Darren Hoch

                       SpEcIaL tHaNkS


                  TABLE OF CONTENTS V.1.0
                                                        Planet Coffee
                                                       Barking Dawg
                                                    Kings and Nobles
Lord 459
* ornge county to san jose
* nashville to cincinnati
* dallas to san jose
* chicago to toronto
* nashville to los angeles
* chicago to newark

                                                             Just One
                             Tempting Treasures at Irresistible Prices
                                                    Asphalt Passage
                                         He was born on a Thursday

“...strength and speed are still based on
a set of rules. Because of that, they will
never be as strong or as fast as you can be.”

                                                         “What are you trying to say? I can dodge bullets?”

“No Neo, I am trying to tell you that when you are
ready, you won’t have to.”

- Morphius

                                                   Planet Coffee

           “Go grab the camera,” I said. “OK, OK, I’ll go get it,” she replied. We were both overwhelmed by what
   we saw. It was hard to believe that all we had to do was drive 30 minutes north of Los Angeles County on the
   Pacific Coast Highway. The day was overcast and somewhat damp. There was no rain though. The damp came
   from the hundreds of miles of majestic Pacific Ocean I stood over. To the left and right were the enormous bluffs
   that took the continual pounding of the waves I heard below me. I stood on these ancient rocks and cliffs that
   were here way before me and will be here long after I leave. The
   from sight below me. I wondered what it would be like to jump. Could I clear certain death and splash into the

             There was not another human in sight besides us. Just a couple miles south of us was one of the busiest
   and loudest cities in the world. There was nothing busy or loud about here. I felt as if I could spend the entire day
   sitting on the very uncomfortable rocks with my feet dangling over the cliff and my palms extended behind me
   holding my weight. I’d eventually have to sit up, shift my butt, wipe the little pebbles imprinted on my palms, and
   replant myself. We could sit and talk all day in the whirling winds and smell of saline, enjoying this little pocket
   of peace in God’s country.
            She came running back with the camera. Pictures could not capture what we saw that summer Saturday
   morning. There was so much to take in. The camera did not have a panoramic lens. I did not know how I would
   take the shot. How could I get a section of jagged cliffs, blue water, white crests, sandy beaches, and the green
   hills that rolled behind us? I have always considered myself a good amateur photographer. After eyeing the lens
   on multiple landscapes and twisting my body, I found the perfect shot.
            I got on my stomach. She knew what I was getting at. I was careful to get a good perspective of this
   beauty from the ground level. It was a picture that would be worth a thousand words. Many of those words will
   be printed in this book. With rocks, ocean, cliffs, waves, majesty, and peace, I managed to take a snapshot that
   included the abandoned Starbucks cup that someone had tossed on the ground.
            A thousand words. Planet Coffee. Only in a society wired on espresso, cell phones, and cybersex would I
   find a Grande Starbucks coffee cup lying on the side of a cliff miles from civilization. It was complete with lid
   and wrapped in the little brown “environmentally friendly” (as opposed to just about everything else man-made,
   that is not environmentally friendly) recycled, non-bleached paper haggy. This is used so I don’t burn my hands
   while trying to sip on the way to work to start yet another day of conquering the universe. And I am addicted.
            Disconnect. On the cliff in front of me stand two creations. One is God. One is man. Under no
   circumstances do they fit or match. I wonder at times like this, what exactly do I connect to? Can I see myself as
   part of the infinity of creation displayed in front of me? Do4I chug my four-dollar coffee I need every morning
   and toss the refuse over my shoulder? What do I believe in? Mountains? Espresso?
            The truth is that long before broadband, email, fax, and voicemail, we were connected. The people who
                                                                                                 There was not a
   choice. There were the mountains. There was an understanding that humans were simply a small part connected

to a very large infinity.
        For thousands of years, humans have been able to love and feel compassion for each other. This is the
essences of the human condition. This is the essence of connection above and beyond all possessions, awards,
promotions, and accomplishments. We still have the ability to love. We can do it as a missionary or as a CEO. It
is the only human expression of the divine love God feels for us, which is the only true and lasting happiness. To
be honest, I do not even know exactly what that definition implies. What I do know is that the faster I run to
connect to who knows what, the more disconnected I feel towards my fellow humans and the easier it is to toss
the cup on the ground. When I die, these waves will still be crashing upon this rocky cliff. My soul will be with
those I turned away to get a better job and a lower mortgage rate.
        Our need for love has never changed. Even in the City of Angeles 30 minutes below me are millionaire
superstars who hurt as bad as I do. With the automation of human identity shaped by more more more, I am
systematically degenerating my ability to connect to that which is the only important thing around me. And I
don’t even realize it. I am addicted to espresso.
        The following pages are an attempt for us all to connect. We have always had the ability to do it. It is part
of our infinity. These stories are about the places and times where I connected. I share them with you in hopes
that we can connect and remember why we are alive on this Planet Coffee.

                                                  Barking Dog

"Well then, obviously, you can pay for it on your own."
"...but wait, Mom, that is not what I meant."
"You should have thought twice before saying it."
"I am sorry. I am sorry!"
"Have a good night, son."
"Good night, mom."

         That was it. It was final. The doors were closed for good. It was the last episode. There was no retiring then
coming out of retirement. I was the Titanic. The pipe was tapped. I bit the hand that fed me. The cook called an 86.
If I were a saber-tooth tiger, I'd be extinct. The Eagle had landed.
         I made a mental note. It was a lesson that seemed to be the caboose of the train heading towards the real
world from college. It is not fruitful to parental relationship to discuss salaries and bonuses when they come
dangerously close to that of one's parent's. If one chooses to discuss such matters openly with a parent, do not
expect the parent to send financial aid for the seriously mounting bills of months of chiropractic visits to try to
correct an unforgiving pinched nerve in the lower back that does not want to heal.
         Then I thought to myself, "Wait a minute. She is right." I have always tried to pay my own way through my
life. It was a work ethic instilled in me by my father. I bought everything myself: two cars, beautiful drums, CDs,
video games, movies, books, chewing gum, baseball cards. I covered all these expenses growing up except food,
clothing, shelter, and health care. Gradually, over the years, I have picked up the remaining "free" expenses one by
one. Just a few moments ago, I assumed the last expense. It has been 25 years.
         I did not need help anymore. Darrn it, I have moved 1,000 miles away from home and have been doing well
ever since. I have awork ethic. It was something given to me by my father. A work ethic instilled in me by my
father? For some reason, one thing comes to mind: the Andersons’ barking dog.

        We were civil rivals, two countries with peaceful borders. We always would pass each other at the
Anderson driveway. Sometimes he got there first. Sometimes I got there first. Sometimes it was a close tie. We let
the Anderson's German shepherd be the judge of it. Whomever that huge 80 lb. dog would jump at from behind it's
steel cage would get the first toss. The toss of a newspaper that is.
        He worked for one and I worked for the other. We had state-of-the-art equipment. Both of our ten-speeds
had rear mounted dual metal baskets that were reminiscent of a saddle bag. For almost two years, he and I passed
each other in the early morning hours when the nip of winter made my nose numb and runny. I passed him at warm
spring dawn when birds could be heard, blooming flowers could be smelled, and the fresh morning breeze blew
against my chubby pre-pubescent frame. We passed each other when the rain rained, the snow snowed, and the
wind winded. It was a kindred spirit, a mutual respect for the grueling task of waking up before everybody else and
delivering most their first contact with the world around them.
        The life of a paper boy was thankless. There were no sick or vacation days. The paper came on Christmas,
Easter, and Thanksgiving. On that particular sunny morning in the dead of summer while all the other kids took
advantage of sleep, I found myself approaching the Andersons’. From my groggy eyes, I saw him through the
summer haze and buzz of mating insects. He too had his usual morning look of the same tattered paper boy clothes
and bed head.
        Our approach to the Andersons’ was routine. I was looking forward to the pleasant morning greeting of
"Hey, Darren, what's up?" We were both about equal distance from the driveway approaching in opposite
directions. It looked like this morning the Andersons’ dog would decide who threw the first paper. We both
entered into the dog's audible zone. Any second that grizzly beast of a canine would awake from a night's sleep
and ferociously start jumping around its 8-foot square cage. Rumor has it that the dog was so vicious that it would
attack anyone besides its owner and that it actually attacked one kid really good. For this deed (and, avoidance of
a lawsuit), the dog was sentenced to life behind a chain link box only to be opened for feeding.
        I entered well within the red zone. No bark. I waited another second and maintained my heading. Nothing.
I looked nervously at my approaching friend. He looked at me. Both of us were carrying a full payload. We were
both now able to see the cage. No ferocious canine was present. Maybe he was paroled. I had not planned for this
moment. I was 12 years old. I always expected that barking dog to tell us who goes first.
        We were now within ten feet of each other.. Our eyes met. My arms froze. I did not know where to turn.
He didn't either. Five feet. I lost control. Take evasive action. Three feet. Brace for impact.


        I looked up from underneath the frame of my bike. I was flat on my back and could already feel the sting
of pavement on my knees, hip, and palms. I could see the spokes of his front wheel spinning directly over my
head. The image of the sky looked like a moving picture through the spokes. I looked to my left and he was
standing over me, and asking if I was all right. How was he standing? Apparently he jumped ship before impact.
He was 16 years old. I guess you think a liitle quicker on your feet, or at least on a bike, at that age.
        He pulled his bike off of mine and then my bike off of my body. I lay on my back. It hurt. But I started to
giggle. He cracked a smile. I began to laugh. He started laughing. A few seconds later, my abdomen rocked with
uncontrollable laugh spasms as I thought about what just happened. Two guys at the crack of dawn shared 3 miles
of road on ten speeds. There was not a car in sight and would not be for another half-hour. Yet here on a wide-
open road on a beautiful summer day when I owned the morning, I collided head-on with him because a dog did
not bark.
        He gave me a hand up. I stood half bent over from the burn and dabs of blood on my raw palms and half
from the uncontrollable laughter. Luckily, our newspapers stayed secure in both saddlebags. A few had fallen out
and scattered on the road. We both picked up our respective ones. I surveyed the damage on my bike. Not a
scratch. I looked at his. Ouch. The entire sprocket assembly was caved in while his chain dangled helplessly on
the ground. Apparently, his bike turned to the side and I t-boned it right in the middle. After another go at laughs,
we decided that the fault was mutual. We still had a job to do and it was getting late. We reconfirmed that
everything was ok and we went our separate ways.
        The next morning passed as usual. I was a little sore from yesterday's accident. I approached the Anderson
house with extreme caution. I knew now that if that beast of a mammal did not start barking, I would just stop my
bike. Once again, I peddled through the morning haze and mating insects. I saw him from a distance. He was not
riding. He was running. Running with his bike that is. The bike was on his left side. He was grasping the
handlebars and running along side it. His bike's wounds were mortal. He needed a new sprocket assembly. All
because of the Andersons’ barking dog.

         Yet another mental note. Don't complain to parents at the age of 12 about how they don't give you
anything. Heck, it was hard to see back then. All the other kids could afford baseball cards and gum with their
allowances. When approaching my father about this financial issue, he said, "Well then, I guess you need a job."
         I already had a "job." Well, a few here and there. It was definitely not a steady income. If I wanted to
make any money, I had to wait for birthdays and holidays. Occasionally, I could get a contract here and there to
rake some leaves. I cornered the market though in the winters. Dad had a huge snow blower that resembled a light
artillery piece. I rented it from him for the price of the 2 gallons of gas it took to fill the machine.
         A real job though? I was 12-years-old. A job is what old people did all day. My responsibilities as a 12
year old were to play in the creek, ride bikes, light plastic army men on fire, and play football with my buddies.
One summer afternoon while my buddies were destroying things, the gracious regional newspaper manager was
in my living room discussing employment opportunities with my father and me.
         The thought made me sick to my stomach. I was too young to work. Wasn't there some law that said I
could not work and my dad would have to pay me money for doing things? My father asked the questions as I just
sat there and pouted the whole time. Why did I open my big mouth? I could live without baseball cards and gum.
       The requirements were grim. I was to work 7 days a week, delivering papers by 6:30 AM, in rain, in sleet,
in snow and on holidays. All I could think about is how I would lose my precious summer days when I could wake
up whenever and do whatever. I would have to go around on Thursday and Friday nights and actually collect
money from my customers. The newspaper could not pay me directly? Not only did I have to work, but I had to
work at getting paid!

"You will get paid twenty dollars a week."

        Okay, scratch everything I just said. Twenty dollars a week? Oh my goodness. That is a lot of gum, cards,
and candy. Not only could I buy packs of baseball cards, but I could go to a card shop and buy some of my favorite
players. That is a king's salary for a sixth grader. I could be the money bags of the neighborhood. Where do I sign
        After day 4, I hated every waking minute of my paper route. I did it for 3 very long years. I passed him in
the morning. He did it for 2 1/2 years and a few weeks after the Anderson incident, he retired. He had
unrecoverable damages to his bike. I picked up his route and worked for both companies. I delivered papers. I
made money. I bought things with my own money. I visited those baseball card shops and bought my Dwight
Goodens, Ricky Hendersons, Don Matinglys, and Roger Clemmens. The issue still remained the same. My friends
got their money for free. This bugged me.

         Mental Note: Dad knows best. Thirteen years later, I am young and living on my own. It is very easy for me
to be on my own socially, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and physically. I am able to do the things I want to
do and not be chained to my insecurities. I search for completeness and happiness in this somewhat twisted life I
live. I can manage myself. I am a survivalist. I have always been an independent person, outside of occasional
pleas for help with medical bills. It all started before a sickness called Multiple Sclerosis. It started with a barking


         For as long as I can remember, people have always butchered my
first and last names. The last name “Hoch” means “high” in German. The
proper American pronunciation of the name is “H-oak.” Just think of the
oak tree and put a “Huh” in front of it. For my entire life,though, it has
been pronounced like the noise made when one takes a deep breath,
constricts all the muscles in his or her throat, and attempts to clear all
bodily fluids from the upper nasal cavities. I have gotten to the point
where I can watch someone as they scroll through a list of names during a
roll-call of some type. He or she calls out each name in alphabetical order.
Right before mine, there is a pause and a double take. This is where I
shout out “Huh-oak!” This releases the tension. The person looks at me
and gives an “OK” nod. The only time I do not offer this info is when
someone calls at 6:35 PM on a weekday looking for Mr. Hock. No, he is
not here. Yes, we are satisfied with our phone service. No, I am not the
decision maker. No, I have no idea when he will be back.
         Even my first name is mispronounced. Well, not really. For some
reason, I am always known as Darrell among older populations. This is
even after I have been introduced as Darren. I can even sense the
hesitation when someone I just met looks at me. He or she will look at me
and say “Hey Darr…Darrell.” My middle name is Scott. The most normal
of my three names, and it gets stuck in the middle.

        I needed nails. I reached around back and into my nail pouch. There was nothing but sawdust. I was out of
8p nails. Crouched low on an almost-finished roof, I looked around for any peers. There were 4 people up on the
roof with me. We were all exhausted. At 7 AM that morning, we stood on a concrete slab. Almost 8 hours later,
we stood on a roof trying to nail down the last few pieces of plywood so other groups could shingle the house the
next day.
        I looked at my fellow volunteers. As usual, all of their “Hello my name is Bob” nametags had fallen off
from sweat or excessive bodily twisting. It is difficult to remember names at a Habitat for Humanity build. It is
even worse at the end of the day when all the tags have fallen off!
        I am an independent. This means I just show up and start hammering on a house. Most houses are
sponsored by one two four organizations. Most people on a house know each other. I never know anybody except
those other independents like me. There is a brief introduction at 7 AM on a Saturday morning, an hour usually
reserved for trying to catch up on lost sleep. After the intros, it is right off to intense, well planned, and organized
construction. Names are forgotten. I needed nails.
        I have learned a name-calling technique though. In situations like the one I was currently in, I concentrate
for a moment and try to recall at least the first syllable of a name I possibly heard during the quick and groggy
intros. The technique is simple. Look in the general location of a bunch of people. Start calling out names close to
the syllable and see who responds. Be careful though. Take time. I usually call out 1 name and pause for 2
seconds. I needed nails.

       “Bob.” I paused.
       “Bill.” I paused.
       “Brian.” I paused
       No responses.
       “Yes Darrell.”                                      9
       Close enough.
       “Do you have any 8p roofing nails?”
       “Sure, here you go.”
        From down below, in sweatpants, a T-shirt, Home Depot canvas nail bag hanging from her waist, work
gloves, and a Habitat- borrowed hammer in hand, Wilma shouted up to me “Hey Darrell, you crazy boy, do you
need nails or water or {omething?” Wilma had been bouncing all over the work site doing whatever she could to
help. She had waited over a year for her house and had put in almost 400 of the 500 required volunteer hours of
building other houses. It was her turn. She got her house. She smiled at me. I seemed to be her goofy comic relief.
“No thanks, I’m fine.”
        With a new supply of nails, I pulled out my hammer and finished pounding the last few nails into the roof.
We finished up the roof at 5 PM. The day’s building was over. I could see Wilma from the ground smiling up at us
as we framed a 2 bedroom house in 9 hours. We all take turns getting down off the roof. I turned around to Bill,
Bob, Brian, or Bruce. He shook my hand and said, “Darrell, it was definitely a pleasure to meet you.”
        I walked over to the tent that had served lunch a few hours earlier to see if I could scrounge some leftovers.
One of the benefits of a Habitat build is the food. There is no need to eat the day before or after a Habitat build.
Any volunteer is fed almost 3 filling meals during the course of a day and there are usually leftovers. I threw my
“Donate to the single guy fund” line, and it scored me a bag of pimento and cheese sandwiches.

