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Now what am I supposed to do?

As a kid, I followed my brother Sean in everything I did.  He made up the rules to all of the games we played, I listened to the music that he liked, and I followed him to the same grade school, high school and college.

Sean had already blazed a trail in pretty much everything I did, and he was always there to show me the ropes and act as a safety net.  So, when he left home to go to college, I famously said to my Mom, “Now what am I supposed to do?”.

Three weeks ago, I lost my brother at the age of 46.  And now more than ever, I am left to ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?”.

Sean was not only my brother, but my best friend.  Even though I was three years younger than him, he never excluded me from anything.  If he was playing with his friends, they had to accept that I was going to be included.

To be honest, I can never remember fighting with my brother.  A fact that, now that I have kids of my own, boggles my mind.  I believe there was a disagreement once over me reneging on a Han Solo for Greedo action figure trade, but that is the worst I can come up with.

For me growing up, Sean was the coolest kid I knew.  He was stylish (for the 80’s), he listened to “cool” music, he had tons of friends and girls liked him.  He was everything I wasn’t.   I would never tell him that, of course, but he was the kind of guy that when we walked into someplace together I was proud to say, “I’m with him.”

halloween

Even though I am Batman, I am most definitely the sidekick here.

So much of what I am, my likes and dislikes, were shaped alongside Sean.  We both loved movies, TV, comic books and music.  Supposedly, being a nerd about all of those things is cool now, but it was anything but cool when I was growing up.

Knowing too much about “Star Wars” or being able to talk at length about something like the British TV show “The Young Ones,” was something that I kept to myself when I was younger in order to fit in.  But with Sean, all of those things that we loved were like a secret language that only he and I knew.

We could have entire conversations in obscure movie quotes and we would be so excited to share a new song or band that we discovered.  I could hear something and immediately think, “Sean will love this.”

It is that relationship that has caused his loss to leave such a hole in my soul.  There will never come a day that I discover something new in which sharing it with Sean will not be my first thought.  Hiding just out of sight behind all of the things we loved together and all of the happy memories we shared will always be a twinge of sadness.

As we got older, and started our own families, our contact with each other became less frequent.  Life always seemed to get in the way.  So much so, that my last contact with him was barely a blip, weeks before his death.

I will forever be filled with regret for not forcing our relationship to remain strong, and for not looking after him and being the best friend that he always was to me.

Maybe the sadness and regret I feel every time I think of him will gradually turn into something new.  I don’t know.  But I will never forget him.

“What am I supposed to do now?” I have no idea.  But I will start by keeping my memories of him and the love that he showed me alive for the sake of his family, my family and me.

I love you Sean.

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One year down…

Our lives are filled with changes.   Events that occur, usually without notice, that alter our lives forever.  

Making a pretty girl laugh in the hallway at work was a nice moment, but I had no idea that it was about to change my life forever. 

If I am truly good at anything, it is giving up on stuff.   Diets, books, home improvement projects.  I have seen many come and go.  But if there is one thing that I can honestly say that I stuck with and gave my all, it was trying to make that pretty girl see that she belonged with me. 

This past weekend, I celebrated the first anniversary of marrying my best friend.  A woman that makes me laugh, makes me smile, and has truly changed my life for the better.

In our time together, Jen has always encouraged me to write (so you can give her any credit or blame for having these blogs) , so I wanted to re-print the first thing that she asked me to post.  The story of how we met. 

I love you Jen, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.  Even if you laugh hysterically at the way that I sew on a button.

About the bride
Winchester’s own Jennifer Mueller has that rare combination of wit, talent, beauty and compassion that makes those who first meet her sit up and take notice. She has been a pianist, a soccer star and a big-hearted lover of animals. The youngest of four, Jen is committed to her family, and is known as a loving daughter, sister and godmother. In some circles, she is even considered the “cool” aunt. Whether they know her as Jen, Jenny or Jennifer, her friends all know her as someone they can always count on and who will definitely give her opinion. She is quick to laugh and never afraid to encourage others to follow their dreams. With dreams to someday own a bison ranch, Jen currently shares her home with her “baby girl,” a 140 lb (but slimming down) Great Dane named Tula. On October 23rd, Jen will welcome another large mammal into her life.

