There is nothing more jarring than waking up to the truth.

Granted, truth can be an extremely subjective thing in this context. Can’t that be said about all truths, though? We take it for granted that the sun will rise in the morning, but we can’t know it for certain. We can make the assumption, based upon past experience, that the sun will rise, but we don’t – we can’t – know it until it actually happens.

But what if we lived in denial of this fact? What if we’d spent the last ten years telling ourselves that it wasn’t the sun that was rising, but it was actually something else? An enormous flaming chariot, for instance, ridden across the sky every day by Helios, as the Greeks believed?

And then came the morning that you arose from bed, looked out across the plains at the horizon, and suddenly you saw the sun for what it was – middle-sized star? And you also realized that the rotation of the planet every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds was what caused the sun to rise, and not some mythical, fiery figure riding his flaming chariot across the sky?

To wake up to a truth of this magnitude can really mess with your day, let alone your week, month, or life. Maybe you’ve always suspected it. Maybe it never made sense. But it was always so much easier to believe the lie you told yourself, because the alternative was/is unpleasant.

Still, denial is a powerful ally. It is so much easier to maintain the status quo, to tell yourself that you’re better off not knowing the truth, than to accept yourself, and your situation, for what it is, good or bad. Knowing the truth, and not accepting it, is cowardice, pure and simple. It is living a lie, and that is worse than the alternative.

Self-esteem – value and self-worth – can only be fully, truthfully realized when the truth is accepted and dealt with.


Self-esteem can be a tricky thing.

We’re all born with self-esteem, but somewhere along the way, it gets systematically beaten out of us – sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, sometimes both. Some people learn to deal with this at an early age, and adopt a façade of being well-adjusted, a fake air of confidence. Most of us, though, learn to deal with it in other ways – acting out, or adopting a self-deprecating sense of humor, or any of a dozen other ways of masking the pain.

Life can seem so difficult sometimes. Pride (or a lack thereof) convinces us that either we deserve more, or that we’re getting precisely what we deserve. It’s easy to look at the suffering of others and think to oneself, “Well, at least I don’t have it THAT badly!” But this is a false dichotomy – we all suffer individually, in our own little island of existence, and to varying degrees. Starving children in Africa, tortured citizens of Hong Kong or the Middle East, or victims of unspeakable crimes right here in the United States have no real bearing on the individual suffering we each experience.

Psychologists use the term “self-esteem” to describe an individual’s sense of value or self-worth. Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, makes the case the we all need both esteem (or respect) from others as well as inner (self-) esteem. People who suffer from low self-esteem often find themselves in self-destructive situations or relationships. These situations become a self-fulfilling prophecy, validating one’s own low sense of self.

Although genetics play a role in it, most psychologists believe that self-esteem is shaped by one’s own environment. Allowing oneself to continue to exist in an abusive relationship – in fact, seeking out these relationships in the first place, whether consciously or unconsciously – is one of the hallmarks of low self-esteem. It is a hard habit to break, this vicious cycle of believing you get what you deserve, then being abused (either physically or emotionally) and believing you deserve to be treated in the manner.

How best to break this cycle, this merry-go-round of pain and suffering. There are many different strategies proposed by many different psychologists and therapists, but most all of them have one thing in common – it is best to rip the band-aid off rather than to continue to exist in the situation, hoping it will get better.

Sometimes, sadly, this is not always possible – at least not immediately. Certainly, if an individual is in imminent physical danger, getting out of the situation is (and should be) the main priority. But in cases of emotional abuse, the situation is not always cut-and-dried, not always so black-and-white. It may even be the case that no abuse is intended; it may be a matter of simple miscommunication. So many people are afraid of the unknown that they would rather live with the devil they know than take a chance with the devil they don’t know.

In the absence of the ability or opportunity to leave, the first step is to try to set definitive boundaries with the other party. Try to have an adult conversation with them concerning your wants and needs. Often, it is merely a matter of miscommunication between the two parties. However, if and when it becomes evident that there is (and can be) no common ground, it is time to start to think about moving on, to start preparing for the end of the relationship.

I don’t have the answer. I wish I did. Or maybe I do, and I am just too afraid of the devil I don’t know.

Mid-Year’s Day Resolutions

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve written anything, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you up to speed on what I’ve been doing.

On July 1, I decided – a Mid-Year Day’s Resolution, if you will – to accomplish two things.

  1. Learn something new every day.
  2. Learn a new skill by the end of the year.

Number 1 is going very well. I’ve subscribed to a couple of very good email newsletters, and I’ve become immersed in the world of podcasts. Stuff You Should Know, hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, is a particular favorite. Alex Williams’ Ephemeral is another podcast I’ve really enjoyed. The End of the World with Josh Clark, hosted by Josh Clark (duh!), is highly recommended (by me) as well.

