The Birth of a fisherman

  I can remember back as a youngster my older brother loved to go fishing. Often during the summer, he and a few of his friends would go and camp out down by the river and just spend the whole weekend fishing, eating and drinking beers. Several times I was invited but never really was inclined to go and spend a whole weekend getting bit by mosquitoes. I did try it one time though. A friend and I had gotten everything needed to spend a day out on the river bank from fishing poles, bait to snacks and beer. We loaded everything up into his car and set out to go do some serious fishing. We found drove out to the Kankakee River State Park and found a spot down by the river to get set up and fish. We lugged all of our equipment and coolers out to the spot we found and got everything situated and were ready to get started.

    I didn’t know anything about fishing. I had no idea of what to do or how to get started. My friend, Willie, was giving me instructions on how to hold the pole and cast the line. After a few tries I got the hang of it and was ready to go when he told me that I first had to bait the hook. He then opened a can that was in one of the coolers to expose a lot of dirt and a bunch of worms. I must have looked like I saw a ghost because he just started laughing and finally asked me, “how did you think we were going to catch the fish without any bait”? I could see then why I didn’t like fishing, because putting worms on the end of a hook was not anything I had in mind. We both had a good laugh on that one, and he finally baited the hook for me. Now, all I had to do was cast off and sit back.

    As practiced, I drew the pole back and quickly threw it forward towards the lake. The mistake I made was that I didn’t hold the reel during the drawback and so my hook got tossed into the trees behind us. Willie literally fell on the ground laughing. We ended up having to cut the line because we couldn’t get the hook out of the trees. Now, remember what I said earlier about getting eaten by mosquitoes? I had decided to just sit on a rock and enjoy a beer while Willie did some real fishing. But the mosquitoes had a different idea. It seemed like they had waited until we had gotten comfortable and then decided to show up in droves. It got to the point that we both decided that it was time to call it quits, and we quickly packed up our stuff and drove back to his house where we played some cards and ate our sandwiches we had made and drank the beer.

    The one thing I remember most about those days were that I had assured myself that I really wasn’t missing out on too much and was satisfied with getting what fish I did eat at my local McDonalds. Then I met the woman that was to become my wife. One of the things I found out about her early in our relationship is that she and her family LOVE TO FISH! At the time our relationship was getting started, her mom and dad owned a resort in a small town in Wisconsin named Chetek. The resort was on a chain of lakes. Her dad and mom would tell me stories of how they used to take her out on the boat in her stroller while they fished. Every time we would go out to the resort they would go fishing for most of the day, while I would stay back at the resort and watch tv or take a nap.

Eventually I did start to venture out with them just to see what all the fun was about. After several of these trips, I decided that I would give it one more try. But again, I wasn’t about to even pick up the worms they were using which were these little white worms. No sir, I would let my wife do that and hand me the pole to do the fishing. After a while of going through this routine, I caught a fish! Yes, I actually caught a real live fish! I was so excited and with some assistance from my wife was even able to reel it in and of course take a picture. This was the turning point in my life as a fisherman. I was so proud of myself and needless to say, so was my wife as this gave me the “manliness” I needed to start baiting my own hook. Besides, it was taking my wife longer and longer to do it for me. Secretly, I think she was about to quit anyway.

Nowadays I find myself looking forward to going out to Chetek and going fishing. My son loves to go on the boat as well. He has his own tackle box and fishing rod and really looks forward to going to fishing. Although for him, I think he really just likes that his granddad lets him drive the boat.

Well, as I write this it’s almost Memorial Day weekend. And as you are probably guessing by now, I am really looking forward to heading out to Chetek, WI and doing some fishing for some Crappies and Blue Gills. My father in law has this really good breading that he uses to cook up those pan fish and he fries them in butter. They are so delicious. I can’t wait! See you later, I am going to check on my tackle box to make sure I have all of my lures and other fishery stuff!

Tips: how much is not enough?

Ok. I just read an article on my MSN news feed that talks about how much you should tip while staying at a hotel. Now my question is, who makes this determination on how much a person should tip and for what reasons they should tip even more than usual?

