803.5 hours…not that I’m counting

I’m like a caged animal.  A middle-aged, drowsy, impatient, bored out of his mind, tensed-up caged animal.  My officiating season starts in just 803.5 hours, give or take ten minutes.  Oh sure…I’ll “warm-up” with some middle-school games, those are always nice to start a season with, but the meat and potatoes of my season, the serious stuff, the stuff that really matters will start on Tuesday November 22nd.  I read the rules book in August. (it hasn’t changed).  The new rule book arrived Monday.  One major change from last year…e-cigarettes are banned from the bench now.  Who has two thumbs and never thought that he’d see THAT in the rule book?  THIS GUY!!   I’ve been watching training videos of games, gone to a clinic and daily read through more training books.  Honestly…it’s pretty boring stuff.  I can’t wait to get out there on the court.

I worked a preseason girls basketball league this fall, for the fourth year.  That’s always fun.  Informal yet serious.  It gets me some court time and a little spending money to boot.  When I first started officiating five years ago I’d work any basketball tournament that I could.  In the first two years of officiating I worked around 340 games…mostly AAU type of games where the parents and coaches scream and everyone has aspirations of “little Madison” or “little Dakota” getting a full-ride athletic scholarship to a D-I college.  I worked them to gain experience and money.  For the past two seasons I’ve avoided the majority of those tournaments.  The play is usually marginal.  The parents and coaches can be overbearing and it can be a crapshoot on who you’re working with as a partner.  Don’t get me wrong…there’s many good coaches and caring parents but I usually shy away from that environment.  Instead I’ve decided to work a few little kid tournaments where they’re just starting out.  Double-dribbling, traveling and three-seconds are usually overlooked in place of helping them learn and making the game fun for them.  For me…the reward, get new players into the game that I love and having them learn and have fun too.  The other reason that I don’t work as many weekend tournaments is…at the tender age of fifty, I just can’t work five or six games a day and be my best.  Honestly…I usually don’t get yelled at much when I do those games, even if they’re bigger kids games. It probably has more to do with me being a much better official now than when I started out.

I put these photos together on a meme generator.  It’s how I think folks around me view my officiating.


My two goals for this season are being patient with my calls and being a better communicator with coaches.  Sounds easy enough, yet it was a struggle last season and drove me crazy.  To be honest, those two are connected I suppose.

Dan "Double D" Dyrland. Joel "DuffMan" Duffy and me...the Rookie
Dan “Double D” Dyrland. Joel “DuffMan” Duffy and me…the Rookie

So…long story short.  I can’t wait for this season.  The games.  The road trips.  The camaraderie.   The stories told and re-told.  The laughter.  The pregame in the locker room. The athletes.  The echo of bouncing basketballs in an empty gym as we arrive. The excited chatter of fans before the game.  The great plays.  The blocked shots.  The three-pointers.  The drive to the lane where the defense is set up to take a charge and the dribbler dishes to a cutter who lays it in uncontested.  The three-quarter court press with ten seconds left.  The pep-band belting out BTO’s “Takin’ care of business”.  Checking the scorebook.  Working with the table. The explosion of sound from the bleachers on a block-charge.  The rowdy student section.  The smell of popcorn and the squeak of sneakers.  Its constantly learning.  Its being blessed to be on this crew and getting games from our assigners. It’s talking to players when no ones looking, asking them to clean up their game or they could pick up their third foul of the half.  Grandpa and Grandma sitting in the second row.  The starting line-ups.  Our national anthem.  Witnessing good sportsmanship close up. The non-verbals from Lead to Center to Trail.  The post-game break down on the drive home.  The satisfaction of knowing that we got it “right” even if the crowd/coaches/players beg to differ.  It’s knowing that my crew has my back, and I have theirs.  Its seeing the conference standings shaping up in late January and knowing that we have a possible “clash of the Titans”  type of game for first place in the conference on a Friday night.  (the gym will be packed!!)  The anticipation of receiving a post-season assignment.  Game management.  Seeing a third-stringer hit a three-pointer during garbage time and hearing their bench and the gym erupt.  Watching a team come back, the time out to stem the tide and letting the game play out as we watch for fouls, violations and another time out. Its mentoring new officials how I was taught. Its months later when a person sees me in public and tells me that they saw us work a close, hard-fought game at their school and letting me know that our crew did a really good job. Its the anticipation of working a game that adds excitement and possibilities to my work day.  It’s all good.  Its in my veins.  I’m addicted. 


I can’t wait.

Thanks for coming along.

God bless,



I’m not good

I’m not good at being single.  I don’t care for being alone with myself for extended periods of time, never have been.  I don’t know why.  Don’t get me wrong, after spending all day with the public and my coworkers I long for peace and quiet.  I need some quiet time to recharge after nine hours of being extroverted but four days worth?  Not so much.

My wife, the honorable Constance Sue Ripley, has traveled to Florida to spend a few days with our oldest daughter.  They’re romping through Universal Parks, visiting beaches and eating like queens.  They deserve it.  I don’t mind it, except for the quiet.  Let’s face it…I can only watch so much television, I can only work out for so long.  I can only half-ass clean the house once.  I can only crank up classic rock and air-jam for limited periods of time before it feels like I’m working out again.  I’m just no good at being single.