When I can’t listen, or don’t have the time to devote 30-60 minutes to a podcast, short articles on the interwebs have become my go-to means of enrichment and entertainment. Google News, How Stuff Works, and Mental Floss all have permanent bookmarks in my phone’s browser.

I’ve given number 2 some thought, and I think I’m leaning towards learning to play tennis. Since I’ve done so well with golf – someone really needs to come up with a sarcasm font – I thought I’d give tennis a try. The worst that could happen is that I suck as badly at tennis as I do at golf, but I’ll be in better shape at least, right? RIGHT?!?!

Oh, who am I kidding? The worst that can happen is probably having a heart attack on the court as I’m lunging to return a well-placed cross-court smash from my opponent.

So, over the course of the remainder of the year, I hope to be able to share something new with you almost every day, whether it’s a status update on my tennis lessons or some seemingly insignificant-yet-interesting bit of trivia, like why golf balls have dimples or why you couldn’t get a taco in the U.S. until the mid-1950’s.

We’ll probably also get into my irrational fear of microscopic black holes – thanks, Josh Clark – but that’s another post for another day.

SpongeSteve SquareStudent

I find it odd, and a bit fascinating, how both my learning style and my general attitude towards school has changed over the last forty-plus years.

When I was in high school in the late seventies and early eighties, I was the model student, behavior-wise. I always paid attention in class and was somewhat of a teacher’s pet (although I never went so far as to remind the teacher when she neglected to assign homework). I am less of an academic brown-noser in college now, but I do pay attention and am usually among the first to participate during interactive exercises in the classroom.

In high school, I took reams upon reams of notes for each class. Rather than having one of those five-subject notebooks, I had a separate binder for each class, and often had to literally run to my locker, change notebooks, and run to my next class so as to not be late. Now, I just open a word document on my laptop and type – much easier, much more efficient.

Most interestingly, though, is how my level of effort has changed over the years.

In high school, I tried to be a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could. I tried to always be among the first to class so I could sit up front, and was usually among the last to leave when class was over.

As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, and as my classes now seem to overlap with previous classes more and more, I find myself relying more on memory. How many different ways can Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs be covered in a classroom setting, after all?

Perhaps most tellingly, though, as I no longer hold teachers, instructors and professors on a pedestal as I did when I was (much) younger. I can see now, as an adult myself, that they are just people who are playing the role of teacher, just as I’m playing the role of student.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way I prepare for tests and writing assignments. I have now been doing this long enough that I’m confident – perhaps too confident – in my academic abilities, and so I find myself putting into the class 1) as much effort as it takes to get an A, and 2) as much effort as the instructor puts into it.

Currently, I am taking two college-level courses.

One class is being taught by an instructor who, while he knows the subject material very well, is new to teaching and therefore is still finding his way. He always comes to class prepared for lecture and discussion, but many of the assignments are not well thought out, and as he isn’t quite sure what to expect for the wide range of students in this class, he tends to grade more leniently than might be expected.

I find myself doing the bare minimum in this class, which thus far has been more than enough to carry a high grade. I would consider this class to be less than challenging, which is actually a good thing considering everything else I have going on (full time job, family, etc.).

My other class is being taught by a seasoned veteran of teaching. He also knows his subject extremely well, and his lectures are always entertaining and engaging. He assigns a plethora of written assignments, gives a quiz after each chapter, and tests frequently. This class has been a challenge because of the sheer volume of information that needs to be absorbed.

However, due to the sheer number of students he has over his numerous classes, he rarely has time to review the written assignments, electing to give this task over to his teaching assistants instead. It quickly became evident that these papers were not being graded for content, but rather that they met a strict set of structural criteria (correct font, specific formatting, etc.). This realization has made writing these papers simultaneously easier and more difficult. Intellectually, I know I just have to meet the physical requirements and stay relatively on-topic to get a good grade on these papers, but psychologically I still find myself trying to write the best content possible for an assignment that I’m reasonably certain no one will be reading for content.

So, upon further refection, I guess I haven’t changed so much, when it comes right down to it – I’m still doing what is necessary to get the grades I want. I’m still learning new things, of course, much of which will have no real application outside of the classroom. But my focus remains on doing well within the system – i.e. getting good grades – just as it was forty years ago.

Three Sport Star

This may come as a shock to you, but I ain’t exactly the most athletic dude in the world.

Sure, I can hit a baseball – well, a softball, anyway – and I can throw a football and I can dribble a basketball. However, I didn’t play in any organized sports leagues after the eighth grade (aside from the co-ed rec league softball team I coached in Denver), partly because I was busy doing other things, and partly because I never felt I was talented enough to make a contribution to any team.

The reason I bring this up is that I just got back from a two mile lunchtime run, and I spent the majority of that run replaying some of the highlights of my athletic career over and over in my mind. Let me share some of my personal highlight reel with you.


