Southern Man

Sunday, July 30, 2006

God Is My TCAS

One minor incident last Sunday was that when we were descending into Chicago, the aircraft made a very abrupt maneuver - a steep bank to the right and a rapid high-power climb, accompanied by a screaming engine wail that got everyone's heartrate well into extreme-workout territory. Fortunately no passengers were in the aisles (although it did catch one of the flight attendants off guard) and no one was hurt. No explanation was given, and there were more than the usual audible sighs of relief after we touched down. Don't quote statistics at me claiming that flying commercial is the safest way to travel; Southern Man generally maintains a state of high anxiety from takeoff until parked at the arrival gate even without the unexpected aerobatics.

I mentioned this in Sunday School this morning for no other reason than that our discussion leader is an air-traffic controller and I thought he (a) would be amused and (b) could shed a little light on the subject. His guess was that it was commanded by a system like TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) to avoid a close encounter with another aircraft. According to him, if TCAS determines that there is danger of a collision it issues appropriate orders to both aircraft and the pilots are trained to obey them immediately, even if those orders are in conflict with instructions from the human controllers. This led to half-joking comments that God sometimes acts as such and guides us away from danger that we don't see. I am fairly sure that ours was the only Sunday-School classroom in the country in which the acronym "TCAS" was uttered in prayer.

On reflection, there's some degree of truth to that analogy. Over the last few months I have been tempted to do some really stupid things but was on many occasions stayed by the still, small voice that told me "don't go there." That's God, in TCAS mode. He knows when I'm veering into dangerous territory and will steer me clear if only I have the wit and wisdom to listen to Him.

My soon-to-be-ex-father-in-law frequently beseeched God to "guide and direct us" when he prayed. I'll add to that: God, be my TCAS and warn me away from danger. Amen.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I Went To A 5-Day Workshop And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

And I had to pay for the shirt myself. However, the folks at the world-famous Colgate Bookstore let us in even after they had closed for the evening and were most gracious and kind and helpful, so that makes up for it a little. And it's really a very nice t-shirt. To tell the truth, Southern Man is a bit daft about t-shirts. Don't ask how many boxes of them are stacked in his garage. I think he hopes to make a quilt or ten out of them someday.

The Alice / ACM Java workshop is over. I dare say it was the least professionally-conducted workshop I have ever attended. For what we paid, I expected a lot more, and I do mean a lot more. One of my traveling companions wants to write a hot letter to their dean, and we may do just that. However, it wasn't a total loss, as the other participants were just wonderful folks, a lot of fun to be with in both work and play. So instead of being all twisted and bitter about it, whenever I think of this workshop I'll just imagine that I'm back at Nichols and Beal and raise a quiet toast to new friends, well met. Our many evening conversations meant more me more than words can express and even though we are now scattered to the four winds I hope to see all y'all again someday.

Flying back was a bit of an adventure. American's flight schedule was its usual chaotic mess and there were lengthy delays at both Syracuse and Chicago O'Hare. At Chicago we actually had the plane and flight crew ready to go but had to wait a couple of hours for an apparently indespensible flight attendant to make it in from wherever it was she was stranded. Southern Man and his luggage finally made it home at about three a.m., tired but happy to be back in his own bed (not to mention his own air-conditioned bedroom). The dorm rooms at Colgate were, shall we say, not particularly comfortable.

The proposed Missouri trip with my son to see Hawthorne Heights is, alas, cancelled - I have too many appointments on Monday to even try to get out of town. I promised him that we'd catch them next time they were in the region. It also looks like I've been drafted to go to yet another workshop this week, a one-day affair in a nearby city. I also have a weekend trip to East Texas coming up, and during the week after that I've got to move the rest of my stuff out of my wife's house, and then I have to start getting ready for the fall it will be a busy couple of weeks. Oh, yeah, there's all the divorce stuff to deal with, too. Great, just great.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

Just a quick placeholder post to be edited later - we went to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame last night. Will update later. Perhaps much later.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Live From New York - It's Sunday Night!