I don’t sleep well when I’m single, there’s no one to tell me to “roll over” because I’m snoring like a chainsaw.  There’s no one to invade my side of the bed during my once a night trip to the bathroom to relieve myself.  There’s no one to put their ice-cold feet on my warm body when she comes to bed.  There’s no one to comfort when she’s had a bad dream.  I’m just no good at being single.

Now before you think that I’m looking for a pity party or offer to let me half-ass clean your house let me just say “no thanks”.  I could, at a moments notice, show up unannounced to any one of my buddies homes and be welcomed in.  I’d rile up their kids, I’d hear the usual “oh…the house doesn’t always look this way” from their wives (yeah…right. Honestly…I don’t care what your house looks like.  Its your house) or find out that they were just heading out the door.  Its okay.  I got this.

I did have some activities come up to kill the time.  Thursday night I took my Little Brother (from Big Brothers/Big Sisters) out and bought some dress clothes for him since he just got his first job, then I gave him some unsolicited job and life advice (which 14 year olds LOVE).  Friday night I lived it up at a visitation (true story) then came home and knocked down a couplea Moscow Mules.  Read a book and lights out at 9:45.  Whoop-PEE!!  I was awake at 5:30.  Out for coffee and breakfast.  (this fast lane that I’m livin’ in has room for only a few lost souls…)

I could go to a bar and knock back a couplea drinks and watch the games, trading witticisms with other lonely’s.  I could visit my Mother.  I could take her to the bar and knock back a couplea drinks then let her drive me home, even though she hasn’t driven for a couplea years. It’d all be good (Mom would NOT appreciate that kind of spontenatiaty).  I could mow the lawn, but its raining.  I AM doing a lot of laundry, which is good busy work but lousy for making conversation (“soooo…have you always wanted to be a sock?”)

We’re painfully honest with each other…my wife and I.  She states that I will, in all likelihood, eat out a lot while she’s gone.  That’s not entirely true.  I’ll have eaten out twice in thirteen meals.  I tried eating out by myself when I was genuinely single.  It just made me feel even more alone.

Thankfully enough today has several activities planned.  I’ll head into work for an hour to do some paper work.  I’ll referee three basketball games, then in all likelihood I’ll mow the yard (insert yawn right….now).  Soon my singleness will be over.  Connie will return and quiz me on what parts of the house were half-assed cleaned verses full-assed cleaned (she’s like that…).  She’ll mention that she saw the bakery boxes that the gourmet cinnamon rolls and jumbo chocolate chip muffins used to be in (those bakeries ain’t gonna make it on their own without my help!). She’ll ask how many times that I made our bed (twice).  She’ll regale me with tales of her adventures with our daughter, showing me photos on her camera. She’ll tell me that she has a scratchy throat from flying and being around someone who coughed a lot and I WON’T CARE.  Just come here and let me hold you in my arms.  I’m tired of being single.

Charmed…I’m sure

I’ve led a charmed life, always have.  I set a barn on fire at the age of seven and came away unscathed.  I peed on an electric fence twice and didn’t suffer too terribly (the second time I didn’t take the wind into account)  Lesson learned.  I dated a cheerleader for six months in 1983 who dumped me for a good friend of mine (it was still a pretty good year…).  All in all my failures have been about learning life’s lessons and moving forward, but not towards electric fences nor cheerleaders.  Both bite.

My latest series of lessons came within days of each other.  I lost my drivers license…again.  I passed through the first three and a half decades of my driving career without so much as misplacing my permit or license but in the past year I’ve lost two (I put it in my duffle bag when I go to the gym and it somehow disappears from there…).  Regardless of losing them I always have a photocopy of them in our safe in case something like this arises.  Here’s a quick sample of them.  Enjoy…

Photo #1...Homicidal murderer.  My favorite.  #2...Old Man Ripley complete with jowls, extended neck and shaved eyebrows.  #3...I purposely extended my head out so my jowls would be pulled tight and somehow my eyebrows grew back.  THANKS MAYBELLINE!!
Photo #1…Homicidal murderer. My favorite. #2…Old Man Ripley complete with jowls, saggy neck and shaved eyebrows. #3…I purposely extended my head out so my jowls would be pulled tight and somehow my eyebrows grew back. THANKS MAYBELLINE!!

The second lesson from this week lies within my jaw.  I started experiencing pain in my jaw when I chewed.  Thankfully I have a great set of teeth…goofy, coffee-stained teeth.  My dentist jumped at the chance to look in mouth hoping to fix my painful malady once I called him (I’m kind of a big deal.  True story.)  No cracked teeth.  No cavities.  No root canal problems. No gum issues.  Nothing in the form of dental problems but I do have a history of TMJ otherwise known as jaw pain.  The last time that I had it was several years ago and I had to have physical therapy for it, which never cured it, per se, it only manages it.  My jaw makes a “clicking” sound each time that I chew.  I’m used to it, others notice it when I dine with them.  The dentist told me that I may have aggravated it if I yawned too widely or sneezed really loudly.  So yeah…I’m in pain and can’t chew this week because I sneezed loudly…which I do several times a day (when you’ve got a nose the size of mine…you take in a lot of pollen…just sayin’).  There’s not much that I can do at the moment except rest my jaw…which is really difficult to do when you’re a loud mouth like me.  There’s a lesson in it I suppose, much like that of the barn fire, electric fence and wayward cheerleader girlfriend though I have yet to figure that out.  Until then I’ll try to be a little quieter.  Pass the soup, please.

