Saturday, January 1, 2022

Christmas Cookies and COVID Cooties

2021, you really didn't need to take Betty White from us, too. That was just adding injury to insult (and injury).

My year wasn't all bad, by any means. It did have some bad moments early on: namely, the debacle with getting the right kind of COVID-19 test within 72 hours of flying to Brazil with my mom in January, and then having the Lyft we were taking to the airport get T-boned and totalled ten minutes after we'd been picked up. On the other hand, a sushi-filled Valentine's dinner with my love, and then a spa day with a couples massage at SoJo Spa Club two weeks later, were both awesome. My employer, Microwize Technology, moved its Paramus headquarters to a smaller but sexier suite in the same office building. We attended our first (and only, thus far) pandemic wedding together in the spring, and were relieved to do some outdoor dining and drinking down the shore in the summer. I fed many, many squirrels, both on my own and with my mom. I've invested a wee little bit in cryptocurrency, Ether to be precise. My girlfriend and I had a weekend stay in Cape May, taking in an amazing meal and a fun railbiking experience. I managed to get to the New York Renaissance Faire and see some friends. Writing/editing/proofreading for a healthcare-oriented quarterly magazine? Check. She gave me a ukulele for my birthday, and as I'm learning to play it, I've started incorporating it into a new song I'm writing (having written and recorded another new one earlier in the year). She and I watched "Squid Game" and were fascinated in spite of ourselves. Finally took in my first in-person concert (the Indigo Girls) since - gasp! - February 2020 with a friend, and did some hiking on Pyramid Mountain with another. A second spa day? Yeah, we had to. In fact, I think this is going to become a regular thing for us. I got to see some old grammar/high school friends for the first time in over a decade, attended another friend's pandemic 50th birthday party, got Christmas cookies from yet another friend, and got to see my honey on Christmas Eve before heading to my mom's. The company is doing well, and the rest of the management team and I may be visiting our affiliated company in Egypt together next year. I even got around to starting "Black Mirror," and you were right, Ahmed, I do enjoy it, a lot.

But yeah, there was pain and nuisance and death in 2021, too. I lost family in Brazil, on both my mom's and my dad's sides, some I hadn't gotten to know well (or at all) and some I knew very well indeed and miss dearly. My girlfriend and I suffered a wasp sting each (from the same wasp, I'm certain) within ten seconds of each other. That attractive new office space is also louder, which sometimes grates on me. The Web hosting service I'd been with for two decades lost my trust and my business by not delivering prompt and honest updates when a planned server migration turned into two days of down time for my sites, and longer for some others; the sticking point wasn't the down time, however, it was the lack of communication and transparency on the part of MacHighway, and so I pulled my sites and started over with someone else. The old friends I saw late in the year for the first time in forever? It was unfortunately because we'd scrambled to get to Florida to visit the deathbed of another of our friends we hadn't even known was battling (and succumbing to) cancer, though at least we did get to see him one last time. Cancer sucks, losing friends and family members sucks, and though it's been six and a half years since the first loss I really felt, it just does not get any easier. The list of people I miss grows longer... time to try reconnecting with those I can still reach.

What's that? Oh, yeah, the COVID cooties. Well, after three doses of the Pfizer vaccine with nothing but a sore arm each time, and making my way through over 20 months of the pandemic unscathed... I got scathed on Christmas Eve. 😳 Though neither of us knew it at the time, my honey was infected when we saw each other that evening. She started feeling sick the next day and tested positive soon thereafter, by which time my throat had started feeling scratchy.

So I've been quaralating (quarantining/isolating) this week and will continue to do so for the next few days, though I'm happy to report that we're both starting to feel better. I actually had a flu experience once that was much more intense but over a shorter period of time; nonetheless, this was bad enough, and I don't doubt that it would've been worse had I not been vaccinated. I still don't like trap music, though, so I never lost my sense of taste. (Also, I'm certain that those Christmas cookies helped me survive, so thank you, Rhonda!)

