Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Well, hail!

Shuttle launch postponed until late April, at the earliest.

I just got an email telling me that my launch tickets should arrive via UPS on February 28th.

The tickets are mission specific (as opposed to date specific), so whenever STS-117 goes up, we'll have tickets! But after March, the calendar gets full in a hurry for me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I just remembered (sort of, after she told me) that today is the birthday of one of my favoritist people in the world, Mrs. Dare Hartsell.

According to Dare, this is her last birthday. Even if she lives for a hundred more years, she'll never have another birthday. Here's hoping, since this is the last one, it's the greatest one ever!

Happy Birthday Dare!

Did they have keyboards in 1972?

The title was an afterthought, but if anyone knows the answer, please share.

Those of you who saw my profile on AOL a decade ago may remember that, under favorite things, I listed: Pop ice, girls in sundresses, bands with horns, and Snickers Shivers (not necessarily in that order). Well, last night I got to experience one of those things.

A band with horns.

For my birthday, Leah bought me tickets to the Billy Joel concert. I’ve never been a big concertgoer, even back in the day when it seemed as if there was a concert at the BJCC 6 nights a week and tickets weren’t $85. The last concert that I went to, oddly enough – or maybe not, was the Face2Face tour with Elton John and Billy Joel. Before that? Gee, XFest 3 maybe?

But I like Billy Joel and I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’m not a fan of electric guitar laden songs. I like what I’m going to call “pure sound”. Sound that isn’t run through a synthesizer. The piano. A brass trumpet. A saxophone. Maybe those are all run through synthesizers, I don’t know, but I don’t like any instrument that I think is screaming at me – and the prime example is the electric guitar, or a keyboard that is in “ambulance siren” mode.

I also like songs that tell a story. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is a great example, as are “Leningrad” and “The Entertainer”. I also like songs that take me to a happy place. “New York State of Mind”, for example.

Billy opened with “Angry Young Man”, the prelude of which was played so fast that it hurt me to watch. It was just dizzying. I know that there are high notes and low notes, but I honestly don’t know which end of the piano plays which. To see someone shred through a piece of music and actually produce a pleasing sound amazes me. I don’t care if it’s Billy Joel or the guy that plays at Leonardo’s on Valentine’s Day, musical talent – I mean real talent - simply amazes me.

Billy then took a break to thank the people that bought the “$hitty” seats at the top of the arena, telling them that he really needs the money right now. “You would not believe how much my car insurance is.” Funny.

There were two big surprises wrapped in to one. Did you know that Billy Joel plays the guitar? I’m convinced that people who are really talented can play any thing. If you sat Brad Paisley or John Mayer behind a piano, they could make it work. Kenny Chesney probably couldn’t, but….

Anyway, as Billy Joel held the guitar, he talked about this being the “American Idol” portion of the show. He said that one of the crewmembers wanted to sing a song, a good gospel song that most of us heard in church. He then introduced the crewmember (Chainsaw) and played the guitar as Chainsaw belted out “Highway to HELL”.

My parents never would let me own an After Christ/Devil Commands tape, let alone go to one of their four yearly concerts at BJCC, so hearing Chainsaw do a really good job with that heavy metal classic was quite a treat. Peeps that had sat silently for the first hour of the show sprung to their feet at the first chord (note? riff?). I wouldn’t want to hear 2 hours of that (see screaming guitars above), but it was an interesting bit – and did you know that Billy Joel played the guitar?

I’ve said several times that I wish that I could play the piano. Heck, I wish that I could type. Anyway, something happened last night that made me rethink the instrument that I would play in the Fantasy Musicians League.

During “Highway to Hell”, Billy Joel stepped to the very front edge of the stage. I don’t think Billy’s a dumb man at all, and he knew exactly where the cluster of pretty girls was standing. As soon as he got within arms reach, twelve hands that are younger than most of #1 hits grabbed his leg, thigh, and groin areas. Seriously, he has Grammy Awards older than these girls. You just can’t get that kind of manual attention sitting behind a piano.

Billy Joel was born in 1949. He’s 58 years old, bald, and portly. Yet, when given the chance, these girls clawed at him like it was 1978. It was mildly disturbing.

And yet another reminder that I’ve made a bad career choice.