God bless…




I’m done

I’m done crying, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.  I’m wired to live in life…not death.  I’m tired of hearing from others how sad I look.  I’m tired of folks pulling me in for a hug.  I’m tired of sadness and death.  I’m done. Instead of crying…I’ll celebrate your life.  Remembering your laugh, your energy and orneriness.  I’ll be kinder, maybe a little more attentive and better than ever.  My hugs will be happy hugs.  I’m going to start giving people some good-natured shit.  I’m going to start being me again because “sad me” ain’t me.

What’s my “take-a-way” from your death.  Life’s short.  Touch someone in a positive way like you did.  Be someone’s hero.  We all like hero’s…right?  Be one. 

  • Donate blood
  • Drop off food to a food bank
  • Take some clothing and toiletries to a mission or shelter
  • Bake someone cookies and drop them off just because you can
  • Buy someone a flower
  • Hug…nuff said
  • Share your time and attention
  • Be nice when everyone else isn’t
  • Text someone a nice note
  • Forgive a debt
  • Reach out to a friend who’s having a tough time and then reach out again
  • Call someone and leave the following message “WWWHHHHHAAAATTTTZZZZZUUUUPPPPPP?!” 
  • Encourage
  • Don’t be so critical of yourself
  • Teach
  • Coach
  • Volunteer
  • Tip well
  • Act like a bigshot and order hot fudge sundaes for the whole table
  • Encourage high fives when its so awkward that its funny “don’t leave me hangin’ homie!!”
  • Bring a dozen donuts when no one expects you to
  • Show up
  • Laugh
  • Do what it takes to show others your love for them

I think that our good and gracious Lord talks to us throughout our day.  On the way to your visitation I turned on the radio and Guns and Roses “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was just beginning.  On my way to your funeral this song came on.  I had to smile, if even through the tears.  Its one of my favorites.  It rings so very, very true to me these days.


Crying won’t bring you back…celebrating your life keeps you alive in my mind…in my heart.  They buried a body…they didn’t bury my friend.  My friend lives on.  I’ll see my friend again.  I’m going to start living again.


Why Jordan…why?


I hired you on July 19 2011.

We became friends shortly thereafter.

I’m not supposed to have favorites.  Like every manager I have those that I like to work with more than others.  Some employees need supervision on everything, while others do not. Some go the extra mile without asking, others barely make it to the end of their shift.  Some make me work on making them better while a few select, a very small percentage, excel and challenge me to keep them busy.  I’ve been abundantly blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life through my profession, some have even gotten their way into my heart.  You were one of them.

You were reliable, energetic, funny, bright, handsome, hard-working, quick-witted, fiercely competitive, stubborn, a world traveler, but most of all…you were my friend.  I took you into my confidence.  You were one of the few who teased me back and busted my chops.  I trusted you.


December 2013 you and Dalton asked if you could stripe the mannicans of their holiday clothes and wear them that night. I said "why the hell not..?" You were always looking for a laugh.
December 2013 you and Dalton asked if you could strip the mannequins  of their holiday clothes and wear them that night. I said “why the hell not..?” You were always looking for a laugh, and you usually found it.
You and Becky...ugly sweater contest
You and Becky…ugly sweater contest
...did I mention that you liked to clown around? Here you are with Alysarose...two knucklheads
…did I mention that you liked to clown around? Here you are with Alysa…two knuckleheads


You and Bailey for Halloween
You and Bailey for Halloween
You, Jared and Blake...three super dudes.
You, Jared and Blake…three super dudes
Probably being naughty...but nice around Santa this year
Probably being naughty…but nice around Santa
...was there anyone that you didn't take a selfie with?
…was there anyone that you didn’t take a selfie with?
Swiping my phone and posing with Gwen 2015
Swiping my phone and posing with Gwen 2015
2016...With our friends daughter, Lilly. She'll never know...
2016…With our friends daughter, Lilly. She’ll never know…

Wednesday 8/17/2016…you were uncharacteristically late.  You didn’t answer my phone calls.  You didn’t answer my texts.  I grew concerned.  I called your grandmother.  I was on the phone with her when she found you.  Her frantic screams at the other end of the phone are still ringing in my ears.  I hung up and called 911 then rushed to your home.  It was too late. I stood on your lawn.  What do I do now?  Your neighbors gathered on the sidewalk, away from your house.  I took a wide walk away from them to avoid their questions.  I’ve always prided myself on knowing what to do, who to call and how to brush aside the emotion and stress of the situation and get my job done.  27 years in the hot seat will do that, but this…the death of a friend who’s a big part of our store?  That’s altogether unchartered territory. What’s my job now?  Why…?

Who do I call first?  What do I tell them.  How do I keep the present crew in the dark while I try to wrap my head around this….all while mourning you myself?  I go over the last conversation that we had that day.  It was all business.  Did I say something wrong to push you over the dark edge that you were at?  Was I curt or a prick?  Didn’t you know how much we loved you?  How much I loved you?  Jordan…all you had to do was call any one of us and you would have had an army of friends and family to hold you until the darkness passed.  Now…its too late.  Why…?