About the groom
Scott McMullin, of the Hazelwood McMullin’s, is a philanthropist, patriot, and one-time scourge of the prairie dog.
A well-known raconteur, McMullin once entertained literally dozens with his weekly newspaper column “It Practically Writes Itself.” Residents of California and problem drinkers probably know him best as the former automated voice of the legal disclaimer option at 1-800-BUD-REWARDS. The middle child of three, Scott is known as a devoted (if sometimes sarcastic) son, brother and uncle.

How we met
In addition to making top-notch pet food, Nestle Purina PetCare has the distinction of being the starting point for one of the greatest love stories of the 21st century (if not history). Popular office sweetheart Jennifer Mueller and Scott McMullin, who Jen described as “the angry loner from the second floor.”

Following an awkward “should I go this way or that way”-dance as they approached each other in the hallway, Scott made a hilarious remark which is unfortunately lost to the ages. Jen’s laugh had him hooked. He promptly e-mailed a co-worker he knew to be a friend of Jen’s and asked if she was single. When Jen was told about the e-mail she uttered those magic words: “Scott who?”

Choosing not to strike while the iron was hot, Scott instead chose the proven strategy of not following up or even speaking to Jen for several weeks.

Scott then volunteered to take on an additional task at work that would allow him to drop off paperwork at Jen’s desk, where she would more than likely be won over by his witty remarks. For those of you who know Scott well, you know that he must have truly been smitten to volunteer for extra work.

Fate then stepped in and brought Jennifer to the same department as Scott. A move that brought Jen to tears, and brought a smile to Scott’s face, as the best thing to happen at work since Taco Friday’s in the cafeteria.

As the months went on, Scott and Jen formed a friendship. He loved her frankness in telling incredibly embarrassing stories about herself, and she was impressed by his seemingly endless supply of dark blue work shirts.

Scott then took the plunge and risked the friendship by asking Jen out in the most romantic way possible: buried in a witty Seinfeld-esque joke about fortune cookies. The sort of half sarcastic proposition that can be explained away as “just a joke” if Jen said no.But she didn’t. She said yes. And that led to a 2 year courtship filled with more awkward stops and starts than a high school driver’s ed course.

But through it all, Scott and Jen became best friends. They were the ones that each other wanted there when things were good and wanted to console them when things weren’t.

As Jen baked Christmas cookies one cold December night, Scott stopped by. They shared a kiss, more than a few cookies and let each other know that they didn’t want to be with anyone else.

Over the next several months, they were welcomed with open arms by each other’s family and friends. They learned so much more about each other, shared many laughs and found out that some people just aren’t cut out for skiing.

This past Memorial Day, as fireworks lit up the sky over Lake Michigan, Jen said ‘yes’ to the most important question Scott had ever asked. And they haven’t looked back since.

On October 23rd, Jen and Scott will begin writing the next chapter of their story, as they share their special day with their family and friends.

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Mom wants to see you

As a kid, I used to always tell my Mom that I was never going to move away from her.  “I’m going to live with you forever,” I would say. 

And, deep down, I think there is a small part of her that wishes I was still under her roof.  Despite the fact that, like most kids, I was the worst possible roommate.  Never cleaning anything up or paying my share of the utilities.  Constantly asking for money or favors.  And feigning illness to get out of all manner of things. 

 Part of the irony of being a mom is that your kids don’t truly appreciate everything you did until they are on their own, or off starting their own families.  When they are sitting up with you when you get sick at two in the morning or driving you and your friends to the movies, you just think that is part of her job description. 

Unlike the moms of the June Cleaver era before me, my Mom worked for most of my childhood.  But while she might not have been there in pearls, with a big piece of chocolate cake waiting for me when I got home from school, she devoted all of her time off to me and my brother and sister. 

My Mom and her Mom.

