Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Living in Guppyville

I'm surrounded! Aaaaaaaack! Okay, I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. It is easy and comfortable to live and let live, and to be open as a gay couple among your neighbors, or as I do, as a civic leader.

I'm not alone by any means. While there is no formal census, it is clear to me that among the almost-million residents of my county, there are a huge number of LGBT people.

There are also a huge number of yuppies. You know, the guy who thinks he is saving the planet by driving a hybrid vehicle when meanwhile he makes 200K a year working for a conglomeration which buys goods from foreign countries employing 12 year-olds who rip out their own rain forests for raw goods. (I borrowed this reference from the urban dictionary.)

Or the gay guys who are attorneys and buy suits and dress shoes galore from the high-end retailers, getting to-and-fro in their latest new upscale car. Or... whatever, you get my drift.

Combine the two -- gay + urban professional = "guppy." We've got so many of them around here that if you laid them all end-to-end, you could probably reach San Francisco with 'em! (Now I divert... who would want to "lay" a guppy? And which end? On top of each other? Would they squeal? I am ROFL!)

Anyway, I received an invitation to yet one more wonderful fundraising dinner-dance, this time to benefit the statewide LGBT non-profit. Okay, it's a good non-profit organization, and advocates well. Good and hard-working people are affiliated with it. They need to raise funds to keep doing their work. I understand all that.

Their "Spring Formal" (as it were), being held right here in Guppyville, is priced high at $125/person, or more for such wonderful designations as "power couple" for a mere $600. And it goes up from there for various sponsorship levels along with that special "opportunity" to attend the "VIP reception" with the guest speaker du juor.

What wine are these guppies drinking who come up with this?

Actually, I've asked, and have been assured that they do quite well in appealing to the "cocktail-attire" guppy-set of my home county, and raise a lot of funds with this event.

Well, more power to them. It isn't going to include us. Too rich for my blood (well, the "ask" is too high for us to feel comfortable with. We have other priorities). We will continue to make a modest charitable donation directly to them, and bypass all the froo-froo.

Also, the event is on a Sunday night -- starting at 6pm for the wonderful pre-event "VIP Reception" followed by a "silent auction" then the dinner with speeches by TBD and award-winners, then dancing to music played by an unknown DJ following. My partner and I get up at 4-in-the-morning for work the next day... but apparently the guppy-set doesn't rise early, or as early as we do. Or lives on less sleep. Or will take the next day off work... or a combination thereof.

Oh puh-leeze, gimme a break. Marketing to guppies has never resonated in our household. And it never will. We're just not part of that set, and feel ill-at-ease and uncomfortable around it.

The night of that event will be late Spring, so hopefully the weather will be decent enough that my partner and I can enjoy a nice meal at our favorite place to eat out, "Deckview, Maryland." We will grill a couple of steaks, bake some potatoes, whip up a garden salad, pop open a couple of Coke Zeros, and sit back to watch the sun gently set on our trees while we are dressed in blue jeans and boots. That's our style, and our comfort level. The peace and quiet will also be appreciated, too.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tool Belts and Work Boots

Not much time to blog today... I'm sore as heck. My partner and I spent 12 hours yesterday cleaning up that house that I bought for my rental investments. Great thing is that it is now clean as a whistle. I got all of my renovation and repair estimating done, and it will not take much to bring the house to livable condition.

I will make a few calls today to some painters for estimates. A thorough interior paint job is needed, and of all the trades, painting is not something I like to do.

Today, I file for the permits I require to do the various renovation projects that need to be done. My county issues permits for everything -- there is probably one even for blowing your nose. Those things are costly! But it's just the price I have to pay.

Next week, I will "up the electrical," meaning that I will install a new circuit breaker panel to bring the house up to today's power demand and safety standards. A few more weeks of after-work time, where I will install new outlets throughout (there is only one in each room) and central air conditioning, and we'll be all set. Many years ago I got an electrician's license because I enjoyed doing electrical work, and I was too poor and too cheap to pay an electrician to do home renovation projects (especially on my first house, which I had to rebuild literally from the inside out). Once I do my electrical work, I will
ask a buddy who is a Master Electrician to connect it to the grid.

The worst part of the house is the kitchen. It's awful. Someone installed baby blue tile all over -- on the floor, walls, and countertops. That all has to go. I will break that out and replace it with better flooring and Corian countertops in neutral colors. I'll also put in a new sink. The appliances are all in good shape and are relatively new.

With those changes, the house will be ready to go. This is the first post-WWII Cape Cod in which I have not had to replace all the windows. Someone seems to have installed new double-pane windows within the last decade. The rest of the house is in very good shape. Except for a lot of dust and some spiders, there wasn't a whole lot to clean up. (Believe me, I have dealt with a lot worse.) The previous owner didn't "trash" it. When the painting is done, I'll install new carpeting.

I wore an old pair of Corcoran Field Boots as my work boots with camo BDUs. I like to wear BDUs when I do dirty work because they are loose and comfortable, and have lots of big pockets. My partner wore an old pair of Timberlands with jeans. And yes, we both wore tool belts. It just makes tools we need more handy when they're at your waist. Sorry, no photo. I didn't bring the camera, and my partner wouldn't have wanted to be seen in a dusty, dirty condition. He is rather particular about how his image is displayed. I sure was happy to have his help.

I needed even more "spot help" when I was removing that old crappy aluminum awning that was propped up over the front door and steps. My tenant who occupies the house next door was coming home when he saw me struggling with it, and came over to help. Right after he got off work. Oh, did I mention he is a motor officer? Hmmm... nice "distraction" watching him in his motor boots as we tore that thing off the porch. He is a very nice guy and great tenant.

My partner and I are pooped, but we are basking in the aches and pains of a job well done.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another House

They say that in bad financial times like these, it's a time to buy when things are less expensive and there is a lot of competition in the market.

I have not been actively looking to buy any more houses. I already own seven houses (including the one in which we live) and a condo. Why so many? I actually lived in each of these homes as I renovated them from the inside to outside, making them liveable, comfortable homes. They are all within a few blocks of one another, in an old, mature neighborhood that is convenient to public transit and shopping. As I moved on, I put the previous house in a rental inventory that is dedicated to affordable housing for community heroes (cops, firefighters, teachers.)

Over 33 years since I bought my first "Harry-Homeowner Special," I have learned a thing-or-two about determining if a house is worth fixing up and renting.

Last week, one of my tenants called to say that the house next to his had been vacant for some time. He said he thought he saw a truck hauling off what remained of the household contents a few months ago. He was concerned about the blight of a vacant property, which has become an eyesore and possibly worse.

I decided to look the property up in on-line records, and what did I discover but on the day I checked, the property converted to "bank owned," meaning it was being foreclosed. I did more research, called some people, and found that the previous owners owed lots of money to lots of people, and probably skipped town. The bank that assumed ownership of the property, like most banks, really didn't want it.

I put on my thinking cap. I checked the amount of back taxes that were due -- not bad, considering. I dropped by the house after work and walked around it. The "outside bones" looked decent. New(er) roof, decent paint job, working gutters and downspouts, no broken windows, or other visible signs of damage. Sure, there were signs of neglect, but those things are minor and can be easily and quickly fixed.

I called the bank the next morning. After a couple hours of transfers and annoying "press-this-for-that" automated answering systems, I finally reached a live human being in the United States (a rarity these days) who was willing to talk to me about the property. He arranged for me to visit the property and inspect it. I brought along a good friend who is a professional home inspector. We found nothing materially wrong with the house -- in fact, it was in excellent condition considering it had been abandoned and neglected.

It was time to act. I turned to the bank representative and made an offer based on what I knew about overdue taxes and the real-estate assessment. He couldn't accept the offer then-and-there, but the next morning, I got a call from a higher-up at the bank, and we negotiated the terms. I got a really sweet deal because the bank did not want to carry another house in their already overburdened inventory of foreclosed properties.

I went to settlement yesterday, and my partner and I will be spending the day today (Sunday), cleaning up and preparing a list of actions that will be necessary to get the house into good shape for occupancy. I have a great renovation and construction estimating program on my laptop that covers all the details, down to the number of pounds of screws and nails that will be required.