Arrangements to be made.  Hollow heart.  Scattered brain…I can’t keep my thoughts on track.  Orders to be written.  Customers to wait on.  Coworkers to comfort.  Customers ask why everyone on the crew is forlorn, so sad.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow, to repeat the story and hear their shock, their disbelief.   I have to go in, to work, to comfort to try to get everyone else and myself through this.  My head hurts from crying so much.  I’m told that I can go home.  Spontaneous crying, cold shock and unanswered questions are the ingredients of this horrible day.  Why…?

At night I try to sleep.  I’m exhausted but memories of our exchanges cross my darkened minds eye like flames that flicker at a candles end.  Bright flickers…just asking to be replayed again and again.  Why…?

When I finally leave this earthly home, I wonder if God will look the other way once you and I finally meet again…because I feel like punching you hard in the chest…not violently…just to knock some sense into you.  We trusted you.  We called you our friend and now we’re hurting because you took you away from us.  We’re selfish, Jordan.  We wanted you here for a long, long time…to watch you complete college, to excel and get a career, to get married, raise a family to travel the world.  That’s all gone from us now and…quite frankly…we’re hurt.  We’re pissed and hurt and sad.  My whole body hurts.  Why Jordan…why?

 On our way to Career Day 2015
On our way to
Career Day 2015

This will hurt for a while…but I’ll never forget you buddy.  You were a blessing to those around you…maybe we should have told you that a little more often.


Rusty screws, new neighbors and a First Place Winner

Its been a dramatic and event-filled summer here at the Palatial Estates.  Here are some notables that didn’t get their own blog but warranted an honorable mention by yours truly.  We jump all around the spectrum today so I hope that you’re warmed up, ready to read and mentally fortified to take this all in.  YOU’RE WELCOME America.

  • This is my first vehicle.  A 1972 Chevy LUV pick-up truck that Dad and I bought together.  80% rust.  The only things that didn’t have rust on them were the brake peddle and steering wheel. Four cylinder engine.  Four on the floor which required the middle passenger to move their leg one way or the other when I shifted.  Crank windows.  Manual choke and steering.  The horn was a button on the dash beside the AM radio.  I installed a secondhand  8 track player and TWO 6X9 tri-axial speakers that rolled around behind the seat when I whipped kitties in the gravel.  IT.  WAS.  AWESOME!!  On a rare half-day from school me, Scott Carlson and Gary Kelting would squeeze into the cab and head off for Northpark Mall in the big city of Davenport.  Scott brought his boom box and a collection of cassettes.  Foreigner, The J. Geils Band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts sprinkled in with some Back in Black by AC/DC.   Not good times…EPIC TIMES!!  I was 16…my buddies 15.  I didn’t know any better.  Remember that for later…
I found out quickly that I didn't like sanding and grinding rust off of metal. I must have had a grayish pale during my sophomore year since I was constantly applying primer to this heap.
Rusty but reliable I found out quickly that I didn’t like sanding or grinding rust off of metal. Dad taught me how to do light body work and basic mechanical things.  It was mine to fix up.  I must have had a grayish pallor during my sophomore year since I was constantly applying primer to this heap.
  • We tore off our old sunroom and put in its place a brand spanking new one.  We love it!  I christened it with a nap shortly after its completion.  Its also good for drinking coffee in during the morning and beer in the evenings.  Who knew?!
  • We tore down our old tool shed, displacing hundreds of crickets and spiders, and had a new one put up.  As a result I had to get a tetanus shot after being assaulted by a piece of plywood with a rusty screw protruding from it.  The nurse commented several times that she’d never heard a scream as shrill as mine.  True story.
  • We’re getting new neighbors for only the second time in fourteen years.  Our neighborhood doesn’t turn over that much.   When you live next to eye-candy like me you won’t want to leave.  Just sayin’.
  • I have just about everything ready for my Halloween costume.  On Monday October 31st you’ll see it on Facebook and remark “he apparently has too much time on his hands…” or you’ll high-five the nearest person shouting “THAT’S WHAT I’M FREAKIN’ TALKIN’ ABOUT!!”  I play to win.  Everyone else is dressing for first runner-up.
Here's that same 1972 Chevy LUV after A LOT of sanding, Bondo and a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. Firecracker Red.
Here’s that same 1972 Chevy LUV after A LOT of sanding, Bondo and a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. Firecracker Red.
  • I kept a 1972 Eisenhower silver dollar in my pocket for the last two baseball seasons.  For most of my Little League and 3 on 3 basketball league games the initial possession is decided by a coin flip.  Hundreds of games have been started with the flip of that coin.  Hundreds of hours spent in my pocket during the last two summers.  I gave it to a young girl on the final night of my season who had volunteered to keep score at her brothers games that night.  I’m guessing that she was around the sixth grade.  Her brother and his teammates gave her crap all game.  She took it like a pro and didn’t let them get to her. As I gave it to her I told her how many games I had started with it and that I wanted her to have it for helping out all night long. Her face lit up as she whispered “wow”.  I hope that she keeps it.
My second car. A 1977 Ford Maverick. Did you know that Mavericks OUTSOLD Ford Mustangs for a few years? True story.
This is my second ride, a 1977 Ford Maverick. Automatic transmission, power steering and two more cylinders but still no good radio to blast ZZ Top or Billy Idol until $240 later and a trip to Radio Shack.  Did you know that Mavericks OUT SOLD Ford Mustangs for a few years? True story.
  • After the 2015 high school baseball season I made a decision to take a season away from working varsity baseball games.  I was getting home at 11:30 at night, getting up at 5 the next morning and repeating the process.  It also seemed like every night one of the coaches chose to act like a prick.  I decided to step away and only work USSSA kids baseball games and local sub-varsity games.  It went so well that I’m getting away from varsity baseball altogether.  The money is about the same while the time away from home is much less.  A final note about that high school season in which the coaches were edgy…I received two post-season recomendations…which is a nice acknowledgement that I was, in fact, doing a good job.  Go suck an egg Coach!
$40 of pinstripes and blue spray paint, along with some free wire hubcaps and the old Mav is looking slightly less "Church Lady-ish". That's Scott Carlson in the background being Scott Carlson. The Maverick got me through high school and college.
$40 worth of pinstripes and blue spray paint, along with some free wire hubcaps and the old Mav is looking slightly less “Church Lady-ish”. That’s Scott Carlson in the background being Scott Carlson. The Maverick got me through high school and college.
  • I realized that I sound great singing any Dwight Yoakam, Trace Adkins, George Strait or Diamond Rio song while driving my truck.  I’m quite talented that way.
  • I’m part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, pairing men and women with at risk kids. (I’m a “Brother” in case you’re scoring at home).  My little brother comes from a love-filled, single parent home.  Dad’s not in the picture, hasn’t been for quite a while.  My Brother is quiet.  We’ve been together almost two years. He doesn’t know some of the basic “guy” stuff so I’ve set some goals that instead of just going to movies and such we’d work on some of those things…basic “dude” stuff.   Today we washed and waxed my truck but not before turning on some classic rock on the garage radio (its a rule…you gotta have the tunes rockin‘)  then grilled some burgers with him setting up the briquettes, doing the seasoning and grilling.  He’s almost fourteen, stands close to six feet tall.  Too old to be a child.  Too young to be a man.   I made him work.  I made him learn.  He had fun.  Summers drawing to a close very soon.  I hope to get in some more stuff with him before its gone, though today…today was a good day.
This is Logan. He's my Little Brother. Today he waxed my truck (loved it). Grilled us burgers (loved it) and made my nine year old Silverado a lot shiner.
This is Logan. He’s my Little Brother. Today he waxed my truck (loved it). Grilled us burgers (loved it) and made my nine year old Silverado a lot shiner (which I love…)
I'd imagine that there's some coy way of using waxing old trucks and manual labor towards helping a young person become a better person...but I'm not the guy to figure that one out.
Old Red’s lookin’ sharp
I like shiny. Shiny is good.
I like shiny. Shiny is good.
  • Did I mention that I taught him how to clean up chrome rims?  If not…here’s proof that I did.  I figured that since I enjoyed cleaning up my parents car and truck when I was Logan’s age that he might just like it too if someone taught him.  He did.

