Monthly Archives: December 2011

I’d Like a Refund

Part of the Phone Calls to Julie Series.

Ring, ring…

WP: Hello, WordPress technical support, this is Julie, how can I help you today?

ME: Hi Julie, thank you for taking my call, I’m terribly concerned… and I’d like a refund.

WP: Ummm… okay sir… what are you concerned about?

ME: Well, I’m concerned that I haven’t become famous yet.

WP: Excuse me?

ME: I’m concerned that I haven’t become famous yet… and I’d like a refund.

WP: What do you mean, you’d like a refund?

ME: I’d like a refund.

WP: Is this the guy from Brown Road Chronicles?

ME:  Yes, yes, do you remember me?

WP: Ummm… how could I forget?  Anyway, what do you mean you’d like a refund?  A refund on what? The WordPress service you’re using is free.

ME:  Oh…. ummm…. well… uhhh…

WP: SIR IS THERE SOMETHING I CAN HELP YOU WITH? We are very busy today. Lots of people have time off this week so there are a lot of bloggers that are writing and need technical assistance… and the phones are ringing off the hook.  Now, what do you mean you haven’t become famous yet?

ME:  See, with 2011 coming to a close… well I’m reflecting…

WP: Reflecting?

ME: Yes… I’m reflecting… on the past year. See, I started my blog about a year ago… and I thought I’d be famous by now.

WP:  Sir, I’m pretty sure that the first time you called me, I told you that most bloggers have this delusion that they are going to be famous authors someday, when in reality the majority will just disappear eventually.

ME: Oh… you did? Well, I’m not just any blogger, I write Brown Road Chronicles.  Have you read my blog yet? It’s very good!

WP: Yes… you’ve mentioned that before… but, no sir, I have not read it… WordPress now has over 400,000 blogs, I can’t read them all.  Unfortunately… you haven’t disappeared yet… uhhh… I mean… uhhh… why don’t you just tell me what’s going on.

ME: Oh… okay… well, one of my first posts last December when I started actively writing was my New Year’s Resolution…

WP:  And what was your New Year’s Resolution?

ME: Well… to become a… Famous, Ripped, Best-Selling, Rock Star, Amish Furniture Maker.

WP: Uhhhh…. a famous… what?

ME: A Famous, Ripped, Best-Selling, Rock Star, Amish Furniture Maker.

WP: What does that mean?

ME: Uhhh… which part?

WP:  Oh… nevermind… so, how’d that go?

ME: Ummm… well, I didn’t really accomplish any of it…

WP:  And… so you’re concerned that you’re not famous yet?

ME: Yes… yes… I thought by writing this blog, I’d be famous by now.

WP: Sir, I… uhhh… noticed all those things in that New Year’s Resolution are kind of… ummm… well, they’re kind of… how do I say this nicely… ummm… VAIN!  Well, except for the… uhhh… what was it… the Amish… uhhh… wood worker…

ME: Amish Furniture Maker…

WP:  Woodworker… furniture maker… whatever… they’re all kind of vain… anyway, why do want to be famous?

ME: Uhhh…. I don’t know…

WP: And what do you want to be famous doing?

ME: Uhhh… I don’t know… I’d like to maybe write a kid’s book someday.

WP: Sir, perhaps in 2012 you should just focus on work and writing and your family and whatever else is important to you… and… well… you know… maybe stop trying to be famous… you know, if you work hard, good things will come… and frankly there’s probably more important things to worry about than being famous.

ME: Oh my… there is?

WP:  Well of course there is… your family and your friends and your career and your contentment and spirituality… basically just focusing on the things that make you happy. What’s that quote “Life is a journey, not a destination” or something like that? Well it’s true… and if you enjoy writing… well, then keep writing. Perhaps in 2012 amazing things will happen. Besides, I’m looking at your stats page and it looks like you have a bunch of subscribers that read and comment regularly on your posts. I’d say you’ve achieved some small level of fame right there!

ME: Oh my… I sure do love my subscribers… they’ve become such great blogging friends! So you’re saying I don’t need a refund?

WP:  SIR, PLEASE STOP IT WITH THE REFUND!

ME: Oh…  I’m terribly sorry… well, okay I guess, I’ll take your advice… you’ve always helped me out before.

WP: That’s my job sir… is there anything else I can help you with?

ME:  No… thank you so much for all your help… I look forward to speaking with you in 2012.  Happy New Year Julie!

WP: Happy New Year to you too Mr…. ummm… Brown Road Chronicles. Good luck in 2012!