Next... I pursue getting the property listed on the inventory for affordable housing so it can be made available for rent by more community heroes. Check back later!

Meanwhile, we've got our work boots and tool belts on!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Closet Cases

A "closet case" is defined as follows:

Derogatory term for someone who is homosexual but refuses to admit it to himself or to associate with other homosexuals. Usually he publicly and vigorously denounces homosexuals, both in an attempt to camouflage his sexual preference and as a reflection of the inner conflict he has with his own desires.

It can also be used is a slightly less derogatory way for a homosexual who is unusually careful to prevent family, friends and co-workers from discovering his homosexuality. He will, for example, refuse to live with a male partner, and may keep a phony girl friend.

I can relate in a way. In my previous job, I had a number of supervisors who were retired from the military. Historically, active and retired military are notorious for being homophobic, and several of my former supervisors proved the point. I knew that if they really knew that I was gay and lived with a man, my life at work would be hell. So I never revealed my sexual orientation. It wasn't anyone's business. And being a big bad booted biker, commuting on my Harley to work, that image and my usual masculine behavior diverted attention. I kept my home life at home and my work life at work, and tried hard to keep the two separated.

There are many, many men who live in a situation where they fear that revealing their sexual orientation to others will bring pain and mental anguish. Even indicating that they prefer the company of men over women can put them in a bad spot.

But some of them overreact. They assume an identity that is hypermasculine. They share wild tales of (female) sexual exploits that are purely concoctions of the mind and diversions for others. Some make up families and tell tales of married life. Some have jobs in fields where macho-bravado is the norm, such as construction trades, law enforcement, firefighting, the oil industry, and so on -- so they tell stories (lies) that fulfill the image of the masculine man in that job.

However, when they're alone, they visit various websites such as Recon, Gearfetish, Boots on Line, and others as voyeurs (sometimes called lurkers). They may have a clandestine rendezvous with another guy. But they would never admit to anyone else -- family, friends, and especially co-workers -- their true feelings and sexual orientation or preferences.

While I understand situations that people get into where they fear negative repurcussions from being "out" or revealing their sexual orientation, I feel badly and sad for them. I know how it hurts. I know the feelings of anxiety, and like one is living a constant lie. The inner turmoil continues ad naseum.

Some men in this situation and who feel that ongoing anxiety react quite negatively toward someone -- like me -- who has completely "come out" and is comfortable with it. Yes, I am very fortunate that my current employer isn't filled with homophobes. I just got a major promotion over many others that I would not have gotten if homophobia were the indiginous thought pattern.

I regret that some "closet cases" feel that they have to lash out when their repressed thoughts and anger erupts, and they feel that they have to write nasty, childish comments in reply to something that confident masculine gay men may write or say. And, typically, guys who write those silly comments do not provide a way to reach them by e-mail. They just hide behind their computer and behave like gradeschool bullies taunting someone. Well, "sticks and stones" and all that. I have looooong gotten over feeling hurt by such attacks. Rather, I feel sorry for those guys, and pray for them. God loves 'em anyway, even if they can't love themselves.

Let me say once again that I realize that my personal situation is not that common. I have "grown up" to be a confident, mature masculine man. It took a long time to relax and "be myself." I live in a community that accepts me for who I am. I am employed by a company that respects my skills and knowledge, and doesn't judge me because I'm gay. I belong to groups and organizations where I do a variety of things, from performing repairs to improve home liveability for seniors to leading the charge against rampant development without adequate infrastructure to riding motorcycles with groups. I am fortunate that the community where I was born has evolved into being open, accepting. It has a mature sense of "live and let live." That's why my partner and I built our home in Maryland where I grew up, because where he lived -- Virginia -- was much less accepting of "us" as "us" and has become even more hatefully homophobic-by-law.

To summarize: I do not think that people who chose to live in the closet (that is, not publicly reveal their sexual orientation) are bad. I realize that for various reasons (employment, family, geographic location, etc.), they can not be more open with others and honest with themselves. I do ask that as I respect their situation, that they respect mine: that I am a masculine man who likes to wear boots and leather, rides a motorcycle, gets involved in civic life, and who doesn't cloak his sexual orientation. There is room in this world for all of us. Live your life and I'll live mine. (But keep the silly comments to yourself.)

Life is short: be true to yourself. No one else knows you better.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Upside Down Life

I actually think I was born in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean -- the time zone there fits my biorhythms better. That is, ever since I was a kid, I naturally awaken between 4 to 4:30am, every day. Even weekends.

On weekends when I wake up, I just snuggle closer to my partner and drift in and out of dreamland for a couple hours until he wakes up about 5:30 or 6. Weekdays, we both get up no later than 4:30.

I have always been that way -- rising early and then getting to bed by 8:30 at night, or 9 if I'm stuck in a meeting or something.

I am lamenting about my biorhythms being out of whack with the rest of the world that I work with in my community. They have meetings and events that I attend that begin at 7pm if I'm lucky, or 7:30pm, which is more common. Most meetings are well-planned, and last just about two hours. But that's 9:30pm! Too late for me. I often get up from a meeting if it's still going on at 8:45pm and leave. After that, I can't think well and I am just too tired to press on. (or want to.)

This is one reason why I will never run for office or become an elected official. The hours that they have to work never coincide with my biorhythms. It's also a reason why I don't attend some meetings or events to which I am
invited -- including those infernal fundraising dinner-dances. Seriously, I never quite could handle "late."

And it's another reason why I never really went out much to gay bars and such -- "gay time" is shifted several hours later than most other's time anyway... so there's no way I can handle staying awake that late (which seems to me like "all night.")

I honestly feel that my world is upside down. Everyone else seems to wake up around 6 or 7, and manage to stay awake until 10 or 11. I'm two to three hours "ahead" of everyone else. When they set meetings and events, they do it because it accommodates the schedules of most others. But not me.

I know other people who tell me that they get up early, but also stay awake until the wee hours of the morning. They claim that they only "need" four or fewer hours of sleep each night. They seem to manage, but I often wonder how they function. I certainly can't manage on such a little amount of sleep each night.

Gay guys seem to keep really late hours when they surf the 'net. About 30% of visitors to my website from the U.S. are visiting between midnight and 4am, Eastern Time. I won't comment more about that -- you can arrive at your own conclusions about that observation.

Well, anyway, I will just accept the fact that what they told me when we were in Australia is correct: our seasons are backwards, our hemisphere is upside down, and our time is all off. Perhaps my friends from the Land of Oz are on to something.

Life is short: (get some sleep!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Happy Birthday to a Wonderful Man

Today I extend my most sincere well-wishes to my best friend, "AZ," who inspires me in many ways. He is a warm, sensitive, caring and thoughtful man with a great sense of humor, and has personal integrity beyond compare.

I am honored to call him my friend -- more than that, my "eighth brother." He brings honor to me in the many ways he has actively demonstrated his friendship to me and to everyone in his life. He has a wide circle of people who care deeply for him and for whom he "cares back." I cherish the fact that I am among them.

I won't belabor this blog post any more -- AZ isn't one to seek attention (though if you haven't read my thanks to him that I wrote about my recent visit with him in Arizona, you should, here).

On my best buddy's very special day, his birthday, he is deserving of thanks and praise for the richness and blessings he brings to his family and his friends, like lil' ol' me.

Life is short: show those you love that you love them! Happy Birthday, AZ! May God bestow upon you many more years to share your smile, joy, and love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

He's My Brother (in heart)

I received a call today from my "eighth brother," AZ, who confirmed that the special treat that I sent to him arrived. Despite the UPS guy dropping it, it wasn't damaged. Enjoy your special birthday cake, bro'!

As I was smiling on the way to Metro for my ride home, this song made famous by The Hollies was playing in my mind:

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

He's my brother
He ain't heavy, he's my brother...

Just a thought for a dear friend who is much like a brother to me.

Fa! Cosi sia!

As my nonna would say, "[è] fa[tto]! Cosí sia!" -- which means literally, "it is done, so be it" but in its connotation, means generally, "that's the way it is, take it or leave it." This Italian phrase would be her way of expressing exasperation with whatever us kids came up with.

