward slower than those darn folks that stand stationary on those people movers at the airport…

Ugh?!

For real, people! Those people movers are so that your walking speed is increased dramatically…like almost a 100% increase in speed.

They’re not for standing on!? Argh?!

Anyway, in the stairwell, it drives me bonkers.

I mean, I know they heard my pace in advance as they opened the door so they’re totally aware that now I’m behind held up.

Are they going slow on purpose?

I can never be certain as etiquette requires that I stay back at least one landing but, c’mon, seriously…

If your standard stairway pace can’t beat an elevator down 10 stories or up at least 5 stories, well, take off your FitBit and stay out of the stairwell.

We don’t want you here.

Can You Dig It?

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