I’d imagine that a better writer would find some coy and thoughtful way to wrap up todays blog, using an analogy to mirror the similarities between working, learning, having fun and maturing from kid to adult….but I’m not that guy.  I only wanted to help out a kid like the many  folks that have helped me out somewhere along my way, getting me to where I am today. Blessed I am.  A blessing I try to be.

Until next time, God bless you and yours.




I’m one of the managers of a small drug/grocery store.  27+ years in the books.  I’m neck deep in middle management stuff every day.  Interviewing, hiring, scheduling, reports, checking cooler temps, building displays, planning for the next holiday, watching labor costs, counting money, talking to customers, ordering, selling stuff, talking with co-workers, unplugging the toilets in the women’s restroom, picking up litter in the parking lot and doing other desirable and fulfilling things.  Some tasks are important requiring confidentiality and years of training while the loins share do not.  (see “picking up litter in the parking lot” and “unplugging toilets above”…)

Recently a young employee asked me “what do you do?” I replied with my standard “I try to keep as many folks happy at once.”  She didn’t buy it “No…really…what?”  Geez…she kind of got me on that, what did I really do?  I started out the next day jotting down some of the things that fill up my day.  Most of it trivial, very mundane stuff.  Like most jobs the devil is in the details.  Take care of the little things correctly everyday and they won’t (on average) bite you in the rump.

While compiling the list I wrote down things that I do not like about my job.  Mind you, I enjoy the vast majority of what I do, though these things drive me crazy.  They are as follows in no particular order:

  • Snow storms.  Customers think that grocers love large surges of shoppers prior to the arrival of a storm.  We don’t.  Give us a steady stream of customers buying stuff every day.  Selling two days worth of bread, milk and everything else not nailed down in eight hours is hard on us.  We can’t plan for it.  Grocers love to plan.
  • Alarms in the middle of the night.  Meeting the police outside of our store at 2 AM when an alarm is going off really, and I mean really, throws off my sleep for the night.
  • Pickles, spaghetti sauce and canned goods.  They’re all really heavy to stock.  A few cases aren’t so bad.  Try unloading fifty of them and you’ll see my point.
  • Power outages.  Have you ever tried to keep your ice cream frozen when your power goes out?  Try it in a store when you have thousands of dollars worth of perishable items. The powers out and the clock is ticking.
  • “The customer is always right”.  That saying was coined in 1909 by a businessman in London.  Things.  HaveChanged.  99.99% of the people that I’ve had the pleasure of caring for through the decades have been absolutely great.  They’ve put food on my families table, paid for our medical insurance, home and other bills.  The other .01% are idiots.  In those 27+ years I’ve only told one person that we were unable to meet his needs and that he’d be better served at one of our competitors.  His jaw dropped.  He couldn’t believe it.  He’d been giving us hell each and every day for years.  I simply gave him permission to move on.  He was gone for a month, then came back to us a much tamer tiger.