 

Den mother, field trip chaperone, and unpaid sales rep for every calendar, raffle ticket and piece of candy that was pushed on me by my school.  My Mom held all of those positions and never complained once. 

My Mom and Dad worked very hard to make sure that we were always taken care of.  We may not have always got what we wanted, but we always had what we needed.  (And usually most of what we wanted)  There was not a Christmas that went by that my Mom did not elbow her way through an angry mob of moms (the worst kind) at 7 a.m. to make sure that we had that season’s big toy.  And despite an incident in which I may or may not have kicked the Christmas tree and verbally berated Santa, I now see that the Bat-cycle is just as good as the Batmobile. 

There was also never a summer in which she didn’t plan a road trip in whatever non-air conditioned vehicle we were driving in at the time.  From Disney World to the Tommy Bartlett Water Show in the Wisconsin Dells, I have seen it all.  And you have not really lived until you have seen a water ski show and water-cannon “Tribute to the Music of Elvis” while wearing a heavy fall jacket. 

My Mom is one of the kindest and sweetest people I have ever known and has always let me know how proud she is of me.   She has believed in me even when I haven’t given her much reason to do so.  As a “doesn’t live up to his potential” student, my Mom has sat through her share of parent/teacher meetings.  And even when Sister Christian (who was not nearly as cool or rockin’ as the Night Ranger song of the same name) let her have it in particularly brutal evaluation of me, she still knew that I could do better. 

While my Mom is sweet and a little innocent (so innocent that she only realized what the “doobie” in The Doobie Brothers meant about 5 years ago) she is also capable of giving  a look that can stop you in your tracks and chill you to the bone.  While it was mostly utilized for putting an end to horseplay, I believe that it’s use was briefly considered for putting an end to the Iran Hostage Crisis in the late seventies. 

My Mom purchased every sweater in this photo.

 

As I get older, it is hard to imagine that I was that little kid in the picture above.  But I know that there is someone out there, for whom I will always be her “little” boy.  And in a world that gets a little crazy sometimes, I could not dream of a more comforting feeling. 

I know that I can always count on my Mom, and someday I hope that I can follow her parental lead.  (I need to start working on my “look”) 

So, while I may not be able to live at home with her forever, I hope she knows that I will never be too far away. 

Happy birthday Mom.  I love you.

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Sister Act 2: It’s Punny

31 years ago today, I received the sort of “end of the world”-news that every 5-year-old dreads.  I had just become an older brother.  To make matters even worse, that younger sibling was a sister.  And to put a cherry on top of that, she decided to drop in just 6 days before my birthday. 

As friends and relatives congratulated me on my wonderful birthday gift, I chose to make my feelings known to my Mom by declaring, “I was your baby, why did you have to have her?”  A sentiment that colored our relationship for years to come as only I could see that this blue-eyed, blonde-haired bundle of joy was a ticking time bomb just waiting to confound me at every turn. 

For the first year or two, she presented only a minor annoyance.  Being forced to keep it down while she slept, putting up with her crying while I watched “The Incredible Hulk,” etc.  But as she got older, like a cat, she sensed my dislike for her and sent it back to me times ten.    Others saw the dimples and the sweet personality but I saw pure evil in a Polly Flinders dress. 

If I have ever had an arch-nemesis in this world, it was my sister Megan.  The Lex Luthor to my Superman was a little girl who was referred to then and (ironically) now as “The Baby.” 

Have you ever looked into the face of pure evil?

Any older sibling learns to hate any parental plea that ends with “he’s/she’s just a baby.”  “Just let her play with your toys.”  “Let her watch her cartoons.”  For a 5-10 year old, being the bigger person is a concept that makes as much sense as Particle Physics.  And it stings even more when your parents seem to miss every one of your younger siblings outbursts like a WWF referee paying too much attention to the crowd.   

My sister could go from being a proponent of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent protest, in an epic 30-minute struggle to get her to put on shoes (which ended, conveniently, when my Mom walked in the door) to bashing me over the head with a majorette’s baton.  Bending the blunt instrument around my head like something out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. 