Afraid of a spider? Fa! Cosí sia!
Don't want to eat vegetables?
Fa! Cosí sia!
Your mean sister called you a name?
Fa! Cosí sia!
A bit neurotic about something? Fa! Cosí sia!

Funny, I was just saying this expression to my partner, when he was going on and on about some minor little thing... I can't even remember...
Fa! Cosí sia!

I also said it in a jesting way to my eighth brother, AZ, when I described that when he made a choice to be my close friend, he had to accept some of my neurotic behaviors.
Fa! Cosí sia! (and just accept me as he does, with compassion for my crazy ways.)

Everyone has differences, or some may call "weird behaviors." For example, my partner can't stand it when the phone rings at home. I mean, he absolutely detests the disruption. It doesn't matter who is calling, he just doesn't want the phone to ring. If it does, he won't answer it. He hates the phone, period, end-of-story. If we are both at home and the phone rings and I answer it, he glowers at me until I hang up.
Fa! Cosí sia!

For me, I hate cell phones. The disruption. The huge expense for monthly service, making rich companies richer. I hate the fact that a cell-phone-yapping yuppie killed my motorcycle-riding buddy six years ago.

Well, "
Fa! Cosí sia!" -- to those who might think of calling me at home when my partner is home, or calling my cell phone, which I rarely have turned on or available (it's usually buried at the bottom of my briefcase.) Just accept that some of us are weird, are slightly neurotic, or approach some things differently from others. We're all different.

Life is short:
Fa! Cosí sia!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Best Motorcycle Boots

It's funny, but when I wrote a blog post last week about the best motorcycle patrol boots, I have discovered that people searching for the general term "Best Motorcycle Boots" end up right here, on this blog. Update: See a newer, related post about "Best Value Motorcycle Boots" (click here)

Sooooo.... let me tell you about what I think are the "Best Motorcycle Boots" for all-around wear on a street motorcycle. (That is, not a dirt bike).

They are (drumroll...) Chippewa Firefighter Boots (model number 27422). Why boots made for firefighters? Why not engineer or harness boots, such as those made by Wesco, Double H, Red Wing, Chippewa, or others?

The reason why I make this statement are as follows:
  • Comfort: Hands down (or should I say, "feet down,") these boots are the most comfortable motorcycle boots I have worn while riding, and I have ridden hundreds of thousands of miles for more than 30 years.
  • Durability: These boots have a steel toe and are double-stitched at all major points throughout the boot. If it's made for wildland firefighters, it can endure the gaff of motorcycling.

  • Vibram® 100 sole: This thick, durable, "big lug" sole is like a snow tire on the bottom of my feet. It provides superior traction.

  • Flexibility: What adds to the comfort of the boot is that it is flexible at the ankle and the foot.
  • Leather lining: the lining adds to the strength of the boot's construction, as well as its comfort. One would think that a leather-lined boot would get hot. But let me tell 'ya, I have worn these boots on exceptionally hot and humid days that the DC area is known for in summertime. These boots just don't get hot. Unfortunately, tall leather-lined boots such as Wesco Harness or Boss boots do.
  • Fit Technique: These boots have a unique fitting. A boot zipper is laced into the boot's ten eyelets. There are various ways to do that, which can accommodate a wide variety of foot widths. Once the zipper is laced in properly, all you need to do from then on is close the zipper after pulling them on, and open it to take 'em off. (Note, it takes a while for the fitting to break in, but once it does, these boots are very easy to pull on and remove.)
  • Value: These boots are an excellent value for the price. And the best place to buy these boots at the most affordable price is Stompers Boots of San Francisco.

I own more than 80 pairs of motorcycle boots. I have ridden with 'em all. When it comes time to choosing a good quality boot that's comfortable, durable, and suitable for a long, all-day ride with my club on my Harley, this is the boot that I choose.

For more information on motorcycle boots, Guide to Motorcycle Boots.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Let's Ride!

Let's queue up...And let's R-I-D-E! (View from the back of the pack, taken by a buddy)

Today I led the ride that I planned out yesterday. What a great day to get out and ride! Nice sunny "leather weather," (it was as predicted -- cool at the start, and about 60°F/15.5°C by mid-day), good company, and the rumble of a Harley on the open byways of Maryland. I had a terrific time. So did some 30 others who, like me, were anxious to break out the bike and ride on such a nice day, and shake the cobwebs off our boots, leathers, and machines. We all had good times, good food, and good cheer.

That, my friends, is why I am such an avid biker -- nothin' quite like the feel of the open road on two wheels.

Pre-Ride

I took my Harley out on Saturday on a route that I will be riding again. What I mean by that is that I did what's called a "pre-ride." I laid out the route electronically on a map, then translated it to paper, and then rode the route to check it out. I wanted to check that the mileage indicators were accurate, to ensure that the turns were correct, to see the lines of sight at those turns (and what safety precautions to suggest to other riders), and to and to check the condition of the surfaces of the roads after a long, cold winter.

This is a practice that leaders of motorcycle rides do, in order to make sure that the ride will be safe and fun for the other riders when we go.

Before I headed out, I checked the air in my tires (it was okay), the oil and other fluid levels (all okay), as well as all the cables, brakes, lights, chassis, and everything else. While I have been riding the Harley through the winter, I haven't ridden it much, so I did a thorough check of my trusty iron steed to make sure it is okay and my own ride is safe. I also cleaned the windscreen, lenses on the lights, and even my helmet. The bike itself is spotless with just a little attention from a cleaning pad.

It was only about 48°F (9°C), despite predictions for warmer temperatures and more sunshine. Full leathers were the order of the day, including my LAPD leather breeches, leather shirt, motocross jacket, and my (new) tall Wesco Motor Patrol Boots.

Predictions for Sunday's weather are for temperatures to be about 62°F (16.5°C) and sunny, so it should be great "leather weather" for a motorcycle ride. Can't wait! The winter has been way too darned long. Fortunately, I did get a chance to go riding on a rented Harley while in Arizona, visiting my best friend, AZ. Now I can go ride here at home. The weather is finally breaking, and it's time to return to doing what I enjoy most for my free time.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Happy Spring!

The calendar indicates that finally here in the good ol' USA, it's Spring. The gardens are also beginning to indicate that it is Spring, too. TG!

The daffodils are in bloom, and look great. We have over 10,000 daffodil bulbs that bloom from now until mid-April. After the horrible events of September 11, 2001, my neighbors and I all got together and planted these bulbs along the ridge behind our houses. The bulbs have matured and naturalized. We enjoy a wonderful profusion of color -- yellow, white, orange, multi-colored -- every day for about a month.

Great thing about daffodils, too, is that the pesky deer leave them alone.

Happy astronomical first-full-day-of-Spring, everyone!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Old Guard - New Guard?

I have received two email messages recently from younger guys exploring their own interests in leather. Each has said that he has found my website, in particular, my Guide to Leather Gear, helpful to him during his explorations.

The image on the right has been floating around since Al Gore invented the Internet: it shows a younger guy decked out in "Old Guard Leatherman" gear -- Muir Cap, leather biker jacket, gloves, breeches, and tall boots -- all in black. He's a fine specimen of "LeatherManhood" as some might say.

Younger guys see pictures like that, and then look around at other guys their age who may be exploring leather, too, and don't see anything quite like that any more. The "new guard," according to Wikipedia, embraces a greater variety in approach to eroticism.

I have asked around, been around, and have seen the newer clubs and bar scenes. The line about "variety" is right: lots of younger guys are wearing all sorts of stuff, trying it out, exploring interests, seeing what he likes. This seems to involve rather spontaneous choices, such as "I left the latex pants on the floor next to the bed; I'll put them on," or "t-shirt and jeans, like I wore in college," and things like that. Whatever suits the current mood.

"Old-Guard" Leathermen, back in the day (I can remember), would be rather
fastidious about choosing exactly which leather garments went with what gear. He would never ever consider wearing sneakers, a t-shirt, or anything made of rubber or latex when he was gearing up to go out. It was always (mantra...): thick black cowhide leather breeches, black leather shirt, Sam Browne belt, black leather jacket, black gloves, and knee-high tall black engineer or patrol boots. Sometimes, for "leather-dressy" occasions, a black leather tie would complete the outfit.