Click

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Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS from the folks at BROWN ROAD CHRONICLES.  I asked my family to get together with me and make a little Christmas carol video. This is what we came up with… yes, there’s a few bloopers included! Please take a few minutes and watch the whole thing. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed filming it… yes, we laughed A LOT!  To all of you subscribers and readers, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your loyal support and more importantly YOUR FRIENDSHIP! It is valued more than you understand.  I hope you have a wonderful and magical day with your family and friends.  Wishing you the Merriest Christmas and a  Joyous, Healthy and Happy New Year!!

Steve

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Christmas Shopping

I spent this morning doing some Christmas shopping. Unlike many people I actually enjoy shopping on the last few days before Christmas because everyone is in a good mood… well, except maybe some of the sales clerks. I believe it’s a myth that everybody is bitchy and pissed off and crotchety on the last few shopping days before Christmas. Most people are just off from work for a little while so they’re able to be finally feel happy about the upcoming holiday… or maybe they’re just drunk… whatever…

Here are a few observations:

I was in a bookstore for about an hour. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I just thought it would be fun to look around. Some of you know, until this past November I worked in a family business… a bookstore… for the last eighteen years. It was a college bookstore, so we sold textbooks, rather than general reading books, but a bookstore nonetheless. Books became business to me. We made good incomes selling books, but I started hating books. The last thing I wanted to do was look at a book. Plus, as a retail store, we were always busy this time of year and didn’t get much time off. But today, I stood in a bookstore and looked through books and had a grand old time. I held them in my hands and stared at the covers and browsed the pages inside and even bought a few things. It was a renewed love affair.

I was in a store that sold wine today.  When I brought my purchase up to the cashier’s desk, she asked to see my ID.  I’m pretty sure that she didn’t think I was under twenty-one, this was just a store policy that they ask everyone to show an ID so they can enter their birth year into the cash register. I pulled out my wallet and flashed my driver’s license.  As I was closing my wallet back up, I noticed sticking out from behind my license was the appointment card for my upcoming, long overdue vasectomy surgery.  In big green letters on the top of the card, clearly visible to the cashier was the word UROLOGY.  Probably not too many guys under twenty-one spending time at the urologist’s office.

I’m a pretty friendly, people-person kind of guy… but have you ever seen someone who you don’t know, a complete stranger, and think “God, I hate that person.” I saw a woman today who was all scrunched up and angry-looking and that thought ran through my head… then I said to myself “thank God, I don’t have to spend the holidays with that woman.” Then I felt bad… because that scrunched up, angry woman is probably somebody’s wife, mother, sister, aunt… whatever. Oh well, hopefully she has a Merry Christmas and isn’t so fucking scrunched up when she’s with her family.

Hip stores play great Christmas music that really gets me in the holiday mood. Not that crap Christmas music you hear on the radio where they play “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” six hundred times a day, but funky, jazzy, cool Christmas tunes that you haven’t necessarily heard before. I like Christmas music like that… it’s fun and it makes me happy. By the way… whoever the hell wrote and sang “Grandma got runover…” should be locked up for torturing us all these years with that shitty, douche-bag song.

When you shop where I live, everybody says “Merry Christmas” to you. “What’s wrong with that” you ask? Well, nothing really… except… although I’ve lived in Michigan now for the past 18 years, I grew up on Long Island, New York where there is a large Jewish population. So you didn’t say Merry Christmas to everyone because there was a good possibility that they were not Christian and didn’t celebrate Christmas. Apparently I am still under the influence of that upbringing and I tend not to say Merry Christmas to people unless they say it first.

Even then I say it with a sense of… “I know you just said Merry Christmas to me… so I feel somewhat confident that I can say it back to you… perhaps… so… Merry Christmas to you too… ummmm… I think… you know… unless you happen to be Jewish… or Muslim… or Hindu… or Atheist… and you were just saying it to me because you figured I live in Michigan so the odds are pretty good that I celebrate Christmas… you know… so have a nice holiday, whatever you happen to be celebrating.”

Lastly on the subject of Christmas… man the freakin’ Christmas cards are pouring in. We get a shit-load of Christmas cards this time of year. I never get Christmas cards in February or May… or even September… but they roll in by the dozens this time of year. We are not good at reciprocating and sending out Christmas cards to all of our friends and family. If it were solely my responsibility… frankly it would never happen. My wife pulls it together some years and sends out “New Year’s” cards sometime in January.