First off, there was the time in seventh grade where I was promoted to middle outfielder. The grade school league we played in allowed for four outfielders – leftfielder, rightfielder, centerfielder and middlefielder, the last of which was a sort of rover behind second base, and would act as the cut-off between the outfield and the infield on deeply hit balls.

I usually played center field because, although I couldn’t really hit or field that well, I had a cannon of an arm (at least at that age). I could throw the ball from deep center and hit home plate on the fly, zero bounces.

Our home field in Miramonte, California, didn’t have outfield bleachers, because the outfield was bordered by a creek that ran through the school. Balls that were hit that far were often lost in the overgrowth, or landed in the water.

During one particular practice, I was playing middle field when a ball was smacked deep to left. My buddy Rick went trudging after it – we were a small school on a limited budget, and could scarcely afford to lose too many balls. I assumed he’d go looking for it, give up, and come back to the field of play with his hands raised, as if to say, “I tried, but couldn’t find it anywhere!”

My mind started to wander. Forty-odd years later, I have no idea what I was contemplating. It might have been a test coming up; it might have been what happened in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man; it might have been how do I get the cutest girl in my class, Cindy, to notice me. Whatever it was, it kept me from noticing everyone around me yelling at me to PAY ATTENTION!

Because Rick hadn’t given up. He’d found the ball, and coming out of the thicket by the creek and seeing me standing there in the outfield, he heaved the ball with all of his might at me.

The next thing I remember, I’m laying on the field with Mr. Buxman, my teacher (and also the principal) pressing a towel to my face and asking if I was all right. I reached up to my face, and all I could feel was wetness. I apparently let fly with a few choice words, from what I was told later. It is literally all a blur to me.

Rick had let fly with a rocket that sailed straight at me and pegged me square in my day-dreaming face. Knocked me out cold, bloodied and broke my nose, the works.


We were a pretty small school. My graduating class of eighth grade, for instance, had seven total kids. There were nine kids in seventh grade, just below us. So, we had to make due with what we had. All of the boys played on all of the teams – flag football, baseball and basketball.

At that age, I had zero upper body strength. I can recall one afternoon on the basketball court – a cement slab outside, surrounded by chain link fencing to keep the wildlife out, with four goals and two courts painted on the cement – we were doing free throw drills.

I stood at the line and prepared to shoot. Twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys can be merciless, so I wasn’t about to try to do a “granny shot,” where you cradle the ball between your legs then heave upwards and fling the ball at the goal. I stood at the line, dribbled two or three times, then jumped and shot.

My hope was that the upwards motion of me jumping would give the ball the added boost it needed to make it to the goal. And I was right, it did. And I even made the shot.

That didn’t stop everyone – kids and Mr. Buxman alike – from laughing their asses off.

My form was, to say the least, interesting. As demonstrated by the much-more-athletic Jerry, I apparently jumped with one one leg while kicking the other leg back behind me, in a sort of bunny hop. Very masculine; very athletic.

Mr. Buxman considered my form for a moment, then made the proclamation, “You look like a bird, hopping around looking for bugs to eat instead of shooting a basketball. From now on, your nickname is ‘Magpie’.”

And it was.


We weren’t necessarily dirt poor when I was growing up and we lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but we were definitely “you only need one pair of shoes” poor.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, this wasn’t an issue. I wasn’t terribly fashion-forward as a kid – I was happy in my JC Penney jeans with the reinforced knees and my hiking boots. “Waffle stompers” is what we called them, because of the pattern they made when you walked in soft dirt or mud – a sort of waffle-like pattern.

The other one percent of the time, though, was when I was playing sports. There were many times when I was chasing down a fly ball in center field or trying to do a pick-and-roll on the basketball court in my waffle stompers, and no one said a word. At least, not to me.

That was, until we played a game against our chief rival. Dunlop was the school just down the road from us, and they were bigger than us, but not by much. Their facilities were much like ours – a cement slab for a basketball court, a field that doubled as both a baseball diamond and a football field, depending upon how it had been chalked that day.

Mr. Buxman, who aside from being the 7th & 8th grade teacher and principal of Miramonte Elementary School, was also it’s coach. He decided to try a new play that we’d been working on, called the hook-n-ladder. This type of play is a staple for most teams, but this was forty years ago on a team that was coached by the principal who’s main goal in life was to make it as a painter. Trick plays were a new wrinkle for us.

We played six-man teams – quarterback, two halfbacks, center, two wide receivers. On this particular play, I lined up as the left halfback and my buddy Quentin would be the left receiver. Bobby would snap the ball to his brother Jerry, the quarterback, and Jerry would throw the ball to Quentin, who was doing a ten yard hook – that is, he’d run straight for ten yards and turn around. Meanwhile, I’d run wide, out along the sideline, making sure to stay behind Quentin. As soon as Quentin caught the ball, he’d pitch it out to me running along the sideline, and I’d make a beeline for the end zone.

