Archive for General

What is a Life Worth?

Apparently about a hundred bucks.

As a gift card for a local burger joint, too

Last year in January and February, we had a lot more cold and snow than this year. A blizzard roared through one Saturday, and after it quit I went out to hang out with some friends. While I was out, the winds kicked up, the temps plummeted to about 8°F (below 0° with the wind chill), and snow started drifting across most of the roads. By the time I headed home shortly before 1am, things got messy.

I live in a rural area. The wind rips across the corn fields unimpeded, and the population and traffic is low enough in our county that the state’s plowing policy is to aim for 75% clearance. In effect, this means, “You’re on your own, folks.” Also, when climbing out of the Illinois River valley, the hills can turn sketchy quick.

I’ve lived here long enough to get a feel for which roads get the most care, so I gambled on a secondary route home. I also knew the north-south roads would be the worst, and I chose the one that would have the best chance of being clear.

I chose poorly. Once I crossed the county line, road conditions went to crap. A thick layer of snow covered the road about a half mile short of the next town, and when I spotted a pair of flashing taillights up ahead, I stopped.

A second later, this dude comes walking toward me. He’s tall and skinny, wearing nothing but jeans and a hoodie. I get him into the van to get warm, and he tells me his car’s stuck in the snow, maybe partly on the shoulder but mostly on the road. He lives in the town just up ahead, but there’s no way we’re getting through that way.

What’s more, he was getting ready to walk home. He has no phone. In my head I’m thinking this is how a lot of horror flicks start. But he’s about a buck fifty soaking wet, and he’s half frozen, so he’s less than a threat. He uses my phone to call his wife, and we discuss to another nearby town with a Walmart, where his wife can pick him up.

I tell him no way should she be coming out in this mess. I’m too stubborn to grab a hotel room or crash in the car somewhere, especially with a stranger in tow, so I tell him no worries, we’ll try the other route around to his town and see how the roads look.

Back down into the river valley I go. I circle around to my original route and up the hill, which is at least lined with trees before it levels out and cuts across the fields. Turned out it wasn’t such a bad climb after all. A little snow, but no drifts and no ice.

Now this guy, picture a skinny Tommy Chong with long hair—like, past-the-shoulder-blades long—and you’ve got the idea. He was on his way back from a gig with his band, and he works for a music shop in Peoria. Lots of “right on, man” in conversation. We talked about our jobs, our families. Cool dude.

So I get him to town. He lived just off the main drag, and the walk from his stranded car to his house would have been a little over a mile. Again, in sub-zero winds, wearing just a hoodie.

Yeah, he’d never have made it.

Even if he’d had a Tauntaun, it would have frozen before he reached the first marker. We did pass a squad car parked in a bank’s driveway to watch the road, but unless that officer was there the whole time and happened to see him walking by, he’d have dropped from hypothermia and I’d have been reading his obit the following week.

We agreed he was very fortunate. I don’t normally drive that way home, and if I’d been five minutes later, he’d already have left his car. If I hadn’t been stubborn enough to hang out with my friends that night, I wouldn’t have been out there at all. To me, that’s just dumb luck.

To him, it was a bit more than luck. He told his wife God sent him an angel. (Yes, me. Weird, I know.) He called me his angel a couple times, too, and insisted he’d do right by me and buy my wife and I dinner sometime.

I kept thinking, Let’s not make this weird, brother.

I tell him it’s no big deal, I live another ten miles past his town, so either route home still takes me past his place. Even if they didn’t, what am I going to do, flip him the bird and leave him to die? I’d have at least gotten him to a safe, warm place like the 24-hour Walmart or a hotel lobby.

So I get him home. Weeks pass. A thank you note from the guy shows up at work. He closed the note with, “I still owe you!” The Burger Barge gift certificate in the photo above was folded into the page.

Hey, great! My family digs burgers. I throw the card in my notebook and promptly forget about it for the next couple of months.

Summer comes. Kids say they want burgers. Hey, I got this gift card… To the Burger Barge!

My wife and I discussed how much might be loaded on the card. I joked ten bucks. She said maybe fifty, but we settled on $25. We ordered appetizers and let the boys go nuts on burger selection (these guys can eat when we let them). Bill comes to something like $80, and we hand over the gift card.