        I have always struggled with the concept of compassion. What does it mean to have innocent and selfless
compassion for others? I have been building houses for Habitat for almost 5 years, and I have just started to
understand what it means to have this true compassion. I definitely know it is not because of the cute Vanderbilt
University {orority girls that show up to volunteer. I never get put with them. I am almost always put with the
Retired Men’s Auxiliary Guild or the Association of Concrete and Masonry Workers.
        I believe that I have been created and made human by God. I am a perfect creation in Him. I know He
resides in my heart. My mission in life is to try to live the way Christ has taught me. It is through His human
example that I can do everything I can to experience and be surrounded by love.
        The problem is that I have grown up in surroundings that tell me I need a diet of values. The values
available for me to digest are sex, violent media, praise for twisted ideologies, and a constant pressure to
accumulate wealth. I end up worshipping things of the world, of the flesh. Every {ingle one of these things does
nothing to help me feel genuine compassion for others. Indeed, I feel it does the reverse and makes me an
egocentric and selfish person. I find myself spending my time doing what is best for me and what benefits me the
        I have worked and prayed hard over the years to try to keep my focus on God as my {ource for everything
that makes me who I am. There have been brief moments in my life when I have felt a light. It is a warmth of the
{oul that goes beyond that of any comprehension. It is the closest thing to divine love that I know of. These
moments of light occur when, for that short amount of time, I can take my focus off myself and put it on others.
I’ve come to a realization that nothing of this world matters. I can’t take any of it once I leave this place. No words
can express this feeling of intense understanding. I see or hear about people arguing, fighting, yelling at store
associates, complaining about slow service, shooting each other over a drug deal, and I suddenly feel an intense
warmth of understanding. Compassion. I want to hold them. I want to hug them.
        I can’t cast judgment on these people; rather I can try to feel their pain and their struggles. It feeds that
warmth of soul, further confirming my faith in God. I want to reach out and help these people. I want to pray for
them. I feel what I understand to be compassion. This is the same type of compassion that Christ felt for us. It is
incredible until tomorrow. Then I slip into worrying about bills, jobs, paychecks, and what is going to happen on
the next episode of the X-Files.

        After I pull away from the worksite with my pimento and cheese sandwiches, {omething starts to click. If
myself, Wilma, and Bob, Brian, Bruce, or Bill is created in and by God, we all have that inherent light, the sense
of peace that passes all. We all have the ability to reach that level of human understanding. It is in us and given to
us by God. Yet I have the freedom to choose, and most of the choices available are the farthest from this inherent
good. They are a diet of junk food values. This diet causes people to not even see their light, or even feel it. They
do not know it exists. They think they can never have the light. They think they are or the world is evil. Existence
is nothing but a twisted version of pain and survival.        10
         I then start to wonder “what if?” What if every single person with this inherent light had the capability to
feel compassion? What if we all reached in and tapped the light? There would be a unified understanding. There
would be unified compassion. Pain, suffering, war, poverty, and murder could disappear and there would be peace.
We would care about each other first. Love before anything we can purchase, aquire, rent, lease, steal, or inherit.
        I then come out of the happy Barney world and back to reality. I let out a desperate chuckle as I know this
will never happen in my lifetime. This makes me feel a deep sorrow as I see the potential of what could be for all
of us.
        Enter Habitat for Humanity. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, waitresses, cute sorority girls, delivery men,
producers, and contractors, to name a few, come out to build more than a house. They come to build a home. There
is no social status, race, ethnicity, or gender. There is simply a bunch of wood, concrete, and a woman named
Wilma who is getting a house for the first time. There is a home built by volunteers who for 8 hours put aside all
differences. There are no politics, R-rated movies, heroin-laden music, or online shops trying to sell spatulas.
Differences are not even discussed. Names are not even discussed and often forgotten. I have spent many a day
with people like Bob, Bill, Brian, or Bruce, working side by side, holding ladders and talking. Nails are passed out
and sweat starts to pour. Bob, Bill, Brian, or Bruce could be a CEO of some important company that makes a
crucial widget that helps me with the challenges of everyday life. It does not matter. Bruce wants to build a house
for Wilma. I want to build a house for Wilma. For a brief moment in time in this world, a group of people get
together and turn on their lights. We tap that inherent good that God has planted on our souls. After a day of
compassion and pimento and cheese sandwiches, I drive back to my other life wondering why we make it so hard.

         For some odd reason, I have always collected things. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had vast collections
of anything that would appeal to a child: Star Wars figures, Atari games, baseball cards, stamps, toy guns, plastic
army soldiers, Bristle Blocks, Garbage Pale Kids, goldfish (some still alive today, almost 12 years old), nice
smelling wood bark I collected off of trees in my backyard, and all the teeth that had fallen out of my mouth. I
kept those in a special box my grandmother gave me. They eventually all rotted.
         At an adult age, I still have this urge. Of course I now stay away from anything living (or dead). On the
road, I collect pottery. No wait, it is not pottery. The correct term is ceramics. One does not collect pottery. One
collects ceramic. There are antique ceramics and contemporary ceramics. This is what Dennis told me at an art
gallery on Rodeo Drive one day. Contemporary ceramic mugs. That is what I collect. Collecting mugs has
become a hobby. Hobbies are an essential part of travel. A hobby will give direction to many lonely nights in an
obscure city tucked away in America. I chose to collect ceramic mugs. Collecting is what I do well. These are
pieces of art. The mugs I collect are by local artists and I usually appreciate it if they come with some little piece
of literature about the artist.
         The local artist’s mug is unique. There is only one of it anywhere. Therefore, these mugs require special
handling. The special care makes one develop a bond, and it is easy to become attached to the mug. There are
colors. There are more colors. The colors seem to change as one sits early in the morning trying to wake up. The
smell of java from the mug is pungent, and the taste of toothpaste in the back of the mouth is trying to cover up a
night’s worth of sleep. A special attachment to a mug heightens the experience of the morning coffee or after-
dinner cappuccino.
         Many people get confused when they hear I collect mugs. The instantly think I am talking about some
manufactured mug. You know what I am talking about. A molded ceramic mug pushed out of a factory with
some silly corporate logo. I have not spent that many years in corporate America. Like most people my age, I do
have an extensive collection of silly corporate logo mugs. I might have 2 for every one of the 5 jobs I have had in
the last 4 years. There is no attachment to these. They were one of many identical ones. Their only purpose was to
transfer hot beverages from pot to mouth. Most were handed to me by a jolly human resources person welcoming
me on board or a suck-up salesman trying to make a sale.
         One can easily toss around a corporate logo mug. If it breaks, who cares? I will ask the salesman to make
another presentation. Logo mugs are many, identical, and easy to transport. Contemporary ceramic mugs are not
the easiest thing to transport. Extra special care and caution must be given to a mug when it is carried across
places other than a desk and an early morning mouth. I have purchased my mungs from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale
to Atlanta to Los Angeles.
         A traumatic experience occurred one evening a few months ago that caused me to never try to travel with
a mug. As holy as a mug can be, it is also a mug and it can break. I was in Ohio somewhere at some hotel. Tired
and weary from travel, I opened my folding suitcase. I had forgotten that I had packed a unique mug in my bag.
As I lifted the unzipped bag, the mug flew out and smashed on the floor. That stunk. I looked at the mug. I knew
there would never be another mug like that, ever. All I would have now would be that little piece of literature
about the artist who made the mug I would never drink from again. It didn’t hurt for long. I hadn’t cared for it for
any significant period of time. No attachments. They say if you are going to lose a mug, that losing it in the
beginning is the easiest. One does not get too attached. Or maybe that was war they were talking about?

        I took a sip of pungent office coffee from a mug a friend brought back from the hills of North Carolina. It
was a new mug. I was not yet attached. I was looking forward to meeting its acquaintance. I looked at the colors.
They seemed to change. The mug was very detailed and I knew we would become friends.
        I fired up my computer and checked my email. It was Monday. I was about to leave the office for a nice
road trip down to Birmingham, Alabama. It would be a departure from busy airports. I was also not teaching that
week. I was off platform, and going to enjoy a week from the other side, a student. I would listen and learn. There
would be no shaving or ironing, just anonymity in the back of a class, drinking from my silly corporate logo mug
I found in the breakroom.                                   12

A yell came from across the office. It was a yell I was not used to hearing.

“Hey, Darren, get on an airplane and go to DC.” She said.
“His wife is expecting any day now. Go take over his class.”
“Uhhhh, okay I’ll just get on a plane.”
“Hurry, go. You might get a flight in 45 minutes.”

         Quite the departure from “Hey, hon, can you run and get me some milk?” In a matter of minutes, I found
myself driving to the airport in my rental car that I’d have to exchange for an airplane. I was going to have to teach
and be up in front of students instead of sitting and daydreaming in the back of a class. I’d have to shave and iron. I
had no airline ticket, hotel, or transportation. I was just going to Washington, DC. There was a 9:45 AM flight I
had to catch. It was 9:17 and I still had to return the car. In 20 minutes, my entire work schedule was smashed like
the mug all over the floor of a hotel somewhere in Ohio.
         I flew into the rental car station. I was pouting. It is the pouting I usually reserve for crazy Fridays when I
am trying to get home from a business trip. Oh jeez. I hadn't even left yet! I grabbed the rental contract from the
driver’s side floor. I noted the gas and mileage on the vehicle. I grabbed my laptop bag. I grabbed my banana that
was still waiting to be peeled.
         One foot came out the door. As I turned to hoist myself out of the car, I glanced in the passenger’s seat. The
mug looked at me and said, “You are not going to leave me here. Are you?” In the rush of going to the airport, I’d
somehow carried my new mug into the car. The car had to be returned. I had to travel. The mug had to come with
me. Flashbacks of Ohio. I looked at my mug, then at my watch and at my laptop bag. No room. No time. I would
have to travel with the mug. I would have to carry it in my hand while I caught a plane to Washington DC.
         I plopped the mug on the closest ticket counter of an airline that looked like it would have a flight to
Washington DC in 20 minutes. The normal pleading with the ticket agent about a good seat was replaced by
pleading for her to baby-sit my mug for the week. She declined. She did not understand. She obviously was not
attached to anything.
         I approached the security line. On the x-ray machine I placed a carry-on suitcase, a laptop bag, and a mug.
Oh man! I forgot about the end of the x-ray machine. The belt would end and then there would be a bunch of
rollers for the mug to flop over. After that, another bag would be heading toward it. The mug would run the risk of
being crushed. I quickly moved.
         Just my luck that there was a typical metal detector idiot in front of me. This is the type of person who had
5 people in front of him or her in line waiting to walk through. This was plenty of time to get prepared by having
anything metal out of pockets and in hand to put in a basket. Nope. At the last second, he started fidgeting and
grabbing at every clothing orifice on his body. He emptied out $47.51 of change, a wallet, keys, jewelry, cell
phone, random paper scraps, and then, reached around to see if there was anything in his back pockets. He walked
through the detector and beeped. He looked confused. I started to panic. He backed up and walked through again. It
beeped...again. Oh jeez. It must have been his cast-iron belt buckle. My mug was about be squished like Batman
and Robin at the end of every one of their episodes by some diabolical villain. Would I turn the corner of the
detector and find pieces?
         The idiot finally made it through. I dashed across, crossing my fingers for no beep. For the first time in a
long time, the detector did not beep. I looked over at the belt. My suitcase had already rolled, and my laptop had
reached the end of the belt. Then there was the mug. There was a suitcase behind it. I thought to myself “What was
I thinking? Have I not learned my lesson already? Think Ohio.” I was determined not to lose another mug. There
would be not another one like it. I would have to go to the hills of North Carolina to get one that was somewhat
close to a match. It was bad enough that I brought the mug with me, but if it broke, I would have to drink from a
silly corporate logo mug.
          In a climactic slow-motion scene out of a bad action movie, I dove for the mug while screaming
“NOOOOOOO!” in the equally low-pitched slow-motion voice. My hands extended as I lounged forward with a
look of anxious anticipation. Save the mug. Save the mug. Dammit, Darren. I’d have to sink to collecting organic
items that would rot in containers my Grandmother gave me.
         Okay, this scene had no climax. The slow motion part was all in my head. I had plenty of time to grab the
mug. It just all sounded neat.                                13

        The mug was saved. I proceeded to the gate with laptop bag in one hand and mug in the other. Oh yeah, I
accidentally left the mug at an airport snack bar in Cincinnati, waiting for a connecting flight. Luckily, I was almost
getting on another plane when I noticed and had to run back. It was sitting there once again, staring at me and
asking, “Are you going to leave me on the condiment bar?” No, of course not. I enjoyed the bond and became
attached to my new mug in Washington DC. No silly corporate logos. Cincinnati though? Another possibly lost
mug? It must be an Ohio thing.

                                              Kings and Nobles

         I turned up the volume on my walkman just a few more notches.
The heavy metal pumped into my teen ears and seemed to drown out the
noises of my peers. I adjusted the cheap foam headset and slouched back.
My head hung just below the school bus seat. I was still short and stubby...
a late bloomer that was paying the miserable price of standing 5 inches
shorter than the bullies waiting to eat me alive like a piece of meat thrown
in the lion’s den.
         A school bus was highly territorial, much like a medieval kingdom.
In the back sat those in power. They were the ones who came to the throne
due to a sport they played, a party they threw, money their dad gave them,
good adolescent looks, or sheer freakiness. The kings of the bus sat in the
two midget seats by the back fire escape. These seats were the crown room.
The kings talked amongst themselves, making derogatory comments towards anything and everything that they
hadn't quite experienced in life. War stories were exchanged about a "hot chick I would screw" or a party in which
"you had to be there." There was a curve to these stories much like the ones your algebra teacher had to give
because algebra just seemed to be foreign. "Screwing a girl" usually means that the individual kissed her or
possibly felt and groped. A wild and raging party in which someone got "shit-faced" usually meant 1 case bought
by and older brother, and 15 people.
         In the middle of the bus sat the regular kids. These were the ones that were not noble enough to sit with the
mighty. They were wealthy land owners. They had demonstrated at some point that they have social skills or some
value. These nobles did not sit with the kings, but occasionally would hang in their social circles. During a bus
ride, conversations would sometimes cross over from nobles and kings. When it came down to it, they were two
separate classes that respected each other.
         As with any medieval social order, there were the commoners. The commoners sat at the front of the bus.
They had no rights. They did not own land or have any value in the eyes of nobles or kings. Most were shy young
boys who had not yet developed the emotional maturity or masturbatory technique of the nobles and kings. They
did not have any "chicks to screw" because their frail bodies could not yet understand the concept of sexuality. Any
talk of "chicks to screw" was surfacy and adapted from conversations overheard from the kings and nobles. The
commoners were a target for exploitation by the higher powers, sometimes for the pure entertainment factor. Being
a commoner was simply humiliating.
         Commoners did what they could to survive, to avoid the humiliation from a noble or a king. Existence was
day by day. Each day that passed without a challenge or a reminder about social class was a victory for a
         I sat hoping and praying that I would not get bullied on the 45-minute bus ride home from my all-boys
private school. A walkman seemed to be the best coping mechanism. One could drown out reality with what
seemed to be the only friend on the long, nerve-racking ride. We all sat at the front of the bus, nervous and full of
anxiety. We heard the nobles and kings laughing in the back. We braced ourselves. Each song that passed on the
walkman was 5 more minutes towards home.
         It started with hearing my name yelled and then intimidating laughs and jeers. Following that came a
barrage of spitballs or paper or chewing gum. These arched over my seat and landed in my lap. Then it came, a
whack on the back of my head that knocked my headphones off to one side. My heart sank and started to race. I
knew the next 20 minutes would move slower than a lifetime. I wanted to start crying. I couldn't. That would just
make it worse. A commoner has to learn to create a poker face. This could possibly lessen the pain and duration of
the humility I was about to receive.
         I turned around to face the kings who needed entertainment at my expense. Then like clockwork, out came
the jeers and pushing around. I was reminded of everything that was ever wrong with my pre-pubescent body. I
was told of how I would never get laid. After the verbal 15assault came either the humiliation of being forced to sing
or play "football".
         "Football" was the epitome of fun for kings and nobles. It was quite simple. I was the commoner and also
the football. I had to run at full speed and touch the back of the bus while all the nobles beat the living snot out of
me. The game was not over until a successful run in which I touched the red emergency handle on the back of the
bus fire escape door. Even if the commoner did touch the back of the bus and "win," it did not gain the respect of
the king or noble. Tomorrow would be another day.
        The bus pulled up to my stop. I exited amidst verbal jeers and more comments. Occasionally, more things
would be thrown. The tears were finally able to start pouring as my back was to the nobles and kings. I exited the
bus to be met by rolled down windows and one last jeer or two. Then the roar of the diesel powered bus and sneers
could not be heard anymore. The kings and nobles would go on and talk about women and sex, forgetting how they
just destroyed the heart, soul, and mind of a thirteen-year-old boy. I walked sobbing to myself. I made it through
another day. There was a little comfort knowing that I had about 24 hours before the next meeting with the kings
and nobles.

