Category Archives: Inside my head

The tapping on the window

Surrounded by the darkness of the Walmart parking lot, the unexpected tapping on my driver’s side window made me jump.

For I was in the middle of making my peace — explaining to my wife of 28 years why I wouldn’t be home until after 11 p.m. on my anniversary. So this distraction couldn’t come at a worst time.

Inside the van, the faint glow from a cabin dome light revealed an opened anniversary card between the two seats. A scrawled note in my customary block lettering was my attempt at an apology. My wife had spent much of the day on the road, bringing home Lacey from nearly four hours away because of extensive foot surgery — for the fifth time. 

While Barb and Spencer stayed with Lacey for nearly four days, I remained home in Roseburg to work — including my regular shift on this Saturday.

Now that tapping from the window.

When I jerked my head to the left, a woman in her early 60s with curly hair that appeared the color of chili powder, stared back while mouthing something I couldn’t quite understand.

Looks like somebody else wants money, I thought as I rolled the window down.

Until she held up the jumper cables.

Please sir, she said. Their car was dead on another aisle of the parking lot, and would I come over and jumpstart their battery.

I glanced quickly at the anniversary card to my right and back to her.

I’m embarrassed to say, I came this close to telling her no. That I didn’t have time. In my rush to do the right thing to honor my marriage, I nearly told somebody in need to shove off.

Thankfully, I didn’t.

I swung the van around to see the woman standing next to their vehicle. Next to her was another woman with white hair. A clean-cut teen, also dressed in obvious Christmas attire, left the warmth of the vehicle to try and help.

I soon learned from the white-haired woman that the teen was to blame for this dead battery. He had sat for a period of time in the car with his cell phone, draining his battery in the process.

“He doesn’t know much about anything,” she told me.

Despite that negative endorsement, he proceeded to attach the cables to the correct posts in their car and then to my van.

I motioned for him to start his vehicle, where it started on the first try.

“Hey, it looks like he knows about cars,” I said while smiling at the white-haired woman.

When I mentioned that today was my anniversary, the two women looked at me shocked before offering repeated apologies.

I assured them I was glad to help, and my wife would understand.

Sure enough, she did. It may have been for less than hour this year, but we still managed to mark this special day.

This time, we happened to include a few extra people who needed us.

 

A long overdue apology to my journalist family

Josie Jacobs reunites with Chloe, a Corgi thought to be lost during a structure fire on Buckhorn Road.

Josie Jacobs reunites with Chloe, a Corgi thought to be lost during a structure fire on Buckhorn Road.

As I sit here exhausted, tearful and overcome by the smell of smoke, I need to write this to my family.

The same thing happened again tonight that’s occurred so many times to keep track of over the past 27 years as a journalist.

I call home tonight, just like I’ve done many other nights.

Just leaving the office, I tell them. I will be home in time for dinner for sure. I promise.

As I stand up to walk out the door of the newsroom, I hear word of a major structure fire over the scanner. I can’t ignore it.

While I was there, I watched a husband and wife react as they watch their home go up in flames, a place they’ve lived in since 1966. She mourned the loss of her two dogs, presumed to be victims of the fire.

I was there when family members heard a rustle in the bushes. It was one of the scared dogs looking for its owners. It was an honor to document the joyful reunion.

So I apologize for missing yet another dinner and showing up hours later than I said I would. Thank you, family, for sacrificing so I could help document this story.

You’ve watched with me as my trade teeters precariously off the edge of the cliff. You’ve heard my worries and my complaints.

But thanks for understanding as people like your dad and husband tell these stories for as long as we can.

 

Gratitude Smatitude

From Bryce Christiansen

1. I am thankful for a unique name, one that I have to spell each time on the phone and is often confused with beer.

2. I’m thankful for living in a place with so many polite, good people. I haven’t been sworn at or given the middle finger in so long, I’m developing a complex.

3. I’m grateful for the words that come to me when having a private conversation with my son. It’s hard not to feel guilty for getting extra help from above.

4. I’m thankful for Mountain Dew. If I get in trouble for saying this, I’ll just blame it on Middle-aged Mormon Man.

5. I’m thankful for the knowledge that I am not the slob I used to be. I’m in danger of not getting invited back for the slob rechartering.