Each generation sets a pattern of its own. The younger guys are establishing their own -- definitely different from what I grew up with. For example, when I was in my 20s and 30s, the only choices for leather garments was like what Henry Ford offered for Model T's: "the customer can have any color he wants so long as it's black." Nowadays, leather is dyed almost any color of the rainbow.

Muir caps are hard to find -- nowadays younger guys wear ballcaps or buzzcuts.

Tall boots? In my day, a Leatherman had to have at least one, if not more than one, pair of tall black boots -- a pair of beaten-up engineers or harness boots, and a pair of well-shined patrol boots for dressier affairs or wearing with a uniform. Today, there aren't many younger guys who have tall boots, or choose to wear them. They're happier in their black sneakers or shorter, less expensive, tactical lace-up boots.

Economics plays a major role, too. Back in my day, fewer college students had as much debt as many do nowadays. Many younger guys working their first job can't afford to own or rent their own home to begin to establish their independence. While paying down massive debt, they don't have the money to buy quality leather gear and boots that cost much more now than it did when I was their age. Plus, as I've blogged before, I think some have misguided thoughts about personal finance -- spending money on eating food from restaurants and buying toys that aren't necessary to live. Economics both in the income/expense ratio as well as economic priorities are quite different between younger guys and us old-guard guys.

While I embrace change, the only major change in the scene that I can't tolerate is the thrumming noise blasted loudly inside gathering places like bars. They say that each generation comes up with music that drives the next older generation crazy. This is quite true. My partner and I can't stand the noise we hear in bars. The repetitive loud vibrations give me a bad headache, even if I wear ear plugs. I guess that's another reason why we choose not to go out any more. The noise (music) keeps us away.

Is there anything wrong with the emergence of "The New Guard?" Nope. They're setting their own style (if you want to call it that.) While I personally still choose to dress "old guard" (if you will,) it is because I like the look, it serves me well, and I have a lot of the boots and gear that fit the image. I'll stay with what I have, thanks. And to the younger guys -- try it -- you might like it -- or try something else. Whatever, enjoy.

But also, "whatever," be safe. Damn, the HIV/AIDS rates of infection continue to climb because the young guys didn't have the experience we had when we were their age and we watched our friends die horrible, painful deaths. The feeling of "youth invulnerability" pervades. The perception that "the cocktail is a cure" -- all b/s. Play safe. Have fun, but play safe -- for both yourself and your partner.

Life is short: wear your boots and your leather, and play safe!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quality Men

Qual-i-ty: [kwol-i-tee] noun, plural -ties, adjective

1. an essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute
2. character with respect to fineness, or grade of excellence


Thanks, Mr. Webster. You have defined a word that characterizes some people who I admire: for their quality. They say that if you surround yourself with people of quality, then you can't help but be improved in many ways.

I am exceptionally fortunate to have many quality men in my life, including:
  • My partner -- a fine, upstanding, thoughtful and honest man who carries himself as an ongoing demonstration of what a quality man should be.

  • My brothers -- all are of superb quality in their respective lives, relationships with their families, and with me.

  • My "eighth brother" who also goes by "AZ" -- you know from just watching him that he is quality personified.

  • My boot twin, Clay -- who has many qualities of caring, thoughtfulness, and upstanding character that one can't help but admire.

  • Friends I grew up with -- I maintained friendships for more than 45 years with some of these guys. Why? They add quality to my life, because they are quality guys.

  • Friends who I have more recently met -- these quality guys have reached out to me via email. They have an astute sense of what composes quality, I guess, as they sent me a message and we began having conversations. I have much to learn from them, as their intelligence is one indicator of their quality.

  • Mentors and civic leaders -- many have helped me over the years to learn and be better at what I do, both at work and in my civic life. A sign of quality is for someone to spend time with someone else who wants to learn. I have benefited greatly from those who share so much.

  • While my father is no longer among the living, I can't make a statement about quality men without listing him as well. His qualities were numerous, and many people, including me, benefited tremendously from sharing time with him.

There are men of all shapes, sizes, colors, and so on. It is fairly easy to know if you're communicating with a quality man. I am so richly blessed to build relationships with quality men who influence me to be the man I am. Thanks, guys!

Life is short: surround yourself with quality, and you can't help but be a better man.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mommy, the Burglar!

"Mommy, the burglar walked in the front door!"

"The burglar? Where did he go?"

[I enter the family room where everyone is gathered. I see the 'excitable' kid who is a friend of my great niece running into her own mother's arms while my great niece runs up to me and yells, "it's my uncle!"]

"... oh don't worry, sweetie, he's my brother!" [says my sister to the fearful friend there to celebrate my great niece's party].

"He's dressed in all that black leather stuff. Don't burglars dress that way?" [This kid has been watching waaaay too much television]

... so began a visit to my great niece's tenth birthday party last Saturday.

I was wearing what some may call, "casual leather." That is, a nice pair of leather jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and a leather jacket. Oh, and boots, of course (Chippewa engineers.)

The house was filled with lots of people. My great niece and a bunch of her young friends, some of their parents, my niece and nephew (the birthday girl's mother and father), my sister (grandma) and her husband (granddad). Sheesh, it makes me feel so old to have a great niece who is 10 years old, a niece who is 44, and a sister old enough to have several grandchildren already. (I am almost the youngest in our family).

I wear boots and leather regularly as I go about my daily life. What I wore on Saturday is but one example of my regular casual leather wear. But this is the first time anyone has really said much of anything -- and to be called a "burglar!" I was bursting with laughter, as was my sister. Both of us got to laughing so long and hard that we couldn't catch our breath, and had tears rolling down our cheeks. The rest of the adults were rather speechless watching the two of us "loose it." We get that way sometimes.

While my sister and I were guffawing away, my niece piped up and said to the other adults who don't know me, "don't worry, they just get that way. Just let them be, they're return to normal eventually." Then she muttered something that sounded like, "well, it depends on how they define normal!"

I love my family...

Life is short: wear your boots and leather!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'm not Irish, but on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, everybody is. Shown here is our chef, Guido, dropping green sprinkles on green-iced cupcakes he helped me bake. I'm taking them to work today to share with my colleagues. (My partner is helping Guido, if you're working who has the hairy arm. It's a tossup as to who has more fur. LOL!)

I have two strong memories of this day:

(1) it was my parent's wedding anniversary. My gosh, they married 69 years ago! My Mom always loved St. Patrick's Day. She would prepare corned beef and cabbage every year on this day -- but fortunately she never forced me to eat the cabbage. I couldn't come near it, even back in the day when I could eat vegetables. I am remembering her and my father fondly today. I used my Mom's recipe for the cupcakes, which I made from scratch, as she taught me so many years ago.

(2) in 1978, a close friend and study-mate at the University played "hooky" to sit on the South Chapel lawn on an usually warm, dry, and sunny St. Patty's Day with me. We enjoyed lunch and drank a couple beers (back in the days when I could drink.) It made me silly enough that I summer-saulted all the way down the hill, much to everyone's amusement all around. (And in Frye Boots, probably!) I mailed my friend a funny "Happy St. Pat's!" card. She called last night to say she got it, though she called my cell phone, which I had forgotten about, as usual, and didn't discover that she called until I put the thing in my briefcase this morning. I will call her back later.

On an aside, my partner "forgot" to wear green today, so his rear "cheek" was pinched as he left for work. Ummm, that was fun!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, however you celebrate!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Infernal Revenue Service

Yep, that's the name of the U.S. Government agency that is responsible for federal income tax, business tax, and whatever-else-they-tax. Lately, the thing that this agency has been taxing me most on is my patience.

I have completed 49 individual federal tax returns for senior buds over the last six weeks or so. I have even filed my own and received a small but appreciated refund. I prepared all of these filings electronically using software I purchased for that purpose.

Now that all the individual returns are done, I am focusing my sights on returns that I file for not-for-profit organizations on whose Boards I serve -- and who look to me to file those tax returns. I also file returns for small businesses that I own and operate with my partner.

That's where the IRS becomes "infernal." They have mailed me only one form for one organization, but I need five for five separate organizations. I also need forms for the small businesses. Okay, so I go to their website to download the forms. When you visit the website, you have to surf all over the place to find the forms (fortunately, their search feature worked pretty well.)