That other 99.99%, where do I begin?  They’re our “regulars”.  They come in every age and size.  From the business folks who dress nicely and smell good to the haggard addicted who show up early for their breakfast beer, hand shaking as they pour their loose change onto the countertop then disappearing until they need another.  It’s the homeless who borrow a couple of bucks from a longtime employee for food.  It’s the little old ladies who come in three times a week and ask a million questions before telling us “I don’t know what I’d do without you here to help”.  It’s the old guys who buy their lotto tickets, beer and newspaper who tell you about the rainstorm that moved through at 3 in the morning…they were wide awake while the rest of us slept.  It’s the children of our customers, wide-eyed and innocent, scampering through the aisles.  I tell them that I’ll hire them when they turn sixteen and they run off.  “I’LL PAY YOU IN ICE CREAM SANDWICHES!!” I holler as their parents and I laugh.    It’s those folks looking for a meal solution at 3 in the afternoon.  “We sell a lot of taco fixings this time of day.  Quick and easy. Everyone loves tacos” I reply.  (not once has anyone brought a taco back to me….).   It’s the lady looking to buy a bottle of wine for a friend’s birthday and I up sell the gift bag to go with it.  It’s the pharmacy calling and letting us know that they have a prescription to be delivered to a nursing home for a sick resident, and us getting it to them in ten minutes.  Its our employees sending a get well or sympathy card to a long time customer who needs to know that just because we haven’t seen them in a while that we haven’t forgotten them.  Its trying to program the Muzak so that everyone’s favorite is playing sometime during the day.  Its unloading semi trucks filled with groceries outside in the rain, heat and snow.  It’s being a red-ass one moment, a counselor the next. Its shoveling snow several times a day during a storm.  Its listening to a co-worker tearfully pour out their hurt while you lend a sympathetic ear.  Its working nights, weekends and holidays.  It’s discretion when I’m told of something confidential.  Its restraint when I’m upset.  Its screwing up, then learning from that mistake.  Its being flexible.  Its getting to know your customers names and likes.  Its knowing who puts bread on your table and gas in your tank. Its working hard.  Its leading.  Its showing our crew the example to be followed.  Its setting the bar in attainable steps.  Its teaching, equipping and enabling our staff to do better than before.  Its damned rewarding when it all works out and comes together.  Its measuring a situation then handling it well, sometimes being the hammer while most of the time being a patient negotiator. Its going to a meeting that I don’t want to attend and running into other longtime employees, reminiscing over coffee breaks and a meal…and learning something new at that darned meeting.  Its being the face of the company that I work for in the neighborhood that we’re planted in.  It’s lightening the mood by doing my Deputy Barney Fife imitation.  It’s razzing the customers and enjoying a light moment, they’ll never be ignored when I’m on duty.  Its hiring someone as a high school kid and still being their friend twenty years later when they’re raising their own families. It’s answering tough questions honestly.  Its doing the right thing when no ones looking. Its taking a chance on a teenager and giving them their first job then standing with them in all of their mistakes.  Its giving a senior citizen their last job and wishing that I had met them sooner. Its constantly learning new things. Its being held accountable when things don’t go right.   Its taking responsibility.  Its exhausting every day.  Its being polite when a  customer is treating me like an idiot.  Its doing the best that I can do even when I don’t feel like being the best.

Why do I do this?  Simply put…our customers can go to ten different stores within ten minutes of our location and get essentially the same thing at prices close to ours.  We need sales.  Sales drive profits.  Profits keep the lights on and employees paid.  The challenges are real with an economic impact that trickles down to our employees who want to buy cars, pay rent/child support, purchase homes, go on vacations or retire.  It all matters.

Several years ago, shortly after we opened at our current location, an elderly man chewed my ass for not having a coat hook in the men’s restroom.  “Where’s a guy supposed to hang his coat when he’s using the toilet?!” this man snapped at me.  I replied with something less than what the irritated man wanted to hear and he kept at me, shaking his bony, crooked finger in my face, calling our company “damned idiots” for planning a store without a coat hook in the men’s room.  Within a few days we installed a coat hook in the men’s restroom AND every time I saw the old grouch I ducked down an aisle or into the back room.  One ass-chewing from the old geezer was enough for me until one day he waved me over  before I could duck and cover.  I apprehensively approached him, sure that I was in store for another barrage of haranguing.  He held out his hand for me to shake, a smile graced his wrinkled face “My names Leo.  I see that you’ve been avoiding me.”  I half-lied “oh…I’ve just been busy”.  “Well I wanted to thank you for installing the coat hook”.  Leo and I became friends.  He was in poor health and declined from there.  A few months later I was in the pharmacy when man came to pick up Leo’s medications.  I inquired about Leo to the mans surprise.  “How do you know Leo?” the man asked.  I answered “He chewed me out one day real good.”  “Sounds like Leo.  He’s tough to handle, says what’s on his mind” was the man’s response.  The man was Leo’s nephew, taking Leo his medications.  Leo had since been moved to a nursing home and shortly thereafter passed away.  Every time that I see that coat hook I think of Leo and how simple it was to make him happy and keep a customer.  Now when a customer gets after me about a perceived injustice I listen to them.  If they’re that upset about it then it deserves my attention.  Leo taught me that.

