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My First Day

I can still remember my first day in kindergarten.

It was still 3 years before my parents split. We were living in Philadelphia, stationed in naval residence; my dad was in his 8th year in the Navy, still 7 away from retirement. Mom dropped my older sisters off at the elementary school. My kindergarten class was in a separate building across town, operating as a building for before/after school child care and two kindergarten classes.

My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hawk. The other teacher was Ms. Star. They would separate the classes, but we were combined into one on most days. Mrs. Hawk was nice, but I really liked Ms. Star. She greeted me at the door on my first day and told me she was “super excited you’re here today!” I was 5, and that felt good to hear. I was enthralled on my first day—the tears and panic didn’t set in until the second day, for some reason.

The first thing we did as a class was gather on the carpet and watched the Brave Little Toaster. I can’t say for certain, but I think this is where my affinity for toast comes from.

I made instant friends with Vincent, a polite and quiet kid who shared my interest in dinosaurs. He asked what my favorite dinosaur was, and the only one I could remember was the “t-rex”. He said his was a pterodactyl. When my mom picked me up that day, she asked what I learned, and I told her “My new favorite dinosaur is a pterodactyl!” It still is; pterodactyls kick ass.

I made my first girlfriend on the playground of kindergarten. Her name was Whitney. Before I left on my first day, my dad told me I had to be nice to everyone… even the girls. Well, being nice to Whitney was not going to be hard. During our first recess break, I picked a dandelion off the ground and walked to her. She just got off the swings and said “Hi!” to me. I said hi back, then handed her the dandelion and said “You have pretty hair”. She gave me a kiss on the cheek, which I may or may not have wiped off my cheek right away—I was being nice, I didn’t expect to get slapped with cooties on my first day! The teacher yelled at Whitney to not kiss her friends. She said sorry, then we went for a romantic trip down the curvy slide. A few months after the first day of kindergarten, I was invited to Whitney’s 6th birthday party. Her parents brought out an ice cream cake while they were singing “happy birthday to you”. I was shocked… my mom had to explain that it was a cake made of ice cream. I could not wrap my little 5 year old brain around. But when I took a bite of it, my mind… was… blown! I asked for an ice cream cake for my next birthday. My mom made a basic chocolate one instead. I wasn’t disappointed; chocolate cake is still my kryptonite to this day.

I knew how to read a little bit before kindergarten. I could read the word “cat”, “dog”, and “bird”, and I was one of the few in the class who could write his own name. Mrs. Hawk and Ms. Star were very impressed, and they gave me five stickers next to my name on the sticker chart. I had the most after the first day, and I was so freaking excited (I finished the year second behind a girl named Valerie, who only got stickers because she was a champion at picking up toys and staying still on the carpet while we were supposed to be napping).

I began with those three words on the first day of kindergarten. I left reading at a 3rd grade level. I was one of only two kids reading that high. The other. My darling Whitney!

We took trips to the bathroom as a class twice a day (you could go any time you needed to, but I never liked going into the hallway by myself). On the first day, they were still finishing up a remodel of the bathroom. The drywall wasn’t finished, and in the frame was fresh, pink, fluffy insulation. Ms. Star told us not to touch it because it’ll make us itchy. I still have an irrational aversion to insulation because of it.

I was in the after school program. On the first day, we played Red Rover. And after watching a few rounds, I was DETERMINED to break the chain when I was called. And I put all my weight into it… thing is, I had little to put into it. I was the shortest kid in class without any momentum. There was no way I broke the chain between Derek and … the other kid (my memory isn’t perfect, so let’s just call him Jimmy). We then played Duck-Duck-Goose. I never got picked to be the goose. Hey Jimmy, fuck you, I would have been an awesome goose, I would have caught you, and you know it! … Oh my god, that’s WHY he didn’t pick me to be the goose! 5 years old, and he’s already playing the odds of who he could beat in a goose chase! You were one conniving kindergartner, Jimmy!

I have an inexplicably good memory of kindergarten, and especially that first day. And I’ve cherished it for years upon years, carrying impressions of toast, insulation, and ice cream cake with me for my entire life.

Today is my son’s first day of kindergarten. I truly wonder what memories he’ll take with him from today.

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Get Tragic: An Album Review

In life, there are only certain things that bring about a certain anticipated euphoria like one of your favorite bands releasing an album, especially considering the length of time it’s been since their last album.

(I’m not talking about Tool yet. I don’t know any other band who can do what Tool did and still hope to maintain fans. )

I’m talking about the British indie-garage rock duo Blood Red Shoes.

I have a strange affinity for two-man bands. White Stripes, Black Keys, Local H, kidneythieves, Matt & Kim, and Death From Above 1979 rank among some of my favorites. Two-man bands are often viewed as “missing” key members of the band (usually a bassist… save for DFA1979), and that aspect alone threatens to diminish a band’s sound before they even play a note. Two-man bands often have to amplify their efforts to sound complete, and that extra effort—when done correctly—can pay dividends that a more “complete” band can miss.

I first heard Blood Red Shoes in 2008 right after they released their debut album after getting a suggestion from a friend, and they knocked me dead the moment I heard them. Comprised of Laura-Mary Carter on guitar, Steven Ansell on drums, and both splitting vocal duties, they took the name Blood Red Shoes from a story of Ginger Rogers practicing a dance sequence in a Fred Astaire film so much her white shoes turned red in blood.

Chances are good, you think you’ve never heard of them. If you saw the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, you heard them for approximately 30 seconds.

Totally worth the listen without the Scott Pilgrim hilarity overplaying it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Bitchin’, right? Blood Red Shoes have only expanded upon their sound throughout the years. And the sound evolved out of necessity. It’s actually impressive listening to their discography go from bohemian garage rockers to intelligently written and stylistically advanced beyond what the minimalism that should be put forth by a two-person band. Minimal has never been a word to describe this band.

Get Tragic is the band’s fifth studio album. It was released in January, though I hate assessing an album immediately after it’s release. Music isn’t always instant gratification. Sometimes music takes some growing and multiple listens, and the six months since its release has only exposed the deep introspection that Get Tragic treads. The production value is possibly the best the production job on a BRS album, a tip of the cap to Nick Launary and Adam Greenspan. The mix is perfect and makes this an essential headphones album. There are no explosive “Je Me Perds” moments, but the atmosphere of the album doesn’t require an uncontrolled rock detonation like it did on In Time to Voices.