I am not against tipping, it’s just that I don’t think that how much I decide to tip should be based upon what someone wrote in a book on Etiquette or in a news article. My tips are determined by me based upon the service I receive, pure and simple.

The article quoted an etiquette consultant who stated that a proper tip for a housekeeper is $3, unless there are extenuating circumstances that would cause you to leave more. Those circumstances would be something like your room being extra messy or you spilled something in the room. As for me, I see the housekeeping dept. as a vital function to the hotel industry. They work tirelessly and, in my opinion, do an awesome job whether it’s cleaning the room or responding to requests from the guests. I leave a tip of $5 per day of my stay and depending on how things were done I leave a little extra on my checkout day.

When I am at a dining establishment, whether it’s a first-class fashionable restaurant or a “hole-in-the-wall” dive, I tip according to the service I receive not on the décor or what my server looked like or was wearing. The same goes for hotels and coffee shops with those tip jars on the counter, I tip what I feel is deserved based on the interactions of the people.

Now, I am not by any means saying that this is right or wrong and I definitely am not saying that this is how “everyone” should be tip. If the service is considered by me to be mediocre, then the tip is generally going to at the minimum percentage based on the check. See, it’s all about me this time. And it should be all about you when you are leaving a tip.

The article was quoting Julia Esteve Boyd, an etiquette consultant. Now, I don’t profess to be a consultant or an expert on etiquette by any means. However, I don’t need to have attended any school of etiquette to know how much and when to leave a tip. No, I received all my training the old-fashioned way. I was taught manners and respect from my mother. And I have honed that education to where I am knowledgeable enough to know how to tip whether it’s a waitperson, housekeeper or whomever I am dealing with in a setting where tips are a part of the equation. I even learned how to tip without using cash. It’s called saying “Thank you”.

Prison: my time on the inside.

    I have been able to try a lot of different jobs throughout my lifetime and one of the most adventurous, in my mind, was my stint as a Corrections Officer at a maximum-security prison. Now, this wasn’t my first choice for work, but it was an opportunity that was provided to me a family friend. Seeing as I was unemployed at the time I figured why not just give it a try. My friend, I’ll call him Robert, was a Sergeant at the time and told me that he would be my reference and that I should apply because at the time the prison was short-staffed and was planning to hire about 50 new guards.

    Having put in an application, I didn’t have to wait a long time to get a call telling me that I was to report for an interview. I will admit that when I got to the prison, and saw the massive towers and brick walls, I was really scared and nervous. I was ushered to a waiting room and told that I would be called when it was my time to interview. When I went into the room, after my name was called, the first thing I noticed was that there were four people sitting on one side of the table and a single chair on the opposite side that was for the interviewee. The four-people consisted of one Captain, Two Lieutenants, and a Major, all if full dress uniforms.

    During the interview, I was constantly told to just relax. This was truly difficult as this was the first time I had ever been interviewed by more than one person. After the Captain and the Lieutenants had asked all their questions, the Major finally spoke to me. He didn’t ask any questions, but instead gave me a scenario.

    The scene went like this; I am on tower duty and am notified via radio that a riot has broken out in the lunchroom. As I am watching, my tower overlooks the front of the dining hall, an inmate comes out of the front door holding a knife to the neck of an officer. How do I respond. I thought about that for probably 2 seconds and looked the Major right in the eyes and said, “I shoot him in the head”. Without blinking the Major turned to the other officers and said, “I would take him”. Two days later I received a phone call telling me that I had got the job and to report to the prison the following Monday where I would board a bus and be taken to the State Police Headquarters for training.

    Training for becoming a Correctional Officer consisted of two weeks of classroom training on gangs, monitoring inmates, how to perform searches of inmates and cells and firearms training. There was some other stuff too, but I can’t remember the full curriculum. I loved the firearms training the most. We learned how to shoot, disassemble and reassemble a handgun and a M16 rifle and had to gain a level of Marksman to graduate firearms training. Needless to say, I hit that mark. Pun intended.

The prison I worked at was Joliet Corrections Facility, in Joliet, IL. I worked there for approx. two and a half years. There were two main cellblocks that housed inmates. The West cellblock was for permanent detentions and the East block was for inmates that were either sentenced to two years or less or were being held for transfer to another prison where they would serve out their sentence. There were two “yards” as well, one for the perms and one for the transfers. I was assigned to the West block for most of my time as an officer. I would be assigned to two floors and usually was the only officer on that assignment.  