6. I’m thankful for vehicles that work, even with strange noises that would cause much fear with lesser souls.

7. I’m thankful for not getting irritated as much as I used to. Must have been when I stopped caring.

8. I’m grateful for a wife who plans events with the precision of a drill sergeant, cares for people enough that she makes Mother Theresa seem like a slacker and lets me hold her hand on Saturdays.

9. I’m thankful for people who make me laugh or think differently.

10. I’m thankful for missionary letters, full of riches of eternity.

11. I’m thankful for people who share my disdain for yams and sweet potatoes. I think there’s six of you now.

12. I’m thankful for people who make it a point not to name drop about famous people they’ve met. Steve Young told me to say this.

13. I’m thankful for having my life prolonged more than once. Makes it harder to justify watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” reruns when there’s work to be done.

14. I’m thankful for my right to rationalize. I can explain practically anything that way, except what happened to all those cherry turnovers last night.

15. I’m thankful for the ability to tell stories. Some of them might even be true.

 

 

Why quality seems to be job last

Stuff keeps breaking.

If it was after three or four years, I could live with it. We’re talking three to four months.

And it’s getting real old.

The Maytag washer has only one water hose connected to it, because that’s the only one that works. Halfway through the cycle, you have to start it over again, in order to get your clothes clean.

Remember when Maytag used to count for something. Now it counts for naughty words.

About the computer. The first Gateway desktop bombed after three months. After waiting six months for a new one to arrive, it stopped working. Next time, I won’t listen to Omar when he tries to sell me something from his truck.

It’s happened with our Toyota Sienna, rated one of the best minivans out there for years. It’s a comfortable ride, the engine has worked great. But don’t count on the seats to operate correctly. If you count to five, one of the power sources on the dash will come out on its own. The radio flashes like it’s possessed. Plastic falls off for no reason.

Sigh.

We take care of our stuff. Honest, we do. The cars get the oil changed every three months. I run the latest and best computer security on all our devices. Everything is on a regular maintenance schedule.

That’s because you don’t have a protection plan, the clerk tells me at Best Buy. Why don’t I just hand them my debit card? It’s essentially the same thing.

All this is what happens as more companies continue in the race for the bottom.

From Seth Godin: “There’s always the opportunity to cut a corner, sacrifice lifestyle quality and suck it up as we race to grab a little more market share.”

But the problem with that thinking, Seth says, “is that you might win.”

My good friend Dennis said it this way: “The problem with asking people to do more with less is that you actually end up getting less with less.”

Seth seems to agree. He said it this way.

“The race to the top makes more sense to me. The race to the top is focused on design and respect and dignity and guts and innovation and sustainability and yes, generosity when it might be easier to be selfish.”

Count me in. As soon as I get my washer fixed.

 

 

 

 

Why I don’t care if you read this (for now)

You 10 readers used to keep me up at night.

I used to pour over the blog stats fretting about who showed up on my blog and how they got there. What if I added the wrong keywords or (heaven forbid) give enough back links?

For a long time, you came to the blog in droves, and it was fun living my alter ego as a two-bit blog celebrity. I tried to act nonchalant when my kids reported more comments to them about my blog.

Now I’ve reached a point where I hope to write more and care less. It’s taken a long time, but I think I’m finally there. I’ll still share on Facebook and Twitter, and still be grateful when you visit. But letting go of the numbers, a process many months in the making, has been extremely therapeutic.

If you still come to visit me here, glad to have you.

Who knows what you’ll find when you get here. The writing most likely won’t be gooder than other writers. But it will have honesty, maybe make you smile or identify with a lesson that I learned. And like always, I never write longer than my attention span. These days, that’s usually not longer than success as a GOP frontrunner.

This whole discovering who I am is taking longer than I thought. Some day, I’ll finish the idea I had for a children’s book. I might even compile of these essays into book form. I’ll keep reading powerful writing, such as this this eulogy on Steve Jobs.

But for now, I’ll just keep writing. Judging by how often I look at these pics on my desk, I’ll have plenty of inspiration.

Lacey, Lindsey and the dog inspire me just as well. You're just on the opposite side of the desk.

