Saturday, September 30, 2006

Africa: Day 84 (Coming Home Soon.)

Well, it seems almost strange to be saying this after so long, but Guess What? We're coming home! *doing my little happy dance*. I'm not sure what I look forward to most, but on my top list of "things I want to do when I get home" are:

  • Get served a medium-well USDA steak, complete with baked potato, butter, a salad with no olives, and RANCH DRESSING. (They have no salad dressings in muslim countries... yeah.. NONE, though oil and vinegar are readily available.)
  • Use the bathroom without having to carry my own toilet paper around in my pocket like a freakin' idiot.
  • Enjoy a nice cup of american coffee! (I wonder if anyone ever cleaned the coffee pot at home before I left?)
  • Go to a bar and have a shot of Southern Comfort... Just because I can!
  • Drink alcohol that wasn't prepared in sweatsocks... No really.. I'll explain later. One word for ya: Bocha! Just ask Gregg and Mike what two glasses of that stuff will do to ya. I got pictures! Lol
  • Wake up to the sounds of birds for a change, instead of jackhammers dueling at dawn!
  • Drive... (I can't wait to see my jeep again.)

There are hundreds more things I can think of, but I want to take a minute to write down our flight schedule if anyone needs it. Here it is.

  • Depart Tripoli, Libya on flight BA 899 on 10/9 at 1500 (9:00AM US)
    Arrive in London at 1740 (1140 AM Us)
    Depart London, England on flight BA 183 on 10/9 at 2000 (3:00 PM US)
    Arrive in New York at 2200 ( 10:00 PM Eastern Standard Time)
    (Sleep in the floor at the airport until morning.)
  • Depart JFK on American Airlines Flight 4706 on 10/10 at 8:20 AM
    Arrive in Raleigh at 10:10 Am.

There ya go. I'll update with more "real" content later. Right now I have to hurry up and do nothing, like I've been doing for about three weeks.

See you all soon. I can't wait to be home!

To Africa: Day 78 (Ramadan Day 2)

Hello again world. I thought it past time that I revelled you with something interesting from Africa. Since I find myself unable to do so, you'll simply have to bear with the real story. Lol. Today, September 24th, 2006 is my 78th day in Africa, somewhere beyond day 90 for April, and the second day of Ramadan. For those of you who might think you know what Ramadan is like, such as me before I came to Libya, I'll use this time to dutifully dispel you of your misgivings and errances of rumor.

Ramadan is actually a month in the arabic calendar, not the arabic word for "fasting" which is what most people often think it means in english. I forget the Arabic word for fasting, but that's not important at the moment. One little fact about Ramadan that makes it different each year is the fact that it moves slowly backwards down the greco-roman calendar each year. Every year, Ramadan is 13 days earlier than the year before. While 20 years ago, Ramadan was a winter holiday, this year makes it a summer holiday, though it's actually closer to early Autumn here now. The temperature has dropped out of the hundreds and averages about 95 degrees at this time of the year. Three months ago, we couldn't stand that. By now we have pretty much acclimated fully. It's going to be miserable to go home and get used to 50 degree nights when we've become accustomed to wearing jeans and long sleeve shirts in the dead of summer.

During the month of Ramadan, the libyan people practice fasting, which in case you didn't know, means they abstain from all forms of personal pleasure during the daylight hours. This means no one eats, drinks, smokes, has intimate relations, or does much of anythinng considered "fun" from sunrise to sunset each day. Again, this is particularly difficult at this time of year because Ramadan falls during summer. Instead of 8 hours of sunlight, as in winter months, they have 14 hours of sunlight right now during the day. So, you can imagine that going to work is quite a miserable experience when you can't eat or drink the entire day and most of the people work outside in some manner or another.

Ideally speaking, the celebration of Ramadan is a time when Muslims are supposed to try to be "more" muslim than at other times of the year. There is a community focus on being friendly, understanding, compassionate, and polite towards others. Individually, the month celebration is supposed to be a time when you strive to be closer to god, much like our Christian beliefs centered around easter and christmas. Now, for those of you who think that midnight Mass celebrations are inconvenient events during the christian holidays, I suggest you to be happy that you don't have to go to church 5 times every day this month. Nadir, a young man we have befriended who acts as our personal driver and taxi, wakes up in the morning during Ramadan, wolfs down what ever breakfast can be made at 4 Am, goes to the Mosque at 5 AM for prayer, then goes off to work. However, he also has to go to church at 1 PM, 5 PM, 7:15, and 9 PM every day. This is what muslims do EVERY day... but the traditions are especially encouraged during Ramadan.

Now, let me tell you how it REALLY is during Ramadan. After experiencing it for only two days, I can tell you that it's nothing like you would imagine. The libyan people are a VERY VERY lazy people comared to the rush-rush-rush lifestyles we have in the United States. It took me months to understand that I just can not possibly get the amount of work out of three libyans that I can one american in any given day. They are NOT going to rush, not going to work late, and not going to really care what that means to your deadlines, or their own deadlines for that matter. Culturally, they are on slow-motion and you can't change that. So, forget the american concept of getting up and rushing to work in the morning to get things done. They begin their days much more congenially. Often, a trip to work might mean taking a cab across town and stopping once or maybe even twice for a coffee or tea with someone you know. Time is spent outside, leaning against the building, eating fruit and talking amongts each other, waving to passing people they know, and making slow progress towards their eventual goal of getting started on work. Usually, when they DO arrive to work, they repeat this process. Most every business office in this country has their own coffee bar on every floor of every office. This is how ingrained this practice is to them.

Now, during Ramadan, none of that. None. Getting in a cab this morning to go to work was akin to stepping into a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome car scene. The phrase "Two Men Enter, One Man Leave" kept running through my head as angry, tired, thirsty drivers bumped and nudged for dominance on the cramped dirty city streets, all the while trying to dodge citizens who they honk angrily at and make gestures that even I can't figure out (and I know most all of 'em). They go to work, can't drink, can't eat, etc. In general, tempers run hot and anger flares. Overall, the general custom is that they slow down their lives even more just to compensate. You can forget seeing a construction worker RUSH to do ANYTHING. It's almost as if they are communally trying to conserve energy.

With no food, no water, no smoking, and generally speaking No Fun of any kind, they have absolutely nothing to look forward to during the work day.