The waiter comes back, hands it back to me, and wishes us a good day. I automatically hand him my card to pay the balance, and he refuses it.

“You’re good, man. The gift card took the whole thing.”

Well that was unexpected. Jump ahead to this past January, and we used the rest of it. The whole thing was probably around $100.

Not too shabby for a night’s work. Like I said, apparently a man’s life is worth about a hundred bucks.

I kid, of course. Here’s the thing: I’m sure his life’s worth a lot more than a hundred bucks to his wife, who was waiting for him at home that night, wondering why he was so late and fearing the worst. I’m sure it’s worth more than a hundred bucks to their children, even if they are adults themselves.

I’m also sure he could have spent that hundred bucks on better things. I can’t imagine he’s making big bucks working for a music store and doing gigs on the side. That’s a lot of gas and groceries for he and his wife. Or a decent cell phone for next time he’s on the road.

I appreciated that he thought enough of my effort to send me the card, of course, but I’d have been just as content had I never heard from him again. I didn’t pick him up for the reward, and I wouldn’t have been shocked if he never got around to that dinner he’d promised while he was just happy to not be dead on the side of a road. For my side of it, I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d turned around and left him there, only to read about him in the paper.

What it comes down to is the value of a human life is what we put on it. With all that’s happening in the news these days, it’d be good if more of us remembered that.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Yes, You Have Time

We have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.

—Laura Vanderkam

There are a million time management strategies out there, and most of them are bullshit. It always comes down to making time, not finding time.

Vanderkam leans on that same principle of making time versus finding time, but she also makes it plain that there’s a lot more time available than we think.

That’s where procrastination comes in. We don’t feel motivated by the hard stuff, not even the things we want to prioritize. Suddenly we find ourselves reorganizing bookshelves and cleaning toilets (or watching TED talks*) rather than working.

Which leads me to a reminder:

Stop sweating the details and the results and just get to work.

Or you can take a closer look at the mind of a procrastinator with Tim Urban. If you’re going to procrastinate, you may as well understand what’s happening in your brain, right?

Urban really puts things in perspective when he shows you the life calendar. Ouch.

*Actually, I was listening to these in the background while monitoring network traffic and bandwidth, which is a whole ‘nother kind of time suck.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: Gurkha Yakuza

Labor Day. I guess Summer’s done, then.

This one shot by in a flash. The daily grind of two jobs played a role in that, I’m sure.

My family has gone back in the house, and as I sit here watching this evening’s backyard bonfire die down, I’m thinking about the long list of things I intended to accomplish over the summer. I haven’t finished a single one.

Shit.

That’s part of why my cigar time is so valuable to me. I’ve talked about it before, how it forces me to slow down and sit still for a while. Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I noodle over work- or family-related things, and sometimes I just plain tune out and chill.

Soon, though, it’ll be too cold. I won’t have this cigar time, and this year that worries me more than ever before. I realize now I need to find a new zen to fill the void. It may be as simple as cleaning the office again, turn it back into a workspace rather than a collection point for all the paperwork and bullshit that stacks up in our kitchen. Reclaim a space where I can spread out with creative and brain fuel rather than chaos and stress.

Or maybe it’s the bourbon and cigar talking.

My last Gurkha Yakuza cigar is burning down with the fire, and I’m not all that sad to see them go. They’re not a bad smoke, but they’re definitely not a casual, anytime cigar for me.

The Yakuza has a medium-full body, with a heavy, leathery smoke that has a subtle bite almost like gunsmoke. Seems rather fitting for the brand. Though the wrapper is on the dark side, it’s not oily or bitter like, say, a maduro, with a lighter taste not indicative at all of what’s to come once it’s lit. And despite the stronger flavor, it doesn’t linger long on the palate or overpower an accompanying drink.

So, while not unpleasant, it demands one’s attention. It’s a quality smoke, like much of the Gurkha line, but not one I’d pass around to my friends who prefer lighter or even flavored cigars. It’ll be one I’d pick up as part of a mixed package in the future, or as a one-off smoke at a shop when I’m in the mood for something heavier.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Recovery Mode: ON

It’s been a little over five weeks since I last hit the weights. I was going to start back again tonight, but pain in my right forearm and wrist is still nagging at me, so I opted to wait a little longer.