Thanks to the miracle of modern transportation technology, Southern Man finds himself at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, for a five-day workshop on using Alice and Java in introductory-level computer science courses, so any posts this week will be from the Empire State.

I made it in fairly early in the afternoon, only to find that there was no one here for the usual arrival meet-and-greet, or to even give us our dorm room assignments and keys. Fortunately, the dorm rooms were open, so the four of us that were here promptly staked out the best ones - "best" in this context meaning "having windows with screens so we could open them at night without being devoured by the local insect population." Not many rooms qualified, so we then went about the building and swiped screens from wherever we could find them so that all four of our rooms could be upgraded to "best" status. When we did finally figure out who in Campus Security had the actual room assignments and keys, we promptly re-arranged things such that we could keep the rooms we had (that is, the "best" rooms), as opposed to the rooms to which we were actually assigned (which were not the "best" rooms). Security was less than happy about this, but we browbeat them into submission. They learn early that university professors are generally harmless critters but you should be careful around them anyway, especially when encountered in their native habitat and running in packs.

The next order of business was food and drink, and not necessarily in that order. One of our number had a rental car and was quickly promoted to "everyone's best friend." We headed into town (only a few blocks away, as it turned out) only to find that at 6:00 PM on a Sunday in Hamilton, New York, pretty much everything is closed. Apparently the tiny downtown lives on the largely absent college population, and the local pubs were no exception. We found out that one favorite watering hole, the Stone Jug, shuts down completely at the end of May and re-opens in mid-August. The others, if open at all, were on greatly reduced summer hours. Devastated by the possibility of a refreshment-free week, we ended up at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese joint called the Main Moon. Believe me, if you live in Hamilton, this place ranks a big "two thumbs down."

However, while walking back to the car we heard the dulcet strains of live music and quickly found that a bar-and-grill called Nichols and Beal was in fact open and had a live act playing in the alley behind the bar. We quickly obtained beverages and staked out a table near the band. They were a mixed bunch, with both older players / singers (one fellow and a bunch of women who called themselves "Ed Vollmer and the Chickadees") and some younger boys (name unknown, ages fourteen and fifteen, who played acoustic guitar and drums). Ed and the Chickadees played mainly gospel, folk, and bluegrass (including a terrific foot-stompin' rendition of Rocky Top), and the two boys did some very passable Eagles and CCR tunes. I'll post some cell phone pics later if they look OK.

Now adequately lubricated, we returned to the dorm to find that a fifth member of the conference had arrived. She was interested in finding food and drink as well, so three of us headed back to town (on foot, this time). We ended up back at Nichols and Beal for even more liquid refreshment and stimulating conversation and a grand time was had by all.

Generally at these affairs you meet with your hosts the day before and get orientation material, name badges, food service cards, conference schedules, notepads, pens, pizza, and that sort of thing. Oddly enough, we have yet to see any sign of any of the above. Perhaps he / she will appear at breakfast tomorrow morning, whenever and wherever that is.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The End Of The World As I Know It...

The boys from Cox just left, and I now have broadband in my duplex.

...and I feel fine!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Charlene and the Chocolate Factory

My seven-year-old daughter got to spend the night last night, which was a lot of fun. We worked puzzles and jumped on the trampoline (well, she jumped and I watched; it may be that Southern Man exceeds the maximum recommended weight for that particular trampoline) and watched Jurassic Park III. This is a fun film but has so many logical and continuity errors that even I can spot them. If that sort of thing amuses you, visit The next morning we slept in, had a nice breakfast, got in some more Quality Time on the trampoline, and went to a local children's theater production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was my excuse for having her with me overnight. Apparently there is a serious shortage of male actors this summer, as both Charlie and Grandpa Joe were played by females. However, it was a fun morning and a good play and I had to return her to her mother all too soon. The children's theater runs some neat summer camps, and I may try to work her into one in a few weeks.

