In Every Man’s Life, Some Whiskers Must Fall

As I have mentioned in some of my other writings, I currently work in technical support in a call center which many of my fellow colleagues affectionately (or with extreme irritation) refer to as a “cube farm”. The company for whom I perform said technical support has staff which spans the entire globe. We have folks that work in several areas in the United States as well as staff overseas. In spite of this great, diverse, and widespread staffing, we all communicate with one another quite frequently (usually via email).

One day, one of our colleagues came up with a hair-brained scheme (pardon the intentional misspelling). He proposed that since the peak of our work season runs from Mid-August to Mid-October, the male staff should grow beards as a sign of solidarity. I guess he felt this was a way promote esprit de corps among the male staff. The female staff (thankfully) did not feel the need to participate in this activity. They instead decided to show their respective solidarity and collectively sashay away from the esprit de corps.

 Many of us men chose to participate. You could easily dismiss as sheep following a call. Scoff if you will. We rams were more than happy to begin sporting our great naps of woolen whiskers. One man chose to wear a Van Dyke beard. Another man chose to channel his inner Abraham Lincoln and wear a chin curtain beard. One man had to recuse himself from the activity as he already had a nearly waist length beard that would have made Billy Gibbons green with envy. Other male colleagues (and I as well) chose to grow a full beard.

As each week passed, we admired the growth of some beards and pitied the attempt of others. “Dude, your beard is filling out real nice.” “Hey, son; why don’t you peel off that peach fuzz and have your Mom read you a nice story”. “Dude, stop crying. We were only joking.” We sat at our respective cubes and stroked our beards (and our egos) with great pride. I have to admit; the male bonding ritual was quite enjoyable.

Alas, not all was great in this great state of heavenly hirsutism. My daughters would not come near me. I had been dubbed “Scruffy”. I took such comments in stride. Then, I began to notice something that became much more prominent as time passed. The beard I had acquired in my forties had become significantly different than beards I had grown in my twenties. Patches and streaks of gray had begun to accent (or in some areas entirely cover) my wondrous beard. It was one thing to have your kids tell you that you are no spring chicken. It is another to realize that my beard has reached its autumnal equinox and I had the follicular foliage to prove it. The kids had dispensed the “Scruffy” moniker and began calling me “Santa”. My wife had also stated her displeasure with the beard. In short, her husband had a beard and so does a turkey. She found neither to be particularly attractive.

With my approaching wedding anniversary right around the corner, I decided to do the unthinkable. I decided to get rid of the beard before the end of the peak work season that prompted its growth. I flicked the switch to the beard trimmer and hesitantly took that first stroke. That first clump of hair seemed to fall at half speed and make a reverberated thud onto the bathroom counter. I had crossed the Rubicon. There was no longer any room for rationalization or mind changing. Once I realized this, each stroke with the trimmer got easier and easier. I shaved off the stubble with a razor and foam and saw the lower half of my face for the first time in a month and a half. I looked down at the mound of whiskers piled up on the counter. I then dutifully cleaned up this pile. After all, if my wife saw that, I’d have bigger problems than a few gray facial hairs. The autumnal equinox that was my face has become more tolerable. However, the winter solstice is surely approaching. I can already see the snow on the roof.




Comma, Come Here (Please).

As a writer, I always find it particularly pleasing to learn something new as I am seeking to amuse myself and my readers. I found myself musing over some pet peeves of punctuation and grammar. For example, I detest the use of quotation marks for emphasis. For example, you walk into a thrift store and you see a handcrafted sign that reads: ALL SALES ARE “AS IS” WITH “NO IMPLIED WARRANTY”. This implies that the terms of the sale could be left to interpretation. Apparently, the cost of ink is great to underline words than to encase them in quotes. Our country has an undesirable unemployment rate and there are a lot of folks seeking work. In spite of this we have folks throwing around quotation marks willy-nilly and forcing them to work outside of their job description. Anyway, I digress.