Joliet Correctional Facility

    One of the perks of being a corrections officer, that had seniority on the job, was the opportunity to “bump” a less senior officer for their days off. Meaning if, say I had the weekends off, I could get bumped and have to switch my days off with whoever bumped me. The first time this happened to me, my scheduled days off were Saturday and Sunday and I got bumped to having Wednesdays and Thursdays off. This turned off to be a blessing in disguise for me because there was a riot on my first scheduled Wednesday to be off. The Sergeant in charge of my regular cellblock had turned the phones off in the yard during the inmates scheduled time outside and the inmates got really mad and upon entering the cellblock started fighting with the guards. After the riot was quelled, there were several officers that were sent to the hospital for their injuries, and the cellblock was placed on lockdown for two weeks.

    One incident I remember vividly was while I was working the lunchroom. After the inmates had finished their lunch and went out to the yard for some free time, I oversaw several inmates that worked in the dining hall cleaning up. I had been on this post several times and knew the inmates that were assigned to the cleaning detail. On several occasions I had to step between two inmates, I will call them Stan and Dean. They were members of rival gangs in the prison and would always be arguing with each other. On one occasion they were arguing and when I stepped in to break them up, they asked me if they could go into the adjoining overflow dining area and just duke it out to get it off their chests. As I was the only officer there, I told them I would agree if they would stop when I gave the order. They promised, so I let them go at each other for about 10 minutes. It was crazy to let them do that knowing my job would be on the line if they were caught, but at the same time I thought it was the only way to settle it as I knew they wouldn’t stop otherwise.

    One of the biggest concepts that was constantly told to us officers was to always be “firm, fair and consistent” in dealing with inmates. Do not show favoritism in any way, or the inmates would notice and that would lead to frustration and make for a dangerous environment. Also, to not take our job home with us. Corrections Officers experience a lot of stress and that was a cause of high divorce rates. To this day, I still follow those two creeds.

Texas Hold’em: I am all in

While doing some channel surfing, back in 2002, I came across a televised poker tournament. They were playing a version of poker that I had not heard of called Texas Hold’em. After watching for a bit, I looked the game up online and found a couple of sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker that allowed you to play online. Having just the basic understanding of how the game was played from having watched it, I signed up on both sites and started playing.  

There is definitely a learning curve when starting any new game and playing Texas Hold’em is no different. Although I was familiar with poker as a whole having played Stud and Draw poker, this new version took some getting used to. The basic concept is that you get 2 hold cards and you make the best hand using these and a combination any 3 cards from the “community hand”.

                There are essentially 4 rounds of betting. The seat directly to the left of the Dealer is called the small blind. The seat 2 spots from the dealer is the big blind. These two seats start the betting action prior to any cards being dealt. The small blind is ½ the ante of the big blind. Then the betting goes around to each preceding player who can either call the bet of the big blind or raise to a higher amount, or just fold out of the hand. Once the play gets back to the big blind, and all other players have just called, meaning just anted up the amount of the big blind, the person in the big blind gets to either check or raise. If he checks, the dealer will “burn” a card and then deal out the first 3 cards of the “community deck”. This is called the “flop”, then there is another round of betting starting with the small blind. After this 2nd round of betting, the dealer will “burn” another card and deal out the 4th card called “the turn”.  After this 3rd round of betting, and all players have had an opportunity to bet, raise, or fold, the final card “the river” is dealt. Then the final round of betting goes on and after that is completed, the players display their hands and the best 5 card hand wins the pot.

                There are 2 types of Texas Hold’em. Limit Texas Hold’em “limits” the amount you can bet on each of the four betting rounds. If you are seated at a $2-4 limit table, the small blind will be $1, and the big blind will be $2. You may ONLY bet or raise $2 pre-flop, and only $2 after the flop. On the turn and river, you may only bet or raise $4.