My teenage son's current favorite musical group is Hawthorne Heights, an emo / screamo band out of Dayton, Ohio. They're playing in about ten days as part of the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, MO, which is about a six-hour drive for us. While I am not entirely thrilled about a twelve-hour road trip with a son who rarely deigns to speak to me at all (and when he does, his vocabulary consists mostly of monosyllabic grunts) to listen to a band that I'm not too crazy about, non-custodial fathers like me will go above and beyond the call of duty to get Quality Time with their kids - especially one with which I have a fairly rocky relationship anyway. On the other hand, about midway on the route is my soon-to-be-ex-father-in-law, so we could take a break with him if we wanted. I'm not sure I'm too thrilled about that, either; he hasn't spoken to me since his daughter declared her intention to divorce me some six weeks ago.

The divorce proceedings grind along. Her lawyer has filed the divorce petition and mine has filed the response. As we both have lawyers that bill in quarter-hour segments, it costs $85 every time one of them picks up a pencil or a phone on our behalf, so it is hoped that the next step is a quick meeting of the minds and a suitable settlement agreement. Therefore, here's a lawyer joke to take my mind off of this impending financial disaster:
A successful lawyer dies tragically at the tender young age of 33. He arrives at the Pearly Gates and is met there by St. Peter and a large group of saints who welcomed him to Heaven after his long life of service. The lawyer was surprised to hear this and, although glad to have made it to Heaven, expresses regret that he had to die while still in his youth. Now it's St. Peter's turn to look surprised and he double-checks his records. "Our mistake," he said. "We accidently mixed up your age with the number of hours you billed and thought you were 137!"
Hah, I feel better already.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Night at the Restaurant

Sundays are both the best and worst days of the week. It's a chance to chat with friends and socialize a bit and see the kids for at least a moment or two, but it's also a bit stressful to be in the same Sunday-School class with my not-yet-ex-wife. I love her very much and my heart still skips a beat whenever I see her, but she doesn't really speak to me unless she must. I have no idea what is running through her head or her heart.

I have one brother and one sister, all living in the same general area. A while back my sister had arranged for the three of us to meet for dinner, and tonight was the night. As best as I can recall, the three of us had never done this before, and it was a bit awkward at times. We stuck to safe topics. Perhaps it was me, but my brother seemed to be a bit tense. He is opening a new computer-repair store just a couple of miles from where I live; hopefully it will be a success. One of my older computers (running Windows 2000) has been infected with a browser hijack (the dreaded CWS) that I haven't been able to remove. Please don't suggest how; I've tried just about everything on the market, including several CWS removers. I may give it to my brother just to see if he can get it cleaned for me. That would be better than trying to find W2K drivers for all of the hardware (like the very finicky dual-monitor video card) and reinstalling Windows. Southern Man is something of a computer geek and installing an OS is normally as much play as work, but his heart just isn't in it right now.

In fact my heart just isn't in anything right now. I couldn't sleep at all last night and finally just gave up and went to work at four in the morning. I have plenty to do (the stupid Sun lab is broken again, for one thing) but am not in much of a mood to do any of it. It's possible that my students won't get their money's worth today.

A Day at the Zoo

I had promised my youngest daughter a day at the zoo as part of her birthday (which was a few weeks ago) so that's what we did on Saturday. "We" was me, my three kids, and a girlfriend of my teenage daughter. Highlights included a live show (seals and exotic birds, mostly) and a great time in the lorikeet aviary. Lorikeets are small, brightly colored parrots, and in the aviary you can tempt them with little dishes of water or nectar to climb onto your fingers or shoulders. At one point I had three of them on my shoulders (much to the delight of my youngest daughter) all nibbling on my hair. I suppose the only down side was that it seemed that my older two sniped at each other more than usual. After the zoo I was supposed to keep them until evening but they all wanted to go home instead. I didn't see much point in forcing the kids to stay with their dad, so I took them home. That left me an unexpected evening to knock about alone in my too-quiet rental, which was no fun at all. I suppose that's something I'll just have to get used to.