Being an American here means you are pretty much completely out of resources. While the women are home each day, the entire day is spent working to prepare for the HUGE meal they are going to prepare that night. You can pretty much consider each night equivalent to an American Thanksgiving dinner. Families bring other families over for dinner and have huge meals, followed by hours and hours of talking and spending time together. (By the way, if you are here on Ramadan, you can fully expect to be invited to dinner at someone's home. This is something that most certainly do NOT decline during this time of year. That is their way of opening up to you and trying to share their culture with you and a declination of the offer is pretty much a slap in the face. They won't understand a polite "no" the way you intend it. Additionally, when you DO get invited it is customary for you to bring a dish, again very similar to Thanksgiving dinner at home. )

What all of this means is two things. 1.) Every store in the COUNTRY is closed most all day. They are tired, grumpy, and really don't want to deal with customers. Additionally, they are not a capitalist economy so they're not going to be open just to earn that extra dollar or two. 2.) When they DO finally open at night, usually after 9 PM or so, there isn't anytihng left. Keep in mind that there are approximatel 36 million people in Libya (I think that's right). Of those 36 million, 70% of the country lives IN TRIPOLI! That's like squeezing all of California, Texas, and Washington D.C, into downtown Manhattan, New York. When dark finally comes, the food comes out and then they leave again to go shopping for the next day.

However, nighttime here is another story altogether. I left for dinner last night at 7:10 PM to go to the Corinthia, correctly assuming that since it cater's to european customers, then it will have open restaurants. When we walked out onto the road, there was no one. I don't mean it was kinda empty... I mean not a living soul for as far as the eye could see. We luckily got a cab within a minute or two. During the ride to the restaurant we passed Green Square. Green Square is almost one half mile of open gardens and streets where people are ALWAYS TEEMING in the streets. You usually can't see anything more than 200 feet away from you through the throngs of people. Last night, you would have thought you were standing in a city that has just been evacuated due a nuclear holocaust. There was NO ONE to be seen. Millions of people and NO one is one the streets.

Where were they? Where do you THINK they were? They were sitting at home waiting for the "official" sunset at 7:20 PM so they could eat for the first time in 14 hours. Dinner will last them an hour or so, after which they will usually go to church one more time that evening around 9 PM. Only then do the stores open up and the people come out. And when they come out, the city transforms from desert-city-nowhere to Las Vegas casinos.... They're everywhere. Entire families meet up on the grasses throughout the city and talk in groups. Children are eveywhere at midnight, running up and down the streets, cars are bumper to bumper again. It's like the whole country performs a 12-hour shift and goes into night-time-mode. Most people won't even come home to go to bed until around 2 or 3 AM in the morning.

So, THAT in a nutshell is Ramadan. Hopefully when Chip Bradly gets here on Tuesday with my new camera I will be able to take some pictures of the city to send back to all of you.

So, now that you all know what we're up to, how about someone write me from home! Shak, Sassenach, Culligan, Marisa, someone! Oh yeah, did gas really drop to less than two dollars a gallon? That's awesome! I can't WAIT to get back in my jeep again.

Monday, September 25, 2006

CLICK HERE TO LEAVE A MESSAGE FOR TOMMY AND APRIL

Well, we're both in Africa now, and if you're one of our family, friends, or anyone else who wants to leave a message on here, you can do so by leaving a comment on this message. Just click the "here" button below and it will take you to a page where you can post a message. If you're a blog member, of course you can make your own posts. I just put this here to make it simple for some of the others to communicate. If you want to READ the comments, click HERE.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Africa: Day 71 (Update on Doc, and Google Stuff)

Well, we're at 71 days in-country and I'm still alive. I wanted to take a minute and share some new with you guys that might not have heard yet, and to share some stuff from Libya. The internet connection here is getting slower and slower each day, so uploading pictures is not even a possibility at this point. We're bringing hundreds and hundreds of new users onto the same internet connection and the speed decreases with each building we bring online. Unfortunately, I don't have the contract to upgrade their level of service, so they'll have to handle that on their own. There is only one internet option in this country and it's government owned.

I'll give you an idea of how lucky you have it at home. At my home in Greenville, I have a 10 megagit connection to the internet. That's BLAZINGLY fast even for US standards. For that service, I pay approximately $43.00 per month. Now I have a dynamic IP connection, so I'm not paying for static IP service, but if I was it would only bring my bill to around $60.00 per month. Now, in Libya, one of the companies we have here HAS purchased a private Static IP address, which means they don't have to share their internet with all the people in the local area surrounding them. Their speed is only 512 KB( or one-half a megabit). So, my personal internet at home is 20 times faster than the fastest commercial leased line available in this country. Those of you at home who have the cheapest DSL packages available might be paying $19.95 for this service if you have it. Over here, that company pays $20,000 per month LYD (that's fifteen-thousand US Dollars a month for their internet connection.) Now you see why no one has internet here. There's no competition in a dictatorial market... the government says there is only one company that can offer service, so that's it. You have no other option.

Since I can't easily share photos from here at this time, I thought I'd share some more interesting information. I have uploaded a google earth map of where we are and where we've been since I got here. If this proves to be interesting to you, I'll update it often and share it with you. To open this file, you're going to need google earth. If you haven't already tried it out at home I'll be surprised. It's a neat program from Google that allows you to view satellite imagery of any location on earth. So first, go to http://earth.google.com and download the Free version of Google Earth. Its very very easy to use and you don't need to pay for anything. It's fairly small and won't occupy a lot of your hard drive space.

If you've already done that, you can right click on the link below, choose "Save Target As" (depending on your browser) and save this file to your computer. It's a very very small file, that will only take about 1 second to download. From there, you should be able to double-click the file and it will open up my list of locations in your Google Earth program. You'll have to wait a second for the satellite imagery to download, so play with the zoom features and see how detailed you can get. It's really neat.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FILE
(for those of you who know what you're doing, the file is located at http://carolinaregion.com/mysites.kmz )

Well, that's about it for the news from Libya.

The other news I have is from Doc. I spoke to him a few days ago. I'm in Libya and he's in Samarra, near Iraq. How strange to think of both of us on such different parts of the globe at the same time. I'm just not used to it yet I suppose. Anyway, he's doing fine. He's going to be there for over a year at least, but exactly how long is a mystery still at this time, and will likely remain so until the last moment. He's a little sad I think that he's not heard from the gang as much as he had hoped, although you know he'll never admit as much openly. Anyway, I have his address and I'll post it below this message. His mission this time is fairly public and more political than covert, so he won't mind if I post his address here for you I don't think. Just in case he does, be sure to write it down in case I need to remove it later.