            Then there is No Limit Texas Hold’em, where the name defines the game. There is no limit as to how much a player can bet. At any given betting opportunity, the player can bet the minimum which is the amount of the big blind or he can go all-in and bet all of the chips he has in his possession. This version of the game is the most popular.

            After having played online for about a year, I got my first opportunity to play a “live” game. I was house-sitting for some friends that were out of town and there was a sports bar about a block from their home that had a huge banner hanging outside the building promoting Texas hold’em. I will admit, it was really daunting to play with real people. I can’t ever remember being that nervous, but it turned out to be a   relaxing and pleasant experience. The game started with 4 full tables of 9 players each and I was able to make it through to the last table of 9 and finished in 7th place. I was so excited. That was the beginning of a wonderful and lasting relationship with the game of Texas Hold’em Poker. I have since, in the last 15 years, been a member of a poker league that is put on by the FreePokerNetwork(FPN). FPN is a bar league that runs a 3-month qualifying league. At the end of that period the top 10% of players move on to a Regional tournament. From that tournament, the top 5% move on to the State tournament. The winner of the State tournament gets a paid entry into the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, along with some cash for travel and lodging. You can see why for a poker fan, this is an awesome incentive to be a part of the FPN league. During my time with this organization, I have made it to their State Championship tournament twice. And although I have not yet won the State tournament, I have continuously improved my play.

            One of the things I have noticed is that there are a lot of Professional poker players that offer training on their system of play. It’s true that whatever knowledge they have is valuable, but the thing to remember before paying someone to teach you the game is that you can learn this game for free. The only “training” I have taken is a free course on the PokerStars website. The other thing to remember is that just because their system works for them, doesn’t guarantee that it will work for you. As a poker player you must develop the skill of reading tells and adjusting your play as the game moves on. This is not to say you shouldn’t read a book written by some of the big names like Doyle Bronson, or Daniel Negreanu. But just know that they developed their styles through years of playing just as you will.            

            There is a belief in poker that players should only play “premium” hands such as Ace/Ace, Ace/King, Ace/Queen, etc., and that anyone who plays differently are considered “donks” (short for donkeys). This mindset goes on to say that when you have one of these premium hands that you should automatically raise the bet, sometimes going all in pre-flop. As I have watched hundreds of hours of poker play on television and in actual live games, this thought process is purely fictional. There is really no such thing as a “premium” hand, especially pre-flop. The problem is that although a hand such as Ace/King, even suited, is pretty good before the flop is dealt it is of no use to you if the 3 cards that come up are a Seven, Three and Nine each of a different suit. But the person playing a pre-flop hand of say, Nine/Four has suddenly got a much-improved hand with a pair of nines. And even holding a pair of Aces pre-flop isn’t that good as so often they are beaten by a “donk” hand, say Eight/Two.

            The one thing all poker players will agree on is that you must watch the other players as much as possible. Look for “tells” and watch how they bet based on where they sit. If a player through the first hour or so of play only plays a hand when they are in the Big or Small blinds, and suddenly makes a big bet when they are not in one of those positions is telling you that they have a really good starting hand. Poker is a game where a lot of skill is needed, but you also need to be able to read people’s body language.

            If you haven’t played Texas Hold’em poker, I strongly suggest you try. It is a very good game of skill and chance that will also text your mental endurance. Start with one of the online websites to get some practice and then find a bar league in your area and give it a shot. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was. Next time, I will discuss the two different games that are most common with Texas Hold’em, Cash games and Tournament games. Stay tuned.

Cracker Barrel: A touch of southern comfort.

On Friday, April 26, the 1st grade classes of my son’s school honored Grandparents by putting on a musical program. They sang songs, recited some messages, and had a slide show. His grandparents came in from out of town to attend, which made him so happy. Afterwards, we decided to all go out to lunch and my son go to pick where we went. He picked one of his favorite restaurants; Cracker Barrel.

Cracker Barrel is a throwback themed restaurant. It was founded in 1969 in Lebanon, TN by Dan Evins. The décor is of old photos and items from early American life. They have a “General Store” that is full of candy, games, clothes, and odds and ends. It reminds you of the “olden days”, and what life was like when America was just getting started.