Anyway, it was great show. Leah got to hear her favorite Billy Joel song, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (the Ballad of Brenda and Eddie)”. We heard the song that we’re pushing on Jack, “New York State of Mind”, and I got to hear the song that I would sing on American Idol if I were ever on the show, “The Entertainer”.

It was a Monday night and the show didn’t start until 8PM, so I didn’t drink anything. This allowed me to come to work somewhat clear-headed this morning, and it also allowed me to notice people who were lost at the concert. There’s not many things funnier than a drunken person walking down the wrong aisle in a dark arena looking for his friends. Oh, it was a fun time.

Thank you Leah. I enjoyed everything except the parking.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Set your VCOs

I didn't feel like typing out VCRs, DiVos, and/or Tivos, but then I did it here any way.

What ever recording device you have, set it to record the SERIES FINALE of The O.C., bitc#es. Will Teresa show up with Ryan's baby? Will Kirsten deliver a fully developed 2 month old little girl after only 4 weeks of gestation? Are Summer and Seth really each other's lobster? What about Jimmy Cooper...will he come back and swoop Julie Cooper off of that old guy that used to be on Hee-Haw (or should have been on Hee-Haw)? The answers to none of these questions AND less, tonight on Fox.

I guess it's the year for a non-attractive female to win American Idol. I haven't really watched, but I think that the guys are awful, and the pretty girls are pretty but not vocally talented.

I'd like to hear from any one still watching 24, Lost, or ER. Anything happening there?

The Oscars are this weekend. I thought about keeping a running diary, but how many times do you really want to read, "the winner is a Bush hater, who won the award for their portayal of an anti-war Bush hater in the Bush hating thriller, "Bush Hater". They throw props to Cindy Sheehan, the Dixie Chicks, and to God."

Okay, between Britney Spears or Cindy Sheehan, who would you rather keep your child for the day?

That is all.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The other Spears

Leah pondered this morning, and I'll ask you guys, how tight is the grip that Momma Spears has on Jamie Lynn right now? I bet she hasn't spent the night with her big sister in long time.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Someone to loathe on Valentine's Day

Good Friday to each of you. We’re going to do something a little different today. We’re going to pass around a sign-in sheet. Please just print your name and pass the sheet to your neighbor.

Confession time. I know how you feel about her, but Kirsten Dunst never looked better than she did on the cover of the October 13, 2006 Entertainment Weekly. Why do I bring this up? Because a girl in our office keeps a stash of magazines stacked on her desk, and the October 13, 2006 EW was on top of the stack for about a week. Every time that I passed her desk, I would catch myself staring at Kirsten Dunst on the cover. I know y’all hate her and think that she’s a dogface, but to me, she’s versatile enough to be pretty one moment and ugly the next. It’s a skill, really. Others in that category:

1. Teri Hatcher (Lois Lane was on my list. Susan is not.)
2. Shakira
3. Fergie
4. Lindsay Lohan
5. Clare Danes
6. Jennifer Garner
7. Jessica Alba
8. Jessica Beil
9. Cameron Diaz
10. Jessica Simpson (although, she spends a lot of time in the manufactured ugly column)

Alas, after a week, I put the EW in the middle of the stack of magazines so that I’d stop staring at it. On to other news.

A few of you may know about my hatred for Just for Feet. The day that company folded was a banner day for me. Were I an Auburn fan, I would have rolled Toomer’s Corner. I never thought that I could hate a company more than I hated JFF.

And then we made a mistake in our January mortgage payment to Countrywide.

A little background. When we bought our house in July of 2005, we took out an 80% primary mortgage, and then the 10% mortgage to avoid PMI. Both mortgages were with U.S. Bank. Since the interest rate on the 10% mortgage was higher than the interest rate on the primary mortgage, we add a little bit extra every month in order to pay the 10% loan off faster. Everybody with me?

In August or September of last year, U.S. Bank sold or transferred the 10% mortgage to Countrywide. Alas, we continued to make the standard principle and interest payment, plus the additional principle payment, to Countrywide.

Well, things seemed odd with the January payment. We weren’t sure exactly what happened. We noticed that the check to Countrywide only cleared the bank for the amount that we usually make for the extra payment. We were awaiting the bank statement and or February payment coupon from Countrywide to figure out what went wrong – thinking that the bank made an error, or Countrywide made some type of input mistake. Well, it turns out that when we made the January payment, we only made the check out for the extra amount that we send in each month, which does not equal the regular payment amount. In other words, we sent in our additional principle payment and not the standard principle and interest payment.