         I marched down the terminal half-groggy from jet lag and the 2 hour time difference. It was almost
midnight on a Friday night and I had just finished 3 of 4 weeks of traveling and teaching. Commuting to and from
California had taken a toll on my will to travel, and all I could think about was my warm house and a girlfriend
who has patiently waited 2 weeks to see me.
         Nashville International Airport is sparse past 11:30 PM. The flight from Dallas is usually the last flight in
for the night. I carried my laptop on one shoulder and headed down to the baggage claim. My mind was focused on
the 2 days at home I had before it was time to pack up and go out again.
         I walked over to carousel #9. There were hardly any people in the airport. Stores were dark with security
bars drawn and graveyard shift cleaning crews could be heard vacuuming and pushing around large yellow trash
cans on wheels.
         The buzzer sounded, and I put my foot up on the little steel lip on top of the moving planks. As I stood, to
my left walked three teenage boys. There was one walking in the middle and 2 walking a few steps behind. The
one in the middle wore a long black trench coat and sunglasses (at midnight and inside). He was tall and skinny,
not much more than 130 lbs with long brown hair and a shaved around the sides. His two henchmen walked next to
him. Both had on the typical "statement against the norm" clothes. The ugly Atari T-shirt and brown corduroys and
a pair of bowling shoes or some type of footwear.
         They walked with confidence. Each one had a shitty grin s as they seemed to intentionally draw attention to
themselves. They walked quickly and made almost arrogant eye contact with everyone around them. Clearly they
were misfits. Clearly they were commoners. They wanted people to know they were commoners. They wanted
people to know they were outcasts. They wanted people to know that they were a force to be reckoned with.
         Just 1 month earlier, the trench coat mafia walked into a high school and blew away 13 of their peers. It was
a rebellion. The commoners finally acted against the nobles and kings. They would not stand for the "football"
games on bus rides or getting picked last in gym class sports. They stood their ground in a destructive and eternally
consequential way. For the first time, nobles and kings were scared. They thought twice about humiliating a
commoner for fear that a commoner had signed them onto a hit list. Commoners around the country united.
Factions everywhere appeared. The symbol was the black trench coat. It was a symbol of solidarity. It was a
victory for all those who had ever been picked on or bullied. The commoner revolt was a success. In front of me
stood 3 leaders.
         I looked at the three commoners walking around Nashville International almost saying "We dare you to
pick on us." It made me sick to my stomach. My eyes started to well up. Luckily my bags came out on the carousel.
I grabbed them and quickly left the airport.
         I can't get that picture of those boys out of my mind. Being a commoner myself, it was easy to read right
through their artificial confidence and see that they were hurting inside. Thier confidence was based on fear. It was
a fear that was absolutely identical to the fear of their bullies. Fight fear with fear, and one gets violent.
Commoners did not need strength and a mature body. They just need guns.
         I could feel their pain of not being accepted at a time when acceptance is the most important thing in their
lives. It is hard to be accepted in a culture that twists sex, violence, and physical appearance into one category. I
understand why these 3 kids asserted their uniqueness and thrived on being outcasts. It is a reaction. It is a coping
strategy for someone who does not quite understand the big picture. Eventually, commoners will grow into their
bodies. Eventually, we will all mature and start worrying about things like bills and job promotions. But for now,
caring about what people think and acceptence is the number one priority for a king, noble or a commoner. We
adults sometimes forget what it was like to be fifteen.
         These are the most trying times for those boys. They are times when destructive outlets are everywhere, but
they have no emotional maturity to understand the consequences of the outlets. I thought about all the times that I
sat and cried because there was simply nothing better I could do about my situation. I thought about the hit-lists
and ways I could sucker punch the Kings and Nobles.
        Looking back as a mature man, it is easy to laugh and reflect on those times. At 25, I have been able to
understand what it means to have true self-confidence and learn to accept myself. I wish there were some way that
I could tell those boys that it would all come to pass. If they could just hold on for a few more years and start to
understand the feelings of true and healthy confidence.
        I was a commoner. I was an outcast. I was the one who got picked last in gym class. I was bullied, broken,
and bruised for the first 17 years of my life. A commoner does not ask to be a commoner. A commoner would do
anything to change status. A commoner would love to be a king. A commoner reacts in the only way he or she
knows how to react to survive. A commoner can't just "get over it." A commoner is just as human as a king or a

June 2000

        Manhattan Beach is perpetually sunny and 75 degrees. Two hours of sun a day was more than plenty to
develop a healthy brown tan. A healthy brown tan separates tourists from the locals. Even though I live in
Nashville, I had considered Los Angeles almost a second home for the summer. I had been alternating weeks to the
west coast teaching classes for Sun Microsystems. A local waitress at one of my favorite pubs on the beach told me
once that many tourists get sun stroke. They lie out in on the beautiful beaches just 15 minutes south of Los
Angeles for hours. The weather is so pleasant that they lose track of time, get beyond sunburnt, and their bodies go
into shock from all the exposure. Thanks to this piece of advice and a few trips this month to this quiet “"local"
beach, I would be sure not to have a stroke.

The short version of the story goes like this…

August 1999

I came into the Pizza Hut in downtown Brentwood, TN. I sat down at the table, reached in my pocket and threw 81
cents onto the table. I looked at her and said, “This is all the money I have left to my name.”
         I had not shaved in 5 days. It was Tennessee blazing hot that August afternoon. I wouldn’t know though. I
had been spending 10-hour days in a tiny cramped office on 12th Avenue South. My eyes were blinded by the
beautiful sunshine and blue skies that I had been missing for the last few months. I was dizzy from web sites,
contracts, projects, and any little morsel of work that could squeeze just a few dollars to get me to next month.
        Maybe next month our dreams would take off. The investors would call. The checks would come. Our
product would penetrate the fiercely competitive Internet. I would cash in. Make my millions. I would sell my
portion of the electronic booty. I could consult. Work when I want. I could be one of the few 24-year-old kids that
made in 8 months 10 times what their parents made in a lifetime.
        I walked into Pizza Hut knowing the game was up. The dreaming of grand designs and moving and shaking
over cups of java was done. Reality set in. I was broke. I was beyond broke. I had burned the Visa for the first time
in 1 ½ years, spent a savings account, and borrowed an embarrassing stipend from mom and dad. My friend offered
to pay for my lunch. I needed to save my 81 cents. It was the abyss.
         I was also broken. How naïve of me to think I could be a millionaire in 8 months! I was sold on the handful
of success stories in the papers about kids and doctors. There was never a mention of the thousands of people who
failed. That was reality. I was failing. I was not going to be on the cover of Fortune discussing clever and new
economy business strategies.

She looked at my 81 cents on the table and then at me.
“What happened to you?”

December 1998

         What is next, God? What a dumb thing to say in a prayer. I was on my spiritually rich 5-mile run through
the streets of Antioch, Tennessee in the winter of 1998. Running at dusk after a day of work was an outlet. It was
time to exercise my body and have God exercise my mind. I enjoyed the run. I enjoyed the sweat. I enjoyed the
endorphins that followed after a shower. Above all, I loved the clarity I achieved after a hard sprint to the finish
and then a 10-minute stretch.
         Things were going well across all fronts. I was becoming successful at a small but booming technical
company. I had a good salary, had a good savings account, and had not even carried my credit cards in my wallet.
I had got my foot in technology. Internet technology. I got in at the right time and right place. They trained me
well. They nurtured me. I was learning valuable skills that would propel me from the entry level.
         I had also reached a level of peace through meditation. Almost 1 hour of the early morning was spent in the
sanctuary at church. Almost every day for one year. It was quiet and peaceful. I sat in silence. Sometimes alone and
sometimes with a friend. I did not move. I sat straight up with my eyes closed or open and looked forward at the
altar, the glow of candles, and the cross. Sometimes I thought and sometimes my mind was silent. I even taught
myself how to play the grand piano that sat at the altar. I went into every day awake, alive, and alert. Things were
clear. There was a pocket of peace. It was God. It was right.

March 1999

        I was nervous. The resignation letter sat on my credenza behind my beautiful desk in my office with a
window and closing door. I was 24 and had an office. I had 3 employees reporting to me. Just a few months ago,
my boss handed me the tattered remains of a department. He knew I was hungry for the challenge. He pulled me
into his office one day and said, “Here you go. Build it.”
        I would not say that our department was booming. We were stable, though. We were stable for the first time
in a long time. There was a skeleton, and meat was staring to appear on the bones. I was about to abandon it all.
What was my boss going to think? He gave me an opportunity. He trusted me. He vouched for me. He spent
resources to see me develop and grow. Now I was about to leap.
        That is what it has been known as. The leap. There has been nothing like this since the California Gold
Rush. The Internet market was growing at record rates. The stock market was in 5 digits. Investors were naïve.
Anything with an “e” or an “i” preceding it was profitable. Web sites were popping up in cyberspace, selling
anything, going public, and making millions of dollars.
        At some point the movers and shakers behind all of this new economy had to take a leap. Think of two
places. In-between them lies an abyss. Literally, picture a desolate, dry, and arid place. Not fatal, but livable. This
is one’s life. For most people it is a happy and exciting place. Some people see it as misery when they compare it
to the other place. Walk out to the cliff and look across the haze. On the other side is paradise. For those who
chose to look the other place encapsulates all the things that resemble the word “Freedom.”
        The risk is the abyss that stands in-between the two points. It is quite a distance, but paradise could be
reached if one took the leap. In order to make the leap, one has to train. He or she has to be prepared to leave
everything behind. This includes family, friends, money, power, and most importantly, security. He or she has to be
prepared to fall into the abyss. He or she has to possibly be prepared to slowly climb back up to that arid place and
start over again.
        There needs to be a good bit of dreaming. Dreaming gives focus. Dreaming tells one why he or she should
take the leap. It enables one to dabble in and explore all the possibilities of the paradise on the other side. How will
I live? What will I do with my time? How will the product work? What will it do? How will it help others? What
kind of service will it bring? How can I shape the face of the new economy?
        There was no doubt in my mind. I asked God for the challenge. He handed it to me. I was going to do this. I
was going to do it for Him. This was a partnership. After the leap, I would use my success for nothing but
glorification of him. We had a deal. It was God. It was right.

Then there is the leap.

January 1999

         Months before the leap, I looked at the accounts receivable electronic ledger. How the heck could one off
our little clients from Mobile, AL, be billing out $250,000 a month! I was not assigned to this particular client.
They caught my interest when a fellow employee sent a department “Go Live” email. This meant that the client
was up and running on our e-commerce network. They were sending transactions over to the bank via the web.
Technology. Hip. Trendy.
         We all have access to the same database of client information in our department. As a point of curiosity, I
looked at a sample transaction file from this client. They were billing out thousands of dollars in Web design! They
had a Web site. I surfed and could not believe what I saw. This little business was selling boiler plate 2-page Web
sites and billing at $20 a month.
         The interface was simple and clean. A customer logged on to the Internet, clicked, chose some pictures and
colors. They typed some text into some templates and clicked Submit. Instant Web site! There was no need to
know how to design or create HTML. They pointed and clicked and that was it. They could go edit and change
anything anytime from anywhere. The base service was $20 a month. From there, the customer could opt for more
features and options. This eventually ended up being thousands of Web sites demanding custom work or $250,000
a month!
        At or around the same time, a good friend of mine was finishing up a master’s degree in computer science.
He had been doing network consulting for years. His clients had been asking for the last few months if he did web
sites. He didn't. All he did was networking. Finally, after enough turned-down business, he said “Yes, I do Web
        At or around that same time, a childhood friend of his was resurfacing in the area. He had been a salesman
of every sort. He had been all over the country dipping in and out of business and proving himself as accomplished
and experienced. He had an idea to sell Web sites. Some of his peers had been telling him about all the business
and success they had achieved. He wanted to do Web sites.
        Meanwhile, I was running at night in my enlightened and clear life asking God if there was any challenge,
thinking “How I could do Web sites?”

February 1999

        “We’re selling simple 3-page Web sites. Boiler Plate.”
        Boiler Plate. Sounds familiar.
        “The idea is to keep things simple. Less than 10% of businesses have a presence
        on the Web. Most of them do not even know how to start.”
        I started dreaming.
        “There are roughly 50 million official businesses in the United States. Think
        if you could capture just .5% market share at $30 a month.”
        I took a sip of my cup of potent Arabic java. I did the math in my head. Fifty
thousand websites at $30 a month. That was $150,000 a month. Divide that by a few
people and it equals much more than what I am making now. Freedom. Paradise. The
other side.
        “We start around here. We do cold calls. We have a bunch of templates set up.
We will find local investors to fund us. The business picks up. We attract attention. The
venture capitalists notice. We sell the company or enable outside investors. After that we
go public. There is the exit strategy.”
        The wheels started turning. Young, single and powerful. I could do a bunch of
good with all this. There is so much wealth in what I am doing and hardly any of it is
getting distributed. I could be an example. I could start a Foundation/Scholarship fund
for underprivileged kids. I could drop $1 million in investments at 10% and never have to work again. More trips to
Guatemala. Maybe my own business. Darren Hoch, CEO of Hip and Trendy Dot Com. Fortune magazine. Here
was the next challenge from God. This is what I had asked for.

“We need someone to be the Director of Development. I will look be the acting president and director of
technology. He is going to be director of sales. I am not asking you to quit your current job. It is up to you. If they
counter-offer, take it. Don’t be stupid. I can’t guarantee anything.”

Stupid. The Leap. It was God. It was right.

April 10 minutes

Date: April 5, 1999

Subject: Possible Web site design
Dear Webmaster,

I read about your company in the Nashville Business Journal. I would be interested in discussing a very large Web
site project. We want design, hosting, email, chat, e-commerce, and accounting integration. We have a large
budget and are looking for a 3-phase implementation plan.

Please respond and let us discuss some bids.

J. Duney

Date: April 5, 1999
Subject: RE: Possible web site design





How do I respond? We can’t do any of the stuff he is asking right now. I’ll email him back and just set up a
meeting. We’ll bluff the whole thing if we have to!


Date: April 5, 1999

Dear Darren,

Please disregard my previous message. It is obvious that as a Web master you do not know how to use email yet.
Please see below. I believe your message was meant to go to someone else. Learn how to use the reply function.

Please do not respond. I am not interested in doing business with you or your company. It appears that you have
some maturity issues to handle before I entrust your company with a $100,000 project.


J. Duney

And there went our first potential customer.

May 1999

       "Programmers are hard to come by. They are also expensive.This project is probably going to take 60 +
       hours. Most folks charge $100-$200 an hour." I was nervous.
       "I know a bunch of programmers who will do it for much cheaper. I have been keeping my eye on some
       folks, and I have already made contact with them. They have agreed to take on the project at a much
       more negotiable wage," he said.
       "Who are they?"
       "Undergrads from a few of my TA classes at school."
       "How much do they want?"
       "They thought the school wage for programmers would be fair, $15 an hour."
       I smiled. He smiled. He started to laugh. I joined in. We were going to build a $10,000 application for $700.

June 1999

        I took my eyes off the screen for just a few seconds. I had lit candles on my
desk in my bedroom. Enya was playing softly in the background. I got up from my
desk and went to get a drink of water. It was 8:30 PM on a Saturday night. I had
been working on our small, but functional, web design tool for 6 hours straight. I
was thinking and dreaming in HTML.
        I opened my window to get some fresh air and took a sip of my ice water.
The air was warm and thick for a Southern summer night. Just one year ago, I was
probably running from club to club with friends downtown enjoying the weather
and leisure days of Summer. The lightning bugs were out in full force. There was a
sound of kids in the yard next door. I looked out and saw them playing tag.
        The neighborhood kids had been over to my house a few times to borrow
my football. Occasionally I had gone out there and played catch with them or had
a quick game of street football. I went back to my life. That is exactly what this
was. My life. I had spent the last 2 months living and breathing the Site creator 2.0
online software project. This project was our ticket to paradise. I had taken the leap. I was floating over the abyss
as a 24-year-old at home on a Saturday night working my 60th hour of the week.
        I saw one of the kids come walking to my house to get the football. He came to the door and said, “Mister,
can we borrow the ball again?” It was hard getting used to be called that. Then again, I wonder what I would be
called when I was a millionaire dotcom tycoon.

“Mister, do you want to come play tag with us?”

       I looked at the clock. I looked at my computer. I examined my other social options. “Sure.” So went my
Saturday nights as a young and single man. In between exhilarating games reminding me of long past years, I
wondered if I was going to land on two feet. It was God. It was right. Maybe.

Late one night.

July 1999

       “Try now.” He was hacking away at the code.
       “OK, we can now get to the credit card web page to open.” I was qualtiy assurance agent #1.
       “No wait, it did not let me change my info.” He was quality assurance agent #2.
       “OK, hold on…try again.”
       “Yes, I can enter a credit card number now.”
       “Hold on a second, now I can’t select which Web site package I want,” I said getting frustrated as all three
       of us seemed to be in a triangle of test scenarios thatnwas clearly proving the theory of relativity.
       “OK, try one last time from the package selection screen.”
       “Nope, it never asked me for a credit card,” I said, starting to get really cranky.
       “Mine didn’t either,” he said starting to get cranky.