When I clicked on the forms I wanted, only one of them would work. Two produced an error message saying that the on-line version of the form was corrupted and "could not be repaired." ummm... have you ever tried to find where to report such a problem on a huge government agency's website? I found the on-line form, and explained the problem. I have to credit them -- they responded within an hour. They sent a "stock answer" that they must have cut-and-pasted from a reference library, saying that I needed to use the most current version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. Well, I am using the latest version, and told them so. Doesn't matter, they have done their duty by responding, regardless if it indicates that they really didn't read what I wrote.

I then opted to call on the phone to request that the forms be mailed to me. The forms are not due for another month, so I have time.

Their phone system is one of those super-annoying "press-or-say this-for-that" type of thing, with instructions repeated in Spanish if you don't respond quickly enough. 16 menu options later, the line went dead. Arrggghhh!

Another 16 menu options later, instead of losing the connection, I heard a short burst of tones, which I presume was a transfer to a live human being. After a pleasant music-on-hold 20-minute wait, I reached an operator and relayed my request. She was very helpful and courteous. It was the automated systems that were less so.

Oh well, such is life with big bureaucracy. I'm sure I am not the only one trying to call the IRS these days.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Erosion Control Makes Muddy Boots

We have a "babbling brook" at the far edge of our rear property. The brook has been babbling away at the edges, enough to cause some erosion that we don't want to have happen. We were about to lose some Hellibore to the stream.

Yesterday, my partner and I spent several hours working on the problem. Deepening the stream channel, and removing some rocks and placing them as rip-rap along the edge so the water won't erode more of the soil.

As I was working away, my partner stood by to hand me tools of the trade as I needed them -- crow bar, sledge hammer, shovel -- and we got the job done. While I'm sore as heck today, I can tell that the water is flowing more freely since it rained last night. Opening the stream by removing debris and huge quartz rocks will prevent more erosion of the soil. I bask in the soreness of a job well-done.

As I was finishing up, my partner smiled and said, "do you want me to get the camera?" ... he knows that sometimes I take pictures of hard-working boots like these old muddy Chippewa Engineers, which seem to be designed for that purpose. A hard-workin' man's boots that have withstood a lot of this kind of work in the past, and keep on goin'.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Corrected

It is interesting to find out how mature my website has become because I received the following message sent through its system:

location: Mercedes, TX

message: Sir,

I just wanted to correct you on where you say our boots are made. You say Mercedes, Mexico when our boots are made in Texas. Our Rios of Mercedes, Anderson Bean, and Olathe Boots are all made 100% here in Mercedes, Texas NOT Mexico. Please make that correction on your website as this is false information. Thanks!

(name)
Marketing Director
Rios of Mercedes
Anderson Bean
Olathe Boots



Well, I stand corrected. I looked in each pair of boots I have that are the subject of the message. The Olathe Buckaroos did have a small "TX" in them that I had not noticed. My Rios of Mercedes ostrich cowboy boots are so old, the printing on the inside of the boot shaft has worn away (or been sweated away.) I'll take his word for it. Thanks, man, for letting me know. I corrected the appropriate pages on my website. I always strive to share accurate information. I wish more people would let me know if they run into things that could be made better. Few do.

For the record, it should be noted that Mercedes, Texas, is just about 8 miles north of the Progresso International Bridge at the U.S. - Mexico border.

PS: I don't think boots made in Mexico are bad -- in fact many cowboy boots that I have are made there and are comfortable and well-constructed. See my previous blog post on the topic of boots made in Mexico.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Best Motorcycle Patrol Boots

I know it is risky to say "best" when referencing anything, as different people have different opinions. Cops have worn Dehner Patrol Boots for years, and you will see many motor officers also wearing Chippewa Hi-Shine Engineer Boots, especially on the U.S. East Coast. Both of these companies have large production facilities and have the resources, equipment, staffing, and demand to make a lot of boots for the motorcycle patrol boot market.

I found out about All American Patrol Boots several years ago, but was stymied in finding a way to buy them. The company's website has not been refreshed since 2002, and they are poor about answering email or returning messages left by phone. However, eventually I found a way to get a pair of these boots through a third-party retailer (which was also a pain in the butt to deal with.)

I got these boots at the end of February after a long five-month wait. But man, was it ever worth the wait! I have worn these boots a lot, including for several rides on my Harley. They are comfortable and perform well. What I mean by that is that the boots flex well at the ankles, without "grabbing." The entire boot is made of leather, unlike stock Dehner boots which are made of a combination of leather for the foot and plastic "Dehcord" for the shafts.

The sole that came with this model (905L) is a Vibram 100R, which is a heat-resistant, thick lug sole that does not leave black melt-marks on hot motorcycle pipes nor mar flooring if worn indoors. Because it is a big-lug Vibram® sole, it provides excellent traction, especially when holding a big throbbing motorcycle while stopped. Lug soles are also especially good for holding a big heavy machine on a hill.

These boots keep an excellent shine, which is easy to maintain with a quick spray of furniture polish and a buff with a terrycloth wipe. I'm like most guys, and don't get crazy if my boots get dirty from wear, but I like how they look when well-shined. When boots are easy to keep clean and shined with just a minute's attention, they get my vote!

These All American patrol boots have a bal-laced instep, which is a traditional style for motor officers. The boots also have a buckle closure at the top of the shaft. A buckle there is so much better than laces, which can become untied when blown in the wind while operating a motorcycle and thus are a nuisance to have to re-tie often.

If All American had the production capacity to compete with the Big Boys (Dehner and Chippewa), they could give these guys a run for their money. The cost of the All American Boots made custom to my calf and height requirements was 3/4 of Dehner stock boots cost (MSRP). They are a great value for a very high-quality product.

That's why I am raving about these boots, and call them the best. This is just my opinion, but I've been around the block once or twice, have ridden hundreds of thousands of miles on a motorcycle while wearing many different motorcycle boots, so this opinion is grounded in experience.

Here's a video that I made recently describing these boots and showing them in action on my Harley. Enjoy!



UPDATE: If you arrived on this blog post looking for a recommendation on a great general all-around motorcycle boot, read this post, here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Risk One Takes

I published my "Guide to Motorcycle Boots" in January. It has gotten a lot of visits, especially since Larry linked to it from hotboots.com and featured it for about a month from his home page. Thanks, Larry -- I have received about 1,000 unique visitors each day, many of whom are coming from the hotboots website. Well that, an also a couple of motorcycle enthusiast websites that have linked to it, as well.

The risk I took in posting that Guide is that the President of a company that sells motorcycle boots found my site and noticed that I did not mention that company's boots in the Guide. She expressed her disappointment that the boots were not included.

I replied to her, and said, "yes, it's true, I am aware of your boots but I do not own any, so I wrote the Guide based on my own experience." I then offered to include a mention of her company's boots if she would respond to several technical questions about the soles and boot construction. I explained that I thought the soles were made of soft rubber which can leave melt-marks on hot motorcycle pipes. I asked her about the construction of the boots. Goodyear welt? Leather lining? Thickness of the leather? Origin of the leather? I also asked her to describe or defend my perception of value. The boots seemed to be priced rather expensively compared with other motorcycle boots of the same height and style made by others. Could she defend the pricing based on quality of materials and construction?

I have not received a reply (yet). It's been over a month, so I don't expect to receive one. She learned that I know a thing or two about boots and the questions to ask. By her failure to reply, it indicates to me that perception is reality: the boots are overpriced and use materials of lesser quality. I'm still willing to change my perception, but she has to answer my email. Failure to do that results in no change (of my motorcycle boot review page or my mind.)

The point of this post is to read things like my tutorials carefully. If something or a particular manufacturer's product(s) are not mentioned, there may be a reason for that -- or I simply may have overlooked it. But it's more likely that I don't say something for a reason. If you wonder why, just ask.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another Awards Dinner-Dance?