I’ve always wondered why people send Christmas cards with only pictures of their kids on the card. Are you and your spouse that hideous that you can’t be on the card as well? If you’re my friend, I want to see a picture of you on the Christmas card, especially if I haven’t seen you in a while… you know… so I can see if you’ve gotten fat and bald. Then I can feel better about myself and everybody needs a little bit of that, especially around the holidays.

I’d love to see a Christmas card with me on it… you know… perhaps in a red Speedo with a Santa Clause hat on.  Hey, if that just made you throw up in your mouth a little… well, I hope you get coal in your stocking!

Merry Christmas… ummmm… I think… you know… whatever… just have a nice holiday, whatever you happen to be celebrating.

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When Goats Eat Remotes

If you’ve ever had goats, you know they will eat almost anything.

Well…

On Monday my goats ate ten Root Beer floats.
Now when they poop,
It looks like bean soup.

On Tuesday my goats ate all of my coats.
Now when they’re old,
They’ll never be cold.

On Wednesday my goats ate all of my boats.
Now when they pee,
It smells like the sea.

On Thursday my goats ate my anecdotes.
Now they tell stories,
And deep allegories.

On Friday my goats ate all of my votes.
Now one of their goals,
Is to go to the polls.

On Saturday my goats ate all of my quotes.
Now they both speak,
With lots of mystique.

On Sunday my goats ate all my remotes.
Now when they fart,
My TV shows start.

So we took them to the vet…

And at the vets suggestion…

So they don’t get indigestion…

On Monday my goats will only eat Oats…

Because that’s what goats are supposed to eat!

Listen to the Audio Version

Click here to read the mostly true story about my world-famous goats!

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The First Noel

The dirty, slushy, wet city snow soaked my black wingtip dress shoes and the cuffs of my suit pants as I walked through downtown Boston towards the subway station. I had left work a little early to finish some last-minute Christmas shopping, but was now headed home, towards a Red Line train that would take me from Park Street to the Harvard Square stop in Cambridge where I was living, just outside of the Harvard University campus with my fiance.

It had been another shit day in a job that I was starting to hate. Christmas was on the doorstep and I was struggling to find any semblance of holiday spirit. I have always been a person who finds it difficult to compartmentalize my life, to shut one part off, while enjoying the others, and animosity and dissatisfaction in one part of my psyche quickly seeps through the rest of me, just as water will always find a level spot by creeping into the smallest crevices of wherever it’s flowing.

When I reached the station I walked from street level down the stairs into the cement abyss. The blast of heat and the usual stench of city life and homelessness and urine overwhelmed me. As usual, the station was packed full of people waiting for the next train, people headed somewhere, anywhere. Looking for an open place to stand on the train platform, I noticed a scraggly, young man, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, sneakers and a black, denim style jacket, standing against the wall with an acoustic guitar, hooked to a small amplifier. His guitar case sat open on the floor with a few coins and dollar bills inside. I didn’t think anything of it. He was just another hardened street musician trying to make a few bucks by performing to the masses in a stinky, smelly train station. I walked past as I’d walked past hundreds of these performers before, not realizing that this man was about to have a small, but profound effect on my life to this day.

The acoustic guitar notes coming from the small amplifier shouldn’t have been that crisp and clear, they shouldn’t have been that pristine… but they were. The man began singing a version of The First Noel and the song and the sound moved me for some reason in a way that I had not been moved many times before in the twenty-three years I had been alive. It was not the spirituality of the song, I was not and I am still not a religious person. It wasn’t necessarily the quality and talent of the musician either. But for a moment I was transfixed on this performance as if sitting in the famed Boston Colonial Theater listening to a Christmas concert. Something clicked and for a moment, I felt a kind of peace and happiness that has become so difficult to obtain amongst the commercialism of the holiday season.

The train approached as this man was playing the last few notes. On a whim, I reached into my wallet and pulled out a ten dollar bill and ran over to him and placed the money into his guitar case. The man smiled and said thank you and wished me a Merry Christmas as I turned to run back to the train. With a smile myself, I wished him the same blessings, not realizing that this would be one of those seemingly inconsequential moments in life that would somehow register in the front of my memory banks, easily accessible every December when Christmas Songs begin playing on the radio. I boarded the train and although I could no longer hear the music playing, I peered out the window and as this man began his next song, I wondered if anyone else standing on that platform had experienced anything magical, as I had.