        We had burned all of our marketing money on our product that was now 6 days late coming to market. This
was not the best way to become a well-known entrepreneur. It was late and we were doing last-ditch hack quality
assurance. As soon as one bug was fixed in the code, another popped right back up. Nothing was getting
documented.                                                22
        It was also apparent that other companies were exploring what we had discovered. Over the previous 2
weeks, every single large dotcom also released a similar version of our online software. Theirs was up and running.
Ours wasn’t. Theres was free. Ours wasn’t. They had millions of users visit the their sites daily. We had 3 users
including my father. They had millions of dollars and months to spend on quality assurance. We had a couple of
bucks and a few hours.
         Starting a dotcom was not as glorious as it sounded. Boy, there was a lot of work. Focus. Tons of focus. I
never realized how much focus all of this was going to take. Anybody could dream up the next latest and greatest
product. Everyone has an opinion, a passion, and an overwhelming sense that their way will be the best way. It
goes beyond a typical holy war. We have all put everything on the line. We took the leap. We can't afford to not do
it right. We are going to state our point.
          After capturing just enough of dreamland, next was having to get it to the Web server. A few years ago, it
was just enough to get something online and register it with the search engines. If you register, they will come. Not
anymore. Not in a market of millions and a commitment of seconds. Where do we advertise? Who would be
         Next was the whole issue of getting people to pay for it. The fact of the matter was that if there were too
many clicks or too many questions, someone would go somewhere else. Internet dreams are incredible in one's own
head. There is no doubt that I would buy my own product. I can use the product and see how it can be beneficial to
anyone. How do I tell the other millions of people about its benefits? How do I convince them of what I see? How
do we have our Web site stand out among the millions? Come on people. It is a great product. Please purchase a
Web site for $30 a month. I think it is God. I am not sure if it is right.

July 1999

Subject: Unsolicited Commercial Email (U.C.E.)


We have received many complaints from service providers concerning your use of UCE. May we remind you that
sending UCE (SPAM) is illegal in the state of Washington where your server resides. Your server has been
disconnected from the network pending stoppage of this service. Please be advised that legal action can be taken
for situations like this. We are offering you a grace period of 24 hours.

Abuse Department
Virtual Server, LLC

        Little did they know that our 24 hours of outright SPAM had scored us quite a few customers. Our
thousands of dollars of marketing had scored us 5 customers. Our one-hundred dollar SPAM list had gotten us 500.
Granted, the web sites were now free. Trying to collect money for them was futile. All the other major competitors
were giving away their web sites. We had to do the same. The idea was to get as many free subscribers to our site
as possible. The more hits we had, the better chance we had for advertising revenue. Advertisers would pay top
dollar for sites with high traffic. Another note about being a web tycoon: be ready to change your revenue model in
a matter of minutes.

July 2000

       "Their initial investment would probably be $4 million."
       "Are you kidding me?"
       "Trippy, isn't it?"
       " What are they going to be investing in? We have 5,000 lines of buggy code, 3 windows machines that
       crash all the time and a product that nobody is buying."
       "Trippy, isn't it?" he said with a smile this time.

        Venture Capitalists. Luckily we were on the very tail end of the non-sensible craze of groups of rich people
trying to cash in on anything that had a dotcom on the end of it. Investors were pouring millions of dollars into the
internet on an hourly basis. This was regardless of projected (and mainly faked) revenues or even a proof of
concept. They, like I, were dreaming about what could and should be. There was hardly an argument as to why
something would NOT be successful. There was no logic, there was no sense. If there was enough money, the idea
would work.
         Then there was only the IPO. Yes, the Initial Purchase Offfering sometimes called “going public.” That
was our last-ditch ticket out. I was part owner of the company. The value of the company would sky-rocket with
VC investment which would cause my share to also sky-rocket. If we could get some seed money for development,
we could improve the product. If we could improve the product, we could have an IPO. I could cash out my options
the day after the IPO and still be on the cover of Fortune. I would then finally float over the abyss, into paradise,
and land on my two feet. It would be the IPO that would give me the resources to do the right things. I would be a
young, rich Christian with much power. I would raise the standard of corporate philanthropy. I would challenge
and inspire people to act.
        In the meantime, there was no more money. I lay in bed for a few nights thinking of the VCs. Any amount
of seed money would do. I needed just a few more dollars to get me through to the next month. Then things would
pick up. Why wouldn't they invest? The thousands of dollars I used to see every month were a drop in the bucket of
their deep pockets. We could hire some super-sharp programmers and marketing consultants. The VCs will do it.
They'll invest. It will definitely be God. It will definitely be right.
        There were no more paychecks. There were only real checks I was writing out of my checkbook for the few
precious dollars left in my checking account. My savings account was depleted. I had also started burning the Visa
again. The tons of credit card applications I threw out every week started piling on my desk. Tempting. Very
tempting. For in the back of my mind, I thought of an IPO. An IPO would erase a credit card debt in a few minutes.
Why not? I was already mid-leap. It was God. It was right. Hopefully.

August 1999

          I am not sure what day exactly I fell into the abyss. I just woke up one morning and knew I was there. It
was over. I was doing work for $75 here and there. These little projects were taking many hours to do, but they
were my only source of income. I was flat broke. I was so tired. I was angry. I found myself so stressed over such
little things that I used to not care about. There were moments of rage at my house when I ended up kicking a door
or punching a wall. I had not talked to friends in weeks. Outside of tag with the kids, I had no social life. This
wasn't me. I had fallen. It was time to start climbing back.
          We walked out of Pizza Hut that sunny summer afternoon. She had cheered me up quite a bit. I do not
know why I even called her. She had been a spiritual mentor to me when I was with my old company. Earlier that
day, our dotcom had a meeting. It was a meeting in which we all had to grasp the reality. The abyss. We were
there. I needed to move on. I needed a new job. The VC never came. After the
meeting was over, the first thing I could think of was to call her. She was there
and could meet me for lunch. I went and took my 81 cents with me.
          "I asked God what was the next challenge. I felt like I had reached a
level. I felt like I knew what I was doing. I thought I was enlightened." She
smiled in that way that reminds me that she is my mentor. " I wanted to be
successful and powerful. I wanted to use my influence to make powerful
statements. Money talks. For a change, I wanted my money to talk for good of
others. I wanted to start foundations and scholarships. I thought my plan was
noble and honorable in God's eyes. I thought He was with me on this one."
          "He is with you on this one. He has always been with you on this one."
The truth always hurts. "You will be successful. You will do good things. This
adventure will give you the success you want. It will enable you to glorify God.
It just isn't going to be now. It is in God's time. Not yours. Don't worry. It will
all come together in His plan."
June 2000

       I finished my Cobb Salad. Man, it was a good salad. I found it interesting that one of the best salads I have
ever had came from an Irish pub on a beach in California. I looked out to the water and smiled. It could not have
been a nicer day in Southern California. I had the next week off and was planning to crash for a few days. It would
be another 2 hours before I could catch my plane home. An iced mocha from Starbuck's sounded really good.
       No more open challenges to God. They will come. They will come in His time. I will stand up to them and
have faith that it will all be good. Humbly, I may be rich and powerful. Humbly, I my use my power and money for
good. Maybe I will be on the cover of Fortune. Humbly, if it is within your will, Lord. That is God. That is right.

                                                                                                 Cinco De Mayo, 2000

Dear Lord459,

Greetings from Planet Coffee! Cletus and I are here on a digital vacation for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. That is
all the minutes that Cletus had left on his Wireless Skull plan. Have you tried Wireless Skull? It takes all the hassle
out of having a phone, fax, pager, or hand-held computer. The folks just pop open your head and plant one of these
lightweight, non-toxic, silicon chips. That is it! No more phone calls or annoying beeps! People can dial right into
your head, and you can send them your thoughts! They even gave Cletus 2 Gigabytes of extra memory to store all
of his address lists, baseball stats, and nude pictures of Jar Jar Binks! The only downside is that you are not allowed
to sneeze, laugh, cry, head-butt, or sail boats (there seems to be a reaction to the pitch and resin). Little did Cletus
know this! He had an allergic reaction to a Boy Band album he haggled for on the internet. Poor guy, one sneeze
and his brain had a memory dump. It took a while, but we did finally get him to stop calling inanimate objects
“Butch” and stop wanting to sniff pewter statues of late great sports legends.

In the meantime, I have been quite a busy bee myself! You have to promise not to say anything, but I have an idea
here. I am working on a special diet drug. It is all natural and made with only organically engineered chemicals.
This pill will be a breakthrough in our culture. Because that is exactly what it is! Think about it. Do I really have
time to figure out who I am and form a true self-identity? Of course not, especially when there are real-life
television shows, digitally altered pictures, and mood enhancing drugs to be taken. No sir, there are not enough
shopping hours on Fifth Avenue to have time for that.

Enter my Culture Pill. Pop one of these babies in the morning and off you go! This pill will help you loose the
weight you gained in the first place because you didn’t exercise. After that, it will re-grow your hair, augment your
breasts, lift wrinkles, and make you as virile as Hugh Heffner! If you thought that was it, it alters your sweat
glands, bladder, and bowels so nothing will stink. I actually am creating 5 different brands named after all the most
popular fragrances on the market. I couldn’t get “CK One,” though, so I’ll just call it “Two.” It will enable you to
emit pheromones (which we extracted from dolphin penis) so that people of the opposite sex, or same sex (we are
working on an “alternative lifestyle” line due out next fall called the “Richard Hatch Collection”) will instantly
want to be with you. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST, we guarantee it will bring birth control, although the tests
haven’t been so conclusive.

What will it cost? Who cares! We will accept any major form of credit. Heck, we’ll even give you our very own
Culture Pill credit card. Even if you have bad credit, no credit, or can’t even spell the word credit, we’ll set you up
with the ability to plunge yourself into revolving debt! You can pay in infinite installments over a period of
eternity.                                                    26

So think about it. One pill. No diet. No exercise. No work. Stop wasting time trying to accept yourself. Take one of
our pills and we will give you an instant image and likeable appearance. You will be accepted by all and look darn
good at it. No money. No worry. Just pay installments on credit you borrowed from us!
What do you think? I am really excited about it. If we play our cards right, we could even slip it into a prescription
drug benefit. What a bonus! Then maybe the presidential candidates will actually appeal to people under the age of

Of course there will probably be protests and activists against us. Soon word will get out about our production
methods. We were planning on using unemployed web consultants as the primary force of labor. We negotiated a
deal with the United Bankrupt Web Companies Union of the World. Instead of cash, we negotiated 2 tablespoons
of coffee grounds and a yearly subscription to hip and trendy e-business magazines. Our facilities were going to be
on some island somewhere west of Hawaii. Things were looking good until those darn WTO meetings. Clad with
Gap polar fleeces and Nike shoes, a bunch of 20-year-old kids caused a ruckus about the whole concept of
exploiting foreign labor for domestic products.

We diverted attention away from ourselves by challenging the kids to a game of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
Instead of money, though, we decided to play for a full set of Pokemon cards from Cletus’s personal collection and
broadband speed to Napster for one month. Don’t say anything, but we had to slip Regis a 3-month supply of our
Culture Pills before they were approved by the FDA.

That was our “final answer.” Until the recount. Cletus broke the tie after the fourth evaluation of his dangling chad.
The kids disagreed and filed a pending lawsuit.

Well, we must be going. Cletus is calling me over to the TV. He has been wrapped up in those Olympics again. I
have to go watch another Olympic documentary about a 15-year-old kid from some po-dunk town who had to
overcome the adversity of growing up middle class. I wonder if our pill would be considered “performance
enhancing?” WOW! A new market!

Anyway, feel free to call Cletus’s skull and drop us a thought!




         I am perpetually fascinated b y the great lengths companies will go to get my “personal information.” It
seems that I can’t get anything nowadays without sacrificing my social security number or confessing my
preferences about electronics or eating habits. Large amounts of data are collected at ridiculous costs. The data is
then mined, organized for specific behavioral patterns, and sold at even more ridiculous prices to another company.
That company then turns around and tries to sell me a Zippo Cutter 2001 as a turnkey solution to all of my culinary
woes. Little does Zippy know that I was just clicking as fast as I could through their online questionnaire to get my
free Internet access. I have a much better idea. Buy a coach class ticket and sit on an airplane for a few hours. It is
there that a company will learn about people.
         In the year 2000, I went up and down in an airplane about 100 times. That is a good bit of take-offs and
landings. That is also a good bit of time sitting very close to complete strangers. Coach class violates probably 95%
of people's comfort zones. We need space as Americans. We don't get that on airplanes. The reassuring aspect of
this for most people is that the commitment to sitting in such close quarters is only temporary. In almost every
case, one will never see again the complete stranger he or she had to share an arm rest with or pass a Coke to.
         This makes for very interesting situations. There is no way to really define how close space and no
commitment influence these situations. You will just have to read for yourself. It would be safe to say that the
wonderful (and entertaining) thing about the coach experience is that we just have to sit with each other. It does not
matter who a person is or what they have accomplished in life. For the next few hours, the blacks will sit with the
whites, the democrats will sit with the republicans, the Yankees will sit with the Mets, and the activists will sit with
the corporates.
          Sometimes we have to do things we aren't usually required to do, like listen and be polite. The person next
to us might smell or chew loudly with their mouth open. They might hog the arm rest and put their elbow in your
side. They may talk and talk. Sometimes we have the choice to present an ideal self instead of our real self. The
other person would not know the difference. We could be an astronaut, doctor, lawyer, or sex therapist.
         Other times we are forced into uncomfortable situations in which we do not know how to react. THE
SCREAMING BABY! There may be someone who expresses profane (or even profound) thoughts and expects
you to agree. Someone might try to get you to be the next Amway or Mary Kay rep. There are the butterflies of
extreme air turbulence. There might be a couple in your row who are fighting or...fondling.
         Anything goes in coach. There is no privacy. We all listen and we all see. These next stories are my
observations from airplanes. They take place in the air going in-between two places when we all lose control of our
surroundings. Whether or not we admitted it, we were connected. They are the times that I observed my fellow
humans being human (and American) in the constraints of personal space and little commitment. I consider them a
celebration of our very tender and extremely complex souls.

Orange County to San Jose

Strong ascents to 32,000 feet do not help calm the flu. For the first time in the 26 years of my life, I almost grabbed
the barf bag. Instead, I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, and thought about the warm bed and bowl of chicken
soup that awaited me. The thought of reading a book made me sick to my stomach. My laptop battery was dead. I
had browsed this month’s issue of the in-flight magazine. The only thing left was the “Sky Mall” catalogue. If I
was really restless, I could flip to the Sharper Image section and look for a massage, heating, and reclining chair
that I really couldn’t afford. Is my life really that important that I would shop for a reclining chair on an airplane at
32,000 feet?
         It is at times like these that I try to listen in on other people’s conversations. A good conversation seems to
make a flight go by so quickly. It does not have to be my own. It can be another's. It can be intimate. In coach
class, I have a given right to listen. The important part is not to get caught. Sometimes one can engage himself or
herself in unwanted conversation. These are indeed complete and total strangers one is sitting next to. The whole
key is to pretend like you don’t hear them. This can be accomplished by looking thoughtfully at anything. You can
use a book, a newspaper, a blank notebook (without a pen) or even the laminated safety instruction card in the front
         One must realize that anything goes in coach class. The walls are super thin and pretty much non-existent.
The couple next to me was asleep. I tried listening behind me and in front. Nothing. I was sitting in the aisle and
turned to the other row. Sitting in the other aisle seat was a man about my age. He had long “surfer dude” curly
blonde hair, a pair of ripped jeans, black boots and a black T-shirt with a white long-sleeved shirt underneath. His
T-shirt had writing on it. I looked over to see the words “I am a Lesbian” written across the front.
         I had to take a nonchalant second glance to make sure I read that right. I then had to take another glance to
make sure this was a guy. A little closer look and I saw some facial hair. My squinting grabbed his attention and he
turned to look at me. I was a little embarrassed. Then again, I wasn’t wearing a shirt proclaiming my sexual
identity which was incongruent with my gender.
         He was looking at me, waiting for a response. I bumbled, but kept my cool. “Uhhh, anyone who wears a
shirt like that definitely has an explanation,” He looked at me and smiled. “I am a lesbian; I love women.” It took a
second. Then it clicked in my head. This dude was a freak. I looked at him and gave an “Ahhhh, ok,” slow nod.
The conversation was over for me.
         For the next hour, I heard in graphic detail the sexual exploits of a complete stranger named Robbie. The
South African rock star was living in LA and was about to make it big real soon. When solicited for comments, I
respectfully declined to share my experiences of multiple women on one occasion or the practice of putting certain
parts of the male body in unusual female places.
         I had gotten in way over my head. People were listening to us. I recognized their techniques. They were
pretending to be consumed by something else, but really their heads were churning. Robbie was relentless. He did
not stop to breathe in his discussions that could make any trial lawyer a millionaire in a sexual harassment suit. I
think people around me started thinking that I was part of this debauchery. Robbie and I were buddies in their eyes.
I had to get out. I had only one option and had to wait for the right break.
         Robbie finally took a breath after what seemed like hours, reached down to grab something and when he
popped back up, I was shopping for reclining chairs.