He has spoken to some local iraqis who have hooked up an internet connection at his room, so he has intermittent internet access, but I can imagine that the connection speed is going to be slow. My suggestion would be to send him messages and a few pictures, but don't send anything too BIG all in the same email or it will take him hours to download.

He's setting up a netzero voip account so he'll be able to call us back in the states a little more often and I'll post more about that when I know more. For now, here's what I have. His mailing address is:

SFC Clayton D. Holliday
HHC 2/505 PIR, 3 BDE, 82d ABN DIV
FOB Brassfield-Mora
APO AE 09393

You'll need all four lines of the address to make sure he gets it, so make sure you get it all.

The only other information you might need is his email, if you don't already have it. This is something I'm going to remove after a few days, so save it now if you don't already have it. I don't want search-engine programs grabbing his email off the page and spamming him, which happens a lot. His email address is cdholliday42@yahoo.com .

That's about all for now. I miss you and live you all and Clayton does too. I know we (both) want to see you all again soon.

PS: Sassenach, it's about time to start a gift-box when I get back. You in?

Love,

ME

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The weekend buffet.

Chef Comeau

Like most of our weekends, this one started out with lots and lots of music! My traditional habit is to get up early in the moring, which I failed miserably on this weekend, and cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is the one way that I usually have to get some "alone time." Basically, I get up in the morning, bogart the stereo speakers from the digital projector for my iPod, and take them in the kitchen where I pretty much jam out all day as loud as the speakers can play.

I completely bombed on getting up in time for breakfast, but I did manage to get going in time for lunch. The highlight, however, was dinner. Today's menu was southern-fried chicken in my secret breading, Chris' vegetable stir-fry, garlic butter farfalle, and a garden fresh salad.

Chef Tommy

Our Prep Station

Stir-Fry Ingredients

Deep Thoughts (Not Sponsored by Jack Handy)

What is my life amounting to right now?
What do I WANT in my life right now?
Where do I want to be in ten years?

These are the thoughts that won't let me go ever since that dream I had. (See earlier post if you're curious.) I lie awake this morning in bed from 6 AM until almost noon, thinking to myself, arguing to myself, and trying to reason out the things that were flowing through my mind. The dream itself was completely nonsense and doesnt bear repeating here. What DOES bear repeating are the questions that run throughout my head all day lately. To make matters worse, trying to find a moment of peace in which to write in this country is driving me crazy. There are five of us sharing a four bedroom apartment with one communal living room, kitchen, patio, and two bathrooms. At any given time, two to three people are watching television, which makes peace and quiet in the living room or dining room out of the question. The rest of the team are either in their rooms or out here on the patio, where I like to write. It's the only place here where we can smoke, so there is almost always at least one of us here at any given time, and we all know that if I'm writing then I'm usually sitting somewhere that I can smoke, else I go crazy. Last night, I stayted up until 3:30 in the morning just to get uninterrupted silence in which to think and relax without the sounds of humanity. Those of you who know me are well aware how I get when I begin feeling "confined" for too long. I need my space, my time to think, to unwind in precious silence without the sound of another living soul to disturb my thoughts. Today, I have spent almost 8 hours trying to write these two posts. Between cooking lunch, cleaning the kitchen, prep-cooking dinner, cleaning some more, being social, cleaning up behind others, and the myriad of other things that occupy my time in this place, getting free time in which to relax is extremely hard to do. Even worse, it seems I can't write when others are around. One song, one conversation, one stray thought can completely blow my focus for the whole strain of thoughts that I want to write. God, when I think about it, I feel like a struggling author with no book! I try to find peace to write, but don't really have anything worth saying most of the time. ( take this post as exhibit A in the defense for that statement.)

The good part of being surrounded all the time by others is that I stay going, stay motivated, stay focused on one thing or another. The bad side of it is that I get no time to NOT be going, to enjoy my down time. I'm going to stop this train of thoughts because I feel like I'm writing in a pointless circle. Let's see if I can begin to maybe detail some of the thoughts I had in mind when I started this post.

What do I want?

In short, I have no idea. I know that I'm not happy a lot of the time lately. I'm not quite self-aware enough yet to put my finger on the cause of it, but I'm slowly making strides into possibly figuring it out. I've spent the last 11 years of my life busting my *@% to get "somewhere" in life. Along that journey, I think I made projections of what that "somewhere" would entail. I don't want you to think that I'm driven by money. I'm not money-hungry, greedy, or anything like that, but I am smart enough to know that many of the conviences I dreamed about require the monetary ability to achieve them. Thus, if I want to "succeed" then I have to have the money to get there. Some of my goals are things like a reliable vehicle that I'm comfortable with and enjoy. I want the credit to buy my first house without signing over my life for the next 30 years. I want the freedom to pursue my career happiness without the necessity of some ignorant individual placed over me in a position to hamper that progress; simply put, I want the freedom to ensure or deny my own success without the impediment of others.

Now, I'll pause and address those I've mentioned thus far. I'm 29 years old. I make twice what I've ever made before, so I can't really complain about the money factor. Even better is the fact that its dependable salary income, not the sales commissions I'm used to from the past. Those can quickly dry up in a bad economy. So in addition to the extra money, I'm financially stable and in a position to forecast my future. I drive a newer model Jeep that I've wanted ever since my ex got the LAST one I had. Its not brand new, but close enough for me that I'm happy with it. My credit has finally pulled out of the gutter and is looking good right now. I can get approved for a home on my own with no help and that's a plus AND I'm pretty much at the highest position that I can be with my current company, so I have only a CEO to answer to, which is how I like to operate. I hate working for middle-management-idiots. So, basically I'm an adult. There are few vestiges of adolescence remaining in my life with the exception of my spirit, which I refuse to bring inline with the expectations of suburbia. I work hard and I like to play even harder and I hate to do it alone, so I do it with as many friends as I can find when the opportunity presents itself.

Now, what's wrong with all of that? Nothing I guess. Most people would consider themselves lucky to have my life at this point. Even a year ago, i would have happily traded my soul for a shot at a better life and now I am semi-firmly rooted in the beginnings of one that can carry me down the road to retirement and happiness. Here's the rub; You ready for this? Cause it's a dumb one. I've peaked. It's true. I wake up and think how I'm gonna get this project done, how I'm gonna plan the next one, how we can perfect the implementation and scheduling, how to tweak the logistics for better efficiency, and a hundred other things. However, the truth is, I've peaked. Unless my CEO were to die tomorrow and leave everything to me in a final senile moment of self-deprecation, then I've pretty much hit the top.