Oh cripes, it's that time of year. Invitations for Spring events are coming in from all these groups. Non-profit organizations, political groups, alumni groups, social groups. The invitations all seem to say the same thing, year after year after year:
  • Come to our spectacular event, where you can see [so-and-so who you probably don't know]

  • And tickets are a donation of oooonly [insert US$ astronomical sum]

  • But wait! There's more! for ooooonly [insert double US$ astronomical sum], you can come to the special VIP pre-event reception and meet [so-and-so] in person!

  • Enjoy great [don't insert 'rubber chicken'] cuisine and fine [plastic bottled] wine with a terrific [still frozen] desert!

  • Applaud [way too may long-winded] award-winners!

  • And remember, it's for [insert name of great cause that you already donate to anyway]

  • Get there early to participate in our [who'd wanna pay anything for that?] silent auction!

  • And plan to get your groove on with [insert name of band no one has ever heard of] for a night of dancing!

Uggghhhh... these fundraising events labeled awards-dinner-dances are prolific, at least in my neck of the woods. Not that I am "Mr. Popular," but I have received invitations so far for 6 of these events in April, 9 in May, and 7 in June, with more coming. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

BTW, did I mention before that I can't dance and hate trying to? Did I mention that my partner, Mr. Recluse, hates these things more than I do, so it's our agreement that I don't even mention them?

While personally I would like to blow off all of these things, there are some events that I can't avoid for various reasons. I'm on the Board of Directors, or they're giving me some some token of appreciation, or someone bought me the ticket, or I am presenting an award, etc., etc. On comes the monkey suit, the smile turns upside down, and off I go.

But why must they include a band and dancing? I figure that I'm not the only one who gets tired and just wants to go home. But some of the organizers actually think that people like to dance. And seeing those old grey-haired farts shaking [insert name of body parts] on a dance floor is, well, not a pretty sight. (There are so many other things I could say, but I'm restraining myself.)

Oh well, such is life. I promise, as soon as the last award is presented and the last long-winded speech ends, I'm outta there...

Such is my life -- the life of a non-dancing guy who would much rather just be home, in bed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's Your Passion?

I attended a conference last year that was focused on motorcycling. We were handed cards and were asked to write what our "spark," or passion, was that got us excited about motorcycling on the card and share it with another conference participant.

That question extends to my own life in all the things I am involved with. Here are my passions:

* My partner
* My family
* My friends

Well, these are common passions for most folks. Here are more things about which I am passionate:

* My community. I am passionate about where I live, how we live, how we manage growth, infrastructure, and sustainability of our environment. I speak out, I get involved, I cajole, persuade, pester... as a local civic activist volunteer.

* Neighbors and residents of my community. Advocating for their needs, helping them out, providing service, fixing stuff, protecting them from shams and con-artists.

* Providing workforce housing. Cops, teachers, firefighters, nurses: these community heroes often can't afford to live in the county where they work. It has been my passion to try to help out in that regard, as best I can, anyway.

* Motorcycling. The freedom, exhilaration, fun, excitement. Man, nothing quite describes the feeling one has when you're out on the open road with a group of fellow bikers, enjoying the scenes, scents, and sounds.

* Justice. I rail against social injustices that I observe, and try to right them. Rally folks to the cause. Make things better, one step at a time.

* Intelligence. You might look at this in a number of ways -- from railing at dumb-dumbs who abandon shopping carts in handicapped parking spots or who drop trash wherever they damn well please, to having a spirited conversation and exchange of ideas, to having the desire to study to become a U.S. citizen, to acting and behaving with common sense. I'm not talking about "book smarts" as much as I am talking about people thinking before they act, and acting with intelligence.

* Honor and Integrity. No need to explain that. I just am passionate about these values and practice them every day.

* Smiles. Lighten up, folks! Oh my gosh, so many grim faces I see every day (probably because they're stuck in suits and ties). S-M-I-L-E!

So, what's missing from the list?

* Boots -- that is my avocation. Hobby. Fun thing to talk about, wear, build websites and blogs about... sure, I enjoy boots but I'm not wrapped (or warped) 24/7 about them.

* Leather -- same goes with leather, too. A waning avocation. (Waning in the sense that I've grown beyond leather fetishism as I've blogged often about.)

Some other things are missing from the list, too, such as sports, television, movies and the dramatic arts, and stuff like that. There's just so much time in the day, and I choose to dedicate my time to my passions. I am just not that passionate about these things as some others may be.

So, what's YOUR passion? (Thanks to my eighth brother for inspiring this blog post)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Real Deal

After my conference ended yesterday afternoon, I met a guy who is visiting DC from California for dinner. This is the best time of year to visit DC, before Spring break. Come mid-March and especially around the beginning of April when the cherry trees are in bloom, all hell breaks loose. It is crowded in all the museums and other tourist venues until the end of August.

My visitor wrote to me after seeing my website. He is a young guy who is interested in leather and had some questions. He said that he has visited a number of websites that some other gay guys have posted, either on their own or on geocities. He remarked that many of these sites had not been updated, sometimes for years. He complimented me that I kept attending to my website. He also talked about how he noticed that most gay men's websites delve into fantasy and you really can't tell much about the guy, other than perhaps about his ego. It's very hard to tell if any of the content on some gay guy's websites is truthful. I have noticed that, too.

My visiting dinner companion paid me the biggest compliment: "when I saw your website and read all the content on it about your passions and interests, I could tell that you are 'the real deal,' and I wanted to write to you." That he did. We exchanged some messages, then met for a nice, relaxing dinner at a restaurant with outdoor tables. It was such a pleasant evening.

I really enjoyed having dinner with J, and discussing a lot of things. I hope he has a good time being a tourist in DC. I appreciate his review and comments about me and my website. It's true: WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). And due to the very nice weather yesterday, I was able to ride my Harley to show him that side of me too: boots, leather, and the bike. Couldn't have been a nicer evening.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Do You Need Some Ice, Sir?

I am attending a conference sponsored by the organization I work for. The conference is being held in a hotel in Washington, DC. It got rather warm today outside (about 70°F, 21°C). Since I would much rather be riding my Harley, I compromised. I rode my Harley to the conference, since I'm staying at home and not in the hotel.

Today it got hot inside the hotel. They weren't expecting outdoor air temperatures to get so warm this time of year, so they did not have cooling on inside.

Our big boss expects all of the staff to wear a suit -- "business attire" -- throughout the conference. Bleccchhh. Oh well, I do what I have to do. (Don't worry, though, I still had boots on. I really don't own any shoes.)

After an uncomfortable morning, sitting there in a shirt and tie but with the jacket casually draped across the back of my chair, the boss noticed and "suggested" that I keep my jacket on. I looked around, and noticed that most men who were dressed up had their jackets on. Well, since I was "asked...".

In the early afternoon, I was sitting in the back of a room observing a meeting, and felt rather clammy. I looked down at the front of my shirt, and noticed that it was all wet with sweat. As I was noticing this, a colleague came up to me and asked, "are you okay?" He said that my face was all red and there was a lot of sweat on my forehead.

I stood up and removed my jacket. I discovered to my dismay that my shirt was completely drenched in sweat. Then I was even more shocked to see that I had sweat stains below the waist. I was burning up!

I left the meeting and went to a more private area to try to cool off. My colleague was very worried about me, and came with me. He was suggesting that perhaps I needed to go to a doctor, as I was still sweating like crazy. A hotel staff person walked by, looked at me, and asked, "do you need some ice, sir?" I said "yes!"

I sat there for about an hour drinking ice water and cooling down. I put an ice pack on the back of my neck and on each wrist. Eventually, I cooled off. Another colleague loaned me a dry shirt, and I recomposed myself to finish out the day.

I don't know how men do it -- wear a jacket, shirt, and tie all day. I just can't. I figure my reaction was a combination of the heat inside the building, my strong discomfort in the clothing I had to wear, and my concern about the situation causing me to react.

Tomorrow -- shirt, but no undershirt. Lighter pants. Lighter jacket (I only have two, so what I have will have to do). And I will carry that blasted jacket and only put it on when I see the big boss.

It's odd that I can wear leather and not get so overheated. But close up my neck with a stupid necktie and smother me in a suit jacket, and something goes flooky in my mind or something. Uggghhh... three more days of this. Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Weary of Financial Advice

It seems that everywhere you turn, advice on dealing with personal finances flows. From news stories on television and talk radio to ads in the media, everyone is advising how to save money in "these tough economic times."

