Fixing Things – Survival Mode

Old house renovation expert and HGTV star Nicole Curtis generally doesn’t pull punches on her social media posts. She seems “genuine” and I appreciate that. She doesn’t post often, which I also appreciate, and when she does it’s usually worth reading. What follows is the first part of a recent post of hers in which she reflects on herself and her innate need to fix things. When I read this (and re-read it) it very much resonated with me. I seem to thrive on crisis. I certainly don’t go looking for it, but when it comes I handle it. I just…handle it. I don’t buckle. I don’t break. I just seem to figure it out. I fix it. I take it in, I assess, I analyze, I resolve. Consider this an in-depth version of my personal motto: “I understand the compounding awesomeness of continually fixing small broken things.” (Shamelessly co-opted from Michael “Rands” Lopp)

[Only slightly edited for style.]

“I’m someone who therapists say is in constant survival mode —one will track my childhood & try to pinpoint it, one will track my genetics, one will track my adult choices. I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely true. I gravitate towards these houses that have lost their fight because I fix things— my life makes sense when I can fix things. Some mistake this never-ending fixing as a need to be [in] control. It’s actually the opposite — I do it so I can let go. Most things are beyond my control, but a house? I got that. I’ve somehow found a group of like-minded friends — the survivors. We run on adrenaline, we get it done -we look rock solid from the outside, but if you really get to see the inside, we’re those people that hurt for everyone and everything, that search for greater meaning, that pray, that are intensely loyal, take everything to heart and simply keep turning the other cheek.”

My life makes sense when I can fix things.


It’s Been 23 Years

[I’m publishing this almost 10 months after I started the new position for which I had applied at the time I wrote this (early May, 2020).  It was the Right Thing for me to do, and I’d do it again.  But doing it still sucked.]

It’s been 23 years since I applied for a job.  I remember some of the emotions I experienced back then: angst, trepidation, fear, anticipation, hope, guilt.

Fear?  Yes, fear.  Fear I wouldn’t get the job and be able to leave my current employer on my own terms.  Also, ironically, fear I would get the job, which would mean relocating to Potsdam.

Angst.  Is this the right thing to do?

Trepidation.  Am I good enough to even be considered for the position, let alone get it?  (I have a self-diagnosis of Imposter Syndrome.  It tends to flare up at times like that.)

Anticipation and Hope.  In those moments when I can get past the angst, I allow myself to daydream about the possibilities this change would bring and make plans.

Guilt.  This is the worst.  And it’s almost crippling.  The guilt is over leaving whatever you’re currently doing (in this case, the job I had at the time) for a new job. I tend to be a loyal person. And I care about the work I do, no matter what it is or who it’s for.  Walking away from a body of work is a hard thing to do when you care about it.

It’s been 23 years since I applied for a job.  This job.  The one I have, and the one I have the good fortune and privilege to actually love. I have been working full-time for SUNY Potsdam for, as I write this, almost 23 and a half years.  If I count my time as a student here, I’ve spent over half of my life on and around this campus. When you work for a place for that long, you become a part of it, just as it becomes a part of you.

It’s been 23 years since I left a job.  And for me that’s hard.  The pit in the stomach, the faint aftertaste of bile as your gut literally wrenches. You’re doing the right thing for yourself, but you didn’t plan this with your current employer and so to them it’s a surprise, and you feel badly doing that.  No one is indispensable. You know that. People leave jobs all the time for all sorts of reasons. And the employer figures it out and moves on.

I will always be a part of the SUNY Potsdam Family.  But it’s time to move out of the house.

Down The Road Again

Last week I heard a news story about road signs in Virginia and how it’s hard to find your way without a GPS because deferred maintenance has resulted in road signs not being replaced in a timely fashion. Many are missing. I remarked to my wife, “that’s municipal thinking for you—don’t save up for anything and just kick that can down the road again until its someone else’s problem.”

”Down the road again…” That stuck in my head. A few hours later I had penned new lyrics, with apologies to Willie Nelson.

Down the road again
Why do it now when we can do it then?
Our problems grow and yet we simply will not spend
So we’ll just kick them down the road again.

Down the road again
Don’t do your job instead let’s just pretend
Why we don’t save for things, I’ll never comprehend
So send our troubles down the road again.