In short…that’s what I do.  I try to keep as many folks happy in one day as possible. I’m not alone in this quest.  I’m a tiny gear in a massive machine that tries to keep the “Leo’s” of the world happier.  Honestly, I fail at it more times than I succeed.  Maybe after another 27 years of this I’ll finally get it right.

one simple act
Leo’s hook

Thanks for reading.  God bless.




I knew that this day was coming, this storm…so to speak.  I’ve known about it since January when our youngest daughter, Macy, sat down next to me on the couch as I watched a game on TV and ate supper.  “How have you been?” was her question.  My stomach sank.  I reached for the remote and shut off the TV.  I placed my plate, half-finished, on the end table.  I looked at her and replied “what’s wrong?”  You see, our daughters don’t just ask those kinds of questions.  At least not yet.  She was moving to Germany in the summer to become an Au Pair for a German couple, taking care of their kids, for a year.  After the year she’d start attending a university in Berlin and resume her studies while getting a job.  Germany has free college.  She’s fairly good at speaking German.  My guess is that she’s going to get a lot better.  I asked her if this was an “idea” or a “done deal”.  Her reply “95% done deal”.  My stomach sank further while my heart rose into my throat.

Our middle daughter, Karalee, was due to graduate in May.  She got a job in Japan. Literally, within three weeks during the coming summer we’d lose two daughters to two countries.  4,545 miles and 6,371 miles away respectively.  The storm…was gaining strength.  I could see it in the distance.  It wasn’t going away.  It had been building since the day of their birth I suppose.  Since their first step.  Since their first defiant toddler tantrum.  Since swimming lessons, learning to ride a bike, driving a car and so on and so forth.  Its been a steady and relentless learning curve to try and conquer new things.  Scary things, except this time around I’m the one who’s scared…scared for them and maybe, just maybe…scared for me.

We’ve been temporary empty-nesters for two years with both daughters living half an hour away while attending college.  If they needed us we could be there in a short time (they never did..).  What’s my role now?  How am I to be defined?  Too young to be old.  Too old to be young.  Not wanting to be hip. Not wanting to be stodgy.  The salt is overtaking the pepper atop my head.  Do I try to be that old guy who wears denim shorts, black knee-high dress socks and sandals with a fanny pack when I go out?  Maybe try wearing a tie-dye shirt and grow a pony tail?  No one told me how to do this.  I’m serious when I write this.  What’s my role now?  My wife can only withstand so much of me before she shoots me the stink-eye.  I’m not always a delight to be around. (true story)

They’ve moved into good countries, not third world places.  I can’t imagine how parents with kids in the military feel when their kids are put in harms way in a bad part of the world.

That storm kept coming.  It brought tension, the silent type.  I told them that they could come back home if things didn’t work out.  That life sometimes hands you failure that you can learn from, but life continues to go onward.  I told them that I was proud of them, loved them and to be safe.  To trust their inner voice.   That trust is earned, not given freely to strangers or folks that you just met.  I don’t know if any of it sank in.  I was young once too, bullet-proof and foolhardy.

The day of the storm arrived.  Our last child would be flying from our home.  The storm wasn’t made of lightning, thunder nor rain but of questions, uncertainty, an emptiness in our lives, a hole in our heart.  An awkward vacuum left in the place of parenting up close and personal.  Each of our daughters, all three, have plans.  They made them themselves.  They’re theirs to live and fulfill, regardless of our feelings as parents…and for that I’m thankful.  They’re good people.  I’m proud of them.

Karalee's flight to her new home in Japan, from Chicago
Karalee’s flight to her new home in Japan, from Chicago
Macy's flight from Chicago to London before heading to Berlin.
Macy’s flight from Chicago to London before heading to Berlin.
On my phone. I can see what the weather is like where they're at except for New Liberty. Home town gets a place on the phone too.
On my phone I can see what the weather is like where they’re at except for New Liberty. My home town gets a place on the phone too.
From this....
From this…. this. It went by fast.
…to this

At the airport.  Silence speaks volumes.  Exuberance verses apprehension.  Exciting future verses the tedium of daily routine.  Throats tight.  Goodbyes whispered.  Eyes misty.  Silent walk to the parking lot as nearby jets rev their engines.  Quiet car ride to an empty house.  Prayers sent.  This storm, is it over or just beginning?  Trips to be planned.  Reunions in the future.  I wish that I had paid a little more attention to parenting while it was happening and savored those moments.  It went by fast.




Billy Idol sneer…CHECK!!

I honestly thought that these photographs were lost forever.  I hadn’t seen them in years…but that’s not where the story begins.