    As soon as we were seated our waitperson came over to our table and introduced herself, even though her name was sewn onto her apron, and took our drink orders. After she came back with the drinks and had taken our orders, my son and his Grandmother left the table to go play checkers at a table that is set up in front of the fireplace that is the centerpiece of the dining area. The table has two rocking chairs for the players to sit in, which are also available for sale.

For lunch I had the meatloaf, with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes as sides. My son had pancakes and scrambled eggs, while my mother and father in laws had the open-faced roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes. The meatloaf at Cracker Barrel is awesome. You get a healthy serving and it is so tender and juicy. Their mac and cheese is really delicious as well, so creamy and cheesy. My father in law, was really impressed with the quality of the roast beef.

Our waitperson was really awesome as she visited our table on several occasions during our meal to inquire if we needed anything further and if we were satisfied with what we had. My father in law had noticed earlier that the flag at my son’s school and several others we had seen on the way to the restaurant were at half-mast. Our waitperson was able to inform us of the reason. Apparently, the Governor of Minnesota had requested it in honor of a DNR Officer that had died while on duty.

    If you have never had the opportunity to dine or visit a Cracker Barrel restaurant, I strongly suggest finding the nearest location and heading there. The atmosphere is, as I said, really a throwback to the old days, and you will be taken back to your childhood as you browse the general store’s candy and toy areas. The food will remind you of your Grandma’s cooking and the service is always given with a smile. Ta ta for now, come back again now.

To lie or not to lie, such a dilemma.

Is there ever a way to deliver bad news to someone? For example, you get on an elevator and the person that’s on there has a real bad odor. Do you say anything? Is there a proper way to tell someone that they have bad body odor? You applied for a job and finally got a call inviting you to an interview. You get there and the interview starts. Suddenly, you realize that the person conducting the interview has some really bad halitosis. Are you allowed to tell them that their breath stink? Would you have the nerve, knowing that you may not get the position?

We all have been told that we should always tell the truth, but, is that really possible? Is it really ok to tell a lie? Some people say it is ok to tell a small white lie, but isn’t that a contradiction? Can you really have it both ways? Is not speaking up really an option? Is it a lie to not tell someone that their clothes are too small, when it’s really obvious? How do you determine when it’s ok to not tell the truth?

                There is no road map available when it comes to traveling the righteous path. If you get asked that age old question, “does this dress make me look fat”, is it ok to lie and say no? Or are you obligated to tell the truth, knowing it’s going to hurt someone’s feelings?

                I, personally, don’t think it’s possible to always tell the truth. Tact is such a powerful, and necessary, part of a person’s arsenal. Knowing when to speak out about a situation, and when to keep quiet or to deflect the conversation to another topic is critical to social etiquette.

                This is even more important when you are at work. In the situation where one of your coworkers wears too much perfume or cologne, do you say something to them directly or do you tell management? Some would say it depends on how close you are with your coworker. You could tell them as a way of a warning that there are probably people with odor sensitivities that may be affected by the overwhelming smell. But if you are not that familiar with the offender, then to avoid any possible conflict it would be advised to talk to a manager or supervisor and have them handle the situation.

                So the takeaway from this post, if there is one, is to remember that although you were told throughout all your childhood and young adult life to always tell the truth, it’s just not possible to always tell the truth. Sometimes you have to either not say anything, or to tell that little white lie. You have to look at all of the aspects of the particular situation before determining how to proceed. You have to take into account the possible fallout from your decision. You have to look at your relationship to the person that you would have to talk to or interact with and whether you feel it could sustain some brutal truthfulness.

Dear Mom

Sometimes I think of the times we had 
How you always smiled when things went bad 
You never worried when things got tough 
You always made sure there was enough 
You spread your love to all of your kids 
You gave of yourself when no one else did 
My oh my, how I miss you so 
There are so many things you taught me though 
Like how to live and take care of my needs 
How to be good to others and do good deeds 
I miss our times of just sitting on the stoop 
Sharing wild stories whenever we had the scoop 
Going to the stores to shop for clothes and food 
just going for a ride when you were in the mood 
mother of mine I miss you so 
I am just glad you let me know 
Just how much you cared for us all 
You made me able to stand up tall 
Just one last thing I have to say 
I wish all mothers could be this way.