What can I change? Well, the money isn't a problem. It will go up over time and even if it didn't, I have a resume and a portfolio now that should assure me some interesting job interviews if I ever needed one. I've got plenty of companies back in NC that have offered me jobs that I could start pretty much any time I chose to. So, I've got options, which is always a good position to be in. What I don't have is a life. Now comes the part where some of you will say "see, money isn't everything.. and you have to have priorities aside from work..." Yeah I know. Save it. I'm not looking for platitudes, but solutions. What I don't have right now is a close family life. I can finally afford to go spend time with my family from time to time but don't have the time to do it. Literally. It's not like I can't GO when I'm home, it's that I'm in Africa! For the forseeable future, this is what I see myself being pushed in. If I'm so good, then I should be able to find a way to do this in the United States where I can travel from time to time but also spend time at home with my family and my friends. I need that time as part of my "happiness." That's one of the things that I'm adding to my freshly-remodeled view of success.

How can I accomplish this? I'm not sure aside from the possibility of opening my own business and running my own show. I have a dependable team that would follow me anywhere in the world, as they've already proven through their actions. I have enough people impressed with our colllective skills that I can get funding for the organization and can be up and going within a year, above the red in two, and into seven figures in three. So, what's next? What do I do? Why am I even having this conversation with myself?

Am I happy in my current job? Yes, for the most part. There are a few significant issues that need to be resolved before I will agree to further pursue this avenue with my current contract-holder. One of those is travel. I'm tired of traveling for three months at a time with no end in sight. Everyone who thinks they know what's going on says 'oh, you'll be over there a month, MAYBE six weeks, and then you'll be home" when I know damned well that the job can't be done in less than 4 months, no matter HOW you slice it. One month on, one month off would be acceptable for me at this point in life. I've met over a hundred contractors in this country who come here from other countries and none of them stay longer than three weeks at the longest. If you look at my current projections for right now, I'll be here at least another month, on top of the 9 weeks I've been here already this trip. Then, when I return home I'm supposed to pick my next project to work with. There's only one right now that appeals to me at this point, maybe two depending on how the second one pans out. I can't go into the logistical problems I'm having without stepping over some fairly distinct lines of professionalism, but suffice it to say that I'm not going to be dumped in a third world country again with enough supplies to finish only half the project, enough tools for two men to work when I need twenty, and no spending budget, no vehicle, no decent accomodations, etc. Some things just aren't worth the money.

Then, I find out through the grapevine that my CEO is less than impressed with my attitude lately... imagine that. Wow! Amazing! I'm expected to... nope.. nevermind. I'm not turning this into one of "those" posts.

Ok, back to what I want from my life.

I want to pack my girlfriend in the truck and drive to the beach at 4 on a Thursday afternoon just to catch my daughter's ball game. I want to go down to the river on a Saturday morning and spend half the day on the river enjoying the peace and quiet. I want to take my beautiful date to dinner at a nice place, enjoy some nice italian cuisine, catch an evening of jazz at some quaint little bistro, and follow that with a walk on the waterfront just because we can. I want to be stimulated with intelligent and thought provoking conversation. I want to have mildly amuzing arguments among friends about politics, religion, and what the latest character in a novel represents from the author's point of view. I want to cook barbeque in my back yard on my porch while my kids and the neighbor's children play tag in the yard. I want to sit quietly in my study and read Virgil and Dante and to have someone with a like mind to discuss them with. I want to go to a football game. I dont even like football, but I want to go for the sake of going, to be "part" of the experience. I want stimulation in all it's forms; mental, physical, emotional, sociological, physiological, and all the rest. I want to "live" like few people ever get to do. I want great moments that will remain with me forever to be conversational pieces. I want to retire from something amongst friends who have done the same. I want to sit around the golf course ( Yes I know I need to learn to play first) and discuss the newest investment plan that's hit the market. I want to invest in the stock market. I want to travel to Egypt and ride down the nile in a riverboat to Cairo where I will rent a camel just for the hell of it and take a guided tour of the pyramids. I want the relationships that hollywood writes movies about. I want to be loved so hard that I can't breathe through it. I want to do inappropriate things in even more inappropriate places, just to say I did. I want to take my family to the zoo. I want to take my Mom and daughter to New England during the spring fishing season and stay in a bed and breakfast for the weekend. I want to drive to Montana JUST because I can and I want to stay in a house in God's country and ride horses for a week each year while I live out my adolescent visions of wanting the life of a cowboy. I want to teach my girlfriend to shoot a pistol and how to quick-load a 30/30 Winchester long-rifle while in the saddle.

All of this is on top of the emotinal life I want for myself. I want, no, I NEED stimulation and excitement back in my life. I live in an emotional place that's unlike anything I've ever known. Sometimes I feel myself just shutting down, small parts of my psyche just atrophy and die from lack of use, to fall away into the ether and to be replaced by nothing, slowly rebuilding my internal self into this machination of tied-together nothings that just flow through life in a husk that slightly resembles me from the outside, but upon close examination provides no more substance than the smoke that flows from a burning candle.

Honestly, I can't decide sometimes if I'm dying from lack of exposure to anything remotely like what I want in life, or if I'm actually about to explode from bottled-up frustrations. I used to have my best friend's to vent this to, but circumstances and life in general seem to swirl us away from each other and I'm not strong enough to hold everything together by myself. I haven't seen one of them in about three months and most likely won't see them for another year. Another of them is so busy with their music career that he hardly has time to breathe. Yet another was taken from me by family and circumstances that I don't match up against. I haven't laid eyes on her in one year, eight months, and 28 days. That's how close we were. I know she used to read this blog, but I'm pretty sure she's firmly seated in another life now, most likely forever taken from me, and so busy being mom, wife, student, working woman, family supporter, and a hundred other things that I just don't fit any more into her life. Still others are there for me if I need them, but few of them understand me like those three do, one of them in particular.