Opening up the album is “Eye to Eye”, a seething ticking time bomb blending the classic BRS sound with an indie gloom creating a dire and brooding kickstart to the album. “Mexican Dress” is a paragon of BRS’ evolution, mixing a signature riff with pristine, if not purposefully withheld, vocals and painting the whole thing over a Latin infused drumline. It’s the quintessential example of Blood Red Shoes’ style in the post-decade era of their career.

“Bangsar” is the rock jam that everyone was waiting for, but even the jam is tightened and dropped from a band that has matured from their garage in Brighton.

The meat of the album really shows off the song craftsmanship, settling for more intricate cuts and deep substance over flash and growl. “Nearer” and “Beverly” are dark and leering slugs stretching the limits of their ensemble (figuratively and literally, the former featuring The Wytches and the latter given a dose Mark Lanegan-style darkness from Ed Harcourt). “Find My Own Remorse” is a surprisingly lovely respite from the dreary rock and… well… “gets tragic” with a lovely riff and some ethereal instrumentation while Steven Ansell delivers arguably his best vocal performance of his career.

The back end of the album sees them bring the smash and flair back with “Howl” sounding much like a quick-witted distant cousin of “This is Not For You”. And “Anxiety” features arguably the crunchiest riff on the album. They take Get Tragic out with a powerful churning mid-tempo dropkick in “Elijah”

By five albums in, some bands would retread what was popular or simply go back to the well over and over again. But Get Tragic shows over ten years in and after five albums that Blood Red Shoes transcend the limitations of their two person ensemble and proves the band is graciously writing its own evolution.

4 stars out of 5.

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Letter From the Candle Smoke

To 2019 Me,

Has it really been 5 years already? Time… what a bitch, huh?

Dude, you’re a dad. By the time you open this letter, you’ve been a dad for nearly five years. But right now, it’s still pretty incredible to think about for 2014 Me. In little more than a month, Zackary Xavier Relyea will make his grand entrance. I think we’re pretty well set: spent 2 hours building that crib, got batteries for the baby swing, sterilized the bottles. I mean, we are good to go. And yet I can’t stop freaking out. What if my own son doesn’t even like me? I’m sure you’re reading this now telling me how insane that is, but it’s a legitimate fear right now. Jess tried to hand me her friend’s newborn last year and I … was so afraid I was going to break it. And when she tricked me into holding it, it just cried. What if my own kid does the same thing? I’m sure I’m freaking for no reason.

Weird to think that in 5 years when you open this letter he’ll be getting ready for kindergarten, and I haven’t even met him yet. It’s bizarre imagining this little life taking place between writing this letter and reading it.

How is Jess? I’m sure she’s kicking ass at the whole motherhood thing. By the time you open this, it’ll bet 12 years together and nearly 6 years of marriage. They say becoming parents changes your relationship drastically. And I’m not going to pretend that’s not going to be the case. All I can tell you is to not to forget it. Becoming parents is chaotic enough, but in the end you gotta hang on to yourselves. Take a date night away from the baby, have her kick your ass in Soul Calibur when he’s asleep, take some time for you to be people in a committed relationship and not just two rival executives in a family company.

I hope you’re still writing. I hope I never do give up on it. I’m blindly optimistic that in 5 years, I’ll get signed and be doing million dollar book signing tours and, quite literally, live the dream. As I’m more than reasonably certain that will not happen, I hope you’re still giving it the ol’ college try. To be honest, I couldn’t care less about the getting signed or the book tours. I just want to be read. I’m a natural born storyteller, and I need my stories told to people who would listen. Just keep at it. Someone out there needs your story; probably you yourself.

28 is this weird age. I think the Barenaked Ladies put it best and once sang, “Old at being young, young at being old”. I can’t help but wrestle with the notion that I’m stuck. I’m at a decent job at the hospital, but like… is it a forever job? Am I going to be here still by the time I open this letter? And would that be a bad thing? And am I running out of time to do what I want to do? Actually, what is it I even want to do … (besides write)? I hate that I don’t have the answers to any of these. Way back when I was a teenager (I’m sure YOU remember this), I had this notion that everyone had to have their shit together by the time they were 25. Then as I was approaching 25, I relaxed a little and said “Eh, no, not 25… it must be 30 when everyone knows what they’re doing”. Well, here comes 30, and unless I get it all figured out in 2 years, looks like the “Get your shit together” target is further down than expected.

You’re 33 now, Future Me. Do you have your shit together? It’s ok if the answer is “no”.

Happy birthday, Future Me. See you in 5 years

Robert J. Relyea, 2014

Dear Past Me, 2014

Of all the quandaries in life, one certainty rises above the rest. That time is, most definitely, a bitch.

Dude, I’m a dad. That feeling hasn’t faded in 4+ years. That elation of being able to help raise a child does not fade, not a bit. I’ve had the same excitement about it since the moment Jess called and said “So I have some news…”. I remember that fear of him not liking, and it pleases me to announce that fear faded in a light speed instant. The moment he came out and he looked at his mom and the nurse handed him off to me, there wasn’t a single moment of doubt that this kid would like me. I cannot express how minute this fear is now, you and he are best buds. Best day of my life was when he was 3 and a half, gave me a hug and said “Daddy, you’re my best friend!”. Enjoy that moment when it comes up, Past Me, it’s awesome.

Zack is about 3 weeks away from starting kindergarten, and it really is surreal. It’s like you said, since I wrote this letter to now has been his entire life. And he’s about to start on square 1 of the 13 step education system. It’s astounding because now he’s up to the point where I can remember; I distinctly remember my first day of kindergarten. And to know he’s about to have that is really tripping me out. I can’t imagine how Future Me 2024 feels about it.

As expected, Jess totally kicks ass at motherhood. Some people are born to be parents, and she is definitely one of them. Her friends have been calling her “Mom” since before she had Zackary. I won’t deny that becoming parents has shaped our relationship. But to be honest if having a kid doesn’t change your relationship, then your priorities haven’t changed enough. I won’t say “rival executives”, but there is a certain, almost business level partnership that goes into raising a child together. There’s no denying the change, it’s adjusting to it that’s the trick.

And the adjustment is a constant. Sometimes you fall into the trap of seeing each other as co-parents and as sailors trying to keep the SS Family from running aground. But you had it right, Past Me, about hanging on to yourselves. Things change the older you get, and we’re not perfect with the adjustment (we haven’t played Soul Calibur in ages) but we still have an abundance of love for one another, and have made all the adjustments that we were forced to go through. Relationships evolve, no couple can stay in the “new-and-interesting” romancing the stone era forever. Couples who can’t evolve will fall apart, and I’m happy to say we’ve made every evolution that we’ve had to face in the last 12 years and will do so for years to come.