The trouble didn’t stop at home either.  She puked in my Cardinals hat at a picnic, had a penchant for wearing Marine Corps hats with Sunday dresses, and wore so much of my Mom’s old make-up at dinner one night that I said she looked like “a hooker” and refused to sit at the table with my family.  I wouldn’t have wanted to soil my reputation among the patrons of the fine dining establishment Long John Silver’s. 

Through our early years together, I will admit that I didn’t always like my little sister, but that I always loved her.  When an ill-conceived “light saber” duel with baseball bats led to our neighbor cracking Megan in the nose, I was the first person to come running when I heard her cries.  Nobody was going to mess with my little sister…..unless it was me. 

As my older brother headed to high school, Megan and I moved into the relative peace of a Cold War détente.  We would walk home from school together and spend the next few hours watching Duck Tales and preparing dinner.  During the summer, we might even put aside our differences and ride our bikes down to Dairie Queen and catch a matinée of “The Goonies.”  

Maybe I did like my sister. Shocking.

As I moved onto high school and then college, Megan and I got to spend less time together.  When I would drop in, I would find that she wasn’t such a little kid anymore, and that she had her own life.  As we crossed paths on her way to college and my way back home, I discovered that she had become a young woman who was still just as feisty as the little girl I had sparred with.  Even in her hippie phase, she wasn’t beyond getting lippy with a woman built like a longshoreman who cut in line at the DMV. 

As we got a little older,  I discovered that this person that I had spent so much time with had actually become someone who I liked to see.   We were able to look back and smile at the good times and laugh at the “bad” times.  All of our shared experiences had become the inside jokes of old friends. 

It is hard to believe that the little girl my parents brought home all of those years ago is now 31.  She is now a wife and a mother herself.  But for me, she will always be my “little” sister.  And now, I am happy to say, my friend. 

Happy Birthday Megan.

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Daddy’s home!

Me, my brother and my Dad on what I hope is Halloween 1974.

As Father’s Day approaches, my thoughts turn to the man who has done, and continues to do,  the most to shape who I am today.  A man who, over these last 36 years, has made me laugh, taught me my values and occasionally driven me nuts.  A true original.  My Dad. 

My Dad isn’t like a lot of the other father’s I knew growing up.  Unlike some friend’s dads who seemed to consider their kid’s lives as an afterthought, my Dad always took an interest in what my siblings and I  were doing.  He knew our friends,  he was our biggest fan in whatever we chose to do and was always very willing to give the gift of his time. 

From the day I was born until I was in my mid-20’s, my Dad was a police officer.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to be called away in the middle of the night or to find out that the guy who said “Hi” to him at Burger King was someone who he had sent to the penitentiary for burglary.  My Dad took a great deal of pride in his work.  He loved it and I think he did it because he truly wanted to help people.  (Although the guy at Burger King may have had a different opinion.) 

My Dad is a very kind man but, as an ex-cop, he can also be a little intimidating.  He once avoided potential road rage when the belligerent driver of another car followed us into the parking lot of a Putt-Putt, only to apologize and drive away when he saw my Dad get out of the car.  My brother and I have decided that if we ever had to take on my Dad, we would have to surprise him, and at least one of us would have to be wielding a pillow case full of door knobs. 

While my Dad sometimes refers to me as the wheelbarrow, in that I only work when pushed, he has a work ethic that won’t quit.  In all his years as a policeman, I can only recall him calling in sick once.  A day on which he passed a kidney stone that, judging from the sounds I heard from the next room, was roughly the size of an avocado.  

Although his sense of humor has gotten goofier and goofier over the years, my Dad is a very funny man.  Full of stories and jokes, he is the center of most every party that he attends.   My Mom often says that friends make sure that he is invited to their parties and then let her know that she can come too.  While we may roll our eyes at the same old jokes, when he has a fresh audience….watch out. 