Nashville to Cincinnati

People have some great fear of "puddle jumpers." These are the flights on either propeller or small regional jets.
There is something about the size of a plane that dictates safety. I believe this is all in the mind of the person who is
flying. I am sure somebody could whip out some statistics somewhere to prove me wrong. The fact of the matter is
that something over 1000 feet in the air that weighs a few tons can crash no matter what.
        All of that aside, there is one incredible benefit to flying regional jets: luggage space. Well, lack thereof, but
it works in our favor. Most bags that are too big to fit in the overheads of a regional jet are checked at the jet and
thrown into the belly of the aircraft.
        This is extremely beneficial for the sheer fact that some people try to carry on large bags, have no
coordination, and try to cram stuff into small places. We'll call these people "loxers" or luggage boxers. The loxer
does not have much effect on people who sit in a window seat. But for us folks on the aisles, look out. I have scars
on my face and shoulders from when loxers have walked onto planes, especially with bags still on their shoulders.
As they walk by, they manage to clock every single person in the aisle behind them, and they don't even realize it.
        The worst part is when they find their seat, the loxer delivers a 1-2 knockout punch with their bags. This is
accomplished by first jabbing a poor person in the aisle with the shoulder bag. While the person is startled, the
loxer then attempts to put the other heavy carry-on in the overhead compartment. The loxer winds up and spins in a
thrusting upward motion. He or she forgets about the shoulder bag. While they were swinging, the shoulder bag
gives an uppercut to the poor isle passenger, knocking the person flat out. If the loxer misses the overhead, that bag
will them come crashing down on top of the isle person sitting underneath the bin. This gives the loxer 2 knockouts
in one. Regional jets ban loxers from boarding by making them check the bag in the belly of the plane. The loxer
will just have to get over it. We were all sitting in the plane on the tarmac waiting to get out of Nashville. The
one flight attendant was going about her business. Like in boxing, the flight attendants try to be good referees.
She was checking all our bags, and they were getting put under the plane. Most loxers where cool with the whole
concept. Most people in the aisles were even more cool with it. There would be no loxing matches today.
         This was until the championship loxer of Nashville boarded the plane. He had the typical loxer combo of a
laptop bag and an oversized garment bag that was not going to fit anywhere in the cabin. The flight attendant read
him the rules of loxing on regional jets. He didn't like what she had to say. She clearly explained to him that his
bag would not fit anywhere. He would have to check it. He got frustrated and embarrassed as we, the fans, all
watched. She remained calm.
         Like in any good wrestling match, he just bypassed her and went about his business. Regional jets are
small and people knew he was loxing. People could see he wanted to brawl. And like Rocky, they ducked and
weaved as he moved to his seat. At this point the referee went and got the pilot.
         The loxer, in complete anger, tried the 1-2 punch. The guy behind him ducked. The bag didn't clear the
overhead bin and came crashing down. That guy was not so lucky. The loxer tried again. It was not working. Like
good fans, we started booing and making comments. He got really ticked.
         The flight attendant came out after being pushed aside. She was going to referee this loxing match under
all circumstances. She walked up to him and told him he would have to check his bag or else the flight was going
to be late. He dropped the bag down and looked at her. He tried the intimidation factor of words and threats. She
didn't budge. He looked at her ID hanging around her neck. She didn't move. It was a showdown. He then
grabbed her Id, yanking her neck down.
He lost that loxing match that day as he was escorted off the plane and out of the airport by two police officers.
Like good fans, we cheered.

Dallas to San Jose

The flight to the Silicon Valley on a Sunday night has the highest concentration of business travelers I have ever
seen. Very rarely will someone resemble a leisure traveler or tourist. This is evident by the glow of laptops that
illuminate the dimmed cabin. Most passengers are preparing a presentation, reviewing notes, responding to email,
or playing solitaire. Of the many unwritten rules of travel, there is one that states the guidelines for passenger
conversation. Follow the guidelines, and one might have a pleasant conversation. Do not follow the guidelines
and, one will really piss somebody off.

Guideline #1

If the person in your row does not even acknowledge your arrival into the row with a “Hello” or eye contact, they
do not want to be bothered.

Guideline #2

If the person does acknowledge your presence, you may ask a leading question (for example “Where are you

Guideline #3

If you ask more than 3 questions and get a response, but no reciprocal question, then end the conversation.

        I was sitting in the bulkhead row of the aircraft in an aisle seat on the left. The bulkhead row is the first
row of coach and usually has at least an extra foot of space to the front. To my left was a very attractive woman
my age complete with business suit and laptop. She was reading a book. When I sat down, I tested guideline #1.
She did not acknowledge my presence. Therefore, I had no30     rights to make conversation with this person. Darn.
        One row behind her was a man of Indian descent, and older Caucasian woman, and an Asian man. The
plane took off. Laptops fired up. People concentrated on their big gigs. It seemed that everyone in my section was
had a presentation tomorrow. There would be no conversation. We all followed the guidelines.
        Except for the older Caucasian woman. In a matter of minutes, she had violated all three rules. Not only
that, but she was loud at doing it. I couldn’t have cared less. I did not have much to do. But I did have some
entertainment for the next few hours. She struck up conversations with just about everybody who was trying to
work. They all were as polite as possible, giving “Yes, Uh-hus,” and “I work in computers” answers. They made
sure to look at her as quickly as possible and then look back harder and harder at their computer screens. For
almost 3 hours the only voice heard was that of the woman's.
         When the plane pulled into the gate, we were all fully well versed on the history of San Jose and on the
woman's family. I thought for a second about how cruel it was that someone was innocently telling stories and
people were too wrapped up in themselves to listen.
         That changed when the following words came out of her mouth. As we were all pulling into the gate and
collecting our things, she was looking through a magazine and did not recognize a word. She looked across all the
well-spent and exhausted business people who could not get all their work done. She found the Indian man next to
her. Across the shuffle of luggage and movement she said, “Excuse me, sir. Yes, you. You look Indian; could you
tell me what this word means?”
         Whoa! Wake up. I let out a sarcastic laugh. I had always wondered what Manicotti meant. Were there any
Italian-looking people onboard? The young attractive business woman who denied me guideline #1 all night turned
to me. We both looked at each other in confusion. Everyone in my section froze in their tracks and looked at her as
if to say, “Did you just really ask that?” She had no idea what she just asked. The Indian man, now embarrassed,
looked at her and the word. In perfect 100% American English, he replied, “I have no idea.”
         I walked off the plane. Since I was a white American, I knew what “cheese steak, fries, and Coke” meant
and got me an order.

Chicago to Toronto, ON

Although we do not mention it, we all have a style and a certain technique. There are times when we can just let go,
depending on who is around us. Other times we must escape our surroundings. Sometimes we can’t escape our
surroundings and have to stay put. When being forced to stay put, one has to determine their stamina and the
repercussions of their actions. It can definitely be a real attention getter. But no matter what happens, in close
quarters with complete strangers, passing gas can be a big deal.
         Technique. Yes, the benefit of an airplane is it offers the ability to do direct transfers. The timeless
technique of doing a direct transfer into the cushion usually does the trick. We all learned in grade school about the
ineffectiveness of the bleacher, metal auditorium chair, or leather car seat. But a foam cushion was perfect. It could
adequately handle multiple transfers. All it requires is a minimal shift of the back. This can be disguised by a
simple stretch or even a slight scratch of the nose. After the transfer, there needs to be a waiting period of a few
seconds to ensure that the cushion grabbed all the transfer and there were no leaks. Whoa, leaks are bad. A small
leak can spoil the vibe of a very intimate setting.
         For some reason, I had tapped a huge reserve one afternoon while heading to Canada. I knew I had to
initiate a transfer. I exercised good discretion to ensure that there were no young, single, professional women
within my radius. Of course not. I am never that lucky. With a deep breath, and scratch of the nose, I initiated a
         I waited a few seconds. Upon air intake, the alarms started sounding. My nose hair burnt off. Level five gas
leak. What happened? The intensity of the leak was so bad, that I would not be able to stop its spread. It would
leave my personal zone and intrude into the zones of others. Not only that, but it was dense and heavy. There may
be long-term ramifications.
         I sat puzzled to myself as the gas leaked all around me. People had to get an intake of the potent concoction.
I looked intently at my laptop like I was studying some business proposal. I did not want anyone to know that I had
caused the toxic spill that was polluting the cabin. I backtracked my steps and methods. There was the check, the
shift, and then the transfer. What happened? I thought for a second; then it hit me.

I had been upgraded to first class. First class has leather 31

Nashville to Los Angeles

In-flight entertainment is limited on short flights within the United States. It usually takes a transcontinental flight
to get a decent edited movie. But on hour long flights there is an inflight magazine, a laptop, or a book. Unless, of
course, one makes up his or her own entertainment. My favorite form of alternative in-flight entertainment is hard
to come by. These types of people are few and far between.
         The War Story guy is a hard one to find on a flight. But if one should be sitting next to one of these folks;
put away everything and listen. Such was the case that day. There are two criteria that make up a true War Story
guy. The first is that they have done everything possible, know someone who has done it, or have knowledge on it.
The second is that they have always done it better than you. They have very repetitive sentence structures that start
with “Well, if you want to see a (insert adjective) (insert noun)…” and usually come before someone can finish
speaking. A War Story guy stopped listening to his audience before the conversation started and kept his mouth
shut just long enough to have the other person finish a few words.
         The War Story guy in front of me had a crowd of 5 people. He was putting on a show. We first heard a
dissertation about how he was in the Army. This did not bode him well because the passenger next to him was in
the Air Force. He already won that conversation. So War Story proceeded to tell a 3rd-person narrative about the
trials and tribulations of flying fighter craft in combat (to an ex-Air Force pilot).
         Next we heard about his football career. He never really played football for the Army but was the source for
how Michigan would play. He said he used to practice with the team and they would complain about how dirty
Michigan was. There were specific incidents he heard about like how they stuck their fingers in the opponent’s
helmets and scratched at them like cats. Also, all the Michigan players were not real students. They were recruited
off the streets on “scholarships.”
         After football, I believe there was a discussion on sky diving. He never really had sky dived before, but he
knew someone who did. We then moved into a discussion about the Detroit Metro airport and all the politics
surrounding the new expansion. War Story knew somebody on the inside who said it was a total bureaucratic mess.
From politics, there was a discussion about NASCAR. War Story Guy had watched that on TV and deemed that it
was a silly sport to be televised.
         The conversation flowed for another hour as I was educated on foreign policy, the benefits of Ivy League,
women as firefighters, the best way to barbecue a chicken, airlines, and the hub concept. I was unaware that
Northwest Airlines was the first airline to create such a system of hubs. Where they also the pioneers of live in-
flight entertainment?

Newark to Nashville

         I was in Newark, New Jersey, trying to make it home from week number 4 of travel. In the previous month,
I had been to San Jose, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, and Washington DC. I was tired and unnerved trying to
make it back on yet another Friday rush to get my plane. The Spring always is a turbulent time for air travel.
Storms cause airline delays. Airline delays throw off the airline schedule. This delays people’s flights. When
people start missing flights, it becomes every person for him or herself.
         I have a general rule when flying. If I have three flights cancelled on me trying to get home on any one
particular day, I go to a hotel and leave the next morning. Well, on this Friday, I had never seen so many flights
cancelled out of one airport. Storms in the Ohio Valley had cause 75% flight cancellation going westbound. I was
heading west. I was heading home. Lines were huge. People were stranded. It was every man for himself
         I went down to the car rental to get a car to drive back to my parent’s house (I had been staying with them
all week). Many companies have software that forecasts the amount of business that company will do at any one
given point. From there, a company will staff a counter with the appropriate number of employees for that time of
day. Well, I do not believe the software takes into account thunderstorms. Therefore, there was one rental agent at
the rental counter and 15 tired and cranky travelers who were every man for himself.
         I got at the back of the line. Everyone was saying such things as, “This is ridiculous!” Why is that the
statement of choice among travelers? Why do people feel the need to state the obvious like that? It is not
ridiculous. It just plain sucks. I have stood in countless lines at countless counters in countless cities, and there
seems to be this one common statement of “Well, this is just ridiculous.” It is usually followed by the threat, “I will
not use your service anymore.” Funny. People actually think an airline cares.
         The tension was high as people were waiting. The process of renting a car can be long unless one has paid
for extra service. Most rental car companies have a “Gold” level of service in which a car is put in a stall and
waiting for a traveler when the person arrives. The traveler’s name then appears on an electronic board along with
the stall number. There seems to be a ratio of 1 in every 5 rentals that the company can actually get one’s name on
the board and the car is ready and waiting. For people who have rented often using a Gold service, it comes with
the territory. For Gold service newbies, it is a complete atrocity if a car is not ready and waiting for them when
they arrive. Newbies then threaten to not use the service anymore. Once again, they think the rental car company
really cares.
         From the back of the line came an infuriated young lady. She walked past all the other people waiting for
hours, enduring lines and cancelled flights to rent a car. She walked up to the counter and interrupted the current
customer. She proclaimed , “Why is my name not on the board? This is ridiculous!” Every man (or woman) for
themselves. She seemed to miss the 10 other people who were in line seeing if they could get a car before worrying
about whether or not it was waiting in a stall.
         The rental agent switched into her programmed response mode for angry customers. A fundamental rule of
customer service says that anger will get someone nowhere fast. The young woman threw another fit and then
people in line started yelling at her. She finally walked away. The rental car agent stopped what she was doing and
made a general programmed announcement: “If any of you do not have a reservation, we are out of cars. You do
not need to be in this line. You can call 1-800-RENTAL and see if you can get into the reservation system. Does
anyone not have a reservation?”
         I didn’t have one. All of a sudden, the room was transformed into one of those murder mystery dinners.
Everyone eyed each other suspiciously. It was a moment that would sift out the murderer, shrink the line, and make
someone’s wait shorter. Nobody was fessing up. Everyone looked at each other. I knew I was doomed. I took a
deep breath and raised my hand.

“I don’t have one.”

        All eyes fell on me. Time seemed to slow down. I was the witch in the witch hunt. I was the weak link. I
was holding up the line. It was I who did it in the conservatory with the candlestick. The tar was warming and the
feathers were waiting in a burlap sack. I addressed the crowd in the only way I could at that moment.

“Are you all going to kick my ass now?”

        Blank stares. The rental car woman looked at me and started into her pre-programmed high stress angry
speech. I stopped her and started smirking and laughing. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve had about enough of dealing
with wimpy whining travelers.” I walked out of the line laughing to myself. I had the last word. They could have
gotten away with it if it weren’t for those “Medling Kids” as Scooby used to say.
        It was every man for himself, and this man called dad for a ride in exchange for a juicy steak at my
company’s expense.

                                                    Just One
        Although inspiring, listening to the “Titanic” soundtrack for over a day became a bit annoying. The CD
player behind the cocktail bar finally shuffled. There was a moment of silence. I put my knife and fork down on my
plate, wiped my hands, and placed the red linen napkin on the table. It was cool, but very humid. There were little
sweat beads forming on my head. I picked up the napkin and blotted them away. I then sat back in my patio chair
and gave that after-dinner stretch and slouch. A breeze blew by as I sipped the sweetness of my red wine. Alvin
walked by and re-lit my table candle which seemed to blow out again. He was pretty happy considering I just gave
him a 33% tip. I had been having trouble converting US dollars into Jamaican dollars for the 2 days I had been in
        A pungent smell of cigar smoke crosses my breath from a few men who sit a few sparsely populated tables
away from me. On the other side of the patio, across the illuminated pool, is a couple who are smiling and staring
at each other in the glow of the candle light. My attention comes back to my table for two, but I was just one.
        I look at my magazine that lay next to my plate of bones and crumbs. I usually have to read a story to keep
my mind off of dinners for one in strange places. But tonight, candles, soft lightning, running fountains of water,
and distant chirps bring me to a peace.
        The mood. The ambiance. The little unexpected moments like these on far off Caribbean Islands. I look
across the table at the chair across from me. A glass of ice water sits condensing and dripping water onto the
untouched place setting across from me. Then comes the change of CDs and the new tunes. The goose bumps start
subtle and then take over my whole body. I hear the calming Celtic melodies of Enya start moving through out the
night. A rush of memories of a decade of time fill my head as I think of all the places, people, and times such music
reminds me of. I giggle to myself as I think about how I want this very music to play on wedding day.
        I look across my table for one and wonder when it will be a table for two. I wonder what you will look like.
Who will you be? Will you have been a life-long friend or someone I met on a plane? Will you be short or tall or
blonde or black or skinny or stocky? Will you be able to put up with me? What will you like best about me? What
will I do that will drive you crazy? Will you love me when I am fat, bald, and have bad breath? Will you want to sit
with me on a night like this drinking red wine with Enya now…25 years from now? Will you smile at me and reach
across the table to hold my hand? Will you love God then me?

“Are you okay, mon?”
“Yes, Alvin, this song just reminds me of my first love.”
“Where is she now?”
“I don’t know, but this place is peaceful and it reminds me of many things.”
“Have faith, mon, things always come full circle…you’ll see.”

        One day I will take you to this very spot, and I will play you my music. You will smile, and we will feel
peace. I will not have to wonder. I will see you across the table for two but for now, I am just one.

                                             Tempting Treasures
         Grande skim no whip mocha. Three dollars and 42 cents with tax. A 20 oz beverage consisting of ground
coffee beans, water, skim milk, and chocolate syrup. Three soft tacos, nachos, and a small drink at Taco Bell...
$3.42. Four cans of black beans, 1 lb of rice, and a jar of salsa at Kroger...$3.42.
         I even know the code name. "I would like a Grande skim no whip Mocha, please." The 17-year old helpful
cashier then turns to the 17-year-old brew master (aka “Barista”) that is either a girl with long blonde hair pulled
back in a clip or a guy with a buzzed head, black horn-rimmed glasses, and a pierced ear. "One grande skim no
whip mocha." The brew master is then obligated to echo the order back for a check and balance. "One grande skim
no whip mocha...coming right up." Then comes the wait in the very aromatic, trendy looking shop, with some
alternative weird jazz playing in the background.
         The over-crowded line at Starbuck’s all sit or stand by the coffee pick-up counter glancing at the counter,
checking their watches, looking at the counter, giving a few taps of their feet, looking at their watches, wondering
the whole time if they are going to be late for work.
         To either side of the line stand shelves of ultra trendy Starbuck’s stuff made by the hardworking people of
somewhere. One has to give credit to Starbuck’s for selling the whole package. The coffee really pretty decent, but
that is not where the real money is. Starbuck’s sells ambiance. This intangible commodity is the source of their
success. When people enter Starbuck’s, they get coffee, a place for conversation, and have the ability to pick up
cute and clever little trinkets to make their houses hip and trendy.
         Even the stuff that does not sell has a clever name. One can find a pencil drawing set or ultra ugly mugs that
were a little too trendy on a shelf with the following label: Tempting Treasures at Irresistible prices. WOW! Even
the stuff that should be labeled “Marketing Concepts That Backfired Because We Tried Too Hard To Sell
Ambiance” have a cool name.
         I grab my drink, which is shielded by a cardboard cup holder and head out for my car. It can be difficult to
find a cup holder when one is in a different rental car every week. After a few innocent pushes on bulges that look
like buttons, the cup holders are located and my grande skim no whip mocha has a home. This is until tomorrow
when I repeat the whole $3.42 process again.