Leah and I both have credit scores at or near 800. We’re never late on any payment. This is the first time that I can remember us not paying a bill BEFORE it was due, or at least within the grace period.

Well, the Countrywide A$$H0LES went, and continue to go, absolutely APE$HIT!

They started by calling me at work. On January 30th, some Indian (dot, not feather) girl effectively said that we sucked and that we were in default and that we owed the payment plus penalty plus – that’s when I finally out yelled her and got her to be quiet for a minute.

Sidenote: There’s nothing in your loan agreement that says that you have to be nice to these people. My advice, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, treat them like the little bitc#es that they are.

Back on topic, while the little engine that could kept chugging along, I scurried to our bank’s website and pulled up a copy of the check. Out yelling her to get her to shut-up once again, I tried to explain what happened. Alas, she was just reading from a script that an even bigger a$$hole wrote, and she can’t deviate from it or think independently. She’s paid to make a call, not to think. I ended up hanging up on her.

I went to Countrywide’s website and logged in. I was greeted with a similar –“Your a$$ is in default” message. I clicked on the payment button and clicked ‘Promise to pay’. I sent a nice little email stating that we made a mistake in our payment, promising to send January’s payment, plus February’s payment, plus the $9 penalty, plus February’s additional principle payment first thing in the morning. I apologized for the mistake and for hanging up on the little engine that could.

First thing in the morning of January 31st, a check for the promised amount was placed in the downtown post office. If you absolutely, positively have to have it there overnight, mail it from the downtown post office. It’s really incredible the speed at which they can move a piece of mail.

For the next few days I kept checking the account on Countrywide’s website. I was a little miffed at the return message that I received, which essentially told me that I sucked and that if I was going to continue to be a deadbeat that I should let them know. We’ll ignore the fact that I fulfilled my promise before they responded to my message.

On Monday February 5th, the payment was applied to our account. I thought that this was behind us and we were done with this little charade. We made a mistake, they called us on it, we made up for it and our account was current again.

On Monday February 12, 2007, we received in the mail two identical letters – one sent regular mail and one sent certified, return receipt requested. In the letter, dated Friday February 2, Countrywide set out to tell us that we were in default and that they had the right to enter and inspect the premises, the right to accelerate our loan and have the entire balance due and payable immediately, and the right to foreclose on the property in order to recover the default amount.

I contend that when the payment that we mailed to Countrywide on January 31st was posted to our account on Monday February 5th, both of these letters (dated Friday February 2) were still in the possession of Countrywide. The account was current when they sent the notice of default and acceleration. Remember, we received the letters on February 12th, and the letters were dated Friday February 2. Since when does it take 10 days to mail a letter anywhere?

I fully believe that the only reason that they released the letters was out of malice, and with the intent to cause emotional distress, outrage, anxiety, and to cause alarm and panic.

So, I came in to the office on Tuesday February 13 ready to curse whatever poor little engine that could was unlucky enough to answer my call. Somebody was going to cry and I was going to get the satisfaction equivalent of the $9.31 paid penalty from hearing somebody sob.

I waited with anxious breath until 8AM and I dialed the phone number provided in the letter within the stated business hours (8AM – 5PM Central time). An electronic voice answered and asked that I enter my account number. I broke the 1 button on my phone entering the account number. The voice then verified my account number and gave me the option to speak with someone. I broke the 5 button trying to connect to a live body. Imagine my frustration when I heard, “We are unable to take your call now. Please try your call again during our normal business hours, 9AM – 8PM Pacific time.”

On the up side, they just gave me three more hours to get more and more pi$$ed, if that was even possible. I was going to make money off of this call.

I called back at 11AM central time (9AM Pacific), entered my account number and pressed 5 to talk with some body. I swear to you, the electronic voice said, “We’re sorry, but we are unable to take your call right now. Please try your call again later.” My call was then disconnected.

Oh Son of a W#0re.

I made several more attempts to make someone cry over the next two hours, but each time I received the same, “We’re sorry, but we are unable to take your call right now. Please try your call again later” message. Did they know it was I calling because I had to enter my account number? Were they avoiding me specifically, or does everyone get that message? I was calling to curse some one, but is this the practice they employ to avoid people in real credit trouble so that they can then foreclose on their home? “They never called us to arrange alternative payments, so we foreclosed on them and took their house. They should have had more concern for their family.”