I don’t think you’ll have to worry about me ever giving up on writing. I did face a pretty hard truth about it in the last five years however. I conceded that it is very likely I will never be traditionally published like I hope. The odds are just too high. Does that mean I stop trying? Of course not. Does that mean I stop writing? Hell no. It’s just an admission to myself not to expect too much. I’m the same as I was back then in that I have stories to tell, and I will continue to tell them. And if by some miracle I get a snag with one of them that lands me an agent, then awesome. I’m just going to continue to write. There hasn’t been much in the way of finished works in the last five years, but the chess pieces are still moving forward. In the next two years, there could be between 3 and 5 works that will cross the finish line. So you keep writing too, Past Me.

Dude, I so don’t have my shit together I probably have even less shit together than you do, Past Me. And I’m getting to the point where I wonder if anyone truly ever has their shit together. It’s a little surreal when you realize there is no next level, this is the top floor. No next level of adulting. You are an adult. And if you are this scatterbrained, then everyone might be too. Adults seemed like they knew exactly what they were doing, but it’s more than evident that NO ONE knows what they’re doing, you just get better at going with the flow. Adulthood is just faking it til you make it–but making it is not a given, so you just end up faking it for the rest of your life.

The answer is no, and I don’t know if the answer will ever be “yeah, I totally have my shit together”. But I am a pro at faking it (… … you know what I mean)

Happy birthday, young guy

From, Future (Present) Me 2019

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Deep

It’s 3:45 a.m.

Insomnia is winning again. Tomorrow’s a day off, so at least there’s that.

Zack went to sleep 6 hours ago while watching Wreck-It Ralph. Jess didn’t last much longer. Even the dog has been curled up in his dog bed since midnight.

It’s just me stirring in the house into the witching hours. I’m tired, but I’ve learned from experience that battling insomnia under duress is a bad idea.

It hasn’t been a good week for me. Past two weeks even. Now that I think about it, the entire month of June turned to shit pretty quickly. Weird, it’s usually February that turns bleak.

I’ve been mired in a depressive episode. They don’t come around often, but that hardly means they go away and come back. It’s always there, just keeping its distance in the corner of my mind biding its time. And damn, it jumped pretty quickly as the calendar flipped to June.

Depression is a lot of fun. The calling cards of my particular brand is the aforementioned insomnia, a complete disinterest in creativity, and the ability to go from placid to irritable in a snap. I find it cruel to be forced to oblige insomnia, have all this time on my hands while everyone is asleep, yet not have the will or the want to so much as open my computer to write or pick up a guitar. This is where I make Netflix earn the $14.52 I pay them each month.

“You’re not really depressed.” I get that a lot… Not from anyone in particular—mostly because I never talk about it. This is basically the most I’ve talked about it in my life, and it’s to a blank Word document that will eventually be put on the bulletin board of the internet for people to ignore at will (or maybe it won’t, haven’t decided yet). No, I get “you’re not depressed” from myself. My inner thoughts will just blanket me with doubt. Look at you, saying you’re depressed when people have it a hundred times worse than you. You’re not on a ledge thinking the only the way to go is down the fast way. What the hell do you have to depressed about… And a lot of times—like 99% of the time, I believe it. Hell, inner thoughts wants me to stop and delete everything right now so I don’t waste everyone’s time reading it. That inner thought process is a fucking bitch; during one of my flights of insomnia earlier this week, I actually delved into what I believe to be the very birth of my depression and anxiety on a long thread on Twitter. I posted it at 2:15 a.m. At 2:29, when it hadn’t gotten an interaction yet (y’know, because it was the middle of the night) I fully convinced myself that no one wanted to know, and I ended up deleting the whole thing.

I’m not medicated. I’m not diagnosed. And honestly, besides the insomnia, it doesn’t debilitate my life much more than restlessness, so I see no need to even bring it up. Of course, that could be my borderline refusal to ever speak a word about it to anyone. Funny, right? I offer my ear to anyone close who may need it, I’ll tell them to text, DM, or call at any time, and I am so there for them! But a case comes up where I should talk to someone, and I don’t want to ruffle feathers, bother anyone, or be a nuisance, especially when I believe my depression pales in comparison to the problems others face.

It’s true I’m not suicidal—I just don’t harbor that feeling of self-harm within me. And I have gotten so good at hiding my depression that it might actually stun some people to read this (if anyone does ← shut it, Inner Thought Process). I’m high functioning and I smile a lot. I have a process whenever I got through episodes where I find lucid moments where I can sort things out without feeling waves of doubt. And luckily I was able to do the same this time, though it took nearly two weeks to get back to normal (but what is normal anyway?). It’s why I feel like I don’t need to pester anyone because I know eventually I’ll sort it out by myself.

Turns out that sorting it means putting it on paper this time. I don’t want to bother anyone, so I’ll just put it on a Word document and consider putting it online for the world to ignore. I have a problem with asking for help. Beyond depressive episodes, I have a hard time asking to borrow $5 if I need lunch. Last summer when Jess got a new job and we still had just the one car, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to bike 3 miles to the hospital, and biked 3 miles back home in the scorching 90 degree summer heat… all so I didn’t have to bother anyone to ask for a ride. Someone once I told me that’s an issue of self-worth. Not sure about that, I just don’t want to put anyone out, be it 5 bucks, a ride home, or an ear to talk into. The only time I ever ask for help is when I’m backed into a corner. Even after I ask, that bastard Inner Thought Process will berrate me for days about not being able to take care of myself.

So what spiked this last episode? That’s an easy one. I am getting destroyed at my job lately. In May, I was in for 10 days straight. After the weekend, I worked 9 out of the next 10. They’re early mornings, and at least one double. My schedule says 8 hours a day, but it’s usually closer to 9, 9 and a half some days (double being 10). My job is demanding. And being in a hospital environment where precision in preparation is important, it doesn’t take much to ruin a day. Someone calls out and the slack needs to be picked up. An ingredient didn’t come in on the truck, now you have to ad-lib or change recipes on the fly. Customers in the cafeteria demand this and that, some without a single word of kindness. People telling you how to do your own damn job. Cafeteria needs to a backup on marinara (did you check the hot box? You should probably check the hot box first) and cold side needs turkey sliced and morning cook is on break could you make me an omelet for a patient and shit the oven is going off for the pastries and how is it already 10:00 and no I don’t know where the ketchup packets are did you check the stock room yes the stock room oh no don’t worry I’ll go check yep here in the stock room like I said and JESUS CHRIST you’re putting cream of tomato soup on a low-sodium patient tray are you kidding me and I’ve been trying to go to the bathroom for the last hour and… and… and… and… Day in and day out, it is absolutely draining. My new phone came with a health app, and it has on it a stress detector, which is nice because now I’ll have documented evidence of my job literally killing me…

Under normal circumstances, work is work, and at the end of the day it stays there. What spurred on this episode was the fact that the fatigue and malaise of a day’s work followed me home. After a day of helping others and taking demands and requests and such, I would cringe and groan at simple requests at home. It was a couple weeks ago when I realized that the malaise from my job was now starting to affect my family at home, and that was eye opening.