Got two worthy causes before I sign off, in case you've somehow gotten through the holidays with a little cash and charity to spare. One is to help South African students finish high school (the organizer, Nicol, is a friend who grew up in South Africa herself): Movin' right along, the other seeks to restore the car from "The Muppet Movie" (see what I did there?): If you can donate to and/or share either of these GoFundMe campaigns, it would be most appreciated.

I hope everyone is safe, healthy, and happy, or will be so soon if you're not right now, and I wish us all a better New Year in 2022. 🎉

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Practice of the Future Magazine

After a long, long period of time, I'm going to be associated with a publication again; Practice of the Future will be launching soon! Well, the digital version is available already, but it's the printed copy I can't wait to get my hands on next week... I do some of the writing, and most of the proofreading/copyediting, for this quarterly healthcare-oriented magazine, and I've got to say I'm quite pleased with what my colleagues and I have achieved. Of course, this kind of thing isn't exactly new to me...

26 years ago today, August 18, 1995, I met up with some fellow 'zinesters at the second annual Underground Press Conference at DePaul University in Chicago during my all-too-brief stint as publisher and editor-in-chief of the Extreme. Disillusionment with the conference itself and the feuds I saw boiling over, coupled with a flood of submissions but a dearth of subscriptions, led me to unceremoniously pull the plug on the venture shortly thereafter, only eight issues in, and I still regret it...

Before that, I proofread and edited The Voyage of the SS Jeremiah O'Brien: San Francisco to Normandy 1994, a book by Coleman "Coke" Schneider about the Liberty Ship he was assigned to as a Merchant Marine deck cadet for its maiden voyage in 1944, and on which he traveled again 50 years later for the D-Day anniversary. Coke was a great man with a fascinating history, and I'm proud to have both known him and helped him with the book.

Before that? Well, in 1991 there was my semi-legendary stint as "underground journalist" and literary editor/propagandist of the Underground Giraffe. Met initially with amused tolerance by the management of the Toys "R" Us store where graphic editor Steve Augulis and I worked, the irreverent newsmagazine subtitled "Something to read while you're in the bathroom" found its way up a corporate level or two, and our comic and crass rants were eventually suppressed after five issues that year. I then released two final issues in 1992 as a gift to my co-workers when I resigned. I'm not saying that UG had anything to do with T"R"U filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017 and closing all its US stores the following year... but I'm not not saying it, either.

And before that? I suppose my interest in journalism and writing and editing/proofreading began in high school. In my junior year, I was a member of the editorial committee of John F. Kennedy H.S.' school newspaper, The Torch; the next year, I was literary editor of our yearbook, The Knight. The proofreading bug has been with me ever since, and even when I'm reading for news or for pleasure, part of me is on the hunt for errors. Beware my red pen!

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

I do still enjoy writing, too, and though the work I do in my capacity as marketing manager for Microwize Technology and senior editor for Practice of the Future shows barely a trace of my trademark snark and outrage, I'm proud of it. Of course, the turns of phrase, the alliteration, the portmanteaus and double entendres I sprinkle throughout my song lyrics and short fiction and personal 'blog posts are nearer and dearer to my heart. I have fun with words when I can.

Kudos to my PotF teammates on a terrific first issue together! And, who knows... I just might be inspired to try my hand at the 'zine thing again...

Sunday, March 21, 2021

One Year On

A year ago tonight, New Jersey went into lockdown, with 1,327 COVID-19 cases and 16 coronavirus-related deaths. One year on, the state is seeing more than that many new cases a day, and as of this writing we're at 762,407 cases, and 24,134 deaths. (I wrote this 'blog post the next day; that reminds me, I never did finish writing "Unexpected Pandemic Blues...")

A year ago last Thursday, I did my first "working from home" post. Those posts had lost their charm, at least for me, long before I hit day 100 and stopped (the posts, not working from home). These days, I head to the office two days a week, but it's not the same.

