Sometimes, You Just Need An Outlet.

I must admit, I have been truly blessed over the past couple of years. I have been working at my current job in technical support for two and a half years. This job has proven to be very rewarding and educational. In addition, I began pursuing a four year college degree by taking some courses online. I started my educational pursuit a year ago. In addition to this, my wife has also begun her pursuit of a higher education. I have come to believe that it is a blessing to have a job. I know this because I have been through more than one period in my forty-five years when I have been unemployed for a long stretch of time.  A person can get a job via a newspaper ad, a referral from a friend/colleague, or attending a job fair and shaking a lot of hands. A career, on the other hand, is something to be obtained through hard work. It has to be earned. So, to reiterate, I have a job and an opportunity to further my career by pursing an education. I am TRULY blessed.

Now , I don’t mean to be ungrateful to be the beneficiary of such huge blessings. Having said that, this also has been known to consume a lot of free time that my wife or myself could use for ….recreational activities. Lately, my interactions with my wife involve her making appointments on behalf of our kids or me (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! I know. What’s the difference?). Another example of recent interactions would entail my wife whispering in my ear to check my email for something she sent me. True to her word, my wife has sent me a research paper she has composed for me to review and help her edit. These interactions go on week after week. As we neared our 18th wedding anniversary, my wife and I agreed to arrange some time to remove ourselves from the great bounty of blessings in our lives. This is strictly a temporary measure to disconnect from the blessings and re-connect with one another. After all, life does go on.

Our getaway destination was facilitated by our older daughter who is engaged to be married next year. She went to a bridal show this past summer. As a result, she got a voucher for a king suite at a hotel in the beautiful Finger Lakes area. This meant that our night at the hotel and the breakfast the following morning were entirely complimentary. As the day of our getaway got closer, I searched for ideas for activities we could do together. The Finger Lakes Region of New York is full of tourist spots to check out. My wife and I were looking forward to our getaway and spending some quality time together. We just need to find the right activity for our quality time. We needed an outlet.

Within less than 5 miles from our getaway hotel, we found our outlet. It was not just ANY outlet for a happily married couple to spend their quality time. It was THE outlet. That’s right, folks. The missus and I went to Waterloo Premium Outlets. This was a MALL of outlet stores located in Waterloo, NY. There were all different kinds of stores there. There was a wide selection of clothing stores for every man, woman and child you know. There is a selection of shoe stores for discount prices on acquired kicks. There was even a store that offered discount prices on women’s AND men’s cosmetics. I know that men’s cosmetics exist because I got my self a rather nice shaving kit (hypoallergenic no less). There was a sports memorabilia store and a book warehouse store RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER. What can I say? My wife and I had a mutually enjoyable shopping experience (a challenge within itself).

Alas, our anniversary weekend getaway came to an end (as all good things must). My wife returned to making yet another appointment on my behalf. I, likewise, returned to discover that my wife would lovingly attach another research paper in my email. We have not forgotten the blessed situation in which we live. Still, we long for the time that we can once again disconnect from our daily duties and re-connect and return to our outlet. OK, that metaphor was mixed up and made no sense but you get the point.

Thanks A Lot, Richard. Yer Cool!

Sometimes, you meet a person that makes an impression that lasts a very long time. Sometimes, that impression lasts a lifetime. It would be too easy for me to say that I don’t do impressions; I do humor writing. The problem is, I know the former part of the preceding statement to be false. Others might argue that the latter part is also false.

1991 was a rough year for me. I had just endured the end of my first marriage and was living with a couple I knew from church. The wife of the couple was the church receptionist. On Wednesday nights, I would hang out at the church a couple of hours before service since the couple’s home was about an hour away. We’d hang out, attend the service, and go home afterward. In the hours prior to the service, I would often sit and play my guitar to pass the time. After the service was over, a young, bearded man approached me. He extended his hand and said “I’m Richard. I rather enjoyed your playing earlier”. I thanked him for his generous compliment and introduced myself. He mentioned that he owned a 6 string acoustic as well as a 12 string. He offered to bring his 12 string to church at the following service. I told him I looked forward to it and we both went home for the night.

Richard and I would meet rather often over the next year with our guitars. We played everything from Johnny Cash to John Prine to John Michael Talbot. When we got tired of songs by people named John. We’d gravitate toward the silly side. We always include an old Ray Stevens favorite named “Fred”. “Fred” was a song about a dog that was typically hard to finish because the lyrics made us laugh so hard. As we got to know one another. We discovered that we both had a love for puns. Richard and I would trade puns back and forth every time we saw one another. Sometimes, it was done in a manner of two blues musicians riffing in a call-and-response pattern. Other times, we were clearly trying to top one another. We usually wouldn’t stop until the other began laughing so hard he couldn’t continue.

I would also come to find Richard to be a model of chivalry and generosity. I didn’t have a car when I first met Richard. He gave me many rides. He offered me many meals as he loved to cook. Whenever anyone thanked Richard, the response was always the same – “You’re always welcome”. If you did Richard a favor, the response was also always the same – “Thanks a lot. Yer cool. You really are.”

Over the years that followed, Richard and I would go through some changes. We both got married. Richard even drove my wife and me to the hospital when she was in labor with our youngest child. One night, my wife got an email with some devastating news. Richard was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with leukemia. We visited with Richard and his wife while he was in the hospital. We, of course, traded puns as we enjoyed one another’s company. As my wife and I were leaving, I shook Richard’s hand. We made tentative plans to go out for a bite after he got out of the hospital.

Richard passed away a few short days after our visit. My wife and I went to his memorial service. There was a lovely display table of many mementos. What caught my attention the most was his guitar that was displayed on the table. My mind went back to when we played together many years before. Richard and I, unfortunately had the same aggressive attack on our instruments. As a result, we broke strings often. It was always the same string. Richard and I were constantly replacing the G string for each others guitars. After the memorial service was over, I went back to the display table and gazed at the guitar. As I stared and remembered, I noticed something about the guitar. The G string was missing. You could even see the windings in the tuning machine where the string broke. I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute for my friend. Thanks for all you’ve done, Richard. YER COOL!

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