We ran the play twice that day. The first time we ran it, I scored a touchdown, but it was called back because I’d gotten ahead of Quentin, and forced him into making a forward lateral. The second time, though, it worked perfectly, and I scored the only touchdown of my two year flag-football career.

It was glorious, that second time. Running down the sidelines to cheers of “Go! Go! Go!” and “Run, Magpie!” – it was like a drug to me.

I returned to our bench after scoring my second touchdown (and the only one that actually counted) to high-fives and laughter. I wasn’t quite sure what was so funny, so I asked Mr. Buxman why everyone was laughing.

“The sight of you running down the sideline in your hiking boots (he didn’t know they were called waffle stompers, apparently) with your laces untied and flapping in the wind, with the entire Dunlop team chasing you, was like a scene out of some movie, like you’d stolen that football and they were the cops trying to catch you!” he said, between fits of laughter.

I was simultaneously elated and crushed. On the one hand, I had actually scored a touchdown! On the other hand, though, I looked like an idiot doing it.


My experience with Mr. Buxman, as deflating and crushing as it often was, ended on a high note. He gave me a gift when I graduated eighth grade, and it turned out to be one that changed my life. But that’s a subject for another post.

I graduated and moved on to high school shortly thereafter, and didn’t even make the attempt to play any sports in ninth grade or beyond. I discovered music, and concentrated on that, which I very much enjoyed. I’d learned my lesson – I’m good at a lot of things, but sports ain’t one of them.

But how did I know I wouldn’t develop into an athlete as I grew older? How did I know that my talents and abilities lie elsewhere?

A little bird told me. A magpie, in fact.

Murphy’s Law Strikes Again

I’ve never been much of a cook.

I can make a mean pot of mashed potatoes, but that’s about as sophisticated as I get in the kitchen. If something comes in a box that has directions, I like to think that I’m usually competent enough to manage that task. I can also navigate most recipes, as long as the directions are clear, concise and complete. None of this “cook it until it looks done” nonsense for me.

The catch sometimes is that you need to read the directions first.

A few weeks ago, a local grocery store was clearing out their stock of frozen whole wheat pie crusts. We use those to make homemade potpies, and so we bought quite a few of the two-crust packages.

Last weekend, my wife decided that quiche sounded good, so she thawed one of the pie crust packages and used one of them for her quiche – it was quite good actually. She’s a very talented and resourceful cook.

No one could decide what to use the second crust for – my wife didn’t want to make a second quiche, but also didn’t want to make the chocolate pie our daughter was begging for. It went into the kitchen refrigerator for later use.

Fast forward to Thursday, which is usually my night to make dinner. My wife suggested I make another quiche, but that sounded far too complicated for my basic cooking skills, so I declined. I spent the morning trying to figure out how I could incorporate the unused crust into dinner somehow, then it hit me. I could lure our daughter home from her dorm room for a midweek dinner featuring her favorite garlic bread and – drum roll, please! – the chocolate pie she wanted!

At lunch, I rushed to the grocery store – time was of the essence, since I had a meeting scheduled for immediately after lunch that I couldn’t afford to miss. I went directly to the baking aisle, looking for chocolate pie filling. This is apparently not a thing. I worked my way down the aisle to the pudding, casting about for alternative solutions, and that is where I found it – a box of no-bake chocolate cheesecake. That would work perfectly!

I rushed home and pulled out a glass bowl and the hand mixer. I put the powder and milk into the bowl and mixed it per the directions. When it looked ready, I retrieved the pie crust from the refrigerator and prepared to pour the chocolate mixture into the pie crust.

The crust looked a bit funny, so I put everything down and grabbed the plastic cover that had been on the pie crust and looked at the printing on the back of the label. There were clear directions printed there concerning using the crust for a no-bake pie, and that’s when I discovered that the pie crust needed to be cooked first!

Trying not to panic, I set the oven to 400 degrees and put the crust in. I set the timer for 20 minutes – the directions said to cook the crust for 15 minutes at 400 – then grabbed the bowl of chocolate and went into the den. The cheesecake filling was beginning to set already, so I spent the next 20 minutes occasionally stirring the mixture while watching the local midday news as the crust cooked.

The oven timer started buzzing twenty minutes later, so I returned to the kitchen, took the crust out of the oven and quickly moved it to the refrigerator to cool. I was starting to really panic at this point, so I took the it back out of the fridge seven minutes later and slopped the nearly-set cheesecake mix into the still-warm crust, trying to smooth it out as best I could…


Having finished and put the whole thing back in the fridge to properly set, I returned to work – in time for my meeting. Thankfully, I live less than two miles from the office, so made it back for my meeting with time to spare.

When I got home after work, I pulled the chocolate cheesecake pie out of the fridge. The top looked like a lake during a particularly rough summer storm, so I decorated it with whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles and served it with dinner – all three kids seemed to enjoy it, my daughter included!