Nonetheless, I finally found a fax number and fired off a letter that was much nicer than my spoken word would have been. In it, I fully admitted that we made a mistake by not paying in full the January installment. The mistake cost us more that the $9 penalty, it also cost us the deductible interest portion of the January payment made in the 2006 tax year.

I made the argument that they knew, or should have known, at the time the certified letter was placed in the care, custody and control of the US Postal Service that our account was current and not in default, as the letter stated. I demanded to know when the letters were released to the US Postal Service and that they not make any adverse report to any of the credit rating agencies. I also sent an abbreviated message via their website.

In reply, they simply said that we paid a partial amount and that partial payments are not allowed. Again, I admitted to that. They refused or otherwise withheld response related to my actual question, which was, when did they mail the letters. You can’t accept payment to bring an account current and then turn around and threaten people with foreclosure.

It will probably be best if I never talk to any one at Countrywide.

Leah and I may be the only people to be six payments ahead and still go through foreclosure.

And I don't know who is in charge of global warming, but I wish they'd get off their a$$ and do something. I'm freezing my natchez off!

Wow, that’s all. Sorry for the $@#)% language.

Have a good weekend!

Monday, February 12, 2007


Congratulations to Brandon for his 2:59 finish in the Mercedes Marathon yesterday! A new event PR for Brandon, and good enough that he placed second in his age group AND in the top 15 overall (he was 11th or 12th, I think - but he smoked just about everybody). It was fun running with Brandon for miles 24 and 25. It's probably the only way I'll ever get to run those miles with him in a marathon, unless he's pacing my slow self. (Sidenote: My legs hurt today (quads). Not running the marathon doesn't hurt me as much as knowing that I physically CAN'T run a marathon right now.)

Congrats also go out to Christie for her 2:05 finish in the half marathon! Excellent debut! I hope that you enjoyed the experience and will now feel inspired to do many, many more. The Country Music Marathon & Half Marathon is only about 8 weeks away.

That's all that I have time for right now. Good Monday to you all.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Only post for the week

And it will be a sucky one. Sorry.

I'll be in a CIC class (Ceritified Insurance Counselor) Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week. Twenty hours of instruction followed immediately by a 20 question test. I'm taking the Commercial Casualty course this week, and I'll have to take four more courses to earn the CIC designation. With the designation, though I'm not going to the courses for this reason, I could get my agent/broker license and move to insurance sales. Maybe I'll open my own agency and hire every Alabama and Auburn quarterback for the next 20 years. That seems to be the trend. I'm really just going to the course to get a better understanding of actual policy language. Weird that I've been doing this for 10 years now and I've never read some of the policies that I buy. Actually, weird isn't the right term. Dereliction of duty would be more accurate.

Good luck to Brandon, Christie, John, and every one else running in the Mercedes Marathon or Half Marathon this weekend. I know that it's easy for me to say, but the hard part - the months and months and miles and miles of training - is over for you guys. Go out and enjoy yourselves, take in the sights, thank a volunteer, and then reward yourself with something that you've deprived yourself of for the last 4 months.

Again, good luck. My thoughts will be with you even though my fat ass won't.

Have a good week.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Package Deal

When Leah and I moved 18 months ago, we upgraded our cable package to digital and got the movie channel package, not yet knowing that new parents don’t get to sit on the couch, let alone sit on the couch and watch a movie. At least not any movie rated for people outside of the 0 – 3 year range. For 18 months, we’ve been paying for every movie channel available (sans the adult movie channels). I know that I watched Shawshank a couple of times, The Interpreter (awful), Bourne Supremacy, and a couple more, but mostly we just watched Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO. We were paying about $15 a month for nothing, really.

A couple of days ago, Charter Communications sent their customers a letter notifying them of rate changes to a few of the packages. I realized that, for considerably less than we were paying for the movie package, we could get the family package (or something like that). I showed it to Leah. As soon as she saw that SoapNet was included in the package, she was SOLD!