My Dad is like a human waterboard.  He can get anyone to talk.  If you meet him, be prepared for a barrage of questions the likes of which you have never seen.   Questions that run the gamut from “What do you do for a living?” to my family’s favorite, “Did you get any surprises for Christmas?”  (Which was asked of someone in May)  People tell him things within the first 20 minutes of meeting him that they have probably never told anyone in their life.  If you put my Dad in a room with Marcel Marceau, he would walk out with a vacation invitation.  People don’t open up to him because of some Dale Carnegie tactic or self-help book trick, it is because my Dad is truly interested in what they have to say.  My Dad makes people feel special because he listens.   

He treats everyone he meets like a friend and is the least self-conscious person I know.  I am fairly confident that he hasn’t purchased a single item of clothing for himself since he got out of the Navy, and will wear the same promotional giveaway t-shirt for years until my Mom mysteriously loses it in the wash.  He once cut the grass in a “Me So Horny” t-shirt that someone gave him as a joke for his 50th birthday and greeted some high school friends of my sister that had come to pick her up.  That t-shirt was never seen again. 

My Dad grew up with parents that he could never count on, and at some point he decided that he would be the type of parent that you can always count on.  I can call on him any time day or night and I know that he will be there for me. His word is gold.  If he tells you that he is going to do something, it will get done.  Unless it is an ill-conceived Father/Son project to revive a junkyard Camaro which came and went on the same tow truck, and spent the two years in between as wheeled storage unit in the garage.   My Dad’s self-taught automotive skills and my brother’s and my proficiency at holding flashlights and handing over screwdrivers just wasn’t enough to bring it back to life.  In all fairness, I would have probably just ended up sideswiping a Wendy’s drive thru anyway. 

As an adult, I can now look back and really appreciate all of the sacrifices that my Mom and Dad made for our family.  In addition to being a cop, my Dad worked a never-ending array of part-time jobs to make sure that my siblings and I could go to private school and to always be able to go somewhere on vacation.  There may not have been 4-Star accommodations, and my sister may have had to tell theme parks that she was 11 until she was well past voting age, but I have been all over this great land.  You have not truly witnessed the majesty of the Rocky Mountains until you have seen it from the back window of a beige Datsun 210 puttering up the side of Pike’s Peak. 

My brother says that if my Dad ever became famous, I could get rich impersonating him. At the very least I could be doing two shows a night with Tony Orlando in Branson.  What started as a trick that I sometimes used to startle my brother when he wasn’t looking or to generally annoy my sister (but unconvincingly sold to my Dad as a loving tribute) has, over the last several years, turned into an involuntary action.  I sound more and more like my Dad every day.  But as I have recently gotten married, and look to start a family of my own, I only hope that I can continue to do the best impression of my Dad that is possible. 

Happy Father’s Day Dad.

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He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

Looking good and feeling good in leisure suits that couldn't get too close to an open flame.

All of us have friends that we have made because we shared a class or a neighborhood,  but there is nothing like a friendship with someone with whom you have shared pair after pair of hand-me-down pants.  For me, that friend is my brother Sean. 

There is an old saying which states that you can’t choose your family, but somebody up there was sure looking out for me when they chose my brother. 

Like most younger siblings, I have followed Sean in just about everything I have done.  I followed him as we walked to grade school.  I followed him to high school and college.  When he started wearing parachute pants…..well, I stayed behind on that one.  

This Sunday, he is leading the way to a place that the little kid in the picture above never saw coming.  He is turning 40. 

Last week, I wrote about watching Sean’s two sons, and while I was with them I couldn’t help but look back on my relationship with my brother.   While most kids can’t wait for their younger siblings to stop pestering them, there was never a day on which Sean wouldn’t make time for me.   With his friends, it was always understood that his weird kid brother was part of the deal.   (And I was most definitely weird) 

Why would the 6 Million Dollar Man have a picture of himself on his chest?

He is someone who I always looked up to, even if he would change the rules of Freeze Tag mid-game if he was losing or always make me play Tonto to his Lone Ranger.    As kids, he was the good one, and didn’t always make the greatest partner for youthful shenanigans.  He would roll over on himself (and me) in a second if our parent’s discovered that we had peeked at the racecar set they had bought us for Christmas.  I played dumb, despite the fact that there were really only two possible suspects in the house. 