I may not be much of a cook OR a baker, but when it comes to whipping things up straight out of a box or a can, I’ve got it covered. Usually.

Tales from the Front Lines

Getting set up for the Tulsa Run, October 28, 2017

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending two years as a starving artist/musician, it’s this – always be prepared!

The first year I played the Route 66 Marathon was one long, two-day learning experience. I played for the 5K runners on a Saturday morning. I arrived thirty minutes early to the spot along the race route where I was supposed to set up. It was a little grassy triangle area where three streets converged in downtown Tulsa. I loaded out, set up my gear, then went looking for a power source.

The marathon had agreements in place with local businesses where they’d provide access to power for the musicians and water stops along the twenty-six mile course. However, it appeared that the business that was supplying me with power had forgotten all about that. I tried plugging in to various outlets, to no avail.

Fortunately, Myron, one of the race coordinators, showed up in the nick of time. He quickly found me a spot 300 yards further down the route, and helped me quickly load and move my gear to this new spot. I got set up and did a quick sound check just as the first runners began showing up.

Set up to play just in time!

The next day was a cold and miserable day, and I was assigned a spot near the twelve mile mark, outside of the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Tulsa. I arrived forty-five minutes early and quickly found the hotel manager, who showed me exactly where I could plug in and set up. Within fifteen minutes I was ready to go, and feeling pretty good about myself – compared to yesterday, this was easy peasy!

Until the first runners started coming by. It was then I realized that I had set up not only on the wrong side of the street, but far enough away from the actual route that runners would scarcely be able to hear me, let alone see me. I quickly broke everything down, made three or four trips across the street lugging all of my gear, and got set up again – all in under ten minutes. By the time the first crowd of marathon runners started trickling by – the ones that weren’t necessarily trying to qualify for Boston – I was finally ready to go.

Ready to go…on the wrong side of the street

My favorite – and I use that term loosely – equipment malfunction was when my guitar blew up.

A few weeks prior to my playing the Route 66 Marathon for the first time, I had the honor of playing for runners during the Tulsa Federal Credit Union Tulsa Run. This was the end of October, and it was a bitterly cold morning.

I arrived at my appointed street corner and got my gear unpacked and ready to go. I was assigned to play towards the end of the course, so I took the opportunity to go across the street and make friends with the EMT crew that was stationed directly across the street from me, as it would be a few minutes before we saw any runners.

As the first runners began showing up down the street, I scooted back across to my set up and began playing.

A quick word about my repertoire as it relates to playing these sorts of gigs, as opposed to an open mic or coffee shop or something along those lines. Whenever I’m playing somewhere where the patrons are seated for some length of time, I’m always reluctant to play the same song twice, even if there is some turnover in listeners. If someone is paying me to play for three or four hours, then they get three or fours hours of music, with virtually no repeats.

In the case of these running events, however, the audience is ever-changing. And the nature of the kinds of songs I play means I only have a few songs in my bag that relate in any way to running. So for events like these, my setlist looks something like this:

Eye of the Tiger by Survivor
I Ran by Flock of Seagulls
Run To You by Bryan Adams
Take It Easy by Eagles
(Rinse and repeat for four hours)

Both Tiger and I Ran have pretty catchy choruses, so I leaned on them pretty heavily – it is still pretty cool to watch runners go by singing along, giving me fist pumps or air high-fives as they passed. Those images will always be amongst my very favorite memories.

So on this cold October morning in 2017 just outside of downtown Tulsa, I began to play for the runners that were headed our way.

They began coming through pretty heavily ten minutes later, and that’s when my guitar decided to blow up.

More specifically, the electronics inside of my acoustic/electric guitar decided it was too cold, and they didn’t want to play anymore. I heard a pop and saw a wisp of smoke, followed by a burning smell and a loss of sound.

I panicked for about 30 seconds, then remembered that I had brought an extra mic – the P.A. I was using came with two of them, and I’d brought them both for some reason. However, I had no was to attach the mic to my guitar…

Then I remembered the EMTs across the street. I quickly ran across the street, picking my way through the crowd of runners, and borrowed some medical tape. I took it back to my set up and proceeded to tape the spare mic to my mic stand:

Tragedy having been averted, I continued to play for the rest of the morning, regaling the runners with the same four songs over and over and over again…

What I’ve Learned

All the preparation in the world doesn’t help when things go wrong. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and make the best with what you’re given.

Trains and Muffins and Beers, Oh My!

The author and the band in happier times (9/23/2011)

As if I needed another reason to prove I can’t be trusted with alcohol, I present to you the time I verbally harassed a member of a very prominent and popular rock band right to his face

During the summer of 2011, my (at the time) pre-teen daughter had spent most of that summer telling the same joke over and over to anyone and everyone who would listen:

Two muffins are in an oven. The first muffin leans over to the second muffin and says, “Man, it’s getting hot in here.” The second muffin screams, “AAHHH!!! A TALKING MUFFIN!!!!”