Yesterday must have been Leah’s lucky day, because she called at 4:45 and talked to the only person at Charter that cares anything about customer service. Leah explained what we wanted and the Charter rep said, “We can take care of that right now.” I’m not kidding! The rep had Leah turn on the TV and tune to channel 100. The rep then asked, “Do you see BBC America?” Leah said yes and, voila, we had a new cable package. I’m not sure why, but the rep also said that it would be cheaper for us to keep the HBO/Cinemax channels than to drop them. I’ll keep an eye on my bill.

So, now we have BBC America – which still shows the original versions of many American shows, and I get BBC News, which is interesting – we have the 90210 marathon channel that is SoapNet, we have ESPN Classics, a bunch of Discovery channels, countless music video channels like GAC and MTV14 (show tunes – kidding – but there are A LOT of music video channels), and, among many others, NOGGIN!!!

Jack likes the Disney channel mostly for The Wiggles – because they sing and dance - and Go Baby. He also likes the singing and dancing parts of Mickey’s Playhouse, Little Einsteins, Higglytown Heroes…he even likes the Doodlebops (which tend to FREAK me out) and Imagination Movers (Leah haaaates the guy in goggles). This morning, though, I tuned in to Noggin and Sesame Street was on. Bert and Ernie, Grover, Zoe… he absolutely loved the puppet type characters. It could have been because it was new, but he was fixated. We’ve only had it for 12 hours, but it appears that Noggin is geared toward the smaller kids and Disney takes the 4 year-olds and older.

Let’s see, what else? I actually fell asleep yesterday writing my article for the journal submission. That can’t be a good sign. I’m just trying to get the skeleton on paper, though, and I’ll go back and add color when I’m done. I haven’t heard back from the editors, but I’m plowing through as if my idea has been accepted. I’ve already spent the $300, so they better publish my article.

I’m going to a conference in Orlando in October. We’re trying to decide if Leah and Jack could/should join me. I know that he’d have a good time once he got there, but would getting there be the end of all three of us? How do you travel with a child that’s supposed to be in a car seat? I know we have options on the plane, but what about the cab ride from the airport to the hotel? It would be almost a free trip. My airfare, meals, and the hotel room would be taken care of, and Leah could use SkyMiles for her ticket (and probably Jack’s ticket also). We’d have to buy their food and each of us a one-day pass to Disney World, but the major portions of the trip would be free. Alas, one of my favorite all time sayings is, “nothing's free”. What do you think?

Lastly, I never thought that I would miss people telling me that I look like George Clooney. It used to irritate me to no end, mainly because I never really knew how to respond. Oh, I’ve worked on a few responses, even used a couple like, “well, that can’t be good news for him” or “that’s probably not all bad, is it?” Last Halloween, when someone told me that I looked like Clooney, I responded with, “it’s just a mask”. The human equivalent of a 404 error flashed on his face. (I’ve never really felt comfortable when the comparison came from another guy). A few weeks ago, the girl at the McDonald’s drive thru went old school on me and told me that I looked that I looked like “Doug from ER”. I kind of got a chuckle from that.

Now for the worst story that scores the highest on the unintentional comedy scale. We went to dinner somewhere in Florida with my parents and my aunt. As we were paying to leave, the lady behind the counter said, “It could be worse, people could say that you look like Rosanne Barr.” Without ever looking at the woman, I responded, “Yes, that would be bad” as I signed the credit card receipt. I dotted my 'i' and, 5 seconds too late, looked at the woman for the first time. She was the spitting image of Rosanne Barr. I could not get out of there fast enough. I’m kind of embarrassed right now as I can still see the look of utter disgust on the lady’s face.

There’s an Arby’s right up the street that I can’t go to any more because the employees, well, it’s mainly the manager, scream “Hey George Clooney. George Clooney everybody. Somebody ring the bell!”

Any way, I just thought that I’d never miss being told that I looked like George Clooney…but lately people have been telling me that I look like Taylor Hicks. What's worse, the mail person for our building believes that I look like Taylor Hicks, and every time I see her in the hall - whether she's 5 feet away or 50 yards down the hall, she yells, "Taylor Hicks! Taylor Hicks!" I don’t think that I really look like either one of them, but if I had a choice, I’m picking George Clooney – even if it is being rumored that he was seen macking up on Pamela Anderson.

Wow, that was a whole lot of nothing, huh? Sorry, there’s just not much happening at the moment.

Have a good weekend!