Monday, August 11, 2014

Ms. Veteran America 2014 - 12 October, 5PM (local), Leesburg, VA

I saw this on the Twitterverse earlier this afternoon. The Ms. Veteran America pageant is a showcase for women veterans. It's not a typical pageant, though. The main purpose is to raise money for housing homeless women veterans and their children. - feel free to hit the site & check out what's going on.

The National Conference Center – Leesburg, VA
18980 Upper Belmont Pl Leesburg, VA 20176
(703) 729-8000 –
I haven't been before, and don't live in Virginia. However, it sounds like a worthy event. If this sounds interesting, check out the links attached for more data.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Relocation Chronicles, Chapter 5 - I Love That House!

On the 1st of the month, my property manager/realtor formally posted my house for sale. Mid-morning, we went by the house to give it a once-over. I have to acknowledge my tenant, who kept it in pretty good shape. Sure, it will need a bit of TLC, but there are no glaring issues. That is a relief.

As my realtor and I went in that morning, I saw the house from a different perspective. It was the first time since September of 2010 that I'd set foot in in it, and thought "I wouldn't mind staying here". The house was light and airy. The kitchen and den area were roomy. The basement looked good; the carpet held up well & the walls were in good shape. With some of the tenant's stuff still in it, I could see how a different decoration theme could bring out some different qualities.

My realtor is also optimistic about the house being on the market. He feels the proposed price is reasonable for the location, and he's doing what he can to increase its marketability.

I didn't tour the upper (bedroom) level, since the tenant hadn't finished removing her things. But, the rooms I saw reminded me why my wife and I bought it. It wasn't one of those "try to remember/the kind of September..." moments, but I did get a little sentimental. We had such plans for it, plans that didn't quite come to fruition.

The house was the first & only one my wife and I ever purchased. Even after all these years, her vision and intelligence are still a positive impact on my life and the lives of our progeny. That thought really blows my mind, and got me to thinking. Have I made choices that can be a long-lasting benefit to others? When I'm gone, will others say I had their best interests at heart?

Yeah, in a very mundane sense the house is an asset. It can be converted to another resource as I move on in this life. But, it's also a symbol. It's a reminder of a better time, a more innocent time. I'm not saying I want to move back in. But I saw the potential. Whoever buys it will have a really nice house.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Relocation Chronicles, Chapter 4 - Papers (No, Not Those Kind of Papers)

(With apologies to Usher Raymond IV)

Tuesday morning, I met my realtor at his office. It was a cool, weirdly blustery day. In most parts of the nation, it's normally hot on 1 July. Here on the Front Range, though, we're liable to see any sort of weather. I wore a tropical print shirt, trying to convince myself I felt warm.

My realtor, as mentioned before, is insightful & professional. Upon my arrival, he had a bit of Chick-Fil-A set out. We broke bread for a bit as we discussed selling my house. He was confident that the house was desirable, that the selling price he proposed was appropriate for the location, and that it wouldn't take a lot of work to dress it up for viewings.

After a few minutes of visiting, he brought out the papers. Contract time! I put electronic signatures on a couple of forms, forms that were actually shorter than I expected. Each was around 8-10 pages, written in clear text that even a goober like me could understand.

Each form had boilerplate language towards the top, in bold print. I could imagine a stentorian voice reading it, like Chuck D, Walter Cronkite or Billy Graham:


First up were the Closing Instructions. This form confirmed the location of the property, the name of the closing company we plan to use, how the closing documents would be prepared, who pays the required fees, etc. Also included were some high-level statements regarding disputes around the closing, if such events happen. So far, so good.

Next, I got the Exclusive Right-To-Sell Contract. This one had language at the top of the form similar to the previous, and something unique to this contract:

Compensation charged by brokerage firms is not set by law. Such charges are established by each real estate brokerage firm.   

Uh, sure. Seems reasonable. This one spelled out my business relationship with my realtor. The listing period was confirmed, the realtor's duties, selling price, and our respective rights to cancel (if it came to that).

One interesting thing included is Section 7 - Compensation to Brokerage Firm. Yep, when my realtor gets the house sold, he gets paid for his work. Something I'd ignored before was in Section 7.3.3. There is a 30-day period after the listing period ends, where if I negotiate independently with a prospective buyer I met through the broker (realtor), I still owe the broker his commission. I'm been naïve about this, but there must have been too many instances of folk hooking up after-hours to sell property & "hip-checking" the broker out of his/her rightfully earned commission. People and money, as usual a recipe for possible temptation and wrongdoing.

After signing those two forms, my realtor showed me a website used in the real estate industry. This site is a clearinghouse for home listings, with pictures, descriptions, etc. One cool feature on the site is a scheduling function. There are blocks of time designated, where a realtor can sign up for a block to show the house. This allows different realtors to de-conflict between each other's schedules when showing a house. It seems obvious, but I've always been captivated by "process". In clicking on the tab that showed my house, he had loaded pictures of the interior. These pics were taken before my current tenant moved in. My realtor chose a sunny day, and the interior looked attractive with sunlight streaming in. I was quite impressed (more on that in another post).

The third form I received was the Seller's Property Disclosure. I have to fill out this one; my broker isn't allowed. This one is also pretty obvious - describe the house's physical condition. There's a series of questions, and I fill in the dots. I had four answer choices: yes, no, I don't know, N/A. Seems simple enough.

Most of the questions were straightforward, and I dove right in to addressing them. Sections of questions covered the structure, appliances, electrical/telecommunications, mechanical, sewage, and other related issues. I took real comfort in the form addressing whether or not I kept radioactive or hazardous materials on-site. (rolls eyes). The question about mine shafts or abandoned wells on the property cracked me up as well.

[Note: I understand the need for inclusion of such topics. Especially in this state, with all sorts of terrain and previous usage, one would be prudent to cover such issues. But, in the suburb where my house is located, one wouldn't normally expect an abandoned mine shaft. My suburb is as un-exciting as one would expect.]

Yeah, these were just forms. People sign papers for various reasons every day. But to me, on that day, the symbol was larger than just paragraphs and signature blocks. I've been running my mouth for years about leaving. Now, it feels a little more real. My intent has been expressed through legally-mandated means. It's time to do business.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Relocation Chronicles, Chapter 3 - A "Low Pass" [Recent Update]

[Update - 27 June/2053 hours local - just got a note from my property manager. The tenant needs one more month. So, I don't get to do my walk-through next week. I'm somewhat happy to help, but I'm ready to break camp. Let's wrap this thing up!]