It was April 1984 and we were just a few short weeks away from graduating high school. My best friend, Scott Carlson, had hatched an idea to take some “cool pictures” at an abandoned farm house just a few minutes from where we lived.  Since I was one of the photographers for our high school newspaper and had access to a 35mm camera, black and white film plus could develop said photos at school without supervision, he asked me to come along.  Scott was a bit of a free-spirit back then.  He occasionally smoked pot, was extremely talented in art and track and was kind of on the outside edge of the cool crowd.  I was all of those things except that I didn’t smoke pot, wasn’t talented in either art nor track and the cool crowd was indifferent towards my existence….so it worked out well.  All we needed for the photo shoot was:

  • tinted safety glasses (borrowed from welding class)
  • a black tux jacket (borrowed from choir)
  • Billy Idol sneer.
  • a total lack of regard for trespassing (we didn’t know who owned it and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway)
  • two cameras.  One with color film and one with black and white.
  • a little imagination.

We arrived at the farm after school and started taking some pictures.  As you will see, the house was a beautiful home at one time.  Scott was adventurous enough to go inside the house while I hedged my bets that he’d fall through the floor and into the basement.  Years removed from this afternoon I wish that I would’ve taken more photos, gone inside and perhaps invited some of our classmates to join us.  How much more fun would it be to look at these now as I share them?

Once we had been there for a little while we heard a truck pull up into the lane, it was old man Spickermann.  I didn’t know much about Old Man Spickermann except that he yelled really loud at basketball games and had an ever-present scowl residing upon his beet red face.  Scott and I walked up to his truck in the lane like two kids walking to the principles office.  I think that I did most of the talking while he scowled at us, on his property without his permission.  Mind you one of us was wearing a black tux jacket and tinted safety glasses while the other carried two cameras…not exactly looking like two juvenile delinquents vandalizing an old and abandoned farm.  Mister Spickermann listened, never giving us an indication of his feelings one way or the other…just sizing us and the moment up.  Once I had finished with my apology for not getting his permission and telling him what we were doing (which was harmless) he turned away without saying a word, opened his truck door, got something off of the floor of his cab (it was shiny) and moved back towards us.  At this point I thought that he may have had a gun to scare us with, instead it was a chrome Thermos.  He chuckled as he poured himself a cup of coffee, using the hood of his truck as a table, and talked to us about the farm and local matters.  I learned that his scowl was just him being him and that once turned upside down was really a very pleasant face to go with the man.  His beet-red complexion a consequence of years of farming and being in the sun.  Mister Spickermann departed shortly thereafter and so did we…not knowing if any of these photos would turn out.  Here they are:

Scott and I thought that it'd be cool if he went inside.  I didn't have the courage to do it.  I wish now that I had.
Scott and I thought that it’d be cool if he went inside. I didn’t have the courage to do it. I wish now that I had.
Never mind that cool old abandoned house, look at that beautiful hair profile.  I'd give a weeks pay to have that hair again for seven days.
Never mind that cool old abandoned house, look at that beautiful hair profile. I’d give a weeks pay to have that hair again for seven days.
The whole Billy Idol sneer thing was going on with Scott at the time.  He's a front window on the second story.
The whole Billy Idol sneer thing was going on with Scott at the time. He’s a front window on the second story.
I have no idea why we took these photos in April of 84, but I'm glad that we did.  It would've been a blast had we gotten a few more of our classmates out there with us.
I have no idea why we took these photos in April of 84, but I’m glad that we did. It would’ve been a blast had we gotten a few more of our classmates out there with us.
This photo was taken at the back of the house.  Scott was in the second story window when he said that he heard something weird behind him.  He disappeared for a bit before coming back and telling me that the back wall was covered with bees and honeycombs.
This photo was taken at the back of the house. Scott was in the second story window when he said that he heard something weird behind him. He disappeared for a bit before coming back and telling me that the back wall was covered with bees and honeycombs.
View from the front door.  Scott coming down the stairway from the second story.
View from the front door. Scott coming down the stairway from the second story.  Ooo…so creepy.
If you ever wondered what I'd look like sitting in the ceiling inside a corn crib...well wonder no more.
If you ever wondered what I’d look like sitting in the ceiling inside a corn crib…well wonder no more.
Again...inside a corn crib.  I was working with corn cribs before working with corn cribs was cool.  Just sayin'
Again…inside a corn crib. I was working with corn cribs before working with corn cribs was cool. Just sayin’
We were smart enough to bring a camera with color film in it...but not smart enough for the photographer to get his stupid shadow out of the photo.  (that's my stupid shadow, by the way)
We were smart enough to bring a camera with color film in it…but not smart enough for the photographer to get his stupid shadow out of the photo. (that’s my stupid shadow, by the way)

A summer ago I returned to those gravel roads that I grew up on, looking for that beautiful old farm house and its outbuildings.  What I found shouldn’t have surprised me…it was completely overgrown with trees and brush with old cars and trailers parked in its overgrown lane.  I couldn’t tell if the house was even standing. Its probably better that I don’t know.

I last spoke to Scott at a class reunion.  We’re quite different and the consequence of that is we don’t keep in touch.  I wish that I could share these with him, or at least his kids….they’d probably all get a kick out of seeing them.

April 1984. Old school selfie.  Focus the camera.  Set the timer and run to your spot.  Nailed it the first time.
April 1984. Old school selfie. Focus the camera. Set the timer and run to your spot. Nailed it the first time.

That’s us….two kids, now in their fifties, having a little fun thirty-two years ago.

Thanks for coming down Memory Lane with me.  Take care and God bless.


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