        I walked out of the Starbucks in the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. This was the mother land. The
term “Grande skim no whip Mocha" was coined on the very ground I stand on. As I walked out of the holy land,
their harmonies of octaves and thirds echoed through the cold Seattle air. I tapped my foot to the off beat. This is
easy being a drummer. For most white people, though, it is hard. These guys tapped their feet, clapped their hands,
and their white teeth and dark skin brought a shine to a perpetually dark and rainy week.
        I thoroughly enjoy street performers. Their talent is pure and from the heart. A street performer is live and
real. His or her talent is not cut or edited. An old red plastic bucket stood on the cracked side walk in front of these
5 black men who sang beautiful harmonies. They danced in and around their red bucket, the whole time facing
each other and smiling as they belted out in a tight sound the old time spirituals of their ancestors. There were 50
people crowded on the small storefront sidewalk and brick road clapping (to the on-beat) and enjoying the ministry
of 5 a capella gospel singers on a Saturday afternoon at the original Starbuck’s in Seattle, Washington. I stood there
in awe sipping my mocha.

       “I’ve been born again.
         I got a new way of walkin’
       got a brand new way of talkin’
        I’ve been born again”

Seattle. Starbucks. Mochas. Music. Spiritual simplicity that warmed my

Tempting Treasures at Irresistible prices.                35

The Neverlost was lost. What is the use of paying extra for a sophisticated computer navigational system in a rental
car if it is just as lost as I? I didn’t picture an international airport being among the cow pastures and corn fields.
The Neverlost begged to differ. It told me that this was the shortest route time to Denver International airport. Cow
pastures and corn. Where were the runways and terminal? In an apple orchard?
          I was blowing by on a country road, lost, heading into yet another frantic Friday. I looked at my watch, I
looked at the Neverlost (which was lost), and once again I could feel the anger and frustration starting to build. I
pushed the pedal down and brought my poor rental car up to a ridiculous speed. I was determined to sleep in my
own bed tonight and not on a cot in Terminal C.
         Frantic Fridays are a complete submission to the travel process. They are the busiest travel day of the week.
Every business traveler is finishing up work in another time zone in another city. We all just want to get home and
back to a normal life. Frantic Fridays start with trying to figure out how the heck to get back to the airport, return
the car, take a shuttle bus, check in, get a better seat (preferably exit row aisle, where it is easier to use my laptop),
and board the plane before everyone else. This has to put me at the gate 30 minutes before departure when they
invite elite status members to board. After a few months of this, one figures out all the tips, tricks, and secrets that
airlines hold from their customers.
         Yes, I am elite. Don’t take it personally. Flying 6 times a month in what can be up to 14 segments and three
transcontinental trips can make someone elite. Elite status helps reduce the burn of the travel with those little perks
and benefits. I am that guy that takes forever at the ticket counter trying to mooch upgrades. I am that guy who
hogs bin space with 2 carry-ons. I am that guy who gets frustrated when you lean your seat back in front of me and
jam my laptop under the rim of the tray table enclosure.
         On this particular frantic Friday, I started feeling the pressure. I was getting dangerously close to missing
my call. I had already missed out on trying to get seat 21b exit row aisle (I was flying an MD-80 from Denver to
Dallas). As I sped and turned and cussed, I started to fret the waits, lines, and mad dashes to ensure that I would get
home. This made me more angry. To make things worse, I got stuck behind a very slow moving truck without a
passing zone in sight in a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere heading to an airport among corn fields.
         I knew the flight to Dallas would be sold-out and I would be stuck on the back of the plane between two
people in a regular seat. I prefer exit row or bulkhead. Bulkhead is the row of seats at the front of coach class. I like
to think of it as a poor man’s first class. I can actually smell their filet mignon while I eat my broccoli casserole.
Both exit row and bulkhead have six full inches more of room that makes a big difference when one flies 15,000
miles a month. I am elite…remember? The thought of being in a normal seat stuck between two leisure travelers
made me want to ram the slow-ass truck in front of me.
         I pulled my car to the left to see if I could pull an illegal pass. There were hills. Tons of hills. Tons of cows.
Tons of corn. With all my luck, I’d fire past this trucker and end up ramming head-on with a tractor. I smacked
Neverlost and called it names I used to call my bullies in high school behind their backs. I was pissed. I was
fretting the middle seat. Elite people who fly 15,000 miles a month do not get stuck in the middle seat.
         To my right, I saw a Boeing 747 on final approach. After a few more miles, I saw signs for the airport.
Indeed, Denver International airport was in the middle of a cow pasture. The truck turned at a 4-way stop. I blew
forward, screeching the tires. Poor rental cars. They have to get abused by elite businessmen like me who just want
to sleep in their own beds on Frantic Friday nights.
         I made a right turn into the rental car return. Like clockwork, the line was backed up out the wazoo. There
is nothing worse then coming to a dead stop when trying to go forward thinking about having to sit in the back of a
plane in a middle seat with a fully reclined lesiure traveller infront of me.
         I was angry. I wanted to scream. The travel process was not being friendly to me. I was elite. I was
supposed to be exempt from this. The line moved ever so slowly. I finally saw the entrance ramp. As I was pulling
into the row that I was being directed to, another car pulled in front of me. I slammed on my brakes. This caused
my laptop bag on the passenger’s seat to go airborne and slam into the dashboard. That did it.
         I parked my car. I huffed and puffed while getting my other bags out of the trunk. I threw the keys in the
car, noted my mileage and waited for the attendant. I felt my veins pumping blood through my skull. Most airport
rental companies have employees with a sophisticated gizmo attached to another gizmo that hangs from what
looked like a Batman belt. It was the “express” check-out. I wondered if it was ever lost?
         I was too self-absorbed to tell off the guy who almost caused me to almost rear-end him. It looked like he
too was in the same situation as me. He was probably elite. He did not want the middle seat. After waiting for 5
minutes, I came to the conclusion that no employee with a gizmo was coming to check my car in. I looked around.
They were not coming. The man in front of me huffed and puffed. He yelled out. Nobody answered. He grabbed
his bags with elite status tags and started marching off to the rental counter. He was going to grab the first
employee he could find, regardless of their status, and give them an earful.
        He passed by an employee without a gizmo or a bat belt who also looked like he didn’t speak English. This
employee looked like one who did not check people in. The elite guy grabbed his attention, looked him in the eye
and said “There is nobody out here!”

No duh.
        The employee just looked at him and shrugged his shoulders. The man was not satisfied with that response
and yelled, “This is ridiculous. I am elite member. Is this how you treat elite members? Who is your manager? This
is such poor service.” He was elite. The employee shrugged his shoulders again, visibly scared of the elite guy. The
man marched off, furious. The employee looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders.
        My frantic Friday ended in the Hertz parking lot as I looked at the poor employee. I didn’t need a
sophisticated navigational system. The employee didn’t need a gizmo or a bat belt. I wasn’t lost. I was found, even
in cow pastures and corn fields. Sitting in the middle seat didn’t seem so bad anymore. I was elite. Big deal.

        I do not remember much from my college days. I do not remember much of my major. I could not tell you
what my senior thesis covered. I do remember, though, that in psychology, one does not “prove” anything.
Something has to reach “statistical significance.” Once a test has reached this significance, it can be stated that
there is a “correlation” between the subjects being tested. Using this method of thinking, I can state the following:

There seems to be a correlation between low rent, trucks peeling out as the preferred method of exit, and empty
Krystal bags thrown on my front yard at 3 AM.

         One sunny day in the Appatheto (apathetic ghetto), my roommate, his friend, and I were driving down one
of the streets in our neighborhood. Earlier that day, we had been apartment hunting on the other side of Charlotte
pike. There are two sides to Charlotte Pike. One with empty Crystal bags thrown on a front yard and one without.
Do the math.
         As we were heading back to my house, our friend from the back seat said, “I don’t see why you guys want
to move. This place is not that bad.” As the last few words came out of her mouth, we all glanced to the
passenger’s side window to look at the scene from “Cops: Filmed on Location in Nashville, TN” Three patrol cars
were present. Two teenage suspects were cuffed an lying face down in the grass. To the right of the front door
stood a bleached blonde young woman trying to get her story straight. She was pointing and crying as the officers
where trying to make an ounce of sense of the whole situation. One of the cuffed men was turning his head around
to yell at her while a police officer stood over him and put him back in place.
         As we turned down my street, we saw a pile of trash. Yes, a pile of garbage bags just laying against the side
of a building. Further down there were small houses that had cans, transmissions, and kitchen appliances on the
front steps. Just 6 miles to the east of the kitchen appliances was the State Capitol building.
         I used to think that my parent’s house in NJ was a very middle-class place. We all used to complain about
how the cops were wimps. Their only action was to bust up the high school parties thrown by their younger
siblings. We used to complain about having nothing to do on weekends. We envied all the “rich” kids farther out
with the big houses and toys mommy and daddy bought for them.
         Then again, my parents never had to wake up Saturday and Sunday mornings to clean Krystal bags off their
front yard. I can’t remember ever seeing a person cuffed and stuffed into the back of a police car. I had never seen
trash piled up on the side of a building with the bags torn and stray non-neutered dogs picking through the crusts.
         Coming from what I have now understood to be upper-middle-class NJ to the apathetto has been quite a
transition. The concept of throwing trash on someone else’s yard is foreign to me. I guess I can see why people do
it, but I could not. Why would I disrespect my neighbor’s property like that?
         During the previous year I had witnessed 20 Korean immigrants brawling in the yard over from me. A
police officer showed up on the scene after the fight and questioned me. I gave the most non-commital answers for
fear that I was about to upset the Korean organized crime family.
         The following morning the words “Dick” were written on my mailbox. I did not know how to take that.
Was this retaliation? Did someone think that writing “Dick” on my mailbox would upset me? Furthermore, what
did writing “Dick” on my mailbox accomplish? Did someone actually think of that as a retaliation strategy? I could
picture some guys saying, “Screw that m****f****, we’re going to take him down. Yo, Johnny, you have the
         Trash, low-riders, trucks peeling out, cops, handcuffs, “Dick”, and Krystal bags on my front yard at 3 AM.
It does not make sense to me.

        So Mom and Dad, once again I take a few minutes to thank you. I thank you for teaching me how to respect
myself and others around me. I thank you that I stand in the apathetto not understanding why people do what they
do. There seems to be statistical significance between being raised in a loving, clean environment and loving
myself and others. Our middle class home in a sheltered neighborhood show to me that you cared about where we
lived and the people and places we were exposed to. I have38 it before and I’ll say it again:

“You have done well, Mom and Dad.”

         One hundred and four dollars is a campesino's (farmer's) salary per week in Guatemala. One hundred and
four is the amount of weeks in two years. One hundred and four is a popular radio station back in Nashville, TN.
One hundred an

once again. The Capitan was a much more endearing term “The Pigman." This is what the children remembered
me as. I received the name while visiting a village the previous year. This was as a result of poor Spanish grammar
on my part. I was organizing a soccer game with the children. To my credit, I did remember the vocabulary lesson
on soccer from my college Spanish days. The problem was my intent was different than my effect. I intended to
say, "Soy el potero," which means, "I am the goalie." The children heard "Soy el cochero!", which was an open
exclamation that "I AM THE PIGMAN!" The name stuck.
         After a few hours of catching up with both my buddies and the church group, I was ready to do another
hard-core mission trip. I was ready to make a difference. I was ready to give hope to the hopeless. I was completely
disconnected from my email, fax, phone, friends, car, laptop, and various other material possessions.
         I got it. I got the purpose of our mission. It was partly to build a school so Keckchi children could have an
education. The other part was a ministry of presence. Yes, simply being with people who have been rejected all
their lives helps boost their hope. Developing relationships based on Christian love fuels passions for life.
Relationships were what mattered here. All the material stuff meant nothing. There was no material except for a
few machetes, which served as cooking utensils, hammers, screwdrivers, and lawn mowers. I had my stickers,
crayons, and coloring books for the children. I practiced my Spanish. I was ready to make a difference.
         I got out and swung my hammer. I helped mix and pour concrete. I worked. We all worked hard to make
dreams come true. After work we went and visited villages. I played soccer with the children at Las Camellias. We
sat down for a supper of broth with pieces of chicken floating in it. A peace came over me as I felt like I was in a
place where only relationships mattered. The Scriptures unfolded before me. I heard the same songs I sing in
English get sung in Keckchi. I watched as the Keckchi offered up a prayer for us and cried tears of joy at our
simply coming to visit.

That all went to pot a few hours later.

         I was in a tiny village of Sepemac. It was the second village on our rounds that particular day. We pulled
off the dirt road. I looked out and saw the thatched roofs, green fields of maize blooming, and smoke stacks coming
from miscellaneous fires. The sun was setting and cast beautiful shades of pink and orange. Behind the village were
rolling hills of green. The scene looked like something out of a Bob Ross "Joy of Panting" episode. There were
happy little trees and a happy little stream. We had to walk across a log to get over the happy little stream. As with
most sources of running water out here, the stream, as beautiful as it looked from a distance, was also a septic tank.
Up close, it was that feces black color and the smell was quite pungent and overwhelming. It is a smell I am used to
down here.
         As we got out of our bus, all the village people started gathering and staring. We were the first white people
they had ever seen. We also stood a good 6 inches above almost everyone there. Our clothes were clean and fancy.
We came with little hiking gadgets fixed on our waists: water bottles, fanny packs, leathermens, and pocket knifes.
Even the men were intimidated by us. Our women were bigger and stronger than them.
         We all met under an open tent and commenced the usual meeting rituals. The first ritual was the exchanging
of formalities. Exchanging formalities could last up to 1 hour. It is very important in Mayan culture for the official
people of a place to give an appropriate and long-winded intro. After the first person speaks, the second in
command speaks and usually says almost the same exact thing. Isn't it funny how some things just don't change
across cultures?
         After formalities, there is usually a time of singing and prayer. We take turns. They sing. We sing. They
pray. We pray. After the last prayers comes the love offering. They pass a basket or a hat. We put in whatever
Quetzals we have floating in our pockets. It is monopoly money to us. We tend to forget that 100 Quetzals ($16) is
a week's pay to these people. It makes a huge difference when one drops 5 Quetzals in one villages plate and 100 in
another. Although the money means nothing to us, the villages notice. Of course, this seems to be an issue of mine
that is beyond the scope of my story.
         The official meetings end with a huge feast of whatever the village can get their hands on. This particular
day was tamales wrapped in some huge jungle leaf. It was the 3rd meal we had eaten in 3 hours. We had lunch,
followed by a meal at the previous village, and then this meal. Of course, we were full, but polite. Some of these
meals are a week's worth of food and resources. The last part of the meeting with a village was open. We mingled.
We could not speak a lick of Keckchi. They could not speak a lick of English. We mingled anyway. Smiles are
         I seem to attract all the children. One boy came up to me and wanted to see my camera as I was taking
pictures. I showed it to him. He examined it thoroughly and then looked at me and smiled. I smiled back at him. I
then pulled out my passport and held the picture up next to my face and mimicked the photo. He laughed. I
laughed. He smiled. I smiled. Next in my bag of tricks came my leatherman. It wasn't a real Leatherman. It was a
Wal-Mart rip-off. I don't think he cared though. He held the leatherman while I showed him all the features and
toys. He was fascinated by such a precision piece of equipment. He handed it back to me. He smiled. I smiled. I ran
out of tricks to show him. It did not matter. He smiled anyway. I smiled anyway. He sneezed square in my face and
smiled. I smiled back at him as I could feel his spit and snot on my cheeks. He walked away and went about his
life. My life, at least the quality of it, was now limited as I wiped third-world germs off of my face. Germs that I
did not have a hope in Hell of being able to fight.

         I have never experienced a 104 degree temperature before. My body is overcome with chills followed by
periods of sweating. My eyes feel hot underneath the lids. My head pounds to the beat. I am dizzy. Boy am I dizzy.
It is a chore to get enough balance to go to the bathroom. Luckily Montezuma had his revenge on me the previous
year. He granted me my plea of mercy as my intestines were spared from the sickness.
         Some say time is a constant and it keeps on ticking. At 3:47 AM, time seems to stop. I have been in bed all
day. I am wide awake. I nestle into one position for a few moments. After that area of the bed is damp, I roll over
to another side. I flip my pillow every few hours as it becomes annoyingly damp from the sweat dripping from my
moist and damp hair.
         Count sheep. Yes, count sheep. One, two, three, four. I wake 45 minutes later in a stupor and look around
my room. For a split second, I think I am home in the comforts of my own bed. I long for the comforts. I long for
hot soup, clean sheets, and a warm shower. Right now, I am in a hopeless disconnect from all of these things.
There are no antibiotics, just Tylenol. My immune system will have to fight this battle on it's own.
         I turn on my side again and stare at the glow of a street light through my curtains. The curtains are pink.
The glow is pink. I can hear Roberto snoring. Roberto is our driver. He lives locally and drives volunteer groups
from place to place in a huge 15-passenger bus. Roberto has been a savior this week as he has been making jokes
about my sickness. His sarcasm at the fact that I am a typical wimp American who has to take drugs to feel better
has enabled me to suck it up quite a bit. We both laugh in the mornings as I pop a plethora of vitamins, pain killers,
and anti-inflammatory drugs.
         As I lie awake though, there is an uneasiness about his jokes too. I am bothered not by him or his actual
words, but by the truth behind his words. What Roberto was really making fun of was the fact that I was putting my
faith not in God first, but in the drugs. He was right. Not once since the sneeze have I asked God for strength. I’ve
asked Tylenol and Advil. As time stands still in the early hours of the AM, I pond. Where do I put my faith? What
determines a meaningful and fulfilling life? What is a meaningful and fulfilling life? I am reminded of my night in
Flores before heading to Sayaxche...