To hear an eleven year old tell this joke is super cute. To hear an eleven year old tell this joke repeatedly, day after day with no end in sight, will make you a believer in corporal punishment.

In September of that same year, my brother-in-law Michael, a very successful insurance agent, treated me to a concert in Oklahoma City featuring Matt Nathanson, Train, and Maroon 5. It was held at the spacious, open air OKC Zoo Amphitheater on the northwest side of town.

While Matt Nathanson opened the show, a group of about sixty concertgoers (including Mike and I) were treated to a backstage meet-n-greet with the band Train. We gathered in a tented area behind the main stage, munching on snacks and helping ourselves to the free beer.

After about thirty minutes of feeling like big shots wandering around behind the stage at a major league rock concert, we were ushered into one particular tent. Moments later, Pat Monahan, Jimmy Stafford and Scott Underwood (singer, guitarist and drummer for Train) arrived in our tent and immediately began playing tunes.

There was a bit of talking and joking mixed in with the 20 minute private set, and at one point Pat Monahan looked out over the crowd and said, “Man, have I got a joke for you – funniest thing I’ve heard in a while, and I think you’ll love it!”

In my inebriated state, those words hardly registered…but his next words certainly did.

“So,” Pat began, “these two muffins are sitting in this oven…”

“HA! I KNOW THIS ONE!” I said loudly. My brother-in-law, completely mortified, tried to silence me.

“…and one of them says to the other, is it hot in here?”

“THAT’S NOT HOW IT GOES!” I corrected our host, too loudly.

“…and the other muffin says, Aaaahhh! A talking muffin!”

“NO NO NO, YOU’RE TELLING IT WRONG!!” I announce to Pat and the other two band members and approximately fifty-nine guests as they laughed at his joke.

At that point, Pat notices me. Or, he decided to stop ignoring me and let me hang myself – I’m not sure which. Pointing to me over the crowd, he said, “Yes? What were you saying?”

By this time, Mike has me by the arm and is dragging me out of the tent as I’m yelling over my shoulder, “MY ELEVEN YEAR OLD DAUGHTER TELLS THAT JOKE ALL OF THE TIME, AND DOES A MUCH BETTER JOB THAN YOU DID!!!”

Pat said something to the group at that point – I couldn’t hear it as I was now well outside the tent, being towed away by my embarrassed brother-in-law. I heard some giggling, then a loud burst of laughter from the tent we’d just departed, and then Mike was dragging me up the walkway and around to the front of the amphitheater. I was sorry I’d missed something funny, until I realized it was most likely something funny…about me.

Within minutes I started to feel bad for embarrassing Mike, myself, and a musician I liked and respected. However, it was too late to go find him and apologize, and I was sure he had already moved on and forgotten about it – he had a show to do for a few thousand adoring fans, after all. Can’t let one misbehaving drunk ruin your night for you.

To his credit, Mike has never mentioned the episode, and it only comes up when Train comes on the radio and I begin to reminisce about what an idiot I was that night.

So Pat, if you’re reading this – I’m sorry. You’re an excellent storyteller.

It was all the beer’s fault.

Lifeline, or How Not To Record a Performance Video

Writing and performing an original song is hard enough without shooting yourself in the foot when trying to record a video of it.

Yet there I was at Robin’s Roast Coffee Shop in December 2017, trying to record a live version of a new song I had just written called “Lifeline.” In retrospect, I should have used a lifeline to phone a friend to record it for me.

The whole thing started off easily enough. I had what I thought was a catchy guitar riff, added a variation of that chord structure to act as the verse, then sat down to write the lyrics. I’d done this a number of times already, and figured this would be a piece of cake. The lyrics came pretty easily, and within a few hours I thought I had a pretty good song.

Speaking of catchy guitar riffs…another song I’d written around the same time, “So Alive,” featured another interesting chord progression. They say that there’s nothing new under the sun, but I thought I’d really hit on something special with this one. So much so that I recorded a number of different versions of it, and made it the title song of my first album:

Then, a few months later, I had occasion to learn the song “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers – I wanted to play it during one of my gigs at the coffee shop. Imagine my surprise, then, that as I’m learning this tune, I come to find that the chorus of that song was nearly identical to my song, just sped up a little bit and in a different key. I had unconsciously plagiarized the son of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the last fifty years.

Anyway, back to December 2017 – the setup I used at the coffee shop was your basic mic-stand-with-iPad configuration – you can see it exactly as it was in the picture at the top of this post. There was very little space to spread out and move around, so I had to be very compact.

One of the things I loved so much about playing at Robin’s Roast was that the acoustics were very good – I could play at one volume at the front of the shop and there was very little degradation of volume or clarity as you moved to the back of the store.

