Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Working" Through School

My parents, who were older than most of the parents of my friends, didn't make much money. My mom was lunch lady at our grade school, and before he became disabled with Parkinson's disease, (Meaning he stopped driving - a decision he made on his own after pulling out in front of traffic, wrecking his nearly new car) my dad operated a one bay gas station and garage he co-owned with a guy who barely did anything at all. So raising two boys and putting us through Parochial school really took everything my parents had.

When I was in high school, my Aunt and Uncle needed someone to mow their lawn so my Mom volunteered me. I didn't mind to much really as I kind of enjoyed the chore at home, and besides, I would get paid for mowing this one. Soon neighbors of my aunt and uncle, appreciating the quick and quality work I did, started asking if I would mow their lawns too, and I readily agreed. At about this same time, my best friend had purchased a new Lawn Boy mower and was mowing lawns for some of the elderly neighbors in his neighborhood. His example showed me that such an investment made good business sense: His new mower had a bagging attachment and he would charge more to haul the grass clippings away. I wanted badly to follow suit. So my mom and dad invested what I realize now must have been a good chunk of their savings in my fledgling business to pay for a brand new Lawn Boy and a very beat up old truck to haul it around in. By the end of that first summer I had paid them back for both - a sum of about two thousand dollars. For the next few years I managed about a dozen lawns a week in the summer, hauled leaves away in the fall, and cleared snow in the winter.

When I graduated from high school I really had no idea if I would even go to college. I kicked around the idea of going to the Fire Academy to be a fire fighter, staying on with the landscaping firm for which I now worked as a salaried employee, or going to a trade school to learn auto mechanics. Finally I decided that college would be the best opportunity for me to land a job that didn't leave me tired and dirty after a day's work. I wanted a job where I showered before going, rather than after getting home.

Despite earning an honest to goodness salary and still mowing a few lawns on the side, when I started College there was no extra money to be had. We filled out the financial aid forms and soon I was attending the local public university on the government's dime. I made enough to pay for my books, gas, and any entertainment expenses, and even though I still lived with my parents, I thoroughly enjoyed my years at school. I spent my first several quarters exploring various fields of study, kinda following an engineering direction - Physics, Chemistry, Calculus - but eventually I settled on Photography. (Kind of a mix of chemistry, physics and art, if you think about it!) A decision that finally exposed me to subjects I had not thought about exploring before, and really taught me a lot about life - diversity, the arts, philosophy - and taught me that I could accomplish much more than I thought I could. College presented me with challenges that, perhaps for the first time in my life, I faced head on with determination and a "can do" attitude. I had a goal, and I pursued it with all the gusto of a hungry animal chasing it's prey.

Ironically I'm not now employed as a photographer in any way whatsoever. I'm in the IT department at my company, and very much enjoy interacting with the folks I help with their computer problems. I'm convinced that I wound up where I am because of the lessons I learned in college. Not the classes I paid for so much, but the lessons I learned as a young man starting to face the world on my own. The lessons of perseverance, of entrepreneurship, of diversity and tolerance, of freedom to do what I wanted yet choosing to better myself.

Like me, our Diamonds in the rough will be working through school - of this there can be no doubt. I hope they also come away as enriched as I did.

Bringing Home Baby

D1 just turned 17 the other day and as folks often do on such occasions, I found myself hitching a ride on the wayback machine: It was not one of those long and dream-like excursions through time though; it was more of a momentary flashback, but one in which the sensations were as real as any present waking moment. For a split second, as I passed through a certain place, every one of my senses was telling me it was 17 years ago, and we were bringing our new baby home for the first time. It was enough to stop me in my tracks.

I was simply walking by the laundry room on the way from the kitchen to the front of the house. As I often do, I glanced into that little room, and that’s when it happened. Expecting to see the closed door to the garage, instead I saw – and this is particularly interesting to me – heard, smelled and felt, too all the same sights, sounds, smells and textures of the moment 17 years ago when my wife walked through that door carrying our newborn son.

The view was curiously cropped. Oh yes, I was filming the event and saw it though the viewfinder of a video camera. I can feel the camera in my hands, warm and smooth. My hand shakes a bit. There is a familiar smell – new construction – our house is only a few months older than D1. But not a smell we usually experience now. In the background there are still boxes in the garage, beyond the blue Honda that I just made room for in there so we would not have to have the baby out in the cold for long. There really are not many sounds; my wife said something like “We’re home - finally!” But I remember the silence most because for a fleeting second that silence I experienced all those years ago reminded me just how scared I was to be coming home to the house we just moved into with a baby that I believed I knew nothing about raising . . . It was a stark, cold, lonely feeling. I put down the camera and embraced my family. Then it was all instantly, awesomely, OK.

I walked on down the hall and found that D1 still has not taken his laundry hamper back up to his room.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

PC Strobe?

As I was showering this morning, It struck me that my blogger name - PC Strobe - may need some explaining. I think this because of the "PC" portion. It does not stand for Politically Correct. In fact, I've used this handle since my earliest online days when PC was simply short for "Personal Computer".

It was the mid to late Eighties, and "Online" meant one had dialed up a bulletin board to read and post messages. I guess this could be considered the earliest form of blogging. Any way, I would fire up the Atari 800, dial the local number of another Atari enthusiasts modem line and, at a blazing fast rate of 1200 baud, could upload posts, and read others postings. If I really wanted to tie up the line for a while I could even download programs!

So "PC" partly came from Personal Computer.

PC also happens to be part of a name for the connection between an SLR camera (and being the 80s these cameras took something called film - look it up if you are that young!) and a flash that's not mounted directly to the camera. ("PC cord" is what I always called it). And as you may know, a photographic flash is just a fancy strobe light.

So combining my two greatest interests at the time - and in a slightly punny way I thought - I came up with a character by the name of PC Strobe.

Occasionally this name takes on an odd (and unintentional) appropriateness: I feel like my "really good" thoughts are like the flash from a strobe light - Blinding in their impact, but gone in an instant. The only effect being the disorientation caused by the fleeting spots before ones eyes.