 

8 quick impressions of Billings from the new guy

This one is for you, Billings. The rest of you are free to see our literature in the lobby.

Photo from wardtog.com

It’s been a week, and the new guy needs just a moment. Pretend I’m standing on stage at MetraPark.

You see I’m new to town, barely here more than a week. I’m the one driving down Grand Avenue like your grandma on leave from the nursing home. That used to be me searching desperately on my GPS for the right road, hoping one of Billings finest doesn’t spot me. It’s not you guys driving bad. It’s me whipping into the proper lane at the last moment to make my turn into Costco.

Pleasure to make your acquaintance. You see, I left Oregon to be a writer for Kinetic Marketing on the third floor of the Rex. But you knew that already. Or you should.

But there are just a couple of things I need to get off my chest. Won’t take but a second, and they’re really not all that bad.

1. You’ve still got an image problem, Billings (at least in certain demographics associated with me.) Some stared at me when I told them I was coming here, like I was volunteering for rope-testing duty at the gallows.

“You serious?” seemed to be the reaction of more than one person. It snows there, they told me. And it gets really, really cold. And I bet they don’t have any television, especially next to the Pony Express station. OK, it wasn’t quite that bad, but still enough thought I was marching off to war. Then there were others who had lived here before, and knew better. They were enthusiastic and positive, telling me things I’ve already come to know to be true.

2. You people are so nice here. Maybe I haven’t been to the jerk section of town. Do you keep them all behind a chain-linked fence? Because I haven’t seen them.

The LDS temple overlooking Billings.

3. Speaking of niceness, the customer service has been exceptional here. Yes, more than one store employee gestured off toward Butte and said “It’s over there.” And there was the poor fellow who stared at me blankly when I asked where the picture frames were, and then asked, “What’s a picture frame?”

But again, there’s that friendliness. Go with that. Put it on a sign entering the city, get some T-shirts made up.

4. Somebody explain to me again why Albertsons stores appear to be everywhere. It’s either Walmart or Albertsons for my main grocery shopping choices. Yes, I know about the Good Earth Market and at least two IGA stores here, but the lack of grocery store chains in a city of more than 100,000 is fascinating to me.

5. Winter scares me and it’s not even here yet. This from a guy with plenty of snow and subzero experience from Utah and Idaho. It’s different here, with pre-winter hype rivaling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In my mind, I picture scenes from “Day After Tomorrow”, with families huddled by fires next to the Wells Fargo building downtown.

6. You like your roundabouts here. I’ve never been to a place with more than here, but I don’t get out much. At some point, I’ll figure them out. For now, my goal is to not have “died by roundabout” in my obituary.

Photo of Dehler Park by Phil Bell

7. Did a doubletake as I drove by Dehler Park tonight. What an impressive facility where I hope to find myself watching some home games of the Billings Mustangs. And you say George Brett, Trevor Hoffman, Paul O’Neill and other Major League stars began their careers in Billings? And there’s hockey as well?

8. It feels alive here. I see less houses for sale and more buildings under construction. Like everywhere else, there are people here hurting during these tough economic times. But the growth in Billings is for real. You can feel it.

Thanks for having me, everybody. I hope to be around for quite awhile.

Billings T-shirt photo from here.

 

 

Saved in the basement

Photo from randomthoughtsonlifeblog.com

We, meaning I, lead a simple life in the temporary palace basement of Team Henneke.

I have no DVR, no online access without standing on my head, the toilet starts bubbling from the other room for no reason and my television channels consist mostly of PBS stations.

Don’t take this for complaining. For this tiny basement with the square footage of a baseball card might have saved my life.

Melodramatic, you say? Perhaps. It may be a hard thing to imagine because, except for the steady drip coming from the shower, it’s quiet here. The portable gas heater makes a comfortable clicking sound when it runs. And every so often, I can hear the sound of little feet running on the floor above me. It makes me long for home for just a minute.

No, I’m thankful for this temporary life, in a new place, with nothing to do but to practice a little life resistance training.

For the first time, I’m exercising muscles I didn’t know I had. Not the physical kind that require deep heating ointment.

No, I’m talking about life muscles, stretching them just a tiny bit to another level.