Last year, my son got upset with me for something (a toy or a dessert I had said no to, I can’t remember) and he sniped back at me “Just go to work, daddy”. Kids have this magnificent ability to cut you where it hurts the most. I never forgot it, and I vowed I’d never make him feel like the work was effecting our relationship again. Two weeks ago, on day 6 of a 7 day stretch, I was awake at 4:30 in the morning and almost out the door when Zack emerged from his room, ran up to me and said “I just wanted to give you a hug before you go to work” And I hugged him and sent him back to his room, and he said “I miss you.”

Since then, I’ve questioned my ability to balance work and parenting. And that breaks my goddamn heart. And … there it is, the birth of this little episode.

See? Barely counts as depression, doesn’t it? I mean, who isn’t bogged down by their job?

And then I had the dream…

(This is much longer than I intended, but I’m sure everyone’s abandoned ship by now. So … me writing this down, this is for me just to get it off my chest—you don’t have to read it)

Remember I said I learned not to fight insomnia? That’s because during depressive episodes I end up having intense or otherwise bleak dreams. It’s like the chemical imbalance fucks with my dreams. After an episode a few years ago in which I had a dream people I cared for were lined up and shot execution style right before my eyes. I didn’t sleep for 32 hours afterward. And after that, I learned to give insomnia what it wanted until I just was too tired to dream.

On Wednesday, I defied my insomnia to go to bed early to get up for an early shift. I had a dream I stood in a dark room, looking around trying to figure out what was going on. Then spotlight, and standing before me was—please don’t laugh—Kaepora Gabora, the guiding owl from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Ok, laugh if you must, but what was said is hardly funny. To paraphrase, he told me to listen for a moment. When I did I heard a disquieted voice saying something I couldn’t make out. Kaepora Gabora told me it was someone hurting who hides it well. And soon the hurt was going to be too much for them. And I can save them. (Did you get all that? Press A for yes!)

It sounds dumb, especially being ranted to by an avian mentor from a popular video game. But I feel it in my heart that it’s somehow prophetic, that someone I know might be hurting. And I suddenly questioned myself if I could even recognize if anyone was hiding pain enough that they would end up harming themselves. It’s been 5 days since that dream, and I can’t stop thinking about it. What if this was an actual honest-to-God prophetic dream? I’d be failing miserably, because I still don’t know what, if anything, I can do about it…

Yes… I have considered the fact that Kaepora Gabora, and the disembodied voice of the one who hides their pain, could have meant me. I’ve considered it, but determined it was not.

So… I’m overworked. I’m tired. I’m a questionable parent, in my eyes. I have a hard time asking for help. I deal with my own depression, but I’ve never had to blog into the night about it. And someone out there might be struggling and I’m not sure if I can find out who. Did I get all that?

“You’re not that depressed! Lots of people are worse off than you!” … You’re probably right, Inner Thought Process

I will probably (most-definitely) delete this later.

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You Win, Or You Die

(This is a Game of Thrones post, just so everyone who proudly shouts that they don’t watch it can bypass it easily)

The immensely popular series Game of Thrones came to a decisive and rather controversial end. Everyone has an opinion on the final stymied six-episode season. But I’m going to forgo delving into an opinion about the final season, or much of the series as a whole. I’m just going to look back and enjoy the journey taken down the kingsroad.

In late 2007, in search of a book at the library to occupy my time during my breaks at Target, I picked up a book called A Game of Thrones. I was big into fantasy at the time, and the plot as surmised on the back piqued my interest. It ended up being girthy, detailed, and far more politically charged than I would have figured. It also captivated me and kept me turning the pages until after over 800 of them there weren’t any more left to turn. The library didn’t have A Clash of Kings, nor any of the remaining series, so I put the series on the backburner and moved on.

Two years later, I read in a television fall preview article that the series A Song of Ice and Fire had been adapted into a television series, picked up by HBO, appropriately titled “Game of Thrones”. I instantly remembered the first book of the series, the rise and fall of Eddard Stark, the death of King Robert, and the fate of the Seven Kingdoms left in the vile hands of Joffrey, Tywin, and the rest of the conniving Lannisters. I remember it all and think of only one thing: This is going to be good.

I had just bought a Nook e-reader with my tax return and found the remainder of the series (at that time) to fill out my e-bookshelf. I tried to temper my expectations because my experience in book-to-film/television-adaptation had been lukewarm at best. I conceded they were going to change things, and I accepted it.

I didn’t watch the first season live because I didn’t have HBO, and it was hardly the must-watch scion it would become by the end of its run. But once Season 1 was out on DVD, I put the 4 discs on my Netflix queue—yes, way back when Netflix operated mostly as a DVD-by-mail—and watched them with my wife—yes, way back when she was still a girlfriend.

I’ve read, at last count, 1,013 books in my book-reading log, and I’ve seen a great number of them adapted to film or television. Most are ones I read before learning of or watching the adapted versions. When you read, you use the author’s words to create the world and hope it was what they were trying to convey. Often times what you imagine a world to be or who a character is or what they look like doesn’t translate across adaptations.

Game of Thrones is, in my opinion, the best and most realistic adaptation from book to television. George R. R. Martin had such a succinct and precise way of describing the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the characters that inhabit it, and the subtly devious agendas that they fulfilled. And during that first season DVD run, I found myself more and more pleasantly surprised. The writers, producers, directors, actors, and everyone else somehow managed to pluck nearly everything that manifested in my mind as I read it and put it on the screen. The characters mirrored every description from the book from Arya’s mousy exterior to Tyrion’s sophisticated dwarfish demeanor. Hell, I even imagined Peter Dinklage as Tyrion on that first read two years before he was cast. There were nuances and subtle changes taken by the showrunners, but (at first) they were so minute and understandable it was barely noticeable. The first season was the first book of the series transposed nearly exactly as written.