I guess age and life are working against me in this too. People grow up, and to some that means leaving friends behind in lieu of other pursuits. It never meant that for me. I make friends for a reason, for a quality in them that improves my own life, which is why I give them up with great reluctance. Losing them devalues my own life as well as creating a hole where they used to be. Friends in life are like snow-flake jigsaw puzzle pieces. There's my analagy for friends. Tom Hank had his line about life and chocolates. Well, there's mine for you. Snow flakes are unique, each one differing in a hundred different ways from others. Your life is the puzzle. Never in your life is the puzzle complete, but I'd say that around my mid twenties was the most complete mine had ever been. No matter how many friends you ever gain to replace lost ones, they can never fit in the same place in the puzzle as the ones who are gone. It's especially true when they are those close-to-center pieces, the integral ones you need to hold the fabric together. Eventually, you have holes near the center of your life's puzzle, which weakens the fabric of your entire life. Each piece removed from the center makes the entire structure slightly weaker. The addition of new friends never quite fit in the places vacated by the old ones, so they have to go out at the edge. This stretches the puzzle in new ways, adding more to one side than to the other. Some pieces tug on the pattern stronger than others. All of these things make up your life in ways too complex to put into words. Anyway, I didn't intend this to be a diatribe on the mystery of the snow-flake theory or a whining rant about my life, but it seems that a lot of them turn out like that lately. I'm going to take a break for a few minutes and come back to this with a fresh perspective.

One of those reflective moments (Dreams)

Morning all. I'm having one of those moments where I just need to write, to put things on to paper, or to at least get them out of my head. The process of putting down words is somewhat therapeutic for me. Even if no one reads them, when I am allowed to release my frustrations in a controlled environment like this, I feel much better having them out of my head and put down somewhere where I can analyze them.

I dreamed last night. Like so many other dreams of late, this one resonated something I can't quite put into words easily, though I will try anyway for the sake of my sanity. Keith, an old friend of mine from the school days was a teacher at a school of some sort. I don't know why he was there, but for some reason he was. He had an office that he shared with two other teachers. Somehow throughout the dream he got hurt, hit on the head. I remember looking for him frantically to make sure he was ok but no one else seemed concerned. I looked in his office and beside his industrial brown desk was his briefcase, an old worn black leather portfolio style like many professors carry. Seeing his portfolio lying there beside his desk was ominous. I'm not sure why, but for some reason I knew he had been hurt, attacked or something akin to that. Neither his co-workers nor my friends seemed to realize the importance of it, so I searched him out. No one seemed to care that he was hurt. For some reason, only I cared and I had to make sure he was ok. Find him. Take care of him. These were my astral perogatives. The places I searched were vague, non-memorable. I remember in the dream that I searched for hours and finally found him huddled on the floor behind that same desk, a bloody gash on his head where he had been struck by some blunt instrument. Again, the "how's" and "why's" seemed unimportant to the dream, as did the searching and the details. Only the fact that he was hurt and that I found him stood out to me as memorable. I helped him stumble to my car. I was parked outside of the building, a building I've never been inside or seen, some inner-city school or college in a town like Boston must be. I remember it was overcast and rainy, cold for that time of year. The ground was cold and the grass was fading to a soggy brown, as if it had been raining for weeks and nature had given up on this spot of ground and was in the process of decomposing and returning it to the earth.

Then I was home. It wasn't my home. Well, actually it was my home but it was a place I had never seen before. The lighting was that industrial brown-white that you see in hovel-style apartments in movies on television, that kind of light that signifies, all by itself that you are living at less than your dreams. Successful people have white light. Victims and the destitute are always shown in that sort of offworldly brown light that shouldn't even be a color on the spectrum, as if thirty years of nicotine had smothered the bulbs and given them that suburban amber cast that signifies dirt, poverty, and a life full of unrealized dreams.

I never saw the house, not all of it. I got Keith inside and laid down on the couch. I don't remember doing this, only that it was done. He was safe and cared for and he would be ok. Then I was in my closet, a large walk-in foyer style closet that I remember being off the main hallway in the apartment. No one actually has those. I notice that now. No one has a large L-shaped walkin coat closet, but that's what it was.

Scott Maktos was there from high school. I'm not sure what this signified either. I've never had a dream that included him before. Scottt was a friend of mine in school, but he was the typical funny-guy that got others in trouble along with himself. Why he would be included in this makes no sense to me. He was there with me, following me in to my closet. He wanted to borrow a shirt. I don't know why, but that was the purpose of his arrival in my closet. Neither how he got there, nor why are apparent to me, but that's the truth of it. Doc was there too, standing back in the "L" of the closet. Doc and I were discussing shirts; what shirt was appropriate depending on what kind of date Scott was going on. Polos, T's, button-down's, and others were all there, but for some reason I wanted him to wear this bright canary yellow polo I had. I don't remember if he ever wore it or not, but it seemed important that he wear that one. I think the dream actually had a resolution to this part, but it has faded in the hours since I woke.

Throughout the entire dream was another undertone. For some reason, my personal-life was ambiguous to me. I couldn't tell you if I was dating, single, married, divorced, or what. What stands out to me now is how many things were vague, while how many other things were sharply detiled. Amy Poole was there. Amy was the first girl I was ever in-love with, once I was old enough to know what truly being "in love" meant and what it signified. We dated for three months, from February 14th 1992 until May 16th, 1992. The point of that is only to explain the strange signifigance of her in particular being in my dream. I'm sure it means something, but I don't yet know what.

Sometime in the beginning of the dream, as I was looking for Keith, she appeared. I can't remember all the details, which is why I'm frantically racing the clock to put them down on here before they escape me, as dreams often do. We were in an elevator, somewhere in the school, during my search and the doors opened to some floor or other. She stepped directly out of my last memory of her into my dream, as if she had been transported there directly from my mind's impression of what she would be like today. She was older, aged about like me, so I would guess she was 30. Her hair was the same sun-golden blonde that she carried back in my younger days. I don't remember her face aging in my dream but I remember her eyes and voice were older. Her eyes carried the look of experiences in life that don't exist in the expressions of a high-school or college-aged woman.