I beat myself up at first, but then I realized this is the longest break I’ve taken in about four years, so maybe I’m due. Guess I’ll have another cocktail and cigar.

Oh, the pain.

Someone suggested maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Meanwhile, despite my arm injury, I’m still able to finish karate workouts and run, while they bitch about the pain in their back and knees yet do nothing. I pointed out the difference and they don’t seem to get it. I guess I should do nothing and still be in pain? I’m kind of afraid to see how they’re going to feel in another 20-30 years.

If recovery periods like this are what it takes to free up a little time to work on some writing projects, though, then so be it. This is the first time in those five recovery weeks that I haven’t been tied up at the second job, away with family, or running other household errands I’ve been slacking on.

I’m drowning in a backlog of ideas and stories, and as I sit here looking at my various notes, I don’t even know where to start. In a minute I’ll just pick something and roll.

Let’s see what comes of it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

How to Screw Up a Bourbon Tasting

A liquor tasting should be a no-brainer, right? Have bourbon available, pour some for a customer, hope they buy it. Done.

Someone needs to tell that to our local Friar Tuck liquor store.

I stopped in yesterday with my sons to get some craft root beers, and I saw they had a tasting today including two bourbons: Broken Bell Small Batch and Lexington Bourbon Whiskey.

I show up today, wait behind some people tasting the wines, only to be told, “I don’t know why that’s up here, that was last month’s tasting.”

Three and a half hours into the tasting and nobody fixes it? She still had an open bottle of Broken Bell, but I was told they wouldn’t be opening another bottle of Lexington so I couldn’t try that one. Fail.

I accepted my little sip of Broken Bell. Barely enough to cover the bottom of the plastic shot glass. Look, I don’t expect full shots because they’re not going to send people away hammered, but at least JK Williams gave us enough to really taste when they had an event at a friend’s club.

The Broken Bell wasn’t half bad. It’s price point put it around Knob Creek or Maker’s Mark, but not quite as high as some of the other small batches like Four Roses Small Batch or the premium brands like Woodford Reserve.

Taste-wise, I’d say that works out about right. It’s definitely smoother than Maker’s and Knob, but it didn’t have much character. It’s no well bourbon, just a decent, general bourbon which could be used in a cocktail or taken neat or on the rocks as the mood strikes. It wasn’t special enough to warrant picking up a bottle to explore further, but I’d try it again if a local bar stocked it.

Too bad the Lexington wasn’t available, as it seems to have better tasting notes and reviews on the web.

Ah, well. That’s the general experience at this place: they have a lot of good stuff in stock, both liquor and cigars, but few seem to know or care much about what they have. Their humidor isn’t huge, but it has a wide range from cheap, flavored crap to high-end sticks. Only one guy seems to know much about them. Ask about a liquor they don’t carry, though, and they all just shrug. I’ve struck out at least twice asking for Writer’s Tears Irish Whiskey.

I might have been more disappointed if I’d made the trip just for the bourbon, but I also picked up a couple of cigars and hit a Starbucks for some quiet writing time.

I tried a new bourbon and I made some writing progress, so I’ll just call it a win.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Garage Repair: I Am All That Is Man

I’m a big believer of do-it-yourself home repair. Whether we’re talking plumbing, electrical, flooring, or HVAC, most of the costs are tied up in labor: paying someone to come out and do the work. With the right tools and a good YouTube search, however, you should be able to handle most household repairs and many automotive repairs.

After that it’s just a matter of weighing the cost of your own time against the cost of paying someone else to do it.

A little over a week ago, this happened:

Gonna need a new one of those (Garage spring repair)

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That’s an extension spring for a garage door. It snapped in half, which meant the garage door opener couldn’t open the garage. Fortunately whomever installed it had the foresight to run a safety cable through the spring, so I found it hanging in place rather than punched through a wall or window.

Most garages have a single torsion spring above the center of the door; the rest have a pair of extension springs. Torsion springs are not easy to replace, and they can hurt you if you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t have the right parts.