Down the road again
Roads and bridges ‘cross this country are a-crumblin’
And yet we won’t attend
Officials with our budgets they keep crumblin’
Our tires keep rumblin’

Down the road again
Why do it now when we can do it then?
Our problems grow and yet we simply will not spend
So we’ll just kick them down the road again.

Mall In The Time Of COVID

Today I ventured into a mall for the first time in almost a year. I had to go to Syracuse to swap cars with Brady, and I have a hardware issue with my MacBook Pro, so I made an appointment at the Apple Store to confirm my diagnosis and see about getting it fixed.

The mall, Destiny USA, was relatively deserted. While not unexpected, it was still surreal. I used the rest room first and then made my way to the Apple Store. There were fully 6 “guards” (really Apple Store staff) milling about outside the store in black shirts with “SECURITY” on the back. I’ve seen fewer places taking COVID as seriously as the Apple Store does. People are kept out until there is someone in the store available to meet with them. There are 6 workstations at the front of the store (the rest of the store is cordoned off) where you meet with a store employee. It’s very much like how visiting prisoners in prison is depicted on television, but without the intercom/phone handset.

The mall itself has done a good job of trying to keep people safe, as much as that’s possible. But as comedian Ron White said, “you can’t fix stupid.” I don’t know if it’s actual stupidity as it is obliviousness or willful ignorance, though to me the latter qualifies as “stupid.”

What I’ve called “Pedestrian Narcissism” bothers me on a good day. But today I wish I’d brought a squirt gun with me so I could go around squirting people who just walked wherever the hell they wanted, ignoring or not bothering to read the clearly-placed signs that were RIGHT THERE ON THE FLOOR telling you where you were supposed to walk. And it’s not hard—modeled on how we drive. One simple rule: keep to the right. And patterns generally moved in a counter-clockwise direction. I can’t even give them the excuse of staring at their phones, because I actually saw very little of that. (And being early for my appointment I had about 20 minutes to watch this chaos.)

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and I won’t go back if I can at all avoid it until masks are no longer required. People suck.

A1C = 5.3

In June my hemoglobin A1C was 5.8, in the low end of that’s considered diabetic. I knew why—it was a rough winter and I had other things on my mind, not the least of which were my Dad’s health issues. My blood sugar was not my focus.

Fortunately, the good habits I had formed in 2019 served me well and my lack of focus didn’t take me too far into the red zone. It’s not like I was chugging 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and binging on half-pound bags of peanut M&Ms. You know, like I used to…

And so I was only up 2 tenths of a point from my previous A1C. I had work to do and so I buckled down. Well, mostly in the last three months. And today was the payoff. I had my blood drawn this morning and checked my hospital app after lunch. 5.3!! Down 5 tenths and SOLIDLY outside of the diabetic zone. All with NO medication.

Now…on to blood pressure, which is still hovering higher than it ought to be.

Personal Liberty and Coronavirus

The cowboy sits at his table in the saloon.  He pulls a bullet from his pocket.  He pulls his six-shooter from it’s holster.  He loads the bullet into the barrel.  He spins the barrel.  He points the gun at his head.  He pulls the trigger.


No harm done.

“Russian Roulette” as portrayed in the movies. 

But even if it had been <bang> and the cowboy died, no physical harm would have come to anyone else.  

Watching social media as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds I have seen some people indignant at the suggestion that they can be told what to do in any situation.  Stay home.  Not congregate.  Not “have fun.”  Not see their friends.  Get a haircut.  Indignant that anyone, especially “the government,” tell them anything like that.  They exhibit their indignation under the banner of “personal liberty.”

Now imagine the same cowboy.  He pulls out his bullet and his gun, he loads the gun, he spins the barrel, and this time he stands up and starts waving the gun around at the other patrons of the saloon and pulls the trigger.


No harm done?

Wrong.  Plenty of harm done.  Nobody got hurt or died.  But they could have.  There was a 1 in 6 chance that the gun would fire.  A 1 in 6 chance that someone could have died.

As a society we consider that unacceptable.  It is unacceptable that someone brandish a loaded weapon in public, even if it is likely that it will not fire.  We prosecute people who do so and we (sometimes) remove them from society by sending them to jail.  Your personal liberty ends when your choices harm or have the potential to harm others.  