Friday, July 14, 2006

My Easily Entertained Daughters

I didn't plan to post anything until tomorrow or Sunday (that is, after spending my day with the kids) but I just have to say that after picking the three of them up after Vacation Bible School this evening (the two older kids are among the presenters; the youngest is merely attending) I dragged them into the office and the girls are having the time of their lives riding office chairs down a long sloping hallway outside my office. Why pay for Six Flags Over Texas when you have office chairs and a long sloping hallway and two easily entertained daughters?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Look, Ma, no cavities!

Just when one thinks that life can't get any more frantic, you check your voice mail and find that you and your entire family have dental checkups tomorrow. Like I remember making those appointments six months ago; I guess that's why they make reminder calls.

A few moments in the waiting room is hardly Quality Time, but I did get to chat with my two older kids for a bit. I was quite the bookworm as a lad (still am) and it was delightful to see that they both brought books. Actually, it was delightful to see my son with a book in his hands instead of earphones on his head. He had just finished
Jurassic Park for the third or fourth time and expressed his annoyance that Crichton killed Ian Malcolm at the end of JP but brought him back at the beginning of The Lost World. My daughter was reading a book by Frank Peretti called Trapped at the Bottom of the Sea. I've read some of his adult Christian works such as This Present Darkness and Piercing The Darkness; I'll have to get on Amazon and find copies of both those and the other books in the "Cooper Kids Adventure Series" for her and some other Crichton books for him. No, I don't get anything if you click on the links; this is a non-profit blog. However, I buy pretty much all of my books, music, and movies on Amazon's "used marketplace" and make frequent use of Wikipedia as well, so you may consider them as having earned the Southern Man™ Seal of Approval™.

My cleaning was, for once, uneventful. I have really poor teeth and a report of no cavities (and that the one spot they were watching from last time was still OK) was a welcome surprise. Usually it seems that I don't get out of a dental checkup with less than the threat of a root canal or two. My son and his mother finished first and left, so I got to take my daughter (who was also cavity-free) home, which meant a little more Quality Time in the truck. We stopped by a place called Jamba Juice, which sells expensive but delicious fruit concoctions, for even more QT before I had to drop her off at her mom's house and head back to work.

Life is getting less lonely, and my quiet rental duplex is slowly becoming a home. I got a spur-of-the-moment invitation to lunch on Sunday after church, and may be able to meet some other friends for lunch later this week. My co-workers have been incredibly supportive. It may be that a post-divorce existence will be bearable after all. It hurts a bit that a few in our Sunday-School class (awkward as it is, we are both still attending the same class) have apparently chosen sides and are giving me the cold shoulder. I suppose there's still a lot to work through, but with God's help we will work through it one way or another.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sometimes You Get What You Need

For the first week or so after finding that my wife wanted a divorce, I was pretty much an emotional and spiritual wreck. I knew we had problems but didn't think that divorce was the solution, and I was praying pretty much continually for the restoration of our marriage. Now while my spiritual life does tend to wax and wane from time to time, I felt that I've had a pretty good relationship with God for the last few years and had often found comfort in prayer and meditation. However, for that first week I didn't feel that God was even going to respond to me at all, much less answer that particular prayer. I had never felt so bitter in my entire life as I did during that week.

Then one evening I was out mowing some property we have outside the city (on a cantankerous 1946-ish International Harvester tractor borrowed from my dad, which will no doubt be the subject of a future post or two). This is what we call The Land: ten acres of unimproved farmland that I hope to hang on to after the divorce. Once you get started, mowing a big lot on a tractor can pretty much be done on autopilot and I was mowing and praying for a couple of hours (some people meditate while driving their car; Southern Man prays on a tractor). As before, I found no comfort.

Then I changed my prayer; rather than begging the Lord to give me back my marriage, I prayed for the strength and wisdom to deal with the situation and respond to my wife and children as a Godly man should. The wave of peace that washed over me at that moment was like nothing I had ever experienced before in prayer. The bitterness in my heart was swept away in an instant and was replaced by confidence and calm and purpose, and I knew from that moment on that no matter what happened, God would give me not what I wanted, but what I needed.