Another nice thing was that most of the clientele were there to drink coffee and work on homework (at least on the nights I played), so there was very little pressure to “put on a show” – I just played three hours of background music, basically. It really allowed me to experiment with new songs, arrangements, and sounds.

I also thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to record a video of me performing my new song in a live setting. The table right in front of where I set up happened to be empty, so by leaning my phone on the napkin holder and hitting “record,” I was able to record my performance.

Ordinarily I don’t take breaks during a gig, so if it’s a three hour show, I play for three hours, straight through. On this night, however, after about an hour of playing I stopped, set up my phone on the empty table in front of me, announced to the handful of patrons that I was going to play a new song I had just written, and launched into “Lifeline.” When I finished, I retrieved my phone, put it in my pocket, and proceeded with my regularly scheduled show.

The reception after the song was very heartwarming – everyone seemed to enjoy it, and I even received a nice compliment (and a $10 tip) from a couple that left shortly afterwards, saying they really enjoyed that song in particular.

After the show, I packed up all my stuff, finished my coffee while making small talk with the manager, Caleb, then loaded out to my car. Once I had the engine running and the car had heated up sufficiently (it was early December, remember), I pulled out my phone to watch my performance of “Lifeline.”

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go:

That is correct – I didn’t bother to check the alignment of where everything was in relation to the angle I was shooting from. For all intents and purposes, it is a four minute video of me singing my song from behind my iPad.

To say I was disappointed in myself and feeling pretty stupid is an understatement. I couldn’t believe I’d made such a rookie mistake. I’d recorded dozens of performance videos in my living room and at the bar where I’d been doing open mic. How could I be so dumb? It boggles the mind.

I resolved right then and there to do it again next week, but didn’t follow through. Then the gig ended when the shop changed owners, and the opportunity had passed.

Fortunately, I have a good friend who, aside from being a good sport, is a damn fine musician, and he learned the song so we could add it to our repertoire. So without further ado, here is our version of Lifeline:

Lifeline recorded Dec 10, 2017 by Hardwick & Caldwell

The song had finally made it to video, though not in the way I’d originally intended. However, the fact that I got to release it to the world with a good friend more than made up for my earlier screw up, and made the whole experience that much more meaningful for me. I wouldn’t change a single moment of the whole experience. It ended exactly the way it should have.

Immigrant Story

Have I told you about the time I was mistaken for an immigrant?

I was born and raised in the dustbowl of southern California. After graduating high school, I spent two years in the Bedfordshire, England, and three years in San Vito dei Normmani, Italy, before finally settling down in Denver, Colorado in 1988. I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the December of 1993, and I’ve been here ever since, livin’ the life.

As I related in an earlier post, and for reasons I won’t go into here, I took it upon myself to learn to speak Spanish last year. During the spring and summer of 2018, every other sentence that came out of my mouth was en español. I visited taco trucks with my daughter at lunch – she happens to be fluent in Spanish – and attempted to order in my new language. I visited Mexican panaderías. I listened to Spanish-language radio. And most importantly (for this story, anyway), I changed my name on the Starbucks mobile app to Esteban, the Spanish form of my given name, Steven.

Because there are not a whole lot of Estebans that frequent my local Starbucks, all of the baristas got to know me in pretty short order. I was often greeted with, “Hi, Esteban!” or “Good morning, Esteban!” as if I were the Hispanic Norm Peterson, to which I’d reply, “¡Buen día, mi amigo! ¿Cómo estas?”

One particular morning, I arrived a little early after placing my mobile order, and the barista said, “Hey, Esteban! I’m just finishing up your order, it will be ready in just a minute.”

“¡Gracias, mi amigo!” I replied. We then proceeded to make small talk (in English, as he doesn’t speak Spanish) as he continued to prepare my drink.

As I reached across the bar for my finished coffee (venti almond milk latte with seven – seven! – pumps of peppermint, in case you’re looking to get me something for my birthday in April), a hand reached out and grabbed my arm. I turned to face the older woman who had stopped me from getting my life-sustaining bean juice.

“Do you mind if I tell you something?” she asked me.

Well, this is awkward I thought to myself. “Sure, please do!” I said, perhaps a little too energetically.

“I just want to tell you that your English is fantastic, Esteban! You are assimilating very well to your new country. Tell me – how long have you lived here?”

I was floored. Part of me wanted to laugh, part of me was horrified, and part of me was flattered that I’d been mistaken for being Hispanic.

Competing thoughts flooded my brain. Do I tell her the truth? Do I mock her somehow? Do I accept this little microaggression for what it was meant to be – a compliment?

In the end, I decided not to burst her bubble, to let her think she was being a good American citizen by welcoming a foreigner in to her midst.

“A few years, ma’am,” I responded, “and thank you for the compliment!”

“You’re very welcome, “she replied. “You’re doing a great job – have a nice day!”

“Gracias – ¡que tengas un buen dia!” I said to her as I grabbed my coffee and walked out of the shop.