This may be damning him with faint praise but, of the two of us, he was most definitely the cool one.   Whether he was going through his preppy “Sweater Boy” phase or his skater look which led to my Dad sending him back to the barber when he came home with a feathered mullet, Sean was the Theo Huxtable (or insert a current cool kid reference) of 622 Lynn Haven Ln. 

He has always treated everyone like a friend.  When he was young,  he would ask kids that he met in line at the store if they would like to come over to our house. As a teenager, he brought over kids who didn’t have any family in town to join us for Thanksgiving. As an adult, he makes his living by helping people. 

My brother is a devoted father and husband, a great friend and the hardest working person I know.  As he turns 40 this weekend, I can only hope that I can continue to follow in his footsteps. 

You are my brother.  I love you.  

Happy birthday Sean.

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Do you know how to use anything “high tech?”

Last night, I received a phone call from my father asking for assistance in posting a car for sale on Craigslist.    These calls have become more frequent over the years as I have become the default IT expert for my Dad and his friends based on the fact that I:  a.) own a computer and b.) will generally not kick over a table  if they ask me how to cut and paste for the 4th time.

Let me point out, for the record,  that I think I know next to nothing about computers as I come from a generation in which the most high-tech discussion I had before turning fourteen was how to beat level 5 in Burgertime on the Intellivision.

Don’t get me wrong, I try to keep up.  I have an iPod and a Blackberry, and even 130 friends on Facebook, despite the fact that I only talk to about 4 friends in real life on a regular basis.  I look forward to re-connecting with the other 126 in 15 years on whatever is passing for social interaction at the point when I receive the message “I haven’t talked to you since Facebook . Will you join my Mafia Wars gang?”

I have no formal computer training.  In fact, the first time I even used one was in a high school typing class in which the teacher was awfully fond of giving back rubs.  That may explain why I start crying whenever I exceed 20 wpm.

I hadn’t even heard of the internet until I was a senior in college, when on one glorious day a friend showed me a message board containing a text-only list of “Simpsons” quotes and then spent 30 minutes waiting to download a picture of Terri Hatcher wearing a short skirt.   It is good to know that the internet has come a long way from providing nerds with pictures of scantily clad women and cartoon references.

I look at the kids today as I’m sure my Dad looks at me.  I know that their knowledge on these thing has already passed me by and now I am just trying to stay afloat.   My wife no longer needs to remind me that I need to lose when I play my nephews on Wii, because they spend every waking hour on-line and I never stood a chance in the first place.  “When I was your age we only had one button.”

I won’t throw out the old “In my day we played outside until the sun went down” bit since the most high energy game that I played as a kid was TV Tag, in which yelling out “Benson” was considered a solid defense.  I was such a lazy kid that I once hid the remainder of an unwanted hamburger from my lunch under a dresser instead of walking the 15 feet to the kitchen trash can.  To say that my Mom was a little upset when she found what appeared to be medical waste stored in a Glad sandwich bag 3 months later would be an understatement.   

As I continue to clean out my basement, I continue to find a never ending supply of dead technology and I am faced with the tough decision of whether or not it is worth keeping  A-Ha 45’s or a seemingly endless number of episodes of “Moonlighting” on VHS.  To kids today, I may as well be looking for handlebar mustache wax while riding one of those giant front-wheeled bikes.

My first iPod was a pair of bright yellow AM/ FM headphones that made me look like I was part of Korean War tank crew and could only pick up KHTR if I put my head up against my bedroom wall.   I blame their heft for me not reaching 6 feet tall.

Functional and stylish.

And who needs a PSP when you can play an almost recognizable, black and white version of Pac-Man while still being able to tell the time.

I was already pretty cool before I got this watch.

I just found out that my 2-year old niece will begin taking a computer class when she starts going to daycare soon, so at least I know that someone will be around someday to roll her eyes and answer all of my questions when I ask how to set up whatever nano bluetooth contraption I buy 5 years after everyone else.

I have met my replacement, and she wears Pamper’s Pull-Ups.

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