In a pandemic we are all cowboys, and our hands are guns.  But the bullets are invisible and undetectable.  There may be a bullet.  There may be 6.  There may be none.  We have no way of knowing.  If someone waves a gun around in public they are punished for it.  We are asking people to minimize activity that will turn their hands into loaded guns.

Someone explain to me why that is unreasonable.

The Prettiest Christmas Present

When Amanda’s parents divorced, her dad, Kevin Haney, moved to Los Angeles to practice his craft as a makeup artist.  Amanda and her sister would visit him and get to see the projects he was working on.  Amanda loves to tell the story of how she once met Jonathan Frakes, the actor who played Commander William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series.  Here she is telling the story in her own words at Great Camp Sagamore‘s Mountain Music and Dance weekend in October of 2017:

In that moment, all she could muster up was, “You’re pretty!!”

I only have vague recollection of a late evening in my den in the November following Amanda’s telling of her story.  But I wrote a handwritten letter to Jonathan Frakes.  I told him who I am, who Amanda is, who her father is; and I told him of the day Amanda met him on the set of TNG.  I suggested that, if he’s the autograph signing type, that it would be neat for Amanda to have an 8×10 glossy photo of him as Commander Riker.  I boldly suggested that he might include, “Amanda–You are pretty too!”  I Googled for his agent’s address, picked one that seemed most likely (several addresses came up), addressed the envelope and put it in the mail.

Nothing came of it and I eventually forgot all about it.  Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend, 2018.  We had just returned from spending the weekend in Rochester with Amanda’s mom and step-dad.  We did the usual schlepping of our bags, grabbing the mail, and tending to the cats.  I hung up my coat and grabbed the mail from the box and sat at the dining room table to inspect it while Amanda paid attention to the cats and started putting her things away.  There was one large envelope and there were two things very odd about it: 1) It was from some place in California I had never heard of, and 2) it was addressed to me in my own handwriting.  I mumbled and grumbled loudly about this as I sliced open the end of the envelope.  I peeked inside and pulled out the contents about 2 inches before I realized what it was.  I gasped.  Audibly.  Loudly.  “What is it??” Amanda called from the other room.  As I quickly shoved it back into its envelope, I stuttered, “I…can’t…TELL YOU!!”

“I’m just going to assume it has something to do with Christmas,” she said.  Yes.  Absolutely!  Perfect.  That’s exactly what it was!  Inside was an 8×10 glossy photograph of Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker with writing in marker: “Amanda–You are Pretty Too” with his signature.  The envelope was addressed in my handwriting because whomever did so simply cut the address out of the letter I had written.

I bought a frame and wrapped it up.  On Christmas morning we opened all of our gifts to each other, with Amanda’s mom and step-dad there.  When we were “done,” I told Kyle that it looked like there was one more left, a la “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie gets his BB gun.  I took video to capture the moment:

So there you go.  The story of the Prettiest Christmas present ever!  The photo sits in a place of honor in our living room.

The Wrong Tool

In a discussion with a colleague yesterday I decried the inefficiency of improper tool use.  I don’t mean using a tool improperly, I mean not using the proper tool for a given task.  We were talking about software, but this analogy popped into my head:

“You can use a hammer to pound in a screw,” I said.  “It may take a few extra whacks, but a hammer will drive a screw just fine.”

True enough!  It will work.  But it’s not the best tool for the job.  Many people use the wrong tool out of basic ignorance.  They simply don’t know any better.  What they have works and they have no incentive to wonder if there’s a better way.  But I frequently encounter people who, when faced with a screw gun, view it not with wonder and gratitude, but with fear and indignation regardless of its potential to ultimately make things easier for them.

And then I remembered the sign that used to hang in a former Facilities Director’s office:

People Would Rather Live With A Problem They Cannot Solve Than Accept A Solution They Cannot Understand

“This…is wrong tool!”

Restaurant Review – GiGi’s On The River

GiGi’s On The River is a new restaurant in a location in my home town of Keeseville, NY that has been several restaurants over the years.  With new owners and quite a facelift, inside and out, it re-opened last week.  My parents and I went there for dinner this evening to see what it was like.