Activity Rings and Dog Walks

I’m trying to have a perfect month, and it’s causing my dog to think I’m crazy.

In the native Activity app in iOS, for those of you not in-the-know, there are three rings that the user attempts to close everyday. These three rings are the bells that lead to my Pavlovian response of needing to exercise, to get up and move.

The outermost ring, the cotton candy pink one, denotes active calories burned – active calories being those calories that you burn above and beyond resting calories. I suppose this ring is the color of cotton candy as a reminder to not ruin your caloric burn gains by eating junk food. This ring might be more meaningful to me if it were the color of chocolate or donuts.

This ring is usually pretty easy to close – I’m am active dude, for the most part. Whether I’m wandering around my house looking for something to do, or wandering the halls at work looking for something to do, I’m usually on my feet. I never worry about closing this ring.

The innermost ring, the baby blue one, records whether or not you’ve stood up during the course of a given hour. My guess is that this ring is colored baby blue because, just like a young baby, the goal of this ring is to get you to stand up and walk.

I rarely worry about this ring, as well. As mentioned above, I’m constantly on my feet, moving about my home or office. There have been days when I’ve been sick in bed in the past, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t get out of bed and shuffle down the hall, only to return to my bed, for the sole purpose of adding another notch to this ring.

The ring that garners most of my attention, though, is the middle ring, the vomit-green one. This one is easy to figure out – it tracks cardio activity, with a goal of completing at least thirty minutes of exercise for a given day to close the ring. The vomit color is fitting, as that is often how I feel after about ten minutes of running.

The goal of closing this ring has led me to do some decidedly odd things, the least of which is not showing up at the gym at 9:30pm (it closes at 10 on most nights) just to do a quick thirty minutes on the treadmill with the express purpose of closing this damn ring.

One of the more questionable decisions this ring forces me into is to go out at 5:30am in the frigid cold to do a little running with Zeus. I’m sure he hates it, and I’m not a fan, either. We often have conversations while out walking/running, and they go a little something like this:

Me: “Man, it’s cold out here!”
Zeus: *looks back at me*
Me: “Is it cold for you? I mean, you’re always wearing a coat…”
Zeus: *looks back at me again*
Me: “…but I know you get cold. In fact, I can set my thermometer…”
Zeus: *looks back at me with concern*
Me: “…by how quickly it takes you to bark to be let back in the house…”
Zeus: *looks back at me and, I swear, rolls his eyes*
Me: “…when I let you out in the morning.”

So, here it is, late January, and so far, so good. Not to jinx myself, but I’m reasonably confident that I’m going to close all three rings every day in January, thereby giving me a perfect month. And my reward for doing this?

A digitally Perfect Month award in the Activity app. And the peace of mind of knowing that, no matter how pointless a goal is, I’m up for the challenge. And a dog that thinks I’m crazy.

Seven Years

Tommy: Did you hear I finally graduated?

Richard Hayden: Yeah, and just a shade under a decade, too, all right.

Tommy: You know, a lot of people go to college for seven years…

Tommy Boy

They say you never stop learning, and I am the epitome of that adage.

I graduated high school in ’82, received my Associates’ Degree in 2009, and am currently trying to get my Bachelors’ Degree through OSU-Tulsa. I’ve taken Spanish courses and marketing courses and continuing education courses in micro- and macro-economics. I was a MAS-certified trainer for a short while. I’ve been on leadership retreats, and even took piano lessons for a time. The fun never seems to end.

I’ve taken painting lessons and drawing lessons and guitar lessons and driving lessons. I learned how to coach young boys playing flag football and how to get little kids to play soccer. I know how to cook and load a dishwasher and put the dishes away. I was born knowing none of those things – I had to learn them as well.

I believe my constant desire to do new things – actually, my constant vacillation between what sparks my interest and what bores me – is the driving force behind my being a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none). Once I accomplish what I set out to do – whether it’s painting a tree or recording an album or writing a book – I’m ready to move on to the next thing.

I went back to college in 2004, after the twins were born. My wife and I were both working, and with three kids, one of us would have been working just to pay for daycare. She had the better benefits, so I quit my job and became a stay-at-home dad. I chose accounting because I already had a few credit hours, and that was the quickest degree I could get. I went to school at night, one or two classes at a time.

Seven years after the boys were born, I had my degree.

Fast forward a few years. I began taking junior-level course at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa back in 2013, taking a class here and a class there. Then I encountered marketing, and a new passion was born. I am leaning towards changing my course of study from business administration to marketing. In fact, I have a call in to my OSU-Tulsa guidance counselor to discuss making this change.

Regardless of which degree I pursue – business admin, marketing, or some other discipline that hasn’t yet piqued my interest – I should be able to complete the degree program by 2023.

Seven years after I started.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that, for me at least, the process of learning new things is just as satisfying as having learned the thing.