A year ago April 7th, I took my Philips Norelco OneBlade to my scalp; I knew I wasn't going to be getting my longish hair cut at Astor Place in the Village anytime soon. (I finally did get a professional cut three weeks ago at Prestige Barber Shop in Lyndhurst.) Speaking of the Village...

A year ago March 7th, my friend Dawn and I took a trip in to NYC. I had no idea it was going to be my last for over a year, but we did notice that there were fewer people out and about on a relatively warm Saturday afternoon than normal. I do miss Mamoun's and Washington Square Park and Barcade and the Lower East Side and just being able to go to New York whenever I had the time and the inclination. I've never been more reluctant to get on a bus or train.

2021 held a few major hiccups for me at the start, but my girlfriend and I got to relax with an amazing couples massage and an incredible spa day not long ago.

What else? Oh, I'm still not making a lot of money off my music, but for some reason I've received more in royalties so far this year (this month, even) than over the past four years combined. Seems I'm getting streamed a lot in Canada? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Got Shazamed a time or two, too. (Yes, it was good for me, thanks for asking.) It's not enough to pay for another spa day yet, but if people are listening, that's good enough for me... and it appears that they are.

Speaking of money, I've decided to get my feet wet with cryptocurrency, and so I'm now the proud owner of over 69 quadrillion wei! ("No wei!") Sounds much more impressive than 0.06931 Ether. I've seen it drop as much as 26% from what I paid (which was admittedly not much), but it's recovered and has been doing all right for the past week or two. Not getting a spa day out of this anytime soon, either, but I'd been wanting to see what all the fuss was about, and I guess I'm beginning to.

It has undoubtedly been a hell of a year... but adversity builds character. Or something. Not like I wasn't a character already. I've had some wonderful moments over the past twelve months, though, and hopefully you have, too. Let's work together to make the next twelve better.

Monday, January 25, 2021

You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

Yeah, I know... but I swear that every word is true.

I was supposed to fly to Brazil on Friday the 8th. My mom has to go every year in January, for reasons of pension and Brazilian bureaucracy, and the last few years I've gone with her. Normally I enjoy visiting Brazil; it's a beautiful country and I've got family there. This year, I wasn't looking forward to the trip so much, but eventually I booked our flights...

...and found out, near the end of 2020, that we would in fact need to have negative COVID test results in order to enter Brazil. From tests taken within 72 hours of the flight. And because it seemed damned near impossible to take an RT-PCR test and be guaranteed results within 72 hours, I foolishly scheduled us for rapid (antigen) tests on Wednesday and Thursday. They came back negative (lucky me, I actually had a rapid and an RT-PCR test done at the clinic I visited, though the results of the latter took significantly longer than 72 hours to come back), but in the meantime I realized I'd made a mistake.

Frantically searching for somewhere that could guarantee PCR test results in time, I learned about XpresCheck, right in Newark International Airport, which had a rapid test that was molecular like the PCR test, and not an antigen test like the usual rapid tests. I was dubious, and so I called United Airlines for guidance, and was told that yes, negative results from this test would be acceptable for international travel. And so I scheduled us to get tested again, on Friday afternoon several hours before the flight, and these tests were neither covered by insurance nor inexpensive.

We got to the airport and headed to XpresCheck in Terminal B. Upon being informed that we were taking the test in order to travel to Brazil, the staff (to their credit) expressed skepticism that this test would be acceptable and urged me to confirm with United again. And so I did, with a 16-minute phone call during which I asked twice if I would be able to travel to Brazil with negative results from XpresCheck's NAAT molecular test, and was assured that I would because it was basically the same kind of test as the RT-PCR. So we paid and took our tests and got our negative results.