I rode by my house Thursday, to get a quick glimpse of how things looked. My tenant's lease expires this weekend, and I anticipate going over there in the days to come to get things ready for the sale.

I used the phrase "low pass" because the phrase "drive-by" has unpleasant connotations. I certainly don't want that popping up on a Google search near my name, with the possibility of being required to explain to anyone what I meant.

(A "low pass" in aviation [paraphrasing here] is a scenario where an aircraft goes low enough near an aerodrome to allow the pilot or pilots to get a glimpse of the local aerodrome environment. Local control tower operatives would grant this permission, taking into account possible obstructions to controlled flight. Depending on the location, the actual altitude from one place to another may vary.)

Anyway, looking at my house from that emotional distance felt weird. My first wife and I bought it seventeen years ago, when other houses on the street were still under construction. It was the first house we'd ever bought, after years of back-and-forth (and not a small amount of trepidation on my part). We were blessed to acquire it, and my wife did a superb job of finding it.

Back in 1997, my part of the neighborhood was pretty much the north edge of the city. My across-the-street neighbors had cow pastures adjacent to their back yards. I remember many a morning waking to the placid mooing of cows that were in no particular hurry to get anywhere.

I'll admit, it's one part of the neighborhood that cracks me up to this day. I encounter plenty of folk on this end of town who seem surprised that a person of color lives in this area. I watched the neighborhood grow year by year (and ended up with stray construction nails in my car tires as a result). In the vast majority of cases, I arrived before most of the others did. But, how would they know, without actually asking?

Regarding the house itself, it looked in relatively good shape. The paint job I had done in the summer of 2011 appears to be in good shape. The parts of the roof I had repaired that same summer are also decent. There don't appear to be any gaping holes in the exterior. The fencing will need some work, but pickets at that size aren't hard to come by.

I have never met nor conversed with the tenant since she moved in two years ago. My property manager/realtor advised me to keep my distance. I'm satisfied with how he took care of things. I would recommend him to others in the area. In addition, since he and I are fraternity brothers, I do take some measure of satisfaction knowing the two of us could enter a mutually satisfying business arrangement. I felt from the start he'd protect my interests while earning enough to make it worth his while.

I'm not his only client, so I won't badger him for hourly updates or similar nonsense. But come Monday, I will feel a sense of excitement and anticipation I hadn't felt in years. It's one thing to talk about change, pray for change. It's another thing to be on the precipice of such change. I'm blessed and grateful that the years of waiting for this transition are coming to a close, and the time for action is at hand.

In a matter of weeks, I'll be on a highway towards Memphis. If you see me, please say hi. The first cheeseburger is on me...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Relocation Chronicles, Chapter 2 - My Last Soup Run

We used the Freightliner Walk-In Van. (Ours is similar to the one you see in the pic.) The one we have is about 15 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 10 feet high or so. (My measurements may be off a bit.). The model number for ours is MT-14FD.

This vehicle is an M-Line, Truck, 14,500 lb gross vehicle weight rating, Forward engine, Diesel Engine. It handles like a dream. It accelerates fairly well, possesses a turn radius that is a bit smaller than I expected, and it handles inclement weather with ease. I've driven that bad boy through rain, sleet, snow, hail, baking heat and heavy traffic. It always answered the call.

On top of that, the last few years when we've had wildfires in the local area, the Salvation Army staff has used it on the front lines to provide spiritual support, hot and cold beverages, meals and even some light first aid.

On 6 June, I did my last "soup run" for the local Salvation Army station. It's been three years of helping, and I gladly admit it was an enjoyable season in my life.

It all started in February of 2011. I'd just gotten back from my final deployment before retirement. A few months before, my divorce was finalized. So, there I was - no wife, no job, no direction for my life.

A friend from church was already running errands for the local branch of the Salvation Army. He usually volunteered on weekends, gathering bread for the homeless and others in dire straits. I got a chance to ride shotgun with him a few times before my deployment, so I was able to easily re-join to help him upon my return. As I got back into civilian life, working with him led to my meeting the receptionist at SA.

The receptionist, Teresa, was one of the most grounded Christian women I'd ever met. A little while after we met, she asked if I was up for an adventure. She had spots open for drivers, folk who would escort volunteers from various churches in the local area. We'd meet at the SA location, get the food and supplies onto the canteen, go downtown, fellowship with folk, pray with some, encourage others, then come back to "home base" to clean everything up.

Digression - how many of you have heard this rationale? "I'm gonna take my kids this Thanksgiving/Christmas to a homeless shelter to volunteer, serve some meals. Maybe it will help my children learn how blessed they are."

Digression 2 - how many of you have said "we gotta get the homeless off the streets, get 'em jobs, get 'em contributing to society."

I went into this effort so naïve. I went downtown to help people, and perhaps "fix" a few. I had plenty of time, and needed a place to belong. I am convinced God wouldn't have given me free time without a reason, a purpose in which to use the time allotted.

In my immature thinking, I was gonna personally get a few folk off the streets (and no doubt pat myself on the back for making the world a better place). In a very subtle way, our customers let me know from the start they weren't anyone's object lesson nor object of pity.

Our customers were unique individuals, with distinct value systems & beliefs. There were military veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder issues. There were women and men who'd left abusive relationships, but didn't have anywhere else to go for shelter. There were folks who hitch-hiked here from other states looking for construction work or other employment opportunities. Some were just enjoying life "off the grid" - they didn't have any bills, any bosses or any hassles. Some had good jobs at one time, were living paycheck-to-paycheck, got overextended financially, then ended up out on the street. Some were so well-versed in Biblical matters, they could discuss doctrine on a par with virtually any ordained minister.

Some wanted help, and we were able to help a few. Some just wanted to be acknowledged as living beings on the earth. A few were small-time hustlers, like in any other large gathering. Some just wanted a hot meal or a cup of coffee. We had that too.

I learned more about life talking to our customers downtown than I learned in a hundred formal meetings in office buildings from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. I got to see up-close better examples of fellowship, loyalty and integrity on the street than I've seen in many churches, offices, etc. Our customers showed me places where I fell short in life and attitude. Cool thing was, they weren't heavy-handed about it. In the final accounting, I got more from them than they did from me. They embraced me and helped me grow up a quite a bit.

So now, my shift is complete. I am gonna use the time to keep prepping for the move coming soon. I have no doubt God will send new volunteers to assist in this worthwhile endeavor. For me, I say farewell to Chris, Snake, Ghost, Mark, Vince, Dalton, Tom (R.I.P.) and all the other men and women I met on the street. Thanks for the laughter, the exchange of ideas, the broadening of my perspective. They helped me become a better man, because they were willing to give of themselves.