The whole point of her appearance in the dream seemed to be bedding me. I remember talking to her as she accompanied me on my search for my injured friend. We talked of what we were doing and where our lives were. She never talked about her life but I know about it for some reason. I don't remember the actual conversation but I remember the result, if you know what I mean. Anyway, throughout this was the underlying theme of her trying to get me into her bed. Actually, it seemed to be that she wanted to get me into her bed, not get her into my bed. I don't know if there is a sub-conscious signifigance to that differentiation, but it was one that I just "knew" in my dream. Again, those of you who know I'm dating, please remember that this was a dream, not some sort of twisted male fantasy. Anyway, I know that in my dream, I was not myself. I don't know if, in this dream, I was someone that my mind "thinks" I am, or if it were some strange way of projecting what my dream-self "wanted" to be, but I know that my reactions weren't typical to me. It's like I was reading a book. In my mind, the responses I made to come-ons, the way I talked, even the way I carried myself and dressed weren't at all reflective of me in the real world. I was successful, self-assured but not cocky, and well dressed, but not in my normal-sense of well dressed. I was wearing blue jeans of a style similar to boot-cut, but not quite. I had a button down shirt on but can't remember the color, covered by a sport coat, dark blue in color of an expensive cut. My shoes were some sort of italian black loafer. Now, anyone who knows me knows quite well that few parts of this accurately portray my style. Ok, basically the blue jeans represent the only things in that list that I do own in real life. All in all, it seemed like I was watching a character from a book who was trying to portray me, but who did a better job of it than I do mysef. Now that I say it like that, it seems quite disconcerting. How could he be "me" better than I am? That's a thought for a whole new day!

Anyway, Amy and this pseudo-me were dancing around each other in some high-level sexual banter that seemed to insinuate without ever outright stating the obvious. And then, to make this whole scenario that much worse, I woke up at some point in the elevator conversation to reality, sans any conclusion. So, now in addition to being strangely wierded-out, I'm left hanging on all the important aspects of the dream. Why was Scott there? Scott represented the kid in school who was super-smart but who would rather play jokes and skip class than apply himself. A born clepto-maniac, he was the high school's local supply for everything from cigarettes to pot, pills, etc. We were friends through the band, but not the kind to hand out at each other's house all weekend and party together. So what in the hell was he doing there?

And Keith? Why Keith? He was one of my greatest friends growing up but we've grown apart over the years. It seems I can't keep in touch with anyone who doesn't have an internet connection jacked into their lives. Keith is the perfect example of modern middle-america. He works a job, day to day, and will continue to do so until either a retirement plan, pension, or social security kick in and keep him going through his older years. God, he was 35 when I was 16, so he must be going on 50 right now.

And finally, Amy. Any of the three of these would be interesting enough, but three people I haven't thought of in ten years, all coming together in my sub-conscious in the same night? Not once did I ever spend time with any two of those three at the same time. They were all completely different parts of my younger life and had absolutely nothing in common with each other.

The other thing that surprises me is the propensity for strange detail. I'm not an overly gifted orator, nor a writer, so my ability to explain the visual and auditory parts of the dream aren't worthy of an attempt in this forum. Suffice it to say that I can't remember what Amy and I talked about, yet I can distinctly remember the scent of Victoria Secret's "Warm Vanilla Sugar" scent mixed with overtones of crispness due to the extreme cold where we were. I remember how sharp the scents were and yet how diffuse the sunlight was in those brief outdoor moments. Not to mention that particular scent didn't exist when I new Amy in my younger days and it's only truly smelled wonderful on one woman I've ever known. So, now maybe you're all as confused as I am. Then again, maybe you're not really here due to the exceeding boredom that overtook you about paragraph two. Anyway, I didin't write this one for you. This one was just to get the ideas out of my head. However, they have sparked a lot of thoughts about the rest of my life that I'll discuss in my next post.

Till then. Adieu.

Monday, September 04, 2006

hello world!!

I know it seems that I have gotten married and fallen off the face of the earth, and well, really...I have...lol. not cause i'm married now, but i have had NO internet connection for a few weeks. DSM's IT dept are more Nazi-ish that even first south bank! But, i for sure dont want to lose my job over internet use. anyways, i don't have long to write as i have a 5yr old that doesnt like to be left upstairs alone. So, here's a brief update: Wedding was all i could have ever imagined it to be, the honeymoon at Disney was great! New job is going well and i have adjusted quite nicely to married life. I have seemed to fulfill all the "wife-ly" roles quite nicely. We have even added a new addition to our family, a 5 month old chocolate lab named Mattox. He's out dove hunting with his daddy today! Well...i8'm being summoned so i must sign off... Melissa---POST THE PICS OF MY WEDDING...I"M DYING to see them!!!

Africa: Day 54 ( A taste of Home)

Color Blind... nope... just blind.

I'm writing this the day after, but it deserves a post of its own. While trying to fine new locations to dine, Gregg's local friend suggested we visit El-Sakra. Gregg and April had been the night before and truly enjoyed the experience, so we all went to try out the cuisine. You'll have to accept my apologies for the quality of the photo, but I had to take it on my phone since our camera got stolen last week.

During dinner we were treated to a moment from home. Halfway through our main course, two local musicians took the stage. Fully expecting to be treated to a litany of local music, we were quite pleasantly surprised to hear the duet treat us to an hour of classical guitar. I love hearing Justin sit around and work on his classical music at home and it provided a really nice reminder of life in the states. No worries Justin. While these guys were good, very good, they still ceased to amaze us like your improvisational riffs do at home.

This is the blind guy who played lead for the evening.

During dinner, the band took a break and then returned to play some more. When they returned however, the guy on the right was gone and was instead replaced with a younger guy who looked like he was most likely Tunisian. Appearing in shorts and a T-Shirt he was an Arabic version of Ed. The guy on the left, by the way, is blind. He is a completely blind classical guitarist, which if you know anything about guitar at all, is very very difficult to master. After taking the stage, the guy on the right threw back his hair and started singing Whitesnake. Throughout the show, we were offered choice selections from Bryan Adams, Whitesnake, the Beatles, and others that I can't remember at the moment. Overall the evening was a resounding success.

I have to admit though, I have rarely been as homesick as I was last night. Sitting there listening to the band brought me back to the days when I would sit at On Cue and contentedly listen to Ed and Justin rock out for hours. Speaking of that, I have to mention something that's been on my mind. It came to my attention recently, after reading the newspaper article published about them, that they have split up. Apparently, something happened and Justin left the band. I don't know the details, but I'm sure I'll get them eventually. I hope, that if the two of you ever read this, that you will know one thing from me. I'd like you both to know that in addition to being some of my best friends in the world, that you will never sound as good apart as you did together.

Justin, you have a talent for the guitar that completely outstrips anyone I have ever met, young or old. Your talent can only be god-given. There is no way else that a man your age, or even thrice your age, should have the touch that you do with a guitar. You can make a guitar come alive in a way that makes me want to quit my job and become a musician on the spot.