And were denied check-in by United, because the test results did not specifically state that we'd taken RT-PCR tests. I was angry and confused; the first round of tests were my fault, but this time I'd checked twice with the airline and was told twice that XpresCheck's test, performed right at the airport, would be fine. We had to leave EWR, and after more desperate searching online, I found a lab that would guarantee RT-PCR test results within 48 hours. Called 'em to make sure, then scheduled us to be tested on Saturday, and rescheduled the flight for Monday the 11th. (For those keeping score at home, this was now my fourth COVID test in four days.) We got the results in under 24 hours, in fact, and could've traveled Sunday night had I known, but at any rate, we set out for the airport again on Monday afternoon in a Lyft...

...which was totaled ten minutes later by a driver who most likely crossed over two or three lanes of traffic in a hurry and probably didn't even see us until it was too late. (Her car was totaled, too.) Our driver's airbag deployed, and she didn't seem to be injured. The right side of my mom's chest was hurt, probably because of the seatbelt, and she had trouble breathing in the minute or two after the accident. My own right side was sore, and I'm fairly certain I bumped my head, though not enough to leave a mark or bump; maybe ten minutes later, when I realized that my right forearm was also feeling some pain, I checked and found a shallow gash almost two inches long near the elbow.

The local police showed up quickly, and after a report was written up, the county sheriff's officers drove us (in the back, but sans handcuffs) a short distance away to a convenience store, so I could summon another Lyft (the accident happened under an overpass on a busy roadway). We did eventually make it to the airport, with plenty of time, and got through check-in and security with no further issues. And made it to Brazil.

We had fewer days there than we'd counted on, but then neither of us exactly intended to do a lot of sightseeing or travel, in light of the COVID-19 situation in Brazil being about as bad as it is in the US. One thing that surprised me, pleasantly, was how the vast majority of people I saw in Ponta Grossa were wearing masks, both indoors and out. We did get to spend some time with some family. My mom, still in pain from the accident, got an X-ray taken, which seemed to indicate that everything's fine. We didn't have any dramatic issues on the way back to the US this past Friday, fortunately, and even the Uber ride to the airport in Curitiba (Lyft hasn't made it to Brazil yet) was fine. We squeaked in just a few days before a negative RT-PCR test requirement goes into effect for entering the US (beginning tomorrow). We've both still got some leftover pain after the Lyftpocalypse, but mine is subsiding slowly, and mom will see her doctor if it's not better soon. After some quarantining, of course.

How was your January?

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

September Morn

Watching September approach this year, I was filled with a sense of... well, not dread, really. Wariness, and weariness, I suppose. While I've always considered fall my favorite season, and September is my birth month, it's been a more depressing month these past several years. You'd think Suicide Prevention Awareness Month would be a fun and cheerful time, but...

The age thing really doesn't bother or faze me. I still mostly feel like the 18-year old cool but awkward, respectful but punk kid I've been for a long time now. A bit less naïve and a bit more world-weary, even though I used to describe myself as the world's youngest curmudgeon; some grey in my hair, and a few more lines in my face, but I just can't think of myself as a 50-year old, even if that's what I am now. I wasn't upset by the thought of growing another year older, I was upset by the thought of growing another year older and still feeling lonely.

This year has turned out much different than we'd all anticipated. Well, this September turned out much different than I'd anticipated, in a good way. On New Year's Eve 2019, I got a fortune cookie with a slip of paper inside which read, "If you want it... take it." I'm not one to take fortunes or horoscopes seriously, but I did interpret this as a positive way to approach life, even if I didn't implement it as well or as often as I'd intended. As this month was beginning, however, I found myself confronted with an opportunity I really hadn't expected... and I wanted it, and I took it.

And now I'm happy again, truly happy (and not just for a few hours or a day or three) for the first time in years. Today's my birthday, and I've got a dinner date tonight. I wrote and recorded a new song in under three weeks, and it will be released shortly (yes, on Apple Music and Spotify and iHeartRadio and Pandora and so on). And so begins another chapter in the Andersen Silva autobiography.