There’s nothing more satisfying to a lover of both books and high-concept television series and films than an adaptation that translates as succinctly as A Song of Ice and Fire did into “Game of Thrones”. The plot followed the major themes of the book so faithfully that for the first five seasons, I was able to explain who that was, and what just happened, and what was going to happen next. One of my favorite things about watching this series was watching my wife’s reactions to events I knew were coming. The most memorable and visceral reaction occurred in Season 3 during the [SPOILERS, but honestly it’s been like 6 years so…] much balleyhooed “Red Wedding”. The Starks are double crossed by the Freys. Robb, his direwolf, his wife, and his mother Catelyn, and any Stark soldier and loyalist all are brutally murdered. It was hard enough have to manifest that into your memory reading it. Watching it—and knowing it was coming—was just as agonizing. My wife was outraged, she was stunned, she may have even wept a few tears.

Part of the show’s brilliance stemmed from the casting choice. When they began, names like Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Emilia Clarke, Maisie William, and practically everyone else carried very little weight. Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Charles Dance had been around Hollywood productions in minor or supporting roles, but nothing to consider them stars before the production of Game of Thrones began. In fact, the only name with any cache at all was Sean Bean who was cast as Eddard Stark; a character who winds up dead before the first season is out. To me, this emphasizes the point to Hollywood that making sure the story is right and the production is elite trumps having the star power that comes with one or two names on the marquee. Casting is important, but the right person is often not on the A-list, and the money they save is better placed elsewhere in production.

One reason that Game of Thrones is so unbelievably epic, and one of the areas that tips the scales in favor of the TV series over the books is the soundtrack and score. Ramin Djawadi composed the soundtrack that was featured over the entire length of the series. From the famous, triumphant opening to title, to the nefarious “Rains of Castermere”, and up until Dany’s last breath, the music played an unequivocally important part of the series. It gave every scene depth and strength that it was impossible to achieve, even when reading it from the book. An impactful score has the ability to transform a show or film into an televisual and audible titan with emotion and power if composed correctly. Jess walked down the aisle to a song from Game of Thrones. A few years back, we went to the Game of Thrones symponic experience; as a man who has been to many a concert and live performance, it’s easily in the top 10. The music cannot be hailed enough, and Djawadi cannot be applauded too much.

I don’t really want to get into the nuts and bolts of the series, because this is more a general homage than an in-depth history or complaint about the final season. It’s true, the show did run into murky waters once they ran out of source material. Watching Season 5, which was based off A Dance With Dragons, the “latest” entry (and I use that term loosely as it was released nearly 8 years ago), then watching Season 6 and beyond, the difference in the execution is palpable. But I have no need to delve deeper into how problematic it was with the main plot of the story—there are a thousand of those posts hanging around if you’re interested in grown men and women bitching about a fictional TV show.

I followed this series since before its inception and so patiently waited an entire year, many years even longer than that, just to get 9 weeks’ worth of episodes. It’s been such an iconic series for many and was so massive in pop culture for so long that the end brings along a sadness at its departure. But beyond that, it’s a bittersweet ending as it feels like a certain chapter of my life has closed. I first read A Game of Thrones in 2008. It’s 11 years later. Most of my “young” adulthood was spent reading the lengthy series or waiting for the next season to come out. And while we can still wait for The Winds of Winter to come out (still waiting, George… we’re … still … waiting!), it feels strange that this is the end, and there’s no anticipating a new season in the year to come.

First, the Avengers finishes its lengthy story in dramatic fashion, and now Game of Thrones. It’s been an emotional month for me…

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The Trifecta

If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force – Ryan Holiday

Everyone has the capacity to be creative. But not everyone can create. Creativity is subjective to the situation and is connected to craftiness and cleverness in other formats. To create takes time, patience, research, and understanding. And it takes inspiration.

Every creative mind has been inspired by other creative minds. It’s witnessing what they’ve produced and feeling a connection with the beauty of their creations. And through them, you believe you could create something beautiful too.

Everyone has those that inspire them. The mentors, the guides, the muses who ignite the fire inside our hearts.

Call it delusions of grandeur if you wish, but I like to consider myself a creator. I’ve weaved entire worlds together into novels, and stitched songs together with my own personal musical theory. And in nearly everything I create, the influences of my three favorite creative minds are present.

Stephen King

When I was in elementary school, the school library had a copy of Pet Sematary on its shelves. It must have been an oversight by the librarian, or a trick, as that book does not belong in an elementary school library with likes of Dr. Seuss and Amelia Bedelia. The name Stephen King was synonymous with fear, and some of us at that age (ahem) were still afraid of the dark let alone the story of pets that come back from the dead. It became a “challenge” of sorts to check it out of the library and read it. When it was my turn, I brought it home, but… I was a wuss and brought it back the next day. It freaked me out just being in my possession. Stephen King wrote scary things, and I just wanted to play kickball! I didn’t pick up another Stephen King written book for another 8 years. When I finally did, I read it–a 412 page book–in 5 days. And I was sold on everything Stephen King wrote, before and after. The book was ‘Salem’s Lot.

I’ve read 21 Stephen King novels (and short story compilations) since then. He is among my favorite authors to read. And his style of writing helped guide me to what kind of writer I wanted to be and how to grab a reader’s attention. Of course, it’s in every writer’s best interesting to pick up his official book of writer advice, On Writing. But most of what I learned from King came direct from his writing.

Stephen King has written short stories and thousand-page epics. He’s written horror, thriller, fantasy, historical, among other genre variations. But his approach to writing everything is the exact same each time. The flow of King’s writing is what makes him a fantastic writer. And without coming out and saying it, I recognize some of the paths to that flow by reading his work. Some moments require more description than others, but at all points you need to let the reader use their imagination. Never describe the character in completion. It disrupts flow as well as the reader’s imagination. When writing moments of intensity—particularly fearful moments in a horror story, but intense moments of any genre—use short paragraphs with succinct sentences. And never use a 40 dollar word when a 50 cent word should go. Frills come in editing; sometimes you just need to get to the point.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned observing 21 of King’s books. And while I get absorbed within the story, I subconsciously scour the script for the consistencies I’ve already noticed, and new ideals that aid the flow of reading.

Stephen King has made me an infinitely better writer, on both a technical and creative front.