         After a six hour layover in Guatemala City, I boarded my 737 to Flores. The rest of the group had arrived 2
days earlier. I was to meet Roberto in Flores and he was would bring me to Sayaxche. The flight itself only took 40
minutes, and that was after circling Guatemala City and Flores. The road to Flores would only be a two- hour drive
if the road were a paved interstate. Instead, the road to Flores takes about 8 hours by car.
         The people waiting to get on the plane were mostly foreigners like me. I heard a multitude of languages at
the gate. Flores is a tourist town. The actual city is a dump, but it is the closest civilization to the Tikal ruins. Tikal
is one of the 3 largest Mayan ruins in the world. As a matter of fact, if you have ever seen Star Wars, the Tikal
ruins made a cameo. When the Millennium Falcon escaped the death star, it headed toward the secret rebel base on
the planet Yavin. There is a brief scene that shows a guard on a high tower looking out over the land. That tower he
stood on was one of the temples of Tikal. It is a temple that I had the honor of climbing a year ago.
         So, that is the main business of Flores. The Tikal ruins attract adventurous eco-tourists. They come with
these huge hiking backpacks that are 120% times normal body weight that carry everything one would need while
hiking the ruins of Tikal. These backpacks are bolted, tied, or strapped onto a body in 6 different places. On this
day, I boarded the plane and sat next to two such gentlemen. Not knowing their origin, I spoke in Spanish and
excused myself as I had to crawl over to the window seat. They replied in Spanish and we were seated. The plane
took off.
         I was unclear of their origin. They looked very German or of some Western European descent. As the plane
ascended through the night sky, one turned to the other and said "So what the heck are we going to do in Flores for
the night?" Ok never mind Germany; I am thinking more New York.
         I came to find out that they were brothers from New York City on a tour of the ruins. They worked for
Citibank in mid-town Manhattan. Their mannerisms reflected their jobs. They were pleasant and courteous men. As
I sat and thought about it, they started to remind me of the Crane brothers, Niles and Fraiser.
         From my limited experience, I tried to fill them in on the Flores night life (all two nights I had been there
myself). They were interested. We talked the whole flight and decided that we would get some dinner and a few
brews when we got into town.
         We sat on the roof top of some bar somewhere. It was definitely one of the fancier place in Flores. The light
was by candle and the music was classic rock. It was weird to hear Pink Floyd gently in the background. The mood
was just right. The candles cast just enough glow over the tables, the night blew a refreshing breeze over the patio,
and the beers were served nice and cold.
         We all sat back and took a breather. We had been traveling since roughly the same times and it was pleasant
to finally stop and rejoice in the destination. We ordered a table full of tacitos, fried potatoes, and beans. The
conversation at first was surfacy. What could we talk about? I just met these guys an hour ago. We did have the
traveler's bond though. When one is in a far off place and way out of the comfort zone, it is very easy to get over
looks and behaviors, focusing on commonalities. If I sat next to these guys on a plane heading to Dallas, we would
have never met at a bar afterwards. It would have been a "nice to meet you" or a "have a safe trip" when we
         It was very evident that the two brothers were highly educated in politics, economy, and other topics that
have caused world wars. I pleasantly listened as they artfully debated between each other about the WTO and
Guatemalan poverty. They were polite and respectful of each other's rhetoric and rebuttal.

       "The essence of WTO creates a free economy for people like Guatemala to compete in the world market."
       "But brother, it is an exploitation of 3rd world country labor."
       "Regardless of labor, it pumps more money into an economy like Guatemala's and raises the standard of
       living. When the standard of living is raised, countries like this can compete in an open economy and enjoy
       the same benefits that Americans have. We can share the wealth of material goods."
       "Yes I see your point brother, Guatemalans should have access to all the things we get to enjoy."

        Interesting. Entertaining. Standard of living. People can get more things. They can share in the "wealth." I
was intrigued by their conversation. I am politically and economically ignorant. There was no way I could hang in
this discussion. I just listened and tried to understand. What a different frame of reference. I was coming down here
on a mission trip to work with people who don’t have any "wealth" or a better standard of living, yet they seem to
be more rich than I have ever been in my life.
        I carefully formulated my two questions in my mind. It was a tad intimidating to be around these eloquent
men. I wanted to at least sound like I was able to have an art to my conversation. There was a lull, and they both
reached for their beers and another taquito. I took a deep breath and posed my questions:

       "Who dictates a standard of living and why is it important for people in the middle of a jungle to share in
       American wealth?"

       They didn't get it. The conversation was dead. We walked back to the hotel. They left on a bus at 5 AM the
next morning to hike the ruins of Tikal...with their backpacks.

        BANG! BANG! BANG BANG BANG! I wake up from semi-sleep to what sounded like gun shots followed by
loud big band Salsa music blaring from the street. It is 5 AM. Was someone executing a hit on someone else? I was
disoriented for a second. I laid perfectly still as my heart began to race. There were repeated bangs. It sounded like
someone was emptying a magazine of bullets and reloading. The noise was very close. Was it a bunch of banditos
coming from door to door knocking off Americans? Were we next? My heart pounded so hard now that It
aggravated my burning head and my twisted stomach.
        Roberto woke up. "Que ese este?" I asked. "Una fiesta para un ano pasado." A birthday celebration. A
tradition. When someone has a birthday, their buddies light firecrackers, not Uzis, and play loud music at some
horrifically early hour of the morning. They were firecrackers. I was OK. As I calmed down, I went back to
thinking. There wasn't much else to do at this point. The sun would be up in a few hours.
        I used to think that I "get it." I came to this realization at a young age due to a diagnoses of a degenerative
disease. What does "getting it" even mean? I guess there are some basic truths. Do material things like money,
stereos, houses, and cars mean nothing? The truth of the matter is that they will stay on this earth long after I am
gone. What was everlasting? Souls. Plain and simple. It seemed that really the purpose of living in this worldly
experience is to feel conditional love and lack thereof. With this distinction, I will know what unconditional
heavenly love feels like. How would I know love if all I knew was love?
        After “getting it”, I found myself not that concerned about whether my steak was rare or well-done. I found
myself trying not to backstab because I came to realize that people have the same pain as me and just want to be
loved like me. I began to see that criticism of others was just a projection of my own insecurities about life. I
stopped complaining about trivial things that spoiled me. It was the first realization in my life that I was selfish. It
was the first realization that selfishness is the root of my pain. Selfishness produces dislike, anger, stress, and hate
for those things that don't satisfy me. I worked hard not to be selfish.
        Through this discipline, I experienced new levels of peace and understanding about those people, places,
and things I didn't quite understand. “Getting it” was knowing that indeed I do not know everything and I would
spend the rest of my life learning. I prayed for humbleness. The only way to learn anything in life is to first come to
the understanding that one does not know it all. Life has become a search for completeness. What is completeness?
I am not quite sure. A guess would be that it is the peace that passes all understanding.
        This trip to Guatemala has proven that I still have so much more to learn. I feel lost..again. I feel like just
when I was getting close to understanding something, I unconvered another layer of confusion.
        I have been given everything this world could possibly give a human. I have been fed healthy food. I have a
college education. I make a decent income. I have my own car. I have friends and family. I have been kept away
from anything that could be life threatening. All these things have made me who I am today. All these things mean
absolutely nothing, nor can do anything for me while I lay in a third world country hotel room 2 hours away from
the closest civilization with a raging strand of the flu that body has no idea how to fight.
        I am lost because I wonder what my definition of meaningfuless and fulfillment actually means. Trying to be
humble and loving others is meaningful and fulfilling when I my needs are met on the most basic levels. Now what
happens when I lose those basic needs to enable me to have meaningfulness and fulfillment? I didn’t even know
how important they were until they were lost.
        My understanding of meaningfulness and fulfillment is based on the fact that I take the very things that fuel
my life for granted already. Thanking God has to be a discipline because my life is already comfortable. I have
plenty of access to the things that bring me life. It is an effort to thank God for the blessings of food, clothing,
shelter, and an education. I don’t know what it is like to be without them. They have always been there. It is hard to
truly appreciate something if one has never experienced the absence of it.
        I have to remember to say grace before eating. I mutter a blessing about the food before me. How can I be
thankful for this food? Do I really know what it is like to be thankful for food? Have I ever had to pray to God and
put my faith in Him that He will provide my next meal? I have no idea what it is like to not be able to eat or have
food in front of me.
        I was sitting next to Sebas in a small restaurant one afternoon waiting for lunch. Sebas is one of the
prominent leaders of the Keckchi people. We were having a discussion in broken Spanish while waiting for lunch.
The food started to come out in a single-file manner. Someone suggested that we say the blessing now so people
could start eating. Sebas looked puzzled. How can we bless the food until we know it is in front of our faces? Sebas
asked that we wait till all the food was out and God had provided everyone with a meal. Sebas waits until he sees
his food and knows he can eat it. Meanwhile, I just instantly assume that it will come out of the kitchen and be put
in front of my face. There is no hurry for Sebas.The food could be hot or cold. He does not need to be reminded to
give thanks.

         I sat on a bench surrounded by the people of the village of Mirador. Their church was the nicest I’d seen to
date. It was made out of rough cut (probably from a chainsaw) mahogany boards and tin. It is interesting to see
such a coveted timber in the United States be used by the poorest of the poor for shelter.
         As I sat clapping and swaying to the Mayan praise and worship songs, the children gathered around me and
started hanging all over my body. I looked out the open window to the left. In the distance, I saw 3 Keckchi women
preparing lunch. They were breaking the necks of chickens and pulling the feathers off. I turned away and decided
not to let my American counterparts know about my new understanding of “organic” and “fresh” chicken. After
singing, we all stood up and prayed. A group prayer for the Keckchi simply means that everyone speaks from the
heart all at once and out loud. That is what they did. It started as a mumbling and then grew louder.
        After 1 minute, the entire village was crying. They had their hands in the air and looked towards the
heavens. I heard “Gracias a Dios” repeatedly from every corner of the church. Their prayers were simple. I heard
thanks given for such things as food and shelter. They were thanking God for life. They were thanking God that we
came to visit another year. They were crying tears of joy for the very fact that they were alive. I stood and tried to
come up with something to say. I couldn’t. In my over-educated mind, I was trying to think of something rational
or relevent to say. Nothing “original” or “sincere” came to mind. After a few moments, I mumbled some words
for the sake of going with the flow.
        All of a sudden, a very sobering feeling overtook my body. My understanding of humbleness was
redefined. I came to realize that I had no idea how to be so thankful to God for the very things that give me life. I
did not know how to cry tears of joy in thanksgiving for the blessings that have always just been there for me
already. I have never had be aware of God to keep air in my lungs and give me life. Those things have always been
there for me. There was never a time in my life that I have been without food, water, medicine, clothes, or freedom.
        Worshiping God, unlike the Keckchi, is a discipline I have to make time for. I have to make time for God.
How could my faith ever move me to tears when I have to carve 15 minutes out of my life (given to me by God) to
spend in prayer. I can't sit still after an hour of church while my brothers and sisters in the same time zone 1,500
miles away worship for 3 full hours and cry their eyes out. What else would they be doing on a Sunday? It is God's
        For my Guatemalan brothers and sisters, there is no effort. There is no practiced discipline. They do not
have to sit and think of things to be thankful for. Their understanding of meaningfulness and fulfillment is based on
the fact that God has given them life. They are thankful to God for every waking moment of their lives. They cry
tears of joy because they are healthy and those they love are alive and with them today. The very basics of their life
are grounded in God.
        Do I thank God for the blessings of a house, food, a great job, and financial success? I do. Have they been
blessings? Or has God given them to me to realize that there is so much more to existence than these things I
covet? Does a Guatemalteco thank God for a middle management position or that his family has made it through
another day during the rainy season? Saying "I am so lucky and blessed" is a mere statement. I am lucky. I am
blessed. My life is meaningful and fulfilling.

        6:30 AM. Sunrise. I can hear my friends waking and talking outside the hotel room. My fever has fallen to
102. We are heading back to Nashville. Maybe I can venture out today and be around some smiling children.
Maybe the backpacking Tikal brothers were right in a twisted way. I need to share the wealth. This wealth has
nothing to do with anything of this world. Things of this world are just stuff. I guess I can share more of my stuff
with others. The stuff I share like my car, laptop, salary, and house will still be here long after I am gone. We are
all going to be gone at some point. At that point, stuff is useless. I have no idea how to be thankful for the things
that give me life. My mission then is to accept that I don’t understand this, rejoice in my blessings, and share the
one true wealth...


                                               Asphalt Passage
        I got out of my car. It wasn’t graceful. I had to do that balancing act of holding too many things with too
few hands. I had two...hands, that is. In these two hands I attempted to carry my keys, laptop bag, book, lunch salad
in a clear plastic to-go container, and all the disposable silverware plus napkins. Fortunately, I was given a plush
Lincoln rental car this week as a free upgrade. The steering wheel retracts and the seat adjusts to make it easy to get
out of the car. This was extremely helpful due to the fact that my hands held my work and my lunch.
        I balanced myself out of the car and bumped the door shut with my rear. As I took one step forward, I could
see her coming. She had on a crisp heavily starched outfit. Her hair was blonde and about shoulder length. I must
admit she was cute. She approached with a smile that seemed to get bigger with each closing foot. I started to smile
back. I could make out her facial features; she definitely went from cute to HOT.
        I readjusted all the items in my hands and made myself a little more balanced for her arrival. For Heaven’s
sake, I had just gotten out of a Lincoln. I needed to look smooth. I was dressed nicely in a shirt and tie. I looked
young, professional, hip, and trendy. Along with my salad, I was going to take a quick lunch break in my hotel
room. I could hear the motor of her golf cart as it gradually approached my parking space. The wind started
blowing my tie all over. It also started blowing her hair all over. Time seemed to slow down as I felt like I was in a
Chevy Chase fantasy scene from a National Lampoon’s movie. She was my “Christie Brinkley.”
        She pulled up next to me and in a sexy, womanly voice said, “Sir, would you like a ride to the front door?”
        A friggin’ ride to the front door of the hotel? The hotel door is 25 feet away. Someone is actually paying an
employee to drive lazy-ass people a few feet so they don’t have to walk across the pavement? Was it a moat? A
construction zone? Was there some lake I neglected to miss that lay in-between my parking space and the front
door to the hotel?
        “Are you kidding?” I said. Stop the music. Stop the Chevy Chase scene. Write “dork” across my forehead. I
had lost it. My Christie Brinkley smiled politely and said, “Okay, sir have a nice day.” She then drove off. I blew it.
        What did I blow? An offer to ride a golf cart 25 feet to the front door was just about all I could take from
the wretchedly excessive five star hotel I was staying in for business. Yes, business. I had gotten sick of 5 people
greeting me at the door, having to order a cup of coffee catered to my room on a silver tray, and having to spend
$29 dollars on a steak. All I wanted was a coffee maker in my room. That was it. I am a simple and low
maintenance business traveler. Instead, I have the luxury to have someone wipe my ass for me, have 6 towels in my
room, 3 kinds of soap, a fridge full of drinks, and a beautiful young woman offering to give me safe passage across
the treacherous asphalt.

All in the name of comfort…

         We paid the river taxi driver double his normal fare. This amounted to two Quetzals or 28 cents. It was
getting very dark. Dark meant thieves. River taxi drivers have a good bit of cash on them. Fortunately, we had a
good bit of cash on us, and we needed safe passage across the river. Our hotel was on the island, and we were on
the mainland. The mainland was not a place where a Gringo would want to have an extended stay. As a matter of
fact, we might have been the only non-Hispanic folks on the other side of the river, waiting for safe passage to our
         River taxis in Guatemala are about 25 feet long and 3 feet wide. They are narrow, skinny, and float 2 feet or
so off the water. People crowd the sides of the boat, which can only hold one person to a side. No one sits in the
middle. The driver fired up his 20 horsepower motor and the smell of gas could be detected. He pushed the boat off
the riverbank with a big stick and we got underway for our 5-minute ride to the other side.
         The river is also used as the sewer. As the sun set, a refreshing breeze blew over the lake. The gentle wake
of the water patted against the shallow boat. Mixed in with that breeze was the pungent smell of raw sewage from
the few thousand people that drained their business into the water. This gave the water an alarmingly unique bluish
gray tone.
         I tried to block out the smell and tried to take in all the scenery I left behind me. The glow of dim 40-watt
lights lit little concrete tiendas strewn across the road. People walked and rode bikes along dirt side roads and
deteriorated main roads. Business were closing up shops as storeowners were closing windows and sweeping
porches. It was unique. It was just another day in a third world country.
         To my left I heard an unusually loud group of young children’s voices. It was hard to see where exactly
they were coming from, as things were getting darker. My eyes fumbled through a few more glimpses and finally
I saw where all the noise was coming from. What I could see was about 10 children standing around in a circle. In
the middle of the circle I could see two boys. One was significantly smaller than the other. No one in the circle
could have been older than ten.
        What I was witnessing was a good old playground fight. The two boys were in tattered clothes, beyond the
norm. As a matter of fact, all the children seemed to be dressed more poorly than the usual. I am referring to the
norm or the usual for Guatemala. The much smaller boy seemed to really be holding his ground. The children
screamed and yelled when the two boys started to punch. Around the children, adults just simply walked by as if
nothing were happening. The circle of children took up the whole center of the road. People simply glanced for a
few seconds and then detoured around the circle.
        “Gran luchador,” said the driver as he now caught a little of the street fight action. Great fighter. I asked
the river taxi driver what that was all about. He said that the children shine shoes during the day for 1 Quetzal (14
cents per shine). They were both businessmen. They were competing for each other’s business. One accused
another of stealing customers unfairly and thus decreasing revenue. So they took it to the street and had a slugfest.