Ed, you my dearest friend, are also an awesome guitarist. But more closely tied to "who" you are is your love for music. For you, the guitar is only the instrument that brings your music to melody. Your voice and your skill on the guitar make you an awesome man to hear. Your range of music knows no bounds. I've sat nights and heard you play eveything possible under the sun, touching on all spectrums of genres of music with equal skill and veracity, and you know I am always amazed again and again each time I get to hear you play.

To the both of you I say that I think the music world lost a great duo the day you two split up. Music was forever emboldened by the mix that your two talents brought to the stage. Ed, your vocals have a heart that pumps soul into your music that reveals your love for it to your audience. Justin, your accompaniment provides the complex heartbeat that allows the music to stop any audience anywhere and make them listen to you. Together, you two are a rock and roll front end with a classical supporting strain that I've never before seen or heard anywhere in music and I think that what you have together is something that neither of you will ever find quite so well in another partner.

Having said all that, you both know I am your biggest fans and that I'll be there to see you as always as soon as I return.

This night in Tripoli just reminded me how much I missed seeing you guys together and it hurts to know that I missed the last shows you did together because I was overseas. I hope to be home soon and to see ALL of my friends and family. Until then, take care and know that you are all missed.

Me.

Ok. I like fresh seafood as much as the next guy, but come on!

PS: While I was writing this, I was looking through the photos I meant to share and I found one that I had forgotten. THIS is why I don't order fish in this country. While trying to enjoy my steak, I had Gregg's dinner looking at me all night.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Photos of Independence (Addendum to Day 55 post)

These are some more of the photos April took around town. I thought she'd like you to see what we get to experience over here. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as she did driving all over town taking them. (lol).

This one was taken at the roundabout near Gurgash Street. The three locations you see lit up below, form left to right are the Bab Al Bahr Hotel, the Five Tower office complex, and the hotel Corinthia. The hotel is the tallest of the three.

This is another shot of the Hotel Corinthia. You have to really see this place in person to understand its immensity.
This is Green Square. We are standing about 200 feet to the left of where Gahaffi will be making his speech. It's after 11 PM and the downown area is as lively as ever. It's like this every night in Libya, minus the lighting of course. These people go out and hang out every night of the week.
I just took this to memorialize the event. How many times in our lives will we be able to be in a foreign country together to take pictures? Some people never get this chance, so I wanted her to be able to have a memory of the night in case we don't get the chance to do it again.
Looking down the street towards Nasser St from Green Square.

Lights Lights everywhere!

Ok, if ANYONE believes that's an angelic halo, I have news for you!

More of downtown Tripoli at night.

Stadium lights cover the square in preparation of Ghadaffi's speech on the 9th of September. You can best believe there will be hundreds of Libyan sharpshooters on the parapets of the castle. (Yet another reason to stay in and watch a movie!)
This is El-Shat street, directly in front of the El-Saraya restaurant. We took a final shot before heading back to the apartment to make coffee and smoke some Shisha!
I don't know if anyone has the heart to tell them, but these guys at the El-Khabir, one of the most notable hotels in Libya, have the wrong number displayed on their building. They replaced the room's balcony bulbs with green ones (Libya's national color) in a grand display of patriotism that can be seen for miles, however you can tell they wrote "38" instead of 37 with the lights. Maybe they're just optimists for next year's party?

Africa: Day 55 (Happy Independence Day) [Written 9/1]

Green Square Prepares for Independence day

Greetings to all of you back in the states, and now I must add "Salem" to those of you in Libya who view this blog. I compose this message while sitting on the kitchen patio at 12:15 in the morning on September 1st, 2006. Today is independence day for the Libyans. Today marks the 37th year since the Libyan revolution. Sitting here in the relative quiet, I can hear the noise of horns from passing cars, the occasional cheers of what must be festive crowds, and the thunderous resonance of fireworks being fired from the seaport docks. April and I just went to the window in Gregg's room to watch as they fired off quite an american barrage of lights, very similar to an American July 4th celebration. Due to our travel arrangements this year, I missed being able to spend July 4th with April or with my family, so it was nice to have a small piece of it here. Although, I feel it necessary again to thank Bridget for making sure I didn't have to spend American Independence day alone while I was there in the states this year. I just now remembered that. Her and I went to washington to watch them at the docks this year before I left.

Tripoli has been a myriad of lights and sounds these last 24 hours. The locals here have been extremely busy hanging lights from any surface that would support a strand here in the city. Greens chase reds, which follow yellows, pinks, and oranges, in an ever-changing display of wanton celebration. All decorum is lost here in this country. We americans would spend hours and hours perfecting the look of our lights, while the muslims here just spend that time finding more strings to hang whereever there is available space. The scene depicted to the left (or above depending on your resolution) shows a shot down Green Square last night. All the streets in this part of town have their arches of lights glimmering furiously as soon as the sun goes down. The added stadium lighting, provided as part of Gadaffi's speech, makes downtown Tripoli at midnight look like an american football stadium on Superbowl Sunday. It's amazing here how many people just spend time sitting in the public gardens together, enjoying the lights and the sounds of celebration.

Tripoli Castle lit up for the Celebration.

Tomorrow is officially their independence day, so unfortunately, we Americans will be sitting inside our apartment in the air conditioning, hiding from the celebrations. While quite lively, it is generally considered not good to be out and about if you are of the lighter-skin persuasion. While Libya has presented itself as a gracious and mothering country since we arrived, we have it on good authority that the overall population present for tomorrow's festivities are not necessarily the congenial, friendly muslims we have become used to. Celebrations like this present a human resources nightmare for a country like this. All the preparations and excitement is built from the enthusiasm of the locals, not from a nicely-scheduled public events coordinator. Hence, tomorrow will bring many hundreds of thousands of traveling muslims into a small location without adequate seating, water supply, food sources, and other accoutrements that we are familiar with in the United States. Of the 14 million people currently living in Libya, best census information available estimates that 70% of the country's population lives here in Tripoli, so it would be very akin to moving all of the residents of California into downtown Washington DC for the 4th of July, not exactly guaranteed to be a friendly atmosphere. However, overall I have to say that Libyan sentiment for Americans has thus far been completely friendly and welcoming. Not once have we been made to feel unwelcome or out-of-place.

