I know this super highway
This bright familiar sun
I guess that I'm the lucky one
Who wrote that tired sea song
Set on this peaceful shore
You think you've heard this one before
Well the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last
Home at last
--"Home At Last", Steely Dan
Sorry to have been MIA for most of the last couple of weeks. I needed to do Christmas, work a lot, travel a lot and generally decompress from a big year.
Let's start with Christmas. Christmas was great. The kids were lamenting the fact that all of their friends had a Wii game system and they didn't. Ha. I set out to buy one at the end of the summer; I knew how difficult they'd become to procure. In August, I found one at the Toys 'R Us store near us, in the strip mall where Riverview Amusement Park used to be. Since then, Kim and I have taken turns buying the various games we knew they'd like. We got the Wii Sports pack, which has tennis, baseball and other things, a World War II Fighter game for Adam, and Mario Carts.
Our real coup though was when I was shopping for Rock Band. I nearly bought Rock Band 1, but fortunately did a little research first and discovered that Rock Band for the Wii was missing some of the functions that the Rock Band for other systems had, such as the ability to play other teams online, and most importantly, the ability to download new songs. I found out that this was going to be remedied in the November release of Rock Band 2. I preordered Rock Band 2 for Wii on Amazon.
A couple of weeks before the scheduled release of Rock Band 2, I got an email from Amazon that the Wii version of Rock Band 2 had been postponed until the end of January. I was bummed, but figured a late Rock Band 2 was better than none at all. I got another email telling me that it had been moved up a little, to the week after Christmas. It wouldn't be there for Christmas, but at least soon afterward.
Then, a few days before Christmas, I got another email from Amazon. Miraculously, the release for Rock Band 2 for Wii had been moved up; it had been shipped. It was there two days later, on December 22. I wrapped it and hid it.
When Adam's mother and I had our epic custody battle, we settled on Christmas Eve at my home and Christmas at hers. My family started opening presents on Christmas Eve when I started working my first job; I always worked on Christmas at Walgreen's. I got time-and-a-half holiday pay. I went and picked up Adam on Christmas Eve, and we unwrapped presents.
Full disclosure here: I'm the guy you hate. I start Christmas shopping in July.
Kim loved the pink Canon digital camera I got her, plus the case, extra battery and 2 Gig SD card that the "kids got her" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Mel enjoyed the new Karaoke discs she got; they had some of her favorites, like the Turtles' "Happy Together" and the Monkees' "Daydream Believer." And Adam enjoyed not only the Wii World War II fighter game, but also the Star Trek: The Next Generation box sets we got him (Seasons 2, 3, 4, and 6).
Oh, and Mr. Political Junkie loved the vintage Spiro Agnew watch I managed to cadge on Ebay.
Oh, and a couple of other little things. My kids love that Christopher Walken/Will Ferrell "More Cowbell" bit from Saturday Night Live, and "More Cowbell!" is a family punchline. I got them both cowbells. Plus I got Kim a Tamborine. The deal is that we won't always play Rock Band 2; we'll do real family hootenannies, with me on guitar, one kid on cowbell, the other on the bongo drum we picked up at a garage sale a while back and Kim as the pretty girl on the tamborine. And I got both kids "travel" versions of Yahtzee.
And what about Johnny Yen, you're asking?
I scored the Trifecta of great gifts.
One of the benefits of being able to listen to Little Steven's Underground Garage on satellite radio (a birthday gift from Kim a couple of years ago) is that I've discovered a bunch of old Dion songs beyond "The Wanderer," "Ruby Baby" and "Abraham, Martin and John," songs I've loved for years. She got me the Dion: Greatest Hits cd. It has marvels like "King of the New York Streets," "This Little Girl," "Drip Drop," and the Bruce Springsteen-penned "If I Should Fall Behind."
I also got a book I'd wanted for years, but never got because of the cost: The Encyclopedia of Chicago. It's an amazing book. It's got articles on every neighborhood, every ethnic group, every major historical event, every major political figure-- in short, just about anything you'd want to know about my hometown, and some things you'd never have imagined.
The third part of the trifecta was another indulgence I would never had justified, with two kids to provide for: Season Two of Rod Serling's Night Gallery show. I loved Serling's "Twilight Zone," but as an 11 and 12 year old in the early '70's, dealing (not too well) with his family's move to the suburbs, the show gave me a lot of pleasure. It was a mix of the macabre, the mysterious, horror, and sometimes an improbably happy ending.
Oh, and on top of that was a great Christmas Eve meal, thanks, in part, to my friend and co-worker Karol. She'd gotten a 12 pound frozen turkey from her other job. She lives alone and could never have cooked and eaten the thing. I cooked that up, with my fabled mashed potatoes (I'll post about how to make those soon) and my also wicked-good broccoli and cheese casserole. (I'll post about that one too).