Of course I never saw this man again. That’s life, especially in a large city with millions of people, where a fleeting, yet profound interaction with a complete stranger is always possible. As I contemplate my life these days, with the anxiety of a new career on the horizon, with the ongoing challenge of striving to find some level of success as a writer, with the persistent struggle to compartmentalize my life into those compact little pieces, and with another Christmas on the doorstep, I sometimes wish I could stand in the Park Street subway station and listen to that man play his version of The First Noel.

What seemingly inconsequential moments have you had in your life that you will always remember?

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The Snow Globe

A man once lived in a globe made of glass.
It sat on a base made of shiny new brass.
Inside of this globe seemed to always be snowing.
Snowing and sleeting and drifting and blowing.

He had a small house with some trees and a yard.
A family of four with a pet St. Bernard.
At the edge of the globe, a little old train.
Would circle the town, he couldn’t complain.

He loved when it snowed, he believed it a blessing.
The big fluffy flakes were so very refreshing.
Music would play when the snow would come down.
That came from the church in the center of town.

And in the town square on those cold snowy nights.
Was a large Christmas tree all covered in lights.
T’was peaceful and calm with the square all aglow.
With the tree’s lighted branches covered in snow.

See this globe, it sat on a little girl’s shelf.
On a wall that she’d decorated all by herself.
There were posters and pictures and photos and things.
Knickknacks and tchotchkes and dolls made of strings.

But her favorite of all was the globe full of snow.
She would wind up the winder to make the train go.
And in the town square she’d watch all the people.
While the music would play, like bells from a steeple.

She would shake it all up so the snow’d start to fall.
Then set it back down on the shelf on her wall.
She’d watch while the snow fell all over the town.
She’d watch ‘til the very last flake hit the ground.

She would make it snow five times or ten times a day.
Or whenever she wanted to hear church bells play.
And the man would be proud as his little town glowed.
He’d smile at the girl as she watched while it snowed.

Now this girl, she grew older, as little girls do.
Her tastes, they were changing to things that were new.
She began to show less and less interest in toys.
Instead she was focused on clothes and on boys.

Then one day the man, well he waited and waited.
He waited all day and he sure felt deflated.
Because the girl never came to shake up the snow.
The girl never came to make the train go.

The lights didn’t light and no music was played.
With the town all in silence the man was dismayed.
He walked to the square in the center of town.
Just to find it all empty, no one around.

So the very next day, well he waited again.
He waited outside until quarter past ten.
And he waited some more as he held back his tears.
While weeks turned to months and months turned to years.

Now with nobody making it snow everyday.
The globe it got dusty, covered in gray.
He figured the girl would never come back.
The dust on the glass became grayer, then black.

The snow, it stopped falling for many a year.
That music he knew he would no longer hear.
And that train that would circle his town now and then.
Was stopped in its tracks right where it had been.

Then one Christmas morning, the man felt a small rumble.
He heard very faintly a female voice mumble.
And he watched as the glass was wiped away clean.
He watched as the globe regained its old sheen.

Then he peered out the glass and who did he see?
T’was the girl, all grown up, with a boy about three.
She picked up the globe and the winder she wound.
The music, it played and the train drove around.

She shook the globe hard and the snow began snowing.
The sleet began sleeting and the wind began blowing.
And the townspeople quickly ran to the town square.
Where the tree with its lights was still standing there.

The girl turned to her son and she said with a smile.
“Here’s a present for you to keep for a while.”
“If you wind up this winder you’ll start the train going”
“The music will play and the snow will start snowing.”

She handed it over and the little boy smiled.
She said “it used to be mine when I was a child.”
When the boy took the globe, his eyes lit up with glee.
Like the center of town, lit up by the tree.

When the boy shook the globe it snowed harder than ever.
And the man, well he hoped it would go on forever.
Because although it was cold, he knew as a whole.
A snow storm on Christmas always cleanses the soul.

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The Intruder

This is a recycled story, published some time ago, that some of you have seen, but I thought it should be updated for the season and for the slew of new readers that have joined the fun since then. Enjoy!

 

“Steve, I think I hear someone downstairs” my wife said to me as she shook me and woke me up from a deep slumber.

“What… what’s going on?” I murmured still half asleep.

“Shhhh” she said. “I think I hear someone downstairs!”

Now I was wide awake. It was the middle of the night and there was an intruder in our house. I wondered why our dog, a 200 lb. St. Bernard, hadn’t woken up and barked. I quickly remembered though, all the times I had come home from work, walked into the house and not awakened him.

“Great watchdog” I thought to myself.