Stan Lee

Stanley Lieber, better known as Stan Lee, was the godfather of the modern superhero. He didn’t create every character we know, but he created some of the most famous characters (Spider Man, Fantastic 4, the original X-Men), and facilitated the entire medium for others to be created.

I already spoke at length how Stan and his creations impacted my life soon after his death. But how he affects me as a creator, and as a human being, still burns bright to this day. What set Marvel comics apart from Superman or Batman that came out well before it was that Stan tended to focus on the men (and women) behind the masks. Superman was the hero who saved the day for citizens, and Batman had his dark past but, at first, the comics were only interested in showing him as hero of the night. Spider Man made us care about the man under the mask. He wasn’t some reporter or a philanthropic billionaire. Peter Parker was just a broke high school student outcast by his peers. He was granted his powers by happenstance at a field trip, and chose to take the advice of his uncle:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Funny thing was Uncle Ben didn’t just give those words to Peter. He gave them to all of us. If you have the power to do something to change a situation, you have the responsibility to do so. In creativity, and in real life, it was a motivating phrase that pushed me in my writing, and made me a better person when I put down the comic books.

Lee humanized these superheroes because he wanted his readers to know that the hero wasn’t in a cave or from outer space, but there was a hero inside all of us. He created and empowered people of immense honor and deep responsibility, somehow making each character feel relatable.

That’s what I took most from Stan Lee; the need to create real characters that form a lasting connection with the audience. Plot is all well and good, but if you could tap into the emotional core of your characters and share that with the audience, you could make a trip to the grocery store engrossing.

Lee was so good at creating these lovable, relatable characters that he even became one himself. The shades, the moustache, the slow paced New York edge in his voice, and his unending enthusiasm were just some of the characteristics he displayed. It was no wonder Stan was the sacred keeper of these fantastic characters; because it takes one to know one.

Nobuo Uematsu

More than anything else on this earth, music provokes emotion. More than art, more than film, more than photographs. It has the ability to pull feelings long dormant out of us with the way a melody sweeps against harmonies and floats on top of rhythms and cadences. Music makes us feel, and in essence, it helps make us human.

Nobuo Uematsu has a tremendous gift of music. He writes in such an artful and meaningful way that blazes its own path in between classical and modern. And, for much of his earlier career, his format was severely limited.

Uematsu was the composer on several of Square’s most popular video games, most notably the Final Fantasy series, starting with the old school Nintendo all the way up to games on the Playstation 3 before his willful retirement from Square. The music sound card on the old NES, SNES, and to an extent the Playstation, would not support musical format the same way a CD or tape would. So he was tasked with creating a soundtrack on a MIDI format. And he delivered in spades.

Nobuo created sonic atmospheres that transformed the pixels of a 16 bit game into reality. Hampered with just a MIDI, he transformed it into his own personal Moog and created aurally transformitive pieces of work. His ability to capture the moment and create a sweltering wave of emotion is unheralded and incomparable.

But it’s not just how he was able to create, but the style in which he created. His work became so important to connecting the player to the game that his absence is instantly noticed in future installments of the series.

Nobuo could make you fall in love with a sweeping sonnet, prepare you for battle with a pseudo-rock riff, and overlook doomsday with a quivering overture, all intricately strung together with a synth and a MIDI program.

When playing other people’s music got old, and I decided to try my hand at creating a few melodies, I found, subconsciously and nearly instantly, I began thinking more along the lines of the “Boss Battle” from FF4 rather than “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. Layered melodies and resurgent instrumentals (which worked out well since I can’t sing worth shit). One of the highest compliments I ever got about my music was “This is … weird, but in the good way.” The highest regard in my book.

Nobuo Uematsu is a modern musical genius and a master of smashing open the box of emotions. And I try to reach that level of connectibility whenever I try to sculpt a song.

Here’s my attempt at an homage to Mr. Uematsu; my (way-more-talented-than-me) friend and I did the dirge during the epic final battle of Final Fantasy VI in a “semi-acoustic” form. We called it the “Light of Judgment” version.

Without the contributions of King, Lee, and Uematsu, there’s no way I’d be at the level I’m at now in writing, music, or life. These are the ones who feed my inspiration. This is my creative trinity.

Do you know yours?

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The Ridiculous Saga of The Florida DMV =OR= How Clerical Errors Nearly Got Me Arrested

So, there I was on the side of the road on I-95 right outside of Woodbine, Georgia. The state trooper had just said the words every road traveling citizen fears: “Please step out of the vehicle.” He had one hand on his handcuffs ready to pull them at a moment’s notice. But he allows me to, in his words, “explain yourself right here instead of down at the station.”

Here’s my explanation, Officer, in full, without the cars whipping by at 70 miles an hour creating a wall of noise.

I. THE WHOLESALER

In the summer of 2018, Jess and I, with a little help, bought a Chevy Trailblazer from a wholesale lot in Mt. Dora. We were thrilled. We had been a one car family for nearly 5 years, and we were in a position where it was getting difficult planning around her job, my job, and dropping Zack at school. And our Impala was about to shit the bed.

We signed on the dotted line and drove off. The wholesale manager assured us that the registration would be filed and a permanent plate would be delivered in the mail before the temp ran out. It did not. On the final date of the temporary plate, we called the wholesaler to let them know that we hadn’t received a plate. He offered some excuse, but said to just come back down and get a new temp plate while the registration was being filed, and that it would definitely be in the mail soon. It was not. By now it’s almost November, and we don’t have the permanent Florida plate for the Trailblazer. The wholesaler said:

“Yeah, sorry about that, I’m going to bring the registration up to the Department of Motor Vehicles personally.”

So… in two months he hadn’t done that yet. Jess already suspects something fishy. But the Blazer is in good shape. But lo and behold, the plate finally arrives sometime before Thanksgiving. Along with all the paperwork. Goody.

Why would I suspect the registered paperwork differ from the initial handwritten paperwork that I got when we bought the car? Registration numbers and vehicle identifiers don’t change in 2 months.

I thought!

II. THE LAKE COUNTY TAX OFFICE

It was a warm Florida afternoon in December, one of the benefits of living in the south. I pull a letter of interest from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles from the mailbox. It told me, in short, that the insurance information that was input was incorrect, the insurance agency (Geico) denied it, thus the vehicle was uninsured, and that we were in violation of Florida law. I would have 3 weeks to fix the issue or else my license would be suspended.

Crap.

I found this particularly interesting if only because we sure as hell were paying for two cars on the insurance. The premium nearly doubled automatically, and the information was accepted by Geico and reconfirmed by me thrice over. There was clearly a mistake.