In addition, I am thankful for all my fellow volunteers. So many women and men who took time from their own responsibilities to look after total strangers. Good people, every one of them. I was honored to serve alongside all of them. Thomas, Gloria, "the three Davids", Carol and Carol, Timothy.
Furthermore, I am thankful for all the organizations that donated foodstuffs, serving resources, clothing, Bibles and other items our customers could use after the meals were served. We couldn't have gone out to help if we didn't have the support.

Now, I need to go find something productive to do in Memphis. It's a big city, so I suspect something will be revealed soon.

I write to encourage those of you who read this - seek out opportunities to contribute. Each of us has a gift that can be a blessing to someone else. Your gift is needed in your community.

(Yes, I tweet - @SomRandomOlDude)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Relocation Chronicles - Chapter One

This is yet another occasional series, where I'll share what I learn and see about my planned move from Colorado to Tennessee. I am excited about the opportunity to go back down south.

Being a military veteran & formerly married, I had lots of help whenever I moved. In other words, I did very little to no actual work. Other than signing forms or watching other folks put my stuff on a truck, I was hands-off. So, this time it becomes an adventure because all the responsibility falls on me. I'm excited about going home, and I'm excited about having some say about my future. I just don't know what the heck I'm doing.

Today, I had lunch with my property manager/realtor. He's a good guy, and helped me in many ways over the years. Also, he's frat, so it's cool to keep it in the Brotherhood (he's a much better Brother than I'll ever be). He brought a hard copy appraisal with him, and we are both pleased with the possible proceeds. Now, the way ahead is a little clearer. My tenant's lease expires in four weeks. Once she's out, we can show the house to prospective buyers.

Why do I have a tenant? A few years ago, the house became too big for me. Once my kids moved out, I wasn't excited about maintaining it alone. It's not a mansion by any means, but I don't need that much space. The money came in handy, but it seemed more like getting use out of the asset. I'm glad the tenant was able to have some stability in her life.

The house has a bunch of memories. It was the first one (actually only one) my first wife and I ever bought. It looks like it was a great investment. She always had great judgment, and I get to benefit from her vision.

Then, nearly 10 years later, my second wife moved in. By then, we had the basement remodeled to suit her desires (including a walk-in closet for literally 300 pair of shoes. I moved them in, so it's no exaggeration). Today, the valuation might be a bit higher if that space was a bedroom instead of a closet, but at the time I was in a "anything you want, baby" mood.

So, like nearly everyone, I can look back and see some cool, crazy, crushing moments. On some level, it's bittersweet to actually sell the house and "break camp". But, let me ask you this:

If you were alone & money wasn't a consideration, where would YOU choose to live? What would be the big criteria that would drive your choice?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Random Thoughts

I love the time just before sunrise, especially in the desert. There's something stark & beautiful, even peaceful, about that stillness. As my eyes adjust to the dark transitioning to dawn, my mind feels clear. The air here is usually cool & fresh. The madness of the day hasn't started. That time is fleeting, but I enjoy it.

Made lasagna yesterday. It was good, but I ate too much of it. My innards were crying out for relief throughout the night. So, I got up at 0430 hours for a nice, long walk. There will come a time where I will take the lesson learned to heart, the lesson of "don't be a glutton".

During the walk, I heard a couple of tracks from Berlin's "Love Life" CD. Even though it's an artifact from the New Wave '80s, I still get a kick out of it. Most songs deal with the dark, disillusioned side of love & romance (to which I can obviously relate). The scratchy guitar licks get under my skin like an itch I can't reach. The rat-tat-tat of the drums hit like tommy-gun fire. The beats would fit in with any spinning class; the lyrics, not so much. Terri Nunn's vocals purr one moment, snarl the next. It's one of the most thematically cohesive CDs I've ever heard.

Watching "Sink the Bismarck!" before heading out to church. I was never in anyone's navy, but the sea battle scenes look authentic. The scenes of the operations staff poring over charts and planning missions bring back nice memories as well.

It's June - Flag Day, Father's Day and the first day of summer are all coming. June is an underrated month. In addition, it's one month closer to my moving back to Tennessee.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Hobson's Choice"

Sometimes, there are neat moments in a life that find you by surprise. I stumbled across this movie last week, after driving 600 miles. I thought I was too tired to watch it, but got into it after about five minutes. It was excellent.

The movie was based on the play of the same name, written by Harold Brighouse. Two earlier film versions (released in 1920 and 1931, respectively) preceded this version.

This 1954 release starred Charles Laughton. The same guy who was the "Hunchback of Notre Dame" in 1939 and Captain Bligh opposite Clark Gable in 1935's "Mutiny on the Bounty" did a splendid job in this film. He was a thoroughly unlikable character, necessary to make this story work.

Laughton is "Henry Horatio Hobson", owner of a moderately successful shoe-making business in a small British town in the 19th century. He carries on around the town like "a big fish in a small pond (his words). He is arrogant and condescending to all in his orbit: his drinking buddies at the Moonraker pub, his workers and his daughters.

Hobson, a widower, has three daughters in the home and the shop."Maggie" (Brenda De Banzie) is the eldest. She is the character who makes the plot work. She's the smartest character in the film, and drives the story. "Alice" (Daphne Anderson) and "Vicky" (Prunella Scales) are the younger two daughters. All three work in the shop without pay, and do the cooking and housework after the shop closes each night.

The younger two are of marrying age, and each has her eye on a beau. Getting wed would mean their getting out from under their father's heavy-handedness. Hobson doesn't mind that, but he objects to paying his future sons-in-law any sort of dowry. He's just that greedy and self-absorbed.

Maggie, on the other hand, is a bit older. Her father is directly insulting to her, even as she is the brains behind the business. For her future, she has broader visions than just getting married. She even admits that she may be past prime child-bearing age, but she hasn't given up on her life going forward. After a particularly rude set of comments from her father/boss, she decides she's had enough. She is going to get married, and she decides to pick a husband that will embarrass her father - "Willy Mossop" (John Mills).

Willy is one of Hobson's employees. He sits in the basement of the shop all day, every day, making shoes. He's dirty, not particularly smart, not particularly confident. Measured by social status, Willy is at or near the bottom in the community. But he has a supreme gift. He is the best cordwainer (shoemaker) in the city, if not the entire region. It's his work that nearly single-handedly brings in the profit the shop earns. Maggie knows it better than anyone, since she keeps the books & manages the day-to-day operations.

Maggie figures she can establish a new dynamic with her father in two ways: she will be married, and she will take Willy with her to open a new shop. That shop would target the high-end shoe customers her father takes for granted.