Given that it was my day off from work and I had no homework to do, I did some Internet surfing about punctuation. I ran across the name of a great man — Aldus Manutius (circa 1450 – 1515 A.D). Aldus Manutius the Elder made some great innovations in writing that we now take for granted. Manutius the Elder invented the use of italics in writing. This can be a great tool of emphasis or aside information when used correctly (unlike those poor quotation marks). Manutius the Elder also established the modern use of the semi-colon. More significantly he produced what was then known as octavo book (one-eighth size paper). This allowed books to be carried in one’s pocket or satchel. That’s right, folks. Manutius the Elder created what we know as the paperback or pocketbook.

You may wonder what lead me to start this Internet search in the first place. Some might suggest that it could be one of the three following reasons: a) I was looking to expand my knowledge. b) My warped mind took me onto a new adventure. c) I was incredibly bored and my wife was hogging the television. Mind you, all three scenarios were a factor but the third was probably the greatest motivator. It all started very simply. My wife had to draft a 300 word essay for entrance into a college program. At first, she asked for my assistance as she was unsure that she could pound out 300 words. I found this laughable. A diplomatic person would say that my lovely wife is blessed with the gift of loquacity. I would quote the late Jerry Clower and suggest that my lovely wife “sure can shell down the corn”. The point is that 300 words would not be a problem.

As I reviewed her essay, I corrected some spelling here and suggested some rewording there. I then noticed something very distinct. I have also reviewed a lot of essays for our daughter Brianna. However, Brianna and my lovely wife Renee are very different in the way that they handle one lone item; the comma. My wife, Renee, tends to insert commas here, there, and, everywhere with such reckless abandon, that is only rivaled by, the aforementioned quotation mark in its use. My daughter Brianna on the other hands writes gloriously long run-on sentences that are four feet long five feet wide and could pierce the engine block on an eighteen wheeler. I do not wish to come across like I am insulting either my daughter or my wife. Both have been known to prepare my meals. In addition, Brianna proofreads my essays before I post them to my blog site. I merely found this distinction between mother and daughter very intriguing. Therefore, I searched for the comma and found Aldus Manutius the Elder. Thank you Elder Manutius for all you have done.

I will submit a disclaimer here as well. I do not mean to suggest that I am an authority on punctuation or grammar. Several of my online friends are teachers (two of them are MY former English teachers). Instead, I will suggest that you turn to the writers’ works below. I have no endorsement deal with any of these folks. I don’t make a royalty nor do I get an autographed copy of their work (Mind you, I would never be so rude as to refuse such a gesture).

  • Lynn Truss – Author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves; a great book that provides an accurate tongue in cheek guide on proper punctuation.
  • Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl – I am a huge fan of the Grammar Girl podcasts and highly recommend Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
  • Bonnie Trenga – Author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing I bought this book for my daughter to help with her writing.

I would also like to apologize to any of the above three writers for any implication that I have learned NOTHING from any of you.

Smooth Sailing….NOT!

I sit here and ponder as I have completely my first week back in college. So far, I am ahead on my homework assignments and I am feeling rather confident about the whole thing. Mind you, I am sure at some point I will have my head spinning over an assignment and things will be normalized somewhat. After all, life without somewhat tension would just be downright boring. In the meantime I will just have to tolerate the boredom the best I can.

According to the Chinese calendar, the year 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. However, in my home, 2010 seems to be the year of educational pursuit. Allow me to bring you up to speed on things. My younger son, Caleb, is entering his senior year of high school. My older daughter, Shayna, has begun her final year in college as a psychology major. So, at the end of the year, I will have one child graduating high school and another graduating college. Needless to say, the cost of disposable tissues will skyrocket. That’s fine; I know my wife will be there with a steady supply and a reassuring hand. In addition to this, both my older son, Tom, and my younger daughter, Brianna, are in the process of continuing their college education after working hard to overcome some personal setbacks. What can I say? I have never been a prouder father of my four kids. They all show great promise for their lives in the forthcoming year.