“Should we call the police?” my wife asked.

“Whoa there, hold on. Let me sneak down there and see what’s going on.”

“Okay, but what if someone’s down there?”

“I’ll be fine.” I crawled out of bed, adrenaline spiraling through my body, threw on some sweatpants and started heading towards the bedroom door.

“Be careful”, she said as I left the room.

I took a quick glance at the kid’s bedroom doors and both were closed. I had been hoping it was just one of them awake and downstairs getting a snack or something to drink. Two closed doors meant both kids were still asleep in their rooms. I continued to the stairs.

The stairs in our 120 year old house are terribly creaky. I’ve always thought that would be beneficial someday when the kids were coming home late at night. But not now! Not as I was risking my life to find out who was walking around our house in the middle of the night. I desperately tried to remember which steps made the loudest noise so I could avoid them, but other than the bottom three, which I knew were loose, my mind was drawing a blank. I gently took each stair, trying to be as silent as possible.

First step… okay.

Second step… okay.

Third step… CREAK!

“UGH,” I groaned quietly jumping down one more step to try to minimize the noise. I stood there quietly trying to catch my breath and get my heart rate down a little bit. In the deadly stillness of the night, I heard some rustling noises downstairs that sounded like it was coming from the family room. “This is absolutely nuts” I thought. “What are you thinking?”

But something drew me on, so I continued down the creaky steps, one at a time and thankfully, mostly quietly. Those last few steps could be a problem, but maybe a few loud creaks would scare off the intruder. I moved quickly… CREAK… CREAK… CREAK… and I was in the dining room, heart beating out of my chest, but still alive, and having not yet come face to face with anyone.

The rustling noise was still coming from the family room which was the room next door to where I was standing. I guess my plan hadn’t worked! With my back against the wall, like one of those cops you see in a Hollywood blockbuster movie, patrolling a house full of armed thugs, I peered around the corner. That’s when I saw him, this intruder that was invading the privacy of our house. His back was to me and he was working fast moving about the room with a bag packed full of stuff.

I stepped back behind the wall to reassess the situation. My heart was beating uncontrollably and I noticed that my hands were now shaking. “I’ve seen him before” I thought. “What is he doing here?” In just that brief glance I had recognized his grayish white hair and his clothes. I stealthily peered around the wall once again and he was still there, back towards me, but moving fast… so incredibly fast… doing his business rapidly so he could get to the next house, to the next job.

For a moment I just watched in stunned amazement, afraid to startle him, afraid to interrupt him. Finally I couldn’t help myself. “Pssst” I said, trying to gently announce my presence. He didn’t hear me. “Pssst” I said again, a little louder. This time he whipped around rapidly, surprised at being seen, his eyes wide open and his white beard and his traditional red suit now clearly visible.

“Oh, it’s just you” he said with a relieved tone. “For a second I thought it might be a kid.”

“No, I checked and they’re still sound asleep” I reassured him. “But what the hell are you doing here?” I scolded. “You scared the crap out of me. My kids don’t believe in you anymore. I thought someone had broken into the house.”

He smiled that familiar, big grin and laughed that familiar, jolly old laugh and tossed me a big chocolate snowman wrapped in silver and red foil. “Eat this and go back to bed” he said as the snowman flew across the room towards me. “Lots of kids say they don’t believe anymore. Most of ‘em still want to believe but there’s just too much peer pressure from their friends. I’m not ready to give up on yours just yet!”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense” I replied.

“Here, put this in one of the kid’s stockings, I don’t need it. I ate a bunch of candy before I turned in tonight.” I tossed the snowman back to him. “Guess I better get back to bed.” “See you next year, maybe?” I asked as I started to turn around to head back upstairs.

“We’ll see, that’s a long way off, let me get through this year first.”

“Yeah, okay… alright good night” I said and I turned back towards the creaky stairs. For a brief second I wondered if I was sleep walking and I stopped and glanced back. No, I was definitely awake, but our guest was gone, the dog was asleep on the floor gently snoring, and the rest of the house seemed deathly quiet. I grabbed a glass of water and poured it down my parched throat as I pondered this late night encounter.

A few moments later, up the stairs I went, back into the bedroom. My wife was asleep as if nothing had happened, but as I climbed into bed, the jostling of the mattress woke her up.

“You okay?” she mumbled, her now half asleep.

“Yeah, I’m fine” I said. “I just needed a glass of water… I haven’t been sleeping real well tonight. Must be all that chocolate I ate.”

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