I take the letter down to the tax office to get answers. After long looks at the computer screen, intense mouse clicking, and some perturbed expressions, the clerk was able to decipher that the VIN# on file at the DMV and the VIN# on file at Geico did not match. After he dramatically pushed his glasses up the slope of his nose and conducted more mouse clicks, he found that the VIN# on their file was correct, and the one on Geico’s file was incorrect (off by 1 letter).

The wholesaler gave me one VIN# when we bought the truck, and registered a different one in November. Face, meet palm.

I called Geico that moment, had customer service fix the issue, then at the request of the clerk had them update the proof of insurance cards. They were updated instantly on the Geico app. Again, at the request of the clerk, I emailed them to his station, he printed them out, attached to my file, and said “Ok.”

This next exchange is important:

Me: So, I’m all set, right? Because I’m heading on vacation, and the last thing I need is to be pulled over while I’m out of state with a suspended license.

Clerk: Oh yeah, you’re all set. Have a nice day.

… “Have a nice day” is where it should have ended.

III. SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN PURCHASE AND SUSPENSION

That was not where it ended.

Around a month or two after we bought the Trailblazer, Jess started noticing the speedometer intermittently stopped working. It would either not move from its start point of 0, or it would hover around 10 or 15 when we were clearly going faster than that.

We brought it to the garage we always bring it to to get it a once over making sure it’d get us to New England and back for our vacation. Oil change, tire rotation, all that jazz. They gave it a thumbs up saying they reset the electrical system, and that did the trick. And he was right.

For about 2 weeks.

While we were up north, in the middle of vacation, the speedometer crapped out again. I made an incorrect assumption that maybe the cold had something to do with it; it didn’t stop working the first time until the extreme heat of the Florida summer subsided, and it stopped the second time when it was December in New England.

Regardless, we couldn’t get it fixed while we were on vacation. It was one of those things that would have to take care of when we got home.

IV. THE STORY THUS FAR

In case you didn’t want to read the minutia and commentary (it took a lot of effort to write, but it’s fine… whatever), here’s a summary of the important information to the story.

  • We bought a Chevy Trailblazer
  • The speedometer didn’t work
  • The Florida DMV sent us a letter saying it wasn’t insured
  • Actually, it was
  • The VIN# didn’t match from policy to DMV record
  • “You’re all set. Have a nice day.”

Ok, all caught up? Great.

V. I-95 OUTSIDE OF WOODBINE, GEORGIA

January 2, 2019, we were on the homestretch of our journey home. We had a memorable vacation and holiday season spent back home. And after the hardships that marred our first trip back home in 2017, I think it would be nice to remember the actual vacation and not the ridiculous trip home.

Oh, how I wish this was just a droll recount of our winter vacation.

The Florida line was a stone’s throw away, and from there it would only be another 2 hours to get home. And we were making great time. The reason for that became clearly obvious.

A state trooper roared out of the median and tracked me down with his lights flashing. Dammit. Nabbed.

Let’s review my driving record for a minute, shall we? 1 single car accident (2007), pulled over 13 and a half times (don’t ask about the “half”, that’s a completely different story). Number of those times that were for speeding? Zero. Number of tickets issued? Zero. Remember that. My driving record was/is pristine. I only three things I’m proud of in my life are my son, my extensive knowledge of superherodom, and my clean driving record.

The Trooper saunters up to the window, I hand him my license and registration, and he asks:

“Happen to know how fast you were going?”

Me: “Actually, I’m afraid I don’t. You see, my speedometer actually broke while we were on vacation.”

Trooper: “I clocked you at 85 miles an hour today.”

Me: “Oh, I … had no idea. Like I said, the speedometer broke while we were — Well, actually, it was broken before we left, we got it fixed, then it broke again.”

Trooper: “Alright, you stay right there, and I’ll get this looked at.”

He walks away. This, to me, is as routine as it gets. He was either going to let me skate like all the other times, or he was going to an issue me a ticket I’d have to deal with later. Either way, this shouldn’t take long.

15 minutes later, he comes back to the window, and says just about the last thing I expected:

“How about you step out of the car, and let’s have a little talk.”

Fuck.

So here I go, standing on the side of the highway right in the middle of holiday travel time, cars whipping by creating a tempest accompanying this wall of sound that makes it nigh impossible to talk through.

“So,” he begins with one hand on his belt. (“Hands out of your pockets, please”, he interjects. Hands in pockets is one of the things I do when I’m nervous, so now my nervousness has escalated into full blown anxiety.)

“Usually,” he begins again, “with cases of suspended licenses, I put you in the back of the car and you go explain yourself down at the station. But I’m gonna give you a chance to explain yourself right now.”

I was dumbfounded only but for a moment. Because I almost immediately remember the letter at home declaring that my license would be suspended if the lapse of insurance matter wasn’t handled. But I handled it, dammit! “You’re all set. Have a nice day!” That’s what he said!

I told the trooper the whole story about the letter and how (I thought) I had handled it. He makes me confirm my story that the only reason it should be suspended is because of a lapse of insurance. “That should be cleared up,” I add. He says ok, and heads back to his truck to radio it in. I find the passenger side window and try to calm Jess down. It was a misunderstanding, and as soon as he radioed in he would figure that out, I tell her. This would all be smoothed over soon.

The officer comes back. He’s got this cold look in his eyes. He turns, spits some of the tobacco out of his mouth, then places his hand at his belt as he says:

“Now, I just want to let you know that I gave you a chance to explain yourself. And that the only reason you gave for your license to be suspended was a lapse of insurance.”

Perplexed beyond all reason, I confirm that’s exactly what happened.

Then, the bombshell: “You never mentioned you had any DUI’s and an aggravated assault that you were suspended for.”

I could have passed out in shock right then and there. To say that this was a case of mistaken identity was an understatement. Flatly, I never drink and drive, never have never will. I knew from an early age that if you imbibe, you hang up the keys. I know too many people who have been affected by drunk drivers, and I refused to be the cause of destroying an innocent life, or my own, by making a stupid mistake like that.

And aggravated assault? Are you kidding me?! Guys, I’m 5’7” on a good day. I’m basically a tall hobbit. And my disposition on this earth is that violence sucks and is better left in the movies. Plus, I couldn’t intimidate an ant let alone drop someone so fervently that I’d be slapped with an aggravated assault charge.