I grow weary of it all. However, I realize that most folks have little financial discipline. They carry huge debt, don't save, and live paycheck to paycheck.

I think what set me off on this rant was an interview that I watched on TV news recently while preparing dinner. The interviewer was speaking with a young married couple who have a small child. They live in a typical middle-class neighborhood. Both parents work. The child's grandmother provides daycare.

Okay, all well-and-good. Then the woman chimes in, "oh, I save a lot of money now by changing what we do for dinner. Instead of going out to eat as often, I stop by (insert name of fast-food chain here) and bring dinner home!" Like she discovered penicillin, the extols the "virtues" of bringing take-out home to eat. Does anyone besides me see what's wrong with this picture?

The interviewer compounded the aggravation of the silly story by complimenting her on her choice to "eat at home more often." And then the yuppie Dad says, "and I can even have leftovers to snack on later." Oh, puhleeze....

I heard a report on the radio that people are changing their habits about lunch. Yep, instead of going to a restaurant every day, some buy ... you get it ... fast food and bring it back to the office.

Throughout mainstream media, reporters tend to miss the mark entirely. All of the "advice" that I hear is not helpful, and actually promotes some really bad and expensive things to do.

For my partner and me, our views are different. Perhaps it is because we both are children of parents who lived through the Great Depression. We are frugal, but not cheap. For example, we always eat a home-cooked meal every evening. We do something that seems to be unusual (at least as far as main stream media observes): we go to the grocery store once a week and stock up on foods that we use to prepare a well-balanced meal for dinner AND for lunch AND for breakfast that we pack to take to work each day.

We believe in having breakfast, though with our schedules, we bring breakfast to work and eat it upon arrival. And for three meals a day, seven days a week, we are spending about US$100 per week on a full range of fresh vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and other goods. That's about an average of US$2.38 for each well-balanced meal for two adults.

I should say, though, that my partner's "avocation" or interest in grocery stores helps here. He cuts coupons, and when we prepare our shopping list, he reviews the store's weekly ad for what's on sale and matches sales with coupons. By using the store's loyalty card (which gets you the "sale" prices) and coupons, we save an average of US$50 every single week on our groceries. Seriously -- that much. The investment of time in reviewing the ad, making a list, matching coupons is definitely worth it.

And don't get me started when all the yuppies start yapping about not going to Starsucks "every" day -- that they've "cut back" to fewer visits each week. I bring a can of Coke Zero to work with me in the morning for my morning Caffeine shot, and drink water throughout the day otherwise.

Another thing has bothered me is all the advice on saving on utilities. Suddenly yuppies have "gone green" and are discovering CFLs (compact fluorescent lights). Heck, we've used them for over a decade. And if I hear advice to install a programmable thermostat one more time, I'll scream. We have four such devices for the four separate heating/cooling zones and have had the thermostats and zones since the house was built. We heat or cool only the rooms that we occupy at different times of the day. Our utility bills for heating and cooling are 1/3 what our neighbors are paying.

Don't even mention about paying down credit card debt. We never carry a balance, thus, we never incur finance charges. My partner and I both think the same way: only charge what you can pay for when the bill comes due. We use credit cards, but only for major ticket items or for internet purchases -- but not for small charges. We still pay cash for most in-person transactions, including groceries. It's a well-researched fact that when you spend cash, you're less likely to spend as much. With plastic, you never really "see" the money.

Well, now you know my "secret." I have never adopted -- in fact I have strongly rejected -- the yuppie outlook on personal finances. Or in other words, my partner and I still hold true to the values our parents taught us. We save for a rainy day, we don't carry debt, and we buy only what we can afford and pay for.

So thanks anyway, Suze or whoever... we're doin' just fine. Go help those yuppie-wanna-be's out there who have their financial house in disarray and priorities out of order.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Boot Goal Realized

After receiving two pairs of patrol boots that I had always wanted last week, and then finding a place to store them when not on my feet, I saw that my storage areas were almost filled. I also realized that my goals for motorcycle boots were completed.

That's it... as far as I can foresee, the motorcycle boot acquisitions are done.

I have one more space to fill, with a pair of Olathe Buckaroo Boots that I saw at Kleinschmidt's last year... and whenever that happens, I'm done. Seriously.

My partner is taking bets, though, and the current odds are 10:1 that my 2009 "boot acquisition prediction" will not hold. Care to get in on the bet?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Banish Ties!

My partner said this morning as we were getting ready to go to work, "you look nice!" as he looked at me in a shirt and tie, dress slacks, and boots, of course. (I don't own any shoes, nor will I.)

I should be happy with receiving a compliment. He is always so supportive in so many ways.

But I just h-a-t-e neckties. I really do. I always have. I don't like how they look. I can't stand how they feel. Even with a properly-fitted shirt, wearing a tie still makes me feel like I'm being bound. And I am definitely not into bondage whatsoever.

My statement about feeling "bound" is a metaphor. Perhaps my feelings of revulsion toward neckties has more to do with how I rebel against conformity. I have strongly resisted being forced through society's pressures to conform to a certain style of dress, manners of behavior, ways of being. I see a necktie more than anything else as a symbol of conforming to society's old-fashioned pressures.

Alas, I love my job. Part of keeping that job is having to go along with what the boss wants, and what the employer expects. After all, I was recently promoted to a fairly high level position. That promotion was based mostly on what I know and what I can do, but I know they wouldn't have put me in that position if I did not conform to their expectations of dress when we meet with people from outside the organization, or our organization's members.

Thank goodness they don't extend those expectations to footwear. Seriously, if somehow they insisted that I had to wear dress shoes, I probably would quit. But my boots are shined, look fine with pants over, and not a one of my co-workers or bosses have said anything about what's on my feet.

Yesterday when I facilitated a meeting with law enforcement leaders, I had to wear a shirt & tie. Fortunately, I could do the symbolic thing of wearing a jacket in the first moments of the meeting, then taking it off and placing it on the back of a chair. Most other men did the same, except for a few. There are always a few -- like my twin brother -- who wear a jacket and tie and say they like it. Poor fellas....

As the meeting went on and I was becoming very "engaging" (or some say "hyperactive") to maintain attention, the tie was loosened and the top button was undone. Again, this is acceptable during a meeting... to loosen up as it progresses, particularly if you're running around as I do when I facilitate a meeting. (Some call me the equivalent of a game show host as active as I am during a meeting.)

Today, I have a meeting at a federal agency, so once again, I had to put on a tie and have a jacket with me. I put the tie on at home, and wore it to work. But as I was catching up on my morning email, I just felt more and more confined, restrained, and restricted. My usual free-flow morning creativity was just gone. I had to finish writing a proposal, but my thoughts weren't gelling. This was serious!

So I reached up and yanked the tie off, and unbuttoned my collar. I stepped out to get some water and take a short walk around the office. When I returned ten minutes later, I was in a completely different state of mind. The rest of that proposal just flowed from my brain to the fingers on my keyboard. I think it's a winner -- and all because I took that damn tie off.

I know, some of the readers of this blog (hey, Maf) think suits & boots are an enjoyable appearance. I've heard that from others. That's fine, I am glad you enjoy it. I just don't. I never have. Yuck. Just ask my twin brother: I got the "jeans" genes, and he got the "suit" genes.

I know it's all in my head. But that's just how I am. Men's neckties should be banished from the world. We all would be more comfortable, too.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What the Sheriff Said

I facilitated a meeting today at my office in which several county sheriffs, police chiefs, and their respective staffs participated. It was a worthwhile and interesting meeting.

In honor of the law enforcement officials coming to the meeting, I wore my new All American Patrol Boots that I received last week to the office. The boots were great for a number of reasons. They have lug soles for traction on the icy sidewalks outside; they look great, and almost "shoe-like"; and they are very comfortable so as I am walking around facilitating the meeting, standing for hours, my feet don't hurt.

Several of the attendees arrived early. I talked with them as they got their coffee and settled into a seat. I noticed one county sheriff wearing a uniform with Dehner bal-laced patrol boots. Before I could say anything, he came up to me and said, "Are those Dehners?" I said, "no, these are made by All American."