Anyway, I hope all of you there in the states can enjoy a little piece of Libyan independence with us. I'm posting photos here at the end, so you can see what the town looks like. It should be noted that April took it upon herself to make sure there were proper photos of the event. When the rest of the team went home after dinner last night, she comandeered a cab and made him stop all over town so she could take photos of the lights and the attractions.

Africa: Day 47 (Into the light) (Written August 24th)

Hello world. It's been quite a few days since I've written anything of substance so I thought I'd take this time to try to compose a post to those of you back home. Quite honestly, it's been a bad couple of days, but hopefully we're on the upswing of all of this now. I have learned, however, that I can depend on no one but myself here in this country. Our local team and those assets we are able to acquaint ourselves with here are all the resources we have that we can depend on. Four weeks with no phone, six and a half weeks with no internet, and the larger part of two days with no power taught us that lesson. The latest of those events was just another example of "don't depend on ANYTHING that you don't know for yourself, firsthand." I think when I get home I'm going to write a "Idiots Guide to Surviving Libya." Anyway, I'm going to try to write this in a good humor so I'll take this moment to segway into something else in order to best preserve my mood.

I was reminded of home today. Thursday is the end of the workweek here in Libya, so we left work at 4 PM and came home to enjoy an early dinner. Gregg has been making nice with a local woman here that works at the British Airways office and she told him of a nice tourist beach we could visit, about 150 kilometers from here to the east. With that in mind we set off on a journey to dine and do some shopping for the beach. We decided to take a cab to Burja Fateh and visit the quaint second story cafe to enjoy a nice lasagna, which turned out to be more than we bargained for. I had been here before without really liking it too much. There is a wonderful restaurant on the 26th floor, the El Dawar, that specializes in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, but today's plan was for quick and cheap. After waiting the customary forty minutes for our food, Tim and April were served their dinners. Gregg and I waited another 30 minutes or so to get ours, and I'll admit that my patience was starting to wear thin. Doing anything at all in this climate for long will strain the limits of congeniality in most people, and everyone knows that my grasp on the more social virtues is tenuous at best sometimes. So, when the final two lasagnas arrived at our table, I was less than pleased to find that mine was cold in the center. Not cool, not unhot, but ice cold. Gregg's too was much the same. In an effort not to completely verbally disembowel the cook, I simply left the restaurant and walked downstairs. My dramatic exit was however interrupted when I noticed that I forgot my cigarettes on the table. Having had quite enough of that place for one day, I stalked back inside, pocketed my cigarettes, and stalked away once again trying my best to remain indignant and flashing the cook a "please say something so I can rip your face off and serve it on a plate" look.

It came to my attention two restaurants and two hours later that I apparently left the waitress in tears, which made me feel bad, though it was a slight sensation that soon passed. After all, I had my mind SET on lasagna and a coca-cola, only to have my hopes dashed yet again for the second time in a row by this restaurant. To continue, I grabbed a passing Taxi with Gregg and headed to the corinthia for Italian cuisine at the Venezia restaurant on the second floor mezzanine. Usually this place is comforting to me. The food isn't great by any means, but it's always reliably the same. Today, however, the lack of lasagna on the menu left me with only my usual as a preferred choice. It was with minimal enthusiasm that I ate my meal of tagaliatelle with prawns.

To condense this story, April and Tim met us at the restaurant and we made plans to stop by some dive shops I'd seen on a prior tour through town. We were in search of footwear suitable for Gregg to wear in the water when he goes to the beach tomorrow. Visiting various stores proved to be fruitless as no one carries anything here equivalent to an american size 13 shoe, which by the way is a 47 and a half in european standards.

While walking past the dive stores, I was assaulted intensely by a familiar scent from home, truly unusual in this locale. I looked to my left to find hidden within the concrete whitewashed recesses of this building, a tiny almost forgotten tackle store specializing in crab netting, Penn fishing reels, salt-water tackle and harpoon gear. It was such a surprise that I completely forgot to breathe for a moment. It never occurred to me until now to separate the smell of the sea from the smell of things that go IN the sea, but it was nonetheless profound for me. I was already standing on the sea, so it wasn't the salt water. Salt water here has a completely different scent and it is usually covered by the musky, thick scent of fish left to dry too long in the sun, mixed with the soup of burning diesel that floats through the air like dark honey dripped into a cup of light tea, visible to anyone who looks but soon dissapating into the merangue of sea scents. No, instead of the sea, I was distinctly trapped by the scent of twine. Salt water twine and crab netting have an old sea smell, only recognizable if you know anything about them. The twine was shiny and composed of a myriad of colors ranging from sea green to brilliant blues, pinks, and back again, all stacked hodge-podge in the corner wall of this store. What occurred to me immediately was that I was being stopped by the scents from home, not of the twine, but of the wood.

I remember from home seeing all the old spools of wire, twine, rope, netting, spline, weights, and all the other accessories that make up the parts of netting and fishing supplies. What I remembered immediately at that moment though was that the reels that these things are wound on are often years old. Fishermen and net-makers will use the same spools and reels for years as long as they suit their purpose. The same wooden spool of netting this year, might have been wound with different netting ten years ago. Any wood, cardboard, metal or anything else that get subejcts to intermittent salt water contact develops a certain "sea-scent." That's what attracted me. For just one moment in time I recaptured being in my early teens, standing on the ferry dock in Manns Harbor in a pair of voit tennis shoes, some non-name brand shorts, a t-shirt, and holding my Crossman 720 pellet rifle loosely at my right side while balancing on the pier jutting out into the sound, searching in desperation for one more beer or liquor bottle to shoot before my brother found it first. Sounds of the old diesel generators down at the seafood dock floated back to my ears while the scent of salt water and marsh entered my mind. I shant ever forget the unique smell of that place. The unusually high amount of flotsam accumulating at the docks and the presence of the pier that belonged to the long abandoned ferry system, provided a great roosting place for travel weary seagulls, pelicans, and other oceanic fowl. The large massing of these birds left behind a proportionally large amount of guano that mixed with the sea smells that permeated the area. Water washing in and out of half empty beer bottles and cheap remnants of Mad Dog 20/20 occluded the fresh-water marsh scents. All in all, it was a heartbeat of a moment that I paused there, lost in thought, but it was a lifetime of smiles and funny memories, for which I have been in desperate need as of late. So THERE is my story. For those of you who were hoping for a climax, or maybe a moral conclusion to today's events, I am sorry for letting you down. I have only the fond memory of salt-water and bird shit to brighten your day! I hope it will brighten yours as much as it did mine.