Maggie's interactions with Willy are insightful and heart-warming. She's brusque, but she has a strategic purpose for every decision she makes. What initially looked like rampant manipulation is tied to bigger goals in mind. By movie's end, everyone's position is improved directly through Maggie's vision and commitment. You could consider her a pre-feminist for either, whether in the film's setting or the year of the film's release.

As confident as Maggie is, she completely supports Willy. She knows he would be a more productive worker with her by his side. She sees a greatness in him that he never considered in himself, as a man and as a business owner. As their time together goes on, Maggie and Willy make a great team. The bond that started in perhaps a cynical way soon grows to heartfelt affection between the two. That aspect was my favorite theme in the film.

There is a scene that warmed my heart, big-time. Once the couple acquire a small home on the main street to also use as a workshop, they start to decorate it. Maggie commissions exterior signage, with Willy's full name in big letters. The first time he walks out of the shop & looks at the sign, you can see his confidence and self-worth grow in that instant. For the first time in his life, he feels appreciated and valued. It's a simple scene, but I could relate to what Willy was feeling in that moment.

Director David Lean (who later directed "The Bridge On The River Kwai", "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago") did a superb job setting up the story-telling. The scenes where Hobson staggers around drunk are innovative and really put you in his shoes. (In no way do I mean to glorify dipsomania, but the scenes are quite effective). Lean lets the scenes breathe quietly. The viewer gets a chance to inhabit what each character is thinking, feeling or seeing. I love how this film expresses its message.

Yes, this film is a product of its era. The British sensibility in film-making is evident. It's a lovely film. Some critics called it "delightful", and that description is appropriate. I loved it, and look forward to seeing it again. It's definitely one I'd buy on DVD/Blu-Ray, to watch whenever I choose.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Am I Ready? Of Course Not

(For those who’ve already thought about these issues, this is a nod of acknowledgement. For those who haven’t, it’s a heads-up – live long enough, and your turn will come.)

We laid my dad to rest in March. In looking at his obituary, he covered a lot of ground in his life. He helped and mentored a lot of people. Many of those folks attended his funeral. It was a comfort to know they thought so much of him and his efforts.

My sisters did a great job of putting his accomplishments on paper. Admittedly, I don’t think I can do his life justice in this space. Even with “how much I love my writing style”, I’m not so confident to feel I can capture what he meant to the community.

This post isn’t just to eulogize my father. Others have done it already, and done it well. This post is to cover one aspect of our going forward after his passing.

I’ve talked with close friends about this point over the years, and I want to put it in print now. Years ago, we would talk about the role patriarchs and matriarchs play in families. Those elders are a readily-available fount of support and wisdom. In some cases, they provide that needed bit of advice that gets us through tough times. Sometimes, they can provide correction, when we are off-course but don’t see it. Sometimes, it may be something as prosaic as financial support (I’m not just advocating it, merely acknowledging that it does happen).  No matter how old we get as progeny, or how many experiences we accumulate, we never possess the wisdom of our elders. Their life experiences and perspective are precious.

Then, suddenly, those elders pass away. One day, we look around and see we are given a new role in our families. Now, it may be my turn to be that source of support. Am I ready? Of course not, but “ready” may not be the right answer. Maybe the question itself doesn’t completely capture the situation.

We’ve all been hit by those real-life moments. There is no way to prepare for the nature of those challenges and what we go through after those moments change our lives.  I can’t carry on my father’s work, since I don’t have his skills. But, I can use a mindset similar to what he used. He didn’t complain about the state of the world, he tried to actively make a difference.

It could come down to the time I spend in community service. It could be providing a listening ear to someone who needs to talk through a situation. It could come down to making a public stand on an issue I’m committed to seeing through to an appropriate conclusion. I’ll have opportunities to help, just like he did. I just have to open my eyes.

No, we can’t replace what my father meant to the local community. To me, we are obligated to carry on, taking the lessons he taught us and moving further down the line. That’s how an old soldier would have done it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Middle of the Night"

This 1959 release is a good movie, but it hits me a bit too close to home. I've watched it a couple of times, and enjoyed it. But, it's not a feel-good movie. And, it's very much an artifact of its age.

The acclaimed actor Fredric March is "Jerry", a man in his mid-50s in a story set in the mid-50s. The son of immigrants, he clawed his way to the top of the garment industry in New York City. He owns his own clothing business, and business has been good for awhile. On the outside, he has the polish and bonhomie of a natural salesman.  At his core, he's a roughneck hiding in a well-tailored suit. He's also lonely - his wife died recently, and he tries to fill the void in his life with even more work.

Kim Novak is "Betty", a receptionist at Jerry's company. Betty's recently divorced from an itinerant musician, and she's trying to rebuild her life. She's moved back home to live with her mother (played by Glenda Farrell) and sister "Alice" (played by Jan Morris). Her mom's frustrated and coarse, ever since Betty's dad abandoned the family when the girls were small.

Jerry is more than twice Betty's age. Most of his friends have either already retired, moved to Florida or died off. His only lasting friend "Walter" (Albert Dekker) is cynical and a bit forlorn. He's unhappily married, and he worries about how his grown kids see their father. He should. Walter recklessly indulges in tawdry affairs with cheap women, trying in vain to convince himself that he's still vibrant and desirable. With a friend like this, it's no wonder Jerry is starting to wonder about his own future. Is Jerry destined to seek the same artificial solace in a series of empty liaisons? Jerry wants something deeper.

After a couple of post-work encounters, Jerry decides Betty is the woman he loves. He goes after Betty like he went after his career. At once, he's full of bluster and promises, while barely containing his insecurity at his increasing age and his decreasing vibrancy. He knows she's attractive enough and young enough to be a better fit to someone closer to her own age. He also feels that her presence makes him feel young again, even if it's for a moment. He'd do anything to keep that feeling in his life as the years wind down.

Betty doesn't feel the same way. She's flattered by the attention, since Jerry is everything Betty's husband never was: rich, attentive, determined, well-respected in the city. Jerry's lifestyle would be a quantum leap over the struggle Betty faces day after day. What cost is Betty willing to pay? Can she turn off her true feelings for the sake of material comfort?

After some time dealing with Jerry's relentless pursuit, Betty begrudgingly accepts Jerry's ardor. She tries to reciprocate, but it's difficult. Those in orbit around the couple loudly and frequently express their disapproval. Her mom and sister think Jerry is a disgusting cradle-robber. His daughter "Lillian" (Joan Copeland) thinks Betty's infantile and will soon dump Jerry for a younger lover. Only Lillian's husband "Jack" (Martin Balsam) thinks that Jerry should not be afraid to seek happiness or love.