We made reservations for 6:00 because it’s new, it’s Saturday, everyone’s talking about it, and we didn’t want a long wait for a table.  We arrived at 5:55 and were promptly seated in the dining room area (there is a separate wing that has a bar and other seating).  The place was nearly full and there were people leaving because of the anticipated wait for a table.  I’m sure no restaurant likes to see this, but I guess it’s a nice problem to have!

It was almost 20 minutes before we received the attention of our waitress.  Not that she was doing nothing, mind you.  She was very busy.  Since we had had plenty of time to decide what we wanted, she took our complete order–drinks, appetizer, and entrees.  Much to my pleasant surprise, the drinks came in about 2 minutes.  The appetizer took half an hour, however.  We had ordered stuffed mushrooms, which were very delicious.  (Though it was odd that our bread plates were teacup saucers.)

By 7:00 I had finished my beer and wondered how long it would take before that was noticed.  (My parents were sharing a bottle of wine and would not have this problem.)  I had only 5 minutes to wait, because that’s when our dinner was served.  All three plates came at the same time (something I no longer take for granted when eating out).  I ordered the Steak Delmonico, medium-rare.  It was closer to medium, but still a very nice steak.  My mother enjoyed her salmon, and my father’s scallops were amazing.  He was served *9* scallops, each about the size of a half dollar!  The waitress asked if we needed anything else, and I held up my empty glass.  “Sam Adams, right?” she asked.  She had remembered my drink!  (Something else I no longer take for granted.)  I was impressed.

We were finished and had our check by 7:30.


We didn’t get any water, though I’m sure we could have had some had we asked for it.  On reflection, I think this is actually a good thing.  Why give water by default to people who might not even want it, only to pour it down the drain later and then have to USE more water to wash the glass?

The Server’s station is in a poor location just outside the kitchen exit.  Moreover, the placement of one of the dining room tables means that servers exiting the kitchen frequently must walk through the dining room just to get to the bar area instead of taking a direct route.  It wasn’t exactly distracting…I just notice things like this and wonder if they’ll change it.

There was NO MUSIC!  Yay!  Not anything coming from any speakers, and thankfully nothing live.  And the acoustics of the dining room were fabulous.  We could actually hear each other without having to shout.  We could hear that there were other people there, but not what they were saying.  This is what a dining atmosphere should be!

I had a direct view of the Server’s station and noted that they were tallying up checks manually with notepads and calculators.  I understand that they’re just getting started, but hope that they’ll invest in a menu/point-of-sale system that will automate that task for them.  It will likely save them money by minimizing human error.

All in all, we enjoyed the atmosphere and the food very much.  I am eager to return and try more of the menu.  It is great to see this place alive again!  The recent closure of the North Country Club left a void in the Keeseville Dining Scene (if such a thing exists).  I just hope that the people who are coming to see what all the fuss is about continue to come.  I think this place deserves it.

50 Years Old And Still Relevant

Amanda and I have been watching “Bewitched”.  Today we watched season 4, episode 12; that season’s Thanksgiving episode.  Thanks to Aunt Clara’s bumbling; Samantha, Darrin, Tabitha, Aunt Clara, and Gladys Kravitz are all transported to 1600s New England where, ironically, Darrin is accused of being a witch.  What follows is Samantha’s plea to the court in support of his innocence.  Strip away the “thou”s and the “thy”s and you may see, as do I, that we haven’t changed very much in the 50 years since this aired.

“First, I wouldst congratulate Master Phineas. He hath shown us a way out of difficulties that all can follow. 

Art thou clumsy? ‘Tis not thine own fault. Cry “witch!”

Art thou forgetful? Blame not thyself. Cry “witch!”

Whatever thy failings, take not the fault upon thyself. ‘Tis more a comfort to place it on another. And how do we decide who is the witch? ‘Tis simple. Again, Master Phineas hath shown us the way.

Doth someone speak differently from thee? A sign of witchery.

Doth he show different mannerisms? Witchery, of course. 

And should we not find differences in speech and manner to support a charge of witchery, be of good cheer: there are other differences. 

What of he who looketh different? What of she whose name hath a different sound? If one examineth one’s neighbours closely he will find differences enough so that no one is safe from the charge of witchery. But is that what we seek in this New World? Methinks not. 

The hope of this world lieth in our acceptance of all differences and a recognition of our common humanity.”