We had a marvelous Christmas Eve. The kids traded off on games they played together and individually, and then we put together our Rock Band 2 profiles. We named our band after a mercifully long-gone neighbor: "Psycho Neighbor." We practiced and played songs by Beck, the Smashing Pumpkins and others and once I got the hang of Wii guitar, we started winning accolades, and even more importantly, some money and a shitty used van with which we could start touring.
I dug my car out of the ice and snow and I dropped Adam off at the agreed-upon 10 PM.
Chirstmas day, we hung around here and then went, at night, to our lovely friends Greg and Christina's home (Kim and I got married there three years ago). for drinks that night. We had, of course, a lovely time with them and their friends and family.
I'd asked my ex if I could pick Adam up on December 26th, a day early, and head down my folks' place with him. She demurred, knowing that he'd be up late on Christmas with her family. It turned out that there was an ice storm and all of the expressways and interstates in northern Illinois and Indiana (all of the ones we would have taken) were closed that morning. I was, however, able to pick him up that night and the next morning we headed off for our twice-yearly trek to Eastern Tennessee to see my folks.
The trip down there was smooth. The Skyway and Indiana Toll Road now take the "Ipass," so we didn't have to wait in a line to pay a toll. They've finally finished the junction between the Indiana Toll Road and I-65, so that went smoothly. We had clear weather once we got out of the Chicago area.
Our visit was great. I had good talks with both of my folks. My father was in much better shape than I've seen him in a couple of years. He seems to finally be gaining strength back from his cancer surgery two and a half years ago. Since a good portion of his digestive system was removed, there were a lot of things he couldn't eat. As he's healed, he's able to eat again.
We left December 30. Adam woke me up at 6 am (5 am Chicago time). We ate, got the car loaded up, said goodbye and took off. Within 20 minutes or so, he dozed off. The rat.
About 200 miles into our trip, on I-64 in Kentucky, I heard a big "boom" and the car started wobbling. I realized right away that I'd had a tire blowout. Fortunately, I was able to get the car over. More good luck in with the bad; not only was the tire on the passenger side, but I was able to get my Toyota onto a double shoulder. That was good, because there were dozens of semis running down the interstate.
After a little frustration finding part of the jack, I was able to put the "doughnut" spare on. And there's where the trip turned frustrating. I stopped at a half dozen places in Indiana trying to get the tire fixed to no avail. Every place I went wanted me to wait an hour to two hours. No dice. I wanted to get back to Chicago for an important reason: December 30 is my and Kim's anniversary. We have never, ever been able to be together on our anniversary in the three years we've been married. We usually split to see our families around the holidays, hers in Minnesota and my parents in Tennessee. For once, we had a one-day overlap when I'd be back from my trip, before she took off for hers.
Luck was with us. From the looks of it, the "doughnut" spare had never been used. I needed to add air, but other than that, we were able to make it to Chicago on it. It may have been just as well. When I took it to my guy here in Chicago, he told me the tire was irreperable. I would probably had to have had a brand new (expensive) tire put on if I'd been able to get anybody in Indiana to service my car. My tire guy, whose shop is on Western and Lawrence, was able to put a good used tire on for $35.
In any event, I made it back home. Adam played his World War II combat game; Mel was at Greg and Christina's place-- they'd kindly offered to have Mel overnight so that we could, for the first time, be together for our anniversary. Kim and I were able to go out and have a drink on our anniversary.
A few months into our marriage, Kim only half jokingly pointed out that our marriage was now my second-longest marriage (Wife #1 and I split at 3 months) Cynthia and I had split at 3 years. As of the day after December 30th, this was now my longest marriage.
Kim and Mel took off on New Year's Eve for Minnesota. I dropped Adam off at my ex's house and went in to work a rockin' New Year's Eve. It was a great night-- I had a lot of fun with many of our regulars and made the most money I've made in one night ever as a waiter. The next day was good too-- made an almost equal amount. I was relieved; I'd taken a big gamble in taking a weekend off to go on my trip. It turns out that it was okay. I Made nearly as much in two days as I normally make in a week.
I spent the next couple of days relaxing and reading. Between travel and work, I was beat. Turns out I had an upper respiratory infection brewing, as well, so it was just as well I lay low.
I've got a couple of more weeks before class resumes, giving me time to tie off some loose ends. It turned out that one of my transcripts never arrived-- they can't process my application for nursing school without it. I re-ordered those.
In the meantime, I'm getting ready for what looks like a busy year, with some changes possible. My life is quite different from what it was just a few years ago. There have been tough times to be sure, but mostly great times. I believe I have found my home at last.