When Jerry and Betty are together, they do a great job of showing the raw emotions they're trying to manage. This is not a beautiful, uplifting love story. It certainly wouldn't be considered a chick flick. Jerry is desperate to make his dream of love work, charging ahead with barely any regard to Betty's doubts. Betty sees Jerry as basically a sweet man who's a bit lost. She doesn't love him, but is trying to teach herself to do so, because she doesn't want to hurt him. She's losing a part of herself in trying to buoy this older man who's drowning in loneliness and despair.

Why it hits close to home is because I'm in a similar stage in life. In that baby boomer era, most men were taught that career success and that love for a lifetime were both worthy, achievable goals. We were taught that a truly successful man had both when he reached middle-age. We were taught those goals could be nurtured simultaneously. As the career wound down and ended, that lifetime of memories with the one you love would nourish one in the golden years.

In the present day, now many middle-aged men find themselves alone, looking back at successful careers in their respective pasts. But today, the career is going or gone, and that "forever love" is gone as well. Those men (and increasingly, women in that age group) find themselves alone, trying to find something to hold onto as sustenance as they enter the last years of their lives. Even though the movie is 50-plus years old, Jerry's dilemma resonates with so many persons today. If it applies to you, how do YOU deal with it?

The ending is typical of movies from that era, but it's not satisfying. Those who watch may suspect that all those family and friends on both sides may be right - that Jerry's insecurities and Betty's fears were stronger than any possible love they could muster for one another.

This movie was well-crafted and well-cast. The playwright Paddy Chayefsky wrote a powerful screenplay. Watching it won't have you humming love songs when it ends. But, the story will make you think. It may make you re-examine some of the choices you make in your middle-aged years. I liked it, and I wonder who else likes it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

In Dreams - I Met "Rachel", and She's Cool

Like some single folk, I have an idea in my head about the type of person I'd like to meet for romance. Not necessarily a hard-and-fast prioritized list, per se. It's more like certain qualities I'd like in a woman, qualities that catch my interest. Men and women alike have their individual ideas. They may be something like this (exaggerations for comedic effect):

For the ladies:
He's gotta look good. He's gotta have six-pack abs. He's gotta be confident. He's gotta have a respectful distance from his baby mommas. He's gotta be active in his kids' lives, but not slave to their every want. He's gotta have money and a nice car. He's gotta be a "gangsta with a heart of gold". He's gotta be tough enough to "knock a sucka out", but tender enough to cry in a manly way the first time he changes his baby's diaper. He's gotta be able to dance, but not dance better than the lady. He's gotta have a great sense of personal style. He's gotta be respectful of ladies, including his woman and his own momma. He's gotta be able to fix stuff, and look cool doing it.

For the guys:
She's gotta have a bangin' body (BOOM!). She's gotta have money. She's gotta like what I like.

(Yep, men and women are different. In other news, water is wet.)

So, wading through all that, I too have my ideas of the qualities I seek in a lady (hint: it's a bit more than the stereotype I listed). So, imagine my surprise when I saw those qualities in a dream.

I was at a fairly large college campus, there to buy a school t-shirt or other souvenir. Suddenly, I met her. Let's call her "Rachel" for sake of argument ("Why Rachel?" It's a pretty name.). We hit it off immediately. She was naturally funny, in an dry-humor way. She was sharp as a tack, and keenly observant of her surroundings. She was wearing navy blue slacks and a white shell top with blue trim. There were ruffles front/center of the top (which may or may not be in style today). She was maybe 5-foot-4 and athletically built, like a long-distance runner.

She worked at the college in some upper-level administrator capacity, which freed her up to get away from her desk and walk around a bit during the day. So, we found ourselves walking and talking. She was wearing work-quality pumps (maybe a two-inch heel), so she could walk for a while without hurting her feet. As we walked, we could see evidence that the semester was in full-swing. Students, faculty and visitors were everywhere. She was acquainted with most folk we encountered, and had a unique encouraging word for each of them.

As we talked, we realized we had a friend in common. This friend taught at the college, but he was also working on his doctorate at the same institution. He was taking an advanced literature class as part of his program, but not doing well. "Rachel" had an inkling he was about to fail the literature course. A large part of the failure would stem from a personality conflict - our mutual friend had a barely-controllable temper, and was maybe hours away from blowing his top on some relatively minor disagreement with his instructor.

"Rachel" had an idea to help our friend keep his cool and keep his place in the doctoral program. The idea involved us shredding a few reams of computer paper. We walked to her office, where we could get the paper in question.  Outside her office door, "Rachel" had this huge steampunk-style shredder. If Queen Victoria had a shredder back in the day, it might have looked like this, pipes and levers and gears all over. Even at rest, this beast was leaking oil, fuel and other substances. Anyway, "Rachel" fired up the machine, it belched diesel smoke, and we started shredding.

As we worked, we talked about our respective pasts. In my spirit, I could sense she was really sweet and genuine. She had a heart for people, and a real concern about the way the world was turning. She wasn't scarred by past hurts, but fired up about what her future could become. We talked about friends who had died at young ages, our respective parents, and future aspirations. It was a mellow time.

Funny thing was, as she shredded paper, she didn't get dirty at all. No bits of paper dust clung to her clothing. No shredder oil clung to her fingertips. Even when the shredder clogged from the top, and she took a knee to pull at the jam from the bottom of the shredder (which didn't make sense), she stayed clean.

Hanging out with "Rachel" was pleasant, the type of pleasant that seemed like it would never end.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

You Never Know Where Your Next Red Rose Will Come From

(Original title: "Sometimes, You Have to Buy Your Own Roses")

I generally keep to myself on 14 February. Most years, I'm alone/out of love/"between engagements". So yeah, 14 February has become just something to endure. I try not to rain on anybody's parade, though. I stay away from the restaurants and other places couples tend to congregate.

Since today was grocery-shopping day, I included some chocolate fudge brownies and Haagen-Dazs chocolate chocolate chip ice cream (only a half-pint). No, I can't eat like that on the regular, but this is a special occasion (or so they say).

Yes, I find myself a bit disengaged at this time. The media is overrun with commercials showing happy couples, usually much younger than me. I'd guess there are a bunch of us singles underrepresented in the media this week. I'd also guess it's not very marketable to play up singleness when everyone else seems to be paired off.

(Whooops - digression over). As I got to work this afternoon, I got to visit with friends I hadn't seen in a few weeks. One of the ladies brought several dozen cloth red roses to hand out our customers for the 14th (they looked nice & fairly real, but they weren't very expensive).