Extension springs, on the other hand, are easy to replace with nothing more than a socket wrench. Disconnect one pulley wheel, thread the cables, reconnect the pulley wheel, and you’re back in business.

Assuming you can locate the damned things. I hit three of the big box hardware stores and a Farm & Fleet looking for the right size springs, but they only stock springs for up to 160-pound doors. My door, apparently, is closer to 200 pounds. I ended up calling an overhead door company instead, and they were able to find me a new pair. The bigger springs cost almost three times as much as the 160s due to their size, but at least I still wouldn’t have to pay for installation.

I finally had enough time today to get to work. Half an hour later, this happened:

Garage door: FIXED! I am all that is man.

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Score. Saved me a couple hundred bucks in labor, I’m sure. It works better than before, too; the newer springs pull the door open a few inches higher, even with the top of the doorway.

And because I was able to get the garage door open, I was able to make this happen at last:

SHE'S ALIVE! (And needs a bath.)

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It’s good to be the king.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

2015 in the Rearview

You know, 2015 wasn’t half bad. I didn’t get any new writing projects out there, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve been tied up with so many other things that I’m not going to sweat it right now.

Cheers, 2015!

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Most of my time went into my karate training and my students. I took over as instructor of my old dojo (one of three dojo with my karate school) a year ago this weekend, and I’ve grown my enrollment quite a bit.

I enjoy teaching a lot more than I thought I would. Watching students grow in their karate and make connections is amazing, and I get a lot of good feedback from their families. If I’ve had a rough day at the day gig, or I’m just in a bad mood, that fades as soon as the first students walk in the door.

I put a lot into training for my own test in August, which consumed my otherwise free time through the first half of the year and into late Summer. The test itself was a long day, but I passed and earned my second degree black belt and my instructors were happy with my performance.

Fitness-wise, I sorted a few things and lost some weight, which is always a good thing. Progression on the weight lifting is slower than I’d like, but I’m also not quite eating the best way to build muscle because I’m trying to control the weight gain. This Summer, I ran non-stop for 5K (three miles) for the first time.

Ever.

This New Year, I’m not even going to look back at the goals I set last year. I had a lot going on, and a lot of good things went down. The direction probably changed, but I’m calling the year a win and I’m looking forward to 2016.

Let’s do this.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Here Be Dragons: Science and the Imagination

As I type this, I’m sitting out on the porch watching the end of tonight’s supermoon eclipse. Cloud cover had killed the beginning of it for us, but now the clouds are gone and I’ve got a good view of the Earth’s shadow cast across the face of the moon. The red of the totality, the Blood Moon, was fairly dim, but now I’ve got a great view of the contrast between the sunlight and the shadow.

I can’t help but think about some people I know who take no joy in this sort of thing. It’s not an uncommon attitude, but some take it a step further and claim science has somehow ruined these events for them. Eclipse? “Big deal,” they’d say. “It’s just a shadow.” Meteors? “It’s just a rock falling into the atmosphere.”

When they were kids they were impressed by such events because they were in awe of what they didn’t understand. I even knew someone who was jealous of primitive cultures who explained the stars away as gods or dragons, of cultures who built stories and myths around these events. He’d lament how astronomy and physics have killed those stories.

So life was somehow better when we were ignorant? I just can’t get behind that attitude.

Ignorance is not imagination. Those cultures were explaining the world in the best way they could. Their ignorance does not make the world magical.

Imagination is still finding the beauty in these events, even though we know exactly what’s happening. Science doesn’t stop poets from romanticizing the full moon. It doesn’t stop writers from using a storm to set atmosphere. It doesn’t stop any of us from finding the beauty in a sunset, even though they occur every day and we know exactly how they work.

Should we not retain our imagination in the face of what we already know? Should we not find wonder in the explained? To me, that’s what real magic is about.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Teaching Grammar with ’80s Metal

It’s simple, kids!

Simile:

Metaphor:

Any questions?

(This is why they make me work in the basement with the computers and not teach actual classes.)