"Never heard of 'em, tell me more." We had a nice, long conversation about tall patrol boots. Several of the other sheriffs and chiefs joined in the conversation. I had to control myself when he asked, "how tall, lift your pants?" ... which I did. Then "cool! Those are nice! Where can I get them? How much did they cost? Are they comfortable? Do you wear them when you ride [your motorcycle]?"

Wow... who woulda thunk. And this is my job! (Actually, in providing full disclosure, I am not a sworn peace officer. I work with law enforcement officials among other local leaders for various activities that I do at my place of employment.) What a nice way to begin a meeting!

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My Dad would have been 98 years old today. Happy birthday, Dad! I know you're up there thinking about me... and your family.

I didn't have much time with him -- not as much as my older siblings, anyway. Not because he didn't spend time with all of us, but because he died when I was 12 years old.

My Dad was a diplomat, both at his profession and at home. He was quiet, but we knew what he liked, and didn't. He liked his kids to get along... so my sister had to stop pulling my hair in the car as we drove cross-country. (Yeah, right... one reason why I drove with Mom more often.)

Dad liked order, but wasn't rigid. For example, when it was time for dinner, all of us had to be seated, napkin in our lap, and wait until he served himself before we could serve ourselves, pass the bowl, make sure everyone had everything, then begin to eat. But the conversation around the table was loud, raucous, and we often talked over one another. Dad loved it when everyone asked questions, talked about the news of the day, added on to the other's thoughts, and shared. I often remember watching him sit back from his chair at the table and just watch all of us be a family. I could tell he was very proud.

My Dad loved to get a small boat out onto the reservoir and pretend to fish. He had all the equipment, but it was evident to us if we got to go with him that he just wanted to sit and enjoy the serenity. "Don't scare away the fish!" was a common expression to get us kids to shut up. I learned from that ... what serenity was ... and to be patient while being peaceful. That's a hard lesson for a kid to learn!

I recall two incidents that mortified me, but later became the stories that the family brings up as adults at the most inopportune times. One was the time that Dad took a sister and me with an aunt visiting from Oklahoma to the reservoir, just to walk around on a nice Spring morning. He showed her the boat, and I hopped onto it. He asked me to get out, which I did. But then the boat began to float away, so I reached to grab the rope -- and you guessed it -- I overreached and fell into the water. Everyone was highly amused except me (at the time).

Another time was when Dad had docked the boat and asked me to lock it up. I did that diligently. Then he asked me to hand him the keys. I got cute and tossed the keys at him -- and the keys went into the water. I never could throw anything. The car keys were on that ring. Oh gosh... what a mess. Dad tried fishing with a stick to find them, but no luck. It was getting dark, and we couldn't see. He walked about a mile to use a phone to call his brother to bring us the spare keys. Man, I was in the doghouse for a week.

Being in the "doghouse" meant, to us, having to live with knowing that we had disappointed our father. It was a horrible feeling, because we knew how much he loved us, and how much he cared. He would never yell, scream, curse, or lay a hand on us, even if we messed up. He would just give us "that look"... and we knew. He taught us what "expectations" were, what "standards" were, and how to try to achieve having a good life every day by demonstrating how he lived to the standards he set for us.

Dad would read with us. He would speak in other languages with us, and encourage us to learn about the world. His world was huge. He even helped us have the most creative "show-and-tell" experiences while we were in school, with real people!

One more story about Dad, in closing. He so loved my Mom. I could see it in his eyes, in the way he looked at her, and in the many things he did for her every day. One night, after he thought we all were in bed, I heard some waltz music. I looked out over the banister, and saw Dad dancing with Mom, then gave her a big kiss when the song ended. Just the the two of them. Their love was complete, solid, and strong.

Well, Happy Birthday, Dad! I miss you, am thinking of you, and love you very much. I try today to live as a man that you wanted me to be. I always cherish your memories, your devotion to family, your solid work ethic, and most of all, your love.

Remember, life is short: if you are fortunate enough to still have your Dad around, let him know you care. Pay a visit, give a call. Show those you love that you love 'em.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nesting

"Nesting" is a term that has been used more often since September 11, 2001, and the decline in domestic and international air travel that followed. While air travel is up significantly since then, what also is "up" are three things that no one likes: higher ticket prices; hassles, in general, getting through airport security; and the niddling fees tacked on to air tickets (the "homeland security fee" is another name for a federal tax), as well as nuisance fees tacked on by the airlines at the airport: from baggage fees to pillows to aisle or emergency exit seats.

I'm not that old... just past the half-century mark... but in a "previous life," and in a previous job, I traveled a lot. I mean A LOT -- some years, over 100,000 actual air miles every year. While most of my travel was domestic (within the U.S.), there were times when business would send me to Central and South America, Europe, Asia, or Australia. Tinian, Rota, Saipan, Guam, Samoa, Vanuatu... off the beaten-track locations as well. Overall, I've tallied 56 countries on my "been there" list, and cherish (almost) every visit, everywhere.

I would save up airline miles for my partner and me to take some really wonderful trips. Our wanderlust brought us to Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and various interesting places right here in our own country.

But that was back in the day when...

  • Airline miles actually were useful

  • You could "upgrade" affordably to business class when going far, such as to our favourite locale Down Under

  • Checking bags and getting through security didn't take forever

  • My partner could travel -- due to his disability, now he can't
While I did take a trip to Arizona recently -- using airline miles -- that was the first trip "for fun" that I have taken on an airline in four years. Who knows, it might be another four years hence that I take a "fun trip" that requires air travel.

Meanwhile, we enjoy "nesting." We have built a marvelous retreat at home. Our back yard was transformed into a park, where we can rest on our double hammock, watch the squirrels play high in the trees, and listen to the babbling brook while the wind blows softly through the leaves.

At night and in winter, we retreat to our basement, which we finished together as a joint project. While I have done a lot of home renovations in my lifetime, there's nothing that quite describes the feeling you have when you are doing work for the home in which you live, and know that the results are something you will enjoy for a lifetime. Our basement hideaway with its many built-in amenities is quiet, comfortable, and entertaining.

For many reasons, nesting has become our "travel choice." And it ain't that bad, after all. Less stress, you get there immediately (LOL!), and it saves a lot of money. And when I develop that urge to get out, I hop on my Harley and ride. That brings me joy to see my home, my neighborhood, my community, my county, my state, and my country from a perspective few see. I can live with that.

Life is short: enjoy your life and your surroundings. I sure do.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March "Storm of the Century"

This is a photo taken from my office window in Washington, DC. That's Massachusetts Avenue out front, and you can barely make out North Capitol Street with which it intersects. You can usually see the dome of the U.S. Capitol building behind that ugly old hotel in the foreground, but today, because it's SNOWING with the wind blowing it sideways, you can't see that far.

OMG, from the hype of the television weather weenies, you think the world will end. "The March Storm of the Century!" they're all hyperventilating. Well, if all the snow accumulates from what's predicted today to all of 3 to 6" (7.5 - 15cm), we will have more snow is some areas of the DC Metroplex than we had in our last "large" March snowfall in 1999. So, technically they're right -- so far, it IS the "March Storm of the Century."

Schools are closed, frantics are frantic, and you can't find a roll of toilet tissue or a liter of milk at a grocery store within 50 miles. So far, I am the ooooonly one in the office (as of 7:30 -- usually a half-dozen folks are here by now). The U.S. Government is open, but allowing unscheduled leave and not charging leave to people who are up to two hours late. That's probably why I'm here alone so far. My office "follows the lead" of the Government. My co-workers are probably taking advantage of extra snooze time.

Not for me -- and not for my partner! We were up, as usual, at 4am. I dressed in layers and donned my Chippewa "snowfighter" boots. I prepared lunches for my partner and myself, made a quick yet hearty breakfast for the two of us, then shoveled a whole inch (2.5cm) of snow from the driveway by 5:30am. Then my partner and I "truckpooled" to the Metro. It really wasn't bad at all, but then again, no one other than a snowplow was on the road when we were. Metro had no problem, though it traveled a bit more slowly. That's fine -- I don't mind slow and steady.

Alas, the Cone of Dumbness strikes again.