So, of course, we got fewer customers than we expected tonight. As a result, maybe half of the roses were left over. As we did our post-work cleanup, that co-worker started handing out a rose to each of us. Now, it wasn't anything romantic - over the years, we've become friendly but that's as far as it goes.

However, that's exactly the point. If we're not careful, us singles can get caught up in what we didn't get for the 14th, or from whom we didn't get flowers, a card, etc. We can convince ourselves we are alone in this bustle of the 21st century. We're not. We haven't been forgotten. God knows we're here, and He never forgets.

So, when I thanked her for the rose, I had a feeling I hadn't felt before. She wasn't offering a come-on. And, I knew it from the start. It was a symbol, but not the usual symbol. And, oh-by-the-way, any excuse I might have had for whining on Friday suddenly evaporated. That's why the original title isn't needed.

So, I ask you to do this. It's more than just the cliché "count your blessings". There is meaning in that phrase, but as humans we have drained all the meaningfulness out of it. Stop, and ask yourself "who actually knows I'm here?. Who misses me when I'm not around?" You may pleasantly surprise yourself.

No, it doesn't replace a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant. It doesn't replace an intimate moment with a paramour. It doesn't have to. It's a completely different line of questioning. Maybe all your co-workers won't surround your desk on Friday, asking about your gift. But, you are loved. You are valued. Never lose sight of that.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Robin and Marian" (1976)

I loved this movie. I stumbled across it Saturday, and really enjoyed it. Its' an interesting take on the legend of Robin Hood, and a really cool love story for grown folks. There is even some resonance for today's soldier. It's a romance at its' core, but there is some violence present in the story.

Released in 1976, it stars Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as the titular characters. This isn't a jaunty, smiling Robin. This isn't a demure Maid Marian, waiting for her rescuer. There's not a lot of swashbuckling, not a lot of grinning or showing off.

This story takes place roughly twenty years in the future of the Robin Hood who's familiar to generations of movie goers. This Robin has been co-opted by King Richard the Lion-Heart (Richard Harris). Robin's a captain in the king's army, off fighting in the Crusades. It's been a long slog of combat. There's no "robbing the rich" nor "giving to the poor". The army is a formidable force, but all this fighting has Robin weary and disillusioned. The king is getting progressively more jaded and abusive after years of fighting. Robin can't help but wonder what was gained by all this fighting. He's getting older, but he doesn't know anything else. He's starting to contemplate his present worth in the world, and his future fate.

The army comes upon a castle, where rumors abound of a gold statue and substantial riches inside its walls. In reality, the castle is shabby and run-down. The able-bodied men have abandoned the castle, leaving women, children and one old man to fend for themselves. The king orders Robin to lead forces to overtake the castle and loot the riches. Robin knows there are no riches, nor is there any military adversary. He challenges the king's orders, refusing to take part in the needless slaughter of innocent non-combatants.

The king is incensed, and has his other soldiers ransack the castle and massacre its' inhabitants (save the old man). Of course, there are no riches, no gold statue. The king, angered at Robin's insubordination, orders Robin and Little John (Nicol Williamson) arrested for eventual execution. However, in the midst of the ransacking the castle, the king is mortally wounded. A few days later, as he succumbs to his wounds, the king has a change of heart. With his last breath, he pardons Robin and Little John.

The pair of friends are free, and the war for them is over. Robin decides to go back to England, back to the familiar environs of Sherwood Forest. As he and Little John make their way through the forest, they encounter Friar Tuck (the British comedian Ronnie Barker) and Will Scarlet (Denholm Elliott). As the four men catch up on twenty years of events, the latter two mention to Robin that Marian is an abbess (head nun of an abbey) nearby. Robin's eyes light up, and makes his way to his one true love.

Marian is still beautiful, but it's a mature beauty earned through work and strength. When Robin left all those years ago, she initially was left without her paramour or direction for her own life. Through difficult events, she ended up at the abbey. Over time, she became a part of the order of nuns, then eventually the leader. When their eyes first meet, the battle-worn Robin lights up like a schoolboy. Marian pretends to keep her emotions in check, but her eyes tell a different story.

As the two erstwhile lovers spar verbally, Marian prepares to be arrested. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw), accompanied by the arrogant nobleman Sir Ranulf (Kenneth Haigh) have come to arrest Marian. The new king has ordered expulsion of all senior leaders in the Roman Catholic Church, and Marian is among that number. Marian is ready to die for her faith, but Robin has other ideas. He disobeys the Sheriff and repels Sir Ranulf (earning the latter's enmity). Robin abducts Marian and heads off into the forest.

As the group finds respite in the woods, Robin and Marian re-connect. He admits he's tired of the constant warring, and has missed her all these years. She too admits that even as she found purpose for her life, she missed him. He was the only true love she's ever known. Their relationship re-kindles in short order. The way they interact is romantic and exhilarating. It appears they will have their "happily ever after".

Even as the lovers enjoy the pastoral surroundings, danger is afoot. The Sheriff and Sir Ranulf have become bitter rivals, each wanting the glory of taking down the legendary Hood. The Sheriff sees Robin as his counterpart, and the one man whose defeat will solidify the Sheriff's eternal legacy. The nobleman is an arrogant upstart, taken lightly be everyone he encounters. If he could defeat Robin Hood, his image will be bolstered for life.

Eventually, the new King John (Ian Holm) commissions Sir Ranulf and 200 soldiers to capture/kill Robin and his growing cadre of friends and allies. The Sheriff encounters the army on the road to Sherwood Forest, and quickly usurps command of the forces. The next day, the opposing forces meet on the battlefield, but Robin proposes an alternative that will minimize wanton bloodshed. Instead of all-out warfare, Robin volunteers to take on the Sheriff in a duel, one-versus-one. Robin wins, his band of folk go free. The Sheriff wins, Robin's band of folk go peaceably under the Sheriff's direction.

(As they prepare to duel, there is a small moment of prayer that I thought was neat. The two men, adversaries for decades, still had a deep, abiding respect for one another.)

The battle is well-choreographed, but not glamorous. The two men are skillful combatants, but neither is a young man anymore. There is blood, sweat and dirt. They're like two stags, crashing and slashing into each other. Neither can take an early advantage, and the battle takes a toll on both...

The ending is sad, but fitting. Marian's testament of love to Robin is one of the best I've ever heard or seen in any medium. Anyone who is either in love or wants to be in love wants to hear the words Marian uttered to Robin at the end (well, most of them, anyway).