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Clearing Hurdles

I’ve spent the last six months practicing for my latest rank test last weekend, and that prep consumed a lot of the time I’d otherwise have spent writing. The good news is I passed the test, and I’m now a nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Shuri-ryu karate. The bad news is the only real writing I got done in that time is for the papers I had to write for the test.

But hey, the test’s done. Hurdle cleared. While the school year has kicked off at the day job, things are going a lot smoother than they did last year. Between the two, it’s as if a huge weight has been lifted.

San Cho Sai

Shedding some of the extra body weight has been nice, too.

Now it’s back to productivity. Not having the time to sit down and hammer on the keys has been driving me crazy, and has only served to compound other stresses. The harder, smarter decision was to wait, though, because the writing would have suffered, too.

That’s not to say I wasn’t working on anything. I’ve been chatting about ideas with artists, there’s a pitch out there, and I’m going to have to pick a prose project to concentrate on by this weekend. I also plan to get a few short stories to some editors in the coming months.

The next step is to establish a writing routine as solid as my workout routine. I’ve got an idea of what it will look like, and it feels doable. I’ll tweak it over the next few weeks, and with luck, I’ll have something to share with you all soon.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Another Year Done

School year, that is.

The students at the day gig finished yesterday, and the teachers will wrap up tomorrow. I work all summer, but I’m looking for this year to be much quieter and more productive than last year.

One teacher has been very helpful in helping me push technology into our district, but he’s retired as of tomorrow. As a parting gift, he handed me a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel.

Now THIS is a gift!

Score. Thanks again, Steve! I owe you a good lunch this Summer, both for this and for all the assists.

Now I’m kicking back on a Whiskey Wednesday with a bourbon and a smoke, reflecting on good times, and getting ready to pound on a short crime piece.

Gotta kick Summer off right.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Field Notes Field Test

I’ve been working in a Field Notes notebook for a few months now, and while it’s been a solid & dependable notebook, I’m not quite sure it fits my needs.

This notebook has been taking a beating

This notebook has been taking a beating

I decided to start with the Pitch Black edition, a basic black notebook with Field Notes dot-grid pages. Field Notes has a reputation for making durable notebooks, which is an important feature for me. See, my notebooks live in my back pocket, and let’s face it: I’m not a small man. Any notebook I carry is going to take a beating. It comes out of the pocket at home and various destinations, but I’m often sitting on it in the car or on the motorcycle.

I’ve just about filled the first of my set of three Pitch Blacks, and so far it’s held together well. The cover has a few permanent wrinkles, it’s fraying around the staples, and the cover below the bottom staple is splitting along the spine. However, it’s still holding all of the pages just fine. The notebook stays bent out of my pocket, but I just flip it around when I return it to my pocket and it smooths out in the other direction. The pages themselves are holding up great. The first several pages inside each cover are wrinkled, but all of my pencil scratchings are perfectly legible. (As legible as my handwriting allows, anyway.)

I was concerned about the dot-grid pages at first, but I’ve come to dig it. For those unfamiliar, imagine a graph paper layout, then remove all the lines and leave a dot where the intersections were. It has the feel of a blank page, but the dots still create subtle lines for guidance. I find I can write as large as I want without feeling like a frustrated kindergartner who can’t color within the lines, yet I still have some solid guidance for longer passages and lists. It hasn’t changed my world, but I certainly won’t avoid dot-grid in the future.

As much as I like the Field Notes, however, its glaring weakness is in my own usage: I need something sturdier. These notebooks are great for working at a desk, on a table, or on a bent knee, but they don’t have the backbone for hand-held work. That’s a big problem for me in the dojo, where I’ll have to record something quickly while standing at the edge of the mat or between instruction and practice. I can get a little more oomph out of it by wrapping one side of the notebook behind the other, but it’s still just not quite steady enough for my meaty paws.

The plus side of the dojo work is the pages hold up to sweat. Whether the sweat is on my fingers or dripping off my face, the writing doesn’t smudge on the page. That wasn’t always the case with my last Moleskine, which drank the sweat right up.

While I like the Field Notes overall and would recommend them to most people for general use, I will most likely finish out the last two from this set and then try something a little more solid. If anyone has recommendations, please do drop them in the comments below.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.