It’s not a sudden, dramatic change. It’s much like my longstanding practice to take the stairs instead of the elevator, or to park in the spot furthest away from the store.

Instead of spending hours watching television, I’m writing letters to my family. Instead of eating constantly, I’m listening to good music and reading more.

I struggle some days, but I can feel something slowly changing inside.

About time I grew up.

 

Will the real Mike please stand up?

Before I left home for this new job, my wife gave me some advice.

“This will be a great chance to recreate yourself,” she said.

Fun-loving Mike? Good.

Goof-off Mike? Not-so-good.

Be gone with you, demon spirits of the orange Tic Tacs. Be healed of the old Mike and bring on Mike 2.0. Make him Peter Brady with his new-and-improved persona.

Now that I am separated temporarily in another timezone, I’m going to do something very daring. I’m going to respectively disagree with her, to a point.

I don’t want to be new with extra cleaning power, I want to be the best person I was designed to be on this Earth. This came from a quote while watching a broadcast on Dell Parsons. It came from a BYU professor and has stuck with me ever since. More or less, it says this:

Be the person you were designed to be.

That means I am a person of divine potential, capable of greatness here on this Earth.

Maybe I won’t change the world as much as visionary Steve Jobs. I won’t be known for any inventions or the right sequence for removing all the tags on new shirts.

But maybe I can make somebody smile. I can be happy, positive and enthusiastic.

And if that’s enough to brighten the day of somebody around me, especially my family, then that’s the right Mike for me.

Why my co-pilot Dyson didn’t suck

It rode with me for 16 hours and didn’t complain once.

Never criticized my driving, never told me to slow down or not to tap on the steering wheel.

Never once did it tell me to turn the heat down when I was cold or turn it up when I was hot.

Dyson was strangely quiet during the trip.

It just sat there, in all its sweeping glory, never once requiring me to roll down the window because of vacuum flatulence.

It didn’t ask me if we were there yet, why did we have to eat there or leave trash in the car.

Man, it was quiet. not moving so much as a belt.So peaceful. So less chaotic than traveling with my family members.

I wonder if Dyson

knows he’ll be staying home for the next road trip.

It’ll probably floor him.

In a strange land

It didn’t take long for the homesickness to hit, the kind that twists your stomach into 400 knots.

It was in the Wal-Mart parking lot, late at night with a hint of a warm Montana breeze. To my right, a small group of teens were huddled around a truck.

While my wife was talking, I thought back a few minutes earlier driving down Grand Avenue, one of the main streets here. The road was packed with students, packed in numerous vehicles following a football game that just finished.

I drove slower than I should down Grand Avenue, searching for a particular road I needed. One car filled with students ripped around me on my left. Evidently I wasn’t going fast enough, because one of them leaned out the window and shouted something that appeared kinda rude.

Back in the parking lot, my wife was talking. After 30 seconds or so, she paused.

“Are you there?” she asked. “Why aren’t you talking?”

A short pause before I could keep my voice steady enough.

“I was afraid if I spoke I might start crying.”

Even now, I’m disgusted with myself that I allowed myself to mope. The people are so nice here. Employees at work were kind enough to send my wife a bouquet of flowers and stole into my apartment with some groceries and supplies I needed.

I don’t think it was by accident, but a thought flashed into my mind. It was my young college-age friend back home. He just found out he has a brain tumor.

When I talked to him on Facebook later that night, he was surprisingly upbeat. When I asked him how he was doing, he said, “You play the cards you were dealt.”

Hmmm. I’ll wondered if I would be so faithful facing that trial. If I couldn’t even handle this trivial change, how would I ever cope with something that grand.

This is where I need to be. No question in my mind. Doesn’t mean there won’t be a breaking-in period though. It’s happened with other moves before and will probably happen again.

Finally I hung up and walked into Wal-Mart. Before I went home, I set my GPS for another building. Surprisingly I found it in less than five minutes, with no additional insults hurled from students.

I pulled into the parking lot and stopped next to the familiar tan building. Lights lit up the parking lot and most of the facade of the building.

My eyes settled on a sign on the outside of the building. Some of the words on the sign jumped out more than others:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

I paused and smiled. I was home.