I am a law abiding citizen. The absolute worst “crime” I’ve ever committed was downloading Game of Thrones episodes (and I stopped the moment I got the DRMC copyright letter).

So suddenly, I find myself wrongfully accused of something on the side of the highway in Georgia. And one of the things that bolted through my mind was how quickly this could escalate. I didn’t want to wind up on the 6:00 news. Still, I had to defend myself.

I don’t remember what I responded with, but my look of sheer terror must have given me away, because the trooper then says:

“That’s not you?”

“No, sir. That is not me. I have never had a DUI. Or an assault.”

I’ve seen enough episodes of Cops to know that cops often expect lies and denial when they accuse someone of wrongdoing.

“Wait right here.” The trooper now walks up to the Blazer where Jess and Zack are still waiting. He talks to her, makes a gesture toward me, stands there and talks with her for about two minutes. After the situation ends, she tells me that he asked if she was alright, if she was being held against her will, how long she’s known me, and asked if she knew if I had any DUI’s. Because, clearly, I’m this drunken monster who incidentally got caught in Georgia.

He comes back and says, “Wife vouches for you.” Then tries to confirm, “So you think we have the wrong guy?”

“Sir, if you knew me, you’d know the last thing I would do is drink and drive. I’ve lost too many people that way.”

He doesn’t seem convinced. But he says that he’ll get back on the radio and “try to figure out what’s going on here.”

So, he heads back to his truck. Jess is on the phone with my parents one second away from hysterics. My son, who we taught to respect police and have instilled a theory that the police help people, is wondering why daddy is talking to the cop so long. And the entire time I’m standing on the side of the road, I’m convinced that I’m going to be arrested by a colossal fuck up of the nth degree.

20. Fucking. Minutes. Later.

The trooper comes back with a clipboard. This is a better sign than having one hand on his handcuffs.

“Well, they can’t figure it out back there. But you might want to check into that once you get back to Florida.” He issues two citations. One for speeding. One for driving while unlicensed (a knockdown from “driving with a suspended license”). And instead of issuing the fines then and there, he gives me a court date to show up to two whole months from the time of the traffic stop. He also orders that Jess has to drive the rest of the way since I was so called unlicensed.

She makes it the rest of the 2 hour drive home while I’m in the back trying to process the whole thing. Basically, I was nearly arrested because of a perfect storm of incompetence. The wholesaler recorded the wrong VIN#. The DMV got a different VIN#. “You’re all set, have a nice day!” means “It’s actually not all set!”, and the Georgia State trooper dispatcher clearly pulled up the wrong record with felonious charges pinned to me. All this nearly coalesced into me in a Georgia jail cell.

What a fucking trip.

VI. THE LAKE COUNTY TAX OFFICE: THE RETURN

The very next day, even calling in late to work to make sure it was done, I marched right into the tax office wanting them to know I, in fact, did NOT “have a nice day!” Because the license was still subject to suspension, I had to fill out a tedious license form AND pay 7 bucks to process it.

The clerk, a different one than last time, tapped and clicked, and tapped and clicked, and said “hmmm”, then tapped and clicked, and finally said “Oh!” … Then tapped and clicked, and clicked then tapped…

…Then tapped some more.

“Ok, so,” she began, “The proof of insurance cards you provided weren’t valid—well, I mean, they WERE valid—but they weren’t valid in order to remove the lapse of insurance from your file. What they need to do that is a letterhead from the insurance provider proving you had insurance at the time.”

Guess what? There was a button on the Geico app specifically to request that. I’m willing to guess this happens enough to where that would be necessary for easy access. It was emailed to me, and I forwarded to the clerk in 10 minutes.

She then takes a detour, talks to the original clerk I talked to, back in the office part, and came back “wanting to make sure this is what is needed.” She looks at the email, then types in the information… I repeat, she types in the information WITH the email with said information right in front of her. The information is directly in front of her, so why should she mess it up? Why indeed?!

And she cleared the flag from my file. And I say… “So… I’m all set?”

She clicks, then types… and says “Yeah, all set!”

Fine.

But it wasn’t fine!

One month later, on February 3, I got yet ANOTHER letter from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. Enclosed was an explanation that my attempt to clear up the lapse of insurance on January was not accepted, and thusly my driver’s license was suspended until the issue was resolved.

So

So. … so … so…

I head BACK to the Lake County Tax Office (after I looked up cat gifs to lower my steadily rising blood pressure) and bring the new notification in request for an explanation. As my license was technically suspended, I had to fill out yet another driver’s license request form and pay yet another seven dollar processing fee. And then I wait until another clerk is free.

It’s a different clerk than the last 2 times, and I explain… the whole… story to her. It wasn’t necessary, I just wanted her to know …exactly… where I was coming from.

I explain that if I have the confirmation letter from Geico confirming that I had insurance the entire time I had the Blazer, which I brought with me to show, then how is it possible that they can also deny they cover the vehicle creating a lapse of insurance. How the hell was that possible? What was going on?!

The clerk takes the confirmation letter. She takes the letter of suspension from the DMV. She looks them over once and says, very chipper like she had just came up with an answer on a crossword puzzle, “Oh!” No clicking, no typing, just “oh!”

She puts the papers down in front of me and points. The policy number that was the Geico letter (i.e. the real policy number) did not match the one that was on the suspension letter. The clerk from the last time put in the policy number incorrectly.

My license was suspended (again) from a clerical error (again).

The clerk opened up the file on the computer, fixed the policy number, and removed the flag on my record. And for the final time, I ask “All set?”

The clerk said “I sure hope so.”

Me too, lady.

VII. EPILOGUE

I requested a transcript of my driver record on the Florida DMV website to see if those DUI’s and aggravated assault charges were actually on my record, or if it was a massive blunder by the Georgia state trooper dispatcher. In the process, I put my driver’s license number in, and it came back “active” and “unimpeded”. I have not received any other notification in the mail, so I think it just might be safe to assume that the insurance issue is, at long last, all set.

My court date in Georgia ended up being remarkably anticlimactic. I freaked out for two months, got a folder full of evidence supporting my claims about why the insurance never lapsed and thus my license should not have been suspended, and prepared a defense statement. I drove 3 hours to Woodbine, Georgia and end up spending exactly 24 minutes in court, approximately 22 of them spent waiting in the galley. The verdict was swift, and all of my dutiful preparation was ultimately unnecessary. He threw out the “driving while unlicensed” charge and cut the speeding bill in half. Total fine: $150.

The saga is over. But if I learned something today, it’s this:

… … … Actually, I got nothing.