The cast does a great job with this material. Connery played to his strengths in this role - he's the guy every woman would want, and the man other men would want to emulate. His Robin was bulkier, more grounded. You could see the years of battle weighing on his frame. Williamson is the strong "wingman" any man would want on the battlefield. Little John could hold his own in any circumstance, and brought a quiet determination to the story.

Shaw's Sheriff is a man of great loyalty and integrity in service to the Crown. In a different light, he could be seen as the most heroic, most capable character in the story. Haigh's Ranulf had lots of confidence and ambition, but lacked the actual skill to make his ambition reality.

Hepburn was the heart of this film. At once, she could be defiant, outspoken, tender, loving and hopeful. Her love was the characteristic that brought the story together. Her Marian was the symbol of the possibilities for Robin's future.

All in all, I would watch this one again, gladly. This would be a great choice for "movie night" at home. For those in the mood for a romantic movie with some action components, this would be a rewarding choice.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Job Here Is Done

It hit me Friday, while I was shopping for groceries. Normally, I took my son into account when shopping - he would probably need something, and I didn't mind picking it up. This time, I realized I didn't have to get him anything.

Seems he moved out on Saturday. He has his own place, and is taking another step in building his own life. He's the last in line for me, so it's a weird feeling. I know, lots of parents have told me "you never stop being a parent. You never stop caring about your kids." All true, but all my direct descendants are adults. Obviously, my role in their lives must change.

I couldn't help but think back to the time we came here to house-hunt. The military has/had something called "permissive temporary duty" or "permissive TDY". If the member had orders to move permanently to a new unit, the member could go permissive and scout out the immediate area around that new unit before the move.

We came to Colorado from Omaha, the last weekend in April of 1997. A couple of days before we arrived, the local area had gotten several inches of snow. The mountains were covered, and we were so impressed by the natural beauty. My kids were young, and the trip was a cool part of the adventure in being a military family. To see the wonder in my kids' eyes as we checked out the local area was pretty cool.

So many things happened from then to now. Successes, heartbreak, failure, deep affection, recovery, meeting new friends and saying goodbye to loved ones. Through it all, I always had something external on which to focus. There was always someone to take care of, or a job to perform. Now, all those things have either moved on or washed away. Now, the way ahead is wide open. I am truly intrigued to see what God sends my way.

But, I'd be silly to deny the fact that I get a bit choked up about this. The years have gone by so fast. Goals I chased after were achieved, and in some cases once I achieved them they weren't what I expected. Love has come, and just as quickly left for parts unknown. The dreams for the future aren't as easily defined as the ones from my youth.

Other realizations come into play. I don't fit in the coveted secular 18-49 year old demographic - most of this society is marketed away from me and my peers. On some levels, I've reached the peak of my journey. After years of self-centerness in the midst of the rat race, I don't have to run that race anymore.

Regardless, the rest of the journey promises to be a great adventure. I'm blessed to have the freedom others desire. After many years in a cubicle, wishing for freedom, now it's here. It's not scary, but the not knowing the exact way ahead feels like being on top of a mountain. I can feel the breeze, crisp and clean. I can look down from the peak in all directions, pick a heading, and head out. Here we go...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Tugboat Annie"

This 1933 release was surprisingly touching. I stumbled across it one morning. It has heart and depth most movies today don't take the time to develop. Marie Dressler starred in it as the titular character. Her character is the emotional center of the story, and she does a great job with the shifting emotions required.

Wikipedia states the story was based on the life of Thea Foss. Her story was presented in a series in the Saturday Evening Post. Norman Reilly Raine. Raine was one of the screenplay's co-writers.

"Annie (Dressler)" and her husband "Terry (Wallace Beery)" own their own tugboat, plying their trade in a major port. Their son "Alec (Frankie Darro)" is bright and spunky. The parents see big things in his future, and Annie works hard to make sure Alec is prepared to achieve. She quizzes him on the ways of the sea, and also sprinkles in some Bible study. Annie is a doting mother, and resourceful when running the business and her family. While Annie is busy steering the tug and rearing Alec, Terry is nearby but not very effective. He's a happy-go-lucky drunk, but Annie's infinite patience and love hold him together. Their on-screen affection towards one another plays out genuine.

Before long, Alec grows into a ramrod-straight, polished seaman. Robert Young plays the adult Alec with style and a grim formality. He falls hard for "Pat Severn (Maureen O'Sullivan)", daughter of a rival tugboat skipper turned local industry leader (Willard Robertson as "Red). The young couple are overjoyed as Alec gets promoted to captain of a cruise liner, the youngest captain in the fleet. At the gathering to announce Alec's success, his parents are so proud. Annie joyfully embraces her son at the ceremony. Terry shows up late, boisterous and drunk. Oh, by the way, Terry is also missing his trousers...

There are a lot of weird moments like that throughout the movie. As Annie works her best to help her family, Terry comes along either in a drunken stupor or some misguided attempt at redemption to upset her plans. Despite his bumbling, Annie's loyalty to him is steadfast. Even when Alec proposes getting his mom a nice apartment so she can give up the tug and her husband, Annie immediately chastises her son and defends her husband & her choices.

Yeah, there's some romantic drama and late-in-the-movie danger, but anyone who knows about films of that era can anticipate the ending.

This was Dressler's penultimate movie role - she died of cancer the year after this film's release. In her day, she was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. This role is a great example of her talent. I enjoyed this movie big-time, and would watch it again

My Team - the Washington Nationals and the 2014 Season

As January comes to a close (yippee!), one thing I look forward to is the start of baseball spring training. At various locations in Arizona and Florida, hundreds of ball players gather to train and compete for coveted spots at the big league level. To me, it's a much better harbinger of the coming spring than any groundhog.

My favorite team, the Nationals, are coming off a 2013 season that was a disappointment compared to pre-season expectations. Former manager Davey Johnson's "World Series or Bust" declaration was bold, but ultimately unfulfilled. New manager Matt Williams inherits a strong roster. Talent won't be an issue. Let's look at that talent-laden roster:

Outfield - last year's starters (from left field to right) Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth. This is a strength of the team. Harper has vowed to get bigger and stronger, to endure the grind of 162 games. This is the season where the team needs Harper on the field 150+ games. The Nats also need Harper to contribute more than 20 homers and 60 RBI. If he stays healthy, I'd suspect he can go for 30 homers/80+ RBI. If he gets off to a good start at the plate, he boosts the team into early contention. Span played Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, and improved at the plate the second half of the season. The team needs his skill at the top of the batting order. He's gotta get on base early and often in April and May, setting a tone for the whole year. Werth is the steady pro, doing his best work in the second half to get the team back in contention. He's one of the team leaders on the field and in the clubhouse. Expect him to get 25+ homers, a .900 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS)percentage and good defense.