It looks like Mick and Keith were right all along.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean, Too

I had an unexpected opportunity to have my two daughters (ages seven and thirteen) from mid-afternoon Friday until Saturday morning, so naturally I took advantage of it (I imagine that a common thread in this blog will be that I, as the non-custodial parent, won't get to see my kids nearly often enough). That meant that I had to come up with a quick entertainment plan, but this was easily achieved: Pirates of the Caribbean II opened on Friday and I would actually be able to get the girls into their first viewing of a kid flick before their mother (or mine) beat me to it (as they already have with Cars and Superman Returns and The Devil Wears Prada and just about everything else this summer). I'm kind of glad I missed out on Prada, though. Southern Man will go to chick flicks, but only when he must.

We had a couple of hours at my place first, where the girls jumped on the trampoline and threw together a quick dinner (I keep plenty of kid food like "Easy Mac" in the house for just such emergencies) while I did battle with a futon I had purchased earlier that day (the assembly of which is probably deserving of an entire post) and just generally enjoyed having my girls nearby. Then we made a quick run to the furniture store so I could check some assembly details on the futon (I swear, the instructions were originally written in Sanskrit, badly translated into Chinese, and then run through the
babelfish to get an approximation of the King's English - and then photocopied a couple of dozen times until the illustrations were nice and fuzzy) and then headed to the Mall to do a little window-shopping and see the movie.

I'm not normally one to hit the concession stand, but the girls gave me the sad-eye treatment and I quickly caved. They are learning all too quickly that their daddy misses them and will generally do whatever they want when we're together. We got our popcorn and headed down to the movie, hoping to hit the water fountains on the way in. Note to the DA: it should be a criminal offense to deliberately not have water fountains in the cinema. Fortunately, the girls didn't protest too much when I balked at buying $4 drinks from the Pirates of the Concession Stand.

If you want a full review (or ten), click on the
Rotten Tomatoes link above. Suffice it to say that Pirates II is sillier, scarier, longer, and not quite as clever as the original. It also suffers from middle-of-the-trilogy syndrome and at the end serves mainly to set up the third film (including an unexpected twist that I won't reveal here). Nonetheless, it was a thrill-a-minute ride and we all enjoyed it immensely; the theater was packed and it's fun to be in a good crowd at a movie like this. Readers who note that I took a seven-year-old to a PG-13 film will either be comforted or concerned to know that she is a long-time movie veteran; we took her to Men In Black II shortly after her fourth birthday (which she enjoyed immensely) and she has been a devoted movie-goer ever since. I've always thought the kids would always have fond memories of "special" movie outings such as midnight openings, and I've taken them to several even if it was on a school night.

The rest of my abbreviated Weekend With The Girls was anticlimatic; we went home, where my youngest promptly crashed on the couch while her sister and I finally conquered the futon. She then camped out on that and I went to bed. We slept in (ah, how nice it is to not wake up to that blasted alarm clock), had a leisurly breakfast at McDonalds, and I returned them to their mother about mid-morning. I get all three of them next weekend and I'm already looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

In Hot Water

My schedule allowed for a lengthy break today, so my mother and I had arranged to meet for lunch at one of our favorite local diners. Much to my surprise and delight, my teenage daughter was with her (I do not get to see my children nearly enough) and the three of us had a lovely meal together.

Afterwards, we all decided to head over to my place to kill some time before their next errand and my return to work. Mom hadn't yet been to my new place, so I gave her the nickel tour while my daughter jumped on the trampoline (a gift for her birthday a few weeks ago) in the back yard. After a bit, it was time for all of us to get back on the road, but as we were just about to walk out the door it sounded like the washing machine turned on by itself. At least, that's what it sounded like; you know, the sound of water pouring into the drum that you hear when you start the wash cycle.