Decreased revenue meant less money to buy cocaine to snort at night to stay warm while sleeping on the streets.
Safe passage.

All in the name of comfort…

                                      He Was Born on a Thursday

         That is what the computer said. I curiously plugged the date 0000 into the command line. December 25th
fell on a Thursday. A few moments later I wrapped up yet another UNIX training class. After saying good-bye and
happy holidays to my students, I got in my car for a 5-hour drive home from Washington DC. I was on the way to
see my family. All four of us and some complete strangers for yet another Christmas holiday.
         I have never experienced the traditional extended family holiday season. This is due mainly to the fact that
both my parents are only children. There are no aunts, uncles, or cousins. I do not know what it means to road-trip
to that weird state I only visit to see family. I do not know the feeling of having twenty people around a dinner
table. I do not know how to share toys, TV and time with my first cousins. I do not have that one strange uncle who
is not married, has no kids and does not really seem to do much of anything.
          From my earliest years, it has always been the four of us and my grandparents. In the last few years, all my
grandparents have passed away. In the years since, my mother has recruited grandparents. Most of these are people
she has cared for as a social worker in predominantly Jewish nursing homes. That makes for an interesting
conversation about Christ's birth at the dinner table. The four of us sit with a few random senior citizens whom my
mother knows, but my brother, dad and I do not. Every year we are pleasantly surprised with not only presents, but
complete strangers! So most of the time is spent with my mother and her recruits discussing social welfare while
the rest of us just nod politely, waiting for excuses to hit the couches.
         Not having any extended family does enable much flexibility during the holiday season. We don not have to
be anywhere for anything. Since we will always be at home every year, my family has ushered at the midnight
church service for however long I have been allowed to hold a candle. I can rarely think of Christmas without
thinking of sitting in the back of my church in a suit with my brother. It would also not be a Christmas Eve service
if one of us did not let out a silent fart and giggle, even at the ages of 26 and 22. On the other side, in the end pew
would be Mom and Dad. Dad would always snooze during the sermon due to the glass of wine he drank at a
holiday open house earlier. He would wake up just in time to collect offering.
         For those of you who have ever collected up offering, you know the formation. The ushers have to come
down the aisles at the same time and arrive at the altar. The inner two ushers grab the plates. They walk back to the
outer ushers who lift their plates off from the top plate. All four turn around in unison, look at each other, nod and
start collecting. It is all about pace. One usher may have to slow down in between rows waiting for another usher
who hit a jackpot. Looking across the back of the church, I could always see my parents lining up in confusion. My
dad would be whispering to my mom the formation instructions all the way up till the walk down the aisle. With
the pressure of the formation on, it was always a cliffhanger to see if Mom would break the formation. I believe she
is about 12 and 8, just above 500.
         The candle lighting part of the service is the climax. The four of us walk up with our big candles and
receive the flame from the Advent wreath candle. We then walk down the aisles, passing the flames to the
congregation's candles until every candle is lit. Here is the catch. The first one to the back of the sanctuary has to
figure out how to turn the lights out so the candles will illuminate the church. In a church that is almost 260 years
old, not to mention that we have gone there all our lives, and had been ushering this very service ever since I could
walk, you would think we would know how to turn off the lights. It can be a high-pressure job. The lights have to
be out before the carol "Joy to the World" is finished. People are looking forward to the glow. It is the reason why
many people come to the service. There is a peace that comes about the church in the few moments of silence in-
between the ending of the carol, the strike of midnight, and the benediction.
          The lighting panel in the back of the sanctuary looks like something out of an old Flash Gordon movie.
Every year we fumble through it and try to figure out what needs to come off or what needs to be dimmed. It is
almost comical and has become the highlight for many of my friends. " the Hochs try to figure out how
to turn off the lights." One year, we turned out the choir loft lights and forgot to turn them back on...they had
trouble singing the "Halleluiah Chorus." Another year, we turned off the pulpit lights and no one could read any of
the final Scriptures or prayers.
         At the end of the service, we exchange best wishes with friends, clean up the sanctuary, and grab one of the
hundred red Christmas poinsettias that decorate the church. This plant usually has a life span of 3 days in a house
with 4 indoor cats. A childhood friend or two I only see at the service now will congratulate the family on another
good show back by the Flash Gordon light panel. Upon getting home, it is late. The weather is usually cold. Many
families leave the Christmas lights on their houses up and running. It is a quiet, pleasant ride home, the right way to
start the celebration of Christ's birth.
         In the years of waiting patiently for Santa, I could remember getting home from the service and running
straight up to bed. Of course I could not sleep. Who could? Regardless of age, I would fall asleep 2 hours after
lying down. Every few moments I would wake up and look at the clock. It never seemed to move. I would finally
fall asleep and wake up 2 hours before the rest of the family. Upon waking, my brother and I would then have to
wait patiently for my parents to come downstairs. We were curious about the bounty that lay under the tree.
         There is not too much to anticipate Christmas morning nowadays. Well, maybe I will be curious to see who
my grandparents will be for the day. Don't get me wrong. There is still anticipation. When I get home from another
Hoch midnight ushering service, I still can't sleep for an hour or two. My anticipation goes beyond the socks, gift
certificates, and underwear my mother always buys me. The difference is that I spend the time in front of the
Christmas tree in anticipation of a visit.
         Silent night, holy night. All is calm. Silence from the rush of friends, family, and gatherings. The room is
dark. The tree is glowing with lights and reflections of family Christmas ornaments. The smell of the family meal
still lingers in the air. My mouth tastes of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate. I get on my knees. I get close to the
tree. I can smell the winter in the pine needles. Underneath sit the few presents that my mom buys me every year. I
am thankful for my small family, including recruited grandparents. I am thankful for the warmth and the many
blessings in my life. It is at this moment that I feel the presence of God all around the place. Chills surge through
my body in the early morning hours of the most important day of my life. Peace on Earth. Goodwill towards all. I
know I will be able to sleep tonight. Christ the savior is born...on a Thursday.


        There is a dual benefit of taking a UNIX administration class. One learns in-depth skills and techniques to
handle the everyday complexities of corporate information systems. Many people spend their lives pointing and
clicking through pictures and icons. Understanding the UNIX operating system (as compared to Microsoft
products) is quite in-depth, unintuitive, has tons of TLAs (three letter acronyms), requires much memorization, and
does not work on pointing and clicking. Everything is a file or a directory. One has to become familiar with
hundreds of these and their formats and understand how the modification of one file affects the others. One could
spend a lifetime studying UNIX and not know every single thing the OS can do.
        The quest for this knowledge is addictive. Many a person slips and bangs his or her head on the UNIX
learning curve. But once one gets over it, it becomes an obsession to learn more. Concepts get more complex. One
digs deeper into the files, testing applications. Administrators push the limits of the operating system in both
performance and security. Speaking of security, getting over the learning curve starts the exploration of hacking.
That in itself can be more habit forming than most street drugs.
        The problem is that the other 99% of the world does not really care. The UNIX culture is small and yet so
powerful. Most people just accept that the Web sites they surf, cell phones they talk on, and ATMs that dispense
money will work. Pointing and clicking. That is it. I myself never thought I would ever be a part of this culture. In
college, the people who did what I do now were simply geeks. I was too enlightened and philosophical to sit in
front of a box of silicon and type.
        I am glad I am a part of it. I have been let in on the secret. The power does not lie in the presidents,
politicians, or CEOs. The power falls into the hands of all those computer geeks who sit in those back rooms eating
donuts. These are the people who can bring the technology I depend so much on to a screeching halt in a matter of
minutes. These people talk in another language. This language, the language of UNIX, is usually met with the same
response: "I don't know much about that computer stuff." Good. As long as people still keep on saying that, I will
keep on getting paid a good salary.
        This brings up the second benefit of taking a UNIX system administration class. One learns the art of
conversation killing. This skill must be used wisely or it can be detrimental to one's social life if not used properly.
One has to first realize that most people simply do not care about UNIX. There is a boundary. If one does not
realize this, he or she will kill conversations and possibly relationships unintentionally. This can be hard. People do
not understand. They do not care to understand. It can be so exciting in UNIX when one finally figures something
out. Yet during a weekend social function, saying "Hey, baby, I was able to grep the sacpipe and dump the ol'
stickybit" might warrant a slap in the face.
        However, if someone has a good understanding of their UNIX boundaries, he or she can get anyone to stop
talking to him or her. This has worked to my advantage over this last year, especially on airplanes. I have a 100%
conversation kill record right now, and I have yet to have someone come close to challenging me. A good and in-
depth discussion about system initialization states along with run control scripting and network device drive tuning
will cause any person to quickly give a polite smile, turn49 or her head and, start reading the in-flight magazine.
        I had been teaching UNIX File System (UFS) layouts for almost one year. This could be one of the best
conversation killing topics of UNIX administration. This topic even puts the students to sleep. There have been
times when I have lost upwards of 50% of the class to solitaire (even on UNIX) and the 2 PM nap lull. I think I
have put myself to sleep before. I just don't feel that most people think much about how many bits of data the inode
indirect pointer can reference on a disk.
         While in the middle of lecture dryer than most dotcom bank accounts, I made a connection to what I was
teaching. The connection happened in front of 25 students. It was one of those connections that usually diverted me
from whatever I was a part of (conversation, lecture, etc...) and put me in my own little world. I can usually hear
the words and see the images around me, but my mind had tapped a concept that caused it to spin out of control.
Usually it takes a wave in front of the face from someone else to bring me back. After some concentration, I can
finally get back to whatever I was paying attention to, but my brain is now eager to think about the connection. I
could not zone too far due to the fact that 25 people were staring at me when I hesitated mid sentence and had yet
another thing make sense.
         It is not until now (on the plane ride home), that I can share my little connection while teaching the art of
conversation killing otherwise known as the UNIX File System (UFS). Now, without stepping over my boundaries,
I will attempt to explain. A file system is a way of organizing files on a hard drive. Think of it as a library. A
library has two major components: books and a catalogue system. The same holds true for a file system. A file
system organizes data in logical places throughout the hard drive just like a catalogue system organizes books. The
operating system needs to access certain files in order to work. Therefore, it needs to check the catalogue to figure
out where the data exists on the disk. The more efficiently organized the data, the better performance of the
computer. The disk data is organized by a mathematical numbering system. Since the operating system thinks in
numbers, it is also organized within numbers.
         Math is a pure science. It is true knowledge. It is a perfect.creation God created everything around me. God
created the existence of one and two. The states of one and two can't be changed. I failed miserably in calculus so
do not ask me to give any examples. But, what I do remember is that there is only one right answer in math.
Mathematical problems are not open for debate or discussion like almost every single psychology topic. One can
easily argue Freud's stages of life and how they modify human behavior, but 2+2 will always equal four.
         We created computers. We created UNIX. We created UFS. It all is based on math. We did not create math.
We used an already perfect creation to evolve an imperfect man-made creation. We have become dependent on the
usage of this perfect knowledge known as math. There would be no online shopping, flight reservations, or cash
registers without it. What would I do without Starbucks coffee prepared for me based on inventory control
software? My realization in class was based on the UFS. In our humanness, we harnessed the mathematical
possibility to store 70 terabytes of data in a single file. This is the equivalent of using all the hard drive space on
about 1,000 personal computers to store one single Microsoft Word document.
         Notice, I said harness the mathematical possibility. I did not say create it. That is because math is pure
knowledge, and it is perfect. It was created by God long before we knew that 2+2 even equaled 4. The hardware
and software we have developed in our knowledge can only store a maximum of 1 terabyte of data in a single file.

God Creation=70 terabytes (mathmatically, it can reach infinity)
Human Creation=1 terabyte

        It does not matter how well I can kill a conversation. It does not matter how much power I have by being
able to understand UNIX. It does not matter if I can point and click. It does not matter that I know the UNIX File
System. It does not matter how many system administration classes I take or teach. The connection I made in class
that day was a reminder that no matter how much I marvel in my human creations, they will never even come close
to the perfect creations of God.


      “In Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been           brought near through the blood of Christ...he
has made the two     one and has destroyed the barrier…”

                                       - Ephesians 2:13-14

         As I sipped my mocha at Starbuck’s today, it all hit. A revelation that is, not the ingestion of espresso. Well,
maybe that has something to do with it. When it hits, it hits hard. I like to think of it as one of those mind bending
puzzles in which one has to figure out how to remove a ring from a seemingly interlocked structure. As one spends
time trying to figure one of these out, he or she remembers specific moves. Each move brings one closer to solving
the puzzle. After each move is discovered, a new set of moves is generated. These moves will build on the
previously generated moves. Most do not achieve a solution, but eventually one of the moves will bring a person
closer to solving the puzzle and removing the ring.
         They call these things mind benders for a reason. My experience is based largely on what I can see around
me. At first glance, the puzzle looks unsolvable. This is based on a set of rules created by time and space. The
solution to many of these puzzles resides in being able to see beyond what is directly in front of somebody,
bending the mind's perceptions. A series of moves that seem logical (many wrong) can only get a person so far.
They are merely a guide and based on what one can see. To solve the puzzle requires an understanding of what is
seen (the use of moves) and the ability to act on the unseen. This solution defies the logical perception. That is why
they are mind-bending puzzles. That is why I can never solve them.
         It is funny to think how naive I can be sometimes. I have spent many a morning sitting here at Starbuck’s
drinking coffee. There have been countless thoughts, prayers, and meditations. I have written stories and books. I
know there will be spiritual highs and lows. There will be times when I will test my own faith. There will be the
good, the bad, and the ugly. I was naive, however, in thinking that once I passed a test I would have understanding.
It was this understanding that would not lead me to the same test again. There will definitely be more tests, but I
thought that my peace and understanding would in effect "shield" me from those which I had already passed.
         This brought me to my moment at Starbucks. It seems that for the last few months I have not been able to
sit comfortably with the word of God. I now see it across all fronts. I found myself holding onto people for what
they could do for me. I was indecisive about my relationships with friends and lovers. I felt the need for a change
in churches. I was not getting fulfilled. There was a spiritual void developing. I found myself in fear of my
financial and corporate future. I feared not getting recognized for my hard work. I was worried about those things
that will be on the earth long after I am gone.
         Fear. Indecision. Voids. Separation. Wants. Gradually, I found myself at that spiritual low. I could not
connect to God. I could not connect to myself. I ruled out (more like blocked out) all possible reasons for this based
on previous understanding. Naive. I figured I had generated my set of moves for tests like this. The moves made
me understand things. I felt like I had everything in place. There was no way I would fail a test I felt I had already
passed. Yet I was feeling pain. The normal responses to 51 spiritual tests were not working. I prayed for God to
light a fire. That understanding I thought I had gained was not getting me out of the funk.

It wasn't until I leaned away from what I thought I knew....
“Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.”


        I have never been separated from God. I never had a spiritual low. There has never been a test. This
spiritual low which I created in my head is not reality. That which I created in my head does not exist in the
paradigm of space and time. It does not matter. My wants, fears, and voids were created solely out of my own
        This is because I am one with God. Not pleasure, pain, friends, jobs, money, things, words, punishment, or
people's actions can separate me from Him. Everything I am and have comes from God. I am one with you, and I
am one with Him. That is the absolute truth of divine love. In my human world of either/or, I can either choose to
accept this or I can choose not to accept this.
        I guess I chose not to accept for the time being. I was looking at my own understanding. That which I could
only see. Before I knew it, I was putting faith in ONLY that which I could see. I held on for fear of losing. Losing
what? Losing those conditional human things defined by humans in time and space. The losses would leave large
and open voids in my life. So, I tried to fill the voids (which I created) with my own understanding.
        None of that stuff matters. In God's eternity that which I see around me will stay after I am long gone. The
concept of time only applies to humanity. When I see only those things around me, the puzzle seems unsolvable. I
can generate move upon move based on what I can smell, touch, or feel. The moves will never solve the puzzle.
They are based on the rules of what I can see. It is not until I lean on what I can't see that I can truly remove my
perceptions of fear, needs, voids, and indecision.
        Trust. Trust in what I can't see. Faith. Faith in the fact that it is all good. It is all right. God is nothing but
right. When it is right with God, it is right with what I can see. This is regardless of the rules that have been set
before me in my humanity. The pain is only if I choose to let it be painful. The separation is only if I choose to be
separated. There is no pain, doubt, separation or fear in the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no either/or. There are no
sets of rules that define what I can see. I will see everything. It will be right. It will be good. The constant of time is
going to eventually bring me there. Then there will be no time. At that point, the mind bender puzzle will be

I am one with God. Always. Forever. Amen.

“The light bulb is there, the problem is finding the switch.”



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