Infield  - last year's starters (from third base to first base) Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche. When healthy, this is a strong unit. Zimmerman gutted out a tough 2013, playing through rehab of a surgically-repaired throwing shoulder. He had some throwing issues early in the season, but got stronger as the year went on. He's the face of the franchise, and hard to replace if he's out for any length of time. Zimmerman's a great defender (especially when charging slow rollers), and a dangerous hitter. Desmond is an All-Star caliber shortstop. He can do it all, and is usually good for one or two hot streaks where he's ripping line drives all over the ballpark. If the team gets off to a good start, expect him to get plenty of All Star Game consideration. Rendon showed promise after changing positions at the big-league level. He made himself a competent second baseman after playing third base in college and the minor leagues. He had some issues with concentration in the field, but improved as the season progressed. He's got doubles power, and he's quick around the bases. Expect him to grow more polished and consistent in the field this season. LaRoche provides left-handed power and a steady set of hands at first base. He had a subpar 2013 at the plate, and the team needs a bounce-back year from him. This is the final year of his contract, and there is talk of posting Zimmerman at first base when the team faces particularly tough left-handed pitchers. The team's batting order needs the balance LaRoche can provide. Offensively, will we see last year's LaRoche or the 100-RBI man from 2012?

Catcher - last year's starter Wilson Ramos. He had one more RBI than Harper last year, and Ramos played 40 fewer games. He's a threat at the plate, and a pretty good catch-and-throw guy. He handles pitchers pretty well. The big thing for him is durability. The team needs him available for 120+ games, since there is no established veteran backup catcher on the roster. If Ramos goes down with injury, that hole will be tough to replace.

Starting pitchers - last year's starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. New acquisition Doug Fister. The first three guys everybody knows about. Strasburg signed a one-year deal in the off-season (avoiding arbitration). He showed improved durability in 2013. The upcoming season is the one where he needs to show he can be that number one starter that takes the ball 32 times, goes deep into games, and stops losing streaks that come up. If Strasburg does that, he'll get his big payday. Gonzalez pitched pretty good in '13, but didn't get a lot of offensive support. I expect his won-loss record to improve as the offense improves. Zimmermann was one of the best starters in the majors last year, and is durable and tough. On some other teams, he would be a number-one starter option. Continued good health and resultant production will be what the team needs from him. Detwiler, a lefty, would give the rotation needed balance. His injury issues stunted his progress. Can the team count on him for the whole season? Fister was acquired in a trade with Detroit. The tall righthander has playoff experience and tenacity. He'll fit right in with this rotation.

Relief pitchers - Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Ross Ohlendorf, Ryan Mattheus. New acquisition Jerry Blevins. These guys are proven, but 2013 was a struggle for some of them. Soriano closed last year, but struggled the middle of the year. Clippard was solid in a setup role, but once in a while would fall in love with his slider. Storen struggled early, got sent to AAA to work on his command, and came back more productive. Stammen was a workhorse in middle relief, and challenged hitters all year. Ohlendorf was pressed into a starting role, and usually gave the team 4-to-5 innings of competitive pitching each start. Matthews struggled at the start, got injured, got sent out to AAA, and never found his groove upon returning to the majors. Blevins (acquired from Oakland) is the left-handed option the team sought for the bullpen. The team needs 2012 levels of consistency from this unit to contend. Relinquishing leads in the late innings will demoralize any team.

Bench - outfielders Scott Hairston, Tyler Moore and Nate McLouth. Infielders Danny Espinosa, Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot. Catchers Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon. Hairston and Moore provide power off the bench. Moore can also play some first base. Espinosa has power as well, but had severe problems making contact last season. Carroll (former National) and Fontenot have big league experience, and were signed to compete for the second base/backup infielder spot held last year by Steve Lombardozzi. Neither Solano (29 in August) nor Leon (25 in March) have extensive big-league experience, and it's hard to tell if either will hold his own offensively if pressed into extended service. I expect Hairston, McClouth, Espinosa, Carroll and Solano to comprise the main bench component when the season starts (barring any future acquisitions or injuries).

On paper, this team should approach 90 wins or so in 2014. As with most teams in most sports, two keys will be a) good health for the regulars and b) a good start offensively in April. The team fell off the pace early in 2013, in large part due to the anemic offense. Too many runners were left on base in April and May. That has to change for the team to reach its post-season goals this year.

Overall, as a fan I'm excited for this upcoming season. If Washington can play to its full capability this year, it should be an enjoyable baseball summer in the District.

In Dreams - "What, You're Gonna Run Me Over?"

It started with me back at work, in a shiny office building. I'd gone up to the third floor to wait for some unknown reason. As I waited, I hit the snack bar room for a single-wrapped chocolate Twinkie and a Kit-Kat bar. As I sat there, a guy I used to know approached me. He was in his Airmen Battle Uniform (ABU), but he had a garment bag slung over his right shoulder.

We visited for a bit as if we were lifelong friends. I remembered his face, but couldn't capture his name. We talked for a bit more, but were soon interrupted by increasing numbers of people coming into the room. Seems there was to be some ceremony taking place in the same room in a matter of moments. Since I was in jeans and a hoodie, I was not dressed for the occasion. I hastily gathered my snacks and snuck out.

Next, I was on a farm in West Tennessee (probably Maury City), in a field talking to my mom. The conversation was general shoot-the-breeze stuff, nothing serious. I sat on a four-wheeled bike, like an adult-sized tricycle but with four wheels instead of three. I was facing north, and could see a road 40 yards or so in front of me. On that road, a school bus stopped, and several children exited the vehicle.

As I watched the bus pull off, I could hear something behind me. I turned my head, and saw a Toyota minivan pulling up directly behind me. The driver paused maybe twenty feet or so, then started to ease forward. I was sure he would stop short, so I turned my head back to face my mom. That's when I felt a bump - the van's bumper "kissed" my rear wheels enough to give me a jolt. I was surprised, since no other vehicles were parked near us. Why get so close?

As the driver shut off the van's engine and got out of the vehicle, he looked at me with a sheepish grin and extended his hand as a peace offering. He looked like a shorter, rounder, younger version of Kevin Costner. I refused his handshake offer and verbally lit into him. "What, you're gonna run me over? I ain't shaking your hand, man! You saw me sitting here, hit my bike anyway, put my health at risk, and expect me to say everything's' cool? Well, everything's not cool. Next time, be more careful".

The guy put his hand down, showed an impassive, emotionless expression on his face, and walked away.