All of this wonderful change in my family can easily make my head spin. That’s OK. I can always look to my darling wife and find some sense of calm in this great ocean of change. I had no idea that the tide had not quite come in yet. I was expecting my wife to help me hoist a sail. She didn’t tell me I had to stand watch in the crow’s nest. I guess I should just dispense with the ocean analogy and just get to the point. After all, I do not wish to bore you (and a pox on those who say “TOO LATE!”)

After doing all of the administrative legwork for the kids and me, my wife decided that it was time for her to make a change in her own life. In some of the heaviest news since “Shane, I’m pregnant”, my wife tells me that she intends to continue her own pursuit of higher education. My wife has decided to pursue a degree in Social Work so that she may counsel families with special needs children. This is an area very close to our hearts and I have no doubt that she will excel in her pursuit.

Still, it’s kind of weird. All of my studies are online. I can’t exactly carry her books for her. I won’t have a pledge pin to offer her. I won’t even have a letter jacket for her to wear (they don’t offer varsity letters for blogging. I already checked). So, I figured I would try to find some other way to offer some support. She told me that for one college she would have to submit a 300 word essay. She asked me if I could help her with a 300 word essay. Clearly, she had forgotten about my prom night piece.

So to all of my family and friends, please allow me to apologize in advance for my lack of availability. For the duration, I will most likely be doing my homework assignment, finding out about my next homework assignment, or helping someone with their homework assignment. Someone please tell me the location of the tranquility Christopher Cross promised us all.

Shane Finally Goes to College (Again)

Well, the day has finally arrived. You have heard me go on ad nauseam about admissions letter, class registration, and financial aid. True to the spirit of my writing you have read my random ramblings and mindless minutiae about my wife’s unending support (and undying patience) and my daughter’s many mantras. Actually, I think if she could, my daughter, Brianna, would press charges for the murder of her patience. I would like to reassure my wife and all four of my kids that such things are all behind us now. I’d LIKE to do that but I consider myself an honest man.

Today marks the first day of classes for my bachelor’s program in Health Information Management. This is the start of a new adventure for me. I have set out to further my education and my career. I start this venture at the (relatively) young age of 44. It is my goal to finish this program before I am retired, dead, or too old to remember what I studying in the first place. In my mind, I envisioned the inspirational music playing in the background as I spoke about this. Alas, all I can hear now is the churning of my window air conditioning unit. I guess that will have to do since John Phillip Sousa is unavailable.

I am starting out slowly with two classes this semester so as not to get overconfident and overload myself with school, work, and watching the Atlanta Braves inch closer and closer to the playoffs (everything in its proper place).I am taking my classes over the Internet because my college is about 3 hours from where I live. The commute would be a bit rough on my van. I have all of my textbooks on the shelf and I can study at my own pace (within the confines of assignment deadlines). I can access my classes from anywhere I have Internet access. There is no dress code (provide that my webcam is not required). I don’t have to raise my hand to use the restroom (the professors quickly tire of such phone calls). I can play music during my class. I might even whip out my harmonica during some classes and no one would know but yours truly (and my neighbors). The coolest part of all is that I can even chew gum and not have to supply it for the entire class. That’s right, Mrs. Douglas in Life Science class in Room 80 at Quail Hollow Junior High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. I will NEVER risk having to write 500 sentences stating that I will not chew gum in class. HAH, I say. HAH!

I have started reading some of the course materials and have even completed some of the homework. One of the homework assignments was posting a discussion thread introducing myself to the class. I even restrained myself from my kneejerk reaction to tell my fellow students that I like long walks on the beach and men who aren’t afraid to cry. Instead, I just stuck to the facts. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t personally have anything against long walks on the beach and men who aren’t afraid to cry. They just aren’t on my list of favorite things.

So there you have it folks. A lot of you are probably thinking that since all this college stuff I have been anticipating has come to pass, I probably move on to other subjects for my writing. To paraphrase Michael Corleone: “Who’s being naïve?”