Now, I generally prefer for my major appliances to wait for some sort of manual input before doing their job, so I went over to the laundry room to investigate. However, when I opened the door I was greeted by a huge cloud of steam! No, my washer had not developed a mind of its own - the hot-water hose had split. Scalding hot water and steam were spraying everywhere and the water on the floor was already half an inch deep.

I tried to reach the spigot behind the washing machine to shut off the water. Unfortunately, the spray from the split hose was directly between me and my objective. Did I mention that the water was scalding hot? Yes, I believe that I did. Fortunately, there were a couple of bath towels in the dryer. I grabbed one, wrapped my arm, and managed to get the spigot closed.

Note to self: when there are two water spigots, the hot is on the left side. Shutting off the cold water had little effect and by now my laundry room was doing a pretty good impression of a Turkish bath. I grabbed another towel, re-wrapped my arm, and went for the correct spigot. This was a mistake; it was way too hot to touch and I had to beat a hasty retreat. I grabbed a t-shirt from the dryer, wrapped it around my hand, and once again forced my aching arm through the Spraying Curtain of Scalding Hot Agony. Thankfully, the third time was the charm.

By now my forearm was beet red and hurt like hell. My mother (a retired RN) made me hold it under cold water for a while "so it won't blister as much." Thanks, mom. She and my daughter left the house, which left me free to curse and scream for a while (just kidding, mom) and then mop up as much of the water as I could. By then I was half an hour behind schedule so I had to leave most of the mess behind and get back to work. Now, work is done, I'm updating my blog, and I'll pick up a new hose on the way home this evening.

There's a lesson to be learned here: when you go to the hardware store to buy washer hoses and are shocked at the price, don't call your dad and ask him to dig up some old ones from the back of his barn - just pay the money and buy the new hoses. Trust me on this one.

Today's adventure has also caused me to reflect on luck, both good and bad. I frequently have "good" bad luck - that is, I've noticed that unlucky things happen around me in such a way that the damage is minimal and I'm able to deal with the situation with relative ease. So my hot-water hose split without warning - that's bad luck. What are the chances that it would happen when I'm standing ten feet away instead of sitting at a desk ten miles away? I'm never home in the middle of the afternoon - but I was today. That's "good" bad luck, and I seem get a lot of it. Not every time, mind you, but more often than one would expect. It almost makes me think that Someone is watching over me.

May all of your bad luck be good and your good luck be great - and trust that Someone is always watching over you.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A New Blog

Why am I starting this blog?

A few weeks before our sixteenth anniversary, my wife told me that she was going to seek a divorce. A month later, I find myself with a new address and a new lifestyle. After work I must face the deadly silence of an empty rental instead of the cheerful chaos of a bustling home filled with the sounds of the wife and children I love. I'm finally beginning to understand the history of our troubled marriage (both her version and mine - but without much finger-pointing, as there's plenty of blame to hang on each of us) and trying to acknowledge my failures (both past and present) as a husband and father. I'm searching for ways to maintain (and in at least one case rebuild) a lasting and loving relationship with my children, and I'm trying to reconnect with friends and family that I've neglected or ignored for far too long. I'm reflecting on the loss of all that we built together over the last sixteen years and the dreams we had for the future, and striving for optimism as I begin to forge a new life and new dreams. I'm trying to learn how to be the best ex-husband and non-custodial father that I can be.

So, this blog is therapy - an outlet that lets me voice frustrations and fears and uncertainies as I and my family work our way through the agonies and challenges that come with divorce and a broken home. Like many others, this blog will surely also become a collection of opinions and commentary - on music, on politics, on religion, on life in the South, on whatever. I'll no doubt post all sorts of random nonsense; you'll eventually find everything from recipes for men (my current diet of canned chili and beans is quite a change after living for sixteen years with the best country cook in the state) to the tale of last weekend when one of our big rockets got sideways and started a brush fire on the other side of the lake. But at least at first, this is the story of a man and a family thrust into a situation they didn't want (no one really wants divorce) and how he (and they) deal with it - and hopefully how we all come out on the other side.

Welcome to Southern Man.